A Travellerspoint blog

Nazca

Lots of Lines

sunny 24 °C

We left Huacachina at 7am this morning to catch the bus to Nazca. The big thing to see in Nazca are obviously the famous Nazca Lines. Pretty much the only way you can get a good view of all the lines is to take a flight in a small aircraft, and therefore its quite pricey. We were in two minds as to whether or not we would see them but then decided that we´re only going to be here once!

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The aeroplane we were in was tiny - only seating 6 people including the pilot and captain - so that it can fly closer to the ground and get a better view of the lines. There are hundreds of lines in the desert, some just straight and some make geometric shapes but the best are the ones in the shapes of different animals. The humming bird [above] and monkey [below] were our favourites, others include a whale, dog, tree and the astronaut that looks a bit like an alien!

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We still don´t know a great deal about the lines and there are many theories about who made them and why they´re here. It is believed that they were created between 200BC and 700AD but everything else is a mystery!

Our flight finished at 12 and we´ve got a 10pm bus booked to Arequipa so we´ve made the most of our spare 10 hours by getting up to date on the blog! Hope you all enjoy it!

P.S You might remember us mentioning that we stayed in a town in Ecuador next to an active volcano. This is what happened almost exactly a week after we left...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lGFp93Zj20

Posted by alexdani 16:55 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Huacachina

Oasis in the Sand

sunny 27 °C

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We made it to Huacachina unexpectedly early, after being able to catch a 1hr mini bus as soon as we got back from our early morning trip to the Ballestas Islands. The manager at the hostel we were staying at in Paracas said she could organise us a private minibus to take us for the same price as the big public bus and this turned out to be a great deal. We cruised to Huacachina in a luxurious comfy people carrier with the driver giving us an tour style explanation of the local area!

We got to the desert oasis town of Huacachina by lunch time and where blown away by how unbelievably amazing it is. It´s literally a small town around a blue lagoon completely surrounded by enormous sand dunes. Definitely one of the most impressive places we´ve seen on our whole trip so far. We checked in to our plush hotel complete with swimming pool for just $10 each a night and went to explore the lagoon. The town is predominately for tourists so it isn´t exactly an authentic Peruvian experience but this can´t take away from just how cool the place is!

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In the afternoon we signed up for a dune buggy ride over the surrounding dunes which included the opportunity to try sandboarding down some of the slopes. The ride through the dunes was incredible as the scenery was like nothing we´d ever seen before, and the driver was taking us up and over the dunes like a rollercoaster.

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After we´d calmed down from the exitement of the buggy ride it was time to have a go at some sand boarding. It´s essentially the same as snowboarding but much trickier albeit with a softer crash landing. We saw a few people fail spectacularly so decided it would be far safer and easier to just lay face down on the boards and hurl ourselves down headfirst.

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The first few slopes weren´t too steep but by the end we were looking down at a fairly steep slope! The reason we went in the afternoon was so that we could see the sunset over the dunes but sadly by the time we´d finished boarding and rushed up the nearest dune the sun had set. The sky did still look beautiful though and made a peaceful end to a very busy day! Words can not describe just how sandy we were when we got back though, it seemed we´d taken a significant amount of desert back to town with us. Our shoes, pockets and hair was all full of sand, and it seems we´ll still be feeling sandy for a good few days!

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The following day we decided to make use of the hotel´s pool area and have a relaxing day of doing nothing. As usual though, this didn´t last long! We saw some people climbing to the top of the dune surrounding the lagoon and reckoned it was definitely worth a try to get a good photo of the whole oasis. It was a tough climb but worth it for the views across the desert on one side and down into the oasis on the other. After taking a few too many photos there was only one way to go back down....run! This new sport of ¨sand running¨ turned out to be as good. if not better than, the sandboarding! After excerting ourselves we did finally spend a few hours relaxing by the pool and topping up our tans.

We´d been a bit dissapointed to miss the sunset on the dunes the night before and so after a brief discussion decided it was only right to try and see it again tonight by going sand boarding again! This time we were in a much smaller dune buggy with only 2 other people (we´d been in a group of 9 the night before), which meant we could fit lots more slopes in. Dani didn´t fancy getting super sandy again like yesterday so decided to only come for the buggy ride and only spectate the boarding. I thought I should at least try and do some real standing up sandboarding this time.

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It was incredibly difficult staying upright and by the 100th time of falling over it was time to revert to the tried and tested ¨lay down¨technique! It was fun trying some proper sandboarding though, and I reckon if you get the hang of it then it would be much better than laying down. The very last slope that we went down was unbelievably long and steep, about 10 times higher than what we´d attempted yesterday. I dug my feet into the sand as much as I could to slow myself down but it seemed to make little difference as I went hurtling down at what felt like 100mph! Unfortunately, tackling this last mega slope meant I was too late for the sunset AGAIN! Luckily Dani got to see it from the buggy though and take a few pictures.

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Huacachina has probably been our favourite place on the trip so far (matched only maybe by Mindo in Ecuador). We were sad to leave this morning but excited about our trip to Nasca to see the famous ¨Nasca Lines¨.

Posted by alexdani 16:54 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Paracas

´The Poor Mans Galapagos´

sunny 23 °C

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In another change of plan we decided to stay in Paracas rather than the town of Pisco. In 2007 Pisco was hit by a major earthquake and is still in the process of recovering, so we decided to stay in Paracas instead which is a small seaside village about 15 mins down the coast from Pisco.

The reason we came here was to visit the Islas Ballestas, dubbed ´the poor mans Galapagos´. The islands are famous for the colonies of sealions, Humboldt penguins and Peruvian Boobies as well as the 50m deep layer of poo generated by the birds, which is the best type of organic fertiliser and so worth quite a bit. The droppings were actually Peru´s main export during the mid 19th Century and paid for most of the churches and cathedrals to be built. When we arrived we arranged a boat tour of the islands for the next morning, so had the evening to look around. There were pelicans on the beach that came really close and are huge!

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The next morning we were up pretty early for our boat tour which lasted a couple of hours. The first stop was to have a look at the ´Candelabra´, a carving on the side of the cliff which looks like someone has gone up there and drawn it in the sand but is actually at least 500 years old.

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Then we were off to see the animals. There were literally thousands of seabirds flying around and standing on the cliffs, it was a pretty amazing sight. What was more amazing was that everyone on our boat managed to avoid getting fertiliser on their head.

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The penguins were quite hard to spot on the rocks, usually standing in pairs looking rather nervous of all the other birds around.

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They were really cute though, as were the sealions that we occassionally saw sprawled on a rock. Although I´m sure the Galapagos Islands are a hundred times better it was still really good to see so much wildlife in one place, and the penguins were awesome¡

An hour after we´d jumped off the boat, we were on our way to our next destination - Huacachina.

Posted by alexdani 16:49 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Lima

A Flying Visit

sunny 20 °C

After the worst night bus ever, and a total of about 3 hours sleep we arrived in Lima at 6.30 am. When we got to the hostal the room we´d booked wasn´t free yet so we just took the next best one that was free so we could go back to sleep!

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Later on when we felt a bit better we ventured into central Lima to have a look around. As with every town we´ve been to so far there was a central plaza with an old cathedral that looked really pretty, and several other churches dotted around. There were loads of police standing around with big guns and even some tanks, which looked rather scary - we later found out that there were some protests going on about pay, apparently quite a common thing here.

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We went to the San Francisco Monastry where we were taken beneath the church to see the catacombs! It was pretty eerie as you could see all the skulls and bones of supposedly 25,000 people buried there. Back in the day anyone who fancied it could be buried under the church to be closer to God, but now only the priests are allowed that honour. We were also shown the library with some seriously huge 400 year old books.

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In the evening we went to a park which is in the Guinness Book of Records for having the most fountains in a public park! Which doesn´t seem like that much of an anchievement but it was actually pretty cool, there were all kinds of fountains and some that you could walk in or under without getting wet.

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As it got dark they all lit up and then they put on this laser show which was really good!

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There wasn´t really anthing else to do in Lima so the next day we were back on a bus for 4 hours down the Peruvian coast to a small village called Paracas.

Posted by alexdani 16:08 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Huaraz

An Andean Adventure

sunny 24 °C

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From Trujillo, we took our first night bus for the 9 hour journey high up into the Andes. It was a surprisingly pleasant experience, as we went for the slightly pricier seats which reclined quite far back and had a decent amount of leg room and before we knew it we were waking up in the mountains.

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At 7am, straight of the bus and feeling a little groggy we decided not to waste any time and get on with our first adventure activity, a mammoth downhill mountain bike ride. After checking and double checking the brakes on our rented bikes, we loaded them on to the roof of the ricketiest old bus you´ve ever seen. We´ve been on some dodgy buses on our travels but this one had to be the worst. Before we got going everyone got off, and we noticed that the bus started rolling down the road. It was only when everyone got back on huffing and puffing that we realised the driver had asked everyone to get off and push to get it started, and we were sat there like a pair of lazy tourists completely oblivious to what was going on! After it´s shaky start it wasn´t surprising that the bus broke down another two times on the steep 1 hour journey, but we eventually made it to the top of the mountain. The views of the surrounding mountain ranges were awesome but we were feeling pretty breathless being so high so we didn´t hang around and began the super speedy 3 hour (all downhill!) ride.

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It was a really excilerating experience zooming down the windy roads at top speed, and it was made even better by not having to peddle once! Towards the bottom of the mountain we had to cycle through some local villages and lots of the children seemed very excited to see us, waving and shouting !Hola¡, as we went past.

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In the evening, it was time to do what I´d been wanting to do since arriving in Peru....eat some Guinea pig. We chose a decent looking restaurant in the hope that it may be prepared in a slightly more delectable way than we´d seen in other places, but it turned out Guinea Pig only really comes one way...slapped on the plate! The picture says it all really.

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The taste of it wasn´t actually too bad, a lot like chicken, but it wasn´t easy eating something which still had its head, paws, and a few hairs still attached. There were only a few mouthfulls of meat on it anyway so the ordeal didn´t last long. It seemed a nice touch that they decorated the plate with creamy yellow slime, just to complete the experience!

On our second day, we took a tour into the Cordilleras Blaca mountain range, the highest in the world outside of the Himalayas. It was a very bumpy hour and a half mini bus ride climbing a dirt road through the valley to two stunning bright turquoise lagoons nestled in a glacial valley.

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We were treated to yet more jawdropping scenery, quite similar to Tiger Leaping Gorge in China.

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In the afternoon we visited the town of Yungay, which is the site of the worst natural disaster in the Andes. An earthquake in 1970 caused a landslide of 15 million cubic meters of granite and ice and almost all of the town´s 20,000 inhabitants were buried alive in 2 seconds. They rebuilt the town elsewhere and the site of the disaster is now a picturesque memorial garden of flowers and palm trees. It was quite eerie walking around the place in the dusk light as the guide told us that only 92 people were able to escape by climbing a large monument which is still standing. Some of the rocks from the landslide have been left where they fell and they´re literally the size of houses. Just before heading home we watched the setting sun turn the snow capped Mount Huascaran bright orange, which was a rather impressive sight.

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In the evening it was time to take our second night bus back down through the mountains to Peru´s capital, Lima.

Posted by alexdani 15:32 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Trujillo

lots of old ruins!

sunny 25 °C

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Sorry for not writing for getting hopelessly behind with these blog entries, we´ll try and catch up tomorrow! We arrived safely in Peru over a week ago now!

Trujillo was our first stop of note in Peru. We actually spent a night in a town called Piura after travelling all day from Ecuador, but the room was like a prison cell and the town was really busy - so not a great first impression of Peru! Wanting to get out of there as soon as possible we didn´t even unpack anything, just put on the previous days´ clothes and made our way to the bus station for 6 hour journey to Trujillo.

We actually stayed in a small village by the sea called Huanchaco about 10 mins from Trujillo, which was really pretty and quite popular for surfers.

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The main reason we came to Trujillo was to see the old ruins from the Chimu and Moche cultures which both pre-date the Incas. On our first day we visited the Chan Chan archaeological site which was the Imperial capital of the Chimor people until it was conquered by the Incas in 15th century. The main site which we visited was the 8th out of 9 palaces in the area (every time a King died they built a new palace for the next) and we had to walk for 15mins down a road through the desert to get to it. It is surrounded by a 12m high wall, and inside there are the remains of 3 squares, various rooms and corridors, and the King´s tomb.

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On the walls there were still remains of the carvings of fish and animals as well as geometric designs, which were quite amazing considering how old it was and how fragile it looked. Not having any expectations before we went, we were actually really impressed - it was like a huge sandcastle! Apparently it wont always be there either, due to its exposed position by the sea eventually it will be weathered away.

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We´d planned on seeing some other Chimu sites on our first day but by the time we´d found somewhere to have lunch (3 pm!) we decided to give up and just had a look around Trujillo.

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On our second day we went to visit the ´Huaca del Sol y Huaca de la Luna´ which are two temples built by the Moche people 1500 years ago. There is quite a unique method of transport in Peru, which involves people driving a van around and people just jumping on and off where they need to. So we´d asked how to get to the temples and knew we had to get 2 different vans. It all started off fine until we were dropped off by the first one in the middle of the busiest market and the driver pointed us to the next van we needed to get, a bit further down the road. It was bad enough being an obvious tourist in a very local area of town, but then this man started ripping the wing mirror off a car full off people stuck in a traffic jam! Everyone around us started shouting and running, until he was bundled to the ground and beaten up! In the mean time we were making our way to the van as quickly as possible only to be told it wasn´t going where we wanted. We didn´t have a clue where we were, and were feeling slightly at risk (seeing as the contents of our rucksack was worth rather more than an old wing mirror!) so decided to jump in a taxi to get there!

At first glance the temples just look like giant pyramids of sand, but when we were taken on a tour around the remains we saw that there was a lot more to it. The temples are made out of mud bricks and when the important priest died a new temple was built on top of the previous one by filling it with more mud bricks. The designs that are still visible on the inside are so vividly coloured you cant believe just how old they really are! The reason that they´re so well preserved is due to the fact that they were completely buried in order to build a new temple on top (most of the last temple has now been destroyed).

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In the afternoon we visited the two other Chimu ruins in the nearby area, but they we much smaller than Chan Chan and not nearly as impressive. Although you could walk to the top of them which felt like climbing a huge sand castle!

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At 9:00pm we took our first night bus to Huaraz, a 9 hour journey up into the Andes.

Posted by alexdani 18:12 Archived in Peru Comments (0)

Vilcabamba

More Horsing Around

sunny 23 °C

Our final stop in Ecuador was the sleepy town of Vilcabamba, close to the border with Peru. It´s a very peaceful and relaxing place, deemed the ´valley of longevity´as it´s not unusual for the inhabitants to live to 100 even though the average life expectancy in Ecuador is somewhere in the 60´s!

Although we hadn´t planned on coming here, we heard some bad reports about the border crossing we´d planned to take via Huaquillas so decided to change our route to cross at an easier border. It also gave us an excuse to spend another couple of days in Ecuador before going to Peru. This proved to be a great decision as Vilcabamba was a beautiful little town surrounded by lush green mountains and an amazing place to explore the ´Parque Nacional Podocarpus´.

We arrived in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing on our porch in the very comfy hammock. The next day we were up early to take on our second horse riding trek of the trip in the National Park. The 6 hour trek started with a steep climb up into the mountains, and we couldn´t help but feel a little sorry for our poor horses who had to lug us all the way to the top!

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The surrounding views were fantastic though, and when we got to the top we let our horses have a well deserved rest and continued on foot through the forest until finding a picturesque river to stop at for a picnic lunch. After lunch we climbed down to see yet another waterfall! (waterfalls definately seem to be the theme of our time in Ecuador!), but it was still an impressive sight.

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Our guide climbed a tree to pick us some strange orange fruit that you had to crack open almost like an egg to reveal a very alien looking gooey centre that had a peculiar texture but tasted delicious. Then it was back on the horses (without comedy names this time) to head back down the mountain to the town. This is where the trek got really exciting, as the guide whistled to the horses and all of a sudden we were galloping at full speed along the dirt track. It was the most excilerating feeling to be flying along, clinging on for dear life, with the horses clearly in their element. It easily beat our other horse riding trips, which now seemed tame in comparison. It seems you haven´t really experienced real horse riding until you´ve gone on a gallop!

That was to be the end of our flying visit to Vilcabamba, as we were off to Peru the next day......feeling very, very sore........

Posted by alexdani 18:49 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Cuenca

Churches, Market Towns and Inca Ruins

sunny 23 °C

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After a 7 hour journey from Banos we arrived in Cuenca. We didn't really know what to expect, and thought it was just another large city. We spent our first day looking around and were really surprised to find quite a beautiful town with a church or cathedral around every corner.

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We had a look around some museums, one with an exhibition about traditional cultures that had several shrunken heads on display! Actual shrunken human heads!! We spent the afternoon looking around some of the traditional craft markets.

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The following day we decided to catch a bus to some of the nearby villages where, as it was Sunday, there were some big markets. The first village, Gualaceo, was much larger than we'd expected but we managed to find a huge fruit and veg market with lots of women in traditional dress. Supposedly theres a live animal market but we didnt manage to find that, and got some rather funny looks when trying to ask about it. We did however find a lady roasting guinea pigs!

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We then jumped on another bus to the next village, Chordeleg. There wasn't really a great deal there, appart from a beautiful church and about 50 jewelery shops selling the same stuff!

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After another 30 minute bus ride we were in the final town, Sigsig. It is supposed to be the place you can see the art of panama hat weaving. But apart from a few stalls selling sweets there was nothing to be seen.

The following day we were on another bus, this time to visit some Inca ruins at Ingapirca 2 1/2 hours away. These are the most important Inca ruins in Ecuador. Although they are not as impressive as those we will see in Peru (most of it is just the remaining foundations), the guide told us that the sun temple is the only Inca temple built in an elliptical shape. It was quite interesting as the ruins are 500 years old, but we did only spend an hour and a half there so not sure if it was really worth the 5 hour journey!

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In a slight change of plan we're now off to a place called Vilcabamba, hopefully to see some more hummingbirds!! We were supposed to be crossong the border into Peru, but heard bad stories about the border crossing we were planning on using. We're now going a different, hopefully safer route!

Posted by alexdani 17:59 Archived in Ecuador Comments (1)

Baños

Volcanoes, Waterfalls and Thermal Baths

sunny 24 °C

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After all the fun we had in Mindo, Baños had a lot to live up to! The 4 hour journey from Mindo via Quito was full of stunning scenery as we weaved through the Andes heading south along the "avenue of volcanoes". As we approached Baños we caught our first glimpse of the smoking Tungurahua Volcano, which only last erupted in 2006 prompting an evacuation of the whole town! Baños itself is a small town surrounded by mountains, famous for its thermal baths and numerous waterfalls. Our hostel was right next to an enormous waterfall which we could see as we ate breakfast on the roof terrace.

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On our first day we spent the morning walking a few kilometers out of town soaking up all the scenery and making a quick stop at a small but powerful waterfall. In the afternoon, we hired a local guide to take us horse riding up into the mountains. He told us the horses were named after "very famous people". Dani got John Travolta, which I found hilarious until I got told Id be riding George Bush! It was great taking the reigns and leading our horses down winding paths with views of the town below, but it wasnt long before it all got a bit too much for George Bush. Unexpectedly he decided to lay down on the floor and start rolling around in the dirt, with me wrestling to not get crushed underneath him! Luckily I managed to escape, hauling myself back on after George had had his little rest! We continued riding to a large gorge where we left the horses and zipped from one side of the gorge to the other in what can only be described as a rusty old basket attached to a cable.

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Safely on the other side our guide gave us a tour of some of the local fruit trees. We tried a sour lemony type thing and an even more sour orangey type thing and also saw (but didnt try!) a fruit which is used as natural deodorant. After the fruit-fest it was time to swing back across the gorge and jump back on John and George for the ride back to town.

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In the evening we decided to try and ease our aching limbs by taking a dip in the local thermal baths which were right next to our hostel. They were right underneath the waterfall, and as we sat soaking in the steaming hot pool we had a view of the cascading falls to our right and the pink and orange dusk sky behind the mountains to our left. A perfect way to end the day.

On day two we hired mountain bikes to tackle the 60km ¨mostly downhill¨ ride to Puyo, visiting a number of different waterfalls on route. We managed to get some really decent bikes for only $6 each and raced off down the first very steep hill. The road was scattered with various small waterfalls along the way but there were two main waterfalls which we were hoping to see. When we reached the first one we had to take another basket style cable car down the mountain to get close to it. It was actually a huge double waterfall and we ventured as close to it as we could without getting absolutely drenched.

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Then it was back on the bikes for another few kilometers to the most impressive waterfall, the Pailon de Diablo. At the bottom of the waterfall there was a rope bridge which you could cross for a beautiful view of the waterfall crashing into the river below. It was free to go on the bridge but you had to pay to go to the other view point next to it. Rather suspiciously the free bridge was "closed for maintenance" while the pay entrance was open. We met a French guy who was furious that they were clearly just saying the bridge was closed so that you had to pay to go the other way, and rebelliously ignored the sign and went on the bridge anyway! After checking that he hadnt plummeted to his doom I tentitively ventured out on to the bridge and managed to snap a few pictures before hurrying back to a very disapproving Dani!

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As it turned out though, the pay entrance was well worth it as well. They had made a path which led right up next to and behind the waterfall. At one point the path became a narrow tunnel through the cliff and we had to practically crawl to get through. It was absolutely amazing to stand behind such a magnificent waterfall and feel the force of it rushing down in front of us.

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After all this adventuring we decided we didnt fancy the remaining 40km to Puyo, and so after only managing a meager 20km we loaded our bikes in the back of a passing bus and headed back uphill to Baños. It was probably the scariest bus journey of the trip so far though, as there were no seats left on the bus so we had to cosy up on a small seat next to the driver, almost falling out of the open door every time we went round a sharp bend!

Posted by alexdani 17:05 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Mindo

Cloud Forest, Humming Birds and Toucans!

sunny 24 °C

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The second stop on our trip was a small village called Mindo, 2 hours from Quito. It is in Ecuador's ¨Cloud Forest¨. On the day that we arrived we visited a butterfly farm, where there were more butterflies than you can imagine, and all colours of the rainbow! The owner showed us that if you put some mushed up banana on your finger you can coax the butterflies onto your hand, which was pretty amazing!

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The hostel where we were staying had a garden which backed onto the forest, and they put out feeders to encourage the humming birds to come close. We could have sat and watched them for hours, they were so beautiful. Apparently Ecuador has 35 different varieties, but I think we saw about 6 or 7 different ones. They were really small, no more than 10cm high, but really fast and they didnt stay still for very long so its a miracle we got such a good photo!

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For our second day we had arranged a bird-watching tour with a recommended local man. To made sure we managed to spot them we had to get up early (4:30am!), when the birds are most active! Somehow in our bad Spanish we had managed to tell this to the lovely lady at the hostel and she insisted on getting up really early to make us breakfast. First we set out into the forest to spot the ¨Cock of the Rock¨a bird famous in Ecuador, which is black with a red head and feathers covering its beak. Luckily the guide had a really good telescope so we could see the birds really clearly. We then went walking to see what other birds we could spot. I say we, I actually mean our guide as I have no idea how he managed to see them from so far away! We saw all sorts of colourful parrot-type birds, but the best has to be the Toucan! We actually saw 4 different types of toucan, including one endemic to Ecuador!

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In the afternoon we visited a chocolate makers, which we didn`t really expect much from but it turned out to be really interesting! An American guy showed us around, and we had absolutely no idea how much work goes into making a chocolate bar. We were also given a huge piece of chocolate brownie! yum!

It sounds crazy but in this tiny village, we had some of the best pizza ever, made by a local baker. It was so good that we had it for dinner every night and was made all the better by only costing us 1 pound! Amazing!

It was so peaceful and beautiful in Mindo that we really didnt want to leave, but as it was we`d stayed a day longer than planned!

Posted by alexdani 16:33 Archived in Ecuador Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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