Published: June 6th 2011May 27th 2011
It was a rather simple transition into Ecuador which involved a swift check through immigration and a taxi to the bus terminal. We barely had any time to decide which bus company was the cheapest before we boarded a rather shabby looking one and realised they were all cheap, what a treat! We were headed for Otavalo, famous for the largest crafts market in South America (The best and biggest being on a Saturday but we unfortunately arrived on Tuesday). The bus ride was an experience, at times there were more than 10 people on board all yelling trying to sell you everything from drinks to pizza to ice cream! We arrived into Otavalo and found a cheap hostel before heading out for dinner. Naomi and Steve recommended we have Chinese or ‘Chifa’ as in their experience portions are big and cheap! There were plenty of restaurants to choose from and the menu was pretty extensive. The food was surprisingly good and we left with doggie bags - an extremely cheap dinner aided by the fact the staff at the restaurant couldn’t add up! We were glad that Ecuador is cheaper than Columbia which is surprisingly expensive.
After an early
night, we wandered to the market that was still opening up when we arrived, so we headed for the bakery for breakfast to allow the market to prepare its self for us! We wandered around the stalls, occasionally asking the stall owners how much something was only to be horrified at the prices they were trying to charge us. $30 for a scarf, yeah right, we are in South America not Selfridges! Early morning obviously isn’t the best time to do your bargaining. We made a short morning of it, not having purchased a single thing and made our way to catch another cheap bus to Quito, the capital city.
We arrived in good time at a very modern bus terminal (albeit miles away from the centre), so thought we would make the most of the travel day (getting short on time now means we have to plan a lot more carefully). In the taxi to the Old part of town (a UNESCO world heritage site) we passed the very impressive church called Basilca del Voto Nacional. We found a cheap room in an empty hostal and dropped our belongings off before walking back up the steep hill towards
the church (made more difficult by the attitude of 2850m). It was very gothic looking but the architecture was magnificent. We climbed many steps up the basilica tower which seemed to never end. Every time we thought we were at the top we found another set of steps or ladders we could ascend, each time becoming a little less stable. Naomi discovered she had a bit of vertigo and said she felt like throwing herself off the top! It did provide some fantastic views of Quito and we could see the sprawling mass of concrete for miles in every direction and the huge statue of La Virgen de Quito on El Panecillo Hill. Next up we looked at the map of the town and saw the convent (Monasterio de San Francisco - which consumes an entire block) was close, so we thought we would check that out also. It was very peaceful and beautifully decorated, if not a bit daunting. Many pictures on the wall showed hooded people which looked to be connected in some way to the sacrifice of Jesus - our Spanish didn’t stretch far enough to read the signs so we are not quite sure what it
was all about, but we enjoyed the architecture! The pinnacle of the monastery visit was the inside of the church which we could view from above, it was beautifully decorated but unfortunately had maintenance work going on whilst we were there. That night the 4 of us ventured out for dinner, but found very little of any appeal in our budget, so we ended up in a chifa for the 2nd night in a row! We were sitting minding our own business playing some cards and enjoying our food when a woman who was also dining in the restaurant seemed to take a dislike to us and got very angry (we have absolutely no idea why!) She ended up shouting and stormed out before proceeding to then stare at us through the window! She finally disappeared and we weren’t sure whether she had gone to get the heavy’s but we didn’t hang around long enough to find out! We had been made very aware that Quito isn’t safe at night by a traveller friend Mat who had lived there for a few months, and were sure to be home by 9pm.
The name Quito means ‘middle earth’ and one
of its main attractions is a visit to the equator 22km north of the city– very exhilarating for Laura the teacher of geography. Her excitement could barely be contained, like kid in a sweet shop! Our first destination was Mitad del Mundo where a huge monument which had been built by the French after Charles-Marie de la Condamine made his measurements in 1736. We posed for the obligatory photographs, played in the kiddies park and looked at some llamas munching their way through the flower beds. Unfortunately, thanks to the wonders of GPS, it was found they had built the monument in the wrong place “sacre bleu!” So we trotted off to the actual equator 300m north. We wandered up the dirt track and found the Museo de la Cultura Solar, it wasn’t as grand in stature as the French attempt, but looked more entertaining. We were greeted by an English speaking guide and led to the start of the tour. This comprised some local history and lots of ‘scientific experiments’ to prove this was the real equator. We were shown the ‘penis fish’ – it lives in The Amazon and if you wee whilst swimming there, it can enter
the body and is a parasite which will grow and grow and grow until you have to have it cut out! Men AND women beware! Look at the photo – these things get huge! We were also shown a nice statue of how the locals prevent this – not clothes, but a piece of string tied around the lower body to make the penis point north! We were also shown a traditional unique to Ecuador and Papua New Guinea – the shrinking heads – a practice carried out to given the owner increased power. It is still carried out by some tribes in Southern Ecuador, although now highly illegal. It isn’t known what concoction is used to boil the heads to make them shrink so much, but it was very strange, not a souvenir we wanted to bring back through customs! We were also shown a burial site where the families were buried in a foetal position inside a pot. If the husband died first then the wife was buried alive along with him! Lovely! Finally on the cultural side of things, we were taken inside a traditional Ecuadorian home, complete with several guinea pigs running around the floor (a
delicacy to eat but very expensive!) It was then onto the scientific games, which included trying to balance an egg onto a nail, walk in a straight line and watch water in a sink drain clockwise, anticlockwise or straight down depending on its location in the different hemispheres. We’re not sure how much of this was a trick, but it was definitely going different ways. A very interesting morning all in all. We caught the public bus back into Quito and decided to venture into the more touristy new part of town, where we had a late Mexican lunch (the Ecuadorian cuisine didn’t appeal much!) The evening was spent doing nothing much other than catching up on traveller chores such as blog writing and repairing shorts!
Our next stop was in Banos, a small town 3 hours south of Quito. This required another long taxi ride out to the modern southern bus terminal which more resembled an airport. The bus ride was bumpy but we were getting used to this. The landscape completely changed as we neared Banos, we passed through green hills and volcanoes and past pretty rivers. A short walk from the bus terminal found us at
a cheap but comfortable hostal. We explored the town on foot and enquired about the various outdoor activities which you can undertake in the area.
The next day we woke up to rain, typical when we wanted to be outside all day and not stuck on a bus. Luckily it clearer in the afternoon and we were able to rent a buggy cheaply for a few hours to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside. It was brilliant fun! It felt a bit like driving a lawn mower, only it was difficult to see as the roll bars were position right in our eye line! Safety first! We both took turns at driving and particularly enjoyed the bits where we got to go through really long dark tunnels where the water dripped on us from the roof – not so good when there are huge coaches coming up behind you! We made several stops to take photos of the numerous waterfalls in the area. Our favourite required a 15 minute walk down into the valley before a climb back up to get right up close and personal with the water! It was so incredibly powerful (Ecuador has recently been suffering with
a lot of flooding meaning the rivers are very full) and the photos just don’t do it justice. We got soaked running behind the waterfall – really good fun. On the journey back we had to drive over the remains of a recent mudslide – something that occurred a fair bit during our time in Ecuador. Dan was driving as we headed back into town and he managed to take us twice the wrong way up one way streets meaning we had to attempt a 3 point turn and having no reverse required us to both stick a leg out and role the buggy backwards like a Flintstones car! Very amusing!
We were unsure if we would be leaving Banos that evening – we were waiting to hear if a road blocked by a mudslide would be cleared in time. After some dinner, we ventured over to the hot springs – really pretty in the dark. We were surprised to find how busy they were, and the majority were locals. The water was lovely and warm, and felt great after a freezing shower under a natural waterfall. We then headed back to the bus station and luck was on
our side, the bus was running. This was to be our worst night bus to date. Firstly it didn’t arrive until 12.30am so we were shattered. It was a very crowded bus full of loud snoring locals. We’d also been hearing lots of horror stories of travellers being robbed on such buses so we felt a bit on edge the whole journey which was broken by many stops at tiny little towns for the locals to noisily get off. We pulled into Quayaquil bus terminal at 5.30am really questioning if saving money on a nights’ accommodation had been worth it!
It was here that we finally said our goodbyes to Steve and Naomi after 3 good weeks of travelling together. They headed up to Puerto Lopez where as we booked onto a 6.30am bus to Montanita on the coast. We arrived into the small surfing town of Montanita at about 10am, feeling really quite jaded. We hadn’t booked any accommodation and wandered around for ages getting prices. Eventually we did something we haven’t really done on our trip, and treated ourselves to a night in a comfortable hostel which was more expensive than most others! (It was still only
$25). It felt great! Very comfortable bed, reliable hot showers, decent breakfast included in the price – bliss! We spent the afternoon on the beach – not a patch on the ones we had experience on the Caribbean Coast unsurprisingly, but still decent enough. Dan hired a cheap surf board and enjoyed catching some waves again. We ate cheaply that evening to balance out the price of the room, and we couldn’t believe how busy the small town was. It was Saturday night and all the locals had descended with families in tow for a night out. We decided to ignore our tiredness and join them! We were paying $1.50 for big glasses of mojitos which we drank on the beach watching fireworks. After a couple of these, we decided to venture back to our nice room. Earlier in the day we had seen that they were setting up for something, well it was now in full swing. A huge stage with a band, ridiculously loud speakers and lots of locals dancing away, until the music stops and they all rush to sit down again. Lovely we thought, we can sit on our balcony drinking a beer and watch for
free. This was nice for a few hours, but it got to 5am and we really were exhausted. There were still loads of kids at the party, of which some had taken to sleeping on the tables. Ear plugs did nothing to dim the sound and we ended up quite annoyed that our expensive accommodation afforded us a terrible night’s sleep when the music didn’t shut up until about 7am!!
We had a bleary eyed breakfast and decided we would check out and find somewhere cheaper to stay. So we went from what was one of our nicest hostels, to one of the least nice rooms randomly in someone’s house. We’re not even sure you can call it a room as the walls didn’t even reach the ceiling! Another afternoon was spent relaxing in the sun on the beach for Laura and catching some waves in the sea for Dan. That evening we went for dinner and were entertained by some very impressive street performers who had managed to incorporate a huge exercise ball into his regime and lots of the usual fire – very compelling. A third day was spent in a very similar fashion, nice and relaxing
and the longer we stayed in Montanita the more we became to love it. It might not have been overly pretty, but what it lacked in beauty it made up for in character. We’d have liked to stay longer, but we found ourselves with 4 weeks to make it all the way south to Buenos Aires so made to keep travelling.
The next day we caught a bus out of Montanita, knowing we had a fairly long journey ahead of us. The first bus only took us an hour down the road to Santa Elena where we had to change buses to continue on to Quayaquil. Here we enjoyed a quick last cultural Ecuadorian meal (McDonalds – sometimes it just has to be done!) and jumped on a CIFA international bus to take us to Tumbes in Northern Peru. It was a painfully slow journey, made up of locals jumping on and off the bus wherever they felt like it. Every time the bus stopped, about 6 people selling food and drink would hop on, the bus would start again and then 2 minutes later we would have to stop to let them all off. It was ridiculous!
At least we could enjoy the surrounding countryside where huge numbers of bananas were growing – we could see why Ecuador is the banana capital of the world! We eventually made it to the border in the dark, and the bus driver’s mate was kind enough to help us through immigration whilst the bus waited outside. We were very grateful about this as we had heard many horror stories about this border crossing.
We could only afford 8 days in Ecuador, but really enjoyed our time there and appreciated it being so cheap after Columbia! We would love to come back to see The Galapagos but we need to do some serious saving before we can afford that!
There are more photos below