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.

img_0854I thought it quite strange that a museum would be called Central Bank until I got there. It appears that the bank owns the land and/or finances it's operation as the museum is in an adjoining building to the Banco Centro. Before Ecuador was conquered by the Inca there were other cultures there. Cuenca was the city of the Cañari people. We saw Cañari on the bus coming from Riobamba. They were attractive people but like many of the other indigenous groups they were quite small and wore little light colored bowler hats. Anyway, the location of the Museo Banco Centro was a royal Cañari palace which after being conquered by the Inca became a royal Inca palace naturally. It seems the city was founded (which they called Guapondeleg) about 500 AD which makes it very old for an American city. The Incas took over in about 1450 or so. The Inca replaced the Cañari architecture with their own impressive works and in some of the buildings you can see the layers. The Cañari didn't have the advanced carved stone architecture that the Incas had but it was no worse than what the Spanish eventually built over top the Inca buildings.

I thiimg_0802nk I've said this but most Latin American cities are stink holes but Cuenca is different. I'd put it on par with most Italian cities for cleanliness and probably as clean as the more dirty French cities (Nice, Tours etc..) so it's not too bad. The city center is very nice with many restored colonial buildings, many plants and clean streets. It really is odd that Ecuador could have a city as nice as this when the rest are so dirty. It's as if we just took a bus into another country. The people dress nicely and the women are much more sexy than other places in the country. Maybe it's just money, maybe it's education or maybe it's something else but it's different here. The attitude is different too like the people here aren't struggling and have higher self-esteem. The women move when they walk like they're trying to look good and more men strut. In other cities people are just getting things done and there's not much thought about style or presentation. I don't have a problem with img_0816that because I don't spend any time with presentation or style either but I'm just noting the difference.

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.

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.


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.

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?

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.

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.

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

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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