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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Latacunga, Ecuador

Pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/BusRideToLatacunga

Saturday night, July 12, 2008

Wow! Today really helped make yesterday´s rough ride worth it. But first let me say that I can´t recommend the Ejecutivo Internacional in Quevedo unless you´re really cutting corners on your budget. After strolling the rough and tumble main street downtown (7 de Octubre - dirty, noisy, and jammed with traffic), sampling hard-boiled quail eggs and deep fried empanadas (like home made Hot Pockets), we had a delicious dinner at Chifa Hong Kong on the quieter side street right across from our hotel´s entrance. We retired to our room (which conveniently had a dorm fridge in which to store our Chinese doggie bag) to loaf with the TV remote control. But then it was time for a shower and we discovered too late that there is no hot water to be had - ever - in this hotel. In our post chicken bus, shell-shocked state not only had we neglected to notice that our room overlooked the noisiest street in the city, but we forgot to ask about hot water! It isn´t uncommon for hotels here to have limited hours or none at all. Hopefully someone else will find a better deal because today we´re definitely happy we traveled this route.

We played it smart this morning by scoping out the 8 AM Cotopaxi bus to Latacunga before buying our tickets. It was another second class bus so we gave it a pass. Thank you so much, Terry and Tammy on Secret o´Life for telling us about the Ambato bus line. It was first class, and even though it stopped for almost everyone on the side of the road, including the food court vendors, it was far more deluxe and comfortable (still no toilet though, so skip that morning coffee!).

I can´t begin to describe the scenery but let me give you some fleeting images. Women washing clothes in the river right in the outskirts of Quevedo. An old, fat woman bathing topless in the river a little farther out of town. Banana plantations that went on forever. Lush greenery under low clouds and a little drizzle. A rushing river on the left hand side of the bus which became a deep gorge as we climbed the mountains. We crossed back and forth over the river on single lane bridges until we climbed out of the tropical forest into completely cultivated hillsides on our right. These were dotted with grass huts; people in colorful woolens and pork-pie hats; shaggy donkeys and even shaggier pigs; and dogs, cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, and our first llamas. Some people may be disappointed by how the mountainsides have been tamed, but I´m fascinated by how people eke out a living in such beautiful but difficult terrain.

The ride was amazing, but anyone prone to car sickness should be prepared. The ascent was nice and slow, and people didn´t seem to get sick until the slightly faster descent. I had told myself I would stick to my apple and yogurt breakfast and skip the greasy food court, but I couldn´t resist contributing to the local economy. We started with empanadas while still in Quevedo, tried some truchas (fried mashed potatoes in a flattened ball), and finished off with some fried dough with sugar at Zumbahua. Well, we´re in a cold, high altitude climate now so we´ll be burning more calories, right?

For some reason our Ambato bus didn´t go into the terminal here in Latacunga, but asked us to get off on a street just outside of it (at around 2 PM). We caught a cab to the Residencial Santiago where we will just stay the one night. We have a doble (two twin beds) with a private bath just outside our door. Our ¨window¨ looks out on a small lounge area (so it´s a quiet interior room), and there´s hot water and TV (but not cable). It´s less run down and far cleaner than last night, but still depressing. We looked at rooms at the Hostal Tiana, but for $10pp (including breakfast) they have only a shared bath area which is a bit of a hike from the rooms, and there´s no TV at all. We then looked at the rooms at Hotel Cotapaxi which we liked far better. For $8pp the rooms are bigger, have a private bath, and cable TV. We´ll move there tomorrow!

We´re kind of kicking ourselves for not getting off at Zumbahua and starting a clockwise Quilotoa loop from there, but we´ll acclimate here for a few days and then go counter-clockwise instead. It´s too bad that you have to break the trip in Quevedo. If the 6:30 AM bus out of Portoviejo that we heard about is first class service, then it might be worth it to overnight there from Bahia. But that makes it at least a 10 hour trip which is a long ride without regular bathroom breaks.

We caught a bit of the Saturday market this afternoon and it was still going strong when we came out again later. We chose a rotisserie chicken place for dinner because it had the biggest "fireplace" in town!

Linda and John