Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Prince and the Pauper...!

I arrived to Buenos Aires, Argentina after an overnight flight from Colombia. As I mentioned in my last blog, I was a little out of sorts. I went with Jeremy´s recommendation on how to get from the airport to the hotel (about 30km away) and took this VIP car that was "supposedly" the best bang for your buck. As I was riding in the car I decided to glance at my Lonely Planet Travel guide (for the 1st time about Argentina). As I read through the guide I learned that the VIP cars where extremely expensive and the best option was to take the shuttle for $8. Hmmmmm I thought to myself...that is way cheaper then the $40 dollars I am spending right now in the VIP private towncar that "Jeremy" recommended. This was the intro to the next week of my life....my week of traveling with Jeremy Goodwin!
For those of you that do not know...Jeremy is one of my best friends. Our personalities are hilarious with one another and we spend most of our time laughing at our idiocracies then actually living a productive life. Furthermore, Jeremy is a well traveled individual. He even has his own business where he sends highschool students to go travel abroad and encourages people of all sorts to travel and learn about other cultures. HOWEVER...and I say this in all caps...Jeremy travels well! He is either a working traveler...or a vacationer. The word "backpacking" is not part of his vocabulary or his mindset. So when Jeremy randomly emailed me about 2 weeks ago and asked to meet me in my travels...I was very excited. Jeremy, however, did not know what he was about to get himself involved with.
And so the story goes...The Prince and the Pauper!
I arrived to the hotel and was really excited to not only see Jeremy, but to also chill in an actual hotel for a few days. We had a blast catching up with each other and exchanging stories. I was so happy to have a comfortable bed and a private bathroom with hot water. I opened my backpack to grab some clothes for my shower when all of a sudden Jeremy said "Wow Dude....what is that smell?" I really didn´t notice anything, but I figured it was coming from my backpack...proof that my natural aromas were not that popular among the "vacationing" American. "It is my towel" I explained ...a little embarrased. I decided though, that it was probably time to wash my clothes. That day, Jeremy and I went for a jog around the city and he showed me some of the main attractions. Then we met up with some friends that we knew and enjoyed a nice traditional Argentinian Parilla (grilled meats). It was an amazing dinner. We went out on the town to some posh bars and all I could think about was how I was not staying within my budget.
Buenos Aires was an amazing city, though. I am not much of a big city girl...however, this had to be one of my favorites. Every street comes to life with tango music, food, wine, people, and old architecture with a modern touch! I haven´t quite figured out 2 things about Argentinians... A) when and where they work and B) how they are not overweight and dying from heartattacks by the minute. People do not have dinner until 10 or 11pm each night and then hit the dance clubs until sunrise....almost every day of the week! On top of that...the daily diet is steak, wine, bread, and italian food. Not too many vegetables are consumed around this area. Every day I walked through the city and just saw people hanging out with each other...drinking wine and conversing. My argentinian friend, Adrian, explained to me that the people in argentina have a very different mindset then americans. They only work as much as they need to and then spend the rest of the time "enjoying life with family and friends". This has been proven to me...over the next few weeks of my travels I witnessed the wonderful world of Argentina and how they spend hours and hours with family and friends...eating..drinking...eating some more. Throw in a little bit of work...a few futbol games...and you are living the Argentinian lifestyle!
After a few days in Buenos Aires, I decided that I really wanted to see Uruguay, which is an hour boat ride from Buenos Aires. Jeremy really wanted to go to this popular beach resort town called Punta Del Este. It seemed pretty expensive to me, so I recommended a smaller beach town that was more on my budget. I like the more chill-out, relaxing, low key scenes, while Jeremy enjoys the scene and be seen places. Anyways, after much conversation about money, cities, etc. I decided to go to the beach resort town on one condition...we would have to stay in a hostel, because there was no way I could afford a hotel room. I think Jeremy threw up in his mouth a little bit, but he agreed to the proposal and then diligently started researching hostels online....I let him even figure out what hostel to stay at.
So then we were off...the Prince and the Popper on a ferry to Uruguay. Our first stop was in the quiant town of Colonia. This town was super cute with cobblestone streets and old timey cars. I felt like we went back in time about 40 years. We had gone back and forth about renting a car to drive around Uruguay in. When we got to the car rental place they only had manual cars in our price range. Neither of us really knew how to drive manual, but the salesman insisted that we rent the car. They even volunteered to teach us how to drive...haha I guess they get a really big commission check on rentals and an even bigger check from the insurance company when we crash the car. We decided to just rent a golf cart for the afternoon and cruised around the lazy beach town. That night a big storm rolled into town and the power went out in the entire city. We found an awesome little Italian restuarant and had dinner by candle light....how romantic! Our hostel in Colonia was actually really nice in "backpacking" standards. It had a great common area and the decor was trendy. We slept in a room with 6 other people. Jeremy simply could not understand why in the world you would want to sleep with 6 other random strangers in a room. For about 5 to 10 more dollars we could have had a private room. But when you are traveling for a year...5 to 10 bucks adds up quick. On top of that, the shower was about 1 foot by 1 foot...we had a snorrer in the room, and no AC. This was no big deal to me...welcome to my life for the past 4 months, but Jeremy on the other hand..could not wrap his head around the situation. He was a good sport though and we laughed a lot about his "vacation" with Andrea.
The next day we headed to Punte Del Este. We stopped for a layover in Montevideo. Jeremy and I were starving so we ran into the McDonald´s to grab a quick sandwich (this would be one of the first few times I ate fast food on my trip by the way). Jeremy was so proud of his spanish speaking skills and was handling most of the conversations during out travels. So it really cracked me up when he went to order a 10 piece chicken nugget. Apparently, the girl thought that he ordered 10-10 piece chicken nuggets....100 chicken nuggets! It was about the time she told more people to move to the kitchen to help cook and told Jeremy he owed about 700 pesos that he realized she misunderstood. Can you imagine us walking out of McDonald´s with 100 chicken nuggets?
We finally arrived to Punta Del Este and walked about a mile to our hostel. That is another thing that I try to do to save money....walk everywhere. Jeremy insisted on taking a cab, but I told him that was not in the budget. I carried my bag like a backpack and Jeremy had his roller suitcase. He rolled that damn suitcase wherever he went...REFUSING to stop rolling..no matter the conditions. Mud, potholes, curbs, grass, dog poo....he kept on rolling. I had to laugh everytime he went over an obstacle in which he had to struggle a bit to ROLL. Heaven forbid he carry it like a backpack!
We arrived to the hostel (that Jeremy booked for us). It was called Roger´s Hostel and was a house in the middle of a neighborhood. We walked in and there were a couple of surfer looking guys that appeared to be stoned out of their minds hanging out in the common area. We stood there for a few minutes not really knowing how to check in or who was in charge of the place. A few guys rolled up the driveway on their skateboards and one of them approached us to get us checked in. He explained that for the first night we would have to sleep in seperate dorm rooms. Hahaha I just had to laugh at this moment because this meant that Jeremy would be in a dorm room with complete strangers without me. The hostel was pretty funny as well...I would rank it at one of the lower grade hostels I have stayed in. It became clear to us that it was a cheap place for the surfers to stay at when they came to the beach resort city. It had character, but it lacked in other areas. We got settled in and went out to go grab dinner. Since it stays light until about 10pm down here, the time just slips away. I think we had dinner at about 9pm..then decided to go check out some bars around town. We found this lovely bar called "Company". From the outside it looked like one of our classic dive bars that I love. After we went inside and ordered a drink we realized it was a kaoroke bar...for people over the age of 50. We were the youngest people in the joint, but ended up having a blast dancing and singing with the old crowd. After that we made our way to the "cool" bars and met up with some people from Chicago. We talked to them for several hours then decided it was time to head home...since it was 5AM! On our way home we decided we needed some drunk munchies and stopped in at the McDonalds (3rd time to eat fast food on my trip). We ate a sandwich and then left, but we both were still kinda hungry for some crazy reason...so we walked right next door to the Burger King and had some nuggets (4th time I ate fast food on my trip!). Do you see the trend here....when I am with Jeremy I spend money and eat fast food...NO BUENO!
We finally got back to the hostel and to no surprise, there were still people up even though the sun was rising. Jeremy had a small issue in his room because a group of guys tried to sneak someone into the hostel and he was going to sleep on Jeremys bed. I am assuming they worked it out, because I found the guy passed out in the hallway the next morning. The next day I woke up to music blaring and people wrestling and acting goofy in the house. I was so hot and hungover and just needed to get out of the frat house. We went and spent the day hanging out on the beach...it was so nice. We found a place to eat and ordered some wine and relaxed ALLLLL day. The prices were outrageous and I must admit that it was hard for me knowing that each sip of wine could get me a nights stay in Ecuador, but I decided to let loose for a day and live like I could afford it ;)
When we arrived back to the frat house this really hot surfer guy came up to me and asked if Jeremy and I were a couple and if we wanted a private room to ourselves. I guess he worked there, but all I could hear was him asking whether or not Jeremy and I were a couple in which I immediatly responded "Heavens no....NOOOOOO...totally not together....I am single". He responded "Ok..so I will move him into your dorm room and you will stay in the dorm room again tonight, ok?". My eyes were still gazing at him when Jeremy came up to me and asked what in the world I was thinking. We could have easily shared a double bed for one night and had our own PRIVATE ROOM! This hostel was a mess and super loud with people partying all night long. It would have been much better for Jeremy and I to pretend we were a couple and get the private room. I must admit...I screwed that opportunity up for us...If the guy hadn´t been so cute we probably would have enjoyed our second night there a little better.
The next morning Jeremy and I woke up before everyone else in the house...packed out things...and left quietly. Good old Roger´s hostel...I am so glad Jeremy was the one that booked it or else I would have never heard the end of it. After that experience, Jeremy refused to stay in another dorm room or Hostel for that matter. It became clear to me that he loved HOTELS....he loved 5 star hotels...or 1 star hotels..as long as it was a HOTEL. But the minute you added an "s" into the word...he hated it. He was not going to stay in another hostel that was for sure...and he decided to book us a hotel in Montevideo for our last night together...his treat!
Montevideo was an awesome capital. I really loved the feel to it...almost better then Buenos Aires. Buenos Aires is an amazing city as well, but Montevideo is way more chilled out. I am more of a chill person myself so I enjoyed the layed back pace and atmosphere. It is located on the coast and they have this awesome boardwalk that runs throughout the city. I got a good run in for excercise and was able to see the city while soaking in the Uruguayan people. I am not sure if I have mentioned this or not, but everyone in Uruguay and Argentina drink this tea called Maté. It is a major tradition in this area and is a bit of a process. First of all, they carry this huge thermos in one arm and then have a tea cup with this special straw that they sip out of. They don´t leave anywhere without the thermos and tea cup and the drink it allll day long. It is more of a social thing in which they meet up with their friends and pass around the maté. When I went jogging in Montevideo...people were even powerwalking with maté in their hands. I just could not understand the phenomenon. I mean...some people walk around with a smoke in their mouth, or chew gum all day, or a toothpick behind their ear. But these people carry a freaking thermos and tea cup everywhere...It just seems really inconvenient to carry all those things around all the time and still get your everyday tasks fulfilled. But they do somehow....they love their maté. Here is a picture of a nice fella drinking his Maté...loving life!
The Holiday Inn hotel room was a real treat from Jeremy and I am thankful that he got it for us. The prince and the popper had a blast together and we certainly laughed a lot. I wish I had room to share all of the stories that happend with the week we spent together in regards to our different travel styles, but I have already bored you enough. I spent more money then I normally would have, but we had a blast. Jeremy saved a hell of a lot of money too and probably even MADE money since he wasn´t spending it back in Austin...amazing, right?
Jeremy had another week or so in Argentina, but he expressed to me that he was not going to continue traveling with me. He needed a vacation and wanted to relax and he clearly would not get that from his backpacking amiga, Andrea. Plus, my friend Lark from Austin was coming to travel the last 3 weeks with me...she would also be on a strict budget and Jeremy knew that we would out rule him on every travel decision. So...Jeremy and I parted ways when we got back to Buenos Aires and I met up with my friend Lark....only 3 more weeks of my adventure in South America before I head home to Texas for a bit (tear....it will be sad to leave!).

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

goodbyes...and COLOMBIA!!!

My last day in Banos was an interesting day for me...probably one that I will never forget. I was kind of in a weird mood because I was leaving a place that I had really grown to love...my home more or less for the past 2 months. I felt weird because I was leaving and I never knew if I would actually see these people or this city again in my life. One thing I have learned about traveling...is you have to say goodbye a lot. It is not one of my favorite parts of travel...
I had gone back and forth about leaving Banos and heading with my friend, Marina, to Colombia. My package had not arrived yet and I knew if I left without it, that I would probably never see it again. But for some reason...I just knew it was time for me to move on. I needed to be in Buenos Aires by the 15th of January so only had about 10 days of travel for Colombia. Marina agreed to travel quickly with me up to Medellin and see me off to Argentina. I thought that was very cool of her to do...she didn't have to travel all the way with me, but we enjoyed traveling with each other and knew we would have a good time.
The last day of Banos was also the day that I had to say goodbye to Tamara. Tamara was a special person to me because she was one of the first good friends I met as a solo female traveler. As I mentioned previously, she is this extremely outgoing, friendly person from Portland, Oregon. I really enjoyed her friendship and learned a lot from her...especially how to be open and meet people and make connections. This skill will help me so much in my future solo travels. Anyways....a few tears later and we said our goodbyes. However, I know I will see her again...we have way too much fun together to not hang out again :)
I also went and said goodbye to my teachers and a couple of friends around town. I soaked up my last glances of Banos....the waterfall that fell into town and the mountains surrounded the city. I really REALLY hope I can come back here someday. I know I have a lot of travel ahead, but I fell in love with this town.
Marina and I boarded the bus and gave each other a look of exhaustion. We had a HUGE day of travel ahead of us. Our goal was to make it across the Colombian border in the same day....a goal that was slim of obtaining since border crossings usually mean hours and hours of lines and bullshit. We had heard HORROR stories of trying to get into Colombia. But we were in it together....we would be fine. As I got on the bus I received a text from my friend Dario who I had a falling out with a few days prior. He wished me good travels and apologized for some things that had happend. I am not sure why, but the text put a smile on my face. I hate to leave things in a bad manner...and I felt good that he sent me the text. In case I ever go back to Banos, we would be friends again.
As one last attempt to get my package, I decided to stop in the town that it was supposed to arrive to, and tell the post office to return the package to sender when it did finally arrive. Marina and I hopped off the bus in the other town and grabbed a cab to the post office. I was still kinda out of it because of the goodbyes from Banos and my mind was a bit cloudy. We got to the post office and I smuggly walked up to try and sort out the situation and see how to get my package back home. Marina is totally fluent in Spanish and was able to help me talk to the clerk. When I gave him my name he looked at me and said "Andrea....Andrea Galant". I was like...yeah thats me...I need to return to sender. Then I looked over to the corner of the room and saw the Trinity Publications box...and the clerk explained that they did in fact have my package and have been holding it since the 16th of DECEMBER!!!!! I was in shock. I could not believe that they had the silly package after all. I had gone to the Banos post office day after day asking about the package and it was sitting in Ambato for the past 3 weeks. I was on cloud nine....the day was so weird and filled with all sorts of emotions. It was like Marina and I were floating on this cloud to Colombia and everything seemed to be working out (which is pretty rare on travel days). I opened the bag and found my ipod, bra, perfume, holiday cookies from Jatana, and our family christmas card. I have no idea why, but I really needed this package....it felt great to see my family in the pictures and to have some personal belongings from home.
Marina and I...totally taken back that my package had arrived...hopped back on the bus and stuffed our faces with holiday cookies. Today was going to be a good day, I could already tell. We went from city to city hopping on buses and getting to the next place seamlessly. We both could not believe how easy everything was going...we knew we would arrive to the border late at night and hoped that it would be open and we would be able to cross. Finally, after one full day of bus travel, we arrived to the border town in Ecuador. We both walked up to the border office and saw a line of people standing outside. Most of them were Colombians trying to get into Ecuador...they would have to wait until the next morning though since the office was about to close. They told Marina and I as well that they were not taking anymore people for the night. We were so frustrated....it was about 15 minute ride back to the border town and that meant more money to spend on a cab. We sat outside for a few moments...frustrated...and then Marina went back to the door and knocked and got the officers attention again. In spanish she explained the situation and we both gave him the puppy eyed look of desperation. He sat there for a few moments...then let us come in the office. There were TONS of people in line inside the office and it was this major cluster. But the guy behind the counter yelled to us and asked for our passports. We ran in front of everyone in line...showed him our passports...he stamped them then told us we had about 3 minutes to run across the bridge to the Colombian side or else we would be stuck in Ecuador the rest of the night. We took off running...still not really understanding how we were able to cut in front of everyone else in line. We arrived to the Colombia border and all the lights were off...shit! we thought we missed it. Then some dude comes out of nowhere with a cigarette and tells us to relax and when he finishes his smoke he will check us into Colombia. Apparently, that was the border patrol guy. So...about 3 minutes later we got stamped into Colombia..NO QUESTIONS ASKED! I think Marina and I made record time at the border crossing...about 12 minutes exact! That just does not happen at borders...it us unheard of. We both sat on the Colombian side of the border and looked at each other gasping for air from the run...WE WERE IN FREAKING COLOMBIA!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Since it was so late we stayed the night in the Colombia border town and had plans to head to Pasto the next morning. Apparently, there was the Negro y Blancos festival the next day and we wanted to check it out.
Colombia....how can I express the emotions of my days in this wonderful country. First of all, I never once felt in danger....in fact...I felt more safe in Colombia then I did in Ecuador. There is military presence everywhere and it is very modern and clean. The Colombians welcomed Marina and me with open arms...They love tourism in their country and will do whatever they can to make you feel welcomed. Everyone was so nice and would go out of their way to help you. From the experiences that I had, Colombians were much nicer then the Peruvians or Ecuadorians...
So we arrived to Pasto which had this crazy festival going on called Negros Y Blancos. The day before was "Negro" day where they smear grease and paint on everyones faces. The day we arrived was "Blanco" where they throw flour and shoot foam at each other. We got off the bus and met some lovely fellows who decided to help us find a hotel. As we were walking some kids ran at us and threw white flour all over us. It was pretty ironic...here we were...our first day in Colombia...Covered in white powder! We found a hotel and put on our worst clothes possible. Then, we headed out into the town to experience one of the wildest days of my life...one of the greatest festivals on earth. Thousands of people were throwing flour and shooting foam at each other. It was all OVER us! Even the cops were getting involved with the festival and they were actually the main targets among the locals. We had plenty of foam fights with the colombian police. Check out some of the pictures!
It was a hilarious day!!!
The next day we headed to Cali, which is the salsa capital of Colombia and also the plastic surgery capital of the WORLD! Not to mention, the city is located in a valley so it is steaming hot. We spent about 3 days there in a fun hostel and met some pretty interesting characters. One night we went to this bar that had a live salsa band. They were awesome. Beautiful girls were dancing salsa perfectly. It was actually really intimidating! I wish I could dance salsa like these women, but my body just won't move like that. The next day, our friend Tim that we met in Banos, met up with us in Cali as well. We all hung out and found this great dive bar. We called it the dirty hot salsa club...it was perfect! We met some guys who tried teaching us how to salsa dance. The club closed at about 2am, but for some reason we were all ready to party. This short, fat, mafia looking guy asked us if we wanted to go with him to this salsa discotec about 12km out of town. Marina and I said "of course we do" and grabbed the 5 other guys we were hanging with from our hostel. I am pretty sure the chubby mafia guy was not planning on us bringing 5 other guys....it was funny. We all found ourselves at this insanely big discotec dancing to salsa and drinking Aguadiente, which is the nasties liquor ever. We danced until 5AM! Finally, we made it home and decided to go grab breakfast....we didn't get to bed until about 8am in the morning! That is how you roll in Cali, Colombia....geeez we were exhausted!
After the blow out night we decided that we should leave and head to a small village town to do some hiking and dry out for a bit. So...Tim, Marina, and I had a full day of bus travel to the quaint town of Salento. Salento is beautiful...it is in the coffee country and is surrounded by rolling hills and lush trees. One of their biggest attractions are the wax palm trees. They are these stunningly tall palm trees that grow throughout the jungle area. When we went hiking we had some great views of the coffee area and the palm trees. After our hike we were starving, but we had been eating so bad and drinking so much. I decided that I would have an attempt at cooking my hostel mates a good healthy meal. I decided to cook my mom's famous taco salad. I forgot, however, that we were in some small village where half the ingredients were missing. So I re-named the salad to Colombian Hostel Taco Salad. It was actually really amazing....tons of veggies, avacado, mango, fresco cheese, chopped beef, with doritos crumbled on top. We grubbed big time!
The next day we headed up to Medellin...my final destination in Colombia. This was my last night to hang out with my friends before we all went in different directions. Medellin was a really nice city. It used to be the cocain capital of the world, but since Escobar died they have had time to clean it up...and clean it up they did do. The city is super modern and very nice...the mayor also declared it a bilingual city so most everyone speaks english as well. Since it was our last night we decided to go grab some drinks and have one last hoo-rah together. We met some other peeps from the hostel and headed out to some trendy bar. When I was there, I met this lovely Colombian fella named Andres. He was extremely nice and we ended up hanging out most of the night. He has traveled a lot and had similar interests so we had some great conversation. I told him how I was leaving at 8pm the following day and how it was a shame that we could not hang out more. He invited me and Marina to lunch the next day and said he would show us the town. So, the next day we met him for lunch and had a lovely time....then he spent the rest of the day taking us around Medellin. It was a really fantastic day. I only had a short visit to Medellin, but thanks to Andres, I was able to see a whole lot! On top of it all, Andres offered to take me to the airport which was 30km outside of town (a $20 cab ride!) Both him and Marina drove me to the airport to see me off to Argentina. Good thing they came too bc it was a bit of a process for me to get through customs. Apparently, since I bought my plane ticket in Colombia, they charged me a "colombian" tax, but since I am not Colombian...they ended up giving me $30 back....they literally handed me money back in the airport. I didn't know what the hell was going on and thought they were setting me up for some drug mule scene. Then, after they gave me money they told me that I needed to prove that I was leaving Argentina. I have an outgoing flight, but my ticket was only online. So I had to go to some random room to print out my ticket to prove I was going to leave Argentina.....it was this whole long PROCESS! Getting out of Colombia was not as easy as getting in. Marina and Andres helped so much with the translations...if I was alone...I think I would still be in the airport at this moment in time trying to figure out the whole process.
ANOTHER GOODBYE.....It was hard to say goodbye to Marina. I really enjoyed traveling with her...she is a really lovely person with an awesome spirit. I shared many great experiences with her. We hugged in the airport and knew that it would be a long time before we ever saw each other again. I got a little teary eyed but did my best to hold everything back.
As soon as I left them my mind went blank....I was on my own again...I had not been on my own for about a month. All of a sudden I realized that I did not remember anymore spanish. I couldn't understand anyone. The security people kept asking me questions and I could not understand them...I walked aimlessly through the airport and somehow managed to get to my gate. My mind was spinning because the last 10 days of my life had been a whirlwind and I just left another travel companion. On top of that...I just met this amazing guy that showed me his city...what kind of life was I living? Each day was so different from the next. I seriously almost had a weird breakdown in the airport...so many different emotions were going through my head. Goodbyes are hard...I miss Tamara and Marina...I miss Banos and my friends there...Colombia was amazing and I wished I had more time to spend there...where was I going? What more adventures did I have ahead of me? Am I stable enough for this type of lifestyle??? So much movement and uprooting and goodbyes and unsettling...but at the same time, so much adventure and meeting new people and experiencing unbeliveable things! I am really enjoying traveling...but it is not as easy as I thought...at least not emotionally. (Gosh it sucks being an emotional woman sometimes :)
The next day I was meeting up with my friend Jeremy. He made a last minute trip to come see me (and clear his mind with some things in his life). So...as messed up in the head as I was during that flight to Argentina...I was really glad to know that I would be seeing a familiar face the next day. Somehow...things always happen for a reason and work out in really odd ways. HELLO ARGENTINA.....HOLA JEREMY! A new country....a new adventure!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Jungle....and Feliz Año Nuevo!

After the grand festivities of Christmas, I hung around Baños another day or two. This town is so small and I have gotten to know quite a few people. With that said...there is also a lot of drama and gossip. My friends and I have named ourselves the Mala Influncias (bad influences). We go out and have fun several times a week....dance all hours of the night. Some of the guys think that if you dance with them, then you are "with" them....and then that is when all the drama starts. At first it was a little frustrating because none of us were doing anything wrong, but then we decided to get over it and not worry about it....we were all leaving after New Years anyways. So, to let some of the drama cool off, we decided to head to the jungle for a few days.
There were 6 of us that went to the jungle. Stella from England, Jorn from Norway, Jules and Marina from Ireland, and Tamara and Me. We took a 4 hour bus ride into the town called Tena, which is the gateway into the jungle. On the bus, I sat next to our jungle guide, Estuardo aka Pajaro (bird)...I immediately got a good vibe from him. He didn´t speak much english so I was able to practice my spanish with him on the bus. My friend Marina is fluent in spanish, then I am the next in line for speaking it (far from fluent as we all know). But I think since I sat with him on the bus he felt comfortable with me....he would go off in spanish to me and want me to translate to the others. Sometimes I would understand and other times I would ask Marina for help. Regardless, it felt good that he thought I could understand....at least I was getting good at "acting" like I knew spanish.
Once we arrived in Tena, we all hoped into a camisetta, which is basically some dude that owns a truck and says he is a cab driver. We stuffed all of our belongings into the truck and took off towards the jungle. On the way, we stopped in a small town called Misahualll. This town had all of these spider monkeys that run around the center. The story is that a person had a pet spider monkey that got loose in the town. In order to find it, they brought in another monkey and let it run wild as well. Now they have about 50 or so monkeys everywhere. They are mean, and they steal peoples belongings. It´s pretty funny!
After a long day or traveling, we finally arrived to our jungle lodge. Wow, was this place nice! We weren´t sure what to expect because we had heard horror stories about people sleeping in shacks in the middle of the jungle with their bodies exposed to the snakes and critters. Well, this was far from a shack. It had plush gardens everywhere and little cabinas with running water and electricity from 6pm-9pm everynight. That afternoon, Pajaro took us to a watering hole and we all swam. I was sitting on this rock in the water and Marina was next to me. All of a sudden she screamed and I looked over to find one of the biggest spiders ever just chilling on the rock next to us. I flipped out...Pajaro calmed us down though. He said this particular spider wasn´t dangerous....and that it ate small fish and insects from the river. All I know is that any spider that can eat a fish sounds pretty freaking scary to me. I wasn´t very comfortable swimming there anymore. After swimming, Pajaro took us to a locals house where they make "jungle juice". Jungle juice is basically cane liquor fermented with tons of different fruits. We all bought a few bottles and sipped on it. It tasted ok and was fun because of the moment, but I probably would not order it on the regular.
We all went back to the lodge and Jules taught us how to play this AMAZING card game. It is called "shithead" and I am addicted to it now. I guess it is pretty popular in the traveling circuit because it is super easy to learn and a lot of people can play at once. I plan on teaching all my Austin friends how to play when I am back visiting in February.
As I was getting ready to head to bed the first night, Pajaro called me over to this dark area. I went over there to soon realize he was calling me over to show me this big ass Tarantula just chilling a few feet away from my cabina. It was probably not that best time to show me a spider like that....I was so exhausted, but I knew there was no way I would be able to sleep well after seeing that. Tamara and I shared a bedroom together and after inspecting my bed and sheets thoroughly I layed down and tried to relax. That was about the time when I started noticing all these little holes in the screens and the hatched roof. My mind started to go crazy...imagining all of the insane creatures surrounding our cabina. The sounds of the insects were almost deafening. Then, I heard a loud "thump"...jumped up in my bed and let out a little yelp. "What the hell was that", I said. Tamara started laughing hysterically.....she had just hit her elbow against the wall and that made a loud thump. Let´s just say...I layed there that night with my eyes wide open peering over my sheets....just waiting for some massive tarantula to fall on my face through the hatched roof. Once again, I thought...why do I get myself into these types of situations?
The next day we had a fresh breakfast and headed off to the river. We were going to be taking a canoe around all day to various areas of the jungle. My friend Jules had a horrible rafting accident in Chile were she nearly died. She is now pertified of boats in the water. She was soo scared to get on the canoe with us. The canoe was pretty safe, but you have to respect someone when they have a true fear of something. After my incident with the heights, I totally understood where she was coming from. I told her that I was a pretty decent swimmer and if something were to happen I would go in for her. Jules is a very spiritual person. She lives in a spiritual compound in Scottland and refers to herself as a new aged hippie. I told her I would send her good energy on the canoe ride if she sent me good energy with my fear of a spider falling on my head in my sleep. We had a deal! She ended up doing really good on the canoe.
We canoed to an animal refuge. This is a place where they keep hurt or disabled animals and help them heal, then hopefully release them back into the wild. We saw monkeys, birds, wild pigs, and other weird animals that I had never heard of before. I took pictures of a lot of the animals and you can see them on my picasa.
Next, Pajaro took us to a museum where he showed us different hunting methods that the indigenous people still use today. He also used a die from a pod plant and painted designs on our face. I felt like a jungle warrior princess....especially when I was holding the machete. We also visited a woman who was making pottery. She was using clay from the jungle and paint from the plants. Then she would glaze the pottery with resin from the trees. It was all very interesting. I was really enjoying the jungle.....now if someone would just turn up the A/C and remove the mosquitos....I could see myself hanging in the jungle for awhile.
We headed back to the lodge and after dinner, Pajaro took us all out for a "night" walk to look at insects and snakes. It was really fun! We were all walking close together with our flashlights in the middle of the Ecuadorian Jungle. I felt really safe though...Pajaro knew his stuff. He was born and raised in the jungle and knew all of the bird calls and survivor tactics. We walked up to this little pond and he took out his machete and stared at the water for awhile. Then all of a sudden he went "Whack" with the knife and killed a fish.....seriously...he was a badass!
I decided that I was going to drink a lot of jungle juice this night so I would forget about the critters that were going to hunt me in my sleep. Good thing I had a few cocktails because when Tamara and I went back to our cabina....we were greeted by the biggest freaking cockroach I had ever seen (and I live in Texas!). It was just hanging out on Tamara´s bed and we almost thought it was fake. I yelled for Pajaro...he came running in thinking something was seriously wrong. When he saw the cockroach he just made a comment about us being silly tourists and then picked it up and threw it out the door. I was kinda buzzing from the juice...and although the roach creeped me out...I just kinda said..."ya know...were in the jungle...were in their territory..and I doubt they want to seriously hurt us"....and drifted off to sleep.
The next day was the full fledge jungle trek. We all put on our wellies (jungle boots) and tons of bug repelant. Pajaro grabbed the machete and we were off....heading into the heart of it all. IT WAS AWESOME!!!! He showed us all of these medicinal plants, birds, monkeys......we ate ants. Yes, I actually ate some ants and to be honest they tasted pretty good. Like little squirts of lemon juice in my mouth. He said if you get lost in the jungle you can eat these ants for energy. Then he showed us ants that can kill people if you get stung and all other sorts of interesting things. We swung from vines like tarzan and acted like stereotypical jungle gringos....but it was tons of fun!
I forgot to mention....a day or two before I left for the jungle I went and sat in the volcanic baths in Baños. I went underwater and had a weird pop in my sinus cavity of my head. Ever since then, I had a terrible headache in my sinus cavity and it didn´t seem to want to go away. Pajaro saw me rubbing my head several times and he would rub herbs and lime on my head and give my temples a massage each night, but it did not seem to help. Jules, the new aged hippie, told me that maybe I was struggling with something and that it was my 3rd eye trying to deal with it. She told me to talk to the trees and look for an answer..... I just figured I busted a capillary in my head from the heat of the volcanic rock. Whatever was wrong with me though....my head it hurt...and it hurt for days.
With Jules being real spiritual and studying shamanism.....Pajaro asked a local Shaman from the jungle to come visit us and "cleanse our souls". Pajaro also told the Shaman about my head problems and if he could do anything about it. I wasn´t sure what was going on....I am kinda spiritual I guess...but I know NOTHING about shamanism.
The Shaman was this 80 year old man who had been practicing his entire life. He was the 3rd generation Shaman in his family. We all formed a circle and he appeared to us in his shamanic dress. He drank ayahuasca, which is a hallucinogenic drink made from plants. He then passed the glass around for all of us to try. We took a very small sip, nothing that would have any effect on us. It was REALLY nasty. He drank like half a bottle and then we had to wait 15 minutes for it to take effect. Once he was in his "trance" like state....he then went to each of us one by one and chanted and shook plants around us, etc. It was actually a really cool experience. I was trying my best to really be in the moment and let my soul be cleansed. It was good for the Malas Influencias! HA! After the Shaman experience, we all huddled around a bombfire and exchanged stories and drank a little bit of jungle juice. Jules asked me if my head was still bothering me and to my amazement I had not thought about my head since the Shaman. The pain was nearly gone! Now....I´m not saying it was because of the shaman...it could have been a coincidence. All I know....is some dude chanted to me and shook a plant and drank some hallucinogens....and my head did not hurt anymore. Believe what you will....but still....kinda freaky, right?
Jules suggested that maybe it was meant for me to have a pain in my head as sort of an awakening into a more spiritual life....
Our last day in the jungle was spent visiting some Quechua families. They welcomed us into their home and taught us how to make Chichua (spelling???) which is fermented liquor from Yucca plants. We went from chopping down the yucca tree and going through the entire process....and then tasting the drink. We also tried various fruits from their farm and made natural chocolate from cocoa beans. It was a really nice day....in fact...the entire jungle trip was awesome! We all went back to Tena and said our goodbyes to Pajaro. I am really going to miss him...he was such a lovely guide.
Then, it was back to Baños.....back to my home. I was excited to get back...plus, the next day was New Year´s and it was going to be one big fiesta!
Once we arrived into town I ran into my Alaskan friends. They had come back from the coast to celebrate New Years in Baños as well.....I was so excited to see them!
New Year´s in Baños.....and for most of Ecuador I think, is pretty crazy. The men dress up as woman and beg for money and all the kids dress up in costumes like we would do for Halloween. For weeks before the holiday, each Barrio (neighborhood) builds their own display of fake people and stages. Some have political statements, others are just funny jokes etc. It is sort of hard to explain, but if you view my New Years pics on Picasa you can see what I mean by the displays.
Anyways, at midnight on New Year´s the barrios then burn the displays in the middle of the streets.
For New Year´s dinner we were all invited to our local friend´s house, Marcelo. He is a famous jungle guide in town. We all went over and he cooked us Choncha (pig). It was sooooo tasty. We ate and drank and bought masks to wear in the streets. After dinner, we went walking through the entire city to view each barrio display. It was a RIOT. The men were dancing in high heels and mini skirts and begging for loose change so they could go by beer in the bar later that night. Kids were holding ropes across the streets to stop cars and making them pay money in order to proceed. There was music blaring everywhere and people hugging and kissing all about. This was HANDS DOWN one of the best New Years I had ever had. Nothing could compare....so different then anything we would do in the USA. One of the barrios made a haunted house. We went through it and it scared the crap out me....people running after me with chain saws and sparks flying everywhere. I am not sure how safe it was either. Like as in not safe.....I mean that I would not be surprised if it was a real chain saw....Ecuador is crazy like that!
Anyways, at midnight the fires were lit and firecrackers were going off everywhere....it was such a intense site. We were running around hugging and trying not to get hit by firecrackers....laughing...dancing....CRAZINESS! We then proceeded into our favorite bar, The Leprechan, and danced and drank and acted silly. FELIZ AÑO NUEVO!!!!!!!!
The next day I felt like shit....Yo estuve chuchaqui....I was hungover! But it was all well worth it.
I love Baños and will never forget this town. I am leaving tomorrow with my friend Marina to Colombia for a few days....before I head to Argentina. It will be sad to say goodbye to everyone, but it is time for me to go (especially with all the stupid boy drama ...hee hee). I did talk to my school though, and it may be an option that I return here to teach english after my travels. English teachers are in high demand right now....so...we will see.
My package still has not arrived yet....which I am very frustrated about. I am going to stop at the post office and see if they can just send it back to Texas once it arrives. Who knows....it is only material goods and they can all be replaced...just kinda sucks.
Ok...VAMOS A COLOMBIA.....cheers and good luck to everyone in 2009! I spiritually feel that it will be a grand year for all :)