On the one hand, the word eco-lodge conjures up visions of stylish earth-toned rooms made of recycled materials, blending in perfectly with its natural habitat. Not far to the other side lies a darker vision, of buggy, draughty buildings and compost toilets better left un-described.
Right before we left on our trip, I’d heard from pool friends who had stayed at Ecuador’s Black Sheep Inn that “the view from the outhouse is incredible.” The outhouse? And they’d be serving up big heaping spoonfuls of vegetarian organic grub. So like beans, lentils, leafy greens and the like. And an outhouse, you say? And, wait, it’s a compost toilet!? And I made non-refundable reservations! OK, then.
The boys and John were nothing but thrilled at the prospect of traveling to the Quilotoa Loop, a high-Andean region of Northern Ecuador known for its spectacular hiking. That we were staying in a rustic eco-lodge only added to their excitement.
We boarded the bus in Quito in the morning and a couple of hours later, arrived in Latacunga to meet our driver who would take us the 2 ½ hours to the lodge. After a series of switchbacks and dirt roads through the paramo, golden-hued high plains grasslands dotted with thatch-roofed huts, we arrived at the lodge.
It had been a long, long dusty trip and we were greeted kindly by the innkeeper, Edmundo, who gave us homemade cookies and a little tour of the property. The views defied description. Our room held bunk beds, a double bed, and a sleeping loft, and a sweet wood stove. Then came the tour of the facilities.
First let me say that you were right, Beatta, the view from the bathroom was stunning. What you failed to mention was that the room was swarming with flies which you need to swat away with a handy brush before sitting on the seat perched above the 10 foot hole lurking below. When you’re done with your business, you simply ladle a few scoops of old tree bark into the hole and shut it. Voila.
Do you hear that sound? I am know taking off my travel blogger glasses, the ones that, like Eric Idle, usually allow me to “always look at the bright side of life,” the ones that keeps me sane traveling the world with three very high energy boys and husband.
Once Edmundo took his leave and the boys went off exploring, I looked at my husband and broke into loud snotty tears. “I don’t know that I can—sob—do this. The toilet—what if I have to—sob—go in the middle of the night? I always have to go at least—sob–once!!!” John is rarely speechless. Here was his response: “……——-….?”
A good night’s sleep, with just one scary nighttime visit to the facilities, left me feeling better. We met a few people at breakfast (all meals at Black Sheep Inn are communal), including a lovely feisty lady from Long Island, with whom we decided to share a ride to Quilotoa Lake. We hiked down to the lake and rode mules back up, while she hiked the five hours back to the lodge (I said feisty, didn’t I?)
We spent the next day hiking an exhilarating trail, mapped out by Edmundo, that took us careening down ravines and perched on very narrow crags through some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen.
After a quick round of Frisbee golf among the resident llamas, we left for a three-hour horse ride in the cloud forest.
Through all the natural beauty and kind of exhausting activity, I managed to almost, I said almost, forget the toilet issue.
That night at dinner, we welcomed some new guests, including a very excited young woman from England who was on day three of a four-month South America gap/trek/odyssey with her rather quiet (resigned?) boyfriend. She talked at great length about their itinerary. They were going to Machu Picchu next and making their way down to Buenos Aires.
Then she looked at me and said, in a low voice, “So how scary are the toilets here? Have you used them?” I’m not sure, but I might have noticed a glint of a tear in her eyes. I took her hands and said, “You just learn not to think about it. It’s the only way to make it here.”
She went on to tell me that she was so worried about toilets on the Inca Trail that she had purchased and packed a pink Shewee. (According to the product’s website, The Shewee , the portable urinating device, is a moulded, water repellent plastic funnel that allows women to urinate whilst standing or sitting). She said this a bit loudly (remember, she was VERY excited about her trip) and some of the gentlemen at the table suddenly had to tie their shoes or, in John’s case, help one of the boys cut something on their plate.
The next morning, after bidding a fond farewell to the llamas and taking a few rides on the zipline, we bid goodbye to Edmundo and the Black Sheep Inn. I’m ashamed to say that this city slicker’s no convert to the compost toilet but I survived, thanks to breathtaking scenery and a gracious host. And I hope my young British friend survived her trek as well, with a little help from her Shewee.