Tag Archives: Ecuador

Sail me to the coconuts

www.travelola.org

The time arrived. I was really going to do this: sail across the Pacific Ocean from Galapagos, Ecuador to Tahiti in the Society Islands of French Polynesia with a crew I’d barely met and a captain who sounded experienced and sensible on paper but where I had no real certainty of the weighting of his reputation.

Trust your gut instinct’, a friend told me, ‘if it doesn’t feel right, don’t get on the boat’.

Another friend told me a horrific story about a guy who had spent a two week ocean crossing being raped by the skipper so as not to be thrown overboard. It seemed like the worst scaremongering story out there, surely something so sick couldn’t be true?

Rather than making me fearful of life, travelling has taught me that with a bit of savvy and a good dose of openness and interest in the world, the chances are that good people will enter your life. Call me naïve, if you like, but the people whom I’ve met and the experiences that I’ve had have helped me to re-trust life. At some point you have to trust, I think.

So here I was, keen for a sailing adventure, excited to be doing something so spontaneous and random. Of course, if it felt even a bit dodgy, I wouldn’t step on board.

Once again though, life threw me a trump card. The captain and crew, on early impressions, seemed pretty sound. All men, I had to feel okay about spending at least three weeks non-stop with this little clan who had already established themselves on the sail over from Panama.

I decided to go with it.

Although I was only guaranteed a ride to Tahiti (mainly because there were no stops between Galapagos and Tahiti), I was hopeful that if I pulled my weight they’d keep me on as crew for the next leg to Tonga and then Coff’s Harbour, Australia.

But no plans. Go with the randomness and see where I end up.

So, sail me – no, sail with me – to the coconuts, to the exotic paradise of Tahiti where the beautiful, world-class surfing wave of Teahupoo peels a couple of kilometres out to sea, where the award winning tribal tattoo artist Mana Farrons makes his home in Papeete, where wild pigs roam the forests and where palm trees fringe beaches of white sands and fallen husks.

And where my fantasies of tropical life will meet with their reality. How can I be disappointed?

Advertisements

9 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, australia, beaches, ecuador, nature, oceania, pacific, sailing, sea, south america, tahiti, travel

When travel and terror collide

www.travelola.orgBack in October 2002, two bombs went off in the midst of Kuta nightlife, killing 202 people, many of whome were travellers enjoying a bit of social time in Bali. Ten years on, survivors have returned to Indonesia to remember those who died in the blast.

I’ve met a few people on my travels who document their journeys, but often, like me, their writing focuses on foreign intrigue, on misunderstandings, on the quirks of being out of your comfort zone. Some travel writing goes deep and addresses the big ones, but so much stuff out there seems to only skim the surface of cultures and countries that would more than likely require a lifetime to properly understand.

And now as my own written journey looks to leave South America once again, I can’t help but think how fortunate I was during my travels throughout Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. No muggings, no violence, no hold-ups. South America, many people warned me, was still a highly dangerous place to visit, particularly as a solo female traveller. For some reason, I was undeterred, and I refused to buy into the scaremongering.

And South America showed me her beautiful sides, her warmth, generosity and a little dash of chaos. People opened their doors to me, invited me to socials, looked after me when I was sick and alone. And they encouraged me to keep an open mind and heart. I did at times feel uneasy, there were a few moments of military interrogation that shook me up, and in some places there were guys in the street shadows bearing batons. But no dramas for me, thankfully.

But of course not everyone is so lucky, I appreciate that. When I heard about the recent kidnapping of two tourists on the Ecuador-Colombia border, I stopped in my tracks. One of the captured women was my age. The girls were doing the same Cuyabeno jungle tour that I had done back in October 2011. And they described wading through the same mud that I vividly recall.

It could easily have been me. Not that that’s the point, but rather it made me reflect on travelling and timing, on coincidence and luck. These girls did nothing different to what I would have done. It’s not as though they could have been more savvy about the situation, unless you suggest that they should never have visited Ecuador in the first place (and the idea of never leaving ones home comforts out of fear would surely only serve to narrow our views on the world, to close off to different cultures and people? No, please don’t go there.). The girls were released, evidently traumatised, but alive.

Ecuador with its varied terrain and climate and wildlife remains my favourite South American country to travel in. This news won’t discourage me from going back, but it might make me more aware, more alert. Not that that would necessarily make a difference, though. The girls, having been through such an ordeal, may well feel very differently. I’d be curious to know whether it has affected their entire perception of the country.

Because how can such an event not impact on your entire psyche? On your attitude? Different people, I guess, will find different coping mechanisms for traumatic travel stories, ones that hopefully won’t quash their zest for adventure.

Returning to Bali in 2012, one girl who has worked towards finding some solace in the aftermath of the bombings is Hanabeth Luke.

In January 2012 I temporarily put down my backpack in New South Wales, Australia where I met Hanabeth, – a surf chick tomboy mixed with a good dash of feminine quirk and a twist of British. During chats I discovered that she was writing a book, something to do with the upcoming ten year anniversary of the Bali attacks, but I didn’t pry. It seemed too sensitive a subject for strangers.

As time has passed I’ve learnt more, although I’ve undoubtedly learnt more about the spirit of Hanabeth than the event itself. Being in the now is where we’ve been at, in some way as important as remembering. But I will read her book, and I will try to understand what surviving the Bali bomb feels like, what losing a love actually means. Right now it is beyond my comprehension.

The people returning to the place of the 2002 Bali bombings have had ten years now to try to make sense of what happened, ten years to grieve and reach some level of acceptance. I can’t imagine the process ever stops, and that for different people there will be different ways of working through the pain. Writing one’s journey, for example.

4 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, culture, dancing, ecuador, health, indonesia, random, solo travel, south america, south east asia, surf

Baby, can I drive your boat?

I’d climbed Volcán Sierra Negra in the morning and was now back in the middle of Puerto Vilamil on the island of Isabela trying to figure out how to get back to Isla Santa Cruz where I was hoping to meet the captain of a catamaran bound for French Polynesia.

www.travelola.org

Boat building in Puerto Vilamil marina

A hitch later and I arrived at the marina where I asked a couple of guys perched on some railings about boat times. ‘That man there’, one said, gesturing towards a guy walking towards us, ‘he’ll take you for $30’.

Half an hour later I found myself riding up top in the captain’s cab – up on the flybridge – whilst twenty nine kids and their teacher snuggled in downstairs under the sun protection of a tarp and the safety of a burly deckhand.

www.travelola.org

Leaving Isla Isabela behind, Galapagos

We bounced along, away from a sunny Isabela and towards an increasingly greying sky. Rain started to patter down.

‘Can you…?’ asked the skipper, pointing to the wheel and the captain’s seat, having clearly remembered my earlier jests about being able to captain his boat. My friend Ollie had pulled a similar trick back in 2011 during a trip between Koh Tao and the mainland in Thailand. Whilst he may have got away with dishing out a bit of bullshit in order to convince the crew that he could captain the small ferry, why did I think I could pull the same cheek?

‘I can drive it, you know’, I’d told him, ‘can I drive it?’ It had been a mischievous ask, and now he was off of his pew and I had to deliver. I jumped over into the hot seat whilst he pulled across the rain screen and secured things up top.

And in those few minutes that I turned the wheel the wrong way and in the moments that I tried to steer us on the least choppy path possible, all my Galapagos photos went sliding down the tarpaulin. My little camera made a secret escape attempt. Oblivious, I continued taking my steering seriously until captain finished up his rain mission and returned to his rightful duties.

I sat back in my co-pilot seat and pondered what lay ahead in my adventures beyond this Galapagos trip. This little moment at sea and at the helm had got me thinking: how would it feel to do three weeks without stopping? The stretch from Galapagos to Tahiti could either destroy me or cure me of my ocean fears, I figured.

And then, finally, I realised that my camera was missing. I did a panicked scout about, and the captain killed the engines. Because there she was, nestled on the edge of the tarpaulin, waiting for a big wave to give her enough lift to fly off into the sea. Burly deckhand reached up as we held our breaths; he would either knock her into the ocean depths or save her from a watery death.

Thankfully it was the latter and the remainder of the trip, although wet and stomach lurchingly rough, was accompanied by a little bit of fuzziness. My Galapagos photos may be poor compared to what other people manage to capture, but they’re still my photos, some of my memories.

www.travelola.org

Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz comes into view

Ah, another little adventure with a happy ending. (And I meant the fact we got the school group across from Isla Isabela to Isla Santa Cruz safe and sound. Of course. What were you thinking?!)

4 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, nature, sailing, solo travel, south america

I’m just off to climb a volcano

‘What are you up to tomorrow?’ asked a friend during a Skype call. ‘Ah, I think I’m going to go and climb a volcano’, I told him, ‘an active volcano’. The island of Isabela is, after all, made up of six volcanoes (five of which are active) and to visit the Galapagos and not take in some volcanic splendour would surely be a half-hearted effort. As with many activities on the islands, local laws require you to be accompanied by a guide so doing it totally off my own back wasn’t going to be an option. I booked in for the $35 tour.

Tomorrow had arrived and here I was with a group of unknowns sheltering from the damp air, drizzle and grey skies, waiting to start the great ascent to Volcán Sierra Negra, one of the largest active volcanos in the world. But with this turn of bad weather and such poor visibility, would the trek go ahead?

It hadn’t started like this. Oh no.

Less than an hour earlier I had ran through sun soaked streets and arrived, in a sweat and seven minutes late, to an empty Tropical Adventures shop. No cars were waiting. No tour guides around to tell me off. They had left without me. Oh, crap.

www.travelola.org

Running through the streets of Puerto Vilamil on Isabela, Galapagos

I started to walk back towards the main square in search of breakfast. A jeep drove by, five, maybe six people crammed inside. Someone waved. Was that one of the guys from yesterday’s Los Tuneles tour? Another car beeped and pulled up alongside me. “Quick! Get in! You’re late!”

No rucksack, no breakfast and late. It was shameful. I made my apologies. People were gracious, on the surface at least, but maybe their tolerance was tested when half an hour later we were still driving through the streets of Puerto Vilamil doing random pick-ups and drop-offs and who-knows-whats.

And so, having driven north east from Puerto Vilamil upwards into an increasingly hostile weather front, here I was standing snuggled in with a bunch of about twenty strangers, and all those efforts to get here seemed to be in vain. It was surely a no go. This weather encouraged thoughts of duvet days and movie sessions, of chatting and playing music by the fireplace with friends.

www.travelola.org

The starting point

www.travelola.org

Some of the group before the hike began

Stop. Doubt not. This weather was, apparently, totally normal. ‘English speaking with me’, said our young guide who later told me how much he loved doing this job in between surfing the islands various breaks. The variety in landscape and climate, he told me, made Galapagos the best place to live.

And what about city fun? Wild, chaotic moments? Didn’t he crave a bit of breaking loose at times?  ‘The mainland’, he said, ‘sometimes’. I found out from a few people that Guayaquil and Quito (on the mainland of Ecuador) offer them an escape at times, but do nothing in trying to tempt them away from the tranquillity of the Galapagos Islands.

For an hour we climbed along muddy, cracked pathways. The drive up must have dealt with a good chunk of the 1,124m altitude because the physical climb was the gentlest I could have imagined. As we ambled along, I chatted with French tourists and a young German couple, with an Argentinian wanderer and a chatty entrepreneur who had left his entire family and cultural sensibilities behind in India for a new life in Australia. As travelling often allows, I saw way beyond what was right in front of me, leant more about the world in a broader sense.

www.travelola.org

Grassy, gentle paths

At the main lookout I realised my expectations of what a volcano might look like were limited to glossy photos in magazines that showed spewing lava flow and an excess of red and orange hues tipped with flashes of bright white heat.

This expanse of flat, cracked blackness that stretched off into the far distance was strikingly different to the volcano images in my mind. The drop off into the crater, although steep, was not as dramatic or as deep as I might have imagined, and swaths of clouds were swept along the surface by a moody breeze.

www.travelola.org

Sierra Negra to my left…

www.travelola.org

…and to my right

It was, undoubtedly, a unique landscape, all 10 kilometres of parched rockiness. We stood for a little while and looked out over this section of Sierra Negra. As recently as 2005 she had belched up a load of lava, and before that, 1979. There was a good chance that she might erupt again, right now. A sign stated ‘since the magma chambers are approximately two kilometres deep, there are cracks where every so often the fumes vent or lava erupts’. It could happen.

Onwards we walked, skirting along the eastern side of Sierra Negra, our grassy path contrasting with the bleak gravel of her belly spread out below us. The landscape started to change. More rocks, more slip, more hostility.

www.travelola.org

Landscape change

www.travelola.org

North east side of Sierra Negra crater, heading towards Chico

Those in the group who didn’t have boats to catch back to Santa Cruz continued on over shale and scatter towards Volcán Chico whilst the rest of us turned around and backtracked through ferns and hairy trees, walking and talking and stopping for a quick picnic lunch. Within two hours we were back at a still drizzly starting point, ready to descend back down to Puerto Vilamil.

www.travelola.org

Ferns and hairy trees

One of the most active places for volcanic activity? Pah. Really? It all seemed very gentle and relaxed, dreamy even. Today, in any case.

5 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, ecuador, hikes, mountains, natural wonders, nature, south america, surf

A little slice of paradise

www.travelola.org

Some of the iguanas having a lazy social

I’m sitting on a little stretch of beach in  Puerto Villamil near to a hotel whose outdoor areas are covered in a blanket of sunbathing iguanas. I think back over what has been an interesting year full of big decisions, of solo traveling, of various dramas that have been emotionally consuming but far from unique in the bigger human picture. It has, undoubtedly, been full-on.

But now, I realise, I’m peaceful and content and grateful. I feel so, so lucky. The people I’ve met, the struggles I’ve overcome, the guidance, the goodness, the inspiration I’ve found at home and along my way. My eyes have been opened, my heart healed.

And then bang! – in a moment of stillness this great wave of love for life hits me. (Reading this may make some of you squirm and look away, but most of you will get it. At least I hope you will.)

And I’m feeling this all in paradise. Alone. On a beach.

www.travelola.org

Empty beach at Puerto Vilamil,

www.travelola.org

Before anyone turned up

A warm salty breeze dries my hair as I sit shading from a strong sun. I look around.

In the distance, boats and liveaboards bob about on a turquoise sea with a bit of chop. White seahorses ride messy waves that splash over black lava rocks and break onto a stretch of damp, golden sand. I can hear the light sound of laughter as a girl and boy scramble around on sharp stones and dip into a nearby rock pool.

www.travelola.org

Isla Isaebla, Galapagos by boat

www.travelola.org

Children playing in the rock pools

Spiky, foot-long iguanas amble away from the water’s edge, back to their basking point on the wall of the deserted beach front hotel. A man wanders down and climbs into a hammock, rocking to the sound of small crashing waves and music that is spilling out of an empty, rundown bar.

www.travelola.org

Sunbathing iguanas

www.travelola.org

Daytime bar desertion

For a moment, before the shrill whistle of a father calling his kids pierces the air and before an approaching tour group encroaches my space, I have my little slice of paradise.

La Isla Isabela, tu es bella.

Leave a comment

Filed under activity & sport, beaches, ecuador, nature, random, sailing, solo travel, south america, wildlife

Why didn’t I think this through? Reality kicks in

www.travelola.org

Something to get excited about, or at least be grateful for

What would you do if you rocked up to this tropical slice of Galapagos paradise with enough cash for a hotel room, a drink and absolutely nothing else? Panic? Or trust life?

I bought my ticket for the boat that would ferry me from Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz to Isla Isabela at 13:55PM, ran to the marina and made it with a minute to spare. We should have left at 14:00PM, but time ticked by and my breathing returned to normal as we sat bobbing around watching boats load up for inter-island trips.

At this point I should have gone to the cashpoint. I didn’t. But not to worry. There was an ATM on the island of Isabela, supposedly. All good. I could get some out when I got there.

This is where fancy free travel, last minute decisions and lack of research come undone. Of course there wasn’t an ATM.

You don’t take cards?’ I ask Fabricio at Tropical Adventures when I went to book a US$60 tour to visit some volcanic tunnels and craters, ‘Oh, okay… where is the cashpoint’. He looked at me and smiled. ‘No ATMs. There is no a way to get out money in the town. Well, maybe it’s possible’.

Together with an older couple I took to the streets of Puerto Villamil, the main habitation on Isla Isabela. They needed money too, and they needed me. Their Spanish was terrible. I should have charged for my time, been entrepreneurial. I needed the money.

Our first stop at a minimarket proved fruitless, only accepting cards from Banco de Guayaquil or American Express. They sent us on to Hotel Albermarle. Why? Who knows. Maybe because the woman there spoke English.

There is no ATM on Isabela, no way to get cash out ‘, she said, ‘but you could try MoneyGram or Western Union’. Both instant money transfers carried hefty fees but to regain my independence and address my complete helplessness it was going to have to happen.

I tried to do a money transfer but it was declined, possibly because I tried to send money to myself. Maybe, however, it was because a few days earlier the fraud squad at my bank picked up that my card may have been copied in Bolivia and had since placed restrictions on my account. Oh travelling, oh South America. Either way, it wasn’t happening.

I stopped for a moment and thought about my options. I didn’t even have enough cash to leave the island the following day, let alone stay another night, take tours and see the place. How totally silly.

I did what I never wanted to do. I emailed my dad to bail me out. Oh, the shame.

Next I went to cancel my place on the tour before joining a Swede and a French guy for dinner. ‘What would you like?’ asked the waiter. I’d studied the menu and my mind. ‘Just a small beer’, I told him. It was cheaper than a juice and would leave me with 20 cents. Let the alcohol numb my frustration. I watched the other guys tuck into seafood feasts.

Back in my hotel room I was so glad I’d brought along yesterday’s leftover pasta. With no cutlery I squeeze-ate it out of its plastic storage bag. The height of glamour. Dessert was a packet of Oreos that had been squished in my bag for a week or so, but let’s keep things in perspective, at least I had dessert. A little bit of luxury.

I spent a restless night wondering how I was going to get out of this mess, whether the transfer would work, and the next morning I Skyped with my family. After an extended process including phone calls to India and the US, £300 with a £25 fee was transferred to Ecuador. But I still didn’t physically have the money and I wasn’t confident that I’d get my hands on it.

MoneyGram in Puerto Villamil was situated in a convenience store where, typically, the cashier was out on business when I showed up. I’d have to return in an hour or come back later in the day.

But wait a minute! Fabricio at Tropical Adventures had done me a huge favour when I’d tried to scrub my name off the tour list the previous night. ‘Don’t cancel’, he said, ‘I’ll see you at 08:30AM, okay?

I had a few minutes to make up my mind. In a predicament where I wasn’t confident that I could get the money but where there was definite potential for a withdrawal later in the day, would I gamble and go on the trip?

Hell yeah! Trust life, trust it will work out.

It did.

8 Comments

Filed under activity & sport, costs/money, ecuador, nature, random, sailing, south america, tours, travel

Spending the day at Tortuga Bay

Ah, Galapagos! That place of mystery through which Charles Darwin journeyed back in the autumn of 1835; those islands chock full of natural wonders, of  unusual birdlife and iguana-like creatures, of volcanic formations and varied landscapes. The Galapagos archipelago, Darwin said, is quite simply ‘a little world within itself’. Time to get in amongst it and find out for myself.

So here I am, in Puerto Ayora on the island of Santa Cruz having spent my first night crashed out in a simple yet immaculate room. I’m wondering where to go, how to start on my independent Galapagos adventure. Most visitors to the Galapagos jump on board a week-long cruise around the islands. It sounds nice, I guess, providing you get on with everyone and get lucky with a good guide. But avoiding luxury and high costs is my thing, my necessary thing, so it’s a matter of keeping it local. And keeping it real. Surely this way I can get a better idea of the place? I’m going to chat to people in the town, talk to the woman who runs the residence where I’m staying. She’ll point me in the right direction.

And she does. In fact many people do. Today, I decide, will be the day to check out Tortuga Bay. It’s close, it looks beautiful, and it’s an ideal way to taste what the Galapagos islands are about.

www.travelola.org

The pathway to Tortuga Bay

Clutching a map of the island I walk out west and it’s not long before I’m  ambling along a fine, white sand beach a few of kilometres from the town.

www.travelola.org

Arriving at Tortuga Bay

www.travelola.org

Tortuga Bay minus the tortugas (turtles)

I had anticipated crossing paths with a few more folk, but maybe I’ve hit the low season? It certainly doesn’t feel like I’m going to experience anything close to the three hundred visitors per day that this reserve typically expects. A lone surfer tries to carve up rippy waves to the left of Tortuga Bay and I see two people to the right in the far distance, the only other signs of human life.

As I get closer to the couple I see the girl crouch down, posing whilst her partner takes photos of her next to some… hang on… something moves. I squint and see that she is edging in as close as she dare to some chunky, four foot lizards oozing island laziness but whose spiky mohawks and slow, flickering tongues hint at a potential to turn nasty. In Th e Voyage of the Beagle (1836) Darwin describes this type of lizard (A. cristatus) as a ‘hideous looking creature of a dirty black colour, stupid, and sluggish in its movements’. A little harsh, maybe, but I hear him.

www.travelola.org

Lazy lizard

Around the corner I find the crowds. All fifty of them, if that. A young couple play in the sea, mouths teasing and eventually giving in to the kiss. The first kiss? A holiday romance? Families shade beneath mangrove trees and kids paddle in the calm shallows.  Here in this little lagoon it is sheltered and perfect for a relaxing afternoon dip, a significant contrast to the rougher waters around the corner.

www.travelola.org

Shallow water play in the bay

I sit down on a slither of sand and watch birds swooping and boobing, sorry, bobbing about in the water. (The boobing comes later. No blue-footed boobies for me today. Let the anticipation build.) My picnic lunch creates some curiosity and a Straited Heron moves in on my personal space. Feeding the animals and birds on the islands is, however, banned so sorry, matey, today I’m going to be selfish and enjoy my avocado, tomato and bread feast alone.

www.travelola.org

My picnic companion

As I start to make my way back through a scattering of trees and shrubs and a speckling of deserted beach towels, a guy shouts over from a small boat in amongst the mangroves. ’Puerto Ayora?’ he asks. Nah, I think I’ll walk.

www.travelola.org

Lagoon calm at home time

www.travelola.org

Perching pelicans

www.travelola.org

Looking back up Tortuga Bay towards Puerto Ayora

And I retrace my steps, back along Bahía Tortuga and past perching pelicans, back along the pristine, cacti edged pathway, back to the wardens’ hut. I sign out and sit down to pause and look down over a dusky Puerto Ayora and the visiting yachts rising and falling in the gentle swell of Academy Bay. Soon, I hope, I will make my home on one of those yachts and embark on the most daring adventure of my travels thus far: a South Pacific crossing, back towards Australia via the tropical magic of French Polynesia. Am I really going to do this?

One of the wardens comes out and perches on the wall a few metres away. I’m crucially aware of his presence, a quiet, strong guardian of this beauty spot, and I wonder whether to continue sitting in silence or to strike up a conversation.

Of course I go for the latter, studying his face as I nosy in on island life. He has kind eyes. ‘Do you ever think about working somewhere else? Going somewhere a bit busier?’ I ask him, trying to not show that I’ve noticed his visibly beating heart. A stress condition? Surely not, not in this lovely, serene environment. He fixes his gaze on the village below. No, he tells me, he can’t imagine leaving this place, not for more than a few days.

And why would he want to? Fair enough.

1 Comment

Filed under activity & sport, beaches, ecuador, hikes, nature, sailing, south america, surf, tours, wildlife

Conversational confidence (and a splash of Spanglish)

I am on a flight to the island of Santa Cruz on the Galapagos archipelago, and somehow I’ve landed a seat wedged in amongst a lively group of school kids at the back of the plane. Their teacher throws me an apologetic smile before returning to her itinerary in an earnest attempt to ignore flying objects and playful punches. And in amongst the excitement and chaos and chatter I can’t help but smile to myself. Why? Because I can understand a good chunk of what these hyperites are saying. (Oh, and the fact that I am winging my way to one of the world’s most awesome places for nature and wildlife. It’s definitely another good reason for my optimistic mood).

The desire to speak and understand Spanish had been a big decider in my choice to travel in South America. Back in September 2011 I landed in Ecuador and gave Spanish a good go, but realistically it was a half-hearted effort that all too often resulted in a Spanglish language mish-mash coloured with a splash of German and Dutch and Hebrew.

I got by, don’t get me wrong, but during this second trip to South America I wanted to immerse myself further in the language and culture of the place and not the language and culture of my fellow travellers (as interesting as it might be).

After my visit to Brazil (with its added confusion of Brazilian Portuguese), I had decided to head back into Spanish-speaking South America, roughing it out for over twenty-eight hours on two buses through Paraguay into Bolivia.

It had been over three months since I’d spoken Spanish yet once I arrived into Asunción in Paraguay I was easily able to sort out tickets and taxis and day stays in a hostel whilst the two English girls in tow stood tongue-tied.

I could suddenly speak Spanish! It came flooding back to me with renewed energy and confidence. Could I really have improved? People understood me! Oh happy day!

Because being able to speak the language, I’ve found, enables one to connect better with locals, to feel closer to a country, to understand its nuances a little better.

For example during the day-long bus journey into Bolivia, I chatted away with the guy who had taken my window seat. I found out he was Colombian with four kids aged between four and twenty-six. Through body language and Spanish we talked on and off for hours about religion and family and everything in between.

In Pucara I found myself eating lunch with a family from Santa Cruz discussing Bolivian and European politics and economies. I understood pretty much everything. Sure, their language was probably dumbed down in order to give me a chance, and of course I couldn’t babble away in too much detail and depth, but it was a conversation nonetheless. In Spanish!

When I returned to Ecuador in April 2012, I taxied to a hostel in Guyaquil. ‘Your Spanish is good’, noted the driver. We chatted away. And once at the hostel I went through the whole check-in question and answer process in easy Spanish. ‘Your Spanish is good’, they complimented. I glowed. It was a day for ego-boosts.

But, for the amount of time I’ve spent in South America I really should be a lot better. I didn’t do daily homework like the good girl I wanted to be. I hung out with other travellers and spoke English far more than I ever intended.

And I got over my shyness and embarked on conversations a lot too late.

But shoulda-woulda-coulda. I partially achieved my South America goal to have a conversation in Spanish. So long as it’s not too in-depth, tick. I can get by.

Not that I’ll stop now, oh no.

So here I am, on my way to Galapagos with only a week or so to go before I leave South America once again, and I’m starting to think of ways to keep my language dreams alive. Anyone want to be my Spanish speaking buddy when I’m back in Australia? Weekly food and chatter at mine, no English allowed. Bon appetit. Oh no. I mean buen provercho. Si.

11 Comments

Filed under culture, ecuador, language, natural wonders, south america, travel, wildlife

I just upped and went: the beauty, freedom and spontaneity of unplanned solo travel

www.travelola.org

Pondering the next move: beautiful freedom or solo decision weightiness?

One rainy day back in Sucre I felt super flat. New friends had left and moved on and I was still sick. I sat sipping some coca tea by myself in the hostel kitchen, gazing out at a blanket of greyness, the odd flash of lightning streaking the early evening sky.

At this stage I had been living out of my backpack for eight months and I was having  one of those travel moments where I felt pretty lost and alone. Travel tired? Maybe. But did I want to go home? Where was home? Nope, it wasn’t a consideration. I thought hard about what would put the spark back into my travels.

A couple of days later I booked what I hoped would be my final flight for a little while: a one way ticket to Galapagos. Why, oh why, though, was I heading back to Ecuador? And why am I once again heralding solo travel?

Travelling with someone else is beautiful.Friend, partner, lover, whatever, – to share special moments on your journey is undoubtedly something to be treasured. I met back up with a friend in Brazil, someone I’d wandered with before. Travelling with them for three months previously had been easy; decision making fluid and compromise pretty unproblematic. No mean feat when we were in each other’s pockets 24/7.

But paths and desires inevitably take different turns and when my friend announced that Colombia was the next step, I wasn’t so sure. I did want to go to Colombia but there was the ticket price to take in to account (it required a flight) and there was my own personal journey to consider. And my gut instinct told me to do something different.

Three days later, I ended up on a bus making its way through Paraguay to Bolivia. It was one of the best decisions of my travels.

Travelling in a group is fun.Bolivia turned out to be a nuisance to my health but completely blessed in terms of the people I met, the landscapes and natural wonders that I encountered and the experiences that I had.

Strangely enough, despite all the amazing things that Bolivia presented me with, most significant to me were the other travellers that I befriended. Party people, caring people, fun people, thoughtful people, adventurous people, genuine people. People a little, no, a lot like me. We clicked.

Arriving into La Paz with a few of them gave a different angle to arriving into a big, South American city. It was more fun, less of a mission. So what if I ended up changing my plans a bit so that I could stay and hang out with them for a little while? Absolutely worth it. Lake Titicaca will still be there in a few years’ time, if I choose to come back. Hopefully some of these friendships will still be around too.

But then our paths started to part. If compromise with two of you is difficult enough, try it with a group of five or more. Nah, best to go get on with your own thing and meet back up to share stories and fun times when your paths next cross.

Travelling solo is freedom. When in Sucre I wondered what would really inspire and excite and challenge me. I suddenly returned to this random thought: I have my RYA Competent Crew and Day Skipper qualifications, I’m a little scared of the massive oceans, I like to face my fears. Wouldn’t a Pacific crossing be an amazing adventure?!

Not having to consider anyone else, I got right on it. Within a few hours I’d started the research, within a few days I’d heard back from skippers who needed crew for the crossing, and within a week I had booked a one way ticket to the Galapagos Islands with no real certainty that I had a place on a boat.

But I had bucket loads of enthusiasm and a whole lot of hope and trust that life would deliver something special. If it meant I ended up stranded in the Galapagos for a few weeks, how bad could it be? A slight monetary concern, but little else.

This is what I wanted my travels and adventuring to be about. Freedom for my path to unfold.

12 Comments

Filed under bolivia, brazil, ecuador, random, sailing, solo travel, south america

Chao for now, South America

I’ve got a wonderful flight planned for you’, said the pilot of our Boeing 736 to Houston. His tone was undeniably cheery. ‘Please enjoy it, and please also enjoy the wonderful crew we have on board today’. It was barely breakfast time and love was pouring out of this guy. I wondered whether he was a believer, or whether he’d been swotting up on some self-help books or whether he was in fact on the edge of a nervous breakdown. He seemed so calm and level though, so damn happy, and my own morning grumpiness after a night of zero sleep was accentuated. I was both envious and hateful. How dare he?!

As the airplane engines started to roar and the strong sun shone through the windows and reflected off of the wing, I gazed out at the snow-capped Cotopaxi and contemplated my months in South America. Butterflies filled my stomach, feelings of excitement and apprehension and adventure. And a little bit of sadness. Was I ready to leave?

www.travelola.org

View from hostel balcony, Quito

We lifted off, the size of Quito only really appreciated from the air with its dense sprawl of colourful buildings spreading out and up into the hillsides. And somewhere down there was Rosario in Laundry Practika and Luz in Hostel Galapagos and Edith in the Simon Bolivar Spanish School. And all the other people I’ve met in Ecuador and Peru came into focus: Frank and Kelvin at Andes Camp, Sonia of Casa de mi Abuelo, Eran and longer-suffering Chen for being my travel buddies and putting up with my chaos, and so many other interesting and crazy and fun people who shared moments in my journey including Argentinian Juli who hated all the backpackers who ‘just drinking and f***ing’ and ‘I’ve come here to learn something’ Matt and  ‘Oh my god’ Miranda, and Gareth from Tourist2Townie and Robin and Avi and Rebecca and Dan and Amy and Hernan and Cait and Pablo and Raz and Matthius and Penny and Alanna and Katey, and, oh so many more. A rich mix of randoms. Gotta love it.

www.travelola.org

Sandscapes and sunsets, Huacachina, Ica, Peru

My memories of Peru will forever be linked to colour palette and environment: a yellow, rocky, dusty and inhospitable backdrop of flat desert scrubland and amazing sand dunes that reach high into the sky (the exception would be the jungly area of Machu Picchu, but I’m talking overall impressions here). Accompanying the desert landscape was a desert climate: hot and dry during the day, cold and crisp at night when chullos and woolly jumpers were a welcome wardrobe addition (llama patterned, of course). The heights of Peru caused me some problems, although I loved what some of those magical places had to offer. Pasturori and Churup? Wow. Worth every last bit of headache and shortness of breath.

www.travelola.org

Writing and refuelling with Oreos at Churup

Distances between places in Peru took some getting used to, but before long, a ten-hour journey seemed short-haul. And then there was the luxury bus travel, luxury compared to Ecuador, luxury compared to anywhere I’ve been but costing a relative premium.

I enjoyed Lima, I could live there, however Cusco grew on me with its straight-talking shoe shiners (‘very dirty your shoes’) and great places to hang out, like Maracuyea and Wachumas and The Real McCoys. But Peru was considerably more hassly than Ecuador, more desperate in some respects with kids sent out to sell sweets and old, shrivelled men making approaches for money, shaky hands outstretched. Poverty and financial disparity were visible here.

www.travelola.org

Cusco outskirts

Food highlights from both Ecuador and Peru have to be quinoa and juices of all sorts. It’s official: I am in love with quinoa soup and its wholesome, tasty goodness. I got over my vegetable smoothie phobia, stocking up on vitamins whenever I could by drinking orange and carrot blends (I also tried aloe vera and strawberry, tasty, great option!). Humitas were another favourite of mine and don’t forget the trusty empañada in all its various guises. Rarely a disappointment, the cheese and sugar combo was a surprise hit for my taste buds.

www.travelola.org

Making empañadas in Hostel Galapagos, Quito

When thinking about South America, music and dancing are firmly in the picture. From a totally biased viewpoint, much of it is pretty bad music – schmaltzy or mainstream pop – that undoubtedly mentions ‘el corazon’ (heart) at some point but will often be so catchy and conventionally structured that the next time you hear it you’ll be tapping and singing along before you realise. Your hips may have even started to sway along to the likes of Fainal or Farruko or Joey MontanaHola Que Tal* is one of those tracks, truly horrible, but once you’ve heard it for the umpteenth time (thanks Kelvin at AndesCamp) you have some affection for its crapness.

A few comparisons between Ecuador and Peru include the service in restaurants and cafés, which is generally much faster in Peru than in Ecuador. Peru isn’t actually that much cheaper than Ecuador, in fact, much of the time it’s on a par or more expensive. Something I had barely noticed in Ecuador was impossible to ignore in Peru: casinos are everywhere in the big cities and small towns alike. Middle aged men and women sit at slot machines, gambling S/.0.10 at a time to while away the evening. Security guards block the entrances to these places.

www.travelola.org

Views around Cotocachi and Laguna Cuicocha

www.travelola.org

Chill out in Mompiche, Ecuador

And although I’ve previously covered Ecuador in some depth, it is a country that will forever be recommended by me as a place to visit. Accessibility and diversity are among the things that make it so appealing. If it were a choice between Ecuador and Peru, don’t follow the crowds, follow the lush beauty of Ecuador. You won’t regret it.

www.travelola.org

Home in the Cuyabeno jungle, Ecuador

www.travelola.org

Biking in Baños

So, back to the flight to Houston that’s just left Quito, and I’m feeling that great sense of adventure tingle through my body. The woman behind me pulls down her window blind firmly just as I open mine as wide as is possible. Sunlight streaks in, pushing through the morning mist, highlighting the chains of mountains and marshmallow clouds that we’re now flying high above. What a beautiful day. A fitting ending to a beautiful South America trip.

 
*I’m still trying to remember the actual name and artists for this song… if anyone knows it, please let me know! I think its by a band called Mana…

2 Comments

Filed under ecuador, food & drink, peru, south america, travel