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Exciting Ecuador - News - bespk

Exciting Ecuador

Posted on Sunday, 3rd February 2013 by Eunice

Our flight into Quayaquil (16.01.2013) gave us an indication of just how much rain and hence flooding there had been.  Many of the fields and low lying areas around the city were waterlogged.  Being an internal flight, getting out of the airport was not too difficult. 
We managed to find the Hotel’s courtesy bus just outside the arrival concourse and were taken to the centre of the city.  We were unaware that this should have been booked in advance, but as we were on the guest list they kindly transported us.
Quayaquil is vast and sprawls around the Guayas River the widest  on the west coast of South America.  This makes it an ideal port and explains why it is the economic capital of Ecuador.  Our hotel is right in the middle of the city, making it ideal for all the negotiations we had to do to retrieve the car.  With the many beautiful colonial buildings, the old fortified city and the extensive Malecon nearby there was plenty to explore. 
The hotel warned us it was not safe to walk anywhere and ordered us a taxi to go for dinner at the oldest fish restaurant in the city, for some reason named the Azul Caracol (Blue Snail).  Well worth the trip across town.

Early the following day Guy was met by Fernando to start the process of recovering the car.  He had his cousin, Ito, with him which was very helpful as he has a better understanding of English and between the three of them they manage to get by with Spanglish.  It is amazing how much Guy's Spanish improves over the next two days under their careful tutorage.  Following a tour of many different offices, examination of the papers and endless rubber stamping, it is identified that the car has arrived, all of the numbers correspond and its location is at another dock where the bananas are brought in to Ecuador.  All this takes a whole day.

The following day it is off to the docks again; more papers to recover the container and reclaim the car. Once the container is located; they realize it does not belong to this particular area of the port and needs to be moved before it can be opened.  A lorry is found, it is loaded on and moved a few miles.  Then there is the excitement of getting it off the lorry.  Here there is no large fork lift truck to lift it off, but two smaller ones are brought into play, one on either side at opposite ends of the container.  It wobbles and flexes as it is lifted, as does Guy's emotional and physical state, but thankfully is delivered safely to the ground.

With great relief Guy drives it out of the container and heads towards the hotel car park, with the help of Ito and Fernando showing him the way.  After only a few minutes Guy is stopped by the police wanting to see his papers.  His joke about the ink not yet being dry was not understood.  Another long day but the car is back with us in one piece.  Meanwhile Eunice has been trying to locate the oil supply that is being shipped here, only to discover that it is held up in customs as there is a fee to be paid and is unlikely to be released until the middle of next week.

We extend our hotel stay over the weekend, decide to do some exploring and wait. Fellow quests over the weekend are Ecuador's top football team, Barcelona . This leads to a large crowd gathering outside on Saturday afternoon, prior to the match.  After a lot of drum beating, chanting, general chaos and a certain amount of police inactivity they are finally transported in their large luxury coach, which had been the backdrop for many, a photograph whilst it waited outside. 

Ito and Cynthia very kindly came to collect us from the hotel on Saturday evening and take us on a tour of their city.  Ito is very proud of his city and keen to show it to us.  We visit the northern area where there is much recent development - endless gated residential areas and shopping malls.  The one at which we stop is very opulent, with a large water park at its centre, surrounded by cafes and restaurants from all areas of the world.  There is a Venezuelan heladoria where the chocolate ice cream gets ranked in the top five. (Guy's guide line for judging is how near the taste and texture is to the chocolate mousse made by our dear friend Sue Stubbings).
Attached to it is a residential area where we are told the very wealthy live and with this goes an increase in the amount of security.  This is certainly a city demonstrating the extremes of wealth and poverty, which may account for its criminal reputation, perhaps one it will outlive in time.

From there we drove back to the City to watch the Dancing Water; a truly spectacular display of fountains, lights and music all co-ordinated by the city authorities using computer control. Following a walk along this part of the City, a demonstration of salsa by our hosts, (these Latin Americans certainly have rhythm), we go to a typically Ecuadorian restaurant. Here there is a much higher protein content to meals. As well as the rice and beans we have become accustomed to there are large pieces of meat (chicken, beef, pork and lamb) or fish (sea bass, prawns and squid).  For a truly traditional meal add some fried potatoes and a fried egg. 

On the Sunday we walked to the artisan market a few blocks from our hotel, but taking the 'safe' route as recommended by the concierge.  This meant going round three sides of a square.  There you can purchase very cheap brightly coloured and embroidered clothing, Panama and leather hats, alpaca shawls and blankets as well as ornaments depicting Mayan and Aztec characters.  Following this we climbed to the top of the old city, a long hard drudge in the high humidity, but well worth the 480 steps to get there.  The views of the city from the top are spectacular and we were able to identify the route by which we need to leave.

After a further day of waiting around we were finally able to leave Quayaquil on the     22nd of January, the oil was very kindly delivered to our hotel; the customs duties having been paid a day earlier than expected.  There is certainly a lot to recommend Quayaquil - it's amazing statues, extensive Malecon (over 6 kilometres), its delightful gardens and intriguing squares, beautiful mosaic works under the bridges but most of all the charming people that we had the joy to meet.

We loaded up the car and caused quite a sensation outside the hotel (not quite as bad as the football team).  Then it was back on the journey, both of us feeling apprehensive but glad to be getting underway.  Naively we had not really looked at the route ahead too carefully or we may have had some idea of what to expect. After many miles along flat fertile coastal plain, wide roads whose roads markings mean nothing to the Ecuadorian driver, we started to climb up into the foothills of the Andes, ascending through every type of climatic zone you can imagine.  Once we had left behind the tropical rain forest and ascended into a more temperate zone,  the twists and turns in the road became steeper and sharper.  Unfortunately the clouds were low and it rained most of our journey, as there are undoubtedly some spectacular views. 

By the time the tree line had disappeared the car began to cough and splutter its way through the hairpin bends.  We reached an area of golden coloured mountain top with almost square lakes and strange very short pine forests that made you feel like Gulliver on his Travels.  The car by now was in respiratory failure and as the gradient became steeper finally wheezed its way to a halt.  Smoke was pouring out from inside and underneath as it was boiling over.  In the attempts to get it going again the clutch became very hot.   A sense of despair set in.  Why, on this journey, whenever we breakdown, is it on the top of a Mountain and freezing cold?

Removing the radiator cap caused a large geyser, but after a top up of water, a cool down, ejecting Eunice from the car; it was hoped we might get started again.  A kindly man stopped, offered help and informed us we were only 500 metres from the top, after which it was all downhill.  Hope was revived, but the only way to get going was for Eunice to push the car.  This is easier said than done on a very steep gradient at very high altitude (3,800metres or 12,500feet, we are advised) and although the car got going again it took Eunice a long time to get her breath back.

The descent was just as dramatic and steep but Guy having modified the fuel mixture on the car, it ran better but was still struggling. More worrying was the capacity of the brakes.  As dusk approached and we were both feeling rather jaded and very weary, we arrived in the city of Cuenca, situated at 2,500 metres above sea level.  Its a World Heritage site on account of its fortified centre, the many historic buildings and small cobbled streets.  There are four rivers that run through the city; which add to its charm.  There is not the same evidence of wealth and poverty and we are told the crime rate is very low.  The temperate climate has made it an ideal expatriate settlement of which there are 4000 residents and a further 2,500 frequent visitors.

After a good night's sleep we set off to the Llampasay region further down the mountain to visit the amazing Ecuagenera Orchid Nursery.  We had learnt about them when we were in Edmonton, Canada and it has been part of the long term plan to visit them.  It was wonderful!  We were shown around by Ivan, one of the brothers who own the nursery.  The enterprise was started by a priest who had a passion for orchids and collected them over many years.   He then needed someone to pass his passion and the Nursery on to and chose Pepe (Ivan's brother) to take on the project.  They collect (under licence) and conserve wild orchids, breed and hybridise them, replacing indigenous species back in to the wild.  They have an International reputation and attend shows all over the world (60 per year).  Ecuador has over 4,500 species of orchid and this is reflected in the extensive variety of plants one can see.  Despite having expanded enormously, it is still very much a family affair.  Truly awesome!!  Back in Cuenca we had dinner in an authentic Ecuadorian eating house, very popular with the locals and more fascinating food.

What goes up must come down and so we did.  After further adjustments to the car and some rather better petrol we set off, mainly downhill, towards the city of Machala.  The road down is even more exciting.  We passed through several areas of geological activity where the road has been washed away, subsided or has large cracks in the tarmac.   Anxiety levels increased as we pulled to the side several times to let vehicles of the Bombadoria (fire and rescue) speed by; the last of which was a truck towing a dingy.  Since all the vehicles and equipment came from Cuenca we reckoned that the fire would probably be out by the time they arrived. One of the team was seen at the side of the road relieving his fear only to rush past a further few miles long the way After a while we found them all stopped outside a roadside cafe.  Relief! 

The mountain streams gather pace and create deep ravines along the side of which the road winds.  The vegetation zones go in reverse and then we are nearing the foothills when the car begins to wiggle.  Earthquake? Broken axle? No, thankfully only a flat tyre.  The first we have had in our journey.  This is soon changed and then we are on our way. 

The map we have is hopeless and navigation is rather haphazard.  This is also compounded by the many deviations we seem to encounter. In the City of Machala the road to the hotel is closed in the direction towards the hotel. Guy takes a decision to drive down the closed road, the car being small enough to pass between the concrete bollards, much to the amazement of the workmen.  It is the right decision as we managed to find our hotel.  Here they are wonderful and accompany him to a local tyre repair shop where a very kind man repairs the tyre, removing a 2 inch nail, for $2.00.   

We head for bed anticipating our border crossing into Peru in the morning.  Reading around the subject has assured us it will not be similar to those in Central America; for which we are grateful.  We are sad to be leaving Ecuador for it is an extremely diverse and beautiful country, one we would like to return to in the future.  We also regret that we did not get to Columbia, but the plan is to come back at some stage in the future and see more of both.

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