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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A Go-Go!

August 23, 2012 at 10:42 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

The trip’s still on!  I finally heard back from the vacation gods and the ash from the volcano is pretty much only affecting the opposite side of the town that we’ll be staying in and our hotel is still standing.  So that’s good.  And I’ve been assured that even if the winds change or the volcano gets more pissed off and starts spewing further than it currently is, the tour group will simply shuffle plans around so it doesn’t really change anything about our trip.  Wow, this whole letting-someone-else-deal-with-the-chaos-that-comes-with-travelling thing is actually kind of nice!  If we’re lucky, it’ll be calmed down when we arrive but not so calm that we miss out on some crazy photo opportunities.  And if anything, I’ll just be happy not to be melting in flowing pools of lava.

Interesting (to me) fact: the difference between lava and magma boils (see what I did there?) down to location.  Magma is molten material beneath the earth’s crust and lava is what it turns into once it comes out of the volcano.  Now you know!

And after today, I only have five more days of work until I’m outta here!  Not that I’m counting down or anything.

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Next Stop – Antigua!

October 6, 2011 at 9:57 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

This is it!  My very last day at work before I embark on my solo Central American Adventure!

And what a week it’s been.  Travel snafu’s, health stuff, school stuff, food pantry stuff and an extremely busy and demanding week of work stuff have made me more than ready to hop on a plane and skip the country.  I received confirmation this morning that my hostel is eagerly awaiting my arrival (they didn’t use those exact words but I’m sure they are) so I feel good about that.  My overnight volcano trip should be a go as well and if not, I’ll just find something else fun and adventurous to do with that outdoor company.  So I’m ready to go!

Here I come!

Well, not entirely…I still have to pack.  Whoops.  I meant to do that earlier but the events in the above paragraph prevented me from really even getting started.  I do have a list and a backpack so the basics are covered.  I’ll shove everything in tonight and talk a walk around my neighborhood to make sure nothing falls out then try to take a short nap before heading to the airport.  My flight leaves at 5:30am so I’ll be leaving home around 3am and I should hopefully be at my hostel before 1pm.  Woo to the hoo!  I may or may not post here while away (my hostel will have internet) but if not you can expect a trip recap upon my return sometime late next week.  Try not to miss me too much and have a great weekend!

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Countdown

September 16, 2011 at 9:08 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Three weeks from today, I’ll be sitting on a plane and about to descend into Guatemala City.  From the airport I’ll take a shuttle bus with other people (this comes recommended as the safest method of travel MOM) to my hostel.  Then I will have 4 days to wander the ruins of the former capital of Guatemala, check out buildings that were damaged in earthquakes hundreds of years ago, peruse markets and vendors and try various ethnic (vegetarian?) food.  I think I’m ready, or as ready as I should be at this point.  My hostel is booked, the overnight hiking trip to the volcano is booked, I’ve been brushing up on my basic Spanish, I have a backpack and journal and yesterday I exchanged a bunch of currency at the bank.  I’ve read up on culture and history and I have a good idea of the places I want to see while I’m there.  Nothing besides the hiking trip is too set though because I rather like the idea of seeing where the city takes me.  It’s not too large and I can walk the whole downtown area easily in half an hour so I hope to become pretty familiar with it.

Look out volcano, here I come!

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous but I really think this will be a great adventure.  I’m going to a party this weekend and a friend of a friend who’s actually from Antigua will be there so I’ll get to hear even more about what to expect.  I’m glad I’m not staying any longer than 5 days and I think it’ll be the perfect amount of time to get in, explore and get out before I get bored or sick of listening to my own thoughts.  Who knows if I’ll ever have another opportunity to take a solo trip like this, especially since I know so many people who would make great travel buddies.  So I’m going to enjoy it while I can and try not to annoy the crap out of everyone as I get more excited with each passing day.

21 days!

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Booked!

August 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

It’s happening.  My trip to Antigua, Guatemala is coming together.

I have officially booked 3 nights in a hostel and one night on an overnight backpacking trip to the top of a volcano (the last eruption was in 1972 so I should be okay).  How awesome is that?  The volcano is called Acatenango and it’s the third tallest in all of Central America.

Volcano, here I come!

You can read about the overnight excursion here and yes, the mention of a glass of wine at the end of the hike also caught my eye.  I’ve been in contact with the people at both the hostel and the adventure place and everyone seems really friendly and responsive so far, so hopefully no one gets a stick up their ass before I show up with my backpack.  Oh yeah, I need to buy a backpack.

Each night at the hostel was less than $10 and the place is one of the best reviewed in the entire city.  It includes breakfast, security lockers and TOWELS – if you’ve ever backpacked and stayed in hostels, you know how valuable this is.  My first abroad excursion involved sharing one small towel with another girl for roughly two weeks and it certainly taught me a valuable lesson (Douglas Adams also taught me the importance of bringing a towel and points for you if you understand that reference).  They also have free internet so I can tell my mom that I haven’t been kidnapped or fallen into molten lava.

There are of course many loose ends that will need to be tied up in the next two months but with the plane ticket, lodging and adventure planning taking care of I’m breathing a bit easier.  As I previously mentioned, this will be my very first completely solo abroad experience.  Obviously I’m keeping safety in mind but to tell you the truth, I’m pretty excited to get out and have some adventures on my own.  I’ll keep a journal as I do on every big trip I take and I’m sure I’ll have a highlights post when I get back.  It seems kind of far off right now but then again, I still can’t believe it’s already August so I know it’ll be here before I know it.  And seriously, what happened to summer?  At least now that I’ve got a super awesome trip planned for the fall I can handle whatever the next couple months throws my way.  That is, as long as I have my towel.

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