22/12/04 Peru Border

Posted: December 27th, 2004 | Tags: | 4 Comments »

Even having never crossed a (non-Schengen) land border before, I can say that the Ecuadorian/Peru crossing is the most stressful I am likely to encounter. The sheer number of faux-guides, fake policemen, dodgy money changers, conmen, hasslers and husslers made it a distinctly unpleasent experience. By the time I had crossed the international bridge, I was lucky to have suffered, at worst, a counterfeit 100 sol note from a dodgy changer. I should have known not to trust someone wearing a leather jacket in 35 degree weather. But it’s hard to make generalisations about who you can or can’t trust; Jenn got a phoney $10 bill straight from an ATM in Ecuador.

Arriving in the nearest border town, first impressions of Peru are not improving. The turgid little hole clinging to the border has the dubious distinction of being the most unfriendly place of all visited so far. The inhabitants are rude, loud, almost openly agressive. After checking into a hotel, we soon checked out, deciding instead to get a night bus to somewhere less inbred.

Unfortunately, the nearest departing bus was also the cheapest, in the worst sense of the word, putting bad service to the supposition that Peru has the best quality long distance buses in the world. However, 13 smelly, dirty hours later and we arrive in the warmth and comfort of a reasonably sized city and Peru gains several notches in our estimation.

21/12/04 Cuenca

Posted: December 21st, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on 21/12/04 Cuenca

Leaving the lowlands and again heading up the Andean highlands leaves you, literally, short of breath. Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and is pleasantly cool. It’s on the way to Peru and worth a look for its colonial architecture. That, combined with its large student population give the city and young and trendy European feel. It also means there are plenty of bars and “gringo” services.

Of course, there’s nothing European about the large indigineous population here. Because we’re back in the mountains, people come down to the city from all the surrounding valleys to sell their wares in the markets here. They’re quite the juxtaposition with their traditional hats and clothes.

Ecuador’s most important Inca ruins are a mere day trip away. They are certainly impressive – with the perfect stonework and astrological features that would shame Newgrange. There are also plenty of llamas around to appease the few pockets of tourists. Tomorrow we cross into Peru.

18-19/12/04 Quayaquil

Posted: December 21st, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on 18-19/12/04 Quayaquil

The big city: what a contrast to the last few days of wilderness. After a shower, a pizza and an ATM, we had a good wander around. The city is unlike anywhere else we’ve been; it’s more like San Francisco or New York than anything, complete with tall office blocks, congested streets, fast food and nightlife. In fact, it’s famous for its nightlife. We wanted to go for a quiet pint, but ended up in this crazy salsoteca where everyone was dancing like it was 1970.

Other highlights of the city are a recently gentrified riverfront boulevard, excellent Chinese restaurants and “Parque Bolivar”, which is literally stuffed with giant tame iguanas, who, if yyou have some bread or fruit will happily sit on your knee and tear pieces off. I even got an impressive bite from one particularly agressive individual.

Ecuador Photos

Posted: December 21st, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on Ecuador Photos

We’re nearly done with Ecuador, so I’ve uploaded some photos. They’re a bit ahead of the written accounts, and they’re in reverse order, so don’t get too confused.

16-17/12/04 Parque Machalilla

Posted: December 21st, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on 16-17/12/04 Parque Machalilla

Today we arose early to catch a ride deep into the park. The main gateway to the park is the community of Agua Blanca. Only a few years ago, the residents of this village were all farmers and fishers. Now everyone works as a tour guide or in the tourist industry. I’m not sure this is necessarily a good thing, but it’s a remarkably well run and responsible community. Everyone looks out for each other and for the environment. There are communal baths and horses — a real eye-opener.

We rented horses for our ascent into the cloud forest. A rough ride by both our accounts, compounded by my steed’s stubborness when it came to the smallest hillock. A fact that had me pleading, coaxing and eventually whacking with a big stick. We following a dry river bed for most of the climb, looking out for lizards, tropical birds, vivid butterflies and bizarre trees. Arriving at the campsite we were too sore to sit, but feasted on fruit, bread and cheese.

After a very short rest, we climbed further on foot in search of monkeys, anteaters, jaguars and rare species of hummingbirds. We were lucky enough to encounter two types of monkey. The first, a large colony of Howler Monkeys, howled furiously at us while the females scurried off with the babies. Climbing a bit further we discovered another friendly species, who came quite close and watched with their furry faces.

After a wash, dinner and a difficult Spanish conversation in front of the fire, we headed to bed but hardly slept with the noise of the forest. At dusk hundreds of cricket-like insects created a chainsaw cacophony, at dawn the howler monkeys had their say.

After a painful descent the next day, we soaked in the village’s sulphur baths, surrounded by iguanas and eggy vapours. That night we slept with the guide’s family, catching up on much needed sleep, uninterrupted except the occasional bird flying through the house (the rafters were totally open) or the clatter of hoofs on the concrete floor as the family’s very cute baby goat paid a visit to our room.

15/12/04 La Isla De La Plata

Posted: December 21st, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on 15/12/04 La Isla De La Plata

Puerto Lopez is about as laid back as a beach town can get. As with most of the other towns we stay in or pass through, the people seem content. Houses are simple – sometimes no more than unrendered concrete breeze blocks and corrigated tin roofs – but are full of TVs and DVD players. There’s not much poverty about and very little beggers – people seem to want to work for a living, even if it is selling lotto tickets on the side of the road.

The days start with buying and cooking a couple of eggs from the shop next door — presumably plucked from the posterior of the hens clucking around said shop. After breakfast we mind wander down to the beach for a dip or to chase crabs. Day trips to the nearby national park are welcome and interesting diversions.

The park is Ecuador’s only coastal national park and contains a string of secluded beaches and coves. “Los Frailes” must be the best of these. It’s quiet thanks to the $20 weekly park entry free. It’s also about an hour and a half up a hot dirt track, which we managed to avoid by scoring a lift in the back of the ranger’s pick-up. After oohing at the perfect horse-shoe cove, we trekked for a hot couple of hours through the dry forest. Apparantly there’s plenty of wildlife here, but we saw nothing but a couple of lizard and a yellow parrot. That night we played enjoyed a game of spoons with a pair of Swedish girls and a local chico; spoons being a local card game.

Not content with a mere beach, we hired a boat and a guide and set sail to “La Isla De La Plata”, an off-shore island but within the park and dubbed “The Poor Man’s Galápagos”. That certainly describes us, but it has nowhere near the biodiversity of Darwin’s islands. However, we had a very close look at some boobies: blue footed, red footed and masked. These very tame birds are incredibly cute and rival penguins for giggles. Also seen where a frigate bird colony and a pair of albatrosses – a lucky find as they rarely breed on the island.

It’s a hot and dry island and very hard to trek around. After the slog we gorged ourselves on melon and pineapple and did a spot of snorkelling in a wee corel reef but with plenty of pretty tropical fishies.

11/12/04 Puerto Lopez

Posted: December 20th, 2004 | Tags: | Comments Off on 11/12/04 Puerto Lopez

Next stop is 3 hours down the coast at Puerto Lopez: an interesting journey sharing the bus with sacks of maize and live chickens. Puerto Lopez is a sleepy, laid-back fishing and beach village. We’re staying here because it’s right next to a Machalilla National Park, which promises many more adventures! Our hotel is great. We staying in a thatched bamboo hut on stilts. There’s a common outdoor kitchen and chill out space with plenty of hammocks about.

For dinner today we consumed a bucket of freshly assorted fish bits, although we couldn’t manage most of the squid heads, which were fed to the restaurant’s cat. In the evenings I laze in the hammock listing to the ocean, the crickets, the evening birds and the occasional waft of an unseasonal “jingle bells”. There are beers in the fridge and the cats are friendly. It’s the good life indeed, with nothing much to complain about apart from mild sunburn, mild jellyfish stings, morning cockerals and the fact that we have to change our traveller’s cheques in a pharmacy charging an outragious commission.