Friday, April 21, 2017

Uncle time in the US

So the last two weeks I've been back in the US, hanging out with my family,  and getting to know my brand new niece. After 3+ months of adventures, it was time to relax, sleep in the same bed consistently,  eat healthy food,  understand the language and laugh with family and old friends. So far, it's been great.

I'm in Portland, OR, one of my favorite cities in the world. From the outdoors to the coffee to the food, this place has it all. With since glimpses of warm weather,  it looks to be the start of a good summer. Which means, once again, I've crossed the equator going from summer to summer. Just a few rainy days in Portland first, and then all sunshine!

Here are a couple pictures of me and Luciana, my niece, now 3 weeks old. There's defintely something special about holding a brand new baby in your arms. Quite nice to put the backpack down and replace it with a baby.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Ecuadorian markets

You think you have control of the situation in the markets. It's a bargaining culture here and as long as you come out of the deal thinking you won, that's all that matters. Alpaca sweaters and blankets,  wooden carvings, metalwork, and so much more.  The colors are amazing and the local designs make you think of a different culture. I do alright avoiding the sales, and yet I've come away with a couple large bags of coffee. They found my weakness. Can't pass up something you can taste and smell.

The equator

It's fitting for Ecuador to have its name with the equator running through the country. I learned on my walking tour that the name Quito means the place in the middle. Now how did they figure that out way before everyone else?  Simple pole in the ground will tell you the time, and if you watch it all year, you notice trends such as when the shadow gets longer or shorter. They chose Quito to be their captial, almost exactly on the Equator, the spot where you are closest to the sun. Well done people,  well done.

This morning I visited the Mitad del Mundo, the exact spot science tells us is the equator. Such a fun feeling to walk from one hemisphere to the other. Pretty darn cool. That feeling was the highlight, but there is a small village of artisan shops, museums and history. Nice to learn more about science and the culture here.

You do way less at the ecuator  (approx .5% less).  Water does not flush the opposite way in each hemisphere, rather it depends on the force and direction when it enters into the bowl. You can balance an egg supposedly at the ecuator, but I couldn't find any chickens,  so that'll have to wait for the next visit. 

Monday, April 3, 2017

Beach in the last days

As this trip to South America has been mostly in the summertime,  and I've spent the last months at high altitude in the mountains, it was time to head to the beach for some fun in the sun. Can't pass up some surfing, relaxing vibes and yoga next to the Pacific.

I started in Montañita, a busy touristy town full of action. The beach was packed by the center, and less crowded the farther north you went. A wee bit of paradise with super soft sand and ready waves to ride. The nightlife was a main draw as well, with it feeling a bit like a beach party in the early evening, and then attempting to salsa in the salsatecas.

After a day of crowds, it was time to head north to the quiet beach town of Ayampe. Drastically different and perfect. I'd met 2 German friends from my Machu Pichu hike in Montañita and we found an awesome place to camp. Great views of the ocean, filled with jungle sounds and  tropical trees. Pretty damn nice.

I relaxed a couple days, and had some great day trips. The first was to Los Frailes beach, known as Ecuadors most stunning beach. They have kept it pristine as part of a national park and search your bags when you enter, keeping trash out. Super clean on the beach with a feeling of untouched nature, apart from all the people there enjoying it as they should. Perfect hot day for swimming in the ocean,  rinsing away the sweat and soaking up some good vibes with mother nature. Solid day out. A second day trip was to the Isla de la Plata, which was so awesome, it'll get a post of its own soon enough.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Executive!

So I'm at the bus station and had to choose between two bus companies going to Quito. Although one company said it was 'ejecutivo servicio', I went with the other company because it left first. And then the bus shows up and it's 'super ejecutivo'.  Winning!   (And this post is in sarcasm because rarely are the buses that much nicer in South America, and it's all just words and marketing.   Some of the nicest have been the cheap regular buses, and the fanciest sounding are normally lacking,  sometimes without working seats or air, and with toilets that drop directly on to the ground.)

Post script :  the toilet was locked for the journey, the AC was cranked on freezing all night and it was pretty bumpy. So yeah,  it was just a regular bus journey on this trip.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Settling into the mountain life

So I've been in the town of Baños for a week now and am loving it. Laid back, full of activities and people, it's been a good base for exploring central Ecuador and taking Spanish lessons. That's right,  after 3 months of speaking my travel Spanish, I've decided to hone my skills and figure out how to use grammar properly. Focusing on the past and future tenses, I've been taking 4 hours per day with a private teacher.

The days are spent out and about in the region. With a German friend, we biked the waterfall route along the river. A half day trip, you pass numerous huge waterfalls and often have the opportunity to zip line across the river, above the falls. At the end us the pailon de Diablo, a large waterfall you hike down to and then can hike under. In one section, you crawl through a tunnel just a few feet high to get to the next section. All this to get very wet and end at a rock wall where you can't go past.

Another day was rafting on the frothing river, super high from all the rain that has been occurring in South America. On the first rapid, our whole raft flipped. Guide, 3 girls and myself all into the water. Wasn't really our fault as we were going up a steep rapid behind a raft and they were stopped at the top. Simply, we ran into them and all flipped backwards down the rapid. Quite fun really and we were all back in the raft within a minute apart from Laura, who was picked up by another raft and had to dive into our raft.

And as with most places, I hiked to the highest point around. On some days the weather was rainy or cloudy, but on the hiking day, it was toasty and I got a proper sweat in, being rewarded with awesome views. Lots of green here in the mountains,as well as hot springs (hence the name of 'baths').  Nice to soak up some minerals after the days activities and brain power spent on Spanish.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Canyoning is amazing

Imagine hiking near a river, when the trail ends with cliffs and a waterfall. What if you decided to continue your journey and descend down the waterfall? 

Jugo de caƱa

Drinking fresh sugar cane juice here in Ecuador. Mighty tasty alone, the locals normally mix it with mandarin or pineapple. And the crazy people add tequilla to make a drink called sanguich. Either way you drink it, it's freshly pressed for your drinking pleasure

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hello sunshine!

Last country on this trip

I'm in Ecuador now, my last stop on this Epic South American journey. I've gone from the middle of Chile all the way up here, and worked it out so I have a few weeks to explore and get a taste of this small country on the equator. It is on the modern,  efficient and expensive side of the scale, not to the level of Chile,but it's a contrast from Bolivia and Peru. Similar vibes at the markets, but just more organized with laminated menus and higher prices. I love eating at the local markets, feeling like a local and getting to try unique foods, and drink fresh cheap juices.

I started in Cuenca, which is a city full of great architecture and history. This is a great place to meet other travelers as most people coming to or from Peru stop off here. Pretty much everyone at my hostel were fresh into country on their way north to Columbia. The gringo trail!

The walking tour was unique in that it wasn't very good and used private transportation. The van took us to a Panama hat factory,which had a museum and shop (always pushing products on these tours).  We did learn some cool things about the history of the hats and there was a live woman sitting in an exhibition, weaving a hat. Not really my style, but still some sweet hats.

The best part of Cuenca was the zoo. This was the most natural zoo I've been to, sitting on a large hill mountain outside the city. No paved path or normal cages, we had to hike through dirt trails, often full of mud from the train. The monkeys pretty much were just running wild with water being the main barrier from escape. There were bridges built out of wire for them to go to a large variety of habitats. The Andean bear had a large plot to himself. Amazon animals were all over. There were relatives of the tiger, pumas, condors and animals I hadn't seen before. My two Finnish friends and I were pretty much the only people there and it felt like a walk in the hills with animals all around us. Jungle tour!

Monday, March 13, 2017

Beach time

I've been in the north of Peru for a few days now, relaxing in the beach town of Mancora. My hostel is right on the beach, so I literally roll out of bed, get in the water, and then have breakfast. Just can't beat that. Or the fact that my hostel is made up of 4 cabanas,and that there is saltwater in the outdoor showers.

I've been surfing, hiking, doing yoga and reading the last few days as well as meeting some new friends. The surf was small and sadly this week in Peru's surf capital was lacking. Still good to get out in the water though. Yoga near the beach is always a pleasure, and the hot weather has already made me quite flexible. Feeling good!

This town is a sandals only kind of place. Warm, sweaty nights under a mosquito net don't exactly rest you up though. Still,  it's been a nice change from the cold weather in the Andes. No alpaca sweaters needed here. Just sunscreen.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Off to Lima

To save on time and hassle,  I decided to fly from Cusco to Lima.  For just a few dollars more, I was able to avoid a 22 hour bus, and fly there in 1 hour and 20 minutes. The budget backpacker in me was totally fine with this, as first off, I love to fly and be in airports, and secondly, after many long South American bus rides, I've grown tired of bus travel. Of course,  I still have several buses to take in the next few weeks to continue my journey north to Ecuador.

International airports are always fun. You get crazy looks when you ask if you should take off your shoes (got to keep them on).  Bringing a bottle of water through was no problem (in a land where you buy all water, I prefer to keep some for the journey).  And making peanut butterand jelly sandwiches on the airport floor just seems normal. I'd found a squeeze pack of both pb and jelly,  making for a light snack.

Cusco has been awesome. I got to know a lotof people here, and know my way around. I spent the rainy morning exploring free museums. The Museo de Cafe was awesome. Great to learn about the industry and history here in Peru, the 3rd largest producer of coffee after Brazil and Columbia. I've had many great cups here and the espresso at the museum was spot on. The chocolate museum was simular in pointing out that there are now more coffee and chocolate crops than coca plantations. Some great samples showed the different taste from chocolate in the high mountains, to the coast, to the jungle. Awesome stuff.

Here's a picture of me drinking a great cup of coffee. Lost a bit of weight along the 6 day hike through the Andes to Machu Pichu, but never fear, I am back to feasting like a king.

Monday, March 6, 2017

On top of Machu Pichu Mountain

On top of spending 11 hours exploring Machu Pichu, I decided to hike to the top of the highest mountain in the park. Machu Pichu Mountain is over 800m above the main part of the city below. It's a super steep climb, up small rock stairs built by the Incas. This hike literally takes your breath away, as it combines using a stairmaster for 1 hour and going up high altitudes. Starting at Machu Pichu, you end up at the same altitude of Cusco.

Epic views on the way up are rewarded with accomplishment on top, with full 360 views of the area. You can see Hidroelectric, where the buses to Cisco leave from, and is a 3 hour hike away, and you can see Aguas Calientes, a 2 hour hike away where I am spending the night.  Mountain views all around, covered in a rich jungle of trees. Sadly the view became clouded over soon after I arrived, so i snacked and met some other hikers in a white haze.