Category Archives: Ecuador

Things with wings in Mindo, Ecuador

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‘Where oh where do we want to spend our last weekend in Ecuador?’ we asked ourselves.

We weren’t too impressed by Ecuador’s beach weather this time of year: gloom and drizzle all around. In fact, I didn’t even put on my swimsuit until we went snorkeling. After our whale-watching tour, we were about ready to head on.

Quito was out, purely because it is a city and we don’t really like cities.

After perusing the guide book a little bit, we landed on Mindo, which had been on our original loose list of places we wanted to visit in Ecuador. Mindo is only about an hour and a half from Quito, so it seemed completely do-able to go up for a few days and then work our way back down for our midnight flight on Monday.

Arriving in the cloud forest town of Mindo in mid-morning, we were greeted by more sunshine than we had seen since we were last in the cloud forest for our first two weeks of this trip…wierd 🙂

Other than the lovely sunshine, things with wings were what defined our time in Mindo. The Mariposario, or butterfly farm, was where we got our first dose of things with wings.

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cool orchids!

cool orchids!

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Shiny chrysalis 'designed' to be disguised as a water droplet near water.

Shiny chrysalis ‘designed’ to be disguised as a water droplet near water.

Soaking my injured ankle in the cold Mindo river on our walk to the Mariposario.

Soaking my injured ankle in the cold Mindo river on our walk to the Mariposario.

After the Mariposario, we still hadn’t had our fill of flutter. We paid $3 to spend a couple hours sitting on the deck of one of the hostels and observing the multitude of hummingbirds in the garden. The owner told us that there are about 150 species of hummingbird in Ecuador, and about 28 species visit his garden. We were also lucky enough to spot on of the larger jungle birds of the area, the Rufous Motmot.

The orange head of the Rufous Motmot bird.

The orange head of the Rufous Motmot bird.

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Whales and fishes and boobies…a day at Isla de Plata

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It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. As I looked out from our boat, I couldn’t stop my ‘wow-ing,’ even when our guide told us to be quiet. It made no sense. How could a creature as big as a humpback whale continually throw its whole body out of the water, twist, wave, and fall with a comical splash back beneath the surface?

This was our time to enjoy the humpback whale migration that happens every June-September off the coast of Ecuador. Because of the timing of our trip we missed sunshine on the coast, and we missed seeing the peaks of the country’s big volcanoes while they were hiding behind clouds. But we got to see the whales, and it may have made up for those other things that eluded us.

As it turned out, our last weekend in Ecuador was full of wildlife. After spending a couple of days relaxing and watching the surfers in Ayampe, we headed about 12 minutes north to Puerto Lopez. When we arrived, we booked a whale watching/ Isla de Plata tour. After the boat ride out to the island, we spent a couple of hours hobbling (just me, I guess) along on a loop trail, observing Blue-Footed Boobies and Red Frigate birds. Blue-Footed Boobies are silly birds. Unafraid of humans, they stand their ground, cock their heads, and tap their flipper-like feet, making them look quite similar to humans to trying to walk in snorkeling flippers. And Red Frigate birds have a peculiarly large, red air sack on the outside of their throat that they inflate and deflate.

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After the hobble-around, got back on the boat, ate some sandwiches, and jumped back off the boat (ignoring that rule about not swimming after you eat) for a short snorkeling session off the coast of Isla de Plata.

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This picture cracks me up...because of my ankle injury in Cuenca, I opted for a life jacket while snorkeling. I spent the time bobbing around and trying now and them to swim vigorously using only my arms...you can see here that my legs are just dead weight :)

This picture cracks me up…because of my ankle injury in Cuenca, I opted for a life jacket while snorkeling. I spent the time bobbing around and trying now and then to swim vigorously using only my arms…you can see here that my legs are just dead weight 🙂

After we all climbed back up onto the boat- and doctored Alex’s coral-scraped arm- we were awarded with the spectacle that I had been looking forward to all day: the humpback whales! As our boat buzzed along, we spotted some splashing off in the distance. Then, we got really lucky. One whale breached again and again right next to our boat, probably 25-30 times. He swam along next to us, jumping and twisting and waving…just generally putting on a show for us 🙂

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Humpbacks make me happy!

Humpbacks make me happy!

Puerto Lopez Bay

Puerto Lopez Bay

Having drinks on the beach and taking in our first (and last) good ocean sunset in Ecuador before catching an overnight bus to Quito.

Having drinks on the beach and taking in our first (and last) good ocean sunset in Ecuador before catching an overnight bus to Quito.

My first-ever train ride: Nariz del Diablo in Alausi, Ecuador

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Being 25 years old and not having ridden a train ever before in my life, it had gotten to the point where I really felt like I needed to choose an epic track to go clacking down in a train car for the first time.

The Nariz del Diablo train route drops 1,995 feet in the span of 1o kilometers. To reach the bottom of a valley, the train traverses a series of switchbacks in which it has to go forward down the first switchback, change tracks, and go backward down the next.

I knew this was the epic track I was looking for!

The town of Alausi, Ecuador is small, clean, and quiet. And it’s clear that the reason people come here is for the train ride.

The train tracks in Ecuador were originally constructed to make the journey from the coast to the mountains of the sierra easier. The route opened for the first time in 1873 and by 1875 40 kilometers of railway had been constructed.

The owners of this railway brought about 5,000 workers from English colonies in the Carribean, as well as 500 prisoners from these colonies that were promised freedom if they survived the construction of the railway.

The original switchbacks of the Nariz del Diablo mountain were conquered in the early 1900’s and the train first arrived in Alausi in 1902.

The difficult topography of the Andes, lack of labor, and the rainy weather conducive to landslides and disease, made the TransAndean Railway the most difficult in the world.

It used to be that you could go from Alausi to the coast, but now stretches of this railway are no longer in use and the Nariz del Diablo route is sold as a tourist attraction rather than a practical means of transport.

Standing in line at the Alausi train station, I was bouncing around like a little kid, trying to peer around the patrons in front of me to get a glimpse of the train cars. After we boarded and started clacking down the tracks, my excitement grew. No one seemed concerned about all the passengers sticking their heads out the windows for pictures and better views.

Listening to classic sound of the train on the tracks, and taking in the vibrant green valley below I was ecstatic to have chosen Nariz del Diablo for my first train ride.

Along the switchbacks.

Along the switchbacks.

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Nariz del Diablo, or Nose of the Devil, mountain.

Nariz del Diablo, or Nose of the Devil, mountain.

Dancers at the train stop in the valley.

Dancers at the train stop in the valley. Before we left, I was sitting nearby, watching and taking video, when I was pulled up by one of these men and shared a dance with him 🙂

I had to ask if I could ride this saddled Elpaca....but I was met with scoffing laughs :) It's for the children, I was told.

I had to ask if I could ride this saddled Elpaca….but I was met with scoffing laughs 🙂 It’s for the children, I was told.

At the train station in Alausi

At the train station in Alausi

Gimp’s tour of Cuenca, Ecuador

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Well, we are back from Ecuador now and I realize I got a little lazy about posting for the last couple of weeks. Dealing with a gimpy ankle and trying to concentrate in internet cafes just wasn’t the most conducive to creative thinking, I guess! Still, I am going to play catch up here and post about the last bits of our trip.

In my last post I shared the tale of how I got injured in the beautiful, colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. The first few days after the ankle injury were pretty boring, but then Alex found some crutches for rent so we were up and moving again.

At least if I was bound to get an injury in Ecuador, I was glad it happened in Cuenca. This is a city full of great museums and food…so basically we gimped around learning about history and sat around getting fat 🙂

Yay for crutches!

Yay for crutches!

Our first stop was the Museo de Arqueologia, where we wandered through the 11 stations, looking at pottery and stone carvings both ancient and modern.

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The next day we paid $5 each to do a double-decker bus tour of the city. From the top of our bus we enjoyed views of some of Cuenca’s 52 churches and the colonial buildings and houses.We stopped at a mirador/ viewpoint on the outskirts of the city to see the sweeping views of the city and the surrounding mountains. Seeing the mountains of Cajas National Park, where we were planning on hiking before the ankle injury, made me a smidgen sad.

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The Cathedral Nueva

The Cathedral Nueva

At the mirador with the city of Cuenca behind us.

At the mirador with the city of Cuenca behind us.

Finally, we visited one of the biggest museums in Cuenca: the Museo del Banco Central. Here we found exhibits on both archaeology and anthropology, as well as a large model of Inca living that was built out back of the museum.

Alex couldn't help himself from doing crutch tricks.

Alex couldn’t help himself from doing crutch tricks.

We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside of this museum, but Alex took some of the Inca farm model, while I waited for him at the museum. This sprawling outdoor exhibit was too much for me to handle on crutches!

Llamas outside the museum

Llamas outside the museum

Eat, Sleep, Read; The Story of Clumsiness and Injury in Cuenca

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I am clumsy. I have no problem admitting this. Alex often grins and shakes his head at me, wondering aloud how I ,”always manage to do these things that other people couldn´t do if they tried.”…not in a good way! On the less severe end of my clumsiness are bruises from running into things with sharp corners, like coffee tables and countertops.

´When we build our own house,´I say, éverything will have rounded corners.’ Alex chuckles, shakes his head.

This category also includes silly things, like the time I got my long hair stuck in the track of a sliding door on a Kenyan bus. It also includes the time I incurred road rash while trying to one-up Alex on a bike by riding with my hands crossed to the opposite handlebars.

Sidenote; both of these things happened when at the age of 21, and I wasn´t drunk either…though it´d be less embarassing if I were.

Lastly, on the far end of my clumsiness spectrum are things that are more often called accidents (instead of dumb mistakes). These include swinging willy-nilly off of the monkey bars at my childhood home and smashing my face into the adjoining wooden play deck, as well as breaking my first rib a little bit while snowboarding and a lot more the next day while going down a twisty waterslide.

But what happened yesterday cannot really be in the accident category because, although it resulted in fairly serious injury, it was just plain dumb and had nothing to do with extreme sport-ness (like monkey barring) and everything to do with clumsiness.

And curbs.

It was in my ever-clumsy body that I walked the streets of southern Ecuador´s city of Cuenca. We arrived under the quietude of a Sunday afternoon, in a city where most things are closed on Sunday. As we walked, looking for a hostel, we reveled in the peace of this clean, colonial city.

We settled on a hostel, put our things down in the room, and went across the street to reception to give them our information (name, date, country, etc.). A few scribbles later we waved goodbye to the smiling attendent, Wilson, and stepped out onto the sidewalk.

Alex was a couple strides in front of me and he looked both ways to cross. I did the same and stepped haphazardly off a curb I didn´t notice, seeing my ankle turn and hearing it pop once.

‘Ow…fuck!’ I muttered under my breath, sucking air between my teeth as I stooped.

I tried to take a step once and pain, like none my clumsy body has felt before, consumed my foot and ankle. On my stable foot I reeled back toward the menacing curb, grappling at the cobblestones for a seat.

‘It was the yellow line,’ I fervently explained to Alex, referring to a yellow line that is often painted on the edge of curbs in the US, but is apparently painted on the street, two inches from the curb here in Cuenca.

‘I think my brain saw it and thought that´s when I was supposed to step down.’

This, followed by many ‘Ow…fuck,’ statements. Alex was chuckling, assuming, I´m sure,that this incident would just fall into the first severity level on my clumsiness scale…maybe the second. As tears welled, I sucked breath and laughed a little too.

A few teenage boys watching from across the street promptly scuttled away as we began to make moves toward our hostel door. In the entryway, a man walked in behind us and turned and left as soon as he realized my sobbing. Hopping on one foot up 2 flights of stairs, I winced and sucked breath, and muttered ‘Ow..fuck´ all the way.

In the room there was a quick removal of shoe and sock, confirmation of swelling, propping on pillows, and Alex´s quick exit to go find ice. He returned sweating from his [endearing] run to the store. We took a few breaths, culled our initial panic, and decided to wait until the next day to see about a doctor.

The rest of the evening and all of the next morning, I ate, slept, and read…and iced…while Alex was in and out on errands regarding food, insurance, and a hopeful but unsuccessful search for whiskey on a sleepy Sunday.

Now, after visiting the cleanest, cheapest, and most efficient hospital I´ve been to, I know that nothing is broken, as I initially feared. Sixty three dollars and an X-ray later and we heard the diagnosis. I tore multiple ligaments in my ankle.

‘Ten to 15 days to heal,’ the doc said, smiling while I realized that in 15 days exactly we will be back in Colorado. ‘Ice and…como se dice…wrap it up to be more stable. You can put weight on it, but if it hurts…just don´t.’

And finally, with a smile and a shrug, ‘If you visit nearby Cajas National Park, just stick it in a lake.´With the universal thumb-to-forefinger gesture for ‘ok’ he adds, ‘Muy frio!’

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A little more than 24 hours after the incident I sit on the bed in our room, staring at the sherbert and sky-blue walls, and I make vows to myself. I vow to do ankle-strengthening excercises as soon as I can. Although I consider myself a ‘body-aware’ person, I vow to make moves to be aware of where my body is in its surroundings.

And I vow to always look where I am going, especially if curbs are lurking nearby.

Jungle Time: Caving, Camping, Chocolate-Making, and Tarantulas

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Sticky from humidity and surrounded by school kids playing internet video games before dinner time, Alex and I Google somewhat frantically. We are in Tena, Ecuador and are looking for a way to get further into the Amazon rainforest without paying $200 a night at a place that offers welcome juice and tours with more tourists than we generally care to be around. It seems nearly impossible to find an authentic, budget option. But we know there has to be something out there! I see one on the map we´ve picked up from the tourism office: Nanambiiki. It appeals to us because it doesn´t include the word lodge, and it´s in some tiny, seemingly unknown river town that isn´t known for its lodges. We find their website, and we like it because it doesn´t look fancy and it´s easy to find their prices. A couple phone calls later and we´ve arranged our visit and decided to stay 3 or 4 nights out in the jungle.

First we headed out of Tena to the Jumondy Caverns for a short caving tour.

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The next day we got on a bus bound for the river communities and, after some confusion as to where to let us off, our bus boy and fellow passengers dropped us at unmarked junction that they were pretty sure about. At the bus stop we were greeted by a young French girl, cigarette in her mosquito-bitten hand. This is Melanie, a smiley 22-year old tourism student who is running the daily operations at at Cabañas Nanambiiki for 3 months.

A 15 minute walk from the road and we found ourselves at Nanambiiki, a small property with an outdoor eating area and a few dirty local kids watching the TV, a couple rustic wood cabañas, and the Rio Napa just a few steps away.

Looking back, after 4 days here, it was clear that we made a great decision on where to spend our money and our time in the jungle. We were the only guests at Nanambiiki, and we felt like we got a really personal and authentic experience, and were especially pleased that it was reasonably priced. If you´re looking for something a bit more rustic in the Ecuadorian jungle, I can´t recommend Cabañas Nanambiiki highly enough!

That afternoon the 3 of us roasted in the sun and sweat in the humidity as Melanie showed us the little town of Campococha. That night we made chocolate with her. The cocoa beans we used were grown on the Nanambiiki property, and had already been dried in the sun. The next step was to cook them on the stove until we could easily remove the peels. We then removed the peels and cooked them again. Then it was time to grind them by hand a few times. When the beans were ground to powder we added powdered sugar and put it all through the grinder again to mix it and make it more creamy. Then, we swirled the plate of chocolate around the tabletop like a frisbee until everything was evenly mixed.  Finally we wrapped it up in foil, just like good ole store bought chocolate!

Grinding the cocoa beans.

Grinding the cocoa beans.

A little bit of our finished product! I kind of want to adopt chocolate-making s a new career path. Yummy :)

A little bit of our finished product! I kind of want to adopt chocolate-making s a new career path. Yummy 🙂

Next up in our jungle stay was an all-day motor canoe trip around the Rio Napo. The first stop was a museum, where Melanie acted as our tour guide and showed us a plethora of Kichwa hunting traps and handicrafts.

Hiding in behind this handmade wall of palm leaves, hunters can watch for animals as they come to eat the palm fruits.

Hiding in behind this handmade wall of palm leaves, hunters can watch for animals as they come to eat the palm fruits.

Using an extremely long blow gun to shoot darts at a fake monkey.

Using an extremely long blow gun to shoot darts at a fake monkey.

Next stop on the Rio Napo was Amazonica, an animal rescue center that was started by an Ecuadorian-Swiss couple twenty years ago. The center is run by a handful of volunteers that circulate through, and they take in animals that were previously house pets, injured by hunters, etc. My favorite was a pair of outcast monkies that none of the monkey groups at the shelter would accept because they were ´slow and wierd,´as our guide put it. So, they live together and get along quite nicely. 🙂 We also got a good look at some Ocelot cats.

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Finally, we visited another river town and sat down with a woman there to make pottery as she explained to us the process of pottery making that the indigenous people here have used for hundreds of years.

The next day was the start of our super jungle adventure 🙂 Under wonderfully overcast skies we left the cabañas with two local guides, Hernesto and Enrique, for two days of hiking and a night of camping in the jungle. The guides led us on the community trails that wound around and up and down the nearby hills. The thickness of the jungle and the amount of plant life was astounding to us, and felt impossible to capture in a photo. Everything seemed interwoven with everything else, creating a tangle of green all over the hills.

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Drinking water out of a vine that holds stores of it.

Drinking water out of a vine that holds stores of it.

Swimming in the little river at our campsite

Swimming in the little river at our campsite

Our guides

Our guides

Home for the night! We slept under a tarp and mosquito net on the riverbank. Luckily not snakes or tarantulas got on us...that we know of...

Home for the night! We slept under a tarp and mosquito net on the riverbank. Luckily no snakes or tarantulas got on us…that we know of…

In the morning our Hernesto asked us if we wanted to eat some larvae. We politely declined when he showed us the bowl of fat, squirming, wormy creatures. Then he proceeded to wrap them in a leaf, cook them over the fire, and set them directly in front of us at breakfast. Now we felt really obligated to try this food, which is apparently a delicacy here in Ecuador

In the morning our guide Hernesto asked us if we wanted to eat some larvae. We politely declined when he showed us the bowl of fat, squirming, wormy creatures. Then he proceeded to wrap them in a leaf, cook them over the fire, and set them directly in front of us at breakfast. Now we felt really obligated to try this food, which is apparently a delicacy here in Ecuador

It was really gross...

It was really gross…

On our hike back toward Campococha we sweated our way uphill in the ceaseless humidity, but were awarded this great view of the surrounded mountains and the Rio Napo. Again, I was in awe at the sheer number of trees here.

On our hike back toward Campococha we sweated our way uphill in the ceaseless humidity, but were awarded this great view of the surrounding mountains and the Rio Napo. Again, I was in awe at the sheer number of trees here.

Back at the cabañas, our final activity with Melanie was to pan for gold in the Rio Napo. With a large wooden bowl, she showed us how it was done, and then pointed out to us a few specks of gold dust left in the bowl! Alex gave it a go, but I was feeling super nauseated- maybe from the breakfast larvae?…who knows…- so sat this one out.

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The beautiful Rio Napo.

The beautiful Rio Napo.

On our final morning in the jungle, we woke up to find this fuzzy friend high up on the wall in our cabaña. Although I had spent the last four days ignoring everyone´s talk of jungle tarantulas, he wasn´t actually as scary as I would have thought! Still...I was glad we didn´t have to stay another night with him :)

On our final morning in the jungle, we woke up to find this fuzzy friend high up on the wall in our cabaña. Although I had spent the last four days ignoring everyone´s talk of jungle tarantulas, he wasn´t actually as scary as I would have thought! Still…I was glad we didn´t have to stay another night with him 🙂

Because tarantulas aren´t cute, I´d rather leave you with this image of the jungle.

Because tarantulas aren´t cute, I´d rather leave you with this image of the jungle.

 

Quilotoa: Sleepy town and stunning lake

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As we began our ascent up to the highest point on the Lago Quilotoa crater rim, we could see just a flash of bright blue at the top. Another hiker, we thought. Slowly, slowly we went straight up the hill, toward the blue. At the top I found myself nearly face to face with a friendly-looking dog.

‘Tu perros esta bien?’ I called, thinking of the quickest but not totally correct way to get my point across in Spanish before the dog lunged at me.

‘Si,’ a voice called back.

As I came over the top of the hill, I saw that it wasn’t a hiker we had spotted from below, but a teenage Kichwa girl wearing dress shoes, tall socks, a nice skirt and a bright blue, crocheted shawl over her shirt. She was sitting on the rocks there, looking out over the valley while her two dogs milled around. She asked us what our names are, where we are from, and how old we are. We asked her the same. Ida, fifteen years old.

Then, ‘Do you have a chocolate treat for me?’ she asked politely and seriously. Kids are the same everywhere, I thought.

I dug in our pack for a box of jordan almonds that I couldn’t resist the day before at the supermarket. I gave her one and got one for myself. I sat down next to her and asked if she goes to school, what grade she’s in, if she likes it, and where she lives. She answered my questions and pointed to her house far below, in the valley in the shadows of this huge crater rim. I thought maybe she was up here just for fun, for something to do after school. After I gave her another almond, she got up to leave and I looked to the left, seeing that a herd of sheep was following her as she started down the hill. That’s why she was here, to herd the sheep. Alex asked if she does this everyday. Yes, she does. She will be very strong, he told her.

After the sheep cleared out of the path, we continued on, descending and ascending countless times. As we walked we noticed places where crops came right up to the trail. That’s one thing America has got going for it, Alex said. All of our protected natural areas. We passed a family of four out working their crops together right next to the trail. We greeted them as their dog barked at us relentlessly. As we hiked into the clouds moving in over the crater rim, we passed two little girls, seeming to be sisters, talking in excited voices and trekking up the hill to look over the edge at the lake. Their horse was tied up and munching in the mist right off the trail.

With all the clouds, we had the trail to ourselves except for these couple of locals and one small group of German hikers we passed early on. It was a wet day at Quilotoa, and we weren’t afforded the views of the distance Volcan Cotopaxi that can be seen from the crater on a clear day. But all was quiet and peaceful, and I was reminded of  one of my favorite days in Utah, in Zion National Park when it rained endlessly but we ended up having a great time taking silly pictures in cloudy, misty, quiet park while everyone else seemed to be inside hiding from the wetness. We marveled at the strange fog, something we don’t have much of at home in Colorado.

After four hours of quiet ups and downs on the rim trail, we were back in the sleepy town of Quilotoa. Because it is the town of such a great tourist attraction, I thought it would have a bit more charm to it or at least a bit more to offer. The town is made up of at least 8 hostels, one restaurant, and one crafts shop. We were staying at the Cabana’s Quilotoa and, although the rooms were clean, the granite floors made for a chilly return from our chilly hike. After gloriously scalding showers, we went downstairs to sit by the fire in the community area. When the fire went out, we asked for more wood.

‘Manana,’ the staff told us. Tomorrow.

Brrrr.

At most the hostels in Quilotoa, breakfast and dinner are included in the room rate. After dinner we gathered some wood from the hotel next door and Alex sat in the room with his multi-tool, trying to ply kindling pieces off the logs and wishing he had a hatchet. After about 20 minutes of this, there was a knock at the door. In came a young man with a jug of kerosene. He poured it into a tin can in the fireplace, stacked the logs on top, threw a match in and that was that. We were left laughing at Alex’s creative efforts with the multi-tool-

Even with a fire, and even though we are on the edges of the equator here at Quilotoa, it was still see-your-breath cold in our room at 12,000 feet. I bundled in socks, leggings, a fleece, an alpaca wool sweater, and a fleece hat before getting under a down comforter and fleece blanket. Twelve thousand feet is cold everywhere, I guess, even on the equator.

In the morning we woke to clouds again and shivered our way through bowls of oatmeal and cups of tea at breakfast. We asked a hostel employee if we could get change that the owner owed us from what we paid for our room the day before. The owner is not here, she told us, so there’s no change. Slightly cold and slightly ripped off in Quilotoa, we looked at the thick clouds and decided to head on in our travels. Although you can spend the better part of a week hopping between the little towns on the Quilotoa loop, we were content to enjoy the stunning lake on a quick overnight jaunt from Latacunga.

 

Lago Quilotoa

Lago Quilotoa

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Playing in the clouds.

Playing in the clouds.

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Arriba Arriba at Lago Cuicocha

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Sunday was our last day in Pucara, and our host brother wanted to take us to the nearby Lago Cuicocha, between Otavalo and Pucara. We caught the early bus out of Pucara and arrived at the lake before many people were there. Our host brother, Luis, told us that this lake is very popular with foreign and Ecuadorian tourists.

Right away we began to hike along the trail that leads along the rim of the crater, and the further up we went the less people there were. Alex and Luis set their sights on a hill about a quarter of the way around the lake, up high where we could better views of the surrounding area. As we hiked we could see the nearby towns of Otavalo and Cotocachi, and the surrounding volcanoes Imbabura and Pinchincha. Volcan Cotocachi is right behind the lake, but it was covered in clouds during our visit.

Up and up we went toward the hill.

“Arriba arriba,” Alex and Luis kept saying. Up up. The higher we went the more fierce the wind got. When we reached the top of the hill, we were staggering sideways in the stronger gusts of wind.

Lago Cuicocha

Lago Cuicocha

 

 

Us with Luis on our hike at Lago Cuicocha

Us with Luis on our hike at Lago Cuicocha

Playing in the strong winds!

Playing in the strong winds!

 

Pucara, Ecuador: Las Piscinas de Nangulvi

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On Wednesday Alex and I left our little cloud forest town and started walking down into the valley, to some hot springs that are past the nearest market town of Apuela. We walked 4 to 5 miles to get there, enjoying the views of the tree-covered hills and plateaus all around us.

When we arrived we quickly realized that we were the only people at the hot springs. For the few hours we were there, no one ever joined us! The property is covered in well-kept gardens made up of tropical fruit trees, bushes, flowers, and vines. The pools are a little funky, with designs in different colored tiles covering their bottoms and sides. There are about 7 pools at the Piscinas de Nangulvi, and 5 of them were still refilling from being cleaned the day before. For $3 each, we enjoyed the two full pools. For another couple bucks we had snacks and a 10:30 am Pilsener (now that´s vacation!), and for $5.80 more we ate a lunch of soup, trout, rice, fried yuca, juice, and cheese with honey…all at a cute little restaurant right on the Rio Intag. At the end of our day trip, we were able to catch a bus back to Pucara right from the hot springs. So, our first international hot springs experience was successful! Here are a few pictures.

Walking on the road we could see the town of Apuela far below.

Walking on the road we could see the town of Apuela far below.

La Piscinas de Nangulvi.

La Piscinas de Nangulvi.

Our favorite pool.

Our favorite pool.

We were very excited to discover a zip line over one of the pools (even though there was a giant dead tarantula-lookin spider in this pool) and equally dissappointed when we realized it was broken and wouldn´t budge! Here I am trying really hard to make it move!

We were very excited to discover a zip line over one of the pools (even though there was a giant dead tarantula-lookin spider in this pool) and equally dissappointed when we realized it was broken and wouldn´t budge! Here I am trying really hard to make it move!

Nice view at lunch...both the dude and the river beyond :)

Nice view at lunch…both the dude and the river beyond 🙂

Scrumptious food pic

Scrumptious food pic

Pucara, Ecuador: The Cascada

Standard

Monday morning we left our house fairly early with our host brother Luis to do a hike to a nearby waterfall. He led us out of town on a trail that was muddy and green and nearly overgrown by the dense jungle.

After about 15 minutes we reached the Mirador, a viewpoint with a gazebo where we could see all the surrounding mountains, even the tall and rocky Cotacachi in the distance with it´s peak pointy like a steeple, and down to the Rio de Santa Rosa at the bottom of the valley floor. Then we began our descent. The trail switchbacked down through the dense jungle, where we walked through grasses almost as tall as we are and tangles of branches and leaves that seemed to pack every spare inch of space. Luis was using his machete to chop plants out of our way, but because he is much shorter than us there were still many obstacles at our head height and I kept getting things caught in my hair! Luis continued to point out uses for various plants as we passed them throughout the hike: vines used for making furniture, grass used for hats, a tree with sap that takes the itch out of bug bites. And our favorite: leaves as big as us that are used as umbrellas and as tents for field workers.

Just a smidge more green than our Colorado forests ;)

Just a smidge more green than our Colorado forests 😉

Alex behind the biggest leaf we´ve ever seen

Alex behind the biggest leaf we´ve ever seen

 

When we got to the valley floor we walked up to an old bridge made out of thick metal wire and half-rotten wood planks. Luis explained that this bridge and this path were how people got across the river before there were roads in the area. As I listened I was looking around for the newer, safer bridge that we would cross. There was not one. This was our way across! Luis instructed us to watch where he put his feet as he crossed.

“I will do Pilates breathing,” I told Alex.

“At least if we fall it´s not that far down and the water is not moving very fast,” he replied.

“It would still hurt.”

“Yep.”

After Luis was on the other side, it was my turn.

P1150124Next we went straight up the hill on the other side of the river. Here we were in taller, less dense forest that Luis kept calling “bosques limpia,” or clean forests. At the top the trail leveled out and, after a while, we passed the house of my Spanish teacher. While Luis visited with her husband I tried to figure out where the nearest road was and realized that she must walk at least an hour into to town to teach me every day.

Past my teacher´s house we reached the waterfall!

P1150106P1150107Then through the forest, across a much safer bridge, up the hillside, and down the road into Pucara!