Right, where was I…I’d managed to escape imminent death in Quito then headed off the next day for a long journey into the Amazon. Hopes were high and the local bus ride went quickly, helped along by the repeated playing of a wonderful Latin American song ‘I’m sexy, sexy, sexy.’
We arrived at the jungle lodge to the sounds of early 90s techno. Not quite what we had expected and it did quite a lot to ruin the sense of being deep within the undergrowth of nature. But in truth, this wasn’t the only thing that removed the feeling of being remote. We arrived by truck which was very cool – sat on the ledge of the back of the truck with nothing to keep you on the fast moving vehicle except your own survival instinct and white knuckles. The Intrepid Tour described the Amazon adventure in a way that led us all to believe we would be far into the Amazon basin, but in reality we were mearly at the garden gate.
Don’t get me wrong, the trip was great fun, exploring a local Quechuan village of alleged jungle dwellers (though quite how they achieved such beautifully waxed legs and pedicured feet in their humble environment, I’ve no idea). I liked this culture a lot – they know how to ferment alcohol from the local yucka plant and sweet potato. I now have the recipe and will be trying this at home! We also hopped in a canoe and went on a jungle walk with a machette weilding jungle dude who pointed out various poisonous frogs and a baby tarantula (actually quite cute), but the chicken wire keeping us to a pre-designated route also detracted from the feeling of being lost in the wilderness.
By day two I was determined that I would take some time after the Intrepid trip and go and explore the jungle proper – somewhere I couldn’t get mobile reception and that takes at least 7 hours to get there, but by day three this urge had passed. The mosquitos had dined out on my legs too many times and having to continually close my rucksack so I didn’t end up with a bag full of creepy crawlies was enough to tell me that my short flirtation with the entrance to the Amazon was enough. I’d seen monkeys, a shamen, a million beautiful butterflies and colourful birds. I was done. Time to move on to the next town – Banos.
Another early morning start and long bus ride and we arrived in the beautiful town of Banos. Back up to 2,000k above sea level, but feeling ok. The thing that strikes you most about this place is that the main feature on the tourist map is the escpape routes when the local volcano erupts. No, you can’t go up there, the guide told us. It is currently manned by the army as it is active at the moment in case it errupts. But not to worry, the handy tourist map (which I’m now sleeping with under my pillow) shows the anticiapted flow of the lava so at least we know which way to run screaming if the alarm sounds. Though we don’t know what the alarm sounds like and there is little chance I’d hear it through my ear plugs. Hey-ho.
Apart from the Volcano, Banos has been amazing. I took my fisrt venture on a horse yesterday – it occurred to me that I have ridden on a camel and several dromedaries, but never a horse. Anyway, I have now resolved that inconsistency and what a beautiful way to do it with the backdrop of the Ecuadorian mountains high and lush green (mosquito anyone) and an abundance of waterfalls. I think I’m starting to become complacent – oh, another 5,000km high mountain, another 100km plus waterfall. What-eva.
The lady that accompanied us on the horse ride was lovely. We managed a conversation with her in broken Spanish. She was only two years older than me, had three kids and a grandchild! And boy did it show – she did look as old as the mountains she took us through and we quickly found out she had a bit of a dislike for her husband (castrated is the same in Spanish and English) and men in general (international signal for kicking a head is also the same) and her view is that we are all better soltera (single). She was good fun.
Back at the ranch (pun intended) we treated our sore backsides to a soat in the thermal springs before heading out to a mexican restaurant. I’ve quickly discovered that the Ecuadorian cuisine is as limited as my ordering ability in Spain. Consequently every meal for a week has been soup, arroz y pollo (rice & chicken) and fruit. The guide has assured us the food is very varied as it is different soup every mealtime. Great. Consequently, we have made a break for it being in Bano – first Italian, then Mexican. Tonight, I’m thinking Indonesian.
The problem with the Mexican place last night was that I found the perfect Margarita. One led to two, two led to three and three led to getting down with the locals in the salsa club. Although the greasy Lationo American men were not really my cup of tea, there is no denying that they can shake their booty. I could have lived without Pablo making a move on me next to the urinals (communal toilets – I’d didn’t stray into the gents), but he got the message quite quickly – no is the same in English and Spanish and I think my look of disgust clarified any uncertainty.
Today has been spent nursing a sore head, which is easy done with omlettes as big as your head and a wonderful day at the spa which included one of the best massages I’ve ever had. Tonight, we pack our nylon bags again and head further south to Cuenca. Eight hours on the bus winding up and down the mountains. Plenty of time to read, sleep and practice more Spanish on my ipod. This morning I promised myself an alcohol free night, but as the sun is setting the box (yes, I said box) of Clos (local red wine) seems to be calling my name. I may be breaking that promise to myself.