A Day in Parque Arvi

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Traveling to foreign cities is great and all, but after a few days I usually find myself longing for some peace and quiet and the greenery of the natural world. The hustle and bustle wears me down.

So to my delight, I discovered that Medellin is home to Parque Arvi, a 16,000 hectare wooded park just a short metro and cable car ride away from downtown.

The park is both a nature preserve where residents and tourists alike can escape city life for a few hours and it’s also an archaeological site that features pre-hispanic artifacts and ruins. Part of the Pre-Hispanic trail – the Camino Cieza de León – actually runs through it.

HOW TO GET THERE

I took the metro from the Poblado Station to the Acevedo Station then transferred to the Line K cablecar that whisked me up the slopes of the valley and over corrugated-tin roofed houses packed together side by side to the barrio of Santo Domingo. The cablecars – or gondolas – may be my favorite feature of Medellin. They give you a fantastic birdseye view over the valley in which Medellin (and several other municipalities) sit and what’s even more impressive is that they’re not simply a tourist attraction. In fact, I’ve seen very few tourists on the cablecars during my rides up and down. Instead, they were built to help the lower-strata families that live higher up on the valley walls get down into the city for work. Medellin has some pretty cool social projects going on. Check out another one – the escalators in Comuna 13 – here.

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Once at Santo Domingo, I transferred to the Line L cablecar that took me even farther up the valley walls and over the ridge into the park. The corrugated-tin roofed houses gave way to fincas (farms) with grazing cattle strewn about then the view below opened up to a huge expanse of wild forest that stretched out as far as I could see. I felt like I was soaring above Jurassic Park!

At the top, I exited the cablecar and was greeted by a small farmers market selling all sorts of goodies: fried empanadas, sausages, and arepas, handmade jewelry, small cups of coffee and locally made mountain wine (which was too sweet for my taste). I bought a cheese arepa to snack on then headed out to find some trails.

WHAT TO DO

Apparently and unfortunately, I discovered that you can’t actually walk most of the trails in the park by yourself and the only tour leaving within the next half hour was a short orchid walk in Spanish, which didn’t appeal to me all that much. So I resigned to walking down a winding paved road (you can also drive to the park, but it takes a lot longer and isn’t nearly as fun) for 40 minutes to a section of the park where I could explore solo – Chorro Clarin (clear stream). I had no idea what to expect, so I was pretty excited when I emerged into this:

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There’s a paved trail that follows the stream for a few miles and alongside the path there are day camp sites and overnight campsites equipped with picnic tables, benches, aesthetically designed shelters and even flat concrete tent platforms for camping. Colombia has its priority straight.

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On the way back, I figured I had two options: option one was to walk back up the road I had come down (boring) or option two was to discreetly set foot onto the Flora Trail that would spit me out about a quarter of a mile up the road from the cable car station – right next to the carabineros station, or mounted policemen. I chose option two of course, hoping that the rule against walking the trails by yourself wasn’t for safety reasons (after all, there are police on horseback in the park, right?). I think I made the right choice 🙂

WHERE TO EAT

Hungry after my hike, I followed signs to a vegetarian restaurant and was greeted by an exuberant hostess who quickly sat me down and served up the most delicious multi-course menu del dia made from organic produce grown right next door. If you made it to  Parque Arvi, don’t miss this spot!

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HOW TO GET THERE Take the metro to Acevedo Station then transfer to the K line cablecar which will bring you to Santo Domino. No need to exit the metro station. At Santo Domingo follow signs to Parque Arvi and transfer to cablecar Line L that will take you into the park.

COST The entrance to Parque Arvi is free, but the cablecar line J up to the park costs CP 5,200 ($1.70) one way

WHAT TO DO Spend some time browsing the stalls at the farmers market (it’s larger on weekends) and grab a snack before hitting the trails. Tours of the park can be arranged at the tourist information booth straight ahead as you exit the cablecar station. If you want to explore on your own, follow the paved path out to the road then turn left toward El Tambo. At the crossroads of El Tambo turn right and continue down the road for 30 minutes or so until you see a sign on the left pointing toward Chorro Clarin. There’s a hacienda on the right. On the way back from Chorro Clarin either retrace your footsteps or find the Flora Trail on the left just as you pass the hacienda.

WHERE TO EAT The vegetarian restaurant across the street from the cablecar station. Also check out the coffee truck and the local beer stand

Guayaquil is the new Detroit

View from my room

To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with Guayaquil in the first place, and when I was stranded there yesterday after a cancelled flight to Loja, I liked it even less. Maybe you have read about my troubles in Detroit, but if not, check them out here and here. Guayaquil now reminds me of my misadventures in the mid-west. But fortunately, myself and the other unlucky passengers were taken well care of. It was a little hard for me to figure out what was going on because all the agents spoke in rapid Spanish and I could only pick up a few words, but I gathered that the airline (TAME) would put us up in hotel for the night at the Grand Hotel Guayaquil, transport us there and back to the airport in the morning, and send us on a 5:45am flight to Loja. Although frustrating because I had just spent an entire day in Guayaquil trying to fill the hours (which included moving from one hotel to another just to have a decent lunch and get a free ride to the airport), I was impressed with how the TAME agents handled the situation. The Grand Hotel Guayaquil wasn’t so grand, but it was fine enough to spend one night. We’d be leaving at 4:30am anyways. My only qualm was that my server at dinner tried to serve me panza de vaca soup (cow stomach) after I told him that I was a vegetarian. The stomach parts looked faintly like mushrooms and I almost took a bite, but was still skeptical. Even after a broken conversation and a lot of hand gestures around the stomach area he didn’t seem to get it that cow stomach is still considered meat by vegetarian standards.

But all that is in the past now (something that yoga and a lot of traveling has helped me with is the idea that ‘this too shall pass’) and now I’m sitting in the open air dining area at Madre Tierra in Vilcabamba, the Valley of Longevity as it is so nicknamed. It was an hour and a half drive from the Loja airport (which isn’t even in Loja, but I had arranged for transportation earlier) and I have to say that this is perhaps the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in Ecuador yet. Steep, green mountains with patchwork farms, valleys filled with clouds, small towns doting the countryside, and a perfect climate that’s not too hot (Guayaquil) and not too cold (as Quito can be). The early morning sun on the rugged mountain ranges was a beautiful sight as I descended into southern Ecuador’s picturesque terrain.

Madre Tierra is a pretty cool place, too. Very eclectic, but with a new-agey charm. The room I’m staying in is painted in shades of pink with butterflies climbing up the bricks and the walls of the bathroom are a mosaic of broken mirror pieces. I have my own private patio with a hammock and there’s so much green vegetation and flowering bushes that each cabin is very private.

Pathway to my room

Entrance way to my room

Walls in my room

Bathroom – notice the shards of mirror on the walls!

They also have a spa (which I’ll be checking out soon), a pool, a fresh fruit juice and smoothie bar, and a restaurant that serves luxuries like brown bread, unsweetened juices, green smoothies and other healthy options. It’ll be a nice relaxing week and a half I think!

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Dining Area

Beautiful multi-color-eyed kitty

Madre Tierra is located just over one kilometer outside the town of Vilcabama, so I haven’t checked out the town square yet, but that’s on my list to do over the next few days. There’s also Podocarpus National Park nearby and guides that offer mountain biking tours, horseback riding, or guided hikes. Not sure what’s on the agenda yet, but I’m hoping to get caught up on labeling my many Ecuador pics, updating my blog a bit, and continuing to make headway on the new path that I have chose – the Master’s of Nutrition Program and Bastyr University in Seattle. That means looking for apartments, applying for financial aid, figuring out schedules, etc… Ugh. It also means that I’ll be rooted in one place for awhile! Which, despite my wanderlust, I’m very much looking forward to.

Biking Through Ecuador, Day 9: Baeza to Quito

Galapagos, Here We Come!

Well, we’re sitting at the Quito airport, waiting for our flight to Guayaquil, and I thought it would be a good time to catch up on our final day of biking through Ecuador. Actually, we didn’t do any biking, but it was still our final day of our Biking Through Ecuador adventure with Arie.

After a terrible night sleep in Baeza due to a hostel made entirely out of wood with paper thin walls and a group of male college-age students drinking rum and cokes, we woke up groggy and not in the mood for biking. Luckily, we were heading to Papallacta, a hot spring resort about an hour northwest of Baeza. We were back in the cloud forest, so it was pretty chilly, but once we changed into our bathing suits and stepped into the warm thermal springs, I was in heaven. The steam rising from the pools mixed with the misty air gave the place a mystical feel. There were about 10 different crystal clear pools as with different temperature waters coming straight from underground thermal springs. We arrived early, thankfully, so it wasn’t too crowded, but people started to trickle in and the pools filled with locals and travelers alike.  We soaked for about an hour before I started feeling dizzy and rubbery, so I emerged from pools and snapped some photos of the resort.

Then it was back in the car for a drive through the green mountains toward Quito. We passed numerous waterfalls and more scenic vistas along the way. When we reached the top of the pass, Arie inquired if we wanted one last descent by bike into the suburbs of Quito. Despite the sun and blue skies, C and I were way too relaxed and warm to change into our biking clothes and get back on the bikes. Part of me wishes that we did – it was our last chance to ride! – but at the moment I was pretty content to just sit in the car and enjoy the beauty out the window. So that’s what we did. We stopped at Arie’s wife’s bar just outside of Quito for some nachos and then Arie drove us into the city and back to La Casa Sol where we said our goodbyes.

All in all, it was an amazing trip. There were a few things I wasn’t too impressed with – like the lunches of white bread and little else – but C and I had a great time biking and hiking around Ecuador’s mountains, lakes, rivers, and volcanoes. Would we do it again? Absolutely. We’ve even been questioning each other about where we want to do our next multi-day bike holiday. South East Asia is top of both of our lists 🙂 I did a bike ride in and around Bangkok with Grasshopper Adventures, and it was awesome. Now I have my eye on their Indian cycling tour.

Even though our Biking Through Ecuador has come to an end, it’s not the end our our Ecuador travels. We’re heading down to Guayaquil today and then embarking on the National Geographic Endeavor tomorrow for an 8 day trip around the Galapagos (sign up for the daily expedition reports here).

Then our plan is to base ourselves in Cuenca for a few days and do day trips to surrounding areas of interest before C needs to return to the ship in Baja. I’ll spend a week and a half at Madre Tierra relaxing and rejuvenating in the Valley of Longevity before I have to go back to work in Baja. So stay tuned for more adventures!

Biking Through Ecuador, Day 6: Baños

We had a free day today in the town of Baños. Not named after what you might think (toilets), Baños is called such for its warm thermal baths that are filled with heated water from the Volcan Tungurahua. After a good night’s rest – so good, actually, that we didn’t hear the windows rattle as Tungurahua let off an explosion early this morning. Arie informed us of the event when we ran into him before breakfast – we rose early and headed out to enjoy a pre-breakfast soak in one of the thermal baths nearby. The baths are outdoors and the one we visited included several pools with varying degrees of hot/warm/or cold pools. The water isn’t very inviting at first look – it’s a yellowish brown – but we donned our bathing suits and waded in despite the murky color. And it felt delightful. We soaked in the largest pool for a few minutes, surrounded by local residents and travelers alike, and then we moved over the the hotter pool, which was smaller and less crowded. It took a few seconds to get fully in because the water was so hot, but once submerged, it felt blissful. Like an outdoor jacuzzi, but without the bubbles. When we felt sufficiently soaked through and rubbery, we headed back to the hotel for some coffee and breakfast. Since we didn’t have to get on the bikes or drive to our next destination, C and I took the morning easy, catching up on emails and such.

Then we headed out to get some sandwiches to bring along on a hike that skirts the town and climbs a steep mountain up to a lookout. We started off walking through town and then turned onto a side road which led to a dirt path up the side of a mountain. We gained elevation surprisingly quickly and soon we were gazing down on the bustling town of Baños, nestled in a valley and surround by tall, green mountains. The path led us up to a spot called Bellavista where we were rewarded with a gorgeous view.

From there we backtracked a few hundred meters and turned onto another steep dirt trail that took us even higher up to the luxury hotel of Hosteria Luna Runtun, situated on the edge of the escarpment. We just glanced through the gates and saw a beautifully manicured resort with small white-washed cabañas and trees decorating the grounds. We continued on down the trail and stopped at a nice overlook for lunch. The trail led us slowly down to the Mirador del Virgin, a giant statue that watches over the town of Baños. There were stairs leading down from the Virgin, which brought us down from the mountainside and back into town where it was a 10 minute walk back to our hotel. We passed a cemetery city where the graves are actually above ground and look like tiny apartments. There were even roads passing by each complex. Weird.

The whole loop took us about 2 1/2 hours (our guidebook said it would take 4) and even though we didn’t see the the top of Volcan Tungurahua, we still have great views of the valley.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a great little specialty food store where we bought some nuts and seeds to make trail mix and 100% dark chocolate. Yum! Tomorrow we get back on the bikes and head into the Amazon!

A Day In Todos Santos

For the past few days I could feel myself on the verge of getting sick and yesterday I think my body finally gave in. I woke up with a sore throat, headache, and runny nose. Carol made me waffles for breakfast and after I ate I went back to my room and watched two movies, read my book, and napped. I emerged around 4 to find something eat, then went back to my book, finishing it around 10 pm. Then went to bed. (It was Light on Snow, Mom, since I know you’re wondering).

This morning, though, I woke up feeling much better – probably because I spent yesterday horizontal. After breakfast I decided to catch a bus to the small town of Todos Santon south and west of La Paz. I’d never been there, but heard it was a cute little artsy town. The ride was about an hour and a half in a nice coach with James Bond Casino Royale blasting (both visually and audibly) on the TV.

After I got dropped off I went in search of a map. Procuring one, I then tried to get lost. One of my favorite things to do in a new town or city is to try to get lost, then figure my way back to familiar ground (if I have a map – it’s not too much fun getting really lost). I passed a nice looking hotel in the historic area and glanced at it’s name. Guaycura Hotel and Spa. Perfect. I’ve been wanting a massage since I got off the boat, so I made a sharp turn and entered the lobby. Asking if I could make a massage appointment, the receptionist made a few calls told me it would be half an hour, but I could wait up on the sky deck. I climbed two flights of stairs and emerged at the sky deck, an outside sitting area with an L-shaped pool, a bar, and long benches padded with cushions and pillows. Not a bad place to wait. It was about 45 minutes before the therapist was ready and I could enter the ‘spa’. The spa was actually a large room with two massage tables made up nicely, a steam room, a bathroom, and a two-person jacuzzi. I had my massage (which felt wonderful), then my therapist asked if I wanted to use the hot tub. I said yes, of course, and spent another 20 minutes soaking in the hot water with the jets tickling my toes and colored lights turning the water green, red, and blue.

Back on the street I moseyed from one artesian shop to another. There are some great artists here, selling pottery, jewelry, paintings, clothes, you name it. I ended up buying a necklace from a hippy girl selling her work on the sidewalk. It was more expensive than I wanted to pay, but we chatted for awhile and I felt like I had to buy it. It’s neat, with beads from the Amazon and a small shark tooth woven in above a brown and white shell.

After I walked around for awhile (I determined it was way too small of a town to get lost in) I consulted my map and headed to a place called Pura Vida, located a little farther off the main drag. The ad on my map said “Organic Health Food Store and Deli” (as well as a hotel) and not having eaten since breakfast that’s all I needed to know. I found it with no trouble and after perusing the shelves of bagged spices, raw honey, coconut oil, natural peanut butter, etc… I felt a tug towards home. The last time I saw good, healthy food like that was in October! I ordered a veggie panini with pesto and when it came it was piled high with shredded beets, carrots, and organic greens. Yummy!

And thats where I still am. My bus back to La Paz doesn’t leave until 6, so I have some time to relax and enjoy the last bit of sun!

Pampered Like Queens

Oh, wow. Now I remember why I chose massage as a profession. Karen and I just received 80 minutes of relaxation heaven and after I felt like I was floating on clouds.

We woke up this morning to a very chilly and extremely windy day. One look (and one toe out the front door) and we decided to spend the day inside. After breakfast we made a quick run to a department store to get a duffel bag so I could send a few things home with Karen and then we lazed around until 3:00 when we headed over to the spa. I can’t describe how beautiful and well-done the spa is here at Pueblo Bonito. You walk in and to the left is the gym filled with weight machines and treadmills. To the right is a wooden walkway bordered on each side with flowing water that leads into the spa reception area. We got there an hour before our treatments (we each chose an 80-minute body scrub and wrap) so we could relax in the hot tubs. The “hot tubs” were located in a big tiled room that consisted of a large hot water pool, a jacuzzi, a steam room (which, unfortunately didn’t work), a rainforest shower that ran from hot water to cold to back again, a mist shower, a shower that sprayed water on you from all directions, a cold water plunge, and a hydro-reflexology path, which was a short walkway of small pebbles and misters. The pools were lit with green lights and there were lounge chairs, towels, and a refreshing iced lemon tea for our enjoyment. After soaking for awhile, we were shown to a waiting room with big comfy couches, cucumber water, dried fruit, and a large screen tv playing a video of beautiful places around the world to a soundtrack of serene music. After about ten minutes our massage therapists met us and showed us to the treatment rooms. First we were scrubbed down with a salt scrub and wiped off with warm towels. Then we were lathered with a body mask cream and wrapped up in plastic for 20 minutes to let the cream work its magic while our therapists did a facial massage. After being unwrapped we were sprayed down, on the table, by a hot Vichy shower – a shower that pours warm water over you while lying on the massage table. The water drains through holes in the table and onto the floor. Then we were warmed up again by a heated blanket and the final step was a body lotion massage and head rub. It was bliss.

To finish off the day we ate dinner – I made a delicious concoction of eggplant, chickpeas, olives, and roasted red peppers – and played a game of scrabble to the melodious voice of Rafael Rodriguez Tovador. He was so good Karen ended up buying three CDs.