For all my tens of readers out there, sorry for the two month lapse. Got distracted. Mainly by the holidays. And good pizza in the States. Getting back on track here now. If only for posterity.
We spent four days in Quito before flying back to Boise for the holidays.
We crashed in the old quarter, mostly because of our posturing proclivity for colonial architecture. Found a random yet beautifully-appointed apartment on booking.com (not sure if this is the case in the North America at the moment, but booking.com certainly has better deals in Central and South America). About $40 USD per noche. On a characteristically colonial street around the corner from a quintessential covenant.
Looks- and feels-wise, the old quarter reminded us much of other Latin American colonial cities we’ve visited, notable Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende, and Antigua. However, unlike those cities, which are mostly flat — Mexico City is built on a lakebed — Quito is hilly. Kinda like Seattle. An intricate and elaborate maze of staircases and alleyways intertwine the city. It’s enjoyable just strolling around. Though exhausting (Quito is just shy of 10,000 feet above sea level).
The Basilica del Voto National cast a shadow, and perhaps judgment, over Quito’s old quarter. It’s a monstrosity of a cathedral (the biggest in the Americas). Fully gothic, with gargoyles growling at every precipice. Inside, both awe and fear await. It was starker — mostly stone and concrete — and darker — though light did filter through the stained-glass windows capping every column — than other cathedrals we’ve visited. But perhaps that’s the point. You don’t wanna sin in there. Or perhaps anywhere near. Or perhaps ever again. I can still feel the Basilica chastising me when I drink a cerveza before cinco o’clock.
We also visited the former home slash current museum of Oswaldo (amazing first name) Guayasamin, Ecuador’s most famous artist. Like any good
artist socialist, Guayasamin was fabulously wealthy. His homage towers over the city. Complete with a tower/temple. The house is stuffed with some of his original pieces and his curated, eclectic collection. The tower/temple has a series of original pieces about the plight of man that he, unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, didn’t finish before shaking hands with the grim reaper.
Guayasamin did, however, donate the compound (his children retain the rights to his collection) to the government in order to turn it into a museum. They still charge $8 USD per cabeza at the door, though…. But the art is amazing and worth the dollars (Ecuador uses the US dollar).
On back-to-back days in Quito, we had the pleasure of lunching with both Angela’s (our good friend from Boise) aunts. The first aunt, Maria, treated us to a delicous, four-course meal in a luxe, modern condo overlooking the city. The second aunt, Veronica, treated us to empanadas and hamburgers and a tour of her fetching, sweeping country club, also looking over the city. Both aunts exuded incredible hospitality. I took many mental notes.
(Maria took this picture, thus is not in it….)
We flew back to Boise for most of December and the first week of January. For the holidays of course. But that story’s been told.
We had an eight-hour layover in Miami in route to Ecuador. We packed swimsuits. And Cheetos. We grabbed both brunch and sun on South Beach. You know, the beach from every song.
South Beach, Miami Beach in general, was surprisingly and welcomingly quaint. Uncrowned. And calm. I somewhat expected we’d all be whisked away into a club, instantly addicted to coke (the bad kind; we’re already addicted to the diet version of the good kind), and trance and dance ourselves into the next day, missing our flight. Instead, we ate breakfast burritos. Relaxed in the pale, somewhat rough sand. Overheard the waves flirt with the shore. Tossed a football. Devoured Cheetos. It was a nearly perfect beach afternoon. We certainly won’t shy from stopping in Miami in the future.
Our first stop after returning to Ecuador — besides a one-night stint in the airport Wyndham.
Papallacta, from what we could tell, is just a town of natural hot springs cuddled-up into a crevice in the Andes. We chose the one with the best reviews on iOverlander, our favorite travel app. They let us camp in the parking lot. We bathed once in the morning and once at night. The facilities were clean, the pools were caressing, and the grounds were charming. Worth a stop if you’re in this neck — well, more like breast, based on its location on the map — of Ecuador.
Ecuador’s tallest active volcano. The third tallest in the world.
The drive from Papallacta to Cotopaxi was one of, if not the, bumpiest roads we’ve yet encountered. Rough-edged cobblestone. For thirty-plus kilometers. My increasingly fragile lower vertebrae grew a few sizes smaller that day. But the reward was worth the delayed pain.
We camped at the only private campground inside the national park. We had the morning to ourselves (see photo above). Then the mountaineers began arriving. In packs. They spent the afternoon prepping their gear for the ascent mañana. The kids and I played Mancala, ingested Cheetos, and observed.
The next morning we hiked a leisurely albeit windy (wind kind) three kilometers around Lake at the base of the volcano. Panorama enveloped us. Wild horses roamed the bottom of the volcano. Clouds the top. Occasionally, like short enough before I could remove the camera from my bag, the clouds would part and reveal the snow-capped peak. Up there. 19,347 feet high.
We spent three nights camped aside el Rio Pastaza in Patate, just a wee bit north of the touristy town of Banos.
Banos, seemingly, is one of the half of dozen major Ecuadorian hotspots — for tourists at least, both of the local and international variety. We’d heard much about it before we arrived. Our expectations were high. Too high. But as we pulled in, after driving windy (twisy kind) two-lane roads no wider than a bike-lane, I began to sense, and see, its appeal. Banos is located on both the edge of a volcano and the Amazon, on cliffs that overlook Rio Pastaza.
After establishing camp, we taxied into town for dinner. Chose a German brewery, Cherusker (believe it or not, at Andrea’s suggestion; not that I contested). Both the solids and liquids were delicious. Some of the best we’ve had thus far in South America. Then we, briefly, toured the town.
We were disappointed. The architecture was bland. Boring even. Mostly overstuffed with touristy trinkets. Yet we vowed to return to Cherusker the following day — for the beer (for the adults) and the foosball (mostly for the kids but also for the adults) at least. Unfortunately, Cherusker was closed. So we wandered. Walked the streets, to the squares, the cathedrals, the hydrothermal pools (which the town is known for), the waterfalls, the playgrounds, and further. Discovered off-the-beaten-path spots, views, streets, restaurants, and more. Andrea and I began to have the conversation: Can we live here? We agreed we could.
(Sage advice in Banos.)
Banos, while not as architecturally impressive as other Latin American cities we’ve vagabonded through, given it’s strategic and scenic location at the cusp of the Andes and Amazon, and given its captivating nooks, certainly makes it worthy of its elevated reputation.