Part VII - Ecuador - A View from the Top of the Train, Colonial Cuenca, and Whale Watching in Puerto Lopez

We didn't know what we were in for... all we knew is that the next day we would be sitting on the roof of a train for five hours down the Devil's Nose, an area which drops 1000 meters in less than half an hour.

We woke up at 5:30am that morning for the 7am train. After a quick but tasty and warm breakfast, we bought our train tickets at 6:15am and there was barely any room to sit on the train. The train was already packed with hundreds of other tourists (basically, the only reason the train is still running is because of this breath-taking ride). It is a good thing we rented cushions ($1 each) for the ride and brought a hat and gloves... as it would have been a long, cold, and uncomfortable ride otherwise! Let me sum up the experience in two ways: beautiful (for all the views of mountain ranges, farms, and valleys) and a little scary (there was no barrier on the top of the train to keep you from falling off... you just had to make sure you were sitting safely. And there certainly was no getting up and taking a good stretch while the train was running!). Unfortunately, the tracks seemed to be broken for the last hair-raising part so the train had to go back to Alausi.

All in all though, it was a fantastic five hour trip and this was definitely a must-do on any tourist's list!

From Alausi, we took a bus to Cuenca, the most well preserved Colonial city in Ecuador (four hours away). The town is full of churches and cathedrals and it is a great place to relax, visit modern art museums, enjoy exotic ice creams and pass around a frisbee!

We spent an equally relaxing time in Tena, one of the Orient's border towns. It was very relaxing, but I thought it would be a little more wild. As we stayed in a secondary forest area and was relatively close to major towns, there were no wild monkeys or birds, but then no mosquitos or many spiders either (yay!). We did have a very interesting tour of the various medicinal plants, enjoyed a tour in a motorized canoe, and even tried the fruit of the cocoa plant (alas, it didn't taste like chocolate)!

Our next stop would be to take a night bus (10 hours) to the coastal town of Puerto Lopez, which is a fishermen's village and a whale watcher's paradise! We saw one whale actually jump out of the water and make belly-flops for a total of five times! We also had a whale surface 1 meter away from our boat. What a thrill!

As for the Isla de Plata, also known as "the Poor Man's Galapagos", I cannot contain the same amount of excitement. There were very few birds to watch (and although we only walked one third of the island, I was surprised to see no sea lions!). I certainly don't recommended you to spend your money on this excursion (spend more time whale watching instead... they will blow you away!).

See below for pictures of our experiences in all these fantastic places (118 pictures):

With the arrival of my brother Marc tomorrow, I will begin the wildest trip of my life (and not just because I am travelling with my brother!). We will be going deep into the Amazon Jungle for six days and five nights in the Cuyabena Reserve, located in the NorthEastern Ecuadorian province of Sucumbios (near Colombia). I have heard this is the best place to see a variety of monkeys, moths, snakes, bugs, and... yes... SPIDERS!

To share with you some of the worst things I have heard about the spiders... here are two facts which will send shivers up your spine :

Social Spiders: As opposed to most spiders, which prefer solitary lives, this type of spider likes to hang out in groups... of hundreds!!!... all on a single spider web! Need I say more??

Tarantulas: The sting from their bite is like that of a big bee... but what is more interesting is that Tarantulas can shed their hair from their big hairy legs. This usually happens when they are spooked, so if you spot them on your clothes, it is best to leaves them to slowly (oh so slowly!) crawl off... otherwise you can end up with a bad skin rash from their leftover hairs.

So, wish me luck out there in no-(wo)man's-land!... and you can bet I will make a thorough investigation of my bed and my shoes before I get in them!!!!