Sunday, April 19, 2009

Easter in Quito, a Cloudforest, and Farewell to my brother!

We arrived in Quito early on Easter Sunday, tired and freezing but ready for the day´s festivities! We thankfully had a room booked at a decent hostal, so we hurried there in the cold rain for some rest and a shower!! Our hostal was in the new part of town, which, as usual, was absolutely dead--it´s weird feeling like you´re the only person there in a city full of millions of others.
After breakfast and a nap, we headed out into what seemed like a dead city--we stopped by a church, went to the empty bullring, and ended up at another movie, something about mountains and witches.
We were still in search of a crowd, and ended up in the middle of beautiful, and people-less, Old Town. It was gorgeous, all lit up at night, and we snuck into a beautiful cathedral for the end of a service. At that point, it was pouring rain, so we ran to a little restaurant near another church. We had a delicious dinner, including interesting Colombian booze and goat stew! A much quieter Easter than we had expected--I think we left all the crowds on the coast--but a good one nonetheless.
The next morning we got up very very early to catch a bus to the cloudforest of Mindo. After an argument with the cab driver (apparently the bus station for Mindo had moved in the last year) we hopped on and headed over. It was a thankfully short bus ride, and Mindo was beautiful! We found a great hostal, made completely out of wood, with a pretty view of the river and the surrounding mountains.
After resting, we explored the town a little, found some decent pizza, and went hunting for a butterfly farm. We were unsuccessful, although we did find a pretty pond full of jewel bright hummingbirds.
The next was quite exciting--we went canopying over the jungle and hiking to some sweet little waterfalls. Canopying was amazingly fun, and our guides were quite entertaining. The group we were with, a few British folks, were cool too, although the younger one got a bad injury from the canopyline, due to the fact that he was videotaping as he was going!! It was rather gory, and despite the millions of mosquito bites I recieved, I will never forget the feeling of soaring over the jungle like a bird :)
Afterwards, we hiked a few kilometers to a little lift that took us over a gorgeous canyon, where we walked a bit longer in the humidity--thankfully with little sun, as it was a cloudforest!--to a few waterfalls. It was a long hike back down, as we were both thirsty and starving, but still an unforgettable experience!
The next morning we woke up even earlier, somewhere in the vicinity of 5 a.m., to catch a bus back to Quito, as my dear brother was heading home that night!! We spent that day souvenir shopping (he buys much less than I do!) and doing a few last minute Quito things. It was a bit emotional to say goodbye to him, but at that point, I only had a week left to explore more of Ecuador!!
More on my final week in South America...later :) xxxx

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sun, Sand, Seafood, Surfing, Snorkeling and Semana Santa!

After Palm Sunday in Guayaquil, we headed up the coast for the rest of Semana Santa (Holy Week). We started in the little surfing town of Montañita and from there went to Puerto Lopez, a little fishing town near a national park. Montañita was a charming little touristy town, despite the fact that half of the streets were half dug up and under construction! We still got to experience some delicious seafood and lots of time in the sun! It was so awesome to be at the beach again, just watching the sunset and wandering through the surf, which we did a lot!
We did have some difficulties finding a hostal, but we found an okay one with a balcony and a giant room--because there was a loft, we basically had our own little areas, pretty nice! If you turned your head you had a gorgeous view of the sea from our little balcony.
The first few days were pretty uneventful, but on the third day we took surfing lessons! We had two instuctors, Carlos and Ando--Carlos was obviously a very serious athlete, kind of what I always assume surf bums to be--very attuned with the waves and nature and all that stuff! Ando was more of a goof, and he ended up being my primary instructor. At first, he kept asking if me and Adam were really related, because Adam had much more balance and skill than me already! However, I soon won him over with my charm, and we had a good time, and I did manage to stand on the board quite a few times! I charmed Ando so much he tried to convince me to go dancing...oh those Latin men :) Of course Adam was still much more capable than me--I think he got the majority of the athletic genes in the family, of which there are few to begin with!!--but I still had a great time. It was great to just be out on the ocean!
That night we watched some fire dancers, basically juggling flames and doing other fun tricks with them, and we met an American who had spent some time in Missoula. Interesting hearing his ideas, and he made us both dying to go to Colombia!! Someday.
The next day we sweltered in the heat, waiting for a bus to Puerto Lopez. It was a quick bus, thankfully, accompanied by gorgeous views of the bay of the city as we drove in. Puerto Lopez was definitely one of the friendliest cities we travelled to--we met a lady who led us to our hostal right away (decent room including a balcony and a TV for five bucks a night, although no fan, so it was sweltering!!) and their neighbor happened to be Winston Churchill, our future tour guide for snorkeling and Isla de la Plata!
After arranging all that fun stuff, we hung out on the pretty although slighty dirty beach and swam with the pelicans and other seabirds circling for fish guts. That evening, we found a cheap and incredibly amazing restuarant with some of the best seafood I have tasted in my life. We frequented El Rey a lot, and I usually had amazing calamari or shrimp, and occasionally octopus or different kinds of shellfish if I was feeling adventurous!
The next day we dined at the Whale Café with delicious apple cinnamon pancakes, and headed out on our tour with Winston and a family from Guayaquil. It turned out to be the perfect day--snorkeling, fishing, and just riding around in a boat! We visited the edges of Isla Salango and Isla de la Plata, referred to as the Poor Man´s Galapagoes, as they have much of the same life, and quite a variety, but they´re closer and much much cheaper to visit!
It was our first time snorkeling in the ocean, and it was amazing! We stopped right near a pretty beach the first time, and swam in the warm water admiring tons of bright fish and the like. The highlight of that time was the giant turtle we saw swimming along!
After that, we got close enough to see a bunch of pelicans and the famous blue-footed boobies! Their feet looked like they´d been dipped in paint, it was pretty cool, and they were awesome little divers!
We fished for our lunch then, and to my surprise I caught quite a big fish! I also caught one tiny little guy, and got a few close calls--my hook got broken and completely lost, possibly from huge fish or rocks--but that was the best one! It was definitely heavy, one of the guides had to help me bring it in as I´m a weakling. He also killed it right in front of my eyes--not as traumatizing as I thought it would be for a former vegetarian! Guess South America has toughened me up a bit :).
There were a few other catches, the most memorable being some sort of eel and a pufferfish! He wasn´t puffed until our guide touched him, and then bam! They threw him back in, and he slowly deflated.
While our guides made my fish in ceviche--raw fish marinated with lime and chopped up with onion and other vegetables and fruit--we went snorkeling again. No sea turtle this time, but some sort of eel, a giant fish that I mistook for a rock at first, and tons of bright blue and yellow fish! We were right next to a bunch of caves and rocks this time, so the water had some colder currents, but it was still amazing! A whole other world, definitely inspires me to finally get certified for scuba diving!
After some ceviche--I was rather apprehensive, but it was delicious--along with amazing fresh fruit like pineapple, mango, and coconut, we circled around a bit and headed back to the mainland. It was an amazing day, but after that I was definitely ready for a break from the sun. While it wasn´t necessarily hotter, you could definitely feel the strength of the sun that close to the Equator!!
We also noticed festivities under way from Good Friday and the rest of the weekend--Puerto Lopez was becoming quite the loud little town! By Saturday it was filled with people and our little restuarant had lace under the plastic cloths and tons of people! There was a giant stage set up, and everywhere we went it was loud.
We decided to head to Quito for Easter Sunday, anticipating lots of crowds and parades and celebrations, so we took an overnight bus that evening. I was sad to say goodbye to our wonderful beach life, but my skin was definitely ready for some rain!
I hope all of you are doing well, stay tuned for an update on my brother´s last week in Ecuador!!! LOVE xx

Monday, April 13, 2009

From Mountains to River to the Coast

We left Riobamba after an interesting foray into the markets--the local food market was definitely an experience! So many people and so many weird fruit and random parts of animals all over the place. We left the pretty mountains and volcanoes of Riobamba and headed over to the largest city in Ecuador, Guayaquil! It was a medium long bus ride, still nothing like Perú, but around six hours or so. Entering Guayaquil, we were greeted with pretty views of the Guayas River and sweltering heat!
After bickering a bit with our cab driver, we found a decent hostal for a good price, in a rather sketchy neighborhood. However, it was nice to have a television and lots of air conditioning!! After arriving and resting, we headed down to the recently restored riverfront, the city´s pride and joy, called the Malécon 2000. It was really nice, but kind of odd to see such a clean, nice area in the middle of a rather dirty city! The river was massive, and interesting to see as it moved both ways, thanks to the tide. Guayaquil is a port town, although it´s big enough that we only saw the river. Saturday was a pretty chill day, still recovering from our bus trip, but we got a good little taste of Guayaquil I believe! It´s a different city from other South America ones that I´ve seen, at least the part we were in. It was very modern, with a lot of sketchy parts right around this area, and yet randomly there would be an old cathedral thrown in among the skyscrapers. The Malécon was also lovely, filled with parks and restuarants and interesting birds and even an IMAX--obviously very touristy! However, all of the tourists seemed to be Ecuadorian or South American--I don´t think we saw more than five other gringoes the entire time we were there.
The next day was Palm Sunday, and started out pretty slow. We were both feeling a little ill, and being in a giant sweltering city was not helping that. However, we made it to a few cathedrals, explored the Malécon 2000 some more, and, my favorite part, Parque Simon Bolivar. Also known as, Parque de las Iguanas! It was filled with tons of random iguanas, as well as a few turtles and typically hundreds of pigeons. It was so cool to see the iguanas all over the place--high in trees, swimming, and hanging out on the statue of good old Simon!
That evening, after taking a respite in our cool hotel room, we actually went to a movie--my first time in the theater for a long time! It was fun to go and gorge ourselves on popcorn while watching the not-so-great latest Underworld movie.
On the exit of the movie, we were engulfed in a giant crowd. Apparently a church service had just let out, so we went to a nearby cathedral to take in the vendors, millions of people and their fake palms and real flowers, and a priest throwing out Holy Water! It was fun to see, and hear the music under the stars! The vendors were selling interesting stuff too--at one point a lady waved what looked like dead mice in our faces! Hopefully they were fake...
The next day we left the sweaty city of Guayaquil, spent our longest time in the bus station there, and headed to the surf town of Montañita! More on that later...I´m a little behind, but I don´t want to cram all the events of the past weeks into ONE LONG blog update :) So stay tuned for more amazing adventures of our time in Ecuador! Miss and love xx

Friday, April 3, 2009

My Brother, Some Monkeys, and Baños!

A lot has happened in the last week!! I guess that´s what it´s like when you´re constantly on the road!!
My brother arrived successfully last Friday night, only about an hour and a half delayed, but unfortunately without luggage, so our plans to head to the jungle the next day were thwarted. It was so good to see him though, and we had a nice day hanging out in Quito. I had my first real meals in awhile, one at a little café called the Magic Bean, and we had some delicious seafood at a tiny, grungy hole-in-the-wall.
Quito was a much cleaner city than both of us were expecting--an interesting introduction to South America for my bro!! We wandered from New City to Old City to check out the old colonial architecture and the Basilica. It´s a gorgeous cathedral with stained glass just as lovely as stuff I´ve seen in Europe! We also found a few insanely clean parks and markets--Quito must be a rather rich city!! Even the restrooms in the park were nice, with toilet paper--practically unheard of down here!
We were given the run-around for Adam´s luggage, we called several times and were given several different instructions. Finally, we decided to go to the airports ourselves on Saturday, and after fighting a bit with the people there, we finally got his backpack!!
We checked out of our (slightly fancy) hostal quickly and headed to the near-Oriente jungle, Mishuallí via Tena. It was a gorgeous bus ride on typically crazy mountain roads, except these mountains were jungly!
The closer we got to Mishuallí, the hotter it got, and we were rewarded with about a million percent humidity when we finally arrived. It was a tiny, quiet town right on two rivers, surrounded by jungle, and filled with monkeys! The monkeys in the town are a descendant of a local tame monkey, but they of course multiplied to a bunch! They were really entertaining--I actually broke my camera because I took so many pictures of them! Still broken...stay tuned on that front.
Although we wandered and got a taste of the jungle, Mishaullí was mainly scavenging food (we´re travelling during the down season, and very few restuarants were open due to lack of business) escaping the heat, reading in the heat, and watching the monkeys! Our hostal was nice, with a balcony and a weak fan, so we spent many an hour overlooking the square and drinking the local beer, Pilsener (not nearly as good as Cusqueña I´m afraid!!).
From Mishuallí, we took a long, but pretty, bus ride to Baños, a popular visiting places for gringos and Ecuadorians alike. It was a really nice town, pretty touristy, but our hostal was great! Plantas y Blancos, it was called, with a delicious restuarant, free internet, and plants everywhere. We also had some great food in Baños--I´m really enjoying eating out!!--such as pizza, Mexican, local dishes (mostly chicken) and ice cream, of course. Adam doesn´t have much of a sweet tooth, but even he enjoyed the ice cream we tried.
The first day we were in Baños it was freezing, so we mostly wandered around the square. The next day dawned gorgeous, so we set out to find a few local waterfalls. We found an ancient bridge and some rundown trails, caught a glimpse of one waterfall, and managed to find another gigantic one along the way. It was fun wandering around the gorge and watching the river. We stumbled upon our zoo on the way back, and stopped in. It was not nearly as depressing as the zoo in Cusco, although it was no San Diego Zoo for sure!!
We saw tons of local, bright birds, turtles, local cats, and lots of monkeys. We saw capybaras, my brother´s favorite, and we even happened to come across a couple of tapirs, sleeping in a random fence or anything! Those things were not was a freaky moment turning around and seeing a giant pig/anteater thing sleeping a few feet away!! They also let the monkeys run loose a bit at feeding time--weird.
Our last day in Baños we hiked up to a statue of the Virgin Mary--preceded by the same number of steps Christ took with the cross. It was a tough, hot hike--I thought the stairs would never end!--but the views of the town and valley, as well as the local volcano, were worth it. The volcano is active, which was a first sight for both of us, and it basically looked like a mountain shooting steam! Cool sight.
Baños weirdly gets cool in the evenings, so after running a few errands (including sending a million more postcards, although they never actually seem to go anywhere--maybe Ecuador will be more reliable--) and eating yet another delicious dinner, we headed to one of the many hot springs, from which Baños gets its name! They were definitely hot--but so amazing!! Heaven to a bath-addict like me who has been deprived of said joy for the last few months. Although at least I usually have a hot shower on the road...
We left Baños this morning, and actually had to wait in the bus station for a change. We´ve been really lucky since Adam got here--we haven´t waited more than five minutes in a station! We enter, tell someone our destination, and get thrown on a bus. Adam had to stand for a bit once, and he weirdly seems to attract schoolkids on many of the buses, but otherwise, they´ve been pretty smooth.
Today we waited twenty minutes--still pretty nice--and hopped on for a two hour trip to our current town, Riobamba! Riobamba is a bit of a shock after freakishly clean Quito and cute little Baños--it´s much more like the South America I´m acquainted with. Still nice! Currently pouring rain, but we visited a few churches and parks before the torrents hit. I´m still missing my camera, but my disposable will do for now--I even made a friend in one of the cathedrals, a little old nun praying, who invited me to take a picture of her! Odd.
Well, enough random stories for now! After Riobamba, we hit Guayaquil and the coast, I can´t wait!! We leave tomorrow after seeing the famous markets...and I will keep you all posted! I can´t believe I will be back in the states in about three weeks--it´s been a long, crazy, yet quick trip! And my adventure is not over yet :) MISS and LOVE!! xxx