Thursday, March 14, 2019

Ecuador's Coast

In Mid-February, while the students were taking their first semester exams, I took the opportunity to explore some of the coast region of Ecuador.  It's a long ways by bus... 10-12 hours to get from where I live in the north to coastal areas deemed safe for Peace Corps Volunteers.  (We're not allowed to enter coastal provinces near the Columbian border.)  When I was announcing my plans at school, one of the student teachers, who has become a dear friend, jumped at the chance to join me.  Sindy and I had a great trip together exploring the cities of Manta and Puerto Lopez.  I was very impressed with the beaches and sweet little towns along the Ecuadorian coast.  
We took an overnight bus and arrived in Manta by 6:00am.  It was neat to watch the town and the beach come alive with the sunrise.  Luckily, the restaurants were already open.  We had a steaming bowl of Encebollado, a rich fish and onion soup that is eaten by fisherman upon returning 
from their day's work.  The best restaurants sell out of it by 7:00am.  

A fruit stand on the beach
I opted to sip on a coconut!

This man definitely has the right idea!  I know, I live at the equator, but I live high 
in the mountains where it is chilly at night.  At the coast, it is hot and humid,
 especially inland from the beach away from the breeze. 
The sunset over Manta was beautiful.

The next morning, we took a $2.00 boat ride to see the shipping harbor. Manta is one of four major ports on the Ecuadorian coast.  And just in case you are wondering, I asked Google about Ecuadorian imports and exports: 
Ecuador’s main export commodities are petroleum, bananas, cut flowers and shrimp. Its main export partners are the United States, Panama, Peru and Italy. Its main import commodities are vehicles, medicinal products, telecommunications equipment and electricity. The main import partners are the United States, Columbia, China, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Japan and Mexico.

Manta is also a cruise ship port.  On this day, there weren't any cruise ships in dock,
only tankers and fishing boats.

Fishing is king along the Ecuadorian coast and tuna is the major catch out of Manta.  

After Manta, we made our way 2 more hours south to the tranquil beaches of Puerto Lopez and Ayampe.

The beaches here are so clean and desolate with the most beautiful colored green and blue rocks. 

This is a Mototaxi, and it's how you get around small towns at the coast. 

Night life in Puerto Lopez was also super fun with restaurants and bars near the beach.  A common trend in touristy towns like this is to try to be more like North America, and the menu at the bar was no different.  In college, I remember drinking a lot of Sex on the Beach, 
but here, the option was "Sexo on the Beacho". 

Sindy loved watching the animals and she had so much fun chasing the crabs into their holes. 

Being from the mid-west, I'm not crazy about sand.  I opted for relaxing in the river. 
It was a really hot day, and my skin was literally sizzling... 
So, we rented a hammock in the shade for a dollar an hour.
That evening, as I was eating my ceviche, I noticed all the fishing boats at one end of town.  On a hunch, I set my alarm and headed out early the next morning.  Just as I suspected, I walked right into a fisherman's frenzy and a lively beach-side market selling the morning's fresh catch.

I'm not sure if this guy is a fishing inspector or just the town policeman
buying his fresh fish for the day. 
Some types of fish commonly caught in this area include bonito, wahoo, shark, red snapper, squid, corvina (sea bass), marlin, tuna, moray eel and shrimp. 

This man's ready to deliver!  Behind him are trucks waiting to deliver the fish to more distant markets.  In a country that thinks refrigeration is over-rated, 
I was impressed to see trucks of ice as well.

All in all, a great trip to the coast.  Definitely worth the journey.  
I'll have to go back sometime this year to explore some more. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

A Tale of Two Hikes: Cotopaxi and Pasochoa

Although a little out of sequence, 
here are some photos from my latest big hikes. 

Volcán Cotopaxi is an active snow-capped volcano just south of Quito and it is the second highest mountain in Ecuador at 19,347 feet.  Because its last eruption ended in January of 2016, climbing and hiking Cotopaxi has been off-limits to Peace Corps volunteers.  But, as of September 2018, Peace Corps administration lifted their restrictions and opened Cotopaxi again.  My group of fellow volunteers just happened to be in Quito during this announcement and nine of us immediately scheduled a weekend trip to hike to the Refugio and stay in a nearby hostal.
The Refugio is at 15,953 feet (see the red roofed building in the distance far below the lowest glacier).  Getting there is basically an exercise in forcibly stepping into the wind,
sliding backwards in the gravel, and breathing deeply. 

We Made It!
At 15,953 feet: David (NY), Kendall (TX), Josh (VA), Alex (TX), Hannah (NH), Chris (NY),
Me, Megan (IL), and Ashley (IL)
Eating our lunch in the Refugio- think Alpine Hut.  This is where serious climbers sleep 
before they start their middle-of-the-night ascent to the top.

After our descent down to the parking lot, we had a long walk back to the hostal through the rock fields and tundra-like paramo.  Throughout the walk, I was in awe of the scenery and tried to capture the ever-changing light and faces of of this mountain.  The clouds and the wind-swept plains made for dramatic views.  This is why Cotopaxi is so beloved. 

At our hostal, we took over the attic room for 9 and had a beautiful view of the mountain...
until the clouds enveloped it for the night.
Such a great weekend!

Then, I sprained my ankle, twice, and didn't do much big mountain hiking for the next few months. 

Finally, in February, I met up with some of Peace Corps' newest volunteers and we hiked up Pasochoa, an extinct volcano between Quito and Cotopaxi at 13,800 feet.  
This is Becky (NJ), Me, Bridgette (MN), Pablo (Ecuador) and Tom (CA).

For this hike, you climb up through miles of beautiful forest before reaching the paramo and its bounty of flowers and grasses.

Stunning views of the pueblos in the valley below.
Fun Fact:  Bridgette and I have a special friend in common.  We both took Spanish lessons from the same teacher, Lucy, in Guatemala and still maintain a long-distance friendship with her.  Lucy contacted me about a year ago and asked me if I could mentor Bridgette though the process of applying to Peace Corps Ecuador.  I'm so glad she did!  Bridgette made it to Ecuador and is a beautiful new friend along my journey.  We were so excited to finally meet each other in person this weekend and be able to share our first hike together.
The world really is very small. 
We didn't have the equipment to scale the last part of the peak,
but we were very proud of our accomplishment up Pasochoa!

Now that my ankle has healed, I'm ready for my next adventure!