A Stone's Throw

practice your aim. you never know when you'll spy 2 birds at once.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My First Sand Creation Since I Was A Kid

Monday, July 21, 2008

Whale Watching

Ok, so in visiting the beach town of Montanita, I had the opportunity to check another item from my list of things I've always wanted to do - whale watching. Apparently, Humpback whales migrate along the Ecuadorian coastline on one of the longest migration routes in the world. Anyway, when I saw the opportunity, I jumped at the chance. I traveled to Puerto Lopez, took a boat from there and an hour later, amid the huge ocean swells, we found the whales.

They are so incredibly huge that its immediately humbling. You realize quite quickly how fragile your little shell of a boat really is.

And then they started jumping, or, rather, breaching. Its awing and unnerving at the same time. Again and again they would jump, coming out of nowhere to launch into the sky and then crash into the sea. Absolutely amazing.

At the end, the whales began to play around more - waving their tails at us, rolling on their backs, rearing up to peer at us with these gentle ancient eyes. It was sad to leave them, but I will certainly take up any opportunity to see more whales in the future.
Truly one of the highlights of my time in Latin America.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ecuadorian Highlands

Traveling from among the Ecuadorian highlands was remarkably similar to traveling through the highlands of Scotland. The mountains were wreathed in clouds, farms stretched out in the flat tracts of land in between, pine trees dotted the hills, and pleasent country homes marked the landscape.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ecuadorian Dancing

I caught a celebration that showed all sorts of traditional Ecuadorian dances. This is just a quick clip of one of them. Hope the resolution is alright.



Thursday, July 17, 2008

Cuenca, Ecuador

Crossing from Peru to Ecuador, I noticed an immediate difference in the countries. Where Peru was arid, dirty, and chock-full of buildings in the midst of either decay or waiting to put another level on otherwise big pile of cinderblocks, Ecuador was remarkably different.

My first stop, past Machala, the banana capitol of the world, was Cuenca, a gorgeous colonial city in the highlands of Southern Ecuador. Cuenca was declared a world heritage city several years ago and when wandering its streets, you understand why. Its beautiful architecture dazzles you at every turn. In the city center, on Centenarian Parque, is a cathedral that rivals Notre Dame in both size and beauty. Its so big that taking a photo is nearly impossible. Surrounding it are other beautiful domed structures, some serving as city halls, some as museums, and others are office buildings.

The city is also quite modern, with high-end restaurants, delicious ice cream cafes, and whose citizens are well-dressed, hip, and incredibly friendly. I never felt like I was being sought after as a tourist commodity - the sort who hawk at you to buy their trinkets or dine in their restaurants. It was a total chill environment.

Among the countless churches, flower markets, and classic colonial architecture is one of the most beautiful walks I've encountered in Latin America. Running along the river through the center of the city is a carefully maintained promenade with sculpted lawns, quaint stone bridges, and lined with clusters of renovated venerable buildings.

The mercados (markets) of Cuenca are some of the cleanest and most modern I´ve seen in Latin America. Walking among the mountains of paltas, papas, pipinos, and pinas is a delight.

Ringing the mercado are the food kiosks where women prepare the daily menu meals (starter, entree, and beverage for a ridiculously low price). It can be a little dodgy to eat here, as the locals are used to the local water and oils and such, whereas a traveler may feel ill from the unfamiliar tastes, but there's no better place to learn what foods a country's people eats.

Among the kiosks, I found batches of home made chocolate, sitting in massive sheets and chunks, just waiting to be eaten. And, like all good mercados, if you want a sample - just ask. The women are incredibly proud of their product.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

God Smiles On Little Old Ladies

Having met up with my friends from New Zealand and England in Mancora for a sound bit of well-deserved rest from our travels, we decided to travel together to Ecuador. We knew it would be an adventure, but...

We started with a collectivo ride (a tiny make-shift van bearing 18 people, when there's really only room for 8) that took us to the border town of Tumbes, a forgettable cluster of roads and buildings. There we negotiated for a taxi to take us to the immigration office, but when 3 large, gold-toothed men climbed into the car with us, my warning lights went on. What we soon discovered were a series of strikes, riots, and border closings, which would have effectively kept us in Peru.

The taxi looped around through the chaos which worsened after we got our exit stamps. For those that haven't gone through this - you must get a stamp in your passport from the country you are leaving and then get an entrance stamp from the country you're entering. Usually this means getting a stamp, walking across a bridge or down a segment of road, and getting the next stamp. From Peru to Ecuador, once you got your exit stamp, you had to make your way about 15 kilometers to the entrance station in Ecuador. The problem, as I'm sure you're envisioning, is that once you are stamped out of a country, you are, effectively, no longer in the jurisdiction of that country. So, countryless, we set off across the town of Aguas Verdes, a lawless, noman's land where murderers and thieves sit on the stoops like vultures, in a taxi with shady men.

We had to access the situation rather quickly and determined that we stood a better chance in the car than making it out of there with our backpacks and our health. As we went, the taxi man (and his friends) decided to raise the price of the fare. From 5 dollars, to 10 to fifty, until suddenly, a car ahead of us, rolled out of the way and let us into the shadiest, abandoned dirt backlot in all of Latin America - glass-strewn ground, wind whistling through the yard, and somehow in a non-city of tens of thousands of people, there wasn´t a witness to be found.

Visions of the old west came to me. An unscrupulous man wandered into the lot. And then another. Another. Soon there were 6 men. One car. Two men backpackers and two women. Our bags in the trunk which they refused to open.

Things had gone from bad to worse to 'this only happens in movies'. But we were cool and knew we had to play it smart. Ester had the best grasp of Spanish, and did her best to negotiate a better price playing good cop, whilst I played the bad. I, however, wasn´t acting. I was ready to throw down. But somehow in between trying to convince her for more money and trying to placate me, our technique worked and then agreed to a smaller sum, with the understanding we would pay them more when they led us to a bus station.

With that, we took our bags and marched across the border to the next border town of Huaquillas where I immediately noticed a difference. Unlike the lawless Peruvian side, the Ecuadorian side of the border was peaceful and non-threatening. The men flanked us to a bus station where they tried to buy onward tickets for us. At this, I had taken enough and while using my intermediate Spanish to tell the men to back off, bought the tickets for the 4 of us. A heated exchange took place. (insert your own image here) But the locals were on our side. Other people in the station began berating the men for extorting money out of us while one little old lady took us outside and pointed the way to the Ecuadorian immigration.

We took the taxi as the men stomped off angrily. Immigration into Ecuador went smoothly and our bus left on time.

Ester summed up the experience quite accurately: 'If it had been a James Bond film, someone would've been shooting at us.'

Very surreal, but incredibly real at the same time. This is an example of how difficult it can be out here on the road. But also its a testament to character and to the overall good nature of people, like the little old ladies in the bus station.

So, I´m in Ecuador, safe and happy in what I must say is a really wonderful country, with friendly people, beautiful scenery, clean streets, proper roads, and some of the best beachfront I´ve ever seen.

- C

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Trujillo, Huanchanco, Chan Chan, and Mancora

Sorry to lump a bunch of places together, but I didn't feel like blogging for each one despite each one having its own uniqueness. I´ve gotten too far behind and have new places to photograph, blog about, pics to upload, in addition to all the new traveling and writing I'm doing.

After I left Lima, I headed for Trujillo, a coastal town most famous for its smaller neighbor Huanchaco, where fishermen still use the same style of reed fishing boats to ply their trade that they've used for 2500 years. The boats, themselves, are easier to show than describe, so I will opt for some pics.

Trujillo's famous hairless dog. People suffering from arthritus often own these animals because they have a higher body temperature and therefore when sleeping next to their human owners, elleviate some of the pain.

I then treked from Huanchaco to ChanChan, an ancient city, 2500 years old, by some accounts. By all accounts, it was the biggest mud-brick city in the entire world with over 20,000 temples, homes, pryamids, and miles upon miles of walls. What remains is a crumbling city of dirt, but is still mightily impressive.

Once through exploring Chan Chan, I headed north to Mancora. Mancora - the place where beach bums come to die. Surfers, sunworshipers, vacationing Limeans, and backpackers who've had enough mountains, jungles, deserts, and sightseeing and are in dire need of a break. Mancora fits the bill.

I spent a week there, slowly working on my tan as I sampled new seafood caught fresh daily. Make way for tiradito, ceviche, and an array of mariscos, pescado, and conch dishes. Delightful.

The Mototaxis along the towns only road teemed like schools of noisy fish:

Mancora sunrise (No, I didn´t get up especially early to take this photo. My bus from the south arrived in Mancora at 5 in the morning, so I stayed up to watch the sunrise before finding a place to stay):

Mancora sunset:

The view of the ocean from my apartment:

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Peru, A Return

One of the reasons I came to Peru again was at the suggestion of my good friend, Dale. As I was gearing up to edit Atocongo Bridge he suggested I might edit it where the story takes place - Lima. Since I wanted to explore other parts of South America anyway, this seemed a wise idea. It turns out it was very wise indeed.

Often the success of a novel lies in the details. In revisiting Lima I was better able to answer nagging questions like which store was on such-and-such corner?, or, what colors were on this building?, or, what was the name of the little park on that intersection? I was further lucky to have met Claudio through a travel forum, who helped answer the tiniest of details of his home city.

Also, the need to visit Lima once more gave me the opportunity to re-experience my favorite restaurants and cafes, like Punta Azul and Chef's Cafe - to feast on arroz con mariscos, tequenos, and chifa, while trying new dishes like caucas, a delicious Peruvian dish that I have now added to my culinary arsenal.

Lastly, coming to Lima gave me the chance to visit the focal point of my novel, the actual Atocongo Bridge and the dodgy neighborhoods where the story takes place. Wandering the streets gave me another chance to better understand what the area is about and take even more notes to better my work. Now I just have to incorporate it all into the manuscript, which, I am happy to say, is through its first edit. It's bound to need further edits, but getting the first edit done is a welcome step.

Finally, some pictures of Atocongo Bridge:

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ancient Andean/Quechan music performed

In a restaurant one night a group of musicians performed several sets of ancient Andean songs. They were incredibly catchy - much livelier than the usual Andean fare, usually consisting of flutes and churangos.