After Otavalo, I got a bus back to Quito and right on to Esmeraldes on the coast. From there I went to Atacamas where a lot of young European and also some Argentinean and Chilean backpackers were hanging at the beach and I could relax and get some sun. The local population was more Latino and many blacks rather than Indian. Such a difference in climate, altitude and culture made it seem like a whole different country. Unfortunately, carnival was coming up and there was a lot of rather aggressive water throwing. The beach was nice but I got a bit bored and heard that for carnival all of the rooms would be booked out, so I made a day trip down the coast to Muisne. This was a mistake because it was full of garbage and lots of pesky sellers preceding the carnival mobs. Thus, I lightened my load by giving away my suntan lotion and bug spray to other backpackers and headed back up into the mountains via Esmeraldes and Quito. I had hardly taken photos in Quito because of the rain and didn't take any at the coast. Pictures of gringos on the beach would have seemed more like a holiday than an adventure travel worth documenting.
back to the highlands
Spent a couple of days in the capital changing money, checking the post office for letters, calling home, buying film for my camera etc. and made a day-trip to Sangolqui village to see their market. Then headed south to Baños, which was one of the nicest but most touristy towns in Ecuador. There were not only some nice waterfalls and climbs outside of Baños but it became a base for day -trips and short excursions to other nearby towns. A number of Swedes had settled here and opened quite dull but expensive restaurants. A new place, cafe Hood was very popular amongst the backpackers as it had a limited menu but good prices and vegetarian food. The owner was a Buddhist guy from Michigan who had been a puppeteer in San Francisco who was married to an Ecuadorian woman. He commented that he making more money with his cafe, where he also sold postcards made from his own travel photos, than he had as a performer in the US. To this day, I still have this place as an example to what I might aspire to when I give up performing. Maybe a little guesthouse for backbackers in some warm country with a cafe where I can also display my photos and sell prints and postcards. Seemed a number of travelers came through and decided to stay awhile, like the son of the famous pantomime Marcel Marceau, who had recently been there for 8 months teaching yoga. On the way to Cuenca, I stopped in Ambato and Latacunga.
From Latacunga I made a day trip to the animal market in Saquisili. Was more colorful than the one in Otavalo and had more large animals like lamas and some colorful cowboys which herded around the horses and cows. I think it was a big social thing to put on their best outfits and prance around. Like an urban dweller showing off his sleek car, here one would have a great looking horse.
Although the cowboys were male, just as often it would be a woman selling the cattle and horses. Same work, just less pretension involved.
Like all markets, there were multitudes of people shopping, eating etc and not just the animals.
There were plenty of bananas and plantains to be found through out the country, which was always a stark reminder while high in the Andes that Ecuador also has a tropical to subtropical coast.
From Latacunga I did a day trip to Zambagua, which was a nice village, nestled in picturesque mountains, which just fit to my idea of terraced mountaintops in the Andes. One thing I noticed there for not the first time in Ecuador were men playing volleyball. Not bad to have fun but who would have thought they had the time during the week. I took the following 2 pictures in Zambagua of a typical scene: a celebration with a marching band in the street. I was never sure if they were weddings or funerals since never a wedding dress nor coffins were evident but they were always loud, excited events.
Leaving Latacumba, I took a bus to Ambato where I had to stay the night at a dive near the bus station to catch a morning bus on to Guaranda. Was a bit of excitement as the passengers were outraged at more recent fare hikes. Normally one wouldn't concern themselves over gringos getting over-charged but the locals protested in solidarity when they took what they deemed to be too much of my money. Guaranda was a pretty place but I wasn't used to the altitude. We passed close to the highest peak in Ecuador. Read that it should be the farthest point on earth from the equator, the bulge of the equator more than making up for the additional altitude of Everest. The area was amazing though, such intense cultivation on such steep, high slopes but I found the people rather unfriendly when I tried to take photos. The hotel I had was loud with guys yelling around till all hours of the night both in the street and in the room next to me. To top it off I must have eaten something bad because I came down with lots of stinky gas but luckily no diarrhea. The sky was clear for a while in the early morning given a nice view of the peaks but I was happy to return to Baños to hang out and relax a few days before going to Cuenca.
It was poring rain on the way to Cuenca and we passed villages, which looked half flooded. The city itself looked nice except for the abundance of mud. On the one hand, I ran into a couple of very shady characters in Cuenca, on the other, there was a very large police presence and I saw one group of police with Uzis kicking what I assume was a thief. In Cuenca I went to the movies, seeing a martial arts double feature but basically felt bored. I then decided to head to Peru. I hadn't originally planned to go but kept meeting travellers coming from there saying how great it was and that the Shining Path insurgency had been brought under control and tourists were now welcome there. I got frustrated that I wasted lots of time trying to get some Peruvian money, often after waiting in a line having been told it would be possible. Seems they neither wanted to change travelers' checks nor sell Peruvian money, something to do with the strained relationship between the 2 countries which contested the demarcation of some of their shared border. I took a bus to Loja; weather was a bit drier and had some nice views through the clouds. The mountains seemed to get steep the further south we traveled. Just stayed a night in Loja which seemed a quiet place before getting an early bus to Macara´ which included going through 4 passport controls. Then passing the border into Peru itself was mostly uneventful although I had to push them to give me a 60 instead of a 30 days visa.
transportation in the Andes
This was an often seen form of transportation in the Andes. Trucks would drop off a load somewhere and rather than go back empty, they would fill up with passengers. Not very comfortable but in many places there wasn't any other way to get around. Later on this trip, while in Peru, I went off with some young locals staying at my hotel to see some remote ruin in the mountains. It was too far to walk back to the village and we hitched a ride on such a truck. Only it was full of cattle and we sat balanced on some boards above the animals. The driver was drunk or buzzed on coca leaves and swerved all over the road and I thought we might go over the side of the mountain. The girls were screaming in terror that they would fall down amongst the animals and get trampled. The driver finally had to stop when one of the animals fell out of the back of the vehicle and we wisely decided to get out! We then hitched a ride in a government dump truck. Was safe but bumpy as hell. There were 2 injured locals on stretchers that were being taken to the next hospital and one moaned and cried out with every major bump that one thought he might be dying. I think we all had frazzled nerves by the time we arrived. When one had a real bus, it was often packed with grain bags, goats and chickens both inside and on the roof, so only marginally better.