A Travellerspoint blog

Baños

17th May to 20th May 2014


We woke up and left Latacunga early, tempted by the prospect of getting into the spa hotel we had booked in Baños for our 1st wedding anniversary. On the way to the bus stop, we attempted to find our favourite little snack of five boiled quails’ eggs. When we found one, all the sellers suddenly disappeared into different directions. It was very strange until we saw the police so we guess none of them had a licence…The bus stop was on a random side of the street. When we got onto the bus, it was already rammed with people, so we had to stand in the aisle for a while. Swaying from side to side we managed not to fall over despite their interesting driving techniques. Matt was pleased they were playing the Hobbit on the TV until the DVD broke and it came to an end. After a few hours we arrived into Baños in the early afternoon. Unfortunately, we underestimated the walk from the bus terminal to our hotel which took around 40mins on a long, busy road which wasn’t so nice with our backpacks. Eventually we made it to our hotel which from the outside didn’t look that appealing. We booked a place called el Hogar de Chocolate and it was only recently opened, so there were quite a few teething problems. However, it was owned by a lovely woman called Malu who also ran a bit of a dog rescue service, so the place was full with five friendly doggies. Malu was a bit unexpected to see us so early, and so the room wasn’t ready and neither was the spa. So we wandered into town to check out the local sites.

Baños is a small town set in a valley amongst beautiful, green mountains and at the foot of a massive (over-5000 metre) volcano which is still active and is known to spout smoke and fire from time to time! The town is also well known for its baths (hence the name) some of which are stinking hot because they are fuelled by the volcano. We wandered around town and had some dinner at a lovely veggie restaurant and then went for a coffee in a cute, artsy café to sort out what we wanted to do for our anniversary tomorrow. When we arrived back at the hotel, Malu had prepared the room with flowers and chocolates (as requested by Matt) and the spa was ready to use. So for the rest of the evening we used the Jacuzzi baths, cold pools, steam room and a strange device called a box bath which is basically a massive wooden box that you sit in with only your head poking out while hot steam scented with eucalyptus warms up your body – it was really nice! The whole spa experience was topped off with drinks in the Jacuzzi!

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The next morning we woke to a wonderful breakfast in our room which was a great way to start our anniversary. After milling around getting ready, we wandered off to a local massage spa place to check out the options. We ended up staying there for most of the day! We booked an hour-long massage with hot volcanic stones which was preceded by a “therapeutic walk”. Basically, it was a walk (barefoot) around the grounds of the spa with lovely views of the mountains and river. The walk was signposted with lots of thoughtful sayings and proverbs to make you reflect as you walked around. There were also a couple of places where you were encouraged to shout out towards the mountains to release all those negative thoughts and feelings. It was a quite a liberating experience screaming at the top of your voice into the distance – try it! After the walk we were put into robes and taken to a quiet room out the back with relaxing music and then had our massage which was really, really good especially the warming volcanic stones at the end. Afterwards we were given a nice pineapple and juice while we stared out across the river. It was all exactly what we needed! We got back to the hotel in the late afternoon and Matt had a quick spa session before getting ready for dinner. We had booked into a restaurant in the Samari Spa Resort which was across the road from our hotel. It was supposed to be the best restaurant in Baños and one of the best in Ecuador. Knowing that it was our anniversary, they kindly put nice candles out and a rose on the table. The food was fantastic and despite being expensive by Ecuadorian standards it cost us only £40 for a three course meal with wine. After dinner we headed back to the hotel and used their spa facilities again for the rest of the evening. It was a great way to spend our first wedding anniversary!

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The next morning we had another lovely breakfast (but this time Ecuadorian rather than western style) and were told that we could stay again for a third of the price (only $30 with breakfast and use of the spa) as we were going to leave – we couldn’t refuse! As the weather wasn’t particularly great, we headed off to one of the local baths called el Salado which was at the foot of one of the big hills. The spa was made up of around seven different baths of varying temperatures from freezing cold to boiling hot. The highlight was a steaming hot bath that was heated by the volcano to nearly 40degrees. The water was completely murky (apparently from the mineral content!) and was full of volcanic stones at the bottom. It was great to sit in there and boil and then refresh in one of the cool baths. Luckily as it was a Monday and the morning, there weren’t that many people and we were able to chat to some of the friendly locals. After the pools, we had some lunch at another recommended restaurant called la Posada del Arte which was a quirky place near the back of the town. The food was nice, but not a touch on the place last night so we made the right choice for our anniversary. After lunch we headed on a bit of a walk around the hills to try and get a view above the town and of the volcano. The walk was lovely and the views over the town and of the surrounding hills were great, but because the clouds and rain were setting in there was no chance of seeing the volcano. We then headed back to our hotel to use the spa for one last time. Unfortunately as Malu was away, we don’t think the lady in charge really knew how to run it properly so it was a bit cold and the steam room wasn’t on – oh well!

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The next morning Matt woke up at about half 6 and checked his emails to hear the news that he got the job in Cambridge! So we both shot up awake and started emailing people and then had to manically get ready and rush breakfast as we were getting picked up at 8.45am to go rafting. We managed it and by 9am we were on our way. Our guide wasn’t particularly enthusiastic and was asleep for the whole journey to the river, and when we arrived he was generally quite rude. However, during the actual rafting itself he was quite fun and encouraging. We started by doing a dry run on land with all eight people in the boat – we were the motor and the guide was the driver. We were then unleashed on the river on class II-III rapids which is beginner to intermediate level (the highest grade is V). It was a fantastic experience, but far too short and we immediately wanted more. The rush of powering through massive rapids and trying to stay in the boat was great. Only one girl fell out during the whole trip and that was because the guide pushed her out! He also encouraged us to sit at the very front of the boat as we went through high rapids, which was really exhilarating. We absolutely loved it and can’t wait to try it again in Peru! We were dropped back at our hotel after lunch at a restaurant on the way back and then caught a taxi to the hostel we had booked for the final night. However, the woman said that she had given our room to someone else because we were “too late” for check in (even though she hadn’t told us this) – it was only three o’clock! We stormed out in a hump and then just booked into the hostel directly opposite which was nicer anyway! The rest of the evening was spent chilling and then going out for some drinks to celebrate – although the town was completely dead, so we stayed in a nice little bar attached to a hostel. Tomorrow we are off to Cuenca which will be our final stop in Ecuador!

Posted by mattandsusanne 18:28 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Quilotoa Loop

12th May to 16th May


Day 1:
We woke up and had a leisurely breakfast at our hostel in Quito, before getting a bus on the so-called “trolley” service for an hour down to the southern bus station. The bus was utterly crammed and made London’s tubes look spacious! We were so packed in that a poor old lady’s face was crammed up against Matt’s bag. The service is apparently rife with pickpockets and no wonder why; you couldn’t move even if you felt that someone was poking around in your pockets! We eventually made it and took an onward bus to Latacunga, the starting point for the famous Quilotoa Loop which is an area renowned for its wonderful hiking through mountains of up to 3800 metres. We arrived into Latacunga in the mid-afternoon and went for a Lonely Planet special place called Hostel Tiana which was quite nice with quirky rooms. The rest of the day was spent sorting out our stinky laundry from the Amazon and planning out trek. We repacked our stuff so that we could leave some at the hostel and take less with us on the walk. We also found a little restaurant that was serving cerviche which is raw fish marinated in some punchy, citrusy sauce – it was gorgeous!

Day 2:
The next morning we headed to the bus station quite early to get to the start of the hike in the village of Quilotoa. The village itself is nothing more than a tiny indigenous hamlet that revolves around tourism with loads of hostels and little shops run by the local indigenous community. Right next to the hamlet is the famous Quilotoa Lake, which is a massive crater lagoon around 2miles wide and at 3800 meters high. We stopped in the village and were encouraged by the bus conductor to look at one particular hostel that had quite expensive rooms. We asked for something cheaper and the lady took us to the hostel next door which had rooms that were exactly the same but $10 dollars cheaper ($30 for two people including breakfast and dinner!). Once we settled in and sorted our stuff out, we headed round the corner to the famous lake. We were really lucky with the weather as it was mostly clear with only a few clouds in the distance, so the view we got of the lake was utterly spectacular (some people arrive and can’t even see it as it’s so misted over). We both agreed that it was one of the most incredible sights we have seen on our travels. The crater rim is full of craggy rocks and there is a steep descent down to the turquoise-green water that changes colours as the sun moves across. It was quite amazing. After taking in the view, we walked down to the lake itself and tried to rent out a canoe but the guy didn’t have any change. So instead we lay in the sun and took in the tranquillity and silence of the place. Towards the end of the afternoon, we made the one and a half-hour hike back up the crater to the rim. At that altitude it really was a really exhausting walk, but we made it to the top albeit very breathless. After chilling out and taking in the view again we headed back to the hostel for dinner. There we met two other really nice couples: Brayton and Jen from Australia and New Zealand, and Keil and Jenny (from England) who were also doing the same walk as us tomorrow, so we decided to attempt it together. The night time in Quilotoa was freezing cold, so we tried to get a fire going in our burner in the room but the guy only used paraffin so the wood stopping burning when the paraffin ran out! We had loads of blankets though, so we managed to snuggle up warm in bed.

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Day 3:
The next morning we had breakfast and headed off on our first long trek to a village called Chugchilán about 12kms away. The walk started around the edge of the crater where we needed to get to the northern-most point. However, the maps and instructions we had were awful and so we quickly got lost by taking a path off the crater that led us down into the valley. We ran into an indigenous woman who started trying to lead us in a particular direction, but we had been warned that a woman called Maria lures tourists in, gets them lost and then a “guide” comes to send you on the right route (for a charge of course!). So we ignored her and found our way back to the top of the rim – the fact that she followed us for most of the way implies that she probably was this Maria woman! Eventually we found the right path and were on our way. The rest of the walk was really nice apart from the odd downpour of rain and really misty conditions where we couldn’t see anything. We did arrive at a canyon with spectacular views though, and had to descend into it which was quite cool. When we reached the river at the bottom, the path going back up on the other side of the canyon and the bridge were completely washed away because of the rain. The locals had built a bridge from 3 logs that also looked like it was about to wash away. So we had to climb up a muddy cliff face on all fours to get to the path at the top that eventually lead us to Chugchilán. The walk took us around 7 hours and we arrived wet but safe and sound at a lovely hostel called Cloud Forest. They had very nice rooms and a lovely chillout area with a fire to dry our clothes, a TV and DVD player, and a pool table which Brayton and Matt took advantage of. After a tasty three course dinner, we decided to chillout and watch a film. However, most of the DVDs were missing so we ended up watching Goldeneye (which still is a classic!).

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Day 4:
The next day Susanne and I decided to stay around the hostel with Brayton and Jen while Keil and Jenny headed off very early from their hostel to catch a local market in a nearby town. After breakfast, we all decided to do a hike that looped around the village of Chugchilán. Once again the weather wasn’t great and it was so misty that there were next-to-no views. We were headed to a cheese factory that was through a little village which looked very mysterious as it was completely shrouded in mist. However, the cheese factory was shut so it was a bit of a wasted walk. We didn’t quite make it back to Chugchilán in time as it started chucking it down with rain and we were once again soaked. The staff were very friendly again though and let us dry all our clothes by the fire. The evening was spent chilling out again near the fire and watching The Impossible which we managed to find stuffed away in a corner. The film is about the tsunami in Thailand and it really was a shocking, but brilliantly done movie. It sent us to sleep on a bit of a downer though!

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Day 5:
The next day Susanne and I needed to get to a small town called Sigchos where we could catch our bus back to Latacunga, and Brayton and Jen were off to another village called Islinivi. Half of the walk was the same though, so we headed off together. Before we left we confirmed the route with a German guy who was volunteering at the hostel which turned out to be a big mistake! We headed out of Chugchilán following the instructions and map, only to find that we had taken the main road and missed the apparently “obvious” path that lead down into the valley. We walked on the road for nearly an hour before realising that something was wrong. We bumped into a local woman coming the other way and she said that to walk the road to Sigchos could take hours and hours, so we decided to back track and lost about two hours on our journey. This was a bit of a pain as Susanne and I needed to catch a four o’clock bus back to Latacunga. Eventually we found the right path and after a couple more times getting confused over the awful instructions, we were on our way. Despite the odd bit of rain, the rest of the walk was through spectacular scenery along the river and through the mountains. Some parts of the river were flooded which meant the paths were either swampy or flooded in certain places, which made the walk quite tricky. Half way along we said our farewells to Brayton and Jen and then continued on alone. Eventually we reached the road that headed up to Sigchos, tired and conscious that we would probably miss our bus. We stopped a guy driving in a pick-up to check that we were on the right road and he said yes and gave us a lift! It turns out that this is common as he picked up another lady on the way and had already picked up someone who was in the car when we got on! So we made it to Sigchos in good time and managed to catch our bus back to Latacunga. When we arrived in Latacunga we grabbed one of the cheaper dorm rooms which was in a cute little cave downstairs and chilled out for the rest of the evening. Next it’s off to Baños where we will celebrate our first wedding anniversary!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 16:16 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Amazon

7th May to 11th May 2014

Day 1:
One of our most anticipated trips of South America was the Amazon and we were really excited to finally be heading off deep into the world’s largest rainforest. It was jammed packed full of exciting stuff so this is a really long blog – just as a warning! Our journey began in Quito with an 8 hour night bus journey to Lago Agrio in the east of Ecuador. We left Quito at 11pm in quite a swanky bus by Ecuadorian standards and for only £5. However, we had a really bad night’s sleep on the bus because of a mixture of winding roads and constant stopping which kept waking us up. On one occasion, the bus was stopped by the police and one of the officers came on board. He started asking some people to get off the bus (possibly to do a stop search) and because Matt was standing in the aisle waiting to go to the toilet and possibly looking dodgy, the policeman asked him to get off the bus as well! Very confused and sleepy, Matt obliged and got off the bus only for the policeman to tell to get back on again! Eventually we made it into Lago Agrio, an ugly town built on the massive oil trade that is unfortunately ripping apart large parts of the Ecuadorian Amazon. We were met by a friendly chap called Don Miguel who had a minibus waiting for us, so we got on and waited for other members of the group to arrive. A group of rather noisy 18/19-year old Brits got on and our initial thought was “do we have to spend four days with these guys?”. It turns out that they were really nice – but more on that later! Once everyone was on-board, we were taken to a random half-built house out of town where there were hammocks to chill out in and where we had breakfast.

After breakfast, we were picked up again by Don Miguel after he left with our luggage to pick up more people and taken on a two-hour journey to where we needed to catch a motorised canoe. The journey in the car passed through masses of agricultural land and oil factories, with huge oil pipes following the road. There was little rainforest left on this part of the journey, until we entered the outskirts of the Cuyabeno Reserve. It was quite sad to see how much damage the oil industry has caused in the area. When we reached the boat port, however, we were at the start of beautiful, dense jungle which was quite clear by the number of beautiful butterflies (they actually turned out to be moths) flying around the bathrooms. We waited around for nearly an hour during which time the young English lads played a spot of cricket, where their ball fell three times into the water! Eventually our canoe showed up and we were taken with our very friendly and informative guide (Jairo) for a two-hour journey to our lodge (Guacayamo Lodge) along the river through stunning jungle scenery. Straight away we started seeing amazing animals from the boat and each time something was spotted, Jairo would get excited and get our driver (Walter) to turn the boat around. We saw various species of monkey, a snake bird, a baby anaconda (which continues to grow until it dies), the rare Harpy Eagle, loads of other birds and so on. Susanne even managed to spot a glimpse of a dolphin. It was a great start and Jairo said we were lucky to see some of the animals we did. On the way the weather already showed its true colours turning from burning hot and sunny to a massive downpour.

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We made it to our lodge and then after checking into our rooms (which were basic but quite cute) we were treated to a fantastic three course lunch. The food on the whole was fantastic and really varied. The lodge itself was beautiful, set deep in the jungle on the river (30km from the port) with wooden walkways connecting the various accommodation huts, a dining area, a chillout hut with hammocks and sofas, and a bird watching tower. One of their solar panels was down, so there was only enough electricity for the dining hall and so all the rooms and balconies were lit by candlelight which made it quite romantic. When we were chilling out, one of the other guides ran up and asked whether we wanted to see a Harpy Eagle feasting on a monkey as one had been spotted down the river – so we all piled into the boat and headed off to see it. Of course, it wasn’t particularly nice seeing a giant bird ripping into a poor little spider monkey, but it was still an amazing natural event and the chances of seeing this bird are slim, so seeing it feast was something else (apparently serious birdwatchers pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars to look for this bird and our guide ‘won’ his camera through spotting one for a bird watcher). We came back to the lodge and then as it approached sunset, we were taken on a boat trip to the nearby lake and saw glimpses of pink river dolphins as well as the eagle again. When we arrived in the lake we were allowed to swim. Susanne was a bit concerned about getting in because of talk of alligators and electric eels, but Matt braved the water which was really warm and lovely to swim in. When it got dark, we then started our hunt for caimans (or alligators to you and me). We cruised around the shoreline of the same lake we swam in and water trees with torches looking for these beasts and others animals such as snakes (Jairo also made rather convincing caiman noises to try to attract them). Every now and then we saw little glinting red lights in the torchlight which turned out to be the eyes of caimans or snakes, and we saw both up close. It was a slightly scary but quite amazing experience cruising around the lake at night looking for these potentially deadly creatures. On the way back someone from the group spotted something in the bushes and it turned out it be a caiman, so we were able to see one incredibly close. We got back to the lodge and had a lovely dinner and got to know the rest of the group. Luckily we were blessed with a really nice group of people and the four young English chaps were typical polite, private school boys who were really nice and who sat around drinking tea like old ladies! We were all knackered though after an exciting day and our awful night’s sleep, and so we all went to bed quite early.

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Day 2:
We woke up to the wonderful sounds of the jungle and to a lovely breakfast which set us up for the day. We packed our stuff and headed off on the boat again and into the jungle for a three hour hike. We were told to take wellington boots that were provided and were told we weren’t allowed to take our own boots because of the mud. On our way to the walk we saw lots more birds and animals such as monkeys and a massive sloth from the comfort of our boat. When we got off the boat and saw the amount of mud along the jungle path, we understood why had to have wellington boots. Jairo our guide took us on a seeing, hearing, tasting and feeling tour of the jungle which was really fun and interesting. We didn’t see many animals probably because there were 12 of us trampling through the jungle like elephants. The things we did see were quite interesting though, such as one of the most poisonous frogs in the world. It was beautifully coloured and tiny, but if you somehow got any of the poison on its back into your body (for example through blow darts) you would die in under three minutes! We also encountered the absolutely massive bullet ant, so-called because if it bites you it is so painful it feels like you have been shot! Matt was also subjected to a strange ant that is sometimes used by indigenous people to stich up wounds (anybody watched Apocalyptica, it is true?!). Jairo put one on Matt’s finger so it clamped into his skin with its claws and then Jairo ripped its body off just leaving the head which basically functioned as a stich. Another couple of people were asked to put their hands on a tree full of tiny ants which when rubbed together on the skin smell like a natural form of incense and mosquito repellent. We were also invited to taste things such as a disgusting piece of bark that is a natural remedy for malaria and a tasty, sweet sap from a tree. At one point during the walk we also had to walk through a massive swamp with mud up to the top of our wellington boots!

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After the jungle trek we went for a swim in the lake and then headed back to the lodge to chill out for a few hours and have lunch. At some point someone found a massive tarantula in the kitchen – it was quite amazing to get up close to one of these creatures. After our relax time, we went back out on the boat to head back to the same trekking point for a night trek. When we left it was still light and on the way we saw some pink river dolphins. They were incredibly hard to spot, let alone photograph, as they only popped their heads up for a couple of seconds to get some air. We were really lucky though as it was mating season and there were loads swimming around near to the boat. After the excitement of the dolphins, we headed to the lake and took in the beautiful sunset. Once it was dark we boated over to the trekking point and started our hour-long night walk. It was amazing and slightly scary to be in the jungle at night with nothing but torches. We were on the look-out for any creepy crawlies that we could find and once again we were lucky and found quite a few. One of the highlights was a very large and thin spider which looked like one on a Harry Potter film. One of the English lads came forward as a volunteer (rather he was coerced by his mates!) and had the spider put on his face! The poor chap was horrified and all he could say afterwards was: “I want to go home” and his sense of humour was gone for about 30 minutes. We also got quite close to a poisonous snake and an enormous toad. However, the highlight was when we got back to the boat. The driver, Walter, was very excited that there was a caiman right near to the boat. So Jairo started to make caiman noises and splashing in the water to try to get the thing to come closer – and eventually it worked. Some of us were standing on the shore and others were in the boat, and it was quite exhilarating to see this fully-grown, two-metre long alligator come up to the boat. Jairo had his hand out incredibly close to it and we thought at any moment it would jump up and bite it off! The journey back was beautiful under star light and we were asked to turn off our torches to enjoy it. When we arrived back we had some beers and celebrated the last night for the English lads as they were only on a three-day tour. During the evening one of the really nice girls from Belgium joined out table and she asked if anybody checked under the table for spiders. Well, she did and found a massive spider protecting her sack of eggs, right by one of the English guys. Finding out about it, they all jumped on top of the chairs and would not get down until somebody would remove the beast. It was a fascinating and funny sight.

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Day 3:
We woke up to our last full day and had another tasty breakfast before heading off on our two-hour boat journey to a village belonging to the Sion indigenous community. Along the way we saw some amazing wildlife including a very strange looking prehistoric bird that has claws on its wings (a trace of the link between birds and dinosaurs). We also saw an extremely cuddly-looking monkey, appropriately called the wollie monkey. The highlight though was seeing a special wasps’ nest called marching wasps. We were asked to shout “march” at the top of our voice towards the nest which makes them nervous inside their nest. As they die if they sting someone, they group together and create a strange sound by scratching on the side of the nest and creating an incredible sound that was like marching soldiers in order to deter a prey. We did it again and the noise got louder, but then Jairo said we should probably stop as they would come out if they felt too threatened! We also stopped by an enormous tree in the jungle which was around 300 years old. It was also quite funny to watch Jairo fall out of the boat when we arrived! We swear it was our driver Walter’s intension, but we are not sure. When we arrived at the village we were quite surprised by the mod-cons including TVs, electricity, modern clothing and so on. However, the villagers have not lost any of their traditional customs and beliefs, and we were able to experience some of these. First of all, Jairo painted the girls’ faces with a natural red paint from the inside of a fruit and then we all tried to hit something with a blow dart which is really much harder than it looks. We then went to harvest some yucca which is a root vegetable almost like potato that the villagers use to make cassava bread. We were invited to help make the bread which first involved grating the yucca and then squeezing out all of the juice in a specially-made contraption. The dried out yucca is then gathered together and cooked over a really high heat. The whole process only took about 20 minutes and the product was a really tasty bread with no added ingredients whatsoever.

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After lunch, we walked for about 10 minutes to meet the local shaman. We were informed that shamans are not allowed to live in the village as they may receive negative energies from pregnant women or those on their periods! The shaman was wearing traditional clothing and we were assured that this is normal and not a dress-up for tourists. We were offered a bowl of juice squeezed out from yucca with a little twist – in order to ferment it slightly, the juice is swilled around in other people’s mouths and then spat out! As it is extremely rude not to drink something offered to you, we were all required to finish the bowl! The taste was alright, but the thought of drinking somebody else’s spit was just disgusting! We were then lead into the Shaman’s hut which he views as his hospital. As well as drawing upon spiritual rituals and at times a hallucinogenic drug called ayuwaska, the shaman uses all manner of natural plants to heal illnesses. Our guide assured us that he has heard of many cases where the shaman has cured some quite serious health problems. Encouragingly, the shaman will send people to conventional doctors and hospitals when he feels something is outside of his healing capabilities. We chatted to him for a while, learning about his techniques and the training he went through, and then we were offered a cleansing ritual. Matt decided to participate which involved being lightly whipped with a stinging nettle type plant with thorns that ended up leaving great bit welts on his back – they did subside after a few hours! We then said our goodbyes and headed back to the lodge. Back at the lodge we had a little time to chill out before heading out on the boat again back to the lake. On the way we saw some more dolphins and then had a final swim in the lake as the sun was setting. We also had a beer on the boat which was really nice, before being put into a paddling canoe swapping with the people who were already in it. We were dragged along by the bigger boat for a bit, but were then set free to paddle back in the dark. So we had a long and noisy journey back to the lodge singing “Row Row Row Your Boat” as we went. Susanne also managed to see a very rare and extremely large rat, despite the incredible noise we all made. We then enjoyed our last dinner at the lodge and spent some time chilling out with the group before needing to leave tomorrow.

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Day 4:
On our last day, we woke up really early in order to get up to the top of the birdwatching tower for around 6.00am. There wasn’t a whole lot of activity up there, but we did manage to see some toucans and parrots as well as some other amazing species. After our breakfast, we packed up our bags and then were able to do a little bit of piranha fishing and look closely at their incredibly sharp little teeth. We then took our boat back to the port and saw some more monkeys and birds on the way. Then we had the journey back to Lago Agrio through the developed parts of the jungle where we had to wait around for a couple of hours before getting our bus back to Quito. While waiting we managed to book a place at Colonial House, the hostel we had stayed at before. It was a long seven hour journey back and we arrived into Quito at around 10pm. We managed to get a taxi and then headed to our hostel for a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow we will head off to Quilotoa for some trekking through the mountains! From deep jungle to high and cold mountains in a couple of days – that’s the variety you find in Ecuador!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 18:26 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Otalavo and Quito

4th May to 7th May 2014


We left our beloved Colombia early in the morning, so that we could get through the border quickly and head on to Ecuador. Our first stop was Ipiales were we needed to get a shared taxi to the Colombian border. After getting our exit stamp (in the same queue as people entering Colombia) we crossed the bridge over into Ecuador and before we could even get our entry stamp, taxi drivers were pestering to take us into the nearest town. So theoretically we could have entered the country without needing to show our passports! This made us think how easy it must be to smuggle drugs and stuff into Ecuador, particularly as there was no military presence – very weird! We played by the rules of course and got our stamp, and were officially welcomed into Ecuador. Our next stop was a town called Tulcan where we managed to get a bus very quickly to the town of Otavalo, which was three hours or so south. Straight away we noticed that Ecuador had a less efficient transport service than in Colombia (meaning slightly dodgy buses) and it felt a bit like the transport in Asia. The transport is about as cheap as Asia as well! We made it into Otavalo in the afternoon and found a really nice room for quite a reasonable price. Unfortunately, however, when we logged onto the internet we found out that our fridge had broken at home and so we needed to sort out a new one quickly for the tenants – so we sent around emails to try to arrange something! Otavalo is a traditional market town and is famed for its indigenous population who sell traditional (and not so traditional) goods in the daily market, which spills out onto a massive square in the centre of town. After investigating fridges, we wandered around the market looking at all the wonderful array of colourful goods such as ponchos, scarfs, mats, musical instruments and so on. We had an early dinner at a really nice restaurant, which turned out to be the only choice as everything else was shut on Sundays. The food was great though and a real improvement on most of the stuff we got in Colombia. After having a wander around the pretty old square with funky lights, we spent the rest of the evening trying to sort out a new fridge – great fun!

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The next day we hit the market again with the purpose of buying Susanne a poncho. After a couple of hours, she finally decided on a lovely dark green one made out of alpaca wool which we haggled down to $13. In the afternoon we headed on to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, to decide our next move. It was a short two and a half hour journey to the city and we chatted to a nice English chap called George who was doing research in Ecuador for his PhD in anthropology, so it made for an interesting journey. When we arrived we jumped into a taxi with him once we had finally found one that would go on a meter rather than trying to charge us an extortionate $18. To drop George off and then go onto the old town (which was about an hour from the bus station) cost us $10 in the end. We got dropped off at a hostel we had found online called Colonial House, right near the centre of the old town. They only had one fairly expensive private room left for $25, but it was lovely with a big comfy bed and nice features. The hostel itself was great with three floors and loads of nooks and crannies to chill out in, a TV room with DVDs, pool table and so on. We decided to cook ourselves, so went out and got some ingredients to cook up a nice pasta and save some money!

The next day we joined a walking tour around the old town. To our surprise it was run by an Irish chap who had only been in Quito for a few months. Initially, we were fairly disappointed particularly as we had such a great walking-tour experience in Medellin with a passionate local. However, the Irish chap turned out to be quite informative and showed us some of Quito’s impressive colonial sights, including a massive basilica church and plaza grande which was full of beautiful colonial buildings and monuments. We also met some nice people on the tour, including an Irish woman (Louise) who also wanted to go on an Amazon tour in the next couple of days so we decided to hook up and book something together. So in the afternoon we met up again in the newer part of town (called la Mariscal) to look up some of the Amazon tours which turned out to be quite a tricky task. In the end we decided on one, but the agency had already shut so we needed to book it the next day. In the evening we met up with Louise and some other people from the walking tour in a place called La Ronda, which is a street in the old town with some nice restaurants. We picked a traditional restaurant that had a great selection of typical Ecuadorian dishes. Matt ordered what he thought was going to be pork chop but wasn’t quite what he expected – due to a slight translation issue the English said ‘leg’, but he didn’t notice that the Spanish was ‘pata’ (or foot). So what actually came up was a pig’s foot – it was quite disgusting! The next day we headed up to la Mariscal early to book our tour, but when we arrived the agency wasn’t open. When we returned after a coffee, the office was open but when they tried to open the door for us they broke the key in the lock! This was not the only great laugh that occurred when booking the tour, as the write-up printed on a leaflet said that along with the wellington boots that were included, we would also get 'Musketeers'. We hoped that we did not need these, and it transpired that they meant mosquito nets (a slight google translate mistake!). Eventually we got in and booked the tour for the next day, which meant getting a night bus that night for 8 hours to the town of Lago Agrio. So the rest of the day was spent packing our stuff ready for the trip to the Amazon and finally choosing and ordering our new fridge-freezer (after about 5 hours of scouring the internet!). Before catching the bus we also had time to chill out on the sofa at the hostel with a pizza and a film which was lovely, although it completely put us off going to the bus station. The next stop will be the Amazon and we can’t wait!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 19:37 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Cali and the South

30th April 2014 to 3rd May 2014


We set off early from Salento and began the journey south to a city called Cali, famed for its salsa dancing. After a bus change in a small and rather non-descript town called Armenia, we had a stuffy minibus journey to Cali. We arrived in the afternoon and shared a cab with a couple of British girls (who were only 18 and on their gap year – bless!) and headed for a hostel recommended to us called el Viajero. The hostel was on the edge of San Antonio which is a very picturesque old town full of colonial buildings that reminded us of la Candelaria in Bogotá. It was a very cool and funky hostel with a lovely swimming pool in the centre, an outside bar and a DVD/TV room. Because the private rooms were so expensive we decided to go for a dorm room and cooked our own food in the kitchen – like true backpackers! We also felt rather old as most people were not much older than the two girls we shared the taxi with. The hostel also offered a free salsa lesson which we couldn’t turn down. The first half was a bit rubbish, as the teacher was going so fast with really complicated step sequences that we couldn’t keep up with. The second half, however, was much better as he slowly taught us a couple dance. We then got ready for our night out in Cali at a typical salsa club! We tried to arrange to meet up with Laura (another person we met on the lost city trek), but couldn’t seem to arrange a time and place. Instead, Juan said that he has some couch surfing friends who were going to a club called Tin Tin Deo. When we arrived the doorman said ‘are you Matt and Susanne?’. We were a bit confused as to why this doorman knew our name, but then a woman called Carol came over to us. She was one of the women who Juan knew and he had sent her a picture of us so she could find us! We went up into the club which was rammed with Colombians showing off their salsa moves on the dance floor. It was also a bank holiday the following day, so they were really letting their hair down. The music was immensely loud, so it was hard to chat to anyone but it was great to see the Colombians’ natural inclination towards dancing – they really were quite impressive. Eventually we plucked up the courage to give it a go, but it didn’t go too well mainly because of Matt’s robotic dance technique. However, a group dance saved the day where the entire club was led by one bloke doing a communal salsa – it was great fun. At 2:50am the club was hit by an abrupt kick out as the club needed to be emptied of guests by 3am, there were no discussions, everybody left promptly.

We woke up early despite not getting to bed till 3:30ish and being woken up by other people in the dorm coming back even later. Our tiredness was lessened a bit by a lovely buffet breakfast that came included in the price of the dorm. We then went for a little wander around the city while it was still early. We firstly headed to the main town centre which was generally quite ugly apart from a beautiful, modern and rather stylish church and a lovely park area along the river. We also wandered around the old town near the hostel and to the top of a hill with a nice view over the city. Generally, though, we weren’t in the greatest sightseeing mood so we headed back to the hostel to chill by the pool. After a bit of swimming, it unfortunately started to rain but we were still able to read and catch up on the blog. In the afternoon, we chilled out in the cinema room and watched Captain Phillips (the one about an American ship being taken over by Somalian pirate). We had tried to arrange to meet Laura again at some music event at a nearby park called Loma de la Cruz, but once again somehow missed each other. We went to the park anyway and we were really glad we did. It had a lovely waterfall at the entrance and had numerous little pop-up shops where local artisans could sell their products. There was also group dancing in which anyone could take part and so we did. It was great fun, joining in with a mass (at least 100) of other Colombians dancing away in the middle of the park lead by an indigenous young (hot) man – it really shows how much Cali likes to dance! As we had the dancing bug in us, we headed to another club that was near to the hostel. It was a bit quieter as it was a Thursday and every one had to work the next day, but there were still plenty of people twisting their hips. We also bumped into one of the girls from last night, so she helped us with some salsa moves. As is tradition in salsa, men go around asking different women to dance and Susanne was asked by an older indigenous chap who knew his stuff – and of course Susanne cottoned on very quickly and looked like a pro! It was another fairly late night and we needed to get up early for our onward journey, but we had a great time in Cali.

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The next morning we headed to the bus station with the intention of getting a bus to a town called Pasto near to the Ecuadorian border. However, the only bus we could get would have left in the early afternoon and we wouldn’t have arrived until late in the evening. We thought about going back to the hostel and taking the night bus, but we have heard that there have been night-time bus robberies on this route. So we were a little stuck with what to do. In the end, we decided to shorten the journey and head to the colonial town of Popayán which turned out really well in the end. We arrived into Popayán in the late afternoon and checked into a really cheap hostel that had three rather grumpy dogs one of which nipped us a couple of times and made the whole place smell rather doggy! In the early evening we wandered into the old town which was full of beautiful, white-washed colonial buildings and churches. It had a really nice atmosphere, slightly spoiled by the mass of traffic going through the centre, but spoilt ourselves with a lovely coffee in an old and atmospheric cafe. We had an early night as we needed to wake up at 5.30 to get to the bus terminal for our 6.30 bus onto Ipiales at the Ecuadorian border. When we arrived we bumped into four Americans who said the 6.30 wasn’t running and we had to wait until 8, but when Matt asked the women said it was running – so we all got on! The journey was long, but we followed the Panamericana highway through the Andes which meant there was some stunning mountain scenery, even though we both overslept going past a volcano, oops. We also noted the increased military and police presence on the road and in towns, checking cars and people very regularly. There were points in which road checks were carried out every 20 minutes, but we were not stopped once.

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When we arrived into Ipiales, we realised that the town was a bit of a dump so we checked whether there were any hotels at the nearby Santuario de las Lajas, a famous church built into a gorge in the mountains. It turns out that there were hotels, so we hopped into a taxi and headed to the town nearby the church. We found an incredibly cheap hotel by Colombian standards (20,000 pesos = £6) and then headed down the hill to see the church which was absolutely stunning and well worth the side trip before going to Ecuador. The church is built into a massive gorge with a powerful river flowing underneath, a large waterfall and is built in a very beautiful and ornate style. Tomorrow we make the trip to Ecuador and have to leave Colombia – we really will miss it. On the Lost City trek, Juan asked us why we decided to come to Colombia. We weren’t entirely sure, but sheepishly said that we wanted to test the typical stereotypes. Looking back now, we think that this is exactly what we wanted to do and as far as we are concerned, we have broken all the stereotypes we previously had about the country. We were nervous when we came, led on by stories of dangerous cities, drug smuggling, guerrilla warfare etc. And really we weren’t even sure why people continue to have these views, particularly as Colombia is never featured on international news. Of course Colombia has its problems – technically it is still at war with oppositional groups (although peace talks are moving on well) and certain areas are definitely a no-go for tourists or Colombians alike. However, as long as you avoid these areas, what we discovered was a beautiful country that is modern, safe and full of friendly people who what to shrug off the stereotypes that plague them to this day. We also want to point out that many Colombians say tourist only come to Colombia to take drugs, which clearly has proven to be quite true in some cases. However once you find out the devastation, blood share and violence cocaine and cannabis in particular have caused a nation of nearly half a century, it should put everybody off. More tourists have to visit Colombia, who can break those stereotypes on Colombian side. A very clever tourism advertising campaign by the government states – ‘the only risk is not wanting to leave’. How right they are. Colombia, we will return and we hope that many more of you reading this blog will make their own way to Colombia exploring a fantastic country with plenty to give!

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Posted by mattandsusanne 17:27 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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