New pics and stuff

July 26, 2006


The view onboard

Just wanted to alert you to the fact I’ve put some new pictures and info on the site. Down to the right underneath pages you can now check out the people I’m working with and also some of the horses. Dad, David and John make sure you check out the farm, Hacienda La Merced.

Here’s a few gratuitous shots of Volcan Cotopaxi and the local scenery.

Big skys and mountains

Cotopaxi in the distance

Close up of Cotopaxi


Llamas or Alpacas?

July 26, 2006

You can tell how much time I have on my hands to be thinking about this, but tourists have been known to ask the question as we pass by a herd of tall sheep, ‘is that a llama or an alpaca?’

Can you tell which is which?

Llama or Alpaca?

Llama or Alpaca?

1. The petrol out here is filthy. All buses kick out masses of black smoke, especially when they go up hill. You can feel sick driving around in the town.

2. Eucalyptus trees grow really well here, better than in Australia. They were introduced here and shed leaves all year round. The dry leaves smell lovely when you walk through them and their trunks rub together in the wind and sound like creaking doors.

3. ‘Locro’ is a local soup made from potatoes, cheese and pulses. Very good after a long day’s work.

4. Women and girls can commonly be seen riding in the back of pick-up trucks. The men ride in the front.

5. Cats – ‘gato’ – are rare out here. Although there are about a billion dogs, of all shapes and sizes and different barks.

6. Drink driving is normal.

7. You can’t hurry an Ecuadorian. Much like the Spanish the Ecuadorian’s have their own version of what ‘see you in half an hour’ actually means.

8. When you speak little Spanish, you work a lot in silence. And your miming gets really good.

9. Sometimes 5 layers isn’t enough. We may be on the equator, but it’s high up and can be really cold. So sometimes you have to don your poncho to keep warm.

10. I learnt to roll bandages in Ecuador. Of all the things you might expect to learn… Spanish, a new way of life etc., I learnt to roll bandages. For excersizing horses, for transporting horses and for rolling the bandages back up in their box. I was rubbish when I arrived. I can confidently say I’m now expert.

11. You can cross a major 4-lane highway with 14 horses and just 4 people. 3 of us and a local boy ‘recruited’ for $2.50 to help us, led 14 tacked-up horses across the most major road in Ecuador, the Pan American Highway.

12. I’m a ‘chica’ – which just means girl – but is easier for locals to say than Shirley.

13. Chagras – local cowboys – canter their horses down tarmac streets to buy milk and cigarettes from the shop.

14. I can get a taxi to an airport, then find and greet a previously unknown French lady, in French, at just 10 minutes notice.

Hey. Sorry for the lack of posts. I have just returned from a 7 day tour and a 1 day tour. I was ‘mucho cansada’ last night and slept 14 hours.

This was my first tour, 8 American’s and a French lady. Very nice people (photos to follow when I have time to upload them). They were all booked on the Colonial Hacienda’s tour (aka equivilent of English Country House Tour). The first three days are spent in the North, around Otovalo, (where lots of indigenous people live) then we trailor the horses down to the South and spend a further 3 days around Cotopaxi National Park.

What this means for me, working on the tour, is every day up at 6am, making picnics, feeding/grooming the horses, making sure the guests are happy, before setting them off on that day’s tour at about 9am. Some days I rode with the group, other days I packed up the horse equipement, made sure that suit cases were picked up from hotels and shuttled onto the next night’s hacienda. And on one very lucky afternoon I had 2 hours kip at a hacienda whilst waiting for the guests to arrive.

Feeding horses with soaked Nutri Alfa then oats, and lugging buckets of water around and making sure picnics and bottles of water are in all the guests’ saddle bags before 8am is time consuming, tiring work, especially if you’ve had to snatch a breakfast of sorts in the hacienda kitchen with the staff whilst preparing pineapples or rice salads for the picnic.

A few nights were spent with the guests, eating lovely food and then hitting the sack at about 9.30pm. Other evenings were spent a short drive away in a hostel or motel with the guys – Patricio, Roberto and Santiago. Though I’ve actually been very lucky in that I’ve been able to stay in both the ‘basic’ and ‘luxury’ accommodation. Check out as an example of one of the haciendas I stayed at. Whereever I’ve stayed though, the food has been gorgeous. (Probably because I was so hungry and tired. I haven’t really bothered asking what I’m eating, because as long as it hasn’t been fried guniea pig – and it hasn’t so far – I’ll eat just about anything.)

At the end of the 7 day tour, Jorge (pronounced ‘Hoar-Hay’) and I dropped the guests back at their hotels in Quito in the minibus, before catching some sleep and driving out early the next morning for our one day tour with a young american girl.

In the last three days I think I’ve done about 18 hours riding. Was nearly asleep on the horse yesterday. And just so you know, I very rarely get to ride just one horse, I’m always leading another one as well. So it’s a bit Chariots of Fire at the back of the ride as I’m bombing along on one horse and leading another at full gallop (or ‘gallope’ as the Spanish say). Good fun, but hard on the legs.

The last few days riding were pretty fast and lots of hours (I don’t know the distances yet, we measure things in hours), and I’ve been on a different horse each day, so that’s all good. The one day tour (7 hours riding) which we did yesterday was from Cotopaxi National Park in the South up to Pintag where the farm is. Four of us (Sally, Pacifico – a local chagra, who’s a saddle maker and is going to make me me some chaps, myself and a tourist) brought 8 horses back. We galloped across open ‘paramos’ (high up grass lands) and across hacienda fields with wild horses and fighting bulls, and then wound our way down and up valleys where we had to dismount and lead our horses across dry river beds.

Quite the challenge on any day, and postively exhausting when you’ve already spent the previous 7 days doing the same thing. That’s been my hardest day so far, as soon as we got back I went to bed – 6pm, got up this morning at 8.30am.

Anyway, I’ve been out with Anne earlier today and had a good fotifying Thai lunch and beer in Mariscal, and now I’m going to get on with some more washing. The dust (‘polvo’ – one of the first words I learnt out here, through necessity) is immense and necessitates lots of washing. I spend an hour each night blowing dirty snot down my nose from each ride. My hair is dry, windswept and full of the dry roads and grit, and my clothes are covered in layers of dirt. Dust gets in your ears, and it’s totally impossible to keep your nails clean. (Roberto’s trick, which I’ve adopted is to carry around a spare toothbrush so that you can clean my nails before dinner. It’s bad enough having riding hat hair, never mind black fingernails too, I’ve been really pleased with myself on an evening if I’m clean – never mind make up and hair done! I haven’t seen a hairdryer for days and my fringe is doing all sorts of freakish quiff things.)

And so that’s the end of tour 1. I’ve got invitations to visit guests in Paris and the deep South. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay in touch with them. Sally’s even given me some of the tips money. I’ll try and get pics uploaded in the next few days. Hopefully I’ll have some time to myself (a VERY rare commodity when you live and work with the boss) once Sally has departed for 10 days holiday in Mexico. Although I doubt I’ll have much free time, as I have 13 horses to excersize and clean tack for, as well as the next 2 tours to shop and pack for, 20 poncho’s to wash and Spanish lessons to have. I never thought coming out here was going to be an easy option, but honestly, I’m really putting in the hours and not getting the weekends!!

Hey ho. Might manage to find time to go out with Diego this week for a drink if I’m lucky. 😉


PS – we have a volcano erupting 85 miles South – the Tungurahua Volcano, which means ‘throat of fire’ has been spewing ash for a week or so now.

See AOL’s news report

Well it was going to happen wasn´t it, a night out followed by a post about the local talent.

Charlie (a bird watching tour leader, friend of Sally’s) is a top quality salsa dancer (and ex-USA ice dance champion, worryingly) anyway… whilst out in Quito on Friday night we wrestled him away from his extremely capeable dance partner and press ganged him into teaching Anne and I a few basic steps. Really enjoyed it and think I was doing pretty okay too. (It’s even a bit like dressage riding as you’re supposed to keep the top part of your body still and quiet and do the movement from the hips downwards.)

So after Salsa 101, it wasa logical step for the 6 of us who were out (Anne, Sally, Charlie, Charlie’s business partner in the bird watching tours world Jonas, and Susie an Ecuadorian friend of Charlie’s who speaks excellent English) to move onto a salsatecha club (night club where they dance Salsa to you and me. Although I think they dance it everywhere out here anyway).

I couldn’t find the place again if my life depended on it, it’s in Mariscal somewhere. Clubs are pretty much the same the world over and this was 4USD to get in and a free drink token. Inside, the usual, dark, fairly loud, crowded bar. Practised my best Spanish drinks ordering… Vodka Naranja which seemed to work well. Although the measures are generous to say the least.

The music was a mixture, with some English and some Spanish stuff, and lots of dancing going on all around. After a bit a couple of guys came over to talk to us, asking Anne and I if we wanted to dance. I was doing my no thanks, smile sweetly, Soy Inglesa, can’t dance thing, when Sally said, just go for a dance with them they’ll teach you salsa…

I was very, very rubbish for the first hour or so… yes danced for hours and hours and did finally get better (or was that the Vodka?). Diego (yes hilarious isn’t it, typical Spanish name), Diego Raphael was an excellent (if young) dancer. (Ahem, 20 years old and studying at the local police college). (I didn’t dare say I was 30 as it just sounded WAY too old, so went for a believable 25 – right??. Which happens also to be a number I can say easily.) And so in between lots of laughing and very few Spanish words from me and even less English words from Diego we had a really good night.

Interestingly, all that stuff I said about short squat Ecuadorian’s isn’t exactly true. There are some tall dark and handsome ones and some shorter dark and swarthy looking ones, so Ecuador is definitely not short of eye candy. Quick description of Diego, who falls into the fairly short bracket, probably only 5´6 (but hey, so is Tom Cruise), muscle-bound young policeman, short black hair, very polite, less English words than I have Spanish and prone to saying ‘muy bien’ when his dancing partner (me) finds herself facing the right way and stepping the same direction as him. He was very patient as I went the wrong way and collapsed into embarrassed laughter etc.  He also kept sending me out on this nifty arms-over-your-head-move-thing which is a bit tricky, but works out well – ie both facing the same way thing. Muchas fun (don’t know the word for fun yet.)

So that’s the salsotecha, which I’m hoping to do more of. In my Spanish class this morning I asked Omayra (my teacher – it’s a Columbian name, gorgeous isn’t it?) to recommend a Salsa class which I’m going to try and find the location of when I get a couple of hours to myself. (No idea when that might be, August perhaps!)

Unwisely I did give Diego the mobile number I have out here. I think the total no of texts is now at about 40. I kid you not. Hot blooded chaps out here. He calls me his princess (mi princessa) and queen (mi reina) and compares me to stars in the sky. Behaviour which is apparently common out here (!!!) The rest of his text messages I’m having to get Sally to translate so I can reply, which she thinks is good for my spanish anyway. Daren’t meet the young lad though for fear of having to reveal my my real age, oh and because I can’t actually say anything other ‘hi’, ‘how are you?’, ‘how old are you?’ and ‘where is the bakers?’. And we pretty much covered that on Friday.

Must dash, work to do. Big riding tour starts on Saturday… wish me luck. 

Was hoping to write about my trip up the Telefonica (cable car to 4,500 meters) and gruelling 4 days working on the farm in Pintag. (Think I have definitely lost some weight there.) But it will have to wait until i have more time. 

Chao, Hasta Luega! 

Been riding…

July 7, 2006

…yup – for four hours and leading another horse – nothing like breaking me in easily. Was v tired when I got off. Legs ache today.

If any of you have a map of Southern Quito and Sangolqui lying around I´d be able to point out where I took the bus from (El Trebol – translation: 4 leaf clover – a massive road junction and numerous bus stops) in Souther Quito, then jiggled around on the bus for over an hour with Anne until we reached Pintag. A small village with a pretty square. There should be some pics of this place appearing soon.

We waited a bit (see pic of Anne waiting for bus – there isn´t much to do other than take fairly rubbish pics on my part) and eventually another bus showed up going to San Alfonsa, an even smaller village (ie 5 or 6 houses and a shop), it took about 15 minutes and then a little walk to the farm itself.

Views are pretty cracking. And coming from Heights Farm perched on the Pennines, I´ve seen a few views. Anyway, take a look for yourself (click on the pics on the right and you should be able to see all my freshly uploaded shots).

The place reminded me a lot of home, silly though that sounds. The hills are bigger, everyone´s speaking Spanish and there´s too many volcanoes to remember all their names yet. But it´s green and like home. In the farm house there´s a bunch of well worn looking hats and chaps hanging up by the door with some wellies lined up underneath. And outside in the yard Guapo the collie´s tied up on a rope outside her kennel. The horses are grazing up to an electric wire – which Sally complained that Patricio (farm manager) had moved too far and so the horses had trampled more green corn than they´d eaten – sound familiar Dad?? And it´s all just like a farm should be really.

The ride we went on (Patricio, his 4 year old son – yes, perched on his own horse on a lead rein, Anne and myself) went up and down some steep, narrow paths, and had some nasty rocky parts underfoot (no wonder the horses are short of hoof and they´re struggling to find to places to put the nails in). Leading a horse each, and Patricio with Jose-Sabastian and a lead horse, we rode past fields of… hostein dairy cows (would you believe it Dad!) and they looked in great shape up on the hills. Sally says the grass is good right now, but it´s already drier than it was a month ago and in a couple of months as it gets even drier (saco) it´s not so good then until we get the rain in October and the grass perks up. So the cattle should be looking well.

It should be said that most cows were in groups of 2 or 3 in a field and some of them tethered. You seem to be able to tether a cow or pig or sheep or donkey or dog or anything out here, to the smallest bit of land next to a road or round the corner of your house. Anyway, so, large whites and some other unidentifiable pigs, and some young calves on their own in a field were pretty common. As were donkeys, small horses and ponies, chickens and cockrels. A veritable farm yard up there on the hill side. And the people… families in fields, I assumed picking beans that were growing. At other times we´d be passed by a chap coming the other way on a donkey wearing wellies. We´d exchange Buenos Dias´s and carry on.  

So after the ride Sally showed up in the Mitsubishi (and yes I´ve taken a pic of that for Dad and David too) and we had some cream buns and tea with Patricio, his wife, Magdelena – all very jolly. In Spanish mind. Although the Ecuadorian´s have a good sense of humour. Good job as they´ll be putting up with my learning Spanish on them.

So we did a bit of a job with a clicker box (electric fence wire power supply, to those not in the know) and moved the horses into a different field for the night and then came away. By the way 6.30pm and everything´s dark. You can set your watch by it. If you have one. The battery in mine´s dead, so I don´t.

So that´s about the gist of things up at the farm. Don´t want to completely bore the pants off you. But I will be spending a lot of time up there. And a lot of it on my own, so there´ll be a lot of Spanish verb conjugations done infront of the log fire and a lot of walking the dogs I reckon.

Anywhoooo that´s more than enough for now, it´s quarter past midnight here now. Some of you will probably be getting up for a Friday of work. Nearly the weekend eh.


…two things i didn’t expect over here.

Yesterday, using the broadband connection at the house in Quito, I sent out over 250 emails to past clients of – to try and encourage them to book another trip with us in November or December this year. A few bookings were cancelled earlier in the year as there were some political disturbances in the area, so we’re trying to up the numbers for later on.

So there I was tapping away on a little Sony Vaio laptop, sending out email – just like being at work. Except that the planes coming in to land overhead kept making the windows rattle against the bars. All the windows and doors have security bars over here, and in fact all the shops, cafes and even the post office employ their own little security guards who patrol around on the pavement. As yet I haven’t seen any need for these guys…  After I’d sent the emails I proof read the itinerary for the Uruguay tour, which is going out to some travel agents, and updated the customer database. Joy eh.

The Spanish lesson that was supposed to happen yesterday, didn’t. The Ecuadorian’s suffer from their own version of Spanish ‘manana’, so I’m going back there on Wednesday morning now.

Anne and I also did a few other jobs yesterday – checked the PO box, bought new cartrige for the printer here (all really exciting stuff) and did a MASSIVE shop at the ‘MegaMaxi’. (Equivilent of a local Asda). Buying things for the next riding tour, such as… 100 bottles of water, 80 chocolate bars, 10 bottles of maize oil (for the horse’s feed) etc. Very full trolley. And the little Ecuadorian took all our stuff outside to the taxi rank, which cost a whopping $1.75 to get home.

Later today – at long last – I get to go and see the farm up at Pintag. About an hours drive away in the Mitsubishi or an hour and a half if I’m on the bus. It’ll be a case of checking on the horses and that Patricio is repairing any tack from the last ride, and writing a list of provisions we’ll need up there for the ride starting on July 15th. So bed linen for me, some food and firewood etc. It does get pretty cold even down at the house in Quito in the evenings and I have to put my big socks on (apologies to those of you whose socks i’ve ‘borrowed’ in the past, but here my little cold feet really need them) and a couple of jumpers. So I imagine it will be even colder at the farm, I’ll be lighting fires and cleaning out the hearth of an evening. Simple living eh.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Going to grab a hot shower, feed the dog and have some breakfast.  Then I’ve got a few jobs to do before Sally gets back and we head up to the farm.

Hasta Luego!