Day 23: Zaruma, Ecuador's southern gold country
Nov 23, 2005
|We decided to not to fly from Guayaquil to Lima but instead traverse the distance by autobus and spread the travel into several days:
Guayaquil to Piñas--5 hrs
Piñas to Loja--5 hrs
Loja to Piura (Peru)--9 hrs
Piura to Trujillo--6 hrs
Trujillo to Lima--8 hrs
An 8 hour bus ride could have a single 5 minute stop for toilet or an hour stop for lunch and no one informs you of the length of the stop. During a bus ride, Uffe picked up a tabloid paper. There was an article about a minister who had slashed the throat of his wife, drowned his two small children, then commited suicide. Close-up photos of all the bodies were shown. Another photo showed the body of a 71-year lady with her face nearly unrecognizable after being killed in a car accident. Nothing seems to be off limits in these papers.
We left Galapagos with two backpacks full of dirty laundry but then didn't manage to get them laundered in Guayaquil so we carried them to Piñas. We arrived in Piñas and found the best hotel in town which cost $15 a night. I entered the room and heard my girlfriends Mai, Sanh and Eileen threatening their husbands with divorce had they been dragged into such a dump.
At 2pm, Uffe quickly took a taxi to a lavanderia that we had passed by.
- "Sorry...I only take dry cleaning but my neighbor may do you a favor. Follow me."
- "Okay...I can wash them for you but I am going to charge you by the dozen!"
- "Can I pick them up this evening? We leave town tomorrow morning."
- "Ummm Señor, the water only come on at certain hours and I do need sunshine to dry. Come back tomorrow afternoon and hope for sunshine."
The next morning, there was very little water for a cold shower. We took a one hour bus ride to travel 10 miles /16 km and spent the morning in a town called Zaruma, built in 1530s around a few gold mines that are still active. The town sits on a mountain top with streets lined with wooden houses from the 1600s. We were transported to another era where sidewalks are wooden and general stores have rough wooden floors and a single light source. The stores displayed large sacks on corn, flour, sugar and rice. Tailors and fabric store owners came out of their shops and greeted us and held long conversations with Uffe. An old wrinkly brown lady in a blue cotton dress walked slowly passed us once, twice, then on the third time she stopped and stood smiling and gazing at Uffe. "Muy guapo el señor!" (The señor is very handsome) A truck fitted with wooden benches passed by serving as the town bus. A small boy shrieked "Mami! Gringo! Mami!" I visited a public toilet and found a lady busily sewing on her machine while her daughter sold toilet paper for 10 cents. An old man at the market showed us his goods: 3 century-old miners lamps, some marijuana leaves and some coca leaves.
Once we returned to Piñas, Uffe picked up the laundry while I tried to shower--no water. "Lucky for you that I laundered last night. The main water pipe broke so the town doesn't have water today", the laundry lady told Uffe. Thank God we had clean clothes because we were both sporting our last pair of undies and I feared that Uffe would demand to RECYCLE! [Uffe: Why are you embellishing, Sweetheart, you know we already had recycled two pairs of underwear.... just admit it! ;-)]
We took the last bus to Loja which left at 3.15 in the afternoon. When we experienced the road conditions, we understood why there would be no later buses: the first three hours was rough riding on a narrow gravel road winding through the Andes. Each time a bus or truck came towards us in the opposite direction, we somehow managed to get past each other. At twilight, we reached a paved road, and the last 1.5 hours to Loja were smooth.
At 8.30pm, excited by the concept of a hot shower, we arrived at a luxurious hotel that was recommended in our guide book. But, alas, every room was booked! The hotel staff called six nearby hotels, but all had the same answer: no vacancy! There was a big architect conference in town and everything was booked. We finally found a single available room in yet another basic (not dumpy) hotel. We were just glad to have a room and not spend a on the street. Nevermind that the nightclub nearby pumped music until 1:30 am.
Loja is a pleasant city known as the musical capital of Ecuador with some well-kept parks, the country's cleanest market, a museum and a botanical garden. The indigenous men wore navy blue shorts, white cotton shirts, braided hair topped with a hat. The indigenous women wore bright turquoise knee-length pleated shirts, white embroidered blouses, ponchos pinned with elaborate silver broches and all women were topped with a hat. We spent a day sightseeing and arranging our bus trip to Peru.
Nobody in Ecuador has change, in a small town or a large city--we gave a security guard $1 for a museum entry and 15 minutes later, he found us returned the 20 cent change. It seems like every other time we pay, someone had to run somewhere to get change.
We left Ecuador with its 12 million people rich in experiences and visual impressions. We had seen the capital city Quito, rode horses in the artisan-center Otavalo, navigate the Amazon jungles in Cuayabeno, rolled around with animals the Galapagos islands, rested in the commercial center city of Guayaquil, and enjoyed the quaint small towns of the gold country.