I survived my pickpocketing at the border but one hundred dollars lighter and I jumped on a bus to Otovalo. I had been here before but I wanted to break my journey and this town warranted a better look around.
In the end I stayed here for ten days in two different hostels so I really got a feel for the place and its residents, bouncing in and out of Quito in between. Since my first visit to Otovalo there had been an earthquake and the road through the mountain is currently closed. It now takes twice as long to get to the town from Quito on a very long winding route which has had a severe impact on the number of tourists who pop up from the capital for the day.
Bt it is worth making the effort and it is worth staying longer. Otavalo has got, of course the crafty, artisan market – the biggest and arguably the best in Ecuador and it also has a weekly animal market. There are TWO volcanos looming over the town and some beautiful towns and villages within striking distance. It has lakes, mountains and a scenic railway line passes quite close by.
I spent some quality downtime here writing and walking in the countryside and I also I met a British lady who had repatriated herself to the town and we went out together on a couple of day trips.
the mountains of Otavalo, Ecuador
We visited the nearby waterfalls at the Cascada de Peguche which are considered a sacred site by the local indigenous people and who hold ceremonies under and near them.
Cascada de Pegucha
We visited the large lagoon, the Lago San Pablo on a very still, foggy day, a day when dampness hung in the air and deadened all sounds and sucked the life and colour out of the landscape. We saw the little pond formed where the stream tumbled down from the mountains and where the ancient stone washing stones stood. The indigenous ladies still gather here in this pool to wash their clothes, pummelling them on the rocks, and chattering and passing the time of day while they sit or stand in the water.
Another day we trekked for five and a half hours the fourteen kilometres around the rim of the Laguna de Cuicocha with its two forested humps of islands hunched in the middle and is so named for the guinea pigs that the islands are supposed to resemble. That trek was actually quite tough as in some places where the path climbed very high above the crater, and the gradient rising from 3100 to 3400 metres but it was very beautiful. The path wound in and out of trees and each time it took us back out above the lake our viewpoint had shifted and we had a different perspective. The lake changed from a moody, glassy black which reflected the mountains to molten mercurial silver and all shades of blue/green in between.
Laguna de Cuicocha
We had rain, sun and hail thrown at us while we walked and then when we finally reached the road we had to hitchhike back to the town as there was no public transport. That in itself was an adventure as we climbed into the back of a truck who had already picked up a lady and a drunk guy who kept retching in the corner – and thenthe truck got a puncture too.
waiting patiently for the puncture to be repaired
Julie the British lady that I had met was a masseuse and did something with crystals. I had a lovely massage and she read my cards (something like tarots) with uncanny accuracy but the jury is still out on the crystal stuff. I supposedly had all my bad energy taken away from me, but following subsequent events she would probably dispute that!
The cards. Uncannily accurate
On one of my return trips to Otavalo (by now my third visit) I was accompanied by the uber intelligent Marcel from Germany who I had met in Quito. My trip has been educational in more ways than one but before I set out I never expected that I would learn about black holes, quantum physics and tons of other sciency stuff. And all credit to Marcel that despite my blank looks he didn’t tell me that I was completely stupid and he did explain a lot of stuff in a way that even my non-scientific mind could grasp (I gave up on physics in school on the day that we made patterns with a magnet and iron filings. What use was that ever going to be in my life?)
One evening we heard that there was a cockfight going on. This is legal in Ecuador and most towns have an arena. We debated the ethics of going and then decided that, provided we didn’t have to pay an entrance fee, we might at least pop our heads in and see what was going on.
A cock fight – with birds strategically placed behind a post
It wasn’t as bad as I had thought – I actually found it more interesting watching the crowd watching the fighting than the birds themselves. It was similar to a boxing match in as much as there were timed segments, the referree would frequently pause the match and there was some big money changing hands among the crowd.
We stayed for just twenty minutes which was quite enough, and I would not go again but just after we had left we were told that there had been an immediate kill which had earned the owner of the bird a huge two thousand dollars.
waiting for the cock fight
I have to ‘fess up to not being particularily politically correct in several respects because I also visited the animal market twice as well as the cock fight. And they were both very un-pc. But interesting. And quite legal and normal in Colombia. In the market there were all sorts of animals changing hands, from tiny little chicks and puppies to pigs, goats and bulls. Some very grand cockerels were on display which we later learnt were being sold for cock fighting and a man was very strangely leading a randy bull around on a rope.
patiently waiting for a sale
Daniel from Cuenca had joined us in Otavalo by now and the three of us spent a hilarious half hour watching the bull unsucessfully attempt to mount the other bulls that were tied up to the fence but he only succeeded in spraying everything and anybody who was stood too close with sperm. Very prurile and childish but ever so funny. Daniel actualy recorded the whole thing if you are interested!
calendar shot – October
Daniel had joined us in Cuenca for a music festival which I had been reliably informed by Julie the Brit would take place at the sacred waterfall and which would be a moving,s spiritual affair. Was it heck!
It was not at the waterfall at all, but in a large, drafty sports hall. A bevvy of bands took their turn on stage but none of the music was spiritual – it was all a jazzed up version of the music that you can hear on many high streets. Pan pipes accompanied by drums and guitars didn’t really do it for us since we were expecting such big things. I have to say that it was a dreadful night – not least because a man who was sat next to me shoved his tongue in my ear and told me that he loved me (I moved pretty sharpish). Marcel thought that the whole visit to Otavalo was hilariously funny and Daniel couldn’t wait to leave Ecuador (I should point at that neither were the owner of the out of control tongue)
volcano hidden in the clouds
One nice thing about Otavalo was that I also had the chance to meet up with Ashley from the States who I had previously met in Banos. I was told before I started to travel that there was a well worn path that travellers followed but I never believed that I would re-meet the same people again. After all, the distances are so huge, but people swap Facebook addresses and hook up again. If somebody can recommend a hostel or a good place to visit that can sometimes be safer than winging it (not always as some of the best things that I have seen or done have been when I have got lost)
Since my return to the UK after my trip I have even met up with fellow travellers here too and that is fantastic because you have the connection and the shared memories.
a lady in Otavalo market
Leaving Otavalo behind on November 2nd Marcel and I in our bus drove past the cemetary where the indigenous population bury their dead. It was packed. The roads around it were solid with people and families laden down with baskets and flowers because it was ‘The Day of the Dead’ which is celebrated all around Central and South America and Mexico. It is a day of celebration rather than sadness when whole (usually indigenous) families decamp to the graves of their ancestors and hold a picnic alonsgside their resting place, complete with their deceased relatives favourite foods.
Arriving back in Quito we also witnessed the way that some of the city folk commemorated the Day of the Dead. Enter your email address and follow me to ensure that you don’t miss my my next installment or like me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter
On my second day in the jungle I woke early as the sun streamed in through my mosquito net. The windows were just open wooden frames and from my bed I could hear strange noises. Getting up to investigate I was enthralled to see a troop of capuchin monkeys playing in the trees outside my window, grooming each other and daring each other to go near the dining area, when there were yells from the kitchen as one of the braver monkeys dashed over the low wall and stole a banana off the table.
early morning visitors at our camp
After a massive cooked breakfast I set off with Javier into the jungle on foot. I had been given welly boots as it was muddy in places and we wandered for miles and for hours. It was everything that I hoped and expected with the sunlight filtering down through the canopy high above and Javier stopping very frequently to explain the medicinal plants and trees. He pointed out insects and birds and then we found some more monkeys just getting on with their lives high above us. We heard howler monkeys and exotic birds and Javier showed me some MASSIVE spiders and creepy crawlies, I licked milk of magnesium from a tree where he had made a small nick in the bark and watched as he found and burnt natural incense and a twig which smelt just like tobacco.
monster spider webs
I shut my eyes and stuck my tongue out as instructed,expecting Javier to sprinkle some sap or water onto it as he had been fiddling about with a leaf and a tree trunk. Umm – lemon flavour water. Umm fizzy lemon flavour water. Quite tasty. Ummmmmm – something crawling up my nose! Fizzy lemon flavoured ants!!!!!!!!!!!!! While I spat and blew my noise Javier was bend over with laughter, but I do have to confess – until I realised that they were ants they were actually quite tasty.
and monster spiders
At times our walk resembled something out of a Disney film or Avatar with massive orchids bending under their own weight suspended from tree trunks, and clouds – and I do mean clouds of butterflies swooping and hovering around everywhere, some of them as big as my two hands held with fingers outstretched. There were bees, ants and wasps, and a warm humidity muffled the sounds. It felt like we were walking inside a grand hall of tree trunks and leaves.
a clearing in the jungle canopy
Eventually we came out to a little beach on the edge of the lagoon and we sat in complete peace until the canoe with the others came and collected us and took us back to the lodge. After an excellent and huge lunch I dozed off in a hammock for the afternoon, lulled gently to sleep by buzzing insects. After our siesta we went out in the smaller canoe and paddled gently around the lake. We stopped and listened to the cayman gulping and grunting somewhere in the the thick undergrowth and then as the sun launched itself over the horizon of trees we again swam in the warm lagoon.
no need to steal – bananas are left out for the monkeys
After dinner Javier led me deep into the dark of the jungle and with torches flashing on the trees and the ground we discovered a whole different world of insects, frogs and birds. When we had walked for ages we put the torches off and sat in total darkness. The starlight couldn’t penetrate the canopy and we sat like this for about twenty minutes in silence. It was comforting and the dark wrapped around us like a security blanket yet a little disconcerting as I wondered what was out there in the dark watching us. I believed I could see orange and red eyes staring out at us from between the tree trunks.
La Hormiga Lodge
Time was flashing by and on the third day after breakfast with the sun shining and turning the surface of the lake to mercury Javier and I set off on another big adventure. We paddled and we paddled and we paddled. Across the Laguna Cuyabena up the creeks and past the sunken forests, around Cayman Cocha (lake) and then we struggled against a faster current in a a muddy brown river, finally bringing the canoe to rest in a shady spot among some reeds. Looking nervously around for those pesky caymans we got down to fishing with a cane, some twine and a hunk of meat.
patiently fishing in the shade
We didn’t have to wait for long before the cane bent and up came – and an empty hook. Several times we reloaded until eventually Javier hooked a snapping , growling piranha. Yes, it really did snap and clatter its teeth and despite being hauled out of the water it was totally focused on trying to devour the meat and yes it did growl too. It was the rojo (red) variety and it was really quite stunning although we were careful not to get our fingers too close as we posed for photos and then gently released it back into the water.
a red piranha
After a rest and a recovery from our frantic paddling we continued up the river until it opened out into the Laguna Grande. What struck me on this trip was the total peace. Yes there was noise but it was natural. There was total unadulterated by man type of silence. Like at Wadi Rum in Jordan and at the top of Machu Picchu I felt linked to this planet of ours, a spiritual, primeval connection. Connected and a part of the larger global picture; feeling compelled to make my time here in this world count in any small way possible.
We ‘parked’ our canoe under another shady tree and after another spot of piranha fishing (we caught a white piranha this time) we just sprawled in the bottom of the boat and rested for a while, Javier listening to his music through his earphones and I counting my blessings for fate/opportunity/my guardian angel which had led me to this little bit of paradise.
We evenually paddled back in silence, back through the eerie trees growing out of the lagoon, parrots in the trees and the endless fluttering butterflies. As we drifted down the muddy brown waters escorted by smudges of insects and with the plops of fish jumping around us I felt my energy levels recharge and my love for life given a new surge.
possibly my most favourite place on the planet
For my last evening at La Hormiga I had a special treat. After dinner, three of us went out in the motor canoe and armed with torches went looking for cayman. I had heard these creatures as we had paddled along the rivers but now was my chance to see them. the lagoon took on a whole new personality in the dark, with shadows and intrigue. I very quickly lost my bearings as we went up and down the channels but Javier skillfully navigated his way. Every so often he would cut the engine and I would hold my breath as the beam of the torches picked out the bright orangey/ yellowy eyes of the stealthy cayman.
I saw the prehistoric snouts floating around us and once spotted one creature ‘take a ploof’ and with very little noise, push itself off the muddy bank and disappear into a swirl of water in the lagoon. I felt priviledged and humbled to see these ancient creatures and quite a little bit scared to be so close to them.
My final morning I was supposed to get out of bed at 5am and go into the jungle and listen to the birdsong of the dawn chorus and watch the sunrise, but I lay awake most of the night listening to the rain hammering on the tin roof above me. It was still tap dancing down at dawn so whilst Javier was more than prepared to lead me, I decided that it would be a soggy damp excursion that I could do without.
muddy waters hiding cayman and piranhas
After breakfast, we all piled back into the canoe which was loaded with trash bound for the town and the empty petrol cans and we began our journey back to civililisation. We broke down at one point but a fortuitous passing canoe transfered some fuel to us and sadly we had to continue our journey. Back at the little bridge I was I then offered a lift back into Lago Agrio by another guest where I jumped on a bus and headed back to Quito
The Amazonian jungle covers a massive swathe of the planet in South America and differs from country to country with different flora and fauna, indigenous people and cultures and customs.
it may be muddy but it is clean
If you want a to immerse yourself in a place where tourism is respectful and gentle, then get yourself to Lago Agrio and jump off into Cuyebena. I stayed at La Hormiga Lodge which is bookable through Marco Polo Tours and who have various offices around Ecuador and I can thoroughly recommend them.
They were recommended to my by Andres the owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca who is a jungle guide in his own right. I had the option to visit an indigenous community within the jungle as part of my journey but I chose not to do this. My trip was tailored to my requirements and those of the other guests and nothing was too much trouble. Lilia worked hard in the kitchen and gave us filling, tasty meals and the guides – especially Javier were the best. Accomodation was comfortable but built sympathetically with the surroundings. Windows were generally open spaces, the water for the bathrooms and showers came from the lagoon and the hammocks in the communal area were perfect for resting up after a hard days paddle.
just hangin’ around
If you speak English and you are in Quito and you want to volunteer for a few months with Marco Polo Tours, do contact Ivan as he would like somebody to help out in the office there, selling the tours to English speaking tourists, and if you fancy exploring the jungle in Cuyabena in Ecuador do give them a ring or pop in to one of the offices.
Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at La Hormiga Lodge with Marco Polo Tours this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay.
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I know that I keep on banging on that I have found the most perfect place on earth, but I honestly do think that I am getting close. Or at least close to the most perfect natural environment on earth. The Jordanian desert at Wadi Rum and the mountains around Amagá in Colombia have now been pipped to the post by Cuyabena which is in the Amazonian jungle in the north of Ecuador.
trees growing in the laguna
Andres, jungle guide and owner of the Mallki Hostel in Cuenca kindly arranged for me to visit La Hormiga Lodge (The Ant Lodge) and to stay for four days with some of his friends.
Whilst excited, I approached this with some trepidation because I knew that the stay would mean travel by canoe – and I have, or rather had, quite an aversion to water and boats.
My trip didnt get off to a good start when my seven hour bus journey to Lago Agrio turned into ten and a half hours of hell. It turned out that earlier that day a bullion van had been hijacked on the mountain road and blown up and it had reduced part of the road to rubble. As well as trying to repair the road the army and police had a heavy presence and basically stopped everything from moving so our bus just sat by the side of the road in the dark with everybody else for ages.
Anyway, I eventually rocked up in the jungle town of Lago Agrio with just half an hour to spare and I found the travel agency of Marco Polo Tours who were organising my adventure and who have the lodge where I was to stay.
I was checked in and all of the necessary paperwork was completed and then I was loaded into the backseat of a truck and we went sourcing fuel, oil, food and water for the trip. This was followed by a two hour drive into the jungle – as we bowled along the roads I tried not to dwell too much on the amount of fuel that was strapped in the back of the pick-up in huge plastic drums and which had converted us into a giant moving petrol bomb.
all fuel has to be taken in to the jungle
We safely arrived at the ‘bridge’ – the launching point into the jungle. From here transport was solely by water, but first I was given lunch while everybody sorted themselves and the cargo out. EVERYTHING had to be transported into the jungle by the canoes – the food, bedding, building materials and fuel as well as the staff and the guests, and this bridge area was the main jumping off point for all the lodges in this region so it was quite a hive of activity.
I was introduced to an Argentinian couple who were to stay at the same hostel for just one night, and then we settled ourselves into our canoe and we were off down the muddy brown tributory on another two hour leg of the journey. Our powerful motor propelled us along, with the guide Javier pausing every so often and pointing out the birds, trees, flowers and eventually whoop whoop – a monkey in the trees above us. I had seen wild monkeys in India but out there among the temples and buildings they are just a pest – here was a real wild monkey in its proper habitat and we were all so excited as we drifted around below it.
the muddy brown tributory of the river system
Eventually the river emptied out into a large lagoon. This was the bit that I had been dreading, but with submerged forests and trees right down to the water’s edge it was so breathtaking I was not scared. I didn’t want the journey to end. It was magical. The surface of the lake was a mirror reflecting the clouds and the trees and whilst it was certainly not quiet with insects, birds and canoe motors there was no hum of traffic, no drone of distant aeroplanes and no other man-made noise.
The sheer magic of the place brought tears to my eyes and I felt really emotional. We reached our little jetty and we made our way up to the lodge and our accomodation. Here again I was pleasantly surprised. Ivan had built the lodge himself and had opened it just four years previously. It could accomodate up to thirty two guests in a variety of rooms where pretty mosquito nets draped over comfortable beds and showers were fed by lake water and heated by the sun.
my pretty bedroom
After a short rest following our journey our little group of three split up, and after being told that I should wear swimwear, Javier and I set back out in the canoe to see the most stunning sunset. There were some of the canoes from the other lodges scattered about the centre of the lagoon and some people swimming in the water. I had assumed that we would find a nice beach area to swim from, but I tentatively lowered myself into the luke warm water to discover that, even in the centre of the large lagoon I could touch the sludgy muddy bottom in places. The water level was receding because we were in the dry season but I nervously swam around – after all the laguna was filled with pirhana fish and cayman.
It was then, after I had struggled very inelegantly back into the canoe that Javier told me that the pirhanas and other fish fed at the perimeter of the lake from berries and insects that fell in and the caymen in turn, fed on these fish so we were quite safe out in the middle of the lake. I couldn’t help wondering how long it would take creatures that were crawling about on the planet at the same time as the dinasours were roaming around to work out that most evenings a large banquet gathered in the centre of the laguna at sunset and they should maybe make their way there to feast upon the tourists.
sunset at the most magical place on the planet
As the sun set over the forest, the lagoon turned even more magical and beautiful if that were even possible. The reds and oranges were reflected in the perfect mirror surface of the lake, the trees which were growing up from the water became silouhettes and the insects got louder. The large birds and parrots swooped noisily across the lake to roost in the trees on the islands and then suddenly, dark fell and the frog chorus began. When we paddled silently alongside the edge of the lake we could hear the cayman grunting and rustling eerily in the weeds.
my rustic yet pretty bedroom
After dinner back at La Hormiga we found quite a large snake curled up under the stilts of the building and three giant toads hopped around our feet in the dining room catching some of the insects which were attracted by the lights. A generator powered the electric and I charged my camera (a phone was useless here with no wifi) but it was however ‘lights out’ very early to conserve the generator fuel and then it was just us, the dark and the noises of the jungle.
As I got into my bed and I very carefully made sure that the mosquito nets were pulled completely down around me, I reflected on all of the horror films that I had ever seen, where snakes slither in through open windows and then up and inside something as flimsy as a net. Despite worrying for all of ten minutes I was soon fast asleep.
Find out how I got on in the jungle next week. Make sure that you don’t miss out by following this link and ‘liking’ my Facebook page or submitting your email address in the box at the side of this page.
Note:- Whilst I received discounted accommodation at the La Hormiga Lodge this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay
I was dithering around and thinking about what to do when I left Cuenca because I had a few days before I was due to go into the jungle. Should I continue south to Vilcabamba or go up to Riobamba and ride the Devil’s Nose Railway? My mind was made up when Daniel told me that he was off to Baños to cycle the Rutas de las Cascadas and he invited me to join him. You can remind yourself of my previous visit to Baños by clicking here and find out how I did NOT enjoy that little outing along the cliff top the last time and how I had regretted not cycling it, so that decided things – I would go east with Daniel and give it a go.
Banos looking peaceful. Who would guess that one of those mountains is a very active volcano
Together we caught the night bus which deposited us in Baños at 3am. Waking the night receptionist at our hostel we were very generously allowed to sleep on the floor with him – or at least on the giant bean bags in a corner of the bar until the morning rather than paying for a bed for what was left of the night. The three of us and a cute little American Pit Bull puppy soon dozed off – waking just a few hours later to the wonderful sight of the mountains which encircle Baños and the waterfall thundering down the cliff outside.
peeping out from behind the waterfall
Despite very little sleep we were very soon up and out and off to hire a couple of bikes. And then it began to drizzle. But undaunted, we swooped off down the main road which I have to admit was a bit scary with some monster trucks whirling past rather too close for comfort. We went past the hydro-electric dam which disappointingly wasn’t operating this time around and then we were peddalling like mad through the first tunnel. On our bikes we then swung off the main road and onto the tiny track which clung to the side of the mountain and which had so terrified me the last time.
It was worst in the chiva bus
It was a thousand times better travelling under my own steam. I could relax and appreciate the view. We stopped at the rickety bridge to watch some crazy soul leap over the edge with what looked like just a velcro strap tied to his ankles and we oohed and aahed at the waterfalls which splashed down the cliff opposite.
down at the bottom of the ravine
There is something about the majesty and the only-just-contained power about a waterfall. There is no mystery about them – lots of water makes a river, river meets a cliff, water tumbles over the edge – but people flock from all over the world to wonder at them and stand, faces upturned into the light spray.
it stopped drizziling and made rainbows in the spray
Parking our bikes at the top, Daniel and I trekked down to the bottom of a couple of the falls. The sun had now come out and miniature rainbows were sparkling and dancing in the droplets of water which were suspended in the air. Everything was accompanied by the thunderous roar as the cascades crashed onto the rocks in the river beds below. I don’t know if it was because the morning had started off damp but we also met very few people along the route.
another fear conquered
The spectacular finale to the morning was the trek down to the Pailon del Diablo. Translated as something to do with the devil we clambered down steep steps and at one point reached out and we could touch the water as it roared past. We crossed a couple of rolling rickety rope and wood bridges to get deeper into the chasm as the noise richocheted around inside our chests and we could physically feel the beating of nature’s drum in our bodies.
The impressive Pailon del Diablo
I had not visited this cascada previously when travelling with M and I had sat at the top eating my cheesy puffs but I am so glad that I finally got down there. By now, after nearly a year of travelling in Latin America I was no longer quite so terrified of trip trapping across ricketty wooden bridges or charging down the long track which precariously clung to the side of the ravine on my bike. I had been striding outside of my comfort zone and pushing those boundaries way back into touch.
don’t be fooled by the force of that water
Our initial plan had been to cycle the sixty one kilometres all the way to the jungle town of Puyo but the road had begun to creep uphill and we were told by a local that it was uphill for the rest of the way. Lack of sleep and the exhertion of the climbs up and down to the river had taken their toll so we flopped at a bus stop and we waited for a ride to take us and our bikes back up to the town again.
Later that evening, a crowd of us decided that we should visit the thermal baths. I had been to these on my previous visit but I do enjoy a hot bath. I was missing my luxury of a bubble bath and while these didn’t do candles and music and a glass of red wine, they did do floodlights, a waterfall splashing down alongside and some very funny local people. Our little band of happy travellers was expanding and Daniel and I were joined by Laura from the UK, Ashley from the US and Inigo from Spain among others.
the picture doesn’t do this place justice with the waterfall crashing down in the background
The next day was another repeat adventure for me when we hired a cab to take us to the Casa del Arbol and the Swing at the End of the World. This time the cloud was a little higher and the sun was out although disappointingly we were still unable to see the smoking glowing crater of the active Tungurahua volcano. But swing we did and I went ever higher this time over the edge of the mountain. In a fit of fitness and much to Laura;s disgust we decided to let the cab go and walk back down to the town. It was a long way but at least it was all downhill and we took a short cut which accidentally but luckily brought us out at the mirador and the cross high above the town where we paused to catch our breath and wonder at the view below.
The swing over the End of the World
We hung about in the large bar of our hostel that night which did free dinners a few times a week and was an excellent marketing ploy as it ensured that the bar was busy. Early the next day I said goodbye to Daniel and Laura and I yomped with my rucksack through the town to the bus station for my bus to Quito and my usual hostel when in that city. Here, without checking in, I swapped my stuff around between my bags so that I could leave the big one behind because I had a night bus back out late that night to the jungle town of Lago Agrio and a really exciting four days ahead.
So what does Latacunga have to offer apart from the natural beauty of the area?
There is a tiny but cute museum known as Casa de la Maquesas where a little old man un-padlocked each of the doors for me, switched on lights and proudly showed me around. I never quite fathomed out whether I was visiting outside of the opening hours or whether he had just not bothered to open up that afternoon, but it housed a few interesting objects in a lovely old building.
The museum curator and Mama Negra
The gentleman tinkled the keys on the various pianos and organs and opened doors and drawers of the exhibits and talked at me the entire time in Quichua. I didn’t understand a word he said!
There are numerous churches, pretty parks and squares, a lovely ice cream parlour and when the clouds lift, the Cotopaxi volcano can be seen on the horizon. The streets in the old town are narrow and most have cobbles and the buildings are made of stone. At night the old fashioned lamps glow with warm shades of yellow, green or orange and look so inviting. I was out walking after dark and felt completely safe in the surrounding streets. The Hostal Endamo is situated a block or two from the main square and is very close to a cute little park.
After some initial confusion at check-in I was shown to my room. The room was small but neat and tidy with a flat screen TV on the wall and somebody had done some towel art, which I always appreciate. There was a nice wood effect parquet floor, thoughtfully placed electric sockets and lights and a tasteful picture. The bathroom fittings looked new and it all smelt really clean and fresh.
My small but perfectly adequate room
Access to the hotel was through a restaurant and once I was settled in, the ladies on reception were keen to find out why and how I was travelling. Or maybe they weren’t but I was keen to practice my Spanish and I told them anyway. And they were very polite considering I had just turned up on the doorstep and they asked me lots of questions and practised their English.
I was offered lunch in the restaurant which was really very tasty. I had soup, a main course and a little pastry as well as a juice. It was busy at lunchtime with many business people dressed in suits dropping in to eat. The owner and manager, Enrique Naranjo told me the following day that the restaurant can seat thirty people but will also double up as a conference suite suitable for up to fifty people. It was long and narrow but with the roses and tablecloths it was welcoming and it was certainly popular.
The restaurant at Hostal Endamo
The following day at breakfast, the owner and manager sat with me and explained about the history of the hotel. He has been here for five years and has been doing a lot of work to the building. He very kindly gave me a tour of many of the rooms which are situated within two blocks. The front of the hotel containing the garage (parking for guests is VERY useful in these narrow streets) and the restaurant with some rooms above is a modern addition to the structure. Behind the restaurant, the reception can be found in a roofed courtyard close to the kitchen. A large water-feature plays here and stairways lead up to the much older part of the hotel.
Reception and its water feature
There are twenty three rooms which range from the smaller once such as the one that I was in, through to some family rooms and some suites. Enrique is also converting a room to a self-contained unit with a small kitchen for guests who want to stay longer. All of the rooms have new bathroom fittings and are tastefully decorated and all have natural light and ventilation. There are no nasty fans in the bathrooms – they all have windows to the outside or to the central atrium. And they have shower gel dispensers too which is always a nice touch.
The relaxing lounge area at the top of the hotel
At the top of the hotel there is a peaceful seating area with panoramic windows and views to the surrounding mountains and the Cotopaxi volcano. There is also a ping-pong table here should you wish to get active. The whole area is enclosed with light plastic roofing which keeps the place warm. At the top of the front building of the hotel is an open roof terrace with a 360 degree view of the town and the volcano.
I read somewhere that Latacunga has the highest concentration of barber shops per capita in Ecuador. That is very possibly true – they are everywhere, but it also appears to be the hub for embroidery shops – you know the ones – places that will embroider your tracksuit or polo-shirt with your business name. There are banks of these shops here with machines busy whirring away and shiny tracksuits and trophies in their windows.
Sun setting on Cotopaxi viewed from the roof terrace
Latacunga also has an airport and I was told that the only planes which fly in and out transport flowers or broccoli. The surrounding hills house poly-tunnels growing mainly roses which the region is famous for. I expected to see little cargo planes using a small runway, but walking around the old town I actually ducked as a huge plane, one step down from a jumbo took off, its undercarriage still down as it appeared to just miss the rooftops. The blast from it set off all the car alarms. They must grow one hell of a lot of roses here.
What Latacunga doesn’t have – take note any entrepreneur – is decent coffee shops. I found just one and that one was disguised as a bar – but the town does have some very nice ice cream outlets and I felt it was my duty to sample as many of the flavours that I could on several occasions.
Half the population here are wearing the latest fashions – the other half (the women) wear traditional dress of coloured skirts, knee-high white socks, green trilby hats and fringed shawls. These clothes are not confined to the older generation either – I have seen many teenager girls draped around their boyfriends sporting white socks and hats – but maybe I am simply ignorant and it is these girls who are the height of fashion.
The roof top lounge area and its pool table
Latacunga is a traditional town with few tourists but I liked it. It is a perfect town away from the craziness of Quito but close to Cotopaxi and Quilotoa.
- If you want to relax, head up to the roof of the Hostal Endamo with its comfy seats and great views – take your camera at sunset
- Lunch at the Hostal Endamo is great
- Enrique and his wife are a lovely couple – very friendly and smiley
- Try an ice cream or three at Nice on the corner of Santo Domingo square
- Just wander and relax.
Note:- Whilst I received complimentary accommodation at the Hostal Endamo this did not influence my opinion or review in any way. I have portrayed an honest picture of my stay
M does like a nice waterfall and in Banos there is a road that runs for about thirty kilometres along what is known as the Ruta de las Cascadas so this was a must for us to do. Many people choose to hire bikes and they freewheel down the road and then later they catch a bus back up to the top of the hill with the bike loaded on the roof. However, the day that we planned to do this route it was raining hard and I allowed myself to be persuaded by M to take a trip in a Chiva bus instead. As we boarded the open sided truck I wondered if I was making the right decision as the driver turned the music right up VERY LOUD and we boomed and thumped our way out of the town.
At least there was a wall at this point
To begin with it was all very nice. We drove over the top of a very high dam where the water charging down the mountain was harnessed and powered a hydro-electric plant. Clouds of misty spray and rainbows filled the air and the truck vibrated with the force of the water plunging down. We soon came to the mouth of a tunnel which was cut into the mountainside …but our chiva negotiated a little slip road to avoid the tunnel and followed a teeny tiny track around the outside. It was at this point that it dawned on me that the Spanish for chiva is goat; and goats, especially the mountain kinds, have a fondness for bouncing around on the sides of mountains.
The Yank behind us started jumping around screeching ‘Holy Sh*t’ over and over and I tell you, if I could have unpeeled my clenched hands from off the bar in front of me I would cheerfully have clenched them around her throat – and I wish that I had done when we reached our first pit stop.
zip lining madness
If somebody was as afraid of heights as she was making out they would not be first in the queue to launch themselves across a wide deep ravine on a zip wire. And certainly not face down, trusting themselves to a single saggy cable. Actually our party in the truck were an adventurous lot with the majority giving the zip wire a go, including a twelve year old girl. Of course, I decided to stay on firm ground and watch from the relative safety of a rickety old bridge.
Back in the chiva we continued to slowly pick our way down the track, inching below overhanging rocks and pausing under waterfalls which clattered onto the roof of the truck. I next considered strangling M for subjecting me to this torture but all my energy was focused into not hysterically breaking down. At least on the bike I could have clung to the inside edge of the track and gone as carefully as I liked. I had believed that my fear of heights was almost cured, but this trip was proving different.
no way was I getting in this
We rattled over a bridge which appeared to be made of loose planks and continued to our next optional addition – another of those cage baskets which traverse ravines. I hadn’t climbed into the one in Mindo and I certainly wasn’t going to get in one now. Obviously our Yank friend had a go and she travelled over to the other side for a closer look at the waterfall. We could see the cascada perfectly well from our side of the river and I was quite happy doing just that so I stayed firmly put and took more photographs.
The final straw was a stop at what was to be the best waterfall of all, but we were then told that we would have to cross two rickety plank and rope bridges. My nerves gave out completely at this point so I plonked myself down on a rock and ate a bag of cheesy puffs after asking M to take some photos so that she could show me what I was missing. All of our group returned safely and it was time to head back to Banos. By now it was beginning to get dark so the truck turned on disco lights inside and out to go with the thumping music and we headed back up the mountain.
swing over the edge of the earth
The next morning having recovered from my terrors, me and M shared a cab with H and L and we drove up the mountain to the “swing over the edge of the earth”. Hanging from the branch of a tree hung a swing. It was nothing swanky, just a little wooden seat and a sort of seat belt which was a mere nod at Health and Safety and up in the tree above was a cute little wooden tree house. The idea was that you swang (or should that be swung) out over nothingness. Well, obviously there was something below but it was a long way down. I wasn’t sure if I would try it but I did eventually give it a go, swinging out into the low clouds. It was beginning to drizzle by now so we didn’t hang about too long and we went back to our waiting cab. Me and M checked out of the Santa Cruz hostel, got the bus to Ibarra and then checked in to the Hotel Fevilamir.