As far having to spend the week without my main squeeze, Huaraz does just fine. The beauty that surrounds this place seems to reveal itself little by little, once again, bringing out my inner cheese making fantasies.
There are peaks to climb and high elevation hikes everywhere I look. Most of these temptations aren’t possible with the kids at this point, despite their trying to convince me to leave them with a bit of money, some snacks, and a few movies.
It took a few days for Simon to start feeling better. On sunday, I was told that the Lake Llacca hike we wanted to do couldn’t be reached with our van.
Eli, a very nice man in a 4×4 pick up truck picked us up early in the morning and we headed out for the hour and a half drive to Llaca. Well, they weren’t joking. The road was insane with rocks, deep ruts, and pot holes. We bounced our way up the road, hitting our heads on the roof of the truck, looking down at the cliff to our left, all while trying to make conversation with Eli, as he was falling asleep at the wheel…”Todo va bien señor?”.
The hike was short but the it’s 4600 meter elevation made itself known, especially to Simon, who petered out an hour into it. On the hike back, with his head in the rocks, Marco declared “I wish we just had the money to buy a UTV when we get home instead of having to find a diamond or gold to buy it with.” So much for our theme of “see boys, you really don’t need much to be happy!”.
As we walked back to the truck, the kids hung out with señor Eli while I walked up a different way and found myself laying on my back, next to this trickle of water and a few wildflowers. I laid there, staring at the jutting peak in front of me, stuck in an existential frame, thinking about life and all the wasted time we spend on anger, fear, and stress. I think it’s time for me to come home because my “real life” seems a bit out of my grasp, plus I think I’m getting weird.
On the way back down to Huaraz, the kids and I spent some serious time, declaring our love for donkeys. I’d love to come home and see donkeys packing gear and goods through the streets of Longview.
On monday, we made our way to the cochera where our van was parked. The muchacho in charge of opening the doors for us kept telling me over the phone “mas tarde”, “come back later”. After a few hours of back and forth, we got the van out and headed to the banos thermals of Chancos.
The community of Chancos has converted 7 caves into natural steam baths, all of varying temperatures. The one we chose was 37 degrees celcius. The Peruvian helping us, led us into the room, opened the door to the dark cave, threw a few buckets of spring water on the ground and closed the door behind him. The cave was dark, damp, and hot. We sat there for about 30 minutes, covered in moisture. The idea is to sit quietly and just breath and enjoy…I did my best while the kids were splashing in the cave puddles, jumping up and down to see who could reach the highest rock, and going in and out to cool off a bit.
After our cave sauna, we were taken around the corner, where a man wearing big rubber boots, filled up 2 tubs for us with brown, sulfur smelling spring water. As the tubs were being filled, Marco, covering his mouth and nose said “I think I’m only up for a short bath today.”
The man added an herb concoction and we were left to it. The kids sharing a tub and I, in a separate room with my own tub and book. When we got out, I felt like I was glowing and detoxed. When I asked the kids if I looked refreshed and beautiful, they answered “ugh, I don’t know, I guess”.
We stopped on the way back for another Almuerzo typica for $4.00. At this point, the cheap prices and the novelty of eating the grub fed, organic chicken grown out back has worn off and although the kids seem fine with it, I’m SO over it.
On the way back to Huaraz, we got stuck in a 2 and a half hour traffic jam due to a head on collision where a collectiva (a small passenger carrying bus) caught fire and resulted in 6 people dying. Marco later told me that I could stop telling them how grateful we should be that we stopped at that artisan stand for a few minutes before driving past that curve where people play chicken with their lives.
This morning, the kids and I left on foot to visit the ruins of Willkawain, which date back to 600AD.
We read that it would be an hour and a half long walk through the countryside from Pinar, which is about 10 minutes from Huaraz. The taxi dropped us off in Pinar and like all Peruvians giving directions, he pointed north and said “that way”. We started walking and within 10 minutes, we were in a mud field, surrounded by lactating pigs and teenage chickens.
A lady sitting on a corner pointed east and said “that way”. We found ourselves walking through farmland along a small single track sort of path, lost once again. A farmer saw us and waved us over and escorted us another half kilometer through peoples’ country home backyards, with a lot of pissed off dogs and a bull that wouldn’t let us by.
The man stopped in his tracks and pointed down a hill and said follow the path (crushed grass) until you get to a small road, take it north, and you can’t miss the ruins. We arrived at the calleretta, and started walking up. We were directed by a man sitting on another corner to take another small path up. This one took us through dozens of other small backyards, with plenty more dogs who thought we should mind our own business.
Ecuadorians and Peruvians have a very interesting way of giving directions. It’s always…”over there”…which can mean “3 miles that way”, or “make 3 rights and 4 lefts”, or “you’re going the wrong way”. Either way, it always comes down to pointing in a direction and saying “there”.
The ruins were cool, as far as old archeological sites go. This site was one where VIP’s were mummified and placed inside with various offerings of pottery and such. The kids were using my iphone flashlight to creap each other out inside the dark passageways. Luckily no one else was there to hear their loud pitched screams.
At the insistence of the kids, we took the collectiva back to town, and sat very snuggled to all the other Peruvians (staring at us) and their giant bundles of grasses stored up on top of the bus.
The ride back to town was bumpy, hot and a bit nauseating. The kids maintain that it was “much better than walking”…I maintain that once in a while I have to throw them a bone to keep them happy.
We were told that the drive to Huaraz from the city of Chimbote, which serves as sort of a Huaraz jumping point, takes 5-8 hours by bus. We didn’t really know what to expect since 5-8 hours is a pretty huge range and the buses here are maniacs on wheels.
Chimbote is the largest fishing port in Peru.We thought it would be best to spend the night in Chimbote, to get an early start the following morning. In this city, sleeping in the van was out of the question and every hotel we looked at was overpriced and a bit dingy. We finally settled on a clean, simple place and went to bed early, looking forward to an early start the next day. Apparently Peruvians not only party on the night before Easter but Easter night is a rockin rollin good time too. For the second time in a weekend, we were awake until 4am with the vibrations coming from the booming music across the street.
The next morning, we got a great view of the fishing boats got the heck out of Chimbote, starting our drive toward the apparently hair raising Canon de Pato. On the was we stopped for instant coffee and condensed milk and the kids got a piece of sugarcane to gnash their teeth on.
The Canon de Pato was beautiful and afforded us a view of the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra.
I suppose it would have been hair raising if we hadn’t spent 2 months driving in Colombia. The drive was beautiful, with the occasional moments when the shear cliff to our left while being passed by maniac buses, made for very attentive driving. Hair raising…not really.
We stopped in Yungay, where, in 1970 and earthquake that sent 50 million cubic meters of debris rushing down from Huascaran, buried the town and it’s 25,000 inhabitants.
We pulled into Huaraz, on a rainy afternoon, very excited to be here. After going from place to place asking about parking our van and using facilities, I was given repeated looks of “you mean, you want to free load?”, my trying to explain that WE’D PAY was futile. We found a very nice and comfortable hostel, and went out for our second real beer and good pizza in over three months. We felt as special as royalty.
At over 10,000ft, we knew we needed to spend a few days acclimating before doing any high elevation hiking or climbing. We spend the second day not far from here, having so much fun rock climbing that we only stopped when we were shaking with fatigue and our fingers were screaming from skin loss.
We planned on leaving Friday for the Santa Cruz Circuit, a four day trek. On thursday morning, as we were enjoying our morning coffee with our first cloud free view of Huascaran, we were informed that Darin’s nephew, Scott had passed away unexpectedly.
I ran to a cafe with real wifi and within an hour had booked Darin’s return home by way of an 8 hour ride to Lima on a maniac bus and 14 hours of flight travel to JFK. We took a taxi to the bus terminal and with very heavy hearts, after three months of being together every waking minute, it was over.
Scott was only 35 years old. He had an infectious smile, a giant heart and he leaves behind 2 amazing kids and a heart wrenched family.
Darin will be gone for a week and the kids were still going to do the 4 day Santa Cruz circuit. We were suppose to leave friday morning but Simon got hit with the full meal deal of sickness. Our rock climbing guide and new amigo nailed it on the head when he said “We Peruvians have special stomachs, and after three months of travel in America Del Sur, your stomachs are trying to become special”.
We’ve decided to rest, and explore the area through day trips. We’re spending time daily at the local market and making a lot of comfort food. We’re really not doing much of anything and it feels like it’s exactly what we should be doing.
For now, we send all our love and sympathies to our family in New York and we do our best to not feel so far away.
Once we crossed the border into Peru, we headed for the surf town of Mancora. We’d been told it would feel like a smaller version of Ecuador’s Montanita. The town’s main road (the Panamericana) was bustling with vacationers enjoying La Semana Santa, getting ready for the huge celebration of Easter.
We felt a bit burned out, stopped for a beer and some Calamari, and navigated our way through the hundreds of frogger playing moto-taxis.
Simply camping on the beach here wasn’t realistic. As we were looking for a place to park (una cochera), our first of many “fixers” came out of nowhere and talked us into checking his place out. The Italian Peruvian wonder guy set us up at the Casa Mediterana, which he manages. For 30 Peruvian Sols (about $17.00) a night, we had use of two gorgeous pools, all facilities, and we were right on the beach. We slept like babies, grateful for the fan and extension cord he’d insisted we use.
We spent two days in Mancora, enjoying how easy everything seemed. The people paying hundreds of dollars a night to stay there, probably wondered what was going on. They gave us weird glances as they walked by our van, with our drying bathing suits on a clothes line as we were eating our granola and drinking our coffee in our fold out chairs. WHAT!?!?
We surfed a point break which was so crowded, the only way you’d have a chance at a wave was to bully your way into it. The first morning we went out, I learned it was low tide as I got cheese grated on the rocky bottom.
Simon delightedly skyped with his class, which he’d been asking to do for a few weeks.
We went out for our first Chifa dinner, a Peruvian Asian fusion, which on the Northern coast are everywhere. The kids hummed their way through their wanton soup, like they’d won a prize. That’s right kids, no rice!!!
We spent an hour having a nail-impailed tire fixed while Juanita, my new 4 year old friend cuddled with me whispering sweet little nothings in my ear.
Peruvian food for the most part is excellent. They take great pride being creative with their dishes. Everything is fresh and even the comida typica meals of rice and chicken are surprisingly different and intriguing. The coast, however, is all about the seafood. Cevicherias on every corner, serving white and black concha, ray, prawns, squid, tuna, and calamari. Darin and I couldn’t get enough of the arroz con marisco, served everywhere and every time seemed more delicious than the other.
Simon’s been drinking Inka Cola. I’m a bit concerned about the neon yellow color and the bubblegum flavor but, when in Peru…
Marco found a red fruit punch called Sporade, which he says is his favorite drink ever. It’s red in color and equally disturbing. The beer, as always is made up of a choice of 3 light pilsners that once again come in very big bottles…not always for sharing.
Peruvians grow rich, high quality coffee, but they export it all and save none for themselves. We’ve been drinking instant Nescafe, which comes served with condensed milk out of a can. I find myself having long drawn out cappuccino dreams. The other way they serve their coffee is in the form of 2-3 ounces of very concentrated coffee extract, which you’re suppose to mix with hot water to dilute. It’s weird, but better than Nescafe.
We spent one night in the town of Chiclayo, to get an early start and visit the Museo Tumbas Realo de Sipan, where the archeological finds of the Lord of Sipan lay. As we pulled into Chiclayo, Darin’s gut had him on high alert, with everything barred up, and weird walls around the blocks of housing. We found a cheap hotel, where the front desk guy confirmed with us 7 times that our van’s windows were closed and locked. We walked downtown for seafood with the front desk guy again saying things like “be cautious but relaxed, don’t bring anything with you, hold your children’s hands… On the way, we got caught up in an Easter parade with Phantom of the Opera meets Indianna Jones like music. In the space of 5 minutes, we’d been pooped on by birds 4 times. No wonder all the parade walkers and goers were covering their heads.
Trying to escape the Easter crowd everywhere, we pulled into what was suppose to be the laid back town of Pacasmayo. Once again, no option of just setting up camp on such a busy weekend. Every place we went to ask if we could set up shop in the “cochera”, we were asked “para dormer?”, for sleeping?? No. It was hot, we were getting on each other’s nerves and contemplating driving on when, out popped fixer #2. Numa, an incredible surfer, driving a fancy car with 5 surf boards on top explained to us that he was staying at the hotel that we’d just been turned away from. He thought our van was cool, liked that we were there to surf, and back home in Lima, had 3 kids about the same age as ours. He asked us to wait a moment and disappeared inside. He came back out telling us he’d worked it all out and that we could stay in the parking lot and use the facilities at no charge, in exchange for giving the front desk guy a tip.
Pacasmayo was ready to party! Darin accidentally got caught up in the water’s very strong current, and in order to avoid crashing into the pier, surfed where a surf competition was taking place. He says he probably scored a 0.1.
We walked the 600 meter pier, with huge areas of boards missing, where we had to watch our step carefully to not fall through.
That night, Numa and his girlfriend, sent us to a restaurant called Kafe Kafe, another Peruvian Asian place with just a few tables.
As we waited for our table, we found ourselves surrounded by huge security guards and a hundred people with cameras and cell phones, swarming this couple, begging for autographs. The Peruvian tv stars sat and ate, while the security guards pushed back the hoard of people trying to bust in. Everyone was overwhelmed with excitement as we sat there wondering what was going on and who the hell these people were.
Apparently, people from Peru could go face to face with the Colombians in a partying contest. We spent the night in the van awake with blaring music coming from all directions. By 4am, I though, ok, this is for sure the time they’re gonna quiet down…not ’til 5am baby! I didn’t know this is what they meant when they said “rejoice” in reference to Jesus’ resurrection.
Marco woke up at 6:30 screaming “The easter bunny came! The easter bunny came!”. I had no idea he travelled that far south myself!
We left Pacasmayo in search of a quieter spot and some calmer water.
The driving is overall good here. The roads are straight and fast, and the trucks aren’t on speed and crack like in Colombia. Most of our driving has been in the windy desert. The arid landscape makes us wonder, what do you do if you live here??
The wind wips, the sand flies, and at one point I checked on the surf board up top and to my horror, it was popping a wheely, almost straight up in the wind. No wonder people kept flashing their headlights at us.
We pulled into Puerto Chicama, and found the camp spot we’d been envisioning for days. Chicama’s left break is the longest wave in the world. With the right conditions, people ride a wave here for up to 3.2 KM! The surf here was beyond fun and the camping offered one of our top 4 best views. With Darin and I tired from surfing and the kids tired from playing on enormous sand dunes until they had sand in every orifice, including the internal ones, I made us a delicious $3.00 sunset dinner. We slept like babies, grateful for the silence which was interrupted only by the soft sound of the ocean’s waves, which tagged along in our dreams, and might forever.
We considered staying in Chicama longer, and after weeks of being on the coast, we might morphing from Northwestern amphibians to some sort of dried out lizard. Besides, Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca await us.
Marco is in top form again. The area we were in had a prominent Dengue fever problem and we certainly got pummeled by enough mosquitoes to make this a likely culprit.
We woke up and I surfed Playas but never figured out the low tide mess of waves.
We went to an area of market stalls and bought mosquito netting and $3.00 flip flops to replace my stolen Chacos…my fault for leaving them on the beach prior to a morning run. I guess I still haven’t learned.
When we first pulled into Playas 5 days prior, the intention was to stay one night. A week later, we were looking to spend one more night in Puerto Engabao and have one more surf. As soon as we pulled in, once again stopping for several nursing pigs, the kids got out of the van and walked to the surf shelter while Darin jumped into the surf with his board.
The waves were much bigger than a few days prior and Darin looked like the waves were whipping him into shape. Our sunset surf slammed us with the biggest waves we’ve ever seen while surfing. I kept clenching my teeth while dropping f-bombs inside my head as they approached. The full, to be blood moon lit our way as we walked back to the surf shelter.
We had an amazing night in the van, protected by our mosquito netting. Take that blood sucking suckers!
We spent the following morning having a conversation with Daniel, the hostel’s Ecuadorian owner. He asked that we write about his crusade so here goes…
Despite Ecuador’s recent tourism campaign, the country very much struggles with garbage disposal education. For example, the tiny fishing village of Puerto Engabao is home to 300 fishing boats that go out to sea twice per day. Each boat is operated by 2 fishermen. Prior to going out to sea, each fisherman brings a disposable container of food called a torrina.
Everyday, twice per day, each fisherman throws out their torrina overboard, into the water. That makes 1200 torrinas per day, thrown into the ocean, just for the tiny village of Engabao. Doing the math for what that means in terms of all fishing villages in Ecuador, it’s a shocking truth.
Daniel organizes monthly beach clean up efforts, but without awareness and education, the effort is a never ending chase, with no viable solution. According to Daniel, the Ecuadorian government, in its’ campaign to win over tourists, is willing to listen to conversations like the one discussed here. If you travel to Ecuador and witness the garbage on the beach, and the burning of this garbage, please take a moment and write a few words about it.
We left Engabao and headed for Guyaquil, Ecuador’s largest city.
We wondered around, doing a bit of an urban climb, in the sticky, muggy, heat of the day.
Hotels with parking were impossible to come by. Whenever we move locations, the process of finding a place to stay is a constant negotiation and re-arrangement. This was no exception. We stayed in a business hotel, which was by far the most modern place we’ve been in in three months. As we were checking in, the boys were bouncing around talking about the AC and the elevators. It was like they’d never been anywhere. We used an iron for the first time in three months, ordered room service, and after taking a bath (also a first), Marco slept in the complimentary robe.
Yesterday morning, we headed for the Peruvian border. After going through the motions and spending about 3 hours going from one office to another, we drove onto Peru’s dusty, brown landscape, eyes wide open to the next 5 weeks’ possibilities.
We left Cotopaxi and bounced our way along the cobblestone road back to the Panamericana. Once we rolled onto the regular paved road, it took a while for the van’s cobblestoned rhythm of rat tat tat tat to fade itself out of the expectation of our senses.
We made our way down a very windy road, through lush jungle, sharp turn after sharp turn, with my mom white knuckling it and eating saltine crackers. Our transition from the mountains to the coast took us through communal shrimp farms, where families, living in the nearby bamboo cabanas, mark their designated area with a colored t-shirt on a wooden stick.
We arrived in Canoa at the Hostal Bambu, which let us camp and use the facilities for $20.00 a night. My mom enjoyed a very inexpensive room with air conditioning and a private bathroom…pretty luxe around here.
We slept in the van, in a pool of our own sweat. One night, Darin and I were up most of the night, hunting down the mosquitos that had entered by way of a fallen homemade screen. I laid there mostly laughing, watching Darin’s one man war with the blood suckers, swearing at them, threatening them, and daring them to try it just one more time.
We surfed in the morning and at sunset, on beach break that was stupendous. For $40.00, we surprised Simon with a 40 minute ride on an ultra light, which made me a bit apprehensive as the pilot siphoned gas out of his vehicle in order to get the thing started. Simon’s smile forced his dimples out as he took off and landed, feeling a step closer to his dream of being a pilot. Marco passed on the ride but expertly videotaped the whole thing form the beach.
The kids and I lazily worked on a great sand castle. Darin, the foreman, needed to re-construct it for a Taj Mahal version, with a dozen spectators watching and thinking “who does this?!”. Ultimately though, his version was much better than mine because it included a moat and a draw bridge.
The boys spent hours in the river next to the hostal, floating on and pushing a giant Huck Finn log that they managed to free from the bottom.
They burned to a crisp (bad mom) and had the time of their lives. About an hour after reluctantly coming out of the river for some shade, they came running at me in full blown excitement, screaming “BOA CONSTRICTOR!”. I thought, noooo, it’s probably an iguana or a long tailed lizard of some sort. I came around the corner, in the middle of the hostel, next to the walking path and saw it! The owner, Joost, explained to us that the boa constrictors live mostly in the river next to the hostel and occasionally come over to hang out in the trees. We watched him catch it, bag it, and take off on his bike toward the woods with it. Eeeeesh!
On monday, we drove my mom to the airport in Manta. I commend her “good sport” approach to sleeping in hostels (with Boa Constrictors), sleeping in the van, hanging out at 13,000ft, watching us get washed and slammed around in the surf, being a passenger of driving that made her turn white as a ghost. Her visit healthily forced us to veer from our path a bit, and the quality time was cherished.
We continued on and enjoyed an amazing meal of just caught shrimp and calamari, in some woman’s kitchen, for $14.00.
We spend the night in Puerto Lopez, in a room with a TV, AC, and a private bathroom. We thought we’d died and gone to heaven. My morning run down the beach treated me to the shore’s busy morning return of its’ fishing boats. The variety of fish was impressive, as I admired it displayed for sale in enormous buckets while people stared thinking “who’s the gringa?”.
Just as a note for fellow travelers, Lonely Planet’s first sentence in regards to Puerto Lopez reads something like: “There’s not much too distinguish this ramshackle town…”. This was far from our impression, if there had been surf, we would have stayed on for a few days.
We left Puerto Lopez and arrived in the surf town of Olon, next to the party town of Montanita, with its’ rasta vibe. We found a camp spot on the beach and spent the next two days cooking, reading, and surfing. A grumpy man from a hostel nearby warned us that this wasn’t a good spot to camp because of the local “bad hippies”. We’re still wondering what a bad hippie looks like? Once again, the few people we saw and spoke with were nothing but friendly and welcoming.
The fishing boats coming in down the beach early in the morning provided us with a dinner of sardines, purchased for us as a “regalo” from the very friendly woman who fed us amazing seafood the night prior. I cleaned them in the ocean while Simon watched, saying “gross” over and over again.
With the exception of Marco, who was sick with a fever and vomiting, we all feasted on our fish and pasta with an alfredo sauce out of a pouch (impossible to find the ingredients to make such a sauce here) that my mom had left behind.
The following morning, Marco’s fever had broken and we were headed south to prepare for our crossing into Peru. We decided to spend the night in a town called Playas, which was said to have some surfing nearby. We stopped at a cevicheria called “Surf restaurante Jalisco” and met the owner, Juan Guitirez (spelling?). It turns out that Juan is a kick ass surfer, and a bit of a local celebrity, with his picture plastered all over various surf rags. Juan told us we should head 20 minutes north along the coast to the town of Puerto Engabao, where his good friend, Daniel runs a surf hostel.
We arrived in Puerto Engabao and had to stop numerous times for lazy pigs in the middle of the town’s dirt roads. We immediately loved it.
Puerto Engabao’s surfing revolves around its’ point break, with it’s consistent beautiful waves. The surf shelter, run by Daniel and his wife was very basic. It hosted only surfers and our van fit perfectly in the yard.
Our first night’s sunset cast its’ light on Volcan Tungurahua’s ash plume . The volcano, 10 miles south of Quito had been spewing ash for the past few days.
We surfed the following morning and afternoon in waves that crushed us over and over. It was big and fast and short, which made it very challenging for us green surfers.
Friday morning, Marco was unrelentingly sick again and this time his gray look made me uneasy. We took a taxi to the town of Playas, where we went to the “Emergencia”. He got IV fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea meds and we left in a moto-taxi. They sent us home with antibiotics (first time ever) and anti nausea meds. For those who know us too well and are wondering, yes, we’re giving him the meds. Our theory is that the unmoving, boa constrictor water that he accidentally swallowed many times, did more than just inoculate his gut.
We spent that night, once again, waging war against the mosquitos, who seem to make their way into our van through an invisible porthole. We were up most of the night, fighting, killing, cursing, and swatting them but this time I wasn’t laughing. Simon and I have bites everywhere and on saturday morning we decided we needed a hotel room so Marco could have his own bed, we could be mosquito free, and we could enjoy a respite from sharing each other’s sweat puddles.
Marco woke up this morning, wanting to be upright again and he’s been in the pool ever since…ooof, we’re so thankful and relieved. We’re told that Playaa’ 15 point breaks are uncomparable. We’ll find out in a few hours when we go meet our new Puerto Engabao surfing amigos.
The Peruvian border still awaits us, but with Marco out of the woods, we might have to give Puerto Engabao one more surf and one more night…this time draped in mosquito netting.
We spent one more night in Quito after flying back from the Galapagos. Our hostel of choice, The Secret Garden, once again didn’t disappoint with it’s view as we ate dinner.
Early the next morning, we headed south to spend what would be close to our favorite few days in 9 weeks. We stopped in the small town of Machacha for provisions and of course, our daily galletas from a corner panaderia. I say “our” galletas, but really they’re “my” galletas. I think I’ve got some cookie monster DNA.
To get to Cotopaxi, we drove 17 KM on once again another cobblestone road, which took an hour. The mountains were socked in with clouds but the countryside, with it’s rolling, quilted hills and small farms were refreshingly beautiful. We’re seeing that we feel at our best, really in the middle of nowhere, with nothing but a view. The kids have nothing but freedom in these places and the peace, quiet and openness of it all, give Darin and I nothing but a sense of gratitude.
We arrived at the Quito’s Secret Garden sister hostel, which exuded rugged comfort. We parked our van where we had Cotopaxi to ourselves. The hostel had a fireplace, a spring fed small hot tub, horses, Alpacas, and resident dogs. The kids were in heaven.
That first afternoon, I hiked to the nearby waterfall, and walking through the frigid cold river in some borrowed rubber boots, I once again had a “what if we moved here and adjusted Cotopaxi’s climbers and made our own cheese?” vision. Luckily, we’ve also realized that the Northwest is one of the most amazing places in the world, and the people in our lives are even more amazing. So much for the queso fresco idea.
For $15.00, we had our camping and all meals covered. Darin and I slept in our tent, again, with Cotopaxi in our window and my mom and the kids slept in the van. The meals were prepared by incredible chefs, who treated us to crazy cheeseburgers, quinoa vegetable soup, chicken potpie, the best tiramisu we’ve ever had, and homemade breakfast buns. We shared evening beer and wine with the travelers and climbers from all parts of the world, and had some excellent fireside laughs.
We woke up the first morning, to a jaw dropping view of Cotopaxi. We just stood there, trying to decipher what our eyes were telling us. At 5,897 m (19,347 ft), Cotopaxi is like a goddess, keeping watch over the world below.
Darin and I got a ride down the road that would have broken our van, to the climbing route. We climbed up to the glacier at 5000 m (16,500ft). Despite the turista situation we were both dealing with, we could see the summit and it was pulling us up. Regardless of the fact that it wasn’t 1am, and that we hadn’t hired a guide and gear, which is mandatory on Cotopaxi, we wished we had cramp ons and peanut butter sandwiches in our back pack.
We got our ride back to the hostel (Darin ran…nut job!), and took the kids and my mom to the waterfall hike. Again, my inner cheese maker emerged, as I my cheeks were stretched with perma-grin.
The kids had played in Quito with the Australian kids whose parents own the hostel. The had called the day prior to let us know that they were coming for the weekend, should we wish to stay and have the kids play together. We were all thrilled to stay a bit longer. The 5 boys played together non stop and begged to stay together longer. They exchanged emails and promised they’d meet again someday. As we pulled away, Simon said “I wanna stay here the rest of my life!”.
On our last morning, I felt like an acclimated guru and went for run that lasted about 7 minutes before I felt lightheaded and on the verge of vomiting. So much for feeling strong as bull at 13,000ft. We left Cotopaxi on the third day, promising ourselves that we’d return to climb it in the near future. We’ve enjoyed so many places in the past 9 weeks, but Cotopaxi is the only place that’s already drawing us back.
The decision to go to the Galapagos Islands was one that surprised us all. Prior to coming on this trip, we hadn’t even considered going to the Galapagos. As we’ve travelled through Columbia and Northern Ecuador, we’ve met person after person, mostly backpackers, who gleamed and glowed about their Galapagos adventures. Many, who had opted out of exploring the islands, expressed regret for not doing so. We bit the bullet, my mom found us a last minute deal, and we forgot the rest. We flew out of Quito early in the morning, to clear skies and a view of Cotopaxi that made us drool. We landed on Baltra island and were transported to the 14 passenger boat that would take us around to 4 different islands. The water was clear as crystal and turquoise blue. The Islands were uninhabited and barren of vegetation, except for cacti, mangroves, and small endemic brush. For us, guide-shy people, Edison was the low key, laid back guide we were meant to have. Our friend, Cindy J. would have marveled at the birds, which included frigates, nazca boobies, red footed boobies, pelicans, galapagos hawks, galapagos doves, and on and on.
On one particular snorkeling trip, as Darin and I were putting our masks on, I saw two sets of large shark fins and finally saw the 10-12 foot bodies attached to them. While I was trying to hide in the bottom of the dinghy, the guide urgently started yelling “VAMOS!”, telling us to jump in right away to swim with the gray monsters! Uhm, I’m sorry but innately, uhm, HELL NO!
Ok, so we jumped in and swam with huge hammerhead sharks, galapagos sharks, reef sharks, and manta, eagle, and cow rays. I figured it was good training for the next time we see a shark while surfing.
The galapagos islands have some of the world’s strictest restrictions on the number of visitors permitted. This makes for a feeling of being nearly alone, with only the occasional sighting of another boat or two, holding no more than 20 passengers. This place epitomizes eco-tourism. From the careful attention paid to proper disposal of trash and recyclables, to the assurance of keeping invasive species out, to keeping every grain of sand on the beach, the people of Ecuador have a deep respect for this archipelago.
The kids were so very happy about being on a boat for 4 days. I’m surprised that they (Marco) didn’t suffer from more sea sickness as we made the 11-12 hour night time traverses from island to island. We had lower bunked cabins that enthusiastically rocked and rolled while we slept.
Actually, I thought for sure that Darin would lose his cookies, as always, but no, he managed to remain puke free.
Like no other place in the world, in the Galapagos islands, the animals have no fear of humans. They stay perched, or beached, or treading water while one walks or swims by. Apparently, it’s been this way since Watkins and Darwin explored the area. They’re said to have effortlessly picked up and held the fearless birds and animals. It’s like they’re all on drugs, but not at all…it’s fascinatingly strange.
When we weren’t exploring one of the islands or its’ water, we were on the boat reading, napping, eating, and enjoying a cold beer or glass of wine. We felt spoiled, to say the least. We got off the boat and spent an extra 2 nights on Santa Cruz Island in Puerta Ayora. We walked around the few tourist trap shops but still couldn’t help but buy a few t-shirts. Lucky for our friends, we refrained from buying any of the “I love boobies” shirts donning blue bird feet.
Darin and I spent a morning surfing at Tortuga Bay. We hiked 6 km under the beating sun carrying our boards, hoping we’d be rewarded for our efforts. The white sandy beach was isolated, soft, and the waves looked big and awesome. We had a most excellent time, while catching some waves that splashed the ants out of our pants and left us looking forward to plenty more Ecuadorian surfing. I was thankful for our previous shark training as a shark zipped by twice in a big wave in front of us. I looked over at the 2 other surfers in the water to make sure they were ahead of me, that way, they’d get eaten first.
The seafood and tuna were fresher than fresh. I’m now planning all sorts of seared tuna salads and Eurovan based sashimi parties in the weeks to come.
On our last night on the Island of Santa Cruz, we went out for what was to be a slow dinner, with crazy good Passionfruit Mojitos and grilled fish and seafood. We were relaxed, the kids were busy with the coloring posters my mom had brought, and we were enjoying a relaxed conversation about surfing. We were waiting for our food, when the waiter came to tell us we needed to evacuate immediately due to the severe probability of a Tsunami that would touch land 90 minutes later. Apparently this was coming from a 8.2 earthquake off the coast of Chile.
We left our drinks on the table, grabbed our nice food in styrofoam containers and took off for higher ground. The Tsunami evacuation area was the community center area of town, about 120 feet above sea level. We immediately regretted having watched the movie “The impossible” with the kids. Simon was in a pure hysterical panic, thinking this meant death. Marco on the other hand, was calm but wanted to find a basement and shut the door. The tsunami sirens rang out as people were hurriedly running around and emergency vehicles navigated the streets, making evacuation announcements on their loud speakers. We ate out our nice grilled dinner, and watched locals play “Ecua-ball”, which is played everywhere in Ecuador and is like 3 on 3 volleyball with a much higher net and pretty much no rules. The tsunami warning was cancelled by 9:30pm and we all walked back to our “habitacion” as though nothing had happened.
We now find ourselves looking forward to tourist free $1.50 meals again and to being reunited with our dirty van. This was an unplanned, vacation from vacation that we’re thankful to have shared with my mom and we won’t soon forget.