Mainland Ecuador

Trip Start Sep 08, 2008
Trip End Feb 28, 2009

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On my way back from the Galapagos, I stopped in hot and humid Quayaquil, but this time it was planned, so I was able to get my suitcase out of the plane. The city is mixed. Beside the amusement park-like development along the Rio Guayas, there's a historic barrio of Las Penas that perches over the riverfront - looking like a cross between a Mexican and Greek fishing village - and boasts a lot of happening restaurants and bars. To get to Las Penas, you can only walk and it is all uphill...or downhill on the way back but still pretty high. Last but not least, Guayaquil; the biggest town in Ecuador - even if not the capital -is the commercial center of the country hence the big corporate buildings in the new town.
I went to Banos to meet my Friendship friends from the Galapagos. Banos is the town of all the attractions, and we did it all. From rafting to cycling, hiking smoking volcanoes at night, soaking in hot thermal baths, and riding ATV's. I really had a good time there and stayed nearly a week. The rafting was up to class IV and that was shaky. The weather was not with us as it was mainly raining but it did not matter since we were in the water splashed by the waves. The cycling day was a tough one. Banos being in the mountains meant that cycling included a lot of downhill but have to say a lot of uphill strenuous and long rides as well. I left with four friends and only two of us made it all the way to the town of Puyo, 61 km from Banos. We had to take a bus back and stuck the bikes on the roof. The ride was beautiful though, right along the river, stopping at waterfalls, telefericos, and vista points. It was definitely worth it. It would have been better if it did not rain that much, especially towards the end, but that made the experience more challenging.
The volcano night hike was very disappointing because it was very foggy and we could not see a thing, but having a drink at the top all gathered around the bonfire was really something. The ATV's ride the next day onto the volcano was a real treat. I had a blast. The road was a dirt path, sometimes muddy and always beautiful. There are also lots of hot springs scattered around town, loads of very good restaurants from all over the world (oh yes, I enjoyed my cheese fondue very much) and cool bars to keep us entertained till late. The hostel I stayed at was extremely nice with a great restaurant on the roof terrace overlooking the regions landscape. It was busy with fellow backpackers from all horizons so it made it a pleasant place to hang out at. In a nutshell, I do recommend Banos if you are visiting Ecuador.
Continuing my way up, I stopped in the Andean region of Quilotoa. I was with some Ecuadorian friends and after spending the night in typical town of Zumbahua and a ride on the back of a pickup truck, we walked the five hour trail from the laguna of Quilotoa to the town of Chugchilan. It was gorgeous and very cold but well worth it. Transportation is tricky but the rewards are abundant: landscape, traditional highland villages, indigenous folks, fauna and flora represented a trip on its own. The departing point of the famous volcanic-crater's green lake seemed unreal. We then walked through sand, rocks, forests, corn fields, canyons, and rivers to arrive in the even more typical town of Chugchilan. Our only way back was a six-hour hike back or to hitch a ride to Latacunga. We managed to get a ride back in a beer truck (empty beer bottles though)  and I froze my in this nearly four hour drive to the biggest town. It was a really uncomfortable, open air truck driving on very bumpy, windy, dirt roads in the cold of the mountains at 4,000 m altitude. The occasional views were breathtaking when there were breaks in the fog.
Now I was back in Quito to properly visit the town. I stayed at my Ecuadorian friends' place, so I could enjoy the comfort of a real home and some nice dinners and night out with them. Apart from that, Quito is an interesting town, different from the others, mainly because of its hills. At 2,850m, Quito is the world's second highest capital, after La Paz and let me tell you, it does affect your breathing a lot. I did read that in the book, but did not think too much of it. Once there, the slightest movement became a series of heavy breathing and difficult exercise. Getting up one floor on the stairs made me out of breath for a good two minutes. I had a heavy headache for about two days but that was apparently altitude sickness and was completely normal. Glad to know it.  
The old town of Quito was absolutely amazing with its narrow streets, restored colonial architecture and lively plazas. I have never seen such a concentration of beautiful churches, most of them with altars entirely covered in gold. There was a teleferico that brings you 2.5 km up the flanks of volcan Pichincha to the altitude of 4100m for amazing views of the city...when clear of clouds, which is rare at such an altitude. Once at the top, you can then hike up to the summit of Rucu Pichincha to a mere 4680m and it was a strenuous hike not because of the paths but because of the altitude and lack of oxygen. For another picturesque view of the city, I climbed the stairs up to the Virgen de Quito which is nothing more than a huge statue of the Virgin of Quito with a crown of stars, eagle's wings and a chained dragon atop the world. After all those strenuous climbs, I sat and had the most wonderful time in the Plaza Grande, simply watching the people and since it was sunday, it was a very busy and pleasant atmosphere to enjoy.
Last but not least, I spent some time at the Mitad del Mundo, at latitude 00 00'00". The museum out there was wicked with outdoor exhibition, a solar chronometer that shows the precise astronomical and conventional time, as well as the month, day and season.  But the real reason why I went there was for the water and energy demonstration. You really have to see it and experience it yourself to believe it but they were mind blowing. I witnessed water go down the drain clockwise in an hemisphere and counter clockwise in the other as well as completely straight on the exact equator line. I also made an egg stand up on a nail. It required intense concentration but was so rewarding when I saw the egg up and standing by itself.
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