A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Me gusta Ecuador

overcast 68 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Yesterday morning Amy and I left San Agustin and made it to Pasto, witnessing and enduring the most mountainous, curvy, breathtaking roads I have ever experienced. Rising to over ten thousand feet at the highest and going back down and up again multiple times it was quite the couple bus rides. The Andes mountains of Colombia have been the most consistently impressive piece of the landscape and I can´t stop taking pictures of them. Today we crossed into Ecuador and are currently waiting in an internet cafe for our couchsurfing hosts for the weekend. The couple owns a horse farm outside of Otavalo and we are excited to stay with them for the weekend. We have many more pictures and words to share when we have more internet access.

Posted by tltisme 15:09 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)


(something I am still working on, J's are pronounced like H's in spanish)

sunny 77 °F
View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

While working at Organizmo I consistently admired the rocky topped mountain that rose above all the rest. Our hosts mentioned early on in our stay that it was a great hike and they recommended it for all their volunteers. Amy and I planned on doing it our first weekend but less than favorable weather and health forced us to postpone the hike. I wanted to get up early and do it the morning of my birthday but I was still recovering from the stomach bug and decided to push it back again. With workshops duties looming on the weekend, our last chance to reach the summit was Friday morning. Thursday night we filled our water bottles with filtered water from the kitchen and grabbed some grenadias, apples, and a peach and hoped for a clear morning.

Friday dawned gray but the sky looked encouraging and we were on the road before seven. A short walk down the paved road toward Tabio and we turned up toward the mountain.
Still paved for another half kilometer or so, we passed houses and barking dogs. As we reached the end of the pavement a short-haired black dog and his smaller brown and white companion greeted us. I thought they were just after the end of my cheese sandwich breakfast and tried to ignore them. We continued upward, the trail beginning up through the woods as we left the houses and farm animals behind, but the two dogs tagged along. The trail was a stone and concrete affair for the first kilometer or so before it gave way to packed earth and washed out ravines through the dense growth of bamboo, bushes and small trees. Occasionally hikers before us and water had branched off onto divergent trails but they all came back together soon enough and the way was easy to follow. As we steadily climbed up the steep hillside I tried not to worry about the warning of robbers on the trail we had received from a stranger driving past days earlier. Our hosts dismissed the warning, saying they had hiked the trail many times and never seen another soul, let alone someone waiting to waylay climbers. This made sense, if someone wanted to rob people there were far easier places for them to do it than halfway up a mountain where very few people ever went. I continued convincing myself not to worry while I conjured up creative ways to hide my camera if a robber materialized. I was also growing fonder of our canine companions by the minute as they trotted along with us and would give us an early warning of other humans. Unless they were the thief's dogs and were leading us right to their master...

After only an hour of climbing the clouds lifted and the stone face of Juaica emerged above us. We were close! By 8:30 we had reached the top, a small clearing with a few hardy trees and the remains of a fire. We followed a trail down toward the cliff faces of the peak, eventually we found the edge and a good rock to sit on while we ate our fruit and Clifbars and observed the valley below. A spectacular view!
My GPS told me we were at 10,036 ft, the highest I have ever been outside of Colorado I believe. Organizmo was about 8,500 ft above see level so our climb was only about 1,500 vertical feet but we must have adjusted well to the altitude in the valley because the added height did not have any negative effects on us. We picked out Organizmo by the greenhouse roof and could make out the two domes (black at this point). We could see both Tabio and Tenjo on either sides of the valley and over the next mountain ridge to the far valley nearing Bogota. Three hawks rode the thermals and sailed past our breakfast spot and the sun beat down on the panting puppies who collapsed in the grass next to us.
We enjoyed the view and our rations before beginning the walk down. We were reinvigorated and very glad we had gotten the chance to climb Juaica. I spent most of the descent scoping out walking/self-defense sticks and finally finding the perfect bamboo pole and hacking it down with my knife. Amy tolerated my stick hunt and we met no one on the way down though we did hear chainsaws and glimpsed a man herding his cows along a different trail. The mountaineering dogs remained with us until we reached their home again and we bid them a fond farewell. We returned to Organizmo before noon, feeling accomplished and invigorated.

Posted by tltisme 15:00 Archived in Colombia Tagged landscapes mountains hiking dogs Comments (1)

Developing, Developed Colombia…

While the designations “first world” and “third world” are still widely used to label nations across the globe, the terms “developed”, “underdeveloped”, “developing” have begun to replace them in our continued attempt to place ourselves in some hierarchal order. At university, I spun in circles around the development-definition turntable: Was development simply having access to safe drinking water and basic healthcare, or did it include rights to education? Did development mean increased wealth, westernization, speaking English? Or was it something more like just living a happy, productive life in a way that reflects and celebrates some deep, cultural tradition? Perhaps it meant international free trade agreements or, rather, supporting local farmers in the open market? Highways constructed through the jungle to connect sprawling urban centers, or, instead, preserving natural habitats for people to enjoy for generations to come?

In the past six years, I have been face-to-face with hundreds of indices, rates, goals, protocols, agreements, treaties, measurements, predictions, estimates, abstracts and proposals, each arguing that their definition of development was correct (all this, before even mentioning the word “sustainable”!) All these definitions have taught me is that there isn’t a very good one, and that development means a great deal of things, and measuring it can be messy. For me, my understanding of what it means to develop continues to be informed by my experiences abroad.

While I have often found myself trying to sum up my experiences in Latin America in some two sentences for friends and family who have never traveled here before, it was always a disservice to generalize about this immense region that spans more than a continent. Every single barrio, pueblo, ciudad, departamento, geographic space and climactic zone is infinitely diverse. So far, however, Colombia stands apart from most any generalization about Latin America of which I have been guilty in the past.

The following are some of the pre-question asking observations I have made about Colombia and its development:

In and around Bogota, a sprawling cities housing nearly 11 million people (that beats the Burroughs of New York combined), there are newly constructed 30-story office and apartment buildings, immense networks of paved roads, large-scale construction projects por todo parte, larger, newer cars being driven, and cables, lots of cables (electric, telephone, television and computer cables) making millions of connections. Throughout the countryside, there are plenty of streetlights and the roads are new or well-maintained. We have taken public transport anywhere we’ve needed with ease. In addition, we have been able to drink water from the tap without a problem most everywhere we have traveled so far.

In Medellin, thousands of people and businesses await the tourist influx: newly employed workers wait to assist visitors to their immaculately-landscaped private parks equipped with hiking routes, free bikes to ride, adventure courses and learning centers. These workers travel hours by efficient metrolines and metrocable to heights 2000-feet above the city center to prepare to guide visitors through hundreds of attractions.

What Colombia seems to be missing amidst its growth:

Enough tourists to take part in its natural beauty and burgeoning cityscapes. Colombia appears ready, but apparently many tourists are yet ready for it, in large part because Colombia has yet to shake off its bad rep: you know, that pesky narcotraficante…Pablo Escobar and FARC and coca and kidnappings one? We allow ourselves to be blinded by a haunted past, even while Colombia has undergone a real transformation in the past decade and a half, mostly because the people of Colombia are tired of these associations and are proactive about change and the possibility of ending drug trafficking and guerrilla violence for good.
More about these developments in my next post…

Posted by AmyERichards 13:55 Archived in Colombia Tagged tourism bogota colombia development medellin developed Comments (0)

Interesting info: Colombia

View To the equator and beyond! on tltisme's travel map.

Bogota is a city of over 10 million and has been plagued with terrible traffic. Recently they have enacted a simple policy to reduce vehicles on the road called pico y placa (peak and plate): each weekday four different final digits of personal vehicle license plates are not allowed in the city limits between 6am to 8pm. This results in an individual not being allowed to drive on two weekdays a week unless they can afford to own two cars! Even this can backfire as the digit combinations are rotated every six months. Public transportation abounds in the form of buses (as well as countless little yellow taxis) so the policy simply keeps some cars parked (40% of personal vehicles daily) during the work week but does not seriously inhibit personal transportation. This seemed comical when I first heard it but overall it is a very simple and effective policy that has been adopted in other cities in Colombia (including Medellin) and around the world. Traffic is still bad at rush hours so I cannot imagine what it was like before this policy was implemented.

Blockbuster is a booming business here. Apparently Netflix has not entered the market, I haven't seen any Redbox or other video rental stores either but Blockbusters are very nice and popular.

Gasoline is around 8600 Colombian pesos a gallon. When we first arrived the exchange rate was nearly 2000 pesos to 1 dollar but that has dropped to 1770 to 1 currently. That makes gas around $4.75/gal while diesel is cheaper at around 4 bucks. Overall Colombia has not been cheap for us. Food is less expensive than the States (a nice daily lunch or dinner special with soup and a small desert is btw. $3-$5 in cities) and taxis are cheaper (but we only take them when really necessary) but metro rides are around a dollar and bus fares are comparable to US ones for the most part. We expect it to be easier in Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia to stay on our tight budget.

Fingerprints are used for everything, sometimes with a signature, sometimes in place of one. Changing money and buying a cheap prepaid cell phone (about 20 bucks for phone, SIM card, and starter minutes) are when we have come across it but we are told it is a very common practice. Amy almost put her thumb in the ink pad before the woman at Comcel grabbed her pointer finger.

Rat tails and mohawks are very common. I had a rat tail in Kindergarten...I still remember it fondly, and a mohawk briefly when most of the UMW soccer team got them for the homecoming game. It seems the real footballers here all have hawks and the majority of adolescent males have some variation of the haircut.

I will be adding more funny facts to this post when I come across them. If you have a question about any post leave a comment!

Posted by tltisme 09:59 Archived in Colombia Tagged facts Comments (0)

Un virus esta andando!

A virus is walking...

The following is the record of our first travel illness. Be forwarned: this blog post is written in timeline form and is epically long. It is occasionally broken down into seconds.

FRIDAY January 20, 2012 6:00 AM: Wake to headache, stomach pains and dehydration.
7:30: Beg for water and lots of it.
8:30: TL returns with water and other reinforcements, then leaves to city for day with Itamar and Mateo to work on green walls.
8:35: Nausea kicks in and I see this is going to be a very long day.
9:00: Commence diarrhea and severe headache, possible fever.
9:05: Feel like shit.
9:05:30: Still feel shitty, maybe worse though.
9:06: Definitely worse.
9:06:05: My blood pressure must be low.
9:06:10: I might die today while TL is in the city.
9:06:12: Yes, I will definitely die today.
9:07:20: I can’t die, TL is already on his way to the city and wouldn’t find me for hours, and there are lots of other reasons I can’t die today.
9:07:30: Ok, I’m not going to die, I’m just sick.
9:08: Look at clock: it’s only 9:08.
9:08:10: Turn over and recount all the illnesses I’ve contracted abroad.
9:15: At least I’m not in the jungle. Si, gracias a dios que no estamos en la selva todavia!
9:15 AM- 1:30 PM: Long period of moaning, diarrhea, headache, nausea, dizziness, chills and sweat.
1:31: Enter Amalia (the woman who lives next door to our little apartment), “!Ay pobrecita, estas sola aca y enferma, te traigo aromaticas!
2:00: Return Amalia with reinforcements, the really good kind: aromatic teas made from all kinds of local plants and delicious fruits.
2:30: Still feel awful but mysterious teas and broths are beginning to work, I am convinced.
3:00: Return Amalia with her daughter Adriana to deliver rice and potatoes to the poor white woman whose husband has left her behind in such a state!
3:00-3:30: Try to eat food and speak Spanish with Amalia while the room is spinning and her daughter stares at me.
4:00: Enter TL, mi esposo (Amalia thinks we’re married) with a two different kinds of postre that I won’t be able to eat.
6:00: Grieve about illness to TL and pass out.
7:00: Arrive Itamar and Mateo with delicious meals for both of us.
7:15: Think about all the times people have taken care of me in sickness abroad.

So the illness turned out to be a virus, which we know quite certainly now, as Amalia entered this morning to tell us a few days ago that the “virus esta andando”, the virus is walking, or everyone has it: an inevitable fact of life in a small community where most everything is shared, and people take care of one another so intimately.

This brings us to Sunday: T.L.’s sick day.

5:30 AM: Awake for ambitious Sunday plans to climb Juaica- the 3 hour scramble up the mountain beyond overlooking Organizmo.
5:45: Gauge clouds/weather- decide YES, we are definitely climbing the mountain.
6:00: Hike to kitchen to make breakfast, wait for Itamar to awake to join us on our trek.
7:30: Still waiting for Itamar.
8:00: Itamar decides not to go, but drives us to a different spot to hike instead.
8:15- 11:30: Scramble up smaller mountain and through long winding roads alongside hundreds of brave, incredibly fit bikers to Subacoche, another small town.
11:45: Eat a cookie and an empanada in Subacoche.
12:00 PM: Find out how to get back to Organizmo by bus. Find out the bus won’t be leaving until 1:30 PM.
12:01: T.L. declares “I feel very sick”.
12:02: Start asking people where to find a taxi.
12:15: Find taxis. Ask how much they charge: 30,000 pesos, or 10,000 more than we have on our persons.
12:16-12:40: Find bench, this will have to do for now.
12:45-50: I get hungry – TL accompanies me to an ice-cream shop. I try to break the 20,000 we have left but the woman says needs to get change from her neighbors. TL turns more colors than the ice-cream flavors they offer.
12:50: I tell the ice-cream lady, listen we really have to go, he’s going to get sick.
12:51: She magically has the right change, we grab change and ice-cream cone and take off in search of a bathroom.
12:52: A pizza shop: I duck in, TL trailing, open the bathroom door, TL looks desperately for a light that doesn’t exist and finally slams the door.
12:53: I turn to see half a dozen pizza-eating men staring in my direction. I remember my ice-cream cone with caramel and a cookie on top. I start to eat it, albeit it with mixed emotions.
12:59: I finish the ice-cream cone. TL is still in the bathroom. I try not to make eye contact with anyone in this pizzeria.
1:05: I hear toilet paper. Flush. Water running. This is promising.
1:06: TL emerges. Less green, more gray, sweat beads on forehead.
1:06:05: TL uses napkins from a table to wipe away his sweat while groaning. People stare. Man making pizza glares.
1:06:30: We rush out the door, heads down.
1:10: We return to bus station, locate bathroom and bench and sit to await our bus.
1:20: An official bus-driving looking man asks us for what bus we are waiting. He tells us the bus to Tabio left at 12:30.
1:20-1:25: I explain that all the gentlemen sitting next to him told us our bus wouldn’t be leaving until 1:30, he points to Sunday schedule- next bus 4:30 PM, other men avert their eyes. I point to TL- está superenfermo. The 5 bus men and I draw some maps and quickly devise an alternative route. I make the fatal mistake of not inquiring as to how long an alternative route will take.
1:25:30: I grab our bag and TL and climb onto a bus to Bogota.
1:30: TL is looking worse than ever and “bumpy” falls short in describing bus-rides in these parts.
1:31: TL asks if he should throw up in our backpack. I say no this is not a good idea. I ask the ticket boy for a plastic bolsita.
1:32: He searches the front of the bus and returns with a tiny, flimsy, handle-less empanada baggy.
1:35: TL starts to spit into small baggy.
1:36: Here it comes: the empanada bag fills with empanada vomit. It’s like a nickelodeon game show where you’re trying to fill a bucket with gack, it keeps coming. TL is going to win, he’s going to fill the whole thing up!
1:37: I ask the ticket boy for more bags while holding up my jacket to shield the rest of the riders from the excitement.
1:38: He returns with more tiny bags.
1:39: TL passes me the empanada vom. I double-bag it.
1:40-1:45: I tell TL that we’re close although I have no idea where we are. I continue to hold warm vomit bag in lap.
1:50: A man leans over to tell me there was a more direct route to Tabio. I say, ah, muchas gracias por su ayudo, senor.
1:55: Ticket boy sees I still have vomit in lap. He demands that I throw it out the door of the bus. De veras? Por favor, no puedo, I say.
1:56: He opens the door and his eyes say “do it”.
1:56:30: I stand at the door, look out, and drop the vomit balloon onto sidewalk.
1:57: We pass a sign posting an equivalent of $100 fine for littering.
2:10: We are on the highway, there are no highways within a half hour of Organizmo.
2:20: We are dropped on the side of the highway and told to cross the highway and find a bus to Tenjo-Tabio.
2:22: Attempt to cross highway with TL a half-conscious mess.
2:26: Highway crossed, I yell out Tabio to every passing bus.
2:30-40: There are many buses. None are going to Tabio. Everyone is slowing down to stare at the very sick gringo and his girlfriends’ fruitless attempts to get a bus.
2:40: Bus to Tabio-Tenjo pulls up. We jump on as it barely stops and sit TL in the one seat next to the driver. Roads are worse here, but the promise of home is brighter.
3:20: We finally hobble off the bus at Organizmo.

With the worst of Montezuma’s Revenge’s first strike of our trip behind us, we have both made smooth recoveries into the world of health, save for bean-eating.

Posted by AmyERichards 05:17 Archived in Colombia Tagged bus montezuma help sickness diarrhea vomit ill aromatics Comments (0)

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