After a relaxing week or so in Huaraz, it was time to pack up and move on. We headed off down to Trujilli on the night bus which was not quite to the standard of night buses we have become accustomed to, not a lot of sleep was had. Once we arrived we jumped into a cab and headed to a small coastal town called Huanchaco. We spent the day mainly trying to stay awake, which was difficult in a town with nothing to do other than surf - which neither of us do! The saving grace of the town was the fact that the hostels had cable TV! We booked our bus tickets out almost straight away. After a day or two of watching lots of cable TV we headed off on another night bus to Mancora - fortunately this one was much more comfortable and we had a fair bit of sleep.
We arrived in Mancora at about six in the morning and were mobbed by tuk tuk drivers, it was a scene a little reminiscent to South East Asia! We wandered around the town (most of which was closed) and towards the beach and eventually found breakfast
and a very reasonably priced hostel overlooking the beach. Mancora is a nice little beach resort town very geared towards tourists and travellers. We bumped into Owen, Lisa, Sam and Anna who we first met in Bolivia and keep bumping into on our travels. We had a couple of days relaxing in the sun before heading back on the road for our penultimate country - Ecuador.
On Friday 13th, we headed for Ecuador by bus and what turned out to be probably to most complicated border crossing. We arrived at the Peru border and hopped off the bus to get our passports stamped 'out', hopped back on the bus expecting to shortly arrive at the Ecuador border to 'enter'. However we kept driving and driving through a town and a market and eventually were dropped off at the offices of a different bus company to be told we had to get a fifteen minute taxi to the border to get our passports stamped into Ecuador. We did so and eventually another bus arrived, picked us up and off we went to Cuenca, our first stop in Ecuador.
Cuenca is a lovely small city, we checked in to Hostal
Paredes, which was a bargain price and run by a really nice guy. We thought it was quite odd that every night we were in Cuenca there seemed to be power cuts, we later learnt that this was because there is not enough rain, therefore not enough water to power the hydroelectric plant, therefore not enough electricity to power the whole city at once. We were also informed that the locals response to this was to set fire to the hills as smoke will cause rain!
Whilst at Cuenca we visited a couple of towns nearby called Gualeceo and Chordeleg where we managed to get the remainder of our gifts bought. The following day we headed for a small town called Baños, which is known for it's thermal springs. We ended up paying $5 to spend the afternoon soaking in a massive thermal pool in 42 degree water, steaming in turkish steam baths and then drying off and topping up our tans in the sunshine. Was the first bit of luxury in a long long time! $5 well spent.
We met a couple of Americans - Courtney and Thantcyn at our Hostel the following day who have been
in Cuenca for about a month, so knew all the best places to eat and drink and headed out with them for steak, it turned out to be the nicest steak since Argentina!
On Wednesday 18th we got up early and headed for Cajas National Park, where we planned to do some hiking. We arrived and paid our $10 entrance fee, and got a pretty respectable topographical map with all the routes marked out. Usually $10 would seem quite extortionate (the same as an ensuite hotel room with cable TV!), however the park was really well looked after, the trails well maintained and the scenery stunning, so we didn't mind paying. We had a fantastic day hiking (although was tough at times with the altitude in the region of 4000m). We hiked for about five hours and were fairly lucky with the weather, a little rain but otherwise good.
On the 20th we headed north to Riobamba, with the original plan of staying for one night to break up the journey to Baños, however once we got there and checked in to out hostel we liked it so much we stayed for three days! We met a nice
Dutch lady who suggested we go cycling, so we took her advice and off we went on Sunday for what turned out to be the most fantastic mountain biking experience yet! We were picked up by our guide at eight in the morning and headed off by car half way up Mount Chimborazo where we started with a very tiring and thankfully short trek to an altitude of 5000m. After Dave's chest pains had resolved and we had caught our breath we hopped on our very shiny mountain bikes and literally belted it down the side of the mountain - our guide (who was following in the 4x4) informed us we were travelling about 30mph! We cycled all in all about 45kms, pretty much all of which was down hill (with the car and bike racks for the steep up hill bits!), and we saw some amazing scenery.
After a day to recover from our downhill madness, we headed north again to Baños (which translates to English as Bath). The town is a bit of a tourist trap with lots of gap year kids but is a pretty good base for exploring the countryside so we decided to hire
motorbikes and explore the country. After our amazing roadtrip in Vietnam we decided to hire slightly better and bigger bikes (Honda 250cc off roaders). On 24th we headed off early on the bikes and up the Panamericano highway for a hour or so and then we headed off on the fun winding roads and hills through the countryside to a town called Zumbahua, which was an interesting town with the grottiest and noisiest hostel we have stayed in yet. We got up early the next morning and headed off on another fantastic days driving along lots of winding unsurfaced and muddy roads though villages and farms - dodging various livestock as we went! We headed to Quilatoa to see a massive crater caused by a volcanic eruption in the 1797. We ploughed on and eventually got to Sigchos for lunch and checked into a much nicer hostel. We decided to head off up the side of a mountain on the bikes for a couple of hours but unfortunately Dave put a stop to that by falling off - a very low speed fall resulting in a broken clutch and a bruised pride! Fortunately we were able to free wheel all
the way back down to town and find a mechanic with a spare clutch for $2!
Day three was beautifully sunny and another amazing ride, across various terrains - sand, tarmac and muddy off road tracks - which took us to Saquisili, a really nice town with a big market on a Thursday so we had a wander and did some shopping. Our final day riding was back in the direction of Baños and fortunately thanks to really inadequate signing in Ecuador we had an amazing 'alternative' route through farm land and sand tracks, winding roads and hills and eventually back to Baños after lunch. The lack of signposting wasn't such a big problem as everyone here is so friendly and helpful, we simply stopped and asked directions every so often! The last days ride was a little tainted by the amount of very aggressive dogs which would chase us as we went past their homes - some of which were very fast!
We are now back in Baños for a few days rest and recuperation before we head for the capital, Quito, next week - a major step closer to heading home. We have absolutely loved our
time in South America and in three and a half months here have seen so much yet have so much more to see - we will definitely be coming back to see the bits we've missed. We spend a few days in Quito before we fly to Rio for a few more days and then home on 8th December.
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