the last of Ecuador
Ok, ok, yes, this blog is well overdue, by a few months I'll have to admit. So, I've finally sat down to bash out some stories and upload some pics to fill in to all my loved ones what I've been up to over the last few months. Some wonderfully amazing times in there and some tricker times I'd have to say as well. As the time passes I'm learning that these are the joys of travels, the good and the bad times...no different to life really, you just need to find the right balance. So, hold onto your hats and enjoy the ride.
My last entry I was back in Colombia, sorting out my much needed extra stamp to pass back through Colombia. Upon returning to Quito I'd decided I'd had enough of the city, so took a couple of days to visit Mindo, which is around 2 hours west of Quito. It's known for its bird life and cloud forest's which I was keen to explore.
Mindo certainly did not disappoint. Mindo has one of the best cable wire rides though the cloudforest, which for me being a lover of heights was quite a ride. Rushing though the air at exceptional heights through and over a rainforest is a wonderful sensation....but perhaps not for everyone. Mindo also has a walk, the Santuario de Cascades which contains 9 waterfalls in one walk. This was an easy place to wonder and soak in and enjoy the total tranquility of rushing water all around.
While I did no specific 'twitching' tours as such (bird watching), I had a wonderful moment with a humingbird, the first I had ever seen. Lying back in a hammock on the balcony of the hostel watching the sunset, a hummingbird kept circling around some wattle in quite frequent intervals. Camera in hand, I snapped away, lucky enough to capture a perfect silhouette of this magnificent bird, wings back and beak just dipping into the wattle flower. I in part think this photo was shear luck, as at the rate these birds fly most photos were a blur. Nature was working with me that day.
My arrival back in Quito meant good things. You may remember the cool Irish chick Ed from the Galapagos Islands. Well, she has some time left in Ecuador before flying out and was keen to hook up. Yes sir a travel buddie for me, and a pretty cool one at that. So the plan was to head to the jungle, then Baños and try pack in what ever else we could time permitting. We headed to Tena, being one of the better spots to line up a jungle tour. Poor ed was almost dying from the flu, but soldiered on and didn't let it stop the sense of adventure or from playing paddocks on the bus. After a day of talking to tour operators we thought we had found our man, Fausto, who was of Quechua decent and seemed quite keen to share the jungle with us. Well while Ed and I had a great time, perhaps he was not the greatest guide in the end. Proclaiming to speak good english we were sold, but once we got on the bus and started our journey, his english seemed to gradually disappear.
But this did not halt our adventure at all. After a night bus from Tena to Limoncocha, we had arrived and seen our first glimpses of the waters that run into the mighty amazon. After our driver bucked out the water from our motor canoe, we were on our way to our jungle location over the next four days.
Our little slice of the jungle was all ours over this time, filled with monkey watching, jungle walks and pirana fishing. While the piranas we caught we small, they still had the sharp teeth that i would not want to be swimming with. I must say though that they are a very tasty little fish.
Fausto has promised us a night of caimen watching (caimen being the crocs of the amazon). This lined up with a full moon and a long paddle into the township of limoncocha to visit the local bar for some cervezas.
So we set off, with fausto barking his usual orders at us both. I will give him credit as he did find some caimen for us to admire. This picture below does not quite tell this story, but we got the canoe pretty close to one of them, perhaps like no more than a meter. Sitting in the front of the canoe, I was packing myself, as Fausto kept edging the canoe closer and closer for me to take a photo. One hand on the camera, the other on the paddle incase I needed to use it. Fausto knowing I was a keep photographer then took us along the edges of a patch of lilies looking for frogs. This is no easy task, with a torch, paddle, camera and a million bugs attracted to the light, hunting for 5cm frogs.
After this was the long moonlight paddle into town, faintly seeing the bats flying around us though the night air. Along the waters edge in the lily plants were glow insects, that made the banks of the river appear to be lined with fairy lights. It was certainly a beautiful moment.
The night turned into a funny one, as the locals took great interest in Ed and I. Ok, to be honest I'm sure it was Ed where the interest lay, but it provided us with endless dance partners for salsa and quechua and lots of conversation. On arrival a young local ran off to find his balsa wood carvings of snakes and boat to try and sell to us. Since we did not buy any, at the end of the night he insisted on giving us some as presents. There was a reason why we did not buy any of them, but none the less accepted the gifts and told our guy that they will provide us with many memories of this place. Much to our surprise, spitting everywhere on the floor of the bar seemed to be quite a common activity. I did have to hold back my laughter as while dancing violently with a larger local lady, she would fling her head to the side and ever so graciously 'take a slag'. Each to their own i guess. Another 'ritual' which I have not experienced else where was that the locals loved the microphone. So much that the whole night a running commentary was given of the evening as it progressed, while the music played and people danced. Ed and I got our fair share of mentions and the crowd cheered when Ed had her go.
The return ride did not disappoint either, with Fuasto nearly falling out of the canoe and our first experience of the thick Amazon fog.
After the jungle the next destination was Baños for volcanos and white water rafting. The white water rafting was an amazing adventure, but unfortunately with no photos to show. I did take great pride in being front captain up first...even if everyone in the boat does get a go. Being tossed about in rapids in quite a thrill.
The night volcano tour got a great wrap in the guidebook 'a chiva ride up the mountain where you may see red sparks in the night all with some complimentary caña’ (a strong sugar cane drink). Well it was fun to say the least, but this one certainly did not fit the guidebook description. After the ride up in the chiva, we stood on the edge of a road while some guy poured petrol all over a fire to keep us warm. We got our free drinks that's for sure, but were not really ever sure where to top of the volcano actually was.
Ed and I stumbled on a great Karaoke bar in Baños. We were first drawn to this place as we stood outside and laughed at the Ecuadorian woman trying to sing. But, at the end of the night, we were in her shoes. So what do you get when you cross an Aussie, Irish, Ecuadorian and Peruano...a damn good night of Karaoke. Must note, I did attempt a song in Spanish, but I'm sure there were people outside laughing just as we had done earlier.
Baños also got us on the bikes, on a waterfall tour which we ended at the pialon del diablo, a spectacular waterfall.
At this point Ed’s time had come to an end in Ecuador, so said our farewells. But not before a few final songs at the Karaoke bar. We also tried some acro balance in the park, which certainly gave the locals something to talk about.
So I headed back to my room and had withdrawal symptoms from Ed for a few days. I had gotten used to travelling with someone and was now on my own again, which would take some getting used to.
The plan was to head to the region of the Quilitoa loop and do some hiking for a few days. After a recommendation I headed to Chugchilan, which was a great little place to stay. This place seemed like the Ecuador I had always imagined, rolling hills, people living on the land and total beauty.
On my second day I went off on the ‘cheese factory’ walk. After an hour of walking I passed a family on the side of the road, where a dog decided to start walking along with me. I thought great, a friend for the day, which is exactly what happened. The dog, who for the day I named ‘chico’ came with me for the whole 7 hours. He fought other dogs for me, helped eat my cheese sandwiches and we even napped in the paramo grass together as the clouds rolled over the spectacular landscape. I think every photo from that day has ‘chico’ in the shot somewhere. But after a while I started to wonder, what happens when we get back, what do I do with ‘chico’ (keep him certainly ran though my mind). Luckly when we got back to town, I soon found out that he was one of the hostel dogs. Perhaps ‘chico’ had done the cheese factory walk many times before?
To leave Chugchilan you have to option of buses at 4-5am, or the milk truck at 9am. Easy option to decide on as the milk truck sounded much more interesting. So at 9 I jumped on the milk truck, which ambles along the road, stopping to buy milk from the locals along the way. The truck also picks up other people along the way, like Mika. Mika was another traveller and we got to talking, enjoying the rolling hills from the back of the truck.
Once we got to Sigchos we has some time to kill for the bus back to Latacunga. So, we sat down and talked and eventually got onto the conversation of handstands, which Mika had recently been working on. So, what better place to have a small session in the Sigchos park, which once again certainly gave the locals something to talk about.
After spending a few days hiking in Quilitoa, I felt ready to climb Cotapaxi. Cotapaxi is an ice capped mountain that stands at 5900 meters high. For tourists like me wanting to do some ice climbing, this is the one to start on as it’s an ‘easier’ climb due to the cone shaped nature of the mountain. So in Latacunga I met a Spanish fellow called Luis who was up for it as well. With our guide Diego, 6 layers of clothing, ice cramps and ice pics we were ready.
In the afternoon you head to the climbers refuge, which sits around 4800 meters. The views from here are spectacular and you get a sense of what you are about to do. You pass the afternoon here before setting off at midnight for the climb. The reason for the night climb is that the ice is not as soft and you also get to the top for sunrise.
Well I’d love to be able to say that I made it to see that sunrise, but my sunrise was on that way back down. I suffered from altitude sickness and had to make the choice at around 5400 meters to come back down. It was a hard call to make as being defeated by the mountain ain’t such a great feeling, along with the feelings of altitude sickness to top it off. At the end of the day it was still an incredible experience…and there will always be other mountains in the future to try.
After Cotapaxi I spent time in the towns of Riobamba, Loja and Cuenca and then onto Vilcabamba, which is deemed the valley of longevity…and also my last stop in Ecuador. I’m not sure if my stay has added years to my life, but it was yet again another beautiful part of Ecuador.
Next top...and next blog, Peru!