Jul 30, 2009

Galapagos: Part 3

I always imagined the galapagos as pristine microcosms that contained only sand and funny looking birds. Unbeknownst to me, a few of them are not only inhabited, they have rockin' little tourist towns. During the cruise we had a free night in Puerto Ayora, and I was shocked and delighted to find amidst the hotels, restaurants and tourist shops a swinging night club blaring obnoxious music, and a karaoke bar. From the amoeba to the drunken rendition of I Will Survive, the galapagos sure does show the wonders of evolution.

After our cruise ended we decided to go to Isabela Island. It's the largest of the islands, and missed by most tours because it takes so long to get to the good places. Namely, the places you can see the flightless cormorants. We headed on over in hopes that we could spot this ourselves.

To get to Isabela you take a ferry. In this case, "ferry" means an old speed boat with benches running down both sides. You're crammed in with 16 others and sped across the grey and choppy ocean for two hours. These vessels seem to take pleasure in flying up to the sky and then crashing down with reckless abandon. Let's just say the only good thing about this trip is that I didn't vomit through my nose.

I blame this horrible method of transportation for why Isabela isn't as popular a tourist destination as Santa Cruz. The streets are mostly gravel, there aren't nearly as many tourist shops trying to sell you t-shirts that say "I love boobies", and there isn't one nightclub. Needless to say, I liked it much better.

We spent the first day recovering from our cruise. After 8 days of being herded around, fed on a schedule and always told what to do it took a while to adjust to being self sufficient again. We did manage a short walk that took us by the flamingo lagoon (only one flamingo to be found), all the way to the tortoise breeding centre. There we saw many baby tortoises climbing over each other. They're very cute in a butt-ugly sort of way. The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the beach. It looks like a nice sandy place that had lava vomited all over it. (Is anyone else noticing a vomit theme?)

The next day we joined a tour group that was going up the Sierra Negra Volcano. This is allegedly the second largest crater in the world, spanning 10km. After an hour bus ride we were dumped in a muddy field and led up an even muddier path. At several points our guide assured us that the crater was visible to our left. Unfortunately it was cloaked in fog, so we had to take his word on it. After an hour of slurping our way through mud so thick it threaten to suck my shoes of with every step, we were brought to the horses.

Such a collection of beasts I have never seen. They were like the greasers from West Side Story. All attitude and sneers. I'm sure a few of them had flip-up blades stashed under their saddles. Riding them was very much like being on a tilt-a-whirl, but without the giant teacups. They would plod along, then burst ahead suddenly, only to stop and veer to the right, crash into it's neighbour, then sprint ahead again and careen into a tree. We all learned quickly not to attempt to steer, just to hold on tight and crack jokes to ease the tension.

At the end of this mildly terrifying ride we left the horseys behind, and finally got a look at the crater. It looked like the set of Mordar from Return of the King. Miles and miles of barren black lava rock, covered in a creepy mist. I wouldn't have been surprised to see the Eye of Sauron looking around.

We were led through more paths of lava rock to a nice view of the western coast of the island. Nathan sadly pointed out that down there in that bay was where we would be able to see his flightless cormorant. If only we could get there. But we had learned the previous day that it was impossible unless you were a billionaire. So a far off view from atop a volcano was as close as we got.

Yesterday we were up at 5am to take the "ferry" back to Santa Cruz. I prepared myself for this voyage by not eating anything and taking several gravol. It did no good. I was hanging over the back of the boat for another 2 hours, cursing Darwin for ever having come to these damn islands. We were supposed to get on another boat a few hours later to head to San Cristobal, where we'd be flying out of on the 31st. But I said, Enough! No more boats! My delicate constitution can't handle it! So I said goodbye to Angie and Nathan (much braver souls than I), and changed my flight so I can leave from Santa Cruz. We'll meet up at the Guayaquil airport tomorrow.

This gives me a day and a half to loaf around, admire the beaches, and laugh at the sealion that begs at the fisherman's wharf.

Jul 28, 2009

Galapagos: Part 2

We settled into life on the yacht pretty quickly. For eight days we followed a nice little routine. Breakfast of excessively crunchy white toast, cheese, baloney, some kind of egg (one day this was replaced with hotdogs in pink sauce), melon, and cereal with yogurt at 7am. Then we piled into the dingy and were jetted off to an island for a walk and usually a snorkel. Back to the boat for some lounging time, then lunch around 1pm, while we cruised to another location. Afternoons were more walks or beach time, or possibly another snorkel. Dinner at 7pm, right around the time it got dark. Then the evenings were ours to waste as we saw fit. Usually this meant attempting to play cards on the windy top deck, an exercise in frustration if ever there was one.

On our eight day cruise I think we visited nine or ten islands. What is amazing is how different they all are from one another. Some look like a typical Caribbean resort area with sandy beaches and calm turquoise water. Some with high black cliffs and fearsome waves crashing onto a jagged shore. Some are dark red sand and lots of scraggly bushlands. One felt like we were walking on the moon (not that I know from experience or anything...), mostly barren with grey and black slabs of lava rock as far as you can see. Some covered with incense trees, (Because they smell like incense. Or, as Nathan calls them, Galapagos Salami Trees, because he thinks they smell like salami.) a tree with white bark and no leaves at this time of year. These islands looked haunted with skeleton trees. They were quite creepy.

And of course, the animals were amazing. And for the most part, they're really, really dumb. Here we are, the kings of the food chain getting dumped on these islands by the boatload every day, and they barely even notice us. We walked in amongst the sealions, very close to their pups, and if we got a lazy half-opened eye in our general direction we were lucky. We're weaving in and out of the breeding ground of all sorts of birds, dangerously close to their eggs, and they just blink at us. Word on the street is Darwin would sit for hours and chuck marine iguanas into the sea, and they would crawl back out and right up to him, and he'd just chuck them in again. I have to say, I can understand the appeal. If after hundreds of years they haven't learned that we're dangerous and to be avoided, they deserve a few surprise swims.

My very favorite bird ever is, hands down, the blue footed boobie. Just look at this bag of doughnuts. It has blue feet! How cool is that? It's mating dance is pretty much lifting it's cool blue feet up one at a time, as if it's saying "Hey! Check out my feet! They're blue! Wanna do me?" No,little weird friend, I would not, but I will take you home and let you walk all over my furniture with your wicked-ass blue feet.

Another sweet feathered friend is the frigate. It has this red sack under it's chin that it puffs up with air during mating season in the hopes of attracting a lovely female friend. They look really ridiculous, sitting around with this big red balloon forcing their heads back like they have a horrible neck injury. On our last morning, our guide had just finished saying how romantic these birds were because the men are very protective of their mates. Right then we saw a male mount a poor female that was working hard on her nest. He had his way with her (rather quickly), then flew away. And not 5 seconds later another male swooped in and had a go at her. So much for the males being 'protective'.

I didn´t see any sea turtles, but there were plenty of tortoises to make up for it. They´re a bit smarter than the birds in that they don´t seem to like humans, but they don´t do much about it other than hiss occasionally.

I could go through every one of the eight days, saying We went to suchandsuch island and saw suchandsuch beast, but I think that would bore us both. Let's just say that we had a lovely boat, entertaining passengers (all 16 of them), an attentive crew, beautiful weather, and saw many wonderful things, and if you want more details, well, you'll just have to drag your ass down here and visit for yourself. Or, you can always buy me a beer when I'm home and I'll show you my photos. All 380 of them.

On Sunday we had to say goodbye to our boat, our crew, and our new friends. But not the Galapagos. We have a few days to continue exploring without a tour group. But that's a story for another day.

Jul 26, 2009

Galapagos: Part 1

I think I could write a book about the Galapagos. And if I stay unemployed for long enough, maybe I will. It could be so many things. Non-fiction travel tale? Or some kind of fiction perhaps? Torrid love triangles? Murder mystery? (A birder is killed on board our cruise - it would be a "Birder Mystery". Oh, I crack myself up!) Sci-fi examination of future evolutionary disasters? (Oh, wait, Vonnegut already did that...) So many options, so little time. For now I will have to satisfy myself with a few blog posts.

First, a note on getting to the Galapagos Islands. At the airport in Guayaquil they issue you a tourist card ($10, good for 3 months). Then they x-ray your bags. This is before you go through security, so the point of it escapes me. On the plane, just before landing they open all of the overhead compartments and spray the bags with a pesticide that they swear doesn't hurt humans. I get that they don't want us carrying any weird bugs or bacterias to the islands, but how affective is it to spray the oustide of our bags, but not anything we're carrying on our persons? Out of the plane we drag our feet over a soapy wet mat, and a man with a surgical mask sprays our hands with a suspicious pink liquid. After that we're deemed environmentally safe and are allowed to enter the airport.

We found our guide, and then promptly waited around for hour or so for another plane to arrive with the rest of our group. Once everyone was accounted for, we piled into a bus and drove for about 5 minutes down the hill to a little harbour. Our boat, The Guananamera, was waiting for us. There's room for 16 passengers and 7 crew. Only one of the crew speaks English (the naturalist), but that doesn't stop the rest from trying to talk to you. My guide book had warned that tour boat crews are often a little, what's the word...horny, and often proposition female travelers. After the first day I learned that if I sit alone on the outside deck I'm likely to find myself in a very awkward conversation where someone who doesn't speak English is trying to hit on me and won't go away. The fact that I don't understand doesn't dissuade them at all. They like to tell me I have very pretty eyes (Or maybe they were telling me I have devils eyes? My Spanish isn't so strong).

Awkward advances aside, our boat is great. The rooms are small, just room for a bunkbed, and everyone had private bathrooms where the toilet and the shower have no barrier between them. There's a common dining room, and the upper deck has a few tables and chairs. So it's pretty cozy, but it's clean and friendly and the food is pretty good.

The Galapagos is basically a huge national park, and they are so well organized, it's impressive. Every boat has a set itinerary of what islands they visit and when. They time it so that there is never more than one or maybe two groups at a location at a time. There are paths that you have to stay on and if you accidentally wander out of the acceptable zone you get yelled at immediately. It's a little annoying for us tourists who have spent an arm and a leg to get there. But it is great for conserving the land and not intruding (too much) on the wild life's habitat.

Our fist day on the boat they took us to Bachus Beach to see flamingos in a little lagoon. The beach was covered with black lava rock that were in turn covered with bright red crabs.

Our second day involved sailing to Santa Fe Island shortly after breakfast. It was a three hour ride on choppy water that had me in the bathroom for most of the time. I´ll spare you the grosser details, but lets just say it was the first time I´ve ever vomited from both my mouth and my nose. Repeatedly.

See sickness fades quickly, thankfully, and I was still able to enjoy a good snorkel and frolic on the beach with a shwack of sealions. Nathan also made some special new friends!

Jul 18, 2009

Guayaquil: the city of ick

In all of my travels, have I ever disliked a city as much as I dislike Guayaquil? Thinkthinkthink….I didn’t much care for Andorra, but that was mostly due to my own stupidity – a story for another day. Other than that, nothing comes to mind. And I was expecting to like it. A nice lady on my flight from Panama to Quito told me the city was new and very modern and beautiful. She said I would love it. And dang it, I believed her.

It may have some new buildings, but it’s not modern or beautiful. It’s loud and stinky and dirty. There’s garbage everywhere. Yes, I know, that’s typical for a poor country like Ecuador. We’re talking about a place where if you eat an ice cream on the bus, you open the window and let the wrapper flutter away when you’re done. But in Guayaquil there’s more. In piles in the middle of the street, like a dump truck lost its load at a red light. And it’s hot and muggy and constantly smells like rotten food and burning rubber. It does have a nice waterfront walkway, and a cool iguana park where dozens of iguanas wander free. That’s it for the plus side. It’s the first place in Ecuador where I haven’t felt safe walking at night.

We got here three days ago, and I didn’t think that was enough time to really explore the city. After half a day, I was done. Fortunately Nathan had a few natural reserves nearby for us to visit, so we haven’t been spending all that much time in this horrid place. Yesterday was spent at Maglares Churute Ecological Reserve, 48km south of Guayaquil. A friendly guide that only spoke Spanish took us on a challenging hike through the bush. Along the way we were haunted by a demonic moaning and wailing, a horrible, bone chilling sound. Howler monkeys. Not something I would want to be woken to in the middle of the night while camping, that’s for sure. If you’ve never heard a group of howler monkeys just hanging out in the trees, you’re missing out. I've tried to link a video of one at the bottom of this post. The video quality isn't great, but crank up the volume and get an idea of the sound. If the video doesn't work, my apologies (it's my first time).

The mosquitoes were disgusting – they were not at all deterred by Angie’s 98% deet. Nathan walked away with over 100 bites, one actually inside his mouth.
We also went to see mangrove trees, a spindly sort of tree that grows in salt water. Once again we found ourselves riding in the back of a pickup truck. Only this time it wasn’t so charming, barreling down the freeway with massive trucks and buses whistling pass and the back hatch crashing open, threaten to suck our bags and hats right out the back.

Today we visited another reserve, that’s name escapes me at the moment. It had 100% less mosquitoes, and a guide that spoke English, so it was the more enjoyable trip. Although, there were no cool monkeys. Just huge trees that looked like they had a greenish elephant hide for bark, several little lizards and butterflies, and some birds for Angie and Nathan.

Oh, and I saw my first live tarantula in the wild. It wasn’t that bad, mostly because it had been paralyzed by a tarantula wasp. They sting the tarantula to paralyze it, then lay a bunch of eggs inside it. The wasp drags the tarantula to a little shelter, and while the spider is still alive the eggs hatch, and start to eat it from the inside out. We witnessed this wonderful natural event right after the wasp had stung the tarantula, and it was flying around looking for a place to hide its prey. And while I didn’t have my measuring tape with me, I’m pretty sure this wasp was three inches long, at least. That’s a freaking big wasp.

Tomorrow bright and early to fly to…wait for it….wait….The Galapagos! I’m assuming there won’t be wireless on our boat, so no blog posts for a while.

Jul 16, 2009

Fun and games in Lacguna Quilotoa

I'm doing what I seem to be spending the majority of my time in Ecuador doing - sitting on a bus. This particular bus is heading west, away from the large cities of Quito and Latacunga, and into the countryside. Ecuadorian countryside, on the east side of the Andes anyways, consists mainly of mountainsides covered with farms. The mountains are divided into green and brown and yellow strips. They look like a faded patchwork quilt. To offset the dull colours of the earth, the peasants that work the land where brightly coloured clothing. Occasionally you can see a blob of bright yellow or red or blue, moving slowly up or down these almost vertical plots of land.

This particular bus is filled mostly with traditional indigenous women. They wear brown rimmed hats, alpaca sweaters, brightly coloured shawls, skirts, and knee high socks. They have dark brown skin, dark hair worn in long ponytails wrapped in colourful embroidered cloth, thick fingers and kind faces. Many smile to reveal gold teeth. I'm sitting next to one such woman who keeps smiling and nodding, and I don't know if she's greeting me or rocking out to the music. For this bus, like all buses, is playing Billy Jean is Not My Lover, Thriller, and many other Michael Jackson songs. Over. And over. And over again.

About an hour into this ride my seatmate's cell phone rings, and she chats merrily into it for a few minutes. I wonder how a person that lives in a shack on the side of the road, riding rickety buses that feel at least as old as I am, can afford a cell phone, but even if I had the Spanish words to form such a question I'm sure it would have been rude to ask.

We get off at Laguna Quilotoa, a lake formed in the basin of a crater. It's at 3800 metres elevation, and takes about five hours to hike around. There is a tiny town formed at the side of the lake that exists only to support the tourism from foreigners like me who think it's quaint to come all this way just to see a lake. There are maybe four or five places you can rent a room, several artisan shops, a bar and restaurant, and a handful of houses. Pickup trucks drive up and down the main (and only) road, yelling at you to see if you want a ride anywhere. The wind is making itself known, blowing constantly and with the occasional gust that tries to knock us over.

We get a room at Cabanas Quilotoa. $12 a night each for three of us in a room with a double bed downstairs by the iron stove, and a narrow staircase to the loft that has two more beds. The price also includes dinner and breakfast. Dinner is served in a large lounge to us and about 30 other tourists. Half of those are a large tour group from France. We sit at long tables and pass around soup, chicken, boiled potatoes, rice, broccoli, and fried banana patties. Desert is a baked tree tomato. After dinner a group of indigenous musicians come in and entertained us, selling CDs for $3. The French get up to dance while the rest of us watch.

Back in our room they have built a fire for us in the stove, but haven't lit it. Angie investigates and finds a little tin of gas and part of a plastic pop bottle among the wood. Maybe this is a special contraption, but we aren't comfortable burning plastic so outside it goes. It takes a long time for the fire to get going, and at this elevation it is much needed. It is cold. Very, very cold. I'm bundled in long johns, sweatpants, several tops and sweaters, two pairs of socks, my jacket and a toque. Things I've been carrying around in the hot sierra for weeks now finally are put to good use.

The next day we head out to hike this crater. It's still cold; I have my long johns on under my clothes. The wind hasn't let up at all. The first part of the hike is fairly protected, but about twenty minutes in we hit an unprotected stretch where the wind was just waiting for a dumb tourist to blow into the lake. And from there we can see the trail leading up to some very exposed cliffs. We do what some may call "chickening out", and headed back to town.

Back at the hotel, a kindly lady hires a truck to take us back to Zumbhua. The truck is driven by a boy no older than 10. The three of us get into the open bed with our bags, and lean against the rickety wooden siding. The twenty minute ride is uneventful; our driver is very good for a child. From Zumbhua we will catch a bus to Quedevo, and from there to Guayaquil, our starting point for the Galapagos.

Jul 13, 2009

Quito and the sounds you shouldn´t hear

After being denied twice from our activities of choice, we decided to head back up to Quito to book our Galapagos tour. We came in hopes of a stellar last minute deal. You can buy tours anywhere in Ecuador, but word on the street is the best (and safest) deals are found in Quito, so to Quito we went. We arrived Friday night, and booked into Hotel Chicago, which came highly recommended from a random guy that started talking to us in Baños over breakfast the day before.

A word on Hotel Chicago. It´s a very nice little hotel in Old Town, run by a lovley family that speaks varing levels of English. The rooms are small, but clean and with private bathrooms. Breakfast is included. I got my own room for $10. What could be wrong?

Something that none of the guide books bothered to mention. The hotel is small and old, with narrow hallways and staircases that all seem to angle directly to my little room at the top of the stairs on the third floor. The accoustics were phenomenal. I could hear everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, my neighbours were doing in their private bathrooms. And I can now say with confidence that 90% of foreign travelers in Ecuador are having irritable bowel issues. Seriously. My lack of sleep for the last three nights was due to events that should be kept private. Very, very private.

Our attempts to book a Galapagos trip on Saturday were not fruitful. Most tour companies were closed. So we went on a hunt for Ananke Pizza, as recommended by my friend Patrick. He claimed it had the best pizza ever, with a pomegranate hot sauce to die for. What he failed to mention was that it was in the middle of nowhere, halfway down a steep and narrow switchback road, and only open between 6pm-8pm. Do I need to say that it wasn´t open when we got there? Curse you, Patrick!

We also visited the basillica again (the place I mentioned before with the crazy gargoles). What I hadn´t noticed, but Nathan pointed out, was a stainglass window with a pretty funny mistake. Can you see it?

Sunday was spent at Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World), a very touristy monument on the equator (she pictures above). We took lots of pictures with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one in the south, and saw some scary-ass beetles in the Insectatarium. Fortunately (for me, not for them) they were dead and mounted. But still. I didn´t need to know those things were out there, waiting to stab me in the eye with their long sharp head spikes*.

Monday (today) we rose bright and early, and after hours in the tour office and the bank, we managed to book our Galapagos tour! We´ll be flying over on the 19th and spending a week sailing around, admiring funny-looking animals. Good times! We had to take the cash out of the bank and deposit it into the tour operators bank account. For about 10 minutes I had as much money has I´ve ever held in my little greedy hands. $1665. It was kind of hot.
* not the official name

Jul 11, 2009

Baños no-news

Denied our train ride, we headed to Baños. It´s Ecuador´s equivalent of a resort town, and a total tourist trap. I feel wrong admitting that it was my favorite city by far. Granted, I´ve only seen four, so maybe it´s too early to be picking favorites. Oh well, too late.

Baños is in a valley, surrounded on all sides by lush green mountains and a terrifying volcano. It rained the whole time we were there, keeping the mountains in a shroud of fog and adding a lovely mysterious tinge to our visit. The streets are crammed with fun. There are gift shops that actually contain colorful handmade goods you would buy and give to your friends with pride(nothing like the crappy sweatshirt/maplesyrup/build-a-bear shops we have littering Government St in Victoria). Taffy pullers sell all sorts of weird looking candies on the street. They hang their taffy on large wooden hooks and pull it out into the street-wind around the hook, pull into the street, repeat forever. There are tagua nut carvers that create beautiful animals and beads and earrings and buttons from these hard white nuts that end up looking a lot like ivory. And everywhere you go, an adventure tourism operator is happy to book you on the adventure of your life. You can go on volcano walks, horseback riding, rafting, bungee jumping, swing jumping, waterfall rapelling.

We did none of these things. What we went to specifically was to do a bike ride from Baños to Puya. It´s 61km, mostly down hill, and it takes you past six or seven waterfalls. You go as far as you can, then hail down a bus and ride back uphill in style. Due to the above-mentioned rain, and that these roads are of the dirt variety and become very muddy, we decided to postpone this adventure. At best we would have been wet and dirty and exposed to illness, and at worst we would have slid right off the mountain in a big muddy pile.

So once again our plans were foiled. We did go to the hot springs. They were pretty manky. The water was nice and hot, but also murky brown. Our guide books told us this is the natural water colour, but the smell left on our bathing suits and sandals suggests something else. And I managed to hurt my foot. Again. I was lowering myself into the hot pool and slipped and landed hard on the bottom of the pool. Somehow this magicallly split my foot right under my toe. Nathan´s toe also hurts from an unidentified mishap. Perhaps I shall refer to our travels as The Trip of the Cursed Feet.

PS I was going to add more pictures, but that seems to crash this computer.
PPS Please excuse any and all spelling mistakes. The spell checker is in Spanish, so it reads every word as a mistake.

Jul 8, 2009

Riobamba - No train ride for you!

Yesterday we made our way North to Riobamba. I could make up all sorts of fun facts about this city, but honestly, I didn't bother to learn anything about it. The only reason I was interested in going was to ride the Nariz del Diablo. This used to be a real train route, but now is open purely for silly tourists like me. It's a four hour ride through the Sierra, ending with a descent through terrifying switchbacks that are so steep and tight that the train often needs to back up to go around them. So you ride on the roof and try not to throw up. Good times! Apparently (mom, please skip to the next paragraph) a couple of tourists were stupid and stood up, getting themselves decapitated by a telephone pole a few years ago.

We arrived in Riobamba and went dirrectly to the train station to buy our tickets. But the train is closed for repairs! We can't wait around for it to be fixed, so no train for us :)

The only thing I can tell you about Riobamba is that we rented rooms that made me realize just how disguisting our previous place in Cuenca was. Slimey bathroom, kitchen of the rising smells, doors that don't lock properly, lights that don't light properly. All for the low low price of $6. In Riobamba we splurged and doubled the price. So for $12 I got a really nice private room with soft sheets, a cozy blanket with a deer motif, a vanity, tv with English channels, and a private bathroom that came with it's own toilet paper and soap! Heaven! I didn't want to leave.

But, leave we had to. Nathan wanted to go track down this bird that his friend Cory swore she saw. So we bused an hour out into the middle of nowhere, and started to follow some half-assed directions that did not fit at all with our landscape. It said to follow a dirt road up the hill with llamas but no sheep. There were several hills, one dirt road that didn't go up a hill, several sheep and no llamas. At 3800 feet it was cold and super windy, and we couldn't travel at more than a slow walk without getting out of breath.

I can't pretend to know about birds, but this one seemed important because Nathan boldly led us up a steep hill with no path, and grass that came up to our waists. This provided many opportunities to trip and stumble as we pushed our way through the thick grasses, and I managed to fall and hurt my ankle. Twice. Once per ankle, just to be fair. So limping down the hill was fun. But we did get a pretty-if-clouldy view of a volcano (possibly volcan Sangay).

I also managed to lose my lens thingy...you know...that thing that screws in around your lens and protects it from the sun. Not the lens cap, the other thing. Anway, ten minutes up our hike I noticed it was missing, but couldn't say when I'd seen it last. When we finally descended this death trap, there it was, sitting in the middle of the road, magically not run over.

Two buses later, we arrived in Baños. But more on that later.

PS - no, Nathan did not get to see his bird.

Jul 6, 2009

Reunited in Cuenca

I´ve been told very sternly not to complain about my 9 hour bus ride. Angie and Nathan were on some that were 30 hours, so I have nothing on them. But I will say that it was bumpy, and while I managed to sleep through most of it, a lady did wake me up quite abruptly to offer me a small cup of coke. Like I need to be woken up to drink caffine on a night bus.

When we finally arrived, 40 minutes late, my lovely sister was not at the terminal waiting patiently for me as planned. After a brief moment of panic I figured there must be another bus terminal, and started to make my way to it. This involved lots of stunted conversations with taxi drivers. Finally I find it, and sure enough, Angie was watching all the buses unload, wondering where the heck mine is. After I swatted her on the head we had a joyus reunion.

Cuenca is the third largest city in Ecuador, and much, much nicer than Quito. Quito is big and dirty, with the occassional nice building or park. Cuenca is all cute cobblestoney streets and pretty stone buildings. Here are some fun facts for you.
  • Ecuador plumbing can´t handle toilet paper. And I mean, the entire countries plumbing. TP goes in the garbage can.
  • Buses are about $1 an hour.
  • Guys will come on the buses and try to sell you everything from candy nuts to icecream to cures for cancer.
  • They have lots of fresh juice.
  • Papaya juice is snotty and disguisting.
  • If you get soup at lunch, it´ll probably have a random chicken appendage in it.

Our hostel is more of a pension. $6 per person. My room is right off of were the landlady sits around watching loud tv all day and night. It is big enough for a small bed, and has several posters of bikini models, and Ashton Kutcher on the walls. Just fyi - polyester bed sheets are not comfortable.

Yesterday we took a bus east to visit the supposed group of towns that had amazing Sunday markets. Our guide books boasted crafts and jewlery and animals and hats. We fould a small veggie market, a town square that had a few jewlery shops, and that was it. One of the markets did have several pigs being roasted whole. One woman was using a blow torch to cook hers. So that made the bus trip worth it for me.

Today we spent two hours on a bus to see the Ingapirca ruins. They are allegedly the most important ruins in Ecuador. They took about 10 minutes to walk through and looked like really shallow rock walls. I wasn´t impressed, and Angie and Nathan (who much enjoyed Machu Pichu) were less so. Again, my guide book failed me.
Back in Cuenca we stopped by the Museo de la Historia de la Medicina, an old creepy museum filled with old medical equipment from the late 1800´s and early 1900´s. Highlights included some very rusty gynological instruments, and a poster demonstrating how kidney stones were removed using a spiky grabbing tool inserted into a man´s penis.
We are moving on in the morning. So now I must try to pack everything back into my bag, which sort of exploded. Wish me luck!

Jul 3, 2009

All alone, and wet, in Quito

Last night the impossible happened. I was in a dorm with 6 guys, and none of them snored! I think that night goes down in some kind of hostel history. And, I woke up to some free coffee and a very thick juice that tasted kind of like sour bananas, and this view. Not a bad way to start your day.
My first and most important task was to buy a bus ticket to Cuenca for tomorrow. I'm meeting my sister Angie and her fella Nathan there. I was equipped with a cartoon map and my Spanish phrase book. The first bus station I tried gave my the hebie jebbies. It could have been the light fragrance of urine wafting from the baking cobblestone roads. It could have been the lack of light, or how angry everyone looked. After skulking about for ten minutes I decided to chicken out and try a bus station in new town. Which turned about to be about an hour's walk away. Sure, I could have taken a taxi for $2, and yes, Quito is a labrynth of narrow roads with barely any sidewalks all criss-crossing over hill upon hill upon hill. But I figured I had all day, so what's the rush?

This station was much smaller and cleaner, and had a lovely young girl that spoke about as much English as I speak Spanish, and together we managed to smile and wave our arms and presto! I got a bus ticket for tonight. This left me with all day to kill, and no where to stay. No problem, I thought. I'll walk around for 10 hours and then be nice and tired for my night ride.

That plan fell apart a few hours later when the devil made the sun go away. As a west coaster I am no stranger to rain, but this seemed more like a godly cleansing then just mere "weather". The sky was black, the roads were flooded in minutes, and all the people that had been crowding the streets moments before disappeared. It was a little disturbing. Where did they all go? Somewhere secret, I guess, as I couldn't find a dry corner to hide in. Let's call that hour a chance to test out my new quick dry pants.

I tried to order a Empanada with Pollo but the kindly shop keeper made me point at something, so I'm not sure if what I ended up with is Empanada or not. I also tried a "homemade special drink" called ponche. It looked like thick egg nog and tasted like hot nothing. I added some sugar, which turned it into hot, sugary nothing.

Random picture: I'm not usually one for cathedral tours, any one that is guarded by armadillo gargoles is pretty cool in my book!

The skies cleared, the streets dried, and the mugginess and people returned. I tried to find fun touristy things to do, but my wet shoes and sleep-deprived brain weren't up for adventures. I also managed to hurt my wrist loading my backpack into the cab at the airport last night, making taking pictures (and just fyi - typing) a little painful. Finally at 5pm I admitted defeat and went back to my hostel. Can I please stay here for the next 4 hours, and use your wireless and eat some dinner, then leave without paying? Sure, they said! Did I mention how much I like this place?

Next up: 9 hour bus ride to Cuenca. I plan to load myself up with gravol and magically wake up to Angie waiting for me with an americano and a pat on the head.