The (disappointing) Coastal Crawl
I got off the bus in Guayaquil, the biggest city of Ecuador, at 5AM, tired but excited for a new country. The group of gringos I had left Mancora with bid me adieu and hopped instantly on another bus bound for Montañita.
"Guayaquil is rubbish," the Aussies convinced me, "But good luck anyway... maybe we'll see you on the beaches soon."
I was adamant in my belief, despite the books warnings and the disgust of fellow travellers, that the biggest city in Ecuador HAD to hold some appeal. I was wrong.
Got onto a city bus and trudged downtown into the most industrial, grungy city yet on mySouth American tour. I booked into a hotel (that looked like it charges by the hour, if you know what I mean), watched the 6AM football, and fell asleep. By afternoon, I had walked the recommended walks, saw the recommended sights, and realised I had to get out of there ASAP. The Aussies were right. This place was rubbish.
My plans were foiled. I came down that night with the runs, again. I thought I had purged whatever parasites had latched onto my duodenum, but I appeared to have picked up a fresh equatorial breed. I lay in bed for days, frightened to stray too far from a toilet. Starting a self-prescribed dosing of antibiotics, I managed to bid the pimps who ran the joint goodbye 3 days later, 3 days after I wanted to get the hell out of there.
My next stop was Montañita, a surfing village on the coast, and my second chance to pick up some new skills. Bad news, says the weatherman, it's going to piss rain on you for the whole 2 days you stay here. No surfing for you.
I left Montañita after 2 days of rain, my stomach moving towards stability, as I moved northwards in search of better climes.
Stop 3: Puerto Lopez. The sky was grey and angry, but held back the rain while I spent a couple days strolling past (and into) beachfront bars and fishing boats. Alyssa managed to meet me here, after her stint in the interior visiting her host family (from when she volunteered with a small village several years ago). We booked a boat with some other gringos and went off in search of mating humpback whales.
Ecuador creates bizarre coastal microclimates, according to an Irish geography teacher we had with us. Out a mile or two from the coastline we had blistering sunshine. After days of rain, it was a welcome sight. As were the humpback whales we managed to find almost instantly. We followe a single guy around for a while, and after an hour of 'oooos' and 'aaahhhhhs' I was beginning to think we were a massive cockblock for his annual whoring around. I really wanted him to get laid and was going to be very disappointed if the noise of our boats engine prevented him from finding a big lady. He did, however, manage to find a comrade about halfway through the day, and we continued to follow them around, disturbing their romantic first date.
The next day we left For the north, and Canoa, hopign that the microclimates there were better.
They weren't. It stormed for the 2 days we were there, so we booked it early, hopped on the first of 5 buses that day, and began the trip to Quito.
Quito and the Quilatoa Loop
Back at altitude, back in my beloved Andes... back to the cold. Goddamnit.
The sky in Quito, thankfully, was a vast improvement of the grey, weepy depression of the coast. For that I was happy. After spending a day doing the necessary 'big-city' chores (Alyssa had lost her camera, so bought a new one, and I finally got rid of my Soles and burnt a copy of my pictures onto a DVD), we spent a quiet day patrolling the Old Town, compelte with all the appropriate visits to Governmental Palaces, Churches, Basilicas, and small good, REAL, coffee shops.
We then stowed our backpacks in the closet of the hostal, stuffed our little daypacks with crap, and set off to the Central Highlands to go hiking a volcano... again.
The Central Highlands were beautiful. Thankfully it is rainy season, so everything was green and fresh. We hopped from bus to increasing shrinking bus as we worked our way from the big city to Quilatoa (pop. 150), to hike the crater of an extinct volcano.
I have been hiking a lot in South America, and often Mother Nature and I are at odds. This was only too true of this attempt as well. After an hour of trekking around the crater with hurricane force wintry wind kicking up sand like bullets, Alyssa turned to me and we both silently acknowledged defeat. 4 more hours would have left us blind and frostbitten. It was an even 3-3 draw now (I was defeated at the olcan Villarrica in Pucon, The amazon in Bolivia, and now this... I persevered through Hail in Fitz Roy, Sleet in the Cordillera Blanca, and rain on the Death Road.) There is one last trek planned for Colombia, 6 days through a cloud forest, so I aim to succeed in the end! Still, We saw enough of Quilatoa (I guess i can imagine what the other angles looked like, the hour was enough)
We trekked back to Quito boarding increasingly larger buses now, grabbed our stowed gear and moved downtown. We spent the following 2 days drinking, watching football, and generally taking it easy. June was ending, and we were getting ansty, despite the beauty of Quito. Enough of winter, we said, lets switch Hemispheres. Northward bound!
The Middle of the World and Market town of Otavalo
On the way northwards to Otavalo for their famously large, crazy and awesome Saturday markets, we realised we were going to cross the Equator. Having been in the Southern Hemisphere for months, this was a big deal. We got off at a little monument at the northern end of Quito to pay homage to the shift from south to north, from winter to summer, from clockwise to anticlockwise toilet flushes.
We tiptoed across the equator with great reverance, then took large amounts of comical pictures straddling the world's most important line in la mitad del mundo (middle of the world). Having had our fill of silliness, we continued on to Otavalo.
Otavalo was a nice change of pace. We wandered the streets of the market aimlessly, taking in the last bit of Ecuadorian and Quechua (indigenous Andean/Incan) culture we could.
We bought a couple of little souveneirs (in honour of the flag of the Quechua which is a rainbow, my purchases included a bright rainbow-colored hammock that I plan on hanging on the front porch to shock the entire of Diego Martin and hopefully make Cols cringe everytime she looks up at the house from the highway) and took in the last of the fine (NOT) Ecuadorian cuisine before hitting the road the following day.
The border awaits! Onwards to the country of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Escobar, and 'booger-sugar'! Onwards to Colombia!