Week 3 – Quito, Ecuador
Hi guys! This week we’ve swum in waterfalls, biked down mountains and cartwheeled (or attempted to) on the equator!
Today we had to wake up early in order to be picked up for our tour to the Mindo Cloud Forest. Mindo is a nature reserve famous for its beautiful scenery, its waterfalls and its abundant wildlife, in particular birds. As the name suggests, it often has low lying clouds that keep it lush and green!
We chose to visit Mindo on a tour with a man named Washington. He seems to be partnered with our Spanish school, and advertises his trips there. If we had more time we would have spent a weekend in Mindo, but with limited time, this seemed like a good solution to fit as much in as possible.
Our first stop was at a crater called Pululahua. Unlike a lot of the other volcanic craters in Ecuador, this one hasn’t developed a caldera (crater lake), and instead people live inside the crater. Apparently the farmland is really good because of the volcanic ash. It’s last eruption was 2,500 years ago and the volcano is technically dormant, but I’m still not sure I’d want to live there!
After a lot of hairpin bends (seriously, the road had so many turns!) we arrived in Mindo town. It is quite touristy and is very different to Quito. The main street had lots of wooden fronted shops advertising tours or selling souvenirs. It felt really peaceful though, and you could see the forest in the background. We wandered through their park, which had lots of beautiful plants and really tall trees.
The first attraction we were going to see was the cloud forest itself. There are a series of waterfalls that you can hike to and even swim in! Washington drove us up to the top of a hill and we saw our transport into the forest… an open air cable car! The journey was really lovely. The cable car crossed over the forest giving us great views of the tops of the trees.
At the other side, we got out and started to walk down to the first waterfall. There are loads of them but for time reasons, we only went to three. The forest was quite peaceful, although we could hear a lot of crickets and bird calls! We did see other people but when we arrived at the first waterfall we had it almost to ourselves. While we were there we noticed a hummingbird that was perched over the river, catching flies. It was so cool!
The second and third waterfalls were a bigger, which meant they were perfect for swimming in! One was a little deeper with a large plunge pool, and the other was shallower, meaning you could get right up to the cascade. It was quite cold but I enjoyed the swim. It’s not something that you can do every day!
After enjoying the waterfalls, we trekked back up to the top and went back in the cable car to the main town. Our next stop was a “mariposario” – or a butterfly centre. We were given a short introduction talk, explaining how they breed the butterflies and release some into the wild, while keeping some in their sanctuary. The lady explained that the butterflies liked eating decomposing fruit, and if we put some banana pulp on our finger, they might land on it!
The butterflies were really cool. There was a display of various caterpillars and chrysalises. Some of the chrysalises were bright gold and reflective. I was trying to work out what sort of camouflage that might afford, when the lady explained that these hang just over the river. The reflections make them look like sun sparking on the water.
There were so many different butterflies! We both persuaded one onto our fingers, although as someone who isn’t a fan of creepy-crawlies, I didn’t enjoy the sensation of it walking on me! It was great to see them so up close though.
After stopping for lunch, Washington drove us to our final Mindo stop, “The Yellow House”. This turned out to be a quiet lodge with a great view over the forest. They had a big balcony, where they had hung a lot of containers of sugar water for the hummingbirds. There were so many! It was great to stand only a metre or so away and watch them all coming and going. Most of them would land, drink for a few seconds and then take off again quickly, but we saw one small hummingbird that never seemed to land, and would feed on the wing. They were so incredible!
We got back to Quito at around 7pm and had an early night, because we’d booked onto a second tour for Sunday which included another early morning start!
Our alarm went off at 5:30 this morning, so we’d be up bright and early for our tour to Cotopaxi! Cotopaxi is one of the world’s highest volcanoes, and is Ecuador’s second highest peak. We’d seen it before from the Teleferico cable car, and we were excited to see it up close.
This tour was also with Washington, who was really friendly and stopped four or five times along the way for good photo opportunities. We got to look over the south of Quito (it’s around 70km long, and only around 9km wide), and then we got some great views of Cotopaxi as we got closer to it.
Cotopaxi is another volcano that is still active, most recently bellowing clouds of ash and smoke about two years ago. Thankfully it behaved itself for us today! There are cities in its shadow (including the south of Quito) that would be destroyed if there was another big eruption. I don’t know how people can live there without worrying all the time!
We were met in the Cotopaxi Park by a native guide, and we all transferred into a 4 x 4. We were driven up to a car park at around 4,500m, and then climbed up to a Refugio (hostel/cafe) at 4,864m. Although the walk wasn’t too far, the altitude made us very short of breath, and we had to stop to rest every couple of minutes! The views were stunning though so I used these breaks as photo opportunities. We made it to the refugio in around 40 minutes, which according to our guide (who I think was being nice), was a good time. The refugio was situated pretty much at the start of the snowline, so we were glad when we were taken inside to have a hot drink! We were nowhere near the summit (5,897m if you’re interested!) but still felt like we’d earned it.
Once we’d finished, we began the descent back to the car park. There was a faster route down, but it was quite steep. The ground was very sandy, and we had to dig our heels in to prevent ourselves from slipping. The guide took pity on me and helped me for the first bit, because I was sliding all over the place! He was called Thomas and he was really friendly.
We got back to the car park, and drove down to where the road got a bit firmer before stopping to get onto our mountain bikes. We were given a meeting point a few kilometres down the road and then let loose! The road was a bit steep and quite gravelly. I was a bit nervous as I’ve never mountain biked before. I found it pretty scary – there are some hilarious photos that Washington took where you can see the stress on my face!
Today we started level three of the Spanish course! Each week we have a new teacher, and this week we have a lady called Angelica. She’s so friendly! She only speaks Spanish, so if there’s ever a word that we don’t understand, she acts it out. We don’t always get it right first time, which makes it even more funny!
In the afternoon, we decided to visit “Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús”. This is probably the most ornate church in Quito. We weren’t allowed to take photos inside, so I’ve turned to Google to show you how incredible the inside was. Almost everything was gilded or painted gold! It was a bit dazzling. The light from the windows was catching all of the golden displays and reflecting onto the pews, so that even they looked a bit gold coloured! It was incredible. We sat and admired it for at least half an hour. It was pretty awe-inspiring!
We finished our Spanish lessons this morning, and were sad to finish the week with Angelica. She’s been such a great teacher. As soon as our lessons finished, we got ready to catch the bus to Mitad del Mundo… the middle of the world! The equator line lies in the north of Quito, and they’ve built a monument to mark it. Mario, one of the staff from the Spanish school, helped us onto the first bus, and asked the driver to tell us when we had to change. He’s so helpful!
Bus travel is insanely cheap in Ecuador. We travelled for about an hour and a half in total to get to the monument, and paid a grand total of 65 cents each for the two buses! The buses were quite crowded so I was glad when we arrived.
There are two “Middle of the world” museums in Quito. The first is a huge monument and museum built to commemorate the equator line, as calculated by French scientists 250 years ago. The second is a tiny museum built about 200m away, when modern GPS showed that the French scientists got it ever so slightly out. We decided to visit both!
The large Mitad del Mundo monument is set in a ‘city complex’ of museums and souvenir shops. After taking our photos spanning the equator line (I tried to cartwheel along it and failed miserably… I haven’t done a cartwheel in years!), we took a lift up to the top of the monument, and enjoyed the views over Quito. The inside of the monument is a multi-level museum about the regions of Quito, and also with some scientific experiments showing things like the coreolis effect, the magnetic field of the earth, and how your weight changes depending on where you are on the earth (due to centrifugal force). Apparently I would weight 0.7kg more if I was at the North Pole… all the more reason I’m glad I chose to visit Ecuador instead!
The surrounding museums and attractions included a display of ‘traditional indigenous houses’ from various regions of Ecuador, a tiny brewery (Ben tested the beer and apparently it’s nice!), and a planetarium, although we ran out of time to see this. There were even some llamas chilling out in a small paddock!
After we’d finished enjoying Mitad del Mundo, we walked to the Intinan Museum, just around the corner, which holds the ‘true equator’. We were given a guided tour, which included a number of demonstrations of phenomena that occurred because we were on the equator. We didn’t believe most of them! Apparently it’s easier to balance an egg on a nail at the equator, it’s harder to walk in a straight line with your eyes closed, your muscles have less resistance, and water goes straight down a plug hole instead of swirling one way or the other. The experiments were fun but I was quite skeptical, although the demonstration with water through a plughole definitely showed it going opposite ways in different hemispheres, and straight down on the equator! We’d read about 30 minutes earlier in the Mitad del Mundo science museum that the coreolis effect didn’t really cause this, so we were both still a bit disbelieving!
After successfully navigating the bus back to our apartment, we had a relatively early night. We’ve booked onto another of Washington’s tours tomorrow, to Quilotoa lake, and we’re being picked up at 6:45, so it’ll be another early start!
To finish, there are TWO interesting fruits this week! One nice and one not so nice. We tried a fruit this week called Guanabana (soursop), and it’s so nice! It’s green and spiky on the outside, and is white with big black seeds inside. It tastes like tropical flavoured yoghurt. It’s yum!
We were tricked into trying this next one! Washington picked it off a tree and offered us each a segment. It looks identical to an orange… but tastes identical to a lemon! we only discovered it once we’d bitten into it! Safe to say we won’t be eating this one again!