Still more to do and see in Ecuador

By Ombi and Alex - July 10, 2009

So, we had spent time with family, caught up with some of our friends, and done a whole lot of other stuff, but there was still so much more to do! So many friends still wanted to catch up with us, but time was a tickin'!

Now, we couldn't possibly leave Quito without going for a boogie. So, one Saturday night we got a little group together and off we went to Flashback. As the name suggests, the music played was from the 70s and 80s. Our little group was Alex and I, Jean Pierre, Karen and Christian, Jonathan (Christian's brother) and his girlfriend Naty, and Andrea (his cousin) and her husband Paul. Oh what a night! Oops, no pun intended! It was lots of fun, and we had a great time dancing. In my usual fashion, I was on that dance floor and goin' for it in no time at all! And Christian was my partner in crime. What took a bit of (more like a lot actually) getting used to was the cigarette smoke! Apart from gross and repulsive, it seems oh so very yesterday to smoke in a confined space! So, here we are almost 3 kilometres above sea level, dancing in a pool of smoke.......at times I thought I was going to go into cardiac arrest. Apart from the smoke, we survived (of course, again, no pun intended), and didn't leave until almost 3.00am. On the way home we stopped for some hot dogs with the lot (it's what you do in Ecuador, after a big night out). Whilst it was no thanks for me, all the others went for it! Vegetarian or not, I don't do mystery bags!

The next day was rather peaceful, and we all relaxed at home, only stepping out to buy some ice-cream.

Whilst we were in Quito, Andrea (Santy's wife) gave birth to little Samuel. She chose a water birth, which is not so common in Ecuador. Alex, Karen and I went with his aunties Gladys and Patty, and were amongst the first to see the little baby. He was only hours old when we saw him. Santy was at the hospital too, as were several others. The baby, tiny as he was, was being passed around. They seem to have a much more laid back attitude to pregnancy and giving birth in Ecuador. As Alex's aunt Patty told me some seven years ago when she gave birth to Samantha, "Pregnancy and child birth are not an illness, they are a way of life". She's right, and sometimes we can be a bit precious about it all in the western world.

Now, we all know that the world is a small place, but........after we visited Andrea and little Samuel in hospital, we stopped by a small set of shops close to the hospital ...I noticed a little girl in a wheelchair, and I was sure I had met her before. Now, whilst I am hopeless with numbers, I never forget a face, and almost never a name. Memory bank, memory bank! I looked at her father...yes I knew him, and I thought his daughter's name was Eva....it all came back to me. I had met "Eva" in a shop her father owned on the Galapagos Islands, when we were there three and a half years ago. I went straight up to the father and asked him if his daughter's name was Eva, to which he replied , "Yes, Evaluna!". He looked at me as if to say, "How do you know her?" I then jogged his memory, and we chatted about our meeting in his shop in the Galapagos. I reminded Pato that I had met him and his wife Katy, and their gorgeous daughter. We had given her a little toy koala, and had played with her for a while. They now have another little girl called Sol. I went up to Evaluna and gave her a big hug, and reminded her too of how and when we had met. She have me a big hug and even bigger smile! I told Pato how I had often wondered about them all, and especially Evaluna! We swapped e-mails and vowed to stay in touch. Destiny!

We managed to catch up with Edison and Belen too, which was wonderful. Eddy used to work with Alex at El Comercio, Quito's leading newspaper, when I met him 10 years ago. He is still there and works as a graphic designer. And Belen, who actually also works there now, used to be one of Alex's students at the Journalism Club in which he used to teach and be involved in. They picked us up fro Patty's house and we went to La Ronda, in the old part of Quito. It is in the colonial part of the old town, and is one of the oldest and most historic parts of Quito. As it was during the week, it was not that crowded, but there were still plenty of places selling canelazo, a traditional hot drink (with or without alcohol, but usually with), empanadas, and souvenirs. In addition, there were lots of restaurants and cafes. We stopped at one of them, and I had one of the best hot chocolates ever!

There was no way that we were leaving Quito without a meal at his Tia Bebita's restaurant. Not only is she a wonderful cook but she is also a lovely woman. Every day her father (Alex's grandfather) Jacinto, goes there for lunch. We surprised him by just rocking up one day without saying anything. You should have seen his face when Alex said, "Excuse me, do you mind if I sit down next to you?" More hugs all around! After lunch we caught the taxi with "Papa Jacinto" (as he is fondly referred to) back to his place, and caught up with some more members of Alex's extended family. Again, never enough time!

We also managed to catch up with our special friend Aidee, who is still working at Hostal Centro del Mundo in Gringolandia. It's where I stayed when I first came to Quito. I met her before I met Alex! We truly surprised her when we popped into the hostel. On that same day we also caught up with Ely from Moggely Travel (who run various tours all over Ecuador) and met her cousin Marco who is also working there now. Another friend I was able to see was Iliana; I used to work with both her and her mum (also called Iliana, and who now lives in Chicago). We went to a place called La Tortilla, where we were able to sit down and catch up on 10 years! Iliana's mum found me on Facebook several months ago and we re-connected. She then she gave me her daughter's e-mail. I had not been in touch with either since I stopped living in Ecuador 10 years ago. It was great, and like no time had passed at all. Unfortunately, we were neither able to catch up with Alex's friend Raul, or my Colombian friend, Maria Pia......time just ran out!

I did, however, catch up with Maria Antonieta and her partner Chula. Maria Antonieta was one of my very closest friends when I lived in Ecuador. It was so great to see her once again, and it really felt like no time had passed at all. I went to hers and Chula's place for dinner, and we chewed the fat for hours! It's amazing how with good friendships, upon reconnecting, it actually feels like no time has passed at all. I only wish we had have had the chance to spend more time together, but as I have mentioned before, time is not always our best friend!

Now, there was no way that I was coming home from Ecuador not having visited the famous indigenous market of Otavalo. Alex and I took the two hour bus ride north, with Denisse on a Saturday morning, which is market day. Without a doubt, the beauty of the market lies in the indigenous people of the area, who always look spectacular in their traditional garb. The women with long, dark braided hair, colourfully embroidered shirts, and rows upon rows of gold beads around their necks, and the men, with their hats and their ponchos. Think Otavalo, think South America! As soon as we arrived we went straight to Mama Rosita's for our humita fix (humitas are a type of roll, made from corn and can be sweet or savoury). I first met Dona Rosita (Mrs Rosita) when I was living in Ecuador, as I would go to Otavalo regularly. Unfortunately, it started to rain early on in the piece, and it got to the point where it was no longer enjoyable to walk around. We stopped in a cafe for a hot drink and a snack, after which we bought very little (but did include a couple of really cute woollen jumpers for Thomas), before proceeding to go home. We did manage to see both Don Pedro (Byron's dad) and Norma (his sister) who have separate stalls there.

For me, Otavalo is like a life line. It epitomises all that I love about South America, and is a fascinating place to people watch. It reminds me of the culture that I love, and for me, no trip to my second homeland would be complete without a visit here. Unfortunately, due to the rain (it was hammering!), I couldn't enjoy it as much as I usually do.

Mindo, the last bastion. I was determined to see it! Mindo is an area of low lying rain forest just a few hours north of Quito. It's a bird lovers paradise, as it has one of the highest concentrations of birds in the world, with more than 350 bird species. I just wanted to relax and get away for a few days. We left on a Wednesday and came back on a Friday. We went by bus, and only half an hour out of Quito, the scenery changed and we were presented with undulating hills, covered with lush green trees. So many memories came flashing back to me, and this trip reminded me of what it is about South America that I had fallen deeply in love with in the first place! Indescribable sentiments, lodged deeply in my heart! I would do a backpacking trip again with Alex in South America in a heartbeat. I will.....one day! As we arrived in Mindo, it was raining heavily, but Byron had given us a contact of a place to stay. We ended up calling Elizabeth of Mindo Real, and she promptly came to pick us up with her daughter. If you click here, you will see the picture of the beautiful little cabin in which we stayed for 2 nights. It was only a 7 minute walk from the small town centre, but it was just far enough that the only noise we could hear was the sound of the river which ran through the property.

Each morning we were treated to a sumptuous home-made breakfast, compliments of Ely. Everything was fresh, and everything tasted fantastic! We were in no rush to wake up early on either of our days there, as it was so relaxing. On one of the days, we went on a really long walk, past the Mariposario (butterfly enclosure) and on a little mountain trail, ending up at some waterfalls. There were plenty of beautifully coloured butterflies flying around, and we both felt very serene. It was like having the place to ourselves as we only came across a person or two. Our walk through the mountain trail, was lovely, if not steep, and at one point we literally got attacked by a type of ant that, whilst not poisonous, bites with voracity. Their pincers were closing in all over my feet, and as I was wearing sandals and not shoes, I was jumping around like a grasshopper. I was also screaming expletives, whilst trying to swat them. Yes, I DID freak out! Luckily, no one was around, because I was screaming like someone who was being attacked! Well I was, wasn't I? After the attack, and with my ankles and legs covered in bites, I slathered them in even more insect repellent, and we continued walking. Insect repellent? All too little too late?!

Soon, we reached a place where there were some waterfalls. We had to walk a little more inland, but the views were worth the walk. Again, we were alone. We had a dip in a pool which was what I would describe as natural, but somewhat enhanced by man. The water was bloody freezing! Just as we were getting ready to leave, the heavens opened and there was an alluvial downpour! We tried to wait until it passed, but this natural phenomena was not going to come to the party! So, we pulled out our ponchos and rain jackets, and walked back in the rain!

We had found a great little street stall on the first night where we bought our dinner, and went back the second night as it was so good. Grilled plantains (savoury bananas), were served with mayonnaise and grated fresh cheese (trust me, if Gino had tried it, he would have said, "'fully sick!"). Then there was menestra (a type of stew, in this case with lentils) served with rice, salad, and aji (a chilli sauce which I just love). Add to that grilled meat and chicken, which Alex tells me was also great!

No sooner had we arrived, than it was time to go back to Quito. As we caught the bus back, and I once again admired the fantastic scenery, I was brutally reminded that we had less than a week to go! Where had the time gone? We wound our way back to Quito as I continued to both ponder and admire!

Yet another adventure was coming to an end!

Ombi

Next: Saying goodbye!

"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act" - George Orwell (1903 1950)

(Photos: 1.- Ombi and Alex boogie-ing on the dance floor, "Flashback", Quito, Ecuador. 2.- The "family gang" at Flashback. Lto R: Naty, Jonathan, Christian, Karen, Andrea, Jean Pierre, and Paul in the front. 3.- Andrea, Santiago and baby Samuel only hours after his birth. 4.- A surprise reunion - Ombi, Evaluna and Pato. 5.- Belen, Edison and Ombi at La Ronda, in the Old Town (historical centre), Quito. 6.- Alex's family on his dad's side: Papa Jacinto (grandpa), Alex, Salome, Jacinto (behind), Esteban, Monica (behind), Simona, Soraya, Sandy and Alexandra. 7.- Ombi and Aidee at Centro del Mundo. 8.- Maria Antonieta (front) and Chula at their place in Quito. 9.- Mama Rosita, Ombi and Denisse eating humitas at the Otavalo Market, Ecuador. 10.- Fancy a bit of pork, or a ham sanga? Fare of the porcine kind, Otavalo Market. 11.- Spools of thread, Otavalo Market. 12.- Mindo - loy lying cloud forest. 13.- The beautiful flowers of Mindo. 14.- River running through Mindo. 15.- Ombi and Alex; on our way back from a walk. It was only the poncho that saved me from the wet t-shirt competition! 16.- Eating out at the "local", Mindo. 17.- (Left): Alex and Ely, of Moggely Travel. 18.- (Right): Ombi and Iliana at "La Tortilla" - reunion after 10 years.)

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