Monday, July 03, 2017

Day 1, 2 (23-24 June 2017) – OKC to Quito to Puerto Lago - Adventures by Disney Ecuador and Galapagos Islands Tour (23 Jun – 2 July 2017)

Seth (48), Eve (47), Rhys (17) – Graduation and 18th birthday trip

A 7 am flight meant we had to head for the airport at around 4 am. We had decided a long while ago that we would be opting for first class on this trip so all 3 legs of our trip out to Ecuador were on 1st or business class. This made the long trip much much better.

The flights were pretty unremarkable from OKC to Charlotte – a surprisingly busy airport where we only had less than an hour before we boarded the flight to Miami. In Miami, we were able to locate the AA lounge where we had some drinks and snacks (delicious enchilada soup) before heading to board our last flight to Quito.

In the Charlotte airport - on our way!
We arrived into Quito, zipped through customs and immigration without any issues and were met by a representative from ABD but he didn't seem to speak any English. Our Spanish is passable in simple situations so this wasn't an issue. We were the only ones from our flight in the car and it took us well over half an hour to get to the JW Marriott. He offered us each a bottle of water which was just perfect. Apparently we flew into their new airport which is quite a distance from Quito. We looked it up (using another Xcom wifi unit that I had rented for South America) and found out that Quito had a population of around 2.6 million people, was about 150 square miles, at an elevation of 9400 ft. We found out later that Ecuador is the most densely populated country in South America.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were immediately met by our Adventure Guides, Lauren from North Carolina and Robby from Ecuador. They showed us in and took us to their welcome desk where we were offered a warm towel to wipe off with and some fruity tea. It felt SO good to finally be at our destination and what I really appreciated was that we weren't rushed at all. We relaxed for a little bit while Lauren and Robby just conversed with us about where we were from, how the trip was, and about our past Adventures with Disney. They gave us a run down of the schedule – we were free for the rest of the evening and would be meeting for breakfast in the morning after putting our suitcases outside our doors by 7:15 am and we received our first ABD pin.

First ABD pin - welcome to Ecuador!
We were taken up to our rooms – Rhys' was right next to ours. The accomodations were very nice but since we were leaving first thing in the morning, we really didn't bother to unpack. I just pulled out what I was going to wear the next day and left the rest packed up. We had received a folded up ABD duffel bag as well as a list of all the Adventurers in our group (from what I could tell, there were about 6 families – with 1 large extended family of 10), some Ecuadorian chocolate which we later found out had won many awards in the past, and the tip envelopes for the Guides at the end of our Adventure.

We decided to go down to the lobby to look around and to find a snack before going to bed. The shops were closed since it was almost 9 pm. We wandered over to the sushi bar where we were each offered a free sample of beer. The waitress handed a glass of beer to Rhys without missing a beat (he's still 17 at this point) which he rather enjoyed because it was at this moment that he realized for the first time that the drinking age here was 18. Up until now, he never even hinted at this although drinking is not really high on his list of things to do. We ordered a few half rolls: Quito Roll, Tropical roll (with plantains on top!), and Spicy Tuna roll – they were delicious!

Following our snack, we headed back to our room & went to bed immediately after a very very long day but, unfortunately, I tossed and turned all night – probably from the intermittent naps I had taken all day which I don't normally do. I was up the following morning at 6 to take a shower and get ready for the day.

We attached the ABD tags to our luggage and left them by our door – they would be picked up and taken to the bus for our trip to Puerto Lago. Since we really didn't need our carry on bags, we went ahead and tagged/left those by the door as well.

Breakfast was downstairs off the lobby in the "library" – it was a private buffet for just our Adventure group with breads, meats, cheeses, cereal, bacon, and omelets. 

We met a family of 5 from Seattle, Gordon, Cindy and their boys Matt, Drew, and Jack, who had also been on 3 other Adventures in the past.  Their boys ranged in ages from around 7 to 12. When we finished up our breakfast, Lauren and Robby re-introduced themselves and welcomed everyone. They went around each table and had one person per family introduce their family members and tell a little about themselves. There were several families from Seattle, another from North Carolina, and a mother/daughter from Houston. The large extended family group of 10 were on their first Adventure – the rest of us were Insiders and we each received our Insider pins - #3 for Rhys and #4 for us.

 After our orientation, we were highly encouraged to visit the "Happy Room" and were reminded that "using the bathroom when you can is better than when you need". We had about 15 minutes to gather up the rest of our belongings and head down to the lobby to board our bus.

A note about the hotel – the fresh flowers were absolutely gorgeous. I just couldn't get over the number of rose arrangements in the lobby. Roses are the #4 economical source for the country after taxes, oil, and shrimp. So pretty much everywhere we went, roses were in abundance.

We boarded a very nice bus and headed off. One of the families hadn't made it in yet and were to meet us later in the day. Along the way, Robby gave us a very nice run down of his country – the history, economy, etc. This was when we ran into our snag of the day. After about 20 minutes or so on the bus headed out to the Pan American highway, our Guides got word of an accident that had shut the highway down. The bus made a very impressive u-turn and we headed out of Quito via a different route which probably added close to an hour to our total trip. Fortunately, the bus stopped at a gas station along the way for a bio break. Along the way, Lauren took everyone's lunch and dinner selections.

And, of course, there was the infamous snack basket - we were offered snacks very often during this portion of our trip. There is no excuse to ever be hungry on an Adventures by Disney tour bus.  I especially enjoyed the smaller bananas that had a much sweeter taste than our American versions.  I also fell in love with the onion flavored plantain chips.

Lauren with the snack basket
Small delicious Ecuadorian banana

Onion flavored plantain chips - my new favorite snack
Our first stop of the day was, literally, the Center of the Earth. Rhys got to carry the paddle of power (the orange Adventures by Disney paddle) as we arrived at 0 degrees 0' 0" on the Equator. Straddling the equator here is standing on both hemispheres at the same time. We stopped for some family pictures and then listened as one of the interpreters explained the significance of the sundial we were standing on and the importance of this spot. We were just a couple days past the solstice which is a big holiday in Ecuador and celebrations or fiestas last for a week or longer.

Cool postcard Lauren air dropped to us

After exploring for just a bit, we re-boarded the bus and were each given a pocket sundial to take home as well as our pin of the day:  Middle of the Earth.

Our next stop was a rose producer, Rosadex. We met with a tour guide who took us into one of the nurseries and explained about the different types of roses they export as well as why roses grow so well in Ecuador and is the 4th biggest industry. Between the constant temperature all year round, the constant sunlight for 12 hours per day, and the volcano ash in the soil, this produced beautiful long-stemmed roses which grew straight up, and were exported to the US (shorter stemmed), China (multicolor roses), and Russia (very long stemmed roses). Next we headed over to the packaging center but the day's shift was already over. We saw many beautiful colored roses and our guide explained the pain staking process of putting rose stems in dye that resulted in the petals being a different color. They can dye a rose this way with up to 5 colors depending on which part of the stem is placed in which dye color. The price of a rose is dependent on the length of the stem with the longest stemmed roses running about $1.70 each and the colored roses being about twice that much. I think some of the colored roses were just gorgeous but didn't really care for the multi colored ones. We were also told that to care for roses at home, the stem should be cut at an angle every 2 days, change the water after each cutting, and to just mix a tablespoon of sugar and white vinegar to the water. Rose stems should last up to about 2 weeks this way.

We then headed out of the rose plantation up the street to the main family house which was built in 1919. The water fountain in front of the house was full of rose petals and we were met by a few ladies who brough out a crispy pastry with pieces of cheese and blackberry juice. It was a really nice snack before we were taken into the house which was decorated with amazing enormous rose displays. Different colored roses in every room.

First we all had some quinoa soup with local potato. Served alongside lunch was a tomato based spicy sauce that had coriander on top so I didn't partake in the sauce. For my entree, I had opted for the tilapia which was in a lemon sauce and was really yummy. Paired with the entree, we were served some hominy, potato cakes, fried plantains, and a salad which included tomato, avocado, etc. For dessert, I had the Ecuadorian fruit which was a tree tomato and some babaco (related to the papaya) – 2 fruits I had never had before. Robby showed us what the tree tomato and babaco looked like.

Beautiful rose 

After lunch, we strolled over to the family's chapel and then to the building with the most gorgeous rose displays I have every seen. Everyone posed for a family picture in front of their favorite areas and then we headed back to the bus for our next activity.

We were taken to the home of a musician who also made flutes. After a short demonstration of the different types of instruments including ones from Peru and Brazil, the musicians played some music for us and then it was our turn to try and make some Andean flutes. The pieces of bamboo were already cut for us and we were given plenty of string. Tying the bamboo pieces of different length together proved to be a lot harder than it looked. After we all finished making our new instruments, we all gathered again for a large group picture.

Music demonstration

Making our own flute
Our last stop of the day was at the home of a master weaver. He was sitting at his European loom weaving without any sort of pattern – he was just using his own memory. They gave us a demonstration of how they came up with all the different colored yarns and let the kids try this activity. First they took small cactus parasites that, when crushed, gave a maroon sort of color. Adding some baking soda to the crushed worm changed the color as did adding ash. There were several different things added to the color to make a new color. The weaver also demonstrated a traditional Andean weaving loom but told his he doesn't really use it anymore because it's very complicated and sitting on the ground using the loom was very hard on your back.

Traditional loom - a back breaker!
We were given the opportunity to do some shopping including woven products and alpaca products. Most of us bought woven bracelets for $1 per piece. Several of the ladies also bought some really nice alpaca sweaters for around $120-$150 USD.

Our Ecuadorian bracelets
I found it very odd that they use the US dollar in Ecuador and they are basically in the central US time zone so there was no time change for us. Both of these facts made it very easy to adjust to this new country.

We boarded the bus one last time for the day and in about half an hour, we arrived at the Hosteria Puerto Lago which is an absolutely beautiful resort right on the bank of the San Pablo Lake with wooden buildings – very unusual in Ecuador. We were given our room keys as well as a tv remote and were taken by staff to our room where our luggage was already waiting for us. Ours was #48 located on the 2nd floor of a building that was the furthest away from the main reception house but was really not too far a walk. We entered our room and were just amazed at how roomy it was – 2 beds, vaulted ceilings, fireplace, good sized bathroom.

Hosteria Puerto Lago

Hosteria Puerto Lago overlooking the lake
Our room was 2nd floor on the far right

Huge spacious room with fire place
 Lauren and Robby dropped by our room to make sure everything was ok and also brought us a bottle of wine.

We got ready for dinner and met back at the main reception house/restaurant where we were serenaded by Andean music. For dinner, I had a salad followed by the trout which was in a delicious cheese sauce. Dessert was a plantain cake. We were exhausted & after uploading some pictures to Facebook, I fell asleep at around 9:30 pm. We had been given instructions at dinner that breakfast was from 7-9 in the morning and that the bus would be leaving at about 9:15 am so we had the opportunity to sleep in and relax in the morning.

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