Part IX - Ecuador - Indigenous Markets, River Rafting, Atacames Beach and the Petrified Forest of Puyango

If there is one thing I never tire of while I am here, it is visiting the local indigenous markets in Ecuador.

This month, I visited two more markets. First, the Sunday market in Cayambe with my friends Faramarz and Sarah. Second, the Saquisili market (pronounced "Sah-kee-see-lee"), one of the largest traditional markets in Ecuador, with my Swiss friend Fredrik.

We enjoyed a promenade through the usual abundance of food kiosks (vegetables, fruits, grains, and raw meat), clothing, kitchenware (including wooden spoons that are almost as tall as me!), and artisana / souvenir stands. Still, I was happy to make some new discoveries ;

The Toeche & Agua Blanco rivers near Santo Domingo were at an all-time low, which makes for a ride that is a little less interesting/dangerous... depending on your perspective! Still, our guides easily found other ways of keeping us entertained and challenged... this included a soak under a waterfall, a 5 meter jump off a cliff (Yikes!), pushing me off the boat into calm waters (several times), encouraging me (successfully) to swim into only semi-dangerous rapids, then sitting rodeo-style on the front of our air-filled raft while the raft scarily plunged into holes and towards rocks.

All in all, this taste of the river wilds left me wanting more. Anyone keen on facing the Ottawa River (in Canada) with me this fall?!

Hidden in the far north end of Ecuador, near the town of El Angel, in the province of Charchi, at an altitude of 3500 meters above sea level and near the columbian border, lies Ecuador's best kept natural secret. Forests of Frailejones Plants (tall plants that look like a cross between cactus, palm trees, and bunny rabbits ears -- really!) and Polylepis Trees, both of which are up to hundreds of years old, create a surreal, almost magical and fairytale landscape. The furry bunny ear-shaped leaves of the Frailejones collect condensation from the cold highland winds and rains, and help to prevent landslides.

Staying for two days in the very cold but beautiful rustic cabins of the Polylepis Lodge (, newly opened less than 1 yr ago), we enjoyed three delicious meals a day (lots of hot soup and hot drinks), accomodations in a cabin with private bath, extra llama wool blankets (I used 3 extra blankets I think), and all the firewood we needed for US$50/day/pp + US$25/for the transportation from the city Ibarra for two pple. Worth every penny for the enthusiasm of owner/guide Fernando and the uniqueness of these plants.

Most people who come to visit Ecuador are unaware of this part of its natural biodiversity. If you have a chance to visit... this should definitely be on your "must see" list.

My Ecuadorian friend, Cecy, invited me to share her vacation with her... so we headed off to her family's vacation cottage, where her brother permanently lives to maintain it (and keep the burglars out). It was a beaut of a place... tons of plants and a nice private outdoor swimming pool.

After listening to Cecy, her brother, and their friends, sing Rancheros (Mexican), Bachatas, Baladas and Pasillos (all kinds of latin music)... we decided to take a stroll around Santo Domingo's downtown and near the Bomboli Church, located at the top of a hill right next to several large media antennaes (made for interesting pics).

The next day, we headed off to the "party crazy" beach town of Atacames, which definitely lived up to its name. After a messy seafood lunch, a refreshing coconut drink, enjoying the cotton-puff but juicy fruit of the guaba, a dip in the warm ocean (and hotel's pool), we napped for three hours and got up at 11pm just in time for dinner and a little partying! We walked for 30 minutes to find a decent establishment and ended up in a little side of the road kiosk, who was playing music videos. Chatting it up, of course, with the bartenders (we were both relieved to find friendly non-aggressive ecuadorians to talk to), we ended up talking, singing, watching music videos, drinking energy drinks mixed with rum, and dancing all night.

Somehow, after getting to bed at 4am, we managed to wake up both at 7am (don't ask, we don't get it either). Anyway, the next day, after a refreshing watermelon drink, we talked some other locals into teaching us the local traditional dance, the Marimba. Since typically no one that goes to Atacames asks them about the dance, they were happy and proud to show us all the moves. What a great cultural lesson!

Travelling from the northwest end of Ecuador to the southwest end (in less than 12 hours!), my next destination was Puyango, the Petrified Forest. As the world's largest petrified forest, Puyango's 120 million year old trees were enveloped in the lava from a nearby volcanic eruption. For those millions of years, the trees, which did not have access to oxygen to decay (due to the enveloping lava), became fossilized and turned to stone.

Along the way back to the main road from the forest, I passed several colourful birds, a fox (!!), and even almost stepped on a foot and a half long snake (that hissed at me!).

See below for pictures of our adventures in the indigenous marketing, river rafting, trekking in the northern paramo, and the petrified forest (106 pictures):

Last week, I finished my volunteer terms with the three organization I was working with; Spanish School La Lengua, South American Explorers Club and Yachana Gourmet Chocolate Products. It was a great experience to develop my understanding of the tourism and export/import industries.

With three weeks left in South America (one week in Ecuador and two weeks more in Peru), I am crossing off the last few "must visit" trips on my list before I head back home! That includes a jungle trip to visit community development projects in Ecuador, as well as the Inca Trail & Machu Pichu, Nasca Lines, and Colonial Cuzco in Peru.