Our first stop in Ecuador after crossing the border was our overnight spot on the shores of a small lake (Laguma El Salado), not far from San Gabriel. Despite our first steps in the country after more than 10 years, we felt totally safe wild camping in this spot that is visited by families and people with dogs, especially on the weekends. Dinner for two, consisting of empanadas, chicken, and potatoes cost us 2 USD (the US dollar is the currency of Ecuador since the year 2000). We met a local family who had spent the day at the lake and had a nice chat with them. This feeling of well-being proved to be long-lasting in the weeks that followed, as we made our way southward.
The next few days were spent in Ibarra, a decent sized city in the north of Ecuador. We needed to get some maintenance done on Tommy, consisting of getting the brakes checked and the support for the metal storage chest on the front of the vehicle reinforced (the bad roads in Colombia had their effect on the metal structure). The ower of the campground where we were staying made a couple of phone calls and we had a mechanical “house call” during which the brake pads and brake fluid were changed right where we were parked. The metal support required a visit to a local garage and 8 hours later (South American time!) we were on our way. Based on initial impressions and compared to the last time we were in the country, we were surprised at how “Americanized” the city was, with North American stores and a North American feel. However, despite the modern style of living, this was contrasted with the preservation of local culture, as seen in the traditional clothing worn by some of the local population (for example those of indigenous origin we saw in the local Claro mobile phone store).
A visit to northern Ecuador would not be complete without a stop in Otavalo, to visit the huge handicraft market and the local food market.
After a traumatizing drive through busy Quito looking for a hostal that didn’t exist, we decided to stay in a campground close to the airport, since we would be taking a flight to the Galapagos Islands in a few days. The campground was great and the family running it very nice, but the downside was having to listen to all the airplanes flying right overhead (we were directly on the flight path for landing aircraft)! Quito has a wonderful old historical center with many preserved buildings from its colonial past. However, if you venture outside of the quaint center, the traffic and pollution is overwhelming. For a burst of fresh air, nothing better than riding up the teleferico to 4000 meters for a fabulous view of the city and surrounding mountains (and volcanos, especially on a clear day).
Our trip to the Galapagos was the highlight of our South American roadtrip to date. In fact, we had not planned to visit the islands but decided to do so at the last minute based on feedback and recommendations received from some fellow travellers who pointed us to a great travel agency in Quito. The tour consisted of 5 days and 4 nights aboard the Angelito, a small boat with the capacity to welcome 16 guests on top of the 8 crew members and nature guide. We were only 8 guests on board so this highly enhanced our experience.
The tour allowed us not only to discover the amazing wildlife on the islands and in the waters, but the interesting geological features and origins of this volcanic archipelago. The nature is so photogenic that one cannot help taking hundreds of photos and even the most naive photographer goes home with great shots! Due to the increasing demand to visit the islands, the Ecuadorian government has had to tighen quotas and regulations over the past couple of years. All visitors must be accompanied by a licenced naturalist guide and must stay at least 2 meters from any wildlife encountered. Here is a sample of what we saw during our visit (it was tough to chose from all the photos we took):
Although our visit to the Galapagos Islands was incredible, we were happy to return to Tommy in Quito and to continue our southbound journey through Ecuador. Laurent will describe that experience in our next blog post.