In 2005 I arranged six weeks off work to travel to Miami to meet a friend. The Australian (as I refer to him,) had planned a back packing trek across South America and I was joining him for some of the journey. As a child I often dreamed of visiting far off places so I was very excited as part of the trip was to visit Peru and Machu Picchu one of those magical places so remote from me and my childhood, I didn`t imagine that in real life I would ever get to see it.
I have to say Miami airport is one of the most hostile airports I have ever transited through with steely faced security guards, armed with guns, hustling the queues. I waited for nearly two hours to get my eyes and finger tips scanned and it was pretty miserable but never mind, I was on my way to Ecuador. I finally got through to the transit lounge and spotted The Australian already waiting for me, looking every bit the old hippy with a red bandeau round his head, his long beard plaited and sun specs that hid his eyes giving him an air of mystery which I know he liked to cultivate.
When we arrived in Ecaudor it was still only afternoon so we had plenty of time to explore. The capital city Quito, is split into the old town and the new town and we stayed in the new town because Lonely Planet told us that the old town could be a bit dodgy for newcomers. Quito is very pretty with wonderful, white and imposing European style architecture everywhere, strongly influenced by 300 years of Spanish colonisation. Independence from Spain came to Ecuador in 1820.
It was quite modern in lots of ways with plenty of interesting shops to mill around and lots of decent places to eat, the main diet being fish soup, fish or meat, most notably guinea pig although I didn`t try that, it made me think of my guinea pig Buttercup and I simply couldn`t do it.
When you start to explore in South America, one of the first things you notice is the wiring. It`s horrendous, outside in the streets and on the walls, there are so many telephone wires and other bits and pieces of electrical wiring it adorns the buildings hanging down in festoons like complicated spiders` webs. The showers often don`t work or if you try to get them to work you risk being electrocuted so it`s easier just to take a cold one. The other thing is the noise of car horns. It is incessant and you have to get used to it because it will go on right through the night without abating and all through the day.
We arrived at a time of fiesta although having said that, much of South America parties a lot of the time mainly because of celebrations relating to Roman Catholicism. While I was travelling I witnessed some fantastic street parties and parades.
We walked out one evening to find somewhere to eat and came into a square where, set up in the centre was a huge construction a bit like the Whicker Man. There were hundreds of people and children gathered in a tight circle around it, a brass band playing to one side of the square so we stopped to see what would happen. A man lit the base of the construction and it soon became evident that the whole thing was one massive firework display which would never have got through health and safety in the UK. It was pretty scary as rockets and bangers fired off in rapid succession and crackerjacks shot along the ground into the screaming crowd. So we scarpered and went for a meal. It was dark when we came out and we became lost for a brief time. That was scary too as we were definitely being followed through the labyrinth of alley ways by a man who may have intended to steal from us but happily we found our way quickly back to the main square and the little hotel where we had a room.
The following day we went to explore the old town. We found a shop where we could book tickets to visit the Galapagos Islands. I didn`t have ebough money to do this but while in England, I had generally kept an eye on The Australian`s aged pa until he peacefully passed away. It was a pleasure, I loved the old fellow and so the ticket for the Galapagos was purchased for me as a thank you. I was absolutely thrilled. Just over one hour`s flight to some of the most fascinating islands in the world. We travelled to the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil on our way to the Galapagos and took in more ancient history relating to when the region became part of the Inca Empire in the 1400`s.
It was with huge anticipation I boarded the plane and with some fascination also as I observed two of the most beautiful black women coming on board. I had watched them sashaying along the path to the plane, hips swinging, shiny black hair bouncing around their shoulders, perfect makeup, glossy red lipstick, dressed in teeny tiny black mini skirts, skin tight white blouses and wearing very high black patent leather heels. Carrying themselves before them so to speak, I was pretty sure they were visiting the islands to (ahem) explore the wild life….. just not the kind of wild life I was about to discover!