Tuesday 13 May 2014

ONE MORE MONTH IN ECUADOR. BEACHES, QUITO AND WATER (-falls, natural spas and lakes)

Quito and the laundry
I've been already a month in Ecuador (First month in Ecuador) and still haven't been to the beach. That is ridiculous, the second smallest country in South America, pretty easy and fast to get around and I am still far away from any beach. In fact I am freezing my ass off at Lacatunga, doing the Quilotoa loop.

I had a couch in Manta so that was my goal for the day. Of course I didn’t know it was about 400 km away, especially if you take the wrong road through the mountains. Instead I made it to Canoa, a big surf destination on the coast. I stayed in Coco Loco, a nice hostel owned by a girl from Alaska who had some pretty good stories about grizzly bears to tell. I was kind of adopted by a group of 2 Chileans and an Aussie so it was fun spending some time with them. My ankle was still hurting and the grey sky and scary waves made surfing impossible for me. We had to move to another hostel next door, Canoamar cos Coco Loco was all booked for a French group.
The beach in Canoa. Not ideal for surfing today
Coco loco

In Canoamar. It was time to take out my Chilean flag (which I got from Nacho in Iquitos in exchange of my Uzbek one)
Went to San Vicente with Pablo and Neils, had lunch there and then headed to Puiquigua where I was supposed to spend a few days in the rural part of the coast with Joshua, a Peace Corps volunteer from Texas and his host family. Did some weeding in the garden where he was helping the locals and he took me to a nice waterfall just outside San Isidro. 
Going to San Vicente. With Pablo and Neils.
Joshua`s hut which he built himself
Real rural life
Hitchhiking to Puerto Lopez, I was offered to stay with the driver´s family in Portoviejo which I did. They were so warm and hospitable; in fact the whole extended family came to see me and all the neighbours too.  We talked till really late with Amada (Tito´s wife) and in the morning when I was leaving everyone gave me something for the road – biscuits, fruits, drinks…it was very sweet, like I was already part of the family.
Amanda and Tito´s cycling trophies in the back
Arrived in Puerto Lopez and asking for directions I found a group of locals and foreigners heading to Las Tunas (town nearby, good for surfing). One of the girls (Heidy) happened to have a hostel so I just dropped my things off there, changed into bikini and jumped in the car with them. It was a fun crowd and lots of fun, especially after having some brownies. Together with Juaquin, a Chilean guy, I went to Frailes beach next day (Machalilla National park), wasn’t difficult to hitch a ride there and on the way back. Luckily the weather was with us that day and it was all sunny and pretty. Stayed another days or two, cooked and partied with the people from the hostel.
Las Tunas

Las Tunas, Heidy in the hammock
Puerto Lopez
 Lookout point over the beaches in Machalilla National Park
Machalilla National Park
On Tortuguita beach

There were so many of them
Los Frailes beach
Meat on sticks, 1 $ each
Montañita - the party town in Ecuador (the equivalent of Mancora in Peru). Stayed in La Iguana, 5 $ a night on the terrace. I got there on Sunday, the deadest day of the week, everyone was recovering from the weekend. It got a bit better the next few days, there were some concerts at night and the crownd at the hostel was fun and we had some barbecues there and spend hours in circles trying to find the only foosball table in town…But days were grey and foggy so I quickly gave up the idea of volunteering in Montañita. My initial plan was to volunteer in a surf hostel for 2, 3 weeks so I stay for free and get a surfboard for free but the grayness and lack of sun dropped the idea. Still managed to do a few small trips to the nearby villages like Olon and it wasn’t much sunnier. Apparently the season starts in mid December when the weather gets better and I didn’t want to wait. Heading north, like Mompiche, another surfing town, sounded well. Ben, an English guy staying in the hostel offered to take me there by his motorbike. It sounded interesting and different. Thus, I was travelling north again but by motorbike this time.

Found a concert on the beach
If only the weather was nicer...

The beach in Montañita, grey and empty
The terrace in La iguana
Stayed in a cute little cabin on the beach but quite dependant on the tide. We couldn’t leave the cabin both nights cos it meant to get completely wet crossing the river on the way back from the village and a bit wet on the way there. Or wait till 3 am..But I there wasn´t that much going on even though it was the weekend.  At least we had a kitchen and the owners were selling homemade bread and eggs so wasn´t bad at all. The town itself is pretty nice but quiet. Still grey and misty, like everywhere else on the coast in Ecuador, just wrong time of the year, nothing to do.
Our hut (on the left)
Ben trying to get out of the sand
Despite the weather, Mompiche is still beautiful
On the way out of town, joining the main road Ben had to stop and arrange something on the bike. I was standing next to the bike a bit absent-minded when another motorbike came out of nowhere, couldn’t take the turn, fell to the ground and came towards me. Yeah, I got run over when I was simply standing on the side of the road. Luckily, I still had the crash helmet on so just got away with massive bruises on my legs and shoulders, another sore ankle and a headache for days. And the guy didn’t even say I´m sorry, just kept saying that it wasn’t his fault,  that the brakes failed. I guess he got worried that since we are foreigners we might sue him. It was so ridiculous, after 2 days of riding on a motorbike and worrying so much about crashing, I got knocked down by another motorbike just standing on the road. I guess if something has to happen, it will happen anyways, no matter how careful and cautious we are. 

We spent a night in Súa first and then went to Atacames. It is another beach town , located in the province of Esmeraldas (where all the black Ecuadorians are). Stayed in Chill in, lovely place with nice hammocks, fully equipped kitchen and good WIFI, run by a Swiss girl.
Went to Esmeraldas, the ugliest town in Ecuador so far, where I unsuccessfully tried to get my Colombian visa. The consul in the Colombian consulate is useless, very square headed and not helpful at all. Left really angry but at least I knew what to do when I get to Quito.
Ceviche ecuatoriano, quite different to the Peruvian one. Love them both!

Beach in Atacames
Next stop was Mindo. Ben has been there before so we went straight to meet his friend Camilo and stayed at his place. He was building a hostel (Mindo Pura Vida, no, he is not a surfer) and when ready, is gonna be an amazing place, very green and eco-friendly, with a climbing wall and lots of space for camping. We walked through the cloud forest to waterfalls but didn’t do any of the tourist attractions the town offers. I was quite happy just with the barbecue and drinks we had. There was a French couple helping Camilo, they travelled around South America in their van and had some pretty good stories to share. They got stopped 7 times by the police in a stretch of 150 km in northern Peru, every time asked to pay a bribe due to imaginary speeding or another violation of the traffic rules. Of course they didn´t pay anything, just waited until the cops` patience was exhausted and they let them go.
Nuestra cabaña
Building the kitchen
To the top of the climbing wall
From the top
When it´s loaded

Mindo Pura vida

On the way to Quito we stopped at the real Mitad del mundo (The middle of the world). Wasn´t very keen on listening to the historical information and the other tourist bullshit (and secretly sneaked out) but then here were a bunch of tricks that they had us do as well to try and prove it was the middle of the world  so that made it a bit more interesting.
Intiñan solar  museum 
One foot on the northern hemisphere and the other one on the southern

Looks easy but is fucking difficult to walk in straight line with your eyes closed
Ben trying to balance an egg on a nail. Couldn´t do it. I didn`t even try.
Middle of the world monument

There are lamas in the middle of the world too..

Stayed in Backpackers Inn in La Mariscal. Sorted out my Colombian visa with a fake flight ticket. Just faked Ben´s flight ticket from Colombia to London, via New York and it worked. It´s crazy to ask a backpacker for an outgoing flight when we never know when we leave and it´s definitely not by air.
It´s pretty common to get mugged in Quito, Robberies, especially in La Mariscal. I never felt in danger but at night I tried to avoid some streets notorious for being dangerous at night. The other possibility is to get robbed in the tram. I met so many people who experienced that. And the thieves are so good that you don’t realize anything or sometimes you do but it´s too late, usually it´s not just one person involved so it´s impossible to catch them. It was still possible to find almuerzos (lunch) for 2$ and my favourite encebollado or pan de yuka. 

Quito´s Old town
Plaza grande
Reminded me of La Paz 

They´ve got the same bike system as Barcelona
El Panecillo is a volcanic hill located in the centre of Quito and offering the most stunning view of the historical part. We spent quite a while there, especially after finding a group of kids who were happy to pose for some photos. 

El Panecillo

After el Panecillo, we stopped at La Ronda street.  Walking down La Ronda is like walking into eighteenth century Quito. The narrow, pedestrian-only road is lined by remnants of the city’s Spanish influence - narrow wooden doors opening into homes built around interior stone patios, wrought-iron balconies where geraniums hang from window baskets and whitewashed walls. I loved it there, much more than El Mariscal. 

The largest empanada I´ve seen
These kids playing with their father were pretty good

We stayed longer for the Fiestas de Quito. Met up with Paul whom I met in Tena rafting (the red raft). We went out and it was a pretty busy night starting with some drinks in a nice bar with amazing views over the whole city. Friend of his had a Chiva – the buses that run around the city with loud music and lots of alcohol and we jumped into one of them. After a 2 hour tour around the city and a bottle of rum, we headed to a place, noc chance to remember the name, where the street concerts were. All I remember was that we had 3 bottles of canelazo between 3 of us but it was lots of fun. I had a massive hangover next morning (not only me though) but since it was a holiday and everything was closed, it took us forever to find "encebollado" – my favourite dish in Ecuador and apparently really good remedy for hangovers.

Just before leaving the hostel I met these 2 Bulgarians in their sixties, couldn't believe it, we stayed in the same hostel for 3 days and didn’t see each other. Good that I heard them talking this weird language and got closer to find out it was Bulgarian. They were pretty happy to meet me too. Traveling just like me, backpacking, sleeping in hostels and taking buses but moving much faster than me. 

I got my Colombian visa and we headed east to las Termas de Papallacta (3300m). It was supposed to be 1 hour from Quito but took us way longer, and at this altitude is pretty cold when you are on a motorbike. Stayed in this amazing hotel, having a chimney and a small spa in the room. Probably the most expensive I´ve paid so far in S.A.(55$ the room, including breakfast and the use of all the thermal baths) but it was worth it. After having breakfast in the morning and jumping in the spa for a while, we loaded up the bike and kept going east. 
The room

The spa hotel
The road was a bit better but still quite a lot of turns which made me imagine how we crash and die every time when we were leaning very close to the ground. I guess some people enjoy it…but not me…too much fear. Not with this kind of speed and not riding as a passenger and not controlling anything. 
Having lunch by the river

Pretty nice place for a picnic

Cascada de San Rafael. Arrived there pretty late and it was a 25 min walk so decided to see it next morning. There was nothing else around apart from a fancy hotel where after bargaining (more like begging) they gave us the room for 25$. The whole complex was much nicer than the normal backpacker´s hostels I usually stay at. Apart from the amazing views, it had a swimming pool with a big water slide which we used at 9 pm for the surprise of everyone and also the last floor was the chill out area with hammocks, pool and guess what – foosball! Next day rained almost the whole day and we had no other choice but staying another night. 

San Rafael
That was what I was seeing pretty much most of the time (in fear of my life :)))

Otavalo is mostly famous for its market. On Saturday, almost the entire city becomes one big shopping area, and itinerant vendors set up stalls on every available speck of sidewalk and alleyway. It's not just for tourists, either; Ecuadoreans come here from miles away, to peddle and buy high-quality, handmade goods. Unfortunately, I wasn´t there for the weekend but I know most people go to the town just for the market.
At least I fixed my hiking shoes which started to leak after the muddy Inca trail and Ben took me to the lakes. We rode 16 km south of town and headed up into the hills to Lagunas de Mojanda. The road was once again bumpy, full of ruts but I kind of enjoyed it this time since Ben was careful and riding quite slowly. There are three lakes near the top of the mountain located at 3800m.  They occupy the crater of an extinct volcano which has been inactive for 200,000 years now. He had seen them already and I don’t usually stop to admire the nature for more than half an hour without any activities involved so we kept riding the bike along the dirt road until it was not possible. I had to get off a few times for my own safety. 

The road wasn´t perfect but I enjoyed it much more than main asphalt roads

Cuicocha lake with its islands. Bad light, no time ... and of course bad photo
We also went to Cuicocha lake but the visit was very quick cos they were closing, had to beg the guard to let us in to take some photos. But the photos I took are bad so the lake is supposed to look like that:

Somehow I managed to spend two months in Ecuador, getting slower and slower. On December 11th I took a bus to the border town Tulcan (border with Colombia). It was busy there since the Ecuadorian and Colombian presidents were meeting in Tulcan, big queues on the Ecuadorian side of the border. But everything was fine and even the Colombian officials were surprised to see I already had a visa in my passport. I guess not many nationalities need one to enter Colombia. Goodbye Ecuador, I will be back!

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