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  • Banos de Agua Santa

    We’re in a small mountain town on the eastern cordillero next to the Orient, which is what they call the jungle portion of Ecuador. Today it’s raining, so there’s not much to do other than sit on the computer and write. Now we understand why this is the low-season…

    Downhill mountain biking to la Garganta del Diablo

    Downhill mountain biking to la Garganta del Diablo

    Yesterday was stupenderisiouly-magnifinormous. We rented some bicycles for $5 and rode downhill through mountain ravines for 2 hours. The sky was clear, the weather nice and cool, and the tourist traffic to a minimum. The hills here are covered with jungle- everywhere there’s green, except near the rivers rumbling below that are carving deep rifts through strange looking volcanic rock. I wanted to take pictures of it all… to somehow save it, maybe hang onto the it’s vast beauty for years to come- always remembering what it was like to be here. But then reality told me that the photos can’t do that for me. Nothing can. All that we see and do here is gone just as soon as we turn around and move forward. Sadness accompanied the joy of it.

    And then the people you meet wipe that sadness away, because they too are here for those fleeting moments of awe. They know just as well as we did that this is a special place, and knowing that for the first time uplifts you, but ultimately we are destined to experience far more than one view of creation. We must turn away, and move forward. People share the same human experiences, understand the same limitations, and are blown away by the same vastly beautiful unknowns. So stopping to forget with them all that we think is ours is a welcomed relief. Two men we met along the way yesterday we’re exceptionally pleasant distractions. One was an ex-pat from Canada, who came here to tend a garden next to the rumbling Rio Verde. The other was a restaurant owner who’s kindness and obvious honesty allowed us to relax a bit in a foreign and sometimes unforgiving land.

    Antonio the gardner wanted to tell us about the “3rd Dimension”, the interconnection of all things, the end of the world, truth in all texts which inspiried faith, a mythical dwarf who is between good and evil, devils and angels, and other mysteries of the universe. And, of course, he wanted to tell us about his “Garden of Eden.” What a gem that guy was. We promised to meet in another life, again in this one, or in the hereafter.

    The restaurant owner fed us, took care to stash our bikes safely in the back, told us what we should go and see, and was generally just a sweet little old man. The food was good too.

    Afterwards, we ate and went to the hot springs. They were hot, alright. And brown. It felt almost like we were all children of the womb, splashing around in warm and organic fluids, relaxed and placid… awaiting our moment of uncomfortable birth, when the dip into 16 degrees Celcius water shocks you awake. We slept like babies.

    Time to read on the hammock a bit.

    Laguna Quilatoa

    Me Pointing at God's Toilet

    Me Pointing at God's Toilet

    There’s a lake in the middle of an old volcano… around the year 1780 this mountain exploded, spewing fire and ash miles and miles, and when the smoke settled a giant hole was left where the mountain once was. Over time the crater filled with water, forming what is now known as Laguna Quilotoa. This is one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen in my 24 years.

    We arrived at the summit of the crater before noon on Thursday. After negotiating our sleeping arrangements, we packed our day hiking gear and went to see for ourselves what we had heard so much about. And we weren’t disappointed. The 30-minute straight downhill slide to the bottom was a lot of fun. We hung out near the clear green water for a few hours, ate some frutas and cliff bars, wrote, meditated, and told the local burros (donkey) guides that we were planning on walking back up… Strangely enough, we met an older couple from Decatur there too- Bob and Janice we a nice bunch of gringos on a planned tour. They said that they weren’t so stupid to try and walk back up.

    Then for the next hour and 20 minutes we scrapped and dug our ways back up and out of the crater. That was our first major excertion… we took a nap shortly thereafter. Later that night we ate dinner with a local Quichua family huddeled around the wood stove heater- that was the best meal we had had yet on the trip. Afterwards we had a beer or two and chatted with one of the younger girls about their traditions, culture, the world, music, etc. in a mix of german, belgian, spain, and quichua spanish. That was a whole lot of fun. Sleeping that night, though, was a bit difficult due to the cold, the hard beds and pillows, and the weight of the 8 thick wool blankets that covered us. It gets chilly at night at over 12500 ft in the Andes.

    The following day, we started the long (er than expected) hike to the next town on the gringo trail- Chugchilan. Because our packs were much lighter, we hadn’t too much trouble staying on our feet… but we struggled a bit trying to find the trail. Local guides ripped out all the signs, as they seemed to want solo travelers to get lost. But with some luck, a lot of work, a gps, and the help a 8 year old boy we paid $1 to show us the way, we managed to find our way to a hostel some 5 and a half hours later. Now that hike kicked our asses. But it was worth it! Man, what a beautiful journey that was! Ah… I can’t even tell you. Maybe the pictures will help. I’ll upload them when I get a chance.

    Anyway, I’m supposed to get of this machine and let the next traveller tell their stories to friends and family. We’re in Baños now, about to rent some mountain bikes and ride to some waterfalls that are supposed to be spectacular. Then we hit the hot springs and relax…

    We’re also looking into Amazon tours. So we may spend 3-4 nights in the jungle very soon.

    Hole desde Quito!

    We’ve successfully arrived in Quito, Ecuador!! And we’ve already exhausted ourselves… at over 9300 ft above sea level, that’s not hard to do. Getting acclimated is always fun…

    Anyway, this country is awesome! The people are friendly, the city is clean, there’s more to do around here than a small army could do in weeks, and the food ain’t half bad! I’m still crossing my fingers, though, that the food gods don’t punish me- but I won’t keep my hopes up. I’ve a bad track record with that so far.

    The trip was also surprisingly pleasant. The immigration and customs check points were smooth, the cab ride was pleasant, the hostal was expecting us, the beds are comfortable, shower hot, and besides from the incessant street noise blasting through our second story window, quiet. We slept like logs.

    Today was a rather auspicious day to arrive, too. Something that only happens every so often went down today: general elections. I’m not sure what or who they were voting for but I learned these tidbits from the cabby and a fellow traveler: they are voting to amend/change the constitution, all Ecuadoreños must vote or give up some of their rights, and there was a ban on the sale of alcohol this entire weekend. I suppose if they make their citizens vote, it makes sense to also make them do it sober. It’s easy to imagine swaths of drunk quiteños stumbling into the voting booths in the early morn…

    As far as what we did today, I’ll give you a quick synopsis. We ate desayuno on the hostel roof, walked all over Old Town, checked out the Andy Warhol exhibit at the big art museum (he was awesomely wierd, by the way), ate, bought a cheap cell phone, napped, walked to the New Town and checked out some beautiful artwork in the Mariscal Sucre park, ate, and now we’re at an Internet café. I refused to wear sunsceen, so now my face is red, and Lada is still suffering periodically from a stomach ulcer. We’re treating her with Pepto Bismo before meals. My dumb ass will have to deal with the slight burn.

    So we’re happy. All is well, we are living day to day, and so far we’ve been lucky. My spanish isn’t as rusty as I expected, as it has been rather easy to get what we need without those uncomforable moments of language misunderstandings. I even negotiated the cell phone purchase entirely in Spanish, and listened to the guide tell me all the strange things about Andy Warhol that I didn’t know while comprehending most of it. Lada thinks it’s hot. teehee.

    That’s it for now. We took some photos, and we’ll upload them soon. I even plotted some spots with my gps, so you’ll be able to put the photos into geographical context on The Map page of this site! But I don’t think I’ll do that now.

    Tonight we will be hanging out at the hostel (the only place that may sell us beer) and talk with one of the travelers who we met earlier. He’s also traveling for several months, and plans to go to Cuzco ( then Machu Pichu) and the Amazon. His name’s Ross and he’s been in Quito for a week now… so hopefully he can give us some tips.

    Tomorrow I think we’ll head to the equator. La Mitad del Mundo!!!

    Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.