Ecuador began a little as Peru had when two police officers stopped us and tried to elicit a bribe. Only we didn’t know that is what they were trying to do at the time. Reece had blatantly contravened the road rules by passing a truck on a speed bump when we heard the sirens. A man in uniform told old us it was going to be a $120US fine! Ouch. Well under my breath I was muttering to Reece we would simply leave the country without paying it. The policeman hadn’t counted on our blatant disregard for the Ecuadorian justice system. It was only later as we discussed the incident did we realise they had assumed we would offer them a little something to make the whole thing go away. Unfortunately they struck the two most naive tourists in history. We left baffled, ticketless, and in posession of all our money. Where did we go so right?
The incident, coupled with the requirement to purchase insurance before crossing the border (which meant returning to a nearby town, only to find the power out and having to wait until two for it to return to buy it) meant we were running behind our day’s schedule. That didn’t stop me suggesting we continue on to Cuenca as planned. Kilometre wise it didn’t seem far – surely that small unmarked line on the map couldn’t take too long? Usual story. Firstly, our destination, a refugio in Parque Nacional Cajas, didn’t accept visitors after 4pm. Secondly, turns out that small unmarked line involved a 4000 metre climb. By 7pm we were still a long way from Cuenca, freezing cold and blanketed in darkness, mist and drizzle, making visibility perilous. Just that morning we had been cursing as we sweated through our kevlar’s; now that level of heat was something we could only dream about. We stopped for a hot coffee to enquire about any nearby lodgings, reasoning it couldn’t get any darker, to be told the only available place close was five stars (read: pricey).
|Parque Nacional Cajas|
The proximity may not have been correct but the quality was spot on. At $120 a night it was almost double our daily budget. But once you’re in the relative warmth of a hotel, especially a five star one, it’s hard to return to the road. A $20 negotiated price reduction helped lesson the blow and next thing you know we are soaking in a steaming, bubbling, spa bath (well, after much to-ing and fro-ing from the concierge, a change of gas bottle, and a lot of cursing from Reece) eating a miserly dinner of leftover lunch in an effort to reign-in costs. An eventful first day in Ecuador to say the least.
We reached Cuenca the following day to find the streets of the old city lined with stalls of sweets. The same range of multi-coloured fudge, pastries, chocolates, and coconut packed over 20 stalls surrounding the city’s central plaza. We had thought that perhaps every Sunday Cuencanians indulge in a Willy-Wonka fantasy but in actual fact this was how the festivities of Corpus Christi were celebrated. That and letting off fireworks with little regard to public safety. We had to retreat when fireworks spinning on a structure of the Virgin Mary started rocketing into the crowd.
We then headed to Isla de la Plata, or Silver Island, named according to one legend for the chest of treasure buried on the island many years ago. We spotted both blue footed and red footed boobies. Quite the sight seeing a birds feet matching its eyes and the waddle of another swell up like a red balloon ready to pop. The day was capped off with three large sea-turtles approaching the boat (something to do with pineapple being thrown off the boat perhaps?) and an hours snorkeling amongst tropical fish including a starfish and even an eel. The tour had to be up there as a highlight of the whole trip. Often cited as the Poor Man’s Galapagos I can only dream of how magnificent a trip that would have been but alas, it must be left for another time.