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First proper taste of Madrid and I love it

Madrid


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The highlights of today (not in chronological order);

- the same feeling of excitement that I had yesterday

- the Museo del Prado - lots of really famous art by El Greco, Goya, Velázquez (I was particularly keen to see his work because I remember doing an essay in my third year at Swansea about some of his paintings within this museum), de Zúrbaran, Fra Angelico and Titian, amongst others. I only had to queue for twenty minutes and because it was between 6-8pm I got in for free.

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- A lovely walk through the massive Parque del Buen Retiro. These gardens were really pleasant and I came across a big lake as well as the beautiful Crystal Palace... slightly bizarrely the latter had lots of small wicker rocking chairs set up inside, each with a thick book attached to the chair by a string. I thought that was a really good idea. You couldn't stay inside the building for too long because the sun created an atmosphere like the inside of a greenhouse, but it was still a very interesting and rather unusual environment to be in!

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- Another lovely walk, this time round the small Royal Botanic Gardens.

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- Wandering the streets, taking in the beautiful plazas and architecture.

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- Churros and a mixture of hot chocolate and black coffee with sugar for breakfast at the hostel.

- the interior of the Parroquia San Jerónimo El Real, which is behind the Museo del Prado. Unfortunately I could only have a quick look from inside the the entrance because a service was going on, but I loved what I saw.

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These aren't highlights in particular, but I'd still like to mention them. On the way back from the Museo del Prado in the evening, I came across a peaceful pro-Gaza march along a street round the corner from my hostel.

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Once I got back to the hostel I had some of the paella that is provided cheaply there every evening - not bad at all.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:07 Archived in Spain Tagged lakes art museum spain madrid hostel botanical_gardens churros spanish_cuisine Comments (0)

Tropical animals, architecture of old Guayaquil

Guayaquil Historical Park


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Edit from January 2019: I forgot to mention this originally, but the Historical Park is free entry! It's closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and is open 09:00 - 16:00 the rest of the week.

Parque Histórico Guayaquil lies on a peninsula that splits the Río Daule and Río Babahoyo before they converge to become the Río Guayas. It needs to be within quite a large area because is split into three zones; the Wildlife Zone, the Urban Architecture Zone and the Traditions Zone.

My colleague/ friend 'H' and I decided to go there together today because neither of us had been before, despite having wanted to for ages. I am starting to run out of weekends before I leave Ecuador...

The Wildlife Zone was first. It is split into the four forest ecosystems of the local Guayas province; Drizzle Forest, Tropical Dry Forest, Mangrove Forest and the Floodplain (Wetlands) Forest. As we wandered round, we saw lots of wildlife, some of them common but others critically endangered in the wild. The Guayaquil macaw is probably the most at risk of extinction; there are only about 90 breeding pairs left in the country. Aside from the parrots, my favourites were the harpy eagle, the horned screamer bird, the two-toed sloth, the tapirs, the collared peccary and the turtles.

In order, each row from left to right; peccary, chestnut-fronted macaw, more chestnut-fronted macaws, scarlet macaws, flamingo, green parrots, horned screamer, more horned screamers and flamingoes, more peccaries, two-toed sloths, Central American agouti, tapirs, mangrove forest, pond, caiman and more caimen;

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From there we followed the path into the Urban Architecture Zone, which brings together several important wooden buildings which were built in Guayaquil in the very late 19th and early 20th centuries, then dismantled and transferred to the Park in the 1980s. These buildings were mostly built directly after the great fire of 1896 which destroyed a lot of the old part of the city. Most of them were residential, belonging to locally important people, but one was the Territorial Bank and one was used by the Social Services as a hospital, complete with chapel.

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With all of these buildings, the upper storey is wider than the lower and is supported by columns. You see this basic set-up in the modern city centre; it makes a lot of sense in this climate. Shelter from the monsoon rain showers between January and April, shade from the scorching tropical sun throughout the rest of the year.

We were allowed to go inside some of the buildings, so we walked round one or two and admired the period furnishings and decoration.

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We liked the views out of the screen doors (which acted as windows on the upper floors), too. The combination of colourful wooden buildings, cobbled streets and original street lighting made it easy to picture the Guayaquil of the early 20th century. One exception to this was the plane we saw flying low over the river, coming in to land at the airport opposite!

We stopped for a snack and a drink at a collection of booths and tables in the square in front of the old Social Services building, then admired some tortoises crossing the path on our way into the Traditions Zone.

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This zone showcases the working life of rural, coastal people in Ecuador at the turn of the 20th century, when there was a boom in bananas, cacao and coffee. One group of people focused on is the Montubio, who to this day do a lot of ranching and hold rodeos, especially in Guayas province. The rodeo I went to last October in Salitre was a Montubio rodeo (you can read about this here). We looked round a colourful wooden landowner's house and a typical campesino (peasant) house made from wood, bamboo and wicker, admired a couple of peacocks and looked at aloe vera, cacti and many other aromatic, medicinal and edible plants within the ethnobotanical garden.

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I most definitely recommend this place if you are ever in Guayaquil and have half a day to spare away from the city centre!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds turtles museum parrots botanical_gardens ecuador sloth flamingoes peacocks explorations guayaquil_historical_park peccary horned_screamers tapirs harpy_eagle central_american_agouti caimen traditional_customs Comments (0)

Snakes, exotic plants and a stunning city view

Quito and Pichincha Volcano


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In the morning, almost first thing after breakfast, we did something I've wanted to do for many years... we went on the Teleférico, the cable cars, up Pichincha Volcano!

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We went up to 4100 metres altitude. The view you get over Quito from up there is jaw-dropping.

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I was incredibly happy up there; I'd been wanting to come to this particular place for years!

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Once we got back to the hostel, though, and we'd nipped out to a nearby café for a quick lunch and come back again, I started feeling sad about the fact that it was Father's Day yet I was unable to see Dad. We went back out again soon after, though, so I cheered up, especially when I knew it was a place Dad would have enjoyed visiting. This was Quito's botanical garden, set within Parque La Carolina.

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Special mention goes to the rose garden - although the peak of the season was clearly over, enough flowers remained to create a lovely sight - the big orchid house, the koi carp pool, the collection of bonsai trees, the carnivorous plant house and some other individuals such as an arabica coffee bush, a vanilla plant and a couple of young quinine and jacaranda trees. The extremely relaxing atmosphere and beautiful setting were also great pleasures.

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After eventually leaving there, we carried on within the park to the Vivarium, which holds several types of reptile and amphibian, all native to Ecuador.

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We saw an anaconda, some boas, an extremely venomous coral snake, a tree snake, two baby caimen, a green tree frog, some baby turtles, a green iguana and one or two other things. It was very scientifically done and it was fascinating to see them so close up.

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We stopped at a shopping centre on the way back to the hostel and Dave was surprised by the sight of a Radioshack shop... he then had the bright idea of getting an SD card reader there to solve our problem of being unable to look at or save to USB the photos he'd taken since the Galapagos on his camera. So he bought one and then we moved on to a supermarket, where I showed Dave various tropical fruits and bought a big bottle of guanábana drinking yoghurt.

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:46 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains turtles volcanoes dad roses snakes botanical_gardens dave quito andes ecuador Comments (0)

Dave's here!

Guayaquil


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Dave arrived late yesterday afternoon. He's here with me in Ecuador for three weeks of holiday... tomorrow we head off to the Galápagos Islands and once we return from there on Friday, we carry on to Cuenca, Baños and finally Quito. In Quito we're going to go on a couple of day trips to Otavalo Market and the hot springs at Papallacta.

I met Dave at the airport. I'd been following his flight on flightaware.com ever since I'd got back from my five-hour Saturday teaching stint in the morning. I knew his connection time in Amsterdam was tight so I did worry that he'd miss the plane to Guayaquil, but he made it thank goodness! We took a taxi to my new flat, rested for a bit and then joined in the barbecue that I and my flatmates and colleagues 'A' & 'T' had decided to put on. Many bottles of beer, pieces of chicken, sausages and steak & vegetable skewers were consumed, though neither Dave or I had any beer (Dave didn't feel like it due to feeling the jetlag a bit; I'm not keen on beer at any time).

This morning we had a lie-in. After getting up at about 10.30 we had some breakfast and took a bus two minutes down the road to the bank so that I could get out my rent money and also money for the Galápagos Islands; we could have walked, but it would have taken at least twenty minutes in the heat each way and I wanted us to preserve energy for later.

On our way to the bus stop I took this photo of Dave next to graffiti near my condo block - tribute to a photo I took of Dave in front of a similar wall in Santiago, Chile, on the day we arrived in South America on our round-the-world trip 5 years ago.

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An ice cream man passed us on our way down.

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Before we got another bus back again I bought Dave a bottle of chilled water from a bakery because he really needed one - he's finding the heat and humidity of Guayaquil quite hard to deal with so far.

We left the flat again at around midday and took a bus into town. We went to Iguana Square first, then a walk along half of the Malecón (including the botanical garden and a trip up one of the viewing towers over the river) to Las Peñas and Cerro Santa Ana.

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Dave has brought his DSLR camera with him to Ecuador and took it with him into town today, so he got some really good pictures of the iguanas, amongst other things.

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In Iguana Square the turtles had arranged themselves in a pile, which we both thought looked quite funny.

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At the Malecón I noticed that they have recently installed drinks vending machines, so I bought myself a Pepsi and Dave a bottle of water. Due to today being a Sunday, the Malecón was absolutely packed.

It was cloudy by now so it wasn't as hot as it could have been, but it was still pretty humid. We both got extremely hot and sweaty climbing up Cerro Santa Ana. Before climbing the hill I made sure to get a photo of Dave underneath the 'Barrio Las Peñas' plaque.

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Dave took some photos from the terraces at the top with his DSLR.

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Before we descended the hill I bought us another cold drink each from one of the metal-grilled shops that are so common in Ecuador.

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On the way back to the flat we stopped at a supermarket and I got a 5-litre bottle of water for Dave for 82 cents and a litre of Fanta Naranja for myself. Whatever we don't drink today we'll save for when we get back from the Galápagos Islands on Friday.

After a rest for a couple of hours we headed out and had some dinner at one of the Lebanese shawarma places nearby, before going on to a morocho café. Morocho is a delicious Ecuadorian pudding that I only discovered a couple of weeks ago - it's a lot like rice pudding but made with a certain type of white corn, broken up, instead of rice. The taste and texture is a lot like rice though. They even add a little bit of cinnamon to it. It's amazing! I can't believe I never came across it before. Dave loved it, like I guessed he would.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged airport buses botanical_gardens dave iguanas barbecue ecuador guayaquil explorations cerro_santa_ana las_peñas malecon_2000 ecuadorian_cuisine river_guayas Comments (0)

Visitors: Malecón, Las Peñas, Cerro Santa Ana and salsa

Guayaquil

Yesterday I only saw Emma, Kate, Mark and Andrew in the morning when I met them at the language school and took them to the bus terminal. They were going to Playas for the afternoon. It turned out that the night before, after they got back to their hostel after taking part in the first part of my lesson, they went swimming in the hostel's pool; on getting out of the pool Kate put her foot through the filter cover by accident, cutting and bruising her foot quite badly.

Today, while I was teaching in the morning the others looked round the Malecón, complete with botanic garden and the Museum of Anthropology & Contemporary Art. As soon as work finished at 1 o'clock I caught a bus into the city centre to meet them for lunch. I was held up considerably in traffic but we eventually managed to meet up. I wanted to take them to the restaurant E and I went to about a month and a half ago that sells delicious 'Encocado' (fish or shrimps in a creamy coconut sauce with rice), but unfortunately I couldn't find it, so we went somewhere else instead for lunch - the place on the Malecón that Mum and I went to in February. Kate, Emma and I all had sea bass which had been lightly breadcrumbed then grilled, which was amazing. I'm pretty sure it was the best breadcrumbed fish I've ever had!

Suitably refreshed, we headed over to Las Peñas to have a good nose around.

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We popped into a little art gallery and also saw at least two artists at work in their studios.

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We then took the side way up Cerro Santa Ana, the same way I'd taken Mum in February. We met this amazing dog on the way;

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Once at the terrace at the top we went up the lighthouse and had a look inside the chapel.

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After that the others went back to have a lie down and a swim in the pool. Later on we met up with 'E' at a nearby restaurant for dinner. The others were slightly shocked to find a security guard armed with a shotgun outside, but 'E' and I are used to it so we didn't bat any eyelids. Once inside, Emma and Kate had a lovely surprise because they saw Encocado on the menu! I was craving steak so I had that instead; it was delicious.

After we'd had dinner, we set off via taxis to a karaoke bar in Las Peñas that I've been to before. Kate and Emma were desperate to try the famous 'Alexander' cocktail I'd told them about (which in Ecuador is made from brandy, creme de cacao, condensed milk and crushed ice), so they and I had ones.

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I had intended for us to join my colleagues at a nearby bar for a drink or two before we carried on to the Captain Morgan, but as it turned out we didn't have time. We didn't want to be late for Captain Morgan!

The walk down the Malecon to where the boat was moored was very atmospheric in the dark, with the La Rotonda Monument and the Moorish Tower both lit up.

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After buying our tickets and waiting a while, we were allowed up the gangplank. A short while after the ship started to sail, a couple of guys with pirate hats came over and insisted on us posing for photos - he took photos with our cameras for us and if we'd wanted to we could have bought an official photograph from him for $5, but we chose not to.

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A lot of the music they played was salsa and merengue - and luckily for the rest of us, 'E' gave us an impromptu lesson in both! It was really, really good fun.

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We came back in to land at about 2 am. E rang for two taxis for us, one for me and her and one for the others.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art night museum hostel buses sisters salsa botanical_gardens cocktails ecuador guayaquil explorations cerro_santa_ana las_peñas malecon_2000 ecuadorian_cuisine river_trip river_guayas Comments (0)

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