Ecuadorian Adventure 2012!

September 13, 2012 at 8:08 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

So here it is.  The summary post that’s actually fairly long so you might as well grab a glass (or three) of wine or a few cold brews and get settled in…

Hotel #2…this one had a fireplace! And we managed to not burn the place down.

We arrived in Ecuador safely and were met right outside of the baggage claim by our guide, Patricio (Pato).  He was ready and waiting to gather our 28 or so fellow travelers which was a relief, as I wasn’t completely comfortable until we met up with our ride to the hotel.  We all boarded the bus we would know as our second home for the next week and were led to a surprisingly nice hotel where we enjoyed plenty of privacy and plenty of space.  This would be a common theme on the trip as every single hotel we stayed at was clean and comfortable, with some of them being downright super fancy (the last room we had actually was brand new and had a glorious jacuzzi but shh…we weren’t supposed to tell the others about that as they were limited and we scored one of the three available.  Thankfully no one from the trip knows about this blog).  So the hotels were a pleasant surprise compared to the hostel staying of my days of yore and it’ll be pretty damn difficult to go back to sharing one room with a dozen or so strangers now.  Is this what’s called growing up?  Only time will tell.

The food was a pleasant surprise too and every breakfast we had was paid for through the trip.  They mostly consisted of fruits, local vegetables such as the yuca, muffins/rolls and lots of freshly squeezed fruit juices.  Definitely put my usual granola bar to shame.  Some lunches and dinners were also covered and I marveled at the fact that I probably ate better while on the trip than I do at home, what with all of the fresh vegetables and grains rolling around.

Um yum

A highlight was the Ecuadorian soup which had potatoes, avocado and cheese.  SO good!  I also really enjoyed the varieties of fried and roasted bananas, which I never thought I’d say.  Something I didn’t try was the guinea pig but I think if I were a carnivore I’d have given it a shot…I don’t see how that’s too different from eating deer or pig or anything else, to be honest.  Some on our group enjoyed it while others were grossed out because “it could be someone’s pet”…well I had a guinea pig as a pet once and I’d have gladly deep-fried that thing on more than a few occasions if I thought I could’ve gotten away with it, so I didn’t pass judgement at all.

Now that we’ve covered accommodations and cuisine, I’ll move on to the really fun stuff.  This trip was full of adventures and things neither Scott nor I had ever experienced before, which is exactly what we were counting on.  We started off by touring some of historic World Heritage site Quito, then made our way to the Middle of the World, where we were able to straddle the Northern and Southern Hemispheres while taking the obligatory touristy photos.  There was a museum on the indigenous people of Ecuador at this site and you know I loved that!  Our next big stop (please note we did not do this all in one day) was to a gorgeous waterfall that was accessible via a small hike.  It was here that my exposed calves were bitten to shreds by some unholy biting devil fly and I’m still dealing with the aftermath a week later.  Luckily, I verified with a doctor that it’s not botfly so I won’t be pulling larva out of my leg anytime soon.  Rather, I’m stuck with chicken pox looking things and a desire to itch like I’ve never itched before.  It seems to slowly be getting better though, so that’s something.  And the waterfall and surrounding area was definitely worth it!

The Middle of the World as we know it! And I felt fine…

At least, that’s what I’m telling myself for now.

In the midst of all this travel, we had the opportunity to purchase coca leaves, which are the leaves that cocaine is derived from.  These leaves don’t have quite the same properties that the illegal drug does but they do help alleviate altitude sickness and aid in digestion, so of course most everyone on the trip tried them.  We also purchased candies and tea leaves, all of which were relatively cheap.  We weren’t walking around like characters from the Goodfellas or anything but it was a novelty we all enjoyed – and no, we didn’t try to bring any back with us.  A few people felt the elevation during the trip but the leaves, combined with the medicine we got before departure, helped both Scott and I feel fine for the duration.

Hot Springs Hotel

So now back to some of the sights: our last hotel before the Amazon featured hot springs in front of our rooms, which of course we all enjoyed.  They basically piped in natural hot water from nearby springs to these concrete tubs and it was a fantastic way to relax and stay warm in the high altitude.  Our stay in the Amazon was probably the highlight of the trip and we could only access our hotel via motor-powered canoes.  Our room featured a hammock on the back porch and it was harder than hell to leave when that time came.  While there, we visited a local family who showed us some of their cooking and jewelery making skills and we were also allowed to play with a blow gun (I was the first one to aim the dart at the little wooden monkey/pinata thing and I totally shot it in the ass.  Most other people missed completely so I’m fairly confident in my Amazon survival skills…or fairly confident in beginner’s luck).  We also spent a day hiking through some trails deep in the jungle with a local guide, were we were shown cotton and rubber trees along with all sorts of fascinating insects and plants.  We didn’t see many animals while on the hike but that’s mostly because a group of 15 tourists bumbling around is loud enough to scare things off from miles away.  We did spend some time in an animal sanctuary later though, where we saw four different kinds of primates, reptiles, lots of birds and more.  That place was cool because they take animals that are found on the black market (or some random dude’s hotel room, which happened with one specific jaguar-like cat) and rehabilitate them so they can be re-released into the wild.  They can’t always release all animals and if they’re too domesticated to make it then they take care of them on-site, but the primary goal is to give them as normal a life as possible.  Since I spent time in similar primate sanctuaries in South Africa, I really appreciated being able to see what another place can do for these animals.

The Amazing Amazon

After the Amazon, we drove through the Andes mountains a little more to a national park that was home to three large volcano’s, including Cotopaxi, which is the tallest and most active volcano in the world.  Talk about awesome.  I guess there are predictions that it’ll erupt again in the next 30 years or so and the last time it did it wiped out the town and sent ash as far away as Columbia, so it’s something to monitor.  While we were there, though, we just stood in it’s towering presence and thanked our lucky stars that it wasn’t billowing smoke and lava (speaking of lava, the volcano I was worried about erupting from a few posts ago didn’t do a thing on our trip and we never really even saw it as it was surrounded by clouds).

Our flight home left at midnight and so by the time we arrived at our apartment (tired, hungry, stinky and carrying tons of dirty laundry), we had been up for something like 32 hours.  The weekend upon our return was spent doing said laundry, grocery shopping and generally getting back into the swing of things, and it was nice to have a few days down time.  The entire trip was completely and totally worth it and I would absolutely recommend Gate 1 Travel to anyone who asked.

Cotopaxi

But if you go to Ecuador – bring toilet paper!  We ladies learned very quickly that most public restrooms were lacking so we stocked up when we could and just carried it in tow.  Luckily for most of us, I had Kleenex on me the day we first learned this hard truth, thus earning me the title of Girl Scout for a day or so.  But as for Gate 1, they were great and we may use them in the future (once we’re no longer too broke to travel).  The only drawback to the entire adventure (besides the bug bites which are finally looking somewhat better) was that a handful of people we rode around with more than a little obnoxious.  But that’s the sort of risk you run on a trip like that and the good people far outweighed the bad!  And it just goes to show, stupid and annoying can be found anywhere on the globe.

Oh yeah…we stopped at a bar that happened to be owned by a dude from Chicago. In Banos, Ecuador. Such a small world!

And that’s a wrap!  If you want to hear about anything in greater detail feel free to ask and if you’re lucky enough to be Facebook friends with me you can expect to see the photos here and many more uploaded…sometime.  Hopefully in the not too distant future. Scott and I both had an amazing time and I’m so grateful everything went as smoothly as it did.  Now to scrimp and save so we can plan our next great adventure!

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And Awaaaaay We Go!

August 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I really did mean to write a post yesterday on our latest book club meeting but MAN that day got away from me before I knew it.  So I’ll do a very brief summary here – we read a really horribly long book and went out to share drinks/food/laughs while we talked about it.  I picked the book (1Q84 by Haruki Murakami) because it looked interesting and there were lots of copies in the Chicago Public Library.  What I didn’t realize is that the book was 925 LARGE pages.  This comes after my last suggestion which was long and just plain horrible…I think I’m probably banned from suggesting books for a while now.  Anyway most of us enjoyed the book but we all agreed it was needlessly wordy and much could’ve been cut.  So that was that and we’ve got some chick lit suggested for next time to give ourselves a break.

Aaaanyway…we leave for our trip abroad tomorrow!  I know the internet will be a lonely place without my blogging but I’m sure you’ll survive and I should be back in a week or so anyway.  This time tomorrow I’ll be boarding a plane in Miami headed to Quito, Ecuador, where we’ll have a driver pick us up to help us officially begin our adventure.  And I.  Cannot.  Wait.  Most everything is packed and ready to go and I just need to get through the rest of the day and (try to) get some sleep before we bust the hell outta dodge.  And by dodge I mean Chicago.

Get ready for us, South America!

I can’t really even focus on much more than that so I guess this will be it for today’s post.  I could discuss the goings-on with the Republication National Convention and how it makes me want to throw a brick at my TV, but I won’t.  I could also discuss how I accidentally read a big article this week on the dangers of the Amazon and how no sane person should ever go there but I’m trying to keep it far from my mind (you can see how well that’s working) so I won’t discuss it either.  What I will say is that I realize how very lucky I am to have so much travel under my belt and I can assure you I don’t take it for granted.  Exploring the world is something that’s always been important to me and so I’ve made it a priority but it’s not easy and I know many people don’t get these types of opportunities.  So I’ll do my best to enjoy every moment while I’m away and I’ll be sure to take lots of photos for this here blog for when I return.

Until next week!

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History Repeats Itself

August 21, 2012 at 1:06 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

If you’ve been reading this blog long enough, you know that last year I went to Guatemala on a solo adventure.  You may also remember that the week before I left, I found out that the initial hostel booking I made and the hiking trip I planned didn’t actually exist and I had to start from scratch with totally different companies.  I freaked out for a hot minute but things worked themselves out, as they so often do, and I was very glad I didn’t cancel everything like I briefly considered.  Well here I am, 9 days from leaving for Ecuador, and I seem to be having deja vu.

Uh-oh

So this volcano is located in one of the cities we’re staying in and we’re supposed to be there two weeks from tomorrow.  According to the news seen in my Google Reader, this thing is exploding as I type and local residents have been evacuated.  Awesome.  I was reading through our itinerary to double-check this was the city in question and came across a line boasting “beautiful views of the breathtaking Tungurahua volcano”.  And that’s Tungurahua in the photo.  It certainly is beautiful and I’m sure will make for some great photo ops but it would probably literally be breathtaking and I’d rather not reenact any scenes from Dante’s Peak while on vacation.  I called the travel company and they said they would look into things and get back to me as soon as possible but they also assured me that they wouldn’t take us anywhere that was in any way dangerous.  So that’s good, right?

Eh, I’m not going to let this stress me out regardless.  Apparently that’s one of the perks of booking with a tour group – they do the stressing out for me!  Everything else is still a go and I’m just going to roll with it and see what happens.  That’s what this whole adventure thing is all about, after all!

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Finally Friday

August 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Have you ever noticed that it sometimes seems the week drags even longer when you start on Tuesday?  Yeah, I’m experiencing that.  Here’s the top three things on my mind on this beautiful Friday:

  • Kayaking.  I’m taking my first ever kayaking trip through a Groupon coupon Scott and I purchased a while ago.  We’re doing a sunset tour on the Chicago River and I’ve got my swimsuit packed and ready to go.  I’m only a little nervous that my perpetual clumsiness will come around once again to bite me in the ass, as only time will tell if I’m any good with an oar.  Do they use oars?  Maybe I should do some research…thankfully, if nothing else, the weather will be perfect.  75 and sunny with a 0% chance of rain?  You bet I’ll take it!

Well if they can do it, so can I

  • Brains.  I came across this article today, which basically talks about how a prehistoric human brain from a man who died over 2,500 years ago was recently found almost perfectly preserved in a bog in the U.K.  No, I don’t mean his skull, I mean the fleshy bits and pieces that usually turn into slime shortly after death.  It seems that this man was hanged then decapitated (it was a hard knock life in the Iron Age), after which his head wound up in a bog that helped keep the brain intact for all these years.  So yes, braaaaaiiiiins are definitely on my mind.
  • Also – Ecuador!  In exactly two weeks, I will be en route to South America, where I’ll be spending 8 days and seven nights exploring what a whole new (to me) country has to offer.  Woohoo vacation!

But first…woohoo weekend!  Let’s just hope I don’t whack Scott in the head with an oar paddle oar.  I guess I really should do some research.

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Mid-Week Round Up

July 25, 2012 at 11:51 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Just a few things floating around in this head of mine today:

  • R.I.P. Sherman Hemsley, a.k.a. George Jefferson.  I remember watching him in the 80’s and being so happy he finally got a piece of the pie.  And while I didn’t make the connection until yesterday, I also thoroughly enjoyed him as the voice of Earl Sinclair’s evil dinosaur boss on the 90’s Jim Henson show, Dinosaurs.  Who wouldn’t?

    Sinclair!

  • Ride, Sally, Ride

    Also, R.I.P. Sally Ride.  The first American woman in space deserves our respect, admiration and honor for all of her hard work, dedication and inspiration to young people everywhere.  She was the only person to have served on both of the commissions for the investigations involving the space shuttle Challenger and Columbia accidents and she was an advocate for science education throughout her entire life.  She also happened to be gay, which unfortunately makes her a second-class citizen in the country she so honored.  May she rest in peace and dignity.

  • Speaking of us gays, a big shout-out to The Jim Henson Company for standing up for what is right.  Last week, they announced that they would no longer partner with Chick-Fil-A due to the restaurant’s strong support of anti-gay organizations by stating, “The Jim Henson Company has celebrated and embraced diversity and inclusiveness for over fifty years and we have notified Chick-Fil-A that we do not wish to partner with them on any future endeavors.  Lisa Henson, our CEO is personally a strong supporter of gay marriage and has directed us to donate the payment we received from Chick-Fil-A to GLAAD”.  This week, the bigoted restaurant said that they were removing the Jim Henson toys from their kids’ meals because “there were safety concerns” which is pretty much a blatant lie.  As a vegetarian, I haven’t eaten at Chick-Fil-A in over a dozen years anyway but hopefully this will convince others that being the patron of a place that discriminates means your dollars are going to fund that discrimination, even if all you want is a sandwich.  So thank you, Kermit and Company!
  • I still can’t wrap my head around the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, and I don’t think I ever will.  My thoughts are still with those affected and while I wish random outbursts of hatred and violence such as this quit happening altogether, I don’t think anyone has any good ideas as to how to make it happen.  More guns?  Fewer guns?  Metal detectors?  Wider access to mental health help?  I don’t have any answers either but I feel sick watching so many people hurt so much.  I hope they find some of the peace and comfort they deserve.

On a lighter note:

  • The heat wave hasn’t broken and I’m fully prepared to melt into my sandals.  I’m also damn sick of shaving my legs but am still enjoying the absurd look of our shaved cat.
  • There’s only 37 days until Scott and I leave for Ecuador!  And even though it’s in South America and much closer to the Equator than Chicago, the weather there promises to be in the 60’s and 70’s.  Sweet relief while on a sweet vacation!
  • I’m super, duper grateful that the Olympics aren’t in Chicago.  Like, seriously.
  • I’ve eaten pizza and guacamole for dinner ever night so far this week, because I am a truly awesome grown up.

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Moving and Shaking

May 14, 2012 at 11:59 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , )

So, I booked a trip this weekend.  Come Labor Day, Scott and I will be joining a group of anonymous strangers to spend eight days and seven nights traveling through Ecuador!

If you know me, you know I love to travel.  Since I made my first overseas journey in 2005, I’ve managed to get myself out of the country once a year ever since.  I have been incredibly lucky in the opportunities that I’ve had and I definitely do not take any of my experiences for granted.  A few years ago, I decided to try to hit every single continent (besides Antarctica, because pretty much the only people who get to go there right now are scientists or military personnel) before I was 30.  I’ve crossed off Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania (that was my New Zealand excursion) and with this latest trip booking, I’ll manage to seal the deal.  I really wasn’t planning on anything crazy like this this year and was content to go to Vancouver or some other, cheaper place closer to home, but I found a deal I just couldn’t pass up.  And since I’m more known for spontaneously purchasing plane tickets rather than shoes or purses, purchase a plane ticket I did!

The route!

I don’t normally go for the package deals and the only time I’ve ever really done so was for vacations in Mexico with my mom and sister, where it was all-inclusive and even the alcohol was a part of the deal.  Usually, I book my own hostels and figure out what I’m going to do on my own, which I generally enjoy.  It’s tougher to see as much as the country while doing this though and it’s certainly more expensive.  A while back I signed up for all kinds of email alerts regarding travel deals and on Friday one came my way that included hotel accommodations (no hostels on this trip!), most meals, all transport and transfers and airfare for a very reasonable price.  Most package deals don’t include the flight and that alone came sometimes run well over $1,000, depending on where you’re going.  This deal has it all and the hotels we’re staying in are all very nice.  We’ll be flying into the capital and spending two of the days traversing via canoe and raft to a hotel within the Amazon Rainforest, where we’ll get to hike around and meet with local families.  As a wee girl of maybe 13 or so, I created what I could now call a Bucket List and trekking through the Amazon was at the top of that.  I actually think I wrote ‘sleeping in a hammock in the Rainforest’ and as our hotel will have hammocks, this really is a dream come true.  Of course we’re a little nervous and anxious but the reviews I’ve read of this trip are all very positive and I figure it can’t be any scarier than showing up in Guatemala alone with a backpack, so I’m all for it.

Scott hasn’t done much traveling yet and his first time on a plane will actually be next week when we fly down to go see my dad in Louisiana, so obviously the idea of flying into South America is fairly exciting for him too.  I’m sure you’ll get to read more about this as the time draws nearer because I’m currently so incredibly pumped at this opportunity that I can barely sit still.  We debated long and hard because there are always plenty of reasons not to go (I’m really pushing it with my time off work, not to mention that while it’s a good deal it’s still not exactly free) but I really had the feeling that I would regret this if I let it pass so I’m feeling pretty good about the booking.  Which just goes to show, sometimes in life you have to take the chance and go for it!  One of my favorite quotes is “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” and this is pretty much that case in point.

But there’s plenty to keep us occupied until then – we’ll be traveling via MegaBus this weekend to Indiana for my cousin’s college graduation party, then as I mentioned we’re going to Louisiana over Memorial Day.  After that will be three months of summer in Chicago, which is pretty much the best thing ever.  So even though today is a Monday, nothing can get me down!

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