Reflections on Ecuador

20140610-204435-74675733.jpg Lucy We went fishing for trout for our lunch and I caught one but I only caught one in the second pool not the first one. We ate them for lunch, they were farmed trout and were delicious, I hooked mine in the eye. Here is a picture of the waterfalls nearby. 20140610-204809-74889610.jpg We went to the Galapagos Islands. We saw blue footed boobies which had blue feet. We also saw Frigate Birds who have red chests for mating. My favourite animal was the sea lion. I almost stepped on one. Our guide was called Carlos. He was funny and cheeky and he told us all about the animals. After been to the Galapagos I now want to be a scientist discovering the animals. Not like Charles Darwin though as he killed the bugs by pinning their wings and catching them and putting them in jars. 20140610-204910-74950911.jpg That is me snorkelling in the Galapagos. Alisha After crossing the border between Colombia and Ecuador we went to a big market. There was an animals market and a textiles market. Mummy and me each got a shawl. Mine was sea green and I had to bargain the price down as I only had $5 pocket money left. Mummy loves the colour of my scarf. 20140610-205026-75026215.jpg We went to the Galapagos and sailed around them in a catamaran. I shared a cabin with Daddy. We had the tidy cabin. We usually went snorkelling in the afternoon. I liked seeing all the tropical fish and I even saw a sea lion swimming under the water. One thing that I found funny was that on our last day there we could not go all the way to the lighthouse as there were too many birds on the path. We had to squeeze past them. When we passed a bush with a Frigate Bird in it I was a bit scared as it looked as though it had a sharp beak. 20140610-205112-75072212.jpg Gilly Our time in Ecuador has been very special, from markets to mountains on the mainland to the wonders of the Galapagos, it has been wonderful. In the mountain towns of Otavalo and Alausi the colourful lady's traditional costumes have been stunning. Wondering around the markets was a great experience with so much to see. After weeks of cloudy weather we were so excited to get the magnificent views of Cotopaxi two mornings in a row. It's not often that I jump out of bed and outside at 5.45am without so much as a cup of tea to wake me up. We made the most of the early starts though as the volcano was completely shrouded in mist again by 9.30. We had very high expectations for our trip to the Galapagos and it far exceeded them. Being a Biology teacher, I had been fascinated with their link to Darwin's theories of Evolution for years. So when we were passing through Ecuador, it seemed crazy not to take the chance to go. I think it is such a once in a lifetime trip that we wanted to do it properly, so we spent quite a lot of time researching the islands we should go to and how we should get there. I'm really pleased that we chose a small boat with a well-rated guide, so we got the most out of our visit. The girls spent the weeks beforehand learning about evolution, the islands and once they had watched the wonderful BBC series about the islands they were as hyped up as I was about going. As well as the abundance of unique flora, fauna and geographical phenomena that are particular only to the Galapagos. I think the part that struck us most was how relaxed the animals and birds were around people. There was a rule about having to be more than 2m away from the animals but at times we were almost tripping over them, they were that easy about our presence as they continued doing what they were doing. This sea lion was catching up on his sleep on a bench at the boat dock totally unconcerned about the presence of people. Steve Ecuador is a small country but consists of four very different diverse regions: the coast, the Andes, the Oriente (Amazon) and the Galapagos Islands. Although we spent nearly a month here we really only had time to explore two of them. We were not too bothered about missing out on the coast as we have spent a lot of time on beaches on this trip. We were though a bit disappointed not to make it to the Amazon and will have to make sure we get there in one of the countries we visit. We spent most of our time up in the Andes and thoroughly enjoyed it. The people were very friendly and often very colourfully dressed and when the weather cooperated the views were spectacular. Our time up at Cotopaxi was especially memorable. The Galapagos Islands were also great and it was nice to have a " mini holiday" in our trip where we were ferried around and cooked for. The guide,crew and group were great which combined with the amazing scenery and how close you could get to the wildlife made for a fantastic week. The underwater wildlife was also just as impressive as on top of the islands and made for a fantastic snorkelling experience. Ecuador is undergoing rapid development. We benefited from this in that the roads were mostly excellent and there were a lot less trucks on them than on Colombia. The development is been funded from oil revenues. This is not without issues as some of the oil is in pristine jungle and even while we were there the government authorised drilling in a new reserve on the Amazon. It is also focusing on developing its tourism and is an excellent country to visit with so many different things to see and do. 20140610-205501-75301779.jpg

A Different Form of Transport

We left the beautiful Pequeno Paraiso and headed back up into the Andes to the mountain town of Alausi. 20140610-200043-72043369.jpg We had come to Alausi to ride the famous Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) train. The reason it is famous is that it travels along some of the steepest section of train line in the world. It ascends/descends over 500m in less than 7kms. To do this it has to use switchbacks whereby the train pulls in one way and then effectively does a hairpin turn by reversing out the other. This way it is able to go steeper down the mountain. We camped at a hostel overlooking Alausi and decided to do the early morning train as the weather tends to be better first thing on the morning. To get from our hostel to the station we first had to walk down the rail tracks. This is pretty safe as there is only about one train a day on this section of the line. 20140610-200129-72089226.jpg As we entered the town the area near the station has been brightly painted and makes for a pretty entrance. 20140610-200222-72142546.jpg The station has all been done up and the train is a bit touristy with its faux old carriages. 20140610-200305-72185320.jpg 20140610-200306-72186447.jpg But the ride itself gave us spectacular views. As we descended the gorge we could see how steep it was. The sun was shining so we were rewarded with some fantastic scenery. 20140610-200445-72285125.jpg 20140610-200444-72284041.jpg 20140610-200446-72286169.jpg The sun though was in the wrong position to get a good photo of the Devils Nose. It is so called not because of its shape but because so many people died building this section of the railway. 20140610-200535-72335604.jpg On arrival at the station at the bottom there was a dance troupe to entertain the tourists which the girls enjoyed. 20140610-200629-72389367.jpg 20140610-200628-72388248.jpg 20140610-200627-72387072.jpg Although the whole thing was very touristy, we all enjoyed it. The railway line is slowly been renovated and trains run much further. In fact it may be possible to go all the way from Guayaguil to Quito which would be a spectacular ride. We were lucky that when we were in Alausi it was market day so we went for a wander around the market. This was not a tourist market but a real food market and all the locals from the surrounding countryside were in town for it. Their clothing was fantastic and very brightly coloured. In this area they seemed to go for bright pinks, reds and blues. 20140610-200748-72468434.jpg 20140610-200747-72467166.jpg 20140610-200749-72469502.jpg We took the opportunity to eat with the locals at the market stalls. The pork and maize were good and we were pleased to report there were no side effects. The next day we headed for our last stop in Ecuador, Cuenca whose centre is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. As usual there was lots of interesting things to see on the drive. Today pigs seemed to be the order of the day! The next day we headed for our last stop in Ecuador, Cuenca whose centre is a designated UNESCO world heritage site. As usual there was lots of interesting things to see on the drive. Today pigs seemed to be the order of the day! We stayed in Cuenca at a small hostel on the edge of the city where we could park in their grassy field. Whilst we were still in the city and only a 40 minute walk to the centre we were on a mini farm so it was all very tranquil, until the roosters started up at 5am! While Cuenca is pretty it was not outstandingly so. However unlikely some of the obviously touristy colonial towns Cuenca was a working town and felt very liveable. It also seemed much more prosperous than other parts of Ecuador we had visited. 20140610-200932-72572075.jpg 20140610-200933-72573283.jpg 20140610-200934-72574424.jpg We also took the opportunity to visit the city's museum and particularly enjoyed the section on the different indigenous groups in Ecuador. This included a particular tribe in the Amazon that used to behead their enemies and then shrink them. There were a number of shrunken heads on display. Alisha thought they were just fakes but I was not so sure. Time to head to Peru.

Highland Lakes and Waterfalls

Heading south from Quito, we headed west off the Panamerican highway to have a closer look at the Andes. Although high-altitude compared to what we are used to (Ben Nevis, the Uk's highest mountain is a mere 1,344m) here people think nothing of it and farm at over 4000m. Quilota Loop is a roughly circular route through some very dramatic scenery on a variety of mountain roads. We wound through towering highlands and lush valleys. The sloping fields appeared to defy gravity at times but seem to producing a good quantity of crops like potatoes, wheat and bizarrely hollyhocks. The fields of rich volcanic soil making a glorious patchwork of colour in the morning and evening light. 20140606-204510.jpg 20140606-204533.jpg Being no strangers these days to narrow, muddy mountain byways, we were not phased when the road narrowed to almost the truck's width as we left the small village of Chugchilan. About 5km along, we found the reason why we hadn't passed any oncoming traffic, they were rebuilding the road in an area of frequent rockslides. Half the hillside was being hacked away on two different levels by a bulldozer and a couple of diggers. Three waiting men told us that the road was closed but would reopen at 5, about an hour after we got there. We took a closer look, it looked like there was no way on earth that there would be anything resembling a road in an hours time. They seemed to be trying to create a road out of nothing on a steep slope which seemed entirely made of sand. Like trying to create a highway half-way up a sand castle. However we looked at it, turning round was not an option as the road was so narrow. We paced out all the possible options to see if we could possibly manage a 50-point turn somewhere but there was nothing. Steve would have to reverse the whole way back to the village 5km back, not made any easier by the winding road. So we went back to stare at the diggers incredulous that anything would come of their efforts. Amazingly at 5pm, the bulldozer seemed to create something that was starting to resemble a pathway. At 10 minutes past 5, Steve gunned the engine and I said a quick prayer. Off we went, slow enough to give him time to gauge the corners without getting too close to the edge but hopefully fast enough not to get stuck. We made it over in one piece. 20140606-205328.jpg 20140606-205357.jpg Luckily it was only an hour away to our planned stop for the night and the roadworks foreman had assured us that the road was "very good" from there onwards. What I think he meant was that the road "will be....very good" in about a years time, once they finished all the roadworks. We were happy eventually to arrive at Laguna Quilotoa, to catch the last rays of sunlight and this amazing view! 20140606-204626.jpg The views the next morning were even more stunning with the dawn light peeping over the water-filled crater rim. 20140606-204705.jpg 20140606-204715.jpg Steve and Alisha took an early morning walk down to the water, Lucy and I didn't make it as we were suffering from a slight tummy bug. It took just half an hour for them to get down but almost 2 hours of exhausting climbing to get back. At 3800m high, exercise is hard work here. 20140606-204935.jpg 20140606-204947.jpg 20140606-204955.jpg 20140606-205013.jpg 20140606-205021.jpg The view back up from the bottom Once they had caught their breath, we headed just 20km south-east to camp up in a hostel on a dairy farm. We parked up in the farmyard amongst the chickens and geese. On a stroll later that afternoon we were thrilled to see lamas and alpacas being herded in with the cows. We've seen a few pet lamas before now but not where they are part of the normal livestock, it really made us feel like we were in the Andes. 20140606-205524.jpg 20140606-205541.jpg 20140606-205557.jpg 20140606-205609.jpg 20140606-205631.jpg Coming down in altitude towards the town of Banos we were soon in a deep gorge with high slopes above us. We were just a stone throw away from the frequently active Volcan Tungurahua but didn't see anything due to the heavy cloud cover. The road wound past Banos along one side of the canyon through many dark dripping tunnels. The views either side were stunning with a boiling brown river many metres below and waterfalls at every turn. We parked up for 3 days at Pequeno Paraiso a hostel owned by two friendly ex-overland drivers. We were within easy reach of two stunning waterfalls. The hugely powerful and impressive Pailon del Diablo (Devil's cauldron) which certainly lived up to its name and the more elegant Machay. Both were reached by long walks down and up through dripping cloud forest. 20140606-205832.jpg 20140606-205905.jpg 20140606-205929.jpg 20140606-205943.jpg 20140606-205917.jpg Just a few hundred metres from the hostel was a restaurant in a family's beautiful orchard and flower garden, where you could catch your own trout for lunch. Bizarrely the best bait was overripe guava fruit. The girls of course loved it and it wasn't long before we were sitting down to a delicious meal of very fresh trout. 20140606-210114.jpg 20140606-210127.jpg 20140606-210137.jpg The weather had taken a turn for the worst with persistent rain, so we headed into Banos for a wander and to check out a microbrewery. As we came into town we happened across a colourful procession with lots of groups dancing though town mostly in traditional dress. The girls and I followed along to catch the festivities, while Steve got to scope out the excellent beers. 20140606-210327.jpg 20140606-210336.jpg 20140606-210348.jpg 20140606-210407.jpg