Arrival in Middle Earth

Hola dear readers,

the next country I am exploring in Latin America is Ecuador. Ecuador is with around 15 million people a relatively small country and a former Spanish colony. It is famous worldwide for its high volcano summits (active like Cotopaxi 5 897 m or inactive like Chimborazo 6,267 m) and the famous Galapagos islands.

As a musical background for this post, I chose a song in the actual top 10 Ecuadorian charts from an artist with a name I can easily identify with 😉 Moreover, the video music has a nice way to present the lyrics (I swear I kept my eyes on the lyrics) and it helps me improving my Spanish 🙂

IAmChino – Ay Mi Dios ft. Pitbull & Yandel y Chacal

But let’s talk now about my exploration. After an 1,5 hours flight from Bogota, I land in Quito, where the border process was the fastest I’ve ever done in my travel:
Hello, what are you doing in Ecuador? Holidays.
How long do you plan to stay? 3 weeks max.
Alright sir, Bienvenidos en Ecuador!
Passport stamped, total duration 2 min 🙂
After having claimed my backpack, I am picked up by a shuttle organized by the hostel, where I booked my first night.

The check in at the hostel is quite fast. It is located in the Old town also called historic center. The owner gives me a map of the touristic part of the city and indicates me the areas that are not “tourist friendly”. As it is already quite late, I go out for diner quickly at a small restaurant nearby. The food in Ecuador is very cheap. For 2 or 3$ it’s possible to have a rather decent meal with a soup and a piece of meat (usually chicken) with rice and beans.
I wake up the next morning not totally fit. It is something I expected, as I was warned that it usually takes some time to get used to the altitude (Quito is at 2800m).
After a “complete breakfast”, which is also rice, beans and chicken, I follow the itinerary provided by the tourist office to visit the Old Town. The urban trail leads to numerous squares and impressive churches. My first stop is la Basilica del Voto Nacional, where I take the stairs to go the top and enjoy a nice view on the city. Another highlight is the church of the company of Jesus whose walls are mainly covered with gold. Very impressive, but unfortunately it was not allowed to take pictures.

After the church part, the trails takes me to a street called la Calle la Ronda. It is a famous artistic street with a lot of pubs, where local musicians play Latino live music in the evening. The trail ends in a urban sport complex with a big indoor football area and volley ball fields.

I come back to my hostel in the early evening to plan a bit my next days. As the places I want to visit are not far from Quito, I decide to settle down in the city and plan day trips from here. There’s not much more to see in the Old Town and and the hostel is quite noisy..So I decide to find another accommodation near Plaza Foch in the New Town. This place is the place to be for tourists and concentrates a lot of bars and restaurant. I find an nice AirBnb room in a quiet street not far from a bus station. After having dropped my backpack at my new place, I go this time for the trail leading through the New Town. It starts from the nice park Egido to finish at the church Nostra Senora de Guapulo. The first part is nice and flat, the second half is going down quite steep to the church and it starts raining. It will be challenging to walk up again, but the good thing is that the trail offers nice viewpoints on the valley and interesting street art.

On the next day, I wake up quite early in the morning. The plan is to visit Mindo, a nice village North West of Quito. I’m still a bit tired and it’s still chilly and raining. After a nice warming morning coffee, I decide to try my luck and go there despite the bad weather. The bus takes me to Mindo in a bit more than 1 hour. The village has a very nice atmosphere and is known for its outdoor activities and its fauna. I start my visit with a butterfly farm. The visit is very entertaining and we can see all the stages of the development, from the egg to the caterpillar to the butterfly. Some species are really colorful but unfortunately most of them are almost extinct and the farm is running several conservation programs to try to save them.

The second stop of my visit is a small chocolate factory. There I take a similar tour as in Colombia for the coffee, where the whole process from the cacao tree growing to the commercialization of the final chocolate bars are explained. The group is very funny and we have fun tasting different kind of chocolate, and then mixing it with different flavors. The most interesting samples were the 100% pure chocolate and the chocolate with chili powder.

I finish the day with 2 farms. The first one is one orchid farm, where hundreds of different orchids are shown and the second one is also interesting as it is a kind of conservation farm for local birds, among others hummingbirds.

The next day is reserved for recovery and a bit of planning for the next days. It is raining quite hard and the day hike I planned on Cotopaxi volcano is not possible as it is in the process of eruption and hence closed to public.

Day 5 starts in a similar way. It’s raining quite hard, which is bad for any outdoor activities. However around 3pm, the sun seems to be back and I decide to take the cable car to the first volcano near Quito. The ride is impressive. It takes the passengers from 2800m to 4000m in 10 min and offers an amazing view on the city. Arrived at the top, I start walking on a trail to the top of the volcano at 4300m. It’s only a few kilometers but the signs are indicating several hours walking. As I don’t really understand why, I keep walking. After 30 min, I feel my heart pumping hard in my chest and realize the steepness of the trail and the effect of the altitude. I won’t be able to keep this pace and so I won’t make it to the top before the sunset. I decide to turn around and go back to the arrival of the cable car, where there are some nice viewpoints on the city and the surrounding volcanoes. The temperature is very low and I wait for the sunset with a nice hot chocolate in my hands. After the sun is completely down, I enjoy the view on the illuminated city for a couple of minutes and go back down to my flat.

The next day is a little bit less physically demanding. I take the bus in the morning to the city of Otavalo in the North of Quito. It is famous for its big market where Indigenous come down from their mountains to sell their products. On early Saturday, there is also an animal market but unfortunately I arrived a bit too late to see it and the selling slots were all empty. The market is very interesting to visit. Local people are wearing traditional clothes and different local specialties can be found there, from colorful textile to hats to guinea pigs on barbecue. I spend the whole afternoon wandering around before taking the bus back home.

I spend day 7 on a tour to Quilotoa. Is an inactive volcano which has a nice blue water lake in its crater. The first part of the day is a short stop at the village of Saquisili where we have a typical breakfast followed by a visit of a traditional market (smaller than Otavalo but less touristic).

After that, we head to the highlight of the day, the Quilotoa lake. The view from the top of the mountain is spectacular. This day the water is very blue, but some other days, it can be more green or a bit of orange due to volcanic activity. As most of the people on the tour, I go down to the lake. the trail is quite demanding. It is only 1600m long (800m down and 800m up) but there is a difference in elevation of 400m. I am happy to see that my physical condition is still quite good, and I walk the way up following a local in 45 min instead of the hour announced on the sign and without any break. The father of a nice Canadian family in the tour is even fitter as he did the whole stuff a bit slower but with his 4yo old in the back.

On the way back to the bus, the Canadian family and I pass in front of a food stand with grilled guinea pigs. The second son of the Canadian family tells his dad:
– Look dad, that’s horrible!
– I know you think it’s disgusting, but it’s not, it’s just another culture. Here they also eat small animals.
– But no dad, that’s horrible, they put wooden sticks in their ass!!
The dad and I try not to laugh but I have to turn around as I couldn’t. Sorry guys, that’s not because I am traveling that my humor is getting better 😉

The next 2 stops on the way are also nice. The first one is the canyon of the river Toachi. The view down the river is impressive. It reminds me a bit of Grand Canyon national park in the USA but in a smaller scale. Finally, we finish the day visiting a traditional Kichwa house. The way people are living is very interesting. They chose to keep their way of live as simple as possible. They have no current water nor electricity and wake up and go to sleep at the same time as the sun. Their heating system is quite interesting. They simply keep dozen of cats and hundreds of guinea people inside the house and the warmth produced by the animals is enough to heat the small room.

The tour guide has from my point of view a good picture of the tourism and its ethics. He tries to explain us why doing such a visit is only possible thanks to the goodwill of the people opening their house. Indeed, they are not in a human zoo, and if one day they decide not to welcome tourists anymore, the tour operators would have to remove this stop from their programs.

For my last day in Quito, I struggle a bit about what I am going to do, either relax or visit something. Finally I decide to give a chance to a very touristic place called Mitad Del Mundo (Middle of the World). This is a place a few kilometers away from Quito, where the Equatorial line with the latitude 0 is represented by a yellow line on the ground. I spend some time in the museums around as well as in the planetarium. Shortly after sunset, I jump in a bus to head back to Quito for my last night in the city.

At 04:00 in the morning, I wake up to take a taxi to the Airport. I am flying to (I hope :)) one of the highlights of my trip, the Galapagos islands where i booked a 1 week diving cruise.

Report in the next post if I didn’t get eaten by a big shark 😉

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One response to “Arrival in Middle Earth

  1. GEMA doesn’t allow me to listen to the music you Chose… However, wonderful pictures and still amazing how you handle your tour discovering something new each day without any fear of the different Habits in each Country.

    Liked by 1 person

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