Friday, April 29, 2005

My new Family

As I sit here listening to the pan fluted version of Hotel california, I can take time out to reflect on the changing fortunes of my first week in Ecuador. After 3 days in Quito, a city with more than it's fair share of menace, we headed by very fast bus, or should I say rattly old bus with crazy driver who very much enjoys the sport of overtaking on blind corners, to Otavalo.
Otavalo is home to South Americas most famous gringo market, where you can buy ponchos emblazed with eagles, and all sorts of ridiculous outfits that seem like a good idea at the time. It's also home to about 20,000 people and about 8000 wild dogs that roam the city looking for rubbish, of which there is plenty strewn across most streets. But alas it is also a town surrounded by 2 beautiful volcanoes and lots of interesting buildings to keep enthusiasts of spanish architecture amused for days. Our reason for coming here was to learn spanish.
After a night in the world's smallest bed (Ecuadorians are not known as great basketball players)we checked into our spanish school. Our plan was to stay with a local family for two weeks to really immerse ourselves in the local culture. The thing about staying with local families you never know who you{re going to get. In guatemala I stayed with a very poor couple who ran a small shop selling potato crisps, noodles and cigarettes. In Russia I stayed with a widower in her sixties who sang for the St Petersburg choir, so what to exect in Ecuador?

It all started extremely well when we were picked up in a brand new chevrolet by Marcos a 40 year old history professor( not bad considering 20 dollars a day is an excellent wage) and it just goes from good to excellent. We are driven to a Casa Grande, complete with electric gates, cable tv in every room, St bernard dogs, chandeliers, and wait for it, a huge fish tank in the floor under the stairs with about 100 very large goldfish. Our host mother Yolander is a very successful dentist and they also have 2 adorable sons Marco jnr and Carlos who follow us every where and help us with our homework. Three meals a day, 4 hours spanish lessons a day and all for 200 dollars a week.
we even have 4 minute prayer sessions before every meal! This weekend we go to church in Columbia for the day. Oh what has become of me?

well I'm certainly not doing it tough in Ecuador. Life is very comfortable but learning Spanish is as difficult as ever. Much like banging your head against the wall, after a while you don't notice how much your head hurts. But it's the weekend and Kate and I are out to party tonight with some other Aussies from Spanish school.
Hasta La vista baby

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Viva la Revolution!

Quito Saturday, 2 days after El Presidente has fled the country

and all is quiet... not even a whiff of trouble in the air... We spoke to other travellers who experienced tear gas in the street of our hotel on wednesday and saw mass demonstrations, and spoke of people setting buildings on fire, but unfortunately we have seen nada. Feel like we've arrived at the end of the party with everyone telling us how exciting it was. These South Americans have certainly got this revolution thing down to a fine art. Another day, another president flees country by helicopter kind of thing.

Kate and I have been keeping a very low profile, mainly because jet lag and altitude sickness( Quito is at 2800 metres) have seen us keeping very odd hours not to mention getting us acquainted with El Bano!!!

Tomorrow we head to Otavalo, known as South America's most famous indigenous market. We plan on studying Spanish there for about 2 weeks!

hasta luego

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Big Wednesday

It all started at Lake Taupo, New Zealand, Wednesday morning at about seven o clock. We didn´t notice any ominous signs outside in the sky but in hindsight they must have been there somewhere. Kate and I loaded up the hire car for our 4 hour sprint to the airport in Auckland and then our flight to Quito, Ecuador via Santiago de Chile. The drive was fairly uneventful except we were to learn later of one of the largest thermal eruptions in New Zealand was happening as we drove past but that's a different story.
We made it to the airport on time via a small heated discussion with the hire car company, over a small chip in the windscreen which they wanted to charge us for. ( despite a mechanic checking it out and passing it off as no problem). Checked in, and we're on the runway ready to go except that the entertainment system has crashed and we spend a relaxing couple of hours waiting for them to fix it. Finally we left NZ and crossing the dateline we go back in time and find out it's still wednesday morning. After about 12 hours flying we arrive in Santiago de Chile and it's wednesday afternoon. 4 hours wait at the airport for our connection and all is ok except that our eyes are poking out of our faces.
We board the Lan chile flight to Ecuador, laugh at their safety video and make ourselves comfortable as the attendent makes an announcement on the PA system. "La problemas politico Y militario en Ecuador". Having not kept up with Ecuadorian current affairs I thought they were having some kind of joke, especially as half the people on board were laughing. But sadly this was no joke. the airport was closed due to political and military reasons and we were going back to the Terminal. I was starting to feel like Tom Hanks by now.
Airport closed.... So what had happenned to this supposedly safe South American country? Had rebel militia siezed the airport, and begun firing rocket launches at the army? My imagination, spurned by lack of sleep, was having it's own holiday. The truth was no stranger. El presidente had apparrently been sacked and was fleeing for the airport when the army and demonstratotrs tried to stop him from leaving. He managed to get a helicopter from the palace roof to take him to an undisclosed location.( Brazilian embassy) and spontaneous celebrations begun all around Ecuador.
Meanwhile back in Chile, Kate and I were trying to work out what was happenning with our Travel situation. After a couple of hours filling in various forms, having our passports looked confiscated and filling in more of the same forms we ended up in a nice 4 star hotel courtesy of Lan Chile. By now we had met half the plane and we were all bonded in the way that all very tired and delirious people bond.
5 hours sleep and we were up again, bundled back to the airport to board our 5 hour flight to Quito. Big wednesday was finally over, the streets of our strife torn city seem fine and we are now staying in a delightful backpackers in the old town. So the Latin American adventure begins...

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

gonna miss those kiwis aye

Sitting at Auckland airport, just before the mammoth 24 hour journey to Quito via Santiago... and time to look back at our little cousin Enzed.... funny old country really.... Kate and I have decided they're just a little too sensible. and dare I say it boring. Now this is not just some bitter Aussie talking , bemoaning the loss of some rugby game, no this is a fair dinkum honest appraisal of the country. My evidence

1) after driving for 5 hours thru the centre of the North Island we could not find one radio station that wasnt easy listening. There were hites of the 60s and seventies, hits of the seventies and eighties, hits of today which was delta Goodrem on repeat and then there was country, talkback, which they tried attempted aussie bashing( our eggcent in particular, not to mention bible talk) and not much else!!!!!!

2) one of the top rating television shows just happens to be "How Normal are you"

3) the obsession for rugby. Now I don't mind watching the odd rugby match but these guys can discuss it for breakfast lunch and tea. Moreover it's not like they're any good at the game. How long since you won a world cup? How did you go in the Tri Nations last year?

4) they dont really have a sense of humour. The national song should be "we are stoic, we are sensible and not that funny because life is too serious" I think those Scottish puritan pioneers have a lot to answer for

lets just hope they dont have spy cameras at their airports... Flights just been called,
will some up NZed by "beautiful country, not enough people, especially funny ones and if i hear another Kiwi taking off the aussie accent I'll start bowling underarm


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Behind last

some may argue it's been a long time coming but last night I finally slept in my very own prison cell. Napier backpackers: former Gaol and now home to backpackers and ghosts apparently. Kate and I checked in yesterday and survived the night despite the howling wind and creaky floorboards. Kate has an extreme fear of ghosts and only the journos instinct for a potential story kept her going.... that and half a bottle of red.

The prison dates from around 1870 and has been an army barracks, lunatic asylum and gaol where at least 4 people have been executed. Now it's filled with backpackers and seems amenities have only improved slightly since old times.
It was one of the few buildings to survive the 1931 Earthquake that decimated Napier and became known as NZeds worst natural disaster. So how does it feel to be sitting on the spot where just 75 years ago the earth lifted about 2 metres in height, the city gained about 20 square kilometres from the sea and hundreds were killed? Quite frightening really. Australia may have it's deadly snakes and venemous spiders but new Zealanders seem to live in constant fear of an act of god.
but to their credit... Napiens.... as I hope they're called, rebuilt their city and transformed it into the decorative arts capitol of the world. Geometric shapes, steamlined doorways, zig zags, ziggurats,'s all here in true 1930's fashion. You can tell we did the art deco tour yesterday.... we were the youngest on it by 40 years....

This afternoon we're off the the Wineyards then Wellington bound tomorrow

Monday, April 11, 2005

Ed En Zed

Rotorua.... what can one say about a place that smells like an Indian toilet, and threatens you with total annihlation at the same time? Rotavegas (as the comedians like to call it) is quite a place... apparently the last time a volcano exploded in this part of the world it was the largest explosion ever recorded... about 80 times as large as Mt St helens.... and considering we're sitting directly on the fault line, smack bang between the Austro asian plate and some other plate, not to mention that mud seems to jump out of every side street and steam pours out of every drain.... everyone here seems quite relaxed.... so why the hell am I freaking out? I mean i've just been told that after the tsuanami in Asia, the water levels in some of the springs in Rotorua have dropped noticeably by metres.... Yes the Tsunami 8000 miles away has effected water levels over here.... mmmmm whats wrong with these people.... why have they decided to settle down and have a nice relaxing spa on one of the world's most unpredictable and dangerous spots.... no wonder they invented the Haka.

Can't complain though.... so far the land of the long white cloud has been treating us fine. It has also coughed up a couple of surprises
1) the whole sheep thing is one huge exaggeration.... it's actually cows that are everywhere... which gives those kiwi jokes a more sinister edge
2) The New Zealanders love to take off our accent... I mean have you ever heard of more of a pot calling the kettle black
3) the kiwis like to claim as their own jaffas, Pavlova and minties! I mean everyone knows they come from the big brother across the water
4) the All blacks really should be a lot better if the size of the average bloke and the amount of idle rugby talk heard is taken into consideration

tomorrow Kate and I go Zorbing so stay tuned

Sunday, April 10, 2005

362 days

3 down and 362 to go.... days off that is. yes.... I know you're jealous and you're probably thinking that by 35 I really should have settled down and succumbed to the wife, widescreen and 1.6 kid doctrine, but alas.... I am addicted to travelling.... so when all you old folks in 30 years time drive past in the latest 3 wheel hard drive machines, spare a thought for the washed up traveller who never grew up..... eddy the overlander

The plan for the latest overland adventure is NZed then over to South America for 9 months. So stay tuned and live vicariously I say.... from the comfort of your own homes.... and avoid the delhi bellies, long bus rides, American tourists and Rio rip offs

E the O signing off