We spent our first 5 days in Ecuador in the culturally rich town of Otavalo. My niece Katja joined us after doing a UW semester in Rome. A few days later my dad and the rest of my sister’s family arrived in Quito on December 19. We spent a couple of days getting to know Quito from our Airbnb on the north end of Quito in a modern neighborhood with a nearby American type mall. The new condo building had its quirks but had a great view of the hills surrounding the expansive city of Quito. Quito is at 9000 feet, making it one of the highest capitals int he world. Most of us felt the effects of the altitude, especially when we walked up some of the hills in the city. Naomi was hit the hardest with altitude sickness and struggled to have any appetite.
We explored the city via a historical walking tour we booked through Quitostreettours.com. Sofia was a great guide and adjusted to our our needs quickly; Katja and I interpreting her English tour into ASL and slowing the pace so that Grandpa Larry, could keep up while adjusting to the altitude. We walked through the park that was at the center of the recent
October protests in response to austerity measures. There was a historic tree that was burned but the trunk is now preserved in memory of the protests. President Moreno in response to the IMF's request to reduce Ecuador's debt decided to abolish fuel subsidies but the indigenous community at the center of the protests pushed for the government to collect the unpaid corporate taxes. President Moreno reinstated the fuel subsidies which ended the protests and recently passed a tax reform package to raise half of the money needed.
We learned about the benefits and the downsides to being an UNESCO historical site. The streets and old colonial buildings made you feel like you‘re stepping back in time however much of the historical center is abandoned at night. People don’t live in the old buildings because they are expensive to keep up due to all the UNESCO rules and regulations. The tedious permit process can take 3 years just for minor renovations. Some people are rebelling by inviting tourists to do renovation work in exchange for a place to stay or setting up theaters to put on performances that raise money for the building.
Sofia introduced us to the En Dulce bakery that makes many traditional breads. We tried the delicious fig and cheese bread. We were also introduced to a variety of local fruits at a sorbet shop. After the tour and lunch we navigated the taxi system and briefly visited the National Federation of Deaf People of Ecuador. We met with Vinicio Baquero who is the past President and current director of this national Deaf services center. We were able to easily understand each other with the use of international signs and American Sign Language.
The next day we embarked on our 5 hour journey in a hired van with a driver to the Ecuadorian Amazon. We travelled up a big highway up to 4000 meters before we descended to 1500 meters on mud slide prone dirt roads. The climate difference was dramatic, we went from a dry high altitude 60 degrees to a humid 80 degree rainforest. We arrived at the Suchipakri Lodge in time for lunch and a walk in the jungle with Marco, who would be our guide for the next 3 days.
Marco shared his knowledge and passion for preserving the rainforest. Ecuador has only 2% of the Amazon Rainforest but contributes over 10% of the world’s biodiversity. It has the largest diversity of tree species of any region in the world. We learned about what you could eat; termite nests, and lemon ants, which many of us tried. We were also shown which plants relieve sinus congestion and arthritis as well as a fruit women could eat daily to use as contraception. We did a rocky muddy hike to a beautiful waterfall. It took some excellent teamwork to get Grandpa Larry to the waterfall by climbing a rocky trail, traversing a creek and climbing on boulders. The bravest of us went into the waterfall and jumped into the pool below.
The next day we explored the Napo river and it’s tributaries by canoe which were a few meters higher than the day before because it had rained all night. We did a jungle hike and then went to an animal rescue center for animals that are specifically from this part of the rainforest. We saw rehabilitating Macaws, monkeys and snakes that had been ill treated for entertainment or illegally sold to private individuals. However the local squirrel monkeys jumping on the trees outside of the cages stole the show. They seemed to follow us as they erratically jumped from tree to tree.
We also learned about the tedious work of making a blow dart gun from the forests’ prized and hardy ironwood. We all took a turn blowing the darts with various levels of success. We also saw the local white and black caimans, as well as the strongest insects in the world, leaf cutter ants which can carry 50 times their body weight. We were introduced to Ecuadorian Guava fruit which is very different from what we consider the guava fruit. It is long and unwieldy fruit in which you open up and suck on the sweet coating around the seeds. Katja was a huge fan and made sure we stopped to buy some on our way back to Quito.
Our last morning was spent making chocolate from the locally grown cocoa. Ecuadorian chocolate is revered for its wonderful aroma which comes from the flowers and fruits it is grown with. We tasted the fresh white flesh around the cocoa seeds and then roasted previously dried cocoa beans over a fire. We all removed the shells around the cocoa beans and then ground them up into 100% cocoa. We added milk and vanilla to make a delicious chocolate fondue. Grandpa Larry was in chocolate heaven!
We spent Christmas in Quito in a lovely house with an amazing view.l We spent the day cooking, playing games and walking around and exploring places like the Basilica of the National Vow, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. It was an unusual Christmas without all the usual traditions but we were all happy to be together.
We are now off to our next adventure - the Galapagos.