Exe-rated runners!

Exe-rated runners!
The successful Harriers team, en masse, at the Erme Valley Relays, July 2013

Friday, 25 January 2013

Trucks and tribulations for Katie in Lima!

Exmouth Harrier on Tour
Leg 4 Quito to Lima

Having literally just returned from Cotopaxi and had a shower, my new co-driver Michaela was knocking on my door to find me wrapped in a towel! First impressions don’t seem to have done any harm though – we get on like a house on fire! A quick change of clothes and I joined her to take my new truck, Cindy, to the truck park and get acquainted. Cindy is an experience. She has a cronky gearbox, and a replacement was in customs at Quito, but they wouldn’t release it because it wasn’t painted green… The gearbox is now going on travels of it’s own to Miami to be painted before arriving at La Paz – hopefully. In the mean time we have the equivalent of a gym workout every time we drive her to hold 3rd, 5th and 6th gears in place whilst driving to make sure they don’t pop out!!

The next day was spent in the truck park preparing Cindy for our new group, and wielding a screwdriver, filler and paint. We met our new group – a mix of Brits, Aussies and a New Zealander for a group meal in the evening which gave us all chance to get to know each other, before an early start to head towards Coca the following day.  The drive was amazing, with rather good views of Cotopaxi which was slightly odd knowing that I had been at the summit less than 48 hours previous. Unfortunately due to a problem with a bridge en route we had to take a long way round and an extra 3 hours of driving to get to our destination, but still had chance to stop at a roadside restaurant for very good soup, pork and potatoes for $2.00. Temperatures were soaring as we reached the jungle and a cold shower was very welcome! It didn’t take us long to spy a cocktail bar where we enjoyed one (or two) delicious cocktails.

The first day of our jungle experience dawned with a 7 hour boat trip down the Rio Napo. The River Napo is part of the Amazon basin, and is one of the tributary rivers for the Amazon. A brief stop for lunch on an idyllic beach at the side of the river and some monkeying around completed an enjoyable trip to our home for the next three nights in the jungle lodge of Panacocha which is one of the most beautiful areas of the rainforest that I have seen.  The evening was spent swinging in hammocks and making up a song called ‘Cindy, Oh Cindy’.

Day two involved a morning walk through the jungle, wildlife spotting, eating lemon ants, some tree hugging moments, and melting in the humidity. As soon as we got back to the lunch we were straight in the river to cool down, and had a vine climbing competition with one of our guides, Omar, which I did quite well at.  Tarzan would have been jealous! After lunch we took a boat trip down to a natural lake to do some more wildlife spotting and a bit more swimming. The water was so warm – it was lovely! Great hilarity ensued when one of the passengers, Bertie, tried to get back into the boat. I had to give him a leg up while another pax pulled him in. End result: two feet sticking out over the edge and a stuck Bertie! The evening was completed by the guides giving us jungle tattoos using a natural dye which lasts approximately 10 days. Mine was supposed to be symbolic of an anaconda, but we all agreed that it looks like a sprouting coconut.

The following day I was up early with four other passengers to go for a trip up the river in a dug out canoe, for some more wildlife spotting. We had literally been on the river for 5 minutes when the heavens opened with the type of rain that puts the ‘rain’ into ‘rainforest’. We turned back and in 5 minutes the canoe was a quarter full of rain water!! Bertie and I made the decision to hide in the hammocks until breakfast and have hammock wars. Unfortunately we were a little loud and acted as a very effective alarm clock for our other passengers!

After breakfast we were back in the boat and heading out for a very soggy jungle walk.  Only four passengers were brave enough to join me and guides, traipsing through the rainforest. It was worth the trip as we did get to see howler monkeys, and the jungle was beautiful in the rain, even if I did have an inch of water at the bottom of my wellies!  An afternoon spent sheltering from the rain, and we were back out in the dark caiman spotting, after which Omar tried helping me with my abysmal Spanish!

Day four and it was time to leave Panacocha. Back on the boat and the rain had brought out all of the wildlife. We saw more howler monkeys, toucans, Morpho butterflies, a variety of birds, social spiders, and then the motor on the boat broke. It still worked but on reduced power so we continued to make our way up river until eventually our guides flagged down a local bus boat. Transferring boats from one to the other, Bertie went to sit down next to a plastic bag which promptly started squawking – he had nearly sat on a chicken, let out a shrill shriek and had the whole boat in stitches! 

An early start got us underway for a long drive day back out of the jungle towards Rio Verde. More spectacular scenery and twisting mountain roads Set off to Rio Verde.  A quick stop at a roadside restaurant for a lunch of chicken soup, pork ribs and chips, oat & passion fruit drink. We finally arrived at our campsite called Pequeno Paradisio, or Little Paradise which summed it up perfectly.

I actually got up early the following day and went for a short run to the village of Rio Verde before breakfast.  We then got kitted out to go canyoning.  For those of you who are unsure what canyoning is, it involves going down a river on foot, jumping over waterfalls, abseiling, ziplines and sliding down natural slides. It is great fun and we all had an amazing time. We followed the experience with a bus ride into Banos where my passengers were keen to try a bridge swing, which is very similar to a bungee jump except you have to jump off a bridge. Frankly I can’t think of anything less appealing but I agreed to give it a go. Two attempts, numerous temper tantrums, tears and all over shaking with fear they finally pushed me! I can honestly say I would never ever do it again and brought the photos to prove I’d done it! The evening was spent playing silly games as it was the campsite owners Birthday, resulting in Mic and myself winning the cereal box game.

Another early start for another run – this time for an hour and down to a beautiful waterfall. There is still enough altitude at Rio Verde for me to question my rashness on my way back out of the valley! I then spent the morning working on the truck, before making my way to Rio Verde for some empanadas – cheese & chicken followed by choc & banana.  In the absence of any buses we ended up taking local transport to Banos which was a bit like being transported on a cattle truck! Finally arrived we treat3ed ourselves to a massage, and found some chocolate, cheese and red wine – luxury!

Back on the road the following day, we headed back into the mountains en route for Chugchilan, with a stop for some ‘Papas con Cuy’ for lunch – potoatoes and guinea pig!! Personally I quite enjoy the taste, but it’s not for everyone. The drive took us through beautiful scenery, along twisting mountain roads, and with plenty of opportunity for truck porn – a silly competition I started to see who can get the best photo of Cindy in stunning locations. At the hostel we enjoyed good food, and local folk music and dancing in the evening.

The next day was a trekking day. Transported by a cattle truck ride to the Laguna Quilotoa, an emerald green lake, we then trekked back down the mountain. The weather was fantastic and we had amazing views to neighbouring volcanoes in the area, including Cotopaxi again!

Driving out the following day took us off road through the southern part of Quilotoa loop. A narrow dirt road with large drops to the side, and un-navigable in bad weather, this route is well worth taking when the opportunity arises as the scenery Panama hat actually originates. The hats are manufactured in Cuenca, exported to Panama and then shipped Worldwide, hence the name.  Whilst in Cuenca we took a visit to a hat factory where I ended up walking away with a red Panama hat as my new driving hat. Mic and I then spent the rest of the day trying to fix the fridge in Cindy, sadly without success. We did however find a large pair of pale green granny pants for our passengers to wear whenever they call Cindy a B U S – she is not a bus, she is a TRUCK! Bertie immediately made the faux par and ended up wearing the pants over his clothes to the restaurant that evening.

Back on the truck the following day, we crossed the border form Ecuador to Peru at Tumbes, and made our way to a beachside campsite at Puenta Sal, with little beach shacks and a restaurant that makes the most amazing passion fruit piscos which the whole group appreciated! A good evening followed with music and dancing with the locals, including a rather attractive young man called Nicolas, an architect and surfer who turned out to be a very good dancer.

The following morning was spent relaxing on the beach (aka recovery from a hangover!), and swimming in the pacific.  I was going to have a surfing lesson but the surf was too big for a beginner – next time! Chilled on hammocks, then went into town to change money, and explore. Tried lumuca ice cream – lovely! The evening was much quieter than the previous night, and some of the locals (inc Nicolas) joined us again.

Back on Cindy with a very early start, we made our way to Huanchaca, via a brief visit to some Inca tombs. Once at Huanchaca I spent the remaining afternoon doing work.  It was a little bit of a reality check as Huanchaca is quite touristy – a complete contrast to the previous two days. However, the pre-Inca settlement of Chan Chan are located at Huanchaca.  The ruins are all adobe built and the detail still remaining is incredible Our guide, Edith, was amazing. Really informative with a great sense of humour.

Finally we reached the last day of the trip, with another long drive day to our end point at Lima.  The traffic was eventful but we reached the hotel unscathed. Unfortunately en route I’m ashamed to say I mentioned the dreaded B word and had to wear the truck pants out to the restaurant that evening. Undeterred I put on the little black dress and wore them with my head held high and STILL got called a pretty woman. Maybe granny pants really are the way forward…???      

Meet Cindy: the troublesome truck!

"The type of rain that puts the word 'rain' into rainforest"!

Katie, just hanging around!

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