Cotopaxi Volcano is one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. It is truly lovely to see with alabaster white clouds swirling around its
top--providing an occasional tantalizing glimpse of an enshrouded mountain top. At first we thought we were doomed to disappointment as
the volcano and surrounding mountains were enveloped in these clouds. It was as if no mountains were there at all; however, after a
rather tortuous drive on a poorly maintained road, stopping at a very small and rather uninteresting museum, and several stops to
observe the magnificent vistas below us as we traveled upward, the clouds dissipated and suddenly--Cotopaxi was there--appearing quite
mystical and majestic with white, diaphanous clouds swaying back and forth, allowing us a peak of its glory.

We then began the trip back to Quito and found this road even more provoking than the previous one. It was a trip we thought would
never end as we bounded along rocks, crevices and ruts. Compensating for this though was passing through occasional villages and seeing
the peaks of the volcanoes which give this area its name---
Avenue of the Volcanoes. This excursion makes a nice two day trip unless you
are wanting to climb Cotopaxi and then a little longer would probably be good.
Away from the Old Town--into New Town--are most of the hotels and restaurants, along with a wonderful park for children. We found
many good places to eat--with even the "expensive" being much less than what we are used to here in the US (you can find
recommendations at the end of this report). And----there is a MacDonald's--not much of a surprise as this culinary emporium is that
which unites the world. Casey's eyes lit up and he was happy once he knew that Kid's Meals were on the agenda--and then, to top it off,
they had some really good toys. Across from the US Embassy is the
National  Museum which is worth making time to visit. It has
archaelogical exhibits from 12,000 BC up through the 20th century. Although it is an adult's museum, it is interesting enough to capture
children. Casey enjoyed it.  Of course, he enjoyed
El Ejido Park, across the street, even more.
Side Note: Yamondu, our guide, shared a lot of interesting information with us--he had been in a Rhodes scholer program conducted in
Ecuador and was quite knowledgeable. He was very concerned and disgusted with the political corruption in Eduador.There are public and
private schools with great discrepency between them. Better teachers, smaller classes, etc. with private schools. Public schools have large
classes of 60+ students. Parents must buy books, uniforms, transportation. This is hard as the annual income is very insignificant--between
$150-250 a month. Often people eat just one meal a day. Those working in the pubic sector--doctors, teachers, accountants, etc.--earn much,
much less than comparable jobs in private facilities--most must moonlight in menial jobs. Since the conversion to the US dollar as the  
national currency of Ecuador, people go to Columbia to buy things--particularly electronics--at a much cheaper price than in Ecuador.
Ironically, Columbians are flooding into Ecuador for jobs; thus, creating unemployment for Ecuadorians.
Happy Purchase--New Friends
China, Italy, Tanzania, Peru, Spain, Travel with Children

Ecuador Coat of Arms
Ecuadorian Flag
Of course, no trip to Quito would be complete
without taking the short ride to
La Mitad del
--the Middle of the World--the
Equatorial line monument. This is interesting
to the extent that it is kind of unique to stand
staddling the equator. There is a viewing
tower which also has interesting ethnographic
displays  of the various peoples living in
Equator--from the indigenous rain forest
people to the invading Spaniards. There is
also a little Spanish village recreation which
if full of t-shirt shops and restaurants--really
tourist tacky. This monument is out in the
middle of nowhre so it is a short visit--but we
were glad we went just to say we were there.
Casey's Equator Certificate
The city of Quito sits between volcanic mountain ranges and so it is long and narrow, an interestingly different layout from other large
cities.  Lording over the city is Pichincha Volcano. Unlike Cusco, there are no Inca ruins or visual memories of that great civilization in
Quito. This is because the Incans, in defiance of the Spaniards, destoryed their city prior to losing it. Now, what remains from the past is
from its colonial days.

Old Town of Quito is a good place to spend time wandering, taking in the culture and history. The lovely colonial Plaza de la
Independencia is presided over by the Presidential Palace which was the scene of a school children's protest as we were there. Hundreds
of children, under the care of their teachers, were shouting "We want an education" and demanding that El Presidente come out and
meet them--which, of course, he did not do. Adults and children were converging from all entrances to the plaza; police and military were
there with shields but were not menacing the children. Public schools are incredibly underfunded and undersupplied; classes are very
large; teachers are paid very little with most of them moonlighting as taxi drivers or persuing other form of second employment. Parents
who want their children to be well-educated and have money, send them to private schools. Education is far from equal in this country.

There are lovely churches, good museums and interesting architecture throughout the old town. Casey particularly liked the incredibly
beautiful and lovely La Compania which he called the "golden church" as inside it is almost completly covered in gold.  It is known as the
most beautiful church in Latin America.
Carriage ride in Quito--Plaza de la Independencia
Quito Park
Plaza de la Independencia
Before moving on to the Galapagos and the Amazon, there is one last thing to cover--The Otavalo Market
with its sister Animal Market. If you can plan your trip accordingly, go here on a Saturday. Although the
regular market is there all week, the Animal Market and the itinerate stalls and sections of the big
market are only there Saturdays. We found the Animal Market to be the best part.

We were pleased and Casey was ecstatic when Yamandu showed up as our guide for the three days for this
excursion. Casey becomes attached to people quickly--fortunately this is usually mutual. Along the way to
Otavalo, we stopped at the "bread dough" village which we did not find very worthwhile except that it is
important income for the people--which is important. We stopped again at a small shop making and selling
Panama hats (did you know that Equador is the originator of these hats?) Hats ranged from $5 to $400--we
bought neither but Casey sure did look cute. By the way, very conveniently, Ecuador uses the US dollar. It
is nice to be in a foreign country and not need to worry currency or current for that matter as they use 110.
I really wanted this hat!
On our way to Hacienda Cusin, we drove around San Pablo Lake, stopping for lunch at Puerto Lago a very
pretty country inn and marina. This would be a nice place to stay if not choosing one of the haciendas. As
we circled the lake, we became aware of a community social hour--men and women gathering in the river to
scrub clothes and bath
children. We naturally
assumed it was because
washing had to be done
this way; but, Yamondu
told us that many of the
people in this area do
have washing machines
but often prefer the
comraderie in having
time to gossip and catch
up on the news plus
enjoying the comfort of
doing things in the
traditional ways.
A Time of Comraderie
Watching at the river.
Hacienda Cusin was our base for three days in the Otavalo area. This is a lovely 16th century Hacienda-now a country inn. My journal:
"...there is an air of authencity. Our room has super ambience with wooden furniture, indigenous wall decorations and a kiva-like fireplace,
which crackles as I write. Casey has a separate little sleeping room off of ours. We wandered the grounds and structures--reading room,
library, lounge, dining room, stables and gift area with a native young woman sitting outside selling handicrafts. Lots of nooks and crannies
to explore--inside and out." Just a stroll away from the Hacienda as you are meander the grounds, go through a magical little blue gate and
cross over an elfish foot bridge, you stumble on El Monasterio--another creative, atmospheric, charming place to stay which is an extension
of the Hacienda. There, if you find the secret door, you can climb to the top of the tower and view the surrounding countryside.  Aside: The
food was good, too.
Hacienda Cusin ---one of the courtyards.
Our two-bedroom suite--run mouse over to see Casey's room
One of the public rooms at Hacienda Cusin
Run Mouse Over Pictures
We had looked forward to experiencing the Otavalo Market and its accompanying Animal Market and we were not disappointed.  Both were
fascinating and offered another glimpse into the life and culture of this country. The Animal Market was a totally unique and fascinating
excursion into the life of the Otavalo indians. Men and women of all ages, dressed in a myriad of ways--traditional Indian clothing, jeans,
chaps, etc--bartering for pigs, cows, sheep, horses and goats. Once a deal was consumated, the animal would be lead, pulled, carried, pushed,
whatever it took, to a waiting pickup. Women would struggle to pull reluctant, squealing, very uncooperative BIG pigs while others would
carry small squealing piglets in their arms. It was a boisterous crowd with people intent on their needs and purchases. Along the edge, small,
portable kitchens were busy serving plates of food which looked good but, we knew, would be disastrous to our stomachs--plus, hygiene as
we know it was clearly not a concern. Some of the animals were very large--ready for slaughter while others required care and feeding. This
was very much a livestock market--not chickens, etc. which could found at the main Otavalo market.
Kitchens were busy!
Saturday Animal Market--Deals are
made quickly and everyone is happy.
Straddling the equator