ECUADOR PART 2, From the Highlands to the Oriente

The city of Cuenca is synonymous of culture and heritage, elements that added to the warmth of its people ends up falling in love with all those who visit it. It is considered the third most important city of Ecuador. 50000 foreigners live in this city of just over 500000. Main reason cheap lifestyle. Its cobbled streets, its terracotta rooftops and flowery balconies and many churches make this city a tourist must do. We are not really city people, hence one day exploring the town was enough, but large towns are perfect for grocery shopping and when in the campsite for laundry. Travelling further north we enjoyed vast landscapes full of sowings of potatoes, beans, corn etc. After Cuenca our overnight stop was above the railway line just outside Alausi carving its way through Devils nose. After a 4.5 hour wait, we realized today no train, despite the ticket seller ($2.00 to watch from the viewpoint) telling us a train would come past. Anyway, more luck next day as the train came past at 8.20 in the morning. From here we took the short cut to Banos enjoying lakes, volcanic lagoons in turquoise tones and natural sources of thermal waters. Banos is situated in a valley of waterfalls and hot springs and has become a mecca for international backpackers. Very touristy.  But for those without transport it is the gateway also to the Amazon. We arrived midweek hence things were calm, but in the weekend things change. Banos explodes with carnival-like festivities. And photographers position themselves on street corners offering instant snapshots; a cartoonish caterpillar train on wheels toots through town; and women in pastel painted stalls sell everything from hand-woven sweaters to imitation barbie dolls. Tables spilling out of cafes onto sidewalks provide the ideal location to watch the lively scene of Banos go by while enjoying a drink or a meal. Tungurahua Volcano, at 5016 meters, looms over Baños, (if the weather is nice) and is known as “Little Hell” to the Quichua as it is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. The thermal pool on the end of the day is a must, one pool is close to 50 degrees the other 45 degrees and one cold pool. The drive down to Puyo and Macas is when the edge of the Amazon region starts to appear, (locals call it Oriente) with the start of tropical rainforest. Macas is the gateway to the least visited part of the Ecuador Oriente and has a good opportunity to visit the Shuar and Achuar tribes. This area is home to many Indigenous people and includes Quichua Indians, Quijos and Chibcha communities. It’s possible to visit many of these communities and to observe and sometimes participate in traditional dancing, the preparation of chicha (an alcoholic drink made by masticating maize, rice or yuca and fermenting the juice), shamanic rituals, and blowgun competitions. From here inland most roads, tracks are unpaved and subject to landslides and other delays, especially during the rainy weather.