So it’s goodbye to the amazing Colombia and across the border to Ecuador. At this time I’m reminded of the Sash tune from back in the 90’s – give it a listen you won’t regret it! http://youtu.be/44t3xc_XDes

Ecuador, named because of the equator that divides it, is smaller than Colombia and about twice the size of Ireland. The Andes cut right through it with the Amazon side on the right and the lowlands & coast to the left. It is famous for the Galápagos Islands where Charles Darwin first came up with the theory of evolution. But that’s not on our itinerary this time, we are working our way down the centre to the capital Quito, then Baños and onto Peru. Unfortunately to get there we had a mammoth bus journey that should of lasted 10 hours but ended up taking 20!Watch Full Movie Online Streaming Online and Download

We left the hostel in Popayan, Colombia and got to the 6.30am bus. The bus wasn’t as nice as previous ones but it did have wifi. There was a mix of locals and backpackers onboard who were on it overnight from Bogota (glad I wasn’t them)! The bus left on time and drove uNeil 12.30 when smoke started coming out of the back, it was going to be a long day! We waited for a new bus that dropped us to the nearest town where we changed bus again! We met a fellow traveller, Julian from Australia, who was in the same predicament and wanted to get across the border so he stuck with us through the day. Julian was going out with a Colombian girl and they were living in Bogota but because the tourist visa was only 90 days he had to exit and reenter the county or face a fine! The new bus was a bit chaotic, there was a lack of seats and one girl gave us the evils for taking her mate’s seat but the mate was nowhere to be seen. The bus stopped again at 4.00pm for a driver’s snack break and an inspection by the army. They checked the bags and did a sweep of the bus.

We finally arrived at the border at 6.00pm and got our exit stamps before walking over the bridge to Ecuador and getting an entry stamp. We met some Americans in the queue and swapped some war stories and decided to all go together to get cheaper taxi and bus fares. Myself, Alex and Julian got one taxi to the bus station and there was a bus waiting. The Americans were nowhere to be seen so we got on the bus, that pact didn’t last long! We were on our way to Otavalo but then the bus came to an abrupt stop an hour in due to a traffic accident up ahead, no one was moving!

After 5 hours on the bus we eventually arrived in Otavalo at 1.00am! The driver stopped to let us off and just threw the 3 bags off the bus and went on. Julian wasn’t quick enough to get off when it stopped and he had to make a jump for it! We had pre-booked a hostel but when we got there the old man owner was angry because of the time but what could we do! Julian had good Spanish and explained the situation, which was great as we knew little more than ‘Ola’ haha. The next day after a quick look around the market town of Otavalo, we parted ways with Julian who was on his way to the Galapagos and we got another bus to Quito!

Quito
Quito, the capital of Ecuador and one of the highest cities in the world at an altitude of 2850m, was very pretty but pretty disappointing. We stayed for 3 nights in the old town which reminded me of Prague with lots of churches and cobbled streets but unfortunately not much else. Most shops and restaurants close at 6 and then the old town is mostly deserted. The ‘La Mariscal’ area had more going on and more backpackers, pubs and restaurants but was a bit shabby and dodgy looking. All the guide books warn that Quito can be dangerous but we didn’t have any trouble but I’d say, late at night La Mariacal wouldn’t be the best area to hang around. It was also much more expensive than Colombia as Ecuador use the US dollar and everything seems to be rounded up, especially for tourists.

There is a big difference in the physical characteristics of the Equadorians who look more indigenous South American than the Colombians. But, in Quito, more English is spoken and there is more of a developed tourist Industry than in Colombia so it’s easier to get from A to B.

Mitad del Mundo
We took a day trip out of Quito to Mitad del Mundo, translates as the Middle of the World. This total tourist destination is a big monument and park that is meant to mark the Equator line. Unfortunately when it was built, measuring tools weren’t as advanced as they are now and the actual line is 300m north but it’s still a great attraction and photo opportunity to jump from the northern hemisphere to the south! It was well worth the trip on our last day in Quito before getting another bus south to the town of Baños.

Baños
Baños de Agua Santa, Spanish for Bath of Holy Water, is an adventure sport town 3 hours south of Quito. It is also known for its thermal spas and for being built beside a volcano! We stayed in a really nice Hostel on the outskirts of town with great views of the volcano which we were told was active but if it erupts the lava usually flows the other side of the mountain! The population were evacuated for a few weeks in 1999 but nothing major since then! There were evacuation signage and directions on the roads just in case.

One of the main attractions of Baños is mountain biking so we were up early the next day to rent mountain bikes and followed the track to the Devils Cauldron, a spectacular waterfall 20km outside town. Most of the trail was downhill but even the uphill was worthwhile as there was stunning scenery, bridge crossings and tunnels to traverse along the route.
We cycled for an hour and a half to reach the park where the waterfall was and then trekked down 1km down to it. It was good preparation for the Inca trail we reasoned! The waterfall was worth the trek, the speed and amount of water was breathtaking! There were wooden bridges to get over the fall and small caves to get a better view from behind it.

We returned to the bikes and cycled onto the next town where we hailed a bus who we were told would take us and the bikes back to Baños. There was only room for one in the luggage area so Alex had to hold his on the bus with all the locals climbing on and off over him and the bike! We did get charged for them but it was better than the cycle back uphill.

When we got back to Baños most of the roads were blocked. The reason, a festival to celebrate the founding of Baños. There was a parade that would rival St Patrick’s Day with hundreds of kids and floats parading up the town and back down again. It was great to see but the South Americans seem to love a street party so I’d say there will be something else the following week!

We had a real outdoorsy time in Baños and on the Sunday we hiked up to the Bella Vista viewpoint which gave stunning views of the whole valley and the town nestled in it, it was worth the effort which again we said was good practice for the Inca Trail!?! One thing I didn’t do in Banos was the bungee jump off the San Francisco bridge. The jump seemed to be organised by 2 lads who decided to throw a rope off the main access bridge to the town. We saw two people do it but they didn’t really bounce as much as jolt and swing on the rope so I was glad I let them to it!

Cuenca
So after too short a time in Baños it was back on the bus and towards the Peruvian boarder and the town of Cuenca. We had only planned a week in Ecuador and could have easily spent a month there but we needed to get to Peru and Machu Picchu for mid December so we travelled on. This bus journey was only 6 hours and cost buttons compared to an Irish long distance bus so it was no problem. We arrived in Cuenca which was a really nice town with a big central square and surrounded by white colonial buildings. The Cathedral was one of the most ornate we’ve see with lots of gold, alters and even a statue of Pope Francis. We got in late for free but were turfed out about 15 minutes later by a nun who was closing up shop for the evening!

We spent the night in a pretty average hostel where the rooms had no external windows so were gloomy but they did let us store our luggage there the next day while we killed time waiting on our first proper night bus, this one going to the Peruvian boarder. We visited an Ecuadorian history museum and got and learnt more about this interesting country’s history. They had lots of oddities including a picture of Amazonian tribes people with feathers through their noses and actual shrunken heads of the tribes people’s enemies that were meant to bring good luck! Our next stop was Chiclayo, Northern Peru which I’ll let Alex take up the story from there!

 



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