Welcome to Ecuador

Lo siento, we have been putting this update off long enough. Time has really slipped away on us since leaving Panama. We have been in Ecuador for 10 days and we have so much to catch you up on.

We arrived in Quito on March 13 and began a seven-day adventure that was an organized tour arranged through Gate 1 Travel. Jo-Anne and I have never been big fans of organized tours, but we took a chance on this one and I’m glad we did.

We were met at the airport by a representative from Gate 1 whose name is Paul.  A very handsome English speaking Ecuadorian with a smile and an aura that told you instantly this person was going to become a good friend and so it was. Paul took care of all of us as a shepherd tends his flock and that smile never left his face. A week with Paul as our tour guide cured any stress we may have felt before the trip. Each and everyone of us on that tour was special to Paul and I cannot express enough what an amazing employee Gate 1 has in his commitment and dedication to his job.We all loved Paul!

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Our tour guide Paul

Then there was our driver Jonny. He was as special to us as Paul.  Another handsome Ecuadorian whose commitment to his job really showed. We travelled safely to our destinations every day because of this man.  We owe our lives to him actually.  Many a twisting turning road he drove on, taking us to spectacular heights of over 14,000 feet in the mountains and down again.  Many places on the side of the road were sheer drop gorges.  Other places the road had eroded or a recent mud slide had occurred and Jonny each time skillfully maneuvered our massive tour bus through each obstacle and got us to our next stop along the way. We all loved Jonny too and we’re very thankful at the end of each day for his amazing driving skills.  Did I mention how good he was at backing up?

There were a total of 35 on the tour. We started from the Hilton Hotel and our first day exposed us to the old part of Quito, visiting narrow cobblestone streets and exploring most of 16th-century Quito. The highlight was seeing La Compañia Church or the Church of San Francisco and the Cathedral of Quito. We saw a street with seven churches on it but not enough time to visit them all. What we did see was amazing and the stories Paul told us about their history was captivating.

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Here on this street of churches we caught the first glimpse of the locals selling their wares.

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selling scarves 2 for $5.00. I bought 2

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Inside Church of San Francisco, Quito
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Church of San Francisco, Quit

Then, it was off to the Middle of the World Monument, where we stood with one foot in the Northern and one in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Monumento a la Mitad del Mundo, near Quito

 

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Llamas near the Monument

 

Day two had us visiting a water fall in the morning

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and a visit to a local musical group that made instruments including the famous bamboo flutes.  The whole family performed for us.

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The afternoon found us visiting the famous Otavalo market, one of the largest in South America and run by local Otavaleño Indians. JoAnne found a beautiful alpaca cape and sweater and I found a sweater too. That night we stayed in a cabin on a lake that was very romantic. When we came back from dinner someone had lit our fireplace and put hot water bottles in our bed.

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The next day found us driving through the most amazing and breathtaking views.  After a lengthy and slow drive up, up and up into the Andes we reached 14,800 feet above sea level,

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The highest point 14800 feet

and then descended into Papallacta where we spent the night in a lodge surrounded by thermal hot springs.

 

 

 

 

On day three we arrived at La Punta Ahuano, a tiny port on the north bank of the Napo River. From here, a motorized canoe took us to a lodge on the Amazon River where we spent two nights enjoying the sounds, serenity and magnificent foliage of the Cloud Forest and the unique Amazon culture.

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Headwaters of the Amazon… Nervous? Who me?

 

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The first afternoon we took a short canoe ride across the river to an island and walked through the jungle to a traditional aboriginal village of the Quechua.  We were invited into a home given some treats and then had a demonstration on how to use a blow gun.

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No anacondas, right?

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Don’t be rude to your hosts… single malt its not!

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All the next day the two of us and a few others opted out of a strenuous hike and an obstacle course in the jungle for a quiet relaxing day by the pool and a leisure stroll around the grounds of the lodge.

We left the jungle the following day and drove most of the day to get to our last night on the road which was a beautiful old and modern hacienda.

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A few stops along the way.

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Devils Cauldron

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A basket ride across a canyon

We had several other amazing experiences and sights that eventually led us back to Quito.

A visit to a rose plantation was spectacular

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and the end of a wonderful introduction to Ecuador. We said good-bye to our new travel acquaintances and then flew on to Cuenca.

We have a small two bedroom, two bath apartment here that is above a little shop with a picture window overlooking the hustle and bustle of the street and the locals below. We are very comfortable here with modern conveniences. This cute little place  will be our home until the end of April.

Stayed tuned for our adventures in Cuenca.

 

 

 

 

 

Runnin’ Back to Boquete

Has it really been two weeks since we left Pedasi  and made our way back to the lush valley that surrounds our base camp in Boquete? Our base, Los Molinos, is a beautiful gated community with several large estate homes and numerous smaller homes under construction. Our friend and host Richard has a beautiful home there that features a pool and a small casita the occasional guest stays in.  Richard and Brian share Welsh ancestry, maybe that’s why they get on so well.

We came back to Boquete in time to take in the 10th annual Boquete Jazz and Blues Festival. This is a big event for Boquete and features a parade, local nightclubs hosting jams and two days of music in an outdoor amphitheatre. It was mostly a gringo show, produced by gringos, featuring gringo musicians, for gringo entertainment. Acts included Ronnie Baker Brooks (Lonnie Brooks son), Curtis Salgado, bassist Scott Ambush (of Spyro Gyra fame), Marshall Keyes, Tommy Castro and a not so well known but killer guitarist from the UK – Matt Schofield. Canada’s Downchild Blues Band played here a couple of years ago. I’m really glad we attended. Will we be here next year? Hmmm…. Check it out http://www.boquetejazzandbluesfestival.com/

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blues hound
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Ronnie Baker Brooks

With little fanfare February has turned into March. Our tan lines are well defined and we are starting to think about our next adventures in Ecuador.   But before we leave Panama, we wanted to see a bit more of this beautiful country. We decided to drive to Bocas del Toro and see some of this famous archipelago on the Caribbean.

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Evening comes to Bocas Town

Driving from Boquete to Bocas Town was definitely an adventure. The trip took us over the continental divide and the change in scenery was incredible. It really makes you appreciate what human effort was required to build a canal allowing ships to pass over this isthmus. The drive to Bocas took about 4 hours.   The road was treacherous in spots with unmarked potholes just looking for a rim to bend.

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We drove as far as Almirante, parked the rental car at the local fire department, (bomberos) and then took a water taxi over to Isla Colon and the town of Bocas. Some say it looks like Key West, Florida in the 50’s or 60’s. There is no need for a car on this island as taxis are plentiful and cheap. Locals might long board around or ride a bike or catch the local bus. Lots of houses and buildings built right over the water. Boating, surfing and diving is popular here.   We stayed three nights in a lovely B&B called Sand Dollar Beach B&B just a few minutes from town and right across the road from a beautiful beach. The waves hitting the shore lull us to sleep each night.

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Our hosts from Sand Dollar Beach, Mark and Sharon Reeves, invited us to join them on a boat ride to visit the Green Acres Chocolate Farm. http://greenacreschocolatefarm.com/index.php

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Paradise with consequences

It was truly a fantastic tour that took us around several islands and through large tracts of mangroves. Although situated on the mainland, Green Acres is completely off the grid. Check out the web link above. The pictures there are amazing !!

It is a beautiful place and a must see if your road trip ever brings you to this part of Panama.