Saturday, May 29, 2010

Puerto Lopez, Ecuador


So after Montanita, I travelled for a while with the Swedish guy Daniel and the two French boys, Yannis and Marc.  We decided to go to Puerto Lopez together to check out Isla de la Plata and Los Frailes. 

Los Frailes was apparently supposed to be the 13th best beach in the world.  Again, I was a little disappointed.  Yes, the beach was fairly deserted and the sand was clean, but the water wasn't exactly crystal blue as I had hoped.  It was more green than blue, maybe because it was a cloudy day.  But either way, I spent the afternoon there just to relax, to swim and to catch crabs on the beach. 

Yannis and Marc thought that was pretty boring and went off to do a spear fishing tour.  They were telling me how good it was except that they caught nothing for dinner that night.  I probably would have had more luck bringing back a tray of crabs instead, if they had told me earlier.

The next day we went to Isla de la Plata.  That was really pretty I thought.  We had to catch a boat which took about 2.5 hours.  It was very bumpy but it was well worth it.  We saw heaps of turtles, different types of boobie birds and vultures etc.  If you remembered how close we got to the penguins in Punta Tombo in Patagonia, Argentina, we were that close to the wildlife.  There were also supposed to be albatross and seals there.  But we were there just before the breeding season, and didn't get to see any unfortunately. 

The baby boobies were extraordinary cute.  They were screaming heaps when I walked past.  I felt really sorry for them, so I fed some of them Mars bars and rice crackers.  I think they really enjoyed it as they started pecking me for more. 

We later also went snorkelling with the turtles and saw sea horses and thousands of coral fish.  Yannis also nearly got bitten by a turtle when he was feeding the turtle watermelon.  It was hilarious to see the giant sea turtle swimming after him to try to bite him.

I didn't quite get to Galapagos as part of this trip, but I really enjoyed Isla de la Plata.

We came back to have dinner in town before we caught a night bus to Quito.  The French boys had three  lobsters between them which they finished in like 15 minutes as we were running really, really late for the bus.  I also nearly choked on my spaghetti marinara.  But I managed to stop the bus for them....except that I accidentally left my jumper behind in the hostel and had to run back to get it.....

PS - I didn't really feed the baby boobies.  And definitely no Mars bars and rice crackers.  The ranger said we shouldn't feed them despite their starvation state......

Friday, May 28, 2010

Guayaquil and Montanita, Ecuador


It was sad leaving Peru and going into Ecuador. Peru had become my favourite country in South America for its food, its diversity, its history/culture and its vast difference in landscape all over the country.

I jumped on a night CIFA bus which was supposed to be the safest bet crossing borders into Ecuador. As I was travelling by myself and didn't want the risk, I opted for the more comfortable "bus cama". All the guidebooks forewarned me about the border crossing at Aqua Verdes - that it was supposed to be one of the most dangerous border crossing in South America. But I thought I was safe on the CIFA bus.

So I got to the border crossing, walked in, this "official" checked my passport and asked for a US$30 processing fee. I told him that I had no money in Spanish. He then looked at my passport and asked me where was my Peru Entrance Card. I said it was in the passport. He handed the passport back to me and said it was not there. By then I smelled something very fishy as I checked the Card before I left the bus and knew that it was definitely there. He then said that I need to pay for not having the card. It was also 11:30pm and I was started to get bit tired and frustrated.

I actually yelled at him and told him that I had no money. I also looked around where he was standing and found my Card behind his feet. He picked up and asked for US$5 for finding the Card for him. I grabbed the card and lined up in a proper queue with the rest of the Peruvians. It was such a scam that they pulled on all the tourists - especially those travelling by themselves.

Once we crossed the border, all the travellers on the bus were pulled down by the Ecuadorian Army and searched one by one. I wasn't sure what they were searching for, but it must have been along the lines of drugs, weapons etc. It was quite scary because it was like 1:30am by then and the army were all carrying shot guns, or M16s and some kind of fierce looking automatic weapons.

These French boys I met were petrified at that point as they were smoking weed just before we got on the CIFA bus in Peru and they were telling me that they bought a few grams to last them for the next few days. I later found out that they were actually so stoned that they left the packet at the bus terminal and forgot to carry it onboard. Luck was on their side as they probably would lose a lot more than a few grams of weed if the army did find them.

After we got back on the bus, the rest of the journey was very uneventful. We arrived in Guayaquil about an hour ahead of schedule at 6:30am. I was dead tired by that point as I could hardly sleep on the bus worrying that people might rob me.

After I bought the ticket to Montanita, I had lunch with the French boys whom I travelled with pretty much for the next 2 weeks.

We jumped on the "tourist" bus to Montanita on time and it was a very nice air-conditioned bus. I got on, a man checked my ticket, and took me to the back of the bus as there were already people sitting on my seat. So I sat down and put my personal backpack on the seat next to me. He said that I could not do that as other people might be sitting there. After I put the backpack on my lap, he said I had to place it in the hand luggage section. I said I preferred to have it next to me but he showed me that all other people were doing it and it was a company policy. It being my first day in Ecuador, I thought it might be true as it was a new country. So I reluctantly gave him my backpack to place it on the top. As my backpack was quite large, it took him a little while to place it on the top. While he was doing it, I heard the zipper being opened. I looked at him and he smiled at me. I thought I must have imagined it and just left it. Few seconds later, he also left.

I didn't realise until I got to a hostel in Montanita that my computer and my camera were missing! I nearly fainted when I realised that they weren't there! I also met this Swedish guy who was on the bus and who was nice enough to accompany me to the police station and the bus company to report the theft. I felt really sorry for him as it was his birthday on that fateful day.

He helped me to get the police report which I also had to pay a bribe for as the police said I had to go back to Guayaquil for the report. The bus company was very much less helpful. My theory was that they must gotten some perks from this guy as they didn't act shocked or surprised. They merely said this kind of things happen all the time and I needed to be more careful. I also found out the next day that this other Australian guy had the same experience the very next day after I was robbed. So the thief must have been there all the time and there was no way the bus company wouldn't know about it. But what could I do????

I decided to leave it and not go back to Guayaqil and search for this guy in case more worse luck happened to me.

I was very devastated by the theft though, and it took me maybe 2 weeks to stop thinking about it all the time. Especially since I had so much personal stuff on my computer and all the photos from our whole trip. It was lucky that Naomi took most of the photos back on the spare hard drive. So I probably only lost 2-3 weeks of photos altogether, which were on my camera.

Montanita was an ok town. It supposed to be a surfing town, but it was a little cool and the weather was not that great when we were there. So we spent a lot of time eating and drinking.

Two days later, we moved onto Puerto Lopez where the National Park Machalilla was. It was also called the "Poor man's Galapagos" due to its similarity in landscape and animal life etc.

More to come in the next post.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Chiclayo to Mancora


I should continue from where I left off in my last proper blog - in Chiclayo.  So, I went to visit the Bruning Archaeological Museum and the Museo de las Tumbas Reales de Sipan.  It was actually really easy getting there as I just went to the combi terminal and they took me directly to the front of the museums.  The Bruning Archaeological Museum was nice with collections from different native groups.  But the Lord of Sipan Museum was just AMAZING.  There were literally tens of thousands of artifacts all very well-preserved and beautifully decorated.

It was also here that I nearly got arrested.  The guard searched me before I entered which was fine.  He didn't say anything about my camera which was in my pocket.  I was quite happy taking photos of all the cool exhibits.  And just before I was leaving the museum, this random museum worker saw me happily snapping shots away and told me not to take photos and asked me to go with him.  I told him to bugger off as they didn't mention anything about not taking photos before.  He then asked me to give him my camera which again I refused.  Then he took off.

Five minutes later, he came back with two cops who had guns.  The police asked me in Spanish whether I was taking photos.  I asked the cops whether they speak any English.  Then the museum staff told me that I couldn't take photos and that it said so on the back of my ticket.  I told them that I couldn't understand the ticket as it was in Spanish.  I told them it was an international museum and they should have English rules on their tickets.  The cops told the museum staff to leave me alone.  But the staff kept pestering me so I reluctantly deleted some of the photos to keep him happy.  So annoying.  But it didn't make much difference anyway as I later lost my computer and my camera all in one day.....more to come on this later.

Chiclayo was a really borning town.  Yes, it did have a nice Plaza de Armas just like all the other old cities in South America, but besides that there really wasn't anything to brag about.  

I went from Chiclayo onto Piura to change the bus to Mancora.

I arrived in Mancora at night and the tuk-tuk driver took me to this hostel that was seriously one of the crappiest places I have ever been in.  He also insisted that all other hostels were expensive because they were on the beach or new or whatever, and for my budget I could afford only three other hostels around the one he first showed me.  I checked them out and they were way worse than the first one.  It's pretty hard to imagine without being there, but the first one looked like a concrete prison with no window and a shower in the room and a mosquito infestation.  It was about 35 degrees when you closed the door.

I also stupidly paid for two nights at 25 soles per night (about AU$10) which was a LOT of money for such a crappy room.  But I was let to believe that because it was a beach town prices were just more expensive than other places.  

After less than 6 hours sleep I decided to check out.  The management refused to refund me the extra night's accommodation.  I was furious and threatened to go to the police.  But they said it was on the back of the receipt I received that no refunds were allowed.  I was so frustrated especially as it was a scam - the tuk-tuk people get paid commission for taking people there.  After I checked out I went to a few nice hostels just 30 seconds walk from the hostel from hell and enquired about the prices.  The one that I chose was right on the beach with a beach view from the room and it was nice and clean and cost the astronomical price of 15 soles a night (AU$6).  I moved in straight away and ended up staying for four nights while I was waiting for the Germans to catch up to me.

Mancora was a nice little town except for all the construction that was going on everywhere when I was staying there.  I went to the beach every day and ate seafood just about every meal.  Cerviche - YUMMMMMMMMM!

I also did a surf lesson here.  It was so embarrassing that the instructor asked me why was I doing the lesson if I was from Australia.  I was just like, "Not everybody can surf in Australia just like not everyone eats guinea pigs in Peru!".

Anyway, the surf lesson was fun and I stood up just about every time.  But I wasn't sure whether the instructor was holding the board so that I could stand up or not.  I will just pretend that it was all me since I didn't see anything behind me :)

The Germans finally turned up.  We had a few drinks together and ate together for a few days before parting again.  I also managed to meet some nice people from South America who joined in the complaint to the dodgy hotel as they were all staying there too.

I then caught the night CIFA bus to Guayaquil.  This was when my misfortune really began......