I soke still have all my stuff
15.06.2016 - 29.06.2016 30 °C
I'm not going to waste too much precious Internet space on Miami. It is what it is, and I'm sure some people love it, but I'm afraid I ain't one of them. Thankfully there was plenty of football to keep me entertained for the two nights I was there before departing for Ecuador.
Trying to fit South America into two months is like trying to fit an elephant into a Mini. It's a squeeze. The Ecuadorian leg would be particularly tight, as I have a trek to Machu Picchu booked for July 2nd, and need to be in Cusco a couple of days early to acclimatise to the altitude, so time management is pretty important. Which is slightly problematic as I'm rubbish at managing time. I decided to start off with two nights in Quito before heading to Baños for a further two.
According to Duolingo I'm 4% fluent in Spanish, so when I arrived in Quito I was excited but a little apprehensive when it came to communication. I needed two buses to get to my hostel, the first of which I navigated fine, but when I got off at what I think was the right stop the place was a mad house. I had no idea which of the many buses I needed. I wimped out of trying to ask and got a taxi instead, experiencing my first taste of Ecuadorian driving and their scant regard for safety, which was fun. I used my phrase book to strike up a conversation with the driver, the dialogue of which consisted mostly of 'no comprende'.
I finally made it to my hostel just outside of the vibrant old town, which is a cool place to wander around and get a bit lost in. A group of us went into town to watch Ecuador play the USA in the Copa America. South Americans are famously passionate about football, so an Ecuador victory would no doubt have been celebrated in style. They scored late on to reduce the 2-0 half time deficit and piled on pressure in search of the equaliser, but unfortunately the USA held on, so what could have been an amazing night ended slightly anticlimatically. Nonetheless, I quite liked the city so ended up staying an extra night. Quito might not be the prettiest place on Earth, but the cable car ride up the mountains results in some spectacular views. The 5km hike to the peak of the Rucu Pichincha volcano was a bit more challenging than I had expected, but was well worth the effort.
I made it to Baños the following day, where I met a Mario the Mexican. It just so happened Mexico were playing Chile that night, so once he'd donned his colours we headed out to watch it. It's fair to say it didn't go well. A bad first half ended with Chile 2-0 up, before a catastrophic second half saw them add five more. We drank a lot of tequila that night, and I learned some Spanish swear words. To get over the tequila-inspired hangover I decided to go rafting the following morning. The water was nice and choppy, so choppy in fact an American guy in the raft in front of us fell in after hitting a particularly big wave. He managed to get to the river bed where we dragged him into our boat and saved him. It was all very heroic. Baños is much like Queenstown, sat in the mountains with plenty of activities to get the adrenaline flowing. I talked Nicole, a Scottish lass I met rafting, into doing 'something with waterfalls' with a group from my room. Turns out it was canyoning, which she wasn't overly enamoured about. I thought it was great though, until we went down a natural rock slide at the end, when the harness contorted in such a way that it made life a little uncomfortable downstairs. My pained expression at least provided amusement for those at the bottom.
On the calmer side of things, Baños offers thermal pools, and the Swing At The End Of The World. The view from the latter would no doubt look all the more spectacular could we see anything other than clouds 10 feet in front of us, but it was still pretty awesome. I really liked Baños so ended staying an extra two nights.
To make up for lost time I decided to pass straight through Cuenca and do an 18-hour trip all the way to Mancora in Peru. Once I got to Cuenca 9 hours later, however, I changed my mind and decided to stay the night. Doing so meant Mario and I could meet back up with Nicole and Ana who arrived the next day. This was good because A, they're quite nice people and - more importantly - B, they could return the swimming trunks I'd left on the balcony in Baños. Cuenca itself is a cracking little place, and the walking tour was superb. An unexpected highlight was the Panama hat museum and workshop, which was far more interesting than it sounds. I was deeply tempted to stay an extra night so I could visit the nearby national park. As it happened, I met an Aussie and American girl who were also heading to Mancora so I decided to tag along. It was my first experience of an overnight bus in South America, and while it wasn't exactly luxurious it did the job. Due to a little referendum you may have heard about my money at the end of the journey was worth a fair amount less than at the start, which put me in a bit of a mood. Fortunately it was a Friday and I was staying at Loki, an absolute party haven, so drowning my sorrows wasn't difficult.
Because I have my priorities straight, my main concern in getting from Mancora to Lima was how I would do it without missing any football. I had planned to work Trujillo into the journey to break things up, but that would mean sacrificing the Copa America final or the England game. The only feasible option was to stay in Mancora for an extra couple of nights, followed by a 19 hour bus straight to Lima. The added bonus was that in staying I was once again reunited with Mario, Nicole and Ana for a night. In all honesty, the whole four days are a bit of a blur. I do unfortunately remember the England game, and the endless jokes about leaving Europe twice in a week, made mostly by the gleeful Irish and Scottish contingent at the hostel. The details of that night are a little sketchy, but I do remember Dee Nicole pouring a beer over my head because I was quite scathing about her flip cup ability. She was terrible, in fairness. As I was packing the next morning I realised my GoPro was missing. I hadn't used it in Mancora, so assumed it had been stolen as I'd left my locker open. I was grumpily about to leave when I realised I'd left my toothbrush in the room so popped back to get it. I decided to do one final sweep, and found I'd inexplicably taken my GoPro out of my locker and left it on the balcony. I haven't the faintest idea why, considering I didn't even use it. Having already announced it had been stolen, I quietly shuffled out of the hostel without telling anyone otherwise. Admitting my idiotic ineptitude is far easier this way than in person.
I met so many awesome, crazy people at Loki, but for the sake of self preservation I was ready to leave after four nights. As I write this, four hours into my journey to Lima, with the sun sinking gloriously into a lake over my right shoulder, and dry, arid desert to my left, it occurs to me that I haven't had a shower for three days and may not have one in the next two as I try to figure out how the hell to get to Cusco. Pretty views though.