Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Last two weeks in Ecuador - amazing adventures

Banos church at night
Banos hot pools
Hike to the Virgen
Once again we have found new adventures and repeated a few that we have enjoyed on earlier trips. Leaving Cuenca is always a bit sad as we had to say goodbye once again to Yolanda and the rest of the family. We headed out by bus to Riobamba for one night on our way to Banos - the town of hotsprings that we have visited 3 years ago. You all probably realize by know that we love hot water (especially Ricardo) so we celebrated his birthday with a hotel with jacuzzi followed by the big pools of volcanic hot mineral water a block from our hotel. We went every day and especially enjoyed going at 6am with the earlybirds. Amazingly - there are always folks there and very few tourists...mostly Ecuadoreanos. We enjoyed two hikes - one up to the Virgin Mary who looks over the city and another on the opposite side of the deep canyon. We never saw Volcano Tungharhua - the one that erupted the day we arrived to Ecuador and caused our delay to Cuenca because of ash. It was always buried in clouds during this visit.

Land of sugar cane

Tomato crop along the trail

another steep climb

Crossing the deep canyon for our hike

friendly visitors along the way
Latacunga is home to the famous
Mama Negra festival in Sept of each year
After lots of hot water we were off to Latacunga and then to Chungchillan which is a tiny village of 80 people and home to "The Black Sheep Inn" - an eco lodge deep in the mountains. We had heard
Our room with wood burning stove
Somehow I missed a picture of the black sheep
about this place several years ago and I have read books and articles about the small villages around Lake Quilotoa and have wanted to go to see this volcanic lake. The sight of it was awesome and we spent a long and challenging day hiking the rim of this extinct volcano. See Richard's thoughts and feelings on this hike below. Here you will see amazing photos of our day and none will do justice to the sight and color of this lake.

First view!!!

color changing all day - depends on the sun

See the tiny trail behind us - we walked
that rim

with our new friend Emily from London

The following day I went on another harrowing rim hike with our new friend Emily called "Skywalk". This was shorter but equally beautiful with mountain, canyon, valley, farm and GREEN everywhere.
On the skywalk

Emily on the edge
We left these beautiful mountains for the big city of Quito. The new airport was built outside the city so we are staying in a hotel near the airport in order to catch our early flight tomorrow back to Mexico. 

A view from inside the home of Guyasamin
 looking towards Quito
Another spot that had been on my list to see in Ecuador was the thermal waters of Papallacta
One of the many pools at Papallacta
and we went there yesterday. Today we had a chance to go again to the Museum of the Ecuadorean artist Oswaldo Guyasamin. We learned about him and visited the museum three years ago but this time we were able to see his home and studio which is now part of this museum. He is one of Ecuador's most famous artists and depicts the sad and difficult lives of people all over the world.

"I cry because I don't have shoes
until I saw a child who had no feet"
One of many hands of Guyasamin

Here are Richard's thoughts and feelings about the hike of the Quilotoa Lake Rim trail.

Some times in life the best experiences are the most difficult.  I would like to share this one with the readers of this blog.  This is our third time visiting this exquisite country called Ecuador.  I will keep my discourse only to this main hike that we took together called the "the Quilotoa rim trail" which we finished just a few days ago. I would have liked to have written this right after or even during the hike since the mind tends to change with time and forgets some of the most difficult experiences and details. I believe that this is a good thing, but I will try and do my best here to describe it.

"King of the mountain"
As with most adventures that we take, I prefer to know as little as possible and let the experience be my guide.  With this incredible hike at 13000 feet where the air is thinner then normal the difficulty of breathing becomes the experience and all of your perspective takes a back seat. This is like experiencing a new color or realizing something new for the first time. I have hiked a bit higher to 14000 feet at Macchu Pichu but never felt or appreciated my body as much and gave thanks to my genealogy and the great care that Susan has given to me all these years so we could still take these kinds of adventure type holidays.

Colors changing every moment
Now back to the hike. As I said earlier the crater was spectacular at 13000 feet. Walking 12 K around the rim we found the terrain very hilly with ups and downs and in the middle was the most beautiful lake possible with forever changing colors. The mineral content and clouds create the palette for the sun to paint and it painted it with these beautiful colors and shadows. 

The clouds rolling in
Now for the hike. The first hill to climb was almost vertical where we needed to use both hands to climb up. Up until that point it seemed like a walk in park. We have decided that a walk becomes a hike when more then two feet are needed and this was only the beginning. On both sides of the trail were sheer drops and with any slip you would probably not make it and if you did, you might wish that you didn't.  In the last few years two hikers had fallen to their deaths. I was so happy that we found a qualified guide to show us the way around this massive crater call volcano Quilotoa.  So what happened.  After the first and largest peak my legs gave out and my breath was deep gasping for air and for revival. I was ready to turn back until the guide (Miguel) told me that the return would have been harder.  I always take a good laugh at myself when humbled and once again I was laughing with a kind of joy realizing my humanity once again.  I was with Susan and a new friend from England named Emily. We were all having a hard time except I wanted out. After a much needed rest we went forward and some how my body got the second wind like a little miracle. There were more hills but not as high as the first and at times I was still using all fours.  About half way around a heavy fog or at this altitude we call them clouds set in so for the next 2 hours we could only see the path in front of us and thankfully the guide was a angel to get us through this. Soon the clouds cleared and the view of this incredible natural beauty appeared once again for the rest of our hike.  

Again I am so happy to have experienced this event which one can only do If one so desires to have these kind holidays. I know it is not for everyone.  But in these times when you push yourself a bit harder there is a different kind of feeling... hard to describe... that comes over oneself during a personal challenge. To push to your edge and to go just a little bit further is like a deep meditation because then and only then are you really putting yourself in the present moment and this is something that I really enjoy.  At the end of the hike I was glad that it was over but after a few days out now, I am looking forward to our next adventure.

So friends....thanks again for traveling with both of you see our writing and thinking styles...different but yet I am so grateful to have found a partner to enjoy the amazing adventures that we have together. Stay tuned soon for our March/April adventures in Chiapas, Mexico.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Back in Ecuador...two weeks in Cuenca

Olmec at Museo
Museo de Anthropologia
 We are on the go again. First we traveled to Mexico City and saw the ruins of Templo Mayor as well as the Archeological Museum which offers so much on each visit. I wish I could remember all that I see but I don't. I like seeing the artifacts but mostly like to see the various cultures of history and places we have been traveling - Maya, Aztec and Inca. Someday I will sit down and learn about the time periods that they each cover and who was trading or fighting with whom. Amazing are the things that are found - pottery, cookware, jewelry, etc.

Mitad del Mundo -
The Equator
Rio Tomebamba - Cuenca
Then we were off to Ecuador. We arrived in Quito at 5:30 am and waited for our 8:30 flight to Cuenca. As luck would have it, we learned at about 8am that the airport in Cuenca was closed due to ash from the Volcano Tungurahua which erupted late the day before. Due to wind currents the airport was closed for several days. We made quick friends with folks sitting around also waiting to go to Cuenca and discovered an expat travel group planning to visit places in Ecuador with ideas of moving here. We spent the day with them - went to "Mitad del Mundo" - the Equator and then stayed in a convent that night with the group of 40. Plans were to leave the next morning by plane but the airport was still closed so they rented a bus for their group and were kind enough to take us along. I had my moment of "tour guide" as they gave me the microphone on the bus to talk about our "expat" life in Mexico. Guess I always wanted to be a guide and this was my chance. Since we had 12 hours on the bus there was no hurry and I could answer questions from the group.
La Familia
Finally we arrived in Cuenca on Monday night instead of Sunday morning and were reunited with our family - Yolanda, Bernarda (daughter who is a medical intern in a small village 3 hrs away). Diego (husband) and two new friends - Sara (whom I met in SMA in 2013) and Max, a 20 year old University student. So now we had 4 students all studying at the same school - Fundacion Amauta. Fun moments were sitting around the dining room table after dinner doing our homework, asking each other questions about our lives, speaking Spanish and laughing together. To me it felt like being a kid again.

Cooking class at school with Marcella
Traveling gives us such a wide experience of family and cultural life. This being our third time with "our" family, we have begun to learn the ins and outs and the ups and downs of their lives. Perhaps like many families there is a bit of a "soap opera" feel to their lives. Of course we are hearing everything in Spanish so it is harder to understand each detail but it is a great way to learn via listening and to appreciate the similarity of all people, no matter where we are. Having friends here gives us a completely different life than the usual travel life of hotels, restaurants, etc.

Cuenca is a very pretty city of 500,000 people and the expat presence is much larger than it was 2 1/2 years ago when we were here last. There are many new restaurants that cater to "gringos" and the prices for meals have increased as well. We frequented a few of them as well as others. It is still amazing that one can get a complete "almuerzo" which consists of soup, meal, drink and sometimes dessert for $2.00-$2.50.

Family in Saraguro
One Saturday we went with Sara by bus to Saraguro - a small village of indigenous people and the women specialize in beaded jewelry. What fun it was for us to buy loads of beautiful items and talk with the women. I showed them a few things that I had made myself as well as necklaces from Mexico as each design of culture is a bit different. Walking around gave us a chance to see their clothing - still the same as the past - each village having its own style of decoration.
Sharing bead techniques with
artists from Saraguro
The men in Saraguro wear dress pants that are cut off at the knees and all the women wear heavy jewelry and big beaded collars, including the young.
In the church at Saraguro
combination of broccoli and cauliflower
Birthday celebration -
Ricardo and Poppie
The men of Saraguro
Winding down our time today with dinner at home with the family including Yolanda's parents, a pre birthday celebration for Ricardo and Poppie who turns 90 next week. Taking a group photo was entertainment trying to get the dog to cooperate. This will be a memory that we will all keep for a long time. Many tears as we said goodbye to our family as we do not know when we will see them again. Tomorrow we are off for our last two weeks in Ecuador - Banos and Quilotoa Loop. We wanted to return to Banos as we loved it last time and Quilotoa loop will be completely new to us. 

Thanks again for traveling with us and love from the both of us.
The family together...
La abuelita, Yolanda, Poppie, David,
Bernarda and Pucha