After a rocky start to our trip due to Hurricane Irma, we arrived near midnight in Quito, late on Thursday, September 7, 2017. It was wonderful to see our daughter, Lauren, as we left the baggage area without our bags! She brought us to our taxi driver who had been patiently waiting for us for two hours and we drove to our first hotel, Hotel Patio Andaluz in the Historic Center of Quito.
Here are 20 things I learned on this trip:
- I can’t carry a 65 liter backpack. I realized this when we got to JFK and I had to take it off my back. So, the bag not making it to Ecuador was really a blessing, because if it had, I would now be in spinal traction.
- Invest in tissues and toilet paper: You know those tiny napkins that are put under your glass in a restaurant in the U.S.? Well, those are the napkins you get for your lap at every restaurant in Ecuador. This would be a good enough reason to make sure you have tissues with you, but then there’s the toilet issue. If you are lucky, there will be someone charging you for toilet paper at public bathrooms. Sometimes, there just isn’t any toilet paper, so if you want to use public toilets . . . BYOTP. (And all toilet paper should be discarded in the trash can and never put down the toilet.)
- When riding in a taxi, do so at your own risk. Double yellow lines mean nothing. People will pass each other on the most dangerous roads regardless of whether if there is a tunnel or curve ahead of them preventing them from seeing an oncoming car. Beware that stopping at stop signs and red lights appears to be up to the taxi driver’s discretion, especially at night. Surprisingly, the entire time I was there I didn’t see one traffic accident! The drivers in Ecuador must have some magic fairy dust that protects them.
- The steep sides of mountains can be plowed and used as farmland. I’ve never seen anything like it!
- Quito is beautiful! If you go there, have dinner at night at Café Mosaico. The view is amazing!
- The best market places are in Quito! Alpaca and Lama goods are a-plenty! Other handmade items to look for are hand-painted feathers (example: images of beautiful birds painted on feathers), hand-made beaded bracelets, and beautiful painted hand-made pottery made without a kiln.
- If you are a dentist, you should open an office here. If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place to be. Candy is sold everywhere! From raw sugar cane to taffy to colorful displays of candy, anytime you want some, you can easily find it. There is also this crazy ice cream that doesn’t melt, not quite sure of what it is. On the healthier side, Clementine Mandarins are also sold everywhere.
- If you have a death wish, go to Baños. Crazy people jump off of a bridge on a rope (not a bungee cord). Visit Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron), it is a bit challenging to walk across the suspension rope bridge that is suspended at a steep angle but the beautiful waterfall is worth it. And don’t miss The Swing at the End of the World! We stayed at La Posada del Arte and it was beautiful with a view of a waterfall. Also, go to The Leprechaun Bar and try one of their free flaming shots but drink it fast before your straw melts!
- If you visit Lauren in Puyo and she says, “We’re going to take a walk to a restaurant for lunch, it’s only twenty minutes,” bring a water bottle, a hat, and be ready for a hike. The good thing is that there is food at the end of it even if you have to cross a sketchy bridge to get there. We ate at Mundo de Los Chefs.
- If you visit Canelos and they give you a drink in a bowl and tell you to drink it, be aware that they spit in it first. “Throughout the Amazon Basin (including the interiors of Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil), chicha is usually made from cassava, but also cooking plantain is known to be used. Traditionally, the women chew the washed and peeled cassava and spit the juice into a bowl. Cassava root is very starchy, and therefore the enzymes in the preparer’s saliva rapidly convert the starch to simple sugar, which is further converted by wild yeast or bacteria into alcohol. After the juice has fermented in the bowl for few hours, the result will be mildly sweet and sour chicha, similar in appearance to defatted milk. In Peruvian Amazonia, the drink is called masato.
It is traditional for families to offer chicha to arriving guests. Children are offered new chicha that has not fermented, whereas adults are offered fermented chicha; the most highly fermented chicha, with its significant alcohol content, is reserved for men.”
- Leaf-Cutter ants are everywhere in the Amazon. They look scary, and you shouldn’t step on their path, but they are really kind of sweet. They are carrying the leaves back to their babies to feed them. Aw!
- Go to Puyo and Tena in September and stay at their best resorts, you will have them to yourself! We stayed at Hosteria Finca El Pigual in Puyo and Terra Luna Lodge in Tena. They were beautiful tropical resorts and we were the only people staying at each place!
- If you want a deal on a trip on The Napo River, wait till you get to Misahualli to arrange for a boat to take you on a river tour. If you want to see monkeys in the wild, go to Misahualli and you will see them in the trees near The Napo River. Although I wanted to feed them our Cheeze-its, I was glad we saved them later when I was hungry. We took a beautiful boat ride on The Napo River and saw a Cacao Plantation and an Animal Rehabilitation Center.
- The drive from Tena to Quito at night is terrifying! Especially, when it is pouring rain and your taxi driver is wiping the inside of the front windshield because he can’t see out of it! Bad roads, dirt roads, curves, mountains, rain, clouds, no street lights, all add up to a horrifying drive!
- Hostals are the way to go, forget Hotels! In Hostals you will meet people off all ages from around the world. They will become your family for the days you are there and perhaps, some, will become life-long friends. Look for The Secret Garden Hostals (one in Quito and one in Cotopaxi) for an experience of a lifetime!
- There is no Internet or Cell Service at Cotopaxi. The first thing I did when I got there was ask for the Internet password because I wanted to share the amazing views, but was told, there was no Internet. Also, be aware that a trek is not a trek is not a trek when you are almost 14,000 feet or more above sea level. Even some of the young and athletic guests suffered from altitude sickness. Take the altitude seriously guys! The boots for the walk to the waterfall were all too big for my feet. So if you are small like me, bring boots with you! (If only I had my luggage, no wait, I would be in traction now.) I didn’t even try the hike up the volcano; I could barely breathe when walking up to our room at The Hill Top House! But the views were amazing, the backpackers and their stories were so interesting, the food was great, and I learned that strangers become family when there is no Internet or Cell Service for days. Oh, and it is quite entertaining to watch young men run after lamas and try to lasso them in order to unsuccessfully attempt to ride them and then see the same young men run away from the lamas faster than they were running toward them.
- Hammocks are everywhere, take a nap and enjoy the peace and quiet.
- There are two Equators: one that was traditionally believed to be the Equator (Ciudad Mitad del Mundo), and one that was found to be the GPS “scientific” Equator (Intiñan Solar Museum). Go to them both. The historical one is a monument, the scientific one is a Cultural Museum where you will see your guide stand an egg on its end, you will see your shadow go to the East, and you will try to walk along the line painted on the Equator with your eyes closed but the forces of gravity will cause you to stumble to one side or the other.
- Food for thought: Beware of Chicken Feet in your Chicken Soup at Lena Quitena Restaurant in Quito. But it was really tasty soup! Cuy is really roasted Guinea Pig. And roasted grubs are a staple in the Amazon.
- I had the best time! I met some wonderful people and I found that Ecuadorians are generous, friendly, warm people. From the Andes to the Amazon, Ecuador and its people are now permanently planted in my heart!
Theresa Dodaro is the author of The Tin Box Trilogy available on Amazon.com.
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