Panama Hats and Sun Festivals

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June 22nd 2010
Published: June 23rd 2010
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After my bus breaking down an unexpected 12 extra hours in Mancora, I finally took a tuk tuk to the bus “station”. I asked a couple of times when we arrived at a roadside store with a CIFA sign outside if this was in fact the bus station…to which the cab driver replied, of course. So I took his word for it, got my stuff and parked on the curb in front of this random store. Soon enough though, more gringos started to show up with the same confused look on their face. I figured we probably had to be in the right place or we were going to be in big trouble. At least we would have each other. I made friends with a guy from Oregon and a couple from Sydney as we waited for our bus to head up to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Finally, about 20 min late, the bus arrived in all its glory. We ran, checked our bag and hopped on board. I was a little stunned when I got on. I tend to always take the 2 or 3 dollar upgrade to “Cama” or “VIP” or whatever fun name they want to make up “Cama
Crowd at FestivalCrowd at FestivalCrowd at Festival

Fiesta del Sol at Inkapirca
Cama VIP Executive”. I have come to expect a level of comfort based on that distinction though and was surprised to see our Cama seats on the CIFA bus were no more than a regular seat with a back that leaned further. I was lucky to have no one next to me for the first two hours but that quickly changed when we stopped in Tumbes before the border and I was greeted by a very large Ecuadorian man.

We first hit the Peruvian border control around 11 pm. It was fairly straight forward, get in line, show them your stuff, get your passport stamped. There were tons of people outside trying to sell us things, one even tried to sell us the entry form for Ecuador for $1. Ridiculous. I have heard horrible things about this border and was instructed the best way to get across was to take a bus that went all the way through. Countless travelers have told me stories of being ripped off by cabs and collectives trying to cross the border. Plus strength in numbers keeps the border control from trying to charge you fees that don’t exist just to get your passport back. It was smooth sailing for us though, we reached the Ecuadorian border control and of course our entry form was free. Ecuador gave me a “stamp” which was really the computer printing on my passport my entry visa, kind of lame but hey I was in the country.

We were stopped two times by customs control which I am told is totally normal, they picked random people, checked their bags and then we went on. By this point though it was 1:30 pm and we hadn’t slept much at all. We all passed out and were rudely awaken by the lights when we arrived in Guayaquil 1 hour early, at 4:30 am! The Guayaquil bus terminal is HUGE, its like a big mall, but of course nothing was open at that time in the morning. I made a quick decision to head towards Cuenca instead of Montantita on the beach. I found two bus companies open that both tried to bargain for my business. When I was able to negotiate the first one down from $8 to $6 I decided to just go with them. The bus left at 5:20 am so there wasn’t too much time to sit around in the bus station.

I missed the first couple of hours of the bus ride since I was so tired I passed out. But I did my best to wake up for the second two hours since we went right through the National Park. It was a gorgeous drive through the Ecuadorian Andes and I was so surprised to see how green and beautiful the area was. This is my fourth country to see the Andes and pretty much each one is different. Really an amazing mountain range. We pulled into Cuenca around 9 am and I had no problem getting a taxi out front to head into the old city. Taxis are pretty much $2 anywhere you want to go in Cuenca within the old town, so that was easy enough. Its nice being back on the US Dollar, but its amazing how much cheaper everything is here. I had a recommendation for a hostel in Cuenca, Tourista del Mundo, from the couple that did the trek with our family in Cusco. I decided to give it a try and had no problem finding it. I didn’t even have to ring the bell and go across the street as my instructions told me, because the owner came out to greet me. I told him I needed a room and he happily grabbed some keys and showed me over to the hostel building. It really is a great hostel, not yet in any of the tourist books, but filled with travelers who have been recommended the place by other travelers. Best places come from word of mouth at this point in time. The room was quite large, a double bed all to myself, nice kitchen, living room with hundreds of DVDs and a decent and clean bathroom. To top it off, all this was only $6 per night.

I met two Germans that were staying at the hostel and was told they were headed up to the Inca ruins at Inkapirca to go to the Fiesta del Sol (Festival of the Sun) to celebrate Winter Solstice. I decided even though I’d spent the last 12 hours on buses and I was exhausted to shower and take advantage of the opportunity to go with them. We immediately left and headed for the bus station where we grabbed a local bus up to Inkapirca. The ride was supposed
Pig Anyone?Pig Anyone?Pig Anyone?

to be about 2 hours but in typical fashion we picked up people what felt like every 10 minutes and dropped off random places. We arrived 3 hours later at the little town and met up with some friends that the girl I was with had from language school. We toured the ruins which were nice but not as impressive as Peru. After touring and off and on rain showers we stopped into a local restaurant by the ruins to grab lunch. We had the menu which was some type of soup, rice and chicken with lentil beans and juice. Surprisingly this was all only $1.75. Amazing. I tried to forget the fact that I found a chicken foot on my plate while eating, but luckily I’d already eaten most of meal.

We came back down from the ruins and decided to stop in by the cathedral to grab a delicious piece of chocolate cake and a tea. We then walked back in the rain to the hostel. I was very soaked and muddy from the day so I attempted to dry my jeans for a while and took some time to check my email, etc upstairs on the 4th floor where there is a beautiful view of the city and sometimes wireless internet (when it feels like it). I met some of the travelers that we met up with earlier in the day at a bar for the evening and it was fun talking with them all. They are all solo travelers who are different trips through South America or programs and have all stopped for a couple of weeks for Spanish lessons. I hung on till midnight and was totally exhausted from everything, so went back to the hostel and crashed.

The next day was Sunday so most everything was closed. I wandered out for a while and grabbed some breakfast on the square, a huge breakfast for only $3. Then I walked around for a while just to get an idea of the town. It really is a wonderful town, really nice and for a big city, feels quite small. I went to the market which was quite large and wandered around buying veggies, pasta, and random things to cook dinner. The meat section unnerved me a bit, and I had to walk through there a few times because it took me a while to find the veggies. Everything was so fresh though and I probably spent about $5 for two huge meals full of fresh veggies. I hung out at the hostel for most of the afternoon and evening, I’ve been coming down with a cold so I was trying to avoid heading out since it was raining and I was tired. I watched a couple of movies with some other people and cooked dinner. Later a guy from Switzerland arrived and he was hungry so I ventured out with him to find food. We found the only place open, a kebab shop down the street and I had a tea and we had a nice chat about traveling and such.

Monday I slept in a bit, showered and decided to head over to the Banco Central where there was a museum and also some Inca ruins. It was only 5 or 6 blocks from the hostel on the same street so it was easy to get to. On the way I ran into a couple from Sydney that were also staying at the hostel so we went together. The museum was nice, the first floor consisted of paintings from Ecuador’s historical times. They were mostly of the Spanish people and at the end some of the indigenous culture. The bottom floor had a history of Ecuadorian currency which was interesting. I enjoy all the old coins and cash registers. The second floor had a large exhibit on the indigenous cultures of Ecuador. I found this extremely interesting, they had large exhibits of actual reconstructed houses and costumes, etc to give you a feel for each specific group and their culture. In the end there was an exhibit on the group that created the shrunken heads. This was really cool to see. I am told here are more shrunken heads in Quito at the Mitad del Mundo so I am looking forward to that. We then wandered over to a Panama Hat shop that I had a review for in my database. It was the Casa del Sombrero and was really cool. This guy has won numerous awards for his work and its neat to see the shop downstairs where they make the hats. We ventured upstairs to the store of finished hats and needless to say I bought one for myself. I am very excited about it. I ate lunch on the main square and enjoyed some gelato in the park in the middle to do some people watching. It was a gorgeous day, and the rest of it I enjoyed back at the hostel, cooked dinner and watched a movie with my new friends from Sydney.

I was pretty exhausted so I slept in super late this morning and only ventured out to grab some lunch and a piece of chocolate cake of course. I will leave soon for my flight to Quito where I will meet up with Emily and Laura to continue the Ecuador adventure. Super excited! More to come soon. Cheers!

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Because I couldn't climb up on the rock...

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