Dear Family and Friends,
Chuck and I had some free time last week in between guests. We decided to go north into the volcano area of the Andes.
We were going to go by bus, until our neighbor and friend, Milena, suggested that since she had not been to that part of Ecuador yet, that she would like to come with us and that she would drive her Land Cruiser.
Our destination was Banos, a town of about 50,000 people. It is south of Quito and is very popular with tourists. It's name comes from it's mineral hot springs. It sits at the foot of an active volcano.
This is our friend, Milena.
It turned out to be a 9 hour car trip to Banos. It was a long and exhausting day because the roads were not good. About 1/4 of the trip was on dirt roads with rocks and ruts. This was due to the fact that they are improving the roads and and had them torn up. Another 1/4 of the roads, although paved, had big pot holes, which had to be avoided. The last half of the highway was paved and in fairly good condition, BUT, as we weaved from town to town we discovered that each village had built road humps to slow the traffic down. The humps were so large we had to come to a complete stop before starting over them. What we thought would be a four to five hour trip turned out to be twice as long. Thank goodness for Milena's 4-wheel drive vehicle.
Although we suffered from road fatigue, the journey through the Andes was incredibly beautiful. One of the most fascinating things about the trip was going through the villages and small towns. It was so interesting to get a glimpse of another culture. I'll share photos of some of the Andes people tomorrow.
This is the La Basílica de la Reina del Rosario de Agua Santa, the main cathedral in Banos. It is beautiful lit up at night....almost has a Disneyland feel when observing it. During the day it is quite plan, dark stones for the building and the spires are painted a contrasting white.
We drove up a mountain to an observation point and viewed Banos from above. You can see how it is nestled into the mountains, which makes for fabulous scenery. One reason it is so popular with tourists.
Banos is known as the "Gateway to the Amazon." and has a newly paved road to Puyo. Puyo is the actual beginning of the Amazon jungle. After touring Banos for a day, we decided to drive the paved road to Puyo. Puyo is as far as the paved road goes. After Puyo, there are no paved roads in the jungle.
The road was good and the views were, once again, fantastic. The highway to Puyo follows the Pastaza river. The river forms a deep canyon and the road is in between the canyon and mountains. All along the highway are beautiful waterfalls. We stopped at this particular waterfall because they had a cable car that swooshed across the canyon to the other side. We watched these Canadians go safely across and back and then decided that it was probably safe enough for us Americans.
The closer we got to Puyo, the vegetation changed to tropical. It was an approximate 70 mile trip that was totally downhill (about 1800 meters below Banos). Near Puyo we encountered this view down the river. You can see that it is raining in the distance. I know logically that what I see in the distance is not Brazil, but it seemed as though we could see all the way to Brazil.
We looked around some in Puyo and did some shopping at a tourist artisan center, then we headed back to Banos.
The next morning we started our long trek home. The only difference is that we made the return trip a two day venture instead of doing it all in one day.
We spent the night in Alausi. This city was over halfway home and we were happy to stop and rest awhile. Alausi, is located high in the Andes. It is built on the side of a mountain. The city is built on three terraces. The main part of the city is built on the middle terrace. Our hotel was built on the top terrace, thus this great picture overlooking the city. We stopped well before dark and had plenty of time to explore the city before having dinner.
If you look closely you will see a giant statue overlooking the city. The statue is of St. Peter.
Here is a closer look. St. Peter is made from ceramic tile and is taller than he appears in this picture. You can see Chuck, in a blue jacket, standing under his feet.
We had a very nice trip.
We are glad to be back in Cuenca. Yesterday, I spent all morning at the market buying fresh fruits and vegetables.
Idea of prices at the market:
tomatoes - vine ripened - $1.00 a dozen
eggs - fresh large brown - $1.00 a dozen
onions - purple - $.50 a dozen
strawberries - $1.00 per liter
large green and red peppers - $.50 for four
bananas - $.50 a bunch
There is something special about buying directly from the indigenous people. The fruits and vegetables are so much fresher and it is a heck of a lot more fun than shopping the produce section at Safeway.
Next time I will share pictures of some people who live in the Andes.
Remember to take special care of yourself...
Nancy and Chuck