Ecuador – a quick dash through

With the realisation that we haven’t really got that much time left and now also have a good part of Central America to get through, we have decided to be a little more vigilant with the places we choose to see, as such we only really spent 5 days in Ecuador.

Whilst there is a lot to do here it is all quite similar to what we have seen; preferring to get to Columbia to make our way to Caribbean Coast as soon as possible.

The first stop was to do a trek that is described as a highlight of Ecuador called the Quilotoa Loop. It’s basically a three-day trek in the Andes around a volcanic area known as Cotopaxi.

The trek combines various bus journeys to surrounding villages as well as a pretty tough trek up to the rim of a dormant volcano that has a beautiful emerald blue lagoon inside that the locals claim is bottomless.

Since we are still in the rainy season the valleys do get very overcast at times making visibility very poor. However, when there is a break in the clouds, the scenery is pretty breathtaking. The big difference with the Andes of Ecuador compared with other countries is, that they look more like the rolling hilltops of the countryside in the UK. Agriculture across the entire region gives it a beautiful patchwork look with miles and miles of varying shades of green.

One of the highlights was staying in a pretty lush hostel high in the mountains called Cloud Forest. As the name suggests you sleep in wooden cabin style rooms that along with the surrounding lush environment are engulfed in the clouds making for a mystical experience.

We decided to cut out the last day of the trek which was to a town called Zumbahua for a local market in order to make it up to Otavalo for their famous market .

This proved to be the right decision since this is the largest market in South America and a definite highlight of our trip. We had a 4am start from Quito to get there in time for the animal section of the market which was the most bizarre and authentic thing we have ever seen.

Andre on the other hand made a very bad decision with his choice in footwear that morning!

If you’re wondering why the are so many guinea pigs, it’s because they’re classed as a culinary delicacy across most of the Andes (called cuy). Sadly we didn’t manage to actually try it since it was really quite expensive in most restaurants.

After seeing and smelling as much as we could we tried a traditional breakfast which consisted of a chicken curry thing and rice!

The market takes over the entire town on Saturdays and sells pretty much anything and everything.

Seeing the Otavalenos in itself was worth the trip, since they have a very distinctive look; the men don’t cut their hair, looking more native American Indian than we have seen throughout the Andean region. As you can see from the pic below both the men and women have a distinct fashion sense.

Since we didn’t really spend that much time in Ecuador it was hard to dig too deep into the culture here, although as with all of the countries that surround the Andes, the culture is dependent on the altitude. Serranos (people from the mountains) and costenos (people from the coast) can spend hours telling you what makes them different (i.e better) than the other. Largely rooted in the historic rivalry between conservative quitenos (people from Quito) and the more liberal guayaquilenos (people from Guayaquil). Serranos call people from the cost manos (monkeys) and say they’re lazy and would rather party than keep their cities clean. Costenos, on the other hand, say serranos are uptight and elitist.

Ecuadorians are definitely some of the most friendliest people we have come across on our travels, who seem genuinely proud of their country, clearly happy to see foreigners enjoying it too.

Teh indigenous population makes up about 25% of all Ecuadorians, however there are a dozen distinct groups in Ecuador, speaking some 20 different languages. The largest are the Quichua of which the Otavalenos are one of the best known communities. Straddling the border to Columbia in the province of Esmeralds there are many Afro-Ecuadorian. descendants from the slave trade.

The capital Quito is divided into two; a historical centre and the new town which is where all the gringos seem to stay. Thankfully we stayed in the historical center which is really the only area worth spending some time in.

The Monestary of San Francisco is one of the most impressive buildings in Quito. It also shrouded in one of Quito’s most famous legends, that the indigenous builder cantuina, who supposedly sold his soul to the devil to help him complete the church on time. The story goes that on the last day of the deadline, he removed one of the stones to keep it unfinished and so duping the devil; the pic above is my representation of what happened to him after having dealings with the devil…silly I know

Finally another interesting little fact is that one of the most widely played sports in Ecuador is volley ball, however they do have a slightly different take on the game since the net is about 3m high. This is supposedly to make it harder and stop people power slamming, which I find quite ironic since no man is taller that 5’6 and would have a pretty hard time power slamming anyway! (and before you say it I know that’s a little rich coming from me!)


Pan American highway

With another 39 hour bus journey to look forward to, I was delighted to finally get over the food poisoning that left me hugging a dirty toilet for the best part of the weekend.

Having spent the past 2 months zigzagging through the Andes, it felt like a real luxury to be on a flat straight coast line road where the nightly temperature doesn’t feel sub-zero as you attempt to sleep…usually unsuccessfully!

Those of you who have been following our blog will know from previous long haul journeys, something was bound to go wrong for us; this time it was the return of filthy Argentinian hippies that were the main source of our discomfort.

As usual we went for the cheapest company but thought we would spoil ourselves to what they called “Royal Class” being lucky enough to grab seats 1&2. Normally seats 1&2 on the top decks of busses tend to have the most leg room; an important requirement for my ergonomically challenged friend. However this bus was unlike any other we had been on before; the first two rows were replaced by a ‘communal area’ with our seats being the first row behind it.

Whilst space wasn’t an issue the animals that decided to occupy the area for the entire journey to Mancora from Lima were. There are many examples I could give to explain their complete disregard for others but I will resist the rant…let’s just say this time the bongo box was replaced with a flute!

This particular stretch of the Pan American highway (which connects the whole of the Americas, beginning in Seattle/USA and ending in Southern Patagonia/SA) provides some stunning scenery as it cuts through large sand dunes that plummet directly into the Pacific.

Given that we have been craving some more beach time since leaving Brazil we couldn’t resist a stop in Mancora which the Lonely Planet describes as,

” the place to see and be seen along the Peruvian coast…to rub shoulders with the frothy cream of the Peruvian jet set”

After traveling for so long we have learnt not to always trust what this supposed Bible says, preferring to make our own minds up after hearing about places from other travellers. The party loving travellers have all agreed with the Lonely Planet so we were prepared not to like the place but thought we should check it out first before completely driving through.

We literally stayed for a couple of hours to have a swim whilst waiting for our next bus across the border to Ecuador, which I think says it all really.

In hindsight we should have stopped off at a pop up beach town called Asia aka Km97. It is basically a series of white wash summer houses along private stretches of white beach where the elite of Lima come to party the weekend away with DJs setting up along the beach, with no restraint on how long or how loud they can play their tunes. Interestingly the entire town is literally only there for a couple of months of the year (Jan-Mar) giving it a true pop up status!

The border crossing into Ecuador was interesting in that there wasn’t really a border! Instead there is a pretty hectic town which I never quite figured out what country it belonged to? The whole experience was quite hectic and involved erratic back and forths between immigration offices and several squashed cab journeys – all under the patronage of a stressed Peruvian immigration support officer who seemed to be on a strict time limit! 1.5 hours later and we were on our final overnight leg to Quito.