Thursday, May 29, 2008

Backpacking South America: Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador (Part III)

From: Quito, Ecuador
Posted on: Tuesday, January 11

We have just spent a week in the Amazon Jungle in north eastern Ecuador. Took a long bus trip (8 hrs) to a hot oil town called Lago Agrio near the Colombian border ($3). Trevor was sick and puked at an army checkpoint. On the way we passed the wreck of the previous days bus which was about 100m down a cliff. From Lago Agrio it was a 2 hr drive to the Cuyabeno reserve entrance. Then a 6 hr trip on a motorised canoe to the camp. It took so long because the river was very low and we had to get out and push the canoe over logs and off sandbanks. It was dark by the time we reached camp. It rained very hard that night and the next which was fortunate for us because the river had risen by the time we returned and it only took 2 hrs back.

We slept under mosquito nets which were under a thatch canopy. We went walking in the jungle with rubber boots and a guide showed us all the medicinal plants used by the local Indians. We also visited a Shaman who is a traditional healer and he had a feather through his nose. We saw birds including parrots and toucans and we fished for piranha but didn't catch any. We even swam in the river but they didn't show up. One of the local little boys caught a baby Caiman, the South American version of a crocodile. We didn't see any Anacondas but we did find a nest with the discarded skin of one. Apparently Anacondas are the main danger to humans and they swim in the rivers. The 5 day jungle trip cost $175 each, all inclusive from Lago Agrio. It is also possible to fly from Quito to Lago Agrio for about $55.

From: Quito, Ecuador
Posted on: Friday, January 14

Took a longer than expected bus trip from Quito to Aldea Salamandra, an organic farm with rustic cabanas on a river. We expected the bus to take 2 to 3 hours but it took 4. It dropped us off at the turnoff, 2km before the town of Puerto Quito, in the dark and pouring rain. We couldn't see the sign (later saw it was hidden in the bushes) and thought maybe they'd dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. There were no lights and no moon, so we fumbled around for our torch. Some dogs barking woke a woman in the nearest house and she confirmed that we were in the right place and pointed us in the right direction - a 5 minute walk. We later found out there was also a power failure that night.

When we woke up the next morning we found our cabana was perched in the trees overlooking the river. We enjoyed the peace from the hammocks on our balcony. We went on a excursion which is included in the cost of accommodation ($17 inc. 3 meals), to a 60m high waterfall set in a tropical forest. We swam in the pool beneath it. Today's excursion was to an organic farm where we were shown and tasted many fruits and shown medicinal plants and their uses. We also saw how chocolate is made from the raw cocoa beans to the finished product. It was very delicious with bananas and bread.

From: Quito - Galapagos
Posted on: Wednesday, January 19

Spent 5 days on a small 16 person cruiser on a trip around the Galapagos Islands. We flew to the islands from Quito and boarded our boat, Gaby. We visited Plazas, Santa Fe, Espa˝»Čí, Floreana and Santa Cruz islands. We saw lots of animals including land and marine iguanas, sea lions, giant tortoises, colourful crabs. We snorkelled everyday and saw sharks, various rays, sea turtles, tropical fish and coral. We also saw lots of different birds including albatross, boobies, flamingos, pelicans, finches etc. The cruise cost $350 each, all inclusive. Entry to the islands is $100 each. Flights are very expensive at $329 each but that is the cheapest way to get there. We booked everything through an agency in Quito.

From: Quito, Ecuador
Posted on: Saturday, January 22

Have changed our air tickets to fly out of Quito on 31/1 instead of Caracas on 2/2. This took quite a bit of running around between Iberia and ticket issuers, USIT, and waiting. Tried to go to Otavalo but the roads were closed and no buses running because of Indian protests against the government. Went 2 hrs south to Latacunga, the only place you could get a bus to, with the intention of continuing on to Chugchilan, a small town in the countryside. However could only get as far as Latacunga as the other roads were also closed.

From Latacunga we spent yesterday in the nearby Cotopaxi Mountain Park. The guide took his 4 children with, so it was a bit of a family outing. We went to some hot springs but there was no water in the bath. The children dammed the stream to make their own small bath. Walked to a lake on the paramo, the high plateau (4000m). It was very cold.

On arriving back in Latacunga last night, we thought that all the protests were over as the military had left. Then we saw on TV that there were big problems in Quito and Quayquil. We weren?t sure what was happening but were told that there were 2 presidents. This morning we learnt the full story that Ecuador has a new president, the ex-Vice President, after the old one was forced to flee by a military coup. Everything is slow today but things seem to be more normal - however still no buses except to Quito. So we had no choice but to come back.

From: Otavalo, Ecuador
Posted on: Wednesday, January 26

Spent the weekend in Quito waiting for the roads to open. Saw the new James Bond movie on Sunday and walked around the huge Park Carolina. Left Quito for Otavalo on Monday morning. Otavalo is famous for its Indians and craft markets. On Tuesday we went to Mojando Lakes 18 km away. We climbed Fuya Fuya mountain (4200m) and walked around the lakes. It was very tranquilo. Today we hired mountain bikes and cycled to a waterfall, Cascadas des Peguche, and around Lago San Pablo, a huge lake nearby. Afterwards we bought some hammocks and souvenirs in the market. Have found an excellent fruit pie shop where we have eaten lunch everyday and also a good Sicilian pizzeria.

From: Quito, Ecuador
Posted on: Monday, January 31

On our last day in Otavalo we went horse riding and it was the best riding we?ve done. We went for 5 hours and cantered at least half the time. The horses were very strong and well rested. The scenery was through haciendas (farmland), over hills and through streams. Cost $15 each. Came back to Quito on Thursday night. The next day we went to Iberia to reconfirm our flights and booked 2 mountain biking day trips with the Biking Dutchman.

On Saturday we went mountain biking in Cotopaxi Park. The Biking Dutchman specialises in downhill routes. We drove to 4500m and free wheeled down to 3100m. It was freezing cold at the top and a little snow. The last section was through pine forest. On Sunday we started at a small town called Nono. It was in the cloud forest on the slopes of Guagua Pichincha, the erupting volcano near Quito. It was still raining since the day before. About half way down our route, we realised the significance of the name Nono. The road was blocked by a landslide. There were a couple of other jeeps who had begun to clear it with picks and axes. Eventually we managed to make a passable track over it. It was touch and go driving over but we made it without toppling over.

We thought it was all behind us until we joined the main road back to Quito and discovered it was blocked by 2 landslides. The cranes clearing it had fallen over, so they had given up on trying to clear it. This gave us 3 choices: a 5 hour round trip via Santo Domingo back to Quito; staying the night there waiting for the road to be cleared; or going back the way we came. We decided on the latter. When we reached the landslide it had started raining again and this time the Landcruiser got stuck on the way over. We tried to push it out but it was stuck solid and rocks started falling on us from above. We felt helpless and waited in the rain.

Luckily 2 vehicles came along and one of them was a Unimog! There were more men so they tried again to push the Landcruiser free but it was hopeless. The Unimog had a winch but it was broken. So the other 4x4 went back down and fetched a small rope. This did the trick - the Unimog managed to pull us free. But we were still on the wrong side of the landslide. The Unimog got over first time and in doing so flattened the tracks. The 4x4 took about 5 goes but eventually also got over. We had no choice but to give it another go. Ari, our guide, put his foot flat and got over first time. We were very relieved and everyone was cheering. We only had to brave the rest of the road back to Quito praying that another landslide wouldn?t happen while we were there.

A woman who we gave a lift to said it was rumoured that all the landslides were caused by an earthquake caused by Pichincha volcano. Today is our last day in South America. We fly back to London via Madrid tonight.

From: Redhill, UK
Posted on: Tuesday, February 01

Arrived back in London this evening. It was dark and raining. We can safely say now that we survived the 3 months without getting mugged or having anything stolen. Sadly our journey has come to an end. Adios, hasta luego.

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