A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about river trip

White-water rafting and some thermal baths

Baños and the River Pastaza


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Monday 9/6/14

This was a quiet day... breakfast, several games of pool, then a look round town. I showed Dave the traditional taffee-pullers on our way to the Basilica, our first destination.

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We had a good look round.

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Then we booked a white water rafting session for the next morning and a ziplining session for Wednesday afternoon at a travel & tour agent and had a delicious lunch at a restaurant - a vegetarian pizza and a tuna fillet in a shrimp sauce (we both had half of each one). Then we went to an internet café and gave our nearest & dearest our happy news by Google Video Chat and by phone! After a while Dave went back to the hostel and I stayed online for an hour or so. In the evening the hostel gave every guest who wanted it a free dinner of pesto pasta, so we had that. We finished the day with some more games of pool and several games of whist and 10-card rummy.

Tuesday 10/6/14

Although it was raining this morning, we still had a brilliant time rafting on the River Pastaza! Aside from our guide Patricio and us, there were four Americans. Before we got on the river Patricio gave us a talk about and demonstration of instructions, safety strategies, what to do if we or someone else fell in, etc. He gave us our sitting positions as well; Dave and the only other guy at the front, the rest of us in rows of two behind. I was sitting directly behind Dave. Patricio sat at the back.

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As soon as we got to the riverbank and saw how incredibly fast the water was running (it had rained a lot overnight and the night before that) one of the Americans, who had been acting nervously on the minibus on the way to the river, had a moment of panic - she stepped away from the raft and said she didn't want to do it any more - but was persuaded back by her friend to give it a go. Patricio said that there was a potential stopping point halfway along if she wanted to be dropped off there.

Due to the swollen nature of the river part of it was no longer accessible to us, but the section we did go on was still long. The scenery was beautiful - it was a lot like the River Napo, with large, round stones on the banks instead of mud and beyond that a selection of rainforest and other lush greenery on every side stretching into the distance. Photos were taken throughout by the safety kayaker, who amazed us with his skill manoeuvering his kayak around through the rapids.

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After a while Patricio asked me if I would like to sit on the 'prow' of the raft facing out, sitting on the edge with my feet in the water whilst holding onto the rope that ran round the side of the raft as hard as I could with both hands. I jumped at the chance and it was very exciting, especially considering that when waves crashed over us head-on I took the full force of them.

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I managed not to fall in the river at any point, luckily. After ten minutes or so one of the other girls wanted a go, so we exchanged places and I took her paddle. Once she'd finished her go nobody else wanted to take her place so I did so for a second turn. The nervous American had chosen not to get dropped off halfway along, by the way, because she said she was enjoying it more than she thought she would. The whole experience was really exciting and we would both definitely do it again like a shot!

On the way back we stopped at a tiny village called Rio Negro and were given some lunch - grilled fish, rice, salad and some massive slices of watermelon - before returning to Baños. It was about half past two by the time we got back.

Back at the hostel we stayed only for a chocolate brownie (Dave), a crumbly blueberry slice (me), a drink each and a game of pool before going out on another excursion - this time only round the corner from the hostel to the open air hot thermal baths.

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The sun had come out by now. We had a great time soaking ourselves in the two hot pools that were available during the day (there were three others, including one extremely hot and two cold, but apparently they are only accessible in the evening session). It was quite surreal in an extremely good way.

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On our way back to the hostel we saw these not-quite-ripe clementine and tomatilla (tree tomato) bushes.

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Dinner was free once more at the hostel - risotto this time. It was good but we were still hungry afterwards so we paid for a chocolate brownie to share and a Cuban Libre cocktail each. To top the night off we played some pool, rummy and whist before going to bed.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:15 Archived in Ecuador Tagged basilica hostel dave cocktails banos andes ecuador white_water_rafting ecuadorian_cuisine river_trip thermal_baths Comments (0)

Visitors: Malecón, Las Peñas, Cerro Santa Ana and salsa

Guayaquil

Yesterday I only saw Emma, Kate, Mark and Andrew in the morning when I met them at the language school and took them to the bus terminal. They were going to Playas for the afternoon. It turned out that the night before, after they got back to their hostel after taking part in the first part of my lesson, they went swimming in the hostel's pool; on getting out of the pool Kate put her foot through the filter cover by accident, cutting and bruising her foot quite badly.

Today, while I was teaching in the morning the others looked round the Malecón, complete with botanic garden and the Museum of Anthropology & Contemporary Art. As soon as work finished at 1 o'clock I caught a bus into the city centre to meet them for lunch. I was held up considerably in traffic but we eventually managed to meet up. I wanted to take them to the restaurant E and I went to about a month and a half ago that sells delicious 'Encocado' (fish or shrimps in a creamy coconut sauce with rice), but unfortunately I couldn't find it, so we went somewhere else instead for lunch - the place on the Malecón that Mum and I went to in February. Kate, Emma and I all had sea bass which had been lightly breadcrumbed then grilled, which was amazing. I'm pretty sure it was the best breadcrumbed fish I've ever had!

Suitably refreshed, we headed over to Las Peñas to have a good nose around.

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We popped into a little art gallery and also saw at least two artists at work in their studios.

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We then took the side way up Cerro Santa Ana, the same way I'd taken Mum in February. We met this amazing dog on the way;

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Once at the terrace at the top we went up the lighthouse and had a look inside the chapel.

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After that the others went back to have a lie down and a swim in the pool. Later on we met up with 'E' at a nearby restaurant for dinner. The others were slightly shocked to find a security guard armed with a shotgun outside, but 'E' and I are used to it so we didn't bat any eyelids. Once inside, Emma and Kate had a lovely surprise because they saw Encocado on the menu! I was craving steak so I had that instead; it was delicious.

After we'd had dinner, we set off via taxis to a karaoke bar in Las Peñas that I've been to before. Kate and Emma were desperate to try the famous 'Alexander' cocktail I'd told them about (which in Ecuador is made from brandy, creme de cacao, condensed milk and crushed ice), so they and I had ones.

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I had intended for us to join my colleagues at a nearby bar for a drink or two before we carried on to the Captain Morgan, but as it turned out we didn't have time. We didn't want to be late for Captain Morgan!

The walk down the Malecon to where the boat was moored was very atmospheric in the dark, with the La Rotonda Monument and the Moorish Tower both lit up.

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After buying our tickets and waiting a while, we were allowed up the gangplank. A short while after the ship started to sail, a couple of guys with pirate hats came over and insisted on us posing for photos - he took photos with our cameras for us and if we'd wanted to we could have bought an official photograph from him for $5, but we chose not to.

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A lot of the music they played was salsa and merengue - and luckily for the rest of us, 'E' gave us an impromptu lesson in both! It was really, really good fun.

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We came back in to land at about 2 am. E rang for two taxis for us, one for me and her and one for the others.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:21 Archived in Ecuador Tagged art night museum hostel buses sisters salsa botanical_gardens cocktails ecuador guayaquil explorations cerro_santa_ana las_peñas malecon_2000 ecuadorian_cuisine river_trip river_guayas Comments (0)

Night out in Guayaquil: the floating 'Captain Morgan'

Las Peñas and the River Guayas

Update from January 2019: The boat is still there, though officially known as 'Barco Morgan'. I didn't mention it below, but it did and as far as I know still does more normal daytime river trips during the week and I assume at weekends as well (don't quote me on this though).

At the Malecón in Guayaquil there is a wooden boat docked called the Captain Morgan, which on Friday and Saturday nights becomes a floating bar. It leaves at 11.30 pm and sails up and down the River Guayas for a couple of hours; you pay $15 to get in and then it´s all you can drink for free.

A group of us decided to give it a go. Before we went got on the Captain Morgan we had a few drinks at Las Peñas. We met up in a bar called 'La Taberna', somewhere I had never been to before. It was a very interesting place because the walls were covered with laminated photographs and framed newspaper pages and articles that looked decades old.

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There were also antique telephones and gramophones, old Latin American records in their sleeves, a collection of empty cigarette packets stuck onto part of one wall and two flatscreen TVs showing some very eccentric and low-budget-looking cumbia, reggaeton and merengue videos and some recordings of salsa nightclub performances. Part of a U2 concert was also shown. There was a giant inflatable Pilsener beer bottle outside the entrance.

There were no drinks menus; the owner simply brought over pitchers of beer and some chilled glass mugs. There were some bottles of spirits behind the bar but I decided to leave it and not bother having anything to drink considering the free bar I knew I'd have on the Captain Morgan.

After leaving La Taberna we walked down the Malecón to the Captain Morgan. I saw this bird on the way (apologies for the rubbish quality: I didn't want to scare it away by using flash).

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We'd arrived half an hour early so some of us went looking for food... For some reason the only food I'd had that day so far was a couple of empanadas in the morning and a chocolate brownie in the afternoon, so I was starving.The only open place nearby was McDonald's, so we went there. It was only the second time I'd been to a McDonald's in Ecuador. I had a small fries and a 'Thick & Crispy' burger because it looked like a plain double cheeseburger with a bit of special mayonnaise and what I assumed was crispy bacon inside... Once I bit into it I discovered that it wasn't bacon at all but pieces of pork scratching!

The boat trip was a great experience. It was interesting to see Guayaquil from a different viewpoint and after dark.

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We did a lot of dancing and took advantage of the free bar. Aside from beer they didn't have much else apart from vodka, whiskey, rum and mixers, so I had a rum & Coke and two whiskey & oranges.

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The boat came back to port between 2 - 2.30 am. I got a taxi back with some of the others who live in the same end of town. Unfortunately when I arrived back I realised I didn't have my phone anymore - I think it must have fallen out of my pocket in the back of the taxi or when I used the facilities just before we disembarked.

Posted by 3Traveller 03:37 Archived in Ecuador Tagged parties birds night ecuador guayaquil las_peñas malecon_2000 river_trip river_guayas 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)

Freshwater swimming

Daule and Limonal


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'E' was woken up at 6am by a frantic phone call from her mother, who'd heard that at the rodeo in Babahoyo (a nearby town) one of the stands had collapsed, leaving about 15 dead and 60 injured. She'd forgotten that we were in Salitre and not Babahoyo.

Soberly, but also feeling relieved that the ricketty wooden stand we'd been sitting on had not also collapsed, we left Salitre between 9 and 10 am; the bus journey to Daule took half an hour or so. The first thing we did once we arrived was find an ATM and get some cash out - successfully, thank goodness. We wandered up to the riverbank next and 'E' asked a local about swimming places - he told her that a better place to swim wasn't in Daule itself but at a tiny hamlet called Limonal out in the countryside, further along the river, and we'd need to get a bus there.

Then we walked around for a while, checking out different eating places. 'E' was after a particular dish but nowhere seemed to do it, so in the end we sat down in a bakery and she had a type of sweet flaky pastry biscuit. I recognised it as a larger version of something I was given on both my flights from Madrid to Guayaquil. I still had a chocolate brownie left from the day before, so I didn't buy anything.

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I was on a hat-buying mission next so we found a shop that mostly sold car equipment but also had some hats. The owner said they were $15 each, but after a couple of minutes he accepted 2 for $25. Then we walked to the place where we'd been told we could catch a bus to Limonal.

The bus dropped us at a crossroads and we got a motor rickshaw to take us the rest of the way. The 'beach' was actually on the other side of the river, so a man took us over in what looked like an old wooden rowing boat that was actually powered by motor. It was 25c each.

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There were several families there. E and I took turns to swim - the water was refreshing and only took a second to get used to. The current was the strongest I've ever felt anywhere - before we got into the water I thought about swimming across and back again, but once I was actually in the river I realised it would be too dangerous to go out of my depth. The appearance of the river was quite deceptive, but if you stayed within your depth you were fine. We had a really good time; freshwater swimming in the middle of nowhere was a nice contrast to the dust and excitement and noise of the rodeo in Salitre.

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After we'd both had a swim and got changed, I had a plate of 'seco de pato' for lunch at a shack nearby that only sold that one thing. 'Seco de pato' is a type of duck stew, and like the vast majority of dishes here, is served with rice. It was lovely, just what I needed.

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A small boy paddled us back over the river. 'E' had some rice and beans at a shack by the riverbank before we carried on into Limonal. We thought we might have to get one bus to Daule and then another to Guayaquil, but as luck would have it only a minute later we saw a bus with 'Guayaquil' written on the front, so we jumped on that. It was only $1.25. The journey was pretty uneventful - more rice fields.

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Arrived back in Guayaquil mid-afternoon.

Posted by 3Traveller 06:35 Archived in Ecuador Tagged beaches ecuador ecuadorian_cuisine freshwater_swimming river_trip Comments (0)

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