El Adventurio Beginsio

May 22, 2009 - Baños, Ecuador

 iHola!

 Welcome back to my travel blog after a 3 week break. I'm back on the road again on an Overland Truck, this time in South America. I said goodbye to good ol' England on Thursday 14th May for a lengthy flight West to Quito, Ecuador, via Miami in Florida. The 9 hour flight to the states was OK for most of it with occasional turbulence, and I landed in Miami with 2hrs 30 mins til my connecting flight to Quito left. Considering you're meant to check in 2hrs before your flight leaves, this essentially gave me half an hour to get through the infamously strict American Immigration. After 15 mins of standing in a line so slow we were being overtaken by erosion, I explained my predicament to a very nice Immigration Officer who took me straight to the front and through without any problems. Since my luggage was going direct to Quito I checked in quickly and was soon on the second leg of my trip down to South America. After landing I had the opportunity to test out my fluent (read; minimal) Spanish in getting through Ecuadorian Immigration & Customs, where everyone was wearing face masks due to the proximity to Mexico and the dreaded swine flu. Taking great care not to sneeze, I took my trusty Spanish phrasebook and arranged a taxi to negotiate me through the crazy Latin-American driving to a small guesthouse in the middle of Quito which would be my home for 3 nights. 16 hours worth of travelling and a bit of jet lag thrown in meant I was in bed by 10pm aiming to be rested for a day of exploration. Due to its location in the middle of 2 mountain ranges, Quito is 30km long but only 3km across, so after breakfast I decided to wander up to the top of town and take the Teleferico (cable car) up to the top of the live Volcano Pichincha for some spectacular views down over the city. Altitude was becoming a problem since I was now 4100m above sea level and could really feel the effects of the thin air when walking around. The rest of the day was spent pottering around the city before meeting up with 2 members of the tour who'd flown in that evening for dinner.

 The next day I braved the Quito public transport system and took a bus out to El Mitad del Mundo - The Middle of the World - where the Equator passes through Ecuador. I spent a couple of hours there looking at the museum, displays and taking obligatory photos of one foot on either side of the Equator before heading back into Quito and up into the old part of the city to visit La Basillica. This massive cathedral, built in the mid 16th Century, overlooks much of the city and sits opposite the 41m high aluminium statue of the Virgin Mary on Panecillo Hill. That evening we had the welcome meeting for the tour and got to meet the unfortunate 15 people who would have to put up with me for 6 weeks.

 The morning after was our first day on the road and a 7 hour drive to the small community of Misahualli on the banks of the River Napo; one of the tributaries to the Amazon. From there it was a 20 minute ride in motorised canoe to the Anaconda Lodge situated on one of the islands in the River, which would be our home for 3 nights. That evening was spent relaxing in preparation for the next morning, when we would be going for a walk in the jungle. Livio, our Ecuadorian guide, took us on a 4 hour stroll through the rainforest, teaching us about all the local trees and plants and how the locals use them in everyday life, such as weaving leaves for tents and baskets, as well as making arrows and poison for hunting. In the afternoon we visited an animal sanctuary, where they take care of wildlife which has been mainly been confiscated by police as it was being smuggled out of the country. Monkeys, parrots, ocelots (like a small leopard) and turtles were all being looked after with the aim to reintroduce as many back into the wild as possible.

 Our second morning in the Amazon was spent in a small local village, where we played football against the children, visited their school and learnt how to make chicha - the local beer. After that it was back down to the river bank where we were provided with 20 poles of balsa wood and some rope to build 2 rafts to take us all back to the lodge. With help from our guides, we were soon water-borne and paddling in a guys vs girls race down the Napo. It turned out to be great fun with many attempts to sabotage each others progress, although in the end the girls weight advantage as our raft/submarine finished about 10 seconds behind. After a quick lunch we paid a visit to another community where we were lucky enough to take part in a ceremony performed by the local shaman. He prepared a drink from the surrounding plants which had supposed hallucinogenic properties, which we drank and were then sent into a trance. Actually, none of that last sentence happened and I only said it to scare my parents who I know will be worried now. Sorry. Anyway, all that happened was 2 members of the group were chosen to be "cleansed" through the summoning of the spirits. Regardless of whether it worked or not, it was still quite a surreal experience being sat in the rainforest with a witch doctor.

 The morning after we took the canoe back to the truck and had a short 4 hour drive to Baños, a small town in the mountains known locally for the natural hot springs that occur from the surrounding mountains. On our first full day there we hired dune buggies and spent a couple of very happy hours charging around the mountain roads and across dirt tracks. That evening we visited the hot springs where I tested my body's ability to cope with temperature change by hopping from the very hot to the very cold plunge pools. Today was our final day in Baños, and was spent wandering around this very nice small town and making the most of the time due to hitting the road at 6.30am tomorrow morning.

 It is 7pm here so I must leave you now and go and make myself look/smell respectable in preparation for dinner tonight. The food here is absolutely fantastic and since travelling is all about trying everything I believe it is only right to embrace the local cuisine.

Ciao for now and lots of love to everyone back home

 

Jon

 

 


2 Comments

Mum:
May 23, 2009
Hi. Really pleased to hear from you. Sounds as though you have fallen back into "travelling" mode very easily and hope the group are as great as the ones from Africa. I can well imagine you were the ring leader in the sabotage attempts in the rafts - that is like a red rag to a bull. Carry on enjoying yourself, my happiest news is I finally cut my handicap and now down to 16, by the time I am 75 I will be as good as you!! Take care and lots of love. Look forward to hearing the next installment M & D xxxxxx
Donna:
May 23, 2009
You will definately need to bring your beer making skills back to the UK ;-)! Hope all is jolly xx
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