Termas de Papallacta

Quito is always bustling with people, but an hour and a half away by bus exists a mountainous national park with natural hot springs. This place is called Papallacta. I went yesterday, and it made for an excellent day trip.

The location is very close to Quito, but due to curvy roads and maintenance, it isn’t a super short ride. However, that’s not important because the views of the mountains from the bus ride were incredible. We got dropped off in the town of Papallacta and then took a taxi up to the hot springs.

View from the bus

View from the bus

The hot springs are within a large complex with a spa, cabins, restaurants and more. This appeared to be a place were wealthy Ecuadorians and tourists go, based upon how well maintained the facility was and the entrance cost ($8). There are tons of pools that form quite a large space. Some are very hot, others are warm, and some are very cold. I liked switching between the hot and cold pools. There were also showers that consisted of the water from the pools going through a pipe, which I thought was kind of funny.

One section of pools in the complex

One section of pools in the complex

The hot springs aren’t the only attraction. There is a lot of wildlife present, since a national park is nearby. I saw many birds and flowers among the mountain views. I would have liked to hike in the park, but the weather decided not to cooperate. Instead, we got lunch and then headed back to Quito.

These flowers were everywhere

These flowers were everywhere

Three buses, two boats, and a plane: An Amazonian Adventure

I had the special opportunity to venture deep into the Ecuadorian Amazon to Tiputini Biodiversity Station, a research station operated by my host university (USFQ). Yasuni National Park, where the station is located, may be the most biodiverse place on the planet. It is so remote that we had to take a 30 minute flight from Quito to Coca, then a 1.5 hour boat ride down the Napo River, a 1.5 hour bus ride through an oil facility and indigenous communities, and then a final 2 hour boat ride down the Tiputini River. The scenery kept getting better as we got deeper into the jungle.

One of the boats

One of the boats

View from the entrance of the station

View from the entrance of the station

After getting pelted by rain during the final boat ride, we arrived excited (but wet) at the station. I was surprised at how sophisticated the station was. It is amazing that they are able to run a facility like that in such a remote place. There is a dining hall, a lab, a library, and cabins. All have electricity (albeit only for certain hours of the day) and running water that is drinkable.

The dining hall

The dining hall

The physical features are marked by the Tiputini River, a small lake, lots of hiking paths, and salt licks where animals gather. Two of the more unique and special features are a platform and staircase in the canopy of one of the largest trees, and bridges that are situated above the forest with platforms in smaller trees. We had the chance to visit both places, observe the wildlife that lives in the canopy, and have a fantastic view of the forest. A large portion of the time was spent hiking with guides. We even went on a night hike with headlamps, and took a canoe on the lake. One day we woke up very early to see a sunrise from the platform. That was one of the most amazing views I have ever seen.

A view from high up in a tree

A view from high up in a tree

The majority of the wildlife I saw consisted of plants, insects and spiders. Never have I seen so many different kinds of unique plants and insects. Word of warning: if you don’t like spiders, don’t go to Tiputini! I enjoyed seeing all of the different kinds of spiders, but I’m sure some people wouldn’t enjoy that.  I also saw three types of monkeys: wooly monkeys, howler monkeys, and the rare pigmy monkey. The birds I saw consisted of curassows, toucans, a heron-type bird and many smaller birds. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see many amphibians or reptiles, which I heard is common on a two day stay.

An interesting black and yellow spider

An interesting black and yellow spider

The climate: hot and very humid during the afternoons where it didn’t rain. When it rained, the temperature was actually quite nice. It was so humid one afternoon that I was dripping sweat, despite not physically exerting myself. For this reason, they recommend putting electronics in a bag of rice or in special “dry boxes” that they have at the station.

How can I best describe the experience? It was like summer camp or outdoor school but 100x better. We had down time where we played cards, hung out, and ate together like at camp. However, we weren’t just in any location, we were in the real Amazon Jungle, where we got to see an almost untouched forest, and incredible wildlife.

Next stop: Galapagos!

The Ecuadorian Coast

Last weekend, I had the chance to venture to another region of Ecuador for the first time: the coast. So far I have only been in the mountain highlands (la sierra). While the bus ride was long, I was able to spend time with friends, accomplish a little bit of reading for my classes, and see the views out the window. The scenery changed from the sierra to subtropical cloud forest (like Mindo) to lots of land in the “coast region” but not at the coast itself. We stopped for dinner along the way at a little place that must accommodate travelers. Afterwards there were lots of fruit, palm, and other tropical farms. Since we could only take the bus to Bahia (due to all of the direct buses to Canoa being full), we thought about spending the night there but were able to get a taxi for cheap to Canoa.

The town of Canoa is small beach town that appears to run mostly on tourism and a little bit of fishing. During the day, I could see small fishing boats with motors attached going out directly from the beach through the surf.  Canoa was very popular among Ecuadorian tourists and foreign tourists alike (especially because it was a holiday weekend in Ecuador). The beach isn’t particularly large, but is very nice and clean.

There were SO many restaurants in the town, serving great food. On Friday, I had seafood for three meals of the day: fried fish and plantain for breakfast (a traditional coastal breakfast), ceviche for lunch, and rice with clams for dinner. On Saturday I had a wonderful spaghetti with calamari and octopus. It was very nice eating different food than the kind of food that is always present in the sierra.

Surfing is very popular in Canoa because the water is warm and the waves are great. I can certainly attest to the water being the perfect temperature, warmer than Hawaii even. Many of my friends decided to take surfing lessons, while I opted to boogie board instead.

Boogie boarding

Boogie boarding

One more interesting sights was the abundance of beautiful seashells. In Oregon, there are usually only a few types that are nice but nothing spectacular. Here there were so many different types, including conch shells.

Some shells that others found

Some shells that others found

I’m glad that I had the chance to visit the coast. It is yet another Ecuador. Note, the photos used in this entry were taken by my friend Annalise because for some reason I didn’t end up taking any photos this trip.

Some Ecuadorian kids approached us with crabs that they wanted us to hold

Some Ecuadorian kids approached us with crabs that they wanted us to hold

An afternoon in Quito

For some reason, everyone decided to travel out of Quito this weekend for a long weekend, so I didn’t really have anything to do. There have been two afternoon things that I have wanted to do but haven’t found the time to do: visit the botanical garden in the park and go to a food market to try some new foods/buy different types of fruits. I decided that since I had the time and it never materialized with anyone else, I would go solo.

First I walked to the botanical garden. It is a nice setting for being in the middle of the city but there is still some noise from traffic. The garden is divided into multiple sections to represent different kinds of plants: la sierra (mountain highlands where Quito is located), the Amazon Rainforest, the cloud forest, cactus, orchids,  carnivorous plants, and edible plants (cultivated in Ecuador). I recognized some of the plants from the sierra, as I have seen them in Quito and Cumbaya. My favorite section was probably between the cactus and carnivorous plant sections. There was also a nice rose garden, but couldn’t really beat Portland’s.

Afterwards, I went to the Iñaquito market. The market was amazing but a bit overwhelming because there were so many vendor selling everything food related, including many selling the same types of vegetables. I ended up buying a mango, a type of fruit from cactus called tuna, and another type of fruit called pitahaya. If the international foodies group wants to cook sometime, we should all buy stuff at the market. All of the walking around made me really thirsty, so I bought some coconut juice from a juice stand. It was creamy, frothy, sweet, and refreshing.  I have also been wanting to try grilled banana stuffed with cheese, something I see a lot on the street. I found some on my way home and bought one. It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t particularly good either. I thought it was a bit over-charred.