Family visit to Ecuador for Xmas and New Years: Quito, Mindo, Rucu Pichincha, Cayambe Volcano, and the Galapagos!

Over the holidays, my whole family (almost) came to visit me in Ecuador. My youngest sister Julianna had to bail at the last minute because she had a new job in California.

My dad was the first to arrive, on Tuesday Dec. 23, just after I returned from my bike ride to the coast. He stayed at an excellent Airbnb (highly recommended) owned by Milton Rivera,

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just down the street from me on Eloy Alfaro. Since his flight arrived in the middle of the night, I just met him at the airbnb early on Wednesday morning. We spent Xmas eve taking the bus to the airport to look for my dad’s lost bag (no luck, we didn’t find it) then walking around my neighborhood. On Xmas day, we did a huge walk all around the city, taking in views of Guapulo,

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La Floresta and passing through La Mariscal, and La Carolina neighborhoods. That evening we went to eat at Vista Hermosa with my friend’s Rodrigo, Majo, and Daniela then walked around the historic colonial district.DSCF6637DSCF6640DSCF6673

My sister arrived on Xmas night at around 10pm. We spent the next day walking around my neighborhood and visiting the Iñaquitos market. We rested up that evening, then went to the airport to pick up my mom from her midnight flight. My brother and sister in law Myrthala were the last to arrive, coming in at 1am on Saturday. After a leisurely Saturday morning at the airbnb, we went around the Colonial district checking out the plaza and climbing up La Basilica.

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Since dad and I had such a great time eating at Vista Hermosa, we decided to take the whole family there again for dinner and views.

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The next morning we took a van to Mindo where we rode a chiva up to the Tabitha cable car that took us across a gorge to a waterfall hike through the cloud forest.

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After a huge lunch in Mindo, we headed back to Quito, stopping at Mitad del Mundo (a tourist stop right on the equator that celebrates La Condamine’s expedition) along the way.

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When we got back, we had a white wine toast on the balcony at the airbnb before mom and dad headed to the airport that night. A short, but nice visit with the folks.

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My siblings stayed in Ecuador for another week, and we took advantage of every minute. On monday morning, we hiked up Rucu Pichincha (15,500ft) along with my friend Fer. It was Myrthala and Anthy’s highest summit ever. Unfortunately it was cloudy so we didn’t get good views.

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The next day Fer, Anthy, and I drove up to the Refugio on Volcan Cayambe and hiked up to the glacier at 5000m to check out route conditions. The snow looked ok, so we decided to go for the summit that night. We got up at 11am to cloudy windy weather, and were out the door of the refugio by midnight. As we hiked up the trail to the glacier, it began to snow and the wind kept getting stronger. By the time we reached the glacier, we were in near blizzard conditions. We pressed on for about 3 hours up the glacier at a very slow pace to 5200m. The wind just below the ridgeline was so strong, it was knocking us to the ground. We decided to turnaround at 4am.

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We returned to Quito on New Year’s eve and went for dinner at El Hornero near my house since everything else was closed. We bought an Año Viejo with the intent of burning it, as is the Ecuadorian tradition, but we were too tired from not sleeping the night before on Cayambe, and fell asleep by 9am-missing the fireworks and effigy burning!

On New Year’s day, we all flew to the Galapagos. Because I have residency, I forgot to pack my passport, and ended up having to race back to Quito from the airport to grab it before our flight and then race back to the airport. Fortunately there was no traffic, and we made the round trip in an hour!! We flew into Baltra, then took the ferry across to Santa Cruz, where we stayed for a couple of days in Puerto Ayora. The town was pretty nice and had lots of bars and good seafood. We also checked out the Darwin Research Center, Playa Tortuga, Las Grietas, and La Laguna during our first afternoon and the next day. On our 3rd day we took a day tour to Isla Isabela. The tour was actually pretty lame and we decided we would just stick to doing stuff on our own…At least we snorkeled with a massive sea turtled and some peguins in the harbor!

After Islabela, we moved over to Isla San Cristobal, which was way cooler than Santa Cruz. To get there we took a high speed water taxi that literally caught air over every wave-making for a brutal ride. San Cristobal, to me, is what the Galapagos is all about. Though you have a small city there, people and wildlife seemingly coexist rather peacefully. The Galapagos faces its fair share of conservation issues, but it seems to be a good model for future conservation, though I do think the limitations the National Park puts on the local community would be untenable elsewhere. Anyhow, after a rather horrible dinner at the tourist trap Descanso Marinero, we spent the rest of our first evening enjoying a beer while watching the antics of the sea lion colony in the middle of the boardwalk in the center of town. What an experience. I’ve seen tons of sea lion colonies when I was a guide in Alaska, but its a different experience when you have to step over/walk around/share benches with a colony of several hundred of them in the middle of town.

Anthy took off the next day and we went diving at Leon Dormido (Kicker Rock). This was by far the best dive of my life. We saw several black tipped reef sharks, huge copulating sea turtles, spotted eagle rays with a wingspan of a couple meters, and best of all was a school of literrally millions of small fish. We actually were able to enter the vortex of swirling fish and have them circle around us-what a magic experience. This was definitely the highlight of my trip! We also visited a beautiful, pristine beach and saw an endangered species of sea gull (can’t recall the name, but something like lava…named for its dark gray coloring). After the dive, we went to Playa Mann to watch the sunset and swim/share the beach with sea lions. We got some awesome pics of baby sea lions covered in sand as the sun went down over the Pacific-another magical experience. If I ever become a successful researcher, I really hope to do some work in the Galapagos at some point!

The next morning we hiked through the Interpretation Center that has some really good information on Galapagos history, culture, and current conservation issues. We also went snorkeling in an amazing rocky bay where we followed a sea turtle for a good 10 minutes, saw huge schools of multicolored reef fish, and were even harrassed by some sea lions. What a place! That afternoon we took the water taxi back to Santa Cruz and had a nice dinner at a little outdoor seating seafood restaurant. We also arranged for a taxi to take us on a tour of the highlands before our flight at 10am the next morning. The highlands were actually really cool-especially the tortoise reserve. These massive, 150+ year old beasts were everywhere. So cool!! Then hiked through a lava tunnel that was pretty neat and checked out some sink holes before making our way over to the airport on Isla Baltra. Awesome trip in a truly special place! Thanks for making it possible Nik!!!

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