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Ecuador - South America

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Its Land Adventures - Fishing for Piranha, Whipped by Snakes and Dining on Coroso

Quito, Tena, Otavalo, Cuyobeno, Pijili, Rio Bamba, Nariz del Diablo, Cuenca


Discovering South America.

Quito Looking Down

Quito

Its Just the Beginning

Aquí estoy en el Ecuador - Estoy frío

Well its obviously going to be an adventure with a rather worrying start and an interesting and rather strange flight. Arriving at Gatwick I found that that another plane had crashed on take off in Madrid. There have been 2 stories so far. The first was that there was a fire in an engine and the plane overshot the runway with 7 injured. The second was that a lightish aircraft with around 150 passengers failed to gain enough speed for lift off tried to go on, then came off the runway and broke up, with 50 dead. Maybe both are correct. I am not sure at the time but later I hear that 150 died. Anyway there was a 3 hour delay while we waited for news of our plane which was held up in Madrid. It eventually arrived and still got me there with 3 hours to spare for my connection flight. The terminal was rather old and the few transit passengers had to navigate the long badly signposted blue corridors. Eventually finding our way barred by a closed glass door. We tapped and waved until an official came and checked passports. Do you have a visa Signor? Oh no, I am sure you do not need a visa, I thought - "No!". Do you have a boarding pass? Oh this is getting worse "No Signor I do not, I have come from London? "Bale no problemo that way to the check in!". "F'wew!! thank goodness for that!"

There were already hordes of people waiting in an endless queue that seemed to snake the
terminal building and I managed to solve the problem by surreptitiously mixing with a group of parents and kids and then sneaking in at the front.

Flying into Madrid was interesting - Some of the roads and parts of the city seemed very well lit, presumably the air was very clear, with surrounding areas pitch black apart from the odd house or car showing beams of light. This gave a very strange illusion that all the lights were
surround by a black sea just occasionally lit by the odd small craft.

The flight to Quito was packed with local Ecuadorian's and they all seemed to have at least 5 bags each in the cabin which took ages to stow, while they all gabbled away moving from seat to seat while playing an intricate version of music less chairs. Eventually everything and everyone got parked and we set off for a 10 hour flight - luckily I slept for most of the way and it was fine.

The plane descended for landing into thick cloud which only reduced to mist then haze at about the 10 story level as we suddenly burst out, buildings on either side. Hitting the runway hard and ploughing to taxi speed in a series of stamped on brakes which threw us forward against the seat belts. Then a hard left swerving hand brake turn into the parking and disembarkation area. Never have I stopped so quickly!

Getting off and getting my single small bag was just as interesting, as luggage spewed from the hold it seemed never ending then I realised why, they all had at least 3 or 4 large bags and one guy had 6 massive suitcases all in excess of all the cabin baggage - George Bush's pathetic policies have obviously not been heard of here!!!!

Getting settled in Quito

Aquí estoy en Quito, el Ecuador - Estoy frío

We landed at 0600 and by 0800 I have just checked into, El Arupa, a small locally run hostel more like a B&B but very pleasant with charming rooms and friendly staff. Its $25 per night. First impressions of Quito are that its pretty cool and misty the clouds are low and gray its going to be cold at night! Well I have nothing planned other than to settle in relax, get my email organised and catch up on my outstanding work. So I settle down to clearing my messages and booking enquiries and start networking and setting up contacts. I am nearly organised but tired and thinking of an early night to get over the jet lag when Fabian calls - would I like to meet for a beer. Fabian is an internet contact. I hesitate for a milli second, almost say no, but you only live once. "I would love to!" "Where shall we meet?" No problem I will pick you up at around 9 O'clock. Fabian was also responsible for sending me info on where to stay and other useful advice.

Well we are out on the town and first stop is Fin McCools the ubiquitous Irish Pub in town. Ursula and Lee run the place and give me a warm welcome immediately involving us in what is going on. Its not long before we have been absolutely slaughtered at table football due to my total incompetence - well you cannot be good at everything! But I manage to give the locals a run for their money on the pool table. Fabian is an extremely interesting guy, with his own publishing business, he is also a photographer and micro light pilot as well as an excellent ambassador for Ecuador.

Then on to Cats to meet the local set. Its not long before I am introduced to Carolina who is in a particularly garrulous mood. She is obviously de stressing after a recent group of Italian tourists staying in her family's mountain lodge and she certainly seems to be pleased about their departure. Anyway within no time I know all about her lodge, Ecuador's problems and particularly all the political in-fighting regarding the Presidents changes to the constitution pending the forthcoming elections. The gang has to go and the jet lag kicks in and it is still time for a reasonably early night.

Friday was a day of sight seeing in the rain and a walk into old town?I stop in a small local street side restaurant for a $2 lunch which took some organising with my stumbling Spanish but I managed to get a bowl of soup and stewed beef with rice and very nice it was too. I strolled around a small market looking at the brightly coloured scarves, ponchos, jumpers and blankets. The ancient colonial buildings in the old town look very tired in this atmosphere as the clouds roll in and it starts to look grim in the drizzling rain. A few scruffy Andean kids begging make the place seem even more depressing.

Quito at night Quito Quito
Quito Quito Quito

Weekend at Cabinas Isidro

Fabian gets in touch again would I like to go out of town to the mountains to a place near Tena called Cabinas Isidro.

He picked me up at around 1000 and as we leave the city there are dozens of buses bearing large green flags depicting the President. Apparently there is a big demonstration and the government is paying for people to be ferried to town all to gain more support for the elections and help carry through changes in the constitution which may be designed to see the President re - elected or even safety ensconced in power for the rest of his lifetime. Further on there also scores of cars parked along the way bedecked in more elaborate pictures of El Presidente.

As we get out of the city Fabians rally driving skills pick up, usually driving on the left instead of the right and we move fast past buses and trucks, well everything actually! The road is sometimes good but frequently is covered in grit as often as not on the corners, then it changes and the surface is unmade. Everything is new the landscape is surreal, green but sparse as the altitude increases. The oil pipeline runs parallel and we pass a couple of pumping stations. There is a magical fell in the air as mist swirls around the peaks, a sort of mystical quality which makes one feel close to the Gods. We reach the highest point of the drive at 4,040 meters and start our descent back down to around 2,000 meters.

Its a perfectly timed trip and we arrive just in time for a delicious lunch of Pasta followed by ice cream with black pepper and basil sauce. Mmmmmm

View from Cabinas Isidro

 

Time to work off the lunch and take a hike, we take a circular path passing some humming bird feeders with dozens of tiny humming birds buzzing each other for a chance to get at the sugar water. Then on and into the cloud forest. Every tree is a profusion of moss, lichen, epiphytes, and parasitic plants. Its a forest in a forest. Close to the river the background noise increases and the roar of the river over the rapids drowns out the jungle sounds to provide a strange tranquility blocking out the other jungle sounds.

It is surprisingly cool and fresh like an English spring day. Even at this level walking especially up hill is exerting and soon warms you up enough to perspire but as soon as you level off the perspiration cools into icy clammy patches.

Well sorry to say I am now a twitcher, having seen a female Masked Trogan and Black Billed Mountain Toucan

Female masked Trogan Orchid in the Rain Forest Fabian and Carolina
Forest stream The river A forest in a forest

http://cabanasanisidro.com/

Back in Quito

Back in town for some more organisation and planning before Tony arrives at 2100 in the evening. I squeeze in a two hour Spanish lesson to get me going and follow that with an hour of Salsa. By the time I get to Salsa my head is reeling and my brain don't work so I have at least 4 left feet. Tony is an old (I think he has always been old actually) friend whom I have known for 30 plus years. We are going to be traveling together. I meet him at the airport. Back in town he is shocked when we go to Fin Mc Cools and ends up playing table football and pool. Oh well I thought he liked table football - some people you just cannot please!

The next morning we go and visit Carolina at her office to try and make some plans for the next few weeks. Then out sight seeing to the museum and art gallery. The most impressive exhibits were a twinned image of a naked white washed woman eating a meal while her double sat beside her vomiting. And almost equally inspiring was a manikin dressed in a suit with his trousers round his ankles and his Y fronts round his knees, dick in hand but strangely unable to pee. Call me old fashioned but is that really art? Well I guess its made an impression on me even if the impression is not aesthetically pleasing - I guess that's it in my view art should be pleasant. Then on for another look at the old town this time the sun is out and it is much more inviting and interesting with lots of local people around.

Ice Cream Seller Nice looking Policia waiting for something
Oh I wish I could Pee Last of the summer wine Shopping in Quito

Then we decide to walk to the cable car for a view of Quito. It seems easy and we walk for some time, until we stop and ask some locals who advise us strongly to get a taxi. We did and were very pleased when we saw the long and winding route to the car which seemed to have been completely missed from our foreshortened map.

The cable car is a six person gondola and queue for a short time and then ride to the top at 4,100 meters. Strolling around the top there are magnificent views of the city sprawling in the valley 1,400 meters below us. The clouds darken and start rolling in and it looks as though there will soon be rain. I decide to go higher up and take a path. I have already experienced breathlessness under exertion at 2,000 - 3,000 maters so I set off power walking to see what the effects will be. Walking fast up a steep incline toward the crest of another hill , My heart starts to pound and I am breathing harder and harder gasping for breath. Pushing on as far as I can. At about 500 meters I can go no further, completely out of breath and gasping for oxygen, head spinning, pulse racing, I am forced to stop and recover. After five minutes or so I finally gather enough breath to walk on slowly now over the crest to where some Indians are offering horse rides at $10 an hour - now that's a much better idea! But the clouds are moving in, its spitting with rain and it is now getting very cold so time to head back to town.

Fabian calls and suggests a drive out to restaurant with a good view of the city. It turns out to be spectacular. We sit eating well above the old town and not only are the city lights and traffic twinkling below but it is almost as though they were reflected above in the sky. The waiter is working flat out on his own and struggling to keep up with the orders. He is not impressed when I dither and he disappears. Tony has decided that he is the most miserable waiter he has ever met and complains about some plastic in his food, asks for some water to drink. Later when it is changed on the bill he refuses to pay for it and demands that it be removed. We pay up and leave but Fabian leaves a tip to smooth things over.

Quito is often shrouded in clouds, a very cool mist which settles around the city and chills you to the bones. Until it draws back like curtains from time to time and the sun bursts through and warms you through again. Even then you really would not believe that you were on the equator.

Otavalo

Fruit Market Pigs Ear - Well Whole Head Near the Falls
Market Tony Falls Cuicoche Lake

Up early the following morning we catch a taxi to the bus station and the driver does us proud by finding the right bus, beeping his horn he swerves in front of it. Shouting at the bus driver he helps with our bags, collects his fare and is off. Clambering on board we find our seats and the bus duly roars off up the hills snaking its way out of Quito. In Otavalo we jump off at the main terminal and walk towards the centre looking for some where near the market. Eventually it is found and we head off to explore. The place seems pretty quiet and we walk around find the craft market with its multi coloured scarves, blankets, rugs and clothes. There is a pie shop on one side of the square and it has delicious meringue and blackberry pie which we sample. Then on to the food market full of fruit, vegetables, meat, and whole cooked pigs. The old square, churches and all the buildings are all neatly set out in blocks.

We find a taxi driven by Louis and we agree an hourly rate with him to go to la Cascades (the waterfalls), San Paolo Lake, Cuicoche Lake and then to Cotacache where they make leather goods.

Then we head off for dinner towards a place we have already seen and I am accosted by a Colombian woman obviously looking for some business or at least some free drinks. She could have looked reasonably attractive but for her scruffy and disheveled appearance. She has a scar across her forehead and a large bite mark on her left cheek, her sweater is dirty and her fly zip is undone. However, she talks no stop about her life and her problems, having nowhere to stay, the men who want her body and she wants to go for a beer. It takes a while to politely extract myself from the conversation and as the restaurant is close we decide to walk past and return when the coast is clear. The restaurant was a little rustic but the food was good.

Carolina had found us some lodges in Cayobeno national park but at between $700 and $1000 for 5 days 4 nights we thought that was rather expensive. Now we are back on the internet I have a message to say that she has somewhere for $260 if we can get to Largo Agrio the following morning by 10.30.

Dracaena Jungle Lodge

Our Truck The Canoe and Graziella The Village
Sunning Itself Coroso Grub - Mmmmm Whip Snake

The next morning we are up early and get a taxi back to Quito airport. We have checked with the Hotel and expected to be paying $15 for our fare but when we arrive the driver wants $40. We argue a bit but give up as we want to get our flight. We get to the check in desk but the flight is full. We are sent off to wait in stand by. At just before 10.00 they have seats and we pay for our tickets but there is a delay and we have to wait to board the small Tame jet. Eventually we take off and arrive in Largo Agrio about an hour late. Marco. our contact is still there with Cathy and Carolina who are also guests. We jump into his bright green pick up and we are off into the Jungle - somewhere? We bounce around for three hours passing oil pipeline, pumping stations and a huge palm oil plantation. At San Gregory we stop for lunch and board the waiting 40 foot canoe for our lodge on the Rio Cayobeno. Winding down the river we weave amongst sand banks, fallen trees and floating logs. Gazing at the farms, small holdings and areas of cleared jungle. It gradually thickens up, the trees get taller and we are in the jungle skimming towards the Amazon. The Rio Cayobeno joins the rio Aguarico, then the Napo, Marawon and then the Amazon. We stop at the local commune or village before we arrive at our lodge and there is a chance for a quick wander around. The buildings are basic wooden and palm thatch and there is a stand to watch the sports, a school a couple of shops and a bar with a pool table which served remarkably cold $2 beers - Just a tad expensive but what the hell its been a long day and there is not exactly any competition.

We arrive in time for a quick shower in muddy brown river water, there are no towels so I drip dry and get ready for dinner. The hut is wooden sided, there are no windows, with a palm thatch and floorboard which look through to the ground. There are only candles and no electricity. And I am paying $65 a night for this - I wonder what I might have had if i had plaid $700 or $900. We go for dinner and check in on what Graziella the cook is doing. By the time we have had dinner Paola, our guide, is suggesting a night walk. but I am very tired and it is all I can do to get to bed.

Morning comes and the dawn chorus starts well before dawn - something is drilling for oil until it stops at about 0530 but then new noises start and I am wide awake. Just as well we are going on an early morning walk before breakfast. Well I did a couple, one on my own and the other with the guide. No Anacondas to wrestle or Jaguars to pet!

After breakfast we are off on a 3 hour walk to an old jungle lodge. There is plenty to see and we pass termites nests, a large nest of leaf eating ants, with bees living along side. There is plenty about including a 2 meter Whip Snake, Its dark top and yellow belly stretched across our path. It watches us but seems unperturbed and slowly climbs the tree away from us. Not much further on as we slowly move on there is a sudden rustle and flurry in the leaves at the base of a tree, I see a dark branch like thing flick up and the flurry projects its self towards me, leaves flying. It materialises into a long black pipe which extends itself forward seemingly at the speed of a bullet passing inches from my toes. There is no time to think let alone react but the snake passes, its the same species but about 2 inches across and 3 metes in length. They are not poisonous but can whip with their tail. We see Puma tracks, Black and Squirrel Monkeys as well as Morphious butterflies, yellow rumped cacique birds, russet backed oropendula and scarlet and blue and yellow macaw. Mostly the walk is quite easy until we get to a small river that has be crossed by walking across a fallen tree. As the tree bounces around its not so easy even with a pole to help the balance.

At the old camp there is time for a swim and some relaxation before the canoe arrives to take us to the local community. The rain arrives in torrents and we wander around the school and looking at arts and crafts in our ponchos. We of course find our way to a shop selling beer. They also have a drink called Chicha which is basically yukka (cassava) with banana fermented for a few days. They told us that in the past this was masticated by the women and then left to ferment. We also had time to view an anti oil company video which was being presented by an Italian visitor who was apparently working at the village. It's amazing to find so much politics in such a remote place and it just serves to remind one that the greed in the world knows no boundaries and people are as ever encroaching into other peoples domains with various agendas to preserve or destroy - but all for their own benefit.

Back to the camp for dinner and Tony is not feeling well.

"It must be that Chicha." he mutters as he excuses himself from the table and goes to bed. Later I find that he has been violently ill and as I have told him that the best Chicha is chewed by virgins he of course now recons his was chewed by old hags!

After dinner its time to look for Cayman a fresh water crocodile. We sit in the canoe with torches and shine them across the water looking for the bright twin red dots shining back which marks the reflection from their eyes. Eventually we spot one and the canoe glides up to it while Fabian the guide dips his hand in the water and pulls it out with one hand gripping its jaw and the other its lower body. Not exactly Crocodile Dundee but it takes a deft movement to garb the blinded Cayman without getting bitten.

Day three and 4 guests leave us. There is just Tony and I and Cathy and Carolina which makes a very pleasant group. Much smaller and quieter, it is now easier to hear the jungle sounds and hopefully the tramping of feet and chattering will not scare so much away. Sure enough we soon find a large group of black mantle tamarind monkeys, squirrel monkeys as well as bushy tailed red squirrels moving around in the trees. We watch for a while but they have seen us and gradually move off. Fabian our guide stops by a canambo palm which has small nuts and shows us a small pencil like deposit of coconut inside. He then finds an older one and cuts the top off to expose a white grub about an inch long which has formed inside the nut and eaten all the coconut. The grub is eaten by the locals and tastes like the coconut it lives inside.

"Would you like to eat one?"

"Why not." I say, thinking - well there won't be much for dinner!

So I pull it from the nut, place it my hand and I pop it in my mouth, biting into it, the skin bulges and pops, the juicy insides squirt across my tongue. I decide to spit out the chewy skin and swallow the rest. At first there is no flavour but it slowly becomes apparent and then quite strong - yes it does taste of chicken! No I mean coconut!

We come to a clear area where small Duroya trees have grown but the jungle has not. The trees have poisonous roots and other plants or trees cannot grow there. The trees are covered by ants which have made homes inside the core of the branches and trunk. The ants, Hormegas de Limon taste of lemon but you need a few to quench the appetite.

"I say just pop a few ants in my tea would you - Jeeves!"

Then there is a lesson on how to trap animals using a tree bent over with a noose. It seems this is more effective than blow pipes. There is no end to the entertainment here. We come to a tree with lianas handing down and now we are tested on our Tarzan impersonations. Tony's was excellent until I realised it was terror making him yell. Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrh as he swung towards another tree, threatening to collide face first with it. Oh well I think it was the guides way of making a monkey out of us - he succeeded.

Back for lunch a rest and then Piranha fishing from the canoe. We paddled a way down stream and then set our hooks in a quiet tributary. The Piranhas were fast and often got the meat before we knew they where there. I caught one - well it looked like a Piranha until you looked in its mouth and saw that its teeth had fallen out. Eventually our guide did get one and whilst it looked like mine, his still had its teeth. Then on to the Bird watching tower where we saw four Howler Monkeys doing nothing, not even howling, as they are apt to do perched in the top of a tree. We clamber down as the sun sets and the firefly's come out. Its back to dinner on our last night. We get some music out, I get some local Crystal liquor to make cyperina and we ask the Paola and Graziella to give us some salsa lessons which is great fun but with our limited steps we settle back to the more serious pastime of drinking.

" Ariba, Abajo, Acentro, Aventro!!"

The morning comes, the head hurts and its time to go. Breakfast over, we get into the canoe and head back into the now swollen and foaming river. It has been raining somewhere and we have to plough in a fierce head stream full of floating debris to get back to our truck to return to Largo Agrio. Andre is our new driver and gets us back to the airport. we are not booked in to the next day due to complete cock up in communication but we get on the waiting list and again we make the VIP flight back to Quito where we stay in Albert's house as El Arupo is full.

Pijili

Its now tuesday the 2nd September and we catch the bus to Latacungo and then on to Pijili (Poohillee for you) to see the market. We spend some time looking for a Hosteria but the one in town is closed and after asking half a dozen people a woman from one of the shops takes me to a taxi and tells the driver to take us to a Hostal just out of town. Its not too bad and the old man that runs it seems very pleasant and helpful.

The next morning we are up and ready for the market which is very local and we are the only tourists there. Taking it in turns to guard our bags we wander round. Rows of Indian women sit on the floor selling their vegetables, and other wares. Other more permanent vendors have stalls selling, chickens, meat and other goods. There are some crafts as well and I bargain for a cap for Tony and a sweater for me. I didn't really think about the actual price as I worked the price down from 35 to 16 - I was happy until I worked out that it cost £8 - hmmmmm was that such a bargain? I must be in a buying mood and get some CD's, Pan pipes and Salsa. The locals do not like having their photos taken, believing that a photo will capture their spirit, so I walk around with my camera in my left hand hanging down and click away, pointing and shooting. Some scowl at me as they realise my ploy, but are not really sure, so I survive to tell the tale.

Selling in the Market Cuy Indian Des Res
Pony on the Run Largo Quilotoa Llama and Sheep

Back to Latacunga the main town where we look for a way to get to lake Quilotoa. After a bit of bartering we finally agree on a guide called Marcello for $50 and we head back to Pijili (if only we had known) and on up into the mountains. Marcello doesn't speak English which is a great incentive for me to make a complete fool of myself in Spanglish but at least I mainly get understood.

We stop at a local Indians hut. The hillside has been dug away and a wooden roof pitch fitted over a 12 foot square. It is covered in earth for warmth and what looks like a grass thatch to stop the rain. Very dark inside with only a candle we can make out about 10 or so Cuy, the Guinea Pigs they keep for food. Marcello is give some potatoes as a present. There are at least 8 people living here and they all sleep on blankets on the straw on the floor.

Driving on to Quilotoa. we drive high up and come to a group of huts amongst cold swirling mist. Stepping out of the truck we walk to the lip and look down at the huge emerald green crater lake. It is gray and cloudy and the lake seems to brood below. We walk down a steep track which is very wet and find the going muddy and slippery as we edge down a gully much like a bob slay run. My shoes have no traction and I can only remain upright by holding the walls with my hands - this becomes imperative as we manoeuvre past piles of Donkey or Horse manure. Walking on down we can see that the Crater sides are more or less just ash from the now extinct volcano and that they are eroding away slowly with the weather. On down the path I go and half way down I spot a small Pony coming back up on its own. Scanning around I see a man right at the bottom walking up and dressed in the same colour red as the saddle on the Pony. As he comes towards me with the clear intent of strolling by I turn slightly in order to grab the reins - this Pony is no fool sees the move and turns going almost vertically up the hill and round the rock. When I move around the rock he charges me and gallops past - casting a contemptuous glance at me - you won't catch me!

We walk between a row of rickety bamboo stalls and I buy a scarf before moving on to some really tired and dilapidated stone houses where they are selling food. We sit down in a room more akin to a stable than a restaurant, with our guide Marcello and order a meal. It comes, the sopa hot and steaming, the main meal a rice and meat, a very welcome warming combination sticking to the ribs and fending off the cold.

Rio Bamba

Back to Latacunga and a bus to Rio Bamba where we hope to get the train up to Alausi and the Nariz Del Diablo - The Devils Nose. Arriving in Rio Bamba after dark we look for a taxi to take us into town to a hostal. We get in one but he says there are no hostals in the centre and starts to drive us out of town. Tony is convinced that we are being kidnapped and although I am not bothered by this I soon realise that we are miles from where we should be and order him to stop and turn round. My Spanish has obviously improved because he does as I say and we go back to the Centre of town where we book into Rio Bamba Inn. Tony still thinks the taxi driver was conning us but it seems to me that there is a communication break down over the difference between Hotel and Hostal or Hosteria. We have a day in Rio Bamba to relax, get organised and buy our tickets for the train which is due to leave at 0700. I am told by Maria Hernandez the very attractive tourist information officer to be there early and arrive at 0600 but the line has been closed for a while and it turns out we could have arrived at 0700 and still got seats as not too many people seem to know about it. Still there is time to rent some cushions for our ride on the trains roof, drink coffee and eat our breakfast.

The diesel fires up the horn blares and we are off, people in the streets wave at the Gringos sitting on the roof. Passing through the old dilapidated yards we see some derelict cars and carriages as well as some more fancy and brightly painted ones. There is an old steam locomotive parked as monument just outside. One of our carriages is not required and is shunted into a siding.

Nariz del Diablo Loco Train Views
Train Views Looking down the Devils Nose The Engine

We are sitting on top of old goods wagons and we are on the front of the fourth behind the locomotive. The wagons are old and painted in red oxide, the roof is corrugated iron with a low rusty steel rail to keep us aboard. Just behind is a carriage for those who want to sit inside. The Brake man also sits on the roof close to us and ready to operate the brake from there. The train winds it way along a valley out of town following a river bed. People and kids stand outside waving as we go. I see that the the metal walkway down the centre of our carriage has lost several of its fixing and some of the welds have broken. I wonder how safe this is but having given the whole thing a look over I decide that it can only move and flex a bit and will not actually come off.

The train rumbles on along the river bank and sometimes through cuttings which are often soft and crumbly setting off small land slides as we pass. We pass under low hanging wires and branches and I hear later that two Asians were killed a few weeks back when they stood to take photos and got knocked off. Running down a small gradient we suddenly screech to a halt and the Brake man and a couple of the others go down to look at the wheel of the Locomotive. There are rocks on the track. A spanner is produced and some work proceeds under the train. Large steel chocks and wooden wedges also appear and these are fitted underneath and around the track, water and bushes are thrown under the wheels presumably a as lubricant. Eventually the engine moves us back and then forward again. Inching us down the wheels of each car are edged over a dip in the track, squeaking and screeching as they pass. As are carriage crosses I look down between the carriages and see a kink in the rails, the rails are actually loose and the fixing to the sleepers are broken. The wedges keep the rails in place and we ease over them.

On we go and pass an area where there has been a large land slide and the section of new and repaired track shows why the line was closed and how it has been repaired. Around a bend and the train slews to a stop again. This time there has been another small landslide across the tracks and the Driver, guards and brakeman all get down and move the rocks with their hands - no shovels!

It is very spectacular winding our way along the valleys, looking down at the river, across the valleys and up at the cloud shrouded mountains. Occasionally some locals jump onboard with some produce.

A third stop and again the rails are loose and the job this time is to insert steel plates between the left hand track and a third rail slightly nearer the centre, once done rocks are also thrown in and the rails wetted and bushes thrown in again. Again we edge forward until each carriage has past with screeches and squeals. All past and our brake man jumps onto the moving train and hauls himself up the ladder, muddy boots a careless tread, he is off balance, arms flailing he begins to fall between the carriages He grabs the brake wheel and I grab his arm and up he comes back on the roof.

Stopping at Gaumon station there is a market and we have a break for a look around and a coffee. Some locals join us for the trip. Then it's on to Alausi where there are lots more tourists waiting to join for the daring devils nose trip. We are standing chatting on the roof when I see an extra cushion in my place. So I ask who is Louis Lopez ( the name on the cushion). there is a woman seated in Tony's spot. She looks up and says "That's my friends he is sitting there". There is just a hint of german accent there.

Ah well we got the towels down first today mate - I think - "I am sorry but there isn't really enough room here, but there is plenty just here". I point to the other side.

"Ah but we want to sit this side there is plenty of room for us all - its alright we will just stay here."

"Look don't come here organising us!" I am sitting here and my friend is sitting there!" I say kicking the cushion out of my space. Tony tells me I am unfriendly as the woman scurries away and in those circumstances, no doubt, I was.

The Nariz Del Diablo was amazing, sheer drops down the mountain sides and the train eases its way along the precipices. Its the point where the train descends down the mountain side into a deep ravine. At one point dust rises and it is clear that there is a rock slide below us. We run into siding and the points are switched so that the train can run back onto track taking us down. We zig zag 4 times down the mountain, there are no bends, there is simply no room to turn. At the bottom we pause have a break and then head back returning to Alausi by 1500 only 3 hours late! During the ride along the devils nose I look again at our carriage roof and notice that the roof is moving, actually the whole carriage is twisting - that's the cause of the broken fixings and I doubt very much if it is safe at all.

Nearing our destination the clouds close in the cold has been biting at us all day and I am thankful for my thermal fleece vest. Now it starts to rain and we huddle on the roof Under our sheet of "plastico para lluvia" - a bin liner brought with us - but some of the guys had been trying to sell them to us before the start of our journey. They think of everything but we were just as sharp and got ours free from the hotel.

Well if you ever want to complain about British rail - think again!! This was a real Harrison Ford type adventure. I am not at all sure how safe this railway is but I would certainly not be surprised to hear of a serious accident here in the future.

Cuenca

Back at Alausi we get off the train in the drizzle, load our bags on the bus and get a warming meal, Plata del Dia, a bowl of soup and a plate of chicken, rice and chips. That's better, onto the coach and away to Cuenca. We arrive at Cuenca and check into Cafecita at about 2100 on a recommendation. Its a throbbing place and we settle down to enjoy a meal and relax after the taxing train and bus drive. Tony is off to bed yet again and I set off to check out the town. there seems to be plenty going on but its too hard to work out which are the good places so eventually I give up and return to bed.

Cuenca Cuenca Cuenca
Colonial Buildings Cuenca Roast Pig and Cuy

The next day we move to another hostel called Santa Fe. I have arranged to meet Paola and she arrives at the hotel at 1000. She suggests a walk and we set off to stroll around down by the river seeing some ruins built partly by the civilisation before the Incas and the Incas. There is the church where the first mass was held and later in the centre of town there is the first church built in Cuenca. Along the Qhapacnan (the Inca trail) we walk back to town to see the colonial style houses, market and the centre of town. There is a Cathedral, a copy of one in Rome and all the marble pillars have been brought from Italy. Paola is a great guide and explains all sorts of historical and cultural things to me. We discuss some of the current Ecuadorian politics and some of the ideas of the New President. It all sounds very impressive and progressive but I cannot help wondering if he will be just like all the rest - all hot air and no action.

We stop for a coffee and I am invited back home for lunch which is of course a very special treat for me. Back at their house Tanya (Paola's sister) is cooking the dinner and we take Tanya's daughter to the park. Mum arrives a bit later and joins in the preparation and it isn't long before lunch arrives and we all sit down to eat the clear chicken and boiled egg soup and chicken and rice - a delicious meal. Paola has some email to do and so do I. However, we meet again at the house at 1800 for coffee and a corn cake. This time Juan and Veronica (Paola's sister) have arrived and we all chat about bizarre foods and all sorts of other topics. We have arranged to meet Tony for something to eat and Juan volunteers to drive us around. we head up to a view point and look out over the city and then go down near the river to eat "Cuy" (guinea pig). We pull outside a shop with a roasted pig outside and other roasted meats on skewers. These turn out to be the fabled Cuy and they have been shafted onto a 2 inch diameter skewer presumably to get them cooked right through. We have a whole one between us with some corn - well it was not at all bad and do you know it didn't taste like chicken - a bit more like rabbit! Tony of course was reminiscing about Pixy Dixy and Annie his 3 guinea Pigs when he was a kid - strange to say that he ate the most!!

On To Peru

The next morning we are up and off to get the bus to Huaquillas on the boarder with Peru. It takes about 5 hours and we arrive at about 1400. The bus stops suddenly, I am asleep, but we are at Immigration and have to quickly jump off. I am in a daze and Tony is talking to some guy who is decidedly suspicious but I cannot grasp what is going on. We clear the formalities and head for the boarder about 7 k away. Andre gets us a taxi and gets in with us. I am still half asleep but ask why he is coming with us. We get to the boarder and he has been talking about changing money to Tony - I still don't get what he is up to, but a money changer appears. How much do I want to change? Nothing what do I need money for I will get some at a bank. However, Tony is off being impetuous again and pulls out $28 in notes and asks what the rate is 2.5. immediately I start haggling and get it up to 3.5 which is well over the odds and Tony is given 2 new 50 Sol notes. I am still not happy with all this but Tony takes the money despite my comments and off we go. Across the bridge and onto the other side where we get a taxi to the next immigration which is 4 k away. This is really well set up isn't it! Another haggle over the taxi fare and we get there passports stamped. I check with immigration. We now need a taxi to Tumbes to get our next bus but I find out that it should be 6 or 7 dollars not 10 and so we strike a deal with the taxi driver and off we go!

We we didn't get to the coast and spent our time in the mountains. Ecuador is of course high but there seems to be plenty of water and the country is green and lush even at altitude. People are friendly and its a very pleasant country to visit. In hind sight I would have allowed much longer than two weeks to stay there. Our total trip was 6 weeks and we decided to take 2 weeks in Ecuador and 4 in Peru relating time to the area of each country.

Oh well on to Peru !

Highlights Were:-

Meeting Fabian and Carolina
Cabinas Isidro
Otavalo and Market
Cayobeno Jungle Lodge
The Whip snake that nearly chopped off the toes of my boots
Eating Corosa
Drinking Chicha
Nariz Del Diablo
Meeting Paola in Cuenca

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No Yacht Charters, Sailing Holidays, Sailing, Cruising and RYA Courses

Its Land Adventures - Fishing for Piranha, Whipped by Snakes and Dining on Coroso

Quito, Tena, Otavalo, Cuyobeno, Pijili, Rio Bamba, Nariz del Diablo, Cuenca

 

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