Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 14 The end of our Ecuador travels

Richard, Mark and Susanita at the equator
Well...we have arrived back in Mexico and have said goodbye to Ecuador. Our last 2 weeks were as wonderful as the first 5 weeks and we went to several more places. It is hard to portray how beautiful Ecuador is and traveling by bus or car allows for time to see the beauty between places.  We left Baños for Quito, a 4 hour bus ride through mountains. Quito is a BIG city, spread in a narrow N to S valley between mountains and volcanos. For my taste, it is bigger than I like, but the old historic area is beautiful. We arrived to meet our friend Mark Marquardt (from Chapel Hill, NC) and spent the rest of our time with him. Ecuador, of course, is named for the equator and like all good tourists, we headed to Mitad de Mundo - the middle of the world. There are actually two sites, the one you see above and then a more traditional site which is actually (according to GPS) the real equator.
a view of quito

Here is a view of Quito from high above the city. We took the "TeleferiQo" a multimillion dollar sky tram that takes you 2.5k above the city bringing us to over 12,000 feet. Since we were only in Quito for a few days we did all the things that good tourists could fit into the schedule, like visiting the Palacio de Gobierno - where the President, who was there the day we were there, conducts his business. Inside were some great murals.
The Government Palace

We happened to be in Quito during Carnaval which meant that there was lots going on, especially parades and many people with cans of foam like substance spraying it on everyone. We were all hit with the foam once or twice during the time in Quito as well as the other places we visited. This long 4 day holiday also meant that many Ecuadoreans were traveling for the long weekend and when we wanted to leave to head to Otavalo, our next stop we could not get a bus or if we had waited it would have been for many hours for the two hour trip so we took a cab. The same happened to us the following day when we wanted to go to Mindo and so again the three of us paid for a cab instead of the long wait for a bus. We know enough now not to travel on special holidays like this.
Carnaval in the city

Probably one of the real highlights of the trip was learning about the famous Ecuadorean painter Oswaldo Guyasamin. I cannot explain how it is possible that neither of us had ever heard of him (I hate to admit this). All during our trip had heard about the museum that he had built called Capilla del Hombre - Chapel of Man which represents the suffering of Latin America's indigenous poor and to the underlying hope for something better. We both loved all his artwork and I recommend that you check it out online and certainly visit if you are in Quito.

little varieties of potatos
After these few days in the big city we headed to Otavalo which is known for its indigenous people who still dress in the same styles as they have for centuries. It is also the largest artisan market in South America where people and stores come to shop for beautiful items. Because it rained the whole day we were there we did not spend much time at the market and now have a good reason to go back. We did, however, have an incredible experience in this town. On the bus several days earlier we met this beautiful couple - Marie and Chaski on a bus and I was admiring Marie's embroidered blouse and her native clothing so we struck up a conversation (in spanish) on the bus. When they found out that we were coming to Otavalo they told us about a big concert in the next town and told us to come.

Marie and Chaski (from the band Los Chaskis)
So, when we arrived in Otavalo we called them and they invited us to their home for almuerzo (lunch) and we met their children and their spouses and grandchildren. It was such a wonderful moment in time to meet and have time to talk with them. They are part of an Andean band that spends 6 mos. of every year in Canada so are very successful musicians. We rejoined them later that day and went off to a concert which was a large venue with several bands leading up to the main band from Chili called Illapu. We finally left at 1:00 am and perhaps it went on for another hour. We were the only gringos in a sea of ecuadoreans - over 1000. At some times during the concert we joined them dancing near the stage...kind of a conga line going forward and then changing directions. It is really hard to explain this evening in words but it is a night that all three of us will always remember. I hope to keep in contact with them and even hope that maybe I can help organize to have them come to the US for a concert (Alan...if  you are reading this...what about Grassroots??)

The next day we were off to Mindo. This is the small town (2500-3000 people) where our friends Mark and Rebecca are helping to start a medical clinic. It is a town of mostly Ecuadoreans but there are many tourists coming for the outdoor adventures as well as the incredible birding opportunities. We had a taste of all of these...chocolate factory, coffee roasting company, butterfly garden, hiking, 5:00 am tour to a special place to see a bird called "Cock of the Rock - Gallo de Pena" -  male birds that strut their feathers and squawk at 6am every day and long meals with friends of Mark...getting to know the locals. We saw many other birds as well as 15 or more species of hummingbirds.  I did learn on this trip that I am not really a "birder" and enjoyed the flowers and leaves and colors of the forest more than standing with binoculars looking at birds. I did, however, enjoy watching the other birders.

"Owl" butterflies
We loved this small town and were lucky enough to attend one of the meetings about the upcoming clinic. It was so encouraging to see so many people of different organizations in the town coming together as a community to build this clinic. We intend to go back to Mindo, probably in October, to volunteer with Mark and Rebecca. Richard will help with their patient database and other technology and I will can help with office management and other needs as they come along. I hope that you will all check out their website - Feel free to make donations and if you know of physicians or other medical people interested in volunteering please let me know and I can get you in touch with them.

Richard and Mark on the early morning birding trip

a few of the birds - really hard for me to get many pictures
So, friends and family our Ecuador travels have come to an end for this time and we are back in Mexico for the next few months. Just to update you all...our plans are to stay here in San Miguel till about June 18 and head back to US for about 6 weeks. We hope to see you all during that time. Then we will come back to Mexico in August and then back to South America for a few months. Details to follow as we plan them.

THANKS all for following our travels. It is wonderful knowing that all our friends and family are with us while we are on the road and please know that we love and miss you all.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1 Exciting days in Baños

Baños downtown

This is an incredible country and everytime we take a bus to another part of Ecuador it seems more beautiful and scenic than the last. In our 6 plus weeks we have not missed a day of seeing a river as every city has one or more running through it. Now we are in Baños which of course means bathroom in spanish but also baths...and this town is known for for its many hot baths or pools. The town is surrounded by mountains and one right in town is an active volcano whose last eruption was 2006 when the whole town was evacuated. This volcano´s heat causes the themal waters and minerals which provide the pools for soaking.  One is right next to our hotel which opens at 5am and on Sunday we went at 6am figuring we would be the only people there but found over 200 people joining us at that early hour. The pictures shows the pools after 5pm when the water is emptied and how it looks in the daytime. We have been almost every day early in the morning before breakfast. It is also a nice time to meet others and talk spanish as most of the guests are Ecuadoreans. There are 3 pools going from cold, hot and VERY hot. I like the very hot best and Richard likes the hot. There are also cold showers and I have learned to go from cold to very hot which is quite invigorating. The pool is right at the bottom of a very large waterfall which comes to view as the sun rises. The rest of the 360 degrees has mountains. For future travelers we highly recommend Posada del Arte where we are staying as it is beautiful, great location and delicious food.

Las Piscinas de la Virgen

and with people and water

a view from our bedroom
and from the hot pools
There are many adventures possible for each day and numerous companies and guides.

We had a great guide, Carlos to take us to the Amazon jungle for a long 12 hour day. We drove 2 hours past Puyo to the jungle stopping to buy groceries to make our almuerzo. Carlos studied at a cooking school so we enjoyed cooking and helping him prepare our meal. Our first destination was a Refuge for Monos ... monkeys where they are saved from getting killed in the jungle. An odd occurence happening on and off during the day was a large group who were the contestants for Miss Ecuador along with police, red cross, guides, family, and important tourist people. We left the monkey reserve quickly when this entourage arrived.

we had to remove hats, glasses and
and jewelry so the monos did not grab them
The next stop was the jungle and first to a spot with a large kitchen and area for folks to stay overnight. We helped Carlos cook pasta with pesto and mushroom soup. It was interesting as several other travelers passed through. Our trip was only one da...just a taste of jungle life,  but many of the jungle trips can be 1, 2,3 or up to a week. We shall have to come back for more.

 Next was a walk into the waterfalls and this time we were equipped with high rubber boats so we could go through the rivers. Carlos showed us many plants and even had us try a few leaves and bark. It was a true effort of trust as we just did what he told us to do. In fact, we had very little knowledge before we started about the trip and lived in the moment waiting for Carlos to direct our day. Ricardo and Carlos swam in the waterfalls.

Ricardo takes the plunge
This indigenous woman brought us our boat
incredible scenery in the jungle
Then we took a truck to a spot along the river where there was a long wooden canoe and 6 of us piled in for a canoe trip down the river...mostly propelled by small rapids, once coming very close to some rocks. It felt like a disneyland ride but it was for real. After the boat ride it was about 7pm and we headed back to Baños but along the way Carlos noticed a boa constrictor in the street so we stopped and he picked it up to show it to us. It was scary but fun. We finally arived back to our hotel by 9pm after one big day.

a baby boa constrictor
Now friends....if you are not to tired I will go on to tell about our next day ... La Ruta de los Cascades...The route of the waterfalls.
We traveled by double decker bus along the same road we traveled the day before only this time stopping to view incredible waterfalls and crossing the gorges in two different cable cars. Our bus stopped for one hour because of a rockslide on the road and they wanted to be sure there would be no further rocks falling before cleaning it up and allowing the many cars to pass. The final hike down to the Pailon de Diablo waterfall was steep but exciting at the bottom and Richard climbed in the little space to go behind the falls.

behind the Devils Cauldron

one of our cablecars high above the river
Now, Wednesday March 2nd and we are leaving in a little while to head to Quito, the large colonial capital of Ecuador for the final leg of our trip. Love to all and thanks for reading our adventures.