37. Tour Leader

Under the smoke of a volcano.

Les than 3 weeks after I left the glowing lava of the Pacaya volcano in Guatemala an other volcano started to glow. This time it was the Tungurahua, a smoking volcano just behind Baños, who surprised most with a small eruption. However the eruption wasn’t really big, the glow of the fire could be seen in Tena, over a hundred kilometers away. Luckily there wasn’t much lava coming out of the crater, but the rocks and ashes that were released with the explosion, caused a lot of damage in the villages on the back of the volcano. Houses got covered by ashes and rocks and a lot of animals (cattle) died because they inhaled the ashes. Only previous trembling of the Tungurahua in the afternoon, before it exploded early in the evening, had warned people to leave. Therefore there were no human casualties.
Baños got lucky as well, because of the shape of the crater that side didn’t receive much trouble with this eruption.
All this happened on Friday the 14th of July, just a few hours after I past Baños on my way to Quito, on my way to start a new tour…

Yes, a new tour in a country I thought I knew a lot about, Ecuador. In the brochure the tour is called: “In the shadow of the volcanos”, how appropriate…
Reading the itinerary I found out that I didn’t know half of the places we would visit. But I also read that the itinerary had been updated in April 2005, so that would make up for that.

On Sunday morning the 16th  I picked up my new group. It were 9 middle aged people and a family of four, father, mother and 2 “children” of 14 and 16 year. Their flight had a delay, because of the smoke of Tungurahua, but except from that they arrived without problems.
In the afternoon I gave them a little tour through Quito and before 10pm 90% of the group was sleeping, because of the 7 hour time difference with Holland.
The next day we went to the jungle of Tena and our journey really started.

It became a special journey in which I’ve seen beautiful nature, I hadn’t seen before. Nature like the landscape around Quilotoa; the glacier of the Cotopaxi volcano; the view, from the top of a train, on the huge silhouette of the Chimborazo volcano; a forest with un-natural looking trees in Parque Cajas, near Cuenca; a nestling albatross on Isla de la Plata; jumping humpback whales in the sea between the Island and Puerto Lopez; the contrast between green cloud-forest around Mindo and the beautiful wide views over the dry area between Quito and Otavalo, only an hour and a half away.

There wasn’t only a big contrast in nature, also the cultural contrasts in Ecuador are big. There is a cultural difference between the people who live in the Andean, the Orient and on the coast. But that’s not all, even those areas are divided. Already around Otavalo you have more than 10 villages which are all a bit different and which all have their own tasks and skills. Skills like handcrafts and weaving for which a lot of people in and around Otavalo are famous about and other than in most countries, are also proud about. I don’t know how this counts for the villages around, but people from Otavalo are also known for their business skills and  apparently they belong to the most prosperous indigenous groups of the whole continent.

I wrote earlier that it was a special tour and this wasn’t only because of the nature and culture, it was also because my experiences, new things I’ve learned (or not) and contradictions I encountered. For example in Baños;

A week after the eruption I joined an evacuation simulation and while we (my group and I) wanted to see glow and smoke coming out of Tungurahua, on the back people were still suffering from the results of the eruption. We were trying to get a good picture, while they even sold volcanic rocks to compensate for their loss on income with farming.
A bit cynical to play a tourist, no? But on the other hand, the people in Baños were already complaining about their loss on income. They had to fire people because there didn’t come enough tourists to their hotels, restaurants and shops, while it was suppose to be high season…

An other contradiction I learned about in Parque Cajas, which contains more than 230 lakes. Years ago people had put trout into some of these lakes. Only most of these lakes are connected underground and so the trout spread out. Not so bad you would think, but now it turns out that the trout is been eating all the fish which was eating the reed that grows in the lakes. Now there is to much reed growing in those lakes and are some of them in danger to dry out.  This would not only be a disaster for the Park, but also for Cuenca, which receives more than 60% of its water from the lakes in the park…

Among the things I’ve learned is the simple fact that Panama-hats are originally from Montecristi in Ecuador. They only became famous, because workers on the Panama-Canal started to wear them against the sun.

Being now able to make a good comprehension between the famous indigenous/tourist market of Otavalo in Ecuador and the famous indigenous/tourist market in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, I can now say that Chichi is the most beautiful. It wouldn’t be fare to have everything in one tour ;-)

But I’ve learned more; Somehow it seems that in this last year I became more attractive to women, or at least I get more attencion. How and why I don’t know. I would even say that I was in better shape when I started traveling in 2003, but apparently that doesn’t matter so much. It sounds nice, but now my character has to find out how to deal with this, without loosing its ideals.

All right, after so much complaining about the general skills in Central America for organizing things, how were my experiences in Ecuador?
I have to admit that places we visited and tours we joined were, in general spoken, better organized than in Central America. The jungle lodge, the train, the boat-tour and staying with indigenous families in Runa Tupari (close to Otavalao). However this last project was setup by Dutch people, it is now mostly runt by indigenous people and it is very well organized.
Of course I had some bad experiences as well, like an agency that showed up more than an hour to late and with the wrong bicycles to go down the Cotopaxi or some misunderstanding with my contact person.
But let´s stay positive about this now. In general, I think I was the one who was least organized during this tour. Actually already before we started our journey I found out that, however the itinerary was suppose to be updated in 2005, I think it wasn’t complete and there was still some old information inside.
Since this was my first tour and our bus-driver (who was a good driver and nice guy) hadn’t been on this route for one and a half year, I had a lot of trouble to plan out the best and most structured travel schedules. Maybe this was also the reason that I found less connection with this group, than with most of my groups before.
Except from that, I had again a good group with not very difficult people and I realize how lucky I am with that. Only I thought that they were a bit boring, not really adventures. I guess you can’t always have it all... It is already great that I managed to have good groups and good weather on all of my seven tours ;-)

I’m now busy, thinking what I’m going to do with still 6 weeks off? I hope I have a good answer in my next story ;-)

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