5 Months in South America – our Review

We sat in the bus on our way to somewhere in South America. The tickets for the bus we bought 30 minutes before departure. I looked out of the window, seeing the half-done houses, the street dogs, the indigenous women with their colorful clothes and I turned to Jakub, saying: „We have to write a last sum up about South America…I don’t wanna forget what we liked so much about these countries…okay, and we should also mention what we didn’t like…“ 😉

So that’s what this text is about!

WHAT WE REALLY LIKED ABOUT SOUTH AMERICA

The uncomplicated and spontaneous planning: you wanna go on a hike tomorrow morning at 7am, but it’s already 6pm? No problem for SA, the tour agency would just call one of their 34 contacts and book you on some transport available

Nature in every kind: no matter if it was the ocean in Peru, the mountains in Ecuador, the banana plantation in Colombia, the lake in Bolivia – everything was breathtaking beautiful

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Tradition: the amazing colorful skirts of the indigenous Ecuadorian or Peruvian women, the strange sounding native language as old as the country itself, the music played with flutes and guitars,…so different to our European culture, but simply wonderful to witness

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Menu del Dia: wow, where do you get a whole menu including soup, a main dish, dessert and a drink for 2,00 – 4,00$?! Only in SA!

Different food in different countries: Colombia was super famous for its fried platanos, whereas Ecuador served corn, Peru has its potatoes, and so forth. Generally, we rarely didn’t like the food in South America – if so, then it was because of a certain spice…Ellen found out that she doesn’t like Cilantro AT ALL when we ate a soup in Colombia, full of Cilantro 😀

Encebollada - the soup which helps against any hangover ;)

Food markets: whether you wanted to buy fresh vegetables from native women, fresh fish from the ocean or enjoy a good Menu del Dia lunch, the food market was the place to be. This huge variety of fresh fruit and veggies, combined with the smell of 37 food stands cooking delicious things is indescribable.

  Food Market

Street markets: you need headphones? New sunglasses? A North Face windblocker jacket? Just walk the main street and you’ll find everything you need and more 😉 Okay, the North Face jacket might be a fake…as well as the Ray Ban sunglasses…but they look pretty real at least 🙂

Baby transport: most likely every European woman when having a baby spends a lot of money on a baby buggy. In South America, you take a big multicolored scarf, roll the baby in a very sophisticated manner in the scarf and put it on your back. Done. No big deal. No pushing the carriage through crowded streets or trying to get in the packed bus. So convenient.

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Transport: we Germans think having the Deutsche Bahn is so handy because it takes you everywhere! So wrong. So expensive. So late. South America is certainly not known for their punctuality, but when it goes to bus schedules, hell yeah – then they know what „departure on time“ means! We’ve had so many comfortable, cheap and friendly bus rides…we’ll miss that, for sure

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Public transport system: well…where do we even start?! 😀 First of all, in countries like Peru or Bolivia, basically everyone can be a bus driver as long as you have a mini van or something alike. You just put a sign on the windshield indicating where you go and that’s it 🙂 And wherever people wanna get off they yell the the driver to drop them off at the next corner. So funny. Okay, let’s consider the situation having a normal public bus as we know it in Europe. Honestly, we only saw those in Argentina and Chile, the most developed countries :D. And you couldn’t get off wherever you wanted, no no, only at designated bus stops.

Bus Culture

Taxis: mainly because they were cheap, but also because every scooter,  motorbike, trike or whatsoever could possibly be a taxi!

The fastest Taxi in town

WHAT WE COULDN’T REALLY HANDLE IN SOUTH AMERICA

Environmental treatment: unfortunately, most of the people in South America don’t care at all about rubbish in the streets or emissions of cars. We have seen so much dirt in backyards, on the street, next to rubbish bins, in corn fields, you name it…only in very remote villages where people live from their own grown veggies, the nature was clean. Same problem with exhaust gases: the cars are so old or badly maintained that we kept putting a scarf or our sweater sleeves over our noses when we stood at a busy street. Even worse were the buses…they blew so much dirt in the environment that you could feel how little oxygen your lungs got! The dirtiest city among many was probably Guayaquil in Peru. Next to the street, small water puddles were black and sometimes even green from all the dirt! We hope that the education about pollution at some point starts at school so kids learn from early age what a clean environment could look like.

Toilet paper: might sound funny, but the toilet paper in South America doesn’t go in the toilet – it goes in the rubbish bin next to the toilet…might explain the big amount of rubbish they have to deal with

Hygiene standards: okay, when travelling through South America you don’t expect the same hygiene as in your own country, because you know they have less officials controlling these standards. That’s okay and you’ll survive anyway there – maybe with some stomach issues at a certain point, but still alright. 😉 What really shocked us however, were the prices for hygiene products, such as deodorant, shower gel, tampons,…it was so expensive that we completely understand why the poor natives cannot afford any of these!

Organization: We’d say that’s most likely one of the bigger problems as well. Yes, we both do work in a country which is so organized that you have a rule or law for every possible situation, whether it’s business related, daily life or school. 🙂 Maybe that’s the reason why it was especially difficult to understand why for example when boarding an airplane in Colombia, the last row passengers take the stairs at the front door and the first row passengers at the back door…or why 7 men are busy on a construction site, but only 3 are working and 4 are talking,…we could continue endlessly.

Tourist prices: Yes, as a tourist you will be ripped off many times, but they do it so obvious that we sometimes wondered if we should just walk away and don’t buy the bananas…or the street food….or book the trip… we have no problem paying more money on something when we know,  the right people who really do need it ask for more. But mostly the ones who already have enough rip you off.

We would say spending a couple of months in South America,  especially in countries such as Bolivia, Peru or Ecuador opens your eyes. The poverty there sometimes breaks your heart and if you hear on how much money some people live there a day you cannot imagine you’d ever be able to survive. And still, these people were so happy and friendly! They just see their happiness in other things as we Europeans do. Sometimes we arrived in a hostel and didn’t have hot water or maybe no water at all for a couple of hours. Internet was a precious thing – we just take it for granted in Europe to have water coming out of the grief or high-speed Internet everywhere. But most importantly: you don’t need a lot to be happy. We have our backpacks which still contain the clothes we brought on our trip and it’s totally sufficient! A good Menu del Dia, mountains and nature around you and the right travel companion is all you need sometimes. 🙂

 

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Galapagos Islands – a Miracle of Flora and Fauna

28.09. – 04.10.2016

Galapagos, here we go! We really did think about whether to visit these islands or not, since the costs are immense  – but we will never come back to Ecuador only to visit Galapagos, so let’s do it. We finally sit in the airplane which brings us to Baltra Island, where we are supposed to be picked up from our guide from our boat Santa Cruz II. Oh my god!! The famous Galapagos islands, and we are here! But what is so special about these islands? Here is a brief introduction:

The Galapagos Islands area situated in the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the Ecuadorian coast. This archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution’. Its geographical location at the confluence of three ocean currents makes it one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. Ongoing seismic and volcanic activity reflects the processes that formed the islands. These processes, together with the extreme isolation of the islands, led to the development of unusual plant and animal life – such as marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, huge cacti, endemic trees and the many different subspecies of mockingbirds and finches – all of which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection following his visit in 1835.

The Galápagos Islands may just inspire you to think differently about the world. The creatures that call the islands home, many found nowhere else in the world, act as if humans are nothing more than slightly annoying paparazzi. [Source: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1 and  http://www.lonelyplanet.com/ecuador/the-galapagos-islands/introduction]

To be honest, we are really curious what the rest of the guests on the cruise might be like… in our imagination, we’ll be sitting at dinner with 70 years old ladies and gentlemen, being dressed fancy and watching us suspiciously. 🙂 We’re more than happy when we spy some other backpacks being loaded on the bus which transfers us to the dock to board the boat – more young people like us, yes! 😉

Day 1
With small boats, called Pangas we are being brought to the very big cruise ship, lying majestically a couple of meters away from the dock. On board, the crew welcomes us with a delicious Guanabana juice and we are being brought to our room. OMG. The second of many “OMG’s” which will follow. 🙂 Our room is great, with a huge bed, oceanview and a comfortable bathroom size. Right away lunch is served from the buffett – delicious, OMG. 😉 We enjoy choosing whatever we would like to eat and how much we want to eat. We are in food heaven! We sit alone at our table for 6, when the waiter points two girls in our direction: Martina and Eveline from Switzerland, our lovely company for the next 5 days. 🙂

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Our home for the next days

Our home for the next days

Our program, except eating half of the lunch buffet, is to see North Seymour Island in the afternoon. We already have our group with which we’ll be visiting all of the surrounding islands and additionally, our guide Henry who will explain us evey detail about Galapagos. The first island, according to Henry shows a wildlife full of bird colonies, blue footed boobies, sea lions, land iguanas and frigate bird. And wow, we saw each one of them, even the famous blue footed boobies, which are endemic species on the islands. This island set the expectations already very high and we cannot wait to explore more!!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

Never leave the boat without the life jacket!

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Sea lion

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Land Iguana

Our Guide Henry :)

Our Guide Henry 🙂

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Day 2
We cruised through the night to reach Isabela Island the next morning. We actually crossed the equator twice on our way! Our destination on the island is Punta Vicente Rosa, where we start exploring the coast by panga. Well, at least I’m sitting in a boat while Jakub discovers the under water world by snorkelling. We saw turtles floating through the water, sea lions playing in the water and again, the camera couldn’t capture these incredible moments. Returning from the boat ride the first thing I did was joining Martina and Eveline for the jacuzzi – so posh. 😉

In the afternoon, Fernandina Island (Punta Espinoza), the youngest island of the archipelago awaits us. It offers a very unique environment with black lava soil and mangrove trees. Black Marine iguanas take a sunbath on the hot stones, a Manta rey in a laggoon majestically makes circles, sea lions sleep ashore and we spot the flightless cormorant! Evolution at its finest, because the flightless cormorant regressed his wings to be able to dive depeer. A great day ends and although the program will be strict during the next day, we enjoy this cruise so much.

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Fernandina Island

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Birds Nesting Area

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Hiding Sea Lion babies

Hiding Sea Lion babies

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Manta Rey

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Day 3
This day we start on Isabela Island again at Tagus Cove. We disembark with the pangas at this island, which provided a favorite anchorage for pirates and whalers over the centuries. A short uphill hike to the rim of a crater allows us to see the Darwin lake, filled with salt water. Afterwards, we head to the snorkel area. Lucky us that the Santa Cruz offers wetsuits, since the water temperature is only 18C!! Everyone tells me later that they saw turtles and even pinguins in the water… I only saw rocks and later my goggles floating down to the ground…I lost them, grrr. 🙂 Moreover, we suddenly here through the speakers: “Room No 105, Jakub and Ellen, are you back on board? Please come to the reception!” Damn it! We forgot to sign back in after our disembark! 🙂 The Santa Cruz ship hung a magnet wall with all the rooms and the amount of people in the rooms on the wall you necessarily pass before you leave the ship. The magnets need to be put on when you leave and removed when back…we forgot to remove them… happened once and never again! 🙂
Later that day we check Urbina Bay, a fascinating result of uplifting of ocean floor in 1954 and do a light walk to see huge land iguanas. This evening, we learn that Eveline is an amazing musician! We sip some rum on the deck  and Eveline plays her guitar and sings…we hope this cruise never ends. 😉

Penguin!!

Penguin!!

Darwin Lake

Darwin Lake

Land Iguana...just doesn't care that we're there

Land Iguana…just doesn’t care that we’re there

Beautiful Turtle

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Day 4
Its already the 4th day on our cruise ship, time flies by! But we’re busy from morning until evening and really have to say: the itinerary and program are perfect!
Today we stop at Santa Cruz island, Puerto Ayora, the main island of the Galapagos islands. We disembark to visit the Charles Darwin Research station, which serves as the headquarters of scientific research as well. Here we see the giant tortoise breeding center and visit the museum.
Since we indeed enjoy the food on the boat and always eat a lot, we decided for some workout and do a bike tour to an ecological sugar cane farm. 😉 Our guides tell us all about the production process and the making of the strong sugar cane alcohol the farm sells, when we observe 2 Chinese guys from our boat holding 2 bottles of this alcohol in their hands. Okay, we have to admit: the alcohol is filled in small plastic bottles and might be confused with water… which obviously happened to the Chinese, because they take a huge sip and suddenly spit everything out! OMG, we’re almost dying from laughing!! 🙂 🙂 I know I know, it’s so mean to not warn these poor people, but “for the show” it was hilarious. 🙂

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Someone waits for fish :)

Someone waits for fish 🙂

Giant Turtoise

Giant Turtoise

As we head to the highlands of the island to have lunch, we pass many green fields and are stunned to see giant turtoises walking around! Just like cows on meadow in Germany, we see the turtoises here in the nature – so cool! Our day ends with a great live band in the evening, playing some folklore songs from Ecuador. Man, this cruise really knows how to make us happy. 😉

Day 5
Day No 5 is dedicated to Floreana island, where we head to the post office bay. Here we find a very cool place and love the story about it: there is this historic barrell where postcards are traditionally left for guests from other vessels to hand deliver them to their destination. Whalers and sailors used this system hundreds of years ago to bring news to their families. So whenever some ships stopped at the barrell the old sailors checked if the adresses of the letters are close to their home to bring it to the familiars – awesome! Of course we took some postcards with adresses of Stuttgart and also left one card… I’m curious when someone from Biberach stops by … 🙂

Post Office Bay

Post Office Bay

When might we get our Postcard...?

When might we get our Postcard…?

Afterwards, we kayak around the island and enjoy the warm sunny day on the sea. One last time we signed up for snorkelling at Champion islet and cormorant point. The water is actually crazy wild and the current strong, but once in we observe the wonderful marine life, we see sharks, turtles, sea lions, and colorful fish. We are so amazed by the wildlife and fascinated by it. The nature here is wonderful! Galapagos also taught us a lot about the protection of this sensitive eco system which we do keep in mind and are very careful when seeing animals. Watching is okay, but no touching. Keep distance to them, because you are the visitor, not them! But most of the animals were too curious and came very close!

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Curious Sea Lion

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He wants to steal our camera 🙂

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Elegant Sea Lion underwater

Shark!

Shark!

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The last evening on the boat offers a great program : we sing Karaoke!! 🙂 Of course I decided for a classic song: Backstreet Boys, Quit playing games with my heart. 😉 Thanks again, Eveline, for your wonderful voice and the support, haha!

Day 6
Nooo! Is it really over!? Do we again have to plan everything by ourselves?? 😉 Honestly, it was a welcomed alternation to our typical way of travelling and we did enjoy it a lot to not needing to take care of accommodation and trips for one week.

For the last time we appreciate the wonderful breakfast buffet, the ocean around us, the great people we met and even get to see a presentation of all the pictures the boat photographer took during this week.

We disembark together and say good-bye to the amazing week! All in all, this cruise was simply marvellous. Beginning with the great itinerary which allowed us to see the remotest islands, the guides who were so passionate about their job and the nature they wanna protect and ending with the new friends we have made and the “worry-free-package”. We have seen a whole new world and realized that this trip has also changed the way we behave in nature, giving each animal their natural space and carefully taking steps when being outdoors. There is always the option to explore the Galapagos archipelago on one’s own and plan day trips to the islands. However, we seriously enjoyed the planned route and trips and recommend doing a cruise to fully immerse in this miraculous world.

 

The Quilotoa Loop

19.09. – 26.09.2016

Alrighty, since we are already super professional hikers (not really ;)), and heard from many people that the Quilotoa Loop is on every hikers bucket list, we cannot miss it! 🙂 Basically, the 3-4 day loop takes travelers on a bumpy road into the area around the Quilotoa volcano lake, leading through several villages with indigenous people and through a beautiful landscape.

It took us a little bit of planning before we got started, because we needed to leave our luggage somewhere and pack only what was necessary. We also booked our hostels in advance, which turned out to be not really necessary – most of the hostels in the villages you pass have vacancies. The trek can be done either starting at the volcano lagoon Quilotoa and end up in Latacunga, or in reverse to end up at the beautiful lake, which is the tougher trek. Guess which one we chose? 🙂 Yes, the harder one!

At our hostel in Latacunga (called “Latacunga Hostel”) the owner offered us to leave our stuff we wouldn’t pack in his storage room for free . So friendly! And now the packing started – what do we need for 4 days hiking in a height of over 3.000m and very cold nights… actually everything we have. 🙂 But we had to be aware that our backpacks would be on our backs all day long, so packing light was crucial. 3 T-shirts, 2 pants, 2 long sleeves, warm socks, and of course a warm jacket! It was actually the first time for us that we hiked with our big backpacks for several days and so we thought we’re helplessly over-packed. 🙂 In the end, it turned out that everything we carried with us we did need and that you get used to the weight pretty quick. If I learnt something on our trip, it would be, among many other things of course, to pack only what I really need…so satisfying. 😉

Okay, here we go, ready for the first big trek! We took a bus from Latacunga to Sigchos at 11:30am ( here is another one leaving at 10:30am or 12:15pm). The bus dropped us off together with 4 other tourists who obviously planned to hike the loop as well. We came to talk and noticed that they had a good map. We had none. So we better walked all together. 😉 Good decision, because with 2 of the 4 we hiked the rest of the loop and it was a lot of fun – Sonja and Artur from Germany were the perfect match for our hiking pace and great company. The first part of the trail led us on a 3.5 hours hike through green landscapes and a river valley up to Isinlivi, a small mountain village. We checked in the first hostel (called “Llullu Llama”, highly recommended!) and fell in love with this place! The fireplace was already lit on, there was coffee and tea for free and from the dining room and terrace we had a spectacular view over the valley. The sun just went down and we enjoyed these silent moments… Shortly after, dinner was served, consisting of a soup as a starter, lasagna and cake as dessert. It was so delicious! After a comfy night in the dorm beds, we enjoyed breakfast: they served homemade granola, tons of fruit, delicious bread – just perfect for a long hiking day.

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Ellen still smiling on the first day 🙂

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The view from Llullu Llama hostel

The view from Llullu Llama hostel

Day 2 started with great weather and warm temperatures. We hiked on stony paths and encountered very aggressive dogs which were fought off by Artur with his walking sticks. 🙂 Luckily, we never got lost on our way, thanks to the great map we received from Llullu Llama hostel… okay, we also had a bunch of electronic help. 😉 The trek went uphill and downhill and lasted around 5 hours. We took several small breaks, for example when it suddenly started to rain and we hid in a small cabin or when we crossed a river balancing on a tree which served as a bridge. We’re living such a risky life. 🙂 In the afternoon, we arrived at Chugchilán and checked in the hostel “Cloud Forest”, which was unfortunately not as nice as the first one but served dinner and breakfast as well.

Rainy day

Rainy day

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Hello!

Hello!

The next and last day would be the longest hike for us, because we needed to go all the way up to the Quilotoa lake as high as 3.900m. This day was the most challenging one! We constantly walked either uphill or downhill, had narrow paths but also great views over the valley and the beautiful mountains and kept either putting one layer off or on due to the changing weather conditions. We passed 2 villages where we met some indigenous school kids, being very curious about the “Gringos” and being even more curious about our sweets and candy we were about to eat. 😉 We kept hiking up and up and up and after 5.5 hours, the lake finally revealed itself with all its beauty. We made it! Strong winds welcomed us up there and that stunning view over this huge lake. Wow. It was amazing and worth to hike this exhausting trek. But: it was not the end of the hike, because we still needed to continue to the village where our hostel was. Another hour of hiking, uhh. We were all happy and exhausted when we arrived at the hostel. The charming part of this accommodation was that we had our own small oven in the room which we fired up immediately – it was super cold!! This hostel unfortunately didn’t offer free coffee or tea…we started at the best hostel and actually ended at the worst. 🙂 Anyway, we slept like rocks and the next day we took a a bus back to Latacunga, grabbing our things quickly to continue to the next place, Baños.

Ready to hike?

Ready to hike?

School kids

School kids

Beautiful lake

Beautiful lake

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Quilotoa village

Quilotoa village

All in all, and my very personal resume of the hike: it was challenging for me. I am not a trained hiker and it’s not my biggest passion to steadily hike uphill. 😉 I had fights with myself, I wondered what the hell I’m actually doing and sometimes I also thought I reached my limits… but I continued (thanks to Jakub and chocolate bars ;)) and made it. So my personal lesson is: be aware of the physical condition you have and the requirements for the trek. And tell your brain you can go further. 🙂

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Here we aaaare!

Here we aaaare!

In Baños, a village known for its hot springs and the variety of outdoor offers we decided to calm down and enjoy relaxed days after the hike. Hence, the first evening we spent in the hot springs to relax the muscles and treated ourselves to a massage. The good life. 🙂

Hot Springs

Hot Springs

The next day we signed up for our first “we do it together for the very first time” experience: rafting! Meeting at 9am, we all got our wet suits at the agency, a helmet and shoes. Driving with the bus for one hour we arrived at the river and were assigned in different groups. Our guide told us where to sit in the raft, what the different orders he would be yelling mean and how to behave in case the river is to wild and the boat flips…which, according to the guide rarely happens. Well, we ended up in the water twice and found out that the guide purposely made the boat flip and laughed about it. Not really funny for us, exposing us to such a risk purposely, since the whole group was only beginners and for the first time in a raft. And I swallowed at least 5 liters of disgusting river water and totally panicked. Exactly the reaction our guide said we should avoid. 🙂 But the last hour was surprisingly fun (we didn’t fall in the water anymore), we rushed through the rapids and enjoyed the thrill. What an experience!

Jakub’s comment: It was awesome, doable, fun 🙂

Oh shut up, Jakub! 🙂 🙂

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In total, we spent 5 days in Baños, seeing the “Casa del Arbol” from which a swing takes you into nowhere…

Casa del Arbol

Casa del Arbol

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Wuuuiiiiii 🙂

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Juhuuuuu 🙂

…and visited beautiful waterfalls.

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Ahead of us, however, lies probably the greatest experience of our whole trip so far: the Galapagos islands!!! We are super excited for our boat and cannot wait to board. We’ll tell you aaaaaall about it when we return – now we’re on vacation. Haha. 🙂

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Quito, the Capital and Latacunga

12.09.16 -18.09.16

Our new destination after Colombia was Ecuador – we are really curious if this country amazes us the same way Colombia did… let’s see! 🙂

In the evening we landed in Quito and took the bus to the city centre. It was quiet a way and took us around 45min until we got to the Old Town part. Once we arrived at our hostel and checked in, the friendly guy at the reception showed us the city map and firstly indicated all the areas where we shouldn’t go after 7pm – well, good to know! 😉 We were really hungry and asked for restaurants close by. Surprisingly, almost everything such as supermarkets or restaurants close at 7pm. But we found one small bar where we ordered lasagna; and we were shocked by the prices! Since Ecuador uses the US dollar as their official currency, prices were way higher than in Colombia! And what we found out later: they don’t have good coffee and additionally not everywhere available. We miss Colombia already. 😉

By now a free walking tour became mandatory, which is why the first thing we did was participating in one the next morning. 🙂 Again, it was very interesting for us to learn more about Quito and the times during Ecuador changed its currency from Sucre to US Dollar  – it must have been crazy! This American expat puts the situation very well in a nutshell:

It was so strange; I left the country for a few months to find that they’d thrown all their money in the trash (not literally of course) and switched to the money I’ve known my whole life. We arrived in Ecuador in 1997. At that time the Ecuador sucre wasn’t fairing too well. The value quickly diminished.

At the beginning of 1997 we were getting 4,000 sucres for every dollar we exchanged. By 1999/2000 it was up to 25,000 sucres for every dollar. For those of us who had dollar accounts, life was good. Since the dollar was much more stable, we did not have currency that was loosing value every day. But prices of food and our rent contracts were in sucres. Because the people of Ecuador only had sucres, the prices of everyday things could not be hiked at the same rate as the devaluation of the sucre. This was in our favor, especially when it came to rent.

At one place we signed a rent contract for 800,000 sucres which was 200 dollars. By the time we moved out, a year later we were only paying 75 dollars [Source: http://www.life-in-ecuador.com/ecuador-currency.html#sthash.6GICDFan.dpuf%5D.

Plaza Santa Domingo

Plaza Santa Domingo

Food market

Food market

Endless sweets and candy

Endless sweets and candy

Street food: Salchipapa

Street food: Salchipapa

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Later in the afternoon, the big mission was “Finding cheap last minute deals for Galapagos”. What a mission!! In the end, it took us 2,5 days and 7 travel agencies to find a suitable (we won’t use the word “cheap”, since it is everything but cheap!) offer. Jippiii!! Jakub did some intense research before we went to the agencies, which is absolutely necessary. There are several islands in the Galapagos area and each one of them offers a variety of animals and has their own charm. We made a list of which islands we would like to see, to be able to tell the agencies the route we’d prefer for a boat. Jop, boat! 🙂 Although I swore that after our Panama sailing trip, I would not go back on a boat, admittedly the easiest way to explore Galapagos is to book a boat tour, including visits to different islands, accommodation and food. The offers we received varied from small boats, holding 25 passengers and cruising around Galapagos for 4 days to 6 days on a big ship with up to 90 passengers. The very best offer, eventually was a so called “luxury cruise ship”, with a tour where we might see whales, lasting 6 days and even including a small surprise for our honeymoon trip. Haha yes, we pretend to be on our honeymoon. 🙂 Although the price was still high and includes neither flights nor the entrance fee, it was still approximately 50% cheaper than anything we would have booked from Germany or too many days in advance! AND: it will be a big ship and not a small sailing boat where at some point you feel claustrophobic. 🙂 Now we still have 12 days until we leave and we’re so excited and happy to start another great adventure! ❤

Until that, we wanna discover Quito plus surrounding a little bit more and decided to go to the middle of the world, “Mitad del Mundo”. It’s a monument a couple of kilometers outside Quito and shows the exact location of the equator with the coordinates 0’00’00. It was build in honor of the first geodesic mission of French scientists in 1736, who conducted experiments to test the flattening at the poles of the characteristic shape of the Earth, by comparing the distance between a degree meridian in the equatorial zone to another level measured in Sweden . Later they found out, due to latest GPS technology that the equator actually lies 240m north of the monument…well…what can we say. 🙂

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At the middle of the world together

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The next day we decided to meet up with Kerstin, a German girl we met at the walking tour to go to the Teleferico. It’s a famous lift which takes you from 3.120m to almost 4.000m height to see Quito from above and do some light hiking. Kerstin was joined by a Canadian girl and we additionally met a guy from Kazakhstan, so a nice group of 5 started to walk up in direction to the summit. The view was stunning. Not only could we overview Quito, we also saw the volcanos Cotopaxi and Pichincha. But the weather can be a big drama queen and typically changes within minutes. 😉 Dark clouds rolled oved the mountains and it was too instable for us to continue up until the summit. We still had a nice hike though and headed back to the city for late lunch together.

Quito from high above

Quito from high above

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We decided to not stay longer in Quito, but to make our way to Latacunga, from where we wanted to plan our further steps. One was to visit the great Cotopaxi volcano. 🙂 You can easily do it with a planned tour, having lunch included, a guide and bikes to speed downhill from Cotopaxi. But of course it has its price, which is why we decided to do it on our own. 😉 Early in the morning at 7am we headed to the bus terminal in Latacunga and caught a bus with direction Quito. It dropped us off at the entrance to the Cotopaxi national park after around 20min. At the entrance, we were welcomed by some friendly guides (we read that since a couple of months it is only allowed to enter the park accompanied by a guide), offering to accompany us. Luckily, another tourist couple showed up in that moment and we could get a better price for the 4 of us. We hopped in the guides 4×4 truck and entered the park area. First task: registration. Continuing for another 20 minutes we stopped at a museum, where our guide told us a lot about the Cotopaxi volcano and the surrounding area and villages. Heading further into the park area, we stopped at a small lake to acclimatize to the height (at this point we were on approximately 3.500m) and take pictures.

Cotopaxi in the background

Cotopaxi in the background

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The last stop with the car was a parking lot, where we all got off to start our 50min ascent  to the “Refugio”, a wooden cabin as high as 4.860m! 🙂 The path all up to the summit is closed and it is prohibited to go any further than the refugio due to the instable activities at Cotopaxi. Anyway, almost 4.900m is already something and once we got out of the car, we immediately perceived the thin air, letting our lungs feel 30% smaller than they are. Luckily we got used to the less oxygen surrounding quickly and started to walk up. Snow was lying everywhere, combined with stones and ashes from the last erruption dating 130 years back. After 50min we reached the refugio and were happy that our guide obviously showed us the easier way up, walking zigzag instead of straight. 😉 Once we reached the highest point, we felt really happy and good – the first time for both of us that we were that high up!! In the refugio, we had hot chocolate, which let that nice winter cabin feeling come up and had a light lunch. After 1 hour we headed back down to the car and we were so glad that we started early! The weather changed again in the afternoon and most of the surrounding hid in the clouds.

We're soon up...

We’re soon up…

We made it!!

We made it!!

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Such a great day! We decided to end it with a homemade dinner, which we cooked in our hostel kitchen…which was not a normal kitchen, but belonged to the restaurant adjacent and we cooked in a fully professional equipped kitchen! 🙂

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