21 January 2015

Mindo: Lovely, Lush Jungle












Mindo was the end. 

I ended up my trip in Mindo, and it ended up being one of my favorite places. I felt like I got a good chance to say goodbye to Ecuador, to traveling, to freedom in Mindo.

A cab driver drove like a maniac between bus terminals (Quito has approximately a million bus terminals and they're all pretty far from each other - but it was only a $5.80 cab ride despite being over an hour! Go Ecuador!) and we only narrowly made the bus. Randomly, my seatmate ended up being another backpacker. We ended up chatting, and then spent all of our time in Mindo together. We stayed at Cecila's, which is right on the river and gorgeous, if a little rustic. My private room was $10 a night and totally fine; Jason's was $8 because half of the wall was missing. Though it was closer access to nature and very pretty, I worried about large numbers of bugs entering. We both did have mosquito nets, though.

Jason and I ended up spending all our time together. It was a quiet town, the hostel was nice, but definitely wasn't a party house when we were there. We went to a chocolate tour and tasting, which was pretty awesome. Crystalized ginger in chocolate, HEAVEN. We visited hummingbird gardens and couldn't stop taking photos. We went to butterfly gardens, and Jason told me about the amazing butterfly gardens he volunteered at in Peru. I took approximately 600,000 photos, but I'm resisting posting them all here. We went to orchid gardens, and I translated the Spanish tour to English for Jason. We took this tiny metal box 55 meters above the floor of the forest, and hiked to see waterfalls. We played Jenga, Scrabble, cards. We ate terrible pizza, terrible grilled cheese, terrible salad, but it was okay. We were in a hot tropical gorgeous jungle that wasn't over-touristy. 

I was getting my goodbye. We ate chocolate lava cake and complained about the bad service, but really, we weren't in a rush, so it was fine. We laughed and talked about what was next.


10 January 2015

Advice from Wanda

I don't want to lose this amazing advice Wanda gave me:


Take time for you. Do things you love. Let yourself feel your feelings. Have fun. Go dancing. Drink good beverages. Make/eat good food. Don't feel bad for being sad & especially not for being happy or doing happy things. Love your kitties. They're perfect (and purrfect). When you need to, sink your head into them and let their purrs erase your troubles. 

08 January 2015

Baños: Baths, Hiking, and Of Course, the Waterfall!

Getting to Baños involved another fun day of bus rides - the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato, then standing around while buses left without us because they were packed. I met some other backpackers, and we walked to the bus station (a bit confusing to find the exact part) and then got seats on the hour-long ride to Baños. Hurrah.

After I checked into my hostel, I headed out to get some good food. I went to Casa Hood, because I needed some veggies. I hadn't eaten anything other than plain biscuits all day. The server flirted with me, and even gave me a free cookie. Wooohooo.

After eating, I walked around town. I hung out with some guys at my hostel, and we walked around more, but honestly, I was too beat. I was asleep before 930pm. This trip is about the early nights.....Ha!

The next day, I got up and ran, with some pain. UGH. Then I ate breakfast, and Anders and I headed out to the baths. He kept making fun of the water, and hte color, and I told him it was because of the minerals. (Lonely Planet told me so!) He kept saying it was dirty. He had the last laugh when I realized my white and gold bikini turned orangey and cold. Booo!

In the baths, I befriended two English girls and an English guy (one of those pretentious travelers that likes to name drop places), and we chatted in the pool until we were beyond prunes. We rinsed off, headed back to town, got a late lunch, and then we all relaxed and showered. We met up for dinner, watched fireworks, and then went to Leprechaun, the bar to go to - they have a firepit, gave us awesome free shots, and they have a super sweet kitty. Awwwww.....


After drinks, we headed to bed.....and I was wakened five hours later by some drunken backpackers screaming in the courtyard. Thanks, kiddos!

I got up, ran a bit, more pain in my foot, and then after the usual, I met Ronny and Benny, two Germans (Conversations in Mindo talk about Travel Germans vs. Classic Germans....they were kind of a mix.) and I went for a hike. It was a great hike around the city - you hike up to the Virgin Mary, then you go around and up to the volcano (which we couldn't see due to clouds), then we headed down. Pretty tough but awesome.

After, I showered and got dinner with Ronny and Benny, and Ronny and I watched Amelie at Casa Hood. Awwwww.....

We went to the waterfall to take photos, and then I ran into a really bizarre street parade. After, I headed back to the hostel to get my express massage (20 min, $10), and full facial (65 min, $30). It was incredible. I felt so relaxed.

I stopped by to get a lentil burger, wrote a bit in my journal, and then headed back to the hostel to get sleep before an early rise to Mindo!



05 January 2015

Not Loving Traveling

Going to Ecuador has not been my favorite trip. There are a bunch of reasons, and I’ve struggled to identify why as I feel sick with this all-encompassing emptiness.
                I think I’m mainly burned out from traveling and being away from home so much the past two years. Yes, there have been a lot of races, visits to family members. But time away from home means time away from sleeping in the arms of Stedman, cuddling with my kitties, cooking and baking and eating my awesome food, drinking wonderful tea (I’m obsessed!), having access to all my clothes, taking baths when I want, and just the ease of home life. I never missed it like I do now.
                It does and it doesn’t have to do with being away from my partner; I miss him, though I enjoy the space at times. But right now, I just want to be with him. And with my home. He is mainly listening to me and supporting me.
                Traveling involves a lot of negative things – like crummy food and long days and risk of bedbugs and risk of robbery and risk of getting sick and getting lost and everything.
                The food here is not my fave. I really miss eating at home. I’ve lowered my standards, but it’s sad how little I enjoy food here. I also am getting sick from something – I’m not sure what, because even when I cut out fruit, I still get sick. I’m only drinking bottled water. Literally every morning, I have a battle with my stomach. At least it’s only in the morning, and I’m not throwing up, but I’ve never been quite so miserable. Ugh.
                I find the countryside just gorgeous, but unfortunately, those pretty mountains make for long and uncomfortable bus rides. The bus rides have high risk of robbery, so you need to keep your valuables on your lap (not above your head, not between your legs) in case your bags get slashed. I’m not exaggerating.
                Many people are nice one-on-one, but I have found people to be overall rude. For instance, if you are walking down the street and someone is walking with a group, they won’t move over to let you pass. They’ll let you walk into the gutter instead. Or they’ll walk into you and refuse to apologize. Wow. Even in New York City, if you walked into someone and didn’t apologize, you’d get a yell, “What’s your problem?” or some cursing.
                I haven’t been in love with this trip. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been having fun, I haven’t been enjoying my freedom, that I haven’t been doing really amazing things. It just means I think I need to rest for a while and not travel. Just way too much….



Cuenca: Prettier Than Quito, Indeed


                I was pretty excited to go to Cuenca because I heard it was really pretty. And it was. It was prettier than Quito, hands down.
                It’s a very walkable city, with lots of churches, plazas, markets, and two rivers. You can run or stroll or bike along the river, but do note – the main river that you see in town ends up splitting into two rivers, and you can end up horribly lost like me. (My first run which I was aiming to do in an hour ended up being nearly two. Ooops.)
                I arrived on New Years’ Day and almost nothing was opened. I walked around to get my bearings, and took a few photos. Then I ate an okay-for-Ecuador burrito (It wasn’t terrible, but if it was New York, I wouldn’t have made any great pains to go to the same restaurant again.), caught up on email at my hostel, and went to sleep.
                The next day was my wander-around-town day. I visited Museo Banco, some art, anthropology, even ruins in the backyard. Some signs are in English, but I managed reading the Spanish ones when they were lacking. Woohooo! I found a nice French café, The Black Olive, and ate a nice quiche and salad, some of the best food I had in Ecuador. I heard a lot of loud nasal American English in this café. I cringed at obnoxious comments and rudeness towards the servers, and wrote in my journal. Then I walked more about the city, stopping at a few markets to stock up on V’s birthday gifts (ha!), and ran into an American girl I had seen the night before. I ended up chatting with her and working around with her and her German friend who were both backpacking for nearly a year, but after a while, decided their mission of shopping in stinky (Seriously – one smelled like a gasoline leak!) clothing shops selling secondhand American brands (Ray always told me that people buy all the clothes from Goodwill by the Pound and sell it down at stores in South America – he’s right.), so I headed to a market, bought some plantain chips and fresh coconut, and headed back to my hostel. I ended up chatting with an English girl, Chloe, and a German guy, Ronny, and we headed up to a mirador to take photos. It was really pretty, and we got some lovely photos of Cuenca. Chloe and I made plans to go to these ruins the following day, and as our hostel was boring and we were tired, I just caught up on some email.
                After I ran the next day, I came into seeing Chloe miserable. She had been throwing up all night long. She suspected improperly washed fruit. It could be so many things down here. Literally my stomach has been a wreck EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every morning I am experiencing misery. I can’t wait to go home and make the awesome tofu from Thug Kitchen. I dreaded going alone and almost chickened out, but was glad I didn’t. It’s a two hour bus ride to Ingapirca, the ruins, but a really gorgeous one – hilly, green meadows and hills and mountains and clouds dipping in. Really pretty. I read a bit, wrote a bit, and stared at the window.





                The bus leaves 8:45/9, and gets there a bit before 11 a.m.; it returns to Cuenca, leaving at 1:10 p.m. – which is actually the perfect amount of time. I took a Spanish-language tour, and actually understood the vast majority of what was said. YAY! Then I wandered around the property, taking photos of stones that looked like the Inca, tortugas, etc. There were a few small shops, nothing that unique. So much of the tourist stuff is the same.
                I sat next to a Brazilian guy on the bus and we conversed in Spanish. That was really nice.
                I took a cab from the station to near my hostel to see an art fair. The cabbie started his meter but not his car for a while; then when we arrived at my destination, he tried to charge me a higher price than was on the meter. This led to an argument, and him calling me “gringa puta.” Lovely.
                The art fair was not there, so I walked around instead. I got some cheese at the market for my bus ride snack in the morning the following day, ate at the Black Olive for dinner since I hadn’t eaten much other than cookies all day. Then I went back to the hostel, and hung around with some of the backpackers, chatting, playing Uno. We headed out for a drink and I met these awesome Canadian backpackers.
                In the final morning, after a run, I got on the 8 a.m. bus to Ambato. Seven hours on a bus, and then I have to get a bus to Banos, which is another hour. Ugh. I hate all this traveling on crummy buses. Oh well, the price you pay to travel…..


03 January 2015

Montanita


Fun beach town? Of course I would love it. But really, there's only so much of Montanita that I could take!

About 3 hours on a bus from Guyaquil, this surf town is for partying. When I got off the bus, lost with my giant backpack, pants, and a sweater (I flew into Guyaquil from Quito!), I was so out of place. Everyone was friendly, coming up to me and asking me if I needed help. Why, yes, I do!

I got to my hostal (Hostal Kundalini, recommendation is that it's overpriced but the wifi and hot water were great), dumped off my bags, went into to town to drop off laundry, and ate a fruit salad. Ahhhh....Then I walked around a little bit, lots of people selling stuff on the streets - but then I headed straight to the beach because THAT IS WHAT YOU DO IN MONTANITA!!!!

It was great. I chilled and read some magazines, went in the water (It was warmer than the Galapagos!) and then went back to my room. I checked in officially, then went for a run. I found out about yoga, and ended up hitting that up after my run. I was never so smelly during yoga.

The class was great, in Casa del Sol, with the sounds of the ocean. Really lovely. After class, the Ecuadorian guy next to me chatted with me about yoga, and then on the beach, I befriended a girl named Tracie who I ended up chilling with a lot the rest of my time in Montanita.

I went back to my room and had the first awesome shower of my trip. Then I Google Hangout-ed (Hungout???) with Wayne, and it was nice to catch up. Finally, I was starving. I messaged Tracie, and asked her where she would be after dinner.

Then at the entrance of my hostal, as I was heading out, I hear someone say, "Brooklyn." I yelled, "Who's from Brooklyn? I'm from Brooklyn."

I ended up meeting a pretty big group of Americans from NY/NJ (though mostly NJ, very Jersey). They were social and loud and I decided I would be very into making new friends...so I went out with them.

Group dynamics...waiting for everyone, everyone's personality - I experienced that a lot over the next few days as I hung out with them. I realized I was so happy to be traveling alone to NOT deal with that, and I will never travel with a big group.

After dinner, Tracie messaged me but I got up at 3:30. I just wanted to sleep. So I did that. I went back, went to sleep. I got up early and went for a nice run on the perfect packed sand. It was bliss. And then I went to yoga, also bliss. So good to do yoga after a break.

The rest of the time in Montanita - beach. Massage on the beach. Run on the beach. Drinks. Juices. Giant fruit salads. Sunburn. Talk with Wayne. Teach Mom how to Google Hangout.

New Year's Eve is HUGE. Rooms sell out in June. Seriously. Fireworks start at dark. Drinks everywhere. All the surfers rush into the water just before midnight so they can catch the first wave of the New Year. There are bonfires everywhere, and after midnight, people toss effigies stuffed with firecrackers into it. AWESOMENESS!!

We danced, hugged strangers, listened to music, looked a the sky. Then we went to a club, which wasn't necessary, but Tracie and I danced until 4am. Because why not - you want to start off your new year dancing!!!





31 December 2014

Quito, Part II

We got into Quito pretty early, but had a full, awesome day.

After dumping off our stuff at Casa Helbling, a nice, German-owned hostel, we went to Quito's equivalent of City Streets. They shut the streets down, everyone bikes and runs, and some walkers, though not as many as New York. (In NYC, there are lots of freebies, so that attracts tons more people, esp walkers.) 

We rented a tandem bike, which was a little scary and wobbly to ride. We both found it harder to run, and I found the fact that I didn't know what was coming next or Wayne was doing (in terms of aiming the bike, gears, braking, etc.) a little scary.

It was really fun, and then we were hungry. Way too much is closed in the Masicral Sucre area, but we found a nice restaurant with a super-friendly server in the square, and ate a bunch. Ahhh. Then we headed back to the hotel to move our stuff into the room, and then browsed the guidebook. We realized a ton of things were closed on Sundays, but the botanical gardens were not. We love botanical gardens! Perfect!

We walked around, taking lots of photos. It was a really quiet gardens, full of lots of quality plants. (Venessa would've loved it!) It was really special.







Also neat - I discovered I could translate the signs in Spanish for Wayne. My Spanish is really improving.

We went back, stopped by the ATM (and later found out I incurred a $16 fee - thanks HSBC!), dropped the money off, and then chilled and read. Then we went out for burritos, and while it was no Calexico, it was still pretty good.

We read for a bit more and I fell asleep in Wayne's arms while he read. I was so sad to say goodbye, in tears as I helped him gather his items and leave. So horribly sad. And now I'm alone, and it doesn't feel as good.

29 December 2014

Otavalo: Markets, Animals, Getting Lost - and Realizing It's Not About the Destination, But About the Journey

The main reason you go to Otavalo is to go to the market. When I was trying to organize dates and destinations for my trip, I figured out that Wayne would only have a few days. He said he wanted to see the culture of Ecuador, and I figured, what better way than to go to an authentic market - the biggest in Ecuador?

Otavalo is a 2 hour bus journey (we paid $2) but our flight from the Galapagos didn't get in until nearly five, and we decided that instead of backtracking to the bus station in the city, and then waiting, and then taking a 2-3 hour bus ride, we'd bite the bullet and pay $60 to take a taxi. We didn't really want to take a bus after dark, as we have read warnings about doing so, so we figured for once, safety first. (At Burning Man, the motto is "Safety Third," but when I'm traveling, I really do put it first, even when it's more expensive or inconvenient.) 

We arrived at our hostel, En Rincon de la Posada, where we spent $30 total for a private room with private bathroom. It was comfortable, nothing fancy, and breakfast was included. It was also in a great location on a quiet street right in the center of town.

Wayne looked at everything and immediately thought, "What a dump." But he was totally wrong.

We rested a few minutes in our room, then headed out for a proper meal. Lonely Planet listed a bunch of vegetarian-friendly options, and we wandered a bit on the way there. People were taking down the remnants of the market, and Wayne spotted blankets. "We should get one for our bed." This sounded like an excellent idea, and we vowed to get one the next day. (Wayne was leaving a day and a half later, so we figured we could for once get bulky souvenirs.)

Dinner was really good, one of the better places we've been to in Ecuador. They had a few vegetarian options at Buenavista, and specials, and we hung out there, snacking, chatting, waiting. (Waiting is always a theme at Latin American restaurants, especially at the end. You'd think they'd want you out of there to get a new table in, but no, they always disappear when you want la cuenta, and even after you ask, you could wait 15+ minutes.) After dinner, we walked around a bit, and then went back to our hostel and crashed until the next morning.





In the morning, we headed over to the animal market. It was a bit crazy, a bit sad. Animals were shoved around, for sale, negotiated over. We walked around, but didn't buy anything.

We headed back to the hostel to shower and eat. Then we went to the regular crafts market that happens every day, but in the biggest way on Saturdays. It was Saturday.

We had a list of people to buy souvenirs for, and I even bought a few things for myself (pretty quartz rings - I wear nice rings every day back at home, and need something on my fingers to feel normal - so cheapish rings are great, esp when they don't turn my fingers green). We headed back after a few hours of negotiation, and purchases. We dropped them off, and tried to figure out what to do next.


We headed out to another vegetarian lunch at Oraibi, which was good but served way too much cheese for even yes. (Yes, there is such a thing.) Menachem would've been in hell with his hatred/love of cheese. Or heaven.


After, we headed out of town to do a hike to see the knowledge tree, condor park, and waterfalls. We were told we could do all three.


The hike was gorgeous. I took tons of photos - the scenery was stunning, and we were very much alone on these roads. We were so glad we didn't take a taxi. First stop was the knowledge tree, but somehow we missed it, and didn't realize until we arrived at the condor park. We questioned how we could have possibly missed it, but looked at the birds. A lot of them were in smallish spaces when they should have been soaring. It was a bit sad.










We got directions to the waterfall and the tree, and couldn't figure out the waterfall directions. Very confusing. We decided to go back to town via the knowledge tree, which we wouldn't miss now, not for sure.

We looked. We did that argue because we're lost thing. Then duh, we realized, this is just gorgeous and who cares that we are lost? I asked for directions again. And again. Finally, we got in a cab and had the cabbie drive us and actually point out the tree.

We never would've found it. Ever. It was tucked back on a dirt road off the main road, just by a parilla place. We took photos. We looked at it, and then we headed back on a pretty walk to town, with lots of photos.


We rested. we ate dinner at the same place we ate at the day before, but the food wasn't as good and the manager a bit rude to us. We read in bed, and fell asleep on the early side.


I was going to get up early and run, but I was worried about my foot. I decided to skip my run, and cuddled in bed with Wayne, so sad he was leaving that night.

We walked to the bus station, hopped on a bus heading back to Quito, paid $2 and got a badly dubbed in Spanish American movie blasting in our ears for two hours.

28 December 2014

Galapagos Islands: You Won't Believe It Until You Go!

                Wayne and I debated a lot about what to do on our trip – boat trip, which would be very expensive, require lots of research, or staying on an island in one of the towns. My friend Sherry had taken a tour that kept them in hotels at night, and we thought staying in hotels sounded good. Plus, not running for that long would be brutal (though my podiatrist would probably recommend it!) and I didn’t relish the idea of being on a boat that long. I found it easy to find a nice place (Hotel Galapagos Inn FKA Casa de Judy, on Isla Santa Cruz, right close to Puerto Ayoro), which was really beautiful, had a nice pool, and gorgeous views. The hotel was a bit outside of the edge of town, situated over the National Park, so it was gorgeous – oh, and in front of that was an amazing oceanfront view. Yes, please!
                After a long journey, Judy talked our ear off – or mine, since she primarily spoke Spanish. Good practice for me. We headed to town and got lunch at one of the many eateries, and I had my first Lorca de Papas, an amazing potato-cheese-avocado soup. I need to look up recipes when I go home to make this! And of course, lots of jugo de maracuya. I was in heaven.
                We headed over to the Charles Darwin Research station, where we saw giant iguanas, baby turtles, giant turtles, crabs, chilled at a little beach. This became my daily run spot, yay.
                After, we went back to town, exploring a bit more, stopped in some shops to find something adorable for my niece and nephew, we enjoyed a little bug vehicle that reminded us of Burning Man art cars. We went back to our hotel and planned the tours for the rest of our trips.
                We were happy to feel more energy post-Quito, but the next few days would exhaust us.












                The next day, we got up early and I ran. Then we hired a taxi driver (who ripped us off, but that’s another story) and we went to The Lava Tunnels. Basically, what happens is they drop you off at this random woman’s house, you pay $3, and you get a flashlight to borrow and she turns on the power to lights in the tunnel (Many of which don’t work, making the experience even eerier), and you head into a tunnel. It’s a series of underground caves, almost a mile (1.22 k actually) and it would have been very scary to go through alone. We were both a bit frightened, but awed by the magic. Really cool. It was carved out by lava many years ago, and was the second-longest in South America. This was one of the highlights of our trip, as weird as it sounds.
                Then we headed over to a tortoise reserve. They were huge, beautiful creatures, and not that friendly but not that angry. Amazing. At one point, there were tons chilling in a small muddy pond.
                We went to el gemelos, these craters, which weren’t as impressive as they sounded, but still pretty. Huge sinkholes filled with plants, basically.
                We went back to town and tried to find a trip to Seymour. We eventually did, peeling off almost every bill in our pockets to do so. (It was Christmastime, so trips were even more – we paid $140 to go to Las Plasas, and $155 to go to Seymour.) Then we walked to Tortugua Beach – on the edge of town, you have a 2.5 km walk on a stoned-lined path. Wayne’s feet and back were killing him, but it was wonderful once we were there. A gorgeous beach, even with a nice surf break, and then you walked down the end to the bathing part. There were iguanas swimming, birds, gorgeous. Then on the other side was a bay of some sorts, super calm water, kayaks to rent, mangroves to sit in the shade under. Really lovely.
                The next day, we were picked up for a trip to Seymour.  Amazing. We arrived on an island with tons of sea lions, blue-footed boobies, red-breasted frigates, pelicans…really amazing, especially as how the animals would just come up to you without any fear, say hello. I took loads of photos, and then my camera broke and I was in tears. Wayne fixed it, of course, but I missed a few photos of blue footed boobies and iguanas. We headed back into the boat and we boated someplace for snorkeling, but our awful guide kept saying, “Don’t come if you are not a good swimmer.” (The guides are not always the best here, sigh.)  After snorkeling was another blah blah Ecuadorian lunch, and then we went to an island just covered, just covered with sea lions. I was blown away. I sat down next to them, and they seemed pretty chill and barely took notice, except when a baby sea lion came up to us, confused as to whether or not we were there mother, and they’d bark at us. We took tons of photos. There was also a skeleton of a whale too, but this was mainly a sea lion island. Wonderful.
                That night, I was annoyed at Wayne for taking forever to get ready – we had drinks plans with a brother-in-law of a friend. As soon as we left to eat, I started feeling awful, really queasy. We went on to dinner anyway and I made my best attempt. I said to Wayne, “I feel awful – like I’m going to throw up.” He told me he’d pay and I waited outside
                The walk back to our hotel was hell. I had to stop every few meters to sit and I hoped I could make it home. I gave Wayne instructions on logging onto my computer and Facebook to message Jose, and tell him we couldn’t make it. Around the block from our hotel, I threw myself into gravel by a children’s playground and vomited. I got up, walked a few feet (You know, closer to the children.) and threw myself down again to vomit. When I got back I noticed gravel marks in my knees and shins.
                In the hotel, I cleaned myself up and brushed my teeth and passed out in bed. Wayne wrote Jose, who ironically was sick the next day. I did feel okay the next morning.
                When I woke up, I went for a super slow run, and Wayne’s stomach was a mess (again….). We ate, and then got on a boat headed to Las Plasas. The bus was full of 12 people from one large family – nice, super-rich, but still, a family with their own dynamics. There was also an older couple. We mainly stayed to ourselves.
                We headed first to see sea lions, lots of amazing birds, iguanas, and learned a lot about why certain animals were behaving the way they were.
                After dinner, we went to bed and slept a lovely amount. In the morning, we had our last day, aka Christmas.
                I celebrated the holiday with a long run, and then woke Wayne up. We had breakfast, and then headed out to Garrapatos, a far beach. We ended up getting sunburnt (even sun blisters, in my case, sigh….). We showered, got dinner, and met up with Jose. We talked about the Galapagos Islands, Burning Man, Barcelona, Ecuador, that sort of thing….really fun.
                And then…we were done. A night of sleep, get up early, and GO for a long day of trip from Galapagos to Guayquil then