Monday, May 30, 2005

Ed versus the Volcano

It's taken a while but I have discovered an alarming pattern about all the places I am visiting in Ecuador. Every single one of them has been the scene of some god awful natural disaster (the type you usually find in a column on page 8 of the Newspaper with 300,000 dead). First it was Quito, which 5 years ago was completely covered in volcanic ash when the erupting pinchincha decided to turn day into night for the 2 million residents of the capital city. Then we went to Latacunga. This town has the pleasure of being nestled next to Mt Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. In the last 300 years it has erupted 3 times completely destroying the town of 50,000. Scientists believe it erupts every 108 years and it's now been 120 since the last one. To make matters worse, the temperature of the ground has increased from 4 degrees in 2001 to 41 degrees in 2005. It is predicted the upcoming eruption will send lava waves 30 metres high travelling at 60 kilometres an hour.
After Latacungo we travelled to Ambato. This town was completely destroyed in a 1949 Earthquake. Lucky we were only there to change buses. But our final destination and where I am sitting rather stupidly right now is Banos. Someone decided to found a town here right next to Tunguruhua, an active volcano that has been continously erupting since 1999. At that time the town was evacuated and soldiers placed to stop people returning. Unfortunately rumours circulated that soldiers were looting and a riot ensued. Slowly residents and tourists have been returning, needless to say the most popular thing to do here is eruption viewing. Lets just hope the eruptions continue to be minor. At the moment the town is only on Yellow alert but we are told to memorise the street map for a hasty evacuation. There was a major tremour here 2 weeks ago. mmmmmm At least I can take comfort with the fact that I'll be taking about 2000 other stupid tourists with me.

Horses at 10,000 feet

After leaving Quito, we all jumped on a bus to a small village called Chugchilan, high in the Central Highlands of Ecuador.
(3200 metres for anyone who enjoys altitude talk). The lonely planet described their bus ride there as being "on an extremely bad road". As always they were right and I spent most of the bus ride figuring out the best way to jump out of a moving bus should it fall down that very steep gorge. For the record, sit at the back right of the bus and keep the window open, you risk the head on collision but you have a much better chance should you roll down the 2000 metre drop. As it turned out our ride was not too bad, one flat tyre and a very mysterious method of fixing the problem by backing over a large rock every 2 kilometres. (sometimes it's best not to ask.) The trip however was well worth it. We stayed at an eco tourist lodge called the Black sheep inn, where permaculture is definitely not a dirty word. Besides the fact it was a little too politically correct, and there were far too many Americans staying there, it was absolutely magical.
For me the highlight was a 6 hour horseride thru the mountains whtch finished with a view all the way to the coast with the cloud line underneath us. My horse was a little bit frisky and I got my fair share of cantering, which for a beginner was downright terrifying. The cute thing was that two little foals came along with their mummies for the ride. The day after we did a 6 hour hike from lake Quilotoa, a volcanic crater lake at 3800 metres with a good looking colour of lime green. The day will be remembered for almost being blown off the mountain. This morning we had to leave our mountain paradise and travel by open dusty truck, 3 different buses, and two taxis to Banos. 5 hair washes later and now I feel human again.

On the Buses

Riding the buses in Ecuador, as in every third world country, has it's own little quirks. Here it is the impromptu sales demonstrations that occur for passengers. Upon leaving or entering any town, someone jumps on board and addresses the bus with quite a lengthy appraisal of the benefits of whatever product they happen to be selling. Sometimes you get a half hour lecture about the latest pharmeceutical magic pill, which will cure everything from penile discfunction to obesity, not to mention fixing that stomach bug you've been carrying around for the last few months. Other people are selling herbal tea which seems to cure pretty much the same types of things. But the funniest are the lolly merchants who also address the bus with a half hour conversation about the benefits of their 5 cent lolly. Usually the hawkers hand out a sample to everyone in the bus during their talk and once the pitch is finished they come back and collect the sample back, unless of course you have been seduced by the miracle lolly which will turn you into an irresitable sexual beast. The amazing thing is the amount of customers these guys get. Even I fell for the Mate tea sales pitch. Watch out Kate, you're tavelling with a tiger.

These salesmen and women take their jobs very seriously

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Stepping on an Albatross Posted by Hello

The famous blue footed Booby Posted by Hello

who�s the fattest sea lion? Posted by Hello

lava formations Posted by Hello

0ur 104 year old Pirate ship Posted by Hello

The Crew of the Sulidae Pirate ship Posted by Hello

"Don´t step on the Albatross"

Those immortal words were indeed muttered to me just days ago when we were on our 8 day Galapagos Islands cruise.
But the phrase could well have been, "Dont step on the giant turtle, blue footed booby, the 170 kg Sea Lion, the 15 iguanas right next to your foot, and don´t put your finger too close to the white tipped shark"For the Galapagos Sea lion it is quite normal to sleep under the wheel of a bus, for the Blue footy booby the best place to nest is in the middle of a walking track, and for the giant tortoise why not lay your eggs when the tourists have just arrived on the beach. In fact the Galapagos Islands are actually the Earth about 3 billion years ago. They are volcanic Islands quite recently formed, (there are over 2000 visible craters on the Islands). The slow transformation of lava into soil is remarkable and the fact that the animals have evolved witout a fear of humans is astonishing. It is for this reason they have become one of South America´s top, albeit expensive, tourist attractions.
So Kate, myself and Jason and Jonathon( two of Kate´s friends from OZ, booked our very own pirate ship( along with 8 others) and set sail around the archipelago. It was one of those trips where the water was bluey green, the fish were plentiful for snorkeling, and the Islands amazing.
It was indeed a paradise, although I wouldn´t of wanted to be shipwrecked there. For me the highlights were the Albatrosses soaring off the cliffs, swimming with extremely playful sea lions,
getting the fright of my life when swimming off the boat and noticing a large shark underneath me, and seeing the incredible lava formations.
Now we´re back in Quito and tomorrow we head towards the central highlands of Ecuador, which will be very cold but also very beautiful.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Ecuadorian alternative healing

One of the fun things about travelling is sometimes you find yourself in the hands of local people who are determined to introduce you to some of the finer aspects of their culture. Often you have no idea of where you are heading, like yesterday on my final day of Spanish Scool, My teacher Fernando decided to take me off to the alternative healing centre for my own special therapy. LUCKILY, the centre was full and we couldn't get an appointment. I say luckily because my teacher was determined that I recieve some guinea pig therapy from the local Shamen. For 7 US Dollars I was to strip naked while a nurse holds a live squealing guinea pig, carefully scanning it over your entire body, a bit like radiotherapy. Once this is completed the Guinea pig is promptly strangled in front of you. It is then dissected and the poor animal is examined to see if there is anything wrong with it's organs. Should the ginea pig have a gall stone then this is declared to be the patients diagnosis as well. The added bonus is that afterwards you can take the guinea pig home and cook it up on the BBQ for a special treat of Ecuadors National dish. The intersting thing about all this is how widely regarded this form of medical treatment is. Everyone from my teacher, to our dentist host mother, to the local doctor declares it the best way to truly find out if there is anything wrong with you. I would say there is definitely something wrong with you if you indulge in this kind of thinking. I just hope that my alternative healing Sister Jessica doesn't get wind of this.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Football South America style

Our family are self confessed football fanatics and suggested we go to Quito on Wednesday night to watch the Manchester United of Ecuador ( La Liga) play the Arsenal of Uraguay in the South American equivalent of the Champions league.
So Kate and I, the 2 boys, Marco and a couple of cousins dived into the chevrolet for a 2hour drive to Quito to see the game. (By the way our host dad Marco drives like a complete maniac), which is normal here, and enjoys doing so to disco hits of the seventies.
We arrived at the game, downed quite a few cervezas, and then began singing a few of the local club songs. It was indeed a match to remember. The team from Uraguay went ahead early which prompted most of the 25000 crowd to chant "hijo de punta" (son of a bitch)at the top of their voices. (not very catholic of them).
But then La Liga got a penalty and it felt like the berlin wall was torn down. Fireworks were let off in the crowd and all that pent up catholic sexual energy let off in a frenzy of dance song, blasphemy and love. The striker lined up the kick, but alas the keeper saved it... you could have head a virgin doll drop, but then the referee overruled saying the keeper moved to early and the party began all over. The striker lined up for his second try.... goaaaallllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll.... celebrations, hugs, kisses.... but alas the refereee overruled again saying one of the La Liga players moved too early. Third time lucky.... he lines up and shoots.... but the keeper saves it and the tears start to flow... looks like La Liga will be eliminated ... but out of the blue, Miguel the mullet head somehow finds the net and its new years eve all over again..... I'm still trying to get the pink cola out of my hair. The final result was 1-1 enough to see La Liga into the final 8. The rest of the match was uneventful except for half the stadium burning down due to an off target firework.
Nxt week they play Riverplate, the Argentinian champions and I'm off to buy my La liga supporters apparel... when in Ecuador.....

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Walking a St Bernard

Our host family has 2 St Bernards, caged up in their Backyard. They are huge teddy bears that look like stuffed toys. Gentle giants bigger than myself and bred to pull sleds in the Austrian mountains. But here in Ecuador, the land of the barking dog, they truly are the top dog. It's sad to see them caged up so Kate and I decided to take them for a walk yesterday, or actually they decided to take us for a very fast sprint around town. It is virtually impossible to hold them back and they strike fear into local people and street dogs alike. As we walk down the street there are literally hundreds of dogs barking at us, but once we get close, the other dogs start bolting. I have never seen a fully grown german shepherd run with fear like when they see us and the St Bernards. Walking the St Bernard has become our new fun thing to do every afternoon, I just hope that Max, the boy St Bernard, doesn´t piss on the new piece of furniture in the street like he did yesterday, then again if he does there´s not much anyone can do about it.

Monday, May 09, 2005


I'm now into my third week of Spanish and have reached the stage where I can understand about half of what´s going on! This has become quite a problem because most locals assume I understand everything and proceed to speak to me muy rapido. My response is to fake, reply with lots of ¨Si Senor's¨ and generally pretend that I understand a lot more than I actually do. Mostly I get away with it by controlling the conversation, ie asking lots of questions, sometimes i get caught out by asking a question about the subject we´ve just been talking about. This makes me look dim witted, something I´m quite comfortable with actually... years of practice.
Learning Espanol has defintely been a great thing to do. We have our own private teacher 4 hours a day and that in itself is a grat way to learn about the culture. It also means that when we see locals in their sparkly indigenous outfits we can actually talk to them and ask them how much thy sold their piglet for rather than just objectifying them with our zoom lens.
Must go now, My family has gone out of their way to treat us to a local Ecuadorian delicasy. Tongue is on the menu today, and there´s no getting out of it.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

¿Fiesta anyone?

Last night Kate and I went to our first Ecuadoran Fiesta togethor with our host family. In true latin spirit it combined lots of people, lots of fireworks, lots of alcohol and lots of religion in a explosive mix of organised chaos. The fun began with lots of street food. I indulged in the local BBQ specialty Pincho followed by El Vido ( a fiery concoction of scotch, sugar, cinamon and something red). Perhaps the funniest incident of the night occurred when a man clad in poncho, cowboy hat and white pantelones walked past with 8 live guinea pigs on a stick, hanging by their little feet and squealing. Kate's reaction echoed their pain. Cuy, as the locals call it, is a delicasy and maybe I will be offered some soon....mmm when in Rome.
Soon after, the local muchachos began letting off some fireworks... most of which seemed to fire into the crowd. The main event seemed to be a castillo which was a huge bamboo installation with a series of different fireworks connected by fuses and consisting of various Ecuadorian icons. There was a taxi with spinniing wheels, a bicycle rider, a dancing girl, a church, Jesus and finally the dove of´peace. Each in turn was a masterful piece of firework engineering, and the crowd was in awe as the band played some catchy church tunes. It was particularly funny to see the local drunk guy dancing underneath and being covered in sparks from various fireworks. But nothing was remotely as funny as the dove of peace which accidently shot fireworks into the crowd and left most people running for cover. I don't think latinos will ever know the meaning of liability insurance... thank Mary

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Sunday mass in Columbia

That´s right, if you´re gonna do sunday mass you may as well do it in Columbia for the day.
Kate, myself and our new family got in the chevrolet and headed north to the land of guns, drugs, kidnappings and as it turns out beautiful churches. The drive itself was stunning along the avenida de Volcanes, in just 2 hours we went from 2600 metres down to 1200 metres and then up to 2900, experiencing different climates and landscapes along the way. Unfortunately Montezuma had cursed Kate so she spent most of the drive cursing Montezuma. Amazingly we drove straight into Columbia without having to show our passports and drove to this amazing church built across a huge valley on a spot where the virgin supposedly appeared a few hundred years ago. Built into the rock it was absolutely stunning, and also extremely good exercise going up and down a few thousand stairs. In fact I couldn´t think of a better place to do Sunday mass. The only miracle that occurred whilst we were there was that Kate didn´t vomit over a few pilgrims. We also patted a few llamas and I have to say I have found my new favourite animal. Sorry Elephants, Im a slut I know.
After church we decided to return to Ecuador to go a cemetary. But not just any cemetary. One where Eduardo scissorhands had been in action with literally hundreds of tree sculptures wherever you looked. Afterwards we brought our family lunch at the local chifa ( Chinese Restaurant) where the customer gets the remote control as soon as they walk in. On the way home we went to a place called La Paz ( the peace) which had the world´s steepest road leading into this huge cave with the virgin strutting her stuff once again. Gotta hand it to these latinos, they find a beautiful spot and they put a virgin there.
on the way home we had ice creams, the eating of is now Ecuadors number one sport, and we returned to our home tired but very happy.....If only Spanish lessons could be as fun