I am so so sorry that it has been forever since I posted on here! I know that you are all wondering what I am up to, and I promise I will try and be better about posting more frequently. Needless to say, I am having a blast here in Ecuador! I’ve taken a lot of time to explore the city of Quito where I live, as well as other parts of the country.
I’ve officially been here for one month now and time is flying by! I want to recap a few of the adventures I’ve taken and show you all the beautiful landscapes of Ecuador. I highly recommend adding Ecuador to your travel list (and so does Ecuador – they even had a Super Bowl ad this year promoting tourism! Maybe you saw it?). There is so much to see and do here that make the trip to South America worth it.
Hiking in High Altitude – Pichincha
Last week, I finally felt like I was acclimated to the altitude here to try some real exploring. The Marines convinced me to join them on a hike to the top of Pichincha, a dormant volcano that serves as the backdrop to my life here in Quito (It’s behind my apartment and the Embassy so every time I look out the window, it’s right there, tempting me to summit it). I was definitely a little apprehensive about hiking with the Marines (they are definitely all in much better shape than I am), but they were great in pushing me to make it to the top.
We took the Teleferico, a little cable car like contraption, to the base of the mountain and set off on our hike. Quito is already very high above sea level (9350 feet to be exact – making it the highest capital city in the world) and anything more than that can be rough. Walking up stairs can be a challenge here and feeling out of breath is very commonplace here. I didn’t really think what that would mean once we started hiking up to the top, but the minute we started it hit me. The actual hiking was really not bad at all (except maybe the last hour or so when it was more rock climbing than hiking), but every few minutes I could not breathe AT ALL. Normally, when you get out of breath back home, you are able to stop and take a few seconds to catch your breath. Not at altitude. Regaining your breath can take minutes sometimes and those few minutes of huffing and puffing are not fun, especially when you look up and see that you are still hours away from the top.
I have to say, despite not being able to breathe for the majority of the day, making it to the summit of Pichincha was 100% worth it. We couldn’t see much from the top since it was super cloudy (I’d take clouds over sun any day though. The sun is brutal here and I still got fried even through the clouds), but the views we did see coming back down were amazing. The feeling of accomplishment was also pretty great. The summit is 15,406 feet above sea level, so to be able to say I made it to the top feels great (I’m also still pretty amazed that I did it – every time I see the mountain now out my window, I get to say “I made it to the top of that crazy volcano.”).
Crazy Carnaval – Guaranda with the Ambassador
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to accompany the Ambassador to Guaranda, Ecuador, home to the most famous Carnival celebration in Ecuador. My colleague and I drove down on Saturday and while the drive was absolutely beautiful, driving in Ecuador is always an adventure on the curving streets and narrow lanes and our driver did not drive in a straight line once. For the majority of the four hours, I was extremely carsick, which was unfortunate for many reasons, but mostly because I missed out on enjoying the scenery that we drove past. I was able to see the volcano, Chimborazo, and its snow covered peak when we drove next to it.
Even though the meeting we were supposed to have with the Mayor’s Office didn’t happen, we were able to go out in the town and enjoy the sights and sounds of Carnival. One of the big traditions is to spray people with water, foam, flour and/or eggs, and we saw plenty of that. We managed to only get hit once with foam and once with water, which was pretty impressive considering every other person on the street has a can of foam and most balconies have someone dumping water on people below. We were able to watch someone traditional singing and dancing and then some current pop music blasting from a pop-up stage in a alleyway.
The Ambassador came on Sunday morning to join the Guaranda Mayor for a viewing of the major Carnival parade. Even though the details we had for him were scarce, everything ended up working out and we all enjoyed the parade from the Mayor’s viewing stand. Luckily, the stand was covered because an hour into the parade it began to pour and the streets started to flood. That’s not all either – then it started to hail. Welcome to Ecuador and enjoying all the seasons in a day – an hour later the sun was up and it has dried up all the excess water. The poor parade participants though – many of them looked completely miserable to have to dance or wave from their float in the pouring rain.
The acts were so colorful and lively though and the parade lasted for hours. You could tell how well liked the Mayor was; every few acts, people would come up tot he Mayor and offer him gifts or alcohol or just a big cheer. It was very cool to get to be a part of the celebration. After the parade we sat down with the Ambassador and Mayor for a traditional lunch and then drove the four hours home. We traveled with the Ambassador’s motorcade, which was awesome, and went a different, less car-sickness inducing route (thank goodness), and so the drive was much quicker and more enjoyable than the one on the way down.
Lots and Lots of Llamas – Parque Archeologico Cochasqui
Since I’ve been to Ecuador before, I’m trying to make it to places that I didn’t go to last time. Not that repeating experiences would be bad – everything would still feel new since I was pretty young last time, but I want to try to see as much as possible of the country before I have to leave. This past weekend, some of the Marines suggested we check out an archaeological site where there were supposed to be old pyramids. I love ruins, so I jumped at the chance to see a new site in Ecuador.
The drive took us through some brand new parts of northern Quito that felt like we were in a desert (the landscapes always get me here – one minute you’ll be driving through lush greenery and the next minute it’s all dry plants and dirt). After passing through many dirt roads and tiny little rural towns we finally made it to the ruins.
Honestly, the pyramids themselves were a bit of a letdown. They were completely overgrown with grass and plants and while you could tell they were pyramids from the shape of the mounds, it wasn’t quite the pyramid experience I had been expecting. The highlight however, was the fact that there were 150 llamas living on the site. Babies and adult llamas were everywhere and they would come up to our tour group and wait expectantly for you to feed them. I am proud to say I did not get spit on my a llama during the trip (unlike last time I got close to a llama in Ecuador).
Hopping Between Hemispheres – Mitad del Mundo (x2!)
Ecuador (and Quito specifically) sits in the middle of the world, which means the equator runs right through the city. Obviously this called for a trip to stand in both hemispheres at once. In the 1700s, French explorers came to Quito and spent 8 years determining where the equator was. They marked a spot and today a giant Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument and tourist attraction sits there. About 10-15 years ago, someone came with military GPS and found the real middle of the world (latitude 0 0 0) and build a museum with the equator line running through it. The most impressive thing is that the two “equators” are a five minute walk apart from each other. It blows my mind that there were able to get so close to the real equator so long ago without the maps and technology we have today.
The equator is a pretty crazy line. Water spins opposite directions as it goes down a drain depending on which hemisphere you are in and it drains straight down on the equator. The line also affects your balance (you can’t walk in a straight line with your eyes closed on the equator).
Coming up: Camping on Cotopaxi (another volcano), maybe a trip to the beach, and adventures that I haven’t even thought of yet!