In my last but one post, W1702 – A man, a plan, I described an amazing day sailing through the Panama Canal. As we were approaching the end of the canal, the Captain came on the tannoy to say that we would be mooring up for a couple of hours to take on more oil, before setting sail for our next port, Manta in Ecuador. This delay would mean we would be a couple of hours late arriving in Manta, which would impact the timing of shore tours to be taken there.
This must have put the Tours department into melt down, as several of the long overnight shore tours were starting there which involved flights – including the one that I was booked on – a four night tour travelling high into the Andes. I knew our tour would need to be rescheduled as we would now not be arriving in Manta in time to catch the scheduled flight to the capital city of Ecuador, Quito.
Later the Tours department phoned me to say that the tour had been significantly rescheduled, and was being extended by a further night at no extra expense to me. We would now be spending the first afternoon, evening and night in Manta, before flying very early the following morning to Quito. From there we would drive out to do that day’s planned itinerary, and the planned time in Quito was being rescheduled for later in the tour. This would mean a later flight down to Lima in Peru, where we would now arrive after the ship had left the port! So now we had the extra night in Lima, before driving down the coast the next day to catch up with the ship at last. Phew!
This was the first time I had done a multi-day shore tour, so I had to think carefully about what to take to last the five and a half days. To save time at the airports we were advised to just use cabin sized luggage, and of course comply with the usual airport restrictions on fluids.
Packed and ready I reported to the check-in desk in the show lounge very early in the afternoon on Saturday, the day we were in Manta. There were just three of us doing this tour – myself, my friend Robert who I have done several cruises with, and a lady called June. We were all a bit puzzled why we had to check in so early as the only thing we were now doing that day was transferring to a hotel within sight of the ship. The hotel was very nice, and our rooms all had balconies overlooking the port and our ship, and also a small beach.
With such busy and long days coming up I was happy just to relax in my air conditioned room until it was time for our evening meal. This was taken on a terrace overlooking the port, and it was rather strange and slightly unnerving to see our ship set sail and disappear out of sight without us.
After a good but rather shortened night’s sleep, it was a 6am checkout from the hotel the following morning. We were met by a representative from the tour company managing our tour, plus a car and driver who took us all to the local airport. The area of Ecuador around Manta was struck by a severe earthquake on 16th April 2016, and much of the city including the airport was destroyed. We therefore checked in inside a temporary building near the edge of the runway, and when called, we walked out across the tarmac and boarded the small jet using old-fashioned steps.
It was a short flight over the Andes to Quito, and we had great views from the plane window as we approached Quito:
Quito is located high in the foothills of the Andes at an altitude of 2,850m, and even walking up a slight slope on the air-bridge into the terminal building was enough for us to start feeling the effects of this high altitude.
We were met in the arrivals hall by our local guide for the next four days, Fabricio, and our local driver, Eduardo, who took us to the large and comfortable people carrier style car that was to be our transport for those days:
After we and our luggage we secured on board, we set off immediately towards our first destination on this long tour, Cotopaxi National Park, named after Cotopaxi volcano, which at 5911m is the second highest volcano in Ecuador. Fabricio issued us with large bottles of water, and explained to us about the effects of the high altitude and the importance of keeping hydrated.
Before long we had our first short photo stop, on a high point overlooking the city of Quito:
We then headed out of the city and south towards the Park on modern fast roads, and Fabricio explained that these had been built and paid for a few years ago when the price of oil was high – more recently with the fall in price the local economy has found more difficult times. On the way we made three further stops, two short ones beside the road to take photographs of the volcanoes, and once at a roadside café, where Fabricio encouraged us to have a cup of the local coca tea, which he said was very good at combating the effects of the high altitude. We were so lucky with the weather, the day was bright and clear offering great views of the volcanoes, the tops of which were white from hail storms a couple of days earlier. The other piece of luck was that Cotopaxi was issuing white smoke, making for some dramatic photographs:
As we entered the National Park, the roads changed from smooth tarmac to very bumpy dirt and cobble tracks, and we were very soon feeling both shaken and stirred! After a while we stopped for the first of two walks we would make in the park. After applying plenty of high factor sun cream because of the clear mountain air, and hats, we set off on foot down a narrow footpath, whilst Eduardo drove the car around to the end of the trail. Fabricio had thoughtfully chosen to do the walk downhill, but even so my friend Robert was really feeling the effects of the altitude and needed to take several rests on the way. The views around us were stunning, and Fabricio told us about the fauna and flora in the area:
On reaching the parked car we were all glad to sit down and have a rest as we drove over further rough roads to the location of our second walk around a lake. Here Robert elected to remain resting in the car, so just June and I accompanied Fabricio along boardwalks half way around the lake and back. There were plenty of birds on the lake, and again the scenery with Cotopaxi in the background was stunning:
Returning to the car we were then further shaken up as we drove across the Park to a fascinating hacienda, Hacienda El Porvenir, which was to be the venue for our lunch. Despite not having had breakfast due to the early start, none of the three of us felt very hungry due to the effects of the altitude. We did enjoy a light lunch of local food, and then being able to relax in the lounge of this lovely place:
After a good rest and the offer of more coca tea, it was time to drive on to a different hacienda, Hacienda Santa Ana, which was our hotel for the night. This too was a most interesting place, dating back to the 16th century and once owned by the Jesuit Order, set in lovely rural surroundings:
Robert was still feeling under the weather from the high altitude and retired to his room, but the proprietor offered to take June and myself to feed his flock of llamas and a donkey with a basket of chopped carrots. The donkey was clearly the boss and tended to push the llamas out of the way to get the best carrots, but it was a real treat to hand feed the cute llamas:
Later we had a lovely evening meal, and soon after we were more than ready for our beds after such a long but magical first day in the Andes. The next day of our long tour there will be the subject of my next post.