Thursday, December 25, 2008

Feliz Navidad!

Wow! Things have been eventful for me the past few weeks. I have met so many wonderful people in Baños....which include other travelers and locals.
My friends from Alaska, Natura and Migo, came back to hang in Baños for a few days. They also brought another friend, Alan, with them. Natura and Migo had an awesome opportunity to stay at this very posh hotel in town because Migo´s mom had a time share there. This hotel is at the top of the mountain and overlooks the town of Baños. I have hiked passed it many times and watched the "rich" people swim in the spas and pools and always wanted to go check it out. Alan was staying with me in the dorm room in town and one day we hiked up to the pools to "pretend" we were guests as well. We all swam together and enjoyed the spas overlooking the town. It was lovely! After a few hours though, the manager came up to me and started asking me questions on whether or not I was a first I made up a room number, but it was clear that he did not believe me. That was when I did the old "no hablo español" line ....quickly grabbed my things and headed down the hill. I was happy to have gotten a few hours in at the pool before I got kicked out.
My alaskan friends are extremly adventurous.....I like to think I am adventurous as well, but come to find out...I am actually a very big scaredy cat.
They all wanted to go river rafting one day and needed 4 people to get on a raft. They asked me to go, but I just wasn´t sure how much I would like it. Ever since my segway accident (if you don´t know the story I will tell you about that later) I feel better with both feet on the ground. Anyways, after a little persuasion and a promise that we would do a category 3 trip, I decided to go with them. We all hopped in this van and headed out with the tour guide to the river about 45 minutes away. The guides had an ipod in the van and jammed out to all the classic songs like "Sweet Home Alabama" etc. We all sang at the top of our lungs and laughed the entire way to the river. I am sure they do that for all the gringos....they must think we are all crazy.
It hadn´t really hit me what we were about to do. I went rafting with my mom when I was younger, but don´t really remember the experience too well. Right before we got to the river, the guide asked us if we wanted to bump up our trip to category 4 and 5 rapids...he spoke really fast and I wasn´t sure what he was talking about, but the Alaskans quickly said "Yes!". Oh lord, I thought....what the hell have I gotten myself into?
We got out of the van and the guide gave us a few lessons. He explained what to do in certain situations such as if you fall out of the raft, if the raft flips, if you are going down the river and hit a rock, etc.....that was about the time that my stomach starting hurting really bad and I became extremely nervous. It became clear at this moment in my life that I am not much of an adrenaline person. We got in the boat and practiced rowing......I also didn´t realize that we had to put work and effort into the trip. I was laughing so hard because I was I was in the middle of Ecuador about to go down some Amazonian river with out signing any contract with some people I hardly knew. All I could do was laugh....and I laughed a lot.
We got in the boat and headed down the river....Alan and Migo were howling in the wind and I just sat there staring at my death ahead of me. Natura asked me if I was ok....she said I had the most horrific expression on my face.
As the guide yelled to us the direction to row we headed into the first rapid. I gripped my feet into the loops as hard as I could and we started hitting the huge waves and crashing all over the place. I remember seeing this big ass rock in the middle of the river and I just thought to myself....dear God....please...let´s not hit the rock. About 5 seconds later we crashed into the rock and the raft slid up and we are hanging sideways about to flip....I screamed at the top of my lungs....everyone screamed! I am not sure how, but we managed to get the raft off the rock and back into the river and down more rapids. Once we got through and were in a calm part I glanced over to Natura and we both looked at each other with the same expression...."What the "F" have we gotten ourselves into". I was shaking uncontrollably and was petrified....I wanted to get out of the raft. The guide could sense that I was scared so he pulled the raft over and gave me a pep talk. He explained that he went rafting twice a day and if I did happen to fall out that I just needed to remain calm with my feet in front of me and he would save me....everything would be fine. Everyone calmed me down and I decided to change my attitude about it. We were all in this together and needed to work as a team, we would take care of each other if something bad were to happen.
We went down a few more rapids and I was slowly starting to enjoy it. It was a gorgeous river with mountains all around us. We pulled over to this bridge where we all got out and the guide took us over to some jumping spots. We jumped off the first two spots which were not very high....then 3rd spot was a bit higher. Everyone was doing dives and flips into the water.... then I suddenly remember that I was also scared of heights. I sat up there looking down and just could not get myself to jump off the ledge....I felt like a wuss. I was just so overwhelmed with everything....I am just this simple girl from Austin, TX.....these people were crazy Alaskan adventure people. The anxious feeling began to overwhelm me and I suddenly just wanted to be back in the raft. I am not sure why, but the fear of the height made me lose the fear of the rapids.....I was ready to take on the river again and not be anywhere high.
Once we got back into the raft I felt much better....and I even started howling into the waves as well and was really starting to enjoy the experience. When we were finished rafting I looked back at the past hour and realized how amazing it was. I am really glad that I went rafting.....I can´t believe how scared I was, but it was an awesome adventure.
After spending a few more days in Baños, a group of people in my hostel all decided to go travel to Quilotoa loop. Quilotoa is a small village next to a big crater lake. You can hike to the lake and then hike to varios towns around the area. We decided to go hike around the area for about 3 days. The group consisted of my girlfriends Tamara, Marina, and Erin. And then my friend Alan. We hopped on a bus and headed out of town. The bus ride was insane! There was one part where the bus decided to drag race another bus through this town. We all sat there staring out the window at the other bus and gripping each other....somehow we did not crash. I decided just to close my eyes and pretend I was somewhere else for a few hours.

The crater lake was so beautiful....I had never seen anything like it before. It is also very takes about 5 hours to hike around the circumference of the crater. We hiked down into the lake and met a local fellow who asked us if we wanted to go Kayaking in the water. We were planning on hiking to the town of Chiculan, which was about 6 hours away. He said if we crossed the crater lake by boat we would save an extra hour. We decided to do it...thinking it was a good idea at the time. He confirmed over and over again that the path out of the crater was easy and safe. But for some reason I just could not see a path across the way. By the time we arrived we all got we stared at this mammoth mountain in front of us with no clear path. Now...I love hiking and all. I can hike for days. Mountain climbing on the other hand is not my cup of tea. of course, Alan (The Alaskan mountain man) was smiling ear to ear....he loved this sort of stuff. We started hiking up the mountain and came to a very steep ridge that we needed to get up. The earth was this sort of sandy muddy stuff and some parts would crumble when you stood on them. Alan scaled the area and struggled a little bit, but managed to get up the pass. Erin went behind him...Erin is from Whistler, Canada and has a little more outdoor experience as well. She seemed a bit nervous, but managed to get up the passage as well. Then Marina started to climb the area....she is a bit like me when it comes to hiking...not a big fan of the heights. She became very nervous and started praying...I was right behind her. I was slowly working my way up the steep passage hoping that the places I stepped would not crumble. I looked down below me and just saw the water about 300 feet below....if I would be really bad. I started to freak out again and became very anxious. Marina was praying for both of us.... It was extremely scary but somehow we both managed to make it up this steep passage way. Fortunetaly, this was the only tretorous part of the hike...the rest was sloping hills and nothing too steep.
The hike was awesome...we walked through small indigenous villages and saw shepards and sheep and rolling lush hills. We all shared stories and chatted the entire way. It was really neat to learn about the people I was traveling with...where they came from and the type of families that they had. I really enjoyed the company. Alan was awesome as well. He would scope out the trails and had a great sense of direction....we made a good hiking team.
We arrived to Chiculan several hours later....ate a good meal and then hit the sack. Alan left the next morning to join up with the other Alaskans. Tamara had an upset stomach so decided to take a bus to the next town. Erin, Marina, and I decided to hike to the other town. We didn´t know much about the hike, but I figured it would not be that hard. I asked the hostal owner if she had a map and she pulled out this sketchy looking drawing and said a few things quickly in spanish. Then she handed me a bag of candy and told us to just ask the villagers how to get to Insinlivi and give them a piece of candy in return for the directions. Since we were not coming back to Chichulan...we had to carry all of our belongings with us. Still, we all figured it would not be that hard.
We all 3 walked briskly and enjoyed the natural surroundings. We shared more laughs and stories and managed to figure out the first half of the hike by talking to a few villagers and passing out candy. We walked down deep into this canyon....then realized that we were going to somehow have to get out of the canyon. We hoped that the pathway would be clear and easy as it did not look like there were any villages around. Our womanly instincts must have been low this particular day because we got lost.....lost for about 2 hours. We walked up and down the side of this mountain, carrying all of our belongings. We were not chipper and happy anymore...we were exhausted. We had been walking for about 4 hours already...If we did not find out way out of the canyon soon then we would need to head back to Chichulan before the sun set. We all missed Alan on this hike....he kept our spirits up and had a good sense of direction. Marina decided that she would climb this really sketchy area up the hill to see if she could see a pathway on the other side. She was gone for about 15 minutes and I was beginning to get worried. Then all of a sudden we heard other people talking....other hikers that Marina had run into. They were hiking the opposite direction then us. They told us how to get out of the canyon, but that the next 3 hours were going to be all uphill and challenging. The hike was really challenging especially carrying all of our belongings. By the time we arrived to the other town we were barely moving....just sorta scuffling our feet inch by inch and hardly saying a word. It looked like we had been lost in the mountains for days...but it was only one afternoon.
The next morning Erin and Tamara headed off to the big city, Quito, to take care of some things and Marina and I decided to go check out the Cotopaxi National Park. Once again....we did not research anything about it. We figured we would take a bus to the park and then just walk around and view the 19,000 ft volcano. Turns out the volcano is like 40 kilometers into the park. There was no way we were prepared to walk that far. We decided to hire a guide. We hopped in the guide´s jeep and headed into the park. From the past few days of trekking we were both sore and tired and dehydrated. We also forgot that Cotopaxi National Park is at a very high altitude. After about 30 minutes of driving we both started to feel really ill. I was getting dizzy and could hardly keep my eyes open...Marina was feeling the same. I could hardly even talk or pay attention to what the guide was saying. He kept trying to get us to get out of the jeep to hike around some areas and we just told him we didn´t want to walk. At the time, I was so out of it from the atlitude sickness and dehydration....but now that I think about it, the guide must have thought we were both crazy. He was very sweet and tried to be enthusiastic and here we were barely able to stay awake on the jeep ride. Basically, we paid him money to drive us around in a jeep in this beautiful park so we could sleep the whole time. He seemed a little worried about us. When the tour was over he drove us to the road where we were supposed to catch our bus and he waited with us...He was a very sweet guy and I wish we did not get sick so we could have enjoyed the tour more.
On our way back into Baños I looked out the window and saw the volcano that sits right behind the town. Smoke was coming out of it. Turns out the volcano became active while we were out traveling.
When I was previously in Baños, I met this chef at one of the restaurants. He is this awesome Irish lad that travels and cooks along the way. He lived in Austin in the 70s so we totally hit it off. On Christmas Eve he prepared this awesome turkey dinner for about 20 travelers. I had a great time chatting with people from all over the world and the food was amazing! We drank egg nog and wine and I ate the best bread and butter pudding in my life. After the dinner we all walked up this hill a little ways and watched the lava spewing out of the volcano. I had never seen a volcano before so it was a site to see for me. Here I was with 20 other travelers in the middle of Ecuador watching fire and lava spit out of a volcano. FELIZ NAVIDAD!!!!!!!!!!! It was a Christmas I will never forget.
As I am writing this blog it is Christmas Day. I called my family on skype and enjoyed hearing their voices. I miss all my friends and family, but I am not homesick yet. It helps that I have friends here in Baños and I am glad that I am able to be with them during the holidays. I have decided to stay here through New Years. I am waiting for a package to arrive so hopefully it is here by then. After New Years, it will be hard to say goodbye to all of my friends and my favorite town in Ecuador. But I must move on.
I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Baños, Friends, and Celebrations

After my Machu Picchu hike...I spent a few days traveling back up through Lima and back into Ecuador. I really enjoyed my time in Peru and am glad that I decided to do the hike. As for my health....I am feeling better, but still having dodgy stomach. I think it is just all a part of is hard for your body to re-coop bc you are always on the go.

I contacted Brad when I arrived back in Ecuador. He is really enjoying his time in Montañita. He camps on the beach and spearfishes with some locals that he met. I think he is even trying to make some money with the fish that he catches. He told me he plans to stay there for about 3 months. Montañita is a nice town, but it doesnt have a lot to offer me and I certainly could not stay there for 3 months. So...I decided to move back up to Baños to regroup and figure out the rest of my trip.

I know I have mentioned this a few times, but I LOVE Baños. It is such a precious town that I could easily find myself living in someday. I enrolled back in spanish classes. I decided that I would do at least 2 more weeks of classes to really get some good spanish under my belt. Plus, this would give my body more time to rest. Since I was hanging out for a bit, I instantly emailed my dad to send my very first "care package". Hopefully the package arrives soon, I am expecting my ipod (I have a lot of bus rides ahead of me), another bra (I only brought one bra bc I am an idiot), and some perfume (I am done being al natural....I need something to cover up the smell of my clothes).

The first week in Baños was lovely....I spent my mornings in class and my afternoons out hiking. I could tell that I was a lot stronger at the hikes after the Salkantay Trek. I loved exploring all the different parts of nature and taking in the fresh air. I was eating healthy and really starting to feel better. However, I spent most of my time alone. Outside of my spanish class....I hardly had a conversation with anyone. Sometimes it was really nice....I got a lot of reading time in and great people watching at the restaurants. However, I had not had a decent conversation with someone since I left Cuzco, Peru.

And then....I met Tamara.

I was studying in the terrace of my fabulous hostel when I heard this woman talking and walking up the stairs. She looked to be in her early 40s and just had this boisterous energy about her. She was trying to talk spanish with the owners and checking out the hostel. She asked me how I liked it and I told her that it was lovely. Tamara was with another girl, Rachel, that she met on the bus into Baños. And then there was Erin, another girl that she had striked up converstation with in the hostel. Tamara was one of those people that made friends wherever she went. Turns out she is a very succesful real estate agent in Portland surprise at all.

So within 10 minutes I was drinking a beer with 3 new friends. We instantly connected because we realized we were all solo female travelers. It was so refreshing to sit and talk with other travelers IN ENGLISH. We were exchanging stories and places that we have been to. There are the 4 main travel questions that takes you from being a stranger to instantly having a connection with someone. What is your name? Where are you from? Where have you been? And where are you headed? From those 4 questions you can easily find a way to relate to one another.

We all decided to go grab dinner together and drink a little bit of wine. I was so excited inside....I was actually going to go eat with people and maybe have a bit to drink. I had needed some interaction....turns out...we all needed interaction.

The dinner was great and the wine started flowing. Rachel and I were the youngest of the group. She was only on a 3 week holiday and was leaving in 2 days. She was this crazy chick from LA...who had all these insane travel stories within her 3 weeks here, from being mugged to going to the hospital for a concussion, etc. She was a bit of a drama queen...but I liked her and could tell she was a lot of fun. Erin was also a really unique woman. She was on her late 30s but looked to be in her 20s. She is native indian and is a gardner in Whistler Canada. She had done a lot of traveling in her life and I really enjoyed getting to know her. We actually may meet up in a few weeks to travel with each other again.

After dinner we headed out to the bar. I had not checked out the bar scene in Baños yet. We found this great "gringo" bar and the festivities began. We played pool...hung out with the local guys (who love gringas) and salsa danced. We definitely made a scene that night....didnt get home until almost 5AM!!!!!! The next day, we were all walking through the plaza and heard our names several times. We were now the popular gringa party girls. The rest of the week we all hung out and went hiking and had dinner together. Out hostel has a great kitchen so we would go buy groceries at the market and cook up feasts. Some of the girls would move on and then we would meet other travelers and they would join us in our ventures.
I was having a blast...the only negative thing was that I was spending more money then I normally would have. I decided though...that this sort of thing would come in waves over my next year of traveling. I should enjoy the company because there would be more weeks of loneliness ahead of me.
This week is some other big holiday for Baños. I still never really know what we are celebrating and the locals can never give me a straight answer as well. I have decided that they just really love to party in latin america and will use any excuse in the world to dance in the streets all night long. The past few days there have been tons of concerts and parades around town. We have all enjoyed being apart of the festivites. I have been hanging out with Tamara and this Irish girl named Mirana Murhy (can the name be anymore irish?). We all fight over who is the bad influence of the group, but we have a blast with each other every night.
One of the biggest events of the year occured a few days ago. Baños has this boxcar race. Teams of 2 build these boxcars and race down this really steep hill in the middle of town. The entire town lines up on the streets to watch. Everyone stands in the middle of the streets to try and get pictures of the boxcars and then have to dive out of the way so they don´t get hit. It was a riot....we were passing around bottles of beer and praying that the boxcar didn´t crash into us. The race is actually really dangerous...the racers could crash and if they hit the spectators then someone would get really hurt. It was pretty much like the "running of the bulls" Baños style....There are pictures on my picasa album.
I have also met a few very nice local guys around the town. There is one, named Dario, that I have hung out with a couple nights. He knows that I am practicing my spanish so he lets me chat with him and he talks slowly and clear. He has also been trying to teach me how to salsa and merginue dance. He has had a lot of patience with my two left feet Hahaha. Dario is really well known for his futbol skills around town and just won the paragliding competition in the region....oh did I mention he is extremely good looking as well :)
Anyways, it has been fun hanging out with him. We are just friends and I know that I am leaving I am not going to just leave it at that.
So a few of the other travelers I have met decided that we all want to spend Christmas together in Baños. I am going to go hiking around other towns in this region for a few days and then we are going to return to celebrate Christmas together. I am not sure yet what I will do for New would be nice to be with friends as well.
After the holidays though, I have decided it is time to get on the move again. Erin, the traveler from Whistler Canada, is heading into Colombia ....I think I am going to join her. I plan on spending 10 to 15 days there and then flying down to Buenos Aires. My friend Lark from Texas, is going to meet me in Buenos Aires on January 21st.....we are going to explore that whole area together. There are soooooo many places to see in South America. I have really enjoyed my opportunity to get to know the town of Baños...but I must move on.
I will be posting more pics the next few days of the celebrations in Baños.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Salkantay Trek & Machu Picchu

Well let me begin this blog with the fact that I am still alive right now. About 2 days ago (Thanksgiving Day to be exact) I felt like it was close to the end for me....well maybe it wasn´t that bad, but I did have a fever, traveler´s diaherrea, bug bites all over my body, blisters on my feet, lost a toenail, and could barely walk because my body was so sore.
Why was I under this sort of condition you may ask? Because for 5 days prior to Thanksgiving, I decided to take the Salkantay Trek to visit Machu Picchu. Let me start from the beginning.....

It all started in Lima, Peru....where I spent about 18 hours hanging out in the airport. I flew there from Ecuador and thought that I would save money by staying the night there to get to my connecting flight the next morning. Too bad I forgot that the prices are all jacked up in airports. I probably would have saved more money by shopping at Sacks 5th Avenue for 2 hours. I felt like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal" roaming around the airport...checking out all of the stores and restuarants. I did not sleep what-so-ever.
Finally, I fly into Cuzco, Peru which is the main city hub for treks to Machu Picchu. Cuzco is at an altitude of about 11,300 feet. As soon as I stepped off the airplane I was short of breath. I started to get a little bit of altitude sickness and was even feeling a cold coming on...Probably due to the altitude and lack of sleep the night before. After checking into the hostel, I roamed around the city and talked to several tour agencies. I found one that I liked and decided that I wanted to do the Salkantay was 5 days long and the views in the pictures looked amazing. Come to find out, though, the Salkantay is the most challenging of the Machu Picchu alternative treks. It is the longest and it goes to the highest altitude. I was a little worried, considering I have never really hiked in the mountains before.
Since I had altitude sickness, the tour agency suggested that I acclimate my body for a I checked out the town of Cuzco and mentally prepared myself for the 5 days ahead of me. I also went and bought a few items that I needed for the hike such as a pancho, sunblock, bug repellant, water purifer pills, and snacks.
Day1 - 4:30AM
A cab picked me up and I met 2 of my fellow trekkers, the Mexicans: Rolando & Mario. We immediately got along right off the bat and started chatting it up with each other. The cab started to drive and backed right into made a horrible crash noise. However, it didnt seem to phase him as he threw the car into drive and kept on going. Mario looked at both of us and said "Let the adventure begin". We arrived to a random bus that locals were piling into. The driver just motioned us towards the bus so we got on. After about ten more minutes, 6 more trekkers got on the bus and we headed off on a 3 hour ride. It was at that point that I looked around and realized that I was the only girl amongst the group of trekkers. Hmmmm...I thought to this even a "girly" type thing to do. Am I completely out of my element? Am I actually a Man-Woman??? Just kidding...haha, but I did think it was odd that I was the only chick. Come to find out though, two other girls were to join the group the following day.
After we arrived to our starting point, we met our guide, Henry, and had a breakfast. Everytime we ate during the hike, we were given cocoa leaves to help with the altitude. By the end of the trip we were all pretty addicted to the leaves....we would put them in our tea, soup, beer, or just chew on them for fun.
So we started trekking on the first day. The view was amazing. The rolling green hills were turning into mountains and it felt really good being out in the open air....I didn´t feel like I had a cold anymore and I could not stop smiling. I wasn´t sure if this was because of the magnificient nature or the cocoa leaves. We continued walking and getting to know each other. Other then the 2 Mexicans, there were 6 American guys. 3 of the guys were friends from San Francisco and the other 3 guys were from San Diego and LA. We all walked briskly and tried not to act like the trails were very challenging. After lunch, the sunny fresh weather grew into a dark storm cloud. Soon the temperature dropped and it began to rain. I was really glad I bought that pancho. I slipped into it and before I could get it all the way on, the hail began to fall. It was at this moment that I felt like a true adventure I was...walking through the mountains of Peru in a pancho with hail beating on my head. It was a neat feeling for about 3 minutes and then I was totally over it. The hail and rain SUCKED. My shoes, socks, and lower pants got soaked. Since it was later in the day, they never came close to drying. (This would pose a major problem later in the night).
Finally, we arrived to our camp site...worn out from the first day and sick of the rain and hail. For the time being, the weather had cleared up. We were all freezing though, because the site was at a really high altitude. I do not remember the exact height, but it was dang cold!!! Since we were on park land, we were not allowed to build a fire. So our wet shoes and socks were not going to dry anytime soon. We all gathered for tea and supper and huddled close to one other to stay warm. During dinner, the rain started up again. And while it was raining...we realized that icicles were forming around the hut. This meant that it was below freezing. The rain turned into hail again and we sat there wondering if it would let up for us to get back to our tents. Finally, there was a break in the rain. I had my own tent for the night, but I was shaking so bad that the Mexicans let me come sleep with them. We figured we would have a better chance of survival if we had more bodies in one tent. We all layed down and after a few moments realized that the tent was leaking. The rain was so fierce at this point that it was causing a river to run underneath our tent and the water was not only coming in from the sides, but up from the ground as well. At first we all kinda laughed because this was the perfect scenario for one of those Survival shows on Discovery Channel....but after about 5 minutes...we were not laughing anymore. We were miles away from one else around except for our group. No fire, no electricity...nothing! The bottom of our entire tent filled up with water and we layed there shaking through the night. It was miserable....I watched the time pass had to have been one of the worst nights of my life. I could hear the other guys in the tent next to us going through a similar situation. We all just layed close to each other and waited for the sun to rise. I long as we were in the tent next to another human body, we would be able to stay alive.
Finally....the morning came. I got up and tried to find some dry clothes to put on that I did not sacrifice the night before. I put back on my wet socks and shoes and headed to the cooking hut. The other 3 guys were in there already with a blank stare across their faces. They did not look good. We switched stories about how horrible our nights were and they then confessed to me that they were not going to continue on with the trek. The night was so horrible for them, that they just wanted to go back to Cuzco and take a bus to Machu Picchu. Since 2 other girls were coming by taxi up the trail, they were going to take the taxi back. So....after day 1....our group went down 3 guys and gained 2 girls.
Day 2 was the hardest trekking day of the entire trip. Not only were we all running on no sleep from the night before, but it was the day that we would reach our maximum altitude of the Salkantay mountain. The views were extrodinary as we walked passed rivers, lagoons, and glaciers. We even saw a couple of avalanches from a distance. What was really neat about the hike was that we never passed any other hikers. Every once in awhile, we would see locals or herders pass by, but that was it. I pushed my body to its limits on this day....slow and steady...I kept my pace to get to the top of the mountain. It was very difficult, but I was mentally ready for the challenge. When I reached our destination at 15,000 feet I was extremely proud of all of us. We took tons of pictures. The San Francisco bunch had a video camera with them. They have been filming themselves dancing at various sites throughout their travels. It was here, that Andrea made her debut on their camera. The whole gang danced around the altitude sign in their own crazy way. (I will let you know when they post the video on is going to be a good one). After reaching that point, the rest of the day was down hill. But we were all so worn out that the down hill wasnt as easy as we had planned...but we made it to our camp site. The site was at a much lower lever and warmer then the night before. It was on a beautiful ranch heading into the jungle. We drank a few beers...told a few stories..and slept much better.
Day 3 we walked through the jungle. The terrain was completely different. The weather was warm and sticky and it wasnt the altitude or hail that we were was the MOSQUITOS! Those damn pesky things....I must have had an inch layer thick of repellant on my body at all times. We stopped at a rest station and there was a make-shift soccer field. We played a short little game with each was a lot of fun, but pretty exhausting since we were still high above sea-level. After our hike, we arrived to a town called Santa Teresa. This town is known for its Hot Springs. We all headed to the springs since none of us had a shower since we left 2 days ago. The springs were felt good to clean off my body. Everyone wanted a beer so I volunteered myself to go get them. This was a mistake! As soon as I stepped out of the water and walked to the bar I looked down and saw my entire body covered in bugs. The spring water had washed all of my repellant was too late...they all had already bitten me.
Day 4 was also still through the jungle. We trekked along a strong river all the way to this town called Hydro Electric. This was the train that could take you to the town, Aguas Calientes, which is the gateway into Machu Picchu. On the way to Hydro Electric, we stopped and played in a waterfall for a bit. We walked by wild pepper bushes, coffee bean trees, lime trees, and banana trees. The jungle had so many awesome plants and flowers everywhere. After lunch at Hydro Electric, some people decided to take the train to the next town, and the rest of us did the 6 mile walk along the rail-road tracks. I was determined to walk the entire way to Machu Picchu. Aguas Calientes was a major touristy town, but it was also very nice. This was our last night as a group and we were staying in a hostel. It felt so nice to get a real shower and sleep in an actual bed. After our last supper together, we all headed to bed early....tomorrow would be a long day at Machu Picchu...and it started at 4AM.
Day 5 we all woke up and began the trek up to Machu Picchu. It was a 1.5 hour hike uphill to the site. I was sooooo worn out this day. My body was on its last leg of hiking and I was running on low. Not to mention, my stomach was not feeling too good from the "last supper". I spent most of the night sitting on the toilet. This was also the day that my toenail was starting to fall off. So, despite my body slowly telling me to take a break, I made it up to the ruins. As soon as I got there, I forgot about all the pains in my body. Machu Picchu is a site to see! No matter how many photos you have seen in your text books or on the internet....nothing compares to seeing it in real life. Our group was especially lucky because it had been raining for the past week. This was the first clear day they have had in a long time. The sun shined down on all of the ruins and we explored for hours. We even tried to do a dance for the video camera, but we got in trouble by security.
The ruins itself actually do not have a one has ever been able to determine it. It is the mountain next to the ruins that is called Machu Picchu. On the other side of the ruins is a mountain called Wainapichu. Most people hike up this mountain because there are more ruins on the top of it. It is a bit dangerous fact, 7 people have died on this mountain just this year. I was so exhausted that I decided it was not a good idea to hike that mountain. I would hike Machu Picchu instead...simply because they did not tell me a statistic of people dying...surely it would be easier, right? Oh my goodness....this hike was insane!!! Not only was I not mentally prepared for it, but it was an optional hike...and that really bugged me. Why was I putting myself through yet another challenge? Why did I have to be apart of this over-achiever group? Anyways, it was painful...there were times where I was crawling on all 4s up narrow steap stairs....people must have died on this mountain as well. It was worth it though, once we got to the top it felt like we were on top of the world. We could view the ruins below us as well as all the mountain ranges surrounding us. My friend jammed his Iphone music and turned on the video camera. For about 15 minutes we all danced on top of the mountain like was a glorious moment!!!!
That night we ate beer and pizza and struggled to move any part of our bodies. We took the train back to Cuzco and said our goodbyes. We were all exhausted.
The next day was Thanksgiving. I woke up and simply felt like shit. I felt a fever coming on and my body could barely move. My toe was officialy throbbing now and the bites would not stop itching.....I dont know how many times I had gone to the bathroom since the last supper.
I called my family on Skype....I was a little bit homesick. Here I was sick and sore in some random peruvian town, while my family was gorging on turkey. I tried not to dwell on was just one day and I would feel better again....this emotion would soon pass. The Mexicans were still in town so they decided to join me for a nice feast. We ate at a very nice restaurant and exchanged stories back from the first day we met and the cab hit some unidentified object. After dinner, Mario and I tried out one the Inka was extremely sketchy. The place was pretty gross and smelled bad. I am not sure why we even went through with it...we both kept looking at each other waiting for the other person to back out of it. Basically, this woman just beat the crap out of my body and then used some hot wooden ball with thorns to scratch my bug wasnt the best massage of my life, let´s just say that. I went to bed shortly after the massage because I could tell that my body just needed rest.
The hike was amazing....I honestly can´t believe that I put myself through something like that, but I would do it all over again. I met some amazing people and saw sights that I only dreamed about. My body was not 100%, but I think that it did alright for its first mountain hike ever.
The good thing is, having walked 50 to 60 miles with traveler´s diaherrea, my jeans are now a bit loser. See, you always have to find the glass half full when traveling or else you can drive yourself crazy. For instance, the 20 hour bus ride I took yesterday is not so could have been 40 hours instead. Or, the guy sitting next to me smells pretty awful, but at least I am not sitting next to a big pile of poo! The moral of this blog is....always look on the brighter side. My body may be falling apart....but I saw Machu Picchu :)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Wedding

So Brad was heading back to Montañita (beach town) for one last effort at spearfishing. Montañita is only about 2 hours from the airport I am using to get to Peru, so logistically it was better if I headed in that direction, too. Plus, there were rumors of a Full Moon party at the beach that weekend so I figured it would be a good time regardless.
I said goodbye to my family and friends in Baños....I am hoping to get back there for a few more weeks, but things seem to constantly change with me.
At the bus stop we met a strange character from England, named Adam. He was also on his way to Montañita. He was extremely obnoxious and all he talked about was his wild stories and whether or not he could score drugs in Montañita. Brad seemed really annoyed with him and muffled to me that we were not going to travel with him after the bus ride. I just thought the dude was crazy and was entertained by his lavish travel stories. Anyways, more on the weird English dude later.
We had another glorious 15 hour bus ride to the coast. UUUgggg I really do not like the bus rides and my stomach hurts just thinking about how many hours of bus travel I have ahead of me on my trip. I lost all my ipod music on some shitty computer, so I just sit there and stare out the window and try not to vomit from motion sickness. Ok...I´m done bitching....I just really don´t like the bus rides here.
Anyways, on the last bus ride heading into Montañita, I sat next to a charismatic local named Darwin. He spoke really slow and clear so I was able to practice my spanish with him. We were chatting it up and he told me how he loves to scuba dive and shoot fish with a spear. My eyes lit up as I told him that my travel buddy has been DYING to spearfish and needs some people to go with. I didn´t realize at this moment in time, that Darwin was a well-known local in Montañita. By meeting him..Brad and I were instantly friends with many of the locals.
Once the bus ride was over, I introduced him to Brad and they went off talking about Spearfishing. They arranged to meet the next day to go.
That night we met up with some friends that were in town that friend Jim works at the language school there. They were having a BBQ with all of the students and he invited us. The BBQ was awesome...steak, chicken, fish...yummy! I met some really cool people from all over the world. We all went out that night and hit up the scene. People were buying drinks left and right. We went to this bar that had a band and I ran into the crazy English dude. He said he travels around Beat Boxing and was going to get on stage in a few minutes. I was like...oh lord...this guy IS CRAZY. Then all of a sudden the dude gets on stage and goes to town with Beat Boxin. Everyone in the bar is super impressed and jamming out to him. I must admit, he was pretty darn good and I was moving my body to it. It is just funny the type of people you run into while traveling. A day ago I thought he was some washed up druggy. Come to find out...he is a washed out druggy that is damn good at Beat Boxing!
Anyways....I must have had a lot to drink that night because the next day was AWFUL. I felt like dog poo...and swore I would never drink again. Of course, it had to be the most amazing beautiful sunny day of the week. So I dragged myself out of bed and layed on the beach awhile....I got kinda burned, but sweated out the hangover. Brad went fishing with his new friends and they caught a couple. One of the guys invited us over to his house to cook up the fish and hang out for a bit. It was a really neat experience to be invited into a strangers house that we just met and have him prepare us food. The guy spoke REALLY fast spanish so our communication was very basic. During dinner, he invited us to his cousin´s wedding that night. We were a little hesitant about going, but decided that it was a unique opportunity. Lenein, the guy, told us that we just needed to bring a gift for the bride and to meet at his house at 10pm. Oh yeah, the weddings start late....and go ALLLL night long.
We had no idea what to bring as a at the last minute we were running around the town trying to find something. I ended up just buying a nice bottle of wine bc that is totally normal in the USA. After I purchased it though, I asked the clerk if the wine would be appropriate for the wedding and he simply just said ...Not really. Hahaha oh well...we were late and I already bought it. So we met up with Lenein and he took us to the store to buy wrapping paper and then we headed off to the wedding. We walked to the wedding bc Lenein explained that the cab wouldl charge double since he was with Gringos....its better if we just walk.
So we got to the wedding and Brad is holding the bottle of wine THAT I BOUGHT (he hadñt paid me back yet at this time). The wedding is huge...and there are tons of people already sitting down. We all walked down the middle to greet the bride who is standing there accepting gifts. Brad walks up to her and hands her the wine and she graciously accepts it and gives him a party favor. She then looks at me...empty handed. I have no idea what to do so I just walk up to her and say ¨Congratulations¨real Texan like and give her a hug. She says thanks, but doesn´t hand me a party favor. HAHAH oh well... I jsut followed the others to a table and sat down.
As soon as we sat down, they put beer on our table and handed us a heaping plate of food. The music started blaring all around us. The vibe was amazing...and Lenein told the bartendar to make sure there was always beer and drinks on our table. Let the party begin!!! Darwin, from the bus, rushed over and asked me to dance. I was already reallly nervous about this because of my dancing experience on Halloween. I told him in broken spanish that I was really bad, but that didnt seem to bother him. He grabbed my arms and whisked me onto the EMPTY dance floor. Thankfully, he was a really good lead and twirled me around everywhere. I was able to loosen up and actually started enjoying myself dancing. For about the next 5 hours, Brad and I consumed beer and danced all over the place. Unlike the USA where I normally just sit in my chair at weddings, I had the guys lined up ready to ask me to dance. They dont care about anything...they just like to dance and have a good time. Oh, and the songs are like 20-30 minutes long. Right when I thought the song would be over, it would remix and another beat would start. I definitely had a good workout that night.
At about 3am we tried to leave the wedding to meet up with our friends at the Full Moon party. However, the locals were not having that idea. They grabbed our hands and brought us right back to our table and gave us fresh beers. They said the night was 3AM!!!!!! We danced for a few more hours and got home close to 5am. The next day, we found out that the wedding didnt close down until almost 8am! Now thats the kinda wedding I want to have!
The night was amazing and definitely an experience for the books. It is crazy how we just met these people the day before and they already invited us into their home for dinner and took us to the biggest wedding in town. I was very greatful to them for doing that.
I will get some pics up in the next few computer keeps screwing up. Oh, and there is a fabulous video of drunk Brad at the wedding. I am hoping to put it on YouTube. Try searching Brad Butler Ecuador Wedding in the next few weeks and hopefully it will pop up.
Well, I leave tomorrow to head to Peru. I have a 12 day adventure ahead of me but I am really excited for the challenge.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Baños...and My Decision

The past 2 weeks in Baños have been amazing! Each day is fulfilling and I have enjoyed my homestay family and my spanish school. This is one of those places that I could see myself living in for a long period of time. It has so many things to offer. Over the past 2 weeks I have done tons of adventurous things...for instance, me and my friend Natura and this random Irish chick rode mountain bikes for 50 kilometers to the next town. It was not an easy rained and there were some difficult hills to go up. I wanted to quit about 5 times, but I hung in there. There were some amazing views of waterfalls and mountains. The town we were going to was the passage way into the Amazon at one point I was looking at the rolling mountains behind me, a volcano and snow covered peaks to the right of me, and the jungle in front. It is a view that I will never forget and it made the bike ride totally worth it.
The next day Brad and I went on a 3 hour hike through the mountains. There are so many hikes and it totally beats running down Duval road everyday. I could definitely get used to the outdoors here. Also, I have attended a couple aerobics classes in Spanish at the local gym. It is absolutely hilarious...Natura and I are the tallest (only white girls) in the class. This morning we did "Latin Dance Moves". You better believe that my ass was sweating too. Hopefully this helps improve my skills in the discotecas.
A few days ago I decided to take a tour through the mountains by horseback. No one else wanted to go with me, so I went alone. It was just me and this 18 year old guide, Edwin. I didn´t really know what to expect from the tour considering the last time I was on a horse was in Mackinac Island, Michigan when I was about 10....I just imagined myself riding on this grand stallion through the mountains of Ecuador totally comfortable on this perfect robotic horse. I kinda forgot about the whole "live animal" thing though. Ya know...the part where your life is now in the hands of this 4-legged creature on the side of a cliff. Needless to say, the tour was a memorable experience. As soon as I got on the horse I was reminded that I did not know how the hell to ride a horse and decided I was just going to hold on for my life. Edwin took me through the mountains and I saw gushing rivers, waterfalls, was beautiful. There were a few moments though that I wondered how in the world this horse was going to get me through that passage way...or down this side of this cliff. Edwin was a hoot, too. I was practicing my spanish with him...and he was so interested in why I did not have a boyfriend in the states. I just laughed and giggled because I just wanted Edwin to get me home alive. The horse tour was a blast, but I am not sure that I will do another one on my trip. I can hardly walk today!
Besides outdoor adventures, Baños is known for its natural volcanic springs....a few times each week we go and soak in them. You sit in the hot water for a few minutes, then sit in the freezing water from the waterfall...and go back and forth. It is supposed to add years to your life.
I cannot emphasize how great this town is, I can picture myself studying here for a year and doing a new adventure each day. It is small, safe, and the people are nice. Not to mention, I have found some fabulous places to eat.
The past 2 weeks I have been living this fantastic, comfortable routine in my new home. However, I have also talked to several travelers passing through. Many of them coming from the jungle or Machu Pichu...heading to Colombia or Central America. Their stories are awesome and it makes me want to go out and see some things. Originally, my plan for this part of my trip was dedicated to learning spanish. I was going to come down here and spend 6-8 weeks in a town and just study my butt off. I decided that I would not visit certain places because that would take away from my time to learn spanish. Well, even though this town is awesome, I have made the decision to change my plan a bit and go out and see things. I have a lifetime to learn spanish, but who knows when I will ever be back in South America again. I think it is worth skipping 2 weeks of Spanish to visit Machu Pichu. So, I bought a ticket to Peru. I wasnt planning on seeing Machu Pichu at all as it is almost rainy season, but I have already decided that rain or will be an experience that I will never forget. It will consist of 4 to 5 days of hiking so it should be a nice challenge for me. Now don´t get me wrong, learning spanish is still very important to me and I will continue to study and take classes....just not as many weeks as I had planned.
I also realized, that after South America, I will be traveling to places around the world that will not be speaking spanish. I unfortunetaly will lose some of my speaking skills. So, I have another idea of swooping back through South or Central America on the last leg of my trip to refresh before I head back to Texas next year...we will see how things go. "Vamos a Ver"

Anyways, I am really excited for my trip to Peru next will be the first time I am officially alone, so hopefully everything goes alright. I will be gone for 12 days until I regroup with Brad back in Ecuador (before we head into Colombia). Anywho, I´ve added a few more pics to the Baños album on Picasa. Ciao Ciao

Monday, November 3, 2008

My new home...and poor dancing skills

Since the last time I blogged, we left the coastal town of Montañita and traveled by bus over 10 hours to a small town called Baños. 10 hours on a bus is not very fun by the way. It was my first night bus and for security purposes, Brad and I held our bags in our laps. So not only are we sitting in a chair for over 10 hours, but we are holding our your ass gets numb after awhile. Anyways, Brad managed to pass out the whole trip, but I had trouble sleeping since we were apparently driving over the worst road in the entire world. It felt like we were literally driving over 100 million speedbumps...the road was really messed up from massive potholes and we were turning all crazy throughout the night..up and down the Ecuadorian mountains. I pretty much sat there and stared out the window of darkness and asked myself if this was the last bus ride I would ever take in my life. The stereotype of crazy bus rides in South America is TRUE!!!!
Anyways, we arrived to Baños alive and well. Brad was refreshed from his sleep and I looked like a mad woman from hell, but I was thankful that we made it there safely.
As soon as I stepped off the bus into Baños I immediately felt positive energy from the town. It is surrounded by plush green mountains and there is even a waterfall that falls right into the city. There are tons of hikes and outdoor activities and 3 big spanish schools. Not to mention, they are famous for their "hot baths" that are from natural springs...hence the name Baños. I was excited because I knew that this was going to be my home for the next few weeks. I had been bouncing all over the place since I started my trip and was looking forward to chilling out a bit. We found a Spanish school....Brad and I had an interview session with the teachers so they could see what level we were at. This session consisted of me and Brad staring aimlessly at them and laughing non stop. I started crying I was laughing so hard....we decided we needed seperate tutoring sessions since we clearly could not speak spanish in front of each other without making fun of each other.
We spent a few days in Baños hiking and checking out the city, then it was the weekend. Brad had met some people off couch surfing ( a website where you can stay at people´s homes for free around the world) and they invited us to Guayquil for Halloween. I wasn´t super excited to hop back on a bus since I was feeling comfy in Baños...but I also love Halloween and wanted to have a good time. Off again we went...for another weekend of travel. We arrived in Guayquil..which is the biggest city in Ecuador. It is much more modern and active then Quito. I bought a mardi gras mask for $1 in the bus station and Brad bought a cowboy hat and american flag hankercheif...our costumes were ready to go. We met up with his friends and they took us to this posh club called ZOUK... for only a few dollars we got into the club and there was an open bar. For some reason, Ecuadorians are not very big drinkers. In fact, most of the people we were with hardly drank. So it was kinda akward when the Ecuadorians asked me and Brad why we were holding 2 drinks at a time all night long....haha.

I have always known that I was a bad dancer, in fact, it is something I have just accepted about myself. But never before have I felt more ridiculous about my dancing then in a thriving latin american dance club. 100s of people were smashed into each other salsa and grinding for hours. Their bodies were sweaty and they just shaked and moved harder and harder throughout the night. Then there was me....I seriously must have looked to Elaine from Seinfield. I looked like a wet dog from the heat of everyone around me and was timidly trying to shake my hips and look like I knew what I was doing. I am not sure if people really noticed me...or if they even cared, but I did feel pretty akward. I decided it was best if I just sat at the bar and it was cooler at the bar :) People are also way more touchy in Latin America. Men will come up to you and grab your hands and twirl you off to dance. They love to hug and kiss and hold each other, even if you are just friends. I am not a very touchy this is something that I am having to get used to.

After the dance club we went back to our friend´s house. There was not a lot of sleeping room and I ended up staying the night in a single bed with this girl that I had just met. It is amazing how nice people are in Latin America, they will take the floor or offer their bed to people they hardly even know....I felt akward sharing a bed with this girl, but she felt honored to be able to host me. It is a completely different culture that is taking me a bit to get used to...but the more I learn about it, the more I love it.

The next day we walked around Guayquil and then went to a restuarant for dinner to enjoy some beers and listen to music. They love music here and around every corner you can hear a band or a solo artist playing instruments just about any time of the day. I decided that if I ever got married then I would have a latin american band at my wedding. I think I should marry Mathew McConaughey because they love bongo drums down here. Anyways, Brad and I decided to get a hotel this night because I felt bad sharing a single bed with the girl. Of course, penny pincher Brad knew of a cheap place since he had stayed in this city before. On the way to the hotel he told me that it was actually a¨"pay-by-the-hour" hotel and that it was not very classy. GGeezzz! Not classy is an understatement. This place was awful! We had our own rooms and you pay $7 and that lasts through the night if you wish. It didn´t seem like many people stayed the entire night though. I had my own room..which consisted of a bed, a tv, and a bathroom. The bed only had a base sheet on it. I tried the fan, but it went to moc 10 speeds and I thought it might rip off the ceiling and fly into the I turned it off. The TV only had 2 volumes...loud and REAlly loud. I soon realized why this was the case though. The strangest part of this room was this vent/window thing that opened up to the center of the hotel. Brad said that all the rooms had this. Now, why in the world would you have a ¨pay-by-the-hour¨hotel that had open vents in each room into the middle of the hotel? It was the stupidest thing I have ever seen in my life. I layed in bed and turned my TV on so as not to hear ALLLLL the other people in the hotel through my vent. I will add this to my list of horrible/akward/gross places that I stay in my round the world trip.
After the weekend, we got back on the fun bus ride back to Baños. I met a girl the week before and she introduced us to a family in the town. We arranged to live with them for a week while we studied spanish. When we arrived to their house I felt safe and comfortable. They have a very welcoming home and it was nice to climb into bed....far far away from the Pay-by-the-hour hotel.
As I am writing this blog, it is now Monday....we started proper spanish class today and I really enjoyed it. I have soooo much to learn, but was excited to get back into the classroom and get my brain working again. Hopefully my confidence and spanish skills will improve so I can start to have basic conversations with locals. This weekend was also the celebration of Dia De Muertes...¨Day of the Dead¨. In latin america they use this day to celebrate the death of their loved ones. They make the person´s favorite dish and take it to the cemetary where they spend the day in celebration. It is a positive day where they remember the good old times with their family. On our bus ride home last night we passed by small towns and could see the fiestas in the cemetaries. Also, today in Baños there were parades and bands playing.....they are always celebrating something here. Latin Ameria is a very tranquil, easy going, fun is care free and has nice people who truley love each other and love life!!!! Wayyyy different then the US mentality, I think.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Montanita...lifestyles & living condtions

oWe are in a small coastal town in Ecuador called Montanita. We originally came here for Brad to spearfish and I was going to go to school. However, the fishing fell through and the school is we are going to move on tomorrow. I spent the past day alone walking through is a lazy surfer town with tons of hippies selling jewelry on the side of the street. It is somewhat touristy and the prices are a little higher then the other towns we have visited. I decided to get out of the main drag and check out the local areas. I was able to watch a soccer match, see a child´s birthday party, and observe every day life of the Montanitans. It was refreshing to be in a completely different country, different culture and still see similar interactions among people, friends, and family. I saw a wife bantering with her husband over something and then several seconds later they laughed and were picking on each other and playing hide and seek. There was a group of older men sitting at a table enjoying beer and playing some type of card table game. I can hardly communicate with these people and don´t look anything like them, but still, as I walk and observe their town, most everyone will look me in the eye and smile.
Another thing that I wanted to share was the living conditions. Ecuador is a very poor country. I lucked out in staying in some decent hostels the past few places, but Montanita has been my first peak inside the poverty here. Our first night here we came in late and found a woman that would let us stay in her house for $5 a night. Literally, we stayed in this woman´s house, shared the family bathroom, and she said that all living areas were ok for us to use. The bedroom was basically two old beds with mosquito nets. Sheets were on them, but they did not look clean. The walls were not fully built and holes were everywhere. But it wasn´t the bedroom that really got me, it was the bathroom. Brad warned me about the bathroom when he came out which meant it had to be bad (since Brad could sleep inside a dumpster if it meant he would save money). First of all, you cannot flush toilet paper down the toilets here. No matter if you go number 1, 2, or have to put the paper in the trashcan. Well the trashcan in this bathroom was overflowing and the stinch of the room overwhelmed me immediately. The entire room from shower to sink was filthy. Hair and dirt was everywhere and remnants of soap and toothpaste were on the walls and sink. It was BAD...I had a hard time going pee and didn´t even wash my face or brush my teeth. There was NO WAY I was going to take a shower. Brad told me I needed to get over it bc there would be plenty of places like this on my journey. I agreed, but then told him that I was okay with paying a dollar more to have a clean bathroom....We decided to look for a cleaner place the next morning. We actually found a nicer hostel for only $3.50 a night and it was much cleaner then the other place. It wasn´t clean....just cleaner :) I was happy though. However, at about 9pm when the dance club next door opened, I soon realized why it was only $3.50 a night. For a somewhat cleaner hostel I had to jam out to dance music until 2am as I tried to sleep. I was totally ok with doing that too!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Mindo Ecuador

The past few days have been a whirlwind. Quito is actually a dangerous city. Our first day Brad and I were exploring the city and decided to check out this statue on this hill. As we walked up some stairs, several locals warned us that it was dangerous if we continued. Brad said not to worry as they were just messing with us...I was feeling weary though (but didn´t want to overreact). We continued to walk and an older woman looked me in the eye and said ¨peligroso¨(dangerous) and then took her hand and acted as though she was slitting her neck. That is when I remembered reading in the guide book about some walk that was extremely sketchy because many gringos were robbed....come to find out, this was the exact walk. I told Brad I wasn´t going any further and he was glad I was with him or else he would have kept going.
Fortunetaly, we safely left Quito a day later and headed to Mitad el Mundo (the middle of the world). This is the town where the equator line runs through. There are 2 lines in the town that we visited. The first one was the line established by the French. The second line, 200 meters away, was established by the indigineous people of Ecuador many many years before the French. After the invention of GPS, it was confirmed that the line that the indigineous people established was actually the correct measurment. It is amazing that by studying the sun and seasons, they were able to determine the exact line of the equator well before any technology.
At the last minute Brad and I decided to meet up with some of his friends in a town called Mindo. However, we ended up missing the bus to Mindo bc it left early, so we had to hitch a ride to the next bus stop. There were 6 gringos in the back of this dudes truck, speeding through Quito and trying to catch the Mindo must have been a site, but we eventually caught the bus and made it to our destination.
Mindo is a very small town located in a cloud forest. It is way more relaxing and tranquil then Quito. I have decided I like the small towns much better then the big cities. Mindo is an adventure town. We all went zip lining through the forest canopies, rafting down the freezing rivers, hiking through waterfalls, and tasting a lot of great foods. The locals are very kind and seem to enjoy life. We met a gringo named Zac who has been in South America for 2 years doing the peace core. He was very helpful in introducing us to the town and giving us pointers. Zac also ran an organic restuarant where we ate most of our meals. Fried Yucca, organic coffee and amazing brownie desserts....mmmm it was yummy! Our hostel that we all stayed was like a treehouse overlooking a gushing river. The noise of the rain and river put me to sleep everynight. One afternoon I went shopping with a girl in our group and I managed to talk in broken spanish to buy a hunk of cow, veggies, and cheese. We grilled out on the river that night and feasted while we drank beer and exchanged stories. It was a wonderful evening.
We catch a bus at 4am to head out to the coast. Brad wants to spearfish and I want to start taking language classes. I think I will check out some surfing lessons as well.
So far I am enjoying the freedom of traveling. I have only been gone for 5 days and have already experienced a lot....I think I can get used to this :)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Arriving to Quito Ecuador

So I had to get online to let my parents know I made it to Quito. Since I am here, I decided to write a quick post about my experience last night. Everything was going wayyyy to smoothly with my travels and it was starting to freak me out. I landed in Quito, got through customs and pulled out the instruction and directions that my hostel emailed me a few days ago. Hale a cab that has numbers in the window...this means they are legal cabs and won´t rob or kill you. And hand the driver these directions and you will get to the hostel safe and sound.
Well, my cab driver was this sweet old man that did not speak a lick of english. And as we all know, my spanish is not very good. So...we start cruising through Quito at about midnight and I am thinking everything is cool. After about 20 minutes though, I realize the cab driver has no idea where he is going. In fact, he can hardly read. He asks me to read the directions out loud and then read off the street signs as we pass them. Uhhhh seriously dude? Its freaking midnight in Quito and it doesn´t look like we are in the safest part of town. Finally, we pull over to the only store that is open and we get out. All I can hear the store owner saying is that she can´t believe I don´t speak spanish and this is not a good part of town for me. He cannot leave me here....hahah ok now I am nervous. I realize I have a phone number to the hostel, I give the owner .45 cents and pray that someone answers. Yes, the hostel mother answers and she exchanges words with the cab driver. I am thinking everything is cool at this point. We get back in the cab and come to found out, the poor old man still has no idea where he is going. We circle for like 10 more minutes and I am seriously about to grab my stuff and start walking. I see this woman in a long coat walking up and down the street waving at cabs. I realize that must be my hostel mother. We drive to her and she has it out with my driver....they start fighting over the directions. I get out...she hugs me and says she was worried I got in a bad cab at the airport and has been waiting for me. We walk to the hostel...she then unlocks this security gate and tells me to never go out at night around this part of town. My room is clean and nice....I can´t wait for Brad to arrive tomorrow morning. I put his M & Ms on his pillow to welcome him.

Friday, October 17, 2008

2 more days to stay out of trouble

My bags are packed and I have just been sitting around this week with my thumb up my ass. I took the last week off from work so I didn't get all stressed out. It is amazing how much you can get done in your life when you don't have to work everyday. Of course, by Tuesday I had done everything so the rest of the week consisted of me working out, sitting around, and drinking heavily with friends. I REALLY need to leave the country soon.
I am pretty sure I have packed a lot of stuff that I don't need and have forgotten some really important things that I will need. I am not too worried though, I am sure Quito has stores.
My dad is taking me to my last UT game more day of drinking and seeing friends. And then Sunday I am off to Ecuador. I am really looking forward to being outside, walking for miles around random cities, & detoxing my body from alcohol and queso.
My friend Carly and I joke because we have been using my "traveling for a year" as an excuse to act ridiculous this past month. Yes Carly, the time is here for me to actually leave. No more celebrations and acting like idiots...this is my final Goodbye..HAHAH (ok, maybe tailgating tomorrow will be our last Hoo-Raa together). 
Adios USA....Hello WORLD!

Friday, September 19, 2008

One month till departure

I have spent the past 2 years talking about this trip and now it is a reality. It is interesting how talking about something is completely different then actually doing it. My emotions are being pulled in so many directions right now. This will be the first time in my life that I leave my comfort bubble and uproot everything I have known for 26 years....anxious, scared, excited, READY!

Pre-departure planning, work, friends, family, many things on my mind. When I think about it all my stomach starts to hurt and I get overwhelmed. But as my friend Jeremy told me "this is just like scuba diving, Andrea. When you are on the boat getting your gear on, there is a moment of complete chaos. The boat is rocking, people are scattered about getting ready, sea sickness...and then you flip backwards into the ocean, and when you are completely under the water it all becomes calm and makes sense"
When I land in Ecuador on October will all come together.