A Travellerspoint blog

Ecuador - Quito, Mitad del Mundo, and Carnaval

At 2850m above sea level, it was exciting to land in Quito by plane because you can see the plane’s runway land just short of a mountain’s edge. When you get off the plane, you realize you are at the same level as the clouds. And as you take your first steps, you test your level of acclimatization to altitude. Fortunately, I fared well!

We were fortunate to stay in the Secret Garden hostel in Quito that boasted having the best views in town – and they didn’t disappoint! Here’s our view during breakfast, and during the nightly “campfire in a wheelbarrow” after dark:
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Aside from the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador’s claim to fame is its location along the equator. The Mitad Del Mundo is a super touristy area that was supposed to indicate a latitude of 0 00’ on the equator. For those who do their research, you can find out whether this is actually true or not! However, here we are having fun with “the middle of the world”:
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Ecuador has their own version of Carnaval that involves throwing water balloons, wiping colored powder on other people’s faces, and spraying colourful foam at giggling passersby. Through a tiny window while on a moving bus, Derek was hit by a water balloon (mad skillz!) While we were visiting Mitad del Mundo, a live band played local favourites as people of all ages danced and sprayed each other with foam. We were skilfully attacked by a tiny elderly lady armed with a large canister of foam. She laughed and shrieked hysterically as she waddled away to assault more unknowing victims. Here’s a taste of some of the action:
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Carnaval in Quito continued until the night of Shrove Tuesday. To participate in the fun, we set out for La Ronda in the Old Town of Quito. We absolutely loved La Ronda because of its picturesque charm and friendly locals. We sat down in a quaint local restaurant and were given a complimentary canelazo (a deeeelicious combination of warm rum with sugar, cinnamon, and citrus juice that I absolutely NEED the recipe to!)

While sipping our deeeeelicious canelazo, we amused ourselves by watching the intensifying foam fights on the streets. We had to join in. Armed with a tiny canister of foam each, we took to the streets giggling and laughing at children, elderly people, and parents fighting us with their canisters of foam. When the foam fighting was at its peak, Derek bought a large canister of foam and entered the street.

Half the street stopped and watched the giant gringo shake his canister of foam. That same half of the street laughed and shrieked into a crescendo that I translated as “LET’S GET THE SUPER HUGE WHITE GUY!!”
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Derek didn’t have a chance. By the end of it he looked like the stay-puffed-marshmallow-man from Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, we were both so foamed up we couldn’t get the camera and take a picture of our foamy defeat.
The best part of that entire fight was while Derek attempted to wipe the 10 cm of foam that covered his glasses, someone yelled out in English, “WELCOME TO ECUADOR!”.

We felt very welcome indeed!
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Posted by krisses 08:47 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Colombia - Zona Cafeteria Part 3 - Salento

Day 2: Visiting the Sachamama coffee farm


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The area is called the Coffee Zone so one of the most interesting and unique things to do is to visit a Coffee Farm or “Finca” as it’s called in Colombia. There are plenty of tours in the area but we got a tip from some other travellers we’ve met along the way to go to a specific Finca called Shashamama. We set off on the 3 hour trek the next morning with Nicole, a fellow Canadian and one of the volunteers at the hostel we were staying at. The road to the Finca is an experience in itself since it leads through stunning valleys along beautiful rushing creeks and through some luscious jungle. We also made some new four legged friends on our way.

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When we finally got to the Finca we were greeted by its wonderfully friendly owner Pedro and his entire family. They spoke absolutely no English so Nicole ended up being our translator. We were extremely impressed with her knowledge of the language after only a few months in South America. The tour started with a cup of coffee on their terrace with the entire family present. This ended up being a good hour or so of him telling us all kinds of interesting stories about how he started the Finca while we watched incredibly colourful birds make their visit to his front yard. It was wonderful to share some time with this incredibly interesting family in this naturally gorgeous setting. I tried to record most of the excellent tour where we saw the entire coffee making process from picking our own coffee beans to packaging the finished product.

Here is the video:

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Posted by dariusz 05:55 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia - Zona Cafeteria Part 2 - Salento

Day 1: Visiting the Valle de Cocora


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Imagine a land of lush green hills dotted by giant Wax Palm trees towering over the landscape like guards looking over their domain. Rushing rivers cross through stunning valleys where beautiful white horses roam freely right on the dirt and rock trails you use to get from coffee farm to coffee farm. You often have to excuse Bessy the cow when she decides to block the narrow trail you are taking down the side of the steep hill to get to the river. It’s a good thing she seems to understand your Spanish.

In town, the old men wear cowboy hats, thick leather belts and ponchos and walk slowly hunched over up the steep hill that you just got completely out of breath climbing. Slow and steady wins the race here. Then you hear the distinct click-clack sound of horse hoofs and you turn around to see a cowboy straight out of an old western movie riding his horse while leading another horse by a rope. You can tell the strength of these men by their rugged weather beaten faces but they smile and their eyes light up when you greet them with a “Buenos Dias” and they return the greeting. In this land everyone greets you and treats you like a friend at first sight.

This is what you will experience if you visit the area in and around Salento and none of it is in any way scripted for the tourist. This is just the way life is around here and it’s one of the most unique experiences one can have in Colombia.

The most famous sightseeing destination in the area is Valle de Cocora where you can see some of the giant Wax Palm trees that are Colombia’s national tree. We decided this would be our destination on our first full day so we jumped on a collectivo jeep leaving from the main square and headed off to the Valley for a 6 hour hike. Here is what we saw:

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Click here to see many more Photos!

Posted by dariusz 18:32 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

Colombia - Zona Cafeteria Part 1 - Santa Rosa


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We really didn’t know what to expect when we set out to see the “Zona Cafeteria” area famous for producing the world’s best coffee. It is located roughly half way between Medellin and Bogota and is a favourite vacationing area for residents of both of these cities. We read up a bit about it, chose two cities that seemed most interesting, left our heavy backpacks behind in the hostel, and set out on our way taking just our small daypacks with a week’s worth of clothing.

Santa Rosa

Our first stop was Santa Rosa and immediately we were equally amazed by both the landscapes but even more so the people. In general people in Colombia are extremely friendly, but the people in Santa Rosa are bordering on ridiculously friendly. People would just volunteer directions if we even looked a little unsure as to where we were going. The owner of the little coffee shop where we got coffee and breakfast the two mornings we were there started treating us like best friends by the time we were leaving. The hosts at our hostel (Coffee Town Hostel) were a wonderfully friendly couple who we ended up drinking wine with late into the night. The thing we will always remember from Santa Rosa is the genuine friendliness of its people.

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The area around Santa Rosa is famous for its thermal hot springs so of course we jumped on a “Chiva” bus, the traditional Colombian form of transport, and went to check them out.

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We then remembered that it was Valentines day so we decided to hit a nice restaurant and have some steaks and sangria. I believe the total cost for everything including tip was around $35.

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Posted by dariusz 09:36 Archived in Colombia Comments (3)

Paragliding in Medellin Colombia


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The bus ride from Santa Marta to Medellin is an expensive, overnight, 16 hour trip. We therefore decided to take the slightly more expensive 1 hr flight instead. Landing in Medellin after being on the Colombian Caribbean coast is like landing in a completely different country. All of a sudden you are transported to Latin America’s version of Northern Italy. It’s a landscape of ridiculously green rolling hill dotted with tiny haciendas, livestock, and beautifully maintained winding roads. While Colombia in general is far more developed then the other countries we’ve visited in Central and South America, when landing in Medellin you’d be excused for thinking you accidently took a plane flight to somewhere in Europe. The city itself is set in a beautiful valley surrounded by these same lush green hills.

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We wouldn’t want to get soft enjoying all this first world goodness, so naturally the next morning we set off to visit the Medellin ghetto. OK, so it’s nowhere near as bad as it sounds. First of all, the ghetto in Medellin would be the good part of town in many of the previous cities we’ve been to. Secondly, we took a modern Metro to get there! Yes, that’s right, Medellin has an awesome public transportation system, which then connects to a cable car line with gondolas similar to the ones used in ski resorts, to get up to the “barrios”. This was a project of the same Medellin mayor who established a system to provide free education to all the kids in the city. The idea was to connect the “barrios” or ghettos to the rest of the city and it has done wonders to clean up those areas. In fact the area around the cable car line has some of the best views of the city and is now full of character and charm. Not to say that this isn’t a poor area since clearly more work needs to be done but just check out the pictures.

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BTW unlike the Brazilian Favela’s, where you can’t go as a tourist without a special tour, tourists can feel quite safe in the Medellin barrios, especially during the day.

You’d think that after all the excitement of visiting a Colombian ghetto the day before we’d take it easy, but nah, we thought we needed to step it up a notch. We thought what better way to get great pictures and an adrenaline rush at the same time than Paragliding from the hills above Medellin. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when flying 500 meters above the city with nothing below you but your dangling feet. It’s both exhilarating and yet somehow extremely peaceful and relaxing. Perhaps this video will help.

To finish our Medellin adventure off (for now!) we decided to go out to party in the evening. It was Saturday night in the city that is famous for having the most beautiful women in all of Colombia so clearly Kristine didn’t want to miss it for the world! We had a choice of going to a touristy area or going out to the bars with the locals. I think of you guys know what we’d choose, of course we went to the locals area.

The Avenida 70 in Medellin is lined with all types of dance clubs/bars open to the street so you can check out the crowd and decide whether you like the vibe before going in. There is generally no cover but you are expected to buy drinks if you want to sit down. The first place we hit was a basement that our buddy Darryn heard is one of the best salsa spots in the city. The place was very simple and a bit dingy but the dancing was something else! We all agreed that we’ve never seen dancing like this before. It wasn’t only that everyone was amazingly good, almost professional good, but also that everyone danced completely differently from each other. These guys and girls did not follow any of the rules taught in Latin dancing classes in Toronto. They were all “feeling” the music and the dancing was an expression of their own individuality. In comparison dancers back home look a bit like zombies all doing the exact same thing.

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We loved our time in Medellin but decided we should try to see some of the “Zona Cafeteria” country side. After all, this is where the world’s best coffee comes from. We left our large backpacks in the Hostel in Medellin and took off for a week with just our small daypacks. We will be back for a day anyway before catching our flight to Ecuador.

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Posted by dariusz 08:13 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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