A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Letters From The Amazon - Part One

PART ONE : Hola Quito, Life as a Ecuardorian and Journey to the Centre of The Earth

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"Hola!, I have spent my first week in the new territory of Latin America, crossing South America off my 'world's continents visited list' and it's pouring with rain here in Ecuador at the mo - which figures because it is the rainy season after all being mid October, it's rocking! - down pours happen the same time every afternoon hence being on the computer confused by the keyboards here which are kinda weird. Well they are spanish keyboards after all so I cannot do certain British symbols and things but oh well you'll get the gist of what I'm writing.

Well I arrived in Quito, the capital of Ecuador in the central Pichincha region last weekend having to wear a doctors surgeons facemask through the airport which was pretty weird and fortunetely finding a girl working at the airport who spoke english (Thank god) and managed to hook me up at 2am with going to stay with a nice Ecuadorian lady Rita who she knew in town. She told me she regularly took travellers into their home and showing this girl alot of gratitude and for a fee of $10 she took me across the city to Eldorado, a suburb of South Quito to Rita and her families apartment to put me up for the night in a spare room ( I was soooo beyond-a-joke tired after nine and a half hours from London to Atlanta and then five hours Atlanta to Quito flying - I was soo happy just to sleep anywhere) bless her she even came out to meet me in the street in her night wear and took me out on the balcony to show me Quito, the city at night with the lights and silohuette of the mountains in the background. As beautiful as it was, I've never craved a bed so badly before.

My first view of Quito.....at night

My first view of Quito.....at night

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Rita let me stay in her house for the week with some other volunteers who were studying spanish and volunteering down at a local childcare centre, full of hilarious stories around the dinner table. My home is a three storey apartment overlooking the Andean Mountains awaking to the sounds of the Sunday morning lady screaming the name of the local paper trying to sell it and the stray dogs that roam the streets. They actually kept a dog on the roof of the apartment and at night could hear his wimpering and pitter patter of his feet so was no ghost! Rita calls us down for breakfast and dinner shouting "Coffeeeeeeeeee!" which I guess is probably the easiest thing for her and I was pretty straight forward in telling her my vegetarian ways in my limited spanish 'no carne' she got the idea, the sweet senora.

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I have spent the first week trying to get my bearings of the city and avoid being knocked down by this CHAOTIC traffic, just like Ghana, no one uses the brakes just the horn. I have started attending Guayasamin Spanish School which is for 4 gruelling hours from 8:00 to 12:00pm a 20 minute walk from Rita's in to the Mariscul Sucre'New Town' area of Quito. Most main roads in Quito are named after important dates in Ecuardorian history like 'Ave de 6 Dicembre' not too sure what the importance is but must be something for a main road to be named after it. Spanish school is challenging, I am enjoying it but struggling a bit with the grammar, but in truth is not exactly my best area in English either but trying my best anyhow. I get homework every night ha! (have not had that in a while! but its good for me) but the school does put on some excursions and activities for us which is cool. Quito has two areas, the new town and the old town. The 'Old Town' is really the historic, cultural and colonial part of the city which I prefer and the school invited us on a tour of it to see the churches and other sights of significance. Riding the local public transport is pretty interesting but you gotta be smart to outwit the pick pocketers, but nah its not too bad. My teacher at schoo is Juan and we get on very well have a laugh during class, he even took my shoes to the tailor to get fixed for me which was mighty nice of him and to the market to practice my asking skills - I have actually managed to buy some things at least which is a major achievement when I actually got what I wanted. On one occasion around town we took a detour into a hair salon and both ended up having our hair cut ha! for like two dollars! its so cheap out here its unbelievable, only in Latin America your money goes a long way. I've been going back to the Old Town often and heading to the El Centro massive markets where I bought myself an Ecuardorian football shirt. The more I find I can go around and buy things and function normally, the more comfortable I can become. It's not very easy to live in a world where you're incompetant so I think my confidence is building up slowly. I'm trying to pay more attention in school.

In my first week, I have taken my first Salsa lesson which is alot of fun but makes you really sweaty! It's really fun to the see the guys from the school also coming along to give it a try, very entertaining! but the Latino's know how to dance. The weather shifts to and fro, its usually hot in the morning and then rains in the afternoon but thats what happens when you are nearly 3,000 km above sea level in the mountains! I have already suffered from a Altitude cold at the weekend and 'cotton mouth' where you get really dehydrated and your mouth dries up ekkkk, but its pretty normal to adjust to it.

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Last weekend me and a couple of students from school got out of the city and figured out how to take a bus where I sat on the floor because there were no free seats, up to the Northern Highlands of Ecuador into the Imbabura region to a town called Otavalo which is the bustling traditional crafts market for Ecuador to practice my bargaining skills and was a great experience mingling with the rural Ecuadorian crowds and stall vendors and I didn't too bad either, managing to buy a few things from the practice with Juan, a nice blue alpaca jumper and a pair of red andean trousers to add to my wardrobe plus a brown beaded rosemary necklace of a crucifix which I had to use body language for to explain what I wanted haha....I love markets, they're so much more fun negotiating prices and the goods are actually made by locals making them more of an unique authentic souvernir.

Octavalo Market

Octavalo Market

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Later in the day we read about a waterfall called Cascada de Peguche and was keen to set off and find it asking locals directions and being followed by a small puppy along the railway track. We eventually found a waterfall of some kind without signposts then hiked to it through the bush getting bitten by mosquitos - great. We nearly missed the bus back to Quito, failing to jump on the last bus leaving the waterfall before 5pm but with our combined bargaining skills we managed to persuade a passing taxi - very lucky! paying a whopping $2 back to Quito. One thing I've noticed here is however many hours it takes to drive somewhere on buses, that's how many dollars you pay.

Its so much better to get out of the city and see the real culture.

The real line of the Equator?

The real line of the Equator?

On Sunday, we took a trip to El Mitad de Mundo 'The Middle of The World'. Well Ecuador does mean 'Equator' right? so it would be a sin to pass up on an opportunity to go to the middle of the earth. Its a big complex on the barron highway which quite frankly looked like the world had ended itself. The park is of course a huge tourist attraction with a big tower/pillar type thing centred in the middle with a red line going through the middle 'Ecuador Latitude "0' marketed as the middle of the world but in fact if you listen to the locals the real line of the equator is a 1km walk away from the complex - nice secret, guess they got their calculations slightly off so away we went to check it out following another group of travellers. A small, more discreet exhibition than it's false neighbour, they only ask you for a small fee for you to come in a look at their education boards and exhibits. A lady was talking to a group of tourists around a sink so I stuck my head in and eavesdropped as she was showing the water flow switching from anti clockwise to clockwise on each side of the equator.....mmmmmm

The real deal....

The real deal....

And there it was the TRUE line of the equator, I had to walk along that big think red line. Was weird to feel the forces either side of you swaying you into the northern and southern hemispheres of the planet, defintely felt some tingling and magnetic forces there. The force was with me....
Another awesome thing was to prove to myself that you really can balance an egg on a nail. Surely it couldn't be done, they say, but at the Equator where forces are working with and against us its possible - amazing! I did crack it (not the egg) but the myth after my fifth attempt. Wow.

Ta dah!!! Really you can balance an egg on a nail at the equator!

Ta dah!!! Really you can balance an egg on a nail at the equator!

Sitting in a taxi back to the city, of course the afternoon rain was coming as the grey skies clouded over us and starting to stream down the window - I looked and a motorcycle caught my eye riding alongside the taxi. It was driven by a man with a slight unusualness about it. He also had his wife, son and daughter riding on the back with him plus a load of lugguge, none of them wearing helmets. There's no concept of danger out here and noticing us all looking at them, the man smiled, glinting his teeth at us before disappearing into a tunnel - MENTAL THINGS YOU SEE HERE

Next week is my last week of Spanish School and I'm moving to another host family to further my experience here. I went to see a host organisation near the school who's fixing me up with a lady named Carmen and her family in a different part of Quito near Le Parc Carolina so I can hopefully practice my spanish more. More salsa classes after school and also an Ecuadorian cooking class that should be interesting. I wanted to take a train ride next weekend to Boliche National Park where you can ride on the top of the carriages but apparently you cannot do it anymore booo!!!! but I will see what I will do for my weekend, theres a cable car you can take to the top of the volcano in Quito for an awesome view called the Teleforico, something you have to do apparently and everyone raves about Cotópaxi mountain around Quito.

I am planning to leave Quito for the Amazon rainforest on the 26th where I have to travel to a jungle town called Tena to gain access to the forest to start my conservation project so lots of prep for that and the spanish of course always needs some work. .........well thats it for my first week, thats some highlights so better be off into the South American rain and have a go at my homework he he.......

Adios!

Sal.

Posted by SalBolton82 09:23 Archived in Ecuador Tagged city south america quito andes ecuador Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Two

PART TWO: JUAN SEBASTIAN, BAD KARMA AND ADIOS QUITO!

Hola again, now news from my second week here in Ecuador. Still in Quito, my second week at Spanish school began when I packed my things and was moving on to live with another Ecuardorian family for the week. I didn't have the heart to tell Rita I was going to another family on the otherside of town and told her I was leaving for 'del selva' the forest a little bit early. Well I hope I did in my broken Spanish. Before I left though, I gave her a little something that I brought from London, a kitchen apron for her to use. Her son Christian who boasted many tennis trophies around the apartment drove me to school to spare me walking with all my lugguge (two bags maximum anyway). I'm sure I'll see them again.

When morning classes ended, I hailed a taxi and gave the driver a piece of paper with the new address on. He drove around the city for a while and I wasn't convinced he knew where he was going.

He didn't.

So...I had to call the chap at the host organisation with the mobile phone they have given me (and have no intention of giving it back either) to tell the driver where he should be going. After a long chat in spanish on the phone - we pulled up outside what looked like a complex next to La Parc Carolina and the driver was cool enough to carry my backpack in to the main desk where the security guard told me to go up to the fifth floor - a lady named Carmen was out in the halfway to greet me and welcome me into their cute small apartment overlooking the park and across the road from a football pitch. Great view from the fifth floor, the tiny cars chugging along the motorway and I could see at the traffic lights, street performers coming out to stand in front of the traffic queue freestyling footballs and juggling for change from the waiting cars.
I have my own room and my own ensuite and Carmen began to talk to me in Spanish showing me how the shower worked (I guessed she was anyway) one week at Spanish has not made me fluent!

Her son Juan Sebatian, is quite irresistable cute and a little dude. I met him for the first time when I couldn't open the door to the apartment with the key Carmen had given when he came to my rescue. I've spent most of my time with him as the rest of the family seem to come and go so I didn´t see them much or even talk to them a great deal, but when we did sit around a table eating dinner - you feel a bit of a retard like a child learning to speak again when it's pretty frustrating when you're thinking so hard on how to say 'pass the pepper'

Anyway I've spent most of my time with Juan Sebastian who helped me with my homework and had a pet chick at the apartment and would get it to talk down the phone on command (how cute!). When I took a shower, I figured out that Carmen had told me the water is only hot for 10 seconds or so before turning to cold - I found that out for sure! One time it flooded and Juan Sebastian came in with a mop and wearing huge black rubber gloves, helped me clean up. He's so sweet. We would watch Los Simpsons together (in Spanish no subtitles of course) and he loved Harry Potter but had not read the books - so after class one day Juan took me to the bookshop and I bought him a copy of one of the books to say thank you and for the fact I would be leaving for the Amazon on his birthday......ahhhh

Harry Potter...always a winner.... with Ecuadorian kids anyway.....

Harry Potter...always a winner.... with Ecuadorian kids anyway.....

I've been helping him with his English too with a Jesus poster who was making for his class, they take religion very seriously over here.

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From the apartment, I have a view aswell of the Andes and the city at night but still a 30 minute walk to school or I have to run for the 25 cent Ectoria bus if I'm late. Every morning when I do walk to the school I see two kids, a boy and a girl about 5 years old lying on the streetside - its pretty shocking and when the traffic stopped, they got up and attempt to juggle or do something in the middle of the road in the hope of just getting some dollars for themselves - its really sad to see, so I would go and buy them some bread in a nearby bakery for the day which cost like a dollar which is nothing to me. Its amazing how long it takes for people here to collect a dollar but even the elder women working on the streetside would descend upon the children to grasp a piece of bread.

Happy Quito Kids....

Happy Quito Kids....

Later on in the week, I had a very interesting experience at the British Embassy where we actually got taken behind the scenes of the embassy (wacky I know) no way anywhere else! It was kind of like that feeling of 'we shouldn't be here'. I had to go talk to them about a departure card I never recieved at the airport on a arrival and lucky for me again (really I have a guardian angel on my shoulders...so I thought anyway) a girl I go to Spanish school with used to work with all embassy stuff in Britain and wanted to go there herself - bingo! It actually turned out I didn't even need the card at all but still a sneaky peek at the British Embassy anyhow!

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I managed to venture back in to the Old Town of Quito again when were invited to go watch the Ecuador vs. Chile World Cup football qualifyer game on the TV and the city is football crazy! they lost anyhow ah! but we ended up sampling Ecuadorian cheesecake and a REALLY strong native drink which I think was ginger/cinnamon or something but it was REALLY strong. Oh my god. Really strong. We also went inside to see a really pretty church called Iglesia de la Compania de Jesus, the interior made from gold - they say its one of the most beautiful churches in South America which I probably agree as its the only church in South America I´ve been inside!
I´ve also witnessed an Ecuadorian cooking class in school this week- well, mashed up the cheese to go into the soup so I suppose that´s helping I guess...mmmm was good soup though. I do like the food very much here in Ecuador and what they love to eat is´Cuy´which is a traditional dish of roasted Guinea Pig! which of course I´m politely ignoring....I had a pet guinea pig :(

Ecuador es el futbol loco!

Ecuador es el futbol loco!

BUT I had a bit of an unfortuante accident on the street this week where I cut my foot open when walking on the perilous uneven terrain which are the streets of Quito. It bled pretty badly and I mean pretty badly on the street - alot of dirt got in it so I had to cut out all the dirt and dead skin and clean it with alcohol which KILLED!!!. It was probably one of the most painful things I've ever experienced I was pretty bummed about it as I couldn´t walk on it properly for a couple of days, having to clean it in the bathroom sink all the time. No more Salsa classes for me, which doesn't help when Latino's like to just come and grab you to dance with them!! Mucho dolor! Must have been bad Karma. Of course the drama didn't stop there as after a evening spent at a popular night spot for us students at a bar near the school, I couldn't face going to do four hours of school after the cheap cocktails in the bar had made me sick. Not the best week in my trip to say the least!

When I could walk again, I've spent much of my time helping a friend from Spanish School find an apartment in Quito sticking up posters around the town and wandering into Ecuadorian Universities and helping a lady find her dog that had run off! we sure covered alot of ground around Quito. Today I had plans to go with two of the other girls from school to the Teleferiqo cable car up the volcano whilst Carmen and her family went off on a fishing day trip. We hailed a taxi to the north of the city scrambling higher through the neighbour hoods which was so traditionally South American with people milling on the street and children running in the road nearly knocking them over when our trip was cut short - Teleforiqo was closed for refurbishment noooooooooo. So another time,

But the sun as set on my time in Quito for now and tomorrow I'm venturing off into the Amazon Rainforest, the adventure I'm excited about the most and the main reason I am visiting South America. I have to leave pretty early so I'm packing up my wellies that I got on the market earlier this week and bidding farewell to Quito and the city.

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See you in the jungle

Adios

Sal.

Posted by SalBolton82 12:18 Archived in Ecuador Tagged city south america quito andes ecuador Comments (0)

Letters From The Amazon - Part Three

PART THREE : INTO THE AMAZON

How about it Indy? an Amazon Adventure?

How about it Indy? an Amazon Adventure?

So speaks the voice of my inner child who in fact used to want to be the side kick of Indiana Jones on his epic adventures around the world or for him to be my idolised dad.....actually I still do in my inner child ways :)

[center]But the adventurous and mystical allurement of the Amazon Rainforest has tempted the tastebuds of adventurers and explorers for a long time and has always stayed close to my heart which is why I had to come here and actually visit it one day, in the hope to help out a little bit with the problems it is facing in this over consuming world. . But despite the fact South America blooms with modern technology in 2009, as I saw in Quito there are still civilisations out here's who's lives remain unchanged for centuries and stay loyal to their indigenous roots and customs, priorities which are important.....and are fractionally expiring. I had to go see it for myself. What can I say, my dreams tend to be larger than life

Hola! I'm in my third week here in Ecuador and the first week of life out here in the Jungle and I'm writing this with extremely itchy bites on my feet and smothered in DEET - the insect repellanty stuff. Well at the start of the week of course I left Quito very early, awakened by my mind racing, my foot throbbing and excitement and anxiety of having to get myself to the Amazon Rainforest....by myself.

From walking the streets of Quito - where you really have to watch where you are going as traffic just does not stop for you, I managed to hail and taxi at around 6:00am on the street side with the help of the apartment security guard who'd I'd seen all week and had kindly helped me with my injured foot telling the driver to head to Quitumbre bus terminal that my Spanish Teacher Juan had told me to go to for a bus to Tena - the locals know best. The journey was heading west out of the city and I remember seeing Mount Cotapaxi erected on the horizon surrounded by the morning mist and I'm contemplating coming back to Quito to visit it. Once at the amazingly brand new, bus terminal I bought a one way ticket to Tena in the Oriente Region costing a whopping $6! meaning it would be a 6 hour drive. No problem. It wasn't hard to exactly get as the guy at the multiple ticket booths was shouting 'Tena, Tena' so couldn't go wrong really. Ah ha for the moment, I couldn't go wrong.

Driving through the Cloud Forest

Driving through the Cloud Forest

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The bus was scheduled to leave at 8:00am and I fortunately was asked by a guy where I was going and ended up being the actual driver of the bus to Tena (there's that guardian angel back again) very lucky! of course Bus 13 didn't leave at 8:00 as the driver was fiddling with the engine for a while so I sat looking at the cartoons of Road Runner and Mickey Mouse painted on the inside and outside of the bus - so cute. The bus leaves when the drivers decide they're going to leave. The journey was 6 hours long with me dying to pee even though I made an effort not to eat or drink anything with a long boring movie I couldn't understand anyway. I was more taken by the amazing scenic experience driving around the canyons and into the high altitude of the cloud forest through the misty tree tops and there it was......deep into the Amazon Rainforest, like another world. Just as I'd imagined it but realised I was treading deeper into unfamiliar territory. Also interesting to see all the characters getting on and off at random bus shelters in the jungle, like in the middle of the nowhere. Awesome.

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Wow!!!

Wow!!!

The School Stop...

The School Stop...

I knew I was approaching Tena soon after 6 hours when a HUGE Billboard sign 'Bienvenido a Tena' with a picture of the town's Governor smiling with his thumb up (hilarious) and a township environment came into view passing statues of an Indigenous man holding a spear decorated with articulate pieces of stone and coloured glass.

Welcome To The Jungle Town. I had finally made it to Tena in the Oriente Region, a dusty cosy little cheerful town where two massive rivers met at it's heart with the sight of a volcano 'Volcan Sumaco' looming up out of the jungle 50km away in the distance, much less formidable than Quito. According to the ever so trusty 'Lonely Planet' literature, the capital of the Napo province has a more agricultural thing going on, abundant with cattle stations and banana plantations.

I was actually more concerned with finding a 'banos' to relieve my suffering bladder, paying a sweet and feeble old lady sitting outside them 50 cents for a piece of tissue paper. The only bugger with travelling alone is you have no one to leave your luggage with so it was funny trying to squeeze two bags into a cubicle. With the help of a friendly crippled guy in exchange for a dollar and my chocolate biscuits, he took my to see the 'ticket guy' hidden in a room among the main street market stalls for a $1 bus ticket out to the Jatun Sacha Biological Station out in the forest. Totally lost in translation with the spanish alphabet to spell out my name for him, he gave me my ticket and drew things on a piece of paper muttering and pointing outside. Not 100 % sure what he's instructions were,sitting on my backpack looking down at my ticket saying 'SARL' when the stars aligned again for me when a friendly local woman pointed me in the right direction to board the same bus as her to Ahuano down a side street. I had no reason to doubt her out here in the countryside but it kinda helps if you just say where you're going at let them take you - sometimes you just have to, I had no other choice.
I squeezed myself way onto the bus heading to Ahuano where I had to ask the driver to stop at Jatun Satcha, the rainforest conservation centre halfway while he put my bags in different parts of the bus!?!?!. I sat back absorbing the jungle town life evolving in front of me out of the window on the street as the people piled on ( I was lucky to get a seat). An Ecuardorian man came and sat next to me and started talking and discovered he was a farmer and attempted to flick through my pocket sized Spanish dictionary to find words to try and answer his questions. Ahhh

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Video Diary : Bus Ride into The Amazon Rainforest

For an hour, the bus left Tena and travelled across the Rio Napo onto the main road, jutting along the steel bridge and staring down at the gushing river that meandered into the lush greenery that was the rainforest. It was just like I imagined, my window down and breathing in the smell of humidity and natural aroma detoxifying my lungs and mind. I felt calm and had no care for Quito. A "mate" of the driver came up and down the bus and saw my ticket saying to me 'Jatun Sacha si' and nodding - phew I had a destination. The bus stopped occassionally to let people off and I could see them walking off into the forest to their communties holding bananas they had retrieved from the bus hold approaching their simple wooden shack homes elevated on stilts with a washing line full of colourful clothes. I then noticed a sign saying 'Jatun Satcha' and the farmer sitting next to me saw it too and shouted to the mate, gesturing me to the front of the bus which sped along the tarmac road laid through the jungle. As it slowed down and the doors opened, I pretty much had to throw my bags off the bus while shouting ´Gracious!´and jumping out onto the roadside in the jungle, at the same time managing to clobber the mate accidentally in the back of the head as I jumped off! Great start to my introduction to the jungle communtity.

And then I was alone. Alone on the roadside and abandoned in the Amazon.

Well....not really.... I would have been if I didn't have the sign reading 'Fundacion Jatun Sacha' high up in the tree tops in front of me which was the Jatun Sacha Biological Station. I stood in the silence, enchanted by the soft hissing and humming that was now my world, where nothing else existed. Really in the middle of nowhere - I'm here in the Amazon!!!

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Adios!

Sal.

Posted by SalBolton82 06:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged trees rainforest wildlife south america amazon ecuador tena Comments (0)