Posts Tagged ‘Peru & Ecuador 2009’

back to daily life

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

I just got back from Orlando, Florida, where I attended the General Assembly of my church (Church of the Nazarene). But it will take a while before I’ll post anything about that, since I’m not even done writing about my South America trip. It was a great trip though!
On Monday I start working again, that should be interesting.. back to daily life! But I don’t mind. In fact, I’m looking forward to it (once I’ve ridden myself of this jetlag). There’s so many things I want to do, and I can do them right here, in Dordrecht, the Netherlands. I don’t have to travel the world to live my dreams (though I definitely want to keep doing that as well).
Now the trick is to not let this attitude slip away.

Day 70 – 74: Quito, Cotopaxi and going home

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Day 70: Quito

After a bus trip of about 6 hours I arrived in Quito, and headed for Mariscal Sucre, the ‘new town’. This is kind of the tourist area of Quito, with tons of restaurants, hotels, tour agencies, internet cafes, etc. Let’s just say it’s a convenient area, and convenience is what I needed right then. I got my laundry done and arranged a biking trip to Cotopaxi at Arie’s Bike Company (that’s right, a Dutch company). There was a tour the next day and I could tag along, perfect.
I had a set lunch at Roble Viejo. I love this set lunch concept, they had it in Peru too. There are tons of places that serve these, and in the bigger towns you’ll even find some that are dedicated vegetarian (often run by Hare Krishnas). You just walk in, sit down and they’ll serve you a hearty soup, a main dish, a drink and sometimes a small dessert as well. All of that for 2 dollars or less. Awesome. We should have that here.
In the afternoon I got back to the Nazarene Seminary to see Dana, who showed me to my accommodation. I got a two room apartment with a bathroom, kitchen and everything. Crazy! The seminary is located in Carcelén, in the very north of Quito, but getting to the center by public transportation is pretty straight forward (and cheap). So it was perfect!
Dana invited me over for dinner at his house on the campus. I said I’d love to come, but asked if it wasn’t a problem that I’m a vegetarian. No problem at all, he told me. Some time later he was American enough to make a joke about it: “I didn’t think a vegetarian would have the strength to carry such a heavy backpack!”. Haha..
At his house I met his wife and kids, and a teacher from the US who was at the seminary for some weeks. It’s interesting how people bring along their own culture. We were eating pizza, drinking soda from a big glasses, talking English.. I felt like I was somewhere in the US instead of Ecuador. It was great though, awesome people. Afterward I played some Wii with Dana, his son and the teacher. Was a lot of fun.

Day 71: biking tour at Cotopaxi

Got up early and headed to Mariscal, where I had breakfast at Coffee Tree. An ok place, but a bit expensive. I got picked up by Lincoln, the guide for today’s biking tour. We then picked up two German guys, both pilots for Lufthansa. They were nice guys that I got along with well.
We drove through ‘the avenue of the volcanoes‘, a valley between 11 great mountains. I’d passed through here before, but not in good weather, so now Lincoln was able to point some of the volcanoes out and tell something about them.
The weather changed as we got to the national park, where it was overcast and raining a bit. First we had to drive through the park for a while (the landscape kind of reminded me of Scandinavia) to get to the Cotopaxi volcano. At 5,897 meter, it’s the second highest peak in Ecuador and one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. We drove up to 4,500m and from there we walked to Refugio José Rivas at 4,800. Fortunately the sky started clearing up.

the path to the refuge / an Andean fox

Man! It was cold, with lots of wind and very little oxygen in the air.. as we ascended, it seemed walking got more difficult with every step. But we made it. Kind of funny to realize that we were now on the same altitude as the highest point in Europe (Mont Blanc in France). We went up a little further, to about 5,100 m. Pretty cool to have made it to such a high altitude, not in the least because of the stunning views.

We walked back to the car and got ready for the bike trip! First a descent down the mountain, which was pretty spectacular and rough. I was a bit afraid to fall down though, so I tried to take it easy. When we got on the plains, we stopped for lunch. Not too bad, having a delicious lunch while looking out on the Cotopaxi. Now I could well see why it’s so famous, it’s one picture perfect volcano!

We then biked on through the plains, still going down a bit, and it was beautiful. I think the whole trip was about 25 kilometers, but, including the walk of that morning, it was all pretty intense, so it was long enough. Awesome trip!

Back at the seminary in Carcelén I paid a visit to a supermarket and got some groceries for the next couple of days. Kind of cool, shopping groceries and then making dinner (even though it was just soup) at my ‘own’ apartment.

Day 72: TelefériQo and the old town

A relatively new attraction in Quito is the TelefériQo, a cable car that takes you up the Pichincha volcano, at 4100 meters. From there you get a wonderful view over Quito and its surroundings. I’d been told the views are the best in the morning, so I got up there early. Again, the weather was cooperating.

I spent the rest of the day walking through the Centro Histórico (old town) of Quito. Many beautiful colonial buildings and squares can be found here, and with a friendly atmosphere it’s an area you simply have to visit. Quito has a reputation of being a dangerous city, but it didn’t feel like that at all. Maybe because I always watched my back, or I was just lucky.. probably both.
I visited some churches and cathedrals, with La Compañía de Jesús as one of the highlights; in an aesthetic way anyway. Incredible how much gold they used there. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures. Some other highlights were Plaza Grande and La Ronda, one of the oldest streets of Quito.

Plaza Grande

View on La Compañía de Jesús / La Ronda

After another great, cheap set lunch at a Hare Krishna place I walked towards Mariscal through some parks, and then I was about done with touring the city and headed back to the seminary. Got a beautiful sunset view from my apartment that evening.

Day 73: Mitad del Mundo

Mitad del Mundo (the middle of the world) is a monument on the equator, about 22 km north of Quito. This is where measurements were made in 1736 to determine that this was indeed the equator (and hence this country’s name: Ecuador). Seemed like a fun place to go, despite its touristy nature. This time I was fortunate to be staying in the north of Quito, because not far from there was a bus to Mitad del Mundo I could get on. The weather was great, sunny and quite hot.
I was early so it wasn’t very crowded yet. Around the monument they’ve built sort of a theme park, modeled after a colonial village, with a bunch of small museums and shops. It was fun to check it out for a while and have my picture taken on the equator..

At the ‘fake’ and the real equator

..or is it? The funny thing about the monument is that GPS measurements have pointed out that it’s not exactly on the equator. It’s about 240 meters off. They built another museum on the real equator: the Intiñan Solar museum. So I went there, and I was able to go along with a guided tour, which was a lot of fun. They had some expositions about the different indigenous cultures in Ecuador, it wasn’t very in-depth, but interesting nonetheless. Most entertaining, whether they’re hoaxes or not, were the water and energy demonstrations. For example, they put a sink on the equator, let water flow through it, and it goes straight down. Then they drag the sink to the north side, where the water drains counterclockwise, and on the south side it goes clockwise. Fun stuff.
In the afternoon I went to Mariscal again, where I had lunch at El Cafecito, hung around for a while and then headed back early to get my stuff packed and just relax for the rest of the day. My final day in Ecuador..

Day 74: Quito – Amsterdam

Dana was kind enough to drop my off at the airport in the morning, it was only a 10 minute drive. Quito airport is pretty small, and everything went smoothly. What’s up with the ‘departure tax’ though? They had it in Peru too, and here I had to pay $41 dollars just for leaving the country. Lame.
I gotta tell you, it was great to get on a direct flight to Amsterdam on a KLM plane, with mostly blond, blue-eyed, Dutch-speaking stewardesses.. haha. It felt a bit like coming home. My seat was in the center of the plane, in a row of 3 seats. When I got there, I saw two not-so-slim ladies sit on either side of the row, with one empty seat in between them. Oh my, was I ever glad that I had an isle seat. I wouldn’t have very much enjoyed sitting between those two kind ladies for 12 hours.
We left at 9:15, the flight was a breeze. It helped that my in-flight entertainment system was working this time, and that I didn’t need to sleep; I was trying to ‘stay’ in this timezone, because I’d go to Florida a couple of days later. After a (planned) technical stop in Bonaire we cruised on to Amsterdam, where we arrived at Schiphol airport right on time, at 5 in the morning. Don’t know why, but Schiphol is my favorite airport. Maybe it’s just because I often come ‘home’ there. Half an hour later I entered the arrivals hall, where my parents were waiting for me. It was good to be back.

More pictures at

Day 67 – 70: Quilotoa loop

Saturday, July 4th, 2009

Day 67: Latacunga

In Latacunga I was finally going to couchsurf, first time on this trip. Or so I thought. Because when I arrived in Latacunga, I got a message from my host that something had come up and he couldn’t host me anymore. Too bad, but it happens. I checked into Hotel Central instead. It’s owned by an older couple, who gave me a warm welcome, inviting me for a cup of tea in the sitting area. There was also a French family there, and I talked with them and the hotel owner in a mixture of Spanish, English and French.
I didn’t have much time to spend in Latacunga; the main reason I was here was that I’d have more time to acclimatize to the height (in the jungle I was at about 250m, Baños is at 1,800, Latacunga at 2,800, and my next stop at 3,200). Remembering my first days in Cuzco, it seemed like a good idea to take it easier this time. I hadn’t expected much of Latacunga, but as I strolled the streets in the evening, it was actually pretty nice. Some cobblestone streets with colonial buildings and parks that were beautifully lit. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was for a Saturday night though; almost everything was closed. I think it had to do with the elections that would take place the next day.

I made plans for the following days, for doing the Quilotoa Loop. This is a route, running from Latacunga to the astounding Quilotoa lake (a water-filled caldera) and back via another way. It passes by several Andean villages where indígenas still live in the a traditional way, more or less. There are also some traditional markets and many great hiking possibilities. So a great trip for soaking up some beautiful nature and culture. Traveling here requires some planning however, as public transportation is very infrequent.

Day 68: Quilotoa Loop part 1

I took a bus to Zambahua. The plan was to do a short hike there, and move on past Quilotoa to Chugchilán. There I’d stay for a day or two and do some hiking from there, so I could leave my luggage in one place.

around Zambahua

But once in Zambahua, I didn’t have that much time until the (only) bus left. There wasn’t much to do or see in the town itself, so I got a pickup truck to take me to Quilotoa. The bus would pass there as well, and I would get to see the Quilotoa lake. Some locals hopped on as well, as we cruised the dirt road to our destination. It was a bit clouded when we got there, but still I got some decent views over the lake. Beautiful! I just sat there for a while and then had a cheap almuerzo (lunch) with a nice family.
The busride to Chugchilán went through the mountains over a terribly bumpy road, with awesome views, a bus driver with a quircky smile on his face constantly, and cumbia blasting through the speakers. A typical Andean busride I guess.

Chugchilán is a one-horse town; it’s pretty much one street, with some small side streets. At was far from quiet though, lots of people outside, especially on the main square. Probably had to do with the elections as well. It had the vibe of a friendly highland village.
I was warmly greeted at Hostal Cloud Forest, an awesome and cheap place. You can’t beat a room with private bathroom, including breakfast and dinner for 10 bucks! Unfortunately it started raining, it was rather cold (at 3,200m) and there wasn’t much to do, so I got a bit miserable. But then I just read and wrote a bit and it was alright; what’s wrong with a quiet afternoon? At dinner I met a girl who was traveling the continent, and her parents had joined her for Ecuador. Of course they had to be Dutch.

Cloud Forest Hostel

Day 69: Quilotoa Loop part 2

A bunch of German girls were working at the hostel, and at dinner they would ask about everyone’s plans for the next day, to see if they could make any arrangements. Which was great, because that way I could ride back to Quilotoa this morning with a truck that had been rented by some people from another hostel. The only other option was the 4 am bus.

Quilotoa lake

I’d planned on hiking for Chugchilán to Quilotoa, but it wasn’t recommended, so I did it the other way around. The weather was good and now the views were even better. Same thing at the Quilotoa lake, it looked even more stunning. I took off for the hike, which would take about 5 hours. I had some directions, but it wasn’t a very clear route, so I got off of it after a while. I asked the locals that were around, who helped me along, though I don’t think I ever made it back to the original route. It was still a beautiful hike though, and this way it was a bit adventurous too. I made it in 4.5 hours.

That day a lot of other travelers arrived at the hostel, and I hung out with them for the rest of the day. It had started raining again anyway, so not much else to do. There was a nice communal room with a wood stove, which was greatly appreciated by all. I talked with a guy from England, who was working on a conservation project in the Amazon rainforest. He told me about how he loved doing it, but with all the troubles they faced, he sometimes felt it was all in vain. I sure could relate to that, and told him about the Bospas farm, how things didn’t come easy there either (more about that later). We got ourselves a bit down, just talking about all the problems in the world, haha.. but it was good to share some stories and ideas with someone like-minded.

Day 70: Chugchilán to Quito

The next morning I did get on that 4 am bus, to get back to Latacunga. There was no other way do it if I wanted to arrive there in the morning. I figure the buses leave so early so people can get there in time for work or for the market or something.
Looking back, I wish I had left most of my stuff in Latacunga, then I could have just hiked from town to town, see more, and not be troubled by the strange bus schedules so much. Ah well, it had been a great experience nonetheless.
I was the first one to get on the bus, and later when the driver came in, he shouted something like: “Time to wake up!”, and then started blasting cumbia through the speakers. I guess he had to keep himself awake. In a way I could appreciate it though, even at this hour (4 am, remember). Cumbia seems to be bus drivers’ favorite type of music over here. Bachata can be heard quite often too, but not that much salsa or traditional Andean music.
About 6 hours to go until Quito. I’d decided to go there right away, so I could arrange a mountain bike tour through Cotopaxi national park. I wanted to visit the park and I’d enjoyed biking in Baños so much that I wanted to do it again.

Day 64 – 67: hiking, biking, bathing, jumping, rafting and more in Baños

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Well, I’m back home! Arrived at 5:00 (am) yesterday. Though it was an amazing trip, it’s also good to be home again. I won’t be here for long though, this Wednesday I’m off to Florida for a week.
Still have to finish writing about the rest of my trip, you can expect 3 more posts or so. All the pictures are already online at
So let’s go back to Ecuador!

Day 64: from the rainforest back to the highlands

The flight was delayed a bit, but other than that it was great. The plane looked spotless, was spacey, and we even got a snack and a drink, despite it only being a 30 minute flight. All of that for $60, not bad.
In Quito I said goodbye to Martijn, and then took a cab to the Seminario Teologico Nazareno Sudamericano (yea, that’s a lot of o’s), a college of the Church of the Nazarene in Carcelén, northern Quito. I had been in touch with Dana, a missionary from the US who works there. I could store some things there I wouldn’t need anymore while traveling, and he offered me accommodation for the last two days of my trip. I met Dana, a really nice guy, he gave me some some recommendations for Baños; that’s where I was heading next. I took the bus and then the Trole (electric bus) to the long-distance bus terminal. The Trole is a pretty great form of public transportation. It runs from north to south, has a separate lane for the most part so it’s fast, and cheap ($0.25 for a ride). It can get really crowded and is notorious for pickpockets, but I found a good place where I could sit and keep an eye on my bags.
After a bus ride of about 4 hours I arrived in Baños and got a nice and cheap ($5) room at Residencial Timara. Baños is a friendly town, beautifully situated in a valley. It’s small, but has everything you need, and there are tons of activities to do in the area, like biking, hiking, horse riding, pendulum jumping (more on that later). There are also some hot springs where you can bathe (hence the town’s name), and a lot of great, cheap restaurants. Despite all of this it’s not TOO touristy.
I had dinner at Casa Hood, one of the coziest restaurants I’ve ever been; good food and smoothies too.

fountain on Plaza Grande / basilica

Day 65: rain, pendulum jumping and a hike

The next day I wanted to rent a bike for a ride from Baños to Puyo, but it was raining, so I got online to finally update my blog again.
I’d read you can do a so-called pendulum-jump in this town. It’s kind of like a bungee jump, as in you have to jump from (for example) a bridge, except after that you swing back and forth instead of up and down. I’d already done a bungee jump before, and this seemed like a fun variation on it. And for $20, it was pretty cheap too. I got accompanied by a guy from a tour agency, who’s name was Edwin too. Funny, first person I met here with the same name. There was another guy in front of me, but he was so nervous he let me go first. My nerves got to me somewhat when I was standing on the platform, looking down. But they counted me down and I just went. That’s the only way to do it – don’t think, just go.

Jumping down was quite a kick, then I got flipped so my head was up again, so the swinging wasn’t as exciting. Sure it was cool, just not as scary as with bungee jumping, when you stay upside down.
In the afternoon the weather got better, so I walked up one of the mountains, to the Bella Vista viewpoint. Quite a tough walk, but the views over Baños were wonderful. I got back down via another way, though I don’t think it was actually a trail – looked more like the land of a farmer, and at the end I had to climb over a wall. But sure enough, it worked.

The hostel had blazing hot showers, which was nice for a change. At Bospas and in the jungle they’d been cold. Which was ok, because most of the time either the weather was warm, or we’d be sweaty from working. But in Baños, where it was rainy and somewhat chilly today, a hot shower sure was appreciated.
I watched a movie at Casa Hood, where they show movies for free every afternoon; nice. After that, Cafe Good offered a nice dinner, and some entertainment in the form of a Spanish cartoon with Django Reinhardt-style songs, and the restaurant owner’s little daughter singing along to them.

Day 66: hot springs, bike ride from Baños to Puyo

Since we had such a steady rhythm at Bospas, I still go to bed around 10 and wake up before 6 every day. It’s a good rhythm for traveling actually, except that I seem to be waking up earlier every day. Strange..
This morning I wanted to take a dip into one of the hot springs Baños has to offer. Seemed like a nice way to wake up. I walked up to La Piscina de la Virgen – or so I thought. It was a tough walk up a mountain, they’d made stairs, about 500 of them. When I got up there, I found out that I’d arrived at La Virgen del Agua Santa instead of the pool.. got the Virgens mixed up there. I wasn’t too happy about it. Though I got a nice view from up there, it wasn’t much different from the one I’d seen yesterday. But mostly, it had left me rather exhausted, and I was planning to bike about 60 km today. At least the springs were extra nice when I finally did get there. They had three pools, one warm, one hot (48 C), and one cold, all containing lots of different minerals. Sure felt nice, and it reminded me of the great baths I visited in Budapest.
At about 9:15 I got a mountain bike (for $5 a day!) and set out for ‘la Ruta de las Cascadas’ (the waterfall route). This is a road, mostly going downhill, from the highlands into the jungle, passing a bunch of waterfalls along the way. I loved it. For one, it was really nice to just ride a bike again after two months. And then through such spectacular scenery. It was just the main road I was riding on, but there wasn’t much traffic, and the cars and buses were careful enough (save for one or two). One somewhat scary moment was when I had to go through a tunnel, with no light, and a bus behind me.. ha.. I didn’t mind that bikes weren’t allowed in the tunnels from there on.
At the Mano de la Novia waterfalls I took the tarabita (cable car) across the valley for a closer look. Pretty cool ride, at a 100 m height.

Next I got to a town called Río Verde, where I walked down to the Pailón del Diablo waterfalls. One of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen, though I guess mostly because you can get up really close (quite a wet business). You can even get ‘behind’ it, by crawling through a sort of cave.

After the road climbed a bit, it was downhill all the way to the Río Negro village. I wish the bike’d had a speed meter, because I sure was going fast. I had my lunch in Río Negro (staying true to my roots, I had brought some self-made sandwiches). It was about 13:00 by now, with 24 more kilometers to go to Puyo. I went for it, figuring that it would probably be mostly downhill from here. Boy, was I wrong. The next 17 km to Mera were the hardest of the whole ride, with a lot of steep climbs. I even walked for a while. But hey, it doesn’t always have to come easy, right?

I was joined by another biker, Wolfgang from Germany (though he’d dubbed himself Sonny here, because people just can’t pronounce his name), who wanted to make it to Puyo as well. It was nice to have some company, and it also made it easier to go on. We got some great views over the Amazon rainforest, and from Mera to Puyo the road was mostly flat.

We arrived at 15:15 and hopped on the bus back to Baños. On the way we talked about football (soccer), and we were both bummed that we still had to wait another year for the next big tournament.
What a great biking trip! The longest distance I’ve ever biked, as far as I can remember. Funny I had to come to Ecuador to do that, being from the Netherlands and all. The weather had been almost perfect, somewhat clouded with a few light showers. Doesn’t sound that great maybe, but as the clouds slowly vanished and it got warmer in the afternoon, I sure was glad it hadn’t been like that all day.
In the afternoon I just hung around in sunny Baños. Besides easting a good meal at Cafe Hood (what’s with all the Good and Hood restaurants here?) I didn’t do much; I was pretty beat.

Day 67: rafting

In the morning I took a bus to Puyo to go rafting! I hadn’t planned on doing it, but Dana had recommended me an agency, and then I’d thought: why not? I’d never done it before, and for $25 you can’t really go wrong. I got to the Selvavida office where I had to wait for a while, but passed the time having a nice conversation with the girl who worked there. After a while Luis, who runs the place, came in, and said: “Hey, you want to hold a snake?” I said sure.. so he pulled this snake right of a bookshelf, like it was the office pet or something, and gave it to me, haha.. well, pretty cool to hold a snake.
Once we’d driven to the river, I had to wait some more, for the rest of the group, but then we finally got on the Pastaza river. The others were all from Ambato, a group of co-workers I think. I got on a boat with 7 of them, and an instructor, who was a real pro, and just a cool guy too. He thought we had to think of a name for our group: Los Alfas. Every now and then he would shout: “Qué decimos?!” (what do we say?), and we’d stick our paddles in the air and answer: “Los Alfas!”. It was great fun; I’d done some canoeing in the past, but never on any ‘wild’ rivers. On this one we were going pretty fast, with some nice bumps here and there. It was class III, which is the highest level for beginners, but I sure would like to try out a higher level sometimes. I don’t have any pictures unfortunately.. I asked a lady who’d taken some to email them to me, but she hasn’t yet, and now I doubt she ever will.
Back in Baños I picked up my stuff at the hostel, and the owner was nice enough to let me take a shower, even though it was past checkout time. It was an older guy, who ran the place together with his wife. Every time I’d go up to him to say or ask something, he’d always say: “What do you say, boy?” (but then in Spanish).
Soon I was off to Latacunga for my next adventure.

Day 58 – 63: into the wild, the Amazon jungle

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

The end is near! Yesterday I arrived in Quito, a little earlier than planned, but it seemed like the most convenient thing to do. I will spend the rest of my time in and around the city, lots to see and do here. Then on Saturday I’m flying home..
Now, about my jungle trip last week.

Day 58: El Limonal to Lago Agrio

On Thursday Martijn and I took a bus to Ibarra, from where we’d travel directly to Lago Agrio. This is an oil town in the Oriente (as they call the Ecuadorian part of the Amazon rainforest here), from where we had booked a 5-day jungle tour in the Cuyabeno Reserve with a tour agency called Dracaena.
The busride to Lago was supposed to take about 8 hours according to Lonely Planet, but it turned out to be about 10.5. About half of it was over dirt roads through the mountains, passing through small towns. More than once, a river crossed the road and we had to drive through it. And several times, the drivers assistant had to get out to move some rocks which were blocking the road. It wasn’t a very comfortable bus either, and though the route offered a few interesting sights, it was a lot of the same. To put it short: one heck of a ride.
Around 20:15 we finally made it to our destination. It was like we had entered another world. It’s hard to describe, but it was nothing like the Andean highlands we’d come from at all. Just a completely different vibe. We checked into an ok place called Hotel d’Mario, where I had a good salad and a bad pizza. Soon we called it a night; a restless, hot and humid night.

Day 59 – 63: tour in the Amazon rainforest (Cuyabeno reserve)

In the morning we got to see what an ugly place Lago Agrio really is. Being an oil town, it doesn’t have anything for travelers to offer but a gate into the rainforest. We met our guide Fabian and the rest of the group at the hotel and got into a van for a drive of about 3.5 hours, cut in half by a lunch break. It was quite a big group of about 18 people, all heading for the same lodge. But the group would later be split in two, with two different guides. We got into a canoe shaped boat, for another ride of about 3.5 hours.

Now up until now wed seen something of the rainforest, but it hadnt been too spectacular. I guess mostly because wed followed the ‘oil route’ (we could see the pipeline along the road, along with the occasional set of tanks). Such a controversial area really, this Ecuadorian part of the Amazon rainforest. Almost ironic. As if God purposely put one of today’s world’s most important substances (the oil) in a most beautiful, sophisticated and ecologically important area. Just to see how we would deal with it. Hmm, not too well, from Ive seen and read so far. Even though Cuyabeno is a reserve, they are still drilling for oil there. But fortunately there are still many un-spoilt parts as well, and thats what we were heading for.
Just sitting there in that boat was awesome already, like a scene from a movie almost, and the scenery was starting to get pretty spectacular. Especially the last part, another part of the river, which had much darker water, because there are a lot of (natural) chemicals in it. It also got much warmer all of a sudden, and as it got darker and we started hearing the sounds of the jungle, we got a nice jungle-vibe going.

By the time wed reached the lodge (Nicky Amazon Lodge), it was dark. The place was lit by candle light and it looked wonderful. After a short introduction and a great meal I hit the sack. I had no doubt this was going to be amazing, and already thanked Martijn, because it’d been his idea to come here. I fell asleep within seconds and slept like a rose. I don’t know what it was, but here in the jungle I slept better than anywhere else during my trip.

What it was like..
In the early morning, just after sunrise, we usually took a boat ride to spot birds. We saw a lot of them, many with beautiful colors, like parrots, toucans, kingfishers and falcons. Some sitting up in a tree, others flying high over our heads, and yet others flying really low over the river. Fabian identified them all, and so he did with the many birds we could not see, but only hear. I never thought that could be so interesting: listening for bird calls. They made the most exotic sounds, and Fabian was able to imitate a lot of them (he told us he’d spend hours and hours listening to tapes with bird calls), and sometimes he got responses from birds. During these tours we also saw other animals, like bats, a sloth, turtles, butterflies and monkeys. Sometimes quite close to us, by the river. So cool to see all those animals in their natural habitat, just doing their thing (or nothing, in the sloth’s case).

After breakfast we usually went hiking in the jungle for some hours. During these hikes we mostly looked for various types of plants, flowers, trees and fruits. Besides Fabian there was also a native guide, Felix, who knew the way around and who pointed out the medinical use of some plants. We would also see spiders, many types of bugs, butterflies and some birds and monkeys. One of the hikes was done at night, which was also a cool experience.

Our guides: Fabian and Felix

We got to see pink river dolphins a couple of times, one even jumped out of the water! (which they rarely do). Sometimes we didn’t even have to leave the lodge to see animals; one time there was a small snake in the roof above our shower. Sure was interesting to take a shower while being watched by a snake (it wasn’t poisonous). Also frogs, big spiders and a opossum were seen.

The tours weren’t always (completely) successful; we went fishing for piranhas once, and didn’t catch or see any (although Fabian did catch some catfish and a bass, which looked pretty impressive). And we went looking for cayman alligators at night two times, and we only saw one real quick. Although that was ok, because the rides were still very nice. Quite an experience, to float on a river in the Amazon jungle on a beautiful moonlit night, with nothing but the sounds of the jungle in the background. And we did see a cayman close to our camp, and watched him being fed. Another time we went up a canopy tower, though we didn’t see that many birds from there, save a yellow headed vulture that came flying by. But still we had an amazing view.

So that’s all part of it, this is the real thing, not a zoo. I saw a lot more than I’d expected, so it was absolutely great. I guess the only thing I missed was a big mammal, like a big cat or a tapir, although we did see some tracks of the latter. But really, besides that I couldn’t have wished for anything more.
During the time we were there, other people came and went (there were also 4 and 8 day tours), which was nice for the change. Met some cool people from Switzerland, Israel, Sweden, England, USA and Ecuador.
On the way back we visited a local community. There wasn’t much to the visit, we checked out a turtle nursery, a project funded by a European organization. And we had the opportunity to buy some locally made jewelry. I didn’t mind that it was short though, as we still had a long way to go.

The whole tour was organized very well; great crew and delicious meals. Fabian was such an enthusiastic guide. Sometimes, if he’d spotted some animal he’d shout: “Holy moly! Look at that …!!”
And all of that for 250 dollar. So if you’re ever planning to visit the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador.. go to the Cuyabeno Reserve with Dracaena, highly recommended!
There weren’t that many mosquitos (I didn’t even get stung once), and the weather was actually pretty nice. We got some sun, and of course a bunch of showers. It was humid, but not too hot, so it didn’t bother me that much.

Two nice surprises for us in a jungle town on the way back

After the long boatride we were supposed to be picked up again, but the road was blocked somewhere by a truck, which had gotten off the road and was now stuck. We got there by hitching a ride in the back of a pick-up truck (gotta love that), and waited until they got a big digger machine to pull it out. For a while I was kind of bummed by the whole thing, but things like this happen, and it was kind of fun to watch it all. And in the end we got back in time in Lago Agrio to book a flight for the next day, all according to plan. I felt a bit bad about it, but after the long busride from Ibarra, I had to give in to a 30 minute flight back to Quito (which takes 8 to 9 hours by bus).

More pictures at

Day 37 – 57: working at Bospas #2

Thursday, June 11th, 2009

I know, it’s been a long time.. I was going to update sooner, but instead I ended up in a hospital, more on that later in this post (I’m fine now!). Last Thursday (4 June) I finished my work at Bospas and embarked on a 5-day tour through the Amazon rainforest, which was amazing. Right now I’m in Baos, where there are tons of fun things to do like hiking, biking, bathing (hence the name of this town), rafting and whatnot. So I’ll be spending a couple of days here. More on all of that and my jungle tour later, let’s go back to Bospas first.

Life at the Bospas farm

Weather, flora and fauna
The weather is mostly the same every day, a concept that is very foreign to a Dutch guy like me. For one thing: it never really gets cold. During the day it’s usually between 20 and 25 degrees, and at night it’s not too warm, just right. Sometimes it rains; it’s actually still rainy season, but we haven’t gotten all that much rain. According to Piet, the dry season seems to start earlier every year.
Another thing that’s very different than at home are the sounds. Once the sun goes down, a cricket orchestra will start playing, but also some insect sounds I have never heard before, and which I can’t quite describe. You can hear dogs barking all the time (day or night), and in the very early morning (when it’s still night in my book), roosters start crowing all over the area.
We get to see quite a lot of beautiful birds and butterflies at the farm, and unfortunately also quite a few mosquitoes. That’s one of the few downsides of this place. But at least there’s no malaria around here.
And, naturally, there are lots of beautiful flowers, trees and plants here as well.

Piet, the owner, is a really nice guy, I think hes in his late fifties, with a great sense of humor. He likes to share his knowledge and ideas, and thats quite a lot. I really admire him for what he is doing. It seems he wants to do too many things though, so I guess he either needs more people, or cut down on his activities. In general we speak Dutch and English around here, except with Olda, who only speaks Spanish. At first she didnt seem too involved with us, just doing the housework. But I had a couple of conversations with her and shes very nice. The kids can be either fun or annoying, depending on their (and maybe my) mood, theyre 7 and 3 years old I think. Then there are two dogs, which are fun to have around.

Olda usually prepares the food and she is a great cook. We get freshly backed bread most every morning, and fresh fruit juice during lunch. One time Piet asked if I wanted some fruit juice, and I said yes. “Ok, go pick some tangerines from that tree and make it yourself!”. Gotta love that!

In the last two weeks we did some more construction work, like building a fence, sanding wood, painting, etc.
We also made some short trips to other places in the area: further up the valley, where ngel, a friend of Piet has a big piece of land.

And we went on another hike to get more bamboo plants, for which we had to drive about half an hour, in the direction of the coast. It was interesting to see this area, because there is much more vegetation here. Piet told me it’s because the main road used to end at El Limonal, and so they haven’t gotten around to burning everything down yet, in order to use it for agricultural of livestock-keeping purposes.

One time, when we were cutting down trees and cutting off branches, this kid walked by. He must have been in his early teens. Martijn and me were trying to saw off a rather thick branch, which took quite some effort. The kid said, hey, you should use a machete for that. Here, let me show you. So he took a machete and just cut the thing off. Sure made us look like fools, ha! Here you can see me in action:

Piet soon found out what my profession is, so he asked me to help him with some IT-related things, including setting up a new version of his website. Now one of my reasons for coming here was to get a break from that, but I enjoyed it. Especially at first when I wasnt feeling well, it was much better than working on the land.

El Limonal and Ibarra
So Bospas is located just outside of El Limonal, which is a tiny village. Apart from a couple of convenience stores, a church and some sort of bar, there isn’t really anything here. But it has its charms, and the people are friendly. Some shots of El Limonal:

Ibarra is the only city of any importance in this area; with a population of about 110,000, you can pretty much get anything there. It takes about 1.5 hour to get there, and its not a very interesting town, but we go there about once a week, mostly to get online. There is actually an internet cafe in a school here in El Limonal, but the connection is very slow and not available that often. Piet always tells us how he doesnt like to go to Ibarra, but he often has to, to take care of some business. After a couple of weeks Im starting to understand what he means.
There are hardly any tourists in this area, so it’s quite different from Cuzco.

waterfalls, birds and crafts in Otavalo

One weekend I made a trip with Soo and Martijn to Otavalo, a town north of Quito. Its famous for its market, which supposedly is the most famous one in South America. And thats about all there is to do in Otavalo. But there are some interesting sights in the area, so we figured we could spend a day or two there.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and found a nice hotel, Rincn del Viajero, the first time I got to lay my head on a decent pillow here in South America. On Saturday the Otavalo market is the biggest, and thats when all the tourists arrive, but the market is actually there all week. So we figured we might as well check it out right away, which was actually better, because it was very quiet and prices were low. Id seen my share of markets in Peru, so I didnt care much about the whole experience anyway.
On Saturday we hiked up to Parque Condor, which was just 4 km, but still quite tough because the road went up, starting at 2,500 m.

view over Otavalo

San Pablo lake

The park rehabilitates birds like eagles, falcons, owls and more. We saw some trained birds give a demonstration, pretty awesome to see some of them fly out over the Andean mountains. Also got to see the bald eagle and the Andean condor up close.

We then tried to find El Lechero, an old tree with healing powers, supposedly. But we couldnt find it, so we walked and then took a cab to the Peguche waterfall. Situated in a eucalyptus tree forest, it was quite beautiful.

Martijn, Soo and me in front of the Peguche waterfalls

One night we had dinner in Mi Otavalito, and for the first time I had no vegetarian options to choose from in a restaurant. But I just ordered a salad, some rice and potatoes and mixed them all up.
A fun weekend trip!

How I got myself into an Ecuadorian hospital

So ever since I’d arrived at Bospas, I hadn’t been feeling completely well for some reason, but in the last two weeks I started regaining my energy and things seemed alright. Except that I would have these stomach problems every few days, accompanied by diarrhea, but every time it would go away after some hours.
Then, two weeks ago on Thursday, it finally hit me hard. I got fever, felt very weak, and had to go to the bathroom just about every 45 minutes. This went on all day and night (at one point I considered to just sleep on the toilet). It was hell. I tried to keep myself somewhat hydrated, but it seemed my body wasn’t able to contain any liquids anymore (I’d already given up eating). So in the morning Piet took me to the hospital. Fortunately there’s one in the town just across the river, and Piet knew someone there, so I didn’t have to wait in line with the locals. I have to admit that I felt a bit bad about that, but as we were talking with the doctor everything suddenly went black before my eyes. Sure was scary. So I guess I needed some help badly.
They thought I had some kind of amoeba in my intestines, which was messing everything up. I probably got it from something I ate. I had to stay in the hospital because I was quite dehydrated, and they gave me IV therapy (in Dutch: an ‘infuus’). First time I ever got that, and it was comforting in one way, because it would rehydrate me, but a bit of a drag whenever I had to go to the bathroom and I had to carry the thing with me (it didn’t have wheels). Fortunately the medicines they gave me started working pretty quickly and greatly reduced the frequency of my bathroom visits.
After some hours I also started getting my appetite back, and I found myself craving for a Domino’s pizza, and being able to eat it at home, feeling healthy and all. I was even thinking about eating, yes, I do admit, a Big Mac of a Whopper. What can I say, years of fast food propaganda won’t leave you unmarked. But I was quite happy with the cheese sandwiches and rice which Piet had brought me. And I didn’t really want to be anywhere else but in this hospital. It was a good place, the staff was very nice and helpful, and I had a room for myself.
They let me go the next morning. I still didn’t feel a 100%, though much better, and I think I was mostly just drowsy from laying in bed for 24 hours. I actually had to walk home (quite a steep trail, in the blazing sun). Piet’d had to leave, but he had told me this guy with a motorcycle would drive me home. I couldn’t find him though, and the doctors didn’t know anything about it. Well, like Martijn said: that’s Ecuador for ya. But then I guess this is Ecuador too, or at least rural Ecuador: I didn’t have to pay a dime for my stay in the hospital, nor for the medications. It’s completely free! In the countryside, the hospitals are funded by the government, so medical help hardly costs anything. And in this case, nothing at all, because the place is supposedly funded by some German church as well.
After a couple of days I was fully recovered, fortunately, so I was ready to head into the jungle.

And so ended my time at the Bospas Fruit Forest Farm. It’s been interesting in many ways, but I’ll reflect on that later. I will tell you more about my jungle trip in the next post!

Day 26 – 36: Peru to Ecuador, working at Bospas

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Day 26: Cuzco to Quito, Peru to Ecuador

5:15. If only I had known what was about to happen today, I sure as shoot wouldnt have gotten up this early. But of course I didnt, so I had my breakfast and said goodbye to Gaudelupe.
My plane to Lima was to leave at 7:45, but soon it was delayed, and then cancelled. After waiting in line for a long time, they booked me two new flights. The new schedule: 14:15 to Lima, 0:50 to Quito. There Id arrive around 3, exactly 12 hours later than planned. Oh well, whatcha gonna do?


But it did mean that I had time to check out Lima some more, so that wasnt too bad. I took a taxi to Plaza de Armas (the main square in the center), though the cabby didnt know where it was (I guess thats possible in a 8.2 million-people city), we got there with some help.

I enjoyed watching the city street sights along the way. I could see why Lima isnt such a popular destination for tourists. Its mostly just big and crowded, though it does have some nice colonial architecture in the center.
I was surprised to see I was one of the very few gringos around. I checked out the cathedral, where a mass was going on, so I got in for free. I just sat there for a while, not able to understand anything of what the priest was saying, but enjoying the beautiful church and the tranquility in the middle of a huge city. After walking around for a bit and looking for a bookstore (and not succeeding), I got online for some time and then had a nice and cheap meal at Villa Natura. It had gotten dark by the time I got out, and I figured I might as well go back to the airport.
Mostly because of lack of time to pick them out, I hadnt brought any books on the trip, and by now I was getting pretty fed up with that, so I bought one for too much money at the airport: The Green Mile. I figured: great movie, must be a great book then as well.
Some hours, a good flight and a bit of sleep later I finally arrived in Quito, totally exhausted.. it had taken me 22 hours to get here. Fortunately I had called the Hotel Huasi Continental in advance, so I was sure of at least half a good night’s sleep.

Day 27: Quito and arrival at Bospas

The next morning I had breakfast at a restaurant (why anyone would serve potatoes with a cheese sandwich in the morning I dont understand, but they do it here) and walked around Quito for some time. It had a completely different vibe from Lima, Puno or Cuzco. Actually most of the cities Ive seen so far have come across to me as completely different. Anyway, I didnt spend a lot of time in Quito, as I would return there later. So I got on the bus to Ibarra, which took me about 2.5 hours, and cost me 2.5 dollar (Ecuadors official currency, since 2000, is the US dollar). In Ibarra I looked for the bus to my destination: El Limonal.
I was feeling kind of lost. Though Ibarra is not that small, I felt like I was about to go into the middle of nowhere. Except for one other guy I was the only gringo around, and I was feeling a little sick as well.
But I found the bus and at 17:00 I was off, for a ride of 1.5 hour. I asked the bus helper (here the buses always have second guy besides the driver, who collects the money, helps with the luggage, etc.) to notify me when wed get to El Limonal, because I had no idea where it would be exactly. It was getting dark, and I was just hoping he wouldnt forget, but it all worked out.
So there I was in El Limonal, a tiny village in the northern highlands of Ecuador, only about 50 km from the Colombian border. I just followed the signs to Bospas. In the town, a lot of people were sitting outside, greeting me as I walked by, this old guy even asked how I was doing. By the time I reached Bospas it was dark, but it seemed like a pretty amazing place. I met owner Piet (a Belgian), his Ecuadorian wife Olda, and their two little girls, Maykin and Naomi. Later I met Martijn from the Netherlands and Soo from Canada, two other volunteers, who I will work with for most of my time here.

I was shown to where I was to stay: a small, separate building where the volunteers stay. Its mostly made of bamboo and has one big room with several beds. The sink, toilets and shower are on the outside, on the right side of the building. And all of this in a subtropical, jungle-ish setting, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

I loved it. After two not-that-enjoyable travel days it seemed like paradise. And I finally felt some wholeness here, as if at last I had found the place I needed to be on this trip. Up until now I had often felt a kind of emptiness inside. Sure, Peru had been great, but often something had been missing.
I guess this Calexico song sums it up:

Me siento solo y perdido
Una vela alumbra mi camino
Cruzando tierras que nunca he visto
Cruzando el rio de mi destino
Solo soy un chico mas
Que suea en alto y mirando al mar
I feel alone and lost
A candle lights my way
Crossing lands I have never seen
Crossing the river of my destiny
I’m just a guy
With big dreams, overlooking the sea

I’m not really sure what I’m looking for on this trip, if anything at all. But so far, I sure hadn’t found it. Even though God has been there the whole time (like the candle in the song), He seemed distant as well.
But on this night everything felt right again. Just too bad it wasn’t to last.

Day 28 – 36: working at Bospas

Bospas is a forest farm, on the website you can read all about what they do exactly and for what reasons. I think it’s very interesting, so check it out. I am planning to work here for about 4-5 weeks. Volunteers have to pay a fee, and for that we get accommodation and food. That may seem strange, but that’s the way it works for most volunteer projects around here; often there is just very little money around.

On the first day we got up early for my first job, and some job it was. We had to hike up a mountain for about an hour and a half, to get some bamboo plants from a forest. And then back down, carrying the plants. That was heavy alright, but besides that it was enjoyable. I got to see some of the surroundings of the farm, which is located in a beautiful river valley (Ro Mira, if I’m correct).

So I got acquainted with the daily rhythm on the farm: breakfast at 6:30, then work from 7 – 12 (although we often stop earlier). Lunch is around 13:00, and then siesta until 14:30. In the afternoon we work for about 2 hours more, and the rest is free time. Dinner is around 19:30, and we usually hit the sack around 22:00. It’s quite a good rhythm actually.
The work is pretty heavy sometimes, some things we have done so far: plant new plants, cut weeds, create compost piles, filter compost piles that are ‘doneand put the soil in bags, dig swales (small water canals), water the plants, cut (down) trees.. and every now and then something a bit more odd, like cleaning the chicken house, chase them back inside (someone should have videotaped that). Or cleaning the pool and swimming in it the next day.
Besides that we have a lot of free time as well. We usually hang out at ‘our place’, reading, listening to music and watching movies.

So all in all it’s pretty great, but it took me a while to learn to appreciate it. That good feeling I’d had when I’d arrived here, soon changed for the worse. I guess it was mostly because I wasn’t feeling well. I had very little energy, which took a lot of fun out of working. Also had trouble breathing and with my stomach. And finally, something which I had been to glad to remain free of so far: diarrea. Although it wasn’t the worst.
I think because I was physically sick, I also became homesick. I was thinking about cutting my stay at Bospas very short, and honestly I didn’t even feel like traveling around in Ecuador anymore. I just wanted to go back home, to the Netherlands, my town, family, friends, food, maybe even work. At some point I even got Sinterklaas songs in my head. Crazy..
But I figured I’d better hang around and see if things would get better. And they did. I realized that ‘home’ also meant going back to the daily routine, which I am actually taking a break from. And as I started feeling better, I started enjoying the wonderful place that Bospas is more and more, along with the great people here.

There is a lot more to tell, but I will save that for the next update. Should be in two weeks or so, I reckon.

Day 19 – 25: Taray and last weekend in Cuzco

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

I am in Ecuador at the Bospas farm right now, it is a beautiful place! I am a little sick, but getting better. More about this later.

Day 19 – 23: Spanish classes in Taray

Packed my stuff and said goodbye to Gloria. What a great choice it had been to stay with a host family. It really was my home, with my own room, great food and of course many opportunities to practice my Spanish. And Gloria had been really nice to me, always asking how I was doing and everything. Thered been some miscommunications, but in general itd been great!
I went by Dos Manos at school and they sincerely apologized for their mistake and offered to give me my money back for the extra costs Id had to make, and the guide who hadnt shown up.

So then I was all set to go to Taray, a where Id spend the next week with 15 students, and I got on the bus to Pisac (2,5 soles for a ride of about an hour). The campesino woman who was sitting next to me must have been really tired, because she kept falling asleep, leaning closer towards my shoulder each time. And I, not really knowing what to do, just leaned the other way, gently trying to push her to other way. It was classic.
From Pisac its just a short ride to Taray, and I took a mototaxi, another great form of Peruvian transportation. The school in Taray turned out to be like a small paradise. It was kind of like a summercamp place, with a beautiful garden with hammocks and a pool (though empty because of the water shortage), and the air smelled just like vacation. I had to share a room with two other guys I didnt know (yet), which I had not been looking forward to at all. I happen like my privacy. But then, I figured, itd be good to experience that, especially since Id be sharing a room with other people during my entire stay at the Bospas farm as well.
Another thing about Taray I hadnt been looking forward to was the amount of Dutch people.. haha. But as it turned out, only 6 out of 16 were Dutchies. And it was just a great group, with people from Switzerland, Germany, USA, Canada and Sweden as well. Then there were 4 Peruvians, two staff people for cooking, cleaning, etc, and then two teachers: Rudolfo and Ronald. Both great guys and good teachers, especially Ronald. Id had him as a teacher in my first week as well, I just loved that guy.

It turned out to be a great week. It was good to get away from hectic Cuzco and enjoy the tranquility of the Peruvian country side.
Most days were spent as followed: hanging out in Pisac in the morning; at the internet caf, at the market and at Ulrikes caf (a nice place to hang out with good drinks). Classes in the afternoon and then a movie at night.
On Tuesday we visited the Salinas. This is a big area on the side of a hill with salt pans, which have been used since the Inca times. You can just walk in between the salt pans, its quite amazing. In some places the salt had crystallized and it looked just like the things you see in caves.

On Wednesday night we had a bonfire, with smorz, or whatever you call it (marsmellows + chocolate + crackers)

There were two guys I got along with really well: Markus from Sweden and Sebastian from Germany. They were both music and movie freaks, so we had some good conversations about that. One night we were watching a movie, and Markus was sick in bed. All of a sudden we heard the sound of someone singing, so we turned the sound and listened. It was the funniest thing. The next morning we complimented Markus on his voice, but he said he must have been asleep at the time. How cool is that!
On Friday most people went off to visit some ruins, and I decided to take a walk into the mountains behind Taray, were some waterfalls were supposed to be found. As I walked up, past the local school, I saw the kids practicing some folk dance outside, accompanied by two musicians. Awesome. My little hike ended up in a somewhat stupid climbing adventure. But sure enough, I got off the hook with just a few scratches, and some pretty sights in my memory.

One morning I had another interesting experience. I was just done taking a shower and drying myself, when I saw a big bug crawling on my leg. It looked just like a scorpion. I didnt really know if it was dangerous, but just to make sure I slapped it off my leg with my towel and then killed it. As I told the story to the others at the breakfast table, and I was informed that baby scorpions are in the fact the most dangerous ones, and can pretty much paralyze your leg if they sting you. Guess I got lucky.

me with my Spanish teachers Ronald and Rudolfo

Markus, Sebastian, Kevin and me

Day 24 – 25: last days in Cuzco

On Saturday I headed back to Cuzco, to spend my last weekend there. I decided to contact Herbert of the Church of the Nazarene, to see if I could stay with one of the families in his church. I could have just gotten a hostel, but it seemed like a nice idea to stay with a family again. So I ended up at the house of a woman called Gaudelupe, who lived with her daughter, and for the moment, her daughters boyfriend, a guy from France. Turned out to be a good choice, they took me up as part of the family. I especially got along well with the guy from France (dont remember his name), we talked in Spanish, because he hardly knew any English and my French isnt as good as it used to be (I did study it for 4 years in highschool..)
For some reason I felt terrible when I got back to Cuzco, maybe it was the height again (Cuzco is still 1,000 meters higher than Taray), but I also had these pains all over my body and I was deadly tired. No fever though, so I decided to just take it easy for the day, and go to bed really early. However, late in the afternoon I ran into some other students whod also been in Taray, who told me they were going out for dinner with the entire group that night (I didnt know, because Id left early that morning). Of course I couldnt resist that invitation, and I was feeling somewhat better anyway. Im glad I did go, because it was a fun night.

On Sunday I met up with Sophie, whod also been to Taray, but shed left a couple of days earlier because she was sick, and so she also hadnt been there for dinner last night. Had a great lunch at a place called Muse, and then just hung out for a while. We told each other we might meet again in Ecuador, because she was planning to go there as well. Actually a bunch of people Id met in Peru might go there, hope Ill be able to meet up with them.
In the afternoon I went to church again, with Guadelupe, it was good to be there again, and this time I actually picked up quite a lot of the sermon.
Went to bed early because I had to get up at 5.15 to catch my flight to Lima and then to Quito. Or so I thought..

Day 16 – 18: the Machu Picchu adventure

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Yesterday was dramatic, today is ok.. it took me 22 hours to get from Cuzco to Quito, because my flight was cancelled. But I made it, so I’m in Quito right now and about to travel on to the Bospas Fruit Forest Farm to start working!
Last weekend (24 – 26 April) I made a trip to the Machu Picchu ruines, one of the most famous places to visit in South America. I had booked it with Dos Manos, the in-house travel agency of the Amauta school. But things turned out a little different than I’d expected..

Day 16: the first setback

On Friday afternoon I took the bus to Urubamba and then Ollantaytambo. From there I had to get on the train to Aguas Calientes. This is a small town close to Machu Picchu, where you need to spend the night if you want to catch the first bus to the ruines in the morning. In Urubamba I didn’t really know where to go, but as soon as I got off the bus, a guy asked me if I needed to go to Ollantaytambo, and then pointed in the direction of a combi. It was another nice combi experience; it was pretty full and this kid who didn’t have anything to hold on to just leaned against me. Also I got into a conversation with a local guy, who introduced himself als William. He told me he was working in the transportation business, although I didn’t undertand exactly what he did. But he seemed pretty nice and was about my age I guess. When we got to Ollantaytambo, he offered to walk me to the train staion. Sure, why not? I had no idea where it was. One of his friends (I think) walked along with us as well. Ollantaytambo is tiny, so we soon got out of the ‘center’, onto darker and quiter streets. At first, I still saw other tourists walking around, but they vanished as we moved on, and things got even more quiet. And no sight of a train station. I remembered the advice given by the school, to not talk to any strangers, and certainly not go along with any of them. Was this a trap? Perhaps these guys were planning to rob me?
But no, we made it to the train station, and William said goodbye and I thanked him. Later, as the train arrived and people got out, I saw him holding a sign for some bus company. Later I wondered if I’d been too naive about it. It’s such a shame that you have to be so cautious in countries like these. I just want to meet and talk to the people here, but you always have to wonder if they don’t want to take advantage of you.
After eating some choclo (a type of corn sold by many street vendors), I got on the train. However, there I found out someone else had the same seat as I did. So we went to ask the conductor. He checked my ticket, and he noticed it was for Saturday, not for today. Oh no. He told me the train was leaving soon, but I might be able to get another ticket at the office. So I ran back there to check, but there were no more tourist tickets (they have two different tickets, and foreigners can only buy the tourist tickets). I begged them to let me on the train anyway, saying it wasn’t my fault I had a wrong ticket, but they were inexorable. Back at the train I tried again, I got some help from a couple who had more or less the same problem, but no luck. They shut the door and the train left.
So? there I was. It was already dark, and I was on my own in a one-horse town, with nowhere to stay. A touristic one-horse town though, so sure enough there were a bunch of hotels. So I got out my Lonely Planet and started looking for a good one, and ended up at Chaska Waski. Great place, and for a while I hung out with the owner, a nice girl who was a little older than me. Later I met David, a guy from the California, who was great to talk to as well. Sure was good to meet some nice people after a somewhat dissapointing evening. In the end it was actually one of the best nights of this trip so far.

Day 17: Ollantaytambo

In the morning I met up with David for breakfast, and then said goodbye, because he was off to Cuzco.
So apparantely Dos Manos had booked my trip on Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday and Saturday. I decided to go anyway, even though that meant I would get back to Cuzco on Sunday night, while I was supposed to go to Taray on Sunday morning. But I called the school and it was ok.
So in the end it was all good, because I’d found a good hostel, met some nice people, and now I had time to visit the Ollantaytambo ruines. I got lucky with that, because my boleto turistico was expired, but they didn’t notice. The ruines were very interesting, and it wasn’t too crowded.

For the rest of the day I just hung around in Ollantaytambo, got online a bit, had lunch, and then at 20.30 I finally did get on the train to Aguas Calientes. Normally the train is one of my favorite forms of transportation, but not this one, it was slow and very uncomfortable. Either way, I got to Aguas Calientes after about an hour and a half, and there I got picked up by some nice people who took me to my accommodation, Hostal Veronica. I got a room with three beds just for myself.. haha.. I waited about an hour for my guide for Machu Picchu, who was supposed to come to the hostel tonight. But he didn’t, so I just went to bed.

Day 18: Machu Picchu

I got up at 4:50 to catch the 5:30 bus to Machu Picchu. I wasn’t exactly the only one, but fortunately there were a lot of buses, so I got there pretty quickly. I had asked about my guide at the hostel, but they said he would probably show up at Machu Picchu. OK..
At about 6 I arrived at the ruines, my guide wasn’t there, so I just went in. And what do you know.. it was covered in clouds. Still, I didn’t fret, because I’d read the clouds usually vanish during the day. So I just found a nice spot to sit, listened to some music and waited for the sun to rise over the mountains, which is supposed to be an astounding sight.

But after an hour it was still cloudy, so I just decided to head into the ruins. Now I’d seen a couple of impressive Inca ruines so far, but Machu Picchu takes the cake. It’s located on the top of some very steep mountains, which alone makes it spectacular. It’s still unclear for what the city was used exactly by the Incas, but it’s huge and a big part of it has remained intact. While I was exploring the ruines, the sky slowly cleared up, and everything looked even more impressive. While walking around I ran into Nora, who was there with a friend. Funny, for some reason we just keep running into each other.

After I’d seen pretty much the whole thing, I made the walk to the Inca drawbridge, a nice walk through cloud forest with some great views. When I got back I had ran out of water, and I was pretty much done with it anyway. So I decided to go back to Aguas Calientes, even though I still had some more hours to go before my train would leave. I had a nice lunch at a vegetarian Hare Krishna restaurant called Govinda, and then watched a local football game for a while: Machu Picchu vs. Aguas Calientes.? It took place on a field in the middle of the town, and lots of people had come out and were watching it from their houses and stores, or they’d just taken a chair and sat behind the fence. There was a nice vibe to it, and I must have been the only gringo there.

The trainride back was looong (about 3 hours). But I got to talk to 2 girls from Canada and a guy from England. The train stopped in Poroy, where a taxi was waiting for me to take me to Cuzco. Along with 2 Brazilian girls and a really cool driver, I had a wonderful ride home, talking about music, traveling, different languages and whatnot. I guess it’s things like these that really make traveling worthwhile. So far I’ve seen some of the most beautiful places, and it’s been awesome. But I’ve met some beautiful people as well, and that’s just as important. At least.
At around 9 in the evening I arrived at Gloria’s place, for my last night there.

Day 11 – 15: more Cuzco

Friday, May 1st, 2009

I’m still behind, so this report is actually from last week, not this week. Right now I’m in Taray, a tiny village near Pisac in the Sacred Valley, where I have my final week of Spanish classes. I had signed up for classes in the jungle in Man, but that fell through because there weren’t enough people. But this is good too! Tomorrow I’m going back to Cuzco for the weekend, and then I will fly to Ecuador on Monday.

Spanish classes

This week I had classes in the morning and our teachers were Carla and Patricia. We studied a lot of new things and the class was pretty much the same, just one new girl: Vanessa from the US.
By the end of the week I was kind of tired of it, to be honest. 20 hours a week is just a lot. Besides that, the grammar is much more complicated than I’d thought up until now, and I want to expand my vocabulary faster.. but it’s a bit hard to find the motivation to work on that. But I’m learning a lot, so that’s good.

Day 11: Cuzco Center of Native Art

On Monday evening I went to this center, where several traditional dances from Cuzco and around were performed. The dances were accompanied by a ‘folklrica orchestra’ and different traditional costumes were put on for each dance. The dancers were really good, it was quite spectacular!

Day 12: Molino and the Church of the Nazarene in Cuzco

Molino is a huge market where pretty much anything is sold. I went to check it out with some others, but didn’t really see anything interesting. Good thing I guess, because later Gloria told me that it’s a 100% black market..
Some time ago I had contacted the Church of the Nazarene (the church I attend in Dordrecht) in Peru, to ask if there are any churches in Cuzco. Apparently this was the case, so I contacted the pastor, Herbert, to see if I could attend the church sometimes. He told me there would be a meeting tonight, and he could pick up me from my guesthome. Sounded good to me! So I met him and we took a ‘combi’ to San Jeromico, a suburb quite far away from the center. Combis are big vans used for public transportation, they can hold about 15-25 people. Instead of a sign indicating their direction, they have a person hanging out the side door, shouting out where they’re going. When you want out, no matter where, you just shout: ‘Baja!’. You then pay the side-person, who shouts ‘baja, baja, baja’ as you get out. It’s not too fast, but it sure is a fun and really cheap way of traveling (15 eurocents for a 45 minute ride).
The church was located in an apartment in a poor looking neighborhood, but on the inside it looked very neat. Herbert told me it was just a small congregation with about 18 people, and about half of them showed up tonight. Although it was kind of hard to follow everything, it was still great to be there. During the service, Herbert introduced me and had me tell something about myself in Spanish. Afterwards I talked to some people, and some offered me accommodation and there was also a guy who’s a guide in Man, who was willing to take me along for a tour. Pretty cool. I’ll probably visit the church again next Sunday. On the way back I took a taxi and had a fun conversation with the driver.

Day 13: The Sacred Valley and Moray

On Thursday afternoon, I decided to visit the Moray ruines and the Salinas with Sophie and Andrea. Since it’s quite a long ride and we didn’t have much time, we decided to get a taxi for the entire afternoon. We were lucky to have a nice and reliable driver; it cost us 95 soles. So about 8 euros per person.
Just the drive itself, through the Sacred Valley, was already magnificent. First time I got to see something of this area, where I’d be spending the next week. Beautiful!

Moray is an old Inca site, which is believed to have been used as a experimental farming center. Very impressive, and the atmosphere was somewhat mysterious, partly because there were hardly any people. We had get to get off the main road and drive a dirt road for about half an hour to get there. On the way passed through a village called Maras, where several people begged our driver to take them along.. among them an old woman, who had something wrong with her legs and could hardly walk anymore, but still had several kilometers of walking to go. I thought about the advices we’d gotten to never let any other people in your taxi, but how do you say no to this? That’s right, you don’t. Afterwards we drove to the Salinas for a quick look, since they were already about to close. But I was going to visit them another time anyway, I’ll write about them later.
In the evening there was a music class at school. With about 6 people we tried to play El Cndor Pasa (what else), on sikus. We learned that tradionally, two players play together on sikus with different tunings, thus creating a sort of dialogue. That’s what we tried, but I doubt it sounded all that great.. haha
After we were done blowing sukas, I went out for dinner at Victor Victoria (loved the salad bar) with some other students, to celebrate Hans’ birthday. In the morning we had decorated the classroom and given him some presents (including a bag of vermicelli, refering to his ‘vermicelli moment’ last weekend). Good times.