Published: May 1st 2012May 1st 2012
A few weeks ago I was living in an apartment in Washington, DC. I was working at a bar, working at an art gallery, I had a lease, a gym membership, a car, a Netflix account, and 30 pairs of shoes in my closet.
I am now officially homeless and am carrying around all my possessions on my back. There is no lease, no car, no gym (though I forgot to cancel Netflix, so there's still that). After two weeks in South America I am speaking Spanish on a daily basis, have ridden a runaway horse in the Andes, seen smoke from an active volcano, and trudged knee deep through bat shit. To say that this is a departure from my normal routine would be an understatement.
My journey began in Quito, Ecuador. At 2850 m above sea level, my head was spinning for the first few days, adjusting not only to the altitude but from the miriad of stimuli - the sights, smells, and sounds of a new country. The city is perched in the Andes where clouds cling to the mountainside like a heavy breath. Though I wanted to love Quito, with its stately old town architecture
and twinkling city lights, there is something about the place that set me on edge. After sundown it wasn't safe to walk around, and there were nearby areas where you "just don't go."
Leaving the pollution and big city-ness behind, I journeyed to the Cotopaxi National Park to fulfill my South American Fantasy of becoming a gaucho, riding across the wild and untamed Andean craigs, complete with Indiana Jones style hat. Though I hadn't been on a horse in over 7 years, I was certain that with my Montana upbringing I was basically the Horse Whisperer. Though most of the 5 hour ride went smoothly, my horse spooked when we encountered some cattle in the road and I discovered that I was not quite the horseman I had imagined myself to be. Like a dart towards the bullseye, my horse tore down the road with me clinging on for dear life. Despite all my Horse Whisperer capabilities, this horse was not taking requests from anyone, whinnying like a banshee every time I pulled back on the reins. Though I was terrified that I would fall off at any moment, I was more concerned about losing my hat. The image
looks something like this: me, on a galloping steed, one hand holding the reins, one hand holding onto my hat, cursing obscenities at the top of my lungs through the Andes. Fantasy complete.
This was, however, an improvement over the guano.
The day before, we went on a hike through some nearby caves, lousy with bat shit and the bats that produced it. We were on our hands and knees, sometimes even on our stomachs, crawling through a mixture of mud and guano and rainwater. Suffice it to say that I have never felt dirtier in my life. Even after several showers and laundering my offensive clothing, "clean" is not an adjective I would use even now....so I feel justified spending a little too long in Baños, a place renowned for it's hotspings and laid back, touristy, pizza-parlor atmosphere. The pizza is pretty good.
Off to Cuenca tomorrow. If you'd like to see more photos, head on over to moveitmanning.shutterfly.com
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