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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Trip - Círculo de Viaje

My new friends (George, from Antigua, Guatemala and Raul from Cali, Columbia) who were visiting Cuenca the past few months were spending a month in Banos.  I visited them a few weeks back and wrote a blog entry about it.   We talked about the idea of making a ‘circle trip’ up to Quito, over to the coast, down the coastline, to Guayaquil, then back up to Cuenca where they are scheduled to leave on Weds, March 14th.   All this, though, depended upon my car being repaired in time.  It was finished in time, albeit 2 days before their deadline to be out of their Banos apartment on March 1st.   At the last minute, we agreed the trip was a ‘go’ and I quickly found a 2BR apartment in Quito to rent for 4 days so we’d have our first place to land.  I also made arrangements for my 12yo dog-walker and his parents to come by my house each day and feed the kids (the four-legged kind).

I drove to Banos on Thursday and stayed with them on their final night.   The next morning, after packing their bags and having breakfast, the 3 of us hit the road headed for Quito.   Quito is about 120 miles to the north.  Again, one can’t calculate how long it will take to drive because you can’t presume an average of 50 or 60 mph.  Various stretches of road are different…sometimes only 2 lanes, sometimes 4 lanes, sometimes straight, sometimes hairpin turns.   Most roads invariably spill into small towns where you have to traverse through stop lights and come out the other side.   The one good thing about this segment was it didn’t involve a lot of dizzying twists and turns…it was pretty much straight road.

We easily found our way to the colonial center of Quito and to what was the perfect location of our apartment.  On the 4th floor, we had a fully-furnished modern 2BR/2BA apartment with all the amenities, awesome view, parking garage, and even an elevator in the building (rare here) for $60 a night.  We only had to walk 2 blocks to start taking in all the sites you’ll see in the photos below.  We stayed 3 nights, dining out, cooking/eating in, walking through cathedral after cathedral, climbing the Basilica (see prior story), etc etc.  

On our last day, we drove up to a large angel-like statue on a hill overlooking the city.   El Panecillo (little bread loaf) hill is a lump in the middle of the city.  On top stands a 150 ft winged Madonna known as the Virgin of Quito.   She stands on a globe-like pedestal, holding a chain tied to a dragon at her feet and is stepping on a snake.   We climbed up inside the pedestal where we saw the interior framework, historical photos of the construction, and other artifacts.

Back in the car.  We headed for the coast.  We didn’t have a clue how long it would take us to reach the coast because, again, we had no prior knowledge of the types of roads, how many towns we would have to go through, altitudes…nada, zip.  We were explorers!!!

Just outside Quito we entered jungle territory.   We turned, curved, swerved, veered, and twisted around what seemed like an endless array of winding mountainous curves.   We were treated to lush landscape of palm trees, banana palms, and elephant ear monster-sized plants along with waterfall after waterfall after waterfall.

We finally descended out of the hills and onto the flat lands without anyone in the car puking….though are heads were still spinning.  George followed along on the map so we could visually see our progress in inches-accomplished and inches-to-go. 

In Santo Domingo, we pulled into a huge KFC for lunch and a bit of rest.   It was the first and ONLY fast food joint with a drive-thru I’ve seen yet in Ecuador. 

Driving through the area of Chone was bizaare.   Heavy rains caused LOTS of muddy slides and had closed the highway a few weeks before.  Chone was still under water.  We saw houses in low-lying areas halfway under water.  Half of the town streets were still under water.  

As far as the road goes, we experienced just about everything.   There were stretches of new, wide road…then it would be reduced to something wider than 1 lane, full of potholes that I expertly darted (tossing my passengers about like dolls), then become nothing but dirt and gravel, then new pavement, then back again.   We had no clue how long we were going to have to endure this…all the way to the coast?  Another mile?   My nerves were getting frayed.   This went on for probably an hour.   I kept saying 'THIS is the highway to the coast?'.   It was more like a back-country road headed to Farmer Johns' spread.

Now we were coming up against the loss of daylight.   We decided to forego heading up to Manta, Bahia de Caraquez, and Crucita....places I know little about but have heard mentioned many times in various Expat postings.   I do know Manta is a big tuna port and now they have a cruise ship terminal.   Already we were trimming our trip agenda.   Onward to Portoviejo and Jipijapa (which I nicked name Jiffy Pop) then over to Puerto Cayo where we would finally arrive at the ocean, then down the coast to Montanita where we planned to stay overnight.  Crossing from Jiffy Pop to Puerto Cayo in the dark was a test of my abilities to avoid surprise slides that only seemed to be located on a curve.   Visualize:  driving around a corner in the dark, no warnings, no orange cones, no flashers and voila....a mushy pile of dirt, rock, and vegetation ooozed across your lane.  SURPRISE!!!    I scored a 100 (misses, that is...not hits).

We arrived in Montanita around 7:30pm.  It was verrrrry humid and the small village was hopping with people milling about the streeets in surfer shorts sans shirts, bikinis, flip-flops, and slurrping down beers.  Open-air restaurants were full, too.   This, on a Monday night.  Montanita is a party town of the young set..surfers and new millenium hippies.   I fit right in....HA!!!  High season is December through March/April.  

The hotel I stayed in before was booked.  We didn't make reservations beforehand because we really didn't know where we would end up...if we would make it all the way to Montanita from Quito in one day.  The owner made a few calls for us and walked us down to another hotel where a room was available for $40 but it had no AC nor pool nor jacuuzi like his business establishment had.  And, it was smack dab in the party zone, thus more nighttime noise.   It was on the 5th floor.  We lugged our baggage up 65 steps to our room, dripping wet with sweat.    Even though we had windows on 3 sides of our large room, there was little breeze.  UGH.

A quick fresh-up (if that was even possible) and we headed out for dinner and beers.  I should've ordered two large beers from the get-go as I chugged the first one down like a glass of water.   Sweat was pouring out of my head and dripping on the table.  I HATE HUMIDITY!!!

The next day, we WERE going to go to Puerto Lopez and take the 'poor mans Galapagos' boat tour ($45 per person) to the island Isla de la Plata, but after talking to the tour salesperson, George decided it wasn't as interesting as he had hoped for.  Yes, there were weird looking birds but he'd seen birds before, and yes you could snorkle, but he'd done that before, and the whale-watching season had passed, and it would be an all-day thing, 90 minutes boating to and 90 back.  He was hoping to see tortugas....large tortoises, but we were told there weren't any.   So...we nixed it, stayed in town, and enjoyed the beach.   While roaming around, we ran into two women from Cuenca we knew.  Later that day, we rendevoused with them at a shack bar on the beach and enjoyed several cocktails and yummy food while the sun set.  The mosquitos thoroughly enjoyed dining on me.

The next day, it was only George and I that continued on.  Raul's cousin, from Columbia, was also in Montanita.   Raul is a clothes designer and she was wearing much of his designs.  Someone commented on her clothes and she told them they were designed by her cousin Raul.  They wanted to meet Raul as they owned a store in the area and might be interested in carrying his line.  So, Raul stayed in town to have meetings with them over the next couple days.   Later, he took a bus to GYE, then another to CUE to catch up with us back home.

At this point in the trip, I was now in familiar territory.  I drove to Salinas to show George what it was like and we had a seafood lunch at my favorite beach shack (from when I stayed there for 2 weeks back in August).  

Again, we amended our plan and decided to head straight home to Cuenca instead of checking out the town of Playas between Salinas and GYE.   We were a little fried from the beach and decided another beach town was not the best idea.  We left Montanita around 11:30 am, had lunch in Salinas, then drove the rest of the way home to Cuenca and arrived back at my house close to 7pm.  A very smooth trip with lot of open highway where I could enjoy flying along at 70 mph, that is until we got to the point of climbing into the Andes but, again, it was familiar territory so no biggie.

It was nice to be home after 7 days and 930 miles on the road.  Gracie was beside herself to see us.   The cats, well....they didn't give a rip.

Enjoy the photos.  Since I've already posted photos of Banos and Montanita in previous blog entries, I didn't re-post them here.  Just look back in the archives if you want to see them.

Dano

The 'White House' of Ecuador....The Presidential Palace


A Monastery

A beautiful old theater in Quito. It had a fire awhile back and they are attempting to restore it.  The interior motif was breathtaking.

Over the interior lobby of the theater.

'Just' another beautiful building in the old colonial area of Quito.

Church

Inside that church....dripping in gold

Looking up inside the dome.  The floors were very creaky in this building.  Every step you took could be heard by everyone.

More of old colonial Quito.

One of 3 churches inside a huge convent.


Another 'church' inside the convent.  It was soooo quiet you could hear a pin drop.  Look at the ceiling!!

Closeup of the ceiling.

Closeup of the dome above the altar.

Another church on a hill we climbed, and climbed, and climbed....to reach the level where the Basilica was.  Remember, we're at nearly 9,000 feet.   Only to find out the Basilica was DOWN the hill from us!!!!

The view of Quito from the Angel.  See the Basilica (with two clock towers) on the left?  That's the sucker we climbed!!!

The angel on the hill overlooking Quito.

The pedestal the angel stands on.  You can climb up inside to the intricate black railing encompassing the base.

Stained glass window in the pedestal base.

Inside the sphere the angel stands on.  Each of those square, aluminum pieces are numbered and assembled in numerical order.

Sunset on Montanita beach.

3 comments:

  1. Dano!!

    Raul & I are missing you already! What great fun we had on this "circle trip" with you.

    Again - thank you so much for your generosity and for your company! You ROCK!

    Talk soon buddy... George

    PS - Love to Gracie & the cats!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dano.. so glad you are changing the negative tone of your posts into a postive one... remember: you are here because your country didn't retire you with enough money so you could stay there.. so be grateful and humble

    ReplyDelete
  3. Enjoyed this travelogue, Dano. Felt as if I were there. Hope Raul was able to get his designs in the store. Thx.

    ReplyDelete

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About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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