Ecuador

Vilcabamba, Ecuador – 20th to 21st December 2012

So in an effort to catch up with this, we’re going country on you! Yep, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil will be done as one(!!) post each (although the Christmas update has helped reduce the size of the task for Ecuador and Sarah had written Vilcabamba, ready for when we got to that part of the blog) but bearing in mind how much I can write, this tactic might not actually save any time.

Sarah: I’m sitting in our hostel overlooking the stunning area that surrounds the town of Vilcabamba. The town is famed for being home to lots of exceptionally old people. There is supposedly something in the water as well as the region’s produce leading to a low fat, high fiber diet. There are billboards of old people in town in the main square- although none of them look that happy…hmm (lack of chocolate I think).

This place is the perfect antidote to the roller-coaster of the 3 bus journeys it took to get here from Peru. The first bus was late, 2.5 hrs to our first change which we missed and were shoved on another bus where the conductor said we didn’t have a valid ticket but luckily he couldn’t be bothered to fight it out. At the Ecuador border crossing we went for a little supermarket sweep challenge to see how many stamps we could get in our passports in 5 minutes, 2 from the Peruvian side, before running back to the bus, going over the bridge and then some more on the Ecuadorian side, with the bus conductor shouting at us to hurry up the whole time. We were the only gringos on the bus so were holding everyone up- for some reason everyone else on the bus seemed to have dual nationality as no-one else went through passport control. The final bus journey started with just 3 of us, on the 1.5hr bus journey from Loja to Vilcabamaba, and ended up being a full house as we picked up people on the side of the road. We made it to the hostel in good time and had to wait for reception to open, but it was just so nice to be at our lovely hostel taking in the view of the lush green tropical looking valley.

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The next stressful bit was money, we had enough cash for a day, but the only cash machine we found didn’t seem to recognise our cards and the hostel didn’t accept cards which is common. Slightly worried, we did manage to find another cash machine but we were told it often runs out of cash as it’s not filled up that often- thankfully we were able to get enough cash to get us to our next destination in a few days time, phew!

At our hostel 2km up the hill from Vilcabamba we stayed in a dorm which meant we got to meet some lovely people, Katie who had stories about the craziest people, Robyn who told us where to stay in Quito and Banos (our next stops), Jeremy who was more of a film and TV fan than us and on the last night a brother and sister who were here to take the Sacred medicine made from the San Pedro cactus under the guidance of a Shaman, much like the lady in this blog:

http://thetravelcreatives.com/my-sacred-medicine-journey-with-san-pedro-cactus-part-1/

We weren’t really into hallucinogenics or the fasting required before it so instead we enjoyed the full body massages and I got my second manicure of the trip. The hostel was brilliant for relaxing and it’s advertised all over south america.

http://www.izhcayluma.com/

There are lots of different trails to walk in the area so we wandered along the dirt roads and tiny muddy paths up the valley for a great view over Vilcabamba.

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We also wandered into town and found the town unlike any other that we’ve been to. It was like a gringo retirment village. Life was centred on the main square where juice bars, craft stores and cafes line the circumference. American English is heard more than Spanish and conversations are mostly about new age beliefs or properties in the area. We had our food, got talking to a couple of friendly gringos in a juice bar one of whom believed water could stop a nuclear bomb, so we quickly retreated up the hill to the comforts of our hammocks and new dorm friends.

It was a shame to have to leave so soon after arriving but Christmas was fast on our heels and we wanted to keep moving up through Ecuador in order to give ourselves enough time in Colombia, which everyone we’d spoken to had raved about!

Cuenca, Ecuador – 22nd December 2012

Chris: Next stop, Cuenca. Apparently a very beautiful little city, but we were really only stopping off to break up the journey from Vilcabamba to Baños. One of our roomies from Vilca, Jeremy, was also making the journey and he had noticed in our guide book that Tiesto’s the second best restaurant in the whole of South America (According to tripadvisor) was in Cuenca!! So after arriving at the bus station and being refused by several taxis a lift to the centre (apparently the traffic would be too bad!!) we walked the 15 minutes (meeting a politician on the way) and checked into our hostel. We wasted no time in getting them to ring Tiesto’s and make a reservation for us. We then wandered around the town centre for a short while before making our way to the restaurant. We were treated to some great food. Upon arrival we were given bread with about 8 different options of things to eat with it. We then shared a big plate of mixed meats (with cheese) which came with five different accompaniments and was delicious and we followed that up with a chocolate dessert. After that we walked along the main street and went for a couple of drinks in a couple of other bars before heading back to bed. Sarah and I had an early start the next day, continuing our journey to Baños.

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Baños, Ecuador – 23rd to 27th December 2012

See the live, Christmas update blog from before for details.

https://chrisandsarahrunaway.wordpress.com/2012/12/27/live-update-christmas-in-the-bath-banos-ecuador/

The brief version though is that Baños was ACE!

Looking cool!

Quito, Ecuador – 28th December 2012 to 1st January 2013!

Upon arrival we checked in and then headed straight out for a wander to see what we could find in the Oldtown part of Quito, Ecuador’s capital (and the highest altitude de facto capital city in the world – Bolivia need to make up their minds!) We saw a well decorated church and the cathedral which had a plaza out front that had an interesting photography exhibit of Ecuadoreans too. We ate at a rooftop restaurant which afforded us a great view of the city and the moon rising when it was dark. Unfortunately it got rather chilly up there too, so we headed home.

You (apparently) can’t come to Ecuador and not go to Otavalo market on a Saturday and so that is what we did. For this we signed up to the travel agent that was attached to our hostel. We were collected early and taken first to the animal market. This was an experience. We had not previously encountered any form of animal market before on our trip and so the bags of guinea pigs and chickens were a surprise. The cages of chicks were cute and I found the use of the cattle prod on a rather gaunt cow rather sad. There was a lot of hustle bustle and smell and luckily we managed to leave without buying any animals.

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Next stop was the craft market which was huge. The stalls took up many streets of the town centre and again there was a lot of hustle-bustle but thankfully less smell! This market was not really my thing. The stalls were selling goods similar to those that we had seen continuously throughout Bolivia and Peru and many of the stalls sold the same thing, so the market could have been condensed to about a dozen or less stalls and taken up less space. Sarah however was enjoying buying a few goods and seemed to like the market more than I did. We then experienced one of the downsides of taking organised tours to places – one of the ladies got lost and was about 45 minutes late coming back to the van. All the while everyone else was patiently waiting in or around the van in the sweltering heat wondering where she was and become increasingly anxious to be moving on. Next stop was a small town nearby that has dedicated itself to leather! Coats, boots, bags, shoes, purses, belts, trousers, you name it, they made it (out of leather). I don’t quite understand how quite so many shops selling leather goods in such a small town sustain themselves in the long term because no one from our van bought anything. I can only surmise that a lot of van loads of tourists must pass through in a year and not all must be as stingy (or without need of leather products) as ours. Final stop was the Peguche waterfall, which was lovely. A very tiring day but we saw a lot and ticked off another “must see”.

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One of the highlights of Quito was a day trip that we took to the Equator (or Ciudad Mitad del Mundo as they called it). We took a couple of buses to get there (it felt good to use public transport and it was cheap!) The first thing to visit was the Mitad del Mundo complex that they have built. We enjoyed a spot of star gazing in their planetarium and then admired the giant monument that they had built to celebrate where the Equator lie and took the obligatory straddling the line photo’s. Sadly, whoever worked out where the line should be got it wrong and according to GPS measurements it lies 240 metres to the North. So we went to try to find the Intiñan museum up the road where the Equator really is. Thankfully a local helped us to find it and we were not disappointed. This site was much more hands on with activities like balancing an egg on a pin, water going down plugholes in differing ways, walking along the Equator and others to try. We had a lot of fun here. I was a natural at egg balancing, but not so good at walking in a straight line. The guided tour that is compulsory was entertaining and not too long and the demonstrations provided a bit more of a scientific feel to the place – right up our street! If you ever go to the Equator, be sure to visit this place!

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A restaurant in Quito that simply must get a mention is Chandani Tandoori. As the name suggests it is indeed an Indian restaurant, but this was a South American Indian restaurant with a difference – it was actually good! The staff were friendly, the food was the most Brit style curry that we have had on the whole trip and it was super cheap. It was so good that we went twice, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day – yep it was open on both and gets bonus points for that in my opinion. Anyone travelling for a long period who is in need of a good curry would do well to make a stop here and savour the flavour of yummy curry!

Another of our days in Quito was spent by first taking a ride in the Teleférico up to the top of the nearby mountain range to get a view of the stretching city that is Quito. While it was impressive to see the city, the view was broken up into two parts by a large mountainous/hilly outcropping that appeared to have a communications station on it (lots of satellite dishes) and was private property and off limits. This did spoil the whole experience for us because you couldn’t see the whole city unbroken, so we went down and to the Cathedral. Here you are able to wander around and explore one of the main towers behind the clock faces and then the tower at the other end of the Cathedral. Exploring these was fun – small, windy Cathedral staircases always are and there were views of the city from the top that were good. We were even able to make out our hostel!

While we were in Quito it was New Year’s Eve, so we made some friends in the hostel and enjoyed a few celebratory drinks. It was the done thing to wear wigs and for the boys to dress as girls (and the locals that we saw drank a lot of Tequila!) but I decided not to (mainly because the wig stand near our hostel refused to lower the price at all and I wasn’t in the mood to pay full price). Sarah had her wig from Bolivia, so dusted it off. After a bit of partying at the hostel and eating in an Italian place opposite (amazing Calzone) we headed into the  centre of town to see what entertainment we could find. Sadly some of the bars had a weird policy of not allowing you to enter if there were no free tables (everyone must have a table) but eventually we managed to get into a place and sit at the bar. We had a good dance and at midnight headed out to see what would happen because that was the time that the locals would burn the papier mache models that they had been busy making throughout December (the bar we were in had a very good Chucky from Childs Play – classic!) and sure enough there were soon a couple of bonfires raging. Local tradition dictates that people jump through the flames. We weren’t convinced that this was the safest activity for people who had been drinking Tequila all afternoon, but none the less took our turn and burnt off all the bad spirits (or so I imagine). Then we all headed back inside and danced away until about 1am when the bar shut. WHAT??!! So, we wandered around for a while and found a mixture of closed or empty, lame looking bars and so headed home. The evening was enjoyable thanks to the good company that we found, but it felt rather curtailed which was to the benefit of our wallets and our heads, but not to our partying spirit. We imagined all the friends that we knew who were heading to Montañita having a lot more fun at some beach party and were happy for them, but we failed to find the party in Quito.

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On New Year’s Day most places were closed (though thankfully not Chandani Tandoori) and so we had a quiet day on the whole, probably watching a film somewhere.

That was Euador. On the 2nd Jan we took a flight to Bogota to start enjoying Colombia. Overall we had enjoyed Ecuador, but both felt that two weeks was not long enough and that we had missed out a little by not seeing the Ecuadorean coastline. Still, you have to leave something to do during your next visit…

Wishing you all well,

Chris.

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Did you say swim-up bar?- Mancora here we come!

Mancora, Peru 17th-19th December 2012 (trying to catch up!!)

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After the worst bus journey of the trip so far, it was great just to arrive somewhere to a smile from a moto-taxi driver, who took us on a 5 minute trip down the road to our new home for 2 nights, the wonderful Kokopelli Hostel- yes- with swim-up bar!

Moto-Taxis have the most interesting back windows...

Moto-Taxis have the most interesting back windows…

I’m not even sure why it was so appealing to me, but something about sitting at a table waist high in chlorinated water appealed,  so even though we never had a drink at the swim-up bar (the normal bar sufficed), I was excited to have it there as an option!

The one and only Kokopelli swim-up bar!

The one and only Kokopelli swim-up bar!

The hostel was very close to the beach, everywhere in Mancora was close to the beach, the town consisted of a main street parallel to the beach  with a grid system of roads between 1-8 blocks deep on either side of the main street, one side greeted by the beach. There was no post box or post office- it’s that small!

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Both mornings in Mancora we enjoyed our breakfast at “green eggs and Ham” restaurant on their balcony over-looking the golden sandy beach watching the surfers, body boarders, kite surfers, sun bathers and flocks of pelicans flying over.

Green eggs and ham view.

Green eggs and ham view.

The beach was the main attraction here so I treated myself to a new bikini and we wandered up and down the beach enjoying the happy, relaxed atmosphere, seeing the crabs scuttling back into their holes as we approached.

Shopping for a new bikini I didn't get this one despite the beautiful way it was modelled.

Shopping for a new bikini I didn’t get this one despite the beautiful way it was modeled.

We came across a couple of guys practicing on a slack-line tied to 2 palm trees, so we asked to have a go- as you do. It is an awful lot harder than you imagine, I blame the HUGE distance between the trees making the slack-line  more slack than normal, but I was incredibly bad at it.

chris' slack-lining days are over for now.

chris’ slack-lining days are over for now.

Our friends from Huanchaco and Lima came up on the last day we had in Mancora so we had a full day of lounging by the pool and sun bathing, finally a tan is appearing. Poolside was also where we witnessed the hostel giant Jenga record being almost beaten and gorged ourselves on delicious Chaufa (mountains of fried rice with vegetables and anything else you care to throw in)I’m in a bikini, but there’s no bikini diet in sight. We also enjoyed the bar, even if it wasn’t the swim up one as everyday there was a cocktail of the day to try, worth a mention was the Piscojito, yummy.

History being made- joint champions of giant jenga!

History being made- joint champions of giant jenga!

One alarming event happened in this paradise. We noticed a plume of smoke coming up from one of the streets between the main road and the beach and went to investigate. There were lots of people in that area, some crying, most just standing staring at the little wooden shack that had caught fire. All of the neighbours’ houses were at huge risk and 2 men were standing on a truck trying to extinguish the fire with buckets of water which didn’t seem to be getting them anywhere. It was sad to see the families from those houses crying in the street. Our guess was a cooking fire had gone out of control, but it could’ve been anything. The smoke eventually stopped in the sky, but we’re not sure how many other houses were damaged in the event. Makes you thankful for a decent fire service back home.

commotion as everyone finds out where the smoke is coming from.

commotion as everyone finds out where the smoke is coming from.

Unfortunately we had to leave the dream team behind to celebrate Christmas and continue our travels into Ecuador with just each other for company. After waiting for our bus that was an hour late, we embarked upon 3 bus journeys through the night (complete with one crazy border crossing) to get to our next stop- Vilcabamba, where people live extraordinarily long lives- they say it’s the water.

Just trying it on for size with Lucy- who wouldn't love this right?

Just trying it on for size with Lucy- who wouldn’t love this right?

Ciao for now!

Sarah

x

Surf and Turf. Huanchaco.

Huanchaco, Peru: 14th – 16th December, 2012.

We arrived in Huanchaco and checked into some lovely private rooms and promptly changed and headed for the beach!

Our hostel

It’s a tough life sometimes.

Down at the beach we had a great time relaxing and Konrad was recognised by the local schoolgirls who came over to him to ask for photo’s – so celebrity!

Being by the coast was a great opportunity to try some fresh fish so that evening for dinner we headed out to a pretty basic looking restaurant that had a BBQ outside in the street and next to it a table that had on it the days catch – yep, lots of whole, fresh fish waiting for the BBQ! One fish was huge and so five of us clubbed together to get it and when it arrived it was delicious! Everyone enjoyed their food and we were all full of praise for the restaurant.

Still needs a little more I'd say

Next day we took another walk around to admire the handy work of the local constuction men who were busy building the beach, getting huge piles of sand delivered and then using bulldozers to spread it out!! That afternoon we had a surf lesson which some of us enjoyed but I found it a little frustrating because I couldn’t stand up and got really cold despite having a wetsuit on. Konrad was unlucky enough to also step on some sort of sea urchin and get a spike in his foot which looked very painful to get removed!

We followed up our exertions with a Surfer Burger – a burger bar in town which served superb burgers and had seats outside from where we were able to watch a beautiful sunset. We were even allowed to add our comments to their graffiti wall, which was fun and felt like an honour.

Yummy Surfer Burger

Next day, Sarah and I wanted to move onto Mancora while the others had decided to stay on longer, so we needed to get ourselves a bus. The offerings in town were rather meagre and so we took a collectivo into Trujillo, where we wandered around for a couple of hours getting increasingly frustrated at being told that all the buses were full. Finally we found a company who had two seats left (and they were next to each other) so we took them, feeling a little apprehensive about the quality of the service that we might receive, but with no other option. That done we headed to the nearby ruins of Chan Chan, a city built by the Chimor people in around AD 850 which was interesting for the various designs carved into its tall, adobe walls. Upon heading back to Huanchaco we sampled more fresh fish and saw one last sunset before heading off to catch our bus.

When we got to the bus station our suspicions were worsened thanks to the complete chaos that was occurring with everyone trying to get their luggage into the bus. I think the bus was also a bit of a cut and shut because it was the longest bus that we had ever been on and you could clearly see a divide where extra seats had been added on. We spent a very uncomfortable night on that bus (noisy engine, no legroom, scared of being robbed) but thankfully arrived in Mancora, a little tired and groggy, but generally none the worse for wear and with all of our belongings! Phew!

Trying to get everything into the bus

Next installment will be Mancora.

Until then, take care and watch where you are going!

Chris.