You may be wondering why I have not done a blog for Guayaquil. Well I will cut straight to the point and tell you that it was a grim place so we got straight the hell out of there. We arrived in the city I still can't pronounce at 9am after a 9 hour bus ride where we crossed the border with relative ease but also had to encounter a random Police search. The first impression of Guayaquil was actually decent they had a cracking bus terminal which reminded me a lot of a shopping mall. In our hungover state we had not looked for a hostel so had no idea where to go. There was a Dutch backpacker though so I decided to ask her and she advised us to head to central or a place called Las Penas. We went Las Penas first; it looked a nice area to be fair, full of restaurants and bars, however the only accommodation was pricey hotels so we headed to central. The hotels there looked like brothels and there was only two hostels each looking to put it bluntly s*** and fairly pricey. The city was grim, maybe it was the overcast sky putting the city in a bad light but we didn't take a shine to it. It would be Earl's birthday in a couple of days and we wanted somewhere good to celebrate and party, Guayaquil was not the place. So we made the decision to get breakfast and not even waste a night in the grim Ecuadorian city and head to Banos, which was well renowned for being a backpacker place mainly due to the many activities on offer in the small town.
To get to Banos we had another nine hour bus, this would have been the worse of my life if it wasn't for the book Pheebs had gave me and my iPod. The leg room on the bus was minimal, seats would go back and forth with even touching the reclining stick, they played dodgy Ecuadorian music all the way through the journey, though randomly they did have Take That - Never Forget come one randomly. The bus was also like a school bus full of screaming kids running amuck. It was heaven to be off the bus when we arrived in Banos late that evening and unlike Guayaquil we took an immediate shine to the town which is also the Spanish word for bathroom / toilets. There semt to be a million hostels in Banos, far more than what was needed. There must have been one on every street and in some cases more. We made the decision to get settled anywhere that night and find a more sociable place for the next days. We checked into a hostel called Hostel Los Andes which was pretty nice but lacked any people and we wanted people so we could have a good party for Earl's 28th. So once we had showered and freshened up we went out and acquainted ourselves with the town, we walked around a few hostels but because it was low season they semt pretty deserted, on a more positive note we found a street solely dedicated to bars, pubs and clubs so Earl would definitely be having a drunken birthday. The next job was to find a hostel with people we could make friends with, and thanks to an Aussie guy we found one called D'Mathias. Things kept getting better as we found some street food which offered chips, chicken bites and salad for a measly sum of a dollar so after feasting on that we returned to our hostel in buoyant mood and a plan formulating.
I was woken up then next morning by a damn roosted cock-a-doodle-dooing every ten seconds; it is the only time I wish I ever owned a rifle! But I was up and the first job on the agenda of Earl Alexander Johnson eve was check into D'Mathias. The hostel was nice, small but nice, full of a range of people, had a kitchen and a pool table on the roof. Our attention then turned to food and after sauntering around town we decided on a menu type assemble for two dollars fifty. It was perhaps the worse meal I have had in South America, actually forget perhaps it was. The starter was cabbage and potato soup, my taste pallet has grown accustomed to many foods I used to despise but I'm afraid that cabbage is not one of them. The next course of chicken, chips, rice and some sort of beans you would expect to be pretty standard, but for such a simple dish it was awful. After I had forced the food down me I immediately had to get out of the restaurant in fear of throwing up, and only a Gatorade to get the rancid taste from my mouth prevented my chundering. After our horrid lunch we made our way to San Francisco Bridge where you can spot many of Banos waterfalls, and also home of a bridge bungee jump. We watched two people dive off the bridge, it wasn't for me due to my inadequacy with being high but I did manage to get Earl a free jump for his birthday the next day! The rest of our day was hindered by both Earl and me needing to be close to a bathroom, it seemed we had a touch of the Ecuadorian trots. I did manage to sneak out to the supermarket and get Earl some goodies for his big day.
During the previous night I had blown up a pack of balloons and tied them with great difficulty. In the middle of the night I had covered Earl in his bed with the festive balloons to wake him with his birthday surprise. His next surprise was a drink which we had quite the bit of in Brazil, one which wasn't very pleasant - Cachaça. He was to do a shot of the Club 51 liquor for breakfast. We then went in search of a more solid and edible lunch, Full English was the breakfast in choice but there was no establishment in Banos that offered the succulent breakfast. The closest anyone came was an American Breakfast, but who in their right minds just wants croissant, cheese and eggs if you're lucky. It definitely lacked meat, so we decided to opt for something from the lunch menu instead. I had a Churrasco steak with fried egg, rice, salad and chips and Earl had the typical menu selection. After a stroll around town where I managed to pick up some new flip flops and sunglasses and visiting the Virgin Waterfall it was time for Earl to do his birthday bridge bungee jump. We made our way to San Francisco Bridge where conveniently the guy who I negotiated with the previous day for Earl to jump for free was not there, so I forked up the $20 USD so Earl could jump from the bridge. He got strapped up and I remained on the bridge to video the sequence of events. After a brief moment of hesitation he was off, my video sucked which I got of him because of my angle but luckily there was a professional photographer who got a good video of him flailing through the air like an Olympic front crawl swimmer and then swinging under the bridge. It didn't look to bad of a jump, and someone previously was able to pencil dive off the end. I'm not going to lie and say it did cross my mind to face my fears head on and jump, it may be something I later regret not doing but this time I remained on the ground and didn't put my heart through the torture of my fear of heights. After Earl's death leap we went and booked a couple of tours, first we would go up to the Volcano on a bus the next night and then the day after that we would do a 2 day 1 night Amazon jungle tour.
We went to a place called Comic Burgers for dinner; it was quite apt because of Earl's love of comics, superheroes' and marvel. Neither of us had a burger though as I had chilli con carne and Earl and Chicken Nuggets and chips. After dinner we got ready for what we hoped would be an eventful night. This is where I sprung my next surprise for Earl, a glittery blue top hat aka his birthday hat. He would have to wear the sparkly head ware all night. We got straight into some pre drinking at the hostel, Earl rode the bus with his cachaça and orange which he weren't half making a meal out of. His age must have been catching up with him as with not much drink consumed and in the middle of beer pong he had to in his words 'go and make some room' but to translate yeah he had to vom. To give him credit he did comeback out and was able to drink a little bit more like a man as we finished our games of beer pong and I presented him his birthday cake and got the hostel to sing happy birthday we headed out to see what Banos had to offer on a Wednesday night. It was just Earl and I everyone else at the hostel wasn't feeling it, had to be up early or was still suffering from their previous night still I was confident we wold find a crowd and have a good night. I was wrong. Town was dead one bar had a group of Aussies and Kiwis in playing pool but they were too into their own little clique to be bothered about me and the birthday boy, another bar - The Leprechaun seemed a bit more alive as we supped on an ale or two but once again each group in their seemed too into themselves and the night just fizzled out just after midnight as we got a pizza and headed back to the hostel. We were sharing a room with a Korean guy and he had an awesome jump suit and hat, his whole attire was brilliant and we must have been more drunk than we thought as Earl got in the jump suit for a couple of pictures. I felt pretty guilty, I'd had a cracking night out for my birthday but to be fair we did sign up to a bar crawl. If we had stayed in Mancora I know the night would have been much better but as I have previously said it would have wrecked us financially and health wise for the rest of the trip. I also looked back and some solid effort on my part I'd covered his bed in balloons, bought him two bottles of liquor, a bungee, a bag of Doritos and a party hat. It didn't mean much though, Earl would probably remember his 28th as having a lame night out.
Expecting a massive hangover or even waking up somewhere random the next day we had planned nothing, well nothing until 9p when we had the volcano tour. But because the night didn't go quite as planned there was no lying in bed with a brutal hangover. However, we had talked for some time about a day where we would do nothing. On or travels everyday there semt to be a trek up a hill, a walk, if not that an early wake up, there was always something. So today was our day to just chill. First things first an healthy lie-in, then began my friends-athon and a few hours of football manager it was nice to relax. Thanks to having some left over pizza I didn't even leave the hostel until around 7.30pm when we went for food before our tour.
The volcano tour would have been a huge disappointment if we had to pay more than 3 USD for it. We bordered on what can only be described as a party bus, it even had a pole for dancing at the back. There were several of these buses and another even had a disco ball. They blared out Ecuadorian dance music, some of it actually quite catchy and enjoyable as we made our way up the volcano. Thirty minutes later and we were at our destination. It wasn't much just halfway up towards the volcano and offered a view over the small town of Banos. My major gripe was not really being able to see the volcano, we had herd you'd get to see lava, but I saw nothing but darkness and a dark shadow of the volcano. My next gripe was with the tour / tour guide. He spoke Spanish like 1000 words a minute, he was a vocal sprinter. My Spanish is at best limited but if he had slowed himself down I might have caught the odd word and gist of some of it, instead all I understood was him saying please about every 4 words, and with 1000 words a minute I'm sure you can appreciate he was saying por favor a lot. Also at the viewpoint was a fire show which was impressive as the couple of entertainers juggled six flamed torches around a scared Ecuadorian woman, they also did a few impressive combination juggles and then a stand-up comedian came on and told a few jokes. Everyone loved it, laughing away apart from me, because of my limited Spanish I understood nada and Earl he missed pretty much of the show queuing up to get a barbequed banana and cheese snack. The night was ok, it had a kind of bonfire night feel too it and it is cheap so I guess if you knew some Spanish it would be a good and informative tour unfortunately it was a bit lost on me.
Checking out proved difficult the next morning, we were faced with the retarded night manager. I don't make a habit of calling people retarded but this guy was the most incompetent person I have ever seen work anywhere. I'm not even sure what he did, apparently he wasn't allowed to check people out, or even put bags in the luggage room so we had to wait for the woman who started at 9am. This wouldn't have been a problem if our tour didn't leave at 8.50am. We tried to bribe the guy with some of Earl's birthday cake but he was having none of it. So we were left with no choice but to wait for the more competent women and be late for our Amazon adventure. We weren't too late as we joined our tour, everyone apart from Earl and I was just in the amazon for one day where we would be staying over and returning the following day. Our tour guide was a chap called Mario; he was a dead ringer for American Actor Sean Penn; well until he took his hat off an revealed a big bald patch. He was generally ok though, I know I shouldn't make fun of broken English especially as my language skills are far from perfect even in my native tongue but some of the things he said had me rather baffled for example when he said couple it sounded like copper and when he said died or die it sounded like diet so sometime I didn't know if a snake he was talking about was dead or just needed a slim fast shake. Our first stop on tour was a Monkey sanctuary where they had many of the cheeky critters, some were wild and we were told some might even jump on us, unfortunately they didn't. It wasn't only monkeys at the sanctuary there were also snakes, parrots and tortoises who as it happened managed it to treat us to a live sex show as one tortoise mounted the other. A short drive later and we were at stop two, a traditional amazon village. Here the women and children of the group got their face painted with the traditional tribe patterns, and the blokes got to fire the huge blow dart hunting tool. My shot wasn't too bad just grazing the target, I took it as I would have at least wounded the target and get it on the next attempt. While everyone was looking around the small hut at all the novelty gifts such as necklaces, daggers and head ware I took the opportunity to crave my need for football action and have a kick around with a local Amazon girl outside, to be fair for such a young girl she was pretty decent too. Better than some people I'd seen play on a Tuesday Night. We then made our way to the river, as we were to get a traditional Amazon canoe through the rapids. This was good fun especially when we got stuck and all had to get out to help more the canoe away from the shallow water and rocks it was perched on. Don't get me wrong it was no white water rafting but it was a good crack. Dinner was up next and we had the standard soup followed by chicken and rice next to the caves with faces etched around them. After lunch we walked to the top of the nearby hill where there was a row of hammocks where you could lay and overlook the vast jungle, it was hugely impressive, if the sun was setting and I had a beer in my hand it would have been close to perfect. Also at the top of the hill was a rope swing. This was a swing that swung you way above the jungle and then back to the safety of where you started. Only three people dared go on the swing, and you won't be surprised to know that I wasn't one of them once again my fear of heights bettering me. Earl did it though and it looked great fun and would be something I would probably regret not doing. The last part of the day tour was a trek through the jungle where at the end we would come to an impressive waterfall. On the walk we saw gigantic spiders, many insects and weird plants. We put river clay on our face that I think is meant to make you look more beautiful, I'm not sure how it would benefit me but I went along with it anyway. By the time we made the waterfall the clay was all crusty and hard and as we washed it off all I noticed was it made each of us look a little paler, which I wasn't happy about I like a good tan. After the waterfall we said cheerio to our day time companions and headed off to our accommodation for the night. The accommodation was basically a hut on stilts; it had no electricity, so we used candle light or Earl's torch. We weren't there for long though as we dropped off our bags and made our way to the main hut for dinner. I was gasping for a beer and as luck would have it there was another group at the site who had gone to the local village for some supplies, so Mario aka Sean Penn put in an order for a couple of beers for us. The tour just kept getting better. There were many dogs where we were staying, all really nice, one was especially cute called Brutitus and Earl took a massive shine to him until he realised he was covered in fleas, so from then we avoided his puppy dog eyes and the flea ridden canine was then known as Brufleatus I wasn't sure what to expect from the food but it was amazing, I had the best soup I've maybe ever had and it was followed by tuna pasta. I'm not usually one for spaghetti as I find it difficult to eat but it didn't really matter to me in the jungle. Sean Penn then took us on a night walk of the amazon. It was quite nerve wracking especially as didn't have a torch, and it was at this point Sean Penn told us his nick name was crazy Mario but he had never had an accident in his group so we were safe. Because the night was clear and the moon approaching full many animals were not on view and hiding away like the alligators and snakes but we got to see some pretty cool bugs, fire flies, glow worms and more things I can't remember the name for. The end of our walk led us to one of Mario's friend's pub's where we watched the old boys play a couple of games of pool, which took us a while to work out because it wasn't the standard rules, or even the standard amount of balls. I guess they just had to work with what they had. They were also kind enough to give us a couple of free beers before we headed back.
The night's sleep was interesting, the hut was sat right next to a river, so hearing that, and the various animals making noises made it quite challenging to sleep, but in the end I found it pretty relaxing and got a decent night sleep. The mosquito net didn't quiet do its job though as I woke up to various bites around my legs. Breakfast again intrigued me I expected the usual bread and jam but we got a plate of fruit followed by scrambled eggs and bread the tour was fastly becoming one of my favourites of South America despite the vicious insect bites I was suffering from. Today's plan was to trek a little longer to another waterfall. When it comes to trekking I can take it or leave it, for example getting up to Machu Picchu from Aguas Caliantes I wasn't fond of because all it was were stairs and steps, however this trek was right up my street. It varied in terrain, you didn't know what was ten steps in front of you, boggy land, a river to cross or clay, they were animals too look out for, weird plants, we even got to eat live ants which tasted like lemon. It didn't even matter to me that we were going uphill something normally I have a proper good whinge about. The last part of the trek we had to walk knee deep through the river to get to the aptly named 'hidden waterfall' Earl, Sean Penn and myself had the falls to ourselves as we posed for pictures (there might even be one of me naked) had a swim and then headed back. We took a different route back where we got to cross the top of the waterfall we were just at the bottom of. Then strolled through fields, seeing an armadillo hole, more jungle, more spiders, bugs and even surprisingly to me cows. I guess Rory's theory was right you do see a cow or an image of a cow every day. We bathed in the river next to our accommodation and then ate lunch. but it's unfortunately here where the tour turns a little sour. The tour would have been exceptional if not for the wait we had to endure, at first it wasn't bad chilling out in the hammocks but we had to wait five hours for that day's day trip to finish so we could head back to Banos with them. It dragged as we played / tortured bugs, read and played pooh sticks. Eventually the day tour had finished and we were heading back to Banos. What I found remarkable is how lucky we were with the weather, we were in a rain forest and we didn't have a drop of rain, which was lucky for me as they had given us them waterproof ponchos and I have a huge dislike for them. I don't have a problem if people need them legitimately like if they need to stay dry for work, it's when they wear them on something they know they will get wet on aka the log flume, you chose to go on the flume to get wet so don't wear a poncho, it would be like wearing a poncho in a shower. And it's because of them reasons I try to avoid them at all costs and thankfully I didn't need one in the jungle.
When we made it back to Banos we were greeted with the news that the English birds - Pheebs, Isabelle and Abbie had made it, s after they had visited Banos Thermal Baths and we showered and plucked the insects from our beards we met them for a drink and a catch up.
The plan for the next day was to cycle around Banos and through the waterfalls. But as we all know it is rare a plan actually goes to plan and this was one of those occasions. I had forgot that Man Utd were playing Everton and it was at the silly hour of 6am over here, so I got up after little sleep and watched the game. It was only me watching the game until I was joined by an old lady from Florida, she is a very nice woman, ex-military but I didn't need her asking daft questions and chatting to me for the last ten minutes of the game as United were clinging on their lead. So after the game I went back to sleep and this is where the plan fell down s both Earl and myself slept in far later than expected waking up around noon. So biking was pretty much off the cards, but on the plus side it did mean I got some laundry done and went to the market for lunch where I had a typical Ecuadorian dish called Llapingachos this consisted of rice, fried mashed potatoes, fried eggs, avocado, sausage and salad and it was delicious.
That night we arranged to meet up with the English girls again, this time for a more hard core night out for our last night in the small Ecuadorian town. However, our plan was thwarted because of Ecuador's silly alcohol rules. For some very odd and strange reason you cannot purchase any sort of alcohol on Sunday. I think it's meant to be related to work performance on a Monday which is plain stupid, they could go out and get smashed on a Monday, Tuesday or another week night instead and that would affect their performance the next day. Anyway, with the alcohol rule firmly in place we decided to stay another night on the count of the night we had was less than interesting. The most interesting part of the night was me going on an unbeaten 48 run on quiz up, a couple more wins and I would have unlocked the Ramtastic achievement but I unfortunately lost to a Vietnamese guy by one solitary point.
With us deciding to stay an extra night we were able to go and cycle the waterfalls which we were pretty much meant to do every day since we had arrived in Banos. It turned out to be quite the adventure too. Things started pretty well. I had a Cheese empanada for breakfast; it tasted good and immediately gets put in a god rank of South America's greatest Empanada's because of the mere forty cent price tag. That's ten less cent than famous rapper 50 cent. We hired bikes no problem and set off. But about 5 minutes into the trip I had issues with my bike chain; it would keep falling off, proving to be quite annoying for Earl and myself. We made the first waterfall Agoyan where you could also do a canopy swing, it was at this point that we decided to swap bikes. The chain had come off for about the fifth time in an hour, so Earl being a lot more bike savvy than me took control. To be fair Earl's bike was a bit lower than mine and I felt more comfortable. After riding a couple more kilometres to a bridge jump and another canopy swing we set off for the next waterfall Puerta Del Cielo, however as Earl sped off my back tyre blew. I waited in a lay-by for Earl to realise I wasn't trudging behind and there was a problem. Once he returned I told him to go and explore and I would hitch a ride back. As Earl rode off the heavens started to open, and things got worse before they got better as when I picked up the bike to cross over the road the bike tyre just fell off. I was left with half a bike in one hand and a tyre in the other, with only my t-shirt and shorts on the pissing down rain. I've had previous experience hitch hiking when me and Tom Basford toured the East Coast of Australia and decided to put some of my learnt tricks I had picked up on that journey into place. The rain didn't bother me too much, in fact I thought it could even play to my advantage, you know the stranded guy with his bike in bits, in the rain who wouldn't feel sorry for that vulnerable guy. Then again I thought my ever growing bushy beard might go against me in looking like a serial killer so I strapped my helmet on to try and look more in distress and less like a murderer. There was much traffic heading to Puyo, the opposite direction I wanted to go, and for the first ten minutes buses, cars, lorries and other vehicles must have just thought I was waving at them as all I was getting was waves. At least it wasn't as bad in Australia when we had fries thrown at us and people stopping just to drive off as we approached the car. After ten minutes though a van stopped with two American tourists in who had biked the journey also and they didn't make me feel any better when they told me how great he rest of the waterfalls were, hey ho I could still look at Earl's pictures and at least I was out of the rain and he was getting soaked. You have to look at the positives in these circumstances. I did have some slight concerns of being charged ridiculous amounts of money when I returned the bike though, what with it being in two parts. I was pleasantly surprised though when he offered me another bike for the remainder of the day but with it raining and Earl miles ahead I decided to just get a beer. Looking back I maybe could have asked and succeeded in getting a refund of the $5 we paid each to hire the bikes but I was too busy in trying to get out of being charged extra so took the result as a score draw.
After the late morning, midday I had I was in perfect need of beer so I trotted off to the supermarket and bought two club lager's. As I cracked the first one open at the hostel a new Belgian chick called Ana checked-in we got chatting and I decided to show her around town and where the supermarket was, with the first beer going down like it was orange juice I decided to purchase myself a six pack and soon we were back at the hostel drinking and joined by and Irish couple Connor and Caroline. By the time Earl returned at 6pm I was on my seventh beer, feeling a tad tipsy and had my head filled with so much information about Colombia from the Irish couple. They had been there seven weeks and said it was awesome, they advised me of walking tours, treks and probably most excitingly to me being able to go paintballing in Pablo Escobar's old blown up mansion. I had arranged to meet the English birds at the exact time of 7.42 to go for chicken. By the time it was time to leave I was at a drunken peak, eight beers had been consumed and it was time to devour the Pisco orange I had purchased in Lima. You may think it strange and odd but for two years and seven months one thing I had missed was a VK Orange, I get quite a lot of stick when I announce this but after several beers sometimes I like to change my pallet with something fruity, easy to drink and with Orange being my favourite favour in the world what's better than a VK orange. The Pisco Orange was nowhere near the level of the Orange VK but it served a purposed as Earl and I drank the beverage on the way to the church we were meeting the girls at. The problem was there were two big churches in Banos and with some confusion we were both at different ones. Earl found them as he checked the other church leaving me to drunkenly make friends with a security guard called Marco. With everyone else stone cold sober I proved to be quite the embarrassment, often getting told to be quiet or more bluntly to shut up but I only wanted to compliment the guy's hair who was serving us. We had some chicken at what the girls classed as a classy establishment, it didn't seem that classy and then after some ice cream we headed to The Leprechaun for a few drinks. The first drink we had was on the house a shot called Bob Marley. The Bob Marley is a flaming shot of grenadine, mint liqueur and banana liqueur mixed with white rum drank from a straw. It was actually quite taste. The girls then had a few cocktails, Earl a few beers and myself a few cubre libres as we played various drinking games and told embarrassing stories and bad jokes. Despite this though the night failed to get going, Monday nights turned out to be less busy than Wednesday nights (the night we celebrated Earls 28th if you had forgotten) and after a brief bumping into Sam and Callum and me trying to drag everyone to a karaoke bar we got a pizza and headed for the sanctuary of our beds.
Despite the consumption of many alcoholic beverages the night before I woke up surprisingly fresh the next day, we packed, showered, checked out and then met the girls at San Francisco bridge where Izzy was to do the bridge jump. She was pretty nervous getting up there but proved she had more balls than me as she flung herself from the bridge. Enjoying the incredible sensation as she defied gravity for a few seconds free-falling toward the river 100 meters below! The security ropes caught her and she continued her ride as she swung under the bridge like a grandfather clock until she reached the ground. It was now time to leave the small town of Banos which had trapped us for eight nights. The girls were also leaving that day so we joined them and caught the bus to Ecuador's capital - Quito.
So until next time stay safe and take care