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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)

Otavalo and the Line of the Equator

Otavalo, Cayambe, Quitaso Sundial (the Line of the Equator) and Quito


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Day trip today to Otavalo and the line of the Equator.

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On arrival at Otavalo bus terminal I helped two Canadian tourists who didn't know how to get to the handicraft market and had no map - I said they could join me and Dave because we were going that way and I'd been there before so I knew my way around. It was nice to help out. Once they'd left us, Dave and I carried straight on to the animal market. Although people were packing up, there were more animals than when I was there in April with Emma, Kate etc. Llamas in one open-backed truck, pigs being hauled into another, loads of ducklings, chickens, guinea pigs, geese and some rabbits.

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It was a very hot day, so after leaving the animal market we walked along one side of the daily market and then headed to the church to sit inside in the coolness and rest for a little bit out of the hubbub. As we walked in a recording of the famous waltz by Strauss started playing really loudly - slightly surreal given the surroundings. Dave sat down, I moved off to go outside to the public toilets, but then I noticed a girl in a bright pink dress standing at the main doors ready to go down the aisle, surrounded by her family who were also dressed to the nines! There was only a very light sprinkling of people in the pews. We made a swift but discreet exit and sat on a bench outside in the shade, instead.

After I'd been to the loo and we'd both had a bit of a sit down and a drink, we moved on to the handicrafts market. It spread out even further along the side streets than it had done in April. As well as handicrafts, it contained stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, bread rolls, flours, maize, beans and pulses. We bought ourselves a lovely colourful woven holdall each, I got myself some new alpaca gloves and a lovely leather belt with a colourful woven pattern going down the middle lengthways, and Dave got himself two shirts with a pattern on the front.

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After leaving the market we had a quick, very late lunch at a cafe - a humita, a sandwich each and a quimbolito (like a sweet version of a humita, but with an even more spongey texture).

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Then we jumped on the first bus we came across with the destination 'Cayambe' displayed on the front windscreen... the purpose of this being to get to the line of the Equator.

The bus journey from Otavalo to Cayambe took just over an hour and cost only 75 cents. At Cayambe we took a taxi three kilometres down the road to Quitsato Sundial, where I had been before in April. We received the same interesting talk as I had done then (see this blog post here for the details of that), looked round and took some pictures.

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Once we got back to Quito we rested for a bit before going out to a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner. It was very similar to the shawarma places in Guayaquil. I enjoyed my chicken shawarma wrap but Dave wasn't so keen on one or two of the things he got on his mixed plate. A couple on the table next to us were smoking hookahs provided by the restaurant.

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:11 Archived in Ecuador Tagged market buses dave quito otavalo andes ecuador cayambe ecuadorian_cuisine quitsato_sundial the_equator Comments (0)

Gold sun mask and traditional ice cream

Baños and Quito


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Edit from October 2019: The name of the restaurant where we had the traditional ice cream is (I'm pretty sure) Heladería San Agustín. Still going strong it seems, though I don't of course know if they still make their ice cream the traditional way...

Thursday 12/6/14

I knew the journey to Quito today would only take between two and three hours, so there was no need to get to the bus terminal particularly early. We had time for a nice relaxed breakfast (we also made up two jam rolls each for ourselves to have for lunch on the bus), a soft drink and a game or two of pool at the bar before walking leisurely in the sunshine to the terminal.

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Once we arrived at the terminal I had no problems getting tickets for the next bus to Quito. We left on time and arrived at the shiny new Quitumbe bus terminal in Quito on time as well.

We rested and used the internet for a bit on our arrival at the hostel. In the evening we went out for some dinner round the corner at a place recommended by our guidebook, but apart from the cheese humita we shared for a starter, which was delicious, the food wasn't anything special. My glass of guanábana juice was very nice though. After dinner we wandered down the street a bit until we got to Plaza Foch, which is the centre of the Mariscal Sucre district, a.k.a. 'Gringoland'. Today was the first day of the World Cup so the place was packed. Lots of security police around with guns, so there wasn't any trouble that we could see. We only walked around the square a little bit before going back to the hostel to bed.

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Friday 13/6/14

This morning we had breakfast early and took a very crowded Trolebus to Ejido.

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We walked through Ejido Park, in the sunshine, to get to our destination - the National Museum. We passed by sculptures and statues as well as a tree growing at such a right angle part of it had to be propped up.

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Sadly, while we were there an ambulance went past and stopped nearby - there were people crowded round someone who must have had an accident.

There were lots of fascinating exhibits in the museum, which was split into an archaeology room, a Gold Room and upstairs some religious art mostly painted by painters from the Quito School in the Spanish colonial period. My favourite items were the beautiful gold sun mask that is deservedly the flagship exhibit in the Gold Room; a ceremonial copper knife; a silver funeral mask; a mummy of a young girl found in a cave in Canar Province; obsidian arrowheads; bird-shaped ocarinas; a clay mask of a coca-chewer; and replicas of skulls showing the skull-flattening deformity that was practised by one of the pre-Columbian tribes in Ecuador. The Gold Room also contained a lot of information about how the various metal masks and so on were made - interesting to read about how they did this so many centuries ago. Dave especially liked this part. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any photos in this part of the museum.

After finishing looking round the archaeology, gold and religious art rooms we went up another level to a room containing a photo exhibition set up by the Turkish Tourism Board. Not quite what you might expect to find in Ecuador, but the photos were fabulous! Obviously they had picked the best possible photos of Turkey, in order to make people want to go there, but still. Turkey was already on the priority list of countries I'd like to visit in the future, and this exhibition did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm!

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After that we got the Trolebus into the Old Town and the first thing we did there was go to a particular restaurant/cafe for lunch. I was keen to try this place because it was founded in the present building in 1858 and still makes its own ice cream in traditional copper bowls. We shared a humita to start, then Dave had seco de chivo, I had shrimp ceviche and for pudding we both had a scoops of lovely coffee and chocolate flavour ice cream. The ice cream came in bright silver-looking cups that looked almost like vases.

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We then went on to Plaza Grande...

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...and Plaza San Francisco for a look round, because I was really keen to show them to Dave.

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Our next destination was the Basilica, which lies up a hill. We looked around inside first...

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...and then I went up to the top of the tower and took some photos of the wonderful views over Quito.

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On our way back down the hill I stopped at a bakery and bought five chocolate buns for us to have on the journey to Otavalo the next morning. We took the trolebus back to the hostel from Plaza Santo Domingo.

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For dinner we walked round the corner to an Italian restaurant for some pizza.

Posted by 3Traveller 16:18 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art basilica turkey museum hostel buses dave quito banos ceviche ecuador unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine plaza_grande plaza_san_francisco plaza_santo_domingo pre_columbian_artifacts Comments (0)

Ziplining during the day, thermal baths at night...

Baños


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A quiet and very relaxing morning today. First of all we wandered round town doing some shopping and looking at the sugar cane stalls and the men slinging and pulling around long piles of toffee-like mixture (taffy) from hooks at the side of shop doorways.

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While Dave was in a handicraft shop I suddenly thought of lighting a candle for Dad in the Basilica, so that's what I did.

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Then we moved on to one of several massage parlours lined up on the other side of the main square and had amazing hour-long full body massages for only $20 each.

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We left the place afterwards completely relaxed and ambled over to the Central Market where we had some lunch at a stall.

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Dave had seco de pollo, which he loved, and I had a delicious llapingacho, which is a plate of fried cheese & mashed potato cakes, a fried egg, fried slices of chorizo sausage, rice, chopped beetroot, shredded lettuce and a big chunk of avocado.

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At 12 we went on our next excursion... ziplining! The setting of this was spectacular, set in forested mountains close to Baños.

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On at least two occasions we ziplined from one side of a valley to the other. There were a total of six lines with a bit of hiking to get from each one to the next.

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On three of them we sat in the normal position, on two we got to lie in a 'Superman' position and on one we ziplined hanging upside down.

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It was all fantastic. Just to top it all off, as we returned from the final zipline to the where we'd been given the equipment at the start, we passed a house with four incredibly cute puppies who came up to us to say hello. I think they were Golden Retrievers.

After dinner and a game or two or pool we went back to the hot thermal baths to try out their evening session, which runs from 6-9.30pm. It was busier and more touristy than when we went during daylight - on that occasion we were the only tourists there. This time four out of five of the pools were open. We did several rounds of going in the hot one, then the bigger cold one, then the extremely hot one downstairs then the small circular cold one next to it and then back again to the hot one upstairs.

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After eventually leaving the baths we explored the waterfall area next door before going back to the hostel.

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We shared an amazing pizza there before going to bed tired but extremely happy.

Posted by 3Traveller 15:30 Archived in Ecuador Tagged waterfalls market basilica hostel dad dave banos ecuador ziplining explorations ecuadorian_cuisine freshwater_swimming thermal_baths Comments (0)

White-water rafting and some thermal baths

Baños and the River Pastaza


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Monday 9/6/14

This was a quiet day... breakfast, several games of pool, then a look round town. I showed Dave the traditional taffee-pullers on our way to the Basilica, our first destination.

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We had a good look round.

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Then we booked a white water rafting session for the next morning and a ziplining session for Wednesday afternoon at a travel & tour agent and had a delicious lunch at a restaurant - a vegetarian pizza and a tuna fillet in a shrimp sauce (we both had half of each one). Then we went to an internet café and gave our nearest & dearest our happy news by Google Video Chat and by phone! After a while Dave went back to the hostel and I stayed online for an hour or so. In the evening the hostel gave every guest who wanted it a free dinner of pesto pasta, so we had that. We finished the day with some more games of pool and several games of whist and 10-card rummy.

Tuesday 10/6/14

Although it was raining this morning, we still had a brilliant time rafting on the River Pastaza! Aside from our guide Patricio and us, there were four Americans. Before we got on the river Patricio gave us a talk about and demonstration of instructions, safety strategies, what to do if we or someone else fell in, etc. He gave us our sitting positions as well; Dave and the only other guy at the front, the rest of us in rows of two behind. I was sitting directly behind Dave. Patricio sat at the back.

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As soon as we got to the riverbank and saw how incredibly fast the water was running (it had rained a lot overnight and the night before that) one of the Americans, who had been acting nervously on the minibus on the way to the river, had a moment of panic - she stepped away from the raft and said she didn't want to do it any more - but was persuaded back by her friend to give it a go. Patricio said that there was a potential stopping point halfway along if she wanted to be dropped off there.

Due to the swollen nature of the river part of it was no longer accessible to us, but the section we did go on was still long. The scenery was beautiful - it was a lot like the River Napo, with large, round stones on the banks instead of mud and beyond that a selection of rainforest and other lush greenery on every side stretching into the distance. Photos were taken throughout by the safety kayaker, who amazed us with his skill manoeuvering his kayak around through the rapids.

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After a while Patricio asked me if I would like to sit on the 'prow' of the raft facing out, sitting on the edge with my feet in the water whilst holding onto the rope that ran round the side of the raft as hard as I could with both hands. I jumped at the chance and it was very exciting, especially considering that when waves crashed over us head-on I took the full force of them.

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I managed not to fall in the river at any point, luckily. After ten minutes or so one of the other girls wanted a go, so we exchanged places and I took her paddle. Once she'd finished her go nobody else wanted to take her place so I did so for a second turn. The nervous American had chosen not to get dropped off halfway along, by the way, because she said she was enjoying it more than she thought she would. The whole experience was really exciting and we would both definitely do it again like a shot!

On the way back we stopped at a tiny village called Rio Negro and were given some lunch - grilled fish, rice, salad and some massive slices of watermelon - before returning to Baños. It was about half past two by the time we got back.

Back at the hostel we stayed only for a chocolate brownie (Dave), a crumbly blueberry slice (me), a drink each and a game of pool before going out on another excursion - this time only round the corner from the hostel to the open air hot thermal baths.

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The sun had come out by now. We had a great time soaking ourselves in the two hot pools that were available during the day (there were three others, including one extremely hot and two cold, but apparently they are only accessible in the evening session). It was quite surreal in an extremely good way.

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On our way back to the hostel we saw these not-quite-ripe clementine and tomatilla (tree tomato) bushes.

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Dinner was free once more at the hostel - risotto this time. It was good but we were still hungry afterwards so we paid for a chocolate brownie to share and a Cuban Libre cocktail each. To top the night off we played some pool, rummy and whist before going to bed.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:15 Archived in Ecuador Tagged basilica hostel dave cocktails banos andes ecuador white_water_rafting ecuadorian_cuisine river_trip thermal_baths Comments (0)

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