Otovalo, Laguna Cuicocha, Mindo

Patchwork Field in Ecuador

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As you may have read in our Galapagos report, when we arrived back in Quito a week later we were both exhausted. We had hoped to stay in the B&B until at least Wednesday and then leave for Otavalo. Unfortunately we hadn't made a fixed booking and someone else had, so Tuesday found us back in our camper and on the road, without Juergen's driver's license... We did some supermarket shopping and then drove north again - crossing the equator once more - to Otavalo. (I must make mention of the fact that we also crossed the equator to the north and back to the south while in the islands, so this made our 4th crossing!) We found La Luna, with the help of a map provided by Paul and Gill back in Panama, and settled in. It was fairly cold but quiet and peaceful. A lot of our time there was spent sorting, and trying to delete some of, our 1400+ photos taken in the Galapagos. Then we also wrote the report for the website. In between we went into Otavalo one day to shop and use the internet, and on Saturday for the market. It is a huge market with a lot of stuff but, as usual, we were loath to buy anything we couldn't use and just looked - probably more at the people than at the merchandise.
We needed the internet access because we were trying desperately to sort out the license situation. It had actually arrived in Quito on June 24 (within the promised 6 days) but the unknown delivery agent refused to deliver it to the post office box address we had supplied because in their view post office boxes are not supposed to be secure here. So we had to provide them with a street address and then it should be delivered in a couple of days. Bruna from Cometa Travel had promised to either call or email when it arrived and each day we hoped to hear. By Sunday (July 6 - now 12 days after the letter arrived in Quito), when we were ready to leave Otavalo, it still hadn't arrived.
From Otavalo we drove the short distance to Laguna Cuicocha, which is near the town of Cotacachi. The volcano of the same name overlooks the lake, which is in a volcanic crater. It is a beautiful spot and very busy on a Sunday afternoon. The lake is part of the Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi-Cayapas which extends for 200,000 hectares. We went into the information centre, which gave a description of the area, and also had displays and photos depicting the culture of the inhabitants, and some of the animals (including bears and wolves) to be found there. There is a hiking trail around the lake following the rim of the crater, but the 8km takes around 5 hours to complete, and our guide book states: 'The path around the lake is not for vertigo sufferers'! Since it was already midday, and drizzling, we chose to walk just a few hundred metres of the path, which gave us some very nice views of the lake, and we also saw a selection of the amazing collection of wildflowers.
Following our walk we climbed up the rough path from the parking lot to Mirador, which is a restaurant and hotel. It had been recommended by our hosts at La Luna as having very good trout. So we had a late lunch/early dinner overlooking the lake through large picture windows. During our time there, the Cotacachi volcano deigned to show itself, so we sat longer and watched the clouds moving, as the peak revealed itself and then hid behind them again. It was an impressive sight. When we returned to our camper down below, a family from Quito came calling. Just like we had experienced so often in Colombia, they were interested in our 'casa' and also in our journey. They stayed chatting for maybe half an hour - I am sometimes surprised at the length of conversation in Spanish which is possible for us if the people we are talking to are conscious of the necessity of speaking slowly and finding other ways to say things if we don't understand. This family was just like that and it was a pleasant way to spend some time. After all the Sunday visitors to the lake had left, the place was quiet and we spent a very restful night.
On the way back towards Quito in the morning we stopped off first in the small town of Cotacachi to check out its colonial buildings and the leather work for which it is supposed to be famous. There were not many buildings, and for some unknown reason most shops were closed, so it didn't take long. We also stopped in Otavalo to check our emails once again - still no license! We had been trying to decide whether to go back into Quito and wait, or go to Mindo which sounded like an interesting place to see butterflies and birds. Since we had already spent considerable time in Quito, and there didn't seem much hope on the license front, we drove into the north of Quito and immediately headed out along the main road toward Esmereldas on the coast, with Mindo as our destination. And we crossed the equator for the 5th time driving back into Quito. To our surprise, there was a sign to Mitad del Mundo on the road out - we had read of, and talked to fellow travellers about, the middle of the world, which sounded like an almost Disney like place where the equator crossing comes complete with certificates and demonstrations of various experiments. It certainly hadn't been the crossing we had experienced on the Pan-American. Now we knew that it was on this road, and just outside Quito, so we crossed the equator for the 6th time!
It took a couple of hours to reach Mindo, along winding, mountain roads through lush, green forest. Quite beautiful and quite different from the very barren mountainsides we had experienced on the way into Quito. (As Mindo is south of the equator, we crossed it twice more, coming and going.) We stayed 2 nights in the town at a nice location with a helpful owner and staff, but were woken both mornings very early by roosters - the bane of our existence! On the third day we drove out to Mariposas de Mindo, a butterfly farm open to the public, where it is possible to walk around an enclosure full of a beautiful variety of butterflies. (Before entering we were just sitting in the truck in the parking lot and spotted a beautiful yellow toucan, which landed in a tree about 10 metres away.) It had been raining on and off so we weren't at all sure that the butterflies would show themselves, but inside their green-house they were very active. It really does your mood a lot of good to be exposed to such beauty.
From there we drove back along the road a bit to a spot by the river where we planned to spend the night. It was very relaxing inside the camper with the sound of the water rushing by. We had a good night's sleep and in the morning got up early to follow the bird-watching trail. Unfortunately we have neither the patience nor the passion to make good bird-watchers, and I think we are spoilt still by the ease with which we saw the bird-life on Galapagos. Juergen saw 5 squirrels so decided it should be called 'squirrel-watching'! We did see some green birds with very toucan-like black beaks, feasting on black berries, but to date haven't managed to identify them by name. Juergen gave up before me and turned back to the camper, where he saw several pretty birds in the bamboo next to the river. After that I also saw a rather beautiful bronze-coloured bird with very long tail feathers - can't give you a name for that one either. There were a lot of tiny birds darting around, much too fast to even get a good look at. I have to admit that we got more excitement out of the yellow toucan in a couple of minutes the day before, than the approximately hour long walk that day!
Having exhausted the possibilities of Mindo - since we didn't want to go tubing on the river or rappelling at the waterfalls or taking a zip-line through the canopy - we decided to go back to Quito and hope that by some miracle we could get the license and get out of there. We also had some concerns with our truck again because it was intermittently 'running like shit'. Our suspicion was dirty fuel, but there is always the fear of something worse after our Colombian experience...
We arrived in Quito quite early by around midday, and first went to the supermarket and checked the internet - still no positive news. Then we went to Tito again, the trusty mechanic. He told us that he doesn't have a lot of experience with diesels, so he sent us to a diesel place, out on the edge of town where we had just come from! They didn't know the engine and sent us somewhere else. By this time it was getting quite late, so we decided to leave it for the day and find somewhere to sleep. The American family we had met before leaving for the Galapagos had been staying in a parqueadero in the new city, so we set out to find that, hoping that we would only need to be in the city one night. It was peak hour traffic, and we took a few wrong turns and looked for it in the wrong street, but we eventually found it. The guy there was very friendly and happy for us to stay - he wanted to know all about our friends and where they were now.
The next morning (July 11, and now 17 days after the letter arrived in Quito) we checked our email and my sister had come up with a telephone number for us to call in Quito to try to track it down from this end. Once again the staff at Cometa Travel proved to be resourceful and very helpful. The telephone number didn't answer so they tracked down the owner of it. When they discovered that it was DHL, they called another number for them and got an answer. They found out for us that the letter was indeed in their possession and should be delivered next Wednesday or Thursday - alternatively Juergen could pick it up at their head office by showing his passport! Needless to say, after thanking these very helpful folk, we set off to DHL, which was also out on the northern edge of town - we had already driven past it several times the day before. On the way out there we filled up with diesel at a busy MOBIL station, and suddenly the truck was running almost perfectly again. This seemed like a very good sign, so after finally getting possession of the elusive new driving license, we hightailed it out of Quito as fast as the very poor road allowed.
After crossing the equator 9 times, and outlaying several hundreds of dollars and spending countless time, we were on the road again with a new driving license in hand and hopefully nothing more to stall our journey - but then, when you are on the road, you never know what is around the next bend. And sometimes that is what makes our life so exciting, and at others, so frustrating. I suppose we just have to take the bad with the good!

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