Wednesday 27 November 2013

Ecuador Epilogue

Sorry, there has to be one more entry for this beautiful country of high mountains and small stocky people with wonderful faces who dress in their national costume even for everyday work and are so quick to smile and offer a greeting. The hacienda at Cayambe was one of the most atmospheric and charming places I've ever had the privilege of enjoying. As I have said before it is 4 hundred years old and the decor was in elegant decay along with much of the furniture - trapped in time warp! A one storey building that spread over two or three acres with a pretty chapel, riding stables, etc. At supper on the last evening there I did something I've never done before - I spontaneously stood up and sang a song - a very appropriate song - 'The Mission Bell at San Miguel' - and got a nice reception from my startled and indulgent audience. Very satisfying for a normally inhibited scribbler.

Now Ecuador is wonderful but it does seem to have more stomach bugs that India, China and Indonesia put together. Most of the 14 suffered at least once, sometimes twice. There were a couple of iron-gutted individuals (Annette, never falters) but for the most part we all had to reach for the immodium tablets in a hurry. For myself I had just sat down on the public bus from Otavalo, a wonderful market town which we all adored and expressed a desire to live in, when I felt stomach cramps. 'Oh bless,' I said to myself in so many words, 'I've got two and half hours on this bus which doesn't stop.' Panic. The cramps came again. Within half an hour I was absolutely desperate and given a few minutes more was going to disgrace myself utterly. 'STOP!' I yelled. 'I HAVE TO GO TO THE . . .' The conductor came to me and said, 'Cinco minutes - solo cinco minutes mi amigo.' They are so kind these people. The bus screeched to a halt outside a gas station loo in dead on five minutes. I ran from the bus with a concerned Annette flying after me, while at the same time the driver threw me a toilet roll, expertly caught, made the loo with seconds to go - and not to put too fine a point on it, a huge flock of starlings came out of my rear end. When I sheepishly re-boarded with 'Lo siento, lo siento,' (sorry, sorry) the local Indians clapped, their square pleasant faces creased in grins under their trilby-style hats. I tipped the driver and the conductor a couple of dollars each and thanked the Lord for filling this amazing country with such pleasant people.

Today we catch the plane home.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

And finally!

Cuenca was a land of high lakes. We managed to walk around one of them, Torreadoros, but it was hard going in the high altitude. Rewarding though, with the volcanic scenery. Yesterday we flew back to Quito where I had the worst journey of my life - rush hour from the airport to the hotel - and went straight to bed with fume sickness. I had to sleep under the bed when I got altitude sickness sleeping on the top. (Kidding of course, but the heights here are a problem). Today we move on again to a hacienda at Cayambe. It´s said to be 400 years old and fairly basic, but we´re told by our guide that we will enjoy the antiquity of the place. There´s not a great deal to do there execept climb the nearest volcano which is 18,000 feet high. (Not a chance mate - I´ll wander the countryside at only 10,000 feet). After two days we move on to our last stop, the biggest market in Ecuador. I have purchased some horse blinkers for Annette, otherwise we´ll need to buy another suitcase.

This is my last report. Thank you for listening.

And on . . .

We left Banos surrounded by snowtopped volcanoes and several magnificent waterfalls. The hotel was small but luxurious after four days in rainforest huts. We were supposed to go next by public bus to Cuenca further south and higher up (8000 feet) but we rebelled and13 of us hired a private bus so that we could enjoy toilet stops and viewpoints through the Andes. The views were breathtaking and almost all the men and women we saw were wearing traditional dress, which included a trilby hat. The bus cost us $25 dollars each, which didn't break the bank. There are still volcanoes around Cuenca, but less imposing than those further north. Cuenca is the second largest city in Ecuador after Quito, but is more beautiful and better laid out. On the way we stopped and spent an hour at some Inca ruins, not as magnificent as those in Peru, but still impressive. Tomorrow we go to another national park where I expect there will be more waterfalls and lots of great wildlife. 

Into the rainforest

Finally able to access my blog and add to the Ecuador saga for those who are interested (others have had emails keepin them up to date, whether they wanted them or not!) -

We left our mountain retreat at Papallacta and descended 10,000 feet to the rainforest on 14th Nov. As I think I mentioned before, our transport is the public buses. The journey took 5 hours to Baeza where we picked up three small trucks which took us another hour to our camp with a family of the Cichua people. We were given wooden huts on stilts, with palm leaf roofs - none too solid. You could see the ground through the bamboo slatted floorboards. Everything was very simple: no electricity but running water from a standpipe and no furniture in the huts beyond the bed, which was comfortable enough. When anyone moved during the night the shaking of the floorboards woke neighbours in adjoining huts. There were dogs everywhere, which never seemed to stop barking, and several roosters to wake us at dawn. Very enjoyable though, with lots of birds: vultures, eagles, etc.

There are 14 of us (I miscounted the first time) - 2 Americans, 7 Canadians, 3 Brits and 2 Danes. Four are under 25 years of age, the rest over 55 years of age - no inbetweeners. We spent the two days there trekking through the jungle, learning forest lore. We were bitten to hell, despite using deet and one or two had stomach troubles. The family who owned the huts were excellent - no English but lots of sign language. Some of them did not even speak Spanish - only Cichua. We also learned to make chocolate from the basic plant, which was backbreaking work, grinding the cocoa pods.

From there another 5 hour bus ride to Tena and into the rainforest again on the banks of the Rio Napo, a headwater of the Rio Amazon. Better accommodation - electricity and showers - and the river itself was magnificent. Our neighbour, an Ecuadorian woman, had a tarantula in her room as big as my hand. Very hairy. She said she did not mind it being there as it was hiding from the female who lived in the nest in rafters. That night we did a forest walk in the dark photographing spiders and other insects that only come out after sundown. Saw a couple more tarantulas. Getting very friendly with them. We also saw the largest rodent in the world, a rat as big as a large pig, called a capybara. We were accompanied by a guide with a machette who was supposed to take care of any snakes- oh, and because of the snakes we wore welly boots. Did not see any.
Next day we took a long lean motorised canoe trip down the Napo river and back. The Napo at that point is about quarter of a mile across with a fierce flow. Visited a Cichua village where they made rough pottery from the river clay and showed us how to use a blowpipe.

Today we came to the town of Banos, again 4 hours by public bus,which is overlooked by an active volcano. It erupted (only a bit, we are told) just ten days ago. Tonight we are climbing the foothills to get a look at the crater in the sunset. Sorry this is so stilted but I am doing it on my Kindle Fire and there does not seem to be a key for apostrophe S, hence everything is laboured.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

On our way today. There are 13 of us (a coven?) plus the guide, who told us to pare down our luggage as we are travelling on public buses, mules and by foot. Annette and I have backpacks and are light enough but it means leaving behind my laptop. To continue my blog (still fairly dull I have to admit) I have to use my kindle fire, so no means of getting photos on the blog. (Damn, I'm such a good photographer too!). Yesterday I lost my debit card in an ATM that swallows such delights and had to have a Highland Park whiskey (with two cubes of ice) to calm my nerves. (Thanks Tam!) Going even higher up the mountains today to an area of hot springs. A place called Papallacta. Journey on the bus
will take 5 hours along windy mountain roads. Pills taken.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Quito Numero Dos

Still in Quito, but a posher hotel, awaiting our guide for the trek starting tomorrow. While I can still connect I might as well blog. I'm always amazed by the fact that when I connect to a country's internet, it knows where I am. Under 'Google' on my search engine page it says 'Ecuador' and - this throws me a little - the language on my pages changes to Spanish. Now you would think if it recognises my computer as a new one, it would know I'm a visitor and would leave the language alone, wouldn't you? Anyway, today we went to the National Museum and saw lots of gold. Lots and lots of gold. The central item being a large sunburst made of gold. The Conquistadors obviously missed a lot of it when they pillaged the place, because there's tons of it left. We use the taxis to get anywhere, though they only go at -5 kph, since the traffic is jammed everywhere. Funny thing, the taxi drivers all have seat belts, which they use. There are none for the passengers. We were told by one taxi driver that if a car hits a pedestrian the driver of the car is required by law to take the injured person to the nearest hospital and must pay the medical expenses. So, you hit a fellah, you have to pick up the bits, take the bits to be sewn together again, and foot the bill. Still and all, there seems to be few careful drivers.

Monday 11 November 2013

Quito, Ecuador

The flight took 21 hours with two stops, the last leg being from Panama to Ecuador on a local airline which landed at midnight. Worries about being in city around 10,000 feet high were unfounded. We both felt lightheaded but otherwise fine. A taxi ride to the Folklore Hostel (picture is of the living room) took another hour and we fell into bed at about 1.30 am, completely exhausted. In the morning I met Principe, the house trained rabbit that wanders into guests' rooms when he feels like it. We got on pretty good for two different animal species. Then I put on my dapper holiday kit including aviator shades and sandals while Annette enhanced the beauty nature had given her and we sallied forth to watch a magnificent changing of the guard at the palace of a bustling South American capital. The president appeared on a balcony and everyone in the plaza went mad with excitement - except us of course - we thought they were about to have a revolution and quickly ducked into the cathedral to seek sanctuary.