It was supposed to rain in Ecuador, but I have a surprisingly nice colour. However, it came at some expense to me, an unexpected expense at that! I did a jungle trek and felt it necessary to take malaria tablets, yet I did not once get bitten. If I go to the effort of taking malaria tablets the least the mosquitoes can do is bite me.
Going back to my first day in Quito, I had wandered the streets for hours and on returning to my hostel I noticed I had sunburn. It had been overcast most of the day and I don’t generally burn as badly as I had. It was later explained to me by a fellow traveller that the malaria tablets I was taking cause the skin to become very sensitive to the sun. This explains the days of agony I have had to endure. I take it back, if there are any mosquitoes reading this, please don’t bite me, my skin aches enough as it is. At least the weather is now hot and sunny and I have an excuse for getting burnt, not that I intend to as that would be irresponsible.
It was the morning of my 25th birthday, a day that turned into quite an adventure. It was 11am and time for my massage. If I had known how the day was to unfold I think I would have chosen the massage in the evening. The massage was great and I went straight back to my hotel for a siesta (its a given in Ecuador, even if the weather is not warm). I had no plans for the afternoon and was a little frustrated with myself for not finding a way to entertain myself. After speaking to a Jesse, a Kiwi, that I had met on the bus we went with a Texan (I never was any good with names) guy to rent some quad-bikes for a few hours. Having four wheels it should have been safer than the 250cc trail-bike I rented in Cambodia, which had minced my toes after I dropped it (not to mentioned the rickety bridge that almost killed me).
We started our ascent up the mountain, below an active volcano. The volcano was throwing out loads of ash (see photo), but we won’t worry about that! The road up the mountain was dusty and ridden with large boulders but the quad-bikes seemed to cope well with the terrain. Until…
We had been riding for a little over the hour and the volcano seemed much closer – you could hear it rumble, followed by yet more dust. I turned a corner to see the Texan guy sat on his quad-bike, which had become a tricycle! He had been a little confused when he saw a wheel following him up the road, his wheel. It had fallen off! Not just fallen off but snapped off, he pulled the brake lever, came to a halt and toppled! It was very amusing and we all had a good laugh until we realised we were stranded up the mountain with a three-wheeler quad-bike.
Jesse rode back down the mountain to rental shop and I waited with the Texan, admiring the power of the volcano above us! Jesse returned on his quad-bike with by a 4WD vehicle in tow. As Jesse reached us his quad-bike came to a grinding halt almost throwing him over the handlebars. Unfortunately they could not fix either quad-bike and could only fit one bike in the back of the 4WD. The other had to be rolled in neutral down the hill and then towed back to the shop. After complaining about my bike being the slowest I was more than happy to now be riding the only working quad-bike, albeit alone. As I descended the mountain, I was casually enjoying the view when I hit a boulder, lost control of the steering and hit the side of the mountain head on. Don’t worry I only hurt my leg. Surprisingly and considering recent events the bike came off better than me, which I was definitely thankful of as I had to pay for any damage. Insurance? What insurance? My wallet was the only insurance I had and that’s another story! I won’t mention that I almost had another near miss on the way down. This is the reason why an evening massage would have been preferable.
I had loose plans for the evening and thus far ‘loose’ was an exaggeration. The intention was to meet up with the three Dutch girls, the German couple and the tour guide from my jungle trek. Also Helen, a girl I met on the aeroplane was coming to Baños for the weekend. I realised late in the afternoon that I had NO MONEY! I had spent all my money and there was no ATM machine in the whole town that accepted Visa (surely this is a standard requirement of an ATM). On my birthday, in Ecuador, with no money. But wait, Helen offered to lend me money, great. This was until she realised she had bought less money to Baños than intended and had left her bankcard in Quito! That makes two of us with no money! We went to meet the others, who shall remain nameless, for dinner. Thankfully the group paid for my meal as a birthday present. Next we headed to a bar where the beers were cheap and I was given a free drink, it was potent, served flaming and I was required to drink it through a straw – yuck! I also had Happy Birthday sung to me by some local folk band, highly amusing. The remainder of the evening was spent bar hopping, I skipped the Salsa dancing and eventually we spilled out on to the street. On the street I was given Pina Colada by the cup full (at least 5 or 6, I forget) by a friend of our tour. It was a good day but time for bed.
The following day was decision time. I had no money and nor did Helen so she had decided to head back to Quito. My plan was to head to Riobamba. Helen didn’t want to leave Baños without seeing some of the town so suggested we pool our remaining money and rent two quad-bikes for an hour. Here we go again. I drove my quad for all of 5 minutes before returning it. Every time I build up speed the steering shook and the quad felt like it was toppling. I didn’t want a repeat of yesterdays incidents. They had no more quad-bikes so they gave me a moped. It was sluggish and a very dull to ride, but probably a good thing considering my history with renting vehicles in the third-world. Helen now had problems with her quad-bike so we returned both and cut our loses. The town has thermal baths but the water was a murky brown and very unappealing. We had a final walk around the town and then went our separate ways.
The following morning we had to be up at 5am for a train ride. In this town there is a train service that runs 3 times a week to a town called Alausi and then onto a death-defying stretch of track called El Nariz del Diablo (The Devil’s Nose). It is the only section of track still functioning from the Trans-Andean Railway and another attraction of the train journey ride is you sit on the roof. I believe I was following in the footsteps of Michael Palin.
There is not a whole lot to say about the train, except there was a small tree overhanging the track and as the train passed by this tree a few people, including our tour-guide, got hit hard across the face. They all survived and this was before the death-defying stretch! My camera on the other hand had been doused in banana juice which indirectly related to the tree incident. I was distraught as the camera had only recently returned from being repaired. I spend an hour cleaning it.
The tour group took me under their wing for the day, my bags had the same priority as theirs, I had a bus tickets purchased for me in advance and that evening I ate dinner with them in a decent restaurant on arrival in Cuenca (Ecuador’s third city).
The bus ride to Cuenca was at 3,000m and breathtaking. I am sure altitude sickness is supposed to be a problem at this height. I even had the opportunity to see my first road accident in Ecuador, there very little left, it was not a pleasant sight.
Cuenca and my last stop in Ecuador before returning to Quito. It is a very pretty town but not too exciting, my first day was spent visiting a museum, which was in Spanish and provided a poorly produced guide book in English. I changed my flight the date of my flight to Quito, less time in Cuenca was better! I then visited a Panama Hat factory, which was surprisingly more interesting than the museum. Did you know Panama hats are made in Ecuador, not Panama? I then went out and got drunk with the tour group on their last night in Ecuador (did I mention there was little else to do in Cuenca).
I went to bed gone 1am and dragged myself from my drunken slumber around 8am to visit the Inca ruins 3 hours away. If it was not painful enough being hungover, I had to catch two buses, which were full of smelly people just to spend half an hour at the ruins before embarking on a 3 hour return journey. Fortunately I met the Dutch girls at the ruins (see above), so at least I had their company on the return, even if it was in Dutch. My last night in Cuenca and a quiet drink before bed with an English guy I befriend purely for the sake of some company. Up early the following morning to catch a TAME flight (the Ecuadorean national airline – a little better than Laos Aviation) back to Quito, the flight went of Mount Cotapaxi and was very scenic.
I am back in Quito. I have a few days remaining here and I plan to do as little as possible. There is a market about 2 hours north of Quito, in the Northern hemisphere (I am currently in the Southern) that I intend to visit on Friday but thus far today I think I have done a great job of doing absolutely nothing. I had Sushi for lunch. Ecuador is not known for its cuisine, except for delicacies such as Guinea Pig.
If you are not jealous enough, I have an 8 hour stop-over in Miami on my return and have a plan to sit on South Beach for a while followed by some shopping. I may even treat myself to a hamburger, US style (with a friendly girl from the plane).