Elvis Lives

Joined May 2016
  • Day640

    Isla del Plata (Silver Island)

    February 15, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ☁️ 21 °C

    After our unscheduled stop in Guayaquil we hightailed it to the coast, along with every Ecuadorian - little did we know this was the start of 'Carnival' a big holiday and everyone gets Monday and Tuesday off, mucho drinking ensues!

    We were a little worried that everything would be full but when we got to a gorgeous little campsite called Jardin Suizo in Puerto Cayo we were the only campers. The Swiss owner Sam welcomed us and as we settled in a German couple Monica and Florian arrived so we had a few beers.

    We absolutely loved this campsite - beautiful gardens full of birds, a great hangout area, fast wifi, an honor system bar and a well equipped kitchen. To top it all off Sam was a wonderful host, such a kind man who was always bringing out fresh juice, watermelon, cheese and even Cuba libres one night. It was a pleasure to talk to him and hear all about his travels as he worked on big ships for a lot of his life.

    We sat out most of the Carnival at Sam's, although we did go to the big concert by the apparently famous Argentinean band (forgotten their name!). Everyone was pretty hammered and spraying foam about, but it was all in good spirits (apart from the policemen who were obviously a target for the subtle sprayer!) .

    We eventually tore ourselves away and headed down the coast to Puerto Lopez, where you can do a boat trip to Isla de Plata, known as the poor man's Galapagos. As we approached the island our boat made an abrupt u-turn and suddenly we were cruising amongst a huge pod of 100+ dolphins, right beside the boat and the young ones were playing and jumping right out of the water! On the island we were lead hiking by a naturalist and got to see blue footed boobies, including their fluffy babies (which don't yet have blue feet - that takes about 2 years to develop!) and frigate birds some of which were courting so the males puffed out their huge red chest. The sun came out and back on the boat we were amazed to have turtles surround us before we went for a little snorkel to cool off. I'm sure it isn't a patch on the real Galapagos (definitely a tiny fraction of the cost) but we really enjoyed our little taster and we felt satisfied that we had done Ecuador really well - next stop Peru!
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  • Day636

    3rd Mechanic In A Week!

    February 11, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    Auuuugh the noise is back again... Luckily we were near a recommended mechanic (our friends with a 1979 Dodge van are a great resource for mechanics!) and they got to work. We couldn't get the parts we needed so off Phil went with the lead mechanic, and they found some engineers who apparently rebuilt it stronger than the original - let's hope they are right.

    There was also another overlanding couple, although without a vehicle - they had got on so well with the lovely family who runs the place (they did spent 4 weeks there) they had gone back to visit a year later! We were invited out with them all for some delicious Venezuelan areas and we only had to spend one night - not such a bad breakdown!
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  • Day633

    Boxes, boxes, boxes...

    February 8, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Parque National de Cajas (Boxes) annoyed us a little as they were so strict about dogs that we even got shouted at for letting Maya have a pee in the gravel car park. We nearly left straight away, but much to Maya's annoyance (she knows when we put on hiking gear) we decided to go for a walk away. She rewarded us with chewing my new Panama hat (no, they don't come from Panama but Ecuador) bolsa wood box to smithereens.

    Despite this I was super glad we walked as it was gorgeous scenery with lumpy outcrops (hence boxes) and small lakes everywhere. It wasn't an easy hike up to the 4,000 odd summit with a path winding up narrow gullies where there was no right to be a way through, but the rewards at the top were breathtaking.

    As the walk only took a few hours we decided to carry on down the road to find a camping spot, and despite setting off in bright sunshine we soon were enveloped in clouds so we could barely see the next dashed white line in the centre of the road. After 2 hours we emerged from the mist and found ourselves 4,000 metres lower in the flat land that runs to the coast. We found what was described as thermales but was in fact a slightly warm, slightly smelly concrete pools full of slightly annoying kids! Nevertheless it was nice to clean up and it made a good place to camp for the night, but the dramatic change in altitude meant we back in the hot and sweaty climate for the foreseeable future.
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  • Day632

    Cuenca

    February 7, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Elvis developed a familiar sounding rattle so we stopped at a little mechanic in the hills and he replaced yet another grommet on our front shocks (a new one this time). We were there for nearly an hour and he ended up asking for a whopping $5 to cover it!

    The following day as we were cruising down into Cuenca I felt the brakes give a little and then be a little soft so we needed our second mechanic in as many days. Fortunately it was an easy fix as when the rear wheel was taken apart what was left of our brake pad fell out. In this part of the world they don't replace, but rebuild pads like this so the next day we were as good as new again.

    Luckily we found a mechanic a few hundred metres down the road from where we were camping for free by the river, and he was a super nice dude. After letting me speak in bad Spanish for an hour he told us in excellent English how he'd studied psychology for a year in the states before running out of money and returning home to run a garage. He couldn't be helpful enough, gave us a discount we hadn't asked for a did a bunch of other work for free.

    We spent a few more days around the town of Cuenca. The climate here is an ex-pats paradise so although there wasn't much to do it more than made up for it in the food and drink department. The highlight was a gorgeous fondue that made up for missing out on one for my birthday. There was also a bunch of excellent microbreweries which made a really nice change from all the pilsner style beers you get in Central/South America.

    It would be amiss not to mention the amazing Pumapungo archilogical site we camped right at the gate of. It was a large hill complex with an incredible garden full of the foods that they would have grown in pre-conquistadors times plus a great museum. My favourite exhibit was about the jungle tribes that used to shrink the heads of emenies they captured, and they had some amazing exhibits that made me think of that Queen song...

    The biggest disappointment was a big constitutional election clashing with the super bowl, which for some reason meant no alcohol sales. I find American football hard enough to watch at the best of times (I normally either fly or go to the cinema, normally alone, when its on) but a dry game would have been unpalatable so we found a Chinese restaurant instead (who bizarrely hadn't got the no booze memo :)
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  • Day629

    Ingapirca

    February 4, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    On the way down to Cuenca we stopped for a night at Ingapirca, an archilogical site. Although we spent the previous day and noon a cloud we woke to a glorious morning and we could see the amazing ruins spread out in front of us.

    There was an English speaking guide included in the $2 entrance fee (I love Ecuador!) and it really brought the place alive.

    It was originally settled by the Cañari people, who worshipped the moon and made their buildings out of river stones. Then along came the Incans, and usually for this part of the world there wasn't a lot of bloodshed and both lived happily alongside each other. The Incans worshipped the sun, so built a sun temple mirroring the moon one at the other end of the site.

    The Incans have incredible stone working skills and made there walls by making the rocks fit perfectly together, negating the need for any mortar. Their architectural skills where also amazing - they built 4 recesses into the walls which housed golden statues and each one lit up on a solstice or key date. This then dictated everything about daily life, from planting to harvesting and even when to wash your clothes. Our guide still believes that if you wash clothes more than 5 days after the new moon they will wear out much quicker!
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  • Day627

    Monkey Business

    February 2, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    After our second dip in the pools we decided we really needed to get back on the road so leaving Banos behind us we descended on the eastern side of the Andes down towards the amazon jungle. On the way we stopped when we saw another overlander vehicle parked up by a lovely clear river and spent an enjoyable evening with Todd & Alex from Oregon. In the morning we visited the amazing Devil's Cauldron waterfalls before heading on down the windy an tunnely (definitely should be a word) mountain road.

    Unsurprisingly it got very hot and sticky very quickly. We'd already visited the amazon proper on our last trip and didn't think Elvis was very well suited to the climate, plus after a year+ of hot and sticky I was already missing the fresh mountain air, so we didn't spend long down low.

    We did find a fantastic animal rescue place. There was no-one of the door so our first encounter was with a very friendly little monkey who just wanted to hold our fingers. Delving a little deeper in we found many more of the cheeky chappies, not least 2 guys that jumped down from above and took a particular liking to Jo's shoulders!

    I was happy as we were soon climbing again and before I knew it we were back up at 4,000m in the gorgeous Sangay NP. There was uproar when they originally built the road through it, but there was practically no traffic on it and I was very happy that they did. We eventually came to rest beside a smattering of gorgeous high altitude lakes with the clouds rolling in. I just love landscape and climates like this.
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  • Day626

    Bathing in Banos

    February 1, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    After the effort of Cotopaxi I definitely needed some R&R! I felt a lot better after a hot shower and a decent night's sleep at the Hacienda just outside the park. We then drove south, losing altitude consistently as we went, down to the lovely town of Banos. This place is blessed by hot springs in the middle of town and they have a lovely hot pools set below a waterfall cascading down the several hundred metre cliffs above. Needless to say I didn't need asking twice!

    Jo treated us to a hotel room with Xmas and birthday money the family had kindly given, and it was great to have a lazy day around the town. It's quite a touristy place, which normally we don't like but after this long on the road we love the variety of food you can get from the expats who have settled in the area. We couldn't quite bring ourselves to splurge on a $21 pp fondue, but we did find a fantastic raclette place for a quarter of the price - in fact it was so good we ate their twice. We also had to get in another dip in the pools before we left.

    I'm between the eating and soaking we drove up onto the cliff and spent a morning acting like kids at Casa Del Arbol, with its famous 'swing at the end of her world'. Maya is so adventurous I even got her on the zip line with me! We shared our camp spot with a couple of alpacas, and Maya was hilarious trying to make friends! That evening we were sitting in the restaurant building when it felt like someone was jumping on the roof, as it got worse it dawned on us it was a pretty big earthquake (5.2) and we gathered outside with the locals looking worryingly at the huge volcano towering above us.
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  • Day623

    Cotopaxi Conquered!!!

    January 29, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    After we geared up in Latacunga and headed straight to Cotopaxi National Park, with Ben in tow. We somehow got Elvis to 4,500 m up a really, really bad dirt road to just below the parking lot. To give you an idea of how steep it was, when stopped looking for a parking spot Elvis started to slowly slide backwards!! I hastily parked, pointing the wheels onto the hill to make sure he was still there when we returned. We all hiked up the steep scree slope to the refugio (mountain hut) and then a few hundred metres on to acclimatise some more (climb high, sleep low).

    A lazy morning followed before our guide picked me & Ben up at lunchtime, Jo nervously waved us off and we drove back to the refugio. Going up the same slope with full climbing gear and a heavy bag was a different proposition, and we then chilled at the refugio, had a nice dinner, and tried to get a few hours sleep. Lying in bed at 7pm with your heart racing at twice its normal rate just from the altitude, let alone the excitement of what was to come, wasn't the most conducive to sleep and I'd just about dropped off when we were woken at 11pm to get ready.

    The summit needs to be attempted at night as during the day the sun makes the ice bridges more dangerous and increases the risk of avalanches. Its a 6-8 hour climb, not to mention getting down again. After a poor breakfast of a piece of dry bread we set off just after midnight. As we were two days before the full moon (officially a super blue blood moon - google it!) it was a very clear night, which meant we didn't really need our headlamps but it was pretty damn cold (I guesstimate about - 10C). We reached the snow line almost immediately and soon hit the glacier where we stopped to put on our crampons and rope up.

    The first couple of hours weren't to bad - damn steep and the air was thin, but we were both feeling strong. Then we hit Rampa Rompecorazones (aka Heartbreak Ramp) - it was 200m vertical climb at over 45 degrees. It may not sound that bad but when the air is that thin and it's that steep you have to stop every 20 or so steps to suck some air into your lungs. Still, at this point we were only under half way and we both still felt fairly good.

    The next bit was a bit more level (i.e. about 30 incline!) up to Yanasacha Spur, alongside a huge blue glacial cliff you could easily see the from the bottom of the mountain. To get around it you traverse up Yanasacha Ramp, and it was back to the 50° slope. At this point we were getting on for 4 hours in and I was really starting to feel it. My drink had frozen and it was so hard to breathe that it was difficult to even try and force a few M&Ms down for energy.

    Once past the ramp and at the top of the cliff you feel like you are close, and you know that there is no way you are not going to make it, but the last 100m climb was so so tough. It think it must have taken us an hour as you can only got a few steps without your lungs crying for mercy. Fatigue was definitely setting in and it was the coldest part of the night, with a vicious wind whipping through your layers.

    Fortunately neither of us were suffering from altitude sickness, but to make you realise the stress you are putting your body under Ben mentioned his eyes were going blury, which was a little worrying and when we got down we realised some blood vessels in his eyes had burst.

    Eventually the summit was in sight and we dragged our bodies to the top. I must admit that rather than euphoria I felt absolutely shattered and soon collapsed in a heap to recouperate. Somehow we had managed to summit in 5 and a half hours, and were only beaten up there by a local guy and his guide. Just then, the first rays of daylight started to shine through and we could see the curvature of the earth and the other majestic peaks pearcing the clouds sitting on the valley far below. With the light we could see the smoldering crater of this active volcano a hundred metres or so below us.

    We hung around for about 45 minutes as the sun rose, and we could really soak it all in. I'd taken my outer mittens off and despite still having two pairs of gloves on my hands were almost completely numb so it was definitely time to start heading down.

    We took a couple of steps and it suddenly dawned on me how hard the descent was going to be. I was absolutely shattered, and I'd taken my body so far into the red getting to the top that I got a little nervous about how long it would take to get down. I decided there was nothing else to do but plod steadily on, and fortunately my body warmed up again plus the thin air doesn't hurt so much on the way down. We still had to take a few longish breaks to get enough energy back to resume, but at least the sun was up now so the bitter cold was abating a bit. The downside to this was you could clearly see the path ahead, and it was pretty scary how steep and treacherous it was.

    The closer the refugio roof became the more you could just push on through and it amazed me that we were down in an hour 45 (as opposed to the usual 2-3). Once we arrived it took the last of our strength to get our boots and outer layers off before we were both comatosed back in our bunks.

    An hour's rest and a cup of hot chocolate did wonders and we felt like human beings again. We still had a vertical 200m down the scree with heavy bags but this was a doddle compared to everything else.

    The scary thing is the hike from the refugio to the top is only 4km, but it's over a 1000m climb, plus the extra 350m from the parking lot. I've done way longer hikes with more gain but the altitude along with everything else makes this the hardest thing I've ever done by a country mile.

    To put this in perspective we were higher than everest base camp, and closer to the sun than anywhere else on earth (except the slightly higher Chimborazo).

    I'm super stoked I made it, but I can definitely say it has not set alight a fire to do anything like this again. Will someone please remind me of that when I inevitably suggest something stupid next time!
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  • Day620

    Quilotoa Loop

    January 26, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Once we got out of Latacunga (after closed roads with no diversions), the drive up into the hills was stunning. We peaked at a 4,000m pass and the views on the far side were even better. We stopped for lunch at the saddle but it was so windy the van was rocking like we were in a sail boat!

    We stopped in a small village where a distinctive style of painting originated, and picked up a couple more great souvenirs. It's funny how we don't buy anything for ages, then seem to buy lots in a short space of time.

    We then drove a couple more hours down to a hostel on the far side of the famous Quilotoa Loop and met Ben, a fellow brit. This was most fortuitous as Jo mentioned I was looking for someone to climb Cotopaxi with, and Ben said so was he. I was lucky to find someone equally crazy (see photo) and it saved us both over $150 :)

    To continue with our training the next day we walked from the hostel up to the Quilotoa Lake. This itself was no mean feat as it was a long way and about 700m up. When you consider the near sheer walled 200m deep canyon we also had to transverse it made it much more of hike. On top of that we also walked half of the lake circuit to get to the small town. It was pretty blowy at the top and we thought the route along the ridge was a bit too up and down for our liking, but what looked like an easier route was anything but and we were all knackered by the end of the 7+ hour hike. We haggled a taxi down to the half the price and zoomed back to the hostel to pick up Elvis, then drove back to Latacunga to book ourselves in for the Cotopaxi climb.
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  • Day617

    Cotopaxi National Park

    January 23, 2018 in Ecuador ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    We headed to Cotopaxi National Park, but unfortunately pets weren't allowed in. We camped for the night in the lovely parking lot at the entrance, that was better than some camp sites we've paid for. That evening I had to keep rushing out of the van with Jo shrieking, as majestic snow capped peaks kept appearing out of the clouds.

    In the morning we felt a little guilty putting Maya into the kennels, but it wasn't too cold and we had to go and check out the park. There was a gorgeous camp site, that unfortunately we couldn't use without leaving Maya overnight, so instead we parked up and followed an 'evacuation route' trail up on the highlands at the foot of the rugged Ruminahui. It was only a short walk but it was stunning, and Cotopaxi cleared its cloud cover and made me realise what I was letting myself in for when if I wanted to climb it.

    The road through the park was beautiful to start with,l but ended up being so washboardy it actually shattered our truckers TV screen. It also finally killed the hastily repaired front shock, so in the morning it was back to the garage in Latacunga. At least in Ecuador they do things properly and we got a new rubber washer so hopefully it last this time.
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