Sunday, 4 March 2007

homeward bound

After persisting with this blog for the last couple of months it would be a shame not to make one final posting, much more for me than for anyone else. It seems about 5 minutes ago that I was feeling terrified about jumping on a plane and flying halfway around the world for who knows what... and it's been the fastest 2 months of my life. Especially these last two weeks which have raced by, and suddenly I find myself thrown back into the real world! So to follow on from the last posting - Riombamba. Well I've changed my mind since the last blog and by the fifth day of the water-throwing Carnaval I had severe sense of humour failure. Riobamba was like a town under seige - people on roofs with huge buckets, gangs patrolling the streets in trucks with the sole intention of drenching anyone daft enough to be walking around. And after a couple of hours (and with no more dry clothes) I holed up in my hostel and watched cable tv for the rest of the day! Yes this is the same woman who climbed a volcano and went deathsliding through the cloud forest. But before going into hiding I did have time to bribe the stationmaster into selling me the very last ticket for the following morning, so at 6am I clambered onto the roof of the train with about thirty other people and we set off for the Devil's Nose. It was a spectacular journey with beautiful views of Chimborazo volcano at sunrise and hair-raising narrow misses of all the dogs, sheep, llamas and cars that attempted to cross the track along the way. And although some of it was pretty scary you weren't paralysed by fear, but because it was sooooo cold! For the first couple of hours despite six layers of clothing none of us could speak. But a combination of surviving the cold and the world's steepest descent down the side of a mountain made it all the more thrilling, and it was honestly one of the best things I have done during my stay in Ecuador. So onto Banos! Sadly only one day there but long enough for a 20km cycle ride, taking in steep hairpins, sheer drops and the darkest, scariest kilometre long tunnel with no passing places! Lots of huge waterfalls, orchids, wobbly cable cars all followed up with a soak in the healing volcanic baths. As you can see above, hitching was required for the way home. There was even time to go and view the Tungurahua volcano which erupted last year, but which decided to save it's latest splutterings until 2 DAYS after I had left. Very disappointing... The town is actually immediately protected by a smaller mountain which stands between it and the volcano, but the road in and out of the town was affected badly and you have to drive through several miles of volcanic ash which is still being cleared. This is what it looked like only a couple of months ago and the people living in the town are still angry at the mayor who conveniently managed to make his escape without telling anyone of the imminent threat... I believe he has now been ousted... And finally back to Quito. My last weekend was so much fun spent with the lovely friends I had met at Spanish school, and in many ways now that I know the city so well, it was like coming home. Just time to fit in some major present shopping in Otavalo (accompanied by two friends who had clearly underestimated my levels of endurance when it comes to shopping and haggling), present delivery to my host family, and lots of mojito drinking before having to say goodbye. It's so hard to sum up the experiences, sights, sounds and the gorgeous, fun, interesting, adventurous friends I have made along the way. But it's been a trip of a lifetime and now I just have to figure out how to get back there!

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Ok just a quickie as my final week is packed with things to do and stuff to buy. Have said goodbye to another family and my last weekend in Cuenca was spent exploring the small indigenous towns around the Southern Sierra. It has been Carnaval for the last week and the tradition here is that everyone (especially the girls) get water thrown on them wherever they go! Everyone carries those huge water guns as part of the tradition of ´cleansing´ before Lent begins, and this weekend was spent totally drenched (even the buses have to keep their windows closed for fear of waterbombs). Actually quite glad nearly it´s over now because I´ve been baking in my raincoat for the last few days and you start to lose your sense of humour about the whole thing after every last item of clothing you own is soaked! Still it saves having to do any washing. I was also cleansed by a Shamen from one of the region´s tribes who shook herbs over my head, painted crosses on my stomach and face, massaged me with an egg and then spat over me with a medicinal liquid to heal my body and soul. I have never been so clean. Although the amount of icecream and crepes we followed it up with were definitely not prescribed and may have cancelled out any previous positive aura. Hiking in Parque el Cajas was thrilling - definitely the most beautiful countryside in all of Ecuador and filled with orchids of all kinds, but sadly not much wildlife. Was hoping for a bear or a puma but they kept themselves hidden. Can´t really complain about lack of wildlife though after the Galapagos islands. Have moved from Cuenca to Riobamba where tomorrow morning at 6am in temperatures of zero degrees I will perch on the roof of a train from here to Alausi. It´s called the Devil´s Nose train ride for it´s amazing switchbacks and almost impossibly steep descent, so unlikely I will remove my camera from its case, at the risk of losing it over the side, and because I will certainly need both hands to hold on. After that I head to the town of Banos, the town that was evacuated in November last year because Volcan Tungurahua started erupting, so I´m hoping for no more than a few sparks while I´m there. I will though be heading up the facing mountain for a night time view of the crater. Otovalo, one of the most famous markets in South America has been saved for the final weekend of my trip before coming home next monday. Any special gift requests - get them in now! That´s it for now off to reserve my space on the roof.

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


It´s almost impossible to talk about how amazing the wildlife of the Galapagos islands is so I thought I´d leave it to the pictures... Currently in Cuenca living with a new family but still feel like I´m on the boat! Cuenca is probably Ecuador´s most beautiful town, full of colonial buildings, and the TRUE home of the Panama hat.(See below) I have a new large family (2 parents and 4 daughters) and a new Spanish teacher called Gabriella who once lived in Putney! Running out of time though, and will be very sad to leave - only 2 weeks to go... ps Happy Valentines Day! They take it very seriously here. Flowers everywhere!

Saturday, 3 February 2007


Well I have had a fantasic birthday week despite hoping to keep it quiet that I am now well on the way to my thirties... The week began in a pretty surreal way with my host family inviting me to take part in their "El Niño" fiesta which involved attending mass for several hours, throwing rose petals in the path of my host brother as he walked with a cradle containing the el niño doll, and then feasting for several hours with about thirty members of the family (much more my kind of thing!) I think this is a fiesta specific to Ecuador and it was an honour to be invited although most of the time I had no clue what was going on. Basically, every house has an "El Nino" (baby jesus) which stays in their house to ensure them safety throughout the year. Then once a year each family has a mass especially for them, to bless the baby for the next 12 months. It was a bit like going to a wedding, without the happy couple, but with the confetti, the speeches and the wedding breakfast. Definitely a unique experience. Tuesday night started out being a quiet drink with a couple of people and ended up being a big night out with a mixture of people I was in the Amazon with, school friends and people from the hostel. There were presents, cake and salsa dancing! No pictures to show as yet. I didn't dare take my camera out, but I believe there are some incriminating pics somewhere which might make it onto this blog but will most likely be destroyed. It was very touching my new lovely mates bought me a woolly hat and beautiful indigenous woven scarf to take on my next expedition. And they even sang! We did wimp out a bit on the salsa though simply because the dancers here are just soo amazing. It was a bit intimdating but amazing to watch. So my next trip actually on my birthday day was to the thermal baths at Papallacta,a tiny village high in the Andes. I lay about in volcanic pools for most of the day before an amazing power shower with a fireman's hose followed by the best massage ever. Could have stayed there for weeks. But with my Spanish lessons over for a couple of weeks I decided to go to Quilatoa for a couple of days. Photos above and below. The two days hiking included a visit to the Quilatoa Laguna, a huge lake in the crater of a distinct volcano at about 4 thousand feet... absolutely beautiful although the pictures don't really do it justice. (Please note:new birthday hat!)We (me and 4 other English girls) rode donkeys and walked miles through the Andes staying the night at the Black Sheep Inn, a famous eco lodge in the middle of nowhere which is totally self sustaining and gives you the feeling you are at home as soon as you walk in the door (definitely helped by the home made cookies on arrival). Here is the view from my front door... The second day included more walking through the Andes and in particular the cloud forests where you could almost be on another planet. We had a picnic feast of local cheese, homemade bread, popcorn and more cookies (provided by the Black Sheep Inn) looking down on the clouds. Amazing. But apparently all this is nothing in comparison to the Galapagos Islands. I leave tomorrow so expect pages and pages of photos in about a week... Adios x

Monday, 29 January 2007

Some photos (See below for New Blog....)

Mindo and and the Amazon

As usual this blog is coming out the wrong way up.... read "new president" entry below first. Anyway in a brief update of the last few weeks... I have spent a weekend in Mindo which a beautiful area of cloud forest several hours north of Quito with some of my school friends. We stayed in a small wooden house on the edge of the village and the lady who owned it made us huge all-you-can-eat breakfasts every day, which we needed because we walked for miles. The area is renowned for its amazing array of butterflies and orchids as well as some spectacular natural cascades so we spent the days exploring and the evenings playing Ecuador´s favourite card game Cuarenta. Oh and I did a sort of cable abseiling thing through the clouds which was both terrifying and amazing. Everyone got on brilliantly but we had to head back to Quito much earlier than we would have liked because we had tickets to see Ecuador play Sweden in a friendly. It was of course necessary to get fully kitted out! (see above) Final score 1-1 and most of the match spent trying to explain to the American´s why real football is so much better than their "football". On this occasion the Aussies and the Brits were on the same side. The only other thing to add is my brilliant week in the jungle. Mornings spent in Spanish lessons with my new teacher (another Santiago) who is so laid back, until you get him in a game of Cuarenta and then he turns into some kind of monster. Anyway had a fab week sharing a log cabin with my fellow-student Katie and a hairy eight-legged friend. The worst thing was not knowing exactly where the tarantula had crawled to while you were out hiking through the jungle for hours. Although it was not the deep deep Amazon we were surrounded by monkeys, toucans, parrots, caymen, spiders as I said, and any kind of bug, mosquito, biting thing you can name. We had a great time and you get used the intense humidity and the fact that all your clothes are permanently damp once you´ve been there a few days.

New President

Oh dear I can´t believe it´s been such a long time since I´ve updated this. Since then Ecuador has inaugurated a new president and I have survived a week in the jungle. The new president Correa has been received very positively so far - no mass demonstrations, riots or anything like that. He´s young and left wing, and there seems to be a general feeling that his policies will be positive for the country, although my host father (who works for a minister) is a little more pesimistic. He says he´s heard this so many times before. Ecuador has had 7 presidents in the last 10 years. But it was an excuse for a national holiday, and we went to the Parliament square to see some of the dignitaries arriving for the ceremony which on television looked and sounded like a party - clapping and cheering throughout. Definitely more vibrant that the restrained grumblings of the House of Commons. Going to the jungle, and also visiting several indigenous markets has made me realise what luxury I have had living in Quito. I wouldn´t say my family are very well off but there´s no comparison to the rural communities who often trade goods rather than with money, and not always by choice. That is the tradition of the indigenous people though and we visited a market where guinea pigs were being swapped for maize and struggling chickens were dropped into brown paper bags soon to become lunch. Sorry, it would have been an opportunity missed so I did try some of the guinea pig - but never again! It is Ecuador´s national dish after all. It´s not only really difficult to eat because the meat is a much tougher version of chicken, but it´s very difficult to remove from the skin and the bone. Not to mention the fact that it is smiling at you while you try and eat it. Next time I´ll stick to the pink bananas they sell here (one of about 20 banana varieties).