Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Tear Gas at 50 feet

One of the great things to do in South America is get attacked with Tear gas by the local Polizia.
It´s actually great fun if a little bit painful for the eyes and lungs. We had the experience at Cotocatchi, a small village just north of Otavalo. Our family decided it would be a good idea to visit the local fiesta of Inti Raymi, a celebration of the Summer solstice. Basically the indigenous communities save up their cash all year for their version of new Years Eve, albeit with a slightly different twist. Here groups of men dress up in cowboy pants and silly hats, dancing in circles and geeing themselves up by whistling to each other.
Once they are drunk enough and have the
courage they head over to the other groups,
zombi like and attempt to punch the crap
out of them, usually with quite large sticks.
Meanwhile police with tear gas try and keep
the groups apart. All this is usually done with
a crowd of onlookers. Very strange entertainment indeed especially as every year there are a number of deaths reported.
We happenned to mistime our arrival
during one of the tear gas attacks and
it felt more like a revolution was happenning
than anything else. But there is hope during
a tear gas attack. We were surprised to see
everyone immediately lighting up cigarettes,
which apparrently helps clear the lungs.
If only the cigarette manufacturers knew....

How to become a vegetarian

After Mindo, we headed back to Otavalo to stay
with our family again for a couple of days. This time there was no saying ¨no¨ to The national dish of Ecuador-Cuy or Guinea Pig as they are more popularly known. So off we trotted to a special restaurant just outside of town. The entree comes out first which is usually the insides. (Liver, kidney and lungs) "Delicious¨shouts Marco as he throws down the heart, the size of a pea. Then out comes the main attraction. Guinea pig, head, ears, little feet and all. And the taste? well a bit like KFC if you ask me.

Butterfly Valley

Where the Butterflies´s
are the size of birds
and the birds are the
size of butterflies

Looks like a
jewellry shop
but it aint.
This Butterfly
has just hatched.

Kate being seduced
by one of Ecuadors
finest specimens

The old owl eye
butterfly. Looks
like an eye but it´s
just a decoy for
those damn bats

Even the poo´s are
beautiful in Ecuador

Confessions of a bird nerd

"Any luck?" I said to the Swedish gent cloaked in safari suit, binoculars glued to his face with tape recorder playing the mating call of the dusky capped flycatcher.
"There´s no luck involved" he replied with a wry smile.
I suddenly realised I was talking to man who had spent the better part of his life roaming the forests of the world looking for creatures of the winged variety. I had finally infiltrated one of the strangest subgroups on the planet. In fact it´s become the biggest hobby in the USA, overtaking gardening 6 years ago. All over the world there are thousands of older folk tramping thru the forest in attempt to catch a rare glimpse of the scale breasted pygmy tyrant, amongst others. In fact these ornithologists as they like to be called ( bird nerds) are much more interesting than the plain small grey bird they often look for. But how to watch the birdwatchers?

We made our way to a spectacular resort up in the cloud forest near Mindo called Bellavista. Mindo is one of the best places in Ecuador to go Birdnerding and Ecuador is one of the best places in the world for the sport, if that´s what you can call it. Basically it´s all about increasing your life list, the amount of different species of bird you have seen in your lifetime. There are 9000 different species of bird in the world and once you hit about the 4000 life list you´ve hit the big time. The guys who take it seriously can also recognise about 3000 different calls. Usually they spend lonely nights listening to cds! The big problem with the sport of birdnerding is that it´s mainly done by older folk. So as the eyes get worse, the ears get harder of hearing and the bones refuse to climb the hill is usually when that Tawny breasted tiramou is chirping away. Most of your time is usually spent looking at empty branches of trees thru $2000 swarovsky crystal binoculars pretending you´ve seen something more interesting that the person next to you.

The highlight of our trip up to the resort was our room in the very unique birdwatching dome. In true backpacker style we opted for the dorm room which ended up being the best room in the house especially as we were the only ones up there. With 360 degree views and southern rough winged swallows to greet us in the morning we were in heaven. Yes this bird nerd thing is infectious , if only I could have spotted the scaly throated foliage gleaver, or the crimson mantled woodpecker, or the Andean cock of rock... now theres a name for a bird

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Keeping the pickpockets in Business

After 2 weeks of Spanish school we decided it was time to hit the road once again. So after a sad farewell with our family, they gave us presents on leaving( the new testament in English and Spanish of course) we hopped on a bus for a 6 hour bus ride to Mindo in the North of Ecuador. A couple of hours into the ride however I discovered my wallet had been lifted. A mighty effort considering I was sitting on it and the seat behind looked as though it was impenetrable. Grudgingly I have to hand it to the pickpocket and they are now 60 dollars richer.
Moving on though, we are now in the beautiful little town of Mindo which is located in an Andean cloud Forest and home to most of Ecuadors birds it seems. For other bird nerds out there, Ecuador has more species of bird than the United States and Mindo is one of the best places where bird nerds like myself can gather and compare notes. So armed with my bird checklist,I have been ticking off different species of Hummingbird that buzz around our breakfast table every morning. The scene is really quite spectacular and I challenge anyone not to become a bird nerd upon seeing this. Tomorrow we are hoping to see more bird pornography in particular Toucans which really are the top of the list for me. It really is a relaxing place here in the forest and we plan on staying here until Wednesday.

Lies, damn lies, and travelling

Coming from an obscenely rich country like Australia where we don´t think twice about spending the average annual income of Ecuador on a pair of jeans does create it´s own set of problems. The idea that we can quit our jobs and travel for a year, eating in each city´s best restaurant every night and then expect to get jobs once we return is really beyond the comprehension of most sane people. For people who seem to live a hand to mouth existance, me and my expensive handycam are from another planet. So during Spanish school when Kate mentioned she bought a ring on Ebay for 70 dollars, the jaws of our Spanish teachers dropped. That´s 35 hours wages for them.
Consequently we have found that we have had to begin lying to our new Spanish friends. Now I say I´m only travelling for 4 months, which takes me from ridiculously, discustingly, smugly rich to just plain unbelievably rich. The fact that I´m not even considered that wealthy in my own country is not a conversation I´m about to start.
Another thing we´ve found ourselves lying about is the fact we´re married. With our previous christian family the idea that we slept in the same bed and werent married would be enough to bring on the second coming. (no pun intended) So we lie about being married... Which often means we have to lie about more things like about when we got married and how our wedding day was etc etc. We also tend to lie about believing in God. Being heathens in a very catholic country it is just not worth the 6 hour conversation needed to explain the birds and the bees Charles Darwin style. The idea that many westerners have no religion at all doesn´t even occur to most people here. Oh well, looks like Kate and I are going to burn in hell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

La familia de religious fanaticos

Kate and I have realised that our random family choice has landed us in the company of religious fanatics. Grace is said before meal, the only dvds in the house are either charlie chaplin movies of which there are four and religious movies of which there are about 20. Every time chicas with big boobs or boys with bare bums come on the tv, our hosts immediately grab the remote control. They visit church three times a week, have religious song sessions every morning and every night and also attend a biblical college. (With the singing imagine ritualistic mourning done to karaoke tune. )They seem to be members of some strange protestant sect that has a Jewish star as their symbol and the children aren't allowed to mix with other children from the street as they may be a bad influence. Lessons are conducted at home with special teachers. Of course alcohol, and dancing are forbidden. We foreigners with our wealthy morals are of course excepted.

Other than all this they are the nicest family in the world and live a wholseome if somewhat boring existance. They seem to be very sport obsessed, which is fine with me, if a little tough for Kate. But I must admit, in a soccer game yesterday with the whole extended family it was hilarious to see katie step on the ball then fall onto the ball to a chorus of a laughs. Where was ecuadors funniest home videos then?( This show and football seem to be the only ones allowable in the house)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Don´t try these at home

You may have noticed that there are not too many Ecuadorian restaurants to be found outside of Ecuador. There´s probably a good reason for this. Take Caldo de platos for example (cow hoof soup). This very unique dish is a local favourite and is available in most markets around the country. Apparently it is very delicious. Given the choice I would probably opt for Yaguarlocro instead. (Potato soup with chunks of barely congealed blood sausage). One Drink slash food we have been getting with our family a bit too regularly is Colada, a warm substance made with fruit juice, oats and sometimes milk. It´s what one might call an acquired taste. We can´t complain though at least they havent served up allullas yet. (dry biscuits made of flour, pork fat and local unpasteurised cheese. One delicasy I have tried was lengua or cows tongue. This was actually done without my knowledge when my previous family tricked me into eating it pretending it was pork. Oh yes we all had a huge laugh, me excepted. Of course there is cuy (guinea pig), very big on Friday nights after work and of course the national dish Cerviche (raw fish served with lemon, popcorn and sliced onions). I havent even touched on delicious snacks like pork ear or shish kebabs of grilled beef hearts.
Not that I´m knocking the food here. Actually I havent been sick once and generally we have had reasonably tasty if somewhat stodgy meals. In fact I´ve even put on a few kilos. Luckily I´m at the equator where you´re weight actually decreases 3 kilos when you step on the scales. Strange but true. mmm time for some fried pig intestines.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Enjoying a rare day of sunshine in the town of bathroom Posted by Hello
Now that was a close shave Posted by Hello
Is that a smoking Volcano or are you just glad to see me Posted by Hello
Me, Dario, Gabriella and Kayla, My new Ecuadorian family Posted by Hello
Volcan Tungurahua, we currently reside at the bottom left of this monster Posted by Hello

The town of bathrooms

Banos: where we are now, is famous for it´s water. This water comes in all sorts of varieties. There is the hot springs water where one can bathe with the locals and your skin can absorb the minerals in the water, especially the minerals from the little kiddies when they get excited.
Then there is the swimming pool water. For some unknown reason there are hundreds of pools, most complete with water slides which makes absolutely no sense because it rains here every day. Then there are waterfalls which seem to spring from every hole in the wall. In addition, there are the showers in your hotel, which are usually freezing and hence no one uses. I guess what I´m trying to say is that there is a lot of water here. Which is actually a good thing because 4ooo metres above is a god almighty volcano that is smouldering away. But rest assured, with all this water here I am absolutely safe. I´m more worried about the 10 long period earthquakes that according to the University of North Dakota´s web site occur here everyday. (not quite sure what that means but it sounds exciting)
So anyway, We are here to learn some more Spanish. 4 hours a day one on one instruction with my teacher Christina who comes up to my waist. We have also adopted for the live with the family option. This time our family own a hotel, actually a Jewish hotel( even though our hosts are in no way Jewish). We sleep in the hotel room and have all meals, soccer matches, basketball games and religious movies with our family. They have an interesting custom of serving a huge dinner at lunchtime. A small breakfast at dinner and very unusual concoction of hot juice and oats for breakfast. The latter I must admit is absolutley foul and am currently dreaming up ways of secretly disposing of it when my hosts arent looking. We are also sharing our family with a half blind swiss girl who has managed to learn more spanish than me in 3 weeks than I have in 8 weeks of study. In fact I have got to the stage of my Spanish where I am going backwards and most of my lesson is spent daydreaming of murdering my spanish teacher who is torturing me by correcting pretty much every palabra that passes my lips. Whoever said Learning another language was empowering. It just makes me feel like I´m the world´s stupidest man. No comments please.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The summit of Cotopaxi Posted by Hello

So you�re saying we�re gonna drive up there Posted by Hello

Wish I was wearing the thermals Posted by Hello

Banana anyone? Posted by Hello

Market man, Saquisili Posted by Hello

what you looking at Willis? Posted by Hello

ok which of you sheep are the hungriest? Posted by Hello

We're very pretty and only $70 Posted by Hello

Will somebody buy my pigs! Posted by Hello

I'm not sure what she's doing but I'm sure it�s illegal Posted by Hello

anyone for bacon? Posted by Hello

How to climb the world´s highest active volcano...

Well first you drive all the way to the top, then you get out the car and take lots of pictures... It´s quite easy really. So here I am at 4800 metres on MT Cotopaxi, not quite the top but close enough for me considering it´s due to erupt any second ( see ed versus volcano post). Today I decided to do a day tour and found myself in a 4 wheel drive with 4 other aussies. What does this mean... are we all outdoor types? Besides being bitterly cold at the top the day was a great one with the cloud clearing a number of times for us to see the summit. The highlight was passing some silly dutch man trying to cycle all the way to the top with 4 extremely large paniers hanging off the bike. What is it about adventure cyclists that makes them so loco? For me the 40 minute walk to the Glacier was enough.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

How much for the Alpaca?

Thursday is market day in Saquisili, a small town in The Ecuadorian highlands that transforms itself into the country´s largest market for the surrounding indigenous communities. People come from everywhere to buy the usual offering of pigs heads, alpacas, Roasted guinea pig, and blow up Spider man dolls. So I´ve left Kate in Banos and headed off to sample the delights of this famous market. I arrived in the mercado de animales just as a squealing pig is dragged off by it´s new owners. There were literally hundreds of people trying to sell pretty much every animal Ecuador has to offer. I can report the following prices in ascending order
Kittens $1.50, Chickens $3, Rabbits $7, Guinea Pigs $8, Pigs $30, Llamas $70, Alpacas $160, and Cows $600. All delivered with a hefty amount of animal cruelty. The locals were particularly practiced at the kick in the pigs head. I´m fast beginning to understand how Kate became a vegetarian. Other "highlights" included the table of chicken heads, the pile of pigs trotters, and the corner of cow hides. Luckily the market is not all about animals. DVD´s are extremely popular over here, you can even purchase the latest star wars film for $1. (Complete with people walking past the screen). There were also the travelling medicine men, peddling all types of cures that involved strange herbs and bizarre animal parts. The locals love to dress up in their everyday clothes as well. Felt pork pie hats with peacock feathers are very popular with the ladies while the Gentleman prefer the Adidas cap. Yep, it´s adventure tourism at it´s finest. Especially sitting down to a plate of who knows not.Whilst the locals look on as though I´ve just dropped in from planet Zok. With the amounts of laughs I recieved, seems the silly westerners are there to provide the entertainment.