Friday, May 30, 2008

Oh the Stories I Have to Share!

I’ll pick up from where I left off on my last post. When we got back from the indigenous community on Saturday, we did some sightseeing in Cuenca. Then it was time for Brenda to catch her flight, and me to go buy a bus ticket to Quito. I had planned an overnight bus ride so I could save my daylight hours for sightseeing. You may not be able to sleep wonderfully on the bus, but you can at least nap on and off. I had an uneventful bus ride, even arriving early, and hopped into a(n) (always available) waiting taxi to go to the hostel that I’d chosen out of Lonely Planet’s Ecuador guide.

After a nap in a real bed and breakfast, I went out to explore a little of Quito and find internet access. Within a very short time, it started raining, so I don’t have many photos from Quito. I did get to walk through Parque La Alameda, which was very nice. There were pedal boats and various other things. I was really brilliant and left my rain jacket at the hostel when I began my exploration, so I was pretty wet by the time I found internet. The internet was REALLY slow, so I didn’t get a whole lot done on it.

I did manage to stumble across Museo del Banco Central, which was a fantastic museum with lots of artifacts from the various people groups, including, of course, the Incas. I really enjoyed wandering around the museum, but it was closing as I walked up. They let me in for a short period of time though. It was very cool.

I had KFC for dinner and finally made my way back to the hostel shortly after dark. I worked on the computer a little while and then got my two packs ready for the airport. I’d made a decision that when I got to Lima I would check my large backpack in to the luggage lockers, and just carry the small one. I was looking forward to not having to lug both of them around. I had to get up at 4 AM to get ready for the trip to the airport, and was grateful that another traveler was heading there as well. We shared a cab, so it only cost $6 each.

My flight was uneventful. I landed in Lima pretty early in the day. It was lunch time by the time I got through immigration, check my backpack, etc, and I still had to make my way to downtown Lima. The official taxis were S./55 (Peruvian soles), which is equivalent to $20.30. When I hit Peru, I only had $160 left. That had to last me for 4 days in Peru (bus, food, lodging, sightseeing, luggage storage, taxis, etc.) and my trip back to Roanoke from Dulles.

Needless to say, dropping $20 on a taxi didn’t sound like a desirable thing to me, so I walked past all of the taxi drivers and the airport security who were all telling me that I HAD to take one of the taxis. I firmly told them, “No dinero!” and ignored them as I made a beeline for the airport perimeter where the city buses were supposed to be. The challenge that I realized I was facing is that the buses there only stop when you flag them down. And you have to know which of the 100’s of buses going by is the one you need…Uh huh! Right! Fortunately the tourist police helped me to get an unofficial taxi that only charged me S./14 ($5.17), and I headed for Lima Central.

(A note about taxis in Peru: The official taxis are sanctioned and regulated by the government. The unofficial taxis are pretty much anybody who throws a taxi sign on their car to make a few extra bucks. You have to kind of play it by ear, and if you flag down one you don’t feel comfortable with, you don’t get in. You also check to make sure windows roll down and doors open from the inside, before you shut yourself in one. I’ve learned lots of things from other travelers and from the tourist police…)

After walking around Central Lima and visiting museums, I headed to the bus station to buy my ticket on the 12 hour all night bus to head toward Chiclayo and the archaeological sites that I wanted to visit (Sípan and Túcume). I bought the really nice seat on the way there as it was going to be my transportation, bed, and included 2 meals as well. I traveled via Cruz del Sur, which is a bus line that puts our Greyhound buses to shame in a heartbeat…too bad we can’t learn from them!

Anyway, I found out that my bus was leaving from Cruz del Sur’s OTHER terminal, so I had to flag down the RIGHT local bus to go across Lima to get there. With the help of instructions from the tourist office, I actually made it without incident. And the bus attendant made sure I knew when I was supposed to get off. (The attendant is the guy who hangs out the door shouting out the destination and who takes the money when someone gets on…the driver just drives, this guys does everything else.)

I got to the bus terminal without any problems, and at 8pm I headed off towards Chiclayo. I was in first class in a seat that was like a Lazy-Boy recliner, the bus attendant (on THESE buses they are the equivalent of a stewardess) brought me my dinner and beverage, and I settled in for the long ride. I’ve copied my handwritten journal to describe what happened next:

02:20 AM martes, 20 de mayo, 2008.

Boy, will I have stories to tell from this trip! I’m on a bus on my way from Lima to Chiclayo. I was asleep, so I’m not sure exactly what time, but 83km south of Casma we ran into a parking lot of cars on the Pan-American Highway. Apparently there is a strike…farmers somewhere, and it’s not safe to proceed. I’m really getting a taste for what non-English speaking travelers must go through in the USA…when I woke up enough to figure out that this wasn’t a “normal” stop, I had the challenge of finding an English-speaking person to tell me what is going on…yeah, in the middle of Peru, uh huh! Not easy!

One lady spoke a tiny bit of English, and managed to tell me about the strike and that we were stopped here where we were safe…and that we may go on to Chiclayo TOMORROW NIGHT! OK, so my American mind freaked out for about 10 minutes at that point. :D

Then my training from somewhere past kicked in. Oh yeah, Gabriel Call! I’d never imagined using Gabriel Call info on a bus in Peru, but I specifically remember Peter Daniels telling us that when we are facing trials in our business, to figure out what the worse thing was that could happen. Oh, and the author of the book The 4-Hour Work Week said the same thing…Hah! What a way to put teaching into practical use! LOL! Not ROL, not enough room on the bus!

OK, Worst Case Scenario:

1. We’ve been told we’re safe here and that we may go on to Chiclayo a day late…so I may get there, do an hour or so of sightseeing, and then have to head back to Lima the same day with the return ticket that I already paid for.
2. And worse, the return road could be closed again due to the strike & I miss my plane—I’ll eventually get back to Lima and board a plane and get home, somehow, some way!

It’s not the end of the world. Jesus isn’t sitting in heaven going, “Father, I didn’t see that coming. Did You?!” Also, I had a peace about getting on this bus, and I know that my steps are ordered by God…so I might as well buck up, enjoy the experience, and learn whatever I can from it.

OK, back to what I was thinking at first: “Why didn’t the bus company workers come and explain to me in English what was going on?” WELL, because I’m in Peru and it’s MY problem that I don’t speak the language, not theirs! We don’t expect one of our Greyhound bus drivers to explain things to his or her foreign passengers in their language if the bus breaks down or if the traffic is stopped for hours due to a wreck or something.

Like I said earlier, I have a greater appreciation for what non-English speaking people experience in the States. Well, I’m going to close for now, because I think my headlamp is annoying people…although I can’t be sure, as I can’t understand them!

At least we have the always present South American street vendors who came through earlier selling agua! I wish I had realized that we were stranded here for an indefinite period of time. I’d have bought more than one water. As far as a bathroom, I think the one on the bus is still functional. If not, I guess we just go by the side of the bus next to the multiple other vehicles that are parked on the highway…ah, the joys of South America!

I have the chorus of “Trust in Me” floating through my brain, and the sound of someone’s iPod
A few rows back playing American music… “oo ooo oooo, oh baby, please don’t go…” How ironic—they don’t speak it, but they play it. Hah!

Still having a great time! And my stuffed traveling companions, Frankie the ferret and LC the purple hippo, are here with me.

…The bus is moving! YAY! I think… We’re driving through a section of highway that’s lined with police officers in full riot gear on both side of the highway. They are guaranteeing our safe passage through the area of conflict. It’s a little surreal, like a scene out of a weird movie…not scary, just weird. “On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again…”

Thursday, May 22, 2008

A long story and an Open Door...

(18 de mayo, 2008) I’m not sure when I’ll get to upload this, but I wanted to take a little bit of time to let everyone know what’s been going on. On Thursday (15th) I was talking to 3 young women at the hostel I was staying at in Cuenca…they had all gone to college together. And where did they go to college together you might wonder? Of all places, Hollins University, Roanoke, VA…just a couple miles from where I live. Who would have thought (or…who’d a thunk it?) that in the middle of Ecuador I would run into 3 Hollins graduates!

As I’m writing this I can’t quite remember where I left off earlier, but I’m going to go to back to Friday.

When I got done with my last Spanish class on Friday (16 de mayo, 2008), hopped a cab to meet the other two solo female travelers from the hostal, Kapa and Brenda. The three of us had scheduled a trip to Tarqui, an indigenous community (the Cañari’s) just 30 minutes outside of Cuenca. There is a non-profit organization there that runs a Cultural Center and Restaurant called Mama Kinua. It is run by members of the Cañari people, and the profits from the restaurant and the tourism project help provide medical care for children and pregnant women in 6 communities. That’s really important for you to remember, because that comes into play later in my post when I get to the awesome praise report that I have to share.

Back to my account…When I got to Mama Kinua’s Brenda, Kapa, and another solo female traveler from France, Joannie, were already loaded into the mini crew-cab pickup truck that was our transportation. I tossed my pack into the back, and we headed off. Our driver, Manuel, was much better than any of the taxi drivers I’d ridden with, and we had a good, but very bumpy once we got to the dirt road, ride out to the community. On the way there it started to rain, an everyday occurrence in Cuenca in May (one of the rainiest months of the year there.)

We arrived without any unexpected events and were ushered into the Kañari Kushi Waira Lodge building. I hope that you check out the pictures once they are uploaded. The lodge was a simple, square, two-story building with a dirt floor. There were benches inside, and a couple tables. We were asked to sit down at the tables. I was very grateful that Brenda speaks VERY good Spanish, and both Kapa and Joannie spoke passable Spanish…I had 3 translators! :D

Within a few moments, a woman in traditional attire (which you can see in some of my pictures) brought in a tray with small cups. It was the special drink that was only used for welcoming guests and for special occasions. I was warned by Brenda that it had alcohol in it, which was obvious from the aroma, even at a distance. It would have been a dishonor to our host’s hospitality to refuse it, and although it was tasty, I was glad that it was in a small cup. Our host/guide, Alfonso, told us that the hot drink would keep us warm on the inside and on the outside…yep!

Next came a tray with a light breakfast of mote pillo (can’t remember if I’m spelling it right, but it’s a mixture of hominy and cornmeal) and herbal tea. After the breakfast we watched a short video, and prepared to take our hike up to the primary forest where all of the medicinal plants grow. I thought it was interesting, the people there live to be very old, many of them over 100, and they use the same medicinal plants that their forefathers used for generations before.)

As we hiked up the hill (at a starting elevation of 9,342 ft.) I was glad that our total elevation GAIN was only going to be 274 ft to an elevation of 9,616 ft. I’m still getting used to hiking in higher elevations, and it does take some getting used to. I did OK, though. I was pretty excited about that. I wish I could remember all of the plants, their names, and uses. Alfonso had spent his whole life studying the medicinal plants and their uses, even having taken a university program that was specifically started to ensure that the cultures of the various Ecuadorian indigenous groups were not lost as more and more of the people migrated to the cities (a BIG problem here).

We stopped to eat a flower that was supposed to help with the respiratory system at high elevations during exertion, and then went on. Alfonso explained the history of the area, about when the Spaniards had come and how it had influenced and affected the indigenous people. I was interested in hearing about the religious influence from the Spaniards. They came under the banner of the Catholic church, and the local people adopted many of their beliefs, but continued to worship the sun, moon, rain, wind, and mother earth…as they do to this day. Alfonso said that even though his people practice Catholicism, they were very angry with the Spanish who came in conquest, because the Word of God says to not steal, kill, lie, etc., but that’s exactly what the Spaniards did to the Indigenous inhabitants as they claimed more land area.

After about an hour or so we got to the Cañari Sacred Area, and area at the top of the mountain that was used for worship rituals and festivals. Brenda asked what Alfonso meant when he said that they kept the area undefiled, and he replied that they did not allow any domestic animals in that area, and if humans were there they had to leave the area to “relieve themselves”.

There were some wooden benches up top, and we sat and listened as Alfonso talked about their worship of the elements that brought them the crops that they needed for provision. He said that we were all going to participate in “taking in the energy” from that area, and that if we focused, and really believed, we would not be tired at all that day, nor the next.

We went through a ritual in which we closed our eyes, raised our arms in front, and slowly lowered them down to the side as we “took in” the energy of the sacred area. We did this procedure four times as we faced each compass direction in turn, and Alfonso prayed his prayers to the elements and mother earth. (I, of course, was praying to MY God, thanking Him for the light of His Word, and His goodness and provision in my life.) It was interesting to see the sincerity with which these beliefs are held.

Afterwards we all ascended up onto the observation platform that is at the very top of the sacred area, and we were able to see a great deal in every direction. Alfonso told us more about the history and geography of the area and his people. The view was breath taking, and the pictures we took just don’t give an accurate portrayal. After we descend from the mirador- observation platform/tower we learned even more about the area, and then we caught sight of one of the women from the community, dressed in traditional clothing, and carrying a blanket wrapped bundle on her back. It was lunch time.

Lunch was served on a tablecloth on the ground, with the food being distributed along the middle of the length of the tablecloth. There was hominy, potatoes, mixed vegetables, popped corn, greens, and chicken…enough to feed an army. We all sat, or half lay due to the slope of the ground, and ate from the tablecloth with wooden spoons. We ate until we couldn’t hold any more it was SO GOOD!

It was siesta time after that, so we stretched out on the ground for probably 30 minutes, then we went to see the areas of multi-colored earth. It was a large area where the clay soil ranges in color from shades of red to brown to yellow to red. It was absolutely beautiful. From there it was time to head back to the Lodge. After another hike we got to the Lodge and were welcomed by another steaming cup of the “Welcome Drink” as I’m calling it.

They were beginning the preparation of the cuy (aka guinea pig) that we were going to have for dinner, and we’d indicated that we’d like to watch the process from beginning to end. We had seen the cages with all the guinea pigs in them, and it brought back memories of raising hamsters and gerbils. Now we were watching them as they killed two for the community meal…I will not go into any detail; it was somewhat emotional for me, and even “camera happy me” didn’t take any pictures. We half-heartedly offered to help with the process after they were dead, but were told that we would just be roasting them, someone else would do all of the prep work…we were grateful.

We played with some of Alfonso’s grandchildren (nietos) for a long time until it was time to help with the supper chores. Alfonso’s wife came walking up with a load of corn stalks strapped to her back…freshly cut from the field. We helped shuck corn (something I AM good at) and then went into the kitchen to help with the rest of dinner. I peeled a bunch of potatoes, and then it was cuy-roasting time. It takes 30-60 minutes to roast cuy over coals. You have to constantly turn the rotisserie stick so as to not burn the cuy. Someone else has to fan the coals to assure a good hot temperature. You can see pictures of us roasting it.

Dinner was very good, and we were stuffed, again. During the dinner we were talking with our host/guide Alfonso. I don’t even know how we got around to the question…since he and I couldn’t communicate directly, but we got onto the topic of advertising and the internet. I had Brenda ask if they had a website. Alfonso replied that they did NOT have one, but hoped to Someday (…hmmm…I have a t-shirt that talks about someday. It says: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday…See, There Is No Someday!)

I checked the Spirit real quick before speaking, and then asked Brenda to tell Alfonso that I work on websites, and wanted to donate my time to work on a website for them…You’d have thought I’d offered him a thousand dollars. He was so grateful! We gat together later to get the information together for it, and then Brenda, Kapa and I did a little brainstorming. Brenda (who just “happens” to have a background in International Marketing) told him his prices were too cheap for the overnight add-on. She raised his prices for him from $11 to $15 per person per night. That was really reasonable still, as the price included dinner and breakfast.

Remember back at the beginning of my 2 hour long discourse here, I mentioned that the proceeds from the tour go to help provide medical care for children and pregnant women in 6 communities? As I was talking with God later that night the Holy Spirit reminded me of the prayer that I prayed before leaving the States, “God, allow my visit to Ecuador impact the nation for you.” Now I know that we affect people everywhere we go, but I wanted to impact a nation, not just a handful of people. And that’s where my faith was…I have a world-wide vision. I’m called to a church whose mission is to impact the entire world, and I have a call on my life to impact the entire world. That what God told me a long time ago. That’s what I’m believing to do.

When I realized that by doing the website for them it had the potential to drastically increase revenues, therefore providing medical care for more people, it hit me…I was impacting their nation…the people are the nation. And I was showing the love of God to them, without asking for or wanting anything in return…GOD IS SO FREAKING AWESOME!!!!!!! Then the Holy Spirit started talking to me about the rest of the trip…how I had considered my plans to have fallen through (the rain forest trip and then the Peru route that I’d wanted to do) and having had to switch to “plan B”. He told me that “plan B” was His plan all along…and that He had guided my steps every single day.

Every delay that I thought I was going through was His divine timing. As He began to bring different things to my remembrance I started to cry. The Bible says that the steps of a righteous man are ordered of God. It also says that if we trust in the Lord with all of our heart and don’t lean on our own understanding and if we’ll acknowledge Him in all of our ways, then HE will direct our path. While I’ve experienced that time and time again in the past, it always brings me to tears to know that God wants to and does use me for His glory! That’s the only thing that I want to be remembered for…what I did for the Kingdom of God

The next morning we had breakfast and then headed back into town. We purchased the domain for their website, and over the next couple weeks Brenda, Kapa and I will be collaborating on designing and launching their website. Once it’s done I will post the URL and a notice that it’s live.

I’m closing this post here. I’ll start a new one for the next portion of my trip. Thanks again for all who have lifted me up in prayer. God is so good!!!

Friday, May 16, 2008

A long awaited update...

I know, I haven´t posted much recently...I´ve been goofing off, which is the point of being here, right? I can´t stay on long, because I am going to an indigenous village near here from this morning until tomorrow morning. Plus, I´m at an internet place, not on my own computer. So I´ll try to figure out how to use this Spanish keyboard well enough to update everyone.

I´ve been in Cuenca, Ecuador since last Sunday at 12:30 in the morning when the bus rolled in. I can´t remember if I mentioned in my last blog that I´ve been staying at the Hostal Macondo, which is a beautiful hideaway in the heart of "al centro". If you remember, I was going to stay here just a couple days and then head for Peru since my rainforest plans fell through (I WILL be back here next year if the Lord tarries and allows)...but when I spoke to the airline, they told me that because of the type of ticket I have, I couldn´t change my flight. OK, so the best laid plans of mice and men (and women) sometimes fail...

Plan B. There are always Plan B´s when you're vacationing in South America. There's too much to do to get frustrated when your plans fall through...So When the airline said I couldn't change my flight, I decided to stay in Cuenca for the week and do Spanish classes here...which are very inexpensive...and be a tourist. I have to be in Quito Sunday night, because I have to catch my flight to Lima EARLY Monday morning. (That's the segment that I wanted to skip- Quito to Lima.)

So a quick update on my 6 days here... On Sunday, Mother´s Day, I walked around the old part of Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful city, and it is one I could move to in a God´s timing. Which reminds me, I've talked to several people who don't think I'm coming back. I wanted to confirm that I AM coming back. If for no other reason than that God has called me to the place of ministry that Í'm in at Valley Word, and until I'm released from there, I won't be MOVING anywhere. I can still WANT to move though...

Back to Cuenca. I've uploaded plenty of pictures from around the old city. I started Spanish classes on Monday, and am now armed with enough Spanish to be dangerous! I can at least understand a lot more than before! I met another solo woman traveler at the hostel on Tuesday. Her name is Brenda, and she's from Seattle, Washington. We've hung out and walked around Cuenca quite a bit. Yesterday we met another lady at the hostal, Kappa from Hickory, NC. She'd just graduated from UNC, Chapel Hill on Sunday and hopped on a plane Monday morning to come here. So the three of us did more sightseeing yesterday.

We also went to the suburb called Baños, not to be confused with the Baños where I stayed for 4 nights. They did however have a thermal fed pool and a Turkish bath at the one hotel...$5.50 for the day. It was wonderful, and the setting with the mountains around us was perfect. We soaked in the naturally hot, mineral rich water for a long time.

Our taxi ride back to Al Centro was definitly interesting. I think I´ve mentioned the driving here...Picture doing 50mph in downtown Roanoke (or whatever town you live in). Remember, traffic lights and stop signs here are just mild suggestions. And he who has a louder horn and is daring enough to face head on traffic to pass 3 vehicles on a blind curve gets there first! Yeah, anyway...It was an experience.

Then we finished the day with a 1/2 meter of pizza (Yes, they sell pizza by the meter at one of the local places here. It was REALLY good.) and ice cream from the local ice cream store that would remind you of a Baskin Robbins back home.

So anyway, I'm getting ready to head to this indigenous village for 24 hours (for not much more than the normal cost of a hostal and food.). We get to learn about their customs and rituals, find out about the medicinal plants they use, hike in the forest, ride a horse, eat comida tipico (typical indigenous food) AND we get to slow roast our own Cuy (guinea pig) tonight! We'll sleep there, eat breakfast in the morning, and then come back to Cuenca in time for me to do a little work and catch my bus to Quito.

Well, my time is up...have to catch another taxi to get to where I leave from (another adventure in itself). I haven't had time to proofread this post like I normally would, so I hope there aren't any typos. There are extra keys, and keys in weird places on this keyboard, so....

I give my love to all. I'll be home in a week from tonight!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Happy Mother's Day From Cuenca!

OK, so Mother's Day ended 1-1/2 hours ago from when I'm writing this. But I still wanted to send Mother's Day greetings to all of the moms I know!

I'm in Cuenca, Ecuador right now, and it was a beautiful day. I've uploaded some pictures from the day, and I have some video to upload too. Hopefully I'll get that done Monday. I had a great day exploring the city. I met a Russian couple, a couple from Australia, and some expatriates from the states. I treated myself to Mother's Day lunch at a very nice, all of them, inexpensive restaurante. I got to watch part of a free concert in the Parque Calderon, and tour a 190 year-old home that an elderly woman lives in with her 3 of it are uploading as I type.

It's late, and I'm tired, so I'm going to shut up for now...first close...but I have plans to catch everything up sometime Monday. My love to all! Dios Bendiga! (God Bless You!)

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Of Volcanoes and Waterfalls...In Banos and loving it!

[I started writing this last night...]

Well, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m sitting in an Ecuadorian Hostel (not the one I mention in just a couple paragraphs) watching a German movie with Spanish subtitles! I’d planned to travel to Puyo today, but had some trouble with a website that I was working on, and ended up missing the bus. 8 hours online (at $1/hour), and I still didn’t get done what I needed to get done! So since I’m here another night, I figured I’d try to catch up on my blogging.

I’ve tried to keep a journal in my notebook, so I’m going to start with those entries, and add to them as I go:

Monday 2008-05-05: OK, so I’m staying at this very beautiful (muy bonito) hostel called La Petite Auberge. It’s even nicer than the Oasis in that I have a private balcony that overlooks a flower-filled courtyard. There’s also a common area with a big fireplace. And desayuno (breakfast) is included. I took an ~2 hours long nap when I got in.

Before I left Riobamba, I realized the effects of the altitude there. The elevation in Riobamba is 9750 ft. I’d done some walking around Riobamba previously, but without my packs. I walked the ~ 1 mile to the bus station (I could have taken a taxi, but I wanted to take a few more pictures and find an ATM) Oriente Terminal, and by the time I got there, I was almost gasping for breath and felt exhausted. It dawned on me part way there…I’m used to the 1200 or so feet above see level in Roanoke, not the almost 10,000 ft where Riobamba is located. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a place with such a high elevation…but this was sure kicking my butt! :D

I took a couple baby aspirin…it seemed like the right thing to do…make the blood thinner and easier for the heart to pump, which seemed like it would increase the ability to circulate O2. It sounded good anyway, but I could be wrong…again, no experience with high altitude issues. At least I didn’t experience any of the altitude sickness symptoms that I’d been warned about by my Lonely Planet guide book.

Anyway, the bus ride was uneventful. We dropped a lot of elevation I a short time. I thought I was taking the bus to Baños that passed through Penipe- a 1 hour ride, but I’d been directed to the bus that went through Ambato- a 2 hour ride. I hadn’t had much to drink that morning, intentionally, but by the time we completed the 2 hour drive, necesita el baño muy rapido! The one at the bus terminal looked quite questionable, and it looked like they were making people pay for the use of it, so I decided to find my hostel. I found the one I was looking for without a problem, despite the fact that (according to the tourista map) there are well over 100 hostels in this little town of 18,000 people. I counted 16 in a just a 4 block stretch!

2008-05-05 7:00pm: I’m eating pizza right now, and at 9pm I’m going volcano watching. The tourism trade here is booming, thanks in part to the active volcano, Tungurahua, which sits right behind us. There are tour guides in every block offering Volcan Tours, mountain bike rentals, cascade tours, white water rafting, 4-wheeler rentals, trekking, mountain climbing, jungle excursions, horseback riding, paragliding, and more! I paid $4 for the Volcan Tour and $8 for the half-day cascade (waterfall) and cable car tour that I’m taking tomorrow.

Two things I’ve observed about traveling in Ecuador: 1. Unless you are in a very high tourism are, they DON’T speak English, and 2. They don’t take American Express…or Visa…or MasterCard, hardly anywhere! It may not be as bad as Uganda, but this is a poor economy, and I’ll hazard a guess that a great many people don’t have bank accounts, and even fewer have credit cards.

23:30 Just got back from the Volcan Tour. We rode on the top of the bus up the mountain. When we got there the clouds were starting to descend, so we weren't able to see the volcano shooting out any lava or anything, but there was a bonfire, and a guy playing guitar. We stood around the fire and people sang. They gave us this warm spiked...I mean spiced drink from a thermos jug...served in little 4 oz plastic cups. It was rather suspicious smelling (and tasting). It kind of kicked on the way down. I took some video at the campfire and am including it for your experiential pleasure.


2008-05-06- Tuesday: I’m on a tour to see the cascades. There are many lovely waterfalls in the area, and we’ve seen several from a distance so far. I also had a chance to ride a cable car across a canyon-y thingy several hundred feet over a river. It was a beautiful view, and I was excited in that I wasn’t scared at all (I’ve worked on overcoming a challenge with heights for years.)

A little while ago we stopped at a bridge where people do bridge jumps (not bugee jumping, more of a jump-swing). It’s only $10 to do the jump. Right now we’re stopped along the road waiting for the “highway department” to clear the big mudslide that affected probably a ¼ mile of road. Somehow the slide came within just a few inches of this little shack on posts…and missed it! It was amazing considering the amount of mud and rock that plowed through there. I don’t know why we can’t have hindsight during an event instead of afterwards…except that it couldn’t be called hindsight…We were stopped long enough that I could have gotten out and taken some great pictures, if I’d thought about it. I couldn’t tell if there were any houses under the mud and rock on the mountain side of the slide. On the downhill slide it took some power poles and came close to some small homes.

After the mudslide was cleared, we continued on through the tunnels and finally reached a waterfall that we could actually hike down to…and when I say hike, I mean hike! It was about a 20 minute hike straight DOWN. Thankfully there were some stairs built in a couple places that were particularly steep- a relative term…the whole thing was steep.

I’d worn my bathing suit under my clothes, because I’d been told that we could get in the water if we wanted to. There was only one other person (one of the guides, a young man named Elder – I don’t know if I spelled it right) who was stupid brave enough to get in the cold water. It was an exhilarating experience, and I’m glad I did it.

The hike back UP from the bottom absolutely Kicked my Butt! I’m blaming it on the altitude again…5500 feet. The young guide that got in the water with me waited on me the whole way. I think he was concerned I was going to pass out :D with as much gasping for breath as I was doing. At least someone was nice enough to help the “old lady” up the hill!


2008-05-06 16:00 Tuesday: I’m at a little café called Café Ali Gumba, and I just finished a great smoothie and a delicious heated jamon y queso sandwich on French bread with chopped tomato, onion, and cucumber. Talk about GOOD! MMMmmm. The café is run by a lady from Denmark who is married to an Ecuadorian. She’s had the café 6 years, and I can tell she does good business. And she serves fresh ground coffee…NOT the instant stuff that most of the places serve. She makes some yummy banana muffins too. :D


That was all I had handwritten in my notebook, so I’ll fill in from there. After I left the Café Ali Gumba (did I mention how good the food was?) I went in search of a massage. You can get a one hour massage at some of the spas here for $20. Kinda hard to pass that up! After my massage I figured a nap was in order. It’s a tough life here, but someone’s gotta live it!

I’d passed a café earlier that day, a few storefronts down from my hostel, that showed free movies nightly, so at 7:30pm I headed down to Café Good to watch Seven Years in Tibet, and old Brad Pitt movie that I’d never seen before. It was in English, with Spanish subtitles, so I could understand it! Whoo Hoo! I was pretty moved by the movie, as I know that the Tibet-China struggle is still being played out at this very moment. I also was challenged by the relationship that developed between Brad Pitt’s character and the Dali Lama (at that time a young boy)…the trust, love, and respect. The Holy Spirit referred to several points in the movie during my prayer time later that night. I think it’s interesting that God sends you to South America to see an American-made movie to teach you things that apply to your walk with God! God has a BIG sense of humor!

Anyway, that leads me back to where I started off…I was going to leave Baños yesterday, and head to Puyo after I did a few hours work online. Finding internet wasn’t the problem, but finding a place where I could hook my laptop to internet WAS a problem. There’s no Wi-Fi here. At least none that I’ve found. I finally found a place that would let me unplug one of their computers, and hook my laptop to their service.

I thought I’d only be online about 3-4 hours…(if you aren’t a computer geek, you’ll want to tune out about now!) upload some web pages to the server, change the DNS settings, add on some new domains to the host server, set up some lists in our auto-responder, etc… Yeah, well, “the best laid plans of mice and men…”

Eight hours later I was still fighting with the host server to get it to recognize a domain I’d added. I’d gotten a confirmation when I added it, but then it didn’t show up in the listing when I went back in…anyway, it’s till giving me problems, and I missed my bus because of it! I love computers!

It was 9pm EST/ 8pm local time when I left the internet place and went in search of LUNCH/Dinner and a place to stay. I settled on the RainForestur Hostal for lodging. The rooms are small, but clean and secure. After dumping my big backpack I headed down the narrow streets to find Casa Hood, a funky restaurant that most foreigners go to at least once. At Casa Hood you can find any kind of food, from Thai to Italian to Mexican to American to Ecuadorian. Most foods are served your choice of either vegan or con carne. You can take yoga classes there, play a board game, watch a free movie, or sit and relax by yourself or with friends. I had the vegan lasagna which was probably the best lasagna I’ve ever had…sorry Troy, it was even better than yours… And they make an incredible mocha shake…thick and rich…for $1.30.

I sat and played several rounds of solitaire then wandered back to the hostel at around 11pm EST/10pm local time. I’m not sure why I turned on the TV, I guess I had hopes of English speaking CNN to catch up on current events. Instead I settled on the German movie I mentioned at the start of my post.

After that went off I watched a Spanish-speaking minister from somewhere in south Florida. I actually understood part of it. He was talking about the prophetic word of God for this day and time, and how that God was looking for people who were willing to be radicals or revolutionaries for Him…in my way of explaining what I heard, to get off the pews and start really living out the Word of God (de Palabra de Dios) …in our churches, in our communities, in our workplaces. Anyway, it was good!

This morning I’m sitting back at Café Ali Gumba, and had a great breakfast (coffee, juice, eggs with cheese, homemade wheat bread, mixed fresh fruit, granola, and yoghurt.) I’m enjoying a second cup of fresh ground coffee, and then going in search of internet. I need to leave for Puyo today! (Because if not, the temptation to just move to Baños might get too great to overcome! :D ) Going to close for now…Thanks to all who are following along with me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

In Riobamba...

I'm finally getting caught up in my blogging! Yay! I know some of my posts are lengthy, but I have ulterior motives. I plan on turning my blog into a book, and I need to write enough for the framework that I'll need later on...

Now...Riobamba. Riobamba is another city...not much of a tourist place, especially on Sunday. BUT God has planted me in a beautiful spot! I'm staying at the Hostal Oasis, and it is just what it says it is, an oasis. Tucked away behind the nondescript outer walls is a wonderfully inviting and charming place. It is run by a family who live on the property. You enter through the reception room, but once you pass that, you walk through a lovely little courtyard and then into a smaller courtyard from which the guestrooms are reached. They have at least one dorm room that sleeps 3. And at least 3 private rooms. I believe they have 1 or 2 apartments as well. The private room that I was led to is so nice! It is kept immaculately clean, and I feel very welcome here.

I walked around town last night in search of groceries to cook my own meals while I'm here. After walking about a mile, and stopping in smaller stores that didn't have a full line of groceries, I finally found a mercado that was open, and was able to purchase bread and queso to go with the huevos, pasta, and margarina that I'd purchased in two other stops. Saturday was market day in the city, so there were still plenty of people around town. Indigenous people come from all around to sell there goods. I wish I'd been here earlier in the day to experience the sights and sounds.

The nights get very chilly here, and the warm blankets and comforter on the bed were very welcome when it was time to turn in for the night. Despite the proximity to the equator, the elevation provides respite from extremely hot temperatures. I got a full night's sleep, waking to my alarm at 8am this morning. I wanted to take part in VWM's pre-service prayer, albeit from a distance...

I've worked on the computer most of the day, and still have more to do tonight. But it's been a very relaxing and enjoyable day. The clouds that blocked the sun earlier are gone now, and it's beautiful! God is SOOOO awesome! There's no way that I can describe how I've felt so far on this trip. Blessed is an understatement. This has been one of those times where I feel like God has just stopped everything else, just to do something special for me. He's such a good God, and I love Him and appreciate Him sooo much! It's been one of those times where I truly feel like I'm God's favorite! (I know...and YOU are too!)

Well, I took a break to go in search of Pollo! Most everything is cerrado (closed) on Sunday, but I found a fast food Pollo place abierto (open). All I can say is..."I'm stuffed!" I ordered the Combi Asado which was the pollo asado (roasted chicken) combo. It came with 1/4 pollo asado, arroz (rice), papases fritas (french fries), cole slaw, and a gaseous (Coke). Grand total: $3.45. I love the prices here!

I'm getting better at recognizing some words. I guess I don't have much of a choice though. Oh! I was so excited! I walked all over last night hoping to find a panaderia (bakery) and I took a different route this evening and found one just a few blocks from the hostel. I'd already bought a loaf of bread, but I was able to get some yogurt there...and a dessert. :D

I hope everyone is enjoying my blog and the photos. I have more video to upload yet, and once I do, I'll have a video sharing page for that. I appreciate everyone's prayers. Thanks for being there!

From Guayaquil to Riobamba...

When I left you last, I was being dropped off at the bus terminal. It was a huge place that had a multi-story shopping center incorporated into the building. As I approached the entrance, a young man walked up to me and asked me (best as I could figure) what bus I was wanting to take. Before I go on, I have to say, this was a'll find out why in just a moment. I said Riobamba, and he motioned for me to follow He led me through the crowds of people and around the right turns to the ticket counter.

It turns out that the bus driver was there getting his bag, and the bus was going to leave as soon as he got to it. I paid the 10-cent fee to the terminal itself, and they motioned that I'd pay the cuatro cincuenta ($4.50) to the bus driver on the bus. After an exchange between the driver, the ticket agent, and the young man who'd led me there (with the "non-Spanish speaking me" being the obvious topic of conversation), the driver grunted to me to follow him, and we were off...weaving through 100's of people, up the two sets of escalators to the 3rd floor loading area, through the gates, and onto the bus. I'd planned to stop at the ATM before going on the bus, but if God hadn't sent that young man to lead me to the right place, I'd have missed the bus!

Within moments the bus headed out. I was a little disappointed that I hadn't had time to buy a drink before boarding, but that would end quickly...this is Ecuador, and there's always somebody trying to sell you food or drink. Even on the bus. At every traffic light, or even at random places along the road, there are street vendors waiting to pitch their wares to you. And being the thirsty, hungry, and curious gringo that I am, I was happy to oblige them. I bought water and juice through the window at a red light...reach out the window with your money and grab a bottle out of the bag.

Then some vendors flagged the bus down and hopped on for a sort distance so they could sell helados (ice cream!!! God loves me!!! :D ), frozen juice, pirated record copies, more water, etc. I bought, of course, ice cream and frozen juice in a baggie. (You poke a little hole in the baggie and suck the juice out as it melts.) Later in the ride one of the vendors had these flat bar -looking things (see picture.) I'd ignored him at first, but he kept talking straight to me, and I was curious as to what they for cincuenta centavos (50-cents) I figured I'd give it a shot. Seemed that lunch would be a series of snacks.

Mainland Ecuador is broken up into 6 regions. Guayaquil is in the South Coastal Region, and Riobamba is in the Central Highlands. By the time I got my "some-kind-of-fruit-maybe" bar, we were leaving the Coastal Region, and starting to enter what I'll call the foothills. I was snapping pictures like a tourist (oh, I am a tourist, so it's OK...) and getting weird looks from the other passengers...I WAS the ONLY gringo on the bus...I'd have gotten weird looks anyway. By the time we got to the section of the highlands with all of the spectacular, majestic views...I'd blown through 2 sets of batteries...and the rest were in the luggage compartment in my backpack! I was definitely kicking myself.

I've been to several foreign countries before, and I'm accustomed to seeing poverty. It never ceases to amaze me though the wonderful strength of the people who live in countries like this. You can see from the photos on my Flickr site that outside the cities they live in very meager dwellings, yet they have such a pride in themselves and their country. They are hard-working, resourceful, and have an entrepreneurial spirit to be envied by those back in the states. Lest I get on my "welfare-mentality-everyone-owes-me-something" soap-box, suffice it to say that there's a wealth to be learned from the people in countries like Ecuador.

Back to the bus ride...and the Central Highlands. Oh my gosh! What a magnificent ride! Ecuador's mountains are wild and beautiful! And Ecuador hosts some of the most active volcanoes in the Andes. Tomorrow I'm taking the bus to Banos which is a jungle town that had to be evacuated in 1999 when Volcan Tungurahua was changed from a yellow alert to an orange alert due to a climber and his guide being burned by a gaseous eruption. It's was changed back to a yellow alert in 2002, and though it is still active...burping ash, smoke, and steam... they don't consider it to be an imminent threat of eruption. It is continually being monitored.

As we drove, we passed numerous mudslides brought on by recent rain. None blocked the whole road, so they posed no problems for us. We stopped in a mountain town to let some street vendors on, and since I was hungry, I bought what I was hoping to be chicken on top of hominey. It came in a little styrofoam bowl, and you had to eat it with your fingers. It didn't quite taste like chicken, and was very salty. As we passed another little stand in the village the whole, splayed open pig on the table told me what I needed to know. Pork, not chicken. That explained the salty flavor. That also explained the suspiciously shaped piece I was gnawing on...pig ear...I ate part of it, but passed on the cartilage...I don't think you're supposed to eat that part.

I watched the mountainsides as we drove. They were amazingly steep, but what was more amazing was seeing the homes clinging to the steep mountainsides and the successful attempts at cultivating those steep areas.

I shot a little bit of video while we were driving...crazy! The buses pass in the fog, on a curve on a mountainside...they all do it! It was SOOO "just like in the movies!" I kept expecting either Harrison Ford or Juan Valdez to show up on the road...I'd have preferred the former! :D But neither one appeared, darn! The memorial crosses that were scattered along the steep mountain road were a grim reminder that there is a lot of mistaken judgment on the part of the drivers who traverse this area.

During the last couple hours of the trip, they driver's assistant turned on a Jean Claude Van Damme movie for us. You couldn't hear what was being said, but who needs to? It had the same basic plot that all of his movies have...pretty girl, seemingly endless bad guys, and he wins in the end. It ended just shortly before we arrived in Riobamba.

The bus doesn't actually go into TOWN, just to the outskirts, so I grabbed my bynow normal mode of transport...a taxi, and we went in search of my chosen hostel. That was a trip in itself. He didn't know where it was. We drove all over Riobamba, a city of 126,000 people, and no one we spoke to had heard of it. I finally got him to look at the map in my Lonely Planet guide book, and he realized he was on the wrong end of the very lengthy street that it was on. We finally arrived at about 8:30-ish, and I gave him a good tip for all his trouble.

The son of the hostel owner greeted me. I was so excited because he speaks a little bit of broken English...someone who understood a little of what I was trying to say! Whoo Hoo! English, by the way, is NOT widely spoken...anywhere that I've been here in Ecuador. They all look at me and shake their heads...I know they think I'm crazy for being here without speaking the language. Heck, I'M beginning to think I'm somewhere off center for being here without speaking the language as well! Oh well! To late to turn back now...just adds to the adventure! More in the next post.

In Guayaquil, Ecuador...

Hey everyone! I’m sitting in the courtyard of a beautiful little hostel in Riobamba. It’s called Hostal Oasis. I’m amazed at how nice some of these places are at such a low cost. My private, en suite room is only $10 a night, and it’s lovely!

But, I need to backtrack, because I didn’t get to post anything Friday night or yesterday, and there’s SO MUCH to share!

I got to Guayaquil Friday afternoon, and had thought about taking a bus downtown…but after the 5th or 6th taxi drive tried to drag me to his waiting taxi, and I got this one talked into Cuatro Dolares ($4) for the ride, I decided it was easier than having to find my way around a city of over 2 Million people by bus…That and the fact that the buses don’t just STOP at the bus stops. You watch for the one you want, and flag it down…yeah, well, I didn’t know which one I wanted. So that wasn’t too good a plan!

I had decided to check out the Hotel Alexander, as my trusty Lonely Planet Ecuador guide book (I won't ever go to another country without a Lonely Planet guide book...they are fantastic!) told me they had free Wi-Fi. It was pricier than some of the others, but was supposed to be nice. (And it was, but I’m not to that yet.)

The taxi ride…How do I describe my taxi ride? Well, I won’t use that language…but anyway, I think the driver was trying to do everything in his power to scare the daylights out of me. It didn’t work, but he gave it a good shot! For those who went to Uganda with us, picture 10 times worse than what we saw the taxis/boda bodas driving. The taxi drivers use their horn frequently. They literally force their way through traffic, cutting people off, riding down the center lane between vehicles, pulling in front of buses…uhmmm, they’re MUCH bigger than a taxi. It was definitely a wild ride. And the whole time I was kicked back taking it in thinking, “I am NOT going to let than man even THINK I’m concerned about his driving!” Not for the faint of heart.

Ok, so he pulls up in front of Hotel Alexander and the armed security guard/bell hop with the flack jacket on came out to the taxi and promptly grabbed my bags and led me into the building. Didn’t look like quite that bad an area, but whatever.

The lobby of the Hotel Alexander is reminiscent of one of the hotels in those old 1920’s or 1930’s movies. It had that look and charm to it. My pictures will describe it better than I can.

My stay at the Hotel Alexander was pleasant. There was a restaurant off the lobby, and I had dinner there Friday night. I ordered what I THOUGHT was a chicken chalupa :D. This is what the menu had on it: Chaulafan de Pollo. Ok, so I know pollo is chicken...I got that part right. But chaulafan definitely was NOT a chalupa! What I did get though was a HUGE plate of rice, veggies, and chicken that was wonderfully seasoned. The food was great, and the prices were very reasonable for the city.

I ordered the Desayuno Alexander for breakfast the next morning. Mainly because I was SURE I knew what all those Spanish words meant! And I was right! It included coffee with milk (cafe con leche), fresh juice, 2 eggs (huevos), 2 croissants, 6 slices of bacon, a plate of fresh fruit, and jam. All for only $3. I wonder if we could get them to move to Roanoke?

Anyway. I'd originally planned to stay in Guayaquil for 2 nights, but after my view of the city on the way to the hotel, I decided there probably wasn't a whole lot for me to see there within walking distance...I just wasn't "feeling" staying another night. So I finally Got my stuff packed up by around 1:00-ish and checked out. The always available taxi was waiting outside the door, and I headed off towards Terminal Terristre. That's the bus station where you catch the buses to other cities. My new taxi driver was a much safer driver...or there was just less traffic, and the ride to the bus terminal was uneventful. You can check out the pics on my Flickr site (which is now organized into several sets for my trip).

Friday, May 2, 2008

A Backpacker's Load...

I had a request for a picture of me carrying my load! Someone was curious about how I can carry two packs at once. So I took this picture after I packed up my gear for my flight in less than 12 hours. This is actually a common load for a "European style backpacker," and actually distributes the weight better than if it were all in one on the back.

In the USA, the word backpacker brings to mind mountain trails, white blazes, and maybe even Boy Scouts. But to the rest of the civilized world, the word backpacker is used to describe budget travelers- usually college age people, but not always- who frequent the dorms in youth hostels for lodging, carry their belongings in 1 or 2 my load here, and roam the globe in search of adventure and the opportunity to expand their understanding of the world and people around them.

Many are women. Many travel by themselves. I've met LOTS of them during my wanderings, and have never had a bad experience. I've seriously met some really cool, interesting people during my travels, and when adventure vacationing, wouldn't trade the experience for all of the 5-Stars out there. (I don't have anything against 5-Star hotels...If I'm going to a business conference or a ministry conference- or just want to stay in one. But there's just something special about traveling this way.)

I can see some of you shaking your head right now...and can even hear that, "Dear God, what are we going to do with Sandi?" come out of your mouth! I can't help it...I'm just not "wired" like some of you! To ME this is normal! I bet Jesus would stay at a youth hostel...and hang out with all the cool people there... Hmmm maybe like he hung out with the publicans and sinners? ;D

Okay, enough of my soap box... Hasta luego!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Do You Know the Way to San Jose...?

Ok, I don't know if the song that's running through my mind was about San Jose, Costa Rica or not. But I know the way to...or at least around San Jose. I spent about 4-1/2 hours walking around San Jose today. It was great weather, although I see that I got a little bit of red on my shoulders. Hmm...need to pick up some sunscreen!

I guess I need to day started at around 4:30 am local time, when one of my roommate's got her wake-up call- the staff banging on the door after a failed attempt at getting it unlocked! I'd gone to bed pretty early yesterday, so even though I tried falling back asleep, I was awake. My phone slid out of my pocket into the bed at that point, and I remembered that I had Wi-Fi on it. I sent a couple emails, and then headed to what I'd hoped would be a hot shower... HAH! I followed the directions that were taped in the shower stall. It even teased me with 30 seconds of hot water. Then....COLD! Oh my gosh, it was so cold! Brrrr!

A view of my dorm room at Costa Rica Backpackers Hostel.

Anyway, enough of my shower woes! I went back to the room and finally started my Proverbs Bible Study that Pastor Debbie had challenged all of us to do (read one chapter from Proverbs every day...corresponding with the day of the month you're on.) I had a great prayer time, and then I went in search of breakfast...mmmm Pancakes! The hostel has a restaurant on the property, and pancakes with refresca (juice) were only ₡1500 colones (about $3 USD).

After breakfast I was ready to embark on today's adventure...wander around the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica! I managed to be here on a holiday, so the museums were closed, which was a little disappointing, but I had a good walk around the city, and got to see lots of interesting things.

Just 1-3 blocks from the hostel I came across the Supreme Court building and the Justice buildings. Shortly after that I turned onto Boulevard del Museo Nacional. I saw what looked like a turret a couple blocks away, and headed off in that direction. It was the Museo Nacional, but, alas, it was closed. Gotta love holidays! After receiving more catcalls and "comments" (from a group of men on the porch of the Legislative Assembly building) in 30 seconds than I've had in several years, I headed off towards the central area of San Jose. (You learn VERY quickly to ignore and walk away!)

Next I came upon the Cow Parade. Not the kind of Cow Parade you might be thinking of...there were cow statues spread all over San Jose central, painted in all sorts of interesting ways. There was one dressed in a pigeon costume (trying to blend in with the 100's of pigeons there!), one had an underwater scene, there was one standing up dressed in a skirt and showing her legs and udders, there was a Ronald McDonald cow...can't get away from Mickey D anywhere!...and even a Pole Dancing Cow!

Ronald McDonald Cow in San Jose, Costa Rica

It was getting warm, so I figured a pistachio ice cream cone was in order :D to the tune of ₡950 colones (just under $2). I found a bookstore and got the Spanish Phrase book (₡3,900 colones)that I'd meant to pick up in the States, and then wandered down to the Wendy's for a bowl of Chile and a Coke Light- I Had to have a place to study my new phrase book, right? Chile and a medium Coke runs ₡1440 colones in San Jose. (Yes, all of the same restaurants that we have at home are here too...Papa John's, Church's Chicken, McDonald's, etc...)

I got to see the outsides of the Museo Nacional and the Teatro Nacional...again, closed due to the holiday. Then there was a parade. I'm really not quite sure what the parade was all about. The few banners that I read were in regards to Human Rights, but I don't think that was the purpose of the parade...if anyone can read the banners I caught on my pictures and decipher for us, I'd appreciate it!

I got to go into two really cool churches. I've always loved the big Cathedrals, and San Jose has a few. Two were within my walking area today, and I got lots of pictures. I got a short video of part of the service in Catedral Metropolitana. I was a little nervous filming in there, as you can tell by the shakiness of the video! The security guard told me it was OK to take pictures inside, but I didn't realize they were doing some kind of service when I went in. The cathedrals are open all day for people to go in and pray whenever they want to...maybe they know something that we don't...?

After I left there, I headed down to a church I'd passed yesterday on my walk...Iglesia de la Merced (Church of Mercy, maybe?). It was much different, but also way cool! I got lots of pictures there as well. When I left there, I snapped a few pictures at Parque la Merced, and then headed in the general direction of "home". My route led me down Avenida Central, some of which was MAYBE tourist area, and some of which definitely didn't seem like it.

Iglesia de la Mercad, San Jose, Costa Rica

I was getting thirsty, so I got the always available bottle of Coca-Cola- ₡800 colones ($1.60 USD) then wandered by a pizza place that I couldn't pass up! The special was a big slice of pizza and a refresca natural (watered down juice! ;D) for only ₡880 colones. (~$1.70 USD). After that I headed "home" for the day. I was back to the hostel by 1:30 pm local time, and have been uploading and labeling pictures ever since. (The connection is SLOW, but I'm SO grateful for the ability to communicate with those back home. ) After dinner I have LOTS of real work to eBook to finish for my favorite clients... I'll stay in touch as often as I can. I don't know what Ecuador has in store as far as internet, so my posts may not be as long... Did I hear a BIG AMEN to that? :D My love to all back home! Dios Bendiga! God bless you!