Where shall I go?

You know when a volcano goes off somewhere in the world my first instinct is always to pack.  I love the spectacular show of flame and fireworks put on by mother nature.  I know it’s dangerous, but there’s a secret vulcanologist inside me just dying for a front row seat.  When I read that Tungurahua, the most active strato volcano in Ecuador is active again I thought, “Time to head for Banos.”  It is a small spa town that lies at the foot of the volcano.  Go rapelling, take a jungle tour, you can even bungee jump here.  It’s an adrenaline junkies paradise.  And the volcanic spa at Luna Runtun (right) is as stunning as the the volcanic eruptions.

Hidden gems – Cuello de Luna

National Geographics Travel today tweeted about the haciendas of Ecuador. It being just about a year since I was there, this sparked a great memory for me.  My husband and I made the trek from Quito to Cotopaxi to see the volcano (right).  He took that photo just outside our room at Cuella de Luna, a local hacienda.  It sits on the edge of the national park, and provides not just spectacular views, but a real sense of Ecuadorian hospitality.  Rooms are rustic, but charming and meals are taken together in a communal dining room.  You can lounge by the fire and sip a cocktail or head outside to see the lamas and alpacas grazing in the front yard.  I’d suggest doing what we did, hiring a guide and hiking the Quilotoa Crater.  There is no place like it on Earth.

Get out of the country free?

Not in Ecuador!  I know all of you were wondering if I drowned in that bathtub, I didn’t.  Spent most of yesterday flying home from Quito.  Our sojourn in Ecuador was amazing.  I loved the country, the people, the color everywhere. I can’t wait to go back.  I’m going to have to save up though.  Turns out is costs you $40.82 to exit the country.  Yup, it’s like a tax.  A tax you have to pay in cash before you can even check a bag or contemplate leaving Ecuador.  And…you have to pay it every single time you take an international flight out of Ecuador.  I think next time I visit my side trips to Peru, Chile, Argentina, etc. will have to be on the front end of my trip!

Travel tip of the week

I should start this post by pointing out that I’m a pickpocket’s dream.  I’ve been robbed in Florence, Paris and now almost in Ecuador.  This country is famed for it’s pickpockets and you are warned early and often to keep hold of your purse and keep a wary eye.  As I was walking across the Plaza Grande earlier this week I felt water hit my back.  It being Carnival I thought it was the foam the kids are all spraying on everyone as a Carnival prank.  It wasn’t.  It was spit.  a woman trailing my husband and I had basically hocked a luge on my arm to get me to turn around so she could grab my purse and take off.  Gross, I know and I apologize, but it’s a good lesson.  Never think this kind of thing won’t happen to you.  Oh and be sure to shower if it does.  I did.

Where shall I go?

Even though I’m traveling outside the United States I still want to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way.  This past weekend my husband and I had a fabulously romantic day.  I spent an hour in the L’Occitane Spa enjoying their sauna and a relaxing massage.  Then we met up for cocktails and a romantic dinner a deux at Sake.  Sushi in Ecuador was a gamble, but the meal was delicious!  Even a non-pescatarian like myself found mouthwatering dishes to sample.  Where was this great great date you ask?  The chic 5 diamond award winning Le Parc Hotel near Parque Carolina here in sunny Quito.

The Real Deal – Taxi Prices In Quito

Quito is unique among major South American cities in that it has metered taxis. What is not unique is that 4 in 5 drivers refuse to use them, quoting you inflated prices to get from point A to point B. Moreover, most travel guides give lousy advice as to what taxi rides ought cost in Quito.

For example, at least three web-sites state that it costs about $8.00 to get from La Mariscal (“Gringolandia”) to the northern bus terminal, “Terminal Terrestre Carcelen”, where you can catch buses to Otavalo and Imbabura, but this is cr*p! On the meter, from the “Centro Historico” which by the way is further away from Carcelen than Gringolandia, this trip is $5.80. From La Mariscal, it should be no more than $4.00.

So…as a public service, we’ve cooked up a little table that’ll give you the skinny on what it should cost to get around Quito by taxi.

Where to Where… On the Meter… Negotiate for… You got soaked!
Aeropuerto Mariscal Scure to el Centro Historico ~ $4.00 $5.00 >= $7.00
Aeropuerto Mariscal Scure to La Mariscal (i.e., ‘Gringolandia’) ~ $2.50 $3.00 >= $5.00
La Mariscal to el Centro Historico ~ $2.00 $3.00 >= $4.00
Terrestre Carcelen to el Centro Historico $5.80 $6.00 >= $8.00

Keep in mind that taxis in Quito charge by time, not by distance. So a trip from Gringolandia to the old city, is a bit more expensive than the distance would normally indicate, given the horrible traffic. Also, most taxi drivers will quote a couple extra dollars at night. So keep that in mind when you negotiate. In addition, *USE SPANISH* when negotiating with taxi drivers. They’re much less likely to try and soak you if you use a well placed, “…demasiado!” (“too much!”) and a counter offer. And finally, if you have to negotiate the fare…don’t tip the driver! He (she) has already included a percentage for themselves.

Why Ecuador?

myviewLast post on this I promise.  My final word on why Ecuador is a simple one.  Why Ecuador?  Because I can.  I’m not saying this to be snide or make anyone angry.  It’s a simple truth.  I dreamed of coming here and found a way to make it happen.  I’ve read many, many posts since January 1st by people worrying about not being able to travel in 2010.  To you I say, there is a way.  Dreams are great, but they have to be supported by plans.  I sold my home to make this trip happen.  Yes it was a huge sacrifice, but the reward has been great and I wouldn’t change a thing.  I encourage you all to dream big this year.

Why Ecuador?

You’d think the Travel Mooch would have covered all of our many and varied reasons for choosing Quito yesterday.  Not true I have a bit more to say.  Ever since I saw Quito mentioned a couple of years ago as an “emerging destination” I’ve been curious about it.  About 4 years ago the Travel Mooch took me on vacation in Antigua, Guatemala.  It’s colonial center fascinated me.  We stayed only 5 days, but I was hooked.  I wanted more of the same.  More old buildings, more UNESCO reconstructions, more warm weather and more flowers.  When the Mooch suggested Quito as a jumping off destination for our “year of travel”, I immediately accepted.  It has that wistfulness that all colonial cities share.  Like it once was a great place, almost fell to complete ruin and is healing itself slowly like a deep scar.  I find the indigenous peoples from colonial towns to be fiercely independent and proud of their history.  They work hard to keep their stories alive.  This is so true of Quito.  The fight for independence was a hard one and they don’t sugar coat it in the telling.  In Quito unlike in other colonial cities I’ve visited the locals still live and work in the Centro Historico.  You don’t get the impression that they remade it to please the tourists, but did it instead to please themselves.  For that I deeply admire them, and I can see why they’d be happy to call Quito home.

Por Qué No Ecuador?

Though the Muse has adequately answered the question, “Why Ecuador?” I’m going to take the opposite tack and ponder the question: “Why not Ecuador?”

You see, we Americans like the familiar. That’s why we’re so apt to head for Europe—if it weren’t for the fact that the Euro makes a trip to France an impoverishing experience—or to take a cruise—yup eating 24/7 and lying in the sun is really my idea of a good time. Hell, I’ve got relations that won’t go to Canada because it’s too foreign.

So in deciding where I wanted to live (note that I didn’t say ‘vacation’) for 10 weeks, I measured many factors, but perhaps the most important was the notion of ‘foreignness’.

Now you’re probably saying to yourself, “But Mooch, if you really wanted to get ‘foreign’ you could have headed for Nepal or Laos, Tokyo or someplace in the Middle East.” And you’re right, though I did say that foreignness was the ‘most important’ factor, not the only factor. So…how did I settle on Quito? Well first off I wanted to head someplace where I could practice my lousy Spanish, and that meant Central or South America. I’ve already been to Central America, and judging from the reactions of my friends, Quito is quite sufficiently foreign.

I wanted a city with a lot of history and that meant one of the old Spanish colonial capitals: Quito, Lima, Santiago, Asuncion, La Paz. I wanted a place where I wouldn’t hear a lot of English, and I wanted altitude. That eliminated Lima, Santiago, and Asuncion. Of La Paz and Quito, I knew that the latter is a bit safer for Americans just now. So Quito got the nod!

Was I right? Who knows, but here’s the thing. In Quito, I can go a whole day without anyone speaking English to me unless I ask. In Quito, I can live for about $30.00 a day, and that includes the cute little apartment that I’m renting in the Centro Historico. In Quito, I get beautiful weather every day along with stunning views in every direction (take that Lima!) In Quito, I get a World Heritage Site that hasn’t morphed into some kind of Disneyland for backpackers (take that Cuzco!).

In short, the question “Why not Ecuador?” answers itself.

Why Ecuador?

Ecological diversity.  Ecuador, while a small country, is one of the most diverse in the world.  They have beaches (Esmeraldas), mountains (La Sierra), rainforests (El Oriente), and the famed Galapagos Islands (Region Insular).  If you ever wanted to vacation somewhere with lots of options Ecuador is the place for you.   As this is my first trip to South America I wanted to experience as much as I could in the short time I’m here.   Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to be able to straddle the Equator. I mean really, how often do you get a to have one foot in the Northern Hemisphere and in in the Southern?  Add to that my ability to see both volcanic mountains (Pichincha) and the Andes from Quito and you’ll begin to understand what drew me South of the Equator.