Ecuador

Trip Start Nov 18, 2002
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Tuesday, July 6, 2004

Chapter 3

Hola peeps

So where were we? Ah yes Ecuador......so after spoiling ourselves for the rest of our lives with regards to the wildlife on the Galapagos Islands it was time to hit mainland Ecuador.
Big shock or should I say headache as soon as we landed. A touch of altitude sickness had set in. It felt like someone stabbing you in the eye. Relaxing in our hotel watching cable tv and making it outside to the numerous coffee/cake shops was the only way to acclimatise.
This city, some 3000 meters above sea level was originally built in a valley within the mountains. As the population has increased so has the city until it now sprawled over those surrounding mountains. Makes interesting landing on a plane as the airport is smack bang in the middle of the valley too.
The views from the Basilica, of the city and its brightly coloured houses are stunning. Colours of which would look so out of place at home but are so fitting for South America.
So far we have found the people here very friendly and everyone appears to have a laugh at Martinīs height. Nothing new there. And then there is our attempt at spanish. Well you can probably guess how bad that is.

Probably one of the first things you notice is the high level of security everywhere in Quito. Guys wearing bullet proof vests stand guard outside every bank and pharmacy holding anything from a revolver/pistol, AK47, to a sawn off shot gun! It appears this is a tough city especially at night where dodgy looking characters hang round on street corners looking well, dodgy! At night a guy would appear with his huge Rottvweiler dog and sit outside our hotel guarding the cars parked in the street. The owners of those cars would give him a tip for doing so. Needless to say pure bred big dogs and bullet proof vests are a good source of income here. Great!!!!
With all that said we never got to see or hear the guns in action. We didn't meet any unfortunate victims either so the security guys are doing a good job.

So Quito was a hop in and hop out city really. Our next stop was some 2 hours north to Otavalo. This area is famous for it's market and the flocks of indigenous people that sell their crafts there. They sell mainly woven, tapestry and knitted rugs, mats, hammocks and clothing made from Alpaca wool. These people are very colourful with their dress and children as young a 5 years carry their baby brother or sister wrapped in a cloth around there back.
05 beans beans are good for your heart .......... 03 Otavalo Market
On one of our days there we took a local bus (always good for a laugh as there is no leg or height room) and went for a walk around a dormant volcano. We opted out of the 5 hour hike round it's crater rim which was now a lake and big enough for 2 islands in the middle. The scenery was stunning with humming birds flying down to the wild flowers that grew in the surrounding area.
We walked a couple of hours and sat and watched the birdlife. So now we have pictured the scene, as we were walking back Martin suddenly gets a really bad pain in his back. Soooo bad it makes him physically sick. We were in the middle of nowhere with 2 dutch friends neither of whom were doctors. GREAT!
So he endures the pain as there was not much else we could do and after an hour or so it starts to fade. Then it goes completely. What was that all about???
Well we continued back to Quito as planned that afternoon and carried on as it nothing happened...........
That is until the next morning when the dreaded pain strikes again, sick, the whole works. So with pocket dictionary in hand we trundle off to the local hospital.
We found an english speaking Dr and within 4 hours of tests, ultra sound scans and getting results back His Lordship is diagnosed with a kidney stone. Luckily it was small enough "to pass naturally" they said and we never got to buy a tea strainer in time to catch the culprit!!! We returned a few days later for yet more x-rays to find that there are no more well, for the moment anyway.
It's at this point we have to say there is nothing like an adventure such as this one to give you a crash course in Spanish. The medical system was very quick and efficient and the total cost was $200 and with an insurance excess of 50 pounds we won't be getting that much back.
So now not only has His Lordship got a hospital record in Bangkok but he has one in Ecuador too. Wherever next???

Having been given the all clear we took the local bus and did the very touristy thing of going to El Mitre del Mondo or to you folks "the middle of the world" The Equator. Here we stood over the red tape stuck to the ground with each leg in 2 hemispheres. The mere fact that the actual equator was soon some 300 meters east didn't stop the hordes of tourists and locals recording that Kodak moment-with us included-sadly!
center of the world ( mitre del mundo )( equator) check out the plant life !!!!!!!!!

We then continued to travel south, up, down and along the fabulous Andes Mountain Range. Having bus drivers who think they are ex Formula 1 makes for a more exhilarating ride round those hairpin bends!!!
We stopped in Baņos and bathed in the hot volcanic springs there. The very present and very active volcano was just next door to the town. On a clear night you could see it spew out it's fire and ash. She last blew in 1999. Yet more excitement for us not knowing when it was going to blow again. Trying to read the evacuation procedures in spanish wasn't much help either!!!

During the day we hired mountain bikes complete with pump,spanner, spare inner tube and everything and headed off south down the steep valley road past beautiful waterfalls with the odd land slide thrown in for good measure. Going through mountain tunnels with no lights and dark sunglasses on is not a good idea either. And then there was the one with a load of rotting dead fish in it. Somebody's idea of a joke. Not funny!!
Indiana Jones eat your heart out !!!! 01 Before, fresh guinea pig...... 02 After, Roasted guinea pig!!
Once we reached the Devil's Waterfall, walked the trail down and wobbled over the wooden bridge (Indiana Jones style) then when we had had enough we just flagged a passing truck down,L loaded up our bikes and had an easy ride back up the valley to town again. What a breeze that was?

We have taken about a month or so to travel south. Trying not to endure the ex Formula 1 drivers for longer than 8 ish hours in one journey. Our last haven in Ecuador was Vilcabamba or what is locally know as the "Valley of Longevity".
just chilling ( vilcabamba ) 
We stayed in a place up in the mountain side with breath taking views of the town some 2km below. We had a cabin over looking the stunning mountains. We slept and ate when we felt like it and as they specialised in treatments we had massages and a facial and just loved every minute of it. We stayed 6 days and didn't want for nothing. Only venturing into town once and then there was the all day horse riding....................
What an experience that was............"no problema" said the horse owner guy when we told him Martin had zero experience of actually riding horses. Sitting on one and walking yes, riding actually none.
So we start off with 3 others who hadn't any experience of riding either. Good we thought....take it slow we thought...well it started slow for all of a minute then we all broke into a canter whilst still on the concrete road. Martin was amazing. There was no stopping these horses. Something told me they (the horses) liked non-riders because they kept going and going.......
After about an hour the pace slowed as we started to climb the mountain. Steeper and steeper it got until at one point my saddle came undone and very slowly slipped off my horses bum leaving we standing on my feet behind him. I let go of his reins and he bolted off until he reached the horse in front which was Martin. Health and Safety has no translation here!!!
Our lunch was a picnic at the base of a very beautiful waterfall. Then we rode back down the steep mountains, crossing rivers where our guide had much delight in telling us that some tourists fell off their horses last week and got soaked. GREAT- do tell us more!!!
Eventually we got back on level ground and guess what the pace quickened again to a gallop this time. Martin continued to hang on in there and then his stirrup broke. "No problema" just tie it up with string!!!! Only to break again at another gallop. The guy swapped it for his and we took the softer option of walking back the last few minutes!! We had got this far without injury let's not push it hey??

Our next bus ride was some 9 hours over the land border to Peru. We have been here for a few days now but that's another story so until next time

Chow for now amigos
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