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Monday, September 7, 2009

Getting Hot and Bothered

When we were spending our one night in Hostal Renacer in Villa de Leyva, we met up with 2 girls from Leicester, who shared a dorm with the wife, while I was kicked off to another dorm.

The 2 girls shared that for their travel around South America, they just zip right through the main cities and focus on the smaller towns. One of the main reasons was safety, because crime seems more rampant in the big cities, whereas people tend to know each other in small towns, and crime is therefore lower. Kinda makes sense.

So our plan was to flit through Quito, the capital of Ecuador, apply for our visas to Bolivia, then spend a few nights in Mindo, then return to Quito just to collect our passports and vamos again.

Then we also remembered a recommendation from Kamile and Iris, the couple we went rafting with in San Gil. They told us to skip the town of Banos, which was famous for its hot springs, and to try another place called Papallacta instead. Well, since Banos also means 'toilet' or 'bathroom' in Espanol, we decided it was worth checking out his recommendation.

So, the full plan became:
1) Bus 2 hours from Otavalo to Quito
2) Check in, and catch up with (yet) another couple we met earlier on our trip - Jungjae and Dukyu.
3) Next morning, go to Bolivia embassy, submit documentation for visa application
4) After that, bus 2 hours to Papallacta and enjoy the hot springs there
5) Bus back to Quito and spend the night there
6) Next afternoon, collect our passports with the Bolivia visas
7) Take the 4pm bus to Mindo

Ambitious, certainly, but we thought it was do-able!

Everything went well until we arrived at the Bolivian embassy, though. Part of the visa requirements was for us to show proof of entry and exit from Bolivia. As we were entering Bolivia by bus from the southern end of Peru, and bus tickets are only available at the point of departure, we were hoping that this requirement could be waived.

No such luck. The lady at the embassy was willing to settle for tickets to show that we are leaving Ecuador for Peru, but she would not process the visas until the full set of documents were furnished.

After promising to return the next day, we beat a hasty retreat back to our hostel, to go online to see if there was any hope of getting the required tickets. We were planning to travel from Loja (in southern Ecuador) into Peru, and to get those tickets, you would normally need to be at Loja. With Quito being a 16-hour bus ride from Loja, does this mean that we would have to bus down to Loja, then bus back to Quito to get our visa? Would the bus terminal at Loja even sell tickets to Peru in advance? Or should we just try applying for the visa again in Peru - different person, maybe he or she might be more flexible?

Unfortunately, we could not find any definite information online, so we decided to just head to the bus terminal and move onwards to Papallacta. While at the terminal, we went around to see if we could get the required tickets, but again, no luck. This was beginning to get depressing!

But, all was not lost for 2 weary souls. Did I mention that we were going to Papallacta to enjoy the hot springs? After getting off the bus and taking a short USD 1 taxi up a hill, we found ourselves at Hotel Termas de Papallacta - which we translated loosely to 'A little slice of Hot Heaven'.

Entrance to the hot springs for non-hotel guests was USD 7. And just recently, the wife was reading about someone having to pay USD 300 for hot springs at a ryokan in Hokkaido! Talk about finding value for money!

Multiple pools to soak yourself in, all with slightly different temperatures

A really great place to unwind, and plot our next moves

This was the first time either of us visited a hot spring, so we were pretty amused to find such a warm place amidst the clouds on a mountain. The steam from the hot waters constantly condenses and falls as a very light patter of rain, giving the entire area a lush greenness that we have not seem for quite some time.

Feeling toasty even though we were up in the mountains

As we lounged in the various pools, we also observed hummingbirds and generic LBBs (little brown birds) flitting amongst the trees and bushes. It's like an oasis in the mountains. Absolutely fantabulous!

Termas de Papallacta deserves a "Go" mark of Excellence!

As the springs cooled our fears and worries, we began to strategise on what we could do to get our visas approved.

We considered bribing the ticket sellers at the Quito bus terminal when we returned that evening, approaching an IATA agent in Quito to issue some air tickets, make a copy for us, then immediately cancel it with no penalty fees to the agent (ooh, the horrible tricks of the trade I learnt at work!), or even just buying tickets from Quito to the border town and trying our luck again at the embassy.

Do not be stopped by obstacles in your way. Be like the raging current, and find ways around it!

To spread our resources even further, I also decided to post our problem on sgtravelcafe to see if the Masters of Travel had any good advice for us.

Satisfied that we had a number of viable options, we decided to head back into Quito... only to see our options rapidly dwindling again. The ticket sellers at the terminal were all not willing to help us. And while I posted my problem online at sgtravelcafe, I was unable to log on the next morning to check for posted solutions as the internet connection at the hostel was down. Talk about bad luck!

Fortunately, when we visited the travel agent, the lady was nice enough to call a coach company to check if they could sell bus tickets exiting Ecuador to us. With their confirmation, we flew down to the bus company, got the cheapest tickets out of Ecuador (because we had no intention of using these tickets at all - it was way off our route) and then went to visit the embassy again.

And we received another rejection. Why? Because our copy of our bank statement only had the balance amount on it, but no bank details. And we needed separate copies of each document because we were applying for individual visas. Really, these were things that I should have known, but I guess my work experience in a travel agency was just too long ago. Tsk to myself!

Seeing our disappointment, the lady at the embassy then told us that if we could get the documents to her soon, she would issue us a visa immediately. Not even a half-day wait. Hearing that, we perked up and dashed to the nearest internet cafe and started printing and photocopying documents like we just bought some shares in the lumber industry.

Within half an hour, we were back at the embassy, and after another 15 minutes, we got our visas!


and whew!

Off to Mindo we go!


Macadama Nutter said...

u guys r looking younger and younger

Macadama Nutter said...

u guys r looking younger and younger

Stephanie said...

great pictures!

Dannie said...

Thanks Nutter and Steph! :)

forex course said...

Its all natural of some thing else. Great pictures.

Dannie said...

@ forex course: The water is naturally heated. Everything else is, by my trained eye, architecture and landscaping :)

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