Sunday, October 4, 2015

#travelpost - Ruta del Sol, Ecuador

Making our way to the coast of Ecuador wasn't difficult but took a couple of bus journeys from Baños to Guayaquil to Puerto Lopez but it turned out to be worth it as we got a short stop off in Guayaquil. We'd been told my numerous people to avoid Guayaquil but that was mostly due to them staying around the bus station and like most cities we all know bus stations aren't  usually placed in the most welcoming of areas. So we went with our instinct and spent a lazy afternoon there. The waterfront is the main area to go to if you're short on time. It's filled with museums, bars and restaurants and if you go a little further you come to the neighbourhood Las Peñas... A hill of winding streets and colourful houses, famous for its array of art galleries. We had a stroll and Harry made it to the lighthouse while I watched some kids play hide and seek and may have been giving the younger, breathless, red faced one a bit of extra help... We happened to stay in one of the nicer hostels we've been in for a while too which was an extra bonus. That night thanks to a treat off my mum and dad we headed to a place on the front that we'd read about, they offered all you can eat crab plus a beer, crab soup and crab rice... I don't think we can look at another crab for a while. 

After a great sleep and recovering from our food coma we got the bus to Puerto Lopez, our first stop on the coast. 

Puerto Lopez isn't big but the bus terminal is a little out of the centre so we grabbed a tuk tuk like car to our hotel. Not even a hostel! We were here for two nights so there was no rush on doing anything for our first afternoon. For a late lunch we found a Colombian place serving our favourite patacon... Flattened plantain topped with cheese and a vegetable salsa, it was the best one we'd had and it wasn't even in Colombia. That night we people watched on the beach and hit up happy hour at the bar next door. 

The next day we had breakfast (there was a choice of three!) and got changed for our whale watching tour. We spent $18 and got a boat ride to see the whales in Machalilla National Park, spotting blue footed boobies (famous in the Galapagos), tortoise watching, snorkelling on the beach in the national park and drinks and snacks before the ride back. It was perfect!! We were lucky to still catch the whales because the season is only July-September but with it being early October the guy said we could still be lucky... And we were! We saw a family mum, dad and baby and it was unreal! The baby was jumping about all over the place and the parents were huuuuge! After the boat trip we remembered that our fave TV guy Anthony Bourdain came to Puerto Lopez and he raved over the ceviche so we had a menu del dia and ordered some.. It was so good! For the rest of the day we had a beer on the beach, went for pizza we'd been craving for days and once again happy houred! All in all we loved Puerto Lopez mostly for the whales but for a dusty, sleepy town we had some great food and saw one of the best experiences we've ever had! 

And my favourite picture.....

On Sunday morning we had breakfast and moved on to a small surf hostel, Viejamar, that we'd booked for the night 15 minutes away down the coast. When we got there Buena Vista Social Club were suitably playing and we had the warmest welcome from the Chilean owner Rodrigo and the bunch of volunteers that were currently staying there. Everyone was super nice and from all over the place... Australia, Finland, Spain, France. Within the first 5 minutes we'd seen two huge, bright green iguanas in the trees, Rodrigo wasn't happy though, he said they eat all of his plants... The hostel was one huge garden on the beach, filled with mango trees, banana trees, herbs, avocado trees, even a tree that had a sign for jasmin on it and tonnes of bright pink flowers. All we saw Rodrigo do that day was potter around in his garden! There was a lounge, a pool and some hammocks up on the beach. We literally did nothing for 24 hours except play in the pool, lie on the beach and eat at Jimmys restaurant.... Some delish shrimp rice and shrimp in peanut sauce which was really good!! I think the hostel was one of the busiest we'd stayed in for ages yet I'm pretty sure we were the only customers! Haha   

Ok, so our final stop down the coast was a party, surf town called Montañita. we didn't know what to expect from the place... Every time we mentioned to someone that's where we were heading they'd give us a small giggle and smirk and tell us to enjoy it. We got there and it really wasn't as bad as what we thought but we stayed on a Monday and Tuesday night so I think it was a little more tame than a weekend. It was about 4 or 5 streets worth of stalls selling Montañita merch, tonnes of bars and restaurants and its own Calle de Los Cockteles... An endless street filled with cocktail stalls, each as cheap as the other. We stayed at a really nice hostel on the beach and spent the two days we had there laying on the sand and on Monday night we had drinks in town and perched ourselves at one of the cocktail shacks. All in all for 48 hours Montañita wasn't that bad and we actually had two of the best meals we've had so far in Ecuador there... One place gave us Chupe de Pescado a creamy fish soup with battered fish in it and a Peruvian place gave us green curried fish which soooo good! 

So that's the coast of Ecuador finished... Today we are going to our final place Cuenca and in 3 days we cross the border to Peru... And surprise, our first stop there will be Mancora, another surfing town on North coast.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

#travelpost - Quilotoa and Baños

Getting to Quilotoa took a fair bit of travelling but we arrived just after sunset on Sunday. We stayed at Alpaca hostel which was a big old cosy house with a huge lobby filled with log burners and armchairs. It was like going back in time for the night... The family that run the place were wearing their traditional hats and outfits and there were even two big iron kettles on top of the biggest burners for our coffee and tea. We dropped our bags off in our room and it was freezing! The beds came with 2 blankets and a huge feather duvet and we had our own much needed log burner too. We hurried out for food because someone at the hostel reminded us about the super moon.... I've never seen anything like it. They said it would be best at half nine but  we sneaked out a little earlier. The sky was unreal, it looked fake! I've never seen so many stars in my life and you could even see the dusty shape of the nebula. By half nine the moon was big and had a reddish glow and it was frrreeeezing I'm talking two pairs of socks, two pairs of leggings and walking boots cold so we had one last admire and to bed we went. A few card games later we were tucked up with the fire burning.

The next morning we had breakfast at the huge communal dining table in the lobby... Eggs, pastries, oats, fruit, jam and coffee. After brekkie we got changed and headed to the famous crater lake of Quilotoa, it was an easy 3 minute walk from the hostel as we were greeted good morning by the locals. It was sunny but so so windy! The lake was one of the best things I've ever seen... A huge bowl filled with turquoise water.. The sides were so steep and high. We walked around it for a good 40 minutes, had a sit down and planned a bit of our route through Ecuador and strolled back. It was a strange, cold night in a very, very quiet town but it was so worth it to see the lake. 

At midday the next day we caught the bus back to Latacunga, a town with not much to see or do but it was a useful stop over for our next place and our hostel had a view of Cotopaxi volcano. Active and smoking. We did want to go to Cotopaxi National Park but because of the recent activity it's shut to visitors for safety and the only hostel available cost an arm an a leg so we saw it from afar for a quarter of the price. That night we shared pizza with some other guys staying over and picked up a new card game with the classy name Shithead... It's a lot better than it sounds I promise.

After a stopover night in Latacunga it was time to head to Baños, famous for its volcano heated natural baths and enough activities to last days. 

We stayed in Great Hostel yep that was the actual name and it was actually pretty decent. Both nights we got free dinner and both mornings we got free breakfast. All we need now is free beer. We only had one afternoon and a full day in Baños so for the first afternoon we headed straight to the baths. In the centre of town, next to a waterfall, was the Piscinas de la Virgin... A set of pools  hot, medium and cold... Rumour has it that the water is so full of natural minerals and other things that it has healing properties. After the baths and a bit of a boozy night at the hostel bar we woke up and went on the hunt for bikes to rent. We got some for $5 each for the day and started our ride... We were heading for Pailon del Diablo, a huge waterfall some kilometres away from the town. The views were great and the ride wasn't too bad, a lot of downhill helped me out. After an hour and a half of riding, we made it to the waterfall but not without a walk down the hill to get close enough. Harry was brave enough to crawl through the extra stairway that led behind the waterfall but as usual I waited in a more safer spot and admired the view. As promised before I'd agreed to do the bike ride, we avoided the uphill ride back and jumped in the back of a truck with a few other riders and off we went back to town. We got home around 3ish and with the football being on I made the most of being able to have an afternoon shower and siesta and a quiet night of writing this and repacking my messy backpack. 

So, our plan is... Tomorrow (Thursday) morning we travel to Guayaquil for the night and from there we have 6 days on the coast in a few fishing villages and surfer towns. With my current tan you'd think I hadn't been on a beach for months! 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#travelpost - Quito and Mindo, Ecuador

We crossed the border with no problems and after a bit of a slog of a bus ride getting to the capital Quito, we made it. We arrived just before 5 so dropped our bags off and had enough time to wander down to the main square and get our bearings.

The first thing I noticed was the altitude... they said in Bogotá that we might have had problems but we were alright... Quito is even higher. I was ok but you can just feel it in your body, you get immediately tired and breathless every time you go for a walk. I constantly felt like I was being lazy even though I'd spent my days walking up and down the steep streets. So, because of the tiredness, we tried to fill our days and rest at night... Quito old town made that easy as after 8pm everything closed and left us with nothing to do unless you had the energy to get a cab across town which the boys did do one night.... I spent my evening watching some Kardashian fuelled guilty pleasure tv. 

Back to Quito.
It reminded us a lot of Lisbon... crumbling but pretty buildings, narrow shops, steep inclines and hole in the wall restaurants. 

Day one:
We started our first day by heading up to the top of the Basílica del Voto Nacional for a view of the city. The steps weren't too bad until we had to cross a weird walkway above the arched ceiling... there was a black steep ladder that we had to go up but I got half way and made the mistake of looking down so I immediately decided that I'd made it high enough for myself already. Harry kept going and came back 15 minutes later in shock and almost white .... apparently the steep set of ladders only led to two more sets.. outside... in the open air... vertically up the side of the tower. He did it but he didn't seem happy.  The rest of our day led to some squares, a market, some free museums, a hole in the wall for lunch and an old school cafe that our book had recommended us. I tried the local hot drink ponche, it was described as an eggy milk drink topped with cinnamon... it was strange but wasn't too bad. It taste like a liquid egg custard haha and was served in a huge jarra glass. That night we made the most of having a big kitchen and not many people to share it with and made a steak and onion sandwich! 

Day two: 
For our second and last day in Quito we bought some granola for breakfast and had it with our free eggs and bread, did some catching up via facetime and caught the bus to the equator! We had to catch two busses and it took us just under an hour, it was easy and cheap. When you get there it's made to feel like a small village... with different museum buildings, restaurants, cafes and gift shops. Right at the back is the huge monument labelled North, South, East and West and there's a small area with a egg and a nail... you can balance the egg on the nail if you try because there's less gravity. After, we did some touristy things, took photos, picked up some odd bits from the gift shop and off we went back into town. We didn't do much else for that day as we'd seen a lot of the old town the day before and the altitude really gets to you when you're on the move so after some food we ended up back at the hostel for a siesta. That night we cooked in again and had a cute veggie pasta dish and sprawled it to new episodes of Modern Family and the Goldbergs. Bliss.

The next morning we had eggs and granola and set off to Mindo for 9 o`clock. Mindo is a small town 2 hours from Quito, it's famous for a handful of adventure sports and birdwatching. We stayed in Cabañas Armonia, a cutesy set of wooden cabins filled with checked wool blankets and a hammock in the front porch. We stayed in Mindo for two nights overall... we went zip lining over the forest canopy which entailed having to throw my legs up in the air whilst my head and arms were dangling below.... it was terrifying and it was called the butterfly. Minus the butterfly it wasn't scary at all, there was a superman move and me and Haz even got to do one together! The only other thing we did in Mindo, except go for a few quiet beers, was the chocolate tour... we tasted the beans fresh from the pod, after fermentation and after roasting, we had a tour of the farm and then we got to taste! With coffee... with chilli... with bbq... and the best brownie I've ever tasted. I've tasted a lot of brownies.

So that was our welcome to Ecuador over with. So far we love it and we're about to slowly work our way down south and then head to the coast!

Ciao x