A Travellerspoint blog

March 2015

Pretty Posers

sunny 33 °C

We haven’t posed a conundrum for awhile so here’s today’s question. Where on earth are we now?
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The beach babes here are so hot that ancient mariners once thought they were mermaids. This shameless hussy is Sirena…
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Some of these gals are so brazen that they hang about the street corners at night wearing nothing but a slinky fur coat. Some are just posers
like Mar-ee…
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And when it comes to being a little bit over-friendly this buxom chick just couldn’t get close enough to James…
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Not to be outdone, the local crabs have tarted themselves up with blusher and lipstick and sit naked on the rocks in the setting sun hoping to catch someone’s eye…
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Blowing bubbles is one way of getting attention…
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The marine iguanas, on the other hand, are a bit amateurish when it comes to getting a john. It’s not their fault. They’re just not as pretty as some of the other hookers. They just sit around on the beach hoping that someone will find them attractive and snap them up…
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So, if you recognise this beach, grab your swimsuit and come and join us…
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You too will get hooked by all the pretty creatures who just love cozying up to their human cousins in this island paradise. They’re not cheap, but they sure give you a thrill.

Posted by Hawkson 11:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

The Snows of Cotopaxi

semi-overcast 23 °C

Cotopaxi in Ecuador is the world’s highest active volcano at nearly 20,000 feet and its permanently snow capped peak is rarely glimpsed through the persistent clouds. But we were lucky…
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Cotopaxi has erupted 86 times since colonial records began in the 16th. Century and the resultant lava flows have twice decimated the city of Latacunga some 50 kilometres away.. Giant rocks from previous eruptions are scattered for hundreds of square miles…
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The drive from Quevedo to Cotopaxi took us up to 16,000 feet through the spectacularly picturesque scenery of the 110 kilometre Quilotoa Loop…
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All of the guidebooks, even the most recent, warn of the road’s dreadful condition and suggest that it is only accessible by hikers, donkeys or Land Rovers. Undaunted by the dire warnings, though somewhat apprehensive, we turned off the main highway and found ourselves on top of the world. If we had heeded the guides’ advice we would never has seen the fantastic emerald lake that has formed in the crater of Quilotoa’s extinct volcano…
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Neither would we have discovered that the once notoriously dangerous road is now a safe paved highway with only a few stretches of gravel to shake up granny. All the hard edges have been rounded off and we were treated to matchless vistas of the high mountains…
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At the halfway stage of the Loop we stayed at a farm hacienda and were astounded when we were given plastic identity bracelets like those used at busy all-inclusives to stop interlopers getting a free swim or free meals...
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We were astounded because, not only were we miles from anywhere, we were also the only guests in the thirty bed hacienda. Any interloper without grey hair and a beard would have stood out a mile with or without a bracelet.

Because of its proximity to the equator only the very highest peaks in this part of the Andes have ever received snow, and it is amazing to see lush vegetation at altitudes that would be well above the tree line at similar elevations in other ranges. The year round temperate climate is ideal for all kinds of horticulture, especially the fabulous roses for which Ecuador is famous…
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Now, after driving 2,000 kilometres through some of the world’s highest mountains we are going to take a breather at the seaside. Wish you were here, but hope to see you real soon.

Posted by Hawkson 13:52 Archived in Ecuador Comments (9)

On the Other Side of The Andes

sunny 33 °C

From the summit of Cajas National Park at 13,000 feet it’s downhill all the way to the Pacific coastal plain and after a week of constantly climbing into the high Andes we were expecting an easy run with spectacular views. Someone in the sky had other plans and we spent two hours driving through the thickest cloud imaginable. We saw nothing besides the dim rear lights of a huge truck as we twisted and turned down an invisible helter-skelter until we emerged from the fog and found that the light, cool, mountain air had been replaced with a heavy, hot and humid atmosphere. We had slipped into another world. Gone were the clean streets and sophisticated plazas of Cuenca. Gone were the neat tiled houses; the proud indigenous people in their trilby hats and ponchos; the fancy hotels and excellent restaurants. Gone too were the spectacular mountain views with llamas and cattle grazing the alpine pastures. In their place we found visions of a third world that we thought we had left behind in Ghana, Myanmar and India…
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On the swampy plain that lies between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean we found community after community of shanty-like hovels; The roadsides were littered with broken down and damaged trucks, and the ditches strewn with garbage. Some of the vehicles came straight from the breaker’s yard…
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We drove three hundred kilometres mostly on excellent highways, but the road fell apart whenever we reached a town. In one community the superb, and obviously expensive, sidewalks bordered washboard gravel roads full of axle-breaking potholes…
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In most communities the only buildings of any quality were the church, the cemetery and the gas station. Entire towns consisted of rudimentary concrete block buildings with corrugated iron roofs or flimsy hovels on stilts set into the mud or roadside ditches…
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Ecuador’s coastal plain is a tropical hotbed for greengrocers and supermarkets in colder climes and our entire three hundred kilometre drive was hedged by plantations of bananas, (and their cousins plantains) punctuated by forests of sugar cane and cocoa, and fields of rice and corn. Bananas rule in this part of Ecuador, but the banana industry consumes more agrochemicals than any other crop in the world, except cotton – two products that most westerners think of as being ‘natural’ and good for us!
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Each banana plant only produces one huge bunch in its lifetime but each bunch can weigh a whopping sixty pounds or more. We thought we might buy a couple of pounds for lunch and stopped at one of the dozens of roadside stalls to get a price. Four dollars seemed a little excessive and we were readying to haggle when we realised that was the price for the whole lot – all 60 lbs!.
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We had planned to stop in the city of Quevedo in the Andean foothills but, unusually, had not been able to find a suitable hotel online. The reason became clear as soon as we saw the appalling state of the city. However, by luck, we stumbled upon an excellent hotel set amid rice paddies and cornfields just a few miles outside the city. It even had two fabulous swimming pools…
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Posted by Hawkson 15:26 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

Nearing Death in Cuenca

sunny 25 °C

For the past five years Ecuador has been rated as the world’s best place for retirement and now we are here we can see why. Cuenca is the Ecuadorean city chosen by most ex-pats in their golden years. The city is relatively small and is one of the cleanest and most pedestrian friendly cities anywhere. Most streets are one way only, (not always understood by motorcyclists and taxi drivers), and all have wide pavements. The city has numerous tree filled plazas – each with at least one church…
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Cuenca has more catholic churches per capita than almost anywhere else on earth, (an absolute must for wobbly seniors preparing to fall off the cliff and needing absolution). This is the old cathedral which was completed in 1567…
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However, on the opposite side of the main plaza is the ‘new’ cathedral…
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This magnificent building was started over a hundred years ago and is only half finished.
The cupolas may look magnificent but the building’s rough brick walls are a touch unsightly…
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Nevertheless, the church hasn’t stinted when it comes to gilding the altar or installing huge boom-boxes and a massive flat screen television on every pillar so that aging ex-pats in the rear pews have no excuse to doze through lengthy Spanish sermons. Unfortunately, and unusually, the cathedral is locked except during services when no photos are allowed. Fortunately, in addition to the churches, Cuenca has a wealth of beautiful historic buildings that we could visit including this bank cum art gallery…
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When it rains oldies can stroll the numerous colonnades in the dry…
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More active retirees can hike the nearby Cajas National Park. The high point, at some 13,000 feet above sea level, is at the continental divide…
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All the rivers from this point flow into the Amazon from the east while those on the west flow into the Pacific. These high peaks will, quite literally, take you breath away. But if your heart doesn't quit you can always stop for a breather and a coffee in this authentic, and incredibly rustic, mountain lodge…
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Or you can have a spitting contest with this handsome fella...…
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Perhaps the best reason for retiring to Cuenca is the cost of living. A hundred thousand dollars will get you a brand new 2 bed apartment, while for just $9.99 you can buy a Black Forest gateau large enough to clog the arteries of your twenty best friends. However, don't rush to put your place on the market. Speaking to a local guide we learned that foreign residents are not exactly flavour of the year in this tight-knit community high in the Andes. Even Cuencans who have left to seek their fortune elsewhere are not welcomed back with open arms. We, on the other hand, spent a delightful long weekend in Cuenca and never once felt slighted - though we're not planning this as our final resting place.

Posted by Hawkson 13:13 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

Stop Me and Buy One in Cuenca

semi-overcast 23 °C

While most Ecuadorians seem to be quite well heeled many earn a meagre living as street traders. There are, of course, numerous markets where women in traditional dress sell all manner of goods as they have done for generations. But Ecuador is famous for its blooms and the flower market in Cuenca is a picture of floral displays…
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…in addition to the colourful women who operate the stalls…
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When it comes to colour, few can outshine these indigenous street musicians playing panpipes…
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Aside from the established markets there are legions of freelancers offering all kinds of foodstuffs. Freshly fried papas fritas (potato chips) can be bought on many street corners along with such unusual items as hardboiled quails’ eggs…
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And uncooked meringue which is piled into cones and looks like ice-cream…
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Ice-creams seem to be the Ecuadorians’ favourite treat and almost every street has a heladeria (Ice-cream parlour). However, a multitude of ice-cream vendors prowl the streets, often with no more than a cooler full of icy treats. The more prosperous have bicycles from which to peddle their wares…
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We often come upon novel moneymaking schemes. For instance in Bogota we witnessed a young man with a bike who did an amazing juggling act while standing on the handlebars as he did figures of eight in front of four lanes of traffic stopped at traffic lights. In just 50 seconds he did his act, leapt off his bike and collected money from the first 8 motorists. The street entertainers of Cuenca seem less energetic and in the cathedral plaza photographers have an alluring set of cuddly animals to entice kids to bug their parents to let them have a ride – for a fee…
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We enjoy watching street vendors and entertainers and sometimes reward them with a purchase or a gift. We bought a CD from the indigenous musicians and some cherries from this sweet woman…
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However, it is not always amusing to watch people struggling to make a buck on the street and sometimes we are torn. For example: In the affluent city of Cuenca a small army of sad-faced shoeshine boys, some as young as six or seven, work the streets and we feel guilty because, not wanting to encourage child labour, we refuse to let them clean our shoes. But then we feel guilty for not letting them earn a dollar or two – sometimes everyone loses.

Posted by Hawkson 18:05 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

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