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We decided to take a quick trip to the coast before Elena starts working on Wednesday. It is whale watching season, and we were ready for a bit warmer weather! To get to Puerto Lopez we took a three hour furgoneta ride (also know as van from hell) to Guayaquil, then a bus (4 hours) to Puerto Lopez the next day through Jipijapa (love that name!). We took the van because our research said it was faster than the bus through Cajas which we already knew stops about every 3 feet to take on new passengers. But it turns out the improved speed is due mostly to lead foot drivers and constant dashing in and out to pass whatever is in front, never mind visibility or oncoming traffic. Add to that the fact that you are dropping 13,000 feet and the road itself is full of hairpin turns, and you'll understand why we had to break out a plastic bag for one unfortunate rider on the way down. All to say we were very glad to arrive at the Hilton Colon where Doug's loyalty points scored us a lovely welcome of the chocolate variety, and access to the executive lodge.
We took a regular bus to Puerto Lopez, and then a moto-taxi to the Hostal we stayed in. Love the moto taxi: why use a car when a motorcycle does the trick? The hostal had beautiful grounds and a breakfast served overlooking the ocean. The room itself was rather rustic, but scored points with the kids for the mosquito nets and bunk beds.
The main reason we went to Puerto Lopez was to see whales off of Isla de la Plata, and to see the Frigate Birds and Blue Footed Boobies that nest there. It was summer (dry season) on the island: you'll see the dormant trees in the pictures. We were pretty impressed with our medium length hike and surviving the heat. We were delighted to see the birds, and also sea turtles and whales: including a mom and baby, and some excellent views. And we did a little snorkeling. It was an excellent day of wildlife viewing, and fun to be on the boat.
Our second full day at Puerto Lopez we took a community-based tour of Rio Blanco. The local guides showed us many interesting plants including those that cure headache, joint aches, fever, gonorrhea, etc. We saw some freshwater shrimp, howler monkeys, a Spectacled Owl and a a trogan (bird pix to be on the bird page soon). The foliage was beautiful, and the forest was quite a contrast to Isla de la Planta: definitely wet and humid, with plants fully leafed out and covered with bromeliads. Core to the experience, though, was completing what turned out to be a 5 hour hike on extremely vertical and muddy paths. We all wore rubber boats and we needed them- by the end of the hike we were covered in mud to our knees. At first it was exciting, then it became kind of a slog. Lucia and Gabe did great, but we did put them on horses for most of the one hour return trip because it had been so intense. We devoured the meal that was waiting at the end of the hike as part of the tour: encebollado (a soup typical of the coast), fish, rice and potatoes with carrots and green beans.
We enjoyed talking with other tourists we met on the tours. They were from the UK, Spain, Belgium, France, Germany and the US (although there are many fewer American than European tourists here). The bus rides took us through rice and banana fields, and lots of little villages. Vendors came on the bus selling everything from chicken meals to go, to coconut water (we're talking fresh, not bottled), fresh fruit and sweets. A good adventure before we settle into a routine in Cuenca.
On Sunday we took a bus to Cajas National Park, which is at 13,000 feet. It was rainy and cold, but we enjoyed our time in this very unique landscape. There is a daily limit for the number of people that are allowed on each trail, so we had only one choice and it was very muddy. Enough so that we had to turn back where it was super slick. But in other places the ground is kind of like tundra, and very spongy because the plants are designed to hold water. The plants and birds were cool (see Doug's bird page for some nice photos of those). The mossy green photo is the bottom of a little pond, seen through the super clear water. Look closely and you will see a tadpole! We met some llamas along the road, and then had a nice lunch at the visitors center. We didn't feel the altitude until we tried to run to the bus stop to catch a passing bus and had to stop to breathe, thus missing the bus. Since we didn't make it onto the bus we ended up hitching a ride in a van/microbus with a family from the coast and a naturalist guide who had been up at the center and flagged down the microbus. The bus was full of plantains, bananas, melons and herbs, and also tired children (both the ones we added and those already in the bus!). All in all a fun adventure and a place we hope to return to often. Sorry that some of the pictures are sideways- can't figure out yet how to fix that. : )
Landed at just before 11:00 last night - the kids made friends with the flight attendants and watched 3 movies. They were happy on the flight, but way too tired to put up with more traveling after getting off the plane. Smooth passage through Customs and Immigration. We ended up having to tie a couple pieces of luggage to the top of our taxi with twine. Otherwise, no problems and got to the hostal around midnight. Peaceful setting with agricultural lands all around. The lone downside is that its directly underneath the flight paths for planes landing at the airport. A bit noisy but there have been very few flights today. The kids have swam in the pool and jumped on the trampoline most of the day. Elena is relaxing in the cabana and Doug has tried out his new binoculars. Flight to Cuenca in a few hours.
Currently sitting in the Houston airport waiting to board. In another 5 hours we will finally be in Quito for an overnight stay at the "Hostel Colibri" -- hopefully it lives up to its name "Hummingbird Inn". So far the kids have been doing great. Already they seem like seasoned travelers.
For years we've talked about giving our kids an immersion experience in another culture. This year we are making it happen! We'll spend a year in Cuenca Ecuador learning about the country and its varied cultures. We are looking forward to this amazing family experience, and to sharing it here!.
Can't find the blogs? Hover your curser over the words "Faulkner Family in Ecuador" in the page tab to get a drop down of the blogs. So far there is only one!