Sunday, January 28, 2007

We took 13 high school students deep into the Amazon jungle.... and came out of it all pretty well. No one got sick, bitten by some crazy ant (and there are a lot of crazy ants!) or bug or drowned in the river during a storm.

It was really amazing~ so crazy to be in the jungle ~the real jungle. Chris would be reading about the rain forest in a book 'Tropical Nature' and we'd see the very things he was reading about.
Anyway, it's Sunday night so I 'll just post a few preview pictures and we'll post more about the trip very soon.

Did I mention how we got there? We flew to Coca ( a short, 30 minute flight) then took a boat for 2 hours down the Napo River

and then took a bus (Chiva) through the Repsol oil company's land for 1 and 1/2 hours

to the Tiputini River and another boat ride for about 2 1/2 hours to the research station.

The accommodations were pretty rustic since it's designed for researchers, not tourists. No hot water and electricity for only a few hours each day. and everything seemed very moist because of all the rain.

Each day we would split the students into two groups and chris and I would each take a group with a guide and head out for our adventures.

We'll post more very soon but wanted to let you know we made it back safely and loved the jungle.

Friday, January 12, 2007

And now.... more pictures from our hikes and stay at the Black Sheep Inn..... (click to enlarge)
A friendly chicken

Our morning view...

A farmhouse along the hike

A llama grazing

Directions in the fog

Chris was, of course, taking lots of pictures of plants and flowers

Now we're really close to the cheese factory... It's just beyond this big puddle.

And one last picture with some cool clouds.

Hello everyone,
It's Friday night and Chris is painting and I'm looking through pictures thinking, "We really need to post some of these." So, even though they're from our christmas break I think they're worth posting.
We started the evening at the lower school principal's house. There's a tradition of having what they call TGIF's at various people's houses. Which is basically a Friday happy hour party. They have the most amazing view of Quito from their roof and their living room.

So here's some pictures starting with chris in his classroom on the day we took susan and tom to see our school.

And then we have me in my classroom on the same day....
And here's me one morning when chris was at work and I was heading out on some errands.

I also felt like this picture of us was a great one to post because it's very early (after a late night of bridge playing) and we're trying to get a taxi to the bus station to head out on our multi-legged journey to the Black Sheep Inn. You might notice that Tom is carrying (very carefully ~ unlike Susan and I's bananas in our bags) a papaya. He carried it around for a while and ate it in Latacunga before we changed buses.

And there are lots more pictures from the Black Sheep Inn and our hikes there that are worth sharing so hang in there and I'll try to figure it out. I wish I could do captions, but oh well. Here's a picture susan took of me doing the laundry out back... isn't the developing world fun?

Actually I kind of like doing laundry out back and hanging it up on the line. It gets a little tricky in the rainy season though.
We're on the top and fourth floor of our building. Here's a picture of Chris having a conversation with someone on the third floor ( out the window of course).

Here's a picture of Tom drinking sake ~ we went out for sushi in Qutio ~ I know it may sound weird but it was delicious!!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

One more addition to the previous post...

I learned how to make an arrow on a picture in photo shop so I can show you the view from our hike from the Quilotoa Crater lake to the black sheep inn.

I definitely reccommend that you click the picture to enlarge it to see it better. I know it's not the biggest, darkest arrow ever but hopefully you can see it and get an idea of the terrain and distance we traveled. And the crazy thing is this is just a normal trip from one town to another for some people carrying large sacks of rice and things on their backs.

The first picture was taken when we were hiking along the rim of the crater and the lake was below us. We could look out in the distance and find the tiny town and the patch of dark soil that was being cultivated on a very steep hill right next to Black Sheep Inn. That was our landmark to show us where we were hiking to.

The next picture also shows the Black Sheep Inn but it's taken closer to the destination ~ from the top of the canyon when we're about to start hiking down to the bottom only to take a quick rest and hike back up to the top.

The next picture is when we had hiked back up the canyon and were looking back in the distance to where we had come down from the crater. You can see a sandy spot which is where we turned off the rim.

And now that you have a sense of where we started and where we were headed and know that we kept refusing the help of a guide I want to share with you some of the clear, concise directions we were working from,

"There are many trails leading down from the crater rim. At some point you will walk along or across the road to Huayama. There are two Huayama's be sure to go to Huayama, not Huayama Grande which is actualy smaller, but has a new church."
Okay, no problem.....

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Feliz Navidad & Prospero Ano Nuevo!!

Hello everyone ~ we've been remiss in our blogging but you know how the holidays are....
Where to begin... well, our guests Susan & Tom returned from their travels in the Andes on the day our holiday break started. We got to try out some recipes from our new cookbook ~ it's a vegetarian (and some fish) ecuadorian cookbook.

We made a traditional potato soup (locro) that has a big slice of avocado in it, a quinoa and cabbage soup (yum) and a weird peanut/plaintain baked dish. The thing about ecuadorian cuisine is that you always need to serve a salad because there's not a lot of green vegetables in the recipes.

Anyway, on Christmas day we woke up and passed the morning drinking mimosas with fresh squeezed juice and sat on the terrace enjoying the warm weather.

Later, the four of us went over to a friend's house ~ a teaching couple with two kids and a bunch of visitors. We had a great meal with them and then hopped on the bus and headed home.

The day after christmas we were hanging out and were itching to play a game. Chris suggested pinochle but we didn't have all those cards you need and the rules and stuff.

So, I got on the internet and printed off the
bidding rules for bridge and tried to teach the group (with my limited knowledge from playing with my family and cousins). It was so much fun that we played until 4 in the morning (chris and I never stay up that late!) and unfortunately had to get up a little before 7 am to catch a bus for our 4 day adventrue to the Black Sheep Inn.

It's this amazing ecolodge in this remote area that is absolutely beautiful ~ like nothing we've ever seen.

To give you an idea of how remote it is, here's how we got to the inn which is right outside a village called Chugchilan...

We took a taxi to the Quito bus station and took a two hour bus ride south to a town called Latacunga. Then we got on a different and much more 'rustic' bus for a four hour ride to the town where the inn is.

This ride is almost all on dirt roads and winds around driving on the edge of a very steep ridge. At one point a truck came around a curve heading toward us and luckily the bus driver had quick reflexes and stopped and backed up so the truck could pass.

The bus was packed and stopped at lots of people's houses along the way to drop them off and unload their stuff from the roof of the bus.

Here's some pictures of people in the towns we passed and stopped in along the way.

The inn itself is full of backpackers from all over the world and is in a perfect spot for hiking. They serve gourmet vegetarian food ~ we had the most delicious swiss chard soup and veg. shepherd's pie.

It was pretty busy and the first night we had to stay in the bunk house but the following two nights each couple had their own room with a shared bathroom with a composting toilet and a little garden in the bathroom and a fabulous view.

The next day the four of us went on a hike to a cheese factory (yes, a cheese factory) and along a paramo. It was the most beautiful hike I've ever been on. Chris and I just kept saying we couldn't believe the view, it was really stunning. Make sure you click on the pictures to enlarge them to get a better idea of the view.

I'm not sure if we've mentioned this but Ecuador is not exactly the land of delicious cheeses. You basicially have cheddar tipo (type) which is pre-sliced and lots of white cheese (queso fresco). So, at some point some aide workers taught some local people in this area to make some swiss style cheeses in order to help them create a product they could sell. Well, we had tried the cheese at the inn and I was hoping to find the factory open to buy some emmental cheese that was really delicious.

But back to the hike... here are some pictures of the scenery and us taking lots of rest breaks.
At first, we missed the turn to head up the hill but some nice guys who were hanging out pointed us in the right direction and to make up time we took the 'short cut' which is basically
straight up hill instead of following the road.

We hiked and hiked and finally found the factory but it was closed. Apparently it closes around 11 am but I can't imagine they get much walk in business after seeing its location. When we started to walk back up the driveway a woman who had seen us walked up and offered to unlock the doors and sell us some cheese. We bought 2.5 kilos of emmental (the smallest amount almost 5 lbs!) and Tom graciously carried it in his backpack for the rest of the hike.

We took a route back that took us along a paramo and we walked through the clouds ~ again it was just really amazing.

The only downside of the hike was that Susan lent me her sunscreen - it was one of those sticks that you use on your face.
Well, let's just say I'm not a
fan of the stick - I ended up with a white stripe across my forehead and to read stripes on either side and the rest of my was a patchwork of white and red.
I really looked crazy ~ it's finally started to fade.

The next day about 12 people from the inn hopped onto the back of a cattle truck and rode for about an hour to the Quilotoa crater lake ~ another crazy ride being jostled around like... livestock.

The crater lake hike is supposed to be
one of the best in the country and Chris and I were very excited to try it out (we're really getting into the whole hiking thing ~ can you tell?). Susan and Tom decided to walk down to the water and take the bus back instead of hiking so Chris and I and a fellow named Stuart headed out with our map (we decided not to join the rest of the large group on the hike with a guide in favor of going out on our own).
Stuart was a great hiking partner ~ he and chris tried to decipher the directions and we were all going at similar paces and there was just the right amount of chatting and silence.

It was a crazy hike. You start out hiking along the rim of the crater looking at the blue/green lake below. Then you head off and hike along some fields for a while and through a small town.

If I knew how to put a caption or an arrow on these pictures I would to show you how when we were on the rim of the crater we could look out way across the canyon and see
where we were going and toward the end we could look back and see where we headed down off the crater rim ~ it looked incredibly far and impossible to get from point A to point B because of the canyon in the middle.

Next we started heading down, down, down into a canyon until
you're at the bottom. You have to hike along some very small ledges ~ at one point the path was kind of crumbling away and there was only enough space for one of your feet. Again, it's moments like these that I'm so glad I'm hiking with Chris. He's so calm and helpful just like during the rock climbing.
After you get to the bottom of the canyon you, of course, then have to climb back up and up and up. This is by far the toughest part of the hike. You pass a few villagers along the way who are going from one town to another and they seem vaguely amused at us hikers. The whole hike took about 5 hours. We were very tired by the end and were so happy to make it back to the town until we got to the bottom of the Black Sheep Inn's very, very steep driveway. Stuart looked up the steep hill that was between us and the inn and simply said, "Shit!" It was pretty funny.
We played bridge in the evenings and hung out with some of the other guests and ate the yummy food. We ended up hiring a driver to take us back for the return trip because the one bus that passes through the town passes through at 4 am and then you have to get 2 more buses. So, instead we paid a guy named Lex to drive us and we arrived home in under 4 hours - much better (albeit much more expensive)! It was Dec. 30th and a lot of the small towns put up make shift road blocks and wear masks (usually they're supposed to go up on the 31st) and ask each car to give them around 25 cents to help fund their new year's party. We had to stop several times to pay to pass through the blocks.

For New Year's Eve we decided to stay in and eat and drink and play bridge at home (we quickly turned into bridge addicts). A little before midnight we heard fireworks so we went out on the terrace and watched the fireworks going off in all directions. There's also a tradition in Ecuador where people sell saw dust filled dummies with masks that you're supposed to burn at midnight. This is supposed to symbolize burning the old year and some of the masks are politicians (we saw lots of George Bush and even Nixon masks) and some are just generic masks.

Our neighbors burned one at midnight on the street outside our house so we watched this, fireworks and played music on the terrace and it was so much fun. It was a beautiful night and there was even some dancing (does anyone remember Susan's 'interpretive dance' from the wedding?).

Susan and Tom left a few days after New Year's and Chris and I are back to school on Monday. We've had incredible weather ~ it's been a mini dry season. Although we've heard about all the warm weather on the east coast (we stream NPR on the computer) and we're a little nervous because we just saw "An Inconvenient Truth".
We have two weeks of school and then we go on Chris' biology class trip to the jungle for a week. I am lucky enough to be going as a chaperone. We're going to a research station really far into the jungle, almost to the border of Peru. You take a plane, boat, bus and then motorized canoe
to get there. We're so excited ~ it sounds incredible and of course we'll take lots of pictures.

Well, that's about it for now ~we'll try not to let too much time lapse between posts.
We miss everyone and were thinking of all our friends and family over the holidays.

One last picture. It's kind of like our international moment of zen (stolen from the daily show). Susan took a couple of photos of our last sunset for 2006 from our terrace....