A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: AmyERichards

Goodbye for now Ecuador. Hello Peru!

We’ve come to the end of our time in Ecuador, a 3-week-turned-month-and-a-half adventure through a relatively small country with immensely diverse peoples, landscapes, climates and cities. We have come to know the people and the country much more intimately here than in Colombia, perhaps because of the amount of time we’ve spent or the amount of times we have been sick in people’s homes... In any case, there has been an undeniable warmth about the people we have come to know here.

The idiosyncrasies of each indigenous community have been fascinating to experience through each community’s colorful markets and festivals. Ecuador’s food has been at once predictable and full of little surprises. Our volunteer experiences have been peaceful, but animated by an eccentric crew of international volunteers. Meanwhile, couchsurfing with a pair of horse farmers, a systems engineer, a volunteer firefighter and a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer from Texas, injected dynamic energy into our experience in Ecuador.

Highlights include the majestic Quilotoa Crater Lake in the Central Highlands and a cozy hostel-with-woodstove stay,P1010383.jpg the Spanish streets and colonial buildings of Cuenca, P1020092.jpgP1020102.jpg eating in dozens of markets, swimming in the coast at Las Frailes,P1020009.jpgP1010994.jpg and waking up above the clouds, high in the mountains outside of Vilcabamba.P1020322.jpg Most important, however, are the relationships we have formed out of working with and sharing space with strangers.
Now, we will cross the border from Ecuador into Peru at La Balsa, into a much larger, touristic country that promises more volunteer opportunities, mountainous hikes, the Amazon, Incan and pre-Incan ruins, and at least another month of travel.

We will make a long, fragmented journey to Chachapoyas, with two other volunteers we met in our time at Sacred Sueños: Emile, a Quebecois biologist, who has a 2-month run of volunteer work, and Fabian from Switzerland, a practiced traveler on an open-ended journey through South America.

The deep beauty of Ecuador has made its impression on us, but we must forge ahead… onward to Peru!

Posted by AmyERichards 21:12 Archived in Ecuador Tagged peru in end of to highlights ecuador weeks six Comments (1)

Counterfeit Cash

During exchanges with vendors here, bills are nearly always checked for authenticity, although we hadn’t felt the need to take the same precautions about the cash we were handed until recently. Aside from monopoly money, I had never had fake cash in my possession until one afternoon in Puerto Lopez. Puerto Lopez is a coastal town with access to national parks, the “Poor Man’s Galapago’s” and a steady stream of tourists. We were about to find that where there are tourists, counterfeit bills are not uncommon.

In our case, we had jumped at a long-awaited opportunity to snorkel off the coast of Ecuador, the day after arriving in Puerto Lopez. We had bargained for a decent price for a half-day boat trip to try to snorkel (often each person in a group pays a different price, and vendors or guides keep close track of what they told each person)… So we met with about 10 other people near the beach and gave the second half of our payment to the collection woman. We needed change (which tends to elicit complaints) so she opened a super-compartmentalized wallet which contained a great deal of large bills. She fished around a bit and handed us a $5 bill (Ecuador’s currency is USD) and $3 in change (they use $1 Sacajawea’s instead of bills [apparently all of that pre-credit card subway change was being funneled into Ecuador]). So we gladly accepted our change without paying careful attention to the bills.

After an enjoyable boat ride, but no snorkeling because of murky water after storms, we made it back on land. I asked the woman who took our money how they charge people for snorkeling trips when they know there will be no snorkeling… she came up with a number of excuses and more or less walked away.

Later that day, we went to pay for groceries and T.L. found that his five-dollar-bill had mostly disintegrated, after getting wet on the boat. He paid with some coins and when we stepped onto the street, he showed me the bill… a laughably fake disintegrating piece of paper. Counterfeit money!
My instinct was to go back to the snorkeling place and explain what had happened, but we discussed our options before making moves: go to a bank, go to the police, go to the woman who gave it to us, try to put it back together and use it, call it bad luck and forget about it. My feeling of having been wronged said no to the last two options, so we asked our hostel owner how often this happened and what he suggested we do.
He said in the past, a great deal of counterfeit $20’s would come in from Colombia, but more recently, counterfeiting $5’s had come into practice because they went more unnoticed. He suggested the only way anything might be done about it would be to go directly to the woman who had given it to us, because the police were corrupt and the banks wouldn’t do much either.

We walked back to the tour office and I announced to a group of 6 or so people that we had been given a counterfeit $5 that morning. No one moved from their hammocks or their chairs, but everyone asked me to come show them the bill. Each shook his head, affirming that “no vale nada”. They began to explain, however, that the woman I had paid wasn’t there.

After a few minutes of describing the woman and some debating about how fat she was (one of the first things people ask when you try to describe a person is if they are fat, no offense to any of the fat people in the room). They finally determined that it was Julia, la gorda (the fatty), whose mother had cheated one of the man’s mothers out of $50 ten months ago. Of course, that must be her! After a series of phone calls, they summonsed Julia la Gorda to the tour office. We sat and waited as other people filtered in and out while the others related our story and passed around the five to the newcomers.

Finally, after a bit of waiting, Julia la Gorda appeared and was directed to T.L. and I with our disintegrated cash. We explained our story and she quickly denied that she gave it to us, but under the scrutinizing eyes of her peers, she changed the five without too much prodding. She proceeded to show us the rest of her real $5’s and how to tell that bills were counterfeit, while T.L. continued to try to give the new $5 backs to her, because he didn’t understand that she was actually giving us one. When we finally had the $5 back, we thanked her and left, perplexed at the exchange. Earlier we were sure that the snorkeling-free trip cost us an extra $5 that day, but we walked out with our $5 restored.

We have no way of knowing whether Julia la Gorda knew the bill she handed us was fake, whether she was part of a larger counterfeiting ring, or whether she was totally innocent. In the end, a wet boat ride made it so the bill was taken out of circulation and we have learned to be more conscious of the bills we receive in our travels.

Posted by AmyERichards 14:40 Archived in Ecuador Tagged puerto five ecuador bill lopez dollar bills fake counterfeit duped Comments (0)

Police Corruption and Futbol Fans

all seasons in one day 70 °F

So far, we have traveled for 6 weeks in Ecuador, feeling safe in most every town or city we have visited. Still, police corruption has been a common theme in many of our discussions with Ecuadorians. We had a firsthand peak at the type of police corruption we’d heard about during an 11:30 AM Quito vs. Liga fútbol game we attended in Quito.
From the start of the game, we found ourselves entertained by a group of incoherently drunk men swaying about in the row ahead. They cheered for Quito, slopping Pilseners and spitting curses into one another’s faces (it was an intercity rival game). About halfway into the game however, the group moved closer to us, leaving their most drunk member with drool running from his chin onto his round belly, passed out from an early day of drinking. Soon enough, the men were asking about us… where we came from, why we had chosen to cheer for Quito etc. They passed 32 oz. beer cups between all of us and were happy to have us cheering for their team. Finally we asked about their tired friend. They answered, “O, he’s a cop, we actually just met him last night.”

The man’s story goes (details are hazy, as he was inebriated while relating it):

The man had been drunk driving the night before when he was pulled over by a cop. When the cop proceeded to announce his fine, the man offered the cop free admittance and drinks at any of the major nightclubs in Quito, at which he held some administrative position. The cop gladly accepted, and while on duty(?), accompanied the man and his friends to the bars for the rest of the night. The drinking continued through the early hours of the morning until the cop was finally belligerent. Earlier on in the binge, the men discovered the cop to be a Liga fan, so when sufficiently drunk, they dressed the cop in a too-small Quito jersey and they all went to the game to continue the festivities.

So the passed out man we were concerned about was a potentially on-duty police officer/Liga fan, left mostly unconscious by the drunken enemy he should have apprehended the night before.

“The police are corrupt here, very, very corrupt” the men concluded. And so there it was.

Posted by AmyERichards 14:08 Archived in Ecuador Tagged in police futbol game drunk quito ecuador corruption liga cop Comments (0)

Traveling vs. Vacationing

Traveling and being on vacation are two very different but confusingly similar things. Both are characterized by physical displacement from home and consistent use of varied forms of public transportation, usually across long distances. Both traveler and vacationer might eat new foods, take hundreds of pictures, spend money in ways she normally would not and stay in a hostel, hotel, tent or boat although she pays a mortgage or rent already somewhere else.

Aside from these very important similarities, however, traveling and vacationing have always seemed to me worlds apart. While I’ve spent a great deal of my life traveling, I’ve never made it to sipping cocktails on a cruise boat, or to any of the definition “getaways” one might take.

My family’s first travels were to national war memorials, forts, battlefields and burial grounds. After we’d exhausted all of these sights on the east coast, we moved onto the natural world, and firmly shook hands with our first park ranger, on what was to be a long journey through the U.S. national park service. None of these trips, sorry mom and dad, ever felt like vacation. While they were supremely educational, chock full o’ adventure and, at times, treacherously long, the pb&j-for-lunch, hotdog-for dinner grind, just never matched what I imagined a vacation to be.

Vacations were what other kids’ families took. They returned with purchased, paper-framed photos of their families in bright printed clothing and sunglasses, all thumbs-up on the beach. They made their marks in the hallway with peeling skin and braided hair. Meanwhile, I returned from family trips with scrapes and bug-bites, junior park ranger badges and photos of me in a tent somewhere with a scowl on my face.

So while I grieved to my parents for years that we should go on a “real” vacation someday, I pressed on to my own travels, applying for a passport my senior year of high school, and promising myself I would travel somewhere different when I turned 18. So I applied to service trips, and began a long cycle of volunteer, study, work, conference and seminar traveling, apparently in order to avoid ever having to go on vacation. Suffice it to say, I never got the itch to do a “real” spring break in college: all the other stuff was just, well, more interesting, than vacation.

So now we’re here, in our extended travel, which some people might call a vacation. But at the end of these days, we’ve never really had a chance to relax, because there’s not enough time in the day, and we never really get to indulge in cocktails or fancy dinners, because there’s not really room in the budget. Rather than spending our time at these activities, we walk miles, we pull weeds, we plant, we sit atop our backpacks in backs of pickup trucks on switchbacks through the mountains, we sleep on living room floors and eat crackers and take cold showers, because, well, it’d be no fun if it was just a vacation.

Posted by AmyERichards 21:06 Archived in Ecuador Tagged travel vacation trips family backpacking versus Comments (2)

And on that farm, he had a pig…

At my appointment for travel vaccinations in December, the doctor cautioned against my going near or touching animals, while in South America. I must have said that I would try not to, but I guess he wasn’t listening when I told him I was traveling to work on FARMS. So, after six weeks into the trip, we have spent our fair share of time around animals, sorry doc. We’ve become veterinarian assistants of sorts, even.
Our first hands-on experience with animals was at the Finca Campo Bello farm in San Agustin, Colombia. There, we helped to feed and bathe the pigs and clean out their pens, alongside Edimer every morning. What does cleaning pig pens entail? Mostly poop-scooping, hosing and sweeping. Of course, by the time one side of the pen is clean, the pigs are already pooping where we’ve just swept. I mean, they are pigs.

While feeding time was exciting, the final morning tending to the pigs was most worth recording. Edimer suspected that one of the female pigs would be ready to give birth, so we prepared her with disinfectants and gave her a clean, private space to give birth. And then, we waited. We attempted to evaluate a number of different pig gestures, expressions and grunts, and bet on what we thought meant certain birth. But then, Edimer decided, she was taking too long… something must be wrong…

He suggested one of the pigs may have died in the womb and was blocking the birth canal, a possibility that would kill the rest of the piglets inside and possibly the mother. The next step was to invite friends and neighbors over and compare the sizes of one another’s hands. The one with the smallest hand won, or lost, depending on how you look at it… the privilege to stick his hand in and retrieve whatever was blocking the birth canal.

So Edimer’s slight-handed friend put on a thin plastic glove and plunged his fancy fingers into the depths of a grown pig lady’s passage. Elbow deep and straight-faced, Edimer’s friend gave no hint as to what might happen next. After some more maneuvering, he removed an empty hand, covered in slimy fluids. He and Edimer took turns smelling and sticking their fingers in the dripping goop, and decided there indeed was a dead pig inside. Edimer ran quickly back to his house and retrieved a hormone to induce birth.

He injected the mother pig, and within a few minutes, we saw tiny pink pig hooves…a pig belly, and a head, moving! A live baby pig! Edimer speedily cut the umbilical cord, wiped the pig of its slime, and applied it to a plump pig nipple. This, followed by 3 more live pigs, made 4 baby pigs suckling at the teet… after many hours of wondering and worrying and waiting.

Besides the fact that they were very small, they were not particularly cute: save one redeeming trait: their cute curly pigtails. But no, Edimer promised, the tails must go! Why? Aesthetics, he shrugged. So each pig would have to have its little tail snipped, and I would be the one to hold it upside down by its little pig legs while it succumbed to this tragic fate. So 4 squeeling pigs later, and Edimer had a collection of mini-pigtails in his hand. He put them on his neck to show us how he’d make a necklace with them- that, or chicharron, right? Well, he conceded, “no valen nada” they’re not worth anything, so he tossed them into the compost heap.

We saw 4 baby black pigs recently on a hike in the highlands of Ecuador: their tails were intact. They looked so happy.

(many pig pictures coming)

Posted by AmyERichards 10:36 Archived in Colombia Tagged animals farm pigs birth san_augustin Comments (1)

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