Sunday, October 30, 2011

October 30, 2011 The adventures Peru

Bye for now to Cuenca, Cajas and Ecuador 
Thank all for traveling with us from Ecuador and now to Peru. For our last day in Cuenca we headed to our favorite park - Cajas for another walk around a different lake - with the familia, including Ana and Brian - two other students at Amauta.

Our "familia" in Cuenca

Then...a long day by bus (one of the many of this week). We left Cuenca for a bus to the border. The adventure of the day began when we arrived at the border in Machalla and the officials at immigration told us that we had overstayed our time in Ecuador (which was not true) and that the only way to get our passports back was to pay a "multa" or fine of $200. each. We had been warned by many not to carry much cash while traveling on the bus so of course we did not have $400. So....they instructed one of the "guards" to take us to the bank in town to withdraw money. They wanted me to stay behind while Richard went with him but we decided that we should definitely stay together so we both went. We knew that we could only take $300 from the bank (the most they allow at one time) so Ricardo "negotiated" our multa down to 300. When he said yes to this, we were convinced that this was a scam, which we had already suspected...however....we did want our passports back!!! He pulled the car over to the side of the road and asked for the money. He pocketed 100 and held the 200 for his buddies back at immigration. All this while, we were holding up the next bus which would take us to Peru. (We never knew till we got back whether the bus would wait for us or not - it did.) When we got back to immigration they gave us our passports with no receipt or information that we had paid or any indication that we had indeed done anything wrong.

So, back on the bus for 4 more hours to our destination...Mancora, Peru....the coast. BEAUTIFUL weather for 4 days and swimming, relaxing, walking the beach, and yoga! Also....the best vegetarian restaurant that I have ever eaten in...Angela's place with delicious yucca bread and sweet potato bread as well as many incredible dishes. Needless to say....we ate there every day. We found a good Thai restaurant for dinner meals too.  We loved our yoga class at a beautiful hotel on the beach with the sound of waves and wind during the whole class. Mancora is on our list of places to return to.
Sea horse on the beach
The docks at Mancora

Our hotel in Mancora....finally great weather
We even found a yoga class in Mancora...
with an incredible view

Our next interesting adventure was the night bus from Mancora to Trujillo. We left at 10:30 pm and then arrived at about 7am. In some ways this is a great way to on a hotel room and also have an extra day wherever we are going and coming from. They have "cama" or bed buses with reclining seats so it is fairly comfortable but not the best sleep of our lives. Otherwise, uneventful.
Plaza de Armes, Trujillo...great colors
Trujillo is a beautiful city with a colorful historic center. It is a great place to be for a few days as there are many local tours to the ruins of the area. The ruins include several different cultures and we saw two...Moche and Chimu. We enjoyed our Spanish speaking guide with much information and though I did not understand everything, it was an eye opener to these cultures that were unheard of to me. We went to Huanca de la Luna and Chan Chan. At one point there were 60,000 people living in Chan Chan.  I plan to read a bit more about these cultures when I have time, though we are now heading south and soon will be in Inca country where the culture, building, gods, and lifestyles were much different. Here close to the coast all the building was made of adobe, and cover with some kind of aloe vera product which has kept if for over 1000 years, through all kinds of weather related problems.
amazing work down on these large adobe temples
(100 BC-850AD)

While we were here in Trujillo there was an earthquake in Lima - about 9 hours from here, which we did not feel. This was going on at about the same time as many of you in "el Norte" were experiencing snow in October. Mother Nature seems quite upset these days!
Huanca de la Luna...Moche cultural site
built with mountain in view.

Believed that this was a calendar of the Moche people

Tourists....great that we can go with
Spanish speaking guides.

Chan Chan...the largest adobe city in the world. Chimu culture
(850 AD - 1530's when the Spanish arrived)

Chan Chan - just one LARGE area is open to the public, one adobe mansion
and there are at least 15 more that are uncovered. They suspect
that there are many more buried areas of the Moche and Chimu
cultures here on the coast of Peru. Why do we only think
of the Incas?  I am always amazed as what we (I guess I should say I)
do not know about these other cultures if the world.
Now, Sunday, we are planning another night bus ride to Lima, the capitol of Peru where we will spend a few days. At the suggestion of our friends at our school in Ecuador, we have been in touch with the Ecuadorean embassy and plan to visit them on Monday and discuss our "adventure". Our main reason to go is to find out what the visa situation is for Ecuador and whether we can return one more time in 2011. If not, we can plan for other adventures in South America. After Lima, we will fly to Cusco where we plan to spend one month. We are hoping to rent an apartment and "settle down".

We look forward to hearing from you and wish everyone a Happy Halloween and Dia de las Muertos.
Many details of fish, birds and other
sea wildlife on the walls of Chan Chan
The beach at Huanuco, Peru.
Fisherman still use these boats

Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22, 2011... Winding down in Ecuador

Our last week at the coast was incredible, mostly because of seeing the Humpback whales. We were told by our boat captain that the season was virtually over and that most of the whales have already begun the trip back to Antartica but that just maybe we would be able to see them. It was on the way to Isla de la Plata in the morning that we came upon a large group of whales....some large and one young (about one year old). I snapped so many pictures and am sharing a few here, along with a movie that shows the tail and the size. They were very close to us. This felt like a once in a lifetime experience and I was thinking about the migration of the butterflies that we saw several years ago in Mexico. From the very small to the very large....traveling long distances year after year on their migrations. Perhaps Ricardo and I are also on some kind of migratory trip but not with the consistency or plan of these incredible whales. We also encountered a school of dolphins as we approached Isla de la Plata. 

This is an island off the coast of Puerto Lopez which is often called "The Poor Man's Galapagos". It is part of the Parque Nacional Machalilla and was about 1 1/2 hour from the mainland. It is similar to the Galapagos but actually formed differently. Some of the wildlife is similar as you will see below. It was the season for the blue footed boobies to be sitting on their eggs and we saw many many of them. Amazing as their feet were the deep blue of "Carolina Blue!"

Here is the mama with her 2 week old fluffy
white baby on the left and the one
week old baby on her left foot.

Fragates on Isla de la Plata

Here are a few more pictures of interest from the coast. We are really glad that we went to the coast as it is a completely different scene than the mountains of Ecuador. The people and lifestyles are very different though the common denominator is the kindness and friendliness which we found wherever we went.

Flowers at Hostaria Mandala
Our favorite - Pan de Yucca on the bottom

Beautiful views on a beach walk at Los Frailes

playing with garlic!
Little creatures in the sand making interesting designs

taxi in Puerto Lopez

Now we are getting ready to head off to Peru. We both experienced a few moments (perhaps a day or two) of "overload" from traveling and began evaluating our lifestyle and trip....did we plan too much, should we go back (where??), will the bus rides be too long, what do we want to see, is 4 months too long for traveling, do we have too much stuff (yes), should we come back to Ecuador at the end,  etc, etc.  So we just talked it all through and made our plans for at least the next few weeks. The one thing I believe we learned is that we need to make sure to break up every 10 days of travel with a long time in one spot. So we are off till about Nov 1st when we plan to arrive in Cuzco, Peru and then will stay there for at least 3-4 weeks before heading to Bolivia. Peru is a country filled with interesting things to see (says the Lonely Planet) and so we will head down the coast. Our first day will probably be the longest as we go from Ecuador, cross the border and to Mancora which is another beach town. We will stay there and hope for sunshine and some swimming. BTW, it has gotten beautiful here in Cuenca during the day. Now into their summer with sunshine just as we are leaving. Oh well....another thing we know for sure, there is nothing we can do about the weather except to accept it.

Regarding our stuff...we gave a few things away to our family and packed a suitcase to leave behind which we will get in December when we come back and if we decide not to come back for some reason, will just let it go and forget about whatever is in the suitcase.  "Stuff" sure can be a hold back to living. I hope that I am learning my lessons and will pack less and less each time we travel.  Nancy, my sister, was kind enough to remind me that sometimes having an abundance of things allows us to give of ourselves. I shall take that thought with me as we travel with maybe a bit more than we need and I shall remind myself to be generous with my spirit whenever I can.

Traveling is a learning experience and I am so grateful for our health, wealth and the support we have for each other to experience this adventure. Thanks for joining us and also for your emails. This trip would not be the same without the technology of the day. We have not had our skype working so have not talked to many of you but are happy for this blog, facebook and of course, email. "Talk" to you soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October 16, 2011 School, hiking and on to the beach!

Different kinds of corn...delicious...a
delicacy in the town of Pauta at the
Sunday market

Typical indigenous ladies at the in Pauta

Ricardo and Papacita reading the Kindle! (Yolanda's dad)

Once again we have so much to share.  Since a picture is worth 1000 words, I shall go with more of the pictures and less of the words. We finished up our last week in Cuenca with more weekend  trips before heading to the coast.

We finished up our month of school at Amauta Fundacion. This was really a chance for both of us to advance our Spanish. I have a hard time admitting that I am becoming an advanced student and am now realizing that I have studied just about all the grammar I need (including subjunctive) and now my big challenge will be to use all that I know. Building vocabulary and verbs is what I need to work on. When we arrived at the beach we both had to take a test to determine our levels and we tested the same....because I am good on paper and Ricardo is good in speech. After a few days, though, we realized that we needed to be with separate teachers and changed for the last 2 days to private instruction. We are now planning to read together every day and work together on our Spanish...also to speak to each other in Spanish more often.
In Pauta with the family... including our new friend
Fernanda from Brazil.

Mi maestra in Cuenca...Katia

Tree Huggers!!!
We loved this forest in Cajas National Park...the trees are called paper trees as the bark peels off and looks like paper.
Love this collage of plant life

The woods at Cajas

Brian goes for a COLD dip!

Who is helping???

Our maestra Jessica in Montanita...outdoor classroom

Oscar at the aquarium....preview of
things to come at Isla de la Plata

Volcanic mud bath (before the mud massage) we are at the beach and dreamed about beautiful warm water for daytime and swimming as we had been cold in Cuenca. Little did we know that this is not the warm time at this part of the coast so we are back in our long sleeves with several blankets on our bed every night.  Montanita was a surfers town with mostly young people, loads of dreadlocked hippies selling jewelry and trinkets, street vendors selling drinks on the street at city. We lived at the Cabanas which was part of the school and had all young folks as our neighbors. In fact we made good friends with a young man from London, Rupert and we plan to see him again in Peru. He joined us on this "very different" day of volcanic water, mud, massage, steam and aloe vera. If you are looking for a surfer vacation then we would recommend this beach but if not...perhaps there are better places to visit. We did enjoy our school and our teachers and so the experience was worth it. Now we are one hour north, in the beach/fisherman village of Puerto Lopez and will report on that in the next blog.

Once to everyone and thanks for traveling with us through South America.

This was taken after the mud massage...letting the mud dry to remove the impurities (what impurities??). Before the massage we went crawling in the mud.After the mud massage we cleaned off and then had aloe vera massages followed by steam like babies at the end.

Our place in Montanita

Soup and mint tea at our favorite Veg. restaurant
in Montanita....Pacha Mama

Relaxing at the cabanas

Amazing colors on the beach

Our place in Montanita

Montanita night life (before the crowds)

Monday, October 3, 2011

October 1, 2011 Life is full each week

Man's Best Friend - at the mercado

We are now winding down our time in Cuenca with just this last week of school at Fundacion Amauta before heading to the beach for a bit of warmer weather. I usually like to highlight all the great things about our travels but I will have to be honest and admit that the weather here in Cuenca has not been great. They say it is summer and that it has been an unseasonably colder time but it does not seem like any summer I have seen. It is cool every day and most often rains for some part of the day. We need to be sure to carry our umbrellas and jackets (along with gloves and a scarf) every day.

One of our new pastimes (started in San Miguel) is drawing in pen and painting with small watercolor kits - to journal and capture memories of our travels. I am trying to do a couple each week during our travels and am enjoying it immensly - both the meditative aspect and the intention to notice details and memories that I might not have noticed in the past. Here are two examples of mine - one at the airport in Mexico City waiting to leave and one at Joan and Bill's house in SMA - in the bedroom. I hope to continue for the rest of our travels (hesitate to commit to the rest of my life!!)
Roof tiles for Yolanda's house in the campo
typical of the tiles on all the roofs in Cuenca
Living with a family allows us to adventure out almost every weekend. We have traveled to most of the small towns around Cuenca as well as longer weekends away. One weekend included a trip north to Riobamba and Alausi. Each city or town in Ecuador has its unique look as well as indigenous dress and often its own specialties for food. Needless to say, we don't try everything, but those that fit our wishes.
We have seen several Llamas in the
This one in the town of Giron

Yolanda - the "tree hugger"

Ping Pong in the Yungilla Valley
- much lower altitude
than Cuenca and
therefore much warmer

Volcan Chimborazo -
Ecuador's highest mountain
 (6310 meters - about 19,000 ft)
with a glacier on top.
 This is a view from trip between
Riobamba and Alausi

St. Pedro - overlooks Alausi

La Nariz del Diablo (Devil's Nose) train -
one of the most difficult train systems in the
world as it desends a 765 meter sheer cliff.

Typical students walking to school just like us.
Maybe we need uniforms too!

Here are a few thoughts about Ecuador. During my spanish classes I have a good chance to talk with my teacher about the life and culture of Ecuador, especially Cuenca which is an old colonial city with very conservative roots. It appears to me that this part of the world is in many ways like the USA in the 1950's-60's before "The Women's Rights" movement. It is a very "macho" culture and men treat women like servants and for the most part, do not partake of any family responsibilities other than earning money. (Often this is happening in the US and sending to the women and children back in Ecuador.) The Catholic church is very strong here in Ecuador and unlike Mexico - very separate from the indigenous people. In fact there is quite a class structure and there seems to be very little mixing of the Spanish or European families and the indigenous. Because of the strong church influence, divorce, birth control, gay rights, etc. is shunned. This conservative environment is uncomfortable but does provide much discussion among our friends here in Cuenca. I do hear from others that the younger generation is beginning to change some of these things but it is going to be a long time. I find myself explaining to my teacher Kathy about the many changes that happened over the years in the USA.
The inside of the train was so beautiful and
the trip felt like we were getting ready for an
old time train ride - many families.
The trip was about 2 hours each way.
A scary walk across this bridge - Puento Negro which was part of the
rail system in days gone by. So still RR ties with big spaces inbetween
and nothing to hold on to.

The train station and restaurant at the bottom of the mountain in Sibambe

El Nariz de Diablo - see along the two lines where the tracks zig zag
up or down the mountain.
Here we are at one of the most interesting, and challenging moments of our trip. We were invited by one of the administrators of our school, Narcissa, who is a professor of Tourism at one of the local Universities - University of Azuay, to speak to the students about our travels, our lifestyles and why we travel the way we do. I thought we would be able to do this in English and therefore we thought a bit about what we might say but did not prepare at all for Spanish. On the way to the school Narcissa said we could do a bit in English but she would prefer that we stay in Spanish.  When we arrived only one or two of the 40 students spoke English so we spoke in Spanish. I have no idea what I said nor how correct it was, but the students loved us both. In fact, at the end they came up to us one by one to have their pictures taken with us. It was a grand "reto" (challenge) but fun and we were both proud of ourselves.
University of Azuay - we both gave a talk to students of Tourism.
Here we went again this past Saturday to one of our favorite spots. This National Park, at 12,000 feet (above the treeline) is only about 30 minutes from Cuenca by bus and so an easy day trip. We enjoyed time with new friends and hope to go again this weekend before heading to the coast. There are over 500 glacial lakes so much to see and do.
Nacional Parque Cajas - Lake Toreadora...we walked with friends around it

Brian and Fernanda - our new friends.
Brian is from Texas and goes to our
school and we met Fernanda on the bus -
 she is from Brazil.
I am so grateful to all our family and friends who keep up with our blog and write to me that they enjoy seeing our pictures and following our travels. Please note that if you want to click on any of the pictures you can and they will enlarge.

We look forward to an exciting October and will report from the coast of Ecuador in the next few weeks.

Love to all,
Susanita y Ricardo