Ecuador Part II

I realized I forgot a few things from my last post.  That’s the sign of a good trip—lots of things to recap!

Here we are at the equator.  We’ll have to go back because this line is actually a few yards off.  We tried looking for the actual equator, but couldn’t find a marker, so Kris is demanding we go back to find it.

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Is this reason enough to move to Ecuador?

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So, after we got off the mountain, we made our way to the Jade Spa, a 5/5 star spa.  We were thoroughly massaged by two women who dug in with their fingers and elbows.  They were also not as concerned about our modesty as we were, which was interesting!  60 minutes for $25.  Can’t get that in the US.

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Once we finished up at the spa, our (now unstuck) van picked us up with the rest of the crew and we headed to another Pinterest photo opportunity for me:  El Pailon del Diablo (cauldron of the devil).  The stone stairs carved into the side of this waterfall reminded me of something other world-ly and I really, really wanted to go there.  It was one of those pictures that just speaks to you and you HAVE TO GO TO THERE (Liz Lemon’s words, not mine).

We hiked about 20 minutes and got to the stone stairs.  The stairs were slippery and wet, but we climbed down and took some photos.

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After climbing back up the stairs, we had the option to climb further.  And by climb, I mean crawl.  We got down on our hands and knees and climbed through a slim opening for about 100 feet to get to another opening where we climbed vertically.  This was not for the faint of heart.  Immediately, I had visions of a rock collapse and being crushed.  It was intense.  But, once we climbed out, we were rewarded.

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After we crawled back down, we walked over a suspension bridge and took some more photos.

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That evening, we wandered around Banos and did some shopping for souvenirs and gifts.  We also went to Leprechaun Bar, a really cool bar with a huge bonfire.  Kris had done some research on it before hand and we asked for the Bob Marley shot, a flaming shot.  It was on the house!  Apparently just knowing it exists is some sort of ‘in’.

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We collapsed into bed exhausted, and got up early the next morning so that Kris could jump off of a bridge with Andres.  See Kris’ facebook for more info.  *I did tell him I loved him and I would murder him if he died jumping off the bridge, so there’s that.

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Here is our motley crew.  Mabel, the driver’s daughter, was our favorite.

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From there, we left Banos and made our way back to Quito.  In Quito, we went to the old town and poked our noses in some churches.  Some of these photos are from a church in Banos, too.   Very elaborate.

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From Quito, we caught our flight to Panama City.  We had arranged for a city tour of Panama to fill out our long layover.  It was so hot in Panama, especially compared to Quito.  Quito is very cool due to its high elevation, even though you’d think it’s hot because it’s by the equator.  Panama…sweat was rolling the minute we stepped outside.  (Panama customs was brutal, so if you go there, beware!  They don’t mess around.)

We drove by the old town and saw the ruins from the Spanish.  Turns out they never rebuilt on the same site because of sanitation issues.  Lover-ly.

The main mission of stopping in Panama City was, for me, to see Gorgas Hospital, where my mom was born.  My grandparents were in the Army and Navy in the 1950s and they were stationed in the Panama Canal Zone.

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I had to quick hop out of our ride and run up and take some pictures and hop back in.  Completely drenched in sweat from that excursion.  The hospital is now a cancer hospital.

From there, we went up Ancon Hill and checked out the awesome views.

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Panama City has a ton of high-rise condos (our guide said more than NYC).

We stopped at a fruit market and had the best pineapple of our lives.

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And, of course, we stopped at the Panama Canal.  I enjoyed the AC at the museum, and Kris enjoyed the history.  Win-win.  We also got to see a huge ship come through the locks.

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After the canal, we did some more touring and then we braved customs and immigration again.  My bug spray was confiscated (pretty sure the guard just wanted it for herself).  We caught our flight, arrived in Chicago at a little after midnight and managed to drive home and collapsed into bed at 4 a.m.  And that is how you cram a ton of stuff into one vacation.

Next blog:  the most important things on the trip—food and cats!

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Ecuador Recap Part I

Whenever I thought about traveling abroad, I will admit Ecuador was not in my top ten countries to see.  But, when Kris’ college roommate invited us to his wedding in Quito, the capital of Ecuador, we booked our tickets and I immediately hopped on Pinterest to figure out what I needed to see and what things we needed to try.

Our first stop was Otavalo Market.  We took a bus from Quito to Otavalo (due to construction, this took about 2.5 hours instead of 1.5 hours one way) and I immediately had my umbrella stolen.  Sad.  But better the umbrella than anything else.  The market was huge and had just about anything you could want.  Some popular things were jewelry, textiles made from alpaca, t-shirts, bags, blankets, and leather goods.  We snapped up some gifts and I even managed to barter in Spanish (by very slowly counting out my Spanish numbers on my fingers) to get an alpaca infinity scarf for $7.  Ecuador uses the dollar, so no money conversion needed.

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After the market, we went to the wedding and sat with these familiar faces:

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Lots of dancing and fancy food.  Also, waiters walked around with glasses of whisky all night.  Whew.  We managed to stay up until the end of the wedding at 2 a.m.

After the wedding activities wound down, we headed south toward Banos, a tourist-y town set by the Andes and the Amazon.  We stopped briefly on Cotopaxi, a volcano with about 19k elevation.  On the way up, my head started to hurt from the pressure.  Here we are with the bride and groom:

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Can you tell we felt very tall our entire time there?  Especially my 6’7″ husband, who got lots of comments and stares.

Banos itself was so pretty that it’s hard to explain.  The combination of mountains and greenery and waterfalls and clouds was almost too much for my eyes to absorb.  The first night we took a party bus called a Chiva up the mountain (which was also a volcano) and took in the view.

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The next morning, we tackled seeing Casa del Arbol to ride the swing at the end of the world.  Our van driver actually drove way, way past it and got the van stuck when he tried to back down the one lane mountain road.  We hopped out just as a man with a machete came along and tried to cut away the overgrowth to get us out.  It didn’t work, and so, at 10 in the morning on a Tuesday, I found myself walking down a mountain in the Andes with nothing around but clouds and cows.

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After walking about a mile, we finally found the swing.  It was a little scarier than I thought it would be to swing out into the clouds!

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After the swing, we paid a local farmer to drive us down the mountain in his pickup.  Not entirely recommended, but it was either that or walk down the rest of the mountain.

To be continued…