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Hotel Llamas, on the hotel football pitch, of course... after a while here, stuff like this doesn't even strike you as odd!

Stef's back is still bad from the bus ride two days ago. Latacunga, our next planned stop, is reported to be two hours away by bus, which probably means three. Adding on the need to lug our bags around bus terminals it does not bode well for his back so we splashed out and got a taxi.

Cesar, our driver, was entertaining and kept up a constant flow of chat as we went. We stopped so he could tell his family he would not be back for lunch, filled up with petrol and then we were off. The road was good, paved and with two lanes ine ach direction for most of the way. He told us that when the Sucre (local currency) was replaced with the US Dollar it hit people here very hard. The exchange rate was 25,000 Sucre to $1. The former was enough to do the weekly shop, the latter buys enough food for just one meal. No doubt the wealthy 40% of the population already held a fair chunk of their assets in dollars. For the other 60% this change must have hit incredibly hard. He was a real fan of Riobamba, explaining how it was the first place to do this, that and the other.

The views changed from those of Chimborazo to those of Cotopaxi, still an active volcano which last erupted just a few years ago. They really are a breathtaking sight to see. Vast cone shaped mountains with crops growing in fields at the base, turning to bare rock and then snow capped summits.

Along the way we looked in the book at hotel options. Rather than staying in Latacunga, we opted for one of the "comfortable" hotels out of town, Hosteria La Cienega. Cesar knows the turning, he drove buses along the PanAm for twelve years and has been a cabbie for five, but I do not think he had ever been to the hotel before. When we arrived, his gasped intake of breath was louder than mine and Stef's combined.

A dirt track leads off the main PanAm through an archway with a sign for the Hosteria. About 1.5km up the road there is the entrance to the Hosteria itself. We later found out that the family who owned it, it only became a hotel in the 1980's, were very influential and owned vast tracts of land in the area. A gateway at the road leads down a tree lined avenue which becomes the driveway to the four hundred year old estancia. The setting is very tranquil and exceedingly romantic. Our room looks out over the gardens at the front of the house. These, and the gardens in the two inner courtyards, are awash with colour and neatly laid out. Trees provide shade and there are fountains and pools providing the sound of running water, itself relaxing.

Happiness is a warm bum

In one of the courtyards, space has been given to a local family who have set up a feria artesanale. We did not go into the main shop, which seems to have the usual fare, but walked past a table full of paintings of Cotopaxi. The lady there explained that she and her husband paint them, on sheep's skin. Conveniently, they come in all shapes and sizes but they were not to our taste so we politely declined.

We wandered around the grounds of the hosteria. It is very peaceful as it is in the middle of agricultural land. The hosteria itself is extensive with its own private chapel which appears to be still in use for religious ceremonies. There is a swimming pool, tennis court, volleyball court and a field of alpacas. All of this though is dwarfed by the backdrop views of Cotopaxi.

Not knowing how long it would take to get there we had hoped to be able to get to Cotopaxi today. Its not possible so we have had an enforced relaxing afternoon, amblings through the grounds, reading and writing our diaries. There are meant to be thirty people in the hotel tonight, all foreign, and we are both expecting a bit Dutch tour group (seems to be the pattern in Ecuador). So far though it seems to be French people.

We spent a couple of hours in one of the lounge rooms of the hotel in front of an open fire burning wood. This brought out the inevitable Zog (my grandfather) impressions of bottom warming. Stef tended the fire on a regular basis and we made a pretty good dent in the woodpile. Every now and again someone else wandered in to take a look. Unlike all the other places we have been to though none of them smiled and said hello. This continued through dinner and we decided it is a symptom of staying in a more expensive hotel. The more money people have the more snooty they are and the less friendly.

This is a theme we will need to continue to explore. Stef has a hypothesis (which he has now decided to pronounce as high-po-thee-sis) that the landscape has a large influence on the character of the local population. First formed in Uruguay it has been oft quoted but never scientifically proven. I think the money and friendliness connection will be easier to prove!

Over dinner a local folk group came to entertain us with a few songs. There were about eight in the group, all men, with guitars, pan pipes, a drum and surprisingly I thought a violin. The guy playing it was slightly off key all the way. Playing the pan pipes looks much more complex that I have previously thought. There is a double row of pipes, at slightly different heights, and much to-ing and fro-ing between them. I suppose it is a bit like playing the harmonica.