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Sadly, we only had about one and a half weeks to get a taste of Ecuador.  Here is the flavour of errrrr… our taste.

Quito

At 2700m and surrounded by green hills, Quito is quite picturesque. It has two main centres that tourists get to know. Gringolandia, (as the Mariscal region is affectionately named by those who spend very long there) and the Old Town. Gringolandia had much more atmosphere 6 years ago when I visited. Now it has been overdeveloped and is way overpriced with a main plaza for drinking. The cosiness of many cafes, bars and restaurants has been overrun by a sleek modern feel, light on ambience. Luckily the Old Town is extremely beautiful with ambience to burn.

Our first night there happened to be a Saturday, so we headed into the Old Town to La Ronda.  This is an old paved street that comes alive on weekends with galleries of local artists, street performers, plenty of local restaurants, take away food and Canelazos (hot spiced cups of fruity rocket fuel) available readily on the street. We had a cheap meal of Cabrito al seco (goat with a unimaginative green sauce… with… wait for it… rice and potatotes) and sampled some rocket fuel on the street. One guy asked me if I wanted it suave (smooth) to which I nodded in desperate approval – it was one of the strongest and roughest drinks I had ever tasted.

We then moved from La Ronda to Plaza Santa Domingo where we enjoyed a party atmosphere for a while- It happened to be the month of Quito’s bicentennial celebrations of independence from the Spanish and there were bands playing in the square until 4am.  -quite the family affair with all ages dancing in the square.

The next day we went back to the Old Town and had a fantastic Corvina (fleshy fish, kinda like swordfish) covered in prawns done ceviche style in the local markets and shopped for our evening meal. We wandered the charming old streets and enjoyed the continuing celebrations in between popping into a Basilica (Jacinta has been patiently trying to make me understand some aspects of Christianity throughout the trip), an incredible local café that did homemade icecream and an overpriced rooftop restaurant where the coffee and the view where certainly all we could afford to enjoy.

One our way home we made a miraculous discovery- rice noodles in the supermarket. RICE NOODLES!!   Err…anyway, our stirfry was a lovely departure from rice and potatotes and the chorizo omelettes in the morning ensured that we made the most of the lovely residential style home that we were staying in.

Banos

A beautiful town set in a green valley in the mountains with a popular hot springs and waterfalls aplenty.  We did the usual tourist thing and hired mountain bikes to cruise down the valley past many of the waterfalls and discover some small towns on the way. It was 20km and all downhill yet we still thought it an excellent idea to take a pickup truck back to town. We had a spooky moment in the dark mountain tunnel when a truck was bearing down on us from behind and the noise, low light, claustrophobia (it was very narrow) and frenzied pedalling made me feel with Bruce Willis. Just like Bruce, we emerged from this death defying moment fully intact.

The place where we stayed had a lovely rooftop terrace, so we chilled up there for the evening taking in the scenery before an early night in aid of making it to the hot springs at 6am. This we managed, and while it was pleasant (the waterfall added a nice touch), it was still very crowded at this hour and couldn’t really compare with the sublime morning hot springs experience in the mountains of Peru.

Chimborazu

We then headed to the mountain town of Rio Bamba which has a 6300m Volcano (Chimborazu) as a backdrop. We went there for the volcano more than the town although the town was kinda pleasant. The highlight was undoubtedly the hornado (roast pig) hall in the local market. This is a traditional dish and you can pay 3, 4 or 5 dollars for various sizes of succulent roast pork with crackling accompanied by salad and (strangely) bland boiled corn (not on the cob, sadly). I think the first lunch there made my stomach a little temperamental- I still went back a second time.

The season wasn’t quite right for climbing big kick ass volcanos. There was a lot of cloud around and a little rain. The venture was expensive and Jacinta doesn’t really have a penchant for high altitude climbing or very cold mountains without guaranteed good views (go figure!).  This all made us hesitate before committing. It seemed appropriate to cap our trekking in South America with a peak and both of us hadn’t been over 5800m before. Plus, the summit of Chimbarazu is the furthest point from the earth’s core and the closest point on earth to the sun due to the earth’s ecuatorial bulge (cooooooool!).

We slept in the refuge (at about 4800) until midnight when we started our night ascent. We had been warned that the glacier was very icy and there had been plenty of recent rock falls making it a little dangerous. After the first hour it was time to put on the crampons. As we did so a large rock came tumbling down the volcano (but missed us by a good 20m) accompanied by baby ones. Everyone was keen to move on from the area but Jacinta’s crampons both malfunctioned and delayed us for a nervous 15 minutes. We were hustled through the next 30 minutes of climbing due to the high winds and rocky danger. After this we were well above the clouds with a near full moon, starry night sky and a view of the lights of Rio Bamba.  Whenever we were able to take a moment to take all this in (rarely), it was truly stunning.  The wind was unrelenting however, and after making it to the main glacier, so was the steepness and constancy of the hike. There were not many safe spots for a break and the glacier seemed to go on forever with a consistently tough gradient. 6 and a half hours after we set out, we were shattered but had made it to the summit just after dawn.

The wind was gale force but the views were beautiful even if the clouds impeded many of the surrounding mountains below.  Jacinta’s eyelashes were frozen and sticking to each other and to her face, so our photographic endeavours and our time at the summit were both very brief!

To be honest, the hike down was like we were nervous, uncoordinated mad people continually and involuntarily striking our legs with a small metal hammer. The views and having achieved our goal were inadequate compensation. It appears that walking down a very steep glacier is very uncomfortable and extremely hard on the knees- especially while exhausted and in crampons.

All in all, we decided we were glad we did it and it was a unique experience that was worth the 10 hours of sustained pain. We also decided that we don’t need to do another peak in crampons again for a very long time! (Jacinta thinks never)

Otavalo

Our next stop was the quaint little mountain town of Otavalo, north of Quito. The town has been immortalised for its extensive and quite high quality Saturday markets. They were pleasant and impressive but very touristy and fell short of the Tarabuco markets in Bolivia. Nonetheless we enjoyed wandering through the markets, but as usual were more fascinated by the food section than the other goods.  We enjoyed a whole fried fish with yucca for lunch and found the best blackberry and lemon pies in South America for afternoon tea. Incidentally, it has been very neglectful of me not to mention that blackberries are juicy, cheap and abundant in Ecuador and are used most frequently in delicious fresh juices mixed with milk.

The locals dress in traditional garb for the markets- the guys wear white slip on shoes with white three quarter pants and a white shirt complemented by a smart navy blue poncho. The girls wear elegant embroidered white blouses with navy dresses and layers of gold beads. All in all, Otavalo was a good place to recover from the Volcano and a good stepping-stone en route to Columbia.

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3 Comments

  1. yes mum…its a very very good thing the boulders missed them! geez…sorry I took so long to read this crazy post, but Adam I think Dint’s view on things about never wanting to climb another frozen glacier in crampons sounds like a pretty good one to me, sounds like this adventure SHOULD be a once in a life-time one. Can’t wait to hear about the amazon adventures next xx

  2. Fantastic story guys!
    and I’ve got to admit that snowy summit is NOT what I picture when I think of Ecuador so Bravo for the effort!
    What’s next?
    byz++
    roland and kath

  3. You two were crazy to climb that glacier up on Mt Chimborazu, but at least all the boulders missed you and you made it back. You will certainly be able to add that to your list of challenges!! And you both look great in the photos, except for the mountain ones where you look very cold. Pleased to see that you are continuing to eat and drink the very best – need to keep your strength up for the next challenge.


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