May 30, 2004

Hangin in Quito, eatin wings, watchin hockey

Baños was good. The hostel was amazing, the people were great, and there´s tons to do there. I went biking the other day - east of Baños, the road drops down into the upper Amazon, and you can rent bikes and ride down the highway. It´s almost all downhill, so just point it and go, blowing by waterfalls, through tunnels, all the while dropping in elevation and watching the forest turn slowly into a tropical jungle. I also hit some of the baths in town, where an Irish girl told me that in Ireland they refer to hottubs as "Canadian hottubs" - apparently hottubs in every hotel is a Canadian thing. I also went out to watch the volcano, but unfortunately it was cloudy - apparently when it´s clear you can see red-hot rocks flying from the caldera. You can definitely hear the volcano constantly rumbling, like thunder in the distance.

From Baños I was off to Tena, the so-called whitewater capital of Ecuador. Unfortunately, however, it would seem that I was the only willing rafter in town, so there weren´t enough people for the trip. Instead of lingering, I caught a bus driven by a psychopath headed for Quito.

An hour out of Tena, we hit some construction on the road and were delayed for over an hour. When we finally started moving again, the driver apparently wanted to make up some serious time. The road we were on was a narrow gravel and dirt path, winding through the rainforest and climbing the foothills of the Andes. The driver was just WORKING the bus, it was nuts! The engine sounded like a rally car, the way he was working the gears through the corners.

So in Quito last night I decided that I needed to watch the hockey game, and I found this bar called Kings Cross that´s owned by a Canadian ex-pat. The inside of the place was covered in hockey pictures, Blue Jays banners and Ontario license plates, and they had a BBQ out front cooking up burgers and chicken wings. Best of all I managed to catch the game.

Posted by major at 07:23 AM | Comments (2)

May 25, 2004

Swimming in the Baños

From Riobamba, which was never more than a stopover, it was off to Guaranda, Ambato, and Baños, a circle of road around Chimborazo, the highest peak in Ecuador at over 6300m, the peak of which has the notable distinction of being the point on the Earth´s surface the farthest away from the Earth´s centre - Everest is higher when measured from sea level of course, but the earth bulges around the equator. Even the highway got to well over 4000m, pretty crazy.

Rule #1 of adapting to high altitude: don´t run up a hiking trail staircase to catch a bus. Trust me. The first 10 steps go alright, then aerobic metabolism takes over. That´s when you keel over, gasping for air.

Finally it was to Baños, with a short delay after I missed my stop and had to cross the highway to flag down a bus going the other way. Baños is the last stop heading east before you enter the Amazon basin - the town itself is a little resort town at 1800m, in a little idyllic valley, with a massive, and very active, volcano hanging over the town. In fact a few years ago it had a major eruption and the town had to be evacuated. So far, no pyroclastic flows, just a little steam.

Baños gets its name from the local hot springs coming out of the volcano - "Baños" seems to mean "baths" in spanish. Interestingly, as far as I can tell "Baños" also can mean "bathrooms" and "toilets".

Anyways, I´m off to my hostel, home of the "self-serve beer fridge" - just write down your room name and quantity and go right ahead. What a concept.

Posted by major at 03:44 PM | Comments (2)

May 24, 2004

Musica de los ochenta

Secret to speaking passable Spanish: if you don´t know a word, use the french word but pronounce all the silent letters. If the french word sounds too cheese-eating-surrender-monkeyish, then use the English word instead.

So last night I had a 3-way.....conversation.....(sickos) with a woman from rural Quebec and this dude from Guayquil, Ecuador. I could hardly keep up with what language we were speaking, or in my case fumbling to understand. Turns out the guy, Jorge, who spoke decent English, taught himself the language by writing down and translating the lyrics to la musica de los ochenta - 80´s music! too funny.

From Cuenca, I hopped a bus to Riobamba, 6 hours but not a lot of distance north. On the bus they played that Ecuadorian classic movie, "XXX", starring local hero Vin Diesel. It was overdubbed in Spanish, and my phrasebook doesn´t seem to have a "useful words for the secret agent" section, so it was all Greek to me.

Ecuador is cheap! I splurged and got their finest $8 hotel room. It was nice, even by north american standards - awesome queen size bed, hot water (which is never a given) and TV.....ah yes, of course I had to turn it on. Suddenly I hear the all-too familiar (and annoying) banter of a Friends episode...what the f@#~?!? Quickly I reach for the channel-down button, and American Idol pops up on the screen. Sounds just like my living room back home....damn you Hummerston!!

Posted by major at 03:27 PM | Comments (1)

May 23, 2004

Episode I: a new beginning

Well hey everyone, and welcome to my brand-spanking-new fancy shmancy weblog. As you may have heard, I´m spending the next 3 months or so in South America, so if you want to keep track of what I´m up to you can do so here. I thought it better to do this than to send out mass emails.

My first day here was nuts....I flew in to Peru on Thursday night...actually more like Friday morning, it was 1 AM. I had a flight out of Lima to Tumbes leaving at 7AM, so, along with a bunch of other homeless backpackers, I spent an enjoyable 5 hours lying on the concrete floor of the terminal, closing my eyes and feigning sleep. Ugh....

Tumbes is pretty much the furthest north in Peru that you can go, on the coast. So I´m in the terminal, which is all of thirty feet wide but still has a luggage conveyor which cycles your luggage around the fifteen feet or so of space where you could possibly be waiting for it, doing my best to tell the aggressive cabbie that I want to get to Cuenca, Ecuador, when I´m overheard by a Peruvian couple who are going to the same place. Sweet, now I´ve got a couple tour guides for the day. A cab ride later and I´m past the rice paddies and into a dusty third-world market with a big sign across the street, "¡Bienvenido a Ecuador!". No gringos in sight. Remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the guy in the middle eastern market? Yeah. That was me.

It was at this point that I discovered the method of Ecuadorian driving. Basically it consists of going ludicrous speed and applying a liberal amount of horn. Lane markers are only a suggestion. Kid on a bike on the side of the road? Horn. Car driving innocently in the other direction? Horn. But it´s a quick horn, like saying "Hey", or "Careful, I´m going Mach 6 and this car hasn´t had a brake check since 1974", not like the long drawn-out Canadian "Heyassholeoutofmywaycan´tyoudrivebitchfuck" horn.

Three passport security checks, transfer to a hot sweaty bus, miles of banana plantations, foothills of the Andes and 5 hours and we´re still driving. Time passes quickly talking with the Peruvian couple. My Spanish is just about as good as their English, maybe better.....which sure isn´t saying much. We spent half the ride going through my Spanish-English phrasebook looking for good phrases and announcing them to the undeserving occupants of the bus in our broken second languages...."¡Excuse me, I have a bad case of diarrhea!". "¡Help, my foot is on fire!"

Through a rainstorm and suddenly we emerge from the clouds into a lush beautiful green valley, bathed in sunlight, a rainbow arcing above. Unbelievable. An hour later and we´re in Cuenca.

Cuenca is an old colonial town, cobblestone streets and grand cathedrals. I spent yesterday just walking around town, taking in the sites. I was supposed to meet up with the Peruvians and head out to a national park outside of town, but I think I misunderstood their Spanish directions. Oh well.

Today went to Ingapirca, the most important Inca site in Ecuador. It was impressive, but nowhere near what Machu Piccu will be. Unfortunately Ingapirca isn´t isolated like Machu Piccu is, subjecting it to 500 years of looting before I managed to get there. All the walls are about 2 or 3 feet high - the other 8 feet have over the years been taken down to build new houses.

Posted by major at 03:36 PM | Comments (1)