Ecuador salvaje

***Deutsche Version***
 

Countless animals, action-packed adventures and crazy bus and taxi journeys—we would describe our experiences in Ecuador as simply wild.

Magical wildlife on the Galapagos Islands

 

For once, we start at the end of the story. We sped along a national park road at 140 km/h, 70 km/h too fast, to the other end of the island of Santa Cruz. Just a few minutes earlier, we had ordered breakfast together with the British couple from the workaway, and the anticipation of our upcoming tour was immeasurable. Ten phone calls and several messages from our agent later, we were running around in circles like mad chickens looking for a taxi. When we found one, the waiter ran after us with our drinks as a takeaway. We had just missed the time of our tour by an hour, and nobody could explain how this could have happened to us. So we sat in the taxi and couldn't enjoy the beautiful landscape for the life of us.

A glance around the group showed how differently people react in such situations. Adam listened to music and seemed to pray that we would make it to the boat in time. Jana had already thought of a thousand ways to apologise to the group if we did make it in time. Dominik tried to reconstruct how this could have happened and had already come to terms with the fact that he had wasted 185 dollars that Adam had so successfully negotiated down. A glance forward to the passenger seat revealed a completely different emotional state. Heidi's face showed pure joy, and she seemed to enjoy the action-packed situation. 

A very bizarre situation, but if everything had gone smoothly, we wouldn't be mentioning it here. To answer the crucial question of whether we made it or not: we made it at the last minute, thanks to our speeding taxi. As soon as we arrived, we glided across the totally calm water and were able to watch some wonderful scenes from the deck of the boat. We saw jumping manta rays, turtles coming to the surface to breathe, and in the crystal-clear water, we could also watch a huge school of dolphins playfully swimming along with the almost floating boat and repeatedly breaking the water's surface. This was followed by three snorkelling trips with sharks, incredibly large schools of fish and all kinds of starfish. 


The return journey against the current wasn't quite so calm, and our pulse rate shot up again. Firstly, Jana lost her cap in a combination of rough waves and strong gusts of wind. Then we saw Jana disappear into the Pacific Ocean. We all jumped up at the same time and were relieved to see that she was luckily still holding on to a railing. 

Back on the island, we were greeted with sunshine, and Jana's cap was even found again. It was ominously stuck to the back of the boat. The journey back to Puerto Ayora was very pleasant, and this time, we were able to enjoy the scenery at a comfortable speed. A great day to round off an unforgettable week on the Galapagos Islands.

We visited all three populated Galapagos Islands during these eight days. We were greeted on San Christobal by hundreds of sea lions, who were romping around on the beach and could also be found on the street or on benches throughout the town. We were glad to finally be here, as the incredibly bad UX during the mandatory registration process almost got on our last nerve. There were also some problems with the AirBnB we had booked. After booking, the owners told us that the price had unfortunately been advertised incorrectly and that we would actually have to pay four times as much. After some back and forth, we found ourselves in the middle and were finally able to concentrate on the essentials—simply enjoying this animal paradise.

A huge highlight was snorkelling with the giant sea turtles, sea lions and, in the end, the long-awaited hammerhead sharks. But it wasn't just on the paid tours that we saw incredible things this week. On the island of Isabela, we went on a hike along the sea. On our way, we saw several giant tortoises, a female sea lion nursing her young, countless iguanas, pelicans fishing, a small penguin darting around our legs in the water, and a flamingo. We couldn't stop marvelling as we were able to observe all the animals out in the wild without having to look for them and without a guide. 

Together with our travelling companions Heidi and Adam, we complemented each other perfectly. While Heidi speaks fluent Spanish and Adam, as the king of negotiating skills, negotiated brilliant prices for our tours, we were responsible for organising accommodation and restaurants. As stereotypical Swiss people, we also helped out with our bank cards when it proved impossible to withdraw cash with British bank cards. The two of them are also pros at imitating animals. There was only one rule for the imitations: “all-in”. Shame was definitely out of place, and they managed to make us make monkeys of ourselves (as we would say in German), or rather turtles. Thank you Heidi and Adam for the inspiring animal imitations and thank you for the unforgettable time we had together!

When DJ became DJV
 

After the Galapagos Islands, it was time to say hello to Vera. Our good friend accompanied us for 3.5 weeks on the rest of our trip through Ecuador and the southern part of Colombia. We could hardly wait to see someone from home again after more than four months. On the rainy journey from the airport to our hostel, we talked non-stop for more than an hour and exchanged all kinds of gossip.

On the second evening, Vera met our new friends Heidi and Adam over dinner. The two of them were once again on top form. They told their story about the intensive gift shopping at the Otavalo market. Then it was time to say goodbye and the two of them set off on an overnight bus to the Amazon.


 

We spent the first few days in the capital, Quito, exploring the city, visiting the famous Otavalo market and “El Mitad del Mundo” (the centre of the earth). At the equator, it is not only possible to jump particularly high due to the lower gravity, but it is also easier to place a raw egg on a nail without it falling. Dominik and Vera both managed this and proudly received their “Egg Master Certificate”. Another fun fact is that water flows without rotation at the equator, clockwise in the southern hemisphere and anti-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. By moving a mobile washbasin by just a few metres, we were able to test this for ourselves on-site.

Action, fun and superstition


From the capital, we travelled on to Baños. The town is famous for hiking and various action sports. In addition to a hike in extreme heat and humidity, we also ventured on a river rafting tour. A few times we thought we were going to capsize after a big rapid, but somehow we always managed to regain control of the rubber boat. Dominik had to take several unintentional paddle strokes from an uncoordinated German in front of him, but we were wearing helmets for something. It wasn't just us, but Vera also had a lot of fun river rafting, although it wasn’t her first choice for a trip. To round off these days, we visited one of the countless thermal baths to which Baños owes its name.

On the night bus, we travelled on to the white city of Cuenca, famous for its woven straw hats. A little sleepy, we took part in a guided city tour. As it was Tuesday, we were able to observe a special ritual at the market. On this day, so-called purifications are carried out. Indigenous women beat you with a bunch of flowers. You are then scanned all over your body with a raw egg, which is then cracked open. The women read your diagnosis from the egg and then treat you with some tincture, massage you in certain places or spread ashes on your head. Jana took part in this ritual. It was all a bit absurd but exciting and amusing to watch. After the treatment, you weren't allowed to say thank you for superstitious reasons, and you weren't allowed to shower until the next day.

 

This ominous treatment might have been good for Vera, as she felt worse and worse afterwards until finally, the altitude sickness kicked in completely. Unfortunately, the following day, we were only able to make the hike to Cajas National Park on our own. We weren't in top form either, as it was our 24th hike and in particularly nasty conditions this time.  The path was pretty Scottish, i.e. wet, slippery and unrecognisable in places.


After a few slips, we arrived at the windy summit, and despite the beautiful panorama, Jana's first reaction was: “Can't we just not go hiking in the next few days?” Dominik agreed with a grin, but at this point, we had no other option but to tackle the descent again on foot or by sliding down on our bums.

 

A chicken broth in the evening helped Vera regain her strength the next day, and we decided to move on to Olón on the Pacific coast. The journey retook us through the Cajas National Park, and Vera was also rewarded with a wonderful mountain panorama. 

Balm for the soul
 

The days in Olón were really relaxing for body and soul. We had probably the most beautiful accommodation of the past four months, let off steam cooking multi-course meals in the kitchen, went on a leisurely bike tour with oversized beach cruisers, were able to watch jumping whales, and treated ourselves to delicious passion fruit mojitos at a cute beach bar.

 

More adventurous bus journeys took us to our last stop in Ecuador, Mindo. This small village in the Andes is known for its sustainable cultivation of cocoa and coffee. With its beautiful cloud forests, the village is also home to one of the world's highest diversity of bird species. During a visit to a coffee roastery, we learnt the most important steps involved in roasting coffee beans and local preparation. The following day was dedicated to birdwatching. Our tour got off to a very slow start, and after the first half hour, we asked ourselves why we were “doing this” to ourselves at 7 o'clock in the morning.

But it was worth getting up. Just a little later, we were able to observe a special species of bird with incredibly long legs feeding its young. This was followed by a food tour of the local forest, and we were able to try cardamom, ginger, passion fruit, a special type of lemon mandarin and even termites at the end. Dominik and Vera shoved the latter into their mouths without batting an eyelid, so Jana couldn't help but try them too. By the way, it tastes like pepper, in case you're wondering.

But the absolute highlight came at the end of the tour. They handed us small containers of sugar water and large local flowers. Not a minute passed and countless hummingbirds in all colours flew in. With their 40 to 50 wing beats per second (!), they sound like a giant bumblebee as they approach. They are able to fly in a standing position and sip nectar from any flower with their long tongues. We watched the little birds feasting for ages and completely lost track of time. This experience was a wonderful and fitting end to our visit to the land of magical wildlife. 

 

We had a brilliant time in Ecuador, and the DJV trio worked really well right from the start. We crossed the Colombian border by various means of transport, as unfortunately there have been no direct buses since COVID-19. Contrary to many horror stories, crossing the border by bus and taxi went completely smoothly, and we were looking forward to our last week together with Vera in southern Colombia.

 

As you've only ever heard our side of things so far, we'll hand over the floor to Vera at this point. She will tell you some of her impressions in the following lines. 

DJV on Tour

 

As the V in DJV on Tour, I won't miss the opportunity to share some impressions from Ecuador and Colombia. I could tell you about hummingbirds, an unexpected whale sighting, delicious passion fruit mojitos “a la playa” or fill pages about my wonderful travelling companions. However, I don't want to write about this old friendship here, but about a new one.


 

As a real train and bike lover, I have found new friends—buses in all sizes and colours. With or without party lights. With a rucksack in the rear, side or egg compartment. With a toilet or almost always without a toilet, but always with unplanned stops and brief visits from street vendors.


You don't just travel on a bus here—you live here. What I consider a relatively public space is used by everyone here as an extension of the private sphere. Children are changed, people make phone calls, buy socks, eat “arroz con salsa”, set loud alarm clocks, kiss and cuddle, watch videos of twerking women and sleep wrapped up in a poncho. A movie plays for everyone, usually with a warlike plot and Bruce Willis. Las Lágrimas del Sol seems to be the favourite—we must have watched it at least three times. However, this doesn't stop anyone from watching their own film at full volume on their phone. The bus journeys also allow spontaneous conversations with seat neighbours using hands and feet and a little Spanish.

The bus journeys also offer plenty of excitement in other respects. This starts with the ticket purchase. As soon as you set foot in the terminal, you are harassed by loudly shouting salespeople and dragged to the right booth. The bus then always leaves “ahorita”—ii.e. right now. The only way to find out the other departure times is to ask very firmly several times. As a result, we run onto the bus with our three large rucksacks, three small rucksacks and two bum bags and desperately ask for a toilet. Other challenges await us on the bus journey itself. For example, as I write these lines on the bus from Popayan to Neiva, our bus is bumping along a dilapidated mountain road. The challenge of writing and at the same time not falling onto the person sitting next to us or into the aisle should not be underestimated. 

It also became clear relatively quickly—apart from the safety line-ignoring drivers (this point will not be discussed further, as our mums are reading this text)—that the greatest danger is drinking during or just before the bus journey. The sips of water are therefore carefully measured. The slightly sweaty climate due to the lack of air conditioning was not a disadvantage, at least for the bladder. 

 

The bus journeys almost always take us through the Andes. This leads to some hardship but constantly rewards us with fantastic views of the mountains. So travelling by bus is not just a means to an end, but also a sightseeing tour. 

 

After 14 buses, 8 minibuses, 18 taxis, 6 Ubers and 4 jeeps, I leave DJ on Tour to themselves again (let's be honest, this name sounds much better anyway) and travel back to the other end of the world in 18 hours in comfort.
 


Note DJ on Tour

 

We would like to point out that the bus journeys from Ecuador were also a downgrade for us. In previous countries, we were usually spoilt with incredibly comfortable seats that could be reclined 180 degrees and offered more comfort than a seat on an economy flight. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Vera once again. Thank you so much for travelling all this way to visit us. It was an unforgettable trip, and we miss our “Estrella del mar”!

Ecuador

To live up to our name DJ on Tour, here is a song that accompanied us during this time. The singer of the song is the agent who sold us the almost missed tour on the Galapagos Islands. Unfortunately, we missed the song release party by a few days. 

Gallery

Logo DJ on tour

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