Friday, August 16, 2013

Overdue Ecuador Recap

Ecuador was our 5th South American country and 3rd South American trip, so we went into it with a certain amount of experience and expectations.  But it was our first trip with either of our parents; Nora's came for the entire 4 weeks, and my mother flew down for 8 days.  This made it a rather unique trip for us.

(Ecuador's flag flying over the presidential palace)

Ecuador is a beautiful country, with very diverse geographic regions thanks to the Andes.  We started our trip in Quito, which for an Andean city was a bit disappointing--it reminded us a lot of Lima, in that it had good food, good weather, and very friendly people, but didn't feel all that special or unique. We've found that most big cities end up feeling very similar to one another these days (in South America Cuzco is a notable exception, and Buenos Aires deserves honorable mention).  This is not to say we did not enjoy Quito; on the contrary, we had a lot of fun there, and would consider going back.

(a brother and sister waiting on the bus after school)

From Quito we took a day trip to Otavalo, where most of the region's handicrafts originate.  We went to see the market, but were unlucky as only a few vendors were open.  It rained, so we ducked inside a cafe for a few drinks, and Nora found a "green" beer--beer mixed with creme de menthe.

Leaving Quito, we stopped overnight in Banos, famous for its hot springs--which ranged from ice cold, to lukewarm, to a scalding 120 degrees F; no tolerable soaking pool there, but it was still very relaxing.

We journeyed on to Cuenca where we had rented an amazing apartment with a long balcony.  This was probably the nicest place Nora and I have ever stayed. The neighborhood was a couple km from the sights in the city, but as taxis are so cheap (about $1.50 for a 10 minute ride), it was not a problem at all. And there was a Chilean empanada place around the corner that was fantastic.

(Cuenca crafts market)

Cuenca we liked a lot, but for different reasons than Quito. It is still a big city, but it feels a little smaller, a little greener, and the weather is a little better--not withstanding the sudden rainstorm that Nora and her parents got caught out in. There's a reason so many Americans are retiring to Ecuador, and specifically locating in Cuenca.

(women in traditional dress, Cuenca)

(the central plaza in Sigsig)

From here we went to Salinas and spent a week on the beach, and from there to Puerto Lopez and spent another week on the beach.  Puerto Lopez was interesting for the place we stayed--Hosteria Mandala--and its host's whale obsession, as well as a boat trip we took to Isla de la Plata.  Otherwise, our time on the beach can be summed up as a lot of beer and wine, a lot of good food, and general relaxing fun all around.

(the porch of our cabana at Hosteria Mandala in Puerto Lopez)   


(a beach vendor selling cold coconuts in Salinas)

On back to Quito, and from there homeward.

The really exciting part of Ecuador was, like most trips we take, the food.  Ecuadorean food is generally very good, though you can get--and we certainly did on several occasions--garbage versions of it.  Beach towns don't seem to care about flavor or quality as much unless you're spending a lot more (notable exceptions: in Salinas there was a corner place that grilled over charcoal, and an English fish-and-chip shop; in PL a tiny Spanish restaurant run by a couple).  The Andean food was the best: secco de chivo (a thick stew of lamb or goat), llapingachos (cheesy potato griddle cakes), and locro de papas (a potato soup with chunks of queso fresco and avocado in it). The ingredients were familiar to the Peruvian food we've had before, but used in new and delicious ways.

 (locro de papas on the left, and llapingachos with lomito on the right)

(choclo con habbas -- large kernel corn with something like a lima bean)

(secco de chivo) 

Overall, I'd say if you can only take 2 weeks for South America, go to Peru or Argentina, depending on what you're hoping to find.  But if you have longer, or if you can take several trips, Ecuador will definitely reward your time and curiosity.

Happy travels.

 - A

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