Tag Archives: south america

A Whole New World: Banos, Ecuador!

Resting within a valley surrounded by giant green mountains with an active volcano nearby, is the hippie locale Banos. It’s quiet, extremely remote and relaxed. Bohemian in nature, vegetarian taverns, Hindu culture and native tribalism combine to form a spiritual wanderlust for those backpackers wishing to breakaway from the hustle and bustle of Quito.

Banos Ecuador

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A constant in Latin America has been the quality of the street art. Graffiti artists make the latter noun in that title genuine. Entire books could be published showcasing the phenomenal pieces from Chile to Ecuador! Unlike New York City and Melbourne, there are virtually no tags (shitty scribbles that make everything look horrible) and none of those typical, indecipherable word pieces which make entire cities look like crap. I’m unsure of the graffiti culture here, but in Melbourne it’s very cliquey, and rival crews get a rise out of painting over somebody else’s piece. Around the Americas, that’s not the case.

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It’s seriously relaxing here. Thermal springs and waterfalls are found throughout the city (in fact, our balcony at Chiminea Hostel has a mountain view, and on the mountain directly in front of us is a huge waterfall, and at the base of that waterfall? Hot springs)! Small massage parlours are dotted throughout the town, as well as handicraft stores, shopkeepers slinging toffee around wooden pegs and stretching it, and little huts making and selling sugarcane juice (the merchants slice up sugarcane and feed it into a manual steel machine which crushes it, extracting the raw juice). It’s high in vitamins and minerals, but also sugar, and is therefore high in calories. It gives you a major sugar high that leaves Redbull dead in its tracks! There are also fresh food markets with food stalls selling cheap eats, so it’s certainly a budget-friendly town.

Continuing the trend of Latin American street art, Banos passes on a positive message to its youth.
Continuing the trend of Latin American street art, Banos passes on a positive message to its youth.

There’s an active volcano here which tends to smoke up and explode with lava every other month. It’s called Tungurahua, and it can be frightening (after all, how many people elect to hike up the side of an active volcano, which constantly erupts?), but there aren’t too many places in the world where you can get up and close with a live volcano. So in an ironic twist, the relaxing hippie town of Banos has the potential – quite often – to be not so relaxing (at least for those close to Tungurahua during an eruption).

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Chopping up the sugar cane roots and feeding them through a manual juice extractor.
Chopping up the sugar cane roots and feeding them through a manual juice extractor.

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Banos has cool bohemian cafes and an alternative, hippie lifestyle
Banos has cool bohemian cafes and an alternative, hippie lifestyle

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Raw sugar cane juice - the Ecuadorian version of Red Bull!
Raw sugar cane juice – the Ecuadorian version of Red Bull!

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It’s difficult to explain the serenity here. There aren’t many places I’ve been to around the world where one can feel truly isolated. Banos also has a great Spanish tavern whose name escapes me, but it was run by a big jolly man from Malaga, who in typical Mediterranean fashion, made us feel like family as soon as we entered. As the night went on in the tavern, he was having a dinner party with his Colombian wife and friends at the next table over. Drunkenly, he came over and started pouring us shots and served us more wine. On the way out, he and his wife implored us to visit Colombia which we never did, regrettably, since so many backpackers told us it was the best country in South America!

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In a couple of days we will go to a place far, far away, and witness for ourselves what life on Earth looks like in Mother Nature’s exact vision, sheltered away from natural predators and evolution: Galápagos Islands!

 

All You Need Is Ecuador: Quito!

Ah, Quito – one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America that we all must stop off at at least once. Almost every backpacker rates this city as the most likely one to be robbed in, beaten up in, or kidnapped in. Express kidnappings in taxis are commonplace – they are not rare, but a given – and as a result, everything from local restaurants to backpacker hostels, to Subway and beyond display signs reading “CAUTION: ASK THE MANAGER TO CALL A TAXI FOR YOU TO GET HOME SAFELY”. Yes, even the sandwich artist is concerned for you, and the armed security guard standing next to him. Who knew going out for a sandwich could be so dangerous?

foch square

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Quito is actually a well-developed city which has perfect roads, is rubbish-free, and has friendly locals. Ecuadorians are the best, and always greet you with a smile and some banter. At night time, apparently not even locals like to stay out for long in Quito, as the city becomes quite shady. Drug dealers stroll past you whispering “Coca, marijuana?” and taxis are known to stop in predetermined locations, where their friends jump inside, beat you up, hold guns or knives to you and force you to empty your bank account at a local ATM. We’ve all heard about these express kidnappings in Latin America, but apparently it’s so common in Quito that it’s a reasonable expectation as a traveller, in the event you aren’t scrupulous with your choice of taxi.

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Quito

Quito

Quito loves its pubs and bars, and has great Ecuadorian and American food available throughout the city. After a bit of a lacklustre culinary experience in Brazil, it was exciting to arrive in a country which has a passion for delicious food. Plaza Foch is the main square you’ll want to stay near, and you’ll want to stay close to avoid having to take cabs late at night (even though they’re cheap).

One of the most interesting experiences this trip has been immersing ourselves into the cultures and ways of life in Latin American countries that don’t have good relations with the US. What do I mean by that? Well, if you listened to George Bush in the past (not that many did), you’d be afraid to go south of the border. US relations in most of these countries are strained, and after a fair few public blunders in recent decades (as well as the release of WikiLeaks), it’s logical to say that there are two sides to every story. Don’t let one party’s side dictate your opinion about a country.

This isn’t a blog for politics though, and politics has never affected anybody’s propensity to travel (unless you’re an American, in which case your government – not Castro’s – has banned you from travelling to Cuba). Point is, if you have a curiosity about somewhere, go there. Don’t read the hyped up stories on the Internet about everything second and third world being a hellish pit of pending regrets. It’s not.

While a place like Quito has a reputation by night, it’s more than accommodating, friendly and filled with fantastic cultural experiences by day. Most backpackers agree that if you only have one country to visit in South America, make it Ecuador: It has the Amazon jungle, amazing mountain regions, Galapagos Islands and charming cities.

As they say, “All you need is Ecuador!”

 

Tropical Brazilian Paradise Off The Coast Of Salvador!

A few hours by boat off the coast of Salvador lies a tropical Brazilian paradise. Morro De São Paulo has everything the perfect beach getaway should have: The absence of gigantic five star hotel resorts (which tend to kill local vibes and replace them with clinical, standardised, culture-less objects), bright blue water, soft white sand, locally-caught seafood (you see fisherman rushing in buckets of prawns from the beach to the restaurant kitchens), and a true bohemian vibe running from the villas to the sunset lookouts.

If you want to disappear and experience a different Brazil, one that could be a Hollywood location for anything from Castaway to The Beach, then look no further: Morro De São Paulo keeps hotel chains out, and local culture in!
Be sure to check out Toca for chilled music, grandiose sunsets overlooking a vast panoramic ocean, and live music. This is one island you really could spend the rest of your life in!20140719-151222-54742263.jpg

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