... until you get to Quito, in which case: run for your lives!! 19th-24th August.
Our bus journey to Guayaquil was pretty tranquilo. The only thing of note was the border-crossing inot Ecuador in the middle of the night where the humidity was insane, we all got drizzled on, and Nyree was asked if she was single by the migration officer. Alice also felt like she would collapse because she was ill and had to sit on the floor, embarassing for us all. Normaal. From Guayaquil we decided to power through and get a bus straight on to Baños so said goodbye to Niall and Hollie at the bus station. The bus journey was, again, pretty uneventful apart from the appearance of a "Locita". She was a little old lady who Nyree spotted trying to force her way into the locked toilet at the back of the bus. She then sat down and looked incredibly excited when a man got on the bus selling boxes of chocolate (standard), aggressively asking everyone to show her theirs and buying about 3 boxes. The bus conductor then came round to ask for tickets or collect money and she stubbornly refused to buy one, having spent all her money on chocolate we presume. She then got a bit mouthy and the conductor went to fetch the police. However, when they arrived she had disappeared. She had again tried to get into the bathroom, but had settled for sitting on someone´s knee in the back of the bus. The police escorted her off with everyone shaking their heads and tutting at the Locita (crazy lady). We continued on our way. The views from the bus were beautiful with the countryside looking a lot like Scotland but a lot more sunny and blue-skied!
The could-be-Scotland scenery.
At one point we had to get off the bus and swap onto another one at the petrol station. Alice befriended a local of Baños called Wilson who helped us get on the right bus. Alice also graciously gave her seat to an old lady, meaning she had to sit on a little plastic stool in the centre aisle of the bus. Nyree couldn´t stop laughing, even though she was trying hard not to as she desperately needed the toilet. Standard. This would become a running theme throughout Ecuador, it must be something in the water. Every other country has toilets on the bus, but when there aren´t any our bodies refuse to hold in anything. Sad times.
The Tungurahua Volcano at Baños.
We arrived in Baños in the late afternoon and headed to the hostel to shower and relax a little. That night we went out to a bar with three levels and a discoteka on the top floor. We had some cocktails at the bottom, got more confident and went a level up to look off the balcony and check out the local talent, and finally, after some more cocktails, went up to bust out our best salsa moves with the Ecuadorians. Two of them immediately latched on and obviously had more thaqn just dancing in mind. After half an hour of dancing, their hands started to creep lower and we made a strategic retreat. Even though we had both challenged each other to pull a local on this trip, this wasn´t the time. We headed back to our hostel to get the name of another discoteka. We failed to find it, but found another and were let in for free - WIN! We danced for a while, telling all the men who tried to approach that we were novias (girlfriends) and then headed home to bed.
Nyree with her Mojito. Yum!
Alice´s Sleazeball. Lol.
Surprisingly, we woke up early in the morning for our steam bath in the hostel. We headed upstairs in our bikinis and towels and were immediately told by the steam-bath man to sit in a wooden box which closed around us so just our heads were sticking out of the top. It got incredibly hot inside and just when we thought we could no longer hack it we had to get out, pick up a freezing cold soaking wet towel and wipe it all over our bodies - very unenjoyable, but the worst was yet to come. This was repeated four times, before Alice was told to sit in a shallow bath of freezing water and massage her bowels. Nyree was then led into a seperate room and had to do the same. He left, and all she could hear was Alice screaming from next-door. Terror struck, Nyree knew she was next. Sure enough, he came back and started splashing her aggressively with the freezing water. Then it was back into the box with both of us. Another woman popped in, so he left for a second, and Alice told Nyree that he had kissed her on the lips when putting her back into her box. Oh dear. What a perv. The lady was also led to a box, and she had decided to come along completely naked. At least Alice was less-likely to be his number one target now. We had to wash ourselves with the cold towel again, and then a massive tub of cold water was poured all over our heads. Malo! It was then back into the box, and then we had to go through the last ordeal. This came in the form of an ice-cold hose with the pressure on the jet of water at its highest possible. It was basically like being stabbed repeatedly with an icicle. Needless to say, we were happy to leave but we did feel very refreshed and thoroughly cleansed (and in Alice´s case, slightly taken advantage of).
We had a choice of two walks ahead of us that morning, but when we found out that one was uphill our choice was clear. It was meant to be the more interesting walk anyway, so there! We walked out of the town after passing a massive fruit and veg market and stands where they roasted guinea pigs, and made our way to San Martin shrine.
Loving the Tartan Outfits at the Market.
Guinea Pigs, Yum Yum!
While we were balancing on a bridge looking down the steep gorge into the river, a bus needed to cross the bridge. He stopped to let us get off, but Nyree foolishly told him it was bien, there was plenty of room. There really wasn´t, and we were pressed against the dodgy fence tightly, looking down to certain death below while everyone on the bus was looking out of their windows with clenched teeth, probably secretly hoping we would fall. What a story for the kids! After looking at the shrine, basically a large plastic model of the virgin mary, we walked back. On the way we stopped to look at the sugar cane and a kind man gave us a couple of pieces to try. You basically put the sugar cane in your mouth and suck the sugary juice out, before spitting the remains out on the floor - very classy. We asked how much it was and he laughed, telling us "Tranquilo, estan en Ecuador!". It was so delicious that we bought a massive bag anyway. Alice also wanted to take a photo of Nyree eating her first sugar cane and made an unfortunate discovery. In the space of two minutes, her camera had gone from hunky-dorey to gory. It would only take bright white photos - not ideal. Further down the road we got some more free samples of sugar cane taffy, a local specialty of Baños.
The Gorge we almost fell into.
Sugar Cane and Sugar Taffy.
We strolled around the town for the rest of the afternoon, and then had a delicious dinner at Casa Hood which was very yummy, with live music entertainment from a local band. That night we had invited Alcides, one of the hostel workers, to come and drink with us for an early birthday celebration. We played TODITO with beer, it was the most beer Alice had ever drank in one sitting, and then said goodnight.
Alice in Casa Hood.
The next day, our last in Baños, we had another insanely early start and headed to the famous thermal baths. Bieeeen! They were awesome and we spent an hour or so just lying in the water which was incredibly warm and full of locals. People had the strange habit of wearing their underwear underneath their swimming costume, which Alice felt good about as she had lost her bikini bottoms and so was wearing a pair of knickers. From there, we went back to the hostel to change, pack, check out, and then it was Mission: Sort out Nyree´s Travellers Cheques. Nyree had had them stolen weeks ago but we hadn´t yet got round to sorting it out. So, she called with Skype and cancelled all her bank cards, and then claimed the cheques as stolen. In the end, it was decided that she should pick up the monetary value of them immediately, which meant going to the bank and getting $1124 in cash, all in $20 notes. Cue incredible paranoia. We then got ont the bus to Quito, with Nyree putting $500 down each bra-cup. For a short while at least, she looked like she had massive boobs which made her feel very happy. Alice just thought she looked like she´d had a boob job, oh dear...
Baños, in the early morning mist.
While we were on the bus, loving life, we got a text from Hollie warning us to be very careful on Ecuadorian buses as Niall had almost had his bag with EVERYTHING valuable stolen. It had been an incredibly close call, and we became even more terrified with Nyree refusing to sleep at all and constantly patting her breasts just to be sure no-one had slipped their hands in without her noticing. We had also heard many bad robbery stories about Quito and were so scared that we almost refused to get off the bus. We sprinted into the bus-terminal, jumped into a taxi, clutched each other and sobbed with relief that we hadn´t yet been robbed, and then dashed into the hostel. We went to bed straight away, mainly because we were too scared to do anything else.
That day was our first, and last, day in Quito so we decided to do everything. In the morning we prepped our bag, feeling pessimistically certain that we were likely to be robbed at some point. So far, apart from in Buenos Aires, we had been robbed (or almost robbed) in every capital city. Instead of Alice´s IPhone, we changed our minds and took Nyree´s phone for time-telling instead. Alice would be in charge of the bag, leaving Nyree free to protect her camera at all costs with her life. We set off for central colonial Quito on public transport, which was a bus with everyone crammed together like the Tube, and got to the Main Plaza without any problems. Or so we thought. We strolled around for a bit, and then sat down to look through our guide book and do a quick time-check. However, while Alice was raiding through the bag, struggling to find the phone, Nyree saw a cut in the bottom of it. Shit! Some bag-slashing bastard(s) had robbed us within 5 minutes of leaving the hostel. God knows how, as Alice had her arm around it the whole time and we had both been watching the bag carefully. Luckily, though, Nyree´s phone was ancient and it was high-time for it to be replaced. Let´s be optimistic and say it was a blessing in disguise, and that he went through all that careful trouble to get a shitter phone than he already owned!!
Before we discovered the robbery.
After this minor setback, we pulled ourselves together and set off for Calle Morales which the guide book said was a beautiful street worth visiting. Two policemen directed us to it, without a hint of warning. However, when we got a little bit lost and asked a lady in a shop where Calle Morales was, she clutched her chest, staggered backwards and told us to run for our lives. Why the hell would we want to go there?! Apparantly it was crawling with danger! We would be robbed, raped, and shot almost instantaneously and simultaneously. We took her advice and decided to head back. Our next stop was the volcano overlooking the city, which you could reach by cable-car . We spent $10 on our tickets and then an hour waiting in the queue, by which time we were starving. And was it worth it? At the top it was freezing, a good 20 degrees lower than the shorts weather in town, so we headed to the café and bought hotdogs, before heading straight back down to Quito. Basically, we spent $15 on a hotdog. Definitely worth it.
In the cable car up to the volcano.
Returning to the hostel we dumped some stuff, told everyone about how we´d been robbed, and headed out to do some clothes shopping and try to find somewhere to fix Alice´s camera. Almost as soon as we left, we were hit by a freak rain/thunderstorm and dashed into the nearest shop for cover. We managed to both buy cardigans there and wear them instead of ruining our Alpaca jumpers in the rain. We then ran across the road to another shop, but had to cross a massive puddle at the curb. We were almost killed by a taxi, and Alice´s flip-flop came off in the puddle. Puddle = lake. She had to risk death again to fish it out with her hands, while Nyree laughed from the dry doorway and encouraged everyone in there to join her. No-one was walking outside, but as we were wet anyway (that´s what she said) we decided we might as well keep walking as true Scottish women. We found the shopping mall, all the good shops were closed, and we walked back. We did manage to find a man that would fix Alice´s camera after another, more professional man had told her it was impossible. He would do it for $40 after a lot of persuasive haggling. Bieeeeen! On route back to the hostel, we passed a hairdressers where we could get a haircut for $3 each. What a bargain! We daringly took the risk and were happily surprised, even though they did an odd job of our fringes and insisted on only drying them, leaving the rest of our hair soaking wet. At least Alice had had a fringe cut, Nyree had a fringe dried for her instead.
For dinner, we had a massive plate of food while Santiago who worked at the hostel posted Alice´s postcards for her on his jog. Afterwards, feeling very full, it was time to walk back to the shop and retrieve the camera. A Colombian boy started chatting to us while we waited and was so friendly that we started looking forward to going to Colombia the next day even more. Anything to get out of Quito. The man showed up shortly afterwards, and unbelievably the camera was actually fixed!
Testing, Testing... in the camera shop. Bieeeen!
Alice almost hugged him, but he was so sour about fixing it so cheaply that we decided not to risk it. It was another early night for us then, as we had an early start to the border with Colombia the next day. We got a bus to Tulcan for the border crossing excited to get into Colombia, the last country of our trip.