September 27, 2006

Something I didn’t come to South America for, but I appear to have got as a freebie.

Yes, I have contracted 2 types of typhoid and some other local germs and bacteria.

I don’t actually feel too ill, especially now I’m on even more antibiotics (every 8 hours for 2 weeks) (no drinking alcohol for that time) and my stomach is finally getting back to normal. But if you want to read the icky details about typhoid try here and here.

To be honest I don’t have many, if any, of the symptoms. Maybe I’m a ‘healthy carrier’?

I’ll get re-tested in a couple of weeks and hopefully it will be all gone. Don’t know where I got it from or how long I’ve had it, I was even vaccinated against it a couple of years ago. Anyway, on the upside I’ve learnt that I’m O+ blood type – which I didn’t know before. Nice and common, so should I need an emergency blood transfusion there should be plenty of the red stuff.


Charlie and Mike

September 22, 2006

This week I took a tour on my own. (Thanks to Charlie for the cheesy pic of me)

 Me 'guiding'

Charlie and Mike are two English journalist/photographers from Manchester who are bumming around South America for 3 months, attempting to write articles for publication back home as they go.

They were genuinely excited about the prospect of learning to horse ride, and even took pictures of themselves the night before wearing the chaps, cycling shorts – worn for protective reasons! – and riding hats, both crouched forward in jockey position. Wish I could get that photo, but they weren’t about to give it up for publication! (Bigger and normal pics of the guys on flickr).

Charlie   Mike

Leaving Quito in baking sunshine we drove South past Machachi to Kira’s place, San Enrique, a farm a mile or two from Eran’s hostel Papagayo where we spent one night along with a bunch of Israelis. (Who had an ‘interesting’ take on the Israeli-Palestine conflict. See, am learning stuff out here.)

Kira is a German dressage rider, late 40s early 50s at a guess, who competes against the Ecuadorian National riders, but isn’t allowed to compete for the country despite living their for 24 plus years, as she isn’t a National. She has a teacher who flies up from Chile to work with her and has built, in a sheltered little valley, some fantastic, European standard, horse facilities. Her indoor arena is spacious and we spent an hour or so teaching the boys the basics. Stop go, how to turn corners etc. She taught them very well, concentrating on getting them to sit upright or lean back, and giving them lots of confidence. They did trot and canter on the lunge rein in the first lesson, so you can see they were doing really well.

After basic training (which was actually quite advanced – dressage riders don’t understand riding in a simple way, it’s all good complicated stuff) – we had a hack out down the railway line and Paul (24) came with us. He works for Kira and also competes at US elementary level on two of her horses. His riding is a joy to watch, still, utterly upright, beautiful position and hands. He has a very realistic chance of making the National team in a few years.

Finally we left and spent the night at Papagayo. 

Papagayo hostel

The food was nice, but the next day when I went to prepare the picnic in the kitchen I was pretty shocked. The kitchen was fairly dirty, I won’t go into details. Chris would have been completely appaulled. I’ve already mentioned it to Sally and she’s going to have a word with Eran. Anyway, so I cleaned up and made the days picnic.

After breakfast and the obligatory swing in the hammock (I’m going to get a car sticker that says “I love hammocks”), Jose Javier met us and we drove for 3 hours North to Hacienda La Merced in the Zuleta valley. It was a rough ride in the car on bumpy roads and we had a quick stop to buy brimmed hats for the lads to wear – to be authentic rather than ‘Junior Jockey’ (the name inside the hard hat Charlie wore. He had a surprisingly small head for a guy).

The sky was perfectly blue and we got some great pictures of Volcano Cayambe which has a beautiful snow capped peak and a glacier running down one side. (Below, Cayambe).

Beautiful view of Cayambe Volcano 

At La Merced we borrowed 5 of Osawaldo and Diana’s horses and went out for a 3 hour ride with Ulpiano, one of their staff leading the way. We rode out across fields, up hills and in pine woods. Jose Javier and I keeping a watchful eye on our fledgling riders.

Jose Javier

They did great, lots of trotting and it soon became clear we couldn’t stop Charlie “electric arse” Hamilton cantering. The boys were very keen to do more, especially as trot can be a little bumpy and hard to start with, people often want to zip ahead to canter because it’s easier – although faster and you have more chance of coming off. Thankfully canters went well and no-one did fall off. We had a lovely dinner which Diana (Oswaldo’s wife) cooked and an early night. Note to self, must get recipe for tres leches. (A three-milk dessert that’s amazingly good).

Gratuitous shot of my lovely room at the hacienda on flickr; wool blankets and duvet, lit fire and hot water bottle, talk about attention to detail. I slept like a baby, it was lovely.

Day three of riding and we hacked out for 5 or 6 hours up a HUGE mountain side. The horses working hard and Jose Javier and myself keeping hold of our hats in the wind (our guests were wearing their hard hats).

Me - holding onto my hat

The views were amazing. Coming down was almost as much fun as going up and we had to employ ski tactics, zig zagging down the steep slopes. Although I think the horses could have gone straight down, I was beginning to develop a little vertigo and was more than happy to take a bit of time and zig zag (we were at about 3100m, way above the electricity pylons stretching across the valley) . We had the picnic in a sheltered little spot in the baking sun, and after it was over the lads quickly retired to get some shade under the pine trees and rest their aching thighs. Tough on bum and thighs seems to be the moral of their learn to ride experience.

Tired Cowboys

Winding our way back through La Merced’s 500 hectare estate we stopped to see their fighting bulls. They have about 80, of cows and their calves and a bull. The cows are chosen to breed from by putting them in a ring and taunting them to see which are the most aggressive. You never get to try out the young male bulls because they’re simply sold on at 2 years old to fight in the rings properly. A last canter, and I mustn’t forget we jumped a small stream (yes, third day riding and jumping small streams) to get back home and that was it.

A mini Ride Andes riding adventure.

Must say a really big thanks to the lads who treated me to a fair few margaritas in Quito later that evening. It was really good fun riding with you, and it was genuinely great that you wanted to be cowboys. It was a really good laugh. The Junior Jockey hat is ready for you anytime Charlie.

Have a great time riding in Chile and send me some pictures!


September 18, 2006

It’s tour time and I was up again at 5.30am this morning to fetch the horses in.

(first light, clouds stealing across the valley. On the outskirts of Otavalo, 2 hours north of Quito)

It’s actually a really lovely time of day, women with buckets of warm fresh milk walking down the lanes, the day just deciding if it’s going to be sunny, hot or a bit cloudy.

We walked down past rows of red geraniums and cactus-topped walls to fetch the horses from a neighbouring field. Then clatted back down the cobbled tracks, riding bare-back just in halters leading a couple of horses each.

 Santiago and Patricio
(going to get the horses) 

I’m really enjoying this tour, able to speak enough words to say what I want to the boys and we’re having a laugh. On Saturday (day 1 of the tour) I was up at 5.30am to load the stuff in Quito, pick up the tourists, drive them 2 hours north to the first hacienda. We finished at about 5pm and drove back to our (cheaper) accommodation.

As it’s illegal to stop in on a Saturday night (in my world anyway), we hit the happening town of Otavalo and found the local club. 

$2.50 in, a few beers and the odd tequila later we were dancing, chatting to locals and gringos. I was hounded by a young local for most of the evening, but danced with an older moustachioed guy – my Tom Selleck of Ecuador, complete with LA baseball cap. He could dance and didn’t understand when I kept falling over or losing my balance somewhere after spin number 4 in his amazingly complicated sequence. I know I could do it, but I was impeded by innappriotate footwear and ahem… possibly a couple of drinks. Fun all the same.  

Patricio’s dancing is hilarious, all limbs twitching, like a midget being electrocuted. Santiago is even less co-ordinated. In England I’m sure these guys wouldn’t even have danced at a wedding, but out here – it’s all different, everyone dances. At 3am we got back to the hotel and yes, up at 5.30 to start all over again.

Irritatingly the horses had escaped in the night and pooed all over the hacienda gardens. Not good. We had hangovers. I had a kip in a hammock at the hacienda. Patricio forgot the radios and Santiago forgot the two waterproof ponchos for the guides, so he and Sally got soaked. Possibly we weren’t as alert as usual.

Sunday night we got an early one, this is us on Monday morning, much improved to the previous morning.

 Paticio and Santiago at Hacienda Cusin, San Pablo
(The boys this morning waiting for the tour to leave the Hacienda Cusin)

(Las touristas ready to ride to leave Hacienda Cusin and get rained on again)

Anyway now it’s all change, I’ve left that tour and am back in Quito picking up another one. A journalist (Charlie 28) and his photographer friend (Michael 25, his sister lives in Chapel Allerton…) both from Manchester. They’re on a mini tour to write some articles on Ecuador for the Press Association back home. They’ve never ridden before, unlike the kids out here who can ride before they can walk.

Going to have to skoot, just seen how late it is, I need to get to bed.

‘Night ‘night. 

Ooo, one last thing, la noche passada on hotel-cable I saw Code 46 which stars Tim Robbins. Crackingly addictive film set in the ‘near future’; really really liked it. Recommeded viewing. Nothing to do with Ecuador. And very nifty use of language.

Last chance saloon

September 13, 2006

Well not quite, but Sally’s back from a month in the UK in a few hours, so it will be nose to the grindstone. So here’s the last post for a little while.

I’ve had a fab month while she’s been away, got to grips with the town and getting around, made some new friends – all good stuff.

Here’s a quick re-cap:

– Salsa classes. Going well so far, Jonathon (my spanish-speaking-wiggly-hipped young teacher), makes dancing soooo easy. Although I feel a bit of a tit looking at myself in a mirror learning the steps. And I recognise that the skill is in the dancing the guy does – he has all these little signals to tell the girl that she’s going to be asked to do a spin on the next step etc. V tricky for the guy. (Tobias will agree, he’s about 10 classes in and it’s really complicated. Me – I just get spun around. It’s fab.)

– Otavalo reckie mission for Sally (am afraid dic.com is out on how to abbreviate reconnaisance). Otavalo is a market town full of people wearing traditional dress – think long skirts, embroidered sleeves, selling rugs and stuff. I caught a bus from main terminal here in Quito for the 2 and half hour bus ride North. The equivilent of catching the bus from Leeds to Newcastle on really twisty roads. Felt a bit sick as Lago San Pablo came into view. Lago San Pablo went out of view and I still hadn’t heard anyone shout for Otavalo… anyway turns out I’d missed it. Had to get off, cross the road and wait for a little pootley bus to take me back into town! How useless am I! Anyway, got chatting (umm.. pointing and miming to the conductor who was prob in his late 20s – because I didn’t want to miss the stop again going the other way!) and once we got into town he walked me to the Plazas de Ponchos (yes, Poncho Plaza) where all the tourists buy ponchos, nasty knitwear and particularly dreadful jumpers with llamas on them, and invitied me to the Yamor Festival with him at the weekend. Fortunately/unfortuantely I couldn’t hang around until then, so had to turn down his kind invitation.

Purpose of said reckie mission was to find hotels to recommend to tourists staying on to take language classes etc. So did that, explaining in Spanish to people that I worked for a tourist agency in Quito and could I see some rooms and make a note of their rates etc. Interesting. Can honestly say that Spanish really improved those couple of days. Some of the hotels were really lovely and dirt cheap too… $5 per night, that’s about 3 quid.

The only snag with travelling alone is, you’re alone. So one evening I sat out in the Plaza hoping someone would speak to me or that something exciting would happen. However although Otavalo is classed as a city in some guide books, it’s more the size of Lepton or Chapel Allerton. So I sat in the square, rehearsing Spanish in my head, should anyone talk to me. I sat there for two hours, until after 10pm, people watching and such. Some might say I was courting danger… however all that happened was one guy asked me if I was alright. Exciting heh. Shortly after freezing my bum in said plaza I found a pizza place, had pizzza and beer and went to bed. (Checked out some bars and a club, but looked dead and a bit dodgy).

I woke at 5am or was it 5.30am? as the whole of Otavalo ran down the stairs directly outside my room. This outpouring of people went on until about 7.30am, at which point I decided I may as well get up. Downstairs shortly before 8am I was told that breakfast was over and I may as well just check out. Joy. There’s a hotel we won’t be recommending then.

Had breaky in another hotel (which was lovely), but then I got sick – think it might be related to the thing I caught before – and spent the rest of the day checking out other hotels and more importantly, their toilets. Sat in another plaza (they have them all over in this country) and a local policeman – Daniel, age 50+ – decided he’d come and talk to me. That was interesting. My vocab is still limited. Anyway, it reinforced the word ‘chompa’ which is thick, warm jacket. Everyone over here is obsessed with being cold. I swear if you relocated them all to England they wouldn’t cope.

Incidentally why is that foreign countries don’t understand about

1. duvets

2. central heating 


Had just about walked the length and breadth of Otavalo’s streets enough for locals to think I was a burglar, pick pocket or just plain stupid and unable to read a map, (the latter might be true – surprisingly confusing grid system in Otavalo and all maps have north pointing a different direction, so orientating the maps is a constant pain), when it was time to go home. But I didn’t have any change. People make such a fuss about changing $5 or $10 bills here let alone $20s or $50s that you constantly have to keep a stash of change about your person. But because I was sick I hadn’t had a proper meal and so hadn’t changed any cash… I decided to go to the bus terminal and see if any good ideas came to mind to get me my $2 bus fare home.

Would you believe it, the lovely bus conductor from the day before was in the station, he greeted me like an old friend, found me change and shuffled me onto the nearest bus to Quito. I tell you, the people here (touch wood) have been fabulous. I love ’em all! 

So that’s a bit of what I’ve been up to. MUST go now and do all the months worth of things for Sally that I was supposed to… got an hour and half till she gets here, arghh!!



P.S. One bored afternoon when I was missing home a smidge I read Chris Moyles’ Radio 1 blog (ie not his less official my space one – which is largely just full of tarts chatting him up anyway!) and my comment got posted, no 14.

Fame on Radio Leeds

September 8, 2006

I just did quite a shabby interview with my friend (presenter Shourjo Sarkar) who works for Radio Leeds. If you want to hear it, I understand it’s going to be broadcast as part of his Saturday Breakfast Show tomorrow.

I can be guaranteed to go completely blank whenever anyone with a video camera or tape recorder comes near me. Sorry Shourj!! Hope you can edit it somehow!! Much prefer the written word… time for a little more consideration. Thought of a whole bunch of stuff after you hung up though, sorry – always the way right!! 

Incidentally, I hear Mr Robbie Williams is causing chaos in North Leeds. So hello to all you lucky lucky people going to see him in Roundhay Park. I am insanely jealous. Please post your pics on flickr so I can see them!!

Gotta scoot, got a Galapagos trip to book today. My friend of almost 10 years (yes it’s really been that long Sarah!) is coming out to Quito and we’re going to do some sight-seeing and visit the Galapagos. Can’t wait, it’s going to be great!!!!

Enjoy your Fridays!

PS – I’ve caught a cold. My first one out here. I think it’s that pesky Dane’s fault with his European germs. Blurgh. Where are my tissues?

No, I’d never heard of it either.

But… be afraid, very afraid. (It’s not called ‘Megashear‘ for nothing.)

Backtracking slightly…

England’s kind of wet, windy and grey, especially compared to the places we all like to go on holiday. However I decided as a kid, that this was fair enough, as we don’t have to contend with tarantulas, poisonous snakes, cyclones or earthquakes threatening our everyday trip down the shops.

Equally, I’ve always thought that people who choose to live in the earthquake capital of San Francisco must be slightly mad. When ‘the big one’ comes, San Francisco will be a flattened and full of gun-toting looters. And that doesn’t make sunshine and rollerskating down the pavement worth it for me.

Did I mention I avoid disaster movies? I couldn’t even watch Lost because I couldn’t stop worrying about how I’d cope if my plane crash landed and left me in some sick, cannibalistic, Lord-of-the-Flies situation.

You get the picture. I am not completely risk adverse, but I prefer to choose my level of risk.

Much preamble aside… imagine the stunned look on my face to discover that my hours of research on Ecuador, were worth Nada. Squat. Diddly. Zip.

Or even less.

I learnt tonight that Ecuador has its own whopping arrangement of earthquaketastic fault lines. Oh yeah, and they run







Underneath the heart of Quito.

It is indeed a little known fact. Few locals know and the Ecuadorian Tourist Board don’t exactly pop it on the posters…

‘Why go to San Francisco when you can experience an  earthquake of Biblical proportions here in Quito?’´

Simply put, the ‘Megashear‘, is a group of three associated fault lines in the Earth’s crust and Quito really shouldn’t be built on top of them.

The fault lines start in Guayaquil in the South of Ecuador and run north to Columbia. Where they get really scary, they sit between two volcanic mountain ranges. These two volcanic mountain ranges are actually the bread around the long, narrow, ham and cheese city that is Quito. (You couldn’t make this stuff up).

Ergo – I am surrounded by active volcanoes, and sitting slap bang on a bunch of fault lines, ready to unleash a whopping earthquake on the city.
Joy, oh joy. (Dad, you were right, it was a bad idea!)

The reason I know this (and possibly the reason I may take a little longer to fall asleep tonight) is because I went to a talk by some guy called Theo (turns out to be a Prof. Dr. Theofilos Toulkeridis – CNNs volcano expert). Anyway he’s on the board of the South American Explorers club (go figure!) and  he did a really really interesting talk tonight which covered the creation of the planets, tectonic plates, earthquakes and volcanoes. All of which I had no idea would be so startlingly, poke-you-hard-in-the-chest-relevant, to Ecuador and Quito.

(Normal looking guy right? Greek actually.
Or should that be geek? He’s a very clever chap.)

Anyway on the upside, I can go and visit Baños now (town near exploding volcano Tungurahua), as nothing’s as peligroso as living in Quito. Largely due to the monstrous Megashear under a city of 1.5 million inhabitants, most of whose homes are Jerry-built breeze-block and corrugated iron constructions. (This is not Japan, we are not earthquake proof!)

Oh and just in case the Megashear isn’t enough to get you calling your taxi to the airport, the majestic and beautiful Cotopaxi volcano, (which I see out of the window every day), is active.  And should it erupt, (which it does on average every 117 years – we’re on 147 now, so a little overdue), it will do so by exploding sideways – like Mount St Helens in the States – causing masses of flying molten rocks etc and melting the glacier on top which will bring down its own tsunami-like-water-come-mud flows. Fab eh.

So what’s the conclusion to all this?

Well, it seems clear to me…

You can’t have a country with a stunning tropical beaches, breathtaking snow capped mountains, jungles, cloud forests, natural hot springs and an unrivaled variety of wildlife without some catch. And I think I just found it. See you Monday Mum.

Culture vulture

September 4, 2006

Im really getting into this Latin American culture thing… so here’s this week’s Sunday night top five Latin American recommedations…

1. Diarios de Motocicleta (2004). An excellent film, both amusing and serious. An accessible insight into the issues faced by parts of Latin America. It’s also a true story and I’m going away to look up some stuff on Che Guevara now (uncultured eeegit that I am)

2. I can’t recommend this book enough… Tales of a Female Nomad by Rita Golden Gelman (true story). Much of this book is set in Latin America, but it also move onto the forests of Borneo, Bali and a host of other exotic locations. It will open your eyes and get your feet itching. Rita also writes childrens books.

3. Gabriel García Márquez’s short novel Of Love and Other Demons was enchanting and absorbing. I’ve got 100 Years of Solitude out on the coffee table to have go at next.

4. And also, a bit harder going to start with but v interesting all the same is Saddled with Darwin by Toby Green. Another true story, in which Toby Green retraces the route Darwin took through South America on horseback. I liked reading descriptions of lonely horseback travel through hundreds of miles of countryside in Brazil and Uruguay (much of which is very similar to the kind of thing I’m doing now), which sits alongside a commetary of Darwin’s own journey in the 1800s.

5. The song of the moment out here is by a group called Maná Labios Compartidos (translation is shared lips, but honest it sounds lovely in Spanish – the website plays it, but only if you have a decent connection) and if you’re lucky some short Ecuadorian will sing the words into you ear whilst not stepping on your toes. Lyrics are here if anyone wants a translation excersize.

And that’s your lot pop pickers.