Ecuador is one of the 4 countries we had previously visited 18 years ago as backpackers. Next to Bolivia it was our second favorite country. It is where we studied Spanish, where we met and travelled with our friends Stewart and Andrea, and a place of many adventures especially since El Nino had destroyed a vast number of roads.
Going back to a place that you previously loved can often bring a few disappointments, as we had experienced in Bolivia. We were interested to see how we would find Ecuador on this our second visit.
Our experience entering the country near Zumba was positive, as the border officials were very friendly. We actually camped near the river, which was the border between Peru and Ecuador. The local people there were very friendly too. During the night I awoke to 3 men heading into the river, with them not returning and then later a different man waded out of the river with an inner tube. MMMMM, a midnight swim or border jumping??
The major highlight of Southern Ecuador was actually the scenery we drove through on a daily basis, from high mountain vistas to thicker forests. We moved from campsite to campsite taking in the sites, and interacting with the local people.
Driving in your own vehicle makes you more in touch with your environment and in touch with the people you encounter. Whilst driving through a small town we came across a young man lying on the side of the road obviously injured. Several local people were trying to help. There was no question or hesitation, we immediately stopped and offered our assistance. Mike used his first responder training and our first aid kit to complete an assessment and to stop the bleeding from a face wound. We then assisted the family to get him into a moto taxi to continue on to the hospital, suspecting a broken jaw and a concussion. We assisted and then continued on our way, never knowing the outcome, but glad we were able to help.
Vilcabamba, the area known for the longevity of its residents was markedly different than our first visit. A lot of expats have moved to the area, bringing with them better services and better infrastructure. This is great for visitors and locals however for us it felt like Vilcabamba had lost some of its mystic and authenticity. We did however take advantage of the French bakery!
Heading north, we camped for 2 nights in the Podocarpus Parque, north of Loja. The park is said to be home to bears, foxes and an abundance of wildlife. We saw a myriad of birds and one dead possum. We did enjoy a relaxing day there, and did a couple of short hikes.
Our next stop was at a campsite near a small town of Ona. Being in a mountainous region, it was hard to find a flat place to camp. From the main road we spotted an opening near a church down a dirt road. We stopped to ask some people tending a garden if we could camp for one night. They were unsure at first but when they spotted we were a family they agreed it would be OK. So we camped the night on the soccer field by the church. Through talking to the few people who came out to speak, we found out it was an extended family that owned the whole area and even ran the church. The oldest woman of the clan, all of 4 foot tall, greeted us with hugs and kisses, telling us her abuelas (grandparents) use to live in the house on the property that has only one wall left standing. She was lovely and so welcoming. One of the little girls, shy at first brought us a big bunch of bananas as a gift. As we left in the morning, shouting out our thanks, many people waved from the fields. It was one of those unexpected wonderful encounters of travelling.
We continued moving north along the main highway 35 to Cuenca. We stopped for supplies and Internet and then decided to check out a camping spot noted on ioverlander. It was at a Hosteria Caballos Campana that was also a horse ranch. The setting was amazing. Cuenca itself had a quaint downtown with nice churches, a beautiful plaza and a very tranquil atmosphere.
HOSTERIA CABALLOS CAMPANA
MIKE AND KEIRA COLLECTED NATURAL PLANTS AND FLOWERS TO MAKE PAINT
CHURCHES IN CUENCA
We decided to head off the main road and into the Orient or jungle areas of Amazonian Ecuador. The scenery was beautiful, with dense lush green vegetation, and finally some warm weather. We found a spot by the river to camp for two nights. We needed a mosquito net to protect against the bugs. Waking in the morning we heard beautiful birds singing, and saw mist rising from the valley floor. Keira gives credit to the water fairies for lifting the mist.
I was exhausted that day, so I stayed in the tent reading with a small portable fan to keep cool. The constant change of location from altitude and cold to the heat of the jungle, and the many days of travel took its toll.
Our next destination was Banos, where we had previously studied Spanish and we spent ~ 3 weeks living there. We were interested to relive some of our fond memories. The road into Banos from the orient was the first major change. The once narrow, scary dirt road, which took 6 hours to transverse, is now a major paved road with numerous tunnels.
It was nice to stop for a while. I loved drinking my morning tea in the chair hammocks with a vista of the cloud forest, river below and of hummingbirds fluttering around. Being in a cloud forest there is a definite rainy season and we were visiting in the height of this season and with the additional affects of El Nino, yet again. We had a lot of rain during our stay.
We were fortunate that the rain ceased enough for us to visit the next village of Rio Verde for a festival, and to see the Pailon del Diablo waterfall ( in English: Cauldron of the devil). The festival was fun with a parade of local people on floats, dressed up as princesses, warriors, and modern dancers.
The Pailon del Diablo waterfall was impressive. We walked close to it on a walkway and ended up saturated from the force of the water.
THE RATHER BIZARRE PARADE, KEIRA WITH THE GIRLS ON ONE OF THE FLOATS.
We also visited Banos and were shocked at how much it had changed. The once quiet town is now 10 times the size, and is the center for adventure sports. We were able to find our Spanish school but the hostel we lived at, no longer existed.
We bought some of the local taffy to try, and Keira bought her weekend candy, a huge lollipop. She was happy.
I visited the local church and had a nostalgic memory of a Christmas midnight mass Stewart and I had attended 18 years ago. The experience had been moving as it was a real celebration, with people crowded in, seated on the floor, with children playing as the mass was said. The church had been filled with candles and the walls were black from years of smoke. Now the church has been painted but still the atmosphere remained.
Our impression so far of Ecuador has been positive. We noticed improvements in road conditions and in the quality of the homes. The current government from what we have heard and read has mixed reviews from the Ecuadorians and expats. They have changed legislation so that the most of the oil revenue is no longer in the hands of the USA. The government has set up many programs, including $5000 USD for first homeowners. They are encouraging the local people to buy Ecuadorian products and so have limited imports from the USA. This has made it difficult to get certain products here. We also heard that the government sold off rights to some of the Amazon jungle and its resources to the Chinese. This was done in return for the money to complete road construction in Ecuador. We have not had a chance to research any of this information in any depth, but this is what we have heard.
The people of Ecuador have been very friendly and very helpful.
HIGHLIGHTS/CHALLENGES OF THIS AREA:
MOST VALUED POSSESION: our umbrella/FIRST AID KIT
BEST EXPERIENCE: Mike- the campsite and talking to the locals at Ona; Keira- my big lollipop and playing with Ty and Jamie; Riss- hanging out in the hammock chairs at Pequeno Paraiso
MOST CHALLENGING EXPERIENCE: Mike-trying to provide adequate first aid in difficult circumstances; Keira- pain in my legs from starting to use them again after being sick; Riss- trying to provide adequate first aid in difficult circumstances/itching from chigger bites
BEST FOOD DISCOVERY: Mike- dinner every night; Keira-large lollipop; Riss- the yummy food that Els and Mike cook each night
BEST CAMPING SPOT: all our camping spots had something interesting about them.
Just a place to keep our mates informed on where we are at, and what we are up to.