London seems a very long way away. Ecuador is a beautiful country and the people are lovely. There is a lot to see and do but I think your average Ecuadorian has a hard life. Petty crime is certainly an issue. I have met fellow travellers who have been involved in various incidents ranging from one girl having a necklace cut off her neck to another girl having the pocket on her combats slashed to cameras being stolen out of backpacks on buses. Having re-read this I am not sure I should have started off my first blog with this. I just think you have to be pragmatic about it and face the reality of living in a third world country. Our British pound certainly goes a long way but it feels weird paying for everything in US dollars.
It has been a good first few weeks. Quito was a nice city but it was frustrating getting stuck there waiting for my visa to clear. I was told it would only be 24 hours but it ended up being over a week. It did give me a chance though to explore the old town and go to some of the museums and of course the obligatory trip to the Mitad del Mundo! When I went back to collect my passport and visa this bloke just shrugged his shoulders at me and told me to come back the day after. I stood my ground and as he refused to look for my passport I ended up going through piles of folders until I found mine. With my passport duly stamped I headed out of there as quick as I could.
I took the bus south to Banos. It was a nice town with these amazing thermal pools and swimming baths; it is also the place to buy melcocha which is toffee made in shop doorways and streched into the street on a hook. My hostal had its own thermal thing going on. You basically got shut in a hot, steaming wooden box with all this foliage. After 10 minutes you were let out and slapped aournd a bit with a cold wet towel then shut in the box again. The highlight was then being put in a sink full of cold water while the guy massaged your stomach. You then got shut in the steaming box again and were then hosed down with cold water. This guy really fancied himself as some sort of steam guru but I was a bit worried when I found out later he was the handyman for the hostal! Now I wonder where he gets his kicks from? Answers on a postcard..umm.
I decided I needed to start getting fit and had a really nice walk up into the hills around Banos itself. It was a little disconcerting though to come across all these guys with machetes who seemed to appear from nowhere but they were friendly enough. Put it like this I have lived to tell the tale! All the local schools also used this hike as a way of getting their students fit. They just sent them up and down the track. I had been planning to visit the graveyard but as I approached it I came across a man doing what only a man could do in a graveyard! I ask you! Ecuador is colourful to say the least!
From Banos I headed to Riobamba. I got a chance to ride the train on a route called the Nariz del Diablo. It was an incredible journey especially because you could ride out on one of the carriages for part of the journey when it climbs at a gradient of 1 in 18 from 1806m to 2607m by going forwards and then backwards up the tracks. It was a little disconcerting though as the carriage we were on had a load of sleepers on it which they were throwing off the carriage to repair the track at the same time we were on it. Riobamba's other claim to fame is also a market which was amazing to see. It certainly makes a mockery of our so called Farmers Markets.
After Riobamba I headed to Cuenca. I was extremely nervous because although Ecuador is a beautiful country the towns leave a lot to be desired. Cuenca however is the exception! It is quite beautiful and lives up to its reputation. The downside at the moment is the weather. Its freezing and rains quite a lot. I have met up with lots of my new work colleagues so it has been fun. Despite some of them being American some of them are really quite nice! Only joking Scotty and co if you read this! I am staying in a hostal at the moment which despite the bed bugs is nice. I have found somewhere to stay for October. I am going to do a homestay for a month to try and improve my Spanish and then I am moving to a place on the river. Fingers crossed I will then make it to Bolivia for Christmas.
Its incredibly cheap to eat and drink. And going out to the off licence last night I found somewhere to live so how bad is that! We normally have the Menu del Dia most days. The cheapest we have found so far is about $1.25. Normally it consists of a drink, soup, rice, some sort of meat which is often hard to decide what it is and pudding. You sometimes get some strange things like blue coleslaw which I had in Banos, very Bridget Jones! They also have a great line in roast pig, hence the picture. You basically select which pig you fancy. The woman then pulls the meat off with her hands and passes it to you. So far I have passed on the guinea pig but I think its on for Friday night. They get a wooden pole and thread it through the guinea pig and then roast it on open coals. Well if I have survived the whole dog eating experience how bad can a guinea pig be?
Once I was settled into Cuenca I headed north to a fiesta in Latacunga. We were a bit nervous it was even taking place as many people on the bus seemed to have no idea it was on. This included a women who lived in the next town. Mind you she also thought I was Hannah's mother. I ask you! The bus journey itself took about 8 hours over quite a bumpy road. Latacunga was a bit of a shocker. It was a bit drab and run down but once we got into the main town the fiesta had already started. It was called the Mama Negra Fiesta and consisted of amazing costumes, dancing troupes, marching bands and men and boys carrying pigs, with chickens, guinea pigs and bottles of booze dangling from them. People followed the route of the procession and proceeded to ply us with drink. A good time was had by all! We met up with friends later and then did it all again the next day!
After lunch we then headed back to Cuenca. I have clearly though been spending far too much time on Ecuadorian buses as I have now seen the same Jean Claude Van Damme film twice in less than 3 weeks. Its a bit of shocker I can tell you but it might be fun for a specialist subject on Mastermind!
Now back in Cuenca ready to sort of start work tomorrow. Mind you after 2 years off it is about time I did something productive! Happy days!