The beginning and ending place to our hiking adventure at El Altar.

Well, amigos, I finally had the opportunity to hike and camp on the top of a mountain (or close enough to the top). This weekend, three friends and I climbed El Altar which is close to the small town of Candelaria, Ecuador. To get to Candelaria, we first had to take a bus from Quito to Riobamba then from Riobamba to Candelaria. I thought the bus rides were gruesome because they took a few hours, but the hike was even more treacherous!

For any first time hikers out there, make sure you research the place you will be hiking beforehand. This tip was brought to you by Brenda, who didn’t pack enough warm clothes and underestimated how much it would rain and how cold it would be to sleep at a high altitude.

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El Altar is beautiful with its glacier-covered mountains and mint-colored lakes. Its tranquil paths up to the camping place above the lake were only interrupted by the sound of birds, horses, dogs, and the occasional back-packer. I felt a little more at ease knowing that there were others out there venturing just like us.

Since this was my first time hiking up mountains, my lungs and corazón were having a hard time keeping up. My legs didn’t even hurt, but my lungs were killing me as we went up the steep trails. I fell only a little behind, yet my friends would wait and encourage me even more. It felt really good being praised for my efforts; their words kept me going. After nine hours (from 8:30 AM till 5:30 PM), we made it to our camping site overlooking the lake.

¡Hasta luego, El Altar!

The rain and cold temperatures made sleeping difficult since I was up for most of the night trying to stay warm. When we woke up the next day however, the sun greeted us with its warmth. I decided to stay dry and not jump into the freezing lake, but I took pictures of my travel buddies as they did. It took us only about five hours to hike back down to the town of Candelaria, where we first witnessed some of the Ecuadorian Carnaval traditions.

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To really experience Carnaval, we figured we would travel to one of the best Carnaval towns in Ecuador: Guaranda. To begin, I must define a few key words regarding the festival and its celebrations.

Carnaval – A religious festival that occurs before the Lent season. A big celebration is in Rio de Janiero, Brazil; Guaranda’s Carnaval is not as big, but it’s big in the sense that the whole town comes together to celebrate. And how do they celebrate? By spraying carioca all over each other.

Carioca – White or colored foam in aerosol cans that is used to spray on random people on the streets. Foam wars will ensue. Young children will spray you in the eyes and you will most likely retaliate by spraying carioca all over their faces or the backs of their heads as they run away. This was probably the most fun part of the whole festival because my competitive side came out; if the Guarandans messed with one of my friends, they messed with us all. I got sprayed in the eyes a couple of times which only hurt because of the pressure of the foam and momentarily blinded me. I also did not like getting sprayed in the ears because the whole world became muted and I could only hear the sound of tiny foam bubbles bursting in my ear canals.

Polvo – Powder. Powder that goes on your face/hair. This is often white powder but can also come in an assortment of colors such as red blue, yellow, and green. I was blue-faced for a while after I was attacked with polvo from a stranger. I couldn’t just let it happen… I had to do it too! I bought a small bag of polvo for 50 cents and smeared it on people’s faces all during the night. It was awesome!! Plus, the people who got powdered by me all cheered afterwards and gave me free stuff. They really enjoyed seeing my foreign group partake in all of the Carnaval traditions, so they just laughed and sprayed us with some more carioca.

The night ended with some great Latin Pop music at a concert in the center of town. It rained and we were sore from the hiking, but with all of the positive vibes from Guaranda (and the awesome music) we ended up dancing all night long! This festival is one that I think everyone should go to at least once. Would recommend 10/10.

I’ll say this was one of my best weekends in Ecuador so far! One tiresome hike followed by a huge, small-town party!! I’m excited for what other wonders Ecuador has in store for me, but until then: ¡cuídense, amigos! ¡Ciao!

Published by Brenda Mora

From Holland, MI. Mexican-American studying abroad in a Latin American country. Speaks Spanish/English fluently. Likes nature walks and laughing.

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