Ecuador

One of my favorite things about being a blogger is getting to re-live the foods, meals, restaurants, and experiences as I’m writing about them.  Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to blog about a new recipe I’ve made.  By the time I’m writing about it, I’m craving it again!  This is one of those moments.
 
I couldn’t be happier <finally> writing about our trip to Ecuador right now.  I’m sitting in our room with the windows open, warm and tucked under my blanket, football is on, my dog is snoozing in her bed a few inches away, and most of all… I’m clean!  I am showered and clean.  I am seriously enjoying the re-living of our Ecuador experience in quite a different situation than the actual first time.  
 
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m about to blow you away with some pretty gorgeous pictures of waterfalls and the jungle… but this trip of ours was just a little bit too close to “roughing” it for this princess.  It was certainly an adventure!  
Let me start off by telling you about our flights.  We were to arrive in Quito, the capital of Ecuador around midnight (cue the South American Capital song that only JUST got out of my head) via Philly > Dallas > El Salvador.  It was a total of 13 hours.  Not so bad?  After a long cab ride, we arrived in the Mariscal area or the “New City” and made our way to our first hostel.
ecuador world
Have I mentioned yet that we literally “backpacked”?  Like, we each had a back pack.  And that’s it.  Packing was a nightmare.  OMG!
Our first hostel, Kingdom Kichwa, we actually ended up staying overnight three different times throughout the trip.  We like to think it was our home base in Quito.  The owners were very nice and helpful.  After our first night’s sleep in our private room, we indulged in an amazing breakfast at the hostel.  *I picked this hostel, solely on the reason that in one of the reviews I heard they make their own cheese.  Not kidding* One of the owners, Chasky, had prepared an entire pitcher of FRESH fruit juice, a pot of coffee, fruit, warmed croissants, jam, and to top it all off- homemade butter and A WHEEL of cheese.  We were both in heaven.  And to think- we have TWO MORE breakfasts at this place!! I was “cheesin'”!
That's cheese!  One of the owners of Kingdom Kichwa (Luis)'s family owns a dairy farm in the Andes.  They make their own yogurt, cheese, and butter.

That’s cheese! One of the owners of Kingdom Kichwa (Luis)’s family owns a dairy farm in the Andes. They make their own yogurt, cheese, and butter.

The fruit juice was out of this world.  He used a different mix every day.  Craving it now!

The fruit juice was out of this world. He used a different mix every day. Craving it now!

We spent the day exploring Quito, first to the market in the New City area to shop around and then to the Old City area to see beautiful Spanish colonial style architecture, churches, and lots of gorgeous views.  For $.35 we got to try a traditional food of Quito called Llapingachos: thick pancake-like corn cakes stuffed with cheese.  They are so delicious!  We devoured the one we bought to share as we walked around the city.
Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal- there were about 10 aisles this long with tons of crafts.

Mercado Artesenal La Mariscal- there were about 10 aisles this long with tons of crafts.

We got to go inside a beautiful church in Plaza Grande in old city Quito

We got to go inside a beautiful church in Plaza Grande in old city Quito

The city was beautiful and the backdrop of mountains made it even better.

The city was beautiful and the backdrop of mountains made it even better.

YUM!  The cheese inside was similar to feta- not stringy and just a tad salty.  These pancakes were crispy on the outside and piping hot!

YUM! The cheese inside was similar to feta- not stringy and just a tad salty. These pancakes were crispy on the outside and piping hot!

A massive and gorgeous church.

A massive and gorgeous church.

Before we knew it, it was time to go back to the hostel to get picked up to go to our next destination.  But first, we ate a really yummy lunch at a classy cafe a couple stores down called Fried Bananas.  Dave ordered a Saffron Cream Pasta with Chicken and I got Ecuadorian style Rice with Shrimp.  The best part?  Each entree was not only amazing, but they were both only $5.60!

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Time for a great side-note.  Ecuador uses American dollars.  Weird, right?  This made our lives a lot easier!  Food is VERY inexpensive too.  Which is awesome.

After lunch, we were picked up by a driver to go to our next hostel in Riobamba.  The four hour drive took us to a hostel in Riobamba where we would sleep overnight in preparation for our big hike in the Andes.  Little did we know coming into this situation that Riobamba is certainly a “developing” area.  It was very run down and there were stray dogs everywhere.  We were only comfortable walking to the end of our block to get a bag of Doritos for dinner.  I was then kept up all night hearing them outside fighting one another 😦  … traumatizing!

One of the doggies that lived at our hostel.  She slept outside- I was worried about her all night! (obviously)

One of the doggies that lived at our hostel. She slept outside- I was worried about her all night! (obviously)

Loved this picture of the American flag in our cab in the middle of Ecuador.

Loved this picture of the American flag in our cab in the middle of Ecuador.

Waking up early the next day was exciting.  We were ready for our big hike!  The hike was to be two full days:  one 5-6 hour hiking day to a base camp, and the other day up the El Altar volcano and back.  We had our very own guide and a mule to carry our bags.  We had no idea what we signed ourselves up for.  When we were given rain boots and told to wear them instead of our brand new hiking boots… I should have figured it out.  About 95% of the trail to the base camp consisted of three foot deep clay-like mud.  The. Entire. Way.

I thought my biggest problem was my borrowed (ew) boots being too big as I would take one step and try to get out of the mud, only to have the boot stay in the mud and my foot come flying out.  Every. Step. I. Would. Take.  It only took about fifteen minutes for me to realize what my real issue would soon become:  the altitude.  For those of you who are following- I am in pretty decent shape.  I work out a ton and I ran in the Broad Street 10-Mile Race only a month prior.  I should be okay with this.  Except I wasn’t.  I became very sick very soon after we started our hike up the mountain.  Stabbing headache behind my ears, nausea, dizziness… not good.  The guide had to drag me for about an hour of the trek.

In and out of the mud, we made it to a clearing for lunch.  Once I took a rest and ate a bit, I started to feel better.  The rest of the way was by no means easy, but working together and deciding to stop for rest breaks more often, we made it to the base camp.  It was just beautiful.  Breathtaking.  Only one problem-  it was seriously 40 degrees.  Probably less.  Once we arrived, our tour guide got to work immediately making us TWO whole pots of hot tea and a surprisingly delicious hot dinner.  We met an older married Canadian (eh?!) couple who was also staying there and let me borrow a down jacket.  We went to bed at sunset (6pm) in about seven layers and a sleeping bag.

A quick pic after our lunch break (mid-hike)

A quick pic after our lunch break (mid-hike)

This is what most of the hike looked like , just beautiful!

This is what most of the hike looked like , just beautiful!

Finally arrived at the lodge.

Finally arrived at the lodge.

More tea and our HOT delicious dinner made by our guide.

More tea and our HOT delicious dinner made by our guide.

Happy to not be hiking anymore, but FREEZING!

Happy to not be hiking anymore, but FREEZING!

Dave looking a little better than me at this point!

Dave looking a little better than me at this point!

A panoramic of our view.  Even though we were FREEZING, sleeping in a cabin with this view was spectacular.  The hike to the lagoon at El Altar is to the left where the snow is!

A panoramic of our view. Even though we were FREEZING, sleeping in a cabin with this view was spectacular. The hike to the lagoon at El Altar is to the left where the snow is!

Dave made it to the lagoon at El Altar just in time for sunrise.  GORGEOUS!

Dave made it to the lagoon at El Altar just in time for sunrise. GORGEOUS!

It had been decided after the first part of the hike by our guide that he did not want me to do the climb to the volcano.  Of course we were disappointed but neither of us wanted to risk the altitude sickness again.  Dave left the following morning at around 4:30am to do the hike with the guide.  Turns out it was a very quick hike, but STRAIGHT up the volcano.  Dave was very happy I wasn’t there since my fear of heights would have totally gotten the best of me.  Instead, I spent the morning with our nice Canadian friends and my kindle.  I was still freezing but a very happy girl.  Dave and our guide came back and shared pictures while we ate breakfast and got ready for our muddy way back.  Downhill is always easier.

There was never any down time on our trip and our post-hike was nothing different.  Arriving back in Riobamba, we caught the first bus possible to our next destination:  Banos.  One of the many vacation spots for the locals with spas, hot springs, waterfalls, and good bars.  That’s something I can agree with at this point.  Our hostel in Banos was called Hostal Transilvania and is owned by Israelis.  *I picked this hostel on the advice of a review who talked about their cute puppy.  Again, not kidding.*

Some love from our Hostel Puppy!

Some love from our Hostel Puppy!

Arriving at night, we had a great dinner at a Mexican restaurant and got to bed early.  The next day was one of our busiest!  We woke up early and went white water rafting AND Dave did some canyoning (repelling down waterfalls with cables).  Although I’m always really nervous at first, I LOVE white water rafting!  The water we rafted in this time was really gross and dirty compared to the pristine glacier water when we rafted in Whistler… but it was still so much fun.  I wasn’t brave enough to try canyoning but Dave loved it!  After a dinner with some friends we met along the way, we relaxed and treated our aching muscles in the natural mineral hot springs.

Just a market in town... no big deal :)

Just a market in town… no big deal 🙂

This is what the streets of Banos looks like

This is what the streets of Banos looks like

Our last day in Banos started with a $20 for an HOUR massage- what a deal!  We also got to explore, walking through the city and going on a path where you can see the entire town from afar.  Dave also remembered my friend Melanie suggesting that we find the Pailon del Diablo Falls- a massive waterfall just outside Banos.  The falls were absolutely amazing!  We were soaking wet just from standing nearby for a few minutes.

This is a view looking at the city of Banos.  So many waterfalls... gorgeous!

This is a view looking at the city of Banos. So many waterfalls… gorgeous!

Pailon del Diablo falls was unreal.  The power of the water was just breathtaking.

Pailon del Diablo falls was unreal. The power of the water was just breathtaking.

A different view of the falls

A different view of the falls

Next up on the trip is our adventure in the Amazon Jungle, but first… we got to spend another evening at our favorite hostel- Kingdom Kichwa in Quito.  (More fruit juice and cheese!!)

The best part about getting to our Amazon adventure was the transportation.  Get ready:  First we were picked up in the morning by a taxi and were driven to the airport.  We then took a 1-hour flight to Lago Agrio- another area of Ecuador.  From there, we were picked up and driven by a small bus for two hours to the entrance of the Cuyabano Reserve park.  There we ate a hot lunch and were then taken on another two-hour ride, this time on a motorized canoe!  We saw so many animals along the way- it was so amazing!  The best thing we saw on the way in was a group of about 60 monkeys crossing the river by jumping from one tree and flying across the river to the next.  Every single monkey did it… it was so funny!  Even one fell in the water (he was okay!).

Gorgeous butterflies waiting for us to leave on the canoe

Gorgeous butterflies waiting for us to leave on the canoe

We're on a boat!

We’re on a boat!

Can you see the monkey!? :)

Can you see the monkey!? 🙂

We arrived at the Sionna Lodge which is situated just off of the Laguna Grande (big lake) in the Amazon Basin.  The entire area is just a flooded forest that dries up during the dry season.  It was amazing how it looked like trees were growing out of the water!  We spent 3 nights and 4 days at the lodge with some very interesting and fun people.  Luis, our guide was so knowledgeable.  He was with the group day in and day out for the entire trip.  He knew absolutely everything about every species of animal and plant- from their mating calls, average weight, colors, diets, lifespan, and even down to their scientific name.
Our hut- actually my favorite of all of our accommodations!  Screened in with lots of fresh air, mosquito nets, really nice bathroom, and our very own hammock on the back deck!

Our hut- actually my favorite of all of our accommodations! Screened in with lots of fresh air, mosquito nets, really nice bathroom, and our very own hammock on the back deck!

We had the most amazing tour guide- Luis.  This is the Wandering Brazilian Banana Spider I was telling you about!

We had the most amazing tour guide- Luis. This is the Wandering Brazilian Banana Spider I was telling you about!

During our stay at the Sionna Lodge we had several motorized canoe rides throughout the laguna and the jungle where we were able to observe tons of wildlife.  We saw so many monkeys (SO MANY MONKEYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!), birds, butterflies, fish, dolphins, anacondas, insects, and even cayman (like an alligator or crocodile!).  We went on night walks where the only light in the jungle came from our headlamps.  We also took a sunrise boat ride and got to see the beautiful scene unfold over the laguna grande.  We went on a two hour ride even further into the jungle to see a native Shaman and a community where we got to learn how to make Cassava from yucca that we pulled out of the ground.  I could go on and on… this part of the trip was truly amazing, and my favorite for sure.
One of my favorite pics of our first night there.  Just before a storm.

One of my favorite pics of our first night there. Just before a storm.

Just one of the sights as seen on our night hike in the jungle.  SCARY!

Just one of the sights as seen on our night hike in the jungle. SCARY!

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

Shaman!

Shaman!

Peeling some Yucca

Peeling some Yucca

Making some Cassava- yucca flour pancakes

Making some Cassava- yucca flour pancakes

We got to try a few pieces of Cassava with some VERY hot chili sauce!

We got to try a few pieces of Cassava with some VERY hot chili sauce!

Sunset

Sunset

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Our jungle day walk- check out that tree!

Our jungle day walk- check out that tree!

Luis looking for wildlife- he could literally see the smallest camoflauged animal from 100+ yards away.  He knew everything about every species- unbelievable!

Luis looking for wildlife- he could literally see the smallest camoflauged animal from 100+ yards away. He knew everything about every species- unbelievable!

Back at the lodge, not only did we have comfortable, clean accommodations, but we had our very own chefs!  The group ate delicious, hot meals three times a day.  The food was outstanding.  I was in shock.  I wasn’t at all expecting to have such great food all the way out in the jungle.  We even got the chef to share his recipe for Aji- the hot sauce we fell in love with that is served with most food in Ecuador.
This was one of my favorite spots- the reading room!

This was one of my favorite spots- the reading room!

We were given a handwritten recipe for Aji- the Columbian hot sauce that we fell in love with.

We were given a handwritten recipe for Aji- the Columbian hot sauce that we fell in love with.

After our dream trip to the Amazon was done- we canoed, drove, and flew and drove back to our home base in Quito- the good ole Kingdom Kichwa!  On our final day in Ecuador, we spent some time walking around the old city of Quito.  We also had to take the opportunity for some last minute gorgeous photos at a lookout point- a cable car ride and 13,000+ feet above sea level!  The view was spectacular.  You could see the entire sprawling city, the mountains, and beautiful landscape.

Quito

Quito

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Enjoying some 5 cent Ice Cream on the street :)

Enjoying some 5 cent Ice Cream on the street 🙂

Loving this adorable city!

Loving this adorable city!

The view from the lookout point.  That's only a portion of it too... the city just goes on forever!

The view from the lookout point. That’s only a portion of it too… the city just goes on forever!

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After we came back down from the lookout point, it was pretty much time to get going to the airport.  What an adventure!  I was sad to go but happy to come back home and not wear these clothes for a very long time!!

If you are planning a trip or have any questions, feel free to contact us!  We loved Ecuador in so many different ways and definitely recommend it to anyone trying to go on a really fun and affordable adventure vacation.  Now the important question to leave you with here is… where should we go next?!??

 

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