The Devil’s Nose


Ecuador is a small country which has everything: the Galapagos Islands, wonderful beaches, volcanoes and the Amazon. But what I always enjoy the most are the landscapes it offers.

My best recommendation to those who are interested in enjoying beautiful landscapes is the following: the train ride to the “The Devils Nose”.

 

 

 It is known as the “Most Difficult Train in the World” and it ranks as one of the biggest attractions in the country. Its name comes from the rock-face on the mountainside which the tracks descend as they zig-zag down from the Andes – the rock-face has shape similar to a nose.

 

Upon arrival at the small town of Alausí in the Central Highlands (about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Riobamba), we took the original but reconditioned and refurbished railway which connects the Andes with the coast of Ecuador. From there, we wound down to the river at Sibambe, where people from the area received us with a traditional dance called “el baile de las cintas” (similar to a British May Pole).

 A small museum, cafeterias, a view point to enjoy the scenery and a souvenir market are the attractions at Sibambe, all very well restored or built from scratch by the Ecuadorian Railway Company.

 

Everyone who visits Ecuador should take a ride on the train!

 

Pilar Albuja Ponce

Las Islas Encantadas: Galápagos


Definitivamente hay una razón por la cual las  Islas Galápagos se conocen como las Islas Encantadas.

Después de estar allí por tan solo un día me sentí cautivada por la belleza de los paisajes de las islas y la asombrosa diversidad de su fauna.

Las Islas Galápagos son un milagro de la naturaleza y es fácil de entender por qué fueron nombrados por la UNESCO Patrimonio de la Humanidad.

Caminar alrededor de las islas se convierte en una aventura, mientras  te mueves en torno a una gran variedad de animales, que sorprendentemente no tiene ningún temor hacia los seres humanos y te hacen sentir como pertenciaras allí. La increíble experiencia de caminar alado de un león marino, una iguana, un piquero de patas azules, entre otros al punto  que casí podrías tocarlos, es una sensación increíble que rápidamente se convirtió en habitual en nuestro día a día.

La experiencia de realizar snorkel con las variedades más bellas de peces, tortugas marinas nadando con nosotros y los leones marinos que mostraron sus habilidades para nadar alrededor nuestro como si estuviéramos en una especie de programa de National Geographic, fue  simplemente increíble.

Este viaje ha sido una experiencia inolvidable, honestamente puedo decir que no hay otro lugar en la tierra como las Islas Galápagos.

Recomiendo que cualquier persona que visite Ecuador visite las Islas Galápagos también.
Estas maravillosas islas son algo que se tiene que hacer en esta vida y es sin duda una oportunidad que no debe perderse, sin duda podría ser  el viaje más fascinante de su vida.

The Enchanted Islands: Galápagos


There is definitely a reason why the Galapagos Islands are called The Enchanted Islands.  After being there just for one day I felt captivated by the beauty of the Islands’ landscapes and the astonishing diversity of their wildlife.

The Galapagos Islands are a miracle of nature and it’s easy to understand why they were named an UNESCO World Heritage site.

Walking around the islands becomes an adventure while you move around a variety of animals that surprisingly don’t have any fear towards humans and make you feel as if you belong there. The amazing experience of walking by a sea lion, an iguana, a blue footed booby among others, as close as you could almost touching them, was an amazing feeling that quickly became normal on our day to day.

We snorkeled with the most beautiful varieties of fish, watched the sea turtles swim next to us along with the sea lions that showed their swimming skills around us as if we were in some kind of national geographic program, it was just unbelievable.

This trip has been an unforgettable experience; I can honestly say there is no other place on earth like the Galapagos Islands. I recommend that anyone who visits Ecuador visits the Galapagos Islands as well.

These wonderful islands are something that has to be done in this life and is definitely an opportunity that you should not be missed; it quite possible may be the most fascinating journey of your lifetime.

Cambio de Guardia en el Palacio Presidencial


En el Centro Histórico de Quito, la Plaza de la Independencia – también conocida como Plaza Grande – es parte esencial de cualquier recorrido de la ciudad y, tal como la Plaza de San Francisco, es un espacio hermoso –donde uno debe simplemente sentarse a mirar como pasa el mundo a su alrededor.  En la Plaza de la Independencia está el Palacio Presidencial, y es en el exterior de este imponente edificio donde se congregan multitudes cada lunes para observar la colorida ceremonia del cambio de guardia.  El Presidente del Ecuador participa personalmente cuando se encuentra en el país, y tuvimos la suerte de estar allí un día lunes.

La ceremonia comienza puntualmente a las 11 de la mañana, pero los preparativos se realizan desde mucho antes, con caballos muy bien arreglados y aperados, inquietos y bufando, formados en la calle, y limosinas llenas de personajes importantes que arriban al palacio por la puerta lateral.  Encontramos un lugar apropiado para observar y pudimos mirar a un grupo de niños de escuela que habían sido escogidos para ocupar la primera fila, mientran se alineaban y preparaban sus cámaras de fotos.  Justo a tiempo, apareció la hilera de guardas en impecables uniformes rojo, azul y blanco, portando la bandera nacional, al tiempo que la banda tocaba varias marchas marciales y el Himno Nacional, y un grupo de tamboreros se unía a la bien planificada coreografía alrededor de la plaza y las columnatas del palacio.

 Mientras tanto, arriba en el balcón, apareció el Vicepresidente Lenín Moreno, recibido con aplausos, y seguido por el Presidente Rafael Correa, que estuvo largo tiempo sonriendo y saludando con la mano a la multitud que se encontraba en la plaza.  Debe haber habido por lo menos 15 personas junto a él en el balcón, muchos con gafas oscuras y audífonos visibles; aún así, al Presidente se lo percibía increíblemente accesible y muy relajado, dándonos la espalda para saludar a la bandera nacional que estaba siendo izada en la parte superior del palacio, ya hacia la culminación de la ceremonia.

 Yo he estado bastante tiempo en Quito, pero nunca había experimentado esto antes, y realmente disfruté del espectáculo, la atmósfera y la oportunidad de fotografiar de cerca al Presidente!  Se lo recomiendo si va a estar en Quito un lunes por la mañana.

They’re changing the guard at the Presidential Palace


 In the centre of Quito’s Old Town, the Plaza de la Independencia – also known as Plaza Grande – is an essential part of any city tour and, like nearby Plaza San Francisco, is a beautiful square where we recommend simply taking a seat and watching the world go by. Plaza de la Independencia is home to the Presidential Palace, and it is outside this imposing building that crowds gather every Monday morning to watch the colourful ceremony of the changing of the guard. The President himself participates when he is in town, and we were lucky enough to be there on one of those days.

The event begins promptly at 11 am but the build-up begins before that, with beautifully groomed horses tethered and snorting on the streets and limousines bearing VIPs sweeping into the palace’s side entrance. We picked a spot and watched the excited school children who had been chosen to take the front row as they lined up, cameras at the ready. Bang on time, the lines of guards in their impeccable blue, red and white uniforms appeared, national flags held aloft. The band struck up several rousing marching tunes and the national anthem as drummers joined the beautifully choreographed process around the plaza and the palace’s colonnades.

Meanwhile, up on the balcony, the Vice-President Lenin Moreno appeared to rousing applause, followed by President Rafael Correa himself, who spent a long time waving and smiling at the crowds just below him. There must have been fifteen people alongside him on the balcony, many wearing dark glasses and with visible earpieces, yet the President felt incredibly accessible and appeared entirely relaxed, turning his back on us to salute the raising of the national flag on the top of the palace towards the culmination of the ceremony.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Quito but haven’t ever experienced this before, and really enjoyed the spectacle, the atmosphere, and the chance to take photographs at close quarters of the President himself! Highly recommended if you are in Quito on a Monday morning.

 

The Cathedral Inside a Mine – Zipaquirá, Colombia


Exploring Zipaquira Salt Cathedral, Bogota, Colombia

The immense religious devotion of some salt miners that worked close to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, in the town of Zipaquirá, created one of the world’s most magnificent underground constructions: The Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá.

The original Cathedral was built in one of the salt mines close-by in 1954.  Due to the ground conditions and the poor safety conditions the Cathedral was built on, it had to be closed on 1990.

Since the place was by then considered a National monument and had lots of faithful wanting to visit, the Government of Bogotá decided to build a new one, with all the safety measures required and using truly impressive architectural designs. This is the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá that one visits today.

I had heard about the Cathedral over the years, but I never thought it could move my senses as it did. I have visited plenty of churches, including ones with great art and gold ornamentation; but this is with no doubt the first time I have felt such a profound spiritual reaction to a place of worship. I think that for a moment I even felt like crying.

Main aisle and apse, Zipaquira

When I imagined the Cathedral, I conceived it as a small place where you could see a sculpture of the Virgin Mary and maybe some saints. But, as I continued the visit, I realized why it is called a Cathedral, and not just a Church.  Inside  it, you can pass the 14 Stations of the Passion of Christ, each of them represented through art works made out of salt.  The architect made sure that every little detail had a spiritual meaning, inviting you to travel into the past and also to reconsider your faith.

As our guide repeated several times, the main concept of the place is based on the saying “Jesus is the Cross… and the Cross is Jesus”.  The lights are arranged so that every cross has its relevance, and it even makes you doubt what you are seeing: sometimes, you can think the cross is carved in the wall or floating from a cable. The play of perspectives is a work of genius.

We were told on our arrival in Bogotá that the Cathedral was in the “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” book. Well, I can guarantee you that it is there for a reason: everyone who is fond of art, religion, architecture and history should visit this very special Cathedral at least once in their lifetime.

By: Carolina Alban, MT Ecuador, calbanATmetropolitan-touring.com

To visit Zipaquira with Metropolitan Touring, find out more at: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=3052

For more images of Zipaquira, see our Flickr gallery