Saturday, July 21, 2012

Tena Is Hot and Humid

Friday-Banos to Tena Breakfast was included with our room, and it came with good, delicious coffee for a change.  Not NescafĂ©.  Also a glass of some sort of red juice that we couldn't identify, but that tasted yummy.  Their idea of a pancake, however, is what we call a tortilla, and mine came filled with fresh pineapple, strawberries, cantaloupe, and watermelon.  My favorite kind of breakfast.  We checked out and the total was $55.   We took a taxi to the bus station and found out how to get a bus to Tena.  Had to wait a while, but Ron found a couple from Calgary to chat with.  The bus was late, the first delay we have experienced, but soon we were on our way.  The buses are comfortable, the seats recline, and on any ride long enough they show a movie.  The other day we saw "Desperado" with Antonio Banderas and Selma Hayek, and today "Pulp Fiction" was playing.  The sights out the window were more interesting than the movie,though.  The bus route follows the course of the river, but winds along a serpentine road, through mountain tunnels, rocking back and forth so that my iPad screen keeps switching views.  I almost killed Ron trying to give him a bite of banana.  He had his mouth open and I held the banana up just as the bus lurched around a curve and the banana disappeared down his throat!  He has adopted the little camera and is snapping shots like crazy.  He loves digital, but between the photos I take, the ones he takes, and the ones we downloaded from Bills camera, we easily have over a thousand shots so far. We noticed that the people in the Oriente province that we have seen are taller and thinner than the people around Imbabura.  Wonder why?  Also, we saw a lot more men smoking in Ambato.  maybe the city folks have more money than the people in the country or small towns do.  But there are some things that just seem unusual to us.  For instance, in the bus stations, they have people yelling, "Quito, Quito, Quito," or "Puyo, Tena" rather than loudspeakers making announcements like we are used to. After a long bus ride (the last hour of which some woman's stomach was pressing on my shoulder shoving me into Ron who was by the window because she and a bunch of others had to stand up for lack of seats) we finally pulled into Tena.  OMG!  The worst bus station yet. Crumbling concrete benches, no restrooms at all, people selling food all over the place (there are apparently no sanitation standards in Ecuador), and grubby little children trying to entertain themselves by climbing on some abandoned pipe structure.  The guidebook says that the bus station is in the less attractive part of town and not to be put off by first impressions.  Oops, too late.   At least La Casa del Abuelo is a nice, clean, welcoming hostel.  Has a patio, AC, wifi, and TV.  The beds are comfortable, and if we have to just stay in this room until time to leave tomorrow, then that's what we will do. Unfortunately, a bunch of other Americans thought this was the place to stay, and they were in the room next door.  At 2:30 am, the baby woke up.  They must have been trying to get him to give up his bottle because he screamed like Willie used to when we were trying to wean him.  He would scream for 10 minutes, quiet down for 2 minutes, then scream for another 10 minutes.  This went on for about an hour before they finally shut him up.  Then the dogs started barking.   Breakfast was another surprise.  This time it was lukewarm water, instant coffee and eggs I didn't order.  Soon the young man brought some boiling hot water, and some hot milk, so eventually we got a halfway decent cup of coffee after I poured two other attempts on the potted plants.   After breakfast we walked across the bridge to Cafe Tortuga where we had heard they had a bus schedule.  Sure enough, we found that there was a bus to Quito at 10:00.  Grabbed a cab to the bus station and didn't have to wait long for the bus.  Ron made a gallant effort to ask the bus driver if there was a place we could get off and catch a bus to Otavalo without having to go all the way to the Quitumbe (southern) terminal.  We thought he understood, but weren't sure.  Happily, four young American students got on the bus, and we talked to them for the length of their ride.  One of them spoke fluent Spanish and so Ron asked him to ask the driver where we could get the Otavalo bus, so we were sure that the driver understood and would tell us where to get off.   So you know, of course that they didn't stop and let us off anywhere, but continued on to the station an hour across Quito.  Ron was steaming.  However, the bus drivers assistant was so sweet - he went with us into the station and even went upstairs to the tickets windows to make sure these demented old people who couldn't understand Spanish could get on the damned bus to Otavalo.  Bought tickets and only had to wait 20 minutes for the bus.  The worse part of the trip home was the bus from Otavalo to Cotacachi.  One bus was pulling out when we paid our taxi driver, so Ron ran and caught it, barely stopping it in time for me to climb ungracefully on board.  There were no more seats on the bus, so we had to stand, until enough people got off and freed up some seats.   It is funny how a place you have been in only two weeks can seem so familiar and welcoming.  Strolling down Leather Street felt known and comforting after four days away.  

The baths at Banos

Thursday We stayed at the somewhat seedy hotel in Ambato, but it had the most comfortable bed we have found in Ecuador, with a heavy quilt to keep us toasty.  We had breakfast at C'bastian's.  I had a waffle with yogurt and honey, no butter, no syrup.  Even the waffles are a healthier version.  Ron had huevas rancheros, but when it came, it looked like French onion soup.  After breakfast we took a taxi to the bus stop to take a bus to Quizapincha, where they supposedly make a lot of the leather goods that are sold in Cotacachi. I tried on a few leather jackets, but they were made for the smaller Ecuadorean people and felt tight, not comfortable.  And the prices were much more than the guidebook had promised.  I did see a bag that I liked, mainly because it had a woven pattern that was similar to the bedspread on our bed in the condo.  At the same shop I saw a pair of sandals that were only $13.  The owner sold us the bag and the sandals for $22.  We then hopped a bus back to Ambato. We thought we would go from Ambato to Tena, but I started reading about Banos, a town on the way to Tena.  There are many mineral baths in Banos, heated by the nearby volcano which is only 5 miles away to the south.  The guidebook advised to check the status of the volcano before going there since there is a risk of another eruption.  I ignored that advice and we got off the bus in Banos.  Found a lovely hostel, Isle de la Banos, just blocks from the mineral springs.  There was a restaurant, Cafe Hood, where we went for lunch.  I had yet another great burrito, with some of the worlds best guacamole.  Ron had enchiladas and claimed they were the best he had ever eaten. Plus he ordered a drink that was hot passion fruit juice with the local cane liquor.  Oooh, it was delicious!  We strolled around the pretty park and took some photos, then went back to our room until time to go to the hot pools around 7 pm.  we watched the US national team play Great Britain and win.  I saw my boy, James Harden, playing with all the big-time stars. As soon as it was dark, we walked the few blocks to the baths.  We paid the "tercera erad" or senior rate so it was $1.50 each.  It was really crowded, mostly with locals, but felt wonderful.  There was a light drizzle falling, but the water was like a hot, hot bath, with steam rising into the cool air.  We left that pool and went to the pool that was "medium" hot, but right under the waterfall.  What a treat.   Am so glad we stayed in Banos.  It is a lovely town and there are quite q few ex-pats living there.  Our hostel is owned by a German, and we saw many restaurants that cater to foreigners. Watched The Big Bang Theory and went to sleep in a hard, firm bed with another of those heavy quilts that kept us warm.

Ambato? No!

Wednesday This was Bill and Verdas last day in Ecuador.  We got a guy in Cotacachi to drive us to Quito in his van for $50, so we split it.  We got dropped off at the bus terminal so we could get a bus to Latacunga.  For a little bit, I thought we were in an episode of Amazing Race. There were no ticket windows that said Latacunga, and everyone we asked just yammered at us in super fast Spanish. It was pretty dicey until we figured out that we had to go to a different bus terminal.  One taxi driver told us he would take us for $30.   You know me, I uttered a few choice words that I don't know the Spanish for, but another man approached us and offered to take us for $10.  It turned out that Quito is a very, very large city, and the new bus terminal in the south was about as far away from the terminal where we were as you can get.  It did, in fact, take us an hour to get there, but once there, it was a piece of torte.  The bus to Ambato was comfortable and the views were incredible.  Cotopaxi is the largest volcano in Ecuador and it is a grand sight. Staying in a sleazy hotel for $26 per night.  It's clean and has tv and wi-fi. But scratch Ambato off the list of possibles. Loud, lots of crazy traffic-kind of a 42nd Street and Broadway feel. Not at all "tranquillo.". We will be out of here first thing in the am.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Condor Parque

Tuesday, July 17 Another great day in Ecuador!  We left the condo this morning and took the bus to Otavalo (our favorite bus terminal so far).  Then we got a taxi to take us to the Condor Park.  This is a beautiful setting for the rehabilitation of rescued birds of prey.  "Birds that find refuge here have been rescued from inadequate sites, donated from other centers, or put under our care by the Ministry of the Environment." There were birds flying free, and then returning to their handler, lots of birds just tethered so that we could get great pictures of them, and then many owls in enclosures.  We enjoyed our time there so much! We got a ride back to Otavalo, and had him drop us off at Plaza de la Ponchos so we could have lunch.  We found a restaurant that we had been to before, so we knew it was good.  After lunch we browsed around the market and I bought gifts for Faye and Ella and Ron bought a tee shirt.  Then back to the bus station and home.  One funny thing was that a guy got on the bus holding a rooster in his arms, cradling it like a baby.  That rooster sat quietly in his arms til time to get off .  No end to the unusual things you see when you travel outside your comfort zone.

Chachimbiro Mineral Springs

Monday Well, today was a really nice day.  We went to Chachimbiro to the mineral springs that are fed from the volcano.  First we had to go to Ibarra, then take a bus to Urququi, then a taxi up to the springs.  But once we were there, it was only $4 to have access to the entire complex with its multiple hot pools.  We had changing rooms, we could check our belongings, and they had picnic tables where we ate our delicious lunch of tuna sandwiches, bananas, and chips. The pools were so relaxing; I am sure Ron and I will go back.  I want to get a massage next time.  A full massage is $10.  Or maybe a mud bath. We took a bus from Chachimbiro all the way to Ibarra, and then got a bus back to Cotacachi.  However, we had not been on a bus at rush hour before.  Apparently, a lot of workers go to Ibarra to work, and come home on the bus.  They packed that bus to the roof!  Some guy was standing up right beside me and I couldn't turn my head or my nose would have hit the zipper in his pants! After we got home, we cooked all our goodies from the produce market on Sunday.  We boiled potatoes, cooked the corn, and the peas.  It was delicious!  What fresh, healthy food.  This is the best thing about Ecuador.

Return from the coast

Saturday We were up at 5:30 am to wait for a taxi to take us to the airport.  Ron went out before I was ready, and when he stepped out on the porch, there was a guy in Ninja gear sitting there with a rifle across his knees.  A bit unsettling, to say the least.  The Ninja did call us a cab, and we arrived at the airport before even the coffee shop was open.  Needless to say we were anxious to get a cup of caffeine and something to eat.  Finally the door was unlocked and we got coffee - if you can call it that.  Most horrible stuff I ever tried to drink!  And we thought they had croissants, but when we asked the barista said they were filled with beef or chicken.  I am so sorry, but I just can't eat chicken for breakfast.  So, we dug around in our emergency food bag and found some Chips Ahoy.  That was breakfast - two cookies and undrinkable coffee.  So off we went to Quito. When we landed at Quito, we saw a sign for Dunkin Donuts.  We got two coffees and two sugary donuts each.  I would never do that at home!  Then we got a taxi to the bus terminal.  The ride from Quito to Otavalo was routine by now.  It was Saturday, so it was market day in Otavalo.  We shopped a bit and I bought a gift for Nan.  We also had lunch.  A great lunch.  I found a place that had burritos!  Real burritos with beans, rice, beef, cheese, and salsa.  So good. Then we caught the bus back to Cotacachi.  Bill and Verda were a couple of hours behind us, but they arrived and we had soup and tomatoes and avocado for dinner.  Verda makes great chicken and rice soup!