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Published: July 23rd 2017
It was a long flight to Quito. Mainly because the cheapest flight involved flying right over Ecuador and all the way to Panama. Doubly annoying as we've wanted to go to Panama for ages, but there was no time to leave the airport. We did however get a glimpse of Panama City and the Panama Canal from the air.
About 12 hours after setting off, we finally landed at 9pm. Usually we are really stubborn about getting the bus. But even we realised that was a bit daft landing in a brand new county, with a bit of a reputation, in the dark, after many hours of travelling. Our B&B offered to pick us up for $10. I tell you, landing at night to see a smiling face and a board with your name on it is a wonderful thing.
Our host, Aida, and her husband were lovely. We'd booked into Chester's B&B as it was near the airport. It was basically their family home. But we had a comfortable, private en-suite room and, unlike larger airport hotels, no people arriving throughout the night. They had built a kind of carport pizzeria in the garden. I
know this sounds random, but actually it was really nice. It was supposed to shut at 10pm but they happily stayed open just for us. We shared a pepperoni pizza and a bottle of red, finally letting them shut up about 23.15.
We didn't have too far to travel next. Our guidebook recommended taking a taxi to Quitumbe bus station. However Aida seemed to think the best way was by bus. After breakfast we followed her instructions and walked to a nearby bus stop and jumped on the first bus that said 'Quitumbe' on the front. It was $1.50 each, taking an hour. It all went very smoothly.
At the bus terminal we quickly found the right ticket office and within minutes were on a comfortable, clean bus to Latacunga. At just over $2 each for a two hour trip it was a bargain. After reading horror stories online we were slightly reluctant to stow our backpacks. But practically, what choice is there? We've done it all over South and Central America with no issues.
Onboard a rather serious looking young man tried to get us to put our day bags overhead. This was not going to
happen for two reasons. First of all, after the nightmare of forgetting David's bag on a bus in Colombia we swore never to use the overhead compartments again. Second, we'd read numerous stories about theft from bags in the overhead compartments on buses in Ecuador. He was quite insistent, pointing at a security camera. We were equally insistent. In the end he conceded, but warned us (twice) never to put the bags on the floor. We'd already read about bags on the floor getting slashed. Indeed it actually happened to David in Guatemala on our last RTW trip. But the fact that he was so concerned must mean it's a big problem here.
In fact, there was one small incident. All over South America people jump on the bus to sell snacks etc. Usually they just walk up and down saying what they have, then get off. Occasionally someone will do a speech. A guy got on our bus and gave a long, slick sounding spiel. I immediately took a dislike to him. I'm not too keen on smooth sales types, and he seemed such a show-off. He came down the bus putting crappy bracelets on people's laps. I
said no, which is usually fine. But he got a bit agressive and shouty and shoved it at me anyway. After another long, dramatic sales pitch he came round to collect the bracelets or money and got angry that we wouldn't buy one. He sat down right in front of us and slagged us off to his mate, who I'd only just noticed. My Spanish is bad, but I do know 'puta'!
I just thought all this was irritating, although it did strike me as slightly odd. It was only later that David pointed out that when they boarded his friend had gone to sit behind us all when this was going on. The talk was way too long and animated, and most people were watching. We were ignoring him and had our bags firmly on our laps. Of course it could have been innocent, but it is highly suspicious. No wonder he was pissed off when the most obvious looking marks on the bus ignored him.
Our hotel in Latacunga was the Endamo. Not hugely fancy, but one of the better choices in the town. Cheaper than Chile, which was a relief. Our first job was to
do a quick reccy of the town, and withdraw some cash. Well the first didn't take long, but as for the cash... After trying at least half a dozen ATM's we admitted defeat. We had $80 to our name for the next month, so this was a concern. We decided to return to the hotel and contact the bank. Luckily, half an hour later it was all sorted. The problem was the issue with the apartments in Santiago. The transaction attempts looked suspicious so our bank had stopped the card. They removed the block and assured us it would now be fine.
On the way out to dinner we withdrew some money, what a relief. Then we headed to a Mexican called the Guadalajara Grill. I nearly changed my mind when I found it had made it into the Lonely Planet. The kiss of death in our experiance as quality and quantity almost always go down, and prices go up. Why not, when a new bunch of guidebook wielding numpties will turn up in their droves every night? In this case I'm being slighty harsh. Well, not about the guidebook weilding, card playing numpties who were very much in
evidence. But the food itself was pretty good.
The next day we planned a DIY tour to Lake Quilotoa. Tours were $45 each and online research was confusing with conflicting reports. We decided just to go to the bus station and see what we could find. On the way out the hotel owner asked where we were going and wrote down the name of a particular bus company. This proved very useful.
We got to the bus station and spotted Vivero immediately. It was 9am, and the next bus was at 10am. Annoying at first, but it turned out well in the end. We bought tickets 15 and 16, and from there it filled up incredibly quickly. So my tip is to turn up early. In fact, it was totally full by 9.50, so left ten minutes early. In case anyone needs to know, we've included a photo of the times of Vivero buses direct to Quilotoa.
The journey took about two hours, but it flew by as the scenery was so amazing. We were dropped a couple of hundred yards from the start of the walk down to the lake. Quilota is a volcanic sinkhole, formed
when the volcano erupted then collapsed. The first thing we noticed was the amazing blues and greens of the water, due to the mineral content. It really was stunning, unlike anything we've seen. We braved the walk down the steep and sandy path, difficult to keep your footing in places. It took roughly half an hour to get to the shore. It was beautiful, although there is not much down there. We did have a chocolo con queso (sweetcorn and cheese) but then decided to head back. It's more about the views than any activities, unless you fancy kayaking.
It was time to tackle to 280 metre ascent. This may not sound like much but it was bloody steep and very hard work. We were at 3500 feet after all. I won't deny it was tough. Probably the toughest walk of the trip so far. But each time we stopped to rest the stunning view reminded us it was all worthwhile. It took us an hour and a quarter, which I didn't think was too bad. At least we didn't resort to riding a mule to the top like some, which looked cruel to me.
We went back
to the road hoping for a bus. We'd read there were none in the afternoon and so nearly took a taxi to Zumbahua as recommended. As we were considering this, lo and behold a bus arrived. It had come from Latacunga and this was where it turned around to return. The one we caught set off at 14.45, but I'd be willing to bet there are later ones. All in all, a very sucessful and enjoyable day.
Dinner that night was at El Gringo y la Gorda. While not particularly cheap, it was a nice atmosphere, friendly service and good food. We even got a free refill each of their delicious homemade lemonade. David went for a footlong sandwich, thinking it would be along the lines of Subway. Our waitress seemed a bit suprised. We ordered some chilli cheese fries to share, and I virtuously ordered a Salad Nicoise much to David's disgust. When the food arrived we understood the waitresses' reaction. It was enormous! I kindly offered to help, but to my suprise (and the waitresses') he managed it all. My salad was nice but the amount of olive oil made it less virtuous than planned. Well, that
and the fries.
To be honest, we'd planned poorly and had one day too long in Latacunga. Originally we'd planned to go into Cotopaxi National Park. But we found you need to have an official guide with you to enter. All the tours seemed to involve climbing (at least partially) the volcano which we didn't much fancy. Instead we walked around the town, and up to a mirador. Then popped to a shopping centre. None of this took very long and we were back at the hotel before 2pm. Still, boring as it is, it did give us some much needed admin time. We caught up with some research and bookings for the rest of the trip. This included booking a campsite in Kentucky to put us in the path of the total solar eclipse in August. We are very excited about this.
Dinner was at a nearby Chifa (Chinese) called Chifa Dragon II. Chifa's are ubiquitous all over South America but although we like Chinese food it's not our favourite cuisine so this was only the second we've visited. It made a nice change though, and at least we got some vegetables. Their lemonade was lovely too.
Getting quite addicted to homemade lemonade.
We checked out of the Endamo, and as we were leaving the owner offered to drive us to the bus terminal. Unexpected and very kind. He told us that the quickest way to Cuenca was to flag a bus down on the highway, and offered to take us there. But we know how busy Ecuadorian buses get, and have seen people standing for ages. So we'd already decided on the slower way via Ambato, which would guarantee us a seat. We were dropped off at the terminal and as we walked in an Ambato bus was pulling out. We jumped straight on. Perfect.
Latacunga itself is not unmissable. But it is a good base for some trips around the area, and is a decent stop off on the way south from Quito. Next stop, Cuenca.
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