Thursday, February 25, 2010

heading home...

Ooops I haven't updated this in over a month and I am currently in the bogota airport in the middle of my intense 2 day trip home. I did have an entry written up on my usb to be posted but well I guess I didn't post it did I.
Anyway, I've had a wonderful last month. Went up with some friends to Quito to pick up hermana (fantastic to catch up with her after 13 months) We cooked in the hostal, went to a real cinema and saw Avatar and to Ecuador's only skating rink where I think the ecuadorian outskated the canadians... shame on us. From Quito we headed off on a quick trip down the north coast. Atacames, Mompiche, Canoa... The beaches were all nice though it was the cloudy season. Got in some good salsa dancing in atacames and canoa, Kim got beaten up by tranquil Mompiche (stung by a ray while trying to learn to surf and then cut her head open on the bus) It was a nice little trip, but by now I appreciate staying in one place more.
Kim visited me in Puerto Lopez for almost 2 weeks that flew by! We cooked, went to the beach, read, went to montanita and a small aquarium (almost more like a rescue centre) down to the south, up to a village in the tropical forest where we donated some things to the one tiny school and spent the day painting it, went flying in parapente (paragliding, crazy, closest to flying as you can get, once in the air very relaxing and i even got steer a bit!) walks along the beach, crazy carnavalling and she helped me with my classes. time just seems to fly for no reason.
Carnaval took up almost 5 days, we only really went the one night. Got attacked with foam, water, eggs and flour. yuck! got some people too but I think I got more than I gave. washing that off one time was enough for me to decide that I didn't need to all 4 nights and tried to avoid it as best I could though I still got a bit of foam and water. Another night went on the ferris wheel (real little fair there all month!) and then out dancing. Mostly though that last month was so deathly hot I didn't have the motivation to do anything.
The day after my sister left I learned I got a job at home that I had had an interview for, and that it started on Mar1 so I had to quickly change my flights and cancel my last french classes and say my goodbyes. I was ready to go, I just want to open a cereal box and not have to look for bugs. but it was tough too and I'm already sitting here missing things...
Went up to Quito yesterday with Jorge to gather some more visa papers and briefly met up with my sister again since she flew out earlier today to Brazil. Ran into one then two other friends from our town really randomly that we didn't even know were in quito, I mean there's 2 million people there, crazy coincidences.
Everyone's stomachs have been off and on, I've had the worst ear infection since Sunday night only today is it feeling a bit better, I went paragliding sunday and Jorge, while pullling us to help us take off, nealy ripped off his baby toe. Landed went over to the car and there was blood everywhere, lovely. Straight to the clinic, which is supposedly free but the governement sucks so bad there's never enough supplies I had to run and buy everything from syringes to painkillers to the actual thread. They were stitching him up for nearly a half hour and the he had to spend the rest of the time in bed almost and grumpy of course.
Meanwhile Kim bashed in face while rafting, no tenemos suerte!!!
But everyone is on the mend now and nothing more can possibly happen.
I kept getting asked when I was going back, Jorge's family kept telling me that know I have a family in Ecuador and my students made a dinner our last class and say they hope to continue when I return... and I will return, but hopefully not too soon. I feel like some home time right now and doing more, working harder. The culture and the heat just kill my motivation.
But I did have a great time, I can now say that on a good day I am truly trilingual, the French classes were great, I have a powerpoint resource I can re-use many times, I can cook on a gas stove, barter for veggies in the market and feel like I really lived in Ecuador, with the people. (and the bugs, rats, heat, dirt and mosquitos too of course!) There are things I don't like but there are things I love. Fresh juice and delicious soups from scratch, sitting along the beach with wireless internet = work, the people (most of them), cheap and more available public transport, ingenuity (our light switch was a string attached to the mosquito net that you could just pull and the 2 wires would flick apart to turn off and then jerk it again and most times they would touch and turn on again, worked far more effienctly than I ever would've beleived) how green everything is, how you never have to care what you look like before you go out, fashion basically doesn't exist and people worry a lot less. On the other hand, not much food variety (no mas arroz!) not much security or heath care, poor education... they'll believe whatever sometimes. medicine is cheap and you never need a prescription they just go and but pills and believe they cure whatever, I got so nervous not knowing what it was I was taking and what are the side effects and can I really take these 2 at the same time? but on the other they still really very much on natural rememdies or what their grandma's tell then like don't eat certain foods if you have an infection, others if your liver hurts...
garbage is everywhere though I think people are becoming more aware, they don't seem to burn it all anymore and there are a more trash cans. a few less stray dogs.
people live simply and things are cheap, decisions are simple. you have money you spend it, you don't well then you don't eat much and hope you have a good family to lend you a bit. Everyone gets excited about action movies and ice cream. I mean everyone. Most people wnat to learn and they learn a little bits of everything and quickly, they know a bit in each language but no one is bilingual. Sometimes I feel like I don't know much since they can dance like crazy, cook delicious food, do crafts, play music, soccer, surf... but then I realise that I am trilingual and when I want to, I read and write very well, even spell in spanish better than most of them.
Don't really know what my point is... theres and good and bad in everything and I have meet some of the most generous people down here. some of the most dishonest too.
I'm going to miss it but man am I am glad to be going home and off the road.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Living the beach life….

Apparently even I can fall prey to being a beach bum. So sorry I haven’t been keeping this updated. Really haven’t been up to much and that’s been great, after so much travelling I was just ready to sit around, although we are heading out tomorrow to Quito to meet up with my sister (whom I haven’t seen in 13 months, so excited to be reunited!!!)
So basically I’ve been immersing myself in the language and the culture (the interesting traditions of new years: they do up these elaborate life-size dolls of mostly famous people who were of some prominence in the past year (Michael Jackson was definitely a favourite, though I saw cartoon characters too….) and it symbolises the old year. At midnight they drag it into the middle of the street and burn, chao old year and all it’s sins, on the next. Families eat about 3 meals generally, the last at midnight in different relatives houses (I was so full). Then everyone dances in the biggest street fiesta I have ever seen until dawn. But they don’t do polar bear dips (mine was a trip to the beach on new year’s eve) and they don’t count down of anything, no one seemed to know when it was midnight exactly, pretty much how time always is down here. Oh and the fireworks, going off everywhere, its amazing more people don’t get hurt but I haven’t heard of many accidents at all.
I’m staying at my boyfriends place and I have been helping him out in the bar/juice stand along the beach where he works with one other lady, super nice and great fun. Yes, I squeeze fresh orange juice on the beach, hahaha. It’s pretty relaxing, too relaxing, I’m about ready to be a busy person again. I also teach basic French to tour guides in a school on the other end of the beach (yes I walk to work barefoot in the waves….) So far the classes are great, I really enjoy teaching enthusiastic adults. And since I have no materials, preparing lessons takes up a lot of my time. Also with internet here, I must’ve spent 3 full days just trying to do up my application for a job in March, and it’s still missing a lot of things.
But not everything is so ideal, the heat can be terrible, I’m currently drowning in my own sweat even though it’s not that sunny outside. And the insects are bad, don’t bother me that much, I just kill them (I killed a scorpion yesterday!!) There are these bugs called ‘griollos’ everywhere. Everywhere. And the mosquitoes are as bad as ever. I was also stomach sick for almost a week, that zapped all my energy. Exercise consists of that walk to work, it’s just too hot for anything else. I’m never hungry, I eat because I have to (and because the food is normally delicious here) but I still gain weight. I even enjoy the cold shower. I’m so used to everything being dirty and unorganised and no one ever being on time or showing up when you arrange to meet them. It’s no wonder nothing ever happens here. I can enjoy it for now but…. Not quite my style.
So yes, that’s about all there is to update. Went on one day trip to Portoviejo to shop and visit my hermanita and went to a lovely beach near Montañita another day, where they make fantastic pies and cheesecake, passion fruit pie, incredible! Well off to take my laundry in, check the internet, prepare class, perhaps go for a swim, pack for tomorrow and then 2 hours of classes. Hasta luego!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Heading Home

The last 2 days just kind of slid by… watched a weird movie at the hostel and then packed for the final time (!!!!) On the 27th , figuring we should see some of Lima, we went to Larcomar, this shopping complex on the ocean. Rather hoity-toity and nothing special, have to say the waterfront in Lima is well, ugly. Then a micro downtown, which turned out to be much further than the thought from the map, Lima is a true big city. So by the time we got there we only had time to frantically ran around the plaza, to the post office and to try and hunt down Peruvian ceviche (fail… we ended up with the Peruvian version of MacDonalds…). As we got back to the hostel, already slightly late, the hostel guy informed us very surely that the international buses leave from the other station on the other side of town, a good hour away. Well the bus was leaving in an hour. Panic time, grabbed stuff and taxi and rushed off to the nearest station, the main in the hope that it was leaving from there as otherwise our chances we pretty slim. Well the hostel guy had no clue what he was talking about, we were at the right station and all that stress for nothing. Really nothing as the bus didn’t end up leaving for another half hour.

Longest bus ride ever… really not so bad at we had the best seats (the only 4 downstairs in a separate compartment past the bathrooms (yes talk about stink!)) But the best bus sleep I had since it was too hot or too cold then and no one snored, no babies! Oh but the heat and the stench in the day, the thermometer read 35C but it must have been more and so stuffy. Ended up snacking just to avoid boredom…

After 27 hours we finally got there, but dropped off at a different station and had to walk to the main station where Jorge was waiting for us (with flowers =) and yes I smelt like a cow) Grabbed the last bus to Jipijapa and them crammed ourselves in a taxi for the final leg of the journey.

And yes that was over 2 weeks ago.... Im back in Ecuador where nothing ever gets done. But I´m still holding out with the hopes that I´ll have internet in the next few days and can completely update this pictures and all. I still do intend to keep it up! But all is wonderful, I have a beach life, hahaha. I´m teaching French and helping Jorge in the juice stand/bar and making plans for when my sister comes to visit, can´t wait!

Hasta pronto!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in the white city

Arequipa, the other white city of South America although I have to say Sucre beats it. I found it much more on the grey side and so definitely didn´t get my white Christmas! But Arequipa does win the prize, surprisingly, for best sunsets (the clouds turn crazy colours, the whole city is bathed in pink light and the volcano Misti a beautiful pastel mountain on horizon) as well the best chocolate (local dark truffles worth the $$). Otherwise... the night bus there was awful again, we got seats on the 2nd floor right up front and for the first half hour got to enjoy the view and crazy driving but after so hard to sleep with the lights and absolutely no leg room. Plus they said there was a toilet but of course it was broken, I´m so used to things not working or not existing now even when they tell you they do. We were told the hostel we reserved had a full kitchen (but it was oven-less, I improvised with that delicious microwave cake), a DVD player at the reception to rent (nope!) and was cheaper too. We were also told it would be no problem to do the Colca Canyon on our own, there were collective taxis and lots of buses.... ha ha
So the first day after recuperating from the bus journey Simone and I.... didn´t really do anything. Good cheap mixed juice at the market, asked about tours to the canyon, got tickets from the bus station, internet... oh and then went for a delicious falafel w/roasted veggies for dinner. That might have been the day´s highlight...
Up real early and off to catch our bus... that although we had already bought tickets wasn´t going? And the bus company people weren´t showing up? %&@"*!! I was so incredibly annoyed, I mean who does that? That would NEVER happen at home! After they assured us when we bought tickets that of course it was going, every day at 7. So we had no choice but to take the next bus at 9, 2 hours stuck in the busy terminal with the most annoying cryers yelling out the bus destination ¨juliaca, juliaca, juliACAAAA!´ like if the only job requirement is yelling a name over and over again at least hire someone without an annoying voice, how awful. That combined with the squeakiest version of ´feliz navidad´ being repeated every few minutes we broke down and escaped to the internet for an hour just to preserve a bit of sanity. Long bus ride to Chivay across barren desert landscape, looked just like Atacama with vicuñas and all. Chivay - Little nowhere place that no the buses to Cabanaconde only go in the early morning or late afternoon, not every hour. Adjust plans again, no time today to do anything. Sat around in Chivay, tried alpaca for lunch and this omg, grossest soup ever! In Simone´s words it was ´cow diarrhea soup´, we just picked out the veggies and left the dark thick gloopy broth, gag.
Most packed bus ever to Cabanaconde on the canyon edge, made it just in time to hurry to the viewpoint and take a few photos in the dusk light. Cheap hostel with nice volunteer from Mexico. Up super early the next day to walk to the viewpoint again and then to catch the 6:30 bus which became the 6:50 bus after spending a hlaf hour cramming as many people as humanly or really non-humanly possible on to the bus. Took us an hour to go 15km as people would get off every km. Got to the Cruz del Condor and there was almost no one left standing. Hurried down to a viewpoint to wait and wait for hope of a glimpse of this magnificent bird, but low season for them so chances are not great. But we saw one, amazing gliding around below us, just gorgeous and so graceful with like a 2 metre wingspan I think. And the canyon itself is awe inspring as well, although quite barren, it´s just so huge. Deeper than the Grand Canyon (though apparently not quite as impressive) but so rocky and steep. Waiting around there for over 2 hours, saw a nice eagle as well and then hopped on the next bus back to Arequipa at 9:30, the afternoon one was booked full because of christmas and the night one would have been packed, an absolute nightmare so we skipped a canyon hike and just decided to get back, we´d seen it and by this point we were just so ready to be off the road, we really just went for something to do. Another long bus ride back with this annoying kid his mom was trying to pass off a 5 year old (try at least 7!) so he didn´t have to pay for a seat and just wandered up and down and kept calling me ´tia´(aunt) and then asking about the snacks (aka my lunch) I had in my bag so I had to eat very sneakily. Got back late in the afternoon and met up with Corinna again. Went to a nearly viewpoint to see the city and volcano at sunset then to the mall, crazy holioday shoppers but not quite as insane or commercial as home, really never felt the holiday spirit at all, it was so weird. Though I did have a moment when they were playing skate canada on the flatscreens in the electronic dept... really missing home and just sick of living out of a suitcase. Got Chinese food for dinner, cheap and quite good, though different, first time I had tried it down here even though ´chifas´ are everywhere.
Christmas eve day... Christmas for the Germans so we ´celebrated´ that day... Shopping all morning running around the market getting almost everything we needed from the stalls, quite the adventure, quite exhausting. Dump it all at the hostel and then spent some time in the internet so they could call their families. Back to cook and cook and cook! Wow, we are amazing chefs, not bragging, just the plain truth. We made fresh fresh salad, brocoli cream soup with cheese and spagetti with paprika chicken (that I had to butcher!), mushrooms, onions and garlic in a cream wine sauce. Fantastic. We were so full after the first 2 courses we only had a bite of the third and then just skipped making dessert at all. After digestion, went to the cathedral for 8pm mass. Nice music but I didn´t understand much of the sermon, just nice to relax and people watch. At the end the bishop carried a big baby Jesus doll all the way down the church to the flashy nativity scene set up at the back and placed it in the cradle with everyone crowding around and many carrying other dolls or gifts to leave there. Interesting...
And back to have a hot chocolate (they were giving out free hot chocolate to the street people that sell cigarettes, gum and candy and it just smelled so good) so we made ourselved real south american hot chocolate with boiled milk, cacao paste, cinnamon, cloves and brown sugar. And dipped some paneton (aka easter cake, a huge sweet bread with bits of candied fruit eaten during the holidays here) in it. After we wanted to watch a movie and be depressed but no dvd player and our weeks of attempting to secure ´Love Actually´ were in vain. We must´ve asked a million dvd sellers ´no tiene la pelicula realmente amor´? always no... everything but! So we went to the other hostel down the street were there was supposed to be a party but it was pretty low-key, however chatted to some really nice people and got to watch the city explode in fireworks at midnight, 360 degree fireworks going off everywhere for at least 20 mins. Just in the street, just maybe a bit on the risky side? But it wouldn´t be SA if it was safe!
Christmas morning... stockingless, familyless and giftless, bah-humbug. Tried to make the best of it, made amazing crepes even without a recipe, yes I rock. Fresh mango! (there now are you jealous?) To the internet to call my family, miss you all!! And then back to, surprise! More of those amazing chocolates in my shoes! Crazy Germans, thank-you girls so much =)
y que mas... relaxed on the terrace and had leftovers for early dinner with microwave cakes since we skipped dessert the night before. Rush off to the bus, night bus to Lima. Cruz de Sur, much nicer bus company and I actually slept, plus, best of all they played one of our movies for us!
Woke up in the morning to a dessert of sand dunes under thick fog, pretty cool. And am now in Lima just biding my time until the 26hour bus ride tomorrow to Guayaquil.
About ready to be back! No more Christmas trees of flower pots or bottles, no more latino santa clauses and most of all no more awful versions of feliz navidad!!
Ok, ok, I´m still happy and loving life but just need to get off the road. Lima is huge, grey, polluted and pricey. At least I can finally wear shorts again!
And this computer won´t read my phone so no pictures today. But almost back to my laptop and will post a bunch! Happy holidays =)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego?

Ok seeing as I have a hard time figuring out where I am, I suppose you all must too! Hope the map helps a wee bit.
Legend: Red = bus (so much bussing!!!)
Blue = ferry/boat
Green = Land cruiser
Yellow = collective taxi
Black = airplane
Purple = train
Currently trying to be christmasy in Arequipa and hopping on the bus to Lima tomorrow and from there straight up to Guayaquil, that really really really long red line!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


So I was more than a bit wary of this infamous city of the andes. It seemed the peak of all things touristy/gringo but fortunately, I didn`t find it so bad. It was bigger than I thought and so there was enough room for some authenticity as well. However, after a few days of being hassled in English by tour operators, taxis, masseuses, artisans, restaurants, etc., it was time to get out of there. The main plaza is gorgeous but oh my you can`t walk 2 steps without being offered a massage: Massaju mees! massaju mees! "No, gracias." Massaju? "NO gracias!" Manicure? Pedicure? Waxeeeeng??
Oh my, how awful, we were mocking them and didn`t realise we were walking right by one lady until she burst out giggling at us, at least its nice to know they find the situation ridiculous too.
The first day we just ran errands: laundry, money, tour arranging (let`s just do this ourselves!), internet, food of course. Oh and I got myself an ISIC card after much running around in the rain, half-price student again!
Up early the next day and off on the bus to Pisac to see the ruins there. Very impressive. We weren`t sure Machu Picchu could beat them (but it did...) Up high on a mountian there was a collection of ruins, temple of the sun. That we hiked up and through and got lost and got unlost by scrambling down a steep bank. Views over the valley, the town of Pisac and all the ancient terraced agriculture plus tombs in the the hill behind. Hiked around for about an hour and a half, at one point along a very narrow trail on the side of the mountain and through a short tunnel, watch your step!
Wandered through the artisanal market in Pisac but soon got fed up with people trying to sell us stuff (yes we can see you have lots of different colours, that yes it is alpaca and that toque is obviously reversible!) and off on a another bus to Urubamba and a micro to Ollantaytambo, more ruins and where the train leaves from to Aguas Calientes (for machu picchu).
Very impressive ruins there too: hundreds of steps up through the terraces to the forteresse on the top and views up and down the valley. Words can´t describe it, and I´m not even the pictures I will eventually put up can do it all justice.
We ended up with too much time in Ollantaytambo, just a village. Expensive food, ruins, tourist shops, more expensive food, delaying in the restaurant playing Yahtzee.... grab some food from the market for the next day... ok can we finally go to the train station now? Basic train to aguas calientes, we were so tired and there was the most annoying german guy that we kept running into after (almost had to look over my shoulder and make sure he`s not here! We keep running into the same people everywhere, it`s crazy)
Aguas calientes in the pouring rain, 5 hours total in our hostel and up at 4:20 to be down at the bus stop before 5, not the greatest start to what would at least turn out to be an incredible day. You see they only allow 400 people a day to climb Wayna Picchu (young mountain) the mountain across from Machu Picchu (which mean `old mountain`and actually refers to the large mountain behind the ruins) so first-come-first-serve leaves to some crazy early morning rushing although had we known, it`s really no problem to get in during low season, its high season that has people hiking up at 4am and racing for the entrance. But anyway, we successfully obtained passes and bus tickets to be on the 5:30 bus and the 272nd person through the entrance right at 6am. So our tour didn`t start until later and we got wander around at dawn taking pictures with the llamas with very few tourists around. Surreal, such ruins amongst such impressive scenery! Crazy Incas to build a city at the top of very inaccessible mountains. It really did live to our expectations, and I must say those were pretty high! This was the one thing I really wanted to see. Got the guided tour in Spanish (much better, ugh can´t handle anymore ok my friends with that terrible accent) and the guide was pretty good, what an advanced civilisation.
Hurried off to climb Wayna Picchu, looked impossible but we conquered! Almost an hour of vertical rock steps in the heat. Straight up, thank goodness for the guide cables in the way down as there were parts more like rock climbing than hiking clinging to the mountain side. Plus a squishy tunnel to struggle through at the top. So glad I`m not claustrophic and can handle heights! The views from the top were more than worth it, perched on huge rocks on the top of the world. Ruins even up top, can see 360, valley, river, machu picchu, birds and butterflies and a picnic in the sun. Then down (nearly as hard as up), to see the sun temple and then down to the village, over an hour and we were totally knackered by that point with no sleep and hiking all day. Don`t think I`m for the Inca trail.
So tired and dirty. Really enjoyed relaxing in the dirty waters of the hot springs that gives aguas calientes it`s name. Then grabbed delicious `fast food` (a menu that the ladies cooked super fast for us!) before running off to the train in the rain again (first class this time since the backpacker was full, they even gave us more food) and grabbed a collectivo (taxi van) from ollataytambo back to cuzco with 2 guys from Toronto.
Slept in. Got bakery brunch. Really did nothing all the next day. Oh, in the evening we met up with 3 girls Corinna knew from her time in Arequipa, went for dinner and then out dancing but the music was mostly just what you get at home.
Sunday, up and off on a tour of the salt pools and another ruin with the guy who works at the hostel. (close call getting on the bus, someone managed to unzip the front of my bag but there`s just kleenex in there. someone almost got simone too, cuzco is the first place we`ve had to watch out) Snacking on yummy cake on the bus for breakfast (peruvians finally know how to make decent cake!) After 3 hours, got a taxi to the ruins of Moray, really different. Huge circles of terraced agriculture in a valley believed to have been used as an experimental farm. Every level has a different temperature, humidity and soil. Amazing a few metres can make such a difference! The Incas would plant different things and then find out which level they grew best at and tell the area with similar conditions to grow those plants.
Then a stop for a lunch before just missing the real rain and walking across the countryside for an hour to the salt pools. Again, amazing scenery with farmers working corn and potatoes, fields bordered by huge aloe-like plants, red dirt, green valleys, framed by huge snow-capped mountains with storm clouds. So peaceful.
Salt pools, very interesting. The guide works there sometimes in the summer high season so could tell us a lot. One tiny volcanic stream feeds hundreds of little pools nesteled in a valley where the water dries and leaves salt, then the workers rake it up and rinse it several times depending on the quality desired and then they package it up and send it off to every but north america it seems. In high season over 1000kg of salt a day and to think it all comes from one small stream. The workers work barefoot and hand and the salt cracks their skin plus the sun reflecting off the white salt pools often leaves them blind.
Then it was another long bus ride back, grab our stuff and onto the night bus to Arequipa.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

more photos!

Machu Picchu at sunrise.....
Rainy Cuzco at sunset

Valle de la Luna just outside of La Paz

View from behind the waterfall of paradise (las cuevas, samaipata, bolivia)

Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu!
view over copacabana from the shrine on the hill
corinna and I half way up to the shrine
beautiful church in copacabana
view from the top of Isla del Sol, lake titicaca
lady selling andean popcorn and other grains in the copacabana market, or perhaps la paz
amazing private waterfall in samaipata, bolivia

ok have to run, more later. almost done next blog update. now relaxing in rainy cuzco!