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 Otavaleño 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!