October 4, 2007
This tiny little gem is the country that most people seem to bypass on a jaunt round the continent. Ecuador itself doesnt standout culturally like the brashness and vitality of Colombia or the traditional inca roots of Peru so you get a different kind of tourist. People that are here, are her for Nature. The kind of people who walk everywhere in hi-tek hiking boots and northface gear. The kind of people who think not about cost but simply exoticness. People who have spent the price of their airticket at camping stores before coming to Ecuador. And these kind of people have BUCKS.
The galopagos islands are a big business with crusies flaunted about all over Quito, and many are here just for that. Unfortunately they pack a punch to your wallet (I couldnt afford it) but there are also numerous other wildlife excursions I likewise didnt participate in. Whales and iguanas galore on the coast and an Amazon basin bursting with life and small towns like Mindo with all kinds of crazy birdlife. With all this Wildlife bandied about, it´s no wonder the cultural side of ecuador is a little overshadowed. And Quito, where I was based for my spanish course is a great place to begin sampling it.
Upon arriving in Quito we settled in Mariscal, in the new town. The neighbourhood is awash with travel agencies, hostels, spanish schools a great range of international restaurants. Perhaps not the best place at first glance to mingle with quitonos. But the area is becoming much more upscale and the more well off young hipsters love to come down to hang out. The weird melange of travel agencies and traveller restaurants seem a wolrd away from the S America juliet and I knew.
I began Spanish lessons in earnest, struggling up at 7am for 5 hours of spanish classes which worked wonders as I markedly improved over a couple of weeks. Juliet explored the town while I was in class and weekends were reseved for side trips like Mindo where we hiked to Waterfalls, saw humming birds and flying foxed ourselves from mountain to mountain. After class we explored Old town together which has been beautifully restored over the last couple of years letting Quitos coloinal past glow.
My spanish school wasnt lack for activities either. Juliet and I tried some free salsa lesson where i learnt i should never ever be seen swinging my hips in public. Just before my time was over the owner actually took every guy apart from me and this german guy out for a "Noche de Hombres" at which they went ton a tour of the cities strip clubs. We also indulged in religious activites. Football.
Watching soccer is something akin to spiritul rebirth here. We went to a match in the National stadium to watch Ecuador slaughter bolivia in a friendly, and then very unfriendly punch each other out as the match ended. And this was great, but watching a soccer match on Tv, wow the annoucers take dexterity to a whole new level. They cram something ridiculous like a 1000 words a minute into their commentary, but manage to scream GOAL!!! for upto a minute (including pauses for breath).
We also debated the merits of seeing the amazon independently but ended up signing up for a tour and stayed at a lodge deep up the River Napo. It was high water season which meant less animals but managed to see lots of monkeys, dolphins and tarantulas. The water is filled thick with vegetation and the waterways criss crossed with fallen trees and submerged logs. The forest is thick beyond belief and you can lose yourself staring into it. Real heart of darkness stuff drowned in water. We got shown numerous uses of Jungle plants went for a long hike and managed some pirhana fishing (I didnt catch anything). We also visited an indigenous village and a shaman got rid of my bad spirits, (I still drink ), and gave me some Jungle juice. that night myself and two american worlds drank the horrid stuff and were throwing up out of the shack window while my spiritual guide was trying to deal with the two girls who were preoccupied with hollywood gossip . This is scary. When you are tripping very hard and other people arent and talking crap instead, its hard to sensitive to humanity. The trip lasted 3 or so hoursand was amazing. The local people use this stuff at least once a week when they have inner demons to wrestle with.
The next day after spotting some Caimans we took the motor boat back up the river for three hours doging swinging vines and sunken logs once more. The vastness of the amazon is truly overwhlming.
After finally discovering the tiny and emerging art scene in Ecuador we whisked ourselves off to the hotwater town of Banos. Aside from basking in natural hotsprings I partook in some canyomning down waterfalls and mountain biking. Beautiful yet unremarkable. The church however was fantastic, filled with all kinds of paintings of catastrophes and many people being saved from the bowels of hell in the local area. The volcano seems to stir to life every 20 years of so causing untold damage and death yet there is always one person with a picture of the virgin mary on his door whose house does not burn down.
After Banos went south to the lovely little city of Cuenca. The town is gorgeous with alleys of old colonial buildings and plazas and teeming with college kids. We didnt do much apart from stroll around getting lost in wonder and eating lots of coffee and icecream. Juliet smoked perhaps too much weed and blacked out walking out of the restaurant. Altitude sickness we learned is not solved by cigarettes and pot.
There wasnt much left to our trip apart from a stop in sleepy Vilcabamba where a little japanese girl took a shine to us and manged to follow us around the town all day squeezing ice cream and treats out of us while other backpackers eyed us and praised for travelling with a kid. I also hiked to the top of a ridge and then it was a night bus over the peruvian border.
Posted by alex at October 4, 2007 8:24 AM