Andean Markets | Ecuadorian Andes

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Zumbahua1The Andean Markets are not the typical crowded ones you find in Africa or Asia with hundreds of tourist. Besides of being authentic indigenous markets for visitors, the Ecuadorian Andean Markets are close to authentic as they used to be even before the Incas came to Ecuador. You will witness here the real people; families meeting relatives and friends, everyone trading what someone has in excess and what others lack, mingling about their experiences daily life, is not only a place to buy and sell but also to socialize, does not sound familiar to you?

Vendors are friendly and ready to bargain! - Petrel Expeditions

Thousand of years ago, our ancestors already used to trade all kind of local products of the land, the most colorful textiles, animals and very unique things like the spondylus shells from the Pacific Coast worth as a “coin” money wise back in the day. Due to this trade, the Quechua language known as Quichua in the north of South America was a wide spoken language in the Andes region.

When the Inca Empire reached the center of the Ecuadorian highlands, they were quite surprised the local tribes spoke a very similar language. In next 40 years of the Inca campaign to Ecuador, a common language was a very important column of the Empire consolidation even though local population was always reluctant to accept the Incas as rulers, but try to leave peaceful and adapt to the new regime.

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QUITO | How was Quito before the Incas?

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Part of my mother´s family are illustrated artists and scientist. My grandmother, Alicia Yanez is a world renowned writer, one of my uncle, Luis Campos is the most famous and notable theater director Ecuador ever had. And my grandfather had 3 careers: physician, anthropologist and movie director. They all constantly spoke very highly about Quito colonial center, and it was hard for me to understand why. Dust and the blackest smog covered most of the buildings, robbers were all around and basically it seemed that a visit was not worthy at all.

Quito, churches, domes, cathedrals

The night turn magical while special illumination adorns 3 domes. Quito has over 86 churches and cathedrals, most of them 450 years old. The city extends over 30 blocks.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that small countries such as Ecuador – most of the time placed by foreign people in Africa – which are not very often mentioned for scientific discoveries or sport glories, they do have “other” hidden impressive glories within.

I was born in 1977 and the first time I went to the old city in Quito I perhaps was around 12 years old. Quito was declared by United Nations a UNESCO site, Wolrd Heritage on 1976. In fact it was the first colonial center in the world to be declared a Human Heritage Patrimony. And it surely dazzled the UN members who visited the first time to see if this hidden gem war worth or not to be hold in such honor.

Quito´s old city is huge, almost 30 blocks with all types of colonial buildings and churches you can imagine, it is also known as best preserved colonial center in America.

Independence Square, colonial center, quito

Some of the thousands of stones that supply strong and safe foundations to many buildings in old Quito resemble those commonly found in Cusco and built by the Incas. The Inca Empire reached Quito almost 50 years before the europeans did. Chronicles claim Rumiñahui – a ferocious ecuadorian inca who was Atahualpa emperor most loyal general – burned the city when he found out the emperor had been executed and murdered in Cajamarca by Pizarro. Some foundations seem to be walls buried deep into the soil.

While Catholic faith and believes was disrupted sadly to slave the local indigenous population and tax their wealth and its very own way, it seems this very same new religions produced a fever for creating architectural wonders also.
Franciscans, Dominicans, Jesuits among others, seemed they all competed in this city 500 years ago when the spanish european style already enriched by their arab inherit clashed with the indigenous advanced art styles. Dozens of churches were raised on indigenous altars and ceremony centers. Gold from treasures and idols were melted down and transformed into gold leaf to profusely cover almost every corner of the “new ceremonial and worship” venues.

Within the next centuries, hundreds of monasteries and convents will be raised and when the republican era came, splendid palaces, hospitals, mansions and squares were raised even with construction material imported from Europe. The french style flooded the republican Quito by the end of XVIII century.

Quito, design, damero,

Republican buildings with Panecillo hill in the bottom of the caption. Quito was built as a chess board. A place with cliffs, ravines and gorges should have followed a labyrinth design instead.

But, how was Quito before the Spanish conquerors, and even before the Inca empire invaded Ecuador actual territory? This million dollar question has been spinning in the minds of archeologist, historian, science people and the mind and imaginations of curios mortals like me, that have been fascinated with the fact that this city it must have been some important for people to notice now and before in way that make it pretty relevant and important. Not a very easy question to answer.

This incredible museum holds pieces from all over Ecuador and also from Quito past. Museums and archeologycal sites as La Florida probe Quito first inhabitants do have a remarkable organization and social structures. Sadly there is very little funds to dig and research about our past and even worst, most of the museums remain empty with very little visitors per day.

This incredible museum holds pieces from all over Ecuador and also from Quito past. Museums and archeologycal sites as La Florida probe Quito first inhabitants do have a remarkable organization and social structures. Sadly there is very little funds to dig and research about our past and even worst, most of the museums remain empty with very little visitors per day.

My country, has no ancient ruins in the scale of Peru, Egypt or even Italy. There are pyramids, a few, temples and ruins on certain areas but not cities or even fortresses at least that we know. What was there in Quito then before the Incas?

Ecuador was a land of small kingdoms in each geographical region. These kingdoms were called “Señorios” (seigniories) and they were communities that came together as one under fixed marriage and trade alliances.

Due to the lack of funds for archeological excavations and research, very little is known about Ecuador pre-Inca and pre- hispanic past. Normally when I spoke about my country to guests, I refer very little to archeology except for Inca – Cañari Ingapirca complex in the south, Cochasqui Pyramids in the north which most of them, almost a dozen are still buried under ground, and some incredible cultures in the coast as the Bahia, Valdivia and Tolita which sintered platinum a millennia before the Europeans did.

metro, quito, tube, subway

The city will build a subway to connect the former airport – to be closed in 6 days – with the colonial city, more precisely with San Francisco Square. Maybe, hidden wonders are patiently expecting to be “accidentally” discovered, and certainly they will alter the original subway schematics. We trust, in that case, our historical inherit weigh more than contracts and schedules.

A great mystery is still unveiled under the long block monasteries sizes and golden altar churches, or the winning streets of Quito, it is no coincidence that Spanish back in the day wanted to erase the old and original believes of the local so they can accomplish their evangelization and expanding plans. When you are in Quito and take a walk in the old town, always look around and notice a church almost every street….most have perfect 90 degrees angle cuts in their foundations, what was there before to be so important and threaten for the newly arrived to be erased and put on instead…?

ECUADOR | The Andean Train: The Devil´s Nose

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Andean Train

The Andean Train: The Devil´s Nose

It’s 1914 and World War I broke out. Ecuador already has 835km of railways, which compared to most developed countries, is almost nothing. Anyway, this young country, which has struggle and achieved his independence from Spain a little less than 100 years, has incurred in a strong debt to England for nearly 12 million U.S. dollars which actually equals to multiply this value by one hundred. By the way, another important aspect is that Ecuador is extremely rich in natural resources. Its more than 30 volcanoes whose ashes have turned the terrain into extremely fertile lands are scattered throughout its territory, and on the coast there are several ports where you can export! The only problem is rarely a highlander has eaten fish or a lowlander has eaten potatoes!

Checking everything is all right!

Train assistant looking after the railways

Ecuador has no roads and is its geography transformative this into a complicated task. To give an idea, the journey from the mountain, 2,800 meters to the coast is full of cliffs and often bad weather. It is also very likely to be robbed when traveling. So for very few traders, this perilous journey worthwhile. Fortunately, Eloy Alfaro who is president at the time, was able to travel to various countries in America when he was young with his father who is a wealthy Spanish merchant. His mother is a local woman from the coast, in the province of Manabi. Since traveling create wisdom, for him is so urgent that Ecuador needs to have a railway for connecting the mountains to the coast and to provide a feeling of belonging to a country that only vert few Ecuadorians could have, simply because many of them have ever seen each others! Sadly, Eloy Alfaro do not know that in his future, despite having made probably the most important endeavor of his country, death is a certain. His political enemies are already on its way for a plot that will lead to his assassination in 1912. His body will be publicly burned in the Independence Square in Quito. The conservative class saw threatened their status and power by the ideas of freedom and progress of Alfaro. For this reason, it is dangerous to have progressive ideas at this time. Being murdered is a fate he is going to share with other American presidents like Abraham Lincoln.

Building a train is no easy task. The Consul of Ecuador in the United States has been instructed by Alfaro to seek an specialist. He will find one to carry on such a enterprise in the most unexpected place, a dark New York pool bar. Archer Harman comes from a family heavily involved in the construction of railroads in the United States making it the perfect candidate for such an undertaking. He will travel from the U.S. to Ecuador, from where he will began the ascent to the Andes from Guayaquil, on top of a mule in something of a familiarization trip. The journey takes no more and no less than five days. In 1897 he founded the “The Guayaquil & Quito Railway Company” and start the construction of the railway that although there were attempts since 1873, they never had the strength Alfaro gave to the project years later.

But what makes it so famous the rail and what makes it so worthy a trip on board? Well, basically a train ride is to travel through the history of a country and the dream of a man, which is no less important than the thousands of lives that claimed the Andes when the workers attempted to penetrate the rock walls. Anyway, the train has another ace up his sleeve in case you are still not convinced. The portion that begins at Alausí station – perhaps the most iconic of them all – leads to the Devil’s Nose. Malaria, heat and other problems faced by the workers were small compared with the zigzag that they shall built so the train managed to climb the slope, enough space to go back and forth, continue back again and go up the next slope, forced to build a railway in a zigzag limited by the rock wall and the constant cliff which added to dynamite explosions claimed valuable lives.

The work began in 1895 and ended in 1908 when the railroad arrived to Chimbacalle Station, reducing the 9 day trip into just two.

Traveling in the Andean train was an unforgettable experience. In its glory days the train has little to envy to their European counterparts. The first-class coaches were luxuriously decorated. But for those who could not afford the high price of a first-class trip, there were also second and third class. Sadly when Ecuador had the resources to build their roads – which mainly came from its oil revenues in the 50s – the railroad was lost in time.

Devil´s Nose

A bridge in the railways connecting Alausi and Sibambe Train Stations

When I was lucky enough to travel on the train in my twenties with friends and their foreign girlfriends, the adventure was done on the very top of the train in a Indiana Jones style avoiding wires, cables and branches, protecting the face from the cold andean wind while vendors from villages around climbed also on top of the coach to sell almost everything you can eat. I had some dizziness, so I used to stay in the middle of the roof of the coach to avoid seeing the impressive cliff that extended to the edge of the road. The maneuver to enter the Devil’s Nose was no less impressive, we graved strong (although it was not rare to see a foreigner who stand up to take a photo!) from the rods extended across the roof of the car while the train driver and his assurances hauled levers and changed the direction of the tracks. All in a total uproar caused by the movement of metal and machines that propel the train making the whole thing vibrate, leading me to believe that at any moment the whole train could derail down to the clefts. All this was framed in a landscape, with the majestic Andes rising as far as the eye can see.

All of these emotions, the feeling of being on such adventure, having the freedom of wind hitting your face, seeing spectacular landscaping from a birds eye view, exchanging stories with locals and foreigns, waving everyone on the railway as they waved us back and seeing the expression of our foreign friends face´s of being totally amazed by such a incredible experience, was definitively worth it.

Petrel Expeditions offers an ultimate tailor made experience including the train while exploring the majestic Avenue of the Volcanoes on a 4 days itinerary. Our adventure includes exploring Cotopaxi National Park, going deep to Baños into the surroundings of Tungurahua Volcano, riding on the emblematic Andean Train, visiting Inca ruins at Ingapirca and enjoying a UNESCO city, Cuenca. 

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COLONIAL CITIES: UNESCO World Heritage Cities

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The UN and its specialized agency, UNESCO in a pursuit to preserve natural and historical places, declared Quito Colonial Center in 1978 as World Cultural Heritage Site, and it became along with Krakow in Poland, the first cities to bear this category. UNESCO has recognized three additional locations in Ecuador as World Heritage: Cuenca, the country´s third largest city located in the Southern Andes, the unique Galapagos Islands and a true wildlife sanctuary which extends from the perpetual snowcapped volcanoes in the Andes to the Amazon basin, the Sangay National Park. Quito is the largest and best-preserved colonial city in the Americas. It covers most than 300 blocks with colonial houses, buildings, churches, clusters, monasteries, parks and monuments. This colonial city is incredible built over hills, mountains and creeks, and it becomes a masterpiece of colonial architecture and engineering.

Quito: Best Trips 2013 by NatGeo

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Quito is Ecuador´s capital, and one of its best secrets is the biggest and best-preserved colonial center in South America. Even thought what we know as Quito was already inhabited 10,000 years ago, the influence and lately merged with European and other Andean cultures 500 years ago, produced an amalgam of traditions and colors, so bright as it has never seen before. Colonial Churches built 400 years ago with their interiors and altars covered with the finest gold-leaf, impressive facades carved in stone and the rich baroque style, unique in America, among other things, make this place one of those unique corners in the world.

http://www.petrelexpeditions.com/index.php/en/colonial-cities-unesco-world-heritage/quito-the-capital

Traveling to Galapagos: “The Basics”

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For almost 15 years, we have been assessing the most experienced and demanding travellers about why and how to plan an adventure to this paradise.

We will avoid confusing you with 40 or 50 vessels, rates, cabins, unending paragraphs with information about the islands and the country and hundreds of different itineraries. We are aware you might know very little about Galapagos and since our passion is to work with people, we will love to assist you either by chat, e-mail or by a phone call. Therefore we have just detailed the basics about Galapagos.

With a wide offer of vessels as well as land based programs and hotels, we have concluded that Galapagos is a dynamic destination, this means it can be adapted to all type of guests.

In case you wish to travel with family and friends, we will advice you to go for a cruise vessel in which you will not be worry about the small ones, but in case it is an active family with an adventurer spirit, a small yacht is also an option or even an island hopping. For independent travellers looking forward to avoid large groups, then small motor vessels or even a barquetine.

For honey mooners, wishing to just rest on an isolated location far away from the world, then we will recommend a hotel in one of the islands so they can discover Galapagos on their own pace.

If exploring Galapagos underwater is your choice, there are excellent options for divers, either cruising or full day – island based excursions.

And last but not least, for the world-class travellers looking for unmatched experiences and service, we will suggest a luxury vessel for individuals, groups or for even a more intimate experience, a charter.

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Galapagos | Islands of Fire

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The Galapagos Island is a place lost in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean where the most incredible creatures exists. Approximately 30 million years ago the Earth’s crust was melted from below by a mantle plume, and created several volcanoes, which gave born the islands. The most brutal forces of nature still rule their destiny. Galapagos, one of the most active volcanic locations in the world, is a hot spot directly communicated the very same centre of Earth.

The exact location of the birth of this islands, make Galapagos so special. They emerged in the convergence of four of the most important pacific currents. Their interaction, cold and hot water, created an impressive diversity of marine life. Giant rays, sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, white tipped sharks, and more than 500 species of fish live in the Galapagos waters. These currents also brought other creatures from the far sides of the pacific. In a remote past, the ancestors of the Galapagos sea lions and Galapagos penguins came from North America and Antarctica.

But it was not these currents that brought the most incredible creature found on Galapagos. Storms such as those created by “El Niño” a climate phenomena that hit the Pacific coast of South America, brought turtles and reptiles from mainland on board of pieces of vegetation and branches. After millions of years of isolation, they adapted to the new conditions in Galapagos. A life without natural predators and little amount of food, turned reptiles into sea iguanas feeding from algae and small turtles into giants weighing 200 kilos.

Almost every creature that arrived to Galapagos attracted or against their will, turned into an endemic specie, only found in this particular place on Earth. This miracle of nature even makes animals different from island to island.

Galapagos is actually facing its hardest challenge. While Ecuador has declared them as a National Park, Galapagos faces human pressure, pollution, global warming and introduced species that dangerously affect the natural balance that existed in the Galapagos from million years ago.