WORLD TRAVELS 2005/2006 travel blog

Keeping the right side of the equator

Mountain biking around San Pablo

View from our lodge in the Amazon

Tubing in the Amazon (Heidi's foot)

On the tubes this time!

On the tubes

Natural water shutes

Drinking cocktails in Tena

Heidi abseiling

Jumping off waterfalls

Shaun and his dinner (cuy) - guinea pig

Road blocks in Ecuador

We met up with our group on Saturday evening and also got to see our home for the next 3-4 months, a big bright yellow truck! Unfortunately it is going to be a fairly full trip (19 on the leg to Lima, then 23 to Santiago and back to 20 for the final trek to Rio (maximum people is 23!). Oh well, despite being quite cosy on the truck it gives us lots of others to mingle with which is good, and we are not the oldest either!. The people we are travelling with first initially are:

Joel & Bell (a crazy ozzie couple who we ended up spending most of our time with)

Aaron & Becs (an english couple who we also spent most of our time with)

John - a mad irish man at 54 years old

The cackling witches - Janine from Barbados, Lynne from Scotland and Katie

Rum Club - Jody, Carolyn, Fuz, Emma and Camilla

Alison - a TA chick who ended up being the worst person on the truck!

Jojo - great chick from London

Heinz - an astute Austrian guy

Jock - a scottish guy who loved overlanding and who idolised Tony (the driver)

The following morning we all packed into the back and headed up to Mityad del Mundo (that is the Equator for those who cannot read Spanish).There is a huge monument there indicating the exact position of the equator, however it was discovered 8 years ago (by using GPS), that it is is about 200m out! So we were taken up the road to the real site which was actually quite well hidden (the govt obviously want you to go to their big monument as it cost them quite a bit to put there). The real thing is actually quite interesting, despite being bitten by lots of sandflies. We did water experiments to see which direction it went down the plughole, and Shaun also managed to balance an egg on a nail and got a certificate (gravity forces pull together on the equator making it easier to balance things). Also at the site are little exhibitions on how the local indians used to live, including authentic mud houses, burial chambers and even an instruction board of how to shrink a head (a real shrunken head included!).

Following the visit we went back to the truck where Shaun got to go in the first truck cook group and prepare lunch for everyone (he did have Cam & J9 helping him). They didn't manage to poison anyone, and then the truck was off to Otavalo - yes the place where we had stayed ourselves two nights before. That night we all had a big group dinner in the smallest restaurant in Otavalo (we only just fitted in) as well as a few bottles of wine. They obviously were not used to preparing food for such a big group as it took about 2 hours for our meals to arrive. I (Heidi)also must have partaken in a tad too much wine as was rather ill that night!

While most people were off shopping in the markets the following day, 5 off us decided to hire some mountain bikes and go for a ride round the local villages. We soon discovered that most of Ecuador is up hill, and steep ones at that. We did a lot of walking the bikes as the altitude made it twice as hard. The little local villages (Peguche, Illuman and Agato) were quite interesting as there were no touristy shops and the locals were all very friendly. We even came across some locals fixing a drain along the road, and after much bartering, we thought we had reached a good deal for some colas. However, we soon found out that we were buying drinks for everyone working on the drain!! Oh well, they appreciated it and enjoyed sharing it with us. We then rode on and ended up riding right around Lago San Pablo (see photo) until we came to the Pan-Americana (the main highway that runs the length of South America). This took us back into Otavalo, mainly down a very steep hill with huge trucks roaring past and honking.

That night we decided to introduce a few drinking games to help the mingling process! Then headed out to the now infamous pie shop (see previous entry) for dinner and found out that they did great hamburgers as well.

On Tuesday we all got in the back of the truck and headed over the Andes to the Amazon jungle. This was an 8.5 hours drive over some fairly rough roads. We reached a maximum altitude of 4200m and none of us suffered from any altitude sickness which is good (especially as that will be the highest point of the inca trail to Machu Pichu in Peru). We ended up in a town called Tena which is the capital of the Napo province. That night we decided to try the fish called Tilapia caught locally from the river called Rio Napo (this feeds into the Amazon). We also managed to find a cocktail bar that night!

The following day while most of the group went rafting, some of us went to the local zoo. After walking round it once and seeing nothing except an ostrich of all things, we realised that we missed a big chunk of the zoo out where there were small cats, monkeys, snakes, deer, big guinea pig type things and turtles. This took all of about an hour but these were supposed to be native species of the amazon that we were unlikely to see over the next couple of days.

That afternoon we headed up to Shangri-la, a lodge on a cliff top overlooking the Rio Napo in the amazon jungle (see photo for the view from our room). There were some huge insects lurking around the lodge, including massive crickets, noisy cicadas and even a resident tarantula (hence we tucked our mosquito nets in tightly around our beds that night). It makes you very paranoid thinking a tarantula may walk over your face in the middle of the night! Before bedtime though we had a night walk through the jungle. We all covered ourselves to the hilt in case any creatures dropped in on us out of trees etc. This was quite an eery experience although we didn't actually see that much except a very small snake, the biggest cricket we had ever seen (like a weta), a frog and apparently the eyes of an alligator (although neither Heidi or I saw this). A fantastic but rather freaky experience!

The next day we were up early again and went for another walk in the jungle, this time along a river bed, with our guides Mitildo (a native Indian) and Miguel (a naturalist). Despite both the guides it was Heidi that was the nature spotter, seeing a snake (although it looked more like a big earthworm), millipedes and another huge cricket. We also saw some tracks of a wild cat (fresh apparently). Part of the track took us through narrow ravines, which we soon found out was the home of a bat family. We had to use ropes to climb up the slippery walls and waterfalls whilst dodging bats that were flying at us. We didn't have time to sit down after lunch, as we were off tubing down the river to a local village. Our group decided that tubing was a bit boring - well the river was quite slow, and decided to capsize the raft every few seconds usually before some rapids for a bit of excitement. At the village we were shown some traditional houses and some of the ways of life of a typical amazonian villager (makes our life look easy).

That night we were visited by the local Shaman (a sort of witch doctor/spiritual leader). Basically he gets high on hallucinogenics, smokes lots of fags and then smacks a branch around the head of the person who is to be 'cleansed' from evil spirits, before spitting aftershave on them and blowing smoke all over them - all done in the dark. We were then finally allowed to relax for the rest of the evening after being on our feet all day!

Day three in the jungle was spent following another river upstream, which involved walking up waterfalls, rock climbing and squeezing through gaps, all very good fun. The high point was climbing up a rather strong waterfall holding onto a rope! We then climbed up a very steep hill only to come down the other side which was even steeper! After lunch we did a 45 minute walk to the local swimming hole. We were all looking forward to a well deserved dip in the natural pool until we saw a vey large snake bathing in the sun on the waters edge! Luckily it saw us arrive and decided to leave. We spent the next hour or so diving, jumping and sliding (on natural waterfall type slides) into the pool.

After our experience in the jungle we drove south through Puyo, and back into the Andes to our first campsite close to the town of Banos (run by Nina and Franco an eccentric swiss couple). We decided to try a bit of canyoning in a nearby river the following day. This basically involved walking down the course of a river until you come to a few obstacles and then you had to either throw yourself off waterfalls, zip wire down them and even abseil a few parts. We actually had to do 3 jumps (2m, 4m and an 8m - a bloody long way when you're at the top and the target area isn't that big), then a zip wire at an almost vertical angle and then 2 abseils down waterfalls of about 20m height (see photos). Afterwards we got to have freshy caught trout for lunch overloking the valley.

In the afternoon we thought we'd risk a trip into Banos on the local buses. Banos is at an elevation of 1800m, is surrouded by green mountains and sits in front of Volcano Tungurahua. In October 1999 Banos was evacuated because of volcanologist fears of eruption. There was no major eruption by Jan 2000, so thousands of locals forced there way back through the military blockades to return to their homes. To date it is still on orange alert status, which is the reason why we don't stay in the town itself (Banos is at the end of a shute at the bottom of the volcano). One of the main reasons to visit the town is to go to the thermal hotsprings located there. We were all geared up for a few hours relaxing in the pools, however were rather shocked to find the water was a lovely shade of brown! Not quite what we expected however we still decided to join all the locals there for a few hours and Katie even nearly got picked up by a local guy!

After a near death experience on the bus ride back to the campsite (packed bus's going 100km an hour round bends where there are vertical drops either side of you), we had a tasty bit of guinea pig for dinner (called Cuy over here). It actually tastes a bit like rabbit and was quite nice although did not have a lot of meat and was also quite boney.

From Banos it was onto Cuenca....or so we thought. Cuenca is supposed to be a nice colonial city which we were looking forward to seeing. However after passing through some dramatic mountain scenery we came to an abrupt halt in what we first thought was a road accident as all we could see was a lot of fire on the road ahead (see photo). We soon realised that it was not an accident but a road block. After about half an hour the army arrived (who looked like they had an average age of 12!!) and cleared the road so we were able to move on....until we came across another road block about 4 miles further on. This time the road was blocked with boulders and not burning tyres. After an hours wait the road was cleared by some other drivers and we moved on. After dodging our way through more stones and boulders on the road, we went over a brow of the hill and up ahead we saw the biggest block of them all, with indigenous people piling trees onto the road and setting them alight. We came to a stop and decided we may as well start drinking to kurb the time. Several hours passed and then we saw the locals running toward us (and other vehicles) with huge rocks in their hand. Tony the driver did the quickest 3 point turn ever as some of the locals tried to stop us by putting boulders under the wheels. Luckily they didn't succeed and we hightailed it out of there. Our first major drama!! We think the locals were protesting against the interim govt and oil prices. Due to this our plans unfortunately had to change and we decided to head for Peru three days earlier than planned. We headed down from the hills and mountains towards the Ecuadorian coast where there are numerous banana plantations. Temperatures were a lot hotter there and it was quite misty. We did a free camp in what we afterwards nick-named 'The Swamp', due to being stuck in a big muddy field in misty rain as well as toilets being like the one in the film trainspotting.

The following day it was off to the beach in Peru................

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