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January 30, 2005

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

So we returned from the farm and the Podocarpus National Park a day ago. in terms of things we've done on this trip, our 3 day hike up to the paramo came in a close runner up to the jungle adventure.
we first spent a day and a half on the organic farm that aaron, kristy and matt had worked on for a month. the owner, Eve the Canadian, bought himself a big plot of land perched on the side of a hill, about 3 hours hike from the town of Vilcabamba. it was inspiring to see this guy completely throwing himself into transforming land that had been slashed and burned for years into a sustainable farm based on permaculture techniques. I had a go with the machete chopping sugarcane in the lower field, and then aaron and i soundproofed the tin roof on the bathroom so that it didn't rattle so much when it's windy. we cooked nice meals and reveled at sleeping in the clean open air.

I would like to try to write and describe the hiking trip that aaron, kristy and i went on after we left the farm, but i find myself exhausted from an overnight bus ride (i'm not actually in Vilcabamba anymore). sufficed to say, it came in a close second to the jungle trip we took in terms of closeness with nature and exposure to an amazing natural environment that i'm unfamiliar with. some of the highpoints included having kristy point out at least 11 species of orchids, hiking up over 3000 feet elevation change in 5 and a half hours, and then back down in 2 and a half hours, reaching the unknown lake right below the peaks that divide the continent, drinking from clear mountain streams, walking across the paramo (a marshy, windy, foggy high altitude landscape covered with brush and small trees that reminded me a bit of the alaskan tundra), and camping on a ridgetop to wake up in the morning completely enveloped in misty clouds. being way back in the mountains made me very excited for our trip the the ciudad perdida in colombia.

as i wrote, i find myself back where i started more then 3 weeks ago, in mediocre Quito. last night was a rough overnight bus ride, cramped seats and of course the bus broke down, not to mention the blaring horrible latino music so popular here (aaron dubbed it 'the three legged horse' because the beat sounds like a lame horse trying to gallop). tomorrow we are gonna check out the national history museum, which according to toby has a not to be missed featured which he mysterously referred to as 'parts of a blue whale.' my interest is peaked.

Simon my old room mate from the purple house in SF is down in Chiaps, doing some work with the Zapatistas. check out his blog.

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January 23, 2005

cuenca, ecuador

so i was sitting at this computer, composing an email to toby, one of the british doctors we met in the jungle, and he walks right past on the sidewalk outside this cafe. strange coincidence.
cuenca is colonial, has cobbled streets, so it´s your basic spanish-founded town. we got here last night after all day on busses from montanitas, which was a surfer tourist trap. the busride includes amazing views from the mountains, of which i actually took a photo. in hindsight, i regret highly not bringing along a digi camera. oh well. there´s nothing like seeing the clouds below you in a green valley.
the busride also included 2 hollywood films, vertical limit and the rundown. i´ve seen dozens of films on busses in my travels in latin america, and i must say that yesterday it was especially frustrating to find myself numbly watching hollywood garbage instead of taking in the amazing mountain landscape. the guys sitting behind me on the bus had lived in connecticut, and kept tapping me on the shoulder to tell me stuff in english that i already knew. i guess they just wanted to practice their language but i was feeling antisocial.
traveling with 2 couples is nice, but it also means they are less likely to want to go out at night, which means i would have to do so myself, and i haven´t felt up to it so much. i´m hoping we find some other folks to travel along with us, but who knows.
it looks like the schedule we have will have us either in cali, colombia, or bogota, colombia for carnivales. carnivales in spain was really fun, tons of people in costumes, drunk and dancing through the street, and that was just in a little town. who knows how it will be in a giant city? i´m looking forward to it.
if we don´t leave here today to head towards the farm, we might go and try and look at the museum of extreme art. matt has already been there, and says it has tons of skeletons and danzig-inspired leather constumes. sounds weird if nothing else. the taxidermy museum is apparently closed here today, which totally sucks. ah, the things you come to appreciate while traveling.
good job to everyone who protested the crowning of bush, and everyone in sf who protested the pro-life rally.

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January 20, 2005

puerto lopez, ecuador

so we split out of banos after only one night, it was alright to be there, but we had an itch for the beach. the best part of banos was the museum that was located on the second floor of the cathedral. it had a ton of badly stuffed animals, incredible to witness really, tons of feathers missing from the birds, the mammals all posed with fierce facial expressions, even the armadillos. they even used red duct tape to simulate blood in the realistic death scenes of lions killing monkeys. god bless taxidermy.
so we hopped an overnight bus ride here to puerto lopez, stopping in the armpit of ecuador, guaquil. after 10 hours of busses, we found ourselves contemplating the pacific ocean. beautiful.
we met up with matt and denise here, they were volunteering at a bird sanctuary but left after realizing that it was underfunded and that none of the employees seemed to give a shit. since then we´ve been swimming all day, reading, cooking food at our excellent hostel (thanks for the recommendation, steve!), and living the beach life.
from here it will be on to their farm, but i forsee a few more beach days ahead before that.
hope the snow melts for everyone in the cold part of the world.

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January 16, 2005

banos, ecuador

yesterday after returning from the jungle there wasn´t time to use the internet before we caught the overnight bus here to banos. on top of that, the atm machine wasn´t working in coca, so we had to borrow money from the guy who set up our tours, and tomorrow we have to deposit what we borrowed plus the tips for our guide and boat driver.
the 5 days we spent in the jungle are hard to describe. on the first day we spent 5 hours on a narrow yet very long canoe as it powered down the napo river. there were several cloudbursts, and while romero our guide hid under some tarps, sleeping, aaron, kristy and i happily got soaked in the tepid rain. after 3 hours we turned off and headed upstream on a smaller river an hour later we arrived and carried our bags and all the supplies into the primitive cabanas, no electricity or running water to be seen. after that we headed back to the motorized canoe, and headed upstream towards the panacocha lake. all around us the jungle vegetation was thick and teeming with life. the fecundity and the rapidity in which life happens and violently ends in this environment left a vibration in the air.
we had an excellent swim in the lake, followed by an extremely close, extremely rare spotting of an amazonian river dolphin. we spotted it coming up for air, and it continued surfacing closer and closer to us, until finally it came up about 2 meters from our quiet canoe. aaron and i both watched it come up, it was a really cool experience. our guide said he had never seen one that close in all his 12 years in that area.
we spent the next couple of days going for long walks through the jungle. the amount of diverse vegetation was incredible and overwhelming. though it is hard to recall all of what we saw, romero showed us a tree that grows above ground roots so that it can shift several feet in any direction in order to have better access to the sun, a species of ant that lives inside a certain tree branch and tastes like a strong lemon, 300 year old jungle trees with eagle nests on top, and a strong fiberous branch that the natives would wind into thread to make hammocks and clothing out of. we saw tons of large spiders and various types of insects, tiny jungle pigs, monkeys of all sizes including the howler monkey, who´s howl is audible for up to 2 kilometers, as well as a deer and some squirrels. on the 3rd day we were rowing the smaller unpowered canoe back towards the lodge in the middle of a lovely rainstorm, and our guide pointed up, exclaiming, ¨sloth!¨ indeed, a giant sloth was moving about in the branches of a tree next to the river, and aaron and i decided to scramble up the tree and take a closer look. we climbed up and witnessed it´s 2 fingers, it´s mullet-like hair and it´s snail lake climbing speed. the motorized canoe came along underneath us, and just as the rain intensified aaron and i climbed out on a limb, broke off a few protruding branches, and leapt out into thin air to splash down in the middle of the river. totally excellent.
some good english folks arrived 2 days after we did, 2 male doctors and one of their sisters. we went on some jungle hikes with them, and had some good chats about politics and the environment and the like. it was nice that the lodge had only 6 of us there until our last night, when 8 others arrived. in the high season up to 40 people can be there at the same time. we preferred the quiet. one of the best canoe paddles we had was when the three of us plus romero fought our way upstream towards where anacondas are known to hang out on a hot day. the stream had a swift current, and when we reached the secluded lagoon, everything felt so quiet, i was sure we would see a snake. unfortunately, that didn´t happen, but as the stream quietly carried us back downstream it felt so still, our paddles making no noise, just the sound of the horrible oil helicopters passing by overhead.
romero was an excellent guide, though i ended up interpreting for him because his english, while capable, made him sound like a chinese man. he spoke at length about his efforts to help local tribes gain the power to negociate with all the petroleum. also working as a journalist for one of the national papers, he has had the distinction of having his life threatened by the government for his political work. good old third world countries. romero hypothesized that in 20 years a good portion of the jungle will have been cut down both for it´s wood and for the oil hiding underneath. actually seeing this region made me wonder what will happen when the lungs of the world are cut down. frankly it´s depressing as hell, and aaron, kristy and i all though that having children right now with the way the world is going is kinda like sentencing them to living in an ever increasing shithole. sorry for the profanity.
all in all, my experience in the jungle was amazing, and hard to put into words. on my last night i walked out with toby the english doctor and stood about 10 yards on a trail into the jungle. we turned off our flashlights and stood, listening to the buzzing of the insects and the crashing in the distant underbrush of animals living, foraging and dying.

we arrived this morning in banos after an horrendous overnight bus ride through pothole alley as some aussies we met had dubbed it. we found a cheap hostel and crashed from 6 until 10 am. after that we went and had breakfast in the market, and now we are heading towards the hotsprings to soak and relax. tomorrow the plan is to rent bikes and go on a 70 kilometer ride, nearly all of it downhill, and catch a bus back up. i am very excited to get on a bike again. when we leave here we are headed for the coast, where we will be meeting matt and denise. then it´s on to their farm, and then north to colombia. life is good.

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January 10, 2005

coca, ecuador

so after leaving quito, aaron, kristy and i went to tena, to do some rafting. tena is renown worldwide for kayaking, but the water was low, so all the kayakers were hanging around, getting drunk. we had a really good day rafting down a tributary of the rio napo, it was class 3 water, and buzz and i made a point to go over the side at least 3 times. it was so amazing to float down the water and look at all the green mountains surrounding us, i felt like i had stepped into prehistory. during our lunch break we pulled out my trusty balloon launcher (never leave the country without it) and fired rocks across the river. this was the opportune time for the black flies to eat the shit out of my legs and back. at the end of the day i discovered that through the cloud cover the sun had burnt the hell out of my shoulders and back. i knew i would get at least one sunburn on this trip, but holy hell i can barely shoulder my pack.
after tena we were going to climb a volcano, but the indigenous guides seemed uninterested in taking us on a 5 day trip, plus they would not tell us an exact price, which was sketchy. so we hopped a bus out of their tiny village and continued on to coca, where we are now. this morning we set up a 5 day jungle trip, during which we will lodge at a primitive platform, and spend days walking and canoeing through the jungle, looking for wildlife (cross your fingers we see anacondas and boas). aaron is very excited and plans to smear mud all over his body and possibly hunt other tourists with spears. good times.
after this we are not in fact taking a freight boat down to iquitos, but instead heading back towards the coast, with plans to stop in banos for thermal hotspringing and mountain biking. i miss my bike very badly. after that we will try and meet up with matt and denise, go to the organic farm, and then rocket north towards colombia, though i am fairly certain we will miss carnival in cartagena or baranquilla. no matter.
i am very happy and should have bronzed shoulders in a few days. hello to everyone, hope you all are not snowed in up to your necks.

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January 06, 2005

Quito, Ecuador

my flight went well, i slept fairly badly through the night on the plane from sf to el salvador, but everything was on time and i arrived into quito, ecuador early. i grabbed my luggage, walked out into the street, and caught a bus towards the new part of the city. quito is situated between two mountains, so a large part of the city is narrow with the kind of constricting streets that reminds me of all the other colonial architecture of latin america.
aaron and kristy were not waiting at the bar we had planned to meet at, because it was closed. i walked across the street to grab a juice box and wait for them, and lo and behold they were waiting for me the the mini mercado. we agreed that it was not the climatic reunion we had formerly envisioned, with me walking up a dusty road to find them digging ditches in the farm they were working at, but still, it was great to see them. they have faired well down here, though it sounded like i did not miss a hell of a lot in peru. machu pichu turned out to be an orgy of tourists and lameness, though the inca trail hike sounded good in an of itself.
we took it easy last night, and today we woke up late, changed hostels to a cheaper one, and have done a ton of walking. this city reminds me of all the other capital cities in latin america, and seeing as i just arrived from san francisco, one of the best cities in the world, i am pretty ready to bust out of here for the jungle. the plan is to catch the 8 oclock bus tomorrow for tena, where on the advice of airielle we plan to do some river rafting. then we shall head north towards a 12,000 feet volcano, and spend 5 days hiking up it and back down. buzz proudly displays his machete on the outside of his backpack, and looks like we will need it to fight out way through the vegetation towards the volcano. from there, we will head towards the tributaries of the amazon river, with the hopes of catching a freighter down towards iquitos, a jungle city in peru. though it is a large city, there are no cars, only motorcycles and boats to get around. kristy is excited to see the floating shanty towns and floating markets.
after iquitos the thought is to head back into ecuador, visit their farm in the south of the country to pick up some items left there, and then book for columbia. though many fear columbia, we are excited to cross the country in bus, heading through bogota towards cartagena and the carribean coast. i am hoping to spend at least a month in columbia. Venezuela looks like the logical next destination after Columbia, and there is a chance i will be meeting my father in suriname, though nothing is planned as of yet. they say that the cheapest flights back to the u.s. are from venezuela, so one though for me once aaron and kristy catch a boat or yacht to panama, is to fly to miami and hitch back across the united states, maybe heading up to new york first to visit my cousin. all of that is a long way off, though, so for now i am going to aclimatize to being back in latin america, and try and spend some quality time in the jungles and mountains.

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January 04, 2005

a last beautiful day in san francisco

so i fly out of here tonight at 12:25 from SFO. i bought my ticket more then a month ago, and it seems like just now that i'm realizing what i have ahead of me. when i got back here from reno i was sick, so i took a few days of resting to get better, and then i've just hung out with vanessa and other friends and counted down the days. last night darby asked me what i've been thinking about, and the list that i came up with had some heavy topics. my life in this city has been very very good, and it feels so weird that i'm leaving when everything is ideal for me. but then i remember the plans i made with buzzard so long ago, and i think about how i'm gonna walk into some bar tomorrow in the new part of quito and he'll be shooting pool with kristy, and we'll go on amazing adventures, and it feels ok that i'm going.
i'll try and write in here often, though i can't promise it. i decided against buying a digital camera, so i'll try and go through a few rolls at least of regular old film. i'm gonna go hang out with nessa till the time comes for me to go to the airport, and then i'm gone.

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