Ecuador – Part 4 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

Today we will visit two lovely places, but first a little background:

Ecuador is not a rich country. Its top source of foreign capital is the export of crude oil. However number two is the income it derives from its expatriates who work in other countries and send money home to their families. According to our local guide, Julio, 4 to 5 million of the population of 14-15 million work outside the country. There are an estimated 700,000 Ecuadorian women working in Spain alone! Ecuador’s third highest source of income is from the magnificent roses grown there. Agriculture is an important industry and fruits and vegetables are exported as well as coffee and cacao.

Our guide, Julio, in the vest and the Panama hat

Our guide, Julio, in the vest and the Panama hat

Julio here was introducing us to some new and exotic fruits.

Oh, and a piece of trivia: Panama hats are Ecuadorian!

In the year 2000, after years of economic crisis, Ecuador adopted the US dollar as its currency. Since then, prices have stabilized. Having the US dollar as currency makes it an attractive tourist destination for those familiar with the dollar! On a recent tour to Vietnam, I misplaced a decimal when converting to the local currency and almost gave our local guide $320 for items she purchased for us when I only owed her $32. She, thankfully, was honest and told me that I had better check my math! In Ecuador, I had no such problems.

Trivia: Remember that song we sang in the US– “Kumbaya”? I never quite knew what to make of it. It turns out that Kumbaya is the name of a town not far from Quito and the song was a song they sang, in a circle, to bring down much needed rain. The people would sing louder and louder again and again to bring the rain.

We made our way from the hacienda to Parque Cóndor Otavalo, a refuge for birds that have been injured and need special care. Often these birds are not equipped to survive on their own and spend their lives there. We saw a number of fine looking birds:

A barred hawk

A barred hawk

A black hawk-eagle

A black hawk-eagle

and our old friend, the bald eagle

and our old friend, the bald eagle

Later we drove to San Pablo Lake. It ‘s a beautiful area at the foot of the Imbabura volcano. The land is rich and the mountain is seen as the sacred protector of the area. We stayed at a beautiful resort with wooden buildings that contained large, lovely guest rooms each with its own fireplace.

Hosteria Puertolago

Hosteria Puertolago

The inn

The inn

Another view

Another view

After taking our things to the room,we all went out on a boat for a look at the lake and its surroundings. As Israeli groups tend to do, we sang together a good deal of the time. There was lots of laughter and joking and lots and lots of smiles. As it got dark, we noticed that the lights in the homes surrounding the lake had been turned out. We wondered if there was a power failure. We were told that the lights are turned out for an hour or two each evening to save electricity.

What is particularly amazing about this place on earth is that being so near the equator, one is able to see both the constellations of the southern hemisphere and of the northern hemisphere. With the lights out, the view couldn’t have been more perfect– and if I had studied more astronomy, I am certain I would have been even more awestruck. Next time I will be sure to look for the Southern Cross.

When we returned to land, we were greeted by a delicious dinner, sent by our mashgiach in Quito, in the beautiful, elegant dining room with windows out to the lake.

After dinner and some time spent getting to know each other, we all went to our rooms. When we arrived at our door, a young woman was waiting to build us a fire. A lovely end to a perfect day!

Next time: You and me and thirty gazillion school children at a waterfall and a visit to another spot on the equator.

Ecuador – Otavalo, part 3 of the Ecuador, Galapagos, & Peru Tour

We arrived in Otavalo just after noon. It was a beautiful sunny day. Unlike Sundays when the market is bustling with people, the market was almost deserted which made it particularly lovely to experience and photograph.

The first thing I noticed about the market is the colors, brilliant colors everywhere. The handwork was delicate and skillful. Here are some of the sights:

Key rings

Key rings

Decorated gourds

Decorated gourds

Necklaces

Necklaces

Flutes

Flutes

Chess sets

Chess sets

Hanging Chairs

Hanging Chairs

They had lovely embroidered blouses and shirt and dresses as well. They had beautiful woven fabrics in a multitude of colors. The vendors were friendly and nice to deal with. There was none of the hard sell that one experiences in other parts of the world.

We took some time to walk into a little shop and order some diet coke and coffee to go with our lunches. The coffee took a really long time to come. Finally, when the next customer came in, we realized why. They were getting the coffee from another restaurant down the block!

After lunch we continued on to see a hacienda. We found it particularly interesting because our local guide had come many summers with his family when he was a boy to spend time there. It was not only a hotel (and quite a lovely one) but also the food, he told us, was excellent and it is surrounded by beautiful gardens. We looked into some of the guest rooms all of which have fireplaces as well as lofts for additional family members.

The Hacienda

The Hacienda

A lovely variety of plants and flowers

A lovely variety of plants and flowers

A welcoming entrance

A welcoming entrance

The hallway that runs parallel to the front of the hacienda with our hostess

The hallway that runs parallel to the front of the hacienda with our hostess

But the afternoon was not yet finished. Next time you will meet some of our fine feathered friends and see a most exquisite resort by a lake.

Ecuador

Landing in Ecuador after such a long trip seemed almost like a dream. As we approached the airport, we were flying north, above the valley that Quito occupies. As I looked down at the city, I couldn’t believe how green and lush everything looked. Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is located among volcanic mountains. The city is at an elevation of 2,800 meters (about 9,186 ft) above sea level. The city itself stretches from north to south a distance of 60 kilometers (about 36 miles). Although its main square is 25 km (15 miles) south of the equator and the city itself extends to within about 1 km (0.6 miles) of zero latitude, because of its altitude, it is not hot.

When we finally exited the plane, I felt a resonance in the sight I beheld, for here, inside the airport, were a huge number of people waiting for their relatives and friends. It so much reminded me of Ben Gurion Airport with the crowds waiting to greet visitors.

After we had gathered all of our luggage, we set off for the hotel, just a few minutes ride away. Our hotel room had a lovely vase with long stemmed roses. We learned later that Ecuador makes a great deal of money exporting these huge, gorgeous long stemmed roses.

Roses in our hotel room in Quito

Roses in our hotel room in Quito

Imagine our surprise when we walked into our private dining room for dinner and we found the tables set as if for a banquet and we were introduced to the local mashgiach (kosher supervisor) who had supervised the preparation of a delicious meal!

After a much needed night’s sleep, we awoke the next morning and set out to discover Quito and its surroundings.

We first came to the Middle of the World Monument.

The Middle of the World

The Middle of the World


where we heard an amazing explanation of the seasons and how they change and how the sun’s shadow at noon can tell us the month of the year.
Cylindrical post and compass on the ground

Cylindrical post and compass on the ground


Of course everyone had to have their pictures taken straddling the equator, and I was no exception, nor was my husband.
My husband, with one foot in each hemispere.

My husband, with one foot in each hemispere.

But we had much more to do that day and so we got back onto the bus and headed in the direction of Otavalo.

One the way we saw lots of area for raising roses, one of the biggest export crops. Also in the area bananas, coffee and cocoa are raised. Some of the world’s finest chocolate is produced in Ecuador and some of it is produced under kosher supervision.

Once near Otavalo, we are able to see the children returning from school. Like children in many other countries, these children have school uniforms and they all looked incredibly adorable

Children coming home from school

Children coming home from school

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Yes, lovely and sun-filled and happy and content. What a wonderful day. But it was just about to get a lot better when we got to the magnificent market in Otavalo.

But that’s for next time…

Ecuador, the Galapagos Islands, & Peru!

How do I begin? This was a whole new area of the world. I knew nothing about it. I had pictures in my mind of what it would be like, but I never expected what I found there. Come along with me to discover this really special part of the world!

On this trip, we had the unfortunate luck to start out just after a rare snowstorm in Spain. Yes, Spain. What would that have to do with anything? Yes, well, I wish it didn’t. You see, we were flying Iberia Airlines and the snowstorm had caused them to cancel something like 200 flights. Although the snow had been cleared from the runways by the time we were ready to fly, they were way behind and catching up very slowly. As a result, our flight from Tel Aviv took off 8 hours late. Guess what happened? You guessed? When we got to Madrid, our connecting flight to Quito had taken off hours earlier.

Madrid Airport

Madrid Airport

Unfortunately, they were unable to get us onto a flight that could get us anywhere near Quito or that would connect to one the next day and we had to spend the next day in Madrid… which would have been fun (as it was for our travelers who were treated to a tour of Madrid and a visit to the Prado), but as trainees, our task was to change all of the tickets, make sure all of the kosher meals were properly ordered, and get to the hotel the airline had reserved rooms in for us (and lots and lots of other people) and arrange everything so that our people were able to join us at the hotel, get their room keys, their boarding passes, and their passports and eat a kosher dinner. After a day of cold weather with no outer wear, lots of rain, and a measure of frustration, we all enjoyed sharing a leisurely dinner and had a very good night’s sleep.

The next day, we all happily took off for Ecuador!

Next time: The Middle of the World and the magnificent market in Otavala. Don’t miss them!

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