Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah NP is a lovely park not far from Washington DC. We stayed at Big Meadows Lodge which was a great spot – we saw bears close to where we stayed, deer, and excellent views all along the Skyline Drive.IMG_5560IMG_5563

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Saraguro

From Cuenca we caught an Ejecutivo San Luis Bus (which seemed very new and included a screen, wifi, usb ports and a loo at the back – US$5 pp) with tix purchased beforehand at the Ejecutivo office at the station. If you need to catch a bus from Cuenca station, have some dimes ready, as on top of your ticket you also need to pay 10c to get a coupon to pass through the turnstile to get to the bus platform. Cuenca departure tax. The trip is mountainous and windy. We saw some amazing views of the mountains when the tops weren’t shrouded in mist. Definitely try and sit on the right if you can. If you’re prone to travel sickness, steel yourself for the last half an hour as you wind into Saraguro. We sat up the front and that helped. Also be prepared for the bus stopping to pick up locals and school kids travelling between towns.

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20170703_131511Saraguro is a town known for the strength of the local indigenous population’s culture, and their adherence to wearing traditional dress, including distinctive black and white ‘cow hide’ hats. The community is also known for its craft skills, particularly beaded necklaces. We enjoyed checking out the town and meeting some of its inhabitants. It was much colder than expected (the locals were complaining) so some proposed day trips out of town didn’t quite happen. We stayed at Achik Wasi Hostel, a community run place in a great location overlooking the town.

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Achik Wasi garden

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More from Cajas Park

At Llaviucu Lake there is a picturesque ruin. Our guide told us it was the site of a German Brewery that was established there before WWI. What a fab location. Now the only other buildings there are a lodge where you can stay (but you need your own linen and everything) and a  covered walkway on the far side of the lake, part of the Sendero Uku path around the lake. This is an easy walk around the lake once you traverse the narrow, pebbled road to get there.

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A walk in Cajas Parque

For this trip we travelled with Arutam Ecotours, meeting our transport and guide at a healthy 6 am to start the day. Parque Cajas is a large park, and our introduction was at one of the lower entrances, Llaviucu Lake. It’s only about 30 minutes from Cuenca central. With a guide we went to parts you might not otherwise see, but the walk around the lake would be easy enough to do by yourself. A great benefit (besides information about the birds, animals and location) was that with a guide we were let into the park a good 1.5 hours before it officially opened. One of my favourite trips for this hol.

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Quilotoa, Central Highlands

Visiting the Quilotoa crater from Black Sheep Inn was an easy 45 minute jeep ride. Once at Quilotoa the views were spectacular. We had been thinking we would walk to a neighbouring town Guayama, but decided on the day to take a good look round the crater instead. We walked part way round the ridge and then did the descent. It was pretty steep but the views were amazing.

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Black Sheep Inn, Central Highlands

Our first morning at the Inn was bright and clear – fantastic. We went for an amazing walk to the top of the ridge behind the Inn. Past the llamas, and a donkey, up some narrow goat tracks to reach the top. The outing was a bit more exciting than expected though. We had been warned that you need to take a ‘dog stick’ to scare off any           over-excited farm dogs that like barking at passing traffic. Unfortunately on top of the ridge we had a rather aggressive one, who turned out to be the leader of a pack of four – which had us waving our sticks and walking away in a determined manner – and kind of spoiled the ‘nice walk in the country’ ambience. But plenty of relaxing in lovely surroundings in the afternoon so it was easy to get back to a more ‘tranquilo’ state.

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Pichincha views, Quito

Waking up to a spectacularly clear day, we decided it was the day for a ride up the mountain in the Teleferico (cable car). We had glimpses of Cotopaxi on the way up, at around 10 am, and a clear view of the mountains to the north. At the top it was relatively tourist free, very tranquillo and beautiful. Three hours are recommended for a walk to the very top – so we aimed instead for a gentle amble on some of the trails closer to the Teleferico. Having been in Quito for a while now we didn’t find the altitude too limiting, although few people around us were puffing as they walked about. For extreme cases there is a handy oxygen bar in the main building next to the Teleferico arrival point.

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View down to Quito town
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Oxygen bar
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Chocho bush (lupins), Pichincha. The cooked beans are a local snack. 
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View to Ruku Pichincha
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Vocan Cayambe

 

Rumipamba, Quito

We took the opportunity to go on an excursion to an archeological site within the city of Quito, Rumipamba. The site is still being excavated and part of the park was closed due to ongoing work. As with many such sites, you can’t actually see the richness of the finds. The interpretive centre helps identify the importance of the area for the non-expert (ie me). We are talking finds from 1500 BC. There are some reconstructed huts that give the flavour of the kinds of dwellings found here centuries ago. But I wonder – why did the population keep on returning when volcanic eruptions kept destroying their villages?

The place has wonderful views of Quito, today very tranquillo: and we saw a few hummingbirds as well – one with a spectacularly long tail. (M says it was a black tailed trainbearer).