Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 14 Off to Mishualli

We left for Mishualli after breakfast, which is about 1.5 hrs from Puyo by Taxi (cost us $55 for anyone planing to follow the same route). The road was nicely paved and in very good condition, but it snakes around and over many hills, so it is like a roller coaster ride. When we arrive the taxi driver did not know where the hotel was so we stopped in the town center where he asked for directions. During this time the mischievous monkeys that live in the town plaza stole a water bottle from a man walking by, they opened it and tried to drink. To their surprise the bottle was empty, so they dropped it and allowed the guy to take it back.


We stayed at the lovely Banana Lodge, which is just a 5-10 minute walk out of the town center or a $1 taxi. It is located right on the river and had the best/fastest internet we experienced in the entire country.


We had lunch at a restaurant just off the main square and for a couple bucks each, we had the set lunch. This included the best soup we had on our entire trip and then a plate of fish, rice, salad, beans,  and fried plantain. It was delish! While we were eating a storm came to town and brought with it torrential rain. We tried to walk around and explore, but the rain was just too much and we were entirely soaked. We ended up spending the rest of the day just relaxing at the lodge until the rain went away.


For dinner we walked all the way to the other side of town, over a sketchy suspension bridge, to the El Jardin restaurant. Yes, that is the same name as the place we stayed in Puyo and this restaurant is owned by the same people. The grounds of the restaurant were superb. It contained a very well manicured garden with koi ponds/rivers running through the property. One of the koi we spotted was HUGE. Say 2-2.5 ft long and nearly 1ft in diameter! The food was as well prepared (if not better) and tasty as the main El Jardin in Puyo. I had the shrimp with pasta, which came in a creamy pink sauce, and tiramisu for desert.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Day 13 Puyo and Paseo de Los Monos

After breakfast we took a taxi to the road that Museo Ethnographica Huaorani was supposed to be on. After asking a local, we found the building, but now it is only the Huaorani organization offices. I guess the museum no longer exists. This was sad as it seemed like it would have been a good learning experience according to Lonely Planet.

So to occupy some time, we went to the Waorani shop in town to buy some nice items handcrafted by the Huaorani tribe (with the proceeds going to them).

We wondered around town waiting for lunch time, then had lunch at a little Chifa, which is a Chinese food restaurant here, but with an Ecuadorean flare. We had some pretty good stir fried rice with shrimp and, unexpectedly, chicken and, of course, French fries, which seem to come with every meal in this country.

After that we grabbed a cab to Paseo de Los monos. I believe this reserve has had to undergo several changes recently due to new government regulations and most of the animals are now in large fenced areas and we are not allowed to touch them. In the past, I believe that the monkeys were free roaming and would climb all over you when you entered the reserve. We only saw three monkeys free to roam and two of them seemed like major trouble makers and at one point we really thought they were going to attack us. To make the whole experience even a bit more adventurous, the guy working there at the moment didn't speak English and what Dylan could make out was beware of snakes on the trail! So here we were wandering around the jungle without a guide after being told to look out for snakes and we had two scary, seemingly angry monkeys chasing after us! I think we were both terrified. Haha. 


Now the monkeys here are in a sanctuary either because they are injured or to domesticated to return to the wild. They were rescued from the animal trade or the like. Besides the monkeys, there were at least 2 coatis, which I had not seen that close before. Boy are they cute! 


We had to walk half the way back to town before we could get a taxi to stop for us. I think the guy who did stop had pulled out of a bar just down the road from us, but if he was drunk, I couldn't tell.

We once again had dinner at our hotel, El Jardin, after trying to eat at the hotel next door and finding the place empty with all the lights off (they did turn them on for us), but they had no beer or bottled water so luckily that was a good enough reason for us to leave. 


The dinner at our hotel was once again amazing. We split a papas de locras soup that is made from potato, cheese (queso fresco), and avocado that was light and had a perfect mix of herbs as seasoning. We also split a Greek salad and a vegetable casserole with oven-crisped cheese on top.


We ended the evening in the Japanese wooden hot tub (ofuro) with a large bottle of beer. Ah relaxation!



Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Day 12 The Oriente, Finally!

Today we had an amazing pancake breakfast at our hotel! Finally not eggs!

Our first stop for the morning was to the hot springs near the hotel called Las Piscinas de La Virgen. They were a paltry $2/pp. They had a hot pool (118 Deg F), a warm pool, and a cold one. We were the only obvious tourists there which was pretty cool. It almost seemed like a seniors water aerobic class as the vast majority of people there were elderly and using the pool to swim and do other exercises. 

After relaxing for a bit at the hot springs, we changed and then walked around town to do some shopping. We found some very nice leather worked goods and some handmade pulled taffy which is the candy of choice in Banos. Also, there was a lot of amazing graffiti in Banos.


After a healthy lunch of ice cream and taffy, we got a taxi ride to Puyo. Our driver was very jovial and was very happy talking about monkeys. He spoke pretty decent English and I think he was very happy that he could communicate with us. He let us stop at two beautiful waterfalls along the way and gave us tidbits of information about each town we passed through. 


Puyo is the capital of the Pastaza province in the Oriente (known to the rest of the world as the Amazon basin). The town itself is uninspiring, but our hotel set across a foot bridge from the city in secondary forest is beautiful. The hotel is El Jardin and has very lovely grounds with 3 ducks, 2 macaws, 2 cats, and a small (compared to the Galapagos) tortoise. I'm not sure if they are pets of the hotel or were just passing through the grounds though.


Next stop was to visited Parque Omaere which is right next to our hotel. This is an ethnobotanical park, which is right up my ally of favorite things! We were guided by Chris Canaday an American biologist that runs the park with his wife Teresa who is a Shuar (one of the local indigenous groups in this region) plant expert. This tour was most excellent, while I have researched a lot about the Huaorani peoples and medicinal plants, I still learned a ton of information. 

We got to see a couple of examples of indigenous houses and learned a lot about their clothing, weapons, hunting traps, and just the general way of life about both the Huaorani and Shaur tribes. What is most amazing about this park is that it was cattle pasture just twenty years ago and was hand planted back into the lush jungle it is today. Dylan got a plant tea to snort as a way to get rid of his sinus issues. You can see him snorting some below! Ha!


We had dinner at the hotel, which is supposed to be the best food in the Oriente according to Lonely Planet. Dylan ordered nachos and guacamole as an appetizer this evening, which turned out to be Doritos and guacamole. Surprisingly good, but very unexpected.


Then for mains Dylan got the trout in a caper sauce and I had the grilled shrimp. Both meals were very good and the sauce on Dylan's fish was absolutely amazing. The food was also plated in a very interesting manner, quite pretty.


Monday, September 16, 2013

Day 11 Banos

This morning the hotel went out of their way to go buy me a yogurt for breakfast, which was totally unnecessary, but highly appreciated. By this time I am feeling a little egged out and still sick from the altitude.

I just rested in the room until lunch and then Dylan and I found a great little vegetarian restaurant called Restaurante Vegetariano Ari. We had a very filling lunch for $2.50 each! It included a delicious potato soup, a cup of fresh juice, a slice of watermelon, and an overflowing plate of fried sweet potato, a cauliflower and bean dish, rice with gravy, and a coleslaw type salad. 

When we got back to the hotel our taxi to Banos was waiting. Unfortunately, we had to travel to the very north of Quito to pick up the others for the ride, which added about 2 hours extra to our drive. But I guess that is the price you pay if you want cheap taxis. We used Executive taxi door to door service $20/pp (taxi would have been $95) and our driver was really wonderful. Our drive from the airport to Quito was crazy and erratic and this guy by contrast was cool and relaxed. I felt very safe with him driving and would definitely recommend this company.

We shared the ride with an Ecuadorian med student and her mother that were heading back to their hometown of Ambato. The student seemed to enjoy chatting with us so she could practice her English. She told us about the popular foods in each town along the way. Overall, it was a pretty enjoyable trip.

Our hotel in Banos was a lovely little place near a very high waterfall and hot spring. We stayed at Posada de Arte and had a room on the second floor Canela 2 that had two Juliet balconies facing the waterfall. 


I should note that by the time we reached Banos my altitude sickness was nearly all gone and would disappear entirely by the next morning. 

We wandered around town for a bit and then it was time for dinner, so we headed back to the hotel as the meals there were recommended in the Lonely planet guide book. I had a quinoa soup and Dylan had two yummy appetizers and a nice salad. 


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Day 10 Quito and a bad case of altitude sickness

Visited 2 museums in the morning. Both were quite well done.

The first one was Museo de la Ciudad (museum of the city) which did an amazing job of explaining the history of Quito and how the people lived during each time period. The building itself was the former city hospital from 1563 to the 1970's. We were even given a private English tour for no additional all cost.


The picture above shows one of the rooms in the museum. There is a home typical of the area prior to the Spanish conquest in the back. The floor was a map of the city at that time all made out of wood. It was stunning!

The next stop was Casa de Alabado which was also an unexpectedly good museum. In this one, we were give headset with an English guide so that we could get more out of the museum. The museum was filled with pre-Columbian art made from stone, pottery, wood, and metal. We learned about the ancient peoples who made the artwork and their belief systems about life and death, the spirit world, the role of shamans, and ancestors.


Tried to get lunch at Tianguez in the Plaza San Francisco and had a sudden onset of altitude sickness. Thought I had the flu, but it was much worse. I'm pretty sure that I passed out momentarily at the restaurant. I forced myself to drink some Mate de Coca (yes, that is the plant cocaine is extracted from but no worries Mom and Dad there is not enough in the tea to get me high!) as it is a natural cure of altitude sickness. I couldn't eat what I ordered and I left Dylan at the restaurant to go back and rest at the hotel.

The sickness hit so quickly and I was on and off with fever and chills, a headache, entire body was sore, and I was severely nauseous and didn't think I could eat anything. This basically lasted until I left Quito, but with some rest I could walk around for a bit.

After resting for a few hours, I ventured out again with Dylan and we checked out the San Francisco church which was started in 1534, only a few weeks after the founding of Quito. 


We went to a pizza place place called Pizza SA, unfortunately it took too much walking to get there and I started feeling very ill again. So Dylan had the best pizza he has eaten outside of America, and I was stuck sitting outside by myself with a cup of tea for fear that I would vomit in the the restaurant.  Boy. What a day!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Day 9 A birthday filled with travel

Today we head to Quito which requires us to take a taxi, which are white pickup trucks on the islands, to the channel where we take a water taxi to the island with the airport and then a bus to the airport from there.

Once we arrived in Quito we got a taxi to Old Town for $26 and it took about an hour. We had to get out and walk a few blocks from the hotel since the traffic was so bad and some streets were blocked off. I could really start to feel the altitude at this point. We had to hike 4 blocks up hill with our heavy backpacks at an altitude of over 9k feet.

Our hotel is right off the plaza San Francisco and is called Hotel Boutique Portuna de cantina. It is a beautifully restored colonial building with a glass atrium that has a lovely metal and recycled glass work of art set just below the glass roof. 


We got our room and then went to find some dinner. We followed some fireworks going off in the sky to Plaza Grande a few blocks away where there was a stage set up and a band playing (very horribly off key I might add). The presidential palace is on this square as is the Quito cathedral. We went to the old archbishops mansion which has now been converted to shops and restaurants for dinner. This building was also a historic colonial building with a central courtyard and many rooms opening onto the courtyard. 


We went to Cafe del Fraile and had a delicious meal (Dylan had the trout with and almond sauce and I had the sea bass in a wine and butter sauce). We followed up dinner with some amazing hot chocolate. Mine had some chunks of thick, yummy cream and they were both served with a side of queso fresco. During our meal there was some beautiful live music being played on the balcony above us. It was a great way to end my birthday. 


Friday, September 13, 2013

Day 8 Back to Santa Cruz

We took a very early boat back to Santa Cruz at 6am (though we did find out that there was a later option in the afternoon with some, but not all ferry companies) the ride was much less bumpy than normal and I am happy to report that I did not get sick!

We dropped our bags off at Hotel Santa Fe and headed off to find some snacks. We had a cappuccino and cookie at Galapagos deli which was a good place for a snack, ice cream, sandwiches, and pizza. 


We then began our walk to the Charles Darwin research station and along the way a past taxi cab driver pulled up in front of us and pulled out my prescription sunglasses that I thought I had lost forever. I guess that there really is no stealing on this island (I should note though that they did have red lipstick on them, which I surely don't wear, so I assume someone tried to keep them until they realized they had prescription lenses). In any case, I am so excited and relieved to be reunited with my glasses!

At the Charles Darwin Center we saw a few varieties of giant tortoises large and very, very small. This is a breeding center in addition to a research station. They also had some land iguanas that we had not seen in the wild. They were an interesting yellow color. 


On our way back to the hotel we stopped off for lunch at a place called Lo & Lo and I had a traditional fish dish with the fish baked in a plantain leaf packet. Super yummy!


After a quick rest at the hotel we walked to Tortuga bay, which is said to have one of the nicest beaches in all of South America. The walk was long and we were very tired at this point so when we finally arrived at the beach we just hung around for a bit and checked out the animals.

Our hotel (Santa Fe) was ok, but there was no hot water while we were there and in the morning there was no electricity which made it difficult to get ready. At least they gave us 20% off the price for that.


We grabbed dinner at a Japanese restaurant and we both had a sort of veggie burgers cooked on a heated volcanic rock and split a soup made from yuca, corn, and queso. An excellent dinner. 


On the way back to the hotel for the night we grabbed some ice cream --more likely gelato-- at the Galapagos deli and then went back to the hotel to pack and get ready for tomorrow.