Ecuador - a last happy month in Correa's country

After we had been living in Ecuador for three months (we left on the last day), we succeeded to learn a little bit more about the culture and traditions in this very interesting country for us. This is one of the rare countries where people adore their president - Rafael Correa. We had been listening about him when we hitchhiked, or when we spoke with people on the streets and as a whole everyone praised him for the way he had been ruling the country. Everyone claimed that since he became a president everything changed to a better direction. For approximately five years, Ecuador has already became a much better place (as we understood, Ecuador used to be like Peru –poverty, zero infrastructure, a high level of crimes), as we speak Peru and Ecuador do not have anything in common. Since in Ecuador everything is green, beautiful and peaceful, in Peru is absolute misery, tones of litter, people steal all the time, as well as they are totally ignorant and uneducated and the roads could hardly be described as such. Correa made full changes to the educational system and since it was at the exact same level as the one in Peru, nowadays it is much more modified and efficient and according to the people this made a significant difference. The whole infrastructure had been maintained and even a road which leads to the most godforsaken village was perfectly asphalted. Tourism has developed extremely quickly, millions has been poured for advertisements with cool photos which later end up on billboards. One cannot see billboard with a commercial aim but social only. On the border, tourists had been given many free brochures and a map. Correa declared all national parks free of charge and the Ministry of Social Welfare and Environment was responsible for their good look, clean environment and nice views. Americans hate Correa, because he opposed their way of exploiting nature and he was loved by his people for doing so. The first thing he did when he took the power was to reduce his salary. Afterwards, he just changed all not so qualified teachers with better ones, and instead of firing them he gave them an opportunity to get retired. Rafael Correa graduated in the USA, his wife is Belgium and as we saw, he really insisted on educating Ecuadorians. If one compares the IQ of Ecuadorians with the one of Peruvians one could see a big difference. Thankfully to Correa, many people start to think about many things. We saw the way he educated his people and made them think – every Saturday, he showed up on TV and gave a report about what he did during the last week. He spoke extremely consecutively and gave people many topics to speak about. People listened to him and this was the way he stimulated them to think by their own and be different.

They say Correa is a communist. As a matter of fact, we could not understand the regime in Ecuador; there were so many contradictive opinions, so I called it Correism. There weren’t any prohibitions whatsoever so we never felt lied or harmed by any law. You can pitch your tent wherever you want, begging is not forbidden, the street peddlers are everywhere, so you can buy either food from the street, or from the supermarkets. There was not any law for food selling, so you can buy some homemade cheese from the grannies on the streets or you can buy a packaged cheese from the supermarket. It was perfect for me – there was a place for everyone in this country and everyone was welcomed. In my town  Haskovo, for example, we would never buy any product from the shop, if it wasn’t forbidden for the grannies to sell on the streets. You can buy whatever your wishes are at the street of Ecuador, at a price affordable for every pocket. If you dream of fruits from the seller’s garden just take it, if you dream of homemade cheese, quail’s eggs, any kind of chips, cakes, muffins, beans or freshly squeezed juice, you can buy directly from the old lady on the street which can cook anything in the mobile kitchen, which consists of a small bottle with gas and few pots. If you do not want to buy from there, you can always go to the big supermarkets like Tia, Aki, Supermaksi and buy whatever you want, packaged and checked. Ecuador produces its main supply of products and we even heard that Correa did not allow the import of foreign products and wanted the local agriculture to flourish. Ecuadorians should praise their president if they are smart enough and since in Bulgaria, people eat Polish tomatoes, Chinese beans and Turkish melons and die from cancer, Ecuadorians nibble their homemade quesso (cheese) and enjoy their well-being. For the first time in South America, I wanted to take my whole family and move there. When I learn Spanish I would become a guide immediately, so that I would have the opportunity to climb up Chimbozaro and Cotopaxi, so I wouldn’t live bad at all. A German from the couchsurfing webpage did exactly this – he had moved to Ecuador and became a mountain guide. He wrote me and shared  he was very happy in this country and his life started again after he got away from Germany. Except for the foreigners, there were many local tourists, which were completely missing in Peru. Apparently, Ecuadorians do have the time and the idea that it’s not too bad to see their country’s sightseeing. I suspect that Correa was involved into the elevating of this view of life.

The most amazing thing about Ecuador was the big difference between the Esmeraldas province and the Imbabura one, where Otavalo was located – a not very small town, where we slept in the tent pitched in the park for about a week. People came by all the time, and we couldn’t spot even one person who looked suspicious or not trustworthy. All of them, but really all of them were very nice and happy all the time. In Esmeraldas, few hours away by bus, people slaughter themselves on the streets and the whole province didn’t seem to be a part of Ecuador. We fell in love with Otavalo right away and because we really hated Esmeraldas so much, we could not even think of these two municipalities as part of one country called Ecuador. Esmeraldas for me was something like one of the wildest Nigerian towns, and Otavalo more like New Zealand or Singapore. In Otavalo there were mainly Indians, who wore their traditional clothes; they were really humble, kind and old-fashioned at times. They’ve got two kids and a good education.  In Esmeraldas, there were almost 100% black people, accordingly they were descendants of slaves, and it didn’t seem to be their place on this continent at all. They were degenerated, illiterate, drug dependent and free of any cultural or moral standards. They usually had got about 10 kids and absolutely each child was a thief. There is one important thing about Afro-Americans – they always inhabit warm regions or areas, so that they keep themselves away from the mountains as much as they can. This is true for everywhere, not just for Ecuador. Since black people can be found only throughout the Northern seacoast, close to the Colombian border, they could be easily avoided. The so called La Sierra (the mountain) is inhabited mainly by Indians; there one can encounter a completely different attitude of mind. In general, in Ecuador there are people from the mountains and people from the sea (if you do not count these who live in the jungle). These ones who live in the mountains make an honest livelihood, and even though their life in the villages is not luxurious, they are nice and happy. People, who live at the seaside, do not do any work at all, just lie in the hammocks and stare in one point. Only fishermen do some kind of ‘work’ supporting all other lazy asses. They rely mainly on tourists, prices are high and nobody does anything – neither agriculture, nor anything else, just waiting for the tourists – no matter locals or foreigners -so that they could be cheated by a surplus charge. In Amazonas, on the other hand, is a completely different world. There you can find tones of bananas (I think everybody knows that Ecuador is worldwide producer of bananas) – but they sell two bananas for the price of 25 cents, which is almost as the European price and everywhere else in the same country you can buy at least 5 bananas for the same money, or even 12 at some places. We were amazed by the greed of Amazonian people.

Our love for Ecuador didn’t seize at all even after the theft and with our typical adventurous passion, we took off to discover all beautiful places we hadn’t seen yet. We hitchhiked from Quito to the Antisana Reserve. There was no one at the villa of the Ministry of the Environment, so we continued our way without any registration. We took off along a path, which was designed for animals. The grass around looked like a marshland and we were trumping in mud and water. In our attempts to seek for drier areas, we walked about 2-3 km when it started to get dark. We decided to go to sleep, so we made ourselves at home into a cool wooden hut on a hill. Weather got worse but we spent the night in a warm and dry place. In the morning, a person riding a horse came and informed us that all was flooded and there wasn’t any specific path we could use. We found out that we would not be able to go any further, so we decided to look around the Antisana Reserve (which was extremely beautiful as all other protected areas and parks). We hardly made it through the mud back on the road and eventually we were forced to cross the river with the shoes, which were over muddy. Two girls met us on the road, asking to pay 5 dollars, because we trespassed a private property yesterday. We were pretty rude with them – the park itself was maintained by the government and it was free of charge.

We continued our journey traveling in a track, which was heading to El Coca – deep into the Amazon jungle. We were traveling by this track the whole day; we just stopped to see very beautiful scenery toward the Antisana forests and Mount Sumako on our left side. Later, we were descending slowly along the mountain path, along a vast massive forests and volcanoes – it was really amazing and fairy like. Along the way to the Amazon, the driver took us to waterfalls, which we could see without paying a dollar, thankfully to him.  At nightfall, we got closer to El Coca, but we didn’t want to walk into the town during this time, so we started to look for a place to pitch the tent. Since we had been traveling into the Amazon district, there were many houses and not empty space at all. One could see how properties were organized one after another. It wasn’t easy to find a spot along the road, cleared from buildings and properties. All land was cultivated, so we didn’t want to go further into the fields. What we’d seen so far was really different from what I expected. My pal didn’t like the scene at all and he wanted to go to the mountains again. The driver left us close to the property of big oil company. In this part of Ecuador, there was a massive oil lodge, so the pipes started from that point till they reached the seacoast and the oil refinery in Esmeraldas, where the oil was going to be processed. Thankfully to these massive oil beds, transport in Ecuador is not expensive at all and the roads are in perfect condition. Obviously, when you’ve got oil, you could achieve everything. Ecuador has a lot and even exports some. Unfortunately, oil extraction poisons the Amazon jungle, so we did not like it at all. I am interested in what Correa thinks about the matter, but so far we do not have any info about this issue. We asked the person, who was on duty, if we could pitch the tent next to the long height fence of the property. He rang here and there and finally, informed us that we couldn’t do it close to the fence, but if we would go further in the bushes it would not be a problem.

We pitched the tent on the grass, in some kind of marshy area, but fortunately there wasn’t any water below us and it didn’t rain that night. In the morning, we headed towards El Coca – a big city situated along the river Napo, which was a really important feeder of the Amazon. In El Coca one can choose between different attractions, all of which include a boat trip. People can see the pink dolphins or can go to the remote and wild Yasuni National Park, where the local half-naked tribes live. It is forbidden to go there without a guide, because these tribes are so isolated that people could infect them with some disease and all of them would die, or unwillingly tourists can cause a conflict and accordingly might get killed. I cannot deny that the pink dolphins and these tribes sounded quite interesting to me, but we could not afford it. We were trying to save each penny, which the good people of Ecuador gave us, so that we could eat and continue our journey. We didn’t want to spend their money for extra attractions, because we would not feel well after that. We felt such an appreciation to the people of Ecuador, who helped us to recover after the theft and we didn’t want to betray their trust. We didn’t care they would not find out that – the important thing was we would know and we would not be happy with ourselves.

I bought my pal sugar-cane juice so he could try it at last. I started to love this juice since Cambodia where my host Tashi regularly treated me with it, so I started to love it. We ate some water melon as well. My friend was completely shocked when he got 3 bananas for 25 cents. Till the end of our stay in the Amazon the bananas became only two. We never got only one, which would be a great impudence, not that two bananas was not any. We bought a bowl full of rice, but when we wanted a second the woman didn’t fill it as before. My friend showed her the difference between the both of them, but she said the lad who was helping her put more by mistake. My pal got really angry, so he gave back to her the second portion. People tried to lie to us in many places through Amazon, so in each bigger town we popped in, we were trying to find Tia supermarkets (the cheapest of them all) and we bought our food from there.

After El Coca, we headed towards the Cuyabeno lake, which was located further in Amazon. We hoped we could go there without a boat but unfortunately, there wasn’t any sense in going to Amazon without a boat, because there weren’t any walking trails in the jungle. On the way to the lake, they dropped us in Nueva Loja or Lago Agrio (there are two names for this town). We continued along the road without popping in the town, which was popular with its high level of criminal activity. Drugs, a lot of night clubs…………it looked just like Esmeraldas, so we wanted to get away from it as soon as possible. We were walking along the road, because there wasn’t any traffic at all and fortunately, a person with a pickup gave us a ride and took us away from the night clubs and the prostitutes. Later, we did walk again for a while, till a second pickup with two workers took us, when it was already dark. They were pretty cool and were worried about our place for camping, so they suggested going to their hotel and taking a shower there. We did it exactly like this, took a shower at the hotel and following their advice we went to the local school to ask if we could pitch our tent on the football playground. It was perfect for this purpose, with a fence from all sides and a large shelter above the playground itself. The women, who were supposed to open and close the gates were helpless in front of our new friends’ arguments and immediately let us in. We made our camp inside of the football door.

On the morning, we took off early, we ate small flat loaf with chocolate, which we bought from the nearby bakery and started to hitchhike for the Cuyabeno lake. The sky was cloudy, but it wasn’t raining. Since our arrival in the Amazon, we hadn’t seen the sun. A driver of a pickup took us, explaining that he was going to the town of Puerto El Carmen Del Putumayo, which was located at the border with Colombia. He was afraid to go there, because of the many types of criminal acts, not only the drug dealers and the large amount of drugs, which was known to be there. We didn’t have any business there, so he left us at the entrance of the Cuyabeno lagoon. The entrance itself was a river, where one should take a boat to the lake, where the pink dolphins live, along with many other animals like toucans, tapirs, capibaras, monkeys and other typical animals for this area.  I hoped that there would be a walking trail for hiking and even if we wouldn’t succeed to reach the lake I wanted to see some animals at last. At the info center, a lady and a gentleman informed us that it cost 50 dollars to use the boat for one hour and see the pink dolphins. The boat was full of tourists who came back from the journey, so my pal started a small talk with a couple. They had paid 700 dollars for four days in the jungle, saw the lagoon and visited some Indian tribes, who taught them how to bake bread on bonfire. We asked them if these tribes who lived so remotely from any civilization had any mobile phones and the girl answered positively. And above all, the first things to be loaded on the boat were the beer cans – were they for the tourists or for the wild Amazon tribes?! I still remember the African tribe Himba, which insisted on being very authentic, but they were posing for a photo with big, shiny mobile phones hanging from their necks.  So I make my conclusions about the real authenticity of any tribe according to their behavior. The Massai tribe had self phones as well, even though there wasn’t any electricity in the whole villages to charge them.

As a whole, the mobile phones were an obsession for Ecuadorians. This was at the top list of each Ecuadorian, and the second was the TV plasma – the bigger, the better. There were numerous houses without any furniture, but inside the living room one could see enormous TV plasma, projecting awfully ugly video clips with puffy black women and men, who dance half-naked on the screen. This was extremely popular in Esmeraldas.  So, after we realized the boat trip wouldn’t happen, I started to search for a trail. I found one, but it was really short, so after a hundred meters I had to go back. I succeeded, though, to see numerous multi-coloured butterflies and few really cool birds, so it was worthy. I did a short walk along the river and came back to my pal, who was really happy that we took off from the Amazon. We realized that if you do not have any money for a boat you cannot do anything. I desperately hoped to find some hiking trails across the jungle, so that I could see some part of it, but there wasn’t any. All the trails were the rivers themselves. We hitchhiked till Tarapoa and luckily we were taken by a track directly to Quito. I forgot to mention that right back after we came down from the mountains, relatively fewer people were willing to give us a ride. Probably, they thought we were Colombians and were afraid of us. In the other areas, we did not have any problems of finding a person to give us a ride. We’d been really lucky with this truck. The driver was a very pleasant man and he literary saved us by helping us to get away from Amazon and wondering where to sleep one more night. In the mountain, you can sleep anywhere you want, but in Amazon a person should be very careful where would sleep during the night. The driver told us that there were constant robberies on vehicles, so people were afraid to travel in these regions. We had been traveling with him the whole day, while we reached our next destination – the San Rafael waterfall, which was located at the Cayambe Coca Reserve. It was free of charge for visitors and it was also maintained by the Ministry of the Environment. We went to speak with the guard but he informed us it was too late and the camping on the walking lane was forbidden. While we were talking with him, we heard a big explosion behind our backs and curiously turned around just to see how the Reventador volcano was erupting . We were looking at an erupting volcano for the first time in our lives.  We enjoyed the view and went to the people’s meadow, where we were supposed to pitch the tent. We asked for permission and the man asked for 2 dollars. We didn’t play such games, so we instantly went up the street till we found ourselves into an uncultivated area with beautiful scenery.

In the morning, we were the first to see the waterfall. We registered, left our luggage in the building, where our fellow from last night was working, and went to see the waterfall itself. The path towards the fall was lovely and San Rafael was huge, majestic and indescribable. You can check the photos after the text. We stayed there for a while and when many tourists started to come, we took off. We hitchhiked to get to Baeza, which was located on the way to the Amazon, but this time we were heading to Tena. My pal didn’t like the region at all, because of the malaria and the outstandingly high prices of the greedy population, but we had to come closer, before we set off towards the mountains. Before we approached Tena, we stopped to see allegedly interesting caves. At the entrance of the whole complex, composed of caves, pools, restaurants and other shit stuff, a little man instantly asked for two dollars, and this was only for the entrance, another two dollars had to be paid before entering the caves. We got away, as fast as we could, from this den of gold-seekers.

We popped in Tena late, bought some food, and went for a short walk when it got dark. We stayed for a while at the main boulevard to consider how dangerous the town was. We saw a group of Negros, exactly like our local thieves. They desperately tried to catch a taxi, but all taxi drivers were just passing, when it was obviously there weren’t any passengers inside. Negros got angry and eventually, someone who apparently knew them stopped and gave them a lift. We easily figured out, that the town wasn’t safe enough. We decided to go to the police station and make our camp there, as we did many times before. They were pretty polite and after a phone call, we were invited to use their back yard. After we pitched the tent, a group of kids started to throw stones over the tent. They were pretty mean and aggressive and fortunately the policemen got rid of them.
The next day, we immediately left the town and we hitchhiked for the town of Puyo, but we didn’t mean to stay there just going closely to Banos road which was our real destination. But when we reached Puyo, we kind of liked it and there were nice places for a photo shoot. I visited the local museum, which was free of charge and the polite guide explained everything in Spanish – I understood almost everything. In the afternoon, we headed towards a village called Shell. It was full of military shops and there was also a military base nearby, so I made myself a present  - a knife for thieves’ slaughtering, which cost 13.50, but it was worth it – light, easy to carry and extremely deadly.
We stopped a track to Banos, but since we saw so many beautiful places along the way, we got off close to a waterfall in the Chin –Chin neighborhood. I left my pal to work in front of the computer and decided to go back to Rio Barde village, where I spotted a lot of sights. The Puyo-Banos road was an attraction itself. There were a lot of tunnels, many, really many waterfalls, beautiful canyons and rivers. Usually, tourists go to Banos, there they rent a bike and ride down to Puyo and on the way back they use pickups or tracks to give them a lift to Banos again. Along the way, people usually try ‘canopy’ – this is a horizontal rope, stretched tight between the two river watersides, so that you can use it like a trolley, and later tourists visit few waterfalls, one of which is Paylon del Diablo close to Rio Verde.  Firstly, I climbed to the hill where one could see the small town and later, unfortunately, I decided to dismount along the waterfall path, wishfully thinking that it would be free of charge. Right in front of the waterfall, however, there was a huge building with different kinds of facilities and a young lad wanted a 1.50 fee for visiting the fall. I thought to go back, but I wanted to see it very much, so I gave the money resentfully and I went to see the fall. On my way to the fall, the lad informed me that I got only 10 minutes, because they were about to close. I was really on the edge of showing him my middle finger and saying some dirty words in Bulgarian, but I restrained myself and angrily explained in Spanish that since I paid he would stay and wait for me as long as it was necessary. He could not do anything, so he was just waiting and I stayed quite a while maybe about half an hour and left when it became too dark for pictures. 
After this experience, I have never thought of paying again to scoundrels and I visited only free of charge sights and waterfalls. The waterfall itself was quite impressive; there were stairs of unusual type and bridges over and under it, which helped for a better view.  I used the stairs to climb to the very spot where the fall began and in consequence I was completely wet. A whole group of tourist came after me. When I returned to Rio Verde, it was already dark and I started to hitchhike, when it started to rain heavily. Nobody stopped. At the end, a track full of bustards stopped, and I got off in Chin Chin, where together with my pal were waiting quite a long time under a shelter of an inhabited house for the rain to stop. There wasn’t any spot for the tent, so we head off towards the terminal station of a small trolley. In the morning, we had the best view for awakening – the two waterfalls in front of us.

We set off to Banos and early in the morning we were in the town. We liked it a lot, nevertheless, the bunch of tourists, who were mainly back packers, which in general we did not like. We ignored them and enjoyed our visit of the town. Initially, my pal bought a birthday cake for his birthday, which was days ago and we spent it in begging for money in Quito, so we didn’t have any mood for celebrations on his birthday. Later, I left him to use the Internet and took a tour around the town. Banos, indisputably, was great with a lot of nice parks, pleasant streets, all kinds of shops and massive number of hotels and travel agencies, which offered almost everything: renting bikes, rafting, etc. Prices were slightly higher, but there was a supermarket where one could find different things for less money. There was a deep canyon with a bridge over it, an enormous waterfall as well - in its foot you could find a pool with hot water. It was usually crowded with people decided to use thermal baths. It was obligatory for anybody to use nylon bonnets, so that no hairs would go into the water. Personally for me, even if someone gives me money, I would not get inside this holly crab, since I cannot still realize, how people do not have loathing of getting in closed pools, where everybody farts, pees, or maybe have some sort of skin disease.  I feel sick just when I think of it, I just hate public pools crowded with people.  And, please, do not explain me how no one of these fifty or a hundred people would not pee into the water, instead of restraining themselves for few hours. Holly shit!

I started to go for the next village of Ulba, in search for two waterfalls. One of them could be seen from down here – this was the Chamanga waterfall, and Ulba waterfall could be seen from a different road. I lost myself in some kind of paths, which went down into the river, so I forced myself to climb up through large bushes and mud,  eventually I left my shoes and finally I saw a third waterfall, as big and beautiful as the other one, so I could definitely say it was worth it. Before my continuing along the road towards the huge bridge with waterfalls, close to an electric power-station, I managed to have a glimpse towards the magnificent, constantly erupting in the past few months Tungurahua volcano, where Banos was settled in its foot. Nobody gave me a lift, so I walked the way from the bridge to Banos. When it was already dark, we decided to leave the town and we headed towards a place, which I chose earlier today – a small shelter close to the village of Ulba. Weather was really changeable, so it was important to find a safe place. In the morning, we set off to Banos, where my pal wanted to treat me with renting a bike for me. This was one of my big and unachievable goals, so far – to ride a bike for an hour, or a day – I really missed my bike in Haskovo. We were inseparable when I was there, and now it was locked and patiently was waiting for me. My pal decided to stay in a playground in Ulba, where he could use his computer and boil some eggs for me – food which was healthy and delicious. I reached Banos and visited an agency, where you could rent a bicycle. I had to write down my name on a piece of paper and that was it. What trust did they have in tourists! I had so many thoughts of getting away with the bike and never coming back. Wow, when I sat down on it, I almost flew!!! This bike wasn’t as good as mine at all, but still it was quite nice. Nobody could deny that my own bike was of real quality and quite special. When you drove a Ferrari once, it would be hard to get used to a Trabant. Since 2007, all bikes seemed to me not good enough, but I decided to trust this one and enjoy the moment. So, I flew like a bird on it, I accelerated the speed really much descending down the road and on the corner – a shaft full of water!!! Good Lord – that’s what called Ecuadorian streets! My pal nearly killed himself on the pavement in Canoa, because of a hole, and I, seeing the water shining on it like a thick lid, rode right over it. But the word ‘rode’ was not exactly correct, because I jutted into it; the tire sucked into the water and splashed it all around and I fall down on the street. I had beaten myself so violently, that I could hardly move. Fortunately, there wasn’t anyone around to see my failure. I was really ashamed of myself. I stood upright, and my whole outfit was extremely dirty. I continued my riding, as if nothing happened, but in the same time my legs and stomach started to fill with ugly bruises, which even a great filmmaker would have difficulties to achieve such ominous bluish – yellowish –purple –green nuances. Each bruise had the shape of a well-ripe Bulgarian eggplant. When my pal saw me, he regretted about his treat and I regretted about telling him.

Instead of going along the backpackers’ itinerary to Puyo, I decided that I want to go up to a UPWARD SLOPE!  In my opinion, riding a bike without riding it up a hill, was not riding at all and I didn’t get any pleasure in doing so. There had to be ups and downs, so I would be completely satisfied. It was the same in the Bulgarians’ mountains – when I was riding a snowboard I had never used the ski lift. For example, my pal always used the lift, so he managed to descend about ten times and I only one or two, because I had to walk about few kilometers up through deep snow. For me, it didn’t matter, because going up inquired great effort but pleasure of that one and unique descending down would be unforgettable and unimaginable. Riding the bike was the same – since I was trying to reach Casa del Arbol, I spent few hours in sweating and pushing up the road, but the pleasure of high-speed descending could not be described with words.  Casa del Arbol represented a wonderful house and there was even more wonderful wooden swing attached to it. When you swing forward, you fly over the abyss, and when the swing goes back you are over a solid ground. The coolest part was the incredible view towards the volcano. The place was full of local and foreign tourists. I was waiting to have a glimpse of the volcano for over an hour, but it was too cloudy and I didn’t manage. I rode my bike down the hill and as I said, the feeling was incredible, flying downwards and having a big opportunity to have a crash into every car coming opposite me. Fortunately, I quickly got used to my new bike - I have a strong emotional attachment to bikes, as well as with horses – I adapt to their rhythm and special features. Well, I would be quite good if I could afford to travel by bike around the world! While I was riding the bike, I stopped a few times to make some photos and suddenly clouds scattered around, so I was able to see Tungurahua in its magnificence, throwing up curls of smoke in every 5 minutes. I stood there for quite a long time, enjoying the constantly changing magical colors, the sun shining on it and the smoke which also changed its color and shape. It was late when I returned to Ulba, popped up to see my pal and to eat few eggs, before going to Banos to return the bike. It was already dark when I got there, gave the bike to the agency, and bought myself an ice-cream and a package of the traditional sugar-cane lollipops. We camped on the same spot like the previous night, and on the morning I went to see the real waterfall of Ulba, which I couldn’t see yesterday. We washed our clothes, and when they were dry and clean, we set off for Banos. We spent the day in the town and I went to the canyon where people practiced bungee jumping. I wanted to jump as well, but the price stopped me again. I also visited the cathedral at the main square; it seemed really beautiful and interesting. In the late afternoon, we bought a lot of tangerines for a dollar and set off towards the Pandora village, which was located up in the mountains, closer to the volcano. We reckoned to get there as soon as possible. A man with a pickup took us and told us stories about previous eruptions, when big whole pieces were thrown away from the volcano right over the main road to Banos. In time, though, people got used to the volcano and weren’t afraid of it.  They even respected it, because thankfully to it, the tourism in this area flourished. The man drove us close to a big lane, which was perfect for pitching the tent.

It was raining the whole night and also in the morning. I was in a really bad mood, for I couldn’t see how we were supposed to climb up in this weather, but at noon we finally were able to leave. It was pouring with rain and not too long after our departure, we were completely wet. The volcano couldn’t be seen at all and the weather was really nasty. Since we wanted to reach Chimborazo and Cuenca asap (where the wonderful family of Latinka from Haskovo was waiting for us), we decided to give up the climbing and set off towards Pondoa. It was in the late afternoon, when we were taken by car to Ambato. We wondered if the access to Chimborazo was from the side of Ambato or Riobamba, but since we had a lift to Ambato we went there. Ambato was another big, not very pleasant city, where we bought some food – cooked corn, fries and empanadas with cheese. After we ate we decided to get a bus and leave the city. A woman told us that in order to reach Chimborazo, we had to go between Ambato and another big city – Guaranda. It was already dark but we still tried to hitchhike while we were waiting for a bus, going to our destination. It became obvious that it was quite difficult to get a bus, because all of them were crowded and didn’t even stop. Many people were sitting around us waiting for a transport. It was really crazy. Patrol of policemen came to guard us. They said it was too dangerous and someone could rob us, so they would stay and protect us. The policemen tried to find us a transport, but the bus drivers didn’t let us in. After we were waiting for few hours, we finally succeeded to catch a track to Guaranda for a dollar. We didn’t like Ambato at all and all we wanted was to get away. The track left us on a spot, which according to the driver was the path. We couldn’t see anything in the dark, just bare hills and volcano’s silhouette in the distance. We hardly picked a spot, hidden from the wind, and hoped that it wouldn’t blow away our tent.

On the morning, Chimborazo was shining in front of us; I hardly believed how beautiful it was. We packed our things and were taken by a pickup. The driver left us close to a new road. From this point we could choose to go either to Guaranda or to Riobamba. We headed towards Riobamba and not long ago after that a track came by and gave us a lift till the Chimborazo Reserve. There was a large info center where we had to register. They didn’t want to let us camp close to the volcano. It wasn’t forbidden only for mountaineers. Excuse me! If we weren’t mountaineers what we were then! In general, camping was allowed only for groups accompanied by a guide. But we insisted on staying close to the top and camping there, so eventually the guy agreed. He said we could sleep over under the first shelter, which was in current repairs and didn’t work. We were not allowed to go to the second shelter, which was in the same condition as the first one. We were taken by a car without any hitchhiking at all. A few local tourists wanted to get a photo with us and after the photo shoot they gave us a lift till the parking space. There we had to explain to a different guard why we were there with our backpacks. He nagged about going there without hiring a guide, which was an obligatory thing. I started to explain my point to him and he called to the other guy, who let us camping. After all they didn’t want to let us going up with our backpacks on, too  afraid that we could go even further and sleep at a higher spot. How could we explain to these people that we were perfectly acclimatized and we didn’t have any kind of altitude disease? My pal was outraged too, so he stayed the whole day with his rucksack on his back. I decided to go to the second shelter. When I passed the lagoon, I started to fall down and stand up again on the glacier, cursing the destiny that I didn’t have enough money to rent climbing-irons and an ice-ax (both of them are 40 dollars per day). Many people gathered, pointing and shouting at me, some of them were applauding and I, in all the chaos, succeeded to jog to a second, even steeper glacier. I beat myself up a little, so I had to go back before my wounds get more serious. When I reached my pal I started to cry – I couldn’t climb Chimborazo because I didn’t have money for renting the equipment. In the evening, a guard came to harass us – we had to go to the parking spot and pitch our tent there. We moved but I cursed him out loudly in Bulgarian. He just came to harass us. Later, a pickup with a couple of tourists and a guide came. My pal went to speak with their guide, so he would understand how much did it cost to climb up the volcano. It cost 180 dollars per person, all included, and the cheapest price was 160 dollars (without any food). The tourists were Colombian and Spanish guys. My mate said that it seemed the guide had an altitude disease :) They wanted to climb to the top around 11pm on the next day. When he told me all this, (I was in a really shitty mood), I felt even more horrible and started to cry. I felt so strong, energetic and motivated, I didn’t have any kind of altitude disease at 5000 meters and I wanted so much to climb the peak. I couldn’t sleep at all, suffering and thinking how I could overcome my human impossibilities and stick my leg into the glacier without sliding. It was perfect weather for climbing up to 6300 metres the next day. I was shocked when I saw the tourists’ tent on the parking. They all were still there. My pal went to speak with them. Obviously, one of them had strong altitude disease and other one had problems with his knee, so they decided not to go. They paid 180 dollars to get here, the weather was perfect, really perfect for climbing, they got full equipment and they even DID NOT try and didn’t even make ten steps out of the tent!  I was really disgusted! Now, my disappointment was twice stronger, because people like us - absolutely prepared and able to do it, could not climb the peak, because of lack of money and some lazy tourists paid so much money and didn’t even try. It turned out that even money was not enough to get a person somewhere when their spirit was still too small.

The other thing that shocked me the most was that nobody came to ask us if we wouldn’t want to climb on their place for half the price. In this case, they wouldn’t lose 180 dollars and all the efforts would be worth it - I, personally, would be rather happy to see my dream came true and my pal would be happy to see the view from the top. The night before, he had said to the guide that we wanted to climb the peak very, very much and that we were perfectly ready to do so. Both of us felt ourselves completely ready, we were so motivated and willing to do it, that there wasn’t a force in the universe to stop us. We didn’t need the guide at all. Best for him was to stay and sleep in the tent, because he had an altitude disease. A guide with an altitude disease sounded ridiculous.  We didn’t feel any altitude problems since Venezuela, but then we forced ourselves to leave the sea level of the Caribbean islands, where we’d been for six months and went straight to a peak of 4750 meters (now I didn’t feel this altitude at all) but then at the height of 3300 meters, I could feel my heart pumping in my chess. Since we stayed for a while in the Venezuela’s Andes we didn’t have any altitude disease and completely forgot about it. We left this place and spent the rest of the day in Riobamba, where I treated my pal with a cake, because my father had a birthday that day. Riobamba was a big city with many preserved architectural sites, so it was pleasant to be there for a day. In the late afternoon, we decided to leave the city but we popped into a funfair close to a big lake with water wheels. It was crowded and the view was wonderful – the erupting Tunguraua could be seen, along with the massive volcano of Sangai and the magnificent slopes of Chimborazo. Till we left the fair, it was already dark and around 8pm we tried to get a lift – but soon we figured out that it wouldn’t happen. So, as usual, we did what we always do. If you want to get away from a big city you should take the public transport and get off at the first bus stop close to nature.

We chose the Sangai park and it turned out there was a bus for Makas. We were waiting till 10 pm for the bus to leave. We told the driver we wanted to get off the bus at the main entrance of Sangai park but he completely forgot about us. It was already dark, so we couldn’t see anything but when the bus headed down the road, we realized something was wrong and we were heading the Amazon jungle where we completely did not want to go. The driver confirmed we already passed the park and it was better for us to go to Makas and in the morning we could come back to see the lagoons. Jesus, he was telling us what to do! We immediately forced him to pull over. Naturally, when we got off the bus, dogs started to bark but fortunately nothing happened. We started walking along the road to search for a place to sleep over and it took us over an hour since we found a small path in the bushes. In the morning, we headed to Makas on foot; there wasn’t any sign of a car along the road but buses only. At last, a person driving a jeep gave us a lift and left us close to the first lagoons close to Makas. There, it started to rain cats and dogs, my pal tried to hide under the rain cover and I set off to see some waterfalls down the road and as a result was completely wet. The lagoons could be seen in the few cloudless moments – the first one was Negra, then a second one which was really gorgeous and then the huge Margarita lagoon. All of them were situated along the road and I spent the whole day in walking around since my pal found a shelter in a big rocky niche where we spent the night. While, I was walking around, I hoped to find some kind of village and accordingly some food to eat, because we didn’t have any food and we were pretty hungry already. We had some rice left, but since everything was completely wet we couldn’t set a fire to boil it. I found an abandoned village with not even one person to live in, so I got back to our camp without any food at all. 

In the morning, we headed towards Guamote and the main road to Cuenca. We were walking many hours before we reached a local corner shop and bought ourselves some corn and cheese. The people in this region didn’t speak Spanish but quechua only. At the end, a vet doctor took us to Guamote. I took a look at the pleasant village and after we spent the afternoon there, we started to hitchhike. A Ukrainian took us to Cuenca. We were pretty surprised to see him in Ecuador. He said he had been living there for 14 years and adored the country. He was so happy there he couldn’t stop appraising the country. Obviously, he preferred Ecuador much more than his own country and he also shared that his family house was in ruins, because of the present war. When it got dark, we went to a different path to Sangai, which was considerably closer to Cuenca (Sangai is an enormous park and it can be entered from many places). In the morning, we tried to get a lift to El Tambo and when we reached it, we looked around and in the afternoon, right on time we arrived in Cuenca. We found the terminal and started to wait till 5pm for our meeting with Fabian – Latina’s husband, who was supposed to give us a lift to their home. We were keeping in touch with Latina, via the email, since we were robbed in Esmeraldas but we knew her before our coming to Ecuador. Vladi came to visit this wonderful family and was charmed by them. We got in touch with Latina, because of my grandmother who knew her mum (Latina was born in Haskovo), so they shared their phone numbers and when we got robbed Vladi wrote to Latina and then she wrote to me. Then, she did everything to help us, worried about us and was waiting to visit them in Cuenca. So, there we were and we both were pretty excited to meet other Bulgarians in Ecuador. Her husband, Fabian, is Ecuadorian, but he used to study in Bulgaria and he adores our country. Their son, Kaloyan was born in Bulgaria, but Denitsa, their daughter, in Ecuador. Shortly – they are a pretty cool international family; wonderful people with big hearts. If I have to add that they live into an incredible house, not far from Cuenca, they have a black Labrador called Ronko, a cat with five little kittens and few hens with small chickens ( which Ronko ruthlessly tormented), it is obvious we were about to have a great time there. Fabian found us at the terminal and we were amazed by how well he spoke Bulgarian. We had the impression that he had been spoken Bulgarian every day, but that wasn’t the case. They used to speak Spanish in their home and Fabian hadn’t visited Bulgaria for 30 years. But he spoke and understood Bulgarian so well that one might think – “He is not Ecuadorian, he is probably Macedonian. “ Fabian showed us few sightseeings downtown. Cuenca was extremely beautiful in architecture and foreigners preferred to live mainly in it and as a whole it was a wonderful place to visit. When we went to see Latina, we were amazed by the sight and size of their wonderful house. I was really glad that we could finally meet. Ronko welcomed us with great joy and we were introduced to their daughter Denitza, who had just been enrolled at the university. Latina showed us our room which was really gorgeous. She cooked and treated us with delicious food which we hadn’t eaten for so long. To be a guest to Bulgarians was always a special type of pleasure, even talking to them brought so much joy and warmth that I always started to think about all good things I missed from home. The next day was spent in walking around Cuenca, I visited few museum, many churches – all of them were impressively beautiful. When we headed for Latina’ home, we had a real challenge with catching a bus. If you want to catch a bus from Cuenca’s bus station, you have to pay 10 cents fee for using the bus station. We hadn’t seen such monkey business anywhere in Ecuador or around the world, so we decided to act like smart asses and catch the bus from the street. There was one small detail – they left the station with their doors stuck together. The guard at the bus station put a sticking plaster on the doors and no one had the right to take it off, except the police officers who could do so at a certain spot at the end of the town, where the bus was going to be empty and waiting for new passengers to get in. It seemed that all these measures were taken, because Cuenca was a modern city and they didn’t want any standing passengers during the travel. The bus left the station when even the last seat was taken and nobody could be let inside anymore. The driver wrote down the names’ of the passengers as well. Really, this was the first time we had ever seen something like that. We had to take the bus to the town of Azoguez and got off it not too far after Cuenca. So, after we figured it out drivers wouldn’t stop to take us, we went back to the bus station and paid these 10 cents. When the police officer took off the sticking plaster at the end of the town, people got inside and eventually there were so many people that it was really full. Obviously, when the bus was not driven in the center of town, nobody was interested to drive in the “European model.”

The next day, we stayed at Latina’s home to get rest and to call our relatives and friends. We spent many hours in front of the computer, talking on Skype, and I succeeded to talk to my parents at last. Ronka and I were already best friends and I felt extremely happy to play with him in the garden. He was still very young and wild, so Latina complained that he had eaten the small kittens and tormented the chickens. We met Kaloyan with his girlfriend the next day. Then, we all had a walk in the Cajas National Park. Later, we went to see an old cool house, which was transformed into a restaurant where we had a delicious lunch. My friend and Kaloyan with his girlfriend took part into a ceremony called Temazkal. People gather around in a low and dark pavilion, sit in a circle and then put a pile of hot stones in the middle.  This was a shaman ceremony for purifying but if someone got sick, because of the heat, they shouldn’t leave the tent just lying down on the floor where the air was cooler. My pal described the feeling as if his head was burning. He was interested in trying this stuff, but for me these were some kind of perversions which I wasn’t willing to try. As I was disgusted to try the popular beverage of ayahuaska (a narcotic plant from the jungle), the same way I felt sick only to think of staying in dark tent with dozens of people, sweating like a pig, since my head was trying to burst. No,thanks. I preferred the company of the rest of the family, who didn’t take part into the ceremony. The price of the temazkal was 10 dollars for a session and it was usually held on every first and third week of the month.

The next day, we had to say goodbye to this wonderful family. It was difficult to express my gratitude and warm feelings for their hospitality. On our last day, Latina made some cookies for us and Fabian took us to show his inherited farm. He had an idea to make a business out of it.  It was located on the way to Loja and was absolutely stunning. We said he would have a real success in developing his ideas. We slept over in a wood and we felt really sad for these great people while we were eating the delicious Latina’s cookies. We went to Loja the next day. I liked it a lot. It was a very nice and pleasant town. I spent the whole day in wandering through the narrow streets, visiting churches and museums. Loja was the Ecuadorian capital of music. We enjoyed the town and in the late afternoon, we hitchhiked to reach Podocarpus National Park.
After we arrived, we registered and headed up the road. Soon it became dark and we pitched the tent aside the road. The next day, after a long walking we were taken by a car of the Ministry and they took us to one of their shelters. It turned out that there were few facilities with electricity and even Wi-Fi. My pal was really happy that he would have the opportunity to do something on his computer so he stayed there. I started hiking through the park. I climbed up the first hill - it was green, beautiful and full of trees. I was passed by a French couple, while I was making photos. As most of their national fellows, they acted cool and didn’t say a word. The path changed, it became narrower and by both sides it had panoramic views without being too steeply. However, the weather changed too - the whole view disappeared, a strong wind started to blow, which made walking dangerous because someone could lost balance and fell into the abyss. At last it started to rain heavily. I was hardly able to hide the camera under my jacket; I was completely wet after few minutes. The rain continued about an hour and it really destroyed my mood. The French didn’t seem happy and were dragging their feet way behind me. The worst part was that my sandals were completely wet. The surface between my foot and the sandal was full of mud, which caused extreme slipping, as well as absolutely unstable walking through the uneven narrow path. Meanwhile, I decided to save the sandals which were a present by Teodora, when we were in Dominica, so I took them off. My bare feet walked better in the mud, but soon they froze so much I barely felt them. I had to put on the sandals again, praying they wouldn’t tear apart. While I was desperately trying to protect the camera and was taking off and putting on my sandals again, the French couple passed me by. The path became really unpleasant for walking, the rain wasn’t stopping and everything was covered in mud. Dangerous short vertical paths started to appear. I felt down for a third time during this hiking but this time it was from a higher distance, so it hurt when I hit the stones. I continued without murmuring and reached the French who didn’t look happy again. When the path took an upward direction I started praying for the rain to stop. I was afraid to look at my camera’s condition and how wet it was. I continued along the path which was going downwards again and I just felt happy that maybe all this would eventually stop. At least the rain stopped when suddenly, thankfully to the combination of wet and slippery stones plus wet and slippery sandals my right foot fall into a crack of two stones. I felt a sharp pain, shouted and felt dizzy. First, I thought it was broken, and then I realized blood was pouring down. The worst part was that I was trying to pull my leg out of it but I couldn’t do it.  It was stuck. As usual I didn’t panic at all, I overcame the pain and just started to think what to do next. The sandal was causing extra problems, so I tried to take my foot out of it. The pain caused me real difficulties, but maybe after 5-10 minutes of trying my foot was out of the sandal and I succeeded to pull my leg out of the crack which caused me even worse pain when touching the stones’ surface. I sat on a stone and looked at my foot. The hole in my leg was very deep, pieces of skin were hanging around and the blood was pouring all over the place. I looked around and started walking as nothing happened. Not long after that, the French passed me by. My pace was really slow but I didn’t say a word to them. They even didn’t notice my wound which was already covered with few layers of mud. When I reached my pal I told him about what happened and I immediately went to wash myself in the fountain located nearby the benches where he stood. A man there noticed how much blood I was losing and told another man who was working at the Ministry. He brought some spirits, cotton and few patches and helped me for the wound. This wound didn’t heal for a long time; it was fully healed after a couple of weeks. During these two weeks, though, it didn’t stop infecting, producing pus and it even hurt during my sleep.

The rain continued pouring during the night and we happily camped under the roof, close to the benches and on the next morning we headed towards Vilcabamba. Our first stop, though, was a small town called Malacatos. Later, we spent the day in Vilcabamba, wondering where the hell these famous one hundred years old people were. We failed to see one of those, except for the advertisements in the village. They had been living there like permanent residents, obviously hoping to have a long and happy life at least until they become centenarians, even though they used to stuff  McDonald’s and coca-cola all their lives and all of a sudden they decided to live healthily. The other kind of residents there were backpacker visitors, who apparently were thinking how after they were all tired of beer, coca-cola and weed, they would come and live in this village. Our first job in Vilcabamba, after our quick check for centenarians and their complete missing, ( well, maybe we were wrong, they could be hidden somewhere or maybe the Americans took them in a lab to examine the reasons for the eternal life) was to drink from a big, poisonous bottle Coca Cola celebrating the eternal life. At the end of the day, we headed towards Podocarpus again, but this time from the other side of Vilcabamba. It turned out there was just a path, which was going to take many hours. Taking under consideration the fact that it was 11th and on the 13th, most probably, our seals for leaving were going to be made we decided that we didn’t have enough time for this transition. We slept on the dusty path and on the morning we washed and bathed in the river. This took much more time that we planned, so we reached Vilcabamba in the afternoon. There wasn’t much traffic, so we had to walk before we could catch a pick-up to give us a ride. We camped and spent the night close to a place, which resembled the Stob’s pyramids in Bulgaria, because of the rock formations. The next day was important for us. I hoped we would succeed to reach the border on the 12th. We had been counting the days and according to our calculation when entering the country on the 13th of July we had 90 days to leave it. This date was 13th of September. Many people think that they have three months to visit Ecuador, but in fact this is not correct – you have exactly 90 days. So, we had to be at the border on the 13th, not the 16th. We had a ride till a small town called Vayadolid, when absolutely unexpected, the asphalt finished and the road transferred to a some kind of African path – it was muddy with an orange color and a complete nightmare for traveling. Apparently, the firm hand of Correa still hadn’t reached this road, because this was the only road without asphalt in whole Ecuador. Well, it turned out that this wasn’t the main border with Peru. The one that all people were using was at Macara, Panamericana and it was in perfect condition. I chose this God forsaken border of Zumba, so that we wouldn’t go to the seaside again and because I thought it was located in the Andes, but it turned out to be in the Amazon?!?? So, because of my complete lack of knowledge I took my pal into Amazon….. again.

After Vayadolid, not only the asphalt disappeared, but the scenery became more Amazonian. We were taken by a track, full of workers, and the rain didn’t spare us. It was raining so heavily as if someone was throwing buckets full of water from the skies. We hadn’t seen something like this before. We were hiding under the roof of a house and fortunately, the middle-age owner let us stay during the rain. Later, after many kilometers of walking, we were taken by the car of a cool man called Zumba. It is completely unnecessary to add that there wasn’t any traffic at all, both during day and night.  We reached the terminal when it was already dark. We decided to spend the night on this spot, because there was electricity, so we could swap on the computer. Not too fat from the gate, we saw a blond backpacker who was examining the grass, obviously to pitch his tent there. O the morning, he came at the terminal and it turned out he was traveling to Peru too. Two more people came – Spanish and Malian, who were traveling to Peru and they chose this border, because they wanted to go to Amazon, then to catch a boat to Quito and later to Manaus in Brazil. The blond one was American and he had chosen this border, because he wasn’t fond to the seaside of South America just like us. He told us he had been traveling a lot and he was robbed in each and every country he had been. In Peru, he was robbed at the seaside by people who attacked him with machetes. Then, I recalled a girl who wrote me after she’d read our story for the robbery in the Couch surfing. She used to travel by hitchhiking in many countries and she shared how she was robbed in Latacunga, Ecuador while camping. In Peru, they took almost everything from her while hitchhiking. They even left her without her passport and she was waiting for her new passport to be issued in Peru. So, when I think of all robbed people who we meet every day in South America, tourists and local, their number would be positively much more than all other robbed people we had met on the other continents. We all bought tickets for the first bus to the border for 1.70. We spent the journey on the horrible road while chatting about our adventures and enjoying the incredible views.

After an hour and a half of shaking we reached the border. There, all of us who were gringos, headed for the immigration service to get our seals and the locals just passed the border as if there wasn’t any. So far, we have never seen something like a real border in South America – there checking of documents doesn’t exist. Only people who think they might need a seal on their passports go to the immigration services. People and cars pass the border freely. The immigration employee checked our data in the computer and started to count the days of our stay in the country. In was the 13th, the last day on which we could get out of the country legally. After he put the seals, we went to the Peruvian immigration services, where a middle-aged man with a mustache asked if we had been in Africa recently. I reckoned that this was connected with the epidemic we had heard of. We denied. We filled the documents and gave them to the police officers in the small house nearby, where they entered our data in the computer. After that, we went back to the first man with the mustache who put our seals with permission to stay in the country for 90 days. We said goodbye to our fellows who were still waiting at the queue and astonished everyone, when we continued our way on foot towards the first bigger town of Peru San Ignasio, situated at 47 km away from the border. The road on this side of the border was perfectly asphalted. We were taken by a pickup a little bit later and the driver didn’t want any money. Of course, we asked about it, because we already knew most drivers in Peru wanted money from the hitchhikers. We stopped not too far from a small Peruvian town and decided it wasn’t too different from Ecuador. We took another pickup until we reached San Ignasio. We denied changing some dollars at the border, because we kept the rest of it for an exchange at the black market in Argentina.  We wanted to draw money straight from the ATM, so we hoped there would be one in San Ignasio. There wasn’t an ATM machine of Scotia bank, for which we knew didn’t charge extra for withdrawing abroad, so we stayed absolutely hungry and without a penny in our pockets. This was how our journey in Peru started – a country, which disappointed us again and turned out to be the third unfavorable country on this continent. We liked only Ecuador so far. But we liked it so much, we even loved it. And now, twenty days later, we missed it a lot. We both know, though, we will visit it again for another three months of great adventure.

                                    Translated by: Ivelina F

The photos regarding this blogpost you can see here, just scroll down -

1 comment:

  1. For me, crossing from Ecuador to Peru or from Bolivia to Peru was also always a downer. I didn't like it at all, whereas I really felt extremely happy and welcome in Bolivia and I also liked Ecuador a lot.