Still on the road
05.11.2015 - 02.12.2015
Total trip so far stats:
Hours on bus: 102
Hours on plane: 23.5
Hours on train: no change since last blog
Phils injury count since last blog: lacerated ankle, finger and elbow from sharp coral (of course Debbie told him not to swim through that under water tunnel, did he listen?)
Lots of insect bites (definitely the sweet meat)
Things we have learnt
Surfing is hard.
You shouldn't anger male sea lions, especially big ones.
"Ecuador's got talent" exist!
Sea sickness is quite miserable
There are no helmets in Ecaudor that fits Debbie's head
We miss UK TV
The Ecuadorian sewage system appears to be better than the Peruvians. Thank God
After a long bus ride (10 hours) we arrived at Guayaquil, our first Ecuadorean city! We expected it to be slightly less developed than Lima and Cusco but actually it was keeping up!
We were only staying here for a day before moving onto Montanita (surf town). Our backsides were very grateful for the short respite from a bus seat. With only a day at our disposal we tried to pick out the best activities. Phil suggested a visit to the Iguana park (park full of Iguanas). However, there was literally no way Debbie was going in there ( irrational phobia of lizard and lizard like things). Instead we climbed 444 steps to Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana for a lovely view of the city. We obviously haven't had enough of steps after the Inca trail) (see photo).
In the evening we got on our first "local" bus to Montanita which showed good English movies but they were all dubbed into Spanish. If we were lucky we got English subtitles!
Montanita is a funny place. Lots of tourist, surf camps, people selling you stuff you don't need, bars and restaurants. Not to mention the permanently drugged up youngsters. Police would patrol the area every night but clearly turns a very blind eye to all the recreational drug taking. People watching during dinner has become one of our favourite pass times here.
Phil rented a surf board for an hour to show off his newly acquired skills... Unfortunately the the waves were a lot stronger than the ones we learnt to surf on. The board was on loan for an hour but after 30 minutes the P. Riddy had had enough. No luck standing up this time, let alone surf. We decided to take further lessons the next day. Carlos, our predominantly non English speaking instructor with curly locks completely over estimated our abilities...Phil managed to pick up a few new skills. Debbie however, could not even get out far enough to start the lesson as the strong waves just kept pushing her off the board and back towards shore. She did not enjoy it at all. However, she gritted her teeth and attempted a few waves. After a minor knee injury and ingestion of gallons of sea water she decided it was time to close the surfing chapter in her life. One can only tolerate the sensation/perception of "drowning" to an extent, 1 hour was enough for Debbie. On reflection, the waves we learnt on back in Peru were like small ripples compared to these monsters.
We jumped on yet another bus back to Guayaquil ( this time, English film dubbed into Spanish with no subtitles, bad times) so we could catch our flight to the Galápagos Islands the next day.
We landed in the Baltra Island and met our guide Fabrizio. Lovely guy who started guiding in the Islands when he was 10. You could tell he loved his job and was very passionate and protective of the islands (picking up litter along our walks, moving vulnerable insects off threaded paths, telling people off when we got too close to the animals while taking selfies) which was really lovely to see.
On board our boat, "The Beagle"(which was the name of the boat Charles Darwin travelled in when he visited the Islands) we had 2 Brazillians, 2 Swiss, 4 Mexicans, 2 Germans and 3 Brits including us. Poor Fabrizio had to repeat everything in 2 languages (Spanish, English). Conversation during meal times proved somewhat difficult.
We did a tour of the central and south islands, navigating mainly at night. We have (not by choice) chosen the time of year where the waters tends to be more choppy and rough. There has been occasions where we felt we were going to fall out of our beds. One time Debbie nearly fell overboard as the boat unexpectedly rocked more violently than usual when she was sat on deck enjoying a cup of tea. This unexpected motion sent her first to the extreme left of the boat, then right and nearly over! She would have gone over had the Mexican man not grabbed hold of her (Phil was no where to be seen to rescue his wife, rude). You'll be pleased to hear that at the end of this 5 second ordeal her cup of tea was still safely in her hand, #priorities.
The walks around the islands proved physically more challenging than we anticipated, a few of our crew mates had to turn back on a few occasions. But being Randerlams we obviously powered through. Of course, we met the stars of the Galapagos, namely the giant tortoise (oldest one 120 years old?! Perhaps the answer to longevity is just to do everything reallllly slowly) marine iguanas (Debbie has semi overcome her irrational fear of these things. Mainly achieved by flooding therapy- you couldn't walk through the islands without stepping over them, they were everywhere!), sea lions, sea turtles, the red and blue footed boobies, frigate birds, flamingos, penguins, and the list goes on (pictures will tell a better story).
The animals were so tame and did not see humans as a threat, they would happily let you walk up next to them.
Despite being spooked by the most recent surfing experience Debbie decided to brave the sea and give snorkelling a go. The crystal clear waters were just too tempting. We managed to spot some rays, turtles, sharks and lots of fish! The highlight was watching the sea lions under water. They move so elegantly and effortlessly, I'm sure they were showing off as it felt they were deliberately swimming close to us and showing us tricks. Swimming with sea turtles was just as brilliant. We managed to follow one for about 15 minutes.
Unfortunately Debbie caught a bad case of lurgy and gave snorkelling a miss for a couple of days and so it was in her absence when Phil got charged at by a big male sea lion (who apparently saw him as a threat to his colony), came too close to a "very" poisonous sea snake and equally as poisonous stone fish (honestly cannot leave him alone for 1 minute!).
One of the in-land highlight was watching the baby sea lions playing with other cubs on the shore (some only a few days old). The wildlife here is incredible and we've learnt so much about the animals and their habitat. Sometimes nature isn't so kind, natural selection, circle of life and all that.
The beaches were amazing but no one ever mention the beaches when you talk about Galapagos. We had a few sunset walks along a few beaches and it was like walking on flour. We went swimming in the sea one evening and was joined by a couple of baby sea lions and sea turtles just a foot away from us, It was surreal.
Overall it was an incredible experience and we are so pleased we did this as we were in two minds and ended up booking it last minute. Thank you locum money for funding this!
After our wonderful week at Galapagos we flew back to Quito. We were welcomed by an unexpected period of torrential rain after a nice dinner. Our 5 minute walk back to the hostel rendered us wetter than the ocean itself. Apparently it was now rainy season and we are to expect torrential rain everyday, how rude ( did they not know we're from Manchester and that we have had enough rain to last us the entire 9 months?!). The city is very hilly and unfortunately polluted but the lovely colonial buildings make up for it.
Being back at altitude (2850m) was again, noticeable. Climbing the steep cobbled stoned roads to the Basillica and then the small mental steps up to the clock tower was exhausting! The view of the city made it worth our while! (See photo).
Of course we had to visit the equator! Instead of paying for a taxi we decided to venture on local buses! (all part of the fun right?!) 2 buses, 40 dollars better off and 2 hours later (bus cost 40 cents?!) we arrived at Mitad Del Mundo. The monument (see photo) was lovely (apparently took 10 years to build?!) and we spent some time taking photos in various poses and straddling the "equator". To our disappointment, this isn't really where the equator is. It's actually located about 200/300m from where the painted yellow line is. Apparently the land of which the equator lies isn't "suitable" for a monument and so they just made it 200M out. Which then rendered all the museum demonstrations a pile of nonsense since it's all " oh look! this happens because we're on the equator" (ie balancing an egg on a nail, water going down plug on in both directions etc). Debbie went round the museum muttering sarcastic comments to herself. Despite this minor issue (ie the entire place is a scam) it was a nice day out and the photos look good so who cares! We're still going to say we were in both hemisphere at the same time!
One of the highlights for us in Quito were the numerous local bus rides we took. Adults and kids jump on and off selling you things ( gum, chocolate, sweets, crisps, ice cream, jelly, nuts, lunch boxes, perfume, lip balm) some sing/rap you songs. Very interesting experience and we found the locals are generally receptive to these things and they get a few sales per station. The youngest vendors were ( I assume brother and sister) no more than 6/7 year old selling sweets on their own after they sang us a song. We thought they were just happy and singing for fun but then at the end these pile of sweets appeared from nowhere. We wanted to give them money but they jumped off before we could even get our wallets out. That was kind of sad, children should be playing and being children, not jumping on and off buses all day on their own selling sweets on a Sunday.
Having been on the road for 7 weeks we're beginning to slow down into a more relaxed pace. Accepting that we don't have to cram lots into our day and that we don't have to go to every sight, church and museum. In fact we enjoy doing "normal" things like going to the cinema. We actually extended our stay in Quito for 3 days just so we can relax a little.
After a 3 hour bus journey we arrived at a small scenic town known for it's waterfalls and thermal baths ( and apparently taffy candy?!they were everywhere and you could see the shop owners pulling taffy everyday). We were surrounded by green mountains and we could see a waterfall out of our hostel window! Another additional perk of our hostel was that we had several free wake up calls every morning, ensuring we didn't sleep in- namely the first cockerel alarm at 4am followed by a further cockerel alarm at 7 am. At 8 am we had MJ's thriller being played on full volume everyday in a school nearby (not sure why they play this everyday at 8 am.... Good assembly song? It was very disorientating when it happened on our first morning....) and finally our own phone alarms....Sleep could have been a bit more restful.
After our thermal bath experience in Peru ( we hadn't mentioned it in the previous blog but in summary: weird smell, creamy brown water and extremely over crowded) we were a little unsure whether we wanted to partake in yet another South American thermal bath extravaganza. We asked around and it sounded like the standard was pretty much the same. They also enforced a rule that everyone must wear a swim cap. If you didn't have your own you obviously had to rent one of theirs (ew). So instead of going to the baths we opted to go canyoning instead! This involved repelling, jumping, climbing, swimming and zip lining through some canyons. A notable moment during this 'adventure' was when we had been stood in the cold water for about 30 minutes (waiting around for our guides to do something, to this day we do not know what we were waiting for...), it was cold, we were thoroughly soaked (having just jumped off a 5 metre waterfall), the sun had gone and it started raining torrentially, Debbie had a wetsuit on that was at least 3 sizes too big, the helmet was covering her eyes and she said " what am I doing here?...." Of which Phil replied "I don't know". Overall it was a good experience...I guess.
We obviously had to see the waterfalls! We opted to go ourselves and so we rented bikes and embarked on a 18k ride. According to the map we should pass 6 waterfalls before reaching the main one called cascada pailon del Diablo ( Devil's caldron). The bike ride was somewhat less relaxing than anticipated. We had wrongly assumed ( once again) that the majority of the way would be designated cycle paths/ parks. Nono! Ecuadorean traffic and trucks galore! We obviously wore helmets ( again, didn't fit Debbie's head). Due to the new found circumstances we (Debbie mainly) had to focus on the cycling and staying alive rather than appreciating the surrounding scenery. As a result we missed all but 2 waterfalls before reaching our destination an hour and a half later (doh! should have just done the bus tour). The Waterfall is enormous and we got pretty wet walking around it. We also had a go at swinging on a edge of a cliff- La Casa del Arbol (see photos)
After 3 days here it was time to catch our next bus to Otavalo.
After 6 hours on a bus we arrived in this little town known for it's artisanal markets. The trip was not as straight forward as we hoped. We were told the journey would take 5/5.5 hours and we would arrive at a big bus terminal. After 5.5 hours we noticed we were in a town and that we must be near. Another 30 minutes passed and we still hadn't got to the bus terminal we were expecting. In fact it looked like we had left the little town we were just in that looked like Otavalo. We went to ask the driver, in our best Spanish " where is Octavalo bus terminal?" Which triggered a string of panicked Spanish words between the driver and his colleague followed by the driver slamming on his breaks on a 6 lane motorway. Amongst the unknown Spanish words and hand gestures we figured we have definitely passed our destination. The guy helped us get our bags out ( in the middle of a motorway?!) and pointed to the other side of the road and said " autobus Otavalo". So at 8 pm on a Thursday night we find ourselves crossing the motorway (no bridge, on the road!) and then stood on the side of a motorway in the middle of nowhere waiting for some sort of a bus to take us back to where the original bus should have taken us. Great. You would be so so pleased to hear that after a few minutes ( felt like forever) a bus with the words Otavalo appeared! We have never been so happy to see a bus and it only cost 70 cents!
Phil isn't really an artisanal market kind of guy but Debbie had said "I jumped down a waterfall in a canyon for you, you're coming shopping with me". So off shopping we went. We tactically went on a Friday as on a Saturday the markets get a lot bigger and spill into adjacent streets attracting locals and tourist. Prices increase fourfolds at least on Saturday.
On the morning of our departure we had a rather unusual wake up call ( we thought you couldn't top 8am thriller). At 7am we were woken up by LOUD (and I mean loud) traditional live native music ( we weren't sure where it was coming from but it sure felt near!) and children with high pitch voices singing/screaming along. We headed downstairs to see what was going on to find ALL of the hostel guests (apart from us). There were probably about 30 people- all Ecuadorians) dancing, clapping and singing along to these guys trying to sell their CDs in the hostel reception. The hostel staff looked just as perplexed as us. Who sells CDs at 7 am on a Sunday?! How unusual. After 2 full days Phil was ready to leave the shopping town of Ecaudor and head to the more action packed town of
After yet another bus journey we arrived at this little town situated in the cloud forests. It was humid and green! It was lovely to be back in nature again and you could spot hummingbirds everywhere!
We came to Mindo to do one thing and that was to zip line! So zip lined we did! There were 3 options; 10 lines, 3 lines and 2 lines (not sure where there's such a big gap). Guess which one we opted for? So zip lining through the cloud forest was amazing! We were doing well in looking around and enjoying the scenery while zipping through the first couple of lines. When we were given the option of doing the "superman" or "butterfly", enjoying the scenery went out of the window. Unfortunately we couldn't get any photos so we feel we owe it to you to describe the above mentioned ==Your heading here...==manoeuvres. "Superman" involved balancing horizontally and flying like superman with arms out but we had to straddle our legs around our guide who was behind us (we had to go tandem for these high risk manoeuvres) which made the whole thing look a little awkward! The butterfly induced a little more adrenaline production and Phil roaring the whole way. This involved dangling upside down with arms out with legs in the air ( not sure why it's called the butterfly) while the guide held your legs in a V shape and shook you side to side as you raced down the lines. After this hair raising activity we found ourselves a nice spot in a cafe to have some lunch while watching hummingbirds flutter past.
Mindo is our last Ecuadorian City before we head to Colombia where we will spend Christmas and learn to scuba dive!
Merry Christmas everyone!