DAY seven, apparently, of this meander around South America and the first chance to draw breath, sit down and take stock of what has happened over the opening week.
It is not the intended chance, should be down the road in Banos with most of the others but for the need to stay within sight of the facilities.
But between the runs to the loo (nothing too major and, until today, not one that has stopped me) and application of sun cream, anti-mosquito spray and more cream once it clearly has not worked, we have crammed plenty in.
What we have learned over the last seven days:
- The names of our 17 fellow passengers – a mixture of Brits, a liberal sprinkling of Americans and a few Aussies complemented by a Belgian, Spaniard, German, Japanese and a Venezuelan, together with tour leader Danny, South African driver Will and truck Spongebob (it is big, square and yellow).
- If it leaks, 100 per cent Deet spray melts your bag (not mine).
- Spaniards have excellent reflexes.
- It is pretty much impossible to say hello to anyone called Bert without sounding like a character from Sesame Street.
- You can have discussions about Brexit, politics and religion, but nothing causes more consternation than expressing a dislike for Queen (the band, not the monarch).
- Don’t wee in the Amazon.
What we have been reminded about overlanding:
- Mosquitoes – or any buzzy, bitey little thing – love me.
- Every campsite should have at least one dog.
- No matter how organised and well packed you think you are, it is impossible to keep track of where you put all your stuff.
- You will cast jealous glances at how well organised and equipped everybody else appears to be.
- Give a bunch of overlanders a hint of WiFi and they will be glued to their phones.
In many ways, this opening week has been very different from my previous experiences of overlanding.
We have not really started living off the truck, the first cook group rolling into action last night but with Spongebob parked across the campsite and the contents of the kitchen carried down to the kitchen.
Until we rolled in to our current campsite at Rio Verde – around 20km from Banos (the Ecuadorian version of Bath, only with fewer Roman buildings but more waterfalls and cloud forest, probably got a better rugby team as well) – we had enjoyed the relative luxury of beds and proper facilities.
Compare that to Africa – have promised not to do that too often, but it is worth the comparison – when we spent much of the first week learning about the delights of bush camping in a cork forest outside Rabat and a bed did not arrive until an upgrade in Ghana, three months in.
While we have not been bush camping and living off the truck – even the drive days have been relatively short – we have been cramming in plenty since we all came together in Quito.
The first challenge was getting there, the lack of an onward flight or dated bus ticket out of Ecuador stopping airline staff from allowing me through check-in without buying one – for far too much money from Quito to Bogota which needs refunding as soon as the camp WiFi kicks back in.
Having sailed through immigration – without any hint of asking to see the ticket – a taxi ride making full use of every lane dropped me at the Secret Garden hostel to start a weekend of shrugging off jet lag, seeing some of the sprawling city and perfecting that look of panic the English display when somebody speaks to them in a foreign language.
My Spanish is pretty awful. To be honest, non existent beyond buenos dias, gracias and una cerveza por favor. Clueless when spoken to, finding it possible to identify enough words in signs to have a vague idea what is going on. Sometimes. Helps having several native/fluent Spanish speakers in the group to help out.
Did not need their help on my mission to find a shop selling a towel, finally located just off the Plaza Grande in the middle of Quito’s old town which is all very pleasant as are pockets of a city which is largely a bustling, capital with all that entails.
Draped between and across several mountains – walking at this altitude provided some crucial acclimatisation for what lies ahead – it provides serious views which were soaked in from the terrace of my hostel (spent plenty of time there) and from the top of the TeleferiQo.
A cable car up to around 4,100m, it provides stunning vistas and a real test on the lungs having met up with a few fellow travellers before the official starting point and trekked up a bit higher to around the same height as the high point of the Inca Trail which lies in wait in the next month.
Given my record at much lower altitudes in ski resorts, was presently surprised at how well my body coped with that and the long walk back across the city, although the Inca Trail does not come with a cable car to take much of the uphill strain.
So having sampled the delights of Quito, slightly acclimatised to altitude and repacked (again), it was a quick hop across town to meet my fellow travellers, go through a few formalities and begin the job of getting to know each other.
We’ve got plenty of time ahead for that and have been kept busy starting that process.
More of that next time.