TravelMemories 5: Ecuador - the country were you can have breakfast by the sea, have lunch in the mountains and dine in the jungle
Photo by Alejandro Vasquez on Unsplash
I'm afraid. Afraid to forget. In 2014, me and my girlfriend were on a tour around the world for 14 months. While reminisce about these days, I notice that there are things that I have forgotten. I mix up places or cannot remember the voice and faces of some memorable encounters anymore. I guess my memory's not quite what it used to be. This means that I have to write things down. I want to immortalize a piece of this journey. Later, when I tell my children about how beautiful this world is, I want them to know how I felt at that moment, how I reacted in certain situations. Hence this series around TravelMemories. Not really a classic travel story; rather fragmentary. With the use of memories that come flooding back to me, I try to recall the right feeling of that time. Hopefully my mind doesn’t fool me.
An old saying in Ecuador is as follows: in one day you can have breakfast by the sea, have lunch in the mountains and dine in the jungle. In this country you will indeed find all kinds of vegetation and climate zones on a small surface. The one time we walked with a big sweater, two hours later we were in our shorts at the beach. There is so much to see and to do that we stayed here longer than planned.
Ecuador was the ideal start of the second part of our trip.
Due to a much too short transfer time in Miami, we arrived in Quito without any luggage. Always a blast! But we had vacation brain, so we didn't care. The extra days we had to spend in the capital weren't that bad, especially because the city has a lot to offer. Only our Ecuadorian fellow man might have had a hard time with our extended stay, since we wore the same clothes for four days and could not brush our teeth.
In Quito, history and modernity go hand in hand. You can literally see that in the streets. To show their respect for history, the street have two names: an old one and a new one. Especially the historic center has remained amazingly intact.
Freshly laundered we finally moved towards the north. The tourist attraction here was Otavalo, especially known for its large Saturday market with artisan products and cattle. During the first night at our cozy campsite, we already experienced how cold the mountain nights were in our tent. Since we just came from Asia, we had to get used to this. We wisely invested in an alpaca wool blanket and slept the following nights with thermal underwear and three layers of clothes.
The area around Otavalo is being dominated by volcanoes and endless mountain landscapes. To warm up we went looking for an old hacienda that would be nearby. After several hours, wrongly given directions and a few blisters we finally arrived. Apparently the authentic hacienda was turned into a very expensive restaurant/hotel… There we were: dusty, sweaty and completely underdressed. But oh, the heck with it! We didn't care and thoroughly enjoyed our overpaid capuccinos.
Lago Cuicocha - Photo source
The day after we started a walk around the volcanic lake Lago Cuicocha. We suffered during the more than five-hour walk, but the views over the lake with the characteristic islands were very rewarding!
Reserva El Angel
We were enjoying the northern mountain region, so we decided to move close to the Colombian border to the little-visited El Angel reserve. It was already dark when we found free shelter in the cold house of the local rangers. The next day we were surprised at sunrise by the visit of a wolf and especially by the unique landscape.
Because of the height and high humidity you can find an exceptional flower here: the Fraijelon. It can be as high as a meter and it has thick leaves with a yellowish flower. It only occurs here, but in the reserve there were thousands, as far as you could see. It gave me a kind of mystical feeling and it was blissful to walk through.
Tena is a city in the middle of the jungle and is apparently the place to be for rafting. But we thought it was time to refine our permaculture knowledge and do some volunteer work. We decided to join The Wisdom Forest project, located half an hour from Tena. However, it turned out that we had ended up in some kind of Hare Krishna community. At four o'clock we were always awakened by their chants, accompanied by a whiney mini-organ. Interesting were the many rules that we all had to take into account. For example, women were not allowed to practice yoga if they had their period, it was not allowed to taste while cooking (a sacrifice must first be made to the Krishna statue), ...
In the end it was mainly five relaxed days, because nobody had to work really hard. We learned how to make chocolate and candy, we made spoons from coconuts and held djembing sessions and we especially met some crazy people. But it was a good crazy.
Ooh man, we liked soaking in the thermal baths of Baños. That these natural hotsprings were popular, we noticed when we saw that even on Sunday evening it was still chock-full of people. The day after we got up at 5.30 am and even then we had to fight for a spot.
Tourists also come to this city for the Ruta de las Cascadas (route of the falls). We completed this trip with a mountain bike (90% downhill) and got to know a nice Swiss. The highlight of this trip was the Pailon del Diablo, a meter-high waterfall that comes out of nowhere. Usually I find waterfalls a bit disappointing, but this time I was really speechless.
This city in central Ecuador became our base for the 'Quilotoa loop', a three-day trek around the eponymous crater lake. This emerald green lake located in a volcanic crater is truly one of the jewels of the Andes. The first day we descended all the way to the lakeshore of the laguna. We noticed that we were already a large part above sea level when we started the ascent. Ooh yes, my heart was doing overtime. Yet we wanted to return as soon as possible, as a form of training for future hikings.
The fact that we were constantly strolling around villages for the next two days was certainly as fascinating as the crater lake. With special attention to the culture and rural life of the native Andes, this trip was a wonderful opportunity to see the beauty of Ecuador in all its forms. We saw farmers and children in traditional clothing, enjoyed the pure mountain air and tried to spot as many cute baby animals as possible (sheep, goats, pigs, ...).
One downside was the welcoming at our hostel on the second day. When we decided to take a cheaper room, he did not understand why. Do Western tourists not have plenty of money? We remained polite, but he was gossiping afterwards against the other staff. The next morning my girlfriend said hello and he smiled broadly. Until he recognized her two seconds later and said: "Now you are beautiful, but yesterday you were as cranky as a cat."
We had been looking forward to Puerto Lopez for a while, because here we had the chance to see some whales. Before we started the tour, my girlfriend assured me that we would be lucky if we saw at least one blowhole. How surprised we were when we saw more than twenty humpbacks jumping and splashing against the water surface with their big heads!
We combined whale watching with a visit to Isla de la Plata, also known as the mini-Galapagos island (or the Galapagos for the less fortunate...). Just like on these isolated islands, Isla de la Plata has very rare bird species, such as the blue footed boobies, frigates, pelicans etc. Upon arrival, we were also charmed by giant tortoises that kept swimming around the boat. It wasn’t the Galapagos, but at least we got a taste of it.
Imagine a cozy village in a valley, where it is always spring and the water makes you a hundred years. Well, such a place exists, it's called Vilcabamba and it became our last stop before we went to Peru. The village is been known for years because of the high number of healthy, old people. It therefore attracts many retired Westerners. They all want to buy a new stay in this Eldorado.
We installed our tent in the beautiful eco-reserve 'Rumi Wilco' and went horseback riding in the Podocarpus National Park. My girlfriend rode on an old but elegant Ecuadorian named Coyote. I on the other hand on a young but blunt Peruvian, who listened to the name Amor. He even had crooked front legs, apparently grown like that, because the horses run 'softer'. A hilarious sight. So owner, so horse?
To get our backside to rest, we went out the next day to photograph some oldies. One of the oldest, Opa Agustin with an age of 102, posed with pleasure. After the session, he did not let my girlfriend go. He still had a lot of strength and energy. So the last day we decided to fill as many bottles with Vilcabamba water as possible. You never know…
- If you think of Ecuador, you probably immediately think of Indian types and also mestizos. But there are also many blacks in this country. Especially in the Esmeraldas area, on the coast. They were introduced by the Spaniards as slaves to work on the sugar cane plantations. Today they have their own culture with specific eating habits and music styles.
- Speaking of food, South American cuisine does have its peculiarities. It often happens that you get potatoes, pasta, rice, fries, yuca and corn on one plate. Talk about a carbohydrate boost!
- The region of Vilcabamba is called “the valley of longevity”. The high magnesium content in the water would be slightly responsible for this. Also the very mild climate (not too dry, not too wet, not too hot, not too cold, ...) and the many anti-oxidants in the plants and fruit would play a role. There is even a center for gerontology founded. Yet there are many skeptics. People would have systematically exaggerated their age. So it is true that there are people over 90, but whether there really are so many people who are 110 or 120 years old, is very doubtful.
For your information: the photos are not taken by myself. They are especially added to create the right feeling. The source is always mentioned.