Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A week in the Amazon

Dean, Medi, & Jorge

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly because December has been crazy so far. I had finals for the first two weeks and somehow I managed to receive As in all of my classes including Macroeconomics! The Saturday after finals, my friend Dean and I took off for the Oriente (Amazon rain forest).

After arriving in the south bus terminal, we hopped on a bus going to Puyo and enjoyed the 5 hour ride in the dark. Once in Puyo, we ate a huge chicken dinner, swatted away the mosquitoes, and went to bed in our hot, humid room. The next morning we waited at the terminal to meet Jorge but instead met his son, Silvio, who led us on to a bus going to Macas. Silvio was really friendly and was interested in who we were and what we were doing in Ecuador and after an hour and half we hopped off the bus in the middle of the highway. He led us up to a house (really, shack by most Western standards) where we met Jorge and his young daughter Medi. We rested for a bit and then started the hike.

The four hour hike led us deeper into the jungle through rivers and swamps, all covered in mud. We saw medicinal plants, fruits, insects, birds, and amazing views of the jungle. Dean and I slipped on almost every log and got stuck in every patch of mud while Jorge and his wife, Rut, glided smoothly over the mud. We finally arrived and saw his beautiful home. His house is completely traditional, made of wood, bamboo, and the floors are dirt. We rested on the porch of the volunteer house and Jorge pointed out a rock that he said used to be used to make hot sauce for eating human flesh. Lovely.

Dinner consisted of cooked bananas and plantains and afterwards Jorge played a traditional flute and we got into bed and immediately passed out by 9 pm.

The next morning we were greeted by armadillo soup for breakfast since Jorge’s nephew had shot an armadillo the night before. We spent the morning clearing out a patch of forest that had decaying logs everywhere. There we saw monstrous, venomous insects and I screamed when a big red any got inside my glove. Jorge just laughed and said I might go unconscious and swell up, but at least I wouldn’t die. Again, lovely. After about an hour it started to pour but we kept working, welcoming the cool rain. After the rain stopped we heard toucans in the trees and ate guava fruit. Lunch was cooked bananas. So was dinner.

The next day we ate more cooked bananas for breakfast and, surprise, also for lunch. After lunch we went to the river to swim around and wash our clothes. Jorge informed us that there were no dangerous animals like anacondas in the river. But watch out for the red ants and other poisonous snakes. That night there was an enormous thunder and lightning storm. It was immediately above us so the flash illuminated everything and immediately a huge BOOM would shake the whole house.

On day 4 we constructed a bed made from logs we cut down and carried ourselves. I couldn’t help much because I wasn’t even strong enough to saw bamboo- I blame the banana diet. On day 5 we cleaned up a cacao field and then went on a hike through the jungle. We saw a ton of medicinal plants like the Sandi tree, dragon blood tree, and lots of others I can’t remember.

After lunch we hiked to the village where the school and other families were. We met one family living in a small shack. The mother served us chichi (yucca leaves that the women chew and then let ferment- actually pretty tasty) while the father explained how he wanted to start a kind of zoo so that when illegal hunting leads to the endangerment of animals, he will have enough to breed and keep the species alive. He had a wild hog that made the ugliest sound I have ever heard in my life. On top of that, Dean picked him up and the hog bit a nice little hole in Dean’s shoulder. After that the man asked if we wanted to see his monkey. I went wide eyed when he brought out the three-week old nocturnal monkey. Its eyes took up half its head and it clung onto my fingers before it scrambled up to nest in my hair. Besides the fact that having a monkey as a pet, especially an endangered species, is very illegal, I thought the man’s intentions were good and that if anyone is going to keep these animals, this family who has lived in the middle of the jungle for generations is the most deserving.

Day 6, December 21. The world didn’t end, but it sure did rain a lot. We took a long hike today, seeing lots of butterflies, insects, birds, and beautiful plants. We swung across ravines on tree vines and after we returned we painted our faces with achiote and blew darts, threw spears, and fought each other in the traditional Shuar fashion.

This morning we woke up early to pouring rain but luckily it stopped around 6 am so we packed up quickly and started the hike with Doris and Lisa (Jorge’s daughters) as our guides. The hike back was all uphill and half an hour into the hike it started to rain so we continued the hike for four hours in pouring rain and deep, slippery mud as we tried climbing up rocks with streams falling over them. I was very anxious to get back to the city and after we arrived at the road, we waited for the bus to Puyo and nine hours later I was back at my apartment. I was home and safe, thankful for the opportunity but even more grateful for a warm shower.

For more information about the Iirshim Project, please visit:  http://iirshim.99k.org/index.php?/general-information/  or send me an email at louisa13@uw.edu.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Vamos a la playa!

One a Thursday night a few weeks ago, I was sick of Quito and wanted to go somewhere relaxing, so I rallied two of my girlfriends to go with me to the beach the next day. We picked Canoa as our destination since November is the slowest month of the season and all we wanted to do was lay on the beach and not be bothered. We showed up at the bus station at 10 pm and loaded the bus for a pretty uncomfortable 7 hour ride. When we arrived at 6am the town was still asleep so we found a good-looking hostal and slept in the hammocks until someone woke up. We got a room and immediately headed out to the beach. 

Although it was cloudy in the morning, it cleared up in the afternoon to show some sun and we lay on the beach and read books all day. In our room was a 35 year old high school teacher from Oklahoma who told us all about his sabbatical that he was taking: surf during the day, party at night. Oh and he was doing some sort of research in his free time. We watched him surf for a little bit and headed back to the hostal to hang out. We met an Aussie who has been traveling throughout South America and a middle-aged Brit who came here to escape a nasty divorce. He was extremely friendly and talked our ears off. 

Turns out my skin is extremely sensitive. Although I put 55spf on my body THREE times that day, I still got horribly burnt (picture below). So that evening everyone in the hostal ordered drinks and we were hanging out talking but I couldn't stop shaking from the cold. Everyone was in shorts and tank tops since it is a tropical beach but my burns were so bad that I was violently shaking and went to the room to sit down. I didn't quite make it to the bed before I vomited in the trash can and then fainted. I chugged a water and Gatorade and went to bed under three wool blankets (the woman at reception said they only had 3 for the entire hostal since it is so hot). 
The next day we rented an umbrella and sat under it and enjoyed the beach from the shade. We ate ceviche (traditional Ecuadorian could soup made from tomatoes and shrimp) and drank pina coladas. 
After we had our fill of the beach we went back to the hostal and found a puppy that could fit in the palm of your hand. One of the woman who works at the hostal said she had found it in a river bank almost dead so she took it to the vet and now it seems like it's going to live. She named it Rio and when I picked it up it instantly snuggled into my jacket. I fell in love. The woman told me I could take it home with me if I wanted and I seriously debated adopting it for the next few hours until I decided that it would have a much better life here on the beach than in an apartment in a city. 

That night at 10 pm we loaded the bus and I had a very uncomfortable ride back home with my burns all over my body. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

That's just the way it is

Two events happened today that made me understand (not necessarily appreciate) Ecuadorian culture more deeply. The first was in my History class when we started talking about racism. Our teacher asked the American students if we thought there was more racism here in Ecuador or back in the US. A girl said that even though there might be more in the US, it is much more obvious and open in Ecuador. I brought up the example of using words like negro/negrito, chino, or even longo. These three terms describe Afro-Ecuadorians, Asian-looking people, and Indigenous people. I said that using these words perpetuates the racism by making it "acceptable" to classify people by their race or what they look like. Before I finished my statement, some Ecuadorian students in the class protested loudly and said that it is in no way racist to use these terms because it is acceptable and not offensive. May I point out that these are white Ecuadorian students. The teacher then chimed in and said that if you are of a certain race, for example, Indigenous, it is acceptable to profile that person in Ecuador. I responded that even though it is acceptable and normal does not mean it is not racist and does not mean in any way that it is "correct." Needless to say, the teacher was offended by my comment and briskly ended class and was the first out the door.

The second event was extremely personal. I met a guy back in August who I am still very good friends with. We see each other two or three times a week but we don't usually go to each other's houses. Let me describe what he looks like: he is a tall, darker-skinned Ecuadorian with curly black hair and a goatee. I invited him to have Thanksgiving with my friends and I and so before dinner, he met me at my apartment. We went upstairs to get my stuff and we left for my friend's house. The next day, the woman I live with, Maritoni, said she needed to talk to me. She explained that one of the neighbor women upstairs had seen my friend and I come into the apartment and she didn't like how my friend looked. On that day he was wearing jeans and a nice jacket- just like any other Ecuadorian guy would wear. Maritoni had met my friend and defended him against the woman, but she couldn't get over how he had curly hair and a goatee. Now, I have brought a dozen friends home to my apartment. I'm sure this same woman has seen them all since she must sit at her window staring at the entrance to the building. Never once has she complained until I brought a lower-middle class Ecuadorian guy to my house. He is not allowed in the building because she judged him immediately on how he looked and didn't trust him with a small white girl like me. I am incredibly offended since it is so personal and I have never once met this woman. Maritoni explained that "that's how people are here" and how women here are extremely judgmental and racist.

Both these events happened on the same day and I have been angry at the woman upstairs and Ecuadorian culture in general for being so incredibly judgmental. Even going to my university, I feel like I have to dress very nicely and stylishly, otherwise the girls will give me dirty looks. I never gave a second thought about bringing my friend to my house. MY HOUSE. It is extremely humiliating when you have to explain to your friend why he can't come to your house anymore. Not because he was loud, not because he broke anything, not for any of the normal reasons to be banned from a building. He cannot come to my house simply because of the way he looks.

My understanding of Ecuadorian culture grew a lot today. And unfortunately it was not for the better.

Addicted to the Unknown

The most amazing thing about traveling isn't the new foods you try, the people you meet, or the mountains you climb. It's actually the risks you take to experience all of them. You become a different person, strap on your hiking boots, take rides from strangers, show up in an unknown city alone. Sometimes you will meet a middle-aged man from England trying to escape a nasty divorce during a tropical storm. Or sometimes you will hitch a ride on the back of a tractor. And after you settle in a place for a while, you will meet more people willing to drop everything to hear your story. Of course you can't remember every person, every conversation, but each one shapes you in a way you might never know. And then there are the people who change your life so deeply, so immediately, you can't quite remember how your mind worked before. Remember these people. Remember the Brit and the nine hour journey you took to arrive in that town. Remember the farmer who gave you a ride on his tractor and how you weren't quite sure how to get home. These are the memories you will think about in the middle of a cold, rainy day when you're back home. Somehow, being on your own in an unknown land puts a little risk into your life. This risk leads you to have an amazing, life-changing journey. But then again, this might not work for everyone. I am, afterall, addicted to the unknown.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Camino del Inca, Ingapirca, and Cuenca

For fall break, I decided to go on the hike with my Andinismo class which was the Inca Trail, or Camino del Inca. No, we were not in Peru. The Inca Trail extends from the south of Colombia all the way down to Bolivia. I have hikes parts of the trail in Bolivia and Peru so I was excited to check this off my list! There were 17 of us hiking with some Ecuadorians and other students from the US. The hike was 3 days of hiking and 2 days traveling. We took a bus from Quito to Alausi and then camped at the start of the trail for the first night. 
Before the trip, we all made plans for who was sharing tents. One of the Ecuadorian guys in our class said he had a 6 person tent so there were 6 of us that were going to sleep in that. On the bus to Riobamba, we found out he just didn't bring the tent. So we all squished into the other tents. Our camps didn't have electricity, water, or bathrooms. It was extremely cold- so cold my entire backpack and its contents froze the second night!! The first day of the hike was pretty short but the hardest. We climbed up a rocky stream for a good hour which felt like a stair master. After that we ascended some more and arrived in a small valley between two big mountains. We walked for a few more hours and arrived at our camp which was a flat part in the bottom of the valley. There were no trees, no big rocks, no shelter. It started raining as we arrived at camp so we set up our tents very quickly and dove into them and waited for the rain to stop. 

The hike was gorgeous- plenty of paramo ecosystem and lagoons after every turn. We mainly walked on the side of the mountains maintaining altitude the whole time. The sun was strong and while we were walking we were hot but once we stopped we had to pull out our fleece jackets and hats since it was so cold. 

We reached an altitude of 4200 meters on the hike- yes there was snow. We didn't see cars, roads, or any signs of human activities until the last day when we ended in a village. 

Since we had to bring all our food, tents, and supplies, we had donkeys carry our backpacks for the first two days. At the end of the day we would pet them and ride them around. It's amazing how strong these animals are. 

We had to bring all our own food so I resorted to squished bread and peanut butter and jelly or tuna and crackers. We also brought lots of alcohol- to warm up at night, of course!

This was the only time on the hike we had to be creative. The entire hike is a little flooded or very rocky so we were constantly jumping rock to rock or jumping over the mud. I felt like I was in a Mario game at one point. This river was too deep to walk through and there were no place with rocks to jump on. So we found a big piece of wood and scooted over since it was too narrow to walk across. 

The end of the hike! This is our whole group when we finished in a village on the third day. 

The Inca Trail ends near the ruins of Ingapirca which are the most complete ruins in Ecuador. You can see the water systems, the sun and moon temples, and several palaces. The ruins are no where near as impressive as Machu Picchu and the stones are not cut as well, but it was really cool to see. 

We arrived in Cuenca at night on the third day and took a bus quickly around the city. We were all exhausted and walked around a bit but then returned to our camp right outside the city and had a nice dinner and salsa danced the rest of the night. 

The next morning most of the group left but I decided to stay with a few people to take a night bus on Sunday. This is the main cathedral in Cuenca and is the biggest in Ecuador and one of the biggest in all of South America. The city is absolutely beautiful- it feels so European with the streets and architecture. 

We stood in the back of the cathedral for Sunday mass. It was packed to the gills and buzzed with a constant chatter of kids running around and tourists taking pictures. It is a pretty modern church- built in the late 1800s I believe. 

We were buying candied applies right outside the entrance when mass ended and everyone came out. Some people were wearing casual clothes, some Sunday best, but many people were wearing traditional indigenous dress. 

There is a lot of beautiful graffiti in Cuenca. This is just an example on a staircase near the river. I love this city so much! Everyone was so nice to us and we found plenty of cute cafes and art galleries to hide in when it started pouring. All in all, the trip was extremely successful and I hope I might have the opportunity to return to the south next semester!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Kayaking in Tena

Local girls who enjoyed playing with our equipment.
             Here in Ecuador I have two great guy friends- Santiago and Nicolas- who go to the Catholic university in Quito. Santiago loves kayaking so this past weekend I agreed to go with them to the city of Tena which is Southeast of Quito in the Amazon. We arrived in the town and immediately felt the humidity and could see the contrast from the highlands climate. Santiago talked my friend Sammy and I into going kayaking with him and Nico on a 3+ river. This means that in the US, a beginner kayaker would go on a 1 river, but we decided we’d be fine on the 3+.
               We drove out to our starting point up river from Tena and were greeted by many local children who saw the burns on my legs and kept calling me the burnt white girl. We loaded our equipment into the river and practiced skim rolls which were much harder than they look. I couldn’t quite master it, so Santiago gave our guide, Alejandro a concerned look and said that if I flipped, just to pull my skirt and swim away. This didn’t exactly comfort me, but I figured it couldn’t be that hard.

Kayaking along the river. The tall tree in the background is called a Sable and is over 100 years old- it is the only tree that was saved from the destruction of the oil companies in this region. 
             We started out on the river and you could hear the first rapid before you saw it. The roaring water made my stomach flip and I realized how inexperienced I was. I could barely control the kayak in a current, even worse in raging rapids. Nevertheless (not that I had a choice) I gripped my paddle tight and tried avoiding the whirlpools. At the end of the rapid, I was crying. I was shaking so badly because I had had no control over my kayak the entire rapid. Luckily, my kayak was very large for me so that I basically floated above the water.
We're alive!
            I was mad at my friend Santiago for telling me I could handle it and I was mad at our guide, Alejandro, for not paddling right next to me. The second rapid was even worse- huge waves with big boulders added to the mix. My whole body was shaking at this point but I decided to keep going. The next few rapids came and I got better with controlling my movements. I learned how to snap my hips to steer the boat and how to better avoid the trickier waves. One of the biggest rapids came and I was on the right side of the river. Alejandro yelled at me to get on the left to avoid a whirlpool, but I couldn’t get over in time. I tried paddling straight through the giant wave, but the current was too strong and flipped my kayak around. I rode the wave backwards and somehow survived. After the rapid, a professional kayaker paddled up to me and told me how awesome my trick had been back there. I nodded weakly and checked to make sure my head was still attached to my body.  

           The rest of the trip was easy. I could handle the rapids and they became weaker than at the beginning. We stopped at a beach to swim for a while and I talked to Alejandro about the petroleum companies around the area (blog post to come). Alejandro spoke Kichwa so we practiced a bit to his amazement that I spoke and was knowledgeable about the Kichwa culture. We finished the river and rode back to Tena where we met up with my friends, ate ceviche and ice cream, and crashed in our hot, humid hostel. 

After the trip we went to go see the Monkeys in Misahualli. They weren't exactly friendly. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Otavalo & Cotacachi

The past two weekends I have gone to two cities- Otavalo and Cotacachi. The first weekend I went with 6 other girls and we planned to hike both days, but since it was raining the first day, we looked around the famous Otavalo market.

The market is amazing. There are hundreds of stands set up selling all sorts of things from hats to jewelry to daggers. The art is incredibly beautiful and the jewelry is unique and authentic. I walked up to one jewelry stand where the woman was selling Mayan calendar earrings. I looked at them and the woman, who was obviously not Indigenous, started speaking broken English to me. Now, I really hate it when Ecuadorians speak English to me. I think it is very disrespectful to assume that I don't speak a word of Spanish. I said no thanks to the woman and started walking away when I heard her ranting in Spanish about how Americans are so cheap and disrespect her work. So I turned around and went back to the table and explained to her that she had offered an Ecuadorian a pair of earrings for $8 and then turned to me and offered them to me for $22 in English. She was a little stunned that I had understood everything and finally agreed to sell them to me for a lower price.

There are other things, however, that I don't mind paying a little extra for. I met a man who had a booth filled with art- not just art he bought from the distributors, but art he painted himself. I really liked his work and talked to him for a little while about his life here. Every morning he sets up his stand and carries all his art to the plaza and on Sundays he travels to Quito to do the same thing. It is a hard life and I can't imagine he makes a decent living off of selling his art since there's not much of it.

On Sunday, we woke up early and took a bus to Cotacachi, a town close to Otavalo that is famous for their leather goods. However, we were there to hike around the Cuicocha lake which is a lake formed from an extinct volcano. The hike took four hours and for most of the hike we had amazing views of the lake and countryside. After, we went into town and bought a few leather goods and then headed back to Quito.

The second weekend, we took a bus up on Friday afternoon and met up with my friend's boyfriend and his friends. We went to one of their houses which is an old hollistic/meditation house with an amazing garden and many statues. We played music and then went on a hike to a waterfall after dark. The waterfall was straight from the movies- fireflies lit up the forest and the waterfall reflected the moon. The guys played traditional Andean music and we returned to the house where we salsa danced.

We woke up the next morning to one of the boys telling us he would give us a yoga lesson. Well, the yoga lesson lasted two hours and included an ancient story. It was cool, but the guys were giving us weird vibes so we all left and went into Otavalo for lunch and then headed back to Quito.

I love the feel of Otavalo because it is so Indigenous. All the women wear the traditional dress and I can strike up conversations in Kichwa with almost everyone in town. I really want to spend more time up there with a smaller group so that I can explore the non-touristy areas.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to get 100% on a History Presentation

One of my classes at USFQ is Modern History of Latin American Republics. Our teacher, Carmen, is extremely intelligent. Unfortunately, she doesn't have much control of the class. The boys will be talking the entire time and make kissy faces at her and she just waves it off.

Today, my group had to give a presentation on the independence movement in Colombia. We were supposed to present in under 20 minutes but it took the full hour. I went first and took about 5 minutes, then my friend from the U.S. went and took another 5 minutes. Then my Ecuadorian friend went and talked about anything relevant to Colombia in the slightest. The teacher stopped him at one point and asked why he didn't talk about three of the most important battles. He choked a little and then said "I would like to take a moment to congratulate Katie- it's her birthday!" Everyone in the class sang and cheered for her and he continued on his speech- all while the teacher forgot about the battles. While the last girl was presenting, two of our group members were on their cell phones in front of the class.

Although we didn't cover the most important battles of the revolution and instead talked about current problems with FARC, we received a perfect grade. Apparently, long-winded talkers are appreciated here in Ecuador.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Riding the Ecovia

How many people can fit on the Ecovia? Fifteen more!

This is a common joke here in Quito about the Ecovia- one of the public transportation trolleys. It is very convenient, but it usually hot, smelly, and so crowded that you are held up by the people around you. The Ecovia costs $0.25 and you can ride from Rio Coca in North Quito an hour south. When you get on, if you're extremely lucky, you might find a pole to lean against. Otherwise, you have to reach up and grab the rail on the ceiling and hope no one gropes you in the process. Oftentimes your face will be inches away from the creepy man staring into your soul. Other times, you'll come into contact with the rapper who will serenade you in hopes of a dollar. 

What bothers me most about the Ecovia, and all buses in Quito, is that NO ONE OPENS THE WINDOWS. Everyone is sitting in agony sweating up a storm and the simple answer is to open a window. But the slightest wind means that it is cold and people will bundle up in parkas and shut all the windows. By the end of each Ecovia ride, I trip out of the bus and take a huge breath of relatively fresh air. 

Basically, I would rather ride a pink tricycle with a horn through the streets of Quito than ride the Ecovia. But since Quito seems to have a shortage of pink tricycles, Ecovia here I come!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Mitad del Mundo/ Middle of the Earth

 This weekend was very busy! After crashing from the hike on Saturday, Erin and I went to Mitad del Mundo which is where the equator passes through Ecuador (which means equator in Spanish). We took a bus about 30 minutes north of Quito and arrived at Ciudad Mitad del Mundo. This consisted of the big monument in the picture, a planetarium, a few exhibits, and lots of shops. We walked around, took pictures, and watched some dancing. We were there on the Equinox (September 23) so the sun was directly overhead at noon and there were no shadows.

Interestingly enough, the gigantic monument in the picture is actually not where the equator is. The real equator lies about 100 meters north. After Erin and I got enough of the touristy stuff, we headed down a sketchy unpaved road and found ourselves in an Incan paradise filled with cacti and sun god statues. We continued down a path and were ushered to sit on a bench by a young girl. We waited there and were introduced to a man who was going to give us a tour. We shrugged and went along with it.

We were on a tour with a few other people. There was an older couple who were speaking a foreign language and when I recognized a few words, I asked if they were Dutch. The woman went slack jaw and stared as the husband informed me that they were in fact German. Oops. Anyways, the guide took us around and showed us boa constrictors, tarantulas, shrunken heads, and Shuar burial rituals. I was very impressed that they took  advantage of the tourist attraction to educate the ignorant public about Indigenous cultures in Ecuador. After we toured several Indigenous exhibits, we landed on a faded red line that was the exact equator. The only sign was a dinky red sign telling us the latitude. There, we performed a few experiments. The first, we walked with our eyes closed along the equator. It was really cool how you felt a pull on both sides. I'm not sure if this was just a mind trick, but I really couldn't balance. The second experiment was trying to balance an egg on a nail. Unfortunately, my nail was crap so I did not receive a cool Egg Master certificate that the Germans did. The third experiment was placing a bucket of water in a sink directly on the line and watching the water drain directly down. Then we placed the sink 5 feet south and the water flushed clockwise and then when we took it 5 feet north, it flowed counter-clockwise. Of course, science claims that this is a huge myth, but what I saw was pretty dang cool.

We hung out after the tour a bit and jumped (literally) around the equator just to see the gravitational pull. After, we headed back on the long bus ride to Quito. I cannot explain how lucky I am to have these opportunities. I couldn't have chosen a more interesting and amazing place to study abroad and I am truly content here. I still have a ton to check off my "Ecuador List" but that will come throughout the year.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Guagua Pichincha & El Padre Encantado

The road to the trail head was so steep that we (well, the boys)
had to push the truck part of the way. 
As I've mentioned before, I am in an Andinismo class (mountaineering). Every weekend there is a trip, but this weekend was the first time I could go on one. The hike was to Guagua Pichincha and El Padre Encantado, just west of Quito. Erin and I took a bus all the way to the south of Quito and then met up with our group which consisted of 11- 7 Ecuadorian guys and 4 American girls. Unfortunately, the night before the hike I went out with some friends and went to bed around 4:30... so I was pretty dehydrated and exhausted at the beginning of the hike. We took a very fast and bumpy ride to the trail head and began by walking through a gorgeous field of the paramo ecosystem. From there, we began the climb up Padre Encantado.

Paramo ecosystem
Rock climbing on Padre Encantado
Most of the mountain was sandy so it was difficult to climb, combined with the altitude. Near the top there were a lot of volcanic rocks which we had to climb. When we arrived at the summit, we were in the middle of a cloud and everyone felt accomplished, but knowing we had an even taller mountain next. 
On the summit of Guagua Pichincha
Sliding down the side. 
We jumped down the sand on the mountain and walked across a ridge to Guagua Pichincha, which is over 4,700 meters (almost 16,000 feet!). The first part of the climb was up a grassy hill to the camp where people can ride motor bikes to. We ate lunch and then started the second part of the climb which was incredible. We first hiked a sandy trail through the volcanic rocks up to a point with a big cross. We were in the middle of clouds again so it was a really pretty hike. Near the top of the mountain we had to rock climb again until we reached the summit. 
Erin and I on Guagua Pichincha
To get down, we decided to slide down the other side which was a steep, sandy hill. It was fun for the first few minutes but then it just got dangerous and people behind us accidentally kicked small boulders down the mountain that we had to dodge. Thankfully, no one got hurt and we hiked down through the meadow again, rode the truck to a restaurant where we ate humitas, and then bused back to our houses. It was an amazing experience and a hike well worth it. It was definitely one of the hardest hikes I have ever done since we were with big Ecuadorian guys who never stopped to rest. I pushed myself really hard and it paid off! 

The amazing view climbing Guagua Pichincha

Monday, September 17, 2012

Baños otra vez!!

This week we went to Baños!! There were 6 of us in the group- two American girls, one Japanese girl who goes to school in D.C., and three Ecuadorian guys. We drove down and arrived Friday night, went rafting on Saturday, and drove back on Sunday to an amazing view of the mountains. Here are some pictures!
Here's our group! After going through the first rapid, we stopped at a waterfall. Our rafting trip was through GeoTours which was very professional and our guide was awesome! Besides rafting, we went out both nights and us girls got massages which were a little odd. It is such a cool town and we loved just walking around and taking pictures. 

After one of the class 4 rapids, I fell off. It was deep water so nothing bad happened but I did have to buy beers for everyone that night.  Thankfully, Nicolas has a waterproof camera so we were able to take pictures during the whole trip. 

This is a class 5 rapid that we had to walk around. Our boat would have flipped for sure. On the whole ride there were close to 15 rapids- a few 2s, mostly 3s, and maybe 5 4s. It was such a good river!! 
This is a view of Chimborazo y El Altar. Chimborazo is the closest point to the sun on Earth! Even though it's shorter than Everest, it starts at higher sea level, which makes it actually closer to the sun. During the whole car ride, we saw Tungurahua, El Altar, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Las Ilinizas, y Cayambe. Even though we have beautiful mountains in Washington, they are nothing like these. The mountains here seem to pop out of nowhere and are incredibly spiritual.