Exploring Ecuador, Part 3: From Puerto Lopez to Quito
This is the last leg of our Ecuadorian journey! In this post, we're traveling from Puerto Lopez back to Quito.
Monday, June 19th - Puerto Lopez, Ecuador
We left Puerto Lopez at 8:00 PM on the night bus. We traveled to Quito and arrived around 5:00 AM. Maria Sol (our G Adventures CEO) warned us about the troubles of the night bus--it can be noisy, freezing, smelly, bumpy, etc. I tend to have trouble sleeping on planes, so I was a bit worried about being able to sleep on this night bus. However, I was very pleasantly surprised about this journey. It definitely was freezing on the bus but luckily we came prepared. It wasn't too noisy, except for the woman who thought it would be a good idea to call everyone in her contact list at 10:45 PM on a bus full of sleeping people. Ear plugs helped solve this problem though. AND, Michael and I were both able to sleep! Overall, the night bus journey wasn't as bad as I thought it would be!
After arriving at 5:00 AM back in Quito, we went straight to the same hotel we stayed in on our first night (Hotel Eugenia) and we fell right asleep for about 3 hours before heading down to a breakfast of eggs, sausage, fruit, toast with butter and jam, and coffee (which was SO necessary). We then set off for one of THE greatest experiences of this trip at 9:00 AM. We headed with a local guide to Cotopaxi Volcano. This volcano is the most active and the second tallest in Ecuador. It took us about 2 hours to get to the national park (thanks traffic) and another hour or so to get to the parking lot where we would begin our hike. We hiked up to Refugio José Rivas (The José Rivas Refuge), or the tallest point to which you can hike on the volcano. The Refuge stands at 4,864 meters or 15,953 feet above sea level. We hiked straight up in the snow and, at one point, in the freezing sleet. The altitude made this hike extremely difficult and we had to stop quite a few times to catch our breath and give our lungs a break. It took us about an hour or so to walk from the parking lot to The Refuge, which was only about 1 kilometer but remember, altitude.
The views during the hike were spectacular but the view from The Refuge was just phenomenal. I honestly don't know if I've ever seen anything more beautiful. What made it even more beautiful was the knowledge that 100 pounds ago, I would never have even attempted to do something like this.
Side note: Losing weight has been THE most freeing experience. It gave me my life back and if you're searching for freedom from being overweight, just start. START. Eat healthier, move your body, and never go back to your old life style.
Anyways, after our hike up, we enjoyed Coca tea (it is a leaf that can be used for many different reasons, including helping with altitude sickness.) We also talked with the shop keeper of The Refuge. His name was Marco and he explained to us how he restocked the shop by carrying the items in a large pack up the volcano 3-4 times a week. That pack easily weighed over 100 pounds. #champ
We trekked back down the volcano and to our car before traveling to the Limpiopungo Laguna that was also in the national park. Our guide explained that the Laguna was created during the Ice Age. We walked to a halfway point, watching the birds and rabbits and learning about the plants before turning back to the car for a delicious lunch of a massive sandwich, apple, green tea, and a pineapple pastry for dessert. We were all obsessed over how delicious this sandwich was.
We headed back to our hotel to shower and then went out with some of our awesome group members for a quick and easy dinner (we were all exhausted after hiking a volcano, ya feel me?) We found this cool outdoor food court with many different types of food trucks. We settled on a burger and fries to split and called it a night. We both slept so well.
Wednesday, June 21st - San Clemente, Ecuador
Today we got up very early to meet our group at 6:30 AM. We had to travel by taxi to the bus station in Quito to catch our first bus to San Clemente. We caught two other buses and arrived in San Clemente around 11:30 AM. We are staying in an indigenous homestay community here in San Clemente. There are about 650 people living in this community and about 16 families open their homes to take in visitors. Our G Adventures group members are split between 4 different homes with different families. We are staying with another member of our group with Luz Maria and Jaime and their two children Richard and Marky. The home we are staying in is very nice with colorful walls and tiled floors in the living area, kitchen, and bathroom. Luz Maria cooks all of our meals and they are traditional meals to this area.
We began our stay by having a delicious four course lunch. Our first course was a small portion of sweet potato with a cream made of beans. Our second course was a corn and potato soup. Our third course was steak with gravy, green beans and carrots, and mashed "white carrot," which tasted just like mashed potatoes. Our final course was something called a Tree Tomato. It tasted like a sour peach. All of these things were absolutely delicious!
After lunch we helped clean up and then met our group members at the meeting point, which is about a 10 minute walk from our house, across the Valley of Doom (thanks Dan for the name.) The path to the meeting point is not necessarily an easy one. We have to walk up and down rocks, some areas being very steep. So Dan (the group member also staying with us) properly named it the Valley of Doom.
We met our group and then walked with a woman from the community through the forest and surrounding areas learning about all of the medicinal uses they have for the plants, leaves, and roots. We learned that the people in this community use these resources first before ever going to a Western doctor. For someone like me who is very interested in these types of medicinal uses of plants, I found this fascinating! A member of the community also taught us about the Andean calendar and the Inti Raymi festival that was beginning. The Inti Raymi festival is a celebration of the sun and a huge part of this ceremony is the drinking of Chicha (a fermented corn beer) and dancing. Michael was voluntold to dress up as one of the people who make sure that the community members continue to dance, even when they get tired.
After our walk, we again traversed the Valley of Doom back to our home to enjoy another four course meal for dinner. Our first course was a small salad of avocado, beans, red onions, and tomatoes. Our second course was quinoa soup with potatoes. Our third course was seared chicken breast with broccoli, carrots, and mashed potato cakes. Our fourth course was a fruit called Baboca, which tasted like a very sweet pear. Again, everything was home cooked by our host mom and was absolutely delicious!
Thursday, June 22nd - San Clemente, Ecuador
We had another early start this morning. We had breakfast at 7:00 AM. Our breakfast consisted of tortillas, not the type of tortillas you're thinking of. These tortillas were smaller and thicker than our normal tortillas and they were made of wheat and cooked in the fire. We had them with THE MOST AMAZING SAUCE I HAVE EVER HAD. Can you tell I loved it? It was a blackberry sauce that was served warm over the tortillas. I want to bathe in this sauce. Like for real. We also had mixed fruit and blackberry juice and coffee but really, the only thing that mattered was THE SAUCE. I don't have a picture of this sauce because we ate it all before even thinking of documenting it. Sorry not sorry.
After breakfast we again traversed the Valley of Doom to the meeting place for today's festivities. Today the people in this community celebrated Pachamanca as part of their Inti Raymi festival. They build a massive fire to heat stones, then they dig a large hole, and then they place the hot stones followed by SO MANY different types of food and allow it to cook in the ground. How cool, right?
We waited for about 2 hours for the food to cook before they uncovered it. Y'all, I was a bit skeptical about this but as soon as they began digging up the food, we could smell the deliciousness. The food was steaming hot and they began pulling it all out and separating it.
After our meal, we headed down to the town of Ibarra. We walked for about 30 minutes or so and then hopped on a local bus. We walked around the main square, went for coffee, got donuts (twice, they were delicious so we had to go back, okay?) and then we caught a taxi back for our last night in San Clemente.
Back at the homestay, our host mom made us a three course dinner starting with a lentil soup, followed by fish, a tomato and red onion salad, and potatoes. For dessert we had bananas and chocolate (throwing it back to our jungle days.) We hung with Dan (our homestay buddy) for a bit before heading to bed for the night.
Friday, June 23rd - Otavalo, Ecuador
We had another early morning starting at 7 AM with a breakfast of scrambled eggs, mixed fruit, and plantain empanadas. Our host mom also brought out some more of THE SAUCE. It wasn't warm this time so it had the same consistency as jam but it was still as equally amazing as the first time.
We said goodbye to our host family before catching a local bus to the bus station. We then caught a second bus headed for Otavalo. When we arrived in Otavalo, we relaxed for a bit before heading out into the town with a few of our group members and our guide Maria Sol. We were pleasantly surprised to find the people of Otavalo also celebrating Inti Raymi. They were dressed in costumes, dancing, singing, and drinking (it was 11 AM, by the way.) These people really know how to get down.
We stopped at a local bakery for some deliciousness. My new friend Georgie has an appreciation for food like I do, so anytime we smelled or saw something that perked our interest, we always stopped.
We also had lunch at a local pork restaurant recommended by our guide Maria and this place definitely didn't disappoint!
Otavalo is known for its massive Saturday market full of handicrafts and artisan work but they also have markets like this each day of the week. Georgie, Dan, Michael and I went to walk around the market to get a feel of what they were selling. There were so many really cool things here: clothing, blankets, scarves, knickknacks, jewelry, etc. I bought two scarves with Georgie's help.
After walking the market for about an hour, we headed back to our hotel to catch a taxi out to Laguna Cuicocha. It is actually a crater lake located at the foot of Cotacachi Volcano. It's a beautiful sight with lava islands! Our taxi was supposed to hold four, but we managed to squeeze five in! We had a blast just riding out to the lake, being all squished together in the back. As we got out of the city, the driver pulled over so some of us could jump in the back.
Once we got to the crater lake, we took a boat ride around. It cost us $3.50 and we got a free "self-serve" drink at the end.
We also hiked up to a lookout point for a great view of the crater lake.
We took the taxi back to our hotel where I took the coldest shower of my life (seriously, like ice cold) and headed out for a fun night. We started with dinner at a street market.
After dinner we headed to a local pie shop for a delicious piece of pie with ice cream.
We then headed to The Red Pub in the middle of town. We had a blast talking and dancing the night away!
Saturday, June 24th - Otavalo, Ecuador
We woke up way too early (6:30 AM) so we'd be ready to hit the market. We had a .70 cent breakfast of pastries and set off to explore. On Saturdays, people from surrounding villages come to the market to sell goods. The market spreads from it's central location through the surrounding streets. Everywhere you turned, people had stalls set up selling all kinds of goods.
We bought a blanket, two hand-embroidered pillow cases, and our Christmas tree ornament (we buy a Christmas tree ornament from every country we visit.) We continued to walk around until we decided to eat lunch at a market stall.
We finished our shopping and headed to the bus station to catch our bus back to Quito. We were all pretty exhausted when we arrived back in Quito, so we rested for a bit and then went to get some coffee.
We all got ready for our last dinner together as a group. We went to a place called Crepes and Waffles. It's definitely a touristy place but it was nice to be all together for our last dinner. Michael and I shared a peppered steak dish served in a bread bowl and I followed it up with two scoops of some of the best ice cream I've ever had. Sorry, no ice cream picture. I devoured it before even thinking about it.
We all had a great dinner and talked about how much we enjoyed our trip and each other's company and headed back to the hotel where we continued to hang out in the lobby. We said our goodbyes, which is the hardest part of going on group tours. We said goodbye to our amazing CEO guide Maria Sol as well. She was such an awesome guide and really helped us whenever we needed it. After saying goodbye, we headed upstairs.
Sunday, June 25th - Quito, Ecuador
We slept in until 8:30 this morning and it was magical! We had our last hotel breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, and fruit. All of our group members flew out at different times today so we said a few more goodbyes (so hard!) and shared a taxi with Dan to Mitad del Mundo (the Middle of the World) where the equator runs through Ecuador. We paid the full access fee ($7.50) and spent about two and a half hours exploring this tourist destination.
We visited the shops, the Planetarium, and the Museum full of neat science experiments. This was a great thing to do on our last full day in Quito and I would definitely recommend it. We went for one last Ecuadorian lunch before heading back to our hotel to rest, pack, relax, and shower before our flight. We also had to say goodbye to Dan (we miss you Dan!)
We took a taxi to the airport around 8:00 PM. Our flight from Quito to Atlanta left on time at 11:27 PM and we arrived around 5ish AM. Can you guess what we ate for breakfast when we got to ATL? If you guessed Chick-Fil-A, then you're right. DUH. Our last flight left ATL for Charleston at 8:21 AM and we landed at 9ish AM.
SO, now we're home and its so bittersweet. We literally had a blast in Ecuador seeing and doing spectacular things and meeting amazing new friends. We had experiences of a lifetime!
Every time we come home from a trip, we immediately start planning our next trip. Next on the agenda is Southeast Asia next summer. It's going to be a much longer trip so we have to save up, but we're stoked.
I hope you enjoyed reading and following along with us as we explored Ecuador. It has been a great experience blogging throughout this journey. If you have any questions about Ecuador, traveling, G Adventures, or more, you can contact me or leave a comment below. Thanks so much for reading and don't forget to subscribe!