Crossing into Peru by: Anik

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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.

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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.

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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.

torrina

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.

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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.

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We wondered around, doing a bit of an urban climb, in the sticky, muggy, heat of the day.

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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.

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The Coast of Ecuador by: Anik

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 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.

Canoa

Canoa

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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We continued on and enjoyed an amazing meal of just caught shrimp and calamari, in some woman’s kitchen, for $14.00.

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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?”.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Puerto Engabao Surf Sherlter

Puerto Engabao Surf Sherlter

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.

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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.

Cotopaxi by: Anik

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.

Quito

Quito

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”.

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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.

reluctantly driving away

reluctantly driving away

The Galapagos Islands by: Anik

Isla Bartalome

Isla Bartalome

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.

red footed boobies

red footed boobies

 

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frigates

frigates

 

galapagos penguins

galapagos penguins

Male frigates trying to attract the ladies

Male frigates trying to attract the ladies

We snorkeled with sea lions, who, like dogs played with us by fetching under water sticks and blew under water bubbles. IMG_9704

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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! IMG_9443

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.

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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.

Estreslla Del Mar

Estreslla Del Mar

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Actually, I thought for sure that Darin would lose his cookies, as always, but no, he managed to remain puke free.

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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.

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

Giant Galapagos Tortoise

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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