It is some time since I blogged the first part of my reminiscences on our 2005 holiday to South America to visit friends. Part 1 tells how we came to be in South America and relives our time in Bogotá, but this was just part of the adventure. Here I reminisce about the superb long weekend that we spent in Ecuador.
Our hosts, Andy and Jane, had all of the preparations sorted for the trip before we arrived. However, things very nearly went horribly wrong. The evening before we were due to fly out, Andy handed out our airline tickets only to discover that he had my wife’s name wrong. When we got married, she didn’t take my surname as they had assumed. This would not work for an international flight.
We panicked, but Andy stayed calm. He knew enough Spanish to explain the situation to the travel agent who, remarkably, were still open at 9pm on a Sunday. Stopping only to pick up an interpreter on route we arrived at the small local travel agent where, after some discussion in rapid-fire Spanish and much sucking of teeth, the necessary changes were made for an administration fee of just £15. Much relief all round.
And so off we went. We flew into Quito airport in Ecuador on the morning of Monday 24 January 2005. Our accommodation was in an “adventure spa” called Luna Runtun near Baños. This combined the facilities of a spa with a number of optional adventure activities. It was the latter that we were most interested in.
We were aware before we went that Luna Runtun was situated on an active volcano called Tungurahua. We had also become aware that, in the weeks before we travelled, that Tungurahua had begun to erupt, blasting huge flows of lava out of its crater and sending ash into the sky. Well, it is an adventure spa…
What we weren’t aware of was that to get to Luna Runtun from Quito required a 5-hour journey by road. A transfer was provided by the spa and it was possibly the most uncomfortable 5 hours I have ever spent. Eventually, however, we arrived at the spa and, as well as checking in, had choices to make about which activities we were going to embark on during our stay.
The one that we all agreed on, and my highlight for the weekend, if not the whole holiday, was a guided walk through the cloud forests of Ecuador. Stunning doesn’t begin to capture it. We were guided through scenery which we had only previously seen in the pages of National Geographic or in the sort of TV documentaries that feature David Attenborough.
We walked between lush mountain peaks and alongside deep valleys. There were exotic plants and incredible vistas. On several occasions we walked across unbelievably rickety suspension bridges across gorges and had become used to this when, at the end of our walk, we were faced with the mother of all bridges.
But we were also faced with a dilemma. We had a choice: we could walk down a series of switch-backs, cross the long, rickety-looking bridge, and then climb up a series of switch-backs on the other side. Alternatively, we could go by cable car, which resembled a milk crate on a bit of wire. What to do when faced with such a dilemma? Well you do both of course! We took the bridge and then, when we got to the other side, our guide negotiated with a bemused looking cable car operator to winch us across and then bring us back again. Brilliant!
The following day Paul and Andy went off on one of the more extreme cycle rides. They are enthusiastic cyclists, I am not, so I stayed with the ladies and we went out on horses. It was a very pleasant couple of hours plodding around on horseback, although plodding was the operative word. Jane is an experienced horse woman, so got the best of the horses, but the rest of us just had some old plodders so that we could come to no harm.
Part way round we bumped into Paul and Andy. They had polished off their supposedly all day ride in the matter of an hour or so and the guide was therefore trying to come up with a plan B. As he went past, the guide said to us (in thick South American accent): “They are crazy, I can’t keep up with them, not even in the truck!”
On another day, Andy and Jane took a walk up the volcano. They are experienced mountain walkers and, knowing they wanted to do this had taken appropriate gear with them. As they obviously knew what they were doing, their guide, who wore just wellies, took them further than he was generally comfortable taking tourists and they came back with film canisters filled with volcanic ash.
Meanwhile, the rest of us chickened out and went on a bike ride – a more gentle one than the one Andy and Paul had done the previous day. Again more great views and an enjoyable, if bumpy, ride.
Whilst at the resort we did also make use of the spa facilities. This is not something that I had done before, so I thought I would try an all over body massage. This got quite close to being overly-intimate at times and it was somewhat disconcerting to find that my masseur was later serving us dinner – they multi-task at this spa!
There were also bar facilities at the resort and one evening they challenged us to try their cocktail, The Volcano. It was free to anyone who dared try it. Knowing that we had things to do the next day most of us declined, except Andy. He is not much of a drinker, but he is also not one to turn down a freebie.
Having tried the Volcano he went into a coughing fit and lost the power of speech for about 30 minutes. For a time, after they finished laughing, the bar staff became seriously concerned that they may have killed him. Beware free cocktails!
All that remained was the long and painful ride back to Quito, but this time we had some great memories to help pass the time.