Category Archives: Ecuador

Home from the Jungle

On Monday we flew to Coca, about 30 minutes by plane from Quito; about 6 hours by car.  There are at least 3 flights a day ferrying many oil workers and some tourists back and forth.  When you exit the terminal there is a disjointed combination of tour buses, taxis and trucks with logos for Halliburton, Petroecuador and other related energy companies.  After a short taxi ride to the port, we climbed into our motorized canoe and headed two and half hours up the Napo River to Yachana Lodge and Institute. WP_20140609_10_58_00_Pro20140613030738WP_20140609_11_14_11_Pro20140613030856imageimageWP_20140609_13_52_41_Pro20140613025805imageimage

“Yachana” in Kichwa means a “place for learning”.  Not only does it teach people like ourselves about the jungle, but also provides education opportunities for people living in the jungle.   Opportunities for education in the jungle are limited to “Distance Learning” where students only attend school 2 days a week.  Currently, at Yachana they have a pilot program providing another day every 2 weeks of practical education in a variety of subjects including english, computers, health and nutrition, science, guiding and very basic accounting.  Our friends,  Bob and Marcia, have been involved with the organization for a number of years.

In the 2 to 3 days we were there, we went out birding, walked in the jungle, visited a farm, did a bit of cooking, provided some design advice and were cleansed by a  Kichwa Healer – a great ending to our almost 5 months of traveling.  Tonight we head home!

Vilcabamba – Another Sacred Valley

Throughout our trip, we’ve made a point of balancing city and country.  Keeps us both happy! So it only made sense after taking in the Bienal in Cuenca, taking some more spanish lessons and enjoying city life it was time to head for a sacred valley.  Just the same pattern we did in Cusco when we headed out to Urubamba.  This time, we headed down to Vilcabamba (literally means sacred valley in Quechua) about 5 hours south of Cuenca.  Evidently, like Urubamba, it is place where the Incas stopped in their travels between Cusco and Quito.   Nice lush spot they chose.

Vilcabamba’s other claim to fame is its reputation for longevity.  In 1955, Reader’s Digest did a story on the high number of centenarians.  Perhaps this article was what kicked off the influx of expats both young and old all searching for the fountain of youth.  All of this searching is happening in a small town with what appears to be a robust local population.  The combination made for great eaves-dropping and people watching, both of which we did plenty of while hanging out in the public square.

Each day, we headed out for a hike – some more successful than others….  We took the “Ridge Hike” one day, which Bill has renamed the “Ridge of Death”.   There were a few spots that fell off percipitously from what was, at times, a very narrow “bridge” of crumbling soil.  The next day, he went to the gym in town …. while I headed off on a hike up to a waterfall.

We are now back in  Quito – relaxing before we head out to our final adventure in the Amazon.

South of the Equator to the Southern Highlands

After a long and, due to fog and twisting roads, harrowing 9 hour bus ride, we made it from Latacunga to Cuenca.  (We’re staying off of long bus rides the rest of this trip!)

Cuenca is quieter than we expected, but we lucked into coinciding with the 12th Bienal de Cuenca.  We’ve now managed to hit two Bienals, one in Cartagena and here in Cuenca.  Probably, given the location, the artwork in Cartagena was a bit stronger than in Cuenca .  However, here, in Cuenca, the theme “Ir para volver” or “Leaving to Return” inspired some interesting pieces.  Plus, it has given us an opportunity to explore neighborhoods and buildings we wouldn’t normally see visiting a city for a few days.

Prior to the Spanish arriving in the 1500s, the Cuenca area was home to Inca and Canari cultures.  However, there is very little left of the indigenous cultures. Today, the architecture is an eclectic mix of brick, stone, metal and stucco buildings interconnected by many plazas and, of course, lots of churches. The streets are paved in large cobblestones and some of the blank building walls are painted with street art.

One rainy day (we’ve had very few this trip), we headed up to Cajas National Park 30 km outside of Cuenca. The park is high Andes grasslands dotted with hundreds of lakes at around 12,500 feet. It was cold and windy, but beautiful with llamas roaming wild, numerous waterfalls and colorful flora species. Our guide (good to have a guide because of fog, cold and lost hikers), Julio, brought us to an excellent restaurant that was also a trout farm where we found several dogs, one of them stuffed.

After five days in Cuenca we head tomorrow to Vilcabamba, a five hour drive south of Cuenca and from 7600 feet to a warmer, dryer 4500 feet.

On the Equator

We spent our first week in Ecuador with an advantage – our friends Marcia and Bob.  They moved down here 2 years ago.  They have graciously hosted us on the last leg of our trip and let us use their house as home base.  The first week  we toured Quito and headed out to Mindo for a few days, about 2 hours northwest of Quito. The next two weeks we are headed south out of Quito, making our way to Cuenca and Vilcabamba.  Then we’ll return to Quito for a few days , before heading to the Amazon for our last week before we head home.

Our first week was a week of contrasts.  Quito is up at 9,300 feet, the same area as Seattle but 3 times the population all draped between volcanoes. Mindo is a ramshackle town of about 2,000 people.  It survives on tourism due to its physical setting in the cloud forest at 4,000 feet with a rich diversity of flora and fauna.  All of this is right on the equator…..0 degrees 0′ 0″.

After our first week, we headed south to Chugchilan, a very small town in the province of Cotopaxi.  We are staying at a great  place called the Black Sheep Inn where we’re meeting interesting people and doing some hiking before heading to Cuenca.

We’ll be back in Seattle by the middle of June.  So far it has been a fun filled, incredible 4 months.  We are relishing these last few weeks.