I hope you love the music, art, film, and fashion of the 80s. The Awesome 80’s was the theme of the 15th annual Ice Sculpture Festival in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville neighbourhood on February 8 and 9 weekend. It’s a family-friendly event and admission is free.
Over 70,000 lbs. of crystal-clear ice were carved into magnificent sculptures inspired by the music, art, film and fashion of an awesome decade. All things 80’s are retro-cool again! I’m sharing some of the ice sculptures on display at the festival.
The Main Ice Exhibition included an 80’s sculpture, a Boombox, an Elton John silhouette, Converse sneaker, Madonna – Desperately Seeking Susan, Leg Warmers & Heels, Andy Warhol, a Roller Skate and Eddie Van Halen.
The Back to the Future sculpture was in the Photo Opportunity area for many photos and Instagram moments.
The Terry Fox Run Walk Wheel Ride sculpture was #1 winner of the ice carving competition.
Number 5 (not Wall-E) and Van Halen’s The Flying V Guitar sculptures were #2 and # 3 winners of the ice carving competition.
I loved the colourful Icefest Lounge where visitors could take a break while listening to the curated selection of songs from the 80s. It made a huge difference when professional DJs played live.
February is Heart month so volunteers from the Heart and Stroke Foundation were at Icefest. For a donation of $2, visitors could sample tasty maple syrup taffy or play vintage arcade games, including Pacman, at the Icefest Arcade Tent.
There were about thirty-five sculptures and I took photos of all of them. Just in case you don’t like the 80s, I share just a few in this post. I love the 80s!
Welcome to the second Wellness Weekend link-up in 2020! I hope everyone had a nice Valentine’s weekend and your wellness plans for 2020 have been going well. The optional prompt for February is Hiking so I’m sharing a moderate hike to the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. My sister and I completed this hike when we were in Baños, Ecuador.
Where is Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall?
Baños (full name Baños de Agua Santa) is located about 180 km (112 miles) south of Quito. This town is known for its waterfalls, hiking trails, and hot springs. The Devil’s Cauldron waterfall (El Pailon del Diablo) is 18 km from the town centre. It’s one of Ecuador’s most powerful waterfalls and one of the top rated attractions in Baños.
How challenging is this hike?
I classify this hike as Moderate because although the path is clearly marked, it has uneven surfaces. It also involves stairs and a suspension bridge. As long as you watch your step and are not afraid of heights or suspension bridges, the hike is rewarding.
Let’s hike together!
We started following the Green River (Rio Verde) to the Isla del Pailon entrance. While there are other entry points, this entrance lets us see the full height of the waterfall. Entry fee was $2 per adult and $1 per child.
The water flow was strong, rushing by the black volcanic rocks seen along the river banks. On the right of the photo below, the walking path is behind the low lichen-covered stone wall. We soon understood why the wall is essential for our safety.
We followed the stone path and reached the suspension bridge. On the left, we saw the side views of the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall which plunges some 80 meters (263 feet) over a sheer cliff to the rocks below.
It’s necessary to cross the suspension bridge to see the full view of the waterfall and to understand why it’s called the Devil’s Cauldron. The maximum capacity of the bridge is 50 people. Of course it swayed as people got on it. Crossing the suspension bridge was stepping outside my comfort zone but I did it!
At the other end of the suspension bridge, we faced the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. It is beautiful and powerful. Its appearance and sheer force are mesmerizing. People who stood at the Lookout platforms below looked so small next to the waterfall.
We continued to descend the path to the lower level. When we stood at the Lookout place, we could feel the mists, see the curtains of water, and hear the thundering sounds of the powerful waterfall plunging straight down to the bottom.
We could see the rocky bottom where water was churning before it settled into a smoother flow and another suspension bridge looking like a thin stick at a distance.
It’s amazing that the stone path was carved out of the cliff side to allow visitors to get close to the waterfall. The surrounding scenery was also beautiful with cascades running down the mountain sides.
We walked back to cross the suspension bridge and exited the same way that we came in. On our way out, we stopped to admire a variety of pretty flowers grown along the path. I’m sharing a small sample below.
I’m grateful for another amazing day and another wonderful hike in Ecuador with my sister. Altogether we did about 3 km return trip with stairs and suspension bridge crossings. We learned something new about the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall. The hike and nature gave me new energy. I’m looking forward to our next hike.
Click here to join in the Wellness Weekend 2020 link-up and share your wellness-related post. As your host, I will read your blog and leave a comment. For a full schedule of all Wellness Weekends in 2020, please see my Wellness page here.
Valentine’s Day is almost upon us and in my part of the world, roses and chocolates are common gifts on that day. If you’re buying or receiving long stemmed roses in Canada and the United States, chances are the roses come from Cotopaxi in Ecuador.
Where is Cotopaxi?
Cotopaxi is one of South America’s most famous volcanoes and one of its most active ones. It’s located 60 km south of Quito and is within the famous “Avenue of Volcanoes” in Ecuador, a long stretch of 320 km (200 miles) comprised of tall peaks and volcanoes.
At the base of Cotopaxi volcano, there are many rose plantations or rose farms (seen as white buildings in the photo below). My sister and I took a walking tour in one of the plantations and learned how Ecuadorian roses are cultivated and exported to other countries around the world.
Why Roses Thrive in Cotopaxi?
Climate: Ecuador has the perfect conditions for growing roses. Ecuador is right on the Equator which means constant temperatures year round. During the day, it is around 20C (68F) and during the night, it cools down to 4C (39F).
Altitude: The roses grow in Cotopaxi at about 3000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. The intensity, luminosity, and the 12 hours of sunlight ensure the roses grow beautifully.
Volcanic soil: The soil in Cotopaxi is rich in minerals, allowing the roses to grow very tall with thick, strong stems, the largest blooms, and in the most vibrant colours.
What Does a Rose Plantation Look Like?
A rose plantation has many rows of white plastic-covered houses. Inside each house, many rows of Ecuadorian rose varieties grow more than 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall.
Automated irrigation and heating systems control the temperature and relative humidity to ensure the optimal conditions for the plants. The rose buds are kept in perfect shape with nets.
There are about 500 rose varieties in Ecuador. The rose plantation that we visited offers about 40 varieties. I attach a sample of six different roses here.
Once the roses are ready for harvest, they’re cut and placed in a pre-cool area where the outdoor heat is removed from the flowers as they arrive from the field, swiftly halting the opening of the flowers.
Next, the roses are placed in containers in a large hydration and packing cold room where temperature is kept between 0.5°C and 2°C guaranteeing quality prior to shipping. Rose production and international shipments are planned in time for special holidays such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
How Are Roses Used Locally?
Roses are sold in local markets or flower stands along the roads for a very inexpensive price. They are also given as complimentary gifts to visitors at the plantation. The local haciendas have rose arrangements in their reception areas and some give a long-stemmed rose to welcome their guests upon arrival.
Some hotels have more formal flower arrangements and gorgeous fresh roses on display, like this hotel in Quito.
Where To Buy Ecuadorian Rose Souvenirs?
The souvenir shop on the plantation site sells all kinds of rose products. For example, dyed roses, dry rose petals, rose-scented lotion, rose-flavoured tea, and since Ecuador also produces cacao, rose-infused chocolates as well.
A popular store chain named República del Cacao has locations in Quito, at Quito international airport and in major cities where you can buy Ecuador chocolates, cacao products, Panama hats, rose-related souvenirs, etc.
It was a real treat to walk among the beautiful Ecuadorian roses and receive them so freely during our stay in this area of Ecuador. I’m closing this post with a photo of a cute pair of llamas that we saw upon leaving the rose plantation.
Some winter blues are glorious like the sunny blue skies that we had last Wednesday. I went out for a walk and sat down in one of the Muskoka chairs to soak in the warm sunshine, daydream, and observe nature. It was quiet and blissful by the lake.
On my left, several seagulls took off and glided in the air. On my right, two Canada geese swam and a few ducks dipped in the calm harbour. The shimmering lights in the water prompted me to reflect on the first month of 2020.
January was a fun and enriching month. My extended family had a big get-together to celebrate a few family birthdays and the Lunar New Year. My friends and I met on several dates for coffee and lunch catch-ups. We’ve figured out how to embrace winter!
In between these social gatherings, I completed all my health goals and enjoyed plenty of leisure activities (8 art exhibits, 1 wildlife photography exhibit, 4 blog posts, 6 books, 31 French and 31 Spanish online sessions, 3.5 movies, and 3 recitals). I’m grateful for such a great month and an amazing start to the new year.
In case you’re curious, below are more details. I keep track of the data for my own benefit.
One of the advantages of living near the centre of a big city is the access to cultural events year round. I continue to be amazed by the quantity and quality of new art exhibits I can view for free. In January, I saw eight interesting exhibits:
Anxious Audience by American artist Rashid Johnson.
Black Diamond by Toronto-based artist Krystal Ball.
Blues Klair by Belgian artist Vincent Meessen.
Loop: An interactive light and sound installation with six giant wheels. Visitors sit down inside the wheel (zoetrope), pump the bar, and make the image cylinder turn to display the hand-drawn black and white animations.
Feels: An installation of carved acrylic pendants in gold and turquoise colours by Emma Piirtoniemi.
Hold Everything Dear: A contemporary exhibit by Hajra Waheed.
Ingenuous Purpose: An exhibition featuring beautiful dog blankets and hangings made by the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (KDCC) Sewing Group in Whitehorse.
What we found after you left: A contemporary exhibit by Naeem Mohaiemen.
I made a few changes to my blog, including new header image, new tag line, updated Travel page, updated Wellness page, and added Award-free and Copyright notices on the right side bar. I also wrote four posts and hosted the first Wellness Weekend 2020 link-up:
I enjoyed reading six books which took my imagination from places in Canada to the United States, across the Atlantic to the United Kingdom and then India:
26 Knots by Bindu Suresh.
Starlight by Richard Wagamese.
Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary.
A Delhi Obsession by M.G. Vassanji.
I met all my health goals, felt great, and slept well in January:
Greeted every new day with a smile.
Meditated 15 minutes daily.
Made 26 outdoor walks, average 8 km (5 miles) each walk.
Completed 13 strength workouts in the gym, one hour each.
Attended 9 yoga classes, one hour each.
Went swimming 5 times, one hour each.
Had 4 full rest days.
I continue learning French and Spanish lessons on Duolingo, about 30 minutes every day. It’s a good exercise for my brain!
My neighbour friends and I resumed our movie nights after the holidays. We enjoyed watching the first three movies and did not like the fourth one so we ended our evening half way through it:
Judy starring Renee Zellweger.
Gemini Man starring Will Smith.
Harriet starring Cynthia Erivo.
The Lighthouse starring Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson.
I enjoyed three excellent concerts, each was about one hour in duration:
Sonatas for piano and violin by Beethoven performed by James Parker, piano and Mark Fewer, violin.
Solo piano recital by Brazilian musician Andre Mehmari.
Solo piano recital by Toronto-based musician Bryn Blackwood.
Similar to Travel
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2019 exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum took my friend and I to exotic places visually. The amazing exhibition showcases all-new photographs from around the world reveal striking wildlife, breathtaking landscapes, and the remarkable beauty of our natural world.
After our museum visit, we walked to the new Eataly store. It’s a bustling Italian marketplace with three restaurants, nine take-away counters, and a cooking school. In the full market, we found hundreds of culinary delights imported from Italy. We agreed to return here for our next coffee and lunch meet-up.
So that was my January. How was yours? What good things happened? I’d love to hear your comments.
During my travels, sometimes I discover places that exceed my expectations. The Termas de Papallacta (Papallacta Hot Springs) resort in Ecuador was one of them. Our stay there turned out to be one of my 10 favourite experiences in Ecuador. Let me share some of my photos and brief descriptions with you.
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Where is Papallacta?
Papallacta is a small town about 70 km (43 miles) east of Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Papallacta is located at an altitude of 3,250 metres (10,600 feet) in the Andes, at the edge of the Cloud forest.
Where are the Papallacta hot springs?
Papallacta hot springs are located on the banks of the Papallacta river in between Antisana and Cayambe-Coca Nature Reserves. Two nearby volcanoes, Cotopaxi and Antisana, create thermal baths which vary between 30°C and 70°C (86°F and 158°F).
How to get there?
By car it’s about an hour drive from Quito’s Mariscal Sucre International airport (UIO), and about 1.5 hours from Quito’s city centre. Visitors can also book day tours or take local buses to Papallacta.
Where to stay?
I recommend the Termas de Papallacta (Papallacta Hot Springs) resort for its location and amenities. The resort has a large public bathing complex, a hotel, and a separate spa complex. The natural hot springs in Papallacta feed the thermal pools in the hotel.
What to enjoy at Termas de Papallacta resort?
Thermal pools: Termas de Papallacta resort offers three different sets of pools:
Private pools right outside the hotel cabins and rooms: These shallow pools, surrounded by rocks and pretty flowers, are free and exclusive for guests of the resort.
Public thermal bath complex (the Balneario): This complex has at least ten different pools with varying temperatures. These pools are open daily to the public with admission fees. For hotel guests, entrance is free.
The Spa complex: This complex has five thermal pools equipped with various water jets, bubbles, water spouts and one polar pool. The pool area has garden-like setting of flagstones and flowers, with plenty of lounge chairs. These pools are open to the public at higher admission fees than the public baths. For hotel guests, the spa pool entrance fees are discounted.
The entrance fee for the Spa complex includes a locker, bathing cap, and towel. The change rooms in the Spa area are more luxe than the public bath complex, with heated floors, complimentary shampoo, conditioner and blow dryers. Bathrobe rental is extra.
If you’re spending just one day at Termas de Papallacta, I’d suggest to pay for entrance to the public pools at the Balneario or for the pools at the Spa complex. At the pools the temperature ranges from 36°C to 38°C (97°F to 100.4°F).
Hiking trails: Termas de Papallacta owns a protected area of approximately 200 hectares, called Canyon Ranch, located at the entrance of Cayambe-Coca Nature Reserve. Visitors can explore the hiking trails on their own or for a few US dollars, book a guided hike at the Exploratorium in the resort.
The Exploratorium is a research centre that provides information on the different species of flora and fauna found around Papallacta, some unique to the area. Up in the highlands, the cool air is great for hiking and makes lying in the hot pools that much better.
Hotel rooms: The hotel rooms are made of preserved wood with private bathroom and heated flooring. The rooms are situated around the thermal water pools for exclusive guest use. There are also bungalows for families and cottages separate from the hotel area.
Spa services: My sister and I booked a spa package which includes 30 minutes in the Spa thermal pools, a 20-minute steam bath in a thermal grotto, and a 30-minute back and neck massage. The steam bath grotto has hot water trickles over rocks and eucalyptus leaves while guests relax on deck chairs. There is an area for guests to rest before the massage.
On-site bar and restaurant: The hotel restaurant offers Ecuadorian and international fare using ingredients from the organic kitchen garden. I enjoyed the quinoa soup and local fresh trout, the restaurant’s specialty dish, for dinner.
Termas de Papallacta resort offers the perfect pairing of recreation and relaxation. I can hike then rest or rest then hike in a magical setting. This is a stunning area for nature walks, mountain views, and hot springs. If you’re in Quito, consider a visit to the Papallacta Hot Springs. I highly recommend it!
Welcome to the first Wellness Weekend link-up in 2020! I hope the first eighteen days of January have gone well for everyone and you’ve got some time to warm up before tackling your New Year’s plans with gusto. I’ve posted the full list of Wellness Weekend link-up dates and optional prompts here for future reference.
Why Warm Up?
A warm-up is helpful at the beginning of a fitness session to get our mind and body ready for subsequent and more intense activities. In my previous post, I shared that one of my ten favourite experiences in Ecuador is hiking. The first hike that my sister and I did is an easy hike to Peguche waterfall near Otavalo. It’s our warm-up hike to prepare us for more strenuous hikes later on.
About Peguche Waterfall
Peguche waterfall is 5 minutes northwest of the city of Otavalo which is located 110 km north of Quito and 2530 meters above sea level. Peguche waterfall is a sacred place in the culture of the indigenous peoples of Otavalo.
I categorize this hike as Easy because the trail is flat and well-defined. The length of the trail is just right (about 3 km return). There are a few points of interest along the way, and the highlight is a beautiful waterfall. Otavalo’s spring-like climate in December also makes it ideal for hiking. So we headed to Peguche trail.
Once we entered the Peguche trail, we were surrounded by beautiful tall trees and lush green shrubs. The winding path was easy to walk on. Mosses and lichen covered the low rock walls that protect the trees from foot traffic.
The trail is about 1.5 km long. It took us about twenty minutes to reach the bridge that faces the waterfall. Peguche waterfall is a beautiful waterfall of 18 m in height, formed by the river of the same name, which starts at Lake San Pablo. The lush green vegetation embraces the waterfall. The clouds moved in and out to give us some sun.
We stood on the bridge for a while to enjoy the views before walking up the paths along both sides of the falls to reach the Lookout platform (Mirador), and onto some big rocks to get closer to the waterfall. We could feel great volumes of mist from the powerful waterfall.
The local people name Peguche waterfall Forest Protector (Bosque Protector), because all of the trees get their water from the waterfall’s mists and the downstream gushing water. On the night of the summer solstice, the waterfall becomes the privileged place for community ritual bath, as a first step to celebrate the Festival of the Sun (Inti Raymi).
As we walked along the trail, I could hear bird songs and spotted a number of plants with pretty flowers. There were also lots of ferns and orchid plants that cohabit with tall eucalyptus trees. The sun came out and everything glowed.
Outside the Peguche trail, to the left is the Sun Dial (Inti Watana) site, also known as the Solar Calendar. The site includes a round adobe wall with a sun dial in the centre. People from different communities come together to offer their crops to the Sun god (Inti), and celebrate the summer solstice here.
It was a nice short hike on a beautiful morning in Peguche. Altogether we did about 3 km return trip (about 2 miles). We learned something new about Peguche waterfall. The warm-up hike and nature gave me new energy. I looked forward to more hiking in Ecuador. Happy trails!
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Last month my sister and I made a trip to Ecuador, a country on the Pacific side of South America. Our itinerary included visits to Quito, Otavalo, Papallacta, the Amazon, Banōs, and Patate. We had a wonderful time with numerous memorable moments.
I love so many things about Ecuador and it’s tough to name my ten favourite experiences. Nevertheless, I’m listing ten for now and plan to write more details in the next few posts.
My 10 Favourite Experiences in Ecuador
1. Visit Quito and its historic centre: Quito, founded in 1534, is the capital city of Ecuador. The historic centre of Quito was one of the first centers of its kind to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. A good place to see the panoramic view of Quito is at Itchimbia Park.
We walk the cobblestone streets in Quito’s historic centre and visit some of the beautifully restored colonial-era churches, palaces, and public plazas, such as the Independence Plaza, the Cathedral, Presidential Palace, and the Archbishop’s Palace, La Compañia de Jesus Church with its beautiful gilded interior, and the Church and Monastery of San Francisco with its impressive facade and atrium.
2. Straddle the Equator at the Middle of the World Monument: The country is called Ecuador as the Equator passes right through it. We visit the Middle of the World Monument which commemorates the first Geodesic Mission of the French Academy of Sciences. This is where Louis Godin, Pierre Bouguer, and Charles Marie de La Condamine first determined the equatorial line in 1736.
Even though GPS measures later proved that their magnetic measurements were flawed, and the actual equator is located 250 meters from the monument, it’s still a nice place to visit and to stand at a latitude of 0º0’0” with one foot in the Northern and one in the Southern Hemisphere.
3. Hike and hike some more: We hike to Peguche waterfall near Otavalo, and the Devil’s Cauldron waterfall near Baños. The landscape that we see along the Pan-American Highway is breathtaking. The most strenuous hike for us, however, is in the Amazon rainforest.
4. Shop at the Otavalo market: The Otavalo market is one of the largest in South America run by the local Otavaleños. Here, we enjoy the lively market atmosphere and browse the various stalls for traditional goods such as handwoven cloth and rugs, Panama hats, art work, jewelry, and more.
The Panama hats, by the way, are made in Ecuador, and not Panama. The construction of the Panama Canal caused a great demand for toquilla straw hats from Ecuador, because of their qualities to protect from the sun. From Panama the hat was internationally known and people began to call it “Panama Hat” even though the place of origin is Ecuador.
5. Relax at the Papallacta hot springs: Ecuador has many volcanoes hence hot springs are plentiful. We enjoy the thermal hot pools and our overnight stay at Termas Papallacta hotel and spa. It’s a beautiful place to relax and recharge before we go to the Amazon rainforest.
6. Explore the Amazon rainforest: We stay at a lodge in a lush tropical and tranquil setting on the banks of the Napo river in the Amazon Basin. Birds, flowers, and sounds of nature and nocturnal animals fill our senses. We go on a guided and challenging hike for approximately two hours while viewing many species of tropical plants and insects up close.
7. Visit beautiful colonial-Spanish haciendas: We stay at Hacienda Leito which provides a fabulous mix of old and new. The original ranch building, with its original cobblestone driveway, central fountain, and antique artworks and furnishings, is a classic example of a colonial-Spanish hacienda. The up-to-date rooms and free Wi-Fi let you know you’re in the 21st century.
On another day, we lunch at Hacienda La Cienega, one of the oldest and most historical haciendas in Ecuador, dating back to the 17th century, with a view of the snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano, in the background.
8. Try Ecuadorian food: We try various dishes in Ecuador and like most of them such as ceviche, quinoa soup, potato soup, shrimps and grilled fish. We did not try cuy (guinea pig). There are also lots of fresh and inexpensive fruit such as bananas, plantains, papayas, and chirimoyas. Ecuador cacao and chocolate taste divine in their desserts and hot chocolate drinks.
9. Tour a beautiful rose plantation: Although roses are not native to Ecuador, the country has a perfect environment for rose cultivation and is presently one of the world’s major producers. On the plantation tour, we learn about the farming process, from planting to exporting, and admire numerous rose varieties.
10. Watch nature, local fauna and flora: While in Ecuador, we are surrounded by nature and innumerable varieties of fauna and flora. I take in the lush vegetation, mountains, volcanoes, lakes, lagoons, waterfalls, rainforest, and cloud forests as much as I can. Below is a sample. I hope you see the hummingbird on the right of the red flower.
Many tourists come to Ecuador and jump from Quito or Guyaquil to the Galapagos Islands. There is much more to Ecuador than the Galapagos. I’m happy with what I’ve experienced on my first visit to beautiful Ecuador: culture, history, nature, food and its people. I hope you enjoy seeing Ecuador through my lens.
Have you been to Ecuador? What do you think? I’d love to hear your comments.