18.10.2010 - 05.11.2010 22 °C
Finally!!! Yes bloody FINALLY!! I was on my way out of Ecuador! After six weeks in Quito I was actually ready to leave. I had had my fill of not being on the move for a while I was happy to get on the bus to Baños. I decided to just do the one night in Baños as I had alreay been there and I was now running out of time for the rest of South America. This was still enough time to visit the luke warm dirty grey hot springs full of not so attractive old men, and to check out a restaurant that had been recommended by Lonely Planet (not mine, I have never and will never hand my money over for one of these books, I am a human not a sheep)(well, with the exception of this night of course, I get a little sheepish occasionally) with two guys I met at my hostel. One guy was incredibly interesting, he worked for university in the USA and had worked all over the world. During a conversation with him on politics and current wars in the world the other guy fell asleep at the table. He was not so interesting. Though I am sure he felt the same way about us.
The next morning I headed to Riobamaba in order to get on a bus for Cuenca in the south of Ecuador. After many many hours on a bus (well at this time a full day on a bus to me was a lot - how innocent was I!!) I finally arrived in Cuenca and headed to a hostel that had been recommended to me. It was actually more like a hotel and as a result there was no common area for guests to sit and meet each other. There was a bar, but this was full of locals. After a wonderful dinner and hot shower I hopped into bed and was once again feeling sorry for myself. I was in the mood to be around other people and feeling a bit cut off as there was no one around (well no one who spoke English). I started feeling that little bit home sick again and was in an annoying whingy mood. That was when I had the weirdest experience. One part of me basically got pissed off the way you would at someone who is constantly in an annoying mood. The annoyed half turned around to the whingy half and basically said 'for fucks sake, I am so fucking sick of you and your fucking mood. I can not hear one more time that you need to go home. You are on holidays for fuck's sake and you have just had six weeks in one place to help get over whatever home sickness you had. Get over yourself and fucking cut it out!!'. (The annoyed side of me clearly says fuck a lot). The whingly side of me had an actual reaction, it realised the truth in what is was being told and agreed to shut the hell up. The weirdest thing for me is that from this time I have been fine. I have not felt home sick or sorry for myself for one second. I have felt completely relaxed and happy with what ever has been going on. I have even recently made the decision to extend my holiday time by six weeks and I would have given myself more time here if money were not an issue. Weird.
The next morning at breakfast I met a fellow backpacker. He said he was planning to head out to some ruins about a two hour bus ride away from Cuenca and I decided to join him. These were the first ruins I had seen while in South America. They were interesting and a good way to take in a feel for what Cuenca had (which other than a nice lake is nothing to different to anywhere else). The following day we both headed out to the National Park outside of Cuenca, this is only a 45 minute bus ride away. We picked a couple of trails and managed to get one in before lunch. Lunch was had in the little restaurant near the main office which is run totally by one poor little over worked lady (well at least is was on this particular day). I ordered an omelette and some soup thinking the omelette would not be mixed with grated potato and about three times the size the size of a normal omelette. I forgot temporarily where I was I think. Never underestimate the South American portion size. Oh well, extra carbs for the second hike of the day. Ten minutes into the second hike (in pure Ecuadorian fashion) the weather went from beautiful and sunny to cold and hailing. Our second hike which was re-routed to the the bus stop was most enjoyable. The National park is worth a look. We hiked the pink trail first and it took a few hours. There were some beautiful view points along the way. We had planned to hike the green trail second despite the fact we were told it was the more beautiful of the two. We decided this as the green trail did not loop around but instead finished at the main road. This would have allowed us to catch the bus from here instead of backtracking. But obviously Pachamama had other ideas.
That night the agenda told us we had a play to go to at one of the local universities. Even though neither of us really spoke that much Spanish we enjoyed it. I was impressed that the entire play which lasted for about two hours was a one man show (well one woman in this situation). She was a great actress and the play was really funny (as suggested by the constant laughter from everyone else in the audience besides the two gringos at the back...). Unfortunately by going to the play we missed the salsa night at our hostel. This would have been great to see, but you can't do everything. Back at the hostel I decided since it was my last night I should take advantage of the happy hour at the bar and have a few drinks. I started talking to the guys at the bar in the best Spanish I had (which as far as I am concerned only gets better the more I drink). They invited me to a party after the bar closed and I thought 'why not, how often do you get to go to a party with locals in Ecuador?' And plus, I didn't have to be up until 5.30 the next morning for my bus. The night went on a little better than expected and at the time of putting myself to bed (the time being 4.15am) I decided Cuenca was a really nice place and would benefit greatly by staying one more day.
I am so glad I made this decision (a decision that was clearly made without any influence - haha) as this is when I fell in love with Cuenca. The weather the following day was perfect and I had a whole day to buy a new bus ticket and walk around the town. In comparison to Quito it is very modern, it has great shops and no buses driving around leaving you to walk in your own little bubble or black smoke. The town has a tranquil feeling, almost the same feel you would expect from a funky little beach town, only without the beach. I almost wished I had spent my six weeks of studying Spanish in Cuenca. I finally made it out of Cuenca and Ecuador the following day despite a repeat of the night before. Luckily being hungover helps you sleep more easily on long bus rides. And I was able to hide my hangover well...red blood shot eyes suggest a lack of hangover right??
I took the bus from Cuenca across the border to Puira in Lima and did not find the border crossing to be too painful. Mostly because my bus driver took me and made me cut in line as to speed up the process. I am not someone who would normally cut in line, but hey, you should always do as you are told right? I swapped buses and got into Puira two hours late. I decided at half seven at night I could not be bothered finding a hostel and decided instead to use Cruz del Sur and their fancy buses as my mobile hostel. This allowed me to sleep on the semi cama (half bed) chairs while getting me into Lima the following morning. Two birds, one relatively comfortable bed.
I had been told by other travellers I had met along the way that Miraflores was the place to stay. Luckily we had internet on the bus as about ten minutes before we got off I realised I did not have a hostel. Hostelworld.com to the rescue with the address of somewhere that looked kind of cool. Miraflores does seem to be much nicer than most other parts of Lima. It is the upmarket area of the city for sure. It even has two Starbucks!! See, upmarket! Within an hour of arriving there I was eating my first serve of ceviche. Just what you want on an empty stomach, raw fish in lemon juice. It was really good, but simply because of how I was already feeling, it did take a little while to eat. I also had my first pisco sour that evening with dinner. Yum yum yum. Many of these to come luckily. Remind me to pick up a bottle or two of pisco before I head home would you? In my few days in Lima I made it into the centre to have a look around. The centre square was beautiful. The Spnaish touch very obvious. I went wandering to make my taxi fair feel worth it. I ended up at a shopping centre somewhere that was layered so weirdly and all of the shops were broken up into little sections that were difficult to move between. Very weird. Again, so very different and so much more modern than Quito. Quito almost seems to be in it's own weird little time warp. The Aussie in me decided it was necessary to check out the beach in Miraflores. I was with two other Aussies and we could not work out why there was no way from the shop and restaurant complex up on the hill near the beach down to the actual beach itself. After catching a taxi down to the beach we worked out why; because the beach is shit. Cold, horrible, rocky and full of rubbish and the occasional dead animal. There were also signs directing you up the cliff face in case of a tsunami. Good one.
Next stop in Peru?? Cusco. Gateway to Machu Pichu. The town itself is beautiful and has a great feel, but is very touristy. If you plan on pampering yourself in Peru, this is the place. Massages, facials, manicures the lot. A weird little market that has arisen for the people wanting to hike Machu Pichu. I stayed in a beautiful colonial style hostel with a great little pub. I got lost a lot in this building. Sad but true. My defence is that everything looks the same! And there is a pub where you put everything on your room tab. That is never good (in the long run). I booked my four day Inka Jungle train and headed off the following morning. I do not think given the chance I would have done the real Inka Trail hike, I do no know why, but I think considering the price I paid (less than $200 rather than the $500 needed for the Inka Trail) I got a really good tour. Also, there is no way I would have gotten on the Inka Trail given my tendency to book last minute...
Our Inka Jungle was great. The first day was down hill biking. This is always fun and the scenery along the way was wonderful. That evening on arriving to out hostel we had the option to pay $25AUS to go white water rafting and I decided to give it a go. I do not normally like water sports, and I was thinking I would not enjoy it, but I had a smile on my face the whole time. White water rafting is incredible! I can not believe I have not tried it before. The good thing about trying it in Peru I guess was the temperature of the water. We even jumped in for a swim at one stage. The bad thing about doing it in Peru were the sand flies. Obviously any bug repellent washed off straight away. And then they attacked. I got so many bites my legs looked weird and infected in photos. The bite marks for me in the end turned into bruises (sexy!!) and then my left foot and ankle swelled up. I have lived in Australia almost all of my life and I have never experienced anything like that. I ended up taking a handful anti-inflammatories in order to do the last bit of the hike up to Machu Pichu as I was worried I would not be able to get my shoe on. It did not take away from the experience at all though. We got to try surfing in the raft (v. cool) and my favourite rapid was named 'mother fucker'. Te he
The second day was hiking along the Inka Trail itself. It was mostly up hill and it was beautiful. We stopped at little farm houses along the way, one with a monkey who was being given a bath and a capybara who drank out of a bottle. We got to try coca leaves for the first time and these are now a particular favourite of mine. Strangely they give you more energy, make the side of your mouth go numb and stop you from feeling hungry?? I am sure we have something in Australia like this.... The third day was a sleep in followed by a shower at a a local waterfall and some more hiking. An early night on our last night as we had to be up at 3.30 to hike up the hill.
We started our hike at four am the following morning in the pouring rain. Our tour group all moved at our own pace up the hill rather tha all walking together. The hike is not the easiest, but it onnly takes on average an hour to get up the hill. I had to stop to take off layers. Just because it is raining does not mean it is cold (I now know). A poncho and t-shirt are more than enough. Shorter shorts are good as well as all of the water will run of your poncho onto the legs of your pants otherwise. You are told before you leave how many steps there are to get to the top, I think it is about 2000. I had not expected to meet someone on the way who did not have the time but who had been counting the steps instead. Bloody Tasmanians. Seriously?? Getting to the top was great, as with the feeling of finishing any hike. Machu Pichu itself is incredible (as you would know if you have seen it). The skill of the workmen and the fact that these buildings are not only standing but are in such good condition is incredible. We had a guided tour of Machu Pichu and time to look around before we completed the hike up Huayna Pichu which has incredible views back over the site. We then walked up to get the famous shot of Machu Pichu from one of the hills and then began the walk back down the hill. I was glad to have a small amount of time to myself while everyone had coffee to sit and enjoy Machu Pichu on my own. I wanted 20 minutes to just sit and take it all in. I don't think I would have felt like I got the full experience if I did not do this. Once back in the town we ate, drank cheap beer and waited for our train back to Cusco. Sometimes I hate that I am doing all of the touristy things, but they are touristy for a reason. My Inka Jungle experience is one of my favourite so far.
My last stop in Peru was Puno. I had only planned to be there two nights but stayed one more to drink and be merry (always worth stopping for). I arrived in Puno for their annual festival. It was insane. Constant streams of people moving through the streets for days on end. There was a constant parade that seemed to go on forever, in length and time. There were significantly more people in the parade than in the streets watching. And there was band after band in the parade. But each band was playing something different and they were so close together that you got the sound of two or three bands of any one given time. It made it nearly impossible to get through the streets and I can not believe how many people were involved. I do not understand where they all came from. But it was great. I have never seem anything as chaotic and unorganised as this, but somehow it still worked. I stayed the extra night as I met an Irish girl who was heading to Isla del Sol in Bolivia and decided to go with her. To use up my extra time I decided to do a tour of the floating islands. These were very unique to say the least. Self made islands put together by binding reeds. The boats, houses and furniture are all made the same way. We got to go for a ride on one of the boats and some people tried to sell us some stuff (no you can not get away from it, even out there). We went out to the main island on the lake and had a beautiful lunch and watched locals weave and knit the products they sell. There was the opportunity to walk across the island but I cheated and took the boat. Hey! I just hiked Machu Pichu alright! And then it was back across this mammoth lake which is the highest lake in the world and back to the mainland.
My last night in Peru was spent drinking cups of tea for 3 soles (so $1AUS) that came with a shot of vodka AND a shot of pisco in a locals bar with the irish girl I met, three German guys she knew, two English girls I met on the floating islands tour and three guys from my Inka Jungle tour. Meaning I left Peru the same way I arrived, tired, hung over and with bloody shot eyes.