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Volcano Antisana and Quilotoa Crater Lake

September 21, 2008

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First, check out our new “Videos” page at the link at the top right hand side of the page.  We will post all of our videos in this one place, adding new ones at the top and letting the old ones move down.

It has been hard to keep up with postings on the blog. We’ve been a bit busy on buses and airplanes. We are now in Peru and we still have some more jungle photos and video from Ecuador to post soon. Two of the lasting impressions that we will have from Ecuador are the biodiversity of the country, one of the most diverse in the world, and the natural beauty at every turn.

Here are some pictures from our last weekend in Ecuador. JM’s good friend Andres took us to Volcan Antisana near Quito with his wife Rosanna and almost 4-year-old daughter Amelia. Antisana is a volcano of the northern Andes, in Ecuador. It is the fourth highest volcano in Ecuador, at 18,871 ft. (5,752m), and is located 50 km SE of the capital city of Quito. We really enjoyed spending the day with them and the volcano and surrounding areas were breathtakingly beautiful. Thanks for the great day! We’re sorry that we didn’t get a picture of you to post here.

Here are some pictures from our Sunday trip to Quilotoa Crater Lake. Quilotoa is a dormant crater lake located high in the Western Cordilleras of the Andes, 35 km west of Latacunga. The caldera is oval shaped with a diameter of 2.5 kilometers and the steep crater walls drop in some parts more than 300 meters to the water level at 3500m. The lake is 240m deep and its water is alkaline and no fish live there. The lake itself was spectacular and the drive there and back involved the typically beautiful views of the Ecuadorian Andean landscape.

After the hike down to the lake, which was really more of a slide down steep sandy hills most of the way, all of us except Kelli rode back up on mules/horses. Local indigenous people walk the animals down and then walk beside them as they carry the tourists back up. It looked pretty tough for the animals, which didn’t please Ainsley at all. Our guide claimed that each mule only does it once each day, but that was hard to believe. I was most amazed by the husband and wife pair that walked up with Jack and me. As you will see in the pictures below the wife was carrying a young baby with her the entire time. Even though they are acclimated to the altitude it was a tough clime, I can only imagine what it would be like with a baby. Furthermore, at one point she shifted the baby so that she could breast feed it and afterward shifted it again to her back. The US has trouble at times with breastfeeding in public; this woman did it while climbing out of a crater lake to earn a few dollars. Amazing!

Rio Blanco Community

September 17, 2008

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For the first three nights in the jungle we stayed near the community of Rio Blanco. Our rooms were in the area that they built for tourists, just a short 5 minute walk from the actual community. (See “Where We Stayed” for some pictures and more description of our accomodations.)

We arranged our stay through a group called RICANCIE, recommended by a brother of a friend who is a professor of spanish and latin american literature. Here is an excerpt from their website outlining their background.

“RICANCIE stands for Indigenous Community Network of the Upper Napo for Intercultural Exchange and Ecotourism. It was founded in 1993 with the goal to improve the quality of life for some 200 quichua families. Then as now, RICANCIE has taken as its primary objective the defense of the Quichua territory against encroaching mining and oil companies. Furthermore, tourist groups were being sent into these communities by external travel agents. These groups paid only minimal reimbursement fees and left behind trash and bad feelings, which led to conflict within the communities. With organized tourism activities, RICANCIE pursues a self-determined development path and offers new perspectives for our children. While RICANCIE continues to enjoy support of international organizations, RICANCIE is proud of its independence and all decisions regarding RICANCIE events and strategies are taken by a Concil whose members come from the villages participating in RICANCIE. “

On the first day, after hiking into the jungle for a few hours and having some lunch, we headed to the community where we met some of the local families and the kids played soccer with two of the local boys (more on that later). As you might imagine, the living conditions in the community are far different than anything we’ve experienced before. Most of the homes are mad of wood and very simple construction. They do have running water and one has electricity, but as you will see in the pictures below the 60 or so people living in the community have only the very basic necessities. My perception is that the RICANCIE project has brought them some level of income and ability to be more self-supportive, but it was really hard to determine. The families were all welcoming and apparently used to a limited but fairly steady flow of tourists through town.

Everything must be brought into the community by foot or mule, about a 2 hour journey. In fact as we hiked in that first day a 9 year old boy from the community passed us heading out of town on a mule carrying goods for the market. He then caught up to us on his hike back in and then later in the afternoon “kicked our butts in soccer” as Ainsley said.

On the second day we went into a family’s house for a yucca preparation demonstration. Yucca and bananas are still a primary source of food for all of their meals and they are nearly completely self sufficient in terms of growing all of the food they eat. It was quite eye opening to spend an hour or so in their kitchen and to take a turn at preparing some yucca ourselves. You will also see Eliot drinking a tea concoction they prepared that was supposed to help ward off the effects of his cold. He hates onions and yes, that was one of the main ingredients. Miraculously he drank most of it and as you will see did not enjoy it.

The community does have a small church and a primary school. The Ecuadorian government provides support in the form of a teacher and a house for them to live in. They also provide food which is prepared by a different family each day in the school kitchen. We joined the students one day as they were eating their soup and then during part of their class work. It was really great for our kids to see the school, interact with the children and gain an appreciation for what we have in our school systems back in the US.

The children in the community are taught in both Spanish and Quichua. They also learn a limited amount of English. The classroom itself is arranged with the desks oriented into three different directions and the teacher rotates throughout the day, teaching the three groups of different aged children. While teaching one group, the other two are basically on their own doing work. During our visit they demonstrated some of their English skills and our kids did the same in Spanish. Here are some pictures from that part of the visit.

Into the Jungle

September 16, 2008

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I’m going to let the pictures do most of the storytelling here. Overall the jungle was amazing; teeming with strange insects, animals and beautiful plants. Ainsley, Jack and Eliot were fantastic hikers, trudging through boot deep mud, across rain swollen streams and were adventurous in every way.

Baños, Ecuador

September 13, 2008

img_0969.jpgWe arrived in Baños Tuesday the 2nd of September after leaving Cuenca and enduring the marvelous bus ride of almost 8 hours through Ambato. Everyone was very sad to leave Cuenca which we found very comfortable and welcoming. The kids in particular were facing the fact that it will be hard for them to build true friendships during our vagabond travels. This was brought to mind primarily from the quick friendship they struck with Julian and Lizzie, the two children from Philadelphia who are spending the year in Cuenca. We heard many times “why can’t we stay in Cuenca for the whole year.” Well, the grass does often appear greener on the other side of the fence, but they will undoubtedly be happy to see the many places yet to come. Jack and Ainsley in particular are missing their friends, so any e-mails or comments for them from their friends are really cherished. We understand their reasoning and staying in Cuenca had some real appeal, but onward we went.

Even with the sadness and regret of moving on from Cuenca we were looking forward to Baños, one of Ecuador’s most popular tourist destinations. The promise of hot baths fed by volcano heated water, massages available throughout town and a setting deep in a valley with lots of hiking, horseback riding and other activities was enticing.

Arriving late in the afternoon we checked into Hotel Sangay, right next the Virgin Baths, which we quickly determined was a once grand hotel that has been allowed to become quite run down. The guidebook promise of a swimming pool, ping pong table, etc. was correct, but it just wasn’t a place in which we wanted to stay for long. We spent the night and the next morning Kelli headed off in pursuit of something better while I went to the baths with the kids. We found a very nice hostal for less money with great owners from Chicago and the best breakfast we’ve found in Ecuador. (You can read more about our lodging choices in the Where We Stayed section.)

Some quick observations about Baños and Ecuador. It is set in a deep valley alongside Volcan Tunguruhua, an active volcano that last spewed some ash in 1999. There are numerous waterfalls and spring fed baths throughout town, which is really geared toward tourism, both Ecuadorian and International. While much of the natural setting was stunning and reminiscent of other fabulously situated towns around the world, the town itself reminded us that we were in South America and Ecuador. Stray dogs roam the streets (Anna would be very sad to see that) and the fact that purportedly 60-70% of the population lives below the poverty line is clearly visible. It really is sad to see some of the conditions in which people live and work. Some of this has been brought on by the dollarization of their economy in the late 90’s and some people will tell you that the tremendous flow of money from oil revenues has not reached the people at all. In fact poverty has climbed since the 70’s. Add to that the pending vote on a revised constitution giving much more executive power to President Correa who is getting cozier with Chavez and the political and economic future of Ecuador may see many changes.

We will write more about some broader observations about Ecuador from our travelers and US perspective, but back now to our travel experience. Horseback riding was definitely on our minds as two attempts to ride in Cuenca were foiled by rain and scheduling woes. We headed out on our horses Thursday morning around 10 AM. The first hour or so was great for Jack and Ainsley, who both really loved riding, but it was the ride from hell for Eliot (riding with me) who moaned and complained almost the entire time. He was ready to go back from the first minute, poor guy. Our guide Jaime finally recommended that we put some of our long sleeve shirts down on the saddle to provide a little more padding. In hindsight it was so obvious. Eliot has no padding anywhere and the hard leather saddle must have been terribly uncomfortable. It worked like a charm and he was much happier the rest of the way. Jack and his horse Pirate of the Caribbean was perpetually at the front of the pack (even though we think Kelli’s horse was named Leader and seemed to fit the moniker at the beginning) with Jack constantly taking the lead and urging the horse to go faster with a well placed swap of his hind quarters on a regular basis. Just as on a bike or running, Jack seems to want to go faster and faster. Ainsley was pretty fast too, although her horse Bon Bon wanted to take snack breaks most of the time. Kelli and Eliot were happy walking and trotting and didn’t much enjoy the times when the horses picked up speed. I had to hold onto Eliot and the horse at the same time when the speed picked up and it wasn’t so enjoyable either. All that said, we did have a nice time on the horses.

Two of the other days we spent hiking through the mountains that surrounded the town. The first one on the southern side that led up to a Cross that is lit brightly at night. This was the trail on which we composed our get well video for Pop Pop. It was also the sight of an interesting sign and commerce. At one point on the trail we reached a side trail to the left heading to a rugged mountainside home (hut really) with a women hard at work in the field with a hoe. The side trail had a door like frame made out of logs on which was painted “You want a beer”. While that may have been true for me, we have packed insufficient water so we bought a few bottles of water from the little boy (probably not more than 7 or 8, who ran back to the house in his bare feet to make the sale.

The second day of hiking took us across the San Francisco bridge spanning the river. We climbed up the mountainside where we at one point were greeted by a local man who invited us to hike up the trail on his property to get a better view of the volcano across the valley. He is evidence of one thing we have found throughout Ecuador. The people here, whether friends and family of JM or complete strangers, are all very friendly and welcoming, especially with our kids. We continued on the hike for about 4 or 5 hours in total. At different points on this muddy and steep trail we crossed paths with men on mules heading to the fields and once a family and mule carrying quite a load. The views were stunning, but the volcano remained shrouded in clouds the entire time. Unfortunately, not once during our 4 day visit did the clouds reveal the upper reaches of the volcano.

The hot baths themselves were quite an experience. Again, an opportunity to interact with locals. We got many looks, especially from the older women, as we were the only “Gringos” at the pools most of the time. The kids loved all of them, the cold, warm and very hot direct from the volcano one. There was also cold water funneled straight from the waterfall through some piping that you could stand under to get refreshed. That reminded me a bit of my childhood cross country visit when on occasion my siblings and I would go from a cold swimming pool to a hot tub to experience the drastic difference in temperatures. The kids, even Eliot, participated in this with some joy.

Another special and unexpected treat in Baños was our discovery of a Swiss restaurant in town. The menu had the full complement of Fondue, Raclette and Rosti which we all love from our visits with the Engelters in Switzerland. We ended up going there twice which made us really long for our visit with them which won’t come until the end of our travels.

The other two special treats were the children’s park and the Whippet at the Hostal. All three kids enjoyed riding the zip line, climbing the climbing wall and joining in on a curious version of soccer played on a concrete surface with a small, heavier ball. They also loved hanging out with Simon the Whippet. Look for some pictures in the Where We Stayed section soon.

Well, I’m sure there is more to report, but Saturday morning came all too quickly as we boarded a jam packed bus for Tena and our trip to the jungle. More on that soon.

More Ecuador (Including Guinea Pig)

September 3, 2008

Finally our blog posting with Guinea Pig!

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We have now spent more than 2 weeks in Ecuador and our blog postings to date have been about specific trips or experiences, but there is so much we see each day and so much to share that this posting is going to be a bit of a hodge podge of things, roughly in chronological order.

Visit with JM’s Mother

First, our trip to the markets in Paute, Gaulaceo, and Chordoleg with JM’s cousin Wilson his wife Lourdes and their son Paul is a bit overdue. That was two Sundays ago and also the day that we had a fabulous time meeting JM’s mother and enjoyed our most delicious meal in Ecuador at her house in Gualaceo. Our camera was not yet repaired and we forgot to take our back up camera, so we have just a few pictures to share.

They picked us up at 9 AM and we spent the bulk of the day driving to these nearby towns, visiting the various markets (fruits and vegetables, food and jewelry). The most fascinating market to most of us was the food market in Gualaceo where stall after stall sold all types of Ecuadorian “comida tipica” including roasted pig that was not that unlike NC barbecue without the sauce, although the entire pig including the head are more prominently displayed.

CEDEI Spanish School

Here are some pictures of the Spanish School we attended in Cuenca for two weeks along with a picture of the kids with Cesar, one of their three “professors”.

Eating Cuy (Guinea Pig)

We finally ate cuy on our last evening in Cuenca. We did so with our new Cuenca friends, a family from Philadelphia that is staying in Cuenca for the school year. Ainsley, Jack and Eliot made fast friends with their two children, Julian and Lizze. We really enjoyed getting to know them, learn about their school plans in Cuenca and sharing some meals and cervezas. The kids really enjoyed spending time together and ours were really sad to leave Cuenca and them behind. (The inability to build friendships outside of our nuclear family is certainly a downside to our on the move approach with this trip.)

So, what to say about the Cuy? No it tastes like chicken or other remarks here. It certainly is a meal that is unique. Sure, it tasted fine and had both an interesting flavor and texture. The skin was extremely crispy and a bit thick. Everyone at the table partook in the meal, some with more vigor than others as the pictures will show. Norm (the father) probably won the most adventurous cuy eater award for his approach to the eating the head. Eliot, probably the least for his one bite of meat provided to him already on a fork. But hey, he gave it a try.

Bus ride to Ambato

Yesterday we traveled from Cuenca to Banos, via a central town in the Andes named Ambato. The bulk of the journey, 8 hours in total, took place in a bus along the Pan-American Highway. I assure you that the use of the word “highway” is made very loosely. Certain stretches were nothing but rock strewn road, no pavement in sight, and usually at the most frightening moments. We were safe, but boy those drops off were mighty steep and a long way down.

I don’t think any of us were really prepared for the trip. We did ride the bus to Otavalo for 2 hours or so, but that was really mild in comparison. One of the questions from Ainsley before the trip was if the bus would have a bathroom. We weren’t sure, but were pleasantly surprised to see that it did. Then we saw the sign on the door, “Solo Damas”! They meant it. Not even the doe eyed Eliot with a full bladder was enough to convince the “ticket taker” to unlock the door for him. It was left to first Ainsley and then Kelli to brave the Urinario on the windy stretches of the bumpiest section of the Pan American Highway. Eliot was constrained to utilizing the small empty (gasp here for GG!) Coke bottle. He did a great job. Jack and John basically avoided drinking anything and were left to hold it for approximately 6 hours before we were given the first opportunity to exit the bus and use the banos. Ugh!!

Jack’s motion sickness, for which he is prone, was mild most of the way with the exception of the unpaved stretch. Thankfully, we needed no bags of any kind. He just hung in there as best as he could.

All in all, the scenery was stunningly beautiful, the driver was a bit crazy, and the bus crowded and at times a bit smelly. Probably a bit more than we bargained for, but in the end we arrived in Banos safe and sound. Where else can a family of 5 travel for 8 hours and pay a total of $37? What did we expect? Peanuts, sodas and a bathroom?

We are now enjoying the hot baths in Banos for a few days before we head to Tena on Saturday. Sunday morning we leave for the jungle for the next 5 days. We’ll post again before we leave Banos.

Thanks for all the comments and well wishes. We miss you all!

Parque Nacional Cajas

August 30, 2008

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We just finished our 2 weeks of Spanish classes, 4 hours each morning. We learned quite a bit and that foundation will serve us well for our remaining 2 1/2 months in South America, but I must say that we are happy to be finished. The whole family has been up at 7 AM each morning for the last 12 days (including last Saturday and Sunday for trips to Cajas and Gualaceo) and we have been studying hard each evening. Learning a new language is not easy, especially for adults! So, today is really the first day since we arrived in Cuenca that we didn’t have homework or need to get everyone up and out of the house early. It feels good!

Last Saturday we went to Parque Nacional Cajas, one of the most beautiful natural sites in Ecuador. It is a mere 30 km from Cuenca and made a great day trip. The altitude ranges from 3,200 to 4,450 m and the temperature averages only 10 degrees Celsius. The park also is blessed with a significant amount of water. It has 230 lakes, many streams and lots of rainfall each year. In fact, the global warming experts theorize that it will receive more rainfall as time goes on.

We traveled to Cajas via minivan early Saturday morning with our guide “Kuko” who is a childhood friend of JM’s friend Andres in Quito. He was a tremendously knowledgeable, friendly and great guide. Our day ended up being a very cold and wet one and you will see that we were in and out of clouds much of the day. That limited our visibility somewhat, but it was still an incredibly beautiful day and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Thankfully, we were fairly well prepared, although tall waterproof boots would have been better than our short “hiking” shoes. (You will see some warming up and drying of socks/pants going on in the lunch pictures below.)

As a brief side note, a number of people have commented about the weather in Cuenca from our clothing in the earlier pictures. It has been unseasonably cool during our stay and we have been bundled up in layers most days. Very few if any buildings have heat here, as it is very near the equator. But, the altitude brings some fairly cool temperatures and we have had only a day or two of truly sunny weather.

Cajas is comprised mostly of Sub-Alpine Pluvial Forest and Alpine Forest, which is more commonly known in the Andes as Paramo. The scenery is very different than the Rockies in Colorado and extremely beautiful in its own special way. Much of the ground is covered by highland straw and other smaller plants that form a cushion that becomes its own water reservoir. The kids really enjoyed jumping on the sections of ground that reverberated under their feet as the water shifted around. We all enjoyed taking in the beautiful scenery, interesting flowers, strange “paper” trees that in forest form are reminiscent of a Grimm’s fairy tale and walking out in the wilderness after spending our early days on the trip in cities with buses, taxis, and lots of people. We would love to go back to Cajas, but probably won’t before we leave Cuenca.

Tomorrow we go horseback riding at a hacienda outside of Cuenca and are hoping for a nice sunny day. Regardless of the weather and studying we are truly enjoying our stay in Cuenca and will be sad to move on.

Hope you enjoy the pictures!!

Food in Ecuador

August 27, 2008

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Per Rob’s request for an article about food!

First off, Michelle (JM’s daughter) was right. The food in Cuenca is very good, although we have yet to really dive into the street food. That said, the food at her grandmother’s house in Gualaceo is Excellent. We visited JM’s mother “in the country” on Sunday where she and her sister played the most gracious hosts to we North Carolinians. They served lasagna, with pollo y jamon, that was out of this world and then to top it off we had a fruit salad for desert with the most amazing flavors courtesy, of many fruits that we have never seen in the states. That, along with the company, made for our best meal in Ecuador by far. Too bad that our camera, which was still partially working after a drop on day 3, decided to stop working all together during our visit. So, we have no pictures of that amazing lunch with Julia, her sister and JM’s cousin’s family.

When we were discussing Cuenca with JM he said that we wouldn’t need to cook because it is so inexpensive to eat at restaurants. He could not have been more right. There is no need to spend more than $2.00 per person on any lunch here. They have Almuerzos (same word as lunch) that means a set lunch. For anywhere between $1.25 and $2.25 one is served a bowl of soup, a plate with rice, beans and meat, a glass of fresh exotic juice and often a small desert. So, that means for less than $10 our family of 5 has a very substantial meal in the middle of the day.

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We have sampled quite a few almuerzos in our week and a half and have a few to share below. Our favorite place, Govinda’s, serves vegetarian almuerzos with a bit of an Indian twist. We also really liked Grecia’s Restaurant that served an amazing sopa de polla y papas. The last time they served us mango ice cream for dessert, yum!

Moving on from the more interesting fare, we arrive at Eliot’s favorite – salchipapas and papas fritas. Salchipapas are simply French fries with a hot dog placed on top. They are served with ketchup and mayonnaise. (Finally, I understand why JM always had mayonnaise on his French fries when he lived with us in PA!) There is a picture below from the small tienda next door to our Spanish school. All that for about $0.70. You will also see Ainsley below enjoying a salchicha from around the corner from the house. A fully loaded hot dog (although Ainsley didn’t take the crushed potato chips on top?!) that included a drink for $1.00. Sounds like the Durham Bulls on Thursday night.

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Some of the pictures below are from our lunch during a hike at Parque Nacional Cajas. (More on the fantastic hike later) We ate at a small restaurant just outside of the park. Cajas is well known for its 230 lakes and countless rivers and streams that result in quite the trout offering. They deep fry the trout whole, bones and all. It is then eaten skin and all. One of the most favored parts is actually the tail fin, which is crispy like a potato chip. Ainsley gave the tail fin a thumbs up and quickly claimed my trout plate as her own. Jack and I managed to pry out the cheek, which was always the delicacy when I was younger.

We have yet to eat cuy, guinea pig, but it is a must before we leave Cuenca. Look for more about that soon.

Cuenca House

August 25, 2008

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First of all, thanks to everyone who has sent e-mails and/or made comments on our various blog postings. Regardless of our response rate (e-mail access is not nearly as convenient for us in Cuenca as it was at the hostal in Quito), we do enjoy hearing from all of you. The kids especially enjoy hearing from their friends.  Eliot asks “can we check H.E.R.B” every time we have internet access.

Here is the house in Cuenca where we settled last Sunday, the 17th, and where we plan to spend about 2 1/2 weeks. The white door on the lower right is the entrance to the house, and the  door to the left is our very own neighborhood bakery!  Above, the balcony is part of the front bedroom (one of four bedrooms in the house) and this is where Eliot sleeps ( in his own double bed!).

This may be our longest stay in one place on this trip.  After our short stay in Quito, it felt good to unpack and have a place to call home. (Just how did those Johnson’s survive two years with no more than 3 or 4 nights in one place?) Perhaps we’ll get a bit more used to the transitory life as the trip goes on.

The house is owned by JM’s mother Julia.   Cuenca, a city in the Andes in the southern part of Ecuador, recently celebrated it’s 450th anniversary.  Its history goes back further if you consider its Inca and Cañari past.  JM’s mother now lives at her house in Gualaceo (in the country not far from Cuenca) caring for her sister, who’s health is not great. (More later about our visit with them this past Sunday the 24th)

JM and his many friends and family have really made our stay in Ecuador enjoyable and easy so far, especially Andres in Quito, Wilson y Lourdes in Cuenca, and JM in Miami. We feel very special and well cared for, thanks!!!!

The house itself is more than 100 years old and the kids find it fascinating. There are three stories, lots of stairs, and many balconies within. We each even have our own bedroom, which is really spoiling us at this point. Funny, but the kids’ favorite thing has to be the multiple doors, keys and locks involved with entering/leaving the house each time. Being the operator of the various locks and keys hasn’t worn off quite yet.

The location of the house is fantastic, right in the middle of the old, colonial downtown section of Cuenca and only 2 blocks from our Spanish language school. It also is a short bus or taxi ride to Parque Paraiso (Paradise Park), where there are many rock formations to climb, playground apparatuses (that would never pass inspection in the US) and soccer fields. The kids joined in on a local family’s soccer game the other day and had a great time. We learned some new words like “Cubre Jack”, or “Cover Jack!”

All in all, Cuenca and the house are charming and a wonderful spot to start our time in Ecuador and on our trip in earnest. Thanks again!

Sunday August 17th, Quito vs. Barcelona

August 19, 2008

PART I

I woke up, stretched for a long time and then put my head back down, because I had a long day ahead of me. Breakfast as always at the hostal was really good. The marmalade was its usual, amazing. As we were getting ready to leave we packed up everything, no games, it was just packing, packing and more packing (except for a soccer ball, more on that later). It wasn’t straight out the front door, mom and Ainsley took a little bit longer to get ready and then it was straight out the door. We had a little stop in the courtyard to look at the humongous fig.

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We buzzed ourselves out and to the cab, it was to the cab. “Estadio Olimpico” we said to the cab driver. “Quanto Cuesta?” Vrrrooommm!….and we were off to Estadio Olimpico (the soccer game of my lifetime).

In the cab, I thought it was going to be one of those movies where you came into the stadium and it was the coolest preparation ever for a game. And you know that music, right? Now, we just got out of the cab and there were so many different fans of each team and we went to this guy and bought two tickets. Two tickets, OK. Two tickets, we bought two tickets! Then there were three parts of the ticket. One for the gate. Two to get inside the stadium and one for you to keep (and this ticket mostly goes in our journals). Then we past and gave out our second part of our ticket and I was ready for the awesome music. Then there was……a soccer game already going on (the preliminary game). L But, one of the teams was from where we were staying next (Cuenca). J

PART II

Tweet!! And the game was on! My brain went so many different ways. It was so exciting, but the only problem was that it wasn’t going to be as exciting if either team scored a goal. A little bit into the game Quito – 0, Barcelona – 0.

Have you ever been to Loco Pops before? Well, if you think I am going to tell you how much I miss Loco Pops, you are wrong. Because, we got LOCO POPS, helados actually, at the soccer game and popcorn. There was this one goal attempt which almost untied the game to put Barcelona in front. There was a quick from about mid way to an open Barcelona player, then from the Barcelona player’s perspective you could see three things. The goalie, a Quito player and a Barcelona player running up behind them. He kicked the ball right in between the goalie and the Quito player. It had it right there, setup for the Barcelona player to do a sliding kick right for the first goal of the game. Ground ball was going, going, going, into……the goal! OK, maybe I was stretching the truth a little bit. Yeah, he went a little bit too late and the ball went right past the goal. Tweet, Tweet! Halftime.

INTERMISSION
Hey, we’re back with more. Quito – 0, Barcelona – 0 If you could have seen this ballgame there were so many attempts (mostly by Barcelona), but sadly we had to leave early because we had to go on a plane flight and you know I would have rather stayed and not gone to Cuenca in the first place because I could have watched the rest of the soccer game as well as not have to go on our plane flight (editors note: Jack doesn’t like plane flights!) Maybe I was a little bit more happy, the fans went crazy, loco. They were so loud you should……n’t have been there. But, all together the soccer game was an experience of a lifetime and Cuenca here I come!

p.s. We accidentally left the soccer ball at the hostal.

p.p.s. Thanks for reading and thanks for all of your comments. We enjoy reading them.

Jack

Otavalo Market

August 18, 2008

Day 3 (Saturday) in Ecuador had us head to the famous market in Otavalo, a 2 - 3 hour bus ride north of Quito. It is at its best on Saturdays so we decided to go right away. We debated renting a taxi vs riding a bus and in the end came down on the more adventurous bus route. (Against JM’s recommendations, but supported by Paul and Clark’s experience, sorry JM.)

We took a taxi from our hostel to the main bus station in Quito. Our taxi driver dropped us off very near the station, but not exactly inside it. He did so in front of a bus that he then directed us onto. The bus didn’t say Otavalo, but the bus driver did say Si when asked if it went to Otavalo. (Our very limited spanish is a handicap and we are working on that.) We proceeded onto the bus, which from the boys perspective was very attractive due to a very prominent TV that was in the front and on. From Kelli’s perspective she was not at all at ease, considering that Otavalo was not listed on the bus and the Lonely Planet guide specifically referenced one bus line. So, in the end we departed the bus and walked across the street, entered the bus station and proceeded to the information counter in search of the Otavalo/Lagos bus line. They were very helpful and a Security guard then escorted us down to the proper window to purchase our tickets. (We must have looked a bit helpless to get that level of service)

We were then escorted by a bus line employee through the turnstile, where the kids went under and Kelli and I each paid a mere $0.20 exit tax. The bus was nearly empty as we boarded and upon inventorying the seats a bit, Jack, Eliot and Ainsley all took single seats up front very near the driver. (See the pictures below) They really had catbird seats from which to view the scenery and Jack was next to an open window which provided a fresh breeze and a good view of things to ward of his typical motion sickness. Even though we are doing our best to use the bathroom at the Hostal or whenever we have the opportunity, Kelli and Ainsley needed a quick stop upon boarding the bus. They quickly exited and went to the bathroom. They paid the $0.05 each for using it, replete with what is probably typical, no toilet paper and no toilet seat. (GG would not survive down here!) They did their business quickly, but not fast enough to prevent the driver from starting to go backwards in preparation for leaving the station. I reiterated that they were coming, as best as I could, and Eliot then began to get a bit scared. Sure enough he waited and K & A hopped on the bus as he continued his rearward movement.

So with that bit of drama, we were off. I’d like to say we were off with some speed, but there was nothing fast about exiting Quito, which seemed to go on for miles and miles, and the traffic was thick and slow the entire way. After what must have been at least 45 minutes we left Quito and started traveling on the Pan-American highway where the scenery quickly changed for the better. The views of the mountains and deep canyons with rivers were excellent, punctuated at fairly regular intervals by the bus driver passing slower vehicles. Yes, as we read in many places, they pass on corners and anywhere they can, all on two lane roads. All in all though, it felt very safe. The kids were great on the 2+ hour ride, soaking in the scenery and probably helped by being separated from their parents by other riders.

We arrived in Otavalo at a bit past Noon and proceeded toward the market. Walking down the streets of a foreign city, with anticipation about the markets building for Kelli and me, what was uttered but, “look it’s Indiana Jones!” Eliot had spotted a DVD in one of the numerous video stores right at his eye level. We were then required to stop and look at it for a moment. After continuing on a bit, it became clear that food was needed and we stopped to have our first pizza in South America. (This was where a sloppy hand off resulted in a dropped and subsequently damaged brand new camera. Our first major unplanned expense!)

The market itself was amazing in so many ways - size, scope, colors, noises, smells, etc. With all of the wares available we acted with great restraint, daunted by the thought of carrying things or shipping them all home. As attractive as things are we are holding back on accumulating anything else at the moment. Even thought the camera was damaged we managed to get it to work somewhat and took a number of pictures of the market.

The return bus home greeted us with a bus version that did not have the front seats, much to Jack’s dismay. So, we were relegated to the usual two across seats. This bus ended up carrying far more passengers, many of them prepared to stand for the entire 2+ hour trip. This included elderly women, women with small children, etc. Eliot and Ainsley were seated next to each other and somewhere along the way gained a seat mate in the form of a 2 or 3 year old girl who proceeded to fall asleep on Ainsley’s shoulder. Ainsley seemed quite happy to provide some comfort for her along the way.

The views on the way home were a little clearer and we had a fine view of the volcano co-located with Otavalo (I need to look it up and will add the name later). Seeing all of this natural beauty had us yearning to leave the city confines of Quito and get out in the Andes.

I’m catching up on this posting at a spanish language school in Cuenca. The kids started this afternoon and Kelli and I start tomorrow morning. We narrowly missed losing our 3rd hat after Ainsley left it on the Quito - Cuenca flight. The airline found it and we picked it up at the airport the following day.

More about our last day (Sunday) in Quito and arrival in Cuenca soon. Here are the Otavalo pictures.

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