From the Devil's Nose to a Presidential Palace

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South America » Ecuador
December 15th 2015
Published: December 25th 2017
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Mancora to Quito 5th - 15th December 2015

After another night bus we reached Mancora on the northern coast of Peru not far from the border with Ecuador, and checked in to our room in Kimba's Bungalows at 6am. We had had 2 months of exciting and at times diffficult travel and as much as we had enjoyed it we both felt the need for some rest and relaxation. This is exactly what we found in Mancora, a small dusty seaside town with a main road of shops and restaurants running parallel to the sea about half a kilometre long and one street of shops about 300 metres linking the main road to the beach.

Most days we pottered by the pool, wandered through the village and lazed on loungers by the sea. There was no fight to bag the best spot here, everyone had a frontline position and there were only about 10 umbrellas and seats at our end, with a few more at the centre of the beach. We worked hard watching people surfing, riding horses, kite-surfing, jet ski-ing and swimming. Of course, we also had to keep an eye on the regular fly past of birds, terns, frigates, pelicans and boobys. There was never a minute without something to watch.

Especially enthralling was watching one young female kite-surfer instructor teach another young woman. She was the only learner we saw. The first session involved learning the ropes from a sitting and standing position on the beach. Of course they are more technical than rope and we have been told they can cut right through to the bone of your arm if you make a mistake. This beach instruction is to ensure the learner can control the kite canopy in the wind before going into the sea. Then some time later they ventured into the water, the instructor attached to the kite but without a board to stand on and the learner hanging on to the back of the instructor, I presume attached in some way. It looked horrific as the learner was constantly lifted up and then dropped back violently and dunked under the sea. I wondered if it was some form of initiation test. But they moved at an amazing speed across the surface, covering 2 or 3 miles in a matter of minutes. We lost site of them as they went across the bay and assumed they landed at a distant beach and walked back. The next day they reversed roles and the learner was attached to the canopy. Again they soon disappeared from sight. I wanted to extend our stay to see the next stages of using the board but we had to move on.

The beach is very relaxed which is great but it was also a concern to me. Although the number of people was relatively small, perhaps 4 or 5 kite-surfers, 10 -15 board surfers, 2 or 3 jet skiers and 10 - 20 swimmers depending upon the sea state, they were all in the same area criss-crossing each other. It seems impossible that that can continue daily without inevitable accidents. The kite-surfers travel at high speeds as do the jet skiers and those in particular have poor visibility because of the spray they throw up. On most beaches the different activities are allocated their own area so as not to injure each other. The police presence on the beach consisted of a man and a woman in remnants of police uniform. The man must have been in his seventies and the woman in her fifties and sporting an attractive straw hat with
From windowFrom windowFrom window

We have just climbed up the line to the left and are now reversing along the next level.
very wide brim, the crown of which was surrounded by ribbons and roses. Unfortunately I never had my camera to hand when they passed by!

Our week passed far too quickly and we set off by day bus to cross the border into Ecuador and overnight in Guayaquil. The journey was comfortable and the scenery still mainly desert. At the border everyone disembarqued and went into the Border Control building. There were two huge queues, one to exit Peru and the other to enter Ecuador. They both moved at snail-like pace with only one person on each counter for most of the time. The idea is that you queue to get your exit stamp then go to the back of the other queue to obtain an entry stamp. Good in theory but we soon realised that the people off the buses, who were mainly foreigners, followed this system but Peruvians and Ecuadorians didn't. They obtained their exit stamp and then pushed directly to the front of the second line so this line moved backwards in effect! Anyway everyone stayed patient even if they didn't like it and put up with the queue jumping which the staff of both countries seemed to support. Two and a half hours later we were all through and back on the bus.

The next day we travelled on to Cuenca but I should have mentioned that before leaving Mancora Jim hurt his back. He moved my sun lounger into the shade with me on it! I did offer to get up but he said it was fine. It wasn't and he has suffered for the last 10 days - it is easing now.

When the bus arrived in Cuenca his back seized up and he could hardly climb down. I had to haul all the luggage and the 2 shoulder bags. We made it to the taxi rank where a couple of men were waiting separately for taxis. We queued behind them. A taxi arrived every 5 or 6 minutes so it took some time. Once the men had left we were alone in the queue and a taxi came along the station road. At the same time 5 or 6 groups of people came out from the buses but instead of queueing they spread out along the road and made a dash for the taxi. One group eventually obtained possession and off it went. This was not going to plan. We soon realised (that as at the border) queueing is not the norm. We waited while 6 or 7 more taxis slowly trundled in and each time there was the same free for all which we could not enter into as Jim could hardly move, never mind run, and I could not move all the luggage at once and it is too dangerous to leave it unattended.

I decided if I didn't do something drastic we would still be standing there at midnight. So I picked up both shoulder bags and moved out into the road so I could see the next taxi approach before it turned the corner and before anyone else could see it. When it appeared I sprinted up the middle of the road flagging it down but making sure it had to stop as I was in front of it. As soon as it slowed I raced to the rear passenger door, threw in the 2 bags and then myself head first after them and told the driver to carry on up the road. I tried not to look triumphal as we passed the other people still trying to flag the taxi down
I am as taller or taller than indigenous people.I am as taller or taller than indigenous people.I am as taller or taller than indigenous people.

I love being the same height as everyone else.
and get him to stop but I did feel the need to apologise to the driver for my unlady like entrance. He seemed to accept it as normal. We reached Jim who had an expression combining horror, relief and pain! Given an option he might have disowned me but he knew he wouldn't reach the hotel alone. So we loaded up and set off to our hotel. The behaviour is quite a surprise as in Central America we found people very polite, patient and helpful. Here, although people are generally friendly, they are certainly not patient, on foot or driving, and they seem to have an aversion to queueing.

When we visited the Galapagos 7 years go, we did not have time to visit Cuenca and the train called the Devil's Nose so I was keen to include them this time. Cuenca is a pleasant town with the usual plazas but I found it a little disappointing as we have seen more beautiful Colonial centres before and since. However we were not at our best as Jim was still hobbling and we both had colds so perhaps we are not being fair to Cuenca. I did love the Plaza de los Flores, full of flower stalls as you might expect including the superb long stemmed roses and gladioli which form part of a huge export market for Ecuador. One of the things I disliked about Cuenca was the amount of graffiti on the buildings, nothing creative or entertaining, just scrawl. Bolivia and Peru are tough on graffiti scribblers but Ecuador is trying to reduce it by encouraging real 'street art' instead. However, we were told that when there are demonstrations (very regular occurrences) many people use the cover of crowds to write graffiti.

The train on the other hand did not disappoint. It was built as part of the line joining Quito to the country's Pacific port of Guayaquil, very important for the development of Ecuador. Unfortunately part of the line needed to cross the steep slope of the Devil's Nose between Sibambe and Alausi where the land falls just under 2,000 feet in about 6 miles. Engineers decided to use a double switchback system to cope with this terrain and the work was carried out by approximately 5,000 people from the West Indies (thought to be more resistant to disease), 500 Ecuadorean prisoners who were promised their liberty if they
Early photograph of Indigeneous leaderEarly photograph of Indigeneous leaderEarly photograph of Indigeneous leader

Feather through nose and similar headress to the one shown later.
survived and some Indigenous people. As the local people had to keep up the cultivation of the land and the landowners were not happy about releasing them their contribution was limited. I think we were told that about 50% of the workers died during the construction which was carried out with only hand tools and dynamite. It was finally opened in 1902.

Now this part of the line is also a tourist attraction as it is an amazing achievement. The train starts from Alausi and drops down to Sibambe station near Nizag village. Although the drop is dramatic I did not feel as though it was dropping steeply (or climbing on the way back) but I was a little irritated with the man standing between the carriages as he kept getting in my photos. Then the guide explained that he was the 'brake man' and one was needed on each carriage. After that it was reassuring to see him keep on popping up in my viewfinder! What did confuse me were the signals he kept making to the driver and other brake men, as if he was signalling to overtake or pull into the left. Now that did not make sense to me. Jim thought he was ensuring we did not stop on bridges but I am not sure.

At Sibambe there is an artisan centre with dancing provided by people from the village and on the hillside above is a cafe and interpretation centre. It was informative as well as providing refreshments and music which triggered a spontaneous outbreak of dancing. It is entertaining to see how uninhibited Latin Americans are compared to the British.

We then moved on to Quito. We stayed here on our last visit in between trips to the Galapagos, Otovalo and the Buenavista Cloud Forest but because we were always passing through we did not walk around the town itself very much and from memory I was not that impressed. That view has been totally overturned after spending a few days here. The Colonial Centre is full of churches, (including a cathedral and Basilica) and impressive buildings as well as museums. The main Plaza also holds municipal offices and the Presidential Plaza.

Our hotel (Casa Carpedm) organises a free guided walk around the centre and this happened to coincide with the changing of the guard which takes place every Monday at 11am. At the same time the President, government ministers and invited guests stand on the balcony overlooking the Plaza while the flag is raised and the National Anthem played. It was fascinating to watch and contrast the changing of the guard with what happens at home. It is only changed once a week as one group, I don't know the military term, goes off duty and another comes on. Lots of local people were in the Plaza watching the President during his weekly appearance. In theory it is possible to go and ask for a tour of the Presidential Palace so we might try that tomorrow and see if it works.

Tomorrow night we are travelling to Bogota in Colombia, not by overnight bus but by plane - hooray!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! - arriving at 2am but we have accommodation booked so can go straight to bed. We are meeting up with Tommy, the amazing guide we had on the Gibb River Road trip in Australia and who is now a partner in a travel group in Bogota which is trying to change the negative image of Colombia that so many people have following the serious crime and drug trafficking problems there. Hopefully we will do a trip with Bogota and Beyond and spend some time with Tommy, when perhaps he can give advice and information about other places to visit in Colombia. We still have no idea how we will reach Belize for our flight home or where we will visit en route. I think I cause Jim to have regular panics as one day I suggest we visit Cuba, then a couple of days later it might be Baja California but last night I suggested returning to Ecuador and travelling to the Galapagos Islands independently. He is very patient really.

Additional photos below
Photos: 63, Displayed: 31


Another head - interesting light effect?Another head - interesting light effect?
Another head - interesting light effect?

The light or mist moving upwards was not visible to the eye. Again mouth sewn together.
Shrunken Head - mouth lower left sewn closedShrunken Head - mouth lower left sewn closed
Shrunken Head - mouth lower left sewn closed

Sorry about quality, no lighting allowed to prevent deteoration. Mouths were sewn to prevent spirit escaping. Only respected enemies had their heads shrunken, no weaklings, women or children!
Masks - important for ritual and celebrationMasks - important for ritual and celebration
Masks - important for ritual and celebration

Shamans used masks to obtain power from the spirit of the animal eg Jaguar and people use masks during fiestas to enable them to behave in a different way from normal!
5,000 BC to 500 AD Gratersa5,000 BC to 500 AD Gratersa
5,000 BC to 500 AD Gratersa

Attractive and functional probably for descaling fish
Early textile designsEarly textile designs
Early textile designs

Similar in design to Nasca lines

15th December 2015

Brilliant idea

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