(This is more or less a copy of a letter to two Australian friends that were in Peru and wanted to know what they could expect from Ecuador since I was traveling ahead of them. Call it laziness if you don't find the prose riveting.)
Danny baby, Rosey baby, what's up?
Coming from Peru, you enter either via Tumbes and Huaquillas or inland via Macara and Vilcabamba. I went through Tumbes, as you will if you are in a hurry. Passing through is hard to figure out, as the immigration posts are 3 or 4 km away from the border on each side. From Tumbes tell the colectivo guy you want to go to Migracion or he will take you straight to the border. The border itself is a truly horrible sight; for Rose it is worse than seeing a chicken foot in her soup. Plow through and somehow get to the Ecuadorian immigration post way out of town. If you are into this sort of thing, one of the Ecuadorian immigration guys will also stamp your journal book for fun.
The best food I had in Ecuador was the first food I had in Ecuador, in Machala. If you are in a rush to get north, you may want to go straight up to Guayaquil, but if it is late in the day already, Machala is a comfortable, nothing kind of town that is meant as a mellow introduction to the country for travelers like us.
I think there are a few people selling them on that street until a little bit after dark, but you have to make sure you get the right family. Bollos are a delicate science and true masters deserve your good business! The husband was black and the wife was Latina, which I don't remember ever seeing in Peru, but maybe it is common in Machala. To be sure, ask them how many kids they have and if they don't say 7, they are imposters! Well, at the rate they are going, accept 8 as the right answer, too. Only 50 cents.
Everyone hates this place, but I had a good time. (I am also the only one who likes Lima , too.) You will love the climate after being stuck in the mountains. It is so good that there is a billboard at the bus station telling you that it is 27C (presumably everyday). If you choose to stay, take a bus from outside the station. If you grab any that say "Quito Largo" it will put you pretty close to where you want to go. I stayed at the Pacifico Hostelling on Escobedo 811 (off Junin, tel 568093) for $6 a night and had a TV, private hot shower, the best bed of my trip, and it is in a safe neighborhood. (There are buses that go straight there, but I never figured it out.) A sign in the lobby says it costs more than $6, but smile a lot and look relaxed and they come down pretty quickly. (Another sign says, "We are connected to the military" but I stayed 3 days and didn't have to do pushups or run laps once.) I made a point of staying off the street, but it is really quiet at night and I know you love the noise, so go for a corner room.
I went to the coast to Salinas and Montanita. Don't waste your time with Salinas, but if you are inclined, avoid weekends and for $6 I stayed at the sad Hotel Oro del Mar.
Cuenca: I recommend the big Hotel Pichincha on the corner of Torres and Bolivar for $4. My room didn't have a shower, but the common one they have has both hot water AND great water pressure-at the same time! The town is attractive but they are doing so much construction and renovation. The main square is closed and many main streets are ripped up. I was there for a festival and got hit in the side of my head by a firework.
This is a great place to hang out. They were evacuating people from a nearby village because the volcano is acting up again, but don't let that bother you. Besides, when it is time, isn't that the best way to go? I stayed just 3 days but could have easily stayed longer. All the beautiful people rent bikes and go downhill to the Rio Verde waterfall 20 km away and then throw the bikes on a bus and come back to town. There are all kinds of trips to be made.
Eat at Restaurant Don Angel on the main drag. For some reason it was always empty, but I thought it had the best food. You can get a full lunch for $1.
I took the bus to Tena. I changed buses in Puyo (sit on the right side) and stupidly assumed my bag got transferred to the right bus with all the other junk they were frantically moving, but I arrived in Tena without my bag and was sick. Worse, I stayed at a place called A Welcome Home and because my nose wasn't working, I accepted a room that I later discovered had a horrible moldy smell. I was really sick the next day and paid the big bucks ($8) for the best, most expensive room in town at the Hostal Travelers Lodge. It is a good place to stay but it is often full with groups that go on the Amarongachi Tour downstairs. I would have done the trek if I was healthy, but I sat in my room and wasted away for 3 days watching a Lorenzo Lamas movie marathon on the only English language channel on TV.
Quito: I stayed at Hostal Adventure for $5.70 on a quiet street (E4-225 J. Pinto near Amazonas) which was OK, but you can do better for the money elsewhere. Best Internet connection in all of Ecuador was at Papaya.net. I think it is on the corner of Mera and Foch. Most people know about it. If you have the time check out the Quito Women's Prison. The memory of it will last longer than anything else you see. Mitad del Mundo, the equatorial line faux "town", is not really worth the trip out of town as the photo opps aren't good and the whole place was in a raging dust storm when I was there.
Otavalo: The Saturday market is a fun spectacle, but if you are looking to buy, I got my stuff from the market in the main square (more or less an everyday market) and from the shops. (I spent a loooong time bargaining, too) The people that sell up and down on the side streets on Saturday I don't think are looking to deal. Actually, since many of the sellers are kids and they aren't selling anything unique, I think it is a vast conspiracy, that the kids are shills for the people already selling in the shops. They are just there to make the market look bigger and to sell more. I stayed at a great place not in the book for some reason, Hostal Los Andes right on the main square at the corner of Quiroga and Sucre. For $4 I had my own room, shower, TV, a toilet with seat, etc. It is worth calling a day or two before to make a reservation. Talk to Humberto Morales, tel 06-921057.
The best thing about the Saturday market is maybe the animal market.
Have a great trip and remember, it's all about kentfoster.com, baby!
And finally, the very pompous: This page © Copyright 2002, Kent Foster