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September 2015: The Galapagos & Getting to Peru

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Just a month after turning 20, I lavished in two Ecuadorian wine tastings, flew off to the Galapagos, and moved to rural Peru.

Days Danced: 4

 Days Sick: ~6

Finally Celebrating My Birthday in Angelic Ecuador

I finally had my birthday cake, and it was probably the most Ecuadorian thing I have ever experienced. It tasted like cakey bread, and had an inch-thick layer of pink-flavoured hydrogenated cream in the middle, while still managing to be covered in another half inch of the same cream and some chocolate-looking stuff.

It was fabulous, even a month late, because I shared it with friends. Then it was eaten by my boss (or his kids). Yet another reason my internship seems so very unprofessional, sometimes. A few days later, I got off the farm and went to a wine tasting with a new friend. It was pretty darn fun. I talked to him for a few hours straight, and by the end I had a few people telling me I spoke very good Spanish. Take that, Person Who Stole My Spanish Dictionary Last Month!

Chocolate Pairing Wine 2015

Ecuadorean wine tasting in September 2015.

The next night I went out dancing for a bit with Sophia, the new volunteer, and we spent most of the night in a new bar, me teaching her bachata & salsa and her trying Ecuadorian beer for the first time. On Sunday we took a taxi to the Panecillo, the angel statue on top of a hill in southern Quito, and holy wow my pants off; it was an absolutely beautiful day and an even more stupendous view. This must be where all of the parents take their kids after church. All of the green space was crawling with toddlers, and a few tourists, but it was still the best place to be in Quito, at that moment.

We eventually had to leave, however, and our taxi driver on the way down asked me where I was from and I lied, saying “Canada,” to which his response was “is that close to Germany?”Maybe I would have still been safe if I had said Estados Unidos.  When I told him it wasn’t close to Germany, he said that one of his sons has married a German woman. We didn’t talk anymore after that.

That night I had to pack before heading off to Las Islas Encantadas, but beforehand I met up with a friend I met salsa dancing the other day, and we had a very pleasant dinner paired with learning idioms in our native languages. He knows a lot of English; he just never uses it, a strange trait for this country. Most people who know anything in English just shout it at every turn, hoping that something will stick, though I learned that it’s a bit different in The Galapagos.

View from El Panecillo in Quito Ecuador

View from El Panecillo

Journey to The Galapagos

My adventure west started with a phone call from the taxi driver at 4:16am, a mere three hours after I laid my head to pillow. Continuing ahead was 2.5 hours of flying and about 5 hours waiting in airports, along with 1.5 hours in cars. Not bad to get myself to the tropics.My first impression of San Cristobal was: it’s very cloudy here, and why do I feel like I’m about to be chastised at every turn? The weather can really rain on your mood, eh. But then the next day happened and everything was just sunny. I spent the day at the beach, and had fun with some of the exchange students at the U of San Francisco, staring at sea lions and watching other people snorkel.

Playa Mann

Playa Mann

That night I found a lovely cheap dinner, and went to the same good restaurant for the rest of my stay. Scouring the island for an ATM which would accept my bank card took up the next afternoon, and then I gave up and booked a trip to León Dormido for the next day, anyway. I spent the afternoon afterwards at the lobería (on the walk over I ran into a couple making out; whoops! To be fair it was abandoned before I got there!). There. I chilled with some sea lions and tried to snorkel. It didn’t go so well on account of my fear of the ocean, and the creatures iin it.

Afterwards I met some cool dudes as we went back into town on the back of a truck. Nobody could figure out how to call an alternative taxi, so everyone just went with the vibes. The next night we all went out to a bar, though right afterwards I went back home to discover a sunburned back. So the night consisted of a limping jaunt to the beach with my friend Zac. Zac was rushed by Hank the Tank, the bull sea lion, after Zac decided to exist too close to Hank while stargazing. We left shortly after, in a hurry.
Snuffaluffagus the Sea Lion

Snuffaluffagus the Sea Lion

Can I Pee in a Wetsuit?

Thursday was dedicated to visiting Kicker Rock, on a $123.20 adventure which also included snorkeling. In all it took about 7 hours and it included lunch and an hour or so at a secluded beach, only reachable by boat. Also, so many sharks and several sea turtles, most of which I spent contemplating through a haze of wondering “can I pee in a wetsuit?” (answer: why not?)

Unfortunately, I got another sunburn; luckily, it was on the other side of my body. That night I went to go visit some of the friends I met the day before at their job. When I arrived there was a workout happening, which I very politely joined in on during the abs section. Afterwards we laughed and talked and ended up at one of the two bars in town, where I spoke to a Frenchwoman for an hour, trying to improve my French. She said my accent was good, but I think that’s just because we were speaking veeery slowly.

Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock

Leon Dormido/Kicker Rock

In the morning, I was still sunburnt, but my bank card worked! I celebrated with breakfast at my favorite restaurant, which is good because it was closed for dinner that night. I eventually decided I wouldn’t find anyone to split the $60 cost with me, to go on a tour of the terrestrial tourist sites of San Cristóbal. So I gave in and asked my hostel to call a driver to take me just to the Galapaguero. It’s supposed to be the prettiest site, so what the hell.

The hostel owner did this, negotiating the price down to $30 and convincing him to also include the Junco. Well, I wasn’t told this. So when we got there I was a bit apprehensive for fear of getting ripped off, but I went along because hey, it’s possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. We hiked around a bit and my legs got cut on some thorns when I wandered off the beaten path, but c’est la vie.

This is the tree which caused me to wander into thorns. Majestic, eh?

This is the tree which caused me to wander into thorns. Majestic, eh?

Exploring the REST of San Cristobal

This (& my charming personality, of course) convinced him to take me to Puerto Chino, the third and final spot I’d have gone to had I paid full price, to rub salt water into my wounds. It was stupendously beautiful and we saw sea lions and sharks and sea turtles (oh my!). Finally was the Galapaguero (this is where some of that entrance fee you pay goes to), where the famous tortoises are cared for, and then are released on the north of the island, on Punta Pitt.

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It was cool, but I was pretty worn out by the end. There were only a few turtles there at the time, as well. So our 4-hour journey ended with my lovely guide and driver, Max (yes, he’s also called Max), picking a yellow guayaba off of a tree on the side of the road for me. Eating a guayaba on the island before you leave supposedly means you’re destined to return… Let’s hope for some magic here, people!

I nicknamed him "abuelito."

I nicknamed him “abuelito.”

By night, I danced with a marine from Guayaquil named Andrew, whose cologne smelled good, but whenever he breathed it smelled like cherry medicine. Not the most pleasant smell I could have experienced. That’s my full review of the only dance club in town. Saturday it was time to leave the island; I woke up at 8am and walked to Playa Mann, then on to Tijeretas to attempt some solo snorkeling at low tide.

Luckily, however, I did not have to go alone because I met Gino, a very nice Ecuadorian who let me snorkel with him for the hour or so I had. We saw so much, and he taught me how to dive underwater with the snorkel! Afterwards we talked for a few minutes, but I really had to walk back and shower so that I got to the airport with enough time to catch my flight.

Gino, looking out over Las Tijeretas.

Gino, looking out over Las Tijeretas.

Goodbye, Galapagos and Goodbye, Ecuador

An hour before take-off was scheduled, I arrived home and quickly packed and showered, said my goodbyes, and caught a 3-minute taxi ride to the airport, arriving at my terminal right at noon. We were called up to start boarding shortly after, taking off a full 10 minutes early, so it’s a good thing everything is so close together on San Cristóbal.

Arriving home around 7pm, I headed to the cafe for dinner and then went to La Ronda for dessert, apparently getting myself sick in the process, since I was up part of the night with a cough… Which persisted into the next day, which was spent writing in the apartment aside from two adventures out into the rain to get food.

Dinner was a salad that I think was actually meant for people who don’t like salad; piled high as it was with cheese, chicken and croutons. So needless to say, it was perfect for me. After that I was feverish for two days and basically just laid in bed, but did manage to make it back to my favorite cafe on Wednesday afternoon. The next day I still had a wicked cough, but went to a wine tasting with a friend that evening, following it up with a night of salsa dancing with the aforementioned salsa friend.

Salsoteca Lavoe in northern Quito is one of those wonderful places which prohibit beer on the floor.

Salsoteca Lavoe in northern Quito.

Though I still had the cough and sore throat in the morning, I am proud to say that I regret nothing, as that night was fabulous. The weekend was spent working and writing, but for a long jaunt during the day on Sunday.I went to the mall for lunch with the salsa friend, and then we just walked around, talking and teaching each other idioms from our native languages, a practice we continued over a couple of cups of coffee. After he dropped me off at the apartment I went for dinner with the other volunteers, and we saw a super lunar eclipse.

It's hard to tell from my iPhone picture, but it was beautiful.

It’s hard to tell from my iPhone picture, but it was beautiful.

Leaving for Lima

It came the time for one last visit to my favorite cafe in Quito, and then my last shift at work. Leaving for the airport the next day at 3pm, I ended up waiting at the airport for three hours because security was a breeze and my flight was delayed an hour. Then, arriving in Lima I went through customs, waited in the airport for my nine hour layover, flew to Arequipa, made it through another layover, and finally arrived in Cusco around 11am.

Having had my Peruvian phone card put in my phone in Lima, along with some money taken out and put into my pay-as-you-go account, I had access to a working phone and some very expensive 3G. I used that to check how exactly I was to get to Ollantaytambo, bypassing the taxis right outside of the airport, and instead getting one on the street. A girl found me one that would take me to the big plaza for 10 soles, a decentralized price (right in front of the airport they were throwing out prices like 35 or 30 soles, a clear rip-off).

It took about six different people and one stop in a delicious bakery before I was guided to the correct place from which to catch the 10-soles minibus to Ollantaytambo. Though I admit that I fell asleep a couple of times during the ride, it seemed beautiful, and only took about two hours. In all, I got to town about 24 hours after I left Quito. Beyond that, it took another hour of walking around in the rain with my broken 50-pound suitcase before I was found by my hosts. That would have been completely impossible if I hadn’t had a functioning phone, so score one for friends helping out friends.

Kallari Cafe Hot Chocolate for the last time. :(

Kallari Cafe Hot Chocolate for the last time. 🙁

Arriving in Ollantaytambo

They took me to a creaky room on the second floor of a hostel just a few blocks from the store. I dropped off my stuff and hightailed it outta there. It was time to see where I’d be working over the next two months. The women introduced themselves to me, and then I got to know the chocolate museum a bit. After closing, I grabbed dinner at the first touristy place with wifi, and started to settle into one place before I was moved to another, with slightly shorter ceilings and 50% of the creaks.

I fell into well-deserved slumber for about 12 hours, and when I woke up I went to work for training, breakfast, and then more training… Cut short by a lack of customers. Thus appeared my opening to go finish reading my book on the side of a mountain, just outside of downtown and across from the school & several mountains. Hence continued my routine for the next week or so. One day I met a man from the Cusco store. He tells me to come to Cusco on Friday, to watch how the workshop is done. So I spent most of that shift running around, attending to customers and learning to give the tour in Spanish, while wondering how much chocolate I’d get to eat on Friday.

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On my first day off, Itortured myself running around trying to find good wifi for a very important interview I had. Somehow my Skype app was deleted off of my phone when I updated it the date before. Turns out, it was all for nothing, which is disappointing considering how much time I dedicated to the endeavor. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The view from "my spot."

The view from “my spot.”

Settling in to Setbacks

After the interview disappointment, the very next day I made my way back to El Albergue, the place where I found the great wifi. It started when I agreed to go with my boss to buy strawberries for the shop, and pay her daughter’s teacher. Turns out, her daughter’s teacher is married to the owner of the restaurant. Small world. She also goes to school in a meadow straight out of the storybooks, surrounded by mountains and complete with sheep and a garden.
The path to school, and local fruit.

The path to school, and local fruit.

It’s astoundingly beautiful in the Sacred Valley, though I suppose that’s just part of Peru; astounding beauty nearly everywhere you look. We each bought a kilo of strawberries, mine being all gone by day’s end, and hers bound for the shop. I swear, those were the best strawberries I have ever eaten. At work, I met some great people, as always, and when I came home I washed my clothes.I mention this because by “washed my clothes” I mean that I spent two hours outside washing them by hand in a plastic tub outside, while dancing around inappropriately to Reggaeton music. It was not half bad. Certainly something new, though in this place it’s the only way your clothes will become clean again.

Slipping into the night, I started reading one of the books I brought with me, this one a Spanish translation from its original Japanese. There’s a good reason why I’m intimidated by all of the books in Spanish I brought with me. I made it about ten pages in before I shut the book and made pancakes for dinner. Life is looking up.

They looked just like this, but sans chocolate sauce.

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