Quito To Lima

Quito

The next stop on our journey was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. In South America, capital cities are usually the largest city in each country because that is where most people can find jobs. This is also the case in Ecuador.

On our way back to Quito from Otavalo, we had a much more civilized bus experience while leaving Otavalo. Once we arrived at the bus terminal in Quito, we took a taxi to the historic center. Ecuador´s capital city has two main tourist sectors: Historic and Modern. In the cab to our hostel in the historic center, we were warned by the driver to be very careful with our money and belongings, especially on public transportation.

With this useful information, we decided that it was best to find a hostel close to our drop off point so that we were not walking around the city with all our belongings. After lightening out load, we were off to explore the old churches, plazas, and streets that make up the historic center of Quito. Luckily, we have found the tourist information centers to be very helpful and knowledgable. They have been able to give us recommendations for hostels, super markets, restaurants, attractions, and how to get to each of those places. They are also usually located near the main plaza in each city. Our travel book was also a vital resource, recommending that we go to the Midad Del Mundo, or in other words, the equator.

With our valuables hidden away and a small day pack with water strapped to the front of me, we took the bus north to the Midad Del Mundo. If you are unsure what the Midad Del Mundo is, it is a museum, monument, compass, and line representing the location of the equator as determined by French explorer Charles Marie de la Condamine in 1736. It is quite impressive that this gentleman was able to determine the location of the equator to within 150 meters that long ago and without all the technology we have today. This is a pretty cool site and I recommend going.
Another attraction recommended by our book in Quito was the Museo Nacional del Banco Central in the modern sector of the city. In fact, the book said that if you only have time for one museum in Quito (which was us), you should consider going here. Although we did not visit any other museums, I would be willing to second the book’s recommendation. The museum is full of nicely displayed artifacts from many of the preincan civilizations and gives a brief summary about each of these. To read more about Quito museums, reference this page.

We have met a lot of people on our trip and learned that 2 months is a very short amount of time for the distance we are traveling. Most people we have met are doing a similar route (or the reverse) in 5-9 months. In order to be able to get to Brazil when we planned, we decided to stop just once on the way to Lima from Quito.

 

 

20130724-185158.jpg

 

20130724-185219.jpg

Adam on the Equator in front of the Mitad Del Mundo monument

 

20130724-185242.jpg

A look inside the Museo Nacional del Banco Central in Quito, Ecuador

 

20130724-185328.jpg

Ingapirca ruins outside of Cuenca, Ecuador. These are the most important Incan ruins in Ecuador.

 

Lima

After our flights from the Galápagos Islands, our main method of transportation has been by bus. Buses are pretty cheap in South America, and you can usually find one that leaves when you want. Since we are on a tight budget, we took the buses from Quito to Cuenca, Cuenca to Loja, Loja to Piura, Peru, and Piura to Lima. We spent two nights in Cuenca because the city itself is a UNESCO world heritage site and there were some cool ruins 2 hours north of the city. After Cuenca the next 48 hour stretch we spent 26 hours on a bus. Yuck. We liked the smaller towns of Southern Ecuador better than Quito. I even got to play some soccer with the locals in a sweet park while we were waiting for our next bus in Loja. The park had everything from playgrounds to skate parks to lakes to swimming pool to sports fields to ostriches to cultural buildings representative of many of the world’s cultures. If ever in Loja, Ecuador, go check out Parque Jipiro.

We immediately got a good vibe from Lima, despite being warned of the pickpockets again. With some hostels in mind, we took a taxi to the suburb of Miraflores, an upscale, oceanfront city 30 minutes outside of the Lima city center. We were able to explore this area for a few days and felt at home. It is a pretty and clean area with some big name hotel chains and a mall built in to the side of the cliff overlooking the ocean. The ocean looked nice, but despite several locals testing the waves on their surfboards, we read that the beaches in Lima are rather dirty. Regardless, Miraflores is a nice area that we would like to return to again. We also found a nice, clean hostel (one of our primary deciding factors deciding on a hostel) by the name of Kokopelli while in this area.

One of the evenings in Lima, we went into the downtown area of Lima to see what the city itself is like. Taxis are a bit more expensive in the evening because there is more traffic. While in downtown Lima, we stopped by the Plaza de Armas which is where the Peruvian Capital building is located and wandered inside the Iglesia de San Francisco. This is a very historic church and there are some highly-rated catacombs and museum under the church (though they were closed by the time we got there). If we ever make it back to Lima, which I hope we do, we will be sure to check these out.

Another highly recommended place to visit in Lima (both by our travel book and the locals) is the Magic Water Circuit. This is similar to the impressive water fountains in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Unfortunately, the “magic” only happens from Wednesday to Sunday and we were there on a Tuesday. That night, we took an overnight bus from Lima to Nazca. All in all, Lima left a good first impression of Peru in our heads!

20130724-185402.jpg

Larcomar shopping center overlooking ocean in Miraflores, Lima, Peru

 

Otavalo: Faith, Festivals, Food

After our time in the Galápagos, we decided to head north out of Quito to Otavalo, Ecuador to experience the famed Saturday artisan market, which our guide book indicated was a must see in Ecuador.

From the Quito airport, we hopped in a cab to the Carcelén bus terminal, which services destinations north of the capital city. Once there, Adam and I were shocked by the line to purchase tickets to Otavalo. At the front of the very, very long line there was pushing, shoving, and shouting to get to the ticket counter. One of the locals told us this was a typical scene on a Friday night because weekend trips to the Saturday market are popular. We decided we should stand in line politely and took a hike to the back of the line where we were informed wait times were 2 hours (assuming you could maintain your position once you got closer to the ticket counter). However, after about ten minutes at the back we were greeted with a much more appealing option: take a colectivo and leave immediately. done deal.

On the cozy (16 people filling 10 seats), two-hour ride, we learned that this weekend happened to also be the festival of San Pedro: towns around Otavalo would be having parades and dancing and other festivities all day Saturday, making Otavalo an even busier hub than usual.

We arrived about 8pm and it turned out that most restaurants were either closed or closing, which is how we first found ourselves eating at the night market. We were both happily surprised to learn that each of our dinners (rice, potatoes, eggs, salad, salsa) each cost just one dollar. Yes, $1. This was particularly shocking considering we had just come from $7-9 a plate street food in the Galápagos AND the food in Otavalo was GOOD- flavorful and filling. As accompaniments we also got corn and cheese in a bag, a purple drink called coloda morada (made from fruit, spices, and purple corn flour), and an empanada for dessert because we noticed that most of the locals were doing the same. We weren´t disappointed with our choices.

On to the Saturday market..

It was kind of like a festival all on its own with hundreds, if not thousands, of vendors selling everything from paintings to incense burners, and wool blankets to high heels. Name almost anything and it could probably be found at the market. We were overwhelmed with colors, sounds, smells (good and bad), but it was definitely something to witness and the artisan products were the highlights.

Alas, all the shopping helped us work up an appetite so we opted for the street food again, which was abundant around the market. We discovered and ate grilled plantains, a plateful of roast chicken with sides ($1.50), famous turtle shaped bread loaves, and some intriguing fried dough balls with sugar poured on top. Not to mention a bowl full of ceviche (not made with seafood) for 80 cents, which we highly recommend. Again the street food didn´t disappoint.

While we were walking around all morning we were shocked yet again by the height of many of the natives, some of whom were no taller than Adam´s elbows. We marveled over this while enjoying an Ecuadorian coffee (grown in the Intag region of Ecuador) and a delicious bar of Ecuadorian chocolate made by Hoja Verde (I highly recommend!!)

The rest of the day was spent wandering the market and plotting our next day´s adventure to the Laguna de Cuicocha, and of course we returned to the night market for dinner where we indulged in the ¨dollar menu¨ again. A local beverage called morocho, which is made from a type of corn that shares the name, milk, and sugar, was also available to try. And yes, we made the requisite stop at the panaderia/pasteleria for some dessert too.

Sunday began with a brisk walk to the church where it happened to be communion Sunday; we got to celebrate first communion Ecuadorian style. It is pretty much the same as in the US, but with more chatting and picture taking during the mass. Afterwards it was time to head to Laguna Cuicocha for a hike around this lake which was once used by the indigenous people for religious rituals and is still considered a sacred lake by some of the locals. It is also significant that the lake, which was formed by the collapse of a volcanic crater, sits at the base of the volcano Cotacachi. As the legend goes, this mountain is also known as Maria Isabel Nieves Cotacachi and is the spouse of Taita Imbabura or Manuel Imbabura, another one of the area´s mountains. All of the surrounding hills are said to be the daughters and sons of these two mountains.

The hike around the lake on the Sendero Los Orquideas (orchid path) provided awesome views and helped us to come up with our own explanation of the short stature of the natives (no offense to any Ecuadorians). As it turned out, hiking at altitude (the path starts at 3,100 meters and reaches 3,500 meters at its highest point) was easier when we were lower to the ground, at least for us Illinois prairie dogs. Our hypothesis is that the short stature of the Andean people is an adaptation to the altitude, but we´re no scientists. (For other more scientific theories see Three High Altitude Peoples).

After many stops to enjoy the scenery and to catch our breath, we made it around the lake path just under the suggested 4 hour time frame. If you have some extra time in Otavalo region, we recommend this beautiful hike. If hiking doesn´t sound appealing, there is also a boat ride available around the lake and a few information centers about the lake and the surrounding Cotacachi Coyapas Ecological Reserve.

The weekend ended with a snapshot of the dancing and parading of the San Pedro festival in the town of Cotacachi before we muscled our way onto the bus back to Otavalo and enjoyed another round of delicious street food.

20130714-102709.jpg

Laguna Cuicocha

20130714-102700.jpg

Food Market at night in Otavalo. Cheap Food!

Galápagos Islands

Where to begin?…

Take some volcanos, place them in the middle of the ocean. Let them erupt a few million years ago until they form about a dozen islands of black lava rock. Then, place a “cactus forest” and a petting zoo of tropical animals on those islands and name it after a turtle shell that looks like a Spanish saddle.

That is how I would describe the strange islands that Anna and I have spent the last 8 days on. According to WikiAnswers, “Galápago” is an old Spanish word meaning saddle. The large land tortoise on some of the islands has a shell that resembles an old Spanish saddle, thus inspiring the name. Surprisingly, the Galápagos Islands have 3 different airports, on two different islands. We flew in one and flew out the other; both times getting to walk on the tarmac. The islands are actually farther apart than I thought. Several of our inter-islands boat rides were bumpy (and sometimes wet) two hour boat rides through open ocean with no land in sight.

The most exciting part of our time on the islands, however, was getting to be so close to the animals. It was amazing how close you could actually get to them. Often times, I actually had to purposely avoid stepping on marine iguanas while on several of our island tours.
Speaking of tours, there are two main ways to see the Galápagos Islands. One way is a cruise ranging from 3-15 days and the other is by taking day trips. We chose to take several day trips because it was cheaper for us. That being said, there were several very affordable cruise options. We found one cruise for four days that only cost $400 (that’s cheap for the Galapagos Islands). We just did a few simple calculations to determine which was the best way to go about seeing the islands. Taking day trips also allowed us to customize our trip more and be more flexible.
Regardless of which option you chose, always be sure to check around at the different travel agencies for different routes and prices. We checked at least a 8 different ones before picking, but there were plenty more within walking distance of the dock on Santa Cruz. Also, be sure you know exactly what is included (i.e. meals, snorkeling equipment, wet suit, taxi rides, island entrance fees, etc). Perhaps the most important lesson we learned is to always get a receipt and itinerary and only pay for the activity you are doing one day in advance.

And now for the animals!

We visited 5 islands: San Cristobal, Santa Cruz, Seymore Norte, Isabela, and Floreana. Of those islands I think Seymore Norte was my favorite because we got to be so close to some of the strangest birds I have ever seen including the Blue Footed Boobie and the Frigate bird. Here are some of the animal inspired highlights:

  1. Snorkeled with sharks, sea turtles, and sea lions on Isabela Island
  2. Witnessed the Blue Footed Boobie mating dance on Seymore Norte
  3. Climbed Sierra Negro Volcano (second largest volcanic crater on earth at 10 km around)
  4. Walked with the giant land tortoises that weigh over 500kg on Santa Cruz, Isabela, and Floreana
  5. Saw literally tons of animals up close: 3 types of iguanas, 2 types turtles, 2 types of sharks, Blue Footed Boobies, sea lions, frigate birds, flamingos, pelicans, tropical fish, Galapagos Crab, penguins, Darwin’s Finches, dolphins, and other birds

All in all, I highly recommend going to the Galápagos Islands. It was well worth our money especially since it was evident that the locals like to live in harmony with the animals and tried not to disturb them as they give us tours of this unique place.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.