The Final Leg - 11 Months and 1785 Miles Later

In our last and final leg of our journey hiking up the spine of South America, we narrowly escaped a volcanic eruption, suffered a knife robbery, braved a night of rain without a tent, evaded three police tickets, and were swept away by two buff, blonde Canadian mountain climbers. Okay, so maybe it wasn't that dramatic...

We met up with our two travel companions for the upcoming week, Dave and Jeremy, in Baños, Ecuador. We met them back in Huaraz, Peru as we were scarfing down our post-trail breakfast at the California Cafe on day ten sans-shower - we were luckily abiding by our rule of "wear outerwear in public places after extended time on the trail"(to keep the smell in). Apparently we made a good enough impression on them to warrant the 30-hour bus ride and unplanned border crossing into Ecuador for some shenanigans our last week on the trail. Little did they realize they were bringing a third companion- a CRAB!

This adventurous guy escaped a box of crabs on a bus and latched onto Jeremy's backpack. We did not find it until the next day. The guy was still alive but very slow without water.
So what do you do with a stowaway crab? You have a chef (Dave) properly cook it and then use pliers to eat it! (Pictured- Trinity)
From the overrated hot springs of  Baños (murky, crowded cement pools), we planned to hike around Cotopaxi and then Otavalo. When it started non-stop raining, with our time ticking away in South America, we decided to ditch Cotopaxi (can't see a big volcano in clouds!) and bus straight to the hiking and shopping mecca (end of trip = we can carry souvenirs) of Otavalo in hopes of getting in one more 3-day trek before ending our trip in Quito. Little did we know, just after our departure from Baños, the town's backdrop volcano erupted (apparently there were some evacuations but it was not serious). During our bus ride north to Otavalo, my backpack was squeezed into the tiny space underneath Jeremy's and my seats where someone made a targeted robbery to steal Jeremy's camera from the top pocket by reaching up under our knees (the top of the pack was sticking out from the front of the seat under our legs). In addition to stealing Jeremy's camera, and more detrimentally for our immediate plans, the thief slashed the bottom of my pack (facing the seats behind us) and stole our Mojo 3's poles and stakes! I hope they found a good use for them.

Hiking, Biking and Shopping Around Otavalo
We found ourselves in Otavalo with variable weather, no tent, no time to craft a tarp, and no tents available for rent at the town's two tour companies. While discussing day hikes at one of the tour companies, we capitalized on the mention of a gazebo lookout on Lake Cuicocha, realizing we could sleep protected under its roof. We leisurely walked a whopping 1.5 hours halfway around the crater lake's rim to the gazebo and fell asleep to a clear sky counting our last South American constellations. In the middle of the night, we abruptly awoke to gusts of wind and spitting rain. The wall-less structure provided zero protection to the wind sweeping raindrops underneath its holey roof. Albeit consistent, the rain was light enough to be deflected off our sleeping bags per their water-resistant protective coatings, so we managed to stay dry and warm.

In the morning without rain, we celebrated our last day on the trail with fresh strawberries, pineapple, chocolate fondue (made with Ecuadorian chocolate), and hot mulled wine from our gazebo perch overlooking a pair of Hawaiian-like islands jutting out of the giant crater lake. As we hiked the rest of the way around the lake, Shelley and I kept catching each others' eyes reminding ourselves that this was our last leg, but it didn't quite feel real, and it never did. Perhaps we have more hiking to do...

Trinity and Jeremy hiking the well-maintained trail around Lake Cuicocha
Dave meaning business on the trail- covering his mohawk with a baseball hat
The sun setting on a nearby volcano and its surrounding clouds
Consoling each other our last night on the trail (Trinity and Shelley)
Mmmm fondue! (Dave and Shelley)
Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman??? No, that's Trinity stitching the five-inch slash in her Mariposa pack from the earlier tent pole robbery. Grrrrr.
Last day on the trail (Trinity and Shelley)
On the way back to Otavalo from Lake Cuicocha, we stopped in Cotacachi to peruse it's renowned leatherwork and each purchased a leather jacket among other souvenirs. The next day after some more souvenir shopping in Otavalo's infamous market (future roomies, look forward to hammocks!), the four of us antsy-with-energy adventureres opted to rent mountain bikes for a ride to a nearby waterfall turned pub crawl before busing back to Quito.

Some go for Country... others a little more Harley...
Rockin adventure hats (Jeremy and Trinity)
View of the main market in Otavalo. And this isn't even on Saturday- their busiest day!
Shelley, Jeremy and Dave (left to right) biking the streets of Otavalo
Jeremy, Shelley and Dave (front to back) roughing it on some abandoned train tracks (which were actually preferable to the adjacent cobblestone road)
Trinity, hardcore mountain biker (with admirer on left of photo)
As we have dubbed ourselves, the "fab four"! (Trinity, Dave, Jeremy and Shelley)

Quito And Our Mini Cheley Reunion
We saved only two short days in Quito and thanks to our friend Valen, we felt like we saw it all! We met Valen, from Quito, on staff at Cheley back in 2005. Coincidentally, another Cheley staff alum was in town- Jessica, who moved to Quito earlier that week for a two-year teaching position at a British academy. Among many excursions described in picture captions below, Valen suavely evaded three tickets for cramming six people into her five-person car (Ecuador's police force is ever-present).

Valen treated us to one of our best meals in South America- Ecuadorian ceviche, fried plantains, spiced muscles, fried  sea food.  Ceviches de la Rumiñahui restaurant was packed with locals, we were lucky to get a table seating six.
Cheley counselors! Valen, Jessica, Trinity and Shelley posing for a photo above Quito
Jessica and Valen sipping a local specialty, canelazo, while looking out over the lights of Quito at sundown. Canelazo is an alcoholic hot drink made of agua ardiente (sugar cane alcohol), sugar, cinnamon and naranjilla (relative of an orange). Delicious!
Who are those two?? After a long time on the trail, sometimes a girl just needs to don heels! We were determined to get dressed up in Quito (this plan has been in the works since our first week in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) and go out big on Friday night. We arrived at the mall 30 minutes before close. In a whirlwind of a shopping spree, we purchased clothes, heels, and accessories. The only item we lacked was a real bra, so we rocked the clubs in our sports bras. Thank you to our personal stylists, Valen and Jessica, for their advice, speed and patience! (Shelley and Trinity)
We intentionally bought closed-toe heels.......
Lounging around on La Mitad del Mundo - the equatorial line! (Shelley, Valen, Dave, Jeremy, Trinity, Jessica)
Shelley has got the whole world in her hands
We decided to spend our last night in South America cooking and grilling among new and old friends from our hostel's (Casa Bambu) five-star rooftop patio
Enjoying the evening
Having a moment, trying to comprehend the end of our trip and the end of our lightweight, simple, nomadic, and often times extremely remote lifestyle (Trinity and Shelley)

Our time in South America appropriately ended how it all began, with Cheley, where we chicas locas were united seven years ago (refer to our about us page). With happy bellies from our feast, we gathered around Valen on the guitar and tried to remember camp songs. We sang from the rooftop overlooking the twinkling lights of Quito, beneath the abstractions of the southern hemisphere's all-too-familiar night sky, and enjoying the company and bonds of new, old and Cheley friends.

Valen on the guitar
11 months, 1765 miles of hiking up the Andes, and five countries later, Shelley and Trinity arrive at the equator

Still to come on the blog over the next couple months:


8 comments:

  1. congratulations to you girls on such an amazing adventure! i've LOVED reading your posts and am truly in awe of what you guys did! thanks for sharing!!

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  2. Hi – Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Hiking Community? Our members will love it.
    It's easy just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website… it’s a win win. You can also add Photos, Videos and join or start Hiking discussions if you like.
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    Email me if you need any help or would like me to do it for you.
    The Hiking Community: http://www.vorts.com/hiking/
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    James Kaufman, Editor

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  3. Congrats on completing your adventure! I can only imagine how it must feel to put something amazing like that in the past and get back home -- as a faithful reader I am sad to see it end! -- no doubt this has shaped your life forever. If I had to use on word to describe you and your journey it would be "inspiring."

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  4. You gals are AWESOME! I have enjoyed following along and will miss the updated blog as much as you will miss the trail.... Cheers to cool trip!!!

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  5. Congratulations from old England on a magnificent achievement; something you will remember and feel the benefit from, forever.
    Keep walking (you will find that you have to!)

    Well done, chicas!

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  7. Wow are you girls still hiking down South America? thats such an epic adventure!

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