Journals from Year abroad in Quito, Ecuador
2008-12-16 Trips farther away from home
For our first trip away from Quito Nadia, Jen, Ali, Eli, and I headed for Baos. Baos is an extremely touristy town famous for its hot spring baths, waterfalls, taffy and imported sugarcane from El Oriente. In Baos we spent time relaxing in the hot springs and went four wheeling with our 13 year old guide Jose who, though quite young, was able to show us several of the waterfalls in the region.
A similar town that I visited also known for its hot springs is Papallacta. Papallacta is between the Sierra and the Oriente and has rolling grassy hills and tropical vegetation though not with the same amount of biodiversity as more remote Oriente locations. I went with Inti, my boyfriend, and a mutual friend of ours, Patrick. Papallacta is far less touristy than Baos and was a great place to hike and later relax in the hot springs watching the mist from the springs drift into the cool mountain air.
With the same group of Linfield ladies, plus Angela, an honorary Linfield lady, I went to Mindo for another weekend. Mindo is situated at the very beginning of the Amazon region and is a little bitty town-the majority of the touristy action takes place in the surrounding cloud forest. In Mindo we stayed at a hostel designed like a tree house called El Roccio which is run by the nicest lady who we ended up talking to quite a bit. While in Mindo I was able to completely get rid of that fear of heights that I mentioned earlier when we went zip-lining through the canopy of the forest. I felt like I was flying just like in a dream and after going only twice with the guide was able to zoom above the forest all on my own.
Our trip to Otavalo was another that I made with the Linfield group and also with the majority of the students from the Oregon group. Otavalo is an indigenous town that is famous for its large artisan market where one can buy just about anything. The Otavaleos are one of the few indigenous groups who were able to resist the Spanish and conquistadores; for that reason they are especially proud of their culture, heritage and language, Quichua, and express that pride through their craftsmanship. Visiting Otavalo reminded me of the markets that I saw in Guatemala the past January term, alive with color, sound and smell. Mmmm, just thinking about it brings to mind the smells of wool, livestock, and spices.
I have been to three beaches here and each beach experience has been completely different. My first trip to the beach was with the whole Linfield group: Ali, Eli, Jen, Nadia, Aliah and Max. We went to Mombiche, a really small Northern beach town closest in reference to Atacames. When we visited Mombiche pretty much the entire town was under construction and like many small beach towns it was really relaxed. The beach there provided the perfect place to sit and write in my journal taking in the sea breeze and then later to eat some delicious seafood in one of the nearly identical little seaside restaurants. On our way back home to Quito we stopped in Atacames to catch a bus and had a few hours to walk around. Atacames is completely different from Mombiche, filled with Ecuadorian tourists, vendors and loads of garbage. It probably would be a good place to party and get to know Ecuadorians but as far as a good place to swim I wouldnt recommend it.
My third beach experience was by far my favorite because of the ecological diversity and overall awesome experience that I had. This past weekend, which was a three day weekend for Festivales de Quito, Inti and I went to Puerto Lopez, a more Southern beach town closer to Guayaquil. Puerto Lopez is located inside Machalilla National Park. Puerto Lopez is known as one of the best places to watch whales in Ecuador though we didnt go for that reason as whale watching season had already ended (late June-early September). Puerto Lopez is, like Mombiche, a small beach town though with more of a tourist feel because it is located in a national park.
While there, we visited Aguas Blancas which is an indigenous community with mud baths that arent at all white but are really slimy and tranquil; Im not really sure where it got its name from. The actual indigenous community is separated from the more tourist part which includes the mud baths, little huts where people can stay and a really interesting museum housing artifacts that were found during an exhibition of the area. For that reason we werent able to walk through the actual community. The tour guide, who lives in the community, told us that the indigenous population is similar to a small Ecuadorian town as it has largely lost its language, Quichua and no longer retains their traditional dress nor many of their customs.
Our second day in Puerto Lopez, we went on a tour of Isla de La Plata which is known as the poor mans Galapagos mostly for economic reasons, not for too many ecological or biological similarities between the islands as the Galapagos has much more diversity. We were fortunate enough to visit during the end of Blue Footed Boobie mating season and the beginning of their baby season.
The island was covered with tropical scrub desert vegetation and numerous Blue Footed Boobies and babies nesting there. We hiked around the island taking tons of pictures of the Boobies, of other coastal birds, and of the picturesque views of the ocean. After our hike we got back on the boat and went to another location where we went snorkeling and saw white corral and about 7 different species of fish.
Our last day on the coast, we visited Los Frailes, a wide beach encircled by cliffs and tropical dry forest. The beach was so clean that we wondered if, in fact, we were in Cuba and not Ecuador. The park service at Machalilla really does a great job at keeping the beach pristine-it was definitely the most beautiful beach that Ive ever been to. We enjoyed a few hours of swimming, walking along the shore, and burying each other in the sand, and then walked back to the main road where we were picked up by a fishing truck heading back to Puerto Lopez. Im sure we must have looked like quite the pair-the extranjera (foreigner) and the clearly not from Puerto Lopez Ecuadorian riding in the back of that fishing truck. The bed of the truck was so covered with scales, that for three days I was still finding them adhered to my legs as little reminders of our coastal adventure.