Dear Boys and Girls,

Today is my last day in Quito, Ecuador. Tomorrow I fly to Bogota, Columbia.

The last time I wrote I was on my way to Baños, a small town with spas and hot water from a live volcano nearby. It is a small town tucked between the Andes mountains and this live volcano. A few years ago this volcano erupted and sent people and tourists away from this town to safety. Now this live volcano sends up clouds of gray smoke and the people and tourists have returned.

It is sort of like living in Seattle. How many live volcanos are near Seattle? Do you know their names? Can you find them on a map?

There is a difference about this volcano in Baños. Even though Baños is quite high, it is near the equator, so the weather is warm and there is no snow on this volcano. Not like the live volcanos we live near in Seattle. Another cool thing about Baños is that because it is so small, it is very safe for children to be outdoors way after dark. It´s comfortable because it is warm, and not as hot as during the day. Kids were bicycling, skateboarding, visiting and talking from after school to 8 or 9 o´clock at night.

It was a looong ride by bus from Baños to Quito with many scarey moments looking out the bus window a long way down the side of the Alps. But the bus driver did a good job and we all arrived safely in Quito. I´m staying in the old town, the original city that was built when the Spaniards conquered what was then the Incan empire, not Ecuador. Ecuador didn´t become Ecuador until around 1830 when it gained it´s independence from Spain. It´s full of narrow cobbled streets, several grand plazas, interesting shops and many churches. I had helado (ice cream) in an ice cream shop that has been making ice cream for 140 years! I had guanbana and chocolate. It wasn´t quite like our ice cream, it was more like a sorbet, and it was very good.

Last Saturday I took a three hour bus ride to Otavalo (not the length of the bus ride) to visit the famous market there. Every Saturday Ïndianas¨as traditional native folk in this area are called, bring all kids of goods for sale. They make most of these things, sweaters, shirts, pants, blouses embroidered with beautiful flowers, baskets, finger puppets, hats, blankets, table cloths, scarves, jewelry, beads, pottery, paintings for sale to tourists. For themselves they bring huge bags of maize, beans, potatoes; live chickens, vegetables, plastic buckets, kitchen utensils, things they need to cook with, eat. There is literally tons of stuff for sale and market goes on and on and on. I couldn´t believe all the things there were. It was hard to make a choice. Oh yes, I forgot, Panama hats! Now these Panama hats have always been made in Ecuador, by hand, in a long process from cutting the reeds the hats are made from, to getting this material ready for weaving, to doing the actual weaving. But they´re called Panama hats because when the Panama canal was being built, these hats were purchased in large quantities to protect the workers from the intense sun. The Panama canal and it´s building was very famous at the time. It was difficult and dangerous work to build the canal. When it was done it saved ships the difficult trip down the coast of South America and through the dangerous waters of the Tierra del Fuego to the other side. Look at a map or the globe and you will see what a difference this canal made in getting people and goods from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean or  the other way, the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. So when people saw pictures of workers wear those hats while building the Panama Canal, they called them Panama hats!

When I came back from Otavalo to Quito yesterday, the three hour bus ride took six hours! I couldn´t believe it. It was bumper to bumper traffic, both ways, all the way from Otavalo to Quito. There were buses, trucks, cars, more buses, vans, cars, small pick up trucks. In one pick up truck I counted 12 people, 8 were siting in the back of the truck, happily sitting on bags of produce and other things. Inside the cab were 4 more people, three adults and one child! This wasn´t the only pick up truck I saw so full. I was sure glad to get back to Quito.

I´m staying the old town of Quito, the town the conquering Spaniards built on top of an Incan town. The streets are cobble stone and narrow. The buildings and shops are interesting. There are several large plazas and many Catholic Churches. On Sunday they don´t allow any cars in this area, so it gets very quiet.

There is a snow covered live volcano near Quito, Cotopaxi. Some people take a tour that takes them to the park. Then they hike up to a glacier, put on helmets, get on a mountain bike, and coast downhill to the entrance to the park and a ride back to town! The pictures of it look quite beautiful. But I decided not to go. There are always hard choices to make when traveling on what to see and what not to see. Perhaps someday some of you will come to Ecuador and take that mountain bike ride on Cotopaxi!

The time I write it be from the last country I will visit on this trip, Colombia.

Take care.

Galapagos Grandma/Diane