A tale of two cities

After the fun that was the Galapagos i decided to put the brakes on a bit. The end of the Galapagos heralded the end of my first two weeks – and i realised i’d done so much in such a little time! With a little under a week before heading to Peru, i decided to not run around the country visiting more cities, but rather do a couple day trips from Quito instead.

Enter City #1: Otavalo

I had always had Otavalo on my list as it’s renowned as being one of the best markets in the world. Saturday is the day to go, so i booked myself into a hostel ($7 incl brekkie!) for the Friday straight after the Galapagos so i’d be up early and ready to get the morning bargains. Michelle however texted me to say she and her friend Christina were going to join me in Otavalo for the weekend – so sweet of them! so rather than navigate myself through the bus system, i was chauffeur driven with Christina & Michelle with music, snacks and a lot of laughs!

Traffic was awful as one of the main routes (there are only two) was closed for construction, so we arrived after maybe 4 hours when it should take only about 2! After checking in to the hostel, we went for some hot spiced wine and a bit of food in a bar before turning in.

Saturday morning, and we were ready to go shopping! Alpaca throws, jumpers, scarves, rugs and much more are one of the main attractions. Then add in bags, more clothes, wallets, jewellery, art, ceramics, instruments and much more and you’ve got an idea of how much there is to buy! All the vendors pretty much sell the same stuff, so for me it came down to who i liked best.

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I bought quite a few bits (Christmas presents for people so can’t say what exactly!!) but enjoyed the whole process.

The lovely lady who i bought some bits from...
The lovely lady who i bought some bits from…

We saw a bit of the city too – visiting a church, the main square and taking in the atmosphere…

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Christina buying her favourite (and my least favourite!) food…
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Saturday church service… with a pic of Moses holding the ten commandments in hebrew!

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After, the girls became my tour guides and we drove around the area so i could see and visit even more. It was great. We visited Cotacachi – a nearby town which is famous for its leather goods. They had amazing leather jackets, bags, wallets, belts. All felt so soft and smelt lovely! It wasn’t the time to be buying a leather jacket and lugging it around with me for the next few months! But i was seriously tempted!

We also went to a lake but on the rainy day we didn’t see much!

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Gorgeous view… apparently…
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The solo-Titanic rainy pose!

We ended the trip with a visit to the Peguche waterfall – a pretty sight in the middle of a forest with the tallest trees i’ve ever seen! they went on forever!

As you can see, my red waterproof jacket was a good purchase!!
As you can see, my red waterproof jacket was a good purchase!!

The trip to Otavalo was great – made even better by sharing it with Michelle & Christina, and i’m very grateful to them!

City #2: Mindo

Monday morning i met up with Chuck & Ellen to do the ‘free walking tour’ of Quito. There were about 20 people on it and for 3 hours we walked around the city learning about the history and the traditions. It was a great way to get to know the city better, despite having visited most of the sight prior! That afternoon we agreed to do a day tour to Mindo on Tuesday.

So Tuesday morning i made my way to their hotel to get picked up by our tour guide. Israel (our driver) and Gonzalo (our guide) spent the day with us and it was a good day.

Mindo is in the area known as the Cloud Forest. When we arrived at 11am we had beautiful weather but by lunchtime the rain set in and the ‘fog’ started. However it’s not fog… it’s clouds! Anyway, despite being only 100km from Quito and the busy city, the vegetation was now lush and thriving thanks to the climate and conditions that take place in the Cloud Forest.

(A quick aside; en route we drive past the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ which is a monument declaring you are at the middle of the earth- namely 0,0 on the Equator. I took a quick pic, but glad i didn’t make a special effort to go there. it’s a real nothing place… but here’s the pic anyway!)

Mitad Del Mundo
Mitad Del Mundo

Back to Mindo

First stop was to give us an idea of the lodges you could stay at. Wow- they’re hidden away in the dense vegetation but are pieces of paradise! This one (below) is under $50 a night per person!

Next time i'm staying here!
Next time i’m staying here!

October is off peak and quite rainy, but it was still a beautiful place to see

Then was a butterfly farm. sadly this was a little more contrived than i thought it would be – but nevertheless we saw some pretty butterflies and i managed to get one on my hat!

Note – butterflies love bananas, so to get the pic i had to put banana mush on my finger and onto my hat – that’s dedication!!

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Me and my new friend… and my Panama hat!

Lunch was surrounded by the forest which was lovely but sadly the rain meant we saw only a handful of hummingbirds, despite being a place where you can typically see hundreds! Mindo has approximately 50% of all the hummingbird species in the world, so it was a shame to not really see m(any)!

Final stop was to learn about the history of chocolate and how chocolate is made from the fruit of the cacao plant. This was reallyl interesting. We saw cacao plants growing, experienced the fermentation process, drying beds, roasting, grinding cocoa nibs, splitting it into cocoa powder and cocoa butter, and finally tasted some chocolate!

Cocoa plant
Cocoa plant
Drying out the cocoa pods
Drying out the cocoa pods

We tried 100% cocoa, and then added a little sugar to make it not so bitter. The company also grow lemongrass, ginger, chillies and more to make their flavours… i obviously ended up buying some chocolate at the end as it really was delicious. Ecuador have always been a big player in the chocolate world, but up until recently they sell the raw ingredients to other countries who then take the glory (Italy, France, US). Now there are 6 Ecuadorean companies making their own chocolate and it is honestly very tasty. Pacari is the biggest brand here and they have won a number of awards in recent years, so i predict it’ll get only bigger soon!

With full bellies we made our way back to Quito as the sun set – i have become a little obsessed with the Quito scenery. Being a city sat surrounded by volcanoes and mountains is quite a sight to see!

And now i am sat in Guayaquil – the second largest city in Ecuador. But sadly it’s not very nice… there’s not much to see and it’s a little more dangerous than Quito, so i have settled in to my hotel, made the most of the wifi and got myself up to date with my blog!

Tomorrow morning at 3am (ouch!) my taxi arrives to take me to the airport where i head to my second country; Peru! I’m excited to see the contrasts to Ecuador already!

Hasta luego xx

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