Saturday 8 May 2010

Last days in Ecuador

We leave the rainforest and head West back over the Andes to our last stop in Ecuador at the beautiful colonial city of Cuenca. We stay at La Posada del Angel, a really nice colonial house in the the historic center of the city which is itself a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Cuenca is a large city but the historical centre where we spent our time is very pleasant. The local food was good, as was the beer. We visited one of the establishments that make and sell Panama hats. The process is interesting as is the huge variety of styles. I didn't feel any urge to buy one but the girls amongst us couldn't resist and bought quite different but equally attractive hats.

From Cuenca we head for Huaquillas where we are to cross the border into Peru. The scenery changes constantly as we work our way down towards the lowlands. Everywhere there are bananas, in the mountains there a lots of unusual varieties grown by subsistence farmers but the lowlands seem to be covered with banana plantations, mostly operated by familiar global brands such as Del Monte. The stalk which forms the fruit is covered in a plastic bag to protect the developing bananas from predators, which looks odd from a distance until you realise what it is.

Getting through the border is a simple enough process and we are done in under an hour.

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Amazon rainforest - II

After a couple of days we leave Shangrila and head back up into the mountains for a short 4 hour drive to Pequeño Paraíso where we will be camping for a couple of nights. They do not call this a rainforest for no reason, it rains a lot. We arrived in a downpour and put our tents up under a cover!

Pequeño Paraíso
camping under cover!
The first evening that we were there our host cooked a great BBQ which we shared with another group who were also staying there and now that everyone was recovered it was time for more drinking games. Some of the other group joined us and new games were undertaken. A really good night's fun!

When we had arrived we'd spent some time signing liability disclaimers for the various activities we planed to undertake as well as to cover the fact that we were close to Tungurahua Volcano which is active and the FCO advise against travel to the surrounding areas of the Tungurahua volcano.

As it turned out most of the disclaimers were not required since on the first morning almost everyone was ill with Diarrohea the effects of which were compounded by a hangover. Only 3 of us were well and that was not enough for the canyoning we had planned on.
Pailon del Diablo
El Pailon del Diablo

Dave and I decide to walk to Rio Verde and take a look at El Pailon del Diablo waterfall. We got soaked and our canyoning experience prepared us for the crawl through a low passage that was necessary to get to the top. In the afternoon Brendon and Rebecca were up to a bus trip into Baños where we lazed around in the sun at a restaurant drinking beer. The bus trip back was very crowded and the bus driver was a complete lunatic, i.e. like pretty much all the local bus drivers, I do not think that Brendon will ever travel on a bus again!

In the evening traveled back to Baños to visit the hot spring that is the reason for the town's eponymous name. There were two hot baths and not knowing the system I made the mistake of entering the hottest one first, the first was very hot! The shower to cool off came straight off the mountain and was very cold!

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Amazon rainforest - I

Cabañas Shangrila
After 7 hours of driving, most of that time in rain, we climbed the Andes to an altitude of 4100m before descending on the east side to a mere 550m above sea level and arrived at our lodge, Shangrila, overlooking the Amazon rainforest and 100m above the Rio Anzu, a tributary of the River Napo that is itself a tributary of the River Amazon.

On our first evening a local guides takes us on a walk into the rainforest to learn a little about it at first hand. We didn't see much in the way of fauna but lots of interesting examples of flora. As it was getting dark we arrived at the canyon that we were to spend the next hour climbing. The only canyoning I had come across before was going down, this time we were to climb up. About half of us had head torches, a couple had hand torches and a couple no torch of any description. In practice there were only a couple of tricky places but that is a statement in hindsight. We all got very wet and very dirty as we squeezed, and in place it really was a squeeze, our way upwards. It was quite an introduction to the rainforest!

There were several activities that could be undertaken in our days at Shangrila including more canyoning, floating down the river and a visit down the River Napo to the amaZOOnico animal sanctuary. The sanctuary took in native birds and animals that were either injured or had been pets. A quarter of the animals die, a quarter are returned to the wild and the remaining half live out their lives in large cages in the rainforest. A german student volunteer was our guide but we were also accompanied by a bird that thought it was a human.

Some group bonding took place back at the lodge over dinner which was followed by some drinking games. I've no particular desire to be drunk ever again so stuck to drinking beer but the consumption of rum and some unidentified drinks found on the truck left some folks feeling a little the worse for wear. On the plus side we did get to know more about each other :-)