We have been impressed by how varied the scenery in Ecuador is. You can drive an hour and find yourself in what feels like a totally different country. You can eat breakfast in the tropics on the sea coast, lunch in the Andes mountains and dinner in the Amazon. The roads are good and the country is small enough that you could accomplish all this varied scenery driving yourself in a car.
This was especially true today when we got on the bus this morning in Cuenca with bright blue skies and 50º temperatures at 9,000 feet elevation and plummeted out of the sky to sea level in Guayaquil, a three hour drive. We drove through a different section of Cajas National Park where we hiked yesterday and were able to see the necklace of lakes which funnel the water ever downward toward Cuenca. The wind blew fiercely at the continental divide, but the downward drive warmed things up quickly. I was sitting in the back seat guarding all the Panama hat boxes. With every hair pin curve they shot toward me and then returned to where we had put them. It was a roller coaster ride.
Once we were out of the mountains we were really out of the mountains. We drove through a thick fog bank and out of the clouds. The land was as flat as Illinois, but covered with all manner of tropical crops: rice, sugar cane, bananas, pineapples, cocoa beans, etc. We stopped at a cocoa farm and were amazed to see that the branches of the trees are covered with blossoms on every inch of their trunks and branches. The large pods form hither and yon and look like a mistake. We are used to fruit like apples that hang from a branch rather than poking out from the main trunk of the tree. After the cocoa beans are fermented a few days, they are roasted and ground up. With the help of the farmer we produced our own cocoa and added lemon grass tea, dried milk power and sugar to the greasy paste the beans had become. Everyone but me savored the sticky paste. This was not a day to have an allergy to chocolate.
Every time we have a meal, Celso polls us ahead of time and phones in our order so that we don't waste too much time eating. We had lunch on the cocoa farm and had a choice of chicken stew, fish stew and fried chicken. We were mystified when all the plates looked pretty much the same, no matter what we ordered. When you travel you should never assume.
Celso kindly dropped us off at our hotel here in Guayaquil before taking the rest of the group to the airport a few miles away. After dinner in Quito they will be boarding planes around midnight for the journey home. We are glad that we chose to end the tour here. We are spending the night in Guayaquil and cleaning up and recharging our batteries a bit for our midnight flight home tomorrow. Our hotel is located on the malecon, a 1-12/ mile long boardwalk created in 2000 as one of the most extensive urban renewal projects in South America. It was a happening place on this beautiful Sunday afternoon as families and young couples enjoyed the monuments, playgrounds, sculptures, gardens and river views. We took the new ferris wheel and were delighted that they gave us a geezer discount, which rich tourists rarely get from our experiences. For $2.50 we soared above the crowds and had a fine view of it all. Our first impression is that Guayaquil looks like a nice place to live (if you have an income), but would not rate as high on the tourist scale as the other cities in Ecuador we've visited o this trip.