Tag Archives: Ecuador

Climbing Fuya Fuya – Ecuador

Along with Volcán Pasachoa, the other mountain that for some reason I desperately wanted to climb while living in Ecuador this year was Fuya Fuya.  It was actually for this reason that I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week – the Cascada de PegucheLaguna Cuicocha and the Día de los Difuntos were just bonuses 🙂

Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to find other people to climb 4,200m mountains, especially when it turns out that Otavalo is very quiet outside of the two main market days (Wednesday and Saturday) and very, very few tourists actually stay there (they tend to do day trips from Quito).  So in the end, I sprung for the whole taxi fare to take me to the trail-head and climbed on my own.

Hiking Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The route I took in climbing Fuya Fuya and exploring the surroundings

I started out early hoping that I could reach the top before the clouds obscured everything and the rain came, and after about 40 minutes in the taxi, reached the starting point at Laguna Caricocha –  one of the Mojanda Lakes

Mojanda Lakes - Otavalo - Ecuador

Weather looking pretty grim upon arrival at Mojanda Lakes

From there, I took a straight shot up a very steep hill, which turned out not to be the main trail after all.

Climbing Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

I went straight up the side of this

In fact, I was about 2/3 the way up to the top of Fuya Fuya (not the top of this first hill) before I managed to make my way across to the main trail.  And although I probably made things way harder for myself by bush-bashing through the páramo, it was all good – I was heading in the right general direction.  

As always, the views  were stunning.

Paramo scenery - Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

And were made even more special when I starting coming across wildflowers in the steep upper reaches of the climb.

Wildflowers and Paramo - Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Can you spot the perfect, snow-capped cone of Cotopaxi in the bottom image?

Fuya Fuya actually has two peaks, and I’d been told to make sure I took the right hand route (which is slightly lower) once I got to the junction.  This is because there is a tall rock that needs to be scaled if you take the left hand route.  I ended up hiking along the ridge to the left-hand side just to see, but the infamous rock was very visible and very obviously not doable without equipment (or a death wish).

Fuya Fuya highest of the peaks - Otavalo - Ecuador

The slightly higher peak of Fuya Fuya

So I backtracked and headed for the right hand peak, which itself had a smaller rock that needed to be scaled and which I admit gave me a brief pause.

Fuya Fuya slightly lower peak - Otavalo - Ecuador

Yes, you climb straight up to the top

But the views were totally worth it!

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The valley to the north and Laguna Caricocha from the top of Fuya Fuya. Visible in the image are Cotocatchi (left) and the snow-capped Cayambe (just to the right of the lake)

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The view to the east from Laguna Caricocha to the other peak of Fuya Fuya. Obscured in the photo (but visible in real life) are the snow-capped volcanoes of Cayambe, Antisana, Cotopaxi.

As you can see, the weather improved enormously while I was climbing and by the time I got to the top, it was absolutely incredible.  I pulled out another wonderful app I have called Peakfinder, and could see Cotocatchi, Cayambe, Antisana, and Cotopaxi, with a glimpse of the Chimborazo volcano on the horizon.   All the snow-capped volcanoes were a little disguised by the background cloud, but their peaks were clearly visible when I first arrived.

It was so beautiful, and such a lovely day, that I ended up finding a rock to stretch out on and just stayed up here for a couple of hours admiring the view.   Really – it doesn’t get much better than this!

View from top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Laguna Caricocha and Cayambe volcano (just to the right of the lake) from my perch at the top of Fuya Fuya.

Me relaxing on my rock on top of Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

Eventually the wind picked up and the clouds started to come over, so I decided to make my way back down the other route.  Apparently this is actually the main route to the top – the one with the signs (well, sign) I’d read about on the internet.

I only saw one sign on the climb to Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

This whole hike is just spectacular páramo scenery.

Decending Fuya Fuya via main route - Otavalo - Ecuador

The descent was also incredibly steep, and, just like on Pasochoa, I ended up grabbing fistfuls of páramo grass to help me descend.  However, at some point I realised that the route I was taking looked like (and was as slippery as) a giant, grassy slippery dip…   And so yes, I actually decided to slide, rather than walk down 🙂

Descent from Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

The descent from Fuya Fuya – exactly like a slippery dip!

I ended up with hiking pants and undies full of páramo, but I also managed to find $5 – undoubtedly dropped by someone else who had had the same idea!

Bonus find on Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

From there it was an easy hike back down the actual trail to the Mojanda Lakes.

Main trail climbing to Fuya Fuya - Otavalo - Ecuador

My original plan was to hike all the way around the Mojanda lakes as well, but given that I ended up spending so much time stretched out on the rock at the top of Fuya Fuya, I didn’t have time before my taxi returned to collect me.

I did, however, manage to do a quick hike along the road out to the base of Cerro Negro and the turnoff to Laguna Chiriacu before having to turn back.

Cerro Negro - Otavalo - Ecuador

Looking up at Cerro Negro – an alternate climb in this area

Overall, it was an incredible hike and I’m so grateful for the amazing weather I ended up having!  Definitely a highlight!

 

Recommendation:  If you like hiking, this is a great acclimatization climb that is not technical at all (well, except for that rock).  Especially if you have good weather!  In order to also hike the Mojanda Lakes after climbing Fuya Fuya, I would suggest you ask your taxi driver to pick you up at the end of the road near Laguna Huamicocha, rather than where he drops you off near Laguna Caricocha – that way you don’t have to back-track.

Cost:  I just used a taxi arranged by my hostel for USD$30.  He collected me at the hostel when I asked, and returned to collect me at Laguna Caricocha at the requested time for this price.

Time: To climb Fuya Fuya takes about 3 hours.  I spent about 6 hours out here and wished I’d stayed 8.

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Hiking Laguna Cuicocha – Ecuador

Most people come to Otavalo for the enormous Saturday market.  They catch the bus up from Quito early in the morning or the night before, shop, and then catch the bus back, without ever stopping to explore the surroundings.  Which is a shame, because Otavalo is ringed by volcanoes and there is lots of great hiking to be done.   

One of the easiest hikes (if you can call doing anything between 3,100m and 3,500m easy) is the 14km circuit around the rim of the crater that contains Laguna Cuicocha.  Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem like many people do this – I only came across one Ecuadorian family who had carted a portable BBQ and boxes of food (!!!) up to the highest point for a picnic, and a group of older North Americans who had also only hiked part of the way around (and the not-so-interesting part at that!).

Which is bizarre – because it is a beautiful hike!

I had managed to convince my Argentinean hostel room-mate to do the hike with me to share the cost of the taxi out there (one of the hardest parts about hiking in Ecuador is actually getting to the trail-head).  She was up for a 9am leave-the-hostel, but I convinced her it would be better to leave at 8am 🙂  We arrived at 8:40am to a beautifully still lake and almost perfect reflections. 

Perfect Reflections - Laguna Cuicocha

Top image – Volcán Cotocatchi is partially obscured by clouds. Laguna Cuicocha sits at the base of this impressive volcano.

I’ll never understand why people don’t want to start out as early as possible given the possibility of seeing something so amazing.

We then set off around the rim in an anti-clockwise direction.

The trail around Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

Given it is an eroded crater rim, there are plenty of ups and a few downs, especially for the first 1/2 of the hike, but the trail is extremely obvious and very well cared for.

The trail around Laguna Cuicocha is very well maintained

There really isn’t too much to say about the hike itself – nothing spectacularly interesting happened along the way, nor were there any real challenges.  It was all just about the changing views of the lake.

Various views of Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

And the views to the surrounding volcanoes, particularly Volcán Imbabura, and Volcán Cotocatchi, which towers above it.

Volcanos surrounding Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

Volcán Imabura (top) and Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom) from the the rim of Laguna Cuicocha

The name Laguna Cuicocha means “Lake of the Guinea Pig” in the Quechua language, possibly named after the shape of its largest island – Teodoro Wolf (the smaller island is called Yerovi).

Perhaps the reason for the name - Laguna Cuicocha

And although I didn’t see any guinea pigs, there were the last vestiges of what must have been an amazing bloom of flowers and orchids about a month before!

The last of the flowers - Laguna Cuicocha - Ecuador

All up, I took about 4.5 hours to walk around the rim, but that was with a couple of long stops to chat, and taking lots of photos.  For me, the first half (going anti-clockwise) was the most rewarding, as the last third basically tracked along a road.  Though I admit there were great views across to Volcán Cotocatchi.   

Volcán Cotocatchi seen from across Laguna Cotocatchi - Ecuador

Volcán Cotocatchi peeking out from the clouds

I didn’t end up calling into the tourist enclave at the end, but my understanding is that the boat trips on the lake only cost a few dollars if you don’t want to hike.  However, you would be missing out on the best part, as you really need the height that the rim provides to have the most spectacular vistas.

 

Time:  about 4.5 hours

Cost:  USD$12.50 each (USD$25 for the taxi).  I was lazy and just got the taxi provided by the hostel, given I could split the cost.

 

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Día de los Difuntos – Otavalo – Ecuador

The 2nd November is “All Souls Day” in the Catholic calendar, the “Day of the Dead” in Mexico, the “Día de los Difuntos” (Day of the Deceased) in Ecuador.  I didn’t realise it when making my plans, but Otavalo turns out to be one of the best places in all of Ecuador to experience this important day.

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

The tradition (particularly strong amongst the more indigenous peoples of Ecuador) is for families to visit the cemetery, taking food and drink for a picnic on the grave of the deceased.  Yes, you read that correctly, ON the grave of the deceased.   The idea is that the souls of the dead visit on this day, and families need to provide plenty of food so that these souls can gain strength to continue on their journey to the after life.

I asked at the hostel when the celebrations started, and they advised me that between 11am and 1pm would be the best time to see what was going on.  So off I set in the blazing sun to the indigenous cemetery.  It was not hard to find – really, you just had to follow the crowds!

Follow the crowds - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Lining both sides of both access streets were people selling flowers, wreaths, fruit (especially sweet pepinos), and food.  Lots and lots of food – the most popular seemingly being the fish Tilápia, fried, of course.

Everything the deceased could need - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

Fresh flowers and wreaths (top), food and fruit (middle – sweet pepinos are the greenish things), hornado (roast pork) and tilápia (bottom)

And everywhere you looked, there were women selling the most traditional of treats for this particular occasion – Guaguas de Pan (bread babies). 

Guaguas de Pan - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

These are sweet breads shaped like babies (guagua or wawa means “baby” in Quechua) that have been wrapped in swaddling (note, they don’t have arms), and decorated with colourful icing.   They can be plain or filled with a fruit jam, and in some parts of Ecuador, they can also take the shape of an animal.

Food and flowers purchased, the families then entered the cemetery to find the plot of their deceased.  And what a spectacle it was!

Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was absolutely packed!  And full of action!  From people tending the graves

Tending the grave - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to musicians playing for the deceased

Praying and music - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

to everybody laying out a picnic on top of the graves.

Picnics on the graves - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

It was incredibly difficult to move and find a place to stand to take it all in.  It was just amazing to see such a healthy attitude towards death!

Healthier attitude towards death - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

After about 2 hours of wandering around, I left with a touch of sunstroke (why I didn’t put my hat on, I don’t know!) but returned at 2:30pm to see how the day had unfolded.  Wow!  What a difference!  There was almost nobody left at the cemetery!

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

3 hours later and the cemetery was almost deserted!

It was a great opportunity though to wander around admiring the freshly-tended graves and marveling at the bootprints that trampled the dirt mounds.  I felt really self-conscious walking all over the graves, but it is what everybody did and nobody blinked an eye.  

After the party - Día de los difuntos - Otavalo - Ecuador

I was also surprised at the lack of rubbish left behind in the wake of so many people and so much food!  Very a-typical for such a large gathering in general, and for Latin America in particular.

From the cemetery I headed back into town for a very late lunch and decided I had to go the full traditional spread.   So fried TilápiaGuaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada – a thick, sweet, drink made with purple (or black) corn, spices and berries.  Yum!

lunch - Tilápia, Guaguas de Pan, and Colada Morada

The Día de los Difuntos really was quite a sight and if you happen to be in Ecuador on November 2, I’d encourage you to definitely experience it.

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Cascada de Peguche – Otavalo – Ecuador

I finally managed to extract myself from Quito after 3 months of living there and becoming very comfortable indeed!  Given that I hadn’t done much hiking for quite a while, I decided to base myself in Otavalo for a week to do at least 2 of the hikes around that area – the Laguna de Cuicocha and Volcán Fuya Fuya.

It turns out that Kryštof, a Czech guy I’d met in Quito several weeks earlier, was also in Otavalo, so we caught up for drinks and then managed to go for an afternoon hike together the next day.   

We caught the local bus (eventually – it was quite a wait) out to the trail that led to the Cascada de Peguche – one of the key attractions that is close to Otavalo

Hiking to Cascada de Peguche

It was a lovely short walk through the trees to reach the campground, where the idea of these pyramidal tent platforms really grabbed me 🙂  I can imagine pitching my tent on top of one, and they remind me of something out of the X-Files!

Campsite - Cascada de Peguche

Then down to the waterfall itself.  It is about 20m high and in a really beautiful spot – so definitely worth a visit if you have a spare hour or two.

Cascada de Peguche

From there our plan was to walk over to Parque Cóndor – which looked do-able according to the ever trusty Maps.Me.  But first we explored the hanging bridge and the Inca Pool.  This latter is theoretically a hot spring, but the finger test quickly dissipated any ideas we may have had about going in for a dip – it was not warm at all!

Hanging bridge and Inca Pool - Cascada de Peguche

Heading up the trail that climbed to the top of the waterfall, it seemed like it would continue in the direction we wanted to go.   And it did … kind of.

Kryštof leading the scramble up the cliff-face

It was a bit of a dodgy, almost vertical scramble, but we made it eventually and strolled along a very rural road on the way towards the park.

Hiking from Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor

This is a really cool little hike that would have fantastic views of Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi if it were completely clear.  

Volcán Imbabura and Volcán Cotocatchi ' Cascada de Peguche

Volcán Imbabura (top) Volcán Cotocatchi (bottom)

We figured by this point that we were probably too late for the cóndors, so went and checked out the viewpoint at La Lechera instead (sunset would be incredible from here).  We came across this little old lady herding her cows and pigs (I couldn’t understand a word she said – I maintain she was speaking in Quechua), and then headed back down into Otavalo for dinner.  

Hiking from Cascada de Peguche to Parque Condor

Thank you for an awesome afternoon Kryštof!  

Kryštof and I - Cascada de Peguche

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Center for Contemporary Art – Quito

The Centre for Comtemporary Art is in located one of the most incredible and historically significant buildings in Quito.  I’d walked past it a lot while I was living in the Historic Centre during my first month in Quito and had always wanted to see inside the building.  So I finally got my act together to go check it out.

Entrada - Center for Contemporary Art - Quito

Now, contemporary art is really not my thing.  On the few occasions I’ve bothered, it has taken me no more than 5 minutes to walk around the exhibitions and walk out again thinking to myself “how that can be art??!!”   So when the very helpful Centre staff at reception asked me if I wanted a guide, I politely declined … after all, I really only came in to check out the building.

Which didn’t disappoint!  This is the hallway leading to the exhibition spaces that were in use (I figured that given I was there, I might as well do a quick trip through the galleries).  

Pasillo - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Galleries 1 and 2 were hosting the Absorber la Ficción exhibition.  Yeah…. Ummm…. No.  How that can be art??!!

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Galleries 3 and 4 were hosting the Premio Brazil exhibition – a competition and initiative between Ecuador and Brazil for emerging artists.  Nope.  Nothing in Gallery 3.  And I was just about to give up on Gallery 4 when I was stopped dead in my tracks by an incredible piece of art!  

Amazing Art - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

It is a collage of drawings of burned matches – one for each day of the year – as well as a few matchboxes.  I LOVE this!

While I was standing there admiring it, one of the Centre guides came over and asked me what it was that drew me to it.  When I said “I just like it”, she started pressing me on a proper answer, and I realised that I’d never really thought about why I liked, disliked, or was “meh” about any particular piece of art.  It was an interesting exercise to really think about why I felt the way I did, and eventually I articulated that I loved the simplicity and structure of it, that the idea itself really appealed to me, and I loved the use of whitespace.

We then moved on to other topics of conversation and eventually I admitted that I didn’t actually like contemporary art, and had simply come in to see the interior of the building.  Which is when she asked me if I’d like a tour of the building.  She had a colleague working that day who knew all the history of the building and loved to talk about it.  Absolutely!  Sign me up!

So she took me back to reception and introduced me to Mireya – who indeed was a veritable font of knowledge about this remarkable place.   Mireya and I spent the next hour touring the building (including parts where visitors aren’t allowed without a guide) with her telling me all about it’s different layers of history – from Tuberculosis Sanatorium to Military Barracks to Military Hospital to illegally occupied “city-within-a-city”.  It was fascinating!

For example, this (now)-internal courtyard covers an enormous number of remains of the more than 2,000 people who died in the 4-day war in Quito in August 1932. 

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

This used to be the chapel of the Military hospital, which was located just up the corridor from the operating theatres.  Mireya tells me that she and other visitors have all felt “presences” in these rooms, and that there used to be a “slide” from this second story to the ground floor where they used to send those who had died down to the morgue.  

Chapel - Centre for Contemporary Art - Quito

Original floor tiles (top) and ceiling decoration (bottom).  Note the holes in the floor tiles where the toilets were screwed down.

Detail - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Both this main hall and each of the exhibition spaces used to be wards for the Sanatorium, which, at its peak didn’t have enough beds for the number of patients.   Unfortunately the building was only placed under heritage protection in around 2006, but it is easy to imagine 2 floors of beds in this space.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

Each of the ex-wards (now exhibition spaces – there are 10 in total) was separated by an outdoor courtyard, all very similar yet subtly different.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

And decorated with stones imported from Europe (the architects were European – German and Italian).

Detail - Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

The building is absolutely enormous and only the Southern half of it has been restored so far.    Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter the non-refurbished Northern part, but we did get a great view of the main courtyard from the upper story windows.

Unrestored part of the Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

The wooden framed windows on the left are the original look of the building, and I hope that they actually keep this (rather than replacing it with glass) when they refurbish it.  Here is the equivalent refurbished Southern section.  It is beautiful, but loses the character somewhat.

Centro del Arte Contemporaneo - Quito

An hour flew past as Mireya told me story after story of the history of the building – and it was the most incredible experience!   It’s always amazing to stumble upon such a serendipitous experience and I’m infinitely grateful that I now speak Spanish and can fall into these situations often.

So if you speak Spanish, I’d highly recommend asking at the Centre if Mireya is there and getting her to show you around.  Waaaaay more interesting than 95% of the artwork, and an incredible experience.  It really was the highlight of the day for me 🙂

 

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Climbing Volcán Pasochoa – Ecuador

There are several hikes that are within reach of Quito on a day trip, but the main issue is getting to the trail-heads on public transport.  Given that I’d already climbed Rucu Pichincha last year, the one I particularly wanted to do was Volcán Pasochoa, but it seemed like it was going to be difficult or expensive to get there on my own. Plus I really would prefer not to hike by myself (I’ve been trying to find a hiking group ever since I arrived).

So imagine my elation when I saw an event for climbing Volcán Pasochoa come through one of the expat Facebook groups I’m part of.  I immediately deposited the $10 in the bank account (why doesn’t Ecuador use PayPal??!!) and was in!

Of course, the day of the hike turned out to be the worst day weather-wise since arriving in Ecuador 3 months ago.  Usually the days start out with brilliant sunshine, and then the clouds come over by about lunchtime.  But to start with rain… It didn’t bode well!

Still, at 6:30am I headed up to meeting point at the Universidad de las Américas (UDLA), hoping that by some miracle it would suddenly clear up.  I was just about to send a message to Nicolas saying I was piking and going home, but ended up sticking it out and heading off in the school bus with 10 other intrepid souls.  Turns out I’d gatecrashed the UDLA Outdoors club!

UDLA bus to take us to the trail head of Volcán Pasochoa

Yes, we went in a school bus

It took about an hour to get to the trail-head of Volcán Pasochoa, and the weather still looked pretty ordinary.

View from the start of the trail - Volcán Pasochoa

Start of the trail – Volcán Pasochoa

Nicolas started us off with a warm-up – we each had to introduce ourselves, say a little about ourselves and then choose a warm-up exercise to get our bodies prepared for hiking.  I was the only non-Latino in the group, which I get the feeling was a bit of a novelty.

Warming up - Volcán Pasochoa

Warming up and introducing ourselves

Introductions made and warm-up done, it was time to start the climb.  The first part was not very steep, though doing any form of activity at 3,200m always give the lungs and heart a good workout.

Start of the hike - Volcán Pasochoa

We passed through (squeezed through in some areas) a small forest 

Small forest - Volcán Pasochoa

and emerged to a welcoming party of cows … who were not at all keen to let us pass.  They specifically came running towards us to block our path!

Cows - Volcán Pasochoa

These cows thought they were trolls … guarding the route to the summit of Volcán Pasochoa

After negotiating half of a ladder

Obstacle - Volcán Pasochoa

the climb began in earnest though the Páramo – Ecuador’s high grasslands.

Climbing through the Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

The weather was not improving as we climbed higher, but at least it wasn’t raining … yet!

Climbing through the Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

The fog kept rolling across, but we could see the summit of Pasochoa when we weren’t too far away.

Summit - Volcán Pasochoa

The summit of Volcán Pasochoa is at the top of the cliff

And I was very, very happy to finally see the “classic” view of the ridge-line (at least) of the volcanic crater on our way up.

Ridge-line of the crater - Volcán Pasochoa

I can only imagine what the view must be like on a clear day … a volcanic crater that drops away suddenly with vistas to the even taller volcanoes of the region.  But I did find the fog-filled crater really compelling – moody, and very, very mysterious.   Despite not being able to see much, this view was spectacular, and made the climb totally worthwhile.

Ridge-line of the crater - Volcán Pasochoa

We had a fairly quick lunch at the summit (4,200m above sea level) as the fog socked in around us

Summit - Volcán Pasochoa

Here I am at the summit of Volcán Pasochoa. I include my location on Maps.Me, just in case you don’t believe me…

before starting the return journey.

Volcán Pasochoa

It did actually start raining on the way down, turning the already very slippery mud track into an absolute nightmare

Very muddy trail - Volcán Pasochoa

Thank goodness Páramo grass isn’t blade grass, because the only way to ensure you didn’t slip and fall was to grab handfuls of it in order to anchor yourself as you very carefully took the next step.   Of course, with the rain, the Páramo was constantly wet, which in turn froze our hands and soaked our pants to the point where we couldn’t get any colder or wetter if we tried.

Wet Páramo - Volcán Pasochoa

Despite the less-than-stellar weather, I had an awesome time with the UDLA group, and I’m trying to arrange my schedule so I can do a few more hikes with them in January.  Wish I’d found these guys 3 months ago!!

Oh – I also discovered that at least several of the group spoke good English, though we spoke in Spanish the whole day.  I did suggest at the summit that because we’d spoken Spanish all the way up, we had to speak English all the way down – but they out-voted me.   I really didn’t mind 🙂  Great practice for me and I look forward to our next adventure together!

 

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Leyendas Nocturnas at El Tejar – Quito – Ecuador

Trawling the Quito Cultura website last week (as I do every Sunday) I came across the following advertisement for Leyendas Nocturnas (Night Legends) at the El Tejar Convent in downtown Quito.

Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

From the description, it seemed as if it might follow the same formula as the awesome night tour I did at the Santiago General Cemetery last year – a truly spectacular experience!  So I was in 🙂

It turns out El Tejar is not the easiest place to get to as it lies just on the other side of a bunch of tunnels, overpasses and underpasses for one of the main “ringroads” of Quito.    However, I did eventually make it only to be seriously confused as to how to get in.   Turned out that I had to enter through the cemetery (not the main entrance), which was also the carpark for the night.  O-kaaaaay!

Entrance to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

I walked to the end of the row of tombs with nobody in sight, and was trying to figure out where I was supposed to go next (there were no signs and it really was not at all obvious), when fortunately a group of people appeared out of the darkness.   They seemed to know where they were going so I fell into line behind them.  Good thing too – I would NEVER have found it otherwise!  

Once I’d gotten my name crossed off the list, I was given my entrance ticket, a candle and a very welcome Canelazo (hot, spiced naranjilla drink) to which I could add my own preferred quantity of aguardiente (alcohol).  I really do love Canelazo 🙂

Welcome to Leyendas Nocturnas - El Tejar - Quito

Greeted with a candle, entrance ticket and a cup of hot Canelazo – yum!

Hung around in the courtyard of the Convent taking pictures and drinking Canelazo and until the tour finally started on Ecuadorian Time (ie half-hour late).

El Tejar Convent - Quito

There were actually a large number of people register, so they split us into groups and we started our tour in the XVI century library of the Convent.  Here, our guide told us a bit about the history of the convent – it dates from 1730 and was established by Father Francisco de Jesus Bolaños in a place where roofing tiles used to be made – and we could see a large number of original religious and art books bound in sheep-hide and dating from the 1500s to the 1700s. 

Library at El Tejar Convent - Quito

From there, we lit our candles and headed down a dark passage until we ran into 3 characters who acted out one of the legends associated with El Tejar Convent – that of a young man who died in the underground crypt.

Leyendas Nocturnas in the crypts - El Tejar - Quito

This story had us following these characters from the church, downstairs to the crypt, and back again.   It was fun, but the actors didn’t have lights – so very, very dark.

From there we headed upstairs to the religious art gallery where our guide pointed out some of the more important pieces of art that the Convent houses.  

Religious art Museum at El Tejar Convent - Quito

Guided tour of the art gallery at the Convent and my 2 favourite paintings

I have to admit I find most religious art kind of tedious, and the statues downright creepy!

Virgin at El Tejar Convent - Quito

A pretty crap photo because I wasn’t planning on including it in the blog … but it is just so creepy!

From there, it was up to our last stop – the roof of the convent and its twin towers.   Here we were met by another actor who portrayed the legend of “Julia: The widow of El Tejar“.  In this legend, Julia is a beautiful woman who is betrayed by her husband, Joaquín, who has an affair with her cousin.  When Joaquín dies a short time later, Julia is converted into a cursed soul with a face that is half-beautiful and half-death, and who wanders around looking for men to bring into the afterlife.

Leyendas Nocturnas on the roof - El Tejar - Quito

Once we’d finished on the roof, we headed back down and …. well, that was it.  There was no farewell from our guide, nor was there any real indication that that was the end of proceedings.  I actually had to ask!

Everyone else had already disappeared somewhere so I walked back through the maze that we entered through and found myself back in Quito’s oldest public cemetery … and unable to actually find the exit.   Yeah – not the greatest feeling to be wandering around a cemetery by yourself in the middle of the night!

Decided to head back to the Convent to ask how to get out, and ended up running into a really lovely family who said they’d show me the way out and give me a lift to somewhere I could get a taxi (El Tejar is a little out of the way).

In the end, they actually brought me all the way back to my apartment, which was really wonderful of them.  I think they got distracted asking me about all the Australian wildlife – a favourite topic amongst everyone not born in Australia 🙂

 

Recommendation:  It was interesting, and it had real potential.  But unfortunately nowhere near as good as the Santiago Cemetery night tour

Cost: USD$12

Time: about 2 hours

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Tripa Mishqui in La Floresta – Quito – Ecuador

There is no shortage of places to eat in Quito, including a multitude of restaurants that cater primarily for tourists.

And although there is a growing culture around Container Food Parks (ie small cafe/restaurants made from shipping containers) and Food Truck Parks in Quito and other major centres, I have found that in many cases they are quite up-market and don’t necessarily sell typical Ecuadorian Food.

For this reason, my preference is actually to eat in local hole-in-the-wall joints, in the markets, or on the street – and one of my favourite spots for street food is Parque La Floresta, where food carts are set up and start cooking every evening from about 5:30pm.  

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

The only food on sale is very typically Ecuadorian, and the specialty is Tripa Mishqui – or BBQ tripe.   

Those who have read my Ecuadorian Street Food post from last year know the story of how I was inadvertently tricked into trying tripe for the first time by chefs of Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory about 19 years ago (it really wasn’t their fault – it looked like sweet and sour chicken so I took a huge plate.  It most definitely was NOT sweet and sour chicken 🙁).  And how, when I tried a very small sample of the Tripa Mishqui last year on a Street Food tour  – I was extremely surprised to discover that I really, really liked it!

During my several months here in Quito this year I’ve tried the Tripa Mishqui in a few different places, but by far the best is at Parque La Floresta.   The spices pack a ton of flavour and the tripe is well cooked so that it loses that horrible texture it has when cooked in other ways.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

Get chatting with the very friendly vendors – who will always try to entice you to their cart with a free sample

 

and then grab your bowl of various types of corn, salad, tripe and Ecuadorian aji (chilli) and prop yourself up at one of the permanent standing-height tables that the local council has thoughtfully provided.

Parque La Floresta - street food carts - Tripa Mishka - Quito - Ecuador

You can see the permanent tables (with people standing around them) on the left

You can pre-empt (or post-empt) your tripe with (in my opinion) Quito’s best Empanada de Viento – a deep-fried “wind” empanada that has a tiny amount of cheese inside and which you dust with sugar – from a couple of carts up.

 

This somehow slightly mournful calling of the street cart vendors (to my ears at least) is very typical of what you hear all around Quito – but guaranteed it is inviting you to some awesome tasting food!

And the other amazing thing – the cost!  My plate of Tripa Mishqui cost US$2.50 and my Empanada, just USD$0.75.

Even if you think you don’t like tripe, I’d encourage you to have a go at the Tripa Mishqui in Parque La Floresta.  You may be just as surprised as I was!

 

Update on 9 November, 2018 – It turns out that the Parque La Floresta food carts also have the best Fritada in Quito!  An enormous plate of the most incredible pork + mote + habas etc for USD$4.   Now I’m not sure what to have when I go there!

 

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Cascada Condor Machay – Quito – Ecuador

In my efforts to do a little hiking while I’m staying put here in Quito, I headed out to Cascada Condor Machay this weekend with Laura and Mark.  I’d met them at my Saturday night language exchange group a few weeks before and, given the run of cloudy weather we’ve had recently, we decided to visit the waterfall rather than climbing a mountain for a probably less than spectacular view.

Being a little lazy and needing to get back to Quito by mid-afternoon, we caught a Cabify out to Selva Alegre, the town closest to the waterfall and where our instructions advised us to find a taxi to take us to the trail head.  Our helpful Cabify driver offered to take us, but it was clear that he had no idea where he was going, so we decided to find a local taxi driver instead.

Although there was plenty of roasted cuy (guinea pig) on offer in Selva Alegre, taxis were a little few and far between.  So we jumped in the first one that came along, agreed on $15 to take us to the falls (which is what our instructions said it should cost) and then did a few laps of Selva Alegre because our driver seemed to want us to tell him how to get there!   

With the help of Maps.Me, we finally headed off in the right direction, but not before patience was tested and stress levels had risen a little.

Taxi to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It didn’t help at all that our taxi driver seemed to not be “all there” … or he was on something.  I would have sworn he was drunk except that we could not smell alcohol on his breath…  He kept up a mumbled monologue (that was impossible to hear thanks to the rattling of the car) the entire 17km journey out to the falls … I have to admit it was a relief to arrive!   

However, our only real option to get back to Selva Alegre was to have him come back and pick us up at a pre-arranged time … so we would have to do this all over again later in the day 🙁

Having escaped the taxi and registered with the very lovely park ranger, we finally headed off towards the Condor Machay (El Nido de Cóndor in Spanish, Condor’s Nest in English) waterfall.   

It is a really simple, but incredibly beautiful walk along a very well maintained track that has several bridges that take you from one side of the Rio Pita to the other numerous times.  

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

You walk through damp forest for most of the way, accompanied by the continual sounds of birds and frogs (unfortunately we didn’t manage to actually see any).

The path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

The path is lined with enormous numbers of moss-covered trees, bromeliads, a surprisingly large amount of bamboo, as well as numerous other plants.

Plant life on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

There are occasional glimpses of another stream that seems to run through the mountain

Hiking to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Amazing sheer walls covered in plants

Wall of plants on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

And, of course, several smaller waterfalls

Waterfalls on the way to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

including this one that falls right beside the path.

Waterfall on the path to Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

It took us about 1hr 45mins to walk out to the Cascada Condor Machay, but we were walking very slowly and taking lots of pictures along the way.  The initial view of the waterfall is amazing

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

and, at ~85m tall, it really is enormous!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

We got to enjoy the waterfall in peace for about 10 minutes before we were descended upon by about 150 secondary school children out on an excursion.  Some of them decided it would be a great idea to go fully-clothed into the plunge-pool below the waterfall and, well I guess peer-pressure is a terrible thing!

Cascada Condor Machay - Quito - Ecuador

Couldn’t believe that the adults who accompanied the group actually let them do this because a) it wasn’t exactly warm and none of them had a change of clothes, and b) the force of the water coming over the fall would certainly drown a young person, and even an adult, if they happened to get too close and go under.

We put up with the squealing and shouting for about 1/2 hour while we ate a quick lunch, but then decided we’d had enough and started the walk back.  The return journey only took about an hour, and was nice and peaceful … until the kids caught up to us, given they were running back to the car park.  Yes – call me a cranky old woman … but I was after some tranquility, not the squeals of pre-teens/teenagers!

Our mad-as-a-hatter taxi driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the car park, so back in the taxi for another monologue to accompany our trip back to Selva Alegre, and then the bus back to Quito

 

How to get there:

From the Playon La Marin terminal in Quito, take the bus to Sangolqui/Selva Alegre (50 cents).  Once there, find a taxi to take you the 17km to the trailhead.   It should cost a maximum of US$15 one way – though the meter in our taxi only showed $10 (unfortunately we’d agreed to $15 beforehand).  You are also going to have to get back to Selva Alegre afterwards, so unless you want to see how you go hitch-hiking (there were very few other people – apart from the schoolkids – there when we went on a Saturday), you should probably arrange for the driver to come back and pick you up at a specific time.   

There are other waterfalls you can hike to in the opposite direction from the same car park (though some involve river crossings – no bridges), so it is very easy to make a full day of it.

 

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Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra – Quito

One of the best recommendations I can make is that if you are visiting a country for a while, join the expat Facebook group(s) associated with that country.

I have been a member of Discover Chile for several years now, and when I knew I was coming to Ecuador for an extended stay I joined the Ecuador Expats and Expats in Quito groups.  All three groups are very, very active, full of interesting information, and a regular source of inspiration for me about upcoming events etc.

Usually things tend to be announced last minute, and the one that grabbed my attention the other day was this announcement about the Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra playing The Hebrides Overture by Mendelssohn in the Iglesia de la Compañia in a free concert.  It seems that any excuse for a free concert is a good one – and this one was put on to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol – the protocol designed to protect the Earth’s ozone layer from further depletion (remember when that was our major global concern?)

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

No, it wasn’t the fact that the designer had merged a guitar and the Earth into a pretty nifty graphic on the poster.  But rather:

  • I LOVE listening to live orchestral music, but rarely get the opportunity because it is usually very expensive!  I only used to go see the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra play their free concerts during summer for this reason.
  • Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture is one of my all-time favourite pieces of orchestral music (if you haven’t heard it, click on the link and turn the sound up loud!).  I was introduced to it when I was about 14 and studying music in high school, and have loved it ever since.  In fact, when I went to Scotland with some friends many years ago and we were in the Hebrides, I insisted that we had to go to Fingal’s Cave (the popular name for this piece of music).
  • While the UNESCO listed historic centre of Quito is full of amazing churches, if you only have time to visit one – it should be the Iglesia de la Compañia.  It is incredibly intricate inside and out!

Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

I got there an hour early to make sure I was close to the start of the line and I’d be able to get in (the fineprint on the poster says “free entry until seating is full”) and met Natalie – the only other Aussie expat I’ve met so far, a lover of classical music and clarinet player.   When they finally let us in 1/2-hour before the concert started, it seemed that everyone in front of me was reserving seats for others because although the seats were only 1/2-full, there was no room to sit!   So Natalie and I ended up standing 🙁 

But it was absolutely amazing!

I’ve always felt that the opening bars of the Overture immediately envelop you – not sure how else to describe it.  And when the orchestra started – I was wrapped in the sound and it was heaven!  This piece of music is incredible, and they played it extremely well.  My heart soared!

Unfortunately no pictures allowed during the performance (actually you aren’t allowed to take photos inside the church at all), but I did manage to take a quick one before it started.

Ecuador National Symphony Orchestra - Iglesia de la Compañia - Quito

The other pieces in the concert were not really my thing, but to hear the Hebrides Overture played in such an amazing venue was priceless.

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