The final leg of our South America journey is going to be Ecuador. To be honest, we hardly know much about Ecuador, except that it is the gateway to the Galápagos Islands.
This is really a shame, for despite its small size, Ecuador has much to offer for different travellers. Our journey into Ecuador took some changes because of some events that took place earlier. Well, we were advised to take anti-malaria pills because we had the intention to visit the jungles. However, the pills that we brought along from Singapore were lost in Chile. We tried to get the pills in Peru but they were not able to offer us the pediatric version for our girls. Due to this and concern that the girls had not been the best of health (they were down with a few bouts of fever and flu earlier in Peru), we decided to cut short our stay in Ecuador from 30 days to 20 days.
The idea was to avoid the lowland jungles but focused on the Central Highlands and Galápagos Islands which were deemed to be low risk areas. We had to admit that we were not experts, we just try to make a logical decision. Hence, we flew into Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Well, one interesting fact that we learned was that Ecuador use the US dollar for all its monetary transactions. The country experienced hyper inflation in the past and the solution to it was to replace its own currency with the US dollars.
From the new airport in Quito It is about 45 mins drive to the city from the new airport in Quito. My impression as we journeyed to our Guesthouse was that the city looked modern and quite well developed as compared to some of the other South America capitals that we visited before. There are huge shopping complexes with well established and international brands. The city of Quito has two main sections of the old and new towns.
Like all former Spainish colonies, you will find that there is a Plaza De Armas in the capital. In Quito, its named Plaze de la Independencia. For the uninitiated, the city square was where the Spanish conqueror built its command and governance centre.
The UNESCO heritage town of Quito is bustling with activities along beautiful streets and alleys. There are centuries-old cathedrals which you simply must visit to experience its splendour and beauty. Igelisa De La Compania de Jesus is one of these places. On the outside, the architectural design astounded me, a layman who knew little about architecture. The interior is equally amazing with its gold plated altar and columns. As we visited on a Sunday, the streets were closed to vehicles. A carnival like atmosphere filled the air, with music by buskers that provided a rather relaxed mood for locals and travellers alike.
We managed to join a free guided tour of the Presidential palace on that day. This was a real treat and I must thank the President for allowing us to experience the beautiful grounds of the Palace.
El Panecillo is also worth visiting if you want to have an elevated view of the city. We had a lovely afternoon up there with the girls. They were having fun sliding down the grass slopes and playing catch. Their boisterous noise attracted the attention of the locals who found them cute and asked to take pictures with them. South Americans love children and we are very blessed that the two girls have always found favour with them.
While in Quito, we found out about the Maquipucuna Cloud Forest Reserve which (MCFR) is about a two hour drive from the city. It was founded by an Ecuadorian couple who felt the need to conserve the forests which were deemed for development. After learning of their efforts, we became intrigued and felt that we had to pay a visit to this place and ended up staying there for three days. We were picked up by the driver and a volunteer from Georgia, USA. It was such a beautiful drive to the forest as we passed by the countryside. Along the way, the driver stopped at a viewpoint which revealed a remarkable view of a beautiful valley.
We stayed in comfortable and rustic accomodation at MCFR. There are many self-guided walks that takes you into the forest. We were thrilled by the many hummingbirds, leaf cutter ants and other interesting insects. We trekked in swamps and a river valley. It brought back some memories of my Army Days topography exercise, except that now I was doing it with my wife and two young girls. We survived and Kaylee (our elder girl) managed to trek 5-6 km each time without much complains.
The resort served us healthy and delicious meals and we were inspired by the volunteers working there. There were also researchers who dedicated their time and effort to find out more about the wildlife in the area. It was a good place to escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.