Friday, December 10, 2010

Ecuador Out!

C'est fini! Like it says in the song: All the money I had is gone...now we are serious. I have spent every thin dime I could lay my hands on...and then some...the decision to go to Galapagos has put me a few $$$ in the hole.

It was a great trip. Met lots of cool backpackers, made a bunch of new Facebook buddies, interacted with a fair share of locals, use many modes of transportation and sports (walk, run, hike, ferry, fly, bus, hitchhike, car, boat, snorkel, zipline, surf, bike, etc). Other than a small element in Quito (I was robbed by a trio in a restaurant. They got my daybag...no big deal, lost about $15 worth of stuff plus the bag, a gunneysack...still embarrassing to get that sloppy after all this time travelling), I found everyone very friendly and honest to a fault. The transportation system worked like a charm (as long as your safety standards weren't too high and you could handle a certain level of confusion). The hostels and hostals worked out very well, the food was cheap and the sites visited were amazing.

I can see why everyone loves to travel for months in South America. I could easily spend another month in Ecuador, visit all new places and have just as great a time. I didn't get to the Amazon side of the Andes...but I will.

A quick review of the trip: NYC to see Emily, friends and relatives. Washington for the Restore Rally (so cool). Quito, Ecuador, a trip to the coast to surf in Canoa, some hiking above 12,000 ft in the indigenous village of Quilitoa, canyoning/biking/hiking in the volcano erupting town of Banos, snorkeling with turtles off the cruise boat in the Galapagos and lots of town to town walking and hitchhiking. I definitely feel like I know the place.

I also seriously need to learn enough working Spanish. I can get about fine, but interactions with locals are seriously limited by my lack of the local language. Next stop in South America will be Chile or Venezuela.



Ecuador 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Galapagos

What can I say...you fly all the way to Ecuador, you sort of have to go to the Galapagos. I was quite lucky to land a cheap bed on a little ¿16 people? cruise boat. I had 3 points in my favor, could go in any available opening over a month, only wanted 4 days and was brought to the GAP office by Phil, who works in Toronto├žs main office as was down pumping up the sales staff.

So off I go. Each day was some combination of snorkeling, hiking and lectures, plus 3 big meals and snacks after every event. The guide ¿Hansel? and croo were fabulous, very friendly and full of good humor.

Will post some underwater pics once I get them from others. Walking on Floreana was like being in a really big zoo, where they let you behind the fences. Seemed so normal at the time, will take some time to sink in just what I was doing. Iguanas, sea lions, albatrosses, boobies, all manner of birds. Just an amazing time. The snorkeling was the big hit. At least once a day and for a few hours. Swim right up to big sea turtles and chill for a bit, while countless fish of all sizes go to school. All sorts of mantas, and a few reef sharks. The underwater scenery was literally fantastic. What an extremely cool way to spend time. On Santa Cruz ¿Darwin Station? for a few more days, then back to Quito to head more east.




Saturday, November 27, 2010

Banos, amazing Banos

Decided to cut the Quilitoa Loop short, as it left me time to visit Banos, the playground of Ecuador. What a gorgeous little town, even if as suffers life under an active volcano (Tungurahua). The town is full of ethnic restaurants (I ate Thai, Arabic and Italian while I was there), at minimum 100 hostals and enough action sport shops to fill a big city.

I opted for canyoning (a first), hiking and mountain biking. The company we used (GeoTours) was very professional and we easily got our $$$ worth. The guides were funny, a little crazy and extremely safety conscious. The canyoning involved some tight jumps into little pools (ie 20 ft), then bouldering across to a 40 ft zipline. We also did a number of rappells. It was a great day and we all enjoyed a big group meal after.


Day 2, the volcano was spitting ash like nothing else, so I hiked up the mountain across the way to get some clean air and a better view of the town and volcano. Of course, Banos means baths, so the evenings were spent in the town´s hot spa pools before heading off to some fancy dinner (ie¨$5 meal)




The next day, a few of us took mountains bikes and headed downhill from Banos (went 35 km, by peddaling about 10. Hitch-hiked on a truck to get back. We stopped in at the El Diablo waterfall. It was shocking. The force of the water was truly quite amazing (don´t know if video will show and cafe PC will not run Flash)

Yesterday was a quiet day with some shopping, a nice lunch with Artesia from Thailand and a little hike up the mountain to watch the volcano do it´s thing. Karin has some night pics of the lava flow, which I´ll post in a few day.

Realistically, Banos was like a vacation inside a vacation. Normal backpacking rules did not apply for a few day. Didn´t make any meals, spent money of guides and sports gear and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Stayed in a great hostal (Plantas y Blanco) and made lots of new Facebook buddies. So many people on these long trips. Met a few who have been out there as long as I was...yet they are not run down.

I just may have to attribute my exhaustion in the Spring to an aging body not keeping up with my desire to see new things and meet new people



Monday, November 22, 2010

Canoa, transportation, Quilitoa and Quechuas

CANOA
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After a few days in Quito, it was off on a mountain bus down to the coast. Some corners a little dicey, but not bad. I ended up in Canoa, north of Manta , where daughter Emily had been surfing earlier in the year. The waves were more my size here. Cool little village (6,000 people) with the hostel right on the beach. Swim surf, siesta, drink beer. Mucho fun. I got there by walking from Bahia, cause that{s where the best bus went. 16 kms along the road after a little ferry across the harbour. Hitch-hiked in Bahia in back of a truck. Buddy would not accept money. After this nice vacation, I walked back to Bahia and then bussed back into the mountains



TRANSPORTATION
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The transportation system here is amazing. As long as you can handle an average of 40 kms per hour, it costs $1 an hour to get anywhere. Been on 8-10 buses and have waited at most 20 minutes to get one. Walk out into the big loading area and yell at people where you want to go, and stuff happens. Some buses wont let you on without checking a bag and patting you down (seriously), others just jump on. Been hitch-hiking as well, pay some times, not others, always first vehicle with room (not a seat...room)

QUILITOA
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Arrived in Zumbahua at 830 PM in the dark (sun up at 6, down at 6). Was raining as we climbed from sea-level to over 12,000 ft (probably good to be dark). This is a little Quechua town of 6,000. Had mucho fun trying to get a room and supper (no supper). Did get a beer. Big Saturday morning market the next day. Couple of backpackers and everyone else indigenous. I caused a bit of a stir at one local restaurant. A few people just flat out stared at me. Everyone quite shy, but friendly if you had enough interaction with them. Walked to Quilitoa (the big crater lake volcano). Just made me so happy to see that sight. I had seen it in a photo-op on Ecuador. The village (200-300 people?) I arrived at in a hailstorm. Lodging was a local Quechua family hostal, meals in the big family room, with actual heat (small wood stove). No hot anything else for me for 3 days. Did a big 1/2 day hike around the crater, gasping for air at this elevation, walk for 20 breathes, wait for at least 20 more

QUECHUAS
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The local indigenous group is the Quechuas (your basic South American Indian with the hats) The population in these towns is 98%, even the little 4 year olds have the hats and they all dress the same. Very shy. I got to stay with a family in the village. Lack of local language of even Spanish was again, a real pain. First night we also had a girl with Spanish /English, so things went fine


Friday, November 12, 2010

NY...Sanity...Quito, Ecuador

Been on the road a few weeks, time for an update. I was in New York for a bit, to see the relatives and daughter Emily, who will be there for the next few months. Got to see Reva and Barbara (sushi) and brother-in-law Alex for his birthday (sushi). No opera this time, but lots of pizza and falafels. Emily and I spent the day at the NYC Marathon. What a hoot.

Made it down to Washington for the Restore Sanity rally. Made me very happy. Lots of funky signs, 200,000+ people, all in a good mood. One of the best days of the year. Even found a cheap, direct bus back to NYC for $15 (MegaBus). Made a few museums and memorials (Holocaust, Amer. Indian, Korean and Vietnam memorial)

Next stop was Quito, a place I have dreamed of since I was a teenager. I had this big, old tube radio, with an antennae wire strung around a few neighbours backyards..and I could pickup up Quito on the shortwave. It was my farthest place to acquire. So cool to be here.

Quito is in the Andes, so you land at almost 10,000 feet. It is noticeable, but not too draining. Takes a few days to adjust. Did a little run today and had to stop every few minutes. It is a big, messy, dirty city, but not too noisy. Few people honk horns or scream and yell at other drivers. Most people you meet are quite friendly and honest. If you give the banos attendants .25 to use the loo, they will always hand you back the change as you exit. The bus system is cheap and extensive with a number of lines that have their own lanes. The city runs in a valley North and South, so you can get from one place to another quite quickly. The buses are crowded and someone from my hostel almost lost a camera on the bus (the person was caught, quite an uproar from the other passengers). As well, someone was mugged just outside the hostel. While these events are not that common, it helped me change my setup to handle a basic mugging ($10 or so plus change in my front pocket... everything else locked in various pockets)

The food situation here is ... abundant. Food, of all sorts...everywhere. I do groceries for breakfast, street for mid-day and cheap restaurant for supper. I've kept my suppers at $2-3, so am not making my own. Have eaten in a few hole-in-the-wall places. Roast pork yesterday was delicioso.

People selling everything in the streets, incense burns in many places, hustlers are the politest I've ever dealt with. Only 1 or 2 persistent ones so far. So refreshing.

Been all over the city, great parks, funky old town, caught a few museums and the Botanical Gardens. Time to head out. Off to the coast to a little surfing town (Canoa) then back inland for a volcano hike that runs a loop around 5-6 towns and is about 150 kms. Will do some walking and hitch-hiking if at all possible.

Note the sign below, a warning about robbery on a hike up to the Panecella statue. I got about 1/2 way up and realized i had a camera, passport, bank card $300 and a Visa with me...will return later in the trip and just go with mugger $$$. A taxi up the hill costs $2-3...but I hate taking taxis, especially up hills.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Winter approaches...what should I do?

I had a great summer, a mix of sports, working on my house 10-12 hours a week and keeping my travel kitty intact. I was outdoors every day, under no stress and now my house is all painted and fixed up, the cash flow is good, the health is good and I have 3 choices...spend my little stored $$$ on another trip, get a real job (Arghhhh!!!) or find a part-time job. My Mom thinks that my spending of this $$$ is stealing from my future. I don't see things the same way. I chose to backpack...this time in Ecuador.

Last year at this time was the perfect scenario, kids moved on, career job about to finish, pension and travel $$$ available, health and mobility good, desire to backpack very high. This year, the only thing that has changed is the access to $$$. To answer my Mom, stealing from what??? If I stay in Halifax another year or so to try and save $$$ to travel, I am losing time and possibly health and mobility.

What is the proper balance? All I know is that of the 5 requirements to get your butt out there and backpack (Time, money, health, mobility and desire), money is the cheapest commodity. You can borrow money, but not health and mobility.

So, Ecuador it is. Actually, the whole trip is fly to New York to visit daughter Emily and mother-in-law Sara. Emily has moved to NY to try and kick-start her business career. While in NY, I will train down to Washington for the Jon Stewart (Daily Show) "Restore the Sanity" rally, spend a few days, back to New York then onward to Quito for a 30 day trip. Why Quito?? It was the farthest away I could receive on my short-wave radio when I was a teenager. It is smack in the Andes, and the plane lands at 9,000+ ft. How cool is that?

I'll get in some hiking, a lot of walking, some surfing in Manta (same place Emily and Matt went for a surfing vacation) and allow things to happen as they will.

I'll be back for Christmas. It looks like both Sophie (coming back from Korea) and Emily will be home as well.

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again
The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death