Manta and a warm Pacific Ocean

After a great six days spent in Cuenca, we took two 4-hour bus rides to get to Manta, a large port city in the south. There, we would meet up with Chaui, the Ecuadorian step-mother of one of Craig’s frat brothers–a stroke of luck and timing, as she hadn’t been back to Ecuador in 10 years. I consider it extremely fortunate that we somehow managed to be in the same country at the same time.

 

Craig and I at the beach in Manta.

Our movie selection for our long travel day was, as always, a very interesting array. The first, Facing the Giants, looked like it would, at first, be a small-town high school football movie. But it quickly devolved into a God movie. The moral of the film, if you haven’t seen it (and I’m almost sure you haven’t… it looked like a Lifetime Channel production), was that if you believed in God, “nothing was impossible”–not a free new truck, a raise, impromptu high school revival meetings among teenagers, coaching your team to a state championship, or even… a BABY, despite fertility issues. [Side note–I wonder about this kind of religious conviction… doesn’t it detract from the pride you can take in a job well done? If you think you were just given all these things because you believed in God, doesn’t that kind of lessen the achievements? It’s all very strange to me.]
The second movie was even more Lifetime than the first and I thankfully fell asleep for most of it. The third movie took a 180-degree turn from the all of that feel-good into the truly horrifying subject of human trafficking. Movies on the bus are usually a miss–rarely have I ever really enjoyed them (Paul Blart: Mall Cop not withstanding), but they pass the time. And who knows, perhaps all of the dubbing is improving my Spanish!
Coming from the Andes to the coast, we lost about 7,500 feet of elevation. The air became hotter, and much more humid. By the time we checked into our hostel for the night, we were sweating through our clothes.

We’ll miss Cuenca–such a beautiful city! We felt like it was  city we could really live in, if we wanted to become ex-pats.

Manta is not a pretty city. We were a bit disappointed after Cuenca’s amazing colonial architecture and its wonderful parks. Still, you can’t complain when you have a sandy beach with a warm Pacific ocean only a 10-minute walk from where you’re staying. And after getting in touch with Chaui we were staying in some nice digs. Her family lived in a 14-story apartment building in two different units, one of which was only sometimes occupied by a brother, Fabian. We were allowed to crash in the guest room of the empty apartment unit. His nephew, who showed us the place, apologized for how “dirty” it was and how it wasn’t much, but we thought it was great. First of all–it was empty. I haven’t been able to roam around in my underwear since we left the States, and I was missing the freedom of it. Second, it was on the 10th floor with a view of the port. Third, it was FREE!
Free accommodation has got to be one of the holy grails of long-term travel. We haven’t been so lucky with couch-surfing, so something like this is greatly appreciated.

The view from our apartment’s balcony (Yes! It had a balcony!). The port is to the right and the beach and boardwalk straight ahead.

We arrived to Manta when Chaui’s family was in the midst of some serious celebrating–the reason why she had returned to Ecuador in the first place. Her sister’s son was graduating from college that week, and the next week, the daughter was getting married! If we had known before we bought our Galapagos tickets, we might have been persuaded to crash the wedding. Weddings are always a good time, and the way the family partied for just the graduation (two nights of heavy drinking, karaokeing, and dancing), we knew the wedding would have been even more of a bender.
Unfortunately (or not, depending on the opinion of our livers), we’ll have to miss the epic celebration. We will be in the Galapagos, though, so we have that to console ourselves.

Craig dancing with Chaui as the karaoke blares in the background. Reminds me of my own childhood parties, except with much more intergenerational mingling and dancing.

Manta has been a lazy city for us (what hasn’t been, really, in the last month?). We’ve just filled our days with going to the beach, eating seafood and ice cream, and swimming in a warm, warm ocean. We haven’t been able to swim much in the Pacific since we started our trip since it’s been too cold. I’d forgotten what a deep and wonderful joy it is to swim past the break in the waves and then float in that peaceful, but slightly thrilling, edge of the endless sea.

Sitting in our $3 beach rental chairs. We thought it was worth it to get some shade.

Don’t worry, we also have not been neglecting the World Cup, and we’ve been able to watch the games fairly easily, as there’s almost always a TV playing it wherever you go. In fact, in Cuenca, we were able to watch one match almost entirely by peeking through shop and restaurant windows as we walked around the city. We’re a bit disappointed that Chile, Ecuador, and Columbia haven’t made it as far as we’d like… but we’re contented that two South American teams have reached the semi-finals. Hopefully at least one of them will make the final–we’re rooting for Argentina at this point!
Just a few more days of hanging out on the beach before we head to the Galapagos… I’m uber excited! I just imagine all of my days spent being mesmerized by the marine iguanas and dodging mosquitos. I’m sure Craig has other ideas, but if I can successfully do both of these things, then I’ll be pretty happy.
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Feeling Putrid in Putre

We woke at 5:55am on (Good) Friday in order to begin our journey to the town of Putre. It is on the outskirts of Lauca National Park, and we were hoping to take a guided tour. After a few weeks of indolence in cities and the absence of anything remotely resembling the great outdoors, we were ready for some wilderness!

Three hours after our bus left Arica (at sea-level), and more hairpin turns than I could count, we arrived at Putre, which lies in a shallow valley at an elevation of 11,060 ft. Thankfully, we slept most of the way (which seems to help with carsickness), but I awoke in time to see this glorious sight several miles before our destination:

Above a valley of fog. There are few things I enjoy more than being above clouds.

Because Putre was at such high elevation, I worried about soroche, or high altitude sickness. I had been prescribed acetazolamide before we left the States, so I was at least prepared to self-medicate (having a large supply of drugs on hand always gives me a sense of comfort). Our extremely knowledgable (and Kiwi!) hostel owner in Arica told me not to take the medication before we left (which was the way it was prescribed), but to wait and see how we felt once we arrived.

“Why take drugs when you don’t have to?” he said.

Despite my motto having always been, “Why suffer when you can take drugs?”, I decided to heed his advice. After all, he seemed to know what he was talking about. This turned out to be a mistake. I should always trust my gut reaction! After all, an ounce of prevention…

We disembarked in Putre with only slight feelings of light-headedness, but unfortunately for Craig, these quickly devolved into a headache. After obtaining suitable lodging, we inquired at a tour office about the National Park.

The tour included a guide and jeep ride out to some lakes to see wildlife and a soak in some thermal springs, but did not include any provisions or water. The grand total ran to 60 pesos.

That’s $120 US! Holy cow. We were under the impression it would be half that price, but once again we were foiled by the “per person” stipulation (see Torres del Paine entry). After mulling it over, we decided that, having already skipped several costly activities on this trip due to one reason or another, we could afford to splurge. We were already in Putre anyway, we might as well do something!

The adorable daughter of the woman at the tourist office. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that she looks Asian, since native ancestors came across the Bering Strait, but it’s still interesting.

Tour booked, we headed to a very cheap lunch (but expensive glass of natural mango juice–$4!). The tour lady had told us to have tea made with mate de coca leaves, which would supposedly help with soroche, but unfortunately, Craig’s symptoms quickly devolved to full-on Acute Mountain Sickness, which his First Aid Kit Book describes as similar to an “alcohol hangover”.

Poor Craig suffering from “the worst hangover of my life”, but without the smug knowledge of a very good previous night. Bucket on hand, which turned out to be a good precaution.

Luckily, I was feeling only slightly under-the-weather at that point, and I was able to stroke Craig’s back as he puked up the contents of his stomach, take his pulse and respirations to make sure he wasn’t getting High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, and tuck him in. I felt like I was back at work! Nothing like some good ol’ vomit to make you reminisce about taking care of cancer patients.

We decided to cancel the tour and get a refund, since the National Park would have added another 3,000 ft in elevation gain, which would probably have made us feel even worse. I was able to communicate the situation to the tour agency, and even though I probably made about 10 grammatical errors per sentence, I felt pretty good about at least being able to have the necessary conversation. We got a full refund back, and then there was nothing left to do but wait until the next day, when the only bus back to Arica left at 2:00pm.

Hostel cats always make a stay more pleasant. Until they capture and cruelly tease a mouse to the point of death right in front of you.

The night was cold, but I think we slept as well as can be expected. When we woke, Craig was feeling better, but then it felt as if I had been chugging beers all night (which I wasn’t…). I haven’t felt that sick in a very long time. I began to have a severe headache, muscle aches, and rigorous chills, despite taking lots of ibuprofen and acetazolamide. Our nursing roles reversed, Craig piled blankets on me in the hostel owner’s living room (since we had to check out of our room), and attempted to sing songs at my request. He failed miserably at the last part, but performed the first part well.

A Sheena blanket burrito. What I wouldn’t have given for a warm blanket or a hot water bottle!

The bus finally came to take us away, and by the time we reached Arica, my headache had gone, and I was only feeling extremely tired and achy. Luckily, we had a great hostel to stay at (Sunny Days), and were made to feel comfortable and not as pathetic, since Ross, the owner, had seen many a person come back from Putre cowed by the elevation gain. Still, we felt a little disappointed in ourselves. As Craig put it, “We just paid a bunch of money ($50 US) to feel really terrible for 24 hours.”

Today, we took a walk around town, stopping at the extremely smelly fisherman’s wharf, where loads of sea lions and pelicans frolicked about. The walk was only a little more than 2 miles total, but I felt so very tired afterwards! We’ve decided to stay another couple of nights here to recuperate, before we head off to Arequipa, Peru. At an elevation of 7,660 ft, hopefully it will not destroy us quite as much as Putre did. Gearing up for another country… I’m excited but a little nervous as well! Chile and Argentina have been so great, and Peru, although fairly developed, is not quite at the same level. I’m pretty sick of Chilean food now, though, so perhaps there will be more palatable options across the border (ceviche!). Peru–The Cheap Hat Capital of the World–here we come!

Pelicans and sea lions at the Pase de Lancha. I hope the beach smells better than this when we go tomorrow!

Looking forward to a break

Today was perhaps our most disappointing day. We took a bus out to the west coast of Chiloé island where an uninspiring hike through the national park awaited us. Along the way, we inadvertently took a long detour on a rocky beach, and there’s not much worse than walking on a bunch of rocks, except, of course, if there’s horse and cow poo scattered everywhere… which there was.

We then took an insanely crowded minibus (there might have been as many people crammed into the aisle as there were in the seats… unluckily, we were standing among them, swaying violently back and forth with sharp turns) to the village of Chonchi, where we squeezed out just to get a breather and perhaps find a less crowded bus back to our hostel in Castro. This was perhaps the only thing right that we did today (besides buy a yum slice of Kuchen, a pie/tart of Germanic immigrant origins), and now we’re regretting the $20 we spent on the whole excursion.

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Sketchy bus to the national park was not nearly as sketchy as the crowded bus back.

Obviously, this won’t be the last disappointing day and I’m sure there are more to come, but they are disheartening nonetheless. In the last month, Craig and I have taken 14 buses, 7 flights, and trekked 115 or so miles. We’ve stayed 12 nights in a tent. We’ve been very, very cold. We haven’t spent more than 3 nights in the same place. In short, we are a bit tired.

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Yet another bus ride… I don’t even remember to where.

The fatigue takes it toll in many ways, but most distressingly is when it manifests as bickering between Craig and me. It was nice to meet the Wisconsonites and have Sonia and Alyssa for a bit while we were doing our Torres del Paine trek, since it generally meant there were buffers to any quarrels that might have been stirring. So when we were by ourselves on our Glacier trek, even though it was generally easier hiking and less mileage per day, we started to pick on each other and get really cranky. Such is the nature of relationships… one minute you’re totally in love, and the next you could murder each other for a snarky comment. Makes it difficult to share a tiny tent, especially when you’re freezing cold (again).

So very cold in Glacier National Park (although at least it was sunny that day).

In light of all this, we are really excited about our first work-exchange, because it means that we’ll be in one place for two whole weeks! Woohoo! Never have I been so pumped about working for less than minimum wage since my very first job at age 14. We will be roomed and fed in exchange for our menial labor (hopefully not too menial…), and two weeks without having to spend money on anything sounds really nice as well. We’ve heard good things about work-exchanges, so fingers crossed our first experience is a good one! At least it’s at a hotel that sits on the edge of a lake overlooking a giant volcano… could be worse. Frutillar, here we come!

flight surprise!

why does it take almost 24 hours to get from LAX to Santiago?  Because we bought a flight that makes stops in Guatemala City, San Jose, and Lima… two of those weren’t listed on the ticket.  I guess if we don’t change planes, they don’t have to let us know… hopefully there’s a meal service?

for relaxing times… go to Riverside

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With my best gals at the happiest place on earth.

It’s been really nice hanging out with my family in Southern California. I know I’m always making fun of Riverside and calling it the “Armpit of California”, but there are redeeming qualities. Not the least of which is that it’s really warm… 80 degrees in January?! No wonder they’re in the middle of a drought.

The other nice thing is that it’s just been a relief to take a break before we begin our real travels. We left Seattle on Saturday, but I had worked the Monday night before, so we were trying to pack and store everything in about 2.5 days, before we went to stay with Craig’s parents for a couple of nights. Those 2.5 days were intense! You never think you have as much stuff as you actually have. And we were getting rid of so much of it! So thank you to all of you who are holding onto some of our belongings… it really helps us out! Now if we can just remember where everything is when we get back…

When we finally got on the plane to come down to California, our bags were STUFFED! And I was so confident that we weren’t bringing much… so we’re trying to reconsider what we need to bring and what we don’t. I would like to have a little bit of leeway in my pack… I don’t want it to be totally stuffed to the gills all the time. We’re trying to consolidate. Getting rid of more clothes…

But don’t worry, all you anxious readers. Craig and I will definitely be taking pictures of all the things we’re bringing and we’ll give you a comprehensive list. I’d like to document it for posterity anyway, so we can see what we needed or didn’t need as time goes on. I’m hoping I don’t have to throw stuff away… and people are always saying it’s better to bring less than more, but my argument is, wouldn’t it be better to throw things away than to buy new things?? Decisions, decisions.

Meanwhile, it’s nice to just soak up the sun, visit old friends, go on Space Mountain twice (among other, wonderfully nostalgic things), and hang out with my friends, family, and my especially cute niece.

Oh right, and do my taxes. Uggghhhhh….

hello from sunny southern california

boot maintenance

Sheena does some boot maintenance

It was 72 degrees today!  What a welcome change.  We’re having a nice time relaxing down here, having lost some of our pre-trip stress once we left Seattle.  Our material goods are safely stowed away (or at Goodwill!  seriously, at least 4 car loads!) and we’re down to just a few bags.  Maybe a few more bags than we wanted though… the paring down will continue this week, as we try to answer hard questions like, do we need a camping pillow?  Can we go a year wearing only three t-shirts?  Is a towel necessary?