Posted by: adegraffenreid31708 | 16th Jan, 2011

Holidays in Ecuador

Hi all!

Hope everyone had a happy holidays, Christmas, and New Years…I did 🙂

Christmas Eve, met dad at the airport. There´s a restaurant looking area over customs, so I actually got to wave at him as he came in. It was great, except that he didn´t see me at first, so this old lady was laughing at me waving stupidly. But, it was all good. It was great seeing him, because I hadn´t seen any of my family in six months.  So, then we went to the hotel (getting in my opinion, completely screwed over by the taxi in the process, but w/e).

Next day, I took dad on a whirlwind tour of the Colonial Center…and, whooped both our asses. It was Christmas Eve, but LOTS of people were out still shopping (some things don´t change). It was great seeing dad´s reaction to the Colonial Center – that overwhelming look of wonder on one´s face. I´m so used to it by now, I no longer have it. I took dad to the top of the Cultural Center, which has GORGEOUS views of the city from the roof, so we got to take all sorts of pictures. Then, when to the Museo Mariscal Sucre, which is the house museum of the independence leader. It was fun, I got to show off my history knowledge a bit and show dad what the inside of a colonial-style house looks like. He loved it, which is good – cuz I love that style of house. Best Part!! Got new shoes!. No more hole-filled worn out monstosities for me any more. Soooo comfy!. But yeah, dad really enjoyed the center.

Next – whirlwind tour of the Ejido and the Banco Central Museum. As I´ve said earlier, the Museo Banco Central is the best museum in Ecuador, and going there is throughouly impressive. I was so excited to take my dad to see all the pre-colombian ceramics and gold (I was significantly less excited to show him the colonial religious art…but that´s me 🙂 ). From there, we toured the main artisenal market very quickly since we both decided that we were hungry and needed a rest, we´d get back there to shop later.

Then, we visited my apartment and grabbed some lunch. It was so much fun showing him the pirated video stores and watching his face as an airplane dropped in over head (it´s a little shocking the first few times how low they are).

Next day – presents first. Then, I further showed dad several of the 89 churches in the small colonial church center till we both got thoroughly churched out. Dad was surprised that so many people were out on Christmas, even though I was like -” this is the tourist center, of course there are people here. In the city, there won´t be as many”. So, after he declared that he couldn´t possibly see any more churches that day, I took him to the Parque Carolina – which was sooo much better because there were less beggars, more families, and more GREEN. It was also dad´s first Trolley ride – heh. Everyone who´s been here knows what that´s like. So, we walked all around the massive park and went to the botanical garden. It was lovely. So much more fun with dad, because we could run around and take pictures together.

Next day we picked up the car for the more exciting parts of the week. We got a nice car, but we would very quickly regret that it didn´t have four-wheel-drive, since we needed it for the parks.

So, we drove up to Cayambe, trying to get to the Cayambe-Coca reserve and the Hacienda we were going to stay at. Cayambe-Coca effort: disaster. Ended up down this LONG cobblestone road with no road signs to tell as where to go. Then, a fork in the road – cobblestone in both directions. It was killing the car and dad´s patience, so we turned back. But, it wasn´t a whole loss because we ended up watching this Ecuadorian town party/folkloric dance in this little town. Also, I got to watch dad be mesmerized by the Andes. It´s so great travelling with someone who appreciates mountains as much as I do.

Then, we packed it up and went to the Hacienda Guachala, the oldest functioning hacienda in Ecuador, dating from the 1580s. I completely and entirely recommend it. It´s not that expensive, only around $45 a night. I got there and turned into a giddy little history geek. I stole dad´s camera and ran around the place for an hour taking pictures of EVERYTHING – the architecture, the animals, the plants, the room. The place is gorgeous. Each room is set up traditionally, including with its own wood-burning fireplace which we delighted in lighting each night. Also, it has horses, two (non functioning) churches, a restaurant, a game room, a semi-indoor pool room with hammocks, and gardens. The buildings are still original except for some restorations, and it´s a little run down. Around the entire Hacienda are signs talking about the history of the place. In other words – I loved it. It was perfect. Dad and I hiked around it, played pool, and relaxed in hammocks. In a centuries old hacienda. Perfect.

Next day, we tried to get to Cayambe-Coca again from a different route. Long story short: it ended with us stuck by the side of the road, in a ditch, in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Yeah…that worked well. Luckily, some very helpful Ecuadorian farmers had run out of gas in the exact same area. They agreed to get our car wheel out of the ditch and onto the road, if we agreed to let them siphon off gas from our tank. Which…of course we did. It became this big production with their entire male section working to lift our car out of the hole. Then, taking turns sticking a plastic tube into the gas tank and sucking out gas. Even dad got some gas out. It was disgusting, and getting the gas out didn´t work at all. We got maybe a few tablespoons. So, we gave them some money as thanks and went on our way. We were very disappointed about not making it all the way to Cayambe-Coca. Instead, we went to Otavalo and saw CONDORS at the Condor reserve (we failed again at getting to the lagunas…it was very disappointing). But still – CONDORS. The park was actually closed, but the owner let us in anyway. Equally as cool as the condors was that we got to see a fully grown Bald Eagle REALLY close. It made up for our failures in my view.

Leaving the hacienda, we made our way to Papallacta. Papallacta is the best and most famous hot springs in Ecuador. Getting there, however, is on a road taking you over the highest pass in Ecuador and around stunning mountain scenery. We were constantly stopping to take pictures, because the Andes are truly magnificent and impressive. Dad was enthralled, it was great.

Once in Papallacta, we realized that there was ANOTHER entrance to Cayambe-Coca. And apparently not having learned from our mistakes, we decided to go up the incredibly steep dirt road to try once again to visit the national park. Third time was the charm (barely)…but partly because there was absolutely no way to turn around once going up.Again, the scenery was stunning. So, we got up there and decided to take a hike through the tops of the mountains to visit various lakes (at over 3,000 meters high). I was incredibly impressed with dad´s acclimatization. He didn´t have all that many problems that high up, even though he´d only been in Ecuador a few days. So, we went on an incredible hike through the tops of the Andes and saw all sorts of lakes, vegetation, and a few waterfalls. We had also stupidly forgotten to put on sun block and got incredibly burned. Then, we gratefully headed down to soak in the hotsprings. With 25 pools at varying temperatures, it was the perfect way to complete the day…if only we´d left it there.

Then, we took the road down to Cotopaxi. Started well: gorgeous scenery, insane drivers, etc. Then, it started to downpour as soon as it got dark, blinding us. Worse was the Ecuadorian driver – who is, on average, a maniac. Constantly, drivers were flashing high beams or trying to run us off the road. Dad and I nearly went out of our minds. We ended up in a rather nice hostal (after much frustration, danger, and food frenzy on my part) and spent the night.

The next day, it was too cloudy to see Cotopaxi, so we decided to go to the Laguna Quilatoa which is a lake inside the crater of an inactive volcano. You actually walk down into the volcano to get to the lake, it´s amazing. So, we started on the drive, not knowing just how long it would take us. Around two and a half hours later, down the fabulously scenic highway, about the time we decided we´d passed it, we finally saw a sign for Quilatoa. We got up there and looked down from the crater rim to the lake, and it was absolutely stunning. It takes your breath away for a second. We also looked at the dirt trail down into the crater, and decided that it didn´t look so bad/long (ha!!) and started down it. The trail is basically compact sand. At the top, there are lots of incredible rock formations and stuff to hold on to, but it changes as it goes down. Near the top, I asked dad about taking horses or mules back up to the top, as is tradition. His answer: “horses kind of make me nervous, I´m not sure I want to. We can make it back up”. As we got farther and farther down and realized what a monumental task coming back up the steep and deceptively long trail was going to be, we passed a group of people coming up on horseback. Their guide, a little boy, asked us if we wanted horses. Dad´s immediate answer: “Yes.” Ha!!!! The best part of the trail was this segment that was all sand. Instead of walking down, we surfed down. It was great fun. And a little scary because of how steep it was. Eventually, we got to the bottom – but it started to rain. So, we got ourselves a set of mules and came back up. I was so happy we did that, it was so much fun – even if the poor mules were dead tired. Then, we returned and got a much better hotel.

Next day – Cotopaxi. We tried driving into the park ourselves. We were met with an Ecuadorian New Years tradition – that is, children dressing up as various tricksters and demons, and holding up cars on the road. You must pay, or you shall not pass. Unless you´re dad and I, at which point we drive through the attempts to block the road and continue on our merry way. It´s very cute though, they try to guard with toy guns, have masks, and hoot at you. Unfortunately, we came to an un-wade-able river and had to turn back.

But, that worked out for the best because we hired a wonderful one-armed guide with a four-wheel drive truck to take us up. So, we got to climb to the first refuge anyway. Unfortunately, it was so cloudy that dad was never able to see the entirety of Cotopaxi – which, at 5897  meters is the highest active volcano in the world. Anyway, we needed that four-wheel drive. The road in is long and bumpy. As you get higher up, it gets colder. We realized that we were dramatically under-dressed in our sweat shirts and tennis shoes (we ended up not being too cold because of the walking). Completely cool and wild moment – on the drive we got to see a wild condor flying. It´s incredibly rare. Our guide says he sees them maybe once or twice a year, and he goes into the park three to four times a week.

We got to the parking structure (4300 meters), left the car and started climbing to the refuge (4810 meters – which, btw is PRETTY FREEKIN HIGH). We decided to take the zig-zag trail up because it gives you more time to acculturate and it´s easier. Even I was having acculturation issues, because it was the highest I´ve ever been in my entire life. We started by stopping every 5-10 minutes to catch our breath and acculturate. We all started out good. In the Cotopaxi climb, the snow starts almost at the bottom, so you end up walked in several feet of snow for over an hour. Luckily, the snow is mostly compact from so many people walking on it, but if you take a wrong step, you end up sinking about two feet. Guess how many wrong steps I took?? – Yeah, a lot. The biggest fear is the height and slipping. We are incredibly high. You slip and slide – you slide FAR. Possibly, too far. Then, you either have to make your way blindly down over untouched ice and snow. Or, you have to walk back up the cliff. Pity if you slide and fall over a rock ledge – no joke. So, guess what I did? THat´s right – I slipped and fell. I started to slide down (as was my fear), but luckily our magnificent one-armed guide grabbed that pack I was wearing and pulled me back up. Now that´s service. I had taken the pack because poor dad was having trouble. Altitude and no exercise caught up with him, and even though we were walking slowly and carefully, the climb just about killed him. I was personally so proud of both of us, but especially myself – despite the altitude, the snow, and the incline, I was zooming up the volcano like it was no problem. It was awesome. At one point while dad was resting, I walked further ahead just in time to see the clouds part in an absolutely breathtaking, incredible display of Cotopaxi´s snow-covered cliffs, and a fantastic look-out over the other corner of the volcano. I was laughing, it was so magnificent. Unfortunately, by the time dad got there, the clouds had moved in again and he couldn´t see it. But I got pictures. From there, the refuge wasn´t far. Seeing the refuge was such a relief, because poor dad was just about gone. The scariest part of the entire climb was actually the last little bit to the refuge, because it was so steep and so icy. The refuge is basically a ski lodge, and that hot tea was well deserved. We were so greatful for our guide, without whom, we NEVER would have made it up. As it was, it took us over an hour and a half.  So, we rested a while, and then quickly surfed down the sandy down-ward trail in a hail-storm in about 20 minutes, shouting encouragement at the poor fools still climbing up. Then, we took a lovely (an exhausted) ride out of the park and headed back up to Quito for dad´s last day (New Year´s Eve).

After thouroughly getting lost driving into Quito causing dad and i nearly to kill each other (not entirely my fault!! there´s no full map of quito!), we settled into the Hilton for New Years. So comfortable, I never wanted to leave. New Years Eve was WILD. Amazonas, even early in the day, was completely insane. It just slowly built up with people and music all day. But before that, we met up with my friend Ruth to sight-see. We took dad to the gothic Basillica and the gold-lined Campañia (both, fabulous) before heading back to the artisenal market to shop. I must say, Ruth is the best haggler I´ve ever met. I want her with me, always. She got some incredibly low prices.

Best part of the market? Outside were a group of men dressed like Roman Centurions, complete with swords, spears, and shields, blocking cars (and jumping on them) for money ala the kids in Cotopaxi. the incredibly funny part was when a cop car came through with its lights on. THE MEN ATTACKED THE COP CAR. That, takes balls – especially in Ecuador. The cop was either incredibly patient or had an amazing sense of humor, because he kept on driving even when one of the men jumped up, BACK-KICKED the COP CAR while STABBING IT WITH A SPEAR. It. Was. Hilarious.

So, New Years is treated here with like a cross between Halloween and new years. All the new years festivities, plus dressing up in costumes, playing pranks, and burning things. As my friend Kevin says, it seriously seems like Riots, Revolutions, or the Zombie Apocalypse. The next day – complete and absolute disaster area outside. Anyway, dad and I went out on Amazonas to see the concerts and wave through the crowds of people. We were greeted with all sorts of people dressed up as all sorts of crazy things – demons, kiss, vampires, monkeys, soldiers, many many death masks. Also, we got to see several año viejos (human effigies of the old year) being beaten and burned. In the craziness, we got surrounded by a crowd of shouting children, who were distracting us to steal dad´s cigarrettes. Brats. At least they didn´t get any money. To get the idea of the crowd, dad and i ran into a cop brigade (in cars) trying to get down Amazonas about three to four blocks before the end of the mariscal. Walking slowly, we walked to the end of the Mariscal, turned around and came back. It took us about forty minutes when we finally caught up to the line of cop cars again, and they were only about 2/3 down the Mariscal because of all the people. We reached the Hilton before them. That´s slow. Beat, dad and I went back to the hotel to rest until midnight. From our hotel-room window, we saw at least five different fire-works displays going on at the same time. Coming outside at midnight, we got to continue to see fireworks every-where, along with watching all sorts of people burning their año viejos. The Hilton workers came out and burned their own año viejo, dressed in a hilton uniform. It was incredible. I love New Years here…I want to burn effigies. Absolute and complete insanity.

Unfortunately, the next day my dad had to go home. It was sad. I wished I could´ve stayed longer (screw work!!)

I had a great time showing dad around Ecuador, and I think he loved it too.


Good summary of my visit with Lexy. One correction: I did see her waving to me at the airport.

I did enjoy immensely the trip. Every day was full of new experiences as Lexy describes just about perfectly. The trip up Cotopaxi did just about do me in, mostly due to altitude — 16,000 feet up is kinda high — but I was very impressed with how well my heart performed…no problems on that account. [BTW, Lexy, I just noticed I have JPGs of some Ecuadorian paintings by the Hudson River artist Church, including Cotopaxi]

We really needed that 4 wheel drive … we just about killed that little Hyundai. And Ecua drivers are indeed crazy. Traffic regulations are mildly suggested guidance, and in order to make progress everyone passes whenever they have the opportunity on the Ecua hills. Sometimes you just have to make a guess as to whether there’s someone around the corner.

I have been combing thru my nearly 700 pictures and will post some to Facebook soon.

Hmmm, that doesn’t work: try this

Hi Lexy and Dee,

I read the WHOLE thing…

Colonial buildings and churches, car explorations, hiking, Papallacta, Cotopaxi and Año Viejo… you’ve experienced the BEST of Ecuador!

Me hubiera gustado conocerte en Quito Lexy,

Un abrazo,

Xavier (amigo de tu Papi)

Love your blogs. The pictures were great. Amazing that your dad made it on Cayambe-Coca. I’ll remember that during the next Blue Ridge hike. 🙂 Oh, and the horses comment … sounds like a trail ride in someone’s future. Looking forward to seeing you in the States.