28 Signs You’ve Been to South America

Llamas in Chile are like cows in the US

Traveling through South America has a way of staying with you.

If you still wear your alpaca sweater everyday or have acquired a hankering for pork rinds, you probably have spent some time in South America.

I find that every time you travel, you adapt a little bit, or a lot, to your new surroundings in ways that may be hard for you and your less-traveled peers to understand. Don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. I’ve compiled a list of character traits to help pin down the people who have spent a good amount of time in South America. Leave a comment if you can think of anything to add!

You know you’ve been to South America when…

  • You crave arepas and empanadas when you’re drunk instead of pizza and lo mein.

    Arepa con huevo, a Colombian delicacy
    Arepa con huevo, egg arepa, from Cartagena, Colombia
  • you’ve realized that they weren’t lying when they said that you can’t flush toilet paper.
  • muscle memory has you throwing away toilet paper in the bin instead of in the toilet.
  • you, or someone you know, have a cool Salar de Uyuni photo as your/their profile or cover photo on Facebook.
photo credit- Blake Matich
photo credit- Blake Matich
  • you start calling ketchup “tomato sauce” because in Spanish it translates to salsa de tomate.
  • you’ve either worn, held, fed or eaten an alpaca/llama.

    Only costs a few soles to hold a baby alpaca in Peru
    Holding a baby alpaca in Cusco, Peru.
Alpaca hair makes a warm material for clothing in Peru.
Rocking my warm alpaca sweater from Peru.
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posing with a llama in Chile
Alpaca dinner
Alpaca dinner
  • you know how to score prescription pills from the pharmacy, without a prescription.
  • you’ve never been so sunburnt.

    Intense sunburn from an Ecuadorean sun.
    Nearly a year later, and I still have those tan lines.
  • you have, or know someone who has, crapped your/their pants…in public.
  • you have, or know someone who has, been robbed.
  • you recognize the value of the currency instead of having to do math to figure out the dollar amount.
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Chilean money
  • you bring along chicharrones for a bus snack instead of Doritos.
mmmmmm
mmmmmm
  • coca tea becomes an acceptable substitution for coffee.
  • you’ve found all kinds of weird flavors of Lays potato chips.
they really do taste like pollo a la brasa from Peru
they really do taste like pollo a la brasa from Peru
  • you’ve literally been eaten alive by mosquitos.
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not as bad as the people who look like they’ve had a herpes outbreak on their calves, but still
  • you’ve had nightmares from malaria pills.
  • if you can’t talk about poops with someone at your hostel, you don’t want to be their friend.
  • you were seriously impressed by the street produce.

    Large avocados found in Medellin, Colombia
    AVOCADOS THE SIZE OF YOUR HEAD
  • the thought of putting on shoes other than flip flops or hiking boots is daunting.
  • you’re in a public place and immediately try to struggle with Spanish when talking to strangers, before realizing that you’re home now and can speak English.
  • you don’t fear insects anymore.
  • you hide your iPhone under your pillow before leaving the room.
  • you see a sign that says “areas” and you think “arepas.”
  • someone tells you it’s 23 degrees back home and you can’t believe they’re having such nice weather in December (only applies to Americans using the Imperial system during the winter).
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kill me
  • you think it’s acceptable to wear your alpaca sweater daily (after all, there is no warmer material).
  • your cabbie stops at a toll and you prepare yourself to be searched by the police.
  • ponchos are a warm and sensible fashion statement.
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being a weirdo with matching ponchos
  • you’ve made friends with at least one stray/hostel dog or cat.
Found a dog to play with in Salento, Colombia
Made good friends with this good boy in Salento, Colombia
Randall, the house pup of HI Arica
Posing with Randall, whom I met in Chile.

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by Rebecca Bellan

 

 

Photos from Quito!

A visual guide to the dynamic city in the mountains- Quito, Ecuador.

You may remember from my post about my first day in Quito that my iPad connector kit for my really good camera didn’t work. Well, I found a computer and finally got a look at those pictures. They’re just too beautiful to keep to myself. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoyed taking them!

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statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras
statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras

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but damn that view
but damn that view
inside the tower
inside the tower
 scary tower climbing
scary tower climbing
ah!
ah!

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view of el panecillo from the basilica
view of el panecillo from the basilica

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tower of the basilica
tower of the basilica
such beautiful symmetry
such beautiful symmetry
la basilica
la basilica
seco de cerdo
seco de cerdo

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corvina with ceviche
corvina with ceviche
el panecillo
el panecillo
church of the society of jesus
church of the society of jesus
monument to heroes of First Cry of Independence 1809
monument to heroes of First Cry of Independence 1809

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plaza of independence
plaza of independence
the sucre theater
the sucre theater
mora (blackberry) smoothie
mora (blackberry) smoothie
super cheap flowers at market
super cheap flowers at market
the central market
the central market

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by Rebecca Bellan

 

 

 

I Woke Up Like This

Life is good when you volunteer at Donkey Den Guesthouse on the small beach of Santa Marianita in Ecuador.

Kitesurfing and watching the waves crash are two of the main activities on this laid back beach outside of Manta.

Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast
Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast

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In case you were wondering what I’ve been up to for the past two weeks, the answer is, not much. I’ve been straight kickin’ it working as a volunteer for Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast in Santa Marianita, Ecuador, an isolated beach outside of Manta where the sun waits for the weekend to shine. I found the gig at Donkey Den through HelpX. The hotel boasts three pretty sick apartment-style suites, four more private rooms, and a dorm room with five beds. The kitchen and common areas are all outside, because why not? The weather is always warm and there’s a roof to protect against uncommon rain. Most people, staff, visitors, pets and guests alike, congregate around the long rectangular dining table. In fact, sometimes, it looks like the Last Supper, with everyone on one side facing the ocean, looking out for whales or kite surfers or just simply watching the waves crash. I rest my elbows on the beautiful tapestry that serves as a table cloth as I cradle my second cup of coffee in the morning, watching the ocean change colors. Sometimes one of the ten cats tries to test its luck sitting on the table, and he or she is promptly denied via a squirt of water to the face. Sometimes Yahtzee dice spill over the surface of the table as the volunteers and I play our boss Cheryl, who adds up the dice for all of us sleepy heads. Sometimes I lead the girls in some early morning yoga on the beach, the constant sound of the waves hitting the sand as soothing as saying “Ommmeeee.” I wonder sometimes why that sound hasn’t started to piss me off, like other constant, unending sounds are prone to do. The worst it’s done is give me weird dreams, but I’m not alone in that. Something about this beach keeps almost everyone here from having a decent, and dream free, night’s sleep.

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Laura and Annette on left, Juliet on right.
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the kitchen
the dining room table
the dining room table

During these two weeks of bliss, I haven’t even bothered to groom properly. I can’t remember the last time I put on makeup, or shaved my legs, or properly and consistently washed my hair. Hawt, right? But I give zero fucks because my sick tan has hidden the bags under my eyes, the sun has bleached my leg hair blond, and the ocean cleans my hair every day anyway and gives it that beachy style that bitches be jealous of. As the wise Beyonce once said, “I woke up like this, I woke up like this.”

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Then there’s the sand. It’s everywhere, even after a shower, a constant reminder that you are living on a fucking beach. It latches on to your ankles, finds a home between your shoulder blades. It coats your underwear line and the crease behind your ears. You scratch your scalp and find sand under your fingernails. You sleep with it at night, despite a vain, half-ass attempt to brush your feet together and remove some before resting your legs on your already sandy sheets. It is a friend, a companion, by no means a burden. The sand is an accepted part of your daily journey, and I bring it with me on my walk to Ocean Freaks, onto the hammock where I’ll read a book, and to my few hours of pretty chill work per day, which starts with wiping the sand and cat/dog hair from the furniture in the morning.

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Work also consists of cleaning the rooms when guests check out, taking the few breakfast orders, cutting fruit, walking the dogs down the beach at night, and any other odd jobs that Cheryl comes up for us. I can proudly say that I helped paint a fence, varnished a bunch of bamboo, and gave the garden a haircut.

Truly, there is not much to do here except kite surfing (it took me a week to give in and take lessons and another week to fall in love), perfecting the art of chilling out, and getting to know the people around you. There’s Cheryl, who retired to Ecuador from Canada and has been running the Donkey Den for a little under a year for the owner Linda, a 70 year old Floridian princess. Annette and Juliet are best friends and my fellow volunteers from the Netherlands who have been traveling together through Central and South America and learning to kite surf along the way. Laura, another volunteer from Dublin, has just arrived and already we are making plans to meet up in Cuzco in a few weeks. Jooast and Lillian are basically part of the family, too. They live in a bright yellow Volkswagen that they bought in Chile and have been driving around South America, also kitesurfing, but they take showers and cook meals at the Donkey Den. There’s Sam, the kite surfing artist from Canada who lives in Dominican Republic. There were the Uno Nazis, a German couple who are really, really serious about Uno (Clarification: I called them Nazis because they are strict card players. Their German-ness only made it more funny). We have 10 cats and 3 dogs, all rescues. The cats are Tiger, Tigger, Tommy, Kiwi, Shortie, Fido, Mozzarella, Joe, Rodriguez, and Bubba. Shortie has a temper, Fido is an asshole, Mozzarella is cuddly and Rodriguez is a prince. The dogs are Barney, Bailey, Pepe. Barney is a lady, Pepe is a gentleman, and Bailey runs really fast. Maira and Fernanda are sisters and Santa Marianita locals who come to work every morning. Fernanda sees to the general cleaning of the property, while Maira prepares the delicious breakfast, sometimes just for the volunteers if there are no paying customers. We, as volunteers, are entitled to a free breakfast every morning, which I milk profusely, cutting myself a bowl of fruit before I order the Scramble and a side of stuffed french toast.

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Annette and Juliet with an apple pie they made during a blackout
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Lillian and Jooast

 

Pepe
Pepe
Barney- the lady
Barney- the lady

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breakfast burrito
breakfast burrito

Then of course there are the Gringos, the ex-pats, the Golden Girls. The motley crew of Canadian and American retirees who congregate around their ring leader, Linda, to drink coffee and booze at our table, buy breakfast on Gringo Sunday, and share information about how to survive in a third world country with zero knowledge of the language spoken there, a big bank account, and a trusted contractor. A true talent indeed when all the locals are out to get you…she said sarcastically.

Gringo Sunday
Gringo Sunday

Now that I’m gone and embarking slowly on another adventure, I truly miss my life there. I miss searching for friends on the water by looking for their kites. I miss Cheryl telling me that I’m going to make some man an excellent wife every time I cooked her dinner. I miss Annette’s girlish laugh and Juliet telling me to enjoy my meal as I sat down with any plate in front of me. I miss Laura singing showtunes and leaving me in stitches with her quick wit. I miss being barefoot all the time and watching the sky change. I miss the rare nights when the clouds weren’t hiding the stars and I could look up and see thousands of them. I miss the donkeys walking up to our garbage for a snack. I miss the man who does drive bys in his truck, blasting over a loudspeaker that he’ll sell you “pina, mandarinas, verduras, cebollas…etc.” I miss burning my feet on the hot sand and dodging rocks on my walk to the kite school. I miss feeling the strong undercurrent of the ocean pull at my ankles. I miss waking up with sore muscles. And I miss kitesurfing. I always thought that I couldn’t stay in one place for more than two weeks while traveling, but now I wish I could go back and carry on the life that I started for myself there.

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Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be back. But until then, onto the next adventure.

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Samantha Chilvers: Badass Kiteboarder

Feature profile on Samantha Chilvers, kiteboarder and artist.

This young pro kite surfer and talented artist is living her life to the fullest!

The first time I walked into Ocean Freaks, the main kite school in Santa Mariantia, I was greeted by a petite white girl who immediately and enthusiastically asked me, “Are you here to kite?” I told her I hadn’t started my lessons yet, and she expressed her excitement that another girl would be joining her on the water. She even offered to teach me, “To see if I can even teach,” she said. “It would be a new challenge for me.” She said her name was Sam, and that she is a semi pro kite surfer who lives in Cabarete, Dominican Republic. She came to this beach for Fly Fest, a kite surfing competition that Ocean Freaks hosted a few weeks ago. Her sponsors, Star Kite, sent her, their only sponsored female, along with 10-15 other riders to compete.

“I don’t get a salary or anything, but they pay for my gear and my flights, so that’s pretty cool,” she said with a smile.

Using lots of big hand movements and in a loud, excited voice, she told me that she is also an artist who traded a painting with “this dude Pepe who’s kind of a babe” for the use of his house on the beach. Sam said that living there has been a good marketing promotion because people who follow her art are thrilled with the romantic idea of this young artist shacking up on a beach in Ecuador to paint and kite surf.

Sam’s art supports her kiting, and her kiting supports her art.

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“Let’s be honest. There’s no money in this industry,” she said, looking at me through big black sunglasses as we sat among the hammock chairs at Donkey Den. “My surfing promotes and motivates a more organized professional life. I’ll sell a painting to cover a kite trip.”

Sam sells about a painting a week, which can range in price from $300 to $1000. She gets a lot of inspiration from the sport, and much of her work is based on her experiences on the water and images from her GoPro camera. Watching her on the water, it’s easy to understand how her actions translate to her beautiful, colorful paintings. You see her kite before you see her, a bright orange and green 9 meter Star Kite that she shares with Frainin (my instructor and Sam’s teammate). One second it’s at a slight angle, the next it descends sharply. There’s no denying that Sam is in control of the kite’s movements, doing tricks and dips, one hand ripping through the water as the other steers the kite.

Chilvers is a unique beach babe. You’ll find her walking back from the water, expertly pulling her kite with one hand and supporting her board with the other. Her brown hair with the hint of an hombre dye is constantly windswept, and her freckled cheeks are streaked pink with zinc to protect her from the sun. The dry clothes that she changes into usually consist of short jean shorts and colorful, tribal patterned sweaters and leggings. While she’s an obvious hottie (she’s even sponsored by Salt Water swimwear, a company that trades her bikinis for photos of her doing cool stuff in said bikinis), she expressed frustration with female riders who highlight their looks over their talent. It makes it more difficult for more serious female riders, like herself, to be taken seriously.

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“At the end of the day, we do get the short end of the stick, but we only have ourselves to blame,” she said. “Girls tell themselves that they can’t ride like the boys, so they don’t try, or they’re scared of getting hurt. I want it to get to the point where guys and girls are all throwing tricks together.”

Sam said most people are really stoked to see a female rider, and would like to see more. She was one of the only girls to compete in Fly Fest, and since there wasn’t a category for females, she had to go up against the boys.

“I feel like I won for just showing up,” she said.

Most competitions don’t have a female rider category, so she’ll have to get used to competing with the big boys to fulfill her contract with Star Kite, who promised to send her to two to five PKRA (Professional Kiteboard Riders Association) events in the 2015 season, beginning with Panama and Morocco. But hey, maybe she’ll meet the love of her life. Sam has said that she doesn’t think she could be with someone who isn’t as obsessed with kite boarding as she is.

“He can be butt ugly, but if he can throw a handle pass…” she said, erupting in a girlish cackle. It doesn’t take much to make her laugh. “All I want is to date another pro-rider who can teach me tricks and bring my kite back when I crash.”

Of course, that’s not all she wants. Above all, she wants to progress as a rider, consistently landing all tricks in any conditions. Sam has stayed in Santa Marianita so long after Fly Fest because the riding conditions, like the wind and the current, are the exact opposite to those of in Cabarete. She often finds herself going back and practicing smaller tricks because the wind here forces her to challenge her weaker side. She feels that training in opposite conditions, versus Cabarete where the conditions are ideal for tricks, is essential to help prepare her for competitions in other countries where she is not familiar with the wind.

One trick that she’s dying to land is called an F16 Handle Pass. She described it, staring off into space as if she were picturing herself doing it not watching someone do it, as unhooking from the kite, then going into a back roll kite loop, and throwing a handle pass before you land. Sounds like cake.

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But Sam is confident in her abilities to tackle new tricks, despite her slow start to learn the sport three years ago. She had originally moved to DR to work on a series of art and took lessons because it was the thing to do.

“I sucked. I was the worst student ever. The kids on the beach were 100% confident that I would never stand up,” she said laughing at the memory. “I had never seen the ocean before, never been on a plane, and never heard of kiteboarding.”

Chilvers admits that she actually lied to her instructor at Dare 2 Fly about having nose problems when she had to put her face in the water because the foreign salt water was so brutal to her as a girl from the Ontario, Canada suburbs.

The murder of her dog, which she found with his neck broken in her front yard, was the catalyst for her deciding to truly learn the sport. In her depression, she turned to kitesurfing, physically and mentally exhausting herself to take her mind off her loss. Within a month, she was doing tricks, which she said came naturally to her because she would snowboard as a kid. When she started going out every day, and not just once or twice a week when the conditions were perfect, she progressed incredibly fast.

“I’m a very aggressive rider. I don’t have many physical fears in life,” she said.

Sam attributes her success rate with trying new tricks not only to her badass attitude, but also to her small physical stature and to yoga, which she says has changed her riding. When she started doing yoga, every morning at 8:15, she found that she got less riding injuries, and that she was able to build strength and flexibility while releasing muscle tension. Yoga is the perfect conditioning outside of actually practicing to kite surf because it isn’t too physically demanding and doesn’t leave her too tired to put her all into the sport.

Her dedication to progression is what allowed her to throw the trick that defines you as a professional. Sam said that 80% of riders, male and female, cannot throw a handle pass, which is when you pass the bar behind your back. Sam boasts that she is the only female rider in her part of the world to be able to have landed that trick, which is probably why Star Kite went for her.

She began her contract with the team on October 1 by going to Fly Fest and using Star Kite equipment. She chose them out of other big names because of the personal attention she received from them during their courtship.

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Since Sam is Star Kite’s only female rider, she hopes that she will be able to be more of a public figure in the Ocean Community. Her advice to new riders?

“Just practice. Take your time on the water and challenge yourself with little tricks. Every day you’ll progress a little more.”

Chilvers admits that there’s a slow learning curve at first, and a lot of people simply don’t have the time or the patience to learn. But you’ve got to crawl before you can walk.

“It’s all about being crazy enough to go for it.”

*All photo credit to Samanta Chilvers

Stalk her life:

Www.chilvers.ca

instagram: @chilversart

facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Chilvers-Art/145926011954

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Kite Surfing: The Obsession

Kitesurfing on Santa Marianita beach, Ecuador

 I have fallen in love, and his name is kite surfing.

Once you stand up on that board, there is no going back.image

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I feel like I’ve just fallen in love with the boy of my dreams, and I have to leave him. Yesterday, after a week of waiting for my kiting instructor to give me the OK, I took a board out on the water, and I stood up! Now that I’ve finally felt the true potential of this sport, I can think of nothing else but where and how I can be reunited with my love again. In a panic last night, I scoured the internet for good kite surfing locations in Peru, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia. Anywhere. I am addicted, and will cut back on other expenses just so I can pay for a few hours here and there of lessons, and maybe pick up some gear along the way. I’m even researching flights to the Domincan Republic because my new pro friend Sam has offered me the use of her Star Kite-sponsored gear and her place to crash in.

After breakfast yesterday, I looked out at the shining sun and the kites starting to decorate the sky, and I thought, If I don’t make it on a board today, I’m giving up. I strolled over to the kite school to see if I could maybe get a lesson, not truly caring anymore and starting to think that maybe me and kite surfing weren’t meant to be. My instructor looked over the schedule. “Are you free right now?” he asked.

I ran back to Donkey Den to change, excitingly telling everyone there that I would actually have a lesson today. I threw on a sports bra and shorts and bounded out of the gate as guests and staff alike wished me well. They had all heard me bitch endlessly about how bad I wanted to stand up on the board before I left. I half ran, half skipped back to the kite school, rubbing sunscreen on my face and shoulders on the way.

Frainin and I did the usual stuff, setting up the kite and walking upwind with it. He had me body drag down the beach two times before he deemed me ready to get on the board. Actually, he said, I should have body dragged one more time, but I annoyed him so much that, thankfully, he decided to skip the third. He took hold of the kite and I held the board as we walked downwind for the third time that day. Even though I was wearing a helmet and a life jacket, I felt pretty cool as I passed other newbs in helmets still learning how to hold the kite or body drag. I was walking with an actual board with the actual intention of riding the fucker. On the way I passed other kiting friends and acquaintances. Jooast, a Dutch instructor who cooks meals at Donkey Den with his girlfriend Lillian, gave me a high five. His pupil, a guy from Switzerland who drinks beer at our table sometimes, wished me good luck. I saw Doc, AKA Javier, another instructor at the school, and he, too, wished me well. Annette and Juliet, my fellow volunteers, were handling their kite and shouted out, “You go girl!” I nearly moon walked the whole strip of the beach.

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Frainin stopped and looked out at the waves pensively. He then demonstrated in the sand how I would get on my board in the water, then had me mimic his movements. I laid on my left side, with my left hand holding the handle on the board. He told me to press down on the board with my elbow. Then I had to come upright and move the board in front of me, using my left hand only as my right was on the bar, pretending to hold up the kite. Once the board was in front of me and I had my feet in the straps, I bent my legs and scooted my butt forward, flexing my feet to bring the board up on an angle. Frainin grabbed the lines and, acting as the kite, pulled hard to bring me up to standing. As he continued to pull, I felt my body go into the familiar stance of a kite boarder trying not to fly away with the kite. I straightened my left leg, bent my right knee and leaned back, holding the bar in front of me and trusting in the strength of the pull. Frainin gave me a mischievous smile and let go of the lines, letting me fall onto my back in the sand. He explained that to get the kite to pull me up, I’d have to bring it down to 10 o’clock and quickly back up to 12, repeatedly. This would put my left foot forward and take me out to sea, similar to body dragging. 12 to 2 would put my right foot forward and take me to the shore.

Into the water again. My left arm clumsily supported the board while I held onto Frainin’s harness as he and the kite dragged us out past the waves. He attached the kite to my harness. Ah, that familiar pull in your gut. I angled the board in front of me with little grace as my instructor held onto the back of my harness. I tried to keep the kite neutral at 12 with my right hand and use my left to hold the board steady enough to slp my feet in. OK, I was in the right position. Now all I had to do was move the kite. Tentatively, slowly, carefully, I brought it down to 10 and back up to 12. “Faster,” said Frainin exasperatedly. I told myself to stop being a wuss and brought it down hard to 10 and fast back up to 12. Push the bar up on the line a bit to depower, pull it closer to you to power. Relax. Loosen your grip on the bar a little. And suddenly I was standing up. And just as suddenly I was back down and Frainin was telling me to keep the kite at 12. “OK, good. Again.” 10, 12. Depower, power. I’m up and trying to keep my body straight, but my ass keeps dipping threateningly close to the water. My legs are shaking with the strain, but my brain is starting to understand what it has to tell my body to do. After a couple more soft crashes, Frainin tells me to face the beach and do the same on the other side. Let’s just say, my right side is not my strong side. 12, 2, I’m standing up and falling immediately back down. Right, I’m supposed to switch my legs. Straighten the right leg, bend the left. I tried again and ate it hard enough to lose the board. Frainin grabs a hold of it and tells me to body drag out of the water. The waves crash behind me and on top of me, but the kite pulls me out of harm’s way and makes me feel invincible. Obviously, I make it out way before Frainin and experience a sensation of glee and freedom at holding onto the kite without an instructor around. I feel like it makes me better when I have to listen to my instincts instead of Dominican-accented Spanglish. When he made it over to me, he told me I did a good job and asked if I was happy. I answered honestly. “Sort of. I need to try again. We’re going back out, right?” He tells me that we’ve already been gone an hour and a half when I only paid for an hour, an he has another lesson to go teach. Something about the way I stomped my feet and pouted like a child must have either softened his heart or scared him because he granted me another half hour.

Out past the waves, and already my body was learning how to deal with the board in the water. I got my feet in, gave a little practice 12 to 10, and then swung the kite hard, bringing me to a standing position. I was soaring for a while, cheesing hard as I watched my board cut through the impossibly blue water. Then I looked around and realized that I was pretty far out to the ocean, and brought the kite back to 12 so I could rest and get my bearings. I looked back and saw Frainin a ways away, pointing toward the shore line. Reluctantly, I angled my board the other way, brought the kite back down to 2 and made it a few feet before I crashed and lost my board again. Clearly my success rate is pretty low on my right side. I tried for a while to have the kite drag me to the board, barely hearing Frainin yell instructions at me over the surf. I soon gave up and just body dragged out. Frainin met me at the shore and took the kite from me so he could go back in for the board. Before he headed into the water, he seemed genuinely impressed that I was able to stand up for so long. “You went at least 20 or 30 meters. It takes most students a whole day, maybe two, to stand up like that.” Maybe he was just flattering me because he knew how much it meant to me, but I was in the clouds for the rest of the day.

I’m heading to Peru today. I hear Mancora has good kite boarding….Stay tuned!

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Any Way the Wind Blows…Kind of Matters To Me

 Read about my first lessons learning how to kite surf!

Controlling the kite and the wind is a real challenge, and one that I am more that up for.image

“Do you think the wind will be good today?” We here at Donkey Den Bed and Breakfast on the remote Santa Marianita Beach outside of Manta, Ecuador live in anticipation of a constant gust of wind. Every morning, the guests, visitors, and gringo locals around the rectangular, tapestry-clad dining room table ask each other the same question. Sometimes we whistle to make the wind blow (an old sailor trick), sometimes we look out on the horizon for white caps on the water, sometimes we hope the shining sun will cause thermic winds. You can hear it before you see it, your eyes usually on a book or your phone to distract you from the disappointment of still air. The seashell wind chimes start to clang together and the palm fronds hiss as they sway. You look up and scan the horizon, and with the blessing of the wind god, you spot a kite in the air. Soon the sky is littered with kites twisting and turning and pulling their surfers along the warm Pacific waters. The other volunteers at Donkey Den and I look imploringly at our boss, Cheryl, as she sips her third cup of black coffee and says, “Go ahead, girls. The wind’s picking up.”

Sunscreen. Sports bra. Harness. Pump. Kite. And we’re off. My Dutch girls Annette and Juliet are far more experienced than I am. Their blue eyes shine vibrantly on their impossibly tanned skin, a couple of sun kissed Amazons sharing a board and an F1 kite that they bought in Peru. They learned in Brazil have been more or less making their way around Central and South America, alternating between simply traveling and staying in kite surfing meccas like Corn Islands, Nicaragua or Mancora, Peru to up their kiting game before heading back to the Netherlands. They have had about three solid weeks of experience all together, but to me and my three hours of lessons, they look like pros.

Juliet on the left, Annette on the right
Juliet on the left, Annette on the right

Each day, I nearly sprint the length of the beach to the kite school called Ocean Freaks for a lesson, a combination of excitement and hot sand on my bare feet adding a pep to my step. However, the past few days have gone as follows: I see my instructor outside, his afro tied into a bun. Frainin Santana is a 24 year old, Star Kite sponsored, Dominican who came to Santa Marianita to compete in Fly Fest, a kiting competition that took place here a few weeks ago, and who is sticking around for a bit to practice kiting and teach.

taken from his fb page
taken from his fb page

He sees me walking up and shakes his head at me. Instantly my spirits fall. “No wind today,” he says. Or, “Waves too big today. You could get hurt.” I look around at the few kites I see in the air and start to protest. He insists that it’s no good for learning, that the kiters on the water are pros, that he doesn’t have a big enough kite for me to practice on for me to catch the wind, or I won’t be able to make it out past the crash of the waves with a kite in my hand. Yada, yada, yada. So instead I grab a boogie board from the school and set to work riding the warm pacific waves and skimming on my stomach on the shallow surf. Or sometimes I just sulk back to Donkey Den.

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Back at home base, I watch the hammock chairs sway in the wind, eager to get to my next lesson before my help exchange ends (It is now Saturday, I leave Monday) so I can finally learn to stand on the board. Frainin has promised me that I will be kiting on my own before I leave, but he doesn’t control the wind, so I don’t know what his word is worth. My first two hours weren’t as thrilling as I had hoped. I paid $108 for all three, a discounted price provided I bartend for the surf school this weekend. After harnessing up and putting on an embarrasing helmet to let others know that I’m a beginner, I set to learning the language of the wind. Frainin taught me how to feel which way the wind was blowing, which way was upwind and downwind, like a stream. He then instructed me how to blow up the kite, a 9 meter Slingshot, how to untangle the lines, and how to attach them to the kite. All the while, he barely lifted a finger. He told me that I needed to do it on my own because when I have my own kite, no one will be helping me. I like this philosophy. After we set up the kite, he held onto the bar and told me to launch it for him. I flipped the kite to an upright position, holding it tight to my body so it wouldn’t hit me in the face, and when he gave me the thumbs up, I let go and watched it soar. I had gathered from watching other kiters that the universal symbol for launch is a thumbs up, and the universal symbol for catch my kite is a few pats on your head. Frainin expertly held the kite at its zenith with one hand, then leaned in the sand and drew a half of a clock with his finger, explaining that when the kite was directly overhead, it was at 12 o’clock, and so forth. He attached the kite to my harness, and I instantly felt the pull in my core as he explained things about the line that I didn’t fully understand and wasn’t fully paying attention to at the time. I just wanted to get my hands on that bar. After he attached the safety line to me, he continued to hold onto the bar and then, to my dismay, lowered it to the ground. He made me practice pulling the quick release and safety leash about ten times until he was satisfied that I could unhinge myself from the line in case of emergency, then relaunched the kite.

Steering a kite in the wind is about subtlety. Grasp the bar too tight, and you put too much pressure on the lines, which tightens the fabric of the kite against the wind and makes it harder to control (for me). Pull too hard on either side, and the kite will move quickly and could crash. The closer the bar is to your body, the more power you give it. It is a dance of power and de-power, light pressure on the left to bring the kite to 11 and 10 o’clock, and light pressure on the right to bring it to 1 and 2 o’clock. Keep your eyes on the kite. Bring it back to 12. De-power, tug the left a little, and power to hold it at 12. All easier said than done. Frainin was constantly telling me to relax my grip and shoulders, holding onto the bar above my hands and moving it how I was meant to move it. When I felt it through his movements, the wind making the kite do a figure 8 from 2 to 12, I thought Oh, I get it. He let go, and I nearly dropped it. Two hours of looking straight up, and my neck was killing me. I tried to look down for a second’s respite and crashed the kite at 3 o’clock. My instructor talked me through launching it myself, lightly pulling on the left until the wind inflates the fabric, then yelled at me to depower so I don’t pull too hard and send it crashing at 9 o’clock, then urged me to power so the kite stays at 12. I was starting to get the hang of it. I practiced steering the kite to left and right, holding it in different positions and walking with it, and learning how to turn my body and feet with the pull of the harness, changing my stance every time the kite threatened to lift me into the air. Just when I started to get cocky and allow my neck a rest, the kite went wild. In an attempt to center it, I powered hard, despite Frainin’s shouts to let go of the bar. This action sent me flying into the air and crashing onto the wet sand a few feet away. I giggled at the rush of taking off into flight. My instructor lifted me up by the back of my harness and admonished me to learn to let go. I lost control of the kite a few more times during my lesson, and it dragged me by my heels around the sand before I realized, reluctantly, that I’m new and can’t always control the kite and need to let go and let it crash.

After two hours, the sky was overcast and the wind was dying. Frainin promised me that I would get in the water the next day. It was noon when I went back for my third hour. After setting up and launching the kite, I squinted up at it, the sun bright above my location so near the equator. A night’s rest made controlling the kite easier. After warming up a bit with the kite, Frainin had me hold the it with one hand at 2 o’clock and walk upwind for quite a while. I tried to alternate between looking at the kite and not steeping on rocks as he zigzagged me into and out of the water in an attempt to teach me how I’ll be moving in the water. A kite won’t simply take you in a straight line from Point A to Point B; you’ve got to move diagonally. When we had made it all the way back to Donkey Den, he hooked the kite to himself and we started to go into the water. I didn’t really understand what we were doing, and he didn’t really explain. I was instructed to hold onto the back of his harness with my right hand. He held the kite at 2 o’clock with his right hand. With our right hands otherwise engaged and our left arms pointed straight towards the sea, it fell to the kicking of our legs extended towards the beach to get us out past the crashing waves to calmer waters. I nearly choked to death on the water and was struggling to stay afloat without the use of both of my hands, so I let go of his harness. He instantly whipped his head around as I started to drift away from him and sternly told me that I needed to stay attached to him. Reluctantly I held back on, but I only had to struggle with the waves for a moment longer because soon Frainin was angling the kite in the ways he taught me to angle on the sand and propelling us in zigzags through the water. The kite lifted our upper bodies out of the water as we soared downwind to the right then the left. After a few joyous minutes of being a passenger, Frainin held the kite at 12, then, waiting for the right wave to take us home, quickly angled the kite to 2:30, pulling us to the shore, the waves crashing behind me. I expected nothing like this. My surprise at how nice it felt to glide through the water and at how fast we were going made me laugh hysterically as we walked the kite back down the length of the beach.

Now it was my turn to control the kite. I didn’t see how I would create the same effect. After nearly drowning on my way back in, this time with myself holding the kite with one hand while Frainin held onto my harness, and after trying to get used to the salty sting in my eyes, I finally made it out to softer waters. I put two hands on the bar and powered, holding the kite at 12. I took a deep breath and tried to remember my lessons. Once you realize how to hold your body, with your feet either to your sides or behind you, never in front of you, it’s not so different from doing it on land. With a squeal of delight I realized that powering hard at 12 will lift me out of the water. Soon, it was back to square one, proving to Frainin that I could bring the kite down to whatever time he told me. I started bringing it down to 2 and back up to 12 faster and more fluidly, making figure 8’s in the wind. Like so many other things your body learns to do, you can feel when you’re doing it right. Oddly, my mind went to the time I learned how to throw a football, and how good it felt to feel the old pigskin spiral off my fingertips. Soon Frainin was giving less instructions and only offering a few words of praise as I felt myself being uplifted and dragged happily through the turquoise water. I created figure 8’s with the kite on the either side, zigzagging through the water, looking nowhere but up at my kite, until my instructor told me to bring it down to 3 and take us to the shore. Again, I giggled the whole way, sand pouring into my shorts as the water became more shallow. We completed this exercise one more time, and then my hour was up.

Now it’s Saturday. The conditions have been abhorrent for learning the past three days. Everyone tells me to be patient, to which I animatedly reply that I can’t because I’m leaving in two days and I need to get on a board TODAY.

Unfortunately, as I sit and write down my recollections, I am in charge of watching the bed and breakfast for the next few hours. Cheryl is playing bridge, and the other two volunteers, along with any of my potential instructors, are on the water. I can only hope that the conditions remain ideal in the next few hours so I can get a lesson and some practice in.

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Cotopaxi: Neck of the Moon

Cotopaxi Volcano, Neck of the Moon, Ecuador

 The challenging ascent and descent of Cotopaxi Volcano in Ecuador.

The struggling 5,000 meter climb and subsequent bike ride to a lagoon was an incredibly rewarding physical experience.

Latin Adventure Tours bus to Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador
Latin Adventure Tours bus to Cotopaxi Volcano, Ecuador

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I stood outside the bus at the base of Cotopaxi Volcano shivering as I watched the guide put on a winter coat, a vest, a ski mask, goggles, gloves, and ski poles. I did not bring proper attire for high altitude climbing. I told myself to suck it up. I spent the last five years dealing with Boston winters. Ecuador doesn’t scare me. Even so, I donned my new Alpaca gloves and an extra shirt that a French guy in my tour offered me. In total I had on cargo pants, a tank top, two long sleeved shirts, a sweatshirt, a rain coat and my hiking boots. The wind went right through me, depriving me of the possibility of warmth from the strong sun and whipping my hair into a rat’s nest. I braided the knots and hid them in my hood.

Looking up, the mountain before me took my breath away, a slanted wall of red soot with a blinding white peak. I understood why the Incans called it “Neck of the Moon.” We started the incline, instantly far more strenuous than I thought it would be just looking at it. After about twenty paces, the others in my group and I gave up on small talk, each of us breathing the thin air far too heavily to be able to keep up conversation. My heart was soon pounding through my five layers. Wisps of hair were escaping from my hood and finding a home in the corners of my mouth, and I tried in vain to use my gloved hands to push my hair out of my eyes and the snot from trailing uncontrollably out of my nose.

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About half way up I wished I had listened to my pep talk about Boston winters; I was sweating hard from the exertion. There were about 15 people in my original group, but I could only see a few Germans around my own age. One graciously extended a hand to me just as I was slipping on some loose rocks. We stopped probably every fifty meters or so to catch our breath and to blink away the spots in our eyes. Our consolation for the struggle? The view. When I wasn’t looking at my feet, trying to time my breaths with my steps like Nigel Thornberry from The Wild Thornberrys taught me in that episode they went to Machu Picchu, I was looking ahead at the slowly growing glacier, and behind me at how far I had come. The higher up I went, the more I was able to see of the road we drove on winding like a snake before me, the lagoon we would visit later, Cotopaxi’s mountain siblings standing proudly in her marvelous shadow, and even the city of Quito beyond. I had to resist the urge to take a photo every time I stopped to breathe because the clouds shifted constantly, always revealing a new part of the mountain. With each step I took on the zigzagging trail, I was more and more proud of myself, a feeling that was quickly diminished as mountain children sprinted easily up the steep inclines past me.

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During one of my breaks, I sat perched on a jagged rock and watched as a sweet father made the trek with his young daughter on his shoulders. He smiled at me knowingly, and seemed to respect that a gringo had come to pay homage to his queen. He reassured me that I was close to the rest lodge and continued on his way, making his child giggle and pointing out sights to her. I sat there, waiting for the wind to die and for the footsteps to stop so I could meditate in the utter silence. I closed my eyes and was at peace. But soon I heard the huffing and puffing of other hikers. I opened my eyes to see a few kids pushing a cart up the mountain, their dad pulling it in the front. All I could think was, Damn, what badass kids. You couldn’t pay an American kid to work that hard.

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At last, I made it to the rest lodge. I call it a rest lodge because after about an hour and a half of inclination, we were still not at the top. My clothes were soaked with sweat, I was swallowing my snot and hair, and my head was pounding from lack of oxygen. We hadn’t yet reached that pristine white that I had been staring at like a beacon, but part of me hoped this was the end anyway. Apparently my guide had every intention of continuing upward, but the sissies were allowed to go back down and wait on the bus. A few of the older Spanish tourists and some of the Germans took the bait, but I didn’t come this far just to wuss out when I was only another twenty to thirty minute hike from the holy land. I bought some reviving $2 hot chocolate and bread from an Ecuadorean angel, and that was all the comfort I needed (it was also all that was available…Banos? No. Servilletas? No. Agua? No.) Another American and I noted how much money that woman could make if she sold water, napkins and other refreshments there as well, and how that same cup of cocoa would have been $8 in the States. But alas, that is American way, not the Ecuadorean.

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We continued up into the clouds. After my half hour rest, I was shivering again and eager to keep moving. The incline got steeper and I often found myself climbing with my hands as well as my feet. The dusty red dirt was coloring my new gloves and lining the inside of my mouth. I was making my way over some solid rocks when I realized how close I was to the ice. My stomach lurched, and it was too much for me. I plopped onto the ground to catch my breath for the last time before I reached my destination. A German offered to take my picture. Then it was just a hop and a skip over a creek of melting ice and I was waiting in line to have my picture taken in the middle of the glacier. It was bright, despite the shade from the cloud we were in. (The UV rays were strong up there and my face got very sunburnt.) At some points, all I could see was the ice in front of me, the red soil beneath me, and the white of the cloud.

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dirty palms
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Where I fell before the glacier.

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When I had had my fill of pristine views, and when our guide declared it was time to go and started calling park security on people who were far on the ice without proper ice gear, I reluctantly made my way down. Going down the mountain is a whole other challenge. I slipped and stumbled and slid and busted my ass on some rocks before I got the hang of it, thanks to a native who taught me the swagger of descent, pointing both feet forward, leaning back on your heels and sort of slide-bouncing while swinging your arms for balance. On my way down, I passed other hikers with the same exhausted looks on their faces that I probably had on my way up. I nodded at them reassuringly. Vale la pena? Is it worth it? they’d ask. Si, I’d say with a smile. Vale la pena. Es increible. I made it down before the rest of my group, plenty of time to lighten my shoes and socks of the dirt that accompanied me through my journey.

With a cheesey smile on my face, I sank gratefully into the comfortable reclining bus chair to the applause and questions of those whose physical stamina couldn’t handle the second part of the mountain. I was hungry and exhausted, but felt accomplished. I was proud of myself. But it wasn’t over yet. The second part of our adventure tour was soon underway. After a short bus ride that I slept through, we stopped on the side of the road, amid some smaller mountains and plateaus. Those who felt up to the challenge of mountain biking were asked to step off the bus and put on helmets. Our guide sternly reminded us of the waivers we had signed stating that we were physically fit and trained in the exercises of hiking and biking. I’m a competent city biker, so naturally I wanted to join the mountain bike trip down to the lagoon.

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The second I parked my ass on the small, hard bike seat and felt the back wheel skid on the gravel without my permission, I knew I was in trouble. But I don’t give up. The procession began with a tall blonde German boy in a bright orange vest. I was second, but not for long, because I soon ate it and tumbled off my bike. I took the rest of the way down easy, and thankfully it was all down hill. The road was unbearably rigged and bumpy and covered in small and large rocks. I dodged these obstacles, gritting my teeth and screeching most of the way down, not daring to look at the beautiful scenery around me for fear of missing a curve in the dirt or a bump in the road that would send me flying. The image of a girl from my hostel who had cut up her face falling off one of these mountain bikes seared in my head. My hands were killing me from holding onto the handle bars for dear life. 60% pressure on the right for the front wheel and 40% on the left for the back wheel. That’s what my instructor told me to do, and pretty soon I understood why and was flying down, able to glance up every now and again to take it all in and realize that I was alone and could see none of the other bikers ahead of me. For some reason I wasn’t worried. I had control of my bike, and though it was physically challenging, I had my bike and a general idea of where I was headed. After all, I had seen this very road ending with the lagoon when I was climbing the mountain.

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I was the last one to make it but at least I made it. One girl had to stop and get on the bus before she reached the finish line. The lagoon was cool, the day was cloudy, and I looked up at the mountain that I had climbed, happy that I came to Ecuador and ready for more adventures.

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Check out Latin Adventure Tours based out of Quito on TripAdvisor!

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Shrunken Heads: How To

Learn how to make a shrunken head with these step by step directions!

The Shuar Tribe of Ecuador are pros at creating trophies from the skins of their enemies.

 

Do you want to collect trophies of your conquests? Perhaps gain the soul of your victim, which will enable you to control the labor of the women in your lives? Then this crash course from the Shuar tribe is for you!

Shrunken Head Selfie
Shrunken Head Selfie

Step 1: Kill your enemy…but watch the face!

Step 2: Cut off your enemy’s head.

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Step 3:  Remove the skull from the skin. Take care not to tear the skin when you pull it from the skull.

Step 4: Carefully boil the head skin in a mix of secret Shuar herbs and spices for about 1.5-2 hours. This will shrink the skin and hair to about 1/3 of its size.

Step 5: Sew the enemy’s mouth shut to keep the soul (muisak) from escaping. Remember, a shrunken head without a trapped soul is merely a toy.

Step 6: Place hot stones through the neck opening to sear the inside and complete the shrinking process.

Step 7: Cut a hole in the top of the head in order to tie a string through it. Wear around your neck and enjoy the looks of pride and envy!

TIPS: 

-Before you begin the process of shrinking the head, make sure you are safely out of enemy territory so that you can work in peace.

-It would be considerate of you to throw the unneeded skull in the river as a gift to the pani, or anaconda.

– Don’t leave the head in the pot for too long, or else you may simmer off the hair.

– When placing the hot rocks inside the skin bag, make sure to rotate them regularly so as to not burn through the skin. For best results, add hot sand to crevices like nose holes and ear holes to ensure total sealing and shrinking.

-Be patient! Don’t rush through the process. You want the head to maintain as much of a semblance to the living victim as possible.

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by Rebecca Bellan

Three Quito Tourist Spots That Are Not Overrated

El Panecillo, La Basilica del Voto Internacional and El Mitad del Mundo are three tourist destinations in Quito, Ecuador that are worth your time.

 

There comes a time in your travels when you know there are things that you should be seeing, but you are just sick of looking at touristy shit and all you want to do is chill and try to act like a local. I call it being “culturally pooped.” However, I must say that el Panecillo, la Basilica, and la Mitad del Mundo were worth their respective treks.

El Panecillo

view of el panecillo from the basilica
view of el panecillo from the basilica

Much of the center and south of Quito offers a view of what roughly translates into “Bread Loaf Hill,” 200 meters high and, like much of Ecuador, of volcanic origin. I first spotted it walking on a main road called Avenida de la Pichincha, a small stone angel perched atop a round hill. I wondered how long it would take to walk up it in Quito’s high altitude. Legend has it that there used to be an Incan temple at the top worshipping the sun until the Spanish conquistadores tore it down and put up an angel, inspired by the Virgen de Quito statue in the Church and Convent of San Fransisco. Classic conquistadores!

Anyways, a few new friends from the walking tour and I decided to see the Madonna in all her glory. We were instructed NOT to try to walk up the hill. Apparently, the South side of town can get pretty rough. The hill is in the location of the old black market, and now theives follow in the footsteps of their forebearers and rob foreigners stupid enough to attempt the incline by foot.

So I, along with two Australians, two Americans and a Chinese girl, set off in two cabs to the top, paying $2 for the trip. The others had the good sense to ask their cabbie to wait for them while they went sightseeing so they’d have a ride down, something I highly recommend because my group had a hard time finding a ride down. We probably overlooked this bit of common sense because we were in awe of the, to my surprise and delight, giant 135 foot aluminum statue that towered over us. The plaque at the base read that the dancing angel with flowing wings represents the ‘Woman of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations’, described in the Bible as “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” (Revelations, 12:1) She was just that, a testament to the talent and artistry of her Spanish maker, Agustin de la Herran Matorras, who somehow turned seven thousand pieces of aluminum into a fluid dancer.

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statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras
statue of the woman of the apocalypse, by Agustin de la Herran Matorras

While the statue itself was breathtaking, the real show stopper was the panoramic view of Quito and her surrounding mountains. Building spread out before me like so many tiny Lego blocks underneath those gorgeous tumbling mountains. You’ve got to see it for yourself.

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The Basilica del Voto Nacional (of National Vow)

la basilica
la basilica

Perhaps some of you are thinking, like I was when the group declared their interest in actually going inside the cathedral, that once you’ve seen one giant neo-Gothic church, you’ve seen them all. I feel the same about amphitheaters. However, an Australian from the group merely had to point to one of the high towers and say that we could climb it for me to agree willingly to pay the entrance fee of $1 and another $2 to get to the towers.

The inside of the church was unsurprisingly breathtaking. I did what the builders intended for me to; I looked up. The symmetry of the high arches, vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows were most definitely designed to put the awe of a perfect symmetrical God into the hearts and minds of churchgoers.

such beautiful symmetry
such beautiful symmetry

But church is boring, and I felt sort of sacrilege taking my birth control pills while sitting on a pew, so we finally made the steep climb to the towers.

We had to go outside and around on the way to the tower entrance. Looking at the outer decorations of the basilica, I realized that the gargoyles weren’t actually gargoyles, but rather “grotesques” that looked like tropical animals. One of my more informed travel mates told me that they represented Galapagos animals in a testament to Ecuador.

tower of the basilica
tower of the basilica

We climbed both towers, each providing a different challenge and a different fantastic view of the city. The first tower we climbed was a little terrifying, one ladder after another.

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scary tower climbing
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inside the church somewhere

 

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The higher up we got the less we found support nets underneath the steps. Go figure. The second one wasn’t as bad, but only made me dizzy due to the constant upswirl of the spiral staircase. But it was all worth it, as it so often is, when you get to look at that horizon. I’m a sucker for a good view.

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La Mitad del Mundo

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The middle of the world, or as I like to call it “Middle Earth,” is not actually in Quito, but it’s not hard to get a bus for the hour to hour and a half ride into San Antonio. I went with a fraction of my last sightseeing group, and we discussed our travels and made jokes along the way, making the trip seem shorter.

An hour on a bus changes the scenery drastically. Suddenly instead of feeling swallowed by buildings, I felt like I could breathe fully among the green mountains that were rising beside me like gods against a gray sky. We paid the entrance fee to the equator monument and took some pictures, which was cool, but not what we came for. We wanted to do those experiments that everyone was talking about. Apparently, the equator has some sort of mysterious power that makes eggs balance on nails and your weight change. When we asked about it, we were told to leave the park and walk down a rocky highway to the real GPS location of the equator. So the memorial is a fake. After about five minutes of walking, we found a tacky little tourist town with a modest sign reading “Museo Solar Inti-Nan.” The site is filled bamboo huts and suns carved of wood and totem poles, oozing “kitsch” according to my new Ozzie friend. The place was laughable with its gaudy attempts at seeming authentic, but apparently, this was the place to do the experiments. We paid $4 for a tour, which none of us wanted but went through with anyway. Hey, the place had wifi, and for five glorious minutes, we were all plugged in.

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mischievous llama
mischievous llama

A nice tour guide with basic levels of English took us on an informative tour of the site. I actually enjoyed learning about the Shuar tribe that was around before the Incas and is apparently still kicking and worshipping the sun today. We went in and out of authentic huts that four Shuar families would share, learned about which spears are used for hunting and which for fighting, learned how to shrink heads (more on that in my next post), saw some giant spiders and an even more giant snake, and finally made it to the actual equator line, running red on the pavement.

 

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Along the line were a few examples of the equator’s power. First we looked at some sun dials, which was cool despite how ancient they were. I marveled how ingenious ancient humans were and at how far we’ve come. For the first experiment, the tour guide asked half of our group to stand on the northern side of a globe (and actually on the northern hemisphere) that has been tilted to line up with the actual equator. He spun the globe, demonstrating that it spins clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, due to the Coriolis effect. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Wiki says that “The Coriolis effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth and the inertia of the mass experiencing the effect.” So the rotation of the Earth causes moving objects, like water and wind, to be deflected in a clockwise sense in the Northern Hemisphere, giving us hurricanes, and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere, causing typhoons and monsoons. I think. The tour guide demonstrated the effect of the equator on water by first positioning a bucket of water and a few floating leaves over the equator line. He pulled the plug from the bottom of the basin and we watched like kids in a science class as the water drained straight out. He then moved it to the Northern Hemisphere, did the experiment again, and we watched as the water swirled clockwise. I’m sure you could guess what happened when we moved the experiment to the Southern Hemisphere.

Next he demonstrated how if you have one foot on each side of the line, you can balance an egg on a nail that sits on the equator. I couldn’t do it, but everyone else in my group easily became an “Egg Master.”

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After the egg he asked us to try to walk toe to toe in a straight line with our eyes closed on the equator line. None of us could hold our balance, probably because of that darn coriolis effect. When I finally lost my balance, I landed on the Northern Hemisphere side. “You belong to the North,” said my new friend Rachel from China. Funnily enough, she and the other American fell to the North while the Australian fell to the South. Coincidence? Probably.

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For the final experiment, the guide asked for a volunteer, and I promptly raised my hand. He asked me to stand on one side of the line, I don’t remember which, and hold my arms above my head, hands clasped together. He then told me to resist as he used both of his hands to pull my arms down. I was pretty successful. Then I stood on the line and we repeated the exercise, except this time, he used two fingers. I was unable to resist, my arms sinking slowly despite putting all of my strength into keeping them up. Unable to believe it, I asked a strong-looking American to arm wrestle me with his arm over the equator and mine on one side of the line. He should have defeated me instantly, and did once we tried again on one side of the line. But on the equator, I threatened his manhood slightly as we tied, his strength diminished by the equator and mine not strong enough to fully beat him.

Some skeptics like to say that it’s all in your head, but I went into it thinking it was probably bullshit, so how could I be fooled? I’m going to choose to believe it was real so as to not disturb my sense of awe of our planet.

 

by Rebecca Bellan

My Intro to Quito

First day on my South America trip.

Quito, Ecuador had me thoroughly impressed and excited for the start of my journey.

The sun was making a mockery of my SPF 50 as I walked from my hostel, Minka Hostel, to a nearby hostel, Community Hostel, for a free walking tour. I squinted up at the buildings and mountains, alternating between taking photos on my digital camera (whose beautiful pictures you won’t see for some time because for some reason my ipad isn’t supporting my camera connection kit) and awkwardly studying my map, looking like the utter tourist that I am. I was wearing my hiking boots, some leggings and a black cami, wishing I had packed more appropriate city attire.The natives seemed not to notice or care, for which I was grateful.

When I reached Community Hostel’s reception, I instantly wished I had booked there. The hostel has two beautiful kitchens, two welcoming, if slightly unimaginative in decor, common rooms, and a calendar on the wall boasting community activities such as Oktoberfest, a food tour and “Twerking 101.” Most of the people in the walking tour group stayed at Community Hostel, and the guests and staff alike made me feel more than welcome.

First stop on the walking tour was the Mercado Central between Esmeraldas and Manabi. The two floor open market is home to traditional and inexpensive Ecuadorean cuisine, produce and flowers. Small ladies in hairnets waved at us tourists, inviting us to spend our money on their juice or tortillas or whatever they were selling. At our tour guide, Ovi’s, behest, we spent $1 on some of the tastiest fresh juice smoothie I have ever had. My favorites were jugo de mora (blackberry), naranjilla (no real English translation), and coconut. Ovi also described to us a delicious breakfast meal that I went back for that consists of a fried plantain tortilla mixture with scallions, two eggs and a cup of too-sweet coffee all for the unbelievable price of $1. I was falling in love with Quito already. The way to my heart is most definitely through my adventurous stomach.

After the market, which half of us promised to return to for lunch, we walked around the historical sites and churches. What stuck out most to me was the colorful colonial architecture. As I stood in the Plaza de la Independencia, or the Plaza Grande, listening to Ovi talk proudly about the heroes of the First Cry of Indepedence from Spanish monarchy on August 10, 1809, I marveled at the buildings whose very existence must represent Spanish oppression but which blend seamlessly with the culture in Quito regardless. Among the buildings in the square were the municipality building, the Archbishop’s Palace and the Hotel Plaza Grande, the presidential palace and the cathedral of Quito. During the day, the square is filled with old men sitting and enjoying the day, kids in school uniforms acting rowdy, and vendors sellings hats and coca tea leaves (I bought a hat for $2). At night, it is empty but for the strategic lights that illuminate the buildings, turning them from imposing to soft.

Other sites of the tour included the Sucre Theater and the surrounding square of vendors and street performers. We also went to the Church of the Society of Jesus, which stands out on the small side street, the outside decorated in the baroque style with an amazing attention to detail and an inside whose pillars and alters are covered with so much gold that it is said if they melted it down it would solve the country’s debt problem. We stopped at a “candy” shop, smelling of sugar coated and roasted nuts, fried plantains and other sweets. I bought plantains and a warm corn nut, pork rind, scallion mix. The final stop was a small shop where a man tediously hammers out beautifully sculpted metal items in the beautiful historic neighborhood of La Ronda.

La Ronda is said to be one of the oldest streets/barrios in Quito. Identical to many streets in Spain, La Ronda is long and narrow, flanked on both sides by colonial buildings, each brightly colored with flowers on almost every balcony. The area is home to bohemian and artsy culture, as it has been for centuries. Ovi said that poets and musicians used the balconies for serenades and people would come to watch, turning it into an even more happening spot. It was rather empty when we were there as a group, but Ovi promised us that it transforms on weekends, and I could see the potential. He then left us to our own devices, after thanking us graciously for tipping him. I left with a group of about seven others to head back to the market and eat a traditional meal called Corvina.

Whether you are in the mood for more jugo or want Ecuadorean tortillas (potatoes mashed and flattened slightly as they cook on the griddle) or feel like trying corvina, the market offers more than one stand of each type of cuisine to choose from. The natives spotted us instantly from behind their respective stoves, excitedly inviting us to dine with them. I went to a corvina stand that Ovi had said is famous, ordered and paid $4.50 for my meal in a confused state, not even sure what I’d be eating but excited by the prospect of something new, and was instructed to sit down and someone would bring me a tray. The second I sat down, I was almost accosted by women trying to sell me juice. I had gathered by that time that it is more common to drink juice with meals than water because the tap water is not safe in Ecuador (thank god I bought that filtration system). I sipped on jugo de coco as I watched someone (I didn’t have time to look up and see who) put a full tray in front of me, far too much for one person. Nevertheless I tucked in to what I realized was fried white fish, potatoes, yellow rice, salad and a side of soupy shrimp and mussel ceviche. It was my first real meal in Ecuador. Nothing could have made me happier in that moment.

**Check out the tripadvisor for the free walking tour

 

by Rebecca Bellan