More on Ecuador, central and northern Andes (Nov 28-Dec 18, 2012)

Spanish. We had a week of lessons in Banos at Mayras spanish school (10hrs per week). We paid 20hrs of one-one lessons for $140, a fairly decent rate considering they were professional and had very good instructors. Our instructor Marco was hilarious, always taking comedy stabs at himself and Banos (mostly degrading of course).

It was an intensive week of study, and by the end we felt fairly confident speaking and understanding Spanish. I was surprised how quickly I was able to pick it up; probably helped from my knowledge of French.

Knowledge of basic spanish is a necessity when traveling Latin America. Perhaps less so in yuccutan Mexico? in Ecuador, even in the tourist areas, most ecuadorians don’t have a second language, and if it is, it’s Quichua (indigenous language). We find that ecuadorians aren’t forgiving either…they speak so quickly!

The Andes. They’re breathtaking. Especially with several active volcanoes dotted throughout the landscape. The majority of communities are agrarian- based and indigenous. After Quito, we headed north to Otavalo and stayed in a hosteria (Rose Cottage) on the outskirts of town.

<Views from Rose Cottage>Image


<Otavalo market>Image

<Hiking the countryside/Andes>Image

<Tilling the land by hand>tillingbyhand

Our experience of the hostel was interesting to say the least. First, it was way too far from Otavalo to walk which I thought would be possible since they advertised it to be a 3 km from the town center. We’re guessing it was about 5km. On most days we were able to hitchhike into town, but on the way back (uphill!), not so lucky. So you basically need some form of transport if you’re staying there. Second, the owner Rosa, is quite insane. She’s rather rude and arrogant. A few examples:

> The first few days she was 15-20 min late opening up for breakfast and wasn’t the least apologetic. She didn’t think it was appropriate for her handyman to allow us into the restaurant even though we had been waiting for her for 20 min in the cold.

> She didn’t want to serve me wine one evening because she was too busy cooking dinner for a family of four.

> She complains about her guests to us in a very unprofessional way.

> She treats her staff like shit.

> The WIFI doesn’t work, even though Rosa was insistent that it did work.

On the positive side, the views of the hosteria were beautiful. She gave us one free night stay (6th night was free). The cottage was decent and included a kitchen (though it got quite chilly at night). And the housekeeper Martha was a sweet lady and did a superb job keeping the place clean and tidy.

Right, so enough of my rant about Rosa of Rose Cottage. Otavalo was a wonderful place to chill; a few nice cafes and a lovely square. They’ve got a handicraft market, fruit & veg market and lots of bakeries. On Saturdays, the handicraft market grows threefold (at least!) and has a large array of textiles, paintings, carvings, souvenirs, etc. we carefully selected our souvenirs since our luggage space is limited. I drove a hard bargain for some things, mostly the embroidered textiles (asking price $140, paid $80). The seller didn’t walk away smiling. I have no shame in bargaining, the trick is to know you have the buying power and should walk away if you’re unsatisfied with the price (some feel obliged to complete the bargaining process). It’s likely that someone else a few yards away is selling something similar.

There’s also an animal market on Saturdays as well. Absolute chaos. Even saw a pig get hauled into the truck of a taxi cab (in full squeal of course). Everyone was carrying a chicken under their arm like an assessory. Sadly Our rough ‘n tough camera got swiped from Tim’s pocket. Sort of ruined our whole experience of the Saturday market. Boo.

We also went on a few hikes when it didn’t rain (the weather was a bit crap the first half of the week). We visited the local waterfalls and hiked to the Condor Park (a full mornings hike in the scorching sun). we also spent a good day in cotacachi town, renown for their leatherwork. It was tiresome after three hours of shopping/browsing but we landed on a few nice leather jackets (red leather jacket for myself, and two for tim). We hate the idea of having to cart them around Ecuador for two months, but they were so worth the purchase. And yes, they are heavy to carry!!

After Otavalo, we headed for Banos (translated as bath, but the common term for toilets). Such a longgggg journey, especially for Darwin. I was tired, tim was tired and baby was so cranky the last hour of the 8 hour journey – otavalo to the north bus terminal (3hrs), taxi to south bus terminal ($13, 45 min), bus to ambato (2hrs), bus to banos (1.5hrs). I really couldn’t blame him for hating us, I promised Myself (and Darwin) that we would have bus journeys no more than five hours in duration.

Banos is a small town situated at the base of tungurahua volcano (active). It’s a fairly small town, you can get from one end of the town to another by foot in 20 minutes. Lots of tourist shops selling crap souvenirs. I did end up buying sugarcane toffee since it is a specialty of the area. Lots of outfitters selling outdoor adventure trips like bungee jumping, rappelling, rock climbing, rafting…etc. we opted not doing any of them since we had baby and frankly it’s too expensive for what you get out of it (I.e. adrenaline rush). We did plenty of hikes and we rented a bike for a morning to check out a few waterfalls. Tim under the influence of some hostal friends, decided to climb Cotopaxi, a volcano at an elevation of 5897m. He said he felt the effects of altitude at the refuge, and had a restless night trying to sleep. They also had to start their hike after midnight to catch the sunrise on the volcano (perhaps the weather is better), and lessen the effects of altitude sickness by descending the volcano as soon as possible. Unfortunately, they had such adverse weather conditions that they weren’t able to summit (tim said it was worse than a canadian storm, with horizontal ice pellets scouring your face and eyes, and icing your gear). I guess it was worth a try. Put him back $180 though, ouch!

Another bonus about Banos is that its cheap- our hostal cost us $16/night, a pint of beer is $1.5, and there are plenty of fresh food markets selling produce at bargain prices. Tim got food poisoning at the mercado. I really should have been the one to get sick since i offered tim my dodgy sausage in place of his chicken wing (knowing he doesnt like dark poultry meat). After a vomit and a days fever, Tim was back to normal. Other than that incident, We enjoyed our time here. On the last day, would you believe, the volcano erupted ash! Thrilling experience but glad it was our last day. All the picturesque scenery of the area was hazed in smoke, and I can’t imagine the air quality being safe for infants either.

We headed from Banos to Ambato, then transferred to Riobamba (quite a hole), and onwards to Alausi. The small rail town offered great scenery, but the hotel we stayed in (pan americana hotel) was a shit hole and never been cleaned. We were so eager to leave the next day to Guayaquil.

<Photos of Banos>ImageImage


quilotoacraterPhotos of our Quilotoa Crater lake tourImage

Short stay in Quito, Ecuador

Planned on staying 3-4 weeks in Quito, Ended up staying just 11 nights. not that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience, generally ecuadorians have shown great hospitality and friendliness towards us, especially to Darwin. Quito, as we quickly realized, is too busty and cosmopolitan for our liking. That coupled with the pollution/ smog, we decided to not stay in Quito for longer than we need to and wanted to move on to another part of Ecuador. Furthermore, we we preferred spending more time on the coast where it’s warmer ( its been quite chilly in the evenings without central heating!).

We spent most of our days touring Quito, exploring its treasured colonial buildings and churches and visiting a few museums. We spent a couple of nights at colonial house hostal in old Quito, which allowed us the opportunity to explore the historic district. The colonial buildings and churches are so impressive, it is no surprise that Quito was declared a World UNESCO cultural heritage site.

Be forewarned, do not venture in this district past dark, it’s fairly dangerous (muggings)! We went out twice at night as naive tourists, and were given a warning from an expat on avoiding certain streets. A couple from the UK who were staying at our hostel were nearly mugged on their second day in old Quito, I felt terrible for them!

A few must dos in historic quito:
1. Grande plaza / government palace
2. San francisco church and plaza, and museum, circa 1550, oldest church in Quito and largest architectonic (whatever that means) complex in America. The inside is bordering guady and beautiful in Baroque style with its very intricate carvings and ornamentation.
Image3. La Ronda
4. El panecillo- a difficult climb when your at the 2nd highest capital in the world (2800m). It’s a hill located in the middle of the city at an altitude of 3016m. A monument of the Virgin Mary is located on top, standing 41m high. Image

5. Mercado public market- cheap eats and best bargains on fruits and veggies.



After exhausting ourselves exploring old Quito, we moved locations to la marsical, the entertainment district of Quito. La marsical is also known as gringo land since its teeming with tourists. It has many bars, restaurants, cafes and shops to entertain tourists, so we found the area better suited our needs. there are also la policia everywhere, so it’s fairly safe to venture out in the dark.

Things we did to keep entertained:
1. Telefirco – impossible to catch public transit to this place. We taxied there for $5. On the way back there’s a tourist shuttle that will stop off at certain districts in the city such as la marsical, for $1 pp. Also if you have children less than 2 years of age, they won’t allow them on the cable car. The telefirco is an aerial tramway on the east side of Pinchicha Volcano at about 4000mImage
2. Mitad de mundo, inan solar museo – take the blue line all the way to ofelia station, then a bus labeled mitad de mundo. Once you get off the round about at mitad, head north (if the monument is in front of you, head to your right) and walk along the busy road for about 200m. You’ll see a sign for the museum. This is where the real equator line is (latitude 0), not where the monument stands (and where you have to pay $2 to see).

3. Park carolina and botanical gardens- the gardens has more than 1200 species of orchids and other unique flora species of Ecuador. Image

4. Artisanal markets
5. Casa del cultura museo
6. Rugby match- we got extremely lucky with this. The Jaguars of Guayaquil were staying at out hostel and so it happened that we got a ride to watch them play. A real delightful bunch. We’ll definitely get in touch with them when we travel through Guayaquil in Jan.
The transportation system in Ecuador is absolutely amazing, cheap but not necessarily fast. Within the city the fare is $0.25; there are 3 major lines you can take (red, blue and green) and they are relatively simple to use. The buses are extremely rammed in rush hour (7-9am and after 1pm when school is out).

Darwin’s been a fairly easy traveller. Everything is new and unfamiliar territory so he is often preoccupied with exploring. That said, he still is crawling which makes things difficult to keep him clean ( hands, knees). I worry a great deal about his health and I cringe every time I see him suck his hands after crawling around common areas or pick things off the floor and place it in his mouth, ugh so gross! I also worry about food poisoning and have been diligent about cooking his food and providing purified drinking water. There’s also no routine for baby which I think is important in teaching a child discipline. He sleeps well throughout the night which is terrific, but meal times vathese pending on the day so feeding him on a schedule is difficult. A part of me tells me to relax and that I shouldn’t be so uptight, another part worries that Darwin is going to develop bad habits during meal time. On top of all these worries is his nutrition, luckily we found a decent iron fortified cereal (quinoa!) that I think easies my concerns and also I’m still breast feeding. yes, I know there are  many worries! All I know that he’s been a content little boy since arriving in ecuador and that Tim & Darwin have really bonded, which I had hoped they would during our travels.