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Lima to San Fran – Day 104 cont… – Did someone say Security?

April 20th 2011

It’s too bloody early…
Having a flight at 6.30am means getting up at 3.45am and heading to the airport at 4am. That’s just too early to be healthy. But I managed to roll out of bed, gather my gear and Fernando walked me to my waiting chariot. Then airport bound for my flight from Lima to Bogota, Columbia, a 3hr layover then to San Salvadore, El Salvadore, a 52min layover then into San Fran airport around 10pm. As much as I love to travel, its the actual traveling part I dislike the most.

Airport tax and pisco
I had perfectly calculated my remaining money to ensure that I could cover the airport tax, buy some pisco for my friend in LA and still have some money for food and snacks. My funds included $30 US and 43soles (Peruvian). When I got to airport tax the conversation went like this:
Clerk: that will be 30 please
Me: excellent, here is 30 soles
Clerk: that would be dollars please
Me: American Dollars??!!??
Clerk: yes
Me: ahhh I have $30 and some soles
Clerk: $30 and 2 soles will cover it
Me: well there goes dinner

I tried to draw some money out of the cash machine just to have backup as soles would not be usable outside of Peru, and the exchange rate wasn’t worth changing it. However, Peruvian ATM’s do not like me and so I figured I would try in Bogota. I found duty free and ask for a bottle of pisco that was 40 soles or less, they had one for exactly 40 soles. Sealing it up nicely in a bag I headed to my gate. There weren’t even drinking fountains around but managed to get a glass of free water from one of the restaurants. I now had a whopping 45c US and 27c Peruvian.

Security round 1…2…3…4
I had already gone through the mandatory security check in Lima, but arriving in Bogota they checked my bag again and had me go through a scanner. Then I attempted to find an ATM, none to be found and so used my credit card to get some grub. Then it was onto my gate where I had to go through a full on pat down and rummage through my bag. They also took the pisco out of the protective tin and swished it around, I was waiting for them to take a sip.

Finally made it on my flight an was a little nervous about my next leg as there was only a 52min layover, but we were on time and there were no worries…or so I thought.

As I was waiting to deboard the flight, the attendant (who up to this moment had made all announcements in English and Spanish) made an announcement in Spanish. It went something like this “blah blah Katty Smidt blah blah”. It is very unnerving to hear your name in the middle of a sentence and have no idea what it is about. As I left the plane I was told to talk to the gate person, who told me to go to gate 53. When I got to gate 53 (which was completely cordoned off with stretchy ropes, trapping travelers at the gate for flight to San Fran), the conversation went something like this:
Me: hi, here is my bag and ticket
Security 1: hola, ahhhh Katty Smidt, hey it Katty Smidt
(well searching through my bag)
Security 2: ahhh Katty Smidt, ok.
Me: yes its me, why??
Security 1: Pisco, mmmm
Me: yes its for my friend
Security 2: you need to put in check in, here look
(very small print on inside bag of duty free bag “some items will not be allowed to be carried on for certain flights on certain airlines to certain countries”)
Me: well thats clear as mud
(confused look from security)
Me: no problem just check it.
Security 1: ok
Me: can I leave the barrier to plug in my computer?
(5feet from the barrier was a plug)
Security 1: mmmm no. But come with me.
(follow security 1 out of barrier, down security only stairs to find my checked bag waiting for me to be searched – just in case I magically transported something into it)
Security 1: mmmm bag full, pisco must go in bag
Me: well yes it is full, but I will take out my hiking boots and squeeze it in
(back up stairs to roped off area)
Security 1: you can sit here with computer right by us

Think I was almost on a first name basis with that guy.

Back in the US of A
After anther 6hr flight I finally landed at San Francisco airport and marveled at the fact that I understood everyone. As exciting as understanding was it also seemed like a bit of a let down, no more challenge when it came to communication, it definately made life interesting. Picked up by my mate I prepared to spend the next day chilaxing at her house and planning the best surprise ever…

Stay tuned to hear details…

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Introspective Review of South America

South America was an after thought, if that is possible, I wanted a starting point and I knew someone in Peru, so why not. In truth I was petrified of the thought of heading down to countries where I didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the culture and the only thing I knew was that I had to wait for a canoe at some point to volunteer at a wildlife refuge.

You would think after traveling alone in countries like Cambodia, China and Vietnam, this would be a snap. But at the same time, nerves also mean you keep your edge, even if you feel like throwing up most of the time.

After spending 3.5mths in Ecuador and Peru I can truly say, I want to go back. I wish I had had more time to explore and to learn Spanish. Here are just a few things I managed to accomplish while I was there:
– surviving the altitude in Cusco, barely.
– visiting Machu Picchu, and meeting a great friend in the process.
– Exploring lake Titicaca, insert teenage boy giggling here.
– I survived not dying in a car accident while in South America, although I did become religious on more than one occasion.
– I got bitten by a Spider Monkey, then hugged by said monkey.
– Helped with a tail amputation on a wooly monkey.
– Been pooped on by a squirrel monkey.
– Developed biceps.
– Swam in the Amazon.
– Went horse riding for 4hrs through the mountains, and couldn’t sit for the next day.
– got to see blue footed boobies, insert teenage boy giggling again.
– Fell in love…with the beach of Puerto Lopez.
– Tried surfing, need way more lessons.
– got a tan while wearing a bikini.
– Met amazing friends, said goodbye to friends.
– Cried, laughed and danced.
– And most importantly survived with hardly any stomach issues!

All in all it was an amazing trip and it taught me a lot. I have grown a lot physically and emotionally and I have the scars on both to prove it. Thanks to all I met and all who supported me on my journey. Next leg involves Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Sri Lanka, who knows what I will learn there.

To Cathleen, met in Aguas Calientes, you are like a sister to me, thank you so much for being there when I needed you through a fairly emotional part of the trip. I hope to meet up with you again soon my friend.

To Sarah Hayday, the head volunteer of AmaZOOnico: thank you so much for encouraging me to stay and for giving me the best advice ever – don’t make me coffee, make yourself coffee and surround yourself with people who will share their coffee with you.


At start of trip, nervous and very pale.

End of trip, beautiful vivacious well tanned and not afraid to dance on the beach all night

The scars to prove it

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Return to Lima – Day 101-104 – Bus Rides

April 17th to 20th 2011

Another Bus ride
Leaving Puerto Lopez at 4.30am I had a 4.5hr bus ride to Guayaquil bus station, where, I hoped, I would find an international bus to Lima. The problem is finding concrete schedules on the net, they just don’t exist. So you have to go off backpacker gossip, blog tales and general hope that you haven’t missed the last one for the next week.

As it turned out I was lucky and there was a bus on the Cruz Del Sur line that left at noon, only a 2hr wait. There was an internet cafe so I grabbed some coffee and headed to pass the time.

Below is a photographic diary of the trip:

I am in the top right window.

Waiting to leave.

Just made it through Ecuadorian Immigration no problems.

The road to Peruvian Immigration.

Another night on the bus.

But first Dinner.

Breakfast.


Almost there.

Made it. I have now clocked over 115hrs of bus travel in the past 3.5mths. That is more than the last 33yrs combined.

Lima
I didn’t do much in Lima except recover from the trip, repack bags, run a few errands and then prepare to leave again 36hrs after arriving.

The next leg is Australia with a brief stop of 8 days in the US of A. Stay tuned for more adventures…and a few surprises.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Puerto Lopez – Days 95 – 100 – Return to the Beach

April 11th to 16th 2011

Return to Blue Lagoon… sort of
Having made it back to my beloved beach in Puerto Lopez, the struggle of getting there just making the return all the more sweeter. I set about getting myself settled for the week and found all my old mates, and a few new ones still there. Gustavo, the bartender, was happy to see me and we renewed our language exchange, although it was more like a Spanish lesson than an actual exchange. I have decided I really love the language and would like to return here, maybe at the end of my trip, to spend 3mths living and learning Spanish.. and maybe Salsa and Surfing too (all the important “S” words).

Moving Hostels
Since my friend Heidy was in the process of building a hostel and had a private room for $10/night I decided to move over to her place. the hostel owner of Fragata asked where I was moving to and once I explained a friend she understood, but it was a little awkward. Heidy’s hostel, yet to be named, is half way to being done and is a perfect location. Across the road from the beach, right where the fishermen bring in their catch its a great place to pick some fresh food. At present she has 2 small dorm rooms and a private, she is in the process of building the 2nd level, an outside kitchen/bbq area, and doing the garden. It promises to be a very quaint and comfy hostel. (If anyone wants contact details let me know and I will put you in touch with her).

Dinners and beach
The next few days were a whirlwind of making dinners for large groups, having great get togethers and spending the day at the beach. One morning we bought some fresh fish from the incoming catch and cooked it up for dinner, another day we had fish soup, they were kind enough to give me the best part…the head.

There were also many afternoon frappuccinos at our local Columbian cafe with friends, they truly are the best in the world.

Stung by a ray
One particularly lazy relaxing day with Mitch, Rowena and Hettie at the beach ended in quite the episode. The girls went to go swim and shortly after I saw them coming back, Hettie supporting Rowena. Turns out she had managed to find the one sting ray on this part of the beach. We soon were surrounded by locals willing to help and very concerned. The therapy was to melt hot wax onto the sting site, the heat would draw out the poison. Rowena managed to make writhing in pain look sexy, while Hettie sang to her. Definately a scene out of a tv series. Then we got some antibiotics from the pharmacy and, much to her horror, informed her she was not allowed to drink. What is a 20something English girl meant to do on a beach in Ecuador??? Mitch carried her home.

Surf Lessons
Gustavo agreed to give us surf lessons even though his board had snapped in half a month ago. He went and rented a board from a friend and we were off. Well Hettie was, she got it down almost immediately. I on the other hand floundered, swallowed half the ocean and ended up by tweaking my back on the last wipe-out. I did however manage to raise both my knees of the board and start towards the standing position, for about 1second, but there was still knee clearance!

Salsa and Friends
On my second to last night we had a fantastic time. We went down to one of the bars and almost immediately I was asked to dance. We had them throw on salsa and I got to shake my ass all night long, it was fantastic, even if I had to go soak my toes in the water from dancing barefoot on the sand.

All good things come to an end
I have made so many friends while staying in this little town, and had so many amazing experiences. But once again it was time to say goodbye. As I was leaving at 4.30am I said goodbye to as many people as I could the night before. Gustavo was kind enough to meet me and help me carry my stuff to the bus station. He had become a good and dear friend and saying goodbye was hard, even if it had to be done.

I will miss this beautiful beach town and hope to return, but for now it was Lima bound and another day long bus ride.

Some Random Pics

Farewell to one of the most beautiful places on earth

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Quito & Mindo – Days 91 – 94

April 7th to 10th 2011

Morning’s Catch
Woke up at 6.30am and went to watch the morning catch being brought in. There is something so beautiful and vibrant about standing on the beach, frigate birds and pelicans swirling overheard and the sounds of the fishermen bringing in their haul. At the same time it is often tragic what you might find within their catch. Today it happened to be a juvenile whale shark. The first time I have ever seen one and it has to be dead on the beach. I later found out that it was illegal to catch them, but when authorities arrived the guilty party was no where to be found. At the same time you have to understand that fishing is the sole source of income for most of these families, and often things get caught in the nets accidentally.

On the Road Again
Heading back to the hostel I saw Waka Waka (Jordan). His real name is Ayman but his nickname suits him perfectly. We went and grabbed some coffee and then he helped me with my bags to the bus. Another great friend to say farewell to.

It turned out Michi (volunteer from AmaZOOnico) was also on the bus and so we settled in for another long trip, this one totalling 11hrs. The trip was reasonably uneventful except for the fact that a mother / daughter team sat next to me, ending up with 3 of us sharing 2 seats. I didn’t mind too much but it did make comfort non existent. About half way through there appeared to be an issue with one of the passengers and the driver increased speed to the next town where an ambulance was waiting. A young woman was carried off the bus complaining of severe abdominal pain. Hopefully she will be ok. Then the bus pulled off and we continued on our way.

Eventually pulling into Quito at about 9pm. Michi and I shared a cab into town and I arrived at Tiffany and Jose’s apartment just before 10pm. It is great having friends all over the world, and I greatly appreciated having them there. Shortly after I arrived, Tiffany returned from the airport with Emily (a friend from Eugene, Oregon) and soon we were all chatting about jungle experiences and flight details.

A day in the city
Emily and I caught a cab the next day into town and spent the morning exploring Plaza Grande, around the presidential palace (where numerous late presidents had been murdered in a variety of ways – note to self don’t run for president in Ecuador). We grabbed a bite to eat with Jose during his lunch break and then continued to walk and marvel at the architecture. At the end of the day we met up with Tiffany and Jose and after a few errands headed back to the house for pizza and a movie.

Hi Ho Hi Ho its off to Mindo we go
Saturday we had an outing planned to a town 2hrs north of Quito. Mindo is located in the cloud forest and is reputed to be very beautiful and have stunning bird life. Due to a change in plans, Tiffany ended up being able to join us after classes had to be canceled. A friend of Jose’s, Marco, was our taxi driver, and with Jose, Emily, Franklin and me squished in the back and Tiffany in the front we headed to first do some errands.

I had decided on a course of action for the final week in Ecuador and had bought an air ticket to Manta where I could catch a bus back to Puerto Lopez, the beach and friends just sounded too good to pass up.
So with a short stop to pick up my ticket at the mall and pick up some coffee we were off.

The road to Mindo is through the mountains and it was particularly windy, I think this made Marco a wee bit too happy and it felt like we were on a roller coaster ride. According to Tiffany he actually behaved himself and the ride was not as crazy as one her parents had endured. But as I was feeling a little down (too many farewells start weighing on you) the squished rollercoaster ride started to make me feel a bit car sick, and it took a lot of concentration (and prayer) to make it through the ride.

Mindo was strikingly beautiful, with green hills and lots of waterfalls. Apparently a tornado had tore up the town just a few days before (apparently tornadoes in Ecuador are non-existent, the weather appears to be a changing). We grabbed some pizza for lunch and picked up a ride into the forest where we could hike to a waterfall. A short way down there was a short cut rope and the boys leaped on that in a heart beat.

Half way down there was a zipline option and again the boys were more than willing to give it a try. Although on the video there appeared to be a lot of hesitation by some of the parties. I continued down the path thinking the others were behind me and only realised later that they had stopped to do the zipline. But I got to see some hummingbirds and interesting plants that I might not have seen had we been in a large group.

At the end of the trail there was a magnificent set of pools and a chance to go down a slide into the rushing river below. As the water was freezing and the only thing stopping you from plummeting down the waterfall was a single rope, I declined, but the others were up for the challenge. We enjoyed ourselves at the pools and I played paparazzi for everyone going down the slides and jumping off the ledges. Then we dried off and prepared for the long trek back up the gorge. Thats the only problem with going down, you have to go back up again afterwards.

Back in town we chowed down on some left over pizza and all collapsed into bed feeling very refreshed but exhausted after the day out.

Market Day
The plan for Sunday had been to go to the town of Otovalo, which is famous for its markets. But due to cost of the trip and working around Tiffany’s work schedule we opted for the markets of Quito. It was probably the right decision as Quito’s markets can be overwhelming and are only a 10th of the size of Otovalo, add to that my inability to make decisions and I would most likely still be in amongst the stalls.

I was able to pick up numerous wonderful gifts, chocolate, coffee and even came across a store with beads and stocked up.

In the evening I made dinner for everyone and while Jose watched football (soccer) in the bedroom the girls broke out an appropriately girly movie. Another great day.

Transport Gods foil my plans again
My plans for Monday were fool proof. Take the 2.30pm flight from Quito to Manta, arriving around 3.30pm. That gave me more than enough time to take a bus back to Puerto Lopez and arrive by 6pm in time for dinner. However, this was not to be. I got a call at 10am saying that the 2.30pm flight was cancelled and I was moved to the 6.30pm flight. This meant that I was 1) stuck in the apartment all day (luckily with Emily), as I had no key and 2) there would be no bus after 6pm and I would either have to spend the night in Manta or take a taxi (working out to about the same cost).

I had some choice words for the transport Gods, but I guess it just makes you appreciate it more when you finally reach your destination. Everything went off without any issues and I arrived in Puerto Lopez at 9pm, almost on the dot much to the pride of the taxi driver, and in time to have a beer with my friends.

Ahhh its good to be back at the beach!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Another Tragedy for AmaZOOnico

I just found out that Angelika, the co-founder along with her husband, Remiggio, of AmaZOOnico and the heart and soul of the refuge died a few days ago in a car accident. She was traveling with her family for vacation and the car collided with a bus.

Angelika first travelled to Ecuador around 20yrs ago where she met Remiggio, a local guide, they fell in love and she gave up everything in Switzerland to move to his remote village on the edge of the Amazon. Together they built AmaZOOnico and spread the word of wildlife conservation to foreigners and locals alike.

Her indomitable spirit and love of the jungle will surely be missed, and we hope that AmaZOOnico can survive without her vibrant energy. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family and everyone who is/has been involved with her amazing project and legacy.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Puerto Lopez – Day 86 – 90: The BEACH!

April 2nd to 6th 2011

Mr. Sympathetic
After arriving in the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am and finding it very difficult to find a bus to my chosen destination of Puerto Lopez, I settled in with a couple from Spain who were heading in the same general direction. Most of the ticket offices were closed, and there must be over 200 of them, but we had been pointed to one office that was meant to open at 4.30am. While we waited there was a rumor that we could take a bus to Salinas and then get another bus further up the coast. Right as we were on the verge to leave with it, a very nice gentleman explained that it was better to wait, as it wasn’t a guarantee we would get a bus and this bus station was larger and had more security. We decided to wait it out and chatted with him, he also spoke some English so was able to help me figure out my ticket too.

As fate would have it he was on our bus heading to Olon (from there I had to catch a local bus to Puerto Lopez) and it was quite fun having all four of us on the bus together. We all promptly fell asleep and at some point into the journey our new friend deboarded. I found out later that he had actually managed to get into the couple’s bag and steal their laptop, mp3 and phone. Makes you lose faith in human nature.

The Beach, I can see the Beach!
After 3.5hrs we reached the town of Olon and had to flag down the local bus, that speeds down the road at beyond top speeds. Finally reaching my destination after another 1.5hr drive at high speed down a very curvy ocean road (I think I am now praying to any God that will listen on these trips). I threw my bag on my shoulder and decided to just hoof it to the hostel, the town wasn’t that big. I found a sign pointing to the right and followed it. I came across a distinctly hostel looking establishment but it had no name. Turns out it was Sol Inn Hostel and so I went about getting myself booked in. This is where things first got confused. I asked for a private room on the first night and then transfer to a dorm, I just needed to sleep. I was quoted $10 and then pointed in the general direction of room 1 as the guy walked off. So lugging my bag up the stairs I went into what was supposed to be a sanctuary in my present state. It was instead littered with leaves and twigs and dirt (caused from the heavy rain the night before). I found the guy (turned out to be the manager, Darwin) and he apologised and promised to have it cleaned immediately. I sat and waited.

Over 10minutes later I went to find him and was told they were all on lunch. I just looked at him and said I need sleep now, I will take anything, a dorm room is fine. He directed me to a different room that was a 3bed dorm with a private bathroom. It looked perfect and I said yes. He mumbled something about “privado” and I assumed he meant there was no one else tonight so it was like a private, because obviously this was a dorm room.

5hrs later I emerged from a dead sleep feeling very refreshed and headed down to the beach, the amazing beautiful beach. As I stepped onto it I immediately fell in love with this tiny town. The beach is long and white (a minor trash issue), the water was warm and clear and the beach was lined with little shack like bars all serving the same stuff and playing the same music.

Eventually I decided to grab a drink and stood in a daze trying to decide which one of the little beach bars to choose. Its kind of like standing at the cheese counter in an upmarket store in the States, just too many to choose from. One seemed to draw me in and I went and found, what was soon dubbed, my hammock. A particularly nice looking bartender brought me a menu and I ordered a chocolate shake. When he brought it to me he also brought a table and said “para mi princessa” (for my princess). I think I am going to like this bar. So sitting in MY hammock watching the ocean listening to Bob Marley and some 80’s remixes it felt about as close to heaven as you could get and well worth the trip.

Enter Boris, a rather skinny weasely looking Ecuadorian who seemed intent on talking to me. Its not as if I felt creeped out or anything but I just really wanted to relax on my own. He chatted a bit about tours and things to do and asked where I was from. I replied and was cordial but eventually, at the end of my shake, I decided I needed dinner so said my farewells. As I left my yummy bartender asked my name and asked if I would come back that evening as it was Saturday night and there were usually more people around then. I said yes.

Saffers are everywhere
During my time in the jungle one of the best tours I did was with a group of South African students. The last group of people I ever would have thought to encounter there. As I was walking down the sidewalk of Puerto Lopez, looking for dinner, I suddenly heard a young man say “I knew it was you”. And low and behold but guess who was there, the group had come to the beach for a couple of days. It was great seeing them and they greeted me like an old friend. I walked with them to meet the rest and I got hugs all around. Apparently the pic they took of me (looking bedragled after severe rain) was all over facebook. It was great seeing them but unfortunately they were heading out of town that day. Its a small world after all.

Dinner and beer in my hammock
After saying cheers I decided to eat where they had and ordered some fish and chips. The thought was to have a quick dinner and then go back to the bar for a beer. It appeared they had to catch my fish as it took over an hour for it to be cooked, and I was 1 of 2 customers. However, I just ran across the street to take some pics as I waited.

Finally finished I headed over and was able to recline in my hammock with my large beer (a whopping $1.25) and watch what remained of the sunset. This was heaven…until Boris showed up again. He chatted away, inviting me to his bar for a free drink etc etc… He even insisted on paying for my drink, I argued on that one just a little bit. But eventually I explained how tired I was and headed back to the hostel. My bartender waved goodbye as I left.

Mitch the Aussie
When I got back to the hostel, I discovered a rather dashing young man playing with himself, pool that is. His name was Mitch from Gold Beach Australia and he was actually trying to learn how to cheat at pool. We ended up playing a couple of games and I came fairly close on one of them, think I needed a second beer as I always play better when I have a slight buzz. By the 3rd game 2 local kids had shown up, about 5 and 7, apparently they are there every night and are child prodige pool sharks. They made it their mission to teach me how to win, and I fear I failed them as a student. There is nothing quite demoralising as having two kids act completely disappointed at your ability to hit a ball right in front of you.

So as I headed to bed, I hung my head in shame and we let them take over the table.

Blue Footed Boobies
Today was my tour to Isla De La Plata and my chance to see Blue Footed Boobies. My trip to South America would now include Lake Titicaca and Blue Footed Boobies, I was content and this section of travel has been worth it.

I met up with my tour and we boarded out little boat out to the island. Heidy was our English speaking guide and was really good. A tiny 5ft petite Ecuadorian girl with lots of knowledge of the area. I made some new friends with a group of Americans and soon we were enjoying the sea air as we jetted across the waves. It would take at least an hour to get there. About half way through we were welcomed by a huge pod of Spotted Dolphins, apparently rather rare at that time of year and never that close, under the boat and all around us. Truly amazing.

When we got to the island we had a bathroom break with little buddies, crabs. Most of the girls came running out screaming, I went running in with my camera. Gives a whole new meaning to “catching crabs in the bathroom”. Finally it was time to search for the Blue Footed Boobies (insert hysterically giggling here). The island was quite desolate and very hot, and we had 201 steps to walk up to get to the top. I hate stairs. But at the top our very first juvenile Boobie was there to greet us, I think he must be on the pay roll. The entire hour and a half walk was incredible. We saw longtailed mockingbirds, candelabra catcus, small lizards, frigate birds and of course numerous boobies. They just sort of stood there and looked at us as if to say “yes I have blue feet, do you have a problem with that?”.

All to soon we ended the loop and headed back to the boat where we were given lunch and moved on to a snorkeling spot. We were lucky enough to see a green turtle on the way and at the spot there were numerous colorful fish all around the boat. A fantastic day all in all. Afterwards some of us headed to grab a drink, my bar (Oscars Bar) was closed so we went to another. One of the guys had agreed to be my boyfriend if Boris showed up, but wouldn’t you know it, it looks like I had been dumped for another couple. Oh well I wasn’t really into the relationship.

Back at the hostel I hung out with my new friends Mitch and Connie (Wales). Heidy also happened to be there so we all hung out till 11pm. Great times, great friends.

Agua Blanca
On Monday Anya, met her the day before on the boat, and I decided to grab a moto (small tuk tuk 3 wheel transport type thing) and head out to Agua Blanca. Famous for the historical significance of the settlement and the sulfur pool, the local community has truly embraced this and made quite a decent living off tourists coming to visit. The ride was great fun and our driver was hysterical.

At the community there was a small museum that we were taken around and had everything explained to us, all in Spanish and I could understand and translate most of it for Anya. Then we took the moto to the sulfur pool and were greeted by the overwhelming smell of rotten eggs. We were given the option to swim if we wanted, but we both declined. We did however put the mud all over our faces. Heading back we stopped at a view point and then went back to town. We grabbed a drink at Oscar’s Bar and just relaxed.

The plan was to meet Anya at the bar at 7.30pm, so I headed back to relax and take a nap. At the appointed time I headed to the bar and waited, and waited and waited. Chatted with one of the local guys, Felix, and Gustavo. When Felix got up to leave Gustavo (the bartender) started asking me about my family and where I was from. Then he asked if I wanted to join him in the morning to go to another beach 15min by bus up the coast. I thought what the heck and said yes. Later I got a free mojito. Some other friends showed up and it turned into a great night.

Private Beach
Just before 9am I headed to the bus station, picked up some rolls and a piece of cake (it was Gustavo’s birthday) and waited. It turns out Ecuadorian time is 25minutes later, but no worries. Soon we were on the bus and heading to the beach. It was spectacular, white sand, black rocks, no trash and littered with interesting shells. We spent the morning collecting shells, sunbathing, swimming and generally hanging out. Since he spoke virtually no English we communicated in Spanish and it turned into a great Spanish lesson. When the sun became too hot we headed back into town.

Gustavo’s Birthday Party
My small group of new friends, Connie – Wales, Mitch – Australia and Heidy – local, headed over towards Oscar’s Bar to celebrate Gustavo’s birthday. When we got there the bar was still closed so we went and had a beer next door. We decided to pick up a couple of bottles of rum as the guys had promised to make us free drinks if we brought the alcohol.

When they finally arrived it turned into a humdinger. Great music, great fun and great friends. The biggest surprise was seeing Michi from AmaZOOnico, he had come to meet a friend who ended up knowing Gustavo and so both came to the party. enter “It’s a small world” theme music. We danced and drank and had a whale of a time. Gustavo being shy ended up spending most of the time making drinks or playing DJ. At one point Oscar, bar owner, grabbed both of us and made us dance salsa along with everyone else. A great night, and one that required ibuprofen, a large bottle of water and sleeping in till 11am. Luckily my medical precautions prevented any serious after affects.

Dinner with Friends
Wednesday was a lazy day. I went to buy my 11hr bus ticket to Quito for the following day and spent most of hte day relaxing at the hostel or on the beach. I had planned to make dinner for everyone, Pasta Italiano, I invited Gustavo when I bumped into him on the beach, but due to a disagreement with the hostel owner he didn’t like to go there. So we agreed to hang out afterwards for a beer.

The dinner was delicious and I managed to feed 5 of us, I will really miss my new friends, hate having to say goodbye. Then I headed to the beach and hung out with Gustavo for the evening.

All in all I think I have fallen in love with this little beach town, and have made amazing friends along the way… perhaps I should come back????

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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IN MEMORY OF TULAN

I recently heard that our sweet and beautiful Tulan, wooly monkey, died from parasites and complications 2 weeks ago. She was raised by humans and could never adjust to living in the wild, no matter how hard we tried. When she took poorly due to a particularly nasty parasite she became our office monkey and a constant companion during our break times.

We will all miss her sweet face and gentle calls and hope to meet her at the Rainbow Bridge with all of our beloved creatures who have passed.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Baños to Rio Bamba to Guayaquil – Day 85

April 1st 2011

The Transport gods’ April Fools Joke
As much as I loved Baños and as much as Asef tried to convince me to stay, mainly to be his paparazzi on a bungee jump, I headed off on the 11.15am bus to Rio Bamba, a 3 hour drive. The plan was to meet up with Flavio and Iho (Kichwa volunteers from AmaZOOnico) at the bus station, hang out for the afternoon and then take the overnight bus to Guayaquil and onto Puerto Lopez.

The Transport gods apparently have a great sense of humor, for when I got to the station they all said there was no bus at that time and the next one only left at noon. Please note I had double checked the times yesterday. So I bought my ticket, found an internet cafe and sent a message. Then I wondered around watching the candy makers pulling their taffy type candy and picking up a few delicious treats. One guy even gave me a taste of the hot gooey taffy he was pulling.

Finally it was time to board and as the bus pulled away I figured out I had scored and got a row to myself. Even if the guy in front had reclined his seat so far I could almost see his middle parting. Before we got out of the parking lot though, 3 people jumped on and wouldn’t you know it one sat next to me. I must admit that even though the Transport gods seem to be having a blast they did give me a little compensation this time, as my seat mate turned out to be a very handsome young backpacker from Israel. He made me guess his home and was very impressed when I guessed correctly. Then we mulled away the time talking about everything from travel writing and volunteering to the political situation in Israel. You never know who you are going to meet and what interesting conversations the meetings may lead to.

All to soon the bus pulled into Rio Bamba and I was deposited on the sidewalk. I figured waiting inside the bus station was the best option but after an hour of waiting I became concerned. Eventually I saw Flavio walking up. Turns out there are 2 bus stations in Rio Bamba and the initial bus I was supposed to be on went to the other bus station. This day just keeps on getting better and better.

It was great hanging out with Flavio all day, we walked around, went to a small craft market and then met up with his friends in time to see the parade celebrating the city’s anniversary. It was fantastic fun with dancers performing all forms of traditional and modern dancing.

At the end of the parade we went and had pizza and beer and then headed back to the bus station. My bus only left in 3hrs but I didn’t mind waiting and they had some others to meet up with. The ticket lady allowed me to come in the back and I was able to squeeze in a quick nap.

Now this is where the true April Fool’s Joke was performed, courtesy of a deity with a great sense of humor. I had been told by friends that the trip was 15hrs and so, in my great wisdom, I bought 2 seats allowing me to sleep. However, they overstuffed the bus and I wasn’t going to make the little old lady sit on the floor, I also, however, was not going to let her pay for her ticket as I had already bought that seat. She tried to pay me but I said to keep it. Then the trip turned out to be only 6hrs and the driver did it 4hrs, leaving me at the Guayaquil bus station at 2.30am…

Luckily my good karma with the old lady’s seat guided me towards two other foreigners. But again, the sense of humor of the powers that be prevailed, they were from Spain and spoke only Spanish… At least we were able to make ourselves understood and had company.

Some random pics of Baños:

Funny thing was there were nightly buses taking tourists to the top of the volcano in the hope that it would errupt. Maybe we were the sacrifices.

Some Pics from Rio Bamba:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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Baños – Day 83 – 84 – the Ecuadorian Town of Extreme Sports

March 30th to 31st 2011

Detox Steam Bath
At the hostel you could get what was termed a relaxing detox steam bath for only $2.75, so I figured what the heck after 2mths of jungle grime build up that sounded downright fantastic. Little did I know what exactly it entailed:
– strip to swim suit
– have strange guy in just swim trunks place you in large wooden box
– box lid is slid closed exposing just your neck
(due to a failure in height this involved a bit of neck stretching and my feet didn’t touch the ground properly)
– steam was pumped in for at least 5minutes
– guy frees you and you follow a precise routine of dousing yourself with towel soaked in cold water (following circulation pattern)
– repeat hot box
– repeat towel soak
– repeat hot box
– sit in shallow pool and massage your stomach clockwise while guy splashes freezing cold water over you
– repeat hot box
– repeat towel
– repeat hot box
– get doused with bowl of cold water
– then walk to other room and have guy hose you down with high pressure hose.

Absolutely hilarious, invigorating and fantastic. The hardest part was when he hosed down the under side of my feet, I am very ticklish and nearly collapsed in a pile of giggles.

I felt so good after I went out to explore, got as far as buying an alpaca sweater/jersey/jumper (had nothing warm after being in the jungle) and having a cup of coffee. Almost as soon as I finished the coffee I felt an overwhelming need for sleep and spent the rest of the day in bed. There is a certain point where the body just realises it needs a vacation and it decides to take it.

After a good 5hr nap I was able to function enough to explore some of the surrounding adventure offices and find an activity for the following day. I was leaning towards horse riding as it has been many years since I had the opportunity. I decided on one that had a very friendly lady and offered it for $30 for 4 hrs. Sounded perfect (I would suffer later).

Airline screw up, it had to happen sometime
Then up to the roof top terrace of the hostel to try and figure out the screw up with my ticket home. I had decided to surprise my parents for easter weekend and had purchased 2 tickets on Allegiant air about 2weeks ago during one of my trips to Tena. I am anal retentive when it comes to confirming these and made sure the 2 one way tickets were correct before clicking the yes button. I didn’t have time to check the email confirmations until I had arrived in Baños and thats when I discovered the screw up. Instead of one way from San Fran to Eugene and then Eugene to LA, I some how had 2 one way tickets from Eugene to LA on the same day, same flight. I tried to email, no response, tried the online live chat, no help, finally I loaded up my skype account and called. The best they could do was to change the one ticket, but I would have to pay a change fee… luckily it was only $10 so I decided to grin and bare it.

New Friends and Local Baths
During the process of fixing my ticket I had an audience/peanut gallery. Asef, Israel, gave an amusing commentary the entire time I was trying to change my ticket and helped lighten the moment. Shortly after sorting it out his mate, Rob from England, showed up and we decided to head out to the local baths.

The baths are located at the end of town and cost $3 to get into. You put your gear in a tub and hand it in, have a rinsing shower and then head to the pool. Everyone getting in is grimacing and acting in pain and you assume that this pool must be the freezing cold one. It was in fact boiling hot, just short of bubbles. I think I could have poached a nice piece of fish in there. Once you finally slide in it feels good, almost. Eventually though it is time to get out and try a dip in the cold water. The heat makes you not feel the cold as bad, if you get in quickly, then the numbing cold makes you not feel the heat as bad. It ends up working out well, but you can only do it for so long and I headed out after about 3 hot and 3 cold dips. The others were going to meet up for dinner later.

Dinner involved very cheap pizza (edible, barely), then sitting on the terrace playing card games and drinking rum and coke. When it reached the magic hour of heading to the bar (about 10.30pm) I went to bed. I think I am getting to old for bar hopping…

A Horse Named Maria
The following morning I was driven to the horses and introduced to my mare, Maria. It turned out this little sassy lassy was a perfect fit for me and also exceptionally stubborn. She liked to be in the lead and kept walking in a wavy line to prevent my guide’s horse, Benito, from getting ahead of her. We headed out of town and up into the hills. Renee (my guide) gave me the option of 2 routes and I said which ever she preferred. She decided since I appeared to have experience we would take a less used route. This involved steep inclines and declines and rough terrain. It was fantastic but I feared my knees and rear may never forgive me. At one point we had to get off and walk down and a long decline as my knees did protest too much.

The best thing about Renee was that she loved the fact that I was traveling alone and wasn’t attached. She herself was divorced and had 3 kids. Her philosophy was to do something you love, have kids but try avoid acquiring a husband as long as possible, they were more trouble than they were worth.

I had to walk the 10minutes back to town and after a nice hot shower I discovered that sitting was quite a challenge. It appeared as if all the trotting and up and down had bruised my sitz bones which created quite the problem. The solution was to lie down and have a nap, a perfect solution if I say so myself.

Vegetarian Lasagne at Casa Hood
For dinner I finally got to go to the famous Casa Hood. It has a fantastic backpacker hippy feel and the food was incredible. I wish it had been open every night I was there, as I would have loved to work my way through the menu.

Returning to the hostel for another rum and coke evening with Asef and Rob and a jenga challenge. After collapsing the tower numerous times the game turned into a block building challenge to see who could make the tallest tower. A great way to spend the evening. When they headed to the bars I headed to bed.

Tomorrow I head to meet up with friends in Riobamba and then the bus towards Puerto Lopez…

Some good quotes from Casa Hood:

 
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Posted by on April 28, 2011 in RTW, Travel, Uncategorized

 

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