Friday, March 30, 2012

when i grow up, i want to be an old man

some of you may have heard me say this, but when i grow up and older, Ithink I want to be an old man. I was reminded today when I was at the hot spring baths here in the aptly named Banos in Ecuador. Half immersed in a concoction of naturally occurring mineral hot waters, trying to stall an oncoming cold, i look around, and see groups of men from their 60s to 80s, stand around, chatting, lightly arguing and sharing news of the happenings around town. they are laughing, kidding around a bit, making jokes about each other and the fact that this pool seems to be the old man pool (i contest this, and they just say little girl, we're in here sharing it with you so we can get a little younger), i guess lightly flirting in a way that is sort of just endearing (does this sound odd?!) and having a good time.

I've seen this a lot here - they seem to mostly congregate around coffee shops and bars, sipping their caffecitos, donned in those caps just talking about everything and anything. I am reminded fondly to my german grandfather, he loved taking every opportunity to have coffee and cake sittings at the local shopping centres, galleries and parks and he also used to kid around a bit, saying silly words and just being loveable .
in my mind, groups of older women seem to be more inside, and seem to talk and complain more about their ailments and how dangerous everything is. (well here anyway) I remember observing a cafe in Buenos Aires an at the time the person I was discussing this with pointed out something interesting:

men have traditionally spent most of their working life outside the home and usually with other men. whereas women have been in the home more taking care of the household and children. so it makes sense that in
retirement the men continue to socialise with other men outside the home, and thus I seem to see them out in their new workplaces, the cafes, hot springs, park benches and other more social areas. but to me it's also in the way they talk. it's the lighter conversation, the animation, the jokes. I really like this.

and that's why when I grow up, i want to be an old man.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No bote basura

Ecuador is the first country in south america that i've travelled in that seems to habe a conscience about rubbish.

You see signs in buses saying it's prohibited to throw rubbish out the window, and on the carts of my favourite salchipapa streetvendors, not to throw into the steeet.

It's definitely cleaner here, well in yhe cities at least.

ps. what you think? my first post from my iphone... i'm thinking of ditching my computer for Nepal, so this may be my new blogging tool

Monday, March 26, 2012

tick for sunday: highest mountain on earth

This is Chimborazo:)
Mount Chimborazo - 6310m high, is, because of it's location to the ecuator.. the highest mountain in the world! Well I guess you'd be the furtherest point from the centre of the earth when you are on top of that sucker.

before you wonder, no I didn't climb it, but I did have a wander up the beginning slopes. It amazes me, that I wake up in a biggish town, and 1 hour later we are slipping our way up a fresh snow laid road up to the base camp. the vista has opened up, there's vicuna's daintily on alert to the car noise, and sitting majestically in front, is Chimborazo.

to summit, it's about a 9 hour climb, and I got a free lift there as a couchsurfer I had contacted runs an agency and was picking up some other mountaineers. we met them on their way down - they didn't quite summit due to a storm, but were pretty elated at having got so close.

we started up the snowy path, and although Sabrina (a Danish girl I had met last night) started feeling really sick, after taking her back down I got up to the other refugio and caught up with Marcos, a German guy who we had given a lift to on the way up.

quick sidetrack - what was also crazy was the cyclists!! that were riding up the snowy road too! Later I was to see why...

Marcos and I ate lunch, chatted with the Refugio guard, did some pics and then, I walked a bit further up, had a play around in the snow, and then because it started snowing, decided to start my way back down. then... woah!!

I encountered about 40 people from various tour groups - totally inequipped with tiny water bottles, converse shoes, huffing their way up on the promise of a hot chocolate at the next refugio. You can drive up to 4800m to the first refugio, and then 200m more up to 5000m at the Whymper Refugio which is where they were heading. the path had gone from compact snow to gravel and slush, and the clouds and fog had rolled in. I was sad they had missed the glorious blue sunny hot morning but wished them luck.
I guess the proximity and ease of access makes for a popular day trip from Riobamba, and it continually amazes me that people here are just up for anything and don't fuss about all the 'gear' that we love to fuss about, and usually, make it up steadily.

It was a quick walk back down tot eh other refugio, and then I started the 8km walk back to the main highway. I was enjoying it, but the snow got heavier, and so was kindly picked up by a Hondurus family that lives in Riobamba. We had a really nice time chatting on the way down, and then they invited me to a tasty, but cardiac arrest lunch back in town. They are really enjoying living here - they feel so safe, can walk around the streets at night, and the kids aren't at risk of getting roped into gang/guerrilla warfare. i'm not sure how much I like it here, but i guess in comparison, when family safety is at risk, it's a good move.

A mini heart attach lunch...
This is: fried potato, fried egg, fried chorizo sausage, sauce, with avocado and beetrot to balance it out...

it's now 5pm, i've watched 2 episodes of meerkat manor on the cable tv in my hotel ($6 for private room with cable:) but shared bathroom and Marcos thinks he got bed bugs from the opposite room), taken a turn around the very very quiet town (it's a sunday) and there's some thunder cracking above the loudspeaker and horns blaring.

pretty good for 1 day I think! especially that I got to do something pretty special like play around at the feet of the highest mountain on earth:)

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spoilt in Cuenca and Cajas

Spoilt in the sense of a beautiful, genteel city, with yummy ice cream and chocolate shops, nice restaurants and bars. Spoilt with the natural beauty of the Cajas National Park with it's myriad of lakes and muddy walking paths. But spoilt especially by two people there: David and Luis.

I met David last month in Arica; he was riding with his friends Wolf and Fabiola northwards back to their homes in Cuenca and Tulua in Colombia respectively. David moved to Cuenca about 6 years ago after living in Mexico for a while. He's really created his own slice of heaven I think here now! We had fantastic conversations - much about something called the Enneagram (which I'm going to write about soon), about life, about politics, about food, about everything. He also spoilt me in his beautiful home - with a feather duvet/doona:), the perfect dinner of cheese, crackers and wine topped with lively conversation with one of his friends, Sumana, a care package when I left, and just plain open armed welcome-ness into his home and life. When you travel so long, these takes of a home are a treat - and sometimes make you want to pack your bags and find a flight out of there!

Luis was the security guard at the refugio at Cajas National Park. They work 2 days on, 2 days off, and if there is no-one staying at the refugio, are the only ones there from about 5pm to 8am. After getting lost and trying to create my own path along a cliff face, I returned to the refugio just a tad wet and hungry - and was treated to a crackling fire and a smiling Luis to welcome me back. While my socks and shoes dried, Luis turned up with some crackers and cheese his sister had made, and then we proceeded to talk about everything and anything! His life (he's got around;), politics (again - this morning too - another chat about the current president, Correa who everyone respects and likes - he's got at least a 85% support rating), traveling, women - all of it! Then he prepared some tasty little potatoes called Melloros which are quite starchy, but very tasty to accompany the broccoli I had brought with me. After heading back to a cold refugio - this was about 3970m in altitude, he made me move up to next to his room, so I could get some onflow of heating, and then tucked me in! I was woken up with hot tea, and we sat and chatted in the morning sun until his replacement came and he left.

2 wonderful experiences in 2 beautiful places.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

first impressions of Ecuador

So these might be a little biased as I've only been to Vilcabamba (think where half the American hippies have relocated to) and Cuenca (a beautiful, colonial city also filled with many expats), but so far this is what's passed through my mind
  • it's super green here. instead of the extremes of Peru, i now am enjoying softer rolling, lush green valleys that seem to go on and on past gushing brown rivers (from the rain), pastoral lands and in and out of the low lying cloud
  • people look different - their faces are perhaps rounder, but more beautiful. the women also have very long flowing hair - and many that i've seen wear it loose instead of braided as I saw more in Peru
  • it is so westernised! very easy living as such. in Vilcabamba, you can even buy VEGAN food :)
  • it's super clean (well Cuenca is), because...
  • they collect garbage 3 times a week in Cuenca - rubbish AND recyclables
  • there are also signs NOT to throw rubbish - including from the bus where they have plastic bags to collect said rubbish!
  • yes. Rubbish is a big thing for me as you can tell.
  • there's a running path next to the river?! in Cuenca. what the?
  • and people are exercising!
  • there's ice cream shops all over town in Cuenca, including chocolate shops, restaurants of all kinds, heaps of biscuit shops and german bakeries. bad bad news for susan.
  • the central market in Cuenca has ESCALATORS! again, what the?

  • they use the US dollar.
  • it's about 30-50% more expensive than Peru
  • there are lot of foreign brands - especially in Chocolate:) LIke Ferrero!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

pre-inca ruins,, waterfalls and a jungle border crossing

how to start with the last week? there's been a couple more hikes, 2 night buses plus 3 days of day travel (so in total about 36 hours of bus travel), a fair few hours spent bumping my way along muddy roads in rickety cars, and days at a stretch without a shower, but at the same time I was rewarded with great conversations, visits to 3 pre-inca ruins, a variety of landscapes from tall mountains to the dry dusty desert to the muddy lusciously green jungle, the worlds third tallest waterfall, colonial tinged amazonas towns and finally, a border crossing to Ecuador.
A nice change of altitude - 600m now
The 'ranchero' bus truck to take me through the jungle. Sort of theme park no?
Bye bye Peru - their side of the crossing
I am now sitting out of the mud and with the bugs under a tin roof next to a gurgling river. I'll be here 3 hours waiting for a bus. Welcome to the border crossing, Las Balsas - Zumbo from Peru - Ecuador. I left the nearest town, San Ignacio around 6am, and 1.5 hours later I arrived to have a relaxing breakfast with the immigration officer in Las Balzas. It's now 9.30am, and I'm waiting for the 'Ranchero', a sort of truck with bench seats with a canopy where the flat back is, to take me 1.5 hours to the closest Ecuadorian town. From there it will be another 6 hours to Vilcabamba where I will meet our couchsurfing host from New Orleans who is traveling there too. Amazing how you can, for the most part, relax and let so many hours pass (and update one's blog!).

Dirt roads wind their way precariously alongside rivers
sometimes getting lost in the process
My moto-taxi getting a little stuck in the mud -by the way - the kid on the left is my 12y/o driver
The drive here reminded me how much I really respect (and I guess trust) the drivers here. The roads are muddy and slippery, and even with 6 passengers fogging up visibility they manage to navigate their way around landslides, rocks, a truck or so that's on its side after falling in a ditch, little 3 wheeler tuk tuks and narrow lanes with sheer drops to the side - all while whistling along to the inevitable LOUD strains of some local music. That is impressive actually - no matter how run down the car, it will always have a pretty new and awesome sound system.

I had to stop writing as a guy came over trying to reason with me that the police wanted me to buy him a coffee:) but then the Aduana (customs) guy also came over so his little attempt at a free coffee faltered. I really haven't experienced much bribery at all during my travels - literally it's been once on the Peruvian side of the Bolivia border crossing, and now this time here in Ecuador. And both attempts were not very hard played.

But back to the last week - the highlight were visits to 3 pre-inca ruins - the first still in the high mountains near Huaraz - the Chavin ruins, then in the dry sandy desert of Trujillo to see some ruins from the Moche culture, and then nearby here in the cloud forest jungle, the ruins from the Chachapoyas culture - Kuelap.

The site of Chavin de Huantar started being habitated from 3000BC but the construction dates back to 1200BC. It's one of the oldest sites I've visited, and although it's still being uncovered, there are some beautiful elements to it too. The highlights here were the many tunnels that ran underground the site.

The mark of the main deity in the Chavin culture

The artefacts from Huacas de la Luna y Sol (the temple of the moon and sun) of the Moche culture (100-700AD) were incredibly well preserved, and plentiful. Beautiful ceramics, wall paintings, and what was interesting that the Huaca de la Luna was actually a temple that was filled in and rebuilt 5 times. (once each century roughly)

VIew from Huaca de la Luna (religious) to Huaca del Sol (administrative) over the urban (living) area
Walking up alongside Huaca de la Luna to Cerro Blanco 
Beautiful painting/mouldings on the outisde of the 5th incarnation of the temple

The Kuelap ruins are quite different - think Machu Picchu on a less impressive scale, however somehow the siting of the ruins sitting abreast the ridge in the lush green valleys, and beautiful circular ruins of houses and the basic, more crude approach to building, oh and being one of 7 tourists visiting that day, made for a very impressive and tranquil experience. Construction started 6th century AD, and it was used mainly as a pilgrimage site as well as a city. It is much less refined that Machu Pichu - for instance, women and children carried the water from some 100m below at the river, and there is less fine detailing in for instance the roof / wall joints.

Chachapoyas was also a pretty town - a lot of wooden detailing and colonial finishes, and it was also just a nice place to relax. Sort of in the jungle, but high enough not to be too sweltering.

Finally, yesterday morning I left Peru for the last time this trip began said journey to the border. I am glad I got to see more of the North, and hopefully one day I can return to see more of the stunning mountains near Huaraz, but I'm sort of ready to move onto Ecuador - and as I have 1 month left of traveling here in South America - I better get on to it!

ps. I forgot the waterfall - here it is!