Saturday, August 25, 2007

Five days in the Ecuatorian jungle

I just spent the most awesome five days at a lodge on the river Cuyabeno in primary rainforest (a.k.a. jungle). It took forever to get there (8 hour overnight bus, 3 hour taxi ride on dirt roads with one flat tire, and a 3 hour boat ride in pouring rain), but I could have stayed forever and ever and ever. The food was great, the guide was wonderful, there were no mosquitos (!!!), and the animals---oh the animals! Just to make you a little bitsy jealous, here's a list of just a few animals I saw:
  • black caiman (caiman is like an alligator)
  • dwarf caiman
  • dusky-headed parakeet
  • white-throated toucan
  • three-toed sloth
  • squirrel monkey
  • white fronted capuchin monkey
  • monk saki monkey
  • pink river dolphin
  • grey river dolphin
  • and lots, lots of birds

And a list of animals I could have seen but was happy I didn't:

  • tarantula
  • poisonous snakes

Unfortunately my humble camera couldn't catch anything high up in trees or anything that moved. Here are some pictures of what I could get:

Caiman lurking in water
Baby caiman
Swimming with the piranhas and caimans
"Hiking", thank goodness for rubber boots!
Strange fruit
Resident parrot (also known as breakfast-crashing evil little s··t)

Happy boater
And with a full-circle finale, a flat tire on the way back (same taxi same driver, this time a different tire)

Friday, August 17, 2007

It's about time I wrote an entry on Ecuador

It's been awhile, I know. Things were going so smoothly, I was relaxing, hiking, making friends and just plain doing nothing that was entry-worthy. But I suppose you might want to know what Ecuador is like? Maybe, I hope?

Ecuador was instantly a lush green oasis after crossing the border from the sand dune covered Peruvian coast. I found myself in a travellers' paradise called Vilcabamba, famous for its apparent Fountain of Youth. I didn't find the fountain, but did do a lot of steep and amazing hikes around the surrounding foothills with other travellers I'd met in the hostel. It was under this lovely backdrop that I had the worst dormitory experience of my entire backpacking career.

Note: For those with weak stomachs, do NOT read this paragraph
The dorm was a cute wooden two-storey loft. I was on the top floor. There was a very nice American girl on my floor, but she ended up drinking a bit too much that night and was vomiting in her sheets all night. It was disgusting and needless to say I didn't get much sleep that night. I escaped as early as I could to the dining area that morning, but the next thing I know the American girl decides to join me for breakfast...BLAH!!!!!!!! I had to be nice but really I wanted to ream her out. If you have a weak stomach and are reading this paragraph anyway, don't read this part: the guy in the bed below her mentioned there was some kind of liquid dripping onto him all night. Ick ick ick ick ick ick... The next day I moved into a private room.

Next I moved on to a colonial town called Cuenca, and then to a thermal springs resort town called Baños (baths) at the foot of an active volcano. I was DYING to see the volcano, but it rained and rained and I didn't see much more than the foot in the clouds. The baths were great.

My next stop was to the middle of nowhere, to a tiny town called Chugchilán where an American couple runs an Eco-friendly hostel in an indigenous area with a beautiful green volcanic crater lake. (whew, long sentence) The price was more than I usually can afford ($25 a night, I know, poor me) with heavenly vegetarian meals included. I met more great travelling friends here, and had a great time. Except for one incident.

I did a 3 hour hike from the crater down into the canyon, back out of the canyon and back to the hostel. I was accompanied by two friends and we also hired a local guide. The views were wonderful, but the local dogs weren't. At one point a group of dogs came barking at us, but we put some distance between us and them and thought we were fine. Suddenly from behind I felt a giant mouth of teeth grab onto my leg. The dog let go right away, but left some bruises and tooth marks, and is costing me $150 bucks to get rabies vaccinations. Maldito perro (spanish for @$%& dog). Fortunately rabies vaccinations have evolved since I was a kid, no more thousand shots in the behind---I just need 5 shots in the arm over a period of a month. Luckily I'll be here in Quito for a month to follow through. After the treatment I can pet any dog I want and get bit by any bat/monkey/raccoon etc. that comes my way for 10 years rabies-free.

Now it's time for the exciting news part of this entry. (Exciting for me, anyway) I bought my tickets home! I will arrive in Chicago Dec. 3rd to visit a recently immigrated Brazilian friend, visit relatives in Milwaukee, then Amtrak home arriving Dec. 15th! Then Cesar (Ravioli) is coming to North Dakota Dec. 20th for his first US visit. The poor thing doesn't quite realize what kind of weather he's getting himself into...

Next week I'm going to the Ecuadorian Amazon for a 4 day escapade into the jungle, fingers crossed I see lots of cool animals. Then on Aug. 27 I start a three week volunteer experience at the Bellavista Cloud Forest Reserve. I'm not sure exactly what I'll be doing, I imagine odd jobs of gardening or trail work, maybe work in the hotel attending guests?? But I get to live cheaply in the cloud-forest, hopefully see lots of funky birds, and take a little break from my backpack.

After that it is the Galapagos Islands! I will update before then, and even put some pictures onto this entry in the next couple of days.

We didn't feel the giant earthquake here in Ecuador, but it is truly shocking to think that the town of Pisco (remember, Poor man's Galapagos that I visited in May?) was demolished. I think about the people we ran into, the candy vendors on the street and all the other people and wonder if they are ok. They all very likely lost their homes. I am also so thankful that I wasn't there when it happened. Cesar has heard from his family and they are all ok. You never know what's going to happen, huh?

Take care, all! And CONGRATULATIONS to Sam's friends Lura and Karl on your wedding!