March 2012 – Ecuador
Guayaquil, Ecuador where the people called themselves Los Monos Locos (Cracy Monkeys) was my port of entry to South America. Truly was Guayaquil crazy, a bi-polar city with beauty and squalor side by side. The streets were chaotic and disorderly, with traffic crisscrossing and street vendors yelling their deals. Police officers carried machine guns, people told me stories of muggings and murders and advised me on how to avoid danger. When I was invited by a girl I had met on Couchsurfer to her Carnival birthday celebration in Montañita I was relieved. Montañita was my first experience with the insane night life of South America. A beach town where the majority of the population was there to party and the rule of law was void or hiding. I was ready to leave after one crazy night but during carnival the buses were booked for days. We ended up staying one more night and hitchhiking in a pickup the next morning. Luck was on our side when the very first truck stopped. Also when we didn’t die hanging onto the back going over 80 mph. This civilian pick up truck actually got away with having lights and sirens on top of it to pass other cars.
Next stop was Banos, named after the waterfalls surrounding the city. On the bus ride over we met a group of Argentinians. Together we went on a bike ride the next day, 61 km downhill along a highway mostly used by oil tankers with ditches on each side ( I met many people who did this same ride and got injured). A short video of the road we took. The next day, we went to Puyo down the same road, a jungle town 30 degrees warmer. After visiting the monkeys we continued heading north to Quito the capital of Ecuador, high on a mountain.
After a week speaking Spanish with the Argentinians my confidence was much higher but my accent had been permanently altered. Forever La playa (the beach) would be La Plasha. They headed for La Plasha (still spelled playa but pronounced sh) and I continued completely alone for the first time, southbound. Cuenca was the next stop, a colonial town similar to Quito except in size. There I was treated by locals to Coi, a large guinea pig with 0 cholesterol fire roasted on a spit. A surprisingly delicate and delicious meat. Before this trip I was a vegan so it was a challenge to eat everything. I left the best parts, the brains & eyes, to the locals. Again I witnessed the full nature of night life, first at a club then an after party where the center piece of the room was a big bowl of cocaine. (Using cocaine, and making coca tea was so relaxed here, it was like sharing sticks of bubble gum)
After Cuenca, I continued down the road to Loja for a quick stop, and onward the same day to “the town of Longevity”. Vilcabamba is a popular town for ex-pats and known for a man in his 100’s. There is a picture of the man in the downtown park. One day while we were looking at his picture we turned and saw him with the same smile sitting on a park bench. The rolling hills of the Podocarpus forms knife edge mountains all around the city. The “mountain” or hill has a perfect peak with a walking path sometimes as thin as 3 feet with hundred foot drops on either side.
There are two ways to get around Vilcabamba, pay $5 to pack as many people inside and out of a pickup truck.
Or pay $20 for 8 hours of a horse’s services, if you can last that long. Careful going in the River, if you aren’t well footed you will be in for a ride.
I was uncertain what to do next after Vilcabamba. I had planned a back road way to cross the boarder into Peru and the idea became so popular about 10 people wanted to go to, and I could only say the more the merrier. I didn’t feel right about leaving this way and contemplated joining one of the other groups leaving in different directions. The night before I was suppose to leave, I met a Swedish girl. We stayed up all night kissing and listening to music. The group got up at 5 am to catch the bus and they said they tried to wake me. Supposedly, I stood up, walked around mumbling then laid back down. I finally woke myself at 5:50 and ran down to catch the 6 am bus. I knew as soon as I had gotten down there I didn’t want to go. You can see me in the picture below standing off to the side of the group. We all ran into each other later in Peru and had a great laugh about the moment the bus pulled up and I said F this and ran back up to go to sleep.
The extra day in Vilcabamba turned into a crazy one. A notoriously safe town, that day a couple from our hostel was taken hostage. The captors told the man to come down the mountain and get all his money to release his wife but don’t call the police. The hostel was in a frenzy, we could see them on the mountain with binoculars. People were running around crying. I had told two girls I was leaving with them to Columbia, but I changed my mind again because of the madness. Luckily the woman was rescued, and I joined my friend Max on a bus down to Mancora, Peru that night. Mancora is a beautiful beach, when your eyes are closed, besides the mosquitoes. When your eyes are open you see the trash everywhere, the wild dogs, the fake police trying to grope women and the blatant use of hard drugs. I wanted to leave after one day.
We made some friends on the bus out and visited the Chan Chan ruins together. Max wanted to go to another beach not far south. I really didn’t want to go to another crazy beach town. I tried to just go straight to Lima, luckily I couldn’t get a ticket and stayed with Max because there I met two sisters who would inspire an adventure never to forget.