September 10-11, 2011... Baños, Ecuador

Our last weekend in Ecuador we drove south to Baños, a town known for its hot springs, thermal pools, and active volcano, Tungurahua.  We stayed high in the mountains at a resort called Luna Runtun, where we would have had a great view of an eruption, if there had been one.  Luckily, the volcano is currently inactive, though the town is on alert as the volcano has spewed gases and rock earlier this year.

The resort is on the edge of a national park and planted with beautiful flowers and trees.  We enjoyed the scenery, which also included great views of Baños below.

Before heading back to Quito we walked through town and visited the waterfalls that fill the natural pools.  On weekends the town is packed with local tourists enjoying the waters, the town squares, and the markets.  As in other parts of the country we saw indigenous people dressed in traditional clothing, not for tourists, but because they maintain their own customs.   A street vendor was having a hard time keeping up with business so we decided to go over and see what she was selling.  Chochos!  We all had some, this bean grown in Ecuador, served with roasted corn, onion, and lime.  Great!

September 3-5, 2011... Tena, Ecuador and the Amazon Basin

Aleja is from Tena and we wanted to meet her family, so we all packed up and left Quito for a long weekend in the country.  Tena is the provincial capital of Napo, east of Quito in the lowlands, the entrance to the Amazon basin.  The town is divided by a couple of rivers, but very walkable.  We saw the church where John and Aleja married, explored the town square, and went to the market where indigenous plant medicines are available.

Irene and Simón, Aleja’s parents, live just outside town in a house surrounded by a magnificent garden of native plants, fruit trees, and flowers.  As Aleja kept reminding us, everything grows in Ecuador, and the evidence was at the doorstep.  And on the table -- as the Palomino family hospitality extended to scrumptious meals and fresh-squeezed juices.  Our last day in Tena, Sarah and Aleja took to the pool to escape the heat, John searched for satellite comms, and the rest of us relaxed!

We took a motorized canoe down the Misahuallí river to the Amazon museum.  Here, native animals are rescued and cared for until they are returned to the wild, if they can be.  We saw toucans, parrots, macaws, caimans, turtles, agoutis, capybaras, a jaguarundi and monkeys.  

The river trip was a little wild -- the currents strong.  People still paddle log canoes on these rivers and as our engine sometimes had trouble with the currents, we couldn’t believe that people power was able to counter these strong forces.  Fisherman, gold miners, and people who just live on the banks make use of this river.  

September 1-15, 2011... Ecuador!

No, Anhinga didn’t make the trip -- just the crew.  We flew to Quito to visit family via KLM from Bonaire -- wow -- who knew you could get anywhere from Bonaire?  John and Aleja couldn’t do enough for us to make us feel welcome.  They took us everywhere and guided our individual explorations.  We packed a LOT into 2 weeks and will break it down into 3 blog entries:  Quito and the equator, Tena and the Amazon Basin, and Baños.

Quito is a bustling city 10,000 feet up in the Andes and surrounded by snow-capped peaks.  As sea-level people, it was quite an adjustment.  Not only was it cold (we are used to 90+ degrees -- it got down in the 50s in Quito) but the air really is thin.  We huffed and puffed as we climbed hills and walked up staircases.  We went up the volcano Pinchincha by teleferico to 14,000 ft. to get an overview of the city.

Our trip to Mitad del Mundo on the equator a few miles outside Quito was great -- we really did see how the Coriolus force in the northern and southern hemispheres made water flow in opposite directions.  After lunch overlooking a volcanic crater, John and granddaughter Sarah raced around to work off some of that fantastic Ecuadorian food.

Quito is like an outdoor museum.  The Spanish colonial architecture from the 16th-19th centuries is beautiful, and it is hard to believe that it has lasted through the years in this earthquake zone.  As we walked through the historic center, we didn’t know where to look first -- the ornate churches, the plazas, the balconied houses.  And people use the city -- this is no ‘Disneyfied’ historic center.  People work, go to school, shop, eat, and watch the world go by here.  We went to a dance performance one night at the Teatro Sucre -- another opportunity to experience a beautiful building.  And, everywhere you go in Quito you get another view of the Panecillo, Monument to the Virgin.

We took a tour of the Presidential Palace where our guide showed us the Cabinet meeting room, the State dining room (set for 100 at one long table!) the artifacts left as gifts from countries all over the world, the yellow room (with portraits of the Presidents), and the balcony over the Plaza Grande.  Though the tour was in Spanish, our ear had adjusted enough to the language to make out the majority of the information.  We could feel how a few more weeks of immersion would have made us Spanish speakers as well as listeners.

Every day after touring we returned to John and Aleja’s apartment in the north end of the city, feet aching from walking, out of breath from the hills, but happy with what we’d seen.  We learned the trolley bus system that took us up and down the length of the city, found the food markets with beautiful produce and crafts markets with indigenously-made goods.  Out the apartment’s floor-to-ceiling windows, we were lucky to have views of Cayambe, a 19,000 ft. snow-covered peak.  We could see what makes Quito such a livable and remarkable city.