Well, if you believe the predictions made by the Mayans a few thousand years ago, this may well be the last post! However, all being well we will be able to do another update next week as we have just entered Peru and still have many places to visit 🙂
Anyway, back to Ecuador….
We spent a few nights in the Amazon, near the small town of Misahualli. Nearby our lodge was a pretty impressive, and no doubt an extremely old tree.
We forgot our hats and suncream when we went walking to find the tree and the Amazonian sun was pretty strong – Dan had to unzip the legs from his trousers to make himself a hat….very fetching indeed!!
He also went for a swim as our lodge was right on the banks of the river. Having read all sorts of stories of the creatures that live in these rivers, I declined to join him. He was looking pretty nervous as he entered the water – particularly as I was shouting about Piranha’s and Crocodiles as he was stepping in – recent rain in the mountains had reduced the visibility to zero. He did make it back out in one piece though, despite a really strong current – this river joins onto the Napo River a few meters downstream, which is one of the largest tributaries of the Amazon River. If he had been swept away he might of ended up in Brazil 🙂
We had a bit of a giggle later that night as we sat in a restaurant in town and watched a monkey shoplifting! There were some monkeys roaming the streets trying to find food and one of them was staking out the local supermarket, hovering around the door waiting for the staff to turn their backs. As soon as the coast was clear he ran in and grabbed a bag a crisps before running back out and into the darkness….very intelligent animals!
You have to be pretty careful in Ecuador (in fact this goes for pretty much all of Central & South America). Quite often the drains and manholes don’t have covers – it’s pretty hazardous wandering around at night in the dark – not to mention the hazard of riding the bike along streets that look like this…..
The following day we took a day trip along the Napo River to see more of the Amazon.
The trip included a visit to ‘AmaZOOnico’ which is an animal rehabilitation center in the jungle started back in the 90’s. The project survives on donations and is run by volunteers. Our tour guide was a German girl who had just started 4 months of volunteering at the project. http://www.selvaviva.ec/amazoonico/
A lot of the animals at the center were birds and monkeys as these are the most popular animals for people to have as pets in their homes and restaurants, where they are generally poorly treated. Any animal which can be released back into the wild is eventually released, but the ones we saw are the ones that would not be able to survive. Tourists are not permitted to visit the animals which they hope to release.
The birds generally have very sad stories as they’ve usually had their wings broken to prevent them from ever flying again….just to entertain tourists in restaurants. We couldn’t help but laugh though as we walked by the bird enclosure and they were all squawking really loudly when suddenly one shouted out ‘Burritos’!
There were some quite unusual plants around too….this tree can walk!!
After the visit to the animal rehabilitation center, we headed back up the river to visit a butterfly farm which was pretty amazing……
The next part of the trip was a jungle walk. The guy who was driving the boat moonlighted as a guide. His family grew up in the Amazon and his father was a Shaman. He was pretty knowledgeable on the flora and fauna of the rainforest.
Our guide also had amazing eyesight, he spotted this tiny poisonous frog in the undergrowth, known as a ‘dart frog’. Amazonian tribes use the poison on the tips of their blow darts.
Also, we stopped for a mid-afternoon snack…..of lemon ants….urghhh. Actually, they did just taste of lemon – Dan enjoyed them more than I did though!
More unusual rainforest plants……
The locals pan for gold along the river banks – apparently they can make $20 per day.
The animal below is a Capybara – kind of looks like a giant guinea pig.
We tried a Cocoa Bean in its natural form….not nearly as nice as when it’s made into chocolate – I much prefer its manufactured form 🙂
After being bitten by all sorts of bugs, we decided to head back into the mountains away from the rainforest. Our next stop was the town of Baños – which is Spanish for ‘Baths’.
It’s Christmas time so what do you do when you have no snow to make snowmen?……
The town of Baños is famous for a few delicacies –
Toffee made in shop doorways…..
And ‘Cuy’ aka Guinea Pig – fried up on the streets….yum 🙂
Baños is of course most famous for it’s natural thermal baths, which has also led to a lot of Spa’s opening up. Time to take a steam bath I think!
Although I’m pretty sure the lady that worked there enjoyed giving us ‘the cold water treatment’ in between our sessions in the steam bath a bit too much…..
Later that evening we headed for more pampering at the local thermal baths. I’ve never been in thermal baths that are so hot. I could hardly bear the pain from the hot water in one of the pools – the locals must have super thick skin as they were loving it!!!
As we left the town of Baños we got a great view of the nearby volcano – which has erupted and caused the town to be evacuated on several occasions. We found out it actually erupted the day we left – everyone in town was given a mask to cover their mouths – if only we’d stayed one more day we could of got some cool pics!
We had some pretty spectacular views as we drove south towards the old colonial town of Cuenca. We drove passed the volcano of Chimborazo, which it turns out is actually THE HIGHEST POINT ON EARTH – figure that one out. It seems that as the earth not an exact sphere – the area around the equator is ‘thicker’ and therefore the top of Chimborazo is the furthest point from the center of the earth. As opposed to Mount Everest which is the highest point above sea level. I had never heard this before – I wonder if people risk their life to climb this too?
Our hotel in Cuenca was really nice, but I’m glad room 13 wasn’t ours…..
We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary whilst we were in Cuenca….mmmm, good food and cocktails 🙂
We then headed for the small town of Vilcabamba on route towards the border with Peru. We decided to stop off here after reading that this place is famous for its inhabitants growing to a very old age. Apparently it’s not uncommon for people to reach 100, and some are rumoured to have reached 120 – 135. It’s no wonder that lots of expats are moving here. We were sure to drink plenty of the water whilst we were in town 🙂
Our final experience of Ecuador was to take the route directly south from Vilcabamba to the border…a road which would only be paved for about 35km followed by almost 200km of unpaved road. We had read some horror stories from people who had done this in the rain…thankfully the weather was pretty good. We had been told this route would be well worth it for the spectacular views. This turned out to be very true, as Mike will confirm. He was busy looking at the view and wiped out on a bend! By the way, I’m not just watching him lift his bike whilst Dan takes a photo – we did help him once the pic was taken. It’s just compulsory to take a photo in these situations 🙂
This is the view so you can probably understand why….amazing scenery!!
We were warned about the construction work on the road which can cause delays. We weren’t too impressed when we arrived at one road block and had to wait 1.5 hours. This section of road was only open for three 1-hour slots each day. We sat and twiddled our thumbs for a while…..then Dan pondered if there was anything he could tweak on the Transalp to pass the time – well it has been a while since he had it apart!
Because of the slow going road, the construction work and more computer issues at the border it was dark before we finished getting the necessary paperwork to enter Peru. A tough decision followed – sleep at the border in the hotel below….or ride in the dark on more dirt road for 40km.
So we rode on, against our normal rules of never drive at night!! Shhhh don’t tell my Mum, she’ll only worry 🙂