26.01.2013 - 09.02.2013
The beautiful capital city of Ecuador sits high up in the Andes at a mere 2850m. The picturesque old town is a Unesco world heritage site, a perfect blend of Spanish and indigenous architecture, its plaza's, churches and buildings go on for miles. The whole city is surrounded by huge cloud covered hills and mountains in every direction. Its quite a sight. It wasnt all fun and games en route though...
To get to Quito we had to take a day long bus to Pasto, a Colombian border town which really has nothing to offer the tourist. We arrived late, chowed down a local set meal which consisted of 'blood sausage' soup followed by chewy beef and rice. I was hoping the blood sausage might be black pudding but it actually looked like what can only be described as some animals penis. It did not look pretty... but hey, i was hungry, and the actual watery soup / potatoes which was in and around the animal penis was pretty tasty.
The next day was straight back on a bus to the border. We actually stopped a few miles short of the border and got a taxi to visit one of the most amazing churches i have ever seen. This thing was incredible, built into the mountain and next to a waterfall, it was well worth the stop. It also had BBQ'd guinea pigs for sale, which looked pretty tasty i might add. At the border we were greeted by an hour long (at least) queue to get into Ecuador. Having waited in line for an hour, we were politely informed in Spanglish, that we had not gone through Colombian immigration and therefore did not have our exit stamp. I was pissed, not at ourselves, but at our taxi driver for having driven us past Colombian immigration. He had basically dropped us off in no mans land, inbetween the two borders. I mean, how the hell are they allowed to drop people off there anyway?
Well there was no way i was going to queue up for another hour, so i left Sarah with the bags at the front desk and trekked back to Colombia, got my stamp and having failed to persuade the immigration officials that Sarah was just around the corner, in trying to get them to stamp her passport too, we swapped over and she went and got hers stamped. I only found out later that she had fainted whilst walking back to the Colombian border. It was hot and we hadnt eaten that day but there was no time for that now - It was straight into another taxi, then onto another bus and at last we finally arrived in Quito, well into the night.
The Secret Garden - the hostal which we had picked for our stay in Quito, was quite something. Well, not the hostel itself, the wifi was shit and reception was on the 5th floor. Obviously no lift and the steps on the way up were huge, i felt like a midget just trying to get up the stairs, but when you got to the top...Wow. The view was something else entirely. You could see the city go on for miles, it was amazing and throughout our stay i enjoyed many a beer, looking out at that view. Apart from on a Sunday - The Ecuadorian prime minister, decided that everybody turning up to work on a Monday, still pissed from the weekends activities was unacceptable and banned all alcohol consumption on Sundays...what a bastard. This guy had clearly never been to England. However, they did offer breakfast...and not just any breakfast - bacon and eggs! Jesus, bacon and eggs...and tea, English breakfast tea!!! I had been having withdrawal symptoms and this made it worth hauling my ass out of bed for, pre 10am in the morning.
Our first full day in Quito was spent exploring. We toured the old town before heading up to Parque Itchimbia. A gorgeous park with 360 degree views of the city, another great place to get sunburnt it seemed. Ecuador, we were quickly learning, was home to a few strange goings-on, firstly they love shit 80's music. I mean this crap was being played all over the place. In the hostel, in shops, in the street, there was the odd classic mixed in for good measure but by and large, it was shocking. If that wasnt enough, just as i was expressing my displeasure about the music, a bus zoomed past booming out Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, it was quite surreal.
By day three, having felt we had sufficiently acclimatised to the altitude, we decided to tackle the 4650m volcano. I wasnt entirely sure if it was still active or not, but i was pretty confident they wouldnt let us climb it if there was a chance of it erupting! We jumped on the Teleferiquo - the cable car that took you up to just under 4000m. It did feel like we were cheating a bit, by skipping out 1000m but at least it saved us a couple of days trekking...
Everything was going pretty good at first but about half way up the altitude was seriously starting to kick in and it was getting pretty damn steep. Sarah decided to turn back as she had a chronic, throbbing headache, a sure sign of altitude sickness. I on the other hand decided to take it upon myself to make sure i damn well got to the top first out of everybody that day. I reckon i had to take down 6-8 people, so set off a decent pace. About three quarters of the way up it started to get really bad, the air was thin and i was pretty much on my hands and knees at some points, clambering up, whilst not looking 2-3 feet either side of me where a sheer drop of 500-600m presented itself. Now, either my fitness is actually better than what i thought, or more likely, the people on front of me must have been some lazy ass mofo's because imagine my surprise when i reach the summit and im the only person there. I took in the view for 2-3mins before the clouds really started to come in and within another minute i couldnt see further than 2m in front of me, i had got there just in time. As 2m of visibility is not great for the trek back down i got the hell outta there as quickly as possible and im not ashamed to say i took great pleasure in jogging back past all the people i had overtaken on the way up, whilst they were stlll struggling. I even took the time to tell two young, excited yanks how amazing the view was from the top. I would be long gone before they got there and realised you couldnt see a thing!
Our last day in Quito was spent chilling out and watching all the kids fight each other with silly string. It seems to be a pretty big thing out here, kids messing about with silly string. Two nippers went to town on a bunch of pigeons and did a fairly good job of completely coating them. That afternoon we visited La Ronda. Although it sounds like the red light district, it was quite a cool, cobbled alley with loads of locals fighting to get you into their shop or restaurant. We stumbled across an awesome chocolate shop and naturally spent a fair wedge in there. That evening we went back to 'foch', otherwise known as La Mariscal. Foch is a great place to eat and drink, besides the fact you can have a bit of fun with taxi drivers on the road name pronunciation. We uncovered the 'Red Hot Chilli Peppers' restaurant, which for the band alone, simply had to be done. Forget Chiquitos people, these fajitas were awesome!
Banos is the thrill seeking adventure capital of Ecuador. This small town, completely surrounded by lush green hills and waterfalls in every direction, still manages to maintain a very relaxed and slow pace of life, even with all the extreme sports taking place. Its a really cool place to hang out for a few days whilst deciding where to go next.
The only downside in Banos is the name Banos. It also happens to be the name for the toilet in Spanish. Its another one of these words where pronouncing a letter ever so slightly differently, is the difference between saying you had a great time in the town Banos, or a great time in the toilet. I got it wrong on more than one occasion!
The first thing we signed up for was rafting. Absoutely love rafting, providing its proper rapids of course. Being the only guy in a raft full of young girls, meant the Ecuadorian dude, shouting out instructions on when to paddle and which way to paddle, decided to beast me for the whole journey. I basically paid $25 for this guy to shout 'harder, harder' at me -something i never wish to hear from a bloke of course, whilst i was simply doing everything in my power not to fall in. At one point i was getting smashed in the face by this water so hard that i couldnt hear what he was saying. I turn around to see this angry face shouting back, 'Vamos, vamos, back paddle, back paddle, vamos'. To be honest, he was lucky he never knew how close he came to taking a short sweet paddle to the face.
The food in Banos was also incredible. In fact the food generally in South America is incredible. I literally cant get enough. In Banos alone, we had perfectly (rare) cooked steak, in a mustard sauce, the best dry ribs ive ever tasted, in fact they might be the best ribs ever, beef stroganoff, italian meat pizza's, the list is endless. All top quality, all for £5-7 each and if that isnt enough a large (620ml) beer here will set you back 80p.
On our second day in Banos, we heard something gunning it down the high street behind us. Before we knew it we had been overtaken by two tourists in what can only be described as massive go kart / buggies, racing each other down the street. It was like a turbo charged go kart with roll cage. Let me get this straight a second...go karts, not constricted by the small circuit of a boring indoor track, this was go karts...on the road! I only had one question - where the hell do i get me one of these?
Now maybe when hiring something like this i shouldnt be haggling for the best price so much, cause although i was satisfied with the deal in monetary terms, we quickly realised, (having just driven off), that only one seatbelt worked, one helmet and both my mirrors were completely broken and the only direction they were looking, was the floor. Ah well, a quick shoulder glance every now and then should suffice.. whilst overtaking a lorry.. in a tunnel.. on a blind corner. When in Rome and all that.
The guy in the shop had told us about this awesome waterfall and recommended we should visit. All we had to do was follow the main road out of town, towards the jungle and we would find it. Well, the words 'main road' did worry me slightly, but he wouldnt recommend it if it was dangerous, surely? 10 minutes later whilst we were fighting it out with motorbikes, cars, buses and lorries on the dual carriageway, i realised, we are all crazy. Him for recommending it and us for taking the advice. I had to admit it would be bad enough doing that in England, let alone in a country where its perfectly acceptable to have four cars jostling for position in two lanes at any one time. Well, i had to admit it wasnt quite the same as racing the S2000, but i did enjoy getting into the spirit of South American driving by beeping my horn at everything that moved and i even got in a couple of sly overtakes in the process.
The waterfall coincidently, was definitely worth it. The guy at the entrance said if we didnt mind crawling through a few small caves we could actually get under the waterfall and watch it come over the edge. Ive seen quite a few waterfalls in my time but standing there, whilst getting soaked to the bone, watching it come over our heads was pretty impressive.
The rest of the time in Banos was spent chilling after some non-stop travelling - Food, beer, watching the footy (inc the Saints v Man Utd game where we were properly done out of at least a point at Old Trafford) and chatting to the super cool Ecuadorian dude called Saulo, who ran the hostel - An absolute legend!
Although we only visited two places in Ecuador, we stayed slightly longer than we planned to, as like Colombia, it was a really nice, friendly place with loads going for it, in fact i cant really say a bad word about it...apart from no beer on Sunday of course ;-)
Next stop, Peru!