Posts Tagged ‘volcanoes’

(Late January 2009)

Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city and also known as the “White City”, is in close proximity to El Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu volcanoes and it intrigued me during my research. I arrived early in the morning and checked into La Casa de Sillar. I had read about the Cafe Casa Verde, which is run by street kids, and I strolled over there for lunch.

I wandered through the very memorable Monasterio de Santa Catalina. The nuns lived there in seclusion for 391 years before it was opened to the public in 1970. The architecture and design is very impressive. The monastery is like a self-sufficient secluded city within the city. In centuries past this must have been a very good life for the women who inhabited the community. I find it both appealing for its sanctuary and repelling for its isolation.

The next day I visited the Museo Santuarios Andinos. This is where the frozen Inca bodies discovered on Ampato Volcano are housed. Juanita, the best preserved and well-known, is not on display between January and March so instead I viewed the remains of Serita. Serita would have been between 15-17 years of age when she died. The child sacrifice was to appease the gods after a volcano eruption and is believed to have been a very solemn and important undertaking. Children were of noble birth, although Serita’s status is uncertain, and the actual death seems very cruel – a blow to the head. The culture believed in duality and objects accompanying the bodies were found in pairs. The Inca’s recorded their stories with fabric cords and these were found with the bodies. The film re-enactment of the sacrifice ritual is quite interesting and points out the fact the Inca’s would have been expert climbers.

I looked around for a tour to Colca Canyon. I considered the 3 day/2 night adventure in which you go down into the canyon and camp and a similar one but you stay with a family. I think either of these trekking tours would have been a satisfying experience but I was worried about my fitness level and thought getting back out of the canyon could be too difficult a challenge. The tours were also relatively expensive in comparison to the conventional 2 day/1 night tours. So, being a mild-core adventurer on a budget, I opted for the standard tour offering the creature comforts of a hotel room and hot water.

Colca Canyon is stunning. The road is somewhat rough but the landscape is truly breathtaking. We passed through Reserva Nacional Salinas y Aguada Blanca and spotted a few vicunas – they are wild and their wool is  much more expensive than alpaca. We did see an awful lot of domestic llamas and, unlike their Ecuadorian cousins, they were not the least bit curious about us. After an over-priced buffet in Chivay we checked into our hotels then met up again for a splash in the hot springs pools. For dinner we attended a traditional music and dance pena.

Chivay was cold and wet and the following day it was up early to head for Cruz del Condor. We stopped at a couple villages along the way and arrived there around 9:45 am. Much to our awe and satisfaction we spotted several condors and were able to spend some time watching these majestic birds. The Andean Condors live 60-70 years, are about one metre in length and have a wingspan of 2-3 metres. They are simply magnificent! On the way back we stopped at a couple miradors to marvel at the Inca terracing. Shifting our gaze up the mountain beside us, the guide informed us that important Inca’s were buried in the rock.

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My reason for heading to Riobamba was to get a ticket for the Devil’s Nose train ride. The tickets were sold out but I was able to purchase a bus ticket to Alusi and board the train there for the infamous switchbacks. We had to stop to clear a boulder from the tracks and while it was being moved there was a small landslide a little further up the track, which also had to be cleared. This is a tourist train and we took turns riding inside and on top of the coach. It was a great ride!

I spent a little time exploring Riobamba as well. It has a more relaxed vibe than Quito. I took in the volcano views from Parque 21 Avril, savoured the taste of  incredible ice-cream and watched the police chase a thief on foot. I chatted with a local who had lived in Britain for five years, married a Polish woman there, but was now back in Ecuador awaiting an immigration hearing. I wish him luck.

Sidenote about bus travel – Even with all the fog, cliff edges and roadside memorials long-distance buses in Ecuador are efficient and an enjoyable way to travel. The country is small and it doesn’t take long to get from one destination to another. Passengers get on and off all along the route, as do people selling food and various items. There’s lively music or mediocre films, the scenery is rural and mountainous – agricultural crops planted patchwork on the hills result in lovely patterns and colours.

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Banos, named for the thermal springs,  is a popular destination for both Ecuadorians and foreigners alike. It’s in close proximity to Tungurahua volcano and the area is known as Volcano Alley. I think this was where I fell in love with Ecuador – or on the way here – the landscape is truly beautiful.

I stayed at Plantas y Blanca hostel – they offer a great rooftop deck, excellent breakfast choices, and a very cold water health bath/spa treatment.

I felt quite at ease here and very much enjoyed roaming around the town and countryside. I watched taffy-pullers at work, tried some great fudge and unusual treats, sampled a variety of restaurants and cafes, found good inexpensive cappuchino, checked out the conveniently located market, toured the Rutas de Cascades to Rio Verde, chatted with a lot of locals, relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful four days here. It’s green, lushcious, mountainous, tranquil, offers adventure and pampering – all in all, a piece of paradise!

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 (January 2009)

Quito is approximately 2800 metres above sea level and even though the altitude isn’t that much higher than Mexico I felt it right away. The historic part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I stayed at a popular hostel in Old Town with great views and food. As usual, I roamed around and explored the area on foot. I was very conscious of being stared at! The city does draw international tourists and the country is touted as a great outdoor and adventure destination, but, I suppose, solitary middle-aged female foreigners are not yet the norm.

My wanderings took me through the Old Town highlights such as Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza San Francisco and museum, Santo Domingo and the very ornate church of the Compania de Jesus. I passed through Parque la Alameda, sort of the divider between old and new town, a couple of times, it’s a nice peaceful green space with an observatory. I visited the excellent Casa de la Cultura anthropology museum in New Town and I took the teleferico up to the top of Pichincha Volanco. The view over Quito at 4100 metres above sea level is incredible!

I opted to do the really touristy thing and visit the equatorial monument. Mitad del Mundo is about 20 kms from Quito and I decided to go by public transit. After flagging down about half a dozen or so buses, none of which would get me to the part of the city where I thought I had to go to get a connecting bus, I took a cab to the intersection mentioned in my book. The Mitad del Mundo monument and equatorial line are actually about 163 metres off the true centre. The small solar museum beside the complex is interesting – they’ve developed a world map showing all the constellations according to the “true” rotation around the sun.

Quito from atop Pichincha Volcano

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