My son Thomas wanted a a Spanish immersion experience. He chose Ecuador because of its variety of attractions, climates sites and the fact that it was cheap.
All of that has turned out to be true. Earlier this week we hiked into the volcano Quilatoa, high in the Andes. We rode mules back up because the elevation was too high to be certain we could make it out. I think the rim is at about 12500 feet where you begin the 280 meter decent over one mile. The lake is about 800 feet deep and emerald green due to dissolved minerals. It’s too cloudy in the picture for the green to show.
We had hot chocolate in a cafe owned by indigenous people afterward. The 2 hour ( $2.75 apiece ) bus ride back to Latacunga was a mountain version of the Harry Potter Night express.That thing careened around curves, passed other busses, trucks and cars 4 at a time. It was pouring rain and there were few guard rails.
The cool thing is that it is cheap! Our 5 hour bus ride another day cost a whopping $3.50 a piece. It carried us from the mountains to the southern Amazon region. The bus is modern and comfortable and even has movies. (In Spanish of course.) The bus system is extremely easy to navigate. There are competing companies at the station whose workers guide you onto their bus. In Quito, the city buses looked extremely crowded and taxis were too cheap to make us want to bother with buses. But for overland routes, buses are great.
A 10-15 minute taxi ride costs about $2 anywhere in Ecudaor.
The food is simple, and tasty. Rather than tortillas, they eat bread. But an average lunch has rice, vegetables or salad, a piece of seasoned but otherwise unadorned meat (typically roasted pork) fried potatoes, a glass of fruit juice, and some stewed lentils. In Quito and in the mountainous areas it will cost $2.50-$3.00 Here in the more touristy area of Tena, the cost is about double.
I already ate half the vegetables
Yesterday I ordered the talapia and got….Talapia. It was steamed in a banana leaf with Yucca root. Yucca root is smooth and starchy like a dense potato. It’s almost flavorless. The mayo-mustard sauce they served it with was thinned and added a needed dimension. But the fish was FRESH and mild. I scraped the skin onto the head so he’d stop looking at me. The meal with juice and a nice salad was $5.
Today Jeff, Thomas and I went to Church at the local LDS branch. It was testimony meeting and so we could understand more than if it had been assigned speakers. Even here, we know what to expect people to say. As usual, the members welcomed us as old friends. They translated enough of the lessons to accommodate Jeff’s and my fumbling Spanish.
I love to go to Church when we travel. It gives a fun dose of unfiltered culture. The Relief society lesson was on budgeting, the same as last week in Quito. But I learned that an average Ecuador worker makes about $375 per month IF they have a high school diploma. If not, it’s less. Very few have more education than that.
A few years back the Ecuador economy collapsed and they changed to American currency. That makes the money issue easy. Today’s R S lesson made me double glad for the tips we have been surprising those who have served us with. An extra few bucks means ALOT more to them than us.
After Church and lunch of avacado, cheese, ham and tomato sandwiches on bakery rolls and fruit, we went for a walk in the jungle surrounding the hostel where we are staying. We found bananas and cocoa growing wild. I would bring home some chocolate seeds to plant, but they would grow too big to be a houseplant. It takes such a huge quantity of pods to make a candy bar, I decided to leave it to Hershey after all. This is a cocoa pod with the gooey raw seeds.
But for the shared bathroom this hostel more like a posh hotel. We have kitchen access and a sheltered outdoor eating/sitting/hammock area. The beds are comfy and everything is sparkling clean. It costs us the average price here of $26 per night. Most nights we’ve had a private bathroom.
weve mostly been eating bakery purchases for breakfast with queso fresa. Bananas are about a$.05 apiece. I’m including the inside of a passion fruit photo. You eat the seeds and the flesh has the consistency of snot, but the flavor is divine. They were named passion fruit by the Spanish because the flower reminded them of Christ’s crown of thorns.
We splurged on hot chocolate often in the mountains, but now here in the hot jungle, we had small banana splits yesterday for $2. Ecuadorians love their helado and do it very well, similar to Italian gelato. The flavors are all tropical, however. They were amazing with scoops of berry, maracuya (passion fruit) and coconut ice cream. I had chocolate instead of the berry but the berry was amazing. ( we shared) We have a white water rafting trip tomorrow and a jungle tour/hikes including an indigenous village where we will make chocolate (or help in the 6 stage process). More later.