We’re in Peru!! We have very fond memories of our previous trip here, and we couldn’t wait to come back. We took an overnight bus from Cuenca, Ecuador that left at ten pm, crossed the border into Peru around two am, and arrived in the small surf town far too early at five am. We planned ahead and booked a hostel that had 24 hour check in, so we were able to go straight to our room and catch back up on several hours of sleep. Thank goodness!
When we got to exploring, Máncora didn’t have much to it. There were several touristy shops and restaurants, but the beach honestly wasn’t that pretty - then again, it doesn’t really need to be if you’re just there to surf. We did manage to find a decent stretch of beach our first afternoon and played in the huge waves and enjoyed some local cervezas.
We also spent some time with our new friend Bea (check out her blog!), who we met on the overnight bus from Cuenca. The three of us found the local market one day and a had a delicious super cheap lunch, where we had the first ceviche of this trip. Peru is known for its ceviche, and we will eat it any opportunity we can get.
Our three days in Máncora were pretty relaxed, mostly filled with reapplying sunscreen, watching surfers, and swatting (or in Laura’s case, being eaten alive by) the millions of mosquitoes that live there. We probably wouldn’t go back there to hit up the beach, but we met an awesome new friend along the way!
After 18 days in Ecuador here are some final observations we had:
Since the year 2000, Ecuador has been using the US dollar as its national currency. This is great for avoiding foreign transaction fees and doing conversions in your head (hint: multiply by 1).
We took our first few long bus trips here and noticed several things:
These bus rides are all on coach buses, most with reclining seats, air conditioning, and bathrooms (but not all, so plan ahead - some of us learned the hard way).
If it’s a long ride, there will be dubbed movies. For our rides in Ecuador, they tended to be either kungfu or Adam Sandler films, usually with the volume far too loud.
Salesmen selling practically anything under the sun have surprising success with their captive audiences. The worst vendor was selling perfume and stinking up the entire bus, while the weirdest was a vendor selling books ranging from children’s coloring books to DIY kama sutra. I guess something for everyone, eh?
Food vendors are our favorites, and if you’re lucky you’ll hit the jackpot with things like delicious empanadas or some freshly sliced fruit. However, we’ve also learned that not all buses have good or even any vendors and you should always come prepared as though you won’t get fed, no matter how long the ride.
Speaking of buses, we didn’t see any chicken buses in Ecuador. So far the only time we’ve seen the repurposed yellow school buses have been in Guatemala.
Our standards for beer are changing. When things are now “decent” that means a success! At home mediocre beers were crap, but we will celebrate anything other than flavored water.
The Galápagos are really expensive. We wanted to go, but with roundtrip flights alone being $500/per person (not to mention all the expenses once there), we couldn’t justify it when that same amount will hopefully last us much longer in southeast Asia. We have been told that there are some islands dubbed the “poor man’s Galápagos,” so we might check those out instead.
Garbage trucks play music just like ice cream trucks at home. We actually only heard this in Baños, but it was still pretty awesome.
Our collective Spanish is improving! Vesper can speak and understand most of the time pretty well, and Laura somehow conveniently can pick up enough words when he doesn’t understand (or isn’t listening?) to fill in the gaps.
Or at least, everything seemed to be closed. We had heard many good things about Cuenca, but apparently Sunday and Monday were the worst days to visit.
The only activity we could do (without a several hour bus ride outside of the city) was a tour of the New Cathedral of Cuenca, which included the church’s crypt and climbing to the top of its towers for views of the city. It was a surprisingly informative tour, and we’re glad we were able to at least do this!
Street food was another thing we were able to enjoy. Near the main square we found kebabs, cheese covered corn called choclos, and something that looked like ice cream called espumillas, a fruit-based meringue dessert. It is a bit disappointing if you were expecting ice cream, but a tasty treat otherwise. Plus, espumillas were everywhere in Ecuador and we hadn’t tried them yet.
We were also able to find a few decent beers to try. La Compañia Microcerveceria offered great prices on four of their own tap brews. We can’t complain about that! We even shared a few drinks with another American couple we met while searching for beer with actual flavor. Cheers Sarah and Andy, and good luck with the rest of your travels!
On our final day in Cuenca we booked our first night bus to Máncora, a small surf town in northern Peru. The schedule was less than ideal (leaving at 10 pm, arriving at 5 am), but it was literally our only option.
We really wanted to like Cuenca since we’d heard good things about it, but it was hard to appreciate it with everything being closed. It was poor timing, so maybe we will have to come back another time.
We’d heard great things from friends about Baños de Agua Santa, so we decided to head there after our time in Quito. Commonly referred to as Baños (Spanish for “baths”), it is a small city a few hours south of Quito popular to both foreign and Ecuadorean tourists because of the hot springs and adventure activities.
When we arrived in Baños, we had a short walk to our hostel where we were greeted with amazing views from our room. Baños has some great hiking trails, so one day we set out to do a hike that was supposedly only two hours up and one hour down - easy, right? I’m not sure the last time our hostel owner did this trek, but either his timing is off or he is in way better shape than we are! It only took us 30 minutes to make it to Bellavista, a steep hill that has beautiful views of Baños. At this point we were pretty confident in our hiking abilities, assuming that of the two hours up, we were already halfway there.
Oh man, were we wrong. It ultimately took us at least 2 more hours to reach the top! The trails were not well marked, half the time we were on a road, and whenever we came across other hikers making their way down, we had to confirm we were still going the correct way. We had met another guy who had gotten lost several times that day and didn’t want to end up in his shoes. Eventually we made it to Casa del Árbol (The Treehouse), which is famous for its Swing at the End of the World and has killer views of the Tungurahua volcano on clear days. Of course it was cloudy so you couldn’t actually see the snow-capped, active volcano but the other views were still amazing.
In addition to hiking, we were also planning to bike along the Ruta de las Cascadas. This scenic route from Baños to Puyo has numerous waterfalls, and you can rent a bike in town for only $5/day! However, we were both coming down with colds the day we planned to do this and spending several hours biking in the rain probably wasn’t going to be the best way to get healthy. Instead we rode a chiva, a colorful open-air bus that stops at all the sights with Latin music blaring as loud as possible. It was a great way to see the waterfalls, even if our eardrums were blown out by the end of the trip.
In addition to nature, we also had to check out the beer scene! At Stray Dog Brew Pub, a small microbrewery, we tried an Irish Red and the Mora Sabora, a fruit beer made with local Andean berries. We also tried some beers from two other Ecuadorian breweries, which were all pretty good! From Sabai we tried their Chaquiñán IPA and Cerveza con Guayusa, which is made with an Amazonian plant that is often brewed as tea for its health benefits and mega amounts of caffeine. At Amarelo Cafe & Resturant down the street, we found two beers on tap (a rarity - most bars only have bottled beers) from Cherusker, including their oatmeal stout La Negra and strong ale Super Doble. The only disappointing part was that we learned both breweries are based in Quito, so we missed out on our chance to visit the source. Maybe next time!
We spent the past week volunteering at Los Monos, a monkey sanctuary near Puyo, Ecuador. Located 90 minutes east of Baños by bus, we arrived last Thursday evening completely unsure what to expect for our upcoming week. Our friend Anna had visited the sanctuary years ago and she suggested it might be a cool place to volunteer. We’d been planning to volunteer throughout our year of traveling and hanging out with monkeys for a week seemed like the perfect place to start!
When we arrived we met the other three volunteers from Germany and Belgium, the owner Yvan, and the resident biologist. Yvan gave us a tour of the park and introduced us to all of the monkeys, showing us some of the proper ways to greet them as to not show aggression accidentally.
We should also mention that while the park’s focus was on monkeys, there were several other types of animals. In all there were:
Maria (we dont remember what animal, but looked like a Capybara)
Various exotic birds, fish, turtles, and snakes
The next seven days usually followed this pattern:
8 am: Prepare the monkeys’ breakfast. We would chop up various fruits and veggies, then distribute the food throughout the park.
10:30 am: Human breakfast. Usually 1-2 volunteers would prepare the meal while everyone else was feeding the animals.
11 am - 2 pm: Varied day by day. One day we cleaned the aquariums, another we prepared beds for incoming volunteers, but mostly we spent our time building cage tunnels. More on that soon.
2 pm: Second feeding of the day for the animals!
3 - 5 pm: Lunch for us after the animals were fed, then more chores and/or building cage tunnels.
5 pm: Quitting time! The evenings we had free, and we usually spent them just relaxing, reading, playing cards, and watching Laura smash cucarachas.
Our only real complaint about the week was the bugs, but hey, its the rain forest so what do you expect? The good news is that after a few days we were both a lot more ok with them, and eventually Laura made good sport of stomping on the cockroaches. I am told that when baby cockroaches are bad, their parents tell them tales of “Laura: the Hammer.”
Now what are these cage tunnels you ask? Although there are several large enclosures throughout the park for most of the monkeys, three groups of monkeys are confined to cages. Two of these cages already had “tunnels” (aka chain link tubing suspended from trees) for the monkeys to run through and spend some time out of their main cage. The third group of monkeys didn’t have a tunnel to run through, so most of our time was spent assembling cylindrical tubes. The last two days we spent hanging them in trees, and our final morning we opened the monkeys’ cage up and watched them explore their new tunnel! While feeding monkeys was pretty cool, it’s even more awesome to be able to say we actually left a permanent mark on the park in the form of providing monkeys a new place to play. Some of our pictures were featured on their website. You can read more about it at LosMonos.org.
What else did we get out of it? We learned to be more ok with bugs, practiced a lot of Spanish, tried Ayahuasca for the first time, and survived without internet for a whole week! We had a great time, met awesome people, and will definitely be trying some other volunteer opportunities soon.