Sunday, February 24, 2008

So long! Coca, Ecuador

Our final goodbyes are to Ecuador this evening. This Sunday we spent in some relaxation amid the horrendous heat as we got most our supllies taken care of yesterday. We meandered across the river past military residencies, hospitals, spiritual alters, and other establishments. There was a breif moment (very breif) of solitude over a bridge of a Rio Napo tribuatry. Then we hopped on a bus conveniently rolling and bumping along. We hurried through afternoon market crowds and visited some monkeys who I am quite fond. They loiter in the treetops of the walk along the river. There are a variety of different species (five maybe), and they allow me to hold them, pet them, and play with their fingers. One monkey fell in love with me, grabed my breast one moment, and challenged Manuel or anyone else close-by with snarling teeth and monkey pounces.
We have grown accustomed to the places we inhabit here. After changing hotel yesterday, because our bed broke for no good reason, we find ourselves closer to the river and the places we enjoy eating out (as we have no kitchen argh!) There is a small bar with sidewalk stools, mirrors, fresh air, good tunes, and a gritty old sign up on top. We sip gin and tonics between meals, and eat at a restaurant with friendly owner for tipica breakfast and lunch. Our dinner spot has open fire grill, and manuel ate some kind of foot tonight. The pickins are slim, but my heart has grown a deep fondness for Coca despite.
We leave on a canoe for Puerto Rocafuerte early tommorrow morning, and will spend some time in the jungle away from civilization for a little while. Wish us luck!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Into the bush of Rio Napo

We are currently in Tena, Ecuador, hoping to get a bus for the wet and muddy journey to Coca. From there we are hiring lanchas (cargo boats) to cross the border into Peru and experience the Amazon Rio. There is little information on how to do this, and local touring companies (who charge about $400-$800 for 5 nights a little ways downstream) make it seem unfathomable. Not for danger reasons like the guerillas we avioded in Putamayo, Colombia, but simply becuase of transport unpredictability. We have yet to finish purchasing important supplies like rubber boots, hammicas, thick clothing to guard against insects, and drinking water, but hope to catch a Monday boat to Puerto Rocafuerte, the easiest leg of the journey. Wish us luck, and I look forwad to seeing you all again in the comforts of homeland and my beloved Yuba River.

Check to see a map of our goal.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On the Zig Zag

We have been traveling along some zig zags for weeks now. I left off in Medellin, where we caught a bus towards Neiva, Colombia at the end of January. The journey took us through towns of Rio Negro, Manizales, Ibague, hitting the highways on either side like mirrors- we bounced back and forth. Twelve hours later, as the light of the day was fading, we found ourselves passing through a snall town with an enourmous head on the street. With the rising of daylight we caught the first Collectivo to San Augustin, where we spent 5 wonderful days riding horses in the ancient ruins along the green farmland hills of Colombia. Then we made our way to Popayan. The road was not long, but tortuous as it was unpaved, and made me realize the purpose behind those bra things I dont wear. The landscape was unlike any other I had ever imagined. We were climbing higher, and higher still, into the tall valleys of green rolling hills and granite creeks. Above us, were always more cerros with cascading waterfalls in all directions. The agricultural patterns were like surreal quilts, and I felt I had fallen into the mastery of some painter, and another time.
We rested in Popayan for three nights, and our residence Casa Familiar was also home to some Washington kids we had met in Medellin, and a man from Cornwall who had biked from Ecuador. It is a friendly colonial town, with white washed streets, and beautiful bridgeways. We did a daytrip to the village of Coconuco, where we hiked 5 km to some hot springs with a spirit guide perro, who we named Cascada.
We left Popayan, not ready to turn in direction of Bogota or Quito, and our wills pulling us towards more countryside.
We stayed a night in the Parque nacional Purace near the Volcan. At this point we were at unbeleivably high elevation (5000 meters) and though we aquired a bonita- unique cottage with fireplace (complete with work horse for neighbor, who galloped back and forth through the night), we were unable to find large enough branches for a decent fire, and huddled together throughout the night, leaving at first light for the long hike back down to the road, breath still showing like clouds in our faces. We waited at the edge of a family´s land who came out to spend some time with us in the sunlight. They had many puppies running amuck, and the mother´s name was Lise.

The bus picked us up at 10 am and we continued to La Plata, yet another Zig to add to the Zag of our journies. From La Plata, we found a collectivo to San Andreas de Pisimbala, which is no easy feat as the road from La Plata streches back towards Popayan, and the road to Tierradentro Parque goes nowhere but there. We found ourselves bobbing on the edge of a truckbed with dust like burningman on our skin, hair, clothes. The veiws were again amazing, and I kept thinking to myself, This is what I thought traveling would be!
We were quite happy in this small village. Staying four nights at Los Lagos as the only guests of a family run establishment. They kept many birds in Bambu cages, who did a remarkable effort of keeping the area mosquto free. There an enchanted granite river winding itself through the town, which we took upon ourselves to discover first hand, all its crevices and water falls. Contently rock hopping through the heat of the day, we celebrated Manuels 26th birthday on Saturday, over morning Pancakes, and a nice dinner with the family at La Posada, a beautiful family -crafted Bamboo restaurant. The musuems at the Tierradentro parque were wonderfully cared for, and they even let me touch many of the ceramic and woven artifacts! The trails for hiking in the surrounding hilsides numerous, so we treated ourselves to some locally produced Coca Vino as we hunted out ancient burial sites to visit the dark underground tombs.
We left Tierradentro early Sunday morning before first light. The road back to Poppyan was again full of stunning veiws, rich farmlands, and an overwhelming amount of Cascadas pouring forth from the top of valleysides and into wonderful little gurgling creeks that rambled through pasters and feilds.
We hit another Zag in Popayan that morning as we found a bus Southwards towards the Equater. Taking the Pan American highway until evening to the crummy little town of Pasto, where I again received another dose of horrid food poisening. Next morning we caught an early cab to the bus terminal in search of a collectivo. As we were getting ready to cross the border, we were trying to use what little pesos we had left so as to aviod lousy exchange rates like in the past.
The dieties were tailing us as we pulled into Ipiales, and fond a colectivo immediatly headed for Las Lajas. This was a Pueblo made of fairytales. Plaques covered the stone Mountain from pilgrimages to the site to celebrate and give thanks for miracles tribuated to the Virgin Mary who is said to live on site. There is a majestic castle (iglesia) built into the mountainside, complete with waterfalls, raging river, idigenous trails, flighty-dancing pigeons, altars, and llamas. We stayed the night at Louisa´s La Pastoral, an amazing grounds with onsite preist and church, aching hardwood floors, hot water, rose gardens, and spectacular veiws of the castle.
Next morning we crossed the border into Ecuador, twice. The cabby dropped us off on the other side, so we cleverly walked back to Colombia for our exit stamps before getting our official entry.

Upon arrival into the town of Tulcien Terminal, there was an eery emptiness. Buses were running around the block competely empty. None of the ticket offices were selling tickets. This was so dramatically different from the hayday of Colombia terminals where every movement of the eyes attracts someones attencion to shout a town or destination at you and pull you to their company. We dicided it was best to stay close to a smallish posse of Ecuadorians who where standing outside the terminal fense. Collectivos were all displaying the name of some town along a coastal unpaved road through supposed guerilla territories. We waited. And waited. Then waited. I talked to a few locals who also wanted to get to Quito. They were exasperated, saying Seis dolares! -the usual rate along the Pan American. The Collectivos wanted ten, for not even the direction of Quito. A destination where we would most assuredly have to walk through stormy hilsides at least 5 miles, and three of vehicles worth of fees. We found some surfers who thought the collectivos where headed a good way for them, closer to the coast. No comaraderi there. Then an Austrian fellow came by, having found a single bus that was destined for Quito through Putamayo territory in the Orient later in the afternoon. With only minimal hesitation we took this opportunity, and found ourselves in Quito at about five thirty this morning, after another unexpected 15 hours on the bus sitting immediately next to an ear peicing shreiking brat-child, over unpaved roads, beautiful countryside, along more zig and zags, up and down painful elevations, bus wheels slipping through at least 3 large creeks, constant hold ups for narrow roadways and large vehicles in either direction- and onwards, towards my current whereabouts. Apparently there is some striking happening with government employees. It is unclear whether all of the Pan American through Equador is closed, or if it was only that section.
I havent explored this city yet, but our hostel, LÁumberge, is promising, with 4 creaky flights of stairs leading to our lodging, small courtyard, hot hot water, kitchen, internet, restaurant, pool hall, and beautiful veiws from the shower.
A whole new country (except the intriguing Banos region, which has been evacuated due to a recent eruption this past week), and some lucky zig zags to boot. My love to all.