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20050730_P_0179
Backbone of the Ecuadorian economy

We had an early start today. The alarm went off at 6:00 but I was awake well before then. We are on the 7:0 bus to Quito. Neither of us are really looking forward to it because it is an eleven hour trip but it is a direct bus and the best option. We toyed with breaking the journey at one of the towns we pass along the way but no-one has spoken highly of them so we reckon we have made the right call by just pushing on to Quito.

The hotel has not "woken up" by the time we left at 7:00 so I knew I was in for a morning of Stef saying he was hungry. He had overdosed on the chili sauce last night and has slightly dodgy guts which I had to remind him of when he went in search of food in the local market that was just starting to wake up. Ecuadorian buses have an unusual quirk. The better ones have a loo on board but it is always locked. Usually requests to use them are denied, you have to wait until the bus stops at a station. As such, my policy has been to avoid eating or drinking anything that is not pre-packaged, sealed and hygienic. Stef is not so cautious.

Being a Voogd and following the same trait as my Mum and my sisters we were at the bus office before the bus and thirty minutes before it was due to go. We got chatting to a girl from Scotland. She has been in Ecuador for six weeks on a project and is now at the end of an eight day holiday she tagged on to the end. She is reluctant to go home and no doubt will come back.

The bus arrived and we got on board. Our tickets were checked at the door of the bus and then again on the bus before we could sit down. Why? - no-one knows. There is absolutely no way that anyone could have crept on to the bus without the first ticket person seeing them so it must simply be a job creation scheme.

We would round, down, up and along the coast and up through valleys. At the coast there is dry tropical forest. This changed to humid forest, cloud forest and then finally to pampas as we reached the highland of the Andes. The cloud forest reminded me of Darjeeling, although the clouds here were more dense. The road was clear in front for about twenty metres, then, and looking down into the valley it was just a white wall of cloud.

At the first main town we had to change bus. The first one was not as smart and comfy as we had hoped and it also have a very dodgy sounding clutch. They must have realised it would not make the trip, hence the change. The second bus was better and much more comfy. And of course we had Steven Seagal to keep us company along the way!

After a few hours my neck and shoulders started to get stiff. Bu the end of eleven and a half hours, the time it took to get to Quito, my legs had also seized up. Unlike any other bus we have been on in South America this is the only one where no vendors have been on board selling food and drink. We had water and dry biscuits wit us but by the end of the trip we were both starving and I was also a little light headed. We can both feel the altitude here if we move too quickly.

We took a taxi to our hotel dropping off the Scots girl on the way. Stef had been chatting to a local man on the bus and he helpfully showed us where we were on the map (the bus stopped at its own office rather than the central terminal) and where we needed to go. It was five minutes to where the Scottish girl was staying. It was dark and she was going to walk there. With her backpack marking her out as an obvious foreigner we both thought she was asking for trouble.

Our hotel, The Vieja Cuba, was a bit further on. It is an old converted house. We had a really warm welcome and have a lovely, homely room. Its light and airy, simply decorated and is really comfy. We chilled for a while and then hunger got the better of us. At reception, now manned by a young Cuban guy whose Spanish was so fast even Stef could not follow it, we asked about the Cuban restaurant linked to the hotel. We thought it was on the same site but its two blocks away. We had passed it in the cab and knew where it was but he sent someone with us to show us the way. We thought it was odd but our "guide" was friendly and we chatted away.

Our meal was tasty, very garlicky and rounded off by a scrummy piece of chocolate cake. As we left, one of the waiters ran after us and told us to wait. We were then escorted back to our hotel by a security guard. We thought it was a bit over the top as we could clearly see where we were going, there was lots of traffic and not many people wandering about on the streets.

Rural poverty has brought more country people to the city and with that crime has increased. The new town area where we are staying is a prime area for muggings and tourists are the main targets. If we are out after dark we have been advised that we need to get a cab even for a short distance. Lonely Planet does say this but generally it is written by Americans for Americans and we have found that they over the hype the Dangers  and Annoyances sections of their books. No doubt they are concerned that if the do not warn people not to walk along dark alleys alone at night waving their travelers cheques around they will get sued if people get attacked. Having had this advice from the local people here too though we will take heed.

Knackered, we crashed out.