Guagua Pichincha over Banos
View from the hills to the back of town two weeks afore the volcano erupted
Well... one can only take so much sun-soaking in a day so´s thought we ought to do some work. Survived Quito. This isn´t really fair as it is a beautiful city, but having to travel point-to-point by taxi after dark is a real shame. Anyways, managed to buy a new camera (not that we´re adding photos just yet due to computer gliches). This was an interesting experience with our minimal Spanish and the store´s complete lack of English. Nevertheless, a result - not only did we gain a camera, but also (and just what every backpacker needs) a free toasted sandwich maker?!
Travelled south to the hot springs resort (for westerners and Equadorians alike) of Baños. Again like most Equadorian towns/cities it sits surrounded by mountains, hills, n volcanoes. Stayed at a great guest house "Santa Cruz". Found that the local market spit-roasted cuy (our furry friends). However, on returning the next day to sample some we discovered that they only cook the critters on Sundays and holidays - foiled again. The volcano (volcan Tungurahua) that we´d heard was erupting again wasn´t quite, although it was sure growling and belching out some smoke. Trekked some 6 k´s up the foothills
(I say hills, still some 2000m at the top) at the rear of town to a view point. No one else seems to do this walk, but we were lucky and got a great view of the crater during a rare break in the encircling clouds. Found out that it has since kicked off and locals were evacuated a few days back (also discovered that apparently travel insurance isn´t valid in Baños for this reason... hmmm). Wandering around town we were also treated to an unusual sight, that of a local priest in full white robes walking down the street blessing cars?! Were intending to cycle the 60km (not so bad as ALL down hill and you can return by bus) to Puyo - a route which passes a dozen or so waterfalls. However, blaming the knee again, we took the bus both ways. No sooner had we set off than the rains decended, visability was pants, the restaurant we wanted to try was closed, so we spent just long enough there to sample a beer afore returning to the log fire at Santa Cruz.
Next it was southwards again to Riobamba with the intention of catching the train
that takes in El Nariz del Diablo (the devil´s nose). This is a bloody steep decent and recognised as one of the great railway engineering feats. Trip takes about 7 hours and you ride the whole way on the roof of the train which gives you a fab view of the precipitous drops. In the process of buying tickets you have to give your passport numbers..... ooops, Ali hasn´t got one anymore! Just a tadge of panic ensued as we searched physically and mentally as to where it could be. Finally decided it was probably back in Baños. Next it was Spanish practice time.. over the phone. We judged that the guest house was saying that it "might" be there and decided to attempt to make it there n back, hopefully before our train left at 6am the next day. Ended happily. Train journey was well worth it with spectacular scenery and gorgeous villages en-route. Weather varied from double fleeces n hats to shirt sleeves n sun cream due to the decent. Straight off the train and onto a bus for the short hop (4 hours) to Cuenca. Now this really is a stunning city with colonial architecture galore. Whilst
there it was mother´s day. We quite justifyably thought it was actually valentines given the abundance of heart-shaped pressies - must love their mums! Wanted to stay longer really, but the call of some total chilling drove us on to Vilcabamba. Quick note on buses: so easy to get, not at all like various places in Asia, plus they´re soooo new and comfortable (guess you´ve noticed the difference in India huh Mark n Mel). Each journey seems to be accompanied by some senor/senora who rides for 20 mins or so and takes the opportunity to flog sommit to the captive audience. Thus far we´ve had sweets (supposedly for charity), some aloe vera potion (that cures all ills) and even a geezer who exposed his scarred belly and - we guess - was wanting some donations for another op..
Now in Vilcabamba - what a place. This is at much lower altitude and it´s hot, sunny and tropical man. Current guest house is enshrined in greenery, has pool, sauna, jacuzzi, video and pool rooms, includes brekki and all for the princely sum of 8 squids (for us both!). Being low season still, it´s almost empty which is spot on as
there´s no one to complain about our choice in music whilst we laze around the pool downing our newly purchased rum. Been hitting a brill local bar run by a most interesting stetson-tooting guy with an enormous handlebar moustache, real groucho type who cooks amazing trout and serves lethal snake liquor (snakes are steeped in sugar cane spirit). Had a rather heavy sesh there last night with some new chums (bizarrely from our neck of the woods back in Scotland), but staggering return didn´t adversely affect the healing-nicely knee or our jaunt down to the river today for that most favourite of travelling chores - hand washing. Ha, can now tackle even the mightiest of kerbs with confidence... will soon be back in action for jungle trips n the like. May be moving onto a rather more rustic abode out in the sticks in a couple of days from where we can do some trekking. However, prizing Ali out of the jacuzzi is proving problematic!
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