Otovalo is famous in Ecuador for being a big market town. Our day trip from Quito included a stop at Cayambe to try a local specialty, bizcochos. The ones we sampled were like big cheese straws (ie delicious).
We actually visited two markets – the first was the animal market where there were cows, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs – and a lot of chooks. The second was the tourist market which had almost everything except live animals on sale. There were many beautiful blankets, rugs, ponchos, jumpers, and bags which were very tempting. What I thought most beautiful were the traditional embroidered blouse shops.
After the market and lunch we stopped in at the Cascadas De Peguche ( Penguche Waterfall ). It was great to go for an easy hike to the top of the waterfall. And strange as, like many areas that we’ve seen around Quito, there are eucalyptus trees everywhere. And an ‘Irish pub’.
Quito has a lot of museums. We recently picked up a map that identified 72 different locations – that’s a whole lot of culture. We’ve been to a couple so far but one of my favourites is the one we visited most recently – The Casa del Alabado Museum of Pre-Columbian Art. Located in a renovated colonial house, it has an amazing collection of art collated in themes, with information boards in Spanish and English. Entry includes an audio tour – not all items have audio information but enough to be useful. Fascinating and beautiful. I also discovered they also have an amazing website with detailed information about their collection. (Check out the Google Project on their website). And it’s in the same street as some piñata shops, which are pretty cool. I never realised there was such a thing as a piñata shop.
On Saturday we journeyed to Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano in Ecuador and a great day trip from Quito. Our minibus took about 90 minutes to get to the park entrance, where you can stop for ten minutes to help you acclimatise to the altitude. And where you can buy some extra layers if you haven’t worn enough clothes. It was 12 degrees in the car park but we’d seen the forecast the day before predicting minus 4 degrees at the summit, so we were prepared. We picked up our local guide as we entered the park. Our first stop was the visitor’s centre a little further along the entrance road, which had some information about the volcano, a garden with local flora and a great look out spot.
Plenty of mountains and volcanoes to see on the way
We passed through some interesting terrain on the way to our next stop, a starting point for the track to Refugio San José Ribas, the first level of climbing Cotopaxi. The volcano was shrouded in cloud, although we did get glimpses of the snow higher up the peak. Walking from the car park it took us around 45 minutes to reach the Refugio, at 4,864 metres above sea level. The volcanic terrain is bleak but fascinating. Our party included a seismologist in the midst of a PhD. Great, it must be safe… no, her research was showing that Ecuador is overdue for activity, and she was a bit nervous. Ummm… There are a number of tracks from the Refugio car park, one which heads directly and steeply up. Luckily our guide took us on the longer, winding track, which meant it was easier to stop to catch your breath and take a photo or two when the cloud cleared. By the time we reached the Refugio, it was starting to snow.
We used the fast track on the return leg – which took about 10 to 15 minutes.
After experiencing Refugio Paz de las aves, we headed back to Alambi Lodge. Jairo filled the bird feeders, we had breakfast and then we headed up the road to see what we could see.
The weather was fine, so we parked and walked for more bird spotting, including hiking up the road to the San Jose waterfall. We finished off our visit with a wonderful lunch of rainbow trout from one of the nearby farms before heading back to the city.
Typical Cock of the Rock nesting place
Rain had washed away some of the road and brought down trees
San Jose Waterfall
White necked Jacobin
Although I love walking in the country and admiring beautiful birds, I am not much of a birder. But staying for a night at Alambi and having many opportunities to see not only hummingbirds but many other species as well, coupled with Jairo’s enthusiam and knowledge, even had me remembering bird names and hoping we would see the species Jairo could hear calling in the forest. The Beryl Spangled Tanger was a particular favourite – what a great name. Also the Booted Racket tail – you should see the fluffy ‘boots’ of the male … oh no, what’s happening to me…
At 5.30am M, Jairo and I head off to the special bird hide at Refugio Paz de las Aves. It’s dark, and the road is wet. Jairo drives cautiously as there have been reports of landslides on the same road which heads back to Quito in the other direction – when there’s a lot of rainfall it’s a regular occurrence. At least it’s not raining now. After about 25 minutes we head up a boggy track and park in what seems like the middle of nowhere. We head down a narrow, steep and muddy track to the bird hide. As we head to the hide we can hear a loud racket – the male cock of the rock birds (Gallo de la Peña) are in their lek, the place they gather to carry on in an attempt to attract a female.
From time to time the birds are close enough that you can see them without binocs. They are such unique looking birds, it’s fantastic to see them in the wild. We also see Quetzals and a Trogon. We’re lucky that most of the time we have the hide to ourselves – only one other couple with fancy cameras and their guide are there for part of the morning. We get to meet the owner of the place, Angel Paz, aka the bird whisperer, an ex-logger who now realises the value of conservation. His neighbours still can’t believe that people pay money to come and see birds. On our drive out of the reserve we stop to admire a number of other birds easily seen on the property. A great way to start the morning and all before breakfast.
M and I have had a couple of days out of town to check out a nearby cloud forest area, at the base of the Tandayapa Valley. Thanks to a great story on Not Your Average American’s blog, M had identified Alambi Cloudforest as a great place to visit and possibly stay (out of a number on offer close to Quito). We were lucky enough to arrange our trip at a time when the manager of the place, Jairo, could also be our birding guide.
Jairo picked us up in Quito early in the morning and we headed off into the country. Even before we had left the city, Jairo slowed down at one point as he had seen some interesting bird – typical M behaviour. We were off to a good start. Our first stop was an area called Yunguilla, part of a community reserve, where we saw eighteen different bird types. We also said ‘hola’ to a few locals walking past, including one guy collecting grass for his guinea pigs and wondering what we were looking at.
Then it was on to Alambi lodge to have lunch and check out the view from the verandah. Alambi is well-known for the fab view from the lodge, as they have 10 or so bird feeders and a lush garden, which means easy and spectacular hummingbird (and others) viewing. During our stay various tour groups would come and go to also enjoy the view (and take trillions of photos). I didn’t expect the number and variety of birds that seemed to be there nearly all the time.
After a lovely lunch cooked by Jairo’s mum Olympia, we headed up the road for more wildlife viewing. While the morning had been dry, the afternoon was kind of soggy. There is a reason why the cloud forest is so lush – it rains a lot. We stopped in a couple of places but as the road was so boggy decided to turn back. Despite the rain we were lucky enough to see a female Cock of the Rock bringing a lizard to her chicks. All we could see of the chicks was an Albert Einstein-style shock of downy head feathers. This led to a discussion about the chances of seeing a male Cock of the Rock – like most other birds, it’s the male which is most spectacular. It was decided we would get up at 5 am the following morning to get to a bird hide known for being a great viewing place, Refugio Paz de la Aves. Excellent. So shortly after a lovely dinner, again cooked by Olympia and helped by one of her grandchildren, we headed to bed.
We thought we’d go for a weekend stroll in La Floresta – and hit the jackpot! This weekend is ‘La Madre de las Ferias’ (‘the mother of all fairs’ says google translate), a fact we stumbled on while having morning coffee and noticing an interesting map in the window showing the cafes, artists studios and shops in the area. La Floresta is celebrating 100 years (and mother’s day fairs seem to be a thing) and many of the businesses were promoting their wares, providing tastings and generally being welcoming. We bought some produce at El Salinerito, and I want to go back to Fui, which recycles bike tyres and billboards into really cool things. So many amazing walls to admire too.