Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hola from Ecuador

Where did Nov go??? Since I wrote last we have had a wonderful visit from Sierra, Rob and Emma which included some travels around Ecuador with them and then we spent another 2 weeks seeing more of this beautiful diverse country. We met up with the Dietz' in Quito on Nov 6 (Bill returned from a work stint in W. that same time). Had one day to explore the old city of Quito the highlight being La Compania, a church with more gold than any of us will ever see in our lifetime...the architecture and grandeur was quite something and one can only think how important the Catholic religion is to the 95%of the population that are in that sector. From there we went about 2-3 hrs North with a guide/taxi driver who showed us some interesting towns,treats and sights. Spent the afternoon in Cotatachi, the leather capital where Zak scored a beautiful leather jacket and Sierra and I drooled over some pretty bags in lots of colors. We ended the day at our pretty little hotel in Peguche..La Casa del Sol...complete with a few resident llamas, and colorful courtyards in a pretty little mountain setting. Bill and I went for a run up to the waterfall that is a very sacred place to the natives. We have loved seeing how important family and enjoyment is to the locals and note how much weekend time is spent doing things together with 2-4 generations of the families . Next am we all went back there to revisit these falls and had a great pre-breakfast hike.

After a yummy meal we headed in 2 taxis to our next stop...Hacienda Zuleta. Amazing countryside and colorful indigineous dress were part of our sights,along with windy,bumpy roads leading heaven knows where. 2 hrs later we arrived at Zuleta ...where the idea is of being taken into the home of a wealthy,old,Ecuadorian family....that they did. The first impression of luxury was flowers floating in the toilets in our rooms!!! Lunch was amazing as was every meal they served us those 2 days...local farm raised trout, cheeses from their dairy,quinoa soup,and deserts to die for. When they found that Zak wasn't fond of fish they asked if he would be OK with a beef tenderloin...twist his arm and watch him smile...We went on a hike that first afternoon up to a condor lookout point and despite the altitude we were able to make it up there...amidst some huffing and puffing/especially by the ones that had Emma in the backpack. The land here is all farmed and the places they are planting crops( at angles like 80%) quite a sight. Day two Sierra, Gram, Jo and Zak saddled up and went on a 4 hr ride with a guide who took us all over the Zuleta property. Bill rode a bike and R & E met up with us at the beginning when we saw the condor rehabilitation area they have set up. HUGE birds that were something to see. Afternoon had us milking some cows (Bill had the best technique) and Emma thought it all pretty funny. We spent the early eve. beside a roaring fire, tasting the various cheeses that are made here and enjoying some wine and the company before yet another amazing meal served up family style with a few other guests joining us.

Sadly the next morning (late as we could make it) we had to leave and headed to Otavalo, the town that is best known for it's fabulous market. So we a few things for the store to resell and had fun with the haggling thing ...a colorful experience to say the least. Rob got a little sick,maybe from the altitude, maybe a bug but was better in 24 hrs at least. Next morning we took the bus back to Quito (windy road so not a terribly pleasant experience) and then flew to Guayaquil to return to the boat for a few days. LONG day but felt good to be able to settle in to something familiar for a couple of days.

Fri. was not particularly nice day...back to the grey skies of the coast so we went to the fresh market and fish market and showed Rob and Sierra this new way we shop for food. Laid low and just enjoyed being together and watching Emma be her totally cute self. Sat we awoke to a beautiful sunshiny day/the best one we had had in La Libertad. Hung at the pool all day! Back to grey the next day but we went to the beach in the next town for a bit of the afternoon anyway. Mon. we all packed up, bused back to Guayaquil and took a 50 min. flight to Quito. these short hops on the National airlines are reasonably inexpensive, very prompt and efficient and save 10-12 hrs on exhausting bus rides! Back in Quito we wandered into a Mongolian restaurant that serves lots of vegies and meats that you pile in bowls and they cook on a big grill. All you can eat(they lose money for sure on Zak and Bill) and the cost for the 7 of us with drinks was a mere 60.00. Can't beat that!

Next morning was a sad one as we were sending R,S, and E off to the airport to fly home. Realizing this would be the longest time I will ever (in our 34 yrs together) be away from Sierra was very hard. And Emma will be a different kid when I see her in May(next plan is for them to meet us in Tahiti). She was an amazing traveler and has more stamps on her passport than many grownups I know. Just a few moments after they left we got a text from Sierra saying that they had forgotten Dolly in their bed at the hotel. So we picked her up and now we will chronicle "Travels with Dolly" for Emma.

So they were off and we headed to the French Embassy to finish up our long stay Visas for the French Polynesian Islands. It was remarkably smooth..thanks to earlier legwork started in Boston before we left for Panama and we were out of there in an hour. So, trying a new approach to travel to have the flexibility of our own wheels we rented a car and headed for the Quilotoa Loop...a Park/highland area south of Quito. The roads and detours make driving the backroads of main look smooth as glass but the vistas were worth it. after 5-6 hrs we arrived at our next stop/ Black Sheep of the many Ecotourist places that have gotten so popular in Ecuador. Very crunchy...Zak got his first view into how his hippy mom lived when she first arrived in Maine so many years ago..complete with composting toilet that like ours was in a greenhouse structure. The vegetarian meals served there were quite good and we enjoyed the family style dining once again meeting some interesting who were also travelling Ecuador. Hired a guide to take us into the cloud forest the next day and went on a good hike seeing the valleys below and all the native farmers tending crops and herding sheep and cows. These people work so hard physically it would blow your minds. Little old ladies carrying humongous bundles of crops and brush on their backs...and many doing it barefoot! We are such pussies. The boys drove back..getting quite lost along the way so we beat them back even tho' we walked back thru a few towns and over the hills and valleys to Black Sheep. Rainy afternoon so we relaxed(what's that??) by a woodstove reading and talking to some of the other guests.

Next morning we headed out, giving a ride and an enjoyable extra visit with Neda, a young Aussie who has been travelling in So. America for a year. We stopped at the famous Quilotoa Crater...a Lake formed in the crater of one of the Volcanoes and hiked down a ways. Drove thru more beautiful farmlands perched high in these steep steep cliffs and stumbled into an Artisans Gallery in Tigua where these somewhat famous paintings are done on Sheepskin. We each purchased one and will have great memories spurred on by them as they really do a good job depicting the landscape and the lifestyle of the highlands. Dropped Neda off in Latacunga and headed toward one of the more reknowned markets but it was kind of late so we missed most of it. On to next hotel near Cotopaxi Nat'l Park...a nice place that served quite a tasty dinner so we were happy once again. (Steak for Zak after 2days of trying to get into vegetarian cooking) .

The next morning was very cloudy so we decided to pass on going to see Cotopaxi(highest Volcano in Ecuador) as it would be shrouded in clouds anyway and will try to catch it on our way back thru in a few days. So headed south to Banos...a resort town known for its thermal baths and a place that Bills brother Matt had suggested as his best friend Charles' stepdaughter was working at an Ecohotel there. So, landed at la Casa Verde in the early afternoon, explored town a bit, and went to the baths early that evening before we went out for a fun Mexican dinner with Sophie and a few of her friends. Adventure for the next day was decided on...a bike ride thru a tunnel or two and along some roads and some bike paths on a route that followed a string of waterfalls. I think we saw 5 in total..hiking to some of them and stopping for lunch along the way. They were quite awesome and I'm hoping that you all are checking out the blog as many of the pics from these past few weeks have been posted I think...check the upper right corner for a link to the web albums on the, fun ride followed by another good meal out that night and back to our hotel for some good sleep.

Got going fairly early on Sun so that we could stop on our way to Quito in was quite a sight to see that volcano coming in and out of the clouds and again the driving was beautiful albeit grueling...cobblestone roads make for slow go but the sights are worth it. Returned to Quito (rental car worked out better than incidents or accidents/hooray) for the night with an early departure next day for the jungle. We had booked ourselves at Sacha Lodge one of the premier jungle lodges and were in for a treat. Started with a 30min flight to Coca/an oil frontier on the Napo River, then a 2 1/2 hr motorized canoe ride up the river, followed by a 20 min hike and a short canoe ride across a tanin lake to the lodge. It proved to be more luxurious than we had expected and the food and activities there were awesome. Did evening hikes and canoe rides with and English speaking guide and native naturalist who showed us much of what life in the jungle has to offer. There are 2 towers which get you above the canopy and from there we could see amazing and abundant birds...never thought watching birds would be all that exciting but the variety and colorfulness made it pretty cool. We saw monkeys and lots of insects and learned alot about the medicinal plants that the indigineous Indians in this area all use. Pretty fascinating combined with relatively comfortable comforts and fabulous food made a great combo. Afternoons we had some time off which was good because they had 5:30-6:00am wakeup calls to get out and about while it was still cool and the animals were most active. The lake proved to be a great afternoon spot to cool off and get a nap in/not in the lake but on the dock of course! Had three nights at Sacha and would encourage anyone who wanted to venture off to Ecuador to book there. Return trip was the same as arrival in reverse putting us back in Quito early afternoon with a connecting flight to Cuenca...our last stop on this journey thru inland Ecuador.

Cuenca is very different...much more cultured, wealthy,and westernized. A colonial city with drop dead architecture we found it both charming and of definite interest as a place to live for a winter time escape from the frigid North. Had Thanksgiving dinner at a 5 star restaurant that was recommended to us by our innkeeper who spoke great English. All the other patrons were Ecuadorian and obviously were not celebrating Thanksgiving but otherwise having their own celebrations... We missed being with our families in particular that night as Tgiving is certainly my favorite holiday...having no retail bent and just being about family,food and being grateful. A four course dinner for all 4 of us (the boys eating all that they could indulge in) cost a mere 100. Would have been a 400. dinner in NY and couldn't have been any better! Saw some good museums, wandered the streets and gawked at the beautiful buildings vowing to return to Cuenca at a later date. Sat. we hopped on a late morning bus back to Guayaquil with transfer to La Libertad and our return to Visions...The bus ride was scarier than scary and all I could imagine was falling off the steep cliffs that had no guardrails and plunging down into a ravine to be written about days later...but we did fine and arrived safely if not terribly carsick and tired from the journey.

So that's the story/sage of our travels thru Ecuador...saw some fabulous sights, ate some wonderful meals and are readying ourselves for the next phase of this include moving the boat up the coast a bit to a place that more cruisers hang out in preparation for our next leg to the Galapagos in a week to 10 days. Zak has been working on getting himself a position at a research lab so that he can make sense of this gap year but not have to stick it out on the surprises but he really cannot wrap his arms around this cruising life and goes from miserable to minorly unhappy but it clearly is not working for him. So he will be able to get to enjoy the Galapagos( the most desirable part of the trip for him anyway) and then probably head home and on to Montreal or Bar Harbor for the rest of the winter...And then there were 3 (me, Bill and Gram that is) So more to follow..hope I have not tired you out or completely bored you with all the details...since nothing was written for a full month there was alot to tell...Miss our peeps and at times our comforts of home but all in all having a great Jo

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