Episode 01 - Ecuador. Exploring La Sierra. (Subtítulos en Español)

Episode 01 - Ecuador. Exploring La Sierra. (Subtítulos en Español)

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Buenos dias! Welcome to   Ecuador! Normally people associate Ecuador with Galapagos  Islands or the capital Quito. I'm here to explore   the highlands of this country  the area called La Sierra.   I'm gonna start all the way up North  make my way down to the city of Cuenca   and then move South to the city of Guayaquil. To  be honest with you I'm super stoked and excited   about this because this is the area where  Andes go through the country and the natural   beauty here is supposed to be astonishing.  Without further ado Ecuador, La Sierra ¡Vamos! San Francisco de Quito is the highest  constitutional capital in the world. It's sitting  

at approximately 2 900 meters above sea level.  It is also the first city to be given the status   of World Heritage site by Unesco. The city is a  mix of colonial architecture and indigenous art,   in addition to that, there are eight volcanoes  that surround the city, and as you can imagine   the views are absolutely  stunning and incredible here.   All of the above definitely makes  it a must-visit when in Ecuador. 

My introduction to Quito begins with the  largest neo-gothic church in South America   in fact both of the Americas. A beautiful  Basilica del Voto Nacional is a symbol of Quito   in addition to being an architectural masterpiece,  it offers a unique opportunity to climb its towers   you'll have to go through somewhat challenging  set of steep stairs but trust me once you make   it to the top it will be well worth your efforts. Quito from here looks quite special. But let's move to the heart of it all, the center of the old town famous Plaza Grande.   It is Quito's main square and the place where locals  come together to hang out under the sun and   watch the bustle around it. This square is special  for locals in many ways, but the most important reason   is that it is a symbol of a nation's independence from imperialist Spain. It honors those heroes  

who started the movement towards free Ecuador  hence his other name the Independent Square   How important it is for Ecuadorians? Well if you  happen to be here on any given Monday morning   you can see it for yourself. Here in Quito, they have a pretty cool tradition. Every Monday at 11 o'clock the president comes on the balcony and addresses its people. This tradition goes back to the 19th century. I think it has to do with the  great battle won in 1812 against Spanish colonists and since then they've been having this tradition.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to make it but   if you're in Quito, this is something that  you definitely should attend. Quito's Old Town is recognized as one of the best-preserved and  least altered historic centers in Latin America    within close proximity to Plaza Grande, you will find Quito's other popular places among   them La Compania de Jesus 17th-century Jesuit church, Plaza San Francisco with the city's oldest church - San Francis and many other attractions for those  who are interested in architecture and history it is easily possible to spend all day exploring the old town.

For me personally, it wasn't about just some specific building or a place I came here  to feel the character and charm of city streets wandering through historic Quito with its colonial architecture felt like moving back in time   and once you realize that all this beauty has been here for over 500 years surviving   numerous earthquakes and volcanic eruptions you  really start to get that next level of appreciation   Here you can experience a unique baroque school of Quito that brings together a mix of indigenous   and colonial art traditions. I also must say credits should be given to local authorities for   making great efforts to preserve the historic center and provide an opportunity for people   like myself to come here and experience history first hand. If you want my advice and it might   sound a bit cliche, but this is the place to turn off your phone to turn off your navigations and I just   get lost in the colorful streets i assure you, you will find many pleasant surprises!   But Quito is not just about colonial buildings and old brick roads. It is a well-rounded metropolis  

that offers something for everyone for example  la Mariscal and la Floresta neighborhoods attract   younger crowds whereas la Marescal is known for its party scene, la Floresta is more of a hipsterish,   quiet area with tons of coffee shops and lots of street art. If you're a fan of street art you can   even hire a private tour here to walk you through the area and explain the history behind it. If you   ask me it's a perfect way to spend the morning. A very popular tourist thing here to do is to take the cable car or as they call it "Teleférico" to the slopes of Pichincha volcano. I mean, it's   pretty cool scenic ride and I see why a lot of tourists would put it on top of their to-do list   but once I saw a two-hour wait in line I kissed goodbye to the idea and I hit the road.

But i had the sense of some missing puzzle piece, I really wanted to see Quito from the above to experience   the whole magnitude of its beauty. So i started looking for a spot and I found it. You've probably seen the famous statue of La Virgen de Quito... well  it is here on Panecillo hill, where I found a quiet spot to just sit and enjoy the views. And I must tell you Quito from the top is just breathtaking!

A few places around Quito that's worth mentioning also. One of such places is Museo Templo del Sol   or Museum of the Sun. Located 20 kilometers north of Quito and designed by Quito born   artist Cristobal Ortega this museum is a perfect place to have a crash course on Andean indigenous   culture. Pachacuti was a 15th-century Inca ruler who created a large empire along the east coast of   South America including modern Ecuador. Pachacuti was considered an offspring of the god of the sun,   the temple celebrates the history  of these Ecuadorian ancestors.   Inside the museum, you will find some of the artwork created by local artists   you will also learn about the traditions and customs of the indigenous people of Ecuador   Outside you will see an amphitheater and many sculptures representing Inca civilization.

If you are lucky you might even catch a traditional Ecuadorian dance performance. Locals of every   age group come together wearing traditional costumes celebrating their history and culture. Personally, I found this visit to be very educational. 

this would help me to understand more of this country as I move on to explore La Sierra. As an added bonus in the same complex, you will find Pululahua reserve, the largest inhabited   crater in South America. Eruption of a volcano that happened about two and a half thousand years ago   created very fertile soil and prompted many farmers to move in and build small communities here which I found quite fascinating. Another famous spot is Mitad del Mundo, which translates to "the middle of the world" or simply the equator. It is a small town/museum about 25 kilometers   away from Quito at the center of it stands a 30-meter high monument representing the center of the world.

This monument also serves as a  museum with a nice viewing platform on top.   Mitad del Mundo is an entertainment complex suitable for every age group. Here you can   find live concerts for the younger generation who enjoys dancing, live acting at the main square and many other attractions. My personal favorite was an exhibition called the Viviendas Ancestrales, which translates to "ancestral's homes". Here you  can find a traditional representation of Ecuador's  

regions from Costa which is a coastal region to Oriente which is an Amazon region of Ecuador. You can see traditional homes and cultural specifics, you can learn about daily lives of Ecuadorians   from different parts of the country. I found this exhibition quite informative and very interesting.   You see, in 1735 a team of 20 French and Spanish scientists sailed to Ecuador to determine the   the "true" shape of the Earth. They intended to do so by measuring the vast distances between the mountain tops.

After 10 years they were able to complete their measurements and determine the "true" shape   of the Earth, this allowed for the maps to be more accurate and allowed for more precise navigation.   This was the first time when the equator line was drawn and it remained so until the invention of Global Positioning System, better known for us as GPS. It was then realized that the actual equator was a few yards away, to be exact 250 yards. If you ask me, that's not  

bad for 18th-century measurements But you see Quito authorities have already   spent money and built Mitad del Mundo and so they decided to keep it as a tourist landmark. Overall, Mitad del Mundo is a colorful playground offering enough to spend a quality day here   and get to know more about Ecuador. Of course, there is plenty of small boutique shops,   a train station, a cacao museum, and playgrounds for kids. Though it seems  

at some point that everyone becomes a kid and the place turns into one big funhouse. As I've mentioned before the true equator is located northeast of Mitad del Mundo and here Museo Intiñan can be found. If you're looking for less noise quick crash course with an expert guide   and of course, hitting a true equator this would be a place to be. Here you will get to know more about   indigenous people lifestyle and get introduced to some of their odd customs (to say the least)  like shrinking hats custom of Amazonian tribe called "Huaorani". I think this would be   a good time to remove the kids from the screen as the next clip contains a bit of a graphic content.  

Sometimes we don't show this because it is going to be very viral so we don't show it to the tourists. He was a guy of 65 years and  his reduction was about 170 years ago.   It's part of the heritage of this country and we are the guardians of this one.

Yes, I know it's cruel and disturbing but as Carolina said (who by the way happened to be a great guide) it is   a part of the heritage of Ecuador. But let's move on to the fun stuff. Here you can also find a number   of interactive exhibits that occur only at the Equator. Here's the test with the water drainage   if you place a sink full of water at the equator and start draining water it will go straight down. 

If you move it south you will go clockwise and if you move it to the north you will go counter-clockwise.   Here you can also try balancing an egg on the nail and get to know how Incas were able to tell time.   Overall very cool and interesting place with a nice added bonus to knock off your bucket list.  Latitude 00°00'00 The last place I would like to mention is the Rumicucho ruins. Located within approximately  

10-minute drive from Mitad del Mundo it is worth making an effort stopping here. For starters it is   15th-century Incan fortress situated on the hills for strategic purposes to observe the enemy of the North.   One of the reasons I came here was the views. I wanted to get a bit of a sneak peek of what to   expect from La Sierra and its highlands. If you're lucky with the weather and come here on a clear   day you'll be able to see Cayambe and Lamarca mountains. The views here are quite spectacular. Because my flight landed at the nation's capital, I had to make a quick stop at Quito and explore its   surroundings. But my main goal here is to explore as much La Sierra as possible. As I've mentioned  

before La Sierra is a mountainous region, it runs through the middle of Ecuador and is represented   by that brownish line on the map. My plan is to head all the way north towards the province of Imbabura.   I would like to explore that area first  and then start making my way south through La Sierra  with making short stops before finally hitting the southernmost point - the city of Cuenca.   Then I will leave La Sierra and move  west towards the largest city of Guayaquil.   And so I headed up north towards the province of Imbabura. By the way, if take a highway here you'll need to pay a toll charge of one dollar. My first stop was planned  

at the beautiful remote lakes called Mojanda. Everything was going well until I had to get   off the motorway onto some remote roads which were supposed to take me to the lakes. This is when I realized that having a larger car would definitely be a better option, but I had to move   forward and after about an hour drive through some rocks and potholes I started to get very close. 

Mojanda lakes are series of remote lakes hidden in the mountains. Located at roughly 3 800 meters   above the sea level and surrounded by rolling hills of yellow Paramo grass, the lakes were formed   by the collapse of twin volcanoes: Mojanda and Fuya-Fuya. The air temperature is quite chilly here and the area is often covered in fog. This is one of the reasons why the place is not very popular among  

tourists, but judging by the pictures I saw prior to coming here I was willing to take that risk. At some point, I had to drop my car and go for a short hike to get closer to the water.   Once I got there I realized that my  challenging drive here was definitely worth it. 

For a short period of time, the sky above the lakes cleared and the sun came out   the beauty of Mojanda opened  up in front of my eyes There was one more place in the  north that i really wanted to see.   I wanted to come here before heading to my main destination for the day   Cotacachi Cayapas reserve is a national park with an area of approximately three thousand   square kilometers. It is considered to be one of the most protected areas in Ecuador due to   its high biodiversity and presence of endemic species. I came here to see caldeira of Cuicocha,   which has a diameter of about three kilometers and it is also 148 meters deep. It was created   by a massive volcanic eruption about 3 000 years ago. It lies at the foot of Cotacachi volcano which  

makes the drive here extremely scenic and it was something that I enjoyed the most about this place. Surrounded by the peaks of Imbambura, Cotacachi and Mojanda volcanoes lies a place called Otavalo.   It is a small town in the north with about 50 000 inhabitants. The reason I wanted to come here   is its market. Otavalo's market is one of the most famous indigenous markets in Latin America.   It was made famous by the native group of people called Otavalenos, who became the most   prosperous and possibly the most famous group in Latin America. Historically Otavalenos have   been talented craftsmen especially very good textile makers and business people and when   I say historically I refer to pre-Inca invasion times. I mean these guys know what they're doing.  

Textile boom here though was born in the 1960s when weaving techniques from Scotland were introduced.   This is the time when so-called "Otavaleno" cashmere was born. Products from Otavalo can be   found in different parts of Latin America. It is relatively low priced however very good quality.   I had to pick up few items for myself  here. (quick tip: don't forget to bargain!) Another interesting observation about Otavalenos is the fact that they've managed   to hold on to centuries-old traditions to preserve their identity. They are very proud  

people who are still easily identified by their distinctive dress. You can see women everywhere   wearing embroidered blouses and beaded necklaces. This makes Otavalo market a very unique place to visit.   Visiting Otavalo market is not just about shopping, you can easily spend the full day here   just admiring and studying Otavaleno's culture. Unfortunately for me after a couple hours I had   to move on with my travels. The majority of Otavalenos actually live outside of Otavalo, in nearby small communities. I was so fascinated by their culture and traditions that I've decided  

to find a place where i could just dive into it, even if it was for just a short period of time.   Another thing that I was looking forward to is to see the Imbabura volcano. Luckily for me   just south of Otavalo in a small valley right next to San Pablo lake I found such place. Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Urku Wasi - a tiny ecolodge in the middle of the indigenous community.  

A place that truly makes you disconnect from reality and appreciate our planet. I arrived here   just before the sunset and all I did for the rest of the day is just stare at magnificent Imbabura  and try to memorize as many images of this place as I possibly could I've decided to get up early in the morning and start exploring the place. Urku Wasi is an ecolodge   integrated right into the heart of small Otvalenos community. Here you'll find organically grown food   and incredible views. The property itself is tiny but it has everything for more than a comfortable stay. It offers something for everyone, you  can even bring your own tent and stay in it   or you can rent one of the huts I stayed in. It is a traditional indigenous house made out of   seaweed from the nearby lake. It has a private bathroom, shower, comfortable bed, electricity  

but most importantly amazing views of Imbabura which I experienced first hand early in the morning. On top of the hill, you'll find the main building which serves as a lobby a restaurant, a boutique shop and a common area to hang out. I really enjoyed the interior design here and its   attention to details but I think the best feature is the large white windows that offer incredible   views of the lake and the volcano. Normally you would have your breakfast here but I've   decided to take it outside because I wanted to enjoy the fresh air and admire the views.  Speaking of breakfast and its food, everything was locally sourced and tasted delicious. ¡Buenas dias! I don't know if I'm still dreaming or this is a reality but   if there is a definition of the perfect morning this would be it   I'm on this beautiful property where everything is grown organically I'm in the middle of   the indigenous village. The people here follow details to the fullest. They try to embrace  

you in the local culture and they do everything possible for your stay to be enjoyable. I have   a volcano right in front of me. It's  crazy like I'm eating breakfast and I'm staring   at this volcano which is magnificent with the lake at the bottom. I mean what else can you ask for?   This is why I travel, this is one of the moments that really make you appreciate it.

After a great breakfast, I took a stroll down to the lake enjoying my last moments at this beautiful   place before hitting the road. An introduction to La Sierra couldn't have started any better! Since there is a high concentration of volcanoes in La Sierra, the ground around them warms up and   produces natural phenomena such as hot springs. As i was making my way down south   I've decided to find one of such places at some point I lost my GPS signal but then  I started noticing something unusual. The road in front of me looked like it started to breathe.   It was evident by all the mist and vapor caused by volcanic activity. I knew that I was getting close. Located high in the Andean mountains I found a small village called Papallacta. At the base  

of these lush mountains, dozens of small natural pools and hot springs spread out across the area. It was a bit of a rainy and chilly day and I was debating whether I should go in and   experience these hot springs myself. But then I figured I might as well. I found a small complex   here that offers essential spa services and just for nine dollars you can enjoy its facilities. Inside, integrated into a beautiful garden many individual pools can be found. It is very tranquil   place with lush vegetation and tropical flowers. It's also worth noting that unlike most natural pools  there is very little sulfur smell here, which makes the experience more enjoyable. At some point  

the sky above was fully covered with fog and the place started to look like a small oasis.   At this point, I couldn't resist and I've  decided to experience the hot springs myself. Oh, I needed this! Nothing  better than a natural jacuzzi   this place is so lovely. They have these individual pools with a nice warm almost hot water   located in a little valley, surrounded by the mountains - perfect place to unwind and   "recharge the batteries". Spending few hours here and moving forward exploring more of La Sierra.

Wow, that was so good! The water is so warm and comfortable, the views of the mountains... I honestly could spend   the whole day there. It's just something out of this world. But, unfortunately due to time restrictions   gotta move uh down south. I'm  going to the Cotopaxi volcano.   It looks extremely beautiful in the pictures and I'm very excited. Just hope the weather gets better   because it's a bit rainy right now but uh... that's the thing about Ecuador... because there   are so many biozones here the weather changes quite often. So I'm staying optimistic and

hoping for the best! Let's go! So I headed south towards Cotopaxi province. Interacting with locals I've discovered this secret place, that is completely remote and   is located at the base of the Cotopaxi volcano. Cotopaxi is the third highest volcano in   the world and second in Ecuador. It was on my must-see list in La Sierra. So I've decided   to find this secret place no matter what it took and as I found out later, it took a lot! At first my drive was very pleasant, but my issues started happening once I got off   the motorway around Machachi town. First, I was reminded again that having a truck here is much  

better option, especially when it rains. Then the "locals" got in my way and blocked the road.   As an added bonus google maps  sent me on one-hour detour.   Finally, I was able to spot a small sign indicating the place that I was looking for. 30 minutes before it got completely dark I have arrived to my destination. A cozy hostel called  

Secret Garden is set on the hill overlooking a gorgeous valley surrounded by the mountains.   Once again I have to give a credit  to the founders of this place:  the grounds, the landscape, attention  to details were top-notch here.   In fact, I was really satisfied with my strategy of finding unique places like this that provide   an opportunity to connect with nature as opposed to staying in some luxury hotel in the city.

These guys even built a jacuzzi  here that overlooks a volcano.   I stayed in one of the so-called "hobbit houses"   these are built into the hill, brick houses that will meet all of your essential needs. But their best feature is supposed to be the view in the morning which I was really looking forward to. To be quite honest with you, I was very tired after all the driving that I did.  Another memorable morning was in my books. The snowy mountain top was visible for about an hour  

and I was able to capture it. I couldn't have been happier. After breakfast I took a short   walk around the property and with a great sense of emotional fulfillment I hit the road again. The province of Pastaza is located in the eastern jungle of the Ecuadorian Amazon region since it sits   much lower than the La Sierra highlands, I started to notice a change in climate and nature around me.   All of a sudden everything just became so green. Another phenomena that I started noticing are the waterfalls.

They were running straight through  the highway and I couldn't help myself but stop   a few times to "capture it on tape". I was heading to the small town called Puyo and until recently it   wasn't easily accessible, but respect to Ecuadorian authorities for paving the roads and making this   drive so epic. Within close proximity to Puyo, I found this viewpoint right off the main road and   I've decided to take a closer look at the Amazon. I must say Ecuador has impressed me once again. Dang, I'm gonna miss waking up these views...  

So just a quick update... yesterday I was planning on doing the hike to the Cotopaxi volcano and   once I got there... first of all the weather was bad, but secondly, they won't allow   cars like mine to enter... they need a big truck 4x4, because it's very dangerous...   I spoke to some of the guys that  are private transfers there ...  ...they told me sixty dollars for a round trip... but I think you can bring it down to 40-50 bucks   ...the round trip takes about four hours but since the weather was bad and I'm constantly on   the move, I've decided to go visit Oriente area which is the Amazon area of Ecuador   and I drove all the way down to the province of Pastaza. I found this cabin honestly like  

in the middle of the forest, jungle... you can see the jungle starting just   over there... and it was a last-minute  arrangement and honestly I don't regret it a bit. The drive here was awesome too. It  reminded me... kind of had that Maui in Hawaii   that that vibe or even kind of like Costa Rica but on a larger scale... so it was like massive  

rivers and the jungle... you can see the jungle starting so this pretty cool experience and...   i'm done here and i'm just making my way back to   Baños now and going south to Riobamba and the final stop today should be Alausi. Let's go! Twenty kilometers before Baños, I had to make a quick stop to see a famous attraction around here.

I dropped my car at the top of the hill and made my way down to the 80m high waterfall   called Pailon del Diablo. It is the  most powerful waterfall in the area   there is a set of steep stairs to go down to its base, but I've opted out to watch it from the top. The place itself isn't that large but the addition of a suspension bridge here   makes it very photogenic. I spent around 30 minutes here before heading towards Baños.   Set among lush green hills, snow-capped volcanoes and rapid rivers is a small town of Baños.    It is very popular among tourists with different budgets. It is considered to  

be an "adventure capital" of Ecuador. Baños is known for its hiking trails and hot springs.   You can even hire a tour to bike or  boat to the Amazon basin from here.   Baños is one of the most laid-back towns in Ecuador. It is one of the most visited places that   offers many different outdoor activities including rafting and zip lining. In the middle of the town  

you'll find a central market where you can buy and taste delicious food. A short walk from here   you'll see a nice plaza with an old church. Overall, I enjoyed walking around this town, though for me   personally, it seemed a bit overwhelmed with tour operators, pricey spas, tons of hotels and shops.   But if you just want to experience it all in one: from Ecuadorian nature to its cuisine   and add some party scenery to it - Baños would be a good choice to stop here and spend a few nights.   My favorite thing about Baños was its surroundings. One of such sites I was lucky   to catch on my way out of this town. The mighty volcano Tungurahua which is still active.

So i just left Baños and I'm heading  south towards the town of Alausi  ...planning to make a small stop at the village of Riobamba. But let's talk about driving through   La Sierra. As you may know, there is a motorway called Panamericana that goes all the way   through La Sierra... in fact through Ecuador. It is the longest motorway in the world actually...   in the Guinness book of records. Technically you can go all the way from Argentina to Alaska. This is   the motorway that connects South and North America. Here in Ecuador it is in very good condition  

it's very pleasant to drive here so far I had no issues. However, there are a few things to note:   first of all, as you may know, La Sierra is a mountainous region and there's a lot of twists   and turns here, so you gotta pay very good attention to where you're going. Second thing,  the local drivers speed here like "crazy" and they don't use no signals nothing they just passed   ...blow by you. It is easy to get intimidated by it and pressed into driving very very fast   to keep up with them. I would not recommend this because it is actually very dangerous. I've seen a few landslides on the way... there were piles of rocks blocking the whole lane   ...it happens quite often so highly recommend paying extra attention and the other thing is that   there's so much natural beauty here... I literally, drive from one spot to another and   I'm thinking okay there must be some part of the road where it's just nothing to see, but i keep being wrong... because anywhere you go it's mountains, it's volcanoes  

it's greenery, it's forest, it's so much cool stuff to watch. I'm literally spinning my head   around and just looking around... and I've caught myself a few times not paying attention to the road...  which is a big "no-no". But having said that if you're driving carefully if you're  

paying attention, not speeding it's a very pleasant drive and you should have no problem making this drive from the north to the south. The town of Riobamba is located in the middle of La Sierra. It has a small-town feel to it but it's somewhat deceiving because it's actually the third-largest   city in Ecuador. It reminded me of a smaller version of Quito. Around the city center you   will notice a lot of colonial architecture with colorful buildings and all churches.   It is a charming town with cobblestone roads and narrow streets. At the same time there is   a significant indigenous presence here. A large number of Indigenous people strolling around  

dressed in their traditional clothes. The main attraction here is the highest volcano in Ecuador   called Chimborazo. I saw it approaching the town and the views were incredible, but unfortunately   once I've arrived it got cloudy and I wasn't able to capture it on camera. On the bright side, it is the   reason for me to come back and see it first hand. And if Riobamba had a lot of indigenous people, my next stop a village called Guamote is full of them. It is located south of Riobamba and is famous for its  

non-touristy marketplace spreading out across the train tracks, that run through the village.   If you happen to be in this area please remember, that this is one of the poorest areas in Ecuador,   and there is a reason for it. People from here suffered from long-standing discrimination   going centuries back. They were denied education and treated as a lower class. Please keep this   in mind when you come here and treat them with respect. At first glance they don't seem to be very   open to foreigners, but trust me they are very kind people. Although I spent about an hour here, it was  

a very unique experience. I loved the authenticity of this place and the organic produce from here. Alausi is a small town in the southern Sierra, composed of colorful buildings and home to   the native indigenous group called Quechua. It is most famous for being the starting point of   a railway route to the hair-raising trip down the rocky slopes of the Andes. Alausi train station is very   popular among tourists and is a part of famous Nariz del Diablo route, that starts in Riobamba   where the views of Chimborazo volcano, goes through Guamote (remember those tracks at the marketplace?)  and finally passes through Alausi before hitting a very steep mountaintop. It is a very scenic ride   but it's worth noting that it came at a huge cost. Back in 1900s about 2000 Jamaicans and   

1000 Puerto Ricans were brought in to work on this project. In the end, the estimated death toll was about 2000  people. Initially, these train tracks connected Quito to Guayaquil, but over the years most sections   of the route had fallen apart. Nariz del Diablo remained intact due to its scenic route and   popularity among tourists. At the time of my visit due to the current situation in the world the railway  

trucks were out of service. So I walked around the town, snapped a few pictures, and moved further south. On the way to my next destination, I ran into some interesting sights. In a small village   of Chunchi I found a local Louvre. Here you can find the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, and of course   Leonardo da Vinci. What's funny about it - all these artworks are part of the local basketball court. About two hour drive south from Alausi, lies one of the most sacred places in Ecuadorian history   the ruins of ancient civilization called Incapirca Incapirca is an extremely important site for the Ecuadorian people. It was built in the 15th century and   for Ecuadorians, this is the equivalent of Machu Picchu of Peru. This is the most northern point  

fortification of Inca civilization... Obviously, the world heritage site declared by UNESCO...   and the main attraction here is behind me and it's the Temple of the Sun. Built by Incas, on top of the ancient Cañari ceremonial rock Temple of the Sun is a structure put together using perfectly   carved stones without any mortar in its joints. This area was initially settled by the Cañari tribe,  

who were known for their resistance against Incan Empire. Eventually, it was conquered by Incas and   turned into Inca's fortress - hence its name "Incapirca" which translates to "Incan Wall".   I really enjoyed my walk here, as I was studying every single detail of this place. Although, I must say,   sometimes it was a bit challenging, as the current "residents" were giving me a little bit of a hard time.

What's unique about this place is  the fact that even after the invasion   both Cañari and Inca co-existed together here. As a result, a mixture of traditions was created.   This is the reason why archaeological remains of both sculptures can be still found at Incapirca. At some point I ended up being  the only person in this complex.   I got up to have a final look at this treasure of ancient civilization and the thought that   500 years ago Inca were sharing the same spot with me, made it so much more special. As it usually happens in the mountains, the weather changes quickly and I found myself   in the middle of a heavy rainstorm. At some point, I started to get worried that I wasn't gonna get   to my next destination before the sunset. But then a miracle happened. I passed through the clouds and  

I saw this beauty on top of the hill. Located on top of the mountain, overlooking the town of Biblián, I found the Sanctuary of Virgin de Rosio. A 19th-century gothic style church carted into the rocks.   It is supported by 49 granite columns and has a distinctive blue rooftop. The legend goes that back  

in 1883 a long drought killed all the crops in the area so a farmer placed a statue of Virgin Mary   on the side of the mountain and prayed for the rain. What happened next, you probably have guessed. I couldn't resist and I had to go in and see it for myself. It looked very powerful inside very   peaceful and as an added bonus, once you walk out, you're treated to a spectacular view of the town. Wow, what a beautiful church that was. I'm so happy I made a little detour.   If you're driving south to Cuenca...  highly recommend stopping here   It is literally built into the mountain. Inside of the church, you still see parts of the mountain...  

as an interior. It felt so powerful inside... I don't know...it's something that you just have to   experience I'm very happy I did that. The weather seems to be improving and I have about   an hour or so to go to Cuenca which will be my next stop... so yeah... hopefully the weather stays good and i'll get there on time and I'll report back from Cuenca.   Of all cities in Ecuador, Cuenca is arguably the most charming one, with its cobblestone streets,   colonial buildings and beautiful parks. Cuenca is an economic center of southern Sierra. Its history  

begins before the arrival of the Spanish and Incas. It was first settled by Cañari (remember those from   Incapirca?) and originally called Guapondeleg which means "the land as big as heaven". After there were   Inca and eventually Spanish. Modern-day Cuenca was founded by the latter ones in 1557, which makes it   one of the oldest cities in Americas. It should be no surprise that Cuenca is a UNESCO world heritage   site with some of the cathedral here dating 500 years back. In recent years it has become a  

very popular place to retire for expats from all over North America and other parts of the world.   Some even call it the "gringoland". I can see why. Walking around Cuenca for just a couple of hours   I honestly started to fall in love with this city. So far Cuenca has been very impressive...

there's a lot of colonial architecture and I feel like I went back in time two centuries  it's very well preserved, especially the historic center here is... must-see... it's quite incredible   I'm really really enjoying it and I think Cuenca is number one so far in terms of architecture in Ecuador. Another unique fact about Cuenca is its churches. They are everywhere! The influence  

of Spanish culture had become a part of Ecuador's heritage and significant aspect of it is Catholic   church. I honestly don't think I've seen so many beautiful churches in one town. So I've decided   to visit probably the most famous one - Cathedral of Immaculate Conception or the New Cathedral.   Right in the heart of old town and besides the Park of Calderon I found this Cuenca's landmark. You see, right across from the New Cathedral there is a small church that was built in the 16th century.  At the time it was one of the  biggest churches in Cuenca   but over the years it's become too small to accommodate the vast majority of people   and so it was decided to build the  New Cathedral. The construction began   in the 1880s and now it has a capacity of 8 000 people. With its Spanish stained glass windows, 

Italian marble on the walls and the floors and three enormous blue domes - it is a true work of art. There's a big misunderstanding  of the origin of Panama hats   during 1906 when the Panama canal was opening, the president of the US Theodore Roosevelt wore   one of these hats. Because the event was such a high profile and there were so many pictures of   him taking wearing this hat - that's how the name "Panama hat" originated. However  

"Panama hats" solely made in Ecuador and they originated in the coastal area of Ecuador... and   eventually, as they got more and more popular the production moved to the middle parts of Ecuador.   ¡Fact check! "Omero Ortega" is all in one complex that serves as a factory, museum and a shop. Here I was able to dive into  the history and the process of making Panama hats   It starts with examining the slander straws and the weave. Then it goes through the series of   processes to obtain the desired result, including bleaching, shaping, brim finishing, and many others. Depending on the time and quality that weaver put into a hat, the price can fluctuate a lot...  

...and if the final hat the cost is two hundred... two hundred dollars? thousand! two hundred thousand dollars???... yes! for a hat???... yeah!  the prices might be fluctuating but one thing is always the same - that stylish "macho" look.   Cuenca is also known for its food scene. Whenever I travel I try to go to a local market   where food is made fresh using the local produce. The market of "October 9th" is just such place.   Here you can find a variety of local produce and delicious meals.

Not bad! After delicious lunch, I decided to go on my final walk around Cuenca. Right next to the food market, you can find a traditional Ecuadorian market that sells a variety of goods. I've decided to pick up some last-minute souvenirs here before leaving La Sierra and heading west towards the city of Guayaquil. I left early in the morning and headed towards the city of Guayaquil but 30 kilometers from Cuenca   I wanted to make a quick stop and experience the Andean forest at the Cajas National park.   It is a high altitude area known for its  trails through evergreen cloud forests   and hundreds of lakes. It is also a home to rich wildlife, some of the animals here are endemic and endangered T he highest point here reaches over 4 000 meters   It is an archaeological site with evidence of human activity dating eight centuries back.   Nowadays Cajas is a popular place for hiking, camping, and fishing. Cajas was very peaceful and  

tranquil place, something that I really needed before hitting the largest city in Ecuador.   You see, the thing about Ecuador is that because it's located so high above the sea level   a lot of people experience altitude sickness. And I think I'm feeling it a little bit   You feel shortness of breath, lightheaded... but you know there is a cure for that apparently.   And it's... yeah, you got it right... coca leaf   Coca leaf supposed to help you cure  altitude sickness... so just like that

I'm gonna chew it... and see what happens. ¡Vamos! Guayaquil is Ecuador's largest  city and its economic center.   My first impressions were that it is massive. Over the years Guayaquil has  

grown to Ecuador's most populous urban area and a significant South American trading hub.   Its economic success is due in large part to a location at the convergence of Daule and   Babahoyo rivers just 70 kilometers from the Pacific ocean. Its economic boom prompted   an influx of European immigration that had its impact on the style of architecture here.  

It is also a popular travel hub as most of the flights to Galapagos islands depart from here.   In the heart of Guayaquil built in the 19th-century, park Seminario can be found. With an impressive monument   of Simon Bolivar and Metropolitan cathedral at the background, it is a very photogenic place   but there is one unique thing about this park and it is its inhabitants. The place is full of iguanas  

hence its nickname "iguanas" park. They freely roam around here and locals along with tourists take   good care of them. If you thought this was an artificially made attraction, it's not the   case. Iguanas have been here since colonial times. The high concentration of these reptiles is due   to close proximity to the river and willow  trees whose fruits are their favorite food.

Just as every large city Guayaquil has its own  artisan market, where you can find many handcrafted   products since Guayaquil is situated on the banks  of the river, it has a very nice harbor front   called El Malecon. It is one of the most ambitious  projects taken by local authorities towards   rejuvenation of the city. I must admit it's very  well done and makes a great place to hang out.   In fact walking around the town I've  noticed that local authorities make   everything possible to make Guayaquil a tourist-friendly place: from installing free wi-fi   to different attractions around the town. But there was one specific place that  I really wanted to see in Guayaquil   La Pena's neighborhood is located  in the northeast corner of the city   and it is home to many recognized artists. most  of the neighborhood, houses are over 400 years old  

and the walk through here gives  a glimpse at Guayaquil's past   You may notice the number stops here. Yes, La Penas  is located on the hill and there are 444 steps to   get to the top. It's about 500 meters climb and  it goes to colorful houses and shops but trust   me it will be one of the most pleasant climbs you've ever experienced. Plus there are a few   other bonuses once you reach the top of Santa Ana the hill: a nice lighthouse, a beautiful tiny church and have I mentioned 360 degrees  stunning views of the entire city? My trip was coming to its end and I headed  back to Quito. But there was one more place  

that I missed on the way here and La Sierra  trip would not be complete without seeing it.   So i headed towards the Quilotoa lakes. I  decided to take a somewhat unpopular route   to save some time, and as it turned out  later it was a quite adventurous ride So crazy story happened to me... basically, I'm  on my way from Guayaquil to Quilotoa and I almost ran   out of gas. So what happened is there's a part of  the road that's basically mountainous region and   there's only like few villages on the way...  so I look at google maps and I saw the  

villages coming up and first-world mentality  I'm like okay like they for sure have a   the gas station that would accept the card...  and obviously, that's not the case so   here in the small villages, they don't even  have the pumps at the gas station they literally   keep the gasoline in bottles. Once I saw that  my heart "dropped". Because I gotta   get to Quito, I have to make it to my flight  and there's nothing around. So I pulled up here   obviously, they don't accept card, I don't have cash  and there were two guys just passing by and...  

... I mean... they end up buying me a little bit of gas to make it to   next big town... and I'm just speechless...  people here are so amazing like   no questions asked he just went paid the guy and  now I'm good to go. And I'm just so grateful...   I'm speechless, I'm very happy and don't make  that mistake! So check your route, check the maps,   especially if you're in a foreign country...  so you don't find yourself in a situation   like that because otherwise I would be stuck  in the mountains and in the middle of nowhere   with no reception. But thanks  to Ecuadorian people I'm good to go! Finally, I've reached my last destination on this trip a beautiful Quilotoa lake. I got lucky again.  

You see, as it normally happens in the mountains  this place often gets very foggy and sometimes   you need to wait hours for it to open up. When  I got here for about 10 minutes the fog about   the lake cleared out and I was able to fully  enjoy the true beauty of this magnificent place And so we've done it! After two  thousand kilometers covered in the car we've seen La Sierra, we've seen   a lot of this beautiful country and I  couldn't be more happier. Shout out to my car, who   survived all these difficult roads. But  in all honesty, I would like to thank   the people of Ecuador and this beautiful country,  for giving me an opportunity to explore it, to   enjoy it. I would like to thank people  for being so kind to me...   just in daily interactions, casual  interactions and to that moment when   I ran out of gas and the guys helped me. In and  out - beautiful country, great people I had a blast  

here and I strongly recommend you do La Sierra  especially because the beauty is just out of this   world... and the change of climate zones makes  it so much more fun! Anyways that's it for me   and stay adventurous, stay safe and stay loved! I'll see you in the next country! ¡Ciao!

2021-05-03 04:39

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