Ecuador is a small country, located, as you can guess on the equator, and it’s a little mass of South America, with volcanoes of the Andes Cordillera and the Amazonia jungle as well. Let’s get ready for adventure!
Laguna de Quilotoa
The first thing you see about Ecuadorian is their size: usually small with a big rib cage. Why? Because their body adapted to the altitude (Quito the capital city is located at 2850 m, and most of the country is like that). Which means your body is not really made for the lack of oxygen at this altitude, and it’s exactly what happened to me when I reached the Laguna de Quilotoa. When I got off the bus, it was the first time I found my self at 4000 m. I was lucky because if breathing can be quite strange for a moment, I never suffer any trouble regarding mountain sickness. Quilotoa is, in fact, a volcano, with a lake in its crater. We walked down to this “Laguna”, getting from 4100 m to 3900 m. It’s very easy to get down, but the way back was another story. The sides of the crater are made of sand and ashes, which is already something hard to walk in normal conditions, but with the altitude, it was much harder. Despite the effort, the view really worths it. My group enjoyed a folklore evening, sleeping homestays, but at this altitude, and even if it’s the equator, the night was very cold, despite all the llama hair blankets the local people put on us.
With its 6263 m, this volcano is the closest point on Earth to the Sun. Wait a minute, why it’s not the Everest? Just because the Chimborazo is located on the equator, and Earth is not completely round, it’s flatter at the poles. With my group, we tried to climb it. We packed ourselves (16 persons) in a minibus (made for 14 persons) which took us to the starting point the walk, at 4800 m. There, we discovered hundreds of Ecuadorians wearing shorts and ready to run. There was a race starting at this altitude and going down the volcano to Riobamba. Did I mention it was snowing? In fact, the snow helped us a lot, because it made the air more breathable, and it froze the ground, making it easier to walk. I reached 5000 m without troubles. Then, things started to be more complicated. The snow made the path invisible, I couldn’t see the summit as well. So I walked another 100 m until
The road of the Inca: 2 days on horseback
Never trust your guide book. It was written “easy ride”. After several hours, we learned from our guide, that the author of the guide book came 2 years before but never made that ride.
It was already an adventure to get to the starting point of this ride: Achupallas. We had to spend several hours in a cattle van, on an unpaved road, bordered by a huge ravine and swerving wide to avoid potholes or animals in the middle of the roadway. But we survived it. The worst was to come: horseback. There, I learned that my butt was definitely not made for a saddle. After only one hour, it was already very painful. Imagine how I felt at the end of the day after 6 hours? But honestly, it really worthed the pain. We crossed wild landscapes (in opposition to fields Ecuadorians grow even on the highest mountains), with a pass at 4000 m half in the snow, getting down in an untouched valley with a lake reflecting the sun lights. We spent a very cold night at 3000 m under a tent, but I really enjoyed it just because of the sky. It was the first time in my life I could see so many stars, and it was breathtaking. Getting back on horseback the morning after was really hard, and the weather was really cold (I have to admit, we put a little bit of vodka in our morning juice), and finally when we reached Ingapirca, I just let me fall from the horse, as my legs were too painful to move it.
That’s a very well name city, as we were soaked as soon as we left the bus. In fact, the name “baños” which means “bath” comes from the hot pool (50°C-60°C) near the town, heated by the volcano Tungurahua. Good to know, if the volcano erupted, you only have 15 min to evacuate the city (which means: impossible). Nearby, there’s the Rio Negro, on which we did some rafting. And if you wonder why it’s named like that (black water), maybe the black sand left in my swimsuits can give you an idea. We also went to see some waterfalls, such as “El paillon del Diablo” (the devil’s cauldron) you can get close enough to touch it.
Lago Agrio – Cuyabeno park
Welcome to the jungle. Honestly, I was scared of this kind of place before that trip because of anacondas, spiders, and all other dangerous creatures you can find there. Finally, I found myself quite comfortable with all of that.
To go deep inside the jungle, we spent 2 hours in a dugout canoe before reaching our base camp. It was almost dark when we arrived. The atmosphere was strange, warm and wet, bright eyes looking at us behind the leaves, and there were so many strange noises. For sure, the jungle is all but quiet. In the morning, I was surprised by the number of butterflies, they were beautiful, and if you remain motionless enough, they might land on you. Our guide took us into the forest, making a path with his machete. He showed us some tarantulas, some weird trees (one of them if you knock on it, the sound can be heard 100 m around), and made us eat ants. It’s not so bad, the taste is like lemon, because of formic acid. The only weird thing about it is to watch the ant running in your hand before eating it. Then, we went into the river, we swam into it, before learning there was anaconda inside, caimans (our guide caught a small one) and piranhas we tried to fish, unsuccessfully for me. Piranha tastes like any other fish, and in that case, I supposed it’s better eating it rather than being eaten.
One more thing about that part of Ecuador. When we arrived in Lago Agrio, I wanted to read about this area in my guide book, and it was written: “we do not talk about this region, as it serves as a support base for the FARC”(Colombian terrorist group which kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt). Nothing to worry about this.
Traveling in Ecuador
Here is a list of some tips, or things you need to know, before visiting this country:
- Transport: mainly by bus, like the local people, traveling with their chicken, listening to pan flute all night. In the bus station (“terminal terrestre”) to find your bus, just listen to drivers shouting the name of their destination. Roads were in poor conditions in that time, and I was thinking of sending money to the government to make them tarmac it.
- Food: if you don’t want to get sick, avoid water. Your daily meal will mostly be chicken with rice and coke (just ask for “pollo con arroz y coca”). You can try to eat “cuyo” if you’re brave enough (roasted guinea pig).
- Shopping: the best place for that is the market of Otavalo, very colorful. I found a hammock and a reduced head for my little sister.
August 2007 – Group tour by ZigoTours – 3 weeks