Odds & Ends… the last bit of Ecuador

The last few days have been a whirlwind of travel, so today I will attempt to tie it all off with a neat little bow. This could prove to be difficult since I just spent 28 hours on a bus… but I will do my best.

After our stay in Quito we spent the entire day on the bus (10 hours) travelling to Cuenca. The bus was an interesting experience. We boarded at 5:30am thinking that we were going to be able to relax and spread out since there were only 4 other passengers on our bus. Wrong! We proceeded to stop in every city, town, village, and abandoned hut to pick up anyone with a nickel to their name. We ended up on a full bus of interesting characters. I was most entertained by the bus driver´s assistant who collected the money. He looked like he had just stepped out of the movie Grease with slicked back hair, jeans and white T-shirt. Another highlight was the Kung Fu movie dubbed in Spanish that we were subjected to. I don´t even like Kung Fu in English.

Fortunately, Cuenca was worth the trip. We were finally in a city that we could walk around in without having to take taxis all the time. It was a lovely little place and we enjoyed not having to do a whole lot.

Cuenca

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Our last stop in Ecuador was Guayaquil. This time around we opted to spend an extra $5 to take an air conditioned van. The three and a half hour drive was easily the most beautiful one of my life. We drove through the Cajas National Park and I wanted to stop every hundred feet to take a picture. We didn´t of course but we definitely didn´t mind the drive.

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Once in Guayaquil we were finally back at sea level for the first time since Cartagena. We were greeted by a large, muggy, tropical city. We spent the afternoon wandering around the Malecon 2000 boardwalk that runs along the Guays River. The area was beautiful with many parks and playgrounds for families. We intended to reconnect with our friend Luis who we met in Colombia but we waited and waited and he didn´t show. Knowing us, we probably got the location wrong. We decided to just go out for dinner ourselves. A simple task we thought. We have been successfully feeding ourselves for the past 2 weeks. However, we walked for at least half an hour and could not find one single restaurant in the downtown core. Apparently these people only drink soda.

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Guayaquil

We left Guayaquil behind to board the long dreaded overnight, international bus to Peru. We got on the bus at 11:30am and 28 hours later we arrived in Lima. On board we made friends with three American travellers from Colorado and Pennsylvania. The bus was much nicer than we expected but it was not without its quirks. The lights occasionally flickered as if we were in a lightning storm, it sounded like the roof could’ve have flown off at any moment, and the bathroom was wretched.

Our first excitement of the trip occured at our first petrol stop. The girls all rushed off the bus to use a real bathrooms and then I decided to grab a water as well. I was just about to pay, when Laura cried out… “Our bus… it´s leaving!” The water suddenly became insignificant and we ran after the moving vehicle. We were screaming WAIT but considering that the driver didn´t speak English I can understand why he didn´t. We both lept onto the moving vehicle and breathed a sigh of relief. Apparently, this bus waits for no one.

The next major adventure was crossing the border itself. We arrived at the Tumbes crossing and were told to take our passports and get off. We lined up and everyone got through quickly until Laura. The computer system magically stopped working… and we had to wait for about 15 minutes. At least the border official found a use for Laura´s passport, which he used to fan himself while we waited. But, we were not home free yet. This was just permission to exit Ecuador. We still had to go through customs again 3 miles down the road. We continued on and drove through flee market village until we were told to get out again. This time Laura and I were first in line and luckily experienced no technical difficulties. We then got ice cream to celebrate. YEAH PERU!!!

Flee Market Village??

Flee Market Village??

It was getting late and we were watching another movie, when suddenly it stopped and the lights went out. We assumed this meant bed time even though we hadn´t eaten dinner and it wasn´t even 8pm. Then everyone at the back of the bus started getting off… we had no idea what was going on. Were we entering yet another country? We were then told to take all our belongings and get off the bus. So we frantically gathered our stuff and got off. We then walked through a small building and ended up outside again. Then minutes later our bus pulled up and we got back on. Fire drill? We honestly have no idea what that was about. They didn´t even check our bags. Oh South America… good times.

We are finally in Lima, Peru and will happily spend the next week without buses. Our next big adventure is the Amazon!!!

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Exploring Quito & The Mindo Cloud Forest

Greetings from the Southern Hemisphere!

After two days in Ecuador we are starting to get a real sense of the adventures that are before us. We are staying at a wonderful hostel (Travellers Hotel) in the northern part of the city where most of the tourists stay. We have met many great people at our hostel from all walks of life. One older lady is staying by herself in Quito for 5 months!!! That makes our trip seem like a weekend getaway.

On our first full day in the city we decided to be really adventurous and take the trole bus. Up until this point we had been taking cabs but for 25 cents the Menno in me decided to give it a chance. We made it to the Plaza Grande in the old part of Quito just in time for the weekly procession of guards on horseback and parade of music. We weren’t sure at first if we had simply lucked into some special occasion… but apparently this happens every Monday. However, we were also able to wave at the President of Ecuador from our front row perches. We felt pretty fortunate and the hundreds of guards also made us feel extra safe. Unlike at home, we love seeing police in the city.

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Quito

The day was simply beautiful: clear skies, 23 degrees, pretty much paradise. We ended up just wandering around the old town for a while until I spotted some high steeples in the distance. To get there we had to walk up some steep hills that would rival the streets of San Francisco, but we made it. We are definitely wishing we had spent the past semester mountain climbing. Machu Picchu should be very interesting. The basilica was magnificent. It was only “finished” in the 1980s so it is much newer than most of the churches in Quito and was modeled after Notre Dame. We paid the $2 fee to climb up a series of steep ladders until we were standing at the top of the steeple. The views were simply stunning. During our time at the top we chatted with various travellers and eventually made friends with Jenny from New Jersey. She is doing a study abroad in Quito and was travelling solo that day. She asked if she could tag along with us and together we walked back to the main square. We eventually started discussing our future travel plans and we told her that we planned to go to Mindo the following day. We were more than happy when she asked if she could once again tag along.

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Sitting on the Top of the Basilica

After our full morning in the city we headed back to our hostel to relax. Instead I ended up having one of my typical panic attacks. The bus situation for our next trip was causing problems and I was stressing out as per usual. But, fortunately our hostel is the best ever. Diego (who speaks English fluently) was taking us on a night tour of the city and drove us to the bus depot first. There, he did all the talking and got us booked on our bus. We officially love the Travellers Hotel!!! From that point we were perfectly content. Our tour consisted of Diego driving us around in his SUV so that we could see and stop at all the major sights for pictures, and finally learn some of the history. We had a great time and since travelling at night is not advisable for tourists… we knew we had lucked into a great opportunity to see this beautiful UNESCO city.

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Today was one of my favourite days so far. Our new friend Jenny met us outside our hostel at 9am and we walked to the nearby bus station. Together we took a 2ish hour bus to the town of Mindo, which is located in the Cloud Forest. We hopped off the bus on the side of the busy road and were immediately greeted by a staff member from Mindo Ropes & Canopy. We drove deep into the jungle where Jenny, Laura, and I met our four fellow tourists and suited up for the day. We then spent a good two hours ziplining on 10 different lines through the canopy. It was AMAZING! Our guides let us experiment with many different positions such as Superman (face first, no hands, basically just like Superman) and the Butterfly (upside down, no hands, with your feet in the air). Don’t worry… I have photos and videos to prove it. This was such an exciting experience for me since I not only worked on a challenge course in Texas but also because my favourite travel show (Departures) went to this exact same place.

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After our day of flying through the trees at speeds of 65km/hr, we boarded a bus back to Quito. After a second city bus and a short walk… the three amigas decided to break for an actual sit down dinner. We ate at the coolest restuarant called Azuca Latin Bistro. We sat on a rooftop patio with a sand floor and ate fantastic food. It would definitely be a trendy place to go in Vancouver. After dinner we walked back to our hostel and said farewell to our new friend.

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Tomorrow we are leaving Quito behind and boarding at 12 hour bus to Cuenca that departs at 5:30am. We are hoping that the scenery is mind blowing so that we are semi-occupied for the day, but we do have fully charged Ipods and some snacks that should carry us through. Let’s hope Cuenca is worth the trip.