Grant McWilliams

Travel Trip Journals


Trip journals are trip specific blogs. That is a blog about a specific trip that I've taken. I have them ordered first item first which is backward from a typical blog because it makes it easier to read about the trip from start to finish. Granted that also makes it more difficult to read the latest news when I'm on vacation because the most recent entry (the last one) will be last. But, since most people don't actually get around to reading the Trip Journal until after I'm back I think that will be ok.

Also there's a ton of them missing, this article will explain why.

To Cuenca

Five-thirty came early like it always does. Mo and I talked about our plans for quite a while and our thoughts about the trip and the next thing we knew it was too late to get our tickets so we decided to just take a bus to Cuenca and day trip Alausi and the train down the devils nose. This allowed us to eat a proper breakfast which was included in our stay. Breakfast was huevos tortillas (omelette's) with juice and some sort of bread. We paid and took a taxi to the bus terminal. We erroneously assumed that since Cuenca was the third largest city in Ecuador and we were on the Panamerican highway that there'd be many buses going there, we were wrong. The next bus wasn't for 2 hours and there was only one company serving Cuenca from Riobamba. We decided to kill the 2 hours on the internet and took a taxi back downtown. When I told him I wanted to find an abierto internet he looked at the other driver and said “They want internet” in Spanish and made a funny face. It seems silly to take a taxi to find internet but it only cost one dollar and the internet for Mo and I both cost another dollar. We won't exactly go broke at that rate.

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Riobamba day 2

My plan for the second day in Riobamba was for us to catch a bus to Banos andimg_6776 go swimming in the hot pools but we walked to the Terminale Norte and found out we had to be at the Terminale Oriente as that's the only place you can catch a bus to Banos. We took a taxi for a buck and arrived at what appeared to be a large parking lot/market with no actual terminal. My guidebook said that the south route to Banos was closed and so we needed to go to Ambato then Banos which takes three times longer. Since we were day tripping this wouldn't work for us so we really needed someone to tell us how long it would take to get to Banos and have a formal ticket with times on it. It didn't look like that was going to happen and we were feeling a bit lazy so we decided to just hang out in Riobamba and go to the hot pools when we get to Cuenca. This meant we had the rest of the day to get acquainted with the locals and see what Riobamba was all about. The best place to do this is in the city parks so we headed to Parque Mandanido named after Pedro Mandinido who was on the team to mark the equator. We sat for quite some time and watched the locals stare at us and even had one stop and try to talk to us. We then found a Pastaleria and bought some strange milk soaked cake before moving to another park which was just as nice. In a small way we felt like we belonged for the first time since we arrived in South America. There's something nice about just hanging out in a park and watching the world go by. Until your stomach starts complaining about your complacency and urges you to move.


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Middle of the World

img_6701Breakfast is provided by the hostel and is quite good. They fix pancakes, scrambled eggs, toast, fruit and some sort of drink. All of this is free as is Internet. Our plan was to take a taxi to the bus station and catch a bus to Otavalo where the indigenous market was. Our taxi driver offered to drive us to Otavalo and Mitad del Mundo the monument for the equator for $100 and Mo offered to split it with me so we did. This although expensive turned out to be a good choice as it allowed us to do several things in one day that we may not have gotten to otherwise. The monument on the equator wasn't that interesting but we did go to the top and look around. My guidebook told how to get to the real ecuator which wasn't that far away but we decided to have our taxi img_6709driver take us there.

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Quito again

img_0774We got up real early and caught a taxi in Plaza San Blas to take us to the airport. Check in was easy as we've gotten the procedure down on how to turn in our immigration forms and get our passports stamped. The flight on LAN was very good as it always is. LAN uses Airbus a319s which I really like because I can stretch my legs as far as I can without touching anything. Amazingly they also serve meals on 1 hour flights. That's not something you'll get in the states neither will you get discounts for children as you will with LAN. We land in Quito and take a taxi to Posada del Maple which is the Let's Go recommended hostel. They had rooms unlike last time so we checked in. The rooms had no bathrooms so we had to use the shared baths in the hallway. Mo didn't like them because the walls separating each shower were only shoulder length. For dinner we decided to give our stomachs a break and eat American barbecue which surprisingly turned out quite good. I pulled my back out while riding all the buses, trains and planes so my right arm started hurting. I do like the street we're on though as it's very nice as you can see from the picture to the right. Very quite, clean and pleasant and we're only a couple of blocks from ATM machines, restaurants, internet cafes etc... I think it's probably the best place in Quito to be. You're experience can be good or bad depending on a couple of city blocks but before you go how do you know what each neighborhood is like?

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Machu Picchu

img_0567img_0568 Most of the cost of us being in Cusco was Machu Picchu. It cost us $155 ea for transport to the train station, train tickets, bus from the station to Machu Picchu, English guide and return trip. Multiply that by 4 and you get a reasonably large cost but how could we come to Peru without seeing Machu Picchu? As a matter of fact this is one of the principle reasons we came here.

A taxi showed up at 5:45 am to take us to the train station. There were a million people in the station but he told us to stay put and he disappeared. He reappeared a minute later with our tickets. The train ride was four hours and we were a bit worried about food so I went out the night before and picked up some junk food from the local convenience store. This turned out to not be necessary because the train had meals you could purchase for about $3 ea. Peru has suspended all train service except for the Cusco to Machu Picchu line and Cusco to Puno. The train isn't real fast but was comfortable. It doesn't actually take you to Machu Picchu but instead takes you to Aguas Caliente which is a small town at the base of the mountains.

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Sexy Woman

img_0531Thursday was the only day I'd be able to see the city since our tour started at 1:30 instead of early morning so I grabbed my camera and Jade and went to discoverimg_0529 Cusco. It was hot and extremely hard to breathe but we marched on. Just to get out of the hill climbing with no oxygen situation Jade begged me to take him to the Inca Museum which was full of pre-Spanish artifacts. The museum wasn't bad but we really weren't in the mood for artifacts we just wanted to escape the situation. We continued along the path outlined by the Let's Go guide which took us to the Pre-Columbian Art Museum which had more of the same. It was about time for lunch so we headed back to the mains street between the Plaza and San Blas to meet Mo and Natalya. We had lunch in the Plaza and headed for our city tour. I didn't really care for the city tour that much but it was going to take me to Sacsayhuaman which is a large wall of stones built by the Incas. It's one of my favorite places because it's pronounced “Sexy Woman”! It's the wall that you usually see when pictures of Cusco come up. We went to several other places like Koricancha which is the old Incan temple that the Spanish built their church on top of. The city tour really isn't that interesting but it did solve the problem of getting to Sacsayhuaman because it's above the city. I guess I could have taken a taxi though. We were completely tired of South American food so we ate at an Italian place which was pretty good. Maybe South American food is good to South Americans but to someone who's traveled a bit it really isn't all that great.

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Cusco and the Sacred Valley of the Incas

img_0367Our first day in Cusco started out with Mo being sick. The rest of us went on the tour of the Sacred Valley. In Inca time the Sacred Valley was the center o there agricultural production. The valley was so rich and the Inca's put so much value on agriculture that they named it the img_0384Sacred Valley. In the base of the valley is the river Urabamba which the Inca's used for irrigation. What's amazing is the amount of terraces the Inca's built and what's even more amazing is how many are still there on the hillside. They converted as much land as possible for agricultural use. All the cities were built on land that hadimg_0365 very little agricultural value. Quite contrary to how we live. We live on the best land and try to farm what's left. Part of the tour was to go to the Pisac indigenous market where we bought many gifts for the folks back home. We also go to see the ruins there above the city. When the Spanish took over they moved the Incas from the city of Pisac on the top of the mountain to the valley floor because it was easier for them to collect taxes. Funny that they moved an entire city so the tax man didn't have to climb the hill. The ruins of Pisac reminded me a lot of the pictures of Machu Picchu but more modest. The climb up the mountain to the ruins was quite painful considering the altitude. It's really hard to breath at 11,000 ft. The trail to the ruins was a 2-3 foot wide rock staircase a couple hundred feet above the valley floor. Q

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Our original plan was to head back to Quito and spend a night there before we fly to Lima but we really didn't like Quito that much, didn't have accommodations there and liked the Jungle so we decided to just take the bus in to Tena and camp out there for the night and go to Quito the day we needed to fly.img_0175 Normally I'd never risk traveling on a bus the same day our plane flight but we weren't scheduled to fly out of Quito until 8:30 and it only took 5 hrs by bus from Tena leaving us plenty of time. One of the Kishwa men took us via canoe to Puerto Barantilla so we could catch our bus. I took a video of the entire boat ride so we could remember it.
Thankfully it wasn't raining at all. The bus came about 5 minutes early which never happens at home. That also means you need to be at the bus stop earlier than you think as the schedules are more of a guideline than any sort of structure to follow. I've heard stories about these buses being overly crowded but Andy said we wouldn't have a problem today. We boarded, paid our $6 for all and found a place to stand (thanks Andy). There were no seats empty but the money taker motioned to Mo to sit up front with the driver. We stopped at many more stops
and picked up people.

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Peru we go

I woke to Mo knocking on my door raving about a poisonous jungle frog on the loose in her room. I don't know what kind of frog it was but the image of me spending my last day(s) in a Amazonian veterinary clinic posing as a hospital gasping my last breath didn't sound appealing so I used one of my small travel bags to capture the frog and put it out. Chances are the poisonous jungle frog was probably an ordinary tree frog with a complex created by the unwarranted discrimination by ignorant gringos like us. With the frog in his natural habitat and the security of the known civilized world restored we headed for breakfast. Not satisfied by the punishment and humiliation we had the previous day we returned to Lucy's to order food without a menu. A young guy was there and thankfully he had a sense of humor. If we ate chicken for lunch because didn't know the Spanish word for anything else that meant we were eating eggs for breakfast for exactly the same reason. We all had eggs with French fries because of our limited vocabulary. He brought bread and jam as well and we enjoyed our simple breakfast while watching one of the original Superman movies with Christopher Reeves. We then went to the laundry an hour early while hoping they'd done our laundry the night before. I told them we'd be there at 9 but it was only 8. They did in fact get them done the night before which proves how much different they are than I. I would have waited until the last minute and the other I (the one catching the bus) would have missed it. I'm glad others are punctual. We boarded our bus and headed for Quito once again. The ride back was just as amazing as the ride over but it took longer because Jaun Manual Fangio apparently had the day off. Six hours later we arrive in Quito. Thirty minutes after that we're at the airport getting ready to leave for Peru. My whole life I've wanted to visit Peru and in a few hours I'd be there.... We flew on LAN Peru which proved to be a nice airline. They gave us decent food for a 2 ½ flight which never happens in the states anymore. We landed in Lima at 10:00 and met our driver after waiting for nearly 40 minutes for him to arrive. It was Christmas eve and it looked like the city had a party because there were piles of garbage everywhere and some were even on fire. Later we learn that this is the way Lima always looks. As soon as we reach our hotel we hit the hay. We only have the next morning in Lima and I wanted to walk around to get a feel for the city.

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Amazon conclusion

When you travel there are two types of big things. A big thing is something that you mention and peopleimg_0090 exclaim. Big things are what influence you or others and get a reaction. An example of a big thing would be Venice. Just tell someone you've been to Venice and they'll be all ears. Another would be the coliseum in Rome or the Sistine Chapel. Sometimes big things don't exist before you find them. Dubrovnik is a big thing to me because it's such a magical city but I didn't think it was a big thing until I went there. It's also one of those big things that doesn't get a reaction because nobody knows about it. So there are two types of big things, those that exist before you travel and those you discover on the way. Some of them will only be big things to you. You can talk about them until you're blue in the face all you get back are yawns. This is unfortunate but a fact of traveling. Let me tell you about the Amazon. Before I came here I thought it was important because ever since I was a kid people have been preaching the “We can't chop down the rain forest” religion. img_0100Yes, I thought it was important but it didn't really have to do with me. After a while we just become callused and don't hear the message anymore. In a way the Amazon is sort of a medium thing. Yes, it gets reactions but most people don't know what to think. Out of the two big thing categories the Amazon fits in the second because to me it was just a check box on a list of things I wanted to see before I die. Now things have changed. The Amazon is a big thing, maybe a really big thing. I'm sure when I get back home and tell people they will yawn and wonder when I'll talk about something interesting and you may already be doing that now.


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Travel Trip Journals