Roasted guinea pig

Sun 24 Feb 2008 16:23
We're sitting at anchor at La Liberdad in Ecuador, an hour before our departure for the Galapagos, thrilled to be away from the oily, dangerous spot where we have been moored for the past week, where a strong surge threatened to put us on the rocks. John and I took off on an excursion up into the Andes, leaving Tony and Mike to look after Storyteller and Southern Princess. While we fondly thought they would be having a fine old time leading a bachelor existence, we returned after four days to find them pale and wan, totally exhausted after their noble attempts to keep the two yachts off the rocks. We have christened them the heroes of La Liberdad. 
Our time In Ecuador has been fascinating, and for us most enjoyable, thanks to find a wonderful Chinese -Ecuadorian guide with the improbable name of Douglas. For Ecuador is definitely not the country for independent travel unless you're about 21 and speak good Spanish. It's a bit like Mexico or Johannesburg, where you're likely to be held up at gunpoint walking the kilometre from the marina to the supermarket. When we checked in at the airport at Guayaquil about half the passengers handed a gun across to security, to be reclaimed at the end of the flight. The danger is the downside of Ecuador, and with dengue fever rife we've been very careful to avoid mosquito bites, and sleep under princess-like mosquito nets that are pink and white and covered in spangles. Mike is quite a sight up on deck at night covered in what looks like part of a honeymoon trousseau. 
The upside is the wonderful landscape and culture, not to mention that everything is incredibly cheap-- a good haircut is $8, and a great margaritas and pisco sours run at about $2. 30. Top class accommodation in Quito and the surrounding area was about $70, sometimes including dinner and breakfast. Decent rum is about $2.50 a litre.
Quito is a fascinating city built on the sides of an immense valley, and surrounded by volcanoes. It has wonderful Spanish colonial architecture, including splendid 16th and 17th century churches. The contrast betwen the indigenous country peoplewho still all wear traditional costume, and the sophisticated city dwellers is immense. We went to an extremely smart restaurant in Quito where we ate outstanding New Zealand lamb and drank wonderful Chilean wines, as good as the very best in Australia and New Zealand.
We spent a couple of days north of Quito in the Otavalo area at about 3000 metres. It was bizarre to be on the Equator and to be so cold that hot water bottles were essential at night. Besides its outstanding scenery with volcanoes and lush green pastures the area is a famous rose growing area supplying cut flowers for the American market. There are huge craft markets selling wonderful handwoven goods from the neighbouring villages. Although we have absolutely no room left on the boat we ended up having to buy an extra bag for all the wonderful pieces of handicraft we acquired on the trip, not to mention lovely Panama hats, which are all made in Ecuador.
For me though, the highlight of our time in Ecuador was staying in a gorgeous hacienda that had been built in 1602! With beautiful gardens, a stable, open fireplaces, an excellent film library, classical music playing, colonial furniture and indigenous weaving, it was definitely our kind of place. I had acually read about it in '1000 Places to See Before You Die' and was so glad we got to stay there. An added bonus was that our room had a nice pile of New Yorker magazines.
Adjusting back to the temperatures on the coast has been a bit of a challenge, where we're very definitely on the Equator. It will be nice to head out to sea again although unfortunately we'll be in the Doldrums where there is very little wind. It looks like another three days of motoring. Jim and Rosemary Macfarlane are now with us, and we're stocked up with huge amounts of food and drink given that supplies will be limited in the Galapagos and no doubt very expensive.
PS - the fact that Sue puts the Macfarlanes's arrival in the same sentence as stocking up with necessarily huge amounts of food and drink has absolutely no significance!  Truly.  Like Sue and John we descended from the chilly altaplana to the equatic soup of Guayaquil - warm and clinging - and such a different culture from the Chilean and Peruvian destinations we had previously travelled through.  Loved it all and would not have missed it for quids/soles/pesos.  More from us later - but for anyone out there who cares - the Macs have arrived in one piece and top form. Jm & R.