Ecuador Begins

We move parallel to the border and are constantly enticed by wafting sulfur from the numerous nearby hot springs in and around the little town of Tofiño. We stop at a deserted ‘concrete pool’ resort-like setup in an extremely beautiful valley. We camp, soak, hike and soak many times and Vince and I think it’s pretty amusing when we hike past a survey marker showing we’re officially back in Colombia. Friendly military guys on the road back to town check our passports to make sure we are all legit.

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The source of the hot spring at Tufiño

We move south, winding our way through numerous green valleys dotted with lush farmland. I catch a glimpse of an enormous snow-capped mountain in the distance and am jumping about with excitement and eagerness. Over the next few days we camp on the shores of Yahuarcocha Lake after driving around the racetrack that circles it, then on a lookout high above Laguna San Pablo, a beautiful spot that Vince is very proud to find.

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Lush green hills of Ecuador

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Another impressive Ecuadorian mountain

We make a stop at Parque Nacional El Condor and wander around the impressive collection of eagles, owls, hawks, condors and other birds of prey. The mountainous backdrop when the keeper lets a couple of birds fly around is jaw-dropping and the sight of a condor fully extending it’s wings is hard to digest.

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Watching this guy eat dead mice was impressive

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Laguna Yahuarcocha, complete with racetrack

The city of Otavaldo hosts Ecuador’s biggest local market and we’re up early on Saturday morning to squeeze as much out of it as possible. We first make our way to the animal market on the edge of town, an amazing mix of people and every animal you can think of crammed into a tight space, with people and animals alike trying to make as much noise as possible. Deals are happening left and right with everything from chickens and guinea pigs to goats and donkeys being traded faster than I can keep up. I thoroughly enjoy sitting at a small local stall for breakfast where we strike up a conversation with some Colombians who have come to checkout the prices.

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The Land Rover of Vince and Marie into the mountains

We next wander down into the center of town to market central where almost every woman is wearing an extremely colorful traditional dress. Photos of people in Ecuador are a touchy subject, so my camera stays in my bag for the day. The market is so huge the stalls are overflowing out in all directions from the central square with half the streets in the city closed to traffic. There are clothes, trinkets, hats, blankets and more in all sorts of beautiful shapes, sizes and colors to admire. As is usual with these markets bargaining is the order of the day and before long the items on each table all start to blend together and look more or less identical. I’m happy to see that almost every item I look at clearly says “Made in Ecuador”, even if they are obviously made in bulk on machinery. The streets are packed and there is real excitement in the air. It’s obvious many people from outlying communities make the journey into town just for the market and they are having as much fun as I am, laughing and smiling in the warm sun.

After the excitement of the market we’re looking to get away a little and drive up to Lagunas de Mojanda, a huge lake sitting at 3,700 meters. The heavy Land Rover can’t climb a steep, muddy hill so I continue to explore the area on my own while Vince and Marie retreat to our camp site for the night, on the shore of a smaller lake in a beautiful valley.

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At 4000 meters above Laguna de Mojanda

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No idea how that mud got there

In the morning I push hard and hike to the summit of Fuya Fuya at 4,250 meters in only an hour and a half – a decision I strongly regret only an hour later. Back at the Jeep at around 3,700 I feel fine, but by the time I drive down into town I have a headache more intense than any I’ve experienced in my life. I seriously think about being sick and both Vince and Marie can’t believe how pale I am.
Aspirin is supposed to help by increasing circulation, so I drink a couple down and catch a short nap in front seat of the Jeep, making me feel about a thousand times better.
A few hours later I’ve almost forgotten all about it.
I’ll have to be careful next time I hike at high altitude.

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At the top of Fuya Fuya, somewhere above 4000 meters

To finish off our time around the beautiful Otavaldo region, we head up to Laguna Cuicocha in the Reserva Ecológica Citacachi-Cayapas. The guys at the entrance gate seem to change their price a few times before we pay $5 for all three of us to enter the park and camp for the night on a beautiful perch high above the lake. The lake sits in the crater of the inactive Volcán Cotacachi and in the morning we hike the 5 hour loop around the rim – an extremely beautiful walk that includes a huge variety of ecosystems and breathtaking views.

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Morning reflections in Laguna Cuicocha

Wow, this place is stunning! I can’t wait for whatever is next.


11 Responses

  1. Judy says:

    Hi Dan, Just thinking about you and hoping you are well and safe. I see you are still on your fantastic trip — I would love to see that condor stretching it’s wings. We saw them at the Grand Canyon but not up close. Enjoy those hot springs! Cheers, Judy from Nanaimo

    • Dan says:

      Hey Judy,
      Great to hear from you. I’m going great, still trekking along nicely.
      I couldn’t get a great photo of the condor, but I’m told further south I should be able to see them in the wild flying around. I’ll do my best to get a photo for you.
      I hope everything is great up there :)

  2. Luis Getter says:

    This is awesome Dan. I really wish we could see a few of these places together even though we do not even actually “know” you… in the meantime you are a great unofficial scouting party for us. Thanks :)

  3. O'Shea 12566 says:

    Dan- Glad to see your trip is going well!

  4. Mark says:

    Hey Dan, I’m finally up to date with your blog. It took a while but it’s been fun. I’ve read many a blog about very similar trips and I have to congratulate you mate… this one is the best I’ve come across by far.

    We’ve been scheming and planning and dreaming of doing the road trip to Argentina ever since we moved to Canada so I’m sure you know the impatience I’m feeling right now. Every month the savings account grows a little more and every day I check the classifieds for the perfect van. I came across your blog looking for Darien Gap shipping info, then I just had to start from the start. Just letting you know I’m along for the ride.

    Keep up the good work.



    PS: I have one suggestion for your blog – a full archive list instead of just the recent posts so we can get back to favourite posts easily or look up travel info etc. That would be handy.

    • Dan says:

      Hey Mark – great to have you along for the ride. I am glad to hear you like the blog and thanks for the awesome suggestion, I will make that happen next time I have good internet with my laptop.
      With regards to your trip – hell yeah man! go for it. A van is a very cool way to go for sure. The ability to sleep in the Jeep is the one major thing I would change if I had my time over. Make sure you keep the overall hight below the hight of the door on a standard shipping container (I think 2.35m) otherwise you will pay a fortune to ship it around the gap.
      Good luck man, I would love to hear when you set off!

  5. Rejeana in Alabama says:

    Love the picture of the eagle. In the picture of the cloud over the mountain, the cloud looks like an eagle in flight. Question: why is “photos of people in Ecuador” a touchy subject?

    • Dan says:

      I don´t know the answer to that question. I assume they find it a very personal thing and don´t want tourists going around taking photos of them all over the place. I will see if I can find out.

  6. Dear Dan,

    It’s really amazing! I wrote to you several months ago, after i saw Into The Wild and i found your blog, at that time you were in Canada. And now I visit again your blog and you’re in Ecuador!!! Congrats!!! Latin America is beautiful and magic, full of very kind people, you’ll see. Maybe you should read Che Guevara’s diaries when he traveled like you, but in the opposite direction. Ok, when you arrive to Santiago, I’ll invite you a beer! Good luck and enjoy Latin America!

    • Dan says:

      Hey Lore, great to hear from you again. I would love to read Che Guevara´s diaries, I am keeping my eye out for a copy whenever I swap books. Santiago sounds like a long way away, I have no idea when I will be there.
      Seeya then

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