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Ecuador

Ecuador – Around Quito

Journey to the middle of the world

sunny 23 °C
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Our weekend was here and after a solid week of studying we headed off to Otavalo- It is famous for its large markets on a Saturday, so along with our ´School Friends´ Claire and Jeremy, there was no better time to go and check the place out

The bus was a couple of hours ride north from Quito and we just chatted amongst the 4 of us about past travels. Jeremy´s claim to fame is that his parents are in the current series of The Amazing Race in the USA. The amazing race was one of our favourite TV shows, so it was really interesting to hear about what his parents did to be picked and the stuff that happens off the camera. At the point when Jeremy was telling us, the series was about 4 weeks in and his parents were still in the competition. The contestants all sign confidentiality agreements along with their families, so Jeremy had no idea how well they went. We might have to watch the series when we get back home to see how they did.

We got into Otavalo, and true to form, the markets were all systems go. Along the many streets there were so many stalls, with quite a lot of them selling the same kind of things, but only in a certain section. Kind of like there is a street with all the same clothes stalls, then another street with similar paintings etc. The markets stretched for many blocks. Some of the squares were taken over by the markets, and it was easy to get lost amongst the stalls, as everywhere looked very similar with brightly coloured textiles, pottery and other souvenirs.

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Claire making a purchase

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After some lunch we headed slightly out of town for the Condor Park. It has a number of birds of prey and the symbol of South America, Condors. It was quite funny, as they were doing some alterations around the park and some bird cages had been moved but the signs were still around. It was ironic that the Lesser Spotted Eagle was nowhere to be seen. We got to see the condors which have a wingspan up to 4 meters. They are pretty damn ugly though!

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The condor in flight

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A face only a mother could love

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The view from the condor park

The next day we did another road trip with Jeremy and Claire. This time we went to Mitad del Mundo which is in a town which sits right on the equator. We took a few buses in the morning to get to the station for the longer distance buses. We were expecting the trip to take over an hour, so when we drove past a big sign 40mins in saying something about Mitad Del Mundo, we all thought it was an advertisement for it. Another hour down the road when the bus conductor asked for our money and we said we were going to Mitad Del Mundo, he said that we had already gone past it... Doh!!!

We waited until the next town that we came across and hopped off the bus, crossed the street and got on a bus 2 minutes later going the opposite direction. Once we got back to Mitad Del Mundo we got a taxi up to the Volcano. It is a pretty old volcano rim with a town in the crater. Even though it doesn’t resemble much of a volcano now, you could tell it would have been massive when it was active.

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The town we visited for 2 minutes

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Our school friends

We got back to the tourist attraction that is Matad del Mundo in the town. This is the site where the Spanish first recorded that the equator must be here. They erected a big monument to mark the spot. Unfortunately, modern GPS has shown that they were 200 meters to the south of the real equator. Never mind, the monument was still good for some photos. However the site as a whole is a bit tacky and seems a bit like a theme park. There is a big stage area and with it being Sunday, there were some bands playing and lots of people from Quito were there with their kids to enjoy an afternoon out. There was also some Cuy being spit roasted to wet our appetite...

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After leaving the monument we went a couple of hundred meters up the road to the alleged place where the equator is measured by GPS (apparently this may also be inaccurate according to Claire´s Lonely Planet book). Here you can do a few experiments that are only possible on the equator. Before we got to the experiments though, the guide took us into the reconstructed village of the pre inca indigenous people that lived around the area. There were even some live guinea pigs in the house as the people would keep them in their houses (almost like pets) before eating them.

They also showed us some a shrunken head from one of the amazon tribes. They would shrink the heads as trophy´s from battles. The process involved removing the skull of the decapitated head, boiling the head in an unknown concoction of plants and water, then putting a rock the size of your fist in the skulls place. The mouth would then be stitched up and then you had yourself a nice little head trophy. WIERD!! We were also shown insects and animals from the amazon, including the infamous Penis Fish... This is the one that is attracted to urine, so if you piss while swimming in the river (men or women), the larvae swim up the urine stream, latch onto you and live off your blood. Surgery is the only removal method. Seeing the size of this fish, i am never ever going to pee in water again!!!

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Our first ones we have seen alive in South America

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The process of shrinking heads, and an original one from a jungle tribe

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The Penis Fish – possibly the worst animal ever!!!

We then got to do the ´experiments´ that the place is better known for. Im not convinced about the experiments to be honest. There was a sun clock which was telling the time correctly, a tub of water which did indeed drain straight down without a vortex spinning either way. Then we were shown how an egg can balance on a nail head, supposedly easier on the equator because the yolk settles directly in the centre of the egg (due to the same Coriolis effect like the water). The guide did it first time, before Jeremy and I spent 5 minutes failing in our attempt. I think it had more to do with the shape of the nail head than any effect of the equator. There was also a weighing scale which shows that you are lighter on the equator (you are further away from the centre of the earth so less gravitation effect) but quite how much lighter is only about 0.2% rather than the 2% that the scales show. We skipped that anyway as we had come mainly for the egg experiment and had to get back to Quito for dinner

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Proof it can be done

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Quito´s main square at sunset

The next day Tanya and I wanted to go out to a town that we were told about. Banös is a few hours away from Quito so we caught another early morning bus out there. The drive heads out to the amazon side of the mountains past Cotopaxi (one of the worlds highest active volcanoes) and into the luscious vegetation of the Orient. Banös itself sits below an active volcano which only sprang into action back in 1999 and required the town to be evacuated.

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Cotopaxi bubbling away

One of Banös´ biggest sights is the cascades. It sits on a river that leads to the Amazon and has a number of big waterfalls close to town. When we got in to town in the afternoon we went looking for somewhere to do tours. We were originally just going to hire some pushbikes and ride downhill/downstream to see them, but the weather looked a bit dark and the time was getting on. We got to one place and they said they had a tour leaving in 30mins at 3pm. We booked onto that as well as making a booking for some canyoning in the morning and a night tour to the volcano.

The cascade tour was good. We were taken around in a strange party bus with music blaring for the 6 of us who were on it. We got some cable cars across the massive ravine of the river to see a few of the waterfalls. They were quite impressive.

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The party bus

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The final one that we did on the tour was called the Devil´s throat and by far was the most impressive. We saw it from one side where we were basically on top of it and you could see into the pools of the upper waterfall, then we got back in the bus to drive around the other side and walk 40 mins down to the bottom of the waterfall. It was really humid and the walk back up the hill was hot and sweaty. The waterfall was impressive because it was big, powerful, and we got to see it from so many angles. We even crawled on all fours through a long cave to get to one of the lookout points. It was really crazy.

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We passed a couple of hours in town before getting on a similar bus to go for a night viewing of the volcano. We don’t know if it was because the volcano isn’t really doing much at the moment, but we didn’t actually go to the volcano, we just went to a lookout above the town, had some tea and food and returned to town. Not really what we were after.

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The following morning we were off to do some canyoning. We did it a few years ago in Switzerland and loved it, so thought we would try it again. It was a little different than in Switzerland. For starters, it wasn’t an overly professional trip. The guide was a little sketchy and on the second waterfall didn’t even rig up a safety rope. Maybe he thought that we were competent enough without it, but still. There were only 3 of us on the trip with an English girl joining us. We went down two waterfalls on ropes, then slid down the third before the final waterfall which was an abseil under the falls. The finale was pretty awesome as it was an impressive waterfall to go down.

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We left Banös at 1pm. There was a bridge that was damaged on the normal road, so we had to divert through Riobumba and change busses to get back to Quito. We stayed with Amelia for our last night and then got a taxi at 6am out to the bus depot for our 28hr bus to Bogota, Colombia

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – A cool few little trips from Quito. Otovalo and Mitad del Mundo were not amazing, but definitely worth the trip out to see. Banös was cool though with the impressive waterfalls and good fun on the canyoning trip.

Tanya - Banös was a lovely town, although a bit touristy. Banö is the Spanish word for bathroom – if you need the toilet you ask for the Banö. Dan managed to figure out that it must have got its name from all the local hot springs which we unfortunately didn’t have time to enjoy. It was a shame to miss out on biking to all the waterfalls, but we just didn’t have the time (plus the bus worked out the same price). Canyoning was the highlight – going over that cliff to find out that there was no wall to abseil down was a bit scary but a great buzz!!

Posted by dbgomes 18:12 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecuador round_the_world Comments (2)

Ecuador – Quito

Back to School

semi-overcast 20 °C
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We hadn’t really planned anything for our week in Ecuador, so a few weeks back Tanya and I decided that we would take the opportunity to do Spanish lessons for a week. Travelling for the last few months with Leigh, Carley and Jeffro has made it easier as you have 5 heads to try to understand what someone is saying to us. However now that we are back travelling by ourselves, we know that there will be some sticky situations that crop up over the next 3 months where we could do with having some better Spanish than the basic stuff we learnt (and mostly forgot) in England.

After the 15hr night bus from Mancora, we arrived an hour early in Quito. We had decided to take the option of staying with a host family for the time as well to help with the Spanish, so we had the address for the family house. We were a little worried that it was 6.30am on a Sunday, so we might wake up the family. When we got to the house Tanya was happy to see two dogs there, although they were going crazy at us arriving to their gate. Amelia then stuck her head out of the upstairs window and then came down to let us in. Her two dogs were Toby a Labrador and Lluvia a St Bernard.

We were pretty tired from the overnight bus, so we asked if we could nap for a couple of hours. After getting up a bit later on we chatted (rather badly on our part – there was lots of referring to dictionaries from both sides of the table) with Amelia and her 88yr old Mother Estella. Amelia spoke nice and slow though which was very helpful. Estella spoke quite quickly though and found it funny that we couldn’t understand her. Amelia has 5 sisters and 2 brothers who live really close by, but Amelia looks after her mother full time and has students staying to bring in some extra money. The family seems to have a bit of a thing going with the school though, as two of the other students from the school were staying with 2 of her sisters as well during the week.

We decided to go into the old town for the afternoon. The city closes its roads to traffic on every second Sunday and this was one such Sunday. It was nice and peaceful walking around the town without cars driving around but there were also lots of other people around too. We headed for the Basilica to climb up the bell towers for some views of the old town. Climbing up the towers was certainly an experience! There definitely isn’t the same level of safety standards in South America as you would get in the UK or Australia. The climb took us along a gangway above the roof of the church and it was rather rickety. The stairs were also missing the odd rung here and there to make the ladders a little more interesting. The views from the top of the towers were good though, and we could see how big Quito was. There city sits in a bit of a valley and spreads along it and up the sides of the hills. After that we headed back to the house for dinner and an early night ready for school the next day.

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Plaza Grande in the old town

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We walked to school on our first morning with Jeremy who lived with one of Amelia´s sisters. It was about a 20 min walk to the Guayasamín Spanish School each morning and was good for some last minute practice once we got further into the week. We had chosen to do one on one lessons so my tutor was Esterllita. She was really good, and was always pushing me in my lessons. She spoke to me in Spanish almost all of the time except the occasional ´En Ingles el es xxxxxxx, no?´ when I was struggling to understand what word she was giving me. It was good, as the total immersion helps to get your mind to start thinking in Spanish all the time. The morning lessons were 4 hours a day which consisted of 2.5 hours to start, then a 30min break before going back for a final hour (the final hour was always hard, as it felt like we were getting information overload by then. We got homework and extra activities to do each night so it was really like being 14 again.

Over the week, our confidence went up and down. On the first day, i just spent the whole time before the break generally talking with my tutor about myself and our travels and was surprised that she could generally understand everything i was trying to say with the aid of hand gestures and the occasional ´Como se dice?´. On the second day though, we started to get into some adjectives and opposites and the masculine and feminine nouns. By Wednesday, it felt like i was going backwards, i couldn’t even think of what i was trying to say in English let alone translate it. This was when we got into the verbs and how they change with reference to me, you, them etc as well as all of the exceptions to the rules. It was hard going and I said to Tanya that I was looking forward to the week finishing. Thankfully, it started to make a bit more sense the following day and then by Friday we both finished the week’s lessons feeling like we had actually come a long way from Monday. We were under no illusion that we would be pro´s by the end of 1 week of lessons, but we definitely felt like we were better equipped to get back on the road.

That was our week of school, however we had the afternoons free to look round the city. On Monday we met the other 10 or so students at the school and decided to go back into the old town with Claire who was a fellow Brit at the school. We headed in and looked around some more before a really big storm came through the city. It was torrential rain and lightning came right over us. We took shelter in another one of the churches in the city before getting a taxi back home.

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Big storm passing through the city

On the Tuesday afternoon we went to Salsa lessons which was organised through the school. Most of our other ´School Friends´ did the lessons and it was quite funny. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more uncoordinated bunch of people than us to begin with. We improved a little by the end of it.

On Wednesday, we went to the Guayasamín museum with most of the people from school and one of the teachers. Guayasamín was one of Ecuador’s most famous artists who only died in the last 10 years or so. He was born to a Spanish father and Indigenous mother and mostly painted about the indigenous peoples struggles in South America in a very unique way. His family was very poor but his success as a painter made him rich and was friends with many leaders in South America. He was very generous with his wealth though, helping out many indigenous communities with it. Our school was named after him. The museum is on the grounds where his house was, and we got to look round his house after visiting the museum. The museum has some pretty impressive paintings taking up the entire wall in the large building. Tanya and I quite liked his ´Condor and Bull´ which depicts South America (the condor) fighting back against Spain (the bull). It was a good afternoon out.

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Guayasamín´s famous depiction of his mixed heritage

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Guayasamín´s house

On the Thursday afternoon, the school organised an excursion to a cooking school where there was Cuy (Guinea Pig) being cooked. As I had already tried it in Peru, i wasn’t too worried, plus we also wanted to go to a few bus companies to see if we could book a bus to Columbia for the weekend. We ended up booking one for Saturday, however, after getting home and thinking about it, we decided to change to the Wednesday bus in order to give us some more days in Ecuador to get out of Quito and see some more of the country.

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View from our bedroom on a nice sunset evening

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Amelia, our lovely host for the week

FINAL THOUGHTS
Daniel – Doing Spanish lessons in South America was a good decision in the end, given it wasn’t part of the plans to begin with. We learnt more in the 20 hours than we did in all our lessons in the UK. It was definitely hard going, but we could easily see our improvement as each night our conversations with Amelia got better. I would recommend doing at least a week worth of lessons to anyone heading to South America for a while!

Tanya – well it only took 10 years but Dan and I have finally had a proper dance together (Other than busting out a few moves on a late night dance floor)! It was actually hard to find the patience to ´go back to school´ the lessons were intense, I cant actually believe how much we have learnt. We were taking in so much information that when my teacher asked me who is the president of the USA – I could not say his name, although my description of him was pretty good! We were very lucky to have stayed with Amelia and her Mother plus the 2 loco perros ´crazy dogs´. Amelia was like a Mum to us and we were the ´chicos´. She was always telling us to be careful with our cameras etc, but very helpful when telling us how much taxis should cost so we didn’t have to pay the gringo price! For anyone else wanting to study Spanish, homestay is a great option – especially for us because Dan can never be bothered to practice with me!

Posted by dbgomes 19:36 Archived in Ecuador Tagged ecuador round_the_world Comments (1)

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