the adventure continues
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.
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.
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....
(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.
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.
The dish ´la fanesca´, which is a traditional dish during the time of Semana Santa, or Easter.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(attached is a link to a magazine called south american explores where I have a photo in their photo of the month section)