Sunday, April 12, 2009

#8 - The Ecua-tour

One of the things that I have found interesting while traveling, is that often those visiting a country will see more of the place than many of the people who live there. In my time in Australia and Ecuador this was certainly the case in the sense that I feel I have seen more of those two countries than I have of my own (although I am working doggedly at that when I am on Canadian soil - BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia visited but in no way complete!).

Having said that, a year ago at this time, and for no other reason that is why it is this week's recollection, I had the chance to take in a lot of Ecuador over a two-week period, a time that has become known fondly as, "The Ecua-tour".
#8 - The Ecua-tour

For those of you sick of hearing how good us teachers have it when it comes to holidays, you may want to skip to the next paragraph. See, as most teachers in North America get a week at March Break, in Ecuador they wait until April for the Spring break, put it together with Easter (which is a pretty big deal in a country over 90% Catholic), meaning a solid two weeks off from school and a real chance to get out and explore.

We had some decisions to make - Columbia? Peru? The Jungle? The Beach? - and hindsight being 20/20 I feel real good about the decision we made to check out as much of Ecuador as we could in a two week period.

We started off with a quick flight to Cuenca, the other UN World Heritage City in Ecuador (the other being Quito's Old Town). Here we spent two days exploring the streets of this lively historic city and eating at an incredible sushi restaurant!? Other than great sushi, Cuenca is also where you can see remains of ancient South American cultures within city limits, and is the home of the Panama hat - despite it's name, the Panama hat has always been made in Ecuador, but got it's name because of the workers wearing them while building that canal thingy. It's a relatively small city, but it was a good taste of what was to come as we became even more fully immersed in Ecuadorian culture.

This was followed by a typical South American bus ride south, traveling along one lane roads with two lanes of traffic while negotiating cliffs rising from the road literally an arm's length away, while avoiding the periolous drops directly on the other side. Made for some interesting manuveuring and hair raising corners. I had never been happier to hop into a taxi than I was when we reached Loja. As our final destination was about another hour or so south (or so we were told) we hopped into said taxi, and by the end of the 35 minutes I was wishing I was back on board the bus. To say this guy was anxious to get back was an understatement, and he seemed bent on doing it as quickly as possible, or die trying (happily taking us with him as it seemed we had totally inconvenienced him by paying him too much money to drive us out there).

But after 10 and half hours of spine tingling travel we arrived in Villcabamba, and all was quickly forgotten. See Villcabamba is in a beautiful Andean valley, and is where many explorers have come in search of the Fountain of Youth. In fact, legend has it, that said fountain is in fact here, and that truly the water has magical powers of longevity (it is rumoured that many of the citizens of the valley live well into their 100's!!). And while I can't attest to feeling younger while here, I could certainly sense the slow and magical pace of life that would have most people in no hurry to leave this earthly life, and it has certainly left it's mark on me.

For five days we did our very best to make sure we slowed our pace as best we could - except when our guide was encouraging my horse to gallop to everyone's amusement but mine - I've never been one for horses, but these small sturdy horses made me feel like I was riding nothing more than a pony, that is of course my steed decided full bore was a good pace!

Are my feet touching the ground?
But for much of the rest of the time things were at a much more serene pace, and I was able to come to know Pachamama (Mother Earth) intimately - something I don't suggest for all because she can be easily angered at the crap we're capable of!!

We followed this up with a much nicer ride back into Loja for our flight to Guayaquil, and fulfill our beach portion of our trip. Of course, not truly realizing our scheduling, and the difficulty of arriving in the late evening, we were left with no choice but to put our faith into strangers to locate us a driver willing to drive us out to the coast, a not so easy 3 hour jaunt. After watching the Argentinian team come through the airport and the stir that caused, it only took us about 20 minutes to secure a ride - once again proving to me that there is so many more good people than bad on this planet of ours. This quick turn-around was however followed by another hour of driving around the Guayaquil suburbs (not exactly a must-see tour) as our driver first had to pick up his sister at her friend's house and drive her home before we could get under way. In the end a small, and interesting price to pay.

The destination this time was Montanita. And I don't want to get into it too much here as this place gets it's own spot on the Top 10 for one of the coolest things I've gotten to experience in this short life, but I will say now - SWEET ASS BEACH TOWN!

From Montanita it was a short ride up the coast to our next destination, a place not on any map but certainly a place that rates mentioning, Alandaluz. This complex/nature reserve/hostel has nestled itself nicely on the gorgeous western coast. We were surrounded by birds, bugs, and the freshest, most brilliant food we had yet to find.

But unlike our other adventures in arriving to our destination, nothing could have been finer on this occasion. We hiked our way out to the main road and within about 10 minutes hitched ourselves a ride in the back of a pick-up for a ride of a lifetime. Wind blowing, sun shining, all the while winding up and down the coastal hills and occasionally getting a glance at the coast from above. Most of us know the thrill of riding in the back of a truck, now add the incredible scenery of coastal Ecuador. Simply amazing.

The view from the truck at 60 km/h!

We spent a few nights here with the express purpose of getting out to "The Poor Man's Galapagos", Isla de la Plata. And had it not been for Bobby the Booby and some dude yelling "Penis" at inappropriate times, this could have been one of the biggest wastes of time and money in my time in Ecuador. The poor man's Galapagos is an overstatement, and an afront to the thrifty the world wide. Aside from a shitload of blue footed boobies, there is not much else out there. Yes the island and it's scenery is amazing, but when things are advertised as something akin to the islands of the Galapagos, expectations run pretty high. But like I said, thankfully the tragic Bobby the Booby made an appearance and kept it all interesting.

Bobby, is that you?

In the end, it was an action packed magical two weeks - historic Cuenca, crazy rides, chilling with Pachumama (Mother Earth) in Villcabamba, hanging in one of the true gems of Ecuador in Montanita, and a chance encounter with a bird whose story can't soon be forgotten by all who were there - sorry, it just could never be put into words, and really never should.

But if I can manage to squeeze that much out of tiny Ecuador in two weeks, I am looking forward to what I manage to find in grandious Canada and so many other places over the next 80 or 90 years....yes, I am living to at least 125! I visited the fountain of youth!

Happy Easter!

No comments:

Post a Comment