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Goodbye Ecuador

Well, we finally made beer – American Ale. Lacking many of the amenities we take for granted in the United States (like a sparkling clean counter top), we busted out 5 gallons (actually, only 4) in about 3-4 hours. What to do with it then though? Naturally, we took the whole container of beer to a gas station to top it off with some more purified water. Then (of course you saw this coming) we took it to a karaoke bar. Since we couldn’t go to Nelson’s house on the other side of town first, we just brought it along. We had a difficult time explaining that we had 5 gallons of pre-fermented beer in our hands and we wanted to take it in with us to the bar.

Eventually, the guard agreed to guard it (thus the name) for us while we celebrated my leaving (or maybe they were celebrating that I would finally be gone). But anyways, here I am – tired as hell, trying to get these pictures on the web before my flight leaves for Bolivia. This will probably be the last post from Ecuador and although I didn’t get to see all the stuff I wanted to see, I think I got a pretty good idea of the country.

Bolvia – here I come!

Meeeeeemories, in the corrrrrner of my miiiiind.

“You know…”, I said as I leaned over Valérie´s shoulder, “they put these cages around the turtles because they kept leaping from the ground onto tourists”.

“Really??”, she replied with her Swiss accent.

Everyone nodded in agreement – but I couldn’t keep a straight face and we all broke out in laughter.

Yeah, those giant turtles are a very dangerous breed indeed. We all know the story, the rabbit and the turtle racing. Who won? That’s right: the turtle. I’m not quite sure if it was a giant turtle that was racing the rabbit – it could have been a small one – but regardless, you always have to watch your back when you are around them.

The Galápagos islands were awesome, simply put. My boat had enough space for 10 people and 6 crew members and although the quarters were cramped, we all had a great time. When you are stuck with that many people, you learn to work together and joke around a lot (I think I helped enough with the second part).

For instance, when you fill up your glass with water at dinner, you fill up everyone else´s too. We spent our time sailing from island to island (usually during the night) and taking trips to the parts of the islands on which we could walk in search of rare and exotic animals during the day. We snorkeled with sea lions, hunted land and sea iguanas with our deadly cameras, got drunk under the brilliant milky way splashed across the night sky, and learned quite a few new card games (“Okay Casey, now that I have explained this wacky card game to you in Spanish, please bestow your excellent understanding to the rest of the passengers in English so we may continue”). We walked on brown, black, white, olive and beige sand beaches, trekked through lava-red islands and meandered over incredibly charred black rocky beaches. The beaches were broken into territories for the sea lions, with one males territory populated with 5-30 female and baby sea lions, with a vigilant male patrolling the water directly ahead. As we walked by, he would jump out and yell at us (the only thing preventing me from taking advantage of one of his many fine mates), and you always had to be careful so as not to step on a marine iguana laying out in the beach (uuhhhh, excuse me Mr. Tourist – let´s get one thing straight. YOU walk around ME. Got it?).

We got a chance to see many of the wild animals introduced to the islands by the early settlers – all of which are posing very big problems for the indigenous animals, as they are altering the habitat greatly. Although many attempts are made to eradicate the goats, donkeys, cats and dogs, ants, and a host of other animals, some of the islands are just too big to make it feasible. Lot’s of sun block later, we were left pretty satisfied with the perspective of the islands presented to us.

The relative isolation of the trip was nice, as boats rarely see each other and only occasionally do you pass other tourists on the trails. It allowed us all to get very close to each other and I have to admit I am a bit sad that it is over. The most difficult part of traveling like this is that you make a lot of friends, and then you have to say goodbye very soon thereafter, knowing full well that you will probably never see them again in your life. Although the internet makes it easier, as you can always send an email to see how they are going, it’s still pretty tough.

One thing that I found incredible was the amazing diversity of languages spoken on the boat. I felt a little out of place, as I only know Spanish and English (Imagine that). This one Swiss girl I met knows five (count them, five) languages. English, French, German, Spanish, and Chinese – fluently. As she was still kind of learning English, we mostly just spoke in Spanish, but she could speak French to the other people from Belgium (who mostly spoke Flemish with each other). There was also a Japanese girl on the trip who spoke Japanese. It has really motivated me (even more than I already was) to learn another few languages. As I was already planning to learn Chinese in Spanish, Valerie taught me about 25 Chinese characters. I think I am going to go there and just try to find a private tutor, instead of paying 8k to take a language course.

I´m positive that I can do it. I also met a couple from Madrid, Spain, and it was interesting to learn a different form of Spanish (Vosotros, and the lisp sound in place of the z or c sound).

The Belgian family and I flew back to Quito together and stayed in the same hostel last night. Me, Tom, Kim and my buddy Nelson went out playing pool and drinking last night and I think we may have celebrated a little too much. The good news is that I seem to not get hangovers here. Lucky me, eh?

So here I am, back in Quito, getting ready to take off to Santa Cruz, Bolivia tomorrow.

Nick is going to pick me up and we’re gonna cause some major trouble in the country over the next few months. I will have A LOT of pictures up on my site in a little bit, so check it out in a while.

For those of you that actually read this entire long-ass rambling post, congratulations. You get a big thumbs up. You da’ man (Or woMan). Lates.

The sickest I’ve ever been in my life

“Surely customs won’t find this turtle I’m hiding in my bag.”
Yeah, I was sick. So damn sick I could barely stand it. Started with a head cold, but after a hamburger (I think), I felt like I wanted to die. The flight to Galápagos was probably one of the most painful experiences of my life – as we rose, my ears would not pop and I thought my head was going to explode. I wondered…who would clean up my brains…and would everyone be mad at me for making a mess? Would they charge me to clean it up? Seven trips to the bathroom at the back of the plane (I called it the walkway of shame) and a short trip to expel my lunch on the asphalt at the Baltra Airport later, I was in Galápagos!

Now the thing you gotta know about Galápagos is that foreigners pay $100 bucks to get in – locals only $6. You get this nifty certificate saying you just spent a bunch of cash because your white (It says something to that affect), and for future reference, the toilets don’t have toilet paper in the stall – you have to know to grab it before you go in there. So anyways, half delirious and scared of making a VERY lasting impression on my future 7 shipmates, I eventually made it to the boat where we got acquainted and took off to the beach.

A sea lion swimming playfully next to our boat.
You’re gonna have to wait for the pics, but they are cool. When I have more time, I will also put a better description up. I left some of my lunch on the island too, as food for the turtles (mostly watermelon) and then when we got back, I fed the fish on the side of the boat. At that point, I was really communing with nature and I think they really appreciated it. Not there 3 hours and I had given back a plethora of food. Fish are cute when they are grateful.

So anyways, the captain of the ship thereafter gave me some antibiotics and put some stuff in my ears and mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to eat for 24 hours. What’s ANOTHER 24 hours between friends, you know? So yeah, it worked. The next day, only threw up once, and TODAY, once more – but only because we all go sea sick from the choppy waves.

But as of right now, I am in great shape. All fixed up, repaired, 95% better. The trick is though – when you get on shore after 3 days at sea, the floor still rocks for about 3 hours after. I have really enjoyed the trip so far (besides all the being deathly ill stuff). You guys are gonna love the pics I post and I’ve seen a ton of really cool animals. We see all the turtles and stuff tomorrow, but I’ve seen the seals, sea lions, a ton of birds, sharks, tuna (which we ate shortly thereafter), goats, iguanas, lizards, etc…

Everyone really took care of me while I was sick and the crew was really attentive. I got special meals made for me (rice and butter) and it made it easier. What’s really funny though is that none of the crew speaks English. The guide speaks just enough to explain what we are seeing and what were gonna do (right ‘der ees de sheet of de pelícano), and I spend a lot of my time translating for everyone back and fourth.

We asked this pelican for directions, but he wasn’t much help
I also get to ask questions about the islands to the guide and actually get detailed responses that make sense (how lucky, eh?), which is pretty cool. The food is pretty good and with three more days, I’m energized and ready to go!

So now, supposedly I am ready for the “chicas” thanks to the fish soup we had on the boat. I didn’t have the heart to tell the crew that I lost my soup in the toilet on the way over here, but hopefully my body was able to extract the strength in contained therein before I threw it up.

Here’s to not being sick anymore – Cheers!

My how time flies

I peered down the alley at the people huddled around the ATM. Wow…is that the line? I approached and quickly snatched a free machine. beep boop beep beep boop – “Señor, no se sirve”. Damn. No worries, there’s another bank across the street. I examine the logos on my card and the logos on the ATM. Damn…my card wont work here. After a brisk 10 minute walk, I find another ATM and try my luck. “Sorry, we wish to tell you that we cannot process your transaction now”, it replies mockingly. Oh, there’s another bank a few blocks down? Okay. And alas! I can pay the travel agent for my trip to Galápagos! Please note: they don’t accept credit cards. And travelers checks are charged $3 dollars per $100 for “processing” (What a daunting process I’m sure this “processing” entails).

So yeah, I’m going to the Galápagos islands for 8 days in an “economy” boat. No hot water, but at least I only have to share a bathroom with one other person. Set me back only $540 bucks to partake in such luxury, plus another $390 to fly there, plus another $100 to enter the park…Anyone wanna buy the pictures I’m gonna take? – never mind that they will be up for free on my site (I said NEVER MIND).

I discovered yesterday that I am sick. No – I mean like medically, not mentally, as the latter probably isn’t news to many. I think I’m a little better today though. Just a head cold (as cool as I am, you would think I would catch colds more often, no?).

Still so much more to see in Ecuador and I have to leave the day after I get back from Galápagos! Hopefully Nelson and I will see one more place before I have to go, but if not, I have really enjoyed my stay here in Ecuador. This place is awesome. I think knowing someone here has made all the difference.

And now I must take least, as the guard’s dog outside is barking loudly and it’s getting a bit annoying. Yeah, guards have dogs and shotguns here and they are stationed everywhere. I’m not quite sure what service the dogs provide, as they just sit there tied to a post all day, but what can you do? (What can you do?).

Oh yeah, and it may be a few days before I send another post (But I swear I’ll call you, mom) as I don’t know if they have many internet cafes in Galápagos or whether I’ll have time. But, I promise that I post have a ton of bad ass pictures on the site when I get back (que chévere!).


Quote of the day: Yeah, the people in my country speak poor in the South too.
–A Californian kid trying to pick up on a German chick in my hostel.

Technical difficulties?

So it has come to my attention that some people have been having problems opening the links on the emails I’ve been sending out. I have modified the way my stuff sends out so let me know if you are still having problems. If you still have problems though, keep in mind that you can always copy the address and paste it into your browser.

Let us mourn a fallen soldier…

Please everyone, a moment of silence. On this day, September 7, 2003, a great compatriot was lost. He served me well for 7 days – but alas, as with many great ones in the past, he was left on the bus coming back from the bullfights. Yes…yes, my hat is no more. A tear comes to my eye as I write this, actually. He shall…he…he shall always be in my memories, however, and although he will never really be replaced, I´ll probably get another tomorrow.

In other news, I went to the bullfights today. Check out the pictures in the gallery. Things may look a little weird as I rearranged all the pics by city, but the new one is the Sanguolqi album. In these bullfights, they don´t kill the bull – they just mess around with him. Thing´s were going great and then it started raining like I’ve never seen before.

It was outta control and we were all trapped under this crazy three story club house-like stadium for several hours. It didn’t stop the bullfights though and after everyone in the stadium was sufficiently drunk, people crowded into the ring to taunt the bull. About 3 people got mauled – which I am assuming is what they wanted – and a few horses got knocked around. This place was pretty incredible though. You walk down the road to the homemade stadium and there are hundreds of people roasting pigs over fire, making pastries, selling water, beer, gum, candy, soda, biscuits. If you want to use the bathroom, it´s 15 cents – no ifs ands or buts.

It´s two bucks to go into your “suite” in the stadium and if you venture over the imaginary line to either neighboring suite, a lady comes up and yells at you. When the rain started, everyone took turns hitting the tarps above our heads to get rid of the water and everyone screamed in unison as the water fell through the holes onto one or two random and different people each time. As soon as the rain started, a hundred people started selling 5×2 feet sheets of plastic to cover up. As the rain varied its intensity the price ranged from .25 cents to a dollar. It was wild.

It´s funny – I thought that I knew Spanish until I came here and it became the only language I can speak. I am learning really fast though and it doesn’t seem like it´s only been 7 days. The most frustrating thing though is that I can´t make many subtle and dry jokes because that takes a better command of the language.

The question was posed to me in an email – which way does the water in the toilets spin at the center of the earth? I have scientifically tested two toilets to find the answer. In one it just kind of filled up then was sucked away without any spin. In the other, it went counter-clockwise. I think I´ll have to poll more toilets around the city to get more conclusive statistics.

Please pray for my hat.

About those buses…

Yeah, in Quito, bus stops don´t mean much. You can get on and off wherever you want and it´s usually just 25 cents to anywhere in the city. I just got off a pretty long bus ride to this far away town called Otavala. There is a really huge market there with thousands of people every weekend. We walked around all day (I took lots of pics) and then watch the Ecuador vs. Venezuela soccer game.

Long bus ride back though – we were waiting in the dark for a bus back to Quito but they were all full so we kept waiting with some others for about an hour and a half. Cars would come by occasionally and load people up (I guess if your going to Quito it´s a cheap way to make some extra money) but they didn’t have space for us. Then finally, a bus pulled up and everyone crowded to the door but only me, Nelson and Giovanna (my friends) were able to make it on. The bus was full though so we had to sit on the ground in the front of the bus until others got off.

Yesterday, I went to the Middle of The World – a monument dedicated to exactly where the equator is and the northern and southern hemispheres meet. The weird thing is that the French (those god damned French) came and set up a monument where they thought the exact point was, but they were actually wrong. It is over on this mountain where the Indians originally put this big monument. They can´t figure out how they knew where it was.

So after that we went to karaoke (my buddy Nelson loves karaoke) and then went and played pool. When we got hungry we went and hung out at this Arabic place with Giovanna´s brother and got some dinner (a whopping $1) and then went to this other Arabic restaurant.

It took like 2 hours to get our drinks and coffee and the waitress spilled coffee all over Nelson, but it was probably one of the funniest nights yet in Quito (ever).

What´s a trip about Quito is that there are like tons of little kids everywhere selling stuff. You´ll be sitting in the bus and some kid will jump on and hand out candy to everyone, then make rounds again and ask for money for it, or that you give it back. You will be in a bar at 1AM and some 4-5 year old kid (no joke) without parents will come up and tug on your shirt and ask you to buy some gum. When you say no, he or she just walks away to another table, then to another bar. Sad stuff, but you can´t really contribute to it because although it might help them in the short run, it just leads to it´s continuation and encourages their parent´s to not put them in school.

Anyways, pictures will be up soon (set #3). Tomorrow it is off the bull fights!