COME TO ECUADOR CHRONICLES OF A TRAVELER By: Steve León My wife and kids are so humbled to have had the opportunity to spend two weeks in the Pachamama. Come and explore the cities, the land, the amazing food, and the beautiful people. You will fall in love with Ecuador. We did! Guayaquil We landed in Guayaquil in an award-winning airport. Impressive! We went to the top of El Faro and Las Peñas. We strolled down the Malecón 2000. We saw so many iguanas at the Iguana Park. That warm weather of the coast felt so good! Eating grilled chicken with yucca -a kind of sweet potato-, tasting the unmissable encebollado –fish soup with onions- while enjoying a Pilsener, the traditional local beer, was part of the joy. Cuenca We rented a car and traveled without GPS. What a great way to engage the people. “Go a little further. Go straight. Go up the mountains. Just go and go for a little more!” We called it “Human GPS”. The roads are in excellent condition. Driving thru the fog, being chased by dogs, and passing cars while winding and turning through mountains, green forests, and miles of banana plantations, makes for a very exciting drive. Hey, it’s stick shift here. So, if you are not comfortable with “Real Driving”, take a bus or a van and let the locals do the driving for you! Driving in Ecuador is not for the faint hearted. Ruinas de Ingapirca We explored Cuenca, Las Casas National Park, Gualaceo, and Chordeleg. We spent three days traveling in this area visiting colonial churches, an old Inca site Ingapirca, took in volcanic waters, and bought handcrafted jewelry. We loved the rivers running through the city. Breathtaking! We found the Cuencanos –people of Cuenca- to be very helpful, slightly conservative, and very nice. My kids especially fell in love with the cheese empanadas with sugar! The fried trout, the most famous potato soup known as locro de papas, and freshly milled chocolate, is to die for. We stayed at Hotel Inca Real, a restored convent in downtown Cuenca. Excellent stay with exceptional food, and the service highlighted the great essence of locals. We left Cuenca for Ruins of Ingapirca, Riobamba, Baños, and Tumbaco. This drive just doesn’t get any better for mountain touring. Ingapirca is the best Incan/Cañari site in Ecuador and the guide was very good. We made it to San Andres, north of Riobamba. The high altitude slowed us down, so we chilled out and recharged our batteries. We took some electrolytes, drank canelazos –a hot alcoholic beverage traditional in the mountains-, and enjoyed the hotel. We stayed in La Andaluza Hotel, a beautiful setting right by the Chimborazo volcano. It was a clear day to see Chimborazo and El Altar. Amazing! Ruinas de Ingapirca The next day we left for Baños and we felt much better at the lower altitude. We bathed in volcanic waters and let those waters energize our souls. We finally arrived at Tumbaco and made it our home base to visit Quito, Cayambe, Otavalo and Peguche. Old Town Quito We stayed at our cousin’s home. It was excellent family time. Thank you Wilson, Paulina, and Kiara, you rock! We had a beautiful barbecue and red wine with family and friends. Cayambe and Otavalo are full of culture. Peguche was a treat, spending time at the waterfall and having lunch with the locals made it a unique visit. We toured Quito´s Old Town, saw volcanoes, and visited many churches. We ate really good fritada – fried pork with accompaniments-, chicken soup and biscuits with milk cream. And we drank chicha –traditional drink made of fermented corn- with the locals as they played Andean music. That was cool! Baños Probably our most favourite time was in Santo Domingo at Kashama Eco Lodge, great service and a very cool room. Spent the day in waterfalls and hiking in the forests. The kids loved this hotel. We also visited a plantain plantation. My 10-year-old cousin climbed a papaya tree and dropped down the best tasting papaya ever. Thank you Tomas! We also visited the Tsachilas and were able to visit with the ex governor Nicanor Calazacón. We ate traditional coconut shrimp and enjoyed freshly picked pineapples. It was delicious! Otavalo Oh, the bread, the cheeses, the empanadas, the humitas, the maduros, the coffee, the freshly squeezed juices… Don’t get me started on food, that will take another article! Chimborazo Well, we made it safely back to Guayaquil through the heartlands of the agricultural flatlands and now we are on a plane heading home. The hotels were amazing, the Pachamama is so diverse, the food was so delicious, and the people so interesting. No matter where we went, everyone wanted to help and guide us. It felt like we were visiting one big family. Come to Ecuador! Breathe it in, open your eyes, your heart and be amazed. We had a trip of a lifetime and we will never forget this beautiful country.