|Having left Cuba, we were more than ready for Quito. After weeks of no stores, no choices, poor restaurants, and nothing but scarcity, we were ready for a bit of the cosmopolitan world. Quito is a huge city of 2.8 million inhabitants spread out along the floor of a deep valley. Like San Francisco, it is built on hills, which means some incredible views. Old town is a smaller area with many great museums, churches and cobblestone street alleys. We spent several days there, including a ride up the new Teleferico- a funicular going up to 12000 ft with a (literally) breathtaking view of Quito.
From there we traveled to Otavalo, a smaller town known for its artisan markets and surrounding raw natural beauty. We hiked around a fantastic lake known as Cuycuichy (which means something along the line of “lake with a center island shaped like a Guinea pig). Fantastic. We stayed in Otavalo a couple of days to be there for the Inti Raymi festival, which is the old Incan festival of the Sun God. Many go to their local waterfall to cleanse themselves, then spend the night dancing in small concentric circles to a hypnotizing rhythm, accompanied by guitars, pan flutes, drums and liquor.
We were then off to a small town known as Mindo, best known for its surrounding Cloudforest. This was the real deal. Wild. Verdant. Teeming with waterfalls and, apparently, wildlife, as we discovered in the middle of the night. Gillian and I were in the bathroom when I cautioned her about a large (1cm or so) spider on the floor that she was about to step on. She turned around and looked at, or rather, just above me, and gasped. No more than one foot from my head was a very large, very hairy, and very alive, tarantula. We love nature, don’t get me wrong. But more in a day hike, happy holistic way. Not in a hairy-spider-by-your-head sort of way.
The rest of our time in Mindo was spent hiking to waterfalls and doing a canopy tour of 10 zip lines up to 525 meters long over the jungle. The kids (big and small) LOVED it. S
From there we sent to a colonial city named Cuenca (third largest in Ecuador). We found an incredible inn there, built in an old mansion and lovingly tended to by the grandson of the original owners, who made their wealth in the Quinine industry (antimalarial and anti yellowfever medicine). This was a charming city that deserves its UNESCO world heritage site designation.
The native indians did not have cows, horses, pigs, or even chickens. Tthese were all brought in by the Spanish. They did not even have Llamas until the Incas came up from Peru in 1400. So they survived on agriculture crops and Cuy (Guinea pig). The locals still eat this, and rave about its luscious taste. Of course, we had to try it. We patiently waited at an outside market while a woman slowly roasted the entire Guinea Pig on a stick (or, as we called it, “rat on a bat”). It was interesting, but not great. Though, in all honesty, we were probably all a bit squeemish and not entirely objective to the experience.
A harrowing magical bus ride in the mountains high about the clouds to Guayaquil and then off to Lima, Peru.
All in all, a beautiful, varied country. Highly recommended.