Sunday, 19 October 2014

Quito and Cotopaxi, Ecuador

La Compania Church

Upon settling in our lovely home-stay with Olga and Marcello in Quito, it was time to master Spanish. I started intensive classes at the Christobal Colon Spanish School with Maria Gusta, aka Magus. She was an excellent teacher with full of joy and helped me a lot with my Spanish by making me talk 4 hours every day. Thank you Magus, you were amazing!

Paul and I with our wonderful teachers 
Private tutoring was a very efficient way of learning due to full attention I got from Magus who corrected my mistakes immediately. In addition, I ended up talking a lot more than I would in a class environment.  Private lessons are definitely affordable in Ecuador and the prices range between $6 - $10 per hour. If you decide to attend this school, getting a membership with the South AmericanExplorers Club can be a great idea. With this membership you get a $1 off for each hour of your Spanish class. It really paid off  for me as I attended 3 weeks of intensive classes. There are also additional discounts in tour and accommodation bookings mostly in Ecuador and Peru. We saved quite a lot of money thanks to South American Explorers Club.

Historical streets of Quito
Our days in Quito were well spent. While I was attending classes until 1pm, Alex was discovering the city and visiting some impressive museums and churches. We also made new friends at our home-stay, Paul and Alex, who were also students at the Christobal Colon. In the afternoon, we visited some churches, historical buildings, Mariscal area and Plaza Foch. Basilica del Voto National and Cathedral of Quito are very impressive buildings in the heart of the city. I also spent a lot of time doing homework and practising Spanish with locals.

Cathedral of Quito
Ecuadorians are one of the friendliest nations in South America. We met many beautiful people during our time. One of them was Jorge-Luis, who approached us in one of the main squares asking for donation to help poor children. We started to chat about our trip around the world, and he told us about his adventures in Europe. After an hour we became really good friends and caught up a couple of more times later on. I was also happy to meet up with an old friend, Katrin from Germany, who happened to be on a business trip in Quito at the time. We certainly live in a small world.    

Colourful Otavalo Markets

The weekends were excursion times. Our first trip was to Otavalo which is an indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. Buses depart from Quito’s main terminal and charge $2 for the 2 hour ride. Otavalo is famous for its colourful markets that features some of the finest woven products in the region such as alpaca blankets, scarves, wall hangings, paintings and jewellery. We bought alpaca beanies and gloves as a preparation for our coming excursions to volcanoes and crater lakes in Ecuador and Peru. The Otavalo Market is open every day, however Saturday is the best day to visit when it is the biggest.   
Our next excursion was to the Cotopaxi National Park. At 7am, our tour bus departed towards the second highest mountain of Ecuador. It is also the world’s third highest active volcano with a height of 5,897 metres. After a short stop, we arrived at the spectacular national park. Our lovely group had people from Venezuela, Argentina and Brazil. My Spanish classes were already paying off as I was able to communicate with them!

Alex at Cotopaxi
The bus dropped us off at 4,600 metres and we had to climb the rest till 5,000 metres where we reached snow and ice. It was quite a challenge due to high altitude. Our bodies don't really adjust quickly having less oxygen. It took us around 2 hours to climb 400 metres. We kept walking on a slow but steady speed. According to locals, chewing coca leaves helps with altitude sickness which we tried. We reached the snowy areas at 5,000 metres and were very happy with our efforts. It was an extraordinary landscape of red soil and ice which felt like another planet. Please follow the link for more information on Cotopaxi.

The walk down from the volcano was much easier. When we reached our bus, there was an option to bike down to a nearby lake. It was a rough downhill ride with incredibly scenery. We left the national park at 3pm and had lunch in a local restaurant on our way back to the capital. We were absolutely exhausted when we got back to Quito at 7pm. What an excursion!

Our next trip took us to “La Mitad del Mundo Ciudad” or the middle of the Earth. It is a small village which is Ecuador’s biggest claim of fame. It is close to Quito and can be reached by local buses. There are two different sites to visit. The first one is a little town where Charles-Marie de la Condamine made his measurements in 1736 showing that it was the equatorial line. There was some interesting information about this historical expedition to find the equatorial line. We were also lucky to watch some traditional indigenous dance shows.

Alex in the middle of the world

A couple of metres away from this little village, we visited the Intinan Solar Museum which claims to be located on the actual equatorial line calculated by GPS. It was a great museum where we got to participate in unique experiments such as turning of water in different hemispheres. If you are lucky, you can manage to balance an egg on a nail and receive a certificate. Both places were fun but I enjoyed the Intinan Solar Museum more because we did a lot of hands on experiments.

Indigenous family
Our last excursion was to the magnificent Quilotoa. Our bus departed around 7am. We had a mixed group from Sweden, England, Switzerland and of course our dear friend Paul from Australia. Our guide, Andres, was very knowledgeable about indigenous cultures of Ecuador and South America. On the way, we visited a native family living in a small hut in the mountains without electricity. This was a family of 5 and their income was through farming of quinoa. They were living in very harsh conditions, especially due to cold weather. They were happy to receive additional income from tour groups.

Incredible Quilotoa
We arrived at Quilotoa around 11am. It is a breathtaking crater lake in the Ecuadorian Andes with spectacular and extraordinary colours. While we were walking down to the lake , the colours kept changing with the sunlight. We rented some kayaks and went around the lake for a while. After a relaxing break, we started a massive hike back to the top. Alex and some others on the tour took mules to go back up. Paul and I decided to walk. Wow, what a torture. I took us about an hour to reach the top. Most of the group on mules were waiting for us when we arrived at the restaurant. It was challenging but I am glad to have done it.

After 40 amazing days in this beautiful country, it was time to leave. On the way to the airport, we felt sad and melancholic as we felt at home during our stay and made amazing connections with these serene people. Ecuador offers remarkable natural wonders, volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, hot springs and most importantly welcoming and warm hearted people of the Andes Mountains.  Thank you Ecuador for being such a great host!   


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