SO MANY MILES TO WANDER
It has been a while since I wrote last time on my blog and I have crossed the ocean to go to South America, already four months ago. I went to Ecuador, the land of volcanoes.
It was my fourth time in South America, first time in Ecuador, and the feeling of being home was quite strong. Of course speaking Spanish, it helps you to connect with the locals as travelling through the country in public buses, where in the middle of the road, locals are coming in and out. You also get to see a lot of movies, which are all dubbed in Spanish, and the locals really enjoy those movies. The landscape is quite different from the other South American countries where I have been, there is no lack of volcanoes; however the warmth of the friendly people is the same.
I ended up heading straight from Quito airport to Bus Terminal to head to Tena (Amazon Jungle), my last flight was cancelled and I thought I would have to rethink all my trip…fortunately I didn’t; when you have limited time, you cross your fingers that everything goes smooth.
In Tena, I went for a jungle excursion and a visit to a community to learn about the use that they give to the things the jungle gives and also to learn how to make chocolate, from the fruit till the dessert, banana with chocolate. Delicious!
Then head South to Baños. On my way to the Hosteria, I booked a trip to the cascades, which would take off in just a couple of hours. On an open bus, we did a tour through Baños, passing Las Piscinas de La Virgen (Hot Springs) and then heading outside town to see the cascades. The tour ended in the most amazing one, Pailon del Diablo; the sound of the waterfall was tremendous and I was just next to it, so close I got wet. The day after, was still spent in Baños, a stroll around the streets and then a bus ride to the swing at Casa del Arbol, where I had, of course, some empanadas while enjoying the view. As the night comes and to finish this day, I decided to go to Las Piscinas de La Virgen and melt in the hot waters. Afterwards, I was sleepy and relaxed.
On my way to Alausí, I slept one night at Riobamba, at a beautiful Mansion. I ate a delicious encocado de camaron, strolled around the city and went to Parque 21 de Abril to see volcano Chimborazo.
I do love trains, so I was quite excited about my train trip to Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose). But on the day before, I had time to get to know this small town and I must say I quite enjoyed it. I was attracted by the architecture of the buildings, which have more than 100 years old; I went up to the Monument to Saint Peter and enjoyed the view over the town and the surrounding mountains.
It was a beautiful day for a train trip. Here we go, zigzagging through the mountains, ascending and descending, sometimes backwards, a very impressive engineering work and a wonderful landscape.
Next stop is the city of Cuenca. You can’t miss the magnificent domes (I climb to check the view) of the cathedral, the several markets in some of the squares and of course a hat shop, preferably one where someone is working on the hats. The Parque Calderon, between the new and the old cathedral, is a great spot to sit on a bench and observe the daily life of the locals, while eating an ice-cream or salchipapas, or even polish the dirty trekking boots. You can also visit El Sagrario (also known as the Old Cathedral), which I much appreciated; it has a patio inside which had an exhibition of old photographs. To get away from the bustle of the city, a good idea is to ramble next to river Tomebamba, also to see some nice architecture. It’s still possible to see in Cuenca a milkman selling the milk on the streets.
I had a night at Guayaquil, just because it was on the way, but as I excepted I wasn’t dazzled by the city. However on my way there, I cross Parque Nacional Cajas, and that I must say it was magnificent…until we got to the part where there was only fog, it was a little bit spooky, because the cliffs were just there.
By the way, I didn’t go to Galapagos, I wanted to focus on the mainland, everybody else seems to think the opposite, that’s why I only saw tourists and travellers in Cuenca and Quito…and it was also low season. However, I went to Puerto López, which is in the coast and has plenty of boat tours to Isla de La Plata, also known as the poor man’s Galapagos. I started the day, observing the innumerous fishermen down at the beach, until I took the boat to the island. We did some trekking in the island, to see the birds, like albatross, frigate and my favourite ones, the blue-footed boobies. Afterwards, we went for some snorkelling and we saw a bunch of turtles and beautiful and colourful different kinds of fish.
After a long, very long bus trip, it ended up being maybe around 12 hours; I arrived to Quito just for one night, I was heading to Otavalo. But still had some time in the morning, so I did some touring. Visited Basílica del Voto Nacional, the Cathedral and the magnificent Iglesia de La Compañía de Jesús, its gold leaf interior is impressive, definitely a must see.
After another great lunch in a local restaurant, I headed up to Otavalo, at night there was some concerts at a square and fireworks. The day after was market day, so I wandered through the streets full with stalls packed with colourful typical (and non typical) souvenirs, clothes and so on. It was also possible to buy vegetables, fruits and chicken; or to try some food that was being prepared. I decided to arrange a taxi driver that with a fix price would take me to visit some specific place I wanted to see. First we went up the cobbled road heading to the Lagunas de Mojanda, the view on the road is gorgeous; we arrive to Laguna Grande which is about 3 700 meter high and we enjoyed a nice and quite hiking in the surroundings. We headed now to El Lechero, a sacred place where purification rituals happen and the view is stunning, you can see Laguna de San Pablo and Volcano Imbabura (4630 meters). We head down the road to visit the cascade Peguche, located in a protected bosque and you will be asked for a gratuity. In the town of Peguche I visited a craftsman that explained me how to make the different colours he uses on his works.
At the end of the day, I took a bus to the town of Ibarra and then a taxi to the community of San Clemente. Juan welcomed me to his family house where I would spend the night and also where I would learn several things, like the use of plants and flowers in medicine; the Andean calendar, the vegetables they grow in their garden. Then I went with him in his motorbike up to the foothills of the volcano Imbabura to check the cows he has there; it took us sometime because it wasn’t exactly a powerful motorbike and the way was always up. However the view was splendid, I could see Ibarra and the lake nearby, and also another volcano of course, the Cayambe, which had a bit of snow on the top.
Back to Quito, to finish the trip. Wandering in the streets was mandatory, as it was to be at Plaza Grande at 11AM on that Monday, because every Monday, you can see the changing of the guard and you can see it for around 30 minutes with band, horses and even the President was at the balcony. The ambience was unbelievable; there were people selling hats, others selling food and drinks; quiteños going crazy every time the President waved, I wonder if they vibrate like this every Monday. But the President changes in 2017 elections, in May the new President will take the office. In the afternoon, I decided to take the suggestion of a French girl I met and took a taxi to the Museum of Guayasamín, which includes a visit to his house, full of art, not only his art, but also art that he acquired; and also includes a visit to Capilla del Hombre, I was speechless with the fabulous paintings and murals. Maybe the highlight of the visit, not that I didn’t enjoy the rest, I did appreciate a lot the Capilla, but visiting the studio was fabulous and I didn’t even have any knowledge about his work, before this visit. And at his studio you can see the portrait of Paco de Lucia. The only disadvantage is that it can take around one hour to get to the museum.
Another awesome trip comes to an end, my journal written in pencil is full of more stories and feelings that were brought to memory when writing this post; the pictures bring the colours and the faces of the locals.
And because 4 (long) months have passed, a new journey will begin in less than a week. The reading of an article about an hour train from Belgrade (Serbia) to Bar (Montenegro) is taking me to visit Serbia and Montenegro.