Pasto, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador
In this episode, I finally made my way out of beautiful Colombia and into amazing Ecuador. Once there, Tracy catches up with me and, basing ourselves out of Quito for a month, explore together the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Here ya go… the video if you prefer.
It was hard leaving Colombia; I really love that country – very friendly and very beautiful. But, after six weeks there, it was time to move on. On the way to the border with Ecuador, I stopped to check out an amazing church built right into the valley – Las Lajas.
Getting out of Colombia was dead simple, and super-fast – I passed through immigration in less than two minutes and out of customs in less than five. Entering Ecuador was also simple, but there was a long line at immigration and I waited in the hot sun for over two hours to make my way through the queue. Gone finally were the harassing and tiring days of Central American border crossings.
The first thing I noticed about Ecuador was the scenery, along the Andes Mountains, and the excellent roads. The road surface was some of the best I had seen during my whole trip, including the United States!
I stayed in Ibarra the first night, which in and of itself is not that great a town. In a do-over, I would have stayed in Otovalo, which I actually visited later with Tracy.
The next day I made my way into the sprawling city of Quito. Quito is the world’s second highest capital in elevation at over 2800 meters. It is also situated in a valley with amazing surrounding views of the Andes. There, Tracy and I rented an apartment for a month to base ourselves out of as we visited the Galapagos Islands and Machu Picchu.
The following day, Tracy arrived. I had not seen her since Seattle (four months ago!) and was excited to see her. After getting settled for a day, we went out exploring.
First, we visited the Old Town in Quito, specifically the Plaza Grande de la Indepencia, with its Spanish Colonial architecture, including the Iglesia Santa Barbara and Catedral Metropolitana de Quito.
We ended the day at El Penecillo, a huge statue of the Madonna made from aluminum overlooking Quito.
The next day, we hired a taxi for a tour of our own making. We first visited Quitsato, where a monument marks the actual equator (as opposed to some other more touristy areas where the marker is in the wrong place!). There is also a large sundial here that marks the equinoxes and seasons.
In Otovalo, a town with a majority of indigenous people, we went shopping in their market where you could literally buy anything from TVs to chickens.
Their traditional clothing was also interesting.
Just outside of Otovalo is the Cascada de Peguche and after a short hike we were rewarded with some pretty cool scenes.
On New Year’s Day, 2017, Tracy and I boarded a plane from Quito to the Galapagos Islands, a long-time dream of ours as scuba divers.
We stayed in the town of Puerto Bazquerizo in San Cristobal for a couple of days to hang out waiting for our cruise to begin. We chose the Expedition Yacht Galaven. Resting right along the equator, the temperature was amazing ranging from a high of 75 to a low of 72, and the views of sunset were spectacular. And the town had several residents that loved lounging wherever.
Here was our home for eight days.
From which we toured the islands.
The Galapagos Islands were formed by volcanic eruptions and are mostly covered with lava flows, especially in the low lands. The western-most islands are relatively young, at less than 500,000 years old, and the volcanoes are still active. The highlands, between 500-1500 meters, are covered in dense, rich jungle.
For the next eight days we visited six different islands, making land excursions and going snorkeling on most of them. The Galapagos, of course, offers a unique perspective on evolution as most of the species there are endemic, meaning they exist nowhere else on the planet. And because of the unique, and isolated, environment, and differences in similar species on different islands, Darwin was able to develop his theory of evolution based upon his travels there on the Beagle in the 1830s.
The most notable of these species are the giant tortoise, marine iguana, and flightless cormorant. Still, Galapagos, as a National Park of Ecuador, is teeming with all kinds of wildlife, both above and below sea level, including penguins, frigate birds, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and sunfish. A particularly interesting species included the Blue Footed Boobie, which would dive bomb the ocean in groups to catch their prey. There are also several breeding centers scattered throughout the islands to ensure these precious few species continue to thrive.
We saw so much wildlife that we were always guessing what each creature was. A running joke was that if we said, “That is probably an ‘Endemic, Darwin, Galapagos, Lava <fill in the blank> species.” And, funnily enough, we were often right, haha.
We even celebrated Tracy’s birthday onboard one night!
After the island tour, Tracy and I stayed behind on Santa Cruz Island for several more days, to relax, and more importantly, to go scuba diving. We booked with a local dive operator on Santa Criz Island and loved every minute underwater. Lots and lots of big animals including Hammerhead, White Tip, and Black Tip Sharks, Sea Turtles, Mobula and Eagle Rays, sometimes schooling, and Galapagos Sea Lions.
After Galapagos, we returned to our apartment in Quito for just a day, not even 24 hours. The next morning, we were back at the airport headed to Machu Picchu. It truly was a trains, planes, buses, and automobiles journey – we flew from Quito to Cusco, via Lima, then hired a taxi for the two-hour ride to Ollantaytambo, where we then caught a train to Aguascalientes (there is no road). In Aguascalientes, we then took a bus up to Machu Picchu on a perfectly sunny day. If you go, make sure you take your hiking boots because you do a lot of walking, but the views are spectacular!!
I was also very impressed by how things moved around Aguascalientes as there were no roads – these guys moved everything via wheelbarrow up some very step hills.
After Machu Picchu, we made our way leisurely back home (to Quito). We stayed in Ollantaytambo for a night and then Cusco for two nights. Both of these towns are of Incan origin laced with Spanish Colonialism. We didn’t want to leave as the vibrations here, the connection with Mother Earth, are incredible.
We also stopped off at Mayas, near Cusco. These concentric pits were built by the Incans, so it is supposed, as a laboratory to determine the best places to grow crops.
We finally made it back to Quito after missing our connection in Lima and went out exploring for another day before Tracy headed back to Seattle.
First, we took the Telerifico (a cable car) up a nearby mountain at nearly 4000m. Again, we had perfect weather and the views of the surrounding Andes, the volcanos, and valley below where Quito resides were amazing. I even broke out the drone.
Next, we visited the Casa del Hombre, the home and museum of a famous Ecuadorian Artist by the name of Guayasamin. No pictures were allowed inside, but two quotes really caught my eye, the first of which inspired Guayasamin, but was an old Chinese proverb:
“I cried because I had no shoes until I saw a child that had no feet”
And, believing he would return after his death:
“Maintain the light lit because I will always return.”
Guayasamin’s art was about the horrible conditions about which cultures went through to finally find peace, and preached (he was not a preacher) that peace is within us. Very moving.
After more than a month, it was time for Tracy to head back to Seattle. I waited for four months, since leaving Seattle myself, to see her again and it hurt like hell to say goodbye again.
The impression that leaps into my head about the Galapagos is of a place the Ecuadorians are working very hard to protect. Rightfully so, I think, because the natural beauty and ecological significance is hard to put a value on. It really is a wondrous place, even UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site owing to its unique biodiversity.
So, too, is the Sacred Valley of Peru, which is also labelled a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Highlighted by the remarkable archaeological and cultural accomplishments of the Incas, and the torrid history of the mixing of South American and Spanish peoples, represent yet another magical place on Planet Earth worth visiting. The peoples’ pride in these places is abundant everywhere you go.
One last note… although we only spent about 7 nights in Quito, we got really lucky the first night Tracy arrived with a taxi driver that ferried us around whenever we needed a lift for the next month. We must have spent a full day in his car riding to and from all the sites we saw in and around Quito, as well as taking us around for errands. We struck up a good friendship with him as we tried to enhance our understanding of each other’s languages. We will miss you, Edison.