The Start of Ecuador, Part 2!

Written by Emma on June 30th, 2007

Hola again! Here´s another lazy copy-paste post about my adventures! If you´ve read the email, no nead to read this, it´s all the same. For those of you who didn´t, for whatever reason, read on about all the fun!

First, I forgot to mention that Alto Choco is considered a bio-diversity ‘Hot Spot’, which means it has a really high level of plant and animal diversity (more plants and insects than animals in Alto Choco). There are only 10 ‘Hot Spots’ in the world!
Well, this last week was busy. After the weekend in Otovalo, four of our group of 9 got quite sick. Nobody’s quite sure what set it off, but everyone is better now. I myself was quite ill yesterday, but I took my Cipro (antibiotic) and it worked miracles, I am back doing very well today! On Monday we helped some local ladies dye cabulla to make crafts and also learned how to make a bit ourselves (this is the ones who weren’t sick). Then we did reforestation. We planted 64 trees in about 3 hours with only 11 people! That was more than any other group, in less time, with less people! On Tuesday those well enough went for a hike – from ISV it was me, Eddie, Cheryl, Laurissa, and Kate, and Helen, Brett, Mark, and Ashley came too, along with our project leader, Nuno, and our guide, Milton. What a hike! We took the bus for an hour and started our hike at 8:30 in the morning to go to the base of the Cotacatchi volcano. It was a pretty intense hike, we were going up at a very steep angle. Unfortunately, just before we got to the very top I had to stop. I´d woken up with a cough that morning that I hadn´t thought much of, but in the higher altitudes with less oxygen and doing very hard hiking, I just couldn´t get my breath at all, and was wheezing and coughing quite badly. So I didn´t get to see the Cotacatchi lagoon. However, that was just the beginning of the hike! We then had to hike back to Alto Choco across the mountains. We walked along some ridges, far up above the tree-line, and the view was absolutely amazing. Then we headed down down down down down. It seemed like we were going down forever! It was so steep my legs were aching from having to jump and slide; in some places it was so steep you could be almost vertical but have your hands on the ground behind you! We had to climb down roots and use vines to rappel or absail down some places. It was exhausting but exhilarating. We didn´t get back until 7;30pm – about an hour after sunset! That was a little worrying, but it ended up being ok. There was an almost full moon, as well, which helped. And our headlamps attracted insects, which in turn ended up attracted a few bats, which swooped around our heads. That was really amazing!

Wednesday morning we had the morning off, as half of us were sick and the other half absolutely exhausted. In the afternoon we carried rocks from the river up the steep bank (about 1.5 stories up at a 45 degree or greater angle) and then to the botanical gardens so that the next group can continue the path we laid last week.

Thursday was a surprise for us! We were told we were going on a field trip and that we should bring bathing suits and towels. In the morning we all piled down to Milton´s (his house is on the road) and were told we were going to have to catch a ride to our destination. So Milton´s neighbor pulled up in his pickup truck with handrails fixed to the sides of the bed, and we all piled in the back! We rode for about an hour standing in the back of a pickup truck swerving around the potholes and on the dirt roads, clinging to roads on the sides of mountains! It was actually really really fun, and much better than the cramped, crowded, non-air-conditioned buses. We got off the truck and went on a half-hour hike up to the ridge of a hill, and went and visited the house of man who leads the resistance against the mining companies, and saw some of the aztec artifacts that had been plowed up in the surrounding fields. Then we all walked back down the path, saw some burial mounds, picked some oranges, and got back in the truck. After about another hour, and a quick tour through Apuello (a nearby village), we arrived at the thermal baths! After a week of cold showers (we ran out of gas and there are supply problems at the moment) we were all excited! They had pools from freezing cold to bath-warm, and all in between. We had a wonderful time swimming around, surrounded by the Andes mountains. Then we all got a lukewarm shower (better than our freezing cold river water!) and back to Alto Choco to pack, pack, pack.

Friday morning we were up early to pack up our last things and carry our bags down to the road to get our coach. Everyone on the reserve came with us, as we had to go through Otovalo on our way to Quito, so Brett, Paul, Helen, Sarah, Mark, Ashley, and Nuno all got to stay with us for a little longer on the bus, where we said our sad goodbyes! After living with them all for two weeks, we were quite a little group, and it will be strange travelling around without them! Then there were 9, and we were off to Quito.

Quito! Well, if I´d written you this letter yesterday, I would be much more apprehensive, but I was a stranger yesterday, and sick too. Yesterday was not so much fun, as we mostly had orientation meetings, unpacking, laundry, shopping for essentials and souvenirs, and then everyone went to a club and drank. We also went to the ´Center of the world´ monument, and that was quite interesting, though we were given wrong directions to the ´real´ center of the world, so sadly did not get to see it! (By the time we got to it, it was closed, as we didn´t get to the area until about 5pm) So, not so much fun for me, especially as the only people I know are those from Alto Choco – all the people from the other projects I don´t know as I didn´t do Spanish lessons! So I had an early night last night.

Today we had breakfast early and then got fitted for our hiking boots for tomorrow. Then it was back on the bus, and where to? Otovalo again! All the Alto Choco people were a little unhappy, as it´s a 2 hour drive, and we just took it yesterday! But we got to go to the Saturday market again, which is definitely worth going to. Then back on the bus and back to Quito.

So tonight my roommate, Izzie, and I got together with some of the other people, and a group of 7 of us went out to eat at an Italian place, which was delicious, then Izzie and I went to a place called Xocoa, which is a chocolate-lover´s dream, and each had a fruit and chocolate fondue – for just $3! Now I´m at the local internet cafe typing this up! Today I also found an English bookstore run by an American man, so I had a look around at the books, which was a lovely little break from my adventures for me! He also had a sticker from Archer City, Texas, which has a semi-famous bookstore I went to a few weeks before coming here, so it was a neat connection. You never know how you´ll know people around the world! So far, I am really enjoying Quito, and wish I wasn´t leaving tomorrow! There are so many neat restaurants and dessert places, not even mentioning the museums and sights to see! I am barely scraping the surface in my 2 days here! And everything is so cheap! Tonight was $8 for a personal pizza that was delicious and my chocolate fondue, and two bottles of water. There are so many people from so many places here, and so much is going on. There is a square with a fountain with lots of restaurants around it with outside seats, and I wish I could just sit and enjoy the atmosphere a few more nights! I will be coming back someday!

So tomorrow we are off to go glacier climbing on Cotopaxi volcano – at a higher elevation than any of the continental US! I´m nervous but also really excited. We´re getting crampons, ice picks, everything! And from there, to the Amazon! Right now I am in a very good mood about the next two weeks, as I am getting to know people. It will certainly be a huge adventure!

I hope everyone else is doing w
ell, and know you´re all in my thoughts as I do my travelling! It still blows my mind regularly to think ´I´m in Ecuador!´ And being back in a city after Alto Choco is something else, let me say. Having an attached bathroom, having electricity, having a television, having lights that come on with a switch! Living in the backwoods certainly makes you realise modern conveniences! I think I will really miss Alto Choco, as I got used to the routine and the way things works, and it´s very obvious that the next two weeks will be super super busy, unlike the laid-back attitude of Alto Choco, where all the business stopped after 6:30. But then, it´s something new, and I´m sure it will turn out to be a crazy two weeks. And I´m sure the Galapagos will allow a little retreat away once more before my trip is over.

Wish me luck on Cotopaxi tomorrow, as I´ll be needing it! I´m working on getting some pictures up for you all and will send you a link as soon as I can : )

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