August 22, 2003

Towards Perú

Having returned from the Galapagos it was time to pack up my things in Quito and head south. After two nights of late-night drinking and saying goodbye to friends I mounted by now very heavy backpack and left what had been my home in Quito for the past four weeks.

Barely had I got out of the house before disaster was close to striking. Naïve as I was I'd walked down to one of the main roads to hail a cab wearing my backpack and daypack.. I definitely had tourist spelt across my face. So I got a cab and started unstrapping the bags. As I threw the daypack into the backseat of the cab, a woman knocked me on the shoulder and pointed to the ground saying that I'd dropped something. I instinctively recognised this as a scam (good old London ways!), and immidiately turned back to the cab knowing that something fishy was going on. Next I see a man having opened the other door of the cab and having grabbed my daypack.. which at the time contained just about everything I have with me which is worth anything.. plane tickets, camera, travellers cheques, money.. So in an adrenaline rush I ran around the cab ready to chase the guy and beat the living daylights out of him (okay, so he was Ecuadorian and at most half of my size ;) ). Luckily my reaction must have scared him and he dropped the daypack in the cab and legged it. Nothing lost, but it was definitely an eye-opener and a very scary such.

After a disastrous morning, where I also found myself in a taxi at the bus station with no change and only $50 notes needing to pay the cab driver $5 (cab drivers never have change in this country, and definitely never for $50.. actually, nobody has change! $1 bills are very precious :) ), I finally boarded the bus for Riobamba, a small city about three and a half hours south of Quito (here that means about 100 km). Once in Riobamba I spent the better part of two hours walking around town with my backpack trying to find a place to stay. In the end I found a decent hotel where I paid $8 for a single room with a private bathroom and hot water (luxury!). Had a quiet dinner (and by that I mean that I was alone in the restaurant for the better part of the meal.. until a Belgian lone backpacker walked in) and called an early night as I had to get up at 4.30am the following morning to catch a train(!).

The Ecuadorian railways have more or less seized operations due the high cost of maintaining the tracks, but a touristy ride three times a week from Riobamba to Alusí and over "El Nariz del Diablo" is still in operation (apparently this is the world's most difficult railway - due to the steepness of the hill the train has to zig-zag down..). The train leaves at 7am, but to get good seats - on the roof - you need to be there early. Having managed to crawl out of bed on time, I caught a cab down to the train station to start queing. As it turned out I was quite early and second in line, only a group of four very nice German students [hi guys!] were there when I arrived. I got chatting to them, and we ended up spending the day together, for the most part riding on the roof of a train. It's so nice not to be bound by stringent safety standards every once in a while. One could easily have fallen off the roof of the train as the only thing that kept you there was a small metal list that you could rest your feet on.. otherwise you were simply sitting there without barriers. Definitely got an adrenaline kick out of it!

After the train ride we caught a bus from Alausí to Cuenca - Ecuador's third city located in the middle of the country. Had a great time there. I went to a really nice cafe/bar/restaurant - Café Eucalyptus - on Wednesday and ended up spending the night with the owner and a few of his friends (including the owners of two other bars). Free drinks and food! :) The early hours of the morning we spent in a members only Salsa bar.. god I was tired at the end (having gotten up at 4.30am in the morning to catch the train).

Yesterday (Thursday) I had a full day in Cuenca. Wandered around the beautiful colonial town centre, and also managed to sort out my onward travels. In the evening I caught a bus to Baños, a small town half an hour outside Cuenca where they have pools with water drawn from hot water springs. Had a very refreshing bath!

Today I've spent most of the day travelling. First I took a bus from Cuenca to Machala, and a couple of hours ago I left Ecuador and arrived in Tumbes in northern Perú. The reception I got in Perú was amazing. Two young cabbies approached me as I stepped out of the bus and asked if I wanted them to take me to my hotel. As I hadn't booked one, they helped me sort out a hotel in a good area of town (the one I suggested was in a dodgy neighbourhood), and they also arranged for a pickup for tomorrow morning when I'm heading to the airport to catch a flight to Lima. It was the first time in a while when I've really felt that someone was genuinely friendly and helpful and not out to rip me off! It's not that everyone really is out to rip you off in this part of the world, but the cynical me takes some convincing. These guys really managed to do so!

That's about it for now.. tomorrow I'm heading down to Lima where I'll spend a few days with a friend called Sylvia (she's really a friend of a friend, but we've been emailing a while) before I head out to explore the rest of the country.

More to come from me soon..

Hasta luego

Posted by markus at August 22, 2003 08:19 PM
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