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La Selva Amazonica

The jungle was absolutely amazing! And I would recommend it to anyone who’s not opposed to the odd hand-sized insect, intense humidity and simple living.

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The area of jungle I went to was called Cuyabeno (rather than the more controversial Yasuni region which is currently being fought over by various oil companies and environmentalists).

After a stuffy overnight bus from Quito to the pre-jungle town of Lago Agrio, we had a brief pause in the already sweltering 8am heat before piling into a mini bus with our tour group for a two hour trundle with no air conditioning. The leaves grew bigger and the vegetation more tangled as the sun rose steadily higher and hotter. We arrived at a spot on the river bank that seemed to be the last point of civilisation, complete with a special wooden stand off to one side where you could put your phone in order to get the last trace of signal. There was a cluster of local boys hanging around it, incredulously wearing jeans, trainers and long-sleeved, city jackets while we tourists changed into shorts as fast as possible and desperately sought out what little shade there was.

The next stage of the journey was a 3 hour trip down the river in motorised canoe. I must say though, despite living through Romanian summers and visiting Cairo, this was the hottest I have ever experienced. In the middle of the wide river there was not a scrap of shade, and even the air movement felt like a hot fan blowing in your face as the midday sun burned down directly above. Luckily I love the heat, so this was actually a pleasant change from the cool climate of Quito.

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The first sign we had that we were in fact in a totally different world, was when we had a brief pause at our canoe driver’s house. Pedro, 32 yrs, leaped out and disappeared up the river bank, emerging minutes later with more petrol. As we pulled away, three children emerged to wave us off. Our guide explained how Maria, the little Quechua girl in pink shorts was in fact Pedro’s wife, aged 13. She already had a baby. That definitely shut the group up for a bit.

Hours later, the canoe finally slowed and we turned abruptly through a narrow tunnel of green and came out onto a small lake with fallen branches cluttering the waters edge. Here was our lodge. A secluded collection of bamboo huts with leaf roofs and a tumble-down jetty reaching out into the lake. Now, I don’t know where Quechua people get the inspiration for names, but we had a quick introduction to the lodge staff, of which Lenin, Darwin (who made me a ring out of a nut that he’d been chiseling away at for days) and Bangladesh stuck out most…

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Our first activity was a night time walk following one of the paths. Apart from various spiders and massive, vibrant grass hoppers the only thing of interest we saw was a coral snake – one of the most poisonous in the world apparently. He was curled around a branch about knee height as we climbed over a log, but instead of retreating from the vibrations of our footsteps, casually began to slither towards us a little too close for my comfort. By the end of the walk having had massive moths fluttering at my head torch and dangling vines brushing against my back and face I was incredibly jumpy. Not to mention having been warned not to touch anything because of potential hazards – proven to us by finding several tiny black scorpions concealed on tree trunks. I was actually quite relieved to climb into the safety of my mosquito net after checking in and under the bed with a candle. Having no electricity did have its merits however, as the night sky was so crowded with stars you couldn’t even pick out the basic constellations.

The next day was mainly devoted to animal and insect hunting by foot and canoe under sporadic torrential showers. Rain in the Amazon is quite a beautiful experience though, as you know you wont be cold and wet for long, you can just sit back and listen to the sounds of drops on the leaves and breathe in the heady smells of the soil and vegetation. We were lucky enough to see: parrots, toucans, yellow-headed vultures, macaws and countless other birds, monkeys, pink and grey river dolphins, a baby boa constrictor, tarantulas, scorpion spiders and machine spiders (all way too big for my liking), piranhas and other much, much bigger fish, vibrant butterflies, massive grasshoppers, stick and leaf insects and caiman (similar to alligators). All in all a pretty successful horde. Although I must say my favourite animal had to be Lyanna, the semi-tame woolly monkey that lived on a little island across from the lodge and would sometimes join us in the canoe for her daily dose of fruit, which she would seek out pretty aggressively from peoples pockets if not given willingly.

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In the evening we took the canoe out for a spot or piranha fishing. Just to clarify that it is a myth that piranhas will come and eat you alive if you go into the water, we were using chunks of bloody meat as bait and even then they were timid with their nibbles. Our two local guides were pro fishers, catching massive cat-fish looking things for their dinners while we tourists were given roughly made fishing rods without a hope in hell of catching even the slowest fish. Despite not catching any dinner, it was a lot of fun trying, and listening to the cacophony of the jungle as night approached. I could have sworn I heard a dog barking in the distance, so I asked our guide who then explained it was actually a type of toad.

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By now I had settled into jungle life, which was just as well as we got back to find a massive tarantula had decided to take up residence in the shower. The flickering candle light made it seem even bigger and as if is was moving all time. The worst thing was that in the morning it had gone… I decided early on to put my fears aside and just accept that I was in the jungle and yes, I would see massive spiders and have flying cockroaches on the outside of my mosquito net and potentially fall into a nest of anacondas or get savaged by a caiman (we’d heard some horror stories en route). Once you relax, then you see everything with curiosity and amazement instead of tense wariness. I could see how the jungle would not be for everyone, at the same time the guides were very knowledgeable and I trusted them not to let us get eaten. One night though, in our room, we did have a jungle rat scurrying around the rafters, and those things are no cute, little mice. I was happy when that had gone in the morning.

Talking of putting fears aside, one afternoon after lunch it was particularly hot again and our guide suggested a swim. On the way he casually mentioned to watch out for electric eels, sting rays, caiman and poisonous water snakes, but then added that the little stretch of river we were going to was perfectly safe… mere metres away from the ‘not so safe bit’. Swimming down an Amazon tributary was unreal though. The water was so warm and it started raining as we drifted down the surprisingly fast flowing river with monkeys swinging along in the tree tops either side and macaws flying in pairs overhead. You almost expected to see a naked tribesman with a spear chasing a jaguar. That was another nice thing, the jungle felt timeless. You could spend a lifetime there while a nuclear war was being waged elsewhere and be none the wiser. Life there is pretty much the same as it must have been 50, 100 years ago. The isolation was an awesome feeling and somehow very refreshing.

Even without the wildlife, the jungle itself, the very vegetation was fascinating. Trees so tall the tops vanish above the jungle canopy, vines twisting around any branches they an reach, plants growing out of other plants as they clamour for soil space. Looking up, you can barely see the sky through all the different shades of green dripping down as steam rises up. I had the impression that if you pulled just one tree out of the ground it would pull the whole entwined jungle up with it.

Our guide took us on a walk to examine the medicinal and practical uses of various plants. It is amazing, but the jungle really does have a plant for everything: a type of sticky mushroom that is used as a plaster, a tree leaf used as tea to sooth muscle pain, a very nondescript looking plant called ‘the garlic of the jungle’ that when mushed with water is snorted up the nostril to clear your nose and help prevent colds (I tried a bit and wow is that strong!), a type of tree with the same pattern as the snake to which it antidotes its venom, even a red flower used for contraception and a tree called the ‘devil’s penis’ said to make men stronger and more fertile, there was a special type of palm where the strands could be twisted together to make fishing line, a massive tree that if you hit the trunk the sound would carry to up to a mile radius and a type of ant with pincers so strong they can be used to close wounds by embedding the head and snapping off the body.

We were even treated to a mid-walk snack. Our guide was ahead of us in a clearing hacking into a sort of small coconut with his machete to reveal three white blobs in the solid surrounding nut. He tapped the nut several times and the blobs tumbled, wriggling onto his open palm and offered them to us. I obediently put a live maggot into my mouth and surprisingly enough it tasted like almonds and coconut. Apart from the initial squish as you bit into it and the unusual texture it actually wasn’t that bad. We also tried another jungle delicacy – tiny little ants, which coexist symbiotically with an acidic tree, and tasted of lemon! They were so tiny they dissolved on your tongue so there was no crunching necessary.

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I could easily have spent much longer there as the pace of live was fantastic, and I actually enjoyed getting up at dawn (I know!) to see the forest waking, and casually reading in the hammocks listening to the sounds of the jungle.

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Whales!

Right, I am determined to crank out this post before the end of the evening. Nutritious dinner of pot noodles at my side, let’s get started!

As much fun as working in a hostel is,  having the same exact conversation over and over again can become slightly soul destroying. My favourite question; ‘where are you from?’ might sound deceivingly simple, but I really have no short and am at the dangerous point of just saying ‘yeah yeah, I’m from Slough’ so as not to evoke further questions: ‘wait, so why don’t you speak Estonian if that’s your home?’ ‘ah, so that explains why your accent sounds Aussie/Irish/Scandinavian (!?)/South African?’ ‘so what do you do in the real world and where?’ etc.

We have also had some quite specialist guests recently including an American guy in the bar who proceeded to say: ‘America, hell yeah!’ after each shot and another who forced me to play his ‘drinking songs’… Now, I really hate it when people make song requests exactly for this reason – they are nearly always godawful and make me embarrassed to have that sound coming out of my speakers within others’ ear reach. This was no exception as these were his songs: 1. Team America World Police Theme – America F*ck Yeah 2. Eye of the Tiger 3. The Rocky Theme Song… enough said.

Also we seem to have had an onslaught of incredibly dull girls (chief culprits being German and British) who you have absolutely no interest in talking to whatsoever even about their travels as they are following exactly the same route and doing exactly the same things as the dozens of other backpackers. And I swear to God, the next person to complain about the booze in their FREE welcome drink might just be in store for a very long string of verbal abuse.

That said, it was definitely time for a break so we decided to hit the coast again to take advantage of the whale watching season in Puerto Lopez. Oddly enough although it is now summer in Quito, the coast is actually in its winter season; which means half of Quito and its offspring invade the beach and set up camp under the clouds for several weeks booking out any decent accommodation in Puerto Lopez. We headed back to Canoa first for some lazy time and to seek out my favourite ceviche in the country. Disappointingly the huge black woman who had made it to perfection the last time was gone, but the shrimp and concha (clam perhaps?) ceviche, although a thick unappetising black colour, was still delicious.

Puerto Lopez was next on the list (unfortunately with a short detour through Manta to fix some car troubles – please read my earlier post about Manta to get an idea of how horrid I find this city). We were accompanied all the way by a rare patch of sunshine which led us straight to the beach to get in a decent afternoon swim.

To be fair, I was a little skeptical about the whale watching having been told by my Spanish teacher there was a 70% chance of seeing anything at all.  Our accompanying guide didn’t exactly raise my hopes either by starting the tour by saying that patience was the most important thing and you could be waiting 45 minutes in deep ocean before seeing any slight trace of whale. After speeding out in a little 15 person speed boat out of sight of the mainland we slowed to a halt and bobbed on the high swelling waves. Within minutes we glimpsed the tell-tale spurt of water shooting into the air from a distance and quickly caught up along side it. From then on there were so many to spot as we followed from group to group (apparently the technical term is a ‘pod’ of whales – who knew? or cares for that matter!) that I almost forgot how seasick I felt. Anyway, the species that congregate along the Ecuadorian coast are humpback whales that migrate all the way from Antarctica. Although we didn’t witness any dramatic jumps we saw plenty of backs and tails and even had an escort of about 40 dolphins at one point – amazing! One whale even ventured as close as about 5m and practically swam under us. After that though I will never underestimate how good solid land feels ever again. Despite that the next day we headed to Isla de la Plata, also (pretty inaccurately in my opinion) know as poor man’s Galapagos. If you’re a bird lover, then this place is great. Unfortunately there’s not really much else there. You get to see the famous blue-footed boobies, which I will admit are pretty cool when you first see them, but the guide thought it pertinent to point out each and every one we encountered during our walk around the island. On a plus side it was all good Spanish practice. We also had the fortunate company of the most annoying Spanish woman I have ever met in our group. Dressed for some kind of extreme mountain expedition she was complaining right from the beginning about not doing the longer route, accusing the poor guide of laziness when he explained that there wasn’t time and we’d have to move fast and keep together even to complete the shorter path. Low and behold she was the chief lagger-behind and started bitching when she didn’t have ample time to take pictures of perfectly ordinary rocks and bushes.

Pulling away from the island we did manage to see a couple of turtles, at which point miss Spain leaped up nearly knocking the camera from my hand and blocking all view as she reached over the boat screeching: ‘DHERE IS DA MAMA!!’ when a marginally bigger one nosed up to the boat. They were really cute though! Regrettably no pictures to prove it.

Although it was a fairly cool, cloudy day we had the chance to do some snorkeling. Closer to the rocky coastline you had a crystal clear view of masses of corral and various mutlicoloured fish which was awesome. (Miss Spain obviously decided a full wet suit was definitely necessary for a mere 15 minutes in warm Pacific seawater). We had time for a little more whale watching before heading back – I could never get bored of watching those massive, graceful yet slightly surreal creatures floating along completely unperturbed by the boat.

We’d been staying in Montañita as our base, and it’s party atmosphere finally sucked us in on Friday as we found ourselves still up at 8am around a bonfire on the beach with a group of drunkenly singing Ecuadorians. Haha, a great week though with the best company! Muchas gracias, Santiago! 😀

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Mompiche Beach

Now ‘sleepy’, is a serious understatement when it comes to the coastal village of Mompiche. Its off-season feel is palpable from the moment you trundle along the mud road past the obligatory church construction onto the ‘main street’ (which is pretty much the only street), to be greeted by a collection of lazy beach dogs and virtually no people.

Although apparently a surfing beach, the sea was as tranquil as the village which added even more to the calm of the place. Perhaps it was the heady humidity and overcast sky that made it feel not only permanently off-season but also slightly forlorn – bypassed by the touristic development that seems to have engulfed other areas of coast and almost forgotten completely.

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Being as ever on the equator line, evening fell quickly, and with the coming of night fall also came the closing of virtually everything. Far from a party town we were lucky to even find a place still open to serve food. The northern beaches in the area of Esmeraldas are known for their encocada: a thick, creamy coconut sauce to go with any seafood of your choice served with rice and salad which is absolutely delicious! There was barely any lighting around the village, but nonetheless, in the cool of the evening children came out late to play in the street and amble around freely with the dogs while the adults gathered in groups with an occasional beer.

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In the morning we enjoyed the one and only attraction – the beach; a sizable stretch of near-empty, pristine sand. The water was deliciously cool and perfect swimming temperature with slight, rippling waves. The slow, coastal way of life offers very little compared to the city and I can see that isolated Mompiche might not be the perfect place for some people (like Santiago who wanted to get back to Quito a day earlier than planned). With very little to do but swim, read, eat and sleep, I however felt myself relaxing into coastal life very happily. That afternoon at least 30 of the local boys set up goals to play a pretty competitive football match on the sand which attracted the whole village like some major event (which it probably was).

Mompiche is still very much a working fishing village. During the day the hammocks outside the houses are all occupied with siestaing fishermen waiting for evening when they once again take their boats out into the little bay. The small wooden boats managed to pack several men and boys in each – some rowing out while others lucky enough to have motors sped out further than the rest.

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We happened to be there during lobster season where a decent sized lobster comes in at only 10 bucks! Not the kind of thing you want to eat every day unless you like you food fighting back, but very tasty! (Despite having a rat loose in the place with a dog in playful pursuit…)

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Mindo

Mindo is a small town situated in the great expanse of sub-tropical cloud forest that spreads as far as the eye can see in every direction covering the hills thickly with dark green and low lying clouds of moisture. Although a mere 2 hours from Quito, the humid air is significantly warmer despite the very rare appearance of the sun in this rainy climate. Due to all the rain, waterfalls are plentiful and one of the highlights of the region. There is a short hike you can do to see some of the more spectacular ones, but in order to get there you have to cross a small valley that would admittedly take hours on foot which is why there is a cable crossing the expanse with a little metal basket dangling from it looking slightly worse for wear. So it is in this that you fly hundreds of metres above the treetops for the best part of 5 minutes. Although I’m scared of heights, the view you get of the cloud forest is a pretty effective distraction from the thought of the rusty metal and massive drop beneath you.

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The river water was spotlessly clear and numbingly cold. The waterfalls attracted a rather large crowd of day trippers bathing in the pools and having picnics with the family. We headed further in along the river to find a more secluded pool to briefly plunge ourselves in. Although not hot, the humidity was intense and the refreshing water very welcome.

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The cloud forest is also home to thousands of species of butterfly. After taking the rickety metal basket back to safety the next stop was the butterfly farm, which was actually pretty dull compared the hummingbird feeders outside which attracted the tiniest and most colourful array of hummingbirds I’d ever seen! So, for nature lovers – put Mindo on your list!

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Semana Santa

Semana Santa (literally; Holy week) is the week leading up to Easter, culminating in a massive procession through the Centro Historico on Sunday.

Easter in Ecuador is not to be taken lightly. Being a heavily Catholic country this holiday is not an excuse to stuff yourself with chocolate eggs and think about the beginning of Spring with all it’s catkins and fluffy bunnies. No, this is a very serious affair where sins are renounced and Jesus’s suffering is paramount. On the Friday and Saturday nights prior to Easter Sunday the city was dead as no one was out drinking but presumably home with their families. No doubt the church secretly jumps up and down for joy as this time of year is undoubtedly the biggest  pay day (not to be cynical or anything).

Before I get to the procession I must mention the typical dish for this time of year – fanesca. I decided this was something I must try despite being warned against it. Wanting to try the most authentic recipe, I joined the locals under these huge tents which appear near the city’s main park only during holidays to sell the seasonal delicacies. I sat down to my meal at one of the long shared tables under several stares. Basically, it’s a sort of thick, bean soup with hard boiled eggs which is all very good and tasty, but the addition of the key ingredient – a very salty and absolutely rank dried fish – whose flavour seeps into the whole dish making the taste quite revolting. Apparently its base ingredients are figleaf gord and pumpkin with the addition of 12 different types of beans: lupines, fava beans, lentils, peas, corn etc. intended to represent the 12 apostles. The revolting fish is apparently just salted cod or bacalao as red meat is forbidden during Semana Santa.

The procession itself attracts pretty much everyone: tiny wrinkled abuelitas, families, young couples and foreigners alike all flock to the old town under the surveillance of  about half of Quito’s police force. It was an intensely hot day just to add to the discomfort of those participating. The procession was made up of multiple Jesus characters in chains, carrying huge crosses flagged by Romans with whips. Some of these crosses were so heavy that the sweating, panting Jesus had to let the Romans take a turn. The majority of the procession was composed of hundreds of men and boys dressed in KKK outfits (but purple, and obviously not KKK, but Catholic robes). The women and girls came at the end in purple veils, either weeping or singing mournfully. It was all pretty graphic as some men had barbed wire tightly wrapped around themselves whilst others were even self-flagellating.

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La Costa

I know I know, it’s been way too long since my last post. But finally, I am sitting outside in the sun supplied with tea and cevichochos (bought from the juice stall next door for $1: dried corn, a type of bean, dried banana slices, popcorn and crispy pork skin smothered in a sweet tomato sauce with copious amounts of onion and fresh lime juice) and the distraction of major roadworks going on outside with pneumatic drills that I am managing to block out with headphones and music on full volume – so please forgive me if my writing is a little distracted.

I’m going to skip back a couple of weeks of normal Quito life to when I finally made it to Ecuador’s much talked about coastline with Santiago, who has become my best friend here and so much more.

It’s around a 9 hour drive by car to the part of coast we were heading for: Manabi. During the journey you can truly appreciate Ecuador’s diversity. It’s unbelievable how our route took us across a vast section of the country, winding down from the cool heights of the Andes to the lower lands, gradually watching the vegetation get lusher and leafier and the indigenous clothing change from the dark heavy ponchos and felt hats to light, loose fitting shirts. The route, being the only main way to the coast, is clogged with trucks and slow moving local buses. As much as I like slumming it, I was very happy to be cruising along in a spacious, air-conditioned car. Commercial sort of ‘villages’ with only one row of buildings flag the road at intervals. Each of these is almost identical with maybe two little shops, an internet cafe and about five shacks selling fritada – a pork based little dish with too much fat and salt but otherwise quite tasteless. Seedy-looking, semi-disguised brothels are also stationed at strategic points along the highway.

The difference in heat and climate is astonishing. One hour before it could have been cool and dry in the foothills, but as soon as you hit the flatland the air becomes saturated with moisture and the sun burns down mercilessly. Luckily I love the heat, so this was great.

As we approached the coast the tropical plants and banana plantations gave way to palm-like trees and huts on stilts. Stray dogs lazily ambled around the streets and hammocks became more plentiful than buildings. How people in these near-coastal villages make a living I have no idea as groups of men composed of 3 generations would loll in the shade on benches or hammocks, shirt-less, smoking and drinking beer. Women would cluster in little groups gossiping on balconies watching the world go by. Like plants, they seem to gain all life support from the unrelenting sun.

We made it to our destination, Canoa, by sunset having had a pit stop to indulge in the coastal delicacy of ceviche; my favourite Ecuadorian dish so far. Canoa is the tiniest of beach resorts with a distinct hippy vibe and a near deserted beach despite this being the beginning of high season. Perfect.

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The hostel we stayed in was right on the beach and I tumbled out of the car desperate for a plunge in the sea. A perfect red and orange sunset melted into the water as the last surfers of the day wandered past. I have never been in a sea this warm. Having braced the waters of Scotland and Estonia this was like a whole new experience, and I must say, blissfully better.

One of the things I liked most about Canoa is it takes about 5 minutes to wonder the length of the place and take in the leaf roofed bars and restaurants and handicraft stalls – which forces you to completely relax on the beach for lack of other activity. Two days of tanning, reading and swimming later we decided to head to the party surf town and hippy capital of Montañita. 

This small town has a diverse range of people from elderly bemused gringo couples, Argentinians selling their wares on the pavement and young Ecuadorians & foreigners alike. I can safely say that dreadlocks are more common than shoes. The food here, as anywhere on the coast, was delicious. I was able to try encocada for the first time, which is a thick coconut sauce smothered over a seafood of your choice (shrimp is definitely the best!) rice and salad. I may have found a rival for ceviche! The good thing about Montañita is that you can chill out on the beach or wonder around the town during the day and then come straight off the beach and enter the nightlife.

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A whole street is dedicated to little stalls selling freshly made fruity cocktails for bargain prices, each competing with the next place’s music as they blast it out of huge speakers placed either side. Walking down this street when in full swing is completely packed and you cross a different music genre with every 5 steps. After warming up on cocktails you can spread further into town in search of la fiesta which spills onto the streets and beach.

With our fill of piña coladas and people, the next day we took a day trip to the coastal nature reserve of  Los Frailes. This is possibly the most beautiful tropical beach I have ever been to, and it was practically empty! Untouched, white sand, pure blue water and perfect weather; this place is literally heaven on earth.

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Another day or two in Montañita and our week was nearly up. Thoroughly relaxed, somewhat tanned and completely content, it was time to head to back. We broke the journey by staying in Baños for the night – feeling the cold and need for blankets again was both pleasant in guaranteeing a good, mosquito-free night sleep, and unpleasant as I knew what we were leaving behind.

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Hostel Vibes

Ok, a little deviation back to real life after the fun of weekend trips: I was hating my job, plain and simple. After 3 months of pure boredom, and zero enjoyment I came to the conclusion that this is a complete waste of my time in Ecuador and it’s time for a change. What better start to 2013? Jobless, obliged to leave my apartment (completely unconnected reason) and still visa-less all in the same week.

This is how I came to find myself drawn back into the wonderful world of hosteling. A whole 4 months after leaving Monk’s Bunk in Tallinn, my new home is Hostel Vibes which is pretty damn amazing after the monotonous 9-5 of the office (and a lot more chilled out than the Tallinn hostels – it is Latin America after all). Instead of the dreaded morning shifts of cleaning, making beds and kicking grumpy hungover backpackers of their bunks, here I have the much preferred job of bar tending. Learning to make cocktails, free reign over the music, chatting to guests and able to drink for free on the job all for free accommodation and other perks – sounds like a sweet deal to me. It’s good to be reminded again that working can actually be something you don’t dread doing. I work alongside the owner, Santiago, who is so chilled out despite the obligatory broken glass on my first shift and having to patiently show me the  making of fresh pina coladas and mojitos. Such a refreshing change from my last boss.

I am writing this from a hammock on the terrace with all the luxurious free time I now have, listening to the reggeaton creeping downstairs from the builders on the roof punctuated with the occasional “chuta!” a typical Quitenian expression of surprise, exasperation, horror and hilarity as far as I can work out.

The best night so far has to be Friday where we hired a chiva for the hostel. Ever since the Fiestas de Quito where chivas run the streets for the whole week I have been dying to get on one of these slow moving, open backed party buses which cruise lazily around the city blaring whatever music takes the drivers fancy. A maximum of about 30 people can squeeze in comfortably allowing room to dance while clutching with one hand to the ropes hung from the ceiling or strategically placed poles. Paying a set fee gets you 2 hours lurching around the city attracting the attention of all other drivers and pedestrians and multiple cups of canelazo, the same hot fruity cane sugar alcohol pulp sold everywhere at this time of year. Our particular chiva tour took us up to el panecillo, the giant hill with spectacular night time views over the city, towered over by a massive angel statue. I have now done two Friday chiva trips, and it doesn’t stop being fun. (I may perhaps change my mind after 20).

As this is more of a catch-up post, I am going to venture a little into the football culture here. Liga and Barcelona are the two most popular Ecuadorian teams, with each attracting a very different sort of supporter. Barcelona (from Guayaquil, the largest coastal city) is already somewhat tacky by the fake name and appeals predominantly to the gelled-haired, coastal or southern Quitenian types. Liga (from Quito) on the other hand lends itself to the slightly more sophisticated fan shall we say. At the moment there is some kind of Latin American cup going on, which is how I found myself one rainy day seated around a rickety table with three Ecuadorians, hunched close over a phone radio (for lack of a TV) to try and decode the fuzzy, excitable commentary. I understood nothing, and only knew if there was a goal when my football shirt clad friends cried out happily and jumped up. In the boring moments I had a chance to look around. I was in the half-built upper level of a friends house which had temporarily become his art studio, with gaps for windows looking out over the city and a box in the corner for the two puppies that ambled about the rubble. This was way more authentic than watching the match on the big flat screen in the hostel with a group of bemused foreigners. 

My first weekend here I was actually lucky enough to go the stadium to watch the Ecuador-Chile qualifier match. We were seated in the slightly rowdier part, which was way better. Streaming rolls of toilet paper were thrown onto the pitch despite the efforts of the police and the happily tipsy crowd were already singing and chanting while clutching plastic cups of beer as the players came on. At half time a massive flag was pulled over our side of spectators among Mexican waves and more excited singing. Ecuador won easily and everyone left moderately peacefully, although the Chilean supporters had to leave at a different time to prevent fights. Amazing atmosphere though, and a massive hook into Latin football. I’m never watching a match anywhere else!

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Anyway, enough football, once again back to reality. I can now claim to have seen the inside of a Quito hospital and the delights of semi-communicating in Spanglish to explain what was wrong with me. Nothing to worry about though, the generic drip and blood test later and turns out to be nothing more serious than a parasite. Well, you have to expect some form of stomach problem after 4 months in South America. But being out of action for a week, especially during carnival is not my idea of a good time. Carnival, most famously spectacular in Trinidad and Tobago & Brazil, is a national holiday full of  colourful parades, outrageously dirty dancing and an valid opportunity to soak people with water, throw eggs, flour, spray foam and whatever else comes to mind. Quito is a lot more toned down, so I like to think I didn’t miss out on much, but still! This sounds like the best holiday of the year to me. I did make it out one day to the small city of Ambato which is famous for it’s flower displays during carnival. And we do still  have a massive canister of foam saved behind the bar, so maybe we’ll have to postpone our hostel carnival until next weekend.