I can’t quite believe my last post was three countries ago! Time is truly flying. Today we arrived in Chile after our longest journey ever totalling 54 hours door to door and comprising four buses, two taxis, two borders and quite a lot of chicken and rice! We began in Ecuador – which the bulk of this post is going to be about – then travelled the full length of Peru and down into Chile using two night buses, one a much more comfortable experience than the other. The only time we spent stationery was a couple of hours in Lima which we used to locate a KFC (honestly it was either that or a petrol station hotdog!) and to watch the World Cup opening ceremony on the bus station TV.
Preferring to be on the other side of the camera, we’ve had to make a concerted effort to get at least one photograph of us together in each country. We were in danger of Peru breaking our perfect run but we decided a bus picture would appropriate so here it is along with one of our favourite bus (bus number 3)!
It’d have been nice to see a little more of Peru en route but we decided not to because we’ve been before and we’re feeling really pushed for time. There is a huge amount of ground to cover in our remaining 5.5(!) weeks so we’ve had to just select a small number of destinations and are expecting lots more long bus journeys (starting tomorrow night). Hopefully none to match this last one though!
So, Ecuador! The coordinates of Quito, the capital, are 0.2500°S, 78.5833 °W which I’m pretty sure is the closest I’ve ever been to the equator. You can go and stand on the exact spot but it was a day trip we hadn’t time for. I always thought equator = hot but it turns out it doesn’t! The entire week in Ecuador we were wrapped up warm and under three or four thick blankets at night as nowhere has heating. It also rained a lot but the novelty of this still holds after so many dry months. We had just three destinations: Quito, Baños and Cuenca.
Quito’s old town was lovely. Set in a valley, the city is built on and surrounded by hills, many covered in a patchwork of pastel-coloured houses and gently enveloped by billowing clouds.
Visible from almost everywhere is a 45 metre tall monument of a madonna, standing on top of Panecillo which was made in 1976 by Agustín de la Herrán Matorras from 7000 pieces of aluminium.
La Basilica del Voto Nacional was our first stop, an incredibly grand church which we had a great view of from our hotel window, especially at night. In fact, as it sits on a hill, it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. We paid $1 each to go inside where there were high stone arches and impressive stained glass windows throughout.
For another $2 we climbed to the top to gain astounding views over the city.
Walking down the steep hill into the centre of the old town we passed lots of women in colourful traditional clothes: thick shawls over cardigans, tights or knee length socks, woollen or velvet skirts, sensible black shoes with chunky heels, long jet-black plaits and hats somewhere between a bowler and a trilby sometimes sporting a peacock feather. Often they had a child or their wares in a shawl tied over their back. The streets and plazas were all very busy with vendors, school trips, lunching friends, shoe shiners and relaxed retirees.
The 16th century Plaza de San Francisco is one of the oldest and busiest squares in the city, filled with pigeons and their young tormentors. We took a wander around the church then visited the museum which is full of religious paintings and sculptures. The inner courtyard garden was pristine and home to a selection of parrots which a group of brown-robed monks seemed particularly interested in.
Walking back up the hill, we could hear the sounds of the England – Ecuador football friendly blaring out from televisions in almost every shop, especially when a goal was scored as their commentators seem to enjoy shouting ‘goal’ for as long as physically possible. From time to time we poked our heads in to check the score and share a grin with the opposition. The final drawing score of 2-2 was probably the best result possible in the circumstances!
We ended the day with the best (and only) Indian curry we’ve had in ages. Amazing!
Baños is renowned for its hot springs, colourful hand-pulled taffy and adventure activities and so we headed there next. We’d intended to stay only two nights but a day of constant rain, a very comfortable bargain-priced (£12 including breakfast) hotel room and the general loveliness of the town made us stay for four! It was set in a picturesque valley with waterfalls and hot springs and was home to lots of traditionally dressed men and women from a couple of different tribes.
On Saturday morning, we loitered in the square, across from the very, very busy church to people-watch. It was a great opportunity to see the contrasts between traditional and modern, old and young, devout and not.
They have so many services and every one we saw was packed full!
The market place was also the place to buy your grilled cuy (guinea pig)! Gross!
We decided to try outdoor climbing and have another go at white water rafting thanks to Joe Malik, Becki and Martin McBride and Jonny Cole. First was climbing. Our guide, Marcelo, took us to a spot next to a very fast flowing river. The wall we were to climb was made from a solidified wave of lava which had created an overhang protecting the wall from the rain.
Marcelo nimbly scampered up and back down unaided to set a top rope for us then ascended again to demonstrate the route.
Dean then donned harness, shoes, helmet and chalk bag and embarked upon his first climb which he managed easily.
Then it was my turn.
We followed this pattern, moving from route to route for a few hours. Although we’ve done lots of indoor climbing, it was quite a while ago and this was way harder because of the need to grapple about to find suitable hand and foot holds. Being so very out of practise, it wasn’t long before our muscles ached and our limbs shook! It was still really fun though.
As we were leaving the ‘best climber in Baños’ turned up and we watched him perform what seemed a very dangerous climb!
We were still very much feeling the impact of climbing the next morning when we began our rafting excursion! Kitted out with wetsuits, helmets and shoes, we drove 45 minutes to the edge of a river where we changed and were given our safety briefing by our super-excitable instructor, Patricio, and his equally hyper-active accomplice, Mariko. There we 5 other tourists in the boat with us, 3 English people and 2 Ecuadorians.
One of the Ecuadorians didn’t seem to want to paddle so was made to sit astride the front of the raft giving Patricio opportunity to push her in several times in addition to the many occasions she fell in.
The rafting was really different to last time because there were fewer rocks and drops but, as the water was very deep, there were huge waves to navigate and ‘surf’.
Patricio was wearing a Go Pro video camera on his head while jumping in the second photo below: it makes for quite the film!
Thankfully we didn’t capsize although some people fell out and some (me) were pushed at various points! We rafted 16km in about 1.5 hours: very exhilerating!
So eventually we left Baños and travelled 8 or so hours through the beautiful Andean highland countryside and the clouds to Cuenca.
It’s said that there’s ongoing rivalry between it and Quito for the accolade of ‘most charming’ Ecuadorian town. They’re both worthy candidates but I liked Quito a little more from what we saw. We’d only left ourselves a day here but it was enough to wander the old town and take in the main sights including the cathedrals, a flower market and some Inca ruins.
We also visited a museum where we saw genuine shrunken heads! Not very nice but interesting all the same.
Whilst writing this post I could hear the Chile -Australia match being watched from various nearby TVs. Everyone was already very excitable when we arrived earlier: primary school classes parading the streets blowing horns and cheering, beer being purchased in bulk, shops closing early. Now that they’ve won there are fireworks and car horn honking galore. Lots of happy Chileans! Can’t wait to explore tomorrow. I leave you with a pretty duck!