Ecuador, Colombia · 19 Days · 34 Moments · June 2017

Aarohi's adventure in Ecuador

1 July 2017

Day 85- had another relaxing start with a lie in and a yummy brunch (amazing coffee and bagel with cream cheese!) before we hit the market to snag some bargains. The market is brilliant- an explosion of colour with all sorts of textiles. Jumpers, blankets, tablecloths, rugs, ponchos, hammocks, all sold by Otavaleños in their traditional dress (hat, lacy blouses with puffy sleeves and skirts with lots of jewellery) It was brilliant! And none of the stall holders were overly pushy which I really appreciated. I was in bright colour heaven. We each bought a couple of bits (it's honestly impossible to resist) and then headed to the bus station to go to Ibarra. It's supposed to be a pretty colonial town but we were underwhelmed in truth. However, it was worth the stop as we had some yummy Mexican for lunch and their famous sorbet (worth the stop alone!) Made it to Tulcan and crossed the border with no issues, getting to Ipiales for dinner.

30 June 2017

Day 84- we had a chilled start with breakfast and then had to say bye to Eric and Rachelle. It's been so great spending the last few days with them but I'm sure we'll keep in touch. They're off to Baños and Austin and I are heading to Otavalo. Jenny has decided to go to Quito first and then catch up with us later. There are no direct buses to Otavalo so we had to change at Quito but luckily didn't have to change terminals. The journey was painless and we made it to Otavalo in good time (even though we got dropped off at the side of the highway!!) Our hostel had a really nice terrace with a view of the whole town so we chilled there with a bottle of wine before getting dinner at a pizza restaurant (treat for Austin)
Day 83- quite a difficult day as we were all tired and the hike was 85% uphill. We had a great breakfast and then Brian José (son who ran the hostel) suggested we change our route to walk straight to Quilotoa rather than Sigchos (our original plan had been to get a milk truck from there) as it was a much more beautiful walk. It was a 25km walk so we weren't so keen initially but then realised we could take a milk truck for part of the way. Which is exactly what we did, ending up in the back of an empty horse trailer lol- such a bumpy ride! We then got walking towards the crater rim- quite steep uphill and a dense fog crept in suddenly which made it challenging but we got to have lunch in a cloud. The views of the lake weren't as good today due to the fog but we walked all the way along the rim until we reached our start point, climbing and descending through some steep slopes. The high of finishing was great though and Eric sped us back to Latacunga where we met Jenny for dinner.
Meanwhile, he ended up at the bottom of the valley, surrounded by 3 aggressive dogs who he had to bribe off with cookies lol. He did eventually make it to where we were and we reached our hostel with no further mishaps. This hostel has been my favourite in the whole trip so far! Really clean, stunning views, run by a family (down to abuela and abuelo) and they had a pet calf and llama- what more can I ask for? I even got to feed the llama salt- apparently they need more than they can get through their diet. We had a yummy dinner and got chatting to 2 Kiwi couples who had been on the San Jose the week before us! It's such a small world. They were really nice and interesting to talk to. After dinner, we played dice (I won) and went to bed. Total walking time- 6hrs, distance 14km

29 June 2017

Day 82- another gorgeous hike today. The hostel had the best breakfast I've had in south America- yoghurt, granola, fruit, eggs. Heaven. We had a hilarious moment when Eric asked if he could have my leftover cheese- I said yes without looking up. Turns out, he wasn't asking me, he was asking Austin! Apparently he has automatic first dibs for any food I don't eat lol. Eric told us about how he nearly fell out with a friend because he ate Rachelle's leftover steak without checking with him first lol- you learn something new everyday! We had a chilled start as it wasn't as strenuous a day as yesterday. We walked along the valley until we came to the river and followed it for a while. It was so beautiful, meadows full of yellow and purple flowers. We stopped at a plateau for lunch and then continued climbing. At one point, we were trying to work out the route but Eric got too impatient and decided to walk ahead. We figured out the correct route 30s later and made it to where we had to be
It was a really nice place with stunning views overlooking the route we'd just done. The lady who worked there showed us the route we had to take tomorrow but she was hilarious. There are apparently two bridges on the route and she was very insistent about which one we had to take (primero, NO! Segundo, SI!) She even drew a big tree on the map to make sure we understood her lol. After dinner, we played poker (Austin would like it noted that he won but I gave him a tough game!) and had a glass of wine. Perfect way to unwind after a hard day's hike! Distance- 15km, time- 7hours, ascent
The route initially took us around the rim of the crater and it was really cool to see the lake from different angles. The weather was also perfect, sunny but not too hot. Once we turned off the crater, there was a big downhill section with amazing views over the surrounding valleys where we stopped for lunch (empanadas we had bought were a complete disaster) After some STEEP downhill sections, we eventually got to a bridge to cross the river as per our directions. Except bridge is a gross overstatement. It was literally 3 logs across the river. Leading to a near vertical sandy cliff. We initially thought we'd come the wrong way but then saw a sign at the top of the cliff. Omg, that was such a hard climb! The steepness is one thing but what made it so difficult was the sand- my feet just couldn't get purchase. Right near the top, I actually started to slide down and Eric had to pull me up! Luckily we all made it through alive lol. We made it to our hostel after some steep uphill climbs

28 June 2017

Day 81- it's been such a great day! We started early, driving to Quilotoa via Pujili- for market day today, where we spent a fruitless 20 minutes trying to find some tea for Austin. He didn't learn from his last trip to south America that tea is a rare commodity here lol. He was so caffeine deprived that he gave up and had a cup of coffee instead- never thought I would see the day! We continued driving through some amazing scenery (big hills and valleys, covered in patchwork of greens), through Zumbahuan where we saw some canyons before reaching Quilotoa village, where we parked the car and started our trek. The Laguna is absolutely beautiful! A massive volcanic cater filled with perfect turquoise water, it was a stunning sight and a great way to start. We initially wanted to walk all the way down the crater but quickly realised it was a bad idea as its a really steep slope and high altitude (3800m) so instead started the hike to Chugchilan, the village we were staying at tonight.
We found a nice hostel slightly out of town, where the receptionist gave us really good advice for the trek- we're now going to drive to Quilotoa village as its a gorgeous drive and start from the lake instead of ending there. We hung out at the bar, the boys played pool (Austin would like it noted that he won against Eric lol) and then had amazing Mexican food before bed- perfect start for tomorrow!
Day 80- we had a slightly later than expected start as Eric and Rachelle had car trouble yesterday- they had initially rented a small manual but between Eric's driving skills (he normally drives an automatic), Quito's steep hills and Google's crap directions (it tried to send them up some stairs lol) it was a stressful drive from the airport so they decided to change to a bigger automatic. We met them at the teleferico (they hadn't done it either) and I got a second ride with the amazing views- it was a much clearer day so we could see even more. We then stopped at a supermarket to grab some snacks (including 8 different types of Ecuadorian dark chocolate- it's important to sample the local delicacies!) and lunch before driving down to Latacunga. The drive was great fun and we stopped at Cotopaxi national park on the way to see the mountain but it was too cloudy to see the peak unfortunately. Austin, Eric and Rachelle are getting on well and I'm sure we're going to have a great trek.

26 June 2017

Day 79- Austin arrived today! But before that, I did the Ruta de Cascadas in Baños by chiva (open sided truck) I don't know if I'm becoming saturated with seeing beautiful scenery but I was a bit underwhelmed with the trip. The tour itself was a bit gimmicky- loud blaring music (ay caramba song!) trying to sell zip lining etc but the last waterfall (Pillon del Diablo) was pretty and my fellow passengers (all Ecuadorians) were so friendly. They were OBSESSED with selfies though- it was constant and I was a frequent addition. After the chiva, I got a yummy Greek wrap for lunch and then the bus back to Quito (easier journey than the first time!) where Austin joined me. Jenny went to the jungle today and she's heading to the Quilotoa hike tomorrow which she is keen to do by herself. Rachelle and I managed to text and the 4 of us are going to do the hike together which will be brilliant I'm sure! They've hired a car and we're driving to Latacunga tomorrow- can't wait to see them again.

23 June 2017

So we decided to follow the trail marked on the map instead. We got so completely lost because the trail isn't marked correctly and there are no signs anywhere that I have no idea how we actually made it to Casa del Arbol. It was so funny. But we did make it and the hike there as well as the view when we finally arrived were completely stunning. The mountains covered in lush greenery with neat farms in between and the sheer drop into the valley- absolutely gorgeous. It reminded me so much of Ella in Sri Lanka. The swing was really fun too! Quite scary as you swing over the edge overlooking the valley so feel like you like fall at any second. Afterwards, we walked down to the spa (this time via the road!) where they have thermal baths overlooking the mountains. It was so spectacularly beautiful lying there in the hot water. And the hotel had the best shower I've had in south America- cherry on top! We then had dinner at a nice restaurant in town where you ate sitting on the floor.
Day 78- had such a great day today! We decided to hike up to Casa del Arbol, a treehouse with a great view over Baños and Mt Turungaruha as well as the famous swing at the end of the world (no idea why it's called that) The hike up was hilarious. The initial part is really steep and muddy but we made it to Bellavista point without any mishaps, even though we had to literally scramble up using our hands at the last bit! We were so hot and sweaty by this point because the weather app lied to us completely. The predicted temperature was 5 degrees with rain. Not that I'm complaining but it was hot and sunny. Which meant we were unnecessarily carrying jumpers and rain jackets. We stopped off at a very posh spa hotel on the way that had been recommended to us by a friend​ and ditched our excess stuff. We met an American girl called Vanessa there, travelling alone and she joined us for the rest of the hike. The hotel advised us to follow the road but we wanted to be adventurous/stupid.

21 June 2017

Day 77-had a lovely sleep with no rocking for a change!We faffed around a bit in the morning and then decided to go to the teleferico as Jenny is now going straight to Quilotoa and not coming back to Quito. It's one of the highest cable cars in the world taking you up to 4000m, near the peak of Mt Pinchincha.The view from the top is amazing- you can see all of Quito(I hadn't realised how big it is!)as well as the 10 volcanoes that surround it. Stunning. We had lunch at a food truck before saying bye to Mike- he's such a nice guy, I'm sure we'll stay in touch. We then headed to the regional bus station to get the bus to Baños. Easier said than done. The station is 14km out of town and we decided to get the bus there. Omg, it was so packed and there was SO much BO. The whole bus honestly stank of fish, it was gross. But we made it safely and the bus to Baños was a coach so much better. The scenery en route was really pretty- Ecuador is so green and I hadn't realised how much I've missed​
Mike had offered to share his hotel room with us- such a sweet guy! We were starving by the time we reached and the hotel (nicest one we've stayed at in South America lol) was just around the corner from a really nice restaurant so we decided to treat ourselves to a tasting menu- omg so delicious! Food inspired from different regions of Ecuador, washed down with a glass of Sauvigion Blanc and finished with the best chocolate dessert I've had. Jenny had a different pudding with her menu and they made blackberry sorbet at the table with liquid nitrogen- love a bit of food theatre lol. It was a really lovely evening and we ended up in a local brewery (also near the hotel) where we treated Mike to a beer because he wouldn't let us split the cost of the hotel.

20 June 2017

Day 76- we had to wake up early for our final stop, Isla Seymour. In the middle of the night, there had been such a severe wave that our beds had moved and slammed into the door! But no other drama and we weren't injured. Seymour is a tiny island colonised by blue footed boobies and frigates. We got to see the boobies dancing, see some new born chicks as well as slightly older ones (both frigate and booby) and saw the frigates with their red balloons all puffed up as they try to attract a mate. All from a distance of under a metre. It was such a brilliant​ way to end our trip. Afterwards, we sailed to Baltra and were taken to the airport where we said our goodbyes! Barbara and I have already agreed to meet for tea once we're home (they're only 20min away) and Eric and Rachel might be joining us for the Quilotoa hike which would be brilliant! Our flight was delayed by nearly an hour so it was 6pm by the time we landed in Quito and we hadn't realised how far the airport is from town.
Our group has honestly been brilliant- we were having a laugh a minute. After drinks, we headed back to the boat and got dressed up (well as close to it as we can manage atm!) for our last dinner. The crew all came up to say bye to us- they've looked after us so well. We had a few more drinks, played more poker (I got given a new nickname- the phoenix because I rose from the ashes) and just talked and laughed. Had a last look at the amazing stars. It was past midnight by the time we went to bed.
Day 75- our last full day on the boat and probably the most fun socially! After breakfast, we hopped over to Puerto Ayora where we got a bus to the Highlands to see tortoises in the wild. They're amazing- such a range of sizes, eating fallen guavas "like cookies" (as per Victor Hugo) There were some empty shells so of course we had to climb in and pretend to be tortoises. We also saw tortoises having sex- hilarious! They can move pretty fast when they want to! In the afternoon, we went to the Charles Darwin research centre to see more tortoises bred in captivity and see the exhibitions about the islands' history. There is a tortoise called Super Diego who saved one species from extinction- he was the last male left and has fathered 800 babies! The centre also had the body of Lonesome George, the last Pinta island tortoise who died in 2012- it's been taxidermied and put in a shrine! So bizzare but hilarious. We had free time in town after the centre so went to a bar for some cocktails.
Day 74
Day 74
Day 73
Day 73
Day 72
Day 72

18 June 2017

We then sailed to Tagus Cove, where we went snorkelling again and saw more fish and turtles and so many starfish! Yellow and red, bigger than I've ever seen before. We also got to swim with penguins. This honestly is the trip of a lifetime and I feel so so lucky that I am here. In the afternoon, we went on a mini hike to Darwin Lake which was beautiful with lovely views over the sea. In the evening, Rachel taught me and Jenny how to play poker and I loved it! I won the first game but Eric was convinced it was beginner's luck for he challenged me to another game- I cleaned him out in 3 hands! 3 of a kind to beat his pocket aces- the look on his face is one of the highlights of my trip lol. He has dubbed me the poker vixen/poker prodigy which I quite like :) Mike, Rachel and Jen played too and it was such a fun evening.
Day 71- we've already settled into a nice rhythm. We go snorkeling twice a day, have two land based activities a day and sail and have meals in between lol. It's so relaxing, the weather has been perfect and best of all, we've seen brilliant animals and birds. Who are so unused to feeling threatened by humans that we can walk right up to them without them running away. The crossing was a bit rough overnight but I took some promethazine and managed to sleep through it. We started off with a walk on lava fields at Punta Moreno (still on Isabela) The lava is amazing to see, with different formations from rope lava to sharp rocks to aerated lava that looks like bone marrow. We then we went deep sea snorkelling (with wetsuits- the water was freezing!) where we saw tons of fish and so many sea turtles! I've never seen that many turtles in my life, it was amazing. There was one huge female with an enormous barnacle on her shell, being cleaned by smaller fish- symbiosis in action.
In the afternoon, we sailed to Puerto Villamil, a town on Isabela where we visited a flamingo lagoon(not as many flamingoes as Bolivia but more vividly pink)and a tortoise breeding centre.Due to volcanic activity and human trafficking, a few years ago the tortoises on Isabela nearly became extinct- only 4 left! So they were brought into captivity and bred and the babies are released back to the wild at the ages of 5-10years. The tortoises are cute and funny to watch. We then had some free time in town so we all got a beer. I love our group, they're​ all so nice and friendly, easy to get along with and funny!After our shit experience on the trek, Jen and I are both so grateful for a fun group! In the evening after dinner, we went to the upper deck to look at the stars-just so beautiful. It was a clear night, with no surrounding lights and no moon so we could even see the Milky Way and tons of shooting stars. A moment of pure peace, feeling​ so tiny and yet completely at one with nature
Day 70- we had sailed overnight to Isla Isabela, where our first stop was Las Tintoreras, a canal like area where wildlife gets trapped by low tide. It was another beautiful sunny day (so nice to be warm!) and we walked along the lava, encountering countless marine iguanas and more birds including the yellow warbler before we came to the canal where we saw sea lions, white tipped reef sharks. The landscape itself is so interesting to see too- rock formations made from black lava with razor sharp edges, surrounded by the most stunning blue, turquoise and green ocean. After, we headed back to the boat for breakfast​ and then sailed to Concha Perla, for snorkelling. It's an amazing snorkel site- very calm, warm water and best of all, we got to snorkel with sea lions pups!! They're so playful and energetic, not scared of humans and very curious so they would come right up to our faces to investigate what is unusual creatures we were- it was brilliant! Best snorkelling​ I've​ ever done.

15 June 2017

Lunch was brilliant and I feel like we're going to be properly looked after for a whole week. Victor Hugo has a schedule and everything- it's a nice luxury to be told what to do, when to eat and to not have to make any decisions! After lunch, the boat started and we set off! Our first stop was Bachas beach- we walked around the island first and saw so much already! Marine iguanas, mockingbird​, pelicans, terns, oyster catchers, crabs, lizards and of course, Darwin finches. We then went snorkeling off the beach and saw so many fish, an eel and a green sea turtle! I got so excited following the turtle that I had to be called back because I swam too far out lol. We then got back to the boat in time to see a spectacular sunset, meet the crew and have dinner. By this point, I was knackered so it was an early night for me! The sea has been fairly calm and the boat mostly just rocks side to side which is beautifully soporific- feels like I'm a baby again,back in my godiyu
Day 69-woke up bright and early to say bye to everyone at home (usual series of disasters- internet at the hotel didn't work so we went to a café but they were all closed except one whose internet didn't work so we ended up back at our agency!) and caught the bus to Baltra airport where we were leaving from. Our group seems really lovely! We met Sue (55yr old American travelling alone), Mike(27yr old American travelling alone), Martin and Barbara (older English couple, SO cute), Jeff and Helen (older American/Aussie couple), Eric and Rachel (middle aged Canadian couple) and Kerry and Chuck (American couple) with their daughter Gen (13yr old). Everyone is so excited​ to be here in the Galapagos, so positive and full of energy. I have a great feeling about the group :) our guide seems amazing too- his name is Victor Hugo (not just Victor- only his enemies call him that lol) and he's been in this job for 11yrs! The boat is AMAZING! Our cabin is quite fancy with real beds and a nice shower

14 June 2017

Had a mild panic when we saw they were all closed but we were told everyone was just having a siesta- isn't island culture amazing? After lunch, we only had to visit 3 agencies before we found our deal- 8 day cruise, leaving tomorrow, superior class for $1400 (original price was $3850!) The itinerary looks amazing, going to the Northwestern and central islands where we should see all the animals. I am so so excited. Our agent was a lovely guy named Edgar who totally fancies Jenny. He told us about a small beach on the other side of the island and we headed there after dinner. There wasn't another soul in sight, pure white sand, the moon was full and low against the horizon with a beautiful red tint- just perfect. I'm completely moved by how peaceful it is here. We stayed there for an hour or so and then headed back to the hotel, all ready for our cruise tomorrow!
Our bags were sprayed with an insecticide/pesticide, manually searched on landing to double check we weren't bringing in anything and checked by sniffer dogs too. It's really good to see that the protection for the islands is being maintained. We walked out and wow! It's so beautiful. The sun was shining, gorgeous blue skies and beautiful island landscape. It's not like any other tropical island- not as green or lush, I guess due to the volcanic, rocky soil? I'm not sure why but it makes for a unique looking landscape. We landed on Baltra island and had to take a bus to the edge to catch a ferry. While waiting for our ferry, we saw pelicans, crabs, terns and herons! I can't wait for the proper cruise and all the animals! After the very short ferry (honestly, they should just build a bridge!),we got a 50min taxi to get to Puerto Ayora- the main town on Santa Cruz island. We checked into our hostel and walked to the main street looking for agencies.

12 June 2017

Day 68- we had the most ridiculous start to the day. Jenny was sick again this morning and we both were worried she could be pregnant. Despite her implant​. Worried enough to check anyway because it doesn't make sense! She even used the infamous phrase "I feel like there's something inside me" She's not. Obviously. I'm not sure which one of us is more relieved lol. It would have been a disastrous start to the Galapagos. She then found a giant cockroach in her bag and completely freaked out which added to the hilarity of the morning once she'd calmed down. We were already mildly delirious by the time we got to the airport and then were told that we couldn't get on the flight until we proved we had a return flight back. Luckily we had reached early so had enough time to buy a ticket, go through the Galapagos screening process and make our flight. We were still the last time board("passengers Patel and Shah to Gate 3") but no other dramas. They take biosecurity for the island so seriously
Day 67- woke up early after yet another rubbish sleep at Kokopelli- we're doomed in that hostel lol but went straight to the airport and made our flights to Guayaquil with no issues. We've both heard and read such stories about how dangerous Guayaquil is that I think we were both very nervous but our hotel was nice enough and we went for a walk along the Macelon- the riverside path which apparently is the only thing to do in Guayaquil lol. It was so busy with lots of local families as it was Sunday. We attempted to go to the cinema to watch Wonder Woman but it was only showing in Spanish and as much as I've learnt, I don't think it's good enough yet! Had an early dinner and an early night, ready for the Galapagos tomorrow! I'm so glad we decided to skip Guayaquil- it's fine as a stopover but would have been a waste to have come here otherwise.