We crossed the border into Ecuador at Ipiales and if all the South American border crossings are like this, it will be a breeze. We were through in about an hour and a half, visas and vehicle permits free, insurance not compulsory and not a word about Francie. We headed on to Quito and met up with the French family again. We couldn’t find parking lots anywhere in the downtown area so ended up parking at a gas station just outside the city with the French. It’s also a really hard city to drive around and we drove around in circles for a few hours before finally asking a taxi driver to show us the way to the Equator. You would think an attraction as big as the equator would be well signposted but apparently not. There is a huge monument erected at the point of the Equator but after paying in, we were then informed that the real equator is actually about 230m away from this monument. So we walked to the real Equator where they had a really interesting museum. Our guide had some really cool demonstrations to show us. First he placed a sink of water on the equator line, pulled the plug and the water flowed directly down into a bucket. He scattered a few leaves into the water so we could see the direction of flow. Next he moved the sink to the north of the equator and the water flowed counter clockwise. When he moved it to the south of the equator the water flowed clockwise! We wouldn’t have believed it unless we’d seen it with our own eyes. Also, because of the gravitational forces it is possible to balance an egg on a nail. We got certificates for successfully balancing the egg! Next, we did a few exercises either side of the equator to prove our resistance but on the equator we lost all resistance. We couldn’t even walk a straight line on the equator. We lost our balance completely and it felt like a sobriety test for the cops. The museum is a bit cheesy and touristy but it was cheap and an enjoyable day out. We made a quick side trip to a nearby ancient volcanic crater where there are 1,500 people living and farming in the crater. There is a dirt road in and out of the crater but the locals prefer to walk the one hour hike up and down the volcano as apparently it is quicker. We were told the people live until 90 and 100 here because of all the exercise they get. On the walk back up we met a 76 year old who walks the volcano everyday. You can see from the photos how steep a climb it is so fairplay them. We returned to the gas station that evening to learn that the French family had been robbed. They took the bus into the city center and a pick pocketer managed to steal Lydie’s wallet from her bag even though it was buttoned and zipped. By the time they noticed and contacted the credit card company, there was already $1,800 charged! We felt so bad for them. They went to the tourist police in Quito and even though it was only 11am, there had already been 167 complaints by tourists! So anyone going to Quito watch your wallets!
After hearing the French family’s experience in Quito, we decided to give a walk around the city a miss and just keep going. We headed east across the Papallacta Pass and into the Oriente, which is the Amazon Basin lowlands east of the Andes. The drive was really spectacular but a bit scary in parts as the road is washed out in parts and the drop down is about 200ft. We arrived in the town of Tena and inquired about tours into the jungle. All tours were about $45 per person per day which was a little too expensive for us. Instead we noted one of the jungle cabin hotels that was mentioned on one of the tours and decided if we could drive there maybe we could get a cheaper tour into jungle. Somewhere along the road we took a wrong turn and ended up at a dead end at a river in the jungle! There was a couple of houses and restaurant there so we decided to stop for the night and try figure out where we were. It turned out we had actually driven to one of the villages that were included on the tours, Punta Ahuano. The next day we paid a guy 25c each to bring us across the river, Rio Napo, and went for a hike into jungle. The weather was miserable, really wet and cold, but we didn’t mind as it made it really feel like we were in a rainforest. Afterwards we asked another local to bring us for a tour down the river for a few hours and he charged us only $20. He brought us to an Amazon Animal Sanctuary which is owned by a Swiss couple. They rescue the animals from the black market and bring them here for safety. We saw lots of monkeys and birds and a funny looking animal called a capybara. It looks like a giant hamster. We stayed just a couple of nights at the village and were delighted with our experience. There are still some really interesting and unique tribes living in the jungle. We saw some photos of a tribe that literally wears nothing but a string around their waist! To get to these villages would mean a 1-2 week trek into the jungle which we opted against. Maybe another time, without a van and a dog.
After the jungle, we drove to Banos for a relaxing three days. It is a really nice laid back town with plenty of gringo restaurants and hotels. It is also famous for its hot baths because of the nearby volcano. After been drenched for two days in the jungle, a soak in a hot bath was well in order. We even got to sample some grilled guinea pig! It was a fairly skinny guinea pig so Francie got more value out of the bones than we did the meat. From Banos, we drove to Riobamba via Guaranda which is probably one of our favorite scenic routes so far. The road circles Volcan Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador. We got some mind blowing views of the mountain along the drive. I think we were lucky the clouds had cleared as lots of people went that way and said they saw nothing. We also met lots of locals dressed in the traditional costume and stumbled on a carnival outside Guaranda. They people were all dressed up playing music, dancing and singing and of course drinking some local hooch that they insisted on making us drink. We spent just a night in Riobamba and then Cuenca, both really nice towns, before arriving in Vilcabamba. Our German friends, Thomas and Antonella, had told us about this place. It’s another relaxing town surrounded by mountains with really not a lot going on. Thomas had stayed at a hotel owned by two German brothers, Peter and Dieter, five years ago and said it was really nice. We found the hotel no problem and were surprised to see that Thomas and Antonella were also there. We knew they were stopping there but were sure they would be gone. The hotel is about 2km outside of the town on a hill with gorgeous views of the town and mountains. We had only planned to stay a couple of nights but ended up staying a week. The owners charged us just $8/day to park. We had hot showers, laundry, internet and the best restaurant ever. Everything on the menu was only $4-$5 and was just as good as any fine dining restaurant in the States. The food was one of the reasons we stayed so long! There is some great hiking in the area so it was great to get out walking in the mountains with Francie. We also ended up guests at a wedding. Another German couple were just on vacation at the hotel and they loved the place so much, that they spontaneously decided to get married there! They got a local judge to marry them right in the gardens of the hotel. They had no friends or family with them so they invited the guests of the hotel. There were only about 15 people; ourselves, a French couple, a Danish couple, the Germans and a few local Ecuadorians. It was lovely and we celebrated until all hours of the morning. Myself and Jimmy lashed out the accordion and bodhran for entertainment. At one stage, we were all singing Drunken Sailor at the same time but in English, Danish, Spanish and German. We also gave a few Irish dance lessons and our own rendition of Riverdance. It will definitely be a unique wedding story for them to tell.
We are now about a 2 day drive from Peru. We don’t want to leave Vilcabamba but we have to keep moving at some stage. So probably tomorrow we will leave and get back on the road. Until next time…………