After spending 3 months on this popular Indonesian island I have a good grasp of costs to live here. All of these numbers are just for a single retired man. No dog. No wife. No kids. Just me. Here we go with Bali cost of living… The cost to rent on this island, in popular areas, can be absolutely amazing low and can go up as high as “are you kidding me”. For example I booked a few hotel rooms, normally referred to as a “home stay”, for as little as 7 USD per night and this included breakfast!! I Read more…
Baños, Ecuador. Volcanoes and spas.
I arrived in Baños by bus from Cuenca via Ambato. The towns full name is Baños de Agua Santa (Baths of holy water). On the bus ride here the winding road took us past quaint tiny hamlets, streams and seem to circle around the foreboding volcano named Tungurahua. This volcano has come close to destroying the spa town on a number of occasions and even as I visit now, the snow-capped volcanic mountain is very active!
I did my normal routine when I arrive anywhere at a new travel destination, I looked for a place to sit down and have a coffee or cold drink. Coffee seemed much more agreeable at this altitude of 1,820 m (5,971 ft) and a temperature of just 20 C. This is when I can relax, stretch my leg, look at a map and ask around about accommodation and generalities of the place I am visiting. One should always take time to smell the roses. We, travellers, know that the journey is the often the best part of an adventure.
A small spa Hostelería had been identified and off I went for a walk of about 300 meters. My room had a beautiful SOFT king size bed, views of cascading waterfall just 2oo meters away and the price of just 22USD included a hot and filling breakfast. Close by was the public and very, very inexpensive option of a mineral pool. To gain access to the pools you had to wear a swim cap, which can be rented for 25 cents. This was NO relaxing in a four-star spa experience, it was one of those “been there done that experiences never wanted to be repeated again”. Hundreds of people, often shoulder to shoulder were in 3 pools, half of which were kids and in water that was murky and tepid. I lasted a full 15 minutes and looked for a shower to clean myself pronto. Only a cold water pipeline was available… refreshing, to say the least, but it did the trick! Needless to say you can find more upscale versions of this whole spa thing dotted all over town.
The town of Baños was on my radar from both what I learned from reading and from people who raved about the place. Personally, I didn’t understand the hoopla about this town. Waaaaay over commercialized and not that pretty. However, the surrounding countryside is gorgeous for hiking and trying to get a better view of the volcano. Remember, it’s all good!
Ecuador jungle, mountains and bus rides.
Perhaps you have already read my other 2 articles on the big cities of Quito and Cuenca; now details and my experiences with the smaller lesser known places.
Having my map of Ecuador in hand, the first area I explored off the beaten track was a 2-hour journey by bus from Quito: The Mindo Rainforest. It gave me a taste of what the Amazon Jungle itself might look and feel like. The town of Mindo is the entrance to a huge swath of land and is a nature reserve full of rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, stunning views. I stayed at a beautiful place called Hosteria Arasari .. click the link to check out the gorgeous grounds.. location and cabins. It was not expensive.. I think I paid about $30 a night. They have a bird viewing platform above the basic restaurant onsite.. great views! The town of Mindo itself was a tad hippie.. a nice cozy feel and friendly faces everywhere. On arrival I was confused as to why I could not get a coffee except for a Nescafe (no thanks), I trekked about 1.5 km to the Hosteria and they gave me the same line. Then, entering my cabin and finding no light switch working it dawned on me..no electricity! Mindo had had no power for 3 days! I never did find out why; welcome to crazy life in Third World Countries. I hiked several kilometers outside of the hotel area.. some amazing views, lots of wildlife and especially birds -the toucan! I have never been one for heights and so I passed on the zip-line experience (yet again). This day was June 23 and the temperature in this cloud forest was just a little above comfort for temperature and humidity, especially hiking.
I decided to take the road back to Quito from Cuenca. I wanted to head to the edge of the Amazon Jungle and so settled on the towns of Banos and Puyo. Each of these towns deserve an article all of their own! From Cuenca I took a bus to Ambato, then a bus to Banos. A few nights in Banos and then on to Puyo for a few nights. The buses were not as nearly as good as the first class buses that go from city to city in Mexico.. but sufficient for a few hours at a time. Also, Ecuador buses are VERY inexpensive. Expect to pay just $1 for a 1-hour journey. The Ecuadorians getting on and off the bus en-route were all very pleasant and at no time did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable in any way. I do have a rule in my life though: “I never worry, but I do manage the risk”. So traveling by bus at night does not seem like a sensible idea. Many travelers like to travel on overnight buses because it is cooler temperature wise and they can sleep and save on a hotel bed. My thoughts on overnight bus travel: bandits attack at night, many more traffic accidents happen at night and I would miss all the scenery along the way! Trust me, the bus on the narrow, winding road which is laid on the ridge of the Andes Mountains is something you do not want to miss. Breathtaking scenery and lots of interesting people and places to see along the way.
Map of Ecuador
A short story: A bus I took from Mexico City airport departed at 11 pm and in 3.5 hours I would be home in San Miguel de Allende. Along the way, in the pitch black night the bus stopped and outside were several large black trucks and many men with machine guns. A Federal officer asked us to get off the bus and present our passports, at the same time ALL of the luggage was removed from the bus and inspected thru an x-ray machine. We were on our way in less than an hour, but let me tell you, this was a very unnerving experience to say the least. In the dark it is hard to figure out the where, who and what of the situation. Enough said.
OK, so for more details about the spa town of Banos and the edge-of-the-jungle town of Puyo then please click on the links to those articles. All in all traveling around Ecuador was very pleasant, fresh air, cheap buses and a cleaner roadside experience than Mexican roads. Less trash here, more of a tidy place, even the junk is often piled neatly here!
Puyo, Ecuador. The edge of the Amazon Jungle
The town of Puyo sits at the edge of the rainforest known commonly as the Amazon Jungle; in Spanish Selva Amazónica. Most of the rainforest is in Brazil but the far Western edge is in Ecuador and also spans 6 other countries to a small degree. I chose Puyo as a gateway to the jungle. The jungle! Cool!
I arrived here from Banos, taking 2 buses via Ambato. A trip of about 5 hours total. The buses were comfy with a large TV monitor playing a movie, in Spanish and no subtitles. The town itself is nothing spectacular or remarkable except to say the locals were very friendly, even a police officer zipped me to my guest house on the back of his motorbike when I asked him for directions.
The town is full of shops with suggested tours of the rainforest some of which include hiking, zip line, canoeing and climbing. I chose a day tour that included a drive of 1 hour east to an animal sanctuary, then a canoe ride down a river to a village and meet with the shaman of that village and have lunch with him.
Inside the village were about 20 homes/huts all colourful and a garden/crop area. The shaman greeted me and his attire was a little shocking to me, in a funny way. I expected the “spiritual leader” of this village to be wearing a long robe, with beads and maybe a funny hat. Instead, he was dressed in jeans and a very oil stained red t-shirt. It’s interesting how I had romanticised the truth of the matter! The wooden table was filled with food and was hard to see given the very dim light in this large hut. I also had the company of a monkey (or two?) and outside large colourful parrots guarded the entrance to the hut. The food was delicious consisting mainly of freshwater fish and corn.
Both the Amazon Jungle and any rainforest had always been on my bucket list of places to see and here I was breaking bread with a shaman, in the Amazon along with the company of a monkey, or two.
My two tour guides were also my protection from god knows what lays ahead. Before entering into the jungle my face was painted with symbols which would protect me from wild animals. I was told not to touch anything just in case it was poisonous or had had an allergy to it. I can also see how getting lost in the jungle could happen quite easily, the tree canopy is high and so reference points are difficult. I found myself recalling some TV shows featuring Steve Irwin and other intrepid adventurer/survival type guys as a “just in case” scenario. Fortunately I was back in my hotel bed that night.
No matter what time of year it is in Ecuador, the sun rises at 6:25 and sets at about 6:20 PM. The longest day in June and shortest day in December differ by only 6 minutes of daylight. Trips like my trek into the jungle have to be started early in the day for fear of still being in the jungle after dark. No thanks!
The whole experience of a few days in Puyo was terrific with a good balance of relaxed and exciting and I can highly recommend such adventure.
Ecuador. Cities in the Andes. Cuenca
After a week in Quito, the capital, I am learning more and more about the geography, distances and transportation. I opted to fly from Quito to Cuenca and arrived early morning; too early. Not even the coffee shops were open. This is always the problem with the least expensive flights: they are also the least attractive timetable-wise.
I told the taxi driver to take me to the “city centre”, my Spanish was improving bit by bit having now lived in Mexico for 15 months so far. My drop off point was a seemingly deserted spot on a road. “THIS, is the hub of Cuenca? Oh dear, not a good start. A building with the words “hosteria” caught my eye and so I went there to ask for directions and to my pleasant surprise this hosteria was a beehive of activity. Turns out that a “hosteria” does not mean “hostel” in this country, translated it means “guest house”. Very confusing.. especially if you were really looking for a ..hostel!
Cuenca is also high in the Andes sitting at 2,550 m (8,370 ft), just like the capital Quito and so the temperature at 7 am on a winter morning was a brisk 7 c. Not a lot of warmth in the air. I was traveling light on this trip with just a backpack, one that I can highly recommend is THIS BACKPACK for such a trip. So I decided to wander around after breakfast to get my first impressions of this old Spanish Colonial town in Ecuador. Windows.. with no metal bars! Lots of them here in Cuenca! In Mexico it is rare to see a glass window with no bars. I think it is partly due to the obvious… anti-theft but also glass in windows is fairly “new” to Mexico since the opening maybe had some wooden shutters but those would close out the light completely.. so bars on the windows! However here in the quiet streets of Cuenca I see many shops and homes with no bars, in fact one store had thousands of dollars worth of power tools on display in this window.. no bars. That was amazing to me, having lived in Mexico where this sort of thing I never saw!
One thing about this town that differed from San Miguel de Allende: In SMA you can stroll past most shops, bars and restaurants and scope out the place before you enter. However, because of the temperate climate in Cuenca, most places have closed doors. In a few instances, I opened the door and entered a place looking for a certain vibe only to leave immediately. A little awkward for me.
Just outside the city of Cuenca are the Cajas Mountains (box mountains). Take a day pack with some snacks and water. If you are chilly and damp in the city you will absolutely freeze in the mountains without a jacket and good shoes. The average elevation is 3,500 meters (11,500 feet). Take a bus from the city to one of several bus stops alongside the Caja National Park and be sure to get the timetable for the return bus to Cuenca.
I would definitely suggest a trip to Cuenca for a retirement destination.
Ecuador. Cities in the Andes. Quito
Whenever I travel l somewhere, no matter how old I was/am, I often asked myself the question “would I like to live here”. An invitation from a friend who once lived in the town of San Miguel de Allende took me to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
Peter did not enjoy SMA as much as I did and his stay in San Miguel lasted only 4 months and so his next choice as a working expat was to Quito. High in the Andes of South America at an altitude of 2,850 m (9,350 ft) it too is a colonial town that once belonged to Spain, I thought the British were bad at forcefully building Empires, but Spain didn’t too badly at raping and pillaging the lands all over the globe. So I decided to leave my Mexican town for 3 weeks in Ecuador.
My flight on COPA airlines (Panamanian Airline) was the best I can remember in decades. Like service used to be, with flight attendants that are actually happy to service you and not just be there “for your safety”. My flight was from Mexico City, Bogota Columbia and then on to Quito. The second leg was only a 1.5-hour flight, but even then a meal and hot beverages were served by very young, enthusiastic and willing flight attendants.
My first impression of this capital was that it was so “European” with a very good mixture of 300-year-old buildings and an ultra-modern skyline. The whole place had a very good vibe. Although Peter did warn me about not going out after dark..which really surprised me. Not wanting to put his idea to the test, I heeded his advice. Some great modern shopping malls (a great social place), fantastic bus system both in town and inter-provincial. Like so many cultures, put that same relaxed man or woman, that earlier that day was sipping on a latte for 2 hours just watching the world go by, behind the wheel of a car and zoooooom. They are so impatient that the horn is used to tell people to get out of their way! Very sad and very odd behaviour.
I was in Quito for a week in June.. the dead of Winter.. but the geography and climate is, to me, very odd in many ways. The city literally lays exactly on the Equator, so why on earth would there be a winter or a summer? Turns out that one the biggest and coldest ocean currents on earth is the Humboldt Current and flows right up the left side of South America bathing the coast of Ecuador with “cool”water. Add to this that the largest jungle, the Amazon, on Earth which lies to the east of Ecuador and the ocean to the west with the Andes squeezed in between gives this country a very odd mix of climate. I was actually on the Equator and I was too cold!! OK I was also at a high altitude, but still, it boggled my mind that the weather could be so cold and damp. Be forewarned, several people have issues with living at altitude. So if you enjoy stuff like breathing and having your heart beat on a regular basic.. then go to Quito for a visit first to see if your body is up to the task at these elevations.
The next city I want to visit in Ecuador is Cuenca, it is supposed to be the cultural capital of Ecuador, just as San Miguel is supposed to be to Mexico.