We arrived at the bus terminal in Guayaquil at 7 PM. The 19 hour bus journey was not too bad. The food and entertainment we got were decent. Crossing the border into Ecuador went without any hassle. We would only be staying in Guayaquil for one night. A short stop before continuing to Baños. The taxi cab that we had to our hostel took way longer than expected. The driver wasn’t familiar in the neighborhood we stayed in and had to call the taxi company continuously for instructions where to go. In the end we had to help him and guide him into the right street. We arrived at the hostel tired, and the high temperatures and humidity didn’t help either. It was nice that we had air conditioning in our dormitory. We went to a seafood restaurant for dinner, as recommended by the receptionist. The fresh crab I had tasted delicious! Just lots of dirty work to get to the good parts.
We had bought our tickets to Baños yesterday at the terminal. After breakfast in a weird Greek restaurant nearby (it wasn’t really a Greek restaurant, but it was one of the few places that served breakfast) we checked out and got to the terminal. A quick lunch and then off to board the bus. It was a 7 hour drive. The roads through the mountains were not too bad, and we arrived early in the evening at the Plantas & Blanca hostel. Whilst checking in I noticed that something went wrong with the reservation. Instead of a reservation for two, the reservation was placed for four persons. And we booked a four-bed dormitory. Changing the reservation to two persons wasn’t possible. It took me a lot of time and discussions to come to an agreement with the hostel. In the end we — luckily — only had to pay for the two of us. Dinner was something completely different. We went to a Swiss restaurant in town, where I tried the cheese fondue. It tasted good!
Breakfast was not included at the hostel, but they had a rooftop terrace with a cafe that served breakfast. Plenty of options, but a bit expensive if you ask me. We did a small walk around town in the morning to see what there was to do. In the town itself there is not much going on. Tourist come here to do activities in the area nearby, using Baños as their base of operations. The only interesting sight was a waterfall just outside of town. We visited a tour operator to inform about the possibilities to do a tour to the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador. Angelo wanted some more time to think before making a decision.
We got lunch first, and then returned to the office of the tour operator to book a four-day tour to the Cuyabeno National Reserve. Luckily they had an extra tour starting the next Saturday. We had to arrange transport to Lago Agrio — the meeting point — ourselves. Another night bus coming up, which would leave tomorrow night. We decided to book an extra activity for tomorrow: canyoning. In the afternoon we took a bus up to the Casa del Arbol. A tree house at 2660m elevation with a swing attached underneath! A funny place to visit. We decided to take it easy for dinner and tried the restaurant attached to our hostel. Wearing shoes was not allowed inside, and the setup was a bit weird: no chairs but low tables with cushions instead. Besides the slow service the food tasted very good!
Today is going to be a long wait on the bus, which leaves at 7 PM tonight. We got our breakfast in the rooftop cafe, and dedicated the rest of our morning relaxing there too. The cafe has a nice view of the surrounding mountains. However, the highlight was the fast wifi, which was missing in the rest of the hostel. It allowed me to get some work done on my blog. It wasn’t functioning properly due to a plugin that messed up after I updated my blog. It took me all morning to figure out what was wrong, but I managed to fix it in the end. We left our bags in the storage and went for a lunch before our afternoon activity. The restaurant where we went to served a decent hamburger.
After lunch we met at the office of the tour operator for the canyoning. We would go together with two Dutch girls and a Canadian guy. A short drive took us to the “base camp”. There we changed into the wetsuit and protective clothing, and got a short rappelling and safety introduction. We had to climb uphill for nearly 20 minutes to reach the Rio Blanco canyon. A muddy and slippery climb. From there we slowly descended down the canyon. First we rappelled down a 10 meter high waterfall, then down two 20 meter high waterfalls, and finally down one 30 meter high waterfall! We ended the canyoning by sliding down a small waterfall. Such an amazing activity! Back in Baños we got the photos from the tour operator, and something to eat and drink. We returned to the hostel for a quick shower before we had to board the bus.
Cuyabeno National Reserve
We had to change busses in Ambato to get on the night bus to Lago Agrio. We arrived there at 6 in the morning. A half hour walk to the meeting point, a hotel in town, and then we had to wait until 9:30 AM before we would be picked up. We got some breakfast and had to sit and wait for the rest of the time. We got picked up by a white jeep, and together with two others we drove for two hours to the entrance of the Cuyabeno National Reserve. We got picked up at the entrance by a guide of the Guacamayo ecolodge and were put in a small boat. Just enough space for our group of eight, the guide and a driver. We sat next to each other two by two. It took us more than two hours to navigate on the river towards the ecolodge. We spotted quite a lot of wildlife, including a cayman! The guide had to point us to most of the birds, which are very difficult to spot high up in the trees and well camouflaged.
As soon as we arrived at the ecolodge (which is only accessible by boat, like everything else in the park) lunch was served. We got treated with three course meal. After a great lunch we got showed to our rooms. Angelo and I shared a twin-bed room with a private bathroom. Quite luxurious for an ecolodge in the middle of the rainforest! We got plenty of free time to rest and relax that afternoon. At 4:30 PM we had to be ready at the dock with our swimming suit, camera, water and rain coat. First we went for some more wildlife spotting from the boat. We saw many different kinds of birds again, and a couple of monkeys far off in the distance. Nearing sunset they took us to the large lake nearby for a swim. The only place that is 100% safe to swim in the rainforest, as all animals stay near the rivers and water edges where there is food. The swim was very refreshing after spending all day in the heat, even though the water was warm. The water had a very murky and dark color. On our way back to the ecolodge (it was dark already) we tried to spot caymans. Unfortunately we didn’t see any, only their eyes which reflected the flashlight. Dinner was served back at the ecolodge. A three-course meal again. I stayed up for an hour or so to drink a beer and chat with some of our group. Off to bed early, it has been a long and exhausting day after the nightbus.
Breakfast was served at 8 in the morning. We got a cheese empanada served alongside the eggs. Although it was very noisy in the rainforest, sleep came easy. The morning program consisted of a visit to a small village not far from the ecolodge. On our way there we kept ourselves occupied by trying to spot wildlife as we have done before. The Siona people have inhabited the area for many generations. They move around by boats and hunt, fish and grow crops to survive. The friendly woman in the village showed us how they make a kind of yucca bread. We got to harvest the yucca ourselves (it grows underground just like potatoes), and were allowed to help in the rest of the process. Eventually we got to eat the bread as part of our lunch.
After lunch we got back into the boat in search for a shaman in one of the villages. It took a bit of time to find one, but we eventually managed to. The shaman gave us a small show where he showed his skills with a blow dart, and performed a ‘healing’ ritual. We returned to the ecolodge for a siesta. A good opportunity to relax and read my book in one of the hammocks. After a couple of hours we returned to the boat for some more wildlife spotting, and after nightfall the spotting of caimans. A tropical rainstorm quickly brought an end to the wildlife spotting. They took the boat to the large lake, where we had by far the best swim. Due to the rainfall the water was warmer than normal. Back at the ecolodge, when we were completely soaked, I and a couple of others from our group used the rope swing. It was still raining, but so much fun! We took a quick shower and dinner was served soon afterwards. Whilst the rest of our group went to bed early, James (the Englishman) and I joined the all girls group for drinks. We stayed up having loads of fun, until we went to bed at 2:30 AM…
Breakfast was served again at 8 in the morning, a very short night of sleep (again). The breakfast was very nice. They served us chocolate pancakes with pineapple, my favorite fruit. We start with a walk through the rainforest today. They took us by boat and dropped us off somewhere in the rainforest, a 30 minutes from our ecolodge. We spent about 3 hours in the rainforest looking for various kinds of wildlife. We spotted spiders, plenty of beautiful birds, a tiger rat snake (Spilotes Pullatus), and a tiny but poisonous frog. Luckily we were wearing rubber boots, as we had to walk through a small swamp. After the walk we have to row back to our ecolodge where we get our lunch.
We get plenty of free time after our lunch. One of the other groups in the ecolodge has left this morning, and at lunch we get two other groups in return. Although it gets a bit less quiet I can still enjoy reading my book in one of the hammocks. The afternoon activity was a bit different from the other afternoons we had. They dropped us off with a canoe in one of the rivers on the side of the main river. We had to row to the large lake, spotting wildlife as we went. We went for a swim for the last time, as the sun went down over the rainforest. A cloud in the distance with two rainbows gave us the perfect setting for the last night of the trip to the Amazon rainforest. When we went back to the lodge after nightfall we got a good view of a caiman, which swam next to our boat. Fresh fish for dinner, a couple of beers and to bed. The right way to conclude such a great day.
The promised four days in the rainforest were actually only three days. We had bird spotting planned for very early in the morning (6 AM), but due to the bad weather I decided to stay in bed. After breakfast we had to get our stuff and get back in the boat. Back to civilization. As soon as we returned to Lago Agrio, halfway through the afternoon, we bought tickets for an overnight bus to Quito. We spent the day waiting in a hotel restaurant for the bus to leave.
The bus arrived very early in Quito, more than one hour earlier than planned. We couldn’t get into the hostel until 8 AM, so we had to wait outside on the streets for a couple of hours. We found a spot on the main plaza where they had free public wifi. On our way to the hostel we get some breakfast, and once we are there we leave our stuff behind. Check-in isn’t until after noon. The friendly receptionist lets us know of a free walking tour that starts at 10, which we decide to join. We get guided around the city for two hours and get to see a couple of highlights. The walking tour was the least interesting of all walking tours that we did. We did not get any good recommendations for restaurants and such, and they hardly spoke about the history of the city.
We joined a couple of others from the walking tour to visit two more highlights that Quito has to offer. After a shared lunch with a set menu (which was excellently priced) we head to the Virgin Mary statue on the southern side of the city. From the statue we got a good view of the historical center of Quito. We hop on a bus there to take us to the equator, just north of the city. The bus cost us only 15 cents per person. Very cheap for the distance and time. The big monument the city built on the equator is actually 200m south of the real equator. A small museum about the native tribes that lived in the area in pre-columbian times has an exhibit on the equator. There we got to do a couple of experiments to prove that we were on the equator, or on the northern or southern side. Back at the hostel we get some cheap Chinese food for dinner, and spend the rest of the evening in the TV room watching some movies.
We enjoy our breakfast in a popular restaurant nearby, recommended to us by the hostel. My breakfast is tasteful and well priced. Ecuador is way more expensive than I expected beforehand. We visit the city center to buy some stuff we need. On our way there we find a nice looking piece of street art on a wall. We end up in the old bishop’s palace for our lunch. In the steak restaurant there they served a tasty burger. We decide to visit the TelefériQo, a gondola lift which takes us up to a nearby volcano. From the top of the gondola we walked around for a while and took in the different views from the city. Compared to the Virgin Mary statue of yesterday, the view is way better today. And we get to see more of the city too. Back at the hostel we decided to cook for ourselves after a long time. A nice change, as we have been eating out for the past months. To bed early tonight. We have to get up early tomorrow for the border crossing into Colombia.