2012.04.05 – Ecuador II

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.

Morning view from my first roadside camp in Ecuador.

Morning view from my first roadside camp in Ecuador.

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!

Hidden by the fog were drop-offs at every switchback, the occasional view was straight down thousands of feet to the valley floor.

Hidden by the fog were drop-offs at every switchback, the occasional view was straight down thousands of feet to the valley floor.

A dump-truck load of happy Cargo.

A dump-truck load of happy Cargo.

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.

The Inca Trail leading away from Achupallas into the Rio Cadrul valley. Elevation here is about 11,500ft / 3,500m.

The Inca Trail leading away from Achupallas into the Rio Cadrul valley. Elevation here is about 11,500ft / 3,500m.

Looking back down the Rio Cadrul valley toward Achupallas.

Looking back down the Rio Cadrul valley toward Achupallas.

Camping near the Laguna de las Tres Cruces at about 13,000ft / 4,000m.

Camping near the Laguna de las Tres Cruces at about 13,000ft / 4,000m.

Looking toward Laguna Sanshavin and the wilderness of Sangay National Park.

Looking toward Laguna Sanshavin and the wilderness of Sangay National Park.

Highpoint for the trip on an unnamed peak at about 14,600ft / 4,450m.

Highpoint for the trip on an unnamed peak at about 14,600ft / 4,450m.

Next stop: Laguna Culebrillas.

Next stop: Laguna Culebrillas.

The Incan ruins of Paredones, only accessible by foot via the Inca Trail.

The Incan ruins of Paredones, only accessible by foot via the Inca Trail.

Last night's camp before arriving at Ingapirca.

Last night's camp before arriving at Ingapirca.

A wide section of the Inca Trail leading down toward Ingapirca.

A wide section of the Inca Trail leading down toward Ingapirca.

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.

The remains of Ingapirca.

The remains of Ingapirca.

The Temple of the Sun at Ingapirca.

The Temple of the Sun at Ingapirca.

Hand chiseled stones typical of Incan construction.

Hand chiseled stones typical of Incan construction.

Stairways and walls leading into the Temple of the Sun.

Stairways and walls leading into the Temple of the Sun.

The Temple of the Sun was positioned such that sunlight would only enter during the solstices.

The Temple of the Sun was positioned such that sunlight would only enter during the solstices.

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.

View from the bus window: Chimborazo rises behind a church near Riobamba.

View from the bus window: Chimborazo rises behind a church near Riobamba.

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.

One of many murals on the wall of a local school, this one of the farmlands at the foot of Cotopaxi.

One of many murals on the wall of a local school, this one of the farmlands at the foot of Cotopaxi.

San Vicente Mártir de Latacunga.

San Vicente Mártir de Latacunga.

Inside San Vicente Mártir de Latacunga.

Inside San Vicente Mártir de Latacunga.

Demolition.

Demolition.

Scary clown decorations adorn many garbage cans.

Scary clown decorations adorn many garbage cans.

Resourcefulness at its best.

Resourcefulness at its best.

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.

Preparing the ceremonial podium in a light mountain rain.

Preparing the ceremonial podium in a light mountain rain.

The Iglesia de Pichalo after the procession had left it's trail of flower petals. Note Mount Putzalahua in the background.

The Iglesia de Pichalo after the procession had left it's trail of flower petals. Note Mount Putzalahua in the background.

Elvia and Diana enjoying a feast before the dancing begins.

Elvia and Diana enjoying a feast before the dancing begins.

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.

Diana and Freddy's university, the Escuela Politécnica del Ejército.

Diana and Freddy's university, the Escuela Politécnica del Ejército.

Iglesia San Agustín.

Iglesia San Agustín.

The old downtown Hermanas Paez Civil Hospital.

The old downtown Hermanas Paez Civil Hospital.

Iglesia Santisima Trinidad.

Iglesia Santisima Trinidad.

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.

Looking down the Guayas River on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk.

Looking down the Guayas River on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk.

Looking upstream on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk, with Santa Ana Hill in the background.

Looking upstream on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk, with Santa Ana Hill in the background.

Trying to blend in.

Trying to blend in.

The Buque Escuela Guayas training ship prepares to leave port.

The Buque Escuela Guayas training ship prepares to leave port.

Fernanda and Tristan the monkey stand beneath a tree full of iguanas.

Fernanda and Tristan the monkey stand beneath a tree full of iguanas.

An iguana still showing signs of the recent fight with several other iguanas over a fresh mango.

An iguana still showing signs of the recent fight with several other iguanas over a fresh mango.

Flowers on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk.

Flowers on the Malecón 2000 boardwalk.

A workboat chugs upstream on the Guayas River.

A workboat chugs upstream on the Guayas River.

View from the tower atop Santa Ana Hill.

View from the tower atop Santa Ana Hill.

Tristan enjoys the view of Guayaquil from Santa Ana Hill.

Tristan enjoys the view of Guayaquil from Santa Ana Hill.

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.

Commemorating Manta's tuna fish exports.

Commemorating Manta's tuna fish exports.

Eager to have his smile captured on film.

Eager to have his smile captured on film.

Fishing boats being worked on while the tide is out.

Fishing boats being worked on while the tide is out.

San Mateo and its man-made protected fishing harbor.

San Mateo and its man-made protected fishing harbor.

Fishing boats and nets lined up on the beach.

Fishing boats and nets lined up on the beach.

Looking west down the Pacific from San Mateo.

Looking west down the Pacific from San Mateo.

Fishing and everyday life, inseparable in San Mateo.

Fishing and everyday life, inseparable in San Mateo.

Preparing to pour concrete for the second floor's ceiling.

Preparing to pour concrete for the second floor's ceiling.

Boats moored in the San Mateo harbor. - HDR Composite

Boats moored in the San Mateo harbor. - HDR Composite

Another view.

Another view.

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 Columna Próceres de la Independencia.

The Columna Próceres de la Independencia.

A crab themed water carrying vessel in the Museo Presley Norton which exhibits a large collection of pre-colonial Ecuadorian Indian artifacts.

A crab themed water carrying vessel in the Museo Presley Norton which exhibits a large collection of pre-colonial Ecuadorian Indian artifacts.

I'm not really sure what this one's all about.

I'm not really sure what this one's all about.

A snuffing tube made from human bone.

A snuffing tube made from human bone.

The Guayaquil Cathedral in evening light.

The Guayaquil Cathedral in evening light.

Fernanda, Tristan, and I relaxing in the Rodolfo Baquerizo Moreno Plaza.

Fernanda, Tristan, and I relaxing in the Rodolfo Baquerizo Moreno Plaza.

For anyone who's seen the movie Fitzcaraldo, perhaps you can hear opera music playing from the phonograph on deck.

For anyone who's seen the movie Fitzcaraldo, perhaps you can hear opera music playing from the phonograph on deck.

A few of the hundreds of birds on display as part of a traveling Quito art exhibit entitled "Jardín de Quindes".

A few of the hundreds of birds on display as part of a traveling Quito art exhibit entitled "Jardín de Quindes".

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.

Buses lined up to leave the station in Portojievo.

Buses lined up to leave the station in Portojievo.

Stopping for our driver to chat with the driver of another bus.

Stopping for our driver to chat with the driver of another bus.

Bus entryway steps. - HDR Composite

Bus entryway steps. - HDR Composite

Bus travel in Ecuador is often more like a NASCAR race than public transportation - traffic laws, road conditions, and other cars on the road are just minor details standing in the way of getting there faster than the competing bus company.

Bus travel in Ecuador is often more like a NASCAR race than public transportation - traffic laws, road conditions, and other cars on the road are just minor details standing in the way of getting there faster than the competing bus company.

Speeding through a variety of obstacles in the road.

Speeding through a variety of obstacles in the road.

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!

Evening light over Canoa.

Evening light over Canoa.

Tristan doing what he does best - enjoying life - the next morning.

Tristan doing what he does best - enjoying life - the next morning.

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.

Juice and shakes for sale near the Basílica del Voto Nacional.

Juice and shakes for sale near the Basílica del Voto Nacional.

Approaching the Basílica in Quito's historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Approaching the Basílica in Quito's historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Light streams into the Basílica.

Light streams into the Basílica.

One of many massive, ornate stained glass windows.

One of many massive, ornate stained glass windows.

Inside the great hall of the Basílica. - HDR Composite

Inside the great hall of the Basílica. - HDR Composite

Walking above the ceiling of the great hall on the way to climb one of the Basílica's spires.

Walking above the ceiling of the great hall on the way to climb one of the Basílica's spires.

An exposed climb up one of the spires, something litigious Americans would have done away with long ago.

An exposed climb up one of the spires, something litigious Americans would have done away with long ago.

Yours truly.

Yours truly.

Time keeping mechanisms within the clock tower.

Time keeping mechanisms within the clock tower.

Shadow hands.

Shadow hands.

The Panecillo from within the clock tower.

The Panecillo from within the clock tower.

The exposed spire I climbed earlier as viewed from the clock tower.

The exposed spire I climbed earlier as viewed from the clock tower.

Spying on a game of basketball from the clock tower.

Spying on a game of basketball from the clock tower.

Quito's historic streets in miniature.

Quito's historic streets in miniature.

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.

The market.

The market.

One of many vendors capable of most any kind of fabrication or repair one could need.

One of many vendors capable of most any kind of fabrication or repair one could need.

Blacksmith shop.

Blacksmith shop.

Grinding a repair to a folding chair.

Grinding a repair to a folding chair.

Who needs welding goggles when you have eyelids?

Who needs welding goggles when you have eyelids?

After a quick lunch I boarded the last bus of my trip and returned to Latacunga.

A typical lunch special - soup, bread, a main course of meat and rice, and juice. All for $1.75 US.

A typical lunch special - soup, bread, a main course of meat and rice, and juice. All for $1.75 US.

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.

Sad goodbyes to Elvia and her family in Latacunga.

Sad goodbyes to Elvia and her family in Latacunga.

A quick lunch with Marcello at the airport.

A quick lunch with Marcello at the airport.

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!!”

Five weeks of car, bus, and airplane travels in Ecuador.

Five weeks of car, bus, and airplane travels in Ecuador.

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2 Responses to 2012.04.05 – Ecuador II

  1. Dave says:

    They say progress is an interesting thing to gauge, and in this case they most certainly are correct. I’m glad to see that you have graduated from leaving the tent POLES at home to now only leaving the tent STAKES in a land far away…. I’m going to call that progress. If you keep this up, maybe Victor will even go camping with you again someday….

  2. Victor Low says:

    I’m fine with camping without tent stakes. Just simply assume it to be an over sized sleeping bag.

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