The third and final day of our romping through Doi Inthanon was pleasant, mainly downhill, and all over by lunchtime. We had a relatively early start: we left the Karen village at about 9:30am; and it was more jungle scenery, winding paths, and fairly easy walking for most of the morning. We were followed for some time by a few of the village dogs: the dogs around here are amiable enough to visitors; but they're bloody wild and vicious with each other! I guess that's what happens when none of them are de-sexed, and when they're all on heat 24/7. The morning rest stop was a looong and very relaxing one: we found a lovely natural pool, with a bunch of flat rocks all around, that was perfect for a ½ hour or so of swimming and sunbaking (and reading).
The second day of our Doi Inthanon trek was easy-going — much like yesterday — but it did involve a fair bit more walking. From last night's campsite, we embarked on a big romp through the jungle, with a fair bit of uphill along the way. Our ascent came to a close in the afternoon, when we reached the famous Karen hill-tribe village that became our abode for this evening.
Our first chance to all get to know each other, during the Doi Inthanon trek, presented itself today at lunch. There are 15 of us in all, and Europe definitely dominates: two Swedes, two Dutch, two Germans (two guys), four Danish (two couples), two English, two Canadians, and myself. We enjoyed a quick lunch in "*Cluck*'s village" — *Cluck* claims to live in the village's largest house — and we explored the houses and farmyards a bit. When someone asked *Cluck* if he had a baby in his stomach (due to his constantly baring the formidable chubby spot and patting it), he said: "yes, baby ladyboy" :P. From the village, we spent most of the afternoon hiking, until we reached our gorgeous camp by the falls.
This morning marked the beginning of my trek in Doi Inthanon national park, the area south-west of Chiang Mai that's home to Thailand's highest peak, and a rich jungle-covered region that's home to several remote hill tribes. I got picked up from my guesthouse at 9:30am this morning: and to my surprise, I had to take my big backpack with me, and drop it off at the agency's office — apparently you can't leave your luggage with the guesthouse, unless you book the tour with them! I've never seen things work like that before. There were 7 of us in the back of the small pickup truck that was our lift — half of our group, which is 15 strong — and it was a quiet, sleepy and rather cosy ride out of Chiang Mai. We were all too tired, and too reserved, to introduce ourselves properly: we saved that for when the trek began.
My mate Yuri was keen to do another hike today — this time to the bay of Dos Rios, about 2 hours' walk from the main Ilha Grande town of Abraão. Unlike the last hike that he organised, however, this one wasn't quite so crazy, as we were doing it during the day. Our group for today was six: Yuri; Kerry (Larissa couldn't make it — still not feeling well); Sophie; two Italian guys; and myself. It was a bit of a slow start getting out the door this morning; but once we finally set off, we had a good 'ol walk there and back — plus, we got to see an abandoned prison.
I only just met Yuri this afternoon, but it didn't take long for me to discover what a crazy bugger this guy is. At about 6:30pm this evening, Yuri comes up to us and says: "hey guys, let's go on a hike to Palmas, the next beach down on the island". It was getting a bit dark by then; but nevertheless, we thought: "yeah, what the hell, whatever, let's do it". So Yuri, Kerry, Larissa, Tom and myself set off for Palmas — as darkness encroached on the island — armed with little more than our boardies and our flip-flops (and, fortunately, a few flashlights). We had a few adventures on the trip, but it was all good, because we made it there and back in the end. Most of us, anyway.
After visiting Mitad del Mundo this morning, I continued down the road, to the nearby volcano crater of Pululahua. This is a giant volcano, that's been inactive (although it's not extinct!) for several thousand years, and that has a massive crater floor which is filled with populated farmlands. Great lookout at the top of the crater, and it's great to walk down to the bottom, and to hike around through the countryside on the crater floor. Just a quick little day hike (I spent about 3 or 4 hours doing it — up to you how long you want to spend at the bottom), but fun and very scenic.
After our interesting hike to the cheese factory, today's hiking continued to be fun and scenic, even if not quite what we expected. By consulting the photocopied map that we'd been given, by the kind folks at the Cloud Forest Hostel, we figured that we needed to continue along the road that we'd been walking down, in order to reach the cloud forest. This turned out to be completely wrong. We did, however, eventually make it to the cloud forest. We think. Maybe. OK, perhaps not really.
For our second day in the Quilotoa Loop area, Patrick and I decided to do the popular hike from Chugchilán, to the "cheese factory" in the countryside nearby, and then on to the cloud forest. We had a great morning's walk, through a fairytale countryside of rolling hills and quaint little farms (although it was uphill most of the way). We were also blessed with great weather (not something to be taken for granted, here in Ecuador). However, the visit to the cheese factory turned out to be — well, somewhat different than expected! In short, it looked more like a house than a factory; and we saw little or no evidence of cheese, or of cheese-making, in the immediate vicinity.
This afternoon, Patrick and I continued on from the village of Zumbahua, to the main attraction of the Quilotoa Loop area: Laguna Quilotoa. When we got to the lagoon, we admired the view from the top, and then we decided to complete the walk down into the valley (i.e. the ancient volcano crater) where the lagoon lies, and back up. It doesn't look like that big a walk — but it actually turned out to be quite a hike: took about ½ an hour to walk down, and another hour to return to the top. Beautiful place, with serenity abounding.