The clock is ticking with only five days left in South America! It’s bittersweet to be leaving this continent we’ve grown to love so much, but knowing that more adventures await further north! We got lucky to find Literar-té in Taganga, the biggest book exchange we’ve seen in South America! Finding the shop is kind of an adventure. We saw the place mentioned in several blogs but none of them gave directions on how to get there! So we decided to follow suit and not ruin the fun of the search. Don’t worry, you’ll find it if you keep your eyes open!
One dog-eared, over-highlighted copy of South America on A Shoestring plus 4,000 COP ($2) got us a similarly well-loved copy of Central America on A Shoestring. We have our issues with Lonely Planet’s accuracy, but we’re not the type of travelers to go totally guidebook-less. It’s always a good reference when read with a grain of salt. Five more days, Colombia, than adelante a Panama! Is it just me or has this adventure gone way too fast!
We left Arequipa in the morning and the road worked its way northward, past Volcán El Misti and the other snow-covered peaks, and out into the open country. There were many local people on our bus, which is normal, but the women were dressed differently than how we were used to, more colorfully with tons of small detail stitched into their dresses and hats. The road took us to higher and higher elevations until we were driving through slushy snow at almost 5000 meters.
We made our way over the top and saw our first glimpses into the Cañon del Colca, and the town of Chivay set out beautifully beneath us. That bus ride will be remembered as one of the most beautiful.
We stayed at a nice place in town. Chivay is very quiet and pretty small, although it’s the biggest town in the canyon. As soon as you enter the canyon at Chivay, you are required to buy a tourist ticket for 70 Soles per person. We tried to avoid buying it, which we were able to get away with in Chivay, but when we went farther into the canyon they got us.
On our second day in Chivay, we decided to take a hike east of town to the hotsprings and towns beyond. The Lonely Planet said that it would be an all-day hike, but beautiful the entire way. The hotsprings were 3km from town but were 15 Soles per person so we decided to pass them by. The landscape was magical and weather perfect for exercise.
We followed the directions in the guidebook and soon found ourselves on a rutted road, then a simple trail, and soon we were having trouble finding the trail at all. With a short supply of water and no food, Carrie was able to convince me that we should turn around. This turned out to be a good choice because we found out later that we were headed in completely the wrong direction (thanks Lonely Planet!). We were both grumpy for a few minutes after turning back and losing the trail several times but, after looking at the scenery around us, we soon started to cheer up. I remembered the ring that I had been carrying in my pocket for some time, since Cuzco. I thought, “This is the spot!” as Carrie and I stopped to drink some water. I grabbed her hands and asked her if she would marry me as I got on one knee. Tears came to our eyes. “Are you serious? Is this really it? Yes! YES!” she replied.
The rest of the hike was spent in a blur of happiness. Once back to Chivay, we decided it was a great time to splurge, so went to one of the buffets in town. Smiles all around.
After dinner we had a blast calling our mothers and changing our personal information on Facebook. “It’s better than my birthday!” said Carrie, stunned at all the Internet congratulations we got from friends. That night we went out for some drinks in the land of pisco.
The next day, still blissfully happy, we headed farther into the canyon, 2.5 hours by bus to the smaller village of Cabanaconde. This is where the canyon really opens up.
More stunning scenery and beautiful hiking abound in the sleepy town of Cabanaconde. Deeper than the Grand Canyon, Cañon del Colca is a very different canyon but also a once in a lifetime experience. It was the perfect place to ask the big question and start this new chapter of our relationship!
If there’s one thing Bolivia is determined to teach me, it’s patience. This is not my strongest quality, so learning it takes a lot. And believe me, we dealt with a lot of waiting in Puerto Villarroel for Bolivian boat hitchhiking into the Amazon. We knew our perfect scenario, finding a boat ride to Trinidad the same day we arrived, was unlikely. But the only way to get down the river was to start looking for a boat. We first tried the dockside restaurant with a “Tourist Information” sign on it, but the lady inside looked shocked to see a tourist and of course knew nothing about boats. So we stashed our packs under the stilted building and I went walking along the river.
Next someone directed me to the naval office, where the military officers at least tried to help this crazy dreadlocked hippy bum from a country Bolivia doesn’t get along with too well. They found a boat captain who was leaving in the afternoon, a glimmer of hope! But all the captain said was “I don’t have much space.” When I asked him the price he ignored me and told me to go look at the boat, before walking away. Since his boat was 1km away, we didn’t know the price, and it didn’t sound promising, we didn’t walk to look at the boat and never saw the captain again. So more sitting around, more asking random passersby. Most people want to help but just don’t know anything, so they direct you to one person who directs you to another person, and it all just turns into a wild goose chase.
Then finally — success? An old man led me on a more profitable goose chase to a man driving by in a truck whose boat was also, supposedly leaving in the afternoon. We settled on a price, agreed to wait for him where we were, shook hands and everything. Shazam! “After lunch,” was the time frame he’d given me. So I sat with the stuff while Zach took off to buy groceries and water for the trip. And then we sat. And sat and sat. 1pm, 2pm, 3pm. I was desperately craving a shower and a nap but still holding out hope that he guy would show up. “Doesn’t he want our money?” we asked. Apparently not. Around 4pm, after watching the one way-too-crowded boat mentioned earlier leave, we gave up for the day and moved into the only hostel in town, hoping for better luck mañana.
The next day we woke at 7am, not wanting to miss any boat departures. Silly U.S.-bred timeliness! Rather quickly we were informed that nothing was leaving that day but one boat was leaving the next morning. Some guy called the captain over to talk to us, but he wanted 200 Bolivianos ($29) each and for us to bring our own food. The only other tidbit of info the Lonely Planet had given us on this trip was that it was supposed to cost 100 Bolivianos including food. So ARGH! We said no, maybe this Bolivian boat hitchhiking thing wasn’t going to work out. We were hoping to SAVE money on this trip, not break even. But as soon as we arrived back in our room, we both had realized that this was probably the best offer we were going to get to get out of this stinkin’ town. It would cost more to get anywhere new by bus. So we did an about face and accepted the offer. “Woohoo, we hopefully have a boat ride tomorrow!” we cheered. Now how to kill a day in the sleepy, nothing town of PV: sit and watch The Sopranos all day because you sweat if you move and there are way too many mosquitoes outside.
Day Three. “Please, let us leave today!” We got up early again and waited where we were supposed to wait. Again, it proved completely unnecessary. The captain had said he’d come get us around 9am, but who knew what that meant. Our hope started waning when at noon we were still sitting there, watching a monsoon downpour, with no departure imminent. We thought we might have to stay another night and leave by bus in the morning, accepting defeat. Then finally, finally, somebody random appeared and led us through the rain to the boat. It seemed it was going to leave that day, hooray! So we loaded our stuff, bought more food, and settled in to wait longer to see if the boat would actually leave… Who thought up this Bolivian boat hitchhiking idea anyhow?
Once we FINALLY found the street in Old Town Quito that our hostel was on, we breathed a sigh of relief. One last hassle, of course–we realized the hostel recommended to us by Lonely Planet was waaaaaay out of our price range–like $20 for a dorm bed! Luckily, we were saved by the small, not-trendy-but-perfectly-functional Hostel Belmont down the street. While it didn’t have the bar, restaurant, art, and hip vibe of the last place, it did have $12 double rooms with private bathrooms and free internet. Score! Actually, the really nice young woman who runs the place is looking for a female volunteer to help her with her English. If we had been staying in Quito longer, I totally would have obliged in exchange for the free room she offered! (Someone jump on this!)
Anyway, after decompressing from our stressful intro to Quito, we hit the town for some exploring. First we hit up La Ronda, a narrow street in the Old Town which really gets hopping on weekend nights. The street was filled with musicians performing, artist’s shops, cafes and bars. The highlight for us was trying our first canelazos: a hot drink made with rum, sugar, cinnamon, and fruit juice. These are on offer at every stop along La Ronda, so we tried two different places. I preferred the orange flavor to the blackberry, and be forewarned that a whole pitcher gets to be almost too sweet by the end! We also got some plantain and cheese empanadas as we sat relaxing and beginning to forgive Quito.
The highlight of Old Town Quito is the architecture. Intricate stonework and beautiful white-washed bell towers fill the sky everywhere you look. Our problem was that we really only had one day, and it was a Sunday so almost everything was closed! Hence we just did a lot of walking and picture taking! Take a look!
La Virgen de Quito
I wish we would have had more time to get to know Old Town Quito. But we had to move on quickly to Baños for our second WWOOFing adventure! Coming up next!
Quito, the capitol of Ecuador, didn’t exactly get on our good side right away. What happened was a typical episode of traveling-into-an-unfamiliar-huge-city hassles. We got off the bus from Otavalo and grabbed our backpacks. We wandered over to look at a wall of maps in the rapidly-emptying bus lot. While we found maps detailing the routes of all, say, six different bus systems in Quito, somehow none of these maps seemed to indicate WHERE WE ACTUALLY WERE AT THE MOMENT. We knew we were somewhere in the northern part of the city since we hadn’t driven through much of Quito before stopping, but we were clueless as far as how to get to the Old Town. (Thanks, but no thanks to Lonely Planet also, for having next to no details on this.) Eventually we asked someone and he waved vaguely over at a waiting area for a couple local buses. We headed over there, determined to figure it out and not take a taxi since we were still around 20km from the city center and it would have been expensive. At least we have enough sense to always ask several different people for directions, and luckily caught ourselves right before we got on the wrong bus! We lugged our packs into the aisle, getting in everyone’s way, and settled in for a ride to the centro. But no, this bus was not actually going to the city center, only to the Trole station, where we had to get on one of Quito’s new dedicated-lane cable-car type buses. The Trole station had about six different options and we had to ask someone again. Once on the correct Trole, I grabbed a seat and Zach settled in a standing spot in the corner. This turned out to be a grave error, as the Trole stopped practically every block and every time more and more people crammed into the bus until it was packed tighter than a mosh pit at a rock concert. Again, I had to ask someone to find out where to get off, as we had no idea. The actual prospects of getting off though, seemed slim. I was crammed into a seat I wished I hadn’t taken, with about 20 people glued together in the aisle between me and the door. Zach was slightly closer, but also faced a hard elbow-throwing battle to get out. There was no way I could even stand up and start making my way to the exit in advance. My plan was basically just to push as hard as I could with my huge backpack, scream “¡Perdón! ¡Pérdon por favor!” over and over again, and hope I made it. And it worked! But barely! In the mad crush for the exit door at our stop Zach recalls making it, then looking back to see me still far away and fighting as the doors started closing. Honestly, I don’t know how I got out of there alive and with all my stuff, but after I did I was cursing Quito and swearing to never ride the Trole again. Thinking the hard part was over as we had made it to the right neighborhood, we tried to hail several taxis to get to our intended hostel. Surprise, surprise, not a single driver recognized the address. We wandered up and down the narrow streets receiving vague directions from shopkeepers like “Walk uphill two blocks and then ask someone up there.” Finally, finally, after asking about 5 different people and wandering on foot for half an hour, we stumbled upon the correct street ourselves. Who needs you, taxis? Huh?
The lessons in all of this? I’m not sure. Probably number one would be: Take a taxi if you can afford it! This whole crazy mess kind of left us wondering if it would have been worth it. Also, we always try to arrive at our destinations before dark, as it’s much less stressful and safer to find your way around public transportation in the busier daylight hours. We definitely, definitely would have taken a taxi if it had been dark outside.
Up next…find out if Quito can reverse our initially bad impression!