Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Happy Halloween in... Peru??

Really weird to see lots of trick or treating kids and halloween decorations everywhere, and zero day of the dead. it's not as widespread as in the us, and its really just some young people and businesses who have embraced it more recently, so it just feels quite fake, and I miss Ecuador where right now everyone is feasting on guaguas de pan and colada morada.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The big T

Well it's been awhile since I was treated to the gorgeous view of Lake Titicaca, which is just so big and blue I really wanted to eat it up. The lake is, of course, the highest (navigable) one in the world. We first visited on the Bolivian side from Copacabana, which is an improbably chilly beach resort town filled with gringos and weekending bolivian families alike. We spent a night out on the Isla del Sol, the biggest island in the lake, densely populated with farming families and hostals. But it definitely feels different from the mainland, there's little electricity on the island and outside of the major town the traffic changes from backpackers to locals herding llamas, sheep, cows, pigs, donkeys. We had an absolutely breathtaking view from our hostal (LOTS of pictures coming someday!), which made the steep hike up from the port worth it. We mostly took it easy, though we did take a boat to the northern end of the island and hiked back, which was pretty incredible because you walk along the spine of the island and have the view from both sides.
After a night back in Copacabana we bid a fond farewell to Bolivia and headed back to the Peruvian side of the lake. While Puno wasn't as bad as I'd heard, it is as my dad says - "a waste of good farmland." It certainly doesn't take advantage of the lake as Copacabana does, you hardly see it except if you head down to the pitiful port. Which we did, since we spent another night on the island of Taquile. Unlike the isla del sol, this island is small and traditional. The locals still wear a very unique and conspicuous traditional dress, with the men in red hats that they weave themselves, and the women in a very different type of skirt than the mainlanders. Taquile is firmly on the "gringo trail" (one of my least favorite terms by the way, right up there with "francophone".), with a dozen tour companies running daily trips there. But we chose to take the local boat and spend the night with a local family, so that all our money went to the residents and not the tour companies. This was a great decision, and easily done, if you ever head this way. For the most part the local men are extremely friendly and welcoming, while the women are painfully shy and accomodating, and they all go about their business (which as far as i could see consisted of drop-spinning wool and weaving and chewing coca while walking around the island) and ignore the tourists, unless you ask them for lodging. This was another place where I felt that the locals were positive about using tourism to strengthen and showcase their way of life, rather than corrupt it. As opposed to the isla del sol, there were no kids begging for sweets or money for photos.
The only downside of my time there was that my iron stomach finally gave way! 12 months in south america and no parasites, no stomach infections, etc. Well God knows what I finally got, because I hadn't eaten anything weird from a market or raw, even though i do those things on a regular basis. I had eaten soup and cooked veggies in a nice tourist restaurant in puno. Whatever, something didn't agree with me and after the boat ride and another steep hike up to the town, I was NOT feeling well. So I ended up sleeping all the rest of the day, and trying to avoid the worst outhouse I've ever seen. Which meant i missed out on the town meeting and dinner with the family, of which my dad has many stories and pictures. The next day I felt better and was able to walk around the island to see some of the pre-inca ruins, and take the boat back to puno. Then I felt crappy again in Puno, and I was ok for the next few days but had ZERO apapetite (i could eat, like, a piece of bread and be full all day) so not a lot of energy either, which takes a lot of the fun out of traveling!
The upside of my illness was fun with local remedies. Ernesto, our host on Taquile, had immediately marched me to the nearest restaurant and announced I would drink "mate mixto" (coca and the ubiquitous local herb muña, which is quite tasty) while my dad dined on kingfish. The next night in Puno, while my dad ate a big curry dinner, I had rice and soda water, which apparently worried the proprietress. (now keep in mind this was no local eatery, but another upscale tourist restaurant.) On my way to the bathroom, she asked if i was allright, and then on the way out she cornered me with her own remedy - coca leaves soaked in pisco! She applied one to each cheek and one to the forehead, which would apparently serve to suck out my tension. I politely thanked her and tried to remove them before reentering the main dining room, full of gringos, but no, i was to leave them on. Sooo, I ended up as a funny travel story to all my fellow diners, and with a face full of pisco (as previously mentioned.) And thankfully, thus ended our stay in Puno.
And she lived to visit machu picchu, and even eat a whole sandwich!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Que viva la inmigración!

Well we are back in Puno again killing time with the internet, but I'm not feeling as long-winded as usual, partly because i have pisco all over my face and would enjoy a shower (long story involving a local remedy...)

But here is a fascinating article i came across while googlenewsing the other day. Apparently Latino immigrants in the US will send home remittances of a record $45+ billion this year. But even more notably...

IDB officials noted that the immigration benefits weren't a one-way street: About 90
percent, or about $460 billion, of the income generated by Latin American-born
migrants stays in the United States. Bendixen warned that if the United States shut
its doors to Hispanic immigrants, as Congress is attempting to do, the U.S. economy
would be "close to collapse."

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Catching up on a rainy day

Wow finally a fast connection that lets me into blogger, and plenty of time to kill! We've just crossed back into Peru and are staying in Puno, which has no particular attraction except being the port on lake titicaca from which we can visit an island tomorrow, and it's pouring, so we aren't budging from this internet anytime soon. So let's catch up, shall we?

So thinking back to the jungle, we started off in Rurrenabaque, the touristy jungle town that's the jumping off point to tours. We did NOT enjoy our first night there, as we were treated to a live band playing ON OUR ROOF (technically part of the military building next door) from 11pm to 3am, when mercifully the town cuts off the electricity. Now normally I am patient with noise, but they were ON OUR ROOF, so it felt like being inside a speaker. It was admitedly, nominally better than the dance party our downstairs neighbors threw a few weeks back during which they cranked the volume louder than any club i've heard, and 90% of the time played THREE SONGS. (The shakira hips song, the horrible reggaton "na na na" song, and a normally enjoyable spanish pop song "una gota de tu voz". over. and over. and over. all night.) But we had to start our 5 hour canoe ride at 8 am the next day, so we were NOT happy. Actually, the canoe ride was lovely. I'd take a 10 hour canoe ride over a 10 hour bus ride any day. Smooth ride, cool breeze, and great scenery. We saw a pair of macaws (they only mate once, and for life, and can live to 60 or more!) and other cool birds whose names i certainly do not remember. One of the guys helping to navigate (there was a motor, but also a pilot with a pole and this other guy helping to push our way through the shallows.) provided excitement by catching a fish, later losing his hat in the water so that we had to come back and rescue it, and finally wading off to a random point on the share, fish in hand.
During our stay at Chalalan we took a bunch of hikes (they have a great system of trails around the lake), took nightly canoe rides around the lake (both before dinner and after) to see all the wildlife, and hiked up to a mirador (lookout point) where you can see to the border of the parque nacional madidi. The one rainy day was our last full day, and we had already seen all kinds of things, so there was no pressure to go out and suffer in the rain like the other people who had a shorter stay. So I got to lay in the hammock and finally read up on peru and relax. The last night we had a "traditional feast" which mostly involved a traditional fish wrapped in leaves, and a salad bar. That was followed by a performace by the local musicians and a coca chewing ceremony. I wasn't too exited for that because it sounded super forced and touristy (they do it every time a group is leaving, which means every few days!) but it wasn't at all. After the performance, we were all still hanging out and chatting, everyone kept adding to their coca wad, and our guides picked up their own instruments and joined the musicians in jamming for about another hour.
The next day we reluctantly returned to Rurre, which meant another lovely canoe ride. Although we dislike Rurre (hot, mosquitoes, a million tourists, higher prices because everything is imported from the main cities.)and did not want to stay the extra day there (our flight was delayed, as usually happens because it is in the jungle and it gets muddy) we found a lovely little restaurant and a really nice bar that played excellent music (morcheeba, and no regeton!) and had a pool table.
The next morning we got out on the first flight, thankfully, and spent another lovely day in La Paz. We found a lovely hotel, did some artesania shopping (which we had put off so as not to drag our purchases around bolivia), had good food, and mailed more postcards.
The next day we did a day trip to Tiahuanacu, the ruins of the capital of the Pre-inca cvilization of the same name. It was actually around for about 3,000 years, which only the egyptians can match! It's funny to look at timelines of south american indigenous civilizations, because they all stetch out over thousands of years, and the incas barely fit on the chart at the end with 200ish years. some cool stuff, which will be much more interesting when i post the pictures. TO do it you really have to go with a guide, which meant going on an organized tour from the city - ick. But fortunately it was not completely overrun with backpacking europeans, we talked mostly with a lovely and typically effusive argentinian couple and a friendly bolivian woman who had been there before and was more interested in chatting with me about evo.
After the ruins we had a financial adventure that severely cut into our shopping time... my dad had had his debit card retained by an evil ATM machine at the airport the previous day. (not his fault, the machine was just confused.) which was fun - no one on site to do anything, as the designated spanish speaker i got to call the number and explain the sit. The atm guy said all we would have to do is go to a central office in the city the next day. OK, so it's the next evening, we finally find the bulding, and the office on the 11th floor, and the card isn't there. Apparently its still at the bank, but we can't go to the bank, it has to be sent to this central agency. Logically. Luckily they took pity on us and sent a messenger and we didn't have to wait tooo long. And we still got all kinds of goodies that i will try not to keep for myself, but rather bestow upon you lucky people as presents for the upcoming holiday season.
Long story short we did get out of la paz friday morning, atm cards and presents in tow. As this post is running on and the rain is slowing and our stomachs rumbling, I will leave our story in Copacabana. Up next: the gorgeous lake Titicaca! (i'll preempt linda's "hehe, titicaca!")

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dynamic duo

So we just got back from one of R's co-worker's birthday parties, for which everyone was instructed to attend with their respective boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend and dress up as their favorite dynamic duo. Since R and I are costumally-challenged, we decided to go with an excellent suggestion proposed to us by another one of his co-workers. More on that soon; for now, you can follow this link for some photodocumentation.

P.S. All costume components courtesy of Goodwill, except for my silver medal, which was originally a beer cap.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mmmm.... black spider monkey...

AKA, Chalalán part I

You don't get a lot of conservationist guides who can tell you the names of animals (and plants) in 4 languages (quechua, spanish, english, and latin) AND how they taste. We just came back from Chalalán, which was a splurge for bolivia (but not really expensive compared to say, hotels in chicago or new york) but which will probably be the best part of our trip. Lots of places in south america say they are eco-lodges or do community based tourism, but Chalalán is the only one that is completely owned and operated by an indigenous community. To keep people from leaving their community, they turned to tourism, and actually started out doing "adventure tourism" where they would basically hack down the jungle and hunt as much big game as possible. Then there's a whole long convoluted story in there involving an israeli guy who got lost and helped by them and wrote a book and came back and tried to help THEM and then tried to buy their land and got kicked out, but somehow they came out of it with a vision of a real ecolodge. We heard a LOT about how "their dream became reality" and how grateful they are, but thats no exaggeration. With international help they put together a beautiful lodge in pristine primary forest around a lovely lake, got a whole national park declared (the park madidi - check out this page for mindblowing statistics about one of the world's most diverse protected areas!) and eventually assumed sole ownership and direction of the lodge! Right now 10% of the money goes to the booking agency, 45% goes directly to their community where it funds schools, etc, and 45% goes back to the lodge where it also pays a lot of salaries (80% or something of the population works with the lodge in some way.).
But you don't feel like you are there out of charity or anything, and they don't put on a "native" act for you. They've just seriously got their shit together and are justly proud of it. The guides are reeeally well educated and speak english well (im seriously considering coming back as a volunteer teacher!) and I was seriously impressed by how full their perspective is. Because they were brought up as hunters, you get all kinds of stories about which vines they use as poison to fish with, or how wild peccaries sometimes taste too strongly of the wild garlic, or how to get the monkeys they've killed down from tall trees. But they've also really embraced conservation and understand that its the future of their community. And because of their work with their guests they have a really broad and international perspective on things. I had some involved conversations with our guide, Sergio, comparing things in the US, ecuador, and here, and talking about things like linguistic diversity, nationalization, international aid, etc. And yet the exposure to international culture isn't tempting to him... he can't wait to get back to his community without electricity and spend his days off hunting and eating monkeys etc!(they still hunt even the endangered species in designated areas).
And then there's the actual nature of it, which is what holds up the whole endeavor. In a lot of protected places anywhere in the world, the area is so small or has already been hunted down so that there are hardly any large mammals. And if they are there they've probably been reintroduced (aka buffalo in yellowstone). And yeah, the insects and plants are all incredible and diverse, but honestly I'm no biologist and i want to see cool stuff! Here you have really undisturbed primary forest so we got to see 4 kinds of monkeys, 3 of which were really common, swinging around in the trees right above us, (red holwer monkeys, brown cappucino monkeys, and yellow squirrel monkeys!) and one that was a bit shy and we had to track down. (black spider monkeys.) The howler monkeys wake up at 5 am and make a really loud guttural noise for a while, and then go back to sleep. hence, so do the people. (well, wake up. we don't make the noise. anyway.) also a tapir (the largest mammal in south america), 2 caimans (alligators, that live in the lake you can swim in. not aggressive, or so they say.) and all kinds of amazing birds including macaws (red and green, red and blue, and yellow and blue.)
SO thats chalalán in a nutshell, tomorrow i'll put in some about exactly how we spent our days but im worn out from reading all your emails and rambling on so about community ecotourism!
FYI it's looking like Correa (leftist) vs Naboa (banana prince) in a runoff election in november. I guess Correa's got my vote! Also, Lucio Gutierrez came in 4th with 15% of the vote. you know, the president who got thrown out of office and fled the country last year. gotta love democracy, ecuador style.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Notes from mid-October

Oooh, who knew? Apparently I've been working for the Commies! There are loads of people who refuse to align themselves with World Can't Wait because of its founder... who knew? I thought the only people who hated Communists were McCarthyism holdovers and people who'd actually had to suffer through an entire game of Class Struggle. I completely and totally appreciate the issues people have with World Can't Wait's founders, but until another group whose sole mission is to drive out the Bush regime comes my way, I guess I'll stick with the faulty one I've got. Besides, who would be the webmaster of our local chapter if I quit? (That's right. I said "webmaster." You know an organization is desperate when...) Actually, we just had a really good meeting last Friday... about 10 new very enthusiastic folks showed up, claiming (we should have made them sign a contract) that they were interested in taking on - get this - some responsibility for the local chapter. We'll see how that goes... at any rate the 3-4 of us who've been running things blindly for the past 6 months are sure as shootin' not going to devote as much time to this group as we've had to lately.

In other news, I'm about to embark on a whirlwind two weeks which will included some or all of the following: three concerts, two sings, a costume birthday part at a roller-skating rink, Jenna coming to town, the Southwest Texas Sacred Harp Convention, a public screening of a shapenote documentary, day-tripping to Dallas, a retirement gala for the Executive Director of the Women's Health & Family Planning of Texas organization, and an evening of signmaking for a WCW protest. My pajama-time is going to be severely diminished. Ideally my week consists of 6 days on which I grudgingly get dressed and 1 pajama day; we call that the Golden Ratio. Fortunately I got in a good run of it yesterday while I could. It was the kind of dark, drizzly day that we never get down here, perfect for reading and writing letters and baking sweet potato bread and cleaning the house and cooking an Actual Dinner (not to be confused with the frozen-meat-free-soy-free chicken nuggets which are posing as tonight's meal).

R & I are going up to stay with his parents in Seattle for Thanksgiving, a visit which will hopefully involve two brand-new babies - not, rest assured, our own, nor his parents' (though the comic possibilities of THAT one are endless), but the twin boys due any day now by way of R's brother and sister-in-law, who just moved from Rhode Island back to Washington. Which I suppose sort of makes me an aunt (though not in the eyes of God), and gives us an eagerly-anticipated excuse to buy adorable presents.

My frozen nuggets are calling to me, so I'll bid you all adieu, and try very hard not to wait 2 weeks before posting again...



Friday, October 13, 2006

Disappearing into the jungle...

Well, Bolivia is definitely keeping us entertained. After Potosi we spent a day in Sucre, the other capital city. My dad's plans to see the dinosaur tracks in the local cement factory were thwarted by our inability to track down the temptingly corny "dinobus", but instead we went to this really excellent textile museum. As opposed to most of the museums we went to in La Paz the next day, it had been updated since 1986 and didn't just have a "50 letter or less" plaque next to each display. For about 10 years they have sponsored a project in two indigenous communities (Jalq'a and tarabuco) to support/revive traditional weaving. They have an extremely comprehensive display of both the modern weavings of both communities and artifacts going back thousands of years. They include TONS of info analyzing it along historical/anthropological lines as well as an artistic perspective. I'll stop raving until I can put up some pretty pictures to accompany my boring text :)
We didn't like sucre as much as la paz or even potosi, and were glad we had only planned to stay one day. It was nice enough, but we couldn't find the lovely cafes of the other towns and besides that museum and the dinosaurs, not much to do. But the next day we found to our dismay that the transit strike had spread to other major cities, including sucre! After a few panicky minutes, we finally found a taxi with another guy also flying back to la paz that morning, and had an entertaining ride to the airport that involved much backing down streets after discovering they were blocked. Ironically, when we got back to la paz we found that they had resolved their own strike there!
We really only spent yesterday afternoon in la paz killing time before leaving for our jungle trip this morning. We went to the afore mentioned random museums, the highlight of which were the graphically bloody battle displays in the history museum - and the instrument museum! Unlike the trip Richard and I took to the instrument museum in London, it did not feature historic european instruments (although there was a harmonium!). Instead it was the charango (a local small guitar) hall of fame, as well as home to all kinds of modern improvised instruments which will eventually show up in my pictures. Then last night we caught a showing at the cheap local theater (a genuine old theater with balcony and ushers and everything!) of the fabulous movie "Quién mató a la llamita blanca?", which turned out to be a darkly hilarious Bolivian Bonnie and Clyde drug trafficking caper. (you can watch the trailer at that link!) Reminded me a lot of Que tan lejos, with its hometown appeal and familiar footage of spots in la paz and around the country, but with lots more incisive social commentary.
This morning I mailed a bunch of postcards... so many of you lucky readers should be recieving a taste of bolivia in 6-8 months. I love that the stamps are all of Evo Morales, the current outspoken indigenous coca loving president.
That brings me to the jungle! We took a VERY small plane to Rurrenbaque (where we landed on a grass strip...) and were met by our ever helpful guide from Chalalan, the supposedly incredible ecolodge we are going to spend 3 days at. Since it involves a 5-7 hour canoe ride up the river, we are spending the night in town first. I keep thinking i'm at the ecuadorian coast, it's exactly the same weather, palm trees, outdoor restaurants, stores selling flip flops and sunscreen. But starting tomorrow we will be in the middle of primary forest listening to the calls of howler monkeys! (Maybe i'll be able to give you some tips when i get back kt!)
I'm very psyched, but you'll have to wait a while until we get back into civilization to get an update!! (the 17th for those keeping track...) I'm upset that i'll be out of the loop during the ecuadorian presedential election on the 15th... if you can't wait to find out who will be featured in the upcoming runoff you can check out the el comercio.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

So high!

Helloooooooo to all you losers at sea level! (look how loud I have to yell!) I'm writing from Potosi, Bolivia, the highest city in the world. I wanted to write this post from the highest internet cafe in the world (apparently their 3rd floor spot edged them in for that record.) but sadly it has closed. So i'll have to settle for this lame almost-highest spot. Just spent a couple of lovely days in La Paz, my favorite place so far. Reminds me of Quito but much more accessible, cleaner, more culture, etc. At least in the center... we passed all the shanty towns on the bus, but of course that kind of poverty and stratification isn't unique in south america. We meant to go see a cool pre-incan ruin outside the city yesterday, but the city bus drivers had other plans. Apparently they were upset with new city regulations and went on strike. But they didn't just not work... they used their buses to block the streets all over town! So no traffic anywhere in the city! ("No hay movilazion" was the phrase of the day.) It was actually a blessing in disguise, because it's a very walkable city and it was a gorgeous day, and no bus fumes! Only downside was that random things weren't open, since some people couldn't make it to work. We heard various theories that the strike wouldn't even last the day, to at most a 48 hour strike. We decided to play it safe and get the hell out of dodge, which turned out to be a good idea because i just checked the local paper and the headline is "Drivers shut down La Paz and declare an indefinite strike."
So we overnighted it to Potosi, which in addition to being the highest city you may also remember from your European history textbook (by which i mean I remember it from AP Euro because i'm a big history nerd) as home to a gigantic silver mine which was the biggest factor in making spain grossly rich lo those many centuries. potosi was actually the richest city in the world, and the second largest in population for a time. What stuns me is that the mines are still functional!!! Miners still go to work in horrible conditions, at least not as slaves anymore. We didn't do a mine tour because it sounded extremely intense (and i really feel it's common sense to decline any trip in which you are encouraged to bring dynamite as presents!) but we did tour the Casa de Monedas, where they minted silver from the 1500s to 1953. It's really well restored but with amazing original machinery and everything, including the oldest technology - giant wooden machines that were powered by horses (who had about a lifespan of 20-60 days in this altitude and cold.) They also have ridiculously elaborate silver pieces on display. A definite lesson in how much suffering powered so much wealth. (Apparently the spanish have a saying "vale un potosi")
From here we're off to sucre for a day where we plan to see dinosaur tracks and buy chocolate, and then it's off to the jungle!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Another day, another country

So here I am in La Paz, the highest world capital! Bolivia and La Paz are all about the highest everything... golf course, airport, lo que sea. Yesterday we flew to Juliaca and took a bus to Puno, which is on Lake Titicaca. What a world away from miraflores... it was relieving to see the familiar sights of indigenas tilling the land, mercados, and street vendors. We also ate some particularly good food and filled up on coca tea, coca granola bars, etc. (Coca helps with the altitude, which my dad is still adjusting to... puno isn't quite as high as la paz, but higher than quito and we had flown in from coastal lima!) Then today we made the trek to la paz. Just one bus ticket, but it was quite an undertaking as it involved crossing the border, switching buses in copacabana, getting held up in several small villages (and in la paz!) by parades of dancing indigenas (a festival day of some sort), and crossing lake titicaca (people on boats, our bus had its own little ferry). So far I am enjoying Peru and Bolivia, particularly the existance of nightlife, and the food (i'm eating my weight in quinoa!). I am not enjoying the tourist lifestyle... in ecuador even the most touristed destinations usually involve busses full of locals, and few english speaking ecuadorians. Here we have been surrounded by gringos constantly, particularly on the busses, and I'm very frustrated at not understanding the locals half the time because it turns out they are trying to speak english to me. La Paz seems more promising on this count, we are staying in a cute area near the university and have not seen so many tourists. Tomorrow I'm psyched for the coca museum and markets!
Oh, also, I'm impressed with: "Google.com.bo ofrecido en: Quechua"

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Made it to Lima

Made it to Lima after enjoying the bus cama, complete with dinner, breakfast, bus stewardesses, and no Jean Claude Van Damme flics. Spent the afternoon checking out Miraflores, which is the chic neighborhood of Lima that seems to be the only place worthwhile place to stay in the city. And it is NICE. Meaning they have some UPSCALE shit around here. I thought quicentro and the hilton colon was something. no no. This is like American upscale. They have a Whole Foods look alike, malls with serious style, chic cafes, and even flat sidewalks! I didn't trip even once today! It's a little overwhelming. I did magane to find the one pair of pants in South America that don't have the EVIL fit (aka skin tight and loooriding). Also down the street I found the joys of the other side of shopping here... big bins of factory direct old navy abercrombie etc clothes ("made in peru") for .75 to $3. Not too shabby. Also ate lunch at a vegetarian place (pachamanca, a traditional dish dating back to incan times, apparently as an offering to the earth, and still common today. it was kind of like seco.). Tomorrow we're flying down to the border and then going overland to La Paz! So a whole other country coming up. Still no idea of our overall itinerary. Good times.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Saludos desde Piura, Peru!

I made it to Peru! My two days back in Quito were filled with watching way too much OC (damn you LA Rebecca!!) and too little time packing, but I managed to get everything together (and if anything, i UNDERpacked! My brand new chimbo "north face" backpack won't even cinch tight enough! But I'm hoping to fill that all extra space up with goodies from Peru and Bolivia!) and leave for my 7:15 flight to cuenca. Boy am I converted to flying domestically in ecuador. (Even if I was thwarted from going all the way to loja, as starting the 2nd they are fixing the runways and cancelled all flights for 2 months. grr) Instead of a 12+ hour bumpy busride with chickens etc down the panamericana, for $50 I was leaving the airport in cuenca less than 2 hours after leaving my apartment in quito. With an incredible aerial view of cotpaxi (you can see the crater!) to boot. Then when I inquired at the info desk at the aiport about the bus terminal, a nice woman said "te traigo" and so i followed her out, thinking she was going to indicate how to get a bus or walk. Instead she gave me a ride in her car and didn't let me pay her! So then I got a bus to loja (my 4th time in the terminal in a week), and fortunately managed to make it in time for the 1 pm bus direct to piura, which takes you across the border so there's minimal immigration fus and no transferring. So just one plane, two buses, and 14 hours later, and there i was in peru! I met a swiss girl also traveling solita on the bus and with the same plans to travel to lima tonight on cama bus (a luxury nonexistant in ecuador), so we've been hanging out and ive been enjoying her guide book complete with map, unlike mine which has 2 sentences on piura. We're killing time until the night bus, so I've been indulging in catching up on blog updates at jennas blog, rosies blog, and veganlunchbox! As for Peru I'm much more exciting about traveling now that I've gotten here and switched to soles and chatted with people. Before I was really reluctant to leave the safety net of my residency, Ecuadorian spanish, dollars, etc. I can understand people and people understand me, though the hotel clerk laughed at me when i said "chevere"... he said it was very "limeña", not ecuadorian however, so that bodes well. Tomorrow I should get into Lima at 8 am and then meet up with my dad at his hostal, and then we can really plan our trip! Tengo ganas de conocer todo de Bolivia y Peru!

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Well folks, after another night bus, at 7 am I finally returned to my hometown of Quito after my 2 weeks down the sierra and a whirlwhind 24 hour trip to Guayaquil. I successfully read up on peru/bolivia and practiced travelling light, got to know more of my country of residence, and had some excellent encounters. In list form:

Grand total, 2 weeks door to door from my apartment: $211.60 (mas o menos)

Cities visited: Banos, Riobamba, Cuenca, San Juan, Loja, Vilcabamba, Guayaquil

Buses taken: lost track after 20

Best lodging:
Rumi WIlco EcoLodge - A lovely spot just outside of Vilcabamba where I broke my solitude to hike/cook/debate with a couple of excellent American gals (named what else but Rebecca and Katie!)

Honorable mention: The free stay squished in with excellent company at the compadre's apartment in Guayaquil!

Worst lodging:
Loja - a lovely town with nice parks, easy buses, and pretty churches, but it has the worst and most overpriced hostals I've seen in Ecuador. The first night I had to put up with an ugly dark cement room with flourescent lights and no shower curtain, on top of which I was awakened by people banging on my door thinking it was a bathroom, and a furry rodent scurrying hither and thither at 4 am!!! After putting up with lots of excuses (my favorite was the rodent wasnt a mouse but a hamster belonging to a kid) I eventually got half my money back, and moved on to another more expensive place with nice staff but equally unattractive rooms. (but no hamsters.)

Best views
1) The postcard view of vilcabamba and the surrounding from the ridge hike at rumiwilco, tied with the view of the night sky at night from rumi wilco.
2) View of Loja from the easily acessible Parque Argelia
3) View of Guayaquil from the restored lighthouse at the top of Cerro Santa Ana

Worst view: The nonexistant view of Banos, since the pouring rain and lingering clouds prevented me from doing the hike up the hill behind the city.

Best food:
1) The meals we cooked at Rumi Wilco and the compadre's apartment.
2) Fried humitas in Loja
3) Yogurt Persa which gives the Youca chain a run for its money in the pan de yuca department
4) The first mango of the season!
5) The excellent fruit salad at the chain of vegeterian restaurants in Cuenca.
honorable mention: the beet candy I ate in San Juan!

Best random encounters
3) Running into Raul (eyepatch) on the Malecon in Guayaquil!
2) Missing the bus station in Ambato TWICE (two consecutive bus drivers forgot to "avisarme")
1) Meeting Jesus from "Que Tan Lejos" on the street in Cuenca!!! (Shout out for this excellent Ecuadorian movie coming soon.)

I have lovely pictures of my trip that have a slight possibility of getting posted before I myself come back to the US. BUT, thanks to an insanely fast internet connection at the Plaza today I was able to upload tons more pictures! Which means I am completely caught up on pictures except imbabura and my most recent travels! I'm very pleasantly surprised and impressed with myself and I hope you are too. Siga no mas, walk with me down memory lane as:
Natalia and I travel to the coast and to cuenca
We bid John farewell with a chiva
and send Adela off and celebrate my birthday!

Nouvelle Mexique

Okay... at last and finally and about time, here are the rest of my New Mexico pictures. Lots of Alexa and Eric and Jossi, mainly for the benefit of those who know them. I also snuck in a few from R's backpacking trip in the Guadalupe Mountains. All in all, it was a lovely short weekend vacation... the drive out was by turns beautiful, ugly, and just plain boring, so it provided for plenty of variety. As far as cities go where just driving through it was enough for all of us to decide that you couldn't pay us enough to go back there... Lubbock might have to take the prize. Booming metropolis with the best name: Muleshoe, Texas. Our favorite store: Barricades Unlimited, which appeared to be filled to the brim with orange cones and contruction dividers. Least compelling billboard: "COVENANT HEALTH: THE ONLY PEDIATRIC TRAUMA WARD IN THE AREA." (Wow, if it's the only one, it MUST be good...)

We got into Albuquerque in time for David Ivey's singing school, and then drove up to Santa Fe to spend the night with Eric's delightful parents. Saturday we sang (I'll spare the non-singers a dull description of the sing; ask me if you want a rundown) and then skipped the evening social and went back to Santa Fe, where Eric gave us a private tour of downtown and treated us to tasty Mexican food. It was a great evening, in spite of the almost unbearable preciousness of downtown Santa Fe: galleries, upscale boutiques, and trendy restaurants as far as the eye can see, all done up in adobe pueblo-style architecture. The weather was chilly and perfect, and the view of the mountains couldn't be beat. After dark, we did a 5-minute hike up to the top of a local hill with a sweeping vista of the lit-up city. Then we went home for hot chocolate.

More singing on Sunday, another amazing potluck spread (New Mexico had one of the best dinners on the grounds I've ever seen, with things like giant pans of salmon and agave-sweetened iced tea and crock pots fun of chicken-chili stew...), and then the three of us with Eric & Jossi went to a cafe for coffee, extended de-briefing, and goodbyes. Alexa and I got dropped off at the airport, and twelve hours later I was back at work again.

So there you have it. Nothing else exciting coming up until R & I fly to Seattle to spend Thanksgiving with his parents. (I'm sure THAT will entail at least a post unto itself...) Autumn seems to be concert season in Austin, or at least the time of year when they book everyone we want to see, so we've been doing a fair bit of that lately. Good news: The weather is cooling a little. Bad news: We just paid off, between the two of us, $28 in library fines. (Probably enough to have purchased ALL the damn books, plus the DVD.) All in all, things are going pretty well here. My months of World Can't Wait work are culminating in a big (by which I mean, hopefully not pitifully small) rally/media event on Thursday evening... I'll let you know if we pull that one off. If you're interested in attending an anti-Bush rally near you on that day, click here for a complete list of locations and events. There are currently over 150 events planned in cities across the U.S. and southern Canada, which is pretty exciting.

Okay, R's off at work (a peculiar 6-9pm schedule today) and I'm getting hungry again, so I think I'll continue the theme of eating and sleeping that has made up our ENTIRE weekend and go fix me some dinner. Later!