Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ay, Qué Tiempo!

Sorry to leave you guys hanging for so long, unfortunately we spent the last few weeks out of touch with western civilization, oh you know, just canoeing around the amazon, strolling along cobblestone streets of Cuenca, basking under the midday ecuadorian coastal sun and riding a crap load of busses (and, consequently, downing the Bonine). We covered some serious ground since you've last heard from us, so i'll try to make this post as short and sweet as possible.

Chapter 1: The Amazon
Would you care to hear the epiphany I had while canoeing down the meandering Napo river through Haorani territory of the Ecuadorian amazon? Squatted low in the hollowed out log, gazing up at the dense foliage I had a distinct feeling of familiarity. Deja vu? A dream perhaps? No, I realized at that moment that the lazy river of Walt Disney World's Typhoon Lagoon was a total rip off of the Amazon! You know I felt right at home though, i felt like around the next bend i might see Mickey or Goofey waving as we floated by. It was a pleasant momentary daydream until we arrived at camp, drenched from the waterlogged boat and already covered in bug bites. Moments later, the second boat of classmates showed up with a tree monkey they had captured. They tied it to a pole and it stayed there screaming the whole weekend. Aayaya! For the most part the weekend was relatively enjoyable, we had a chance to get to know the everday happenings of a Haorani family, which mostly involved trecking waist deep through dense mud of the Amazon in search of food. We ate mostly normal stuff, a lot of yuca, some fish, soups, platanos (plantains), etc. All cooked in delicious brown river water!! (More to come regarding this issue...) One day we hiked through the mucky, merky dense mud of the Amazon (so eloquently referred to by Laura as "Mother Nature's Vagina") in search of a good fishing spot. On our trek it poured like i've never known rain to pour before, i got stung by a wasp in the forehead (which later resulted in my eyes swelling shut in a more comical than not sort of way), we snacked on cacao seeds picked straight from the tree (the fruit that chocolate is made from), we got lost, and finally after hours of rubbing our ankels raw in muddy wet rainboots we arrived at the river, only to be informed by our naked Haorani guide that we couldn't fish because the rain had flooded the river. GREAT. so we walked back with our honorable war wounds, half starved. That is sort of a good overview of what the weekend was like. We also spent alot of time swimming in the brown river, baking on the banks, getting rained on, getting bug bites, and eating yuca. One night the Haorani even did a mock wedding ceremony which was pretty sweet, some of our classmates broke out their guitars and kept us entertained as well. I'd say the lowlight was the final day when the river was too low to canoe back to the road and so we hiked, in our travel home clothing, waist deep, through rivers, mud, and the freaking amazon rain forest! It was mostly a disaster. My boots were filled with river water, my feet stank by the end, i was disgusting and muddy and sweaty and i have never seen a group of people with worse hair. Honestly. Three days without bathing in the Amazon does something crazy to your hair. In the end, despite the nasty treks, bug bites, soaking wet clothing, etc. I was pretty gald i'd done it. I mean how many people can say they hiked through the freaking Amazon? Not too many.

Now back to cooking with the river water: one by one the gringos went down like flies. One classmate started puking before we even left. Two others on the bus ride home. And the rest of the gringos (sans Kelsey and I, though I have no clue how we were saved) were hospitalized with relentless vomiting, explosive diarrhea and dehydration. That's right, when I showed up at school on monday I was one of two gringos in our class who wasn't in the hospital. Hollllerrrrr.

Ok, Chapter 2 will be spring break, i'll give you a quick preview and post about that later this week:
Mindo-zip lining and tubing
Cuenca - Pretty churches
Ingapirca - incan Ruins
Riobamba - Awesome cultural festivals to celebrate una batalla de independencia.

k thats all for now <3 <3 <3

Amazon up close and personal

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Let it Rain

So mom and Al have been here in Ecuador visiting for the last week. I think they're enjoying it so far--I've done my best to give them an authentic taste of Ecuadorian culture. From stuffy, closed-window, puppy-stank bus rides on windy mountain roads, to goat stew, to HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) they've pretty much experienced it all. But now I just want to share with you a short anecdote about our time together...


A few years ago, a massive ski lift was installed up to the towering peak of Mt. Pichincha, an 8 minute ride for which they overcharge unsuspecting tourists. Of course we couldn't miss it so we hopped into a precariously swinging pod and slowly scaled the mountainside. WIth only one or two heart stopping glitches that left our pod swinging out of control thousands of meters in the air, we reached the top. It was a relatively unimpressive sight due to the afternoon's low clouds. In fact, we were so high up we were walking around in clouds, so dense that i could barely see two feet in front of my face. But this is neither here nor there....

One thing about Ecuador (and the greater part of South America) that Americans find particularly difficult to adjust to is the bathroom situation. Unfortunately we don't have high powered flushers here, and as a result you just can't flush the TP. Instead, there's a trash can in each stall where you, um, toss the used hygienic tissue. That being said, at fancy hotels like the JW Marriott you don't have to worry about being put out of your tiny little American comfort zone, which makes it even harder for JW Marriott guests to remember not to flush the TP when outside of their luxurious first-world-in-the-third-world-hotel. I assume you've guessed where this is going by now, but if not let me go on. So, after an only slightly HACE inducing ride up the teleferiQo, Mom decided to use the ladies room at the small oxygen bar/eatery located at the summit. Giggling guiltily as she leaves the bathroom, she confesses she accidentally flushed a small piece of TP. I told her not to worry, that a small piece shouldn't matter, but as the words left my mouth i was interrupted by the sound of pouring water, almost like rain. We turned around to witness a steady stream of water leaking through the bathroom ceiling, and as we watched the steady stream turned to a torrential tsunami, and after about twenty seconds, the bulging ceiling burst under the pressure and exploded to the ground, a river flooding out the door. We took one look at each other and made a break for the ski lift back down.

Not gonna lie, that turn of events made for the best entertainment of the afternoon. Thanks mom.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Wheels on the Bus (Ecua-version)

Verse One: The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round...

Well, at least they mostly go round and round. Nik already covered the hilarity and cow poop that ensues when you get a flat tire in Ecuador (loved the plantas trip) but also important to note is that sometimes the wheels are going round and round but they're not taking you anywhere.. Since all the busses are stick-shift, they stall and spin and practically roll down the Lumbisi hills everyday. Mostly, the busses impress me because they manage to go round and round really dangerous curves and cliffs. Gutsy, Ecua-bus, very gutsy.

Verse Two: The vendor on the bus goes BON ICE, BON ICE, BON ICE...

Mmm. Delicious. I love the Bon Ice sellers. Its super normal for vendors of all sorts to hop on and off the bus at redlights or stops. These poeple sell the afore mentioned Bon Ice but also delicious fruit, lollipops (yeah 3 for a dollar say WHA?), Ecuadorian snacks and the ocassional cure-all or religious jewelry. These last guys come on the bus, hand out their merchandise and then shout about it for awhile. The first few times I thought these vendors were just people giving things out for free and that I was getting ignored because I am a gringa, WHY DON'T I GET A FREE TOY TOO??!! but then, after I calmed down a bit, I realized his hand outs were just meant to tempt the buyer. Because after you hold that Jesus necklace in your sweaty hands, you have just GOT to buy it! Its like the DEB slogan, want it, need it, got to have it! (unless you shop on the OTHER side of DEB of course in which case the slogan is Its not a size, its an attitude!..why do i know these things.)

Verse Three: The windows on the bus go open and shut, open and shut, open and shut….

Unspoken war.

War, my friends, between the gringos and Ecuadorians. (And sometimes between the gringos and the bus itself since the windows are often jammed and LOCKED shut.) One cultural difference I’ve noticed, Ecuadorians do not appreciate or want the refreshing breeze that a bus windows offer. They prefer stagnant, humid, recycled air. The first thing that ANY true gringo does when boarding the bus is to run around like a crackhead opening every possible window because it doesn’t matter if it is 85 degrees and sunny, as soon as the bus is full, you can count on the Ecuadorians to promptly shut the windows, cut off the oxygen supply and then breathe hot breaths all over the place. WHY, you ask? I DON’T KNOW. I’m reminiscent of all those times we’d ride to the pool in the little red car with the windows up (in order to get there as hot as possible) only to arrive at the exact moment adult swim was starting. Its like I’m constantly ready for a cool, dip in the pool but I can’t because I’m eight and its freaking adult swim.

Verse Four: The driver on the bus shouts “Suba! Suba! Suba!”
Basically this is the dealio. There’s two guys in charge of each bus. One man drives and the other one shouts. That’s it.