3 Sep - 5 Oct 1998
I did not keep a journal while I was in Ecuador but did send email from there, however none of those were saved. I also thought that I had sent a group letter to Shirley upon getting back to the USA but that has also gone missing. Therefore, I'm going to write about my time in Ecuador some 12 years later based on my memory and imagination.
I remember that my flights to Miami, FL were as I had said they were going to be in my last letter to Shirley from Bulgaria. I also remember that when I got on the plane in Sofia, Bulgaria I was experiencing some mild diarrhea and asked the stewardess if I could use the bathroom. I explained my problem to her and she allowed me to use the bathroom but confered with the pilot about allowing me to go on the flight. They decided that I could go but could have nothing to eat while on the flight and they put me up front where they could keep an eye on me. I made it to London, England without incident and was feeling somewhat better. My ticket to Miami had a lay-over in London and I was given a room in a hotel that was within the airport complex (never cleared customs) which was a 200 Pounds/night. Coming from Bulgaria after 2+ years I was speechless at seeing the splendor of the room, furnishings and a functional bathroom. Upon arriving in Miami the next day I caught a cab and ask the driver to take me to the closest UPS Store so I could ship my bike and most of my luggage. I lucked out when the UPS he took me to was almost next door to a motel and restaurant. Then on September 3rd I caught my flight to Quito, Ecuador. I had made room reservations for Quito and Otavalo while in Zlatograd and was very glad I had because I arrived after dark, was tired and not ready to look for a hotel. The one I reserved was a small cave with bunk beds that I stayed in for 2 days and then moved about a block to hotel/restaurant home conversion that was better - more like a private hotel in Bulgaria. That after all was a good part of what this was about - a transition between Bulgaria and the USA.
I do not remember how many days I was in Quito but do remember that I was still not feeling 100% and the altitude was not making me feel any better. I do not function well at a height of 8,000 feet or more and was feeling that along with lingering illness I had brought with me from Bulgaria. I know I took some short walks near my hotels for the first couple of days. Then one day went to Old Town to see the market, President's Mansion and Cathedral as well as the US Embassy which looked like a high security prison with the high walls, barbed wire and cameras. Went to the South America Explorers Club clubhouse 2-3 times to get information and use their email; the clubhouse had a wealth of information available and helpful staff. I also stopped at the Peace Corps office and asked to see the Medical Officer. At my Close Of Service exam in Bulgaria I had high blood pressure and Molly, our Medical Officer, gave me some pills, a voucher to pay for an examination in the USA and advised me to stop at Peace Corps-Quito. She knew the MO in Quito and wanted me to say hello and have her check my blood pressure. Here are some Quito pictures I took during my walks around Quito.
These first eight pictures are of the streets in New Town - Quito and the largest poinsettia that I have ever seen.
These are four pictures of 2x life size sculptures that are in traffic circles or small roadside parks. Then there was a biking sculpture by the Dutchman.
I caught a bus for Otavalo, north of Quito about 70 Km, outside the bus terminal in Quito but did not realize that it was a 'local' rather than the direct bus. The trip took about twice the time and had me concerned that I had caught the wrong bus. But I arrived in the afternoon and had a short walk to my hotel which I found easily. I was staying at the Hotel Ali Shungu which was very nice with a good restaurant also that used 'fresh daily' ingredients. I know this because after the 2nd or 3rd day, after breakfast, I would ride with the owner to the central market and spend some time walking through it. I also climbed what looked like a easy hill and then down the other side to a lake and a local bus stop for a ride back to Otavalo. I say 'looked like an easy hill' because with the altitude and it being steeper than I had thought it was a real challenge for me. Otavalo is a regional market town that draws a lot of tourist for the 'Weavers Market Day' once a week; there is also a 'Animal Market Day' every week that is attended by mostly locals. So my days were filled with a few hikes and attending the various markets plus trying a different restaurant each night. I also had the experience of casting no shadow (like a ghost) - this is possible if you are standing on, or near, the Equator on an Equinox at noon. Quito and Otavalo are each within 1 degree of the Equator so during the Fall Equinox I cast no shadow. Here are pictures that I took while in Otavalo.
Otavalo-Hike: The first two pictures are from the top of a small hill overlooking Otavalo, the third one is looking down the other side on the small village of San Pablo del Lago beside Laguna de San Pablo.
Three pictures from the second story balcony of Hotel Ali Shungu showing it's rear garden and the mountains surrounding Otavalo.
Otavalo-Market: A couple of pictures of the delicacies that are to be had from the market. This is one of the many entrances to the town market which covers an entire city block. Then a view down just one of the isles with a local well dressed matron in the foreground.
Otavalo-Weavers Market: The first two pictures above are of the Weavers Market, which covers a full city block, the third picture shows the same area the next day.
These two pictures are of the Weavers Market overflow into a side street on market day and then the following day.
Otavalo-Animal Market: In the row above are two pictures of Imbabura Volcano (inactive at 4,610 meters high) at sunrise when the market is beginning to open and later when the crowd is having breakfast.
The next two are of vendors setting up and buyers starting to crowd around the livestock. Then there are these little piggies that have come to market on the right.
The picture on the left shows the size of the crowd later in the morning, the one on right shows the Pan American Highway.
I went back to Quito for a couple of nights and then caught a bus to Banos which is south of Quito about 175 Km. This time I caught a bus that was direct although it did stop a few times at other towns along the way. At one of these stops a passenger got on carrying a burlap bag that they placed between their feet on the floor. It was not very long before I started to hear some squeaks and the bag was moving a little bit; I was to find out that it contained guinea pigs, and I noticed an old man across from the bag was salivating over the thought of having one. The route also passed Cotopaxi Valcano (active at 5,897 meters, second highest in ecuador) one of Ecuador's more popular mountain climbing peaks. I had made a reservation at the Hotel Café Cultura in Quito for a Hostel in Banos that they also owned. The Hotel Café Cultura is VERY nice and I highly recommend it, the Hostel is adequate but not of the same class. I went for a hike almost every day; sometimes around town or up the slopes of the deep canyon where Banos lies. My longest hike was up past Luna Resort to Runtun a small village about 2,500 feet above Banos, down past Bellavista, where there is a huge cross (lighted at night), and back to Banos. From the second floor balcony at the front of my Hostel I looked at a virtual cliff that was not more than two blocks away. The town is built upon a landslide that occurred sometime in the distant past that was once part of that cliff-like face. The peak of Tungurahua Volcano (now active at 5,023 meters) is some 10,000 feet above the town and it's continued activity is what provides Banos with it's hot water spas. A dangerous place to live but the tourist keep coming and the town thrives on them with blocks full of hotels and restaurants. The area around the church is tourist haven with taffy candy pullers, street vendors selling roasted guinea pig and all the souvenirs you could want. I stuck to finding a good place to eat breakfast and dinner every day and maybe a nap after my hike. Here are the pictures that I took while in Banos:
Pastaza River Hike: The two pictures on the right are of the Pastaza River that flows below Banos.On the left the River disappears into a very narrow channel before emerging to flow over Ines Maria Falls into El Pailon (the bowel) directly below the Banos Zoo.
These three are of Banos from across the river - up and down stream.
Virgin Mirador Hike: This is what you have to climb to reach the Virgin; I'm guessing about 1,500 feet. Then two pictures of the cemetery that lies directly below the Virgin and the stairs.
This is the Virgin Mirador on the left and that part of town where my Hostel was (near the round skytower-like building). The Hot Springs are to the left of the large red roofed building and the cold spring falls.
Runtun Hike: Two pictures of the Virgin Mirador from the Runtun Trail that transverses the slope at about the same elevation as the Virgin.Luna Resort somewhat below Runtun, a very secluded spot that is a bit pricey but would make for a very relaxing get away.
A picture of Bellavista as I start down the trail that will return me to Banos.
Two pictures of Banos from the return trail with my Hostel visible in the center of left picture with the church in the upper left. This one on the right shows my Hostel again in the center with a telephoto shot.
A shop vendor in the doorway shadows is pulling taffy. I couldn't get a picture of the roasted guinea pig when I had my camera. Two pictures of Banos Disneyesque transport around town. The Ecuadorians seem to enjoy this a lot and I would see families riding when I went searching for dinner.
A picture of the Banos Church front, most of the the church is to the left where it covers the city block.
I returned to Quito and took a room at the La Casa Sol, a small hotel on the northern edge of the large group of hotels and restaurants in New Town Quito. I continued to hike around town with one major climb from New Town (not recommended by South American Explorers Club) up to El Panecillo hill and the statues of la Virgen de Quito then down to Old Town and a bus ride before returning to my hotel. The only other accomplishment was to get a tailor to make me a suit and buy some new dress shoes. Finding the tailor was not a problem they seem to be everywhere and may be the second big industry for tourist; the first being cosmetic surgery - a lot of 'nose jobs'. To get some shoes I walked up 10 de Agosto to what looked very much like a USA Shopping Mall and found a pair there. The new clothes were in anticipation of my interview in Washington, DC with the regional Peace Corps Director. I flew out of Quito on Oct 5th and upon landing in Miami, FL went to the same motel that I had stayed at before.
Quito-El Panecill Hike: The first picture on the left is of Old Town from El Panecillo hill, you can see the Cathedral towering over everything. The center picture of the Cathedral was a telephoto from the hill, the one on the right was taken in town. The Cathedral of Quito, dedicated in 1572, has been destroyed by earthquakes a number of times since then. The existing Cathedral dates from the mid 18th century.
These two pictures are of the President's Mansion; Presidential Palace or White House.