Days: 257 (9 March 2015)
Total distance travelled: 49,363.8 kilometres (30,660.75 miles)
Salinas de Guaranda, not to be confused with the other Salinas.
The popular Salinas… the one that is a seaside resort town.
Unashamedly, we really had one reason for venturing to this semi-remote mountain town, and that reason… cheese.
That’s right, after travelling for oh so many months and missing out on so much milk and cheese, when the prospect of sampling some local fare came up, we quickly worked it into our schedule.
Not just the local style of cheese however (that stuff I still haven’t truly warmed to), but European styles, Swiss, Gouda, etc…
When we did a little more digging, we also discovered they produce their own chocolate… this place just kept getting better!
It was going to be a three leg journey to get here, so we got on board our bus at Banos and simply hoped for the best.
Unluckily for us, our first stop was Ambato.
It’s not that we were unlucky because we were in said town (as far as we know it doesn’t appear to have a good or bad reputation).
What was unlucky was our bus stopped at a small depot on its fringes, too far for us to walk onwards, so suddenly we were in need of a taxi (thankfully we found one fairly promptly) to ferry us over to the main bus terminal.
Still, it didn’t cost us all that much and it allowed us to continue our journey, of which the second leg was an incredible delight.
Somewhere between Ambato and Guaranda, the road eclipses the 4,000 metre mark (topping out around 4,300 metres) and if you’re lucky, by which I mean the weather is clear, you can get a good look, all from the comfort of your bus, of Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest peak at 6,268 metres and technically the farthest point from the centre of the Earth!
Before people start to remonstrate about the heights of Everest, K2 or other such peaks, Chimborazo doesn’t seem to come close to them in terms of height.
It does however benefit from being so close to the equator, which coincides with being on top of the part of the Earth that bulges (in case you didn’t know, the Earth does in fact bulge at the equator), and this is how such a crazy statistic comes to exist!
Its height truly becomes irrelevant when we simply consider how amazing it looked right beside us!
I was even more fortunate than most, as I had Sarah for company. Had she not been by my side I’d have missed it.
You see, I was actually sound asleep when it came into view… but she thought I’d be devastated had she not woken me!
With the sights endured, our final leg was a camianeta (this is what they call the colectivo here) from Guaranda to Salinas de Guaranda, which itself felt at the time a bit of an ordeal.
We’d initially been under the impression a bus could be caught, in fact one operator in the bus terminal had a sign up with times listed.
When we inquired however, she advised us that in reality none of their buses run there, but we could instead catch a red bus from just outside the station (this was already after we’d walked to the main plaza in search of a camianeta, only to be advised it would cost us $10.00 US!).
Eventually, as we waited for possibly a non-existent bus, lady luck blew our way and a camianeta with Salinas written across its windshield pulled into the bus station.
We hurried on over, confirmed he was headed that way as well as the price (a miserly $1.00 each as opposed to the exorbitant price back up in the plaza) and we were finally on our way.
An often bumpy ride (think rutted roads and suspension long worn by this daily ordeal… a wooden plank for a seat… you get the picture) preceded our eventual arrival in Salinas where we actually had nothing booked, but fortunately did have a couple of leads on where to stay.
Two minutes later, and our lodging was sorted as a random local poked his head around the corner and asked if we were looking for a room!
As it so happened for him, we obviously were, so after a couple of minutes of haggling, we were set, our next order of business being to find some lunch!
Whilst we explored what is in truth a pretty sleepy town, we did get the chance to observe one young woman take a group of older citizens through a series of team building exercises which was rather fun to watch.
I’m not sure if they were all that interested in the benefits of such a communal event, but watching a long line of smiling, time worn faces attempt tunnel ball was a sneaky delight for us.
Still, the longer we dallied here, the longer until we ate, so we slowly drifted off in search of somewhere that we could get ourselves some cheese!
Thankfully, despite the limited options (in terms of businesses actually open), we did find a store that still had its door ajar.
Upon entry, the dark, still interior had us second guessing if it was in fact open for business, but eventually a figure did appear and even looked willing to serve us.
A quick perusal of the menu and our target was spied.
One cheese and meat platter coming up!
We grabbed ourselves a cola to help wash it down, and the Mortadela aside (it’s never been to our tastes), the plate was an absolute delight!
After our feed of dairy and sliced meats, our indulgence continued with us sharing a slice of chocolate cake over a coffee.
In an attempt to recover some semblance of respectability (or at the very least, work for our dinner), we then decided to hike the overlook behind the town and take in the views it would provide.
As our puffing and panting gradually subsided, we were able to fully realise how stunning a location this town holds.
This short climb to a point above the town, became an extended excursion up a nearby canyon, one of the most stunning woodland/pastoral (yes, it was both) locations we’d seen on the trip.
With nought but the odd cow for company, we followed a narrow, but obvious path deeper with this ravine, enjoying a lovely cave/waterfall combination before strolling our way back into town.
We retired for the remainder of the day, emerging only to take an evening walk (where we discovered that almost everything was closed) before finding ourselves a bite to eat.
The aforementioned discovery left us with only one option, the pizza restaurant that sat attached to our hostel (where incidentally we were the only guests) which unfortunately was an hour late in opening.
Still, this gave us the chance to meet a fellow traveller, very possibly the only other gringo in town, a New Yorker by the name of Caroline.
We ultimately shared a couple of pizzas and some wine between us, and my goodness was it worth the wait, proving to be two of the best pizzas of the entire trip (what a difference some quality cheese and meat can make)!
Caroline also worded us up on a walking tour of the cheese factory and other parts of the co-operative she was booked on the following morning, however we instead opted for a small lie in , missing her departure time.
Thankfully, the guys at the information office were more than happy to arrange something for us when we finally did rise, so in reality, we didn’t miss a thing (other than some of the action at the cheese factory which had concluded by the time we made an appearance).
In this village of roughly a thousand people, cheese is not their only venture.
As part of a wider reaching effort to keep local people employed (and in the area), the place is essentially a big series of co-operatives, producing all manner of things from sheep and llama wool, chocolates, obviously cheeses (as well as local yoghurts), dried and packaged wild mushrooms and even footballs!
To be able to get a glimpse behind the scenes in such a proactive community was pretty amazing and it has been this way since the early 1970’s!
As our tour continued, we tried to chat with our guide as often as we could, usually between efforts to suck air into our lungs.
It made sense really, despite this being a reasonably low area by Ecuadorian standards, we were still thirteen hundred or so metres higher than the highest point back home on mainland Australia (Mt Kosciusko peaks at 2,228 metres, whilst Salinas is at an elevation 3,550 metres)!
Exploring the wool factories proved a bit of timewarp, some of their machines from the 1940’s (produced in the US during the early years of WWII) looking young when sat next to some others out of England from the early 20th century!
Eventually we wrapped up our tour and deeper explorations of the town, splurging on a little treat for ourselves in a selection of chocolates to be consumed at a later time (okay, so we may have had a couple whilst in town).
We seriously considered relaxing here for another night, if for no other reason than to indulge in another delicious pizza, however common sense ruined that party.
Early afternoon, after another platter of meats and cheeses for lunch, saw us on our way again, mentally preparing ourselves for one more overnight bus, this time bound for Cuenca.
* Our direct bus from Banos to Ambato cost $2.00 US per person.
* That unexpected Taxi to the main Ambato bus terminal didn’t hurt the hip pockets too much, coming in at $2.00 US
* The 2nd bus, Ambato to Guaranda was another cheap affair, costing $1.00 US per person.
* Guaranda to Salinas, once we finally found a camianeta ride, stung us a measly $1.00 US per person.