18th September – We leave Pequeno Paraiso today and would really recommend this friendly and relaxing place to other overland travellers.
We go east from Banos, descending slowly through a lush landscape and the Rio Pastaza canyon to Puyo at only 950m, dense canopies of trees each on side of us.
After Puyo we turn north for Tena, knowing that Ecuador’s huge rainforest area is spreading away to our right. A real tropical feel now with such a variety of beautiful trees. Many wooden houses are built on stilts amongst banana trees, their huge leaves glistening in the sun following frequent showers of rain.
Arriving in Tena we find La CasaBlanca, highly recommended by Trip Advisor. La CasaBlanca is owned by Gary (Ecuadorian) and Michelle (American). Now living in Ecuador, part of their lovely house is for guests, providing rooms, a dormitory. utility room woth washing machine and drier and a superb, well-equipped kitchen. They very kindly let us put our Land Rover into their spacious garage for secure parking and we take a room with adjoining bathroom and a lovely hot shower!
19th September – Having seen cacaco growing in Ecuador, we both would like to discover how chocolate is made and our guide book has recommended ‘The Chocolate Jungle’, a short distance downriver from the town of Misahualli. Canadian Elizabeth Hendley has made this 20 hectare site on the Rio Napo her home and devotes her life to growing good quality cacao on her plantation – the yellow cacao pods, which will produce the excellent Arriba chocolate. She will also demonstrate how chocolate is made, so we are looking forward to the visit.
However, it all turned out to be a little disappointing and rather rushed. We don’t get to visit the plantation but are shown a cacao tree in the garden and are not allowed to take photos in her little museum explaining the history of cacao, which is really fascinating but a lot to remember. We helped to take off the outer skins of some previously dried and heated cacao beans in a little kitchen area and then put the beans into a mincer, exactly like the one my mother used to screw to our kitchen table at home to mince up the meat left over from the Sunday roast – only this time out came grated chocolate, which did smell very good! We don’t actually make chocolate but are each given a very hot and very milky ‘chocolate’ drink which was really difficult to drink or to taste the chocolate, before being hurried away by canoe back to the beach at Misahualli.
We therefore would not recommend this trip as we feel we missed out on what could have been some interesting stages, such as visiting the plantation, opening a cacao pod to see the beans and actually making chocolate.
Dried and heated cacao beans. The outer shells removed.
20th September – We leave La CasaBlanca today, another place that we would recommend to other travellers. From Tena we continue north, climbing to just over 2000m through the Cordillera Galeras, skirting the edge of the Reserva Forestal Sumaco before descending toward Baeza.
From here we take the road for Lago Agrio, in order to visit the San Rafael Falls – Ecuador’s highest waterfall. A downhill trail of just over 1km takes us to the falls, which we can hear long before we reach them. The waterfall is certainly an impressive, natural sight, watching the tremendous power of water pouring through a narrow gap between rocks and roaring to depths far below, the spray creating a dense mist.
Definitely worth a visit, as when the hydroelectric dam and power plant being built further upriver are completed in 2016, the strength of the Coca River which feeds the falls, may be affected.
A short distance from the San Rafael Falls is the recently renovated and very friendly Hosteria Reventador providing great views of Volcan Reventador, which we are told is presently ‘puffing every day’……..exciting news!
We are allowed to park in their large parking area and are given a bathroom to use at the far end of the swimming pool. We discover large pools of trout and tilapia in the grounds of the hosteria and we both sample the latter in their restaurant later in the evening….an excellent meal!
21st September – We have a spectacular view of Volcan Reventador (3562m) this morning. Its last big eruption was in 2002 and although it is possible to hike to the summit when it is quiet, it has remained one of the most active volcanoes in Ecuador. It lies within the eastern boundaries of Reserva Ecologica Cayambe – Coca, surrounded by cloud forest and today, sporadic steam and ash plumes explode into the sky making very exciting viewing, as this is the first volcano that we have seen in action!
Our breakfast includes a big jug of delicious, fresh mora (blackberry) juice and there are bunches of bananas in the garden that we are allowed to help ourselves to. A blue macaw is up in a nearby tree, probably a tame one but still lovely to see again since Brazil.
Reventador quietens down again, so we retrace our journey back to Baeza, stopping at a small orchideria for a guided tour through shady woodland to see orchids, some so minute but still with amazing detail, without somebody to point them out we would never have known they were there.
Before continuing on the road that will eventually take us into Quito, we stop for the night in the small village of Papallacta at 3300m where there are therapeutic thermal waters to soak in at the nearby Termas de Papalllacta. We head for Hostal Antisana, named after the now extinct Volcan Antisana, that we hope to have a view of in the morning. The elderly lady at the hostal, allows us to park on her garage entrance by the road, as camping in her small back garden is only possible for tents. We are given a bathroom inside the hostal, located by the restaurant. It is bitterly cold here, so another uncomfortable night and an early wake-up call, as somebody wants to get their car out of the garage!
22nd September – Volcan Antisana is clearly visible from where we are parked…….another snow covered giant at 5704m and the 4th highest volcano in Ecuador.
It is too early for the sun to reach us yet, but before we leave (which Bill can’t wait to do and swears no more camping at altitude) I insist we have breakfast inside the hostal where there is already a fire going. Juice, tea and coffee, scrambled eggs and a cheese-filled muffin………at least we have a good start to the day!
Leaving Papallacta, we descend through green and rugged hills that gradually become more rounded and less forested as we arrive at Pifo. From here it is a short distance to the outskirts of Quito (Ecuador’s capital) and now we will have to find somewhere to stay…..not always easy in a city!