Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Banos: Motorcycle, Monkey, Massage

Spent the last two days in Banos. This place is great, but I can´t stay here much longer or I will spend all my money. My first night here I was going to take it easy, but couldn´t sleep and went out to get a beer. Ended up meeting up with a bunch of other travelers, and after playing some pool, started dancing and drinking heavily. Danced Salsa with an Ecuadorian salsa teacher we met, the best salsa dancer i´ve ever seen, and after we made fools of ourselves he gave us all impromptu drunken lessons, followed by hours of intense hiphop dancing and amateur breakdancing (everyone tried, including me, we all looked like fools, it was great). Tied the night up with some MJ and Elvis Presley. Good time. Ended up having lunch with the salsa dancer the next day, nice guy.

Day 2, I rent a motorcycle for four hours and drive to Pailon Del Diablo, a famous waterfall. The ride was amazing. On the walk down I passed a group of 4 hippies traveling all over south america with nothing but a small backpack and two guitars. They were from Uraguay, Spain, Argentina, and Brazil. These were some of the coolest people I¨ve ever met. It was one of their birthdays, so they were drinking a bottle of wine, which they shared with me, and then we went down to the waterfall together. They didn´t have any money, and didn´t realize there was a 1 dollar entrance fee, so I treated them as a birthday gift, and we climbed up to this huge waterfall, crawled along a rediculously short stone cave to stand underneath it on the cliff face, and then had lunch together by the waterfall, sandwitches they made on the spot from cheese, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, and bread. really delicious. We walked across a bridge looking for a place to relax and play guitar, and we met these people who had a house ten minutes through the jungle by the waterfall. These two israely guys invited us to join them, and we went and drank lemonade and played guitar in this beautiful little cabin. It was incredible.

TOday I split a full day motorcycle rental with an American fellow I met named David, and we rode all the way to Puyo, about 65 kilometers which drops more then 500meters through the mountains and through several long tunnels. Unbelievable ride, lot of long curves and straightaways and all along a river. In Puyo theres not much to do, but we went to a monkey reserve where they adopt illegal monkeys and reintroduce them to the wild. The monkeys climbed all over u and played with us, at one point I had five monkeys on me! This was tons of fun.

After lunch of roast chicken in Puyo, we rode back to BaƱos, and got 80 minute massages for 25$. Hot stones, oils, lotion, a facial with cucmbers and everything, and all kinds of wierd stuff. Awesome nonetheless, but not mindblowing. It was more swedish massage and I would have preferred deep tissue massage. The cucumbers were hilarious though.

Tomorrow I´m heading to Macas, hopefully for a peace corps thanksgiving, if not I´ll ust explore the rainforest, and then buy a raw turkey and cry myself to sleep cuddling it. Thats all for now.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Torrino grabbing some breakfast (thats a calf)

This flower makes me think of infinity

Water on Leaves in the morning
A Woodburning I did

Birds in the mist

Mounains in the Mist

Just mountains

Maria cooks me a freshly roasted Cuy for my last lunch on the Finca

Heading South

Hitting a bus tomorrow morning to Banos, to start my trip south towards Peru. Two or so days in Banos, famous for it's hot springs, followed by Macas, in the rainforest, and then heading to Cuenca, Loja, and possibly Vilcabamba, before getting a bus from Loja to Piura across the border. From then it's working my way south through Peru towards Lima and Cusco, where I will probably get a 30 hour bus back to Quito before my flight home. Not bringing my computer, but will post more in internet cafes along the way.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thoughts on Leaving and a message to future volunteers

Puppy (Para Comer? No.)

I really don't know what to think about leaving. I really love this place, and I love the people, but there are also many reasons I wish to leave. I'm clearly restless, it's becoming more and more evident to me as I'm lost to my thoughts at night. I find myself getting bored faster with the menial labor on the farm, and wonder how the people who exist eternally in this life can manage it. I guess if I weren't so overstimulated by the different world that is the USA it would be different, but as it is I am super ADHD, and it's starting to hit me. I've read 1400 pages of the books my mother brought me, and am hoping the last long enough for me to exchange them at some hostel before I head to Peru.
Another reason I need to leave is because I am itching for adventure. The lack of amenities here doesn't bother me, it never really has, I can skip showers and running water no problem, but what is starting to eat at my soul is the stillness, the simplicity. This is one of the great ironies of my life. I try so hard to find this meaning, I link it to Buddhism and whatever ideals I can find, and try so hard to find solace, through meditation, through places like Las Tolas, but in that very search I am existing as the essence of movement. I am trying to find stillness by moving. I know that this is an indication that I am not ready for what I am looking for, but I also see that because I am aware of that, I can believe that there is something worth looking for.
My greatest fear here, the one which stalks my mind whenever it's free to wander, is that there is no stillness at the end of the journey. That I am destined to wander forever in search of something that I am growing further and further away from simply by the nature of my wanderings. I am afraid that maybe this is the curse of the wanderer, and that if so it is too late for me, that perhaps given my overseas childhood, my individuality and constant search, that my soul has already been burned into the form of the wanderer. There are worse things, and I am torn between being afraid of this and trying to come to terms with it.
Add caption

My emotions regarding my imminent departure from Las Tolas are a perfect example of this struggle. To stay here, for longer, not even just for the remaining month of my travels, but for an indefinite time would force me to solace, to come to truly exist in this world, not just pass through it. The same way that the last two weeks of the school year pass slower then the whole rest of the year, knowing now that I am leaving, my time here seems to draw on, but were I to be here indefinitely, I think perhaps the case would be different. As it is, I am leaving, and the knowledge that I can, and that freedom that I have, is a lure for my soul. I am drawn once again towards adventure, towards movement, and I wonder where the place is, or if I will ever find it, where I can finally stop moving and just be.
I know this all seems like some philosophical mumbo-jumbo, and it is. It doesn't mean I'm depressed or unhappy, it just means I'm lost, and that's my natural state, thats why I'm wandering around trying to find myself. Fortunately, in the process I have the presence of mind to acknowledge the wonderful things in the world around me, and each day I marvel at the beauty of the cloud shrouded mountains swathed in capes of jungle which soar into every vista, I smile at each new bird crouched on a tree nearby crunching on something, I revel in the sound of rain playing symphonies on the tin roof as I lay in bed at night, and my heart rises and falls with each crescendo. Life is amazing, really, really amazing, and even if I have no idea what it means or what I'm doing with it, at least I can appreciate it, and I am doing just that.
Me and Adrian on the Finca

With that in mind I'm ready to go appreciate somewhere new, but I will never forget the lessons I've learned here, the love I've found, lost and found, the people who have brought my into their homes and their hearts, and the beautiful things which have reserved a place of honor in my memories.
For anyone who may read this and is considering going to Las Tolas, go. Life is short, and more important then the places you see before you die, more important than famous tourist attractions you use as calling cards at cocktail parties, are the places you find within yourself, the places you feel. Las Tolas is a place where I have learned to feel myself, and that is the greatest gift I can take from this place. The greatest gift I can give to you is my story, my experience, and my lessons, so that you might have the courage to walk your own path through this wonderful place and leave your own mark upon this town, and leave with its mark upon you.

Man this place is beautiful

Birdwatching, teaching english again, beat by schoolgirls at soccer

A Garca

Only six more days in Las Tolas, and I've got alot of mixed emotions. It's been an interesting week. I take it from the weather that 'winter' has finally arrived, as it's been pouring rain nonstop for four days now. Pouring. The conception of seasons is interesting here, it seems as if seasons are unrelated to time, as last week when it was warm Alonso was telling me it was summer. But then the rains start, and suddenly it's winter. There's nothing in between. These last few days have been very wet, which I think makes my being about to leave a little bit easier.
I've had a pretty standard week. The one big new thing I did was go birdwatching with Salomon. We set off in the lechero early in the morning and got off at the last stop, which happens to be the Finca I work on, but then continued down the road instead of taking the path to the Finca. We got incredibly lucking in the first few minutes, seeing some black and red tucans, red black and white carpenters, tiny yellow tangerines, a beautiful green and blue tucanet, and several others. This part was really awesome. We saw various other birds as we walked further down the road deeper into the forested mountains, but the first few mintues were the best. We saw some cool vultures, Garcos (which are white stork-like birds), and several others.
Unfortunately, around 9:30 or so it got really, really cloudy, and it became impossible to see anything else. We walked to someones farm to grab a chainsaw which Salomon needed on his farm later, and then headed back. I could have hired and called a car to take me back to the village, but as I was only a couple of kilometers from the farm, I had Salomon drop me off on his motorcycle and I went to the farm for the rest of the day.
a bird
Two birds

I had lunch and then spent the evening cleaning sugarcane and later cooking Panela. I slept on the farm, and it rained hard all night, and in the morning, leaving two foot deep mud everywhere. That day I cooked Panela all morning, and cleaned and hauled more sugarcane. We made at least seventy-five bricks, about 60$ worth, but I am pretty sure they cleared at least a hundred bricks by the end of the day. That was thursday.
I rode back to town on the motorcycle through torrential rain, after hiking back to the road through deep mud. I was with Elvirea again, and I was sure I was going to fall into mud banks at least five times on the trip. Elvirea made me feel better by pointing out all the spots where other people had fallen with her on the bike. 'I thought no one has ever been hurt on a motorcycle here?' I said, or as much in Spanish. 'No one's ever hurt, but they fall all the time.' Huh.
At anyrate, I didn't fall, and halfway back Salomon passed us on his bigger bike and took Elvirea, which left me to ride back alone, with a huge smile, kicking up puddles and arriving in the village totally soaked, and ready for a trickle of lukewarm shower water, to realize that the water was out in the village (and has been for four days). C'est la vie. Eso es la vida.
Friday I went to teach English again in San Luis with Cecillia. It was great fun. The kids were thrilled to see me, and I taught them how to say on, and under, in sentences, along with a bunch of review of animals, food, house objects, and of course, head-shoulders-knees and toes. After lunch we played soccer, girls vs. guys, which was hilarious. Everytime I got the ball all the girls screamed in terror, and all the guys screamed in Jubilation. We ended up losing 0-1, but it was a great game. I didn't play my hardest, as a teacher and three feet above the next person I would have probably hurt someone, but in all honesty we got beat by a bunch of little school-girls. Eso es la vida. Tons of fun nonetheless. It was dry all morning, and as soon as we got back to the village it started pouring again.
That night there was a goodbye celebration for the French girls, which involves them being 'pied' with a cake, as in having their faces pushed into a giant cake. Hilarious. The cake was delicious and they then proceeded to spend two hours picking out jewelery from Marianna and Rene. I'm sad to see them go, they were good company, but they invited me to come stay with them in Lyons, France, an offer I fully intend to take them up on at some point.
Lara and Miranda after getting caked

There's a new volunteer here, another Aussie from Melbourne, just for the week, named Stuart, whom everyone calls Stuartlittle, with a horrible accent. This is funny as hes taller then me, and thus the tallest person in the village (Damn, ousted!).

Killing a pig, cooking some pizza, all in a days work

Pizza Pizza Pizza!

It's been an eventful week since I got back to Las Tolas. Theres a couple of new volunteers, which makes for new company, but they are only here until Friday. A mother and two daughters, from Lyons, France, but they are of English background so they all speak perfect english. On Sunday I showed them around Pacto, and we went down and swam in the waterfall.
On Monday I was supposed to go to the finca, and woke up at 6am to get reaady for the 6:30 Lechero amid mountins of confusion. First someone told me I wasn't going, so I went back to bed. Then someone told me I could go if I wanted to. So I got up. Then I was told again I wasn't needed, so I went to bed. I got three or four more mixed messages which I gave up trying to comprehend, and was in bed at 6:35 when someone came into my room shouting, the Lechero's here you have to run! So I threw my clothes on and ran out to the Lechero without any of my Finca stuff. Rumor was we were killing a pig.

The following gets graphic. If you don't want all the gruesome, bloody details, skip down to the >>>>s.

I got to the farm and after a big breakfast we went and got the pig. Now I'm a pretty strong stomached fellow, and I have to say the first ten minutes of this process were really tough (that didn't stop me from eating it for lunch). You drag the pig next to fence and tie its head to one post and another rope to its rear leg, and drag it back until the pig falls on its belly. It's screaming bloody murder this whole time. This was tough to listen to. Then you turn it over, and while a couple people hold it in place (me being one of them), someone stabs it in the heart with a cooking knife, right next to the front left leg. You slide the knife back and forth a bit to presumably cut the aorta, although I imagine it just lacerates the heart a bit. Someone holds a bowl until the hole, which is held open with the knife, while the lifeblood pours out, in huge spurts, into the bowl. The pig started fighting back at this point, and knocked me and a couple people back in its death-throes (This pig was 133 pounds without guts, blood, or a head) but we managed to hold it down while it died, although we spilled blood all over the place.
That was the hard part. After that it was easy. The emotional part was over after the killing. Then it's just bacon. Before you guy the pig or anything, you have to burn all the hair off the skin. You do this with a massive, seemingly handmade blowtorch and a big canister of gas, which we hauled in that morning from the Lechero. We singed this thing until it was basically totally black, I thought we were practically cooking it, it took about 40 minutes of straight torching to get both sides and all the legs, occasionally scraping away the burnt hair and outer layers of skin.
Next you drag the pig onto a couple of boards, laid out for this purpose, and scrape all the char away with cooking knives (including a knife recently gifted by my mother, which everyone was super happy about, because it was "perfect for killing pigs". Hurrah yo yo ma). You rinse if off and the pig is back to pig color, and then the gutting begins. Cut all the way along the belly, slit the throat, and remove the hocks by slicking around the joint and the cutting through the cartilage. The pig is then pulled open, spread-eagle, and the guts are removed piece by piece, stopping to remove bowl-fulls of extra blood on the way. Basically every part is used. All the excess fat is removed and later cooked into lard. Some of the guts are cooked for food, others are fed to the dogs, and others disapear into random pots and I choose not to ask where they end up, despite strange things appearing in soup for days.
When the pig is all cleaned out, and all excess fat removed, the head is cut off. This is what the family saves to eat, the rest of the pig is sold at 1.40$ a pound. I helped to drag the carcass into a sack and load it onto a mule, and we then walked back to the road, where a hired truck was waiting. We loaded up the piggy.
We needed to get the motorcycle back to town, so I road ahead of the truck, and then hopped in after dropping the bike off at the house. Mecias and I went with the truck to Nanegalito where we sold the pig to a shop filled with carcasses. 133 pounds of pig. I bought some ice creams which we ate on the way back, stopping to pig up, er excuse me, pick up some old ladies and a truckful of school children at one point. The rest of the day was lazy.
Today I went to the Finca again in the morning to clean sugarcane. They've built a new wood burning oven in the kitchen, and I joked that it was for Pizza, at which point basically everyone told me that they had never eaten pizza. I was dumbstruck. We're cooking pizza, today, for lunch, I said. Having no idea what's in pizza dough, I had them make normal bread dough with 3/4 the yeast. That worked fine. I quit the cane field around 11 to help cook, and all the women gathered around and oohed and aahed and took notes, which I found hilarious.
I cooked fresh tomatoes, onions, hot peppers, and oregano into a pretty damn tasty sauce, on the open fire of course. I spread out the pizza dough like a pro, even doing the tossing fist thing, which I always screw up but managed to get right, and everyone was dumbfounded. I loaded the pizza up with sauce and local cheese, and then threw on some diced roast chicken, which had come out of the oven five minutes before, as well as some larger diced onions. I told Alonso to get the oven real hot, and he said it was, and then started to add wood after I had put the pizza in, which bugged me, but it worked out ok, it just took 20 minutes longer then it should have to cook.
The fam munches on some pizza

The pizza came out delicious looking, despite the cheese not melting like normal cheese. I doled it out and everyone munched out, and said nice things, which I thought were just pleasantries until the whole pizza was consumed after everyone had eaten mountains of rice. I was very proud, and all the ladies were talking about different ingredients they were going to try next time. I made them promise to cook me a pizza next week.
I rode back to town in the afternoon on the bike with Elvirea, my first time riding with a slightly larger person. This is tough on a 100cc bike, and it couldn't make it up some of the hills, but we made it there with only slight incident. I don't think the bike was very happy though, it went down about 7 inches on the suspension whenever she sat on it. Still fun.
Oh my god what have I done
Tomorrow I'm going birdwatching with Salomon in the morning, and probably working in the artisan shop in the evening. And then back to La Minga, the backbreaking hole-digging bridge-building campsite which seems like it will end on Thursday, but I'm kind of looking forward to it. More Later, and details on the upcoming trip to Peru!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hummingbird Pictures

Mom visits

Dropped my mother off at the airport this morning (at 6am, gah) after she spent a wonderful week here visiting me. Props to my mother for having the wherewithal to visit her son in a tiny village in Ecuador. It was a great week. But let me step back to the beginning.

After returning to Quito from Canoa via night bus I went to a wonderful hostel in central Quito called the Secret Garden. This was the best hostel I've ever stayed at, not super cheap, at 8.80 a night, but wireless Internet, clean and comfortable, with a beautiful terrace with a spectacular view of Quito and free coffee and tea all day. Good food as well, at reasonable prices. Stayed there for two days, with Nina leaving for Colombia on the first day. Went to the Cathedral in Quito with some other explorers, and the next day to the Mitad del Mundo, the center of the world, and then to some restaurant Andrew Zimmern ate a Cuy (Guinea pig) at.

Afterwards I stayed at the Duchicela's house in order to meet my mother at the airport. She arrived in the evening right around sunset, and the Duchicela's were nice enough to take me to the airport to get her. She was excited to get here, and her flight went off without a hitch.The next morning we drove to Katcha near Riobamba, Chimborazo province with the Duchicela's, including Olgita, Lucho's mother, who is a truly wonderful person. We spent the day doing tourist stuff. We went to a lagoon, saw some local weavers, spent a lot of time driving around. In the evening we drove around Riobamba and saw more things. It was about 10 hours in the car over the day. Too much. But fun to see that stuff nonetheless. Back to Quito, then off to Las Tolas the next day.

My mom loved LT. When we got in the whole family was there, and I mean the whole family. There were maybe ten people watching us eat dinner. This was slightly strange. I made a lot of jokes to try and ease the tension, and everyone joked about me being loco. They are probably right.

Went to the farm the next day, in the Lechero. Spent the morning walking down to the waterfall, and then climbed back up and had a lunch of fried tilapia, rice, boiled yucca, and salad. I had really wanted my mom to have a motorcycle ride back to the village, but there was only one bike, and it's not powerful enough for two people. I was pissed, but I didn't show it. She rode back in an afternoon lechero, and I rode the bike back.

Spent the evening chilling with Marianna and Rene, with my mother buying a bunch of Jewelry.
Went to Mindo the next day, and wandered around, saw the butterfly and hummingbird museum. In the afternoon we took the cable car up the mountain to see some waterfalls. It was a tough hike, and we got kind of lost at some of the forks, but we managed to see three or four waterfalls and hiked back. Stayed in a ludicrously expensive hotel (43.00$ a night!!! But its ok, mom paid), and then back to Quito the next morning at 6:30. Yuck.

Spent the morning in Quito seeing the Guayasamin museum and the Capillo del Hombre again, and then in the evening explored the old city. It was fun. Saw my mom off the airport this morning, and now I'm taking a lazy day before heading back to the village tomorrow. Good stuff. Thanks for coming mom.
Guayasamin's Guitar Player

Me and G
My and my Mom 

My Mom and Alonso next to a waterfall sideways
My mom and a weaver in Katcha
The Secret Garden Hostel in Quito

Butterfly coming out of the cocoon

More sideways waterfalls

My mom enjoying a couple of Pina Coladas