A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador

Cuenca, Ecuador

A breadth of fresh air

One thing that we have come to realize on our “endless summer” of traveling is that we both prefer mountain air to heat and humidity. We met some folks who had moved from California to Cuenca and they suggested we go for a visit… so we did! This beautiful safe mountain town sits over 8,000 feet high with a blend of Ecuadorian old town feeling mixed with a growing expat community. We instantly fell in love.
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We ‘bandited‘ a free 6.8k family run not expecting it to be that popular but we were shocked to find 8,000 Ecuadorians running alongside us. It was a tough run at altitude after being at sea level for the past few weeks, but it was soooo much fun to have a tour of the city by running through its streets!
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We headed out of the city near the Ecuadorian part of the Inca trail for a half day horseback ride with Carlos. We must have fooled him with our riding skills, because he had no problem cantering us around the steep mountainsides. Note to male beginners who want to someday start a family: never, ever, ever try to ride western with boxer shorts!
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After the running race and holding on for dear life to a horse, our muscles were in need of some serious rejuvenation! So, we rented bicycles and headed to some natural hot springs in an adjacent town called Baños. We spend the day relaxing in 40C (104F) swimming pools and stretching out our beaten muscles.
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Cuenca has a growing number of Americans who have retired and now call Cuenca their home. We can feel the lure and can actually imagine ourselves living there one day (you heard it here first). There are endless numbers of free activities put on by the city. One night, we even went to listen to an orchestra and choir in the Sucre Theater. Nice work Cuenca, we heart you.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:03 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Santa Cruz, Galapagos

Nonstop nature

sunny 93 °F

Santa Cruz is the most inhabited island of the Galapagos, so our initial thought was that it would be the least desirable. However, it turns out that there is a ton of fun activities to do, so much that we changed our flights to add more days on the island! The thing that made Santa Cruz so nice was that we could do a lot of day trips on our own. For example, walking to Las Grietas for some cliff jumping…
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…or Tortuga Bay for some body surfing! Each destination had a well-defined path which made for nice nature walks full of Darwin’s finches and crazy looking cactuses that live on the water’s edge.
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Our day trip to the ‘uninhabited’ North Seymour Island turned out to be inhabited by an enormous population of frigate birds, land iguanas, and blue footed boobies! All of which weren’t the slightest afraid of our group walking around their nests. It was a unique experience to get so close to the strange males who puff up their red pelican like throats to attract females.
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One of our most memorable snorkels was near the Canal del Amor by Punta Estrada, where we snorkeled for ages with a family of sea lions who were just as curious about us, as we were about them! It was quite the experience to swim so close to creatures twice our size.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:01 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Isabela, Galapagos

Volcanos above and below the sea

sunny 90 °F

Isabela is the largest of the Galapagos Islands, yet it is hardly inhabited. The main city is Puerto Villamil where we stayed with a family in their pension. We were there when the island’s founding celebration was happening in the highlands; they had ‘big’ parties in the town, a rodeo in the highlands, and a big Ecua-Volley tournament right near our pension. Ecuadorian rules volleyball is about as awkward to watch as netball if you are a basketball fan, but it drew big crowds!
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One of the places to explore there is an active volcano called Volcano Chino. After hiking through a forest of invasive guava trees, we landed on what could have been mistaken for mars. The landscape turned bare and crumbled below each step. There were lava tunnels and jagged basalt craters everywhere. Kneeling down we could stick our hands into steamy holes to felt the steaming heat of mama Earth.
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We have to hand it to the underwater volcanic tunnels called Los Tuneles for the awesome snorkeling. The sea life was supersized from the 12 foot wide manta rays, the 7 feet long sea turtles, and the lurking sharks inside dark caves, we just couldn’t believe our eyes!
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We had the best time on a short boat trip to Islote Tintoreras for a snorkel/hike combo that packed in huge amounts of wildlife including penguins! After our snorkel we walked through what was like the kindergarten for marine iguanas, with a million little juvenile iguanas piled on top of each other right next to a shark cove that we could look straight down into. Then after walking through a lichen covered lava rock field with the adult iguanas, we reached a sea lions breading beach. The walk was probably only about 45 minutes, but there wasn’t a single minute without some amazing wildlife and scenery being right up in our personal space. If there is one place in the Galapagos you go to, it should be here!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 14:02 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

San Cristobal, Galapagos

Volunteering in the Galapagos

sunny 93 °F

Armed with only a machete and half of a fence post hole digger we combed the highlands of San Cristobal in search of invasive blackberries (‘mora’ in Spanish). The battle between native plants and blackberries is easily being won by the blackberries. However, places like Hacienda Esperanza are clearing large areas of blackberries and replanting the native species to then hand over the groomed land back to the giant tortoises (tortugas).
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We initially wanted to volunteer as a way to offset the environmental stress that we cause as tourists in the Galapagos, but then realized that it was much more of a learning experience for us. Our week in the highlands gave us a chance to experience real country life in the Galapagos far from the travel agencies and restaurants. Each day we awoke to roosters at 6am, had breakfast, then hiked for 45 minutes to the top of the mountain for a grueling day of mountain gardening. Our evenings were spent tagging along with Jose and his family’s activities, including soccer with the neighborhood, his 5 year old nephew’s bautizo, and harvesting food for us and the tortoises from his brother’s plantation.
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Jose’s nephew, Dyana, acted as our tour guide one day taking us to Puerto Chino and Largo Junco. It was a great way to practice our Spanish and learn a few things about the giant tortoises.
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In the rest of our time off, we explored the tourist sites of San Cristobal including swimming with the marine iguanas and having our first glimpse of the infamous blue footed boobies…
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…and deep water snorkeling with sharks at Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock)!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 18:19 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito, Ecuador

Escaping the heat in the mountains

We have now been the two highest capitals in the world: Quito, Ecuador (9,350 feet) and La Paz, Bolivia (11,942). We were very excited to step off the plane in Quito and for the first time in a LONG time, feel the fresh cool breeze without any humidity. We walked through the city to our hotel and the simple fact that our shirts weren’t drenched with sweat amused us immensely. We attempted to go for a run and found a network of stairs up to the Itchimbia park. We aren’t sure what took our breath away more, the altitude or the stunning view of the city!
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We explored both the old city and the new city combing the parks, old colonial buildings, and sampling the ice creams and meriendas – the menu of the day that always comes with fresh jugo (juice)! Best of all it turns out that some Ecuadorian dishes require peanut butter for the sauce, so there was plenty of bulk crema de maní (peanut butter) to be found!
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Quito has an interesting ‘subway’ system that is composed of buses that have their own lane, and subway like stops. Opposite of the 6+ footers in Eastern Europe, the people here are relatively small and stout. We couldn’t help but be amused with being able to see over everyone in the bus and straight out the windshield.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:32 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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