Sunny Sally?!


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South America » Ecuador » North » Quito » Papallacta
March 29th 2015
Published: June 12th 2017
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Geo: -0.373471, -78.1363

There was a fountain in the courtyard outside our window, which you could hear during the night. When we awoke in the morning, the fountain sounded much louder. We then realized that it was a heavy downpour we were hearing -- not the fountain. The forecast had been for rain, but we'd hoped it too would prove wrong. The widower on our trip -- Sally -- was a real pistol and we all enjoyed getting to know her. We had already taken to calling her "Sunshine Sally," as she was taking credit for our fine weather to date. As we gathered for breakfast, after making the mad dash through the mud to the restaurant, we all gave her a good ribbing for the rain. Ever confident, she praised the "liquid sunshine" and assured us the sun would be out. Her optimism was infectious.

The morning was to be spent in the city proper of Otavalo, visiting their famous indigeous people artisans market. Our expectations were high, but the heavy rain was putting a damper on everyone's spirits.

It was Palm Sunday morning, and as we passed through a couple of small towns, we passed processions with folks carrying elaborate palm bouquets, following a man representing Jesus riding on a donkey. The rain didn't seem to bother any of them. We entered Otavalo proper, and there were huge crowds lined up outside their cathedral with dozens of stalls selling every manner of bouquet and even sculpture made out of palm fronds. Our bus deposited us along side the market square and our guide gave us a quick tour of the market, showing us the various types of handicrafts available and giving us tips on how to barter. At this point, the rain was a steady downpour and despite rain coats, umbrellas, and ponchos, the three of us were quickly soaked through. The only benefit of the rain was that we all pretty much had the market to ourselves, which helped with the bargaining. We bought way too much and made our way back to the bus, which smelled like a kennel after a while, with all the wet people and clothes. A great benefit of so few people was that half the bus was empty, so there was plenty of room to lay out clothes in hopes of their drying.

We made a short drive to a waterfall on the outskirts of town. To be honest, if we had not already been wet, I'm sure many of our group might have skipped the hike to the falls, but we all pretty much had the attitude of "we can't get any more wet, so let's do it." It was actually a nice hike, and not strenuous, which was nice given that we were all still struggling a bit with the altitude. By the time we walked back out of the forest, the rain had stopped, and by the time we reached the bus, the sun was starting to come out. Sunshine Sally had been right!

We drove a short distance to the town of Cotacachi, which is also known as the "leather capital" of Ecuador. It is also one of a couple of cities into which very large numbers of Americans are retiring. With a climate similar to California and an incredibly cheap cost of living, big gated subdivisions are being built on the hills surrounding the town for American retirees. This surprised me and after returning from the trip, I did some on-line reading about this. Multiple sites now rate Ecuador as the top foreign locale for Americans to retire, citing the climate, infrastructure, health care, and cost of living.

The town itself was very nice, with streets full of high-end looking shops selling every conceivable type of leather product, from high-end shoes and bags to $1 belts. We were on our own for lunch, and our guide had recommended that if we were so inclined to try Cuy (Guinea Pig), that this would be a good place to do so. He recommended a place and we decided to give it a go. Anna ordered soup and pledged to help me if I were to order the Guinea Pig. K was smart and got a sandwich. The animal arrived fully intact and draped across a platter. It was deep fried. I ate a few bites, and I'll be darned if it really didn't taste just like chicken. It tasted, however, of dark meat chicken, which I do not like, so I only ate a couple of bites. Anna, on the other hand, loves chicken legs and got through a lot more than I. Neither of us saw any reason to get it again, but we can cross it off our bucket list.

We spent the remainder of our time in Cotacachi shopping, but it allowed us enough time in the sun to completely dry off. Our bus was smelling considerably nicer by the time we boarded for our long afternoon drive back south, skirting Quito, and beginning the descent down toward the Amazon basin.

We passed "behind" Quito on this trip, traveling along several brand-new toll highways that have been carved into the mountainsides, as part of the new government's infrastructure and jobs program. The scale of the building was really impressive. Cynics comment that all the infrastructure work is an easy way for the socialist government to show that it is doing something, while the living conditions of most people haven't changed. As I mentioned, our tour guide was clearly a convert, so his assertions of how much things have improved under President Correa should be taken with a grain of salt. We have some friends who visited Ecuador more than 15 years ago, and they had told us of harrowing bus rides along treacherous highways. We saw none of that, so at least some things have improved.

We reached the highest point of the Quito plateau and started a long descent -- ultimately about 13,000 feet -- to the Amazon basin. This highway was about 90 percent complete and was two lanes in each direction, and full of trucks supporting the oil industry based in the rain forest. Our guide said that on the old road, it would take an entire day to make the descent, as there was no way to pass the trucks. I was surprised at the size of the oil industry there; turns out, it is their number one commodity and export.

The weather remained bright and sunny as we reached the town of Papallacta, which sits at the foot of another volcano, in an area with immense underground hot springs. Our hotel was a spa complex built on top of the springs, with beautiful pools everywhere filled with boiling water pumped right out of the ground. They are deemed unique in that the water is not sulfurous, as in other hot springs, so no odor. They claim the water is drinkable -- we didn't test their claim. The hotel was quite fancy, with rooms spread out among about a dozen long houses. In front of each house were thermal pools, and in the back of the complex was a huge spa.

We had booked a "spa package" ahead of time, and we only had enough time to walk the grounds quickly before reporting for our "treatment" at 6:00pm. All three of us were escorted in, given towels and robes, and led to the changing rooms. With our swim suits, we went outside to where there were about six different thermal pools, of varying temperatures, built into the hillside. The only other people there were the Ukrainians from our tour, and we had a good time moving with them from pool to pool. The outside air was crisp and dry -- around 60 degrees -- and the clouds which covered the top of the snowcapped Papallacta volcano parted long enough for us to get some pictures.

After 30 minutes or so, we were led back inside, offered refreshments, and then given our own private Turkish baths with eucalyptus from trees on the property. The three of us were in one spa, while the Ukrainians were next door. Here we basically sweated...and sweated. It was so hot, we had to keep opening the door to let out the steam. Another 20 minutes and we were "rescued" and led to a "detox" room to lay down until our massage. Each of us was called out by a separate masseuse and led to a private room. I was told to "take everything off," handed a sheet, and pointed to a table with a hole cut out for my face. I did as ordered and laid down under the sheet. The massage lasted about 30 minutes and was primarily back, neck, and arms. It was a fantastic massage, though she spent a bit too much time on my butt!!!

We all walked out about the same time, got some iced tea, and just looked at each other in complete and utter relaxation. Anna wasted no time in asking what time they opened in the morning, as she had every intention of returning. Alas, they didn't open until 0900, well after we'd already be gone. Too bad; I would have joined her.

Dinner was at the hotel and all three of us had a hard time staying awake, but the meal was quite good. We were all basically asleep before we even got back to the room, but I do remember that it was a full moon.



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