en route

:

quito

manta

kapawi

quito while you’re ahead
whether it’s being spat on by a shaman or getting lost in quito, there’s a lot to do in ecuador. victoria de silverio explores.
IT’S DINNERTIME AT Hotel Café Cultura in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. In the 200-year-old mansion, fireplaces counter the cool Andean night, and the hotel’s owner, László Károlyi, is making the rounds. With a strange HungarianEcuadorian-English accent, he tells me—with great passion— how Ecaudor’s pre-Inca civilizations knew exactly where the equator crosses the mountains by “simply observing the sun and the stars”—long before French geodesic missionaries anchored here with their fancy clothes and fancy instruments in 1736 and 1802. Across the room sits a Swedish explorer, a real-life Indiana Jones, recounting his exploits farther south, where he may or may not have found lost Inca gold. He’s sharing a meal with a couple who owns a Nevado farm, where they grow six-foot roses. Backpackers come and go. Most visitors to Quito use the city to bookend their bucketlist excursions to the Galápagos Islands, thus completely—or as Károlyi puts it, “criminally”—ignoring the spectacular city (which sits in a valley surrounded by snow-capped volcanoes) and the absurdly diverse and interesting Ecuadorian interior. About the size of Colorado, Ecuador has three distinct regions, each with its own geography, climate, and culture: the rugged Andean spine, the dense Amazonian jungle, and the largely pristine Pacific coastline. Since domestic flights are short and cheap, and airport security, for better or worse, takes about a minute to go through, I have planned a blitzkrieg Ecuadorian mountain-rainforest-beach hopscotch. When they weren’t marauding, the well-heeled Conquistadors enjoyed the good life. They lived in lavish mansions in the old town (recently restored, at the cost of $200 million) and in palatial haciendas in the Andes. After land reforms split up the estates, descendants converted many of them into inns. At the hotel, I enlist Luchito, a small and very happy man, to drive me to one: Hacienda Pinsaqui in Otavalo, a town famous for its medina-like maze of an indigenous market. Along the vertiginous Pan American, we meander through mountains and a succession of villages, each with a niche: Calderón is known for colorful masapán figurines made of dough; Cayambe for shortbread bizcochos; and Cotacachi, for leather goods.

Approaching the hacienda’s baller entrance lined in tall palms, we’re greeted by owner Pedro Freile Guarderas with mugs of warm canelazo, a rum drink spiced with cinnamon and sugar cane. Inside, antique chandeliers and brocade chaises adorn the parlors, and a black-and-white photo of Pedro’s great-grandfather sitting with his paramour Frida Kahlo hangs unceremoniously on a wall. Sweeping through the candlelit hallways are pretty Otavaleño girls in white embroidered shirts and copious gold-beaded necklaces. I take a peek into room No.1 where Simón Bolívar—the Venezuelan general who helped liberate Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador from Spanish rule—would rendezvous with his co-revolutionary and mistress Manuela Sáenz. After a walk around the grounds, I forsake a horse ride to Incan ruins and an emerald-colored crater lake, and inquire instead about a shaman for an old-fashioned “cleansing.” I have read that Illumàn, a nearby village, is known for its shaman population. Lucita, an Illumàn native, arranges a meeting with a “powerful” female shaman. When we go, a neighbor informs us she’s at mass. (Apparently, even a powerful shaman has to cover all her bases.) After a two-hour wait in her dirtfloored cellar stuffed with a cot and a family who have traveled 16 hours to see her, she arrives. An elfin, elderly woman, she’s wearing a voluminous skirt almost as long as she is tall. Her same-size husband places herbs on the floor as she tells me to strip to my underwear. She then blows cigarette smoke in my

face, takes swigs from a liquor bottle and spits all over me, rubs eggs on my arms, and then hands me a volcanic rock to hold. Cured of evil spirits, I go back to the hacienda for dinner. One thing to get used to here is that practically everyone you meet wants to know two things: how old you are, and if you’re married. It’s the Ecuadorian equivalent to “how are you?” If you are single and of a certain age (perhaps post-25 or so), there are follow-up questions confirming that you are in fact soltera, a word that sounds like a curse or a life sentence—especially compared to the word for married, casada, which sounds like you have a nice house. The next day I take a small plane to Shell, a barren town named after the oil company. If it weren’t for oil, Shell wouldn’t exist. And it doesn’t seem, by the looks of it, that the locals see any of the profits. From here, I take an even smaller plane through a hectic storm over the canopy to Kapawi village. Upon landing on the dirt strip, the length and size of a cucumber, I’m told I was lucky to have made it. A canoe takes me along the chocolate-colored Río Pastaza to Kapawi Ecolodge, deep in the heart of the wilderness. Operated by the indigenous Achuar people, the hotel creates jobs, income, and an alternative to selling their land to oil companies. Pathways lead to thatched bungalows, built with native materials, all without a single nail. Mine has a hammock overlooking a marsh full of frogs starting their nightly mating calls, and on the bed is a towel that’s been twisted into the shape of a swan.

CLOCKWISE FROM FAR LEFT: view of quito from the top of la basilica; the “avenida de los volcans” in the andes (named by the german explorer alexander von humboldt); through the trees at the summit of pasachoa outside quito; smoking lovers modesto larrea jijon and frida kahlo; a peek at the seven tons of gold inside iglesia de la compañía; fields and mountains, north of quito; a local lady singeing the skin off a pig to make cascaritas; a native gentleman of the zumbawa region, in the middle of the andes; a feathered friend at hacienda pinsaqui; hacienda pinsaqui in otavalo.

photographed by victoria de silverio

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en route:

address book
where to stay
Café Cultura cafecultura.com Hacienda Pinsaqui haciendapinsaqui.com Kapawi Ecolodge kapawi.com Palmazul manabihotel.com

letter impressed
Looking back over the recent NYLON itinerary, two things are clear: One, we spend a lot of time on the road. Two, when we are out and about, mingling in the world of ideas and interesting people doing even more interesting things than us, we are usually sleeping in W Hotels. For example: Three recent trips saw us in three capitals of American industry (or, er, jazz, and aquariums, and the actual capital), and in each of those cities—New Orleans, Atlanta, and Washington DC, to be both specific and chronological— we stayed in a W. Picking a favorite would be a challenge: Our heart says the smaller of the two W hotels in New Orleans, the one with a private and correspondingly romantic courtyard in the heart of the French Quarter. Our stomach, however, votes strongly (and location-appropriately) for the DC location, with its officially amazing rooftop bar, called POV (artisanal cocktails developed by ex-Milk and Honey mixologist Sasha Patreske; White House views at no additional cost). Our head, however, urges us to return to the W Atlanta— there are four in the city, and our favorite is in Midtown, which boasts a Bliss spa, Spice Market, and a bar called DRINKSHOP. (We officially love everything on that list.) At the moment, we’re looking forward to some quiet time at home before heading out again (perhaps to one of the new Ws, in Bangkok, Marrakech, or Singapore); conveniently, W’s lifestyle outfitters have just delivered the latest collection of wares inspired by the hotel’s locations. These new pieces, with contributions from Rebecca Minkoff, Dolce Vita, Yumi Kim, and others, are inspired by Ws in Barcelona, Hollywood, and downtown New York. W style, without leaving home: less a paradox than the best of all possible worlds. DIANE VADINO

where to eat
fresh fruit juice kiosks There are shops selling fresh fruit juices (jugos) everywhere. Skip apple and go for guanabana, taxo, tomate del arbol, or babaco. zazu One of the best restaurants in Quito, it has the best fried calamari—ever. zazuquito.com

what to do in quito: walk the old town
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: a chocolate-colored river in the amazon jungle; a poisonous frog delicately handled by an achuar warrior; late afternoon hijinks at san vincente; a guest arrives at palmazul hotel by motorbike; young ecuadorianos on a bus ride home after a day at the beach; magic hour at canoa; a thatched hut terrace at kapawi ecolodge.

FROM TOP: w atlanta midtown; w new orleans, french quarter; w washington dc; w new orleans, french quarter.

On a hike, Celestino, my Achuar guide, shows me the medicinal and edible plants, proudly calling the rainforest his giant “supermarket.” Electric-blue morpho butterflies, believed to be the spirits of dead Achuar, dance down forest trails and troops of squirrel monkeys leap through branches. We board a canoe for a visit to an Achuar community. Kingfishers launch from waterside branches, and flocks of blue and yellow macaws claim sandbars in the wide river. I jump into the water for a swim, and a pink dolphin grazes my arm. Only later did I find out I was also swimming with piranha. At the settlement, women offer me chichi, a sour drink made from yucca, which they have chewed and spat out into a bowl to ferment. Encouraged to ask questions, I ask the Man of the House where they have sex and where they bury their dead. He responds—in the bushes and under the elevated beds—respectively. It’s difficult leaving the cocoon of the jungle, but I’m on a mission and my next stop is the Ruta del Sol. I fly west to

Manta and jump in a car headed to San Clemente, a sleepy beach town. Along the way, it’s a gorgeous blur of people snoozing in hammocks, swaths of uninterrupted luminescent green, families (infants included) on motorcycles, and a fantastical forest of ceiba trees. With smooth, green trunks, these otherworldly giants look so much like the Ents from Lord of the Rings, I half expect them to walk and talk. I came here with big plans to tour the coast—the stonersurfer town Mantañita where full-moon parties are full-on ragers, and Isla de la Plata (“the poor man’s Galapagos”) where red- and blue-footed boobies and seal lions laze about— but all that changed when I arrived at the swank Palmazul hotel. After a yummy shrimp ceviche and a massage, I fall asleep on the beach, the crashing waves lulling me into dreamland. Hours later, I wake up with a swim in the pool under the stars. The next day, I venture north to Canoa, a tranquil alternative to Mantañita. After another scenic taxi ride, I arrive in Bahía de Caráquez where I catch a boat. At the other end, a man

on a motorcycle tricked out with an attached seat whisks me to Canoa. Flanked by cliffs, the beach is wide, and the waves are large. Festive cabanas—blaring reggaeton, salsa, and cumbia and serving ceviche, beer, and juices—line the shore. Big families and groups of friends soak up the perfect weather with a game of sand soccer, bodysurfing, and card games played across hammocks. To get back to the hotel, I take the bus, a rowdy piece of Latin theater set to what seems to be a really long, really fast, and happy song. The driver mans a dashboard collection of stuffed animals and slows down just enough to let stragglers hop on to join the squished, wet masses. As we tear down the street dodging chickens and pedestrians, I think about how Ecuador is perfectly and refreshingly lawless—babies on motorcycles, smoking in restaurants, no one forcing you to wear a life vest, rickety stairs up alpine church spires—and while the omnipresent music may be muy rapido, worries are mañana, mañana…

Strolling through the cobblestone streets of the colonial old town is a mesmerizing trip back in time. Almost every building is worth a look. Go to La Basilica before 5 p.m., and climb up the rickety, narrow stairs for a panoramic view of the city. At night, go to La Ronda, a charming street lined with bars, cafés, and handicraft shops.

dance, la mariscal
The Mariscal is where the young folks play, and Plaza Foch is Quito’s nightlife ground zero. Locals and foreigners mingle at bars and second-floor hidden lounges—one of them, Azuca Beach has a sand floor. Dance to salsa at Seseribó, and reggaeton at Oceana.

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