Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Riding the Rolling Green Hills of the Ecuador Highlands

We left Quito by Taxis Lagos for Otavalo - a far better option than having to take a taxi to the northern bus station and then a bus because it provides door to door service for the very reasonable fee of $8 per passenger plus $2 a bag, particuarly since I am only 5 days out of a hip operation.

Mountains near Quito

But it is still no panacea. It turned up a bit late and proceeded to drive all over Quito's gridlock picking up passengers until there was no room to move. Overshadowing us everywhere we drove were the tall green hills of the tropical Andes.

Quito ascending to the green hills

The Andes in Ecuador are perched right on the equator, so what can appear as just rolling green hills can be very high mountains and the road crossing valleys can snake around on a simply vast scale. For example a couple of hills near Otavalo, where we are now staying are nearly 5,000 m high or over 16,000 feet.

A view of the hills above Quito as we left for Otavalo

When we finally got going we cut off at a wild pace trying to overtake everything in sight, which is difficult on the Pan-American because it is full of heavily-laden fuel tankers. Actually the driver was careful although impatient The strata - hills, valleys and table lands are on imply huge scale you can only appreciate by seeing them.

In this season some of the views are absolutely verdant.

The route turned off the Pan-American to a short-cut by Lago San Pablo.

Even the huge volcanoes further south in Ecuador, such as recently erupting 16,000 foot Tungurahua or throat of fire are shaded with tropical green, although in some seasons they may become snow capped.

Banos, which we missed, because of my operation for the broken hip, is nestled between green hills below the throat of fire. The eruption has scared off most of the tourists, so the tourist trade is currently struggling to stay alive, according to a girl we met in Otavalo, because the tourists have been frightened by the news reports even though the volcano has died down again, just as led to the Banos 'rebellion' in the compulsory evacuation of 1999 (see earlier blog) when they led tourists back despite warnings from vulcanologists. Certainly the backpacker we booked with was absolutely insistent all was fine in Banos although the mountain was rumbling above.

Dec 2010 Tungurahua has just re-erupted. When we were there it had been erupting but had settled down somewhat in the week before we arrived.

Tungurahua re-erupting from the high country, with Banos glowing below.
Banos is one of the towns being evacuated. In 1999, its 15,000 inhabitants
were forced to evacuate when the Tungurahua had its last major eruption.
Residents were not able to return to their homes for a year.

We had planned to make a loop from Quito over the Andes to Tena and then south to Puyo ( both small muddy Amazonian towns with some nature walks and river views) before heading west to Banos and back up to Quito in the highlands via Ambato. Here are a few images of these places from the internet, so you can see the contrasts.

Views of the mountains on the road over to Tena

The Amazon basin near Tena

A view of the throat of fire from near Puyo

Banos church

Banos does have a variety of tourist diversions, from the quaint thermal mineral baths to nature and mountain walks and the volcano itself.

We are let out of our shared taxi at Otavalo

Finally we are released from our confinement in Otavalo where we have had a delightful stay to recuperate which will be the subject of the next blog.

Here is the green mountain looking over Otavalo from the rooftop of our Hostel.


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