We arrived late into Quito and took a cab to our hostel, where we found the internet was out, but would be fixed “tomorrow”, we could only eat food on the terrace that we bought at the hostel, we weren’t allowed to drink any outside alcohol, and we had to pay to exchange books in the book exchange.
Our first day in Quito we had a goal of setting up a tour into the jungle. We started the day off right with granola and housemade yogurt and kombuchu at a Hare Krishna restaurant nearby in Old Town, and then walked up through Parque Ejido and Parque Alameda to New Town to find tour agencies that were recommended in our book.
We decided to book a trip to the Nicky Lodge through Dracaena Tours. From what we could tell from talking to a few tour agencies, all the trips into the Cuyabeno reserve do nearly the exact same thing (a walk in the jungle, bird watching from a tower, visit a local community, visit the parakeet salt lick…) and the difference is how fancy the lodge is, and where the lodge is. Nicky had the advantage of being in a different location from all the other lodges on a little lagoon on the river, rather than on the lake, so we went with it.
In the afternoon, we wandered around Old Town, and then spent a while sitting on the terrace at our hostel, where the internet was out, but would be fixed “tomorrow”.
The next day was Sunday, and the streets of Old Town were closed to cars until the afternoon, so we headed back out to wander and see the sights. I found Old Town to be quite lovely. The building facades have a very European look, but much more Northern European than Spanish. We had a great lunch of fried Corvina (fish) at the market, with naranjilla juice, and bought a guabo, a kind of large beanpod with a sweet fruit surrounding the seeds. It ended up being the only thing stolen from us in South America as a homeless man, to whom I was contemplating giving the rest, ripped it out of my hand as he walked by us. Other highlights included the main square, the incredibly ornate and gilded Church of the Company (no pictures allowed), the convent of San Francisco where we saw an interesting procession that we couldn’t tell if it was serious or satyrical, and the votive church.
We had an overnight bus that night out toward the jungle, but had dinner and passed the time at the hostel until then. We arrived in Lago Agrio after a rough night of winding roads around 5:30 a.m. Around 10 we headed in a van with our group down the road for a two hour ride to the Rio Aguarico to catch a boat. Along the drive I saw a monkey and a couple of toucans. Then it was a supremely uncomfortable three hour boat trip down the Aguarico and up the Cuyabeno to the Nicky Lodge. Some of us celebrated our arrival with a swim in the river. The lodge is really a set of palapas on stilts with various levels of open walls and screens, so there’s not a lot separating one from all the exciting creatures of the jungle. Our first evening, we got even closer with a night walk before dinner.
The next morning we had a pre-breakfast birdwatching trip in the little lagoon by the lodge, but the real excitement was Liana, the semi-domesticated monkey who lives on the little island in the lagoon, who joined our boat. After a meager breakfast we took a walk through the jungle with our guide Jacob. Along the way we saw interesting insect and amphibians, but not much in the way of birds or mammals. We did eat some of the offerings of the rain forest, and at one point I realized all I had eaten that day was a pancake, a few slices of bread, some lemon ants and half a coconut grub.
After lunch and a siesta we went out piranha fishing. It is incredibly hard to catch piranhas. We put pieces of raw beef on the hooks and then, because their mouths are so small, you essentially have to spear them on the hook by jerking the pole at the right time. And they can nibble off all the meat in a matter of seconds. Our group only caught three in the 45 minutes or so we spent fishing. We then went downstream to find freshwater dolphins, which we saw but couldn’t get close enough to swim with.
The next morning we went further afield for our bird watching. Again, monkeys were the main event and we saw four different varieties, but we also saw a sloth and many macaws from a distance. Plus, we saw a boat named Super Obama, which was pretty cool. After breakfast we headed downstream, past more monkeys and up the Rio Aguarico to house of our boat driver. We saw his family’s banana, coffee, and cacao farm, and his wife showed us how to make pan de yuca, a flat bread made only of shredded yuca (cassava). In the evening, some of us took another night walk.
In the morning we again went out birdwatching and went to the salt lick of the parakeets, which was mud patch with certain minerals the parakeets need and was covered with the small birds. We also saw dolphins tossing fish to each other. Then it was time for the long boat ride back to the van back to the town, where we caught a seven hour bus back to Quito. It wasn’t a great jungle trip, as far as things go. Doing most things from a boat in the river just makes it too hard to see birds well. But I’m really glad we went and had a great time.
Back in Quito, we arrived to the internet still out at our hostel, due to be fixed “tomorrow”. The next morning we headed back up into New Town to buy our bus tickets to Colombia, had lunch at the market, and then took a cab to the far north of the city where the Carcelén bus terminal has the buses to Otavalo a town with one of the biggest craft markets in South America.
We got up early the next morning to head to the animal market where livestock were on sale. Then we spent a few hours wandering the market, which spread over most of the town. The guy at our hostel in Quito had told us to go to the market on Friday, rather than Saturday, as prices are lower and there are still plenty of stalls in the square. If all you want is the cheapest prices, that may be fine, but the Saturday market isn’t just a tourist market, it’s the local market. So if you care about having an interesting cultural experience, definitely come on Saturday. In the afternoon we took a hike to a nearby waterfall.
The next day we had an excursion to hike Fuya-Fuya, a mountain about 40 minutes from town. The hike with straight up the mountain on a slippery trail, as it had rained the previous night, gaining 500 meters in less than two kilometers. As we and our group huffed and puffed our way up the slope, our guide would scramble ahead and then sit and play his Andean flute while he waited for us. When we reached the top we learned that fuyo is Quechua for fog and we were again, as at Machu Picchu mountain, totally fogged in. I suppose that’s what we get for climbing a mountain named “Foggy-Foggy”.
Our final day in Ecuador we didn’t have much to do as the things we had thought about turned out to be closed on Monday. So we went and hung out in a coffee shop in Otavalo, and then caught a bus to Quito and hung out for a few hours in the Mariscal before catching our overnight bus up to Colombia.