When I left my beloved Huanchaco I didn’t know what was waiting for me at the apparently most dangerous border crossing: Tumbes…I got off the night bus at 10 am and a man came to ‘help me’. He said how dangerous it was crossing the border alone, and he offered his help, as a representative of a major Peruvian bus company (CIFA) that has services directly to Cuenca, Ecuador.

As I read in my Lonely Planet that this was the best way to cross the border, taking a bus directly from Tumbes to Cuenca, and also having asked a few more people around at the station and they all confirmed this, I went up to the man (asked him to show me his ID as a CIFA representative and all this) and said let’s go to CIFA then.

He had a beautiful black BMW (should have been my first doubt ), another man joined us and he asked if i had dollars for Ecuador. I said no but he shouldn’t be worried about that I’ll withdraw in Ecuador. He said that I should take money here as in Ecuador the cash machines are charging $21 commission after every transaction. I found it weird but I listened to them…

Once I was loaded with money we got back to the car and drove to an agency which wasn’t called CIFA. I said to him I wanted to go to CIFA. He said that this was a sub agency of CIFA (with a completely different name). I started to be worried so asked around people and they all said that there was no CIFA in Tumbes only this agency. So the fare would have costed 80 Soles or a budget option 50 Soles which sounded about right. This new man from this sub agency hopped in the car and we were driving somewhere the 4 of us. Me and 3 men….This was the moment when I knew I was trapped….they said we would go to the border and take the bus there but surely if you take a direct service from Tumbes it doesn’t leave from the border but from the city. So they set the new price for the border crossing service and bus fare to Cuenca: $148. I said..NO WAY! They started to panic as soon as I raised my voice and said ok, so be prepared to be killed and robbed at the border if you cross alone. I tried to control my fear and I said firmly that I wanted to get out of the car at that moment. They said ok but I should pay $20 for taking me to the border. I said we are not even at the border and on the other hand for 5 minutes driving I will NOT PAY $20. He said I didn’t pay he wouldn’t return my backpack from the boot. I started screaming and crying and said I will not pay $20, so he said pay whatever you want then. So I paid 20 Soles which is about 10$, got out of the car and stopped the first microbus going to the border. From here all went smooth but I was shaking the rest of the day. The bus fare from Cuenca was $7….imagine how many tourists pay $148 for his ‘services’ that allows him to circulate in this fancy car….

Anyway Cuenca. I stayed in ‘El Cafecito’ hostel. Very mellow, romantic place.

Since I arrived on Saturday there was a life concert which I slept through as I passed out at 9pm. On Sunday I woke up early and was eager to discover Cuenca however I had to realise that on Sunday everything is closed…A few museums were open though so I visited them, had lunch at the market with fresh orange-carrot juice (you have the choice of min. 10 flavours that you can mix too). Then in the evening I chilled with the 2 Swiss girls I was in the same dorm with..we didn’t even realise that we were chatting till 2am. Very nice people. On Monday I continued my city tour ..the culture in Cuenca is amazing..very high level city with great nightlife, funky bars and versatile restaurants.

I also visited a stunning lake close to Cuenca in Cajas  National Park:

In the evening Tegan (my Aussie friend) arrived – it was so nice to see her. But just before in the hostel some musicians got together so we decided with the Swiss girls (one of them played the guitar and sang too) to join..we had some Canelazo (this is a fantastic drink, you can read more about it here: http://southamericanfood.about.com/od/drinks/r/canelazo.htm )

The drink and the music made me very emotional. It was a happy emotional feeling though…I knew this year would happen only once in my life and I knew I would always remember that night…They sang and played amazingly:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akcMXI17f4c&feature=plcp

Then once Tegan arrived we went for dinner and to bed. The next day we visited with Tegan Ingapirca ( gift to Ecuador from the Inkas from the pre-Hispanical  season- Similar to Machu Picchu the main  structure in Ingapirca is the Temple of the Sun, a giant elliptical structure that was built without mortar, just like the traditional Incan way of constructing buildings.)

Once we arrived to Cuenca we had time together with T till midnight, so we had dinner in a restaurant called ‘The Maiz’ (corn – where all dishes were made of corn). Despite the fancy look the food didn’t impress me too much. At midnight I took the night bus to Banos.

This lovely city has a lot to offer..great place to hike, cycle, horse ride, do some extreme sports like ‘Puenting’ or canopy or canyoning..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyBe9gaaH68&feature=relmfu

I spent there 3 days, on the first day I went hiking in the surroundings, on the second day I hired a bike and did the ‘Ruta de las Cascadas’ (The waterfall’s route) and the 3rd day I went to the nicest waterfall in the area and in the afternoon I just chilled in a mountain spa for hours. Perfect 3 days..I didn’t meet anyone though. Maybe I stayed in the wrong hostel (Princesa Maria). Viktor the 60 year old man working there was very nice tough..we had a lot of evening conversations.

After Banos I wanted to check out the Laguna Quilotoa close to Latacunga but didn’t want hike. Once I got to Latacunga people suggested me to go to Hostel Tiana where I can get info on how to get to the lake but it was already late for the day to go there and also I accidentally asked about the Galapagos and she found an amazing deal for me which she couldn’t book because it was Saturday so I decided to go straight to Quito and start looking around for Galapagos deals ( I haven’t done any research on it earlier just because I knew I wasn’t able to afford it ). So Quito..I stayed in the Mariscal area..where all the bars and clubs are. Stayed in Centro del Mundo hostel which is great to meet people and it’s close to the bars (walking home is not recommended though from a club..I did it only because the hostel was literally one corner from the main hub). So the hostel was full of early twenty something Americans who headed out but I didn’t really want to go with them, so opted for the going solo one 🙂 Well…to be honest with you guys..it’s great to do at the beginning of your trip..you meet lots of different people (mainly local men though)who wanna chat you up but after a while the repetition of the same questions over and over again can be tiring…the top 5 most common questions are:

–          De donde eres? (Where are you from?)

–          Viajas solita? (Are you travelling alone?)

–          Desde cuando estas viajando y donde fuiste? (How long have you been travelling for and where have you been)

–          Ahh que bien…entonces tienes mucho plata! (Ah..wonderful, so you have a lot of money)

–          Quieres que te acompano? ( Would you like me to come with you?)

So I hit Bungalow 6..had a superstrong rum and coke watched the people having fun in groups and went home a bit disappointed that my friends were not there with me…

Next day on Sunday I went to the historical centre and I met the most amazing old man who was selling maps..We had a perfect connection..a bit like grandfather and his grandchild..I invited him for lunch as he showed me the whole city centre and explained the history. The man was like a walking library…it was so nice to meet finally someone with brain and not having to explain where Hungary was. He knew Liszt Ferenc and all that…So hats off. We spent the whole afternoon together, he also recommended me some islands on the Galapagos (I still wasn’t sure if i should take a cruise or do it individually but everyone suggested the 2nd oprion). So in the evening (Sunday) I went to the airport and bought a return ticket to the Galapagos islands from Monday (next day) to Friday.

I was superhappy. For some reason I felt I needed this trip to get me back to my normal balance..

So I woke up at 5.30am, went to the airport and this is where the fun starts…I bumped into Cam Smith my previous affiliate sitting at Quito airport..The last time we met was in London a few years ago so it was incredible meeting him there. Turned out he was heading to Galapagos on the same flight to we travelled together. The flight was a bit delayed unfortunately so we landed at 3pm..didn’t have much time on Monday but I found a great hotel (cheap too), checked in, walked around, went to the Charles Darwin complex . ( story in brief: in 1831 he sailed to Galapagos and 30 years later published his theory of evolution- the conversation of animals (giant land turtles mainly) had to be started as they would have instinct in 10 years time from the discovery)

After visiting the complex I went to every single agency on Santa Cruz island to plan my next days. Unfortunately I didn’t find any cruise going to Espanola island (one of the best ones but the furthest one too so no day trips are avail.) which turned out to be better because I still saw the best islands in the neighbourhood: Seymour Norte, Isabela and Bartolome.

Seymour Norte:

Isabela:

Bartolome:

I met on my first day trip Simone- english girl, we had a click so we were hanging out the rest of the time together…our ‘local’ for the week has become the Bongo bar and Panga club downstairs..

I’ll upload few videos on the animals…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjr4ebRdsPo&feature=plcp

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hmarHTJ0c8&feature=plcp

On Friday in tears I said bye to the Galapagos islands, flew back to Quito, went straight to the ‘Mitad del Mundo’ (Middle of the World)

I wanted to go straight to Otavalo as a festival was starting on Saturday but in the hostel when I returned to collect my backpack (I went only with a light pack to Galapagos) they didn’t suggest me to arrive late in the evening so I stayed in the hostel and left Sat. Morning.

The market is impressive in Otavalo..almost occupies the whole city. Everyone can find something for their taste that’s for sure. In Otavalo people are wearing traditional clothes.

And men have long hair (pigtail) and they are wearing a poncho and black trousers, black waistcoat and white shirt under the poncho. Very nice people. The festival kicked off at 7pm, I went down a bit later, met a guy and his gf. Whom I met first in Banos, so we hung out together and participated in the dancing bit too.

On Sunday I just chilled in the hostel and walked a bit in the city. Today heading to the border and the Colombia. Fingers crossed for a safe crossing….

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