Published: June 13th 2012June 13th 2012 Day 241 Friday 8th June
Stitching up the Saturday Markets
The day started with no rain but over breakfast it made an unwelcome return. As we did our packing the rain came in waves and we eventually had to wait ten minutes for it to ease before we attempted booking out and walking to the bus terminal. It was a bit of a walk and of course the rain returned ensuring we arrived at our destination dampish. We had checked out the bus terminal yesterday and seen that there was a bus going to Riobamba at 10.10 and this was the one we were aiming for, but of course we couldn’t get tickets on that one and instead had to buy tickets for the 11.00am bus. That left us with an hour long wait, which I guess could have been worse. At just before 11 the woman who had sold us the ticket came running up to us and let us know that our bus was parked across the road waiting for us and then she ran off to tell the other waiting passengers. For some strange reason in Ecuador, the buses don’t seem to want to pull into the terminals but we pick up
Weekly repairs being done
and dump passengers in the streets nearby. We sort of guess that maybe they have to pay to enter and exit the terminals or maybe the drivers just don’t like doing it….who knows. As we put on our backpacks think of a Three Stooges film as I turned Scott hit me in the side of the head with his elbow, nearly knocking me off my feet lucky I have a tough head, although I did end up with a very red ear for a while.
Barely was everyone on the bus than we were underway. As described before, the terrain around Banos is spectacular and so it was a great bus trip to Riobamba. The only downside was the heavy cloud cover that obscured the higher peaks of the mountains include Ecuadors tallest peak Volcan Chimborazo, 6310 metres high. Nerdy fact is that the peak of this mountain is the furthest point from the centre of the earth due to the equatorial bulge of the earth….see you have just learnt something. We would have loved to have seen this lump of a mountain on a clear day but today had to settle with just its lower slopes up to
the snow line.
At 12.30 after only 90 minutes we hit the city of Riobamba, making this perhaps our shortest bus trip so far in South America. As per previous observations on Ecuadorian buses this one rather than dropping us at the main bus terminal dropped us at some small local bus drop off point. Generally not much of a problem except it is nice to know where you are in town before jumping in a taxi and also where we were dropped off there wasn’t many taxis around. Managed to eventually track one down and got dropped off at a hotel we had picked from the Lonely Planet. Hotel Tren Dorado was a bit more expensive than we wanted to pay ($30 a night) but the room looked great and it came with breakfast. The room was sort of odd being situated separate from the rest of the hotel up a large sweeping (Gone with the wind) stair case and the Panda bear bedspreads are a scream. Discovered about 4 Chinese restaurants within spitting distance from the hotel so maybe there is a Chinese theme running through this town.
We dropped off our bags and took a
On the road to Cuenca
Shelley crossing the road after a toilet stop
long walk around town taking in the vibe or lack of. Riobamba is a town of 181,000 people and is a major transport and commerce hub and the main starting point for people getting the train further down south. At present the whole Ecuadorian train line is under major renovations and the train station here is just one big construction site. We were going to push through to Cuenca but decided to stay here and see the Saturday markets. The town is a typical sprawling country town with a good sprinkling of old grand Colonial buildings and an abundance of churches but there isn’t a lot to hold your attention.
For dinner we headed up the road in what is the more swankier bar and restaurant area and got a huge feed of Mexican for only $15. Day 242 Saturday 9th June
It is Saturday and therefore market day in countless cities in Ecuador and we are in Riobamba to see what it is like here. We get up early and head into the café for our paid for breakfast. Also in the café are a group of American missionaries who were in full swing
New Cathedral exterior
speaking at the top of their voices about all the sinful people they know and how they have to pray for them and etc, etc, etc. It was a bit much hearing all this so early (and loudly) in the morning before I could have a coffee but being a big believer in freedom of speech I wasn’t about to tell them off. Later discovered photos of these missionaries throughout the hotel so sort of guessed this place is their base…lucky us.
Headed down town to where the markets are and discovered that they were a rather small affair with only a small plaza lined with about 60 stalls. Although small it was great because it was a very local offering with very little souvenirs or many other tourists. One aisle was lined with people on old singer sewing machines doing mends and modifications to clothing, and at the end were the obligatory breakfast tables filled with diners chowing down on pork.
From here we walked a few blocks to a produce market that had the most amazing selections of fresh fruit and veg, the smell of coriander was incredible. Of course they also sold meat and along
New Cathedral dome
one aisle were the sellers of cuy (Guinea pig) which is a real delicacy here. The guinea pigs here aren’t your average little rodent you get back home but bloody huge, almost the size of a rabbit.
After a good morning walking around we headed back towards our hotel and stopped at a lovely little café for a coffee. Spent the afternoon wandering around the town and then back at our room. For dinner we found ourselves back at the Mexican restaurant again. Day 243 Sunday 10th June
Up early for our bus journey out of here and unfortunately we once again copped the God squad over breakfast, oh joy. Not sure what sort of work missionaries do in Ecuador or if it helps the people any, but the guy at breakfast just kept carrying on about how he was helping to build a church up in the mountains. I am not religious so I guess I shouldn’t be cynical but I cannot see how another church in Ecuador (which has about a million) is going to help anyone, but I guess the other churches aren’t his churches.
After putting up with
New Cathedral interior
his whinning we were keen to get moving and so were packed and out the door in record time. Got a taxi to the bus terminal, which was 2 kilometres down the road, and picked up tickets for Cuenca no problems. We had 30 minutes before our bus left and the Riobamba bus terminal is a bit shambolic and there really wasn’t anywhere for us to sit and wait and so we decided to just hop on board our bus. This ended up being the right thing to do as our bus left 15 minutes early, a first for us in South America. The driver drove like a maniac, which wasn’t a first for us in South America, and we sort of guessed he was in a hurry to get to Cuenca. Along the way we would pick up and drop people off and for most of the journey we had people standing down the aisle. The scenery as always in this corner of the world was spectacular and the bus was either struggling up mountainsides or roaring down them. The road as you could imagine was extremely windy and we soon had children throwing up, which added to every
ones misery. After travelling for 3 hours we stopped for lunch at a small town and although hardly anyone ate at the restaurant we were at, just about everyone used the toilets. Out the front of the restaurant some guys were doing some wiring to an electricity pole, and we had to laugh that the guy up the pole who kept dropping his tools had a hard hat on while the guy down the bottom in the target area didn’t.
It was another 3 hours of travelling before we finally made it to Cuenca at 3.30. Thankfully for this trip our bus actually took us to and parked in the bus terminal and this gave us the opportunity to investigate our bus to Peru on Thursday. We got a taxi downtown to our hotel “The Posada del Angel” which we had booked through booking.com. The hotel is in a renovated Colonial House in the old city area of Cuenca, and our room is huge with a balcony and is really lovely. We gave Jan a call on Skype before heading out to have a look on the town. Because it is Sunday and we are in South America hardly
More sugar hits
any shops are open but the area around the main square is filled with about a hundred stalls selling sweets and candy. This week is some sort of festival and the big part of it is this huge celebration of anything with sugar in it or on it. Walking around seeing the huge mountains of colourful sweets had our mouths watering and so we ended up weakening and picked up a cream filled pastry. The unfortunate part of these sorts of treats is that they always look better than they taste, and so the one treat each was enough. Some of the stalls were inundated not only with wide eyed kids but with swarms of bees that were almost glued to some of the pastries. For dinner we went to the Eucalyptus Cafe where we got a great feed of Thai food. Day 244 Monday 11th June
Today is Shelley’s birthday and so what better treat can I give her than going shopping with her. Cuenca is an old colonial city and is filled with heaps of markets and interesting shops so after our breakfast we hit the streets to see what treasures we would find.
Church of San Sebastian in the corner of the Plaza
First place we stumbled upon was a 3 storey antique store that was filled with all sorts of great antiques that simply don’t fit into back packs. Shelley was particularly interested in a chest of drawers and an antique baby bassinet, but despite it being her birthday we bought neither. She did however buy herself a hat.
Cuenca is famous for its Montecristi hats, which are universally referred to as “Panama hats”, because the guys who helped build the Panama canal wore them, but in fact originated from here. Just about every store in town sells them and we initially went to a huge tourist shop to check them out. The quality and prices were okay but the staff were a little too pushy for our liking and so ended up moving onto a crafts emporium. Shelleys wide brimmed hat which she has been carrying around with her has finally collapsed and so it now hangs around her ears so this was the perfect town for her to get another. Ended up picking up a stylish interpretation of a Montecristi from a small shop for $16. Generally whenever we make a purchase we will haggle the price down, but
Scott helping out
sometimes like with this hat, if you think it’s a good price or you are happy with the price we won’t bother. No doubt we could have haggled the price down as the woman gave Shelley a set of earrings and me a key chain as a parting gift.
Whilst shopping we took in the towns sights which is mainly old colonial buildings and churches, the grandest of which is the towns cathedral. We visited Plaza de San Sebastian which used to be for bullfights and is famous for an incident that happened in 1739 when a member of the La Condamine’s geodesic expedition was mauled but not by a bull but the locals because he had an affair with a local woman. The moral of the story is if you are an outsider and having an affair with a local do not go to a bullfight with all those men revved up. At lunchtime we stopped for a sandwich and a coffee and then pushed on into the afternoon walking the streets. Cuenca is such a lovely place and is now our favourite Ecuadorian town, it has lots of character, lots of shops and feels really safe. Cuenca
is a great way for us to finish our travels in Ecuador, on a real high note.
Late in the afternoon we returned back to our room to ring Mum and Dad on Skype and then got ready to party on the town. Shelley had picked “Zoes” restaurant for her birthday dinner, which turned out not to be a good choice. The meals were small and not overly nice and I guess it was evident that it wasn’t the best place in town as we were the only ones eating there all night. From there we headed down to the bar area of town and found a table in a funky little bar where we could get cheap cocktails. Shortly after getting there we got into a huge argument with some loud mouthed tourists, and the staff shuffled them outside and us to another table upstairs. The waiter could see we were in the right and was really nice, and apologised to us and gave us free shots of tequila. Ended up meeting some locals and spent the night chatting away and trying to keep pace with their drinking, (bad mistake). I think we all got kicked out of
the bar at midnight when they closed and we somehow managed to stagger back to our hotel, which is something I would not have dreamed of doing in Quito. Day 245 Tuesday 12th June
Both woke up worse for wear in the morning, cursing those mojitos last night, God why did we drink so much? We had a quiet day hanging in our room not doing much before heading out in the afternoon for a walk and to get some dinner. We ended up going back to Eucalyptus Café and this time had an Indian Curry. Day 246 Wednesday 13th June
Up early today and had a quick breakfast as we need to be at the bus terminal for the 9.00am bus to Ingapirca. This was originally an indigenous Canari site and then the Incas took over so you can see examples of buildings from both cultures. This is only a small site but it is worth the 2 hours bus trip out here, the bus is only $2.50 each way and the site costs $6.00 each which includes an English speaking guide so it only cost us $22.00 for the
Temple of the Sun
both of us. We had been quoted $45.00 each to do it with a tour group and it was so easy to get the bus I would recommend doing it by yourself.
We arrived at the site about 11.00am and the tour lasted about 1 hour then afterwards you could walk around and explore yourself and visit the small museum. In the museum is one of the mummies found at the site that were from the Canari people, they were all women one was a princess that died of natural causes, plus 10 others that were buried alive all in the foetal position. A pitfall of having a government job in the early days. Ingapirca is Ecuador’s best preserved Inca site, but has suffered much of the years with the early Spaniards taking stones to build roads, parks and cities nearby. Some of the stones have been returned to the site but not enough to reconstruct anything more. We caught the 1.15pm bus back to Cuenca and arrived back at the terminal about 3.40pm it was a slow trip back.
Since we were at the terminal we brought our tickets to Mancora in Peru for Friday and it
Shelley & Scott at Ingapirca
will be another early rise as it leaves at 7.15am. Got back to the hotel for a rest and to get ready to go out for dinner.
There are more photos below