A special place
Fondest memory: The Galapagos trip was better than even she imagined and though we had had an absolutely magical trip trekking around Cotopaxi I had to admit that the islands had overall been the highlight of the trip. We were a bit worried following it up with the jungle and confessed to each other that if we could end the trip perfectly we would have gone home then and there, direct flight to Miami but we’d already booked the Amazon flight so off we went. Once there it was readily apparent that it would not be as bowl you over spectacular as the Galapagos Islands but right from the start it seemed a place that could seep into you given the chance. The sights were more delicate and it took some work to find them but overall it felt more intimate because of it. We were lucky to be amongst only three guests at the lodge which only added to the seclusion natural to the jungle. But ultimately what turned me on the place was not anything that was inherently there. Riding behind my wife in the canoe I could see it all unfold before her. Sure, it was lush beyond imagination and serene but what I saw was only a frame around her blond head. I knew without seeing it that she was smiling and taking it all in. It was very special for her and in that alone it became special for me. Without her in my view it would have been just another scene amongst many jaded memories. But with her as its centerpiece all light radiated out and I was happy to be right where I was. A special place, right behind her.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
The Pacific Coast
Favorite thing: One of the highlight of Ecuador is its wonderful Pacific coast. The magestic Pacific offers, under these lattitudes, hot water (a point of interest for those of you who live in California ; )).
You can see pics in my Montanita and Puerto Lopez's pages but there are many others.
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Probably the best fruit juices in the world!
Fondest memory: One of the absolute joys of travelling in Ecuador is the range and quality of fruit juices available. As well as the fruits you probably already know and enjoy, such as orange and maybe passion-fruit, there are many that are unique to that country or at least to that part of the world. I couldn’t get enough of these delicious drinks! If I had to pick a favourite it would probably be guanabana, the Spanish name for the white fruit of the Annona muricata known elsewhere as soursop. I have seen the flavour described in Wikipedia as “as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with sour citrus flavour notes contrasting with an underlying creamy flavour reminiscent of coconut or banana”, but to me it was pretty unique and so refreshing!
Other juices I enjoyed included:
~ mora – a beautiful purple/reddish coloured juice very like blackberry, which is quite often found mixed with guanabana in a lovely purple and white swirl
~ narajilla – translated by someone we spoke to (I forget whom) as “green orange” but which is not in fact a citrus fruit but rather has a smooth skin more like that of a tomato. The flavour is quite sharp, which I like, and very refreshing (this is not to be confused with naranja, which is the common orange)
~ taxo – known in English as the “banana passionfruit” because of its shape – again, sharp and refreshing, and another of my favourites
~ tomate de arbol – as the name suggests, a tree tomato, which has quite a bitter taste but which I found went well with savoury food
Other Spanish names for more commonly known fruits that you should look out for are maracuyá, which is passion-fruit and delicious here, and guayaba, which is guava.
And while we’re on the subject of drinks, what about a beer?!Related to:
- Food and Dining
Favorite thing: Markets of Ecuador should not be missed: they are beautiful, full of colours and interesting (sometimes surprising) goodies and crafts.
The two most important are Saquisili (you can see my Saquisili's page) and Otavalo. But there are many others in the big or small cities and villages.
The rewards of succumbing to my wife's desires
Favorite thing: When I saw Cotopaxi perfectly reflected in Laguna Limpiapunga I was ready to go home. I figured there was nothing that would compare to it and in fact all else would pale. And perhaps that one instant was the highlight of the trip and quite possibly as I grow too old to backpack I will look back on the walk around the mighty one as the highlight of Ecuador. But overall and possibly due to surprise the Galapagos Islands seems to have taken the front seat. The surrealistic terrains, the variety of easily photographed wildlife, and swimming with sea lions was just tough to top.
Fondest memory: I’ve never been a great compromiser but I am learning or should I say my wife is quietly teaching me. Prior to our recent trip to Ecuador I did all the planning as is generally the case. She doesn’t mind this set up and in fact likes that I do all the work and trusts my judgment. It had been quite some time since we had done any proper backpacking or wilderness travel and I wanted to get as much of this in on this trip as possible so I could be forgiven for planning three multi-day hikes that would involve carrying “our lives” on our backs. We trained diligently and my wife was resigned to a physically draining trip. For me, Ecuador, like all Andean countries was about hiking and camping in the mountains. Though the Galapagos Islands interested me I assumed they were just too expensive to be included on a six week trip. But as I planned I read some articles about independent travel in the islands and it became more of a possibility much to my wife’s delight. Once in the country we tackled our first backpacking in years quite well but it became apparent that unless we had perfect weather I had better back off some of this planned trekking if I wanted to keep my marriage intact. The weight of the pack and the elevation (walking mostly over 4000 meters!) were wearing her and to be honest me to some extent down. So, I succumbed to the Galapagos Islands trip and when our final backpacking trip fizzled due to awful weather I even gave into my wife’s deep desire to go to the jungle. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)Related to:
- Hiking and Walking
- National/State Park
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Favorite thing: Some of the most dramatic scenery we saw in Ecuador was on the road from Cuenca to Guayaquil. We had already passed through the beautiful Cajas National Park (see separate Things to Do tip), where the road had reached a highest point of 4,000 metres, and from there were to drop down to sea level in less than an hour’s driving time!
As soon as we started the descent the landscape altered quite dramatically. Beneath us, what were still pretty high mountains poked their summits up through a thick blanket of cloud. We stopped to take a few photos of this mysterious, other-worldly scene. Then, as we dropped down into this layer of cloud, the vegetation, which had been sparse and scrubby, quickly changed and became very lush and green. Trees loomed through the fog, dripping with moisture and hung with creepers, and the undergrowth was dense beneath them. For about ten or fifteen minutes as we drove down, visibility seemed to be almost zero, and I was thankful that our driver knew the road as well as he did. Then we emerged on to the coastal plains, and again the landscape shifted.
Here the land was rich and fertile, the road lined with banana trees (the main export of this part of Ecuador) and with fields of sugar-cane and rice paddies. The small towns we passed through had stalls piled high with mangoes and papayas, and locals stood around at roadside bars enjoying a cold beer in the muggy early evening air. This was such a contrast to the highlands where we had spent all our time till now, and although we only had this brief glimpse, it was great to have seen another side of this very varied country.
My next series of tips on this page focus on the different places we visited in Ecuador, starting naturally with our first destination, and the capital, Quito.Related to:
- Jungle and Rain Forest
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Storm over the Andes
Favorite thing: One of the most unforgettable sights of our time in Ecuador was also one that was totally unplanned, and which arose out of what might have been seen as a problem. We were stuck in a traffic jam not far from Quilotoa, on a narrow road that was being dynamited for road-widening works. We had already been stuck at the same point on our way to the lake, and it was sheer bad luck, or so we thought, that we should be returning through this spot at the same time as they again blasted through the hillside and closed it to traffic while clearing the rubble – not a quick undertaking. There was nothing to do but wait. I passed a little time updating my journal, while keeping an eye open out of the window for anything interesting to happen on the road or in the fields below where we sat. As I did so I noticed that the clouds were descending and swirling around, and the sky growing darker. There were some dramatic flashes of lightening and loud claps of thunder as the storm circled around the valley. Despite the rain I just had to get out of the car and get a few shots.
When the storm and the road block cleared, at about the same time, we were able to drive on, through the still-falling rain. It was easy to see why the fields here seem so fertile and green, as rain in these mountains must be a common occurrence at certain times of year at least. I loved these soft green landscapes, with patchwork fields dotted with small houses and occasional workers, children herding sheep and seemingly suicidal dogs darting out into the passing traffic. This isn’t a famous destination, though it is on the road to one, but it is another side to Ecuador that is well worth seeking out.
My next tip describes a rather different but equally photogenic landscape, the cloud forest.Related to:
- Road Trip
Churches and monuments
Favorite thing: Churches and monuments are gorgeous in Ecuador. It sometimes witnesses forms of architecture that almost disappeared in Europe.
Quito and Cunca, once again, are must see cities for churches and monuments but you may discover smallest but interesting ones in small villages during your trip.
I built a travelogue on churches and monuments of Quito in my Quito's page.
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Favorite thing: The area south of Quito is known as the Avenue of the Volcanoes because so many are to be seen there. The main road, the Panamerican Highway, runs north-south through a divide in the Andean range, with high mountains, many of them volcanic, on both sides of the road. And there are nearly as many volcanoes in the area immediately north of the city. The result is that the views from both Quito itself and the surrounding area are incredibly memorable – memorable, that is, on the days when the volcanoes reveal themselves from behind the clouds.
The closest volcano to the city is Pichincha, close to the western fringes. It can be climbed via the Teleferico for what are reputed to be spectacular views of the city – the day we did this the clouds descended within ten minutes of us exiting from the cable car so we saw very little, though what we did see was very atmospheric.
We had much better luck early in our trip when we went up the small hill known as El Panecillo from where we saw not only Cotopaxi to the south but also Cayambe to the north (we were to get a closer look at this one the next day when we drove to Otavalo), Corazón (named for its heart-shaped silhouette), Reventador and Antisana (the latter quite near Cotopaxi). I loved these views, and never tired of the glimpses of snow-covered peak that I got from time to time in the city.
Of course we had hoped for much better views when travelling the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Cotopaxi, but when that day came many were in clouds, although fortunately as we ascended Cotopaxi itself the clouds broke and we had some fantastic views of this most famous, and highest, of Ecuador’s volcanoes.
Next tip: a storm over the Andes
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Province of Azuay- Canaris
Favorite thing: Canaris are the main represantatives of the pre-Incan population in the area of Azuay. They settled down between 500 AD and 1480 AD . They had developed a great social organisation of ethnic nobility, social division within the establishments, with the priest being the head of the social structure and the extreme priest governing. They were of great culture, knowledgeable in silver, agriculture, weaving and pottery. Today Cuenca is built in the area of their important old capital, Guapondelig. In about 1500 the Incas arrived, invaded and conquered them. Canaris were dispersed to different parts of the region but their descendants are still present in the province. Their famous open market is an opportunity for local people to sell their goods.
Canaris culinary art is famous with delicious dishes of meat escorted by their fresh vegetables. They mainly cook pork.
For the cold winter days they drink a local specialty called “canelacito” from distilled alcohol of sugar cane and cinnamon. In a more refined version it also contains “cangoracho” which gives it a wonderful red colour. It's great!Related to:
- Food and Dining
- Historical Travel
The Old and The New
Favorite thing: Here we are at Plaza Grande, the main square in the Old City of Quito. I know I tend to go on about what I like so this time, I'll make a special effort to control myself because Quito is probably the most beautiful city I saw in South America.
The Old City appeared in all its intriguing splendour the minute I got out of the taxi at Plaza Grande. Buildings are solid, often majestic, and make liberal use of wood. A certain warmness surrounds you in these antique constructions. And at the same time, a feeling of the religious severity that was the norm in Spanish colonies.
Just when you start adjusting to this image of the New World as it is today, albeit in an atmosphere of colours and sounds unlike anything your senses have known before -- you see someone walking towards you that stands out in the crowd. A woman with remarkable indigenous features, wearing a felt hat over her black tresses, wrapped in a long grey-green cloak. Oh... she's talking on a mobile phone!!! I follow this image right out of a book with my eyes... and suddenly realise that others are passing me by that are just as unique and part of this world as she is. This is a city of sudden contrasts. The Old City is still a compelling witness to the colonial times.
The New City is the opposite with its modern glass and steel building and its just as worthy of your time. It exudes an awareness, social involvement, and bustling but organised activity, all so well combined that it acted on me like an adrenaline shot. I wandered happily in the Old Town but would easily describe it as relaxing. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that the New City stimulated me in a more challenging way.
Fondest memory: Quito, and the pineapples overflowing from the sidewalks onto the streets, at the market in the border town with Colombia.
Meet the people of Ecuador
Favorite thing: I was very taken by how friendly and hospitable the people of Ecuador are, especially the rural residents.
We were fortunate enough to visit several Ecuadoran families in their houses. It was an opportunity to learn how they live and thrive in this beautiful little country.
And, it's also a chance to buy local handicrafts directly from "the manufacturer". You get a great deal, and THEY get ALL of the money for their labor. Win-win, as they say.
Fondest memory: One of my fondest memories was the visit to the farm pictured in this tip. They had several looms set up inside the house and the demonstration of weaving technique was fascinating. And, I appreciate the grandmother inside who, without a spoken word between us, convinced me that I needed a beautiful, new camera strap for my old Canon AT. I still have the strap, but I've moved on to better cameras.
Learn Spanish - Homestays
Favorite thing: I could defanitly recommend a homestay as the BEST way to learn the language. My host family, the Ordonez, was so patient and helpful! My first month in Ecuador, I could only understand my name (despite my four years of instruction in high school), but by the end of the year, I was fully fluent (besides a little problem with the subjunctive form, that 3 years of college Spanish took care of!).
Quito, or a city in the mountainous "Sierra" zone, is the best place to learn because they enunciate their words and speak very clearly. It is more difficult to understand speakers from the coastal region, because they tend to slur their words together or leave off the last syllable - many Spanish native speakers have trouble understanding them!
Many organizations offer homestays for HS students such as AFS (who I went with - www.afs.org), Rotary (www.rotary.org), and Youth for Understanding (www.yfu.org).
There are also many college programs and volunteer organizations that include homestays in their programs.
A good one to check out if you are over 18 is Experiment in International Living (www.eilecuador.org). They offer homestays within a language learning program or a volunteer program.Related to:
- Study Abroad
Visit the local markets
Favorite thing: When you visit Ecuador, there is a great deal of local color and experience to be had at the various markets, both rural and urban. And, the markets are also a great place to get good quality fruits and veggies for cheap eats.
Many of the markets are world-famous, Otavalo's Indian market , for example. However, each little local market has something to offer, be it lunch or learning.
Fondest memory: One of my fondest market memories occurred in Riobamba. We saw a bunch of guys playing with one of those little "kick bag" things. (can't remember the name). Basically, they're playing tennis with their feet, and using a small sack of beans to do so.
We gave it a try and weren't even close to good. But, the smiles all around made the market experience richer.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Study Abroad
- Budget Travel
Favorite thing: Ecuador counts an incredible number of volcanos, some of which are still active.
A visit of Ecuador would be uncomplete without sightseeing (and even climbing) the volcanos.
My pages under different cities comprise some pics of volcanos in Ecuador.
Traveled thur Quito on a Eco Tourism trip. The Marriott was unforgetable. Beautiful hotel in every...more
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Av. de las Amazonas, Banos, 2000, Ecuador
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