ted & pamela

Posts Tagged ‘papallacta’

El Mitad del Mundo: Ecuador Days 17-21

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

*Written 25.07.2010; posted 06.08.2010 once pictures were available.*

Hmm. I’m pretty sure it’s past Ted’s turn to post, but… looks like you get to listen to me again.

We spent the last 5 days of our honeymoon exploring Quito, in 3 different settings.

coffin in churchThe first day, we were completely on our own. We walked 45 min. to the old-town part of the city, where we’d been told as foreigners we could get a tour of the presidential palace. After finding it and standing in line for awhile, we were made to understand that they weren’t letting any more people in until 1pm (it was 11:30), so we wandered into an art museum instead, looking at photographs. We also went to check out the archbishop’s palace, and discovered that it was… a shopping mall. Now we know how the church funds its cathedrals. We were then able to get into the palace, and the tour guide took pity on us when we clearly failed to follow directions properly and started translating the tour into English for us. 😛 For lunch, we went to a restaurant that was below (literally) a church, so we went inside the church. We were somewhat confused, because the decor inside each of the side alcoves appeared to be… a coffin. Paul later told us that people thought they’d get to heaven faster if they were buried in the church, literally, so… apparently they really were coffins (pictured at right). After lunch, we went to what said it was the Central Bank, but what was a museum for the Central Bank, where we got a tour by a student whose English was unintelligible at the beginning and perfectly understandable by the end. We learned that Ecuador used to be on the Spanish monetary system, then it started making its own money, then it suffered from hyperinflation and went on the dollar but continued making its own coins. We also saw many different kinds of money that had been used, and went in the room they used to keep foreign exchange in. We also tried to see the Basilica, but got kicked out because it was closing and walked home in the rain.

basilicaThe second day, Paul picked us up for a guided tour of the city. We started with the Basilica. Ted’s first comment was “It looks… unfinished.” It was. They ran out of money. They started building it in the mid-1800s, and stopped working on it around 1940. They then started a legend that if they ever finished the basilica, it would destroy the city, so now that they have more funds, they can’t finish it. It has some particle board as a wall where there was supposed to be a window, empty circles still awaiting their stained glass, scaffolding between the ceiling and the roof, side alcoves with pedestals still awaiting their statues, etc. It was built in a nineteenth-century neo-gothic style, and was somewhat dismal inside. Also, since it was built over such an extensive period of time, its two sides were different: the original side was guarded by gargoyles, while the newer side was guarded by stone Galapagos animals and birds where the gargoyles go. The really exciting part, however, was that you can climb up into the bell towers and in the parapets. It’s quite a climb, involving climbing across the scaffolding between the ceiling and roof, climbing up extremely sharply-angled ladders to get to higher platforms, and standing on platforms that don’t actually have much of a railing to hold you in. I found this climb particularly thrilling. =D We got pretty much to the top of both sides of the basilica, including the side with the bell towers, and got pretty good views of the city.

shrunken_headIn addition to the Basilica, we also walked down El Ronda, a street in the oldest built and still-standing part of town, where it turned out a wedding was being celebrated, and visited a church that was completely covered in gold (leaf?) plating. Completely. Also, it had a staircase next to the back doors, and… a painting of an identical staircase on the other side of the back doors, for good measure. The church was both extravagant and ornate. For lunch, we drove to the far northern outskirts of Quito and ate an an Hacienda extremely close to the Equator, because we then visited the Equator for the second time during our trip, this time at an outdoor museum called el Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world). It was a sort of cutesy, gimmicky place; we watched water swirling in two directions on either side of the “line”, balanced an egg on a nail, tried (and failed) to walk in a straight line, and viewed a shrunken head (pictured at right next to my hand for perspective on size), a typical burial practice of a local tribe in the area.

bloodOur final 3 days in Ecuador were spent being hosted by a local family that knows an Ecuadorian friend of ours in California. They were extremely kind and welcoming during our stay and hung out with us and drove us around. They are a family of five: mother Boli, father Patricio, daughter Gabi (21), sons Juan Esteban (19) and Santi (12), and a hilarious dog that chases shadows, Amelie. 🙂 Our first afternoon, they brought us to a local market in Quito that had many many vendors in permanent stalls, where we found some Ecuadorian chocolate and some Amazon t-shirts, and then brought us to a favorite lunch place of theirs that was verrrrrrrrrrrrry popular (read: crowded), serving a popular Ecuadorian dish: pork, potatoes, plantains, salad, and locro soup. However, this locro soup (a potato/cheese/avocado soup) was different than that which we have had in the past, in that it gets served with dried blood on the side to put in as seasoning (at left, Santi piles in the blood, the brown stuff). I preferred it sans seasoning.

paper_treesOur second afternoon with them, Gabi and Juan Esteban and Gabi’s boyfriend, Irving, drove us back to Papallacta, since we’d enjoyed the hot springs there and wanted to visit them again. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive from Quito. On the way, we stopped at a paper tree forest on a reserve and went for a short hike through the trees. We also searched around for a restaurant that still had some trout for lunch, since trout is farmed locally near Papallacta and is a treat. We then spent the remainder of the afternoon basking in the hot spring pools before driving back to Quito.

telefericoOur final day, we picked up Santi from his squash club and drove across town to ride the Teleferico, a cross between a ski lift and a ferris wheel cabin which goes all the way up Pichincha volcano and gives a spectacular view of Quito. Quito is huge. Really huge. Even from the top, we couldn’t see from one end to the other. We also couldn’t see their house, because it was so close to the side of the mountain and so far north. We could get a better feel for the geography of the land, the positions of the mountains vs. valleys vs. highlands, etc., and had a pretty clear view of Cotopaxi, on the other side of Quito from us. It got pretty cold, though. We were only 13,200 feet above sea level.

I also had my first experience of pretty rude treatment in Ecuador: I ordered an empanada as a snack from the snack bar. A while later, after waiting around, I tried to get the guy’s attention, and he was like “yeah, what do you want?” to which I replied “um, my food and my receipt.” He’d forgotten my food in the microwave… and there was a sign that said if you don’t get a receipt, your food is free. Santi pointed this out to him, for which I was grateful because I’m not good at arguing in Spanish (cant talk fast enough), and the guy went “oh, here” and picked up a receipt and gave it to me, and then said that now, since I had received my receipt, I didn’t need free food… I sat down and looked at the receipt, and noticed that… it wasn’t even for my order. So I went back and said “this is not mine…” and he asked something like “so what? It’s a receipt”… and I complained that I needed my actual total to record… this receipt had food I didn’t order and an amount I didn’t pay… so he created a whole new one as a second transaction to give me, huffing and puffing the whole time. I may be white and blonde, but I’m not blind or stupid…

The remainder of the day was spent… playing Warcraft III. First Ted played Santi, then Ted taught Juan Esteban and helped Juan Esteban play Santi, then Ted managed to put me in front of the computer and he helped my play Juan Esteban while Santi helped Juan Esteban play me, and since we sucked so badly we finally teamed up against the computer. We then took a red-eye flight home! (Ted slept. I didn’t. Poo.) We were greeted the next afternoon by my grandparents and lunch, followed by a messy house.

One more post still forthcoming, full of a random assortment of thoughts we’ve been accumulating during the trip.

Ecuadorian Surprises

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

*Written 2010-07-07; posted from airport WiFi on 2010-07-15*

Some notes on unexpected tidbits from my time in Ecuador so far:

The radio stations play a *lot* of American music. They mostly play Top40 hits from the 1990s to present, but I’ve also heard older stuff like the BeeGees. One of the hotels we stayed at also played 30s jazz music after dinner.

The government of Ecuador introduced a lot of non-native trees. In particular, one national park was dotted with California pines, and Australian Eucalyptus trees are *everywhere*. According to our guide, Ecuador does not have very many native trees in the highlands, so the government introduced these species to improve air quality, diversify industry, and beautify the landscape. I found this really strange because in the US, the government spends a lot of resources preserving natural ecosystems and kicking out non-native species.

fumes from busThe air in the cities and on the roadways here is nasty. I expected Ecuador, with its mostly-agricultural economy, to have clean air, but it’s actually quite polluted, mostly because of lax air quality regulations and enforcement. Many of the trucks and buses we pass are both visibly and odoriferously emitting noxious gasses.

The weather in the Amazon Rainforest is what you might expect — hot and humid, with sudden periodic downpours and thunderstorms. In the highlands, however, we were greeted by cloudy days, occasional showers, and weather much, much colder than we expected.

Apparently the altitude (we’ve been traveling between 9k and 16k feet so far) compensates for the closer proximity of the sun. Where we’d have snow at 6k feet in California, Ecuador has snow at 16k feet. Perhaps the equivalent California weather would be the Sierra Nevadas at 3-6k feet. Anyway, we foolishly came with only a few long-sleeved shirts and thin jackets and would have frozen long ago had our guide not lent us some of his clothes.

On a few different occasions, we found ourselves driving down twisty unpaved roads for hours, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. After one drive, we found ourselves at El Angel national park — apparently we were the only ones visiting, because the parking lot was empty, and even the ranger station was abandoned. I guess this was surprising because I was expecting something more like the national parks in the US, where tourists are buzzing around everywhere.

papallactaA second drive was supposed to take us to our next hotel. After driving for hours through endless darkness, we climbed one last hill, and somehow ended up at a hot-springs resort. Someone apparently had the bright idea of building a resort on top of this mountain, far away from civilization and paved roads. At least that trip ended well — the hot springs did wonders for our achy muscles.

cotopaxi restaurantA third drive took us into Cotopaxi National Park where we saw a few other cars, which we found a bit more promising than El Angel. After entering the park, we turned on the four-wheel drive and bounced over rocks and through streams for an hour through what appeared to be a wasteland — only rocks, dirt, and shrubs as far as the eye could see. We were supposedly headed to a restaurant for lunch. Finally, we came to a lone building in the middle of the park with a single bus in front — and found it packed full of people. The restaurant also served as a hotel, and had WiFi, satellite TV, hot running water, etc. It was quite a surprise.

Hiking Boots: Ecuador Days 6-8

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

*Written 2010-07-07; posted with WIFI access 2010-07-10*

We’ve spent the last 3 days hiking around various places in Ecuador.

frailejonesFirst, we drove to El Angel National Park on Monday. El Angel is in the remote northwest of the country, about an hour’s drive from the Columbian border. Getting there involved a 45 min. trek down the bumpiest road of my life, during which we passed many extremely poor indigenous residences eking out an existence far from… anything. The park itself is the only place in the world that the frailejone grows. This plant looks like a miniature palm tree with more rubbery, upward-growing leaves. Not only is it the only place where frailejones grow, but they are practically the only thing that grows there, and grow there they do–the park is covered with them and little else but some grasses. Murphy’s Law at work: The bumpy road made me really need a toilet, so of course the ranger station at the end was closed (we were the only people in the whole park except for a few that lived near its edge); and of course the grey clouds that had been on the horizon all day decided to dump rain on us the minute we began our hike, and to stop dumping rain the minute we began to drive off. Nonetheless, we made it to the high point of the trail and were able to look out at the park full of strange plants.

cotopaxiThen on Tuesday, we were on the opposite side of the Andes at Cotopaxi National Park. Cotopaxi is the name of a volcano (and thus of a province, as all provinces are named after volcanoes). The road inside this national park was… somewhat better, although we forded a few rivers (and by forded, I mean drove through) and crept through a few mini-canyons in the road. The park also had a few more visitors: one busload full of white high-school-aged boys, and one lone traveler named Jeff from Canada (who hitched a ride from us down part of the road). The park used to be owned by a family, which still retains a small part of the land on which they run a restaurant where we ate lunch. We then drove through a lot of near-barren land covered in dandelions (and thus appearing a lovely shade of red/purple) and began ascending the volcano. We ascended the volcano by car until an altitude of 15,000 feet, at which point it began to get foggy. I am still amazed that I can be so high and have it be… maybe 40-50 degrees fahrenheit and no snow. From there, we climbed another 1000 feet to a shelter at the snowline, 16,000 feet above sea level. This is one of the highest shelters in South America. It was difficult to ascend those 1000 feet due to the extreme altitude; we got tired very easily and had to go very slowly to ensure we could continue breathing. Going down was interesting–the ground was soft such that you could make each step slide a foot farther down the mountain just through the loose soil. It began to snow on the way down and I couldn’t even see the car from 20 yards away, but it took about… 10% of the time it took to ascend.

quilotoaToday (Wednesday, or so I’m told), we drove west across the valley between Cotopaxi and the western Andes, and crossed the Andes to their western border to a Crater Lake. Crater Lake is owned and run by the local indigenous population, who have opened a restaurant at the top (lunch) and keep mules and horses to sell hikers a ride back up. Crater Lake itself used to be the summit of a volcano, until the volcano imploded. It is now a lake some 1200 feet below the edge of the crater, with the lake itself being another 230 feet deep. I thought that hiking down to the lake would be similar to when we hiked down into the Grand Canyon, but there were some major differences: it was cold instead of hot (this was good) and the ground was soft instead of hard (this made it more difficult). It was fun riding two horses back up out of the crater, but it was difficult for the horses–especially mine, which was smaller and older and had to stop often to catch its breath (or eat a flower). Ted also bought himself a hat from the local people, who have apparently adopted a sort of Swiss hat to go with their native garb that he thought was cute.

la_cienegaIn between each of these hikes, we have driven through a *lot* of the Ecuadorian countryside and stayed at 3 very different places. Monday night, we stayed at a resort in the middle of nowhere (i.e. Papallacta) on the road back east toward the Amazon rainforest, and the resort happened to be built on top of a bunch of hot springs. Immediately outside all of the rooms were “thermal pools”, or man-made in-ground pools fed with water from the underground springs, and therefore hot! The hot water was so exciting; we finally spent a night just relaxing. Tuesday night, we stayed at an Hosteria at a town nearby Cotopaxi called Hacienda La Cienega (The Swamp). The first room they took us to smelled like cigarette smoke (which I can’t handle) and when our guide asked for a better room and told them we were on our honeymoon, they gave us the best room in the hacienda. It was the master suite, in the center of the second floor with a balcony overlooking the front and a surprisingly modern master bath (that didn’t match the decor of the rest of the place at all but that was a really nice bathroom). And when I asked for some aspirin due to our double headache, they gave us some Coca tea to go with it. Apparently Coca tea is the local remedy for headaches, and Oregano tea is the local remedy for stomachaches. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy the place too much because we fell asleep with the lights still on immediately after dinner and woke up with the lights still on in the middle of the night… but we took a walk through the hacienda’s gardens this morning and saw the chapel and the grounds. The air was fresh and crisp and the sun was out and the grounds were lovely. We are now on our way to a place in Riobamba, farther south down the PanAmerican Highway.