Wednesday, May 13, 2015

"If at some point you don’t ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re not doing it right."

Ecuador (Part 1 of 2)

After two flights I arrived in Quito, Ecuador.  A couple bus rides later I was in the center of the old town searching for my hostel.  After dropping off my backpack I raced to the traditional mercado down the street and grabbed a delicious meal before it closed.  This 2-floor market was pretty impressive with flowers, fruit juices, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, and several types of meals they prepare on the spot.
The following morning I discovered some tasty pastries taking the opportunity to peek into several of the gorgeous churches since it was a Sunday morning and I could get in for free.  The historic old town looked very similar to old towns in Europe.  Quito, along with Krakow was the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO.  It is one of the best-preserved, least-altered, and largest historical centers in the Americas.  The center square is about 15 miles south of the equator but it definitely was not warm.  That day I walked miles throughout the old town and explored the new town as well.  On Sundays, they block traffic so bikers and pedestrians can have the city to themselves. It was great!! There were tons of delightful plazas and lovely parks, impressive architecture, as well as delicious foods to try along with my leisurely stroll.
The next day I partook in a free walking tour of the city! These tours are always so informative. I love listening to the historical findings and important places of interest, along with the artistic and cultural aspects of my current location. Since it was a Monday we had the chance to observe the changing of the guard. Much to my surprise, I witnessed both the president and vice president in attendance.  Overall, it was a captivating event.

Next, it was time to venture into the Amazon!! This quest began first with an overnight bus, followed by a 2 hour truck ride, just me and this guy (I believe was the son of the owner of something to do with the park and me wondering why am I the only one going to this lodge??)  It proved to be an excellent time to practice Spanish though.  Next, there was about an hour and a half on the motor canoe, again it was still just me and a (new) guide.  Apparently everyone else that day was going to different lodges within the rainforest.  Finally, I arrived at the lodge! Thankfully after I had waited for a bit a group who had arrived the day before I had, returned from their excursion. I joined in with them for the rest of my trip! We had a few hours of free time which we took advantage of by lying leisurely on some porch hammocks.  I found myself extremely relaxed and enjoyed reading a good book on my kindle and chillin.
Later we went out on the canoe in pursuit of animal sightings.  We were lucky to see a sloth, pink river dolphins, and several unique birds. We then cruised to where the river merges into the lake where some of my fellow travelers chose to swim.  This was also where we would be observing the sunsets for the next few nights. They were absolutely spectacular.   We headed over to the edge of the rainforest to embark on a night hike in search of nocturnal creatures!  At night the rainforest appears to be an entirely different entity.  We ended up seeing a few things: a giant frog, spiders, interesting insects like leaf bugs, and an iguana.  

The second day we began with a visit to a native village to observe and learn about their culture and lifestyle.  There we helped make bread from a cassava (a starchy root), we dug up, peeled, grated, and sifted into flour.  With that, the local woman mixed it with water into a dough which she then baked over the fire! We took a brief hike and watched some fútbol.  Later we met a shaman which is what people use when they're sick because it would take forever to get to a hospital outside the rainforest. We learned about some of the medicinal practices used there.

After soaking in the sunset, we attempted to creep quietly on our motor canoe in search of the caimans that lurked in the water just below the surface. With only our flashlights and headlamps to examine our surroundings, we scanned the water in pursuit of red eyes that glowed from the beams of our lights. We saw a few babies which was definitely thrilling! I must admit's a bit creepy to be out on a tributary to the Amazon river in the black of night teetering in a canoe looking for creatures of the night.  The perfect end to the night as we journeyed back to our lodge was the totally astonishing stars and an amazingly clear view of the milky way.

Our third day we had an excellent day hike where we balanced our way through tons of mud, spotted different species of monkeys, and viewed many rare birds and plants only to be seen in the depth of the rainforest far from our lodge or boat.  We did some intense canoeing down the river (no motor and wicked hot) but the atmosphere of the river itself was quite serene and tranquil.  Sometime later while back at the lodge we spotted a third tarantula that liked to hang out in our dining area which we walked by without even noticing for a while... haha.  The final morning we awoke bright and early for a final bird-watching session by motor canoe where we spied birds as well as monkeys jumping from tree to tree. Not long after it was time to pack up and head out.  I had a travel buddy to join me on my travels with back on the boat ride, then the bus ride, followed then by an overnight bus ride to the next destination......Baños.

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