Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ecuador II: Trip Journal Part One

My trip began in a cramped seat on a United Airlines flight from Spokane to Houston, then from Houston to Quito. It was around 22:30 local time when I arrived, so I waited for about an hour for the other students who were arriving that night, and then we got a cab to our hotel.
We were pretty tired from the flights, but enjoyed a few $1 Pilseners before heading to bed.

Woke up and went down for breakfast around 8 ... then went back to sleep for a while, as we were still jet-lagged as hell.
A typical Ecuadorian breakfast is eggs, bread, fruit, juice, and tea/coffee (with milk, or not). Obviously, it's pretty easy to opt out of the bread and still get quite a bit of food. Sometimes the eggs have ham or some kind of cured meat mixed in with them.
After catching up on sleep, we ventured out into Quito in search of stupid tourist activities and food. We ended up walking around in that big cathedral that I remembered from before (Basilica del voto Nacional). After that, we got lunch at a little cafe where we got HUGE plates of food for $3/ea. I opted for the churrasco, which consists of a thin cut of beef grilled and accompanied by two fried eggs, avocado, fries, and vegetables. It was ungodly delicious.
Later that evening, we met up with the other students as they arrived. A bunch of us walked to a nearby cafe for dinner, where I had ridiculously good pistachio ice cream. After that, Josh and I walked over to the "super gringo tourist plaza" for drinks. I ordered a "Quito Martini" from some bar, and I have no idea what was in it, but IT WAS GOOD. I looked up the recipe as soon as I got back, but I can't find it anywhere.

Before heading out of Quito, we stopped by a grocery store to get lunch stuff for the next few days. Just going into the store was a trip ... stuff that seems minor or irrelevant can still be mind-blowing. Meat and fish products aren't kept behind glass walls or made to look aesthetically pleasing. Eggs aren't refrigerated. A health and safety inspector from the US might fall over and die of a heart attack here. And it's effin awesome.
Wanting to stay as paleo as possible for the trip, I picked up a bunch of mini-bananas, a few cans of tuna, a couple of not-even-close-to-ripe avocados, and a bottle of salsa aji.
Oh, and some instant coffee. Caffeine will be necessary.
After leaving Quito, we drove along the Pan-American highway for a while, then stopped for lunch before going down to look at some wicked folds in outcrops by the highway. Our lunchtime provided ample opportunity for us northwesterners to sample unique tropical fruits we'd picked up at the store that morning. After some structural geology fun times, it was back into the bus and onto our destination for the evening: El Mirador (translates to "the viewpoint"), a hostel above a lake in a caldera. Hiked around a bit, then had dinner and went to bed.

Huevos y jugo para desayuno.
Loaded up the bus and head to the Otavalo market, where we spent a few hours doing the gringo tourist thing. I bought a few small gifts for my mom and sister. Also scored some extremely ripe 25-cent avocados, and bought food from one of the street stands. Roast pork (they had the whole pig there and just kind of pulled the meat off it), fried potato balls, hominy, and vegetables. A big bowl of the stuff cost me $1.50 ... not bad. Not many students were brave enough to try the street food, but I figured it couldn't be any worse than eating meat from industrially-raised animals living in their own shit.
In the afternoon, we drove to Pululahua crater and looked at some pyroclastic flow and pyroclastic fall deposits. 
Spent the night in a hacienda in Lloa, below Guagua Pichincha. Took a frigid shower -- no heat or hot water in the rooms built into what used to be a barn. I really liked this place.

Today we drove/hiked up to the top of Guagua Pichincha, where we did some hazard mapping before screaming down the dirt and cobblestone road on sketchily-maintained mountain bikes. The drive up proved to be an adventure when the SUV's kept sliding on the mud, leading to two of them being abandoned at various points along the road to the refugio (about 100m below the summit). Kirk and I walked most of the way, figuring a nice hike up to around 15,000' would be good acclimatization.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent driving to Tungurahua. The drive was long, but we got a glimpse of Cotopaxi, and I had a good conversation with Karen about the paleo diet.
Our lodging in Banos -- Vina del Rio -- was very nice, and the grounds are home to all sorts of exotic tropical plants. We had trucha (trout) for dinner, and as is typical in South America, it arrived butterflied open with the head and tail still attached. It really makes you think about how much effort Americans go to to make the animal products they eat look like anything but animals.

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