Sunday, 12th October
We woke up with sore legs after our hike yesterday. That is as far as we have walked in one day on this trip and I think and our bodies are letting us know it. We got up at 6am with the bus back to Latacunga leaving at 6:30am from outside the hostel. We packed up, made our way downstairs and waited for the bus which would be coming from the direction of Sigchos, where we came from when we arrived in Chugchilan. We would be going back to Latacunga completing the rest of the ‘loop’, thus seeing all the scenery there is on offer. The bus came at around ten to seven and we boarded, this time paying US$4.50 for both of us. The journey on this side of the loop was shorter and we arrived in Latacunga around 9am. The views on the way were just as stunning as the way to Chugchilan although along less dramatically step roads and more gradual inclines but still reaching heights enough that we were level with if not above the clouds. Once in Latacunga we had to go back to the ‘Hostel Tiana’ to get our larger backpacks and once there we had a quick cup of coffee/tea before heading back to the bus terminal from where we had come from. Here we caught one of the high frequency bus services to Ambato, a major transport hub for the region (US$1 each). About 45 minutes later we were in Ambato and one of the most confusing bus terminals we have come across. It is the end of a long weekend with a public holiday on the Friday and the terminal was busy with people seemingly trying to get home. The terminal here caters for private bus companies as does most terminals in South America, each with a different kiosk. The confusing thing for us though is that where we are going, Guaranda, is not listed anywhere, as it is on the way to other destinations and not a final stop. After some asking around and several un-helpful answers, I managed to find a company that would take us there. Tensions were clearly high with arguments breaking out between passengers and bus operators. Not sure what about but it made the situation all the more awkward as I could only keep saying ‘Sorry, my Spanish is bad but could you tell me if there is a bus to Guaranda from here’. This tactic paid off with one gentleman who let us buy tickets to Guaranda for US$4 each. The previous people in the queue had not been allowed to buy tickets and an argument broke out. Not sure why as my Spanish is not up to understanding rapid-fire argumentative Spanish. We haven’t done that course yet. We then had to paid 20 cents each to a booth before we could get into the departures area (some kind of tax I presume) and from there, located our bus whereupon another argument broke out. This time, an elderly woman was in the seat of someone else. The problem wasn’t that she was simply in the wrong seat but that she had not bought a ticket for the ride and refused to get off. Eventually, the bus operator managed to coax her off the bus and we could leave. This was the last of several arguments I had seen him have in the space of one hour.
The bus ride once we got out of Ambato, after picking up some more people was swift as we made our way up and through farming country with cows, sheep and llamas (or alpacas but I think most likely llamas) grazing in the fields we passed. We were up in the clouds again and at one point passed by a mountain covered in snow. It was a very scenic ride looking down into the valley below at times and passing through small villages up in the clouds. We arrived in Guaranda around 2:30pm and I asked the conductor to be dropped off at the ‘Plaza Roja’, where the buses go to Salinas de Guaranda from. This was just a road though and we weren’t really sure where to go to get a bus. We asked a few prople who led us in the right direction and then a helpful guy pointed out a ‘Camioneta’, a white pick-up truck that you can jump in the back of for a ride up to Salinas. We caught one of these after making sure they were going there and a winding journey, in the pouring rain with people jumping in and out of the back, took us to Salinas. The ride only cost us US$1 each for around a half hour journey. When we arrived in Salinas we got our bearings and made our way to the hostel we though we might stay in – ‘Hotel El Refugio’, set above the village. After three bus rides and a ride in a pick-up, a journey of around eight hours, we were finally there. And they had room for us which was nice.
We have decided to come to Salinas because it’s quite a unique village being as there were many cooperatives set up in the 1970s here making goods such as cheese, salamis, chocolates, textiles, soccer balls and so on. It has become something of an example of how a community come come together and make a difference to their way of life. After searching on the internet (we had no guide to tell us), I found the reason for all the cooperatives. In the early 1970’s, an Italian priest, Padre Antonio Polo, arrived from Italy at a time when locals in the village had been nearly enslaved by the local big landowner and forced to work in the saltworks for a pittance. Father Polo helped locals to establish a cheese-making cooperative and years later, a Swiss visitor helped teach them how to make Gruyere, Parmesan and other varieties of cheese, which they now sell far and wide. Since then more cooperatives have sprung up in the village. There is also a saltworks right next to the village which has been in use for many hundreds, if not thousands of years. Whilst here we hoped to be able to visit some of the cooperative business and see some products being made. We could also walk through the saltworks being so close to the village.
We checked into the hotel and it appears that we are the only guests in a place that could cater for up to fifty guests. When we walk in we see a fireplace with a roaring fire going in the lounge which is nice and being quite cold up here a welcome sight. We ask about dinner and basically come to the conclusion that going down to the village would be our best bet. This place isn’t like the last hostel that feeds you, especially as we are the only guests here. We wandered around the village to take a look around and see what is on offer with regards to food, but first we had a cup of tea in a cafe to warm up. Then we found a place that did a soup and plate of chicken and rice for US$2.50 each. It was like eating in house of the family set out as a dining room with the kids playing around us. It is cold up here and everyone is wrapped up warm, we might need to buy some gloves and hats here. We thought we might want some snacks later so found a small shop selling local produce and bought some chocolate made in the village then went back to the hostel. We took up residence by the fire and read/blogged until I was told that as it was Sunday I would have to go to bed now (8:30pm) so the guy looking after the place could lock up. It took me a whilte to understand his Spanish but I finally got the idea when he pointed in the direction of our room and I caught a few words such as ‘sleep’. We would do a tour of the cooperatives tomorrow.
Monday, 13th October
It was a freezing cold night only made bearable by the multitude of blankets we had on the bed (at least five thick blankets). They weighed us down but kept us warm. We woke up around 6am due to the light shining into the room and lazed around until 8am when we were told last night by the guy who checked us in that there would be breakfast. We got up to no-one in the hostel, at all. There was also no running water so all we could do was wander around looking and keeping our ears open for any voices or sign of movement. When someone did appear it was a cleaning lady who didn’t know anything more than us. It was a bit strange to say the least, we arrived yesterday to around twenty people gathered in the lounge so we knew that the place obviously attracts visitors but this morning not a soul. Eventually we decided to leave a note saying we had got up to no-one around and the water wasn’t working, and then wandered into the centre of the village to find some breakfast and check out the local tourist information office.
We walked around until the tourist information office opened, an hour late, and met the most unhelpful tourist information official ever. We tried to book a tour but were told that this was not possible. We then spied a man we recognised from yesterday from our hostel in the village square so we asked him about where we could have breakfast and about the water. He pointed us out a nice cafe which we walked up to and he said he would have the water on in half an hour. So, we ate our breakfast (egg in cup with bread, cheese and jam) and walked back to the hostel where we found someone else turning on the water. We asked again about a guide to tour the local cooperatives but was told to visit the tourist information office. We walked back there and this time said we “wanted” and not “would like” a guide to take us around but after phoning someone he said it still wasn’t possible. We knew we could walk around on our own but thought we would get more out of it by having a guide, the way it is normally done. With a map we walked off to find tha various cooperatives in the village. First stop was the chocolate factory which was closed, contrary to their opening times, then we walked on to find the salami-making place, also closed (saw salamis hanging in the basement through the window), followed by the cheese-making place, also closed (saw some cheese resting through the windows). The next stop was a textile place where they make garments out of alpaca wool and result, it was open. We had a look around, saw some old ladies knitting up a storm in the back room and bought some gloves and a hat for our upcoming Galapagos Islands trip. Everywhere else we tried to visit was closed and we were getting the impression that these places just open when they have work to do. Either that or there are no real opening times and you just have to wing it as to what you see or not. Before we went back to the hostel for a hot shower (the first in two days), we had a cup of coffee and tea in a cafe that was open then went back to the chocolate factory that was open but which turned out to be little more than a shop. Ater that we checked out the local salt mine, very close to town, and saw some patches of salt forming on the rocks. Quite strange to see. A bit defeated we wandered back to our hostel to rest for a few hours and to get clean. I would try the co-operatives later on in the afternoon to see if they had decided to open or not.
I did some blogging and uploading, making use of the wifi here unimpeded by other hotel guests, with us being the only people here. It appears that the place is being spring-cleaned with the exception of our room. It really does feel like the end of the season. After a couple of hours I got restless and decided to go out for a walk about the village. I thought I might try some of the cooperatives again. The first place I walked to was the wool factory which collects, sorts and cleans local wool from the area. It is then spun by the textile people who then knit it into jumpers, gloves, scarves, ponchos etc. I managed to gain entry using some basic Spanish and saw a man sorting out some fresh wool. I think it is alpaca wool although cannot be sure. I then walked through the village and, seeing the cross on the hill above the village, decided to make my way up there. The village is at 3,500m and walking up a series of steep steps at this height, as it turns out, is really quite difficult. I got to the top but wanted to throw up from the effort. The views were great and worth the twenty minute slog. There are lots of small hikes you can do around here and given more time we might’ve have tried some, taking some local produce with us to picnic on. After walking down I thought I would try the salami and ham cooperative (Embutidora) again. This had been closed in the morning but this time I found it open and after seeing a women walk out with a bag of meet found the courage to walk in and ask if I could buy a salami there. One of the buyers, covered in blood, took me downstairs to the drying room full of salamis and leg hams, strung up to cure. We selected one that had been hanging for a month and after giving it a quick wash and dry I handed over US$7 for a 12-inch salami. I then walked to the soy bakery to pick up a loaf of bread made from soy flour (for Kirsty) and the other bakery for a couple of rolls for myself. I was rather pleased with my success, of not only getting into some of the cooperatives to see these guys in action but being able to buy some goods to make a sandwich with. I have been missing sandwiches. I made a soy-bread salami sandwich with my trusty penknife all from produce made within about 100m of our hostel and it was delicious. The salami was soft, seasoned and tasty and the bread soft with a nice crust. I have to say I haven’t had soy bread before (I think) but it was good. I didn’t need my other rolls. We have leftovers for our bus ride tomorrow. It’s cold enough here that I can just hang the salami out of our hostel window to keep it cold and fresh. With the spring-cleaning going on around us we settled into bed for a bit and Kirsty kept warm in her new alpaca gloves and hat.
We tried to eat out for dinner but alas all the places to eat were closed so we decided to eat a bag of crisps for dinner back at our hostel. In the village square there were a couple of games of volleyball going on. They seem to love volleyball in Ecudaor, we have seen it in a quite a few towns over the country. At night we watched cable TV in the luxury of our hostel room, getting under the five blackets to keep warm. Tomorrow we would head by bus to Guayaquil where we spend the night before getting on a flight to the Galapagos Islands.
Tuesday, 14th October
We decided to leave Salinas de Guaranda early today as we wanted to get to Guayaquil with enough time to do some laundry and errands before our Galapagos Islands cruise. I made the leftover bread and salami (which survived the night hanging out of the window) into more sandwiches for the journey and with our packs on our backs we checked out of the ‘Hotel El Refugio’, leaving them to complete their spring-clean. We went back to Guaranda the same way we came in, via camioneta. We had up to ten passengers in the back at one stage, with bananas, milk churns, and other produce stuffed in and people hanging out of the back. We left Salinas at around 8am and after being dropped off and walking to the bus terminal in Guaranda, we were able to catch a bus at 9:45am down to Guayaquil from a relatively quiet and organised bus terminal. The bus was empty besides us and one other passenger as we left the terminal but then it stopped immediately after the parking lot where more passengers jumped on board. There is a 20 cent fee to leave from the terminal and some people obviously don’t want to pay this so get on outside of the terminal. We are scared of missing a bus to do this however and figure an extra 20 cents on a US$4 fare isn’t much to deal with for us.
The bus was slow, going through many towns high up in the hills on the way to Guayaquil. We stopped many times for people to get off and get on. This bus apparently serves as a local bus as well as long-distance bus, connecting many towns along the way. The route was up and down and from side to side, with some roads very windy indeed. At one point we travelled down a stretch of road, which I think, is the windiest we have experienced on this trip. The woman behind me threw up and others didn’t look too good. I was fine though and Kirsty slept through it.
From being up in the clouds we found ourselves descending and amongst banana trees and more short-sleeves as the temperature warmed up. We were heading to the coast and a more tropical environment. We arrived at the bus terminal of Guayaquil around 2pm and after walking through the massive terminal found a taxi driver that could take us to our hotel. Or that’s what we thought. He stipulated a US$4 fare, which we thought was steep, but too tired to argue, we agreed. He then went the long way around to the hotel and ended up dropping us off at a different hotel. I knew us to be in the area of the other hotel though so rather than argue with this cabbie decided to get out and find the hotel myself which after some effort I succeeded in doing. ‘DC Suites’ is a small hotel very close to the airport (over the road) and we chose it due to it’s convenience for flying out the next day to the Galapagos Islands. Guayaquil is very hot compared to the mountains and we didn’t do much here, just laundry and purchasing some extra sea sickness pills from a shopping centre close by. We didn’t plan to do much here though, beside sort ourselves out for tomorrow which we did and went to bed, ready for the islands tomorrow. If we wanted to see more of Guayaquil we could do so on the way back as our flight returns here in a week.