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'Its a mugs game'
ECUADOR - NOV 2003
'A week of rest'
Wednesday 5th November 2003 On a Bus to Quito

After the Peru Checkpoint, we got bundled back into the taxi there was now one more con artist with us. An tiny Ecuadorian. This whole event was a major scam to rob us of money we are both pretty confused and just going with the flow. As long as we get to Quito though I don't mind too much. They took us along the bridge into Ecuador and then we had to get out (after paying the Taxi driver another extortionate sum) and walk for about 15 minutes to the Pan Americana Bus Terminal. We then got given two bus tickets for 4:30 for a 12 hour ride to Quito. I got a bit worried now as all the day we have been told that the border is being closed at midday as the Ecuadorians are striking. We haven't yet got our entry stamps and are now being told that the 4:30 bus will be allowed through the control and we can get the stamp then. At the moment we are in No-mans-land. Our 2 new friends have now finished with us but not before they manage to extract us of our remaining Peruvian Soles, not helped by my lack of ability to stand my ground.

Right I decided to make the decision to find our own way to Ecuador's border control before it got to midday, Just in case there is trouble later and we end up with now stamp. Everything was calm at the control - no sign of imminent closure, and we got our stamps in a mater of minutes and returned to Huaquyillas town center (no-mans-land).

Grabbed some much needed lunch and bought the standard supplies for the next 12 hour bus trip (Bread, Tuna, Water) and waited around until 4:30.

The Bus actually left on time. It was pretty comfy but also pretty garish with loads of fairly lights and colourful pictures and stickers everywhere. Felt like a Pakistanis car! I did like the mural of the naked lady painted on the toilet door though. The journey started off very slowly, The border control seemed as calm as earlier (bloody con-artists) and every 30 minutes we either stopped for more passengers our for the police to search us and our bags. In fact we got stopped and searched about 7 times by the police. It wasn't until about 10 pm that we managed to get a good clear run towards Quito.

Anyway there were now 5 of us in the taxi who took us up to the back and beyond and told us we had to walk for 2k - to god knows where! not before having to pay them another 120soles............so 2 of the guys took our backpacks and told us to take all our valuables away and put our day packs on the front of us as we would get something stolen. They then proceeded to walk us through the dodgy part of Ecuador through all the back streets with hundreds of stalls and people, chickens, filth, dogs, shacks etc, all very interesting though as i'm sure we would never have seen this kind of stuff on our own. We walked for about 20mins, all the time i looked at everyone in the eyes as we strolled past them ( supposed to intimidate.....) and we finally were taken to the Pan-Americana coach company where we could buy a ticket over to Quito, another 12hrs away. Toby bought a couple of tickets and then the taxi guys wanted more money from us - this i put my foot down and said no, they had had enough and were completely ripping us off but Toby ended up giving them another 60soles! which i just couldn't believe because he just couldn't stand up and tell them to bugger off - oh Toby

We dumped our bags in a secure room and then caught a taxi up to the visa exit control to get our passports stamped again, as we were worried about not getting over, what with the strike/trouble they were about to have. Went back to the coach office and had some lunch next door then bought some bread and tuna for our coach journey which didn't leave until 4.30pm so had to sit and read for 3hrs.

Coach left on time and we were soon settling in for another long journey not thinking we would be doing it so soon though.. We had to go through about 7-10 police stops all night, checking bags underneath the coach and on the coach, getting us off for body checks, all big police guys and women with big guns. God knows why they had to keep checking the bus so many times but it did make us a couple of hours late getting into Quito.

Thursday 6th November 2003 Hostel Centro Del Mundo, New Quito

Still on the bus until 5am, Didn't get much sleep as it was very hot and stuffy on the bus plus the last two hours towards Quito where along windy mountain roads. Thankfully we where off the bus by 5 and jumped into a waiting Taxi. The next hour was pretty amusing as we tried to find a recommended Hostel. The Taxi driver was blind and couldn't read any street signs, house numbers our addresses written down on our notepad. He was totally useless and I reckon we would of been a lot better off finding our own way. We did try to direct him and tell him he was on the wrong roads but he refused to listen. I suppose it could of been a trick to get more money out of us, but as he didn't have his meter running we could argue any extortionate fee he tried to charge. We finally found the Hostel it was about 4 minutes walk from the Bus terminal! Luckily they had a spare double room and we where late enough in the day to get some free kip in.

Didn't get up until 1pm. Then woke to find myself in Harry Potters Bedroom! (our room was painted up purple and yellow with loads of moons and stars). Had a much needy shower. Then got into action. Took some clothes down the local Laundry and discovered that this area of New Quito is Gringo Heaven. Packed with Hostels and Cafés selling massive Western menus and great coffee. We went straight to a recommended one, The Magic Bean Coffee House. The food and Coffee where amazing, We did order far too much but still found enough space to eat it all. Ecuador now use the US dollar as there currency and seem to add on Tourist Taxes all over the place so Its not as cheap a place to live as you would expect. Never mind, we are both pretty tired and this is a nice comfy place to base ourselves for a while.

After Lunch/Breakfast and (probably) tea I went to the Internet (no Emails) and to the Bank (no Money) then went back to the Hostel for the rest of the day and caught up on our diary and had generally a relaxing day.

Finally arrived at around 5am feeling exhausted and just wanting a bed for a few hours. We got a taxi and gave him the address of a hostel that had been recommended to us but unfortunately the taxi driver just couldn't find the place even after going up and down the same few roads for blinkin ages. The driver appeared not to have such good eye sight which was a bit worrying and was unable to read the road signs.............. we eventually went to a hostel that was in the guide book and looked very nice (even in the dark) in fact the whole area seemed really cool, very hip and trendy with lots of funky cafes, restaurants and hostels. Luckily there was someone up and about who let us in and found us a double room. We dumped our bags and just crawled into bed. I didn't even take my clothes off, i was so tired.

We awoke around midday feeling hungry and still a bit dozey but after a quick shower ( we were both pretty smelly) Toby found a really cool cafe called the Magic Bean which did the best salad and chunky potato's i have had in a very very long time. We both ordered far too much but managed to work our way through it all. I then went back to the hostel for a look around whilst Toby went and used the internet. There seemed to be quite a few travelers staying in the hostel, all of around the same age group so i hope we manage to go out for a night and have some fun, haven't done that in a while.

Caught up with my dairy and had to have another doze.

Friday 7th November 2003 Hostel Centro Del Mundo, New Quito

Re-visited the Magic Bean cafe for some breakfast. The temperature is pretty cold in Quito so I ended up going back to the Hostel to change and then we headed out for a walk around the town. Sarena didn't feel to good so we skipped out planned tour of Old Quito and instead caught a bus to the Cinema. Matrix III was playing in a few hours so we amused ourselves at an Internet Cafe. I even got Sarena playing games against me and then went to watch the film. Great action scenes but I was hoping for some more clever twists to the plot. After the film we succumbed to a McDonalds - eeeerggh! and then walked back to the Hostel in the rain. I though it was a lot closer than it was, but probably took us about an hour to get back.

Went to a recommend Mexican restaurant for dinner. I wasn't that hungry but nice cold Corona would of gone down well. They didn't have any bugger!. My fajitas where pretty good though, helped wash the local pilsner down anyway.

Went for some b'fast at the Magic Bean - fruit and yogurt then went into town to the cinema to watch the Matrix final film which didn't start until 2.15pm so ended up in the internet cafe playing games until it started. I thought it was good but didn't have the ending i was hoping for - not final enough.. Had a McDonalds in the afternoon then walked all the way back in the pouring rain (Toby said it wasn't far......) took ages to get home.

Went out for a Mexican meal in the evening which i wasn't that impressed with, but the worse thing was they didn't have any Corona! didn't feel like staying out drinking so just went back to the hostel and to bed.

Saturday 8th November 2003 Hostel Centro Del Mundo, New Quito

An early awaking, partly due to the fact that we went to bed early anyway and partly due to a the commotion of a guy returning from an eventful night out. The poor bloke got split up from his mates and then got mugged by 4 Ecuadorians. He lost all his cash point cards, travelers cheque's and passport and gained a sore jaw. He was very shaken up by the whole deal and his mates spent the morning consoling him. This is a common problem in Ecuador and most people in our Hostel have been robbed somehow or another. The daft thing is you will get arrested if you are found on the street without your passport (one South African guy has now been in jail for 9 months as he lost his passport) but if you take it out with you its quite likely that someone will try to steal it. Sarena spent the morning trying to get my to practice my Scary face so that we might intimidate any potential muggers. I don't have one.

After breakfast I went out for a walk around the Old Town. A pickpockets paradise. I didn't keep anything in my pockets though so I should be OK. Quito's old town has been put on the World Heritage list, so all the old colonial buildings are now protected. I spent a couple of hours walking around all the old buildings before the usual afternoon rains came. So caught the Trole (Tram bus type thing) back to the New Town and found Sarena in the TV room of the Hostel. She was chatting to the guy who had been mugged. He seemed a bit happier now, Turns out he and his mates are from Liverpool.

Had a late lunch a a local Chinese restaurant. It was pretty cheap and not too tasty but filled a hole. We then decided to go out for a few drinks in the evening. There are loads of bars right near the Hostel so we didn't have to venture too far. The beer in Ecuador all tastes pretty nasty. Even the imported beers taste stale and horrible. We persevered though and visited 3 bars including a Pool bar where I whipped Sarena at a few games. Doesn't sound very gentlemanly but she usually beats me. The final pub was called Kilkenny and was trying to advertise that it was an Irish pub. It was pretty packed but despite all he Guinness posters it didn't sell any Irish beer or stouts of any kind. Just big jugs of the local crap beer. We couldn't even finish the Jug as it tasted so bad, We where then charged an extortionate amount for the Jug. I didn't have enough money so we short changed them and walked back to the Hostel.

Got woken up in the early hours by a young guy coming back to his room in a terrible state as he had just got mugged. 4 guys jumped him outside a local bar and stole everything, even his passport which you are supposed to take everywhere with you over here unless you want to spend 4days in jail......... Anyway poor guy couldn't stop crying and was really shook up, his 2 mates who he was traveling with were really sweet and they stayed up talking to him for hours. Had some fruit and yogurt in the hostel which was a lot cheaper and a darn sight nicer then went and got some writing paper and postcard before heading back to the hostel. Toby went for a walk around some of the old town whilst i went back to write a letter but ended up chatting to the lad who had been mugged and his mates, all of whom came from the UK. They were all really nice guys who were all now laughing about the whole thing.

Toby wasn't out for long and soon came back to join me in front of the TV with the others for a few hours. By 3.30 we thought we should go and have some grub and were recommended a Chinese just around the corner - god it was awful and really put me off my favourite food for a while.

Thought we should make the effort to go out for a couple of drinks seeing as that is what everyone else seemed to be doing most nights........ Just don't seem to have the enthusiasm for all the stuff anymore though. Ended up in a really nice bar just around the corner but just had one drink before diving into a pool hall for a few games, all of which i lost. Then went to an Irish pub next door to the hostel called Kilkenny, which didn't serve Guinness or Kilkenny........go figure! it was really busy though but found ourselves a little table. Toby got dragged into buying a dirty great big jug of beer because it was on special for the evening - not asking the price though. It was horrible beer, and i certainly couldn't drink the amount we had been given, i just wanted a Corona. Turned out the beer was really expensive as well as crap, so we just left the remainder and went next door to bed.

Sunday 9th November 2003 Hostel Centro Del Mundo, New Quito

Relieved my guilt a little today. We have just been bumming around in Ecuador and have not really seen anything, but we woke up this morning to a bright blue sky and headed out to catch a bus to the center of the world. I had been annoying Sarena about visiting the Equator line for a few days now. I am actually quite looking forward to setting foot back in the Northern Hemisphere again, but am playing on the fact and winding Sarena up about it.

The bus took an hour to get to 'Mitad del Mundo' and dropped us right outside a huge complex built by the French to mark the equator line. Being the well informed travelers that we are we knew that this repulsive monument had actually been built in the wrong place. So we avoided the complex and took a 200m walk down a dusty track where we found a cool desert garden that had been turned into a homely museum and built right on the real Equator line. Unlike the fake equator there where only a few people here. So we where met by an Ecuadorian girl who gave the two of us a private tour around the museum and gardens. The site included some original Indian homes. They where inhabited up until 130 years ago but where still in excellent condition and full of all the native tools and clothes for day to day living. One hut was the families store room and contained a pen with loads of Guinea Pigs running around (mmmm lunch). They also had some displays form the Amazon jungle tribes of Ecuador. Loads of pickled Jungle animals and a massive Anaconda skin (about 8 meters). The most intriguing item was a genuine shrunken head which the tribes make as trophies of their enemies that they kill in battle. We even got to blast holes in a Cactus with an amazonia dart pipe. They only disappointing part of the museum tour was that we weren't allowed to try any juice form the San Pedro Cactus - It is very hallucinogenic and used by indian shamans in certain rituals.

After the tour of the museums we did some experiments to prove that we where on the Equator (why didn't the French man didn't do these?). The first one was the flushing water trick. In the equator lone the water went straight down the plug hole. Move it 1 meter into the southern hemisphere and the water went down in a clockwise direction, then 1 meter into the northern hemisphere and the water went down anti-clockwise. It was all very exciting. We then had a go at balancing a fresh egg on a nail head. I failed miserably much to Sarena's delight who got it to balance straight away.

After all that excitement I felt pretty hungry. We tried one restaurant outside of the museum but it was very expensive. so we paid our Dollar to get into the huge fake complex and found ourselves some cheap eats. The whole place was like a tourist village and was packed with people all taking there photo on the wrong line. In the center of the village though was a stage with some traditional dancing which included Ecuadorian girls with very short skirts. Disgusting!

I had planned to take a 5 km walk to Puluha Crater. but the weather was starting to close in so we decided to head back to Quito. Before we left though we visited a little miniature model of Quito. It was all built be this one very proud man who showed us his 40m2 model of old town colonial Quito. He had even fitted all the buildings with lights so that he could turn the city into night time at a flick of a switch. Obviously this man would like to be God, but it was pretty impressive.

Got back to the Hostel by 4. The whole town was pretty dead, everything shuts down on a Sunday. So spent the rest of the day reading, and feeling pretty bored.

Had our routine fruit and yogurt then had a long walk to the main bus route to catch a bus to the Equator line so that Toby could get to step into the Northern Hemisphere once more - he was very excited. We had been told there were 2 places to see this phenomenon, one was a huge great big park with statue and museum etc done by the French. This however wasn't the correct place - the French got it wrong. Just up the road however down a little dirt track is a wonderful little garden and museum that has the correct Equator line all found by the GPS system. So when we got off the bus we headed straight to the little place leaving all the tourists and bus loads of people heading into the fake place. We only had to pay $2 and were taken around by a lovely guide who spoke English. The place reminded me of a Mexican hacienda, they had some original old houses which were about 130yrs old which she took us in and around telling us how the locals used to cook and live. It was so interesting and the whole lay out was so pretty, surrounded by lovely gardens and flowers, animals and birds. She then showed us some of the insects and a huge snake skin from a so called 'small' anaconda, an original shrunken head of a child and loads more. We then got taken to the Equator line and got shown the water trick. A sink of water was on the middle of the line and when the water was let out of the plug, the water just fell straight down - no swirly bit in the middle. But when she moved the sink to the southern side of the line, just a couple of steps away the water went down the plug clocks wise and on the Northern side of the line it went down Anti-clockwise - quite amazing really. She then did the egg trick...... it seems things weigh less on the Equator due to having less gravitational pull, so she managed to balance an egg on a nail. I gave it a go and succeeded but Toby just couldn't do it. We also got shown the sun clock and were told about the solstes and shadows - all really interesting.

Some of the kids were weaving using the old looms and were making some wonderful things, so clever. We did buy ourselves a fantastic hammock which i was so excited about - have always wanted one.

After our visit Toby wanted to go visit the fake place just to go have a look I wasn't that bothered but tagged along anyway. It was sort of a big village with loads of cafes and gift shops so we had a quick lunch then went for a walk around. They were putting on some kind of folk show in the centre plaza which we watched for a while - first it was the men dancing then some women came on stage wearing traditional dress which consisted of very short skirts and skimpy pants...... also a lot of bum showing because they were constantly twirling around - Toby loved it.

All the other stuff to visit was extra to get in so we didn't bother, it was all pretty cheesy anyway. We did go into a model village place which was owned and run by an old bloke who had taken 8 yrs to make to model of the old town on Quito, he made us go back in when we came out because he hadn't done his light show. So we went and watched as he dimmed the lights and made the place into night time and all the little house and street lights came on - bless him. He had also done a model of NY at night time which wasn't so cool - just cardboard boxes which windows really.

Toby was planning on walking up to see the volcano crater but changed his mind - good job as the weather was turning cold and looked like rain. Caught the bus back to Quito and then walked back to the hostel just as the rain started coming down. Bought some rolls and tuna for dinner and had a very boring evening just reading and moaning we were bored...

Monday 10th November 2003 Hostel Centro Del Mundo, New Quito

Spent the whole morning updating the web site and downloading it at a nearby Internet Cafe. Every other place in Quito seems to be an Internet Cafe and some of them are pretty trendy too. Except I had to choose one that was really slooooow. Ended up working on updating the web site until about 4 and then headed back to the Hostel.

That evening the Hostel laid on free rum and coke so everyone was jammed into the common areas. We ended up talking to a really cool Ozzy, Simon. He has alos been travelling for 2 years (as well as living in London for 5) we ended up finding lots of things in common and even some friends in common as he used to work at La Casa Roja in Santiago. He also does a web site of his travels... cool. (www.simonconnell.com)

I just did my own thing for most of the morning whilst Toby finished off updating the website then he went up to the internet cafe whilst i went of to post a letter then went back to the hostel to read.

We went out for a great steak dinner in the evening with a bottle of white then went back thinking we were going to get an early night as we had to get up early in the morning. But the hostel was doing a huge pot of free rum and coke which luckily still had a couple of cup fulls left at the bottem, which we soon dived into. We sat down in the lounge at got talking to a fantistic Ozzy guy who had also been traveling for 2yrs as was in his 30s. We all got on really well and Toby and Simon ended up talking about films - seems they had both the same favorites. He felt the same about traveling, where after 2 yrs you get a little tired and are not into the same thing as the rest of the crowd in hostels, going out partying and drinking etc. Turns out he new Casa Roja in Santiago and even worked there for a while and new all the same people - how wierd is that. Ended up staying quite late and went to bed quite drunk.

Tuesday 11th November 2003 Miami, USA

Time is up in South America. We have had some amazing experiences but there is so much more to see here. To be honest we are a bit tired so will have to come back another day.

At 4:30am we where up and jumping in a Taxi. We have an early flight to Miami where we have a small break in the US before we fly south again to Costa Rica for the start of our journey through Central America. Got to the airport and then realised I didn't have enough Cash for the Departure Tax. Bugger the ATM's neraby weren't working either so I spent half an hour chasing around town in another Taxi until we found an ATM that worked.

Plane left dead on time in 3 and a half hours we will be in Miami...

Woke up at 4.15am and feeling pretty dozy and hung over - not a good thing for flying. When we got to the airport we couldn't get any of our cash cards to work in the machines, and we needed money for the airport tax. Bit of a problem......... Toby ended up catching a taxi to the neerest cash point and managed to get some.

Really looking forward to getting to Miami though, no more struggling with language and just a little easier....After all the checks and double checks we finally got through the airport and onto the plane, thank the lord! 3hrs and 45mins and landing.

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