Thursday, June 14, 2007

Adventures In The Amazon

On May 28th, Youssef and I left for Ecuador. Jocelyn did not go with us. She does not like bugs or the outdoors much so I figured she would not like Ecuador much. She spent this time happily being spoiled by grandma.

We went to Ecuador looking for adventure and we were not disappointed. When we arrive in the capital Quito it was late afternoon. I was struck by the number of adults and children selling there wares on the side of the road. Packs of gum, lottery tickets & oranges. This is the only way some people are able to make a living. After we checked into our hotel we went looking for somewhere to eat. We went to the "old" part of the city where many locals go to shop. We had a really good meal in a small cafe and returned to our hotel early knowing that tomorrow we had a long journey to our hacienda in the mountains.

The next day we took a taxi to the Hacienda Primavera, about 4 hours north of Quito in the Andes Mountains. The taxi drivers company had agreed on a fee of $60 for the trip, but the driver became very frustrated when realized how far it really was. As we got closer to our destination the driver stopped to ask for directions. Every time he asked some villager on the side of the road how far it was, he/she would say it was about 30 minutes. We would drive about 15/20 minutes more and again he would ask how far was and again he was told 30 minutes. This happen several more times. When we finally saw a sign the driver pulled over & said he wanted $100 to take us to the resort. He didn't say so, but I think if we didn't comply he would have left us on the side of the road so we reluctantly paid.

When we arrived at the hacienda I was struck by the beauty of the land and the resort itself. We were the only guests staying at the resort at the time so we were treated like royalty. They catered to our every need. We received 3 course meals for every meal. It was more food than we could possibly eat. We spent 4 days riding horses in some of the most beautiful unspoiled land I have ever seen. The small houses we saw along our journeys were filled with gracious people who would take the time to smile and say hello as we passed by. These are humble people who live in a rural & very remote area. Most of the people had no electricity or running water. They had to bathe and clean their clothes in the river that runs past their houses. I was amazed how they could be so happy with so little. I hope that Youssef would appreciate how lucky he was, I know I did.

Youssef got a chance to herd cattle on the side of the mountain like a real cowboy. He also got a chance to milk a cow. The cowboys laughed at us when our milk came out in a tiny little stream. At the rate we were going, it would take us all day to fill the large bucket that they gave us. Youssef spent his free time picking all sorts of tropical fruit and vegtables from the garden around the hacienda. The chef would take the fruit and juice it for us. I had never had juice made from fruit right off the tree. It was great!

On the way back to the city we stopped at a town called Otavello. There we visited an Indian market that was like a flea market where indigenous people sell blankets, sweaters, art & crafts, etc.. We brought a bunch of souvenirs. Youssef enjoyed haggling with the vendors to negotiate a better price for all of our purchases. We also went to the middle of the earth where we stood on the equator. When we arrived at our hotel we contacted our tour company for our rainforest tour and found out there was a mix-up and our tour would not arrive back until that Friday, which was after our flight home was supposed to depart. We had to change our plans and go on a shorter tour of the rainforest in a different location. This meant we had to get up early and endure another 3 hour drive (sigh!).

When we arrived at our tour I was told that I could only take 1 small bag on the tour. At this point we had 2 suitcases plus a duffel bag that we needed to store all of our souvenirs. Quickly, I tried to decide what to take. Meanwhile, Youssef left on the bike portion of our tour with our guide and other members of our tour. After I got it together, I met up with him by taking the tour van to the area where we would go white water rafting. As we squeezed (and I mean squeezed) into our wetsuits, we were prepped how to paddle and what to do if you fall in. All eight of us ( including 2 guides) got into our boat and took off. The waves were large & cold and our driver (guide) was crazy ( in a good way). About half way, we hit a very large wave that capsized our boat. All of us went into the cold river. The lady to my right landed on top of me when I hit the water & her weight pushed me under. When I came up I was going down river head first on my stomach. This is not the correct position mentioned in our safety briefing :0) . I panic (even though I am a good swimmer) and start to hyperventilate. I am rescued and put in the other boat. All the other people in my boat including Youssef ride the rapids on the upside down boat. Later they flip the boat over & I return to the boat to finish the ride. It was fun (except for the near drowning). Youssef thought the flipping part was fun. Yeah, real fun!
When we arrive at our camp in the rainforest, we are informed that this is not our camp but it is the "base" camp. Our camp is the up the mountain and we have to carry our bags. It was a long walk straight up and I thought I was going to die. My heart was beating 90 mph and I could not breathe. Later, I would count the steps to our camp (274) . OK, now I know why I was dying & I realized how much I need to work out when I go home. Boy, did I feel like a wimp! Later, we ate a meal prepared by our guide and he told us some stories. He (Juan Jose) was very funny and kept us entertained. Before I went to bed I had to use the restroom which was in a little building. I went with my flashlight into the bathroom & turned around to find the light switch. I saw tons of ants on the wall and realized that they had crawled up my pants and made it all the way to my shirt. I had to run into our room and take everything off. There were ants everywhere. I was wondering what was going on since I already had a spider in my pants at the hacienda. Boy, I was not having good luck. The next day we rode down the river in a dug out canoe. I was thankful that it did not tip over. Later, Youssef went on a 4 hour hike to a waterfall. I knew I was not in good enough shape to make the journey so I stayed behind at camp. The last day, Youssef hiked to a different waterfall while I napped in the hammock. It rained. It rains everyday in Ecuador, sometimes more than once.

When we returned to Banos, we found a nice little hotel owned by some Americans. The next day we got up early to eat breakfast. We wanted to catch the early bus back to Quito. When we got in the taxi the driver said the road was closed. When we returned to the hotel, we found out that there was a large mudslide and the road (the only one in or out) would be closed for several hours. The owner told us that they had had a major volcano eruption in August 2006 and that since then they have had problems with mudslides. Later, we were told that the road was open but after we got about 10 mins down the road the closed it again and we were stuck on the bus. The driver played a Shrek 2 DVD that Youssef had. He played it in English but all of the people on the bus watched it even though most of them didn't have a clue what was being said. I met two nice Canadian ladies at the hotel and they were on the same bus as we were which helped to pass the time. Our trip back to Quito took about 6 1/2 hours instead of 3. It was a long ride! The next day it was back to the US. It took us 16 hours to get home including the drive from Miami. I wouldn't have minded staying in Ecuador longer but I was glad to be home.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Let The Journey Begin

I want to begin this blog by saying aside from my children traveling is my passion. What this means is a good portion of my blog will either about my children or about trips I have taken or will take in the future. I have traveled around the world and I enjoy seeing new places. I enjoy learning about different cultures, tasting new foods & traveling on the road less traveled.
Some of the places I have been are:

Morroco, Belgium, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Bahamas,
Grand Cayman, Holland, St. Johns, Saudi Arabia,
Costa Rica, St. Thomas, Canada, Dominican Republic & France

I have also traveled to many places in the US but I still have a long list of places I would like to go. I usually travel with my son who is just getting ready to turn 12. He is a great travel partner and enjoys adventure as much as I do. When he was very small and I was still married, we traveled as a family. After I divorced when he was 5 it was just him and I. We traveled alone, just the two of us. We love to spend that time together, no work, phone calls and no busy life to interrupt us. I look forward to this time all year long. In a few weeks we will be off to Ecuador to explore the Amazon Rain Forest and ride horses through the Andes Mountains. I can't wait!

Two years ago we visited what became our favorite destination so far, Costa Rica. We arrived in the capital city San Jose and rented a 4-wheel drive truck and set off to explore. The first day we were there it rained terribly. The roads were winding with no guard rails to stop you. If you were not careful you could accidentally drive off the side of a very steep cliff and plunge to your death landing on some little farm below. It took us several hours to reach our hotel and it was pitch black, as we were in the middle of nowhere. That night we could here a eerie high pitched sound of in the distance. I new that there was a volcano nearby but I could not see anything. The next morning I awoke to the sounds of what sound like dozens of birds chirping. I sounded like I was sleeping in the middle of a pet store. I went outside on my porch and I was amazed at the view. I could see the volcano, which couldn't have been more that a mile away. The sound I heard the night before was the volcano erupting. We spent two days in the area exploring. We spent one day enjoy the natural hot springs. The water was hot, like hot tub hot. You could sit under waterfalls of hot water and even slide down a slide into a hot pool it was beautiful. The next day we left for the rain forest. We spent 3 hours driving on dirt roads to get there. On the way there I was looking at my map and driving at the same time ( I know you are not supposed to do this but we were in the middle on nowhere and there were no other cars) and I drove off the side of the road and got stuck in a small (but deep) ditch and the side of the car became wedged against a dirt cliff. I tried to get out but I was stuck. The only people around were some farmers out in their field picking something. We walked down to this small town which consisted of a two small stores and a couple of houses. There we used our great hand gestures (since I didn't speak Spanish) to try to tell the shopkeeper that were were stuck. After a few minutes, he got what we were saying and he & his friend got their ATV and a rope & pulled our truck out.
They were very nice but I know they were thinking "those dumb Americans". We finally made it to the rain forest. I was in a small but pretty town. We spent the day hiking through the forest and boy did I get winded due to the altitude. We came back and took a night tour of the forest because that when all the creepies crawlies come out. We saw lots of funky (gigantic) bugs and bats flew around our heads. It was cool. Then were were off to the beach. This time there were roads. It took us about two hours to drive to our hotel by the beach. There we stayed at a beautiful hotel that was known as the "monkey hotel" for a good reason. In the morning, not only did we have a beautiful view of the ocean but we could look out from our balcony and see all kinds of monkeys (howler, Capuchin, and spider) jumping and playing. They had an open restaurant where you could watch the monkeys while you ate the best banana bread you have ever tasted. When we when to the ocean there were large waves and there were big iguanas sunning themselves on the beach. We found an area where you could swim and Youssef enjoyed the surf.The next day we went canopying. This is when you put yourself in a harness and hang from a cable as you go (what feels like) 60 mph. over the tops of the trees. Whose bright idea was this? It was fun but you go very fast and I was worried about falling or the cable breaking and that I would plunge to my death! Youssef had a blast!! I hit my head when I was coming to one of the platforms and it really scared me. Luckily I had on a hard hat. I rode with the guide on a few of the lies where you could not see the end (what a chicken!). Finally, I decided it was time to get off. I was able to climb down on the 8th platform (about half way). If I didn't leave then I would have to go on about 8 more zip lines. I opted to get off but let Youssef stay on. I wasn't afraid for him as I felt it was very safe. I was just scared as I am not a heights person. He stayed on an finished the whole thing. He is so brave! The next day we went white water rafting. We had never been before & I thought they would start us off easy but when we got to the location where we were going to drop the boat there were large rapids. After a short instructional session by our guides (paddle left, paddle right, back peddle, don't fall out of the boat (ha!) ) we were off. We climbed in and took off and within about 3 minutes we hit a rock and all the passengers on one side of the boat fell out except Youssef. I think he was holding on for dear life. We were able to rescue our passengers quickly but later on down river we saw a boat that had lost all of its passengers including the guides. They were all stranded on the side looking very wet and pitiful. We saw a "Jesus" lizard. They call them that because they can walk on water. How cool is that. I was sad that the trip had to come to an end. There was so much more we wanted to see. We long to go back some day.