Posted by: glenswatman | October 25, 2009

20091001-10 Ecuador Peru


THURSDAY 1 OCTOBER 2009 – Catch the 8.45am, $2 (£1.20) bus to
Riobamba. The direct road is still closed after the February 2008 eruption of
volcano Tungurahua so we skirt Ambato then head south along the “avenue of the
volcanoes”.  We get a beautiful view of
Volcano Chimborazo, at 6310m the highest one in Ecuador and famous as the
furthest point from the centre of the earth due to the Equatorial Ridge.  Fellow passengers are kiwi Scott and his
Czech girlfriend.  We share a $1 (60p) cab
to the centre of Riobamba.  El VIP café
is owned by Couchsurfer Juan who advertises last minute beds.  Immediately ahead of us entering the café are
2 young Polish girls, Gosia and Marwina. 
Juan says he may have space for us all and walks us to his house
nearby.  The girls are happy with the
offered mattresses on the floor and we thank him but say we are a bit too old
to sleep on the floor and ask if he can recommend a hostel.  Shyris at $8pppn is OK but the rooms are
directly over the street so probably noisy. 
In fact so noisy that at the junction we hear a terrific crash when a “Coca
Cola” lorry takes the corner too fast and sheds part of its load.  Nearby Hotel Tren Dorado has much nicer rooms
surrounding a courtyard in the back, $10 pppn (£6).  Drop the bags and head to the nearby railway station.  The famous “Devils Nose” train journey only
leaves on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday and needs booking, $11 (£6.60).  At VIP restaurant we have an excellent lunch,
complimentary herbal water and popcorn and the meal of the day cream of carrot
soup, chips, rice and beef casserole, strawberry whirl and a glass of cherry
juice.  The Polish girls join us for
coffee and Juan tells us of a free guitar concert tonight.  Exploring the town we find many nice
buildings, churches and squares and a park with fine views.  In the main square we employ a couple of
local lads to polish our shoes.  They ask
for 25c (15p) a pair and do a great job using their hands to work the polish
in.  We chat to them and they assure us
they went to school this morning.  They
are cute kids and enterprising so we pay them double.  The concert in the “Casa Del Cultura” is
supposed to start at 7pm, arriving shortly after there are few people there and
it only really fills up at about 7.30pm with more people piling in with plastic
chairs during the opening speeches. 
Safety first doesn’t come into it as they block the aisles and all
available exits with extra seats.  People
are called onto stage, given certificates and musicians are introduced and it
is really long winded.  Around 8pm 3
guitarists and a singer begin performing. 
The guitarists twang away in the background whilst the singing sounds a bit
like opera.  By the middle of the second
song we take the opportunity to escape following the first person who leaves.




FRIDAY 2 October 2009 – We get up at 5am for the 5.30am $3
(£2.40) buffet breakfast.  Notice as we
are leaving that a couple of bread rolls and bananas have fallen into our
rucksack!  Arriving at the station at 6am
they put on a film show about the building of the Guayaquil to Quito railway.
Ecuadorians failed, so in 1895 Americans were called in to engineer what was at
that time the “most difficult railway in the world”.  At Sibambe the track entered a valley blocked
by an almost perpendicular wall of rock called “The Devils Nose”.  A zigzag was carved out of the rock to allow
the train by advancing and backing up to climb the mountain to Alausi.  Today’s journey takes us from Riobamba down
the zigzag then back up to Alausi. 
Instead of the nice old steam train shown in the picture we get an
individual carriage rather like a bus balanced on train wheels.  There is a low platform so it looks very
strange.  Leaving at 6.30am we pass
through Riobamba suburbs and out into farming country.  It is so interesting; cattle are positioned
individually in fields tethered to about 6 foot of rope.  They often break free and many times we must
stop for them to move off the track. 
Around 8am the train goes down the main street of a town, waits for
people to push a parked car off the track and move a few stalls and then pulls up
for a toilet stop.  Further on the farming
changes to pocket fields of crops and huge areas of fir trees.  There is a lovely section following a small
stream through the mountains and here we have to stop as a JCB is clearing part
of the track after a landslide.  A short
stop in Alausi then we are into the most exciting part of the journey.  There are 2 carriages in use today and we
often see the other one higher on the track. 
Shunting down the “Devils Nose” is quite a spectacle and after waiting
for the other carriage to arrive at the bottom we repeat the process giving all
passengers a change to be on the side hanging over the drop.  A few years ago you could sit on the roof of
the train but a Japanese tourist fell off and died.  There is a clause on the back of the ticket
saying it includes life cover but you can no longer sit on the roof.  Alighting in Alausi at 11.30am we check into
Hotel Europa, $24 (£14.50) on the main street. 
We are doing rather well fitting into our hoped for $15 – $25 a night
room budget and apart from in the remote community Quilotoa have had nice en
suite rooms with a double and single bed and often cable TV.  Take a wander round town and up to the huge
mosaic covered statue of San Pedro.    In the evening Steve gets the set $4 (£2.40)
at the Chinese adjoining the hotel, the main course and coke are great but the
tube soup is a bit dodgy even for him.




SATURDAY 3 October – Waiting for the bus I see many locals
buying hot herbal drinks from a man with a cart.  I tell him I need something for an upset
stomach and get a honey based drink with some of the inside of the aloe Vera
leaf and lots of other herbs, 50c (30p). 
The bus arrives at 7am, $5 (£3) pp for the 4 hour journey.  After a couple of hours the bus pulls up in a
small village at the road junction to Guayaquil.   The driver comes through the bus with a long
speck and we pick out bus, problem, road, indigenous, Cuenca.  Many people get off and although we ask him
to explain slowly we don’t know what is happening so opt to stay onboard with a
few other passengers.  At the next
village with a minor road turn off to Guayaquil the bus stops and tells us all
to get off.  It seems there is a road
block ahead and he can go no further.  The
passengers that are left get off.  The
driver refunds $1.50pp and says we must get a camionetta to the road block,
walk through that and keep repeating the process.  We are not too happy and by the time we have
got our luggage back we are alone at the road junction with our bags.  I spot a Police car coming from the direction
of the road block and in broken Spanish learn that there are many road blocks
but they are not dangerous for tourists and we should be able to get
through.  Figure we could try and go back
to Alausi or Riobamba, on the side road to Guayaquil almost 200km away or carry
on.  In fact we have no options as there
are no buses or camionetas in sight. Maybe if we had understood the situation
and got off at the last junction we would have had more options.  We hitch a ride and along with another lady
get into a truck.  The driver insists we
sit with him in the cab and she goes in the back.  He speaks broken English, worked in America
as a chef for 15 years, and tells us he is going to Cuenca and will get us as
far as he can.  We start to see rocks in
the road, sometimes the remains of roadblocks but others that have been thrown
at cars.  Driver tells us when we see the
partial roadblocks and have to slow down we must look out for people hiding
nearby as they may try to hi jack the car. 
We reach an area with a continuous line of lorries parked at the side of
the road but press on further.  Eventually
driver stops a car coming towards us to learn there is a complete block a
little further ahead.  Our driver says he
must turn back and try the coastal road to Cuenca and invites us to join
him.  By now we have realised he has been
drinking so we decide to take our leave whilst still in one piece although he’s
a nice enough guy and refuses our offer of money.  A bus pulls up behind us so we transfer to
that to get a mile or two further on. 
The blockade is rocks and burning tyres. 
Everyone disembarks, walks around the blockade then continues to walk
along the road now lined with lorries.  We
feel a bit afraid as we don’t really understand what is going on so make haste
to stay with the group of walkers.  After
walking for a couple of miles and up a hill we get to the end road block where
there are lots of protesters.  If this is
what we saw on TV a couple of weeks ago it is about the local indios being
asked by the government to pay for their water. 
They seem happy for us to skirt the side of the roadblock where another
bus is waiting.  No idea where it is
going but for $1 pp (60p) we are happy to be on it.  It doesn’t get far before protesters and
telegraph poles across the road prevent progress.  Think the driver is making the most of the
opportunity to shuttle people the short distance as the locals all complain
bitterly about the price.  By the time we
have got our luggage the other passengers are way ahead of us.  At the end of the blockade the others have
piled into a truck but there is no space for us.  We wait for another one and this takes us to
the town of El Tambo.  Walking round town
we see lots of lorries and a few buses parked at the side of the road.  In theory we could get another camioneta to
the next road block but people seem to be saying there are many more blocks and
up to 10km to walk between them.  The
opinion is that the road will not be passable until at least 5pm on Monday when
the government makes an announcement on TV. 
There is no sign of the other bus passengers so they may have tried to
get further but given our lack of understanding of the situation and
comparatively heavy luggage we are wary. 
We phone a Couchsurfing friend in Cuenca who says the next stretch is
the worst but if we can get through Canar it will be easy however this is the
area where we may have a 10km walk.  We check
into a Hotel for the night to chew over our options.  Even if you can get through the way we have
been doing with short rides and walks we feel like it would be better to start
afresh in the morning.  Reckon the road
blocks must come and go and maybe the weekend is when they are worst.  At least we haven’t had the experience we saw
on TV of a bus being set on fire.  Wander
the town and eat at the Chinese.  Try to
gather information on the Internet but there doesn’t seem to be any fresh
update about our stretch of road.  We buy
some fruit at the market and a big bottle of drinking water and return to our
comfortable room to watch TV so could be a lot worse off.




SUNDAY 4 October 2009 – We’ve had a very disturbed night, our
room has a false ceiling and the family lounge is above us.  They had the TV on loud until 2.30am and
again from 6.30am so we move rooms. 
Looking at a map we may be able to take the side road out to Ingapirca
ruins then continue on that to south of Canar. 
Walking the town we see lorries now parked both sides of the road for as
far as we can see.  Chat to the Police
who say the town is effectively sealed off with road blocks on all exit roads
including the one to Ingapirca.  A local
taxi driver who speaks English confirms this but says we could do the ride,
block, walk, block, ride thing to visit the Ingapirca ruins but certainly won’t
get onwards from there.  He agrees there
is nothing else to do in town and that would be our best option for a trip
out.  However he also agrees that the
road blocks are at their worst at the weekend and more may spring up and we
could end up stranded in Ingapirca so kick that idea into touch, even though we
could actually walk the 9km back.   Late
morning the lorry drivers are getting restless and create their own human blockade
to stop any movement of traffic or other lorry drivers getting ahead of
them.  It seems that occasionally lorries
are let through the blockade but then they cannot park as the roadside is full
and the other drivers get cross if they appear to be trying to push ahead.   After taking lunch at the local café we walk
to find out where the road block is on the road towards Canar.  There are small partial blocks but the main
one including many people is about 1 mile out of town but more importantly we
see a sign saying 9km to Canar so think we misinterpreted the information about
having to walk 10km when in fact that was the total distance so we will give it
a go tomorrow.  Settle down to sleep
around 8.30pm then awake an hour later when I hear English speaking voices.  When I hear a man’s voice saying “we must
have walked f…king miles” I reckon I must investigate.  The people are in the room above us and I figure
we could exchange information so I give them a knock.  John is English and his girlfriend Sue from
Canada.  They have come from Riobamba
today, reckon they have walked around 10km between road blocks as there are
many more blocks than yesterday and some with piles of earth.  Comparing notes we decide we will try to get
further tomorrow together.



MONDAY 5 October 2009 – We set off together at 7.30am.  Pick up a camioneta in town and ask him to
take us as far as he can.  He does
exactly what we ask but down dirt roads and finally stops and says we must walk
down to a stream, over the bridge then up through the fields to join the PanAm
highway.  Not an easy task with all our
baggage so we ask him to take us to the PanAm highway even though this is
further back, $2 (£1.20) for the ride.  A
bus is coming by and takes us further but only for about ¼ mile.  There is a huge road block with telegraph
poles, burning tyres and rocks in the road beyond it.  Get out and walk but at least on the road we
can trolley our bags along.  In fact we
probably walk less than 1km to get beyond the next blockade.  A camioneta pulls up and we explain we are
trying to get to Cuenca.  He asks how
much we would pay to get there and we offer $5 pp. In the back of his 4wd we
set off on a track up in to the mountains. 
By asking people coming towards him he manages to navigate a route to
take us around the Canar blockages and back onto the PanAm.  After that it is relatively plain sailing as
all the blockades have been breached.  He
stops at Azogues bus station from where a 50c (30p) ride gets us to
Cuenca.  Amazingly we do the whole
journey in around 4-hours and cannot believe our luck.  Taxi into town to check out hostels.  By chance Sue & John are on a similar
budget to us looking for the same price and standard of accommodation.  We are all happy with the deal of $28 (– 10%
for taking 2 rooms) at Casa De Barranco overlooking the river.  It is one of the colonial mansions with lots
of character, breakfast is included and we have a room with a proper bath and a
nice terrace outside.  There is an Indian
curry house nearby so we walk there for lunch. 
At this stage John & Sue are struggling to walk far after their long
hikes yesterday in flip flops.  The menu
looks great but the food is all heavily salted and not great.  With Internet at the hotel we check out our
onward options but with flights around $400 to Lima we are reluctant to
book.  Around 5pm we meet up with
Couchsurfers Diego and Betta.  Betta is
from Slovakia and Diego Ecuadorian but has lived and worked in the States so
speaks excellent English.  We go to a Columbian
restaurant for a snack then they take us for a drive.  There is a great view point south of the city
giving us an idea of the size of it.  The
centre is a UNESCO site because of all the colonial building and feels quite
compact whilst we now understand why it is the 3rd largest city in
Ecuador.  Next we go to the bus station
where Diego kindly gathers information for the International bus to Peru.  It is $11 ($6.60) and takes 8-hours but the
bus didn’t get through today because of the blockades.  Will try to catch it in a couple of days If
the roads are clear, at least there is more to do here if we are stranded!


$25.20 INC


TUESDAY 6 October – Set out to explore the town with some
really nice churches.  The main cathedral
is magnificent with lots of roof domes and a statue of Pope John Paul inside to
commemorate his visit to the city.  There
is a flower market and a clothes market that includes hotel sized kitchen pans
etc, stalls manned by the indigenous people in costume.  The Panama Hat museum is here and we learn
that they were called that because they were made in Ecuador but shipped up to
the people working on the Panama Canal.  The
river walk is lovely and there we spot the quirky medical museum, $1
(60p).  Along with lots of old equipment
they have medical magazines that you can look at, Steve enjoyed reading the one
for the year he was born.  In a cabinet I
am fascinated by a 3-month pickled foetus along with the skeleton of an 8-month
one and a mummified 5-year old.  Walking
back we pass a church closed for renovation and the guard invited us inside
where we have no idea how they are going to have it finished in the 1-year
available.  Spot a traffic warden taking
photographs of the offending cars – now isn’t that a good idea.  In the market Steve has a freshly carved
roast pork dinner, $2 (£1.40) with excellent crunchy crackling and tender meat
whilst I have a large glass of freshly squeezed juice, 50c (30p).  Meet up with Diego & Betta at 3pm and
they take us out to his parent’s weekend house in the country nearby.  It feels much more than 20 minutes from the
city as you are out in farming country and at 200m lower the weather is
considerably warmer.  His Dad Miguel soon
has us set up drinking beers outside. 
Diego has made the American game “corn hole” and we have great fun
trying to throw corn bags onto a ramp and into a hole.  Of course our combination of ten pin bowling
and petanque skills give us the edge. 
They drop us back at the hotel and arrange to pick us up along with Sue
& John for an evening of cards at their place.  At 7pm we leave and order a pizza en
route.  To begin with we play “Hoopla”,
an American game that is a sort of combination of charades, Pictionary and a
word game where you have to describe the word on a card you have chosen.  It is great fun and lots of laughs.  After eating we learn the card game
“Arsehole”, that the others all know. 
Neither of us becomes President but we do manage to rank as arsehole and
neutrals a number of times.  Diego asks
us all to sign his world map.  You have
to sign and put the town you come from with an arrow pointing to it.  It is amazing to see just how many visitors
they have had from around the world.  We
all agree what an excellent evening out it has been with good like minded
company and lots of laughs.



WEDNESDAY 7 October – At the bus station we buy tickets on
the 9am International bus to Mancora in Peru, $11 (£6.60).   It is supposed to take 8-hours and be a
through bus but today we have to change at the Ecuadorian customs and wait 1
½-hours for a second bus meaning we will arrive just as it is getting dark. The
journey to the Ecuadorian coast is through more spectacular mountain scenery
and we are amazed at the journey as Diego & Betta once cycled the 200km in
a day.  At the Ecuadorian customs (3km
before the border) we get our exit stamps noting we have been in Ecuador
exactly a month.  The next bus arrives
but is already packed with people and our allocated seat numbers are in
use.  It would appear they have merged
buses but we are lucky and do get a seat whilst others have to stand.  Entry into PERU is over a bridge then beyond
the border town we reach immigration. 
You have to queue up to get your entry papers stamped then go to another
line to get your passport stamped and registered.  The currency here is Nuevo Soles with approx
5 = £1.  In Tumbes a few people get off
so we all have seats.  Our initial
impression of Peru is that it is considerably poorer than Ecuador and in many
ways more like Mexico.  Near the border
there are many villages of huts.  Our
journey takes us along the Pacific coast through lots of fishing villages.  After about 50km we arrive at customs, have
to get off the bus and file through a buildings whilst the bus is checked then
drives on to meet us at the other end.  Arrive
in Mancora just after 6pm.  We want to
check out a 2-bedroom bungalow seen on the Internet and hop into a couple of motocyclos
(tuk tuks) to get there.  The lads say it
is 5-minutes away inland but having gone on a dirt road they reach a big hill
they cannot get up and say it is a long walk from there so we pass.  It seems that the main resort town of
Mancora, with the PanAm passing through, is a small village dominated by back
packing surfers and renowned for all night parties.  South along the coast is a dirt road behind
the beach lined with big expensive hotels and a few bungalows.  We try a couple of the bungalows but one is
full and the other asks PS200 (£40) per room. 
After telling the cyclo boys the kind of price we are looking for they
suggest we go to “The Point” near the town. 
It is now dark and arriving at Estrella del Mar it is hard to see what
we are getting other than fairly simple cabin style rooms but at PS80 (£16) it
is affordable.  Pay off the cyclos, PS8
(£1.60) each and check in.  At least this
place has a swimming pool and grassy lawns, is near the beach and a short walk
to the town centre whereas the beach road was isolated.  Walking together into town we see lots of
menu of the day offers P5 (£1).  From
this Steve & I pick cervice (marinated fish) for starters then I have fish
fillet with rice and Steve fried rice with sea food and the price even includes
a fruit juice.  Better still you get 4
huge beers for P10 (£2) so maybe the food and drinks prices will offset the
more expensive accommodation.  The restaurants
are full of back packing Brits.  We take
a wander around town and find lots of rooms at PS40 (£8), the rooms are similar
to ours but the places have no gardens and are nearer the area where they have
discos.  Mind you our room is not exactly
quiet overnight as we realise it has no windows just fly screens so we have
background noise of the ocean, the main road and the disco’s and are
accompanied by ants in our bed.



Thursday 8 October 2009 – Compounded by a very firm mattress,
mosquitoes buzzing round (at least there is a net) and being cold I have little
sleep.  The music goes on until after 4am
and before 7am they are watering the grass in front of our bungalow.  We had heard such good reports on Mancora but
suspect it was from people who came down and just stayed in the posh hotels
further down.  We really like the small
town area with shops, bars and restaurants but need to find more suitable
accommodation.  When Steve gets up we
walk north along the beach and settle on The Sahara Hotel PS110 (£22) night. we get a nice room overlooking the
ocean and a hotel with swimming pool directly behind the beach, gardens, gym,
pool, table tennis, internet and breakfast. 
We quickly re locate and settle ourselves on the comfy loungers by the
pool.  It is hard to get shade here
because being near the Equator the sun is almost always directly overhead so we
decide on an early beach walk.  We are
just about at the end of the northern development and other than a nice new
backpackers at the point there are just local houses.  In the afternoon Steve spots a whale out on
the horizon.  Late on John & Sue
arrive with a bag of beer so we sit and watch the sunset together.  In the village we end up at a local burger
bar with freshly made huge burgers and ships and delicious passion fruit
juice.  Pick up more beers on the way
back and learn another new card game “Yussa”. 
We will be sorry to see our new friends go on ahead tomorrow.


PS110 (£22)


FRIDAY 9 October
2009 –
It is a
lovely sunny morning so after breakfast we make a quick walk to town to book
our onward bus.  The direct walk takes us
through a very poor but interesting area of house built with all manner of
materials.  There are numerous coach
companies in Peru and all seem to have quality buses so we go for the cheapest
one with the time to suit us.  Spend the
rest of the morning by the pool.  We have
new neighbours, John from America and his new Internet girlfriend Marie.  They originally had the nice room with
Jacuzzi but have opted to move to the basic rooms.  We ask if they would like to join us for our
evening in the village.  Begin at the
cheap PS5 (£1) restaurant then go to the La Badjadita for deserts.  Recommended in the Rough Guide they sure live
up to expectations and we all enjoy it. 
During the evening we learn that John’s English wife died 2 years ago
and he now has a travel trailer in America and “met” Marie on line and has come
over to visit.  It is so nice to see how
well they have hit it off.



Saturday 10 October
Walking to the
bus office we are amazed to find no one around. 
Steve heads off to draw some cash and get bread and fruit for the
journey.  When a lady appears in the
office I realise why it is quiet.  We are
booked on the 9.30pm bus not am which we wanted.  The error has risen because the Spanish word
manana can mean tomorrow or morning. 
They have no other bus going where we want and I end up pleading with
her to get our money back.  This
eventually works so I race to the next nearest office where they do have a
9.30am bus.  El Dorado charge PS25 (£5)
but it arrives a little later at 4pm but at this stage I am just happy to have
the tickets.  Steve is happy with the
upshot and we board the bus for our long journey.  We are soon out into barren desert area where
there are many “nodding donkeys” bringing up oil.  Nearer one of the towns there are lots of
paddy fields which is quite a contrast. 
In Piura we change buses with a half hour wait.  Arriving in Chiclayo we have arranged to be
met by a Couchsurfer.  Carlos speaks
little English but his Peace Corps girlfriends Sara is on her way into town and
we talk to her on her mobile.  She
suggests we go to the same hotel she is staying at and arriving at the Hostal
Amigos we are more than happy with our double ensuite room with TV.  Carlos seems to know everyone here and
introduces us to another Peace Corps worker Matt who spends ages talking to
us.  They are all going out to a birthday
party later – and I mean later as it starts at 11pm so unable to spend the evening
with us.  We take our evening meal at the
nearby “Esquina” corner restaurant and really enjoy my fish fillet and
chips.  Being in the centre of town we
don’t have the quietest of nights.


PS50 (£11)


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