Got to the border bright and early this morning, and tried to find a bus to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. There was no central bus station, each coach operative had their own depot scattered around the small town of Tumbes.
Don’t forget – I’ve got no guidebook so I was completely winging it. In the first bus depot I found an Irish lad called Alan who assured me that this was the bus to get if I wanted to go to Quito.
Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t. I thought the bus was just going to take me over the border, but it was taking me to a place called Guayaquil some seven hours away. Alan said it was on the way to Quito, but I couldn’t check in his guidebook as some French girl was reading it. All I needed was to look at the map!!
By the time I wrestled the book off the Frenchie (two hours later) I made a horrific discovery. Guayaquil was not on the way to Quito. It was a good few hours out of my way.
Cursing my own stupidity at having lost my guidebook and then trusted somebody instead of checking the facts first; I got off at Guayaquil, waited an hour for another bus to Quito, which was supposed to get me in at 10pm.
It got me in at midnight.
Once a week, there is a direct bus from Quito to Caracas in Venezuela. No hopping on and off buses, no changing money every day, just lie back and let the bus take you up through Ecuador, through Colombia and all the way to the Caribbean coast.
It left at 11pm.
I retired to the nearest hotel to bang my head against the wall and have a little cry.
I flaked it. I should have been up with the lark and on a bus to the border, but I decided to have a day off. This decision is no doubt going to haunt the rest of my trip around the Americas.
Actually, it wasn’t much of a day off – I had loads of stuff to do and putting together the first podcast took ages.
I’ve got to say Quito is magnificent, though. Unlike every other South American city I’ve visited (and every city in poor old England), they haven’t tried to integrate Modernist concrete and breezeblock municipal shopping mall/offices/discotheque/multi-story car park hell (come, come, see effendi, all under one roof like some kind of Djinn magic!) into the nice bit of the city. They’ve shoved that to one side like an unwanted Brussels sprout and left the ‘old city’ to its own devices.
Add to that a recent restoration project has resulted in the most beautiful city centre in South America. Ecuador is not a particularly rich country, but it really has a Sunday Best to keep lovers of the golden era of architecture like me happy. Thank you Ecuador. I will make a mental note to buy more coffee and bananas off you in the future.
Actually, can I take back calling this stuff Modernist? That implies that there is some kind of design, thought, layout, plan, or – dare I say it – soul about the staggeringly ugly concrete crap we humans have been throwing up all over the planet over the last half-century. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Back of the class, humanity – you’ve got detention after school.
Ahem, sorry, rant over. So anyway, Quito. Wasted day. Interesting fact – even though Quito is just a few kilometres from the Equator – it’s not that hot. In fact, it was positively brass monkeys at night, and during the day I needed a jumper. Another interesting fact – I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn just north of San Salvador de Jujuy in Argentina on Day 2. Five days is all it took to get from the Capricorn to the Equator. On a bus!! Odyssey a go-go!!
Oh – some good news as well – Vodafone YES THAT’S VODAFONE, are giving me free mobile broadband for the year, so I’ll be able to do loads more stuff online (like respond to all your emails and get these blogs up daily!)
Thank you Vodafone, have a gold star and a jellybaby. You’re much better than all those other LOSERS at those other telecommunication companies I could mention!!
Okay, that’s your lot. Get your mates to give some money to WaterAid. Cheers.
Here’s my vid from the first week on the road…
Okay – day of ACTION! Got up at some ungodly hour and rendered the podcast, got to the Internet café at 7.30am and uploaded it. Got to bookshop at 9am and bought new Lovely Plant guidebook (PHEW!)
Jumped on the first bus to the border (11am) and CROSSED THE EQUATOR!! So I’m now back in the Northern Hemisphere.
Got to the border in good time, 4pm.
Then…. Waited, and waited, and WAITED to get my exit stamp.
It was 7.30pm before I got across. And I pushed in. I bribed a Canadian guy called Matt who was in the middle of the queue (rather than the end) with a Coca-Cola and he let me in. Thanks Matt!!
It was the old South American trick of employing just one guy with a stamp to process 500 people. Urgh! Entertainingly enough though, there were actually real monks in the queue. Monks! With bare feet and brown robes, rope belts and tonsures and everything!! I realised I had never seen a real, live monk before. I was so excited I think I did a little wee. Bet they were wearing hair vests as well. I should have asked them.
So I’m now in Colombia. The direct bus to Bogotá was sold out (typical!) so I had to get the bus to Cali instead. Which is actually on the way – I know – I checked the map! Although they didn’t let me get on the 8pm bus, they said that was full (in the time it took me to pay by Visa) so I was stuck until 9pm, but once the bus was on the way I was absolutely gutted that I had lost so much time at the border. The views of the valleys and mountains on the right hand side of the bus during the day would have been spectacular. Hell – they were pretty impressive in almost complete darkness.
Every half hour, our bus got stopped and searched by police/army types with big guns and no smiles. Everyone on the bus seemed quite resigned to this as the way of life here, I stayed awake for the first four searches, but then went beddy-bo-bos and missed the rest.
In this eight part series, I take THE GRINGO TRAIL through South America.
Starting in BUENOS AIRES, I have a quick look around URUGUAY and CHILE before heading up to BRAZIL just in time to miss the 2002 World Cup Final. But I didn’t miss the party afterwards!! Then I head over to Bolivia, the most BRILLIANT country in the WORLD (and I should know, I’ve been to a few!).
From the salt plains of UYUNI to the rivers of the AMAZON RAINFOREST via the Health and Safety-baiting Silver Mines of POTOSI and the CAMINO DE LA MUERTE (the Road of Death), Bolivia is just a powerhouse of nutty hilarity from beginning to end.
After hitting the INCA TRAIL to MACHU PICCHU, I head up through PERU and ECUADOR and end my journey in Bogota, COLUMBIA, one of the most dangerous capital cities in the world. Although I’m still here to tell the tale, so it probably isn’t that bad…! Finally, I find myself racing to get back to the UK for my cousin’s wedding in Dublin, Ireland: I’m cutting it pretty fine, you’ll have to watch the video to see if I make it or not! Enjoy!