Travel Mumblings

May 29, 2008

Border Crossing and Mancora

Filed under: peru — Tags: , , , — paulparkie @ 15:19

So, they show dead people on the back of papers here. No sport. Just pictures of people that have died (usually horrifically) in the past 24 hours. It´s creepy. They have like ´before and after´shots!  One photo, the ´before´ probably borrowed from their mother´s mantelpiece of them smiling, or playing on that rope swing they made last summer – aah those were the days. And the other photo, the ´after´, shows them mangled in a car wreck… or semi-decapitated with an Incan replica war axe. They don´t hold back. Anyhow, just thought you´d like to know that too, cause it´s put me off my breakfast more than once. The couple of days between leaving Banós and arriving in Mancora (Peru) were pretty crappy really. Just spent on buses, or waiting at bus stations slagging off buses.

Long, long road
Long, long road

The Pan America… the main road… no, the ´highway´ from Banós to Machala was not smooth, and was riddled with pot holes, and our ´express´ bus seemed to stop at every non-descript house and shack en-route to drop someone off, or pick-up a bag of chickens. We finally arrived in a hot and sticky Machala at 12 midnight and checked into a hostel. I fell straight asleep and left Jayde swatting bugs. We left early the next morning for the border. We knew it wasn´t going to be an easy day. The Western Ecuador-Peru border crossing has a reputation for the hardest border crossing in the whole of South America… yey.  Here goes. We took a bus to the Ecuadorian passport control, 3 miles from the border, where we had to get our passports stamped to say we were leaving Ecuador. Then, after fighting off several requests from dodgy guys saying they´ll take us across the border in their cars, we caught the next bus to take us across the actual border. Only it didn´t. Unbeknown to us, it stopped a little further down the road and everyone had to get off. My Spanish wasn´t good enough to understand why. And after seeing where we were getting off, the best I could muster, was to throw the sweaty driver a look of utter exasperation and to say rude things about his mother under my breath. We´d been dropped of in the middle of a market in a throng of mayhem, with people, rickshaws, animals, and scared gringos everywhere!  The border crossing turned out to be a market between the two countries. A smegging market! Not even a nice market. They had now ´Olive´ Lady! In the end, after walking/creeping down some pretty sketchy side streets… after being shouted at and cajoled by every-other toothless market trader to ´sample their wares´… we got taken across by a dodgy guy who didn´t appear to have enough gas in his car… it cost us $35, but we were safe and unscathed, if a little stressed. Mancora was different to where we´d been so far… a small beach town in Northern Peru. It was good just to relax for a few days… spend some time on the beach and eat lots of Ceviche. Hmmmm… so good. Our three days there coincided with the annual ´Grasshopper Hatching´ which was hilarious.

Mancora
Mancora

For a start, our accomodation of choice was a beach hut. A beach hut where the walls didn´t meet the ceiling… and the door didn´t fit the door frame. So even though we were under a mosquito net, every few minutes we´d hear another mammoth grasshopper land on it… it was quite a weird feeling. The bloody things were everywhere!   Eating in a restaurant one night, I was wetting myself watching a guy and his missus trying to enjoy a romantic meal in a restaurant by the sea front. There was a pretty steady flow of grasshoppers flying in through the open front of the restaurant. So this guy and girl, were sat at a nice table, with nice cutlery, a nice wine and great food in front of them. But… they had napkins covering their wine glasses and the canter. They both, incessantly were looking around to see where the next airborne assault would come from… and after every mouthful of food they´d sit there chewing it, whilst slumped forward and covering their plate with their hands… I almost couldn´t eat for laughing. Until one landed on me. Then I yelped like a girl.

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May 25, 2008

Cotopaxi & Banos

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:11

Glad to leave Quito, we headed south a couple of hours to Cotopaxi National Park and stayed in a sweet hostel in the mountains. It´s an old converted farm house, and sat in pretty amazing grounds, had a pack of pretty cool dogs running around continuously, horses, mardy lamas, cute puppies, two cows and a sheep… almost a petting zoo…. except for the lamas… they were miserable and looked like they´d spit if we ever went any closer! At dinner on our first night we arranged for a guide to take us to climb Illiniza Nord. One of two strata volcanos next to each other, standing at 5126m. High. Anyhoo´s, we left at around 6am and were hiking by 7, after a bumpy ride in a beat up Landcruiser on a narrow mud track that had been punished by the wet-season. It was pretty slow going, and we could definitely feel the altitude as we neared the refugio about 3 hours into the climb. By this time, the clouds had closed in, and we´d already been snowed and hailed on. At the refuge, our guide (Sergio) made us some coca leaf tea (the same plant they make cocaine from), which is supposed to be good for countering the effects of altitude… or else, it just makes you all warm and fuzzy and ´care less´ about the effects of altitude… ha, either way, I had three cups of the concoction, then sprouted wings and flew to the top with my yellow and green friend, ´Spotty´.

Hmm… if only it was that easy… or drugs were that good. After drinking my tea (and going to the toilet), we donned our harnesses, helmets, gloves etc. and headed for the summit. There were a few sketchy moments and we were roped together for the last 600m, although our guide didn´t really explain what to do if one of us did fall. I know a little bit about the ´fall and self-arrest´business, but he didn´t mention that to us, and I´m pretty sure it takes practise with a team to get it slick… so really, as far as I could see, if one of us fell… we all fell… end of. But we didn´t so that´s ok.

may21-paul-5There was one bit that had me worried beforehand – the Paso de la Muerte, literally translated – the Pass Of Death. Now, I´m a firm believer in that things are named for a reason… and so, rightfully so in my opinion, I wasn´t over enthused about ´The Pass Of Death´. But, thankfully it came and went without incident, or talking… or looking down, and we made it to the summit in good time. We ate lunch there, took the customary summit photos and headed back down.

The next day Jayde talked me into giving this ´horse riding´malarky another go… and to be honest, this time was better. I think I was more confident which helped, and the horse did pretty much what I wanted it to do most of the day, which is good. I even cantered… and then galloped this time!… but couldn´t get my timing of coming in and out of the saddle with the horses movement quite right, hurt the ´crown jewels´, and just got him to walk after that. Didn´t need to gallop anyway. Silly idea.

We left Cotopaxi a day later and headed to Banós… a really cool little town at the foot of an active volcano – Tungarahua. The whole town was evacuated in 2006, hmmm. Driving in was weird. You could see where the lava flow had cut the main road in half. One day there, Jayde and I braved the crazy South American drivers, and hired a couple of quads and headed down the valley towards Puyo.

View over Banos
View over Banos

Banós is called ´The Gateway to the Amazon´, and it definitely felt warmer and more humid as we dropped down the valley. We found Diablo waterfall, which was pretty cool, and there was a scramble up a path/under a cave, that meant we could get behind the waterfall… I felt like I was in a shampoo advert… alas, there was no cheesy music, but we did get soaked.

That night we took a bus to the top of another hill for a viewpoint on the volcano. It was one of the coolest things I´ve seen. Every so often, it would just spew lava out into the night sky… it looked awesome… so awesome, I forgot to be scared as I fell asleep that night, listening to it´s intermittent rumblings. Over and Out

May 22, 2008

Whistler-ler-ler-ler

Filed under: canada — Tags: , , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:44

erm… I left the Whistler blog on my laptop, and so won´t be able to upload my shananighans from there until I get back in July. I´ve just jumped straight to South America instead…

May 17, 2008

The Quilotoa Loop

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , , , — paulparkie @ 02:39

Another balmy bus ride later saw us back in Quito. Our plan was to hire a 4×4 to drive the Quilotoa loop. We managed to find a 4×4 at the airport for a reasonable price. I say ´find´ we didn´t steal it or anything, we actually did hire it!

And I guess in retrospect I should use the term ´4×4´ loosely. It was a Toyota Rav4. Hmmm. Still we got a good price for the four days we wanted it, how bad could it be (?) Jayde and I met Shelia whilst we were in Otavalo who didn´t take much persuasion to join us. But with Jayde´s age, and Shelia only having one arm that worked due to a mugging in Columbia, I was nominated ´driver´.

I´m going to go on record right now and say… getting out of Quito without damaging the car and keeping my underwear clean, was hands down one of the hardest things I´ve had to do! Road markings were all but non-existent, red-lights at intersections were merely a ´suggestion to stop´, and every other driver on the road seemed to be obsessively compulsed to honk his horn every other second. After being stopped at a set of lights, if I waited more than a nano-second to pull away once the lights turned green… every Tom, Dick and Hernando would start honking.

When we eventually made it out of Quito (which for the record, must be one of the longest cities in the world), the landscape quickly turned greener and ´rollier hillier´ (what?… they´re words!). We spent the night in Latacunga before leaving early in the morning for ´The Loop´. The road to Zumbahua was mainly paved. We climbed quickly on winding roads and passed through countless indigenous farming communities. I nearly flattened a few of them, herding their sheep on blind bends!? … Not smart… tsk.

Road signs on ´The Loop´, we began to realise were all but non-existent, so we were stopping often to ask for directions, often for us to be left starring agog at the road/track/path that we´d just been sent down. On the map we had the road connecting the villages was labelled as a ´main road´, but seriously, after driving it, I´m certain parts of it wouldn´t even pass as a bridleway back home!

Regardless, after more than a few wrong turns, dodging round the odd landslide here and there, oh and there were a few parts where half the road had fallen away into an abyss, we eventually made it to Chugchillan. 14km took us nearly 3 hours, and I made it out of first gear twice! Oh, and by the by, we ripped our exhaust in half in the process. Oops.

may17-paul-77We thought it wasn´t worth worrying about the exhaust until we needed to leave again, and spent two days hiking around Chugchillan – the nicest being the walk to Canyon Rio Toachi. The morning we planned to leave I patched up the exhaust the best I could with duct tape and a bungee cord. It sounded less like a rally car for about 5 minutes until the duct tape melted off. Hmmm. The road back didn´t seem quite as sketchy as two days previous, but there were a few moments when Jayde and Shelia definitely had white knuckles and their eyes closed!

In Quilotoa we stayed at a cool hostel run by the indigenous people, which cost us $10 for dinner, bed, and breakfast… bargain! The main reason we went to Quilotoa was to see the crater lake. A volcano, dormant since 1800´s filled with water. Amazing. No really. We spent a day hiking around the rim, which was way, way harder than we expected. It was brilliantly sunny when we set off, but by an hour in, the clouds had dropped and it began to rain… the only way we had of knowing that we were heading the right way, were by glimpses of the lake about 1500ft below.

may17-paul-99The path was much more difficult than we were led to believe. There was loads of scrambling, and long stretches of crumbly path, no more than half a metre wide with that big 1500ft drop either side… some of the time, we said we were glad it was foggy, then we couldn´t see the drop! We met a few dogs on the way round too! Dogs out here are bloomin´ psycho! They´re soooo territorial, and start barking and growling before you´re anywhere near their ´turf´. Jayde and I have started taking our trekking poles out and picking up rocks whenever we near homesteads and hear dogs… I´ve never known anything like it. As vicious as they seem, there´s only been a couple of times when I´ve actually thought one´s been ready to attack us. Then lobbing a rock at it´s head and jumping and screaming like a caveman has fortunately been enough to dissuade it! Good times though, the crater rim hike was a cool thing to do, and it was a good workout for sure.

We left Quilotoa for Quito in the morning, only stopping at Zumbahua on the way to see their indigenous Saturday market. Hmmm. It was unique to say the least. They were slaughtering sheep on the street, and gutting them there and then. The street dogs were eating the entrails as they fell to the floor, and people were sat eating their chicken broth soup for breakfast just a couple of stalls away. Friendly place though, and there was more fresh fruit and veg than you could shake a stick at! Ha… and on the drive back, we were following a bus, with 4 sheep on the roof! They were tied on though… so that´s ok!?

May 13, 2008

Quito & Otavalo

Filed under: ecuador — Tags: , , , , — paulparkie @ 12:49

Ok, so I´ve been here around twelve days so far. I´ve seen bus-surfing sheep, have new rules for toilet paper, don´t quite yet need to buy shares in Imodium, and haven´t yet tried ´cuy´(guinea pig).

The flights ended up passing really smoothly, though I hadn´t really thought the 8 hour lay-over in Miami through. Leaving a chilly Whistler, and heading to a damp Quito, I´d naturally dressed accordingly, but walking around Miami in the mid 30´s in my wool socks, long pants and wind-proof fleece did not really work out for me so well! Point of note: Miami is hot.

We got to Quito and had two days there, mainly to acclimatise. Our hostel was amazing with a breakfast terrace overlooking the whole Old Town… amazing views every meal time. We were also given new ´toilet paper rules´. Apparently, Ecuador’s sewage system isn´t up to much, and can´t handle anything but human waste, so everything else has to go into a littler bin next to the toilet… and then some unlucky sole empties all the bins twice a day. Hmm.

Quito was only ok. Jayde and I never really felt entirely safe. Every night at the hostels, people would have fresh stories of muggings and robberies to share with everyone… Oh the joy! We did wander the Old Town and it´s churches though, and it was all pretty nice to see, and bought 2 apples, 2 bananas, 2 oranges and a papaya for $1.60!…. the crazy thing being I still think we were ripped off! Point of note 2: fruit is cheap.

The next day we planned to take the bus North to a small market town, Otavalo. This was to be our first ´bus experience´ in South America. Here goes. We caught a taxi from our hostel to the terminal terestre. When we were about a minute away the taxi driver asked me where we were catching a bus too (which in England would be fine and normal, but it can take me a minute to process anything remotely Spanish spoken to me). After convincing myself how to reply, and then babbling something about Otavalo to him, he pointed excitedly at a line of buses slowly creeping along a parking lane. That was the terminal terestre (bus depot). Strange, none of them ever appeared to stop. The taxi screeched to a halt. No seat belts. The buses were still moving. may17-paul-44We were thrown out, we grabbed our bags, a little man came and tried to grab Jayde’s bag for her, but she rightly didn´t let go of it. So both of them carried her bag awkwardly. Me, Jayde and the little grabby-bag man ran up the hill to the bus that said Ótavalo on the side. We assumed that was going to Otavalo. It still hadn´t stopped. A crazy guy hanging out of the door shouted, “Otavalo, Otavalo” a couple of times, that was proof enough for me. Another guy gabbed our bags, and threw them underneath. Jayde and I were ushered onto the bus, convinced by now we were heading to Otavalo. The bus hadn´t stopped once. And breathe.

Otavalo was a breathe of fresh air after bein

g in Quito. A lot of the countryside reminded me of home. Our hostel there was sat 300m above Otavalo on the mountainside. It had it´s own massive gardens for us to loll around in, and there were flowers and birds AND humming birds everywhere. I wad quite excited about the humming birds. Jayde and I hiked a short distance to Taxopamba Falls. We got lost only once, and realised after a few minutes that a pretty large landslide had blocked the path, and that the gargantuan pile of mud, shrubs and trees shouldn´t be sat ahead of us.

Otavalo is famous for it´s indigenous market. We weren´t really prepared for how big! We wandered it for the best part of a day, without I´m sure seeing it all. It was pretty amazing how much stuff they had to sell… a cacophony of sound and colour. Hand made rugs, bags, sweaters (Jayde bought an alpaca sweater), chickens (whole, and then by any individual part of them you might ever desire!), tonnes and tonnes of fruit (we bought 12 bananas for $0.50!

The next day we hiked from Mojanda Lake up Fuya Fuya volcano. This was the highest we´d been in South America so far (4263m), and we found it pretty slow going whilst we got used to the altitude. It´s such a weird feeling going to breathe and not being satisfied with the amount of oxygen in the air. Still we made it to the top and had lunch whilst we waited for the cloud to clear. On a clear day we were told that we should be able to see Quito. It wasn´t that clear. We didn´t see Quito. But, it was good acclimatisation for higher climbs later on!

On our last day in Otavalo we hired some horses for a trek into the hills behind the hostel, to look down on Otavalo and San Pablo Lake. I hadn´t ridden since I was like 12 years old on Scout camp… and even then, I think our horses may have been roped together, nose to tail. So, least to say, I was a little nervous. “Horses can tell if your nervous y´know”, Jayde (having ridden horses all her life!) told me … Great! Bloody great! Anyhow, after blagging the most ´tranquillo´ horse out of the three, I felt better. And, I actually enjoyed myself once we´d got going, even though I´m sure on that ride, I was pretty much just taken for a ride. A lot of the route was on a small cobbled road,

may17-jayde-65

and my horse didn´t have any shoes on! If I was to design the most uncomfortable surface for a horse with no shoes to walk on… cobbles would almost definitely be up there! Needless to say, my horse didn´t really want to walk on the cobbles, especially with a fat Englishman on his back. So he proceeded to seek out any patch of nice, soft, lush, feet-friendly grass he could find, which just and so happened to be narrow patch

es down the side of the cobbles. Thus I got dragged through any trees, flowers, spiny plants and bug-laden jungle that was over-hanging the road… which was pretty much the whole way round. Horse riding therefore, remai

ns: Work in progress.

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