Unica Chica!

August 31, 2006

Well this Unica Chica! (as called by Silvano, my smartypants Spanish teacher) has been getting to grips with living locally.

Starting with getting a lift up to the farm at the weekend with Alvoro (an ex of Sally’s who has a hacienda near the farm in Pintag – and yes, before you ask, he is 35 and rather nice – newish twin cab Chevy pickup, 4.5l diesel engine, sounds like a tank).

We called at his parents apartment (and umm yes, they own the building) to deliver the world’s largest gas bbq to his father so that he can take it to the beach (that’s the other hacienda at the beach by the way), anyway, after the detour, we had a beer (no-one ever goes straight to anywhere over here) in Mariscal. Alvoro’s not looking too comfy sitting under the gas burner on his metal chair – he explains, it’s because he’s trying to conceal a handgun down the back of his jeans. OMG.

This is normal apparently. He has a licence for it. And cos he’s rich, it’s usual for him to protect himself at his hacienda against nasty people and the like. Ick. Ho hum, he gives the pistole to me to look at when we’re safely back in the truck. (He had it with him in the bar, because he didn’t want to leave it in the truck). It’s black, really heavy and has one of those gun makers names (but not Smith and Wesson) that you read about in American thrillers. Interesting and just a little bit scarey. I didn’t think to ask if it was loaded. I don’t think I wanted to know.

Came back into Quito today… waiting at the bus stop in Pintag as usual. No-one else there, figured I’d just missed a bus. Anyway, this big MACK truck full of volcanic rock… there’s tonnes of these trucks going up and down all day and night with rock in them, presumably to make all the breeze blocks that everything is built of out here. They drive past the field when I’m riding (shattering that rural idyl you’d got in your mind eh?) and sometimes they wave, say buenas or honk. (Pintag is the only ONLY place I know in the world where you can get wolf whistled for riding a horse by the way)… anyway this truck stops and honks, I understand he’s offering me a lift, so I climb on up into the cab.

Previously I’ve stood at the bus stop and watched while the whole bus queue leaps into the back of a passing pick-up, whilst I stand there like an idiot foreigner. In the country public transport is a tad infrequent and if you can save 20 centavos, why on earth not.  Anyway, so got a lift with Charlie into Pintag, managed some very ropey conversation on the way down the road. (NB Charlie is the first divorced person I’ve met or even heard over here in Ecuador – Muchas Catolicas over here). He’s also about 60, has been to England about 20 years ago and owns his own truck. Did well heh?)

Bought a glut of avocados (ten for $2) in Pintag and came into town.

There’s no water at the house in Quito. Am going out with friends to see a band and can’t get washed. Ick. Urgh. Shower or no, gotta go, am going to be late.  

Baaa x


Novelty night out

August 25, 2006

Got back into Quito today from ghost town Pintag. Caught the wrong bus – twice. But managed to get here.

Popped down to Spanish with Silvana (my incredibly dry witted Ecuadorian teacher) and when that was done popped in for a little coffee at Cafecito (there’s a joke there if you understand Spanish). Tony, one of the two owners, was there and invited me to chat with him whilst he finished downloading the evenings choice Latin American Music to play in the bar. (Diff theme music each night).

Tony tells lots of stories. He has plenty in his quasi Canadian-English-Jamaican-Ecuadorian history and the typical story length is 15-20 minutes. So we got through a few of those, some black tea (made from leaves – lovely) and some buns and carrot cake. Very civilised out here you know.  

I had a smidgen of a plan to go along at 6pm to the South American Explorers club (or lonely buggers stuck in South America club), which was doing some slide show and talk on different places to visit in Ecuador and further afield. Anyway, tea and cakes with Tony took rather longer than planned and it was nearly 8 when I left.

Not wanting to come home to the empty flat, I headed from the main road and flagged down a cab and headed off to the aforementioned lonely persons club. The lights were on, and the talk was still in progress. Actually it was about done, but I was just in time for a beer. (Large Pilsners, brewed in Ecuador are the order of the day out here. The bottle’s a bit bigger than a Newkie Brown and a challenge for a girl to handle, but it’s decent lager).

Spoke to a few peeps, but largely a lot of politically correct and right-on Americans were in attendance. Many with with corn row hair dos, out here because they were, like, in a messed up place, like, mentally, and needed to, like, sort their heads out.  Whatever.

As a result of not being American or in a difficult place mentally I also got talking to an English couple, Sue and Colin. A really nice couple who’d taken a year off work to travel around the World, spending 5 months in South America. Colin works for Cap Gemini at home and works on the NRS (National Rail System, if I’ve got that right – basically the back end for trainline’s system as used by MML and others), so we had an interesting chat about that. Sue’s a regular commuter from Solihull to London and even knew all about the new line recently granted to Grand Central Rail. Small World.

Both in their 40s they had had a restaurant recommended to them in the Old Town by their Spanish teacher. And so I accepted their kind invitation to go with them for a bite to eat.

(First Tim, then Sue and Colin, I fear in 6 months I’ll have an address book full of people I met once in Ecuador).

Anyway, so a short taxi ride later, we get to this restaurant up on the 5th floor, where you can sit outside on a terrace and see all the flood lit domes of colonial churches and monuments and guess what… you’ll never guess… my Spanish just blossomed (or I thought it did anyway). And I think I did quite well with the doorman, waitress and bargaining with the taxi driver. (Still pretty shabby though all in all).

It’s all down to the hair. Long dark hair must equal Spanish or Ecuadorian, and locals just keep talking to me. It’s quite difficult actually as 90% of the time I don’t have a clue what they’re saying and I don’t want to appear rude. So I keep trying and am getting more and more words. Failing that, I just smile and say Si. It seems to work.

After some tourist photos of the night’s view from our restaurant (pizza and beer – did I say what a lovely, lovely place this was) and after checking with our waitress that the local area is safe, we head of for a walk in the Plaza Grande, which is given over to statues and stuff about Ecuador’s fight for independence from Spain. Initially heading the wrong way, a doorman advises to go left not right otherwise we’ll get *mime of someone having their throat slit*. Nice. Didn’t see anything like that thankfully.

Plaza very pretty, made up of wedding cake sorts of buildings all with big domes. (Again promised myself that I must go and visit properly in the day time).

Finally got a taxi home from the corner of the Plaza. Newly acquired top bargaining skills got the taxi driver own from $4 to $3, however, I then got a bit lost on the way home and felt guilty bound to give him another 50c in tip. Hey ho, going through money like water out here – need some more guest tours for some tips and to keep me from spending cash!

Off to bed now, much love


On Saturday I took an impromptu trip with a chap called Tim from Reading to a place called Papallacta (Papa-yack-ta). 65km from Quito, which translates into a 2 hour bus ride, Papallacta is a Spa town in the Amazon area to the East of Ecuador and is known as the ‘Lake District’.

Tim’s optimistic plan was to get off the bus before Papallacta and then hike for 5-7 hours up to the antenna at the top of the mountain and then down the other side, past some lakes and towards the town where I could enjoy some of the best thermal spa baths (Termas Papallacta) in Ecuador. Fortunately for me we didn’t manage to get a bus out of Quito until 9.30 in the morning and it was looking a little overcast. So as we got closer we decided we’d get off close to the thermal spa and do a shorter walk from there, before having a dip in the pools.

(On the map below – we came in on the bus on the yellow road on the left driving down past Laguna Papallacta and got off at the junction before Papallacta town. And then walked up the yellow road to Termas Papallacta.)


Here’s a pic of me looking reasonably happy at the start of our walk. Think this is about 3,200m high. (More pics are on flickr).

Anyway to cut a long story short the walk was about 2 and a half hours up a valley. There was cloud forest all around, and it was a bit drizzly.


As we trudged up – at this altitude it’s small steps and no marching along – Tim told me about his climb of Cotopaxi. (You can probably tell by the pics of Tim that he’s a serious hiker, unlike me, wearing jeans. Ahem. Laura – thanks for lending me an air of professionalism by loaning me your waterproof jacket!).

We hadn’t even gone half way and I was already having serious doubts about my planned attempt on Ilinizas Norte and Cotopaxi next weekend (still haven’t been down to the office to pay up yet!). I really don’t enjoy walking up hills. Anyway, by the time we got to the top we’d discussed books, films, Tim’s jobs at KPMG, his Cambridge graduation and subsequent plans to go to Edinburgh in September to study Environmental Sustainability. It passed the time.

The top (3,800 meters I think), although very cloudy and wet, was actually very nice in a moody sort of way. It was also flat (way-hey!) for a while around the side of the Lakes. There were a bunch of Ecuadorians up there on some field trip – but they’d gone up in a coach (!!). We had paid $2 to walk the signposted paths and then another $5 to look at the lakes and have a cup of “mate” (mar-tay, local drink good for easing altitude headaches) to warm us up.

We zipped downhill at a fair lick (me thinking of the thermal springs at the end and munching on some chocolate) and made it down in just over an hour.

$6 and into the thermal springs.

9 glorious pools of hot water in the open air, with views all around of the mountains and cloud forest.

The springs sit between and are heated by the Cayambe and Antisana Volcanoes. And there are loads of sunny pics of the place here. Although cloudy when we were there, it was still wonderfully relaxing to lie back in the water having walked for the last 4 hours.

I felt really skinny after all the exercise, but I was still alarmingly white compared to all the brown Ecuadorians. Somehow it didn’t matter though, I’m English, I am supposed to be white!

There were plenty of locals there, moving from pool to pool to get the different temperatures and use the fresh water hot and cold showers. Tim even braved the ridiculous hot-pool-to-freezing-cold-stream-and-back (I decided against that one) and chatted in his correct, but Reading accented Spanish, to a local man. It was really lovely, I’d like to go back.

Tim prised me out of the last hot pool at about 6pm, walked back down the track in the dark with wet hair to the bus stop. One appeared in a few minutes, but was full and I had to stand. After an hour of watching Jean Claude Van Dame in dubbed Spanish on the bus’s TV an Ecuadorian man offered me his seat, which I gratefully sank into.

Coming through Cayambe I got talking (hah! In bad Spanish obviously.) to the guy next to me – Patricio a photographer for the Extra newspaper in Quito. He sells pics to Reuters, and is going to send me some of Quito and Tunghuragua, the erupting volcano.

So that was my day trip to Papallacta. When I got back into Quito (confusingly to a different bus depot) I flagged down a taxi and spouted off my address (which I’m getting rather better at), nipped home, showered and changed and went out in Mariscal with Jordan, Tanya and some others. Finally made it back to the flat around 2 or 3am having been at the interestingly named Bungalo club, embarrassing myself salsa dancing again. (Have decided that all the guys dance salsa differently, cos just as soon as you think you’ve got it sorted you dance with someone else and they are completely different to before).

Today, despite plans to get hiking boots and proper walking trousers sorted, I’ve stayed in the house, eaten hangover food, slept and done 2 loads of washing. Some things just don’t change do they? 

hello heloo helooooo

I have returned to the metropolitan hub of Quito. Hah – right! After 5 days in Pintag Dewsbury would be a cosmopolitan mecca. I’ll try and keep this brief… but this is what I’ve been up to.

Last weekend… amid panic re hand luggage limits and terrorist scares, Sally left for a month in England. She came back from the airport 5 hours later. Problem with the plane. 

So my lazy, tourist Sunday turned into work and a trip to the park with Karin (German lady, lived here for years, has a big doberman.) Sally’s on left with Fraser and Karin’s on the right with Frayer.

 Sally and Karin in Parque Metropolitano Bellavista

As you can see from the pic, the “park” isn’t exactly a boating lake and lawns… it’s more of a wilderness with Eucalyptus trees. (Think ‘Hoge Felue’ in Holland). And yes, if it looks hot in the pic, it really was. 

Warning, rare photo of me coming up…

And 10 out of 10 if you spotted that I am…

1. wearing unsuitable footwear (Berks are no good for negotiating hills on dry and slippy eucalyptus leaves)
2. Carrying a fairly heavy bag full of things I didn’t need (bag was pressie from Sally from Mexico)
3. Wearing a hat that doesn’t fit, so my head doesn’t get burnt again (have even taken to wearing a headscarf in Pintag so I don’t get burnt. And if you think you’re getting a pic of that you’ve got to be kidding!)
4. No thinner and not tanned.

Behind me in the pic is the full width of the city of Quito. It’s between 3 and 5k wide. But over 50k long at least. Up on the hillside, although you can’t make it out, it also says “FIDEL” in large white letters. There’s a lot of support for Castro here and not much for the Yanks.

Later that evening Sally did leave for England and I had dinner with a new acquaintance, Jordan. (Jordan – no pics yet – is 25, from Texas and a very nice and clever American. She just did a Masters at the London School of Economics and now lives in Ecudador with her ‘nobio’ (boyfriend) Juan Carlos – shortened to “Jaun-che”. Jaunche has a great Tex Mex restaurant in Mariscal, Quito.)

On Monday Patricio came wearing his best city clothes, hair slicked back etc., to take me  to Pintag. Normally I get the bus, but this time there was me, Fraser (the dog), a months worth of food and the car which Patricio is taking into the garage. I think it’s funny, to see Patricio all dressed up when he comes into the city, but I guess in reality he really doesn’t earn a lot (about US$350 per month) and it’s a big trip out for him in the boss’s car.

I’d loaded up on shopping the day before, so Pintag is now well stocked with a few choice items… avocados which are amazing out here, roasted sweetcorn – very nice healthy snack, and lupin seeds (see boring pic below), which go well with natural yogurt.

I also have chocolate biscuits and crisps – just in case any of you thought I was starving myself. As if.

The drive of about an hour up to Pintag takes longer with Patricio as we call in and do little errands (and make the most of having Sally’s nice car to drive around in).

This time we called in at the tool shop… Ooooo, contain yourselves, believe me, life really is this exciting.

Tool shop between Quito and Sangolqui

Patricio’s really into tools (is it a man thing?) and this time we were buying cement to block up the nasty mouse holes in the house. Other mouse holes have also appeared in the bodega where we keep the tack, and as I reached out for a halter the other day a little black tail scuttled past. Eugh! (I think they just wait for me, no-one else seems to see them nearly as often.) My small yelp elicited a scramble of nearby men into the bodega (Patricio and Victor the farrier wielding brushes and shovels), I quite like this machismo they’ve got going on over here. The mouse escaped. 

Whilst Patricio bought the cement I took pictures of the ‘ferreteria’ (tool shop), traffic (a local bus, just like the ones I catch) and the wood yard across the street. Wow heh.

Typical Ecuadorian bus

The bus costs a whopping 65 cents for the hour and a half of journey. It’s a bit like a rollercoaster, fast on the downhills, groaning on the uphills, and slipstreaming behind big trucks and pickups loaded with family members, then popping out on blind corners to overtake. 

Contain yourselves… here’s the woodyard pictures. Some nice carvings. Don’t know what the animals are supposed to be though, any ideas?

 A rather nifty carved bedhead. 

Another carved bedhead

And some chairs at the woodyard

Anyway, we made it to Pintag, and I managed to disuade Patricio from taking me down cuy (guinea pig) avenue again to see all the guinea pigs being roasted on spits. He thinks cuy is muy rico (really good to eat) and keeps trying to pursuade me to buy some. No gracias.

Here’s a couple of other shots taken out of the car on the drive up…

 Somewhere between Sangolqui and Pintag

Driving into Pintag

Above: Pintag. Huge social scene, clearly. 

At this point, I took over driving. It’s likely I’ll end up driving on the tours at some point and I need to practice.

No, not practice driving.

Practice avoiding potholes.

Plenty of potholes out here, oh and hidden speed bumps, which they call ‘chapas muerte’ (dead policemen, instead of sleeping ones) (Knocked down by the dreadful motorists I expect).

The rules of the road are a little different here.

1. It is totally okay to drive on the wrong side of the road, head-on into other traffic, if the potholes on your side are bad. You can then swerve at the last minute and avoid a crash.

2. It is okay to play chicken with huge trucks whilst doing the above.

3. You really don’t need indicators, head lights etc. So long as you have a horn you’re fine. You can honk for any or no reason at all – you might, quite reasonably, honk because someone’s backing out into the road to tell them you’re there, or less understandably you might just honk as you drive past someone on a dual carriage way… just in case they were thinking of changing lanes. You obviously honk when you know someone, and it’s a small place, everyone knows everyone. You honk all the time if you’re a taxi, as a warning to other drivers and to try and pick up fares. Patricio must have used the horn about 40 times on the drive up to Pintag and I ended up driving with one hand poised over the horn… just in case. Somehow it doesn’t seem excessive when you’re here.

4. Double lines in the middle of the road can be ignored. And double overtakes can be attempted on blind corners if the trucks/cars/buses infront aren’t going fast enough.

Incidentally, I think you’re far more likely to be run over in Ecuador than anything else bad happen. Nothing indicates, crossing points are only a suggestion and all pedestrians have to sprint to cross the big streets in town.

Geez where does the time go? It’s nearly midnight and I’ve agreed to meet an English guy called Tim tomorrow at 8am. We’re catching a bus for an hour or so to a place called Papallacta to do a 5 hour walk (!!! I know, insane!) that ends up at some volcanically heated hot springs which I’ll need a swimsuit for – yaaaaay!!

Going to go sleep. ‘Night night.

Sick, sick, sick

August 10, 2006

Just a quick post from my sickbed…

It appears I was a little too hasty in assuming my food poisoning was to be one of the short-lived 24 hour affairs. It’s still with me now, condemning me to a diet of plain boiled rice and water. I’m on a 7 day course of antibiotics (Proflax) and some other things (Boscapino and Maxsomethingorother) to kill the evil gremlin that’s invaded my stomach.

It has been – for those of you brave enough to read on – a disgusting affair, brought on by I have no idea what. Although the burps smelt of eggs and mince. Far from pleasant. In fact along with the cauldron of activity bubbling inside me, the burps were the most gip inducing and frankly disgusting tasting things my body has ever managed to subject me to. I have been forced to remain horizontal for the last 24 hours for fear of stirring up a vile burp by standing up. Fortunately, my stomach rumblings have at last subsided – due to the Boscapino I am told – and I dare now step away from the bathroom for whole minutes at a time.

On the upside I hope that this enforced and miserable diet will leave a lesser Shirley whose clothes are a tad roomier. Fingers crossed.

PS – my legs weren’t tanning, it was an illusion.

I’ve been away for a week and a half, holed up in ‘Camp Pintag’ and it’s soooo nice to be back and get all your emails, so thank-you!

What’ve I been doing I hear you cry?

Umm… working mainly (mucho trabajo).

  • Feeding Sam (horse), Fraser and Guapa (dogs) their brecky.
  • Moving horses (yes, all 15 of them) from day field to night field and back. Riveting. Did you know horses come when you whistle? – these do. However the dogs don’t.
  • Filling water troughs, and buckets for 3 tethered horses. (i.e. carrying 2 VERY HEAVY canisters of water down a field… and we’re in the Andes here… y’know, the air is thin, it’s like doing a World’s Strongest Man event every morning.)
  • Moving the electric fence wire to give the greedy horses more grass.
  • Replacing a couple of rotten stakes in various fences.
  • Wiping stinky mouse-muck invested wax on the horses cascos (hooves), to keep them lush and long (Sally has a book “No hoof, no horse”, which is actually quite true).
  • Pulling super long manes of horses back into 8 inch or so length and shape.

That’s your day to day stuff, but we also re-surfaced the coral. This was a big job which Patricio and I did with just two shovels and a wheel barrow – I did suggest a mechanised digger, but he didn’t seem to know anyone who had one.

Last Thursday Patricio and I drove around a few quarries getting prices for rock and dust, and on Friday at 7am (who said Ecuadorians and Spanish are all about manaña!?!) a wagon delivered two big – sorry Dad, I don’t know how many tonnes big – loads. The first of half-inch sized round stones and then a second of PHENOMENALLY HEAVY grit to put on top. This then took most of Friday to distribute, as we prepared the ground, then spread it around the coral in two layers, giving me two perfectly matching blisters on my thumbs, to go with the blister on my middle fingers from pulling manes.

So yes Mum, I should be fitter – slimmer tho, I’m not sure. I’ll live in hope! 

A quick update on the tanning front, we had some rain – great for grass, bad for Shirley’s tan – and a LOT OF WIND. There’s enough wind up here coming down from the Northern or Eastern paramos to send you mad (and blow your hat off many times). Thankfully it gave up long enough on Thursday for me to burn my back in the sunshine whilst filling the troughs.

The burn count so far is:

Forehead – 1
Nose – 2
Neck – 1
Back (the bit I can’t reach between my shoulders) – 1

Interestingly, after 6 weeks, my legs are no longer blindingly white, but are *I think* either just mucky with all the dust blowing around or are perhaps slowly turning some shade of off-white/beige.  I’ll let you know if they prove to be tanning.

On average I’ve been exercising about 4 horses a day, which might or might not sound a lot, but believe when you’re riding or whizzing them round in the coral for up to an hour each in fairly warm weather, then pulling their manes, doing their hooves and taking them back down the field, plus all the every-day jobs… 4 is enough.

Brother John, you’re quite right… it is a bit like being in a sweet shop (or a crisp shop for me)… I can ride whichever of these horses I like, as often as I want. Although, sometimes it’s like there’s just too much choice… weird heh.

So for the last 10 days or so Sally’s been away in Mexico – she said “on holiday” – but it turns out, workaholic that she is, that she was secretly researching a new ride in Mexico. She’s now ignoring her month end billing (amazing isn’t it that everyone in the whole world has month end to contend with!!) and writing up her ideas for the Mexico tour.

Whilst she’s been off gallivanting I’ve been solo Inglesa in Pintag. And Patricio took his wife and son off on holiday for seven days (the effort of resurfacing the coral was too much for him), so that just left Roberto and Jose Javier. Jose Javier chose to show up just for one day instead of the agreed five, which left Roberto and me with rather a lot to do… Fortunately Roberto speaks (as I may have mentioned before) perfect American English, so I have learnt minimal Spanish in the last week. 😦

Evenings have been largely unremarkable. I have read a variety of trashy novels. Got better at lighting the fire – although I am still amateur and go to bed early if it goes out. I have looked at the very-bright-indeed stars … I can spot the Southern Cross… but I can’t understand Sally’s star book, which uses other, more complicated, classifications instead of ‘very-bright-indeed stars’.

I’ve also spent a lot of evenings at the farm on my own in fear of, not burglars, theives or general baddies… something much worse… the mouse.

The mouse, el raton.

And this is main reason I am so happy to return to Quito. Quito is mouse-free. Pintag is a veritable life and death gauntlet of mouse. The little squeaking thing would appear in the kitchen, the bathroom and, horror of dreadful horrors, my bedroom. Patricio boarded up the mouse-hole express-way in the bedroom wall, which is really just crumbling plaster and breeze blocks, and as the room only has a bed (lumpy and hard) a bookshelf (plastic) and a bedside table (breeze blocks of course) there weren’t many places left for el raton to hide, so it kept out of my room after that. However it would sneakily pop out of an evening to shock me into immobility. I’m getting slightly better, but I don’t take my boots off much in the house.

And that’s kind of where we’re at. Sally’s off again soon, back to England *sniff sniff* for a month. Mum – she said she’d have a very empty bag coming back, so I may be sending for some going out clothes and some Bovril please. The next riding tour isn’t until 15th September, so in August I’m planning to do my death defying climb of active Volcan Cotopaxi (acclimatising first on Volcan Ilinizas) and may also manage to do a smidge of sightseeing in and around Quito. (I did have a chance to do some cultural stuff in Quito, y’know Catholic Churches, pick-pocket plazas etc. last Saturday, but to be honest it was a foregone conclusion that I’d end up at El Jardin – shopping centre – where, ladies… shoes are really really cheap, but diesel jeans are about the same.) 

And that’s it for now. The things I haven’t included are: 

– other shopping centre highlights
– two nights out with the American Anna 
– the Italian, Matteo
– the food poisoning
– getting walloped in the face by Henry (horse) whilst riding, got a bruised jaw. (mum, dad don’t worry, I’m fine)

Lots of love to everyone back home (do I sound like I’m on the radio?) and everyone else who knows me.


PS – Mum, hope you’re back to normal and feeling great soon. xxx