Saturday, September 29, 2007


Vilcabamba is a barely noticable collection of crumbling houses and ostentatious Quiteño mansions in the 'Valley of Longevity'. The main tourist attraction is old people (apparently it's quite common to live past the century mark here). But as you'd expect, the elderly don't really make for a great day of sightseeing, and they all seem to be hidden away anyway (I saw one, maybe two, people who were definitely 'really old', but once someone's over 85, can you really tell? Does it matter with that many years notched?) It's ok that what they see as their main reason for visiting their town is pretty lame, because Vilcabamba'a other main attraction is doing nothing, and the town is perfectly set up for this.

Hotel Dog and the Vilcabamba Valley

We spent a lazy week not clambering any of the hiking trails, not visiting some boring tourist trap and most importantly (after three solid days on bone-jarring buses), not traveling. About the most strenuous activity of our time there was playing an annoying game of cat and mouse with an itinerant Israeli numerologist, who had tricked me into letting him do a reading, which, I assume, he would then expect payment for. Had I realised that the bank had recently disgorged a fake $20 note into my wallet I would have given him that and avoided the need to, literally, hide in darkened bushes like a condemned guinea pig (they eat them up here).


Hot and cold

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


There was an earthquake and a terrible smell creeping from the sink, but the bathroom had this groovy door.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007


Decor at the fabulous Hotel Tren Dorado
Getting the shopping home

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Chugchilan to Latacunga- Last leg of the Quilotoa Loop

The day started with a round of Happy Birthday by the collection of backpackers at the breakfast table. It was going along nicely until the third line when most of the chorus realised that they either didn't know or had forgotten my name.

Leaving Chugchillan is not a simple process. There are very few busses and the they leave long before the sun comes up. The transport leaving at the least unGodly hour is the 9am milk truck, a ute which trundles along the loop collecting the cow's morning handiwork, and selling it to those who don't have basic bovine services. The truck also collects backpackers and locals to drop them off in Sigchos, who then await an afternoon bus back to the noise and smell of the 21st century in full swing.

The empty spot on the rear bumper was my 'seat'

We climbed into the truck's tray, which, in typical Ecuadorian style appeared to be holding well over a sensible amount of cargo. But the overcrowding really began soon after, when the payload reached Indian rail proportions. At full capacity, the ute was carrying 19 adults, 1 child, 8 gas cylinders, the milk drum, 6 backpacks and a 7 month old child. I was relegated to perching on the back bumper, while Angie was secured between a couple of elderly Ecuadorian women and a French backpacker.

On a particularly severe right curve, g-force took a viscous hold, and before I understood what was happening, I had been thrown from my foothold in a pirouetting flurry of flailing limbs. I hit the dirt running, but couldn't manage more than two steps before curling into a dusty ball tumbling along the road. I was unharmed, and ran after the truck, which graciously stopped to let me back on. Angie was a little shaken at the sight of me rolling around like that, but the locals thought it was fantastic sport, and kept laughing and looking at me for the rest of the uneventful, nervous, one and half hour journey.

The trip from Sigchos to Latacunga was by more conventional means (bus), but the journey changed form an easy two-hours into a four-hour zigzag marathon when it turned out the main road was closed. We spent lots of nervous time backing and filling around sandy single lane switchbacks, intently listening to every squeak and groan of the brakes; the last defence between us and a couple of hundred vertical metres of pure, clean, empty air. The scenery was again, spectacular, but it is difficult to enjoy when the vantage point is a struggling bus on a goat track.

Monday, September 17, 2007


Chugchillan is barely a village, one that we reached after a gripping bus ride. The bus had a fishtailing tendency that sent knuckles white and sweaty as we rounded the narrow sandy corners atop sheer drops of unconscionable heights. Yes, it really felt that dramatic. Visions of the bus somersaulting down the cliffs played out in my mind and my eyes wandered over the bus searching for emergency exits.

Sheep sleeping on a hill

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Publicest Toilet Yet


We rode to the next town in the back of a camioneta (Spanish for ute). Quilotoa is a village on the shoulder of a volcano that last erupted a couple of centuries ago. The last kaboom rearranged the landscape in a dramatic way, diverting rivers and creating a shiny aqua lake where once was the sulphuric grey clay found in the earth's pressure valves.

The walk to the lake's shore was a pleasant 300 metre descent. The thin air and the steep, sandy ascent made for an exhausting, breathless one and a half hours.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Sheep Transport

One bus can carry many sheep

Zumbahua- 1st Stop on the Quilotoa Loop

Every Saturday Zumbahua hosts a market in vibrating technicolour where farmers from the surrounding mountains buy and sell their weekly supplies. The market is for locals, and thus is filled with the neccesities of everyday life; vegetables, meat, grain and livestock. There's not an 'Ecuador' emblazoned wall hanging or figurine to be found.

Angie says hello to some groceries

It was fascinating to see this little economy at work, and to watch the people who depend on it, but the on-site, open-air slaughterhouse/butcher was rather graphic for those who are not used to seeing the entire, brutal transition from animal to foodstuff. Much more pleasing to the eye was the amount of colour (that wasn't crimson) on display; in the produce, the buildings and the clothes of the locals.


Transport home

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Quilotoa Loop

The Quilotoa Loop is a single width of sandy road that slices through rural highland Ecuador. There's very little transport, less communications but an abundance of livestock, farming and pork-pie hats. The landscape is fiercely sculpted, with enormous ravines and huge, sharp mountains having displaced just about all the even ground long ago.

The environment is stunning- and cold. The locals farm almost every available inch of this impossibly steep terrain, resulting in hills covered in the random geometry of corn and potato plantations. Working the sandy earth is largely done without machinery, the incline of most of the plots would be impossible for a tractor to negotiate, and workers can often be seen tending plants which are growing at eye level.

We spent four days travelling around the loop, often feeling like we were the tourist attractions (given the number of stares we found ourselves under- not too many Gringos out there). One of the nicest aspects was the abundance of eucalyptus forests- the smell of the bush on the other side of the planet.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

6 Months Brings a Couple of Dubious Milestones

Today is six months since we touched down in Santiago. Our original plan of being in London by now has not eventuated (thanks be), and we are currently just South of the Equator, staring down the prospect of getting through a huge portion of the Earth (i.e. the Northern Hemisphere) within our remaining one year. Who could've thought the planet was this big?

Click to see optimism in all it's laughable detail

The date bought with it a couple of milestones for us, happenings that I was sure would've struck long before we hit this anniversary.

Milestone Number One- First Argument in Spanish

It was a nice bar. We sat on the terrace that overlooked one of Quito's main pedestrian strips where Security personnel are as abundant as the mortals they protect. The menu listed a miscellany of supersweet, superstrong suggestively named drinks. A card on the table advertised a two for one special on a selection of these, and we ordered a couple of Caiparhinas at the (what we assumed was) the discount price.

When the bill arrived and appeared wildly bloated (they provided a menu of lame excuses as to why the special didn't apply to us- the best one was that we had actually looked at the main menu before ordering), the 3 or 4 celebratory drinks provided the confidence to not only question the outrageous sum, but also confront the manager and launch into loud and boisterous argument, entirely in Spanish. After much flailing of arms, creative grammar and confused stares(ours), the confrontation climaxed with me dramatically emptying the contents of my wallet (about $1.50) on the counter as evidence of our budget accounting only for the cheap price. "Mires! Mires! (Look! Look!)" I earnestly implored, "No hay mas dinero!!! (there is no more money)". From the there the exchange tapered off into apologies and forced courtesies, and we left, strangely buoyed by the experience- it turns out that Spanish is an outrageously fun language to have an argument in.

Milestone Number Two- A Less Enjoyable One

Everyone said it would happen, and now it has. Someone helped themselves to our traveling cash while we were out of our room squabbling with the local establishments. Luckily it was only $60, but that's it ok? That's our turn done. No more stealing from us everyone. Cheers South America!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Basilica del Voto Nacional

The Basilica del Voto Nacional is 80 vertical metres of concrete, with some spectacular, completely unobstructed views from around the 70 metre mark. No pesky safety barriers get in the way here; it's just the city, you and a square metre of concrete perched near the very top of the tower. Fantastic, as long as you don't come to grief on one of the many spiral staircases or bizarrely proportioned ladders on the way up (also sin guard rails).

Inside the roof

If you look at the top of the left tower, and then follow down the side to the base of the dark tiles, you will see where the below photo was taken from...