Ecuador


Nanegal and Quito, 13th – 19th September 2007

Well after a 4am start in Cartagena I made it to Nanegal (the little town near Santa Lucia in the cloud forest) by 6.30 pm and was greated by a room full of well oiled people and a large rum and coke. Lovely Jen and Maddy were still there though had been joined by a number of male volunteers, hence the 6pm drinking.

It was lovely to be back in this beautiful place and it was worth leaving the beach for.

I actually left on Monday am with Edison to spend the last couple of days of my trip in Quito with him, a decision I did not regret, not least of all as it gave me a chance to finally book into a flash hotel, something i have been talking about doing ever since I came away…!

Well that is all behind me now and i am sitting in Jen’s front room in westbourne park, London. As much as it is great to see everyone I am not yet ready for this, so the main job for this week is to plan where to go next…

Quito, and Otvalo, 23rd – 26th August

After leaving Nyree (I hope to see her for a final fling in Columbia) and the serenity of the Galapagos behind I had a few headonistic days back in the Capital. This consisted of:

1. Artesinal shopping to within an inch of my life in Otavalo, just north of Quito. I went with a lovely american girl called Cristi who is travelling the length of the continent on a motorbike..!

2. Salsa dancing. I am now getting rather good…though still only if I dance with my teacher.

3. Partying with Madelaine, Jen and Edison from Santa Lucia who came into town for the weekend. Tried out my Salsa moves on the dance floor. Doesn’t go that well with a cocktail of beer and rum.. So much fun but such little sleep.

So off to Columbia. No rest for the wicked.

Quito and The Galapagos Islands: 14th – 22nd August

Well after returning from the clouds and before heading off to the the Galapagos, I was most excited to find that Rae (from Mancora) was in Quito. She introduced me to the idea of salsa lessons and I have now fallen in love with the dance. Not very good at it, unless I am dancing with my teacher, but I try.

Anyway, after two days in Quito Nyree and I headed off to the Galapagos. We did have a bit of a panic at the airport when we were told that we had been booked onto the 7.30am not the 9.30am flight, which all our information indicated. However after 1 and a half very tense hours for us and two other people, who had the same issue, we thankfully all got seats on the 9.30 plane.

The galapags are everything that you have heard they are and more. Quite the most incredible place I’ve been to. Not only are you seeing things you have never seen before, many of which you can only infact see there, you are also blown away by how unperterbed by humans all the wildlife is.

On the first day we went to Tortuga bay in Santa Cruz island and saw, among other things, blue footed boobies and thousands of marine iguanas on a beautiful white sandy beach.

   

The next day in the morning we went to the Charles Darwin centre and saw some giant turtles, though unfortunately not lonesome george as he was sleeping.

  

At midday we got on the boat for the first time. A little trepidaciously as we had just found out there had been an earth quake in Peru, which had prompted a tsunami warning in the galapagos. The warning was relaxed later that afternoon however, much to our immense relief, though rough seas were predicted.

On the same day we went to the north of Santa Cruz to see more giant turtles though this time in the wild. Such hilarious creatures!

  

That night the boat motored to Rabida island whilst we were supposed to be sleeping..however, given the rough nature of the seas and the size of our beds not much sleep was had by anyone. I spent most of the night trying not to fall out of bed..

The next morning was a bit of a grey start though a boat ride to see seals and penguins, followed by wandering around a beach laden with sea lions soon ensured smiles were on all our faces.

     

After lunch we went snorkelling and I saw my first shark. Only a white tipped one but the shock of it made me spit out my snorkel and swim into the coral.

In the afternoon we wandered around Chinese Hat Island milling with more sea lions, iguanas and beautiful crabs.

     

The next was again very grey in the morning, not ideal to see the beautiful view down over Bartolome island, however we waited patiently at the view point and eventually the sun came through the clouds. Certainly worth the wait.

      

That afternoon we went snorkellng again and I swam with a turtle, a sealion and a penguin. Totally incredible. Then later we took the launch out into the mangroves and spotted rays, turtles and sharks as they came and went.

     

In the morning we got up at the crack of dawn to go to north seymour to see some amazing bird-life. Never have been much into birds but this was absolutely incredible.

  

Nyree and I had three more days left before flying back so headed off to Isabella island. The boat journey there was very long and very bumpy on the rough seas, thoguh Nyree for and I rather amusing as we were invited by the (rather lecherous) Captain Nelson(!) to join as he drove the boat and were allowed each to have a go at driving. Quite terrifying but heaps of fun. We had a very chilled out time on Isabella  we went snorkelling again (swam with a ray this time) and went on horse back to see a volcano, which was fabulous apart from the home made stirrups (my legs were rubbed raw) and abusive Brazillians who were also on the tour.

  

All in all a truly memorable and once in a life time experience.

  

Santa Lucia and Nanegal, 23rd July – 13th August

I have just returned from one of the most beautiful and peaceful (some of the time) places on earth and I’m seriously considering packing in life as I knew it and setting up home in the clouds.

Before I write this entry I want to apologise for the length of it and there will be much talk of stuff that is only interesting to me but I need to record every last bit of it for posterity.

I left Quito on the Monday after a mad dash to book my Galapagos tickets. I made it to the bus dept with no drama and sat on the right hand side of the bus as instructed. On leaving Quito the bus was empty but not for long. And it was only when I had to get off the bus (‘just ask the driver to stop 100 metres after the peach coloured house about 2 and a half hours into the journey’) with all my luggage that i realised how full it was. I literally had to climb over the top of people, including what looked like an entire school full of children. Most found the site of an oversized (vastly for Ecuador) gringo, squealing at the driver in French, as my Spanish had escaped me in the panic, most amusing. I managed it nevertheless and arrived at La Delicia, the office and reception for Santa Lucia, based in the little town of Nanegal.

I soon found out that week there was also a party of 8 Birmingham University students volunteering, plus a Kiwi girl and American lady.

Many of the uni group were really lovely individually but I had forgotten how loud 8 18 – 21 year olds can be and how much they can talk about GCSEs, A-levels, University, food and sex…. The last two subjects i wasn’t bad at, but I must admit I was thankful for Jo (kiwi girl) in this first week.

The week was spent working in the nursery – both looking after the kids and helping build a playground. After one day looking after 20 3-6 year olds my admiration for mothers and teachers went off the scale and I escaped to the playground. Hard labour is really much more my thing. In the evening I and three of the others gave english lessons. Though I’m not sure how good we were at it as the week started with 6 people and by the Thursday we were down to two: 2 pupils and 4 teachers. They seemed most grateful for the undivided attention however.

At the end of the week’s work we all descended upon the one bar in town. There are basically no opening hours. The first people to get there just knock on the door of the bar to open it and it stays open until the last person stumbles home…which for us was a bit of an effort being 2 miles up hill. Nights in the bar are always a fairly drunken affair as there is a system whereby you buy a large bottle of beer and get given one glass, which you then pour beer into and pass around to people. You cannot refuse the proffered beer nor can you delay in drinking it, as the glass has to be hastily passed back for a refill.

One other thing that happen that weekend was two other longer term volunteers returned from a week away, Jen (from California) and Madelaine (from Australia). Two of the funniest, most beautiful women ever, and a life saver as Jo left on the Saturday morning.

On the Sunday morning we all left to go on a hike down to the lodge up in Santa Lucia. My first introduction to the beauty of the place that is Santa Lucia.

The Bosque Nublado (cloud forest) of Santa Lucia is a true community based conservation and eco-tourism effort, located in the mountain cloud forest of the Choco-Andean bio region of northwestern Ecuador.

It is centred around an ecolodge which is a beautiful wooden construction set atop a hill with stunning views all round (some pictures below of sunset, sunrise and other times of day). There is no electricity and the evenings are lit by candle light. Every thing stops at 9pm for bed however, as mornings are very early and the days are pretty hard work.

The work consisted of a number of things from path maintenance, basically hacking a new path out of the earth with a spade; tree planting, on a very steep slope which I spent most of the time falling down; wood carrying for various costructions, sign making plus other construction/hard labour based tasks. I actually really enjoyed it and am quite a mean path maker. Though I’m not so good at/too old for being a subordinate and issued with orders, at least not when the instuctions given are not clear and then contradicted later, which I told Julio, our boss for much of the time, on the first day.

One way of winding down at the end of the day was to play football. I am not the world’s best player but found I served some purpose in goal where I managed to save more than i let in..though any crediblity I had built up was dashed when I tripped over the ball and scored an own goal. The opposing team’s winning goal in turned out, after 2 hours of playing in the rain. I swear it was a fix.

The food was also out of this world, prepared by the wonderful Rosario, Anita and Marguarita, and after such hard graft it was certainly very welcome.

At the end of the first week there was a big party at the lodge to say fairwell to the Birmingham university group which, unsurprisingly, turned into a rather a drunken affair involving copious amounts of rum and coke. The following morning we then headed back to Nanegal for the weekend. This requires a rather long and extremely steep walk down to the road where you are met by a car to take you to the town. This is normally pretty straightforward. However with one invalid (Maddy had fallen and really quite badly sprained her ankle the day before) and two hungover ladies (me and Jen) it was a bit of a mission. We did had Edison (one of the guides and nicknamed the perfect man for obvious reasons) to accompany us however, which helped keep our minds off the walk.

Saturday night was one of the many fiesta’s in Nanegal and we managed to drag ourselves out of the house after much persuasion. We hit the road with beer bottles in hand and started the hike into town only to be offered a lift 2 minutes later by the local police van. Not saomething I was expecting.

The fiesta was in the football ground and started off with a beauty pageant. There were 3 contestants who seriously looked like they had been dragged up there kicking and screaming as they did not smile once through their three rounds, which consisted of dancing, evening wear and the ‘world peace’ section. The prettiest though most grumpy one won and was crowned Miss Nanegal. She still didn’t smile.

On the sunday Maddy, Jen and I had decided to invite everyone from the lodge and who worked in Nanegal for Santa Lucia, over for a Mexican night. THis turned into a bit of a marathon effort and resulted in us cooking all day. We made home made tortillas (despite buying 6 bags of the wrong sort of flour), a spicey chicken dish, salsa, guacamole, refreid beans and rice, followed by bananas cooked in butter with chocolate cream. Quite a feast. We had invited in total about 10 people and were panicing about not having enough food. We then started panicing about having too much food when we thought no one would turn up.

Needless to say we needn’t have worried as everyone came plus a few extras to make up a band to play for us! We had said to Pancho (the bossman), we’ll provide the food if you bring the music, meaning, a few CDs. Well he turned up with two guitars, a pipe and drum. After we had eaten they played and sang to us for 3 hours. The three of us were totally overwhelmed. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my whole trip.

They all seemed to enjoy in too, though most of them ended up with the runs as I think we made the food a bit too spicey!!

The final week at the lodge was the most special as we had the peace and tranquility that you would hope for in the middle of no where. On my last night in the lodge Anita, Marguarita and Wilson presented me with a cake with an iced message saying thank you. I found it rather hard to hold back the tears I have to say.

The Saturday night in Nanegal was a drunken affair as I had learnt to expect though started off with a wonderful party at Maria’s (the lady who looks after us in Nanegal and Wilson’s Mum) house for Wilson’s 18th birthday. We (Madelaine, Jen, Yasmin, a new volunteer, and I) were so touched to be invited and had a grand old time dancing around the living room, something which parties in Westbourne Terrace trained me very well for.

From there we left for the bar and finally to the weekly fiesta, this time at the volley ball court. The girls had left at a respectable hour but I decided to stay on as my salsa dancing seemed to be getting better as the night wore on. A decision that I regretted rather as I stumbled home with a very drunk Edison plus brother and uncles at 5 in the morning. Even with all my path making and tree planting I was not strong enough to carry any of them, despite protestations.

I finally left on the 6am bus on Monday. Very sad and swearing I would return one day. I hope I do.

Thank you to all the special people at Santa Lucia and Nanegal who made my time there so amazing.

Pancho: The boss

Edwardo and Rosario: Lodge manager and head cook

Edison: Guide and perfect man (son of E&R)

Julio: Guide

Noe: Guide

Wilson: sometimes cook, sometimes mule runner and worker

Giggles/Ronaldo: sometimes cook, sometimes (very bad!) mule runner and worker

Maria: cook in Nanegal (Wilson’s mum)

Quito, 20th – 22nd July 

On the Equator one would have guessed that the weather is pretty hot. Especially being in the middle of summer and all. Well no. Rain rain rain and more rain. At least I can sypathise with you poor buggers in the UK. Have enjoyed my few days in Quito though. On the first day I went to my first museum of my trip. It had an exhibition of Guayasamin, a very cool Equadorian modern artiste of the mid 20th century, plus some American Indian artefacts that belonged to his father. Really excellent and I feel culturally recharged.

I was intending on staying in on the first night after my bus journey from hell but ended up by bumping into Jon, Laura’s very lovely amour, who was in Quito for one night before meeitng Laura in Equador. Well after two bottles of wine and a large Sambuca each we had put the world to rights. Consequently though I managed not to get up in time to go to the Otovalo markets, supposedly some of the best in South America, and spent most of the day nursiong a hangover. Oh well. I’ll know for next time….

On Sunday on a really rather sunny morn, I went with two lovely Canadian girls (Alison and Alison, which made remebering their names easy), to Mitad del Mundo, the Equator line. Well actually there are two. One created by the French and one that has GSM coordinates. The latter is supposed to be correct but we went to both just to be safe! At the GSM on they did various experiments involving water going down the drain and balanciong an egg. Can’t quite believe that the line is so sensitive that it can respond to within a couple of metres but it was fun nonetheless.

  

We then decided to go up to the crater of a dorment volcano. It was a bus ride up the hill then a ten minute walk to supposedly fabulous views. Well after 5 mins on the bus the cloud decended and the rain started. However being adventurous (or stupid) girls we would not be put off, and hiked up the hill, in our summer clothes, in the rain. We got to the top and surprise surprise, could not see a thing. Did walk off some of the Magnum and Empanadas I had eaten that day though.

Right now I’m about to head off for my Volunteering. The first week I am spending in a village called Nangal, north west of Quito. I’m supposed to be working in a school but have just found out the kids are on hols this week so not sure what I’ll be doing…. I then head off to the lodge in the cloud forest where I’ll be doing hard labour/conservation for two weeks. It is an extremely remote spot: you can only access it by walking up a mountain for 2 hours and there is no electiricty. Does look amazing though. Mostly concerned about the fact that it may rain solidly for the duration. It is the cloud forest after all….. I’ll report back in three weeks anyway

Vilcabamba, 17th – 19th July

I had checked out a number of options to cross the border and eventually decided to go with the tourist, expensive, longer but safe bus. God I’m such a wimp. It took an age but if I’d have known it was the last decent bus I was going to be on for a while I would have appreciated it more..

I eventually arrived at the stop I was getting out at. I was in fact the only person getting out at this stop and what I hadn’t banked on was that there was no bus terminal. In fact I was dropped off, as dusk was settling, on a roundabout in what looked like the middle of nowhere. I was then told I had to cross the roundabout and wait for a bus to Loja by the side of the road. I at this point became a little princess-like and thankfully a sweet guy selling friut escorted me across the road and told me the spot to wait in and from which direction the bus would come. Thankfully it did come though not for another hour. It was 5.30 at this point and the next bus trip was 5ish hours and I had to get another bus from that stop to my final destination, where I had no accomodation booked. Was starting to get mildly sweety by this point. Anyway thankfully there were two other gringos on the bus who were also headed to Vilcabamba, who had been there before and who had accomodation. So I decided to stick to them like glue. I had second thoughts about this decision a little later however…. We arrived at Loja 5 minutes after the last of the every-15-minutes buses had left and were told the last bus did not leave for another hour and a half, at midnight. I then checked out the taxi options to find that you could get there for $15USD, you could leave immediately and you could be delivered to the door of your hotel. They however, being tight fisted travellers, thought this was too much money to spend so we all waited for the bus. Which was not for an hour and a half, took and hour and 15 mins and delivered you to the bus terminal. Though 2 quid pp is such a lot of money…..

Any way it all worked out alright in the end. We got there and I got a bed.

Vilcabamba is in the south eastern corner of Equador at the foot of the Andes. It is stunningly beautiful and also sunny (which I am now demanading in all destinations). I chilled out on my hammock and pottered around the town for the first day then headed out riding on the second day. It was a perfect way to see the landscape there and as ever I loved it. I did have a bloody stubborn horse though. As I could ride and the other guy there couldn’t the guide let me go on ahead so I could get some cantering in (when we weren’t going up or down what can be best descibed as cliff faces). Well I think the horse was nopt really used to being taken off so really didn’t want to move unless you kicked the shit out of him…which I don’t really like to do. Anyway I had to keep a very tight grip with my thighs or he literally came to a standstill. After 7 hours of this they did start to ache a little…

      

After riding it was pretty much straight onto the bus to Quito. 13 hours on a very basic bus, on pot-holed, extremely windy roads, with a lecherous farmer on one side who kept ‘invading my personal space man’ and a puking kid on the other side….not the best night I’ve spent on my travels.

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