Canoa & Puerto Lopez

Lucky us to enjoy a few days on the beach!  We spent 2 nights in Canoa, enjoying beach life and being treated as a tourist in a little beach hut for the day.  We had vendors coming by selling everything from caipirinah to new hats.  We accepted the first ($2!) and declined the latter.  I enjoyed $5 ceviche and the rest of the day we enjoyed ice cold beers delivered by Giovanni.  Quite the life!

Next we set off for the beach town of Puerto Lopez.  Eric booked us into an amazing hosteria.  Even though we were in their "economical room" we got the best end of the deal, spending all of our time in the beautiful grounds of the hosteria.  We had cabanas on the beach to enjoy, musical instruments at our disposal, game rooms, gorgeous gardens, and an amazing kitchen.  It was such a relaxing place to land! 

The kindess in Ecuador

Yesterday instead of a 4 hour car ride from the cloud forest of Mindo to the coast we got a 7 hour adventure. It all started with a recommendation from the owner of our favorite cafe in Mindo, the Beehive. The German suggested the beach town of Canoa and told us it was easy to get there, just some 6 buses needed. He drew up the little plan for us and off we went on Wednesday. We hitchhiked the first two stops we needed in the back of a speedy pick up truck. The next few stops we accomplished on a bus, delivering us in a shady road side bus station in La Concordia. There we hit a snag as our needed bus wasn't to leave for 3.5 hours. We were on such a roll and didn't want to wait around that long for the bus. So we made up a little sign and offered a generous $10 for the 1.5 hour drive. People were so nice and helpful to us! One woman was aghast we'd pay so much for what should be a $4 bus ride. Another driver said the round about 2 miles down the road would be a better spot for our luck. Many smiles were exchanged and we were having a blast.

We took the suggestion of the man who said to move further down the road and set up our little camp under a bus shelter.  At this point it started to rain and we were glad not only for our waterproof bags but also for the shelter!  More advice was shared and a lot of people apologized they weren't going where we needed to go.  After an hour, we finally got our ride!  A construction management guy picked us up and we chatted the whole way with him to the coast.  He even stopped for us to get some food!  When we arrived at the destination in Pedernales he flat our refused our $10 payment.  We walked away so touched by the kindness.  (I should mention here this was ALL done in our limited Spanish!)

Our final destination was now one stop away.  We were waiting for the bus when a taxi driver told us he could take us on the 45 minute drive for $6.  As we were ready for this adventure to come to a close we waited while he rounded up another passenger and set off for our final stop Canoa. 

We arrived to Canoa to meet two nice men, one from Canada and another from America.  They helped us find our hostal here.  We haven't stopped talking about our hitch hiking adventure and the kindness we encountered.  All costs counted it was $12 for us to go some 7 hours!

Adventuring in Mindo

I emailed one of my best friends, Martha, to see where we should see in Ecuador and one of her top recommendations was the cloud forest town of Mindo, in central Ecuador.  After reading about all the adventure sports in the area we knew we had to go!

Upon getting dropped off at the top of the road we got picked up by one of the many waiting taxis, aka pickup trucks, by a local.  With no room in the cab we ended up in the bed and as a downpour started got drenched.  It was an indicator of our first day: the rain never ceased.  Oh, and we found out it's rainy season here. 

Our first full day here, Monday the 7th, we headed off for zip lining in the canopy forest.  10 different zip lines, covering more than 11,000 feet.  It was an absolute blast and we met a lot of other fun travelers. 

The next day we headed on a hike to see all the waterfalls.  You take a pretty sketchy cable car across the valley to the other side to commence the hike. Click on any of these photos to expand.

South America's Largest Market

After meeting Maureen and Allan while outside of Granda at Lago de Apoyo we knew we had to see the Otavalo, Ecuador for ourselves. One of South Americas largest markets it is known for the handicrafts, hats, and artwork that is sold Saturday to both foreign and locals alike. We arrived on Friday night to see them already setting up the booths that would open at daybreak the next morning. A woman at our hostal told us about an animal market that also occurs and she had come from hours away to see the animal market. We now had a full day planned!

Saturday morning we got up early to are the animal market before it closed at 9a. Unfortunately I was thinking more zoo than the sale of animals and I was met with quite a different environment than I envisioned. Pigs, chickens, kittens, cows, goats, sheep, puppies, all was for sale. Seeing kittens in a tiny cage not big enough to stand was finally what put me over the edge. That and the sounds of pigs squealing. We left to explore the tamer scene of handicrafts.

The main market square we had dinner in the night before was transformed and unrecognizable. Stands were erected overflowing the main square, filling some 5 blocks in each direction with the overflow. The market was set up with plenty of walking room so thankfully it was never too crowded despite the hoards of people looking at the wares. We took our time browsing and bargaining. Besides a few things bought here and there we haven't really shopped much. I splurged on some beautiful earrings and alpaca scarves. Eric brought a handsome Panama hat. We tasted food as we shopped. My favorite was an unknown fruit juice and Eric returned countless times for fried bananas.

We so enjoyed our day in Otavalo. By dinner that night most of the streets were open again and the streets returning to normal. As we left town this morning hardly anything remained of the market. Our bags are a bit bulkier because of our purchases. This whole excursion was thanks to a spot on recommendation.

Old Town Quito

We arrived on Monday in Quito to start the visa process for Brazil.  Being on the other side of a bureaucratic mess has been a bit frustrating and we weren't thrilled to have to spend 5 days in Quito waiting for our Visa application to be complete.  Well, it turns out they are going to take their sweet time and it will take a week to complete but thankfully we have fallen in love with Quito so aren't too upset to have to spend more time here.

Yesterday we headed up the TeleferiQo with some friends we met in our AirBnB.  Small coincidence that they are doing our trip in reverse!  We picked their brains about Asia and where to go.  It was a fun day.  We were all surprised how large Quito is from above!  Almost 2 million people call this city home and it was fun to see the sprawling city.  (Click to enlarge any of these photos.)

Today we set off to explore the Old Town.  It was gorgeous!  We took many photos of all the churches, and even climbed the Basilica del Voto Nacional.  The views from the top were pretty stunning.

Hiking and Biking in Banos

We are thrilled to be in Banos.  This small city has everything we need from a place: hikes right outside of town, bakeries, laundry, a mercado for food, and other travelers. 

We spent our first day off the bus hiking around the outside of town.  This 4 hour trek was relatively easy, on the first 45 minutes was straight uphill and the rest was flat to downhill.  We had some fun vistas of the city of Banos as we hiked along, trying to figure out the route (signage could definitely be improved!). 

The next day we headed off on some sweet bikes to ride from Banos to Rio Negro.  We could have gone all the way to Puyo but we were only interested in the flat to downhill part of the ride!  This ride goes by some 20 different waterfalls and was on a really nicely paved road.  We enjoyed a different means of transportation and being able to stop when we felt like it.  We did a short hike down to the waterfall as well.

Buses and first thoughts from Ecuador

It's been a long series of buses to get to where I sit, looking out on the mountains, in Banos, Ecuador.  We traveled by bus from Northern Peru, that lovely city of Huanchaco that we fell in love with.  Well, it was an 7 hour bus from Huanchaco to Piura.  9 hours the next day from Piura to Loja, Ecuador.  Then another 8 hours from Loja to Cuenca.  AND THEN 7 hours from Cuenca to Ambato and another hour to Banos.  Tired yet of thinking of us on buses?  Then you know how we feel!  Entirely too much sitting!

Ecuador so far has felt like our Central American days colliding with our South American travels.  The buses here aren't quite chicken buses but they aren't the luxury Cruz del Sur buses we were accustomed to traveling in Peru.  No more nicely checked bags, they now sit at our feet.  And going directly?  Forget it.  I lost count at the 20+ stops we made yesterday, picking up people off the side of the road and dropping them off some hours later at another seemingly random spot.  Where are the cities these people are coming and going from?  The Spanish we have been working so hard on fails us at times when the taxi is in the road blocking traffic and the driver can't understand "estacion de autobus" and instead only knows it as "terminal de autobus".  Glad we got to block traffic for 5 minutes while we figured that out!  The other puzzling development is now we are using USD.  No more fancy math as we try to figure out what this would cost at home.  Now we know.  But no matter the currency, we are still getting ripped off.  Tourist prices exist no matter the currency. 

We enjoyed a few days in Cuenca, definitely a city we could have enjoyed for a lot longer.  We stayed in a fantastic AirBnB that was our own loft.  Our favorite part was the kitty that would jump all over and beg for us to bring us with her.

We can't wait to explore Banos for the 5 whole days we are here.  Today we are off to hike and more photos will be up when we get back.  Otherwise here are the photos we have taken this far!