Ecuador

 want to do a post summarising each country, an I’m a little overdue with Ecuador, so here goes. I really loved it. Number one is unquestionably the stunning and dramatic landscape. This is something I really notice and enjoy, and it was particularly beautiful; dramatic mountains and volcanos combined with complementary and interesting vegetation. And this was genuinely the way from start to finish, from the cooler Cotopaxi and Quito to the warmer Vilcabamba. From a logistical point of view, Ecuador is so nice and easy to see as a lot of things are accessible from Quito and because it’s much smaller, it’s easier and for quicker to get around. Second in Ecuador, and definitely also a priority in my travels is the wildlife! It was amazing, form the alpine flowers I seem to have called in love with, to the amazing birds in the cloud forest, to the undeniable Jewel that is Galápagos Islands! It was so interesting, beautiful, unique and plentiful… For details, please see the posts from those places. Another thing, you cannot omit when discussing Ecuador is the beautiful churches and architecture; they are elegant, rich, grand and even lavish. It sticks out in such contrast to poorer places or even the ordinariness of the ‘normal’ buildings surrounding them. Another contrast I’ve noticed was the conservative and traditional Ecuadorians are (especially compared with Colombia) and their concurrent love affair with the ‘west’. I really enjoyed seeing ladies in their traditional attire; their tiny heels, a skirt past the knees with tights or high socks, a poncho like shawl, or sometimes even blanket wrapped around this shoulders and those awesome hats with a feather sticking up. Then on the other hand, I’ve seen so much brand love, where it’s all Nike this or adidas that, or in the other direction, where children’s things are stamped with Disney princesses like Elsa and co. Ecuador is also more expensive than both Colombia and Peru, perhaps because they use the American dollar as their currency. People here were not as friendly and inviting as the Colombians, they seemed quieter, really chilled and so kind. They would be delighted to help you if you asked, probably would be a little shy and would not approach you themselves. I think maybe this is a trend in South Americans, but I love how warm, kind and relaxed they are. It makes for such a nice place to be. 

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Chachapoyas

It is here I realised that I don’t seem to be getting better, so after a couple of days here, I eventually arranged to see a doctor; turns out I have bronchitis and another infection in my throat, so I extended my stay here so that I can complete some of the treatment here; I’ve had 3 days of injections, and a course of steroids and antibiotics… I’ve raved on about how amazing solo travel is; how it gives you so much independence, you meet so many new people, and really you are rarely actually alone as such, because there are usually people going the me way. So in the interest of honesty, I should add a disclaimer: travelling alone, and getting sick, is not fun. It was pretty miserable actually, and I got quite homesick. I suppose solo travel makes for a more intense experience, you get great highs and such a sense of independence and achievement, but also there are times, where you can really miss the support of a loyal companion/ group or even the comfort of being looked after by a guide/tour. For me, I’ve decided, it’s all part of the same journey; I’ve got to take the good with the bad, it can’t be all mountain peaks, all the time.
I’m now on the way to Huaraz having finished the injections an we have half the course of the antibiotics done, I am starting to feel better but not quite there yet. Despite this I managed to do a little sightseeing, I went to see a canyon in Huancas, and had a lovely walk along the edge. It was nice because I could just take my time and wasn’t rushed. I found these lovely little orchids there, where the individual flowers looked like faces – felt it was very appropriate in regards to what I’ve seen in the motifs in the ancient civilisations where faces were the main feature in decorations. I’ve also gone to Kuelap, called the matchu pitchu of the north Peru. It was interesting to see the ruins and learn a bit more about how the Andean civilisations lived as well as influenced and surpassed each other. I’ve stayed in Chachapoyas for 5 days, which is longer than I would normally, but I have to say I enjoyed being in one place for longer. It allowed me to get a better impression from this slow, quiet little town. I got to know the hostel owners ( whom were amazing and so nice and helpful… The owner went to to the doctor with me to translate and gave me lots of advice on how to get better, I even got a big hug as I left!). I also got to know the local restaurants and the layout of the town so I knew where everything is. This is one of the difficult things about long term travel, the constant change and moving on every few days, so this was a bit of a comfort, especially that it was so ‘local’ and the people seemed really nice and kind. 

Chiclayo

Still coughing, and slightly delirious from the buses, I eventually found a hostel in this place, it was aptly named Colon… And it was not a clean one! But I was exhausted and desperate for a shower. Lazily I got an organised tour to explore the ancient civilisations that lived here, especially Mr Sipan and his most elaborate tomb EVER! There is little else here, so I am now on a bus to Chachapoyas!

Cuenca

Cuenca was a lovely, relaxed, slow colonial town. There were many beautiful buildings and a lot of American expats/retirees. Unfortunately I was unable to spend much time exploring this, because my innocent cough that started in the quilotoa circuit, turned much worse, and I was properly ill, so I spend the bulk of the two days under blankets drinking ginger, honey and lemon tea. Even going to get these ingredients felt taxing and like I had to lie down after…

Vilcabamba

After two nights in Cuenca it was time to move onto this lovely hostel I’ve been hearing about for a while in vilcabamba. I still was unwell, so I’ve spend most of my time in a hammock, chilling or watching stuff on myipad. I think it’s a place to relax regardless of how you are feeling.. The only things I did was yoga and a little walk into the colourful, hippie village of vilcabamba. After 3 nights, I was still sick and really wants to stay in the stunning and comfortable vilcabamba, but I decided that because of time pressures, I need to get going with moving into Peru. I think I’m at a place in my trip where I am getting quit tired, so the prospect of staying in a place longer, is s lot a more attractive than a 12 hour night bus to the next place… I am also finding myself taking fewer pictures. Even though it is something I really enjoy having and doing too, it’s actually lots of work and often the isn’t too much time for composition. Also, it’s nice not to bring my camera sometimes because it’s heavy. It’s nice just to enjoy the things and places I am seeing 🙂

Pictures will follow as I locate better wifi

Quilotoa circuit

So this hiking circuit consisted of hiking for three days and staying in villages along the way, with the hike finishing at a beautiful lake in an old volcanic crater. Apart from this I didn’t know much. I managed to get a map last minute after randomly talking to another tourist, I was planning on just arriving in latacunga and asking for directions. From this I have learned to do better research for hikes because the amount of assistance can vary greatly. Luckily as I was getting off the bus, I met some lovely travellers planning to do the same hike so we stayed together for the three days. Day one was supposed to be the short hike, I think it was quoted at about 3 hours. Despite having the best map available, it took us 6 hours because we got lots countless times. The route simply was not marked so we had to guess… We arrived in Sigchos at our hostel lululama in perfect time for shower and dinner. This hostel had the best food I’ve had in South America! It was so nice, I even thought about staying an extra night, because I was really tired from my travels and all the hiking I’ve done in the last few days. But we powered through hiking the next day, proving my assumption that the first day was probably most beautiful wrong… Luckily for us we gained two more travellers in our group and this trail (to chugchillan) was marked really well. The third day was most beautiful. Not just the lake, which, of course, was amazing, but the views of the valley too. It was the toughest day too, I was really tired and coming down with a cold or something. One thing that no one told me about this trek is how tough it is. It’s totally doable, yes, but not easy. (The way others described it, I’ve assumed it was nearly flat until the last day!) Generally, we hiked in the morning and noon and the equatorial sun accompanied us all the way, which made for gorgeous views, but hot (and some very very steep) climbs. The hike was very up and down, a little similar to the lost city trek, but a lot drier. So you are eating dust and wasting a lot of energy moving sand without moving forward as much. I was going to say it’s also less dangerous, because there were fewer opportunities to fall, river crossings etc, but because we got lost, we had to have an improvised river crossing and then were nearly eaten/ attacked by a pack of dogs (throwing stones in their direction eventually deterred them after we initially made the mistake of backing off). Luckily we were able to meet a lot of locals along the way and ask for much needed directions… ( some of whom though it would be hilarious to tell us we are miles away from where we thought we were…lol) Most notable was a 5 year old and his not-much-older friend, coming back from school, who gave us directions but decided to walk with us and ask us for virtually every possible treat, money, my bracelet or just a present of my choosing (not in exchange but just because, clearly they’ve gotten things from tourists before). 
It was difficult but really gorgeous hike and I am really glad I’ve done it. Time to chill for a bit now though, I’m off to take a night bus to quenca!