Quito Is Neato! – Part 1

I am WAY overdue in writing this blog post, but lots of things got in the way as soon as I returned.   However, I cannot miss reporting on my recent chance to visit Quito.  There is a lot to tell, so this will be a three part blog series. 🙂

As I’ve mentioned before, up until now I’ve had very little opportunity to travel in this beautiful country where I live.  When I first arrived, I was busy settling in and completing my house (which honestly took nearly two years!)  Also, my job is seasonal, so I need to be working during the months when the bees are active, so I can have enough money to see me through the times they are not.  And lastly, I’ve always been concerned about leaving Charcoal alone for more than a few days without someone to come stay with her.  So last year I made a quick overnight visit to Salinas, and in December I was able to make a two night trip to Cuenca, but that has been the extent of my travels in Ecuador.

However recently, all opportunities aligned in my favor.  Bee season in Dallas is dormant from December through February.  And several months ago, I helped my third set of friends find a pet sitter through a website, to care for their cat and home while they traveled to Africa for 3 weeks.  Then I got the idea to see if the pet sitter (who was coming from Canada and using the trip as an opportunity to explore Ecuador) would tack on an extra week with me after finishing with my friends, so I could do some traveling too.  After obtaining an affirmative answer from her and beginning to ponder my options, a fellow lot owner and friend from my development informed me they were coming for their annual visit.  Maria and her husband Ivan are both from Ecuador, but moved to the U.S. as young adults to work and raise their family.  They’ve bought their lot here with plans to hopefully build and retire in a few years, but in the meantime they visit regularly.  The oldest of their two sons just became engaged, and since much of their family in Quito will not be able attend the wedding in the states, Maria planned to throw an engagement party for everyone to meet the young couple.  Her brother and his family (wife, two daughters, their spouses and four grandkids) were coming on the trip as well.  When Maria messaged me that they were coming to visit, she informed me of all the plans and then said, “And you’re invited to come to Quito and the party too!” – and it was precisely during the week that I’d arranged for the pet sitter!

Ironically, as it turned out, we left on the day of my birthfather’s funeral.  That was very poignant for me, because my birthfather was quite a world traveler and I’m confident I got my “wanderlust” for travel from him.  He had actually visited Ecuador at some point in his life, specifically Quito and the mountain areas to the north.  He remembered it fondly and the last time we spoke, I had just booked my plane tickets for the trip and was able to tell him of my plans.  He was very excited for me.

Maria’s family was so warm and really adopted me for the week.  We flew out of Manta on a Wednesday night (January 18).  This was my first flight inside of Ecuador, and it was so cool to fly as a resident with my cedula and not need my passport. 🙂

The very modern new Quito airport all lit up at night

The very modern new Quito airport all lit up at night

Maria had connected me with a lovely bed and breakfast in a suburb near where they were staying at her in-laws, and close to the party venue as well.  After the short 50 minute flight (gate to gate) and quick baggage retrieval, I was met by a pre-arranged taxi driver and taken to my cozy quarters.  I awoke the next morning to a beautiful garden and surroundings and sumptuous breakfast.  Casa Magnolia is a wonderful place to stay.


Touring in our private van

Touring in our private van

Maria had hired a private, 16 person van and tour guide to take us around to see the towns and mountain areas north of Quito.  I was very excited for this opportunity to visit many places I’d heard about for a long time.  One mountain village, Cotacochi, is famous for its leather working artisans, and was where I once thought I might want to live.  Unfortunately for us, these first two days of touring plans were greatly hampered by unseasonably heavy, all day torrential rains (which was happening all over Ecuador – my poor hour sitter was dealing with leaks at my house back home!)  We made the best of the circumstances, as one is forced to do, but had to forego several things on our agenda, including Cotacochi. 😦

DAY 1:  This day we visited the area of Mindo, which is about a 2.5 hour drive from Quito.  The internet best describes this beautiful region:

Mindo is a village in the Andes Mountains of northern Ecuador. It’s known for the many bird species, butterflies and orchids found in the surrounding cloud forest, part of the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve. A tarabita (cable car) runs over the Nambillo River to a mountaintop, where trails lead to several waterfalls, including Cascada Nambillo. Zip lines run through the forest canopy. Tubing on the Mindo River is popular.

On our way up, our guide suggested stopping at a spot where we could make a short walk to a waterfall.  The forest scenery was amazing.  I wondered if we weren’t in the Amazon, because the leaves were certainly amazon in size!  We arrived at the waterfall and it truly was a peaceful refuge and beautiful sight – well worth the walk.

It started raining when we arrived at Mindo.  I was excited for the possibility of my first zip-line adventure here, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be.  However, we did stop at the hummingbird refuge and enjoyed seeing several different varieties.  We then hired a pick-up truck taxi to take us the 5 km drive back to where the cable car was.  I guess this was kind of like group zip-lining, and the cloud forest view was spectacular, despite the rain.  Here is a short video clip of the experience:

Once on the other side, there was some discussion of who wanted to hike back to one of the waterfalls – the Cascada Reina.  My friend Maria said she was not going and I said I’d stay behind too.  But she said, “No Mary, you have to go – you are here, you have to do it!”  So I hesitantly agreed and headed off with the future newlyweds and her younger son, for what we were told was a “10 minute hike.”  Let’s just say that hike became “Survivor Ecuador” for me!  Imagine a grueling, steep, wet, muddy, slippery, downhill trek for I don’t know how long (maybe an hour?!)  At times I thought I wouldn’t make it and was feeling every bit my 50+ years.  At the end, you had to grab a rope to pull up the steep incline to get to the waterfall.  In all honesty, having been to Niagra Falls, everything else pales in comparison.  But this was what I got to view for my efforts:

Going back was another story.  A steep, uphill climb that was easier as far as less potential for slipping and falling in the mud, but oh the huffing and puffing at that altitude!  When it was all said and done, I told Maria it was the last time I let her talk me into doing something she wouldn’t do herself!  (I did have a few slippings on the way down, but no falls.  Maria’s husband fell in the mud five times!)

Once back in the pick-up taxi, I was in the front seat, a mom and the kids in the back seat and everyone else in the back bed of the truck, standing up and holding on to railings.  Just a few moments into the drive back, the sky opened up and it started to pour!  When we finally arrived at our pre-reserved lunch destination, those poor people were soaked to the bone!  The lodge/restaurant brought out towels for them and offered to dry their jackets and whatever else they cared to shed.  Here was how Maria’s husband Ivan was dressed for lunch:

Ivan's lunch attire after getting trapped in the back of a pick-up during a downpour

Ivan’s lunch attire after getting trapped in the back of a pick-up during a downpour

After our very late, but delicious lunch (that became our dinner) we drove all the way back to Quito in the dark and pouring rain.  I arrived back at 9:30 p.m. with the plan to be up for another day of touring the following day.

Otavalo market

The wet, but still colorful Otavalo artesian market

imageDAY 2:  This day started out just like the previous day left off – pouring rain.  The rain and subsequent traffic hampered our efforts to get out of Quito in a timely manner.  Also, sadly, what should have been a very scenic drive, was obscured by the rain and clouds.  Our goal was to visit the famous indigenous market town of Otavalo.  Because of the weather and time constraints, we bypassed the beautiful San Pablo lake, only getting a glimpse of it in a rainy drive by.  Upon arriving in Otavalo, we went straight to the market, but only had about 30 minutes to shop.  This was a place where normally one could spend all day.  However the rain and cold were miserable.  Fortunately, there wasn’t much I would have wanted to buy, because I’ve lived here three years and bought many of those goods (hammocks, alpaca blankets, shirts, scarves, jewelry, etc.) in other places.  I did buy a scarf to go with my dress that I was wearing to the party, and also a large cloth bag for travel.

Next, the guides took us to our lunch destination, which was a beautiful old hacienda on a large estate.  It was a relief to be out of the weather and once again, we had a beautiful meal.  But afterwards, due to the weather and time constraints, we made the sad decision to forego visiting Cotacochi and Cuicocha (a lake in the middle of a volcano crater) and head back to Quito.  It was a long day’s travel (5 hours) for not much activity. 😦

Tune in next time for “La Fiesta” and Quito, with LOTS of pictures…

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