Tag Archives: living in quito

Wheels & Paints

Every weekend Quito becomes a quiet city. The sidewalks are empty and the noises seem to cease, creating a peaceful solitude. However, when  Sunday arrives certain streets in Quito are closed and no cars are allowed. What is? Loads of cyclists and runners.

This past Sunday my friends and I walked around exploring Quito and visited La Capilla del Hombre, an art museum that offers breath-taking pieces that make you really ponder life in all it´s happy and sad glory.

Here is a video:


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Sun-Soaked on the Beach in Canoa, Ecuador

the beach at canoa, eucador

This past weekend my two friends and I escaped the clouds and cold temperatures in Quito. Our destination: Canoa, Ecuador. A small coastal town that has sandy roads, stray dogs and ceviche (a soup with shrimp). It is an under-developed area and largely a fishing community. The boats sit upon the beach, waiting to head out to sea and do their job.

the sandy main-strip in canoa, ecuador

Canoa’s atmosphere is extremely chill. Just like the rest of Ecuador, the shop doors open when the locals decide they want to wake up and get to work. Besides fishing, the main income seems to be from the tourists or Ecuadorians who want to get-away for a bit and relax. Most of Canoa’s main-strip is composed of juice and ram-shackle restaurants, the occasional handicraft station with bracelets, necklaces and other assorted trinkets will pop up during the day.

our adorable, floppy-ear dog friend we made in canoa, ecuador

Other than that, the roads rarely feel the bare-feet or flip-flops walking upon them, mainly the paws of the stray dogs that could equal the number of people in Canoa. One of the dogs followed us around every time we ran into each other. His left eye was big and blue, multiple sizes larger than the other. We found out from a local that someone had apparently hit him with the rock. Quite upsetting.

To get there, we took an overnight bus ride ($9) from Quito that is roughly six or seven hours long and extremely bumpy. I did not sleep at all due to the rough ride and freezing temperatures inside the bus. However, as soon as we stepped off and looked to our left, the ocean lay out before us and the warmth of the coastal air our enveloped us. All was forgotten. After a quick nap in our room at the unbelievable Hotel Bambu that is located right on the beach, we had lunch and hit the waves.

rent a surfboard for $3/hr in canoa, ecuador

You can rent surfboards for $3 an hour, or sign up for lessons. We decided to try it out ourselves and did pretty well. It was carefree and full of fun, what we came for in an effort to escape the structure of our weeks. The waves were not too large, perfect for beginners. If you don’t like surfing, you can always take a kayak tour through the caves or try paragliding if the wind is strong enough. Or simply, soak up the sun while laying on your towel on the warm sand. Watch out for the creepy, crawling crabs that scurry in and out of the holes they dig to escape the onslaught of oncoming waves.

Note: Canoa does not have a bank or ATM so make sure you bring your cash when you come. It’s not expensive but you will want to do the activities this cozy little place has to offer.

In the evening, the hotel//hostel has a Happy Hour and you get two drinks for the price of one. The patio area is filled with people eating, drinking, reading and relaxing as the sun sets over the ocean’s horizon, coloring the sky in shades of pink and oranges. At night, Canoa becomes a bit more lively. Locals and tourists are sitting on the beach, cuddling or merely listening to the rolling waves.

the orange sun setting over the beach in canoa, ecuador

The corner “Pirate Ship” turns on its strobe lights and the hostel and local crowd come out to play … and drink. There is one specific drink that all travelers are warned about (a sign was even posted on the wall in the lounge//library at our hostel) that has severe side-effects like diarrhea, headache and upset stomach. Basically a disastrous hangover that will ruin the rest of your time in Canoa and maybe some time afterward.

Here is an excerpt from a a blogpost I found that provides the name and ingredients:

There is the famous drink from Canoa, “Uña de la Grand Bestia”. This “Claw of the Great Beast” is made by marinating scorpions, giant centipedes, and marijuana stalks in caña before selling it for a dollar a shot.

Personally, I don’t know who would even buy it in the first place and then, my friend who had a couple of drinks before the Pirate Ship ended up getting one (answering that question that you’d have to be drunk before even considering taking this shot) and the night was over. She woke up not feeling well at all. Wasn’t able to surf with with us the next day, mostly laying around. After my surfing session, some of the locals and tourists were walking down the beach past us near the cliffs because a sea-turtle had washed ashore.

a sea-turtle washed ashore on the beach in canoa, ecuador

Since turtles are one of my favorite animals we immediately rushed down with our cameras at the ready. The locals were talking about how the turtles either come ashore to die or lay eggs. We decided to remain positive and chose to believe it was to lay eggs. A full moon was supposed to occur that night and there is supposedly a myth that hatchlings leave the nest during one. However, my conscience kept reminding me that it was only one sea-turtle and not many partaking in such a beautiful moment.

Saturday night is when all the dance clubs blast their music. You can dance hip-hop or latin, or both in the same evening on the beach under a straw hut or on the corner in a building. We checked out one place with a surfer friend and another guy from our hostel we made acquaintances with the previous night at the Pirate Ship. Most of the locals remembered us, being such a small town.

it was a great weekend chillin' on the beach in canoa, ecuador

We couldn’t stay out too late because our bus left at 7 a.m. the next morning, so we fell asleep to 5 different types of music playing until the early hours of the morning. The bus ride back took a bit longer but we made it safely back to the hustle-and-bustle of Quito and its cloudy skies with tan skin and rosy cheeks.

Here is a video I put together of our time in Canoa, Ecuador:

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Ecuador’s Soundtrack: the noise of Quito

Every city has their appeal: the ancient architecture, the unique food and the differences in interactions with people. Quito is no exception. The stunning, intricate designs of their cathedrals. The way each meal comes with a spicy sauce on the side, that isn’t really spicy at all. The way people greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or pack themselves like sardines on the bus, not minding the close proximity to a complete stranger.  What Ecuador also has is  a constant noise. I have not heard one moment of silence in Quito since I have moved here and wanted to give you a sample of Ecuador’s soundtrack:

These are the sounds that I typically hear on a daily basis in Quito, Ecuador.

Constant dog barking.

Constant car alarms.

Constant whistles.

Almost nightly fireworks.

Lots and lots of church bells.

Just to name a few.

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Venturing to Middle Earth in Ecuador

Not only does Ecuador have so much to offer in terms of its megadiversity in geography, being home to the Amazon, Coast, Sierra and Galapagos Islands, as well as numerous active volcanoes (including one of the highest) but it is also where the Middle of the World is located at 00° 00′ 00″  latitude on the equator line.

About 30 minutes outside of Quito is the point on the line, however, it’s not truly where most will lead you to believe. Don’t go toward the huge monument, which was finished being built in 1982, because it is not the correct representation of the middle of the world. The accurate center is actually located 240 meters north of where the line is marked at the “fake” spot. Due to improvements in calculations, mainly in the form of G.P.S. (global positioning system), scientists were able to discover the real center of the world. Unfortunately, many people continue to flock to this tourist trap and straddle the line for the opportunity to have their pictures taken at the Middle of the World.

standing on the middle of the world

Just around the corner (walking distance) is the real Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) known as Intiñan Solar Museum, which provides an awesome value. For $3 USD you can take a tour of native Ecuadorian homes, learn about the animals of the Amazon rain forest and partake in equatorial experiments on the equator. The museum is truly off the beaten road, well, most roads in Ecuador are pretty rough, but you walk through brush on a dirt path to get to the site.

You tour the huts and gain an understanding of the sleeping arrangements that were lived back in the early days of Ecuador by the andean people. Children would sleep with their parents until the age of 12, where they could then climb up to a room on the second floor. In a different situation, four to five families would share the hut, organizing it into quarters. Get a glimpse at the weapons that were simultaneously used for fighting with one end of the spear and fishing, which would be the other end.

the process of be-heading and shrinking the head

See boa constrictors and other random water species from the Amazon, especially the non-delightful Candiru’ Fish, which is attracted to urine and will swim up a man or woman’s urethra and grow inside of them. Since it’s claws are backwards, the only way to get it out is my surgical methods. I do not suggest relieving yourself in the Amazon rivers during your treks no matter how badly you have to go.

One of the unique parts of the tour was getting to see examples of shrunken heads, a practice that is no longer in effect in Ecuador. They have posters to graphically show you the method, which make you question humanity all the more.

the water experiment on the equator

However, the best part of the tour is left until the end. The tour guide will tease you with lessons on telling time on the equator and explain how the product harvests and fiestas were calculated by the solar cultures who held the movement of the sun and stars in high regards.

Then, you get to do the fun stuff. Your balance is effected when you are on the equator and trying to walk a straight line with your eyes closed becomes impossible. Water, turns clockwise and counter-clockwise on either the north or south side. Nonetheless, it falls straight down when on the equator. Successfully balancing an egg is such a tremendous feat, that those who can do so, receive a certificate. Favorite part of the entire tour: getting my passport stamped with 00° 00′ 00″ at the Middle of the World.

examples of shrunken heads during the indigenous period

a successfully balanced egg on a nail at the middle of the world

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Standing in two hemispheres at the Middle of the World

There are two equator spots in Quito, Ecuador. One is what I like to call the tourist trap with the big monument that you can’t miss. The other is the real one. It is right around the corner (walking distance from the fake one) and you have to pay close attention for the sign or you’ll miss it.

For $3 USD you get a tour of indigenous homes, learn about their way of living, customs, and get to partake in some equatorial experiments such as attempting to balance an egg and walking on a straight line.

Here is a video of my time spent on the equator (post to come):

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Above the clouds at 14,000+ feet

There’s a point during take-off when the flight attendant comes over the intercom and announces, “We’ve reached 10,000 feet. It is now safe to use all approved portable electronic devices.”

the teleferico ride up pichincha takes about 10 minutes

Well, on the 10 minute Teleferico ride up the Andes mountain range to the inactive Pichincha Rucu volcano (Rucu means “old” in the indigenous language of Quichua), my friends and I passed 10,000 feet and continued up to an altitude of more than 14,000 feet where we were free to roam about the cabin…I mean mountain. We were at a height where we could see planes taking off and flying below us over Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

For $8.50 USD ($4.50 for Ecuadorians), you can ride the cable car, which is located in the vicinity of the Vulcan Theme Park at the base of the mountain, up to the top of Pichincha Rucu and walk around to all the lookout points. If you live in Quito, which I currently do, you live in the Pichincha Province. Many of the provinces in Ecuador are named after the volcanoes located nearby (i.e.Cotopaxi, Chimborazo, Imbabura).

the rucu pichincha peak

It is highly recommended to go on a clear day, with blue skies and no clouds because you will be able to see the Avenue of Volcanoes on the horizon. Some of the highest volcanoes in the world are located in Ecuador, most of them still active.

Note: Your ears will pop, and your head will feel the pressure from being up so high. Drinking a lot of water will help. The weather is also much colder at the top so dress appropriately.

I have to mention the danger involved in exploring Pichincha Rucu because it is known by many here and noted in most Ecuadorian guidebooks. Tourists are extremely vulnerable up on the top. There have been robberies and assaults, mainly from those who start hiking from Quito. It is best to hike it with a group of people (at least 3) and on the weekends when there are a lot more people up there. Just be careful and take precautions.

a glimpse of quito below

If you go early in the day, you’ll be able to take the easy 5 hour hike to the Rucu Pichincha peak, which is one of three that are on the Pichincha volcano. The others are: Guagua Pichincha (active volcano) and Padre Encantado.

Otherwise, an afternoon spent walking around and simply admiring the beauty of Quito from an elevation of more than 14,000 feet is just as enjoyable. Getting to see the magnitude of the capital as it stretches in-between the valley of the moutnains is mind-blowing.

Escorted tours are also available.

If you are brave, you can hook your mountain bike up to your Teleferico car and ride the routes down the mountain. There are also horses available for $5/hr, including a hat and poncho, to ride on the trails.

Here is a video of my Pichincha Rucu excursion:

Some more pictures from my excursion.

hats and ponchos for horseback riders

horses are $5/hr to ride on the mountain

breath-taking scenery at pichincha

the rucu pichincha peak in the distance


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What I’ve learned in my first week of living in Ecuador

1. The men are extremely machismo (hola bonita! que hermosa!) and persistent

2. Never fall asleep on a bus, or leave your backpack in-between your legs or under the seat. It will be cut open and things will be stolen.

3. No gracias, No gracias, No gracias – say that to all the street vendors

4. Say NO next time your co-worker wants to tell you a rape or robbery story

the city of quito with the pichincha mountains backdrop

5. Eat with your purse in your lap, never leave it unattended

6. PUSH your way onto the crowded bus despite the “enter” and “exit” doors

7. Choclo (Andean corn) is a popular topping on pizza – EW! Nasty!

8. Don’t feed the dogs, someone else will

9. Cars have the right away, not people, there are no rules of the road, or speed limits

10. Guinea Pig is a delicacy to eat

11. To have a hot shower, you have to use electricity … electric showers can catch on fire

12. It is almost impossible to get a full night’s sleep with horns, whistles, dogs barking outside

13. Never carry more than $20 USD with you because no one will know how to break it

14. Don’t shower at the same time as your roommates because the power will shutdown

15. You never know when your favorite shop or store is open because people work to live and don’t live to work, which means they decide to open and close when they want to

exploring the cloud forest in mindo, ecuador

16. There is no sense of time here, unless you create it. (i.e. buses leave when they want)

17. No convenience exists. You have to shop around to find everything you are looking for

18. The parks present an escape for everyone

19. The altitude makes even a fit person breathe harder with a simple uphill climb

20. Despite Ecuador exporting good coffee, the coffee here is not that amazing, really watery

21. The smoking indoors ban does not exist here, sadly

22. Always remember “agua sin gas” so you don’t receive a bottle of non-flavored, carbonated tasting water. I think the U.S. is the only country that does not like gaseous water.

23. Do.Not.Flush.Toilet.Paper.Down.The.Toilet.

24. Milk and other random items come in bags or a box-like container, not in jugs.

25. Despite all the horror stories, there are extremely nice and friendly Ecuadorians


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Zipping and Hiking Through the Mindo Cloud Forest

This weekend my friend and I took a weekend trip to the small town of Mindo, Ecuador, which is a 2.5 hour bus ride out of Quito. The bus, which leaves every hour and costs $2.50,  drives on a curvy rode through the mountains, offering breath-taking views of the green land.

A word of advice: Do not fall asleep on the bus or stare out the window too long. The bus driver picks up and drops off people all along the route. My friend didn’t realize until we were at our hostal that someone on the bus had cut a hole into the side of her backpack and stole her estimated $1,000 camera. Always hold your backpack on your lap with your arms safely around it. Never in-between your legs or tucked under the seat in front of you.

After spending a few hours with the Mindo police, attracting quite a few people at the bus station (who later knew us as the (chicas gringas con la camera problema “the white girls with the camera problem) and checking into the Casa de Cecelia hostel (which I highly recommend), we got to exploring some of the Mindo Cloud Forest.

We didn’t do what Mindo is most known for: the butterfly preserve or bird watching. Instead, we opted for the active, adventure tour of Mindo (we already are planning on going back to visit the butterfly preserve and go tubing) and decided on zip-lining in the canopies and hiking to see the waterfalls.

the mindo canopy adventure offers a thrilling flight on 13 different cables

The Mindo Canopy Adventure, which is also the most popular, provides fun and thrilling zip-lining way above the ground below on 13 different cables. None of which require you to slow down. They are just fast enough to enjoy and are long enough to allow you to simply glance around at the mountains and floor below while cruising through the air. Bi-lingual tour guides accompany you the entire time as you hike up and down the mountain trails to each line.

Some cables are long and some are short, providing enough variation to keep it exciting. At one point, they pull up and down on the cable to have you bouncing along to the other side. Another perk that just adds to what this company has to offer is the chance to do two unique forms: the mariposa (butterfly) or the superman.

all geared up and ready to go!

The mariposa has you flying upside down with your legs straight up (the guide is keeping them steady) in the air and your arms hanging down, so all you see is the sky above you or the grown below, depending on where you’re looking. As for the superman pose, your legs are wrapped around the guide’s waist and you stretch your arms out before you and soar along the cable like the popular hero.

I highly recommend the Mindo Canopy Adventure to anyone visiting Mindo. They are safe and secure, and for $10 USD, make sure everyone has a good time.

The next morning, my friend and I took the Tarabita, or cable car, across the forest to the trail heads that lead to six different waterfalls of equal magnificence.

the tarabita cable car that takes you from one side to the other

For $5 USD, hikers can walk through the magical forest covered in moss to each waterfall in the Santuario de Cascadas. To visit each waterfall would take an entire afternoon, which my friend and I sadly did not have. So we chose to go in the direction of where the majority of the falls were in close proximity.

The elevation made the hiking incredibly a mission for someone even in my fit condition. You go over hills and tree roots, up and down stairs, having to be extremely careful because the ground is wet and muddy, making it easy to slip.

enjoying the cascada guarumos

The scenery was unbelievably magical. All the vines hanging around made me wonder if I would hear Tarzan’s signature yell “OhhHhHhHh” and see him swinging through the giant trees. Mushrooms are growing on the trunks and all shades of the color wheel seem to paint the plant’s leaves. Along the way, you can hear the rushing water hinting that you are getting closer until you see the wooden, rickety bridge that leads you to the majestic waterfall (or maybe, just maybe the mythical land of Terabithia? I wish).

If the weather cooperated, it will be warm enough to actually get in for a bit to experience the crisp, refreshing water but make sure to cover yourself right back up so the mosquitoes don’t attack!

Here is a complete video of my weekend trip to the Mindo Cloud Forest, a special spot that is becoming known for its eco-tourism and friendly atmosphere.

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Unfinished artwork: the basilica del voto nacional

the pinchincha mountains in quito, ecuador

Quito is alive. If you don’t wake up, the city will sure enough wake you up with honking horns, sirens and blasting music. People never seem to stop walking and cars never seem to stop rushing around. Today, there were clear, blue skies, even though the forecast for the entire week predicted rain and thunderstorms. Who would complain about that though, right? This gave my friend and me a lovely first day to explore some of what this capital city of more than 1 million people has to offer.

We climbed a large metal ball in one of the four parks located in the city and found a great place to eat almuerzo (lunch). For $2 US we got really delicious juice, tasty soup and the main meal, which consisted of white rice, fried chicken and a mix of vegetables, along with a gelatin dessert. This was so much food for $2 that we thought we had accidentally ordered both dishes that were being offered today and couldn’t even finish our meals.

the basilica del voto nacional

After that we visited the Basilica del Voto Nacional, the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. For $2 US ($1 for Ecuadorians), you are able to explore all levels of this cathedral, that technically is still in construction.

Apparently a local legend states that the world would end if the construction of the basilica were to be  completed. Maybe that’s why they haven’t finished building it?

While climbing each level, differently designed windows provide glimpses of the church’s sides, decorated with arcs and grotesques (gargoyles) in the forms of Ecuadorian animals.

You can stop on each floor and look around. On one there is a gift shop and on another there is a cafe with inexpensive meals and treats. In the beginning, you get to see the vast sanctuary filled with benches and decorated with stained glass windows. There were some Ecuadorians cleaning and restoring some of the intricate architectural beauty on this floor.

the basilica sanctuary

Walk through the gift shop to get to the wooden plank. This is your bridge to a really beautiful panoramic view of the city. With each hesitant step, you’ll hear creaking, leaving you to pray that an earthquake does not occur. At the end of the long plank there is a steep staircase that climbs to a 360 degree view of mountains and colorful homes. If you are even more brave, there are two more sets of steep stairs that take you to a room at the very top, allowing you miles and miles of visibility in all directions. The hardest part is the climb down because of the angle at which the stairs were constructed.

One more trip across the wooden plank will get you back over to the clock tower side of the cathedral. To see the clocks and bells you have to climb many more stair cases: steep, vertical and spiral. At the top, however, you are welcomed with spectacular views through symbolic cut-outs that make you feel like it is all worth more than two dollars.


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Bienvenido a Quito, Ecuador!

Hola, Quito! My friend and I successfully found our apartment. Paid the taxi $7 and was dropped off right in front. Thankfully ALiVE and in one piece! Wow, they sure drive crazy here. No taxi comes equipped with seat-belts in the backseat. However, these Ecuadorians know what they’re doing and some would venture to say  that they are actually safer drivers than those in the U.S. because there are no rules. Thus, they are constantly aware of their surroundings and what the other drivers around them are doing.

Both suitcases, which also passed the 50 lb limit, have been unpacked. My room is HUGE! I have three closets full of drawers and hanging space, three windows with some interesting views and a full bath. I feel extremely lucky to have been able to rent this place.

It’s past 1 a.m. here and I have been up for 19 hours, so I am going to let my head hit my pillow and pass out to the sounds of zooming cars and honking horns.

Pictures should be up tomorrow. It’s dark out so they would not capture the essence of this country. I can’t wait to see the green and region in daylight. Hasta luego mis amigos!


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