The morning in Quilitoa dawned magnificently, and with several phone calls to change a private transfer and decision made to tackle the public bus service. As the road is is terrible shape, schedules mean nothing and so the 9am bus arrived at 9.45am with the rush of potato sacks, feathered-hatted women and 3 gringos who happened to be from Auckland, NZ! As chance had it, we mused about Ecuador and costs whilst a local sussed us out or maybe our packs out before moving on disinterested that we had not given him change no doubt.
And what a trip it was. Sprayed with water projectile though window from roadside vagrant kids. And was bumpy as hell up to Quilitoa with my large and small packs wedged beneath my knees up against my belly, to top it off when I said farewell (only for half a day it turned out) to the kiwis I had the grace of using the bush toilet in full view of the bus. Shame we will not see each-other again and relive the humiliation of no toilets in sight. I noticed a fellow passenger with welling tears in her eyes – maybe at 4 hrs she
too was holding on dearly! 4 hours onwards and the bus driver negotiated curves and pot holes and new sealed road to Latacunga, arriving with intentions of getting a direct bus on the Pan Americana.
Not to be, and a 5 minute walk became a 20 minute uphill (everything is uphill at 2500m) walk to Plaza san Felipe until a helpful person actually told me accurately there are indeed no direct ones from Latacunga and so I connected with bus number 2 or 3 that day, transiting via Ambato and eventually making my way to the small 12,000 or so populated valley of Banos. It got confusing, especially when I needed the Banos after 4 hours by bus let alone actually arriving there and being accosted many times for where I was headed. My final destination was indeed Banos and the banos.
The hostel I found on tripadvisor was every bit as they say and for 8USD a night a steal. Apart from the market though being 50m away, the supermarket being 4 blocks walk away (5mins) and the scenery being beautiful, I wondered why i came here on so many recommendations. The town is a trap, over-touristed,
and the baths that everyone comes to bathe are a concrete box packed sardine style and smelling of urine in the changing sheds. Aside from hiking to the Virgin Mary Mirador twice, I mixed with crowds for a token 20 minutes, ran into a Cotopaxi travelers I had met 4 days before and reluctantly ticked the ‘spa’ box for Banos. A highlight was in fact stocking up on cheap snacks for the next few days, using a kitchen to cook a real meal, chatting with the owner in his excellently slowly spoken Espanol, and a cheap affordable night in a comfy bed for a very weary head. Small pleasures.
Returning to Quito for what turned out an ueconomical but very convenient private transfer, I flew to Cuenca in 40 minutes on TAME, great service, efficient and by 3 pm was settled into a cheap hostel in the central town for 12USD/ night. This place seemed a family home extended to accommodate borders like me, and so all space was shared with us including the kids doing their homework and cries of them being hungry at dinnertime. I got to see the central plaza de los flores, several ornate churches
and fantastic architecture, sprain my ankle outside the tourist office, hobble home for some ice scabbed from a lady cleaning out her freezer on the street (as supermarket did not sell, nor frozen peas…time for innovation…) and have a fabulous dinner of local fish, greens and this maize thing I am trying to get used to like mashed spud. First was quinoa, what next…guinea pig? Oh, and I wasted 1 hour trying to locate and talk with airline office of LAN, to tell me they had no record of my flight the next day, and with several rushed emails a new plan was confirmed that made sleeping in the dark, damp but cheap quarters better. Where’s that tour guide when you need.
So day 2 in Cuenca involved a mountain bike trip, self guided for a few hours and taking in the rural areas of the south and Yanucuy with some rough roads, fields of corn, roads under construction to urbanise the area, and to see rolling hills of green. Outside this oasis of calm are the kamikaze drivers of el centro – aggression rules and it has to work both ways for ‘survival of the fittest’. Darwin did
visit here evidently! Getting back in time having dipped in to Mercado central for some supplies, a quick lunch and I was off to the airport for the start of my 24 hour transit to Sao Paulo, Brasil.
Fatigue is an understatement when it comes to these 4 connection hauls, and when I got to Sao Paulo to find out the next bus was 4 hours more away and my card was rejected at the 3 ATMs I tried, I threw the towel in and had a moment or 5…as you need to, pick oneself up and brush off those red cheeks I needed to plan to afternoon despite an imminent late arrival into Ubatuba. I could have paid 400USD though for private transfer! – talk about Carnaval prices, or 400 Reals for a one way car rental for one day for the same route!! Budget to keep to of course.
A battle in Portugese and not Espanol with given 1st day frustrations, I did manage to get a luggage storage locker at Tiete bus station with help of a lovely Portugese luggage person and kind lady at the storage facility with much charades. Never was 8 brazilian reals so welcome and even if overcharged at one hour sometimes you have to lump it. But I refused to pay 9NZD equivalent for a cup of tea!
The excitement did not end there. The bus was delayed, we hit accidents and floods, and finally getting to Lazaro 17km out from Ubatuba township I arrived to torrential rain, darkness, and needed to wade through up to 1ft of water and mud on main street to reach a pousada that was not open. That was after I threw the towel in for 2nd time at a dead end street that google maps (recommended by pousada) staff was inaccurate on........and then roused help at a house who spoke no English except for 'are you single...do you have husband'....I guess meaning am I up for a Brazilian matchmake in pouring rain at 10pm at night with wet clothes and backpack....but NO, it meant a ride on back of policemans motorcyce which ended at pousada that was no responding to hard knocks on their door....and so I resorted to wandering along the street to where I sighted noise and another pousada and ended up getting a room, meeting some nice Argentinean people on holiday here and a great host who spoke some English and gave me hot water to gargle my razor-blade-like throat with.
Then I discovered 'praia' heaven at Lazaro beach after sleeping until midday the next day - this never happens (sleeping until midday!) - and had the best 2 days wandering the main town of Ubatuba, and getting to know my host and her grandkid, even if it drizzled and rained for both of them.
Plus got a ticket to Rio and communicated in it with my 2nd-day-Portugese.
A process I am sure.
Oh can Carnaval get any more exciting than this? May it not rain on my parade, ha ha...
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