Sunday, March 30, 2008

Hasta Pronto

Ok, one more day to go then 18 some hours of travel time and we're back in Vancouver. Left you last in Banos where we took a tour of the waterfalls around Banos (very very scenic) and Shelley got to go bungee jumping, Jan went on a cable car over a waterfall and we travelled through the tunnels (approximately 8) around Banos. Banos is famous for its hot springs which we didn't attempt as we'd just got over our second Ecuadorian cold and didn't want to chance another one. Next time...right?

We also paid a taxi driver to drive us around the back side of Banos so we got a good view of the Tungurahua volcano and Jan and Brian even got to talk to a volcano early warning guy. There are half a dozen of them stationed in various places around the volcano with instruments that measure the heat, tremors in the earth and the like. They are all connected by radio and the fellow we visited spent a good hour explaining how the whole system works in great detail. They live a solitary life and don't get many visitors so he was overjoyed to explain everything even though he was talking to English speakers. Meanwhile, Shelley wandered around the mountain side yelling "Bri-an!" wondering where the boys went. Lost in Ecuador!

Then off on the bus (3 hours) to Quito where we managed to find a better hotel than the one we started off in at the beginning of our vacation. Yesterday we took a (2 hour) day trip to Otavalo where everything we'd purchased in Ecuador throughout our vacation was half price! The market was huge, selling everything from toothpaste to Ecuadorian tapestries to bra's. Otavalo has been the site of a barter market for hundreds of years and people come from all over Northern Ecuador and Colombia to sell their wares. There is also an animal market and a good food market so the boys enjoyed their last roast pig feed.

Today we ventured to old town Quito and were awed by the stunning architecture and visited the huge cathedral that we missed on our first trip. Brian and Jan actually saw a Cardinal conducting mass!

Looking forward to seeing you all. Hope you enjoyed our missives.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Help! We're stuck in Ecuador with a mad Dutchman!

In Quenca with Jan we visited and revisited every market place we could find. Jan and Brian enjoyed roast pig and somehow Jan ran into every English speaking person in Ecuador. (It must be a talent?) We went to a peoples market where they sold everything from cookie cutters to dogs. There were tons of animals for sale and one cage held both kittens and rabbits. You could buy a pure bred collie for $75. Shar Pei's are very popular here.

After re-exploring Quenca we headed off to Alausi to take the fabulous train ride. The lady in Cuenca at the Macondo Hostel where we were staying advised the train trip from Riobamba to Alausi was kindof boring (just like a bus ride) and suggested we just do the Alausi run which includes the famous Devil's nose. We took her advice and as it turned out it was fortuitous as there had been a slide on the Riobamba to Alausi run and we couldn't have got through that way anyways. We were first at the station at 7 a.m. to buy tickets but still got bumped to the second train ride at 9:30 a.m. It was fabulous. Shelley went EEEEEEEEEK a good part of the trip. They have banned sitting on top of the train since a young oriental couple was decapitated a year ago. So now what they do is once they get out of sight of the station the crew asks for an extra dollar to ride on top and everybody supplements the crew's salary and troops up to the roof. They make you get back down before you arrive back at the station. There were a ton of people who had showed up early to buy tickets to take the train who got bumped by organized tour groups who were bussed in from Riobamba. Hardy seems fair. We had to be quite assertive to keep our place in line.

PS: Road kill now 2 horses, 1 pig and 3 cows (discounting, of course, dogs).

In Alausi we were kept awake most of the night as it was Easter Saturday and the people were partying hardy. Our hotel room stank as the drains were backed up. Pretty disgusting!

We set off to Riobamba Sunday afternoon and could not find cappuccino anywhere.
That says it all. We rented quads (ATVs) for $10 an hour for a double seater and explored the country side acting like teenagers. It was fun. We went half way up Tungurahua volcano but still could not see the peak as it was in the clouds. We did see smoke coming out of the mountain though while we were in Riobamba . Kindof funny knowing there's an active volcano happening only a couple of k's away. We've found cappuccino here and some delightful restaurants. Our plan is to stay today and one more day and then head off to Quito until we leave. We'll do day trips out of Quito. Principally to one of the largest markets in Ecuador - Otavalo.

We're in Banos now and are very much enjoying it here.

We're looking forward to getting home and getting the boat ready to sell so we can start our new life. We've been doing an extraordinary amount of moving around and it'll be nice to settle for awhile. We'll be sending our last missive from Quito some time on the weekend.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Roadkill 1/1/3

When last we left you we had just arrived in Vilcabamba and were awaiting Jan (John for you English speaking folks).

Background: Jan is a trouble shooter for an international firm of Civil Engineers. They design and build tunnels and infrastructure, etc. etc. all over the world. The previous week Jan had been in Saudi Arabia, Prague and Sofia in Bulgaria. He then rushed home to Holland, packed his bag and left very early the next morning for Ecuador. This was Thursday and he was at it for 23 hours including a 5 hour layover in Atlanta. Well.......The United States of America was somewhat alarmed with Saudi visa stamps in his passport and proceeded to give him the third degree for 2 hours before letting him go on with his trip. In the end, Jan asked them why all the questions and somewhat amazed they told him it was 9/11! He then told them 9/11 was a "self inflicted wound. If you guys weren't the bullies of the world it never would have happened!" Amazing enough he did not end up in Guantanamo Bay!

He arrived in Quito at 10:30 Friday night and was back at the airport at 4 a.m. to catch a local flight to Loja (35 k from Vilcabamba). He had been told that the standby line would be at wicket 7 so he dutifully stood at wicket 7 until he noticed no one else seemed to be showing up. He then asked somebody from TAME (the local airline) and was told today it was wicket 9. Wicket 9 then had 50 people standing in line. He then booked a flight to Cuenca at 5:30 p.m. and thought he might take a bus from there. When he phoned us and told us his plans, we informed him that was a bad idea as it would be a 7 hour bus ride to Vilcabamba. He then proceeded back to the airport and told his tale of woe to a very kind lady who wrote a note to the afternoon supervisor explaining the situation and advised Jan to be there was 3 p.m. for the 4:30 flight. He almost got bumped from the 4:30 flight due to a mother and sick child situation but some other stand by passenger took pity on him and said since he'd been there since 4 a.m., she would give up her seat.

So Jan flew to Loja and hooked up with a party of Americans who were going to Vilcabamba in a van and offered him a lift. He arrived exhausted but happy to be there. Vilcabamba was the perfect place to him to start because the weather is warm and there is absolutely nothing to do there!

On our own trip to Vilcabamba our road kill sightings increased to 3 cows, 1 pig and 1 horse. The horse was mostly skeleton but we were able to come to our forensic conclusion based on the head having some skin yet.

We had a bat in our room in Vilcabamba and were forced to close our windows at night or Shelley would go EEEK. Apparently this bat likes that particular Hostel. The next four days we ate and took a cab ride around the country. Jan and Brian ate pig and we visited various markets and took in the sights. All of our connections with the local ex-pats etc. confirmed that this huge infusion of money in to this valley has had a negative effect on the local population as they can no longer afford to buy land there.

On our 6 hours bus ride from Vilcabamba to Loja to Cuenca Jan and Brian discussed the merits of buses around the world, the Ecuador infrastructure system and pot holes in the road. Jan took 375 pictures. He has travelled extensively in 3rd world countries and tells us that many of the situations we see in Ecuador are common in other poor areas (the half finished buildings, etc.).

We are really enjoying Cuenca yet another time as we show Jan the sights. We are leaving for the village of Alausi on Saturday and taking the fabulous train ride through the Devil's Nose on Easter Sunday (we checked to make sure it would run). This is purported to be one of the top 3 train rides in the world and expect to be able to ride on top of the train! From Alausi we plan to go to BaƱos (famous for it's hot springs) which is located on the North slope of the Tungurahua volcano which had a major eruption early in February causing evacuation of several villages on the south slope.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How can so many people make a living selling Jewelry?

Well we're in Vilcabamba awaiting John's arrival tomorrow (hopefully) or the next day, but we should start from where we left off last time.

Our last day in Salinas we rented a boat ride ($5) and took a tour of the harbour. In the middle of the harbour the skipper stopped the boat and let the 3 teenage girls that were with us leap into the water and swim around. It was beautiful. We showed the skipper a picture of our boat and he was duly impressed. We were in Salinas for a total of 8 days and have been peeling ever since.

After Salinas we went to Guayaquil again for two days. As we've been mostly hitting schtick tourist spots we thought we'd go a little hi-brow and visited the municipal museum and the Botanical Gardens (both free). There was a delightful young fellow at the museum who spoke French, English and of course Spanish - a native Ecuadorian - who spent an hour and a half giving us a detailed talk on every aspect of how to shrink a head. If you need this information - we got it now! He was very enthusiastic and it really was a thrill to see someone so passionate about his work. He's also a musician and wants us to get in touch with him when we move here.

The Botanical Gardens were beautiful but we also stopped off at a small park, called by the locals, Iguana Park. In the trees, walking on the sidewalk, strolling on the lawn, pretty much wherever they wanted to be there were Iguanas. You could touch them if you were brave enough. We weren't. Strange enough the last time we visited this park, we didn't know it was Iguana Park, and in our ignorance didn't notice any Iguana's at all that time. I guess you see what you believe. We also found out you have to be really careful walking under the trees because they tend to spit really obnoxious fluid at you!

After Guayaquil we went to Cuenca for 6 days. The trip there was a hoot. We told you before when we went from Cuenca to Guayaquil we had to take a 2 hour detour. Well the road was open - sortof - so we went direct to Cuenca from Guayaquil. There were slides, and random waterfalls and wash outs and narrow tracks recently dug through the rubble, and on several occasions we were only inches from 2000 feet down. It was fun!

Once in Cuenca we continued our education and visited the biggest museum in Cuenca ($3). It was four floors of exhibits, archaeological and cultural displays and an outdoor re-creation of an archaeological dig. We even saw yet another shrunken head! We were exhausted when we finished.

One day we took a bus 25 k (80 cents) and visited Chordeleg. Chordeleg is famous for it's jewelery stores. The whole town square is one fine jewelery store after another. Big emphasis on filigree work. Speaking of jewelery, everywhere you go in Ecuador they are selling jewelery, Fine jewelery, junk jewelery, native jewelery, etc. Often a street will have two jewelery stores on it. Rarely does a street not have a store that sells jewelery. Corner stores sell jewelery. Open markets have 12 booths and they all sell jewelery. How can so many people make a living selling jewelery?

We, of course, spent one afternoon at the Cuenca food market so Brian could have his roast pig and one morning at an immigration lawyer's office finding out the skinny on how we can immigrate. It turns out that it'll be both easier and more expensive than we thought. We've determined that it is almost impossible for an individual to immigrate without a lawyer. Government offices do not answer the phone or e-mails or even the door when you knock on it. When we talked to the lawyer about this, she just laughed. It is common knowledge that the only way to get things done is through cash incentive, so we guess part of the lawyer's fee includes ...

Don't know what was going on but we encountered about 4 protest parades in Cuenca while we were there. Seems civil disobedience is alive and well in Ecuador!

More when we have more. Both suffering from a cold right now.

Monday, March 3, 2008

¿Como se dice?

OK, we're still in Selinas but are leaving tomorrow. Selinas is a typical beach side town. The strip along the beach has been updated and tourist-ised but as the guide books say beyond the strip is just a small fishing town with dusty, pot holed streets. We've really enjoyed our time here being on "holiday" more than any place else we've been in Ecuador, but as we said before it's not the place we ultimately want to live - too hot, nothing to do except go to the beach.

The beach scene expands on the weekends and it's chaos. Vendors selling everything, all the time - CDs, lamps, drinks, food, ice cream, beer, fresh fruit, clothes, jewellery, etc. We spent most of our time on the beach but did discover the back streets for our eating. There's a kindof people's market that's like a great big outdoor food court and because you're on the ocean they mostly specialize in sea food. Brian has been enjoying (gluttonizing) on a rice and shrimp combo for $4 and Shelley discovered a breaded fish meal with rice, salad, plantain and fish for $2.50. It's more than you can eat! We're both getting absolutely terrific tans! In the day time it's 31 degrees and at night it cools down to 27. Thank gawd we have air conditioning.

We were very surprised that we appear to be the only gringos here. In the past week we've only spotted 3 or 4 others, and have
spoken to 1, a guy from Long Island, NY. The water is very salty, you can feel your feet rising when you swim.

Yesterday is rained all day for the first time since we've been in Selinas. The people just walk around in their shorts and t-shirts as it continues to be very warm even when it's raining. Not much to do when it's raining however, in a beach resort.

By the way we had to use our Ecuadorian electrical outlet adaptor here as well, so I guess it was worth buying - we've ended up using it about 3 times now.

We took a bus trip (25 cents) to La Libertad one day and went to their beach area and watched the fishermen do their thing. We went to a water park one day. Can you believe Brian managed to live 67 years before he went to a water park - it was a blast!

They say it's malaria country where we are now and we're taking our malaria pills religiously but there really aren't a lot of bugs around.

We've had banana or plantain any way that it can be served - fried, roasted, banana split, deep fried, banana chips, etc. They come with every meal!

Every morning there's a contingent of old men sweeping the sidewalks and every night they must have people who pick up on the beach because the beach here is very clean.

Well, we've had volcanoes, flooding and now there are troops massing at the border. You'd think Ecuador would pay to have us not be here. Apparently the Columbians followed a rebel over the boarder into Ecuador and killed him. Ecuador is very upset about it - as they

should be. So now both Ecuador and Venezuela are claiming that the Columbian government is US friendly and supported by the CIA and that the rebels have a legitimate claim to power. We are, of course, no where near where this is all happening!

Two things - they keep eggs on the shelf here just like cereal or cat food and they have no idea how to butcher beef - they just cut all the meat off hilly nilly and sell it in chunks. We're told that the beef is sometimes cow rather than beef cattle as well.

Tomorrow we're off to Guayaquil then Cuenca a couple of days after that where we hope to connect with an immigration lawyer. They call the lawyers Doctor here. After Cuenca we'll go back to Vilcabamba and meet Brian's friend John, so our missives may be longer inbetween as we'll be retracing our steps and won't want to bore you with the same old same old.

We do plan to go on the famous train ride at Riobamba and see the volcano that just erupted when we visit Banos. Banos is where the leading hot springs of the country are.

So far we've managed to keep on budget and if this continues we'll go home with exactly the same amount of money that we left with. We are a lot more comfortable with our muy poco Espanole, to the point now where Brian has small conversations with shop keepers, etc.