Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Cuenca, Ecuador

An Expat Destination

The morning after returning to Quito we boarded an hour-long flight to Cuenca. Driving up the winding roads would have taken several uncomfortable hours for almost the same price.

On our flight to Cuenca, we didn't have a gate until 30 minutes before our flight. We all headed to gate A3. Then it changed to D3, we followed the herd headed downstairs. As soon as we got to D3, it changed to A3 with a 40 minute delay. You get the picture. 

We made it to our apartment and figured out how to get in the lockbox. It felt so good to drop everything and just stop. Good thing we had a washer and dryer. I swear we could see vapors emanating from our carry-ons.

Cuenca is the capital of the Azuay Province of Ecuador in the mountains at 8400 feet above sea level which a lot of expats from around the world call home. The city center's historical buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

I wanted to check out Cuenca and why there is such a draw for expats. We had a beautiful Airbnb within walking distance to the downtown and soccer stadium. There were plenty of affordable restaurants around the corner from us. Mike felt guilty paying $2.75 for the Almuerzo (daily lunch) including rice, meat, salad, juice and a desert that was usually fruit. We usually walked everywhere but taking a taxi was usually $1. Ecuador uses the US dollar making it easy for us gringos.

The Cathedral of Immaculate Conception
We had trouble finding the stairway to climb the spiral staircase to the top of the cathedral. The walkways in front of the cathedral were crowded with people selling food and other items. Finally, we walked around the corner to the right of the entrance and found where to pay our entrance fee to climb the spiral staircase. Looking down over the terracotta roofs of the city reminded me of Italy.

A purple memorial along the riverwalk for domestic violence victims. 

We couldn't pass up the local mercado 

We never knew what we would see while having lunch on a street corner. This day, a parade of caballeros passed by for over 30 minutes.

The chocolate was amazing. It didn't matter how much we bought, it was soon gone.
Mike got a Panama hat.

Piedra de Agua Thermal Spa

We ordered a taxi on the Azutaxi app to take us 20 minutes into the hills above Cuenca to the thermal spa costing a whopping $5. We arrived for our reserved time and were introduced to our guide through the baths. It was quite well organized, and each group was moved between mud baths and steam boxes and specific times.
We started in the red mud bath, then on to the blue mud and a shower before the steam cave and the steam boxes finishing with a cool dip.


Fortunately, once she left us in the boxes, we were able to regulate the heat with a nob inside the box. The lids opened easily from inside. I did a quick check before she left us. I only lasted a short time before lifting the lid to vent some steam.

A great Museum that was free and just a walk down the river for us! We took the long way the first time, of course. It took a couple of visits to see most of the exhibits, ruins and botanical gardens on the property. There were even shrunken heads.

Speaking Spanish made our time here much more enjoyable. Google translate was also great to have but the most helpful was the screenshot on my phone of where we wanted to go to show our taxi driver when we were lost.


Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Mindo, Ecuador

Heading to a cloud forest

If we were going to go to Ecuador, I was going to see some birds in a cloud forest. Mike got his wish to go to the Amazon. My turn.

We hired a driver to take us 2 hours to Mindo from Quito which was arranged by the Platinum Toucan Suites where we stayed during our 3 days in the mountains. They also arranged for a guide to take us birding at 6am. Boy, did he deliver. We saw so many birds, hummingbirds and 4 species of toucans. As we hiked through the hills, he would show us bird nests in the side of the hills and give us a peek in at the little mouths waiting for mom.

 There were plenty of ecotourism opportunities, hiking to waterfalls, rafting and ziplining. I had had enough of those experiences for a while and was ready to see some birds.
Our guide had lots of scopes and binoculars for us to use.

He helped us use our phones to get pictures of the 4 species of toucans flying around us.

This toucan chirping was so cool. It wasn't long before we recognized the sounds and find them ourselves.

 Toco Toucan

By 9 am the birds were getting quiet and not a lot to be seen. The guide just kept walking and telling us stories. He was willing to keep going as long as we would like, I was getting hungry. Even though we had a kitchen in our apartment, I voted to have brunch on the roof that a local lady made for us on our return. The neighbors would get together with their instruments in the mornings and would play music on the front porch. What a treat.
We arrived on a Sunday and the town was hopping, but the next morning it was almost a ghost town. 80% of the town's economy is tourism. The holiday was over.
A visit to a mariposa habitat was a treat other than the biting bugs that got me a couple of times. I had let my guard down since malaria wasn't an issue at this elevation. At least I hoped.

I had so many pictures of different butterflies but had to narrow them down to a few.

Butterfly crystalis

Amazon Owl butterflies confuse predators with yes on their wings.

 A driver was arranged to take us back to Quito in 2 days. I wondered if he would return and what we would do if he didn't, I like a backup plan. He was there bright and early, ready to drive the winding mountain road back to the city. We were glad we didn't attempt to rent a car and figure it out ourselves. A person can only be so adventurous.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Heading into the Amazon

The Napo River

Our tour of Ecuador was short but jam packed. We had an early wakeup call every morning to a tasty breakfast waiting for us. The accommodations were special. If we had stayed in the same places on our own, we would have spent much more than the cost of the tour.
Heading up the Napo River in the Amazon to our beautiful lodge, La Casa del Suizo overlooking the Amazon River.

Tena, Ecuador

It was 93 F degrees 64% humidity when we arrived at the eco lodge. We wore long pants and sleeves with a bit of deet to keep the insects at bay but didn't notice many around. We had a fan but no air conditioning. Fortunately, the clouds rolled in. The thunder and lightning was great to watch and cooling.
Casa de Suizo

We got back on our canoes to visit a family that lives across the river.


 In the afternoon, we visited Ahuano and a local Quechua community interpretation center to learn about their way of life first hand.  It was hot, humid and the rubber roots kept us sweating.

Getting down in the Amazon. When the Shaman invites you to dance, you can't say "no".

In the morning, after a canoe ride we hiked in the Misicocha Private Nature Reserve for approximately two hours while viewing the beautiful flora and fauna up-close. The Amazon rainforest is the world's largest ecosystem, we saw the innumerable species of tropical plants and insects on our hike. And enjoyed the views as we crossed suspended bridges and fly through the jungle on a short zip line basket ride. 

Our crazy friends.

We hadn't had enough hiking in loose rubber boots. We took one more hike in the afternoon straight up the side of a mountain. If that wasn't enough, we strapped ourselves in heavy straps because they said anyone could do this and we could stop anytime we would like. "It was just a Canopy Tour". On my fourth difficult task, my foot got twisted in the rope and I had to ask for help. While I waited for a guide to make his way to me, I wondered if my foot was going to get cut off.   I had to make my way across the next 4 obstacle before finishing. There was no way to slow the zipline and the only way to stop when I turned was to hit the tree or the guide. The guide looked softer but still had a thud.

Using the blow dart gun.

 We took another hike in the jungle on a cooler morning. We tasted tiny ants that tasted like citrus. Actually, Mike did but didn't taste the citrus.

We did taste the roasted larva. I didn't like it but Mike liked the bacon taste. I must have missed it.

After the hike, we (Mike) had an opportunity to ride a balsa raft and float down the Napo River. The guide encouraged jumping in the river since there was a low probability of anacondas and alligators in this part of the river. I took one for the team and took pictures from the motorized canoe.

Otovalo, Ecuador

Our hike to the waterfall was a pleasant gradual climb.

 Ecuador's mountains are so steep that there are waterfalls around every corner. We have been so fortunate with the weather. The rainy season starts October 1 but we were fortunate to have mostly sunshine.

After the hike we visited several artisans along the way.

Hacienda la Cienga, one of the oldest historic haciendas and former monastery.

The local Indigenous group ran the monks out once they started moving into their properties.
Mike found this caterpillar that we didn't touch as we walked the grounds since the guides repeatedly reminded us not to touch anything. He informed Mike that the spines would have caused a lot of discomfort for a while when he was shown the photo.

You've got to love a place that makes a fire in your room after an amazing dinner and leaves hot water bottles under the covers and chocolates on the pillows. It got chilly at night but the fire and hot water bottles kept us cozy all night.

Banos,  Ecuador

El Pailon del Diablo or "The Devil's Cauldron", one of Ecuador's most beautiful waterfalls.
The hike to the bottom was long but even longer on the way back up.

Puerto Largo

It got noisy at night. We had to sit to sit on the porch and listen to the music at 1am.

A good place to lay our heads after a busy day. Overlooking a volcano and Puerto Lago.

Everyday was full of activities as we visited a rose farm and many artisans and markets while staying in beautiful hotels and inns. It was great having someone watching out for us. We had forgotten our passports and some money in one safe But the guide was able to contact the hotel and guide with another tour group and got them to us. Crisis averted.

Cuenca, Ecuador

An Expat Destination The morning after returning to Quito we boarded an hour-long flight to Cuenca. Driving up the winding roads would have ...