Day 56. Into The Amazon

Its an early start and quick breakfast before im picked up for my trip into the amazon.

Im so excited and cant wait for the day ahead though my excitement does subside during the long drive.

Our first stop is at a zoo refuge, all the animals have been rescued from poachers or were kept illegally as pets. Although I know it has good intentions I cant help but dislike it. You can tell it doesnt have the funds to operate as it should and all of the animals look miserable, the cages are too small and unkempt and the whole place just seems neglected. It seems my opinion isnt shared as the rest of the group walk around excited and snap pictures of all the haggard animals, seemingly oblivious.

Thankfully it doesnt last too long and we are back in the car, having managed not to say anything. We then arrive at the river where we stop to put on our boots/ jackets and also meet a little girl and her (illegal) pet monkey. Although i know its been taken and is being kept i cant help but give in and I get a quick monkey cuddle before it runs back to its owner. 

Making a new friend!

As we get in the canoe im excited and nervous in equal parts- it doesnt feel like the most sturdy of inventions and it doesnt help that as soon we get going the captain is already bailing out the boat! 

As we cruise down the amazon river the sights are more than I imagined. The lush green jungle towers around, only interupted by brief glimpses of the odd indiginous house and the water stretches on as far as you can see. 

Canoe Cruising

All too soon we have to get out, arriving at our lunch stop. Its a cute place, but again I feel uncomfortable. They are new buildings designed to look like village houses and inside as we sit down its like a restaurant, not quite the traditional lunch it was made out to be and once more its just me who seems to not be enjoying it. It just feels too produced and set up, though im not sure i can be suprised when i have come on a tour.

Afer eating we start our trek through the jungle to a waterfall. This is my favourite so far, feeling like I am finally seeing the real Amazon. The canopy overhead provides shade from the sun and gigantic trees surround us, as i look around I try to catch a glimpse of a monkey or macaws but all I get is enormous spiders (eek!).

Amazon jungle snapshot

As we pass a river our guide pauses to collect some clay. He says its 100% pure clay and that its great for your skin, free facial it is! We continue and then reach a Tarzan swing, its tied so high up I can barely see and swings out over a ledge, giving a view to the river below. We all wait our turn and as i  step off the platform its exhilerating, i dont want to get off! 

A short walk further and we reach the waterfall, its stunning. The weather has changed and its begining to rain but I cant come this far and not go in. Ditching the clothes (and clay facial) I go for a dip, very quickly getting back out again and getting dry- its way too cold! 

Look close- theres a rainbow!

After people braver than me have finished swimming we trek back to the cars, heading off to our final stop of the day- a traditional amazon village.

Im a bit confused when we park next to a bridge, not far from the main road and after a 5 minute walk (on a marked path) we arrive at the village. Traditional is not the word i would use and its no suprise when we are told that its a tourism village, created for visits though there are a few people living there. 

There is a welcome song in Quechua (the traditional language), we have a welcome drink (no idea whats in it, tastes good) and there is women in traditional dress who are dancing though look so uncomfortable and are hating every minute. 

We are then shown a little hut where you can buy jewellry that has been made in the village and can look around the grounds. I try to appreciate it but I just cant see past the fact its existence is for the self indulgence of tourists even though right now I am one of them. I have been far too lucky with my time that I spent in Fiji, maybe if I hadnt then i would be just like everyone else here- trying to take selfies with the kids who hate it and only do it if you pay them. The end cant come soon enough and I have mixed emotions as we make the drive away from Puyo back to Banos.

I know that it is trips like mine that help some to make a living and it is teaching a small amount about a culture and lifestyle that is dying out, though its because of this enforced progression and our need to know everything and find that ‘undiscovered’ place that it is becoming extinct. Today I felt embaressed to be a tourist and dissapointed at the destruction caused all over the world because of the industry, though its one of the lesser problems going on. I had hoped that there would still be a genuine-ness to the trip but in reality how is that possible when hundreds of people are visiting with their money and gadgets everyday.

Its evening by the time I arrive back at the hostel and after a much needed shower and my free dinner of Veggie Risotto i head to bed, still with conflicted feelings and thoughts about the day. 

Day 55. Bañera in Banos

After yesterdays million- mile cycle its a chilled morning at the hostel, Everyone is doing their own thing or relaxing.

I head into town to get my laundry done (it seems to just pile up as soon as I blink) and to try and book a jungle tour. There are so many different companies that offer the same thing so i have a shop around for the best price and manage to get a pretty good deal.

Its only a 1 day tour but will include going in a canoe, a jungle trek, visit to a waterfall and also visiting an Amazonian village.

Before i head back to the hostel I also meet with a guy called Brandon. We have been chatting on Couchsurfing as we are both travelling the same way and it turns out we are both in Banos at the same time.

We go for a coffee, grab some food and talk about our trips, we get on really well and might be heading to the same place next (if i make up my mind) though its kind of a weird experience. As we say goodbye I say ill let him know about where ill be heading and he invites me to come to his later to hang out and watch some films- hmmm! Gives a girl a confidence boost when youre wearing rubbish clothes and no make up but its a polite decline.

Yummy £1 street food!

A stop at a taffy shop is the last thing before im back, they are everywhere and it seems that Banos is quite famous for it. Watching how its made (still in the traditional way) is fascinating and at only £3 for a pack its a bargain! 

Watching the taffy being made

The common room is full and i join the rest of the gang. It seems no one has really been very productive and with legs aching from yesterday we decide to go to the natural Hot Springs. There are quite a few around but the closest is just down the road. 

You get given a really attractive swimming cap to wear and then you can take your pick from the different pools. There is a swimming pool thats cold and then 2 springs. The bottom is the hottest and despite several attempts I cant even go in, at home I have baths so hot my skin turns pink but the spring makes me feel like a lobster being cooked- too hot! 

I go the second and its perfect (without trying to sound like Goldilocks…) and i manage to squeeze in a space, trying not to doze off. Its pretty busy with a vast percentage being old, speedo-wearing, hairy-chested men but also some tourists and families.

A quick shower and back at the hostel its an eager wait for the free dinner. Every Monday/ Tuesday/ Wednesday the hostel gives you a free dinner if you sign up on Facebook, tonight its Pesto Pasta- jackpot, i LOVE pesto! 

Its the busiest ive seen it for a while, nothing brings people together like free food! 

As I get ready for bed I meet my new roomies, its a family from Mexico. Theyre really nice though i must say i feel a bit like im gate crashing the fam holiday being the odd one out in the room! 

Day 54. Una Aventura Cascada 

Another great breakfast and good nights sleep (I really am loving this hostel) and a group of us have decided to hire bikes and ride the waterfall trail. I have to admit before everyone else said they were going to do it I had planned to just get the bus but now its the active way! 

We ask around town for a few prices (though they are really all the same) and after taking our time its then decided we want lunch before leaving so its off to the market! 

Finally we have bikes, a map and a rough idea of where we are going, now we just have to make it out of the bustling streets without being run over (or losing any of us which is a lot harder than it sounds).

Once we are out of town its a pretty easy ride, the roads are smooth and downhill and the views are stunning- the only downside is the huge buses that hurtle past at a million miles an hour, honking their horn as they do so. Its called sharing guys!

We stop every so often to take photos and admire the scenery, the sun is shining giving a clear view over the mountains and of the waterfalls. The green stretching for miles and never ending.

The never ending view

We have been going at a leisurely pace and by the time we reach our final destination, Pailon Del Diablo (meaning ‘The Devils Cauldron’), its gone 4pm.

Its fair to say i have enough excitement for the whole group, I have been wanting to see this waterfall since i started planning my trip. We padlock our bikes and head off down the trail. 

Its a lot further than we had anticipated and quite steep going downhill, the walk back up will be interesting! Its quite busy but evens out by the time we reach the entrance and pay for our ticket.

As we enter the sheer scale of the waterfall is overwhelming, all you can hear is the deafening noise of crashing water as you gaze and try to see the top or the bottom.

Pailon Del Diablo

We climb the stairs, admiring from the different platforms (and getting soaked in the process) and then make our way upwards, crawling through a tiny path through the rocks, pretty much having to army crawl in order to fit.

Making it to the end after crawling through the rocks

After getting fully soaked and making sure to get pictures of everything we begin the climb back. Its not too bad and make it back to the top (though completely out of breath) and despite my shoes squelching the entire way.

Everyone is starving by now so we go the cafe where we locked our bikes up. Everything smells so good, especially the empanadas though im a bit dubious of the cheese and chocolate combo! I order fresh corn on the cob that comes with cheese, literally just a chunk of cheese- not the melted on top picture i had in my head.

Since we have been inside it has started to pour down and as its gone 6 its getting dark. We speak with the lady who owns the cafe and she organises a van that will take us and our bikes back to Banos, she is lovely and likes us enough to give us a free empanada! 

Its quite a long, bumpy ride and I cant help feeling like im trying to sneak into somewhere illegally- being cramped in the back of a van thats driving in the dark, pouring rain! We get dropped off and ride our bikes back in the rain to the shop, running the rest of the way back to the hostel.

While I wait for my turn in the shower its cheese and crackers for dinner (cooking is way too much effort now) and after im nice and clean its Hot Chocolate time! 

We relax on the bean bags and catch up with those who didnt come to the waterfalls but before long its bedtime, we are all literally falling asleep and I cant keep my eyes open! 

Day 53. Off You Go!

A great nights sleep and I head to breakfast. Its one of my favourite times at a hostel because its when you get to meet everyone. Sure you can talk to people at any time but at breakfast everyone is the same, not yet ready for the world and no one has their guard up. 

I sit down with Amanda and there are some others already at the table; Chloe (brit), Duncan (brit), Nathaniel (US) and a couple others whos names i may have forgotten..

Everyone is making their plans for the day and talking about what there is to do in Banos (which turns out is a lot). Everyone has been here for different amounts of time so done various things which is really helpful. 

Me and Amanda decide to go to Casa Del Arbol, its a viewpoint and swing that goes over the mountain and its on my ‘Must See’ list for my trip. There are loads of agencies that offer tours but its really not necessary. You can catch the bus for $1.50 and the stop is only a few blocks away. 

The bus journey is slow, the roads are incredibly windy and the cars do not slow on corners but we make it in one piece. Its a short up hill walk to the entrance and when we make it im blown away. 

Its more than just the treehouse and swing that i was expecting, it has been made into a park on top of the lush green mountain with bridges, swings and tyre lines. The views are incredible and the weather could not be better, blazing sunshine with just a slight breeze. 

A view from the mountain

We make our way to the treehouse/ swing and wait for our turn (it isnt quite the tranquil, undisturbed place its depicted as). People are going upside down, screaming, posing in all kinds of ways and as i step up for my go im so excited. Having looked over the edge i dont think its really that high so i guess now i will find out! 

Its an andrenaline rush and so much fun though i have to admit I would have like it to be a bit higher! 

Me on the swing

After Casa del Arbol we go on some of the park equipment and also wait with the rest of the kids for the mini zipline. Then its time to catch the bus back (they only leave at certain times) and hope we survive the journey, its notoriously worse going down. 

In the dorm and Amanda is in bed while I try to search for warm clothes. Im explaining about my genius pillowcase-for-a-towel idea when she gives me one of her sarongs from Australia, I tell her I cant take it but she insists so now i have a real sarong for the beach, yay! 

Lotte messages me and suggest going for dinner so we go to meet her and a guy from Austria who is in her dorm.

We stumble on this great restaurant (for the life of me i cant remember the name!) and its reasonably cheap. The food is amazing and the waiter goes above and beyond, even giving us 4 seperate bills. We have all eaten way too much and waddle our seperate ways to our hostels.

Heading to bed very content (if not a bit too full) 

Day 52. Banos Beauty

Me and Lotte have breakfast then head to get the bus. We need to get to the main bus terminal, its about an hour away by the metro but it still only costs 25c. 

Arriving at the terminal is very strange, outside you have the traditional tiendas but as soon as you go through the doors its like another world- everything is so modern and new. 

We soon find the counter for Banos (not hard when they are all shouting at you) and buy our tickets, i then find myself running for yet another bus as apparently its about to leave. On board and the bus is pretty empty meaning me and Lotte can both stretch out. 

The journey isnt too bad and provides some stunning views of the country, vast mountains and tiny towns. 

One of the views from the bus journey

We make it to Banos only a couple of hours later than expected and head in search of our hostels. We are staying at different ones as im on more of a budget and didnt want to spend the extra £2 a night, thats an entire meal guys.

The Great Backpackers is a bit out of town and down a slightly sketch street but its great. The rooms are big, they have a bar/ restaurant, a movie area and breakfast is included. It also has a really nice atmosphere though the only downside is the staff will only speak in Spanish. That isnt a bad thing as if, like me, you need practice but it can lead to a lot of confusion when you use the wrong words or dont know how to ask for something. 

After dropping of my bags and meeting one of my roomies (Amanda from Ireland) I venture into town to explore. Its a really cute town that has kept its traditions despite having a high tourism trade, you can also see one of the nearby Waterfalls from just about anywhere in the town. 

Its a little pricey for the souvenirs and higher end restaurants but you can also eat in the market or find small stalls for what you need, knowing how to bargain in Spanish also helps. 

I lose track of time exploring ao its  a late dinner and after a brief drink in the bar and chatting to some of the others in the hostel its time for bed. 


Day 51. Quito

I wake up to my first day in Ecuador and ive had a good sleep, the beds here at The Blue House are really cosy which is good as the city itself is quite cold. 

I head off in search of breakfast and am slightly confused when I get given a tray with 2 slices of bread on from Reception. I sit down in the lounge area not quite ready to eat and only thinking the lonely bread strange for a minute before dismissing it, its better than nothing. 

A few minutes later and the lady from reception is giving me a weird look, when i go to say im not hungry yet she explain i have to go outside for breakfast… Okay? 

Seems odd but as i go outside and turn the corner I find another building. Inside is people from the hostel and on the table is tea, coffee, juice, jam, fruit and a toaster- now it makes sense! 

After breakfast i brave a shower, its slightly hot so i dont completely get frostbite. While trying to warm up in bed i get talking to Lotte from Denmark, she has also just arrived and is trying to make a plan. For the first time in a while on my travels I dont even have a rough idea for where im heading, just a couple of things id like to see, i borrow Lottes guidebook and try to make a  route heading South though with so many options its difficult to choose.

We take a break and decide to explore the Old Town. Its a short bus ride away and one of the few things to see it Quito. The streets are busy and there are people selling everywhere, i even spot a guy trying to sell 2 tiny puppies and have to fight the urge to buy them, wanting to snatchthem off the guy as theyre clearly too young to be away from their mum let alone outside. 

We head to the main square where we see the Presidential Palace and Cathedral and there are so many museums. Further out of town (which is all very steep) we find an old Cathedral and park, it looks so odd amongst the shops and cafes.

After all the steep walking we are starving so find a little cafe for lunch. Something that should be simple turns into the most difficult situation ever, im pretty sure the waiter doesnt even speak Spanish as everything we say he just shakes his head. Even when pointing directly to the menu (which is in Spanish) he seems confused and asks again what i want. Eventually somehow we manage to order and pay, not understanding the confusion, my spanish isnt great but i know when im ordering food and speaking correctly.

More wandering and window shopping and we head back, still needing to decide on a plan. Lotte has decided to head to Banos tomorrow, its somewhere i was thinking of going but not straight away though as i dont have another idea i might as well! 

Im still tired from the long journey here so after cooking dinner (with some fresh veg i got in town) I have an early night. 

Day 50. Never-Ending Day

My first sleeping experience in an airport was okay, i managed to sleep for maybe 3 hours on and off. I would have slept a bit better had I not been moved along by some maintenance men who needed to work on the lights above my little spot. 

At 5am I freshen up in the bathroom, brushing my teeth and getting changed- trying to convince myself I had a good rest and havent spent the last 7 hours on the floor of an airport. 

I check my emails but still have not heard from my hostel about being collected from the airport though luckily have a response from Ant in the UK. He is from the agency i booked my flights with and id emailed him asking if the Costa Rica departure tax had been included on my ticket as sometimes you have to pay at the airport, to which he tells me it was.

Also why im waiting I check my bank, just to see how things are looking. I nearly have a heart attack, thinking my sleep deprived brain is playing tricks on me- one of my accounts has gone along with the £2500 that was in it, what?!?! 

I triple check to make sure im not mistaken and then message me mum to take a look on her computer, she confirms it isnt there either. Trying to remain calm (luckily the lack of sleep and dazedness helps) Mum calls the banks and tries to work out whats happened. 

In the mean time i can finally check in, using the self service machines and ensuring the details are correct- especially as i have a connecting flight and need to work out if i collect my bag or it goes straight to Ecuador. Approaching the desk i hand over my passport and bag when the lady tells me I have to pay the tax. I explain to her that i have checked and have already paid but she assures me that it has not been included and sends me to another desk to pay the $30, this country is just draining me. Having paid and been given my tickets i finally enter security and also hear back from Mum, everything is fine and the money is safe, with the person who had initially set up the account.

Whilst waiting at the gate I doze on and off, barely able to keep my eyes open. My plan is to sleep for the flight and so arrive in Dallas feeling a lot better (for some reason the only way I could get to Ecuador from Costa Rica was via Dallas, weird). 

In my seat and about to get comfy for my nap when the guy next to me decides that I look like i really want to maintain conversation. I feel bad, he is really nice and normally id be more than happy chat but in my current semi conscious state i can barely manage a sentence. 

 With the arrival of breakfast (and coffee!) im slightly more functioning and it turns out Eric is a photographer and has been on a working holiday. As if my day couldnt feel more surreal he then asks to take my portrait, just when im feeling SO attractive. I couldnt think of anything worse but what have i got to lose, hes the one with the bad photos!

The air hostess mistakes us for a couple and practically snatches the camera from him, insisting on taking a photo of us, its actually quite funny. Luckily the photo session is short and having accepted im not going to be sleeping i watch ‘Zootopia’ which has begun to play on one of the four TVs on the entire plane, its actually hilarious and by the time we land I feel much better.

I go through immigration, first having to scan my passport myself and have my photo taken (reminded how awful i look without sleep) then to the desks to be questioned and get my stamp. Its pretty quick and then Im too eager as i follow the signs for transfers/ security, not realising i dont have my ticket and having to back track to actually check in and get my boarding pass, Its very difficult to function.

Through security and Dallas airport is HUGE. I wander aimlessly and buy cheesy pretzals and chocolate, nice and healthy combo but I reason i deserve it.

I have to get a train to my gate and in the waiting area I join the masses on the WiFi. I still have not heard from my hostel and I have to board, Im going to have to figure it out when i get there- sketchy taxi again it seems.

This time I have my own TV and cannot help but laughing whist watching ‘The Intern’, so loudly in fact the old couple in the row next to me stop to ask what it is im watching as they want to laugh that much!

The flight is okay and im past sleeping now, films only being interrupted for the toilet and when dinner is served- not that I eat as suprisingly there is no Vegetarian option. When i ask for an alternative option im told to take the ham out of the sandwhich and eat it with the salad,Why dont i just lick a steak?!

After ‘dinner’ i get talking to the people next to me, its a lady and her son who are from Ecuador and they agree to help me find a taxi when we land.

Through immigration and with the help of the mother and son i get in a taxi, too tired to even comprehend if anything was to happen.

 Around 30 minutes later i arrive at my hostel and after checking in i head straight to bed, its nearly 11.30pm and ive been travelling for over 40hours. Time for sleep!