Monday, September 28, 2009

Two More Weeks In Otavalo

Hello! Well, I´m back in Otavalo after one full day of relaxation on the La Luna farm. I literally did nothing but write in my journal, read my book, talk with fellow travelers and the hostel owners, and eat a home cooked meal full of vegetables and other goods we purchased at the market on Saturday. It´s great to have no agenda, it feels very freeing to not quite know what we will be up to tomorrow or the next day. Although having said that, Brad and I have decided to commit to 2 full weeks of working at La Luna. There has been a couple helping out but they are leaving tomorrow so we thought we would ask if they need more help and the owner, Kevin, agreed to let us work in exchange for room and board. Since it is the off season here in Ecuador, there are very few occupants in the rooms and no reservations on the books so our job basically consists of hanging out around the farm from 8-11 each morning and then again from 6-10 at night to help out with serving and sometimes preparing food and keeping track of people´s expenses. We get to eat any of the food we want and we will move into an upstairs room with a carpet, a fireplace, and a balcony that has a hammock on it! I am very excited for this opportunity. It will give us a chance to do a lot of the hiking around Otavalo as our schedule is pretty flexible and Kevin will likely give us a few days to sight see in the area. We will also get by spending very little money although I will have to restrain myself from buying tons of beautiful crafts at the Saturday markets in town! And speaking of Saturday market, we wrote our last posts before we had made any purchases but by the end of the market we had an extensive array of fruits and vegetables, many of which I had not tasted or even heard of before. For a grand total of $5.00 we bought 1 pineapple, 5 bananas, 2 oranges, 2 guayabanas, 1 tomato, 6 apples, 3 red onions, 15 hot peppers, 1 lime, 1 huge avocado, 1 grapefruit, 2 heads of broccoli, 1 pepino (a sweet fruit with a taste between a mango and a pear), 1 unknown fruit with slimy seeds, 1 quarter pound of quinoa, and 3 bagel-like bread things! Since Ecuador uses the dollar no conversion was necessary to see how much produce we got for the amount of money we spent.
Not much more news to report so I will stop here.
Hope everyone is doing well! We love hearing your comments and getting your emails!


Saturday, September 26, 2009

Beautiful Otavalo

We crossed our first border yesterday! La frontera, as they call it in Colombia was a busy place with people entering and leaving Colombia and Ecuador. We had a day full of logistics including transportation on taxis, colectivos (taxis that carry as many passengers as can fit and charge less money), big buses, and a brief walk across a bridge that served as the official border crossing.

Our last night in Colombia was spent at El Sanctuario Las Lajas, a little tiny town just outisde of the border town of Ipiales. There is a church there that was built in the early 1900´s after an image of the virgen appeared on the rock wall of a sheer canyon. The church was built around the image on the side of the canyon supported by an arched bridge that stradles a little river fed by a waterfall. There are many pilgrims that come from both Ecuador and Colombia to visit the sanctuario and there are many very cheap hotels to house all of the visitors. We stayed in La Casa Pastoral which is run by nuns and is decorated with religious imagery. The rooms were just big enough to hold a double bed, which I really think was a mattress filled with straw on top of some very hard boards. It was a beautiful place to finish our travels in Colombia.

Without any problems, we received a stamp in our passports and arrived in Ecuador. Easily, we caught a big bus and rode 3 hours through the gorgeous countryside. We are now staying in a beautiful hostal/farm called La Luna, about 4km outside of Otavalo. La Luna has a lot of space that includes dormitories, regular rooms, and also spaces to camp on their lawn, which we decided to do. It´s fun to take out our tent and have our own little space especially when we can also spend time socializing with other guests in the common areas (which all have fireplaces) and use their bathrooms, showers, and kitchen facilities. We woke up this morning to the crowing of roosters and the sound of a very pregnant horse munching some grass right beside the tent! Also, we have perfect views of two spectacular volcanos that border the valley where Otavalo lies. Today is Saturday and it is the big Otavalo market day. It is a market I have heard about for years from my grandma DJ who visited it in the 70´s and I feel very excited to be here. Brad and I woke up at 6am to walk the 45 minutes downhill from La Luna to be in time for the Feria de los Animales (animal market) which starts early and ends early unlike the crafts and food markets that stay open all day. There was a lot of action among the local people who bring their cows, chickens, pigs, alpacas, kittens, ducks, and guinea pigs to sell and to trade or purchase other animals. Many people wear the traditional clothing of colorful shawls and skirts and both men and women wear their hair in long braids often coverd in woven cloth. It is interesting to be inside of this market that has been happening for hundreds of years in this same beautiful valley. After we write these blog entries, the plan is to stay in town and look at the crafts, purchase a backpack load full of fresh fruit and eat some delicious street food for lunch! I feel super relaxed in this town and I think we will be here for quite a few days, camping, visiting with people and taking walks in the green countryside to nearby lakes and waterfalls.

It is very exciting to be in a new country! I didn´t anticipate feeling a huge difference between Colombia and Ecuador so soon after crossing the border but I do feel a larger sense of security here in Ecuador. The recent history of violence in Colombia is definitely fading away with the increased police and military presence on roads and in cities. There were many police checkpoints on long bus rides where we had to show our passports and Brad got searched but it was all out of concern for the safety of the bus passengers. The Colombians themselves are extremely friendly and helpful but they are quick to remind foreigners of the need to be wary of personal safety and the security of belongings. I think that tourism is increasing and with a few more years of safe progress, Colombia may become a hot spot for travelers because it has so much to offer in terms of natural beauty and cultural variety unique to each region.

With that, it´s time to enjoy the market! The sun is shining and it is a gorgeous day in Ecuador.

I´m not sure what Brad wrote about in his post because we´re not consulting each other, but if he didn´t write about climbing the 15,000 ft. very windy volcano in Parque Nacional Purace then I´ll have to write another entry soon!


From Ecuador

We left you last at Popayan. We departed to the national park of Purace. A two hour bus ride over mountainous dirt roads eventually dropped us at a crossroads called La Cuza de Mina (the cross of the mine). This is a junction with the "main" road, with the smaller road leading up the volcano and eventually to a sulfur mine high on its slopes. We hoisted our packs and began the short climb up the road to the park entrance. We met the park ranger, his family, and their two dogs, Negro and Conga. We explained to the park ranger that we would like to camp for the night and then climb the volcano in the morning. He was very helpful and showed us where to set up camp and explained the eccentricities of trail. The wind was strong all night and neitherAnika nor I slept well. We had pitched our tent under a three walled shelter and the sounds of the tree branches scraping against the roof and wall gave the night a dark ominous feeling. We started out climb a little after 7am the next morning and soon were leaning against a stiff wind. Clouds came and went allowing us to more fully appreciate the vistas when they revealed themselves. Anika was a strong climber and found herself frequently waiting for me. We reached the edge of the crater after about three and one half hours. The wind was blowing about 45 miles per hour and the temperature was slightly below freezing, maybe 30F degrees. We were immersed in clouds that were blowing by us with great speed, coating all the volcanic rock in a thin layer of ice. We tried to peer over the crater rim, but could see little. We were a little over 15000 feet at the crater´s edges, a new high for both Anika and I. Without a view there was little reason to stay and we soon descended out of clouds and had a scenic leisurely hike back to Pilimbala, the ranger station. We broke camp and hiked the two kilometers out to the the main dirt road. After some time we were able to wave a bus down secure a ride back into Popayan, were we got a much needed nights rest.

The next morning we were off again, catching an early bus to the
Ecuadorian/Colombian border town of Ipiales. This took 7 hours on a cramped bus filled adults, children, a large rocking horse, and plenty of salsa music. A quick shared taxi ride brought us to Las Lajas, the site of a famous church which we planned to visit in the morning. Apparently the image of the virgin appeared on the rockface overlooking the river and a church was build over the river and directly abutting the rock face. I wanted to look for the virgin´s image in the rock, but today the image is painted directly onto the cliff and gilded with 24K gold leaf, so there can be no confusion as to whether it is there or not.

The next morning
we crossed the border into Ecuador. There were no hassles from border officials on either side. We got our stamps, walked across a bridge and were in Ecuador. I feel somewhat more comfortable in this country. By all accounts Colombia has become quite safe in recent years, but I still have been unable to shake some of my preconceptions. It had been such a violent place so recently, I feel this part of its history was not far enough in the past for my comfort.

We are currently in
Otavalo, a small town famous for it`s indigenous heritage and the Saturday market. We are camping on the picturesque grounds of a hostel situated on a hill above town. At 10,000 feet the hostel is about 1,000 feet above the town and the views are spectacular. It takes about an hour to walk down into town. I am taking a break from the market to write this entry and it has been fascinating. We started the morning at the animal market, were every manner of domesticated animal is displayed, inspected, and bought or sold. There were crates full of ducklings, baskets of chicks, bags of kittens, piles of piglets, boxes of puppies, and much more. Every so often one of the animals would get loose and go running around the market. One large pig reeked havoc on tables, fences, ankles and calves; avoiding numerous lasso attempts and eventually making a run for it across the Pan America Highway with a number of locals in pursuit.

We have met many other interesting travelers. Last night we had beers with a German/Swiss couple at our hostel. They have been traveling for over a year. Going from India up through Nepal, into Tibet and then Mongolia, across to Japan and then onto Hawaii, from there to San Francisco where they purchased a motorcycle with a side car. They have driven the bike down from California through
Central America; then strapping it onto the deck of a boat they brought it from Panama down to Colombia. They plan to ride southern end of the continent and then ride a cargo ship back to Europe. People that this have good stories and good energy, it's quite inspiring.

Otavalo is a gorgeous place and we hope to spend a number of days here, relaxing and planning our next move. The beaches of Ecuador might be in order. We'll see and let you know.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


After 2 nights in Popayan in a modern hostel right on the edge of the old colonial district, we are heading east to Parque Nacional Purace. We had considered going to the town of San Agustin (5-6 hours away by bumpy unpaved road) but when we heard of the opportunity to climb a volcano just 1.5 hours outside of Popayan, we decided we will do that instead! We have spent a bit of time talking to the hostel owners about the climb and we feel excited to be doing something that deviates slightly from the standard Lonely Planet trail (meaning there is only a small box at the bottom of a page describing this adventure as opposed to a multi page description about the alternative).
Popayan has been a great relaxing time spent wandering by the beautiful white washed buildings, reading our books all over town (in the plaza, on a hill where we could watch the sunset, in the hostel), and sleeping very soundly even in a 7 person bunk bed dorm situation. I feel very rested and I think I am getting into the travel rhythm now. We have eaten some really amazing vegetarian food in a restaurant that opens only from 12-1pm everyday to serve 4 courses of just one menu per day so it is a surprise each time but most include some kind of fried banana, plantain or starchy root thing as well as una sopita (a bowl of soup) to begin the meal. This meal costs just about $2.25.
Anyway, we are off to the bus station to hop on a bus to the Parque Nacional and specifically to the town of Pilimbala, basically just a park entrance station where we will be camping!

We have a little camera card reader now so we can start posting photos!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Bogota to Salento

Buenas Tardes,

Finally, it´s time for an actual post from South America and my first blog post ever! It is a little after 5pm in the little town of Salento, Colombia. I arrived here yesterday after a 10 hour bus ride from Bogota to Armenia and then another hour on a small bus from Armenia to Salento. It was not part of our initial plan to come to this pueblo but it was highly recommended by the owner of the Playpus hostel in Bogota and so we took the extra little step to make it here and it is pefect! Just a few thousand people live here and it is nestled between beautiful green mountains that all appear to have been terraced and farmed either currently or at some previous time. There is a central plaza with a little white church and colorful cafes and craft shops surrounding it. Leading to the east of Salento is the Canyon de Cocla which we will visit tomorrow for some hiking and hopefully to see some waxy palm trees, which are almost extinct, and thousands of hummingbirds. Last night, when we arrived in Salento, it was raining hard and the Plantation House hostal where we wanted to sleep was full so we ended up at Hotel Las Palmas, the second cheapest place in town in a dormitory with a German guy named Fabi and a fat orange cat named Mono. Today we transferred our stuff over to a pretty little double room in the Plantation House, a hostal on the edge of town with a huge garden full of banana plants, shady trees, and a perfectly placed hammock which I occupied for several hours today in the sun.

Before Salento, we stayed in a hostal in Bogota for 2 nights and had a full 2 days to wander the city and see some pretty impressive sights. On the first day, in an effort to keep myself awake after a night of flying, I suggested a self guided walking tour of the Candelaria district, a bohemian area of town crowded with college students who attend Los Andes University. Brad and I set out in the streets, which are lined with multicolored small shops and restaurants and we eventually found ourselves at the Plaza Bolivar, the main government center of the country, where the congress, courts, the president´s house, the city government and the main cathetral are located. It had been sprinkling all day but by the time we were farthest from the hostal, it was pouring and our raincoats could only keep out so much rain so we sloshed back through the rivers in the streets and took refuge in the hostal with other travelers to drink coffee and play cards.
On the second day, in the afternoon, we rode the Teleferico to the top of cerro (hill) Monserrate that rises almost directly behind our hostal. It was interesting to get a full view of sprawling Bogota and to gain some perspective about how small an area of the city we had seen and to understand where all 8 million people in the city must reside. There was a church at the top of the hill but the best part (besides the view) was a cross made out of moss growing on a wall of trickling water. I felt pretty safe in Bogota, considering all of the safety concerns that I have read and heard about but big cities are always a bit hectic and crowded and it takes a lot of energy and effort to figure out how to get places and what to do. Also, Bogota was quite rainy and very cold. I even convinced Brad to let me sleep in his down sleeping bag to keep extra warm! Even after only 2 days I was looking forward to being in a small town with access to hiking and the chance relax in a hammock.
So now it is time to grab some dinner and maybe a couple of beers (which cost about $1.00 or less in cans from the grocery store) and maybe sit in the square to watch the parade of Colombian tourists who are sure to arrive due to it being a weekend.
After we are done in Salento, I think the plan is to head a little farther south to Cali but beyond that, there is no plan!


Getting Started

We arrived in Bogota after a long plane flight, first to LA, then to Maimi, and finally to Bogota.
It was nice to arrive in the morning as we had the entire day to get settled. We took a small bus from the airport to the city center. The lack of street sugns made it difficult to know when to get off the bus. When we felt like we were getting close we got off and wandered around the city center. A few helpful Columbians later we had found out hostel and were settled.

We took a cable car ride to the top of a mountain overlooking the city. The church on top was unimpressive as the contruction seemed very new. Across a small saddle on the neighboring mountain top was a statue of Jesus with arms outstretched, he looked like the little brother of the one that overlooks Rio in Brasil. The veiw of Bogota was excellent, the city spreads out in a valley between two mountain ranges. Millions of people live in that valley and froma above the scale of the city is evident. My favorite part of the mountain top was in the church courtyard. Along a shadded wall dripping with water, gardeners had grown moss along the wall in the shape of the holy cross, very vibrant and creative.

We made an adventurous trip across town by bus in an attempt to get more pages added to my passport. As the bus pulled up to the U.S. embassy with the stars and stripes waving over head, the two lone Americans exited the bus, so much for blending in. Arriving at 1pm we were told that the service we required is only offered until noon. The woman at the hostel tried to encourage to call ahead and check their hours. However I wrongly assumed that an embassy would be open to help citizens whenever they arrived. The Embassy was a massive compound stretching for blocks and securely guarded, it served as a reminder of the power and influence of the US in Latin America.

Bogota is the center of Columbia economically and politically. Imagine if we could take LA, New York, and Washington D.C. and squeeze them into one city. A short walk from our hostel took us to a plaza, surrounding which were the Columbian congressional building, the supreme court building, and the city hall for Bogota. Directly behind the congressional building is the residence of the president of Columbia, Alvaro Uribe.

Two days of dodging cars and breathing diesel exuast and we were ready to leave Bogota. Two buses and 12 hours of travel have brought us Salento, from where I write this entry. The trip was only 340km, so do the math and figure out how fast we traveled, but to be fair we had to wait two hours in the terminal in bogota and another half hour in Armenia where we transfered buses. Salento is a quiet mountain town which receives a great deal of tourism on the weekends as Columbians make day trips here. We arrived at night in the rain with lightening and thunder. It was fun to awake to the town bathed in sun with blue skys above. We have a wonderful place to stay and can walk to all parts of the town. We have spent a good part of the day laying in hammocks, reading our books, and looking on the veiw of lush green mountains. the scene changes as clouds pass and the sun hit different ridges and valleys.

We have some adventures planned for tomorrow, hikes up a mountain valley and a hot spot for humming birds.

P.S. Anika looks cute in a hammock, right at home.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

My Six Month Dose of Materialism

These are the obsessively chosen things I will be bringing with me:

2 person double wall tent and pole. Blue and yellow stuff sacks in foreground.
Fleece fingerless gloves with mitten flap cover.
Smartwool boxer briefs.
Black fleece with hood.
15 degree down sleeping bag.
Down jacket.
Water proof mittens shells.
Waterproof pants.
Waterproof jacket.
Smartwool T-shirt.
Money belt with passport, vaccinations records and other important paperwork.
Small frameless daypack.
Smartwool long underwear top
Marino wool long underwear bottoms.
Two pairs nylon lightweight pants.
Silk sleeping bag liner.
Thin wool hat.
Warm fleece hat.
4 pairs socks.
Long sleeve cotton T-shirt. The only cotton item.
Sunglasses, cool ones.
Head lamp.
Small towel.
Lock and key for hostel lockers.
First aid kit.
Inflatable sleeping pad.
White lightweight, nylon collared shirt.
Cook kit - titanium pot and lid, soda can style alchol stove, and windscreen.
Light weight hiking shoes.
Thin foam flip flops.
Digital camera.
4 rechargeable AA batteries.
6 gigabytes of camera memory.
Battery charger.
Necessary plug adapters.
USB flash drive.
Ipod charger.
2 pairs Ipod headphones.
1 splitter allowing two people to listen to the same Ipod.
chapstick, SPF 30
Sunscreen SPF 30
Water treatment drops.
2 ounces all purpose soap.
Space blanket for use as ground cover under tent and also for emergency warmth.
Tooth brush.
Toothe paste.
Pocket knife.
2 single edged razor blades.
Medications - malaria pills (hope not to need), Cipro, wide range antibotic, Imodium, Advil.
waterproof pack cover.
Trash compactor bag, to use as pack liner.
50 liter Granite Gear Meridian Vapor Backpack.

The backpack is the absurdly small looking item with that bright reflective strip on it. I'm pretty sure everything fits inside, but looking at it all laid out on the bed, it seems like a magic trick. That is a queen sized bed for your reference. That's it for the first post, now I can go ahead and send the address out to all you guys and gals. I hope you enjoy reading about our trip and I hope we find the time and opportunity to update this site frequently.