Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ecuador's Andes mountain drive with Sue

Sue and I continue our Ecuador drive from Manta up the windy high passes in the Andes mountains to Quito and Otavalo

We left Manta after a great buffet breakfast at the Howard Jonhson Hotel which was just a couple of blocks from our hostel and we headed north on the coastal highway past Crucita and then up the mountain pass towards Santa Domingo.


Crucita is a small town with many condos and houses on the beach. It is a place I will visit again.

We drove past the turn off for Bahia de Caraquez, a town I really wanted to visit, but considering the long drive ahead of us to Quito we headed toward Chone and then Santa Domingo.

  We drove past many corn and sugar cane fields as we headed up the windy mountain roads.

One good thing is that all the roads we drove on were in great condition and many of them were new, unlike my drive through Ecuador in 1975 when most of the roads were gravel and mud.

 We did get a bit excited during our many car passing adventures on blind curves! But if we did not pass the cars and trucks we might have arrived in Quito the next day.

Richard, the real estate guy from the hostel in Manta told us by the time we got lost several times we might arrive in Quito in 13 hours! Well he was right and we did arrive in Quito at night and it was pouring rain and bumper to bumper traffic.
I thought I could avoid this by taking a side road to Mindo but of course I did not find that turn off.
We drove through many small villages with houses made of bamboo on stilts and always roadside stands selling everything from honey, oranges, to food and drinks. All the small villages were inhabited by Indians wearing their typical costumes. It seemed they were farmers and had small herds of cows and sheep. It amazed me how they farmed the sides of the mountains at what seems 70 degree angles. Unfortunately Sue took many hours of movie film on our drive and very few pictures. We could not get the movies to play at my house but hopefully she will fix this problem in Iowa.

By the time we arrived in Quito I was worn out from all the driving and with our limited road map and very few road signs I stayed in the right lanes upon entering Quito. Guess it would not matter what road you take through Quito it seems to always be bumper to bumper driving. It started pouring rain, we ended up in El Centro driving past a few expensive looking Hotels so we stopped at a gas station to ask about places to stay and had a jalapeno hamburger and fries, which did not set well with me for the rest of the night.
We followed the airport signs thinking that there would be lodging around the airport. 
We finally saw a motel sign, which was our excitement for the night in Quito.

We drove into the entrance of the motel and noticed a guy with a flash light directing us into a garage. So we followed him and as soon as we entered to garage the door closed on us with no explanation as to what we should do to check-in. 

 We saw a staircase so of course we went upstairs to what was a room with a king size bed, mirrored wall and a glass shower stall visible from the room. The front door was locked but had a small door that opened to a box. 

So I called the operator to find out what we should do about checking into this motel. But all I got was I don't speak English and a click on the phone!

The mirrored wall and guess what was playing on the TV?

I must have been really tired because I could not figure out what this stool was for!

I finally decided to call Bryan and I explained to him our situation, how we were locked in a motel room with no way out. While I had him on the phone I knocked on the box on the door and this guy opened a door on the other side, so I handed him my phone so he could explain to Bryan what was going on.
When I got back on the phone with Bryan he was having a good laugh while he explained to me that we were in a 'love motel' and we could pay $8 per hour or if we stayed until 7:30 am it would cost $18 for the night. 
Of course being so tired and $18 for the night being a good price we decided to stay for the night.
The next morning Sue took the first shower warning me not to look through the glass! But the glass did steam up right away blocking any view of Sue in the shower. Promptly at 7:30 am a women entered our room to count the condoms, booze and other items on the snack tray to charge us for plus she collected the $18 and opened the garage door.

As we drove away it looked like the guy next door tried leaving without paying!

Back on the road again we headed north to Otavalo and Cotacachi. The sun was shining as we drove along steep mountain passes. It was a pleasant drive without much traffic.
We decided to go to Cotacachi first which was just a few miles north of Otavalo. I had read so many articles from the Gary Scott blog about all the expats settling in Cotacahi and about all the sub-divisions being built I was curious to see it.
When we arrived the town was very quiet, very few people walking around, but very clean.
We stopped by a coffee cafe I had read about to check it out.

The cafe was owned by an Ecuadorian guy who spoke English and we did meet a couple of American residents and had a conversation with them. One nice thing about traveling with Sue she can start conversations with anyone and end up friends with a new e-mail address.

We asked the ladies about expat subdivisions but they did not seem to know about them other than saying there are places outside of town, and they lived in condos in town. In fact they were about to take a trip to Cuenca and were considering relocating there. 

After some espresso coffee we stopped by a couple of leather shops so Sue could buy more gifts for her daughters and friends in Iowa.
In the basement of one of the shops were a few men busy making leather goods.

Sue was happy with her purchases, seems the quality and prices were a bargain.

Downtown Cotacachi

We drove back to Otavalo and at the suggestion of the coffee shop owner we stayed at the Hotel India.

Hotel India was very clean with great rooms and just $53 per night.

Social area with WiFi and glass roof inside the hotel

A mural inside the hotel, Otavalo is just 90 years old and the sidewalks are beautiful colored tiles. It is very clean city, warm weather and is located on a large trout lake.

The Otavaleños (or runa, as the refer to themselves) are a people and culture indigenous to the Otavalo valley in the Imbabura province of Northern Ecuador. The Otavalo Indians are the descendants of the Cara Indians who inhabited this region of South America about 500 years ago. In 1495 the Caras were conquered by the Incas of the south, and the Incan Empire was in turn conquered by the Spanish Conquistadores in the 1530s. The Otavaleño people today are skilled textile weavers, and are perhaps the most prosperous indigenous group in all of South America. Today, there are upwards of 50,000 Otavaleños; the majority of them still live in the valley surrounding the town of Otavalo, but they are a common site in virtually any Ecuadorian city. Within the past two decades or so, increasing numbers of Otavaleños have also been travelling overseas to sell their handicrafts in Europe, North America and other countries in South America.

Our room was quiet, lots of hot water and TV! After a good nights sleep we had breakfast that was included and headed for the marketplace to shop for more gifts.

Sue bought 20 cotton scarfs for friends in Iowa which will come in handy during those cold snowy winters.

The marketplace had lots of woven goods to chose from including blankets, sweaters, wall hangings and many oil paintings.

Otavalo was a beautiful city full of happy friendly people. A place I will visit again.

Unfortunately we had a lot of territory to cover and just a few days to do it. So after Sue's shopping spree we headed back to Quito and to Bano hot springs for the night.

And once again we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for 3 hours driving through Quito. But it was a relief to get through the city and back on the Pan American Highway.

Next blog will cover the trip to Bano and back to Cuenca! Until then keep enjoying life.  


  1. Gary, will you do this again when I come to visit. Wanda

  2. Gary, it seems like you had all the fun!!! Specially in the love motel!!!!!! lmao bryan.

    1. Hi, thanks for the blog....I like it, Jaga Rytych :)

  3. Gary,

    What a wonderful trip. The pictures are great. The story about the love motels was too funny. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Great photos we will end up in Ecuador in a few years

  5. I am happy to be here! Thanks for the compliment on the photos. The whole trip it was cloudy and Sue took lots of movie footage that did not come out! But it was a fun trip.