The Ecuadorian trip was between May 20th and June 2nd, 2015 with Gate1 tour company, our second trip with them. There were 20 in the group with young, recent college graduates to 30, 40 and 50-somethings, all the way to well, us. We landed at the new Quito airport at 10:20 pm with an hour drive to the hotel and a 7:30 am pickup of luggage. So begins the adventure! .


Quito - Capital of Ecuador

Quito’s amazing topography is dominated by volcanos, at least 8 of which are considered active and close enough to harm the city. It is a rich mix of indian and Spanish, antiquated and modern cultures, that invite your exploration.

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The Equator

When in Ecuador the magical, mystical, mysterious powers of standing on the dividing line between North and South must be experienced. We therefore stopped at a historical park/museum where the attendants demonstrated these extraordinary powers of the equator, including the changes in the swirling of water when draining between the Northern and Southern hemispheres or On The Line (no swirl), and difficulties in walking the equator line, balancing an egg, and more. These effects were as a result of the centrifugal force of the earth’s spinning. What was spinning was the truth by the park guides in playing up to the tourists. It was fun, but for the record only one person in our group questioned it at the time.

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The Highlands

Banos

The city is known as the "Gateway to the Amazon" as it is the last big city located in the mountains before reaching the jungle and the other towns located in the Amazon River basin.

We visited a shop where an artist creates beautiful jewelry, statues and other small gifts from the palm nut. It is known as Tagua or vegetable ivory. See how it is made by watching this Youtube video: Taqua

Banos is a great place for having a spa day as many places provide facials and massages. Walk-ins are always welcomed, as we were.

Another feature of Banos are its thermal mineral pools heated by the Tungurahua volcano. It is also home to more than 60 waterfalls. Capturing pictures of the storefronts helped me become acquainted with the color and flavor of what was one of the most beautiful cities on our tour.

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Haciendas
La Cienega
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Manteles
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Our home for this day/night was Hacienda Manteles, with views of the Tungurahua Volcano and the surrounding landscape.
This is a 100+ yr old home, which became a refuge for the locals from the erupting volcano. The owner even built several smaller apartments on the property to shelter the people from the eruptions. Some tour mates stayed in the apartments, while Marv and I and 3 others were able to stay in the original hacienda. We had a lovely dinner there and afterwards tried to become a little acquainted with the night sky of the southern hemisphere.

Cabanas del Lago
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Up close and personal to a volcano was our stay outside of Otavalo. The charm and beauty of our hacienda mollified the ominousness of our neighbor.

Papallacta
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This night has us nestled between two volcanos, Cayambe and Antisana. The area, thanks to these two volcanos, is noted for its hot springs and spas. The evening temperature was in the 50s which made the baths outside our door all the more luscious.

Rose Gardens


Roses are one of Ecuador’s great exports, due to the quality of the roses. Ecuador is the world’s third-largest exporter of cut flowers, 73 per cent of which are roses. It is an industry that employed 103,000 people and generated $837m of business in 2013. The growth of Ecuador’s floriculture industry was kick-started in 1991 by the Andean Trade Preference Act, brought in by the US to promote legal industries such as flower growing as alternatives to drug trafficking in four Andean countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

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Markets

We visited the fruit/veggie markets and took pictures as if we were going to award prizes for the most beautifully arranged and outstanding color. We didn’t.

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Volcanos & Waterfalls

Snow and glaciers can be seen at the top of the very tallest volcanos at 19,000 feet. As expected in a mountainous land there are waterfalls everywhere including some rather spectacular ones that we visited.

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Amazonia

Casa del Suizo
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The Village

Ahuano is the name of a native village located on an island down river and accessible only by canoe; quite primitive outside of having electricity via generator. We visited the home of Carmela, a Quechua Indian woman who taught us a bit about family culture and the making of homemade wine.
Along the way, we came upon a tree covered in butterfly larva. These were large black fuzzy caterpillar-like creatures. I felt the fuzzy creatures. No one else did.

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The Hike

Of course, one must take a hike when in a jungle. And what is more fitting than doing it in a pouring rain - rubber boots, deep mud, no clear path, uphill and down, trees new to us, chancing a walk across a suspended bridge, and flying through the jungle on a short zip line basket ride.
To finish the day’s adventure, we rafted on a traditional balsa log raft, winding slowly along the river, still in the lovely rain. It was so intoxicating that Marvin Jumped into the river with his hat and glasses on!

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Embarking to our jungle hike

Galapagos Islands

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We landed on Baltra, a small flat island, at one of the two airports serving the Galapagos Islands. A short boat ride to Santa Cruz and a 45 minute bus ride had us arriving at Puerto Ayora, one of the two main towns and the prime stop for tourists. It has an excellent harbor and a number of resorts. Progress in the form of building infrastructure is everywhere; new roads, buildings, etc.. Such progress is usually viewed favorably but in the context of the special prestine nature of the Galapagos it is more akin to encroachment. Humans, unfortunately, settled the islands before Ecuador established 97% of it as a National Park. While 97 percent sounds impressive, three quarters of it is on Isabela, the newest island still being formed by active volcanos and the least hospitable for wildlife. One of its volcanos, Wolf Volcano, erupted two days before our arrival.
The hotel’s naturalist thanked us profusely, saying that our presence sent a message to the local residents that it was important for them to protect the environment, i.e., the Galapagos’ ecosystem.
In the Galapagos, we saw many iguanas (black and orange), birds (frigates and boobies), sea lions, shore crabs, herons, pelicans and actual pink flamingos.

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Santa Cruz

The island is a mix of private and national park areas. There is an agreement that the Galapagos turtles are free to roam at will, and we in fact visited a private ranch where we encountered many. Also, note worthy, are several massive sink holes, that are probably ancient volcanic vent holes. Our lodge, Finch Bay, was excellent.

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Mr galapagos

Darwin Foundation

A must stop is at the Darwin Foundation. Their work focus is on combating invasive species (humans?), sustainability, and conservation management. Sustainability includes raising baby turtles in an effort to increase their population. Rats and cats, two invasive species, attack their eggs and young.

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North Seymour Island

Known as the home of the Blue-Footed Boobies, the Island provides the classic Galapagos “experience”. The indigenous inhabitants evolved without predators and lack an instinctive fear of unknown others. The sense of being accepted was a bit disconcerting, and very cool!
One awestruck sight on the way to North Seymour Island: Hundreds of boobies circle in unison, in the sky overhead, going round and round several times, searching for fish in the water. Then “BAM”! They all slam the water at once to catch their food. It was fascinating to witness.

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On our way to North Seymour Island