We´re a long way from home
Hola familia y amigos!
Currently we are in Banos, Ecuador (adverturers paradise) and wrapping up for the night. It has been a fast/great week thus far in South America and have not had much time to sit down and relax, but this place offers great relaxation. Enough about now though, let´s get caught up to speed. After flying into Bogota, Columbia a week ago, we were quickly astonished by our surroundings. First and most noticeable, Scott and I are a solid head taller than 95% of the people around us. We felt and still do feel like gigantes. Everyone was speaking Spanish at a fast pace (naturally) and it was difficult for me to understand. I thought I could understand the language but that thought was also without ever being submersed in it. After retrieving our backpacks at baggage claim, we were met by Gustavo and Margoth (parent´s of a friend). With their help, we were on a bus from the airport heading downtown. We got off the bus at a park and walked around the city with our incredible hosts (gave us a cell phone to use and a bus pass!) for an hour or so before they left us at a restaurant. After eating a local meal (Ajiaco) we got some coffee at a nearby cafe and went to the Botero museum. Botero, a native of Colombia, enjoyed drawing fruits, vegetables, horses, and women, Our favorite was the Monalisa. Clearly he had a sense of humor.
Quite different from the original. After the museum, we went to the square where the goverment buidings were located. We watched people stroll by, some people protesting, lots of pigeons, a few street vendors, and a couple of llama were the main attractions. Still a bit overwhelmed and feeling tired from traveling, we went back to our original park to relax. After a few minutes passed, some girls approached us and we began talking (they didn´t speak English). They were very friendly and we talked with them and their 3 friends for an hour or so before it started getting dark. They invited us to their apartment, but weary of strangers, we decided to get dinner and head back to the apartment where our hosts lived. After discussing the next day´s plan (view the city from a near 2,000 ft high hill), we passed out.
After a restful sleep, we woke up to breakfast sandwiches and coffee from Margoth before catching the bus and heading back downtown. We took the bus to our park bus stop and walked a half mile to the base of the hill.
We got on a cable car that took us far up the hill. After getting off, we walked a couple minutes up the hill to the top where the Sanctuary of Monserrate was (wish pictures had not been lost). You could see the entire city surrounded by large hills and mountains. The city is the largest in land area and in population (nearly 8 million) in Colombia. The view was nice but it was time to head back down the hill to the downtown area. We then went to the museum of oro (gold) for a couple hours. It was fine for a bit before becoming repetitive so we went back to the park to determine our next move. We decided there was not anything else for us to do in this HUGE city and that we would leave later that night for a 12 hour bus ride Cali.
After eating a homecooked spaghetti meal from Margoth and helping drink the bottle of wine we had gotten them, it was time to leave for the bus terminal. Gustavo Jr. picked us all up and took us there. We arrived around 9:30 PM and the family helped us get tickets for a 10 PM ride. The bus was comfortable (seats almost laid flat) and we traveled through the night to Cali. Upon arrival, we took a taxi to our hostel (Iguana Inn) and got settled in. After lunch, we walked around the city and saw some churches and nice parks. The people of Cali were very nice and calm compared to the fast paced people of Bogota. We quickly grew a better liking to this city. We returned to our hostel for a big communal feast with fellow travelers and later went salsa dancing with the same group. Free salsa lessons from the hostel were not until the next night, so we were going to hit the dance floor with no experience. After a couple of drinks, salsa became fun yet very challenging. When the bar closed, we decided to go back to our hostel to get some decent sleep before another long bus ride to Pasto the following day (we quickly figured out there was nothing to do in Cali but party, and that was not what we went on this trip for). We were heading to Ecuador ASAP - where the outdoor activities were.
We got to the bus station early afternoon and quickly got a bus ride (this has been the case thus far) towards Ecuador. We took a 10 hour bus ride and arrived in Pasto at night. A taxi took us to our hostel (Koala Inn) where we slept and woke up the next morning ready to head to Quito, Ecuador. There was one stop we wanted to take between Cali and Quito. This was to see the Santuario de Las Lajas, a sanctuary nestled near the base of a large canyon. On the way to the border we took a stop to check out the unique structure.
It was an impresseive view being situated deep in a canyon and having a river flow beneath it. We stayed for a few minutes before the taxi took us to the border. Border crossing was quick and relatively painless. Once in Ecuador, we got a cab to the bus station where we immediately got a ride to Quito. We started the 6 hour ride around 4 PM and it proved to be one of the most breathtaking rides we had ever experienced (again, wish we still had pics). There was a plethora of large green mountains stacked on one another turn after turn. Ecuador was already proving to be amazing and we hadn´t gotten anywhere yet.
After arriving at our hostel (Secret Garden) in Quito around 10:30 PM, we were on the hunt for some dinner. The restaurant down the street that had been recommened to us was closed so we asked the hostel security guard for another suggestion. He told us that ¨Cafe C¨ (he pronounced cafe say) would be open. He got us a cab and we headed to dinner. We were happy to see a McDonalds on the corner and then a KFC across the street. We talked about KFC and our driver looked at us and said ¨yes, Cafe C¨! We had a hearty laugh thinking we were going to eat some local cuisine at a cafe but instead we were on a trip to KFC. After dinner it was time for rest, for the next day we planned on hiking Volcano Pichincha (finally some outdoor action).
After a hearty breakfast, we set out to the cable car station that would take us from the base of the volcano (10,000 ft) up 3,000 ft. Upon exiting the cable car, we had a 2,000 vertical ft hike to the summit of the volcano. It took us about 3 hours to hike to the summit. We were stoked at the top and glad we were able to handle the high altitude (good sign for future high altitude hikes). From the summit at about 15,500 ft, a spectacular view of Quito and it´s surrounding areas could be seen (this was the case during the majority of the hike).
We were growing very fond of Quito and Ecuador at this point and were looking forward to more fun activities. We went out later that night to gringolandia, an area of the city where there is a large concentration of gringos. It was a fun time but we were ready for the next day´s activity.
Every other Sunday in Quito, the main road is blocked off and reserved only for bicyclists and runners between 7 AM and 2 PM. We were fortunate to be there during one of these Sundays. We got started a little later than we had planned and hit the road around 11 AM. It cost us $5 to rent quality bikes for the day. I have yet to mention that Ecuador is extremely cheap and you can do a whole lot for little expense! We took off down the main strip and rode past the downtown area. On one side of the street, there were tall buildings between us and the large mountain whose base was very close. After a couple hours of riding in the streets, through parks, and up and down hills, we turned our attention to the old airport that had been converted into a public park. We arrived at the airport to find hundreds of people enjoying their afternoon with their kids/pets. We had lunch here and may have even dozed off for a few minutes. We were loving Quito! It was about 2 PM when we left the airport, which meant the road blocks were being taken down. After navigating our way back to the bike rental shop, we focused on our next destination (Banos) since we had done everything we wanted to do in Quito.
We decided there was no point to stay another night in Quito so we left for the bus station and were Banos bound shortly thereafter. Banos was supposed to be an outdoor person´s paradise and it has been just that! We arrived in Banos after dark and after a short walk checked in to our hostal (Hostal Nomada). After a night out, four hours of biking, and a 3.5 hr bus ride we were ready for some rest before a fun next day. I woke up early and walked down the street to see what some tourist agencies had to offer. They all had similar offers - biking, canyoning, white water rafting, kayaking, paragliding, rock climbing, hiking, and bungee jumping. I couldn´t wait to tell Scott about all the things we could do.
Over a delicious pancake, fruit, yogurt, granola, juice, and coffee breakfast ($5.50!) we decided we´d spend our afternoon canyoning (aka repelling down waterfalls).
We had an awesome time and were ready to go to the local hot springs after dinner. Everything in Banos is very close (only about 10,000 residents) and the city is safe so we walked there from our hostal. We were thinking it´d be a nice and relaxing activity, but upon arrival it was not quite what we were expecting. The small pool sized hot spring had about 30-40 people in it and the water was a murky brown/green.
We inspected a more low key hot spring in the same complex and the water was the same way. The seemingly gross water combined with the fact that everyone in the water was wearing a shower cap led us to a quick exit of the complex. There was a nearby waterfall we climbed up and hung out for a little while before returning back to our hostal for some NBA playoff action. Post basketball we decided that tomorrow would include puenting (similar to bungee jumping) and a 23 km bike ride down the mountains.
After a full stomach, we went to the travel agent where we could rent bikes and sign up for puenting. Once done, we took about a 2 minute bike ride to the bridge (in perfectly good condition) we would jump off of.
A few harnesses later we went to the platform and jumped off. It was AWESOME!!!
Now that our hearts were pumping, we ventured off on our bikes for a beautiful ride through the countryside.
About 5 minutes in
Where we were headed!
Last of the 6 waterfalls
After a good sleep, our bodies were still tired from all of the previous days activities so we decided we would have a recovery day and go rock climbing. We were too late to make rock climbing happen but I had previously been invited to play soccer with some locals in the afternoon and Scott had just been invited to go on a bike ride with some locals. We split up and both had wonderful afternoons.
We had to get in/out somehow
Banos is one of the best cities we´ve each ever been to. There is so much to do and enjoy in this beauitful city nestled in the mountains. There are tons of things to do, the people are very friendly and relaxed, and everything is cheap ($15 for an hour massage, ladies). We HIGHLY recommend Banos to everyone!! It is likely we will be leaving this incredible city tomorrow and heading to Cuenca, an old colonial city closer to Peru. After a day or so in Cuenca, we will be traveling for a few days until our arrival in Iquitos, Peru. Iquitos is the largest city in the world not navigable by road (almost 500,000 people) so we will be taking a 2.5-3 day ride on a cargo ship down the Amazon river to get there. I will make another entry shortly after we get there, as I´m sure the ride down the river will be an interesting one.
Hope all is well back home!!
Chad and Scott