Monday, September 28, 2009

Inca Trail and Cuzco.

2-10 September

We arrived into Cuzco at 9am after an early morning flight. We dropped our luggage at the hotel and made a b-line for Jacks cafe. After eating foreign food for over a month it was asolute heaven to have a full English breakfast and hot chocolate with marshmellows! Anyone walking past the cafe would have thought it was a brothel instead of a restaurant with the noises coming from our table and at the time we would have agreed it was actually beter than sex!
Once my belly was full all I wanted to do was watch TV and relax for a day so I returned to the hotel and was horrified to discover that to get to my room I had to climb 100 steps! I know you think I´m being a fat lazy bitch but at an altitude of 3600, 10 steps sends the heart racing! I was feeling so shit by the time I got to the top I collapsed on the bed. I know it sounds stupid, but you know when you have an idea in your head and it´s all you want in the world, well that day I wanted to bludge and when I discovered that there was no TV in our room, all I could was cry. I eventually got over my tantrum, went back to reception and demanded a television. I almost kissed the porter when he delivered it to our room!
The afternoon turned out to be better and the day was topped off with Indian food for dinner!

In preparation for the Inca Trail we decided to top up our cultural knowledge by visiting the Inca museum on our free day in Cusco. Unfortunately everything was written in Spanish so we didn´t actually learn much but it was great to see so many artifacts. I spent the rest of the day wandering the town and shopping for souvenirs.

The following afternoon, we took a bus to Ollantaytambo which is our overnight stop before the Inca Trail. Shirley took us for a tour through the town and showed us the amazing architecture still left from the Inca times. We visited a very creepy house which had dried fish, llama fetuses and human skulls decorating the interior as well as guinea pigs scurrying aroung the floor fattening up to be eaten for dinner. The hike up to the top of a near-by mountain to see an Incan store house was awesome and the view amazing. I had to take a few minutes for myself just to appreciate the beauty and energy of the place. That night we treated ourselves to a delicious dinner which was topped off by the best Banoffee Pie ever! Early night before our big day tomorrow.

I was very nervous on the first day of the Inca Trail, however I felt quietly confident I could do it, especially after all the climbing practice I had getting to my bloody room in Cuzco! half hour bus ride took us to Km 82 (Piscakucho) where we had to give our small duffel bags to the porters and then do through the formalities of ticket and passport inspections before we crossed a suspension bridge over the Rio Urubamba to officially commence the Trek.
Day 1 is the easiest day of the Trail but for someone as unfit as me, it was still a small challenge. We made a few stops at different Archaeological sites and our guide Fernando told us some Incan history

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Colca Canyon, the deepest in the world!

30 August - 1 September

Note to self... Drinking the night before a bus ride, especially one that takes you on a dirt road and up over 4900m altitude, is not a good idea!

I felt very seedy this morning and the bus ride was a killer, although very scenically beautiful. Along the way to we stopped at a little tea house to sample some Coca Tea and it is amazing how much better I felt afterwards. On the journey to the highest point, our guide, tought us how to chew coca leaves. According to the Peruvians, coca leaves are not a drug (It takes 100kg of leaves to extract 1kg of cocaine) but instead they use it like medicine to stop altitude sickness, supress hunger, and just about everything else. The people who live and work in the mountains chew it all day and they even worship these leaves. So as they say, when in Rome... I tried chewing some, hoping it would make me feel better, but instead I wanted to vomit and I couldn´t get the taste out of my mouth all day!
We arrived to the Colca Valley to a little town called Chivay for a late lunch. The restaurant provided a traditional style buffet and we tasted some Llama and Alpaca meat. While we ate we were entertained by a band playing Andean music, I loved it although some of the other members of our group weren´t so impressed.
Once we finally made it to our luxurious hotel, we had some free time before heading back into town to the thermal pools. What a great way to end the day, floating in a pool heated to 38 degrees by water flowing from a nearby volcano. But the day didn´t end there. For dinner we headed to another traditional restaurant where we were again entertained by Andean music and this time there were also a couple of traditional dancers. Not sure whether it was fatigue, the culture or the energy, but I got quite overwhelmed and got tears in my eyes, just like I do at the start of any live stage show. However to anyone that asked, I blamed it on my scratching contact lenses. After dinner some of our group (the ones who weren´t too cool) got up and joined the dancers on the floor. We got some very weird looks from other diners, but I´m sure they were just jealous that we were having so much fun.

We had to rise early the next morning to make our way to see the condors. The drive to get there was a bit nerve racking as the road was right on a cliff edge but the views were spectacular and at the end we got to see the majestic flight of these incredible birds. We saw about 10 all up and they came so close that when they soared above us we could hear the wind ruffle through their feathers, similar to when you fly a kite. Unfortunately when the condors stop flying, they are terribly ugly and awkward looking, but their 3m wingspan is amazing.
Shirley insisted that we go for a short 1 hour walk before lunch so that we could start getting used to hiking at altitude, so we wandered along a narrow track overlooking farming terraces and into the amazingly deep Colca Canyon.
We then returned to the hotel for lunch and after siesta (love this tradition) we set off on another hike. This walk took us up a nearby mountain and I thought I was going to die. Altitude was not a problem for me on flat ground, but give me the slightest incline and my heart starts to race and I heave for air. I was buggered! I had to stop every 10 steps for a break, and at every rest I asked myself how I was going to do the Inca Trail? Along the way we found a tomb where many bodies had been buried (we could tell by the skulls) and then we just made it to the top of the mountain as the sun went down and turned the sky orange. It was magic.
We were very excited to go to a pizza place and play some pool that night.

On our way back to Arequipa we stopped at the highest point on the road (4910m) to make a wish. This is a popular tradition in the Andes which requires burying a coca leaf (because you must give an offering to Mother Earth if you want something back) and then covering it with a cairn of rocks. This was a nice gesture but there were so many cairns that I was a little worried I would steal someone elses wishes!
When we finally returned to town I did some shopping for Alpaca products to give as presents and instead spent a lot of money on myself!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Peru so far.

If you have seen my Facebook page recently, you will know that I had a pretty shit couple of days this week. It started the same day as my last post, when I left my camera in an internet cafe in Montañita, where it then got stolen. We spent the morning trying to get it back and giving our details to the guy in the cafe (who we are convinced was the one to take it). That afternoon we had to be on a bus to Guayaquil to take our flight to Peru. We finally arrived at a hostel in Lima where I jumped out to ask if they had room and left my backpack if belongings in the taxi. After such a big, emotionally draining day, I lay on my bed and cried, but was still unable to sleep as I was haunted by thoughts of my own stupidity. Luckily the very nice taxi driver returned my bag the next morning and he was a little freaked out when I hugged and kissed him, don´t think they do that in Peru!

The next day, Ryan and I went camera shopping in Lima. Because I loved my old one so much, I decided I wouldn´t be satisfied with anything else so I paid a stupid amount for a new one. It hasn´t left my side since, and even when I know I have it, I still check my bag every half an hour.
That night we met our new group for our Lima to La Paz tour. There are 15 of us plus our guide who is a gorgeous Peruvian woman who is lovely, funny and very organised (I would know). Everyone in the group seems really nice but some have been travelling together for 3 weeks already and there are a couple of personality clashes emerging.

On our first real day of tour, we had the morning free in Lima and then took a 4 hour bus ride to a place called Paracas. This town looked like a big construction site because 2 years ago it was badly affected by the big earthquake of the coast of Peru. Now the city is slowly being rebuilt.
The next morning some of the group took a boat trip to a little island which they call Peru´s version of the Galapagos, but because we had already seen the real thing, Ryan and I decided to save ourselves some money. Once the others returned, we took a bus ride to a town called Nazca. Along the way we stopped at a winery where they make Pisco, Perus national drink. It is a spirit made from grapes and we took a tour through the `factory´ (which is a series of concrete buildings) to learn how is is made. The best part of the tour was of course the tasting. My favourite was the Ladies Drink which is pisco mixed with grape juice that they say is good for making babies. The guy said it is supposed to help with fertility but I´m sure they just give it to the ladies to make them more easy to get into bed! We also tried a shot of Pisco which made me almost vomit!

Our next stop was at a massive set of sand dunes where we took a terrifying dune buggy ride and went sand boarding. I´ve been sand boarding before but this was by far the most scary, as the dunes were so big and steep. On my third try I sand burnt my shoulder by rolling too far! We then returned to the town for lunch and we tried Lomo Saltado, which is a national dish consisting of stirfried beef strips with onion tomato and potato chips in a soy sauce and served with rice. It was delicious and very filling.
On the bus ride through to Nazca we were exhausted from the morning´s activities so we stared aimlessly out the window. The scenery was beautiful though, we drove through desert and mountains and didn´t see a plant all afternoon. When we finally arrived at the hotel, Ryan and I were amused to find the one double bed in our room. I had to convince our tour leader Shirley that I don´t know what they do in Peru, but in Australia, brothers and sisters don´t share a bed! (it was of course a mistake of the tour company who assumed that our same last name meant we were married!)

The reason that people go to Nazca is to see its world famous lines, the only way to see them is by air so in the morning we took a small plane flight over them to see for ourselves. Noone quite knows who drew these massive shapes in the desert, when it was done or even why, but there are numerous pictures created by moving the top, darker layer of rock and sand to expose the lighter sand below and from above you can make out the shapes of a spider, a hummingbird, a condor, and even one that they call the Astronaught, just to name a few. Instead of exploring the small and rather uninteresting town of Nazca, we instead decided to return to the hotel and laze by the pool to await our night bus. At 10.30 we boarded the dreaded 8 hour bus ride and were pleasantly surprised to find that the seats reclined to an almost horizontal position. Sleep....

We were woken the next morning by the land hostess (like air hostess but on a bus) poking us and opening our curtains, repeating Arequipa Arequipa Arequipa! I almost punched her, but couldn´t see due to being blinded by the daylight! Ryan and I spent the morning with Adam walking around Arequipas parks and I decided I quite like this city, which is compliment coming from me. In the afternoon we went to meet Juanita. She is a young girl, about 14 years old, who was found at the top of a mountain over 5000m high. She was given to the mountain as an Incan sacrifice. The Incas worshiped the mountains and believed that young children, usually the most beautiful and perfect of the community, had to be sacrificed to the top of the highest mountains as an offering to Mother Earth. So Juanita was found by fluke when a scientist climbed this volcano whilst the glacier preserving her was melting. It was very creepy to see such a well preserved mummy although I do believe that the people going on about how beautiful she is, need to have their eyes checked!

That night a few of us decided to go out on the town. We made the most of the 4 for 10soles deal at a pub and then moved on to a club to dance. It turned out to be a very interesting night with alcohol doing the talking and starting a few interesting DNM´s. We stumbled into bed at around 4.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Filling in time

After our big Galapagos adventure, Ryan and I have decided to chill for a few days before we start the next full on part of the trip.
We flew from the Galapagos to Guayaquil, Ecuador´s largest city. We spent one night there and couldn´t wait to leave. This is a nice city, there is a wicked park along the river with beautiful gardens and play equipment for the kids, but as previously mentioned, I´m not a city fan and this one didn´t help to change that. Was especially overbearing having just come from the peaceful Galapagos Islands.

So we decided to take a 3 hour bus journey to Montañita, a little surfing town in the south west of Ecuador. This town is crazy. Kind of reminds me of a not-so-modern Thailand. It had obviously rained just before we arrived because the roads were mud baths! We slipped and slid our was through the town trying to find somewhere to stay, but being Friday night, this was not an easy task! Everywhere that was cheap or had been recommended to us was booked out, so being tired and grumpy, we settled on a dump called La Casablanca where the top bunk was angled and there was not hot water, actually come to mention it, there was no water at all!
We took a walk along the beach and at 5.00 decided it was time for a cocktail. This was the beginning of a very messy night. After 2 drinks I decided that I couldn´t finish any cocktail that I started coz it as too sweet, so Ryan took upon himself to finish everything I couldn´t. This resulted in a very drunk brother by 9.00. Unfortunately, we later found out that the 'fiesta' doesn´t actually start in Montañita until midnight. By that time I was exhausted. A trip to the toilet resulted in me taking a nap on my bed and hence loosing Ryan for an hour. I decided to wait for him at our arranged destination, a bar with a reggae concert on that night, conveniently located next to our hostel. Ryan stumbled in at about 1am with some random he picked up along the way and proceeded to fall asleep at a table. 20 mins later he approached me looking very pale and with no warning but a groan, he vomited behind the bean bag I was sitting on! I decided then that it as time to call it a night.

It turned out that if you didn´t really want to party, it wasn´t so convenient to be staying next to the Reggae concert. Partys in Montañita kick on till 7am, so I didn´t get a wink of sleep. At 8am the music and laughter is replaced by the workers and their power tools, who weren´t awake all night, so there was no break in which to sleep.
The next day I decided we weren´t staying in the town, so Ryan and I took a walk down the beach and stayed in a beautiful (though smelly) sea-side cabin, where the only noise was breaking waves. That day was pretty quiet as Ryan was suffering the worst kind of hangover and discovered that in his drunken stupor, he had cut off a big chunk of his toe, so couldn´t really walk anywhere!

On Sunday, we decided to move hostels again and spent the afternoon walking around looking at jewellery and then I caught up on this bloody blog hich meant 7 hours on the computer,

Today we are taking a bus back to Guayaquil and then flying to Lima, finally going to check out a ne country. We are starting a tour tomorrow which will take us into the Andean mountains, through inca ruins and hopefilly see some awe-inspiring scenery. The next chapter begins, can´t wait!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Galapagos Islands

I have never been so hung over in my life! The night we got back to Quito was Wednesday, that means Ladies night! I decided to meet up with the girls from school for a farewell celebration so at 9.30 I headed to the club for some free cocktails. Because I was an hour behind the others, I had to play catch-up, so I skulled 3 cocktails and downed 2 shots before the 10pm cut-off. I think all of that, plus the drinks I paid for, hit me by about 11.30 and after that I can only remember flash-backs.
The next morning I woke at 5 to run to the bathroom and vomit. That was the first of 5 spews. There was another in the hostel, one as we were checking in to out flight at the airport (that one was good, I actually spewed into my mouth and emptied it into the gutter outside whilst Ryan finished check-in), another whilst waiting for our flight (didn´t quite make it to the bathroom that time, so there was a line of my vomit about 10 metres long leading to the toilet) and then once more in the sink of the aeroplane toilet. This was not a good start, especially considering I was expecting motion sickness in the boat! Actually by 1pm I was feeling much better, even though I couldn´t hold anything down.

Day 1 - Galapagos
Our flight to the Galapagos was delayed so after customs, baggage claim and the 45 minute bus ride to get to our boat, it was 2.30pm before we actually arrived. That afternoon we landed back on the main island, Isla Santa Cruz and took a bus ride into the rainforest of the highlands to a ranch to see some Giant Tortoises in the wild. This was amazing, they are so huge! I was interested to learn that once dead, you can tell the gender of a tortoise shell by looking at the bottom. The bottom of the shell is domed to fit on top of a female. Makes sense, it would be quite amusing watching the male try to mount the female and slipping off if the shell was flat!
We then visited a Lava Tube which was a big tunnell, I thought it was a man-made mine until our guide Fatima, explained it was a naturally occurring tunnell formed from lava. Don´t remember how exactly but it looked cool.
That evening we had dinner and got to know some of the other passengers on our boat. Ryan stayed up chatting on deck, whilst I passed out early for a much needed sleep.

Day 2
After sailing for much of the night, we woke up at Floreana Island. This is the home of post office bay. We visited the amazing post office which was started in the 1700´s by a whaler. The post box is an old wine barrell and the idea is that any sailers going past the bay have to stop in and look in the barrell. If they are going close to any of the addresses on the mail, they are obliged to personally deliver the letters. This way sailers can sent messages to their families if they are away from home for a long time. The tradition continues now with tourists leaving postcards to be taken and delivered by other travellers. When he returns home, Ryan has to deliver a card to a random in Port Melbourne.
Once we were finished flicking through all the postcards, we went snorkeling off the shore. It was awesome. We swam with sealions, which came right up to us and nibbled our flipppers, and turtles. We saw white tipped sharks and sting rays and hundreds of beautiful fish.

During our lunch break and siesta time, we sailed to a place called the Devil´s Crown and on the way we were followed by about 200 bottle-nosed dolphins. The afternoon activity was deep-water snorkeling and I was petrified. About 10 years ago I freaked myself out snorkeling in deep water and I´ve been too scared to try since. Being the stubborn dare-devil that I am though, I forced myself to give it a go and I loved every second of it. We were lead by the captain of the boat who kept diving down and finding us things we had missed ourselves. It was very hard to snap out of the Australian mind-set that everything can kill us, and just enjoy the experience, but when we returned to the boat everyone was gleaming and I was so proud to have conquered my fear of Deep Water Snorkeling.
That afternoon we went to Punta Cormoran to see flamingoes. There were about 20 or so in a large lagoon and we learnt that they get their colour from the pigment in the shrimp they filter from the botton of these lagoons.
This day was absolutely sensational!

Day 3
Noone slept last night due to the rocky overnight sail, so we were all feeling pretty average this morning. A walk along Gardner Bay at Española Island to see sealions and marine iguanas fixed that. Everywhere you looked was sealions, you couldn´t walk backwards for fear of stepping on one. They were so adorable, playing fighting and sleeping and we were all particularly fond of the pups pining after their mothers. Ryan got run down by a mother whilst he was wading in 30cm of water. It took a bit of searching but we eventually foung the camouflaged Marine Iguanas and once we saw 1, they just kept popping up. It was at his point that we really became amazed at how close you can get to these creatures. We really were visitors to their environment, and they don´t budge no matter how close you get.

In the afternoon we went to the other side of the island to a place called Punta Suarez. The 2 1/2 hour walk was every man´s dream, there were Boobies everywhere! For those of you unfamiliar with Galapagos wildlife, this may seem a bit perverted, well don´t worry, all the puns were made, but Boobies are actually a type of bird. The ones dominant on this island are the Blue Footed Boobies. They are named by the way they plod around which looks very silly, ,silly in Spanish is 'Bobo', the English chaged it to Boobie and the name stuck. We also saw some massive Albatroses, Nazca Boobies and a Hawk. Not to mention the hundreds of young fluffy chicks. We got so close to these birds that, had we been allowed, we could have touched them. We saw a couple of boobies performing a courtship ritual which entailed flapping your wings, plodding around doing a very awkward dance and presenting the female with twigs. We were so close to the action we actually felt like we were intruding on something. I´m convinced that the only reason we didn´t see any action was that she had stage fright!

Day 4
Unfortunately I didn´t do a diary entry for today and can´t remember the names of the islands and walks. We went for a walk in the morning to see Land Iguanas, these are much larger, more colorful and more impressive than the Marine Iguanas. We also saw huge Cactus Trees, which have grown so big to adapt to their environment. This is so that they can survive from being eaten by the iguanas and tortoises.

In the afternoon we went for another walk to see Iguanas and Nazca Boobies. The scenery here was gorgeous, the Cactus Trees and another red ground shrub dominating the view.

That night we had a small celebration and a farewell cocktail to say goodbye to the 5 day passengers

Day 5
An early walk this morning to see some Frigort birds. The males of this species have a big red balloon thing that they puff up to attract a female. I personally found the dopey dance and the twig gifts of the Boobies more attractive, but hey, each to their own!
A bit sad this morning to say goodbye to our last group, most of them were pretty cool people and those who weren´t provided us with much amusement. The new group had big shoes to fill, and they failed dismally. 6 Spanish that we didn´t understand, a remarkably unattractive Danish family and a French couple.

Best thing about today was our first beautiful sunset that we watched from the boat.

The next couple of days was a little disappointing. Everything we saw, besides the landscape, we had seen bigger or better on the other islands.

Day 6
Genovesa Island. Terrible boat trip over night. Went for a walk in the morning and the only new thing we saw were Red Footed Boobies, just like the blue footed ones but with different coloured feet and a prettier face. These guys also nest in Mangroves instead of on the ground.

In the afternoon we went snorkeling again and them went for a walk at Prince Phillip´s Step. This landscape could be a set for a horror film, anyone who doesn´t really like birds would be especially creeped out. We saw, more Red Footed and Nazca Boobies, swallow twiled gulls, an Owl and a Lava cactus plant that looked like a very painful dildo.
We all went to bed pretty early because the captain promised another rough night.

Day 7
This day was wonderful. It started off well when we woke to sunshine! This was unusual so far. Went for a walk on Bartolome Island which is a big extinct volcano and was featured in the movie Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe. The view from the top of the surrounding islands and ocean was amazing. It really hit me, on our second last day, how different all the islands are, it´s incredible. We then went snorkeling again and this was one of the best swims we had. So many different fish, sea stars, sharks, plus we saw a penguin and a lobster.

After lunch we visited Sullivan Bay. This place was once covered in vegetation and many birds and reptiles called it home, but in 1875 a volcanic eruption that lasted for up to 15 days, destroyed it all. What is now left are amazing patterns of lava set into rock. After this we set sail for one last time as the captain wanted to get into port before night.

Day 8
I was really emotional this morning, very sad to leave the Galapagos. Not sure whether it was the place in general or the boat and its crew that I was really attached to but when we stepped off the boat I felt like part of me was missing. Before the flight we visited the Charles Darwin Centre to see some more giant tortoises and iguanas and then we made our way to the airport. I can´t believe how quickly this week has gone. I´m telling myself i´ll be back one day, but who knows...


We decided to leave Quito this weekend. I was craving some fresh air and greenery so we headed to a little town called Baños, which means baths, named because of all the thermal pools in the town, heated by the volcano on which the town is built. Everyone who had been to this town recommended it to us, so we decided to check it out ourselves.

I was paranoid on the 3 1/2 bus ride there because of all the stories I´d heard about people´s stuff being stollen on bus rides, so at every stop I was looking out the window to make sure noone was carrying our backpacks. I was especially entertained at the amount of people getting on the bus to sell us stuff. You could buy everything from soft drinks, fruit, chips, icecream to CD´s and DVD´s. It got a bit annoying in the end. The last part of the drive was stunning. We followed a river and saw mountains covered in waterfalls and crops and valleys filed mysteriously with fog.

When we arrived we managed to find a room at the same place as a few girls from school. This was lucky as everywhere seemed to be booked out due to the long weekend. Very quickly, Ryan made friends with a group of Aussie and Kiwi surfers who kept him entertained for our whole stay. That night we went to a very cool little bar where we watched an Andean Folk band and I danced salsa with a small, old Ecuadorian drunk. Then we headed to the Leprechaun Bar where I got more and more tired and frustrated with drunks stepping on my toes.

Sunday was a recovery day and on Monday Ryan and I rented a little buggie. The view on the way was beautiful but the road was bloody scary. There was literally a 300m drop into a gorge. I reminded myself of Nan in the passenger seat, telling Ryan how he should have been driving. It wasn´t until I got to drive that I realised how powerless and hard the bloody thing was to drive. We eventually made it to the Paillon de Diablo (I think this means Devils Pillar). A steep 1 km walk took us down to the bottom of the amazing waterfall. We crossed a suspension bridge (I think they cal them 'suspension' bridges because you aren´t sure if you will make it to the other side without plummeting into the rever below), to get some good destance photos, and then paid a dollar to crawl through a rocky overhang and up to the base of the fall. This was awesome. The volume of water was incredible and we were instantly saturated by the spray. We could even climd a few more stairs to stand behind the wall of water.

I haven´t laughed as much as I did on the buggie ride back in a very long time. This was hilarious. If anyone has seen Dumb and Dumber, you will know what I mean when I say we felt like Lloyd and Harry on the scooter, but instead of being frozen we were dripping wet. As if we weren´t wet enough from the waterfall, the heavens decided to open up and drench us. It was actually a bit scary because on the way back we had to drive through some dark tunnels and the buggie´s lights weren´t working so we thought we were going to get run over by a truck.

I didn´t think we could top the buggie experience but the next day we went rafting. Wow! I´ve been rafting before in Canada and NZ, but this topped them all. Usually most rafting companies start easy on a grade 2 or 3 rapid to get you used to the raft, but these guys threw us literally straight in the deep end onto class 4 rapids. It was awesome. I was the only one with rafting experience, and Ryan was the strongest unit, so we got the front positions. All was running smoothly until about 20 mins before we finished. Our guide steered us straight into a huge rock and the pressure slowly tipped the boat on it´s side. Being the one closest to the rapid, I fell out, but being the stubborn girl i am, i refused to let go. I held on to the raft waiting to be pulled in. Ryan being my buddy, was supposed to be the one to pull me in but instead he sat there looking at me and laughing and the guy behind me had to rescue me. Ryan gave his waterproof camear to one of the kayakers so we managed to get some great photos.

We regretfully left Baños on Wednesday morning because we had to get into Quito to pay the last installment of our next adventure. Galapagos here we come!


First impressions of Quito: Cheap, busy, intimidating, altitude.

Those of you that know me well will know i´m not really a city person. Cities make me a bit apprehensive and very stressed and grumpy. Add to this some jet lag, altitude sickness and not understanding a word anyone says and it is a recipe for disaster. I have to admit that I got a pretty big culture shock on the first couple of days in Quito. The way I planned on dealing with this was to stay locked in our hostel. Thankfully I had Ryan with me who snapped me out of it when he complained of being hungry. The only way to get food was to venture our into the unknown. We didn´t go far, only up the street to find where we would need to attend our language school on Monday, and then to a restaurant around the corner which had a translated menu.
We were amazed to find how cheap everything is. 80c an hour for internet, 30c for a bottle of water, and that´s including the tourist tax that the vendors slap onto everything for the stupid foreigners.

We headed back to the hostel hoping to get a good sleep so we could enjoy our first full day in Quito. Before bed Ryan decided to go exploring in the hostel and found a cool roof top terrace. For some reason I was apprehensive to go up there. Telling myself I was being stupid, I folowed him up to see the nice view from the top. It was on the way back down that I scored my first injury or the trip. I missed a step and comando rolled down the secold flight of steps. I have put it down to fatigue and a headache due to altitude. It couldn´t possibly have anything to do with being clumsy.

That night I was woken up at 3am. Apparantly that´s when the party really gets into full swing in Quito. I could not sleep another wink after that, due to the live salsa music occurring right outside our window. At first I was pretty pissed off, but after a while of listening to how much fun everyone was having, I started to wish I was joining them. It was only the fear of being drugged, robbed, raped or all 3, that kept me in bed. The music finally stopped at about 6am, around the same time that the traffic started up again and salsa was replaced with car horns.

The next day we got up at about 11 and changed rooms where we met a German girl called Anja who said that she and our other room mate were heading into Old Town that afternoon. Ryan and I decided to join them on our first real cultural experience. We had just been talking to the guys form the hostel who were telling us about all the danger, robberies etc, just before we got onto the trole (a bus on wires), which is the site of a lot of this theft, so I was shitting myself. I looked at everyone like they were a possible threat and was especially suspicious of the little kids that kept bumping into me (their cute little snotty faces don´t fool me!). Our guide was our room mate from America who spoke fluent Spanish. Noone can remember his name so we have branded him America. He took us to a fresh food market which was closed being Sunday and then to a beautiful old church which was also closing early being Sunday. America rectified himself by talking the guards into letting us in for 20 mins to see the tower. The 300 steps it took to get there were not an easy feat at 2000m altitude, but the view from the top was sensational. We then walked the old streets to another church which was decroated with everything gold plated. I found this a bit extravagant, especially considering that just outside the door was a woman sleeping standing up, carrying everything she owned on her back, and little kids were running around trying to sell chewing gum to feed themselves, where in Australia they would be eating that gum.

On our way back to the bus station we passed a park where there were buskers performing for huge crowds. It was beautiful to see people of different classes, from wealthy to poor, standing together and laughing at a couple of street performers. Another nerve racking bus ride and 15 minute walk got us back to the hostel before dark.

I felt a bit funny walking to school with Ryan at 8.30am for our first big day of language classes. I almost felt 12 again. We were expecting to be doing a group lesson with up to 4 people so we were very surprised when the headmaster introduced us to our individual teachers. It was very intimidating sitting opposite a woman talking a completely foreign language but after the initial shock I started to enjoy myself. It was hilarious to see Ryan at break time. He came out looking pale and confused. If I didn´t know better I´d have thought someone had just slapped him in the face!

The first couple of days of school were productive but by Wedsesday I was exhausted by a lack of sleep and jet lag had officially hit me, so not much was sinking in. I really enjoyed learning a language again though and promised myself I would practice and possibly study spanish at a school again in the future.

The school organised a couple of free activities during the week after classes. On Tuesday Ryan and I tried salsa lessons. It was hilarious. Ryan was pretty good but all the other guys had no rhythm and kept stepping on the girls toes. By the end our teacher had given up and just did his own thing which we copied if we could.
On Thursday we attended cooking classes and made a tasty ecuadorian dish which consisted of potato patties, salsa, avacado, sausage and beetroot and carrot salad.

Because I was too scared to leave the hostel after dark, I decided I wasn´t going out till the next weekend when I felt more comfortable. That idea went out the window on Tuesday night when Shir, our new roomie, decided she was taking us out, Ryan was up for it but I took a little more convincing. We had some dinner and then went to a club. I was tired and over it by 10.30 but Ryan was getting more and more drunk and headed to the dance floor. Being the over-protective sister that I am I wouldn´t leave Ryan alone to walk the 100m back to the hostel by himself so I sat in the corner where I was stared at by old creepy men and greased off by Ecuadorian women, until I managed to drag Ryan away at midnight.

Wednesday was ladies night. This means that at Bungalow 6, a happening club, ladies are given free drinks, including cocktails and shots until 10 and men are banned from entering until 10 (i think so the barmen can get a head start on chatting up the girls). By 10.30 the bar fills up with guys wanting to take advantage of the already tipsy ladies. I wasn´t going to go, didn´t want to leave Ryan on his own, but he talked me into going with a few of the girls from school. I had a great time dancing with a group of ladies again. It is amazing how much attention a group of 'gringo' (foreign) girls can attract. Sorry friends, no action to report.

I had panned to have a quiet one on Thursday until we found out the Ecuadorians were celebrating the bicentenary of their independence. This meant celebrations. We sat in a bar and drank 2 for 1 cocktails and watched a free live concert, consisting of a number of local bands in range of different music styles. It was great. On Friday I wasn´t in the mood for partying but instead we hung out with a few of the people from the hostel and a guitar and had some sing alongs.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Getting there...

Well it was a huge few days but we eventually made it to Quito. It was Mum´s fault I cried at the airport, I was feeling good until she put on her "it´s actually happening, I´m going to miss you so much" face, then started with the water works. At that point it hit me that I was actually getting on a plane and wouldn´t be back for go knows how long. But being the seasoned traveller that I am, I wiped those few glistening tears, took a deep breath and walked to the internatoinal departure doors. Watching Ryan and Kate´s farewell was much harder than leaving for myself. But they were both brave and after a round of hugs and skulling Ryans $4 bottle of water that we weren´t allowed to take through security, we walked through the big silver departure doors. Our adventure had officially begun!

Our first flight to Auckland took 2 1/2 hours. Athough I was exhausted, I couldn´t sleep so the in flight movies and food kept me entertained. We then spent a boring 4 hours in transit at the Auckland airport where Ryan and I had our first tiff of the trip. I accidently sloped sauce from my hamburger on his ''only good casual jumper'', woops! The 12 hour flight to LA was horrible. I was cramped, uncomfortable and couldn´t sleep but worst of all , Ryan kept farting in his sleep (thanks for the corned beef and cabbage mum)!

I was very relieved to finally arrive into LA where the weather was beautifully warm. We didn´t do too much besides go for a walk around close to the hotel, where I took tourist photos of fast food stores. I was especially excited to see a stall selling Michael Jackson souvenirs!

The next day we had very good intentions of doing as much tourist stuff as we could. That idea went straight out the window when my credit card wouldn´t work and I found out that the only way to get it back on was to go to the Aussie embassy in LA. Sounds simple enough but in a city the size of LA, nothing is simple. First we couldn´t figure out which bus stop to get off at, so we started walking and realised it would take us forever. Upon the request of Ryan, I checked the address again and was surprised to find it was completely different to what I had originally thought, so, confused, we turned around and jumped on another bus. As we were about to get off the bus, Ryan checked the address one more time and pointed out that I was looking at the address to the NZ Embassy and that we were going the right way in the first place! Aaargh! We eventually left the embassy at 4.30 and made it to Santa Monica where we went for a walk along the world famous pier, but after stuffing around all day, we were so exhausted by this stage that we decided to head back to the hotel to collect our luggage.

Our flight from LA to Quito left at 2 am so we headed to the airport at 10.30pm where Ryan and I were shocked by the amount of luggage the Americans were checking in. And we thought we were bad... After an exhausting couple of days, we both passed out on this flight. We had a quick stop over in Panama City before finally boarding the last leg of our journey through to Quito. The flight was actually a bit scary because we had to fly so high to get up to the mountains, but as we got closer, the view from the plane was sensational. We saw mountains, valleys, lakes, glaciers volcanos and some amazingly vibrant shades of green, then... concrete. We had finaly made it to Quito.