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Kat & Andrew's Worldwide Adventures

Ecuador (Quito & Banos)

ECUADOR | Wednesday, 23 November 2011 | Views [3484] | Comments [2]

It’s amazing how quickly you adapt to the habitat you’re in. We flew from Leticia in the Amazon Jungle to Quito, Ecuador (via Bogota) and it felt weird being in a city again. Ecuador is the 4th country we’re visiting out of 9 on this trip. It feels like we’ve been travelling forever but we’re not even half way!! And I am not even close to being tired of it.

A brief run down - Ecuador is small in comparison to the rest of South America, but really it’s roughly the size of New Zealand! Yet NZ has 4.5 million people and Ecuador has 12! It is a very diverse place with a coast full of beaches, the Andes mountain range and the Oriente jungle. Tourism here is developing but oil constitutes more than half of the country’s profits with bananas and shrimp being the other main exports. Ecuador was very involved in the Inca culture in the past but sadly, most traces of that have been destroyed. Like most countries in South America, Spain eventually took over in the 1500’s. Ecuador gained their independence in 1822 but was still part of Venezuela and Colombia until 1830 when it became its own country. Then of course, there was the war between the liberals and the conservatives as to how the country should be run. In 1941 Peru tried to take over Ecuador resulting in more war which continued on and off until 1998 when a settlement was finally negotiated. In 2000, the currency changed to the US dollar as Ecuador’s Sucre lost almost all value. An estimated 60-70% of the population live below the poverty line.

We arrived in Quito around 11pm at night. This is a place where we are told never to go out at night unless by taxi. A friend had been there a week before and said 5 separate people at her hostel got robbed in one day…. So, to say the least, we were very wary. We got a taxi and stayed on alert in case anyone tried to jump in with us, but we arrived at our hostel safely. Because of our arrival time we had pre-booked our hostel for a change but it turned out that our booking hadn’t been received. Thankfully the owner was awake but he spoke no English so it took a while trying to decipher what each other were saying. We were lucky that he had one room available – but it only had 2 single beds… we took it anyway. The beds were actually very comfortable and it was the first kitchen we had come across that had everything we needed plus a toaster! Yay!

Over the past few days I had been getting very bad stomach cramps which lasted 10-20 seconds at a time sporadically throughout the day. That night, it progressed to the next level and it was not nice. I stayed in bed the entire next day. My tummy still hasn’t come right almost a week later, but it only reacts when I eat which means I can still get out and do stuff in between meals.

The following day we explored Quito which has a population of roughly 14.5 million people. The city is at an elevation of 2850 metres. And is surrounded by the Andean mountains and Volcanos. I was surprised to find that I really really liked the place despite the danger. We walked up to a lookout point (with the altitude making us a little breathless) and enjoyed the sweeping view of the colorful blocks of buildings completely covering the valley and crawling up the sides of the mountains. We were very fortunate with the weather, clear skies and warm sun. We walked all around the beautiful Old Town with its narrow streets and old architecture in colors such as peach, light green, soft pink and shades of blues. We continued onto the New Town where the buildings become a lot more modern and the tourist area comes in to play. Our hostel was in the La Floresta area in an old house with a big metal gate for safety and 3 loud and friendly dogs standing guard.

Like Colombia, the men here are rather short (which I can relate too!) and the women rather curvy and they all seem to like very very tight leggings…. The indigenous people are even shorter again and still wear their traditional dress which is neat to see. In Colombia their delicacy was large ants that taste like peanut butter. In Ecuador it’s all about the roasted guinea pigs!! They also cook pigs whole and they hang from the door of houses or are placed on a table on the side of the road….

The next day the hostel staff called us a Taxi and we told the driver that we wanted to go to the bus station to go to Banos. Our map stated that the bus station was in the Old Town but we went straight past the area and onto a highway. I began to get worried that he was trying to take us all the way to Banos! I tried communicating with him to stop but we couldn’t understand each other. We showed him the bus station on our map and he still kept driving and saying a whole lot of things in Spanish that I couldn’t follow. I was very tense and concerned that we were being taken somewhere we didn’t want to go but eventually we were dropped off at a very large bus station that looked very new. Maybe the station has moved in the last 5 years since our guide book was printed… woops!!

Our bus to Banos took 3.5 hours and only cost $7 for the both of us! Brilliant! (But the taxi cost $15…) Unfortunately there was no air conditioning and every time the bus stopped, groups of people would get on and try and sell you things and tell you their life story and why they need the money. (Very much like Mexico and Colombia). Everyone seems to have free reign to do this is this part of the world – if people tried to do that back home you would be kicked off and possibly fined! For the first time this trip, the movie they played on the bus had English sub titles so I could actually watch it – Yay 

On the bus we managed to pick up a stray - A Canadian Mountie named Lacy. She didn’t have any set plans so she came along to the hostel we had picked out that was cheap and nice and we got a room next to each other. The room is beautiful, the bed comfortable and we have a private bathroom & a TV – all for $7 each! So stoked. Plus, the place has pets and that always keeps me entertained! 2 parrots and a turtle, so cool! We wondered around Banos and checked out a small water fall and found a place to eat. Food in Ecuador is a lot cheaper than Colombia; you can get a set meal (usually soup, rice, salad and meat plus a juice) for $2. It’s a really neat little tourist town built in a small valley between large mountains and a Volcano that has erupted twice since 1996. I know we have a lot of Volcanos in NZ but this one is bad ass – it looks like a Volcano should look with its char grilled edges and smoke seeping out the top.

The next day the 3 of us went on a 4 hour hike up and down the mountains. The views over the surrounding mountains, the volcano, and the small city below were breath taking. Our descent was not quite what we expected – it was extremely steep with dry dusty dirt that resulted in Andrew and Lacy having a competition as to who can slip the most. (I had my hiking boots on so wasn’t a victim quite as much but afterwards the tops of my thigh muscles were in agony). Plus the trail was so overgrown with bush that it didn’t seem like it had seen people in a very long time!

Our final day in Banos was exciting! Lacy, Fredrico (a French guy Lacy met the night before), Andrew and I plus a British couple were in one raft with a guide. There was one other raft and a guy in a kayak as added security & photographer. We went white water rafting in a Grade 4 river. I was very nervous as I’m not a big swimmer, and I’m pretty much just a wuss. I had been rafting once before in Croatia but it was only Grade 3. (Grade 6 is the highest). Unlike Croatia however, we were given a safety talk and training plus wet suit and shoes (and helmet & life jacket). Luckily I didn’t fall out of the raft, and I had an absolute blast. Andrew and Fredrico sat at the front of the raft so they got the full brunt of the waves exploding over them. I’m really glad I went. In winter the same stretch of river becomes a monstrous grade 5 and boats flip often, I think that would be a bit above my comfort zone! 2 guys fell out of the other raft and we rescued one and the kayak got the other. A half day trip which included lunch was only $25 each!!

Afterwards the 4 of us went to the thermal bathes that Banos is famous for and that indigenous people from all over come to on the weekend to use. It was actually pretty gross, it wasn’t that hot and it was murky and filled with long hair and dead bugs. There were loads of people, some of which looked like they had skin conditions. This one old native lady wore a long skirt in the water with a big bead necklace, nasty teeth and her boobs just hanging out! Lacy, Andrew and I went out for a drink later as a farewell, which turned into 3 cocktails seeing as they were only $2.50 each!

Had a terrible sleep due to my bad tummy still playing up (drinking wouldn’t have helped I know!). We got up before 6am to catch an early bus out and we both felt a bit seedy. Poor Andrew almost threw up out the bus window as the ride was rather bumpy with big corners. We changed buses at Riobamba and after 8.5 hours, we finally arrived in Cuenca. I couldn’t wait to get off that bus, it was hot and stuffy, cramped, and the aisles were full of people due to not enough seats which just added to the discomfort.

Cuenca is a beautiful old colonial town. We went out for a bite to eat and that’s as far as our exploring went. I wish we had more time to look around and enjoy it but were exhausted, and being a Sunday, everything was closed. Our hostel there was nowhere as nice as in Banos; it didn’t have a kitchen or internet, yet we paid more for it…. In the morning we were up bright and early again at 6am and went on a 6 hour bus ride. It’s a shame to waste 2 whole days on the bus but on the plus side we enjoyed incredible views of breath taking mountains. A lot of the trees reminded me of back home and Australia, eucalyptus, gum trees and the odd cacti, among others. We also passed massive banana plantations and then the landscape got drier and drier. We could’ve done back to back buses meaning 19 hours of travel in a row including over night but it turns out that it was better to be crossing the border in day light…..

We only had a week in Ecuador and I enjoyed my stay. I would like to spend more time there but it was never high up on my list of places to go too originally. My list of places to go too is increasing as I travel, not decreasing! Then we had the biggest nightmare experience at the Peru border… it justifies its own blog ----

Comments

1

Sorry you missed us in Quito. If you're back this way please give us a holler. There is a lot of fascinating stuff to learn about chocolate and cacao in Ecuador.

  Jeff Stern Nov 23, 2011 10:50 AM

2

And another feature - you guys are great travellers!

You'll be on the Adventures homepage for another week WorldNomads Adventures homepage so that other travellers can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!
Kate

  Kate Hoffman Dec 5, 2011 10:41 AM

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