An ‘essential’ week in Ecuador (2)

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

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Friday, January 21, 2011

"You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy." - Eric Hoffer

The drive to Cuenta from Baņos took pretty much all day. We arrived about 6-ish after leaving some 10 hours earlier. We stopped of on route in Ingapirca to see Ecuador's biggest (but not very impressive) Inca site. 

The van journey itself was really calm by the standards we'd gotten used to in Asia, but the scenery was just as awesome as that in NZ and Cambodia as we drove south down the Panamerican highway along the volcanic range until we passed the last volcano and then drove high into the mountains where Cuenca sits in the valley between two mountain ranges.

Rather than explore the city (another UNESCO listed heritage city) we decided to take a couple of guided walks around a nearby national park, the Parque Nacional Cajas. The first walk was at 3,100 masl (metres above sea-level). It was a pleasant enough walk around a lake by a discussed brewery. We walk thru' a cloud forest – a bit like a rain forest but drier. Apparently there was lots of birds to see but as is the way the birds heard us coming and flew off. The 2nd walk was more challenging. We drove up to 4,100 masl (about the same altitude as Dead Women’s Pass on the Machu Picchu trek) and at this altitude it was a more difficult to catch your breath. The landscape was also very, very different. No lush trees or flowers this high. Just grasses, moss, lichens and small scrubby bushes. It was a very barren and bleak place and shortly after we had set out it also became a very wet place. Our guide had warned us that it tended to rain in the afternoon and true to his word shortly after midday we felt the first drops of rain. What he didn’t say was that the rain then gets really heavy and then turns into hailstones. Still it didn’t matter; we had our waterproofs on and the views thru’ the mists more than made up for the weather.

After Cuenca we had to fly back to Quito. This meant flying LAN again. Every single flight we’ve taken with LAN has been subject to change. Whatever you book with them will change and I’m coming to the conclusion that LAN really is the weak link in the OneWorld alliance. This flight was to be no different. Instead of flying direct to Quito we were redirected via Guayaquil. It didn’t add on too much time but it was a pain. When we finally really Quito we re-joined our van (which had driven the 8hrs back the previous day) and set off north for Otavalo. On the way we stopped on at the equator. Actually it was big sun-dial off the main road that purports to be on the real equator line (latitude 00’00’00) unlike some others near Quito that are out by a few metres or more.

We reached Otavalo in the late afternoon and we all surprised at how grand and palatial the old hacienda we were staying at was. Our room was huge, altho’ sparsely furnished. And once the huge fire had been lit (whilst we were having dinner) it was quite warm. Claire and I walked around the gardens which were an explosion of red-hot poker plants and blue aquilegias and darting between them were blue-green hummingbirds. Patrolling the courtyard was a peacock.

If the hacienda had been all calm and elegance the market we’d come to see was at the other end of the scale. We were up early to get to the animal market - a real 'locals' market. And a market selling puppies, cats, guinea pigs, goats, ducks, sheep, cattle, horses, pigs and pretty much anything else with fur or feathers. 

It was manic, smelly and harsh. Birds, cats and dogs were kept in small mesh cages. Larger animals were tethered to sticks in the ground and frequently snapped or butted each other. It was impossible to tell who was buying and who was selling. The only indication came when the successful buyer would drag off the screeching animal with a rope tied around its neck. Chickens and chicks (if sold alive) were shoved into hessian sacks. We saw one live calf being bundled in to boot of a car. The RSCPA would be apoplectic with rage at the conditions. But it was fascinating and also an opportunity to do a spot of people watching/photo-ing.

After the smell and chaos of the animal market we went to the more general, and more touristy, handicraft market where 'typical’ Ecuadorian products such as fabrics, jewellery and pottery were for sale. Alongside the usual uniform tourist tat that you could buy in any market in the world were some genuine and unique Ecuadorian articles, one of which has ended up as a birthday present for Claire (even tho’ her birthday isn’t until March!). The market was huge and after a while the stalls all started to look the same. At that point it was time to leave and head back to Quito.

The return to Quito marked the finish of our whistle-stop Ecuadorian tour. We both really enjoyed it, more so than our 2 wks in Cusco (Peru) and I think I’ve probably picked up and used more Spanish in 8 days here than in the 2 weeks in Peru.

Ecuador is more developed and richer than Peru. The most obvious sign of that (for me at least) is the use of relatively modern Hyundai cars as taxis rather than the Daewood Ticos used in Cusco. In Ecuador buildings are finished off; they are plastered and painted, something that seems to be the exception in Cusco. The food seems better, as is the local beer. All together Ecuador seems to be a more sorted and cleaner place. I guess I’ll see how correct this perception is in March and April when we return to Peru.

For now, however, we have a couple of weeks on a beach in Puerto Lopez recharging our batteries before we head off to the Galapagos for 3wks of volunteer work and cold showers.
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Damian Soong on

Wow! Stumbled on this while checking my LinkedIn and your profile for about the 2nd time in 2 years!
Must be so good to get away from it all, enjoy!

Larry Sovitch on

Am enjoying, thank you; please keep it going.
The piccies are GReaT! Am I jealous? Naah, course not: Not bloody much!!!

rudders on

Larry - get yourself and Alan back on another tour. The GAP Adventures 'Essential Ecuador' was really good and so was Henry (our CEO) - right up there with Kakada

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