Hiking Lake Cuicocha

It’s been raining for a week here, and we were getting cabin-fever, so yesterday, when I asked Kelly for suggestions on what to do, he suggested we hike around Laguna de Cuicocha.   Cuicocha is a 2 mile wide caldera and crater lake at the foot of the Cotacachi Volcano.  It’s name comes from the Kichwa indigenous language and means  “Lake of the Guinea Pig”.

He said, (and I should have stopped to really listen), “it’s only a 4 hour hike and pretty level all the way ’round- you can do it”…I didn’t stop to think that we were going to be up in the mountains around it- not at the bottom where the boats are…

I can’t believe that for the first time in a week, the sun peeks out, but we leave both raincoats in the closet.  Armed with no hat and  only a Coke and a Snicker in my little bag, off we go!  Kel does have one bottle of water in his pocket!  Our plan was to hike the 4 hr trail, then meet our ride at La Mirador, the restaurant that overlooks the lake and the two islands.  ( The islands are in the center of the lake, and off-limits to visitors..it’s inhabited by guinea pigs). You can take a boat around the lake for a tour, but are no longer allowed to visit the islands themselves).

We got started just fine, and I was excited about taking some really awesome pics…after about an hour, it dawned on me that I had at least 3 hours more to go!  Not being mentally or physically prepared for this little adventure, the elevation was taking it’s toll- I felt like I couldn’t breathe!  My husband, on the other hand, is “shake it off” and “just take your time”,…the typical Ranger response I have come to expect from him.

We went a little slower that he would have liked, but I tried to keep up, stopping quite often to BREATHE!  The trail seems to have been made by skinny goats; very narrow, very wet from the week’s rain, and looking straight down the side of cliffs….if it hadn’t been for animal dung on the trail,  I wouldn’t think it had been occupied at all.   The views of course were spectacular, but I seemed to be watching my feet and the trail more so than looking at the gorgeous scenery (you can tell when I stopped taking the pics)!

Up and down, up and more up, winding around…at times, crevices, mud or sandy with rocks, it kept going….while I was calling on the name of my precious Jesus to just help me breathe and walk, my beloved husband is bounding around like he just discovered a whole new mystical and secluded continent!  I’ve also developed a personal entourage of tiny flies that bite like mosquitoes…and wouldn’t you know it, I had on short sleeves.  I am definitely the poster girl of what not to do on a mountain hike!

About an hour and half into the hike, we spotted two majestic condors, but also noticed the clouds rolling in…and twenty minutes later, here comes the ICE COLD RAIN WITH HAIL! We had no excuse but we were caught totally unprepared for this, and there was no where to hide…we had already passed the couple of observation points at the top…there were no trees either…we had to keep sloshing thru the mud, rain and hail – no choice but to keep going forward.  While all this was happening, my yoga pants (yep, didn’t even wear jeans) were soaking up rain and stretching in length…my shoes came untied, glasses fogged, then I twisted my knee.  When the hail and rain finally stopped, I sat down in some grass and mud to BREATHE  and squeeze water out of my clothing….I looked up and Kelly had run into some young girls on the trail and was talking and laughing with them…(they were fully dressed for the weather) from Sweden.  Can you believe one was actually skipping??  I mean, come on…I looked & felt my worst, and 3 contestants that could be on Top Model just happen to be on the same mountain trail?  In front of my husband….??   I think he actually giggled…he denied it, of course!

Anyway, I’m limping now,  ( my right knee feels the size of a basketball ) just trying to finish the hike and get to the park station.  Kelly is now having to help me walk down the last 1/2 mile, and wanted to take our picture at the end of the hike, but between the sign language and the threat of bodily harm, he knew better!

We finally made it up to La Mirador, (walking in the rain again) and the driver we’d paid to pick us up wasn’t there (he must not have understand our Spanish), so we had no way home.   Even though we were both soaked and freezing,  we ordered a meal and a taxi.  When our food came to the table, we looked up and of course, here comes the sun!  All’s well that end’s well…home to a hot shower, dry socks, sweaters and ice on the knee for me!   I told Kel the next time I wanted pics from that high up, I’d hire a helicopter!

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