Final day of the Part 1 of the tour. Morning first thing i saw as i got out of the lodge was a Squirrel cuckoo on the tree, got some record shots and went back to the fruit feeders to click the tanagers and barbets. For the final multi flash set up myself and Rithesh teamed up and had a great fun testing the FPS of our Camera bodies. Got few decent images and wrapped up the photography session. We had lunch, packed our bags and we hit the road to get back to Zaysant. 2 people from the team had departed after the phase 1 of the trip, Mackay and Don had left.Along with Don he took Rosemary also away with him.
Middle of the World
About 20 minutes bus ride from the Quito downtown is the Equator line. Did you know that you can rest a raw egg on a nail on the Equator line. Shocker!! Are you trying to lose weight : visit the equator and weigh up to a kg less. Oh! and my favorite was the water draining a sink – did you know water drains in a clockwise whirlpool in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise whirlpool in the southern hemisphere. But at the equator, because there is no effect of the magnetic field from the poles, the water drains straight off, without any whirlpool! If you visit the Mitad del a Mundo, do not forget to visit the ACTUAL equator line 300 m away. How to reach: Take the metro bus to “OFELIA” bus terminal. From Ofelia, take the bus to ” Mitad del Mundo” which will let you off right across the street from the landmark! Don’t forget to ask the bus conductor to communicate to you, when you reach the destination.
Presidencia de la República
Change of guard ceremony: If you are in Quito on a Monday, you cannot miss the change of guard ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Quito main square. It is quite a show, especially when the President of Ecuador steps out in the Palace balcony to address the citizens, the country flag is hoisted and the national anthem is sung. Hundreds of people come by to witness the event every week at 11 am, filling the air with a warm patriotic feeling. One look around and you will be able to feel the place abuzz with numerous cathedrals and coffee shops! How to reach: Presidencia de la República or the Presidential Palace is located on Plaza Grande (or the main plaza) in Quito. If your hostel is in downtown, you can just walk to the main plaza, and if not, then you should take a local bus for only 25 cents!
Banana fields are all over the place before the mountains. Upon arriving in Loja right after this grueling bus ride, we set out to find a hotel. All the stores, restaurants and cafes were closed already. The town looked dreary. Our hotel is nice enough. It was close to the municipal market. There are a lot of small eateries (comedores) in the municipal market. Main dishes go for 2.50 USD. There are a couple of nice plazas here too. A few places are cute in Loja, otherwise it is pretty cold and dull looking but we later heard that Loja is a nice town to live in if you do not mind the dreary weather. Loja seems to be a place of culture and classical music. They have a wonderful symphonic orchestra and lots of music teachers.
El Parque Historico De Quayaquil
The historical park starts by a boardwalk through a forest of native trees, mangrove, flowers and animals. There was a house that used to be in downtown Guayaquil and belonged to a doctor. They moved it to here in the 1980s to save it from destruction. Same story for another building. It was saved from destruction and rebuilt here. It used to be a hospice for the old and invalid. We attended a comedy show at the farm house in the park. Then there was a theater play in the yard of another colonial house. We spent a nice day here, the atmosphere is relaxed, the entrance is free, the weather hot. The historical park of Guayaquil is indeed a beautiful place. The park is seen from the other side of the Guayas river.
Malacatos is a 15 minute drive from Vilcabamba, on the way to Loja. It is a larger town than Vilcabamba. More and more gringos have been moving from Vilcabamba to Malacatos because it is cheaper and warmer there. We know of two gringos kids who go to the local school in Malacatos. Their parents say that the school is good. It does feel nice in Malacatos. It is definitely an option if someone does not want to be in Loja or Vilcabamba, the first one being too cold, the second one being to expensive. After a fun time here, time to go back home.
Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Reserve & Ecolodge
Morning we walked down to the restaurant with the gear and we saw the birding guide showing some bird to the guests and to our surprise and delight it was a Quetzal (Golden Headed) i tried to get some record shots as it was not very close. After Quetzal flew away i walked along with the birders to the bridge and found two Torrent ducks far away on the rocks in the river. It was a pleasant beginning of the day and it became even more better when i clicked the rofous Motmot. We had breakfast and were waiting for the information of the spectacled bear sighting. A group of film makers left ahead of the rest of the groups and later when i spoke to them i got to know they were filming for BBC. We got a call after one hour and then we started our ascent it was a tough, steep and slushy climb on the way we were lucky to see a Crested Guan and also few more motmots. After 2 hrs of hiking we got to see the spectacled bear. He was right on top of the tree eating berries had to wait for him to come down and after few minutes of wait he came down moved on the branches,broke few huge branches and moved to another tree. Photography was challenging as black animal, white back ground when he was in open and very dark back ground when came down. We clicked around for 1 to 1.5 hrs and then returned to the lodge. We had lunch at around 12.30PM and then drove to Zaysant. Rithesh had to leave that night and i had one more night stay and next day morning i flew back to Riyadh.
Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús
How would you like to see a cathedral made of gold. It was closed the day I was in Quito, but I have heard that it is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in South America. How to reach: The cathedral is located right at the main square, so you don’t have to go too far from the presidential palace.
Quito is the second highest capital city in the world (La Paz being the highest administrative capital city). To view the city from its highest point, take the teleferico from the west side of the city, close to the Pichicha Volcano (How to reach: take a cab to teleferico from main square for < 10$ – share it with other tourists). This is one of the highest gondolas in the world, rising up to 12000 ft ASL. So, this is the height at which some planes fly. And here I was going up to the same height in a gondola. The views are absolutely beautiful. You could alternatively hike up if you reach there early in the morning. There have been instances of robberies at the hiking trail. Be careful and try to hike up in a group. I think the last gondola leaves around 4:30-5.
My JourneyAfter a very long flight journey all the way from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia had landed in Quito, Ecuador on 5th evening. Driver from the lodge was waiting to receive me, he spoke few words in English and that was good enough for me to connect and communicate with him. It was a 15 min-20 min drive to the lodge and there our skipper of the tour Nate Chappel and my dear friend from Bangalore Rithesh were waiting for me. It was 10 PM and pretty late by Ecuador standards, so was welcomed with a glass of wine and two pizza slices. Nate had explained the next days programme and left. I was already feeling dizzy due to long flight and also due to change in Altitude and weather. Zaysant was at 2,530 Mtrs above MSL.
This is what Vilcabamba feels like on week days: tranquil, peaceful, slow pace... Weekends are more busy with young people from Loja coming here and partying until late at night. Someone on the bus from Guayaquil to Loja had asked us if we were going to Vilcabamba. Someone else at the tourist office in Loja told us that it's easy to get to Vilcabamba. We were not even asking about Vilcabamba. So we thought we'd give it a try after two people kind of told us to go there. It's only one hour from Loja. Vilcabamba is in the South of Ecuador, 140 km north of Peru. It is a low valley of the Andes, at only 5000 feet elevation (1500 meters) and the temperatures stay around 70F year-round (20C). It feels and looks much better here than in Loja. Vilcabamba is where the Andes mountains meet the tropics. The spring water here has remarquable healing properties. It is said to be one of the reasons why people live up to 130 years old around here. Which is debatable anyway, is anybody not telling the truth, or do they even know for sure what year they were born? The younger generations do not look that healthy any more and they are exposed to more pollutants, so most probably they will not live to be that old. The central plaza by the church features nice exotic trees and the park is well maintained. It is a very tranquil place. "Es muy tranquilo aqui" We noticed that there is not much art or traditional music around here. Just some jewelry. This is surprising considering that there is so much of it just 40 km south, in Peru. We're wondering why.
Visit the Otovalo market a couple of hours away from Quito to buy some authentic souvenirs for your friends and family. You can find everything and anything under the sun. And you can shop for the next two generations for the cost of a burger. Ok, I exaggerated.. but you know what I mean.