The Struggle To Get To Quito
We had planned to have 1 extra day in Ecuador before heading to Quito to meet Frederik’s dad. However, the morning of our border crossing we woke with some bad news. Henrik had not been allowed to board his plane from Brazil to Ecuador due to not having his yellow fever certificate on hand. Well, Frederik went to work right away trying to photoshop his own to say his dad’s name. Henrik went to all ends to be able to get on a plane which he rescheduled for the following day. He tried all the tricks in the book and finally, at Ibarra lake in Ecuador, we got the news that in fact, we would see him the next day, he had gotten a certificate from the local hospital which would allow him to fly.
Our crossing from Colombia to Ecuador was not as bad as what Frederik’s dad had to deal with but it was not smooth either. Many people cross the borders on the weekend for shopping, so we found out, and with the added pressure coming from Venezuela the lines were outrageous. We waited for almost 2 hours just to get an exit stamp so we could cross into Ecuador. As we left the line Frederik met some friends from the road, warning them and telling them about the line for special needs people, which locals were constantly abusing (was extremely annoying!). Well, foreigners can play that game too, so they did. She became pregnant really fast and they were in and out so quick that we reached the next border at the same time. This one was even worse. It had to have been a 5-hour line as it exited the door and wrapped around the entire building! I was standing in line when Frederik ran up, grabbed me and said follow. He ran to the front, point to our Europeans friends inside and said we were with them. Yes, it isn’t right to cut in front of the whole line but it took us 30 minutes for the whole process instead of 5 hours. Our friends had done the pregnancy trick again and we jumped on board.
We went to the centre of the world, however, this was as close as we got because it was closed!
Ibarra lake was an overlander paradise and hangout. There were over 5 cars there, everyone on their own agenda but sharing stories and the yard for the night. After a stop at one of the biggest crafts markets in South America on the way to Quito, somewhere Frederik has now learned he should never take me or I’ll buy too much, we arrived at the capitol. It was hilarious as we pulled up to this nice hotel, giving our keys to the valet, just like a scene from Beverley hills cops.
As we arrived in Quito a few hours before Henrik’s new fight we made use of the time to buy the camping gear we needed before heading on a city tour thanks to Rolando, a Demsi representative in Ecuador. Although we didn’t see the fantastic view from the gondola because of the white wall of clouds we got some great pictures from the cities vantage point. Rolando was an amazing host, bringing us to his house for dinner with his family to enjoy a wonderful spread of the best sushi we have had in a really long time.
Ecuador’s Capitol, Quito
Henrik works for a company called Desmi, based out of Denmark. There are many locations all over the world so we were very fortunate and excited that he was able to coordinate his trip to the Ecuador office to coincide with our trip. At the office I, Frederik probably knew most of it already, learned about what Desmi does as a company. Rolando’s father, who is their mechanic and ultimate handyman, helped us with the stuff we needed for the car’s awning and we enjoyed another great lunch and dinner all together. Fun fact we learned on our might tour of downtown Quito, there are 27 churches, more than 1 per block, in the city’s colonial squares.
We left as a convoy to Rolando’s jungle house in Mindo the following morning. Every day thus far he has had a master plan of events, flowing nicely from one to another, and this was no different. When we reached the town 2 hours later we arrived to a surprise for Henrik. The school in Mindo, which Desmi donates Christmas presents to, had their students gathered with thank you and welcome signs and a parting gift in return for him.
The road to Rolando’s jungle house
After a tummy bursting lunch, we proceeded to learn the process of how chocolate is made, followed by a tour of Rolando’s amazing cabins in the jungle. We didn’t understand at first what he meant by going to a frog concert for dinner. Did they teach them to croak special somehow to serenade you? No, even better, once darkness hit at the restaurant they took us on a tour through their property while our food was being made. We saw a lot of different frogs, spiders, plants, you name it. The man who owned this restaurant combined dining with the opportunity to educate on the efforts of conservation the reintroduction of species and informing tourists of the local ecology. Not only was the tour good and something we recommend in Mindo but the food was amazing as well.
We couldn’t match up to the food we had been eating with Henrik and Rolando, however, we gave it our best effort to make them a fancy on the road breakfast. This means we didn’t just have our typical crepes, we also made a sad attempt at omelettes, a fruit bowl and coffee in a teapot. This was a good example of the makeshift way we are living. It was our last morning all together before Frederik’s dad was to fly back to Denmark, so Rolando surprised us with a cable car zip line over the gorge and Frederik and I zip lining through the trees. I had agreed to do the Tarzan zip line not knowing what it was and immediately regretted it when I found out. It was a free fall on a rope that swung at the end instead of letting you bounce like a bungee cord. Frederik was to heavy so he got out of it while I was left to live up to my promise.
If you met me in high school I use to cry on these type of rides at amusement parks so I have come a long way to only screaming now. Rolando really made my day especially (because I had been asking Frederik to stop at a butterfly conservation farm for months now!) by ending our visit off altogether at a butterfly farm! It was exactly as I remember it as a child, I could have stayed in there forever.
Unfortunately, right after lunch, we had to say goodbye to Frederik’s dad as he was headed back to Quito for his flight home. It was a short but great visit altogether! Thank you Henrik and Rolando for everything.
Rolando was extremely generous to let us stay an extra couple days at his jungle house where we did…..a whole lot of nothing, and it was amazing. The river just below creates a constant lullaby, making you want to curl up in bed and sleep the day away. On his property, they have a tilapia farm stocked with 8000 fish! So the second night we decided to give it a go at catching our own dinner. It wasn’t a giant pond so with that dense of a fish population it should be easy right? Well, we started with a net standing on the side of the pond. Then William, their property caretaker, felt bad for us and gave us a boat. Well, that didn’t work for a long time. Actually, it never did so when we finally gave up he showed us the real way they catch fish, by throwing a different net in while using the boat to make the tilapia swim in circles. I’d like to say we caught the three fish we had for dinner but I would be lying.
We did gut the fish ourselves and Frederik took to learning Williams techniques for the next hour in the pond then moving to the fast flowing river. He is pretty much an expert now and our designated fisherman for every river and lake we will stop at from here on out.
Climbing Cotopaxi Volcano
For a long time we had our sights set on the first mountain over 5000m that we would climb and we deemed it to be Cotopaxi. ‘We thought we were prepared’ is always the best opening statement when about to tell a story, which you can find on our blog as our previous post. However here is a very short summary along with the video above:
Goal #1 Summit the Cotopaxi Volcano at 5800m.Goal #2 hike past 5500m. Goal #3 get over 5000m for the first time. Goal #4 figure out how to use mountaineering equipment. Well, all in all, it was a great experience and lesson learned and we still completed the later two of our goals. We had both always wanted to try mountaineering because we thought we would like it as a sport to take up and we were not wrong. Hiking in the night, the only sound is snow crunching under your feet, you pushing step by step up like wrapped up like a marshmallow having a small heart attack underneath a brilliant blanket of stars lost in your surroundings wherever you are is just amazing. We will be doing it again. However this next we will be more prepared for the altitude and weather conditions.
Taylor learned her lesson at Cotopaxi to not ask if I need help unless she truly wants to help. Here is a video of her just loving working on the car in the cold.
Baños: Adrenalin Central
As we rolled into Baños, trying to step on the breaks the car responded by not stopping but shaking. So after a long night of hiking and no sleep Frederik was back at it fixing our brake pads which were now non-existent. Woops. We found a cute little house on the edge of town that had space for 2 cars and 5 tents in his backyard. We had made friends with a French couple, Thomas and Oriane, who were backpacking their way south and who joined us here.
The night before they arrived Frederik comes up to me and asks “I have a surprise for you, will you welcome it with open arms?”
Having dealt with his tomfoolery for months now I instinctively said no. However, I felt bad doubting him so I agreed to it. So when our friends arrived the following afternoon and we headed downtown for lunch he asked if we could wait so he would be able to show me the surprise. Make sense why because the surprise was that I had to jump off a bridge head first! Terrified, Frederik made a deal that if he went first then I’d have to go. So he just walks up, gets strapped in and does a swan dive off the side fo the bridge like it is nothing! (Although he did scream like a little girl on the way down).
Video of Frederik, turn up the volume for a good laugh!!!
So after watching him, I got a false sense of confidence that I could totally do the same. I walked up, looked over the edge and immediately exclaimed ‘hell no I am not jumping’. Over the course of the next 7 minutes they convinced me to turn around and sit on the edge backwards, let go and hold on to Frederik’s arms. I still didn’t want to jump, and he promised he wouldn’t let go of me while I was being way more hysterical than I needed to be, but nope, they pushed me off. Secretly I was hoping they’d do it because I was not going to do it myself, and I am really glad they did. Totally terrifying but fun. Another step closer to truly bungee jumping
Taylor jumping, turn up the volume for another good laugh!
With our friends in the back of our car, we headed up the surrounding mountain to La Casa del Arbol. It was raining and cloudy when we arrived but the weather in Ecuador is constantly changing every 5 minutes, so finally, after waiting over a beer the clouds cleared. Here there is a famous view and swing that attracts visitors from all over. The tree house and swing set built on the top of a mountain’s sloping edge gives you the impression you are swinging off into nothing but air. The view adds to the slight adrenaline rush for a great experience.
After a morning of high energy, we ended the day off relaxing in local thermal pools/ hot springs, and went to town making a huge dish of curry for us all to eat. Frederik has gotten quite good at making crepes however Thomas and Oriane, will be the real judges of that as they are from France and hope to open a crepe stand themselves when they arrive in Patagonia for the winter. Well, we were short on flour so I ran to a little tienda in the morning, grabbing what I thought was regular flour. Well when we added it to the crepe dough it started to expand and kept overflowing onto the table. So instead of lots of crepes with a giant spread of fruit, nutella and jam, we spilt 6 crepes gluten free crepes between the 4 for us! Breakfast didn’t seem to deter them too much as they are hitching a ride 5 hours south to Cuenca and its neighbouring national park in the bed of our car.
Hiking In Cajas National Park
So we promised Thomas and Oriane a ride to the park with us, and our luck with the flour at breakfast continued throughout the day. We ended up having to take a 4 hour stop at a Toyota mechanic, followed by a 2 hour stop at a gas station at night because the fog was to thick for driving. So we watched half of a movie in the parking lot till it cleared and slept in front of one of Ecuador more famous ruins for the remainder of the night. Thomas and Oraine sleep in a tent so at 4 am, when a busload of loud and rowdy young guy rolls up, they are a lot more exposed to the group circling their tent and taking pictures of our car and them. But we made it through the night with only an hour loss of sleep and a tour of the ruins the following day.
We arrived at Cajas National Park almost a full day later than planned but we were glad we still made the trip because we drive in was gorgeous, let alone the hikes that awaited us. After a nice leisurely walk around the lake, which was situated next to the visitors centre (the only place we were allowed to car camp) and a Refugio, where Thomas and Orian were staying, we were treated to a French dinner.
For 2 people who are together 24/7, without an extended period of knowing each other beforehand, we do really well. However, from time to time it is very important to the both of us that we have space, alone time, and this park brought that need out in the both of us. The following morning, Frederik running the trails and I hiking, we headed out in opposite directions, planning to meet up half way to make sure the other was alright. Plans never work out, so we never did cross paths on the trail but thankfully when I emerged at the end of the trail he was waiting there with the car.
The hike was amazing. The landscape and vistas so vast. There was one tiny forest, which looked like it was from an enchanted movie with it bright red twisty trunks, but other than that grass covered the hills and mountains. Lakes dotted the park as we looked from the nearby summit. It is no wonder Cajas NP provides the city of Cuenca with all the water supply it needs. It was refreshing to get out and hike, and rejuvenating to wander around in your own mind. It is important to learn how to give each other the space they need and take it for yourself when you need it. Only makes the trip go better!
I have totally become too comfortable sitting in the passenger seat, letting Frederik do all the driving and become a crazier central/south American driver day by day. I figured I could get on his level of driving, and I like just looking around so it sadly has gotten to the point where I drive once a country. Driving through the mountains of Ecuador, towards the border of Peru, I couldn’t remember why I never accepted his offer to drive more! We are trying to avoid using the breaks as much as possible so it felt like I was driving a huge race car, shifting gears and taking on tight turns. Today we are on Vilcabamba, a town on the south mountains known for the longevity of the residence life thought to be due their laid back life style. The ecolodge we are sleepung at is a gem you find only once and a while on the road. They have in worth of trails, set back in the forest you fall asleep to the river and wake up to brids. Tomorrow we will head off to Peru, crossing off another border. However, it has become now that borders mean nothing but paperwork. Everything is blending together. So much change can happen in our country that we find ourselves wondering where we even are any more on this dream of an adventure.