Cochasquí Archeological Park

Pyramid with long ramp, compliments of

The Cochasquí Archeological Park is a short drive (19 miles) from Quito. This is a fascinating area where the pre-Colombian and pre-Incan natives built pyramids that were built with much precision. The location is about 9,970 feet above sea level with a 240 degree view. The park is 84 hectares (210 acres) and has 15 pyramids and 21 burial mounds.

Partial view from one of pyramids

The pyramids are a bit different from Egyptian pyramids. They have been covered with dirt to hide them and 9 of them have a ramp going up the face of the pyramid. They are thought to be ceremonial and astronomical in nature. There are indications that they created a 13 month, 28 day calendar using the sun and the moon. (That’s 364 days which is pretty close to accurate!)

The pyramids were built by alternating layers of stone and a mixture similar to adobe.

It was a beautiful day to tour the site. The park guide spoke slow clear Spanish and our English guide also translated for us. We could understand a lot of the Spanish without translation.

There are over 150 llamas and alpacas that roam freely in the park. These gentle animals were comfortable approaching us.

If you are ever in Ecuador, I highly recommend visiting this park. I’m always amazed at the scientific knowledge that theses ancients had. (I still think that they were helped by aliens but that is a different blog that I probably won’t write.)

The Equator

Intinan Museum, may not be accurate

OK this is a tough blog to write because it turns out my MOST FUN adventure of all of our travels was…(spoiler alert) a fraud. So I am not exactly sure how to write this. Let me start at the beginning.

As you might expect, the equator is a big tourist attraction in this country. The French did the original calculation in the late 1730’s and miscalculated by about 541 feet, pretty darn close in my book.

Anyway, there is a monument in one place that proclaims the equator but it is inaccurate. Close by is a place called the Intiñan Museum (in the town of Mitad del Mundo-middle of the earth). Some sites on the Internet claim this is not actually on the equator either.

For $4 each, we went on a guided tour where the guide talked about the creatures in the Amazon, shrunken heads, burial sites, and we had our pictures taken on/straddling the line.

Then came the fun with “experiments”. We did 4 experiments to prove the “power of the equator” on nature.

  • The egg experiment: balance the egg on a nail. Dan went first and did it with some problems but was successful. I went right after him and didn’t have any problem at all! (Turns out that the heavy egg yolk allows this to be done anyplace in the world. Since I simply took the egg off and replaced it, I hadn’t moved the yolk.)
  • Water flowing clockwise on the north side, counter clockwise south of the line. And straight down when you are right on the equator. The distance between the north and south experiments was less than 30’. (This is impacted by how you remove the plug in the basin.)
  • Walking a straight line with your eyes closed while you walked the equator line. (Not sure of the scientific basis to debunk this)
  • Less strength when you stood on the line than when you were to either side of it. (Not sure of the scientific basis to debunk this)

It was great fun to try these experiments although I did wonder aloud to Dan about how far off the equator line did it matter. The painted line was about 3 or 4 inches wide so where does the change really start?

Much of the information about the Candiru fish which supposedly swims up the urethra into the bladder is disputed on the Internet however the shrunken head part seemed largely accurate although I don’t really trust that the displayed head is real and 170 years old.

A few days later when we went to the Quitsato equator line we got an entirely different story.

First, I saw a very official looking metal cylinder in the ground in Quitsato placed by the Ecuadorian Military Geographic Institute. (There are 2 but I only noticed one of the two cylinders surrounded by concrete on a platform on top of the Equatorial line, with a 1mm error margin determined by using GPS and GNSS equipment. I never saw anything like that at Intiñan Museum.) There is a huge area that is made into a sundial with a tall hollow cylinder in the center. The guide was much more serious and explained much more clearly about the summer and winter solstices, rotation of the earth, etc. He used an inflatable globe with the continental names written sideways rather than how we are used to being “north-centric”.

He also debunked the experiments from the previous outing. I was crushed but it did make sense. We bought the information packet which includes the globe, CD, poster and will be happy to share them or you can go to their website to look up the info.

As an aside, this place had the nicest restrooms I have ever seen. Clean and white and sinks at 3 different levels for small children, people of my stature, and taller people.

More About Quito

Quito is a very vibrant city. I already talked about the bus system which was cheap and fairly easy to use.

There is a huge Metropolitan Park (1,376 acres-Central Park in New York City is only 843 acres!) which has a dinosaur museum, planetarium, skate park, small lake and lots of trees and paths/sidewalks, and probably a lot more that we missed. It is the largest urban park in South America. We had talked about going to the museum and planetarium but time got away from us and we didn’t do either.

Here are some random thoughts/observations.

  • Fashion and haircuts don’t seem to be as important as in Colombia. I didn’t see a lot of very short men’s cuts and not lots of distressed jeans, high heels, etc.
  • There must be a program to screen preschooler’s vision because I saw a number of kids I judged to be about 4 wearing glasses. There seemed to be a choice of bluish frames for the boys and reddish ones for girls.
  • In Quito and Ibarra, but not so obviously in other towns, you don’t bring the shopping cart through the line as you would in the USA. You unload the cart and just leave it and someone gathers them up. Often the isle isn’t wide enough to pull the cart through but even when it is, you aren’t supposed to (as I was told).
  • We spotted a “Route 66” sign near the Quito airport. Just a random sign, not actually Route 66.
  • In one mall food court, the trash bins had a handle on it that you push so it is easier to dump your trash into the bin. What a concept!
  • There was this one building next to a park with the Eifel Tower added to the front. Random?!
  • Not Quito, but this is as good a place as any to show a man in the bus station in Tena walking around with a box of something he was selling. Not sure what it was but the items had little sticks sticking out of each item and he had a ……..bottle in the box. I’m amazed when I see folks walking around with stuff balanced on their heads.
  • In one mall some brilliant architect designed a women’s bathroom with more sinks than stalls. There were either 2 or 3 stalls and 3 or 4 sinks. Go figure.
  • Because Ecuador exports petroleum, the price of fuel is cheap here. These prices are in US gallons! I’ve heard that you can’t leave the country with a full tank of fuel because they are afraid you will siphon the fuel out and sell it. Not sure if this is true or not. (Those prices are US dollars per gallon…remember that they often use a comma in place of where we would use a decimal point.)
  • Songs in English, especially Country music is common in much of Latin America. Much more than you would expect although Spanish music is predominant.
  • This is concrete on the lower section and cloth on the upper but some places are concrete the entire hillside.

    There is a huge problem with landslides so there are large areas that have had concrete put over the hills…I mean a LOT of concrete! Not attractive but hopefully it helps since there are highways at the bases of the hills. Occasionally we saw the use of some type of ground cover that allows plants to grow up through it while stabilizing the area. More attractive and maybe even cheaper, not sure.

  • We saw these little girls about 6 years old playing under the sign advertising lunches. They were walking around with it on their heads like a hat or umbrella. Too cute to miss.

Mindo Bird Watching

7 birds (2 species). One bird is on a branch

One of the highlights of the Quito area was a very small bird watching place in Mindo after our hike.  The place is called either Jardin el Decanyo or Jardin el Descanso, I have seen both names. The owner of the property had originally bought the property which was treeless and made an area into a soccer field, complete with picnic tables, grills, etc. And then the bird watching bug bit him.

He planted hundreds (or more) trees and bushes where the soccer field used to be. It is now jungle like and the birds LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Sitting on his covered porch we saw 6-8 hummingbirds at each of 4 or 5 feeders. We saw 3 or 4 species of hummingbirds but he has identified over 100. We also saw some tangers and a swooping visit by some type of hawk. When the hawk swoops by, everyone hides for a few minutes and then return.

Here are a couple of fun Google animations from our time the garden. One is pictures mostly at a feeder and the other is a very pretty bird-watch closely and he will stick out his tongue.

It was heartwarming to see what one person can do to change the world. He charges a nominal $4 per person to watch the birds and if you are so inclined, he rents out rooms for overnighters. When we return to Durango I had already been thinking about doing some landscaping on the second lot that we rent which is now just grass. I will think more on this when the time gets closer.

Mindo Hike

Lindie and Dan with a single leaf overhead. The black string around Lindie’s neck is from her hat.

Dan loves to hike; I like to hike a lot. There is a difference between “love” and “like a lot” but still it is one of my preferred types of exercise. Our guide took us to the small town of Mindo, not far from Quito.

We paid $5 each for Dan and myself (guides are usually free) and rode a cable car from the parking area across a deep ravine and set out to see the Cascada de Reina, a waterfall. Of course it took much longer than the one hour each way and at one point I had given up only to find out I was less than 10 minutes from it! The trail wasn’t really steep or hard but we had gone about 2 hours at that point.

Concrete stairs by waterfall. Just out of view of this picture, the water covers the stairs.

The waterfall is impressive due to the amount of water flowing through it. There are concrete stairs along side the waterfall so you can walk up but there was so much strong gushing water coming down the fall that I chose not to go up the stairs although Dan did.

Chocho beans with salt, courtesy of CuencaHighLife

On the way back, we stopped under a shelter and ate a late lunch of veggie ceviche: chochos (a nutritious and tasty white bean with a slight crunch), onion, tomato, and plantain chips and lime or lemon juice. It had been marinating for about 3 hours by then and was delicious however as we sat still the mosquitoes had found me so I headed back down the path, forgetting that I had Dan’s rain jacket in the pack on my back.

Of course it started raining and after debating, I decided to backtrack and get the jacket to him. I went most of the way back to the shelter before I met up with Dan and the guide. By then he decided he didn’t need his jacket so I got a lot of extra steps in.

All in all it was a pleasant day although it was clear that we needed to do more hiking. We tend to walk a lot in towns but not actually hike.

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is located a few miles from La Mitad del Mundo. It contains the Pululahua volcano which has a crater or  caldera that offers a beautiful view. People actually live in the crater which is very rare!

Would have been nice to hike it but it would have been a long climb back up.

Old Town Quito

View of Quito from Basilica del Voto Nacional

The current city of Quito was developed over the ruins of indigenous people. This was known previously and when they started excavation for the subway, they had to temporarily halt construction while they retrieved relics.

According to WIKI, The historic center of Quito has one of the largest, least-altered and best-preserved historic centers in the Americas. Quito and Kraków, Poland, were the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO, in 1978. On March 28, 1541, Quito was declared a city and on February 23, 1556, was given the title Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito (“Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito”).

In 1884, Basílica del Voto Nacional church construction was begun and Pope John Paul II celebrated the first mass there in 1985. While largely completed, if you look, it is subtle but there are missing statues and probably other things that have never been finished. Starting in 1895, there was a  tax paid by Quito citizens for its construction. It was 3 cent or per cent (not sure) tax on salt to help defray the cost of this structure. (The currency at that time was a “sucre”and $1 was 25,000 sucre at today’s rates. That tax is no longer in effect but imagine having to pay tax on a church building if you aren’t of that religion (although at the time the country was largely Catholic). If you are interested, there is more info on the Quito churches and pictures here.

For a couple of dollars we could tour the church and go up across the inside part of the roof and then outside. Dan who loves heights was in his element and he went up the open stairs to the top viewing area while I stayed on the lower level; I was outside and quite high up and not comfortable but I was there.

The view from either place was beautiful. You could get a feel for how large Quito is. People have started cutting down trees and building up the mountain. Across one area, you can see a hill called the Panecillo. That area has always been a poor area because when the Spaniards came they made the poor servants/slaves live up the hill and they settled the flat areas which were easier to navigate. I’m sure someday these shacks will become valuable and developed by the wealthy.

House formerly owned by one family. Sisters side is on the left of the picture, brothers on the right.

One unique building in the Old Town was originally owned by a single family. At one time, this two story, block long building was willed to a sister and brother. The sister remodeled her section and made it quite attractive while the brother kept his part very austere. You can see the differences today. In both areas, note how thick the walls are, about 3’, to keep the temperature comfortable in the building.

Later the church bought the building and now leases out various areas to vendors, restaurants, etc. Dan enjoyed having his picture taken with a mime totally covered in gold.

When the indigenous people built the town originally, they didn’t not use square or rectangle blocks. These skilled workers cut blocks to fit like a puzzle. Later the Spanish recut some of the blocks to exert their power and remove that reminder of the locals.

Not to be outdone however, there are subtle reminders of when the slaves were doing construction; they put their own subtle mark. There is one building with a row of cherubs on the top. If you look closely, you will see that all of the cherubs are draped except the end one who has quite an erection. But it isn’t something that is easy to notice, even when you are looking.

In the St. Francis church, instead of a statute of a slave holding up the pulpit on his back, you see that it is 3 Spaniards. No idea what happened to the artisans if/when their creativity was discovered but I doubt that they were praised by the Spaniards.


Street of the Seven Crosses

As would be expected, the churches are very ornate. There is one street informally called the street of 7 crosses; you can see a cross outside each church. We didn’t go into all of them but we did go into a couple. One, Compañía de Jesús (160 years in construction,beginning in 1605), is purported to have 7 tons of gold leaf on the walls. At $1300 per ounce, that is $291,000,000 in just gold! We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside (they think that the flash from cameras is oxidizing the gold) and we didn’t but this website states that I could have taken pictures since I was planning to write about it in our blog. They got permission and their pictures will give you a good idea of how it looks.

While the photo was snapped quickly and isn’t very good, I loved the name of one store. Maní is Spanish for peanut and one store was named “El Super Maní”, a play on “superman”. Cute

In a gift shop, Dan got a kick out of seeing a chess set. One set of players was Spanish conquistadors while the other side was indigenous people. (We don’t have room for such things so we just took photos instead of buying it.)

Cotacachi Museum

While we were in Cotacachi we stopped into a museum. We were the only people there most of the time so it was very quiet.

The museum is dedicated to the history of the area, starting with the geographical development. Things of special interest to me were seeing the indigenous clothes close up with no chance of embarrassing the wearer, that Rumba music was developed in the area, and the best part is when the curator demonstrated various musical instruments.


El Panecillo hill, 9895 feet altitude, topped with a statue of the Virgin Mary. Houses on the hill are shacks.

Quito is the capital of Ecuador and a city of over 2,00,000 people and at 9350 feet altitude, the second highest capital city in the world (La Paz Bolivia is much higher). I could tell we were in a big city when on the first day I heard a long, loud car horn honk in complaint. Not like the short warning taps or thank you taps that we usually hear. I never heard another long honk but it definitely has a big city feel.

The weather is slightly cool and rain is common.

Quito is working on a subway but in the meantime they have a very good bus system. There was a stop ½ block from our apartment that went into downtown/old town. Some of the bus routes (like this one) have bus stations that are about 3’ off the ground and the bus has a small ramp that goes down when the door is opened so people can get on/off and it is wheelchair accessible. Other buses are the typical ones that may be a climb to get into or out of.

Buses are used extensively. We often entered extremely crowded buses. One time I didn’t think Dan would make it on it was so crowded. Standing room only although the riders will often give up their seat to someone with a baby or who is older. I welcomed it the several times a nice person gave me their seat.

Our guide said that people can’t wait to get cars so they don’t have to ride the bus. I didn’t like the crowds but I liked the price ($0.12 for seniors) and I like having a smaller carbon footprint than a car gives. Plus parking is limited and not cheap…our guide paid $0.75 per hour which wasn’t too bad except it added up to $3.00 by the time we got the car back.

Traffic in Quito wasn’t too bad. Heavy at times but it kept moving.

Two car bus
3 car bus

We were usually on a 2 car bus (connected in the middle by an accordion type connection) but they also had 3 car buses. I was amazed watching the 3 car bus turn a corner with no problem.

Black Panther was released while we were inQuito. We were going to see the English version with Spanish subtitles but there were only about a half dozen seats left and they were in the front row so we passed. Never got around to it after that. My guess is that all theaters had costumed actors to promote it but I could be wrong. Fun to see them anyway.


Cotacachi is another town just a short bus ride from Ibarra. It has about 10,000 people living there and is known for its leatherwork and being an expat community.

We enjoyed the laid back pace of the town during our brief time there. We took a taxi to nearby Cuicocha Lake which is a crater lake and has an island in the middle. We took the boat ride for a nominal fee and enjoyed the scenery even though we could not understand the guide in his rapid Spanish and noise of the boat engine.

We walked around the town a bit as well. The leather work is beautiful and very cheap, too bad we didn’t need anything and didn’t have space to get that type of gifts. Everything from belts, change purses, handbags, jackets, shoes, boots, portfolios, and suitcases. We were shown a beautiful, light weight, rolling suitcase for the incredible price of $100!