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G'day once again one and all,

The last mail I believe ended in the consumption of small rodents and rugby watching in the very pleasant town of Banos.

From Banos, with my trusty pal Inon, I headed to the city of Riobamba. We used this place solely to get hold of a tent, a gas stove and some other odds and ends. We were going hiking. Spurred on by a hiking in the Andes book, the two of us were off on a 3 day hike from the miniature town of Achupallas to the Inca site of Ingapirca. It must be noted that the giant Jesus in the town of Alausi on the way to Achupallas (and most towns have a giant JC or cross of some size) is by far the most impressive I’ve seen so far. Not only is the fella big, but he is lit up by about 50 huge lights. He really is quite a sight. Anyway, at Achupallas we bought water and added to our food supplies. Needless to say our backpacks were really quite heavy and cumbersome. Still, off we went into the Andes. The views were stunning and weather, initially, was fine. The problems – 1, Obviously the weight of our packs, 2, the Altitude (at the highest point were about 4400m above sea level, 3, we were unfit Muppets. These three things, combined with us having no guide led to an interesting first few days. The altitude certainly took its toll during the early miles and we fell behind schedule. Our first nights camp was no where near where we should have got to and the supper of tuna and pasta became all too familiar. To cut the next days few days short – Lots of walking, some amazing sights, camping in Inca ruins (and being greeted by a charming local herder), more pasta and tuna supper, being really tired at altitude and freezing at night. The next real highlight was on day 4 of the 3 day hike. Inon and I took slightly differing paths over a peak and didn’t see each again…….for a while. As I was taking, arguably, the correct route, Inon was taking an (put kindly) alternative route. After a while of not seeing each other I thought I would cut across to his path and have a look for him. By this time fog had descended and visibility was about 10m at best. Joy. I eventually found a path that looked promising and started off. I even asked a few local farmers if it was the right way to the town we were heading for. Another problem lay in the fact that I could speak more Spanish than they could – but I don’t speak a word of Quechua. So I knew I was heading towards a town, but not to which one. It turned out to be the wrong one. Anyway, from this town, El Tambo (which was a joy to behold after the day I was having), I was able to get to our final destination of Ingapirca and then journey back to San Jose where I was meant to get to with Inon. Well, at San Jose (or San Pedro as I kept insisting on calling it – even while I was there!!!) I looked around for my chum and even managed to mobilise half of the town looking for him. It was getting dark and I was the one with the tent. Naturally I was a little concerned. After asking the locals to send a lost looking Israeli down the hill to Ingapirca, I set off for the town myself. I checked into a hotel and starting composing the speech to Inon’s parents explaining how and why he had perished in the Andes while I spent the night in a comfy hotel room after a hot shower. Despite the comfort and warmth I wasn’t able to sleep (I am a compassionate man after all) and was interrupted from my panicked thoughts by a knock on the door. It was Inon and his local helper. After uttering the now famous line of “Thank **** you’re alive” I was finally able to enjoy the fact that the 4 day 3 day hike was over. After a chat about each others experiences (and maybe I can forward Inon’s versions of the days events one day) we were off to sleep.

Well, the next day we were able to enjoy Ecuador’s most important Inca ruin site. There is an impressive platform alleged to have been a solar observatory and some other half interesting stuff to see. After a nice walk around, a very brief description by a guide on his cigarette break and a long discussion on English and Israeli wartime tactics it was time to move on. We headed back to Riobamba by bus and returned our camping equipment. We were planning on another trek in the nearby national park but we opted not to afterwards. We had had enough to be honest, and to this day I still feel the effects of the frostbite in my left big toe. Oh well.

So, we treated ourselves to a trip to Cuenca. This city turned out to be my favorite city in the country of Ecuador. The day we spent there was sunny, happy and full of ice cream (I still haven’t kicked that habit). It was a shame that we only spent the one day but we had people to meet for a planned ‘maverick’ journey into Peru. So Inon and I journeyed half the length of the country from Cuenca to Coca (via Quito). In Coca we met up with our English pals Amy, Zak and Greg.

The next day we started our 6 day journey down the rivers Napo and Amazon. It started well. We were able to get a fairly civilized boat to the town of Nuevo Rocafuerte. From here, after a night in the last hotel for ages and getting our exit stamps, we went by canoe (albeit with an outboard) to the border where we had out passports checked, and then onto the cute little town of Pantoja. Here we had an issue. The guy who had stamped our passports in Nuevo Rocafuerte hadn’t changed the date on his stamp. So, here we were on the 5th of December trying to explain why our passports said we left Ecuador on the 24th of November. One or two days is usually accepted but our almost two weeks caused the woman at immigration to have a fit. When she finally realised though that we weren't going to go back up river to Ecuador and weren't leaving her office till we got our stamps, she finally succumbed and stamped us into the country (interestingly when she stamped my form it said 24th of November as well (she then fully understood but I had to fill in another form dammit!)). We spent a few hours in this cute little town and even (sorry mum) had a lunch of river turtle. It did seem wrong yes, but it was really tasty.

From here we arranged transport to a town further downriver with a couple in their canoe. So, off we chug in our tiny little boat down this huge river. It was amazing. The sights, sounds from the jungle, and the relative peace of it all (only the engine to be heard) were something else. It was really hot but that didn’t affect us too badly. Towards the end of the day we realised that we weren’t going to reach our destination of Angosto that evening. It was getting dark prematurely due to the arrival of what looked like a huge storm. So, our trusty couple moored their boat in the middle of nowhere and got out. We followed them into the jungle until we came to a clearing. There was a small village and even a school building. The whole village was on stilts to save them from floods. As it turned out the school building turned out to be our ‘hotel’ for the night. After we prepared our meal it was time for a few games of cards and then sleep on the floor. I, personally, slept like a baby, but my chums complained in the morning about the water buffalo wandering around underneath the building. All very bizarre.

We then, the next day, completed our journey to Angosto. Here we enquired about the chance of getting one of the cargo boats that work that area of the river. The answers we got were “In two days”, “In three days” and “Maybe in 4 days”. The beauty of these boats is that absolutely no one knows when these beasts are going to appear next. It’s rumoured that the ‘drivers’ are often drunk and never know themselves when they are going to appear. So we settled down in Angosto, a town with no hotels or restaurants. Luckily we were offered a place to stay in the home of a friend of our canoe couple. Here we ended up staying two nights. Highlights of the stay included swimming in the river, Zak constructing a shower system out of giant water bottles, getting random hot meals cooked for us by a shop owner (like I said there were no restaurants) and the little kid in our house who was as moody as hell. He also had a bad habit of walking round in only a t-shirt and with a machete that was only a few inches shorter than him. It’s gonna end in tears.

We said goodbye to Angosto when a boat turned up that would take us to the town of Mazan. We reached there fairly late in the day and instead of paying almost nothing for a three wheeled moto-taxi we walked to the other side town to get our final boat. To try to explain, there is a huge loop in the river which takes another 13 hours by boat to complete. The town of Mazan is on that loop and you can easily cut across overland (in 10 mins by taxi) to save all that time. As we chose to walk we then found out, surprise surprise, that we had just missed the last boat to our final destination of Iquitos. So, we were offered the use of a ‘restaurant/kitchen' like building to stay in for the night. This was very kind and generous until were woken at about 4am by the ladies who use this ‘restaurant/kitchen’ to prepare food to be sold as breakfast. It wasn’t all bad; we got to watch sunrise over the River Amazon which is quite a special thing. We then caught a very slow (but cheap) cargo boat up stream to Iquitos.

So, mission accomplished, we were in the Iquitos, Peru. It had taken six days in all to make the journey but was one that was well worth making. It’s well off the gringo trail and we only saw one other traveller on the way – a mad Frenchman going upstream. If it had taken any longer we would have been in trouble, there was pretty much no money left between us and may have ended up getting stranded.

Well folks, that pretty much all of my time in Ecuador. There will be one more mail, albeit a lot shorter, about the Galapagos trip. I will include a few photos as well so make some room in your mailboxes!

I hope, as always, that you are all well. Take care all,

Roberto Toro.


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