TravelFilter: Help me make my two weeks in Ecuador the best they can be. Think low key, awesome, off the beaten path ideas. What have you done/learned that I can benefit from?
So I've already found previous questions
related to this but I figured I'm a special snowflake so I'd ask again... Seriously, I'm not but I do feel like the situation is a bit different. Details follow but feel free to skip to the bottom if you want to just give generic advice.
I'm traveling down to see a friend who has been a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador for the last year or so. The group will consist of three people:
A) Him: mid 20s, bilingual (spanish/english), Spanish descent (but not South American, he's taller)
B) Me: mid 20s, english with a touch of spanish since I can string together rough, simple sentences and understand 'the gist' of a converstaion, Native American descent (read: I'm still white but with darker complexion/hair...)
C) Her: mid 20s, probably worse spanish than myself, blue-eyed/blond haired (100% gringo, and that's not a pejorative word where I come from. Apologies if it is to you and yours).
We're all fairly outdoorsy and level-headed, so there's that too.
We're flying into and out of Quito but are by no means limited to that city. His site is in or near Palmito Pamba (now that I'm searching for that on a map it doesn't lend itself to searching and/or may be a local term). If I'm not mistaken I think it's near Imbabura province (or near the border of said province to be exact).
Our plans are mostly in his hands and we're going to be doing a fair amount of hostel hopping and/or staying with other PCVs in various communities/rural/remote areas. Our interests/plans are currently focusing more on the outdoorsy aspect of things like hiking, moderate climbing, whitewater, caving, hot springs, and beaches. Oh, I'm sure cool cultural things are on the agenda as well but I'm just not in the know as much with regards to them. I'm halfway looking into charter marlin fishing (I can't imagine how those guys compare to Florida Grouper/Snapper) prices but they will likely end up too costly or not on our route.
Places on the (very rough) agenda at the moment:
Nanegal, Tena, Puyo Banos, San Bernardo, Riobamba, Cuenca, Latacunga, Guayaquil.
Also (from the Amazon area), Maquipucuna (La Delicia), Mindo, Papallacta, Cuyabeno, Yasuni, Rio Napo.
Tips he's already provided me with and my (current
1. Pack light: I'm hoping to get by with one large backpack with, potentially, a smaller daypack inside, I'll be using my Osprey Kestrel
pack and hoping noone notices the brand.
2. Less electronics are better: I will be leaving camera (he has one), laptop (ditto), and brand new Droid X phone (he has an extra) at home.
3. Bring small bills: >$10 USD bills are mostly useless since noone has change but I don't know how to handle this since he also says don't have more than $30 or $40 on you at any given time.
The list is going to be short but will include sunglasses, bug juice, sun block, passport(and photocopy), possibly a small sleepingbag (for day to day use, no overnight camping this trip), medications as needed (see below), one set of nicer clothes (read: nice jeans and a button down), swim trunks, sandals/shower shoes, and perhaps a travel guide and a hat.
I'll be going to see my physician next week regarding the shots recommended here by the CDC
. I also hope to obtain Diamox
to accelerate the acclimatization since, from experience, it tends to linger with me and put me in a foul mood. I'll also take anti-malarial pills if directed by my doctor. I hope to try out all medications before I leave but have no real history of allergic reactions, still better safe than sorry. I'll probably also take a bit of a 'stomach 911' kit but I tend to have a quite strong stomach by default (my family calls me the garbage disposal instead of the thing in the sink).
Ummm... I guess that's about it. My question revolves around any and all of the above in hopes that you can tell me if I'm on base with regards to the trip in general, but also give some information regarding must see/must avoid places, do's/don'ts of behavior, packing list critique and the rest.
Regarding the caves near Tena (Jumandy Cavernas?)... I've done the Wild Cave Tour
(6-8 hours, mud, hard hats, squeezes, sharp rocks, slight bouldering) in Mammoth Caves National Park and it was one of the most amazing things ever, and I would love to do it again. However, the thought of visiting ANY sort of cave with a guide who is anything below a master-level at what he does is terrifying and, quite possibly, not an option. I've confirmed neither one of them has been in a cave before. Has anyone been in these caves before and, if so, could you recommend a guide/company who would supply gear/guides for a full day (or less but still awesome) trip?
Besides common sense/well published stuff (see the CDC link above) are there any health issues you can think of that I should watch out for, especially in regards to eating fresh foods/fish/cuy/pork or bathing in local hot springs? I've bathed in wild thermal pools inside/near Yellowstone National Park so I'm familiar with the normal concerns but anything Ecuador specific would be great to hear about, first or second hand.
What are some awesome gift ideas to bring back to family/friends here? I'll be missing Valentine's Day so I need to have a show-stopper of a gift for my girlfriend if at all possible, otherwise anything goes.
Thanks all and sorry for being so verbose...