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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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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Thanksgiving Recap

November 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

My Thanksgiving was eventful, as always.  If you think you can handle it, I broke it down into a ginormous list – sorry if it hurts your eyes but once I got going I couldn’t stop!

The food was good, the company was better and we managed to fit more into the long weekend than I would have thought possible.  This included, but was not limited to, the following:  Meeting four new additions to the family that aren’t blood related; continuing family traditions such as drinking at the dive bar known as Fluidz the night we all arrived in town; cramming 15 people around various dining room tables and chairs for the main meal; eating so much food I thought my stomach was going to explode in a bloody Alien-esque scene; making two trips to Wal-Mart (two more than what I usually do in any given year); dyeing my hair for the first time in four years from a box purchased on one of the said trips to Wal-Mart; making a mess of the hair dyeing process and ultimately loving the new look; sleeping next to my sister three nights in a row while trying in vain to block out the television that she seems to be unable to sleep without; kicking myself for not bringing my ear plugs and eye mask; watching the Macy’s Day Parade and being thankful for not being anywhere near those crowds; drinking Jager Bombs and making S’mores around a fire (they do not go well together, in case you were wondering); taking photo’s of my 54-year old uncle’s hickey; driving my grandma’s Lincoln Navigator just a tad faster than what was legal; opening gifts from my grandmother with my other female cousins that all looked remarkably sexy and indecent (made for an awkward few moments until we figured out what the garment was); driving into New Orleans and staying at a 125 year-old hotel in the French Quarter; navigating various elevators that would only take us to certain floors because the hotel has been built onto so many times that it is now an official labyrinth; hearing ridiculously cheesy pick up lines all night long (including the old standby “What’s a girl like you doing here on a night like this”); having an eerily interesting palm reading done by the same guy at Marie Laveau’s  House of Voodoo that read me two years ago and hearing much of the same thing (only this time I’ll be married in a year instead of three…); getting lost in the lap-dance area of a strip club; voluntarily eating meat for the first time in almost 15 years in order to get an hour’s worth of free drinks out of my sister (it was a piece of fried crawfish and I managed to drink $40 of booze in that 60 minutes…also it will probably be another 15 years before I eat any more seafood); watching men on the sidewalk try to decipher drag queens from real women; more bar hopping than I’ve done in years and two hungover plane rides back that included horrid turbulence, screaming children, late departures, no time for transfers during my layover, lost luggage, hitching a ride on the old folks’ golf cart thingy, being the last person to make it on my connecting flight and uttering the words “Jesus Christ” at the end of it all only to be told by an airport official “Tis the season for that”.

The Big Easy can sure take a lot out of you

There were some other occurrences but I think this gives you a fair picture of what my holiday was like.  It’s a good thing it only rolls around once a year because I don’t know if I could handle this much excitement more often than that but I will admit that it would be fun to try!  I hope your Thanksgiving was equally awesome in its own special way and if it wasn’t, maybe you can come down with me next year.  That is, if you think you can handle it.

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