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Published: November 8th 2007
It´s been almost 2 weeks since I last wrote, but I´ve packed a lot into that time and it seems so much longer.
Last time I wrote, I was about to meet up with the group I will be spending at least the next three months with. There are 26 of us in the group, which will rise to 34 in a couple of weeks, which makes it a very different experience to that in Central America, where we had between 4 and 12 people. There are quite a few couples and more single guys than girls, and as well as the usual Brits, Aussies and Kiwis, there´s a guy from Iceland and a guy from Japan. They all seem very nice people, although some of them are huge drinkers, which could make things difficult, but we´ll see how it goes. It´s nothing I didn´t expect.
I´m travelling with a company called Tucan Travel, on a massive bright yellow truck called Jack, which gets a lot of stares from the locals as we pass through some poor villages - the truck is bigger than some of the houses. Luckily, there is loads of storage space, so I´ve managed to buy a small bag (made from llama wool I believe) so I don´t have to live out of my big rucksack.
We´ve been split into various teams, as there is a rota system and several jobs that need doing most days, including cleaning the truck, cooking (lunch most days, but also breakfast and dinner when we camp), and washing up. So far it´s all good fun, but I´ll let you know after 143 days. (So far, our team has esaped having to do any cooking!)
We left Quito on Sunday 28th Oct and headed through the stunning Andes mountains to Misahualli, which lies on the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon. We stayed in this garish pink hotel which clashed nicely with the yellow truck, but the only thing to write home about is that a couple on the tour had their room broken into and their passports stolen. Luckily, they have since had replacements issued, but it was a terrible time for them.
The following day, we took a motorised canoe up the river to a small path that led immediately into the Amazon jungle, from where we had a strenuous 6km trek to a jungle lodge, which was our home for the night. I made the mistake of carrying my daypack with my camera equipment, so I was carrying a few extra kilos that I could have done without! I didn´t realise how tough the trek would be until half way through, and it will make sure I pack light for the Inca Trail (which at this stage I don´t know how I´m going to complete!).
The lodge was lovely but basic. The showers, when they worked, only had cold water, but that was OK as we were in the middle of the jungle. At night, we had the obligatory sing-song round the campfire, although the only person who could play was our guide, so all the songs were in Spanish! (I do play the guitar a little, but it has to be a left-handed one).
We visited an indegenous family, who showed us how they make their local alcoholic drink (from sweet potato), and fish traps out of bamboo leaves, and on the way back, we sailed along the river without the engine on, just using the current to steer us, just after sunset, listening to the sounds of the jungle, and watching the stars come out and the fireflies lighting up the trees. It was one of those moments I won´t forget in a hurry.
On Tuesday, we had another walk through the jungle, thankfully a lot shorter and less strenuous than the previous day's. We visited a local village, where the schoolkids greeted us with shouts of 'gringos', and we were told that the village hadn´t had a doctor or any nurses for a few months due to some political dispute, and they are on the lookout for volunteers. Shame I´m not a doctor really as it would have been lovely to be able to help them. The kids were unbelievably cute, and some of the girls in our group wanted to take some home with them!
In the afternoon, I went tubing, which was a new experience for me. This is where you sit in a large tyre, plonk yourself on the river, and sail on the current with your arms and feet sticking in the air. Steering is done by using your arms as oars. It was great fun, especially when we went through some rapids, but the scariest part was getting back to shore. I left it bit late to start paddling, and was still a few metres short of the shore as the lodge came into view. I climbed out of the tyre and frantically started swimming to the shore, but the current was too strong and began to take me past the lodge. I was a bit frightened at this point, but one of the guides gave myself and one of the girls a helping hand and pulled us in! As it happens, I discovered that I was only about a metre from the shallows, so I wouldn´t have needed the help after all. One of the guys in our group, who wasn´t a strong swimmer, ended up drifting right past the lodge and had to be rescued by boat a few yards downstream. That was quite funny!
On Wednesday, we had a long drive through the Andes to Baños, but not before we stopped off for lunch and a spot of bridge swinging. This is where you are attached to a rope by a harness and have to step off the side of a bridge, so that when the rope tightens, you swing round the other side and back again several times before dangling like a rag doll over some rapids until you are picked up by the guide. It was an incredibly scary experience - good job I was just watching the other mad fools in the group doing it!
Baños is a lovely small city, named after the hot springs that are located there. It lies in the foothills of the active Tungurahua volcano, and we were told that we may not be able to visit the city because the volcano had come to life that morning, although luckily that turned out not to be true.
I had a lazy day on Thursday, catching up with exciting stuff like laundry, and on Friday, I did something that I will never, ever do again in my life... I went canyoning. This is effectively abseiling down 3 waterfalls of differing heights, attached to a harness and a safety rope. Now, the logical part of my brain was telling me that it wasn´t dangerous at all, as the safety rope would stop you plummeting to certain death should you slip. But imagine standing at the top of a 40-foot waterfall, facing inwards, and being told to lean back 45 degrees and step backwards! I´m not ashamed to say that I had a bit of a panic attack, although I was half way down the first waterfall at the time and in no position to change my mind! Luckily, I eventually pulled myself together, and successfully decended, and even quite enjoyed going down the second waterfall. Unfortunately, a few of us thought that was the end, so I relaxed, only to find that there was one more waterfall to go, and I started panicking again! I made it down though, and later found out that Jo, our tour guide, cried like a baby when she went canyoning a few months ago and had to be helped down joined to one of the guides, so I didn´t feel so bad. It was something I¨m glad I experienced, but my canyoning career is now officially over.
That evening, we were driven to a viewing spot to see the volcano, but it was cloudy so we couldn´t see a thing. We did occasionally hear it rumbling, although it was difficult to hear above the chattering of most of the rest of the group. Anyone would think they could listen to an active volcano any day of the week!
I spent Saturday wandering around Baños, until the evening, when I became a bit of a guinea pig as I was the first person in the group to eat, well, guinea pig! I actually found it delicious (it tastes a lot like hamster) but there was not much meat on it.
There are a couple of competitions for charity going on at the moment within the group. Firstly, there is a contest called ´Movember´, which originates in Australia and New Zealand, whereby the men have to go the whole of November without shaving (although we can shoose a style, so I´m going for a goatee), and the girls have to place bets on who has the most growth, or who has the most stupid style, etc.
Secondly, and slightly more worrying, is the iPod challenge, where we each put our iPod on shuffle and play the first 10 songs, which everyone marks either good or bad. I´m not sure what the forfeit for the lowest score is, but I have a feeling it could be me, especially as one of the other guys had a Genesis song which got voted to be skipped after one minute!
On Sunday, we drove to Cuenca, the third largest city in Ecuador, and our final stop in that country. We stayed in a lovely hotel, which was a nice surprise as we were told that the hotel in Baños was as good as it gets. The only disconcerting thing was that we were given a handout outlining how important it is to keep your personal possessions locked in the hotel safe, and not to wander around alone at night. I remember the guy I shared a cabin with on the boat in the Galapagos Islands telling me he´d had his camera bag stolen in Cuenca, and unfortunately, a Japanese guy in our group was mugged on the first evening and had his camera stolen. I decided not to risk it and didn´t even take my camera out with me, which was a shame as the city was quite beautiful and I could have got some good pics.
A few of us went for a sushi meal, and I don´t think I´ve ever eaten as much in my life. It was delicious, and a fraction of the price it would have cost back home. South America has been very cheap so far.
We left Ecuador and arrived in Peru on Tuesday. I really liked Ecuador, what with the Galapagos Islands, Amazon jungle, Andes mountains and lovely cities, it´s been a wonderful country to spend time in.
We´ve spent our first couple of nights in Peru camping on the beach at Punta Sal, not far from the border with Ecuador. The girls had their own competition as revenge for 'Movember´, and they had to put up the tents, but unfortunately there were no embarrassing moments.
Yesterday was spent playing beach volleyball, and swimming in the sea. But take my advice... next time you swim in the sea, don´t wear prescription sunglasses or they may get swept away. That´s the second pair of glasses I´ve lost now!
We had to pick a 'tent buddy' to share a tent with for every night of camping on this tour. I picked a quiet English guy called Jaz, who doesn´t drink and very much keeps himself to himself. I figured that he would be unlikely to wake me up staggering into the tent at 2am blind drunk. But what I didn´t realise was that he has an obsessive compulsive disorder (he describes himself like Monica from Friends), and likes everything to be neat and tidy. Now, I´m not known for my tidyness, and yesterday, Jaz told me that he has asked for a different tent buddy! After 2 nights with me (we also shared a hotel room in Cuenca for a night), he´s decided he can´t take any more! Unfortunately, this means I will be sharing with the only non-English speaking person in the group, the Japanese guy who had his camera stolen, so I can´t say I´m happy about it, especially as I thought I´d been pretty tidy! He did assure me it was nothing personal!
Sorry for the lack of pictures in this blog, but this internet cafe doesn´t allow me to upload them.
Hope all is well back home, and enjoy the winter!
Love D x
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