In Quito, Ecuador, 2nd highest capital in the world at 9,350 ft, (La Paz tops it at 12,000). Excited to be jumping into a brand new love affair with this fascinating land. Hoping I can stay attentive enough to clearly hear what it has to say, then if I'm lucky, maybe it will share some secrets with me.
Julian Assange: I am 100% sure you would like to be standing exactly where I am right now.
The altitude just royally kicked my: "oh, I can easily climb some of these hills", butt, and then I had to face the traveller’s irony of arriving somewhere and immediately spending 2 days trying to get a visa for the next destination. They hid the teensy Indonesian embassy on top of an outrageously steep hill, and then randomly decided to close it in the middle of a working day.
So I treated myself to the equivalent of a Quichuan hot dog; roasted plantain stuffed with cheese, from a lovely Indian lady on the street, (who for some reason was highly tickled that I bought it).
So nonetheless having a grand time.
Should it come up in Trivia:
The official currency of Ecuador is the US $, for apparently the last 4 years, they have some different $ coins but otherwise it is all greenbacks.
Indonesia and Ecuador have such a cosy diplomatic relationship that neither requires any kind of visa for their citizens to visit the others’ country.
Off to get lost in this lovely city, my recommended game plan for the best way to discover any place.
Another day, another bus, moving south through central Ecuador, life is bueno.
Spent the last 2 days in Banos, lying in the pools fed by the hot springs coming straight from the volcano. Yes, I was one of those fogies in a plastic hat, and now my bathing suit smells like it was buried in a swamp for 100 years, but it was bone meltingly rejuvenating. Then today I took a bus to Riobamba and another to this tiny place called Alausi. I honestly believe I have discovered THE sleepiest town on earth, but it is the starting point for the Nariz del Diablo, (the nose of the devil), an old switchback train route that is apparently a phenomenal feat of engineering with views to match. So we shall see.
Alausi: I stayed one more day in this sleepy little town in order to be there for market day, and promptly remembered why for so many years I travelled without a camera, (and only at the insistence of some beloveds did I even get one… and I admit it is fun). Today I was the only tall, white, light haired anything, not another tourist in sight, so me plus camera did not feel like a fun combo. Hence many shots of the backs of people. Pointing a camera just wasn’t the thing to do, these are the indigenous people who only come down to the town one day a week, and they appear shy and serious, generally. I then took another 4 hour bus ride down down down to the gorgeous colonial town of Cuenca. Bit of an ex-pat place like San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, but even more low key. I am just not a town person, so tomorrow I’ll get up at 6am, explore the town some more, and then at 11am take another 6 hour bus ride to Vilcabamba. I’m following the sun (these altitudes are cold... brrrr), plus this body needs some hiking at altitudes that don’t take me to my knees after 10 minutes.
Where are all my hiking companions when I need them? I'm in trail heaven, but with strong warnings not to go alone. The advice does not refer to human dangers, but to Mother Nature ones, and I shall of course heed them. This is one of the (very) few drawbacks of travelling alone, but I'm off to look for people wearing boots.
Hmmm, I feel a workshop coming on. Perhaps here in this beautiful hotel I have discovered in the mountains of Vilcabamba, Ecuador... with a side trip to the Galapagos Islands for sweetening?
Vilcabamba: 4:30 am tomorrow morning I'm heading for the Galapagos. It's been lovely here in the Valley of Longevity, great hikes and endless views to take your breath away, whether or not its legends are for real.
"Countless generations ago this beautiful valley was where the ancient Inca rulers came to renew and refresh their health. The indigenous ancestors of the Inca people had inhabited Vilcabamba for centuries, and yet few outsiders had ever found their way into this secluded Andean valley. But the incredible health and longevity of "Los Viejos" (The Old People) was whispered about far and wide. It was even rumoured that these mountain people knew not death, that the Grim Reaper passed the valley by as if it did not even exist."
I love an airport that when going through security, upon asking, (in very broken Spanish ), if you can keep your water, they say "of course". Which is a relief, as I am carrying quite a stash of the supposedly life lengthening and enhancing water, from Vilcabamba.
Arrived on San Cristobal Island yesterday, and commenced to explore the immediate area. I am loving the whole Darwin connection, one of my real “homes” is in Shrewsbury, England, Darwin's birth-place, and one of my favourite walks there is in the fields where he played as a child. I feel like I have followed a thread from there to here, and arrived at the Ocean of Eden, there is so much life everywhere, and this is only just the beginning. Tomorrow morning taking a boat to Santa Cruz island. I came independently, (I have a slight allergy to organised tours), but even with the little I’ve seen, I’m now fully prepared to throw that plastic (CC) down, hop on a boat, and get to some of the more remote spots. It’s definitely a once in a life-time experience, and I’m so very glad I came, just knowing that places like this still exist is like pure gold. And still 10 more days to go, yippee.
The very essence of instinct is that it's followed independently of reason.
― Charles Darwin
I’d like to say I wish all my friends were here, but most islands I’ve been to have populations a mere fraction of the number of people I know, so bringing all would qualify as an invasion. It’s been amazing, and tomorrow I’m off to see the penguins on Bartolome Island. Oh, be still my beating heart, they are the smallest in the world, (35 cms tall), I could easily fit a couple in my backpack.
Now on Santa Isabella Island, the favourite, (inhabited), one to date, no paved roads, great tropical beach vibe, goats bleating outside the window, waves breaking … but of course, also no ATM’s, (bit of a crisis had to be surmounted there). Everyone so helpful, and my great accommodation and travel agent karma continues, (hugging a tree as I say this), another $25 room a stone’s throw from the beach. Tours are all quite expensive here, but great places to stay rarely run above $30 a night. With only a week to go it feels like I’m on the home stretch, and I've only just scratched the surface. Still have a volcano to climb and some tunnels to snorkel through, (not really so thrilled about this idea, but it has to be done, there are creatures yet to be seen).
Took a 16 km hike to supposedly the 2nd widest volcano crater in the world, Sierra Negra, and then on to the tiny Volcan Chico, (both active). It bucketed rain the entire time, so we trudged through gooey mud for endless hours, (I only fell 3 times, which I consider a feat). It was way too rainy and misty to see into the volcano, but we spotted a rare iguana. Nothing could induce me to repeat the experience, but it was still a grand time.
Until 1959, Isla Isabella also housed a penal colony, and a particularly brutal one by all accounts. A volcanic stone wall, built in the 40’s serves no purpose whatsoever other than as a punishing labour for prisoners. Lava rock is like lumps of razors; cutting it, carrying it and stacking it without gloves, (and probably even shoes), could have been nothing short of torturous, hence the name “Wall of Tears”. Only man could have intentionally created such misery in Paradise.
Last day in the Galapagos, and the best to date. Went to Seymour Norte, tiny human-less place, a feast of wildlife, mating rituals, baby chicks, nesting, everything and more that you could hope to be gifted with by these islands. It could not have been better. Tomorrow back to Quito.
2am bus to 5am flight, another blurry blood red-eyed longest night along some very windy roads. Bye-bye Ecuador, you have been spectacular.
Favourite question of the day: Your (15 hour) flight leaving for Hong Kong (at 1:00 am) is completely full, would you mind having a middle seat if we move you into a higher class?
I don’t mind one bit.