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Ecuador; a peak experience.

Ecuador A Peak Experience

What a great country] Flydue south of Miami for four hours, and you won't believe your eyes: You will have arrived in Ecuador.

From history I learned that theconquistadors also found it worthwhile to visit this beautiful land. But I had an idea they only wanted the gold. Well, I was wrong. The Colonial-Spanish wanted to stay in Ecuador so bad they were willing to pay anything to Imperial-Madrid to do so.

First and foremost about Ecuadoris that is has all its seasons at once. If youu want to change from tropical beach to snow-capped mountain, no problem. Ecuador has both--within hiking distance of each other. Whether traveling by rail, bus, car, or on foot, travel in this exquisite land is best done, not with an eye on mile or month, but on the elevation; all boy scouts should be sent there to learn contour-map reading. I seriously recommend bringing a climber's portable altimeter. (It it's 9,000 feet out, it must be spring.)

One place where it is detinitelywinter is the "Refuge." It lies three-quarters of the way up the side of the Cotopaxi volcano. The Refuge is 15,800 feet up and you drive there. Yes, your car will still work at that height. But you won't, unless you acclimate first. The park police give Breathalyzer tests to errant drivers. Those who still have enough breath left to fill the bag, pass.

The Refuge, an A-frame with allthe amenities of an army barracks, is located higher than any Alp. Actually, if you don't count Alaska, that hut is higher than anything we have in the States. To stay there takes 72[ and a willingness to put up with mountain climbers. One German group recently carried skies to the top (19,350 feet) and skied back down.

Apres-ski activities are foundnearby at the La Cienaga Estate. After 300 years as a working estate, it is now open to the public as a hotel. You'll be staying in someone's house--only this house has a bar, a restaurant, gardens, a lake, stables, a store, and even its own Catholic church. The landscaping, the architecture, and the surrounding panorama there are stunning. Then there's the equatorial sunlight. Its magical quality can make a great photographer out of the rankest amatecur.

You likely will begin your Ecuadorianexperience in the capital city, Quito. Nine thousand feet up and home to a million people, Quito is as prosperous as its skyscrapers indicate. (And for these, Ecuador can thank its chief export, oil.)

From Quito, a traveler has threechoices. He can stay in the central highlands, or Volcano Alley, as it's called. He can go south or west, down toward the coast. Or he can go down and east, into the jungle headwaters of the Amazon.

The coast boasts the great port cityof Guayaquil and several beach resorts, including good ones at Salinas and Esneraldas. From Guayaquil, the more adventurous may fly to the Galapagos Islands, where prehistoric animals still thrive. Nothing is prehistoric about the sleep-aboard yachts for hire at these islands--they are most modern. Darwin visited these islands in 1835, and the world has not been the same since.

On the opposite end of VolcanoAlley from Quito, lies Cuenca, the loveliest town in all Ecuador. Four rivers flow through the cup-shaped basin holding the city. These rivers create verdant banks that contrast wonderfully with the surrounding hills.

Perhaps the greatest charm ofCuenca is its outstanding architecture. Adobe houses with flower boxes and iron-scrolled balconies line the cobblestone streets. Markets full of Indians and their wares are set against spectacular, silvery-domed cathedrals. Cuenca is a must]

For the truly adventurous, there isthe Amazon basin. Perhaps the way to view it is by booking passage on the "Fiotel Orellana," a riverboat hotel not unlike our old Mississippi steamers. The river this boat plies is not the Amazon but a tributary, the Rio Napo. The boat, which leaves Coca every Friday and Monday, is staffed with naturalists to answer your questions. Jungles, even at the equator, are surprisingly dark so bring plenty of high-speed film. You'll want it for the 400 species of exotic birds you'll find living there.

Sadly, much of the Expreso Metropolitantrain line is currently under repair. The ride between Quito and Guayaquil is one of the world's highest and most breath-taking. The train is presently operating only between Quito and Riobamba. This ride will still take you past Ecuador's highest mountains. Until the tracks are repaired, however, the only way to witness the change in plant life as you plunge from mountain to coast is to drive, or to be driven. Be driven.

Ecuador is the cheapest South Americancounty to travel in. So splurge, especially at the dinner table. If you don't have a taste for seafood, develop one. If you're already a seafood lover, ignore this article. Just go]
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Author:SerVaas, Paul
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Apr 1, 1986
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