Driving Across Kansas

I find that my son does a lot better if I try to mentally prepare him with what lies ahead. I explained to him that the first day drive across Kansas was going to be pretty boring. I promised him after the first day we would have a lot of fun. Mentally prepared, we loaded up in the car and headed west. Leaving Kansas City, he navigated me on I-70.

I grew up in Kansas and spent a lot of my 20’s exploring it. I dated someone that loved spontaneous adventures as much as I did so we spent days cruising country roads and finding sites. With my goal on Colorado Springs, I decided our first stop would be IMG_1886near Manhattan, KS. One of my favorite places there is called Pillsbury Crossing. It’s a waterfall that many people don’t know about. It’s a few miles southeast of Manhattan on gravel roads and takes a little getting to if you don’t know your way. My favorite part is being able to walk through the water to the falls. We even crawled down and snuck behind the falls.

Our second stop was Rock City in Minneapolis, KS. Again, this is an off the beaten FullSizeRender (5)path kind of site. It’s a random park off of a gravel road 3 1/2 miles south of Minneapolis, KS. As you drive up you see giant boulders in a field. It has the largest collection of sandstone concretions in the world. These giant boulders were rolled when Kansas was covered with an inland sea and left here. To a boy, they are a climbing dream come true. We crawled all over them stretching our legs and playing. He decided this was his favorite stop of the day.

FullSizeRender (4)

Our last stop before our final stop was near Quinter, KS south of I-70. The area is known IMG_1897as the Kansas Badlands. It’s a culmination of chalk, limestone, and shale formations. Castle Rock is literally a giant rock in a field. The Badlands  stand near by and are such a different landscape for Kansas you can’t help but like it. It’s not developed as a tourist site, and I have never experienced anyone else there when I’ve visited.

I decided that this would be the only time I broke my own rule and we would not stop again until we hit Colorado Springs. The pre-downloaded movies and books came in handy.

Around dark my son grabbed a pillow and blanket from the back and promptly fell asleep. I decided that any long driving I had to do from here on out would be done while he was sleeping.

Once we reached Colorado Springs I decided it would be a hotel night. One app I use when on the road is Hotels.com. You can search for hotels in the area and search for the cheapest price along the route. Once you stay 10 nights, you get a night free. Fortunately, I had saved up several free nights for this trip. I pulled into our hotel late and checked in. I had to make 2 trips to the car, first carrying his sleeping body and the second for our luggage.

Killing the Boredom on a Road Trip

Driving across Kansas has to be one of the most brutally boring trips for a child. I made a vow early on that we would not spend more than 2 hours in the car at a time. This would take some serious creativity on my part. I did a little research and decided that 2 apps would be essential in assisting me in keeping my child from ruining our trip out of boredom.

I downloaded the Roadside America app to my phone so we could find odd things along the way to break up the trip. It’s full of great roadside attractions that you wouldn’t necessarily know about.

I also made sure my Geocaching app was up to date on my phone. Geocaching is the equivalent of treasure hunting. It’s a big win with my son. When boredom starts to rear its ugly head I turn the app on and we look for the nearest geocache. We have found them roadside on bridges, fence posts, and trees. It’s a great way to stretch your legs and take a break from the car. It’s also always a little exciting when you find one.

An atlas. Within the first hour of driving I showed my son how to read the atlas. It laid FullSizeRender (7)out huge on his little lap and I explained how it worked. I pointed at our destination and told him he was the navigator. This kept him engaged and let him feel like he had some say in what was going on (not to mention teaching him how to read a map).

Books. At 7 my son was just starting to get good at reading. I found books at the library that were about Native American Indians, the Southwest US, and some just for fun. I would ask him to read to me.

Music. Without intention, we ended up with two theme songs for our trip. They became our favorites and he loved working the ipod and playing DJ. It made for great sing alongs, and he brought his drum sticks so he could tap out the beat.

Ipad. I downloaded kid appropriate movies ahead of time for the hours that were destined for inactivity. (After Kansas he never picked up).

I absolutely love my son, but he has taught me a valuable lesson: when boredom strikes and he’s unhappy, everyone is unhappy. Most of the time he is perfectly happy engaging me in conversation or reading to me. My goal for the trip was not to turn the car around in a few days and call it quits. I knew it was a real possibility if he hated the extensive car ride ahead of us. I personally have little tolerance for whining so this trip could go very good or very bad.

Packing for a Road Trip with a Kid

Knowing my intent, I began to prepare for our trip. I could easily live out of a backpack (and have) so for the first time I had to plan a 2 week trip with a child in tow. I figured I would forget some things, but I needed some essentials. I am a bit of a minimalist, so I pack just what I think we will need. road-trip-sign.jpg

  • Although I’m not a proponent of electronic babysitters, the first 8 hours of our trip was going to be driving across Kansas. I decided that I would need some entertainment for my son. I downloaded some movies to my Ipad and packed several children’s books about Indians and the places we were going. I would ask him to read to me along the way.
  • In order to save money on food, I packed a small cooler and a bag full of snacks.
  • I packed pillow and blankets. I’m only 5’1″ and with my son being 7 we can sleep comfortably in my station wagon with the seats folded down. No need for a tent.
  • I brought us each a small backpack that had a water bag in it. I also stuffed things like snacks, sunscreen, bug spray, etc. in these.
  • I was sure to pack the atlas.
  • Hiking boots
  • Clothes to layer. I wanted to plan for any situation, so we had lightweight hiking clothes along with jackets to throw on in case we got chilly.
  • A roadside emergency kit and a small hiking emergency kit
  • Backup phone charger (you don’t want to lose service on a trail)
  • A trash bag (for wet or dirty clothes), we would be living in the car for 2 weeks after all.
  • A towel for about a hundred different uses.

 

Back to Quito

We arrived back in Quito late. We decided to meet up with friends we had met along the 17264850_10210179870666798_6261762905422355019_nway for dinner. At the advice of a tour guide, we went to his favorite bar and pizza place.

It was a crazy cab ride to get there through small streets and insane drivers. We were dropped off in front of our restaurant. I instantly liked the place. It had a bar feel with tables scattered throughout for diners. We made our way to a back room and sat at a long table and benches. We ordered beer and pizza and enjoyed the rest of the night chatting and saying goodbye to all of our new acquired friends.

17264335_10210179870626797_8063590282878956506_n

 

 

We tried not to make it a late night because we wanted to see tour a little more of Quito the next morning before we caught our plane back to the U.S.

We found several others from our tour at breakfast and we all agreed to tour together. Most of us wanted to go to the same places. We decided to first go ride the gondola lift up the Pichincha Volcano. We piled into a cab and set out. We paid $8.50 each for a ticket to ride the Quito Teleferi17361636_10154151629046920_1389858891764917752_n.jpgco.
We had been warned that it was too cloudy to see anything, but we decided to try for it anyway. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 ft to 12,943 ft in 20 minutes. I was happy that we had a clear view of the city all the way up.

Once we disembarked, there was a large indoor shopping area. I instantly ordered a coffee. We were told that caffeine would help with the altitude sickness. Just a few minutes of walking around made me instantly aware of the altitude. My lungs felt like they were being squeezed and I felt dizzy.

17352169_10210372570363732_8474380398732351279_nWe decided to endulge in one of the tourist 17308794_10210390942223017_421669170831413609_n.jpgpictures and made a fun picture for a memory. Continuing the climb up the mountain was not even a consideration. The clouds moved in and I was having trouble catching my breath.

We headed back down the mountain on the gondola. We were happy to find that our taxi driver had patiently waited and we asked him to take us to what the locals refer to as “cupcake hill”.

El Panecillo is a 656 foot hill above the city. Again, the views are spectacular. On top of the hill sets a statue of the Madonna. We went inside and up to the observation deck.

There was a small brick road that lead up the hill to the statue. On the side of the road were local vendors selling souveniers. I negotiated for a alpaca scarf and a few trinkets to take home as gifts.

(I have no pictures of El Panecillo or the spectacular view because my phone was stolen. More about that in my next post).

 

400 year old hacienda

Our bus bumped along a small avenue lined with giant century-old eucalyptus trees. Driving
around the fountain in the middle of the driveway, we arrived in front of Hacienda La Cienega. This hacienda is one of the most historical in Ecuador at over 400 years old. It sits at the slopes of the Cotopaxi volcano. Today, it serves as a boutique hotel and restaurant, though its history has been preserved. 


Lunch was a variety of native food. The best part of lunch was when a local band came through and we were serenaded. There was even one Spanish song that I was familiar with and was able to sing along to. 

17342948_10210179874986906_7229302235458948416_nOnce our lunch and singing was over, the band displayed some small musical instruments and CD’s for sale. My son gravitates towards anything musical (or possibly to anything that makes noise) and picked out a flute. A member from the band came and gave him a quick lesson on howFullSizeRender (16) to blow into it in order to make sound.

After lunch we wandered the grounds, viewing the original church and gardens. I had a coffee and enjoyed the shade of the ancient trees.

Volcanos and Moonshine

We headed to Banos, Ecuador from Devil’s Cauldron (about 40 km away). It’s near the active Tungurahua and a gateway to the nearby Amazon Basin. On the way there we 17352380_10210366736337885_4052340927093209023_ndrove by a village that was covered by an eruption about a year and a half ago. We saw the scarred remains of a home.

Once in Banos, we had lunch at a small bed and breakfast and spent the next few hours walking around the city. There were lots of tourist shops offering tours to the Amazon and volcano.

Banos has a very artistic flair, with artisans working in doorways and windows and paintings on buildings. It 17264284_10210172410480298_6561258471637593502_nhas a large ex-pat population, and I can see why. If I return to Ecuador, I would want to come back here.

We wandered into a a vegetable ivory shop called, El Cade. The son is the artisan, carving vegetable ivory, and the mother sat in the corner stringing jewelry he created. He gave a demonstration of how he carved a dried tagua nut into a small pitcher. The tagua nut is actually a seed from a certain palm 17353085_10210366801099504_4831787035353403146_ntree. The vegetable ivory resembles elephant ivory and was actually used for buttons before
plastic was popular. The small sculptures and jewelry were inexpensive and made for great souvenirs.

We took our bag of gifts and headed for the market. Outside vendors hacked away at sugar cane with machetes. One vendor was selling sugarcane ginger moonshine along with every other possible thing made of sugarcane. I took a shot of the moonshine and it was exactly as I had expected, enough to take my breath.

A little buzz from my shot of moonshine, I ventured behind the market and found an amazing view of the city.

17264479_10210366735857873_2547879898181651346_n

We drove away from the city and towards our lodge for the night. We drove into the Valley of Patate and then just above it to Hacienda Manteles. This place was like something out of fairytale. It was chilly and the air was crisp. The slightly smoking volcano loomed not far in the distance.

When I was shown to my room, a sheep and llama were hanging out nearby. It just added to the magic of the place. The rooms were situated so that 3 rooms were
inside one building with a little living room that had a fireplace. I took a shower and then ventured out to take pictures of the grounds. Lil’ man was playing with the random animals and running everywhere.

As it began to get dark I grabbed an alpaca blanket from my room and big bottle of beer. I had Karl meet me on the porch swing set up overlooking the volcano and valley below. Soon we could see every star in the sky. It was very romantic and peaceful.

Of course it didn’t last long and we ventured up for dinner. We served family style in the main dining room and after we sat around with everyone having drinking by the fire and chatting. Eventually our guide broke out a guitar and we all sang along. It was one of those moments that can make an entire trip. Lil’ man fell asleep on the couch and several of us sat near the fire singing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It was a perfect way to end our night.

17352238_10210366445850623_1558543224615979713_n

 

 

 

 

Devil’s Cauldron

From the Amazon we headed back up the Andes. Our first stop was at Pailon del Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron). This ranks up there with one of the most magnificent waterfalls I 17342968_10154131006901920_4458202785638714581_nhave seen. It is about 260 feet tall.

To me, the most fascinating part of it was how the waterfall received its name. The locals use to sacrifice bodies to Pachamama (Mother Earth) by pushing them over the waterfall. The devil didn’t exist in this culture, so it was named Devil’s Cauldron by the Spanish Jesuits.

The best view of it is from a very long suspension bridge. It’s a bit of a slipper steep hill to get to it. We not only crossed the bridge, but continued to walk the trail that went right up to the waterfall. It was very slippery so good shoes and rain jackets were important. We even managed to get a little wet in the process.

I had planned initially to zipline across the gorge over the waterfall. We were notified when we got there that ziplining was no longer an option. With a little prying I found out that the zipline had actually broke with someone on it about a month before. I was reassured it was only a local (as if that made it better) and that he was at the end of the zipline so he fell into the trees. 17352404_10210366508892199_2304226409322396489_n.jpg

17155430_10210366731977776_184586841240174264_n

Drinking chicha with the natives

Karl and I got up at sunrise and snuck out into the thermal pools outside our room for a soak before everyone else was up. The steam rose off the pools , the sun came up behind the nearby volcano, and I sat drinking my coffee and took it all in. It was a perfect morning. We agreed17309548_10210334916422407_8751021778529238267_n that this is a place we could definitely come back to.

After breakfast, we loaded a bus and drove towards the Amazon basin.  We stopped in a small village to see the wild monkeys. They come into town on days the locals set up market in hopes to find food. We were warned the monkeys can get a little aggressive (they steal stuff) so we needed to take off hats, sunglasses, or anything shiny or colorful.
IMG_0149After a short walk across a very sketchy bridge (that I thought was a pedestrian bridge and turned out to be also for traffic), we made our way to a bunch of trees on a beach right by the market. The monkeys were playing and jumping from tree to tree. On occasion one would jump down and try to take something from someone’s neck or head that hadn’t listened to the instructions of taking these things off. They were a lot of fun to watch.

We eventually loaded back up on the bus and headed to the Amazon Basin. The lower altitude was a little bit of a relief. We made it to a place called La Punta Ahuano on the Napo River (a tributary to the Amazon River). It was pouring rain when we arrived. There was a small shelter that we all crowded under waiting for it to let up a bit before we loaded into motorized canoe to go across the river. Eventually we decided that we are in the rainforest and rain is a part of every day, so climbed onto the boats.

17362435_10211734758594835_6811658986573402061_nThe heat and humidity were intense so the breeze from going upstream felt great. The current was so strong that our boat didn’t go straight against it. We zig zagged back and forth. About 10 minutes later we arrived at Casa del Suizo, our resort set up on a hill overlooking the Amazon Basin. Yet again, I was blown away by our accommodations.

We had to climb a lot of stairs to get up to the resort from the boat. We entered next to a pool surrounded by little hu17342618_10210343014744860_389843342584525691_nts, palm trees, a bar, and an outdoor dining area. We were shown to our rooms, which were just as impressive. It was surrounded by so many exotic plants and flowers. Our balcony had a hammock that Lil’ Man and I instantly took advantage of. It overlooked a courtyard full of more gorgeous trees and flowers.

IMG_0195.JPGOnce settling in a bit, we marinated ourselves in bug spray (even though I hate it, it’s better than all the bad things you can get from a bug bite in the Amazon). We headed out for a visit to a local Quechua family in Ahuano, also called Anaconda Lodge.

img_0233.pngWe were fitted with rubber boots and loaded back into the canoes. We went to an island called Anaconda by the locals. We hiked across a muddy wet area that is often underwater. We continued our hike for about 15 minutes through high grasses and trees. Our boots sucked into the squishy mud and sweat poured down every inch of our bodies. I kept a looIMG_0138k out for any strange snakes or insects. The most interesting thing I spotted was a giant black mass on a tree. At closer look, it was a large grouping of catepillars. I have never seen anything like it.
Eventually we walked into a clearin17155347_10210350718497449_677940779364879196_ng and saw huts on stilts. We had arrived. We climbed the stairs into the hut and found a seat next to a burning fire pit. The heat was already stifling and my clothes were soaked. A barefoot woman sat on the edge of the pit.

Our guide explained that the hut was on stilts because once a year the entire area floods about 5 feet high. The fire is left burning all of the time because the smoke keeps the bugs away. It is women’s work, and they get up at 3 a.m. to start stoking the fire and making breakfast.

The woman sat in the middle of the room with yucca root and sweet potato on a board. She began to mash it to demonstrate how to make chicha, the local alcohol drink offered to guests. We were told, as she was mashing, that this 17308856_10210343037545430_1481689716924246743_n.jpgalcohol was originally created by the maker chewing the root and spitting the saliva into a bowl. This would cause the solution to ferment and eventually turn into alcohol. In the past few years, they learned that if the person making the brew was sick, everyone the drink is given too also fell sick. She then used bark of walking pine to grate sweet potato into the brew to be the fermenting agent.

Once she finished the demonstration, she passed a bowl of 10 day old chicha around for us each to drink out of. I was very happy this was no longer a saliva based solution. I was proud of Lil’ Man for trying it, too. As soon as I tasted it, it reminded me of the intense smell my moms homemade bread use to have while it was rising. It was bitter and I couldn’t have drank more than a sip.

17155566_10210343036985416_2189276111118603188_nAfter our chicha sampling, we went back to the ground where we got a demonstration on blowing darts. We were each given an opportunity to try. Lil’ Man was set on getting a blow dart set until he realized that the ones for sale were just replicas. It didn’t discourage him from trying to shoot the target several times. The blow dart gun was about 5 times bigger than him.

17265039_10210343036945415_2069432589634500631_n

 

 

 

 

We finished the day up with hiking back to the canoes and returning to our resort. A shower was required to wash all of the sweat and bug spray off. We were told that bug spray wasn’t required in the resort because ginger was strategically planted. I had no idea that ginger kept the mosquitos away.

17342789_10210343014144845_7067345633814410548_n

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching Lil’ Man play in the swimming pool with a new friend. Bats swarmed overhead and the kids seemed completely oblivious to it. I had a cocktail and sat under the ceiling fan in the hut enjoying the amazing view and feeling completely blessed.

17190757_10210366733057803_5033613772203423278_n

Into the Andes

As we headed into the Andes Mountains, we stopp17342881_10210349681911535_8591327376380371571_n.jpged in a village called Papallacta. We were invited into the home of a local family of musicians. The man of the house gave us a demonstration of how he makes musical instruments. He made a pan flute out of bamboo and string, carefully cutting each piece to the right length for the right tune. Once he was done, his entire family came out and played for us.

17201029_10210334917462433_3875181515173455430_n-1

 

 

While on this trip we saw several local bands play, and what I found the most fascinating is that the little ones are always included. This is a tradition passed from one generation to the next and they are included from the day they can hold an instrument.

From there, we went to our resort Termas de Papallacta. This area is famous for its thermal springs and has a magnificent view of the Antisana Volcano. It is the highest city in Ecuador at almost 11,000 feet above sea level. It’s well known for it’s thermal springs that are heated by the subterranean activity of the nearby volcano.

17202864_10210332757128426_7904056639254265890_nThis place was simply breathtaking. These heated pools were just feet from the front door of our cabanas. Lil’ Man couldn’t even wait until our bags were delivered to our room before he ventured in. These waters are known as healing waters due to the natural minerals. It definitely healed me of any stress I may have had.

I spent the little extra money and Karl and I went to the spa. Our tour manager volunteered to watch Lil’ Man while we treated ourselves. We found even more pools of different temperatures. After 30 minutes in the pools, we were taken to a sauna. We were supposed to spend 30 minutes in it, but it was so hot I cut out a little early. We were shown to a room with lounge chairs where we laid and relaxed until a masseuse came and retrieved us for a neck and back massage. I was pretty much jelly by the time the whole experience was over. Needless to say, I slept like a rock.

17264730_10210332753448334_6247549709618413685_n.jpg

Middle of the World

Driving out of Otavala, the landscape that passed outside my window reminded me of
Vietnam. Trash littered the streets, stray dogs ate out of shredded garbage bags, houses were dirty and shabby. It is evident that the country is poor.

We stopped roadside at an ice cream shop. It is 6th generation owned. The owner made homemade sorbet in a large copper bowl that sets on ice and salt. By spinning the copper bowl on the ice and salt, the raspberry and soursop juice poured into the bowl began to freeze. It was a very refreshing treat. Of course I had to try all of the flavors. We waited out a massive afternoon downpour eating the ice cream.

 

After we were done, we headed to the equator. La Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is the place of the monument marking the Equator. In reality, the equator is actually located 250 yards away.  This was only discovered a few years ago after GPS was invented.

 

 

 

This is definitely a tourist trip, but it’s pretty cool to be able to kiss your love from a different hemisphere, or balance an egg standing up on a nail. Lil’ Man was the egg expert.

We grabbed some lunch at one of the many restaurants and watched local dancers perform native dances. I finally got to try real Ecuadorian food. I ordered several different kinds of empanadas and potato soup for our table to share. I chased it with an Ecuadorian beer.

Probably my favorite part of this entire trip was the hotels we got to stay in. After our equator adventure, we headed to the village of Otavalo to Cabana del Lago. This is such a magical place right on a lake surrounded by mountains. We had our own cabin, complete with a fireplace.

There was lots of activities such as boating (though it was too cold), miniature golf, and even a pen with rabbits and guinea pigs that you could feed by hand. I was reassured they didn’t eat these (guinea pig is not an uncommon delicacy). Lil’ Man instantly made friends with a girl his age and they spent hours playing mini golf. A great deal of it was flooded due to all the rain but it didn’t slow them down. The hotel workers were quick to come to the rescue with pails to clear out as much water as possible.

We had a big buffet with Ecuadorian food for dinner.  We drank chocolate liquor and chatted over yucca chips until we retreated back to our cabins. The temperature had dropped considerably and I was a little afraid that our room would be cold. When
we entered I was happy to find that our fireplace was burning warm. There was an extra special touch in the bed. The hotel staff had not only started a fire, but also had placed a hot water bottle in my bed. At first I thought it was a little odd, but found myself cuddling with that most of the night listening to the frogs chirp outside and the fire crackle in the fireplace.
17190434_10210332552723316_4575047449447486385_n.jpg