An American guy showed Tony and I a great little restaurant tonight. It's in the middle of Quito's overpriced, tourist-infested Mariscal Sucre district; and yet it's full of locals, and there are only two things on the menu: shawarmas, and beer! Only $1 each, respectively. The shawarmas taste great (be sure to smother them in the provided chili sauce), and they're best eaten on a 1-1 ratio with the large-size Pilsener beers. Relish the chow, get a bit drunk, and enjoy the local company. Nargila pipes (known as pipas around here) also available, if you're into 'em.
Tonight was one hell of a welcome and an introduction to Quito for me. After a sensational dinner of Thai curry chicken — on the rooftop terrace of the Secret Garden — I went out with some of the staff and fellow guests of the hostel, for a very big night on the town. The Mariscal Sucre area in the new town (otherwise known as "gringoland") is the place to go at night: and this being Friday night, it was absolutely packed with people. Can't remember what time I got home tonight, but it couldn't have been too long before the sun rose. Quite a few drinks, quite a few venues, and quite a lot of dancing. The parties never seem to end, here in Ecuador.
Do I really need to write this blog post? Considering what it was already like in the afternoon, I think it's pretty obvious what was going down in Baños tonight, and what Patrick and I got up to. Every place in "bar street" was open, and it was open all night long. Local girls. Copious drinking. Vigorous dancing. Pumping music. Get the picture? It was big — biggest night I've had in quite a while. Baños is the place to be, and this was the night to be here.
Baños may be a tiny little town, but it's party time down here, 7 nights a week. And of all the places to party on "bar street" (the street that we're staying in), the Leprechaun Bar has gotta be the most kicking. Patrick and I came here for the first time last night (after our Tungurahua tour), and we scored the customary free shots of Flaming Bob Marleys. Tonight, there were so many hopeless gringos trying to dance salsa, that we ended up virtually having a salsa class right there on the dance floor!
This evening, Patrick and I went on the popular night tour up to Tungurahua, the volcano that looms over Baños. Tungurahua was erupting last week, and we heard first-hand reports from people who'd seen lava coming out of it. Very cool! Although a bit crazy, since a large eruption is fully capable of destroying the entire town of Baños. Sadly, we didn't see any eruption tonight: but we still got a great birds-eye view of the town, lit up at night; and we had fun drinking a very strong distilled sugar-cane spirit, and watching some top-class fire-juggling up on the mountain. And a fun ride on the roof of the tourist truck, too.
Along with Einat, and some Argentino hippie friends of hers, I hung out on the beach all night tonight in Máncora, lying by a bonfire. There was a big bonfire going on at the busy end of the beach — just outside Sol y Mar — but we made our own, a lot further up, away from the big crowds. Was a bit cold, but the fire kept us warm enough (the rum helped as well :P). I fell asleep when the hippies started singing entire albums of Argentinean songs. Not a bad night, really, if a bit weird.
I've accumulated a lot of junk lately, and I've been lugging it around for far too long. So this morning, I did a big sort through my overstuffed backpack, and took out everything that I don't need to take with me anymore, or that I can throw away. All of the former, I packed into a cardboard box, and took to the local post office in Miraflores. Included in this box was a bottle of fine, semi-prepared pisco, that I'd bought at the winery in Ica, and that I wanted to send home as a souvenir. However, the post office staff wouldn't let me mail the pisco: apparently, it's prohibited to mail alcohol out of Peru. Oh well, I guess we'll just have to drink it, then!
Had the Casa de Arena all-you-can-eat chook-and-salad plus all-you-can-drink Pisco Sour / Cuba Libre deal tonight, for the second night in a row. It's a pretty good deal: great food, lots of it, plenty to drink, great crowd, and a low price tag. But there's only so much of that you can handle. Feeling really full-up right now, and I have a feeling that I'll stay full for a while. Might need to take a break from the barbeque tomorrow night, and find a regular just-whats-on-the-plate kind of restaurant.
Went on a little morning tour today — briefly leaving our oasis paradise of Huacachina — to some of Ica's famous wineries and pisco-making places, as well as to the city's much-adored chocolate factory. Can't really say we left paradise, because it was a pretty daym pleasant tour we had: it's a hard life when you have to spend all morning sampling gourmet chocolates, rich red wines, and perfectly-distilled piscos.
Myself, Chris, and a Norweigian couple got driven off in a private car — with our own driver — from Casa de Arena to start the tour. First stop was the "Helena" chocolate factory, where we saw the delicious cacao delights being made in the factory window, and where we had a chance to go into the very quaint old shop at the front, and where I made a purchase or two. They have a cash register there that's over 100 years old!
Who can take a rainbow, wrap it in a sigh, soak it in the sun and make a strawberry lemon pie? The candy man... the candy man can!
That cash register must be worth more than the money inside it.
Then we went to two different places where they make wine and pisco: one place that makes more of the dark red wine and the mixed-grape pisco, which is less traditional, but which sells better on the export market; and another place that specialises in traditional Ica wine (not so dark, more sweet), and in pisco puro (pure distilled pisco — pretty similar to vodka or to tequila). We got taken around, and shown various aspects of the distillation process for these alcoholic beverages — it's all fairly advanced here, since Ica makes the best (and, as far as I know, the only decent) wine and pisco in Peru.
Big golden vats for processing the pisco.
Lots of storage barrels.
Chris and I prefer the big barrels.
Traditional storage containers for the pisco, used since Inca times.
This is where they press-a the grapes (takes 10 people over 12 hours to press them, constantly stamping all over this pit). Just don't you a-press on-a my wife!
Once we were done with all the obligatory tour-of-the-winery stuff, it was on to the real deal: wine and pisco tasting! Had some great samplings of fine dark red wines, sweet red wines, fruity white wines, lethal pisco puros, refreshing mixed-grape piscos, nice semi-prepared Pisco Sour mixes, and even a bit of creamy Bailey's-like pisco. Not bad, for one morning! As Chris said, at least it cured the hangover from the night before :P. I also decided to purchase one of the bottles of semi-prepared Pisco Sour — might send it back home as a souvenir.
Nice white wine of Ica.
Shot of creamy Pisco.
Bottles of Pisco.
There's me, being a knobhead with a bottle of Pisco.
Great tour, and very tasty beverages that we sampled. Also made our subsequent restaurant-quality hamburger lunch all the more palatable. Oh, what a hard day it's been!
My final night in Bolivia was spent in an extremely basic lodging, adjacent to the Laguna Colorada (which was the final sight of our Salar de Uyuni tour for today), where we were very cold indeed. We combated the extreme cold of the high-altitude, non-heated night with a combination of games (Yahtzee, with my salty dice; and cards), food (badly cooked spaghetti), and alcohol (fine Chilean wine, and some shots of premium Chivas whisky). The alcohol, in particular, proved to be an effective way to keep us warm and unconscious through the night — wouldn't have been possible otherwise.