We’re still working on a big, cleverly and intelligently written sum-up of the whole darn adventure. It’s hard though! It is coming soon, but for now enjoy the final edition of our La Aventura Project superlatives!
Days in South and Central America: 217
Dollars Spent: $10,586.14
Average Dollars per day: $70.45
Countries Visited: 10
Books Read: 22 (Carrie), lost track (Zach)
Doctor visits: 1 (Zach), 0 (Carrie)
Things We Lost: More random stuff than we remember
The Quilotoa Loop is an amazing dirt-road route stretching from Latacunga to Laguna Quilotoa and then back. It’s full of tiny villages, breathtaking views, and authentic markets. Traversing the loop involved a few buses and lots of hiking!
We stayed one night in Latacunga at the beginning of the loop, and also left our big bags there so we wouldn’t be saddled with them while hiking. The most remarkable thing about Latacunga is that it has been destroyed no less than THREE times by Volcán Cotopaxi. We found this interesting because Latacunga is a lot farther away from Cotopaxi than Baños is from Volcán Tungurahua. And the people of Baños say it can’t be destroyed, ha!
The first day of the Quilotoa Loop we took a bus 20 minutes to the Thursday market in Saquisili. Lots of fun stuff in the market there!
After the market we caught a bus three more hours (plus one more for a flat tire) to Isinlivi, where we stayed at the amazing Hostal Llullu Llama and made great friends with the only two other people there! A wonderful start to the Quilotoa Loop!
We arrived at the Tungurahua Tea Room in the afternoon on a bus and took a quick taxi ride to the edge of town. This was to be our first time WWOOFing Ecuador and our second WWOOF experience in Total. The farm is really only a 10-15min walk from central Baños, but with all our stuff it would have been a long hike. The owner of the farm, Carol, a talkative Canadian ex-pat, warmly greeted us and gave us a quick tour. The property is a skinny pieces of land located on a hill with a front wall of sugarcane and Carol’s house resting on the top.
The Volcán Tungurahua looks down upon the house and is usually snow-covered in the mornings. Near the front there is a citrus garden with several very nice lemon trees and about a dozen others that grow small tangerines of sorts. As you walk further in you will find a small volunteers’ room with a bed, a tool shed, and a locked storage room. Following these are an open air kitchen with sink, stove, and table, then a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower. Near the kitchen is a very nice spice and tea garden containing basil, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, and other lemony things used to make delicious teas. Past the herbs there is a “spiritual circle” surrounded by flowers and such with a fire pit in the center. If you walk even further there are two shade structures with hammocks and between them a garden of large cactus. Under one of these we placed our tent, with another tent already under the other. Between our tents and Carol’s house we could also find anise, lettuce, green peas, spinach, and some red potatoes once we knew what the plants looked like. Other than that there were a few plantain trees and several avocado trees (only available if you could beat the dogs to them).
The Work – WWOOFing Ecuador
Usually we would wake up around 7am and make breakfast. There are two other yard workers that Carol employs whom would show up around 7:30. Carol also has two large dogs who need walking so one of the workers takes them on a hike up the volcano every morning. The hike is very nice and terminates at a natural spring with amazing carbonated mineral water produced by volcanic pressure. Probably the best hike you will find in Banos, Ecuador. After 2 hours of dog walking we had tea from the garden and sometimes a snack then after tea we went to work on Carol’s projects around the yard. This work almost always involved randoms projects such as assisting in building walls, or sweeping dirt sidewalks, or weeding around the pathways. Sometimes we felt like we were fighting the jungle for superficial reasons and I’m sad to report that at no time during our stay did we actually do any farming. The work was really easy though, and no one was ever looking over your shoulder telling you to try harder. It just wasn’t farming, and we weren’t really there to push rocks around.
Overall – WWOOFing Ecuador
We loved the location, and the work was generally easy and laid back. However, food was not included. Yes, whatever you could find on the farm was yours (unlimited tea, herbs, and lemonade) but most our food came from money from our pocket. This probably contributed to our underachievement, and eventual departure when our housesitting opportunity arose. But the property is extremely beautiful and we had a whole lot of fun there. Just know before you go that it’s not your “normal” WWOOFing Ecuador experience. After working on only two farms, we will continue searching for exactly what that “normal” experience is!
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Staying in one place for a few weeks rather than a few days is something we really hoped to do a lot on our trip. The first place we planned to stay for awhile was Baños, Ecuador. We started off WWOOFing at the Tungurahua Tea Room, where the Canadian owner, Carol, introduced us to a few other expats around town. Sticking around for awhile and getting to know people led us to the best opportunity we’ve had yet on this trip: house-sitting!
How we got this gig: In our first few days of WWOOFing we did some work on the property of one of Carol’s tenants, an American expat named Patricia. Patricia was really cool and helped us find all the awesome things to do in Baños! Then, after we had been in town for a couple weeks, Patricia got called away for a last-minute business trip. She needed someone to stay in her house (expats are big targets for robbery) and take care of Oso, the dog. So she asked us! We happily obliged and moved from living in a tent to living in a nice house with a refrigerator, hot water, and Internet (hence the reason we’ve been able to post every day and get caught up recently)! Oso did require a lot of work (long hikes, playing, bathing, feeding, etc.) but other than that our only real job was to keep an eye on things! It was a great, relaxing 10 days!
I think this experience exemplifies the great opportunities you can stumble upon while traveling if you’re flexible! If our schedule and plans had been more rigid, we never would have been able to do this. We had such a great time that now we’re thinking that more house-sitting might be a great option for us as we travel. I’ve heard good reviews about sites such as http://www.MindMyHouse.com, but I’m not sure there are enough listings in South America to make the $20 membership fee worth it. Anyone have any tips on this??? Or other ideas for us to get more house-sitting gigs?
We came up with the idea for this new series while thinking of all the incidents we’ve experienced that show just how different these new cultures can be! If you like the idea, we’re going to try coming to you every Wednesday with an example of a recent cultural clash we’ve experienced. So without further ado, here we go!
One huge difference between the United States and Colombia/Ecuador is the attitude towards “pets.” In Ecuador, many people have cats and/or dogs that are technically “theirs” but they don’t treat them like spoiled human children like we do in the U.S.! Quite opposite, in fact! Most dogs are either strays or not well cared for at all. One common practice in the city of Baños is to stick your dog on your roof all day so you don’t have to worry about where it is! These “roofdogs”, as we call them, are clearly bored and hyper, and demonstrate this by leaning dangerously over the ledge and barking at you ferociously as you walk by. I wonder how many roofdogs have been injured in desperate leaps for freedom and exercise? The other half of the dogs in Baños must be strays, as they wander the streets all scraggly-lookin’, totally on their own!
Zach and I have actually been house-sitting and dog-sitting for the past week. The dog we’re taking care of is Oso (Spanish for “bear”), a crazy 2 1/2 year old German Shepherd with some issues but a big heart. Oso’s owner is a woman from the United States, so she takes good care of him, up to U.S. standards. Thus, we have to take Oso on a two hour hike every day to let him to burn off all his energy. Walking a dog with a leash and everything is virtually unheard of here; everyone watches us go by with “those crazy gringos” written all over their face. Oso is well-trained and behaves perfectly on the leash. The problem is all of the other dogs, running around free and totally undisciplined! They make walking Oso a two-person job, as one person has to rush him by while the other person carries a pocket full of rocks and tries to intimidate any other dogs who try to run up and start something. The roofdogs really freak out when Oso walks by, also; I keep waiting for one of them to get so excited they take the flying leap.
This lack of caring for dogs as pets creates another problem: many Ecuadorians, kids and adults alike, are actually terrified of all dogs! The sidewalks literally clear when we walk by. We experienced this fear in two separate, hilarious incidents with Oso.
In the first situation, I was walking Oso by myself and we were heading down the sidewalk through town. I had Oso on a super short leash and he was walking happily next to my leg, not giving so much as a second look to any of the people we passed. He’s a lover, not a fighter! All of a sudden, a toddler ran out onto the sidewalk next to us and got scared by seeing Oso walk by. She started crying and running towards her mom as I pulled Oso farther away (not that we were EVER very close to her in the first place). Her mom scooped her up and then proceeded to scold me in Spanish “Why don’t you walk him in the street?” “¡No es agresivo!” I responded, the first comeback that popped into my Spanish-challenged brain. Walking him in the street? A certain death wish in a land where cars don’t stop for people! We kept walking and I couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous it was that this woman was upset by the one dog in the entire town who was on a leash!!!!!! What do you do about all the strays running around crazily if you get so upset when a gringa walks by with her big but well-behaved pooch?
The second situation was even more frustrating. Zach and I were winding up a walk with Oso and as we headed into town we realized we were running late for the Fiesta de Baños parade. We had planned on dropping Oso off at home, but we just didn’t have time anymore. “Whatever,” we figured, “he’ll be fine.” Oso’s owner takes him everywhere with her and he’s perfectly used to just plopping down and behaving at bars, shops, anyplace. So we found a good spot, sat down on the curb, and Oso laid down right behind us and went to sleep, still on a leash of course. I knew we were getting more “crazy gringos” looks and whispers because of course no one else brought their dogs, otherwise who would guard the rooftops? But Oso is literally a teddy bear–he’s used to crowds of people and doesn’t do anything but chill. The problems began when a feisty middle-aged lady showed up late to the parade and couldn’t find a good spot. She decided standing behind us was her best bet but was obviously scared of dogs. “No es bravo?” she asked me and I assured her “No.” But soon enough she just seemed upset that Oso was preventing her from standing 12 inches closer to the parade. “Why did they bring a dog?” she kept asking the people around her, trying to be a raise a rabble, “Why didn’t they leave the dog at home?” This lady then proceeded to have about fifteen friends join her and they all had to step directly over Oso as they found spots. One dude was practically standing on his tail and Oso still didn’t make a peep. This woman kept complaining incessantly about his presence while more people kept deciding this was the only place they could cross the street and stepping over him into the crowd. Mind you, we were here first!!!! What happened to the standard “first come first served” rules of parade-watching territory! I also kept picturing 4th of July parades in the U.S. and how many families bring the dog along to sit on the picnic blanket and join in on the fun. Ecuador is sooo different. I was listening to everything this woman said while trying to look like I didn’t understand her. Eventually she grabbed Zach’s shirt and commanded us to take the dog home. I exploded at this point and used my limited Spanish in as quick and as tough of a voice as I could muster. “He’s not bothering you!” I yelled, “Por que es una problema? If you have a problem then go stand somewhere else!” Honestly, the nerve of this woman was driving me insane. That stopped her from addressing us directly, but she continued complaining about us to everyone around her, trying to get them to join her in her pointless fight. Thankfully, no one else seemed to really care about the dog being there or what this crazy woman was upset about. We tried to laugh about it and every time a stray dog ran by we wondered why she didn’t freak out. So we stayed even longer at the parade then we wanted to, not wanting to give her the satisfaction of thinking we left because of her. Eventually though, it got too boring and we left. I’m sure she was thrilled. But it wasn’t because of her! A certain señora in Baños really needs to put on her big-girl pants and stop being scared of sleeping dogs on leashes!
I know that as travelers we’re always supposed to be open and accepting of cultural differences. I try but the treatment of dogs is something I fundamentally disagree with so I’m not going to bend to local standards. Also, I firmly believe that you have to be able to make fun of some things that frustrate you. So Ecuadorians, please get the dogs off the roof and give them some love!
So, the eruption of Tungurahua is pretty much calmed down by now (knock on wood). We haven’t had any ash or loud booming for several days, although the volcano is still technically in “active” mode. I think, though, that it’s time to put the Volcano Tracker to rest. It can stay here so it will still be on the website until the end of time, but hopefully we won’t need to update it again! check the bottom for our Tungurahua Eruption Video.
This page is dedicated to updating the world on the situation with Volcán Tungurahua in Baños, Ecuador. ____________________________________________________________
The volcano hasn’t made it’s presence felt all day, and we are hoping that it is over!
Friday, December 9, 2011
8pm: No sounds but it did clear up, showing the volcano to still be smoking.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
2pm: Some rumbling can be heard from the side of town close to the volcano.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
2:30 pm. Some small rumbles but only for a few minutes. Very dusty in town.
11am: Still no activity, some ash blowing in town.
9am: Woke to some mild rumbling sometime in the night, but as of now all is quiet and the ash has settled.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
7pm: Volcano has been calm all day, and hopefully will continue in this fashion!
12 NOON: Baños ash making it feel like the Burning Man festival.
11am: the mayor made everyone sweep this morning which made all the dust go down the street and into the air for the next person to sweep and breathe.
10am: volcano almost quiet, Baños still in a thick fog, moderate winds not helping. dust starts to enter our house.
9am: walk to town and find everyone there sweeping off their houses and shops. piles of ash lining the streets and most people wearing surgical masks.
8am: loud rumbles, town is in a haze
7am: wake up, volcano quiet
Monday, December 5, 2011
Here’s a quick Tungurahua Eruption Video with some of our volcano footage. Sorry the shot of the lava is so hard to see. Shooting in pitch black+youtube video quality=pretty hard to see it! But if you look closely you can see some red flashes! Also, turn your volume up because the sound is one of the best parts!
Banos is full of amazing outdoor activities and biking to the Banos waterfalls should not be missed!. From the town of Banos the bike down the main road east towards Puyo, which is considered to be the edge of the jungle. While Puyo is 60km away from Baños, it is almost entirely downhill, making it a realistic day’s bike ride to the waterfalls. We do not bike often, at least since leaving Arizona, so we didn’t make it all the way to the jungle.
We got our bikes in town and cruised down the hill. The river flowed at our side carving a canyon that weaved down through the mountains. Most of the way you are riding on the road with the cars, but sometimes you ride on the scenic road around the tunnels. On these roads we were usually all alone, so we took fun pictures with the green hills in the background. Along the way you bike through a tunnel, past a dam, and then come to the first waterfall. The first falls you can see fine from the road and there is a cable car and a slow-seeming zipline to the other side, if you’re so inclined.
The air became sticky as we rolled farther and farther down the hill. We started dripping sweat and feeling that light-headedness you get from sitting in the sun too long. I saw a shiny bright blue butterfly, and the largest wasp I have ever seen. People sat around under trees and if they moved, moved sluggishly. This journey to the edge made us very excited for later excursions deeper into the Amazon.
Nearing the end of our ride we came to the biggest of the Banos waterfalls, the Cascada Pailón del Diablo, which was at the end of a short trail.
It was $1.50 each to enter and the trail was pretty rough after biking for a few hours. Many Ecuadorian women came wearing high heels and other great hiking footwear; most foreigners wore the standard safari gear. We like to laugh at other people’s attire, since we always look like bums. Once at the bottom the falls were hidden in a little cove. The mist rose from the pool and the sun made multiple rainbows around us. We climbed up a trail that had a one meter (under 4 feet) high ceiling, slippery from the mist. After crawling through this up about 30 more meters (100ft) you emerge behind the falls, and you get soaking wet. It was just what we needed after a long day in the equatorial sun. Lucky we had our waterproof camera (Thanks Mom and Dad) and the rest of our gear was in ziplock bags.
After we made the exhausting hike back up to our bikes, we rode a little father down and accidentally passed the last falls. We missed the turn and went for the best downhill ride yet. The problem was that we didn’t have it in us to go all the way to Puyo-the next spot with busses after the one we had passed. So we turned around and walked our bikes back about a mile to the final waterfall we missed. We decided we didn’t need to spend another $2 to hike down to this waterfall so instead we drank a beer at the bar at the start of the waterfall trail. After about 15 minutes a tour van pulled up, half full of people that were too lazy to do the trip on bikes. For $1.50 each they gave us a ride back to Baños, bikes on top, blasting salsa music from the sound system. We were tired and sunburnt and didn’t even make it all the way to Puyo, but we still felt accomplished.