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South America » Ecuador » North » Cotacachi
June 4th 2018
Published: June 15th 2018
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Colin is an annual visitorColin is an annual visitorColin is an annual visitor

Fun to have an epicureal evening out with Colin and friends here in Baños! Here we are in a sugar coma after devouring the most amazing oreo cheesecake.
Hola Amigos!

I was a bit lazy about taking photos this past month. Thanks to Colin and Michelle for letting me use some pics they took. There are more pictures than there is text, so scroll all the way to the bottom and click on "next" if you want to see them all.









Colin is a friend of a friend who has become a friend of mine...he comes to Ecuador every year to climb an Andean peak (or two) and occasionally he'll come and spend a few days in Baños as well. This time he was with his lovely wife, Lori and two of their friends. We went out for tapas at La Tasca and since there were 5 of us we ordered one of each thing on the menu. Delish!! After dinner, needing something sweet, we wandered across town to Leprechaun for coffee and pastries to die for! I seldom go into town after dark and it was fun to be out on the streets and glimpse Baños nightlife!









My retiree Spanish students decided to plan a vegan potluck for the
Vegan DinnerVegan DinnerVegan Dinner

The quality of the meal was only exceeded by that of the company. Lovely group of friends here.
last day of class. During the second-to-last class our tape-recorded conversation was devoted to the planning of the dinner, incorporating useful vocabulary and structures to determine when, where, and who would make what. We discussed interesting recipe ideas and determined that we would attempt to speak only Spanish at the dinner. The Community Language Learning technique has me standing behind each learner with my hands on their shoulders to give them confidence as they formulate their utterances. As we were planning we joked that at dinner they would have to feed me since I'd have my hands busy helping them converse.









Flo hosted the dinner in her beautiful new home and in the end I was able to sit down and enjoy most of the meal. We dined on a delicious variety of healthy vegan dishes, but as dinner wound down the conversation lapsed into English so I jumped up to keep the Spanish going. Even in this social setting my presence supporting each learner from behind helped communication flow. We all marvelled at that phenomenon and it reminded me why I love teaching with this method.



Happy Birthday Shana!Happy Birthday Shana!Happy Birthday Shana!

I arranged a small gathering of friends at Shana´s (wearing turquoise, far right). What began as cake and tea grew into a full blown pot luck. Friends who love to cook and eat!






Another group of friends (with some overlap) gathered to celebrate Shana's birthday. Our Quito friend Jean was able to attend as well as a French restaurant owner and his chef. Originally the idea was just to have carrot cake and tea, but this gang loves to eat and all are accustomed to bringing a dish. The chef brought huge platters of appetizers and a delicious time was had by all. The weekend before her birthday I also took Shana out for buffet brunch at the fanciest hotel in town (where I am teaching French to the owner's daughter and granddaughter). They gave us a table by the window with a view of the waterfall and surprised Shana with a group of singing waiters bearing a chocolate cake, candles and all! Nice to know folks in high places!









On my next trip up to Quito I zoomed around collecting donations for our secondhand shop, and then had the good fortune of spending a few final hours with dear sister/friend Tamara who had been in Ecuador for the previous year and a half doing earthquake relief work on
Shana's BirthdayShana's BirthdayShana's Birthday

Good friends (old and new) gathered to celebrate another year with Shana. We all rejoiced in one another's company.
the coast. As a volunteer for Fundación Poste Rojo mshe worked with hard-hit communities helping folks start up small businesses and cooperative endeavors, stimulating economic reactivation. By pure coincidence Tamara was flying out the same evening that my friend Michelle was due to arrive from San Diego, so before Mama T checked in for her night flight we shared a sumptuous sushi meal in the airport food court...some of the best Japanese food available in Quito!









Michelle's flight was delayed and then delayed again. I was grateful that I had asked the owners of the hostel to meet her at the airport so I could relax in bed while awaiting her arrival. This was Michelle's second visit to Ecuador - she first came down over 10 yrs ago when I was living on the coast. This time we worked out an itinerary to explore the mountains and the jungle. We had some wonderful adventures together -- when I travel with visitors it keeps me from getting jaded -- the breathtaking scenery and rich culture of this country remain stunning and remarkable each time I experience them again, especially seeing them through
Yoga on the EquatorYoga on the EquatorYoga on the Equator

Here's Michelle leaning over the equatorial divide near Cayambe.
someone else's eyes!









Here are the highlights from each day of our travel itinerary: Leaving the lush garden inn in the village beside the airport, we drove north via the newer equator monument at the base of Cayambe mountain and then lunched in Otavalo, famous for its huge handicraft market. Just by chance, we ran into my dear friend Marianne who lives on the coast but was in Otavalo on a buying trip for her Fair Trade Export business. We lunched together, then Michelle and I continued on to take a quick peek at Cotacachi before setting off to find our AirBnB house in Atuntaqui. I had misjudged how close (or not) they were to one another and we drove along back roads, asking folks along the way to help us out -- I call it "The Human Map" and it's how I best enjoy travel!











After settling into our lovely rental home we headed back to Cotacachi to meet up with Sue, another friend from the coast who had just moved up to the mountains. Cotacachi has a huge
Traditional EmbroideryTraditional EmbroideryTraditional Embroidery

We spent several hours in Zuleta visiting the various workshops and admiring the handiwork. This one was too pricey, but the artist let us take a foto!
number of North American Expats (thanks to massive publicity by a somewhat dubious organization called International Living). A lively foreigner community has grown up; lots of foodies who buy, sell and barter their creations at a weekly organic market. Cotacachi is known for its leather work so we searched for the perfect belt for Michelle before having dinner, then a visit to Sue's top floor apartment with great rooftop views!









The next morning we headed north, first visiting San Antonio (known for wood carving workshops) and then on and up to Zuleta (famous for embroidery). We continued north and west, winding our way through the medium-sized city of Ibarra and finding the right road to bring us to Urcuqui. For over a decade I'd been hearing about a former Peace Corps nurse who most recently opened a restaurant with her Ecuadorian husband. We found the place in time for lunch and managed to have short chat with Sarah. She envisioned this cafe as a nice hobby in retirement has turned into a booming business serving up to 100 lunches a day. Hosting yoga classes in the mornings and jazz at night,
Chachimbiro Hot SpringsChachimbiro Hot SpringsChachimbiro Hot Springs

Ahhh!!! Hot mineral water gushes forth, soothing sore muscles. Hacienda Chachimbiro is a favorite thermal spa 2 hrs north of Quito.
El Arbol de la Vida acts as a community center, filling a need in this new-ish University town - Yachay University was established less than five years ago by the Ecuadorian government as a cutting edge technological school.









From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to Hacienda Chachimbiro, one of my favorite Hot Spring Complexes! There was a large group of people there when we arrived (two busloads of Colombian health workers on a junket) but they were just finishing their visit and for the most part we had both the lower and the upper pools to ourselves. Ahhh!!! Heavenly! Poweful waterfall jets of hot hot water massage the shoulders and back, warm and cooler pools for swimming or relaxing, a sauna and steam room with stellar views of the valley below...all for $5 admission! It didn't start pouring down rain until right when we were ready to leave...soggy dash to the truck!









The next morning we checked out of our rental house and made our way to a volcanic lake called Cuicocha. It was a brilliantly sunny
Casa MojandaCasa MojandaCasa Mojanda

Gorgeous garden paths lead to cozy cabañas, complete with fireplaces!
morning, the perfect weather to join a boat tour out to the middle of the lake where we saw swaying algae patches over warm jets of water that seep up from the bottom...volcanic bubbling! After lunch in Otavalo (we loved the sandwich shop where we'd eaten with Marianne so we went back!) we checked into Casa Mojanda, an elegant mountainside inn owned by my dear friend Betti. Our gorgeous suite with fireplace offered stunning views from every window. We set off on hike to a nearby waterfall but I wimped out when the trail got steep and muddy and there was also a cow blocking the way. So we enjoyed a walk with the hotel dogs around the inn´s amazing gardens and then a sunset soak in the woodfire heated wooden barrel hot tub. Ahh! Totally relaxed for an exquisite gourmet dinner served fireside and then just pour me into bed!









The next morning we were served a huge multi-course breakfast followed by extended good-byes with Betti which meant we arrived a little bit later than planned to the Otavalo animal market. There were not too many large animals left but
Beaded BraceletBeaded BraceletBeaded Bracelet

At the Otavalo animal market we admired the women in traditional dress. Here Michelle is getting fitted with a fine strand of coral colored beads.
still plenty of activity with lots of indigenous vendors in their finest traditional dress. We asked two salesgals if we could take a picture. I offered 50 cents and they said, NO! They wanted 50 cents each so they could buy ice cream! I found some great woven cotton fabric for future curtains as well as a sumptuous braided rag rug made from the fleece trimmings leftover from a booming pajama trade! CiCi loves this cover on her cushy dog bed!









We continued on to Tucanopy where Michelle did a rainforest hike and zipline adventure while I loaded up the truck with things that Tamasine had left when she was a volunteer there. Since I know the owners of this Eco Reserve I was pleased to hear that they'd be joining us for dinner. What I didn't realize was that in honor of Mother's Day they had also invited about 20 more people (including lots of raucous kids). I did not have the energy for a big crowd but was hungry since we hadn't eaten lunch. So I waited for the lasagna to bubble and brown and in the woodfire oven
Posing for an Ice CreamPosing for an Ice CreamPosing for an Ice Cream

These two gals agreed to have their foto taken only if we'd give them each 50 cents (so they could buy an helado, they said).
and then snuck off to sleep almost immediately after eating!









After a yummy breakfast featuring homemade jam for the freshly baked bread, we made the short drive over to Mindo. We found adequate budget lodging at El Eden - we got two separate cabañas for $15 each. A bumpy unpaved drive across the river led us to the tarabita cable car which flies over a stunning, dramatic valley. On the far side of the gorge we set off on a hike to a waterfall but my knee was starting to really bother me (lots of driving, lots of shifting the past few days) so again I wimped out and Michelle continued on down to the falls. Afterwards, we stopped for a picnic breakfast at a hummingbird overlook and then wandered around the cute little town. A highlight for Michelle was the chocolate tour, complete with tasting.







Early start the next day to make the 5 hr drive all the way back to Baños, stopping several times along the way. The first stop was at Pululagua Crater, a collapsed caldera that now houses rich farmland.
Cascada Pailon del Diablo Cascada Pailon del Diablo Cascada Pailon del Diablo

Michelle and I hiked down to these amazing falls. No matter how many times I visit Pailon, this remarkable wonder never ceases to thrill me!
Then we stopped at Inti Ñan museum at Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World). This is my favorite of the equator museums as it has examples of houses and cultures from around the country. Our drive back south took us through Quito where we picked up Shana to give her a lift back to Baños.









When I first began planning with Michelle for her visit, I thought I'd have a guest room to offer her but in the interim I found a long-term renter for the front house so I gave her my small house at the back and I slept over at Shana's. We had some relaxing downtime in Baños, Michelle hanging in my rooftop hammock trying to finish up her huge book so she could leave it with me (she succeeded!) I took her around to my favorite viewpoints and gorges and we had some lovely meals out -- Baños has really varied cuisine since it's such a tourist hub. We soaked in the hot springs, walked with the dogs and had a generally low-key time in Baños.









After
Two MichellesTwo MichellesTwo Michelles

Our 14 yr old tour guide at the CERFA Orchid Gardens, Mishel, was Michelle's "tocaya" (they share the same name). Lovely young woman.
a couple days of R&R we were ready for more adventure so we head down towards the Amazon Basin along the Ruta de las Cascadas (the Waterfall Route). It had been raining quite a bit and the Agoyan Dam had two of its three floodgates open so the rivers and the falls were crashing down! When I'm around rushing water I can almost feel the ions smashing into each other releasing a special kind of exhilarating energy! Pailon del Diablo is the largest of the falls with accessible trails right to the rocks behind the falls themselves. We stopped to see the mosaic caverns just outside of Puyo...one of those places you'd never find unless you knew about it. I generally guess which of my visitors will especially appreciate this off-the-beaten trail quirky visit.









Arriving in Puyo we stopped at Casa de la Balsa and watched the carvers and painters working hard on an order for 10,000 birds to be sent to the US (Perhaps for Cost Plus or World Market??) We continued on to the Orchid Gardens, a beautiful walk through a reclaimed cow pasture that is now brimming with
Near MisahualliNear MisahualliNear Misahualli

A brief river excursion had us feeling as if we were dipping our toes into the Amazon Basin.
plant life, birdsong, wildlife. The founder and visionary's 14 year old granddaughter, the delightful Mishel, was our guide for the afternoon. She's been learning from her grandpa since she could walk and has been guiding on her own since she was nine...very knowledgable! After deciding that the exotic bird park was not worth the time we headed over to hotel to relax a bit before dinner.







We had the good fortune of staying in the best place in town, El Jardin. I have gotten to know the owners somewhat and they agreed to give us special rates (tour operator discount). Aside from a top notch restaurant, this hotel boasts wooden hot tubs (not unlike those at Betti's Casa Mojanda). These tubs look out over the lush gardens and are the perfect way to end the day before slipping into cool starched sheets. The next morning we continued deeper into the jungle to Misahualli. Alas, the monkeys weren't out playing on the town square as they usually are in the afternoons.







We found lodging in a cute little place, La Paisa -- clean and economical. We took
Fondue with Suzy QFondue with Suzy QFondue with Suzy Q

We met up with Sue at her new home in Cotacachi, then a week later she came down to Baños. A gaggle of giggling gals!
a wander around town and down by the river and -- not a lot of dinner choices so in the end we decided to dine just across the bridge at the El Jardin restaurant - same owners as the hotel where we'd stayed the previous night. Still hoping to see monkeys we headed to the river the next morning. No luck, but we did decide to take a boat ride along the river. They took us to a Kichwa village where they wanted to charge us more $$ for their staged show and we said "no thanks!". It was lovely to toodle along the river seeing vines and hanging flowers along the banks.







On the way back up to Baños we stopped in Cumanda at my dear friend Patrick's place, La Finca de la Vaca (Swiss cow print theme throughout). The restaurant was closed but we shared a beverage with him and got a tour. He's been building swimming pools on the river's edge...next time I go they'll be finished so I mustn't forget my suit! Back to Baños for one more evening...a bit of touring with Susy who was in town visiting
La Ronda in QuitoLa Ronda in QuitoLa Ronda in Quito

A visit to this restored avenue in Quito's historic old town capped off a glorious Sunday afternoon wandering around the Centro Historico.
just for the day. We shared a fabulous fondue dinner and lots of good laughs!









On Michelle's last day in Ecuador we left Baños mid-morning, headed for Quito's Historic Old Town. After safely stowing the truck in an underground parking garage, we spent several hours walking up and down the narrow, hilly cobbled streets. I can't remember when I was last in the Centro Historico on a Sunday afternoon. It was packed with all kinds of folks, strolling the lanes in their Sunday best. Lots of indigenous faces, people of all walks of life. We walked and walked until out tootsies hurt, then we took a taxi back to where we'd left the truck. The parking garage was due to close at 5 pm and I didn't have to get Michelle to the airport until 9 pm so I called my friend Jean who lived nearby.









"Perfect timing!" Jean exclaimed and she gave me directions to find Michael's magical house just a few blocks uphill from her place. Every Sunday these two quirky Brits get together to fix a proper dinner (late
A British DinnerA British DinnerA British Dinner

This is the view from Michael's front stoop...he has a most amazing old house perched above Old Town!
afternoon lunch) and just our luck, it was lamb with mint sauce. After dinner, a tour of Michael's place with its stunning views at dusk -- balconies and terraces, 360 views of old town monuments and clay tile rooftops. He found a magical piece of paradise in the heart of the big city. En route to the airport we made one more stop for donations in the valley below Quito and after I left Michelle off at departures, I headed back up to Quito to stay with friends who had more donations for me. Generally I don't like driving at night if I can avoid it, but since I knew the way and the city streets were well lit, it wasn't so much of a problem. I DO avoid nighttime driving on dark roads where the oncoming headlights are blinding.









Alas, Michelle had flight delays on the way back home as well. I feel so fortunate that most of my travel between Ecuador and the US has been hassle-free. I generally fly COPA which is a Continental Airlines affiliate, now part of the United Airlines Star Alliance. While travelling with Michelle
Old Town QuitoOld Town QuitoOld Town Quito

Sunday afternoon in the Centro Historico made for great people-watching! Such a vibrant city.
I had missed a two weekends of working in the secondhand shop (BIB Bazar), so there was a lot of work to do getting recent donations laundered, ironed, priced and ready for sale. I have a number of volunteers who help me and for over two years we've kept the shop up and running, stocked and earning enough to cover the rent on the property which houses the Bazar, the children's library, the volunteer quarters (up to a dozen can stay), a small black box theatre/cinema and the administrator's apartment. We can always use a little extra help so if you're reading this and you might like to contribute to the Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños, drop me a note and I'll send you the GoFundMe link and several videos about our special little place! Thanks.


Additional photos below
Photos: 27, Displayed: 27


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Wise old faceWise old face
Wise old face

Michelle had to covertly angle to get this great shot!
Balsa BirdsBalsa Birds
Balsa Birds

Freshly painted and hanging out to dry. Fun to visit the workshop and see the process.
Casa de la BalsaCasa de la Balsa
Casa de la Balsa

A handicraft superstore. I rarely visit without buying something...gifts galore!!
Amazon BasinAmazon Basin
Amazon Basin

On the river looking back up at the mountains it sure feels like you are in a basin.


15th June 2018

Always a Pleasure!
Hi dear Jill, always such a pleasure to read about your adventures, friend. Thanks so much!!!
17th June 2018

Very cool blog Jill and thanks for the mention of the BIB. Wow it's made me tired sitting and reading about all the travels and all the friends you've hauled around.
18th June 2018

Charmed Life
Jill, You lead such a charmed, busy and fun life. You do so much for your community and friends!! Thanks for sharing. Kathy & Bernie
7th July 2018

From Atlanta
Dear Jill, love to read your blog, even though I have not been writing to you. Can everyone see it? I'll try to send the link to our friends Matt and Bobby. They are moving to Quito. Matt is a former colleague of Ted's and was hired as an English professor at the university there. I told them about all your adventures and community activism. Maybe you'll get to meet them some time. Ted and I might embark on a trip to South America next year. I'll be in touch! Many greetings and love from ATL, Regina

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