I sat on the Equator and played with eggs...

Trip Start Sep 1999
Trip End May 2004

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Sunday, May 18, 2003

I had no expectations of Ecuador. But I have been surprised by how little it has actually knocked my socks off. Maybe I´ve been hiding out in surf towns and cities too much. Maybe I´m a slightly jaded traveller, so much so that huge mountains, eerie cloud forests and immense sparkling lakes have simply slipped in to the realms of normality nowadays. After Chile, I'm all mountained-out. Ecuador has, however, left me all funned-up!. My first initiation into fun, Ecuadorian backpacker style, was in Quito.

Having bumped into many people whose first advice about Quito was to steer well clear, I approached the city with a mild dose of trepidation and clutching my belongings tightly to me. I don't think my backpack moved more than 3 inches from me for several nervous hours. But it wasn't the swarming nest of thieves that I expected. Sometimes it is advisable to bid Adios to the Lonely Planet. Sometimes its better to experience places naively, without the fear that the LP pages can instill during the long flight in!

I hit Quito during Carnaval. It's a a fiesta of water, traditionally, or flowers if you are lucky, or flour, mayonnaise and ketchup if you are very unlucky. "Get the Gringo" becomes a national pastime for a few weeks and even my newly-acquired red hair (over blonde) wasn't going to fool the Gringo streetwatch crew. These random gangs of boys aged from 5 to 50, lurked at every corner, armed with water bombs, bottles and high powered water pistols. Wandering solo through the quaint, winding cobbled streets and music-filled market squares of Quito, I got my Carnaval intitiation. 8 hours, 5 water bombs and two full buckets of water. Luckily both my patience and the sunshine were in abundance to dry me out and keep me smiling. Just.

The novelty wore off a couple of days later when a girl friend and I were chased down the street whilst doing the tourist trip at the Equator (balancing eggs, practising blow pipes and admiring shrunken heads...great stuff!)!. I got back my sense of humour a week later, standing with our excellent party crew on a balcony, water-bombing all the Ecuadorian poseurs and surfers/surf chicks on their way to the beach in Montenita. Great vantage point, poor shooting from me but the boys made up for it with finely honed pinpoint accuracy on hitting bikinis! Wonder why that is then...?

I havent seen much evidence of extra-fervant religious worship though, outside of the water bombing. In honour of the occasion (and my heritage) I visited a massive old church in Quito. And I was scared. Im sure it was the decor that did it and not that instinctive Catholic guilt kicking in....?. It was so overdone in gold leaf, dripping in gilt, dramatic paintings of death and pain, dark wood and corners, and plastic doll statues that were something more suited to IT and voodoo doll incarnations than Jesus or Mary. I have a feeling my next visit may be a while.

I escaped from the Cuba Libre drunken nightmare of El Centro Del Mundo hostel (but boy we had fun!) to Banos. Beautiful sleepy spa town in a dramatic setting. There was a steam bath to start the morning. The hot steam was great, the sadistic guy hosing us down at 7 in the morning with freezing cold jets of pressurised water afterwards (supposedly as part of the treatment!) was not quite as good. Although it appeared to be his thing!.

To make amends for our alcoholic past, Isobel and I decided in a moment of madness to walk a huge mountain. From 2500 metres to 4500 in 3 hours, 6 kms of distance up 60 degree inclined slopes in soggy energy-sapping mud. The altitude was an absolute killer. I limped up and positively scampered down leaving our long-legged guide way behind. Short legs...low centre of gravity...they have finally found their calling. Then at 2500 metres we collected mountain bikes. Stupid, stupid idea. Id rather jump fifty times from a plane without a parachute than ever do this again. The adrenalin junkie has finally met her nemesis. As if driving up in a 4x4 around hairpin bends with 1000 metre straight drops over the edges to the valley floor below wasnt scary enough. Hurtling down mud and rock trails on bikes with dodgy brakes with the same dizzying drops was even worse. At the bottom I retrieved my stomach from my mouth and my heart from its frozen terrified state and headed straight for the pub for a beer to calm my twitchy nerves. I had moments of sheer life-passing-before-my-eyes fear. Never ever again. TRUST ME or shoot me should I ever reconsider..

And so to the sea, as usual, cant stay away from it long. Montenita, a little basic surf town Ecuadorian stylee. Great Carnaval, dancing, and pounding music till 8 am reminsicent of the Oz Desert Doof without the swirling sands. Met back up with the Quito crew there for some crazy, sunny, not really very cultural days at all but unforgettable all the same. Lads - thanks! Got a smile on my face typing this and thinking back....The 24 hour bus rides there, adding another country´s bus station to my list of sleeping spots, wasn´t as unforgettable, but the boys (stalkers??! :-)were good company! I cant recommend corn and cheese wrapped in banana leaves as a great gourmet delight though, or indeed anything so far purchased from hawkers walking the aisles of buses late at night.

The last two days I have been chllling in the mountains in a national park. The horse riding was amazing, right up into the mountains with spectacular views, cloud cover, rivers, fiesty young horse that was a challenge and great fun. OK so it wasnt truly backpacker standards. I know I tell you this isnt a holiday but sometimes...well, $9 a night for a double room with TV, jacuzzi, free pool, 3 course dinner and breakfast, all mod cons and good comapny. It was a hardship!

A quick horror story to close. A few days ago I had noticed a bump on my toe and my nail was a little loose. I just left it for a few days to see what happened. What happened was that in the middle of a relaxing foot massage yesterday I was startled into life by a couple of worrying words I caught in Spanish ... animal and toe. Too close together to mean anything but something awful. The lady kindly proceeded to slit my toe open, a lump of puss came out (or so I thought), she got a needle and fished out a 1.5 cm long worm from my toe. Complete with black head and mouthparts. I was completely grossed out. I now have a hole in my toe, a story and a paranoia about creepy crawlies around here. And I thought the tick a little too close to my private parts whilst working owtback in Australia was bad enough....

So onwards to Peru on another epic 24 hour bus journey. Having missed my first bus I am having a great 4 hour Stand Off with the officious Spanish person at the transport company who is refusing to change my ticket without me paying for another one. At the risk of spending another night enjoying the comforts of an Ecuadorian bus station and police men, I might be backing down shortly to purchase another ticket. The stubborn streak is keen to hold out but my Spanish just isnt up to the fight just yet......
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