We left Vilcabamba (after more amazing food – HOW do people lose weight travelling?!) and caught another USD 1.50 from Vilcabamba to Loja. They leave every hour (I think) until 8pm. Abi had a rough time during the bus ride, she’s not a fan of the skinny, twisting mountain roads and buses, but especially when they move so fast I can’t even narrate the video I’m trying to take (it was a great ab work out trying to stay in my seat though).
From Loja we took what we thought would be a 12 hour bus ride to Quito, leaving at 9pm, we could’ve left earlier but we were a bit tired of night buses and then having to wait for hours to check in. We played musical chairs on the bus, waiting for people to leave so we could have two seats each and try to get some sleep. At 6.30am we were in the bus terminal in Quito. The buses here like to play chicken on the roads and although they leave on time, drive as though they’re running late.
Coming out of the bus terminal we were faced with yet another sea of ‘TAXI’ ‘TAXI’ ‘TAXI’ until one guy who appeared to work at the bus station with his hi-vis vest started to shepherd us to a cab. As we got to the cab he pried our bags off of us and hustled us into the cab. We were tired and bewildered and just let him. He then jumps into the cab, taking his hi-vis vest off and charges USD 15 to get to our hostel because of the ‘traffic’. It was a half an hour ride away and there was some traffic but I wasn’t very impressed after paying USD 21 to get from Loja to Quito. (As it turns out that taxi ride is normally around USD 8-10 – we paid the Gringo tax).
We stayed at the Secret Garden Hostel, it’s got an amazing rooftop area to eat combined with a bar that seems to have a very long happy hour and the view is amazing. Thankfully we were able to check in straight away and drop off our stuff. As we were there so early we decided to make the most of the day and took a local bus to the equator. It cost us each less than a dollar, changing at Ophelia and on the second bus, not entirely sure where to get off and looking out for signs, it suddenly seemed that the entire bus as one was waving at us to get off for the equator – we’re so obviously tourists it cringey sometimes.
The way back was fairly straight forward but I’m so glad we both have maps.me app – it’s been a genuine life saver this entire trip. We had planned to go up the cable car but at this point we were so knackered we decided on heading back to the hostel for a snooze.
We signed up for the Hostel dinner at 7pm, which is a cool idea because it’s cheap, delicious and everyone else in the Hostel is doing it so you end up meeting a lot of people. We met Chris as we were all gushing over the dessert (Pavlova – yes yes I’m a Foody and eating a lot, I know) who became our temporary travel buddy and navigator.
The next day it rained. A lot. We had planned to go up the cable car with a group that morning but with heavy fog hanging around it seemed a bit pointless. The market was also two hours away and wandering around a crafts market in heavy rain didn’t appeal either. Chris and the others left to do the Equator thing but as Abi and I had done it already we decided to explore Quito. I’m sure Quito can be lovely but as with any major city it was absolutely miserable with the rain. We went and explored the big cathedral which was stunning but pictures simply don’t capture its beauty. We then decided to explore the old town but never made it that far…
As we began walking in any old direction (who needs a map just go and explore)..(I’m kidding we just had no idea where the old town was..we both had maps.me out), an ambulance was coming down the road, so instead of trying to cross the street I tried to wait for it to pass, only it wasn’t passing it was trying to get on to the curb, so it was slowly inching into me as I was waiting for it to go by and finally realising what the damn ambulance was trying to do I crossed the street. After that three little school boys (they were wearing their uniform) asked us for the time. You know when your intuition is screaming at you ‘something is wrong here’, well, I ignored it. Whipped out my phone and told them it was 12.30pm, waving it in their faces as they looked like the didn’t understand my amazing Spanish time telling. They nodded, smiled, and walked a little way down the road. I didn’t think much of it until I noticed Abi had backed herself into the wall behind us and an old man across the street was shaking his head and wagging his finger, the implication obvious, ‘don’t do that, they’re trying to rob you’. We felt a bit uncomfortable after that so started to back track, and I got a little nervous as I noticed the boys weren’t moving on. As we were back-tracking, the ambulance had opened up and were carrying a body out on a stretcher. First dead body I’ve ever seen (although to be fair he was covered head to toe with a blanket). At this point I’m standing in the road, little (potentially thieving) boys ahead of me, dead body behind me and my usually calm and collected Abi frantically waving me towards her and repeating ‘bex’ very quickly at me. I then realise there’s a bus both hurtling and honking towards me and get myself back on to the pavement (I’m really not trying to join the 27 club). At this point we’re both feeling a little frayed, getting rained on and feeling fed up..so we decide to head to a restaurant and somehow stumble into Altamira – a really lovely restaurant owned by a French lady. We paid USD 3.50 for a juice, a pumpkin and cheese soup and chicken lasagne. After that we gave up on the exploring idea and went back to the Hostel. The day was saved at dinner time as we hung out with Chris and his pals and took full advantage of happy hour.
We left for Baños the next day with Chris, catching a 10.30am direct bus from Quito. It took about three hours and Abi was not impressed as copious amounts of people barged on selling anything from ice cream to drinks to fruit, but constantly bashed into her, left smelly things in front of her face, including armpits and bum cracks.
Chris was in a different hostel to us so we split up and head to ours – of course we picked the one at the far end of town and of course as I find the right street (thanks maps.me) I confidently declare we most definitely need to take a left just as a taxi driver asks if we’re lost and then tells us Hostel Kiwi is 2.5 blocks to the right – oops. Our hostel was a nightmare because it’s actually called something else with a tiny A4 sheet saying hostel kiwi on a pillar, one of those ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ scenarios. After a 20min talking to the Hostel reception guy (which as informative as it was really annoyed me because I desperately needed a wee) we finally connected to the wifi only to find Chris had already found our hostel and was waiting downstairs (he’s a human GPS honestly). So we all headed into town and rented possibly not the worlds worst bikes (but they definitely made my top 5) for USD 5. We cycled to a waterfall and by cycled I mean…we cycled to the base of a ginormous mountain and walked our bikes up to the Waterfall. I really struggled, don’t know if it’s because I just don’t handle altitude well or if it’s because I’m genuinely that unfit (maybe both) but I fell way behind Chris and Abi and instead had a random woman and her kid walking by means smirking as I wobbled my way up. Arf. When I finally made it to the top I collapsed in a heap and was not responsive to questions or interactions for at least 5 minutes. The way back down was much more fun, but I wore my rain jacket despite the heat because I’ve got a very unfortunate track record with bicycles (mostly I fall off them). We’d been assured there were trucks waiting around to drive us and our bikes back into town, but there were no trucks. So we cycled / walked out bicycles back to town…arrrrrf. Along the way an old man stopped me to tell me off for how I was walking my bike. That I wasn’t to place both hands on the handle bars, one hand had to go in between the bike handles and one hand on a handle bar, to his credit it did make things easier…until I decided to half lay on the handle bars as I walked the bike back to the rental shop.
We stopped at Honey cafe (delicious sandwiches and muffins btw) and as we were sat there, Chris and Abi enjoying their frap / milkshakes – sugary goodness whatever they were (I was wheezing across two chairs trying not to be sick – must work out a bit more) we noticed a funeral procession going through the town square. Normally you’d notice a funeral procession and think ‘oh that’s sad, I wonder who died’ but this was on a whole new level. No exaggeration the procession must have been about 1000 people strong. I would’ve liked to have taken a picture but it felt too disrespectful especially when so many people were paying their respects. I’ve no clue whose funeral it was but it was amazing to see so many people come together.
We agreed to go back to our hostels for our swim stuff and then head to the hot springs at the edge of the town. Back at the Hostel Abi and I had a new roomie (Paul). When Abi and I had checked in that morning my bed was still being made up before I left for the ‘my-friends-want-to-kill-me’ bike ride so I hadn’t ‘marked’ my bed and I wasn’t sure if the lower bunk (we backpackers will fight over these) was being given away..so I snuck in and sat on it to make it clear it was mine (Paul didn’t know this I think he thought I was being friendly and saying hello – busted). Anyway as I was sat on the bed Paul was casually putting his stuff on it before realising I was sat on the bed because it was mine so he apologized profusely and was stuck with the top bunk above me. (Really hoping Paul never reads this post). We invited him along to the hot springs, picked up Chris from his hostel and headed off. The hot springs were super scenic with a beautiful waterfall as the backdrop. We had to wear extremely sexy swimming caps and attempted to go into the very unpopulated hot pool at the bottom level. Quickly realised why so few people were in there – it was quite literally as hot as hell. I couldn’t even keep my toes in. Paul is some kind of demon or machine and submerged himself in the pool. Abi and I played chicken with out feet, often squealing and bringing them straight back out as we sat on the edge of the pool. Chris managed to get in but was more than happy to get back out again. The upstairs (and more crowded pool) was MUCH better, and we bumped into the German brothers again! I went to the cold showers at the edge of the hot pool for a quick cool down but after testing the water with my hand I decided that no, I don’t want toget under there. As I attempted to walk away without going under I found myself being scolded by a Spanish speaking lady and old man who both insisted that I submerge myself under the natural FREEZING shower. Twice. I got back into the warm pool very quickly! Both Paul and Chris were loving the natural cold shower and actually spent time underneath it – WILLINGLY. No comprende.
After the hot springs we decided we needed wine and food, and found the restaurant Plantas y Blanco. I highly recommend, service is slow, but the atmosphere is fantastic and the food is great! We’d been making jokes about not having clean socks / wanting socks as our feet were cold (we were all in flip flops) when we walk into this restaurant which has a no shoe policy and you’re provided with clean socks to wear. It was meant to be. The four of us sat on the floor, socks pulled up, ordered the ‘strong drinks’ off the strong drinks happy hour menu, a shared starter and delicious mains. We also had two bottles of wine, I’m not sorry.
We toyed with the idea of going out but by the time we were back at the hostel (we spent around 3 hours in the restaurant) we just weren’t feeling it anymore and instead exchanged stories and thoughts on the roof top area.
The next morning the four of us piled into a taxi and went to the Casa del Arbol, something that has been ok my bucket list for years. The swing at the end of the world. I love swings and being pushed by a guide (who in fairness was trying to move things along) was just the best fun.
Back in town and Chris’s pal Alino joined us. The five of us clubbed together and rented a Jeep to drive to the famous devils waterfall.
We stopped en route so that Paul and I could jump off a bridge (it was a small jump swing, but yes I did still scream like a banshee). Paul was slightly more elegant and less scream-y than I was but part of me likes to think it’s only because Abi screamed so loudly when he jumped that we couldn’t fully hear his screams.
The five of us were loving the Jeep ride and the waterfall itself was stunning! We got absolutely soaked as we crawled through a small tunnel to then stand underneath it.
That night we went to dinner to a comic book inspired style burger joint. The cheesy chips were god awful (so disappointing) but the Baños crew were such good fun. For some reason the staff wanted a picture with all of us .. happy to oblige but it was very random. Definitely hoping to bump into these fellas down the road and reunite the Baños crew sometime.
Unfortunately that’s all the time Abi had for Ecuador so it’s off to Colombia, but I strongly suspect I’ll be back to see more of Ecuador.