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Summary: After a week of volunteering at Jatun Sacha Biological Station, as part of a Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos, my friend and I had a free weekend in San Cristobal Island. On Saturday, he wanted to see Junco Lake. He also wanted to bike 19 KILOMETERS ONE WAY UPHILL to get there. We struggled uphill, rode through heavy fog, splashed a TON OF MUD on ourselves (as if volunteering at Jatun Sacha wasn't muddy enough), asked for directions several times because there were NO ROAD SIGNS, and eventually made it to...a lake hidden in fog.  Afterwards we climbed El Ceibo, a gigantic tree, which scared the living daylights out of me.  Strenuous and scary days make good blog posts though, so here goes!

ENTIRE TRIP OVERVIEW
Destination(s): Mainly the Galapagos Islands, 2.5 days in Quito, Ecuador
Total Length of Stay: 3 weeks
Getting There: International flight to Quito, domestic flights from Quito to the Galapagos Islands

THIS PORTION
This Blog Post: Week 2 in the Lead Adventures 3-Week Galapagos Experience, San Cristobal Island, free Saturday after volunteering at Jatun Sacha
Accommodation: La Casa de Nelly, in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

Prologue

Around 8:30am we went out in search of breakfast, thinking we should eat something heavy for the impending bike ride.  We ran into our Jatun Sacha volunteer coordinator, who was eating guatita.  I said we were looking for breakfast and asked what it was, and he replied that it was cow intestine with chicken, beef, or fish.  Somehow I missed the part about cow intestine, and thought it was a dish with chicken, beef, or fish.  After breakfast, my friend informed me that I had eaten cow intestine.  
Guatita
Guatita, an Ecuadorian breakfast dish with cow intestine
Our volunteer coordinator also asked what our plans were, and I said we were going to Junco Lake.  He offered to help find a cab, and I told him we were planning to bike.  Upon hearing this, he gave us a weird look.  Are you sure you don't want a cab?   "No thanks, it's fine," I replied, trying to convince myself more than him.  

La Casa de Nelly, the hostel we were staying at, provided bike rentals.  We said we wanted to bike to Junco Lake and...our hostel owners suggested getting a cab there.  Despite some looks of concern, they gave us directions and handed us the keys to our bikes (only $15/day, MUCH CHEAPER than San Francisco where I biked the Golden Gate Bridge and Angel Island).  

The strenuous part, our 19 km uphill journey

We started riding around 10am, and it didn't take long to exit the small town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno.  The brutal uphill slopes began immediately.  The majority of the 19 km ride was through muddy roads in rural areas, and the only "town" we would pass was El Progreso.  El Progreso is 7 km from Puerto Bacquerizo Moreno, so not even halfway to Junco Lake, and we were SO HAPPY to see the sign indicating our arrival.  I checked the time and it was 11:08am, meaning we had taken over an hour to ride 7 km uphill.  Our hostel owner had told us the whole journey would take 1.5 hours (unless my Spanish comprehension skills were off)...yet we still had 12 kilometers of uphill slopes to go.
El Progreso
El Progreso, 7 km from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, 12 km from Junco Lake
El Progreso isn't huge, but it's not only one street, and there were no road signs pointing the way to Junco Lake.  We asked for directions, which I managed with three Spanish words: Laguna means lake, derecha means right, and izquierda means left.  A la derecha, y a la izquierda, someone directed us.  We turned right, but then there were two streets going left.  Eh, I really don't want to pick the wrong street, I told my friend.  After asking two more people, I *thought* we had it right.  As long as we're going uphill, we're probably on the right track, my friend reasoned.  We soon found ourselves in an area with farms, and there was no one to ask anymore.  We decided to just keep going...
Road to Junco Lake
The majority of the 19 km ride was through roads like this.
Farm
We passed several farms on the way there.
As we increased in elevation, a slow and laborious process, we ascended into heavy mist.  We were soon surrounded by thick fog and it was difficult to see anything.  In this area, trucks usually honk to warn pedestrians and cyclists.  We noticed that trucks were much closer when they honked now, probably because they couldn't see us until they got that close.  At the foggiest point of the ride, my friend estimated the visibility to be about 10 feet.  This would not have bothered me, except I wanted to see the mountain so I'd have a general sense of direction.  My friend said to look on the bright side - any steep uphill slopes would be hidden, so we wouldn't get discouraged.  However, he also said he understood why our hostel owners seemed concerned when we said we were biking.  Anyways, we were young, dumb, and stubborn, so we continued onward...
Foggy Road
Riding uphill, in low visibility.
We continued struggling uphill, and then came upon a downhill portion.  This was concerning because Junco Lake, a volcanic crater lake, had to be upward.  We soon encountered uphill slopes again, and checked the time: 1:08pm. It'd been 2 hours since we left El Progreso.  I flagged down a truck and the driver kindly stopped.  Eh, Junco Lake?  Laguna?  I asked.  He pointed down the road and said it was 1 km away!  

We rode on, happy that we hadn't gotten lost.  Some downhill slopes, and we figured we were circling the summit where Junco Lake was.  Mud puddles popped up and I hit a few, splashing mud onto my legs, arms, and chest.  Then we met several workers along the road, all of whom pointed ahead when we asked for Junco Lake.  But alas, we had one last hurdle to jump.

There is a hiking trail to Junco Lake, which cannot be biked, and the beginning of this trail is right off the road.  Unfortunately, there is ABSOLUTELY NO SIGN THAT INDICATES THIS, so we accidentally passed it.  This led us to a STEEP DOWNHILL SLOPE where I found it difficult to even slow down.  We flagged down another truck and ask for directions, and found out that WE HAD PASSED JUNCO LAKE.  And thus we began backtracking uphill, and what had taken 2 minutes downhill took over 30 minutes uphill.  

Then it hit me that while I had brought water, I had neglected to bring snacks.  I wasn't hungry after eating guatita for breakfast, but it was around 1:30pm, and there was no food anywhere near Junco Lake.  It's a rural area with farms.  I guess everything was fine though, because we ended up not eating dinner until after 7pm, with only a loaf of banana bread before then.  

We wondered if we were supposed to turn somewhere - there had been some streets off the main road - and we asked plenty of truck drivers as we backtracked.  Keep going, keep going...plus some Spanish I couldn't catch.   Finally when we were close, one driver drove to the trail entrance, flashed his lights, waited for us to catch up, and then pointed out the trail.  He is the hero of the day, because we would never have found Junco Lake otherwise!  There is absolutely no sign that indicates the beginning of the Junco Lake trail!!  I can't read Spanish but...I'm pretty sure it doesn't say "Junco Lake" anywhere on this sign, in any language:
Junco Lake Sign
Entrance to Junco Lake trail. It doesn't say Junco Lake ANYWHERE
I checked the time when we arrived at the trailhead: 2:17pm.  It had been 1:08pm when we asked the first truck driver, who said Junco Lake was 1 km away.  From here, the hike to the lake was only 20 minutes, through very, very slippery mud where I fell on my butt.  Good thing we weren't carrying machetes, like that Wednesday morning hike at Jatun Sacha.  
Junco Lake gate
Entrance to the trail, a wooden gate.
Junco Lake trail
First part of trail, with slippery mud.
Junco Lake trail
Then there's a walkway, a break from slippery mud.
Junco Lake trail
Final descent to the shores of the lake, slippery mud while going downhill.
We finally made it to the shore of Junco Lake, which was covered in fog and barely visible!  Even so, it was gorgeous, the fog gave it a mysterious and eerie look.  We also saw what appeared to be a duck, and wondered how in the world it had gotten there...
Junco Lake
If you look really, really closely, you can see the water. Junco Lake in fog.
Junco Lake
A duck?! How in the world did it get here, it's a volcanic crater lake at a super high elevation. If I were a duck, I'd rather hang out by the coast.
Junco Lake
Muddy shoes after finally making it to the lake's shore.
Junco Lake
Lake water and grass.
Junco Lake
Pretty grass.
Junco Lake
Touching the water.
A little after 3pm, we left Junco Lake and headed back towards El Progreso.  We were looking forward to downhill slopes, but first, there was an uphill portion!  When the hell are the downhill slopes going to start?!   My bum is so sore.  When they started, the only downside was that without strenuous exercise, we soon felt cold.  The heavy mist condensed on us and my hair was soaked.  

The scary part, climbing El Ceibo

We reached El Progreso a little before 4pm.  What had taken over 2 hours uphill, 12 kilometers to be exact, took less than an hour downhill.  We visited El Ceibo, a gigantic tree bearing an impressive treehouse, that even contains toilets and showers!  There's also a room underground, inside the tree trunk.  This place cost $1 to visit, or $20 to stay a night, and it's not what scared me.  Before I get into that, some pictures of the treehouse and underground room:
El Ceibo
Descending underground, into the tree trunk...
El Ceibo
...into a room like this.
El Ceibo
Treehouse and bridge leading to it.
El Ceibo
Bathroom and pipes that service it.
El Ceibo
Bedroom
El Ceibo
Living room
El Ceibo
Kitchen
This place was super cool to visit, and like I said, it's not what scared me.  What scared the living daylights out of me was climbing up the side of the tree!  It's actually not dangerous at all, it's like rock climbing with a belay system, but the last time I rock climbed in a gym, I FREAKED OUT.  However, I decided I couldn't pass up the opportunity to climb a gigantic tree, and paid the $3 fee...

...and the beginning wasn't so bad.  I didn't have trouble climbing and even enjoyed it...
Then came the first major challenge, i.e. major freakout.  I couldn't figure out the best way to shift my weight in order to move up.  OMG WHAT SHOULD I DO, I screamed.  JUST GO UP, my friend replied.  Right before this, I had slipped and nearly fallen off the tree, not that that's a big deal when you're attached to a rope.  Eventually I found the courage to lift myself up, and I'm pretty sure the belay system did most of the work...but it's an accomplishment for someone who is a wimp with rock climbing.  
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And this is when I got stuck and could not figure out the best way to, well, go up.
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But I somehow got past that point.
And then came the second major challenge, i.e. another major freakout.  I had to move from the tree trunk to one of the branches, behind which there was a plank, Above this plank was a bell to ring, to signify that the climber completed the climb.  I was...too scared to shift my weight to this other branch.  I screamed and cried and...the owner told me to use the rope.  I grabbed the rope, and was terrified that I couldn't support my body weight.  My friend informed me that I only had to support my body weight for 2 seconds, after which I would be on the other branch. Eventually I moved on over, somehow got onto the plank, where I had a blonde moment and couldn't find the bell.  My friend informed me that it was above my head.  The plank is behind that branch, so it's not visible in the photographs...
Okay, I completed the climb, so there shouldn't be any more issues right?  Wrong, the process of getting back down scared me too.  I simply had to take a rope and lower myself down, while the belay system would take most of my weight.  I grabbed the rope and timidly lowered myself, screaming as I did.  Face the tree, the owner instructed me.  My friend also tried to help: Push yourself away from the tree while facing it, like small hops.  I wasn't very good at this, crashing into the tree a few times, but I made it down.  Despite how scared I was, I am happy I climbed the tree.  Traveling is about stepping outside your comfort zone right?
When I finally got down from the tree, I realized that we hadn't eaten anything since our guatita breakfast, and it was nearly 5pm.  I didn't feel hungry while climbing the tree...so much for wishing I had brought snacks earlier.  My friend and I got a loaf of banana bread, homemade by the owner of El Ceibo, same guy who'd just helped me climb up the tree.  We left a little after 5pm and were back at our hostel by 5:30pm (over an hour going uphill the other way), and that was after getting COMPLETELY LOST in town.  

Acknowledgements: I would like to express my gratitude to both the owner of El Ceibo and my friend, who both talked me through climbing this tree, and who were patient when I was (senselessly) scared shitless.  

Epilogue

We got back to La Casa de Nelly and returned our bikes.  Did you bike all the way to Junco Lake?  Yes, I replied, to the shock of our hostel owners and some guests nearby.  That's why I'm so muddy, I explained.  One of the other guests took a picture for me.  
We ate dinner after 7pm, consuming a massive amount of food.  We went to a local, non-touristy restaurant, where we ate fried chicken, fish, fries, salad, and generous portions of beans and rice, and drank soda to top it off.  
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The day ends here.



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