This is a guest post by Juliaana, a take on the last 11 days I have spent in this amazing country.
After landing in Quito, Francis and I took a bus to meet Marie in the town of Ambato, where a new friend had graciously offered us a place to stay. We arrived during Carnival and the streets were PACKED! That night we went to a salsa dance party in a city square, with thousands of others dancing up a storm around us.The next morning we walked downtown to watch the parade go by. Very impressive floats made of flowers and fruits, boasting past beauty queens in their sparkly dresses and practiced waves.
It was exciting and scary to learn about “espuma”, which is a mix between silly string and shaving cream. It comes it a can, and during Carnival it is a good idea to be armed with some, as surprise attacks can happen at any moment. It was great to stay with our new friend Humberto and his family. Their hospitality was incredible, and the dinner of shrimp and plantain they made us was delicious. A highlight of our time there was singing Spanish Karaokee with them. They had a great family dynamic, always laughing and teasing each other, and made us feel very at home even though we were stangers.
After Ambato, we travelled to a smaller town at a higher altitude called Quilotoa. They were also celebrating Carnival, and had a stage set up in the middle of town, where a 15 piece Ecaudorian folklore band played until 4 in the morning. We could hear it all from the comfort of our hostel, about 50 feet away! We slept for a couple of hours and then got up to hike around the ridge of the majestic laguna Quilotoa. It was a challenging and beautiful trek, with stunning scenery the whole way around. After reaching the peak, huffing and puffing and out of breath, we ran into some farmers, who were walking over to their cows to swtich up their grazing posts. They were NOT huffing and puffing, and were obviously in great shape from cultivating that steep hillside. We were impressed.
From Quilotoa we headed to the town of Banos, and spent 3 relaxing days there, filled with more hiking, hot spring soaking, delicious dinner making, card playing, waterfall gazing and zipline zipping. It is a place that can really suck you in, but we managed to escape in search of the jungle!
En route we stopped in at a place called ” La Casa Del Arboles” to climb an 11 story treehouse. It was such a beautiful spot, with 3D tiled mosaic sculptures at every turn. We had a quick dip in the pool there and got led through some dark caves, holding the hands of some kids and trying not to scream when bats flew down from the ceiling.
Next we travelled to Tena, and from there found a cooperative that organizes trips to stay with indigenous communities in the area. We got hooked up with a family in a community called Alukus, which is a Quechua word for a tiny ant. They lived right beside an amazing set of waterfalls and rapids, which eventually feed into Rio Napo. There were 4 different pools to swim in between the waterfalls, with rocks to dive off, rope swings and natural waterslides on the smooth rocks. We were fed fresh tilapia and also given a fishing demonstration. Our host Danielo uses a big net with both hands and his mouth, very impressive and evidently hard to use! He also took us on a walk through the most lush woods I have ever been in. SO MUCH WAS GROWING EVERYWHERE! His knowledge of the area was thorough and seemed wise beyond his 23 years. We very much enjoyed our time there, especially at 4am when we joined them in their daily Guayasa tea drinking cermony. They get up before dawn every morning and drink this energizing tea to start their day. We were rather embarresed when they asked us what time we normally get up…. tee hee hee. Their way of life was inspiring and the land that they live off is incredibly beautiful and alive.