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Entries about buses

Veliko Tarnovo!

Gatwick Airport, Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo


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I've arrived and been settled into my new flat. The bus journey from Sofia was smooth, just over three hours, and the scenery was fantastic - for a decent proportion of the time, I could see forested mountains disappearing into the distance far as I could see. It reminded me of the mountains surrounding Mindo in Ecuador, though with trees suited to a more temperate climate rather than with rainforest.

I took these photos of the ETAP bus station where I arrived in Veliko Tarnovo, views of the street outside it and the St Cyril & St Methodius University building directly opposite.

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I can't believe what a spectacular view I have of the hills opposite. These are mostly forested but have a sizeable streak of bare rock running along just below their peaks (possibly karst - not sure though). These hills are separated from the main part of Veliko Tarnovo by the River Yantra, which looks very far below us. I haven't been down there yet. To my right is another hill, this time with Tsarevets Fortress on top of it - I've decided to visit it either tomorrow or on Thursday. I look forward to exploring Veliko Tarnovo; I think I have definitely landed on my feet here!

In contrast, my experience at Gatwick Airport early this morning wasn't the most pleasant. The queue at the bag drop was massive and when it was my turn my case was overweight so I had to take it aside and squeeze some stuff from there into my rucksack/ carry it; then when it was re-weighed it was still a little bit overweight. Luckily the girl told me not to worry about it and accepted it without making me pay extra. Then the guy at bag x-ray was a bit rude, muttering "you obviously didn't understand me, did you" in a snarky way when I didn't put my laptop case in exactly the position on the tray that he'd apparently told me to, and a minute later another guy pulled my rucksack aside to search it. It was fine, but did mean I had to spend a few minutes trying to get it arranged again and wrestling the zip shut.

I was lucky in comparison to one woman in the boarding queue, though. She was directly in front of me, was stopped and made to pay 30 euros because her carry-on bag was a little bit too big. I suddenly felt nervous because I thought they might think my bag was too (it was the right height but because I'd packed so much into it, I thought they might think it was too wide), but they didn't stop me. I think they were too distracted by the other woman arguing to really notice me walking quickly past the desk and into the boarding tunnel.

Once I got on the plane I realised I needn't have bothered paying £3.99 to reserve a seat right at the back and next to a window, because although I did get the seat I'd reserved, my back was against a wall so I couldn't lean back at all (I thought I'd be able to lean back without inconveniencing somebody behind me)... Oh well, at least I know not to bother doing that in the future!

Everything went smoothly on arrival in Sofia, apart from a few minutes of what-is-going-on confusion at the bus station, when the right bus hung around for a few minutes, didn't allow anyone on and then drove away, leaving me and everyone else waiting somewhat confused. Then another company's bus to Veliko Tarnovo drove up but didn't allow anyone on; luckily a few minutes later another bus to VT from the original company drove into the next bay along. Although the departure time displayed on the front had an hour's difference to that of the first one, I showed my ticket to the driver and he indicated I could get on, so I did, hoping I had done the right thing. We left shortly afterwards so everything was OK!

Posted by 3Traveller 07:53 Archived in Bulgaria Tagged mountains airport buses sofia bulgaria veliko_tarnovo Comments (0)

Goodbye to Guayaquil

Guayaquil


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Monday 28th

Today I went back to my now-former-workplace to do a few final things and say goodbye to everyone. These things included: paying a visit to Western Union to transfer most of the money from my Ecuadorian bank account to the UK, making use of the printer to print off my flight e-tickets and my Madrid hostel reservation email, collecting a parcel from Emma from the post office using a slip that had arrived at work while I was away, going up onto the flat roof of the building to take photos of the view on each side, going out for lunch (seco de pollo) at the booths round the corner for the last time, and having an exit interview with the Director of Studies.

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It was relatively late in the afternoon by the time I got back, so I didn't do much else apart from go out for dinner. I had a churrasco (at this place, a thin steak with ratatouille-type vegetables and two fried eggs on top, with chips and rice) and then a cup of morocho for pudding.

Tuesday 29th

In the morning I got a bus into Guayaquil city centre for a last look-around. I visited the Central Market for the first time - as soon as I entered I really wished I'd discovered it much sooner. It was filled with fruit, vegetable and herb stalls, stalls of sausages hanging up, stalls selling sacks of flour, beans, pulses etc., and stalls selling tins and packets of food as well as more general non-edible household goods. It was very much like the Daily Market in Otavalo and the general market in Banos, only without the café-stands selling guinea pig, other typical Ecuadorian dishes and slices taken from whole roasted pigs.

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Then I walked past the hotel where I stayed with Mum in February, so on an impulse I went into its café and had a cup of their wonderful hot chocolate. Then I said goodbye to the iguanas in Iguana Square and carried on straight ahead to the Malecón.

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I climbed up one of the viewing towers next to the River Guayas, which is what I'd done on my first visit to the city centre on my second full day in Ecuador. It was perfectly sunny, without a cloud in the sky.

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My next stop was the Artisan Market, another place I had never been inside before for some reason. On the way there I walked past La Barca Azul, the lunch restaurant where I ate several times and took most of my visitors to, but I didn't feel hungry enough for lunch yet so I didn't go in. At the market I had a quick look round and then took a bus back to Urdesa.

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As soon as I'd dumped my stuff I went straight out again, this time to the Banco Pichincha cash machine to take out the rest of the money I had left in my account. I'd left enough in there to change into Euros once I got to Madrid, so I wouldn't need to use my HSBC card there at all, and hopefully have some left over as well. Before I took the bus back to my street corner, first of all I bought a sandwich and a carton of coffee milk from Oki Doki (a convenience store... I remember finding the name very amusing when I first got here) and then I did a little bit of shopping at Mi Comisariato supermarket. Amongst other things, I bought a bottle of Ecuadorian créme de cacao to take back to the UK.

Two minutes before I had to get off the bus, 'Vivir mi Vida' by Marc Antony came onto the radio. I've heard this played so often on the buses (and elsewhere) ever since I arrived in Ecuador that I've come to consider it my Ecuadorian anthem; it felt very appropriate and right that it was playing on my last bus journey here. It played on my arrival and now it was accompanying me on my way out.

Then I packed everything and at 4pm I somehow managed to get my big and incredibly heavy case down four flights of stairs and out onto the pavement, along with my rucksack, laptop case and a couple of bags of rubbish to put out.

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Then I flagged down a taxi to the airport. The fare was $4, so since all the change I had left came to just above that, I just gave the driver all of it.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hotel market airport cathedral buses iguanas ecuador guayaquil english_teaching malecon_2000 guayaquil_metropolitan_cathedra ecuadorian_cuisine river_guayas Comments (0)

Puerto Lopez: Sun, sea, sand and amazing seafood

Guayaquil, Santa Elena and Puerto Lopez


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The day after I arrived back in Guayaquil from Quito I was off again, this time on a weekend trip to the coast with several of my colleague friends. The plan for the weekend was to go whale-watching, as Puerto Lopez is well known for this, visit Isla de la Plata to see some of the same wildlife and terrain you can see in the Galápagos Islands and go snorkelling, eat seafood and generally relax on the beach.

I can take the credit for the idea of coming here, because I had planned for a while to go whale-watching here on my last weekend in Ecuador (as July and August are the best times of the year to go whale-watching) and made the suggestion to the others that they might like to come as well. They were all really up for it. As luck would have it, today was a public holiday in Guayaquil (the Founding of Guayaquil), so no classes, and they managed to get a day of holiday for the school the next day as well, so they had the whole weekend free to join me on the coastal trip. I'd already finished working, of course, so I didn't have to worry about getting days off work.

We met up at Guayaquil bus terminal at 8.30am, where we had some breakfast at the food court. We couldn't get one of the direct buses to Puerto Lopez because they were all full, so we had to get two buses. The first one went to Santa Elena. The road there was the same one we took to get to Punta Blanca for the Queen's birthday party last year at the house of the British Consul; that had been my first trip outside of Guayaquil, so now it felt like a full circle, also going along this road on my last trip outside of Guayaquil. The Santa Elena Peninsula is very dry (I think it may have its own microclimate), almost desert-like with uninhabited open expanses of dry earth, covered with parched-looking bushes, on both sides. In the sunshine it was quite picturesque in its own way.

From Santa Elena we got on another bus to take us up the coast to Puerto Lopez. This road runs right next to the sea in many places. It runs through little fishing villages with small blue painted boats pulled up onto the sand. As we approached Puerto Lopez we went through some forest. We were now in the province of Manabí.

On arrival we split up briefly to check into different hostels. Some of us had booked places and others hadn't, but everyone found somewhere quickly. Puerto Lopez is a small town so we were all close to each other. Three of us were in the same place, two others were next door and the others were only round the corner.

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As soon as everyone had settled in, we all went out for lunch together at one of the many seafood restaurants lining the road running parallel to the beach. Like them all, the place was cheap, but the food was genuinely fantastic - I had one of the best meals of my entire life there; a whole lobster cooked in a coconut sauce containing chopped vegetables. It came with a side of rice and patacones (slices of fried savoury plantain). They'd cut the lobster in two so that the meat was easy to dig out of each half. It was unbelievably tasty, and for only $20... The lobster was the most expensive thing (I had decided to splash out a bit); the other dishes were nearly all below $10. 'A' had a fish dish with peanut sauce which she said was absolutely delicious. I made a mental note to have that the next day.

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We'd started lunch quite late, so by the time we finished and then moved on to the beach, the sun had gone in a bit. I read on the sand for a bit and then it was nearly sunset, so I didn't get in the sea. I settled for a paddle instead.

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We moved straight from lying on the sand to sitting on it at a beach bar, one of many lining one section of the beach. We had a few drinks; I had a Pina Colada and a cocktail I hadn't tried before called Coco Loco. Condensed milk, coconut milk, rum, grenadine and crushed ice, with coconut shavings on top.

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For dinner we went back to the same restaurant, but I was still so full from lunch I didn't have any food; I only had a Caipirinha cocktail.

Posted by 3Traveller 02:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged coast beach hostel buses cocktails ecuador puerto_lópez explorations ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Thermal baths and a landslide at Papallacta

Quito and Papallacta


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Update from October 2019: 'Achiote' is still open and apparently doing well!

Today was taken up with a day trip to the thermal baths just outside the tiny village of Papallacta, about two hours east of Quito.

Our hostel owner told us that the quickest way for us to catch a bus to Papallacta was to get a taxi to the Cumbayá neighbourhood of Quito and then flag down a bus from there, so that's what we did. The bus cost $2.50 each. I had an aisle seat right at the back; on my left was a fellow passenger and on my right was a curtain covering what I assumed was a surface with a load of soft storage items of some kind on it. About halfway through the one and a half/ two hour journey the curtain suddenly moved as someone inside turned over! I assumed that it was an off-shift bus employee getting some sleep.

We were dropped off at the side of the main road and walked about 2.5 km up the hill through and then just beyond Papallacta.

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Once we arrived it was past 12.30 so we went straight to the restaurant and had some lunch first before we got changed and into the first pool we came across.

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Although sunny in Quito, it was almost completely overcast in Papallacta and was quite chilly, so the moment when I first sank into the first hot pool was absolutely heavenly. There were loads of pools; four or five hot main ones (including one that was extremely hot - you couldn't stay in too long, though it was wonderful to be in for five minutes at a time!), a couple of little freezing cold plunge pools and some small, hot footpools. Nearly all of them had a tiny waterfall on one side. All the mountains surrounding us had peaks covered in cloud.

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We did rounds of the pools for over two and a half hours before finally dragging ourselves out, getting changed and walking briskly down the hill in order to flag down a bus to Quito. We managed it in the end, but not without some drama - from halfway down the hill we noticed that the main road, which was at a right angle to the smaller road we were on, was completely filled with an immoveable traffic jam stretching round and out of sight! For a moment we were really worried that we were now stranded, because we saw that the road was blocked off for vehicles going in the direction for Quito...

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Once we reached the bottom, we walked round the corner and saw what had happened - a landslide! Luckily it was a relatively minor one and no vehicles had been caught by it. A digging machine was already in action moving piles of mud and stones out of the road. It cleared one lane's worth of stuff out of the way, watched by us and lots of other onlookers, and then traffic was allowed to move.

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As luck would have it, the second vehicle in the Quito-bound queue was a bus, so we hopped on it with relief. Within five minutes of us getting on, it was dark outside.

Instead of staying on the bus until it arrived at Quitumbe bus terminal in Quito, which would have meant a 40-minute taxi journey from there to the hostel, we got off the bus early at Cumbayá and took a taxi from there instead. This saved us a lot of time. Once we arrived back at the hostel we rested for a bit before going out for dinner. We ate at an Ecuadorian restaurant called 'Achiote'; Dave had a chicken grill with rice, I had fat juicy shrimps in garlic sauce, yuca chips and a salad of chopped cucumber, celery, tomato, pineapple, sliced boiled egg and pale corn.

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I really recommend this restaurant - the food was great and the service was really friendly as well.

Posted by 3Traveller 16:04 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains airport hostel buses dave quito andes ecuador papallacta landslide explorations ecuadorian_cuisine thermal_baths Comments (0)

Otavalo and the Line of the Equator

Otavalo, Cayambe, Quitaso Sundial (the Line of the Equator) and Quito


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Day trip today to Otavalo and the line of the Equator.

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On arrival at Otavalo bus terminal I helped two Canadian tourists who didn't know how to get to the handicraft market and had no map - I said they could join me and Dave because we were going that way and I'd been there before so I knew my way around. It was nice to help out. Once they'd left us, Dave and I carried straight on to the animal market. Although people were packing up, there were more animals than when I was there in April with Emma, Kate etc. Llamas in one open-backed truck, pigs being hauled into another, loads of ducklings, chickens, guinea pigs, geese and some rabbits.

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It was a very hot day, so after leaving the animal market we walked along one side of the daily market and then headed to the church to sit inside in the coolness and rest for a little bit out of the hubbub. As we walked in a recording of the famous waltz by Strauss started playing really loudly - slightly surreal given the surroundings. Dave sat down, I moved off to go outside to the public toilets, but then I noticed a girl in a bright pink dress standing at the main doors ready to go down the aisle, surrounded by her family who were also dressed to the nines! There was only a very light sprinkling of people in the pews. We made a swift but discreet exit and sat on a bench outside in the shade, instead.

After I'd been to the loo and we'd both had a bit of a sit down and a drink, we moved on to the handicrafts market. It spread out even further along the side streets than it had done in April. As well as handicrafts, it contained stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, spices, bread rolls, flours, maize, beans and pulses. We bought ourselves a lovely colourful woven holdall each, I got myself some new alpaca gloves and a lovely leather belt with a colourful woven pattern going down the middle lengthways, and Dave got himself two shirts with a pattern on the front.

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After leaving the market we had a quick, very late lunch at a cafe - a humita, a sandwich each and a quimbolito (like a sweet version of a humita, but with an even more spongey texture).

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Then we jumped on the first bus we came across with the destination 'Cayambe' displayed on the front windscreen... the purpose of this being to get to the line of the Equator.

The bus journey from Otavalo to Cayambe took just over an hour and cost only 75 cents. At Cayambe we took a taxi three kilometres down the road to Quitsato Sundial, where I had been before in April. We received the same interesting talk as I had done then (see this blog post here for the details of that), looked round and took some pictures.

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Once we got back to Quito we rested for a bit before going out to a Middle Eastern restaurant for dinner. It was very similar to the shawarma places in Guayaquil. I enjoyed my chicken shawarma wrap but Dave wasn't so keen on one or two of the things he got on his mixed plate. A couple on the table next to us were smoking hookahs provided by the restaurant.

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Posted by 3Traveller 10:11 Archived in Ecuador Tagged market buses dave quito otavalo andes ecuador cayambe ecuadorian_cuisine quitsato_sundial the_equator Comments (0)

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