The Quilotoa Loop in the Andes, Ecuador

Here’s a view from the Quilotoa Loop, a stunning horseshoe shaped route through high Andean villages and farmland that you can hike in 3-4 days or drive through. The loop starts about 160km south west of the capital, Quito.

Apparently, farmers can rent a tractor by the day, but we don’t see or hear any. Apart from the calls of birds, sheep and cows, the only sounds we hear are the occasional hooves on the road, or a truck, bus or car engine.

A typical view – cows on very steep hills, and lots of washing hanging out to dry!

This is the bathroom at Black Sheep Inn, a beautiful ecolodge we stay at.

Laguna Quilotoa, a stunning green crater lake high up in the Andes.

Roadwork ahead. A huge hole has appeared, and a small section of the road is disappearing down a cliff.

Landslides are common due to the very steep slopes.

The peaks of some of the mountains in this area are covered in cloud forest. In this picture you can see both indigenous trees as well as recently planted Canadian pine trees, the latter which will be later harvested for lumber.

A living patchwork quilt.

These fence posts are growing into trees!

Ahead of us on the road, this little girl is carrying her puppy as she and her mother bring their cows home.

After leaving the Quilotoa Loop, we head for Quito and on the way pass Volcan Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest peak.

Hanging on tight at the back of a truck which is travelling at about 80km an hour on the autopista, these guys still manage a smile! Seat belts anyone?


Highlands and then Jungle, Ecuador

Here’s the reception building at a beautiful horse farm/hotel where we camp on the grounds for a night.

We haven’t seen such ambience and

luxury for a long time, and

enjoy a great meal as the only customers in their restaurant. The following night will be Friday, and there will be at least 50 guests and tons of atmosphere created by the lovely setting, but we enjoy the place to ourselves anyway.

This is the cathedral in the beautiful town of Cuenca, and

we’d love to explore the narrow cobbled streets

and soak in the beautiful architecture for longer, but alas it’s not only pouring buckets, but we need to move on.

Before we head back to the camper, we see this Venezuelan street artist, who looks like he’s balancing on one arm, but under his suit is a bar to sit on, says Ken. Many Venezuelans are leaving their country due to the economic crisis there, and hopefully this artist will do well outside the cathedral, which is hopping with tourists.

More pictures from the countryside

and people in their beautiful traditional clothing. Usually we see only women dressed this way, but this Sunday, which is Easter Sunday, we see men in traditional clothing too.

Yes, I’m afraid this is roasted guinea pig, a traditional meal we’ve seen on the menu in Peru and now in Ecuador. We tried it in Peru a few years ago when we went to Machu Pichu, and once was enough!

Here we’re staying at a campground outside the town of Banos and meet a really friendly group of mostly Brits, Dutch and Germans travelling with the tour company Dragoman. It’s fun to meet other travellers, and hang out with others both young and our age. It’s easy to do when you all have travel as a bond – you feel like one tribe!

We’ve joined some of them on this hike

and I stop here while Ken joins the others for a swim in the pools at the base of the waterfall. It’s my first hike since I hurt my arm, and I’m proud to have made it safely this far even if it was a bit scary and slippery going down metal stairs and ramps!

The next day on our way east towards the town of Tena, which lies in the jungle, we pass a chocolate factory by the roadside. Chocolate! We have to stop! First, we buy a huge chunk of rich Ecuadorian chocolate. Then one of the workers gives us a quick tour to show us the manufacturing process. This picture shows a cacoa tree.

After the cacao pods are picked, the beans sit in these wooden vats for 2 days, and then in a 2nd vat for a further 2 days in order to ferment. The weather is hot and humid, and they are pretty smelly!

Next they are laid out on beds of metal netting to dry. There are bamboo supports under the first bed as the beans are heavy, but after 2 days, the beans are drier and lighter and they are moved to the bed on the right, which is just netting.

Then they dry further on this concrete floor.

Next they are toasted,

and then melted with a little sugar in a recipe we are not privy too

before being cooled in molds. 97% cocoa and very little sugar – no wonder the worker is still slim!

Here’s the owner of a hostal we’re camping at sharing a drink he and the others concocted and made up in a big plastic bucket labelled “muscle man”! He and his wife have many guests and even a couple of volunteers to help. It’s a very popular hostal, all because they are such a wonderful couple.

We take a one day jungle tour from Tena though we wish we could really go into the Amazon! First, we start with a walk. This is a cotton tree,

and this is one of its huge roots.


which smell woody and slightly acidic and can kill a tree.


These are the flowers
of a false banana tree. It’s called false as the tree bears no fruit. The flowers are used at festivals as decoration like these finger nails

and this parrot’s beak!

There are 1500 species of butterfly in Ecuador, and they flit by so fast they are frustratingly hard to photograph. This is called the owl butterfly.

We stop for lunch in the indigenous town of Misahualli, where Kichea people live. Ecuadorians are really good at recycling and every town has one of these recycling cans.

Inquisitive monkeys hang out in the small town square, and are

happy to check you out.

As part of the tour we cross the river to see a native village, some dancers, and caged animals such as this toucan,

and this anaconda shedding its skin and this toucan.

Finally, we are paddled around this lagoon in a canoe, and see monkeys in the trees and some birds, but no turtles or caymans as had been advertized. It all feels a bit tame, but I wouldn’t be able to get away from an anaconda or puma for my life right now, so this tour is okay.

More of the Highlands in Ecuador

It’s a surprise for us to enter Ecuador and immediately see beautiful Spanish colonial architecture and churches in every town again. We hadn’t seen this for a long time.

Here’s another view in the same town, called Macara.

And here’s the emergency department of the hospital we stop at to ask for ice for my arm. The nurses are really sweet and even give me a cloth to wrap the ice in – so different from what we’d experienced in northern Peru, where there was no money for such luxuries. We reckon the standard in this hospital looks the same as in a Canadian one. Ecuador has invested a lot of money in schools and hospitals over the last 10 years, and we are impressed.

We love the highlands of Ecuador, where life

seems to move at a walking pace. For us it’s very tranquil, but perhaps

that’s because we’re not doing hard physical work!

This is me practicing taking photos with one hand, but I haven’t quite got the hang of it yet; all the beautiful shots are taken by Ken!

We haven’t seen any tractors, just horses, mules, and people

doing everything by hand.

Safety standards are sometimes a surprise for us, such as the lack of railings on staircases.

However, bumpy road surfaces and the ubiquitous speed bumps at the entrance and exit to nearly every town are well marked.

This is the biggest supermarket we see in the highlands, in a lovely small town called Onas. You can only purchase the basics though,

and unfortunately these do not include black tea, believe it or not! Later we come to large towns that have big supermarkets with their own parking lots like at home, where we eventually get a new supply of tea!

We notice that every inch of land is farmed,

to the point that some fields are vertical. We can’t believe that people and cows don’t fall down the slopes when they are really


The farmers in this area are mostly indigenous and speak Quichua.
About 65% of Ecuadorian people are “mestizos” i.e. mixed, 25% are indigenous, 7% are Spanish and 3% are black.

As in Peru and Bolivia, the indigenous people’s clothing is

often bright and

colorful, as can be seen at this Sunday
market in the highlands.

Here’s a church with indigenous people painted on the walls on each side of the altar,

and here’s a picture in a youth centre attached to a church where Mary is clearly represented with the mountain shaped clothing of Pachamama, Mother Earth.

Over 80% of Ecuadorians are Catholic, and as in other South American countries, the indigenous people tend to combine Catholicism with their own traditional beliefs.

And finally, a picture of kids waving back to us from the back of their truck. We have a great laugh!

Enchanting Ecuador

The green fields, mountains, and valleys that unfold as we drive through the highlands of Ecuador are a feast for the eye!

Even though it’s cloudy

there are plenty of spectacular vistas. I’m surprised though that there are no designated view points to stop and take photos at though. Maybe they would cost too much money on these windy, steep roads or maybe it all just seems normal here!

We see a lot of corn growing both in fields and tiny spaces between neighbours –

and the kernels are huge – unlike any we’ve seen before. This dish is corn with scrambled egg and a slice of salty cheese, which is a typical breakfast for the local people

in this town called Saraguro. The indigenous people here had originated from Lake Titicaca and were forcibly relocated by the Incas in about the 1400’s!
You can see the same hat worn by this woman as the indigenous people in Peru and Bolivia.

Here’s a close up of a necklace she’s selling.

There are many grand old churches in Ecuador and about 98% of the population are Catholic.

It’s Monday when we visit Saraguro, but we see in this picture what the Sunday flower decorations can look like.

This grandmother is standing in the square of the same town with her grandchildren. You can see the crotched necklace similar to the one being sold in a previous picture. Also she’s wearing the traditional white hat with the black spots under the brim,

which we first saw in the restaurant where we had the corn for breakfast.

How to fracture your arm in under 20 seconds

Well, here’s some background information. We were in Peru and expecting to reach the Ecuador border in one day but got waved down in a town called Olmos by locals on the side of the road to stop as the road ahead was closed. Sure enough we saw 25-40 national police blocking the road about 150 meters in front of us. We were told the area was very dangerous due to a stand off by protesters wanting independence, and that the road would be closed for at least the next three days. This meant going all the way back to where we’d started in the morning and taking a different route to the border. It also meant spending another night in a possibly dangerous area.
We drove and drove and started looking for a place to spend the night. Nothing seemed suitable, and as a last resort, Ken turned off the main road onto a sand side road, so at least we could be behind a sand dune and not visible from the road, which I didn’t feel good about at all. Something didn’t feel right, but I thought it was because of the area. Unfortunately we got stuck in sand, and when a pick up truck came by, the driver and passenger offered to help us. As it was almost dark everyone used flashlights to attach one end of our tow rope to our van and the other to the driver’s truck. Unfortunately, I went to tell the driver to wait for Ken to get into reverse, but he must have already been turning to look over his shoulder to reverse and didn’t see me. Hey presto, in half a second the tow rope was taut and I was flung off my feet by it. I landed softly on my head in the sand and hard on my right elbow and shoulder. You’ve never seen me scramble to my feet so fast so I didn’t get hit by our van coming out of the sand as well, but my shoulder was acutely painful and I thought all my shoulder cuff and shoulder blade muscles had been ripped apart .

Got this x-ray the next day (- a humerus fracture and not a break)

Got a sling, which Ken later improved on with a “sam” high tech moldable splint.

This the emergency room of the hospital. If you enlarge the photo you can see the mold around the sink and on the wall. Not a place where you’d want an operation, but luckily I have a stable fracture and don’t need one. Also, I can continue travelling.

Ha Ha, talk about vanity. From this photo of the emergency room I got to see that my highlights are still ok. I would otherwise not have known how my hair looked from the back:) I guess every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s unbelievable what I suddenly can’t do with one very sore, immobile arm- can’t sleep properly as have to sit upright, can’t cook, get dressed, etc etc. I wonder what people do who live alone?? I’m so grateful that Ken is doing everything for me that I can’t do. Teach him for driving in the sand again when I asked him not to, I guess! My lessons learnt: don’t try and help all the time; learn patience when I can’t do things I’m used to doing on my own; thank goodness for doctors and painkillers; don’t stand anywhere near a tow rope!

P.S. Gut feeling all day had been something feels bad, but I didn’t know what – found out the hard way what it was.

Lasting Impressions of Peru

The desert stretches for days as we head north up the Pacific coast.

We see a lot of poverty. One in 10 people live on a dollar a day and a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

All over South America you buy your eggs in a plastic bag like this. Because the eggs aren’t washed before they’re sold, they don’t need refrigerating. Luckily, we have a couple of plactic egg boxes, so the eggs survive our fridge intact!

Garbage is everywhere in northern Peru.

Tuk-tuks rule in this country, and they come at you from all directions- along the shoulder of the road, against one-way traffic, you name it! Also, you often won’t find one car entering from a road to your left, you’ll find 3 cars across as if they each had their own lane!

People are very practical. Here’s how your car is raised at a muffler shop or mechanic’s by the side of the road.

Here’s how the muffler shop advertises.

This is a fantastic museum on the Moche culture. However, you’re not allowed to take photos nor are there any postcards to buy, which is frustrating as we want one or the other to remember the artifacts by. Funding problems again.

Behind the red brick wall lies a whole ancient Chimu city, but it’s not safe for tourists to visit there because of armed robberies, and only one section of a King’s palace has been restored. The rest is crumbling away.

This is the emergency room at Santa Rosa Hospital, Piura. Have a close look around the sink.
Unfortunately, I’ve fractured my right humerus, but luckily I just get an x-ray and pain killers and don’t need surgery. This would definitely not be the place for an operation. Here’s the process you go through: first you are seen by a doctor, and then before getting treatment, such as an x-ray, someone has to go to a cashier and pay for the x-ray (in my case Ken, thank goodness!). Then you get the x-ray. If medication is needed someone has to buy it from a pharmacy across the road and bring it back to the emergency room. This is how I got my intra- muscular painkiller. Before leaving emergency, someone has to go back to the cashier to pay for the consultation; only when you show your stamped receipt does the security guard let you out. This procedure was followed by the other families in emergency too as the hospital doesn’t stock medications etc except for severe emergencies. I have to say the staff are really kind and friendly, but there’s just no funding for better health care.

Huaca de la Luna – Moche Culture, Peru

We visit the Temple of the Moon near the city of Trujillo in Northern Peru. Built on the side of a hill by the Moche people, the temple was used by the high priests for human sacrifices to the deity Ayapec, or “all knowing one” between 100 AD to 600 AD. Also, the temple contains the tombs of different high priests or rulers who lived during this time.

Different levels of the temple were reached by elevated platforms.

Some of the surviving walls have murals. Unfortunately, much of the temple has crumbled and looters have removed a lot of treasures. The remaining artefacts are housed in various museums.

The walls of the temple are all made of adobe bricks which each weigh between 2 and 200 kg. Different groups built the bricks and put their own stamp on their bricks, perhaps as a form of tax.

In this mural you can see the deity Ayapec.

Interestingly, each Moche dynasty between 100 AD and 600 AD built a new temple on top of the previous one, and you can see some of the different layers in this photo.

On the top layer of the Huaca del Luna, you can see where the human sacrifices to the deity Ayapec were made.

Just like in Mexico at the Chichen-iza Pyramid, 2 teams fought a battle, and the first team to lose one of their helmets lost. Several members of the losing team were then chosen to be sacrificed. This was considered a great honour! We are told by our guide that before meeting their death, the men were given a natural potion so they were drugged, but still!

As mentioned, this temple was also used as the burial grounds for high priests and rulers. Like in other ancient cultures, the person was buried along with important people who were sacrificed, and important objects for the after life. Examples are a wife, concubines, first child of a concubine, guards with their feet removed so they can’t run away(!), a cup of sacrificial blood, dogs, fine jewelry and more.

In the distance you can see the Huaca del Sol, Temple of the Sun, which it is believed was used for military and administrative purposes. Unfortunately, much of this temple lies unexcavated and exposed to the elements due to lack of government funding.

The Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are in the Nazca Desert, about 400 km south of Lima in southern Peru. Why they were created remains an enigma, but they were probably partly for religious reasons and partly for practical reasons. For example the straight lines could have been a route to get to water.

The Nazca people created these lines, geometrical shapes and motifs of people, animals, trees and plants between 500 BC and 500 AD by overturning the reddish rocks of the desert, leaving about a 6” trough of underlying white sand exposed.

Because the climate is very stable and there is little wind, the lines have remained mostly undisturbed after all this time.

It’s possible to take a flight in a tiny 8-seater plane, but we’re warned that the ride is bumpy and the plane will bank very steeply from left to right to let all the passengers get a good view from both sides of the plane. Here’s a picture of what we saw up close and personal from a 45’ viewing platform.

We get to see 3 figures: a bird, a tree,

and this lizard, which is intercepted by the Panamerican highway!

Here’s a plane banking!

Here’s part of a model of some of the geometrical lines from a museum in Nazca. The actual area of the Nazca Lines is over 450 square kilometres and the biggest figures are over 370 meters long.

Here’s a diagram

and another geoglyph,

some ceramics

and objects of the


Nazca people.

We also see an aqueduct and

piece of clothing in the museum.

Heading down from the Andes to Arequipa, and then to the coast, Peru

We head down from the Andes, and stop at a truck stop for the night as that’s the only place we can find. This is the outhouse.

Pick your spot!

We’ve descended from about 15,000 feet to 5,000 feet in about one and a half hours of switchbacks. Here’s what our water bottle looks like due to the recompression!

We want to stop in this town called Arequipa, which has some lovely colonial architecture including beautiful inner courtyards, but the traffic is horrendous and parking impossible, so we head out of town with only a coffee and pastries and this photo to show for it.

Some green before the desert starts.

There are some beautiful sand dunes,

and then a vineyard or two smack in the middle of the desert.

What a difference water and irrigation can make!

We find a few beautiful sandy beaches to stay at …

but get stuck in the sand at this one.

Luckily a guest staying at an ecolodge
at the same beach rescues us. He’s one of several really friendly Peruvians we meet.

Here’s a typical place to eat in Peru,

and a typical town.

Buildings and sand blend,

so this sunset

really stands out for us.
We always want to find a place to sleep before it’s dark, but that’s not always possible.

Ken spots this mobile bakery, and we need rolls for tomorrow’s breakfast. Something sweet now would be good too!

Peru is trying to recycle, but the trash on the sides of the roads is a major problem.

This is a typical example from northern Peru.

Here’s a nice clean beach though!

Lake Titicaca – what a beautiful name!

This is Lake Titicaca, which is shared by both Bolivia and Peru. Our first stop on the lake is at the town of Copacabana, Bolivia. However, we get hit by our first bout of heavy rain, so

decide to cross into Peru and try our luck there.

We pass this couple on the way. The man is cycling, and the woman is running behind him with one hand on the bike!

We take a tour out to the floating Uros islands, which are built of these reeds.

Here are two shots of a couple of the islands; there are

about 100 in all.

The word Titicaca actually means Puma Rock. If you look at this map of the lake upside down, you can see the lower section looks like a puma.

To build an island, the people take blocks of reeds with the soil still attached like in this photo. Then they place a big stake in each block and tie the blocks together.

Next, they add layers and layers of reeds, first one way and then the other until there is a thick enough base to walk on. Usually 4 or 5 families live together on one island, and the island will last for about 25 years after which it will start to rot and a new one will be built.

Here you can see a finished model of a floating island.

We also get to see handmade items for sale that the local women have produced. (Slight pressure to buy something, but we are learning about their culture, and they are making a living from tourists, so it’s a symbiotic relationship).

Next we take a short ride in a reed boat,

from which it’s easy to see the reeds and soil of these floating islands. Each island is tethered with 8 – 10 ropes that are anchored with stakes into the shallow water, so they don’t start floating away.

This woman shows us the inside of one of the houses,

and this little girl sells us a postcard.
The people of the floating islands belong to the Aymara group, and the reason they created their own islands was to escape fighting between different ethnic groups around them.

Next we visit the island of Traquile, and the inhabitants are of the Quechua ethnic group. This is a solid island about 2 1/2 hours further up the lake. The whole lake is 165 km long and 60km wide, and at 3808 meters , it’s the highest navigable lake in the world.

This island is

very rocky and steep, so terraces have been built on which to grow crops.

This young man looks really young, but his cap, which is red and blue striped, shows he is married. Single men knit themselves a cap that is half red and blue striped and half white. As such, it’s easy to see who is free and who is taken!

More views as

we head back to the harbour to catch our boat back to Puno.

When we get back to where we are parked, this dog barks at us from the roof terrace of its home,

and then this one takes over and barks some more!