Friday, January 25, 2008

Ecuador 2008 Part 3

This post is written by Shelley. The deal was that I would sort through all the photos and she'd write up what we'd been doing. We took over 900 photos in 6 days. We used to figure two rolls of 36 per week. Digital has made quite a difference!

Shelley -- It's my turn to deal with the written posting. The side effect of Andrew having a super duper fancy dancy new camera is that he's filled four humongous (4 gb) memory cards with photos in only a week and now has to sort through them!

Heading north to Otavalo, the landscape is a little bit different than south. Rather than a somewhat straight road through the valley with mountains on either side, here the roads go up and down, in and around deep gorges -- emphasized by a fast and crazy bus driver!

We stayed at Hostel Chasqui, a place that Andrew's sister, Penny, had read about in a travel magazine. It cost $7 per person and although not fancy you can clearly see they are making the effort to fix it up and keep it clean. Our host, Roberto, was very nice and spoke just enough English, combined with our limited Spanish, to give us a brief rundown of the area and make some good suggestions on things to see and do and where to eat. Although the big market day is Saturday, even the rest of the week there's a big square stuffed with stall after stall of sweaters, paintings, weavings, jewelry and other crafts. We bought a few things just so we could do so in relative peace, expecting that tomorrow (Saturday) will be a zoo.

And we were mostly right. We started Saturday at the animal market just on the edge of town. There was a mass of people with ropes/halters around their pigs, piglets, cows and sheep, just standing around. It took us a while to figure things out. There's no auction as we would expect; the people holding the animals are the sellers, the people wandering are either buyers or gringo tourists. The buyers make their offer, go buy a new halter from a rope seller, come back and receive their bill of sale and their animal. I'm kicking myself for not going and finding out how much a cow in Ecuador is worth -- I know my Dad will ask!

Andrew had two interesting experiences at the markets. On Friday he was looking at some paintings at one of stalls and the traditionally dressed lady was giving him the sales pitch when she suddenly reached deep down the front of her shirt, digs around for a bit, pulls out a cell phone and says "un momento por favor" and proceeds to chat away to someone else. It just seemed so out of place! Then at the animal market a women with two young children in tow and carrying a third in a sling in front of her starts chatting him up; asking where he's from, how long he's been in Ecuador (Andrew did a great job of this whole conversation in Spanish!); she shows a photo of herself in front of a weaving loom and the oldest child starts pulling out scarves and belts out of a bag. Then, in the middle of all this, without batting an eye she reaches into the front of her blouse, pulls out a big floppy boob and sticks it in the baby's mouth! I'm afraid that ended the sales pitch!

In addition to the big open square, the Saturday market stretched about 7 or 8 blocks long, stalls on both sides of the street, plus most of the side streets a block in either direction. We'd had enough after a couple hours and took a bus and taxi to the relative peace of Laguna de Cuicocha, a beautiful lake formed from a collapsed volcanic crater and surrounded by steep and natural greenery.

On Sunday we headed to a hostal, La Luna ($12 per night per person), about 4 km from Otavalo. Incredible surroundings! Lots of hills and trees, streams and waterfalls - a bit like Switzerland. And very peaceful. Our little cabin overlooked a valley and from a nearby viewpoint you could see down onto Otavalo. The food here was awesome too! We had the most yummy salads with ingredients from their organic garden. Andrew also had more friendly dogs to play with. It gets chilly in the evenings up here but we had our own personal fireplace in our room to keep us toasty warm.

From there we got a taxi to drive us up to Laguna de Mojanda from where we could climb to the top of Fuya Fuya (4200m), another of the volcanic mountains. Pretty straight forward hiking other than the very long grass near the bottom that trips a person up with almost every step and a bit of rather serious scrambling near the top of each of the two peaks (we climbed them both). The odd good view of the lake but cloudy for the most part. Once down, we hiked back to the hostel. It was 11 km downhill which normally wouldn't seem like much but the road was all small rough stones which were very hard to walk on as our feet/ankles twisted a different way with each step. Luckily there were short stretches of grass and gravel along the edge of the road which meant we only felt half crippled by the time we got back. On the positive side, we got more incredible views of the valleys and farmland and could stop whenever we wanted to take photos. I've determined there are some very hard core cows around here! A Canadian cow wouldn't walk all the way up these big hills when the grass at the bottom looks just as good!

We made a quick trip back to Quito and then took a bus to Mindo; into the cloud forest area. We stayed at a place called Septimo Paraiso (Seventh Heaven) Cloud Forest Reserve. Again, food was incredible and to the point of being too much! We went for a hike on one of the trails when we first got there and it started raining but we barely got wet because the forest canopy was so thick! Lots of interesting and different plants, a few frogs, lots of spiders, and even an armadillo!

The next day we hired a guide to show us around. Danny is 25 years old and has been guiding (for bird watchers) for eight years. We spent five hours with him and he did an absolutely incredible job of finding birds for us to see. There's no way we would have spotted them without his help. He also told us the names of many of the trees and flowers and the use of them for medicine, roofing materials, jewelry, etc. We were extremely lucky on this day because it only rained for a few minutes. The next morning was an absolute downpour! Of course the almost constant mist/drizzle/rain is what makes it a cloud forest.

Back in Quito now. Last night we happened across an exhibit of prize-winning World Press photographs. They were very good but also very disturbing -- lots of war torn and natural disaster areas. We spent today shopping, working on this blog, going through photos, and finalizing details for Galapagos. Heading there tomorrow!

PS. We didn't book any of these hotels in advance - one of the benefits of traveling in the "off" season is that we could just show up and pretty much count on getting a room. Combined with $2 or $3 long distance bus fares it makes it very easy to move around.

Here are the photos. Sorry, over a hundred - didn't have time to filter them more. Feel free to skip over the bugs and flowers!

As usual, click on the slide show to see a bigger version.

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