Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Republic of the Equator

is what it would be called, had we gone for the literal translation. A shame we didn´t, really - it's got a certain romantic ring to it.

After a difficult start, I have had a fantastic time here, in part due to what the country has on offer, and also thanks to the people I have met. Cuenca was wonderful, as was the nearby Cajas National Park that I visited on Tuesday. It looks weirdly similar to the Lake District, though it is higher, colder and has more exotic plants. That took up most of the day, after which I investigated more beautiful areas of the town, and then to a night bus that evening to Baños. It was one of the worst buses I have yet taken, though thankfully probably the last night one.

Baños is not a nice town...but the setting is stunning, in a green valley underneath a volcano. Around it is prime tourist outdoor activity territory, and I went for a walk up to a viewpoint (saw the summit swimming in the clouds), and then decided to go for one of the big tourist activities - biking along a road to the jungle, lined with waterfalls. I luckily found two young Dutch people who were renting bikes at the same time ($5), and went with them. The waterfalls were very impressive, particularly the enormous final one, the largest in Ecuador. That, and the company was great. The evening turned out to be equally as fun, through a simple bit of chance. I was sitting in a restaurant, and noticed a French family next to me struggling with the English menu. I thought I might as well help them out, and afterwards got talking to them. They were kind enough to invite me to eat with them, and we had a great, wide-ranging conversation. At the end, the dad didn't so much offer as insist on paying for my meal... in all, it was one of the nicest things that had happened to me in a while.

Then Thursday morning I was off to Quito. Like Lima, it's a city which you can't sum up in a blog. The Old Town is very grand and full of colonial churches, though it's somehow not as charming as Cuenca. I am getting ready now to leave for Panama tomorrow morning, and then on to Cuba on Monday. They are small steps towards home, which I am now quite looking forward to.

I wanted to also write some things about Ecuador, and how it differs from Peru. It feels much less of a 3rd world country, and the people look markedly more European. The American influence here is stronger - not only the dollar, but the Chevrolets which line all the streets. The teenagers skateboard, play basketball and wear their baseball caps backwards. The other big influence is Colombia, to which Ecuador clearly feels culturally closer - they were at one point the same country. In a sense, it is easier to travel in than Peru...things work a little better. It has to be said that months in South America take a toll. It is simply tiring to have to worry about where to find a hostel, how to get a bus, how to not be pickpocketed. Although I'm repeating myself, getting back to the UK will be a in that way a relief.

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