Ecuador - Quito, Macas, Banos, Canoa
The descent into Quito was pretty sketchy. We flew really low between mountains and when we turned it looked as though the wings were going to touch the rocky sides of the mountains. We were surprised at how chilly it was when we got off the plane but were actually relieved as the Galápagos had been relentless at 30+ every day. Our taxi driver was a friendly chap who spoke his Spanish slowly to give us a better chance of understanding and conversing with him. It took about 20 minutes to reach the edge of Quito and we both gazed in wonderment at the tall buildings which seemed to be balancing precariously on the edge of the mountains. At this moment our taxi driver said “welcome to Quito”. We checked into our hostel Carpe DM in the historical town and were pleased to find a quiet clean room. The lady on reception gave us a map and lots of info about the area... one of the things that stuck with us was “don’t walk around outside past 6pm”. Eek.
All we wanted to do was chill, but we had to go and buy our bus ticket from quitumbe bus terminal to ensure we could leave for Macas the following afternoon. We were advised that the local bus was the cheapest way to make the 40 min journey across Quito. The bus was crazy!! We were packed on like sardines. Every time the bus stopped, you would pray that no one else would get on, but no, despite there being no room to even breathe people would throw themselves on. One woman whose body was pressed against mine, with our faces closer than I would have liked gestured for me to keep an eye on my bag. Looking around at the shady characters, I followed her advice. Once we had purchased our ticket and made our way back to the old town (in a taxi this time) we realised we hadn’t eaten any dinner. It was already past our 6pm curfew but we decided to risk it. We left all of our valuables safely in our room and literally ran through the streets until we stumbled across a Mexican place. We were warmly greeted by a jolly man who we later knew to be Diego. We had delicious vegan burritos then scarpered back to our hostel. Running is actually pretty difficult as Quito is 2,850m above sea level, making it easy to get breathless! The next day we took a bus to Macas. It took around 7/8 hours and we arrived in the evening. It’s pretty sketchy as they drive like lunatics around mountain roads with huge drops off the side. Also they stop all the time and let vendors on to beg for money and sell food and drinks. Thankful to have arrived in one piece, we took a taxi to where our Airbnb was and waiting outside was a chap called Carlos. After the usual introductions he started talking fast and shaking his head no. I started to get a bad feeling. We asked if we could go up to the room and he said no and from what I could translate he was saying we couldnt stay. We asked for our money back and he said no. It then got a bit awkward and all we could do was walk away. In desperation and wanting to get off the dark streets we checked into a shabby hostel. The woman obviously sensed our desperation and charged us $25! Rip off! The room itself wasn’t too bad but it was soooo noisy. We could hear the traffic all night as well as the noisy night receptionist laughing with all their friends. In the morning we headed to Ken and Sun’s house. We were taking a 4 night jungle retreat in which you spend 2 nights at their home and 2 nights in a “chosa” in the jungle. It was so relaxing hanging out in the hammocks drinking fresh watermelon juice.
The time we spent in the chosa was hosted by a shaman from the Shuar tribe. The Chosa was nestled in the jungle on the edge of a raging river. As we lay on our mattresses on the floor of the wooden structure, watching the fire, the only thing we could hear was the wildlife and the river. It was pure bliss.
The whole time we were at the retreat we kept our phones switched off. It was so nice to disconnect from the world of YouTube and social media. We did lots of reading and both agreed that we felt so much better for not having our phones on. Our next stop was Banos where we stayed for 3 nights at Monte Carmelo hostel. Banos was a busy town, up in the mountains, with plenty of outdoor activities.
We walked to Pailon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron) waterfall and got drenched in the rain.
We also went zip lining through canyons which was really fun!
There are so many good food places in Banos. One of our favourites was a vegetarian place called Sativa where they play reggae music.
There are also lots of massage places. They look a bit dodgy but one afternoon we decided to treat ourselves as it was only $15 for an hour full body massage and facial. When we entered the parlour we could see that he therapy room was currently in use so presumed we may have to wait a while. The man on the front desk, who was also running a tour company from the same location, told us to wait 5 minutes while he ran off down he street. When he returned we were led out of the parlour and taken a few doors down where there was no signage. He took us down several flights of stairs into what looked like an out of hours brothel. There was a big bathtub and then maybe around 30 beds all lined up. We nervously took our clothes off and lay down on the bed he had instructed us too. About 10 minutes later 2 women entered and couldn’t stop giggling. That set me off and we were all in fits of laughter. The massage was terrible!! I genuinely think in that 5 minutes where he ran off, it was to grab 2 women from the launderette who had never given a massage in their lives. My lady kept hitting me, slapping at my skin and doing karate chops all over me. This torture went on for the full hour and it was so hard not to laugh hysterically! From Banos we headed back to Carpe DM in Quito for one night before the journey to Canoa. The bus was another white knuckle ride that I’m surprised we survived! Also, we had our laptop stolen from Sams bag which was on the floor in between his legs. Very sneaky thieves. Thankfully it was a cheap laptop we had picked up in New Zealand for $100 and they left behind his wallet and our passports. Before our night bus to Canoa we spent the day doing a bit of sightseeing around Quito. We checked out the historical town, a religious art museum and a couple of churches.
We also sheltered from the rain in a delicious chocolate shop where I had the best desert!!
Our hostel in Canoa was called Sundown and was run by a lovely woman called Alexandra. Her story is bittersweet. She and her husband had always dreamed of owning a place right on the beach and opening a hostel. They worked really hard to achieve their dream and just a year after the building was finished and her husband had retired he suddenly passed away from a heart attack. What they built was amazing. The hostel sits right on the deserted beachfront and there are lots of hammocks for relaxing in and watching the sunset. The sunsets were incredible every night!
It’s just a 20 minute stroll along the beach into the little town where you can find lots of beach restaurants and juice bars.
The hostel was really friendly! We particularly liked David the Canadian chap who would chat with anyone about anything and tried a few times to beat Sam at ping pong. He didn’t succeed!
While staying at Sundown we took 12 hours of Spanish lessons with a lady called Veronica. We did the 12 hours in 4 hour blocks over 3 days. They were good and definitely helped but by day 3 my brain was mush and I just sat there nodding! Our Spanish is definitely improving as we spend more time in South America.
From Canoa we took a bus back to Carpe DM in Quito for one final night before our 23 hour bus to Colombia.
Ecuador was a beautiful country. Compared to Peru it felt a lot cleaner and I found the people to be a little more welcoming. I think my favourite place was Canoa... even though I loved the mountains... I’m a beach girl at heart!