Who Stole All The Oxygen? Hiking The Quilotoa Crater Lake, Ecuador

Ecuador is a land of volcanoes. It is home to many different volcanoes, both active and inactive. There are approximately 60-70 volcanoes in the country.

In the caldera of the volcano Quilotoa a delightfully turquoise lake was formed about 800 years ago. The last time this volcano erupted in the 13th century. Locals say that this lake doesn’t have a bottom.

Quilotoa is 35 km from the town of Latakunga by the twisting road. We arrived at the view point at altitude of 3914 meters. The first thing one will see there is a souvenir area, a couple of restaurants with a roasting cuy (guinea pig) infront of entrance. The path runs a little forward and … right around the corner appeares a magical landscape on the caldera of the volcano.

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Mindo. Cloud Forest of Ecuador

Mindo is a little town situated in the Cloud Forest, just 2 hours by bus from Quito.
It attract nature lovers, hikers, bird watchers and adventure seekers. It is truly one of Ecuador’s most beautiful natural sights! Read More

Eat like a local. Cuba

 

Wherever I go, I always eat like local people do. Forget about familiar food and go to explore one of the most important parts of the culture!

Cuban foodie tradition is a mix of traditions of Spanish, African and indigenous people of Cuba (Taino). Sound intriguing and promising a diversity of different tastes, right? Read More

Escape from Havana

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Alarm clock tried wake me up softly but insistently. I had to get ready for the trip to Trinidad, to pack things again and say goodbye to my host Anita.

Suddenly I heard some rustle behind the door. A white sheet of paper appeared on the floor under the door. I waited a bit until person behind the door went away and picked up the sheet. It was written: “4 nights, $ 60. Usually we take $ 80, but Sylvia give you a discount. Leave money and the key on the table when you will leave home. Anita.”

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Havana. Colon Cemetery And Much More

I’m not a type of tourist who does sightseeing every day and plans well his to-do list. I like to see interesting spots but I’m also ok if I spend a day in a country doing nothing, just hanging out with locals, getting lost on the narrow streets, reading book in the park. I love to observe everything around, to catch little differences in culture, to look at people and talk to everyone who open for a chat. I learn a lot this way, maybe more than by visiting museums or running in rush with a guide book. Read More

Central Havana, Scruffy But Lovely

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Central Havana is my favorite part of the city. It is less touristic, little bit dirty but with a real cuban ambiance. Peso-restaurants with super-cheap food, fresh juices for 1 peso on the street, houses with opened doors, children playing football on the streets, people living daily life…

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I like to walk without a goal. I fall in love with Central Havana, scruffy, full of strong mixture of smells of cheap gasoline, rotting trash, pizza’s and sun-heated streets and walls. People smiled and greeted me.

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I went to one of the churches. I was immediately followed by the “guide”, whose services included only the fact that he looked in the same direction as I did and exclaimed “Beautiful, right?”.

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There are two currencies in Cuba – CUC and CUP. The first one was created for tourists, 1 CUC = 1 $ or 25 CUP. In Old Havana all restaurants write prices in CUC. The second currency is CUP, or peso, that what locals use.

In Central Havana (and Old Havana also but you need to spend some time for searching), you can easily find peso restaurants for the locals. There is no special sign on it, but you will see it easily because it always crowded by cubans.
Menu is written on the wall behind.

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In some of them there is no tables and chairs. You order your lunch and sit nearby on the stairs or on the ground. At this fast-food places you can find delicious freshly squeezed mango or guarawa juice for 2-3 peso ( 10-15 cents), pizza or spaghetti with cheese and jamon for 12-17 pesos (less than a dollar). Don’t expect italian pasta here. However it is quite tasty and will fill you up for very cheap.

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For breakfast they make sandwiches with omelet or burger with a cutlet for 5-8 pesos.

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For dinner, you can find a peso restaurant. Usually it’s a room with a fan, and you can eat chicken or beef with rice and black beans, a big burger with a good piece of meat, cheese and salad inside, for garnish – boiled bananas or tamal. This dish will cost you 30-35 pesos, a little more than a dollar.

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Thats all about cuban peso – food. They eat here very simply. I won’t say that cuban cuisine is my favorite, but I really liked tamal, ice cream at Coppelia (everyone knows about it in Havana) and all this fresh juices that we drank like hundred glasses a day. The rest… well, I wasn’t starving, so what can I ask more?)

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I have a tradition to try coffee everywhere I go. I did it also at the peso restaurants, to know, what average people imagine when they talk about coffee. Of course, I could get it for few bucks at the good place but if I decided do everything like locals – well, this rule should works with coffee, too.

The price was about 1-2 pesos. They make this coffee in a large bucket and mix it with sugar. Then they put just a little, in the manner of espresso, on the bottom of the cup. It tastes slightly like Vietnamese cheapest coffee. Cubans are not coffee-lovers. It was fun to try ones but I decided to keep coffee-free diet for a week until I will get to Colombia.

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They grow coffee on the island, on Sierra Maestro region. Most of the coffee going for export. Most popular brand is Serrano and Cubita, but you hardly will find it in the shops (only souvenir places). Locals drink another kind of coffee called Hola or other cheap-cheap stuff. Situation is similar to the tea-kingdoms like Sri Lanka or China where you rarely get good tea because everything is going for export.

Havana. The Friday Feeling.

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Whatever my life is looks like: if I’m working nine-to-five or wasting life in eternal vacation, this cherished word ‘Friday’ always has a special feeling. It’s a party time, time to go crazy, forget about routine and problems until Monday. It’s a time when my mind is spinning in the dance of night lights.

Anita, my host in Havana, left home early in the morning. I had to explore new house by my own. Cuban apartment is very simple, it has only most nesessary things. I took cold shower from the bucket. Bathroom didn’t have a door, so I was just hoping that no one will come home. In some countries like China, most countries in Africa or Cuba people care less about privacy in such special moments. In Beijing we had a toilet with a glass walls in the room, so I had to enjoy some spicy moments of my friend’s life. Maybe it made on purpose to connect people better? In Africa we had a toilet without door on the little hill with a view on the village, probably for the educational purpose, so everyone could learn that all of us, whites and blacks, are equal in that specific situations.

Travel teach us to be creative, to become a better problem-solvers and be able to quickly grab onto a new situation.

After some experiences in my life when I was starving and couldn’t get any food for different reasons (stuck in the wild far from the town while camping, wasn’t aware about working hours of shops and couldn’t get food in the late evening in the little village or came to the country on specific holidays… I often get in food-trouble), I made a strict rule for myself: always have emergency pack of food in my backpack that easy to cook.

I decided to cook breakfast at home. Yesterday I was so busy and excited about my first day in a new country that I forgot to eat – this kind of things happens to me often.

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I needed simplest element for my breakfast – Hot Water.
I did not find a microwave or kettle, pan or other water tank in the kitchen. After a long search I found a coffee pot for espresso and in its metal bottom I had boiled water about ten times for cereals and tea . It wasn’t that easy to make a fire work because a gas ballon was hidden in another room. There was no salt or sugar in the kitchen.
It wasn’t tasty but it still was a breakfast.
Okay, I had to lose extra kilos that I got on my yummy-foodie trip to Europe last month. As far as I’m not starving, I’m fine.

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After breakfast I went to the city. I like to walk alone, smile at people, take pictures slowly, taking my time to find a nice angle or funny situations on the street, wander aimlessly through the narrow streets without a map and admire all around.

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Every morning I came to the Malecone. It was my little Havana’s ritual to start a day. I sat on the embankment near the fortress, looked at Havana’s wonderful city landscape, breathe its noise, vibrations, heated air.

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Cubans didn’t give me any second to rest. They came to me to sing a song, to sell a coconut or to ask me for a walk. For many Cubans this is kind of business. They chat with tourists, offer to show them the city, and unobtrusively, but skillfully force to pay for their new cuban friend. First pizza for a couple of cents, then one or two extra beers will appear in your bill.
If you ignore the mercantile side of it, then all Cubans, and such “businessmen”, and ordinary people on the streets, are extremely sweet, positive and it is pleasant to talk to them.

I sat on the embankment, watching waves breaking on the shore, and the toothless old Cuban screamed to me “Besame mucho,” pulling strings on his old guitar.

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I walked along the promenade to old part of Havana, Havana Vieja. It welcomed me with heat and bustle. The sun was exhausting, and the Old Havana flashed through a series of impressions of that day imperceptibly. Such touristic districts with beautiful terraces in the shade and souvenir shops on every corner I saw quite a lot. I even more liked my ugly neighborhood, where I settled by chance. In the day’s light it turned out to be ordinary residential quarters, not that beautiful aesthetically, but with a real Cuban spirit. I’m more interested to see daily life of locals than tourists attractions.

Nevertheless, I must admit that old Havana is very picturesque and pleasant.

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I had no choice but to fall at one of the tables of those expensive bars and order an ice-cold beer. I honestly looked for an icy water, but bottle of cold water in Cuba costs more than beer.
Beer and shadow refreshed me. I decided to wait until evening in this little restaurant, slowly sipping a drink and write down thoughts and ideas for my blog.
However, I didn’t stay alone for a long.

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At first spanish guy Juan came to my table, treated me with another beer and left quickly. I liked it. Then the cuban man came to me and asked me to buy beer for him. This option I liked less, so he also left soon. But then he came back with the beer that he got from more generous tourists and stayed with me for a chat. His ‘work’ is to hang out near Malecone and restaurants, talk to tourists nicely and get some treats from them. He showed me all their gang, told me about their tricks. It was very interesting, because these methods were supposed to be used on me. I like to learn about people’s mind, how some tricky methods working and why.

I liked to talk to cuban people. Firstly, I practiced Spanish, so I was very glad to have any conversation at any time. Secondly, they are nice and open to talk even if I didn’t give them money. They didn’t insist on it like in some other countries and didn’t make drama if I reject their offerst to be my guide or a boyfriend.

But this guy still wanted a free beer, so he left again and returned soon with a Mexican guy in a sombrero. They stayed for a while.
It was my first long chat in spanish and it was great. I felt free, expressed my ideas almost without misunderstanding. I was happy. The reason for the joy was my unexpected success in a foreign language that I already almost forgot and refreshing beers.

However, my new mexican friend was perfectly aware of what his Cuban friend really wanted from him and did not want to continue the evening in his company. We decided to escape. We promised to go together to the disco at night, exchanged numbers and ran away to the Malecon where we stopped for another beer.

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Malecone on Friday night is special. Lots of people sit along the sea side, drink, dance salsa on the street, listen music and later go to one of those discos near by. I love cities with a good night life. It’s a key to my heart, something that make me feel home and fall in love with a new place. It can be crazy beautiful place, peaceful, lovely, but if in the night it doesn’t bring people together, it would never have a special place in my memories.

It was a nice night. Beers, yummy lobsters (cuban speciality), some discos, nice talks – you know that friday feeling.

The Mexican left home the next day. Again “see you soon again”, exchange of contacts. Maybe one day somewhere on the pages of my blog you will see again “My mexican friend I met in Havana”. That’s my life. My friends are literally spread everywhere in the world. I live with them amazing moments of traveling, knowing that I will have to say goodbye sooner or later.