Ecuador: middle of the world

Ecuador is a wonderful all-year round destination. I had the pleasure of having my mom join me on this trip. I want to point out that Ecuador’s beauty is unequivocal to any pictures you’ll ever see. I didn’t edit any of my pictures so you can get a sense of the its natural beauty.

 This is my mom, Mama Chu.
This is my mom, Mama Chu.

Quito

We started our trip in Quito, the city with an elevation of 9,350 ft (2,850m). You really start feeling the effects of high elevation when you walk uphill or climb stairs. The city of Quito is nice, although I wouldn’t spend more than 2 or 3 days here since there is so much more to explore outside of the city.

 Rush hour in Quito
Rush hour in Quito
 Live music in the park
Live music in the park
 Carondelet - The Government Palace
Carondelet – The Government Palace

Old Town had its own cultural and architectural charm to it. The highlights of the Old Town are perhaps the church Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, El Panecillo, Plaza Grande, La Ronda, and Basilica del Voto. These destinations are pretty touristy, but in a big city, what isn’t? Take caution, however, in all big cities, there are higher crime rates and this proved to be true during my visit. More details below.

Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus is a magnificent church gilded in gold and shimmering stained glass. The architecture and intricate engravings within the church are definitely worth a stop.

If you’re looking for a instagram-worthy picture, Basilica del Voto is your spot! This concrete marvel is modeled after Paris’ Notre Dame as you’ll see the resemblance in two twin clock towers. Most people come here for the spectacular aerial view of the city. At only $2, you can take the stairs or elevator up to the top. The elevator only takes you part of the way up. You have to navigate through several flights of stairs to get to the very top. Parts of it are also narrow and steep. If you have a fear of heights, you might just need to suck it up and climb up on all fours because the view is worth it, I promise!

 Walk through the attic to another set of stairs that leads you up to the top of the tower.
Walk through the attic to another set of stairs that leads you up to the top of the tower.
 Keep following the stairs!
Keep following the stairs!
 And voila! We're at the top!
And voila! We’re at the top!

Beware!

Earlier, I mentioned to take extra caution. I failed to take this advice by the locals even though I was repeatedly told to keep my belongings such as my phone and camera hidden. I took caution by keeping all my pockets zipped at all times. But that was the extent of precaution. I brushed it off thinking no one would be dumb enough to rob or pickpocket me in broad daylight. Boy was I wrong!

My mom and I were walking around La Ronda, when two teenage boys aggressively approached us with large posters that covered the upper half of their body, asking us to buy them for a dollar. We declined, but they insisted and shoved my mom and I apart. One of them violently brushed past me as I repeatedly said no. Then suddenly they fled. My mom and I continued to walk and stopped at the crosswalk when I stuck my hands into my jacket pockets and realized that 1) my jacket pocket was unzipped, and 2) my phone was missing. I had both my phone and selfie stick in the same small pocket. I don’t know how they managed to unzip my pocket and grab only the phone in a split second without getting tangled. It astounds me still. I reckon they must’ve unzipped my pocket and grabbed it when they shoved my mom and I apart. These children are professional pickpockets. Long story short, we shouted “policia” to a cop who rode by. He quickly made a u-turn and stopped at the street corner where we were standing. I explained the situation and before I knew it, I had gathered a crowd of curious onlookers. A reporter and his cameraman ran over to catch the commotion and shortly interviewed me–honestly, not the best timing. Although they played an integral part to hunting down the teenage boys. The reporter lent me his phone to track my iPhone. I can’t say the Find my Phone app is completely accurate, but we were able to watch it travel from one place to another for a little bit before they turned off the phone figuring we were tracking it. After about an hour and a half speeding through the city on the back of a motorbike, we had called it quits. We were dropped off at the police station where we had to fill out paperwork and complete documentation on the theft.

The phone was never found, but luckily there are ways to prevent perpetrators from jail breaking your phone and stealing information. God forbid, if you find yourself in this situation, you can report your phone as stolen on both your iCloud account and with your carrier. You can also erase all data on your phone from iCloud. When you call your phone carrier, be sure to blacklist that phone’s IMEI or serial number so that if it gets sold, the buyer wouldn’t be able to activate or use the phone. It essentially becomes a paperweight for anyone in possession of it. That being said, the lessons learned: 1) Use inside pockets if you have them! 2) Put things in your backpack if you don’t have immediate use for them. And carry your backpack in the front/backwards. 3) If you encounter aggressive vendors, don’t be afraid to make a scene and loudly yell “policia”.

 One of the many stray dogs in the city
One of the many stray dogs in the city
 Many people selling local fruits and vegetables alongside the road.
Many people selling local fruits and vegetables alongside the road.

El Panecillo is a popular vista point for locals and tourists alike. Don’t be fooled by the sun, it was pretty windy at the top, so bring an extra layer in case you get cold. Contrary to that, you can also get burnt easily because of the elevation and lack of shade. Sunscreen is highly advised! Although crowded, there’s plenty of parking and ground to explore. Many locals lay down blankets and picnic baskets on the grassy hill overlooking the city. At 3,016 meters above sea level, an angel assembled on a high pedestal stands atop El Panecillo with her wings spread. The structure was so massive that it was difficult getting a picture with everyone in it.

Plaza Grande and La Ronda are similar to “Central Park” or the city center. It is typically where restaurants, street vendors and performers gather, and consequently, where the tourists flock to.

 Quick stop for lunch! We got Guagrasinga.
Quick stop for lunch! We got Guagrasinga.
 Houses on hills
Houses on hills
 Astounding views from above.
Astounding views from above.
 You can view Quito 360 degrees from the top.
You can view Quito 360 degrees from the top.
 Southwest or Northwest? Or both?
Southwest or Northwest? Or both?

It is certainly worth your time to visit Mitad del Mundo, the “middle” of the world. To my surprise, it was more than just a cheesy tourist trap. In addition to the large monument that stood in the middle of it all, there were several small museums scattered around the property. It was a beautiful day out, so we opted out of seeing the museums and spent the vast majority of the time roaming the area. Towards the entrance, a small crowd usually gathers around a stone pillar holding small pebbles and an egg. This is where the “experiment” of balancing an egg takes place. It was pretty amusing to watch, although the egg balancing act has been dispelled by many.

“Middle of the World”
 Swing at the End of the World
Swing at the End of the World
 La Casa del Arbol
La Casa del Arbol
 Swing upside-down! 
Swing upside-down! 
 Small zipline beside the swings
Small zipline beside the swings
 Police lended a hand and guided us back down to the bus stop
Police lended a hand and guided us back down to the bus stop

Riobamba

 Chimborazo from afar
Chimborazo from afar

On our way down south, we stopped in Riobamba for the night. The town is lively and a central resting stop for those who want to explore the city and hike mountains. There are several national parks surrounding the city, but we only had time to go to one. We chose to visit the Chimborazo Volcano, which its peak is considered to be the farthest point on the surface of the Earth from the center. The summit sits at 6,268 meters above sea level. From afar, you can see the clouds hovering around it and resting at its peak. We took a bus that dropped us off at the entrance of the park, then walked a short distance to the booth where we checked in. It was cloudy, chilly, and very windy. Make sure to pack on layers because there is easily a 20 degree difference when you get up to the second ranger station. There are three ranger stations-spaced out at different elevations. If you decide to visit Chimborazo, it is highly recommended to drive, if possible. Buses don’t run very frequently past Chimborazo, so unless you are willing to wait an hour or two, driving or taking a taxi is highly recommended. Busses also don’t drive into the park, so without a car, you are left to hike from the first ranger station to the next, which by car, is about 20 minutes…so probably equivalent to an hour or two walk. (Keep in mind you’re ascending in elevation!) It’s not impossible, but unless you plan to do more than a day trip, you’re better off hitching a ride up. And that’s exactly what we did!

We met this lovely young couple that drove into the parking lot where we stood trying to figure out what to do next. They kindly offered us a ride up after I asked them how long it would take to walk. The narrow partially-paved winding roads took us up to the second ranger station where they were getting off to explore around as well. The station doubled as a rest stop for weary hikers and those preparing to embark on a long journey up to the summit. There was also a small cafe/restaurant that served hot tea and coffee and some food for those visiting. After a quick bathroom break, we slowly hiked up the steep trail that led to a monument.

On the way down, we saw these miniature cinnamon-hued llama-looking animals, which were called vicuña. Vicuña are relatives of the llama which live in the alpine areas of the Andes. If you thought alpaca fur was soft, wait till you feel vicuña fur! The fur is so soft that fleece produced from it was considered to be cloth of gold and only Inca royalty was permitted to wear it. The Inca valued vicuñas so highly for their wool that it was against the law for anyone but royalty to wear garments made from vicuñawool. They are super cute, but timid, animals. We were lucky enough to see a herd of them!

 Vicuña
Vicuña

Alausi

Alausi is a small quaint town, and would be nearly off the grid if it weren’t famous for the Devil’s Nose Train. The railway has the reputation of being one of the most dangerous railways in the world. The Devil’s Nose Train took us on a 45-minute descent from Alausi town center to Silambe. The scenery was breathtaking! On arrival, we were greeted with smiles, traditional music and dance. There was a small museum attached to the train station and guides curating the items on display. As we ascended on the switchbacks, the clouds began settling in and by the time we returned to Alausi, we were surrounded by dense fog. The weather is for the most part predictable-sunshine in the morning and clouds/fog in the afternoon to evening. The green rolling hills are stunning!

 Caboose
Caboose
 Traditional dance and music
Traditional dance and music
 The Devil's Nose
The Devil’s Nose
 Winding railroad tracks
Winding railroad tracks
 Local guide at the small train station museum
Local guide at the small train station museum
 Guides dressed in traditional clothing.
Guides dressed in traditional clothing.

Aside from the Devil’s Nose Train, Puente Negro (Black Bridge) is worth a quick walk to. It’s really neat to see the old wooden trestle stretch from one part of the town to the next. You can walk on top of it, but it is still in use so take caution! The locals routinely walk across the trestle to get from the city center to their homes on the other side, so we figured it’d be quite safe to walk across it as well. There are big gaps in between planks, so be sure to watch where you’re stepping!

 Locals wave as we return to Alausi
Locals wave as we return to Alausi
 Nope, Mom didn't appreciate this picture.
Nope, Mom didn’t appreciate this picture.
 We stood on top of the trestle bridge.
We stood on top of the trestle bridge.
 It began drizzling and my mom threw on her bright yellow poncho which quickly became a laughing matter for everyone we walked by. This lady was so amused that she wanted a picture with us...how sweet!
It began drizzling and my mom threw on her bright yellow poncho which quickly became a laughing matter for everyone we walked by. This lady was so amused that she wanted a picture with us…how sweet!

We stayed at Community Hostel in Alausi, conveniently located a couple hundred meters from the train station. We arrived late at night so it was a bit difficult to find. But the hostel itself had only been a couple months old when we visited, so the smell of fresh wood was still lingering about the halls as we walked through the building. What makes this hostel stand out from the rest is the chef, Darwin, who makes the most amazing meals! He puts in a lot of time and effort to make all the delectable meals from scratch and doesn’t slack on the presentation either! Additionally, you don’t have to worry about any dietary restrictions because Darwin will tailor your meal to your needs! Marco, the owner was incredibly friendly and welcoming too-he treats you like family! If you are visiting Alausi, be sure to stay at Community Hostel! (And no, I’m not being paid to mention them in my blog. They’re THAT awesome that they deserve a shoutout!) Check out their website: http://www.communityalausi.com/

 Community Hostel
Community Hostel
 Breakfast at Community Hostel
Breakfast at Community Hostel

Cuenca

 Downtown Cuenca
Downtown Cuenca
 Cajas National Park entrance
Cajas National Park entrance

We started with a short hike (more like a pleasant stroll) around a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The trail was paved and very accessible, which allowed us to take pictures without worrying about falling or tripping into a ditch. All along the way, we were greeted with the sounds the wildlife and whistling of the wind.

 Planks for paths
Planks for paths
 Pretty plants along the path
Pretty plants along the path

There were so many butterflies along the path that if I wasn’t watching where I was going, I would have easily trampled over them!

 Butterflies on the path. Careful not to step on them!
Butterflies on the path. Careful not to step on them!

Towards the end of the trail, there’s an abandoned building which was once a brewery. Fun fact: The trees surrounding the brewery are not native to Ecuador. They were brought over by the owners when the building was erected in the 1950s.

 Abandoned brewery
Abandoned brewery
 The fluffiest llama!
The fluffiest llama!
 My failed attempt at blending in
My failed attempt at blending in
 Young llama
Young llama

Ingapirca

The ruins are spectacular in that it displays a combination of both Inca and Cañari architecture. They both had very distinct designs and structures. The most impressive and well-preserved structure at Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun. The temple was carefully built around a large rock and designed so that during the solstice, at a certain time of day, the sun would gleam through narrow windows and illuminate sacred elements.

 Incapirca Ruins
Incapirca Ruins

There are a couple more areas that my mom and I explored in between these cities, but if I were to include them all, this blog would be 10 times longer. If you’re curious, feel free to email me or fill out an inquiry! Happy travels!


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