13.06.2007 - 17.06.2007 13 °C
Wednesday 13th June - Loja to Cuenca
Moving on today, heading to Cuenca, about 5 hours north.
Meet up with Catja for breakfast at 9.30 and make our way to the 'juice' place, followed by some internet time.
Actually, that should read 'waste of internet time' - appallingly slow connection, worse than dialup - tearing our hair out, and having to pay for the privilege.
Our bus leaves at 1.30pm, so grab a taxi at 12.45 so we're there in plenty of time, and can secure a ticket. We usually book in advance, but lately the buses seem to be quite empty, and fewer and fewer tourists.
We're fine for the tickets, and it's $7.50 each for the 5 hour ride. Catja joined us in the taxi to the terminal to buy her ticket for the overnight bus to Quito tonight - don't envy the 14 hours.
Said our goodbyes and took a seat in the outside waiting area - bus left pretty much on time.
Journey uneventful, though a poor little girl across the aisle from us was (physically) poorly, and we were pleased to help out by offering the grandparents our roll of toilet paper and a plastic bag to put the, er, stuff into. Not sure if there was something going on out of town, but a lot of the local folk on board were dressed up in their traditional clothes. Got a nice 'safe journey' from the lady we helped out.
Arrived in Cuenca early evening - wet, dark and chilly. Didn't notice until the next day, but the taxi that brought us to the hotel had an oily boot, well, it did until our packs helped soak it up.
We chose to check out Hotel Milan, just 2 blocks from the main square/park and immediately pleased. USD20 a night, with breakfast, our own bathroom, TV (no CNN!) and even a safe, so pleased that we don't have to carry around all our valuables for a few days.
Had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant (El Pedregal Azteca) - nice bit of grub, though they add tax and service to the bill, an extra 22%, though the food and service both good, also enjoyed our first beer in a while.
Tired after another mostly travelling day, so an early night.
Thursday 14th June
Grrr, it's noisy outside!, but we both slept okay until the traffic outside wakes us just after 6am, and Paul wakes up with a rare headache - could be lack of liquids, or bus-fever. Oh, and the weather is pretty miserable outside too.
Enjoying the juice that comes with breakfast, though still not quite sure what it is - maybe Papaya, though there's something else too...could just be a bunch of sugar.
Checked some emails in the morning, and couldn't believe that my mate Jase has sorted out the MOT for our car (it passed!!!) as well as changing the battery that had died. What a good man! And he's very handsome too. Though, not available at the moment.
Tracked down the Austria Cafe for lunch - pleased to see Frappucinos on the menu, though they're not the best. Nice cakes though, and they even have a english language newspaper to read.
With the weather being pretty foul, it doesn't inspire us to do too much, though had a nice walk along the overflowing river near the centre of town, and then around the streets leading away from the square. We have been trying to track down a cinema, though from the 3 listed in the guide book, none seem to be open and one seems to now be a multistorey carpark.
For dinner we just grabbed some goodies from the bakery a couple of doors up from the hotel. Nice cheese rolls, and yummy custard-filled doughnuts.
Had a walk around the square in the evening, the fiesta continuing on from last night - this time there's some chinese-looking lanterns with some kind of flames inside that are floating up into the cloudy sky - the rising stack looks quite impressive. One of the lanterns catches fire just above the church - must be the devils work.
There's also a band playing and a few fireworks going off every so often, which we can still hear when we're back in the noisy room.
Friday 15th June
Once again, woken up to the sound of traffic. Even though we're on the second floor, it sounds like the buses/trucks/cars are right outside our room.
After breakfast, it's straight down to the internet cafe to press on with getting the blog done - we must get up to date before we leave Cuenca.
Chris heads off to visit the museum and we'll meet up in a couple of hours. The musuem is a little disappointing due to lack of information in English but Chris is amazed by the sight of shrunken heads. The musuem bought them from the Shuar community who live in the southern part of the Oriente (jungle). The practice of shrinking the heads of enemies is now illegal and so they shrink the heads of sloths. Not sure why.
Internet connections still seem to be slow here, and actually grind to a halt about an hour in to the session. Waited around for 15 minutes, looking at a blank screen, then left to find another place. Success, seems to be quicker here, and the keyboard has all the letters on it.
Hey, the PC's here even have headphones, so manage to listen to Faithless playing live from Hyde Park. I bet it's warmer in London than here...
Time flies and Paul meets Chris back at the hotel, though because she had to hand in the phone (with the clock on it) at the museum, she's 40 minutes late and Paul is just a little concerned - we still don't take safety for granted in South America, though he's sure all is well.
We meet up briefly before we bite the bullet to get some more blog done - 3 hours later we meet up and head out for a tasty Burrito at Monday Blue.
The religious celebrations in the square were due to finish yesterday, though there seems to be some action tonight - some schoolkids in a lively procession, some even on stilts and playing with fire. They seem to end up in the church on the main plaza.
Coincidentally, there's a fancy icecream shop on the square too, and we enjoy a couple of yummy milkshakes, before a slow walk back to the hotel.
Chris frowns at what we're watching on TV - more 'zombies' in Doom - she actually had a dream/nightmare about zombies last night after we saw 28 Weeks Later at the cinema last week. No CSI New York/Miami tonight, and we're missing watching Miami Ink too. Umm, I think we need to get out a little more...
Saturday 16th June
Outside noise wakes us up early again, though slept okay thru the night.
No rush out of the room today, and the rain answers the 'what shall we do today?' question.
Pleased to see that the hotel does laundry, and unlike most other hotels, there's no buggering around paying for thing by the item. Nice and simple $2 for washing/$2 for drying, up to 5 kilos, and we'll get it back this afternoon. Big relief for the one of us who has been recycling underwear for a couple of days. At least it keeps the flies of the other member of the party.
Late morning Chris attempts to cheer up travel-weary Mr Grumpy and we head for a milkshake, which goes down very well, though we're nearly killed by sub-tropical death-wasps who also hate the cold and wet outside.
Back to 'El Pedregal Azteca' for a Mexican, and to take up their cheap lunch deal.
A little shopping straight after and Chris is relieved to have found a couple of nice summer dresses to take to Cancun in a couple of weeks, as well as a 'going-out shirt and some perfect fitting jeans. Manage to convey to the friendly girl in the shop that Chris doesn't need anything else, thanks.
Paul goes back to the internet to attack the outstanding blog (it's 'behind', rather than 'marvellous'). Four hours later, he meets Chris back in room 204.
As well as a shoulder pain from too much sitting at the screen, Paul is also forced to endure Bridget Jones - Edge of Reason. Could have been worse, and over-the-top action flick 'Transporter 2' follows, to even things up a bit.
Sunday 17th June - Cuenca to Banos
Whoopee, it's Sunday, and a travelling day, so a double whammy of less traffic outside anyway, and being up earlier than anyone else in town, so woken by the alarm rather than sodding cars and buses.
Our final breakfast at Hotel Milan is good and it has been nice enjoying the views from this 4th floor breakfast room.
After settling up (excellent value here for 20 bucks a night) we grab a taxi straight outside and the friendly driver (we didn't speak, but he had a nice face) gets us to the main bus terminal in time to catch the 8.30 bus to take us to Banos.
Not quite a straightforward journey, and we'll have to change about 7 hours into the trip in Ambato. Whilst we're one of the last on the bus, we seem to have been given seats at the front (a little more dangerous in the event of a collision) which are legroom-heaven. The trip to Ambato is $16 for two.
Easy journey, well, we're just sitting here, and we have some tasty vanilla wafers to munch along the route.
Countryside a delight as we thunder through, and we get a varied selection of traditional dress as we make our way up and down the hills. Lots of greenery around and the patchwork effect of the remote, but very productive, fields as we pass by reminds us of home.
Not sure where the bus will drop us in Ambato, as it will be heading on to Quito, so perhaps skipping the main bus terminal here over the other side of town. Turns out to be a side-of-the-road job, but the conductor suggests the terminal isn't far away.
Decide against bothering with the terminal, we´re on the main road to Banos anyway, so we do as the locals do and wait by the side.
Just a couple of minutes later we're on the Expresso Banos, where we experience the best ever example of something doing what is says on the tin. How we didn't die, at least 23 times, on this bus is a miracle, though the suggested travel time between Ambato and Banos is thoroughly smashed. Hopefully the driver wasn't. Probably the scariest bus ride of the trip so far, and we've been on some real crackers.
At the main terminal we walk towards the recommended accomodation, though it's a fair walk across to the other side of the smallish town. We checkout the Posada del Arte, a small but charming place seeingly run by an American couple. The room is lovely and we're told the breakfast is very good, though it's $34 a night and a little too much, especially without Cable telly.
Just a little way along is Hotel Volcano, though just walking towards reception we feel that we'll be outpriced again. Looks very nice, but even more expensive at $56 a night.
Try two other small places, without success, before seeing what Hostal Carolina has to offer. The room is small but clean, usual private facilites, cable TV - all for $10 a night, which is the cheapest for a long time. Snag a room at the back to increase our chances of a quieter night/morning. Really didn't think we'd be paying so little in this tourist town! - means we can splash out on some better food.
After settling into the bargain room, we head back to Cafe Ali Cumba, a nice little place on the central square (there's a couple of squares, this one has some trees and a wooden 'Puente de Amor'). It's run by a Danish woman and her Ecuadorian husband - we met her in the street when we were looking for the hostal.
Great sandwiches, coffee, smoothies, chocolate cake were promised, and we were glad to go back and enjoy some of her stuff. Being gringo-owned, it's a touch more expensive, but worth it, and we'll surely be going back.
Pick up some goodies on the way back to the room, including white chocolate.
TV entertains us in the evening, watchin a rerun of the Brit Awards 2007, which seems to be suffering from terrible subtitle translation. Oasis performance only spoiled by Liam's poor vocals.
continues on next thread...