Cuenca & Banos, Ecuador

Ten hours and three buses after leaving Mancora in Peru we arrived in the city of Cuenca in southern Ecuador (Mancora-Tumbes-Machala-Cuenca), where we checked into Hostal Macondo tired and hungry. The border crossing and overall journey was pretty uneventful but it was great to see the landscape change after we crossed the border; from arid and dusty coastal Peru to the lush greenness of Ecuador. Like any good Irish cailin, I love a bit of green I do!

Hike from Banos Devils Cauldron, Banos. Orangeman, Banos.

After settling into our lovely (albeit expensive at $11 each – the official currency of Ecuador is the US Dollar) hostel, we headed out to the pricey but lovely Cafe Eucalyptus where we wined and dined while watching the locals strutting their stuff to two great salsa groups in a ´battle of the bands´. I think this place is usually a gringo hangout but this night it was 90% Ecuadorians and boy can they dance! It was a great start to our month in Ecuador (which is the last country we will visit in South America) and it set the tone for what has been a great few weeks. We knew when we left Peru that we wanted to fit loads into our last month so we had lots of plans for activities and trips in Ecuador and so far it hasn´t disappointed.

As we really have had enough of cities by now we only stayed in Cuenca for a day and a half, the first of which was a Sunday so everything was closed. It’s a very pretty city (like most of the cities we´ve been to in South America), but we didn´t do much other than wander around and visit the Museo del Banco Central. This museum is well worth a look, especially the very creatively curated second floor which focuses on the indigenous people of Ecuador. This exhibition is really colourful and includes an English language section on the Shuar people (the rest is all in Spanish so maybe an English speaking guide would be worth enquiring about). In past times the tribe used to chop the heads off their enemies and shrink them down to the size of a large fist using a closely guarded secret recipe. We saw three or four shrunken heads in display cases (you can see pics of some on, along with life size models representing some of the people, houses, clothes etc. of the various tribes of the Amazon. There`s also some Inca ruins out the back of the museum, but to be honest unless you`re really into looking at old walls its not all that stimulating.

Demonstration, Cuenca.

As we were wandering around Cuenca, we came across a demonstration made up of about five or six hundred (mostly indigenous) Ecuadorians who were participating in a national campaign against water privitisation and/or contamination by large companies. Across South America in recent years, water supplies have been and continue to be privatised, which to me is just completely ridiculous; water is essential for life and there are a lot of people on this continent (and every other continent) who just cannot afford to pay for it. Nor should they have to. And although I don´t always approve of their methods, I can`t help but admire the willingness of regular people all over South America to stand up for themselves against huge corporations and national and international policies which are really all about money and not about people at all.

Local doing the Laundry, Cuenca.

The last thing of note in Cuenca was a great little Indian we found which does a two-course lunch for $2.50 – Bapu on Calle Larga (just past Benigno Malo)… yummy yummy!

On the Monday afternoon we left for Banos and eventually got there three buses and three taxis later (if you´re ever going that way, stay on the Quito bus until you get to Umbato, buses don´t run from Riobamba to Banos in the evening). Banos is a large enough town set at the edge of the jungle which is choc full of tour companies which rent mountain bikes, quads, dune buggies and motorbikes and also arrange (dodgy looking) fifteen dollar bungie jumps, rafting trips, hiking, horse-riding, canyoning and jungle trips. There are also two hot springs and countless waterfalls nearby. We spent three days in Banos and managed something active each day. The first day we rented mountain bikes and cycled 19km (mainly downhill) past villages and waterfalls to the village of Rio Verde and the Pailón Del Diablo (the Devil’s Cauldron) waterfall. It was a good trip and if we had more time it would have been great to keep going all the way downhill to Puyo, about 68km away I think. But as it was almost 5pm when we left the waterfall, we just had time for a beer at a roadside shack before hopping in the back of a truck with the bikes and returning back uphill to Banos the easy way!

The Easy Way Back Banos from above.

The next day we did a half day white water rafting trip with Rainforestur, which was absolutely brilliant but for the fact that the guides didn´t bring enough helmets and wetsuits, so Eddie had no helmet and I sat wrapped in a towel for the lovely restaurant lunch which was included afterwards. So although I wouldn`t be recommending Rainforestur, other than the equipment problems the trip was actually really great and it´s something we definitely both want to try again.

On our last morning in Banos we hiked up to the cross overlooking the town (another trip you could make a day of as there`s a few hiking paths and a restaurant up there) and then boarded a bus to Quito to sort out our jungle trip and begin the long hunt for a last minute deal to the Galapagos islands.

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