A Travellerspoint blog

Bolivia...the last 5 months

living in bolivia

When the doors finally open

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielcordner
(here is the link to my photos, but the are in reverse to the story)

COCHABAMBA

So, I have some serious backtracking to do, around 5 months of blogging to catch up on. Where does one begin but from where I last left off? So perhaps get yourself a cup of tea to help enjoy the read.

I arrived in Cochabamba with great excitement. After over a year of travel I was ready to stay put for a while and call a place home. I wanted to do a longer period of volunteer work and Cochabamba seemed to be a great place for this. I was also looking forward to having a kitchen again, ohhh how I had missed one.

But unfortunalty things started off to a very very slow start. I had found a hospital on the outskirts of the city with an orphanage that I was exited about. But I ended up being a glorified gardener for a week and decided this was not was what I signed up for and moved on. Since this was over the Christmas and New Year period, it took some time to find a new place to work and a place to live. My first impressions of Cochabamba had not started of so great.

So the option that took my interest was a place called ‘Educar es fiesta’ (to educate is a party). They work with street kids, kids from poor and violent backgrounds and have a circus tent for performances and classes. They were keen to have me on board and design for them and I loved the idea of being around the circus again.

To be honest for a start I hated it and had to wonder what I was really doing there. But by this stage I had paid for two months in an apartment (with a kitchen, yeah hah!) and was also keen to stay put for a while. I found that people were quite closed and took a long time to open up to me. Very different from what I had been experiencing in my other travels. I had made the choice take an apartment solo and not live in a volunteer house thinking that I would meet many people from work. This did happen, but it took a while for this to take place.

But keep reading. Things certainly do get a lot better.

After a month and a half things started to change. They started to see what I could do for them and they really opened up to me. I started to make friends, and locals, not just other gringos (tourists), which is what I was looking for. Once this happened, I started to enjoy the place and ended up staying longer to make the most of it. It was well worth staying for to get to this point as in the end they really loved having me on board.

My savior was a lady called Paola who I worked with. Her door was always open and she would always chat to me no matter how bad my Spanish was. She introduced me to some friends, one couple a graphic designer and artist who were fun to drink red wine with and dance. She has become a wonderful friend to me over my time there.

So what did I do there? For a start I did a lot of design. I gave them advice on their existing materials, presented a talk on design and worked on a dossier for their circus space ‘El Tapeque’, which was the only circus school that Bolivia had to offer. After some convincing and with the help of Paola we managed to set up our first photo shoot in the office. After seeing the photos the boss Queso was finally convinced enough that for the second photo shoot he stepped in for his own photo session. He was a very funny somewhat strange man to work with, part of that being cultural. But over time I gained his respect and he treated me like I was one of the team, throwing me a good bye dinner and riding me around on the back of his bike to the printers. When the dossier finally came back from the printers we were in the office drinking wine. It turned into a wonderful moment to ‘salud’ the project when it came back. The first thing Queso did was to take one out of each packet and present them to me with great appreciation.

From spending time in the tent I had got to know a group of young performers. The first photo shoot was of Raymundo who has an interesting story. Queso met him working at the cemetery and in the streets. He has spent the last few years growing up around theatre and circus Raymundo has developed into a very fine performer. He is able to express himself and though his performance. There was the very checky Alijandro, the juggling coach. I became instant friends with the little stilt walker Mario. He was excited by my collection of circus videos and my collection of Australian music.

There was also a really nice team to work with that also in time opened up to me. As my Spanish got better this also helped. There was Ceci, the mum of the office always fixing you coffee and api. Benjo the funny fix it man who loved jumping on my machine and playing in illustrator. Juan Carlos the music coach and Hernan who loved trying to speak to me in English.

Victor was the tissue and trapeze coach. He was Bolivian but had gone to Chile to train then was heading to Brazil to train. I was lucky to spend a small amount of time training with him and a group of kids. It was a strong reminder to me how much I have missed training.

I also got to spend a lot of time working with kids in school of Ushpa Ushpa, which was based on the outskirts of the city. We would ride out to the schools in the mini with a door that would fly open on roundabouts. The area as little as 7 years ago was a neighborhood of blue tarps. Now there are buildings, but it is still a very poor area. At first I helped out with the music class and the juggling class but later took some drawing classes as well. Anytime I pulled out the camera that also turned into a class with everyone wanting a turn at taking photos.

Over my time there I got to know some of the kids well and they would always happily greet me when I arrived. I had a somewhat proud moment in my last week. There was an anniversary celebration in the circus tent and ‘my’ group of kids performed some songs from the music class. Seeing how much the kids enjoyed it almost bought a tear the eye.

I think one very satisfying thing was to work in a place that actually worked. Well in a strange kind of Bolivian way it worked. But what was most important to see what they did and how much the kids loved what they were doing for them. It was nice to be a part of something that was doing such good.

It was a challenge at times, working in another culture and another language. This certainly took some getting used to for a start. But as time went on my Spanish improved and I also got to understand how the place worked. It was certainly an experience worth sticking out from what it started as to what I turned into. I actually found it somewhat hard to leave the place behind in the end.

Sometimes after a show there would be a music session with wine in the office. Nice moments. There were also drumming sessions for communities where I also banged the bongo. I also enjoyed trying to explain to Alijandro why ladies do not always like woof whistling.

While in Cochabamba I started to visit regular places and make day-to-day regular encounters. The old couple that ran the corner store were delightful, always greeting me with a smile. The old lady would always call me ‘jovencito’, (young man) and add cito onto the end of every word…choacito, pancito, heladito. I had two markets that I visited, the small and personal 25 de Mayo Mercado, which I had my regular ladies for potatoes, nuts, tuna and cheese. After time I enjoyed the regular chats with them, to the point that the potato lady informed me I had been cooked my black potatoes all wrong. Since there are over hundreds of potatoes in South America it was great to get the advice first hand.

The other market was the labyrinth of ‘la cancha’. Normally a market visit could wipe out and afternoon searching around the maze for what I needed. By the end I got to find my way around quite well and got better at lugging everything back on the blue and red Mercedes Benz buses.

Dried potatoes, big potatoes, purple potatoes, chochalo humitas, (corn cakes), yucca, quinoa, platano, giant popcorn, mangos, peaches and cherimoya…I was at heaven in the markets.

Normally at home I say cheers once or twice in the night. But not here, one the beers get flowing the ‘saluds’ get flowing as well. I like this, cheering your way though the night. An interesting custom when drinking is to pour some on the ground first for an offering for Pachamama, mother earth. This is not always practical especially on a tiled floor, which by the end of the night your feet are sticking too. Still, better than the last gay bar, which used to be a ‘salchichería, a hotdog restaurant that would close and then transform in to a disco. Ohh how I miss the peel!

With an improvement I can now talk politics. In a country that has had over 70 presidents in just 200 years with 13 of those killed, it is a place that has had a long bad run. One guy they called the gringo, as his Spanish was worse than mine. One guy lasted 3 days. Even the liberator Simon Boliviar declined the offer of president as he had different ideas for Bolivia. At least now for the first time they have an indigenous leader, in a country where around 60 percent are indigenous. Even they only got the right to vote when Evo Morlaes first took power. In the countryside there are vote evo signs painted on rock faces and the sides of houses. They stand out like glimmers of hope, written on the rocks. ‘te amo evo’, I love you evo. Many people seem to have a love for the president, somewhat of a different feeling in how I would describe out prime minister. I cannot quite image billboards on the highways saying I love you Kevin Rudd.

But in all places not all people are so happy with Evo. I was reminded that the waypalla, the indigenous flag that Evo would like for Bolivia is not for all and does not represent the same thing for all Bolivians.

POTOSI,

Potosi I was lucky enough to visit twice. I passed though there on the way to Cochabamba but made a second trip to take more photos. This place has a remarkable history, a silver mine of over 500 years. The Spanish first exploited the mine where much of Bolivia’s wealth came from. Reportedly millions of slaves died in the mines that now produce more waste than silver. The mine, ‘cerro rico’ is part of the Bolivian coat of arms and has also appeared on many bank notes over time. This colonial town is the highest town in the world at 4300 meters above sea level. It was just as fascinating for me the second time around. This time I spent more time talking to the miners and the history of the devil belief of the mines.

http://www.wix.com/dancordner/potosi-photo-project

ORuro

Nearly everyone plays an instrument. It seems that you can hand the guitar to half the people in the room and they can pick it up and bash out some great tunes. I’m always amazed at the amount of people who play when you look at the hundreds of bands that accompany the dancers during carnival. This inspiration resulted in me of buying a violin in La Paz and also a zampoña (a panpipe) that I am currently carrying in the rucksack (the zampoña that is, not the violin…. that’s at home waiting for me). I did try playing a tune on the charango for the first time for some locals when I was in Ocuri. It got a good laugh, but I think that is one instrument that I won’t be buying.

So then it seems that the other half of people in the room knows how to dance, be it salsa, the diablo, the morenada or some version of a folk song.

Oruro was a great example of that. With the biggest of festivals that Bolivia has to offer the streets are blocked off for two days while thousands of people dance and play music for two days and nights solid. All of the folkloric dances are on show from the diablada, the morena, the tinkus, the osos and china supay. The costumes are the most magnificent that I have ever seen, with meter tail devil masks that have been intricately painted, to full fluffy white bear suits to tiny little beaded dresses. The parade is an array of colours as the dancers simultaneously dance past. From the edge of the crowd people throw water bombs and spray foam in between each group. Trumpets are tooted, beer is drunk, songs are sung and dances are danced in a magnificent celebration of folkloric dance.

NORTHERN CHILE

As I had overstayed my 90 day stamp for Bolivia, I need to make a boarder crossing for a new 90 day stamp. My best option was northern Chile, which was an area yet to explore. I wanted to head this way to Arica and to Iqueque to get my fix of sand and sea again. A bike ride around Arica I passed llama carvings in mountain sides and felt the fresh air of sea in my lungs again.

Close to Iqueque was the ghost town of Humberstone. It was once a very productive nitrates mine that was actually fought over in the war of the pacific in 1893 with Bolivia, Peru and Chile. Both Peru and Bolivia lost land and Bolivia became landlocked like it is today. The mine became a town of schools, hospitals and homes for all the families. Even some of Santiago’s finest actors moved to the theatres there. But when man made nitrates became cheaper, the mine closed down the town also closed down. It was a somewhat strange experience being in a whole town but with no one in it at all.

In the northern part of Chile is the Chuquicamaca copper mine, the largest open pit mine in the world. And yeah, it is huge. 3.7km long and over one km wide. The trucks that cart the copper from the mine are the most giant trucks I have ever seen in my life. Interestingly, another piece of land that was robbed from Bolivia.

My last stop in Chile before heading back to Bolivia was San Pedro de Atacama to see one of the driest places in the world. And perhaps one of the most relaxing too, along with the best coffee. Dirt roads, adobe red brick houses and a very tranquil vibe. Surrounding the area are desert formations that make you feel like you are really standing on another planet. The wide open skies that make it seem like very star is visible.

SUCRE

While in Sucre each day I would head to the market for my fix of Buñuelos dipped in Api or Tojori, or even better a ‘mezcla’ (combo of the two). Each day the lady smiles as she pours the api into a glass as though she is pouring liquid gold to fill the hearts and stomachs of all that pass by her. She calls everyone ‘mi corazon’ or ‘mi amor’ (my sweetheart or my love) or the ever popular mamita or papi. She told me that she serves up to 100 litres of tojori every day, along with the other 6 ladies selling the same gold. Even having to pass the meat section every day to get there, it was well worth it.

Api. Ok, so what is api? Typical of the Altiplano – the Andean High Plateau – api and tojori are drinks prepared with corn cultivated in the surrounding high valleys. Prepared out of blue corn, the api is purplish while the tojori is yellow and prepared from yellow corn. Sometimes a colorful glass containing both – they do not mix due to their different densities – is served. The drink is very thick and contains huge amounts of carbohydrates since glucose is added to the corn; it reaches 400 calories per hundred grams.

Each day I return to the market for lunch. The floor is littered with food scraps and becomes a feeding ground for the pigeons that rustle below your feet. I am reminded of my dislike for pigeons, but better on the ground than flying over you while you eat I say. Each day the ladies battle it out to get you to sit at their table, sometimes forcefully grabbing you by and arm and dragging you eat at their place. After a few visits I found the best ‘sopa de cereals’, a soup thickly packed with quinoa, wheat with a hint pepper. It’s also always nice to be warmly greeted by a familiar face upon arrival each day.

The second day in Sucre was going to be a day of wondering the streets for photos, but I never made it much further than the park. As soon as you sit down in a park it’s like the shoeshine boys, the ‘lustadores’ magically appear from nowhere. Each place you get a different reaction, but in Sucre the kids liked asking you english questions to get you talking and convince you for a shoeshine. This day one of the kids asked if I could help him with his English homework, so I threw him a boliviano to go by and pencil so we could. With this a group of shoeshine boys gathered as if wanting to join in but also being to scared to speak what English they knew. The honking horn of the ice-cream man passed by and the kids begged me for one. At this stage there were nine of them, but at 16cents a pop, how could I say no. Felt kid of nice sitting around with the shoeshine boys as we hastily ate our ice creams in the melting sun.

After my market lunch I returned to the park to find the shoe shine boys still there. One of them had a flat soccer ball in his bag, which he pulled out and invited me to play. So Robert, the kid who I helped with his homework and three others had ourselves a game of soccer in the park using their shoeshine boxes for goals. What fun I say! And how badly do I play, in comparison to any South American kid!

OCURI

After a couple of day in Sucre I headed off to find Macha, a small down where I had heard about a festival of the ‘Tinkus’, a traditional Bolivian dance. Of all the Bolivian dances during carnival las tinkus is a favourite. During my visit to Oruro for the grande carnival one of the tinku dancers came up to me and gave me one his scarves, that they tie around themselves. A black and white checked scarf with pink and blue pompoms on the ends. It was a nice moment of kindness, chatting to this tinku, a moment where I felt like I became part of the carnival.

Macha, as I found out, was not the easiest of places to get to. The reports from the information office to the shoe shine boys in the street to the people at the truck stop ranged quite lot from times or ways to get there. So after a cup of mochachinchi on the street I found a man with a truck that was heading that way. While bouncing around in the back of a truck winding out way up in the hills, I enjoyed standing up and looking over the edge with the locals, watching the landscape pass by. I made instant friends with the blokes up the back of the truck with a packet of biscuits to share. But after half an hour the truck was struggling, not coping with the hills. So we turned around and bounced our way back to Sucre.

The second attempt turned out to be much more successful. One of my favourite blue and red Mercedes Benz buses arrived heading to Ravelo, a town along the way. Crammed into the back with knees pressed into the seat in front of me and a campasino woman sleeping on top of me, a young girl named Alijandra who’s mum lived in Ravelo started chatting to me. Her mum had a restaurant there, where they fed me well and looked after me and helped me get on a truck to the next town of Ocuri.

I was lucky to meet Simon on that truck. He chatted away to me the whole way. It seemed that the whole truck was listening to the conversation as; a few times we got some laughter and comments from others. Simon was actually able to explain the festival to me some more, which was great to finally get some accurate facts. For a start this festival was not tinkus, it was actually Pullay, similar costumes but a different dance. There were actually two festivals, one in Macha and one in Ocuri, but in Macha everyone gets really drunk and fights. Having already being warned how dangerous it could be I decided to say in Ocuri for the ‘safer version’ So after three hours bouncing our way along the road as the sun was setting we arrived in Ocuri. Hanging over the edge of the truck watching the town pass by I decided it would be a nice place to stay. Either that or face another three hour open truck ride in freezing alti-plano conditions.

The next morning I was awoken by a group of dancers getting into it in the courtyard of the alijimeno where I was staying. Before I could even head to the taps to brush my teeth I was greeted with ‘gringo!’ and a cup of chicha. I kindly declined by saying I’d like to start my day with breakfast first and then I’d join them later. So what is chicha you may ask? It’s like an inca beer, fermented corn that campesino ladies (chollo’s) brew up in their homes. It has a taste like, well, something fermented. It has scummy foam on top and small chunky bits down the bottom. It is often nicely served in a dried marrow shell as a cup, but nonetheless chicha is perhaps not my choice drink. Everyone drinks it, even the kids from a really young age. Next to chicha is Ceibo a pure 80 percent alcohol. Until now I only knew that the miners drank this stuff and that people poured it on the ground for mother earth (pachamama), but it seems the campesinos are into it too. I can in part understand that it is going to keep you warm as it is so damn cold in the altiplano, but wow, hard core drink. I did manage to escape the whole festival with only having to take a few swigs of the stuff, much to the disappointment of the locals.

So while I sat there and had my breakfast and declined chicha and ceibo, I chatted to some old guys. The rest danced around and drank chicha and danced around and drank more chicha. So by 9 in the morning a few of the guys were already quite drunk, but I was ready to hit the town and explore.

On my way out I encountered a gringo hating dog. Yeah, he would only bark at me, no one else. Every time I would leave my room the dog would follow me half way up the street barking, which meant every one would look at me making it even more obvious to ‘look at the gringo’. Apparently there was another tourist that stayed there that kicked the dog, which is why it hated gringos. Normally I love all dogs and they like me, but not this one.

Not that the town was that big. There was a main square, a church, a small market, thousand campesinos and me, the only gringito in town. A guy who has a market stall started chatting to me. I bought him an ice cream and he told me some more about the festival. Each time I would go back to the square I would by him an ice cream and we would chat. As we stood there it seemed to be quite easy to meet people, with people taking an interest in the gringo and wanting to chat to me.

So the tinkus that were not tinkus but pullay danced all day, for two days and two nights solid. They drank chicha and ceibo all day and danced and ran though the town. As I found out quite quickly the dance was basically four parts. First running round in circles, stomping your feet. Second was standing and stomping your feet. Third was to jump in the air. And last but not least was to run though the town to another spot and do the same all over again. All of this while someone runs around whipping at the dancers feet, to keep them in line and keep moving. Yep all two days and two nights of this. So with that the next time a local offered me chicha at his house I went for it. When in rome….

So my new found friend and a full belly of Chicha went for a walk around the town looking for groups dancing in parts of the town. Some of the groups were quite shy about having photos taken, so with the help of my new friend we popped into the closest house and I bought a bucket of chicha. It cost me like 4 dollars, enough to get a horse drunk, but also a way to make instant friends. It became like an opening to the circle as the bucket of chicha as presented and I was allowed into the centre. This meant dancing and drinking for a while and a chance to get in and take some photos. After a full day of this I retired to my room with a belly full of chicha, some great photos and the sounds of the groups running though the streets.

As the men get drunker and drunker and the night gets colder and colder some groups take to fighting each other. Thankfully Ocuri was the tame version. Tinku in quecha means to find or to encounter in English, and the fighting is reflective of fighting over land. As one lady expressed that mother earth does not like blood being split, indicating that this was not always liked by pachamama.

By the way as you will see from the photos the costumes are great. The men wear diamond coloured socks and hard leather hats adorned by strings of coloured wool and little pompoms. To top it off the men have bright colourful feathers sticking from the top of their helmets.

Interestingly I spent a lot of time explaining to people that I was not there searching for a ‘cholita’, a young campesino girl, as much as many of the men were ready to introduce me to some.

On the second day I had it all planned, a morning of more dancing and then leave, but had a miscommunication with the owner of the gringo hating dog and found out that there were no buses or trucks that day, only in the morning. That day I was lucky to meet a man who claimed to be the president’s cousin. He spoke quite highly of the president and explained about some of the areas like Ocuri that still had no access to roads and communications. I shouted him an egg burger and we went up on the hill and watched the sun set over the village. On the second day I managed to escape without drinking too much chicha from the many new found friends I had made in the town.

LA PAZ

La Paz is a city that seems to excite me, even if this is the third time to pass this way. A city of contrasts from the colonial cobbled hilly streets of the Mercado de brujas (witches market) to Zona Sur, a modern neighborhood with brand name shops and rubbish bins in the parks. From the thousands of people that work in the streets everyday next to the high rise buildings of centro. From the campesinos that walk side by side next to the people in suits. The poverty and the wealth. The antiguity and the modernity. From the children of 6 years working the streets selling gum, the lady of 80 selling teas or the beggars, the streets are lined with people working them in a world of contrasts.

The city of la paz is set in a valley which is dominated by mount Illimani, a mountain over 6000 meters that overlooks and protects the city. She evokes respect as by day she dominates the skyline. On the edges of La Paz is el alto or the altiplano, the highlands where another million people live.

The shared buses or trufis ‘gritos’ call out their destinations as they amble though the traffic. You jump on wherever you want and you get off where ever you want. A great system, well except for what it does for the traffic. Now days walking in the street with cars passing by in normal. Zebra crossings have no relevance though and nor do red lights.

The witches market is a sensual delight, with incense burning and colourful displays of offerings for Ch’alla for Pachamama. You can buy every thing here from dried llamas fetus’s, charangos, san pedro juice, fabrics, clothes and souvenirs. The deeper you go into some shops the better the finds, from Diablo devil masks to complete corporal dancing costumes.

Bolivia and South America has certainly been an eye opener to kids working on the streets. From kids hopping from restaurant to café selling gum, kids selling lollies on buses or kids selling at traffics lights. Or like the shoeshine boys from Sucre, after school they come to the park to work. For many kids they would spend their first formative years growing up on the streets, along with their mother who is working them. Or for many others, most of their childhood is growing up on the streets.

La Paz would have to be one of the coldest places I have stayed in so far. Even walking on the top of a glacier was not as cold as this place. I have invested in Llama socks jumpers and jackets my tinku scalf and taken to wearing hobo gloves a lot of the time. When the sun comes out in the day you just want to bask in it and dethaw.

OTHER THINGS

I found a ‘torte de Australia’, Australia cake the other day. Had never seen Australia cake before so I thought I had better try this. It was a 7-layered cake, with chocolate tiramisu and vanilla with cream and actually quite tasty. Not sure how it got it’s name but it was nice to eat a small piece of home.

Vegemite is a really hard thing to explain in Spanish.

The Bolivians really seem to love greet and goodbye kiss.

Long necks are the go, with 5 plastic cups for your friends. Beer drinking is to be shared.

While in Cochabamba I did have a guy pull a knife on me. The first time in over a year of traveling that I’ve had that happen. Lucky the guy was drunk and I was able to walk away without any issues. Still, certainly gets the heart racing.

During my time in Cochabamba there was a two-day transport strike, so not a single bus on the roads. The reason for striking was for the right to drink on the job. Yeah, drinking on the job. I was really not sure I was hearing this right the first time round, thinking it was getting lost in translation. But no, I had heard right.

So if I could only count the amount of times I’ve spoken about Kangaroos. It certainly seems the number one thing that people associate to Australia. I take great delight in sharing that Kangaroo meat is eaten by Australians and exported to many parts of the world. It is like the Kangaroo for us is what the llama is for the Bolivians. Though, I cannot bring by self to have that llama steak.

Interesting enough I finally looked into an answer to the common question ‘how many kangaroos there are?’ and found out they out number us, two to one. Cane toads, 10 to one. Australia even has more camels than any other country in the world, according to wiki. It’s always interesting when your asked about your country so much what you really do and do not know about the place.

One of the things I love about Bolivia is the rich culture. In many cities it is quite modern, but there is such a strong indigenous culture of Quechua and Aymaran people. Ancient cultures live alongside modern. Traditional songs are popular and many people can speak a native language, regardless of their ancestry. While the arrivals of the Spanish certainly changed things, the cultures have never been lost, they still lived on and are strong today. No doubt these cultures were affected, but I look at this in contrast to our Aboriginal culture. It seems that the culture was preserved here, but for the Aborigines it has been somewhat lost.

So where to now? I guess I have to admit the travels are coming to an end, so after Bolivia I’ll be coming home. In part I want to keep traveling, but also feel ready to come home. I know there are a lot of great things for me when I get home. But until then, the travels continue on.

Chao chao

Danielito

Posted by dancordner 14:44 Comments (0)

Peru....the southern part

Argentina, Chile and the parents

First of all this email is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas. I hope you all have a wonderful day filled with good food and loved ones around you and that the new year brings many good things for another year.

I was lucky recently to have seen 13 shooting stars in one night, so hopefully I can send some of those wishes your way as I don’t think I need quite that many right now.

I send this email from Potosi, the world highest town at a height of 4300m. Its finally starting to feel like Christmas as at night the streets are alive with people, markets, lots of things to buy and good food cooking.

This Christmas I will be spending in Bolivia in a town called Cochabamba, working with a hospital that works with orphans and street kids. I’m not there yet, but plan to be just before Christmas. Thought it would be nice to spend that time with some people who need. Also, over a year of travel now I’m ready to stay put for a while and call a place home again.

Which brings me to my next topic. It has been a long time again since I’ve put together a blog and sent out some updates. Some of you see photos updated on facebook but well sometimes words just capture something else. My main reason for avoiding the blog of late is the time it takes, especially when there is no good internet around. And as each month has gone by, the longer and longer it takes to try and capture that in a blog.

I’ve had some great responses back each time I’d done a blog, so it saddened me to not keep sharing those stories. So….this is my compromise. I plan to punch out a whole bunch of words and send them on in an email with a link to a site that I upload my photos to.

www

On a good note and almost like a Christmas present to me I just received an email from a photography competition that I entered a while back. Some of you may remember me asked for some votes for a photo that had been short listed. Well it looks like it has taken out the wildlife catergory, scoring me a whole bunch of prizes. Pretty happy about that! A nice little surprise email out of nowhere which certainly put a smile on the face and will keep me entering a few photo competitions along the way.

Since I have a few months to catch up on and there may be quite a few hundred photos to view, feel free to save this email for sometime in the new year. When your sitting back in the heat of an Aussie summer drinking an ice cold beer and its too hot to move, feel free to come on a ride with me for a little while. (note….for anyone drinking an ice cold beer that is, which ever part of the world you may be in)

So where to begin? When I last send out the blog I was in Lima, Peru. After that I headed to Huancayo. It was the same time as a festival in a small town calld San Jeronimo, the festival de los Avelinos. The men of the town dress up in rag like clothes, prepresenting a time when they went off to war, returning victorious but battered. The strange part is that all the men march into town and then present offerings of food to the president. What was so strange is that the offerings of food are cooked guinea pigs (cuy), dressed up in clothes like little people. Was a fun time with everyone in the street offering you food and beer.

After this I worked my way back to the coast line of Peru, to visit Ica, Pisco and Nazca. Close to Ica is Huancachina, a place with the most amazing sand dunes that I have seen before. In Ica you can grab a sand board, climb to the top and then surf your way down….a whole lot of fun. After this was some time in Nazca to take a flight over the Nazca lines. These ancient markings in the desert and only visible from the air as they are so large. Still to date they are greatly debated as to why they were made. I liked the theory of the tour guide who believed that the Nazcans made them to appease the gods above, since they are only visible from the sky. The Nazcans lived in very hard conditions, hot dry windy deserts. I’m not sure if they had much luck as these deserts are still hot dry and windy and it is a race that disappeared. Still, a better theory than an Alien landing pad.

After Nazca the road took me to the beautiful city of Arequipa, to visit the Colca Canyon and see condors flying in the sky. Then finally Cusco for Machu Picchu. Cusco is an incredible city in itself, with so many Incan sites to visit. Once you get used to walking up cobbled stairs all the time, they you really get to like the place. And of course Machu Picchu is amazing.

After Cusco I had to hurry things along a little bit. My parents were arriving in Buenos Aires in September and I still had a long distance to cover. In the end once I arrived in La Paz Bolivia I took a 60 hour bus ride to get to Buenos Aires. I do not recommend this, especially with a Bolivian bus company. Perhaps with an Argentine company as they serve you wine and food for long rides, but not with the Bolivians. The bus company only stopped for breakfast and lunch, running the freezing cold airconditioning all night, but then only in short bursts during the hot days.
After 3 nights on the bus, I was very happy to get off in Buenos Aires.

So after a couple of days of finding my way round this giant city I headed out to the airport to meet my parents. They had decided to come and visit me and see some of South America along the way. The first week was spend in Buenos Aires with some tango classes, shows, good fine and fine Argentine wine. After the parents were over the jet lag and ready to explore we headed off to Uruguay for a couple of days, to the quite colonial town of Colonia. Then a flight up to Iguazu Falls. Although it rained the whole day we were there, the falls are certainly a spectacular site.

After being in the northernmost part of the country, we took a flight far south to El Calafate. El Calafate sits on Lago Argentino which has a collection of incredible glaciers. The most famous of these being Perito Moreno, which is over 30km long and a height of around 70 meters above the water (of course much more below the surface). The amazing thing about this glacier is not just its size and sheer beauty, but the fact that it is one of the few glaciers that shrinks and expands. Unlike most other glaciers on the planet they are slowly shrinking. After 7 years of compacted snow new ice forms as the old ice slowly breaks away, which is another amazing site.

One more amazing part is that you can hike on top of this glacier. And at the end, a glass of whiskey with freshly chipped glacier ice.

After the south it was back to Buenos Aires for a bus trip to Mendoza for more fine red wine. One more bus ride took us through the Andes, over the boarder to Chile and Santiago. After a few days in Santiago we took a flight up to La Paz and made our way to Lago Titicaca, being the worlds largest inland lake and highest body of water. We also had one night in Peru to visit Puno for the Floating Islands. While somewhat touristy, the islands and the people are fascinating. The people of Uros have somewhat preserved their culture by living on islands made of tortoru reeds, which their lives depend on.

After Bolivia it was back to Santiago de Chile and time to say goodbye to the folks.

After Santiago I made my way back over to Buenos Aries to meet Christian, who was also in Argentina. We made our way to a circus conference for a few days which was at the very least nice to see another friend again and do some gentle training.

After Buenos Aires I headed south again to see some more of southern Argentina that I did not get to see with my parents. First stop was Puerto Madryn for whale and penguin watching. Having never seen a whale before, seeing a while whale was also a real treat. Then a bus ride over the other other side for El Bolson and Bariloche, which is like the Argentine version of the swiss alps. At times I almost forget that I was still in Argentina.

Then it was time to head north again, though Neuquen, Cordoba, Tucuman and Salta before finally arriving at the Bolivian boarder. It is amazing how different the north to the south of Argentina is, from snow capped mountains and glaciers, so dry deserts that contain all the colours of the rainbow. Each is beautiful and unique in its own way.

I was very happy to cross the boarder back into Bolivia once again. I really liked my time in Argentina, but Bolivia is a while other world. At times Argentina is very European…and perhaps too many steaks for my liking. Being back in Bolivia I am exposed to a place where the greater percentage is indigenous, high levels of poverty and a place where quinoa is a common find on any menu (enough to make any vegetarian happy).

The first stop in Bolivia was the infamous Salares de Uyuni, the worlds largest salt flats and Bolivian deserts. Not much lives out there, as not much can. From time to time you see vicuñas walking around and you will find flamingos at the lakes. But you will not find trees or green plants out here. But what you will find is beauty in these baren landscapes.

Yesterday was a tour to the Silver mines in Potosti, another fascinating place yet somewhat saddening. These mines were first discovered by the Spanish and have been worked for over 450 years. They estimate that over 8 million people have died in these mines over that time. Today much of the wealth is gone, as the Spanish took most of that, but people still work the mines in incredible conditions. A two hours tour in the mind made me realise how damn lucky I am with my job. Watching a 15 year old boy working in the depths of the mines made me quite sad. For 10 hour days, he may not see the outside world, stuck in the depths of the mine breathing in the dust that will shorten his life and no doubt kill him. Many of these miners are the same, spending their whole lives working in the mines for no more than 10 dollars a day at a time. I think after this experience I will never complain about work again.

So in a quick nutshell that’s the last few months for me. I’ve possibly covered as much distance in the last 4 months as what I have in the previous 8. For the next few months hopefully I will stay put for a while and call a place home again.

Well, until the next update….

Posted by dancordner 14:40 Comments (0)

Peru....the northern part

Peru...finally

To cross to Peru I decided to take a less travelled path and get off the beaten path for a little while. My plan was to eventually end up in Huancabamba which is famous with the Peruvians for their shamens, or traditional healers. Once again a guide book listing that certainly did not live up to expectations by a long shot. I did not have great visions going in on what to expect, only a chance to touch upon a tradition steeped in Peruano history. Being a believer of traditional and alternative practices I thought this was worth exploring.

I must say the journey there and out was still an adventure in itself which I did enjoy. Over 5 days the round trip from the Peruano boarder to the coastline city of Chiclayo took over 44 hours, made up in a combination of buses, chivas, cars, a truck, taxi’s and a very long uncomfortable donkey ride. The truck took me from a tiny town in the midst of the mountains all the way to Huancabamba, which was a 9 hour ride, basically spent in first and second gear the whole time. I did have to laugh to myself at the frustration of the driver ever time he tried to grind the truck into second gear, but each time he got it in it was time to change down again. This was certainly one of the worst roads I’ve ever been on and at the time the scariest too. It was also a beautiful landscape, even if they day was bleek and overcast and at times I was too timid to pull out the camera to photograph it. It took me though small towns were all eyes were on me.

So when I finally arrived in Huancabamba I asked around about the local ‘brujos’, thinking that I had a good reference. So off I went, on a car ride into the hillside of the area. On arrival the shaman charged me much more than I expected. But at this stage I was not prepared to drive back into town and hunt for another, so I accepted his price.

Late into the night, the ceremony began, with a group of 7 others. So the ceremony involves chanting, singing, being cleansed with a silver sword, having colognes such as agua de florida and Cariña spat all over you by the shamen and then taking your turn to drink and spit these colognes into the world. Even the much talked about san pedro had no effect on me what so ever. The whole process was about cleansing, but did it really have to take all night, repeated over and over and over. I found myself falling asleep while I waited my turn for the shamen to spit all over me again. He kept calling me ‘extrañjero’ which is ‘foreigner’ in Spanish. Would have it been that hard for him to remember my name like all other other locals? By this stage I realised that this experience was not working for me and I had had enough.

But the next day involved more. My ride was not organised till late afternoon…and plus I had paid for this too. So a whole bunch of horsemen and horses and one donkey rock up to take us to Laguna Shimbe, which are the lakes famous for their medicinal properties. Being the tallest person in the group, I am still unsure as to why I got stuck with the donkey. The lake itself was quite beautiful but not the 4 hours of riding on a donkey to get there. Once we were there, the whole process continued over again along with more cleansing and a very cold dip in the lake. At the end of that day,I was one happy camper to return to town.

Sometimes you win some, sometimes you loose some. Thankfully I can laugh about the whole thing now. As many who know me know that I’m open to alternative practices, but I will never recommend the Peruano shamens to anyone!

Since the shaman cost me more than I was told, I was out of cash. Ok, no worries, just head into the bank…but the bank in town would not accept my card. Great, so potentially this meant being stuck in a town a long way from anything with out access to cash. So I headed to the bus terminal and tried to explain myself to the bus company, saying I had cash, but none on me, but they would not help me at all. Luckily, some people who also saw the shamen were heading to Chiclayo on the same bus and thankfully helped me out. The man was very friendly and kind but the lady had her eye on me like I was going to do a runner at any moment (not worth it for 8 bucks, and the mans kindness to say the least).

So after Huancabamba, I decided it was time to get back to the well-trodden tourist route for a while again…I guess sometimes there are reasons why they are so well trodden. I got myself some cash, breathed a sigh of relief and chuckled about the experience.

Chiclayo provided me with all that I was after, some great pre-inca sites and a township of friendly people. Sipan is a site from the Moche culture, dating back to 300AD. The pyramids are fascinating constructions but today bear little resemblance to their former glory. Being adobe bricks, over time these pyramids have been eroded away to resemble dirt mounds arising from the ground. Still, the moche culture was incredibly talented, which was on show at the Museo Tumbas Reales in Lambayeque. Perhaps one of the best museums I have been to, as the excavation of artefacts and mummies was documented as it happened. So you could appreciate the artefacts and see photos at the same time they were unearthed. The museum was shaped like a Moche temple, so you started at the top and worked your way down to the tombs.

Another fascinating site was Tücume, or El Valle de los Piramides. This site was under better condition and in parts you could see the adobe bricks under excavation.

An afternoon trip to the beach town of Pimentel gave me a look at the caballitos de totora, which is a very small reed boat that the fisherman braves the sea in.

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Next down the coast was Trujillo and the largest mud brick city in the word, Chan Chan and the ancient culture of the Chimu.

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Chachapoyas is known for the fortress of Kuelap, which is certainly an impressive structure. The structure is almost 600 m in length and its walls rise up to 19 m in height. At a height of 3000 meters it’s an incredible thought to where all the materials came from and how they carted them to such heights. The site has only three entrances, which are narrow hallways which was a tactical defence. With the 360 degree views from all around, I’d say the Chachaypoyans were mighty safe.

Also in this region is El Pueblo de los Muertos, the village of the dead. Build into the hillside are round houses, where the dead were stored. It’s an amazing feat as these houses are basically built right into the hillside. One wrong step and it’s all over. Another site that had spectacular views, for the living and the dead.

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Huaraz is known for having the worlds second highest mountain ranges next to the Himalayas. As soon as you arrive in the township you are surrounded by these beautiful snow capped peaks, known as the Cordillera Blancas. This place is filled with hard-core trekkers and mountain climbers. After my attempted climb of Cotapaxi, I was happy to do nothing too hard core, so opted for the Santa Cruz trek. The Santa Cruz trek is over four days, which takes you though Parque Nacional Huascaran. Day three took us though the pass of Punta Union, which as a height of 4750 meters is apparently the same for the first base camp for Everest. Spectacular views all around made every step of this trek worth it.

A visit to Chavin de Hauntar was a chance to explore another ancient civilization and walk though the underground tunnels which are a maze of alleys and chambers underneath the ruins.

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After having some time with the flu and also dealing with altitude sickness in Huaraz, I decided it was time to take a break. One of the places on my list of volunteer options was and hour and half north of Lima. So I headed to Eco Truly Village for 8 days of volunteer work, yoga classes and some rejuvenation. The place was run by Hare Krishna’s, which meant good veggie food every day and a chilled out pace. The work was pretty easy, my favourite was time spent painting the ashram.

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After my 8 days on the coast I was ready to head back to Lima and continue the adventure.

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Posted by dancordner 19:58 Archived in Peru Tagged bus Comments (0)

Mindo, Baños, Quilotoa, Cotopaxi and the last of Ecuador

the last of Ecuador

Ok, ok, yes, this blog is well overdue, by a few months I'll have to admit. So, I've finally sat down to bash out some stories and upload some pics to fill in to all my loved ones what I've been up to over the last few months. Some wonderfully amazing times in there and some tricker times I'd have to say as well. As the time passes I'm learning that these are the joys of travels, the good and the bad times...no different to life really, you just need to find the right balance. So, hold onto your hats and enjoy the ride.

My last entry I was back in Colombia, sorting out my much needed extra stamp to pass back through Colombia. Upon returning to Quito I'd decided I'd had enough of the city, so took a couple of days to visit Mindo, which is around 2 hours west of Quito. It's known for its bird life and cloud forest's which I was keen to explore.

Mindo certainly did not disappoint. Mindo has one of the best cable wire rides though the cloudforest, which for me being a lover of heights was quite a ride. Rushing though the air at exceptional heights through and over a rainforest is a wonderful sensation....but perhaps not for everyone. Mindo also has a walk, the Santuario de Cascades which contains 9 waterfalls in one walk. This was an easy place to wonder and soak in and enjoy the total tranquility of rushing water all around.

While I did no specific 'twitching' tours as such (bird watching), I had a wonderful moment with a humingbird, the first I had ever seen. Lying back in a hammock on the balcony of the hostel watching the sunset, a hummingbird kept circling around some wattle in quite frequent intervals. Camera in hand, I snapped away, lucky enough to capture a perfect silhouette of this magnificent bird, wings back and beak just dipping into the wattle flower. I in part think this photo was shear luck, as at the rate these birds fly most photos were a blur. Nature was working with me that day.

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My arrival back in Quito meant good things. You may remember the cool Irish chick Ed from the Galapagos Islands. Well, she has some time left in Ecuador before flying out and was keen to hook up. Yes sir a travel buddie for me, and a pretty cool one at that. So the plan was to head to the jungle, then Baños and try pack in what ever else we could time permitting. We headed to Tena, being one of the better spots to line up a jungle tour. Poor ed was almost dying from the flu, but soldiered on and didn't let it stop the sense of adventure or from playing paddocks on the bus. After a day of talking to tour operators we thought we had found our man, Fausto, who was of Quechua decent and seemed quite keen to share the jungle with us. Well while Ed and I had a great time, perhaps he was not the greatest guide in the end. Proclaiming to speak good english we were sold, but once we got on the bus and started our journey, his english seemed to gradually disappear.

But this did not halt our adventure at all. After a night bus from Tena to Limoncocha, we had arrived and seen our first glimpses of the waters that run into the mighty amazon. After our driver bucked out the water from our motor canoe, we were on our way to our jungle location over the next four days.

Our little slice of the jungle was all ours over this time, filled with monkey watching, jungle walks and pirana fishing. While the piranas we caught we small, they still had the sharp teeth that i would not want to be swimming with. I must say though that they are a very tasty little fish.

Fausto has promised us a night of caimen watching (caimen being the crocs of the amazon). This lined up with a full moon and a long paddle into the township of limoncocha to visit the local bar for some cervezas.

So we set off, with fausto barking his usual orders at us both. I will give him credit as he did find some caimen for us to admire. This picture below does not quite tell this story, but we got the canoe pretty close to one of them, perhaps like no more than a meter. Sitting in the front of the canoe, I was packing myself, as Fausto kept edging the canoe closer and closer for me to take a photo. One hand on the camera, the other on the paddle incase I needed to use it. Fausto knowing I was a keep photographer then took us along the edges of a patch of lilies looking for frogs. This is no easy task, with a torch, paddle, camera and a million bugs attracted to the light, hunting for 5cm frogs.

After this was the long moonlight paddle into town, faintly seeing the bats flying around us though the night air. Along the waters edge in the lily plants were glow insects, that made the banks of the river appear to be lined with fairy lights. It was certainly a beautiful moment.

The night turned into a funny one, as the locals took great interest in Ed and I. Ok, to be honest I'm sure it was Ed where the interest lay, but it provided us with endless dance partners for salsa and quechua and lots of conversation. On arrival a young local ran off to find his balsa wood carvings of snakes and boat to try and sell to us. Since we did not buy any, at the end of the night he insisted on giving us some as presents. There was a reason why we did not buy any of them, but none the less accepted the gifts and told our guy that they will provide us with many memories of this place. Much to our surprise, spitting everywhere on the floor of the bar seemed to be quite a common activity. I did have to hold back my laughter as while dancing violently with a larger local lady, she would fling her head to the side and ever so graciously 'take a slag'. Each to their own i guess. Another 'ritual' which I have not experienced else where was that the locals loved the microphone. So much that the whole night a running commentary was given of the evening as it progressed, while the music played and people danced. Ed and I got our fair share of mentions and the crowd cheered when Ed had her go.

The return ride did not disappoint either, with Fuasto nearly falling out of the canoe and our first experience of the thick Amazon fog.

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After the jungle the next destination was Baños for volcanos and white water rafting. The white water rafting was an amazing adventure, but unfortunately with no photos to show. I did take great pride in being front captain up first...even if everyone in the boat does get a go. Being tossed about in rapids in quite a thrill.

The night volcano tour got a great wrap in the guidebook 'a chiva ride up the mountain where you may see red sparks in the night all with some complimentary caña’ (a strong sugar cane drink). Well it was fun to say the least, but this one certainly did not fit the guidebook description. After the ride up in the chiva, we stood on the edge of a road while some guy poured petrol all over a fire to keep us warm. We got our free drinks that's for sure, but were not really ever sure where to top of the volcano actually was.

Ed and I stumbled on a great Karaoke bar in Baños. We were first drawn to this place as we stood outside and laughed at the Ecuadorian woman trying to sing. But, at the end of the night, we were in her shoes. So what do you get when you cross an Aussie, Irish, Ecuadorian and Peruano...a damn good night of Karaoke. Must note, I did attempt a song in Spanish, but I'm sure there were people outside laughing just as we had done earlier.

Baños also got us on the bikes, on a waterfall tour which we ended at the pialon del diablo, a spectacular waterfall.

At this point Ed’s time had come to an end in Ecuador, so said our farewells. But not before a few final songs at the Karaoke bar. We also tried some acro balance in the park, which certainly gave the locals something to talk about.

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So I headed back to my room and had withdrawal symptoms from Ed for a few days. I had gotten used to travelling with someone and was now on my own again, which would take some getting used to.

The plan was to head to the region of the Quilitoa loop and do some hiking for a few days. After a recommendation I headed to Chugchilan, which was a great little place to stay. This place seemed like the Ecuador I had always imagined, rolling hills, people living on the land and total beauty.

On my second day I went off on the ‘cheese factory’ walk. After an hour of walking I passed a family on the side of the road, where a dog decided to start walking along with me. I thought great, a friend for the day, which is exactly what happened. The dog, who for the day I named ‘chico’ came with me for the whole 7 hours. He fought other dogs for me, helped eat my cheese sandwiches and we even napped in the paramo grass together as the clouds rolled over the spectacular landscape. I think every photo from that day has ‘chico’ in the shot somewhere. But after a while I started to wonder, what happens when we get back, what do I do with ‘chico’ (keep him certainly ran though my mind). Luckly when we got back to town, I soon found out that he was one of the hostel dogs. Perhaps ‘chico’ had done the cheese factory walk many times before?

To leave Chugchilan you have to option of buses at 4-5am, or the milk truck at 9am. Easy option to decide on as the milk truck sounded much more interesting. So at 9 I jumped on the milk truck, which ambles along the road, stopping to buy milk from the locals along the way. The truck also picks up other people along the way, like Mika. Mika was another traveller and we got to talking, enjoying the rolling hills from the back of the truck.

Once we got to Sigchos we has some time to kill for the bus back to Latacunga. So, we sat down and talked and eventually got onto the conversation of handstands, which Mika had recently been working on. So, what better place to have a small session in the Sigchos park, which once again certainly gave the locals something to talk about.

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After spending a few days hiking in Quilitoa, I felt ready to climb Cotapaxi. Cotapaxi is an ice capped mountain that stands at 5900 meters high. For tourists like me wanting to do some ice climbing, this is the one to start on as it’s an ‘easier’ climb due to the cone shaped nature of the mountain. So in Latacunga I met a Spanish fellow called Luis who was up for it as well. With our guide Diego, 6 layers of clothing, ice cramps and ice pics we were ready.

In the afternoon you head to the climbers refuge, which sits around 4800 meters. The views from here are spectacular and you get a sense of what you are about to do. You pass the afternoon here before setting off at midnight for the climb. The reason for the night climb is that the ice is not as soft and you also get to the top for sunrise.

Well I’d love to be able to say that I made it to see that sunrise, but my sunrise was on that way back down. I suffered from altitude sickness and had to make the choice at around 5400 meters to come back down. It was a hard call to make as being defeated by the mountain ain’t such a great feeling, along with the feelings of altitude sickness to top it off. At the end of the day it was still an incredible experience…and there will always be other mountains in the future to try.

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After Cotapaxi I spent time in the towns of Riobamba, Loja and Cuenca and then onto Vilcabamba, which is deemed the valley of longevity…and also my last stop in Ecuador. I’m not sure if my stay has added years to my life, but it was yet again another beautiful part of Ecuador.

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Next top...and next blog, Peru!

Posted by dancordner 18:07 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

la coasta, isla de galapagos, semana santa and pasto take 2

the adventure continues

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My spanish teacher Isobela in Quito.

adios quito, hola la costa

After spending some time in the city of Quito studying Spanish, it was time to head to the coast and suck down some fresh air. Thanks to Chrissy who has some family that lives in Ecuador, I headed to the small coastal town of San Clemente for a few days.

San Clemente was a perfect break from the city for me, beaches and a sea breeze. A small place, yet exactly what I was looking for….and finally a chance to see some more of Ecuador. I was kindly taken into the house of Eva and Freddie, who treated me ever so kind and fed me fresh delights from the sea. Eva was ever so patient with me and tried to converse as much as possible with me in Spanish. But at the moment its still difficult to express myself as I would like, so after a day we broke into English and I got to know Eva very well. An inspiring person for me, as Eva spoke 5 languages…all of them very well.

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A bus ride, a ferry and a motor bike took me though Bahia Baraquez, San Vicente and onto another small town of Canoa. Once again, stunning beaches and some wonder sunsets spent on the beach. I had read this was a good spot to surf, so for the first time in my life, I took a lesson. It was great fun but the realisation hit home that the fitness level is certainly not what it was before I left. After a good two hours out in the sea I was knacked, but at least managed to get my feet to the board and had a whole new understanding of the power of the sea. Later that night I sat on the beach with a young local called Roady, where we watched the sun set and people doing capaera and handstands in the sunset. A perfect end to a fine day.

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After my time on the coast, my next adventure lay ahead, one that I had been waiting for some time for….the Galapagos islands.

The Galapagos islands are famous for the untouched environment and the unique plants and animals that are found there…and Charles Darwins Theory of Evolution. There are 13 major islands, 6 smaller and another 42 rocks / mini islands…a lot to explore. I started my time on San Christobal island, for two weeks volunteer work with the company Jatun Sacha (big forest). The two weeks involved lots of cutting down mora bush with machetes, working in the nursery, making coffee, reforestation, working in plantation (so the station is more self sufficient), working in the kitchen, swimming near the waterfall, playing lots of cards and volleyball and last but not least, drinking lots of beer and caña (sugar cane alcohol) at the local bar for the volunteers. It was also a wonderful time to get to know more about the island and meet many people from all over the world (well, lots of Americans, germans, a couple of aussies and a great irish chick to name a few).

After two weeks volunteer work I packed my bags to go exploring the other islands. I was lucky to have the company of Edwina, the great irish chick and other great aussie for part of that time too. I think a place like the islands was nice to share in the beauty with friends. While I do love solo travel, there are times when its nice to turn to someone and say 'wow'.

It was very true that this place could make the most amatuer of photographers look like a national geographic photographer. I was certainly a happy camper.

I could probably write a whole lot more about the islands, as they certainly were an experience of a life time. The animals, the nature and the sheer beauty of the place, which I think its possibly a time where pictures will tell the story somewhat better.

But a couple of fine memories are:
Seeing sea iguanas for the first time. After looking at the black rocks it was like a magical 3d puzzle, where more and more started to appear before my eyes.
Snorkeling with sea lions, wow are they playful and wow are they cute
Finding my hatred for mora bush, as it really scratches when your cutting it down with machettes. But finding that the fruit tastes so good too.
All up I snorkelling 11 times, so I found my fins by the end of it. The variety of fish, coral, sea cucumbers, star fish was certainly a visual delight, with a different type of snorkel each time. I felt like an explorer hunting for new kinds of fish.
Chasing white reef tipped sharks and diving down to caves to find them.
The snorkel at 'conch la perla' on island isobela. To the right was a penguin, to the left a sea iguana and in the center, a sea turtle....all before we had even put our fins in the water. Lined by mangroves and white rock face walls, this was a memorable morning.
Snorkeling with sea turtles (chasing them too...but they are a much easier chase). You really just end up swimming gracefully next to these ancient magestic creatures.
Seeing dolphins...how can you not love them.
Baby turtles...how can you not love them too.
The daily ritual of sunscreen and deet.
The friends I made during volunteer work. Playing pool on a slanted table at the bar and many games of cuarenta and memory.
Sneaking beers down to the waterfall and skinny dipping.
Taking a horse ride to the second largest active volcano in the world with an 8 x8 km rim.
and the list could go on....

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(thanks for this photo ed)

Apart from the very strange experience of having a hire bike stolen on one of the islands, the time there was amazing. Even the police were stunned and the whole island was on look out for the bike. Yes, many jokes about the turtles stealing the bike on me....a faster mode of transport i guess?

A lot of the islands are national park, so is off limits to just wonder and explore the island freely, or you need to pay for a tour with a guide. But, each island still had its fair share of free adventures to take part in.

I have a few thousand photos of the islands, but below is a sample of some of the hightlights, in particular the animal and plant life. There were many other parts of the island that i also enjoyed, like my time at Jatun Sacha the volunteer organisation and the people i met there....but those photos may have to wait for some other time.

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semana santa

On heading back to Quito it was time for Semana Santa, or Easter. I has seen photos of this parade and certainly did not want to miss it. Over this important religious weekend many people choose to do a penitance, an act for sad or humble realizations and regret for one's misdeeds. People wear face less purple cloaks with pointed hoods and walk for hours during the procession. Other people choose to carry giant wooden crosses on their shoulder though the streets, replication the actions of christ. If you are religious or not, there is something incredibly over whelming about so many thousands of people taking part in their penitence. As I worked my way into the procession, firstly to get a better angle for photos, I found myself quite humbled by the dedication and faith of so many people.

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The dish ´la fanesca´, which is a traditional dish during the time of Semana Santa, or Easter.

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So when I arrived in Quito I had two days left in my passport before my 90 days was up. I had read that it was easy to get an extension on the tourist visa with immigration. But, alas, no it was not possible so I was told. My best option was to leave Ecuador and head back into Colombia...which seemed like a fine idea to me. So I jumped on the bus and headed back to Colombia to Pasto, where I had some great friends (from the carnival in January).

Initially I was only going to stay a few days, a quick hello then head back to Ecuador. But my friend Lainer asked me to come and visit some schools where he worked, to take photos of the kids. This panned out over two weeks visiting schools which turned into quite an experience for me. The kids took great fascination in this tall red headed gringo with fancy camera. Over the time the kids got to know me and seemed to really enjoy each visit that i made. My last visit to the kids was actually to play a much promised game of soccer with 'some of my favourites'. (mental note to self...not supposed to have favourites with the kids).

One of the schools had been robbed and had art supplies stolen. I felt pretty sorry for the kids, as a lot of them come from low income families, so they do not have much. So I decided to buy them a few packets of coloured pencils, which just made me feel mighty fine (cannot have anyone deprived of the chance to create). What was most amazing for me is that at the end of the day one of the kids dragged me back to the class room so all of the kids could give me thankyou cards that they had made for me. Talk about a warm fuzzy feeling inside!

I also gave a presentation about Australia to the kids too, in spanish (well, a bit ruff around the edges, but the kids understood me). It was quite amazing how excited the kids were about things that when you growing up its easy to take for granted. Over these few days i was feeling pretty patriotic and seemed to take great delight in talking about Australia. By the schools directors, the teachers and the kids I was welcomed with love and somewhat curiosity too. For some of the students and teachers it was a rare chance to talk to a native english speaker. Over this period of time I certainly got my 15 minutes of fame in Pasto.

pasto

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On another visit to one of the schools it was a day for presentations and cultural dance. I was treated like a guest of honor and given a front row seat for the proceedings. I was even given the honor of presenting one of the kids with one of the awards.

What turned out to be a very unplanned detour turned out to be an amazing time for me. Not just with the kids, but also with Lainer and Angela and their family and friends. I was looked after so very well, like one of the family. I have a t-shirt that says 'se habla pastuso', i speak pastuso, which i certainly wear with pride. Ahorita, yo tengo pasto en mi corazon para siempre.

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Pasto is situated at the base of a volcano, Volcan Galeras, the largest active volcano in Colombia. During my time there there was some small activity, but one night was spectacular. Picture this, a pitch black sky with flashes of lighting. Each time the lightening flashed from behind the volcano a silhouette of the volcano would appear with plumes of ash rising high into the sky. I stood there with my fellow Pastusos, waiting for each flash of lighting for the spectacular views.

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(this photo is not actually mine, but it is from the same night that I mentioned above)

So after a three week unplanned detour to Colombia, my first real soccer match and a mighty hard ride up a really big hill, it is time to move on again. Pasto once again holds many wonderful memories for me. A family that looked after me and many new wonderful friends in this town. I know now that I always have a home to go to there and will be welcomed with many warm smiles from many people in this place of Pasto. I will miss my Pasto family and also the welcoming hellos of all the kids, but my feet and itchy and ready for some new adventures.

Oh, and in the end I did get my extra time in my passport for Ecuador too. After dealing with a fat lazy man in the Ecudorian consulate I decided to bypass him and received some help from the people on the boarder. Still paid for it, but a much more satisfying process to go through. So yesterday i left Colombia behind once again, good coffee and mighty fine people, but excited about continuing on with this journey.

http://www.saexplorers.org/magazine/
(attached is a link to a magazine called south american explores where I have a photo in their photo of the month section)

Posted by dancordner 13:59 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

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