02.05.2011 25 °C
After leaving the Galapagos we landed at Guayaquil around midday and headed straight to the bus terminal to escape this town as soon as possible! After I had my first Big Mac in almost 10 years we got on the "El Dorado" bus to Baños. The journey was supposed to take about 6 or 7 hours but it took almost 9 with frequent stops to get passengers on and off. The guide book described the journey as a spectacular one, especially when driving passed the glacier of a volcano at an altitude of about 4000m but unfortunately we got there after dark and it was misty, cold, rainy and miserable anyway. Bus transports in Ecuador are probably the worse we have experienced so far in our trip. Though other travellers have warned us about some more scarry moments to come in some parts of Colombia and central America in the months to come!
Upon arrival in Baños, we haggled hard to get a good deal in a decent hotel for 4 nights. Walking around a town you don't know at night in search of a hotel you like and for the right price has become a common feature of our trip! We decided to stay 4 nights as every travellers we met kept going on and on about how amazing this place was. Well.... it was an okay town and we eventually had a good time but we didn't find anything extraordinary about this place. This is a small thermal town surrounded by mountains, volcanos and waterfalls with numerous possibilities for hikes and extreme sports.
On the first day we looked up in vain at the sky to see the volcano but like in Pucon a few months ago we couldn't see anything because of the clouds.
After visiting the zoo where we saw jaguars and pumas, we went for a hike around town that took us 5 hours to go up and down about 1100m each way.
On the second day it rained quite a bit and we postponed our planned bicycle ride. We then decided to go to the public hot springs but as we got there we didn't really feel like going into what looked like a muddy pond with almost half of the town's population in it!
At this point we realised that we were sick of mountain sceneries, hot springs and rain in the Andes so we decided to move North towards Quito Eastwards i.e. going through the region bordering the Oriente (the jungle) and not Westwards in the much more touristic area of Cotopaxi and Quilotoa in the Andes! On the way back to our hostel we walked passed a private spa, which looked quite good and which was fairly cheap too. We went there and spent 3 hours being pampered in steam showers, saunas, jaccuzi and we also had a big swimming pool just for us. The day turned out to be better than when it started. After this, we walked up the 700 steps up to the statue of the Virgin that overlooks the town and thought afterwards that we should have done that prior to going to the spa as we didn't have any energy to get up these stairs!
On the third day, the sun and the blue sky finally showed up and after yet another huge breakfast (we loved this town for its cafes and restaurants)
we set off with our rented mountain bikes on "las rutas de cascadas", a 60-70k road mostly downhill (not according to Charlotte though!) on the way to the jungle with many waterfalls and green scenery. We had a perfect day cycling and hiking towards the waterfalls.
As we got further and further away from Baños in the afternoon we decided to stop a bus to take us back to Baños with our bikes. The first bus we flagged didn't stop so we hitch-hiked and the first pick-up truck that we saw stopped and took us in the back with the bikes for the hour journey back into town. Brillant!
On the next day we left Baños and stopped for 2 nights in the small village of Misahualli on the edge of the jungle.
The scenery was quite spectacular as the high mountains scenery gave way to green dense jungle vegetation with tropical heavy rain at times. When we arrived in Misahualli we spent our time finding a hotel, organising our trip for the following day and observing the group of small monkeys, called capuccino, which is permanently living on the main plaza and which draws a lot of attention with their funny behaviors.
On the following day we left at 9.30am on a motor canoe going down the river with 5 other people and our guide to explore the nearby jungle. We first stopped on a beach where a woman was looking for gold. It was interesting to see how it was done. A lot of hard work for less than a few grams. Then, we went to the local museum of animal traps. Some of them were quite crual; a lot more than our traditionnal glue mouse trap.
We then walked in the jungle for about 2 hours and understood better the reason of having a guide with us. The vegetation was dense, and it felt like plants were growing back as soon as we cut them to open the path.
We didn't see much insects or animals but the noise they were making was loud. Before going to the jungle, I was looking forward to taste the numerous fruits that our guide talked about the day before...we indeed were very fortunate to find a bunch of ants that tasted like lemon juice, miam! After this tiring walk, Franck swam in the Rio Napo and experienced tubing, which is a sort of buoy for grown up, or a tyre for very big trucks. Franck hence enjoyed a relaxing time drifting down the river.
After lunch and a heavy tropical rain, we went to an animal rescue center.
There was for instance a jaguar that was found by the police in a hotel as it was travelling with a peruvian couple. We also saw a tarentula hiden inside a leaf!
It took us about two hours to go back to the dead town of Misahualli. The sun set was amazing.
On the next day we decided go to Quito and took 2 buses with a connection in Tena. We arrived mid or late afternoon and spent a good hour going from one hostel to another to find a decent one within our budget. We initially said we would stay four nights there. We stayed in La Mariscal area, which is where most hostels are located and where all the bars, restaurants and all the "gringos" can be found. It is indeed a very lively and overpriced area but if this is what you are after you might as well go to a dodgy party town in England as you wouldn't really notice the difference and it would save you the airfare. Before dinner we headed to several tour agencies to see if we could organise a trip to the Amazon rain forest as we intended to do for a while now. All the agencies we saw were either too expensive or too cheap with poor service and we decided in the end not to go to the jungle... After an early dinner in the cheapest place recommended in our guide book we headed towards the historical centre to see the momuments lit up at night. The area was deserted and fairly small as well. We were not very impressed by our first couple of hours in Quito.
On our second day we decided to check another travel agency that was recommended to us for jungle trips (we changed our minds again overnight) and after a lot of haggling over we managed to get more or less the price that we wanted and decided to take the 5 days trip that they offered us. We then went back to the historical centre and actually found it rather more pleasant during the day as it was more lively. We especially realli liked going up the gothic Basilica del voto nacional, where you can not only enjoy the view but explore the platforms of various heights and see the scary gargoyls.
We finally changed our minds again and decided that we had seen enough of Quito and that we would leave for the small village of Mindo in a cloud forest 2 hours from Quito, where a lot of tropical birds could be observed. We arrived in Mindo the following day and as we did not expect, it was raining a lot. Fortunately, I had my poncho! Anyway, the bus dropped us miles away from the town center. After walking for about 20 minutes in the rain, a car kindly stopped to let us know that the town was another 7km away. The driver called us a taxi. We stayed at hostel Armonia, which looked like a wooden chalet surrounded by dense vegetation and hummingbirds.
We walked to Mindo Lago to attend the very famous frog concert.
We were so excited that we arrived an hour early to get our seats at 5.30pm. At 6.30pm, we were the only ones there and were wondering where the frogs were. At dark, we went for a walk with a guide with a torchlight around the ponds and eventually saw few little cute frogs, some big fat toads and various insects.
The next day, we left early, at 6am, to go birdwatching. It was still raining, which is not so good to spot birds. We eventually saw few toucans and other exotic birds.
On our way back, we stopped at the Mariposario to observe amazing and colourful butterflies and flowers.
We ended up walking for a very long time and we are now enjoying some quiet time writting the blog. The plan for tomorrow is first canopy, which is like going from trees to trees hooked up on a zipline; we will then go back to Quito to catch a night bus to Lago Agrio, which is the starting point of our trip to the Amazon.