Ecuadorian Adventure 2012!

September 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


So here it is.  The summary post that’s actually fairly long so you might as well grab a glass (or three) of wine or a few cold brews and get settled in…

Hotel #2…this one had a fireplace! And we managed to not burn the place down.

We arrived in Ecuador safely and were met right outside of the baggage claim by our guide, Patricio (Pato).  He was ready and waiting to gather our 28 or so fellow travelers which was a relief, as I wasn’t completely comfortable until we met up with our ride to the hotel.  We all boarded the bus we would know as our second home for the next week and were led to a surprisingly nice hotel where we enjoyed plenty of privacy and plenty of space.  This would be a common theme on the trip as every single hotel we stayed at was clean and comfortable, with some of them being downright super fancy (the last room we had actually was brand new and had a glorious jacuzzi but shh…we weren’t supposed to tell the others about that as they were limited and we scored one of the three available.  Thankfully no one from the trip knows about this blog).  So the hotels were a pleasant surprise compared to the hostel staying of my days of yore and it’ll be pretty damn difficult to go back to sharing one room with a dozen or so strangers now.  Is this what’s called growing up?  Only time will tell.

The food was a pleasant surprise too and every breakfast we had was paid for through the trip.  They mostly consisted of fruits, local vegetables such as the yuca, muffins/rolls and lots of freshly squeezed fruit juices.  Definitely put my usual granola bar to shame.  Some lunches and dinners were also covered and I marveled at the fact that I probably ate better while on the trip than I do at home, what with all of the fresh vegetables and grains rolling around.

Um yum

A highlight was the Ecuadorian soup which had potatoes, avocado and cheese.  SO good!  I also really enjoyed the varieties of fried and roasted bananas, which I never thought I’d say.  Something I didn’t try was the guinea pig but I think if I were a carnivore I’d have given it a shot…I don’t see how that’s too different from eating deer or pig or anything else, to be honest.  Some on our group enjoyed it while others were grossed out because “it could be someone’s pet”…well I had a guinea pig as a pet once and I’d have gladly deep-fried that thing on more than a few occasions if I thought I could’ve gotten away with it, so I didn’t pass judgement at all.

Now that we’ve covered accommodations and cuisine, I’ll move on to the really fun stuff.  This trip was full of adventures and things neither Scott nor I had ever experienced before, which is exactly what we were counting on.  We started off by touring some of historic World Heritage site Quito, then made our way to the Middle of the World, where we were able to straddle the Northern and Southern Hemispheres while taking the obligatory touristy photos.  There was a museum on the indigenous people of Ecuador at this site and you know I loved that!  Our next big stop (please note we did not do this all in one day) was to a gorgeous waterfall that was accessible via a small hike.  It was here that my exposed calves were bitten to shreds by some unholy biting devil fly and I’m still dealing with the aftermath a week later.  Luckily, I verified with a doctor that it’s not botfly so I won’t be pulling larva out of my leg anytime soon.  Rather, I’m stuck with chicken pox looking things and a desire to itch like I’ve never itched before.  It seems to slowly be getting better though, so that’s something.  And the waterfall and surrounding area was definitely worth it!

The Middle of the World as we know it! And I felt fine…

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself for now.

In the midst of all this travel, we had the opportunity to purchase coca leaves, which are the leaves that cocaine is derived from.  These leaves don’t have quite the same properties that the illegal drug does but they do help alleviate altitude sickness and aid in digestion, so of course most everyone on the trip tried them.  We also purchased candies and tea leaves, all of which were relatively cheap.  We weren’t walking around like characters from the Goodfellas or anything but it was a novelty we all enjoyed – and no, we didn’t try to bring any back with us.  A few people felt the elevation during the trip but the leaves, combined with the medicine we got before departure, helped both Scott and I feel fine for the duration.

Hot Springs Hotel

So now back to some of the sights: our last hotel before the Amazon featured hot springs in front of our rooms, which of course we all enjoyed.  They basically piped in natural hot water from nearby springs to these concrete tubs and it was a fantastic way to relax and stay warm in the high altitude.  Our stay in the Amazon was probably the highlight of the trip and we could only access our hotel via motor-powered canoes.  Our room featured a hammock on the back porch and it was harder than hell to leave when that time came.  While there, we visited a local family who showed us some of their cooking and jewelery making skills and we were also allowed to play with a blow gun (I was the first one to aim the dart at the little wooden monkey/pinata thing and I totally shot it in the ass.  Most other people missed completely so I’m fairly confident in my Amazon survival skills…or fairly confident in beginner’s luck).  We also spent a day hiking through some trails deep in the jungle with a local guide, were we were shown cotton and rubber trees along with all sorts of fascinating insects and plants.  We didn’t see many animals while on the hike but that’s mostly because a group of 15 tourists bumbling around is loud enough to scare things off from miles away.  We did spend some time in an animal sanctuary later though, where we saw four different kinds of primates, reptiles, lots of birds and more.  That place was cool because they take animals that are found on the black market (or some random dude’s hotel room, which happened with one specific jaguar-like cat) and rehabilitate them so they can be re-released into the wild.  They can’t always release all animals and if they’re too domesticated to make it then they take care of them on-site, but the primary goal is to give them as normal a life as possible.  Since I spent time in similar primate sanctuaries in South Africa, I really appreciated being able to see what another place can do for these animals.

The Amazing Amazon

After the Amazon, we drove through the Andes mountains a little more to a national park that was home to three large volcano’s, including Cotopaxi, which is the tallest and most active volcano in the world.  Talk about awesome.  I guess there are predictions that it’ll erupt again in the next 30 years or so and the last time it did it wiped out the town and sent ash as far away as Columbia, so it’s something to monitor.  While we were there, though, we just stood in it’s towering presence and thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t billowing smoke and lava (speaking of lava, the volcano I was worried about erupting from a few posts ago didn’t do a thing on our trip and we never really even saw it as it was surrounded by clouds).

Our flight home left at midnight and so by the time we arrived at our apartment (tired, hungry, stinky and carrying tons of dirty laundry), we had been up for something like 32 hours.  The weekend upon our return was spent doing said laundry, grocery shopping and generally getting back into the swing of things, and it was nice to have a few days down time.  The entire trip was completely and totally worth it and I would absolutely recommend Gate 1 Travel to anyone who asked.

Cotopaxi

But if you go to Ecuador – bring toilet paper!  We ladies learned very quickly that most public restrooms were lacking so we stocked up when we could and just carried it in tow.  Luckily for most of us, I had Kleenex on me the day we first learned this hard truth, thus earning me the title of Girl Scout for a day or so.  But as for Gate 1, they were great and we may use them in the future (once we’re no longer too broke to travel).  The only drawback to the entire adventure (besides the bug bites which are finally looking somewhat better) was that a handful of people we rode around with more than a little obnoxious.  But that’s the sort of risk you run on a trip like that and the good people far outweighed the bad!  And it just goes to show, stupid and annoying can be found anywhere on the globe.

Oh yeah…we stopped at a bar that happened to be owned by a dude from Chicago. In Banos, Ecuador. Such a small world!

And that’s a wrap!  If you want to hear about anything in greater detail feel free to ask and if you’re lucky enough to be Facebook friends with me you can expect to see the photos here and many more uploaded…sometime.  Hopefully in the not too distant future. Scott and I both had an amazing time and I’m so grateful everything went as smoothly as it did.  Now to scrimp and save so we can plan our next great adventure!

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