We have made it to Ecuador - but only by the grace of God did we get out of Venezuela. Before we leave Venezuala, a big thankyou once again to the Castro family for making us so welcome and for taking care of us!
Anyway, our departure went as follows:
Francisco drove us to the airport and the traffic was a f**king nightmare as we had come to expect from Caracas. We got to the airport and queued for an hour to check in for our flight, then we queued to pay our airline tax and then we queued to pay our airport tax - only we couldn´t pay it because we couldn´t use a credit/debit card even though the sticker in the window said we could. We had to go to the cash point and guess what - it wouldn´t let us get any money out. Zoe went into the bank (I wasn´t allowed because they have a "One Gringo at a time" policy and I waited outside for twenty minutes while she eventually managed to withdraw the $60 dollars we needed to get out of the country.
Cash in hand we queued for the tax payment again, parted with our remaining cash and then queued for an hour to get through customs. After all this rigmarole the flight was a doddle even though we had been forewarned that Santa Babara Airlines had a reputation for planes falling out of the sky. The food was good and there was even free beer on the plane so thanks SBA for a pleasant trip.
We arrived in Quito at about 11.30 and went straight to the hotel we had reserved with private bathroom - read aluminium framed conservatory type structure with walls that didn´t reach the ceiling and no roof of it´s own taking up 1/4 of the room and leaking from every possible plumbing joint. The place was habitable but not great.
The next day our first task in Quito was to get tot he Tame Airlines office and pay for our flights to the Galapagos - that done, we checked out of the hotel and were on our way.
We got the bus from Quito to Latacunga as this is quoted as the jump off point for the Quilatoa Loop and we stayed at Hotel Central. When we arrived there, the desk was manned by a surly old fella who didn´t say much but the room was good and comfortable. In the morning the surly bloke was replaced by a wonderful woman who was very talkative and helpful and made us a cracking breakfast to set us up for the day.
At the bus terminal we had the good fortune of meeting up with Lindsay, Ruth and Raki - English, Scottish and English respectively - who were going to do the Quilatoa loop as well. I say good fortune because they each knew the lingo and Lindsay had done to loop before so she knew the ropes. We got a bus to Suhamba (sp?) and then jumped onto an open backed pick up to Quilatoa. We checked into a family run hostel and then set off to walk 400m down from the rim of the crater to the lake itself. What an amazing place.
The room was so cold at night that we needed a log fire in there to get the temperature bearable, but as is the law of the sod, the temperature quickly exceeded bearable to the point where it was actually cooler under the blankets where you were insulated from the heat!
On the Saturday morning Zoe and I set off around the perimeter of the lake with a Canadian called Nigel. We had planned to walk 3/4 of the lake perimeter and then off to Chugchilan to meet the 3 girls who were going there via the 1/4 lake perimeter that we were omitting. The views were amazing and 6 hours after setting off we got to Chugchilan where they were having an awesome town party.
The night was spent in the Cloud Forest Inn and on Sunday we had to find our way back to Latacunga. For this trip we spent 1 hour on the back of the milk truck. This was a pick up truck which does the rounds of the farms collecting milk which is poured from the farmers´s bucket into a large vat on the back of the pick-up. I´m sure it gets pasturised somewhere along the way but what I saw was full of bits and bugs and all sorts - beautiful. The milk truck journey finished and we changed to a regular bus and travelled a further few hours to Latacunga.
I need to sign off here as we are off to do a night viewing of the volcano which is towering (and gently smoking) over the town of Banos. Zoe will resume the blog sometime soon but this might be in the new year as we have been told that it is not unheard of to be charged $8 per hour for dial up on the Galapogos and that is where we´re off to soon.
Hope you are all well and I´ll wish you a Happy Christmas and a Merry New Year from Zoe and I in case we´re not able to contact you in the meantime.
Over and out.