17/01/2002 Otavalo market
Otavalo is famous for its handicrafts market. The local Indians are good merchants and therefore a quite prosperous group. On a quite Thursday it is easier to get a good price as they are happy to sell something. After some wandering around and trying to negotiate good prices we buy two cotton pants (7 us $), a woollen sweater for me and small bag for Sofie (10,5 $) and some bracelets. The town itself has not much more to offer, but we look around in the shops and I get me a Spanish-English dictionary, for my Harry Potter book.
18/01/2002 To Quito, casa de Elisa
In the late morning we leave with our bags and after a quick breakfast on the way to the bus terminal we jump on a bus to Quito. We notice the difference with Colombia a lot. If we met tourists in a bus in Colombia we were curious to know who they where and what they had seen, where they were going to, because there just were not that many tourists. But here every bus is full of tourists, and therefore they are less social... We arrive in Quito around 4 pm and the bus drops us of, way too far from the tourist centre. We pay an expensive cab to 'casa de Elisa', a family type of hostel, a little bit northeast in the city. The old, historic centre is not the best place to stay in a hotel because of the number of robberies that occur. Now most tourists go to the hotels and restaurants in the new centre in the north of the city. Elisa lives 5 blocks to the east from there, and is therefore a quite and safer neighbourhood. She also has a fully equipped kitchen so we go shopping in the supermarket and buy for for 3 days. Ecuador is much more expensive than Colombia, so cooking is sometimes a much cheaper option than going to expensive restos.
19/01/2002 Mitad del mundo
Quito is just South of the equator, and one of the tourist spots is de monument of the 'Mitad del mundo' (middel of the world). The monument is a big tower with a globe on top and a museum inside. Around is a virtual town with restaurants, shops, and photo material... The typical expensive tourist place. We are a little bit disappointed, but the sun is shining so we get an ice cream and get a tan. In the afternoon we look at the pictures and work of the Golondrinas foundation (http://www.ecuadorexplorer.com/golondrinas) , the organization of Elisa. They have set up an ecological farm in the north west of the country, teaching the local population how to preserve the land and to prosper from it. Volunteers from all over the world come to help in the project and enjoy a beautiful nature experience for a few weeks or months. In Belgium she doesn't have any organization yet for volunteers so if anybody knows any, please contact her through their website. In 2000 the project won one of the 5 annual Rolex Awards, quite an encouraging price for an already very enthusiastic Elisa, and recognition worldwide for the organizations work of the last 5 years.
20/01/2002 Quito's old city
Together with Stephanie, a nice Canadian girl, we go to the casa de la cultura to visit the museo nacional del banco central de Ecuador. The museum has three floors, with first pre-Columbian ceramics and gold, then colonial and republican art, and last the modern art floor. A very interesting museum and not to be missed if staying in Quito for just a short period. In the afternoon we go and check out the old city. It is Sunday and so traffic is restricted in the centre, furthermore there is a nice sun shining, so we enjoy wandering around in the historic centre. Some churches and plazas, and then we go to the Ejido parc for some food. In the evening we cook some Belgian food (mashed potatoes, broccoli and steak) and chitchat some more in the family house.
Sofie does not want to miss the Guayasamín museum, recommended by her friend Annemie. We take a taxi uphill, together with crazy German women, and arrive at the nice museum at 10 am. The first part of the museum exhibits the private collection of pre-Colombian objects the artist collected during his life. A guide explains some interesting objects and enjoys the weird behaviour of our crazy companion.
Then on to the paintings of the artist itself. A lot of expression and emotions some influence from European painters. The last period of his life produced (to my taste) the nicest paintings. A lot of 'mother with child' works, sadness and pain are the main motives. (http://www.guayasamin.com)
We go back, pay for our stay at the casa de Elisa and leave for the terminal to get a bus to Baños. We arrive around 5.30 pm and go straight to Residencia Rosita. 3 US$ a person, not to expensive, clean but very basic. Baños is quite small but very touristic. On our total trip until now we never saw so many 'gringos' together. The place has a lot of hot springs, because of the vicinity of vulcano Tungurahua, which erupted 2 years ago after 80 years of inactivity. Then the town was evacuated for a few moths, but afterwards all the tourist business returned, and now it is flourishing more then ever, because an active vulcano is more interesting for tourism then a sleeping one. To check activity of the vulcano (in Spanish) check http://www.epn.edu.ec/~igeo/vulcanologia/especiales/tungurahua/actividad/informet.htm . The weather is not perfect though and you have to be lucky to spot the vulcano, when the sky is clear. You should see a big smoke cloud and sometimes ashes flying out. Last august some lava could be seen as well. But most of the tourists here do a horse tour, the mountain bike trial of the cascades and of course the 'heeling' hot tubs. We start enjoying the good food in Ecuador. Not that the local food is better than the one in Columbia, but the fact that their is a lot of tourism means there are a lot of international restaurants, so you can find good Italian, French, Chinese, falafel, vegetarian, ...
We walk around the city, check out the possibilities of 2 day tour and check our e-mail accounts. In the evening I can't fall asleep before I finish my Harry Potter book. The room of secrets is closed again and Hogwarth is safe again from the ineritar of Slytherin.
23/01/2002 Biking in Baños
We rent a bike at the neighbouring tour operator for 5 US$ each and leave for the cascade trail. It goes mainly downhill, with here and there some annoying uphill strokes (vals plat), and 5 waterfalls on the route. The weather is not perfect and when we are about hte middle we take our rain caps out. We meet a nice English and American guy and the four of us arrive soaking wet at the last falls 'El pailón del diablo' where we relax in a beautifully located restaurant and enjoy a nice lunch. The way back is luckily with a pick-up truck, the bikes in the back. We are exhausted, more from the walks up and down to the falls then from the biking itself. The perfect way to finish the day now is with some bathing in the hot baths of the virgin (Baños de la Virgen). Upstairs is a hot pool and a big cold one, downstairs a hot and cold pool next to each other. When getting in the hot pool, it feels like burning hot, but we try to adjust and jump in the cold one for a refreshment. A great feeling and good for our teased muscles. An old man tells us the continues changing form hot to cold and back is very healthy, makes nervous people relax, and should cure numerous diseases from skin problems to reuma. From the top baths (open air) you can see and hear the waterfall next to the baths, where the cold water comes from. Afterwards we go eat with the American (John) and the English guys Nick, Nick and Dave, which we last saw on the Playa Blanca in Carthaghena. We finished the evening quite late in the hardrock cafe, viewing the match Capriati-Clijsters live, enjoying some drinks an pool games. Belgium-America won from the English team in the pool doubles competition, too bad Kim Clijsters lost again from her all time enemy Jennifer Capriati. She played good tennis, but Capriati is still a little bit stronger. Ah, she is still young ...
Today we slept long and had a big breakfast. I arranged a custom tour for 2 days, leaving tomorrow Friday for a day of horse riding, followed the next day with a mountain bike descent to the Rio Patate, and a 2-hour raft (class 3) to go back to Baños. If we are lucky we could see the vulcano spitting fumes and ashes in the evening or early morning from the mountain refuge were we will sleep.
The two-day active tour around Baños, and afterwards some rest, to move on to the Devils nose train ride on Wednesday.
We get up early for our most active day of the trip. Instead of doing the planned horse riding, downhill and raft in two days the tour agency talked us into a 1 day deal. John, the American guy we met a few days before joined us in the tour and together with the guide we leave Baños, on horses. We keep going uphill for 3 hours with intermediate periods of rain and clouds covering us. We can't see the volcano this way, but the foggy route and loneliness of the trail makes up for it.
The horses are quite slow but for John and me that is just perfect. We stop on the top the hills and the jeep arrives only 2 minutes later (perfect timing). Two Chilean girls join us from here to do the mountain bike downhill and raft afterwards. The bikes and equipment are really ok and the downhill really goes down. Not to steep and the paths are not to small, but the speed is quite impressive. I try to follow the guide, but I loose him when he sees I'm trying to keep up with him. We have some stops on the road, and one of the Chilean girl chooses to change the bike, for the jeep. It is too scary for here. Sofie seems to like it a lot, she is not afraid from some downhill speed. The thrill ends an hour and a half later, in the sun, at the town 'Patate'. We eat our sandwiches there with a cool beer and make some dirty pictures, evereybody is covered with mud.
The jeep brings us to the river 'Patate' and the guide explains us the safety measures and instructions of rafting. Then we leave for a 2-hour of splashing and fun. Not all the part is class 3 continuously but it was a nice first introduction to rafting. Sofie really loves it so I'm sure we will do some more class 3 and probably 4 in the coming months. We arrive exhausted but satisfied in Baños at 17.30. Perfect for a quick shower and of course, some relaxing in the hot Baños. In the evening we meet with the adventure team and have dinner together. Followed by some drinks and eventually by a period I do not fully remember. It was a great day.
No hangover but a lot of muscle aches from the day before. We enjoy a lazy day and catch a movie in the evening.
Today we try to plan the following days. The 'Nose of the Devil' train ride is on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It is already Sunday so we decide to do some biking tomorrow then move to Riobamba on Tuesday. Today we relax some more and Sofie tries to learn to play better pool. I must say I was not a very patient teacher but maybe the student has not much patience either. It is getting better but I wouldn't recommend here to play for money yet.
Time for some more action after 2 days of resting. We get a big 'desayuno' and get a bike for the full day. We want to do downhill, but to do that you need to go up first. We will try and go to the route that tourists normally do by horse, to Runtun. The first 15 minutes we are very brave but then the batteries seem to be empty already. We have to step down and continue walking. If all the way is this steep it will be a 3 hour walk up. Some parts are less steep and I continue on the bike. But most of the part we just do walking, with the bike at hand. On the hill is a Swiss village, complex with hotel, conference rooms and expensive restaurant. We continue further to a small motel like place, which has expensive food as well. From here we should be able to get the best view on the vulcano, but we are not lucky. The sky cleared up a little bit, but not where the vulcano supposedly should be.
We decide to eat once back in the village and get ready for the moment of the day. The downhill of what we did uphill in 3,5 hours. A great ride, with a bumpy first start. Just before we reach the paved road Sofie's back tire flattens. Luckily I remember how to change a tire (Sofie never did this before) and it might sound as a miracle but in 5 minutes we where on the road again. The last part was really speedy and in less than half an hour we were down again. Great ride and a sense for more. We decide to continue downhill as this is the road to the route of the cascades. We try to make some speed and only stop for a banana and a fanta in the middle. Just before the last cascade we pass a truck that brings us back to town. In the meanwhile the sky really cleared up on most sides of the valley and in Baños we take the bikes to ride to the bus terminal.
We should be able to see the vulcano and a policeman kindly shows us where to look. But the force is not with us, some smaller clouds block the view. We turn the bikes in and go to the baths and some great food in casa Hood again. Probably the second to best vegetarian lasagna I ever ate.
29/01/2002 To Riobamba
A last breakfast and some extra pool lessons before we leave to Riobamba. Alan, a funny Dutch guy knows a good cheap place, close to the train station and that is where we go. Riobamba iself is not much to see or do and so we don't do much either.
30/01/2002 Devil's Nose
At 5 am we get up and go with our bags to the train station. The very friendly people of the train company put our bags away and ask money for the cushion we sit on. Quality money as we notice afterwards, because sitting on the train roof for 6 hours without it would be too painful. The first part of the ride is quite interesting for the nice views (Chimborazzo vulcano) and the atmosphere of the stopping places, where I get a nice 'calso', a soup made with all what is insides of an animal. In case of chicken it is with peaces of liver, hart, neck, legs, ... You don't have to eat all of these so the extracted soup is really good.
The train takes a big break in Alaussi, and from here starts the downward track to the Devil's Nose, a famous state-of-the-art engineering construction to pass the high mountains. I think most people on the train expected a more spectacular ride as this part was auite boring and smaller then expected. I think it is a nice experience, but If you are low on budget or out of time, skip it ! We take the bus from Alaussi to Cuenca, where we get one of the cheapest hotels. After a pizza 'calzone' and some reading we fall asleep early.
We check out the old colonial centre and the museum of the central bank, which houses an etnographic, a numismatic and an archological collection. We wander around near the Rio Tomebamba and the small flower market. The town is the typical old colonial town, not too interesting, but some nice houses and plazas, perfect for passing through.
1/02/2002 To Vilcabamba
At 7 am we take the bus to Loja. After a shaky ride of 6 hours, we change into a small minivan to continue to Vilcabamba, none hour further. We go straight to the 'Ruinas de Quinara' osteria, a hotel, complex recommended to us several times. For 8 US$ a person a day you get breakfast buffet and great dinner, jacuzzi, swimming pool, free video rent, free pool and games, basket ball, football, badminton, ... Not bad and the first evening dinner is quite good indeed.
The town is famous as the valley of longlivity, where people get very old. For tourists it became popular for the famous San Pedro juice, a cactus extract that makes you hallucinate for half a day. The danger though is flashbacks days and even weeks or months later. A lot of backpackers stay here for some tripping and relaxing. We just stayed for the relaxing and watched at least 10 movies, played a 100 of pool games, beat some Germans in chess and ping pong, ...
Also Nick and Dave arrived and together with Tim, the English guy we met in Baños, we had a great relaxing time. By accident we bump into Bram, he finally reached south of Ecuador as well. My pool training seems to works as I finish the Belgian pool derby with an embarrassing 10-4 score (Balen-Leuven).
We reserved a bus ticket straight to Piura in Peru with the overnight bus. The 3 English guys travel in the same bus, and except for the exaggerated farting of one of the English (beans ?) everything goes smoothly.
Ecuador is an interesting country for tourism. There are a lot of thinks to see and do, just separated by a short distance. But for travellers with a lot of time it is probably better to get of the beaten track. We didn't do the north-coast or the jungle in the east. We wanted to go through Ecuador in 3 weeks and we succeeded. Now see if we can make it to Bolivia in 4 weeks ...
To all of you hikers out there.