Erupting Volcanos and Screaming Kids

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August 24th 2006
Published: August 26th 2006
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view from my hotel room
So i am in Cuenca, Ecuador now. have been taking Spanish lessons since last tuesday. I was liberated with a clean bill of health on Friday the 11th of August, and hopped immediately on a bus south.

Ended up in Banos, where i had planned to stay 2 weeks to study Spanish. i hadn´t booked a hostal ahead because i was told there were plenty. So i arrived in Banos with a few recommendations, my guide book and a very heavy pack. I was turned away by no less than 7 hostals, who refused to rent me a room because i was traveling solo (backpacker hostels, no less!). well, EXCUUUUUEUUUUUSE me for being alone in this world!!! As if i travel alone by choice! (make a mental note, next time i go the store, pick up bread, cheese and a husband). daaaaaamn! i finally found a very mediocre room for $10 and promptly got lost, twice! internet was sooo expensive at $2 an hour. Banos so far has been the most unwelcoming place in all of Ecuador.

so i booked a night tour of the volcano, thinking i´d meet some fellow travelers. to my dismay, i was the ONLY gringo. we proceeded up the mountain switchbacks in a rickety old wooden bus sans doors or windows in the dark. and it occured to me, hmm... this is kindof insane- riding up dark switchbacks in search of an active volcano! but hey, it would be a valiant death, no? in the name of adventure. much better than dying of boredom at my desk or expiring on death row because i strangled my obnoxious british coworker. well, we stopped in the middle of nowhere, not even close to the volcano and were served tea in plastic cups which were burned in a fire. not exactly the egologically minded tour i had in mind. saw very little of the volcano but heard it roar a bit. completely dishearted by Banos, i decided to leave and redirect my plans to study in Cuenca instead. how sad, because altho the town itself is kindof like a shanty tourist town, the surrounding countryside is incredible! Banos sits in a valley at the foot of Volcan Tunguraua, so the bus from Quito headed down into the valley, surrounded by towering green mountains on all sides, so beautiful you couldn´t even fit it in your head.

Sat i hopped a bus to Riobamba and a girl from the US came up to me to borrow my guide book. Ends up, she is my age and has started her own reforestation project in Ecuador. so cool. we ended up chatting the entire bus ride. so needed that after a lonely night in Banos. Arrived in Riobamba to a great hostal, where the owner was a very sweet welcoming old man with a playful dog. (much better). Joined the hour long line to buy tickets for the next day´s Devil´s Nose train ride, and i started chatting with the people behind me, 2 sisters from England who were tons of fun- Fluer and Sophie. We went out for some great pizza and headed to our hostals for an early nigt. the next day, the sweet owner of my hostal drove me to the train at 5;30 am. good grief. crawled on top of the train to grab a spot, between 2 non-english speaking people. good god, another lonely day. but alas, on the way to a last minute bathroom stop, Fleur found me and i hopped up next to them. The train was incredible! the BEST way to

yes, folks. it´s our first sighting of guinea pig
travel, on top of the roof, nothing between you and this gorgeous countryside, sun shining on you! nothing beats it! at Alausi tho, a bunch of people jumped on and shoved their way into cracks and creviches and it was no longer comfortable. at this point it was hot, and i was getting punchy from not drinking all day for fear of having to pee. the train kept unhooking cars, ramming back into the other cars, rehooking them. backwards, forwards. aargh. finally done, i said goodbye to Fleur and Sophie and crawled into a hostal in Alausi, a quaint little town.

Monday, off to Cuenca on another bus, and once again a ridiculously beautiful ride. Ecuador does not disappoint for eye candy!!! Arrived, got out the map and my list of spanish schools and ran around the city in search of the right one. found one and relaxed in my hostal with the resident lap cat, an ADORABLE grey permakitten! whoooah. Tuesday am, started my 5 hours a day of lessons and my homestay.

My first week, i stayed with an older lady and her grown daughter. i LOVED LOVED LOVED them. sooo sweet. it was clear they didn´t have much, but always served me first, gave me the biggest portions, etc. this family didn´t eat dinner, as is common in Ecuador. no wonder all they eat is bread and no one is fat! for dinner we had hot chocolate, some bread and cheese. breakfast- 1 egg, and you guessed it, bread and cheese. lunch is the biggest meal of the day with soup, and a plateful of rice, etc. but fresh squeezed juice at every meal. mmmmm.

this week my family went on vacation so i was moved to a family with 3 kids- 2, 4, and 6. Therefore, this chapter of my life will be entitled, "Someone´s Always Crying". Dear god, it´s loud! If i had any doubts about missing out on motherhood, they are now gone completely. Someone is ALWAYS crying, fighting or screaming. (whoever said children are always happy?) The mother doesn´t even get rattled. she wades through screaming children, gently nudging them aside to continue cooking. the first night was like a standup comedy routine. child A walks in screaming because child B will not share. he exits. child B wanders in naked from the waist down, holding his penis. he is shuffled off. child C comes in because the top of her bottle has snapped off, so she tries to drink and pours juice all down her front and all over the floor. she exits. comes back screaming because she tried to stuff her head through the arm hole of her pjs and got stuck............ i´m just asking, aside from the hilarity of it, what about this is fun?

But they are the nicest people. the husband is a lawyer, and it´s clear they have quite a bit more money than the first family. kids are in cutest new clothes, new furniture, marble floors. they live more like we do in the US too. instead of going to little fruit markets and breadstores, they shop at a supermarket and the mom cooks me dinner complete with soy meat. mmmmm.

The weather here has been horrid. cold, cloudly and rainy EVERday. and the houses don´t have heat. so i sleep under 7 blankets and sometimes in my sleeping bag. My teacher is sooo nice. LOVE her to pieces. The learning process is hard. i have learned over 200 new words in one week. There are things that just don´t translate,
Nariz del DiabloNariz del DiabloNariz del Diablo

Grabbing a spot on the roof at 5;30 AM. Nariz del diablo is "nose of the devil" in spanish
so those are the ones i am struggling with most. The first week i had another teacher who had great stories. She told me how one of her students was walking down the street and saw a symphony performance. she was a violinist from Holland. she dropped in and joined the orchestra. 6 months later, she had met a man, and ended up staying in Ecuador. Same teacher bought a new car, and as in common in SA, they didn´t want to accept credit cards, so she had to withdraw $8000 from the bank in cash!!! a few other crazy things here that i will have to collect and write about later.

Things are pretty tranquil now. Cuenca is a really cool city with cobblestone streets, tons of gothic style cathedrals and colonial architecture- enough to keep a photographer tickled for months. really like it except for the weather.

I will spend another week studying, but i will need to cut back my lessons and move to a hostal. I was going to go back to Banos for the final week of study, but the Volcano started showing off and destroyed all the roads near Banos. it was
Nariz del DiabloNariz del DiabloNariz del Diablo

Grabbing a spot on the roof at 5;30 AM
quite a mess for a while. people of Ecuador could not move north or south and all international flights were suspended because of the ash. a huge problem for Ecuador. crazy thing is, i would´ve been there when the volcano started erupting, save the fact that the city was so unwelcoming that i left. apparently, it is tranquil now but they are awaiting a big eruption. the opening of the crater naturally opened away from Banos, but the last eruption blew off the protective side, so now Banos is threatened. therefore my decision to stay in Cuenca another week. i will then backtrack to Tena- a now 3 day trek, thanks to Volcan Tunguraua- for my volunteer stint at amazoonica. it´ll be warm!!!!

Thanks to the few who left me the sweetest comments on my last blog!!! If there are others reading, please leave me a coment so i know you are enjoying my blog. it´s a heck of a lot of work to keep up if only a few people are reading. thanks

Chiao for now!

Additional photos below
Photos: 71, Displayed: 28


Nariz del DiabloNariz del Diablo
Nariz del Diablo

Me, Fleur and Sophie
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Nariz del Diablo

children waving to the train
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Nariz del Diablo

a stop along the train

26th August 2006

Hey Tana, I always enjoy and look forward to your blog. I love to hear about your experences and the pictures are great, places I would never get to see other wise. Most of all, it was wonderful to hear you now have a clean bill of health. And hey, not all kids are holy terrors. How are you going to be the cool grandmother and sit around when you are old and tell these stories without grandkids?
26th August 2006

Great Pics again
Tan, We heard about the volcano, but the name of the place was different than Banos and we assumed you were not near it. It was a good thing you didn't get stuck in that unfriendly place, though it does look pretty. The pictures of the train ride look very bleak and desolate, kind of like Afganistan pictures I've seen. I've been sending your blog to a lot of people, many of whom are very impressed. Your pictures are beautiful. Are you sending them somewhere safe? It would be horrible if you lost any of them. They would make a great coffee table book of SA. Take care. Love, Mom
27th August 2006

keep on keepin on, girl!!! It's great fun reading your blog--do continue!!! It gives us a vicarious experience we'd never have otherwise!! got kissed under Niagara falls! Can't wait to hear your many stories in great detail! Keep it coming! deb
27th August 2006

Tan...I love your blog. I admire your tenacity and spirit of adventure. Best news to hear of your good health report! Your pictures are fantastic. Love them and you....becky swanson
28th August 2006

So many memories
Hey Tana, its a shame you didn't enjoy Banos, it was one of my favourite places in Ecuador. The devils nose train ride was so scary, I remember freaking out a few times when I did it. Keep having a blast girl! - Rob xoxo
28th August 2006

Hey Tanya...It's been such fun following along your journey. It's been quite an adventure. I am so excited for you and am envious of all you're doing. I'm not so sure I could handle it. The pictures have been gorgeous. Absolutely amazing. I'm so glad you're jouralling all of this. Thanks for sharing! Take care. Love ya!
28th August 2006

hi Tanya, I was surprised to see how bundled up you had to be! You have to be prepared for everything, don't you? Sure am happy about your clean bill of health. We love reading your blog and your photos are beyond amazing. Thanks for sharing with us all!
6th September 2006

Thank you!
Tana, I am so enjoying reading of your travels and experiences in SA, and am thrilled to see the lovely photos, especially the scenery and the churches, inside and out. I am glad and relieved the health scare has been resolved happily. I look forward to your updates and also look forward to your next visit to Columbia--would love to visit with you and your parents and hear lots more about your travels. All your efforts in sending messages and photos are very, very much appreciated. Jane

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