So...what a crazy first 10 days Iīve had in Ecaudor. Iīve probably done more in 9 days than I thought I would do in the first 3 weeks. Letīs recap:
Day 1 - Arrive into Quito Saturday night the 23rd. Met my family and got settled in.
Day 2 - Per my previous journal entry, spent the day at Mitund del Mundo after being thrown on a bus by Juan.
Day 3 - Monday, my first day of classes
. For the next 6 weeks Iīll be spending monday through friday in class from 8:30 until 1:30. With mucho homework/tarea in the evening.
Day 4 - Classes plus an afternoon hike in a dormant volcano crater. I posted a picture on my previous entry by didnīt explain it. The volcano named Pululahua has been extinct for thousands of years and in ancient times the cone of the volcano collapsed leaving a crater 400 meters deep and 5 kilometers across...huge....the crater is now home to some of the most fertile agricultural ground in Ecuador. There is a path from an observation deck that you can hike down to the bottom. I went with Stein, another girl from our class (Annabell from England) and Steinīs professora about half way down before we said enough and hiked back up.
Day 5 - Classes plus I hooked up again with Stein and his professora for an afternoon excursion to the basilica that you saw in the previous journal entry. To get to the top involved a lot of stairs, a cramped circular stairway, 3 ladders and finally a step outside. If you see the clocks in the previous journal entry pictures...we were way, way above those clocks. Liability be damned!!!
Day 6 - Classes plus a scheduled school excursion to a museum and Salsa dancing lessons...and after that, mucho food, tequila and cerveza with my class mates
. Each week the school takes us out with a cultural activity and each Thursday night we have salsa lessons. This weeks activity was a guided tour of one of the nicest museums in Quito...the Museo do Banco Central. What I thought was going to be a museum of a bank, ended up being a very interesting museum of ecuatorian history, artifacts including a ton of gold and platinum, old and new art, and the history of Ecaudorīs transition from a land of various tribes, to the inca conquest, to the Spanish conquest, to the formation of a republic. We had a very enjoyable guide who sort of reminded me of an oompah loompa from Charlie and the Chocolate factory. At 6:30 every Thursday evening my school provides free Salsa dancing which was mucho enjoyable. It would have been more fun had I had a little buzz on. That night a group of students went for massive amounts of fondu in La Mariscal and then out to a bar. Iīll post some pics in this entry. My first official night out....good times.
Day 7 - Friday...last day this week for classes. During out 11AM coffee break, one of the students invites me to join her and 3 other students to a weekend excursion to a pueblo called Mindo. Mindo was awesome. The 4 others that went were Lis from New Zealand, Annabel from England, Harry (who I called Charlie for some reason)
from England and Steve who too is from the UK
. We meet an American girl there (Brenna) and her amiga on Saturday. Where to begin on Mindo...itīs essentially in the cloud forest and is complete different in every way possible than Quito. Quito is home to 2 million people, Mindo is home to 2,000. Itīs become quit the hot spot for weekend getaways from Quito and from my pictures, hopefully you can tell why. We too a bus from Quito Friday afternoon and arrived into Mindo 3 hours later and all of $2.50 poorer for the bus ticket. Our hostel was great and after a quick tour around town (which is really about 4 square blocks big), had some dinner, some beers and settled in for the evening..for tomorrow, we were going to have a busy day.
Day 8 - Saturday in Mindo. Awoken at 5:30 AM by the nosiest roosters (read: cocks) in the world...needless to say we got an early start this day. I may have forgotten to tell you that Ecuador doesnīt observe daylight savings time so the sun rises around 5:30 and itīs dark by 6:15. Sucks in the mornings for sure as every cock in the world is singing his song much earlier than I want to wake up. We were so disgusted by them that we decided cock was the appropriate (and correct) word to use for the remainder of the weekend. After a great $2 dasayuno/breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, two cheese/bread panini-like things, coffee and fresh juice, we headed to the main travel information booth
. Using out best Spainglish, we hired a guide (Manuel) who is actually recommended in the latest version of Lonely Planet for Ecuador. Manuel is known for his bird watching abilities, but no one in our group was that into birds....so we essentially hired him to make sure didn`t get lost on our hikes...which ended up being a very good thing. We signed up to do a long hike up/down a mountain, ride in a cable-car like thing across the forest, swim/toboggan/dive in a waterfall area and finally end up tubing down some rapids. And on the way, if Manuel saw some interesting birds, he took a telescope so we could check them out. Vamos...off we went. Before I tell you about our journey, let me preface it with a brief description of my poor footwear decision. I had thought we were in for a leisure hike and some water sport activities...so I left my hiking shoes in the hostel and wore teva-like sandals...a decision that would come back to haunt me. Back to our trip...An hour hike up a mountain road we spotted a toucan and Iīll try to publish a pic of it. At the top of the mountain we reach a cable car like thingy that is really just a basket for 4-6 people operated by a guy who looks like heīs sitting on an old buick engine. We cram our group into the bucket and off over the could forest we went...cool stuff. I took a video but it might be too large for this website to handle, Iīll try anyway. Once we reached the other side, we hiked down a much more difficult train and hereīs where my tevaīs failed me
. The hike was so steep and so complicated, that my tevaīs said "velcro be damned" and started to open up on each step...leaving me with the possibility of some very nice blisters at the end of the day...bueno! After hiking down this nasty path (the last part barefooted), we reached a body of water fed by a natural waterfall. This area has become quite the swimming hole and even has a sled/tobaggon, a couple cliffīs to dive off of and some very cool river water to enjoy. The entire group went down the tobaggon, but only Harry and I did the jump...and only Harry did the jump that was about 35 feet tall...crazy brits. After an hour hear, we were off hiking again and this time we were going to our final destination, river tubing. I was sucking some serious wind and barely made it up the steepest climb, but eventually reached out destination. I couldnīt take pictures of us tubing because we were in a river, but you can see for yourselves what sort of contraption we were on. This wasnīt individual tubes that your see on the Guadalupe...this was 6 tubes tied together. It was somewhat fun...but would have been more fun had the river been a little more full. After that, we started hiking back to our hostel and the clouds decided to open up. Fortunately on the way back home was a coffee plantation we wanted to stop at so we took refuge there with warm coffee. Side note: Coffee in Quito is shit...itīs all instant. So finding a place that actually grew their own beans, the grind their own brew and sold it there on site was a bit of heaven
. They actually had no place for us to sit in the plantation so they cleared out the managers office, put 5 chairs around it and brought us warm coffee until the rain subsided...they even brought us a few yummy pancakes...nice people in Mindo. The rain stopped and we headed back towards the hostel..but of course Harry and I saw a bar so we all stopped in a few cervezas. Back at the hostel, we rested a bit, cleaned up (which doesnīt require much in Mindo) and departed once again for dinner and a bit of Mindo nightlife. Dinner was pretty much hamburgers all the way around and then back to the same bar Harry and I discovered. As the bar filled up and as we grew sick of beer, the boys decided to surprise each other and order surprise drinks off the menu. It was a horrible mistake and Iīll never forgive Steve for ordering me the nastiest Long Island Ice Tea I ever had to choke down. An American girl (Brenna) and her friend showed up for a bit, and then we all went to the ONLY disco in town. My friends in Dallas will enjoy hearing that this place made the Slip Inn look classy. While dancing I bump into two American girls who were staying at our hostel...several drinks, several hours later, weīre stumbling all of 3 blocks home. At the hostel we notice some people making a fire over by the river...a few of us stop over (me, harry, lis and the two American girls) and we enjoy some wine, tequila and smores by the campfire...a great night in Mindo. I left around 2AM...but Charlie made sure our language school was represented well and stayed well later than I did.
Day 9 - Sunday in Mindo. Awoken at 5AM by the stupid cocks again. Today...we thought was going to be fairly leisurely...how mistaken we were. First on the agenda was a Mariposaria...or a butterfly museum. Before you start laughing...it was actually pretty interesting. Mindo is known for it`s vast quantities of wild life including more bird species than anywhere else in South America...and a large number of butterflies
. The museum was very interesting and we actually got to see a butterfly emerging from his cocoon. Them it was off to a covered area where literally thousands of butterflies swarmed about landing on your head, arms, wherever. Oh...important note...only one of us didnīt get out of bed for the butterfly museum...guess who...Mr. Late Night..Harry. After that we hike back into town and meet up with Harry and our guide Manuel from yesterday. As we need to get back to Quito that night, we decided to buy our tickets before heading out to our next excursion. Shocking every bus was sold out to Quito except the 2PM bus...it was now around 11:30. We shell out money for the tickets and rather than hike to our next locale, we hire a pickup and get there relatively quickly for yet another long ass hike. Oh...I forgot to mention what we were going to do...that is rappelling down a 120 foot waterfall. What the hell were we thinking. After our hike into the forest, we arrive, crap ourselves at the site of the waterfall, and the crap ourselves again when we realize weīre doing this in a third world country with god only knows what sort of equipment. We swallow our fears and hike yet again to the top of the waterfall. At the top, weīre literally hugging the side of a cliff the avoid looking down. Our "expert mountaineers" attached a rope to a tree root and we then politely asked Manuel if he wouldīnt mind going down first...just as a test. He makes it down fine, Steve is next as heīs the oldest in our group and has lived a full life (only a few months older than me). Steve starts to go down and as he edges over the cliff we ask him how itīs going...being the true brit he replies "Itīs wet". He makes it down...then itīs my turn. For some reason Manuel and Steve both got these fancy strappy harnesses that went over the shoulders and looked very secure. I got something that looked like it was designed for a toddler. Lucky me. As I received my instructions in Spanish (oh, effin great) I nodded and off over the cliff I went
. My parents will be happy to know that the harness held and Iīm still expecting my inheritance. We all ended up making the trip down and by the time the last person finished...we had 20 minutes to catch our bus...and we hadnīt checked out the hostel yet. We jogged back to the road, caught a ride from the same driver that brought us there and managed to get to the bus station in time to get a refund on our tickets. Manuel told us we could catch a non-direct bus from the highway so with that in mind, we said Adios to him and went back to the hostel to pack, checkout and then grab a bite to eat. In Ecuador when you order a meal, you can order either off the menu or just grab a two dollar mystery meal which for lunch is usually a soup, a slab of some meat, rice and plantains. Lucky me received the only soup with a foot in it...see my pictures for more details. After dinner, one of our group was able to get on a direct bus, so the other four of us hiked out to catch the local "chicken bus". By the time we reached the main road, we had just missed the local bus so a local driver gave us a fair price for a trip to Mitund del Mundo which is a short bus ride from Quito. All and all a great weekend and some great experiences.
You might notice that this entry has my map showing my location as Mindo Ecuador...thatīs because I spent this past weekend there with 4 other students from my Spanish school. But more on Mindo later...