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Category: Ecuador

Quito to Cali

I woke up early at 6am, did my best not to wake anyone and probably failed, booked an Uber to the bus terminal and found that the hostel had been kind enough to pack me breakfast and leave it on the side. My challenge today was to get to Cali which would involve 4 different forms of transport, a bus to Tulcan, a taxi to the border then in Colombia I could take a collectivo to Ipiales and then a long bus to Cali. You can get direct busses from Quito to Cali or fly, assuming you have the money and don’t have the time, but I’d argue you are mad to take either of those options as it cost me less than $25 for the total trip.

The Uber arrived and it was a long way to the north terminal. If you are doing this journey then go to the north terminal as it will save you over an hour leaving the city. Despite me putting in the wrong location the taxi driver was kind enough to drop me in the place I needed to be and within 5 minutes I had purchased a ticket for the border town of Tulcán for $6 and was sitting on the bus. It was due to take 6-7 hours but took 5 and I left so early as I wasn’t sure how to hit the border. I believe it is open from 6am-10pm but at the time I didn’t want to leave at 1am and then have to face the rest of the day. The journey out of Quito is also pretty spectacular so worth doing during the day. It did leave me with a slight dilemma as I’d have to get a night bus the other side of the border but I’d work that out later. My advise would be if you are not pushed for time to stay in Tulcán for one night. I read that people did this in various blogs and there are some things to see, but the reason I pushed on was that I didn’t want to arrive in Cali later in the evening.

I got off the bus and asked the driver is there was a bus to the border. There is not so I went to the taxi line and as I was getting in a Hare Krishna approached. I don’t know what the driver said but I was happy to share as it would keep the cost down. He was Argentinian and we got chatting as best we could in Spanglish. I wished I could ask him more and felt it was a sign for my spiritual journey. At this stage I’m attributing everything to that but I have a good reason that I’ve not covered yet in this blog. At the end I paid the full fare. I had change I needed to ditch anyways and I’ve always appreciated monks as they give up everything they own so why not help. He kindly showed me the correct line I needed to get into and as he was only crossing the border for the day he didn’t need a stamp….apparently.

So the line at the border. This crossing is a difficult one, not in terms of making the crossing but emotionally. I had read a lot about this crossing in the past and I’d been told it had been made easier for tourists in recent months. I don’t think I’ve felt my white privilege any more than I did on this day. Also if any of you have a problem with refugees escaping to other countries including the one you live in then Fuck You. I suggest you go to a border crossing and see the human cost of it first hand and then think about appealing to your government to help sort out the issues at hand rather than using race as a tool to keep control. Maybe you could use your energy to stop our governments supplying arms to Saudi Arabia avert a humanitarian disaster in Yeman. This is the real way to solve these crises as these people really don’t want to leave their homes.

I saw children crying, families stuck in the heat with one suitcase each, packed into Red Cross tents with long waiting times across the border. Imagine having to leave everything you own other than one suitcase, your house, car, friends and potentially family if they can’t travel with you and imagine how hard that decision must be. People don’t want to leave Venezuela. It’s a beautiful country which was sound economically but it’s run by an asshole. People are persecuted, there is no jobs and no food. So at some point a decision has to be made. If the international community put pressure on this maybe it could be averted, but they don’t. So luckily Ecuador and other countries in South America are accepting refugees.

The saddest thing for me is that these people didn’t look poor. They all had clothes and bags and suitcases, weren’t malnourished and were reasonably healthy. That can’t be said for many of the worlds refugees and I think thats what made me emotional. These people had a shit time, but there are many millions more that are having a shitter time. I don’t usually use this blog to swear or talk about politics but what I saw on this day was politics so I’m going to use what little forum I have to talk about it.

But no back to my white privilege. I knew I could skip the line but I didn’t want to. One I didn’t speak Spanish and two I thought the least I could do was line up silently. Soon an official spotted me and waved me through. I walked past the long line trying to get access to Colombia and into a shorter line of those leaving. It moved fairly fast and I was soon at the counter. I had a little panic when the man walked away with my passport for what felt like an age but he cane back and then hovered with the stamp. But I got it. So with my exit stamp in hand I went to the Colombian side of the border.

It’s a little different to most borders I’ve crossed as no one seems to care if I walked across without getting any stamps, although if I did that it would cause me problems further down the line. Despite the huge queue of people trying to leave Colombia I flashed my passport at a few people and managed to skip ahead of the general queue, although my line was different and most people were leaving. Annoyingly there was only one counter serving people who were entering the country and it took about an hour to be stamped into the country. But I was and then left to my own devices.

I ignored the taxi drivers, this is really becoming a habit, and headed back towards the bridge that is in no mans land as that’s where the collectivos seemed to be. I managed to get one to dos mil, which seemed a lot of me but later it transpired it was 50p and stayed on until I reached the terminal. At that point I brought a SIM card as I wasn’t sure where to go. I knew that Cali was 11 hours away and it was now coming up to 3pm so if I could find a place to stop for the night it would mean a shorter journey in the morning. Sadly Popayán was a good 8 hours away but I could have opted to stay in the next town. Instead I took a bus to Cali leaving at 6pm which in my mind arrived at 7am, should have been 5am, and went into town to get some food.

Ipiales is not the prettiest town and I’ve been told not the safest but I headed to the main plaza, changed some money and paid a high fee, along with getting some food and WIFI, which wasn’t too bad, before heading to the station and getting my bus.

The journey all went fine until I realised I’d arrive at 5am and when a family got on around 11pm. The Grandmother seemed to have one volume on her voice, shouting. Initially she sat with her daughter but halfway through the night she decided to switch seats with the husband and sat next to me. It would have been fine but she was so fat her body took up part of my seat and enveloped my leg. Which woke me up and as I was exhausted and generally in a foul mood I pushed back, I mean I’d paid for my seat and she was encroaching on it’s either she had no feeling through the layers of fat or she didn’t care but she didn’t move. The biggest problem is that we travelled through the Andes and if you’ve ever been through a mountain range you will know that it involves a lot of tight turns. If you’ve been in the mountain range in South America on a bus you will know that they don’t slow down which meant she crushed me every other bend.

I was so happy when they got off the bus at 6am, party because it meant that I wasn’t waiting at the bus station at 5am tired and confused. I was still sat on the bus instead. Traffic into Cali is terrible and we ended up at the bus station at 9am. So it was a 14 hour ride instead. I found a toilet then jumped in a taxi to the hostel where I was greeted with coffee and Dulce who I had met in Ecuador.

So the day after a night is is bad for me. I think I may have tried to sleep but I don’t remember. I sat with Dulce and a Swedish girl for a time and they gave me lots of tips. Cali is the capital of Salsa and most people spend their time here taking lessons and dancing in the evening. I didn’t have a tonne of time so so I set to work in servers ways but first I found a tiny cafe on there same quiet residential street that I was staying and had some breakfast/lunch. The soup was delicious and the juice one of the best I’ve had.

The rest of the day is a little confusing but then again I spent most of my time in Cali in a daze. So at one point I went to get my haircut and found an Arabic store where I brought pitta, hummus and some salsa which would be my dinner and lunches. It was delicious.

I also started making new friends online and offline and Dulce said that we would go dancing later. Shirley who I met online was also going out and we hoped to rendezvous later on. But before I had the worst experience of my trip to date. I had found a salsa studio along the main road and a group lesson was 15000, about £3, so I thought I’d try and I thought it would be better in a group. It wasn’t.

I arrived and everyone was nice but I quickly found everyone was Colombian. I was introduced to a French girl but of course she didn’t want to speak English and delighted in telling me she had been taking classes for weeks. Typical French. So I was on my own but I decided not to be embarrassed. I found a spot and sat and realised that the warmup was starting, which I think I excelled at. That’s the last thing I would excel at today.

The groups were split into four. I asked where I should go and was told downstairs and I followed. People split into two groups and I chose one because I thought I heard a word I recognised and I did choose the beginners group. But before that there was more warmup and each instructor took turn tos dance in front of us and we had to copy the steps. It didn’t go well but I was having fun, well sort of. Then this all stopped and they started teaching the group basic steps. My group had a main instructor and she showed us the steps anda helper, who was there if anyone wants getting it.

I was quickly pulled aside by this person several times. I thought I was getting it but clearly not, and I think the more she pulled me aside the worse it got as it made me conscious of not getting the steps. I know she was trying to help but it had the opposite effect. Everyone else seemed to be fine and then it came to coupling up and I really didn’t get the steps. I was then told by the lady trying to help that she had been told she was spending too much time trying to help me and needed to help others and I was also not able to dance with others but had to copy the steps next to her as she danced with other people.

The big problem with this is as she kept pulling me aside it meant I missed he instructions for the next steps that everyone else was picking up. So I was left standing in the middle not sure if I should try and copy or what to do. At this point I wished I was back on the Choquequirao trek, which for me was easier than this. I think I’d rather jump out of a plane. I kept trying to edge towards to the exit and grab my bag. At this stage I knew I was facing a losing battle and I’ve learnt it’s best to just run, but the helper kept spotting me and was trying to encourage me to dance.

Luckily a break took place, the helper took me upstairs to the owners as she thought I needed private lessons. I knew I needed a lot more than that so I took the details and bailed. Luckily everyone at the hostel was really supportive and we headed out to a Salsa club. This was actually much more fun and informal and the Swedish girl went through the basic steps with me. They all said I should take the class, so that meant I had to and I booked one the following day. By 2am I was exhausted and we all headed back to the hostel.

The next day I decided to explore a little of Cali before I headed to my lesson and here are some photos to enjoy. Phew I’ve written a lot this time.

I don’t normally go to museums but as I was doing a self guided tour and the museum was listed on the itinerary I decided to see what was there. I was excited to find the World Press Photography Exhibition and delighted in looking at the photos, which causes a range of emotions. I didn’t want to take photos of photos but I did have a little play in the other exhibitions.

And then I found the cats which are dedicated to a famous artist from Cali who sadly passed away.

After I headed back to the hostel had some food and went back to the venue for my private Salsa lesson. This lesson was better. I was paired up with my teacher and he started showing me the basic steps. I struggled following them especially after we changed steps but I went with it and it worked better than the day before. The interesting thing I found was looking in the mirror at my posture and the way I moved. It’s something quite interesting especially when you are told to move in a specific way for the dance.

I headed back to the hostel and went out for dinner with one of the Colombian guys staying there. We headed to an area filled with locals who buy food and drink from kiosks and drink on the streets. The weather was good and there was a party atmosphere. After we returned to the hostel to meet Dulce and some of the other guests before heading out to dance.

We ended up at one of the most famous Salsa clubs in Cali, and I was finally put off by all the amazing dancing, and costumes as it was Halloween, until a Micheal Jackson medley kicked off 20mins if songs I knew. After we decided to head to another bar on the other side of town where Shirley, who is been talking to was at. The music there was a little more mixed and we danced in a more relaxed place making it home around 5am.

I was tired the next day and definitely hungover. The mosquitos at the hostel didn’t make it a good place to relax so I headed out for a burger and to use the WiFi at the appropriately named Gringo Bar. Afterwards I decided to join the city tour as having taken taxis everywhere I didn’t get a chance to see much of the city.

For the first time there were a lot of British people on the tour and I seemed to have found a place where my country folk visited. It wasn’t the best tour I’ve had but then again Cali isn’t the prettiest city and I was hungover and tired so maybe I wasn’t in the mood.

Halfway through the tour we were given the opportunity to eat some weird things, which I did. I can’t remember the name but it tasted like an uncooked sweet potato combined with salt and honey.

And then towards the end of the tour a rainbow appeared.

I decided to head back to the hostel for a quiet night, only venturing out for pizza and having a late beer with the other guests as the next day I wanted to hike Pico Loro. I was told by the person doing the walking tour that I would need a guide. Being me I knew I didn’t need a guide but as it turns out I would. But we shall come to that later.

I spoke to the hostel owner the night before and found out how to get to the trail head. So awaking around 6am I packed and left the hostel, taking the first bus to Estación Universidades. From there I knew I needed to get a bus to Pueblo Pance and this is where not knowing Spanish really didn’t help. I went to another line of busses but I was told this was not the right place. So I asked a bus driver and he pointed to the street outside so there I went and saw some of the local busses. I also used a tonne of blogs to assist me and the information from the hostel and at best I could work our I needed to catch a bus along the street to which I was directed. So I took a guess at the direction, walked along he street to where maps me said there was a bus stop, of which there was no sign and began flagging down busses. After having no luck I decided to walk back to the other bus stop and there I spoke to some Colombians who were going to the same place as me. So I relaxed and waited.

And waited and waited and waited and after over an hour the bus showed up. It then took another hour to reach the town which wasn’t helped by all the cyclists. It seems that lots of people cycle to this place on a Sunday. By this time I was cutting it fine as I had read I needed to start hiking by 10am. So when I arrived I rushed to the trail head and started walking. I head read there were park rangers but after waking 1km I started to doubt that and then relaxed. Soon after that I ran into the park rangers who said I couldn’t hike the trail.

Which to me is crazy. I’ve been higher and gone further, but after having spent more time in Colombia it seems to be a thing here that they want you to have a guide. Which is ridiculous but it seems to be a way to take more money from you and you’ll see this over the next few posts. Colombia has some beautiful hikes but is far from a hikers paradise as they make it REALLY hard for you to walk the trails.

Anyways if you are going to do this hike you need to reserve it in advance, hire a guide and start before 8am. I have no idea why, it’s not high and there was only 4km more to walk to the top and I had plenty of time. I think it makes more sense to stay in the town overnight and they seemed surprised that I wasn’t. So I’m afraid this is all I can offer to help.

I was annoyed so I sat on a rock for a while being angry at having gotten up early and at the stupidity. It’s South America and if I want to go and fall off a mountain I should be able to. No where else seems to have a problem. In a country where no one wears motorcycle helmets I wondered what the concern was. So I headed back to my bed and tried to sleep annoyed I’d wasted a day.

I don’t remember doing much for the rest of the day but I did receive a visitor.

And before heading out of town I met up with Shirley for one last time. She took me to Mr Wings which I was very excited about. We had a nice evening and walked around town before returning to my hostel for the last night in Cali.

Quito, Volcán Rucu Pichincha and Mitad del Mundo

I arrived at the southern most terminal in Quito which is pretty far out of town. The terminals seem to have been built at the furthest possible point away from the centre of town in Ecuador, so far sometimes that they might as we ve in the next town. Okay it’s not that bad and you could argue the reason for this is that it’s easier for the busses to get in and out of town, something that would bite my ass when I got to Cali, but that’s another story. I suppose I was a little anxious as I’d done research, I’d just booked the hostel in the recomendación of Claudia, who to be fair recomendad a great hostel. Sadly she had already left Quito. The hostels directions were not amazingly helpful and I was far from walking distance. I’ll do anything to avoid taking a taxi so I headed to the information.

After a few false starts I ended up on a bus for 25 cents, a nite cheaper than the $15 if been quoted by Uber. To be fair it was far and traffic is bad but thankfully, as in Lima, the busses have their own lanes so can speed past the traffic. The bus stopped at what was to be it’s final station about two thirds of the way and I swapped busses, following everyone else. Luckily it went the right way and I was soon checking in at the hostel.

On the way I noticed that most of the restaurants were closed, being a Sunday, and I headed to Plaza Foch the middle of the tourist party area and helpfully just around the corner for a hugely overpriced burger. But I desperately needed to plan, firstly what to do in Quito and secondly how to get to Colombia and what to do there also. It seemed Colombia wouldn’t be too much of an issue but I was still anxious about getting the bus. The guys at the hostel were lovely, but all volunteers, so I wasn’t sure how accurate the information was. I decided to stay an extra night as I wanted to climb a volcano and take a trip to the centre of the world, I’d already been to the end…I’m not sure if they realise it’s a sphere but these countries are heavily Catholic, although I’m not sure how reggaetón fits into that, and I don’t want to question these things.

Having decided what to do I headed back to the hostel to sort photos and update this blog, it takes about 6 hours for each post, partly due to upload speeds but also partly due to me harassing various people on WhatsApp. A Venezuelan girl at the hostel was cooking Arepas so I decided to join and have that with a group of Germans, a Bolivian guy and Chilean guy which made for a fun dinner and interesting conservation. Shortly after I went to bed still mostly unsure how I was going to climb the volcano the next day.

Rucu Pichincha

I awoke early, showered and grabbed breakfast with more Germans and an Ecuadorean lady and her son, managing to get a few tips for the hike on the way. I was told it was best to hail a cab to the starting point which is the TelefériQo in Parque Vulquano. Its best to get a taxi as the area around is apparently a little dangerous. I jumped in a taxi, asked the price and then tried to get out again at which point the price dropped. It was still more than I was told but I wasn’t bold enough to keep arguing. Still I’m getting better and I was happy with that.

I arrived at the station and there were not many people around. I brought my ticket and jumped on the teleférico having a whole car to myself. As I ascended I soon realised why it might have been a little quiet and I was soon in the middle of a cloud.

It was a little cold at the top and slightly unsure of what to do I decided to take a moment to myself. On a clear day you can see the whole mountain range including Cotopaxi but this was not to be the day. Annoyingly each day that passed he sky’s seemed cleared but my weather luck was still with me. A British couple came with a guide and as we chatted for a moment the sky cleared and I could finally see Cotopaxi. I had missed this and it’s something that is on my to do list for the next time I am in Ecuador.

Soon the cloud returned and I saw others embarking on the hike so I decided to head off into the fog and see how far I could get. It actually started clearing at this level but still the volcano was in the cloud and it was impossible to be seen. I took a couple of wrong directions which definitely seems to be my thing, especially at the beginning of a hike, before I ended up on the trail.

Soon after heading in the correct direction I met Natalie, Canadian, and her boyfriend Daniel, Swedish, who were both struggling with the altitude. We walked and chatted for a bit and she explained that her brother, Nathan, was ahead as he was more used to hiking. We caught up and I struck up a conservation with Nathan. It turns out that he and his Uncle have brought some land on the coast, I won’t say for how much but you’ll be lucky to get a car park space in London for that and they had 44 acres. Nathan wanted to farm and Natalie was going to open and manage a hostel. It seemed like a nice life and if land is this cost effective I’d be tempted to do something similar, just maybe not in Ecuador.

Nathan and I hiked faster so we walked together and then stopped to let the others catch up. Which was probably a good thing for me as normally I hike to too fast and get affected by the altitude.

We had interesting conservations the entire day about spiritually and politics. I can’t say I agreed with everything discusses and I get the feeling Nathan felt the same but it was nice to talk to someone who had different and also at the same time very similar opinions to me without feeling the need to argue or even challenge them. We live in a divided world at the moment so my new approach is to listen to different opinions, test them against my own and see how they influence them. Rather than argue from an in trenched position. We know from WW1 that trench warfare doesn’t work so why we are doing it now with politics I don’t really know. We swapped sources so maybe we can meet more in the middle ground somewhere. Maybe it’s because our goals were very similar but we disagreed on how to reach them. Still it’s good to talk and this was in stark contrast to the annoying British guy I met in Cali, but that’s a later story.

The hike is only about 4km from the top of the teleférico but it’s steep and at high altitude. As we stopped a lot of people overtook us and reached the top. The last part of the hike was straight up over volcanic ash, which is essentially climbing in sand. That was tough. As we were climbing the skies cleared and when we neared the top the cloud had returned. At this point we met all the hikers that had overtaken us but decided to return as the cloud had obstructed the view. At that point I started to kick myself a little as if I’d not waited for everyone then I could have been at the top when it was clear. But I then realised it was better to make new friends and hike with others, which was particularly evident when I accidentally started to climb up a wall of rocks and Natalie suggested that I’d gone the wrong way.

I went a little ahead filling the correct path and collapsed at the top exhausted. As you can see from the photo below I was in the middle of a cloud. But then a strange thing happened as the others reached the top. It all started to clear, and not like it had before but properly this time, tho cloud completely lifted. If I hadn’t waited I would have missed this view and it was spectacular. Sometimes it’s good to take things slowly and have a little faith. I should have learnt that back in Patagonia as Cerro Torres was a classic example.

As the sky’s cleared we were lucky to see some eagles at the top.

And just to prove I was really here.

And then it was time to head back down. We were all feeling a little rough and this time we ran though the sand as it was quicker. The skies kept getting better.

And here is the volcano in al its glory.

So sometimes it doesn’t pay to rush. If we had stayed a little long the views would have been even better but sadly it was still hazy so not possible to see the entire range. We shared a cab back to town and I returned to my hostel to get some rest, I went and had some Arabic food and returned to the hostel for an early night.

Mitad del Mundo

The next day it was time for me to go to te middle of the world. I’m not sure exactly what makes this the middle other than it’s the equator and also it’s not actually on the equator as I think the equator line runs across the top of a mountain. Still there is a yellow painted line and for me this was a big achievement. When I left for Colombia the next day I’d be back in the Northern Hemisphere and this would be the first time in 9 months, the longest ever for me and it would mean I’d reached my final country. So I headed to the site.

You can take a taxi or special transport but if you take local busses it’s less than one dollar. Ask at your hostel and they will point you in the right direction. It might take a little longer but you’ll get there. For me it was a weird tourist experience but I paid the one dollar fee, skipped most of the attractions as I simply couldn’t care less and I had a lot of things to do that day and just took the tourist photos.

I took the wrong bus back into town but it did take me to the centre and was surprisingly close to one of the restaurants Ben from the Quitola Loop had suggested. I had a vegan lunch for $3 which was delicious and also had some much needed vegetables.

Afterwards I headed back to the hostel, changing some dollars on the way, and relaxed while I wrote another blog. I was due to meet Micheala, who I’d been chatting to online and she knew an amazing cheese place, at 7pm. So I skipped getting my haircut and just sorted everything ahead of the next day.

After getting a little lost, Uber drivers here are not the best but they are very friendly, we met in an empty restaurant. Micheala has lived in London and half of the other countries in the world and spoke perfect English, which again was good for me. We had some good wine and cheese which I’ve not had for a while and great conservation. I asked her at one point why meet a stranger when she knew I was leaving the country the next day and she said she would only be staying in watching TV otherwise, which I thought was great maybe it’s just the people I meet but it seems that everyone in South America is always doing. It’s better to meet friends, family, strangers than sit in on your own. I like tat philosophy and now we both have a new friend. It got late and I had to get up early the next day so she booked me a taxi to my hostel and I tried not to wake everyone up as I went to bed. Ready to head to Colombia the next day.

Quilotoa Loop

I headed to the bus stop in Alausí desperate to catch the 1:30pm bus to Quito. I arrived early and realised it was just a sign on the road. I asked a lady waiting if it was the right way and she said no but I didn’t really understand her reply. A bus pulled up and i was told I needed to wait on the other side of the road. I grabbed my bags and waited in the heat for the bus to come. To be fair it was practically on time but I started to melt in the heat and there were a few other busses that either drive past or turned off before they reached me. Still I always trust in South America and set a time in my head where I’d try another option if the bus hadn’t shown up. Low and behold, soon after the bus showed up and stopped. Well I use stop in the loosest possible term.

Generally all busses in South America have at least two people on board. The driver and conductor. The role of the conductor varies from company to company and country to country but in Ecuador they really do earn their money. The conductor jumped off as the bus continues for another 20 metres and let passengers off. I grabbed my bags and ran towards it, the conductor took my big bag and put it in the hold, another man tried to take my backpack, I’m assuming to help but I always keep it with me, and then we all jumped on the bus without it coming to a complete stop. I was blocked from getting on as the door was open and as it continued people jumped off and I realised for he rest of the journey the same thing happened. I don’t think the bus stopped.

It was four hours to Latacunga and I was eventually dropped at the edge of the motorway junction, again the bus didn’t stop, and immediately was directed to a local bus, which also might have been moving and took me the rest of the way into town.

I was soon at the next hostel just before it went dark. I don’t normally name hostels but if you are reading this to get information on the loop then it makes sense to include. The hostel is Hostel Cafe Tiana, and it’s about a 10 minute walk from the bus station. I selected this on the advice from other blogs as they said it was easy to meet people doing the loop and it was. Everyone there seemed to be either going on the hike or coming back from it. It’s a good hostel although the showers could be better and breakfast is not perfect but I’d recommend. although you can get dinner for around $3.

In the dorm I met Josh and as we were talking Ben and Mary walked into the room. We realised we had met before but took a while to realise that they were at the Asado in Mendoza back in May. For me that was a bit of a shock as they had been heading to Buenos Aires, but turns out they went north through Brazil to Colombia and were now headed south to Peru. Also they were doing to loop as well so we joined for the hike. I had dinner in the hostel and in the room met Dulce, from Mexico, who was heading to work at a hostel in Cali. So swapped details with the hope of meeting up in Colombia.

The next morning we left for the bus station and there were a few gringos on the bus. One was Patrick, born in Canada but grew up in Australia, who would join us for the hike. You have to take the bus to Sigchos, which is 2 hours from Latacunga. Once you get into the lush green mountains its a beautiful journey and I found myself wondering how many times I’d now been travelling along winding mountain roads and switchbacks.

When we arrived we weren’t sure if we needed to register and it seemed not, so we started the hike anyways. Annoyingly the blue sky had turned grey, something that does happen here in the afternoon. The first day was only around 10km and this was a different hike for me as much of it was along dirt tracks and passed villages. Most hikes I do are in the middle of nowhere. Still it was beautiful and it felt good to be moving. I found the first day a challenge, possibly due to not having acclimated still, especially the part up the steep hill.

Due to the promxity to villages, farms and houses it meant there were people around, who put us back in track when we went the wrong way and we saw lots of farm animals. It was really nice to be hiking with English speakers. Not that people don’t speak English but there is a connection when you can speak to people from your own country. Ben is actually from Emsworth, which is about 2 or 3 miles from where I grew up. It is actually where I grew up. So it was nice to reminisce. But for now here are some sheep.

It turned really grey as we reached the end of the hike and we were all really happy to see the hostel, Luluilama which I had booked via email. It was pretty busy and worth reserving this in advance. The hostels in the hike include breakfast and dinner and this hostel was paradise for $20. There is a full restaurant, fires, hot showers and spa all available to use along with a free yoga class which I didn’t take.

We grabbed some beers and waited away the wet afternoon until dinner, which was delicious before heading to bed. But the best thing about the hostel had to be the wonderful dog.

The yoga class wasn’t 7am but instead I decided to take photos and get myself ready. Breakfast was at 8 and we seemed to be the last to head off at around 9am. Today the sky was a beautiful blue but it meant that it became hot quickly. Still this was for better photos. The beginning of the trek was mostly down and therefore fairly easy.

We followed the signs that you can see in the picture above and made good progress winding our way around the mountains halfway up the valley. At one point we ended up on a precarious path leading around the side of the mountain. We saw some others in the valley below and beside being an exciting prospect we decided to head back and wind through the valley.

We ended up following a small stream along a beautiful green valley. According to my map we had to cross a log bridge that didn’t really have much support but by now I was happy to take on these things and we walked up the right hand side of the river. Soon we saw a proper bridge and met one of the French girls that had been in the hostel the night before. It turned out that she had come along the correct route and I realised that my version of Maps me didn’t have the correct trail. Mary’s did and it then made sense why she had been saying we had taken a wrong turn, which we had, but we were back in the right path now.

The path then started ascending and we found ourselves high above the steam looking at a beautiful valley.

Then the path took a turn to the right and we ended up waking up yet another mountain. This was more taxing than the previous day but we took on the switchbacks and all collapsed at the top. We took a little detour to a view point and saw some turkeys, one of whom was showing off his feathers.

The sky turned grey, really quickly and we followed the trail along to the road. Ben and Mary had brought some sweets as the children of teen ask for them and are rewarded. This is how different it is here where children can ask strangers for food and it’s not a strange thing. All the hostels provide lunch boxes that come with cookies and candy. Then the local children come running up asking “Tienes candy?”. The first time we offered he packet to the kids and they nearly took the whole thing. So after that we rationed it. Again we would probably be arrested in Europe but it’s different here.

After the track ended we had to walk up the road for a couple of kilometres to the hostel. I toyed with climbing up an extra hill but decided against it. On the way up we passed lots of schools children walking home. We were the first at the hostel and despite booking a dorm I was excited to be given a private room. Although I was annoyed to discover that the bathroom was locked. It took me a long time to work out and several conservations that the room key also unlocked the bathroom. My Spanish still has a long long way to go.

We spent the afternoon relaxing and all met up for a group dinner and a few games of pool, on one of the worst tables I’ve ever had the privilege to play. I opted for an early night as we agreed to meet for breakfast at 7am so we could leave early. By this time we had realised that the mornings were sunny but the clouds came out in the afternoon.

A little gato joined us for breakfast. I stopped him from walking all over the tables and he happily sat on my lap and then stole the cheese from my plate. I suddenly realised his game.

The sin was shining brightly as we left and you could see the clouds hanging low in the valleys which made for a beautiful sight.

We turned left off the main road and went downhill taking a few shortcuts before we hit the main trial. Sadly there was a lot of rubbish but on the plus side we saw a donkey.

We reached the “main” road and were conscious that we needed to make a decision between walking the hard way and the easy way. Unfortunately we were to realise later that by taking one of the shortcuts we had missed the place where we would make the decision. So we ended up on the easy path. We then spotted a sign on the path below and trekked down to that ending up on the hard paths which was beautiful, but alas hard.

We walked down into the valley and crossed a small stream before ending up on a really narrow path with a small landslide. We had to jump across the gap and material was constantly sliding down the hill. It was easy but the drop always makes it feel worse than it is.

We then went up what was the hardest climb so far of the trek, climbing out of the valley up to a mountain. At the top exhausted we decided to go and visit some cascadas but sadly they turned out to be a little lacking this time of year. Having taken a side track we turned around and realised that the clouds had almost covered the sky. It was barely 10am and they had arrived already. We powered on no less walking the last few kilometres before we became slightly lost. We couldn’t find the trails on maps me but we did find one heading directly upwards so decided to follow it hoping for the best. This was the steepest climb of the three days. It was literally walking up the side of the mountain, at nearly 4000 metres, with no switchbacks. But we made it! And then we saw the crater.

It was beautiful, sadly not as beautiful as it would have been with sun, but stunning none the less. We stayed and had lunch and then decided to walk around the side to the town. On the way we ran into a local woman who said we were on the wrong path. I think we would have ignored her but we had had a little trouble identifying the actual path a few minutes before. She told us she was going back to the village and would take us the right way. Which turned out to be a perilous path, and then she demanded money from us. If we had ignored her we would have been fine but alas it’s confusing sometimes. We headed around the rest of the lake to finish the trek.

Arriving in town I saw a hungry dog so gave him my disgusting sandwich.

We then walked to the bus stop where there happened to be a bus and waited until someone told us the bus had broken down and we needed to take a taxi to the next town. Reluctantly we did this and as soon as we arrived there was a bus leaving for Latacunga. It was a long two hour ride and we were exhausted. Patrick has opted to stay in Quilotoa for the night and it meant he would get good pictures in the morning. The rest of us decided to leave. If I had more time I would have stayed but I needed to head to Colombia as I was already late.

We arrived back at the hostel and opted for pizza and beers which was amazing. There is a pizza place on the edge of town and I’ll share it with you one day.

We grabbed some more beers, headed back to the hostel and had an early night. The next morning I grabbed breakfast and went for a little walk around town. The centre of Latacunga is very pretty and it’s probably worth spending a little time here is you can.

After I returned we said our goodbyes and I was alone again. I headed to the bus stop and was immediately on a bus headed to Quito which was a short two hour trip away.

Alausí and Nariz del Diablo

I arrived at the bus station in Cuenca and as usual there was a bus leaving right away for Alausí. It’s a four hour journey and follows the road up to Quito, which is where my bus was headed. I got on the bus which was stiflingly hot. And readied myself for the ride. I generally listen to podcasts which helps drown out the blazingly loud movies that are played. Although sometimes it is just music but at a sensible volume. I’ve taken to listening to podcasts and at the moment Adam Buxton is the podcast of choice.

It was an interesting journey out of Cuenca, at first we were on a Mother way as we wound around the mountains and then this turned into single lanes as we got higher. About 2 hours outside of Cuenca the scenery suddenly turned beautiful. I couldn’t get any photos due to the bus windows but we wound our way around one of the biggest valleys I’ve ever seen with a huge mountain in the middle that just dropped off far far below. It was stunning and I’d recommend doing it in daytime if you can.

It was dusk when I arrived in the town. Dropped off on the main road I headed down, the long way, towards my hostel. The town was really pretty and I wanted to take photos but decided to head to the hostel day come back in the morning. The hostel was amazing. It was a little more expensive but worth the cost and I had the best shower I’d had in months. Maybe even here? Showers generally aren’t that great as there is no mains gas. It’s all bottled.

I chatted to a Dutch guy who was also getting the train the next day and he headed off to dinner while I took my time sorting things out. I then headed to a local restaurant which was dead but I couldn’t be bothered to search further as I was so tired. I opted for prawns again. I love them and was not disappointed until they tried to charge me more for the bill but I sorted that out.

I heard a lot of shoring and cheering coming from somewhere and walked a few blocks until I found a sports hall full of people. Most were watching and others were lined up in the middle. I had a peak in the main door and didn’t realise I could go in. It tirned our that the Dutch guy has gone in and watched the whole thing as it was a Miss World esq competition. Next time I have nothing to do I’ll try and join in, although I was exhausted and happy to go to bed and watch Netflix.

The next morning I work up early and properly met Denis, who had come into the room late the night before. I sat down to a great breakfast and then headed to the train.

So if you want to book tickets for the Nariz del Diablo you can do so here. It’s $33 and if you do book I’d advise you go for the A side as it gets better views than the M side. I don’t think it really matters which carriage you are in as the train swaps sides for the return journey. We all needed up in different carriages and after a short introduction from the guard on the train we were off.

The train turns around back on itself as it starts the first big descent.

It then settles down and traverses along the side of the mountain for 20 minutes or more.

As you can see it’s a fairly scenic train ride. It would have been nicer if the other half of the carriage didn’t pour over to the side I was on as mine had better views. But to be fair you can’t really blame them. One guy filmed the whole journey, which is about 45mins one way. I hope there will be some editing.

Soon I started to see the track where the train would take its second steep downhill. You could see it winding back on itself and it really was a feat of engineering. Then the station came into view as well as lots of local people that the staff had to encourage to move off the track. They were all taking photos and I wondered if this was part of a daily routine, or put on for the tourists but I actually think they all left on another train I saw as they all disappeared fairly quickly after the first stop.

The train soon came to an abrupt halt with a shudder. I started to wonder why when it began moving backwards and changed tracks. This was the first switchback. It’s obviously hard to build a turn on the mountain so instead it just reversed direction.

We pulled through the station, past all the people and past dancers and stopped a few hundred metres up the track. We were told that we could disembark and it gave me a chance to get some photos of the train.

After the short break we returned to the train station for an hour. By this time must people had gone, the locals, and we were treated to dancing. There was a small museum and the engine switched ends. We are here for a little over an hour which for me was took long but it gave me the poor to take photos.

Soon it was time for the return journey. The train returned to the town the same way but the engine was now on the other end. Also less people were taking photos and the light had changed so I got some better shots.

The above is the track and next more shots of the train along the valley.

The train ride was really fun, it would have been better if it were a steam engine and I was able to sit on the roof, but I understand why this has been banned due to people dying. I was really glad I had made the stop. As the village was pretty Denis make the decision to stay an extra night and I stayed a few more hours. We wondered around the town and up to te statue taking photos. Stopping in the market for lunch.

Soon it was time for me to start the journey to Latacunga, it would be another 4 hour bus journey and I was keen to arrive before dark.

Cuenca and Parque Nacional Cajas

I arrived at the main road, and was somehow attached by mosquitos on the way, and a bus pulled up straight away. I jumped on and was on my way to Santa Elena. I was tired, well hungover, the bus was busy and fairly uneventful. Before I knew it I arrived at the station. I needed to take a second bus to Guayaquil and after visiting the bathroom, as there are none on the busses, I wondered up and down the rows of booths and couldn’t see a sign. It’s difficult for me to ask as I still can’t pronounce the name. I saw a line of people all at the same booth and I took a risk that this was the right bus, it is after all the biggest town around, well in the country even, and soon I was on one of the back seats on my way. This journey was 2 1/2 hours and the ride was so bumpy that I thought I was going to be sick.

I was back at the large terminal with the shopping mall. I decided I needed a break and brought some water and food whilst I researched how to get to Cuenca. I found out the bus would be another 4 hours but that it would pass through the Cajas national park at close to 4000 metres. I was excited to get back into the mountains so off I headed. Tourist information pointed me to the right booth. I was told there was a bus leaving in 10 minutes so I’d brought my ticket and went to the second floor where I jumped on to enjoy the ride.

Despite it being stupidly hot and overcast the journey was beautiful. I’d recommend that you try doing this is daylight. When the bus approached the mountains the skies cleared overhead and as we circled higher there was low lying mist in the valleys that made the mountains look like lakes. I didn’t manage to get any pictures.

I arrived in Cuenca in the dark and headed straight to my hostel. After checking in and dropping my things I went to get some food. Being a Sunday most places were closed so I went to a local looking restaurant that brought me the wrong food and potatoes instead of chips as they had run out. The food was fine and i didn’t complain as I couldn’t and afterwards I retreated to the hostel for some well deserved rest.

That morning over breakfast I met a couple of other people headed to Parque Nacional Cajas, which is passed on the bus the day before. I didn’t really know much but I had read it was beautiful.

We were told not to leave too early and the hostel owner drew is a map with instructions of several routes, these are also all on maps me. We arrived at the main bus terminal and jumped on a bus to Guayaquil, the journey is 1 hour and costs $2. They will drop you outside of the park entrance and you need to go and register with the park rangers. I decided I wanted to climb a mountain and they informed me that I needed to head further up the road. I met Linda, from Latvia, and we started walking up the road to the trail head. It was immediately stunning and we were lucky to have blue skies.

I was excited to use my camera again and immediately began snapping photos as the path wound its way around the lakes towards the mountain.

Then we started to climb. The peak was not that high, in comparison to where I was standing as the peak was around 4000 metres. I had misjudged how long I’d been at sea level and climbing was hard. It was going to get harder. But the views were worth it as soon as we started the climb.

I was really glad that Linda was with me as I seemed to be unable to follow the trail. Luckily she was able to follow the trail signs. We made slow progress as it was ridiculously steep and the altitude made it hard work. But still little by little we inched towards the top.

I took some fun pictures of flowers.

And then we went higher and higher. We kept needing to stop for breaks. And before we knew it we reached the top. Which I’m sure you can see below was completely worth the pain.

I stopped and are one of my sandwiches and then we followed the path along the ridge taking in the beauty of the valley. I should point out that this is one tiny section of the park. It stretches for miles in all directions and I’d love to explore it further one day.

The park rangers had told us specifically to take this route as I had wanted to approach the mountain from the side we would descend. When we started going down I could see why. This has to be one of the steepest descents I’ve made during my time here. If I was still scared of heights I’d be a little nervous but I’ve banished that fear and I was with a friend as we stumbled and tripped down the face of the mountain. Still it was beautiful and for a time I thought I’d never make it to the lake. But we did.

After we made it to the lake we decided to take the pink path. It was another 4 kilometres through beautiful landscapes. First we walked through some pristine forest and took a detour to find a cave, as Linda is a huge cave fan. Then we worked out way past some lakes. The sun really started to come out and created some beautiful shots. One of the lakes is covered in these reeds. I loved the colours and the way they interacted with the landscape. At one point we came across a hill and saw that there were boulders organised in a line. There is an Inca Trail through this part of the world and we wondered if they were paced here on purpose.

Okay, this is my favourite view and the desktop wallpaper if you ever need one. That’s why there are lots of shots so indulge me.

Afterwards it was just a case of following the path to the end. We thought we found the Inca Path and reos a delicate route between private land that was fenced off.

We waited on the main road for the bus but Linda suggested that we also try hitchhiking,, as there was only one bus an hour. I was happy to as I’d only accidentally hitchhiked once in Peru and at the time I thought I was going to die. About 5 cars went past and then a father pulled up with his two daughters. We jumped in the back and chatted in English and Spanish. He was really nice and knew some English. It turns out that this si another city were English speakers are coming to retire and you will see why later. I suppose as Ecuador uses the dollar it makes it a perfect country to move to.

The father was an estate agent so gave us a little insight into going’s on and then dropped us close to the city centre. Linda and I said our goodbyes and I returned to the hostel, exhausted, with a little altitude sickness but very happy. I think this is one of the most beautiful days in my time here. I tested and then went out for some noodles.

Afterwards at the hostel I got talking to one of the owners, Jude. She is from just outside Brighton and did the same as me but ended up meeting her husband here and they run the hostel together. We soon realised that I used to work with her brother in law at the BBC. It’s a smaller world than you think. I really enjoyed this hostel as I met some lovely people and had great breakfasts along with playing with the cat.

I was leaving for my next destination later the following day, i had to move fast in Ecuador as I didn’t have much time. The city is beautiful and i wanted to explore it so I went on the tour during the morning. And this is why I think I could live here.

The tour was really good and the city has an abundance of churches and amazing art and artictecturhe.

Also did you know that Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador? Yep! I’ll flesh out that story when I have time but for now here are the photos.

Afterwards I headed to the hostel, grabbed my bags and flagged a cab to the bus station. Ready for the next stop on my adventure.

Salinas, Ayangue and Montanita

I had the dorm to myself on the final night in Banos which was great as I had to get up early for the bus and it meant I didn’t wake anyone up leaving. I arrived at the bis station as instructed and was told to wait on the benches. I waited 20 minutes and nothing. It was approaching the leaving time off the bus but the woman said I should wait. A few minutes later and she told me to follow her. We left the station and it dawned on me that the bus was heading for the main road, it pulled up and I jumped on. I wasn’t sure how long the journey to Guayaquil would last so I settled in for a long journey. Turns out it’s 7 hours and I arrived around 2pm.

This city was huge, and is the biggest in Ecuador. I wasn’t stopping for long as my final stop for the day was Salinas. I found myself in a shopping centre so ran for the toilets and upon passing the food court grabbed a McDonald’s for $3 and then quickly headed to buy a bus ticket. After approaching several wrong booths I found out there was a bus leaving in 10mins. I was instructed to follow two people who brought a ticket ahead of me but they went the wrong way. Actually it turns out I did and the bus left from the second floor. I made it up there and the bus left,

Checking my map the bus seemed to be heading the wrong way. I checked and my ticket said Santa Elena, not Salinas and I realised they sounded similar. I resisted the urge to run to the driver and another passenger assured me it was the right way. It was but after another 2.5 hours I needed to get a third bus. I was stole I could get a taxi but just outside the station a bus was leaving and that cost 30 cents. It wound its way along the streets and after around an hour I found the hostel.

A Spanish girl checked me in and I found out I was the only guest. Now I had WiFi o wanted to plan out my next few days at the beach and I was too tired to make a proper decision. I decided to spend one more night here so I could walk tomorrow without too much pressure and then go to Ayangue and Montanita over the following days. I relaxed at the hostel and then went out for dinner to try some sea food. This is afterall why I am here. So I found a popular restaurant and had some shrimp.

After I went to relax in my hostel ready for hiking he next day. Okay, so I’ll be upfront and say that Salinas was not on my hit list. It’s not really on anyone’s as it tends to be locals who visit here, although I’ve heard more and more English speakers are coming here to retire and when you Google Salinas all you get it houses to buy. I was told I should go to a place called La Chocolatera, which is a little bit of land jutting out into the ocean. Now the problem with the coast at the moment is that it’s permanently overcast, just like Lima. The sun returns in November but that’s too late for me. Still I was only here a few days so I set out to complete my task.

I had breakfast and started my hike. It was only 4km from town so I figured it would be fairly easy. As it was overcast I didn’t put on suncream and that would prove to be a mistake. After a few wrong turns and being turned back from security check points I found myself near the beach. There was a warning about live rounds bing fires but I couldn’t see any red flags so decided to cross the last piece of land before I reached the beach. I was headed to another viewpoint when a man on a motorbike approached me and said they were having a Tsunami training so in 15 mins the beach would be evacuated. I quickly headed to the viewpoint and had a little look at the sea lions and birds before I headed back to be evacuated.

I headed along the road to La Chocolatera but not really wanting to go the whole way along the road I skirted back to the beach that was now deserted or evacuated. I followed the path to the viewpoint and came very close to some giant birds. Before I could get my camera out they flew away.

Eventually I reached the view point I’d been heading towards. There were a number of people here as a few tour busses had arrived. I kicked myself for a second and then realised I wouldn’t have gotten one even if I knew they existed. I had a walk around the area and took some photos.

I decided to walk back along the road and saw a man coming back from the hill so I decided to follow the path up to the mirador. I spotted a friendly lizard on the way

And I got upclose to some big birdys.

It wasn’t too far to the top and at this point it was getting quite warm and the sun began to be a force through the clouds. The view was great and it was just a shame the weather wasn’t great as it’s a really nice beach town.

I had a coke and some crisps whilst I reflected and caught my breath before heading back to town. By this time I could feel I was burning but there was nothing to be done and I covered my neck. On returning to the hostel I realised my legs were red, which is weird as it’s the first colour they have had on them since 2005 so not all bad but I was sad to have sunburn on my first day at the beach.

I had been told I should try shrimp Ceviche so I headed out to a little second of the town which is covered with sea food restaurants.

The dish was delicious so I went off in search of ice cream as I felt I deserved some after the hike. I found a place that did crepes and didn’t realise I’d ordered a no crepe dish. I was a little disappointed by the ice cream as it want Argentinian standards but it hit the spot

After I had a little walk along the beach. I had intended to relax and sit there but it was around 4pm and people were starting to leave. Instead I headed back to the hostels and read my book in the hammock.

Later that night I decided to take a break from the seafood and went to a Mexican restaurant for tacos which were delicious and then returned to the hostel, where I was still the only guest. One of the owners dogs has been killed te day before by a car so they had decided not to take any more bookings. I watched Netflix and went to bed.

The breakfast hadn’t been great at the hostel so I went around the corner to a cafe. I discovered they had cheese toasties on the menu so snapped those up and got a cup of proper coffee before returning to the hostel to get my things.

Today I was excited. I was going to Ayangue which I’d been told about by a Swedish couple all the way back in Buenos Aires. Today I would be getting $10 lobster. I jumped on the local bus back to the terminal in Santa Elena and then quickly brought a ticket for another bus heading up the coast which was also leaving immediately. I was having good luck with busses right now.

The bus dropped me and several others at the side of the road and three of us quickly got into a can which took us the further 3km into town. I would have walked but 3km is just over my limit. I checked into my hostel, this time I had a double room to myself. I was feeling a little stressed out by this point as the hostel I’d wanted to book for the next day in Montanita was now sold out I’d accidentally booked a room for the Sunday and the day before there had been lots of beds left. I’d arrived in another hostel where I was the only guest and Montanita was a party town, so I didn’t want to be stuck in alone. At this time I was waiting for a reply from the hostel about moving my booking.

I stayed in the room using the WiFi and refreshing my emails. At last I had one and they said they would see if there were any dorms left. I decided to head to the beach but couldn’t relax to due to the hostel situation. This is what I mean when solo travel is lonely sometimes and after a while I start to become paranoid that I won’t meet anyone’s again. I always do but it’s one of those things that hit you.

I walked along the beach and there were lots of restaurants serving seafood. I picked on that was fairly busy and was told the lobster was $15. I was a little annoyed for not haggling or going somewhere else but I’d made my bed so I’d eat it. The lobster was delicious but i couldn’t relax so after I headed back to the hostel.

Still no response from the next hostel so I decided to go back to the beach and read until it was too cold. I sat in a chair under a gazebo and was shocked but again stupidly didn’t argue when I was told it was $5. I paid and then read for the next few hours. By this time I’d had a reply from the hostel and was told they only had rooms which were a lot more expansive. Not being able to make a decision I called Brad. It’s weird sometimes, making decisions can be really hard. I’d probably have been fine to have booked any hostel in town but in my head I’d decided I kept booking the wrong hostels and to be fair for the past 3 weeks I’d ended up on quiet hostels and I didn’t want to repeat that. Brad talked me through it and helped me make a decision.

Around 8pm I decided Togo our for food and see if I could meet someone. There were some bars on the beach so I headed for these but only one had people there and I felt they didn’t look sociable so decided to come back later. The town was as busy as it could be so I brought a burger from a street vendor and a some beer and headed back to the hostel with the plan of going back to the bars around 10pm. At 10pm I was too tired to do anything so went to bed. At this point I wished I’d just come here for the afternoon but it’s all an experience. I learnt a lot this day.

The next day I woke up to blue skies and after being told the checkout wasn’t until 12 I headed back to the beach to get some photos. You can see it’s a really pretty cover that is protected from the wider ocean and the water is warm. This is where you will realise I’m never satisfied as now I wanted to stay to enjoy the sunshine.

Is been messaging Rosi, who lived nearby, and she was heading to Olon, a town just north of Montanita and said she would en happy to show me around. I decided to check out early and head up to my next hostel. So I jumped in a taxi to the next road and almost straight away a bus pulled up and I jumped on.

Montanita is a party town for both locals and tourists a like. It’s a place where people go surfing and drinking and I’m not sure what else, but is essentially full of clubs. Not really my ideal but i hadn’t been out in ages and I’d been told I should visit. I arrived around 11am and the town was sleepy. My hostel was 20 mins walk down a muddy track and when I arrived they were a bit rubbish. I was told that I couldn’t check in until 1pm and then promptly ignored. I realised later that the staff were hung over and I managed to carve out a little spot until someone arrived who knew what was going on. I waited until 1pm, was let into my room, which was lovely, had a shower and jumped on a bus to meet Rosi.

Rosi was lovely and could speak good English but insisted on speaking Spanish so I could learn. I think I understood about 25% and she took the time to speak slowly and repeat herself many times until I understood. We had ceviche for lunch and then took a walk up the beach, before walking to a lookout point.

It was a fun afternoon and was really good to practice my Spanish and to see a place I otherwise would not have. When it started getting dark we went to the main road and had to wait a long time to get a bus back. I jumped off near my hostel and realised I’d been attacked my mosquitos.

At the hostel I put my name down for dinner and retreated to my room until dinner was nearly ready. I forced myself to go to the bar and had planned on sitting there except s big group of really young people were at the bar, in fancy dress and there was no way I could get involved. I pulled up a bar stool but after a couple of failed conservations I retreated to a table and wrote more of my blog.

I really felt I’d made a bad decision by coming to the hostel as everyone was so young. As dinner was served a few guys joined me and we got talking, and afterward I met more people as the goth went on. Around midnight people decided to go to the town and I joined. It was crazy and so loud. We brought some drinks on the streets and visited a few clubs, they don’t seem to mind that everyone took drinks from place to place.

After dancing for a while lost people ended up on the beach and was just killing around. I was exhausted and decided to call it a night around 3am. I’m not sure the last time I stayed up that late! I woke up tired and confused around 8am. I knew I had to check out by 11am but I didn’t have a plan. As I was checking though messages a girl told me that the weather in Cuenca was good. I had wanted to check out the national park and was desperate to see some blue sky so made a decisión to go there.

Over breakfast I was talking to some of the hostel staff and they advised me to go to a hostel, so I booked it and was glad another decision was made for me. Breakfast was delicious and at 11:30am I headed to the main road to flag down a bus for the first part of my next journey.


I awoke in El Coca not really knowing my plan for today. I was still torn between Banos and Quito. Banos seemed like the better option as it meant I could go down to Cuenca afterwards. I decided I’d let the bus Gods decide and headed to the bus station, but not before finding a panadería to get some breakfast and stocking up on snacks from the supermarket. I jumped in a taxi and was sad to see that most of the busses to Banos were night busses. I asked at the last kiosk, I can remember why and had a little issue with 10 in the mañana vs tarde and noche. After I had a complete brain meltdown I brought a ticket for 10am and would be on the bus in 45minutes. Great as according to google it was only a 4 hour journey. After I looked at my ticket I realised it was to a place called Puyo. I went to question it and I was told I could get a bus from there and it would only be a further hour. Ok.

I jumped on the bus which left on time and then seemed to be driving the wrong way through the city. It stopped for petrol and after it started crossing the bridge south, where there seemed to be a huge lack of roads, instead of heading to the highway in the north. I asked a fellow passenger and they said the bus did indeed go to Puyo so I accepted my fate and sat on the bus. It was boiling hot and it powered thought the Amazon, first on dodgy asphalt roads and then gravel. Stopping at the villages along the way. I soon realised this was not going to be a 4 hour journey.

At one point the bus stopped and a load of people got up and I realised too late that they were going to use the bathroom. I thought it was a little strange as there was a toilet on the bus but as I’ve since discovered in Ecuador the toilets are more of a theoretical eminently. So when I tried to use it the door didn’t open. You could argue the next thing that happened was lucky or unlucky but I’ll leave that to you. Maybe 45 minutes later the bus stopped. At this point we were años hit by a huge storm. 10, 20 then 30 mins went by and I realised we were not moving. I decided to ask to leave the bus and was able to release myself in the biggest storm ever. I rejoined the bus still not really sure as to what was going on. I Janet really paid attention to the time but after what felt like an hour everyone suddenly left the bus. I followed, and it turned out they were walking up the road. I had realised there must be something blocking the road and indeed there was. A lorry that was deep in the mud and wouldn’t be getting out anytime soon. So we swapped busses with those coming from the other direction and then sat on it for a while without moving, I until the cries of “vamos amigo” became too much or they were just ready to go. The bus had to reverse and then do an interesting 12 point. I asked how long the journey would take and it was another 3 hours. Which indeed it was. The rest was fairly uneventful and I was dropped off I. Puyo with the driver waving to another bus. I got on and was on my way to Banos with Jumanji playing at record volume for the 12 time. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it but many of the busses here play films, normally something inappropriate like an action film with a lot of violence and especially in Ecuador at a loud volume. No one seems to watch either.

After another 90mins I was finally dropped off in Banos. For once I hadn’t booked a hostel and that morning there were plenty of places. Sadly it turned out to be a holiday weekend and the hostel I wanted to stay in, Community, was fully booked. They pointed me to another hostel where I was greeted by a very friendly man and luckily I had a bed for the night. Exhausted I went to a reasonably priced restaurant and treated myself to a steak that is not had in sometime.

Despite the town buzzing and being invited by some people I’d met in the common area I decided to have an early night. Well that would have been the plan if it hadn’t been so loud. It’s a shame as most of the hostel is great but my bed was overlooking the plaza and possibly the noisiest place in the hostel.

I decided to sleep in a little the next day and arranged to meet Claudia at 10:30 I don’t think I mentioned above but I received a message form Claudia who also happened to be heading to Banos. After speaking to a couple from the US in the dorm I realised there was a lot to do.

We decided to start by hiking up to La Casa del Árbol, a swing on top of the mountain. It was 4km and I figured that it wouldn’t take long. I was wrong, and it was a really steep ascent. It had been a few weeks since I’d been done any hiking at altitude and I was back up at 2500 metres so was really hard going.

We finally reached the road and there wasn’t far to go when a 4×4 pulled up and offered to give us a ride. We accepted and jumped in the back excited for the opportunity. A lovely family from Guayaquil had given us the ride and we hung out with them whilst we queued for the swing. As you can see the swing is on the edge of the mountain. I was a little scared to get on the swing but as soon as I was swinging I had a great time.

Afterwards they kindly gave us a ride back to town. We all crowded in the inside of the car. It’s amazing how many people you can fit in if you try and the police are not going to pull you over. It was really fun to sing reggeton songs on the way down. Back in town we grabbed a late lunch and then went back to the hostel to rest. Later Claudia and I met up again to book rafting on the river and had dinner at my hostel which apparently did Ecuadorian food. I ordered the vegetarian tacos and added chicken. I realised it was a good way to get more vegetables into my diet.

It was time for an early night as we would be rafting in the morning. We were picked up at 9am and ended up in a minibus which drove around town picking up other passengers and played dance music. We stopped off at the office and picked up our equipment and boats before we headed off down river. We were instructed to change, given life jackets and split into smaller groups. It was here we were given the safety briefing where we were told what to do if we were knocked out the boat, the boat flipes over, hit a rock, we’re dragged away by the current and a multitude of other ways I might end up in the river. I started to become a little scared as the briefing was strongly suggesting that I’d be in the river.

Then we got in the boat and practiced paddling on land and took our positions in the boat. We then carried the boat to the river and jumped in. One girl was told to sit on the front and off we went down the first rapid.

After the first rapid we pulled into a calm area and were told to jump in the water. Whilst the others questioned I jumped in. I really need to question things before I do them. Once we were all in the water we were given 10 seconds to try and get back in the boat. This was not easy so I grabbed a strap and managed to pull myself in. Then as shown in the safety briefing those of us in the boat pulled in anyone still left in the water. In hindsight this was really good as have us experience of the water.

Before each rapid we were given various instructions and all followed them. The rapids were grades 3 and 4 and at various times people were locked out the boat. After a couple go rapids the guide asked who wanted to go upfront next so I jumped at the chance thinking it’s better to get it out the way and I perched on the front of the boat. It was really fun and I got to drink a lot of the river water. It was actually easier than rowing as the water tended to knock you back into the boat and I had more to hold on to.

There was one point where just before the rapid we were told the boat might flip as it was the biggest one. Luckily it didn’t and to make up for it our guide kept us paddling against one rapid and half the people fell out. We hit a couple of rocks at times which made people fall out. The Dutch guy on the front slid under the boat which looked really scary, but he said he wasn’t and it was fine. At another point we were taken a different way down the river and bounded off rocks as we went down the rapids. Apparently this is the fun way.

It was over all too soon and was so much fun. Not only did they take all of the photos but lunch was also provided. All for $20. We went back to town exhausted.

After a quick shower Claudia and I went to the coffee shop again as they offered the most amazing milkshakes. We didn’t realise that they were designed to be shared.

Afterwards we decided to try the hot springs for which Baños is famous. From the advise of her hostel we went to a local one around the corner. Entrance was only $2 and we seemed to be the only tourists there. They had two hot pools and we needed to rent hair nets. The fist was around 30 degrees and we stayed there for a while. It was busy and personal space is not so well regarded here. But we did speak to a few people and practiced Spanish. The next Pool was crazy hot. The first time I went in it felt like I was burning. A little like walking on the sand in Huacachina. I led the Pool after a few minutes and after I got out for a little while I thought I might fair for a little while. Claudia chatted to a man and we sound out the Pool was 40degrees. Which is pretty hot. I gave it another few goes but I couldn’t get used to the temperature. Afterwards Claudia went back to her hostel and I went out in search of pizza.

On the final day we decided to cycle to the Pailón del Diablo. It’s a waterfall and the ride is 20km downhill which goes past a selection of sights. We met around 10am and collected our bikes and then started off cycling. Most of it was on the main road so I’d have to deal with busses and lorries. It was mostly downhill and pretty steep and we sped off towards the first stop.

We passed several waterfalls and there are tunnels on the route, the first one needs to be cycled through and the others there is a cycle path.

After a few more kilometres there was a bigger waterfall and there is a cable car across the valley. We jumped on and before I knew it we were speeding high across the valley and I was taking photos. It was only on the way back that I realised I hadn’t even considered the height.

After more downhill we parked our bikes, locked them up and followed the path to the waterfall. There is one point where you can go right behind the waterfall. To get there you have to practically crawl on your hands and knees through a tunnel.

We went and had empanadas for lunch as had been suggested and then decided to look at the other side. This involved walking across two high bridges and we got a much better look at the river and the waterfall.

I started having a little play taking close ups of the water and slow mo videos.

We went back to the village and luckily there is a truck that transports is and the bikes back to town.

Afterwards the Sky was a little brighter so I took a few shots of th town which is actually really pretty.

That night we decided to go for pizza. I can never have too much. Claudia went to take her night bus and I was spending one more night before heading to the coast.

Iquitos, Peru, to El Coca, Ecuador by boat

I had decided I wanted to visit the jungle city of Iquitos as it was the biggest city in the world not connected by roads. Getting there would be easy, I could fly to Lima but I was really determined not to have to fly out. I didn’t want to go back to Lima a third time, nothing against Lima but I just didn’t want to have to return, and then it’s a long bus journey through the desert from Lima to Ecuador. I had had enough of deserts as I’d been in them for most of the past few months so I decided I’d visit if I could find a way to get to Ecuador direct from Lima. I discovered there is a boat, well four boats, that take you up the Rio Napo and across the border to Ecuador connecting with El Coca, which is connected to the road network in Ecuador. There were two very detail blog posts that described the route so I knew the journey was possible but I didn’t know if I’d be able to achieve it. I did know the journey takes 4-5 days and I was excited about experiencing an area not many people get to see.

Click here for information and maps about how to make the journey.

Buying the tickets

My first mission when arriving in Iquitos was to find the tourist information, iPeru, which is located on Jirón Napo just below the main Plaza. My back had spasmed, yet again at a time at a time where I needed t get information and could ill afford to sit and rest it, which always took me back to Coyhaique, Chile. I forced my self out and I was in a lot of pain when I entered the office so I tired to get it sorted quickly. The woman who helped me initially said she knew nothing about the journey but spoke to her colleague, who typed into a computer and soon printed me off a boat schedule. There is a slow boat and a fast boat. The fast boat took two days to get to the boarder, I have no idea how long the slow boat takes and it goes twice a month. The fast boat leaves on Tuesdays and Fridays but I wanted to confirm this. There was a number on the schedule so I typed this into WhatsApp and messaged them.

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this but WhatsApp is amazing in South America, if you have bad Spanish it saves you from having to make calls and . Nearly all the agencies can be reached and by it which for someone like me who’s Spanish is not good enough to use on the phone I can message instead. I received a reply confirming the boat left on those days and that I could buy a ticket from the office in Iquitos. The travellers on the other blogs brought their ticket in boats but there is a risk that the boat might be full so I’d recommend buying in advance if you can.

The next day I went to the office which I was told is located near Calle Maynas and Calle Yavari. If walking from the plaza head towards Yavari and follow it up until it meets Maynas. Around two blocks from where the roads meet the tarmac road stops and it felt very sketchy, although I didn’t see anything to suggest it’s dangerous and the reciption showed me where it is on a map and didn’t say the area was problematic so don’t let this out you off. When you get to the T junction take a right and look for number 360, which is on the right on the corner of the next Street. In there you can buy your ticket, which was 215 soles, more than had been advertised before. I paid and was given instructions as to how to get to he boat.

The first thing to know is that the boat that takes you to the border does not start in Iquitos, it starts in a place called Mazán which is on the Rio Napo. Now the lady that sold me the ticket told me that i had Romeo to catch the 9am boat by leaving the same day if I got to the port at 6am but after speaking to the man on the hostel reception I decided to take his advice and leave the day before. It’s up to you but I’ll explain below as we go through the journey as to why.

Iquitos to Mazán – Day 1

It wasn’t necessary to leave early as the boats left all day. I took my time in the morning and went to get a last breakfast as I wasn’t sure what food I’d be eating for the next few days. I also wanted to take advantage of the WiFi. Annoyingly I was told that I could only use the WIFI for one hour and the food was disappointing.

At 11:30, packed and fully supplied. I brought crackers, biscuits, chocolates etc, things that I could eat without cooking and a 7 litre bottle of water. The water came in handy but the snacks were largely unnecessary in the end. This route is well travelled, at leat by locals if not gringos.

I took a tuc tuc to Puerto Lao, it cost 5 soles which is a rip off considering the ride I did next for 5 soles. You want to catch the fast boat to Indiana, but you can also say Mazan. There are at least three places to get boats here. I chose the wrong one and had to walk arcos the dodgiest planks I’ve ever seen. It’s almost as if a load of wood washed up in shore after a storm and they said, okay this will work for the dock. There was lots of people unloading the boats including live chickens balancing on planks of wood across open stretches of water as they came on shore. I was pointed in the right direction and had to climb down a steep bank until I reached a man who someone had gave me directions shouted at.

In the blog i had read the journey cost 8 soles and I was happy to pay 10, so when the man told me it would be 20 I laughed. He immediately reduced it to 15 and when I said 10 they laughed. It seemed of I wanted to go it would be 15. So I agreed and got on board. The boat was two thirds full at this stage and as it was a collectivo we had to wait until it was full. Despite it being a fairly grey day it was stupidly hot and even more so when the woman and her son sat next to me. The seats are really not built for Europeans. It took somewhere between 40mins and an hour to fill up and then we were off on my last stint on the Amazon river.

The journey took and hour and from my memory was largely uneventful. My big bag was strapped to the roof and there was a boy running around up there, which is impressive as the boat was not as wide as a bus. When we docked there were a tonne of people trying to get my custom for a tuc tuc. I walked past them but one man followed me. I said 5 soles to Mazan and he agreed so off we went. The journey was fun as it wasn’t quite proper roads but a road made of small concrete squares that seem to pass for roads in these parts. A lot of them are damaged which meant it was a bumpy but fun ride. I was dropped at the hostel I had requested which was the only one on maps me, Hotel Leydy. I’ll go into details in the next paragraph but my advise is to take a look around town as there are plenty of places to stay.

I was dropped outside of a building near the river which had stairs leading up. At the time I didn’t see the huge sign outside staying it was the hostel as on the map it appeared in a slightly different location. A women went upstairs and I followed. She showed me to a room at the front which contained a bed, no sheets, a table and a stool. There was a light and a plug socket. A window with no glass, right into the street although there were shutters. She said 10 soles (although in the morning this had gone up to 15), I asked for another room and she said no so I took it. Again I should learn to walk around town as after I dumped my things and took a little walk around to see what was available I spotted a tonne of other places. The toilet had no seat, which is not uncommon, and the flush was using buckets of water, again not uncommon, but this is the first time the shower has consisted of water and a bucket. The water was freezing but as it was so hot was really refreshing. And surprisingly quick.

I sat by the river but after covering every inch of my body with bug spray I could feel I was getting bitten so retreated inside the room to read. After dark I ventured out to see if I could use the WiFi at the Internet cafe. I couldn’t so I went to get some food. Essentially chicken and chips was on offer. The girl serving me didn’t seem to understand me, her mother (maybe) did better but the guys on the table next to me seemed to know what I wanted so between the four of us we ordered food, a beer and some sauces which ended up being 24 soles again different to what I thought I was quoted, but still it’s a fairly decent price. After I went to the “hotel” to go to bed. It was a hit fairly sleepless night and I was a little concerned about the lack of a mosquito net.

Mazan to Santa Clotilde – Day 2

The boat was due to leave at 9am and it was suggested in the other blogs that I should arrive early to get a seat. I awoke far too early for this as people seemed to be leaving and entering the hostel all night and lots of bikes pulled up outside. It’s surprising how loud things are when there is no glass in the window.

I took another “shower” and then went out in search of the boat. It had appeared overnight and wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. Attached to a floating platform which was accessible by walking down through the mud, I mean beach, and then across planks of wood balanced on, well it wasn’t scaffolding but it served the same purpose. If I fell I’d be in the water. I was enjoying the randomness of it all and the slightly dangerous situations. The only thing that was upsetting was that lots of good were being unloaded from other boats. There were chickens all tied together and then pigs tied to a stick by their legs and then left to lie in the sun. One pig was squealing, I’ll guess in pain, as it was unloaded. I can’t really criticise as I eat meat and animals are considered different in this part of the world so I don’t want to judge but it wasn’t pleasant to watch.

I boarded the boat, where most people had claimed a seat with their bag. I selected one that had good leg space and then swapped with a lady who had a child. It took me a few minutes to work out what she was saying and then we were off. The boat sped up the river at around 25-30km and hour. Our destination for the day was Santa Clotilde, the boat takes two days to get to the border so it stops overnight.

The boat journey itself was fairly uneventful. The boat sped along the river creating some breeze which was really welcome as the weather was ridiculous. I think we had one storm on this day, there was plastic sheeting either side of the boat which could be pulled down to keep out the rain. Some would get through but again it was welcome to counter balance the heat. The boat was long but small. We sat on what seemed like recycled car seats and other than a bathroom at the back, which I used once on this day, there was not much else to do. After watching the scenery for an hour or so and it didn’t really change much I delved into my book.

We stopped at most of the villages and hamlets along the way, to drop off and pick up people and packages that ranged from live chickens to well, I don’t know. When we did sock there was often a group of people watching and I watched back silently to try and capture a glimpse of life. Just before 11 I was handed a ball of rice and chicken wrapped in banana leaves. Lunch was provided as the boat would not be stopping.

We eventually reached our destination at 4pm and were told we needed to be back on the boat for 3:30am. The hostel was right by the water front. My room was better as it was not right at the front, it had a mosquito guard across the window and there was an actual shower and working toilet and sink in this one. Otherwise everything was the same. I waited out the storm that appeared with the other passengers from the boat and chatted in bad Spanish before heading out for some more chicken and chips and returned for an early night.

Santa Clotilde to Pantoja and then Nuevo Rocafuerte – Day 3

The boat was only supposed to take me as far as the Peruvian border town of Pantoja but I managed to get a second boat across the border that day. We will come to that later.

I awoke at 3am, finished packing and was surprised to find I was one of the last to get on the boat. The crew had set up a hammock for a lady with an injured foot as there was now less luggage and I needed to find a new seat as everyone had switched places. I was in a foul mood as I’d slipped in the mud boarding the boat and it was still too dark to access the damage. I’d basically only covered myself in cold mud but it wasn’t the best start to the day. Two of the passengers were a little late and the crew went to fetch them. We left just after 4am in the dark and it was very quiet on the boat. Today was much of the same, just following the river, stopping, dropping things off and picking them up. I saw boats and children playing in the water. There was one group of children playing football on a sand bank in the hear of the day. Each time play stopped they just jumped into the water to cool off and for back out again. The other passengers suggested I took photos but I don’t like taking photos of other people’s children without permission. It was a fun site to watch, and then they swam over to see the boat.

We were given breakfast which was a repeat of the chicken and rice from yesterday and socked for lunch. I’m not sure what I ordered but it was tasty and we were soon on our way again. Today was much more cloudy and we had our fair share of storms. I was exhausted to be honest with the early start and just plowed through my book. My bum hurt by this point and I was bored of sitting for so long. Although this I something not many people do and I was getting a look at life in the Amazon I was starting to get bored. If only I could speak more Spanish then I could ask questions. I’ll learn for he next time I return.

We eventually arrived at Pantoja at around 6pm. It wasn’t quite dark but the sun was setting. This was where I was a little concerned as I needed to get a stamp for my passport and find a boat across the border. There are no public boats that take this route but you can charger a boat and as this route is a way I to Ecuador there are people that are willing. I asked the crew where I could ask about a boat and they pointed me in a direction. I went to find one of the hostels in the town but was dithering as I wanted to see what the other passengers did, hoping that one might want to go across the border or point me where to go. They seemed to dither also so I walked towards a hostel. One the Way a man asked if I was going to Ecuador. I said yes in the morning and asked where I could get a boat, on the way another man said he could take me now. I was a little confused and concerned about the safety but he spoke to a woman in uniform at the docs and she pointed me towards the police station. This is where I missed a key piece of advice.

On both the blogs I’ve read they mentioned that they had difficulty getting the stamp, due to the officer not being available so with this in mind I wasn’t surprised to seethe immigration office closed. The police station was next door and I spoke to them and they said to wait as the immigration officer was at the dock. I waited 15 minutes but then decided as it was getting dark I’d stay the night and I didn’t want to keep the man in the boat waiting. So I left, and started walking, I can’t remember why but something made me turn around and I saw the lady from the dock behind me and she told me to come to get my passport stamped. I don’t know how she had gotten past me and I had assumed it was a man, probably because the other blogs had mentioned a man but I assume he’s been replaced due to his incompetence as the lady was really good at her job. I asked if getting the boat would be fine at this time and she said yes. And I got my stamp.

I returned to the dock and the price of transportation had risen to $25 now, I didn’t have much choice but to agree as I’d just been stamped out of Peru and it was still less than the $20-$50 quoted on the original itinerary. So I got on board. It was a tiny boat with no life jackets and the mans family, his wife, daughter and baby were on board. I assumed he was a skilled boats man and he wouldn’t kill them so I’d be fine. As we left on the dark river I started to think a little about the consequences of my actions. Here I was on a boat in the middle of the Amazon completely at the mercy of these unkind people. I decided I needed to trust and I had been told to take the boat so I didn’t have much choice. Obviously they didn’t kill me, they were really nice, and I think if they had I’d been seen getting the boat by the immigration lady who had my details on file, so I decided it was fine. Although the situation wasn’t helped by the storms i could see all over he sky. This did, however, make for a beautiful journey. I was told it would be 90mins to 2 hours but I think it took just over 3. It started to get cold, the engine kept stopping, we hit a sand bank and the captain was using a torch to spot fallen trees in the water and we come close to hitting some. Anyways I arrived in Nuevo Rocafuerte just after 9. The first hostel was full but the second had space. It was much more expensive here but I had a TV, private bathroom, WiFi, and aircon. It was too late to get my entrance stamp and the boat i needed left at 5:30am so I realised I’d have to stay here an extra day. I had hoped I’d gained a day but alas not. But it’s probably a good thing as I was exhausted. I brought a beer and some crisps which served as dinner and went to bed.

Nuevo Rocafuerte – Day 4

I awoke earlyish but decided to take it easy and sat with the Cartoon Network on in Spanish hoping I’d pick up some by osmosis whilst I sorted photos and updated the blog. Around 10am I decided it was time to get my entrance stamp as I’d been in Ecuador overnight and wasnt sure how long is have before it caught up with me. The immigration office was a little harder to find. It wasn’t quite in the location the map suggested and I had to ask a few people. I entered what I thought was the right building and was instructed to knock on a door. I did and after a couple of times I heard a noise, again the blogs I had read suggested it was hard to get hold of the immigration officer. So I tried the handle and opened the door to a bedroom with the officer inside. Had not expected that. He came around to the office with me and stamped my passport with no problems. With that i had the whole day free to waste before getting the boat in the morning. I decided to take a wonder around the town.

There wasn’t really much to see so I headed back to my room and after managed to buy some lunch at a local, I’ll call it an eatery. I spent the afternoon reading by the river watching the locals go about their business. A bakery opened so I brought what passed for croissants and Pan o chocolates for the next day and after starting to get bitten I retired until the next day.

Nuevo Rocafuerte to El Coca

I awoke at around 4:30 and got ready. Just before 5am the hostel owner kindly knocked on my door to see if I was awake. I left the hostel at 5:10 and walked the two blocks to where the boat waited. Someone checked my ID and my name was added to a list and I had to get on the boat alone unsupported which worries me as instead of mud this time there was water and I didn’t want to repeat the same mistake.

A guy took my big bag from me and stashed it at the front and I grabbed a seat halfway along. This was the most modern boat Id been on. There were TV screens which had the news on, but these were soon turned off, and just before we departed at 5:30am the boat blasted out a serian, which is did for much of the fist half hour. I’m not sure how excited I’d be living in the village but people do get up early here to work in the light.

The journey was pretty much the same as previous days, picking up and dropping off passengers. I saw groups of school children on boats in what must be a school boat. The police came on board at one point and made us all wear the life jackets and there were several groups of parents with children. At one point a little boy burst into tears because his mother was changing his sister in the toilet. I don’t know why but I gave him some of the chocolate bread and that immediately stopped him. He then hovered around for more but I didn’t want to encourage a habit. A little girl sitting across from me had seen the whole thing and later when I started eating another she stuck her hand out, I offered and the mother was happy for her to have some. As soon as she finished she stuck her hand out for more and started crying so I gave her more but after a third time I felt I was reinforcing bad behaviour. She later was held over the side of the boat so she could go to the bathroom. It’s funny how things are different here, that people will accept food from strangers, I do it and I think there is not the fear of poisoning or razor blades. Maybe people here have better things to do.

Again we picked people up and dropped people off. We stopped for lunch but I had enough food so stayed in place. It also rained a lot more today but the covers mostly kept me dry. It was again a long journey but I can’t think of anything else exciting that happened. Actually I don’t think I’ve tamed about how wide the river is but I think the land is pretty flat here and I get the impression it’s not very deep but it’s easily 100metres or more for most of the time.

We reached El Coca around 4pm and I headed to a hostel I thought was cheap. I couldn’t be bothered to compare prices so I just took the room which was nearly as good as the one the night before. I took a wonder to the bus station but it was the wrong one and with the main terminal being a further 3km out of town I decided to quit and get some food. Even tho it was a Friday I didn’t know anyone in the city so I headed back to the hostel early to sleep.

It had been a long journey and both an interesting and boring one. But I had travelled a route that not many people had and I had a tiny look at how people in the Amazon live. One thing that surprised me was the amount of villages there were along the river. But of course that is where the villages will be, not in the middle of the jungle. There were also a lot of children and not so many adults. I assume they must have been working.

How to make the trip Iquitos to El Coca

I made the journey in October 2018.

If you want you can visit The iPeru office located just off the main plaza in Iquitos, towards the river (Calle Naop marked on the map below). They did give me a time table but seemed to have very little other information. I’d just skip this part and message the number below.

Iquitos - iPeru Office

The timetable contained a number so I WhatsApped using my bad Spanish and Google Translate – +51 965 800 468 and I was directed to the ticket office at: Calle Maynas 360, altura la Cdra 17 de Yavari (and this is exactly as it was sent to me). My hostel helped me find the location on a map but here it is in Google:

Iquitos - Boat Ticket Office

Its about a 25 minute walk or you can pay a Tuktuk driver to take you there. I was trying to be cheap so decided to walk. Towards the end of the journey the road is no longer asphelt and the office, which was someones house, was not quite on the junction I had been told. I’ve put the pin in the general area, but it is there. I was on the corner and I had to walk up the road a little. The lovely lady drew me a map and I had my ticket after paying 125 Soles.

This boat takes you from Mazan to Cabo Pantoja on the border. First you need to arrive at Mazan. The lady who sold me the ticket told me how I could get there on the day at the boat leaves at 9am but I decided, with the advice of the hostel, to get there the day before. The collectivos that go to Mazan leave from Puerto Lao. There are several entrances and calling it a dock is misleading as its really just a lot of driftwood and boats tied together-so watch your step. There are a few different entrances and I had to ask a couple of times to find the boat, but as always people were friendly and helpful. The journey time is about 40min and I ended up paying 15 soles, initially I was told 20. I had to wait over an hour for the boat to fill up before it left and I was travelling at midday. Just remember this could be an issue if you are talking the next boat on the same day.

Iquitos - Pueto Lao

When the boat arrives in Indiana, there is only one destination, you will be met by Tuktuk drivers who will take you to Mazan. If you look at the map you will see how the rivers work and this is cutting off a longer journey. PAy no more than 5 soles and you’ll be whizzing through the jungle to arrive at the small town. I stayed at Hotel Leydy but only because it was mentioned in the other blogs. It was the only place I could find and was cheap for a room at 10 soles. I’d recommend walking around town, the hostel is basic and there are at least 3-4 other places which all looked nicer. You can buy food in Mazan, there are restaurants and shops. You don’t actually need to stock up on anything for the journey although maybe buy a big 7 litre bottle in Iquitos as once on the boat you won’t have a water supply and it is hot.

The boat leaves Mazan at 9am, so I wok up the next day and the water front was bustling. There is not really a dock but you will see there are two boats that have pulled up alongside a structure. I had to walk across precarious planks to get there and there will be people selling food on the water front. Lunch is included in the boat ticket. The boat will be here:

Mazan - Dock

When the boat leaves that’s it for the day. There is a rudimentary bathroom on board and it doesn’t stop until around 5pm. Well it does constantly to pick up and to drop off but you won’t be able to go ashore. My advice is to bring a good book as there is nothing to see but jungle. You will dock in Santa Clotilde and the hostel, included in the price is on the riverfront. We were told we need to be back on board at 3am. So listen to the time, it wont leave without you ut don’t hold everyone up. Again there are several restaurants and shops in this town so you can stock up on anything you need.

The boat sets off in the dark and its a long day. Breakfast is provided and there is a lunch stop where you can buy food. This time you get a chance to get on dry land. You arrive in Cubo Pantoja around 6pm. I can’t tell you much about the town as a man came up to me and offered me a ride across the border leaving right now. He told me where to get my exit stamp and do not leave this town without getting one. In the blog below people had difficulty getting theirs but for me it was easy. I was taken to the officer who was at the dock when the boat arrived. She told me to wait in the office. Sadly Google Maps doesn’t cover this town, but it is on maps.me, but take the path left form the dock, follow it up the hill and then when it swings tot he right follow it round and head to the police station. The immigration office is first. The lady came to find me, stamped my passport and I went back to the dock and jumped on the boat for $25. The man and his family lived in Ecuador.

Now its up to you if you want to do this. I was told later the journey is much more dangerous at night and it felt scary. I was told it would take 90 mins but it was more like 3.5 hours. The hostel when I arrived in Nuevo Rocafurte was much nicer, I had aircon and a TV but it was $15 a night, where as I think if I’d stayed in Cubo Pantoja it would have been much cheaper. Also the final boat to El Coca, which leaves every day, goes at 4am and arrived at 10pm I was too late to get my passport stamped so I didn’t save any time. All I know is this section across the boarder is the shortest but most unreliable section of the journey. There is no scheduled boat to take you across so you have to find someone willing. I was lucky and I suspect people go al the time and are happy to take you for a little extra cash but just prepare to be suck here for a few days. Again I wasn’t in Cubo Pantoja long enough to see if there were shops and restaurants but I can’t imagine there will be none as every other town had facilities and this one would too.

In Nuvevo Rocafuerte there are two hostels. I stayed in Hostal Yurag Wasi as the other was full. There are a few shops and restaurants along the river front and not much else. Although a bakery is among the selection. Again Google Maps doesn’t really help me show you where the Immigration office is and the dock. For the immigration check Maps.me. From whichever hostel you stay in walk one black away from the river and turn right. Its actually in the wrong place on maps.me so when you ge to the school keep walking and its on your left in a multipurpose government building. The police station is here. Again people on the other blogs complained that they had trouble getting the attention of the immigration officer. I walked into one of the buildings and was directed to a door inside the square. Stupidly I opened the door and it was the private room of the officer. He took me around to his office and soon I was on my way.

The hostel owner was nice enough to give me a wake-up call the following day for the boat to leave at 4am. You pay for the ticket on the boat and on this day there were a lot of seats. The boat does stop for lunch. I had stocked up on food at the bakery so I didn’t get off to see what what available and there is also a toilet on this boat. ITs a long day and we arrived in El Coca at around 5pm. This is a city and you are back on the road network so you wont have any problem finding anything when you arrive.

Costs in dollars:


Iquitos to Mazan – Boat: $4.50, Tuktuk: $1.5, Hostel $4.5

Mazan to Cubo Pantoja – Boat $37.72

Cubo Pantoja to Nuvueo Rocafurte – Boat – $25, Hostel $15 x2

Nuvueo to El Coca – Boat $18

Total – $121.22, plus food but depending on how you eat then it can be very cheap.

Further reading – I found these two blogs really useful when planning my journey so read up on additional information.

Mind of a Hitchhiker and Roaming Around the World who had made the journey in 2017

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