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Carnival, Day 4: Return through the Andes

Baños and Guayaquil

Edit from January 2019: Our hostel was called Great Hostel, or Great Hostels Backpackers Los Pinos. I thought it just as great as its name! Only given 76% on Hostelbookers, but if the place anything like how it was five years ago, it's worth a lot higher than that and I definitely recommend it.

We didn't do much this morning apart from have a bit of a lie in, pack, check out and move into the reception/internet/TV/bar area with our stuff. We also said goodbye to the hostel dogs.

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Inside the common area 'M' and I had a couple of games of pool on the free pool table before having some food at the bar with two of the others. I had pasta bolognese, the first time I've had bolognese sauce in Ecuador.

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After lunch I set off for the bus terminal to get back to Guayaquil, taking some more photos of town on the way. I got one of the basilica, one of a park and one of the taffy-makers doing their thing.

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The others had bought their tickets in advance - I hadn't bought mine then as well because I thought I was going to go back via the little town of Guaranda and the others were going direct. Plus their tickets were for 5 pm and I needed an earlier bus. I didn't actually go back via Guaranda because I realised I wouldn't have time, plus I would have had to change buses at Ambato and I didn't want a repeat of the hassle I'd had yesterday evening.

At the bus terminal I took the opportunity to try some sugar cane sticks and juice! I had the juice as soon as I bought it but saved the sticks for the journey.

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At the terminal there are lots of little ticket offices run by different companies (it's the same at the bus terminal of every other place I've been to in Ecuador) so I bought a ticket to Guayaquil from pretty much the first I came to. My bus left at 2.30 pm and the journey was rather uneventful apart from the spectacular scenery we passed...

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...and a Carnival water-throwing incident. Two or three men were waiting by the side of the road with buckets of water and as we passed by them they threw the water as hard as they could - luckily this happened on the opposite side to me so I didn't get wet. One of the windows was open on that side so the girls sitting in the seats next to it got soaked! They seemed to take it in good part, though.

We arrived at Guayaquil bus station between 8.30 and 9 pm. After waiting unsuccessfully for quite a while for the right bus to Alborada Sexta, I admitted defeat, realised that they had most probably stopped running for the night and took a taxi instead.

Posted by 3Traveller 13:56 Archived in Ecuador Tagged basilica hostel buses carnival banos andes ecuador guayaquil Comments (0)

Journey to the Amazon: Carnival!

Guayaquil, Baños, Tena and Puerto Misahuallí


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I'd always wanted to be in a country that celebrates Carnival at that time of year, so now that Carnival had come upon us, I wanted to make the most of it! My friend/colleague 'E' and I went on a four-day trip to the mountains and rainforest with some friends of hers.

Our bus left Guayaquil's bus terminal at about 12.45 am. As snacks for the journey I bought a bag of small yellow sponge things that had jam in the middle and a little bit of sugar on the outside and a bag of small balls that looked like peanut brittle. Due to Carnival the terminal was crowded, despite the late hour. Guayaquil is very quiet at Carnival time because everyone goes off to the beaches at Playas, Salinas and Montañita or to places in the highlands like Baños, Ambato and Cuenca.

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I didn't get much sleep on the bus. I dozed off at one point but woke up because I was so cold; while I had dozed off we had clearly arrived in the mountains and the altitude had increased enough for a temperature change. I'd been in a sleeveless top before but now had to put my Bolivian coat on. I only managed to doze off again once or twice more before we arrived at Ambato at about 6.30 am. We only stopped there for a few minutes before carrying on to Baños, where we arrived about an hour later. Our arrival was interesting not only due to the amazing setting - mountains tower over Baños on every side - but because of the clouds. It was mostly sunny but there were a couple of very flat, low-lying clouds that we could clearly see both above and below. One of them looked almost like a bridge between two parts of the valley.

I was intrigued by the stalls set up on both sides of the terminal. They had bunches of what looked like green bamboo, long poles leaning up against the wall next to them and small ones upright underneath the stalls. I found out later that these were actually sugar cane.

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We had some breakfast at a café near to the bus terminal. Bread rolls with white 'queso fresco' inside, scrambled eggs, a glass of borojo juice (a fruit native to the Amazon) and a cup of hot milk (or hot water, if you fancied it) to which you could add coffee or hot chocolate powder.

Breakfast was relaxed but we only had time for a quick toilet stop after it because our bus to Tena was due to leave at 8.15. Tena is a 'jungle town' north of Puyo. As we sat on the bus waiting for it to depart (which it did half an hour after it was supposed to - other passengers started getting annoyed and called out to the driver "Vamos!"), I heard the crowing of a cockerel coming from very close by - apparently it was coming from inside the luggage hold below us! It did sound like it was directly underneath us.

It was still quite bright when we left Baños but about 30 minutes later it started to rain. It didn't last that long though. The journey took about four hours. Once we had arrived in Tena we didn't have long before we had to get another bus to the even smaller town of Puerto Misahuallí, which is on the banks of the River Napo. This took another hour.

We were dropped off in the town centre, which would probably have been sleepy at any other time of year but wasn't this weekend because of Carnival! There was a small fruit and vegetable market in the square, with wares spread out on blankets on the ground, and children and teenagers roamed with spraycans of foam... water-throwing and foam-spraying is a Carnival celebration very widespread in Ecuador! On almost every side there were little stalls set up selling cans of foam for $1. Luckily, for now at least the children and teenagers seemed to be concentrated in the park in the middle of the square, not at the corner where we were, so we crossed the River Napo bridge and up a hill to our accommodation without much damage.

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Our accommodation was a set of cabins, one of which was split into two dorms, where we stayed. In mine there was one single, a double and a bunk bed - nobody else wanted the top bunk so I took it. There was mosquito netting fixed over the windows.

Soon we headed out to our first excursion - a trip on the River Napo to two Kichwa-speaking indigenous communities. We stopped in town for a late lunch, however, on the way to the small riverbeach where the wooden motorised canoes leave from. There was a restaurant where the food was cooked on grills outside the front - whole fish and parcels of stuff wrapped in palm or banana leaves.

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As we watched for a while, the woman reached into a small water-filled tub and retrieved three very large and fat maggots, which she skewered and put on the grill... we weren't tempted, strangely enough!

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What we did have was the fish; tilapia, commonly eaten in the Amazon. They had been gutted but were completely whole apart from that. The flesh was very white and juicy and there had clearly been butter involved in the cooking process as well - it was delicious. We had one each; they came with yuca, a slice of lime and a salad made from raw onion, tiny pieces of cheese, herbs and a white vegetable I didn't recognise.

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The trip on the River Napo took about 10 minutes. The River Napo is a tributary of the Amazon, so I had always pictured there being mudbanks on every side, but in fact there were a lot of large, very smooth stones.

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Once we arrived at the first indigenous settlement we were shown round by the guide - he showed us lots of plants that have special uses, for example a couple of poisonous ones used for blowpipes, ones with medicinal uses, and a cinnamon plant (he handed round one or two leaves form it; I bit into one and it did indeed taste very strongly of cinnamon). There was also a pond with a couple of caimen in it and two small enclosure with a peccary and capybara inside.

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We saw some massive ants on one tree trunk - the biggest I've ever seen! Apparently if antagonised their bites are extremely painful. He showed us round a hut filled with examples of pottery, shells (he demonstrated blowing into one conch shell and we all had a go), jewellery, spears and other things. We finished up in another hut where there were samples of jewellery, balsa wood parrots, little bottles of natural remedies, spears and arrows and more. I was really tempted by the arrows but didn't think I'd be able to get them back to the UK in my luggage, so I didn't get any.

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It was lovely to stand on the bank of the Napo before we climbed back down the bank to the canoe, because I could see nothing but forest on every side.

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After this we visited another community on the other side of the river. They had a volleyball game going on in the middle of their square. We were welcomed with a dance by some of the women and we had a chance to be 'cleansed' by a shaman - I passed on this because although no doubt the roots of it are genuine to the community, it seemed quite put on for tourists. I had a wander round another hut filled with handmade souvenirs, but didn't buy anything. I wish I had now, though.

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Lunch had been very late for us so it wasn't long after we got back that we had some dinner. This time we had another type of grilled fish; I've forgotten its name but it was massive, with enough meat on it for four people. Those of us who chose it, including me, had one in the middle of the table for us to share, with bowls of rice and yuca and the same type of salad I mentioned before. Once again it was delicious. The flesh not only looked a very creamy colour but tasted creamy as well.

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It was after dark by the time we finished. Once we got back to our accommodation I had a much-needed shower and went to bed. Some of the others went back out for a drink or two, but by the time they decided to do so it had started pouring with rain and I felt so nice and dry and comfortable, as well as tired, that I decided just to get an early night instead.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:06 Archived in Ecuador Tagged bridges birds hostel buses parrots carnival banos ecuador guayaquil tena ecuadorian_cuisine misahualli river_trip peccary traditional_customs Comments (0)

Mayoral Election Day

Guayaquil

I mentioned on the 13th that today was mayoral election day, not just in Guayaquil but all over the country. I went into town to see how it was going, but it took such an incredibly long time to get there on the bus I only had time for a plate of arroz con camarón (rice with shrimp) at the Malecón and a visit to Iguana Square before I had to get the bus back again because I'd arranged to speak to Dave on video at 4pm my time - and even then the bus took an unexpected diversion on the way back so I didn't actually get back to the flat until 4.45! (Luckily Dave was still online and able to speak.)

The reason why the journey was so long was directly due to the election, however; I'd never seen traffic that bad before. It was worst not in the city centre itself but just outside it. The city centre didn't seem that much different to normal, but just before we got to that, we passed one section where the pavements were crowded with street food stalls and other street sellers and pedestrians. I was surprised because I never saw anyone waving flags or driving past in election cars with loudspeakers going, like I had in the streets leading up to today. I thought today would be the climax of all of that. Maybe most of the voting actually took place in the morning.

Posted by 3Traveller 10:05 Archived in Ecuador Tagged dave iguanas ecuador guayaquil malecon_2000 ecuadorian_cuisine Comments (0)

Mum's last day in Guayaquil

Guayaquil

This morning we took advantage of the Grand Hotel's delicious buffet breakfast again. First of all we had some hot stuff and then we went back for cold. I had scrambled eggs, a chicken and vegetable mixture and a couple of mini corviches (mashed yuca mixed with cheese and fried - a bit like a cheesy potato cake but slightly more gooey inside; I've had the big version before with onion mixed in too and they are delicious), followed by lots of fresh pineapple chunks, some papaya, some poached cinnamon pears, a custard bun and a little glazed bun with raisins that looked and tasted like a sausage-shaped hot cross bun. There were other rolls and things too but I was too full to have more! To go with the food we both had coffee and some fruit juice and I also had a small glass of peach drinking yoghurt.

After breakfast I really wanted to get a picture of Mum with an iguana, so we went for a walk round the corner to Iguana Square. I got several photos and we discovered a lot of turtles as well, some bigger ones and some very small and cute ones.

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Then we walked through the cathedral and out of the side. I was really glad I could get pictures of the iguanas and the cathedral while Mum was here because when she walked around both on the morning after her arrival, I wasn't there so she didn't have a camera to get any pictures.

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At about 09.50 I got the bus into work for a teachers' admin meeting, only to find out on arrival that it had been postponed until next week. I checked my email and then got the bus back again.

When I arrived back, we finished packing, checked out and went into the café/restaurant for a coffee. Though actually, although we went in for a coffee we ended up having a 'Chocolate Tradicional' instead! Ecuador is know for its cacao production. It had a little bit of cinnamon in it and was the best hot chocolate I have ever had in my entire life.

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After our amazing chocolate experience we strolled down to the Malecón and along it until we reached the turnoff for the side street where the lunch restaurant 'La Barca Azul' is. We took our time walking there because we weren't under any time pressure. We passed an indoor market which isn't usually there, and stopped at the riverside;

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The sun came out on the way so it got extremely hot. Once at the restaurant I ordered us both Seco de Chivo (traditional goat stew) and a bottle of peach juice.

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After we'd finished our stew we caught a bus to the language school. Mum met some of my teaching colleagues and admin staff and I showed her round the whole building. It felt really surreal to have her there, though in a good way of course.

Then we caught another bus to my flat. The journey took much longer than usual for some reason. I loaded all the photos from her trip so far onto my laptop and we looked through them together. She also had a sit down on the sofa in the living area, in front of the air conditioning, with a bottle of water I'd put in the freezer section for a bit to make colder.

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We didn't have all that long there before we had to get the bus back to my workplace. We did however stop at the fruit shop round the corner first, where I bought a pound of grapes and some light green plums for Mum. Back at the language school Mum washed and ate the fruit, before changing and watching some of the BBC World Service that is usually on the flatscreen TV in reception. Then the taxi arrived to take us to the airport.

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At the airport Mum printed off her boarding pass from one of the self-service machines and we looked round the shops for a while. I decided that when I leave Ecuador this summer, I will buy a 'Republica del Cacao' t-shirt from Guayaquil Airport as a leaving present to myself. Mum bought a Panama-like hat for herself and cloth that can be used as a scarf or put on a table. Then we sat in a café and Mum had some black tea with milk - it tasted better than the tea she had the other day - and I had a big glass of coconut and blackberry juice.

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After Mum had gone through to passport control, out of sight, I got a taxi back to the flat. It was roughly 6.30pm by then.

Posted by 3Traveller 09:29 Archived in Ecuador Tagged hotel airport cathedral iguanas mum ecuador guayaquil malecon_2000 guayaquil_metropolitan_cathedra ecuadorian_cuisine 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)

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