Denmark and England!

Saturday, August 30, 2003
So, after a four month traveling hiatus (well, if you don’t count Baltimore and Maine) I finally managed to take another trip. This time it was a little shorter than 11 months though! I went to Denmark for a week, and then England for a week.

What prompted Carla and I to take this trip was that the Aarhus Hash House Harriers were sponsoring the bi-annual Eurohash. What more could you ask for than three days in the Danish countryside with 350 hashers?? First, we spent a few days in Aarhus, hosted by our lovely Danish friend, Claus. We even did a few cultural things, like check out Den Gammle By. It’s a collection of houses from different places around Denmark, all brought together in the Botanical Garden in the center of Aarhus. Kinda like Sturbridge Village, only farther away. I did find out an interesting fun fact about Carla though; she’s an expert stilt walker. There were these stilts as part of the village…. and off she went. I thought it was just something that was easy to master until I tried it myself. She admitted later to growing up with stilts in the backyard.

We did a few more cultural things… and then it was time for the Red Dress Run. Have I not mentioned these before? Everyone gets together to go for a run, and we all wear red dresses. Even the men. We made the local paper! Right there of the front the Aarhus Daily Times (okay, I made that up, but the name of the paper was in Danish) were photos of our run! By the end of the night every bar in the 300,000 person city was filled with hashers in red dresses.

One of the most hilarious things about the Eurohash was the floating bar! They built a huge picnic table-like thing with oil drums and steel and wood. Claus, Carla and I actually hitched a ride with the guy who made this contraption, so we got to christen it right in his front yard. The last day of the Eurohash we spent a good part of the afternoon using the large raft. One of the best parts about this hash though, was seeing so many of the friends we made from last year. Lisa even flew up for the event from Brazil! And, including Carla and I there were 6 of us there who were on our tour bus in India. Fantastic! Hi guys!!

After a very long, fun week in Denmark we flew to England… but only after bumping into about 20 hashers in the airport, also on our flight! Our old friend Kerry, who Carla and I met on sailboat in the Great Barrier Reef a few years ago, picked us up at the airport. She was such a great hostess, and it was great to catch up. She even took a day off from work and the three of us went down to Brighton Beach, Beachy Head and to the Seven Sisters. She also took me to my first English Pub… my new favorite thing! How do we live without those?? Carla and I also spent a few days in London doing the sightseeing stuff – Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, Camden Markets, etc.

One night, Carla and I had a “trip reunion” at a pub. Lots of people that we met and traveled with throughout our trip live in and around London, and a whole bunch of us met up! There was Dave and Rob who I met in the Pantanal in Brazil, another Dave that Carla met in Bolivia who also spent a week with us in Rio, Kerry who we met in Australia (who we were staying with), Bridget who we met in Turkey (and whose parents and brother took us out for dinner when we went to her hometown of Hobart, Tasmania), and last but not least, Neill who we met in Czech and who came with us to New Zealand. He is also the one who we bought the car with… and you long time readers might be wondering what happened to that car. We bought it for $500 and sold it at auction for $400. So, when we saw Neill, he gave me my third of the money back! It didn’t take long to spend.

I spent the next few days in Ipswich with Rob. He took me waterskiing, to a surprise birthday party, to his hometown pub, and to some castles and little country towns. One night we went to a dance club with the name of The Betty Ford Clinic. No one appeared to be “reformed”.

I also found out some interesting things about the queen: she owns allthe swans in the country. I guess they are her official pets or something. Therefore, it is illegal to KILL (or eat) swans. But apparently, some immigrants who have been living in the park outside Buckingham Palace have been ROASTING and EATING all the swans, and there were none to be found when we walked through. I guess there has been a big uproar over that. The queen also has 2 birthdays – an official one that gets celebrated by the public with a holiday (and day off from work) and her real one.

And… I just signed up to run a half marathon. WHAT, you say?? That’s right, the slowest runner on the team will be running 13.1 miles on October 12th. I am running in support of Dana Farber Cancer Institute. My goal is to not finish last! I need to raise money! It’s for a good cause, and although the race may torture me, it will save others. So, if you would like to support my race against cancer you can pledge your support at my very own half marathon webpage.

Talk to you soon!
Love, Alison

Stateside Greetings!

Monday, May 5, 2003
I came home a few weeks ago and surprised my family and friends and showed up announced – 2 weeks earlier than I promised them! I also arrived with enough time to go to my first Boston Marathon, complete with a weekend’s worth of events including a pub crawl which happen to fall on my birthday! It was great to come home and see everyone again. Austin – thanks for the birthday cake with the world map! Chowda – good luck with the new restaurant!

Since I left there has been a few changes in the family: My sister moved into a new apartment and I finally met her 5 new roommates, plus their bird, named Cat Food, who they found on the front steps. My parents got a new pet; a fish named Everett. He got the name Everett because they have a dog named Chelsea. Everett is the town next to Chelsea, the place the dog is named for... good thinking Dad!

Also, congratulations to Megan and Tim! They got married this past weekend. Not only are they such nice people, but somehow Jane and I managed to introduce them at one of my infamous New Year’s parties a few years ago. They met and never looked back. Tim’s mother confessed to me at the wedding that she thought it was a bad idea for her son to live with a female (I lived with him and Jay after college), but that once she met me she changed her mind about that. In fact, since she met Megan she now recommends co-ed living arrangements!

Anyway, I’ve been in Baltimore visiting Jane and tonight we are off to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a few margaritas. I’m looking forward to returning to Boston – all bars are now smoke free!!

Also, there’s a few questions people have been emailing me about and here are some answers:

Question: What was the glowing stuff in the ocean in Turkey?
Answer: Bio-luminescent zooplankton, otherwise known as

Question: Did you ever sell the car that you bought in New Zealand?
Answer: We bought our bronze colored Ford Laser for $500 US and sold it at auction one month later for $400 US.

Question: Now what?
Answer: I plan to spend the summer traveling in Canada, and then travel for another year around the world AGAIN... itinerary to be determined. It’s possible I might continue with grad school when I return, but maybe not. I’ll decide when I get back.

So, the last few days (as yet unreported) of my stay in Brazil were petty fun – I spent them in Rio. I got to see 8 helicopter rescues at the Copacabana beach. The waves were out of control! And although it was plainly dangerous to cool yourself off in the water, some just couldn’t resist. It was fascinating to watch so many rescues! Although, it did take away the spotlight from the South American X Games that were also going on that day...

This is my last newsletter for the next 2 months or so, but stay tuned.. there will be more to come!!!

Thanks for reading and staying in touch while I was away. For those of you who live in the Boston area, give me a call!

Until next time, Alison

More beaches and Formula One in Sao Paulo!

Saturday, April 12, 2003
So, I did make it down to Sao Paulo for a long weekend, and I mean long! I stayed with my friend Lisa, a hasher, who I met in Ilha Grande. Went salsa dancing at the place they go every week, got a tour around the center of the city from Charlie, and went for a run in one of Sao Paulo’s 6 parks. Six parks is not so many when you think that around 20 million people live there. Some people claim that it is the world’s biggest city, others say it’s Tokyo or Mexico City. I say, at that size, does it really matter? The view of the skyline from afar is just unimaginable. I have never seen a city look like this – it is just never ending! And you should see their driving! I can’t believe enough people have survived those streets to actually contribute to population growth.

On Saturday night Lisa had a party... suggested by her friend that never showed up! It was really fun and went on until the wee hours of the morning. Well, the wee hours of the morning were also when we had to get up and go to Formula One. I had decided it was too difficult to find tickets ahead of time and that I would just buy them at the gate... but due to the absolutely MISERABLE weather, Lisa decided she didn’t want to go. I got to take her VIP ticket! Complete with open bar, free food, and the much coveted roof protecting us from the gales of rain that the rest of the crowds had to endure. The race ended in a big three car pileup, and the Brazilian driver had engine problems. There was QUITE the uproar over that. Also, Brazilians love the wave. We must have done that for an hour straight. You got booed if your section didn't live up to the high standards.

If that weren’t enough, when I got back from the race, we went out for dinner and out to another club. I was exhausted, and everyone else had kept this pace up AND gone to work all the while. Thanks to Lisa, Charlie, Valmir and all those Brazil Nuts for taking me in. I had a great time!

Parati was my next stop and, like most Brazilian beaches, it was spectacular. Every beach here is amazing... not too shabby since they have a whole continent’s worth of beaches. I stayed there for a few days checking out the cobblestoned roads of the old town and wandering around. Went to the beach a little as well, but the weather here is uncharacterisically wet and rainy. I’m hoping the sun will shine tomorrow.

I’ve been really lucky on this trip and got by with very few problems. Yesterday my luck ran out a bit though. I went to a club last night in Rio with some people I met in the Pantanal... and had my wallet stolen. It happened somewhere between the coat check and getting into the cab. Someone must have seen me pull out the wallet, and saw where I put it away and took advantage of the crowded room. I must have intuition or something though, because right before I left my hotel room I took out my credit card and left it in the room. I never do that, but I did it last night. So, although I did have $100 in my wallet (just went to the ATM) it could have been worse. They did make off with my favorite wallet though – a souvenir from Thailand. It was a great club though! Anyway, til next time...


Still in Brasil!

Sunday, March 30, 2003
Hello Gringos! Well, I promised to tell you about Candomble, the religious ceremony I went to in Salvador. Here it is: In a way, it was like most religious ceremonies... kids whispering behind the backs of their parents, teenagers giggling, and then there's always the really really serious people too. Otherwise, it was entirely different than any religion I have ever witnessed. The alter was not front and center.... the congregation was. There is no "priest like" person. Each of the parishioners take over the ceremony with their chanting and dancing... all the while trying to work themselves into a trance! No joke! It really has more similarities to a very verbal aerobic workout rather than a Catholic mass. While I was in Salvador, I met this German who had just come back from the Pantanal. I had decided NOT to go there after my experience in the Amazon... but after an hour discussion about her trip there... I was sold. I had to go. The only problem was, it was really, really, really far away. A little over 50 hours by bus, with the capital city of Brasilia at the halfway mark. So, I bought a ticket to Brasilia and left the next evening. I spent a day in Brasilia, as kind of a layover. Did you know that the city was designed to be shaped like an airplane? I thought my guidebook was just sarcastically comparing the shape to a plane.... but no! My hotel was actually located in the fuselage section of the city/plane. Interesante, no? I took a tour of the city sites, learned a bit of history of Brazil, and discovered the Brasilia has no normal roads. Every road I saw in the city had five or six lanes and each seems to lead to a mall... where I promptly went to the movies. Thanks, Hollywood.

Anyway, I hopped on another bus heading to Campo Grande, gateway to the Pantanal and home of the cheap tour. I arrived at noon the next day and booked a tour leaving an hour later for the Pantanal! Nice! Did you know you can swim with piranas? As long as it is breeding season, the fish supply is plentiful and you don't have any bleeding cuts, that is. Fortunately, all the criteria was met and I went swimming! It was a little weird seeing a few of us swimming while the rest were catching piranas. I went horsebacking riding through swamps, saw loads of birds, and some wildlife too. There were more mosquitos there than I thought existed in the entire world! It was unbelievable. In the evening you literally had to RUN from your cabin to the dining hall. A great experience, and, believe it or not, worth the 50 hour bus ride.

I had a few more days before I was due in Ilha Grande for the Island Weekend with the hashers, so I took ANOTHER overnight bus ride to the Iguazu Falls in Argentina. I have been hearing about this place ever since I arrived in South America, so I really wanted to go. It was so good it actually lived up to 3 months of hype! Picture the Niagara Falls, but much wider, and with pathways at every possible varying height and location around the falls. One platform even took you out practically over the falls. Barrel anyone? Then I got to take this boat that sped under the falls again and again and again. It was amazing! They managed to turn a UNESCO World Heritage Site into a water park. I think the job of that boat driver was to get us as wet as possible. That evening I played my first ever 16 person card game using 3 decks of cards. And, fun fact, I spent less time in Argentina than in any other country on my trip: 6 hours. How's that for a record?

I just spent this weekend meeting up with the Rio Hashers in Ilha Grande. I had such a great time, and got invited to Sao Paulo by some of the people I met this weekend... and I'm going to try to make it to the Sao Paulo Formula One race! We will see, I don't actually have the tickets yet. Okay, I'm off to book a tour around the island tomorrow to go beach hopping! Hope everyone is doing fine...... and Happy 29th Marcia!!

Love, Alison

Brasil... home of the neverending Carnival!

Monday, March 17, 2003
Oi, amigos! I just got my photos from Carnival developed.... and a few from Ecuador. Most of the Carnival ones came out crappy, way too dark... what did I expect, it was the middle of the night! There's a couple of good ones though of people - Carla, Mark, Hugh and a GREAT one of everyone on the metro, in costume, completely soaking wet from the deluge of rain we endured! It's hilarious!

The last thing I did in Rio was mail four extra large Carnival costumes to my parents house (um, Mom and Dad, you should be expecting four large computer boxes filled with pink feathers any day now!! Forgot to mention that, sorry!). It better be worth it Hugh and Carla... it was the biggest project ever. Imagine trying to fit 3 large computer boxes with feathers sticking out the holes, 2 people, and 2 extra large backpacks all in one taxi. The first taxi wasn't big enough for everything, so we hailed a SECOND taxi as a replacement. At this point, the whole neighborhood was involved.... or at least laughing and pointing at us!! After an hour and half in the line, and a trip to the papeleria for some brown paper to cover the boxes, the costumes were safely on their way.

I had said in my last email that I was heading to the north of Brazil.... and here I am! I showed up unannounced at the airport (after the post office episode) hoping for a flight to Recife... which amazingly enough I managed to get almost immediately! Things were looking good til the sickness set in. I don't know whether it was food poisoning, bad water or WHAT, but mid-landing I had to duck into the bathroom practically knocking people over along the way. I felt like I would die right there on the plane.... but fortunately the airplane cleaning people told me to get out and die elsewhere. Which I did. I must have really looked bad, because these two really nice airport cops came and rescued me from the sidewalk. They started grilling me with questions, because as they told me later, they thought I had gotten beat up! A few days earlier I had tried to learn how to surf. I failed miserably and in the process managed to get a baseball sized bruise on my arm. Once I assured the police I had NOT been beat up, they brought me to the First Aid clinic for the duration of my 3 hour layover, and despite the doctor's disapproval, he let me sleep in the cot until my flight. At one point I woke up and the doctor wanted to inject me with something, god knows what.... and all I could say is, "Don't even come near me with that!". I managed to convince Doc that I was fine and just needed to sleep.

I managed to make it through my next flight unscathed and immediately went to bed upon arrival into Olinda. The whole next day it hurt my stomach even when I just walked around. Fortunately, my hostel had a bath tub sized pool for me to lounge next to and I promptly planted myself there for 24 hours. I finished both my books, and then I felt much better! Then, FINALLY, I got to see Olinda. Just in time too.... because even though it was then one week after Carnival, the streets were hopping! It appeared that no one had informed them that Carnival was over. There were street parades, costumes, girl drum bands, and people everywhere! Apparently, I found out the next day, it was the 700th (maybe 600th, who is counting really) anniversary of the city. Olinda is one of Brazil's oldest cities and it's beautiful. I had heard that Olinda and Recife (sister cities across the river from one another) are the best place to celebrate Carnival. I wasn't even there until the aftermath of the festivities and I would have to agree. It was exactly how you picture Carnival to be, and more. The festive ambience just seeps from the balconies and paper mache decorations hanging off of them. Each street in the Old Town are lit up like the stage of a theater. I walked around for hours and hours while I was there.... for those of you who have been to Rio for Carnival I would even suggest coming back to Olinda for their version of Carnival.

After Olinda and Recife I went even further north to Natal... home of a just a few of the 8000 kilometers of beachfront in Brazil. Incredible! I spent a little time there and left yesterday morning thinking I was heading to Aracuja. My mistake! I must have read the bus schedule wrong, but there was a 9 hour wait at the bus station for the rest of the journey there. I just couldn't bear to wait it out that long in the scorching heat. I decided I just really didn't want to go that bad.... so instead I took the overnight bus to Salvador do Bahia. If you have been to Rio and thought the women wore teensy weensy clothes and bathing suits, not when compared to Salvador! I tried on a GRANDE shirt today in one of the shops and I could hardly even squirm into it. The lovely sales lady seemed to think it looked great though.

Salvador is really interesting, it was founded by Amerigo Vespucci. It became an important city for Brazil mainly because of sugarcane and slaves. Salvador claims to retain their black culture more than anywhere else in the New World. And, I have only been here 12 hours, but I believe it! They have this Catholic/African religious ceremony called Candomble that involves animal sacrifice... and I found one to go to tonight. Guests are not allowed to wear black, got that? I'll let you know how it goes. Okay, off to get the rest of my film back from processing!!

Ciao for now! Alison

Oi from Rio!

Sunday, March 9, 2003
Well, Carnival came and went, and so did all those nights that I never slept! What a great festival. I joined in the parade with my very own costume.... and again when my samba school, Mangueira, came in second place and was included in the Carnival champions parade last night. I can not even begin to explain what it was like to parade in Carnival, the world´s biggest party... the Cariocas (as people from Rio are called) go absolutely crazy! They support their samba school with the same passion that they support their soccer team - which I also witnessed from the stands yesterday. I had heard that I should expect people to be throwing dead chickens at the opposition, but I never saw one.

It was also great to see some old friends who came out to to Rio for Carnival.... Jane, Lara, Hugh, Mark, Todd.... as well as meetingall those other new friends who we shared the apartments with and met at the hash. Thanks to Sarah and Caroline for organizing the desfilaring for us, it was an honor! I will see all you hashers again in Ilha Grande, thanks for the invite!

Had some great long nights checking out music and street parades, taking the cable cars up to Sugarloaf, and seeing Christ. Really, I saw Christ! If you have ever seen the skyline of Rio, you will notice that there is this GIANT sculpture of Christ who guards the city with open arms.

Now that practically everyone from the carnival crew of people has left for greener pastures, I´ll be heading up north to spend few more weeks traveling around Brazil before I head home. I decided the other day to cancel grad school for yet another year (who knows if I´ll ever go) and stay in Brazil a little longer before I head home! Great to hear from everyone and keep in touch!

Love, Alison

Ecuadorian Jungles, Piranas, and Cloud Forests

Wednesday, February 26, 2003
A Scot, an Englishman, an Australian, an American, and a Kenyan go into the jungle.... no this is not the beginning of a joke, it was the beginning of a really bad day. They lost us in the Amazon jungle! Leave it to me to find the only guide on the southern continent who can´t really guide you back to the beginning of a hike. It started out innocent enough, discovering the medicinal plants, finding really big insects, birds and pink dolphins, and lots of mud and swamps etc. The problem was that it started as a 3 hour tour (much like Gilligan´s crew) and turned into an entire day´s affair... which would have been no problem, except that we were miserable and angry without food and water in the 100% humidity. May I never see another Wellington boot in my whole life! This all happened on the first day of the tour and for some reason we all decided to stick it out for the next few days and managed to really enjoy ourselves...but next time one of you takes a jungle tour in Ecuador... consult me first, I have a few pointers!!

I know it´s been weeks since my last update, but now I´m back online and on the fastest connection in probably the whole continent. I knew there HAD to be a good reason for coming to Quito... other than to take my flight to Carnival! Ecuador has been great. I´ve been here now for about 6 weeks, and despite how small the country appears to be, there´s so much to do and I will, of course, have to leave the country with a list of things I´d like to come back for. That´s okay, I also did a lot of things I DIDN´T plan to do.... one being get lost in the jungle! Oh well, I finally got my chance to go to the Amazon... I have hooked (no pun intended) on the Amazon ever since my 4th grade teacher kept her stuffed piranhas in the back of the classroom.

I have visited so many great places here, and really gotten to do a lot in Ecuador...

  1. I road on the top of a train... while experiencing more switchbacks than I ever thought possible!
  2. Wore traditional OtavaleƱo clothing while getting a guided tour by my 8 year old friend Alex. She still thinks I have a funny accent.
  3. Hiked and biked for miles and miles in Banos and in Chugchilan to take in the beautiful scenery. Volcanoes are the best for creating incredible landscapes.... confirmed in Greece, New Zealand, and now in Ecuador! Who knew they could farm on places steeper than black diamond ski slopes.
  4. Spent 2 days learning about hummingbirds and other bird species from the Audobon Society of Oregon... they happened to be the only 2 other tourists in the town. Thanks for the info... and the binoculars, they made the Cloud Forest that much more interesting! Some fireflies and just a few of the more than 2000 hummingbirds lived right on my balcony.
The thing about Ecuador, is your can´t ever be in a rush. If you are, any number of things are sure to happen to you. They could shut down the road until lunchtime while they widen the road... therefore making you wait one and a half hours. Or, it could be that the engine dies on your dugout canoe while trying to leave the jungle and so you wait in the blazing sun til the "mechanic" fixes it. Sometimes, it´s that the little old lady who just spent the day farming needs to bring her ENTIRE crop on the bus with her and the ticket taker has to go down the road to help her out. One time the guy sitting next to me had carry on luggage (if you can call it that) that resembled the guts of some poor, smelly animal. If it´s market day and you are lucky... all the chickens go on the roof! It was NOT funny when the little boys starting throwing all the eggs hatched on the 2 hour journey off the top of the bus.

The other thing about Ecuador is you can´t judge distance by a map. You judge by the cost. It might be only 30 kilometers, but it could take three hours due to the volcanic hills and switchbacks between you and your destination. Generally, bus travel cost $1 per hour, and that´s how you figure out when you might get there. Most of the time though, the ride is entertaining enough that you never really mind as long as you get there in daylight. The journey is half the fun!

I mean, how can you not find it funny that EVERY DAY they widen that same road and EVERY DAY the traffic has to wait. The road work schedule was so predictable that women had set up food stalls alongside the road... but we still left at the crack of dawn!!!

Anyway, Ecuador has been wonderful! I´ve got to practice my Spanish and meet lots of great, hosptiable people. It´s been so fun, that I think I´m extending my trip in Brazil! I was supposed to come home in mid March, but I think I´ll be in Brazil until the end of April. Now I just need to decide whether or not to postpone grad school (I recently got accepted to the full time MBA program) and travel for another year! It´s sounding like a really good option...

Thanks everyone for always emailing me about stuff... I love hearing about news from home... keep me posted about all the new dramas unfolding!!

Love, Alison

Sharks, Machetes and Ingrid's family

Saturday, February 8, 2003
Well, my journey to Isla Isabella worked out great! They were the nicest people and I slept like a rock despite the fact that the ocean was kind of rough. Apparently there was an offshore earthquake near Mexico and the Galapagos has been feeling the effects. The waves turned out to be quite helpful for the Second Annual Surfing Competition though! A guy I met in the center of town informed me it was THE place to be last Saturday afternoon. Isabella is a phenomenal place. In the whole 9 days I spent there, I was one of 8 tourists on the whole island. I'm amazed more people don't spend time there while visiting the Galapagos, but it was fine with me, I had my own beach! Some of the more memorable things about the island were...

  1. Swimming with over 30 white tipped shark in a lava tunnel... I was terrified, but managed not to hyperventilate through my snorkel! I know they are supposed to not be harmful to humans, but still, the word shark IS involved.
  2. Riding a horse up to an active volcano. It last erupted in 1999 and you can stick your head into the fumurole and smell the sulfur still coming out!
  3. Swimming with the penguins and sea lions every day on the beach in front of my little cabana.
  4. Meeting an indigenous family (4 of the 8 tourists on the island) from Otavaleno, Ecuador. The woman always wears the indigenous clothing. Luis and Carmen are about my age and they have 2 little daughters. The 8 year old is now my penpal, she likes to laugh at my mistakes when I speak Spanish. They invited me to come for a visit next week, and I will surely go!
  5. Learning how to use a machete! I suppose learning to wield a machete on a deserted desert island with no medical facilities isn't the best idea... but I couldn´t resist! A palm full of coconuts fell off the tree in front of my window and I just had to open one. Then it was so fun I opened a whole bunch of them and put some rum into the coconuts. That's called a coco loco.
One night while walking down the beach with Julie we encountered the other 2 tourists that we hadn't met yet. We were under the impression that there weren´t really any bars on the island, which was fine..... but they told us the REAL story. Or rather, showed us. There is a bar, it´s called Berto's Bar and it's right on the beach, complete with 2 hammocks. Berto lives upstairs and he usually LOOKS like he's closed but really, there's just no customers so he goes upstairs where he lives. If you want a drink or a meal you just turn on the light of the bar (there are no walls, only a roof) and yell, Berto! and he comes down. Voila, the bar is open. He usually has one of whatever you are having and will probably play a song by a band from your country. He played a song by the group Boston for me. Berto also has a dog named I-Said-A-Hey. It is the first line from that cheesy, awful song by the Ketchup Girls... you know, that song you can't see to get away from no matter WHERE in the world you live.

After over 2 weeks in the Galapagos, it was time to go.... and so I took my friend Ingrid up on her offer to stay with her family in Guayaquil. Her mom picked me up at the airport and I got to see all the family photographs until her brother and his girlfriend came by to pick us up to go out for dinner at his new restaurant... his website is! Six months ago he opened a seafood restaurant and bar.... and it was the best seafood I have ever had!! Her family was so nice and welcoming it was a shame I could only spend a day with them. Thanks for the invitation Ingrid!

Tomorrow I'm taking a scenic train to Banos to czech out the thermal baths (carla - that word is for you!). Apparently they let you sit on TOP of the train. I can't wait! Only one more month and my trip is coming to an end.... Boston here I come!

Las Islas Galapagos!

Monday, January 27, 2003
Hola mis amigos!! I finished my Galapagos cruise today. Wow, it was incredible! I knew there were animals here, but I had no idea that they are so friendly that the sea lions actually come up to you and try to smell you and your clothes. The animals have no fear here of people, since they don´t have predators. I swam with penguins and the sea lions too. The Galapagos National Park doesn´t allow you to tour the islands alone, so aboard our little boat we had our guide. We visited a whole bunch of islands and it was incredible! My new camera is absolutely great. I wasn't planning on taking so many pictures, but it is hard NOT to take a photo when you are sitting right next to the largest iguana you have ever seen.... and then he starts doing his predatory dance with the neighbor. Unbelievable! Darwin had the right idea when he came here for 6 weeks! Carla and I spotted some weird looking birds with funny beaks when we got here... we thought they were deformed, but no! They have adapted and because of their funny looking beaks they can get little bugs from inches under ground.

The other passengers were just as interesting - almost all the other passengers have already taken or were currently on a tour around the world. In comparison, my trip is short! How about 3 years?!? One guy isn´t returning back to Austria until his money runs out. I got lots of great advice on every place I might ever want to visit (including New Guinea) and next time I leave the country, I´ll be emailing Sharon and Bruce for tips about whatever country I go to since they seem to have been absolutely everywhere!

Right now I´m spending the day and early evening on San Cristobel... before I head off as a stow away! That´s right, you read correctly. I was practicing my Spanish with the crew of the boat I was on and when I asked them how I could get back to Santa Cruz (the island the boat originally left from) they said the ferry didn´t leave for a few days, then I found out the cargo ship isn´t full yet... and it only leaves when it´s full, and who knows when that might be. Just when I thought I might have to take a penga (scrawny little dinghy) for 6 hours or more to get back, the crew mentioned that there is another tourist cruise boat going there and maybe the captain will let me on! So, they took me there and it was sorted immediately. There weren´t any other tourists on the boat, and just when I was about to ask when the other passengers were going to return, they served lunch. I had lunch with the captain and found out the there ARE no other tourist passengers! The boat is on a little holiday from tourists this week, and it´s only the crew and a few of their friends and some of their family. Nothing like having your own free cabin on a boat in the Galapagos! What luck! I´ll let you know how the evening goes...

Are we in Cuenca?

Monday, January 20, 2003
Less than a week in Equador, and already so much to tell! We left from Los Angeles and a mere four flights later arrived in Cuenca, Equador. In the US the airports are complete chaos with the new regulations and government officials everywhere... once they take your bags you are not allowed to touch them again EVER. They even escort you to the check in line where there is an official bag monitor person who chastises you if you try to put your pocket knife in your luggage... because obviously knives are not check in material.

Thanks to Jeremy for our too short stay in Los Angeles. In the short time we were there we visited our friend... who we met at the bus stop in Santorini! He became my photography teacher, we met his roommates who made us special cookies, and had dinner with his mate at the local Lebanese greasy spoon. And lastly, Jeremy is the only person to have witnessed me actually embarrass Carla. In the fourteen odd years I have known her I have never been able to embarass her... well, it was worth the wait, at my expense no less, and Jeremy I am glad you were there to witness it!

Our fourth flight i 24 hours brought us to Cuence, Equador.... our first destination in South America. Unlike the United States, the rules are pretty lax arouns here about checking for identification and making sure you are a confirmed passenger. Case and point - we actually went to the wrong place!!! Carla and I boarded a flight we THOUGHT went from Quito to Cuenca. But actually.... we didn´t! We were waiting at the baggage claim and our luggage never arrived... because we were in Guayaquil!! For some reason I had an intution it just wasn´t Cuenca, so I asked the guard, Are we in Cuenca? He said no!!! We thought this was so funny that we weren´t even upset that it happened. Fortunately, there was another flight in 10 minutes. The stewardess gave us IN TRANSIT passes because she thought we were on a stopover... I didn´t have the heart to explain that we got on the wrong plane.

So, it´s a worldwide agreed upon thing - see paragraph one - that swiss army knives can not be taken on board a plane, right? Well, i forgot again. Instead of just confiscating it from me, they actually let me go back to the check in counter and check it as a second piece of luggage! They gave me a baggage claim tag and everything. I was dying to see it come around the bend on the luggage claim, but instead, the airline official wandering around the airport had it in his pocket. I can´t believe I even got it back!

Anyway, we went to Cuenca because Carla´s cousin married a woman whose mother is from Ecuador, and we ot an invitation to stay with the mother´s sister. I think they were the nicest people I have ever met! I know I always say that, but it´s always true. We spent 3 days with them and I now feel like I have an Equadorian family. We talked and talked and talked, and ate and ate and ate. Their cook made us every possible known dish known to Ecuador - humidas, motepapa, bola de verde, rompope y chisiopa to name a few. Yum! And after six years of studying spanish and half a year in Spain I finally got the chance to use my Spanish. I spoke almost only Spanish for 3 days. It was really helpful to be able to talk to everyone so much, we couldn´t have gotten to know them so much with it! I hope to see you all again someday soon.

A funny thing about Ecuador.... they used to have a currency called the sucre, but due to devaluation they ditched it about two years ago and now the official currency is the US dollar! Remember Sacajawea?? The one dollar coin that never caught on? Well, it caught on here in Equador! I received more Sacajawea coins today than I have since their inception! I´m glad they are getting put to good use somewhere.

Tomorrow I´m off to the Galapagos Islands to follow in Charles Drawin´s footsteps. Another boat cruise!!! Hope all is well with everyone, hasta luego!

Love, Alison

PS. Jeremy, I looked for James´ landlord on the flight to Equador, but could not find him - despite my shouts down the aisles.

PPS. There are crickets everywhere here in Guayaquil! There are tons of them under this computer desk. Some are chirping, others look dead. One even landed on me!

PPPS. Thanks Ingrid, for your Mom´s phone number here, I will call her soon!

West Coast Road Trip!

Sunday, January 12, 2003
Christmas and New Year's has come and gone and so has most of my stay on the West Coast. I spent New Year's in Vancouver and then met up with some friends that I met in Turkey! It was great to reunite - thanks for having us all up to Vancouver Island! Mr. and Mrs. Nicklin, thanks for the moose meat! Marnie, thanks for letting all five of us pile into your living room in the middle of the night! I miss you guys already....

I learned to snowboard for the first time at Mt. Washington where there was 12 feet of snow. The hydro electric power went out for the morning, but eventually came back on and the lifts were running once again. When our short Canadian stay came to an end, Carla, John, Caroline and I took a ferry over to Washington State. It was the ferry's farewell voyage... we felt lucky to arrive in one piece considering all the noise this boat was making. A little boy kept trying to give away all the food leftover in the snack bar; anything for a little entertainment, right?

On the drive back down the coast I stopped in at Seattle, Portland, toured Mt. St. Helens and hiked through trails in the Redwood Forest. Those are some BIG trees. Tonight I'm off to see Hedwig and the Angry Inch before I take off for Ecuador - first stop Macchu Picchu. Thanks for all the notes and emails everyone... see you soon back at home!!

Love, Alison