A Travellerspoint blog

Quito - Ecuador

semi-overcast 22 °C
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28th December

After flying back to Guayaquil I retrieve my bag and take another flight straight to Quito where I am met at the airport by Pedro, the taxi driver sent by my hostel, and who gives me a kiss. Ok I have to say I was a little surprised to be kissed by the taxi driver - is this the custom in Quito? :)

Quito (pop 2.6 m) is spread out all in length as it is located in a valley surrounded by high mountains. At 9,350 feet (2,800 meters above sea level), it is the highest official capital city in the world as La Paz in Bolivia is not officially a capital .

29th December
I decide to do the free walking tour in the historic centre of Quito and our guide is an irish guy who's been here about 17 months. We visit the Basilica which was designed by the Frenchman Emilio Tarlier and is the largest neo-Gothic basilica in the Americas. The entrance looks a bit like Notre Dame in Paris. They started building it in 1892 but it is not yet completely finished.

As it is Monday, we also see the change of the guards in front of the presidential palace which is quite fun. Lots of people, tourists and locals come to hear whoever comes out on the balcony to speak. The president was not there today but other politicians and whatever personality guest made an appearance.

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After lunch at the market, I take the local bus to Mitad del Mundo which is where the equatorial line is. It is a little tricky to get there and it is about 1hr1/2 from Quito with a bus change, so I'm grateful to find in the bus an Argentinian guy who speaks english and is also going there. I swear I have a Fairy Godmother looking after me :) (may she continues). Anyway we get there and take the usual photos which are here. There is also an egg which you can stand on a nail head and a notice to say that you weigh less on the equator line. I try the scales and it seems to be correct although to be fair I have not weighed myself since leaving the UK.

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The bus back is a total nightmare, it is dark by the time we get back to Quito and the bus is absolutely crammed and no one moves. I actually worry that I may not get to the door in time for my stop. I'm told to just push my way out which I eventually do. it's dark and I have to cross a park to get back to my hostel. Quito is not a place you want to walk at night but it is only about 7.30pm. It gets dark at 6pm in South America. Anyway I make it back safely - another little prayer of thanks.

30th December
I get up really early to take a tour to see the Quilotoa volcano. We go through 'Volcano Alley' as there are 30 volcanos around Quito, some active, some extinct.

After 1.5 hr the bus blows a tyre and the driver cannot change it because he can't get the tyre off. We have to wait 1.5 hr for another bus to come from Quito. We are on the Pan American highway (I did not know until then that it runs from Alaska to Patagonia), 6 lanes of traffic and there's an old lady walking her 3 cows on the pavement! We are just by a parachute commando base. To pass the time, our guide negotiate a visit of their museum where we are escorted by two fully armed guards.

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The replacement bus eventually arrives and another hour later we get to the Quilotoa volcano, walk 280m down the crater which is 3kms wide - a bit tricky as it's loose dry soil - to the lake at the bottom. I decide to take the local taxi back up :)

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Ecuador has a special way of celebrating New Year. They make puppets of people or things that was bad about the past year and burn them on New Year's eve to start afresh on New Year's day.

This concludes my time in South America. Tomorrow I fly to San Jose in Costa Rica.

Posted by Lifeis4living 11:01 Archived in Ecuador Tagged lakes churches people landscape english Comments (1)

The Galapgos Island - Part 2

Isabel and San Cristobal Islands

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Isabela Island

A 2 hour journey crammed on a speed boat is not a great way to travel but it is the only way to get to Isabela Island which is my next destination.
Isabela Island - it is the largest island in the Galapagos (120 km long) and consist of a chain of 5 fairly young and intermittently active volcanos.. There are about 2000 permanent inhabitants.

I have not booked a hostel ahead so I spend about half hour walking around in search of a bed for the night. Everything looking onto the beach is either fully booked or too expensive but I eventually find a lovely hostel which is actually someone's house where they have a few rooms to rent. It's clean, 300m from the beach and there's hammocks in the courtyard along with a xmas tree.

In the afternoon, I find the Scottish couple and we take a boat to an area close-by where we do some snorkelling and then walk on an island which is made of lava and there are iguanas everywhere, all the females are black like the lava so you can easily tread over them if you don't stay on the path.

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The next morning, Lina, the german girl joins us from Santa Cruz and we hire some bikes to take a look further. The roads are very bad with rough loose grit and I fall over whilst turning. I now have a massive black bruise on my thigh which will probably take weeks to go away :(

We visit the 'Wall of Tears' which is just what is left of an old penitentiary. We climb up to a view points to see a lot of the island and on the way back stop for a very nice xmas eve swim in crystal clear water.

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In the evening, we have our xmas dinner in a local restaurant (there are only about 5). No turkey, roast potatoes and trimmings on the menu but shrimp starter followed by chicken and rice and a chocolate mousse for desert. The local kids have all gathered in the main plaza to receive their xmas giifts from father xmas.

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St Cristobal Island
Xmas day

Up very early to take speed boat back to Santa Cruz Island. We see 2 whales on the way back which is pretty cool I have about 3 hours before my boat to St Cristobal so I decide to go to church, one because it's xmas and two because it is the only place which is cool as it is about 28 degrees outside.

San Cristóbal is the fifth largest and easternmost island of the Galapagos. It is comprised of three or four fused volcanoes, all extinct. Its name comes from the Patron Saint of seafarers, “St. Christopher.” Its older English name of Chatham is named after William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. It is home to the oldest permanent settlement of the islands and is the island where Darwin first went ashore in 1835. El Junco, a small lake located near the top of the island, is the only source of permanent fresh water in the islands.

I do a snorkling tour here near a place called Kicker Rock. It's brilliant. Lots of sea turtles. If you stop moving they don't swim away and I spend a few minutes with a giant turle about 3 metres below me, so awesome. We also see a group of Galapagos sharks who are about 10m below us and then a sea lion comes and play in the water. It came so close to me, it actually startled me as I was looking down and not forward so I didn't see him coming, There are also lots of different coloured fish. A really brilliant snorkling trip. I just wished I had an underwater camera. After the snorkling, we visit a lovely beach. Someone else had an underwater camera which i copied. It's a little long but i don't have the facility to edit but you will see a sea turtle.

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Posted by Lifeis4living 06:29 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes beaches animals english Comments (1)

The Galápagos Islands - part 1

Santa Cruz

semi-overcast 28 °C
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20th December
I leave Cuenca for the 4 hour bus journey to Gayaquil where I am flying to the Galápagos Islands for Xmas but after 1 hour, the bus breaks down and we wait another hour for a spare bus to pick us up. Fortunately I left in plenty of time and still manage to make my flight.

An hour and 45mns later I land in Baltra, bus, boat and another bus and I finally arrive in Puerto Ayora, the main town on Santa Cruz Island.
Santa Cruz Island is one of the Galápagos Islands with an area of 986 square kilometres and a maximum altitude of 864 metres. Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela..

I check into my hotel, a very budget place for €20 a night. It's clean, the shower is hot, there's no bed bugs, I have my own clean shower room with hot water and wifi (slow) in my room so by backpackers' standards this is total luxury.
After walking around to get my bearings (which takes all of 10 mns as the centre is so small) I settle to eat at a restaurant. The whole street is closed at night and all the restaurants put their tables out in the middle so it's very pleasant.

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Lots of fish on the menu but I treat myself to a small lobster with coconut sauce - delicious. If it had not been for some weird Swedish guy sitting next to me and telling me all about his depression, it would have been a perfect meal. He sat down and the first thing he said was 'I don't normally talk to people!' and I nearly replied 'please don't make an exception on my account'. Anyway I managed to shake him off and retire to my hostal.

Day 1 - Tortuga Bay - Santa Cruz
A 40 mns walk for town and I arrive at a lovely sandy beach with marine iguanas everywhere sunning themselves. Whilst signing in at the entrance I meet 3 other people and we spend the day together. The beach is good for surfing but a little tricky for swimming but a little further there is a beautiful lagoon and we hire 2 kayaks and go venturing out. We see lots of sea turtles who come up for air, a ray, pelicans and lots of birds. Afterwards I go swimming and the sea is really crystal clear. There is a baby hammerhead shark which swim just along the edge of the lagoon, barely a metre from the beach.

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Day 2 - Inland Tour - Santa Cruz
I have now met a nice german girl and a Scottish couple and we take a taxi to see a farm where giant tortoises roam freely the fields. They are so big! Many of them are over 100 years old. Then we visit a lava tunnel. It is about 2 kms long but we can only walk for about 30mns with torches.

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Posted by Lifeis4living 21:03 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beaches animals landscape english Comments (2)

Bye bye Peru, Hello Ecuador

Mancora and Cuenca

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I have not updated the blog for a few days as I have basically been taking it easy in Mancora, a beach resort mainly known for its great waves for surfing.

Mancora - 11th to 16th December
After Machu Piccu and Lima I wanted to take it easy for a bit somewhere warm and by the sea and Mancora was the perfect solution. Or it would have been perfect had all the hostels not turned out to be party hostels with loud music every night :( week day till midnight, Friday till 2.30am but Saturday topped it with 100 decibels next to my room (unfortunately situated close to the bar area) until 4am!!! Even my ear plugs could not cope with that! I would have loved to check into a hotel but they were all quite expensive and as I am alone I have to pay single supplement so not an option.

So I went to sleep on the beach during the day to recuperate from the nights. I hooked up with 4 very nice German girls for 4 days.

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16th December
So it's bye bye Peru and hello Ecuador. I take the night bus to Cuenca along with a 30 year old Polish guy who is the most unlikely character to hook up with from his appearance but he's actually well mannered and well educated and for me a bit of security as I have read that night buses in Ecuador are not always safe. I wont go into details as my mum reads this and I don't want to worry her. Anyway after hiding my phone inside my bra and my ipad inside some clothes, all turned out well and we arrived safely in Cuenca.

17th to 19th December
The first thing I noticed when arriving in Cuenca is that it is very different from Peru. Here you can tell the US$ (the currency they use) has brought some prosperity. The streets are clean, there are no dogs wondering everywhere, houses are made of bricks or wood with a proper roof. It is in the moutains so it does get colder.

Cuenca is a lovely city with 600,000 inhabitants full of cobbled streets, many lovely churches and colonial buildings situated in a valley surrounded by the Andes. Here the Andes look very different to what I have seen in Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. Not really as spectacular. I take a tour in the Caja National Park which is the main attraction for trekking and after 3 hours of walking, we have seen a nice peaceful place but for me the nicest was the diversity of flora.

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The cherries are enormous here!

Caja NP
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So I leave tomorrow (20th for Guayaquil - 4 hr bus) and then fly to the Galapalos Islands where I will spend Xmas in the sunshine with sea lions, giant iguanas and giant tortoises. I don't believe the internet is geat on the islands so I may be out of touch until the 29th when I will be in Quito. Therefore I wish you all a very very happy Xmas and hope the weather is not too bad for you! xx

Posted by Lifeis4living 18:00 Archived in Ecuador Tagged landscapes mountains beaches buildings animals english Comments (0)

Trujillo - Chan Chan ruins and a bizzare encounter

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Leaving the hostel in Lima in a taxi bearly bigger than my suitcase, it turns out that the driver is new at being a taxi cab and has not got a clue where the bus station is. We drive round and round for ages and he keeps stopping to ask other cab drivers for direction. After about 40 mns in what should have been 20mns I finally get there and give a little prayer of thanks!

9th December
After a reasonably good night sleep in the bus, I arrive in Trujillo at 8am and take a taxi to my guesthouse. It turns out I am the only guest in residence. I book myself on a tour for the day to see the main attraction in town, some archeological sites with ruins from the Moche culture. These dates back to 200-800 ad so much before the Incas. We visit the Temple of the Sun and a museum. Then a second bigger site, Chan Chan.

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10 December - a bizzare encounter
My bus to my next location is not before midnight so I chill most of the morning, trying to repack my bag, catch up with emails and do a bit of research on the days ahead. Then I walk the 20mns to the centre of town to the Plaza de las Armas, a pretty plazza surrounded by colonial houses now turned into offices, shops and hotels.

There I get accosted by a Peruvian man selling tours. I explain that I went on a tour yesterday and do not want any more. He tells me about a purification ceremony which will take place today and I am a little intregued as it could be interesting to watch but tell him I have to eat and walk on. I cross the road and 2 mns later he's behind me telling me he can show me a nice place to eat. I follow him to a nice little courtyard cafe. I order some food whilst he continues to tell me about this ceremony. He then takes out this bottle of scented water from his bag and takes my leg, remove my shoe and start massaging my foot with this water. It is totally bizzare and the weirdest thing is that the waitress does not even blink. Is this ordinary behaviour? :) He continues telling me about this ceremony and I finally work out that it is not a public affair but a private ceremony at a house. This is where I draw the line and I kindly tell him that I am not following him to any house.

It is really hard sometimes to figure out people without offending them and without being taken for a ride either. He was very nice and never did anything inapropriate and did not get upset when I said I would not go. He just carried out talking and performing his own little purification ceremony on me (asking me to breathe out and letting go of any stress, etc). He then ended up finishing my lunch and we parted company! lol

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Posted by Lifeis4living 18:43 Archived in Peru Tagged english Comments (1)

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