Monday, July 4, 2011

Republica del Ecuador: In and Around Quito

Aaaaand we're back!

Welcome to the first in a three part series of blogs about our freshly completed 16 day trek to and through Ecuador.  I didn't want to overload anyone with too much information so it is being broken up into the three main parts of the trip.  Part one below is in regards to the times we spent around the capital, Quito.

Quito was somewhat of a home base where we would start and finish our couple side trips.  Most of the time we were there, we stayed at a great, family-run hostal.

Doesn't look like much but it's clean, serves breakfast, and is very secure!

Couldn't complain about the view from our room!
On our first full day in Ecuador, we headed out to a little town called Otavalo.  It is known for having an ENORMOUS open air market.  The biggest day is, of course, Saturday but we were there on Sunday.  It was still a sight to behold.  It probably would have been completely overwhelming to be there on the peak day.  It was a great place to see some local crafts and buy things for ourselves as well as gifts for family.

After visiting the market, we headed just outside of town to a place called Parque Condor.  It is a facility for large birds which functions as a rehabilitation center as well as an educational center for the public.  My father-in-law and brother-in-law, both being falconers, have been involved in different ways with rescuing and working with birds there in the past.  No good pictures of birds unfortunately because it rained pretty hard and I did not want to have my camera out.  But trust me that they were some incredible creatures.  Below is a picture of the legit wingspan of an Andean Condor in relation to my own wingspan.

On both the first and last nights of our trip, we bebopped down to an old, restored part of Quito called, "La Ronda".  As it turns out, it used to be a real seedy part of town but in the last couple years, they have cleaned it up and it has become quite the quaint, lively, cobblestoned destination.

Taken at dusk
Funny mime
Talented spray paint artist
Almost worthy of its own blog post is Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World).  Just north of Quito lies the equator and several monuments and museums in its honor.  Please note that, despite what the staff at these varies places would have you think, none of them really have the true equator.  At the time of the creation of the touristy lines in the ground, the general area was known, but not necessarily the exact spot (until, of course, GPS technology).  But the important thing is to recognize the significance and let those establishments have their fun.

Leni, me and Landon at the big monument.  I'm on the line :)
Partaking in the cheesy gimmick
Restaurants at Mitad del Mundo are known for a couple things but one of the most important is Cuy.  Cuy (known to you as guinea pig) is delicious.  If you have ever watched the show, "Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern", you might remember the episode where he went to a restaurant near Mitad del Mundo and ate several Ecuadorian treats, including cuy.  We went to the very same restaurant where Andrew enjoyed his cuy and even got to watch the episode while we waited for our meal.  While we enjoyed each others' company and some refreshing drinks inside, the cuy was slow roasting by a hot fire outside.

Also close to Mitad del Mundo is an incredibly gorgeous caldera called Pululahau.  It was just a five minute taxi ride away and SO worth it.  The views were incredibly stunning.  The land down in the bottom is so lush and there are even some species down there that only grow in that place.

The "mountain" in the middle is in the center of the caldera so you are only seeing half of the caldera in this photo
The last thing we did on "Mitad del Mundo" day was to visit an ancient Incan ruin.  It was the remnants of an old fort they once occupied.  It was very cool to be on the old stomping grounds of a culture I'd studied as a child.

So there you have it - the cliff notes version of our interspersed days in Quito.  There are, unfortunately, no photographs of Leni's aunt Becky and uncle German who are long-time Quito residents.  But seeing them and getting to know them better was such a blessing and much credit goes to German for doing a lot of logistical work for us ahead of time as far as reservations and playing taxi driver for us while we were there.  They are such amazing people and I look forward to the next time we get to see them.

Stay tuned for the part two blog post coming.  Subject matter: the trip to the thermal hot springs, which were mentioned in a previous post.  Until then....

Keep It Real!

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