Ecuador: ama la vida

28 Jan

I spent my holidays this year at the middle of the world. My trip began with an agonizing 20-something hour travel day. Santa Cruz is not the best place to fly from, so  in order to get to Ecuador I first had to fly South to Chile, then to Peru, and finally to Ecuador. The cheapest flight I could find involved an 8 hour overnight layover in Santiago. I was able to squeeze in a few moments of sleep, waking up instinctively every 30 minutes or so to make sure my backpack/pillow hadn’t been tampered with. Here’s what the airport looked like at about 3am, with every traveler claiming their own row of seats.

My first stop in Ecuador was Cuenca, where I signed on for 4 weeks of inexpensive private Spanish lessons.  Cuenca is a city of about 250,000 people in the Southern Andes. As an UNESCO world heritage site, it is very charming, clean, tranquil, and colonial. There are 52 churches in Cuenca, one for every day of the week, they say. Here is perhaps the most stunning of the bunch, the “New Cathedral.”

Here’s the New Cathedral lit up for xmas.

The Cuenca mirador:

Cuenca has a famous xmas eve parade, the “Pase del Niño” parade. It’s a strange mix of nativity scene reenactments and children on horseback dressed up like adults. Not sure what that’s all about.

About 2.5 hours outside of Cuenca are the largest Incan ruins in Ecuador, Ingapirca. Definitely worth the trip, although I’ve heard that if you visited Machu Picchu first the ruins at Ingapirca are small potatoes. I’ll most likely be heading to Machu Picchu during my spring break in April, where I’ll probably realize how pathetic the ruins at  Ingapirca are. But for now, I found them impressive.

For New Years I headed to the beach town Montañita, or as I like to call it, la playa de los gringos. It was basically an enormous party for the Europeans and Chileans. The tradition in Ecuador is to construct dolls that represent all of the bad things from the past year. The dolls are then tossed into a bonfire on New Years eve, and all of the problems from the previous year are burned. It’s a nice tradition, if not dangerous. Fire + drunk people = emergency room. I met a few people who ended up with all sorts of injuries after unsuccessfully jumping through fire on New Years. I kept my distance from the flames, however.

I didn’t feel like spending the money to see the Galapagos (which I sort of regret now), but I did make a day trip to La Isla de la Plata, also known as “the poor man’s Galapagos.” The trip involved a drive up the coast from Montañita to Puerto Lopez, a gritty fishing town. It was then a one hour boat ride to the island. I was able to see the famous blue footed booby and a few sea turtles, but I’m sure my experience was about 1% as cool as a trip to the Galapagos. Oh well. Maybe someday.

I returned to Cuenca after New Years for more Spanish class, but after putting up with a really bad teacher for 2-3 weeks, I decided to cut my losses and head to Quito for the remainder of my trip. I was really glad I did, because Quito was absolutely spectacular. Quito is the capitol of Ecuador, and at about 9,200 feet is the highest legal capitol in the world. (Fun Fact: La Paz, Bolivia, is the highest administrative capitol in the world at almost 14,000 feet, but the legal capitol of Bolivia is actually Sucre.) Quito is home to one of the highest gondola lifts in the world, the Telefériqo. I rode the lift with some friends from my hostel to enjoy astonishing views of the city.

The largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas is in Quito. La Basilica del Voto Nacional is a striking Quito landmark, and is also another great way to take in views of the city. You are allowed to climb to the very top of its towers if you’re brave enough to summit the series of narrow ladders and staircases. I visited the Basilica with a friend from my hostel, Summer. Photo credit to her for the pictures of me below (

Summer and I also explored Old Town together, the more historical and charming part of Quito. There was a really cool outdoor photo exhibit going on in the plazas throughout the city while I was there.

Here is a picture of Summer taking pictures far better than mine.

My last Saturday in Ecuador I travelled 2 hours north to Otavalo, home of one of the largest indigenous markets in South America. I bought slippers and an alpaca blanket, things I will never ever need in Santa Cruz but will certainly come in handy when I’m back in a country that experiences seasons.

Here’s Summer again, deciding which shade of red would be best.

Love this classy pig, wearing aji earrings. He was delicious, might I add.

Well that’s all. My one month in Ecuador was lovely, but it sure was hard to return back to work afterwards. I’m counting down the days until my next vacation…


One Response to “Ecuador: ama la vida”

  1. Cathy January 29, 2012 at 21:04 #

    Wow fabulous pictures! especially the pigs head – um um so appetizing And the blue footed booby – At first I didn’t know what you meant by that…… Thanks for the posting

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