Pumapongo Museum

The Pumapongo Museum is a free museum dedicated to the development of Ecuador in general and a lot of information about the indigenous people as well. The museum has a main building as well as partially excavated grounds directly behind the museum.  There is a small area for live birds on display too.

Not only is there no charge to go into the museum, I never even saw a donation box!

There are wonderful small dioramas showing life for the indigenous and early settlers. They are so detailed that they even show plants growing on the roof of a house…something that you do see sometimes even today.

Most of the museum is only in Spanish which we can read mas or menos (somewhat) but occasionally there was English.

There is a section of money. Originally things from nature were used as money, shells and such. Later coins and then later paper money were used. Starting in 1830, the Peso was used. The Franco was used from 1856-1871. Then they used the Peso again until 1884 when the Sucre was used until 2000 when they went to using the United States dollar because the sucre had been so devalued.

Today although we mostly see paper bills of $5 to $20 and the presidential dollar coins as well as other US coins, there are still occasional Ecuador coins that we receive in change, but not often.

The archeological site has ruins from the Inca Kanari civilization. I couldn’t find much online about the museum and archeological site (guess that is the down side of a free museum) but I did find this. If you are interested in more, you can do an online search and find bits and pieces about the area.

This is a sacred area below the museum and archeological area.

In the lower section there is an area of sacred corn that was planted as well as information on various medicinal plants and other plants which are used in the area.

There was a final area with a few birds in cages. Not all of them were named. The two most interesting to me were this blueish/greenish bird  (unnamed) and Black Chested Buzzard Eagles which are much larger than they appear in this picture.

Cuenca

According to WIKI, the city of Cuenca is located at about 8,200 feet with an urban population of approximately 400,000 rising to 700,000 inhabitants in the larger metropolitan area. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site due to its many historical buildings.

The air is crisp and much cleaner than the other large cities like Quito or Medellin. And the air is very dry even though we are fast approaching the rainy season. We were the first AirBnB guests of Marco and Miriam. They are a retired couple who built what I would call a hacienda on the edge of town 8 years ago. The U shaped house has 4 bedrooms along the legs of the U with a large covered area in between and the living, dining, and laundry rooms and kitchen along the base of the U. There is a separate structure on the property where Miriam’s mother lives.

We took the bus to the center of town most days, $0.25 total for both of us each way. The bus stops within 100 feet or so of their property.

We took 2 tours in one day early on in our stay. One to the North part of town, the other to the South. The architecture in Cuenca shows Spanish, French, and Arabian influence. At least one building shows all 3 in the same building exterior.

There are 4 rivers in Cuenca. Along one street, the houses look like they are 2 story houses but when you drive along the street parallel to this street which fronts one of the rivers you can see that those houses are actually up to 7 stories high.

On the South tour, we went up to a viewpoint and then spent some extra time going to a famous ceramic workshop and bought 4 mugs, a small vase, and a number “7” to go on the manufactured home when we move back to Durango.

During the North tour we stopped at what I believe is the original “Panama hat” factory. All true Panama hats are made in Ecuador. The story about the name of the hats is that they were worn by the workers who were digging out the Panama Canal. When Teddy Roosevelt was photographed wearing one while he inspected the work, the name became “Panama” hat. These hats are lightweight and breathable which makes them very comfortable. More on them in another post.

I saw two little girls (maybe 5-7) on the bus with their hair braided from one side across their head to the other side. I wasn’t close enough to get a good picture but what might look like a headband is actually braided hair. Really cute!

Speaking of hair, not as many women have long hair here as in many places we have been although there are still lots who do. Guys aren’t always as well groomed as other places but they aren’t dirty or messy…just not as many with very recent haircuts.

Here are a couple of nice murals we have seen. One is probably the Devil vs God with earth in between. The other is a guy playing an electric guitar sitting in a field so that is a bit odd but nicely done.

Lots of dogs here, many loose. Loved this vendor who had their dogs dressed from paws to heads and in between.

Here is a good picture of what I have mentioned in the past…that commas and decimals are used differently in Latin America (and elsewhere maybe?). This is a sign for a building project with the cost down to the penny (cents are after the comma).

And finally, it is not uncommon to see people dressed up as a living statue for money. This was an especially interesting one because the man is only balanced on his arm. He must have a support under his clothes but nothing is visible from the outside.

Here is a random small mural I saw on a building. Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria maybe?

Waste water systems in Latin America can’t usually handle toilet paper so you throw your used paper in a trash can. Not my favorite thing but I am used to it. This is the most graphic sign have I seen on the subject.

Panama Hat Factory

As part of our city tour, we went to a Panama hat factory. This was much more interesting than I would have expected.

Leaves are harvested
Curled
Boiling leaves

Long leaves are picked and rolled a little to curl them. Then they are boiled and then dried and dyed. There are a lot of colors that they use.

Once the leaves are dried again, they are woven by hand into the shape for the hat. Cheap hats start at $35 at the factory, much more other places, although there are vendors on the street that offer them for less…and you can even watch them working on a hat.

More expensive hats use smaller “threads” of leaves to weave so that they are softer and have a more finished look.

Weaving finished, needs trimming, washing, drying, shaping, and hat band.
One machine for shaping; you can see shapes on the shelves.

Once the hat is woven and trimmed, it is washed in large vats and then dried. Then there are a number of steps to shape the brim and head part with steam.

Hat bands are added in this room.

The final step is to add the hat band.

This same process is used for bags and even clothing. Here is a wedding dress  and flowers which were made in the same way.

Many famous people wear hats from this factory including Madonna, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, and others. (Sorry the pictures aren’t very good.)

Alausí Devil’s Nose Train

Alausí is a small town between Baños and Cuenca. We wanted somewhere to stay to break up the long bus ride between the two cities.

Nestled in a valley in the Andes mountains. It’s altitude is 7,696 feet and in 2001, the population was around 5,000 people. There are lot of indigenous people there and it was enjoyable to see them when we walked around town.

The town itself is doesn’t have much else for tourists than the train although we had a very enjoyable evening talking with a retired couple from Germany. They have done tons of traveling and talked about some of the places they recommended, especially Africa and Europe. Not likely to get to either of those places but you never know with us!

The Devil’s Nose train is likely another governmental project similar to the Tren de Libertad to Salinas that we took a month or so ago. The scenery is beautiful along the way.

Sign indicating the train will back up and change direction.

The Devil’s Nose train takes track that was extremely challenging to build, climbing more than 500 meters (more than 1,500 feet) in 12 kilometers (7.2 miles). This was accomplished by having zig zags in the tracks where the train backs up in an area and changes direction because the brakeman throws a switch on the tracks!

The whole peak is considered the “Devil’s Nose” however I think the little point on the left side of the peak looks more like a nose on a face.

The ride itself is not that long, about 30-45 minutes each way. On the way there, we stopped briefly for pictures of “Devil’s Nose”. The mountain looks to some like the pointed part of the nose of a person laying down. To me, not so much.

The second stop has a modern covered pavillion, cafe, and museum where the indigenous people perform dances (see the videos by clicking on the link), sell crafts, feed you, and explain some of their culture. Although their actual work day is fairly short (2 performances of maybe 30 minutes each), they walk 2 hours per day TO work and 2 1/2 hours back home. That’s dedication!

One of the men spoke fairly good English and he explained a number of things about their culture. Their hats and women’s colored necklaces indicated that the person is married although there was one of his friends there without her colored bead necklace on and he couldn’t explain why since she is married (and divorce is not part of their culture).

This tool is hooked over the neck of two oxen or other animals. If they are equally strong, it is placed symmetrically over their necks however if one is stronger than the other, they can vary where on the tool it is placed to make the pulling equal between the two animals.

When the tool is shaken, it makes a noise., kind of like a tambourine.

The animals are trained to auditory signals using this tool. They shake it with different noises to indicate whether the animal should start or stop.

Sugar cane stalk goes through the two horizontal pieces of wood above the piece of tin and the juice is rung out like in the old fashioned washing machines.

This is a press to get the juice out of sugar cane.

The entire tour took 2 1/2 hours and was $22 each for seniors or $33 each for other adults. Very affordable and worth it in our book.

Casa Del Arbol (Tree House) Tour

 

Area is famous for the swing over the end of the earth. In reality, it is a gentler slope than the other location.

We had a bit of extra time the afternoon before we left Baños so we decided to take the Casa Del Arbol tour. The tour was 2 1/2 hours and cost $4 per person plus $1.50 in entrance fees per person. What a deal!

The first stop (in the same Chiva as the waterfall tour) was at a place that I can’t find the name. This is too bad because I was relying on pulling up some pictures or website online to show you this incredible swing. It makes the Casa del Arbol swing look like a regular playground swing by comparison.

For this swing, you had to wear a helmet and you were strapped into the swing seat and then sent out from a raised platform maybe 12-15 feet off the ground on the edge of a ridge. I saw one boy about 12 or 13 after he got off of it and he was almost in a daze and had to sit down. LOL

I didn’t do either but just to give you an idea, for the Casa del Arbol swing there was a line of 50 or more people and each person got about 30 seconds on the swing which went out over the overlook but it was a relatively gradual slope.

Even the observation tower was a challenge at the first place. I went up to the second of 4 levels and it was swaying so much I went down. Dan went up all 4 levels, of course.

The tree house at Casa del Arbol wasn’t bad although I only went up the first level.

Incidentally, the Casa del Arbol was built as an observation post after the eruption of Tungurahua Volcano in 1999. In early 2000, the entire city of Baños was evacuated for up to a year. They were evacuated once again in 2014 for a short time. You can see a nice write up about this activity here.

PS, Tungurahua is quiet these days but still considered active. No steam or anything to see at this time.

See how close our bus got to another on the way down the mountain! They inched past each other on the narrow road.

Water Falls and Zoo

Waterfall by hot springs (waterfall is not hot), feeds washing stations.

Baños doesn’t have a lot of touristy things to do but one is the waterfall tour. For $5 each plus $2 entrance fee each at the Pailon de Diablo Park, and $2 each if you go on the tram car, or more if you do the ziplines, we went on a newer Chiva bus to see several waterfalls.

Before we started the tour, there was a very joyous lady playing some type of metal instrument with beautiful meditation music. Take a listen. Of course we gave her a donation for starting our day off so nicely.

The first waterfall went over the road. Then we walked a short distance to see the head in the rock formation overhead. Didn’t catch the name of it.

There were two zipline concessions, starting at $10 per person, a bargain compared to most places. We aren’t into “adrenaline” activities so we just watched and took photos. Trouble uploading videos so click here to see the various zipline activities (guess which one is called the “Bats”) and waterfalls.

At one place we rode a tram car with about 10 other people across a valley and back. Took about 5 minutes for $2 per head but it was fun.

The highlight of the tour was Pailon de Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron). We walked a short way to see the waterfall and over a couple of bridges. The waterfall is about 260’ tall and the area is beautiful. It is a little bit of a hike to see it but not bad.

The Eco Zoológico San Martín is walking distance from our apartment so we went to it. It is  only fair as a zoo but we did enjoy seeing all of the birds. Their website is actually the best way to see the animals!

Bears having a discussion about who will get a certain spot in their enclosure.

There are two bears and one is definitely the alpha. It had been just walking around but when it got within about 20’ of the other bear which I thought had been napping, the second bear got up and complained. They were vocal but not violent. The second bear gave up and let the first one have the spot it had been in.

On the male, the ball of feathers is much larger. See the grey “mass” on the right side of his head?

While there were some beautiful parrot type birds that you can see on the website, the most unusual animals were the C0peton Mallards. Who knows why they have the funny ball of feathers on their heads!?

Of course there were monkeys but they were behind glass so our pictures aren’t very good. Sadly.

Termas de la Virgen-Hot Springs of the Virgin

Baños is most known for its Termas de la Virgen hot springs. So of course we had to go there. The original facility has several heated pools which are yellow-green from the chemicals in the water. In January, they added a second facility which has two hot pools with the yellow green water and several cold pools and 3 water slides. People think of it as more of a water park which it is. We chose to go to that one because we had heard that the dressing rooms were better.

I guess 3rs. edad means seniors because that is what we paid

We paid a whopping $3 per head (how much is Trimble outside of Durango?) and rented cloth bathing caps for $1 each; they are required to keep the water cleaner.

The changing rooms, restrooms, and free lockers are nice and new but I think they could have invested a few hundred dollars more and put seats on the commodes and some hooks to hang things. Unlike Colombia where toilet seats are rare in public places, they are the norm in Ecuador. Except for a couple of bus stations, all commodes have had seats so I was quite surprised (and disappointed) to not see them here.

The heated pools were very hot even though we were told that they are hotter in the original facility. Dan went down the water slides twice but I had injured myself on the one in Durango so I opted not to go. Besides, the water on the slides and the pool where you land is cold. I was enjoying the hot water too much.

The view of the waterfall and mountain was outstanding from the pools. A nice way to end the afternoon that started with the waterfall tour in the morning.

After we changed we walked several blocks to the grocery store. Somewhere along the way my water shoes fell off my backpack (I guess I hadn’t secured the Velcro well enough. We back tracked but they were long gone. Someone got an almost new pair of shoes; I hope they like them more than I did. I never found them to be that comfortable anyway.

Baños

Lindie strumming statue’s guitar in the park.

Baños de Agua Santa is a clean town with not much special in the way of design/architecture. Established in 1693, its altitude is 5971 feet.

It is clean and safe and we enjoyed walking around it. There are some hills in the town but the main part is fairly flat.

 

These statues seem so random and out of place on this side street.

I especially enjoyed seeing these statues, just placed on the curb on a hill into downtown.

It was also interesting that there are 30 stations for washing clothes by hand in front of the Termales. The water is cold but they are clean and convenient for many people. The slanted part is where the water flows into the station and they wet or rinse the clothes, the flat part to the side is where they scrub the clothes. Sadly, I assume the dirty water goes directly into the river.Ever wonder how larger trees got pruned? At least here they just use a ladder.

OK you just have to trust me on this one. I wasn’t quick enough to get the actual picture I wanted. There was a medium sized dog behind the last horse pulling on the horse’s tail as they all walked down the street. Sorry I missed it.

Ecuador’s Exports

Photo compliments of https://www.notyouraverageamerican.com/ecuadorian-roses/

According to this website, the United States is the primary market for Ecuadorian exports as well as Ecuador’s largest supplier of imports. Ecuador’s main export commodities are petroleum, bananas, cut flowers and shrimp.

I already showed a sign with fuel prices and we see “regular” bananas more here than other countries we have been in which usually have mostly plantains.
But the cut flowers really surprised me. I found a really interesting video on the rose industry and we saw 6 long stem roses for $1 (for all 6!) several places. They are beautiful roses that were just picked and still just barely opening like you see in the video.
I saw a lot of colors but didn’t see the vibrant multicolor ones you see in this video.  White and a color, yes…but the ones in the video are amazing. And they really are such long stems! This video is interesting as well.
And here another interesting video on commercials roses (bottom of the page)-Rose production.
And yes, you do see acres and acres and acres of green houses growing these beautiful flowers.

Amazon Jungle

Dining room at the lodge

While we were out with one of our guides in the Quito area, she told Dan (I didn’t listen to much of the conversation-my bad) about place that was cheap to stay at and very nice. We decided to go there from Quito. What we didn’t know when we decided to do that is that it would be such an adventure.

Suchipakari Lodge is 11 km (about 6-7 miles) from the small town of Misahuallí which is 23 km (14 miles) from Tena bus station.

We got to the Quito bus station (after more than an hour taxi ride from our apartment) and were impressed with the station. Unlike most bus stations which are old and dark, this one could have been an airport. It is bright and new and clean. We only had a 30 minute wait for a bus to Tena which was supposed to be a 5 ½ hour ride (but ofcourse was over 6 hours). We had a taxi waiting for us at the Tena bus station.

We knew we needed more cash and the driver stopped at a bank where we could use an ATM. It wouldn’t let us get any more cash since we had used it that morning. The single ATM machine is down at Misahuallí and we would have to get more cash another day ($20 taxi ride each way sadly).

By the time we left Tena to go to the lodge it was getting dark. We stopped briefly in Misahuallí so the driver could pick up some beer. We saw 3 Capuchin monkeys on the roof of the market stall where his wife works. We didn’t take pictures because of the lighting and we were tired…too bad because we heard other monkeys but never saw them.

The driver told us it would be another 40 minutes to the lodge, some of the road good, some not. He wasn’t exaggerating. There was a wonderful relatively new road for about ½ the way. Then there was a one lane gravel road for the last 11 km.

Road taken during the day and darkened but it gives you a little idea of what it is like.

Picture this, we are in a strange place, going down a dirt/rocky road at 20-30 mph, in the dark. Branches and leaves are hitting either side of the taxi pickup windows. It feels like the middle of nowhere. (This road is only about 6 or 7 years old. Before then, it took a 1 1/2 hour canoe ride to get to the lodge!)

But we see people walking. One or two people or small groups of up to maybe 6 at a time. It is Saturday night and these young people are going to party. There are a number of places down this road where parties are about to happen. In what appears to me to be the middle of nowhere. And I know it is a jungle, literally, out there!

We saw an occasional building with lights but never heard the partying. When we finally “arrived” at our destination, a dead end with an unlit building. There we were met by an older teen with a wheelbarrow. We put our rolling bags in the wheelbarrow and walked “5 minutes” up a dirt path with a flashlight and a flashlight app on a quickly dying cell phone app. Then over 2 small bridges.

Red is cacao fruit ready to be harvested to make chocolate.

We could hear water (a river) along side as we walked. We saw cacao trees with the fruit (future chocolate) on the trees as we walked. We finally saw some lights and then went up about 25 or 30 steps. Here was the lodge.

We had arrive during dinner so we ate (first time I at fish that was the whole fish on my plate-tilapia) and then got our rooms.

The next morning we awoke and went to a tourist attraction put on by the local Shiripuno women. That’s another post.