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My Ecuadorian love affair

Ecuador is quite possibly the most magical place I have ever visited. Returning to Ecuador was an interesting experience. Quito was just as beautiful as I left it in August however the haze of winter had changed the light of the place, muting the colour of the building but in no way dimming the colourful characters of Quito.

The purpose for my return was to consolidate some of the broken Spanish that I had acquired over the past 7 months of travelling. I found a lovely tutor who would school me in the ways of Spanish for 4 hours a day for 3 weeks. Despite this heavy schedule of Spanish I wanted to explore some other parts of this beautiful country.

After dropping in to Community Adventures, I thought, ‘What better place to start that adventure than at Cotopaxi Volcano?.’ It is no secret that I love climbing to great heights just to see the world from a different viewpoint. So why not continue that here.

Standing at 5897 m, Cotopaxi is a strata volcano that is located 50km south of Quito. The awe inspiring sight is usually shrouded in a veil of cloud, sporadically revealing its splendour to a lucky few. Hiking up this peak was no easy stroll. The windy conditions, high altitude, low oxygen environment made every step twice as difficult. However, grinding your way to the top proves worth when the clouds part. Some super adventurous people go a step further and trek the ice peak to be at the top. But for me, I was content from my vantage point at the beginning of the glacier.

Doing this kind of strenuous activity sure does make you work up an appetite and there is no better place to curb that lunchtime hunger than at the Mercardo Central. Hanging out in this hub of traditional cuisine was one of my favourite past times.

As soon as you cross the floor the Market Mamas commence their cat calls to entice you to dine at their establishment. After you make your choice, it isn’t two minutes before your meal is prepared and delivered right in front of you. Brimming full with fresh produce and bursting with flavour, your tastebuds are tantalised. In Ecuador, lunch is the most important meal of the day. Families congregate at home or in their favourite establishment to plow through a standard 3 course meal. The market is a beacon for these families every lunchtime. Sitting there watching the hoards families flooding through the door to get their fill of the markets delicious treats provides a small glimpse into the homes of Ecuadorian families. A home where matriarchs rule and the dining table is where decisions are made.

It is this concept of familial relations that is so prevalent in the celebrations of every new year. Being alone through the festive season is a personal challenge. But spending this new years with the family at Community Hostel sure did help ease the pain.

In Quito, there is a tradition that revolves around the burning of a masculine doll that represents the previous year, and leads the men to dress as females, representing the Widows of the home, to source funds to pay for the funeral of the doll. These men is costume stand in the street and passing traffic hand over change, with big smiles on their faces.

This is just one of the many traditions. Many people of the house place money in their shoe and run around the street with a suitcase to promote prosperity and travel adventures for the coming year too. Whatever the case, it filled the city with an air of optimism, of great possibilities for the New Year.

Community Hostel put on a feast and continued to cater for the orphan backpackers during the festive season, and we enjoyed a night of dancing, great food and fabulous fireworks.

With the dawn of the New Year and the death of my hangover, I was ready for my next adventure to Otovalo.

A traditional indigenous town in the Andean highlands in the Imbabura province of northern Ecuador. It’s beauty is born from the surrounding volcanoes including the Imbabura Volcano. This little city is popular to tourists for the Otovalo Market in the central Plaza de Ponchos, where you can find traditionally clad indigenous townspeople sell colorful textiles and handicrafts. It is a great opportunity to pick up souvenirs for your trip and to interact with the super friendly locals. Returning to Quito, my new friends and I decided to venture to the south of Ecuador to visit the city of Baños.

Located in the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano, there is something in the air in Baños that makes it seem otherworldly. Whether it is the blue haze that covers the mountains or the tall waterfalls that fill the atmosphere with a natural soundtrack. Eitherway, it was immediately a place you were happy to visit. We started with the traditional hotspot in Baños, La Casa del Árbol. Yes, this is the place with the “swing at the end of the world”. Despite being a complete tourist haven, foreign and local, it is both picturesque and extremely affordable. The taxi ride there is a roller coaster ride of emotions but the views from the top are worth it.

Being quite an active bunch, we decided to spend our second day in Baños roaming the Ruta de las cascadas, or Waterfall Route. I always think it sounds sexier in Spanish. Hiring a bike in town for some chump change we commenced the 18km, mainly downhill, biking adventure. There were several stops along the route to explore the natural waterfalls and valleys. The bike path begins in Baños and ends at Pailón del Diablo, where you can pay a man with a truck $2 to drive you and your bike back to Baños. Love it!

We decided to finish off our stay in Baños by visiting the thermal springs at Luna Runtun Adventure Spa. Slightly out of our backpacker budget we indulged in some self discovery, and a bottle of wine and marvelled at the beauty that the world could offer. Atop the mountain overlooking Baños, you could feel all the worries of the world melt away as you soak in the thermal waters. That is why Ecuador is so magical. You always leave the place a happier and more enlightened person. A person with a bigger family, with more memories and a happy heart. I can’t wait to come back.

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