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Quito: Historic, bohemian Guápulo district

Mindo and Quito


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Wednesday 23rd July

Originally I'd planned to go back to Quito as early as I could, to give me more time to go to places I wanted to see before I left for good, but I ended up not leaving Mindo until 1.30pm because before that I had an interview for a job at a small language school in Bulgaria! I successfully found the only computer with working Skype in a reliable internet café. The interview went really well and I was offered the job at the end. If I accept, I'll be due to start work in the middle of September.

The later leaving time from Mindo meant that when I arrived at the usual hostel in Quito it was late afternoon and I decided I was too tired to go out again properly. I just rested for a bit and then went out for some dinner at Achiote, a restaurant Dave and I went to last month. It does Ecuadorian food and the quality is really good. I had shrimps in a coconut and vegetable sauce with yuca chips and a cold salad as accompaniments.

Thursday 24th July

In the morning I went for a walk in Guápulo district, which runs picturesquely down a hill within walking distance of the hostel. It was really hot and sunny. Before I walked down the hill I took some photos of the amazing view next to a statue of Francisco de Orellana, a conquistador who was the first Westerner to cross the Amazon region to reach the Atlantic Ocean (he was also the founder of Guayaquil, out of interest.)

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I went down the hill to the beautiful white Sanctuary de El Guápulo, which unfortunately was closed apart from the entrance area.

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Then I climbed all the way back up again, packed my stuff and took a taxi to the airport for my flight to Guayaquil.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:56 Archived in Ecuador Tagged airport hostel quito andes ecuador mindo explorations english_teaching colonial_church Comments (0)

Arrival in Quito after a long day of travelling

Catamayo and Quito


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The bus trip to Catamayo was simple. The bus dropped me off in the town so I took a taxi from there to the airport - only a two-minute journey.

Catamayo Airport is tiny - about the same size as the airport on Baltra Island in the Galápagos. After I'd checked in and got my boarding pass and was waiting for baggage x-ray and the departure lounge to open, a professional football team arrived and waited too. I didn't catch which team they were though.

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I was lucky enough to get a window seat, so although it was partly over a wing, I still managed to get a good view of Cotopaxi Volcano as approached Quito. At the beginning of the flight I read an article about Guayaquil in the TAME magazine which was so full of hyperbole I had to chuckle a little to myself. I am genuinely fond of Guayaquil but even I can see that it is not quite the same level as Quito and Cuenca regarding beauty and history! This July edition of the magazine was a celebration of the Independence of Guayaquil, a public holiday for the whole country on 23rd/24th July every year.

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I'm staying at Travellers' Inn, the same hostel where I've been on each of the three previous occasions I've been to Quito. The older guy here, the head of the family who own and run the hostel, asked me where my husband was! He must have remembered my ring arriving when I was here last month with Dave, though not the fact that it was an engagement ring not a wedding one. This chap was the one who helped me and Dave with information about how to get to Papallacta.

I arrived late in the afternoon so I didn't do anything apart from rest a bit before going out for some dinner. I went to a tiny French crépe restaurant down the road, because I fancied something a bit different to normal. I had a ratatouille and chicken crépe and a chocolate milkshake. Then I realised I was still hungry so I stopped at a bakery/café on the way back and bought a chocolate bun.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:10 Archived in Ecuador Tagged volcanoes airport hostel quito andes ecuador guayaquil Comments (0)

Vilcabamba

Loja and Vilcabamba


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On Tuesday morning, a walk to the bronze statue of La Virgen at the top of a little hill in Loja and a look inside the cathedral was followed by a bus journey to a village called Vilcabamba.

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Vilcabamba is quite touristy, a contrast to Loja which is not particularly touristy for such a cultured and (in places) historic city. A few decades ago Vilcabamba became known for its unusually large amount of centenarians; due to this, plus the extremely pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, lots of hippies then moved in. Although nowadays the number of centenarians is no higher there than anywhere else, Vilcabamba still remains known throughout the country for the longevity of its people. Several students have mentioned this to me, totally unprompted. There also remains a distinct New Age vibe.

I fly to Quito tomorrow. Over the last couple of days in Vilcabamba, I have;

- been on some lovely walks in the local countryside. The setting of Vilcabamba really is stunning.

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- relaxed and not done very much. The hostel I'm staying in (Le Rendez-Vous Hostal Guesthouse) has a lovely courtyard filled with greenery and colourful flowers. It also offers great homemade bread at breakfast.

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- looked inside the modern but still beautiful church in the main square

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- applied for two teaching jobs starting in September; one in Krakow, Poland, and one in Tenerife
- had quinoa soup for the first time in Ecuador
- been told by the American owner of the café where I had the quinoa soup that the idea that unpasteurised milk is dangerous is not in fact true and is something that 'the mainstream' would have me believe...

Posted by 3Traveller 12:09 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hostel butterflies andes ecuador vilcabamba explorations ecuadorian_cuisine loja Comments (0)

Loja: cultural capital of southern Ecuador

Catamayo and Loja


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First stop on my final tour round Ecuador before I leave the country at the end of the month.

I touched down at 6.50 am after an uneventful TAME flight from Guayaquil. The airport that serves Loja is actually in the village/town of Catamayo, some 30km away; there were no buses running from there into the city so I had to share a taxi instead. Four of us paid $5 each.

There was a very fine drizzle falling when I arrived at Plaza de la Independencia in the city centre. Occasionally the sun came out briefly, causing a rainbow to appear. Plaza de la Independencia is surrounded by historic painted colonial buildings hanging over the pavements.

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After a look-around there I wandered down the road to Plaza Central, popping into the Church of Santo Domingo on the way. An early morning service was going on though so I didn't stop to take any photos. Once I got to Plaza Central I went into the Cathedral briefly, but again I didn't take any pictures. There was a service going on there as well. I made a mental note to come back to both churches again later, once I had found a hotel and dumped my rucksack.

Next stop was a sorely-needed breakfast at a café. I tried a tamale Lojana, made of steamed corn like a humita but with shredded chicken, onion and a special reddish sauce in the middle. I think I will come back and have the same again tomorrow morning, because it was delicious. I had a humita and a cup of coffee as well.

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After that I decided to try my luck with a budget hotel recommended by my guidebook - Hotel Metropolitano. I had no problems getting a single room; the hotel seemed almost empty in fact - I seem to have it almost to myself. The first thing I did was have an hour-long doze; I really needed this as I'd had hardly any sleep the night before.

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The first place I went after that was the Museo de la Música, which I found on my second attempt. The first place I tried had the words Museo and Música in the title but turned out to be part of the University of Loja and did not seem to have any public musical exhibits... I wandered up some stairs which overlooked a courtyard, and looked at a selection of paintings. I looked into a room that looked open but there was a dance class going on inside it. I think it was the Arts department. Although I wasn't stopped from walking around, I got the unmistakeable feeling that I shouldn't be there, so I left and went two doors down to where the actual museum turned out to be.

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It was very small and was about famous Ecuadorian musicians from the 19th century to the 1960s. Within the courtyard one of the rooms had a lot of strings players inside practising a piece, so maybe that museum was connected to the University as well.

The next stop was the wonderful Museo de Historia y Culturas Lojanas, which contained a selection of fascinating black and white photos of the pilgrimage of La Virgen del Cisne (the Virgin of the Swan) which has taken place every year for over four centuries, the figure of the Virgin being carried from the village of El Cisne to Loja on foot. It happens in August so I will miss the boat on that one. I took a photo of two of the pictures and then paid the price for it when a security guard came over, told me I coudn't take photos and then followed me around the rest of the museum to make sure I didn't take any more. Oh well.

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I came across an empty but open auditorium with a woman having a piano lesson on a grand piano, and then a room full of information about and work of Lojana literary and musical figures. There were also two rooms showing off the traditional dress of Saraguro, a proudly indigenous town quite near to Loja; rooms of colonial religious art, which included a painting each of the Virgen del Cisne, the Virgen de Guápulo and the Virgen de la Merced; a room containing information about quinine bark and the Peruvian Jesuit who introduced it from South America to Europe in the 17th century as a treatment for malaria; an archaeological section containing pottery, photos of petroglyphs and some other things; and an exhibition of colourful contemporary paintings titled ´Los Colores de lo Absurdo´.

After that I had a late lunch at a grilled chicken restaurant, bought a chocolate bun to have later, walked along the oldest street in Loja looking at the colourful colonial buildings and then stopped in an internet café for a couple of hours.

The oldest street in Loja, Calle Lourdes:

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In the evening I went back to the church of Santo Domingo. The interior was beautiful; I looked around for a bit after buying and lighting a candle for Dad.

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I took some of the exterior too, along with the plaza:

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Then I carried on to a restaurant by the river where I had another humita and tamale before going back to the hotel for an early night.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art hotel airport museum cathedral dad andes ecuador ecuadorian_cuisine loja traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

Cotopaxi Volcano

Cotopaxi National Park and Quito


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A trek up part of Cotopaxi Volcano today. It was organised by our hostel and although absolutely exhausting, it was well worth it.

A minibus took us and three others to a parking area already up part of the mountain. We'd stopped at the entrance to the National Park; at the café I bought a cup of coca tea because I was starting to feel unwell due to altitude sickness. It helped a bit, thank goodness.

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The first part of the trek was OK, if tiring. It had a steep incline but wasn't all that long. The ground was a very fine gravel, so our feet sank into it. When we reached the top of this first part we turned and saw wonderful views over the rest of the National Park. The glacier above us was beautiful and awe-inspiring.

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Dave stayed at this part, but I decided to carry on to the base lodge that was in the process of being built. I'd had to stop for the loo, because I was absolutely desperate, so the others in the group had already gone ahead of us. That second part of the trek was very difficult - in terms of sheer muscular exhaustion it was on par with the last hour of our trek up Ben Nevis in 2011. This was the view of the second part;

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It didn't look all that far at the start, but that was misleading! I was struggling quite badly with altitude sickness by now - no nausea, luckily, just feeling quite lightheaded and off balance. My chest was hurting where I injured my rib in February last year and the back of my head hurt where it joins onto my neck. One of the guides was with me and she let me sit down and rest on rocks whenever I needed to, which helped. There were several moments where I considered turning back, but a voice in my head pushed me on. At one point a load of donkeys passed by me coming from the opposite direction.

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And despite being physically one of the hardest things I've ever done, it was absolutely worth it. As soon as I reached the lodge I had my photo taken next to the signpost that said I was at 4864 metres altitude, then tottered over to a seat amongst the masonry at the front of the half-built lodge where two workers were busy working. It felt amazing to be so high up.

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I had a enormously satisfying rest for five to ten minutes, along with a drink, before descending. The descent took about five minutes, making a mockery of how long it had taken me to get up there... a fast walk turned into a jog and then I was pushed by the slope into a run. Dave was watching from the bottom of this section, so he took a few photos of me coming down.

Then, after another little rest, we descended the first section together, at a walk. It was just us two along with the guide that had been with me on the second section. The others had carried on higher than the base lodge, to the edge of the glacier itself - this was an optional extra activity as part of the excursion - but Dave and I gave this a miss. By now I was starting to feel dizzy and sleepy and a headache was developing.

The three of us sat in the minibus waiting for the others to return. I started off in the front passenger seat but then I felt so bad I needed to lie down, so I moved to lying across the back seats and Dave took my seat at the front. The guide gave me an inflatable neck/head rest which helped make me more comfortable.

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Thankfully, once the others had arrived back and we descended to the plains of the National Park, I started feeling much better. We stopped at a beautiful lake for a bit and then to a small café where we were given free cheese rolls and we could buy other things if we wanted to.

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I wasn't hungry at all so I didn't have my roll, but I did get myself a hot chocolate and some Coke. Dave bought some coca boiled sweets, which we ate on the rest of our return journey.

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We stopped again at the entrance/exit to the National Park. There was a TV playing the England vs. Italy World Cup group match - Italy were winning 1-0. It was just after half time. Just as we drew up to the hostel later on, the match finished. England had lost and were out of the World Cup.

As soon as we got back from Cotopaxi National Park I went to bed. I was feeling lightheaded and dizzy again and started throwing up. I had about four or five bouts of it. At around 6.30pm my engagement ring was delivered! - I couldn't get out of bed so Dave collected it from reception. It was just as beautiful as I expected.

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I didn't have any dinner but Dave went out and had a similar mixed grill to the one he had at the Argentinian grillhouse a couple of days earlier.

Posted by 3Traveller 16:55 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains lakes football volcanoes hostel dave quito andes ecuador explorations ecuadorian_cuisine cotopaxi_national_park Comments (0)

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