Exchange rate to the dollar was non-existant because Ecuador uses Dollar
At the border from Colombia to Ecuador, I met another German who decided to come as well to the town of Otavalo with me.
At the frontier, something else funny happened. I tried to exchange COP into dollar (Ecuador uses dollars). The money changers at first tried to give us a Gringo exchange rate that was far removed from the actual exchange rate. After some bargaining, we concluded on a more favourable exchange rate, however then the money changer tried to rig is his calculator. Having calculated the rough amount beforehand, I immediately realised the mistake, luckily.
I then took a bus to Tulcan (0.75 dollars), which was amazingly cold as well, and then further to Otavalo. In Otavalo (we got set down at the wrong bus stop along the Panamericana and therefore had to walk quite a way into town) we found immediately a hotel for only 5 dollars per person per night (right next to the plaza central on a corner).
We arrived after 5 pm so the markets, for which Otavalo is so popular, were closing down, however we still had a quick walk around the place.
That day we only had time to have a look at the handcraft market. Right next to the handcraft market on the aptly named Plaza de Poncho (loads of Ponchos are on sale here) is a row of stalls that sell local food at a good price: usually 1 dollar a meal.
The food is somewhat a thing to get used to. They sell intestines a la plancha and cooked pig skin. I am not a fan of either of these but luckily more other local food is available including awesome meat (don’t really want to know what kind of meat is it) as well as the local tortilla (small balls of potato puree fried in a pan) which taste just awesome.
At midday, Arthur had to leave so I went with him to look around the town for a bit. Thinking that it was already Saturday (actually it was barely Thursday) we were full of anticipation for the handcraft market that Otavalo was so famous for. As we found out, it was Thursday, and the market consisted only of a few stalls selling what Arthur called trinkets. I was so cold that I had decided that I would have to buy a local Poncho if I wanted to survive here in cold Otavalo.
We then happened upon the local food and necessaries market. This was a lot more interesting. It resembled very much the Asian market that I have seen in their dozens. A lot of stalls selling everything, then a couple of stalls specialising in only certain categories (like clothes, shoes, fruits, vegetables etc...), with a food court serving all kinds of interesting food etc...
I also looked around for a Spanish school. I had decided to take a school because I still had a few unanswered questions concerning Spanish.
I have decided to set apart 200 dollars for Spanish lessons during my travels, excluding them from my budget. It is quite important when travelling on a budget to set apart some money for things that you want to achieve during the travel, things that can only be achieved at this place. In this case, I have set apart this money because here in South America is one of the only places where an hour of one on one teaching costs only 5 dollars (don’t go to school in Quito, there they cost between 6.5 and 8 dollars an hour). Furthermore, one of my targets of travelling is to learn Spanish near fluently in 6 months.
Otavalo itself is a relatively small city (50.000 inhabitants), however it is a very important city, especially for the local indigenous tribes. Otavalo serves as main market for the artisanal product for which the tribes are famous.
Otavalo has actually made the local quichua tribe one of the most wealthy (comparatively) ingidenous tribes in the whole of Ecuador. The fact that Otavalo is primarily a market and trading town can easily be seen at the arrangement of the city: the town center is not like in the majority of the cities and towns centered around the church, rather it is centered around the Plaza de Poncho where the main artisanal market is. On weekends, the whole city transforms into a single market and an incredible number of paisanos (farmers and rurally living people) all come to Otavalo for trade and passing time.
Otherwise, the city itself is rather uninteresting, just another town in South America, just like everything else. The nearby surroundings, though, are definitely worth a trip. The hiking here is interesting with a lot of local villages to visit (don’t expect dirt trail hiking though) and the nature is also interesting.
That day, I didn’t really do anything very interesting apart from wandering through the streets of Otavalo and exploring the town looking for a Spanish school. I chose one at the end, for 95 dollars for 20 hours of one-on-one teaching. Nothing much interesting else happened apart from that it was raining like hell and I just watched a movie. I have currently arrived at a stage where I have to rest for a bit, leave my brain to work out what it experienced in the last 1 month of rapid travelling, so that it can take in new stuff.
Luckily, I didn’t really feel that I missed much because it was once again raining. The only remarkable thing I still did was try some local food at the yellow tents of the Plaza de Poncho.
I had my first lesson of Spanish, which actually turned out quite good. My teacher was nice and obviously quite experienced at teaching extranjeros.
In the afternoon, I was dead tired and slept for a bit, which was awesome since there was nothing else to do because it rained once again. Afterwards I watched a movie and as soon as the rain relented for a bit, I went to have a look around the town of Otavalo. I met an American girl who I was talking to for a bit and then went shopping for shoes with her (she wanted to buy pink shoes!!!). She invited me to meet her and her brother later on for a drink or two at her hostel. I also quickly met her parents, with whom she was travelling, who were really nice as well (well typically American: loud).
At 8 I met her and her brother at her hostel and was invited to a glass of wine. Afterwards, we went in direction of the plaza de Poncho where we bought a bottle of Anisido (awesome tasting anis liquor) and shared it. Their parents weirdly wanted to get up at 5 am to visit the market, even though the market would not be present at this time, and the Americans wanted to get up with them so had to go to bed pretty early.
I walked back with them to their hotel and afterwards, while walking home, I spotted a sign which advertised that this bar sold Hervido. Not knowing what it was I went in to ask if I could try it. It turned out to be a hot drink, tasting very strongly and not necessarily very well. It cost only 25 cents. In order to drink my glass of hervidos, I sat down with a couple of locals and started chatting to them. I bought them another half a litre of that stuff (1 dollar) and ended up drinking more of that stuff than was good for me. After a short while, two of the 4 guys at my table started to fall asleep. That was when I realised how bloody strong that stuff was (round about 50-60%). I was swaying from side to side and staggered away ...
I really felt it this morning that I had drunk hervidos. This stuff gives one hell of a hangover! I asked my Professor the next day and he confirmed to me that this stuff is awesome at giving a hangover. As far as I have understood, they use pure alcohocol (produced by cracking oil molecules in a chemical) and dilute it with hot maracuya pulp/juice, add a few other different (and incredibly cheap) alcohols and out comes a very potent mixture that (only as a mixture) gives one hell of a hangover...
Anyway, this day was market day. The whole Plaza de Poncho was full of stands selling different kinds of artisanal stuff and the streets abutting it had transformed into fruit markets, everyday-stuff markets, clothing markets etc... The whole city had turned into a single market! It was really quite interesting to see why Otavalo exists: as a market town. I just wandered the whole day through it!
In the afternoon, it started raining again and I just watched a movie.
I woke up refreshed and decided to go to the nearby Laguna de Cuicocha. I had to take a bus towards Quiroga (25 cents, 15 minutes) on which I met two English sisters travelling to the Laguna as well (one wouldn’t be able to tell that they are sisters).
Obviously we travelled together. From Quiroga, we took a taxi (4 dollars) to the Laguna de Cuicocha. We arranged with the taxi to pick us up at 3.30 again, which gave us 5 and half hours for walking around the laguna. Turned out that we needed more...
The laguna de cuicocha is a volcanic lake that sports in its blue waters two islands that rise up and look like a guinea pig with their two hills. Best thing to have an idea what I experienced is to have a look at the pictures that I took.
We were lucky that day. Just as we embarked on our travels, the sun came out (the two quite pale English girls were lucky that I had sunscreen with me). That was the first time I had seen blue skies in about a week! Soon after we embarked on the scenic journey around the rim of the crater lake, we saw one of those small planes/big birds called Andean Condor. It was absolutely huge, a fact we could easily appreciate since it took off about 50 m from us. It was a small plane!
It then circled above us for 10 minutes before it flew off into the everpresent clouds (actually the part of the sky that was blue was only a fraction of the sky visible. The rest consisted of clouds). We walked on around the scenic walk which led us through dry vegetation intermixed weirdly enough with very wet cloud forest. The best description of what I saw cannot outdo the photos that I shot.
After about 2 and half hours we arrived at what we thought was half of the walk where we had lunch. After trying to throw some stones into the far below us lake (remember we were walking on the ridge), we continued our walk to a little bit of rain.
Luckily I had my umbrella with me and the girls had a sort of plastic cover/bin bag that we used against the rain. At first I was really happy at the effectiveness of my umbrella, though, after 15 minutes, the rain intensified to a thunderstorm. Awesome to have a thunderstorm at 3000 m altitude!!!
We were absolutely freezing because our legs and feet got absolutely soaked and my shitty little umbrella started to give up (actually the rain was so strong that it started to punch holes through my umbrella). To top it up, it started hailing….
In short, it was an awful weather. At first we avoided stepping into the puddles, however after some time, even that didn’t matter because we were so soaked. We really didn’t have a single dry strand of cloths on me (actually as I found out, my coat that my dad gave me is watertight (apart from the massive aeration holes) and therefore my upper torso remained dry, thanks Dad).
On top of it, the whole path was bare earth and we were wading through mud and small rivers that were running down the path. It was horrible, but still an experience which one can talk about afterwards. After 2 hours of walking in the rain and absolutely freezing our bum off, we made it back to the departure point. Luckily our taxi was still waiting there for us, even though we were late. We took the taxi straight back to Otavalo where I had a long and hot shower.
I met the girls later on and we went, after dinner back to their hostel and played (in the company of yet another Anesido (liquor)) some card games.
I had classes in the morning. In the evening, it rained once again and, not wanting to make anymore clothes wet,I just stayed in my hotel and updated my blog, sorted through some photos and read. My clothes were still wet from the previous day, and because I am travelling very light, I had to walk around in t-shirt and flip flops at 10 degrees.
Classes again in the morning. In the afternoon, because we had sun, I went to visit the Cascada de Peguche. However the weather, again, rapidly turned bad. The sun was out when I left the school, however once I had eaten and washed my clothes, it was overcast once again and started to rain. I stayed for another hour in my hotel but then got ants in pants and I still set out by foot towards the cascada de Peguche. It took about half an hour on foot.
The path led through some smaller villages on the outskirts of Otavalo.
I could have continued on to a round-about path towards the Laguna de San Pablo, however considering that it was about to rain and already relatively late (about 4 o’clock), I just went into the Cascada (entrance is free). The waterfall is surrounded by a beautiful park, including (as I was to find out 3 days later) a couple of pools, as well as a beautiful forest surrounding the waterfall. The forests consists of really tall trees that I had not encountered yet. I have no idea what kind they are but they were absolutely beautiful. One could even camp near the waterfall in the middle of the forest. It would have been an absolute gem, had the weather been good and sun shining. As it was, all I managed to do take a couple of photos and try to walk to the Viewpoint that apparently gives an awesome view of the whole valley.
I never arrived there….
It started raining as if someone had opened the skies. I was drenched pretty much at once (had forgotten my umbella). Even worse was that the mudpath to the viewpoint led really quite steeply up a mountain and once it starts to rain, water runs down this path, turning it into a slippery slide.
I just made it back without tumbling down the cliff that ran right next to the path, though I had an unvolutary mudbath when I slid, and disgruntled, and drenched once again to the bones, I took a bus back to Otavalo (25 cents).
Classes in the morning (while it was sunny- luckily my stuff dried that day) and then it was raining once
again. I spent the afternoon writing up my diary, sorting out some photos. Later on, I still went to the dentist in order to see if I had any caries. Turns out that I have seven, and that the dentist would fill the cavity for 70 dollars. I think I will do that (in the end, I didn’t and was really glad… the guy just wanted to make money out of me and I had only 2 very small cavities…).
Clear skies in the morning while I was studying my last few hours in the school. Shortly afterwards, the weather turned bad once again and I had to go in the rain to the bus station to catch a bus to Quito (2 dollars and 2 hours). Once arrived, I took a bus from the brand new terminal del norte to the Station “Y” and from there an Ecovia to the party center of Quito (In Quito, three different lines of dedicated buslanes exist, very similar to the Transmilenio of Bogota: Ecovia, Trole and Metrobus.)
Loads of hotels, hostels and hostal (the American version with dormitories and the Ecuadorian version that is just a smaller Hotel) are in the party center.
I had been for quite some time living in a hotel alone and only, or majorily, speaking Spanish, so I wanted to go for a hostel with loads of extranjerros. I chose the cheapest one from the Lonely Planet, the “El centro del Mundo (5,80 dollars), which was quite alright.
Some of the people in my hotel had heard of a concert that Ozzy Osbourne was giving that night and wanted to go to it. It cost 35 dollars, and even though it did seem cheap compared to American or European concerts by Ozzy, it was far too much for my budget and I decided to have fun otherwise. I also met there that first night two English guys who had just taken a day off from the volunteering at a local organisation. Instead of paying 35 dollars for a concert, I went out to party with them and met two Australian girls. Unfortunately, the one I was dancing with had drunken too much and was throwing up in the toilet (she was really beautiful before throwing up…).
I woke up relatively early in the morning to my first morning in complete, glorious sunshine. After having woken up one of the guys who was sleeping in the same room as me (big redheaded Canadian named Eddie), we went to the Teleferiqo, a sky tram that goes up to a viewpoint at 4100 m. After taking a local bus (25 cents, called Transalfa) from the nearby Avenida Colon, and then taking the further free bus to the Teleferiqo, we went up on the mountain with the Skytram. It was incredibly expensive: 8,5 dollars for a ride.
Here I met another American couple, Mark and Jen, who had the same target as us: to go higher than anyone can in Europe, to the nearby peak Gungu Pichincha at 4700 m.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the peak of the Teleferiqo, it was all clouded over. No matter, we still pushed on.
The scramble up to the top showed how much the lack of oxygen actually slows down. The air was so thin that one could only walk for a short while before needing to rest. For Eddie, the height sickness was so bad that he gave up after 45 minutes already completely out of breath.
Mark, Jen and me pushed onwards. The climb started out pretty good, a path was visible all the way. However, once we reached around 4300 meters, the path started to become slightly less marked until, after walking for two and half hours , it was nearly non-existant. The only way that we knew we were on the right path were the markers that we were coming across every half an hour or so.
After three and a bit hours, we arrived at what we saw from afar was the top of the mountain (well, afar under the prevailing visibility conditions means only 20 meters, the maximum one could see).
By that point, it was snowing (yeah I saw my first snow while being at the equator!) and freezing cold. Luckily, it was not too far under zero, otherwise the water on the ground and on the rocks (it has been raining for an hour beforehand) would have frozen, making our descent dangerous.
The last bit up looked to be an incredible scramble so, out of concern for my safety I refused to go further. Mark, however, went on to scramble up. After seeing that he had done it quite simply apart from at one point, I decided to go as well.
At one point, the going was really dangerous (although less dangerous than stuff that I have done on this trip). I was suspended, unsecured, on toe tips and fingertips above a 3 meter deep precipice, slowly making my way up, with the floor below at a 45 degree angle.
I grabbed from handhold to handhold until, after at one point slipping a little with my feet and literally only holding on by only one hand and two fingers (while my feet were flailing underneath for some grip) I scrambled around like mad, knowing that a fall could plunge me onto the slope where I could not have stopped myself from rolling…
I found the necessary handhold and pulled myself up. Although the last few meters were still a scramble, they were a lot easier than the past. When we finally arrived at the top, the joy was palpable. I had climbed up higher than anyone could in Europe!! The vista from up there was awesome... but solely in its blandness. All we could see was white, being in too thick a fog to see more than 20 meters.
After taking a couple of photos, we went back down. The scramble down was easy compared to going up. We made it back in a record 1.5 hours after having gone up for 3.5.
After a nice shower and something to eat, I started chilling out and readying myself for the party that was following (it was Friday, the biggest night out in Quito). We went to the same nightclub as the day before. That night I spent dancing pretty much exclusively with a local Quito girl (Karla, 28 years old) who was amazingly cute.
She played couch surfing host for the moment to a Colombian guy (Santiago). After spending a lot of time dancing with that girl, we, that is Karla, Santiago, a Canadian brother and sister couple (Mike and Karen) and me left the club, walked a bit through the city in search of something to do and then decided to meet up the next day at 10 to go for the market to Otavalo (where I had been already but which I decided to go again because I had nothing planned anyway). Karla still drove me home (she hadn’t drunk), and then she and Santiago left (who was her couch surfing guest). That first kiss when I left the car was amazing
I got up and left to the far away Terminal del Norte. After making the reverse journey of when I arrived from Otavalo, I arrived at the Portal del Norte and was waiting for Karla and Santiago. After waiting for nearly forty minutes, I thought they had left me. I went to go and found Santiago and Karla sitting a mere 100 meters in front of me (out of eyesight) at what they thought was the entrance to the terminal (but was only the entrance for people on foot, and not for those, like me who had arrived by Trole bus).
After greeting Santiago and kissing Karla hello, we decided to wait for 5 more minutes for Mike and Karen. Just as we were about to leave, we saw them coming in. They had not known that this new terminal exists and they had misplaned the time needed.
An hour late, we set off to Otavalo. Here I should point out that my Spanish was by now good enough to have a conversation with Karla the whole time that we were in the bus (a lot of the conversation was also not involving talk).
Once arrived at Otavalo, we decided to walk around the town. I have reported already beforehand the layout of Otavalo on a Saturday and will not repeat it here.
At around 4, we decided to go to the Laguna de Peguche and have a look around there (again I have already described it) and we had a look at the waterfall, marvelled at the gigantesque trees.
At 6, we took the last bus back to Quito.
I spent that night at Karla’s.
The next morning I left Karla’s at around 11, checked out of the dormitory I was sleeping in and moved to a double room.
In the afternoon (Karla had to work), I went to see the historical city of Quito (took the Troley to Gran Plaza, 25 cents). The historical center is, like the historical centre of Panama, a part of the town that is still kept in its original colonial style. However, unlike the Panamese Casco Viejo, it is kept meticulously clean and restored. It is really beautiful.
The day that I was there, the city was celebrating the start of Semana Santa (the week before Easter) and the historical city was wonderously packed. The plaza near the oldest church of the whole city was packed beyond belief, making finding a sitting place even on a wall a problem. I went out to find a late lunch, had it after looking around for some time, and then it started raining like mad. I found refuge in the commercial center, which was, just like in Asia, an extended market. Unlike the Asian markets, there was at least a little bit of order. Each floor was arranged to sport different wares. Otherwise, it was very similar to any other market I have visited and does not add to the interest of this travel journal in any way. If you have never seen a market in a developing world, it holds very much interest and would be absolutely worth it (furthermore, markets usually have the most local and cheapest food available in that town).
I still visited the basilica in the old town, which proved to be really interesting. The basilica itself was only accessible if one paid for it. I went to look around the catacombs of the church which were open to the public. In itself, the catacombs are not very impressive (apart from their size), however it was the first time for me that I ever visited catacombs. Look at the photos for an impression of what I have seen.
An interesting artefact was also the little chapel that was built in the catacombs, have a look out for it.
That night, I only chatted with Karla a bit over the internet who couldn’t come to see me because she was in too big a trouble over her work (actually I found out the next day that she worked till four, slept for two hours and continued working for two hours until she had to dash of to work).
The morning I wanted to go to the Mitad del Mundo. I had read that it was really very worthwhile seeing it. It showed the equator of the world as it was determined by Camindo (or some similar spelling) in the 18th century, thereby also proving that the earth is not a complete sphere but rather bulges at the equator (up to this point, 4 years later, I have not understood what made the whole thing special).
I took a Trole to Ofelia (the end station, 0.25 cents) and from there took a further bus to Mitad del Mundo. I payed 2 dollars entry, stood before the building and thought to myself “What a waste of money”. It was dead boring, just a building as well as line drawn on the ground depicting the equator as it was determined in the 18th century and a lot of tourist stalls selling trinkets, a couple of overly expensive restaurants etc... A pure tourist station...
At lunch, I met Karla and we went for a quick lunch (like always she was late...).
After kissing her goodbye and determining that we would go meet up in Quito again on Thursday to go to Puerto Lopez, I took a bus straight to Baños (3,50 dollars for 3, 5 hours of travel, pronounced Banjos) from the southern bus station of Quito (quite easy to go there but one needs to plan in about 1 hour of additional travelling time from Mariscal Sucre to the Terminal Terrestre de Quitumbe). Once in Baños, I decided to buy myself the luxury to go for the one thing that was recommended in Lonely Planet, Plantas y Blanco. Actually it turned out to be quite alright.
That night, I also met a couple of German girls who were staying in the same dormitory as me (5,50 dollars per person, which was not a bad deal considering that one got WIFI as well as a couple of other amenities).
In the morning, it was raining cats and dogs. Disgruntled, the three girls and me decided to go to the thermal baths for which Baños is so famous for (indeed it does have a lot of them). We went to the farthest away one (which was supposed to be the best one) and walked through the town for it.
Baños is a small town of a couple of thousand inhabitants, but its beautiful panorama, superb hikes and relaxing thermal baths have turned it into one of the most sought after tourist destinations in whole of Ecuador. The abundance of hotels in town have kept prices of accommodation low. 5 dollars per person is normal.
The surroundings are indeed stunning. Baños is located in a valley, with the mountains rising sharply on each side of it. The valley is totally green (due to its close location to the rainforest of the Amazonias) and very beautiful to look at. The town also has a couple of beautiful viewpoints, the most notorious one is the Virgen del Agua Santa. To get an idea of the vista that presented itself for me, have a look at the photos.
The baths were pretty much what I expected: modern tiled baths filled with warm water. Very relaxing but don’t expect stone basins or an old grotto filled with steam and hot pools. It was just a pool.
In the afternoon, I still walked a bit around the town but really didn’t do much. I still met Mark and Jen (with whom I had climbed the mountain in Quito a couple of days earlier) and we decided to go for the 61 km downhill bike ride (thats what we thought...) to Puyo, the entrance to the Amazonas.
I rented a bike for 4.50 dollars for the whole day and made my way to the Terminal where we had said we would meet. The first kilometres of the journey were indeed easy. It went downhill very steeply.
We stopped at the local electricity dam and had a quick look at it from the distance but really it looked exactly like dams would in the western world.
The road then continued farther into the valley that Baños also lies in. The road down there was absolutely superb and I would counsel it to everyone to do it.
After a short while, we came past two superb waterfalls on the other side of the valley (a quite ferocious river is running through the valley) and right next to it runs a cable car to the other side of the valley. It costs 1 to 1,5 dollars to go to the other side. I am sure it is a good experience to go for that but I decided not to because I had spent too much already the previous days.
Every few kilometres along the road come tunnels which bicyclists are not allowed to enter. Instead, beautiful paved roads lead around the mountain and eventually rejoin the road. The paved roads allow amazing views across and along the valley. This is best seen in the photos I have taken during the voyage (unfortunately, the camera’s battery was nearing its last bit of juice at the start of the bicycle ride and died halfway through the travel...).
Baños is also a highlight for extreme sports like rafting, roping, jumping of bridges secured only with climbinig rope and swinging out underneath it etc... We came across a lot of these sports all along the way to Puyo.
After about an hour, we arrived at the third waterfall. We walked down a beautiful path to have a look at the water fall about 30 meters down a cliff face.
However, the beauty of that waterfall was topped by the sight of the Pailon, a cascade we encountered shortly afterwards, consisting of a pre-cascade where the water falls down with a mighty crash into a laguna (a deep pool about 20 by 10 meters) and then falls a further 50 meters down to the river running below.
A sign from the road indicated the turnoff in the town of Rio Verde to a Mirador to the cascade de Pailon. We took it and it led us to a small private property (entrance 1 dollar) where the owner had built small paths that lead to look-out points of the pre-cascada, the laguna and the actual water fall.
Ingeniously, he had also placed a “a ladder” (more like the triangular supporting pillar of big structures) down a vertical cliff. It was a superb experience to climb it down.
When first seeing the whole thing, it just looked like a rickety thing upon which no one would place their feet. However, it proved totally safe and the view from it over the whole valley was superb. After walking through some cloud forest and climbing along some rope, we arrived at the viewpoint over the whole cascada.
From the viewpoint, one could also see that there was a bridge leading over the river to the other side of the waterfall. From our point of view, it was about half a kilometre to the bridge, however it would involve some climbing and walking through cloudforest. At the end of the marked path was a sign that said “No pase-don’t happen” which was a horrible translation. From there a path led on in the direction
of the bridge. Ignoring the sign, we continued on our way. The badly trodden path led through some really undisturbed and beautiful cloudforest aswell as down a couple of “cliffs” of two meters that we needed to scramble down to end up at a beautiful cliff of 30 meters across and 30 meters deep that we could not cross. The beauty of it was kind of lost on us: we could see the bridge that we wanted to get to, however could not get to it and we had to backtracked all the way through the badly trodden path (and I mean indeed bad trodden, barely more than a game path). When we finally arrived at the end, though it was a torture, we were really happy to have done because we had seen untouched cloud forest like I had never seen before.
We then continued onwards. We didn’t go to see other waterfalls, which was a shame but we had still had a great time riding our way to Rio Negro mostly in descent and then battling against the steep hills (and riding through the descents afterwards at full speed) until we finally arrived after 6 hours in Puyo.
We pedaled in the oppressing heat of 1000 meters above sea level, getting smoke belched into our faces by old trucks struggling up the hill, battling our way up really steep and long hills but the rewards of this trip were amazing. We saw the gradual change of vegetation as we descended from 1800 m to 1000 m, had a look at different amazing waterfalls, rode through nearly 70 kilometers of amazing roads, saw amazing vistas of the valleys and mountains and glimpsed the Amazonian basin.
All three of us were dead tired when we finally took the bus back to Baños (which actually took us nearly 2 hours, 2 dollars) and I just went to bed soon after I arrived at home.
In the morning, I just worked on my diary and didn’t do anything else. I had to leave that day back to Quito to meet Karla, so that the 2 of us could leave Quito together. I left at 1 from the terminal in Baños, arrived at 4.30 and had to wait 1.5 hours till we met up. We were set to meet at 6 but Karla came late/ we waited each at different “main and principal” entrances to the Terminal (once again).
We took the bus to Manta at 9.30, meaning that we had to wait a little bit around but it didn’t really matter because I was having nice conversations with Karla.
When we left finally Quito, I embarked on pretty much the worst journey that I have done during my travels. I was sitting in the back with not enough legroom, no possibility to sleep and the guy before me who put back his chair to squash my legs... Awesome... Karla is so lucky that she just dropped off to sleep immediately (with only 1.53 m tall, she had enough space, could even lie nearly completely straight when stretched out over my seat as well...) while I was awake pretty much all the time.
We arrived in Manta, from where we took a further bus to Puerto Lopez (3 dollars, and guess what, 3 hours). After having arrived, we relatively quickly found a hostel at 7.50 dollars per person (quite a good price for a double with private bath).
I had thought that it would be difficult to find any accommodation at all but probably we had the luck to arrive pretty early and therefore could find something relatively easily.
After some sleep, we went out to eat at the market and then went to the beach and spent the rest of the day just lying at the beach.
At this point, I gotta say a bit about Puerto Lopez. It is situated on the west coast of Ecuador at the sea in a county called Manabi. It is surrounded by the dry tropical forest typical for this part of the world (it barely ever rains here, and cacti are growing pretty much everywhere). The hills surrounding it are not green like in the tropical climate but rather a dry grey, yellow with inter-sprinkled patches of green. The town itself is rather very much like any town of the Caribbean coast. Partly ramshackle buildings, partly good stone buildings.
It is very apparent that Puerto Lopez is a touristy town. It sports a lot of hostal and hotels for its small size (and was quite packed during these days because of Easter weekend), a tourist oriented beach (lots of beach bars aswell as beach chairs that one can rent, vendardores etc...) and quite a few tourist tour agencies. One of the attractions of the town is the nearby parque National de Machallila. It is the only coastal national park of Ecuador and sports, according to Karla, the most beautiful beach of whole of Ecuador.
It also has another attraction, which is Agua Blanca, a tiny town that has hot lagoons. Unfortunately I did not have the time to visit this town, although it would have been quite interesting.
Given the touristy nature of the town, that I usually don’t like, I was still enjoying it because I was having a good time with Karla.
We only managed to leave relatively late for the Playa Las Frailes. We took a bus (0,50 dollars, the bus obviously set us down after the entrance to the Playa and we had to walk 500 meters in the hot baking sun back to the entrance).
At the entrance, we paid 2 dollars entrance fee (a year ago the entrance fee was 20 cents) and went into the National park/beach. The beach itself was 3 km away but we were able to hitch a ride without any problem on the back of an SUV. Once on the beach, we headed towards the Mirador because Karla knew that two other beaches are behind the viewpoint that barely any people go through.
After a short walk to the mirador, the obliquetous photos and then a leisurely stroll down to the next beach, we found shade, a thing hard to come by in Las Frailles. Karla and me enjoyed sun bathing, chilling out, reading and bathing during the next couple of hours (even though we were in the shade, Karla managed to get a sunburn.
In the morning, Karla enquired about a bus returning to Quito, just to find out that apparently all were already booked out. This is why she decided to leave early back to Manta to try to get a last seat on a bus to Quito. We still walked around the town a bit and then I bade her goodbye in front of the bus, watched her leave and then looked for a tour the next day to the Isla de la Plata.
Karla told me later that indeed it would have been a better idea, if stuck like she was on a national holiday, to go over to the far bigger town of Portoviejo, where many more buses depart from towards Quito.
She had to wait for 4 hours at the bus terminal of Manta for the next bus to Quito (which then took her incredibly long due to a road that had crumbled and was unpassable.
I had paid 30 dollars for the tour (apparently it was possible to find even cheaper) so I presented myself on time at the dock. The travel over to the 42 km distant island took an hour.
The island de la plata is a quite isolated island that has a very arid climate and consists, weirdly enough, apart from the 1000 km distant Galapagos, the only habitat that a lot of local species of bird have.
Once arrived, we walked up to the “plateau” of the island. Like I had discovered beforehand, the island is absolutely swarming with birds. Look at the photos to get a feel for it. I do not know how the island can support so many birds.
The first bird that we saw was the blue footed boobie. We were just literally 3 meters from it and it didn’t budge. It had absolutely no fear of us. Again the whole encounter is documented as photos.
We then walked on to the nesting site of the grey-footed boobie, where we saw a young as well as other grey footed boobies. The path back then took us along some nesting sites which were covered in guano (a scientific expression for bird-shit), the island not receiving enough rain to even partly wash down all the bird excrements (the whole island is pretty much covered in poo, hence it is speculated that it has the name Isla de la plata). From there we went back to the boat where we had lunch and snorkelled for a bit (well, actually there was a thick layer of plankton at the top making the visibility 0, only when diving was it possible to see something. I managed to see a turtle) and then went back home.
I took a bus at 7 back to Quito in order to go the next day to Latacunca, stay there one night and then move onwards to the Loop of Quilatoa. The bus left via Jippijappa and cost me solely 11 dollars (instead of the 14 dollars via Manta).
At Quito, I changed for a bus that went in the direction of Latacunga (actually I could have saved some time by being dropped off on the Panamericana below Quito and caught a bus that goes to Latacunga very often (every 5 minutes)). A bus to Latacunga from Quito costs 1.5 dollars and takes round about an hour.
In Latacunga I decided to go for one of the hostals that are written in the Lonely Planet even though they are more expensive because of the hope to encounter people there with whom I could travel along the Quilotoa loops with (as mentioned beforehand taking a residence from the Lonely Planet book can be considered an unnecessary luxury, especially this hostal which cost 8.50 dollars for a bed in a dormitory, as comparison a bed in Quito costs 5.50).
The whole day was pretty much a dream of good weather so I felt really pissed off that I had decided to stay one night in Latacunga instead of taking the next bus to Zumbahu and attempt the Quilotoa loop by myself.
Instead I had a look around the city. Latacunga is mostly an industrial city without real points of interest apart from the tiny town center (consisting of 6 buildings in colonial style).
However, the market was really fun. It is one of those markets that exist purely to sell wares to locals and, unlike Otavalo, not to tourists. It sports a lot of eating stalls, stalls selling everything from folding knives to soup additives and vendors going through the street trying to sell their wares in a competitive market where the selling competence is measured by how loud the vendor can shout
I even saw one walking around praising loudly the quality of toilet paper. He was very intent on selling his toilet paper and I thought he would bend over any moment and give a demonstration of its quality...
Nothing much happened during the night time apart from that I met a French couple who were also attempting the Quilotoa trek and we set out to leave together for Quilatoa in the morning.
I had left my computer as well as other non-essential items in storage with the hostal so that my bag only weighed something like 3 to 4 kilos (another reason for packing light). We just about managed to take the bus to Quilatoa which left at around 10. At this point, I should mention that we did encounter a slight spell of indecisiveness of going because it was raining already in the morning.
The journey went, unexpectedly, along really good and tarmacked roads along some very agricultural regions of Ecuador. I couldn’t see very much through the window because by then it was raining really strongly. When we arrived at Quilotoa, we had to pay 2 dollars to enter the town and the adjacent lagoon.
The town is barely more than a collection of houses set along the main road. Due to the nearby beautiful volcanic lake, the town is very touristy and every building in town is a hostal. The town lies within one of the most beautiful countryside to walk that I have seen. Agriculture on the sloping hills of the Andes completely dominates the surroundings. However of this, I barely saw anything that day.
When we left the bus a couple of meters further, it was still raining. I decided to stay one night in Quilotoa instead of shouldering ahead through the mud. Furthermore, it is interesting to mention that the town lies at about 4000 heigh meters. It was near freezing up there. I had layered all my clothes and was wearing two trousers, three T-shirts, 4 pair of socks, a jacket and a poncho so I was reasonably warm, but the stress is on reasonable. It was still bloody cold.
After some searching, we (that is the French couple and me) eventually found an accommodation for 8 dollars, including breakfast and dinner. During lunch, we encountered an older French couple that also wanted to walk to the town of Chugchilan (and who had walked through the chilling cold rain around the Laguna de Quilotoa). We said that all of us would meet up in the next morning and walk together. The rest of the day was spent either talking with the French couple and later on with an Argentinian couple that was also staying at the hostal.
When I woke up in the morning, I was superbly happy. The sun was finally showing itself on a clear blue sky. After a short delay in getting our breakfast, all five of us (the two French couples and me) left the hostal and walked up to the mirador (viewpoint) of the Laguna de Quilatoa.
The Laguna is a beautiful, azur-blue volcanic lake that sports a very high crater rim. It is possible to walk down into the crater to paddle kayaks through the lake and enjoy the view of the crater rim above or to walk in 6 hours around the crater rim but we did not have time for any of this. We just admired the beauty of the deep blue crater lake (stained by the minerals that it contains) and the surrounding landscape. It is best to look at the photos that I have made for properly establishing how beautiful the setting was.
When we set of we had taken with us a sheet explaining the way to Chugchilan. It turned out to be very imprecise and using rocks (we were on a mountain) and trees as markers (there were loads of those). Awesome!
After walking some time along the crater ridge and having superb views of the lake (we encountered quite a few children heading towards school in Quilotoa, coming from the 1.5 h distant town of Guayambe), we had to turn off at a sandy patch.
Turns out that this was the wrong sandy patch. After walking for about ¾ of an hour to one hour down the mountain (and having superb view of the stark Andean hills covered with agriculture and the lonely farms in the middle of nowhere), we hit a dead end in the form of a lonely farm where we were told that we had to go all the way back up to the crater ridge to get to the town of Gayambe and then move onto Chugchilan or to follow another path down into the canyon of a dried-out river and then move onwards to Chugchilan.
After some problems finding the right path, we took a guide (I had just discovered the right path and therefore thought a guide was useless) who guided us through the valley, helped us cross the river (which was anyway as good as dry) and brought us to the “street” that runs around the region of Quilotoa. The street consists of packed dirt that runs along the mountains and into the valleys of the Andean surroundings in order to connect Zumbahu, Quilotoa, Chugchilan and Siggchos. The walk continued to be absolutely superbly from the point of view. I have made quite a lot of photos so have a look at those.
We arrived at the tiny village of Chugchilan (which did indeed sport a tarmacked road). We were quite astounded to see that the village did indeed have Internet, showing that it was actually quite advanced. In Chugchilan, there are three hostels, two of which (Black sheep and Maria Hostel) are really quite comfortable and truly expensive (15 dollars per person during low season). The other one, Hostal Cloud forest, is quite a nice and big one that has double dorms for 8 dollars with only dinner and 10 dollars for dinner and breakfast. Best is to get breakfast at the tienda next door for 20 cents...
We met a couple of other people at this hostel as well. Nothing much happened during the rest of the day apart from that it started raining like crazy soon after 2 oclock.
The older French couple that I was traveling with, needed to take a 4WD back to Quilatoa, so Perrine, Joselin and me left towards the town of Siggchos where we wanted to take a bus back to Quito. We walked on the street towards the town of Siggchos. The road led past really scenic farming villages. The best is to have a look at the photos.
We wanted to walk along the canyon that connects the two towns, however the indications seem to have been bad again. We didn’t find the way at all, and therefore continued on the road. This road was again packed dirt and we encountered maybe one bus or car every half hour.
We walked along the mountain, therefore the road was incredibly twisty. It also showed the dangers that the people here live with: landslides. We saw loads of them, all over the road and even several times how an entire mountain side simply seems to have collapsed.
The road also led past some really poor houses, lending a insight into the other side of Ecuador. I have made photos of the most interesting ones.
After 4 hours of walking, we were bored and stopped a truck that took us all the way to Siggchos. There we had to wait for 2 hours for the next bus to Latacunga.
Once in Latacunga, I said goodbye to Perrine and Joselyn after these awesome three days. I then made my way back to Quito (weirdly enough the way back to Quito costs 2 dollars for 2 hours travel).
I then sought out a room and met Karla and her cousin at 10 pm. We then went on to the club where Karla and me first mett and danced through the night. I was dead tired at around 1 but had to wait with Karla for her cousin (Karla was staying at her home) to finish eating another German that she had met in the club.
I met Karla for a run (that didn’t happen) at her cousin’s, where we had breakfast. In the end, Karla and me had a simple stroll around the park Carolina (a beautiful park in the new town) and then went to her house where we had lunch. I also met that day the parents of Karla the first time.
After saying hi to the parents, both Karla and me went to watch a movie at mine and then got Karla’s new couch surfing person from the airport. The parents then invited all of us out to the Runda, a picturesque part of the old town that was brim-filled with people strolling through the different entertainement options of the Runda. We ended up at a bar, trying the local Gluehwein (Hervido de vino).
I then went back to my place. Karla had explained that day why we couldn’t even kiss in front of her parents. Here in Ecuador, it is normal that daughters live as long as they are unmarried at the house of the parents. Karla, at 28, was still living at her parents but this is completely normal here (although her travelling experience has shown her that another world exists as well, where daughters don’t necessarily live with the parents and therefore have more freedom).
Please understand that I am not putting the Ecuadorian culture down here, it is just different from the Western one and I have tried it as best as I could to explain it here. It just is as it is.
Karla had invited me to come with the family to the thermal baths of Papallacta. She and her family got me from my casa at 10 am, and we then went into the direction of the Oriente. Unfortunately, the car (a old Toyota) overheated when we went up the mountain half an hour later. We filled in some water (after the car had cooled down), got in the car and drove up, just to stop a short while later to take a bus because the car had overheated again. We all took it in stride and just made a picture of ourselves using the timer function.
The baths at Papallacta are beautifully surrounded by beautiful mountains. It was really relaxing to lounge in the hot waters.
We still had lunch at the baths and then made our way back. Karla and me still watched a film in the evening. I initially wanted to go back to my place but it was raining bigtime so I decided to stay at Karla’s on a resting place quickly made out of a mattress in the corridor. It was surprisingly comfortable.
I had said that I would meet up with Karlas Couch surfing guest to go to the town center. We tried going up on the basilica, however soon found out that everything was closed. I left shortly after lunch because I still needed to look up some stuff considering the Galapagos trip that I have planned.
At 4 pm, Karla came over and we spend some quality time together walking the streets in search of food. I also tried out the Pan de Yuca, which really was not anything special. Karla unfortunately already had to leave at 8.
This day was solely remarkable by the fact that nothing much happened. I was just working the whole day (not very concentrated) on this travelblog and my photos. I did though have a look at the park El Ejido, which is indeed a lovely park but... well... a park. In the evening, Karla came over again, this time to die my hair black. I didn’t want to be immediately recognised as a Gringo in South America and therefore have all the unwanted attention of the vendadors (although I must say the attention you get is much less than in Asia, as well as you get cheated much less).
The other thing is that I hope that I won’t get that much the Gringo-prices if I look more like a local (although if I open my mouth, all semblance to a local is gone...). Maybe something to consider if travelling in South America….
Woke up with the intention to go to Mindo in the morning. When I checked my Travelguide, it pointed out that the buses left from a completely different Terminal than I thought and that only two buses left per day there. One that left at 8 (it was 7.58 when I looked on the watch) and one only at 3.45 pm… Oh well…
In order to pass time, I decided to go to the Old center again and try to repeat the try with going up the church. I was at the church just before it opened, and weirdly enough, there was no one to check tickets there so I just went in. The view from up the church was truly fabulous. One could see the whole city sprawling along the valley as well as expanding impossibly steeply up the hill.
Quito is a city consisting mostly of low buildings. Although it has only a little bit more than 2 million inhabitants, the fact that barely any high-rises exist makes the extent of the whole city incomprehensibly big.
After going up the tower, I decided to go back, work a bit on my computer and then to go at 2 to the end of the Metrobus line, the Ofelia station, and then to take the bus at 3.45. It turns out that I went far too early and had to wait for 1 hour at the micro-busstation of Ophelia for my bus to leave to Mindo for 2.50 dollars (buses only go from here!). Once arrived in Mindo (it was raining again), I took a room for 5.50.
I couldn’t see very much of Mindo that night, mainly because it was raining, but the fact that the food was incredibly expensive (2.50 dollars) already told me that Mindo is a very touristy town. I was not to discover how touristy until the next morning.
Another piece of advice here is to ask for Almuerzo, sin sopa (lunch without soup). In that case, the price of the lunch goes down by a lot as it seems this is the formula to say “without the increase in price that is normal for tourists”. With that formula, it is possible to eat for 1.50.
Mindo, a small village of 1000 inhabitants, is located right next to a big cloud forest at about 1200 meters. If anyone is looking for a hotel, he shouldn’t have any problems. The whole town only consists of hotels, or travel agencies. I had a talk with a local later on and he confirmed me that the whole of Mindo works for the tourism industry.
I had decided that day to go and see the waterfalls near Mindo. It turns out that the Tarabita (a cable car) up the mountain to the waterfalls costs 5 dollars, which is a fortune. Instead, as I asked a local, there is another smaller cable car just across the river (Rio thisorthat), followed by a small path in the cloud forest.
At the end of the road, right next to Garden of Mindo, I found the cable car. It was nothing more than a small cage suspended on a cable. One had to pull oneself forward using the rope that ran between the legs.
From the other side I walked up a small path through the cloud forest. The cloud forest would have been really interesting but to be fair, I have seen this kind of forest already enough times and for me it didn’t really have much attractions.
The scramble up the hill though was fun. I followed the signs to the cascada but somehow they stopped after a while. Further on I came across a road that ran the length of the shoulder of the mountain (ah yes, did I forget to mention that Mindo is also surrounded by hills… pretty much like every other town in Ecuador).
I did not know at that time that the waterfalls were just about 50 meters down the road, I only found that out later when I talked to a local. I also found out from that local that entrance to one of those costs between 3 and 5 dollars...
Instead, I took another path that led at first along the road, thinking that it would lead me to the waterfalls. When I finally realised that I had taken the wrong path, I couldn’t be bothered anymore and just went back. After a run in with some really unfriendly owners of an ecolodge I retraced my steps and arrived at my hostel just as it was about to start to rain (it rains every afternoon here). I really didn’t do anything that day apart from washing my clothes.
I had a walk into the surroundings to kill time and then took a bus back to Quito. I really did not enjoy very much Mindo, mostly because it was a village that was almost exclusively living off tourism, without any natural life like in other less touristy cities.
I took the 1.45 o’clock bus and was at 3.30 at the Ofelia station. I had already checked with Karla beforehand that I could stay at her place (and no... I was sleeping on the “couch”). She lives really far north of the city but I remembered that one could take a taxi from the “Y” (pronounced “ie”), the final station of the Trole for 2 dollars. I arrived at the Y about 4.30 and decided to walk. Up the 6 de Augusto and then further on the General Elfoy de Lavavre (or something like this) until I arrived at her place at around 5.40 (I had told her 5.30-6) and then waited till nearly 7-7.30. Best way to describe it is “Selig sind die Langsamen, denn sie kommen immer zu spät".
That night we couldn’t actually go out because the city was in a kind of lock down state. The next day there was going to be a public vote on ten questions that could decide the future of the country according to some people. It may be possible to create a dictatorship in this country, again according to some people. I have read the questions and some of them were so complicated that some people did not understand them (Karla and me were one of the many). The thing was aswell that one question related to a big change in constitution, however the constitution before the change and after the change were not presented, so that an easy comparison would have been possible, but only the constitution after the change. You can imagine the lack of transparency.
At around 9, Karla and me decided to walk all the way to the Parque Carolina, the biggest park of Quito. The walk was well, the same that I had done the previous day.
The turnout seems to have been quite big (I have just read now that 62% of population voted “Si” to the various questions, however the article does not seem to say which questions were voted on) because the roads were absolutely stuffed.
Afterwards, we had a little run in the Parque Carolina. The Parque is used a lot on the weekends it seems because it was chokeful with people carrying out diverse sports as well. It was quite interesting to see that so much different sports could be carried out on so little space (well the park isn’t small, just imagine even more people doing even more different sports).
When we came back, the mother had prepared us a meal. We didn’t do anything more worth writing about in here.
This day was the mothers day and we went with the rest of the family to a family reunion at one of the aunts places. Since we were going as six persons (the mother, the father, Jose, Gonzalo, Karla and me) we did not all fit into the car. Therefore, Karla and me took the bus to her aunts. For that, we took the bus to the Ecovia, the Ecovia until the last stop Martin and then a further bus over the mountain range to an outlying town of Quito whose name I have forgotten.
I met the whole family (which is relatively big with 10 female cousins and only one male, but some female cousins brought their boyfriends and husbands too). Once arrived there, Karla and me went to the market (dropped off by one of her cousins, probably called Michelle, my name-forgetfulness is to blame) where we had some awesome market food (if you want to know, it was a soup made from the inner side of the stomach of chicken… Sounds pretty gross, and looks the same way when one pulls out the little pieces of inner stomach, but it tasted really good.).
We then got back to her aunt’s house, where we socialised with the rest of the family over some grilled food. To my misfortune, I tried out the Pilsner Ecuadorian beer, and found that I was allergic to it (however not as much as I feared).
Her father had to leave early with the car, so all of us to a bus back to Quito followed by a taxi.
I left Karla’s house in the morning, wanting to stay at a hostel in the Mariscal. I stayed at the same place as two weeks ago (10 dollars). I really didn’t do very much that day apart from work on my photos and diary. I had also managed to book that day my flights over to Galapagos with LAN. The prices on the European site had finally caught up with the prices on the South American sites, therefore I paid directly in Euros. I had booked the flight from Guayaquil, because it was a lot cheaper to take a bus down to Guayaquil overnight (and therefore sleep in the coach and save on the accomodation) than to fly from Quito. The flight over to the Galapagos from Guayaquil cost me 173 dollars one way. I later found out that one can also fly return with Aerogal for 340 dollars (so 6 dollar cheaper :( ).
In the evening, Karla came over for a bit and we went out to have some dinner.
That day was actually pretty boring. I went for a stint into the historic centre because I had nothing to do and was just waiting to meet my girlfriend for lunch.
For the first, it was me who got too late to a meeting place. Apparently, on the Trole line, there are the Estacion Y and the Terminal Y. I got off one too early and had to walk further than I actually expected. We ate at a very good diner and then I bade her goodbye (she was also leaving the next day to the Oriente where she was educating the locals of the benefits of drinking water coming out of the tap (or something like this...)) At 22.20, I took the bus to Guayaquil (9 dollars) which should have, after 9 hours, brought me to Guayaquil.
Turns out that the bus got through in no time and arrived very shortly after the 22.00 direct bus to Guayaquil (which should have taken 2 hours less). I had to wait at the airport for a very long time during which my anticipation was growing immeasurably.
I WAS GOING TO THE GALAPAGOS! Even as I am writing this, I still cannot believe it.