Saturday, February 23, 2008

Lo siento. No entiendo

  • Everywhere we have gone with the exception of last night there have been very hard beds and tiny pillows. When we were looking at furniture their couches were very hard too! Wonder what that's all about?
  • In restaurants the napkins they give you are tiny. We're told Ecuadorians are very conservation oriented and it shows in their napkins.
  • In addition to the ladies having to pack toilet paper in their purses, we forgot to tell you you're not allowed to throw your toilet paper down the toilet. Whether that's a conservation thing or bad plumbing we're not sure.
  • Most of the people we meet, other than Ecuadorians, fall into 3 categories: earnest young volunteers, old hippies (We now know where everyone from Nelson, B.C. moved) or seniors on a tour.
  • There always seems to be kids around and when we asked we were advised that there are so many children in Ecuador that they go to school in shifts.
  • The bells in the churches are POOPY. They don't have a nice gong noise like Canadian or European churches, it's sortof a clank, clang - there's no resonance - it sounds like someone hitting an angle iron with a crow bar. This is consistent with different cities and churches.
  • Store openings seem to be at owners will - very random.

As we told you Vilcabamba is a 3 horse town. It only takes about 30 minutes to see the whole place. The big excitement Saturday night is sitting on the park benches in the middle of town and watching other people on the park benches. We did, however, go to a violin concert in a Monestary a couple of k's out of town. It cost us a buck. We shanghied a couple of young volunteer types to go with us and they shared the cost of the cab ride ($3) with us. Funnily, we didn´t see any monks, only nuns?

AND we went for a 2 hour horse back ride around the valley on these small Andes Mountain ponies. Brian says his horse looked at him and thought "Great! I get the gringo grosso." The horses are incredibly sure footed. At one point we went down a very very steep (at least 45 degrees) dry creek bed, about 12 inches wide, made up of creek stones and boulders. All we could do is hold on (no pictures (!) we were too busy) but they handled it with aplomb. We had a riot but were very sore later on. Shelley was afraid to get off the horse without help at the end.

Side note: Brian didn't want to wear his good chinos horse back riding so we to
ok a tour around Vilcabamba looking for some cargo pants or sweat pants (called heater pants in Ecuador) for him, but every place we went their eyes went wide - nothing big enough - so he ended up wearing his gentleman's leisure pants (pyjama bottoms). No one noticed.

On Wednesday, President Rafael Correa declared a state of emergency and ordered 2,000 members of the army and the police to help
rescue workers. Correa increased by $25 million the $10 million he already had allocated for the emergency efforts. He also directed another $88 million to municipalities. Where we were in Vilcabamba they turned off the water and we had to flush the toilet using a bucket but that was about the extent of our troubles there. We may have trouble heading to the coast but we'll see. The emergency was because of la nina (not to be confused with el nino). They've had a much stronger rainfall than normal. We, however, since the beginning of our trip have only encountered one full day of rain and that was in Vilcabamba. It seems to rain at night for us and a thin misty rain sometimes for a couple of hours here and there. We've been very lucky! We've both got red tans.

Characters in Vilcabamba

There are about 150 ex pats in Vilcabamba (total population probably 500) and like all small towns the chief entertainment seems to be gossip. There was the ZZ top lookalike, appa
rently a refugee journalist from the States who took off his shoes 25 years ago and hasn't worn a pair since. There seem to be dozens of hippies who must have income from some source because we didn't see any work going on at all. There's the Boston "lady" who dresses well but begs for money on the street. There's the question guy who gives you a long scientific answer to anything you asked. (Did you know the water swirling the opposite way in the Southern Hemisphere is an urban legend?) There's the English lottery winner, etc. etc. They all had advice to give us re moving to Ecuador - most of it conflicting!

Vilcabamba to Loja to Cuenca

On the 6 hour bus trip from Vilcabamba to Cuenca we probably did not average more than 30 or 40 k per hour. We're amending our "good roads" report given previously. Before we were travelling on the Pan American (which is pretty good) but this road was a secondary highway, full of pot holes. It seems you're either creeping up a very steep hill or braking down the other side, so it makes for very slow going. We were the only gringos on the ride.

The long distance buses are surprisingly luxurious, made by Mercedes Benz, Scania and Hino. They're equipped
with televisions and everything but it's extremely hard to get anyone to open a window on the bus. What's that - it gets hot! Along the roadside there are little canals that we didn't think much of on the trip up but they were full of water on the trip back. All of the rivers are very fast flowing, constant rapids.

We're in Cuenca now and were planning on going to Guayaquil tomorrow but with the state of emergency we may have to cancel our trip to the coast. We'll see. We stopped taking our anti altitude pills when we went to Vilcabamba but felt quite light headed this morning, so started up again and felt better quite quickly after that. We are both agreed that we are truly having the adventure of a lifetime for us. So far it's incredible.

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