Land adventures in Ecuador - Week1

Pacific Bliss
Colin Price
Sat 12 Feb 2011 20:21
This trip has turned out to be a busy old trip so best written up as short diary,It is like no other family holiday we have ever had, but our lives are rather unusual right now so it's all in the mix.

Monday (night travel) and Tuesday 
Holiday begins, it's taken a good 4 days to get the boat ready to leave so we're all ready for a holiday..... After a coupld of false starts at 10.30pm we catch the night bus to Quito,  we are warned that it's a cold airconditioned journey so we're equiped with all the cold weather gear we have, this amounts to, not much.

Kids are amazing and fall straight to sleep.  Colin and I doze but have to keep half an eye on our bags as we are told buses are patoled by theives and night buses are rich pickings.

We arrive 6am in Quito,  it's flipping freezing, dark and drizzling.  Not surprizingly we are the only folk in flip-flops everyone else is in winter boots and Thick Coats.  The Glove and Wooley hat sales man has a ropey array of stock but boy do they look tempting.
Find a taxi and whizz to our hotel.  who kindly let us in and let us fall into our beds 1/2 a day early,  but by god this place is cold.  It's an old Hacienda with open court-yard roof no fires in the rooms and no central heating,  we eventually discover the only hot thing in the hotel and subsequently all have very long showers.

Tuesday (Wet Wonderings)
Walk the streets of Quito but it's raining too hard and we don't have any wet weather gear.  We find refuge in an art Gallery and see a fantastic World Press photographic exhibition,  great for colin and I but far too gruesome for the kids,  So much war and missory going on in the world,  in contrast to this the British contribution was ' late afternoon on ladies day at the races'. A sea of discarded plastic beer glasses on the floor and the glamourous ladies not looking quite so polished anymore, such a great image of Blighty for all the world to see.....
 Coffee is not up to much in Ecuador, one of the enduring disappointments of Ecuador.
Things aren't going too well so we consult 'Lonely Planet' take a taxi up to a recommended place and discover we are in a room with a view. Only the room and food make us feel like we're back in Scotland,  Tartan table cloths, staff in tartan wastecoats and dreadful food and service, the price list is about the equivilant to Edinburgh too and this is cheap old Ecuador. Through gritted teeth Colin is able to enthuse about the great views........
 Ehibition of world photography kept us out of the rain for a while   View over Quito  

More walks through a city who arquitecture seems more inkeeping with a communist state.  By the end of the day we all invest in Vampire styling Rain ponchos,  we go in search of another Lonely Planet recommendation only to find it closed and end up in a worn out place that again makes us feel like we are in war town eastern block, only this time we order 4 meals and are unable to consume a third of it. this time is only costs us 5 $ including 2 beers.

Another hot Shower, then into bed

Dreadful breakfast,  followed by Cosmo taking us on a tour.  We walk away from all tourist haunts, which seems to us like a jolly good choice.  We are then greated by umpteen folk telling us to hold on to our stuff and not to take our camera out.  Cosmo eventually leads us to the San Fransisco covered market with is great lovely jolly ladies taking delight in the blonde haired kids, one toothless old lady even gives her stock away to the kids, two lovely wooden spoons.  More warnings of theft only this time they are concerned that our children will be stollen.   Strangely colin and I have not felt a sniff of threat so far, it's South America and we are thinking the kids are working in our favour.

Off piste at lunch and have a great delicious meal for 4 and spend only $3 dollars,  colin looking happier.

Bus to 3hr Banos, The natural scenery gets better the longer we are on the road but the architecture is just a load of breeze block, square boxes in various states of unfinish
OK hostal, La Petite Auberge,  Kids in mezaneen bed so a little separation plus fire in room. But the Receptionist is a lazy psyco,  who won't light the fires and she finishes at 8pm far to late for our room to heat up.   I'm thinking very soon after arrival that colin is not liking town, it's fall of tourist rubbish for sale. Supper consists of the worst pizza on the planet, things just aren't getting better.

At 8pm the nice night receptionist takes over and gets to work lighting a fire with supper wet wood,  But we are joined by an interesting Canadian guy who told moving stories about surviving the tsunami in Thailand.

Another dreadful breakfast were the butter looked mouldy. Dispite Colins increasing down turn of face we managed to convince him to hire a jeep for a few hours.  Banos is full of hire shops, which seems to
lead to a really badly maintained stock, our Jeep is no exception, but it is good old South American. Ours has no roof, no handbreak, no helmets, no seat belts and to be honest no breaks.  This doesn't help my nerves every time Colin drives over 10miles an hour, which is often..... 
We are told the second family zip cage is the best one but rocking up our confidence is not instilled seeing a dismantled car engine with driver on a racing car seat in.  What we really didn't know was we would be suspended over a 600 ft gorge and propelled at high speed, oh and no lock on the gate.  Bloody hell it was some adrenoline rush with Colin and my eye brows propelled to the top of our faces every time we looked at each other saying 'OH MY GOD' this was followed by a steep scary walk down a waterfall.  We then have to repeat the scary trip the other way. Only this time we have 6 worker men on board and the cage stops half way and returns to it's departure spot to collect more folk..................  all very free rangey and not even the gate bolted ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Stunning scenery   
Then went on to a peaceful if not baltic swim in waterfall pools, kids are getting used to steep walks now.  I would say at this point we whizzed back to Banos unscathed, buy thats not true,  I have already shot Cosmo off a buggy once on this trip (Antigua) but now Colin misses the bump in the road,  Cosmo is propelled forward onto the monkey bar and manages to bash his tooth out, opps.

By 8pm that night we discover we came off lightly fellow guests vehicle never even made it as far as the first zip and when they returned 4 hrs later the rental company tried to charge them over time, obviously there distress phone had a fault going on that day. We heard other horrors of hardcore hikers being abandoned by guilds 1/2 way up Volcanos whilst suffering from altertude sickness.

More Dreadful food that night just makes us want to leave as soon as, this is compounded when Colin unceremoniously not being allowed into the Hot Spring Baths in his fetching well travelled CK underpants.  No justice in this world!

Cosmo insists on a family game of 'Sticks with Balls' (pool to you and me). Then hop on a bus direct to our next destination, Riobamba.  Not what the guide book told us was possible.  We are beginning to have a jaundiced view of our Victorian Lonly Planet. 
We are in Riobamba, not knowing where to go after this but here to experience our first local market (this is not a tourist town)  Find the cheapest but recommended on in the LP, it tells us it's a bit bizarre and it really is.  Run by a lovely family,  lovely kind mum and Dad who obviously like gnomes and piped music in there garden....  Kids are a product of mum and dad we expect,  very very camp son, a daughter who looks like a tramp and a shell-suit wearing daughter who has a smattering of English. Colin is rather enjoying things now due to the strangeness of it all.

Great walk through town,  there's some cowboys in them there hills due to the amount of Chap makers.  Colin has his first shave and the kids and I find another great under covered daily market.
 Getting a shave
Toothfairy finally arrives, Cosmo on a mission to buy a sling shot.

Breakfast on the hoof,  Eating fine fare from the market starting with Crispy Pork, sweet bread wrapped in an aniseed tasting leaf, yummy puff pastry cones filled with toffee and custard.  and finishing with totally delious fried plantain and potato Crisps foisted on us by a lovely lady.

Loads of toothless Old Ladies all wanting to shake hands with Cosmo,  he took to this rather well, god help us if this is the beginnings of his political career.

The market is totally indigineous we are the only tourists, and no one is self conscious
Guinea pigs laid out.  we did not get to eat therm here.    
Bus to the next place, Guaranda, only we haven't booked and the bus is full to bursting.  Puppies, Rabbits and god knows what on top but we get lucky and for the first 10 mins and find seats.  Only just when we thing we can relax the young beetnik band come along and reclaim them.  So for the next 90mins the kids are seated on the floor and we're standing.  But it's a great bus ride, everyone is super friendly and if we had wanted to we probably would have be able to claim every seat on the bus,  even the beatniks revised there position and offered our seats back, if we had had seats we wouldn't have had half such a good trip.  Every one around really really keen to show us the best of the views out of there windows as we passed near the top of a snow clad Andean volcano.
 Kids on the floor of the bus
We where finally dropped at the side of the road with the promise we would find a lift up to our final destination,  The first open ended van that comes past Colin flags down and we are now travelling at breakneck speed up a drizzly, slippy road in the back of a small truck (called a caminoetta) and we are all loving it, it's the fastest 35 K I've ever been.
We arrive at Salinas hungry excited and feeling like aliens.  We're told to walk up a muddy hill to find the hostal, on route we're intercepted by a private hostal owner touting rooms for 1/3 of the price of the community run hostal and by the looks of his place you know why.....  After looking over our originaly choice we opt of Senior Victors place, and boy it is ropey but has such a charm we're sold.  The shower room isn't exactly clean but he's in there pushing the last guests pubic hair in a less evident position and joy of joys he lights a fire which he continues to feed from dawn to dusk. Victors place is the best place we've stayed so far, there is no way we're going to try having a shower here but Victor is such a treasure. Once settled we head in to the village, fully vampired up with black capes, only to find a co-operative selling hand knitt alpaca and lambs clothing. We leave the shop with 4 pairs socks, 2 jumpers, 1 poncho, 2 pairs of gloves,  it's a bonanza day for Salinas and I can't wait to put my socks on and get my toes warm.

Victor creeps into the room before 7am whilst we are dozing to restart the fire.  It's still raining in Salinas, whilst we might now have warm toes our only footwear are Keens Hiking Sandles or flip flops, not exactly perfect at  3555 feet above sea level.  Great brief views of large cliffs looming over the village and huge mountain-scapes off in the distance.
 Ladies in the shop. Note the lack of stock as Liz has swept through the place.
We're in dairy country here and as the village seems to operate an incredible group of co-opterative, it's our sort of town.  From about 6 am you hear the donkeys, mules and llamas hoofing down the road to the cheese making factory.  We then discover the rest of the co-ops.
- Dried Wild Mushrooms
- Really good Salami
- Swiss Style cheese and Yogurt
- Amazing Yarn and finished hand knit items
- Very good Chocolate
- Woven baskets
- Footballs !?!?!
 The mushroom lady
Alpacha wool shop 
   . . . . . . from pig to Salami . . . . . .
Milk brought to the cheese factory by llama   

This place is a dream, and barely another tourists to be seen. We share the  hostal with James and Claire from the UK who, like us, have stumbled across the place by chance.  They're on there way to work on a WOOF farm, in there flip flops,  so typically british (see
   Friends off to a WOOF farm for a week
First cowboy (no chaps)   
  Nags and llamas everywhere

The end of Week one and things really are looking up for us.  The natural beauty of the Andes massively out weighs the blots on the architectural landscape,  and joy of joys we're not feeling like herded tourist traffic anymore.