Biking Through Ecuador, Day 9: Baeza to Quito

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Galapagos, Here We Come!

Well, we’re sitting at the Quito airport, waiting for our flight to Guayaquil, and I thought it would be a good time to catch up on our final day of biking through Ecuador. Actually, we didn’t do any biking, but it was still our final day of our Biking Through Ecuador adventure with Arie.

After a terrible night sleep in Baeza due to a hostel made entirely out of wood with paper thin walls and a group of male college-age students drinking rum and cokes, we woke up groggy and not in the mood for biking. Luckily, we were heading to Papallacta, a hot spring resort about an hour northwest of Baeza. We were back in the cloud forest, so it was pretty chilly, but once we changed into our bathing suits and stepped into the warm thermal springs, I was in heaven. The steam rising from the pools mixed with the misty air gave the place a mystical feel. There were about 10 different crystal clear pools as with different temperature waters coming straight from underground thermal springs. We arrived early, thankfully, so it wasn’t too crowded, but people started to trickle in and the pools filled with locals and travelers alike.  We soaked for about an hour before I started feeling dizzy and rubbery, so I emerged from pools and snapped some photos of the resort.

Then it was back in the car for a drive through the green mountains toward Quito. We passed numerous waterfalls and more scenic vistas along the way. When we reached the top of the pass, Arie inquired if we wanted one last descent by bike into the suburbs of Quito. Despite the sun and blue skies, C and I were way too relaxed and warm to change into our biking clothes and get back on the bikes. Part of me wishes that we did – it was our last chance to ride! – but at the moment I was pretty content to just sit in the car and enjoy the beauty out the window. So that’s what we did. We stopped at Arie’s wife’s bar just outside of Quito for some nachos and then Arie drove us into the city and back to La Casa Sol where we said our goodbyes.

All in all, it was an amazing trip. There were a few things I wasn’t too impressed with – like the lunches of white bread and little else – but C and I had a great time biking and hiking around Ecuador’s mountains, lakes, rivers, and volcanoes. Would we do it again? Absolutely. We’ve even been questioning each other about where we want to do our next multi-day bike holiday. South East Asia is top of both of our lists 🙂 I did a bike ride in and around Bangkok with Grasshopper Adventures, and it was awesome. Now I have my eye on their Indian cycling tour.

Even though our Biking Through Ecuador has come to an end, it’s not the end our our Ecuador travels. We’re heading down to Guayaquil today and then embarking on the National Geographic Endeavor tomorrow for an 8 day trip around the Galapagos (sign up for the daily expedition reports here).

Then our plan is to base ourselves in Cuenca for a few days and do day trips to surrounding areas of interest before C needs to return to the ship in Baja. I’ll spend a week and a half at Madre Tierra relaxing and rejuvenating in the Valley of Longevity before I have to go back to work in Baja. So stay tuned for more adventures!

Biking Through Ecuador, Day 8: Misahualli to Baeza

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After a good night’s sleep in Misahualli, we woke up to a cloudy, but rain-free day. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant and then C and I took a walk down the to muddy river to have a look at the beach. There were a few long boats waiting for the tourists to arrive to take them down river and into the Amazon rainforest. A man tried to sell us one of his numerous trips, but we told him we were leaving for Baeza in a few minutes.

Starting off on our bikes right outside our hotel, we retraced the 12 kilometer’s of paved road we rode yesterday to the small town of Puerto Napo with a brief stop at a butterfly center to see the different stages of a butterfly’s life. There was also a large netted area where we could watch live specimens fluttering about. It was interesting, but I’ve seen better in Malaysia.

Butterflies weren’t the only thing we saw.

In Puerto Napo, Arie was waiting for us with a pair of delicious, fresh made danishes filled with a sweet fruit marmalade. (After this trip I’m going on a no-bread detox. Ecuadorian’s seem to think it’s healthy to eat white bread for breakfast, lunch, dinner and as snacks in between). From there it was a steady climb with a few downhill reprieves to the town of Tena. We didn’t go through the town, but took a road skirting the edge. I can’t say this bike route was the prettiest or most scenic ride we’ve done so far. It was mainly on a highway with big trucks passing on our left and garbage littering the gutters to our right. One good thing, though, was that it was relatively flat with only a few gradual ups and downs – something we hadn’t yet experienced in Ecuador. Most of the topography is either steep up or steep down. After Tena, the rain came. And it didn’t let up. C and I suffered through the deluge for several more kilometers before we pulled over and told Arie that we were ready to ride in the car for awhile. We slowly began to gain elevation until we left the low tropical rainforest behind and entered into a misty, and I thought more beautiful, cloud forest. After 25 kilometers of switchbacks, we reached the apex where Arie pulled out lunch – more white bread – and we enjoyed a view of the clouded hills and ridges above the tree line.

Despite being chilled and soaking wet, we donned more layers (there was a noticeable temperature change from when we started) and got back on our bikes for a 25ish kilometer ride to Baeza, where we will spend the night. The first part was all downhill, but then the road leveled out and continued on in an up and down fashion. It was still raining slightly, and I was pretty cold, so I didn’t bother with pictures. The landscape was beautiful, though! Very green and idyllic with cows in the pastures and steep green mountains stretching down the the river. After a very muddy and slightly damp ride, combined with several sweaty uphills, we were ready to get off our bikes and take a shower. Shower we did, but not with hot water 😦

Baeza is a tiny little town with not much going on, but it’s situated smack dab in the middle of three Ecological Reserves – Cayambe-Coca, Sumaco Napo-Galeras, and Antisana (12, 14 & 2 on the map) – making it a convenient base for hiking and bird-watching. Although we arrived at our hotel early – around 3pm – C and I didn’t really have any desire to explore the area any further. We quickly showered, then headed downstairs to the restaurant for a hot cup of tea and some reading/writing time.

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow we’ll be back in Quito! We still have half a day on our bikes and rumor is we’ll visit some hot springs before getting back into the city. Then it’s part II of our Ecuadorian adventure – the Galapagos!

Biking Through Ecuador, Day 1: Quito to Mindo

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I’m pretty sure I climbed a mountain today, on a bike. We started down in a low valley and ended up swathed in mist somewhere up high in a cloud forest. Eight kilometers of switchbacks and somewhat gradual inclines along a severely potholed and stoney dirt road took us several thousand feet up into the Andes mountain range. It was beautiful. We passed steep terraced slopes dotted with cows and small haciendas looking out over deep valleys that encompassed every shade of green. At every bend in the road there was a stunning vista and I had to restrain myself from stopping to take a picture each time the valley’s and mountains came into view.

We woke up early this morning to finishing last-minute packing and enjoy our last breakfast at La Casa Sol (although we also made another reservation to stay there on our way back through Quito before heading to Guayaquil and the Galapagos. We are creatures of habit). Arie met us at the hotel with his brand new Land Rover-esque jeep topped with three bikes and a trunk full of gear. Originally from Holland, he has lived in Ecuador for the past 19 years and done bike tours for a good 16 of that. After loading the car with our bags, we headed out of Quito and into the hills of the surrounding countryside. As I said before, Ecuador is beautiful. After about an hour of driving, we pulled off onto a dirt road, unloaded the bikes, and geared up for our first ride of the trip. Arie followed us in the jeep as we sped downhill for 24 kilometers along an extremely bumpy road. It wasn’t long before my wrists and back hurt from being jarred around so much, but the views and experience more than made up for it. Arie met us at the bottom of the massive downhill with bananas and water and then we began our grueling eight kilometer climb into the cloud forest. I was very glad that I had forced myself to work out on the elliptical 5-6 days a week on the ship in Costa Rica/Panama! At the top, Arie had lunch ready for us, but it started raining, so we didn’t dally much. He lent me his raincoat and off we were again. More bumpy roads and beautiful sights. With the rain, it looked like we could almost have been in Ireland or Scotland, it was so green.

We finally reached a paved road, and from there it was about a 20 minute ride into the town of Mindo. Thankfully the rain stopped, so it was a nice ride, and my wrists and back were happier.

Sweaty, muddy, tired, and a little chilled from the rain, we rolled up to our little guesthouse looking forward to a hot shower. Surprise, surprise, the whole town was without water for a few hours for some reason I couldn’t catch. A bit disappointed, C and I sat on our balcony for awhile and then set out to explore the town. On our way out the hotel, we stopped by the open-air wooden porch that looks out onto a garden. The owners have hung several bird-feeders from the trees and we watched, amazed, as dozens of hummingbirds and other feathered species flitted about. This area apparently has 33 different kinds of hummingbirds alone.

After snapping photo after photo of the hummingbirds, we were still chilled, so we stopped at a nice restaurant for a cup of tea, which warmed us up. Then we strolled through the small park and down the one and only main street which was lined with no-frill eateries and convenience shops. Mindo is a sleepy town, but it’s cute, and most people come here, I think, for it’s abundant bird life rather than good food and historical sites.

It had started drizzling again, so we slowly made our way back to the hotel, but the drizzle turned into a downpour and we were soon soaking wet. Once in our room, the water was back on, but a hot shower was too much to ask for. I got most of the mud off, then climbed into bed and underneath the warm blankets. Outside the rain had turned into a thunderstorm that sent lightning strikes alarmingly close and rumbles that shook our wooden walls. I also learned something new – I didn’t know that thunder set off car alarms.

Quito – The City of Eternal Spring

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When you think of spring, what do you think of? Well, in Vermont it would be fresh, crisp air, vibrant green foliage, and frequent rain. And that’s what we have encountered in our first 24 hours of landing in the Capital of Ecuador. Quito, at 9,350 feet, is suitably dubbed the City of Eternal Spring. It’s cool, virescent, and looks like it could start raining any minute. We landed at the Quito airport at around 2pm yesterday after a painless two-hour flight south from San Jose. A taxi was waiting for us (send by previous arrangement from our hotel) and we were whisked away into the heart of the city. The hotel we are staying at – La Casa Sol – is located in the new part of town, which is also, apparently, where the liveliest backpacker scene is. Thankfully, though, we’re off of the main drag, so it’s quiet(er) and less crowded.

La Casa Sol is awesome (I hope my hotel choices continue to impress). The walls are brightly painted in oranges, reds, yellows, and pinks and textured so they look authentically hand-crafted. The wall-hangings are traditionally South American and each room has a distinct “homey” quality. C and I are staying up in the “Loft” which is on the third level and has it’s own balcony that looks over the inner courtyard and neighboring vicinity. It’s so cute I could even see myself living there (maybe not in Quito, but definitely in the Pacific Northwest, perhaps).

After settling in and relishing our new environs, we set out to explore the neighborhood. We didn’t get far because we were both starving, so we landed at a table at the Magic Bean. And I don’t think we could have picked a better spot. Fresh juices, towering smoothies, plenty of vegetarian choices for me and giant portions for C. It was great. I ordered a beet-carrot-apply juice and an avocado boat with falafel. I really wish I had gotten a picture of it because it was such a good idea. Half an avocado – mashed up and returned to its shell – was topped with small balls of falafel and served with pita bread, lettuce, and tomato on the side. C got a massive Hawaiian sandwich with chicken, cheese, and pineapple and a mound of potatoes. I don’t eat meat and it even look good. I have a feeling we’ll be going back today…

It was getting dark by the time we finished our meal and had started to drizzle, so we slowly made our way back to La Casa Sol. Back at the hotel, we discovered that our flight from Quito to Guayaquil was on April 9th rather than March 9th, so I spent a stressful two hours on Skype trying to get the dates switched. I did, finally, but it wasn’t the relaxing evening in front of the fire that I had envisioned. Hopefully that will be tonight, after exploring the city some more and searching for bike shorts for our upcoming adventure.

San Jose

Well, I’m on a plane again. This time, however, I’m not only headed to a new country, but also a new continent! I’ve never been to Ecuador before and this will be the first time I step foot in South America, too. Very exciting. But before I land in Quito and delve into our Ecuadorian adventure, I have to catch up on our last few days in San Jose.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, we spent two nights at Hotel Aranjuez. We both really liked the hotel, which was a renovated old house with a network of corridors and open patios, and the buffet breakfast was delicious. We had a full day in San Jose yesterday, so after taking advantage of the free high-speed WiFi in the morning, we went out to explore the town for a bit. We didn’t have much on our agenda in terms of destinations, but we did have a map that highlighted several points of interest in the area like parks, historic buildings, restaurants, etc… After about half an hour of walking, though, I tripped on the sidewalk and broke my only pair of sandals (that had already been chewed through by an incorrigible Butters and repaired with duct tape). Our casual walk quickly turned into a quest to find new shoes. Luckily we came across a street that literally had shoe stores lining both sides and I found a “ridiculously comfortable” (their words, not mine) pair of Reef sandals.

Ironically, we also passed by the Hemingway Inn. Eight or nine years ago my family took a vacation to Costa Rica and we stayed at the Hemingway Inn for several nights while in San Jose. It was funny that C and I just happened to stumble across it while aimlessly walking about. It brought back memories of my brother drinking his first Pina Colada and me leaving the table because I was so embarrassed for him (sorry Will :))

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped at a market and picked up some fresh fruit, cheese (for C), and bread for lunch. Then we challenged each other to find our way back to Hotel Aranjuez sans a map. We could consult one another, but couldn’t look at our map. Thanks to a good sense of direction on both sides, we made it back in no time and spent the rest of the afternoon snoozing, enjoying WiFi on demand, and playing a game of Scrabble.

For dinner, we dined at the same place as the night before. Tin Jo – a beautifully adorned Thai, Indian, and Japanese restaurant – was pretty much everything I could ask for. They had a separate vegetarian menu complete with curries, sushi, salads, and sauteed greens from all over Asia. The previous night I ordered a vegetable Thai green curry with coconut milk that was served with brown rice, which was delicious, and last night C and I shared a vegetarian Pad Thai and sauteed bok choy with hearts of palm and shiitake mushrooms. Yum! We also tried the vegetarian spring rolls and pakoras as appetizers. Good thing we’re spending the next week and a half biking and hiking through Ecuador!

Stay tuned for more posts from South America…

Galapagos Here We Come!

Good news came in my mailbox today! C and I got a cabin on the National Geographic Endeavor in the Galapagos starting on the 9th of March and ending on the 17th. Wahoo! We’re so excited. I kind of knew that we were going to get a trip, but confirming it made it actually feel real. So… after we’re finished on the boat in Costa Rica (a week and a half to go) we’ll spend a few nights in San Jose and then fly to Quito. The Galapagos trip isn’t the only exciting news though… While looking online for things to do in Ecuador, I stumbled across the site of Arie’s Bike Company. It looks awesome, so we also signed up for a 9 day mountain bike and hiking adventure. Check it out here. We added a day to do some biking and bird-watching in the Mindo area as well as biking into an active volcano. After that trip we head down to Guayaquil to meet the rest of the Lindblad guests headed to the Endeavor and the next day we fly to the Galapagos for 8 days of fun. Can’t wait! C has to fly to Baja to get on the Sea Bird two weeks before I do, so I’m trying to figure out what my plans will be after he leaves… I’m thinking some nice hostel with good hiking, horseback riding, or more mountain biking. Any ideas?

I’ll definitely be blogging about our adventures in Ecuador, so keep checking back!