February 19th, 2009 @ 6:13 am by Mike · 1 Comment
In Ecuador and Peru, Guinea Pig or Cuyi in Spanish is not considered a pet but a local delicacy to eat. Regardless of the produce the Goonies will try any local delicacy and our time had come in Cuenca where we had the opportunity to sample some Guinea Pig.
In Cuenca we had the pleasure to meet a Scandinavian couple who had already sampled some guinea pig at a local restaurant. When they got to the restaurant they got to choose the guinea pig they wanted to eat which was still alive. The preparation for the guinea pig took approximately one hour as they had to kill it and drain all the blood before it could be cooked. Once ready the guinea pig is presented warts and all with its head and paws still attached. For presentation this restaurant stuffed a small pepper into the guinea pig’s mouth for decoration. The guinea pig is served with a selection of roasted vegetables and potatoes, however the cost of this full packaged experience was 40 US dollars which is more than a days budget for us.
As we was on a tight budget we had to find a cheaper alternative and found our solution through the advise of our hostel owner in Cuenca. He suggested that we can get cheap guinea pig from the local market so the team immediately ventured to the markets. Here we discovered we could buy a whole guinea pig for 6 US$, ching ching!!! However, when buying from the markets you need to be careful as you want to ensure you are buying a guinea pig and not an overweight rat. The signs to look out for is that the rodent you are about to purchase DOES NOT have a TAIL and that the ears are short and stubby like they have been cut off.
At the stall, the guinea pig had a large pole the size of a table leg stuck through its rear end and out of it’s mouth that was used to rotate over a charcoal BBQ. The guinea pig took around 30 minutes to cook and was constantly based with some brown marinade / oil like substance. Again the guinea pig is cooked warts and all with its head and paws still attached, but in this case the insides (offal) of the guinea pig had been extracted out and tied to the outside of the guinea pig to be roasted as well.
Once cooked we rushed the guinea pig back to our hostel so we could eat it while it was still hot. As a kind gesture was gave the owner of the hostel a leg which he was over the moon for. After taking off the offal and head we divided the guinea pig into four pieces so we could all try. My god the guinea pig was absolutely delicious which tasted rather ironically like chicken tight but a lot more moist and tender. The cracking of the skin was like a small slice of heaven and like no other cracking I have experienced before. The skin was extremely thin and crispy with no lumps of fat that could leave you with an oily sick after taste. The head and offal was rejected by the group as it looked rather questionable especially the head. On the head you can still see all the tiny little teeth the guinea pig once owned which is rather off putting when trying to eat it. However, we found out from the Scandinavian couple that the head is considered a treat to Ecuadorians, so we offered the head and offal to the hostel owner who was again over the moon and accepted our kind offering.
Final verdict from all the Goonies is that guinea pig is definitely a must try, however not the most meatiest of rodents. Watch this space as guinea pig will no doubt be served in a Gordon Ramsey restaurant near you.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
February 19th, 2009 @ 5:52 am by Mike · 1 Comment
After having an adrenalin packed adventure in Banôs we headed south to a placed called Cuenca, which is a city full of beautiful churches and cathedrals steeped in history and culture. This is exactly what the group needed as we have been travelling non stop and not had a chance to wind down and take advantage of chill out time the group well deserved.
From Banôs we got a local bus that took approximately 10 hours to get to Cuenca on extremely bumpy unpaved roads and where the bus driver must have learnt how to drive from the Chuck Norris School Of Driving. Overtaking on blind corners or attempting to overtake 4 other bus in one hit is not my idea of fun and especially not in a bus that was older than me and on it’s last legs.
The 10 hours of fear was over and we arrived in Cuenca bus terminal in the evening to be bombarded by many locals offering places to stay. One lady in particular would not leave us alone and even helped us get a taxi thinking that we was going to her hostel. In the end we ended up checking into her hostel, which was a very quirky little place that was owned by someone like Basil Fawlty. The hostel itself looked like a disused apartment block that had been badly finished by a DIY enthusiast. But the owner was extremely helpful and would bend over backwards for us. On the first evening we decided to go to the supermarket around the corner from the hostel to pick up some supplies, but as it was 10 PM it was about to close. The owner from the hostel came out and tried to get it reopened for us but failed, however his good intentions was there.
The family that own the hostel also had a pet rabbit called Pancho. This rabbit was not afraid of anything and would even try muscle / fight against people in order to stay in the warmth as the owner always kept the rabbit outside. The rabbit was also extremely greedy and ate everything in sight providing it has not been contaminated with onion as we found out.
On our first day in Cuenca we took a stroll through the local markets in the morning. Cuenca had a wide range of markets but the majority sold fresh fruit and vegetables, raw meats and cooked food. Along the cooked food stalls was a large span of roast pig / hog heads, empanada stalls and fresh juice stall like in a modern trendy shopping mall, but Ecuadorian style. So all the healthy conscious can get their vitamin boost with ease.
In the afternoon we decided to walk along Rio Tomebamba which is the main river that ran through the city. Unfortunately for Kev he did not join us as he was still feeling rough from the dodgy stomach we all got from a burger we had in Banôs. Walking along Calle Larga which is the road parallel to Rio Tomebama you can find all the main shops, bars and restaurants. About ¾ down the road we also passed the Panama Hat museum, which is the famous hat produced in Ecuador.
On our last day we visited 9 of the 12 listed churches / cathedrals in Cuenca. During our sight seeing we bumped into a small group of local girls who we thought wanted us to take a picture for them. But instead they wanted to take pictures with us which we thought was very strange. However, this will turn out to be the start of a new craze for us called ‘Photo with a Gringo Phenomenon’. See later post for more details.
As tonight was our last night in Ecuador we wanted to taste guinea pig before we left which is a local delicacy to Ecuador and Peru. After speaking with the hostel owner we discovered that you can get cheap guinea pig from the market we explored the day before. The guinea pig cost us 6 dollars from the market which we brought back to the hostel to eat (See later post for more details of eating guinea pig). Despite being absolutely delicious the guinea pig was tiny and lacked any quantity to justify it being a real meal meaning the group went out for a meal at a local pizzeria. Here we got a stone baked pizza, drink and ice cream for 4 dollars!!
Next stop Lima, with a recovered and revitalised Goonie crew.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
February 14th, 2009 @ 4:20 am by Kev · No Comments
After the trauma and altitudes of the Cotopaxi cimb it was a great relief (especially to me) that we decended to lower heights as we headed into Ecuadors very own extreme sports capital, Banos.
After arriving and setting up in our hostel room (which has 2 floors…ooooh!), we headed straight out into the town to book ourselves some high octane activities for the coming days. We did not disappoint! The remainder of the day was spent chilling (Or rather sweltering) in the natural thermal spa’s opposite the virgin waterfalls.
The next day we were up, rejuvinated and ready for some action adventures. They duly arrived as we each jumped onto a Quad bike and raced up the nearby active volcano which over looks the town. All the bikes were pretty slow apart from mine which zipped up the hill in double quick speed. But it was all to end in tears for Mike, who after 20 minutes of riding conspired to snap his accelerator cable! Not a great idea! So he and John retired to the Bike shop. Apart from this, the ride was a whole load of fun especially when myself and Chris decided to do a bit of Off Road Quadding and getting absolutely covered in mud in the process. The views from the road were pretty cool as they flashed by as well.
The new day brought more activities and today was going to be the busiest of the lot! Our day started bright and early dispite the pouring rain as we each saddled up onto our mountain bikes ready for a morning of wet riding downhill through the Avenue of the Cascades. The numerous waterfalls and stunning gorge views were very pretty, if only slightly obscured behind the copious amounts of falling water from the sky! On the ride we took a neat little cable car (very rustically operated with a lorry engine, a cable and a metal basket) over the ravine and got some great views of the river below. Finally coming to an end we hopped into our escort which happened to be filled with 24 travelers on an Intrepid organised tour for the second part of the days fun.
The fun I’m referring to is of course White Water Rafting. These rapids are usually level 3 rated, today due to rain conditions the river was running as a level 4 with some 5 sections thrown in for good measure… those are the shit your pants type ones! The Goonies took up the helm of their raft any powered down the river. That was untill a huge rapid sent all boat crew scattering across the river. The first capsize plunge into the water displayed just how cold the water was and emphasized the fact that we really didnt wish to go in again! Well that was all of us except Mike whole aired the desire to go in again to get the full experiance (words he later regretted uttering!).
Unfortunately some people had already had enough and left for the safety of the vans. By the halfway stage at least half of the group were safe(ish) in the 4 wheeled transport leaving numbers seriously dwindling. This posed a problem as now the boat containing myself Chris and Mike was seriously under manned. Only 4 in a 6 man raft! I have never been quite so tired…arms were aching and legs killing from huge rapid after huge rapid which never ceased to calm. Doing fantastically well we paddled through the trickiest sections of the river only to be scuppered at the final hurdle.
It was about with 5 mins of river left, a very quiet command arrived from our rafting guide to “paddle faster” … within 3 seconds, before we even had a chance to react, I was flung into the air, Chris and Mike were both sent skyrocketing downstream Superman style over the front of the boat! Regathering ourselves this time was tricky. I had a choice, keep the paddle or keep the boat…being a man of common sense I opted for the boat, so I scrambled back into the raft and set about rescuing the scattered crew.
First our ozzy crewmate then Chris who was about 10/20 metres away. Looking up hardly able to see Mike through the raging river about another 50 metres away, we raced headlong after him. Upon approach i could see from the boat was mikes head bobbing up and down and an outstreched arm, so in true hollywood fashion, i grabbed him and brought his safely aboard! Soo tired from this fiasco (and a paddle down, which the kind safety kayaker rescued when he should have been helping mike, hehe) we overshot the finishing post by 200m. Having to carry this huge boat back over slippy rocks was the final (leg punishing) act of this pulse racing day of great fun! The Rafting was ace and the people we met were also v cool. After dinner we finally set about home singing aloud some cheesy power ballad’s as the sun set on this awesome day!
There was no rest on the final day in Banos either. Instead of relaxing from the stressful day just gone we were up early again and headed out for some Canyoning. With a funky name like canyoning i exepected a tad more than just rapelling down some waterfalls. But that is what we did, 6 falls with heights topping at 35m. The only issue was the waiting around getting freezing cold for the whole group to descend. This was a cool thing to do, but was a bit too cold for comfort.
After an exhilerating few days we packed the bags and headed further south totally shattered looking for a well earned rest.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
January 30th, 2009 @ 10:56 am by John · 1 Comment
Today is the day where we attempt to climb a volcano called Cotopaxi with a summit of 5897m high. It is a glacier which is not great considering we have only packed for the summer weather. I only have one thin fleece and tons of t-shirts and shorts. Fortunately some much warmer clothing is provided.
We arrived at the Happy gringo office at 8am where we met our main guide called “” that will be leading us up this enormous ascent. We were then led to a trekking shop where we got measured up and given lots of equipment. As part of the equipment we received some warm long john bottoms and top, waterproof jacket and bottoms, a big fleece, gators, gloves and waterproof glacier boots. Additional equipment we got especially for the glacier climb was some crampons (a big ten spike sole that fits on to the boots) and a ice axe. We finally, left the shop to head off on a two hour car ride to the National park where Cotopaxi belongs. Along he way, we picked up our second guide called Segunda. We had a lot of confidence in our guides as they had about 30 years combined experience in climbing, most of which was done at Cotopaxi.
When we arrived in the park, it was another hour ride until we got to a restaurant for us to drop off our main bags and get kitted up in our equipment. This was the point when we picked up our food to the climb and stuffed them into our small rucksacks. We left the rest of our luggage there and started to journey to base camp.
After another hour drive through remote terrain which started off as muddy dirt tracks and fields and slowly progressed to snow filled lands. we arrived at a car park at an altitude to 4500m. We wasn’t at base camp yet. We had to hike up a very steep and slippery mountain. It was only 300m but the altitude was pretty tough me, Mike and Chris. Kev seemed to steam up the hill without any trouble. I found it hard to catch my breath back and the slippery muddy surface just sapped the energy out of me. Every step I took, my foot would slip down a little which meant i only made about half a step rather than a full step. Eventually, about 10 minutes after Kev made it to base camp of 4800m, me, Mike and Chris made it too. The 300m was tougher than we thought at a high altitude. All the long hours of hikes we did in the American National Parks were so much easier. Anyway, we still had a bit of rest yet and time to get more acclimatised to the altitude before we attempt the hike to the summit.
When we reached the top we were greeted by some hot tea and coca with lots of snacks. Soon after we went off for some glacier training. This was to get us used to using the equipment provided such as the crampons and ice axes. The training lasted about half hour which included a hike to 5000m which was surprisingly easier than the hike earlier to get to base camp. The ground was more solid and my breathing seemed more normal. This gave us more confidence in completing this somewhat now mammoth volcano.
After training, we had about an hour rest and went straight into a hearty dinner at about 5pm. It didn’t seem that long ago since we had our snacks and training. As soon as dinner was finished it was time for bed. We went about around 6pm and planned to get up at midnight to get ready and go for the hike up Cotopaxi. This is because the conditions are better at night. By this time a few of us had minor headaches apparently due to altitude sickness. We just hope that the sleep will do us good and remove them.
6 hours passed and i personally didn’t sleep well. I must have only got an hour’s sleep and I still had a slight headache, as did the others. Breakfast was coming up and as soon as we had that our headaches were removed. Only Kev was still feeling a headache and couldn’t even eat breakfast. In the end me, Mike and Chris kitted up and got ready for the hike, whilst Kev say back at base camp to nurture his headache.
So the rest of us started the big hike up the cold, dark volcano at about 1am in the morning. The weather conditions wasn’t perfect as it was snowing fairly heavily which didn’t give us good visibility. To add to the difficulty, it snowed through the night which meant we had to walk through very thick snow. This made the hike so much harder. Every step we took, we slipped a little bit down. It seemed like we wasn’t moving anywhere. It was energy sapping and we were again finding hard to catch our breath back. It seemed like after 3 to 4 steps we needed a break to recover.
Eventually, we reached an altitude of 5000m. Up until now, we were walking freely on our own. But now form this point onwards, we would be connected to our guides via a piece of rope. This ensured we stayed as a group and didn’t lose anyone. At this point we also added on the crampons on to our boots as we were about to walk on to ice. When we started walking up, we couldn’t feel the ice at all. It was still covered with thick snow and the pace up the hill was slow. What made it harder was that we was connected to the guides which meant we had to go at the pace of the guides. We persevered for the first few minutes at his pace but eventually had to a few times to recover.
The conditions were getting somewhat worse and we were getting really tired. We had only a reached up to 5300m and only had about 550m to go. It was this point on that our guides told us that we were heading back because we were stopping too much and would take too long to get there. We also stopped because the conditions were getting worse. I was secretly gutted as i actually wanted to carry on and felt that I had a rhythm going but also glad in a sense that this tiredness and pain is going to be over. So we headed back down which actually was more difficult tan we thought. We fell over a few times and it was very tiring. It just seemed like that this was an epic journey with no end! We finally made it back to the base camp at about 5am. Soon after we arrived back, we saw other groups also returning due to the weather conditions.
We went back to our cabin bunks to some screaming noises. It was Kev who seemed to be suffering immensely from a bad headache. All we could hear was bursts of “Arggh” every few minutes. Our second guide Segunda, decided that we should go down to a lower altitude because Kev’s headache was brought on by altitude sickness. Moments after the decision, we pack up all our equipment to leave. The was a a final 300m hike down from base camp to the car park where we got into a car to drive us down to a lower altitude. Kev seem to instantly get much better. By now it was about 7am, so we decided to grab the rest of our luggage and get a bus to Banos our next destination.
So our Cotopaxi climb ended in tears because we were all beat by some form of altitude sickness. However, I have a future plans to comeback and conquer this volcano and many more. But next time, conquering it when we are properly acclimatised to the altitude which takes about 2 weeks rather than the 5 days we had! Anyway, we now have the adventure town of Banos to look forward to.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
January 30th, 2009 @ 10:13 am by Chris · No Comments
On our final day before we start our accent of Cotopaxi we visited Otavalo market on a Saturday which is the best day for Gringos. We boarded the bus from the terminal and had to pay our departure fee, after leaving the terminal we found everyone else gets on just outside to avoid the fee. We though we would have a quick journey but the bus stopped alot in pretty much any place someone wanted to get on or off, there didn’t seem to be any bus stops on this route.
The market was huge covering so many streets, I’ve not seen anything quite like it before, it was split up into a food/veg section, a restaurant section and many stalls selling knitted and wooden products. We were disappointed we couldn’t find Guinea Pig but we still had plenty of time to find it.
The next day we picked up our washed and folded washing that had cost 40cents per kilo and tasted our delicious free breakfast of 2 slices of cold half cooked toast, chemically enhanced pineapple juice with froth on top straight from their washing up bowl and cafe con leche which was nasty black and after adding milk found it was nasty white as well. That was it for Quito which means hi ho hi ho it’s up Cotopaxi we go…
Tags: Ecuador · South America
January 30th, 2009 @ 10:10 am by Chris · No Comments
Our next day started at 7am for our 77km bike ride from Papallacha, where we met Simon who had also had an encounter with the pick pockets only on a more severe scale, he had had his backpack slashed at the bottom when he had it in front of him on the bus, he didn’t have anything taken luckily (Incident count 3). We met with our guide, Fernando in a well used Toyota Land Cruiser.
We picked up our bikes on route to Papallacha and started our crazy journey up the mountain. On the way up there were some risky overtaking manouvres including overtaking 2 lorries and another car on a blind bend and driving very close to the cliff edge, for the rest journey some of us avoiding looking out the front window again.
We reached the start of our decent, slightly higher than normal, 4100m because our guide said we were very lucky with the weather given the season. We could see the snow capped tops of the Andean mountain range including Cotopaxi, Chimborazo which would be climbing in the next few days in the distance.
He was so suprised by the weather he began taking pictures himself. Because it was such a beautiful day our guide suggested going further up the mountain for more off-road mountain biking however this distracted him which led him to forget the bag of helmets and knee/elbow pads which he didn’t realise until the end of the day when were giving our equipment back.
The start was on an off-road section containing lots of uneven ground and loose gravel surfaces, it gave us the opportunity to put the well used bikes (with no suspension) through their paces, there were a few close calls mostly involving going around the uneven corners to fast.
After we had travelled the first 42km of the off-road section we stopped at some very relaxing hot springs (and some very cold), we were only given 1 hour in the springs which I can see why, any longer and I’m not sure we would want to get back on our bikes for the next 35km downhill ride back to Quito.
Unfortunately our fantastic day couldn’t be left that way due to a minor problem in the room next door. Kev was fast a sleep, I was listening to music and Mike was using the laptop - John came into the room and asked why there was water on the floor around John’s bag. News to us, so we began to investigate initially we thought it was from my hydration pocket in my rucksack, John’s had leaked when we were hiking in the Canyons. Nope it wasn’t that - John moved his bag and within 10-15 minutes the whole floor was covered in water.
Went down to reception to report it, they might mop it up though it looked like it was coming from the room next door. The toilet had overflowed there was poo all over the floor and was what had leaked into our room, at 11.30 we commence moving to another room not too far away luckily.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
January 30th, 2009 @ 10:09 am by Chris · 14 Comments
Our third day we visited the equator in Mitel del Mundo (Middle of the World) where we jumped on a local bus to try and find our way there. After the stories we heard from other people Kev experienced his first attempt at being pick-pocketed from the pocket hanging from his fleece he had around his waist, luckily in our strong team of 4 I twarted the attempt by pushing the guy away from Kev who then turned around with a beaming smile on his face, it startled Kev a little and entrigued Mike and John as to why I was so keen to get on the bus. The first bus we caught was a bargain but we got of in a small town leaving us with little idea of how to go the rest of the way, were it not for a bus on the other side of the road with a massive sign saying “Mitel Del Mundo” on the windscreen.
We first visited the equator located 50m away from the real equator, on the equator was a monument containing additional Inca history for Ecuador similar to what we had already seen in the Museum in Quito. It also provided the perfect opportunity for plenty of pictures involving the line.
After visiting the wrong equator we went to the real one 50m away and first impressions it was alot less grand with a rickety wooden gate however we were approached to take a tour with a guide something not offered in the other museum.
Part of the tour involved a demonstration of water circling down a plug hole in the northern, southern hemispheres and on the equator line. We also had the opportunity to balance an egg on the head of nail which we all did successfully and earnt ourselves a diploma to prove it.
Kev managed to balance his egg.
I looked pretty smug after I had balanced the egg on the harder side, due to the nail head being smaller.
Mike balanced his (it fell off just after the photo was taken)
John didn’t have any problems getting the egg to stay on the nail.
The final tests involved walking along the equator line with our eyes closed not as easy as first thought and testing our body strength on the line and away from the line by seeing how easy we could pull someones thumb away from their hand and pushing their arms down whilst being held up. We also had the opportunity to try a blow pipe firing at a dartboard rather than a real moving animal.
Of the two equators, I think the real one was much better value for money it provided a much more fun and interactive tour but did lack some of the local Inca history present in the monument located on the fake equator.
In the evening over a few cheap beers in the hostel we discovered our next incident. We hear a story from another traveller who experienced having her rucksack stolen by someone who appeared to be associated to the coach she was getting on, he showed her to her seat told her about the journey, ask her to put he bag in the storage above her seat - she refused and put it by her feet. The guy must have distracted her whilst and accomplice took the bag from in front or behind her. He got off the bus and she realised they had taken her bag as he casually walked out of the station with it on his back - she went after him jumped on his back where he luckily returned the bag without putting up a fight.
Tags: Ecuador · South America
October 1st, 2008 @ 11:16 pm by Chris · No Comments
Our first full day in South America we explored the new city part of Quito starting with a visit to the Museum del Banco a huge museum over multiple floors covering the history of Ecuador back to precolumbian times, art paintings and contempoary art on the top floor. We worked our way through the new city and into the old city and in the afternoon we walked up Panecillo Hill to see Virgin de Quito Statue which offers a good view point to see Quito from above.
We later read in the guide book it is STRONGLY suggested we get a taxi to the top - we made it up and down ok and back down through he old city to find somewhere for dinner, though not without some minor scrapes with several angry looking stray dogs along the way.
The following day we investigated the local tour operators to book some crazy reason, we decided to go with Gringo Tours they seemed the most professional agent we could trust our money with. We booked up a tour to Papallcha where we would be cycling 77km though the mountains and back to quito and after our brief time at altitude decided to book a climb up Cotopaxi which takes us up to 5900m!
After spending a huge chunk of cash on tours we went to Telefreqico, a newly built cable car that takes you up 4050m to the summit of Cruz Loma which provides you with a spectacular view over Quito, the weather was quite overcast which made the visibility quite poor. After our trek up the hill we could have continued on foot further up the mountain but decided not too due to the weather, in those conditions I prefer bubble lifts that allow you to snowboard back down the hill.
At the foot of the lift was a small fairground with Go Karts $5 for 5 minutes which we couldn’t resist. The karts were average and the it turned out to be a close race between Mike, Kev and me with all of us nose to tail around each bend. The track was too narrow to overtake on the straights, which just left waiting for a mistake to be made in one of the corners which Kev found when he barged Mike into the tyres with a move that would have landed him a 10 second penalty if there we’re any marshalls. The race finished. Kev, Me, Mike, John. John lagged behind for the whole race which we thought was due to a problem with the car, after the race we found he wasn’t using full power around all the corners.
My opinion so far of Quito is it is a nice place to base yourself if you intend to do activities around it and it does have some nice areas, but overall it is a very dirty place where you have to watch you back. The rest of our time in Quito will only be to us it as a base whilst we visit Papachalla, Mitel del Mundo and Otovalo market then leave for our trek to Cotopaxi.
Tags: Ecuador · South America