Over the hills we go….

Posted by on February 28, 2017

We have been hearing about the snow and nasty weather all across Canada so I’m almost reluctant to say how beautiful it is in Ecuador. Every day, the sun shines throughout the morning before clouds move down from the mountains in the afternoon. This is the rainy season which keeps everything so green and lush. The daytime temperatures are in the mid twenties……lovely!

We are all happy about our decision to anchor ourselves in Mindo. This small town of about 3,000 people is friendly and safe with  all the amenities and plenty of adventure activities such as zip lining, hiking, birding, etc. Located in a mountainous watershed, the Mindo valley has two of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world. Depending on the specific area around Mindo, we are between 3000 and 11,000 feet above sea level. Aside from a few minor symptoms in the beginning we have not had any real real problems with altitude sickness. Once and a while I feel like I need an extra breath.

We have had some interesting conversations with ‘the locals’ about politics and the economy. Mindo has an ever expanding tourism industry and, for the most part, seems fairly prosperous. However, like any developing Country it has its poverty. February 19 is election day in Ecuador and there are plenty of competing posters around town. The current President is not running after being in power for more than 10 years. Apparently, election day is filled with lots of dancing in the streets so we are looking forward to that.

We went on a birding outing this past week. It was a full morning hike high above the town which started at 5:20am. Yaros drove us to the first site where we hiked into the dark forest to a small shelter….and we waited. Wow, our first sighting was of a crazy looking bird called the Cock of the Rock

Cock of the rock.

Eventually, we were joined by a few small groups of ‘birders’ who take bird watching very seriously.They were mostly Americans but some Canadians and all very nice people. Marilyn and I had a great birding experience with some biology students and professors in Costa Rica and really enjoyed the experience. One woman let me use her binoculars which made me realize how crappy mine are. Time for a new purchase when we get home.

Each day, we do a bit more exploring around Mindo which has a lot of side streets and roads heading out of town. One of our walks took us over a small bridge where we discovered a small hostal (Spanish spelling) advertising ‘happy hour’. When is ‘happy hour’ I asked. “All the time”, Henry, the owner replied. Needless to say we took advantage of the situation.

Happy Hour

We also discovered a bar with some live music. Two of the musicians were from Venezuela and one from Ecuador. They play a few times a week so we will be going back. All the music was either Colombian, Venezuelan, or Ecuadorian and involved a variety of instruments. I wonder how long it will be before Marilyn joins them on stage (ha ha).

Live South American music

We’ve been cooking a lot of our own meals in our house but once in a while we eat out. This past week, we went to the only Chinese restaurant in town. Chinese food varies depending on what Country you happen to be in and this was no exception. It was all very tasty but the sauces were quite different from what we get in Canada. A fun part of ordering though is getting past the language barrier. We, and the owners, ended up laughing a lot as we tried to figure out what we were eating. Once again, Marilyn’s Spanish was a life saver.

Yummy Food

On Friday we hired a driver to take us on a tour. Marilyn did the research on where we should stop along the way as we headed to a more northern part of Ecuador. Our final destination was an overnight stay in Otavalo.

Along the way, we stopped at the ‘Middle of the World’, a government owned park that pays tribute to the Equator. We stood on the yellow line painted on the ground that is precisely at the Earth’s midpoint – 0 degrees latitude, 0 minutes, 0 seconds.

Middle of the World

…….only it turns out the real middle of the World is a few hundred feet further north. This error was discovered after the invention of GPS technology. Oh well…..exciting none-the-less.

Remember in my last post when I showed a picture of us making Empanadas? Turns out I am now addicted to these lighter than air pastries filled with cheese. We ordered them at a shop at the Middle of the World and got some that were absolutely huge.

Ecuador is filled with both dormant and active volcanoes and we got to see a few geological reserves along the way which are the direct result of past eruptions. Puluahua Reserve is a ‘caldera’ (massive depression) resulting from an eruption dating back to 500BC. This particular volcano destroyed many cultures when it erupted. Today it is a rich farming area and a peaceful, awesome sight to see.

Overlooking Puluahua

Panoramic view of Pululahua

Crater lake at Cotacachi Cayapas Ecological Reserve

We drove through many small villages before arriving at Cotacachi, a small town specializing in hand-made leather goods. It reminded me of the time I drove to Tijuana which is also famous for its many leather shops.

Town of Cotacachi

Leather goods shop selling locally made leather products

By mid-afternoon, we arrived in Otavalo and settled into our Hostal Riviera Sucre. Marilyn found this place on the internet and we were so pleased with both its location, its charming courtyard, and old style rooms. Hostal Riviera Sucre is the oldest hotel in Otavalo built more than 150 years ago. It was also just a short walk to the centre of town and the world famous market area.

Hostal Riviera Sucre

Hostal Riviera Sucre Courtyard outside our room

The market in Otavalo is huge with local artisans coming from the surrounding region to sell their many items including weaved blankets and clothing, musical instruments, and various specialty products. Very few people speak English but all appreciated Marilyn’s attempts to make us understood. Here we saw a lot of people dressed in traditional indigenous clothing.

Once again, we found the local residents to be extremely friendly. They have such patience when trying to communicate and are always smiling. Bartering is acceptable but Marilyn and I always operate on the principle that we want the price to be fair for the vendor.  I think we accomplished this with the many beautiful purchases we made.

Fruit market in Otavalo

In the market, we bought a beautiful oil on canvas painting from a fairly well known artist names Carlos Pontreras Ojeda. For a long time, we have had one bare wall in our kitchen because we have been waiting for just the right painting. Now we have found it. It is no exaggeration to say it is going to really, really, really, brighten up our kitchen. No picture – you’ll have to visit us in Hawkestone once we get it framed and hung.

Museo de Tejidos el Obraje

Marilyn and I both love museums, art galleries, etc. even though I can move through them much faster than she can. In Otavalo, we went to the small Museo de Tejidos el Obraje operated by eighty year old Luis Maldonado. Luis is a lifelong weaver who has assembled a room full of antiques which demonstrate traditional methods of local textile production. He showed us the various stages from cleaning and carding wool to spinning, drying and weaving it on pedal and backstrap looms. It was quite fascinating to see the many innovative methods used when modern-day tools didn’t exist.

Loom demonstration

It has been so much fun traveling with Jim and Patricia. We like doing so many of the same things. We’ve also been playing a lot of euchre. Next week we are taking another trip which will take us through the Avenue of the Volcanoes to Banos and eventually on to the Amazon.  Adios Amigos!

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