2009.11.11-13 – Bus from Mancora, Peru to Guayaquil, Ecuador, Salinas and Montañita
I spent the day at the beach at Mancora and had one of the best beach days of my life. I chilled until around 2:00 PM when the sun started to lose it’s bite, just eating ceviche and relaxing. In the afternoon the waves started getting bigger, I was body surfing with these other locals. As the late afternoon came, the waves were pretty big and we were all loving getting our asses kicked. I was letting myself get tossed around and trying to swim out a bit for a better ride, when I noticed that the shore was getting farther and farther away. The rip tide had ahold of me and I was already swimming for about 3 hours so I was pretty tired and not in a good position to swim out of it. I started to panic a bit. I felt for a bit like I was being sucked out to sea and had to just accept my death but luckily I saw a surfer. He asked if I was ok but realized I wasn’t. I grabbed onto his board and he helped me out of the rip tide and back to shore.
After that incident my day was done so I got out of the water and went straight to the Loki bar for some beers and to celebrate life. That night we took yet another overnight bus to Ecuador. We had to stop at customs like 4 times throughout the night and I was pretty nervous since I still had coca leaves in my backpack. Luckily they didn’t see them or say anything but I know that Chile and definitely the United States would have some serious problems if they found them on me.
We got to the main Guayaquil bus terminal at the usual early morning time. Nothing like falling asleep on an overnight bus trip and waking up in Ecuador. We took another bus to Salinas, Ecuador but upon arrival it didn’t seem like anything special. We walked around town for a bit and ate at this fish place that served up a huge lunch. We all decided that Salinas was not the place to be so we took another bus to Manta and eventually Montañita.
When we got off the bus in Montañita I was thinking that it sucks, because it was just a bunch of crappy buildings and dirt roads but when I got to the beach I realized what a special place it is. We checked into this awesome little bungalow by the beach called Galapagos and I got some much needed sleep. It was Friday night but I just slept through it even though Montañita is supposed to be an awesome party town. My body was beaten down from the abuse of traveling, drinking and eating like shit for weeks at a time. This is why I don’t think I would be a good long-term traveler. I think I can adapt, but normally I just go too hard for a short period of time and burn myself out. I did the same thing in Europe 2004, 2005 and South America 2008. Every one of those trips I was either sick with diarrhea or coughing from smoking and drinking too much with minimal amounts of sleep.
I could have used another night in Montañita but the girls wanted to leave and were on a tight schedule. Next we went to Manta thinking it was going to be like a Miami Beach from what the locals said but in reality Montañita was much better.
2009.11.14 – Bus from Montañita to Manta to Quito, Ecuador
I had intended to stay in Manta but when we got there I wasnt digging it. We got off at the bus station and I stormed off alone because I was sick of the other two dictating everything on the trip. The problem was that I had no idea where to stay in Manta and it was nowhere close to being the “Miami Beach” of Ecuador. Actually I didn’t see a beach at all, from what I saw it was a port town. I wandered down the main street looking for signs of familiarity and the only place I found to take refuge for the moment was KFC. I asked some people there if there were any good places to stay but I didn’t get much except the usual advice of how dangerous things were. I guess I was expecting Manta to be like Salinas where you had a beach, boardwalk and plenty of places to stay and bars built up along it, but it wasn’t like that at all. I wandered back to the bus station with my tail between my legs knowing I was going to bus it to Quito without the girls. On my walk back I ran into them on the street, told them I was sorry and made up, then ran back to the station to buy my ticket for the night. We had dinner together and got on yet another shitty, overnight bus to Quito. Que the 6:00 Am arrival time.
2009.11.15-16 – Quito, Ecuador
Pulling into Quito in the early morning made 9 nights spent on an overnight bus while traveling together. It just happens that way sometimes as some routes only go through at night. In a way it seems like the most efficient way to travel when you are on a time budget, but at the same time you really lose out because you miss the scenery and you miss out on essential sleep in a bed. Your body and mind become worn down when you get shitty sleep on an overnight bus, in an uncomfortable bus seat, with too much air conditioning, crammed next to some random person traveling through winding roads. You may think you are sleeping but when you are in and out of sleep, you are not getting the kind of sleep you need. You may not know it but your mood declines, you start having irrational thoughts and decisions and generally start feeling shitty. You may be more susceptible to getting the flu or diarrhea. Either way, you are off your game, not in a completely stable mindset and easily angered. This is made all that much worse when you travel with other people. At least when you travel alone you don’t have to deal with other personalities in your same unstable mental state.
I was at this point, “Breaking Point”. We pulled into Quito at 6:00 AM as usual, with no sleep as usual and with no idea where to go as usual. I was in a horrible mood this morning and taking it out on M. because Brock was smart enough to stay away from me this morning. I knew she was miserable because at one point she just sat on the ground in the middle of this park in Quito. She didn’t say anything to us, just sat there. We all needed sleep, we did this to ourselves, trying to see and do too much in a small amount of time and pushing it instead of seeing less but getting more out of each place. Zac and I did the same thing in South America in 2008. I don’t really like this way of travel. I like to see a lot of places in a small amount of time but I would always rather take my time.
Anyway, we hopped the city bus into the center of town. We cheered up and had a laugh when I was talking in Spanish and asking directions from this guy on the bus who turned out to be completely crazy and homeless. After we got done talking he rolls down the bus window and starts whistling to the birds through what was left of his two bottom teeth. It was hilarious at the moment. Like the only directions I will take is from a crazy person. The bus let us off in the center of town and we started wandering around until we found a hostel which was only $7 a night. We crashed out for a while, luckily in separate rooms, woke up and went our separate ways to wander the city. It was a good idea, a break is the best thing when tensions are high. I was really impressed with Quito, the locals all told me it was dangerous but I didn’t get that impression. Night was probably a different story, but walking around during the day was fine. After wandering around for a bit and eating more chicken and French fries I finally called it a day and went back to the hostel to crash out again.
So when I was wandering the city I came upon New Town Quito which is where all the tourist offices in the city reside. This is where Ecuador shines because they do a great job of making nature available to tourists through various tours. There are mountain and jungle tours of every sort available to start out from Quito. I stumbled upon these tourist offices and was mulling over my options. I had given thought to climbing Cotopaxi but it was sort of in the back of my mind. The next morning we woke up and B. was in a big stressed out rush to get over to the New Town to book her jungle tour. Honestly, nothing pisses me off more than unnecessary stress on a vacation. If you can’t make it somewhere, then usually something else comes up. It’s a natural flow. So we make it to the tourist office and were talking with the people who worked there about what to do. The girls sign up to do the 5 night jungle tour and were plunking down cash. Luckily I was short and had to go to the ATM which was good because I had time to think clearly. I thought to myself, I cant be around these two any more, so why am I going to spend $200 to stay 5 nights in the jungle with them. I went back to the office and told them I was out and that I was going to climb Cotopaxi. I spent the rest of the afternoon hunting for a company that was going up Cotopaxi the next day. This was not the smartest decision since I still had a stomach flu and had only spent one night at Quito which is 9000+ feet and the last week or two at sea level. Time was limited and if I didn’t go the next day I would have to wait for like 5 days until another group went out. I found a company that was going the next day and signed up with a group of guys from Colorado. We got fitted for gear and I checked into the same hostel that they were staying at. I had dinner with the girls that night at this Mongolian place, wished them luck on their trip, and tried to get some sleep at my noisy hostel.
2009.11.17-18 – Refuge on Cotopaxi Volcano (14,000+ feet) / 1:00 AM Climb of Cotopaxi
I got my shit together in the morning and headed over to the agency where we hopped in a van and headed up toward Cotopaxi. It was a three hour ride, we stopped along the way in a small town to pick up some food. Our guides were pretty cool, one didn’t speak any English. We entered the park and drove the dirt road up toward the refugio. We were on our way up when the van started having problems, it was shaking, spitting smoke and had almost no power. I think it was due to a decreased oxygen intake and the engine was running lean. When we got to the end of the road it was sleeting so we waited in the van until it stopped and hiked our shit up from there to the refuge.
The refuge was cozy and pretty big. It was like a full ski lodge wood cabin with a bunch of bunk beds on the top floor. We ate lunch and then about 2 hours later we ate dinner. I guess the guides know what was ahead of us and that we needed to load up. We were scheduled to get up at 1:00 AM so we all went to bed around 8:00 PM. There were a couple of other groups in the refuge with us, mostly European. I got in my bed but couldn’t sleep for shit at 14,000 feet. I felt claustrophobic, I was taking very rapid and small breaths and just couldn’t breathe well in that stuffy bed. Everyone in the room was moving around and making noise which made sleeping worse. I was tossing and turning and thinking too much. I knew a lack of sleep would cost me vital energy. I think at that altitude you become really focused on your body. There isn’t much else to think about except for the mountain and your physical state so you end up constantly analyzing, how you breath, how you sleep, your digestion, etc. The sleep was miserable so I was happy to get up around 1:00 AM and get going. We went downstairs, got our gear together, ate some breakfast and went at it.
I’m not sure how I thought the climb was going to be but I was pretty headstrong about it and I was going to get to the top no matter how I felt, weather permitting. One of the guys from Colorado got sick the night before and was barfing all night. He seemed like the strongest of the three but either nerves or a stomach flu got the best of him and he wisely stayed behind. That has to be tough but what can you do.
When we started the hike, for the first hour or so we were on a rocky trail which was steep and only lit by our headlamps until we got to the glacier. At the glacier, we all strapped our crampons and were roped up to our guide. I was tied to Diego who was great. Right off the bat we had to cross over this crevasse in the dark which really let everyone know that this hike was the real deal.
The volcano was steep, I slugged along the entire way. My stomach wasn’t good and lack of sleep affected me but no matter how you cut it, Cotopaxi is a rough climb. The entire time you are on snow, taking it step by step with ice axe in hand. I had to tell Diego, “esperame” and “dame un momento”, so many times, like a stubborn mule that didn’t want to move. Throughout the night all you could see was headlamps of other groups of hikers making their way up the mountain. It was like being on another planet. As we went on, it started to snow and the Spanish group came down without summiting because of the weather which made us nervous because they seemed like very experienced climbers. We kept on and eventually the sun was on it’s way up so we got some morning light which was enough to show me just how far we had to go. I was beat tired because I just had no appetite and couldn’t eat anything. I kept drinking Gatorade to keep from bonking out. There were times when I was so tired that I just wanted to go to sleep. I was past the point of exhaustion. We pushed on and I had Diego stop like one hundred times more for me to rest but eventually we climbed along the final steep ridge to the summit. 19,347 feet (5897 meters).
Unfortunately there was almost no visibility this day so we stop on the top for about ten minutes, took some pictures and had some snacks and then headed back for the base camp. Climbing back down in the day was pretty amazing. It was even steeper than I thought it would be. Some of the shit we had to go over I don’t think I would have done if I saw it during the day. I was used to Colorado 14er summer climbing which is a dry dirt trail up to the summit normally without too much technical climbing. Definitely no snow, crampons, ice axe, ropes or crevasses. All and all it was such a good experience, thousands of times better and more accomplishing than any jungle tour would have been. I felt great afterwards. I have climbed almost half of Colorado’s 14ers, biked across the United States, ridden 200 miles in one day, but that was definitely the most physically challenging day I have had. It makes me appreciate what Himalayan and big mountain climbers go through.
That day we got back to Quito and I just ate a lot of food and bragged about the climb to whoever would listen for the rest of the day. I had my own room at Central del Mundo hostel that night and slept like a hibernating bear.
2009.11.19-20 – Baños, Ecuador
I awoke from my slumber feeling great as I do the next day after any huge day of physical activity. I didn’t do too much in Quito and instead decided to hop down to Baños. I caught the bus in the afternoon which was a nice, relaxing and scenic ride, especially since I could hardly walk from the Cotopaxi climb. At this moment I was so content and it was good to just sit and look out the window of the bus. I got to Baños which was a nice, small and easy to navigate town, perfect for my worn out and relaxed mood. I found a great hostel for $7 a night and had my own room on the top floor, like a penthouse suite. The guy that worked at the hostel, named Darios, was hilarious, we hung out on the doorway of the hostel and called out to everyone walking by, had some beers and laughed about everything. His English was almost nonexistent except if I got him laughing he would say, “Oh my Gatos”, which became a catch phrase of mine for years to come.
Baños was awesome, the perfect climate, a couple of good bars in town, some hot springs to soak in and a nice small town feel. I rented a mountain bike for the next day in Baños and did the Route of the Cascades to a bunch of lush waterfalls. It wasn’t without incident though. The ride went along the road, climbing up into the jungle hills. At a one points during the ride the road came to a large tunnels. It was hard to know how long the tunnel went on for because from my vantage point it was just solid darkness. I didn’t know what to do, so I just started biking through it, figuring that it was Ecuador and safety is an ancillary concern and everyone just goes through it. What I didn’t know was that apparently before the tunnel, there was a path to break off for bikers to go around the tunnel instead of through it. I was biking alone and didn’t notice the path. When I got into the tunnel, I was thinking it would be over soon so I just started pedaling hard to get through it, but right off the bat I was in total darkness and I knew I was stuck in a bad situation. After about an eighth of a mile in the tunnel, I could not see anything, even my hand in front of me. It was horrible because I was just imagining getting hit by a car and it would have been my own negligence. I would have been just another stupid, dead tourist in Ecuador with a couple crying friends and family and a little blurb in the obituary section of the local paper in the town I grew up in. Well not this time…
Eventually I saw the “light at the end of the tunnel”, a very small pin hole of light that was the other entrance. It seemed like a mile away or more but who knows. I pedaled my ass off in top gear and cleared out of that death trap, only to find another death trap awaited me on the other side. I got out of the tunnel and right there on the bridge was a place where you can bungee jump. I figured I just got out of one near death, why not make it two. I talked to the people who were running it , who hardly spoke English and after some coaxing and laughing, I paid my $10 and said what the hell. Bungee jumping fucking sucks. The worst part about it is standing on top of the bridge, with only the river hundreds of feet below you, and convincing your mind to jump. It took a couple minutes for me to finally say fuck it and go for it. It was awful, this type of bungee was the kind where the chord was strapped to your waist instead of your feet so when it finally snapped on me, it wrenched the shit out of my balls. I just wanted it to end but you bounce up and down and swing for a bit after your realize that you are still alive. I think it’s like you almost pass out for a second because I don’t remember much of the initial descent. Anyway, when they finally reeled me up I had everyone laughing because I was saying, “ya no me voy a tener hijos” (now im not going to have children). I will definitely never bungee jump again.
I biked back to town and went out for beers that night. For whatever reason this couple came up to my room after the bar. I’m not sure if they were being friendly or intending to rob me or we were just going to drink more. I think I was just happy to be alive and didn’t really care at this point as to what would happen. Anyway, they went home after about a half hour or so since we had no booze and nothing else to talk about. I signed up for a jungle tour the next day so I had to get up pretty early.
2009.11.21 – Puyo, Ecuador
We left for the jungle tour at 8:00 AM from Baños to Puyo. I was pretty hung over in the morning as I got into the truck with this couple from Ireland that were on a yearlong traveling voyage which always makes my American, work until you die ass a little jealous. I will probably end up doing one at some point but I think in the end it’s all an experience, just like everything in life I guess, but at some point it has to end. Anyway, we got into the jungle via some dirt roads and took a stop at this little village. We drank some yucca liquor that the lady was mashing up in a bowl with her hands. The village wasn’t too remote but still pretty primitive. After that we took a little hike to this really cool waterfall to swim for a bit, ate some lunch and ended up at these cabanas that night. We stayed up drinking with the locals in the main room of the cabanas, I was translating for this guy who was trying to tell one of the Irish girls how much he loved her even though she was pretty hideous. I guess they just don’t get to many people with that color of skin down there.
That night a group of guys were drinking Ayahuasca, a boiled liquid concocted of local plants which contain Dimethyltryptamine (DMT) that produces psychedelic effects. They were administered the Ayahuasca by a shaman who was guiding their trip. From what I remember, the group of guys who drank it were all in chairs sitting in a circle around the shaman who was in the middle jumping and dancing, wearing only a small cloth to cover his junk, a big headdress and a necklace of bones.
I didn’t partake because I was told you cannot drink Ayahuasca if you have eaten anything for 24 hours before drinking it. I didn’t know it was an option before I got to the village. Seemed like an interesting experience, but I think the shaman would have flipped me out a bit. I guess it may be a necessary thing for the full experience but I still wouldn’t want some random dude running around in his skivvies while I was fucked up with my buddies on heavy psychedelics. It just didn’t seem that cool. I guess it’s one of those things you would always remember though.
2009.11.22 – Baños, Ecuador
We just spent that one night in the jungle which was good enough for me. You can take some pretty extensive tours of the Amazon in Ecuador and get pretty deep but I mean how much different is it really going to be? Yeah the tribes would be more cut off from the outside world and hence probably more weird, but all-in-all you get the gist of it from a night or two. I just don’t like all the bugs and humidity but it was a cool trip. We headed back to Baños and I checked back into the Rainforest Tour Hostel and saw my buddy Darios again. That was probably the best room I had on my entire South American trip.
I took a stroll through the streets but there wasn’t too much going on. On my way back to the hostel I randomly happened upon Brock and Sweezy outside of this bar with a group of bros around them. I knew they were eventually going to be in Baños so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I was glad to have made the decision to split off from them. We had our good times and bad times together and in reality as much as Brock irked me, she still pushed me to see some places and do some things that I probably wouldn’t have done on my own.
2009.11.23 – Quito, Ecuador
Bussed it back to Quito in the morning from Baños and caught the city bus back to New Town and checked into Central del Mundo hostel. I didn’t do too much this day, I was still tired from Cotopaxi. At some point I took the cable car up to the mountains overlooking the city which was pretty cool.
2009.11.24-25 – Quito, Ecuador / Santiago, Chile
I had a flight booked from Quito back to Santiago de Chile at 8:40 PM (20:40) so I could meet Louie the next day when he flew in. For some reason I had it in my head that the flight was at 10:40 PM (22:40) so I took it easy all day in Quito, eating Indian food and talking to this girl at the travel agency. After dinner I got a cab to the airport, arriving at 8:00 PM, plenty of time to chill before my expected flight. When I got there and went to the counter, the lady told me that my flight was at 8:40 PM and that the gate was closed. I was pissed at myself for being such a dumbass and not checking my email but the lady was very nice and put me on another direct flight to Chile so I got lucky. That probably would have never happened in the US.
I was thinking that Louie was getting in to Santiago on the 25th but really it wasn’t until the 26th so when I got to SCL Airport I was waiting for him for like 4 hours until I checked my email and realized I was wrong and he gets in the next day. I was screwing up dates left and right on this trip, not only my own but the dates that my friends were meeting me as well. It was a mess.
The next day when I got back to Santiago, caught up on all my neglected work, and had drinks with Danny in Bellevista.