But the really scary part is the jungle at night! (Jungle part 2)

After we see another beautiful sunset, we go for a night canoe ride where we are looking for caiman (like a crocodile) . But before we spot one, the guide spots a boa in a tree.  So, we head toward it.  And by head toward it, I mean right into the tree!  We have to duck from branches and my friend and I are at the front of the boat, which means in order for others to get a good picture, she and I are directly under the darn thing!

A boa in a tree, just hard to see!

This picture is terrible and you can’t hardly tell what is up there but I feel like I earned a picture simply for sitting under it.

We continue on looking for Caiman.  It is so beautiful with a full moon, so the river is reflective and the trees are silhouetted.  But we are all shining flashlights looking for little red glows.  And we see some!  All you can see are the red eyes caught in the light but our boat driver heads straight for the eyes, even thru trees that are coming out of the water at this part.  We are stopped.  The guide says “there are some caiman back there but we are stuck in this tree.”  Ok, fine, that’s a bummer, move on right?!  They back the boat up with a bit of effort and then rev the engine and power right back into that tree!  We go thru the tree to the other side.  Caiman disappears.  And we have to get out of the tree!

But never fear, we spot more Caiman eyes on the other side of the river.  This side of the river, it isn’t the tops of trees but the branches of tall trees we have to avoid.  We see the eyes and head straight for them, everyone has to duck from the branches and this time we get about 3 feet away before the Caiman goes under water.  Oh well, but we sit there, in the dark – flashlights off hoping to coax him out, in the middle of the river, in a canoe with a freaking caiman right under our boat for all we knew!

We still swim everyday but it is a little weird now knowing that there are snakes, caiman and piranhas in the water.  What happened to my fear of water I can’t see thru?!?

Here are other things we encountered at night:

Scorpion Spider. Not poisonous!

One of many very large bugs I have since forgotten the name of! But I like this one because you have the guide's hand for size reference!

 

Whereas this massive spider has no reference for you to see that it is about the size of two fists! The BIGGEST insect I have ever scene and I think it really should be classified as a small mammal!

I thought this snake in a tree was actually kinda cute!

Look at the detail on this bug to look like a leaf! AMAZING!

Oh, did I mention yet the tarantulas in the huts we stayed in?

Yeah, this guy and about 5 others that I saw hung out in the rafters and palm leaf roofs of the huts!

But the topper is our last hike.  Me and my friend were the only people who did 5 days instead of 4 so we were merged with another group.  They hadn’t done a day or night hike yet but Ania and I had done both.  So, I think the guide cranked up the hike so we wouldn’t feel like we were doing something we had already done.  This hike was different!  I don’t even think there was  a real path to speak of!

over trees...

across trees

and thru trees.

but pretty much always in the mud!

Walking thru the muddiest swamp “path” that felt like we were off-roading entirely. In the mud we see tracks of a Jaguar he thinks is just a few hours old. We think he was lost at one point. And frequently made these sounds between a guttural cow noise and a dog.

After 1.5 hours or so of hiking it was now dusk and almost time to turn on our flashlights when our guide stops abruptly.  We whispers something and we start inch forward which is when we see a large black and green snake in the path.  (I took a picture but honestly I was so freaked out it is really just a blurry image of a path with maybe the hint of eyes!)

see! too nervous to focus or use flash!

He tells us this is a very poisonous snake and he nearly stepped on it!  After generously staying still for a few photos the snake moves out of the path and assumes an attack position.  We are all about 2 feet away.  The guide tells us this is one of the most poisonous things in this jungle.  And then says “Ok let’s keep moving” which means we have to walk right past this creature!  So we do and trott along as though he wasn’t still there!  I was second to last.  About 5 minutes later the guide says we need to turn around, which means I am now second person in line and the guide is at the back and we are walking back toward the snake!  I kept trying to recognize where the snake was and when in saw the spot, I took a deep breathe and walked thru!  Nerves!

But there is more fear yet to be had.  Later as we were walking silently in the dark except for our flashlights our guide stops quick. We all stop. Then he whispers that he hears a jaguar not far off. Tells us all to be silent and to turn off our flashlights. We are 1.5 hours into the jungle at night standing in the near pitch black!  The guide is whispering, “this isn’t a joke, my heart is racing!”  I can only see a faint glow of white of the shirt of the person in front of me. The guide continues to make the sound of before as he explains it is the jaguar sound.  And we hear it off in the not so far distance.  My friend Ania sort of yell whispers “What exactly is your goal with that sound?”  He says he’s not sure, to track it or find it but really I think he just wants to see a Jaguar!  And then I hear some branches breaking behind me and not far. It is extremely freaky!   He hears it too, jumps and turns on his light. We are pointing a different direction than he is looking but I guess that is why he is the guide because he shines the light directly on to something and we are all relieved to see it is a large monkey!  We wait awhile and then turn on the lights again and continue walking.  Later Ania told me she could see the sweat dripping from the guides face and hear his heart beating and that when she heard that sound it was the most afraid she has ever been!

I keep thinking about the amount of times on this trip that requires trust.  In what, depends on the situation, but somehow I am keying into a general sense of trust.  I guess the trust is that it will be ok.  Whatever it is, it will be ok.  If something inconvenient happens, I’ll deal with it, choose not to let it ruin the next thing too and move on.  If something dangerous happens, you deal with that too.

Can you see all the bats on the tree?

I have inherited some…lets call it – “forward thinking” from some not to be named member of my family.  This constant planning and considering “what if?” has proved very helpful in many stages of my life…but not in the jungle!  You can’t keep saying “what if…the snake falls; we see the jaguar; a tarantula gets in my mosquito net, etc”.  I think I am learning to stop asking what could go wrong in every situation and planning for it.  I want to trust that I will be able to handle it (whatever it is) if and when it happens.

In the Jungle, I felt a choice frequently, a choice to stay calm or freak out.  Really, freak out didn’t actually feel like an option but I kept marveling that we didn’t all freak out more often.  Sometimes if felt like if you let fear in, you would drown in it.  I don’t mean that it was a terrifying place but when there are tarantulas on your palm leaf roof and you have to shake out your bed to get rid of cockroaches before going to bed at night, you realize there is a mild freak out just behind your calm.

I don’t mean that the calm is false either.  Simply a choice.  When we were in a small canoe where it is not possible to get in the water due to caiman and boas that nest in the grass, and we were standing and piranha fishing it was truly best not to think “What if…”.  As soon as you do the relative safety you feel in the canoe is gone and you feel totally exposed.  So we didn’t think about it.  And then we were not afraid.

The grass in this lagoon is the nesting place for caiman and boas. We keep seeing big bubbles and movement in the waters around us!

I wonder if this sounds a bit like denial.  Possibly, but the truth was, we were in a canoe, there was no reason to assume anyone would rock the boat or that we would fall in, so why spend time imagining that scenario.  I believe this is a new life lesson for me.  Following the river means trust.  Trust that the thing will lead to the next thing.  And whatever that thing is, I will be ok.

Turns out I’m a poor swamp crosser but a pretty good piranha fisherman!

I slept with a light on until I was 11 or so because I was afraid of the dark (still haven’t really out grown that) but I took a night hike in the middle of the Amazon jungle.  Normally when I see a cockroach I stand halfway across the room spraying Raid and can’t even deal with the dead body but I learned to search my bed for cockroaches before  getting into bed tucking my mosquito net all the way around.  And normally I don’t like to swim in water I can’t see thru but things are different in the Jungle!  Including me, I guess!

At first, I just thought “huh…this is the amazon?”  I guess I had expectations I didn’t know I had.  One thing did match my expectations though…it was HOT!!!  So hot that as soon as we arrived at our ‘lodge’ we all went straight to naps in hammocks, a pattern repeated out of necessity every afternoon.

Our nap spot!

While napping you still sweat so when we woke we went out for a late afternoon swim in a lagoon.  After we got out I saw the guide of another boat holding something he had just pulled out of the water!

Snakes in the river

It’s called a belt snake, I guess cuz they are so long an skinny.  Regardless, I didn’t like thinking it was in the water with me.  Oh how little I knew!  The next day, just around the corner (maybe 20 meters) from this exact swimming location we went fishing!

For these suckers!

I caught this one:

And this one:

And 5 others!  I was on fire!  But later that day I got a good dose of humility to match that.  We went for a hike and learned about trees and bugs and such we found.  At one point in the hike we had to cross this:

This is just the first section.  So, look real close…can you see the log they are walking on?  YEAH, neither could I!  I was at the very back of the line.  The guide had crossed it all and pointed out the log here and there to walk on so you didn’t fall into the knee and at times thigh high mud.   I was miserable at it!  Sometimes I would find this supposed log only to realize it was barely a branch.  Other times I couldn’t find the darn thing at all and would slip and slide into mud that might swallow my boot and not give it back!  But the absolute best part  was when everyone had all barely made it across and I am the only one remaining.  This time I can feel the branch but it is about 8-10 inches under water and slippery and a long stretch with nothing to hold on to.  My friend is saying “just don’t fall to the left, it’s really deep on that side.”  Ok, fine but there are now 8 people  just watching me.  I begin to side step my way across but my mental focus slips to them watching me as I begin to loose my balance and a choir of voices begins to sing ‘whoa…whoa…whoa’, matching their pitch to my flailing arms and teetering body.  I scream “THAT ISN’T HELPING!” which makes us all laugh and down I go into the mud, again

See my muddy hands and pants wet up to my thighs!

We were all just happy I landed on my feet instead of face planting into the mud.  It was one of those times I am so glad I have learned to laugh at myself!  (I so wish I had that on video to share!  What I sight!)

Here are some highlights from the hike other than me falling in the mud (which honestly, was probably everyone’s highlight!)

My favorite frog. See how he looks like a leaf?

A caterpillar so poisonous that if you step on it in bare feet those things that look soft but aren't can kill you in 2 hours

Nature's stiches. That is the antennae that reach in and pinch staying attached the head even when the body has been taken off. Can stay there for up to a week.

Next day, another canoe ride 2 1/2 hours deeper into the jungle to visit a community.  On the way there, we stop along the river where a 6-7 meter long anaconda is said to live.  The guide doesn’t see him from the shore so he gets out to take a look around.  Someone on the boat says “Well, it’s a good thing you have that oar then!”  And it hits us that he is just a dude with an oar looking for a huge snake!  These guides are crazy!

At the community we learned to make bread from Yucca in this family kitchen.

After bread baking, there was in impromptu game of Soccer between the tourists and the locals!  It was a rather surreal experience but what topped it off was Nacho!

He was crawling around on everyone’s laps, wrapping his hand around our fingers or his tail on our legs.  I have never hung out with a monkey before.  It is truly amazing how like a child they are.  At one point, he had his hand on my leg, his head on my shoulder and his tail around my back.  So cute!

But no visit to an Amazonian jungle community is complete without a visit to the Shaman, and ours was no exception!

This man is 96!  Imagine how much has changed in his lifetime living in the fairly remote jungle that now has cell phones and solar panels!

Later that night, as we were coming back from quite an adventure (tomorrow’s blog will tell of it!) we were blessed with a bright full moon just barely above the horizon silhouetting the trees on our left and three separate lightening storms in the distance on our right with a completely clear sky above us full of stars as we floated down the river with only the music of bugs and birds.  It was surreal and one of the most beautiful moments of my life.

Tomorrow- Part 2: The jungle at night!

Goooooooooool! Fútbol South American style

My first live fútbol game ever was a club game in Ecuador!

We die for White (color of Ecuador's club team)

Apparently, you can only buy scalped tickets but lucky our teacher took care of that.  While we waited we had to fight back our temptation to eat all the stadium food!

hot dogs, popcorn, and fried pig head...you know... the usual

As we head in, it is like no sporting event I have ever been to in the States!  There are rows of police mounted on horses, another row of police with dogs, and then inside there are police with riot shields everywhere.

Police and their dogs

and their horses

We are searched 3 different times on our way in and they take away our water bottles.  Not because “no outside food allowed” like in the States, but because you may use it as a weapon!  They pour the water into a baggie and give it to me.  How does one drink out of a large plastic baggie?

Can't have a bottle of water but apparently fireworks are OK.

Our teacher asks if we want to sit in the calm section or the rowdy section.  Rowdy, for sure!

Fans and their fire extinguishers

The energy is so fun.  I look up and see people climbing the fences with fire extinguishers.  Wow!  And a little nervous what that means for us but there’s not much you can do about it.

When the players come onto the field the place goes CRAZY!!!

All those dudes on the fence just spray all the CO2 so that all you can see is white and streams and fireworks and the BAND plays.  When the CO2 settles we all look like we have been caught in a snow storm.

Fireworks in our section now.

The band continued to play the entire game and the kid next to me sang at the top of his lungs with his right arm keeping time up in the air the whole game!  If he goes to games a lot his right arm must be twice the size of his left!  The only time we sat down the whole game was at half-time. You had to be on your feet because when Ecuador scored they all rush from the back and pushing everyone in their way toward the field.

The next week I went to another game, this time Ecuador’s international team.  There is no way that they only sold the same amount of tickets as seats in the stadium.  It is PACKED! And about 98% are wearing yellow!

an entire section of seating is covered by the flag. I guess team pride is greater than atcually seeing the game sometimes.

There were 3 fights just in our section and another time we thought it was a fight until we realized people were just chanting “bebe, bebe, bebe” and an older man is downing his entire beer in one gulp…these are the large bottles!  At this game when Ecuador scored they all threw their beers so it rained beer.  Obviously, these are not USA stadium beer prices or no one would do that!

My friend and I decided to split early because I couldn’t imagine what it would be like getting out of that completely packed place.  Besides we were up by 2 with only 10 minutes left.  On our way out, kid after kid was jumping the fence to get in to see the end of the game. People were sitting on the roof and the edge of the stadium and apparently this was the best way to get beer to them?!

Well that is one way to get beer to the people at the back of the stadium

Both games Ecuador won by 2.  I think I am good luck!

Beauty and Adventure: a great combination!

Since I wasn’t enjoying my Spanish classes, I ditched one day and decided to ride a horse in the crater of an active volcano instead.  Isn’t that what everyone does when they play hooky?

Bilbo, my buddy for the day!

Just to be clear, this volcano may still be active but it has a volcanic cycle of 4,000 years and although we are 3/4 of the way thru that, I still thought the 1,000 year buffer made it safe.  Apparently, so do the 200 people who live in this crater!

There was just one other girl on the tour with me that day and we got on famously (do we say that in the US?).  Anyway, we had a good time together and were both very happy to take a day away from Quito, even if the brakes of the car were smoking and we had to wait on the side of the road for another car.  The new driver told us that there were 180 turns on the road going into the crater.  This is a place you don’t just pop out for a coffee!

The ride itself was amazing.  Three of us including the guide, a 25 yr old from San Francisco, rode for about 5 hours total, stopping to picnic midday.

Nice spot for a brown bag lunch

The truly remarkable part was the path we went thru.  At times it was very steep and covered in rocks.  I swear, I wouldn’t have made it down without falling but those horses did.  And there were times when the crevice was so narrow and deep my feet were hitting the rocks on the side as the horse made his way thru.

I just kept marveling at how amazing horses are!

Often I had to remind myself these horses knew what they were doing and didn’t want to fall anymore than I did!  But once, my horse struggled for his footing for quite some time and I wanted to be scared, I really really did, but I reminded myself he was a horse, they don’t fall!

Then I finished my second week of classes that I had already paid for and got out of dodge as soon as I could.  After 2 weeks in Quito, I was really happy to be here:

I think we spent about 5 hours in these hammocks!

At this hostal was some great bird watching.  My camera is just a point and shoot but I tried.

There were at least 5 different kinds of hummingbirds

And I loved these plants because they made me think of what a brainstorm would look like if it were a plant!

But it wasn’t all “tranquilo”.  Here is the highlight reel from our canopy adventure!  (0:47 – 1:20 is the most fun!)

Beside myself in Quito

Before arriving in Quito I had heard mixed reviews.  Many said it was unsafe and I didn’t know if that was the same people who think NYC is unsafe.  And a friend I met in Ayampe, who lived in Quito most of her life and loved it.  After trying two schools on the coast that I didn’t like I decided to head to Quito to take Spanish at a school that sounded like they had the right philosophy I was looking for.

I was told to be careful, not walk at night and not trust taxi drivers.  Now that is a little bit of a pickle…you have to take a taxi but be careful.  And I am not talking because they will  over charge, sure that too, but I was told some take you on a quiet street and mug you.  AWESOME!  I figured these stories were few and far between and in my time there I never heard of that happening.  But as soon as I got to my hostal, I felt the insecurity of Quito.  My hostal was great but there were double locked doors, signs that say DO NOT LET ANYONE IN, and there was a security guard outside.

First day in Quito, I was a bit dizzy and lightheaded due to the altitude.  Quito is  2850 m above sea level.  Because the night before the temp dropped to about 40 or so, I realized I didn’t have the right clothes and I went shopping but mostly just walked around the city.  Saw a few interesting things:

This is a man wearing a costume so he looks like a man and a woman fighting/dancing...hard to tell. At the red light, he runs out and entertains the cars. I can't image it is very lucrative!

The next day, I started my classes and meet some fellow students.  One girl had been robbed at knife point in the middle of the day but on an out of the way uncrowded street and the guy had been mugged twice in one week.  Yeah, ok, not like NYC at all.  So, I decide to be careful all the time.  I don’t walk on a street if there aren’t many people on it, I don’t walk after 7 or 8 at night and I always confirm the price with the cabbie and know where I am going on the map so I will know if he goes out of the way.  That is just a lot of guards to have up all the time.

so many young kids working all the time

My third or fourth afternoon I head to the old city where there is really cool architecture and churches etc.  I am walking around but I am paying more attention to trying to not look like I don’t know where I am or what I am doing and even when I would like to take a picture of something I don’t feel like I can because the woman at my guest house has told me not to carry my camera or show it when I am out.  (not even a good camera).  I feel beside myself.  So totally on guard and on edge that I am sitting next to myself, watching out for myself.

your are pretty much always walking up or down in this city

A man approaches and says hi.  I only smile a half smile because something about his greeting didn’t seem right and then I go into the store.  As I am looking at shoes, I realize he is standing next to me.  He puts out his had to shake mine and my had goes out before my mind can stop it.  The man takes my hand and pulls it to his lips for a kiss and I pull my hand away.  And get out of there.  A few blocks later I am sitting in the middle of a large crowded square trying to figure out what to do with myself and my day considering it is all relatively unpleasant.  And the man comes up to me and tries to talk to me.  I don’t know how he has followed me through such a large crowd of people.  I say NO!  Because my Spanish classes have forced me to listen to a bunch of grammar rather than talk so in those moments I can’t think fast enough but I think NO is clear enough!  And I walk, he follows, I turn a corner, he follows, I walk faster, he walks faster.  Finally, I really put the gas on and tuck into a bank and hide behind the wall in-between two windows.  A few people look at me funny but I don’t care, I am so annoyed at this other man to care.  After a few minutes, I carefully peer out the window and see him out there looking confused trying to find me.  So I slip thru to the store next to the bank and buy a hat!  Not for a disguise, I was cold and liked the hat!  After 10 mines he was gone.

Later that evening, I was in Mariscal, aka Gringolandia, which is the main place to go out in Quito, (There must be other places but I wasn’t able to figure out where, I think there is no other AREA, only other isolated bars, clubs etc).  As I am walking around, I guy starts talking to me in Spanish, I smile and shake my head and cross the street, he follows, I turn a corner, he follows, I say to myself SERIOUSLY!!!  And tuck into a restaurant.  The man that worked at the restaurant asks if he can help me.  I say ‘I am being followed’.  He says, ‘by how many?’  Really?  I guess I was lucky it was only one man.

The next night, I am out with friends from the school.  We are at a bar in Mariscal and sitting outside.  There is a short wall between us and the street.  And there is a really stoned man in the street.  At some point we hear some commotion and look up to see something I have only seen in movies!  A man has taken a bottle and broken it and is using it like a knife.  The other man, has picked up glass from the bottle and using it.  They actually land hits too.  One man is it across his forehead and it is dripping with blood.  Honestly, it was awful and violent and nothing anyone could do.  Three nights later, I saw another fight, just fists this time but I didn’t ever go back to that bar again.

This kid made my day!

I was not liking my classes, not liking my guest house (oh had a really bad homestay for a week, where I had every meal sitting in an awkward silence) and not liking Quito.  I had already paid for the classes even and so was finishing the week even though I basically spent 3/4 of the time doing worksheets while she looked on and would finish my sentences if I was going to slowly.  But on the way to class one morning, I am crossing the street and I am almost to the other side when I a car turns onto the street I am crossing and rather than using the majority of the road that is behind me he keeps pulling his turn tight and is heading right at me, I look to see that he is talking to his friend and doesn’t see me, I jump out of the way barely missing the impact of his truck and decide I am getting my ass out of Quito as soon as possible!

All that being said, Quito does really have some wonderful architecture.  And here are 2 pictures from the Chapilla del Hombre.

Rough translation: I cried because they didn't have shoes until I saw a boy with no feet.

Just breathe

Why is that so hard sometimes?

A couple days ago while sitting on the beach, Los Frilles in Ecuador, I saw water spitting out of the sea. Whales!!! Now that is a deep breath!

The next day, I took a tour and got out there and saw some amazing things! I’ve been whale watching a few times and have never seen such a display! Quite a few humpback whales…from a huge poppa to a “little” baby. The adults can get to 40-50 ft long! Of course it is hard to catch on video when you just have a point and shoot and the boat is rocking…but here is are some highlights. There were about 6 at one time and the baby was playing.

After that we landed on Isla de La Plata which is the called by some the poor man’s Galapagos because it is much closer and cheaper to get to but has some of the birds.

Maybe I am just a little lonely for love but I really enjoyed these Booby couples! They are monogamous, you know?!

And rarely seen Albatross:

But it was after this during the snorkeling portion of the tour that I struggled for breath. Why do some things scare me and others don’t?! We are all that way but sometimes it seems so arbitrary that perhaps we need fear nothing! Ok maybe not! Anyway, I freak out in water sometimes. But only when the water has living things in it like huge turtles, manta rays and fish!

The first guy to jump in the water came to the surface yelling “there are a lot of fish in here!”

But I knew I’d be mad at myself if I didn’t go so I put on that mask and I jumped in. I don’t understand but every time I put the snorkel mouth piece in I gasped for breath like I was drowning. I was getting air but it was like it wasn’t filling my lungs. I forced myself to keep my face in the water and trust the air and breath easy. It finally started working but was easily lost.

It was the next morning in my first yoga class in almost two years (due to a shoulder injury) that I remembered how little we trust our breath even out of the water. I sat in lotus preparing to begin and connecting with my breath and hearing the many sounds of nature around me and I found my breath and I was present. Honestly, sometimes that is more overwhelming than anything else. To truly connect with yourself in the present. Just like with that snorkel mask I can feel myself resisting and not trusting my present, my breath. But alas, I can keep practicing, keep remembering and keep breathing!

And what a great place to reconnect with myself and my breath than Ayampe, town of 400 people that closes at 8 pm and is simply “tranquilo”. Here is a taste of Ayampe:  (I don’t know how to make the slide show only of the new images so skip the ones from earlier in the post to get to Ayampe pics.)

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From the jungle to the forest

I really enjoy travel days when everything is new. It is exhilarating, exhausting and nerve-wracking!

Well, it all started about 3:15 in the morning. My bunk-mate, who doesn’t seem to have stayed in enough hostels by the way she didn’t follow the unspoken rules, must have heard me roll over and so thought it appropriate to ask me what time it was. It was 3:15!  And then at 4:00 when the wake up knock (pound may be more accurate) sounded, she gets up and turns on the lights!  Ok the rules are thus: if it is too early to go to sleep – read before 11:00 pm- it is ok to turn on lights. If it is too early to get up – read before 8 am- it is NOT ok to turn on the lights. Pack a clock and a flashlight before your next trip Missy!

My alarm was set for 5 anyway. I make to the airport in time but it didn’t matter!  My flight was cancelled due to weather. And I am told to stand in line but this line scarcely moved. Immediately, I push the button in my brain that kicks into ‘go with it travel mode’ and I start saying ‘it’s ok, whatever happens it will be fine’. It works for over an hour. But try as I might to ignore that 4 people are serving the elite line and 2 are serving the main line, one of which has been with the same customer for over 40 mins. Typing and clicking away- NO IDEA what could possibly require that many buttons. So finally my NYer came out!  I went to the person who told me about my flight and politely pointed out that it was 4 to 2 up there. He literally told me that it wasn’t true. It was comical.  And that is why I don’t usually get let my mind think of efficiency  when traveling. It will only drive you mad.

Good news though!  They are able to get me on a flight to Guayaquil that doesn’t even stop in Panama!  Woo hoo. Every single airline employee I spoke to told me a different arrival time due to varying reports of a layover in Quito.  To the point that when I landed in Quito for what I thought was a 2 hour layover they told us to stay on the plane which is when I asked when we were leaving he said “oh…. When everyone gets on…maybe 20 mins. So I asked when we would arrive in Guayaquil and he said “well, it is about a 30 min flight from whenever we take off.”. Perhaps I learned why no one could tell me the arrival time: there isn’t one!

It isn’t until I am filling out my immigration forms and it asks what kind if visa I am traveling on that it occurs to me I don’t know if there is a visa requirement!  I assumed not because it would have come up at some point so I think I’m safe but still just a tad nervous. Actually, I’m always just slightly nervous anytime I go thru immigration. What if they say no?

I also realize that I have researched the specific place I’m going but almost no research on Ecuador itself. Not it usually helps in terms of knowing what to expect. It’s almost impossible to. But when I go up to the ATM and realize I don’t even know the currency or conversion and don’t know how much money to get that I really understand how little research I have done. Oh well, I proceed hoping it becomes clear!  The choices are 10,20,30 etc to 100. I choose and when my money comes out, it’s dollars?!?  I can’t tell if I pushed a wrong button or if this South American country uses our money and if so how didn’t I know that?  I feel like a detective as I walk into the pharmacy to check price tags. Yep dollars!

Ok I work out taking a taxi to the bus station and without meaning to I have a preconceived notion of what it will be like. I could never have imagined this!

About the size of a football field or two and three stories high!  Billeteria after billeteria. Finding the one I need out of about 200 felt daunting. I wandered awhile when I noticed a few people looking at me strangely so I look around and notice for the first time I am the ONLY gringo in A station as big as Penn Station!  I chuckle and feel both uncomfortable and excited!

When I find my ticket counter I do my best Spanish and pantomime and get my ticket from a very indifferent woman. I ask her “Que puerta” which I hope means which gate but she only mumbles an answer. Mind you, she is behind plexiglass and everyone else in the crowded place is almost yelling. I ask her 4 times without her leaning forward or speaking up once. OK!  On my own, I guess!  It’s cool. I work it out.

Grab some tasty patty of maybe potatoes and chickpeas, hard to say and get on the bus. Once I sit down and notice that it has a bathroom, something I am not use to from any other foreign travels I immediately jump out and grab a bottle of water because I have previously adopted a no drinking rule on ground transportation days. So happy about water AND a movie?!?  I wonder if I have the wrong idea about Ecuador… Until we start rolling. Nope!

Not the wrong idea. Lots of poverty and tin houses or cinderblock houses decaying so much that there are holes thru the walls. And I didn’t realize it was going to be so brown. A desert! (of course there is plenty of wealth and nice areas too but these are the towns near the city right off the main highway).

I watch some Russell Crowe movie where he breaks his wife out of jail in Spanish and realize how unimportant it is to speak the language in such a movie. Think I got it even with my limited Spanish.

So, three hours later, the bus starts to make stops but never announces the stops.  I assume that it is local people who know where they are going.   But regardless, this is the part that is nerve-wracking…how much to trust and how much to ask.  Well, 30 more minutes go by and I am one of very few people left on the train, when I use my busted Spanish to ask.  Indeed, it is still further and I am ok.  But I am so glad I asked because as we get closer to my stop the driver starts asking me questions that I can’t figure out.  Finally, I think he might be asking about where I am going in this town, so I say I am going to Ayampe.  That I need a taxi to Ayampe.  SO GLAD I told them that.  As we get into the town I am to get out at there is almost nothing and certainly no taxi stand.  The bus doesn’t stop but it starts honking and flashing its lights at a car that is apparently a taxi.  Seriously?!?!

Holy cow.  So, as I get in the car and confirm the price and the music is blaring and there are NO street lights on this windy mountain road and this car seems like the engine might drop out, once again – nerve-wracking and exhilarating all at the same time!  We drive much further than I expected which actually comforts me because I figure if he wasn’t really a cab and was going to attack and rob me he would have done it anywhere along this dark deserted road!  But really I think THANK GOD those bus drivers put me in this cab so I can believe it is a cab.

So, we get to this tinier still town and in the dark manage to find my cabinas.  As the car pulls up a woman comes rushing out of her kitchen saying “Abril?!” and gives me a huge hug and kiss.  OK, I think I might like Ecuador!  It is too dark to see anything but I can hear the ocean, I am safe and I have a hammock outside my door!  All is good!

(PS- oh man!  When I woke the next morning and started walking around I see how remote this is…parts of it look like a town from the 3 Amigos!  But that is for the next blog. Oh and it turns out that when the sun came up I was no longer in the desert! )