Category Archives: Ecuador

Confusing brands in Cuenca Ecuador

This was our last week in Ecuador, we had a great time in the 6.5 weeks we spent here. We are now off to Machu Picchu for a week and then to the Bahamas for 3 weeks to “unwind” from our vacation.

While in Cuenca, we noticed something interesting — they must have a real affinity for American brands because many stores shamelessly rip off them off.   We first noticed it when walking to the market where we saw a sign that said P.J. Maxx.  The logo was exactly like the T.J. Maxx logo but it was just a small store that sold clothes.  We thought it was funny.  Then we kept seeing others that follow that mantra.  Here are a few:

Would you like to buy your software from Microsoft or Markosoft?

Microsoft or Markosoft?

Don’t think you can buy any burritos from this Chiplote:

No burritos here at Chiplote

Need something for the kids?  Consider Hell Kitty instead of Hello Kitty:

Hell Kitty or Hello Kitty?

Finally, I thought Hudsons was purchased by Marshall Fields.  Guess it tells you how much I know — they just went south to Ecuador!

Hudsons still alive and kicking in Ecuador

We also noticed that you can purchase movies on DVD for a buck.  A buck, really?  How do they do that?  Well, I guess pirating movies here is a really big business.  They have DVD stores on every corner with the latest releases for a buck.  The movie studios must just be cringing.  Hey, consumers love it — similar to using Redbox for a buck but you get to keep the movie!

In our final week here in Ecuador, we visited Ingapirca — probably the best Inca ruins in Ecuador.  They were impressive.  The Incas were similar to the Romans in that they wanted to dominate the region and they did for many years.  They occupied territory that is now Chile all the way up to Columbia and created the Inca trail that tied their territories together.  The Inca trail spans over 2,000 miles.  Ingapirca was one of the last areas they spread to by taking over lands previously occupied by the Canas.

Ingapirca was built in the highlands with incredible views of the valley.  Here are some pictures, but they don’t do it justice, you really should visit!








Notice how well the stones fit together


Great views of the valley below

While we were visting the ruins, we captured on video an Andean band playing native Andean music. Click the picture below to see the movie. Very cool!

Hasta Luega!

Spectacular Museums in Cuenca Ecuador

We are spending our mornings sleeping in late, grabbing a bit of breakfast and then visiting a new museum each day (there are so many in Cuenca to visit).   We spend the afternoons in Spanish classes — 4 hours a day.  Don’t believe me? I will translate it in Spanish:

?No hacer creerme?  Yo tranduco la frase arriba.  Nosotros pasomas manana dormemos tarde, comemos daysayuno y visitamos museo nueva cada dia.

OK, if you know Spanish I may have just butchered that but I think the main point gets across.   This week we were walking around to a museum and happened on to this Indian group playing indigenous music.

Indian band

We noticed that they were dressed very similar to Native American Indians, which seemed odd to us because we see indigenous Ecuadorians every day and they do not dress this way.  Our Spanish teacher said that it was not original dress, but the music they played was authentic.  Interesting!

One of the coolest museums we have visited is the Banco Central.  It has an inside museum of indigenous artifacts but also is built on some old Inca ruins.

Inca ruins

Inca ruins

Banco Central Inca ruins

Behind the ruins are some impressive gardens.

Beautiful gardens

In the gardens are fields of indigenous crops.

Crops and beautiful grounds

Next to the gardens is a pond full of fish that is inhabited by ducks and other birds.

Ducks around the pond

Toucan — endangered bird!

We also visited one of the many Panama hat factories this week.  These hats have always been made in Ecuador but are called Panama hats because when the Panama Canal was being built, they ordered tons of hats due to the hot sun and rain.  Since they were being worn so often there, they were dubbed Panama hats.

Making Panama Hats

Panama hats are made the old fashion way. It takes 2 days to make a single hat (the ones that cost between $25 and $250) and 6 months to make really high-end hats that cost $1500.

Can I help?

Once the hats are weaved, they use machines to press them into different styles.

Steam used to mold hats into different styles

Lynn tried to talk me into buying one but I just don’t think I am a hat guy. What do you think?

Not a hat guy

Yep, that’s what I thought!  I did not buy one!

Next week is our last week in Ecuador, then off to Machu Picchu and then the Bahamas.  Hasta Luego!

!Hola from Cuenca Ecuador!

After luxuriating in Banos, we decided to travel south to Cuenca Ecuador to study Spanish and to experience why many Gringos (non-Ecuadorians) have been calling this town “the retirement haven” of Ecuador.   Any of you that have watched Househunters International will probably recognize Cuenca.  In our minds, it is the exact opposite of Quito. Quito is very historic yet we found it to be crowded, dirty and not very beautiful.  Cuenca, on the other hand, is surrounded by beautiful green mountains and it is clean and tranquil.

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Cuenca click here and Chobhi click here.

Cuenca Ecuador

Cuenca is an older city (the Spanish settled it in 1557) and has about 500,000 residents, yet it feels very small.  In 2009, Cuenca was voted the most attractive place to retire and there are now about 4,000 Gringos retired here.  The allure is cost of living and moderate climate.  They have a really well supported expat community with several weekly meetups where you can meet other Americans, Canadians, and Europeans that have settled here.

On our first night, we learned of a Gringo meetup at restaurant “DiBacco Bar“.  Lynn and I went and met about 20 Gringos that have retired here.  Since then, we have seen them all over town.  We went to a local Gringo hangout (called the Inca Lounge) to watch American football last Sunday and we saw many of the same people we had met at DiBacco Bar.

Tomebamba River

Cuenca is cost-effective.  For example, we went to an Italian bistro and ordered 2 pizzas (about 10 inches each), a salad and 2 very large beers and paid a total of $12.   Most people rent apartments for $300 to $500 per month.  We are renting an apartment for 3 weeks complete with a flat screen TV, washer and dryer and kitchen for only $43 per night.   Many people say they live on $1,200 to $2,000 per month comfortably here.

Spanish architecture

The climate is pretty much the same all year around because it is situated close to the equator.   It averages about 50 degrees as a low and 72 degrees each day as a high.  That is a pretty big swing in temperature, so most people wear a light jacket every day.

Since we have been here, it has been hot and sunny in the mornings and cloudy most afternoons.  There is almost no humidity due to it’s 7,500 feet altitude.  I am told there are 2 seasons, rainy and dry — we are just entering the rainy season now, which is why it is cloudy in the afternoons.  For me, I prefer having 4 seasons and I enjoy the hot summer days and crisp winter days we enjoy in Florida.

Lynn enjoying the market (marcardo in Spanish)

Spanish Immersion
Lynn and I have taken some Spanish classes in the past (Lynn more than me) so we wanted to expand our Spanish knowledge.  We have decided to spend almost 4 weeks in Cuenca and attend daily Spanish classes 4 hours per day.  We are now 1.5 weeks into the classes and I have to say we have increased our conversational abilities already.

When you are visiting a country where few people speak English, you really have to adapt and hold conversations in their native tongue. Otherwise you will not be able to hail a taxi, get a hotel room or order meals.  I am surprised at how well we have adapted with the little Spanish we know, but it has forced us to do it which has been great.

Some of the phrases that have gotten us by are:

  • “hola” (hello)
  • cuanta cuesta” (how much does it cost)
  • “la cuenta por favor” (please bring the bill)
  • “buenos dia / buenas tarde / buenas noche” (good morning, good afternoon, good evening).

Incredible Cuenca Churches

Caves of Chobshi
Last Saturday, we took a tour of the caves of Chobshi.  This is about 2 hours east of Cuenca and is very interesting.  Dating back to 8050 BC, the early inhabitants of this town were nomads that moved from place to place looking for food and animals to hunt.  They lived in caves and made ceramics (plates, vases, etc.).  They also make weapons for hunting and protection from invaders (spears, axes, tools, and arrow heads).  In Chobshi, the caves are still intact from that time period and they have excavated many ceramics and tools from the site.

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Chobhi click here.

Caves of Chobshi

Later (around 1500 AD), the Incas took over this area and you can see the ruins left behind.  The ruins were where the Incas lived, worked and held court.

Inca Ruins

In 1557, the Spanish conquered the Incas and replaced most of the Inca buildings with colonial Spanish buildings, which are now present.  They are built with Adobe (bricks made from mud, manure and straw).  The indigenous people still build their homes this way.  When we were in Chobshi, we saw many people making adobe bricks and living as they have for many generations.

Ceramics and Tools

Adobe brick shed

On our way home from Chobshi, we stopped by a family that specializes in hand-made guitars.  These guitars are really impressive and have lots of details with great workmanship.  I really wanted to purchase a guitar for my dad and my brother, but I knew there was no way we could continue our travels while lugging 2 guitars around.  The cost was very reasonable (ranging from $150 to $250 each).   Shipping goods from Ecuador is a bit suspect (they may or may not make it to the intended recipient) so I was afraid to purchase and ship them.

Guitar Store

Hand made guitars

Finishing touches

To see a slide show of pictures we took in Cuenca click here and Chobhi click here.

We are planning a lot more tours while we are visiting Cuenca so we will share some of those over the new few weeks.  After leaving Cuenca, we will visit Machu Picchu, then hang out in the Bahamas for about 3 weeks.

Relaxing in Beautiful Banos Ecuador

We have returned from our two-week trip to the Galapagos, flying back to Quito.  From Quito, we decided to spend Saturday in an indigenous market in Otavalo, Ecuador.   This is where all the indigenous people come each week to sell their wares.  Otavalo is located about 2 hours north of Quito. We took a bus there for $2 each — it was a nice bus with a flat screen TV showing the movie Mission Impossible.

Otavalo, Ecuador

To see a slide show of pictures for our Banos trip, click here.

We enjoyed our day at Otavalo and decided we wanted to have a few days of rest and relaxation. Banos is a city about 3 hours bus ride south of Quito. So on Sunday, we jumped on a bus ($3.50 per person each way) and made our way to Banos. Banos is well-known for its hot springs and massage shops (legitimate massage). It is set in a beautiful setting, about 8,000 feet above sea level surrounded by incredible huge green mountains.

One of the big attractions of Banos is its massive number of waterfalls.  We enlisted a local taxi driver to give us a 4 hour tour of the waterfalls and a tour of the city — all of this cost us about $35 (he wanted $22 but we tipped well).  The first stop of the tour was a huge canyon (about 2,000 feet deep) that had a waterfall driving into the canyon.

Waterfalls of Banos

As you can see, they have a cable car that you can take over the canyon.  But even more fun, they have a zipline that you can take over it.  When ziplining, you can elect to zipline normally or Superman style.  Of course, I elected to go Superman style!   The zipline is very long and about halfway through the zipline, it starts bouncing like crazy!   Then when you enter the end of the route, you come in very fast and it looks like you are going to hit a rock wall but a 14-year-old boy snags the zipline just feet from you crashing into the wall.  Quite exhilarating!

Steve ziplining Superman style

Once we finished the zipline, we journeyed on to another 8 or 10 waterfalls until we ended up at a waterfall that is only visible by hiking about 20 minutes down a canyon.  On the way to the waterfalls, we stopped by a vendor that had huge snake you could take a picture with.  I hate snakes (as most of you know), but Lynn was brave and put the snake around her neck.  You go girl!

Lynn being brave

As we trekked down the canyon for 20 minutes, we knew it was going to be a bear to trek back up.   But the view from the bottom was definitely worth it.  The waterfall gushes down a 240 foot wall and is very surreal to visit.

Gushing waterfall

We ended the day by having a wonderful dinner, Skyped with our boys at college and both had a massage.  We stayed at this wonderful B&B called Casa Verde.  It cost us only $40 per night with breakfast included and it was in a wonderful setting.  Outside of our window were beautiful green mountains that allowed you to just relax and take it all in.  And the massage was incredible.  The massage therapist came to our B&B at 8:30 at night to do it — what great service!  And the massage was only $25 for an hour!

View from our B&B window

To see a slide show of pictures for our Banos trip, click here.

So our next adventure is moving south to Cuenca, Ecuador.  We plan to enroll in a Spanish immersion school where we will take Spanish classes 5 days a week for 4 hours a day.  We will probably stay there for 4 weeks so that we can improve our Spanish.  Hasta Luego!

1500 Chickens on a Speed Boat

We enjoyed our 8 days of sailing around the Galapagos Islands so much that we decided to stick around for another week.  So we cancelled our flight back to Quito and decided to explore two more islands, Santa Cruz and San Cristobal.

Santa Cruz

We started our trip in Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz.  This is a port town that offers a cool harbor, the Darwin Research Center, Lava Tunnels, and a pristine beach named Tortuga Bay.

Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz

We visited the Darwin Research Center, it contains lots of huge land tortoises, birds, and iguanas. I caught two huge land tortoises in a bit of a tussle, notice the stink face the one tortoise is giving the other:

2 Land Tortoises going at it

After lots of urging, I convinced Lynn to go with me to the Lava Tunnels. Lava tunnels are created during volcanic lava flow — the outside of the lava cools and hardens faster than he internal flow of lava, creating a tunnel as the inside lava continues to flow out of the hardened outer core. As we entered the tunnel, Lynn was all smiles:

Lava Tunnels

As we entered the tunnel, it seemed like they were really tall and we had plenty of room to walk through them.

Lava Tunnel

However, after walking through it for a few minutes, we found that we had to body crawl Marine style to get under some of the points of the tunnel. To make it worse, we wore flip-flops — not the best choice for rocky areas of the tunnel. So I am still trying to live this down since I convinced Lynn to do it!

On the last day of our visit to Santa Cruz, we trekked to Tortuga Bay. It is about a 45 minute walk to a really pristine beach. The beach reminded me a lot of the beaches in Panama City Beach, but it did have sea lions — something we obviously do not have in Panama City.

Tortuga Bay

1500 Chickens on a Speed Boat – Ride to San Cristobal

We wanted to spend a few days on San Cristobal island, so we purchased a ticket on a speed boat for a 2 hour ride from Santa Cruz to San Cristobal.    We loaded up the boat with over a dozen passengers and started to pull off.  Then to our surprise, another boat pulled up beside us and began unloading his cargo into our boat.  As they started loading these crates, we started hearing incredibly loud chirping sounds.   They had loaded 1,500 baby chickens into our boat and they took the 2 hour ride with us!

  1,500 baby chickens made a very loud noise. click here to see the video.

San Cristobal is a sleepy port town, we took this opportunity to unwind and just enjoy a few days without tons of activities going on.

San Cristobal

They have several beaches on San Cristobal, but they are totally overun by sea lions. You can even see them on the town benches. It is illegal to harm the sea lions, so they get their run of the town.

Sea lions are king of the town

San Cristobal has an Interpretive Center that I think is more impressive than the Darwin Research Center. It does a really good job of explaining how the Galapagos Islands were created and what groups of people have inhabited the islands through the years. On our hike to the Interpretive Center, we stopped by a small beach. We saw this sea lion resting on a set of kiyaks, thought it was very interesting.

Lazy Sea Lion

We really enjoyed this week in the Galapagos. We are now off to Quito where we plan to take a day trip to Otavalo, a place where indiginous people put on a weekly market to sell their wares. After that, we plan to spend some time in Banos, Ecuador. Banos is a relaxing place with beautiful waterfalls, ziplining, and incredible massage therapy houses.

Cruising the Galapagos Islands

Stunning.  Surreal.  Natural.  Beautiful.  It is hard to articulate the beauty of the Galapagos Islands, it is really a gem of a place like no other.  We took an 8 day cruise on a 16 passenger yacht around the northern Galapagos Islands.  This trip took us to 5 islands filled with all kinds of wildlife. We saw crabs, lobster, many birds (boobies, Darwin finches, frigate birds, and more), sea lions, sharks, dolphins, whales, huge land tortoises, sea turtles, marine iguanas and land iguanas.

For those of you cracking up – yep I said boobies.  Red footed, blue footed and nasca boobies, birds that take to the air. I am now officially a boobies man!

If you wish to see a photo slide show of our Galapagos trip, click here.

When we boarded the yacht, the first thing I noticed was a different type of bird flying overhead. It had a 6 foot wing span, crooked beak, and scissor tale — it was a frigate bird. I knew right then we were going to see many species of animals we had never seen before.

Frigate birds

We spent our first day at a nice beach surrounded with crabs and all kinds of birds and sea lions.  We snorkeled twice and took hikes.  We got to know the crew and other passengers on the boat.  Many were from Switzerland and we had one other American and a couple from Canada.  Great group of people — young travelers really enjoying themselves.  There was even a couple with a one year old girl — she was the sweetest little girl you could imagine.

Our first beach stop

Being on the yacht was really cool.  The cook was amazing, I don’t think we ever ate the same thing twice and the food was delicious.  Each day we had a full schedule, starting at 7 a.m. breakfast, followed by snorkling, hikes, and time to play cards and enjoy the other passengers.  We traveled to a new island each night so each morning when we woke up, we saw new and exciting surroundings — and the landscapes were awesome.

On day 2, we sailed to a crater style island and had some really great snorkeling. We saw lots of fish, sea lions, and a few sharks. We capped off the day with a beautiful sunset.

End of day 2

The next day of snorkeling brought us face to face with sea turtles and marine iguanas. I never knew iguanas could swim. Only on Galapagos — they use their tail to navigate the sea. They munch on the sea algae, just as the sea turtles do.

When snorkeling, I captured on video one of many sea turtles that we saw: click here to see the video.

Sea Turtle

Marine Iguana

We also saw the famous land tortoises. They are huge. Really big.  We even happened upon a sea turtle getting ready to lay eggs.  This is unusual for this time of year, the guide said he had never seen them do it before.  So it was pretty special.  It takes about 5 hours for them to dig a hole with their hind legs, lay the eggs, then cover them up with soil.  Very cool.

Land Tortoise

Land Tortoise laying eggs

During our trip, we saw beautiful landscapes everyday. We took over 1,000 pictures, these are just a few that don’t even do it justice.

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

Galapagos Landscapes

We saw lots of sea lions while in the Galapagos. They are very curious animals, they want to come up to you and play.

Check out this video of a cute sea lion we saw: click here to see the video.

Sea lions

Sea lions

Sea lions

Sea lions

On the last day of our trip, we came upon 2 alpha male sea lions fighting.  This is not seen very often.  I took a video of it: click here to view the video.

We loved the Galapagos so much, we have decided to stay another week and go to a couple of more islands. If you wish to see a photo slide show of our Galapagos trip, click here

Visiting the Capital City of Ecuador (Quito)

On our way to the Galapagos Islands, we stayed a few days in Ecuador’s capital, Quito.  Quito is a highland area, its elevation is 9,350 feet.  Even though we lived in Denver, Colorado for 14 years (5,280 feet), we found ourselves getting tired quickly and experiencing headaches.   But we did not let that detour us from getting out and exploring the city.

We booked a city tour, which was about a 6 hour tour that showed all the highlights of Quito.  If you visit, I suggest you do the same, as Quito is a very large city — spans almost 30 miles and has 1.5 million residents.    Quito is an old city and certainly shows it’s age.  It has some beautiful Spanish architecture, but like many large cities, it has become dirty and sports a lot of graffiti.   But we certainly enjoyed our short stay here.

If you wish to see a photo slide show of our Quito trip, click here.

Notice the high elevation

We started our tour visiting the statue of the Virgin Mary. She has a dragon at her feet and is said to protect the city from volcanoes. Quito is built around a volcano — so I can see why they needed this protection!

The Virgin Mary

We then traveled to La Rhonda, the first area of land settled in Quito. La Rhonda is supposed to mean “walk around”, as many people who lived here in the early days liked to take walks after eating.

La Rhonda

Quito has many churches and beautiful plazas. Most of the population is Catholic.

Catholic Church

La Plaza Grande (Independence Plaza)

It was also very cool to see some of the indigenous people walking around in their best dress. Everyone in Quito was very friendly. Lynn and I are beginners in the Spanish language but was surprised at how well we managed to ask for directions, order food, and make small talk.

The Virgin Mary

We also visited the stunning Basilica del Voto Nacional, this is a very large church, built in a Gothic style. We were able to go into the church and climb stairs up to the top of the towers where it afforded us an incredible view of the city.

Basilica del Voto Nacional

View from the top

We ended our tour by visiting the center of the earth. Quito Ecuador is located at the very center of the earth (0 degrees longitude). They showed us some cool events that happen.

If you pour water into a sink while sitting on the center, it flows directly down without any swirling. If you step a few feet to the Northern hemisphere, the water drains with a counter-clockwise swirl. Step a few feet into the Southern hemisphere, the water drains with a clockwise swirl. I was shocked that it happened right in front of us!

The Center of the Earth

Next we will be traveling to the Galapagos Islands.   If you wish to see a photo slide show of our Quito trip, click here