The last of Ecuador

I loved Ecuador.

Among my favorite memories is our sketchiest meal at Comedor del Gato (Cat food? Cat eater??) complete with untouchable salsa and Fanta!

Calacali, Ecuador

Our oh-so-tiny list of directions to la Mitad del Mundo

Quito, Ecuador

Contrasted with our endless day of travel to Otavalo. I think this sums up the experience

Ecuador

I’ll miss the infinite ocean around the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

And the clumsy Giant Tortoises mating (grrrrrrrr….)

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The Iguana Point Bar

Isla Isabela, Ecuador

And the source of all the trouble…

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

At $3.50 a bottle, can you expect anything less than trouble? I think not.

Sunscreen costs 6x the price!

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Between the hangovers and the sunstroke, it’s no wonder travelers barely remember their trips to Isla Isabela…

This was my favorite breakfast in Quito at The Tarzan in the Mariscal

Quito, Ecuador

The parking situation down there always made me laugh.

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I love any country that uses popcorn as a condiment

Ecuador

But most of all I loved (and will miss) traveling with this girl, not least because she brought pink foam rollers on a backpacking trip.

Ecuador

Bye-bye Reina de Reggaeton! Until our next trip… :)

Posada del Arte in Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

Hostal Posada del Arte is tucked off the main square but the colorful entrance is impossible to miss

Banos, Ecuador

Inside is a cozy common room with a fireplace and a rotating gallery of artwork on the walls, mostly local artists and all for sale.

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

We stopped in to eat in the restaurant and I got my (by now) favorite Ecuadorian meal, llapingachos

Banos, Ecuador

Eggs. chorizo, potato pancakes, avocado and tomato salad. Awesome.

I loved Posada del Arte. The food was great, the atmosphere is gorgeous and it’s right in the center of town. As much as I really liked staying at La Casa Verde, it’s a 2km walk out of town, which makes it tricky after midnight when the cabs stop running. If I were to come back to Banos, I’d stay at Posada del Arte.

Waterfalls and Banos

Banos Ecuador is a charming little town tucked in a valley next to the volcano Tungurahua

Ecuador

This was our last stop in Ecuador and we chose to stay at La Casa Verde

Banos, Ecuador

An ecohostal run by Doug and Rebecca, two extremely conscientious and accommodating hosts dedicated to living green and providing food and furnishings that come from local vendors.

The hostal sits just outside the city limits and we had views of the mountainside right out our window.

Banos, Ecuador

While Banos is known for all manner of outdoor activities (canyoning, white water rafting, hiking, climbing), the waterfalls are the main attractions. Travelers can walk, ride or drive the “ruta la cascadas,” ride a tarabita (cable car) near the Manto de la Novia

Manto de la Novia, Banos

And climb up into the Pailon del Diablo where the “trail” turns into a crawl space

Banos. Ecuador

And ends under a rock overhang with the millions of gallons of water falling all around and the most incredible views

Banos, Ecuador

The Pailon del Diablo translates as Devil’s Cauldron, so named because of the shape of the pool where the water falls and also because of the devil’s face in the rock. Can you see it?

Banos, Ecuador

The waterfalls coming off the volcano help heat the thermal baths in the center of town that supposedly have healing properties

Banos, Ecuador

Banos, Ecuador

Called Termas la Virgin because of a Virgin Mary sighting in the vicinity.

Banos, Ecuador

The other big landmark in town is the church, dedicated to the Virgin de Agua Santa

Banos, Ecuador

I loved Banos. It has a laid back vibe and there’s a lot to do in an around the city. I could have stayed for a week but unfortunately, we only had a few days here before heading back to Quito.

Tomorrow, Posada del Arte, the other notable place we ate in Banos

Climbing Cotopaxi

At 19, 347 feet, Cotopaxi is the world’s 3rd highest active volcano. It’s not a difficult technical climb but it does require acclimatization because 19,000 feet is high and human bodies don’t like to operate without enough oxygen.

We been advised to spend a few days on the Quilotoa Loop, hiking and sleeping at altitudes of 12-13,000 feet to acclimatize, but we didn’t have quite enough time to do that and everything else we planned for our last few days in Ecuador. Having read a lot about altitude sickness – headaches, nausea, vomiting and blacking out – I didn’t want to risk not acclimatizing so we chose the day trip on the north face instead of an overnight summiting trip. Our hostal in Latacunga – the Hostal Tiana – set us up with our climbing guide, Diego, who was fantastic. We had a great experience with Tiana and Diego and I’d highly recommend them both.

Diego drove us through crazy thick fog to get to the parking lot in the Cotopaxi park. We could hardly see out the windshield and it’s a good thing he climbs this volcano 3x a week because he drove most of that road blind.

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Even out of the car it was hard to see but I tried to manufacture some enthusiasm.

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The climb to the refugio was a grim breathless trudge up a steep hill covered in loose scree and falling rocks in thick fog with no view. Not my idea of a good time.

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Nicole’s water bottle was our best view of the Cotopaxi summit

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But we made good time and got to the Jose F. Ribas Refugio (base camp) in about 45 minutesEcuador

All the materials for the Refugio behind us – wood, metal, furniture, stoves, etc. – were brought up on the backs of climbers. They couldn’t get machinery up that grade so they dragged everything up. Having dragged myself up that incline, I can’t believe anyone could carry anything much more than a backpack. You can see better pictures of the Refugio here.

After a couple cups of tea, Jules wanted to try for the glacier so I said I’d go along. The fog was still intense but it cleared slightly once we hit the glacier line at 16, 500 feet.

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This was our best view of the summit

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And this is us (especially me) happy to be done with the climbing portion of the day!

Cotopaxi Glacier, Ecuador

The fog cleared dramatically as we descended (of course) and anyone climbing later that afternoon probably had clear views of the summit. Oh well… can’t control the weather. We did see the chuquiragua, the flowering shrub that only grows in the Andes above 13,000 feet

Cotopaxi, Ecuador

And some beautiful wild mustangs on the lower slopes of the Cotopaxi park

Cotopaxi, Ecuador

Cotopaxi, Ecuador

I’m glad we did this day trip, even though the conditions were less than ideal. I have zero experience with mountaineering and I didn’t have trouble with this climb, except for being breathless for all of it. We didn’t wear any special gear and in fact I wore trail runners, which had enough tread even for the snow line. I didn’t suffer from any altitude sickness but that’s not something you know until you get up there so we did bring Diamox just in case.

We paid $40 apiece for the whole day trip, which included lunch, our guide and transportation. Diego picked us up at Hotel Tiana and drove us into the National Park to the parking lot, guided us up the volcano to the refugio and then to the glacier and drove us home with a stop at the Laguna de Limpiopungo. We also each paid a national park entrance fee of $10.

If you want to summit, this site has a lot of good info (though it’s outdated because there’s now an entrance fee for the park). It is possible to go cheaply without a guide and take a bus to the entrance or a taxi 3 miles further on to the parking lot beneath the refugio. Only climbers who plan to summit can stay overnight at the refugio but they do have a little cafe where they sell tea and hot chocolate at really expensive prices.

This wasn’t the most fun thing we did this trip but I’l always remember it because it was no easy climb. I even might try mountaineering again but I’d like to pre-order some sunshine next time!

Horseback Riding to Chugchilan

The Quilotoa Loop is a 200km length of road with small villages every 50-60km. It’s worth visiting just for the beauty of the Andes but a lot of visitors use it to acclimatize for Cotopaxi. Jules and I had considered summiting Cotopaxi at some point in our trip so we planned for 2 nights on the loop, one at the crater lake and one in Chugchilan.

After a freezing cold night in Quilotoa and building a successful wood fire in the iron stove in our hostal room (the village has no central heating and no hot water), we woke up feeling like pioneers on the prairie, which is the only thing that accounts for our decision to rent horses and ride to Chugchilan.

I have two previous horseback riding experiences in my life, one of which was at 8 years old.

Don’t I look happy to be perched on top of that giant horse? This is about 5 seconds before I fell off, sprained my wrist and said I’d never get on another horse. 8 years later I did get on another horse, which went fine, but there’s never been a point since where I missed horseback riding and dreamed of it fondly.

Despite this less than glorious horse history, I agreed to rent horses and ride them to Chugchilan instead of hiking/climbing/walking the 5 hour trail. I went first and ended up with the only horse in the bunch

Chugchilan, Ecuador

The other two were ponies and one was tricky from the outset

Ecuador

The stirrups on Jules’ saddle couldn’t be adjusted so the guides helped her shove her feet in, which only worked for a few minutes.

Ecuador

Lauren and Jules then switched ponies and Lauren rode super casual with her feet almost touching the ground

Chugchilan, Ecuador

And Jules walked

Chugchilan, Ecuador

For 3 hours we rode over sharp peaked mountains

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And in and out of steep canyons

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Through backroads shortcuts and rural farm country with tiny houses perched on the steep grades and occasional sheep and herders crossing the road.

My feet fell asleep, my legs were killing me, Jules hiked most of the way and I don’t think Lauren used the stirrups once but we all made it to Chugchilan just minutes ahead of a massive rainstorm that lasted the rest of the afternoon.

Ecuador

I wouldn’t recommend this trip by horseback. The trail is washed out and gullied in a scary way, the guides hold the reins so there’s no way for us to control our horses, it’s a steep long journey and once we were in it there was no turning back. We made it but I don’t think I’d do it again.

Save the horseback riding for a shorter more recreational journey. That’s my advice.

Quilotoa Crater Lake

We went to the Quilotoa Crater Lake from Latacunga by taking a 25 cent bus ride to Zumbahua and then catching a pickup truck (camioneta) to Quilotoa. The camioneta driver charged $10 (ish) for the whole truck split between 4 of us.

The whole journey took about 2 hours and the camioneta driver dropped us off just 50 feet from the lake lookout with the most rewarding view of sea green alkaline water.

Quilotoa Crater Lake, Ecuador

and sharp peaks of the surrounding Andes that looked like knife edges.

Quilotoa, Ecuador

The trail down to the lake started out easy and hard packed with peek-a-boo views of the lake

Quilotoa, Ecuador

If sheep can do it, why can’t we?

Quilotoa, Ecuador

But then the trail dropped off the side of the cliff with a slippery surface covered with rock and sand

Quilotoa, Ecuador

It dropped about 1000 feet at a 35% grade almost the whole way so we got down fast. We sat near the edge of the lake enjoying the hot sun

Quilotoa, Ecuador

Quilotoa, Ecuador

and looking at the trail back up to the top

Quilotoa, Ecuador

Which was steep, slippy, difficult to climb and at 13,000 feet elevation.

Quilotoa, Ecuador

Watching the clouds fill up the basin as the sun set felt like a reward after all that work

Quilotoa, Ecuador

This is a great hike. I’d recommend wearing a lot of layers because it’s freezing on the rim, slightly warmer by the lake and we worked pretty hard to get up and down. It took about 30-40 minutes to go down and 1-2 hours to come back up and the views made the effort worthwhile.

Quilotoa, Ecuador

Saquisili Market

Saquisili is a gigantic local market approximately 30 minutes from Latacunga.

Unlike Otavalo, which is mostly handcrafts and artisens centered around the plaza de ponchos, Saquisili has several different market spaces devoted to food

EcuadorWith scenic shoppers that don’t enjoy having their photographs taken

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I love the colorful way the indigenous women dress

Ecuador

Ecuador

There are plenty of other scenic sights around the marketplace, like these sheep tethered to a bus top

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And cow heads tossed in a truck bed

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Glorious piles of fruit

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And less glorious piles of chicken parts

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until they’re turning crispy brown on the grill

Saquisili, Ecuador

Innovative tire baskets

Saquisili, Ecuador

And my favorite street food in Ecuador, tortillas de maiz full of melted cheese.

Saquisili, Ecuador

At 3 for 50 cents, they’re the best deal ever!

If you want to visit a big local market, try new and curious foods and see more plantains than weavings, I’d recommend a trip to Saquisili. Thursday is market day and there are several different plazas so you could spend all day just wandering around. But keep in mind that it’s a local market; so, gringos with cameras aren’t a welcome sight unless they’re purchasing things.