ECUADOR: Proudly Ecuadorian


By Paulina Garcés, Metropolitan Touring Ecuador

My birthplace is Ecuador, so I am Ecuadorian, but now I am Ecuadorian by conviction.

Now I can tell that I am wearing my “team shirt” with the heart. Why? Because I know more of my country the glam and beauty we are surrounded by and because I am convinced that we have a priceless treasure that anyone else has. During some years I´ve worked in an international Airline Company and selling the rest of the world, I travelled and I enjoyed a lot, knowing new places that also gave me a lot of knowledge and culture, but now at Metropolitan Touring I have the opportunity to really appreciate and love my country and I am sure that I won´t find it in another country because where are unique, everything on the same place: My Ecuador!!!

 

Starting in Quito a city fulll of churches and histories in every corner.  The volcanoes and mountains you can be in the highlands and in a few hours enjoy valleys and waterfalls, this is for example The Spirit of the Andes one of the tours we have, then arrive to Cuenca a marvelous city. Get into the depths of the Cloud Forest and enjoy the purity of the water, the exciting view, Nature in the most pure state. The Amazon Basin what an spectacular place for the biodiversity, the rivers, the adventure.

 

Another chapter for me is Galapagos, this place transmitted to me it´s enchantment and veil of secrecy and what gives me more happiness is that my 9 years old daughter greatly enjoy this marvelous place more than her first visit to Disney World. Really I know they are completely two different things but in her own words she prefers a thousand times to get back to Galapagos. It was really an inspiration looking her face at the view of a new animal or the underwater world, she was bewitched and lived it intensively. Galapagos is a place you have to experience, you have to feel it, to really enjoy it.

I still have a lot to know of my country, there are more places to discover of this beautiful country it has a lot to show me it´s magic and secrets I am going to continue in my research to transmit it to the people who wants to know it, the people around me, the essence the power we have.

AN EXTRAORDINARY COUNTRY!!!

If you want to know more about Ecuador and Galápagos Islands, please visit Metropolitan Touring’s website.

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.

Galapagos sapiens – Why the Galapagos Islands are special


Yacht La Pinta and kayaks at Floreana Island

The Galapagos are an archipelago of volcanic islands and islets that rise up from the bed of the Pacific Ocean 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) west of Ecuador. On a desktop globe or on Googlemaps, they look like a set of freckles on the ocean’s cheek, incongruous and entirely unexpected. They emerged from the ocean just yesterday in geological time, created by a crack in the Earth’s crust between two tectonic plates, known to science as a volcanic hotspot. A very hot spot.

The Galapagos are special because they have never been connected to the mainland.

The flora and fauna that reached the islands’ shores – before the intervention of Man at any rate – had to survive the hundreds of miles of ocean first. Mammals failed almost entirely to complete the journey. Over millions of years, only a small rat made it. The kings of Galapagos fauna are reptiles. How did they get there? They were washed away from the banks of rivers on the continent by flash floods, floated on rafts of vegetation skippered by whimsical ocean currents for weeks, and finally disembarked, fortuitously impregnated.

Over millions of years, these reptiles, and many of the marine birds that also alighted on these volcanic isles, adapted to their environment. In the words of Charles Darwin – in fact, the sub-title to the first edition of On The Origin of Species – their survival followed the principle of “the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”.

Marine iguanas warming up for the day's activities

Thus a land tortoise that began little bigger than your foot grew to the length of six year-old child; a cormorant became flightless as it gained an advantage by fishing underwater rather than flying; one species of finch arrived and adapted to its environment to such an extent that there are today 13 species; and a mutation of a land iguana whose offspring were good swimmers thrived and reproduced, creating the marine iguana, unique to the Islands. Flora too, mutated and adapted. The scalesia tree, for example, which reaches heights of a good 10 metres (30 feet) in the highlands of some islands, is from the same family as the diminutive daisy.

The Galapagos are special because the islands are a living laboratory of evolution.

The animals of Galapagos evolved and developed in isolation for millennia. Although the islands were discovered by the blown-off-course Bishop of Panamá in the mid-1500s, it really wasn’t until the 19th century that Man took any notice of these ‘enchanted isles’. In fact, mariners hated them. The ‘enchanted’ of the tourist brochures is really a mistranslation of the Spanish ‘encantadas’ which should really translate as ‘bewitched’ in this context. Cloaked in garúa sea mist for half the year, black and foreboding, occasionally spewing volcanic fire, and with very few sources of fresh water, no seaman worth his salt wanted to spend any time in the archipelago.

But the whaling trade changed this. The Humboldt Current that carries nutrients northwards from the frigid seas of Antarctica brings vast schools of fish and cetaceans. For the whalers who sold whale oil to the citizens of the burgeoning cities of North America and Europe, Galapagos’ fame grew almost like that of San Francisco in the midst of the gold rush.

The whalers wreaked havoc on the islands’ ecosystems. They let domestic animals loose for future use, chopped forests for burning down whale fat and carried off tens of thousands of giant tortoises, whose meat would sustain them on their long sea voyages. The reptilian tortoises, stacked five-high in the holds of the ships, could last three months without water – the ideal meals-on-shells.

These sad events, however, pale into nothingness when compared to Man’s millenarian depredation of the South American environment. Within only a few thousands of years of homo sapiens crossing the Bering Straits, all of the continent’s large land mammals (with a couple of exceptions) had been exterminated. The survivors developed an in-born fear of Man. Land mammals ran a mile. Birds flapped for their lives. This is the world as we know it; the relationship with the natural world we have come to accept.

Galapagos are special because the animals have no fear of Man.

Blue-footed boobie close-up

Fortunately, between the whalers arriving and the establishment of the Galapagos National Park in 1959, the Islands’ creatures didn’t develop an ingrained or inherited trait of fearing Man. They do not consider us a predator or cause for alarm – they don’t even surreptitiously shuffle sideways to get out of our way. This is due in greater part to the fact that the Islands don’t have any large carnivores – the Galapagos hawk is the biggest predator. In fact, exploring a visitor site on Galapagos you have to take care not to trip over a family of basking marine iguanas, step on a blue-footed booby’s nest or stumble over a sea lion.

In Galapagos, the animals are all blissfully unaware that just a few hundred miles away their kin would have been clubbed, clobbered, feathered, skinned, boiled up with some potatoes or sold by the likes of us faster than you could say evolutionary biology.

Not only are the Galapagos the ‘origin of the Origin of Species’, but they are one of the few places on the planet where you can observe these species at will, in comfort, with enough time to contemplate their remarkable characteristics, and to reflect upon our place in the great tree of life: to realise we are just one twig at the end of one branch of that tree; to realise we have a responsibility to that tree; to realise we have no more rights to be up in its canopy than any other creature.

Tropic bird in flight, Galapagos Islands

Sharing time with the creatures of Galapagos is a privileged chance for reflection. On this trip, I dived down underwater and did loop the loops and twisted and turned with a young sea lion pup, over and over with new lungfuls of air. I sat observing dragon-like land iguanas beneath prickly cacti. I stood on a wind-swept cliff edge and watched tropic birds, pelicans, boobies, lava gulls and storm petrels ride the precarious currents above the glinting, silvery sea. And none of them took the slightest bit of notice of me.

The Galapagos are special because we, in our wisdom, have decided to protect them as such. Long may we continue to be so sapiens.

By Dominic Hamilton, Head of Communication, dhamilton AT metropolitan-touring.com

To join Metropolitan Touring and explore the Galapagos Islands, see http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/GalapagosIslandsTours/

Touched by the Spirit of the Andes, Ecuador


Spirit of the Andes – from Quito to Cuenca along the Avenue of the Volcanoes

Like all good trips, this one is already becoming a blur and it’s barely over. We seem to have compressed so much into a short space of time it’s untrue. But such is the magic of Ecuador.

I could write a chronological blog of the itinerary so far, but I think that captured impressions are perhaps more powerful. If you would like to read the day-by-day programme, please view it here http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=198.

Taita Chimborazo - Spirit of the Andes

Taita Chimborazo - Spirit of the Andes

So, yes, impressions:

Hide-and-seek
A mesmerising dance takes place every day in the Andes between the volcanic peaks that puncture the mountains that run longitudinally through the country and the clouds that form, dissipate, swirl, puff, embrace, smother and dance around them. The physics of this are elemental, and somewhat prosaic. But the overall effect, as one travels through the mountain ranges is anything but humdrum. It’s stunning, and constantly stimulates the eye to reappraise and look again.

Ticking the volcano list:

El Altar's crown of peaks at dusk

El Altar's crown of peaks at dusk

Like birdwatchers with their list of species, it seems that we travellers through the Andes have a similar list, only ours are the evocative names of the volcanoes that we pass or can spy in the distance as we travel from Quito to Cuenca in the south.
This journey is dominated by three peaks: Cotopaxi, Tunguruhua and Chimborazo. Each different, each imposing. But there are also the co-stars, like El Altar, the Illinizas or Carihuairazo, and then the cameos by the likes of Sangay and Antisana. There is a certain excitement associated with spotting these (mainly) snow-capped peaks, and anticipation at turning a bend in the road to meet a prospect of one, glimpsed through the hills and clouds.

Unfinished houses:
I wish more of them were finished, but it’s part of the growth of the country, part of the hope in better times, in changes to come. Aesthetically, it’s not that pleasing, but you can’t take hope away from the people of the Andes.

Squares:
Fields and fields, lines and lines of crops chequerboard the Andean countryside. It’s like a giant chessboard, with checks separated by groves of eucalyptus trees. These squares even march up near-vertical hillsides, such is the peasants’ love of rectangles and squares and rhomboids.

Vapour:
Like the clouds of the high mountains, water is everywhere in the atmosphere here. When we descended to the roaring waterfall of the Pailon del Diablo – the Devil’s Cauldron – swirling masses of water vapour billowed out of the rocky bottom of the pool, rose up and caressed our faces. Winds were whipped up by the very force of the water crashing down. But these winds could be seen, devised. Millions of charged water droplets that make the perceived visible.

On the way to Chimborazo

On the way to Chimborazo

Another V, Verticality:
Perhaps too literal a word for one’s experience of this phenomenon, but it goes a great way to explain why Ecuador is so special. Take today: we began at 3,000-odd metres, half-way between the high Andes and the Amazon, descended into the cloudforests around the town of Banos to around 1,500 metres – a sub-tropical land of forests, orchids, butterflies and hummingbirds – and then climbed up higher and higher through the last of the towns and villages around the base of the mighty Chimborazo Volcano and up to the haunting páramo beyond, right up to 4,000 metres. From there, we wound down to the city of Riobamba, back at around 2,300 metres. Such diversity in short distances… Such contrasts in such short spaces of time. Everything changes with each kilometre, here in the Tropics, right on the Equator, all orchestrated by the verticality of the Andes as they rise up from the Pacific on one side, the Amazon on the other.

Connections:

Making friends in Palacio Real, near Riobamba

Making friends in Palacio Real, near Riobamba

The Mother Superior at the Museo de las Conceptas in Riobamba had a kindly way, ambling around the grounds of the cloistered convent in her white habit. Having distributed the nuns’ special herbal tea to us all, she blessed us and wished us well on our way…
The owner of the well-run café-restaurant at the foot of the Pailon del Diablo waterfalls was called Wilfrido. We asked him what he thought was the spirit of the Andes, and he communicated his love for his small corner of this country like few people I’ve met.
The woman who led us through the fields of Palacio Real, near Riobamba, was called Trinidad. She showed us all the community’s vegetable patches and described the uses the local people put to all the plants. She spoke Spanish in staccato bursts, since her mother-tongue is Quichua. She had a beautiful, flashing smile. She laughed when she told us that her husband hadn’t approved of her getting involved in the community tourism project, but that one of her sons had told her to ignore him. She seemed pleased with her decision, and I am too.

Art and Athens:

Cuenca Cathedral and petals

Cuenca Cathedral and petals

Cuenca, known as the Athens of the Andes, is Ecuador’s third-largest city, and its most pleasant by far. We wandered the streets today and I was overcome with its charms. Rivers criss-cross the urban heart, while green mountains cup it on three sides. We spent the day among modern art museums, cultural centres, convents, flower markets, churches, cobbled streets, antique shops, viewpoints, Panama hat makers, and the banks of the river Tomebamba. There are few more enjoyable cities to explore by foot than Cuenca, by my reckoning, and I am left with a longing to return to explore more.

A Rush of Blood to the Senses:
That’s what the spirit of the Andes feels like. From Quito to Cuenca is a quite a way, along the winding roads of this, the world’s longest mountain chain. The days are undoubtedly long. But I can’t help feeling my senses are more acute after our four days of travel – the blurry gauze of routine has been cleaned (if momentarily) from my eyes and from my head and from my heart, to reveal a more sensitive me, a man I used to know not that long ago, who has returned to surprise me with the gift of life.

View the Spirit of the Andes itineraries here: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=198

Carnaval in Pachijal


By:  Tamara De Karolys – Metropolitan Touring Ecuador

Early Sunday morning we leave with my pickup Quito with the kids and start the 3 hour drive to our tiny, yet beautiful hide-away in Pachijal, where I share a wooden cottage with my dear friend Maria Cecilia; every now and then, when we can enjoy a long weekend, I take my family – that are 2 teenage kids and  my husband to leave the city to seek relaxation and peace in nature – there is no better place than the rainforest to me – spending some hours in the middle of vast “ Green´ness” is a mixture of an adventure – & spiritual peace-escape.

There are not too many cars on the road, we arrive after 3 hours; I have not come for over a year…and as soon as I get to there, I ask myself why it took me so long to return; the house is in very good shape, all is in place and quickly we make ourselves comfortable; the kitchen is perfectly equipped, lunch is ready soon, followed by a lazy afternoon.

We enjoy the view from our terrace and listen to the incredible sounds of wildlife…it is unbelievable how loud the concert from all kinds of insects can become. Peace. Calmness. Relaxation.

At night time our main concern is to keep our food clean from hundreds of small to really big flying creatures…no electricity, but candles; stories, comments, jokes and loads of laughter, this is what I call quality time with my dearest ones.

We enjoy walks through the forest, swimming in the nearby waterfalls, motorbike rides, Ceviche de Palmito and many hours of peace!

I promise to myself to come more often – the place is unique, it is close by, it is in the middle of pure nature, it is a priviledge.

Climbing Cotopaxi, the World’s Highest Volcano


By: Adriana Velasco

Adriana reached the Summit of CotopaxiIt all began back in 2008 when I went with my father to climb Ruco Pichincha (4600m), Quito´s nearest mountain.  A renowned mountain climber in his youth, he inspired me the same passion and love of the mountains that day.  That´s when I realized my goals had to be higher in that field, to climb Ecuador´s most beautiful active volcano: Cotopaxi, 5789m.  Back in January 2009 my first attempt to summit was successful, but the bad weather conditions didn´t give us a chance to see the crater nor the impressive view.  I knew I had to come back to experience the summit and the view with good weather…

I started training for the second attempt in September 2009, combining physical conditioning with acclimatization outings to stunning rocky mountains such as Corazón, Iliniza Norte and Sincholagua to gain the required acclimatization. 

The day came and anxiety and happiness filled my senses.  We arrived with our specialized guide at the mountain refuge “Jose Rivas” located at 4900m at noon only to find about 60 other nervous mountain climbers. Some were resting and others preparing their equipment for the night´s upcoming adventure.  A few were fellow Ecuadorians, but the majority were international guests from all over the world: Spain, USA, France, and more. But we were all there for the same objective: to conquer Cotopaxi. 

After an early dinner at 6pm, it was time to sleep.  Outside the wind was roaring only to remind us where we were and what was waiting for us. Some snored, some read, some stared into the dark waiting to get some sleep.  The alarm went on at 12am.  It was time.  After a small snack and some hot tea we headed outside to start the adventure.  We could only see what our head flashlights illuminated up front and the only sound was the untamed cold wind. 

The ascent started with a 2-hour hike up a dirt and rock zig zag.  Then, it was time to put on our crampons and start the hike on the glacier.  The view only got better. Up and down you could see a fascinating line of flashing and moving head lights, we were a big group climbing that night. Far away, Quito was sparkling with orange city lights. The sky was clear and the stars were out.  We had to focus on every step of the way being careful to hear our guide´s instructions and follow his lead.  The snow sparkled with our head lights. As the night went by the high altitude was felt, thin air, a little headache, sleepiness and cold. 

After five hours in total of hiking in very steep glacier and in some parts soft snow, the reward for the hard effort was amazing… The summit at dawn.  As the sun lit up the round and large summit, some clouds started to move away.  Large in diameter and with a ring of snow, there it was, the most impressive and beautiful view I had ever seen: the crater.  There are no words to describe the feeling of being in the summit once again, to be in the summit of Ecuador´s most beautiful volcano and to see its breathtaking crater, to admire the amazing view to the nearby valleys and mountains (far away even Chimborazo, Ecuador´s highest mountain, showed up). But most of all, the incredible feeling of being on top of the world, to reach the sky, and to conquer a personal goal. This will not be the last time I stand up there… I´ll be back!