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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Getting off the Gringo Trail in Guaranda and Guayaquil

ECUADOR | Thursday, 11 October 2012 | Views [991]

Plan B also involved getting to Guayaquil via the non-gringo route so we’ve detoured to Guaranda.  Not that the town has anything on offer but it sounded nice enough and the bus journey was alleged to be one of the best in the country.  First of all we travelled to Ambato only an hour away and 80c a ticket.  Typically as we were leaving Banos we had clear blue skies for the first time so as we were leaving we finally got a very good view of the volcano.

We were dropped on the outskirts of Ambato on a duel-carriageway but were assured we’d be able to flag down a Guaranda bus.  Sure enough within half an hour one appeared and since the ticket cost $2 we reckoned it would take about 2 hours to reach our next destination.  Travel is working out at about a dollar an hour and with regular buses serving all major towns and tucked away places it’s an easy, cheap way to get around.

As we left Ambato the volcano was being covered in cloud again but the generally improved weather meant we could see more of the countryside.  The scenery was reminiscent of Upper Weardale with the obvious difference that there aren’t many 6000m peaks in the Pennines!  Plus it’s not an area known for its indigenous peoples dressed in traditional attire and farming llamas.  The highlight of the journey was passing Chimboraza National Park which is dominated by a huge mountain of the same name.  The very top remained in cloud but we could clearly see the snow-dusted lower slopes as we travelled through the paramo grasslands.  As we dropped down towards Guaranda a thick blanket of cloud rolled in and smothered the peaks above the 4000m line but we still had good views looking down into the valleys.

You don’t need an alarm clock in Guaranda so we had no chance of missing our bus down to Guayaquil.  First of all the factory siren wailed and if that wasn’t enough then the church bells clank into action at 6am.  We were up!  It was beautiful, bright sunny day so we hoped for another of those lovely bus journeys.  In just 4 hours we passed through and over the Andes at 2970m (they’re getting lower!) and to the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  In actual fact Guayaquil lies slightly inland up an estuary that becomes the Rio Guayas.  Today we saw more of those rolling hills quilted in a patchwork of browns and greens.  As we crested a rise in the road we found ourselves looking down on a sea of cloud; which unfortunately we entered soon after.  Within an hour we’d dropped below the cloud and mist and were travelling through a vast area of flat farmland where it was much warmer.

We entered Quayaquil at the end of town near the brand new bus terminal and the airport which we would need the following morning.  Knowing this we’d booked a hostel nearby but the taxi driver couldn’t find Funky Monkey so we got down in the vague vicinity.  Luckily we had the address and a helpful resident pointed us in the right direction but it wasn’t an auspicious start.  It turned out to be another of those okay yet odd places but at least they let me use the washing machine.  While we were waiting for it to go through its cycles we caught up on showers and teeth brushing.  Next thing I knew the sink was on the floor and had smashed into several pieces.  So our exploration of Guayaquil had to be put on hold while sinks were bought and installed.  They tried to get us to pay for it - no chance!  It wasn’t my fault just an accident as I’d noticed sink was barely clinging on and treated it with care.  Obviously I brushed my teeth way too vigorously!

To be honest it didn’t exactly leave us short of time as there’s only one thing to do in this huge, rambling city.  We jumped in a taxi to take us down to the Malacon area of town; a pedestrian zone along the banks of the river leading to Las Penas barrio.  The authorities are so aware of the city’s reputation of being unsafe and riddled with unsavoury barrios that this area is gated, policed and the barrio has been painted and renovated.  It was nice enough wandering along the river and watching the sun set over the water.  We’d thought it would be a good area to have a meal but all we could find were bars pumping out loud music even though they were empty.  Believe me the only reason we were there was for that all important flight to the Galapagos Islands in the morning.

Guaranda’s bus station is on the outskirts of town so we jumped in a taxi and asked him to take us to Hostal de las Flores which he duly did.  However, we were disappointed to discover it was closed for renovations.  A quick wander round near the main square and we found Balcon Cuencos which is basic but tolerable at only $15 a night.  It seems the cheaper the place the higher the likelihood of cable TV in your room so Steve’s happily watching some football as I type this journal.  Why aren’t we out exploring?  We already have; as nice as Guaranda is its totally non-touristy and wandering the streets doesn’t fill more than an hour.  We’d hoped that the mid-week market would keep us entertained but the building where it’s supposed to be held has been pulled down.  The normal market wasn’t very inspiring so we can only assume that the action took place earlier today.  The trials and tribulations of getting off the beaten track.


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