Tuesday, January 14, 2014

New Year Adventures

I promise you things and then i don't provide. It's a fatal flaw. For example, i promised you this blog about new year antics in ecuador last week and it just didn't happen. sorry.

But, here it is, as the snow falls and a lone raven surfs the winds outside my completely bleary, basically dark window at 430pm. sorry, nora, needed a brain break...going back to work soon!

Last year for NYE we were in Patong of the coast of Thailand watching thousands of chinese lanterns sail into the Thai sky full of wishes and dreams.  This year, we were in transit from the thermal pools through the weaver-ville of Peguche to Hacienda Pinsaqui for the feast and party thrown by the Freile family. 

Here a list of things we learned:
1. The old year has widows. Not just any widows, cross dressing men widows who you have to pay (because they run a rope across the highway) as a toll to celebrate the passing of their husbands.  They talk shit, get a head start on the drinking and sing songs.

The slightly tamer version are the little extortionist children who set theirs up every ten feet. you go through A LOT of small change that way.

2. The Vaca Loca (crazy cow) is not in fact a real cow, but your host under a tent covered with fireworks who runs around trying not to catch on fire. I stress this because i was confused for quite a while (read: over an hour, serious lost in translation moment) about if this cow was real, what the implications for animal rights were in ecuador, and finally how the hell no one got hurt.  obviously, this makes WAY more sense, dude, tent enough explosives to kill himself:


on fire.
3. Ecuadorians like to burn things.  namely people. people they really don't like, people they do like, effigies. the effigies ride around on cars to prevent the widows from extracting their tolls. still haven't figured out why they cremate people they like, but makes for a great bonfire (which one's husband will then jump over to cleanse his new year and in the process nearly burn his shoes off):


4. Finally, they like to run things up greased poles. 
I imagine this is akin to our throwin a greased watermelon in the deep end of the pool during fourth of July pig-pickins.  minus the live chicken in the wooden box.  the disaster that was raising this thing went on for longer than we were there and finally resulted in the long wooden stick being shortened as it could not be raised with the two ladders and 50 bosses all providing instructions on how to get it up. insert your own joke here.

Truly though, it was wonderful. An absolute adventure and probably one of our favorite days of the trip.

So here's to the widows, the chickens, the vacas, and our new friends....

Happy New Year Y'all.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vacation part II (of probably III)

we left off our story with adam not dying on the precipitous descent from above Banos, Ecuador.

from Banos, we headed over to Puyo and Tena on the edge of the Amazon--an area called Oriente.  We stayed on the Rio Napo river which is the longest navigable tributary of the Amazon.  It was as you would expect humid, mosquito filled, and a hut at the lodge we stayed at was home to a large tarantula. Ugh.  See all previous posts regarding my feelings about spiders.
Truthfully, a lot of this part of the trip was not exactly what we had in mind...rather than hash that shit out, here are some pictures of a part we both really enjoyed--white water rafting on the Jactunyacu River with our river guide Cesar (who, as it turns out, was the son of our driver and neither knew until the night before the other one was part our trip!) Total small world syndrome.  It was quite the adventure floating down the river, watching people bathe and pan for gold along the edge with rock walls covered in orchids lining the edge of the river. From those walls, our safety kayaker, Diego, plucked this orchid for me:

We then drove thousands of feet back up into the Andes to go to the Termas de Pappallacta.  LOVE ME SOME THERMAL BATHS.  We soaked a bit, ate delicious food, and hiked up a hill behind the termas to get back into nature again. There's a public area and the hotel area and the hotel area is MUCH nicer.

The next day, we headed north, past Quito and beginning the northern part of the adventure.  It was New Year's Eve.  there will be no discussion of that here. NYE gets its own blog post.  Suffice to say it was a riot.  We stopped along the way in Peguche to see some weavers and buy hand made textiles and presents. it took great restraint to not purchase every rug in sight.

This is Hacienda Pinsaqui, where we spent the night, where Simon Bolivar brokered peace between Columbia and Ecuador, and where i want to live when i grow up:

Like i said...all about Hacienda Pinsaqui and NYE in another post.  Having survived festivities, we headed up to a crater lake.  Please note the altitude listed and let me clarify for you that hiking at this altitude is not like hiking in Anchorage or anywhere in Washington, unless you are going up Rainier.  It hits you in a different way, a way that says you are clearly a lazy human who forgot to go to the gym for the six months before this trip and should be damn glad she didn't try to hike the Inca Trail in Peru in this lazy a$$ condition. PS--especially with that pesky respiratory infection she picked up the week before leaving Anchorage and for which she was huffing on an inhaler most of the trip.
Hats in the Otavalo Market.

After not dying on the hike, we went to Otavalo and bartered our way into more art before heading back to Quito. By bartering, i mean cutting everything down by 60% and refusing to pay more than half the original asking price. period. Like 175 worth of something shouldn't be more than 75. wish i could do this in america, too. hear me now Target, hear me now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Vacation--blog one of god only knows.

This is a multi-part blog...best to stretch out the interesting stuff :)

It is winter and i hates-es the winter. 

So, we did what we always do--spend xmas eve with the family in Seattle and then flee somewhere that i can't complain about being cold.  This year, it was Ecuador, chosen in part because it had the cheapest tickets in south america, in part because of its diverse climates, and in part because i was desperately craving a spanish speaking environment.  let's face it. i belong in south america. seriously. can someone tell adam to work on that?!

after a grueling trip down (17hrs from anc) and an overnight in the most expensive hotel airport in south america (costa del sol in lima) we arrived in quito where we had this awesome looking bathroom at Cafe Cultura.  The hotel is a converted mansion in the Mariscal Sucre disctrict of Quito--known as a tourist haven and much safer feeling than the old city, where creeptastic men crept by us and an old woman in a car gestured at me to keep a close eye on a 20-something with a backpack who we had been watching after his third pass by us.

as you can tell from the story of the lady in the car, most of the people we met were invariably kind and helpful.

i didn't want to translate for days on end, so we had arranged for a tour through Ecuador Adventures (Detour in the US).  the tour was a 7 day multisport tour that would take us around the Andes and Amazon.  while things in Ecuador appear close, the roads make it so that even things a seemingly short distance take longer to get to than expected.

The first day we rode in the van out of Quito south towards the volcano called Cotopaxi.  The views were really stunning and we worked on settling in to our nearly 9,000 ft. elevation.  it was windier than we expected, but warm to us despite it being "freezing" by ecuadorian standards.  that evening we arrived at the Hacienda Porvenir to rest and go horseback riding. Click on photos to make them bigger.  yes, we dressed up in the outfits with ponchos. it was super dorky. and super warm. more importantly super warm because the wind was just ripping.  the horses only had one speed and so the ponchos spared us from freezing to death while avoiding "brave cattle" aka bulls with horns wandering through the hills you see in the background.

 The following day took us through the Cotopaxi national park...where we rode bicycles (me for about 2 mi and Adam for 5 or so) through the park.  The scenery was stunning with vast expanses of paramo (high altitude meadows like tundra) below.

Cotopaxi National Park

Once we were back in the car...we headed south towards Banos. enroute we got to see a delicacy of Ecuadorian cuisine....also called your local pet guinea pig. no. neither of us ate it.

How can you? it probably has a name, like, piggie, or squeek, or something. almost made me vegetarian again. almost.

However, then we got to Banos and i was safe from the little guys haunting my dreams while we checked out this church of a virgen of the waters who performs miracles..lots of miracles, saving people from overturned cars, stopping volcanoes, making waterfalls restart after earthquakes. the thing about miracles is that if you are the one who saw it it is always true and if you didn't see it...well, then you didn't see it.

Following our visit to Banos, we stayed at Hacienda Leito in the mountains.  the following day, adam biked down the mountain with Santiago, our guide, pissing off horses and donkeys alike as he rode down over 3,000 feet. The photo below is not only the way adam biked down, its a super pretty pic of Banos.  please note drugs were required to keep me calm while he sped down the cobblestones at 35km an hour. seriously. we clocked it with the car.