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!!!

Melting in Exotic Cartagena

Cartagena is officially one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. I cannot wait for Laura to develop these photos so that I can blow them up on canvas and re-decorate my entire house. This morning we slept in, covered our poor sunburnt bodies as best we could, and headed out to the old part of the city. What we discovered were the most breathtaking colonial buildings, painted in all the colours of the rainbow.

Old Town

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We took our time wandering down the quaint little streets,occasionally stopping in the little shops to get a break from the beating sun. Laura has a minor case of heat stroke but she was a trooper and lugged that heavy camera bag around on her scorched shoulders for hours. We stumbled upon lovely churches and squares and walked along the outer wall of the city. The views were fantastic.

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We visited the museum of Modern Art, although we will both admit that the air conditioning was more appealing than the art. We decided to plunk ourselves down on a bench for a solid 45 minutes; 2000 pesos is a small price to pay for shade, fans, and solitude. Don’t get me wrong… I still love my hot climates but I also know my limits. This humidity takes some getting used to.

The grand finale of our day was a trip to the  Castillo de San Felipe. We enjoyed incredible vistas as per usual, and found several places to beat the heat. Our new favourite pastime is also taking photos for other tourists. It´s a nice gesture and we usually get a photo out of the deal as well. Plus, we have become a little stockerish when it comes to white people. We are such a minority that we feel  a strange kinship to anyone that shares our pasty complexion. Ah… the ties that bind.

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Castello de San Felipe

By around two o’clock we needed to get out of the sun and find some food so we headed back to the hotel. I literally felt like my skin was melting off. Here, we shower frequently and in cold water. I have never enjoyed a shower so much as in Cartagena. We plan to hit the streets again tonight when the sun goes down for our last evening in Colombia. We have both come to love this country and its people. I don’t say this often (because there are so many countries I have yet to explore) but I will definitely be returning to Colombia. I don’t think I could leave if I thought this was goodbye for good.

That’s all for now… next stop: Ecuador!

Beach Day at Playa Blanca

Today was… eventful.

Laura and I arrived in Cartagena, Colombia yesterday afternoon after flying on our first South American airline, Avianca. It was THE BEST flight! We had English television and spacious seats and the service was excellent. Colombia has been so impressive.

We arrived by taxi to our adorable little hotel in Bocagrande called Hotel San Pietro. It´s about 30 minutes outside the city and a mere 3 minute walk from the beach. We absolutely love it! The weather is extremely hot and humid; nothing like Bogota. We are extremely thankful for our A/C… that´s for sure. We’re also big fans of our roof top hammocks. Now I really feel like I’m on vacation!

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Today we decided to take a boat tour to the Isla del Rosario, which are 27 islands just off the coast of Cartagena… or at least I think so. We actually don´t really know what we´ve seen since we appear to be the only white females in the city. All the other tourists are from Colombia as well so the tour was led completely in Spanish… great!

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Our first stop was on an island where we could take an optional visit to an Aquarium. We didn´t want to pay the extra to see what looked like the worst aquarium in existence so we opted to bake in the sun instead. We had to push away some pesky vendors for a while but they mostly left us alone. More boats arrived throughout the morning and we watched as idiotic tourists proceeded to buy raw seafood from the sketchy vendors on the dock. When is that ever a good idea? Do you really want raw shrimp that badly?

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Fortunately, we made friends with the most adorable Colombian family in the whole wide world who ended up saving our lives later that day.  And then, we met the day´s entertainment… the oddest couple you could imagine. First, meet Daniel: a middle-aged, overweight, gay flight attendant from Miami. He complained about pretty much everything but won us over with his hilarious comments and unique charm… oh and Laura enjoyed having the company of a fellow red head. Then, meet Luis: a native Ecuadorian, gypsy/flight attendant who agreed to travel with Daniel and act as his translator.

Once we arrived at our afternoon destination, Playa Blanca, we spent the whole afternoon chatting with our new amigos. Luis speaks 6 languages and has been to virtually every country in existence. In short… I want to be Luis. We found a secluded spot on the gorgeous white beach and floated in the warm Caribbean ocean for hours. It was so wonderful.

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Playa Blanca

On our walk back to the boat… Laura and I were standing with Daniel as we got harrassed by more vendors selling goods that I wouldn´t even donate to MCC. Daniel then proceeded to auction Laura and I off to one young and unsuspecting vendor. “Which one of these lovely ladies would you like? We have Miss Vancouver and Miss Toronto over here.” The vendor quickly decided to vacate the premise. Daniel was an expert at giving the locals a hard time.

The boat ride back was also an experience. Our motor boat was driving so fast that we crashed up and down on every wave. Laura was continually splashed with water as we went so that provided some humor… although I´ll definitely need to see a chiropractor when I get home.

The worst part of our day was once we got back to the main dock. All of the other guests on our boat magically disappeared and we were left standing in our towels, without a guide, without a bus, and completely clueless. Hmm… we wandered around the “terminal” aimlessly until we stumbled upon our favourite little Colombian family who we promised to email pictures to when we got home. They didn´t speak any English but they understood that we were clearly lost. They offered to share a cab with us and tried to explain to the driver where our hotel was. We found it thanks to my amazing ability to remember the two intersecting streets at the corner by our hotel. I am no longer directionally challenged!!!! Anyways, we were never so relieved to see our room again and to shower away the salt. However, Laura was left looking like a little lobster.

We decided to treat ourselves after our long ordeal and waited till the sun went down to take a lovely stroll to Crepes & Waffles. This restaurant was so gorgeous. We sat on the outdoor patio and I had waffles with Arequipe (like caramel) and Bananas. Laura had a vegetarian pita. We were both so satisfied! Ice cream has become a nightly tradition in Cartagena.

Well, the Internet lineup is growing so I better vacate my seat. Miss you all but I am having the time of my life!