Cotopaxi Conclusion

November 21, 2016

This will be my last entry about the places that our family visited on our trip. I still have more stories to share about how we planned our accommodation, comparison costs per country, and what we are doing now, but the story of where we went and what we did and saw, is at its end. There are no more photos to inspire jealousy, and make you curse from your desk. If it is any consolation, we are back to the routine of sedentary life and I feel your pain. Instagram shots pop up on my Facebook feed, reminding me of where we were a year ago, and I can hardly reconcile those nomadic times with the Portland rain and school drop-offs. But, I get ahead of myself… Pushing melancholy aside, I want to sign-off on our saga, by telling you about the perfect way in which we ended our travels.

Thanks to word of mouth, we were let in on a secret. While hiking the Quilotoa loop with a European couple and another American family, we learned of a mystical destination called “The Secret Garden”. The family was headed this way for some R&R after our trek, and Nick and Sandra had also heard rave recommendations from a small handful of backpackers-in-the-know, and were trying to book their own stay. We soon discovered how popular the place was, as we were unable to confirm reservations for another week. The Secret Garden is a backpacker resort of sorts, located in the countryside near the active Cotopaxi volcano. Owned by an Australian man and his Ecuadorian wife, this was their second award-winning venture after running a successful youth hostel in Quito. It is an escape from the city (only two hours away) to an Andes landscape of horse-riding, dirt-biking, trout fishing, and strenuous hikes to waterfalls, glaciers, and mountain peaks.

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Butterflies and Birds in Mindo

November 13, 2016

Hiking Quilotoa took a lot out of us. Dan was surprised to learn he was susceptible to altitude sickness, and Stella and Gabriel demanded a moratorium on hiking. I had pushed my thighs to their limit, first kneading them into a wobbly, rubbery state, which then snapped into rock hard tightness after a moment’s rest. Any sudden pressure on my quads, usually coming from my hyper kids jumping on top of me, made me cry out in pain. We all needed a rest, and that is exactly what we found in our next destination.

After a forced layover in Quito, we took a bus North to the warmer more humid jungles of Mindo. Located less than a three-hour drive from the capital, in a dense, green, cloud forest, Mindo is a small town with a population around 4000. It’s proximity to Quito has made it an easy getaway for city folk and visiting travelers, who are looking for a vastly calmer experience. Many roads are still unpaved, and there are charming, two-story, ramshackle wooden homes that  stand crookedly against encroaching modernization and development. Kids ride their bikes, roller skate, and play soccer in the streets, including along the main drag. Dogs lay lazily on corners, and roosters crow in the early morning. Even the foreigners are treated with great friendliness and welcome, as if old, reunited friends. There is a big expat community of shop owners, who never seem too busy or bored to tell their tales and enquire with genuine curiosity of another’s path. There are many entrepreneurs opening healthy restaurants, producing chocolate, running guesthouses with convivial bars, and organizing tours.

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Quilotoa Looping

November 6, 2016

Although it took us longer to extract ourselves from Banos than we originally predicted, as soon as we had boarded the bus to Latacunga, I was looking forward to our adventure. Within less than three hours, we were dropped off on the side of the Pan American highway, where we quickly hailed a taxi to Hostel Sendero de Volcanes. Our stay would only be for one night, as this city stop was just the staging ground for a three-night trek to the Quilotoa crater. We were given a large room with two single beds and two bunk beds, that once served as the resident garage. It was bitterly cold and drafty, with one metal, roll-down car door, standing-in as a wall. The popcorn ceiling was low and the thick fleece blankets featured wild animal prints and aesthetically challenging patterns, creating a completely uninviting environment. One night – only one night.

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The Best of Banos

October 30, 2016

Banos is a backpacker’s haven. This translates to meaning that it is a town that has a noticeable foreign presence. You can find a hostel, guesthouse, or small hotel on just about every block. If you want to eat vegan, swiss, italian, mexican, or fill-in-the-blank-ethnicity food, you’ll find it here. If you’re young, and prefer drinking your calories in the form of alcohol, like to dance, and hope to hook-up, there is a bar for you.

Banos is also the adventure capital of Ecuador. This means that if you like bungee jumping and swinging on ropes over canyons and steep mountain sides, this place has you covered. If you prefer water sports that involve rapids, canyoning and rappelling down waterfalls, there are at least two dozen tour companies happy to accept your cash. If biking, off and on road, or trekking for hours through dense jungle is your preferred workout, have a go. You can end it all with soaking your weary bones and sore muscles in any of three local hot-spring facilities.

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Riobamba Ramblings

October 22, 2016

We got stuck in Riobamba, and didn’t do much of anything. The truth is there is only one tale to tell. The story of a little girl who loves dogs and the dog that bit her.

We originally stopped in Riobamba to break up a very long bus journey from Incapirca to Banos.  We were also hoping that we might be able to organize a visit to the base of the tallest volcano in Ecuador – Chimborazo (6310 m). Lonely Planet states that this mountain top “is both the furthest point from the center of the earth and the closest terrestrial point to the stars”. However, besides the atrociously cold and cloudy weather, which concealed views of the peak and made us doubt the practicality of our wardrobe, a mini-tragedy struck and conspired against us.

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Celebrating the Sun from Cuenca to Incapirca

October 14, 2016

Of all the Ecuadorian cities that we visited, I found Cuenca to be one of the most beautiful. Perhaps, it is second only to the grandeur of the colonial center of Quito, but the smaller scale made it much easier to explore. Its’ historic district, which goes back as far as the 16th century, has been named a UNESCO heritage site, and the patchwork grid of streets does not let one down. There is great, imaginative architecture lining each calle, with towers, steeples, rotundas, storied balconies, brick and tiles, carved wooden porticos, and cobble-stoned roads entreating you to pause and look longer, while encouraging you to continue. I can say all this, despite the timing of our visit, which coincided with the closure of many main streets in the historic district. They were under major construction for the development of a city-wide and significant light-rail system.

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