From the British Virgin Islands it was back through St. Thomas, Miami, and Panama City to Quito for another two weeks of Ecuadorian adventure. Thanks to the hospitality of Elvia and Oswaldo, Latacunga became my home base for several trips to various points around the country. As the weather prohibited any mountaineering I kept the crampons and ice axe packed and opted for some backpacking instead.
After a five hour bus ride south on the Pan-American highway I got off in La Moya at midnight. In this town of perhaps a few hundred people I set out on foot looking for the municipal swimming pool which my climbing guide had recommended for free camping. After a fair bit of wandering I finally asked several residents outside a bar (who by this time were quietly laughing at this obviously lost, backpack wearing gringo) where the swimming pool was. The laughter quickly became not so quiet and I learned there was no swimming pool. Instead they pointed me toward Achupallas which I had planned to hitchhike to the next day. So I set out walking up the switchbacking mountain road in a silent, pitch black, foggy night. An hour later I sensed some flat ground to the right of the road so I set up camp, utterly unaware of my surroundings and wondering why my tent stakes were still in Maryland. The next morning I climbed out of the tent and looked in disbelief at the view below.
After packing up camp I hitched a ride to Achupallas in the bed of a dump truck, which proved to be right up there with riding a motorcycle for great views, fresh air, and plain old-fashioned fun!
Achupallas marked the end of the road and the beginning of my hike of a 25-mile section of the 500 year-old Inca Trail. It also marked the beginning of a nearly nonstop downpour that would see me through most of the trek.
Ingapirca is the largest known Incan archeological site in Ecuador. The primary structure is the Temple of the Sun, while the other remains are thought to have been used for education, commerce, and government. The construction was of impeccable Incan methods and used no mortar, instead each stone was chiseled to fit perfectly with its neighbors.
From Ingapirca I hopped aboard a bus and began the 6 hour ride north back to Latacunga. Happy to be dry at last I sat back and enjoyed the views from the Pan-American Highway, switch-backing like a snake from one steep lush valley to another.
Once in Latacunga I spent about three days drying out from the rain while sightseeing around the city and eating delicious meals with Elvia and her family. Below are a few sights from around town.
While in Latacunga, Elvia and Oswaldo invited me to a celebration for their neighbor’s grandmother. It was her Cuarenta Hora (Forty Hours) Devotion which entailed a day of ceremonies at her church followed by a large fiesta back at her home.
With time to wander the city I took to the streets with my tripod and pin-hole lens to try to capture a little different view of some of the prominent buildings of Latacunga.
It was time to put down some more miles so I boarded a bus toward the coast and 8 hours later arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and primary seaport. The next day my friend Fernanda and I wandered the Malecón 2000 boardwalk, hiked up the 444 steps of Santa Ana Hill, and hung out with iguanas in one of the city’s many parks.
The next day I went north to the city of Manta and then to the fishing village of San Mateo a bit to the west. As port towns they both had that exciting, hustle-and bustle feel of a vibrant shipping center, while at the same time maintaining the relaxed feel brought on by an ocean’s presence.
Back in Guayaquil Fernanda and I toured more of the city, visiting museums and outdoor art exhibits, feasting on fresh crabs from the Guayas River, and dancing late into the night.
The next day I headed north again to begin a several day, circuitous return to Latacunga. Since the majority of this week’s time was spent aboard buses, below are a few shots of these experiences taken from various bus seats.
My last stop on the coast before heading back inland was Canoa. Arriving late in the day I had just enough time to body surf in the warm, equatorial Pacific under the setting sun. Followed by a delicious shrimp ceviche and ice cold Club (a popular Ecuadorian lager), I have to say it wasn’t a bad evening!
Another day of bus connections brought me back to Quito for the night with plans of visiting the Basílica del Voto Nacional the next day. Recommended by my friends Andrew and Annie who spent a month in Ecuador last year, it was quite the experience.
While atop the Basílica’s clocktower I had noticed a market down in the streets below. Back on the ground I found it and entered what I thought would be some touristy art market. I couldn’t have been more wrong, here was a place where one might go to have a drive shaft welded, purchase old VCR parts, buy traditional wood working tools, or have a custom oven fabricated.
After a quick lunch I boarded the last bus of my trip and returned to Latacunga.
Returning to Latacunga was bittersweet as it also meant that my time in Ecuador was nearing its end. With luggage full of Elvia’s freshly cooked cuy (guinea pig) and conejo (rabbit) to bring back to Maryland for Hernan, I made my way to Quito to catch my plane. With quick goodbyes to friends there I boarded a flight back to the US.
It’s amazing how fast a month can pass, and how quickly a new place and new friends can feel like home and family. As with so many wonderful places I’ve visited I’m now as excited to return to Ecuador as I was to visit the first time. “Saludos y muchas gracias a todos mis amigos allá, espero que vernos pronto!!”