Sunday, February 24, 2008

I'm back, I think.

Well the trip is over and we landed at PET airport at 23:45 on Thursday night. We had left Guayalquil at 10:30, stopped over in Miami, where we had to go through US customs, get our baggage, recheck it in and then go back through security. In every other country I've travelled to they keep the baggage and you can stay in the secure departure area so you don't have to go through customs and security. Go figure.

The trip started on the February 7th from PET airport and we landed in Quito around 10 pm. From the airport we went to a small hostel. The next day we visited historic Quito in the morning and the National Historic Museum in the PM. Then we left by bus to go up to the native village of Chilcapamba where we stayed for two days. On the way we stopped at the geodesic point that shows 0˚0' 0" latitude. I stood there like a giant with one foot in the northern hemisphere and one foot in the southern hemisphere. One really interesting little factoid. At the precise point of the equator you can balance an egg on its end since the centrifugal force of the earths rotation is perfectly perpendicular to the ground. It is the only place where this is possible.

At Chilcapamba we got to know the villagers and how they live. We also participated in a "Minga" (the name given to a community project where everyone pitches in to help for the good of the community) There had been a landslide that wiped out the canal that carried water to the village for irrigation etc. So we helped them dig it out and get the water flowing again. The students were really proud when the water started flowing again. That night we had a cultural exchange where they sang and played typical Andean music and the students sang and played typical Québecois music.

The morning after we were off to Othavalo a small town not too far from Chilcapamba. Once there we hiked around lake Cuicocha, a beautiful blue lake situated in the crater of an extinct volcano. The hike took us about four hours as we climbed around the rim of the caldera up to an altitude of 3900 meters. That afternoon we visited local artisans who make many beautiful woven goods and a local instrument maker where I finally found an instrument that I can play, a rain maker, just tip it upside down and listen to the rain... ;o)

The next day we visited the local market where you can buy just about anything under the sun. There was a tourist market but the other teacher and I went exploring and soon found the regular local market. A very interesting experience, you could buy fruit, vegetables, just about anything you can imagine. There was even a meat market although that really left nothing to the imagination...

That afternoon we left for Aloasì where we slept in a really nice inn. The next morning we left to go climb Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in the world. We left the bus at 4500 meters and then hiked up to the shelter at 4800 meters, where we had some hot chocolate and then we hiked up to 5000 + meters to the glacier and the snow pack. Best way to go is to put your body in gear and turn off your brain, kind of like a Zen thing, but we all made it to the snow. (At 5000 meters there is only about 50% of the oxygen available) We even had a snowball fight and made angels in the snow. It's strange to be at the equator and still be in snow. We could also see the effects of global warming as we could see that the glacier was melting at a very rapid pace and retreating up the mountain.

The next day we travelled from the snow to the humid heat of the Amazonian rain forest. What a contrast. To be perfectly frank, I much prefer the cold, dry, oxygen starved atmosphere of the Andes to that kind of humid heat. It was like being in a sauna. We lived in typical amazonian huts up on stilts with a thatched roof made of palm fronds. We visited he jungle with a native guide where he pointed out the different plants used for medicinal purposes. There are a lot of them and they work quite well. I had a really bad headache and the guide picked some leaves from a bush and told me to make a tisane with them. As soon as I got back I did so and it completely cured my headache. We also got to ride a a pirogue (dug out canoe), tried a blowgun (they are about 6 feet long and very accurate once you get the hang of them), and visited a centre where they help animals captured for the black market and try to re-introduce them into the wild. The last morning we did a minga and helped with the construction of a house before leaving for Baños.

Baños is a small town at the foot of an active volcano that in erupting ant the moment. If the mountain ever blows its top the town will be wiped out much like Pompey and Herculeum. (You can see the plume of ash to the right of the summit in the picture. ) There is a hot spring there and we spent a couple of hours the next morning early (around 5 am) soaking in the deliciously hot water. The towns people say that they are protected by the Virgin, let's hope she continues to do so.

Then away we went again up to a small native community at Casa Condor. This small village is at 3900 meters and it is really cold up there. The village is very primitive and people still live in small houses dug into the mountain side with thatch roofs. They have no running water or electricity and their heating and cooking is provided by a fire in the hut. There is no chimney so the smoke trickles out thought he thatch.. We stayed at the community hall where there was dormitories, toilets but no heating. Believe me it gets really cold at night.

We left Casa Condor, which was the highest altitude that we slept at and drove down for 6 hours to Gualyaquil. What a contrast. We were now at sea level and the temperature was in the 30˚ to 40˚ Celsius (85 to 105˚ F) with a relative humidity of over 100%. It was hot and humid and every night we had tremendous downpours (we could have taken a shower it was raining so hard) There was major flooding in all of the coastal region. I read in the newspaper that they had over 355 mm of rain in the first 19 days of February. (That's 14 inches of rain for our American cousins). We went to an
orphanage-day care run by the Sisters de la Miséricord from Québec. They are in Pasquales a small barrio to the west of Guayalquil. I have never seen such poverty as this. The picture is taken from our hotel window in one of the richer parts of town. A tourist can't stay in Pasquales unless he has a death wish, for there is at least one murder each week there and robberies and highjackings are common. I think it is the contrast, in Guayalquil there are only two social classes, the rich and the poor. A teacher there makes around 150 dollars a month and the average daily wage is about 2$, yet we saw mansions and there are huge houses with armed guards. There is no middle class since the world bank forced Equador to adopt the American dollar, this literally wiped out the middle class, their savings disappeared, their salaries dropped drastically. The poor stayed poor and the rich stayed rich , but the middle class was hit hard and disappeared over night. I'm kind of surprised that there wasn't more civil unrest than there was. I guess the people were too busy trying to stay alive.

We also went to beach which the students really liked, a final relaxing day before departure. Plenty of sun block, T shirts on and still we were rather red at the end. ;o)
And finally, the airport, takeoff at 10h30 and home we came. Tired (exhausted more like) but happy to see our loved ones once again.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Awards yet

Looking over my blog I've realized that I've been blogging for two years now. The whole concept started out while joking around with my sister Jazz, (even my avatar is a joke with the concept of being her big brother) and I kind of figured that it would peter out after a couple of posts, but here I am two years later still posting. Ok, I admit I'm not as prolific as Ian or CS but I am still posting. Speaking of Ian and CS, they have both given me an excellence award. (How's that for a segue? ) Coming from them, that means something.
Cs is an intelligent gutsy woman, for whom no obstacle is too much. If I had to make a team to climb Everest, I'd bring her along because I'm certain that, come hell or high water, she'd get me to the top. She is also a super mom and being a teacher, I can tell. I've seen more than my share of less than optimal parenting, so I know good parents when I see them.
Ian is a professional word smith. He is literate and thoughtful and I never go away from visiting his blog without something to think about. His life experience is vast and varied and it always shows in his work. The man knows about what he is writing. I only wish I had his ease with a pen (or in this case a keyboard) Getting an award like this from him makes my day (or in this case rather stormy night).
It says in the award that I must name 10 bloggers. That'll be tough since most of the bloggers I follow have already been nominated. (As they say I don't know anyone and my friends all hate me.)
Well here goes: first of all a bit of nepotism: I'll nominate my lil sister Jazz. Although it is not my wont to go out of my way to praise her (lil sisters get a swelled head so rapidly) I hereby freely admit that she kicks ass. Her blog is irreverent , funny, iconoclastic and her sarcasm makes me proud. (I taught her everything she knows.)
Then I'd give it to CS and Ian for the reasons mentioned above.
Voyager would also get one, I love reading her blog and I know that she'll get back to it one day when her trials and tribulations are under control.
Geewits... the texan gal would also get one because of her humour, and also because she is a very caring human being, as well as being a carpenter and a plumber. ;o)
Choochoo definitely, I love her weird sense of humour from Hellhole. She hasn't blogged much lately but if my microbiologist daughter is any example, splicing and dicing genes (it splices, it dices and all for only 3 easy payments of $19.95) really takes up a huge amount of time.
Tai the traveller. Hey anyone who can back a luxury car into a container and then get out through the sunroof has my vote. I always look forward to reading about her trips or her musings on just about anything.
Evil Spock who has been off in the twilight zone for a while. He is the only person I'd vote for in an American election. Too bad he didn't get into the primaries this time.
Josie writes her blog like I imagine people used to write letters to each other. A cozy, thoughtful little blog. She is also so very prolific at least a blog a day.
Dr. Deb give us insight into the latest news about what goes on between our ears, (and she's way better looking than Dr. Phil) , There is an eclectic mix of seriousness and humour and you are sure to learn something.
Hey I actually did it...I got all ten. Youpiii!

On a different note I won't be able to blog or read about your adventures for the next two weeks, since later this week, I'm off with another teacher and our students to do some humanitarian work in Ecuador. We'll be visiting the country, staying in local villages and helping out at an orphanage. Never let anyone tell you that kids today are all selfish and egotistical. These kids have been working on this trip for over a year and I am always amazed by their commitment.