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Ecuador; in search of an Explorer…

I arrived into Quito pretty late at night (1am) and was picked up by Omar, the driver for the hostel, and taken through the streets of Quito to the hostel. Omar was lovely but insisted on speaking to me in Spanish for the whole hour long trip. As much as I appreciate this is great for my Spanish, I was too tired to even speak in English. The hostel was nice with really comfy beds and slap bang in the middle of old town. I didn’t do much looking around, however, as I had heard so many horror stories of people being mugged and being a ‘lady’ on my own, I wasn’t going to put myself in unnecessary danger.

Luckily I met an Aussie woman called Jane who caught the bus with me the next day to Baños, making it a much pleasant and less scary experience than travelling alone.

Arriving into Baños I felt an immediate like for the place. Green surrounded me everywhere; hills, rivers, volcanoes and lush, lush rainforests. It couldn’t be more different to Dubai, and I loved it. I checked into my place, which was a bit out of town, and found out I had a wee room all to myself (massive luxury after the past week) that looked right onto the river. Bliss!

The next day I had a wander around the streets and a hike up to the Bella Vista, where I unfortunately couldn’t make out the top of the active volcano as the clouds were too many. It felt so great to be surrounded by life: water, plants, birds and creatures.

Richard Spruce, for those that I haven’t told, was an explorer and botanist in the 19th century. At the age of 31 he ventured to South America to conduct research along the Amazon, where he stayed for 15 years. His journey finished up, apparently, in Ecuador; crossing the river in Baños, where he nearly lost all of his specimens and spent a good 3 months before living in Ambato for 2 years and then moving to the coast, where his health and some financial issues led to him returning to the UK.

It turns out that this amazing explorer, who introduced Quinine to the western world, identified numerous new species of plants and whose anthropological studies of the natives he encountered have led to his fame, is actually an ancestor of mine! This was found out by my Granddad and his Uncle Winston, who both have read all of Spruce’s books and those that have been written about him. When my granddad told me there was a bust of him in Ecuador I decided that, although my trip was not taking me here, I would buy a return flight to Ecuador from Argentina in order to get a photo of it for the family. I was also keen to get a better insight into the places that he visited and the life he must have lived. When Andy and I go to the Amazon in Brazil we will be following the route that he took, but to see somewhere that he actually stayed for a bit, and where he is famous enough for his work that they have erected a statue of him was really important to me.

I finally managed to hunt a man down to take a photo of me with the statue and tried to explain that he was in my family, but he didn’t seem in the slightest bit interested, which I thought was pretty weird since the population of this village must have been less that 100 and this was the only statue (bar that of a mermaid) but hey.
An old lady then passed by and again I explained that this man was my family, to which she appeared really interested and shocked. I then asked her to take a photo and she said no and walked off.

Judging by the inscription he is thought well enough of by Ecuadorians and locals of the Rio Verde area for his botanical studies and insights into the history of the area. When I was telling a collectivo driver all about it, he said (In Spanish) “Wow so your family is part of the history of this area!” which I suppose in a way is true.
I find it difficult to think that Richard Spruce also spent 15 years in the Amazon region fully alone, so who knows perhaps I will encounter some other Spruce’s along the way ;)

Mission accomplished! An amazing man and a stunning location for him to be remembered.

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