Thursday, March 28, 2013


Saturday morning I left Montanita for Cuenca, a UNESCO city in the mountains. I got the 5.45am bus since the next one wasn't til 10am and that would mean arriving later in the day, which I didn't want. So I set my alarm for 4.45am so I could pack the rest of my bag, make a sandwich for the bus, and get a cab into town. Unfortunately, the power was out so I had to do all this in the dark using the flashlight on my phone. I then had to walk to the hostel next door in the mud (since it was pissing down rain all night) to wait for my cab to the bus.

The bus trip back to Guayaquil was fine. The second bus ride through the mountains took about 4 hours and reaches a peak of 4,000m before dropping back to 2,500m. Like all mountainous bus rides I go on, this one made me feel sick and when I got the hostel I had to lie down, which turned out to be for the rest of the day since I felt so shit. Thankfully no one else turned up in my room so I slept uninterrupted  The next morning I felt a little better and had breakfast before going exploring. Because I'd gone to bed so early, I was out exploring by about 8.30am, which is pretty early especially on a Sunday. Obviously nothing was open but all the locals were out and about for church. Seriously, when did church get so popular? And there's a church on every bloody corner in Cuenca and they were all packed.

Here's a selection:


This one is the main cathedral. Even though there was a service going on, I went in away cos I wanted to see the inside.

It was as expected. Fancy, with stained glass windows. I liked these flower ones the best.

Outside you can buy a bunch of crap and ice cream.

There was also some religious festival going on. Easter is still 2 weeks away, but I'm guessing it's related. I was walking around looking for Govindas, which meant walking the opposite way to everyone else obviously. I'm pretty sure it annoyed them while they were walking and singing their prayers. I got a lot of looks like I was a stupid Gringa who was getting in the way of their Jesus love. But whatever.

Then back near the cathedral there was a second parade. Not sure this car is completely street legal with a sheet covering most windows. Seems kinda dangerous to me.

There were lots of tourist maps around which point out a lookout, so I walked up the hill to get a view of the city since it's hard to take photos of things in the narrow streets. 

You can kinda see the cathedral in the middle of this photo. (Those 3 pointy things.)

After walking back down, I started feeling light headed and nauseous again and had to go back to the hostel and to bed. Game over. I stayed there the rest of the day. Next day, I woke up feeling good although a little light headed and hungry after my unintended 2 day break from most meals. I am pretty sure the altitude had affected me since travel sickness does not last 2 days and I didn't have Glenn's anti altitude sickness drugs to rely on this time. On the plus side my daily spend was way under budget from not eating.

Thankfully Happy Cow didn't let me down in Cuenca and I found all the veggie places listed including one that did green smoothies. Yay, greens.

After my vitamin hit, I walked along the river, which is really pretty.

I think this is the first time I've actually seen someone washing clothes in a river. The water wasn't that clean though, so I'm not sure how effective this is.

I don't see really see the point of this bridge which stops when it reaches the river. Not very handy.

There are some Inca (I think) ruins in Cuenca too. I'm really not sure how these people (top left) got in cos there was only 1 gate and it was locked. 

Here's some other ones. I couldn't work out how to get in here either so I walked around the outside (round the outside...) and took these pics through the fence.

They had some very cool looking plants too, which I think were more interesting than the ruins.

I also went to book my shuttle bus tickets for tomorrow to Loja. Word on the internet is the shuttle is better and safer than the bus and takes an hour less for $5 more. Interestingly a woman with her daughters who spoke no Spanish got me to sort out her tickets too. This involved some complicated verb conjugations (for me) since I wasn't talking in the first person and had to think about it. But the ticket girl understood me, and they got what they wanted so I must have been ok. Or they ended up somewhere else. I've never know.

Julian Assange's new home?

Pros: beautiful city, feels safe, good variety and quality of shops, good veggie places, lots of rotisserie chickens (if that's his thing), reliable internet when it's not raining, year round Spring and no wind so it only feels a bit cold when it's raining, nice houses, high standard of living, Cajas National Park (which I didn't go to but everyone loves), speaking Spanish is definitely a bonus so hopefully he's taking lessons while he's banged up in the Embassy.

Cons: altitude sickness, internet drops out when it's raining, religious people, retired Gringos everywhere, will have to learn Spanish unless he only talks to the retired Gringos.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Montañita, Puerto Lopez and Olón

Well it's been a while now since my last post but that's mostly because I've been living in the one place and going to Spanish school and yoga everyday, so I do not have a lot to blog about. But here is my wrap up of Montanita.

After leaving Galapagos I flew back into Guayaquil and then made my way to the giant bus terminal to find a bus to Montanita. Conveniently, the main bus station is next to Guayaquil airport, but you can’t walk there cos the runway and major roads get in the way. So you take a 5 minute cab ride instead. Now, I've blogged about South American bus stations before, and how big they are. This was no exception. It even had a massive supermarket, which is handy for buying snacks or a washing machine. Then there’s a bunch of other shops so it's like a mall but with national and international bus departures. I found the bus company I needed and got a ticket. Unfortunately the bus left at 4.30pm, so we got stuck in outbound peak hour traffic and it took fucking ages. However, this was quite an eye opening journey. I thought some of the parts of Guayaquil I stumbled across the other day were dodgy. Um no. The parts we drove past, were way dodgier. For example, we drove past big piles of rubbish on the side of the road, some of which people were sorting through, and some of which was on fire. Mmm, toxic.

I guess I’m not used to seeing this much poverty as a Westerner. Even though I know it exists, it is really in your face when you see it up close. But then next to all the poverty would be a gated community with razor wire across the top, and all the houses inside were nice. So there you go.

Slum suburbs from the bus

Like all good bus rides that take a substantial amount of time, a movie was shown. So today I got to watch Here Come’s The Boom in Spanish with English subtitles. I have to say, it is now my favourite fighting movie. I actually liked it a lot, probably cos it was a comedy. Fighting movies are generally stupid.

The bus got to Montanita at about 7.30pm. I quickly took a walk into the packed main street to try and find some fruit and veg for dinner and breakfast, before jumping in a cab to find my accommodation. I chose a homestay with a local family over a hostel, which the school organised. It was pretty cool and kind a makeshift hostel since most of the rooms were rented out to students. Some of the guys there also ran a surf school, so there was always loads of surfer guys around the place. I also like that there is a yoga studio and a bar next door at this hostel, which is owned and run by a Canadian chick. This guy is her brother and he runs the bar.

And no I'm not sunburnt here, it's just a terrible picture.

The next day after I arrived, I started this Spanish school and attended classes for just over 3 weeks. It was really good, but hard. People who say Spanish is easy to learn are lying. Yes, the words are phonetic, but the grammar is not easy at all. In fact I could write a whole post on things about Spanish that piss me off. But I'm sure English has lots of annoying things that don't make sense for those trying to learn it. In fact, there's plenty of things in English that don't really make sense even if you're a native speaker.

So, Montanita. It's a pretty chilled out beach side town that's basically full of hippies, surfers and tourists.

Annoyingly, despite the number of hippies, vegetarian places to eat are limited. I found a vegan sandwich guy and bought one off him a few times. Then there was this place, which was ok, but that's it. Normally hippies love veggie food, so what gives? Byron Bay for example is a veggie paradise.

Hmm, this seems to be what locals think vegetarians consume (although if I had some fresh leaves and my Vitamix, I'd totally juice them).

You can get loads of drugs here if you want. Weed and cocaine seem the most popular. Although I'm a bit annoyed no one offered me drugs in the whole time I was there. Other people turned up and got offered drugs the first time they walked down the street, and every day they were there. What's wrong with me? Not that I would do them anyway, but still, why wasn't I offered any?

What Montanita lacks in veggie food, it makes up for in good times. This is cocktail alley, where every night is Friday night.

It is what it says. Basically rows of bars along each side of the road that will make you whatever drink you want for $2.50.

Then you can either stay there or go down to the beach and drink.

During the day the bars mostly sell juices, but you can still get booze if you want. There're no alcohol laws here, and if there are, no one enforces them.

Partying goes on all night every night in Montanita basically until the sun comes up or the electricity goes out, which ever comes first. (The electricity goes out a lot). At least one club closes at 9. In the morning.

For this reason you cannot sleep in town. There is just no way. If you book a room in a hostel there (and there are many) it's basically just somewhere to store your stuff, or you could try sleeping during the day. Thankfully I was staying at the point, which is a 10 min walk up the beach.

Since I had to walk into town everyday to get to school/ the shops, I got to see some interesting things. Like cows crossing the road.

I also saw a donkey, but it was too far away for a photo, then it turned down some other street. Other amusing things include rubbish trucks going along playing music as they pick up the rubbish, cars/ motorbikes with big speakers selling pineapples, limes, and cheese. Yes, cheese. Unrefrigerated of course. Lets not let a little thing like salmonella get in the way of making a buck. It looked like feta to me. Word on the street from other backpackers is it's not the best cheese so you might want to avoid that if cheese is your thing.

There are also loads of street dogs around. Most of them are pretty friendly, but they hate bikes and motorbikes, which they chase and bark at.

Not that I agree with motorbikes on the beach. One 6 year old girl that lives here got hit by a teenager on a bike a couple of weeks back, and her leg broke in 6 places. She required a lot of surgery and is now in a wheelchair for several months. She doesn't smile now.

There is also one local woman that all the dogs hate. I thought it was a rumor but then I saw her. All the dogs kept circling her and barking, while she yelled stuff at them. Greg (bar guy) said she says it's because they all hate her dog, but she never has it with her, so basically they all just hate her. It was pretty funny. She sounded like a Spanish crazy cat lady from the Simpsons, but with dogs.

Speaking of the Simpsons, it's on a lot here (like everywhere else). But it is the one show I can watch and pick up bits of what they are saying. Probably helps that I've seen every episode about 50 times times in English. Tv here is generally terrible. There are some really bad soaps and game shows that make no sense. Plus Ecuador's most wanted criminals seems to be on at least twice a day. I know this not because I was watching loads of tv, but the tv in the house I was living at was always on, so I'd see it.

Also, I got to sleep in the room next to the lady (la abuela as she's known around the point) who owns the house. But the wall between our rooms are not sealed all the way. She listens to some prayers radio station every night. This meant I listened to some prayers radio station every night. Most of the time, I could block it out with the fan and/or my laptop, but one night I could hear the radio very clearly. And the guy spoke very clearly and slowly so I could actually understand a fair amount of what he said. So there you go, I hate religion, but it was good for learning Spanish!

This amuses me cos they do waxing. I don't know why non-English speaking people like to call things "fanny". They really should look it up on the internet first (not the US definition either). However, I will now add fanny waxing to the list of fanny things I have seen including fanny jam in Peru, fanny lollies in Thailand, and fanny ice cream in Vietnam.

I did actually get my legs waxed (not here, another one up the road). Seriously, it was like having your friends or your sister do it. Your sister, not my sister. My sister is an award winning beauty therapist and ace at waxing. You can visit her here if you live in Brisbane. These girls were so slow, and they didn't use wax remover afterwards. Instead they used talcum powder which just leaves you with white patches all over you legs, where there is wax residue. Thanks. At least it was cheap. 

Most of the roads here are unsealed, so when it rains, this happens.

This was the only car I saw that got bogged (note cows in background coming back from the beach).

Because of this, they decided to seal the road near me, in time for the Master's Surfing competition, in a few weeks. Basically the organisers are paying to have the road sealed and gave Montanita 2 weeks to do it. On day 1, this big pile of dirt turned up outside the house. It just seemed to attract kids and dogs.

When I left a week later, the pile of dirt was gone but the road was no closer to being sealed. In fact, when I left at 5.15am in the dark cos the electricity was out, that pile of dirt was a swimming pool given the amount of rain that occurred overnight.

Puerto Lopez

On one of my weekends, I took a day trip up to Puerto Lopez. This town is about 45 minutes north of Montanita. Basically you stand out on the main road on the north bound side and wait for a green bus then hail it. The bus ride is along the coast is really picturesque. Lots of awesome beaches, lush tropical vegetation, mountains and small villages.

I convinced some Dutch guy from the hostel next door to come with me so I had someone to talk to, and in case I got lost on the bus ride.

Puerto Lopez feels like proper coastal Ecuador, not like Montanita which is quite unique given the high mix of gingos and non stop partying. The beach is much more of a swimming beach compared to Montanita. We decided to have lunch in a beachside bar/café.

Then we just walked around.

These guys were playing soccer without any shoes.

Not many sealed roads. No wonder there are so many mudslides when it rains.

Not sure what kind of birds these are, but they look a bit like vultures and are a bit scary up close.

We found this place which probably only opens at night.

Olon is the next town over from Montanita. You can walk there in about 30 mins or get a bus. I walked so I could get this photo.

The cliff is a good 20m or straight drop, and this is the only safety precaution. Some crime scene tape with peligro (danger) printed on it.

The cliff in the background is where I was standing for the above shot.

This is the beach where those boys hit the girl and broke her leg.


And that was my 3.5 weeks in Montanita. I ended up staying a week longer than I anticipated because I liked my lifestyle of going to school in the morning and yoga in the afternoon. I liked the people there, who were pretty much all travellers. It is a fun place.

I've also decided to add a new segment while I'm in Ecuador, to weigh up the pros and cons of each place I visit for Julian Asange, should he escape from the Ecuadorian embassy in London and have to move here. I'll have to backdate it a bit since I only just thought of it today.

Julian Assange's new home?

Pros: year round summer, reliable internet, flights to Galapagos (and loads of other places), 3D cinema, iguana park.

Cons: except for the tourist area, most of the city is a scary, dangerous shit hole.

Pros: year round summer, exotic animals, beaches, diving, surfing, day tours, $1 taxis.

Cons: super slow internet, expensive, sunburn, far away from everywhere.

Pros: year round summer, party every night, easy access to drugs, cheap booze, lots of perving at the beach, surfing, yoga, somewhat reliable internet, lots of gringos so you need minimal Spanish, cheap fruit and veg, choice of places to eat.

Cons: frequent electricity blackouts, no supermarket, no leafy green vegetables, sewage smells since development has outpaced infrastructure growth, mud everywhere when it rains, no street names so you can't get anything in the mail cos no one has an address.