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las palmas

(July 2001)

After recovering from horse-riding in Vilcabamba I was ready to head north. I’d made friends with a guy called Simon, from Preston and he had the idea to travel to Cuenca via Zamora and Gualaquiza, to get off the beaten track and see a bit of the Oriente. I thought it sounded good so I joined him and Brett, a guy from Melbourne who I ended up travelling through Colombia with.

After an afternoon sitting around in bank offices in Loja trying to get cash advances we got on the bus for the fairly short journey down to Zamora. It’s a spectacular and beautiful descent, following the edge of the Podocarpus National Park. The vegetation changes from highland to tropical species.

It was just getting dark when we got to Zamora and trudged through the centre of town with our rucksacks to a hotel which was recommended in one of our guide books. It’s a shame I can’t remember the name because it was nice, with clean, spacious rooms for a good price.

We showered and then convened to the nearest bar for a quick drink before dinner. While we on our second beer we asked the owner, who was with her two young daughters, whether she could recommend any good discos in town. It was a Thursday night and we thought there might be something going on. She immediately mentioned Las Palmas, but she said we’d have to get a taxi there which we duly noted. We had to pop back to the hotel and we mentioned to the owner we were off to Las Palmas. Not an eyelid was batted.

During dinner we asked again about Las Palmas and received a positive response, Yes it’s open on Thursdays, take a taxi, maybe go after 10pm. We had a few more beers and found a taxi. I can’t remember the negotiations over cost but I remember wondering why Las Palmas was so far out of Zamora. It was tougher than getting to the Orchard from High Wycombe town centre.

We were in the middle of nowhere and I was getting ready to run for it if the taxi driver tried anything when we saw a sign and a track leading uphill. There were lights and a couple of cars outside but no music. The driver asked if we wanted picking up. I told him to wait five minutes and we went in. A short woman welcomed us and tried to get us to sit down on one of the many vacant tables. But our attention was drawn by the rooms leading off from the main bar area and the series of scrawny, ugly women sitting in them. The rooms looked even worse – with cheap exterior paint and a grubby sheet on a thin mattress on the most basic of beds. If the women hadn’t been there it could have been a junkie’s squat.
I took all this in and within a minute I was clear that I wouldn’t be crossing any thresholds in that place. There was some debate about whether we should stay for a drink but given the location we decided not to risk it. We might have had to spend the night. The taxi was on his way down the hill but we caught him and rode back to Zamora. Amazingly, when we asked him if there was anywhere in town we could get a drink he dropped us at a great little disco where we danced salsa and tried to drink away the sordid memories until 2am.

We left Zamora the next day and I never got to ask the bar owner if she actually knew what Las Palmas was and why on earth she’d recommend that over another disco. We hadn’t even said the killer words, “meet some girls.” The hotel owner didn’t show the slightest interest in how our night had gone and I could think of no way to bring up the subject and ask just how many guests came back from a night out at Las Palmas feeling satisfied.




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