Quito and Otavalo

On Sunday, Adam and I left Baños and headed to Quito, Ecuador. In Quito, I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the night in the UBelong volunteer house. Although it was a bit of a struggle to find the house, when I finally did find it, I was greeted with kindness and hospitality. The UBelong volunteer house in Quito is run by Geovanna Coello and her family. It was really great that I got to experience living with a family, which was a completely different experience from Cusco.

The next day, I met Adam in Quito to see the city. Many travelers told me of the dangers of Quito, but I found it to be an enjoyable city. As long as you’re aware of your surroundings and you don’t do anything stupid, you’re not going to be robbed. However, as part of my preparedness, I didn’t bring my camera around the city (wahhhh). When we got to the Presidential Palace in Quito, we we were fortunate enough to see the changing of the guard. The president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, came out and greeted everyone. So cool!

In the afternoon, the tour of Quito continued. We checked out the Basilica. For $2, you can make your way to the top to check out the city. For lunch, we found a small restaurant that served soup, juice and a plate of chicken, rice, and salad for $1.60. It turned out to be a good meal, and you can’t beat the price!

At night, we decided to go out to get a glass of Canelazo, a traditional drink in Ecuador made of water, sugarcane alcohol, lemon, sugar, and cinnamon. I’m not really a fan of cinnamon, but I thought the drink was delicious. It was surprisingly difficult for us to find a restaurant that was open. Apparently, everything closes early on Mondays in Quito.

On Tuesday, Adam left early to head to a village north of Quito. I stayed a bit longer to I could explore the city further. I went for a walk and got to see some more of the city, including the Monastery of San Francisco and the Company of Jesus Church. In the afternoon, I got a cab to my next destination: Otavalo.

Otavalo, which is known for its famous outdoor market, is only a few hours north of Quito. The buses run frequently so it was easy for me to get there. When I first got there, I explored the town, which didn’t take long. Otavalo is pretty small and everything is within walking distance. I met two sisters in my hostel who were from England. One of the sisters had spent the past 8 months in Guayaquil volunteering and the other sister came for a month to visit and travel with her sister. So many possibilities for volunteering in South America! If only I didn’t have to be back at school in a month…

On Wednesday, I woke up early to check out the market. I expected one of the markets that I saw in Cusco, but this was different. Not only was it overwhelmingly big, but the booths that were set up actually sold different things! In Cusco, most of the booths sold the same exact stuff and it got old. It was a nice change of pace in Otavalo.

Aside from the market, Otavalo also has a really beautiful downtown area with a church and a few government buildings.

In the afternoon, I made my way to Colombia. A few blocks from my hostel, there was a bus stop for buses going to Tulcán, the Ecuadorian city that borders Ecuador. When I got to Tulcán, I took a cab to the border. I got stamped out of Ecuador, crossed a bridge into Colombia, got stamped into Colombia, and then took a cab to Ipiales. It was that simple. I spent the night in a hotel near the bus station because I heard from other travelers and from the guy that worked at my hostel in Otavalo that the bus from Ipiales to Cali isn’t safe at night. I thought it’d be fine, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry. On Thursday morning, I woke up early and caught the 7:00 am bus to Cali 🙂

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Cuenca and Baños

For the past week, I’ve been exploring Ecuador. I first took a bus from Mancora, Peru to Cuenca, Ecuador. Cuenca, Ecuador’s third largest city, felt surprisingly small. It’s probably because I was there during the beginning of the week, instead of on the weekend. I found a few good museums, but for the most part, I found Cuenca to be kind of dull.

After leaving Cuenca, I headed north to Ambato, Ecuador to catch a connecting bus to Baños. I enjoyed Baños WAY more. I stayed at La Casa Verde, a small hotel run out of the house of a couple from Australia and New Zealand. It was absolutely incredible. The rooms were big, the beds were comfy, and the owners were friendly and helpful. They also served a breakfast of fresh fruit, coffee, bread, cheese, avocado, and juice. Check it out :http://www.lacasaverde.com.ec/welcome.html

While in Baños, I met a bunch of really great people. The first night, which happened to be the 4th of July, I met a group of medical students from Wisconsin! It was nice because I haven’t met a lot of Americans since I began traveling. The next day, I met a traveler, Julie, who had basically spent the past five years traveling. She’d been to over 50 countries! So crazy. That morning, we went for a hike to see Bellavista, an illuminated cross that overlooks Baños. It was an enjoyable hike with great views the whole way.

In the afternoon, Julie, Adam and I went hopped on a Chiva bus to see all of the waterfalls in the area. My favorite was Manto de la Novia. It breathtaking from the side, but we were able to get even closer. We took an electric cable car over the falls to get a closer view. I thought it was really cool!

Also on our Chiva trip, we saw one of the bridges that people jump off of. For $10, you can jump off and swing back and forth underneath the bridge. One of the kids working at the bridge demonstrated for us.

That night, I met two women from Canada, Chelsey and Shannon. The next day we decided to take a bike ride around Baños. At our last stop, we were told that we had to check out this small restaurant that sold incredible empanadas. Of course we all wanted to try them and we were not let down. I had a chicken and ham empanada to start, followed by a banana and chocolate empanada for dessert. SO GOOD.

In the afternoon, Chelsey, Shannon, Julie, Adam and I decided to try something called canyoning. We made our way down a series of waterfalls by climbing, sliding, and zip lining. Adam was the only one who had experience with climbing, but we all managed to do fairly well! It was a really cool experience. While we were canyoning, one of the guys helping us took pictures. In the end, he gave us a disk with all the pictures, which was really great. Although we were all in wet suits, by the end we were FREEZING. We decided we need to check out the hot springs, which is one of the main attractions in Baños. It was crowded, but we were all so cold that it didn’t matter. It was definitely one of the best days I’ve had my entire trip 🙂

On Saturday, I spent the day relaxing after the busy day I had before. In the afternoon, Adam and I went into town to buy some food for dinner. We had decided, along with Julie, that we wanted to cook omelets for dinner. We bought some fresh vegetables, cheese and eggs and Julie cooked up some delicious omelets for Adam and I. Oh, how I’ve missed omelets!

On Sunday, Adam and I headed to Quito. It only cost us $3.50 for a nearly 4 hour bus ride to Quito. The buses also run frequently during the day, making it easy to catch a bus. I’ll update again soon!

 

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Crossing the Border: Peru to Ecuador

Yesterday, I had my first encounter with border crossing in South America. At about two in the afternoon, another traveler and I left Mancora and headed for Cuenca. We were the only two on the bus headed for Cuenca; the rest of the people were headed for different destinations in Ecuador. When we got to the border, we got off the bus to get stamped out of Peru. Then, we hopped back on the bus, where we drove for another five minutes before the attendant told the other traveler and I to get off. Apparently, we had to switch buses to go to Cuenca. The person who sold us the tickets did not inform us of this. He said it was a direct bus to Cuenca. When we got off, the woman at the station told us we had to take a cab to immigration in Ecuador (about five minutes away) and then wait for the second bus. We did as we were told, got our passports stamped in Ecuador, and the bus arrived shortly after to bring us to Cuenca. We made it! 

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Mancora

After Trujillo, I headed up the coast to Mancora to visit one of my friends I had met in Cusco. Mancora is a small beach town in the Piura region of Peru. I was only in Mancora for a short time, but I thought it was a nice place to spend a few days. After that, I would imagine it’d get boring (the town itself is really small and there’s not a lot to do besides sunbathe and surf).

One thing I found really cool about Mancora: the people drive around in these tiny buggy-type cars. There are still normal cars, but more often these are used as the main mode of transportation.

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Trujillo/Huanchaco

On Thursday morning, I arrived in Trujillo, Peru. I booked a hostel that I assumed was in Trujillo (on hostel world, it was located under “Trujillo). I gave my address to the cab driver and he brought me to Huanchaco, a village 15 minutes outside of Trujillo. It turned out to be a really nice, quaint place to stay. It was located right on the beach and had a lot of little shops. I spent the night at “Un Lugar Surf Camp,” complete with rooms made out of bamboo and two parrots. It was only a short walk to the beach.

I spent the day on the beach (I’ve missed it!) and then went to dinner at a place called “Chocolate Cafe.” The owner put on a dinner for travelers and I got to meet people from all over. I ended up talking with a group of girls from France who had been volunteering for the past two weeks. After dinner, we went out for a drink and then watched the fireworks (apparently there was a festival going on Thursday/Friday). From the boardwalk, we could see a group of guys singing and dancing in boats.

On Friday, I decided to check out Trujillo. Trujillo was only a short, inexpensive bus ride from Huanchaco. I wandered around for a bit and checked out Trujillo’s Plaza de Armas. It was beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as Cusco’s (not as touristy, either).

After, I decided to check out the Chan Chan ruins. Chan Chan is a pre-Colombian city made entirely out of adobe. It was interesting to check out.

Friday night, I had some fish on the beach in Huanchaco before heading out for Mancora, Peru. Adios, Huanchaco!

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30 Hour Journey from Cusco to Trujillo

On Tuesday, I headed to the Cruz del Sur bus station around 3:15 pm for my bus at 4:00. When I got there, I was told that the bus had been delayed until 6:00 pm. Nearly 2 hours later, I began my 30 hour bus journey from Cusco to Trujillo. I spent the first 21 hours on a bus from Cusco to Lima, a relatively new innovation in Peruvian transportation (I found out that in the past, the only way to get from Cusco to Lima was by plane–the roads were too dangerous for cars.) I made it to Lima around 3:00 pm the next day, where I had to wait 7 hours for my next bus at 10:00. 9 hours later, I arrived at my destination: Trujillo.

I have been so impressed with all of the Cruz del Sur buses I’ve taken in Peru. The seats are big and comfortable, the food they serve is delicious, and the movies they play are usually pretty good. They also give you your own individually wrapped blanket and a pillow. If it weren’t for Cruz del Sur, I don’t think I would have been able to handle 30 hours of bus travel. They give Greyhound a run for their money!

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Adios, Cusco!

On Tuesday, I spent my final hours in Cusco wandering the streets with Brittany and Radhika. We ended up in Tres Cafe, our favorite place to get coffee and use the internet. In that time, I thought about all the things about Cusco I will miss, and all the things I won’t. I came up with a list.

Things I will miss:

1. Amauta. Spending four weeks in the volunteer/Spanish school house was a great experience. I got to meet so many amazing people from all over the world. In the four weeks I was there, I really got to know many of them. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to volunteer or learn Spanish in Cusco.

2. Humberto Luna. I really enjoyed my volunteer placement at Humberto Luna. I learned a lot just by being in the classroom every day. I found it fascinating to see how different the students’ lives are from students in the U.S., but also how similar it is. They are just kids trying to learn and they deal with a lot of the same issues of school as students in the U.S. Plus, working with kids is always fun.

3. La Plaza de Armas. All I can say is that I’m lucky I got to live so close. La Plaza de Armas is really beautiful and I enjoyed walking through it each day.

4. Très Café. Our favorite hangout. I miss it already.

5. The strange/seemingly random things that people sell on the streets (sunglasses, finger nail clippers, cigarettes, etc.)

6. The food at Amauta and elsewhere else

7. The markets. The markets all over Cusco sold so many different things and were fun to just walk around. Many of them sold really cheap stuff and you could haggle until they lowered the price.

8. The inexpensive fruit and vegetables. Ah, I’m seriously going to be able to buy four bananas for about 35 cents. SO fresh and SO delicious.

 

 

9.Being able to buy pirated movies for less than US$1. All over Cusco, you can buy pirated movies. Not only are they cheap, but for the most part, they are good quality as well.

10. All of the random festivals in La Plaza de Armas. At least once a week, there was a festival in La Plaza de Armas. It was hard to keep track of all of them!

11. All of the incredible people I’ve met. Thank you for an amazing 5 weeks 🙂 I miss you all the most.

Things I won’t miss:

1. Constantly getting asked if I want a massage as I walk down the streets (seriously, at least 3-4 times walking down a single street).

2. Constantly getting asked to buy things  (even though they do call me amigo…).

3. The weather. 70s during the day and 30s and below at night. I think this is the reason why everyone at Amauta has been getting sick.

4. The wild dogs running in the street (I love dogs but there’s just too many and you’re not even supposed to pet them.)

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