Friday, June 29, 2007

The Andes

The Market

trekking and the market

Quilitoa to Chuchilan

Quilitoa Ecudaor

Bahia del Caraques to Quito


Well here we are in Latacunga in the heart of the Andes. We readied the boat in Bahia del Caraques on the coast arranging for someone to check it every week and the bottom will be cleaned every six weeks and we will travel for three months through Ecuador and Peru.
Our first stop was Quito, the capital of Ecuador. We had a comfortable bus for the 8 hour bus trip for $8 each!!! Going from Sea level through the coastal crops of bananas and rice to the highlands.
Quito has a beautiful “Old Town” which has been well preserved. We did one day touring the obligatory churches—one of which has seven tons of gold giulding the ceiling, walls and artifacts—somehow the Catholic church lost the point somewhere!!! Also visited the presidential palace and other significant builldings.
The whole atmosphere is very clean calm and pleasant—a huge change from Guatemala City and San Salvador which were both chaotic and feel unsafe. Mind you we got scammed when an organised group of well dressed middle aged business men (they appear to be that anyway), squirted mayonaise over the back of our pants and backpacks. They tell you that it is there, then produce wads of kleenex which they use to help clean you off. When you take off you daypack to check it they create great confusion and before you know it the backpack has disappeared. They then have one of the group yell and start running after a would be robber and while you are distracted the pack has gone in another direction. All in all it was a frustrationg experience—especially as it was Ken´s pack and he prides himself on being aware of the bad guys!!! Luckily we are wary enough travellers that we had nothing of great value in the pack but did have light jackets and Ken´s favorite Tilley hat.—Oh well lesson learned—we have since discovered that it is a favorite South American scam.
We went to a great museum which traced the history of settlement of Ecuador—first people had come down the coast of North America after crossing the ice bridge and settled in the East first and then the west. One thing that we were unaware of was that the Incas were only in the area for 100 years whereas the Mayans further north were there for up to 800 or 900 years. Despite this they ruled over the largest area that any of the other ethnic groups did. As the memories of being invaded by the Incas was still fresh in the local´s minds when the Spanish arrived they were able to settle and rule easily. I found the displays during the era when the Spanish were the strongest to be oppressive. All art was dark heavy and very Catholic. There was no celebration of any other of the wonders of this country.
New Town in Quito was very western and you could have been in Toronto. The market was fun and we bargained hard to replace my jacket—I had a fleece and got an Ecuadorian one for $12.
We took the gondola up which goes to 12,000 feet—Quito is at 9,600 feet. We wanted to climb Pichichinta, a volcano of 13,000 feet. The day turned out to be cold and windy with no visibility so we gave up about 1/3 of the way up.
All in all we loved Quito—food is cheap—we went to breakfast and they asked if we wanted the complete breakfast, as it was $1 70 we said yes. We got a kind of grilled cheese sandwhich, rice and chicken, scrambled eggs, juice and coffee!!! Now we say only eggs, bread, juice and coffee and that is about $1 20.
Our hotel in Quito for $20 was an old gracious hotel with bathroom TV etc.
After 4 or 5 days in Quito we headed on the bus to Lacutunga in the Andes
(actually Quito is too). A 2 hour bus ride for $1 50 got us to a small city where we were able to leave our big packs in an hotel while we went trekking into the small villages. We were going to do the Quilitoa loop. The Lonely Planet describes it as a trip which is mind altering!! They say you can only do it in the dry season—now—but we have found it is all year round for anyone who is thinking of an adventure.
Caught a bus through beautiful mountains which rise from deep gullies, every square foot is farmed on impossible slopes. There are small grass huts where family´s live and shelter form the weather. Because of the height it can be cold (not cold enough for snow) and the ridges can be very windy.
We arrived at Quilitoa at noon, it is on the rim of a volcanic lake and a small settlement has sprung up there to house the trekking tourists. We found a local “Indigenes” hostel. We were given a bed in a large room with 8 other beds which we shared with a couple form the States. Despite the wood buring stove we were very cold and used many of the heavy Andean wool blankets. We trekked down into the volcano to the lake and were persuaded to ride a mule bareback back up. That was an experience trying to hold on with your legs as he went back and forwards to go up the extremely steep volcanic walls!!!
The next day we set off with the American couple to hike the 5 hours to Cuchilan. This involved a walk around the crator rim for an hour and then a steep climb straight down the outside to a valley below. It had a lot of ash on the path which made it slippery. We were adopted by a tiny local woman (they are about 4 feet tall and amazingly strong and tough-she is in the pics) she proceeded to tell us when we were going off the track. It appeared she was going home after being in hospital with an infection of her leg and was walking at least 3 hours home-- we were not sure if she had had to walk the previous 4 hours from the hospital or if she was able to get a bus. She was also carrying a load on her back. The people made us feel very wimpy as we panted up the steep terrain. After having dropped hundreds of feet into the valley we then had to climb hundreds of feet up to the village. We had started the day freezing—looking like abominable snowmen with all our layers and had been stripping off all day as the valleys are warm.
We arrived at Chuchilan where two seperate hostels have been set up by local villagers. These are wonderfully luxurious. We had a little cabin with bathroom—very woodsy and attractive. Meals were incluced and it was $10 per person per day. We stayed the next day and did another 5 hour hike up to a cheese factory where we were able to buy wonderful Emmenthal cheese. A Swiss cheesemaker had taught them how to make it and age it. A treat as the local cheese is bland and rubbery and we have missed good cheese. We also walked into the cloud forest which was surreal. There are a lot of orchids growing there but they flower in Dec and Jan.
The following day we set off with a Scottish girl who was staying there to another village of Isinlivi. We had been given directions which were to drop down into a valley and then work your way around a mountain till somehow you would spot the town and could get to it in 4 hours. Well it was not that easy and 6 hours later we arrived after having dropped into the valley and needed to climb the next mountain to get our bearings. There are hundreds of trails as the locals walk everywhere and the trail may lead to their house or field or another village. You meet people all the time who point you in the right direction but it is not neccesarily the right way from where we started. The weather was gorgeous though and the scenery was magnificent so we did enjoy it.
After a night in the hostel there—run by a Dutch girl five of us got up at 6am to be driven in a jeep to Saxsili market. This is the largest Indideous market in South America so we really wanted to go.
The road was very rough over mountain ranges for 2 hours. As we approached the top of one hill the sun was coming up our driver was blinded and drove to the edge of a precipice where he stopped—2 wheels on the road and 2 over the edge of a huge drop!!!
We all got out immediately to assess the damage. It was freezing and it was obvious we were not driving back on the road easily. He called on his cellphone—even here they have them—and we awaited help. Thirty minutes later a truck arrived and they attached a wire rope. After much discussion and us watching nervously as our young driver had to steer from within our jeep they managed to get it back on the road. We were a fairly subdued bunch for a while!!!
We arrived at the market an hour later going straight to the animal market. There you can buy llamas, sheep, goats or pigs and was a riot of noise and colour. The Indigenes come for miles and bargain hard. They then walk their purchases home unles they were lucky enough to have a vehicle. We also went to a couple of the other markets—there are 8 seperate ones. Bought gorgeous finely woven ponchos.
We then caught the bus back to Latacunga where we had pizza and discussed our “near death experience”. The others were leaving for other destinations but Ken and I decided to have a day of rest before our next adventures.
So far it has been amazing and I feel that this trekking trip will be a highlight of our journey.
This entry is longer than I had intended but travelling in this manner is so intense and so much happens.
We continue our journey tomorrow south and I will update when I can. I am going to try and download photos now but if there are none it is because I am still the computer illiterate on public computers.
We do enjoy hearing from you either on blog comments or emails so keep in touch.
Love to all
Wendy and Ken

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Equator


stowaway in Panama


Golfito Costa Rica

Costa Rica-Panama-Ecuador

Well hola from Panama although we will not publish this until we reach Ecuador for reasons which will be clear when I have finished this episode of our “Great Adventure”.
We had a couple of days in Golfito—a sleepy port which had been the major port to export bananas until the “Panama banana blight” which wiped out the industry in the 1990”s. Now there is a small amount of palm oil exported but otherwise nothing happens there. We did our clearance from Costa Rica which took all day, requires lining up in the bank and paying $20, took an hour as the line was the same one where the locals go to do whatever serious banking they do—not the regular teller line. Then to Immigration, this was in an obscure location up a little side alley a mile down the road. The town is about two miles long and runs along the coast—there is jungle right up to the road so it is only one building deep. They then informed us that we didn’t have enough photocopies of our passports, we required 3 so that meant a trip to the “copier” which was nearby—I suspect is probably the sister of the immigration lady. Then back to immigration who after stamping our documents gave us vague directions to customs a mile away, our next stop. After wandering in the vicinity for about another 45 minutes we finally found someone who understood where we wanted to go and took us there it was in an obscure part of the duty free area—not sure of the significance? This got us another stamp and then she told us to go to the port captain. That was another mile down the road. He asked us to wait “un momento” which became thirty minutes and then stamped our documents—when he asked us if we wanted to buy the $1 stamp required from him or did we want to go to the post office and buy it we quickly bought his last stamp---finally we were done. Luckily we had cleared into Costa Rica at an earlier port as if you do it here there is an added inconvenience of the agriculture inspector. This dates back to the time at which it was a banana port (20years ago) and they checked if you had any fruit he still asks if you do or not and you pay $30 regardless—I guess he had the job originally and didn’t tell anyone it is now redundant!!!! Roz and Bob experienced the wonders of bureaucracy in the other world. They were leaving to go to San Jose to go home the next day and we were going to go to Panama.
We had been told not to bother clearing into Panama until Balboa—near Panama City as everywhere else is a hassle. We cruised the beautiful small islands in northern Panama which reminded us of the Gulf Islands except they are totally uninhabited. They have beautiful white sandy beaches with a backdrop of green lush hills. Air plants grow all over and we now have a table centerpiece of a small one we found broken on the ground.
We are finally a sailboat—we have gone from the 4 to 5 knot world of motor sailing to the 6 to 8 knot world of sailing with good winds every afternoon. Unfortunately the rainy season has started so the waters are not clear any more so snorkeling is not great. The water is warm but each day it rains so we are not as hot as we were earlier. We did some kayaking which was nice but the jungle is so thick you cannot walk beyond the beaches. We met local fishermen who traded us red snapper. We asked if they had any Langosta (lobster) and they said manana. They came back the next day and indicated that Ken should go with them and they would all dive for some. After lots of free dives none were found so we settled for snapper. Ken did learn how to get one if he did see one in the future—a long stick to which is attached a piece of rubber with a barb at the end and then a pair of heavy gloves—hopefully future expeditions will be more fruitful. After returning from one kayak trip a bright green lizard appeared on the boat—“Kermit” had somehow hitched a ride. Lucky for him we were too nice to tell him to swim back the 100 yards to shore so we caught him and gave him a kayak ride back.
After a couple of weeks we decided as the weather is definitely deteriorating, although no thunder and lightening yet, we would just head straight to Ecuador and forgo Panama City and the hassle and expense involved in going through immigration. The only problem being that we were short of fuel and fresh food. There was a Port up an estuary but we couldn’t go there as we are still illegal here, not having cleared in, the Port Captain would require our documents. Well we would go into the biggest part of Isla Cebaco where we had been told we could get fuel and there is a store there. Oh well not quite!!! The store had canned goods, of which we have lots of already but no vegs, meat or fruit and there is no diesel here. She did have eggs but when I was about to tell her I would buy a dozen she produced a bowl with 5 —today’s bounty—I guess her family does without the days she makes a sale. We managed to negotiate with a local using my best and almost adequate Spanish (no English here!!!) to be taken to the mainland up a river in his panga where they would take us to get food and fuel. They picked us up in the morning and we had a blustery crossing of the bay to a river entrance which we surfed in—pretty wild!!!! We then walked to small tourist resort and someone drove us to the nearest village. Got our jerry cans with diesel and then went to the supermarket—well sort of—had eggs, meat, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots. White bread and no fruit of any kind, not even limes which are generally considered a staple. Guess we will be having meat and potatoes!!!! My goodness, after the bounties in even the smallest villages in Mexico, El Salvador and Costa Rica it was a shock. This area appears wonderfully fertile so am not sure why the locals do not produce papayas and bananas which are so plentiful everywhere else. I am not sure if I had mentioned the usual way they give you eggs—just in a plastic bag, so if I have forgotten to bring our yellow plastic egg container which I invariably have we gingerly carry the bag back and onto the dingy for the trip back to the boat. It invariably leads to at least one broken one but we are getting pretty good. We took a walk along the tiny village which runs along a small beach—no road—all transportation is in a panga—even watched them hog tie two cattle and with much yelling and grunting 9 locals managed to get them loaded into the panga to go to market. We did finally have someone offer to sell us pineapples for a $1 each so we have two for our journey to go with the meat ,potatoes and eggs.
The other significant experience here are the downpours of rain—we filled our water tanks which were half full with the rain we collected in buckets as it drained off our bimini top in about thirty minutes.
Tomorrow we will head south and go to Ecuador and will probably return here in January to cruise in Panama in more favorable weather conditions. Will know enough to go into Balboa first and stock up well!!!!
Obviously there is no internet anywhere near here so it will be in Ecuador when I publish this.

Part 2 to Ecuador
I am adding to this off the coast of Columbia. We have a 500mile trip which involves head winds of about 15 knots and bumpy seas. The seas whenever you are going into them are very uncomfortable. We are grateful for our comfortable catamaran as our back bunk is very stable and when we get to sleep you are unaware of the bouncing around in the rest of the boat. This coast also has the Humbolt Current which comes up from Peru and is about 1 to 1 ½ knots against us too. This makes for a 5 day passage which would be a lot shorter and more comfortable if we were going the other way. The great thing is we are sailing!!! After months of motoring and at the best motor sailing we only need to start our engines to boost the batteries every now and then. We left three days ago and our fuel tanks are still showing full. Guess we did not need to go to the hassle of getting fuel but as we are so used to motoring we do not dare take on such a long passage without topping up everything. It is so much nicer and the boat handles the seas much better under sail. We are looking out for drug runners—were flown over by a navy or coastguard plane yesterday so guess they are too!!! Have only seen three tankers after leaving the Panama area where they were lined up to go through the canal.
We have hit great winds and the current has eased so we are now doing 8 knots and the opposing current is only ½ knot so we will be a day earlier—yeh!! Actually not as good as it could be as we will arrive at the entrance to the estuary sometime tomorrow—our 4th day but you have to go over a sand bar at high tide and are taken in by a pilot but high tide is at 7am and we won’t get there by then. You anchor in an open bay but apparently the anchorage is not too rolly and we will have to wait till 8am the following morning to go in. Oh well better than our present rolly passage!!!
A highlight earlier today off the cost of Columbia was when we were hailed by a panga—70 miles to the nearest land—the two fishermen held up a lovely dorado (mahi mahi) and asked us if we wanted it. They wanted $2 which we transferred in our fish net and got the fish back in it. We have had ceviche for lunch and tonight will be blackened mahi mahi what a treat. These guys lead a hard life—an open panga with no cover and presumably would only get $1 for the fish when they get home.
We finally crossed the equator at 6 30 am today the 6th June. We were 20 miles off the coast of Ecuador—somehow 6 30am when we have been doing night watches for the last 4 nights does not make one wish to have a big champagne celebration so we had a small glass of wine and a cup of tea!!!!
We will be here for at least 6 months maybe 8 as we explore Ecuador and Peru and go to Canada in September and New Zealand in October. It will seem strange not to be sailing off somewhere and to have no real agenda. We did book to hike the Inca Trail at Machu Pichu on September the 2nd for 4 days—this is such a heavily booked trail it was the earliest we could get— it will be a thrill.
We feel as though we have reached a milestone on our journey as we are now in the southern hemisphere—at what moment did the water run down the pipes the other way??
One last note for this blog—we did manage to get in through the sometimes 5foot deep sandbar to come in a 6pm. There is a lower high tide and seeing as our catamaran only has a 4 foot draft they decided to bring us in so a great night at anchor!!!
Baria Caraquez, where we are appears to be very pretty—more like Mexican ports than we have had since. The weather is much cooler than Costa Rica and Panama and it is the dry season so will be very pleasant.
We look forward to having a lot of time to explore these countries and will keep in touch with our new adventures