20 Dec. – Cotacachi
23 Dec. – Quiroga & Laguna Cuicocha
24 -25 Dec. – Intag: Apuela, aguas termales, Gualiman
26 Dec. – Imbabura: Ibarra, La Esperanza (Casa Aida) & Zuleta
27 Dec. – Carchi: El Ángel polylepis reserve
29 Dec. – Laguna Quilotoa
30 -31 Dec. – Mindo
1 -2 Jan. – the way back home
We take a bus to Otavalo, where we have lunch and say goodbye to a Brazilian, and another one to Cotacahi, a nice town surrounded by volcanoes, with many retired American expats with funny accent when they speak Spanish (I remembered some Cow & Chicken episodes or when Tom wants to learn Spanish facing up Jerry, El Magnifico; or Nat King Cole’s Quizás, Quizás, Quizás). Raluca’s family seems to be nice, but she’s unhappy for receiving little food. The house it’s unfinished, she has a blanket instead of her room’s door, but I would not complain with hot water, internet, washing machine and plugs in the room. I almost have a break down thinking I’ve lost all the pictures because of a virus which affected all my USBs and cards, but everything is fine. And to respect the custom, we continue our drinking ritual, especially because the house’s terrace it’s the perfect place – either sangria, either some cheap fruit liquors or something traditional based on anise similar with ouzo. Only once it’s Christmas! And talking about tradition, I could not have started a journey without my buddy traveler, Mr. Herpesicius.
On Wednesday we wake up early to go to school, where we have just classes. Most of the students went on a trip. The kids are really cute, the majority indigenes. The boys, even the little ones wear long braided hair. As for discipline, they are similar with mines. We take advantage of the free time ad we visit Otavalo with the most famous craft market of Ecuador. Ponchos and woolen clothes of llama or alpaca, musical instruments, bracelets, earrings, everything is so colored! In this area lives the biggest community of indigenes of Ecuador and it’s fascinating to see them wearing day by day, not just on special occasions, their traditional clothes and famous hats. I also bought a poncho ‘cause according to our travelling plan it’s quite cold in some places. We also visit Peguche falls and an underground Inca shelter where the locals used to hide from the conquistadors. We’ve seen llamas and listened to some fascinating stories mechanically narrated by the guide – unfinished stories, ‘cause after we hear interesting facts about tradition, rituals, ceremonies and how peacefully and in harmony with the nature people used to live before the coming of the bad Spanish with their language and religion, he suddenly interrupts his speech and, god damn Pachamama, tells us that’s all we paid for. We stop some minutes for a jam session and two sips with some Columbians (wonderful people) and we go home
It’s Thursday so it means we have to celebrate at school. Everybody is busy with preparations, costumes, rehearsals for the Christmas festivity. Even the teachers are dressed up in angels, magi or Santa. After the holy morning mass the student’s artistic moments begin – dances, songs, carols, even pantomime. The kids receive sweets from Santa and everybody’s happy. After the event we decide to visit San Pablo Lake, a beautiful place with a wonderful view of Imbabura Volcano and a soft green grass perfect for a short nap. And guess what I bought? Pig skin! It’s a traditional food for Christmas in Romania and it seems we’re not the only ones who eat it raw.
Friday we’re already in holiday so we spend the whole day travelling. So we go to Cuicocha Lagoon. It’s not quite correct ‘lagoon’, but in Latin American Spanish it means a lake of small dimensions. It is a wonderful place, a volcano’s lake which we circled in around four and a half hours, breaks included (for viewpoints, photos, naps, running in the rain or hail). From Cotacachi we took a bus to Quiroga and from here, after some walking, a French family picked us up. On the way back, we’re lucky with a local guy :). All in all, free rides work in Ecuador too! In the evening we pack our bags ‘cause we’ll not come back here for a week.
It’s Saturday 24th, Christmas Eve. And it feels so good relaxing in thermal water and admiring the landscape. We are in Intag, checked in at Pacheco Farmhouse, held by an Argentinian girl, a beautiful place where it’s almost impossible to whisper because of the nearby creek. It’s quite nice! The rain follows us on the way to Guariman, but it worth listening stories about a thousands years old culture and admiring ancient mound tombs (tumuli). Raluca even choses a ‘mystic’ massage with some ‘magic’ stones (meteorite) in a room of a museum which I’m visiting for free. And if I had drank coffee it would have also been on them. On the way back catch a free ride with a nice grandpa born in Austria and his young local girlfriend. Being the only ones at Pacheco, we spend a familial Christmas with Jimena, her mother and aunt who came here special for the holidays and a French volunteer who’s helping around. For a discount we also offered our services; actually we just did the dishes. We drank Argentinian wine, ate pork roast and cake with ice cream for dessert and what interesting conversations I had with the ladies, experienced travelers too. A wonderful evening!
25 Dec. – Pacheco House walk Apuela walk Nangulví walk Pacheco House
On Sunday, fair day, we visit Apuela village, I taste some more pig skin and aloe tea (like a phlegm drink) and walk a little more. After we cross a river by tarabita, which, unlike the one from Macuma, requires more strength ‘cause is a little slanted, we’re hastened home by rain. We meet a Canadian at the lodge and we continue the nice talks with homemade pizza. In the morning we have a little shock when it’s time to pay cause everything is included in the 84$ bill (meals, Christmas dinner and also the wine). We’re lucky with the room discount, otherwise …. But, what the heck, once is Christmas!
26 Dec. – Pacheco House bus Otavalo bus Ibarra bus La Esperanza walk & bus Zuleta —– La Esperanza (Casa Aida)
On the last moment we catch the bus to Otavalo, where we change for Ibarra, the capital of Imbabura province, and once again for La Esperanza, at Casa Aida. The owner is well known around here and even abroad. The place was so famous especially in the 70’s and 80’s. Why? Firstly, because Mrs. Aida is a wonderful 80 years old woman who was the first to realize the area’s potential and opened her gates to travelers, and secondly for the local hallucinogenic mushrooms, forbidden today. One the important visitors of this place was Bob Dylan. A day it’s not enough to listen to all her wonderful stories. She still has at her age new ideas for her business. She also speaks English! The idea of a lodge came after she helped some Italian hippies searching for shelter. They prolonged their stay for more than one week, helped with cleaning and reparations and even collected some money in the village for the house. We walk around till we reach Zuleta, famous for the manual embroideries. I try morocho, which is similar with our rice with milk (with corn instead) and we hitch-hike back with a family from Ibarra. We think to climb the Imbabura Volcano the next day. The guide, Mrs. Aida’s grandson asks for 20$ each, 15 later on. We find out from an American, a friend of Raluca, he paid just 10$, so we decide to go on our own, but because it is raining all night and Raluca has shoes problems, we have to change the plan.
27 Dec. – La Esperanza bus Ibarra bus El Ángel —– La Libertad —— polylepis reserve walk & HH La Libertad 0.45$ taxi El Ángel
In the morning, after some delicious pancakes prepared by Mrs. Aida and some more stories, we rush for Ibarra, change the shoes and visit an Internet Café to transfer some pics. The next destination: Carchi – El Ángel reserve of some weird trees somehow looking like huge pineapples called polylepis (frailejones in Spanish). We hitch-hike from El Angel town to La Libertad, and from La Libertad to the reserve with two young teachers, a guy from Argentina established in the States and an Ecuadorian girl. The landscape is pretty nice, unlike the weather or the accommodation. Even if it’s hailing we won’t pay 80$ for a room. It doesn’t last too much and it’s a pleasure to get lost a little on muddy paths. Why should we use the same way back when there are so many other things to see, like cows in the middle of the road, for example? We’re lucky with a pickup and a 45 cents taxi from La Libertad to El Ángel. The driver is so kind to drop us to a cheap accommodation (15$/room) and to tell us more interesting places to visit. We spend the evening drinking under a balcony listening to some talented youngsters rehearsing Metallica. Awesome concert! Rock on!!!
What day is today? Oh yeah, Wednesday! Hard to tell when you travel. We take the bus for Tulcán and thanks to yesterday’s driver, we arrive in Tufiño, at the border with Columbia. After walking 4 kilometers, we catch a ride to Hediondas thermal water pools, surrounded by much more polylepis trees than in El Ángel. We cook ourselves in three different pools, one hotter then another, cream our face with volcanic mud and we feel so good even if we’ll stink like sulfur. Before that I followed a trail into the jungle, a mixture of mud, roots, lianas and moss. Here is where I come across a sign which delimitates the border with Columbia, so here I stand “illegally” in the neighbor country. I’m lucky they let me in at Hediondas so dirty, but it seems mud is appreciated here so no es ningun problema 😉 We take another ride direct to Tulcán with a family who it seems to be acquainted with for years not minutes, and we don’t leave the city without visiting the famous cemetery. It is well known not for its “tenants”, but for the topiary garden (different figures and animals sculpted in hedges) – an open air museum! I don’t have any option but to make fun of Raluca when we see Ralo written on a wall. At least she has a special reserved place. We easily got away in the morning at a migration control (the passport copy of a volunteer teacher was enough), but on the way back to Ibarra we waste time at a narcotic check. Every bus is stopped and verified like at the customs. No wonder the border with Columbia is so close. The delay makes us running in the dark to the terminal of Ibarra (because the bus dropped us somewhere else) and missing the last transport to Cotacachi. But there’s always a solution – we take an Otavalo bus and get out at Illuman. From here we pay 1$ for a ride to Cotacahi. At least we’re home and won’t pay for accommodation. Meanwhile we receive an interesting e-mail which says the visa process is suspended because the lack of some documents and we have two months to solve the issue. Cool! But I don’t worry. Everything will be fine as always. Of course it will, but till then it’s nice to have the feeling of being somehow clandestine in Ecuador.
We weak up early the next morning cause a long journey is waiting for us. We change six buses: Cotacachi – Otavalo – Quito North – Quito Centre – Quito South – Latacunga – Quilotoa, the famous lake inside a crater. I said it before, the transport in Ecuador is pretty cheap because Ecuador has its own petrol resources. In average it’s about 1-1,5$ per hour; we paid 8$ from Cotacachi for the same number of hours. And I’m thinking again of Americans’ comments: ““Just for 100 bucks you can rent a car from Quito and also have a guide for Quilotoa. Awesome, dude!” We have enough time to reach the bottom of the crater, touch the lake and admire the breathtaking landscape. Going up is as always more difficult, but not too much. Some choose the mules for the ascent. I regret I didn’t take the tent with me when I saw some guys camping down there, but I didn’t know anyway it’s allowed and we’ve already found a room before. It was quite cheap if you look how touristic is the place, but very cold. It could be almost 0° during the night. So good I took the poncho! We’re about 3000 m altitude. On the way, on mountain roads, the altimeter showed 4000 and the next morning I did by myself the lake’s loop in 2h45, reaching 3930m. We spend a memorable night at a local party with voiceless musicians. The 3$ entrance ticket covered also a meal and I also ate Raluca’s (it’s good to have vegetarian friends). We’re the only tourists around here but we like it. We have a good time with dance, music and canelazo (a hot maracuya drink with alcohol). Most of the songs are perfectly describing what’s happening here; it’s all about trago and cerveza. The party goes on when we go to sleep and for many hours we can still hear the more and more drunken artists.
After the morning escapade around the lake, we go back to Quito with a 1,5$ car to Zumbahua, a free ride to Latacunga and the bus to the capital. From Quitmbe (southern terminal), where we accidentally meet another volunteer, we continue to Mindo. The bus drops us on the main road, where from we take a 1.5$ car per person to the city of clouds. Here, with clouds, forests, orchids and butterflies, we spend the New Year’s Eve. And it rains again, but once again we find affordable accommodation (15$/person/night) close to the river and palms. The small town is nice and with not so many tourists as I was expecting. We take a little tour in the rain and buy some provisions for the next day.
31 Dec. – Mindo
Some spend the end of the year in the kitchen cooking traditional dishes, some in the malls or supermarkets or some at the mountains, skiing. I am in the rainforest, among butterflies and dozens of waterfalls. Half day we walk in the nature, a quarter we sleep and the rest we party on streets; but not before a Romanian traditional snack: cheese, tomatoes, onion, lemon vodka instead of țuică and Romica Puceanu on the background. The people have fun, dance and the atmosphere is beautiful – bachata, salsa, merengue, sometimes a reggaeton too … and of course, an aguardiente, the traditional traguito. At midnight, according to the tradition, they put on fire all the ugly huge puppets which invaded all Ecuador these days. You could have seen them at every corner. Stuffed with sawdust, and dressed up in ragged clothes or like different superheroes, film or cartoon characters. I even say Chucky, the killer doll. I recalled a celebration in Romania, in the region where I spent my childhood – the night of Saint Demetrios. We also light huge fires we jump over. It’s said it’s for good luck. I didn’t receive here any nuts or sweets, but I bought a guava marmalade dessert.
And another year just passed and I hope Pachamama to find me as often as possible in this kind of exotic places. This is what I wish you all, of course if this is what you want. We have a saying in Romanian which can be translated like this: “Be careful what are you wishing for cause it might happen”. This works perfect for me. As well as “You can if you want!” I spend 1st of January just on the roads, arriving home, in Sevilla, at 5:00 AM next morning. And it’s raining and tomorrow I have to go to school. And oh my, how many pictures I took! Take care and make a snowball for me ‘cause I’ve seen you have plenty in Europe. Here we have just an earthquake from time to time and maybe an eruption once at some hundred years 🙂 Peace & Love!