Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Quito Ecuador

We left the tranquility behind, and I braced myself for the big city of Quito, population 2 million, altitude 3850 metres. Arrival by bus was much as I had anticipated- noisy, tons of traffic, trucks and buses spewing black exhaust. The taxi ride from the bus station was another half hour of more of the same. Finally we were dropped in front of our hotel, right in the heart of the Old Town, on Plaza Santo Domingo. It is an incredible historic building, three floors surrounding an atrium. Beautiful parquet floors, chandeliers, and an eclectic mix of artwork on the walls.

Our balcony opens to a view of the plaza and the busy roads surrounding it. Here is what one sees from the balcony:

We did our own walking tour this morning. The buildings are amazing.

 There was a demonstration in the main plaza, to raise awareness of missing young women. There were police ready in case things got out of control.

 I found the singing and the beauty inside this church very moving.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Isinlivi Ecuador

Our taxi ride yesterday, February 15, was much more thrilling than the train ride to the Devil's Nose. Our young driver was very capable, but he drove very fast. At one point, a half lane of the one and a half lane road had broken away and fallen into the abyss. There was just yellow flagging tape around it. Our driver mentioned that a car had driven over the edge the day before, and two people died. Richard and I were clutching onto the "holy shit" handles the whole way.

We arrived safely at our lodge, Taina Cristobal, perched on the side of the mountain, with gorgeous views.

We have four resident llamas. Check out this sweet face.
Another great dinner by the fire in the dining room. Most (all?) of the people staying here are young hikers. We had the company of John, a very nice young Irish guy who has worked in some incredible places for Doctors without Borders, and a Swiss couple with Polish roots. We shared travel stories and a few laughs.

This morning I hiked up this hill by myself. None of my photos capture the height and depth of the terrain, but use your imagination. 

It is so peaceful here. There are almost no cars, and no other unpleasant sounds to disturb the peace and tranquility. Church bells are ringing gently as I post this.

Quilotoa Ecuador

February 14th we made the move from Puyo to Quilotoa by buses. We knew we had to switch at Latacunga, but much to our surprise, the bus stopped on the multi lane highway by the ramp to Latacunga, and gave us the bums' rush. We barely got our luggage off before the bus was moving, and we had traffic on all sides! Yikes! In a bit of a panic, I grabbed the first taxi I saw, which took us into the bus station.

All good after that. We arrived in Quilotoa late afternoon, to a comfortable mountain lodge, called Runa Wasi. It was very reasonable, and included dinner and lunch, as do most of the lodges in this area.

I hiked a short distance up to admire the lake, which was the main reason for being there. It is a volcanic crater lake, about 250 metres deep. It looked like the kind of lake that should have some kind of incredible creature living in it - maybe an even more giant version of the 80 kilo dragon fish we saw in Puyo.

 And then the clouds rolled in.

 Some sights from my walk up there.

They lit a fire in the dining room, so it was cosy for dinner, which was delicious. While we ate dinner, one of the women went and lit the fire in our room, so it was really warm when we returned. 

Both Richard and I had a bit of trouble with the sudden change in altitude, which was more than 3800 metres. We were both quite short of breath, even without doing anything, and that lasted all night. By the morning, our breathing had improved, but Richard felt like his eyeballs might explode out of his head. They didn't. 

We both walked up to the crater's rim again, because I wanted to see it in the morning light. The colour of the lake changes constantly. 

It was cold (3C when we got up) but I finally got to use the warm gear I've been schlepping around Ecuador.

Most people are here to hike from village to village, but we weren't prepared to do that. Instead we took a taxi to the village of Isinlivi. More to follow. 

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Jungular Day in Amazonia

Yesterday, February 13, we had an amazing day in the Amazon rainforest. We arranged a tour with Patricio, of Native Jungle Tours, as recommended by our hotel. Patricio provided a very full itinerary from 9 until 5 for $40 each.
We were five in Patricio's van, including a German fellow named Hennig, and a young local guy, named Ivan, who is training to be a guide. First we went to the office to get rubber boots, then off to our first stop, a fish farm with mostly tilapia, but also these giant dragon fish. Each weighs about 80 kilos. When we tossed in bits of raw chicken, the fish response was like an explosion.

A bit further on, we started our rainforest hike. We walked for about an hour to a waterfall, with Patricio explaining the uses of many plants along the way.

A termite nest:

Check out these leaf cutter ants:

Patricio explained how this tree (table tree) can be very useful if you're lost. He banged on the tree with a rock and the sound was amplified to an incredible volume. If no one came to help, you could create a shelter to survive a night in the jungle.

We were very hot and sweaty when we arrived at the waterfall. Much to my surprise, I was the only one to go for a swim. It felt so good! Richard has photos of that, but he is having technical difficulties sending them to me.

We returned back along the same path, and then went to a comedor for a tasty lunch. There was a perfectly timed torrential downpour while we were under the thatched roof. Not a drop of water came through. Patricio says that kind of roof can last 5 to 10 years.

After lunch we visited a small indigenous village to learn a bit about their culture. They shared their drumming and dancing, as well as a fermented drink. A beautiful young girl also decorated our faces. There was a monkey fooling around the whole time we were there, doing somersaults and lots of funny tricks. There was also a huge parrot and a parakeet, who are like pets.

Then came the most exciting part. We went a few kilometers down the Puyo River in a long dugout canoe. While our canoe was being carried to the river, I was watching these young guys paddling up and downstream.

I was concerned when I realized it was just the three paying customers in the canoe, with an older fellow to paddle us. I kept telling myself that he must know the river very well, and be very skillful.

There were lots of swifts and a few rapids, class 1 and 2, with lots of boulders. Our canoe guide negotiated them very well, but I was rather nervous. When we got out, we were given a shot of powerful local hooch called chuchuhuaso. This little monkey took a liking to me.

Our final stop was at a place with caves. You enter one mouth and walk through a completely black narrow tunnel for about 100 metres to pop out of another mouth. I was surprised that I didn't feel claustrophobic. I didn't even panic when Richard, who was in front, said that he'd reached a solid wall. We turned around to go back, but then Richard felt a bit of air coming from the right. Sure enough, there was a sharp turn, and then we popped out.

Then I went on this swing with a very long rope. I loved it! Here is Hennig on the swing.

We hiked up the hill above the caves to a lookout over the rainforest and rivers. If it had been clear we would also have seen three volcanoes in the distance. There was another swing up there, but there's no way I would do that. No one did. The hammocks were much more inviting.