A Travellerspoint blog

Weekend Trips

Ecuador

Baños – Ruta de las Cascadas. 14th-16th Jan

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My first weekend trip was to the much celebrated holiday destination of Baños – famous for aguas thermales (hot springs) and adventure sports. Whilst I’m not that keen on the idea of adventure sports without the watchful eye of the HSA, the thermal springs were fantastic & the surrounding landscape is stunning.
It took us 5 hours to get to Baños on the coach – usually a 3.5 hour trip – after battling with traffic, various people jumping on the bus at every opportunity to try and sell dubious looking snack food, and a conductor who wanted to stop every 20 minutes to try and pick up more passengers.

We got up early on the Saturday to soak in the hot springs. ‘Aguas de la Virgen’ is a thermal baths which occupies an envious spot at the top of the town next to a waterfall with views out across the valley from the pool. The Ecuadorian family atmosphere was quite fun – being the only people with white skin in a swimming pool makes you painfully aware of your minority status! After an hour’s soak we were so relaxed that we almost collapsed on the way back to the hostal for breakfast.

We spent most of the day trekking down the valley. The trail was empty of tourists, who I can only assume were busy with their adventure sports, and the scenery was lush – this valley eventually leads down in to the very top of the Amazon basin. The only person we saw all day was a farmer who happily guided us through a patch where the path had been reclaimed by nature, and sold us some home grown fruit.

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‘Mantel de la Novia’ – feels kind of like being in Jurassic Park.

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Apparently even high up in the Andes there is demand for tasteless holiday homes coupled with a lack of intelligent planning regulation

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Cotopaxi. 22nd Jan

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Cotopaxi is the world’s highest active volcano. With some time and training (and of course some luck with the weather conditions) you can make your way right to the top. We walked up as far as the first refuge and then biked down though the Paramo - bleak high altitude landscape which was given its name by the conquistadors due to its apparent similarity to the mountainous regions around Madrid of the same name.

Trekking up to the first refuge on Cotopaxi

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Up in the snow and fog above the refuge

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Spot the American! (sorry Matt – couldn’t resist!)

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Me in a few years’ time when I’ve completed my Mountaineering Leadership Winter Award!

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Back down below the snow

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The bleak beauty of the Paramo

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One for Lucy (I hope he'll get on with the rest of the crew - he's in my bag and can't wait to meet you)

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Leaving for the Galapagos tomorrow morning - VERY exciting!! Back on the 13th Feb.

Posted by Stevie_A 08:22 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito in perspective

Ecuador

sunny 22 °C

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So it’s been 3 weeks in Quito and already I’m feeling the taste of living in a foreign country that I’ve been craving. There’s something deeply refreshing about not just a change of scenery, or a week or 2 of relaxation, but a change of culture.

I’m fully in to the routine of classes each day and breakfast and dinner with my ‘Quito family’. Also made some friends at the school, including a very cool American lady – Sandra - who has distracted me from my studies with a great connection, stimulating conversation and Ecuadorian experiences. Sandra’s been in Quito a little longer and is pretty much fluent in Spanish.. so way beyond me and we’ve spoken English – not good! Sandra had a one way ticket to South America with no timeframe for travel – and I thought I was lucky having 6 months. She left the school on Wednesday - hurray!
<sorry Sandra – need to study! ;-) >

The most beautiful part of Quito is the old town – built in the days of the Spanish Empire with a surprising history of protection and maintenance despite having had its fair share of the usual turmoil in a country’s history - political unrest, conquest, civil war..

Iglesia y Monesterio de San Francisco – a vast church and monastery complex dominating one of the largest squares in the old town
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The old town’s main square

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The streets of the old town are classic Golden Age European architecture - a far cry from the sprawling ‘new town’ of La Mariscal.

Streets of the old town – towers of the Basilica in the distance
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Inside the various religious buildings the usual extravagance of the Catholic Church. None more so than La Compania of the Jesuit order – lined with an estimated 7 tonnes of gold. No photos of this one though unfortunately as they want to make money from postcards.

Inside Iglesia San Francisco and the Basilica

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Around 10 years ago a cable lift was built up to the top of one of the mountains immediately surrounding the city – El Teleferico. At over 4000m above sea level the view point provides an unrivalled view of the city with the backdrop of the mountains of the Andes. From here it’s easy to see how parts of the city piece together, and the context of the stunning natural environment on which it’s built. Combined with my Ecuadorian Sierra city living experience I feel strangely at home in Quito, and quite looking forward to getting back here again after my trip to the Galapagos.
Did I mention I'm all booked up for 2 weeks on the Galapagos? A week's volunteering on a conservation project and an 8 day tourist cruise. Excited is not the word!!

Quito in perspective

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Sandra – bad for the Spanish: good for the soul

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Posted by Stevie_A 13:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quito by night

Ecuador

Check out some pictures of Quito by night – beautifully lit, especially the Old Town, or Centro Historico – the very first UNESCO World Heritage site.

We ate empanada de viento – kind of like a huge doughnut but with sugar and cheese - and drank the local drink - like hot thick fruit juice with a separate pot of almost pure alcohol to mix in to your taste. When in Quito..

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The Virgen de Quito - made in France around 200 years ago she looks out over the city of Quito from on high. It's Mary, only with wings and the ability to crush snakes underfoot. (if you look carefully you'll see a hapless serpent at her feet)

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The streets of the old town

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Church of Santo Domingo

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Posted by Stevie_A 14:46 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Magic in Quito

Ecuador

overcast 15 °C

After another broken plane left us stationary in Madrid airport for 2 hours, and an 11 hour flight, I arrive in Quito.

My homestay family are very welcoming – Lorene and her 18 year old daughter. Her husband died some time ago. They don’t speak any English, but I’m surprised by how much I can understand – exactly what I need! We have breakfast and dinner together each day where I can try out my Spanish and see how much of their conversation I can follow.

The school is great – a colonial style building with stylish wooden interior and balconies.. the main room is divided up by whiteboards, easels and screens in to sections where all of the tuition takes place. My teacher, Ivan, is nice and seems very experienced.

The usual culture shock ensues – just walking through the streets on the first day everything seems completely alien, and of course compared with the UK and Madrid it seems run down and intimidating. Though it’s amazing how quickly you recalibrate. Before long my generally negative thoughts about Quito’s ‘new town’ are replaced with an appreciation of its life and character; the run-down streets seem normal, and I even feel impressed by the design of some of the more modern buildings.

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After a frustrating day at school on Wednesday where I struggled in conversation with my teacher, yesterday was excellent. I talked for 45 minutes at the end of class in Spanish and felt confident with what I was saying. On the way home I realised that I’d had a chain of thought in Spanish without realising it, and on reflection the grammar and genders were pretty accurate. On Wednesday I’d begrudgingly resigned myself to hard work and slow progress - now I’m hoping that this is the magic of total immersion learning.

Since I arrived Quito has been in permanent cloud. Yesterday as I walked home from school (thoughts processing in Spanish!) the clouds cleared just enough for me to glimpse some landscape beyond the city. I’d all but forgotten that we are 2800m above sea level high up in the Andes. Mountains rising out of the cloud above the city were stunning – a glimpse of some of the magic South and Central America has in store for me over the next 4 months.

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Posted by Stevie_A 15:44 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

NYE!

Madrid

semi-overcast 15 °C

Loved the roar of the crowd in Puerta del Sol!

(watch this space for a video - I´m not having much success uploading it)

Had a wonder round Madrid this afternoon - I think this is the first day I've had no plans since 2008 - love being on holiday and love that I'm not working for another 6 months.

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Also love that this time tomorrow I will be flying over the Atlantic to Quito.

Also love Rafa.

All in all feeling pretty good.

x

Posted by Stevie_A 07:55 Archived in Spain Comments (1)

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