Having successfully survived ´one of South America´s most dangerous cities´we made our way to Banos, an altogether more tranquil affair, but not before being overwhelmed by bus ticket vendors at Quito´s terminal terrestre. In a mere two hours we were in Banos, which was quite an achievement given that the road had been destroyed by a volcanic eruption two years ago and still hadn´t been rebuilt. Banos is tiny compared to Quito but these guys still know how to milk the tourists. We stayed at Hostal Chimenea after a recommendation from Toby & Becca in the Galapagos and we were pretty grateful. After living in a shed at Centro del Mundo this was pure luxury. Big spotless room with ensuite bathroom, balcony and free internet. Not bad for $15 a night.
It only takes a couple of hours to explore Banos on foot, the steps to the top of the waterfall near our hotel offered the best view of the town as well as a peek into the Virgen de la piscine baths. We didnt think they looked too clean so we gave them a miss, the other pool with the coolest looking waterslide ever seemed a whole lot better but sadly it only opened the day we left. One thing Banos is pretty good at is restaurants and bars and that was convenient given that the Champions League semi finals were on. We weren´t alone in our football quest, the bar we went to ended up being packed out with eager spectators from the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Australia and the US. A Man Utd victory meant an all day and night party, and why not when a bottle of beer thats bigger than a pint costs a mere 75p.
Given the sheer number of adventure tour operators we thought it would be rude not to give something a shot and with a morning to spare before the 2nd semi final we signed up for canyoning - abseiling down waterfalls, and there were plenty of them around. It has to be said that at first this was pretty scary, walking backwards down rockfaces that are gushing with massive volumes of water, but as soon as we got the hang of it we loved it. AT 50m the last waterfall was great fun.We dragged our soaking wet selves back to Banos for the match and word must have got around because the bar was even busier. Liverpool getting beat meant there wasn´t so much of a party though. Banos has a reputation for being very touristy and it lives up to it but its a very charming town where its safe to be out after dark and so its a good place to relax and enjoy yourself for a few days.
After a full days travel (on rickety old uncomfortable buses along roads that had been wiped out by rain, landslides and a volcanic eruption) we arrived in Cuenca. Arriving late at night we relied on Lonely Planet to recommend a good place to stay, it failed miserably. Hostal Verde Limon is a dump. Dirty, noisy and with really uncomfortable beds. First thing in the morning we left and checked into El Capitolio III around the corner. Brand new room with ensuite and cable tv, when you forgive the communist sounding name, this place is fantastic and all for a couple of dollars extra. Cuenca is a very pretty colonial gem much in the style of QUito´s old town, but a whole lot safer. Its easy to spend an entire day just walking the streets and checking out little cafes along the way. That evening we stumbled across Padraig, Lizzy and friends who we´d met in Banos. We all went out for a meal at a traditional restaurant before a bar and club. Lizzie and her boyfriend are teachers at local schools and Padraig used to be aswell so they showed us a typical Ecuadorian nightclub. It felt a bit like someone´s house but it was really cool and we´d never had to barter over a cover charge before! In a delicate state the next day we took advantage of the cable tv for some more football before catching a bus to Loja
There really is nothing to do in Loja - its got a nice enough feel to it but there isn´t anything for tourists, there aren´t even any proper restaurants. We ended up at ´Chifa´s´ two nights running, cheap Chinese cafes which were pretty much the only places to eat. They do have some pretty good ice cream parlours though (or Heladeries as we should call them). Thankfully we had a half decent room at Hotel Metropolitano and more hallowed cable tv to keep us entertained, as well as a supermarket with dirt cheap ´Galak´, chunky milky bar white chocolate! On Monday we left on an 8 hour bus trip across the border to Piurra in Peru.