Into the Wild.. Mountains of Ecuador

After having spent the most amazing 3 weeks of traveling through Ecuador and Northern Peru I am finding myself back in Quito and I can only say that I completely fell in love with South America; everything around here is just unbelievably beautiful.

My first article is going to be about Part I of my adventures in Ecuador: my journey down the Andes (Quito-Baños-Cuenca-Vilcabamba).

I started my trip in Baños de Agua Santa, which is also called “Gateway to the Orient” as it is located just 60km away from the Rainforest. The climate is way more pleasant than in Quito counting 20 degrees in average.

After arriving in this cute little town which felt like spring, I was finding my way up into the sky to the Casa del Arbol, a tree house which is located 2.660 meters above sea level. From Baños (1.800m above sea level) you can reach the spot on top of the mountains by bus (1$ per person) or taxi (20$/4 persons) which will take approximately 30 minutes. For the sporty ones amongst us, it is also possible to hike up all the way to the famous tree house in about 2-3 hours. Once arrived up there, you have to pay an entrance fee of 1$.

My original plan was it to start hiking up there at 4am to be able to see a stunning sunrise but due to the decision of going crazy the night before I could not be bothered in the end – but I am pretty sure that early birds will have the most amazing views in the morning hours without being bugged by hundreds of tourists lining up to swing under the legendary Casa del Arbol!

Nevertheless, the view was totally worth the ruggedly way up in the bus crowded by people. Instead of a sunny, cloudless afternoon that I was expecting, a foggy sky was welcoming me. Still, this gloomy view had some thrilling mysterious ambience to offer and once I was able to finally see the volcano Tungurahua (5.000m above sea level) who gave its name to the province, the frustration was completely gone.

Another great but scary thing to do in Baños is Canyoning. Without any idea what this was even supposed to be, my friends talked me into doing it and since I am more the adventurous type of girl I told myself ‘why the hell not’. It turned out to be about abseiling waterfalls which literally meant walking down, the body horizontally in the waterfalls with some security equipment and a guide giving you signs meaning “Lean back!”, “Legs apart!” and “Jump!” which of course could only be misunderstood by me. While I was in the middle of abseiling my first waterfall, I thought the guide already wanted me to jump which made me turning around, crashing against some stones and in that very moment I did not see myself surviving this thing. Surprisingly I did. I even survived jumping off a waterfall (they told us it were 40 meters, I recon it was a bit less) at the end of the trip.
In hindsight, I was very proud and happy to have forced myself into doing this, even though there were seconds I was literally scared to death.

The hostel I was staying at is called Great Hostal Backpackers. It is a 5 minute walk to the center or the relaxing natural spas (very recommendable for chuchacky mornings), costs 8$ a night including a nice pancake breakfast, offers a big chill-out area, dorms with queen-size beds, comfortable hammocks and cool staff who go out to party with the guests (at least this is what we did, spending a crazy night in the “fiesta street” of Baños where some Latinos showed me how to dance Salsa). I can definitely recommend this place!

An aproximatly 6 hours night-drive brought me all the way down to Cuenca, which is the third-biggest town of Ecuador where you can inhale the air of some colonial history that you can also feel while wandering around the town. For many visitors and inhabitants Cuenca is the most beautiful town of Ecuador due to its handicrafts, the special atmosphere and architecture from colonial times.
In 1999, Cuenca was also declared as World Culture Heritage by UNESCO.

When I arrived in the historical town of Cuenca by the middle of the night, it was quite hard to find a place to stay; after hours of knock, knocking on heavens’ door I luckily found a bed and breakfast that opened up the doors for me.
Wherever your travels might take you – I definitely recommend you to always book something in advance once you know you will arrive at night time in an unknown place. Otherwise it might get a little scary.

The next day I met a magician who left me speechless performing lots of crazy card tricks. After showing us some of the main spots of Cuenca including the Old and New Cathedral at the Main Square and a really creepy but interesting house called “Prohibido Centro Cultural”, he invited me and an Argentinean friend for some beers at the restaurant of his parents before the pre-carnival session began. Please, google “Carneval – Ecuador” (maybe this is a great idea for a following article); what you are about to see is just hillarious and even though I was a favored victim, I am really happy my travels were overlapping with the carnival season without knowing it.
Generally what I have learned is that you have to trust the timing of your life and also that everything that happens is meant to happen. I guess this is the main attitude for a happy ever life.

The last Ecuatorian Andes adventure for the present took me to Vilcabamba, the so called hippie-town in the very south of Ecuador. Most of the People who come here once will stay forever since it is such a chilled place to be. Apparently especially for retirees from the US.

I stayed in the amazing Rumi Wilco Ecolodge where I already thought I had arrived in the middle of the jungle, living in wooden huts accompanied by beautiful insects such as big spiders and mosquitos which are against all believes high probably not transmit Malaria.

I spent my time in Vilcabamba with some Americans I met on a hike in Cajas National Park (incredibly beautiful, but take a beany with you, it is going to be cold up there!) one day before in Cuenca. Plus a French guy who was making amazing food all the time and who was going to be my travel buddy for the following two weeks (to be continued in another article) and a German guy who had the most entertaining horrornight stories to tell while sitting in the candle light of Palo Santo (addictively good smelling wood).

The real carnival fiesta was just about to start now, so we needed to buy heaps of foam and water to defend ourselves; the streets and all the life over those days is simply loco. It is like war but instead of blood everybody is wet and white. Kind of like Holi Festival but completely different. And the kids are your worst enemies since they are the most agressive ones.

– STORY TO BE CONTINUED IN MY NEXT ARTICLE –