Tag Archives: mitad del mundo

Ecuador! Part Three

To catch up on the trip to Ecuador, you can read Part One and Part Two.

We left off completely soaking wet in the jungles of Mindo, after ziplining through pouring rain. Let’s fast-forward to the next morning, wherein everyone was dry and comfortable. The kids were at school, so the adults decided to go on another adventure. Our destination? Cotopaxi, a volcano about 17 miles south of Quito. Although at 5,897m tall it should have been visible from within the limits of Quito, it had been incredibly cloudy all week and I hadn’t gotten a glimpse yet.

Here is what I knew about Cotopaxi as we headed out to explore: it is Xavier’s favorite mountain of all time. We are going to climb it some day. It looks like this:

Photo taken by Xavier

Here is what I know about Cotopaxi now that I have explored Wikipedia: it is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. It last had a major eruption in 1903, but there was some minor volcanic activity in 1975. It’s apparently pretty easy to climb, making it an ideal target for novice outdoorsmen such as ourselves.

After driving for an hour or so, we reached Cotopaxi National Park. The roads deteriorated rapidly at this point. The trip was much more exciting when we drove through random waterfalls.

We paused for a few minutes to tour a little museum, take a couple of photos, and ready ourselves for the great ascent. Just kidding – we weren’t going to hike, but drive up as far as we could. From here, when the clouds shifted, we could see the snow-dusted peak of the volcano.

Group shot
Driving up

After driving another ten minutes or so through the rocky roads of the park, we reached a large valley directly underneath the volcano. There, we stopped, because we spotted wild horses. Cameras were withdrawn and utilized frequently. I skipped around the valley, frolicking with the horses only to rapidly feel dizzy and out of breath (hey, we were 3,800m/12,500ft above sea level and oxygen was scarce). The sun peeked out and we took more photos. It was such an amazing hour: we were completely alone with our silence and the snow-covered tiptop of Cotopaxi flashing at us from behind the clouds.

Amidst all the beauty, we got a little silly. Some cute shots were taken of Xavier and I, and his brother and sister-in-law. And there may have been some dancing, but I’ll never tell. What happens in Cotopaxi, stays in Cotopaxi.

Unfortunately, the weather really blocked the views that we had been longing for. Although we could have driven for another hour or so, getting closer to the summit, it would have been pointless. The peak would remain hidden under all the clouds. So we decided to check out a lake that was just a little further up the path, and then head out for some food.

The lake was beautiful. But as we were enjoying the view, I noticed a man descending the mountain on horseback. It reminded me of a photo that Xavier took at Cotopaxi a while ago, one that I’d always loved. Here’s his photo:

My boyfriend takes amazing photos.

And here’s the one that I took, making the most of my conditions:

The man was very nice. He even offered to let me sit on his horse for a few minutes. Despite all of the warnings I’d had to not touch animals while abroad, I couldn’t refuse.

Our drive back down the mountain was uneventful, but the views were fantastic.

Volcano in the background

On the way back to Quito, we stopped for lunch and had te de coca. According to the package, te de coca is supposed to stimulate digestion, wake you up, and provide numerous other health benefits. We definitely woke up after drinking the tea. I would recommend it. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to buy any te de coca to go, so that experience must remain in the mountains of Ecuador for now.

The next day was, unfortunately, the last in Quito. We still had many items on our to-do list, though. A few were gastronomical: we purchased many fruits that you can’t find in the States, and went out for ceviche. Then we went to watch Xavier’s brother Christian play soccer. I had a great time capturing sports action shots with my zoom lens.

And finally, we went to Mercado Artesenal, a marketplace in Quito where vendors sold handmade goods. We had a great time and by the time we were through, I had been completely spoiled by everyone around me and gifted with tons of awesome stuff. I was decked out completely in handmade Ecuadorian stuff. In spite of my local attire, I had a hard time bargaining with the merchants to get the best deal on the lone necklace that I purchased – my Spanish is passable, but my thick accent gives me away as a gringa.

“Wait, you’re taking my picture?”

From there, we were out of time. We went back to the house to collect our stuff, had a quick dinner, and then Xavier and I were dropped off at the airport. Going home was really sad, especially as we bid farewell to the large group seeing us off at the airport. We’d had an amazing trip. I feel incredibly lucky to have met and been welcomed so warmly by Xavier’s extended family; every time I think about that, it makes me smile. I can’t wait until we have another chance to visit Quito, reunite with everyone who I met and loved, and explore more of the beautiful country of Ecuador.

Ecuador! Part Two

Looking up at the city of Quito from the valley underneath

To catch up with the first part of the Ecuador trip, click here.
After a jam-packed few days that included a wedding, pampering, and a road trip, things slowed down. This was mostly because I found myself stricken with the worst stomach bug I’ve ever caught. Monday’s plans were abandoned as I spent the day in various states of distress. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll just dish out one important thing that I learned from the fiasco: if you’re traveling in a new country, and you get a weird feeling about the food – just don’t risk it. No matter how good it smells. No matter how tasty it looks. No matter how cheap it is. No matter how many other people are eating it.

(In the US, my limited samplings of Ecuadorian food had included ceviche prepared by Xavier’s aunt, and a visit to an Ecuadorian restaurant in Charlotte, NC where the food was overwhelmingly Colombian. It seems like Ecuadorian food doesn’t get a lot of love outside of its own country. Once in Ecuador, I was excited to finally try the real stuff. In my excitement, I barely thought twice about stuffing myself with street food and stuff from casual roadside restaurants. Big mistake).

Anyway, by Tuesday afternoon I had somewhat recovered and was ready for limited action. The group of us made a little excursion to Mitad del Mundo, a monument and attraction at the equator. It’s only about thirty minutes from Cumbaya, the suburb of Quito where we were staying.

Looking down the path towards the equator momument

There were many little shops and attractions surrounding the monument. Although we explored an insectarium and some of the shops, the coolest thing by far was the model of Colonial Quito, put together by my friend Catae‘s father-in-law. I met Catae because she is married to Xavier’s best friend – and it was nice to meet her father-in-law and see the model of Quito that I’d heard so much about!

The photo doesn’t do it justice – it’s huge and amazing.

After saying hello, we actually approached the equator. There is a huge painted yellow line that lets you  know whether you’re in the north or south hemisphere.

After you get bored of the novelty of jumping from hemisphere to hemisphere, or standing in both hemispheres at once, you can explore the monument. First, you take an elevator to the top and look around. It was a cloudy and drizzly day, so much of the view was obstructed.

Next, you can explore the museum inside the building. There are artifacts and demonstrations of Ecuadorian life, particularly those of the Indians. My favorite artifact was a shrunken head, which I illegally photographed using flash.
After the museum, we had fun at the little site where you can observe the tangible effects of the equator. Apparently you weigh less at the equator, but when I jumped on the scale to find out, it turned out to be nonsense. Something slightly more rewarding was a little table set up directly on top of the equator, where you could balance an egg on a nail. Don’t ask me how this works, but it was pretty cool. (I will note that the table is splattered with crusty old egg from people who failed to manage the egg-balancing, though).
Afterwards, we got dinner at a small restaurant; everyone else got empanadas, but my still-tender stomach reeled at the thought of anything somewhat unfamiliar, and I could only tolerate french fries. So much for eating healthy!
The next day, we had plans to spend the afternoon at Xavier’s dad’s house. But since I was finally feeling better, Xavier and I took the morning to go exploring. We decided that we wanted to see the colonial city and El Panecillo, the giant statue of the Virgin that overlooks Quito. Finding the route up the mountain to El Panecillo was an adventure in itself, but we saw some pretty sights on the way.
You can see El Panecillo on top of the hill, to the right 
Street kitty
Winding narrow roads overlooking valleys full of homes

A city built into a mountainside
Finally, after many sets of poor directions, we made it to the top. And eventually, the sun came out!

Colonial Quito 
The next day, we resumed our explorations with a little bit of an adventure. We had originally planned to go to the jungle, but due to time constraints, we decided it would be best to turn a two-day jungle excursion into a zip-lining day trip. As we drove out of Quito, signs of people quickly decreased and the vegetation turned dense and green. The road wound through mountains and jungle. It was immense and beautiful and photographs really don’t do it justice.

Once we reached Mindo, we stopped for a quick lunch and then it was time for ziplining. I’ve ziplined before and always felt that the experience was shorter than I would have liked. There’s so much anticipation! You go through the trouble to put on the gear, you clip into the line, you fly… it’s over in half a second. Well, this zip-lining took place over the course of 13 separate lines in the pouring rain. You could hardly open your eyes with the stinging rain, and the braking glove had no effect on the wet line. Between rides, we hiked through the woods to the next station, becoming more soaking wet. It was really a blast, but for the first time in my life I can say that I wasn’t disappointed when zip-lining was over.
Ziplining – photos stolen from Martha
By the end of the day, we were completely soaked to the bone and exhausted – but it was so much fun. After a couple of days being really sick, it was a relief to see more of Ecuador than its bathrooms.
We still had a couple of days left, so look out for that post shortly!
And I ask you, readers: what’s your best story of travel sickness?
All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted!