Finally we made it out of Baños; I was feeling substantially better, whilst Harry was at a particularly low, rum-induced ebb. Perfect day to spend on a bus down to Cuenca, with nothing to see but clouds and a dubbed action movie. We got brave (or lazy) and adopted the local attitude to buses: no need to buy a ticket, just jump on a bus that looks like it’s going in the right direction and see where you end up. Seemed to work rather well!
Arrived in Cuenca and proceeded to undertake the main Cuencan activity: having a wander.
We had some delicious food down by a gushing river, some slightly more questionable (but infinitely more authentic) food in a bustling indoor market and a trip to the Panama hat museum. I use ‘museum’ here in the loosest sense of the word; it was a shop, with some giant hat hole-punch machines. But hey, if this is where the ubiquitous traveller hat was invented, it was necessary to at least say we saw how they were made.
Cuenca’s main charm lies in its overload of churches. Each one comes complete with a nice square for a nice sit; necessary when we were caught off guard by the heat here. Cuenca seemed to be the Popayan of Ecuador: beautifully colonial and best experienced from sitting in a square and doing little else!
In an attempt to be well organised (for once), we ventured to the bus station to prepare for our grand parting of ways, as Harry, Janna and Martin (our German cohort) were heading down into Peru. However, as with all the best laid plans, we were swayed by a particularly idyllic looking photo of Mancora beach and I was on a bus for an unscheduled mini-break in Peru before the day was out!
Following a particularly fruitless two hour queue at the border, whilst all the immigration officers simultaneously took their break, we arrived in Mancora. Flies everywhere and, at low tide, the dilapidated beach left a little to be desired.
However, as the sun scorched, the sea crept toward us and crowds of cool surf-folk flocked, we adopted the perfect people watching position and really began to indulge in beach life.
Being a surfers’ paradise, the waves were particularly strong there. Thus, when I wasn’t being attacked by waves- either trashing my clothes or pulling them clean off- I was in the shadey end of the swimming pool. Nothing more than a bobbing head, being fed and cerveza-ed from the side.
We wiled away days by the pool, ate a lot of seafood and indulged in the three daily happy hours! Opposite to expectation, nighttime was dedicated to the beach, with locals and gringos alike swarming to party in the sand. The only drawback was that every beach bar wanted in on the action, thus the battle for best speakers (and worst song) was deafening!
Three days of achieving blissfully little and now it really was time to say goodbye. Somewhat akin to the bride leaving a wedding, I was escorted to my tuktuk and eagerly waved off by my new international family.
As I boarded my bus, complete with more people than seats, my regression to being a solo traveller was off to a questionable start. But I scored a seat, had a sleep and successfully made it to Guayaquil.
What can be said about Guayaquil?…
I battled several buses and metros to make it to the waterfront promenade (aided by a nice Ecuadorian man who navigated me through the city’s transport confusion, via running a few of his errands!) and found myself somewhat underwhelmed. Imagine Brighton pier, but shit.
There’s a rather pathetic pirate ship, a lot of bronze statues of old men and a small botanical garden diffused with pollution from the main road. There is a relatively nice cathedral… But nothing to write home about.
Just as quickly as I’d arrived, I was off again. Straight to the airport to attempt to make myself understood and to get to the Galápagos!
I failed to straighten out the clerical catastrophe that is my return flight and then was fleeced for every penny I had before I’d even stepped foot on the islands. But, as I write this sizzling on the deck of a dive boat in the Pacific, I feel as though the financial and organisational struggles will be worthwhile!