Monday, July 27, 2009

Kyle and I are back in Quito, ready to fly home to the USA on Wednesday. We spent 4 nights on the coast along a strip of towns called "Ruta del Sol." Our first 2 nights were in a small place called Puerto Rico. We got there late, had dinner and played some cards. The next day was a day trip to Puerto Lopez to go whale watching. We ran into some of our friends there so we spend the afternoon on the beach. The next night was in Montanita, a town completely devoted to surfers. We had a quiet evening, a few drinks, then turned in. It would have been a great place to go with a group. A little mini Cancun with more dreadlocks than you've ever seen in your life. We woke up the next morning around 7:30 with people still going full throttle in the bars!! Something I had eaten the day before came back to visit me... and continued to for the next 12 hours or so. After I had had my way with the bathroom there we got on a bus to Puerto Lopez. We found our Norweigan friends again and spent the day with them. Me, in the most disgusting bathrooms you can ever dream of, and them playing cards and having a few beers. We had no more sun the last 2 days we were at the beach :( We got on a night bus back to Quito, which turned out to be a much much better experience than our first night bus. Kyle and I had rigged some rocks inside the bands of 2 watches to put on my wrists because we couldn't find any of those bracelets for motion sickness. It turned out good. We made it to Quito around 6 this morning. Today we took a mega nap and then walked around the "New Town" for a while. Tomorrow we are going to do our a few last minute touristy things. We are getting to Houston on Wednesday evening and then headed to Mexico on Friday for Kyle's cousins wedding.

Cuenca & Ruta del Sol

Thursday, July 23, 2009

We had several lazy days in Cuenca and are now in our final week of traveling!! I can't believe it. We went to a museum, some markets, walked around the plazas, but mainly just hung out with our traveling friends. We are headed to the coast today. We decided it would be best to just do it all in one day instead of breaking it up. So if all goes as planned we will get to our small beach town, Puerto Rico, by 6 or 7. I'm hoping to have internet available but it's always up in the air. We are supposed to do whale watching tomorrow.

Monday, July 20, 2009

the devil's nose.

We finally arrived in Cuenca today. We thought that we'd be here 2 days ago but things didn't go exactly as planned (of course). We left Banos with 2 other couples, 1 that we had already traveled with some and another that we met in Banos. We missed the direct bus to Cuenca from Banos by 30 minutes so we jumped on a bus headed in the direction of Cuenca to see how far we could get. We decided to stop in a town called Alausi, partly because we didn't want to arrive in Cuenca really late and partly because there is a famous train ride (The Devil's Nose) that departs from there. Since we've been traveling I've heard of tons of people that wanted to do it but no one had actually made it on. A game of cards decided that Dave and Charlotte, one of the couples we are with, would be the ones to stand in line at 7 in the morning to get the tickets. It was much more popular than we thought so they ended up standing in line for 3 and a half hours. The train was supposed to leave at 2, but didn't leave until 3. It was much less impressive than we thought. For starters it was a bus on train tracks. They used to allow people to ride on the roof which would have been amazing, but they don't do that anymore. Anyways, we tried to be enthusiastic since we had gone such a long way out of the way to get there. By the time we got off of the train it was too late to head to Cuenca, 4 hours away. I really didn't want to stay in Alausi another night, but that was the best option. This morning I woke up, turned on the light, and discovered a HUGE spider on the wall of our hostal room. It was seriously bigger than the ones we saw in the Amazon. I FREAKED out. Kyle ran and got our friend Barry, he sent me out of the room, and they shoooed it away. Barry said it was harmless and didn't want to kill it because it "took years to get that big". Whatever. I was so ready by that point to just get the heck outta there. We got to Cuenca without issue and had a lazy day today. I'll post more pictures this evening. We finally have internet that works!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

better late than never.

Our internet connection has been off and on for the past few days so I haven't posted. Now I'm trying to catch up... We have been on the Quilotoa Loop and Banos since we left Quito the last time. The Quilotoa Loop first took us to Chugchilan, an extremely small town in the highlands of Ecuador. We stayed at a beautiful little hostal run by an indigenous family. The scenery was stunning and the family was so cute. Before dinner the 4 little girls that lived there came knocking on our door and drug us out to dance. They had gotten dressed up in traditional clothes and were LOVING to swirl the skirts around. The next morning we got up around 4 to catch a bus to Quilotoa Lagoon we thought was at 5. It was actually at 6, so we got there around 7:15. We walked through the small town that has popped up in response to the tourists and decided on a small hostal/restaraunt also run by an indigenous family. We had a cup of coffee and a piece of bread and arranged for a ride to the next town in the afternoon. We completely trusted the family to watch our bags while we hiked around the lagoon. We hiked down and around for about 2 hours before we headed back. It was a stunning extinct volcano turned lagoon with brilliant blue water. The pictures really don't do it justice. While we waited on the man that was going to take us to the next town, we played cards with the 4 kids that lived at the hostal. All they had to play with was an extremely tattered incomplete deck, but were totally enjoying it anyway. We gave them a pack of Orbit gum and they couldn't believe it. The little boy handed out pieces to his brother and sisters and then ran to the kitchen to give a piece to his mom. He put the pack in his pocket and then we continued playing cards. A few minutes later his eyes lit up and he pulled it out, counted the pieces, and just grinned. The children were also so excited when Kyle did his cheesy coin magic trick. He showed them how to do it afterwords and gave them some paper he tore out of my notebook. The also loved the paper! The oldest girl was 14 and wanted to know EVERYONE'S names and ages! haha She asked about us, our parents, our brothers and sisters. I got out some hand sanitizer when I was talking to her and she had never seen it before. She was intrigued so of course, I gave it to her. The whole thing was extremely rewarding. It was an experience that really showed us how amazingly fortunate we are. With what very little the family had, they were so happy and content. From the Quilotoa Lagoon, we headed to Banos and got there around 4 (on the 15th).
Banos is a small very touristy town in a valley around 3.5 hours south of Quito. They have tons of outdoor activities and lots of good restaraunts. We went to the thermal baths that the town is named for the 1st full day we were here. Kyle got a haircut and his first straight shave. That afternoon we ran in to our fun fun friends Barry and Nicola from Australia. We were so excited to see them! They are hilarious and just a couple we get along great with. Yesterday Kyle and I went "swing jumping". We jumped off of a 150 foot bridge into a canyon. It was the scariest thing I have ever done!! I was just really proud of myself for doing it. Kyle went first of course. After that we went 4 wheeling to the top of a mountain that overlooks the city with Barry and Nicola. It was a good time until Barry's 4 wheeler gave up. :) Today we are leaving to Cuenca... an 8 hour bus ride. Barry and Nicola are headed that way as well.

Oh and Kyle and I have seen more nipples of breastfeeding women in the last week than anyone ever needs to see in a lifetime. I think Kyle is scarred.

Quilotoa & Banos

Monday, July 13, 2009

Sacha Lodge

Kyle and I got back to Quito from Sacha Lodge today. In total it took us almost 20 hours of traveling and waiting to get there. We left last Thursday on a 9 hour night bus to Coca (an unforgetable experience to say the least), we arrived around 7 AM and had to wait until 12:30 for the others in our group to arrive. We took a 2 hour journey up the Napo River in a motorized canoe, 30 minute hike through the jungle, and another 20 minute paddle canoe ride across the blackwater lake to the lodge. The trip was long but the location of the lodge was amazing. It is located on a 1800 hectare nature reserve in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest. The first night we had dinner, met our guides and pretty much passed out from the exhausting trip. We had an english speaking naturalist guide, Gus, and a native guide, Colombia. They were seriously impressive. Columbia could spot things that were almost impossible (seriuosly) to see and Gus was a wealth of information about the rainforest. Our first full day at Sacha (7/11) started quite early... 5:30. We had breakfast and headed to the canopy walk, a 40 meter high structure with 3 towers and suspension bridges in between. We caught the early morning activity of the birds in the canopy. We saw parrots, tucans, hawks, parakeets, and tons of others that I can't remember the name of. We got to hear howler monkeys but they were really too far to away see. (Our guides had a telescope so we could see birds from pretty far away). After the canopy walk we visited the butterfly farm where they breed butterflies to export for educational purposes. We had a break during the hottest part of the day. I read in our hammock and Kyle took a nap (of course). Our evening activity was a canoe ride and night hike. We saw some frogs, tailess scorpians, spiders, night monkeys, and of course a few tarantulas. Our second full day was a few more hikes, a visit to the 43 meter canopy tower in a ceiba tree (think the coolest tree house you've ever seen!), pirahna fishing, and a night canoe ride. All in all we got to see a large variety of wildlife. Our experience was truly once in a lifetime. Needless to say we decided to fly back and got back to Quito in pretty good shape.
Sacha Lodge

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Kyle and I came home a day early from Cotopaxi. The weather was a little bad and we wanted a day in Quito before we left for the jungle. We got there on Monday afternoon after a 2 hour ride in the back of a truck... over half 4WD. Kyle tried to sleep anyways of course. We did a great waterfall hike soon after we got there. It involved a lot of hiking up the actual river... note the rubber boots. There is no electricity at Secret Garden Cotopaxi so we had dinner by candlelight and sat around the fire for a few hours. Tuesday morning we went on a horseback ride up Riminoui. A peak around 5200 meters high. We stopped about midway up and enjoyed the view before heading back to Secret Garden. Cotopaxi was pretty elusive and the clouds only cleared for about 30 minutes the entire time we were there. We made a last minute decision to leave today and got back to Quito around 4. It was a quiet and relaxing trip. We leave for Sacha Lodge tomorrow evening.
Oh & it is me and Kyle's 7th anniversary today :).


Sunday, July 5, 2009

happy 5th of July!

Kyle is coming today!! I am going to meet him at the aiport in a couple of hours. I spend my 4th with 8 Brits and 2 Swiss people. Haha so much for Independence Day right? They were sure to give me hell about it all day. There was this adorable family from England in the group who were traveling for a year. They had a 9 year old, 7 year old, and 4 year old. The kids were being homeschooled from the road. Kind of Eliza Thornberry right? During the van ride the 7 and 4 year olds started singing Jonas Brothers and it was so cute. That quickly progressed to Pink Floyd's "Brick in the Wall" (specifically the "we don't need no education" line) and "American Pie". It was hysterical because they were pulling these songs out of no where. I got some of it on film. The kids were so intelligent! I loved them. Our first stop was at another equatorial monument near a village called Cayambe. This one was a huge sundial. It was pretty nice. Next we were off to some hole in the wall that has these famous cheese biscuit things. The dulce de leche was out of this world. The Otavalo market was next. It was absolutely massive!! They had just about anything you wanted to buy there. I bought a few gifts and a jacket for myself ($5!!). We got back in the van and went to a town that is famous for their leather works, Cotacachi. We stopped in this restaraunt for lunch where the Brit mom had her go with Cuy (guinea pig). She said it tasted like chicken but then she started to feel bad and couldn't finish it. We had fun taking pictures anyway. The 4 year old (Elliot) was obsessed with the paws and the 9 year old (Felix) was so pissed off that his mom would eat a guinea pig. Our last stop was at an extinct volcano Cuicocha. It is now a lagoon with a couple islands in the middle that were formed by lava domes. The clouds of course wouldn't clear and it started raining when we were there so the pictures aren't very good.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Well... the last couple of days have flown by! I can't believe I've almost been here 2 weeks. A little recap: Tuesday I had Spanish until 1 again, after which I passed out. I slept for several hours and then went to a pub quiz at the Irish pub with some hostal friends. I came home fairly early and went to bed again. Wednesday I had spanish until 1 once again. A group of us had planned on going on the TeleferiQo, a cable car that takes you up to the 4100 meter mark of Volcan Pichincha. The weather had turned a little sour so we decided to have a walk around Old Town. We went to one of the most ornate churches in Quito, La Compania de Jesus. The walls, ceilings and altars are supposedly guilded with 7 tons of gold. Construction began in 1605 and took 163 years to complete. We were not allowed to take pictures... but I took some (w/o flash) from my hip. Couldn't help it. After La Compania, we went and had a bite to eat in the Old Town. I am now officially obsessed with a soup called Locro de Papa, a potato soup with cheese and avocado. By far the best Ecuadorian food I've had. From there we went to the Monastery of San Francisco. I didn't see any monks and had a 45 minute tour in complete spanish where I understood about 10% of the words. Quite disappointing considering I'm at the end of 40 hours of spanish. My profesora did tell me that amongst all of the technical terms she wouldn't have expected me to understand much. Today when I finished my spanish lesson, despite the ever present clouds, I went with a friend up the TeleferiQo. It had magnificent views of the city and the mountains and volcanoes around the city. It was extremely cold and windy. I could definitely feel the altitude. Neither of us were up for the 2 hour trek to the top of Volcan Pichincha. We took a few pictures and came back down. Tomorrow is my last 4 hour spanish lesson. I am hoping to visit a convent where nuns make wine, soap, lotions, etc and sell them from behind a rotating door. The convent has been operating since 1592 and has only been open to the public since 2005. The nuns' faces remain unseen by everyone exept others in the convent for the rest of their lives. They spend 5 years in solitude before joining the rest of the convent and never leave the confines of the complex.
I am going to post some pictures inside the Quito album of Old Town and of La Compania and inside the other album of the TeleferiQo.


Monday, June 29, 2009

Today, after my spanish lesson, I went to an art museum in the home of the most famous Ecuadorian artist, Oswaldo Guayasamin. The museum consisted of his collection of indigenous art as well as the most famous pieces he painted himself. I'm not huge on art museums but it was incredible. His style is similar to Picaso. We had a tour guide who spoke only spanish and I understood about half of what she said... not too bad for a week's worth of lessons. His home was atop a hill that overlooked the city. It had several buildings, all that have been converted to display his art.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Yesterday I had 4 hours of spanish lessons again in the morning. For the last hour we went to el mercado so my profesora could get the ingredients to make soup for the staff lunch. I have been to a regular "supermarket" in the newer part of Quito but this was a much more traditional market. There were numerous stalls where locals sell fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, cheeses, herbs, etc. There were no processed foods at all. For the most part people shop everyday or every other day. It was a really interesting experience. I spent some time in the afternoon talking to the lady that works in the travel agency here in the hostal. She helped me figure out a route for the rest of the trip and is helping organize our trip to the jungle. Last night I went out to a pub with a whole bunch of people from Secret Garden. I completely embarrased myself in pool and darts. NBD.

Today my profesora, her little brother (12), and I headed to Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World). There are actually 2 seperate sites at the equator. The large monument was built in respect to the French geographers that mapped out the "equator" in the 1700s. It has since been discovered with modern GPS that they were 240 meters off chart. (Not too bad for the technology they had!) There has been a smaller museum and monument erected at the true equator. This museum is a depiction of a traditional highland village (some original structures and some reconstructions) that would have been inhabited by the Quichua people. The tour guide was extremely informative about the practices of the indigenous cultures. There were several small huts where families would have lived, a central "kitchen" building, a building dedicated to weaving, and a tomb. The guide explained what all of the structures were made of and what some of the traditions were. Some of the things she told us: The Quichua people lived with guinea pigs in their huts because they believed they would warn of people with bad "energy"... and they ate them. They practiced the "head shrinking" to preserve the "knowledge" of truly respected people in the tribe. There was a central tomb where everyone except the cheif was burried. The people were burried in ceramic pots in the fetal position. When the cheif died, his first wife was burried alive with him!
Mitad del Mundo

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Today I went to La Basilica with some friends after my spanish lesson. It was absolutely gorgeous, both the building itself and the views of the city. Today was the most clear day since I've been here. For some odd reason they allow people to climb the towers. It requires you to negotiate some pretty rickety ladders and passageways. I'm sure it is not safe and would definitely not be allowed anywhere in the US, but it was an awesome experience. The very top had only metal bars running parallel with wire in between. The wire was not strong enough to hold you so you had to stand only on the bars and hold on to the roof. (I put some pictures in the Quito album.) When I got back this afternoon I laid down for a little nap. I woke up to Thriller blasting from the terrace. I was a little pissed until I heard that MJ had died! So we jammed out to Michael all evening. :) Tonight Adrianna is picking me up to go drive around the Plaza. It is not safe to walk around at night but she really wants me to see it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Well, first of all, Ecuador is absolutely amazing. In the past couple of days I have met so many people from all over the world. There are a lot of Australians and British people here, not too many Americans. But everyone is extremely friendly and eager to share their experiences traveling in South America. It seems there is a subculture of backpackers in those places. Tons of people travel for months and months, even years. It is not as unheard of as it is in the US. When I was planning the trip it was a little difficult for me to find people who had traveled for long periods of time and had good advice for me. You can only get so much from reading a book or website. Word of mouth is so much more beneficial! There is obviously a weath of that information here. "You have to do this," "stay away from here," "don't miss this." In talking to all of these people the plans have changed a little bit. The most common piece of advice I am getting is don't rush! There are so so many places to see here in Ecuador. I feel as though we would be cheating ourselves out of a lot if we hurried through the trip trying to fit too much in a small period of time. We would really miss out on the smaller, less trodden places where much of the culture really is. I don't want to spend the entire trip in large cities with Burger Kings and Starbucks. Though the cities can be interesting, there is so much more in the small towns and villages. So... I think we are going to scratch going to Peru. There is so much to see in Peru, a week and a half would be unjustifiable. Guess we'll just have to come back :) I have had so many suggestions about places here in Ecuador. I feel like we would have to stay months to see it all. There is so much diversity in such a small place. So as of now there is no itinerary. I have a list of places that have been highly recommended and we will somehow connect the dots! As for the hostel itself, it is great. Beds comfortable, a beautiful terrace with hammocks and a fireplace that overlooks the city, helpful staff, INCREDIBLE gourmet (not kidding!) food for around $3.50 a meal (with lots of vegetarian options!). I could go on and on. My spanish lessons started today. My teacher is excellent, making me talk a lot! Hopefully I'll be speaking spanish in no time. haha yah right. I haven't been able to take many pictures yet because I am afraid to take my camera out in the city. I have heard too many horror stories. The trend seems to be thieves just taking your things if you carry too much. They don't want to hurt you, they just want your stuff. Even in the daylight. So as of now I'll bring out my point and shoot that can be tucked in my pocket, maybe the D40 when we get to the smaller places. Oh and mom, the mace made it and I am carrying it around everywhere. :)

Monday, June 22, 2009

estoy en ecuador!

I made it to Ecuador without major complications. The Miami airport was a bit of a shock to me because no one spoke english. I wasn´t expecting that until I got to Quito... but alright. The Quito airport was nothing short of chaos. If I wouldn´t have had Adriana pick me up I might have had a small meltdown. Apparently 10 family members need to come to the airport to pick up one person. There was seriously a mob of people right outside customs that were being forced back by police officers. When I forced myself through the crowd I stood there thinking I would never find her. All these people were yelling at me in spanish trying to get me a taxi and sell me god knows what. I panicked for a second before Adriana came up asking me if I was Manda. Still not sure how she picked me out of that crowd. This morning she is taking me to the hostal where my spanish lessons are. I´m really excited to see the city since it was dark last night when I got here.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


These are a few of the places we plan on visiting during our trip.

Mitad del Mundo:
A monument at the site that Charles-Marie de La Condamine determined to be the equator in 1736. He was actually about 240 meters off according to modern GPS but no one is counting right? (Pictured left)

The TeleferiQo:

A sky tram that takes passengers up the side of Volcan Pichincha. It is an active volcano that last erupted in 1999 and covered Quito in several inches of ash. (right Eduardo?)

This is a small town named for the thermal springs fed by Volcan Tungurahua. It is three and a half hours from Quito. There are apparently a lot of outdoor things to do there.

Yarina Ecolodge:

A jungle lodge located on the Napo River, the longest tributary of the Amazon. We will get there by motorized canoe from Coca. We plan on staying at Yarina for 3 nights. We will have the opportunity to go Piranha fishing, climb a jungle canopy tower, go on guided hikes, and see a native Amazonian village.

Machu Picchu:
This is that archeological site in Peru that everyone recognizes but no one seems knows the name of. There are whispers that they are going to quit letting people walk around in it because of the damage it is doing to the ruins. That is one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Peru. We are going to ride a glass topped train from Cuzco to get there.

Nazca Lines:
Another ancient archeological wonder.

Of course we will also see the usual "city" sights in Quito, Lima, Arequipa, and Cuzco.

subject to change

These are the tentative plans for me & Kyle's trip. The plans may change depending on flight & bus schedules, weather, etc. We will definitely keep you updated as often as possible, We should have Wifi at most hostels and internet cafes are apparently easy to come by.
  • June 21st- July 4th: Manda's Spanish class.
  • July 5th: Kyle arrives in Quito!
  • July 6th: Quito, Ecuador
  • July 7th-July 10th: Yarina Ecolodge (Near Coca, Ecuador)
  • July 11-July 12th: Quito, Ecuador
  • July 13th: Flight to Lima, Peru
  • July 14th: Lima, Peru
  • July 15th: Flight to Cuzco, Peru
  • July 16th: Cuzco, Peru
  • July 17th: Machu Picchu
  • July 18th: Bus from Cuzco to Arequipa, Peru
  • July 19th: Arequipa, Peru
  • July 20th: Bus from Arequipa to Nazca, Peru
  • July 21st: Nazca, Peru
  • July 22nd: Bus from Nazca to Lima, Peru
  • July 23rd: Lima, Peru
  • July 24th: Flight to Quito, Ecuador
  • July 25th-July 28th: Quito, Ecuador
  • July 29th: Flight to Houston, Texas USA!