Sunday, April 1, 2012

Exploring Ecuador (Part 2)

The purpose of this blog post is to relate our experiences on a two week expedition in Norther Ecuador with my parents and 4 other friends from near Morrisburg, Ontario.  Our tour was set-up from Canada and included transportation, accommodation, guide and other services.

We met my parents (Age 82 & 80) in Quito.  They are truly world travellers and although it is a little more difficult for them to handle rough terrain they were ready, willing and able for everything else.  Jennie and I feel very fortunate to have family members and friends visit us here in Ecuador so we can share some of our experiences.  Please let us know if you would like to come.
We started our tour in the morning exploring colonial Quito followed by a trip to the "Middle of the World".
Later, we travelled to Banos de Ambato.  Sleeping under the lip of an actively erupting volcano was an interesting choice for an overnight stop.  The waterfalls around the area with the deep canyons were spectacular.
Our next day took us into Amazonia.  This was one of those "bucket list" things for me.  Although it was very hot and humid - I loved it.  
I particularly enjoyed the wildlife rescue centre.  Lots of birds ......
...monkeys and other critters.  It was a wildlife photographers paradise!
One of our four days in Amazonia was rained out.  When they say "rain forest" they are not kidding - Wow!  It did give me the opportunity to take some more photos of tropical plants though.  Great fun!
The heavy rain just added to the joy!

All-in all the Oriente was truly a highlight for me.  After four days we travelled from the heat and humidity of the jungle to the altitude and the cold of Pappallacta.  This pueblo is famous for its thermal spa.  It was almost like being in a Canadian outdoor jacuzzi in winter.  Hot water - cold air.  Very soothing.  The following day we left for the area near Otavalo, Cotacachi, and Ibarra.  We stayed at a Spanish Hacienda that has been in continuous operation by one family for over three centuries.  Hacienda Pinsaqui is highly recommended.  From here we visited the leather stores of Cotacachi, the indigenous market of Cotacachi and travelled by rail to Salinas from Ibarra.

One of our highlights was the hat factory near Otavalo ....
...visiting some of the smaller indigenous markets .....
 and Condor Park - a raptor sanctuary.
 I got one more stab at bird photography before we left Hacienda Pinsaqui.  Lots of hummers around.
In summary we had a very neat vacation with family and friends  It was great to explore other parts of this beautiful country of Ecuador.  Hope you enjoy the photos.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Exploring Ecuador

Since my last post in December we have moved to Vilcabamba and have had the opportunity to explore a few other parts of Ecuador.  I hope to bring readers up to speed with both of these in this blog post.

Life in Vilcabamba
We made the move to Vilcabamba (southern Ecuador) on Jan 14th.  The move went very well and we are pleased with our new apartment.  Although friends and neighbours have told us we haven't hit the best weather yet - we love Vilcabamba.  The air is clean and the weather is always warm and pleasant.  Our landlords Bruce and Jenice have become friends and they have introduced us to many other new friends.  We are thankful for the warmth and the openness of the people here.

Our apartment is a beautiful and modern three bedroom, two bath home, fully furnished, secure and all inclusive for less than we paid in Cuenca.  Many here are choosing to build homes, but for now we are very happy with our accommodation.  Java has adjusted well and now knows more people in town than we do.  

As I said in my last post, Vilcabamba is not for everyone.  This is a small town with lots of cafes and restaurants but it does not have the amenities of Cuenca.  Loja is about 45 minutes away and is a significant city that has almost anything we might be looking for.  We have replaced the car alarms and fireworks of Cuenca with the many boisterous roosters and clip-clopping horses and burros of Vilcabamba.
Many people told us that Vilcabamba is full of hippies and poets.  One of our friends called Vilcabamba an "open-air asylum".  Some of that is true.  We find the community very eclectic and interesting with people from many countries, different languages, and different motivations for being here.  People here tend to be "out of the box thinkers".  We are appreciating the diversity of age groups, financial means, walks of life and the differences in thinking about life's-journey.  Weekends bring many people from Loja to relax and enjoy life in the Valley of Longevity. 

There are a few things people might find disconcerting.  There are relatively frequent power and water outages.  There is quite a bit of new construction going on in town and on the Pan American Highway.  This activity brings with it some extra noise during the daytime.  Horses  frequently trot up and down the streets - for us it adds to the charm.

Travelling in Ecuador
We were joined by two of our boys and one fiancee over the Christmas and New Year period.  We lured them to Ecuador with the promise of beautiful and warm sandy beaches.  Ecuador delivered!!  We stayed in the Montanita and Olon area in a rental house and were happy with our choice.
We visited and played on five different beaches:  Montanita, Olon, Ayampe, Puerto Lopez and Los Frailes.  Each of the beaches are unique and offer different types of fun.  After Connie Pamba's rave reviews we couldn't miss Los Frailes.  It is simply an exquisite and tranquil beach.  Jennie and I liked it the best.  The kid's (young adults), favoured the action and surfing available in Montanita.

Los Frailes
New Year's Eve in Montanita was quite the exciting and somwhat anxiety provoking event.  Like other parts of Ecuador the papier mache figures are ubiquitous as are the fireworks.  The twist in Montanita is that a parade to the beach by everyone launches the burning of the effigies in bonfires while somewhat inebriated younger people leap over the flames amidst the booming fireworks.  Quite a show!
I got the chance to pursue my passion for bird photography right from the sight of our rental property.  I will only include one photo here (to spare you), of a Green Honeycreeper.

 It was so terrific to spend time with three of our adult children.  Ecuador just made it that much better!

In the interest of keeping this post to a reasonable size I am going to conclude it here and pick up in Part Two with our trip to Northern Ecuador with my parents and some of their friends from near Morrisburg, Ontario.