Two days ago we returned home, beat up and weary from the last three months on the road. The next morning after arriving home in the middle of the night I was sitting on the couch, when my step dad, Mike, asked me; “This seemed to be your hardest trip yet, huh?”.
I sat there and thought about it for a moment and the memories of constant illness (between Felicia and I, one of us was in such bad shape we couldn’t leave our room for about a third of the trip), The horrible weather and constant rains we had in Ecuador, The bus ride with me vomiting out the window for 16 hours, the constant looking over our shoulder for someone who might be following us or waiting to “bump” into us and relieve us of our things, the stress of knowing that every meal you eat might ruin your day, and the constant pressures of trying to build a healthy and loving relationship in the midst of all this. The stress throughout this last trip was heavy and Mike might have been right when he called it my “hardest trip yet”…
Then I sat there for a moment longer, and let all the good experiences wash over me; seeing the sunrise over Colca Canyon with the girl I love beside me and condors flying over me, the local Chinese immigrant we found in a Chinese food restaurant in Rurrenbaque who sat and spoke with Felicia in Chinese for an hour about how he sees the local culture, riding horses through the sunscorched deserts of Tupiza with a 15-year old guide, climbing around the inside of the old Bolivar theater with a excited local telling about his efforts to have it restored after a fire swept through it, and hundreds of other perfect moment Felicia and I would never have experienced if we hadn’t put ourselves out there in the midst of all this strife to try and find tidbits of life and excitement.
I am happy to be at home right now, its relaxing and comforting to sleep in my own bed and have clean food in the fridge… but I don’t think it will be long before I start planning and scheming on how to get away again and put myself through untold misery, to find the passion that I live my life for.
Tomorrow I turn 29. I glance back and see that a year ago I celebrated in Tibet with a bottle of vodka and had know Felicia a week. A year later as I write this and she is peacefully sleeping in my bed 5 feet away, 8829 miles from her home and, although I can tell at times she is horribly homesick for Singaporean street food, I want to thank her here for putting up with me for the last year and coming to be with me. We are unsure what the future holds for us (we are both near broke at the moment), but we are holding each other as we plunge into life.
I am about to get on a bus to spend the next couple of days crossing Peru, so i don´t really have much time to put stuff up today, and I don´t know how many more days until I´ll update again. Soon, though, I promise.
All day we’ve been hearing rumors of a Good Friday, Jesus parade, but could never nail down the exact time. It supposedly started at 3pm, so we wandered our morning away, checking movie times for the evening shows after the supposed parade (during which time the city turns into a large mass). Then deciding to watch a movie, 10,000 BC, in spanish after the afternoon parade, we set off back to catch the 3pm going-ons.
Unfortunately we were lied to. After waiting until 3:30pm we asked someone what was going on and we were informed it was at 7pm-ish tonight. We ran off back to the movies and caught a 4:30pm showing, which, I believe I understood about 80% of the very poorly written dialogue.
We arrived back in the square just before 7pm and it seemed deserted, other than a few police who had blocked off a couple streets and a few candy vendors. After about 15 minutes of me taking pictures we asked one of the vendors what was going on…. Who then informed us it would be more like 10ish..
Not really trusting anyone, we decided to have dinner in one of the squares cafes and keep an eye out in case anything went down. It didn´t. By the time we got through eating, everything was still barren but we heard some singing off in the distance. We headed off to check it out and found thousands of people walking excessively slow and singing worship songs. We were pinned up next to the wall as 15 minutes of somber revelers wandered by.
Unable to backtrack through the crowd, we walked a block over, six blocks past them and arrived back in the main square 15 minutes before the slow moving group. We sat on a piss smelling ledge for a couple of minutes and decided we were bored and headed back to the hostel for a beer.
After getting into Cuenca late last night we chose the first hostel we could find, which ended up putting us next to a busy all-night club; which wasn’t excessively conducive with sleeping until roughly 4am. This morning first things were first and we changed to a mellower (and cheaper) place and set out to explore this little colonial town as the sun came out.
Remember Argentina where it seemed every week or so I spent an entire day on a bus and my blog would hit a little lull? Well, welcome back to South America with me! It´s a huge continent and the roads suck, essentially turning to mud at the first sprinkling of rain.
After standing out on the Panamerican for a half an hour the bus to Cuenca, Ecuador finally came and we boarded for our 10 hour trip south. When we finally arrived in Cuenca (a Spanish colonial town), we had time to find some dinner and a beer before our day was at an end.
I can barely breath, my lungs are burning and screaming for the thin air with the scant amount of oxygen it contains. I’m now sitting at 5000 meters (16,500feet) and wonder if it might have been a better idea to stay with Felicia at the refuge and drink hot chocolate, about 200 meters down where here lungs lost their breath,
The Swede next to me looks over and smiles, “It makes you you feel alive, huh?”
I give her a wheeze in response and try to hold my footing on this snow cover glacier, sitting on the worlds highest active volcano. The trail we had been lead up was barely more than a few footprints in the side of a steep slope, for a moment I was worried, one missed step and I would look like one of those cartoon snowballs tumbling down the side of a mountain, getting bigger and bigger until I finally crash into something, the snow would explode and I’d see stars. I carefully choose my steps and try to make my way back to were we had eaten lunch without dying.
The girl at the counter in our hostal wasn’t quite honest in what this tour entailed, we were told the tour was primarily about riding mountain bikes down the side of Cotapaxi, with a short walk around the parking lot, and on the nearby glacier. She made it sound simple, although I know even in an oxygen rich environment a 1600 feet gain over a 1 1/2 miles is hard; here I felt my lungs bleed (possibly). I am relatively sure she just wanted our commission, and doesn’t really care about tourists.
I finally, and safely, made it back to Felicia and we began our decent the other 300 scree covered meters to the parking lot. When we arrived, throughly exhausted, our guide was pulling the bikes off the trailer and ranting about how we need “much careful, on corners” less we could just lose the road and tumble forever down the side of Cotapaxi. Even in my state, I smiled excitedly, as I would with anything concerning bikes, and found the biggest looking bike I could. I helped adjust the seat on Felicia’s bike and we were off.
Jarring, fast, scary, intense, are just some words that come to mind as I hung on for dear life and flew down the bumpy volcano. Then about halfway down I glanced back to check on her and all I saw was a cloud of dust and Felicia laying on the ground.
I ran up to check on her, she seemed a little bruised up, and jammed her thumb pretty badly, but she shook it off and climbed back on. She lasted another mile or so before she ate shit again and called it a day. Our guide who was following with the land rover and trailer picked her up and I took off by myself to catch up with the rest of our group. The next few miles flew by, as I passed everyone else and had nothing shy of 4 near death experiences, finally I was sitting on the valley floor and pedaling to the nearby lake we were to meet at.
Even bruised up, Felicia was in a good mood as I showed up dripping sweat and smiling that I was still alive (possibly the reason for her good mood). After a short recovery period, we all piled back in the Land Cruiser and drove back to the hostal. I barely made it to 8:3pm before I was asleep.
We didn’t get up to much today. After booking a bike ride down the worlds highest active volcano for tomorrow (19,500 feet), we made our way down to the Panamerican and flagged the first bus to take us to the nearby town of Latacunga; where not much was going on. The most exciting part of my day was getting followed by some 17 year old kid through the assorted markets, until I got peeved enough to just turn around and walk right up next to him and stand there and stare, he seemed to take the hint and we went on with our purchasing $0.20 avocados.
This morning we woke up to beautifully clear skies with the Volcanoes that overlook Otavalo in the background. Unfortunately we planned on moving south to the worlds largest active Volcano, Cotapaxi, which sits roughly 19,400 feet above sea level. We grabbed a taxi down to the Panamericana highway and quickly flagged down a bus to Quitos main bus station which was surprisingly deserted. When we started looking for a bus south to Cotapaxi we soon found out why no one used the station, there is a random $0.20 tax you have to pay before you can get to the buses. We payed ours and quickly found a driver who knew where the hostel we were heading was and said we would leave in five minutes and it would take an hour to get there.
He left the station with only us in the bus and soon picked up a couple of locals just outside the station who were avoiding the $0.20 tax. What the driver forgot to tell us was that it would take and hour to get to Cotapaxi, after we drive all over Quito with his accomplice hanging out the door yelling “Latacunga, Ambato!!” over and over until the bus was full enough to make the trip worth while. In the end we were on his bus for about two hours, but at least he dropped us just at the road that lead to the hostel that we had booked for the next couple of nights in the gigantic volcano’s shadow.
The hostel is essentially a converted old barn owned by a young Israeli, and Felicia and I splurged (an extra $4) for a room with a fireplace after the last few nights had been so excessively cold and rainy. At 10,500 feet, while sleeping in a drafty barn the small wood burning stove made it extremely more comfortable.
(I uploaded a larger version than normal of the picture above because I think it says a lot about todays tourism, have a click)
Saturday in Otavalo is market day; and market day begins by dragging squealing hordes of piglets to the animal market to sell or trade for one of a thousand other animals. For me it started by getting up early, meeting up with the Aussies who wanted to share a cab, and driving down to a shit covered field to see what was the rumpus with all this tasty living meat. After our $3 cab ride, and the driver telling us to “watch our bags”, we arrived in the packed animal market complete with cows, pigs, ponies, chickens and llamas. We meandered about, dodging every kind of feces imaginable, until we gave up the hunt for fresh pig veal and started off towards town.
Otavalo, on Saturday, essentially closes all its streets for 5 blocks in any direction of the main square and thousands of people flood in to sell and buy everything from, food, fruits, vegetables, snacks, hats, clothes, assorted knick-knacks, all sorts of electronics and pretty much anything else an Ecuadorian farmer could want. We settled for a couple of touristy (but warm!) hats, a roasted chicken lunch, a while at the internet cafe, and some food supplies for dinner. After a number of hours just looking we decided to try and catch the 1:30pm bus back to our hostel, after about 30 minutes of waiting and looking it was 1:42pm and we still couldn’t find it. We hailed a cab and headed back for an afternoon of lounging and napping.
Dinner was a simple affair of a picnic overlooking the valley, with plenty of bread, avocados, cheese, tuna, chili sauce, bananas and plenty of Oreos for dessert.