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Arrival in Baños

Cuenca and Baños


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No time to wait for our free breakfast in Cuenca this morning because we had a marathon journey to Baños ahead of us. The first leg, from Cuenca to Ambato, started at 8.10am and took just under seven hours; the scenery was even more spectacular this time than it was yesterday.

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On our way into the centre of town we passed some restaurants with whole roast pigs hung up outside. The one in this picture is just out of sight.

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Instead of Ambato bus terminal we were dropped off at the side of a road on the outskirts of the city instead, something I was momentarily slightly concerned about. Dave got a nosebleed just then as well. Luckily it stopped after a minute and then I noticed Baños buses passing by so I knew we were in the right place. We had to cross the road but only two minutes later the right bus came and we got on with no problems.

The Ambato - Baños leg took one hour. At one point we passed through Pelileo, a small town full of jeans shops - many of the shop signs had an apostrophe where there should not have been any ('Pelileo Jean's' instead of 'Jeans'), something I point out because this type of English mistake is actually so rare here. I see it much more often in the UK!

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The scenery continued to be fantastic right until we got to Baños.

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We arrived at Baños bus terminal at 4.10pm. Since then we've spent our time playing free games of pool and having a couple of cocktails at the hostel, going out for dinner at a restaurant (we had half each of both a shrimp ceviche and a Pizza Continental; I also had a blackberry yoghurt shake and Dave had a Coke and some iced tea) and looking inside the Basilica briefly just as the last service of the day ended.

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We also took some photos of the Basilica from the other side of the main square.

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Posted by 3Traveller 07:39 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains basilica hostel buses dave cocktails banos andes ceviche ecuador cuenca ecuadorian_cuisine ambato Comments (0)

Cuenca with Dave

Montecristi (Panama) hat


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By 8.10 we were on the bus to Cuenca. The scenery on the way was as spectacular as ever and we arrived between 12 and 12.30.

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We walked from the bus station to Bauhouse Hostel (sic), passing some streetsellers with baskets of guinea pigs on the way.

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Dave had a snooze once we'd got there but I went out to the launderette to get some washing done... as soon as I arrived at the main square I noticed that a parade was going on with soldiers in ceremonial white and either black or navy blue uniforms. They were raising and occasionally twirling batons and some trumpeters played at one point. Drums were beating as well. I was really pleasantly surprised because as far as I was aware there was no festival or special occasion today.

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After taking some photos of the parade I went on to the launderette and got most of my clothes done. Once they were in the dryer I went back to the hostel for 40 minutes and then returned with Dave. I picked up my clothes and then we went to the same small traditional Panama (Montecristi) hat workshop where I bought Dad's hat for Christmas. Dave will be 30 in July and I wanted to get him a hat as an early birthday present from me, because we won't be in the same place on his actual birthday. Unfortunately, when we arrived we found that it was all locked and shuttered up! I'd thought it was open until 6pm on Saturdays. Instead, we went to a different place nearby and Dave tried a few on before settling on one.

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After I'd paid for it the guy put it in a cloth bag shaped like a hat.

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On the way back to the hostel to dump our stuff, I suddenly remembered about food for our long bus journey to Banos tomorrow and the fact that we would have to leave too early to get our free breakfast from the hostel, so we went on a quick bakery hunt. The ones I found didn't have what I was looking for but then we passed by a streetseller at the side of the pavement - mostly they sell fruit and vegetables, with the occasional basket of chickens or guinea pigs, but this one had a big basket filled with plastic bags of buns. There weren't any sweet ones so I bought a bag of about ten with cheese in the middle instead.

After dumping our stuff we headed out again. Dave brought his DSLR with him and between us we got a few photos of different parts of the historic centre.

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Then we had some dinner - I had a lovely dish of white fish chunks in white sauce and vegetables, with rice as a side, and Dave had 'churrasco', a large thin steak with two fried eggs, rice, avocado, chips and salad. Lovely. Then another few photos, now it was after dark, and back to the hostel to pack for tomorrow.

Posted by 3Traveller 04:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged mountains market hostel dave andes ecuador procession cuenca unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Back from the Galápagos. Cuenca tomorrow!

Puerto Ayora, Baltra Island and Guayaquil


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A very early start for us this morning. A taxi arrived at 5.45 to take us, Bud and Gale to the port, where after having our bags rather cursorily checked, a water taxi dropped us off at the speedboat. The journey this time was better because the boat was much less crowded so there was more space and fresh air. On arrival at Puerto Ayora we were met by the G Adventures representative (I've forgotten his name now... sorry!), who asked Dave and me to meet him nearby at 9 and then took Bud & Gale to their next hotel. We said goodbye to them because we wouldn't see them again. It had been a pleasure sharing many of our Galápagos experiences with them.

Dave and I had some breakfast at a nearby restaurant; scrambled eggs, two rolls with cheese, coffee/ hot chocolate, juice and fruit salad with yoghurt.

At 9 we were put into a taxi to the ferry, on the other side of Santa Cruz.

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Once on the ferry it took ages to leave; then on the other side there was another wait for the LAN bus to turn up. Even after it arrived and everyone got on, we had to sit there for ages waiting for it to depart to the airport. I started to get really worried that we would miss our flight. Other passengers, with a flight even closer than ours, complained, only to be told that we were waiting for another ferryload of passengers. Once the latter had arrived and got on and the bus finally left, we had only 30 minutes until our flight was supposed to depart! The bus journey took up further five minutes. On arrival we rushed to the check-in desk, only to be met by a 'CLOSED' sign... luckily for us there were three or four others who needed the same flight, who had their tour guide with them - she got the check-in girl to print boarding passes for them. After they'd gone through the girl printed precious boarding cards for us too - thank goodness! We rushed through the passport and baggage checks as quickly as we could (the terminal was tiny, which helped) and arrived at the boarding gate 15 minutes before the given departure time. Luckily for us, nobody had been allowed on the plane yet. We had made it!

I managed to get some half-decent photos of Baltra Island as we took off and of the River Guayas, rice fields and of Guayaquil itself as we descended. We were given some lovely little Ecuadorian snacks mid-flight.

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Once we'd got back to my flat we rested until the evening, with only a trip out to find an internet café because the internet wasn't working properly at the flat for some reason. We had intended to tell our families about our engagement but by the time we got to one that had phone cabins, I thought it would be too late at night in the UK, so I just checked my email instead.

In the evening we had dinner with three of my former students at an Italian café near to the language school! They were from a class I'd been teaching until last week and this was their idea, something they wanted to do as a thank you to me. When they found out that Dave was with me they insisted that he come too. So we went and had a nice chat and some delicious pizza and dessert with them. At the end, they refused to let either me or Dave pay for our food! Very kind and generous of them.

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Posted by 3Traveller 04:26 Archived in Ecuador Tagged coast airport dave ecuador galapagos_islands guayaquil english_teaching unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Galápagos Islands: Volcano trek, snorkelling and a proposal!

Sierra Negra & Chico Volcanoes and Puerto Villamil


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Breakfast was at 7 today and after that finished we all had to make our sandwiches for lunch - a packed lunch we'd be eating at our trekking destination, the craters of Volcanoes Sierra Negro & Chico! Tuna mayo or cheese with tomato or cucumber slices, plus apples if you wanted them.

At 7.45 we set off with Miguel, the same naturalist guide we had yesterday. We drove for about 20 - 30 minutes before we reached the start of the trek. As well as us, Bud & Gale, there were the two German girls, three Australian girls and a Chilean couple. We began the trek in a light drizzle; I had guessed this might happen so I was in my bikini under my main clothes. This consisted of a rather peculiar-looking combination of a strappy top, board shorts (because I didn't want to get my only pair of trousers muddy), hiking boots and Dave's wide-brimmed hat from Portugal.

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We walked for about an hour before we reached our first lookout point. I was really glad I only had a sleeveless top on because the others soon got boiling hot and had to take off their jackets/jumpers.

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Unfortunately it was too misty for us to see anything of the crater (we were trekking along the rim, with vegetation on both sides of the path) but we hoped that it would have cleared a bit by the time we got to the next one. An hour later, when we reached it, a lot of the mist was still there but then it cleared a little, just enough to see a little bit of the black lava opposite us.

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Then we began our descent along the side of Sierra Negra and Chico (I'm still not sure where one ends and the other begins). Miguel showed us one of many camomile bushes and we also saw an orange land iguana on a rock.

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After a while the vegetation changed to a surface that looked moonlike... lots of both old and new(ish) lava flows of different colours, lava vents where the lava comes out in eruptions, sinkholes, cacti.

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The views were stunning in a rather surreal manner. Eventually we reached a lookout point where we ate our sandwiches; this was the end of the trail. We got an even more spectacular view from here, over the western side of Isabela Island, the sea and other islands. (The photos really don't do it justice.)

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On the way back at first there was still a very fine drizzle, but then it stopped and once or twice the sun came out briefly. We still couldn't see anything at the first lookout point we came across; however, a little bit further on the clouds parted a bit so we managed to get a good view of the black lava of the crater meeting the bright green vegetation of the rim, even though we couldn't see the whole crater. I was really glad I'd seen what we did.

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A bit later it started raining again, harder than before, and this time it did not stop. Our fronts got soaked.

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The others had set off back after lunch a bit earlier than us so Dave and I were the last of our group to arrive back at the truck, though then it turned out that Bud and Gale had got a bit lost on their way back and only actually arrived at the truck two minutes before us. The sun came out on our drive back to Puerto Villamil.

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We had an hour's free time to rest and then we went on our last excursion; a snorkelling trip in the harbour at Puerto Villamil. The aim of this was to snorkel with sea lions, but unfortunately they didn't play ball with us and appear, apart from one which appeared for about a minute right at the very start. Also unfortunately, because we were in the harbour (they weren't allowed to take us beyond the boats apparently) the water visibility was very poor. However, there were still lots of tropical fish around which were great to see, especially when they came right up very close to the surface and we could float only a few centimetres over them.

Once back at the hotel we had hot showers and then rested for a couple of hours until dinner. Dinner was a lovely thick creamy yellow vegetable soup as a starter, a delicious tuna steak with vegetable sauce, yellow rice with maize mixed in and some chopped lettuce and tomato for the main and fruit with condensed milk for pudding. After dinner Dave and I had a chilled glass bottle of Coke each whilst playing 10-card rummy and some whist for half an hour in the hotel courtyard.

After we finished playing cards we went back to our hotel room... Dave had another shower and then proposed to me!!! - as I sat in bed, having just started to copy photos from today onto my laptop. I accepted, of course! We're going to look for an engagement ring for me when we're in Quito for the last week of our holiday. I'm so happy!

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Posted by 3Traveller 01:53 Archived in Ecuador Tagged coast volcanoes hotel dave iguanas ecuador sealions galapagos_islands unesco_world_heritage_site tropical_fish Comments (0)

Galápagos Islands: So much wonderful wildlife!

Islote Tintoreras, Puerto Villamil, Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan Giant Tortoise Centre and the Wall of Tears


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This day was our first full day on Isabela Island (formerly known as Abermarle). The night before, at dinner, we'd been told to get ready to go out on our first excursion at 8.50am, so we went down for breakfast at 8. Bud and Gale, the lovely American couple I mentioned yesterday, were already there. Breakfast was lovely - I had black coffee with sugar and hot chocolate powder mixed in, two flattish oblong rolls (one with scrambled egg in and the other with cheese) and a bowl of deliciously sweet and juicy fresh pineapple chunks.

At 8.40, a bit earlier than we expected, we were taken to the port and then put on a panga (water taxi), with some other people from different hotels.

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I found a Galápagos sealion under a boat.

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This took us to Islote Tintoreras, very close to Isabela. This is very small, uninhabited by humans and lacking any trees apart from a mangrove along one side. Before we were taken ashore, however, our guide took us round the coastline for a bit. We saw a big male Gálapagos sea lion that had been driven away from the group (herd?) by a younger male and could no longer return, a couple of penguins - the only type that can live in such relatively hot conditions so close to the equator - and a blue-footed booby.

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We also came across a fisherman in his boat - pelicans and frigatebirds were flying above.

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Our guide knew the fisherman and asked what fish he had caught. In reply the guy held up two massively long fish, fish that our guide said were called wahoo. He said that he would be able to get between $100 - $150 for one if he sold it to a restaurant.

Then we landed and walked round the island, keep very closely to the trail. It was an amazing volcanic landscape, black rocks with white lichen on the points that stuck upwards.

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We saw lots of distinctively scarlet Sally Lightfoot crabs, black crabs, black marine iguanas and a couple more sea lions.

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One of these sea lions appeared in a pool between the mangrove and the rocks where we stood. It swam up and down and bellowed in order to let other sea lions in the area know that it was there.

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We also saw a 'nursery' for baby iguanas, where the adults were on the left side of the path and all the babies were on the right side, right next to the sea. The reason why the babies were there was because there were loads of cracks in the rocks on that side that acted as extra protection. Our guide stopped soon afterwards and showed us an empty, rubbery iguana eggshell.

Just after we passed the pool with the sea lion in it we stopped by a crevice in the rocks which was filled with very clear, still water and had some white-tip sharks lying on the bottom.

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Last of all on land, we stopped at the mangrove and our guide told us a little bit about them. One or two leaves on each branch were yellow, apparently due to the way that they 'sacrifice' themselves by absorbing all the salt in the seawater. This way the other leaves survive for longer and stay green.

After this we went snorkelling with giant turtles!! The panga took us to an even smaller island round the corner from Islote Tintoreras - actually on reflection it may just have been part of Isabela island - and we got out onto the rocks with only our swimming stuff and flipflops on, plus snorkels if we'd brought any. If you hadn't then it didn't matter because there was a big bag of snorkels, masks and fins for communal use. There were about 8-10 of us including our guide. After leaving our flipflops on the rocks we got in...

We saw lots of tropical fish, especially lots of black ones with a yellow tail and a white stripe down their body. We also saw lots of small, green, spiny sea anemones, a couple of very big, fat, brownish starfish and last but not least... the turtles! They were huge. They stayed lying on the sea floor, apart from a couple who swam along for a bit. The sight of them was amazing. I'd always wanted to snorkel with turtles! Dave really loved them as well. There wasn't much coral - apart from white sand, there were lots of flat rocks covered in green algae, which was where the tropical fish fed from. It was such a fantastic experience to float over these rocks and see all the fish close up, especially when the rocks were close to the surface, then see bigger, silvery fish swimming near the seabed once the rocks finished. As soon as I got out of the water I saw a large marine iguana swim past.

After this we went back to Puerto Villamil, the main town on Isabela, for lunch. We had it at a different hotel, one that overlooked a small reedy lake. Soup first, then lightly breadcrumbed fresh shrimps, rice, salad and creamy mashed potato for the main, with chopped banana & chocolate syrup for pudding.

After lunch we went on another excursion, this time with several stops at different places. Ricardo was with us, along with a naturalist guide called Miguel. Stop one was at the giant tortoise breeding centre; this was fascinating, as I expected, because I've always wanted to see these creatures in the flesh. We saw a mixture of adults, juveniles and babies, all in separate pens.

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They had different types of giants; ones that come from different parts of Isabela, including some from the slope of Cerro Azul Volcano which are unique in the Galápagos for having flat, squashed-looking shells.

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Stop two was a short walk through cacti and mangrove to a small, black rocky beach where we saw lots of blue-footed boobies.

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Stop three was at a fantastic lookout point. On the way there we saw two giant tortoises in the wild, which I was pleased about - I had hoped I would see at least one in the wild as well as the ones at the breeding centre.

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From the lookout point we could see a lot of the western side of the island as well as some of the eastern and the sea with some of the other islands in it. Miguel showed us lots of trees nearby that he said the locals burn as incense in churches and in their homes and export to the mainland.

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Stop four was a sobering visit to the Wall of Tears (in Spanish, El Muro de las Lágrimas), a wall built by prisoners from a penal colony on the island between 1945 and 1959. Miguel told us that this entirely pointless task was set because the government wanted to kill the prisoners but couldn't because the families back on the mainland would complain, so they had to find a task for them to do instead. Many prisoners died during its construction and there was a lot of cruelty, hence the name since given to it since.

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Our penultimate stop was at a lava tunnel, formed naturally from a volcanic eruption. There was a hole down into it and water at the bottom.

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Our last stop was a walk along the beach at Puerto Villamil.

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Miguel showed us a tiny white crab which he said people from the Galápagos cook in bulk and eat as a snack like popcorn when they sit down to watch films. At the end of the beach Miguel left us to go back to his family - Ricardo had left a bit earlier - and Bud, Gale, Dave and I went back along the beach a bit until we got to an outdoors bar, where we had a couple of drinks. I ordered Dave and I two daiquiris for $6 and a fruit milkshake.

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We were joined by a group of Australians; almost straight after we'd all ordered, two of them and I played a game of volleyball against two local guys and a Chilean girl from the hostel to which the bar was attached. When it ended none of us had any idea of which team had actually won, but it was very good fun nonetheless.

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As well as a volleyball net, the bar had a very long, stretchy piece of material set a metre from the ground between two posts; Ricardo reappeared and with other locals he walked along it like a stretchy, bouncy tightrope - he told us later that is a growing pastime in the Galápagos. Once the volleyball had finished I watched them take turns on it, but neither Dave or I were tempted to have a go ourselves! Bud then ordered two Cuba Libres but only wanted one of them (two for the price of one) so I bought one off him. By now the place was crowded and the sun had gone down. The atmosphere of the whole place was very convivial.

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After another half an hour or so the bar staff lit a small bonfire, but before it could get going properly Bud, Gale, Dave and I had to go back to our hotel for dinner. Soup, chicken, rice, salad and a delicious chocolate brownie-like pudding with nuts in and a meringue topping drizzled with chocolate sauce.

After dinner we were too tired to do anything apart from load our photos from today onto my laptop and Dave's USB pen and then go to sleep.

Posted by 3Traveller 00:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged birds night turtles pelicans coast beach hotel dave penguins cocktails iguanas ecuador sealions galapagos_islands blue_footed_boobies frigatebirds unesco_world_heritage_site ecuadorian_cuisine sally_lightfoot_crabs white_tip_sharks giant_tortoises tropical_fish Comments (0)

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