Falling in the river had another unwelcome side effect, leaving us both with a horrible sickness bug that forced us both to stay in Baños for one more day while the rest of our group headed to Cuenca.
We were also woken by the sound of explosions at 5am and a woman belting out tunes with the backing of a choir at 5.30am. Baños just kept on giving!
Once recovered we headed to Cuenca and joined the others in our hotel in the old town. Cuenca is Ecuador’s third largest city and said to be the prettiest, having retained it’s old world feel with 16th and 17th century buildings. It’s preservation has earned it the honour of being listed as a Unesco World Heritage site. Sadly we’d missed the previous day’s trip to the Panama hat museum and the higher viewpoints, but had a quick wander when we arrived admiring the beautiful churches and architecture.
The evening brought our last group dinner in Ecuador with our guide Jo, and due to still feeling queasy we could barely manage plain rice!
The next morning was a 5am start to travel 6 hours to the border. The scenery along the way was just stunning as we wound precariously around green mountains, with rivers, waterfalls and low-level cloud providing a welcome distraction from the driver lurching round each bend and overtaking on blind corners as though in competition with every other vehicle on the road.
As the altitude dropped the mountains made way for miles and miles of banana plantations. As we learned in the jungle, each banana plant lasts one year and only produces fruit once before it dies. Before the bananas are farmed cuttings must be taken to create child plants ready for a crop the following year.
Reaching the border we changed buses, hugged Jo goodbye and met our guide for the Peruvian section of the tour, Fredy. The immigration process was straightforward – stand in one queue to be stamped out of Ecuador, join another to be stamped into Peru. Then a two hour journey down the coast driven by crazy Manuel who simultaneously overtook tuk-tuks while emailing on his blackberry and turning round to grin manically at us.
We stopped in Tumbes briefly to change money and after the quietness of Ecuador, first impressions of Peru were that of complete chaos, noise and dirt. Tuk tuks everywhere and a stench of fish. Almost the instant we had crossed the border, the scenery changed from lush greenery to dry sandy fields.
We soon arrived in Mancora, a small beach town which for Peruvians is the place to be seen come summer. The local residents are mostly surfers and fishermen. Oh, and the Peruvian Hairless Dog, the ugliest breed I have ever seen.
Despite seemingly located in a quarry off the main stretch, our hotel is beautiful with wooden fern-roofed huts set in tropical gardens and a pool!
There’s not a lot to do here apart from chill out, so the next day we hired a minivan to take us to a couple of other local beach towns, where we saw giant turtles and dipped our toes in the Pacific.
Back in Mancora we found a great vegetarian/vegan restaurant with delicious homemade breads and cakes; and this quickly became our favourite place for breakfast and dinner every day. I think everyone’s slightly tired of eating endless variations of chicken and rice and so we happily tucked into quinoa, broccoli, lentils, salads, smoothies, soy burgers and banana bread. Except Stef, who had the only meat dish on the menu!
A few beers and Cuba Libres by the pool in the sunshine and we were (almost) ready to face the overnight bus.
Next stop > overnight bus to Trujillo / Huanchaca.