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Carnival, Day 3: Bus frustrations and a night out in Baños

Ambato and Baños


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After leaving the main square in Ambato I realised that time was getting on and I really needed to get on the bus back to Baños before it got dark. It turned out there are three bus terminals in Ambato and the one I needed to go to was not on the Ambato map in my guidebook. Luckily I quickly found a local bus which said it went to the right terminal... it went back to the roundabout where I'd arrived originally, so I got off there, but I couldn't find the terminal anywhere. I walked around for ages looking. How I wished I had a smartphone!

Never mind, I thought, I'll just get on a Baños - bound bus going in the opposite direction to the one that dropped me off earlier; however this thought turned out to be futile. I stood around for a really long time, feeling increasingly apprehensive because it had got dark quickly and the area didn't look the safest, and stressed because none of the Baños buses would stop for me! There was only one every 20 minutes or so. In the end I gave up and flagged down an official-looking taxi. It cost $20 for the hour's journey to Baños but by that point I didn't care, I just wanted to get back!

Once I finally arrived back I had only twenty minutes or so before we went on our night out. We went to an Irish bar called 'Leprechaun' that had a large courtyard with a bonfire in a stone container in the middle. Every now and then the waitresses would go up and throw pieces of wood onto it to keep it going. Some of us had some food; I had chunks of juicy, tasty medium-cooked steak, grilled slices of red, green and yellow pepper, baby potatoes, some barbecue sauce (which I passed on to someone else) and mayonnaise with drizzles of tomato sauce on it.

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After a while we went inside to the dancefloor and apart from a trip upstairs at one point to have a sit-down and get some fresh air on the balcony, we danced almost nonstop for about three hours until the place closed. Although the place was an Irish bar and had quite a few foreign tourists in it, there also seemed to be a lot of locals or local tourists. The DJ only spoke Spanish and although several Western songs I mostly didn't recognise were played for the first hour after we arrived, then the music changed to salsa. All the Ecuadorians around me started dancing specific salsa steps. Luckily there were others who were dancing in a general way apart from me, so I didn't feel too shown up at not knowing how to dance salsa... ;-) Then after a while the music changed again and 'E' leaned forward and told me it was merengue.

The only drink I bought was a Pisco Sour and very appropriate it felt too, for the contrasting flavours of lime juice, pisco and sugar combined with the Latin music and the flashing coloured lights dappling the darkened dancefloor to create quite a heady, energised atmosphere and a thrill that I recognised from the atmosphere at the nightclub in Montañita I went to last June after the Queen's birthday party hosted for expats by the British Consulate.

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We did flag a bit by the end and I had to sit down for a while because my feet had started to hurt. After all the Latin music, the last couple of pieces before the place closed were Western. We left at either two or three a.m. and walked back to the hostel.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties hostel buses carnival salsa cocktails banos andes ecuador ambato Comments (0)

Carnival, Day 3: Baños, tree swing and Ambato

Baños, La Casa del Arbol and Ambato


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Breakfast included a bunch of mini bananas hanging up for people to pick from! I've seen these in the supermarket before and they're not baby normal bananas; they're a separate type altogether. As soon as I saw them I really wished I liked bananas. I stuck to rolls with blackberry preserve in them, coffee and some scrambled eggs.

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After breakfast we took a taxi up one of the nearby mountains to a popular tourist attraction for Ecuadorians (I only saw a couple of non-Ecuadorians apart from me).... a swing that hangs from a tree placed so that when you get pushed, you swing over the edge of the mountain. There's a little treehouse in the tree branches that we climbed up into - there were spectacular views over forested mountains.

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The seat hung from a very long rope and it also had a rope that came round the front of the seat and clicked in to help prevent the person from falling out. One nod towards Health & Safety along with the metal support that helped keep the branch steady and unlikely to break. The go on the swing and climb up into the treehouse were both free. Needless to say, the experience of swinging so high felt like flying and it was absolutely exhilarating.

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On the way back from there it was fascinating to walk through town.

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Baños is filled with sugar cane stands, as well as traditional sweetshops selling sweets made from sugar cane and other things. At the doorway of each shop there was what looked like a wooden hook for coats or hats, but was actually for kneading and pulling what looked like a very stretchy rock or taffy that they pulled out and then cut into sticks. I didn't buy any this time, having decided to buy some in June when I come back here for longer, but there was a chap handing out free samples outside his shop so I tried one of those. The texture and taste was quite a like a chewit.

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After that I left the others in town and took the bus to Ambato with the intention of watching the Festival of Fruits & Flowers processions which Ambato is famous for holding at Carnival time every year. Unfortunately it looked like I had missed them, but it was still interesting to look round Ambato for a bit. Although I had missed the processions, when I arrived in the main square I could see and hear a concert going on right in front of the cathedral. That part of the square was absolutely packed.

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I walked through the main square, looked round a small and quite disturbing modern art exhibition and went into Ambato's modern cathedral. On the 30-second walk between the exhibition and the cathedral I bought something from a street stall - a soft batter bubble with sugar on top. It was only 25 centavos and it was delicious. The woman and her assistant did all the preparation in the street, kneading and shaping the dough-like batter before dropping the results into a large metal pan on the grill.

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The inside of the cathedral was quite light and spacious, with the inside of the main cupola and behind the altar painted sky blue.

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Near the altar there were pictures of the current Pope made out of what looked like rice grains, maize and other things stuck onto a background (maybe clay?)

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After I'd left the cathedral I was still hungry so I went back to the batter stall and bought another two. This time they had added a couple of small chunks of white cheese to the middle of each, but surprisingly (considering the batter was sweet) it still went well with the batter. Then I had to start thinking about getting back to Baños so I walked back through the main square, passing a stall next to the concert stage where a man was stretching glass bottles by melting and pulling the neck of each to make vases.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:54 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art cathedral hostel carnival banos andes ecuador procession explorations ecuadorian_cuisine ambato traditional_customs Comments (0)

Quito and Grand Hotel Guayaquil

Quito and Guayaquil


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Very sunny again at breakfast; this time the sun lasted all morning. After breakfast we went into the lovely little garden and I took some photos of it with the volcano in the background.

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Then we went back to the shop we we'd gone to the day before, because I'd realised that the security tag had been left in my new shirt and I didn't want to risk ripping the shirt by trying to pull the tag off.

After they'd taken it off for me, Mum and I walked down the road to the Museo Etnográfico de Artesanía de Ecuador, stopping on the way at a lovely little triangular park for a look-around.

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This museum had fascinating displays about the various indigenous tribes in Ecuador and their traditional dress, utensils, musical instruments and art. Between us, our favourite exhibits were some colourful feather crowns, carved wooden guagua de pan moulds (the sweet bread figures sold and eaten in Ecuador on 1st/2nd November - I had some in Cuenca), guitar-shaped instruments where the back of each was made from a large armadillo shell, a 'tuned' wooden log used to send messages (through different sounds) between different communities in the rainforest, and a patterned clay crab with large pincers and a very toothy, rather frightened-looking smile.

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Mum bought some chocolate and two balls of alpaca wool in the shop and then we moved on to the café outside. Mum had a cappucino, I had an iced coffee that turned out to be very big and had lots of whipped cream on top, and we shared a slice of maracuyá (passionfruit) cheesecake. Although it hadn't been described as such, we could tell it was a baked cheesecake. It was lovely. Then I realised it was ten to eleven and we were supposed to check out before eleven, so since she had finished her drink, Mum dashed straight back to the guesthouse to check out and get our valuables from the safe while I finished my drink and portion of the cheesecake slice and walked back via a different route.

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We got the guesthouse to order us a taxi to the airport at 12. This time the driver was very good, so the journey felt smoother.

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Once we got to the airport and had gone though to our boarding gate we got some food from a café; Mum had a fruit salad and I had a large cheese and ham roll. The flight was completely uneventful apart from that I managed to get a good photo of Quito spread out below with the mountains behind it.

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On arrival to Guayaquil we were met at the airport and taken to the hotel. I had another swim in the pool and soon after that we had to change rooms due to an unfortunate bathroom flooding incident!

For dinner we went to a restaurant on site, '1822 Grill Room', after first drinking our free, fruity and delicious cocktails at the Turtle Bar (we got a free cocktail voucher each at check-in).

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The food and drink we had at 1822 was excellent - it started with a shared hors d'ouevre of pepperoni slices, smoked cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles. Mum had a Screwdriver cocktail and I had a delicious 'Pichincha Punch' made from dark & light rum, Cointreau, Vermouth, Dubonnet, Créme de Cacao, pineapple juice, lemon and orange juice. Then for the main course I had amazing mixed skewers of incredibly tender, juicy and tasty chunks of steak and chicken with mushrooms, onion and pepper; Mum had 'Corvina Boyacá', sea bass in a special sauce, with tiny baby potatoes and some steamed vegetables. My skewers came with salad. For pudding I had quite a stiff chocolate mousse in a glass, but Mum just had a coffee.

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On the way back to our room we carried on up another couple of levels to the top of the hotel. I took some more photos of the pool, courtyard and cathedral after dark.

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Before we arrived back at our room I heard the strains of the tune the rubbish collection truck plays on its rounds, so we stopped to listen to it until it went out of earshot. Once I'm back in the UK this summer, if I ever hear this tune again it will instantly transport me back to Guayaquil. It's really catchy.

Posted by 3Traveller 08:17 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hotel airport museum cathedral hostel mum quito andes ecuador guayaquil explorations guayaquil_metropolitan_cathedra ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

UNESCO World Heritage Site: City of Quito

Quito


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We were up bright and early and sat down for our free breakfast as soon as it was available, at 07.30. It was nice and sunny, but we could see clouds moving over Pichincha Volcano in the distance. It looked like we would only get a couple of hours of sunshine before it became overcast. Breakfast was big and lovely; it was a sit-down meal, not a buffet. In succession we were each brought a small plate of fruit (a slice each of papaya, pineapple and apple, with half a banana sliced lengthways), a small glass of drinking yoghurt, a glass of strawberry juice, coffee, a basket to share between us containing two croissants and two slices of bread, two slices of ham and some eggs (Mum had hers scrambled, I had mine fried). We both felt very full, but nicely fortified for the morning ahead.

As soon as we finished breakfast we set off. The trolebus was very crowded, due to rush hour, but we made sure to keep an eye on our pockets and bags. I felt so excited when the sight of the architecture we passed told us that we were now within the Old Town! This excitement intensified even further once we stepped out of the bus, walked along a street to our right and entered Plaza Grande, the main square. Finally I was standing in the middle of Quito's Old Town - fulfilling a dream I had held for many, many years.

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The first thing we saw was a white, cloister-like walkway, with arches along the side, that leads across one side of the plaza. At the pillar by each arch there was a shoe-shiner at work. We saw an open gateway that lead into a very quiet courtyard - it turned out to be a former Archbishop's palace.

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The buildings didn't seem to be open to visitors so we just sat in the courtyard for a bit before going out again into Plaza Grande. As we walked into the courtyard we had noticed a strange bonelike pattern set within the cobblestones; they looked a lot like human vertebrae. On our way out we looked more closely and saw that they were in fact real bones!

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After that we wandered around Plaza Grande for a while. There was a protest going on in front of the Government Palace, with chanting and flag-waving but nothing more vigorous.

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Mum had to sit down for a while because she was feeling the altitude a bit, but I took a few photos. Then we walked along a raised path that runs alongside the cathedral. This gave us a good view of the plaza but meant we were raised up out of the hubbub.

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Just beyond one corner of Plaza Grande was our next destination - the church of La Compañía de Jesús.

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This very old Jesuit church has a stunningly beautiful and eye-catching interior of gold. We spotted indigenous plants painted amongst the carvings on the pillars, as well as one or two indigenous face carvings. The inside of the domes were beautifully painted, too.

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If I could I would have taken loads of photos, but unfortunately I was told that photos weren't allowed. I still managed to take a couple on the sly, having hidden out of view behind a pillar, but I didn't have time to take any close-ups of anything. After looking round the church itself we went into a little room with a display of big heavy bells dated from 1926 and then into a little museum with a temporary display about the history of the Jesuits in Ecuador.

We had entered the church as soon as it opened at 09.30, and we were glad we had, because as we left we saw tour buses outside with groups milling around taking pictures of the church exterior. They were clearly just about to go in, so it looked like we had timed our visit perfectly.

After this Mum felt in need of a drink and a sit down, so we went into a covered courtyard that had a notice outside it saying there was a traditional café inside. The café had its shutters down but there was a large wool and sewing shop close by that Mum wanted a look round. I left her in there while I looked around for a suitable café. When I came back she was pondering buying some balls of alpaca wool, but she decided not to get any in the end. We sat down at a nearby café and had a glass bottle of orangeade (only 50 centavos each).

Next we walked on to Plaza San Francisco. This is also very picturesque because the monastery is the main building and behind it looms Pichincha Volcano. The clouds had come over by now unfortunately, but it didn't rain. Mum sat down on some steps while I walked round the plaza and got some cash out from a Banco Pichincha ATM.

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Once I got back we walked over to a café called 'Tianguez' that has a wonderful Fair Trade shop attached to it that sells genuine handicrafts from all over Ecuador. We had a great time exploring - at the back the rooms turned into an orange-painted narrow corridor that had clearly been part of the monastery's crypt or catacomb. On one wall of the corridor there was painted written information about the different indigenous tribes of Ecuador and their beliefs and mythology; on the opposite wall were examples of their different crafts (masks, pottery figures, bowls, etc.). It was really interesting and I definitely recommend you visit it too. I didn't buy anything but Mum got an alpaca jumper and a packet of 'Yumbo' coffee.

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After using the café's facilities we sat down and looked at the menu, but they didn't have much of a selection, so we moved on. We wandered the streets for a while. Mum really wanted some fruit, so we stopped at a street booth and I got us an apple each and a pound of grapes. Then once we remembered they needed washing in bottled water, I got a bottle of water as well. We carried on back to Plaza Grande and while Mum sat down on a stone bench and started on the fruit, I got up to see what food was on offer in the vicinity. The first place I found, a tiny café under the side of the cathedral, sold pork sandwiches and empanadas and a variety of other snacks, both savoury and sweet, so we both went in and sat down. I ordered us a pork sandwich each and a black coffee (I asked for 'café con leche' for Mum, but they didn't have any milk) and a meringue to share. The sandwiches turned out to be rolls with quite a lot of cold pork in them as well as some raw tomato and purple-stained onion. The whole tasty lot came to only $5.10.

Next we walked to Plaza Santo Domingo, where the Trolebus stop was that we needed to use. There was a parade of teenage schoolchildren in the square marching around, some banging massive drums and others holding metal portable glockenspiels (like the ones I saw at the Independence of Guayaquil processions in October) or nothing at all. Not sure what the occasion was! Before they got properly into their stride, however, our Trolebus arrived to take us back up into the New Town.

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Once we got back to the Travellers Inn we had a bit of a lie down before going out again, this time to a particular handicrafts shop down the road called 'Galería Ecuador Gourmet'. The first thing we did on arrival was have a hot drink - Mum was desperate for a coffee and I had a hot chocolate for the first time in Ecuador.

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Then we had a really good look round the shop, which had two floors. It was brilliant! Some things were quite expensive, but others were much more reasonable. I bought myself a t-shirt and Mum got a few things for people at home. She also bought me a lovely white rather indigenous-looking shirt as part of my birthday present. We also tried some of the chocolate samples that were left out in little bowls. In one of the rooms upstairs I saw giant balls of alpaca wool (large rubber balls really, wrapped in wool) so I had to get a picture of Mum next to them!

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It was around 7 pm by the time we got back and we were quite peckish, so we had a small pepperoni and a medium 'mixed' pizza at the guesthouse instead of going out again for food. Unfortunately they had clearly come straight from the freezer and then cooked so that the top was a little dried out and the bottom not cooked enough, but they were very cheap and we were hungry so we ate them. Then we played cards for a while. First we played 10-card rummy and then whist where you start with 9 cards each and work down. Last of all, before we went to bed, Mum taught/ reminded me of how to play several different versions of Patience.

Posted by 3Traveller 07:31 Archived in Ecuador Tagged museum hostel mum quito andes ecuador procession explorations unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine plaza_grande plaza_san_francisco fair_trade_shop plaza_santo_domingo traditional_customs colonial_church Comments (0)

Off to Quito with Mum!

Guayaquil and Quito


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We didn't do much this morning because of all the walking around Guayaquil we did yesterday. Instead of going out, we took full advantage of the breakfast buffet and the hotel pool.

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The breakfast was great and the pool was amazing - the courtyard it is in has the back of the cathedral as one wall, which is covered in hanging vegetation. There are two stained glass windows as well. The back of the cathedral overhung the pool a little so the view was very interesting when we floated on our backs.

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Our lunchtime flight to Quito was uneventful.

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On the long taxi journey from the new airport into town we both felt quite lightheaded and Mum also felt a bit sick, but once we arrived we felt a bit better. It was because the taxi journey included a lot of twists and turns up a mountain, plus the driver went too fast and had the heating on, not because of the altitude so much. Mum had a cup of coca tea with sugar and we rested for a couple of hours before we went out for dinner. The fresh air did us both good.

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I was going to delete this photo, but Mum said "It reflects how I was feeling when the photo was taken!"

We went to an Italian restaurant round the corner. For our main course Mum had a rocket, mushroom and parmesan salad and I had a mushroom pizza; for pudding Mum had some coffee icecream that came frozen in a china coffee cup and had some whole almonds in it, whilst I had panna cotta.

The meal was lovely (thought the salad wasn't as substantial as Mum hoped), but we did have a slightly dodgy moment on the way to the restaurant. A boy ran past us and Mum said that he had looked very suspicious - she turned round and saw him running up to us; when he saw her he changed direction slightly so that he went past us instead. We think he might have tried snatching Mum's bag if she hadn't turned round at just the right moment.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:50 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains hotel airport cathedral hostel mum quito andes ecuador guayaquil guayaquil_metropolitan_cathedra Comments (0)

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