Covered in itchy red splotches from dozens of varieties of insects, we lay down to rest in a hostel, our first night out of the jungle in several days. It is amazing that people have been able to endure the harsh conditions of the jungle for so long. In fact, the last uncontacted indigenous people on the planet still live in these jungles, not terribly far from where we have just been. Well, not far if you’re in a plane… but try crossing it on foot…
We took one hike deep into the jungle, guided by a local whose family owns land in between two rivers, accessible only by hiking through the waters, or taking a hand powered cable car across in the rainy season. It was an incredible hike, but it tired us out all the same.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is my first post about our travels in Ecuador, and I should start at the beginning. We arrived in Quito after a very difficult day of traveling. We flew out of Miami, but not until we corrected a pretty big mistake we made booking the tickets. When we got to the counter to check in, they couldn’t find our reservation. After some searching, they determined that we’d bought our tickets for the wrong month, the 30th of January. This cost us several hundred dollars to fix (it would have been closer to two thousand had they not had some pity on us and waived some of their fees) and it had us departing four hours later than planned. Then our plane was extremely late taking off, because the concession people failed to stock the plane with food and took over an hour to get their act together. When we finally arrived in Quito, it was after midnight, and it was after one by the time we finally cleared customs.
We tried to pack as lightly as we could, but the girls still had trouble toting their bags around. We’ve had nothing but complaints every time we’ve had to move all our things at once. By the time we got to our hotel in Quito, we were exhausted, and we crashed out, hoping to sleep in.
Instead we were awakened by loud music. It was New Year’s Eve, and Quito really gets into their celebration. The road we stayed on was closed off, and there were people walking the streets as soon as we went out. Our first stop was Mitad del Mundo, located on the equator. At least, where they thought the equator was, when they built the monument and tourist town around it. Satellite technology later revealed that the actual equator is two hundred and forty meters north of the big line they drew on the plaza, but it was close enough for us. We enjoyed balancing an egg on a nail (which is supposedly easier at the equator) and seeing the Coriolis effect on water draining debunked. (Water drains in whichever direction is it put into the bowl. It does not drain in different directions in the different hemispheres.)
There were also some neat museums at Mitad, including a planetarium and a history of chocolate and the cacao bean, where we got to see a demonstration of chocolate making and taste both pure cacao nibs and some finished chocolate that had just been made.
On the way back to the hotel, numerous men dressed up as women, with wigs and make up and fake boobs, accosted the cab, rubbing their butts on the hood and asking for money. In some places there were even people with ropes stretched across the road to force cars to stop for this bizarre display. This, apparently, is a New Year’s tradition, representing the widows of the old year. Many of the displays were downright inappropriate for our young girls to be witnessing, but there was little we could do. We’re worldschooling them, and by golly, they won’t forget that part of the culture here. Another interesting New Year's ritual is the burning of effigies, which they call biejas. Out with the old and in with the new, I suppose.
Back at the hotel the streets were still closed off and packed with people. We thought we might walk around to see what was happening, but that turned out to be a mistake. The girls were tired and the crowd was dense. We could barely walk, and the smells were not so good. We walked for some time in search of food, eventually settling on fresh mango and some fried plantains. The girls did not like being in the huge throng of people there really wasn’t that much going on. The music even stopped shortly after we hit the streets. We were exhausted by the time we finally went to bed.
We had planned to leave Quito the next day, but no buses were running on New Year’s Day. In the morning we went out for breakfast, and it was like the beginning of Vanilla Sky. The streets were totally deserted, the shops all locked up behind graffiti covered roll up metal doors.
We eventually found a tourist place that was open, and while we ate, were happy to discover that the sky was blue and the sun was out. It had been cloudy all the day before, which hampered our plans to take a cable car up into the mountains for a view of the city. With a clear day, it seemed like a good opportunity, so up we went.
Quito is already high elevation (around 9000 feet), but the cable car took us another several thousand feet up, affording us great views. It was much colder up there, and there were hardly any trees. The Andes are rugged and forbidding, even though they appear quite green and beautiful. Hiking to the uppermost viewpoint was exhausting, and we learned we were at an elevation of over 13,000. There were several hikes we could have taken, but we were hard pressed to get the girls to even do the short hike that we took.
Seeing the city from above was impressive to behold. Quito’s population is around 3.5 million, and though they don’t have a massive skyline of hundred story skyscrapers, the entire valley below us was filled with buildings, stretching out further than could be seen. It was quite a sight.
When we returned to an elevation with a bit more oxygen, we walked through the historic downtown, where we saw the Basilica (a huge cathedral), Independence Plaza, and several other cathedrals.
We took a bus back towards our hotel, stopping in a huge park where the girls played for over an hour, enjoying a giant see-saw and making friends with a local family, whom we learned were actually from Venezuela. We had a nice conversation with the parents, who were very curious about our travels, and who told us much about how difficult life in Venezuela is right now. They had come to Ecuador to escape the financial collapse of their own country. Their kids were fascinated by our daughters, and they kept asking to touch their hair. The girls didn’t seem to mind, and we all took some pictures together before we headed home.
While we were in Quito, I got in touch with an ecovillage in Ecuador that welcomed us to come for a visit, so our plan was to head down there the next morning. We had some difficulty getting out of the hotel on time, because their machine wouldn’t accept our card, and when I tried to go to the bank for cash, I found out (after going to about four different ATMs) that our credit union apparently forgot to register our travel plans, which I submitted to them before we left. Thank goodness we stocked up a backup account. Eventually we got on our way to the bus station over an hour late, and by the time we got there we barely had time to get our tickets and board.
The nearest town to the ecovillage was called Tena, and it was five hours away by bus, even though it was only just over a hundred miles. In part this is because the bus stops anytime someone on the side of the road wants to get on. It’s also because when we were climbing over passes in the Andes, we were going less than twenty miles an hour, for a good deal of time. It was right in the middle of this cold, rainy, desolate terrain that the girls announced they had to pee. The bus had no bathrooms, and though the driver told me there would be stops where we could get out and use a bathroom, we found this to be untrue. He was quite annoyed when I told him my girls had to go, but he still stopped on the side of the highway and let them out to pee, right next to the bus. I am going to have to be more careful to make sure we get buses with bathrooms in the future, because our girls can’t seem to go more than an hour or two without peeing, as I’ve learned from many road trips across the states.
When we arrived in Tena, we were all ready to get off of the bus. More and more people kept getting on, and the aisles were packed with people by the time we got to the station. We took a cab out to the entrance of the ecovillage, which was pretty far out of the city. We were in for a treat, though certainly not a treat without its challenges. Our adventures in Wisdom Forest (a yoga retreat ecovillage) will have to wait for another installment though, as this has gotten long.