An ‘essential’ week in Ecuador (1)

Trip Start Jul 30, 2010
Trip End May 29, 2011

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, January 16, 2011

"You define a good flight by negatives: you didn’t get hijacked, you didn’t crash, you didn’t throw up, you weren’t late, you weren’t nauseated by the food. So you are grateful."

 Paul Theroux, The Old Patagonian Express

We came thru' the clouds fast. We approached the runway fast. And we hit the tarmac hard and fast. We bumped and skidded our way across the tarmac before finally coming to a halt. At immigration there was no warm welcome to Ecuador. Just a "First time? Si?" from some crone with lurid green eye-shadow laid on with a trowel.

The cab to our start hotel, the Hotel Quito, was driven by a shrivelled old man who hurtled thru’ Quito with an colour-blind attitude to the lights and a binary approach to braking. At the Hotel we met up with our fellow travellers, Nicola from Canada and Sue from somewhere in the home-counties and our GAP Adventures guide, an Ecuadorian named Henry who’d be leading us for our whirlwind 8-day tour of Ecuador.

The morning of our first day we drove to Baņos – a small touristy village that sits under the still active Tungurahua volcano. In fact it seems that an awful lot of Ecuador lives in the shadow of a volcano or two. Quito is about 60km long and 12km wide. It’s a sprawling mess of 2m people hemmed in by two valleys running North-South and volcanic range, the biggest of which is Volcan Cotopaxi. Houses and apartment blocks climb up the valleys in various pastel shades. The rich live in the bottom of the valleys – where it’s warmer – whilst the poorer climb higher and higher.

Getting back to Baņos...from Quito we drove along the Panamerican highway for about 3 or 4 hours, getting lower in altitude.  On route we stopped off at a Rose plantation. Mainly because this is what the women on our minibus wanted to do but was nonetheless quite interesting to learn a little bit about the industrialisation of rose production. It’s one of Ecuador’s largest industries supplying the US, Europe and Russia.

We reached Baņos mid-afternoon and after dumping our stuff in the hotel Claire and I went for a wander around the small town centre. It was, as to be expected, full of cafes and excursion-shops and not really that pretty. And it was dominated by Basilica De Nuestro Seņora De Agua Santa, a church dedicated to the Virgin of Holy Water who is credited with several miracles in the area. Inside the church there were a dozen large, unintentionally comical paintings of scenes where the Virgin had rescued unfortunate souls who had fallen into the treacherous rivers around Baņos after calling out for her.  Hmmm...yes, what can you say to that. As a funeral was about to start when we were there we didn’t take any photos and snuck out to get a drink elsewhere.

The following morning we decided to go white-water rafting on the above mentioned treacherous waters. The Rio Pastaza is a Grade III-IV rafting river (the range is I (flat) to VI (impossible)). Questioning my sanity to do this, and blind without my specs, we nonetheless had a brilliant, and wet, time as we navigated our way down the river thru’ rapids and waves that at one point nearly washed me and another rafter out of the raft. I should point out that at no point did I call out for the Virgin of Holy Water and yet it was a miracle that I stayed in the boat.

We were up early the next day for the long drive south to Cuenta.
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