Friday, 19 April 2013

ECUADOR. Coast, mountains & jungle, all in the same day

On the Inca trail in Ecuador
The second smallest country in South America but the most diverse one. The locals say that you can be in la Costa, la Sierra, y el Oriente (Coast, Mountains and Jungle) in the same day. Distances are small, transport is cheap (1$ for every hour on the bus) and hitch hiking also pretty easy. And it has absolutely everything, just takes much shorter to get to it (compared to Peru for example). In just two hour distance from the jungle to the mountains or from the mountains to the coast, you really can feel the climate changes and you see completely different landscapes.


15.10.2012
The bus dropped me off at 5am at the bus station in Cuenca. I got out to discover that Ecuador is not nearly as hot as Mancora (Peru). Two girls from the bus helped me call Mike (my CS host) and find my way to his flat. He left me sleeping (no matter how long I´ve been traveling, these night buses are killing me, make me feel like a wet rag the next day) and went to Uni. When he came back, he cooked “sudado de pollo”, pretty good for a guy, actually real good J. We walked around the old town, he showed me around some nice bars and markets and for the night we prepared canelazo – hot alcoholic drink. I was so surprised how they eat everything with spoons, how weird is that, didn’t have a single fork in the house. I wanted to buy them a couple of spoons before I leave but I forgot. Next day as Mike promised we went to have a cui (Guinea pig) for lunch, wasn’t that bad but wouldn’t have it again.
My first photo in Ecuador

Homemade canelazo. The first one of many to come

Ate exactly this one. Sorry my vegetarian friends. Was a bit chewy
We went to Parque Nacional Cajas, taking a bus from the Estacion sur (1,25$). There are 235 lagoons, but since it was pissing down with rain, after walking to the first lagoon and coming back, we hitched a ride back to Cuenca. Watched the match Ecuador-Venezuela in a bar in the center (1:1), looks like in every country I go, im destined to support their national team, it was fun though. Ecuador is doing pretty good for the World cup qualifications (they never lose matches at home, try to play football at 3300 m altitude, probably only the Bolivians are used to it).




Buses are pretty cheap in Ecuador (they have oil!), it is like a dolar for an hour ride, so if have to go 5 hours away, its gonna be 5$, pretty easy to handle it. But the prospective of getting on a bus with all my luggage to the central bus station and then wait for the bus (the bus stations are always a dodgy place) didn’t atract me at all. Instead, I hitchhiked and it was great – more dynamic, faster and free. Made it to Baños in 8 cars, all of them different, from normal workers and taxi drivers to owners of hotels and an old man travelling with his grandson. The thing in common was that all of them were very nice and told me a lot about Ecuador and the places we were passing by.


Somewhere on the way to Baños where I got dropped of and waited for the next ride
Always wanted to do that but never had spare shoes
The best vew of the volcano I had. never saw it that clear after that.
Baños
It is a small town nestled in the mountains at the foot of the still active Tungurahua volcano. The town gets its names from hot springs heated by the volcano and everything is within walking distance. Baños was kind of a reunion place for me, so many people I met before happened to be there. Sebastian and Andrea from La Casona have been there for a while already and I knew where to find them but I also bumped into Cora & Luisa in my hostel (they were volunteers in la Casona too), met Melanie and Remi I was traveling with to Iquitos in Peru. Met a Duch couple in the hostel and we moved together to another one “Plantas &Blanco”. I went with them to the highlands hiking, wasn’t a tough one but my muscles were sore for 5 days after that.  



Baños from the hills
View from Plantas & Blanco




A must do in Baños is to rent bikes and ride all the way to Puyo or just to Rio Verde. We rented bikes for 5 $ and rode to Rio Verde and hiked down to Pailon del Diablo waterfall. Once you hike back up to the top, there are trucks that will take you back to town (just stick your bike in back), cost is $2 a person. It’s a very pretty and scenic ride, called la Ruta de las Cascadas because there are so many waterfalls and it´s almost all the way downhill.
The first waterfall along the way
Zip lining for 5 $ if you wish

Waterfall Number x
Loved it!
To Pailon del Diablo
Going back to Baños
I kind of caught up with my friends so it was time to visit my CS host. I stayed with Juan Carlos and Ovidio and 10 other couchsurfers. Everyone came to their house the first night cos Ovidio whom I met in town the night before by chance (I remembered his face from the photo on his profile) invited them too – the Dutch couple, Cora&Luisa, some other guys they were traveling with.  Some people were up till 8am, dancing tango and salsa and the rest of us listening to them J and trying to sleep. 

Graffiti night 

Cora&Luisa and the Dutch couple
Yeyeeyah


Juanca took us climbing

Juanka and Rodrigo

First timer
I wanted to leave to Baños already but Juanca offered to take us (the couchsurfers) to the Inca trail. He is a mountain guide and he provided all the camping gear, including tents and sleeping bags, all for free (the tour usually costs 200 $). I had 2 days to play with until we leave so filled that up with a short trip to Puyo. Rodrigo from Argentina, who was also surfing in the house (and not letting anyone sleep trying to show his tango´s skills the first night) offered to join me. We didn’t find the hostel we were recommended and ended up staying with this random guy´s house, sleeping in hammocks in their Choza (shed). 
Riding in the back of a pickup
My bed
The bedroom
And the pets
The cutest puppy ever!
Rodrigo trying to be cuter than the puppy
There is a pretty cool waterfall 16km from Puyo, called Hola vida. It´s not easy to get there (no regular public transport) but it´s worth it. It is surrounded by dense vegetation, deep down into Ecuadorian jungle. It´s half an hour walk through the jungle if you don’t get lost cos the path is not that clear but when you get there you realize it was worth the effort. You can swim and stay under the falling water, feels like a massage. 
And we made it quite late to Baños, hitch hiked in the dark actually, something I never do.
Hola Vida
Via el Salado
Finished!
Inca trail in Ecuador
The starting point for the hike was Anchupalla where we got by bus Juanka hired and spent the first night in a hostel there.The route is faint in places and sometimes even nonexistent but we were with Juan Carlos and he knew the trail by heart. It was pretty muddy and watery, we all ended up covered in mud and wet feet. And after the first night camping most of us had the altitude sickness (went up to 4600 m), nothing serious but headaches and breathing pain (including myself). And it is fucking cold at night! It all went fine until I twisted my ankle. Until then I was the one waiting for the others all the time (and complaining of course, patience is not my best virtue) and after that the whole group had to wait for me. It got quite swollen but the worst part was that the only way to get down was to walk (12 km to the first village). 
The morning in Anchupalla
El camino...nice and neat....but only at the beginning

Pretty pretty pretty
First night camping. Tent No 2 (the blue one) rocks!

Just Juanka is missing
Someone forgot to give me a fork, Im literally eating from the box







We got to camp in the ruins.


Hannah

Rodrigo and the Danish girl

Natural dryer. But I´ve always wondered why they don´t use wash-lines
Getting to Ingapirka (the most famous ruins in Ecuador), me and Ellyane left straight away hitchhiking back to Baños while the others visited the ruins and went to Cuenca after that. No chance for me with my ankle, just wanted to make it home  - “Home” is a place where u spend more than 2 nights so Juanka´s house was like home for me. Next day, since I didn’t have to walk 15 km, my ankle didn’t hurt as much so we spent the day relaxing, went to the thermal baths in El Salado which was really refreshing - 3 pools there with different temperature.
The difference
Movie afternoon + some treats :)
Probably taking the following photo
Pretty clear message (I mean the wall)
Guess the film :)
Since it was the time of the “fiestas de Baños” next thing was a big partying night in town, going up and down the streets, in and out the “VAN” J, meeting lots of people dancing and drinking all over the place. When everything was over we tried to find an after party and found it but wasn’t that good so went home.
Бардак  и в Еквадор
In the Van, "La noche de la risa" I would call it
One of the street concerts
Elyane and I decided to make a dinner for everyone but it was such a failure – pasta with meat was the choice. We wanted to say thanks to Juan Carlos for all the effort taking us all to the Inca trail. Turned out that he is a vegetarian, doesn’t like pasta and usually don’t have dinner. And on top of that they didn’t come back for 2 nights and since they had no fridge in the house we had to cook the meat. So we made this massive dinner for 10 people and only a few who were in the house ate.
Everyone is back already, having the leftovers from my not very successful dinner
View of the volcano (5016m) from the house at Via El Salado
La van 
 

As much as I liked Baños it was time to go. I was still limping but there was nothing to do about it. Teamed up with Rodrigo again and went to Tena, surfing with Pakarina. Other couchsurfers already recommended her an we stayed for a week in her beautiful house in the middle of the jungle by the river. I really loved it and if there weren’t so many sand flies I could of stayed much longer . We explored the area as much as we could, walking in the jungle, chilling at the house or by the river or just talking to Pakarina. She is from a small indigenous community and kne so much about the jungle and its secrets. Every time I asked her about some cure for any problem I had, she would just go around her house and come back with some medicinal plant or herb.  We spent one day in Misahuallí, a small town near Tena with white and soft river sand beach. The beach has dozens of trees that host a group of cheeky of monkeys.
Rodrigo and Pacarina on "cleaning mission"
That was spicy


The beach in Misahualli
My jungle house

After the arenillas (mosquitos) attack

Pacarina
Italian karaoke. Pakarina took us to a farewell party in a school full of Italian volunteers

Despite my sore and swollen ankle we went rafting (Jatunyacu river, class 3) which was so much fun. As always I was automatically sent to the “latino boat” and our raft was definitely the most cheerful and loudest one (the other two were full of Americans). All of us fell in the water a couple of times, sometimes on purpose, we always tried to get into all the big rapids and waves. The guide Jorge was pretty cool and up for any of the nonsense we wanted to do. Most of the time we didn´t even understand what we were doing, but somehow everything worked out well and someone always ended up in the water and we had to go and get them. There was lots of  laughing and screaming and we got some adrenaline in our bodies. 





Ana Maria from Colombia
Paul and Ana Maria
Team "Red"




I just couldn`t stop laughing
Cheverazo
We made it! No one over board this time :)
Finally lunch!
Yes, we are hungry



The helmet backwards.  No wonder everyone was laughing
We loved those rocks! didn´t miss one. Two in the water after that :). I survived
Rodrigo chillin
Team "red"

None of us really understood what we were trying to do but it was fun anyway
Hitchhiked to Latacunga with Rodrigo, spent the night in a cheap hotel and in the morning took the bus to Quilotoa in order to do the Quilotoa loop next day.
Quilotoa is a crater-lake located in the centre of the mountain chain Andes, formed by the eruption of a volcano more than 800 years ago. Slept in Cabañas Quilotoa, there was a big crowd of foreigners all gathered around the fire and later we all had dinner together. We shared our hut with a guy from Texas and a girl from NZ, slept in my sleeping bag and 4 blankets on top of it, and still cold!
Quilotoa lake








The advantage to travel with Argentinians - always have the thermos flask handy


The hostel 
Las fiestas de Latacunga
With Texas and NZ after a whole bottle of canelazo
Next morning (more like lunch time), Rodrigo walked me to my hitching spot and we parted different ways, Rodrigo going north to Colombia and me heading to the coast (Second month in Ecuadorl). Almost 3 weeks weeks travelling together, he was a good companion and I will be missed.
That's what happens pretty often, you meet people you like but at some point your roads go separate ways and you just hope that one day you cross roads again!  And it is hard to say goodbye to someone who has become a good friend and that maybe you will never meet each other again...Sometimes I think how many of these goodbyes can one take....But then you meet your next travel buddy and the next goodbye comes too :))) The most important is that you make quite a few good friends and even when you are back in the office or whatever you go back to, they are still there, reminding you of the good (or bad) times on the road...

The cheapest flights in Europe