Moths in Mashpi…


By Tamara Karolys 

Mashpi  Lodge, Metropolitan Touring´s upcoming top retreat in the rainforest, is starting to generate great interest amongst our commercial partners: they all want to come and see the region, how the project is developing, etc – and we are delighted about that!

It comes naturally then, that we from the Commercial team, join the visitors of the project on their field trips, meaning, we visit the Lodge with our clients and journalists, representatives and so on, during either a full day trip from Quito, or, as I did last weekend, sleeping over, using the staff house that offers all the comfort we could need.

We left Quito around midday, Daniela from Studiosus, her daughter Anica, Klaus (our personal interpreter in terms of nature, history, Biology, Geology…and well, many other things, he always has an answer to everything…) and myself – my first overnight in magic Mashpi area – I am a bit of City girl, so the idea of overnight is very exciting, yet I am not too pleased when thinking about all the insects…and I heard about the moths…

The drive takes 2:30 – 3:00hrs (unless you stop at ZAGAL – famous for good coffee, cheese & muffins, or a pp-stop)  and then a promising road sign makes you choose for the first time: would you like to “ La Delicia” ? O “Paraíso” ?…a tough choice…!

We follow “La Delicia” and soon enter the beautiful and lush, green rainforest. The Lodge´s construction is advancing fast. It is raining in the rainforest so we cannot enjoy our planned night walk.

However, the main highlight this evening are the moths anyway. Attracted by the light, they get together and perform a unique spectacle… I would not have thought that those creatures can be so fascinating and above all, so beautiful, stunningly beautiful!!!

We are blessed this night to observe literally thousands of moths, green, red, white, polka-dotted, fleecy bodies, lean and dry ones, sad to say that I step on many… They would not cease to come!!!

Every time I am surrounded by pure nature, I feel small, amazed, touched and surprised –  those small creatures usually provoke histerical shouts and aversion – yet in their proper environment, they are breathaking and fascinating; all fear is gone, I take several in my hand to be able to observe the dramatic design of their wings and I am proud of my brave approach towards the formerly unknown dimension of the moths, the feeling of Avatar is unavoidable!

Have a look at Ecuadorian artist Belen Mena´s Pachanga-book  with her designs extrapolated from moth’s wings and bodies. You will have a different view after that, that is for sure!

Mashpi Lodge online: www.mashpilodge.com

For more images of Mashpi, see   http://www.flickr.com/photos/mashpilodge/sets/72157626534276830/show/

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.

Una ‘Taza Sin Fondo’ de Sabor – El Triángulo del Café en Colombia


Hacienda Venecia, Manizales, en el Eje Cafetero de Colombia

Su taza de café por la mañana, o el espresso al final de la cena, no volverán a ser los mismos luego de viajar al Eje Cafetero en Colombia.

Si es un aficionado al café, esta región le producirá la misma sensación que cuando tenía seis años y entraba en una ulcería.  Ese mismo sentimiento de deleite, en cada curva. Café, cafecito, tinto, cortado, machiatto, cappuccino, latte, mochaccino… Rico, negro, aromático.  ¡Una taza sin fondo de sabor!

El Triángulo del Café lo forman tres capitales departamentales – Pereira, Manizales y Armenia – entre los pliegues y ondulaciones de la cordillera del Pacífico del oeste central colombiano.  Esta parte de los Andes nunca es plana,  nunca es monótona.  No existe ninguna carretera recta.  Es como el opuesto topográfico de Holanda.  Las distancias son engañosas.  Una población que se ve cercana, quizás a 20 minutos por carro, toma realmente alrededor de dos horas en caminos sinuosos para llegar a ella.  Es una tierra arrugada, rugosa, agreste.  Los flancos de las montañas descienden desde cumbres nevadas, que se alzan hasta los 5.000 metros, como los dedos gigantes de un nigromante que quiere agarrar esta tierra para llevarla a su corazón.

En los valles más bajos, cada loma y colina, montículo y depresión del horizonte está cuidadosamente cultivado.  Un poco más alto, se han cortado los árboles para dar paso a pastizales, la hierba recién cortada de un verde casi fosforescente.  La región posee gran exuberancia, ya sea natural o hecha por el hombre.  Es ese resplandor vibrante que uno solo encuentra en el Trópico.

Juan Pablo Echeverri catando cafe

Pequena casa campestre de la Hacienda Venecia

Al lado este del Triángulo, cerca de Manizales, escondida en un hondo y empinado valle, cuyas laderas producirían vértigo a un pastor galés, está la Hacienda Venecia.  El camino de tierra que conduce a ella desde la ‘autopista del café’, curva, gira y vibra mientras se desciende 400 metros hasta una altura de 1500 metros sobre el nivel del mar, para finalmente llegar al lecho de un río y ascender un tramo para llegar a la propiedad.

Una casa blanca y simple, rodeada por árboles centenarios, plantaciones de arbustos de café y el canto de las aves, dan la bienvenida al visitante.  La propiedad ha pertenecido a la familia de Juan Pablo Echeverri por más de 45 años.  Luego de servirnos una taza del mejor café de la hacienda, que nos pone en onda, Juan Pablo comienza a contarnos sobre la historia, las variedades, procesos y productos de su mundo del café.  Un mapa nos muestra el trayecto de la pepa desde África a Europa y a las Américas.  Los granos frescos son examinados y tostados en un tostador especial, se intenta percibir los distintos aromas desde diminutas botellitas, se discute su consistencia, la bebida se sorbe para estimular el paladar, la taza perfecta surge desde una cafetera italiana.

Visita a la plantacion de la Hacienda Venecia

La lección sigue luego en el exterior, en el aire fresco y aromático, cuando Juan Pablo se adentra entre las nítidas filas de la plantación de arbustos de hojas brillantes, haciendo frecuentes pausas para explicar puntos de interés en el proceso de cultivo.  Nuestra visita es en febrero, y los arbustos están floreciendo, sus ramas más altas buscando la luz con sus brillantes flores blancas que parecen jazmines, y cuyo perfume se percibe en toda la plantación.  Emergemos por un sendero que desciende bordeando el Río Rosario que fluye montaña abajo hacia el Pacífico y lo cruzamos por un puente colgante.

En esta parte baja de la hacienda, Juan Pablo explica cómo se procesan las pepas y nos cuenta sobre la maquinaria, la certificación y los cuidados que se requieren para transformar la fruta del arbusto en el precioso grano apetecido por los conocedores del café.

Cerca de los edificios donde se procesa el grano, sobre una colina, está la hermosa casa de la familia, la típica casa de plantación de café de fines del siglo 19, pintada de blanco con acentos de rojo vibrante.  Hacia el lado oeste, la baranda hace eco del murmullo del agua del río, con hamacas colgadas de sus postes de madera, sofás y sillas de colores tropicales bañados por la luz de la tarde.

En la casa principal

Esta es la casa de huéspedes principal de la hacienda.  La madera oscura del piso de sus barandas exteriores, que da acceso a habitaciones cómodas y sencillas, se aviva con docenas de coloridas orquídeas.  Es un estilo de alojamiento B&B, donde los huéspedes comparten la casa con Juan Pablo y su familia cuando no están viajando y están en la hacienda.  La piscina ocupa el jardín del lado este, y también un área para parrilladas.  Un laguito, patrullado por una docena de gansos y patos, está en una esquina del perfecto jardín; jacintos y heliconias florecen con colores intensos entre la sombra que proyectan los árboles cubiertos de orquídeas.

En una visita típica a la hacienda, los huéspedes almorzarían aquí.  Pero nosotros estábamos con un horario diferente y ya era el atardecer cuando iniciamos la caminata de vuelta a la casa blanca de la entrada (que es también una casa de huéspedes más económica, con una pequeña piscina).  Las montañas se tiñeron de dorado a negro.  La niebla se extendía como velo por los valles más bajos y el río.  Los fragantes arbustos con sus ramas entrelazadas lucían de color esmeralda, las hojas de los cafetos resplandecían brillantes.

Llegamos a la casa, acalorados por la caminata cuesta arriba.  ¿Una última taza de café? preguntó Juan Pablo.  Era ya tarde y realmente teníamos que regresar.  Pero cuando se está en una de las mejores plantaciones de café del mundo, realmente uno no puede negarse.  Es como volver a estar en la dulcería cuando uno tenía seis años.  En el Triángulo del Café, no sólo se trata de una ‘taza sin fondo’, sino de una copa que rebosa.

Para más información sobre los itinerarios de Metropolitan Touring en el Triángulo de Café de Colombia, visite:http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=3051

Para mas imagenes de la Hacienda Venecia y del Eje Cafetero de Colombia, ver esta galeria: http://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitantouring/sets/72157626176790436/show/

Para mas informacion sobre la Hacienda Venecia, ver www.haciendavenecia.com

A Bottomless Cup of Goodness – Colombia’s Coffee Triangle


Hacienda Venecia, Manizales, in Colombia's Coffee Triangle

A morning cup of coffee, or an espresso after a meal, will never be the same once you travel to Colombia’s Coffee Triangle.

If you like coffee, the region is like stepping into your favourite sweet shop when you were six. Around every bend, there’s goodness. Coffee, cafecito, tinto, cortado, machiatto, cappuccino, latte, mochaccino… Rich, dark, aromatic goodness. Rocket fuel goodness.

The Coffee Triangle is made up of three departmental capitals – Pereira, Manizales and Armenia – wedged into the pleats and folds of Colombia’s western, central cordillera. It’s never flat in this part of the Andes. It’s never monotonous. Straight roads are unheard of. It’s like the topographical opposite of Holland. Distances are deceptive. A town that looks close, a twenty-minute drive away, in fact takes two hours of snaking roads to reach. It’s a crumpled, wrinkled, wizened land. Ranges tumble down from peaks that can soar right up to the snowline above 5,000 metres, like a wizard’s fingers reaching out to grasp the land to his heart.

In the lower valleys, every hill and hillock, hump and bump in the landscape is keenly cultivated. In the upper, the trees have been cleared to make way for pasture, the grass almost fluorescent green after cutting. The region is washed with a lushness, whether man-made or natural. It’s a vibrant glow that one only ever finds in the Tropics.

 

Juan Pablo Echeverri in tasting mood

Out-house on the estate, with rose garden

Off the Triangle’s eastern side, close to Manizales, tucked into a steep, deep valley whose flanks would give a Welsh sheep farmer vertigo, lies Hacienda Venecia. The dirt road to reach it from the main ‘coffee highway’ bends and kinks and judders its way down some 400 metres in altitude to around 1,500 metres a.s.l. before finally reaching a river bed and climbing a stretch to enter the estate.

A simple white house, surrounded by centenary trees, groves of coffee bushes and the chatter of birds, greets the visitor. The estate has belonged to Juan Pablo Echeverri’s family for over 45 years. Following a pick-me-up cup of the hacienda’s finest, Juan Pablo begins to enlighten us on the history, varieties, processes and products of his coffee world. A map shows the history of the bean’s progress from Africa to Europe to the Americas, fresh beans are examined then roasted in a special toaster, aromas sniffed and dissected from teeny tester bottles, consistency discussed, a brew expertly (or not) sucked in through the mouth to tease the palate, the perfect cup coaxed from an Italian coffee machine.

Tour of the plantation at Hacienda Venecia

The lesson is then taken outside into the fresh, aromatic air, where Juan Pablo wanders through the neatly-planted, rolling groves of shiny-leaved bushes, stopping frequently to explain points of interest in the cultivation process along the way. When we visit in February, the bushes are flowering, their upper branches catching the light with their bright white Jasmine-like flowers, whose perfume washes over the entire plantation. We emerge onto a trail that hugs the left bank of the Rio El Rosario, following it downhill to a bouncy suspension bridge that we ford in giggles as the river continues roiling down the mountains to the Pacific.

In this lower section of the farm, Juan Pablo runs through how the beans are processed and explains all the machinery, certification and care involved in transforming the bush’s fruit into the coffee-connoisseur’s cherished bean.

At the main house

Close to the buildings for processing the beans, the family’s very handsome late 19th-century coffee plantation house, painted white with accents of rich red, perches on a hillside. On its west-facing side, the veranda echoes with the shimmer of the river below, hammocks slung between its wooden posts, sofas and chairs in tropical colours bathed in afternoon light.

This is the hacienda’s main guesthouse. The dark hardwood floorboards of its external verandas are enlivened by dozens of orchids, linking the homely and unpretentious rooms. It’s a B&B style set up, with guests sharing the house with Juan Pablo and his family when they are at the farm and not travelling. A swimming pool occupies the east-side garden, with a barbecue area nearby. A pond patrolled by assorted gaggles of geese and ducks fills a corner of the immaculate garden, hyacinths and heliconia flowering in intense colours between the shade cast by orchid-festooned trees.

On a typical visit to the farm, guests would have lunch here. But we were on a different schedule and it was late afternoon by the time we began the walk back to the white house by the entrance (which serves as another, less expensive guesthouse, also with a small pool). The hillsides bled from gold into inky black. A haze began to veil the lower valleys and the river. The fragrant, tangled forest turned emerald, the leaves of the coffee bushes almost sparkling in their shiny finery.

We reached the house hot from the walk uphill. One last coffee? asked Juan Pablo. It was dusk and we really had to be going. But when you’re in one of the world’s finest coffee plantations, you really can’t say no. It’s like being six in the sweet shop all over again. In the Coffee Triangle, not only is the cup bottomless, it truly runneth over.

For more information on Metropolitan Touring’s itineraries in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, visit: http://www.metropolitan-touring.com/content.asp?id_page=3051

To see more images of the Hacienda Venecia and Colombia’s Coffee Triangle, see this gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/metropolitantouring/sets/72157626176790436/show/

For more information on Hacienda Venecia, see www.haciendavenecia.com

Isla Corazon – An island shaped like a heart


Text and photos by JP Verdesoto – Metropolitan Touring Ecuador

An island shaped like a heart, with the heart and passion of its people

There are only a handful of places in Ecuador that make you wonder about how things were in the coastal shores of the Pacific back in the days before “we” arrived here, beginning a one-way process that can often be irreversible –in terms of progress and development– when there is no ethos of conservation or sustainability.  Nature will hardly ever give you a second chance.

One of these places is Isla Corazón (Heart Island) in the Province of  Manabi, about one-and-a-half hours’ drive from the provincial capital of Manta.  Isla Corazón is located near the the town of Bahía de Caraquez, in the estuary of the Chone River.  An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. This magical place is full of life and friendly local people, who are the main characters in this play of environmental conservation.

The fishermen of the village of Puerto Portovelo, through the local Association of Naturalist Guides and Mangrove Conservation (“ASOMANGLAR”), aim to protect their natural resource in order to provide more eco-friendly economical alternatives to their communities.  Through their efforts over 12 years of management, the community has managed to reforest the area that was affected by many shrimp farming corporations that built their shrimp pools, pretty much cutting off the whole mangrove line along the estuary. Once the native mangrove forest began to be destroyed, the harmful effects on local wildlife and also on the low-scale artisan fishing taking place got worse. The local people realized that their catches were decreasing. They were faced with a choice: work for the shrimp companies or cut more mangroves to sell as wood and get some cash to survive.  But this would not be enough to make a living over the long term, as already the mangroves were already being decimated…

By 1998  “El Niño” came – El Niño is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific, an oscillation of the ocean-atmosphere system in the tropical Pacific having important consequences for weather around the globe. Among these consequences are increased rainfall across the southern tier of the US and in Ecuador, which has caused destructive flooding, and drought in the West Pacific, sometimes associated with devastating brush fires in Australia. This particular El Niño almost wiped the entire community off the face of the earth due to the heavy flooding.  Some of the wildlife, already affected by the consequent problems of the mangrove reduction, was on the verge of extinction.  Protecting the mangrove banks along the estuary and coast line is paramount because it forms a shield which stops erosion from flooding and also provides a refuge for many species in the area.

This tragedy awakened a new state of mind and consciousness in the local fishermen, who swore to protect what was left of the mangroves and make them grow for the benefit of all.  Today,  they have successfully achieved the growth of the mangrove from 50 hectares 200 hectares in the area of Isla Corazon since the project began in 1999.  This outstanding hard work has been done entirely by hand, and has considerably increased the numbers of marine birds, as both are directly related.  The frigate bird colony that lives on the island has more density per square meter than any other colony, including the Galapagos Islands.  The undeniable truth is that birds, mammals, reptiles, plants, fish and other species have found here, once again, a natural refuge, and this time with the help of the people, once their fiercest enemy and now its closest guardian and sponsor.

These natural elements and the personal stories told by the native guides as they take you paddling through magical mangrove tunnels, showing the wildlife with passion or visiting their community and its organization, will indeed have an impact in your life and they way of appreciating your surrounding.  It leaves you with the good sensation that we are still on time to save these and other spaces of life!  You will undoubtedly have a great experience…

But let’s add to this the good service provided by the local Hotel Casa Ceibo (www.casaceibo.com), with outstanding cuisine with the chef’s personal touch in preparing seafood and using the most flavorful local ingredients, great wine and spacious, cozy social areas that will make you think twice before checking out.  Add smiley, friendly staff and you will never want to leave this hideaway of peace and tranquility that everyone always looks forward to from time to time.

I cannot guarantee that you will experience exactly the same as I did, but I do guarantee that, if you have the chance to visit here, give yourself the opportunity to explore just a little bit further along the beautiful Ecuadorian coastline!  You will be pleasantly surprised.

Text and photos by JP Verdesoto – Metropolitan Touring Ecuador

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