A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Colombia - Las Lajas

We travelled 6hrs from Quito to the border, with food sellers jumping on the bus at every stop desperate to make some money...with anything from home made ice creams, to fried pork on offer! We met some other travellers at the border and formed a happy bunch of 5. The road into Colombia is pretty dangerous at night due to guerillas in the area, who hijack busses and relieve everyone of their valuables fairly frequently, even when the buses travel under police convoy!

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So as it was nearing dark we chose to stay near the border town of Ipiales, next to the spectacular Las Lajas Cathedral. The Cathedral was completed in 1949, built on a bridge spanning a spectacularly valley. There are waterfalls spurting from the surrounding lush cliff sides and a river running underneath. We sat back an enjoyed a drink and the view as the sun went down, feeling pretty happy to be in Colombia.

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Ecuador - Mindo

25 °C

We were on the road with a couple of other travellers and decided to head to the Mindo 'cloud forest' in northern Ecuador. As we drove in we felt the temperature climb, the air was filled with moisture and the rolling hills were shrouded with clouds...hence the name. A gorgeous spot to spend a few days, although we confess to not doing much at all during our time here! Paul went to visit the waterfalls in the Mindo Nambillo Cloud Forest, a beautiful place to hike and explore 6 waterfalls. All went really well until they decided to walk the 2 hour road back into town...instead of walking back to town, they walked for an hour in the wrong direction! It was raining, getting dark and they are lucky the road came to a dead end or they'd still be walking. Just by chance an Ecuadorian film crew was driving past (as often happens in the middle of nowhere!) and gave them a lift. Meanwhile I had a trip to the doctor, who gave me some antibiotics to treat several days of stomach pain. All for free, thank you Ecuadorian government!

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We stayed at the very nice Casa de Cecilia, perched on the riverbank, with a variety of rooms. We started off in a dark cave-like room, then lucked out for our last couple of nights when we moved to a room with a view out over the river and lush green cloud forest. Although a little dangerous for the waistline, the chocolate brownies sold at the chocolate shops around town are also not to be missed!! We spent a few peaceful hours at a butterfly sanctury, where we walked through a butterfly filled greenhouse, saw some crazy Orchids, some shaped like shoes, others like angels, Ecuador has thousands of endemic species of Orchids. Then we relaxed in hammocks and watched hummingbirds feeding in front of us!

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Ecuador - Otavalo

22 °C

Paul's Brazil visa application was to take a few days in Quito so we decided to head two hours north to Otavalo, home to South America's largest market. We went on a Friday afternoon in readiness for the early Saturday mornings animal market. What a treat. Cows, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, puppies and kittens...all being bought, sold or traded. The other market, full of artesinals (hand made products), arts, crafts, food and more flowed out from the main square along the town's central streets...so much to explore.

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After some haggling, we made a few purchses and headed back to our accommodation, Rose Cottage. It is about 4 kms out of town, set magnificently on a hill top, surrounded by deep valleys and green mountains, with a view down across the town. We definately recommend this place to anyone coming to Otavalo. (Plus you can stay in a cubbyhouse! Well, pretty much). We de-stressed from the market mayhem with a few days of relaxation in hammocks, taking in the views, and watching some movies from Rose Cottage's never ending DVD collection.

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Ecuador - Quito

22 °C

We have heard a number of unfriendly stories about Quito from other travellers, someone even told us it is a 'right of passage' to have your bag stolen or get mugged whilst staying here!

With our secret money belts in action and our bags all locked up we bused into town. After a smooth journey into our accommodation, Hostel Chicago, in between the New and Old parts of town we were able to relax. Quito is divided into two parts, the Old Town which is full of beautiful buildings, big plazas and spotless streets, with shops and restaurants catering to locals. And the New Town, which doesn't have the charm of the Old, but sits close to some big parks and caters very well to the tourist crowd with numerous cafes, bars, and tour agencies. So for us our hostel was in a perfect spot, between the two, and it also had a fantastic deck from which we could see out across the city!

We exlpored the stunning old town, which was filled with vibrant people and headed into 'Calle La Ronda', to see Quito's version of a Saturday night. An old laneway completely buzzing with locals, live music, good food and jugs of cañelazo ~ hot rum and fruit drink, which come served with giant empenadas (fried dough). We enjoyed seeing the locals up dancing to live salsa music having a good time, and finished the night off with some tasty pizza sold through a window. And we met a couple from the UK, as it turns out we've been following each other around the continent for the last 7 months!

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The Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the word = Equator) is just a few kilometres north of Quito, so we headed there the next day. There's a giant monument on the equator 'line' although there's a bit of debate about exactly where the equator is, the place next door claiming it's actually there! Being Sunday it was a big family day, with salsa music and more dancing in the plaza nearby, and perfect weather to enjoy a beer in the sunshine.

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Our next few days were filled in with sightseeing and exploring the New and Old parts of Quito, and taking in the fantastic view from our top deck!

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Ecuador - Latacunga & Quilotoa

21 °C

It is refreshing, in Ecuador, to reach a new place after a short 1 or 2 hour bus ride, compared with the massive distances covered in other South American countries, often on night buses. We arrived in Latacunga early afternoon, and were greeted by some stray urine that got whipped up in the wind from an old guy releiving himself on the main bridge...hmm. We stayed at the very good Hostel Tiana, who gave us heaps of tourist info about trips from town.

We'd arrived in perfect timing to visit the nearby town of Saquisili, which goes market crazy on Thursdays. We managed to make it through 6 of the giant markets, and there are 8 in total! Selling everything from live animals, electronics, fresh food, handmade textiles and more... One market was called the 'potato market'..which had an astonishing amount of potatoes, as you can imagine, amongst onions and other things which had crept their way in!

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Latacunga doesn't have loads going for it but it's the best base to venture out to the impressive Quilotoa crater. The next day we did the 3 hour journey to the giant volcano crater, which sits at 3,919m above sea level and houses a beautiful lake. We peered over the craters edge and then walked/slid our way down to the water, over steep, dry and dusty terrain. The lake had super clear water, complete with row boats and a small hostel. There is a myth amoungst local people that the lake has no bottom...but we weren't game to find out. Strangely, it's $40 US to see this place on a tour, or around $8 if you go as the locals do, on busses then the back of a pick up truck...a little more interesting.

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Ecuador - Baños

21 °C

Argentina has Bariloche, Chile has Pucon, Peru has Huaraz and Ecuador? Baños, famous for all things adventure. Rafting, hiking, biking, buggy riding, zip lining and bungy jumping...all set in a stunning valley, huge waterfalls and towered over by the 5016m high active Volcán Tungurahua. Touristy? Yes, but for good reason, and we loved it.

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Our highlight was hiring a 2 seater buggy and cruzing down the Ruta de las Cascadas (road with loads of waterfalls) along a winding river with huge cliffs, zip lines and cable cars, that culminates at the gob smacking Cascada Del Diablo with enormous amounts of water gushing over a cliff top. When you get close you get drenched in water, this didn't stop us, or all the locals. And just when it couldn't get any better, we climbed through a narrow rock crevace and emerged BEHIND the waterfall, with gallons of water exploding in front of us!!

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A hike around the mountains surrounding the town, a cable 'cage' swinging across the top of 2 waterfalls (which Lucy thought were her last few minutes on Earth as it hung mid canyon swinging in the wind...lucky we didn't go for the ziplines!). Coupled with some great Pizza at 'Pappardelle' and hanging out with a nice Austrian couple in the our clean and homely hostel 'Princesa Maria,' we loved our time here, despite the regular rain!

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