12.10.2007 - 10.11.2007
As a result of having gotten so far behind I have decided to break Ecuador up into two sections. The first entry will be Ecuador the mainland, and the second the Galapagos Islands.
The easy way to start is to say that crossing the border into Ecuador, suddenly everything changed. It was not just a difference of culture or landscape, but also a change in perception. Brenda was required to get a tourist visa for Ecuador, which limited our time to only thirty days. The lazy schedule of Colombia now out the window we would start traveling at an almost touristy pace.
Unfortunately the security of my belongings would also come into play as we would be robbed twice in a little more than a week. The most painful was my memory chip which stored all of my photos from the last 8 months of travel. That was actually stolen from an Internet cafe as I was writing my last blog entry.
Our trip in Ecuador started in a town called Otavalo. A small town in the foothills of the Andes, it was the perfect place to start. Saturday mornings in Otavalo the whole town turns into a fair, and the local people fill the streets dressed in traditional Otavaleño clothing. The women wear long cashmere skirts hemmed with traditional designs and white blouses embroidered by hand with designs of flowers, vines, etc.. They also wrap a cloth around their backs which is usually occupied to carry their children, hens, or a 100lb bag of potatoes..no kidding. When not doubled over carrying an enormous load the outfit is very appealing and accented with a lot of neck and wrist jewelry. The men (but who cares about them right?) dress in linen pants and shirts with a small car and always have along braid.
We stayed for three days with and Otavaleñan family and had a wonderful experience. They still live in a very humble environment, grow all of their own feed and participate in local community projects as their ancestors have one in that community for thousands of years. If someone is building a house, everyone helps. Likewise with community farms etc.. I had some amazing photos of all of this, but you`ll just have to use your imaginations.
Laving Otavalo we headed for Quito to arrange our Galapagos trip. The night we arrived Ecuador was playing a soccer match against Brazil. We got into Quito in time to catch the match in a local bar which fell desperately silent as Ecuador was throttled 5-0. Late wandering around the center we stumbled upon a live outdoor theater and dance performance. It was a collaboration of several different countries and consisted of dancers hoisted by cable lines gliding from rooftop to rooftop which an amazing light show and live music. It was quite simply one of the most spectacular outdoor performances I have ever seen, and free to kick of the international theater and dance festival in Quito. Not bad for an opening night.
Quito turned out to be a cultural city with all of the things you enjoy and hate about a big city. Not surprisingly it would never duplicate the magic of the first night, not that I expected it to. We did take advantage of the opportunity to eat wonderful international cuisine, a warm welcome after literally two months of pot luck.
After a round trip flight to the islands then back to Quito we headed south to town called Baños. For those of you practicing elementary Spanish, your probably laughing to yourselves about a town called bathrooms, but it actually means baths. It is home to several thermal hot spring, and rest in a valley surrounded by mountains, volcano's, and over 65 waterfalls. One day we decided to rent an ATV an head along he trail of the 12 waterfalls. It was a spectacular trip and culminated with a great hike and my first opportunity to swim and bathe in the waterfalls of fresh mountain water in years.
From the viewpoint in Baños
Leaving Baños we had big plans to take the famous nose of the devil train ride, but tit was sold out when we arrived and we had to keep on moving. We took a similar route in bus which provided spectacular views of the Volcano Chimborazo at 6100 meters the highest peak in Ecuador. We traveled all day and arrived at the picturesque arquelogical site of Ingapirca. Unfprtunately the whole town had lost power that night, we used candles and got by. The next day visiting the ruins was spectactular. Here are some shots
Cuenca is in my opinion the most beautiful city in Ecuador, with a peaceful and tastefully designed historic center, as well as a river that divides the old and the new. There is all of the usual fanfare, but we decided to take it easy and relax for a few days. The end of our Ecuador experience would be spent in a place called Vilcabamba.
Vilcabamba is the very south of Ecuador and on the edge of the rainforest and the Andes mountain range. The people of Vilcabamba are famed for living for more than 100 years and taking advantage of the healing waters and exceptional climate. Ironic as it would be, we would experience some of biggest weather difficulties in Vilcabamba. We took an 8 hour hiking, horseback, and canopy tour in the cloud forest. The day started exceptionally with fantastic views of the surrounding valleys as our horses navigated the edges of the mountainsides along steep inclines. Arriving at the nature reserve, we started our hike through the cloud forest. The hike was difficult and filled with muddy steep down hills, complicated by the rain that started to fall. By the time we arrived at the zip lines it was an all out downpour. The hike back was a struggle with just about everyone sliding everywhere and and a 20 river crossing over a tree trunk now soaked and slippery.
The return would be equally difficult as the rain continued to fall and the path was now too slippery to navigate on horseback. Our guide told us the contrary, but while crossing a relatively flat pass my horse slid two legs over the ledge and fell to thew ground. Naturally he started to buck like crazy, thinking he was falling over the mountainside. I was fortunate to free me feet from the stirrups and jump off as he was trying to throw me. Needless to say it was enough of a scare that we all walked the rest of the way pulling our horses along. Scary in itself when you imagine pulling a horse down a hiking trail covered in steep rocking downhills, slippery as hell. More than a few times we had to jump off the trails as the horses slid out of control towards us.
Finally after 10 tough ours we arrived back at the lodge. Just time enough to bathe, change into dry clothes and head to the bus station for an overnight bus into Peru. Anyway that was our farewell to Ecuador. More or less a disaster as far as the mainland was concerned, but that is what happens when you rush things.