Saturday, April 28, 2007

Back to Ecuador: Mindo, Cotacachi, Baños

After a brief trip back to the beloved Taganaga house, Andy and I headed to Cali. We spent less than 12 hours in Cali (sleeping for 3), where we coincidentally ran into Johan, a swedish guy Andy had met previously in Venezuela. Johan is a chef (although he did make us some bad eggs full of burned hair...) and he is hilarious.
On the bus ride from Cali to Quito, we watched as the landscape changed to one of rural Andean topography and culture. We had arrived in the Ecuadorian sierra. We had a short stay in Quito where we met up with Mary O´Donnell, and went to a racous party of pure debauchery.

Next we went to Mindo for a day of hiking, swimming, and playing in the cloud forest. O´ lindo Mindo! I would like to have a farm there someday.

After saying goodbye to Johan and Mary, I headed to Cotacachi with Andy and Luis to visit our host families from 2 1/2 years ago. We showed up unnanounced, and were greeted with such warmth and graciousness. It was wonderful to be back if for only a couple days! I spent the time shelling beans and catching up with Mamita Ester and her grandkids, buying seeds and planting beds of vegetables in Andy´s and my family´s gardens, cutting Alfalfa for the pigs, and not a whole lot more.

After Cotacachi, Luis and I headed to Baños. Baños is Luis´ hometown, so going there with him was especially enjoyable. It was my first visit there, and I hope it won´t be the last! i fell in love with Baños immediately; it is quite possibly my favorite city in Ecuador. It is a small city located at the base of the very active Tungurahua volcano. It´s somewhat precarious existence is also in my opinion one of its charming qualities. As one enters Baños, surrounded by remains of lava flows (less than 1 year old), towering Andean mountain peaks, and magnificent flowing waterfalls, one has a humbling sense of being completely insignificant and at the will of mother nature´s path. Luis and I rented bicycles and coasted down the mountain 20 km to Pailon del Diablo waterfall, which is said to be one of the ten most magnificent waterfalls in the world. (Sounds like quite a subjective measure to me, but I wouldn´t argue otherwise!)

The next morning we spent in one of Baños´ many thermal baths before returning to Quito. I said goodbye to Luis and am now awaiting a night bus that will bring me to the coast of Ecuador. Montañita here I come!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Colombia - Cartagena

Saturday and Sunday we spent in Cartagena. Cartagena is legendary for it´s well preserved colonial history. It was founded in 1533, and served as the main Spanish port on the Caribbean coast. Treasure plundered from the Indians was stored here until it could be shipped to Spain,and it also served as a center of slave trade. In the 17th century, a wall was constructed to encircle the entire city, protecting it from pirates and other attacks.

Present day Cartagena is beautiful, yet caters to wealthy Colombian and foreign tourists. Thus, it wasn´t exactly our cup of tea. We headed back toward Santa Marta for a couple days. Tomorrow Andy and I will fly to Cali, Colombia en route to Quito, Ecuador where we will meet up with Mary O´Donnell and hopefully Luis to travel in the sierra.

While I haven´t been real vigilant about updating this blog, I do keep up with uploading all my pictures (in case they decide to erase themselves from my memory card!) Just click the link in the right column and you will be directed to my photo site.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Colombia - Bogota and the Carribbean coast

Well, it´s been a few weeks since I last wrote. Time flys! I´ve been busy, just existing and nothing more. I arrived in Bogotá on May 26th, and a banner in the airport greeted me saying ¨Colombia is passion¨. I have been reminded of this national motto frequently as I travel. Colombians I´ve met in general are very welcoming, gregarious, and optimistic about life. I´ve enjoyed every place we´ve visited immensely, and ended up staying longer than planned. There is a good vibe in Colombia. Despite warnings from the U.S. government about travel in Colombia, I have never felt in danger and everyone I talk to mentions how much safer it is now than it has been in the past. However, there is no denying the ever present struggle with insurgent groups, the military, and paramilitary forces. The FARC and the ELN are the two main guerrilla groups, controlling 40% of the country and touting 25,000 members combined. They get money through extortion and kidnapping, and also from drug trade which brings in $6 billion dollars per year to the economy. Additionally, there are 30,000 paramilitary troops who have committed equally heinous crimes in the name of rightest private interests. It´s a complex issue. I digress.

So when I arrived in Bogota, I joined forces with 3 traveling companions: Andy and Zac, friends I originally met two years ago in Ecuador; and Eli (aka Vince, Vincente), a bloke from Philadelphia. I spent only two days in Bogotá and have a limited feel for the city. But as far as bigger cities go, I like it. Many colleges/universities, plazas, cathedrals, museums, the national capital, and bars where you can dance until the wee hours of the morn. A highlight of Bogotá was meeting David, a friend from the states, who has lived in Bogotá for about 3 years. He has since gotten married and opened a gourmet restaurant in the cities´ historic center.

From Bogota we took a hot, humid, suffocating 18 hour bus ride to the Caribbean coast. That first night we stayed in Taganga, a small fishing village many people told us was beautiful. We did not see the value at first, but later it won us over as we found ourselves returning to the seemingly unimpressive yet charming and tranquil place.
From Taganga we had the vague plan of going to Palomino, a small coastal town near Tayrona National Park, to spend Easter week (similar to spring break in the U.S. - everyone goes on vacation). We coincidentally met someone who has a small finca (farm) right near Palomino, and he invited us to stay there. Not knowing whether this would pan out or not, we took the chance. Hours later as we arrived on the isolated beachfront coconut farm in a heavy-duty Willis jeep, dust sticking to our sweaty bodies and Scandinavian skin burning under the harsh sun, we smiled at the beauty and simplicity awaiting us. We spent the next week there in pure relaxation mode. My watch broke, and I was glad. I read the Tao of Pooh, which helped me to get away from always needing to be busy and doing things, and instead be able to quietly sit in peace and feel happy. We cracked open coconuts with machetes and drank the sweet milk, read in our outside ¨living room¨ full of hammocks, harvested fresh water shrimp from the river nearby, cooked our meals over a handmade fire ¨stove¨, braved the tumultuous ocean waves, bathed in a freshwater stream, built a sweat lodge, and went to a cock-fight. It was a week well spent.

We met some Colombians while at the finca who offered us a house to use in Taganga. Free - how can one pass that up? So we spent the last weekend of Easter week back in Taganga, enjoying the party. We ended up staying here a week as well. Andy, Zac, and I took a 3-day open water diving certification course. It was fantastic!

Well, I have run out of time for the moment. I will return tomorrow to add a few more photos, and bring you to the present time of my travels.