Archive for October, 2018

Part 3: South America – Peru.

Monday, October 15th, 2018

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December 29, 2007. Guayaquil, Ecuador to Lima, Peru.

Our flight from Guayaquil to Lima in Peru was at 8:25am, so it was an early start at the airport. 

Our hotel in Lima, The Best Western Urban Larco, was about 100 metres from the Larcomar Mall, the Miraflores shopping and restaurant area. 

We actually had a view of the Pacific from our hotel room. 

After settling in we then went for a wander around Larcomar Mall. The mall is perched right on the cliff edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean, a long way below.

Because of their height, the cliffs are a favourite spot for Parra Sailing over Miraflores. I was fascinated by the reflections of the flyers in the windows of the Marriott Hotel and Casino, that was just opposite the mall.

 

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December 30, 2017. Lima, Peru.

We were in Lima for a few days and staying at a hotel that was a little more upmarket than we were used to – well it was New Year. 

Lima is as huge city with over 10 million inhabitance – that’s one third of the population of Peru.

We felt it was just too large to explore by foot, so we hopped on the Lima City Tour. This was three hours, sitting on a bright yellow bus, being herded from site to site by our guide. It wasn’t the Hop-on-Hop-off sort but just a lot of driving around the city streets.

There were parts we couldn’t even get close to, like the main square, Plaza de Armas. It was closed due to the Pope’s visit, which wasn’t until January 18 – almost three weeks away. 

Saint Francis Church, which is very close to the city centre, was built in the Baroque style in the late 1600s. The associated Catacombs were part of the the original cemetery in Lima. It is estimated that there are 75,000 bodies buried under the church.

Lima was founded by the Spanish in 1535 and is home to the National University of San Marco, the oldest educational institution in the New World.

Lima was always the principal city of Peru but became the official capital following the War of Independence which ran from 1811 to 1826. Peru claimed its independence in 1821 and secured it in 1824. This was following a successful campaign by José de san Martín and Simón Bolívor at the battle of Ayacucho.

We were to hear a lot more about these two gentlemen, as we continued our journey in South America.

With numb bums from the morning bus ride we headed out, on foot, to explore the area around our hotel.

There are walks along the Miraflores cliff top, through parks and along winding pathways. 

The cliffs are 64 metres above the beach, so you really get the feeling of being high up. 

It was dusk and there were many people enjoying the last of the day. 

Lovers Park was very popular with cuddly couples. There were hints of Park Güell, Barcelona, in the tile-work.

Another fascinating aspect to the coastline was the surfers. There were waves full of them, all trying to get a ride on the rather small swell.

It did make a great snap at dusk.

 

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December 31, 2017. Lima, Peru. 

New Years Eve in Lima was something of a mystery. We wanted to be in a large city, as we figured there would be more on offer. 

This wasn’t necessarily the case. 

After asking the hotel staff and wandering around the Larcomar Mall we settled on Mangos, a restaurant in the mall. 

We ate there on our first night and it was great. 

Mangos offered dinner and dancing. The dinner started at 9pm and the night went through until 5am.

I didn’t think we would last that long.

As the mall is built on the cliff tops, most of the restaurants have spectacular views. Unfortunately they are spoilt by the constant sea mist rolling in from the Pacific.

It was dark when we were in Mangos, so it didn’t really matter. 

Our dinner wasn’t until late so we went for another cliff top walk in the afternoon. The sun did break through but there was still a sea mist.

Walking in the opposite direction to the previous day, we discovered the less attractive part of Miraflores. 

Descending off the cliff top we got down to sea level. We then wandered along the pebble beach area to the pier and surfers at Makaha Beach. I felt sorry for the surf school pupils as they made their way awkwardly over the rocky foreshore. We are spoilt in Australia with our sandy beaches.

Down on the shoreline it was interesting to see the Larcomar Mall from a different perspective. 

Mangos was decorated for New Year’s Eve with balloons, streamers, silly hats and horns.

We were seated on a table for four people but had no idea who the other two would be.

Then Oliver and Olivia turned up.

They were English, so at least we weren’t going to spend the rest of the night playing charades in an attempt to be understood.

They were a delightful, well travelled, couple who were in Lima for a friend’s wedding and were making a bit of a Peruvian holiday out of it.

Oliver was educated in the US and had friends around the world. 

And they were all getting married.

They had ten wedding invitation in 2018 so more travel was on their agenda.

At midnight there were fireworks on the Jose Olaya, the headland facing Larcomar Mall.

It was a good evening and even though the restaurant was open until 5am, we were back at our hotel by 2.

 

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January 1, 2018. Lima, Peru.

It was a slow start to the morning even though we hadn’t had a particularly big New Year’s Eve. 

Heading inland from the coast we wandered around the urban areas of Miraflores. 

Being a public holiday the streets were crowded as were the public parks. 

We visited the John F Kennedy and 7th of June Parks, then walked down the Diagonal back to the water. 

Late in the day we went to the mall for an afternoon drink.

During our stay in Lima I discovered Curaka, a local Peruvian craft beer or Artisanal beer as it’s known locally. 

And very nice it was too. 

Great label with foil printing and excellent graphics. A real break from traditional beer labels. 

Another find, unfortunately on our last night, was Barbarian 174 IPA.  This was an India Pale Ale in the US style, hoppy with a lot of citrus overtones. 

 

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January 2, 2018. Lima, Peru.

The outing for the day was a visit to the Larco Museum (Museo Rafael Larco Herrera) This was a pre-Columbian Museum about 11 kilometres from our hotel in the district of Pueblo Libre – a taxi was needed. 

The museum is in an 18th century colonial house and built on the site of a 7th century pre-Columbian pyramid.

It was a very comprehensive and well curated exhibition that covered the indigenous cultures, from before the Spaniards arrived. 

There was a small section, dedicated to the post-Columbian era, concentrating on how the indigenous cultures adapted. 

History has concentrated on the Incas as the dominant civilisation in the New World. 

It’s true that the Incas were in power at the time of the conquistadors but there was so much more that preceded them.

For 400 years, from the 16th century to the start of the 20th century, mention was only made of the Incas in Peru. They only governed for the last 150 years, before the arrival of the Spanish. In fact there were cultures in Peru 10,000 years before that.

The museum was created in 1925 by Rafael Larco Herrera who bought a collection of some 600 artefacts from his brother-in-law, Alfredo Hoyle.

The arrival of the collection sparked the interest of his son, Rafael largo Hoyle who proceeded to become one of the pre eminent academics on pre-Inca civilisations.

He discovered and researched a number of cultures that pre dated the Incas. Among these were the Virú, Cupisnique, Moche and Salinar cultures.

As described in the exhibition: We live in the here and now or the ‘cult of life’ while ancient cultures, including Peruvian ones, practiced the ‘cult of the dead’. 

In these times there were three divine worlds on earth. 

The Sky, where the rains came from, the Land, which had to be worked and the Subterranean World, where growth came from and where the dead went, known as the Underworld.

They also worshipped various species from those words. Birds from the sky, animals on the land and serpents beneath it. 

One of the interesting aspects of the exhibition was how symbolism changed from the pre-Columbian to post-Colombian eras.

Symbolic images on pottery and artefacts started with a feline attacking a deer, (the feline representing a god) then moved to man carrying the deer (man controlling the world) and ended with man carrying the feline (man ruling over the gods).

This empowerment of humans is known as the Extirpation of Idolatries.

Later in the post-Columbian period there was an attempt to amalgamate the European and indigenous cultures. This was done by introducing symbolism from the very Catholic Spanish Church. This is known as Syncretism.

Metals such a gold and silver were thought to contain supernatural powers. Gold represented the sun while silver the moon. 

They were only allowed to be worn by the ruling class. 

Rare gemstones and shells were also valued and only worn by the elite. 

The entire exhibition was an eye opener. Not just the history but the diversity and craftsmanship that was evident in the exhibits.

Visitors even had access to the storage area of the museum. There were hundreds, in not thousands, of pottery artefacts stored away.

They claimed to be the only museum in Peru and one of only a few in the world that allowed this.

 

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January 3, 2018. Lima to Cusco, Peru.

Today we were flying to Cusco to start the second part of our stay in Peru.

After much searching we found a local tour company that could provide a bespoke itinerary, covering the places we wanted to see.

After a delay leaving Lima and arriving in Cusco we got to our hotel, the Hotel Royal Inka 1. 

It was a classic colonial building with balconies, verandas and internal courtyards. 

It was only 100 metres to the main city square, Plaza de Armas or Armoury Square. 

This was a vast square, in the Spanish style. Free of traffic with churches and colonnades on four sides. 

After a wander around we ended up at Norton, a motor cycle themed pub. There I discovered another Peruvian Craft Beer, Sierra Andina Shaman IPA.

Part of the tour was a pick-up and drop-off service from the hotels. The guide taking us to our hotel in Cusco had an interesting take on Lake Titicaca, the famous high altitude lake south east of Cusco.

Lake Titicaca, is ‘tities’ for some and ‘caca’ for others. It all depends whether you’re from Bolivia or Peru. 

I’m from Peru so we get the ‘tities’.

We ended up at Tunupa grill, bar and restaurant, all with a very Inca theme. I had the Guinea Pig and Thea had the Alpaca – we ate like a local that night.

The evening was over by 9:30, a big difference to Spain that doesn’t start until then. 

Sometimes a piece of music gets stuck in your head and it just won’t go away.

The introduction to the Simon and Garfunkel hit “I’d Rather be a Hammer than a Nail” featured the Pan Flute – we heard it everywhere.

 

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January 4, 2018. Cusco, Peru.

Today was set aside to explore Cusco before we headed off on our 13 day Peruvian tour.

We wandered around the church complex, which was just off the Plaza de Armas. 

The Basilica Cathedral of Cusco definitely suffers from the, ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ syndrome. 

Built over the site of an Inca monument, it’s huge. 

The Spaniards destroyed these sites and used the materials to build their own edifices. They also superimposed their own Catholic meaning over Incan festivals. 

Unfortunately no photos were allowed in the church. 

Ironically in the centre of the Plaza de Armas is a fountain, featuring an Incan warrior. He is faced, on two sides, by churches. 

I wonder if he is paying homage to them, or vice-versa.

We sat in the square for a while and were entertained by the number of hawkers who approached us. 

They were selling sunglasses, jewellery, shoeshines, fruit salad, art, selfie sticks, umbrellas, ponchos, dolls on a key ring, hats, scarves, tours and restaurants. 

All this was despite the fact that there were officials everywhere trying to stop them.

 

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January 5, 2018. Cusco to Sacred Valley and Aguas Calientes, Peru.

Adriel was our guide to the Sacred Valley. He was an enthusiastic native of Ollantaytambo and a devout believer in the powers of the Incas. 

He continually reminded us of this.

Our first stop was at Mirador Taray which overlooked the Sacred Valley of the Incas. This gave us a good opportunity to view, from above, the area we would be travelling through.

Next was the Pisaq Archaeological Park with its fine examples of Inca terraces.

The terraces were multifunctional, they offered protection in times of conflict, enabled agriculture in steep locations and helped stop erosion. Terracing was developed in South America by the Wari culture before 1000 AD. This was centuries before they were adopted by the Incas.

Terracing made more land available to produce food, which was important to feed the Inca Empire at that time.

The Incan Empire was the largest empire in pre-Columbian America and possibly the largest in the world in the early 16th century.

It has been estimated that there were 10 million Incas when the Spaniards arrived. A number that was soon reduced by war, destruction of their habitat and introduced disease.

Pisaq or Pisac was a mining town for gold, silver and brass. Today it is better known for its souvenirs, weekly markets and the Inca ruins that are nearby.

The bus stopped in Pisaq for a shopping opportunity.

There was a Canadian couple sitting in front of us on the bus. He was more interested in drinking beer than shopping. I agreed with him, but at 11:07am it was far too early for me, so I let him go and find a drink on his own.

We didn’t want to buy souvenirs either, so we went to the produce market. There is usually no pressure to buy there. 

Driving along the Urubamba River, a tributary to the Amazon, we headed to Ollantaytambo. This is another archaeological site and as Adriel described it, “The icing on the cake.”

Ollantaytambo, located on the Patakancha River, was where the Incas made their last stand against the invading Spaniards. The Battle of Ollantaytambo took place in January 1537 and resulted in a win for the Incas.

The Incas were finally defeated in 1572.

It was a 1 hour 40 minute trip, most of it running along the Urubamba River. 

The scenery was spectacular. 

Inca Rail offer a very efficient service and even provides soft drinks and nibbles along the way. 

We were staying at the Inti Punko Machu Picchu Hotel, which was right next to the railway station. It was only a short walk into the main part of Aguas Calientes. 

This is a tourist town. 

Catering to western tastes, there are any number of places to get an espresso, eat pizza and drink craft beer. 

It’s very easy to get around as there are no cars. Everything is transported by hand, wheelbarrows or hand carts. 

Being Australian we were intrigued with the number of Eucalyptus trees we had seen so far in South America.

They were first introduced into Uruguay by Antonio Lussich in 1896 and came to Peru in the first part of the 20th Century. They were initially planted to replace the native Andean trees that were disappearing as a result of European development.

The Eucalypts were used as a building material but later the oil was used for medicinal purposes. As the trees spread, their timber was used for firewood and in the charcoal industry.

 

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January 6, 2018. Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu, Peru.

It was a 6am start for our visit to Machu Picchu. Nelly, our guide, said we needed to start early to miss the crowds. 

Everyone else had the same idea.

When we got to the bus station there was a queue, stretching for 130 metres, of anxious people who’d also got up early.

It was about a twenty minute ride to the Inca Ruins of Machu Picchu. Climbing higher and higher into the clouds, around tight bends with treacherous precipices at ever turn.  

Just after we arrived the clouds turned to rain. 

Tourists are very silly people. There were thousands of us visiting Machu Picchu, in the rain. 

Not just drizzle but at times, heavy rain. 

The poncho sellers were making a killing. 

We finished our morning guided tour with Nelly but opted out of staying for the afternoon. 

We were soaked to the skin and she didn’t think the weather would improve. 

Machu Picchu is situated 2,430 metres above sea level. This Incan citadel was built in approximately 1450 but abandoned a century later, at the time of the Spanish conquest.

Unearthed and revealed to the western world by Hiram Bingham in 1911, it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

In 2007 it was made one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, along with the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, the Colosseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, the Taj Mahal in India and Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

Once we returned to our hotel the main task was to change our clothes and get the wet ones dry. 

Fortunately there was a small portable radiator in the room, so we managed to hang everything around this. 

Our room looked like a Chinese laundry.

 

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January 7, 2018. Aguas Calientes to Ollantaytambo and Cusco, Peru.

Today we were returning by train, back to Ollantaytambo and then by bus to Cusco. 

This time we were on Peru Rail rather than Inca Rail. This was a win as it was much easier to get from our hotel to the Peru Rail station. 

When we arrived on Inca Rail it was a struggle, as the platform was at the bottom of a long, steep set of stairs. Fortunately one of the train passengers took pity on us and effortlessly carried Thea’s bag to the top.

A lot of the railway line runs besides the Urubamba River. This is a raging torrent that descends from the Andes, flowing north and eventually joining the Amazon near the border of Peru and Columbia. 

This water is destined to flow into the Atlantic Ocean in Brazil. 

The drive back to Cusco was along the Sacred Valley again. The clouds were still blanketing the mountains. 

There seemed to be a lot of old VW Kombi Vans and Beetles still on the road in South America. This isn’t that surprising, as the last ‘old style’ Beetle rolled of the production line in Mexico in 2003. While in Brazil, production of the Kombi, or Type 2 Microbus, only stopped in 2013.

We turned off at Urumbamba and climbed to Chinchero at 3,750 metres. 

The closer we got to Cusco the more ‘Chicken Buses’ slowed down the traffic. (A Chicken Bus is local transport that carries everything, including livestock)

After arriving back in Cusco we went looking for lunch for Thea and a coffee for me. 

We found Jack’s Café on Google. Purportedly owned by an Australian, it had Avocado on Toast and a ‘long black’

The avocado was fine but the long black was an Americano and the staff didn’t know the difference.

We were told that, being a Sunday, all the museums were closed, then we discovered Museo Quechua. It wasn’t really a museum but a shop. 

However just up the road we found the Convent of Santo Domingo – Qorikancha. This was a real museum and it was bursting at the seams.

No wonder all the other ones were closed.

The museum is a combination of an old Inca temple and the St Dominic Priory of Cusco. Founded in 1534, it was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

Qorikancha also known as Coricancha was the centrepiece of a vast astronomical observatory. The Convent of Santo Domingo is built over the top and you can still see parts of the old structure.

The Spanish who first entered Cuzco tell of the temple and describe it as, ‘beyond belief’ There were reportedly 4,000 priests, working around the clock, at the site. The carved granite walls were said too be covered in 700 sheets of pure gold, each weighing 2 kilograms.

The gold was very quickly acquired by the Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizzaro, who melted it down and then built the church.

St Dominic Priory of Cusco, founded in 1534, was the first Dominican Priory in Peru.

 

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January 8, 2018. Cusco to Puno, Peru.

It was 395 km from Cusco to Puno, in a large, bright green tourist bus. 

There were four scheduled stops along the way, plus lunch.

Marita was our bi-lingual tour guide, however I think she may have a few more languages up her sleeve.

There were about 30 people in the group and we were herded like a flock of Llamas. Marita was our teacher and we were her unruly students on a school excursion. 

She delivered her commentary with passion and an obvious belief in the spirituality of the Andean cultures. 

Mysticism has been a constant theme in Peru. A belief not in the here and now but in a world that goes beyond an earthly realm. 

The Church of St Peter and St Paul, at Andahuaylillas, was our first stop. Due to it’s richly decorated Baroque style, it is referred to as the ‘American Sistine Chapel’ 

The paintings, murals and sculpture were all done by locally trained artists. 

No photos were allowed but we were given a CD containing some shots. 

How good they are will remain a mystery until we find a reader and download them. 

The CD was produced by the Society of Jesus in Cusco and the Route of the Andean Baroque. 

They are involved in the restoration of churches along the Andean tourist trail. The money that is raised in tourism goes towards social work amongst the local people. 

Just next to the Church was the Alien Mummy Museum. 

This was a very questionable exhibit that believes they have the mummified body of an alien. 

Yet another example of their spirituality. 

Next was a stop at the Inca archeological site of Raqchi, also known as the Temple of Wiracocha. It was believed to have been built sometime during the 12th or 13th centuries.

Our last stop was the tiny Pukara Museum, unfortunately no snaps were allowed, yet again. 

Pukara was a pre-Incan culture north of Lake Titicaca. It dominated the lake region but was most active from 500 BC to 300 AD. As well as hunting, agriculture and fishing they were artisans. creating finely made pottery, textiles and ceramics.

Some of this work was on display in the museum.

It didn’t take long to see this very small museum, so there was time for a coffee. Fortunately there was a reasonable espresso available, just up the road. 

Their tiny automatic machine was working overtime. 

After about 10 hours on the road we reached Puno. Positioned on the banks of Lake Titicaca, at an altitude of 3,827 metres, it is one of the world’s highest cities. 

It was founded in 1668 by the Viceroy Count Lemos and named ‘San Carlos de Puno’ in honour of King Charles II of Spain.   

 

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January 9, 2018. Puno and Lake Titicaca, Peru.

Yet another early start, this time to explore Lake Titicaca. 

This alpine lake borders both Bolivia and Peru and is the largest lake in South America and the world’s highest navigable lake.

Five major river systems feed Lake Titicaca, with over twenty smaller streams also flowing into it.

Our guide today was Bloody. As he said, his parents made it up but didn’t know what they were doing.

The Uros floating islands, made from a type of papyrus, were our first stop. There is one family per island, consisting of a number of different generations. 

They are a pre-Inca culture and speak their own language, Quechua, plus an Inca derivative, Aymara, and Spanish. 

There are 97 of these islands holding 1,200 people. They have an overall leader who is the the president, plus every island has a chief. 

The island we visited had the only female chief. 

The Uros tribe developed their island communities to defend themselves from rival tribes. 

We were given a demonstration of how the islands are created and shown how they live. 

There was an opportunity to buy at the end. 

We were then taken by the island’s reed boat to another island where there was a chance to buy snacks and use the WC. 

This was followed by a two hour boat ride across Lake Titicaca to Taquile Island. 

Due to its high quality textiles (knitting and weaving) it has become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

On Taquile the women weave while the men knit. 

This community operates on three principles. Don’t lie, don’t steal and don’t be lazy. 

The lake is rich in fish, with Llamas and Vucuna grazing on the shores. Various civilisations have been in the area for over 3,000 years.

By the time we arrived at the island the rain had as well. 

After a very steep climb we reached the village perched on the summit. As was to be expected the views from the top were spectacular. 

The local woven and knitted products were all for sale in the craft market. 

From there we walked around the island to the other side. This was on a good stone path and nowhere near as steep as the the one we climbed up on. 

Again the views of Lake Titicaca were amazing. 

Lunch was in a local restaurant, that seem to be suspended on the cliff face. 

There were about 25 in the group and we all sat at one long table overlooking the lake. 

The rain had vanished and we could enjoy the bright blue sky and lake while eating our lunch. 

After lunch the family who ran the restaurant put on a show. They demonstrated making soap and then proved how well it worked by washing some dirty sheep’s wool. 

Then there was a bit of singing and dancing before we descended to the wharf below. 

The boat ride back to Puno was much brighter than the ride there. 

We were dropped off in the town square, Plaza de Armas de Puno, and then wandered back to the hotel. 

It had been another long day. 

Part 2: South America – Ecuador.

Monday, October 1st, 2018

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December 16, 2017. Bogotá, Colombia to Quito, Ecuador.

We were up early for our flight to Quito in Ecuador. 

The hotel staff had been fabulous but failed on the last day. The shuttle to the airport didn’t turn up on time, so they had to call us a taxi. 

And I loathe taxis. 

When we arrived in Quito we were expecting another hotel shuttle, that also didn’t show up. 

Again we caught a cab.  

The hotel Sebastian apologised profusely and upgraded us to a suite. 

It was a good result. 

The hotel was a fair way out of the old town and this seemed like a problem at first. However after we wandered around the old city we discovered that it wasn’t a great place to stay. There were very few restaurants and even fewer hotels. 

In the end the hotel Sebastian was a excellent choice. 

Ecuador as its name suggest is on the equator. Officially it is the República del Ecuador. Which, when translated from the Spanish, means the Republic of the Equator.

Ecuador has a very diverse ecosystem, which includes the Galápagos Islands. In recognition of its unique ecological heritage, the 2008 constitution legally recognises the Rights of Nature. This means that the environment has legal standing.

Ecuador was the world’s first country to follow this course of action.

 

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December 17, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

Though online sites we had learnt that renting and driving in Equator was both expensive and dangerous. The hotel suggested that one of their staff could arrange for an English speaking driver to take us on a day trips out of Quito.

Enter José.

Our first tour was to the indigenous market town of Otavalo. 

On the way we stopped for coffee and a local specialty called Bizcocha cookies. Bizcocha means biscuit in Spanish.

They are a buttery biscuit that comes with a local stringy cows cheese, that’s a bit like mozzarella. 

They have been baked there since the Spaniards conquered the area. They are made of yeast dough that must rise first and they hardly taste sweet at all.

We then detoured to Lake San Parlo and then drove onto the market. 

It is open seven days a week but it’s busiest day is Saturday. 

This was Sunday so everything was a little quieter – even the traffic. 

At the market there was very little pressure to buy, which was good as we rarely do. 

After the market we drove to Penuche Falls, a beautiful area surrounded by eucalypts.

We were glad that we had heeded the advice and not tried to self-drive in Ecuador – the roads were frantic and the drivers mad.

 

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December 18, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

On our next trip with José we headed north out of Quito. Crossing the equator we climbed to 2,800 metres and then descended and headed towards the coast. 

We were accompanied by a wide variety of music. 

In the morning it was Rock n’ Roll and Classic 80s’ and 90’ Pop. 

In the afternoon, Latin Pop. 

José seemed to love waterfalls and wanted to share his passion with us.

After visiting the Mindo National Park and taking the La Tarabita cable car across the Mindo River we went to the Sanctuary of the Cascades.

There were plenty of waterfalls here and we went to them all.

The Mindo Valley is a mountainous watershed in the western slopes of the Andes and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. Here the Chocoan lowlands meets the Tropical Andes. Much of the area is in cloud, so there is a constant mist in the air.

It was then onto the Mariposario Butterfly Park, where there was also a variety of bird, including the illusive hummingbird.

On the return trip to Quito the cloud dropped and we were in heavy mist, which is understandable, as the area is called the Cloud Forrest. 

José predicted that the weather would be fine in Quito. 

He was right. 

 

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December 19, 2017. Quito, Ecuador.

Our last morning in Quito was a bit more leisurely. We hadn’t planned to do too much other that a little bit of sightseeing and booking some advanced accommodation. 

After breakfast we went looking for a coffee and discovered Isveglio Cultura del Café. 

This was a truly Third Wave coffee house. Well designed, with their own coffee brand and a barista that knew what he was doing. 

From near our hotel we could see the Teleferico de Quito and decided to take a look. This is a cable car that climbs 2,237 linear metres, from near the edge of the city, to the Cruz Loma lookout, on the east side of Pichincha Volcano. The lookout is just under 4,000 metres above sea level so we were getting a full high altitude experience. 

At the top there are many walks and lookouts, or miradors, so we could get a great view of Quito and the surrounding landscape.

The Teleferico de Quito was built by the French company Sigma and opened in 2005.

After our high altitude adventure, we went back to Isveglio Cultura del Café. It was another excellent coffee for me and lunch for Thea, which included a juice made from the fruit of Soursop. 

 

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December 20, 2017. Quito to Tena, Ecuador.

While we had been doing our day trips we had arranged for José to show us more of Ecuador. 

We engaged him independently from the hotel, so there was a bit of clandestine activity involved in our pick up. 

We were collected from our hotel by José Dos who then drove us to another hotel where we met our José. 

As it turned out the Renault Sandero, that we had been picked up in, was the one we were to use on our trip.

It wasn’t a patch on the van we had been using over the last few days, but then were weren’t paying nearly as much either.

The first stop was Papallacta Hot Spring, but it was wet, cold and crowded, so we kept moving. 

Just down the road was a small café, so we stopped for a coffee before heading off again. 

They had a fire and a very friendly dog, who sat, leaning up against my leg. 

I would like to think he was getting attached to me, but I really think it was the warmth of the fire he was drawn to. 

Having done little but drive, José suggested we visit Zoo El Arca. 

Unfortunately it was a zoo in the old model, with caged birds and animals that looked a bit sad. 

There were two monkeys that had obviously escaped but were still hanging around for the free food. 

They were the only animals that looked happy. 

A saving grace for the zoo was that they did take in abandoned animals.  

There was even a group of lions that had come from a circus. 

In the evening we walked around Tena. Firstly to the Parque Amazónico ‘La Isla’ which is on an island in the Tana River and then around the town.

It was getting close to Christmas so the town was decked in lights.

 

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December 21, 2017. Tena to Baños, Ecuador.

Our first stop for the day was at Misahualli on the Rio Napo, a tributary to the Amazon. 

José negotiated for us to take a boat ride up the Napo and our fist stop was at a local village.

The Kichwa Shiripuno Community was started in 2005 and now has 50 families. It is primarily a tourist development, but one that benefits the entire village. 

We were introduced to Marina who was our local guide. She demonstrated making a local fermented drink from the Guayusa plant. Then there was a demonstration of local dancing and we were invited to participate, which we did  very clumsily. 

Continuing on we went a little further along the river to Jamal Maki, which was a combination of a museum, botanical garden and zoo.

We then stopped at Puyo for lunch. My usual lunch is a coffee, but sadly there was only Nescafé – I had a juice. 

The Stray Dog Brewpub in Baños was a strange place. 

It was recommended by the owner of the La Posada del Arte Hotel – who was the father of the chef at the pub. 

The beer was fine but Thea’s wine was disappointing and the staff seemed disinterested. There were a number of stray dogs hanging around, so at least the name had some authenticity.

We had been told that the food there was a fusion of US Brewpub and Ecuadorian. We didn’t find many signs of cross culture in the menu, it was mainly burgers and fries.

Disappointedly we continued on and found an Italian place that was close by. It wasn’t trying to be anything but Italian. 

It did it very well, as the food was delicious. 

Baños gets its name from the Spanish word bath. Which is understandable considering the main feature of the town is the nearby hydrothermal springs.

The local basilica also has a link to the springs and is known as the Church of the Virgin of the Holy Water.

Our hotel was just on the edge of the town and we could see the Cascada de la Virgin for our window. The waterfall empties near the thermal baths.

 

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December 22, 2017. Baños to Alausí, Ecuador.

Driving out of Baños, heading towards Alausí, we were leaving the jungle behind. 

Our plan was to stop off at Chimborazo, the earth’s highest active volcano, standing at 5897metres.

Everything was dependent on the weather. 

Ecuador is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This area of volcanic eruptions stretches from the south of South America and curves up over North America, Canada, across the Pacific to the coast of China, through Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and down as far as New Zealand.

Fortunately Australia isn’t included.

This is a 40,000 km horseshoe that contains more than 75% of the world’s dormant and active volcanoes.

About 90% of the world’s earthquakes occur along this line.

Today were we going to be driving along the Avenue of the Volcanoes. 

Our first stop was at the Salasaka Craft Fair. I was hoping to get some good portrait shots of the local traders. The place was empty and I stood out too much to get any sneaky long lens-shots. 

On the road to Chimborazo we got some great views, but as soon as we got to car park, the cloud moved in. 

We then drove to Alausí, where we were staying for the night. 

The last 18 kilometres were in cloud, until we got into Alausí, which was under it. 

When we arrived in Alausí it seemed busy enough but when we went to look for dinner we found that everything was shut.

Well at least the places that looked interesting to us.

It was the Friday before Christmas and I think this was a family time. As most of the restaurants are owned by families they were off with them, rather than looking after the odd annoying tourist.

After a very average meal in a small local cafe, we retired to the Hotel Noris.

The main purpose of our visit to Alausí was to take the Devil’s Nose train ride.

Regarded as one of the 10 best train trips in the world it travels through the Ecuadorian Andes.

It was an 8am start, so an early night was fine with us.

 

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December 23, 2017. Alausí to Ingapirca, Ecuador.

First thing in the morning we took the Devil’s Nose train ride, which was a return journey from Alausí to Sibambe.

The railway provided a guide, Gabriella, to brief us on the railroad.

The Devil’s Nose Mountain is also known in the local language as Cóndor Puñuna, or Condor’s Nest. This is where these majestic bird, would have lived, before the intrusion of civilisation and the railroad.

The railway was started by the then president, Eloy Alfaro, in 1899 and completed in 1908. Its purpose was to connect the capital, Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Thousands of foreign workers, mainly from Jamaica and Puerto Rico, were brought into the country to help build Alfaro’s dream.

It has been reported that at least 4,000 workers died building the railroad. They perished from yellow fever, snake bite, but mostly dynamite. 

Legend has it that Alfaro made a pact with the devil to complete the railway – hence the name.

Half way through the journey we stopped at Sibambe Station where we were entertained by local dancers and a young, very enthusiastic, guide called Angelo. He also contributed to the colourful history of the Devil’s Nose.

Apart from the tragedy of its construction, the railroad is in fact as a huge feat of engineering. The rail line snakes its way through the rugged Andean terrain, with steep ravines and towering cliffs.

The most difficult part of the construction was at the El Nariz del Diablo, the Devil’s Nose, where a series of zigzags had to be carved out of the rock. This allowed the train to climb 800 metres with a gradient of 1-in-18.

Not long after leaving Alausí, heading towards Ingapirca, we were back into cloud. It got thicker and thicker and José had his hazard lights on for a lot of the trip. 

The usual road idiots like taxi, truck and bus drivers ignored the danger and drove in their typical manner. 

We passed what appeared to be a fatal accident between truck and a motorcycle. 

As you would expect the bike came off worst. 

Later in the day we visited the Inca Ruins at Ingapirca, which were a short walk from our accommodation.

These are the largest known Inca ruins in Ecuador.

Just looking at the way the buildings were constructed, we could get an idea of how advanced the Incas were in their engineering techniques. There was one wall in the Temple of the Sun that had joints between the stones that were so close you couldn’t fit a sheet of paper.

After visiting the ruins we took the Sun Valley Walk, around the outside of the ruins, before heading back to our hotel.

We were staying in a 200 year Old farmhouse, Posada Ingapirca. 

The property, formerly an old hacienda, was on 10,000 hectares of land. Some of the building materials have been appropriated from the Inca ruins, just down the road.

At dinner we were the only guests, in fact I think we were the only people staying in the hotel. We had the full attention of the ‘front-of-house’ staff – who consisted of one guy.

He waited our table and was on the front dest when we arrived. He even provided us with a hot water bottle when we retired that night.

It was very welcome.

 

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December 24, 2017. Ingapirca to Cuenca, Ecuador.

We have had continual money issues in Ecuador. Firstly with the ATMs and then transferring money to José. So, after failing to pay him with a bank transfer, we decided the only other option was to give him cash. 

This meant a daily visit to an ATM, once we could find one, that would cough up the cash. 

Having succeeded in paying José we were off for another day of exploration. Our first stop was at the Santuario de la Virgen del Rocío (Virgin of the Rock Church)

This meant a climb of 144 steps up the hill to the entrance of the sanctuary.

This Gothic church was started in 1893, using stones from the river that lies far below, near the town of Biblán. That year a devastating frost killed the animals and the crops. The local believe that a miracle changed the weather after a small image, of the Virgin, was placed on the Zhalao Hill by the local priest, Father Daniel Muñoz.

They then built the sanctuary on that very spot.

We then came back down Zhalao Hill and visited the town of Biblán and the Church of San Francisco. 

They were holding a Christmas Eve mass and the church was full.

The local indigenous people were lined up outside hoping to get some rewards from the Christmas spirit.

La casa de la Makana was next, which was an opportunity to buy. They were selling hand woven scarves and other clothes and everything was hand dyed, using natural colours. 

Following a brief stop at Ecuagenera, an Ecuadorian orchid showroom, where no photos were allowed, we went to José’s home town of Gulaceo. Lunch was in the local market area where roast pork was the specialty. 

The crisp pig carcasses were lined up waiting to be carved. Right opposite our table was the award winning Mamá Suca. I know she was an award winner, because she had a large sign telling me.

Next was the highlight of the day, the Parade for Baby Jesus. It was the complete story of the bible – both Old and New Testaments. We stayed long enough to see Jesus going to the desert for 60 days and 60 nights. 

This was the most religious Christmas Eve I had ever had.

Chordeleg, a small town and Ecuadorian Jewellry Centre, was our next destination and an opportunity for me to get a coffee – there was none to be had in Gulaceo.

We then ran headlong into another Christmas parade. 

It was a big day of touring and the Renault Sandero was suffering. The more we travelled the more parts were falling off.

It was held together with more tape than you’d find in a Gaffer’s truck.

 

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December 25, 2017. Cuenca, Ecuador.

It was Christmas Day in Cuenca and the place was dead. 

José decided we would be better going to the country as nature doesn’t close for public holidays. 

But it doesn’t necessarily try very hard, as there was cloud covering Cascade El Chorro. These were the waterfalls we had come to see.

The misty weather didn’t deter the locals, who had come to look at, and stand under, the cascading water. 

The falls drop 100 meters, so it would have been exhilarating and cold – not my idea of the best way to spend Christmas Day. 

Our next stop was Laguna da Bussa, which wasn’t far from the waterfall. There were quiet a few people enjoying the holiday break, walking, fishing and using the paddle boats. 

The lake was small and not much to look at but the walk around it was very diverse. 

Boardwalks, forest trails and grasslands were all contained in the 2.5 km circumference. 

Christmas night was spent at the restaurant in the hotel next door, which was rather ordinary.

It had been a quiet Christmas Day.

 

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December 26, 2017. Cuenca, Ecuador.

This was our day to tour Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage city, with José. 

Cuenca was founded in 1557 and is regarded as Ecuador’s most European city, due to the abundance of Spanish colonial architecture.

However archeological evidence goes back much further. Remains have been found, in the local Cave of Chopsi, suggesting hunters inhabited the area as far back as 8060 BC.

We spent some time in the Metropolitan Cathedral. Built in 1885, it one of the biggest churches in Latin America.

After our city visit we made a short drive up to Baños, a small spa town that also overlooks Cuenca. 

Then the rains came. 

We found Gozo, a very nice café that served an excellent espresso. 

The rains continued so we drove down to the tourist office, which was in the bus terminal. We were there to arrange a guide for a tour of the Cajas National Park the next day. 

The bus terminal car park was chaotic with people being dropped off after the Christmas break. 

We finally got to the tourist desk, only to be told that we didn’t need a guide, as the park is free. 

José was even given a number to call if someone demanded payment. 

We will wait and see what happens tomorrow. 

 

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December 27, 2017. Cuenca to Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We woke to find half of Cuenca covered in cloud. Well at least the rain had stopped – for now. 

By the time we were ready to leave the rain had returned. 

In a way I was glad to be leaving Cuenca, not the city but the Hotel Presidente. 

Our first room was so noisy that we had to move, the WiFi was non existent, breakfast was meagre and the hair dryer went bright red inside and smoke poured it when it was turned on. 

It was certainly not fit for El Presidente, let alone simple tourists like us. 

We drove the 30 kilometres to Cajas National Park, and after a briefing from the local guides, we walked the Camino de Garcia Moreno.

On the walk we met Yap a nurse from Singapore and she accompanied us for the 2 hour hike. It was only 2.75km but we had to do a lot of backtracking as many of the tracks were dead ends.

On the road from Lake Toreadora to Guayaquil we ascended over 4,100 metres. Much of it was in thick fog. 

There was the usual array of idiots who passed on double lines and blind corners. 

Once we were out of the mountains the temperature and humidity jumped – we were now in the tropics. 

 

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December 28, 2017. Guayaquil, Ecuador.

We settled into the Hotel Continental, a far more enjoyable hotel than the one in Cuenca. The morning was spent planning the next stage of our trip in South America. 

Right over the street from our hotel was Parque Bolívar. This is the strangest inner-city parks I have ever visited.

Iguanas of all sizes mingle with the people and pigeons. They wander around without a care and are fed by hand even petted. Some found refuge in the trees but most just stroll, very slowly, around the park.

At night they all go into the trees. 

The park was first established in 1895, after a bequest from Miguel Suarez Seminario. And was known then as Parque Seminario. Today it is Parque Bolivar or Iguana Park, for obvious reasons.

In the afternoon we walked along the Malecón Simón Bolivar. This is a boardwalk, along the Guavas River, that was built in 2000. It runs from near the centre of the city for about 2.5 kilometres down the west shore of the river. 

It is full of shops, bars and food courts. At the end of our stroll we found the La Perla, which was only completed in 2016. This is a giant 57 metre high ferris wheel that has a great view of Guayaquil from the top.

In Ecuador Christmas decorations are a strange fusion of biblical piety and American commercialism. 

Santa and his elves sit side-by-side with the lavish nativity scenes. 

At the Hotel Continental breakfast was available between 1am and 6am.  Which was good as we had an early flight the next morning.

We were off to Peru.