My trip to Ecuador (June 2014)
In the beginning of August 2013 my father migrated to Quito in Ecuador. I was planning on visiting him after he finished building his house. That is, he bought some land in Quito and hired a contractor to build him a house. However, disaster struck when he fell in the shower in October 2013. He broke his neck and ended up in Hospital for 3 months. It has to be said that he should be lucky to have survived in the first place. The doctors were sceptic about his chances to ever walk again, but thankfully he was able to stand up again and even walk for a bit. He still has some health issues caused by his injuries, but he is thankful to be alive and living in the country he likes so much. Because of this event my girlfriend and I decided to visit him earlier than planned. So we booked a flight from Amsterdam to Quito, had some vaccinations and filled up our suitcase with my fathers wish list items.
After a 11,5 hour flight we arrived in Quito. My father and his friend Blanca were there waiting for us at the airport. We were tired from the flight and being in a different time zone didn't help much either. Also, I started to be a bit dizzy and light headed from being at 2900 meters above sea level. As a native Dutch guy I'm not used to high altitudes (the highest point in the Netherlands is 323 meters above sea level). So we decided to go to the hotel to freshen up and rest for a bit. The drive from the airport to the hotel was interesting to say the least. Traffic is much more chaotic than in the Netherlands. I have been to Asia several times already, but Ecuador is a whole different story. We stayed at the Reina Isabel Hotel. A nice hotel with friendly staff and armed guards who make sure only authorized people enter the hotel. The staff also spoke English which made it easier for me since I don't (yet) speak Spanish. Because it was our first time at the hotel we got a free upgrade to a deluxe suite. This is quite a common gesture for many upscale hotels. I had the same experience at Hotel Maya in Kuala Lumpur.
When we were rested we set out to visit the gondola lift 'Teleferiqo'. The gondola is a popular attraction for tourists and Ecuadorians alike. We got there early so the line was acceptable (after a few hours the line extended all the way outside the main building) and starts at about 2900 meters above sea level. The gondola took us up to the peak at 4200 meters in a about 10 to 15 minutes. The temperature at the top was considerably lower than in the city. Also it was quite windy, but the view over the city down below was amazing.
The next day we visited old Quito. The old buildings and squares are a pretty sight and well worthwhile to visit. First we went to Plaza Grande where we saw the President and his government. He appears on a balcony every Monday at around 11:00 in the morning. It's quite a spectacle with lots of people, guards and music and it looks (and sounds) a bit amateuristic from time to time, but that contributes to the fun of it all. After that we walked to Plaza de San Francisco to visit the Cathedral.
We then head up to the Mirador del Panecillo, a statue of an angel on top of a small hill. From here we also had a great view of the city, but less windy :). While walking around the old city and shooting pictures I noticed that the thin air at this altitude was something I needed to deal with. So walk slowly and don't make any sudden moves (like bending over to tie your shoelaces or looking up to make a nice picture). Also, while sleeping at night I noticed my heart rate was much higher than usual and I was gasping for air every 15 minutes. I did sleep well at the hotel. Even with the troubled breathing and the dizziness. We had a great breakfast at our hotel. Nice coffee, croissants, meat, cheese and fresh fruits like Grenadine. I never knew what those look like. And one of the funny things was that the host at the hotel breakfast room was a Dutch guy! He lived in Spain for a while, but when the economy collapsed there was no more work. He didn't want to go back to the Netherlands so he decided to go and work in Ecuador.
After a couple of days in Quito it was time to leave the city and explore the country. We only had limited amount of time in Ecuador, so we were on a tight schedule. We went to the hospital where my father had stayed to visit the staff and the surgeon who take care of him. My father had some physiotherapy and then we went to Quilotoa a crater lake (or caldera) near Latacunga. At 3900 meters the lake was absolutely stunning. This was also the site where an American fell of his horse and broke his neck ending up in the same hospital (and with the same injuries) as my father. There was not a whole to do at Quilotoa (just a few nearly deserted hostels) and is was very windy and cold. On our way back to Latacunga (where we had our hotel) we picked up a couple who were hitch hiking back to their village in the valley. This was very interesting. The couple was small for their age, but that's actually very common. Most Ecuadorians are small (at least smaller than us westerners). They spoke a language that sounded Spanish, but it was such a strong dialect that even my father couldn't understand them. Luckily, Blanca, my fathers friend was born in the region and was able to understand the couple. The were both wearing traditional clothing which looked pretty. I especially liked the hat and feather. On our way back it became dark very quickly and it also started to rain very hard. The road was brand new so I it was rather safe, however, it still felt quite dangerous. It felt like we were driving through the clouds in the dark (lots of fog) with heavy rainfall. We were driving safe, but most Ecuadorians do not and that made it a bit dangerous.
The next day we drove past Ambato on our way to the Chimborazo volcano. We actually wanted to visit the Cotopaxi, but it was too cloudy so there was not much to see. When we came close to the Chimborazo volcano there were also some clouds. Because we were running low on gas we decided to go to Guaranda. A quaint little place where we ended up in a fairly nice hotel. Very simple and basic, but clean. And because (like most of our trip) we were above 2500 meters there were no cockroaches, spiders or other creepy crawlers to worry about. After a good night rest we drove back (with a full gas tank) to the Chimborazo. The driver was great. I also drove a lot in Ecuador. My father wasn't yet able to drive yet (and had no license) so Blanca and I were driving most of the times. The closer we got to the volcano the higher it became. And as we were driving higher and higher the landscape drastically changed from (somewhat) green to less green and ultimately to a grey and rocky landscape where no life exists expect for the alpaca. It was absolutely beautiful. Also because in the Netherlands we do not have these kind of landscapes. Eventually, we arrived at the gates of the Chimborazo national park. Here we had to show our passport and register as guests. The president of Ecuador says that all nature parks in Ecuador should be accessible to all people of all social classes (and more importantly, income). Therefore admission to these nature parks are free of charge! Thanks mister president.
At the start of the park it was again very windy and cold, but there were hardly any clouds and the volcano was clearly visible. I drove the car slowly up the mountain (unpaived and bumpy ride) and after 45 minutes we arrived at the end of the road at the parking of the Chimborazo volcano. This was at 4900 meter, roughly the same hight as the top of the Mont Blanc. The view was amazing. Never have I seen such a beautiful sight. And unlike at the entrance of the park there was hardly any wind and nice warm temperatures. I had to wear a hat, because the sun could burn me within seconds at that altitude. I probably don't have to mention that at this altitude I had a lot of problems breathing. We hiked a very short distance up the volcano. I had to walk really slow whereas Blanca (who is obviously used to the thin air) sprinted up the trail with ease. We experienced many great things during our trip to Ecuador, but this was one of the best.
From the Chimborazo we went on past Riobamba to our next hotel in Baños de Agua Santa. It was an interesting drive. Baños de Agua Santa was a bit warmer, because it was lower. Still at 1800 meter above sea level. We found a small and dusty hotel. Baños de Agua Santa is small, but there are plenty of tourists. They all come for the natural springwater. This water flows down the mountain into swimming pools in the village. They are supposed to be healthy for your body, but it sure doesn't smell healthy. In the evening we had a drink at a bar in town and watch the moon come up from behind the mountain. The moon was full (or nearly I can't see that well) and as it came up it moved (from our point of view) exactly behind a giant Christian Cross that was build on top of the mountain. I didn't have my camera at hand, but it was also to dark to make a great picture so we just looked at it for as long as it was possible.
Next on the agenda was Otavalo. A long drive. We had to drive al the way back to Quito and then further north. In Otavalo we visited the famous market. Both the tourist market as well as the meat, fruit and vegetable market where all the locals go. We then moved on to see Peguche waterfall (pretty) and the Laguna de Cuicocha which is basically a crater lake (or caldera) with two small islands in the middle. The lake was nice, but I found the Quilotoa crater lake to be much more impressive. After these short visits we moved to Ibarra. There we had diner and went to a hostal. The hostal del Rio was a bit small but very nice. I can advise everybody to stay there when they're in Ibarra. In Ibarra we took the tourist train from Ibarra to Salinas. Well, train? It was more a bus on train wheels. Very nice train ride through wonderful landscapes. Salinas is an old village where all the African slaves used to live who worked in the salt mines. In Salinas we got a very nice tour of the village by some very friendly natives. It was also the first time in Ecuador when I actually saw some pretty girls. After Ibarra we drove back towards Quito and then onwards to Mindo. This also a small village, but has some great tourist attractions. Also, a lot of Americans live here. We went to a hacienda that belongs to an old friend of my father. The owner is a very sweet and small lady and she had a really nice dog. I usually don't like dogs, but this one was very sweet. Being only at 1250 meters meant we had some really nasty cockroaches in the room. During the day you don't see them, but at night they come out. And they are huge! We had a pleasant stay and after some minor sightseeing we went back to Quito. First we went to La Mitad del Mundo. This is like a theme park and supposed to be the centre of the earth. There you can stand right on the equator. Mind you that the real equator is about 750 meters to the north. But being 750 meters off course is pretty good considering that this was calculated many years ago when they didn't have GPS. From there on we went back to the Hotel Reina Isabel. I asked them if we could come back in a week or so and without making any reservations or down payments we were welcomed back by the staff and even got the same deluxe suite (only one floor down) for the same price we stayed there earlier. No, the hotel Reina Isabel is really a nice hotel. Treat your guest well and they'll come back.
Because my fathers friend Blanca was living with her parents and brothers we couldn't go home without meeting them. I told my father that I wanted to eat Cuy during my stay in Ecuador. Instead of going to a restaurant Blanca's family prepared a home cooked meal of Cuy. Very nice and very tasty. For those of you who don't know what Cuy is, it's a guinea pig. The Ecuadorians call it Cuy, because that's the sound they make (when you brake their neck so yo can prepare them for diner).
South America never really attracted me, but because my father now lives there I have a great excuse to visit the country. South East Asia is still my favourite holiday destination, but I enjoyed Ecuador and I will be visiting Ecuador more in the future.