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.

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