February 2006

Me and my hammockAfter ten hours on a bus from Quito, I arrived at the coast of Ecuador – an entirely different world to the capital. No more shopping malls, high-rise apartments, and spring-like weather. Most people’s homes are single-room wooden huts set upon wooden stilts, farm animals are everywhere (even on the buses), and public transport (which almost everyone uses) means being piled into a rusty old bus or the back of a pickup truck. “Now,” I thought, “I feel like I’m in South America!” The heat and humidity there is so intense that it’s necessary to jump into the sea 4 or 5 times a day just to cool off. It’s strange to think this, but the Ecuadorians don’t go to the coast from January to April because it’s too hot!

I stayed in a tent on the beach for a week. I had a hammock next to my tent supported by palm trees (so free coconut juice…after some effort), a tap in the ground to wash myself and clothes, and there was a bar/restaurant on the beach nearby. I spent most of the time walking along the beaches and visiting nearby villages, went to the national park and twice to a fish market right on the beach. Photos are here.

It was sad to leave on the last day. While waiting for the bus, I sat on the street watching the world go by, and realised how beautiful Ecuador is. The streets may be dirty with litter and stray dogs, the pollution is bad and flies are everywhere, yet the people of Ecuador make the place beautiful. People go about their lives with such dignity, grace, and – especially – a smile; something I rarely see in the western world.

I’m leaving Quito tomorrow, and heading for the coast. I’ve been here for over a month now, and have grown to like the city. When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand a word of Spanish (the customs officer in the airport asked me, “¿Vive en Inglaterra?” and I had no idea what she said), but now after 3 weeks of lessons, I can get by, and just about have a conversation with people if they speak slowly enough.

Ecuadorian llama In the past month I’ve been to Otovalo, a famous Indian market; sat in hot volcanic springs in Papallacta; worked on a fungus farm; climbed Cotopaxi – the highest active volcano in the world (in a bus, and we didn’t go very far up); saw a ballet at the national theatre in Quito, followed by a horse & carriage tour of the old city; had my bag knifed on a bus (nothing was stolen, but one t-shirt needed emergency surgery); went in a boat around a lake in the crater of the Cotocacti volcano; cycled 20km through the Andes from Baños to a waterfall near Puyo; got tear gas in my eyes and lungs; and stood with both feet in two hemispheres at el mitad del mundo. Now though, it’s time for some tropical weather. Time for the malaria pills, insect repellent, and plenty of sunscreen.

I wrote a page about my week in Texas in December. It’s longer than most entries, so I put it in its own page. You can read A Texas Fairytale here.