1998 Ecuador & Galapagos – Ecuador

A Gringo balancing on the Equator

After a long long journey I arrived in Quito where I stayed at Casa Sol which soon became my home in Ecuador. After a good nights sleep I took a walking tour through the old colonial part of Quito. I was pleasantly surprised by everything I saw. The buildings were absolutely beautiful and there was a nice atmosphere. I visited some churches and cathedrals decorated in a baroque style. For my taste it was totally overdone, gold everywhere. Still it was very impressive. 

The major part of old Quito was turned into a market place and it was good to look at the people. Absolutely stunning. Especially the Otavalo Indians were beautifully dressed. As it was Sunday everybody was dressed in their best clothes which was gorgeous to look at. At the local squares there was a very laid back atmosphere. People relaxing and chatting with each other. For me it was the perfect opportunity to make some extraordinary pictures.

I also went into the virgen of Quito. No don´t get me wrong. (What are the sexists among you thinking….). Actually it´s a 42 meter big statue located on a big hill. It gives you a great opportunity to enjoy a wide view of Quito and it´s surroundings. Monday was a day where I shopped around to find out interesting things to do the next couple of days. It was a tiring day running from one tour operator to another but the result is there. So what did I arrange…

The first trip was a 3 day adventurous climb to the summon of the Cotapaxi, world´s highest active vulcano (5850 mtr). It was a great experience however I had some little problems… We left Quito for a beautiful ride through the hills and finally through a sand sea where we saw the majestic cone of the Cotapaxi for the first time. It was a fantastic view. After a small climb we reached the refugio at 4850 meters. It was fully booked because of an ongoing competition of Raid Gauloises but we (3 persons and 2 guides) brought our tents and camping at this attitude was certainly a different experience. The view of the landscape below us was absolutely awesome. Anyway, 4800 meter is pretty high and unfortunately I got altitude sickness. A serious headache, dizziness and throwing up were the result. Not a good start to go climbing. It took me a day and a half to get better but by then it was time again to start the descend. Also the two others unfortunately had to abandon their attempt. Still it was a fantastic event in spite of the ´discomfort´. I wouldn´t have missed it for anything in the world.

Back in Quito I felt very good again and the next day I left for Otovalo, for the world famous Indian market. Also this trip was stunning. The bus ride went through beautiful landscape and once in Otovalo I could sense the different atmosphere. Beautiful people. On Saturday morning I woke up early in order to visit the cattle market, just outside the picturesque town. Fantastic in one word. I also visited the food market which was great. So many colors, so many people. It was almost to much to handle. 

Otovalo is famous for it´s market and you can buy an enormous amount of fantastic goodies. And so did I. A lot of presents were already bought so I didn´t have to take to care of that later. It was a fantastic day and I had to buy a big bag to transport all the new goodies.

On the bus ride back to Quito I was treated the South American treat of treats… By the time we arrived in Quito I wanted to take my new bag which was stored under my seat. Yes indeed, it was gone. Robbery at clear daylight and I hadn´t noticed a thing… I was very annoyed in the beginning but the bag contained nothing which couldn´t be replaced (only my nice fleece with embroided Nepal logo which really pissed me off). Anyway, I went to the police for having made a report so the insurance can handle this. Nothing really valuable (like camera, money or passport) was lost so it was a good warning for my future travels here in Ecuador. It was also a good excuse to go back to Otovalo at the end of my trip. In the evening I went out with some new friends in order to celebrate my South American experience. We went out dancing until two in the morning. It was a great night.

The next day it was time for another 100% adrenaline adventure… It came into my mind that bungeejumping over here could be a great thrill so I went on my way to a 110 meter high bridge which was an hour drive from Quito. The same company who organized the Cotapaxi trip also organizes bungeejumping every Sunday. I watched a couple of jumps when I heard my name. Time to get into the harness, get hooked on the line and ehh… Am I sure I want to do this. Five, Four, Three the crowd shouted. Shit I thought. Two, One… Automatic mode on, stop thinking. Bungeeeeeeehhhhhhhh. It was awesome, what an experience! Flying in free fall with up to 140 km/h. Wow, wow, wow. It was super. A 90 meter free fall and then still about 10 meters further down. With only 5 meters to go until the bottom I felt I was pulled up again for two or three more hops. Believe me this was great, especially in this surroundings.

After this adrenaline enhanced activity it was time to do something more quit again so I travelled to the deep jungle of Cuyabene national park. It turned out to be an awesome experience. On the first day I flew to Lago Agrio where I and some other people were picked up by the guide. After that there was still an hour and a half bus drive followed by a 2 hour canoe trip before we finally arrived at base camp one. I was part of an international group of 12 people who participated in the tour and it was great fun. In the evening we did a night walk where we saw giant insects and enjoyed the sound of the jungle. It was magic. The second day we had to make a 4 hour canoe ride deeper into the jungle. 

It was really beautiful. In the afternoon we still did a walk and in the evening he had a nice quit night. During the next days there were lots of activities. We swam in the river (with piranhas and caymens but were only told about that later), in the evening we went looking for nocturnal animals and caymans. Absolutely stunning. Also we went fishing for piranhas (they really have nasty little teeth) witch chicken filet and had several jungle walks were a local guide told us everything about the medical use of several jungle plants. It was really interesting. The whole trip was extremely nice, we were with a nice group and every day there was something else to do. The last day we had to leave early (4 am) as there was a countrywide strike in Ecuador and we had a long trip to go. Luckily our bus was able to drive but we had to pass several roadblocks and on a couple of occasions we had to help getting rid of the tree trunks. Life´s an adventure! Because of the strike our plane had almost 4 hours delay but I landed safely in Quito again.

During the time I was having a good time in the jungle there had been an armed robbery at Casa Sol, the guesthouse I stayed. All TV´s, Computer, fax and other stuff was taken away but luckily the guests and the storage room (where all my diving gear was stored) were not “visited”. Once again proof that you really have to be careful in South America. I already had my share so according to statistics  I should be fine. The next day I went back to Otovalo to redo my shopping which was stolen last week. This time I made it safely back to the guesthouse with all my new goodies. Oh yes, to make life more interesting, Quito´s ¨house¨ volcano was about to erupt. Although precautions were being taken by the people nobody seemed to worry to much At the worst case there would just be ash covering the city but the lava will go the other way! On isla Issabella at the Galapagos islands there is also an erupting volcano at the moment. Tortoises are being evacuated by helicopters.

I did not have a long time to recover from my jungle experience as new things were coming up. I had made an appointment to meet in Banos with Anneke, who I met during the jungle trip. So two days after my return to Quito I left for Banos which is a 3 hour ride to the south. Banos is famous for it’s hot springs and the outdoor activities which can be done in it’s surroundings. The appointment worked out, it was great to see Anneke again and the next couple of days we decided to have a real good time. One of the things we wanted to do was whitewater rafting. We enquired at several agencies but were not at all impressed by the offers. When we got some information that the water of the river was intoxicated as well we decided to cancel that part of our plans. Instead we spent a lousy day in Banos enjoying the atmosphere and the only real trip we made was up to the hills to have a view over Banos. Banos is a real tourist spot (also for nationals) so there was no lack of nice restaurants. In the evenings we enjoyed fantastic dinners accompanied by some nice bottles of Chilean red wine.

One day we decided to go horse riding. We went by jeep 40 minutes out of town into the hills. There was a group of 5 and believe me it was magic. The horses were very well in shape and our guide took care all was set-up correctly. He was very responsible knowing none of us had any experience. It was a fantastic tour, the views were stunning and the atmosphere… well, I just couldn’t stop humming a theme from a Clint Eastwood western. Horse riding in South America is one of these things which speeds up your imagination. After 2 hours of riding we had a nice picnic on a grass field overlooking the hills. After that we went in Gallop on another route back. Fantastic! By the time we came back to the ranch I had the feeling I could feel every single bone and muscle in my body. Everything hurted! And.. I was not the only one who felt that way. In the evening Anneke and I went to the hot springs to bath and get some relief for our tortured muscles. It was really nice but the water was so hot I got dizzy. It was good to feel totally clean again but still I could feel all the bones…

The next day I wanted to leave to Rio Bamba to catch the famous train ride over there. Unfortunately due to a strike there were no buses so I decided to join Anneke back to Quito instead and rearrange my plans. The bus ride was long and uncomfortable as I was still enjoying the results of the horse riding. In the evening I felt so bad that I had to cancel diner and went to bed early. I slept very restless that night and also the day after I still felt horrible. Time for a break with other words. Listen to the signs my body gave! After breakfast I still slept for 2 hours and then I went into town for a bit of shopping. In the afternoon I went for a soup to get some energy and once again I slept for a couple of hours. After that I felt like reborn. No more pain and I felt fit once again.  Still I decided for another relaxing day in town so I would be in good shape for the rest of the trip. The next adventure on the list  were the Galapagos islands and I definitely wouldn’t want to miss anything over there because of muscle pains. Read more about the enchanted islands in the Galapagos chapter of my website.

The last three days in Ecuador were my last opportunity to make the world-famous train ride from Riobamba to Huegra. I returned mesmerized from the Galapagos but the last trip of my journey was coming in sight. Once again I left Quito, this time for a 4 hour bus ride to Rio Bamba. This city itself was not so inspiring but I had a good book with my and found a great restaurant so things were pretty fine to me. I went to bed early as I had to wake up at 5 o clock in the morning in order to be at the railway station at 5.30. Of course it was still closed when I arrived, information you get is not always accurate in Ecuador. At 6.30 the train arrived and I was able to buy my ticket. There were three kind of seats. Nice and cosy 1st class, 2nd class which was nothing more than a cattle wagon with benches and… panoramic rooftop places! Of course I choose the last one although I was eligible for the 1st class wagon. It is however much more adventurous to travel on top of a train isn´t it. So I climbed upon the roof and waited impatiently for the ride to begin. As soon as we had left Rio Bamba the landscape became of an extraordinary beauty. It was like driving through a maquette, really unrealistic. I was able to enjoy the Ecuadorian countryside from a perfect position. I saw farmers doing their job on the land and everywhere the train passed there were people waiving enthusiastically at the gringo´s riding the rooftop. It was splendid. In Guamote, a little village on the way there was a market.

The train rode literally through it, a great opportunity to enjoy the atmosphere of a non touristic market. After two and a half hour we arrived at Allausi. This was the final stop before el niaz de diablo. The Devil´s nose. At this part the terrain was so steep the train had to backtrack twice in order to make the descend. It was great fun descending along this steep slope and then riding backwards twice in order to make it. Zigzagging with a train was a special experience indeed. Now I really arrived in the middle of nowhere. I had to catch a truck in order to go back to Allausi. Fun sitting in the trunk but an extremely dusty experience indeed. In Allausi it was no problem catching a bus back to Rio Bamba. I was astonished by the effectivity of Ecuadorian public transport once again. As Rio Bamba wasn´t one of my favourite cities I decided to catch an ongoing bus to Quito straight away. This bus was absolutely the most luxurious I had so far. Although there was a slight delay because of a flat tire we arrived in Quito at 20.00. Thirteen hours of traveling on one day was enough. I wanted to pick up my stuff from the rack above me and… surprise surprise, my windproof jacket was stolen! Unbelievable, I had it in sight constantly and still someone managed to steal it. Haven´t I seen this once before? Anyway, I was to stunned to be angry and was happy that my valuables weren´t gone. I´m sure the insurance company will be happy with me…

Anyway, time was up. One more relaxing day in Quito and then it was time to come home. The fun was over but it was absolutely great! There are still many places in Ecuador that I haven´t seen but I was absolutely happy with all my experiences during the 5 weeks I’ve spent in Ecuador and all the things I´ve seen and done. I was totally satisfied and relaxed so in away it was good to go home with both feet on the ground and resume every day´s life. This gringo has finished balancing on the Equator, time to start thinking about the next trip…

Read all about my adventures at the Galapagos islands