Soy guia

September 26, 2007

It’s official, I am a guide. Just successfully completed another tour. No mishaps, no falling off, no dislocated thumbs, dismounting headfirst, or geriatrics who can’t get on or off, only a bit of a dodgy tummy for Martha one day.

We – Martha and Jill, sisters from Manchester – rode for 4 days up in the North around Otavalo and in the Zuletta valley, famous for its fine embroidery (none of which I’ve wanted to buy yet, maybe if I were 40 years older).

It’s a bit tricky guiding a route that you perhaps haven’t ridden for 8 months, or worse still, have never ridden at all. Sally showed me 3 out of the 4 days routes the week before, but to be honest I can’t always remember where we’ve been when we go out for 6 hours at a time. After a while one big rock looks rather like another and I just can’t remember if it’s left of right. And often when there isn’t even a path, just a scree of slightly grown over landslide rock, I could really do with a decent something in the distance to head for. Hey ho. Tranquila.

Fortunately I had Estevan to make sure we didn’t wander aimlessly and end up lost and heading towards the Oriente. Estevan (27, recovering alcoholic, not married) used to work for Sally when she first started out here, guiding rides from Hacienda Cusin. For some reason, he wasn’t working here last year (maybe the alcoholism or perhaps the racehorse he had on the circuit for a while), but now he seems to be back in favour and brought along a little bay gelding – Rodrigo – to ride and augment our little group of four horses from Sally’s farm.

The girls, Martha and Jill,  were a good laugh. They indulged heavily in vino and especially on the first night, even Andres the manager at Pinsaqui was bewitched by their blond locks and dished out a free bottle of wine and some shots of Norteño. Dangerous times, I ducked off to bed early to maintain some professionalism! Interestingly, they are 2 of 3 sisters, all in their 40s and none of them married and all without children. They had boyfriends… but it makes you think… maybe I’m going to go sailing through my 30s and still be single. arghhh!

Anyway, so for now I’m living in Quito. Only had one over night up in Pintag. So in Quito just tapping away on the keyboard, tagging pictures on Google Earth, responding to emails and trying to get the websites moved to a new server. Hmm. Can’t see as much weight loss or generally healthiness happening as last time.

We’re having a little soiree here on Thursday evening, salsa lessons and nibbles, then out to some new opened Salsa club. Sally’s on a socialising mission at the moment. Recently single, she’s in need of new flirt material. Eran seems to have bitten the dust, and he’s planning to sell his tourism business here – Gullivers – and move back to Israel. The English guy she was seeing is just too far away. So we’re looking for a new love interest or two. See what turns up I guess…

Samantha’s virtually been banished to Pintag. As I said before lovely girl, worked her way up in the casino business to be a manager in some of the high rolling clubs in London. Unfortunately she and Sally keep coming to blows and having BIG arguments. (They make me look like a complete push over and all of a sudden I’m the mediator and the reasonable one!)  As far as I can see, the less time they spend in confined spaces together… (no more 4 day camping tours)… is better as far as their relationship goes.

As for me, Sally and I are fine. So far so good. Even had the map out last night together to see where her farm is in Uruguay – hoping to visit in October next year.

I also seem to have picked up an interested party by the name of Pedro. He works for Sally in the South and was working on the charity ride, where we spent a fair amount of time together. Mainly when I was in the land-rover feeling altitude sick and possibly a little irritable (some of  you know what that means), I may have shouted at him a couple of times for driving too quickly and rattling me to bits as I sat on the floor in the back of the land-rover. But at last, without any effort, my treat ’em mean technique appears to have worked. He keeps calling Christian and Estevan to try to speak to me, says he’s in love with me – ah Latinos, never prone to exaggeration.  

And that’s your lot for now. Really wish I had something more exciting to tell you… ooo Jonas, friend of Sally’s was just round here, showing off the scars in his neck where he got shot in the jungle a few months back. Bullet went right through his neck and amazingly didn’t hit anything important. He was hijacked, shot, tied up and had to escape. Horrible story. He’s been trying to tell me it could have happened anywhere… I’m slightly unconvinced. Run over by a bus, yes that can happen anywhere, not sure about the rest.

Cuidate!

And the good news is…

September 19, 2007

I can get radio 1 out here now!! Last year when I tried to listen to UK radio via the Internet it all sounded distorted, like Chris Moyles was broadcasting underwater. But this year I can listen to my mate Shourjo on BBC Radio Leeds and Chris Moyles albeit a day late. Whoo hoo, bring on the technology!

You might have spotted a few new pics appearing on the site. I haven’t actually taken that many, because a lot of the places I’ve been, I’ve been to before and I don’t want to bore you all. However this week I’ve been riding solidly, learning the routes for the two sisters I’m guiding on Friday. As part of the reconnaissance thing, I got to go to another swanky hacienda built in 1919 which is next to a Jesuit retreat built before the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767. Oh and a rose plantation – yay! 

Think I may have mentioned before, but due to its position on the equator Ecuador can grow some of the longest stemmed roses in the world and it’s one of the countries top exports, along with bananas. The sun is directly overhead for more time in Ecuador than any other rose growing country in the world. This produces long straight stems, add to that the fertile soil and cool nights, roses just love it. So we popped off to visit a plantation called Rosadex.

Here’s some facts for the brainiacs amongst you… 22% of their flower export business is done over Valentines day. 18 million stems a year. They have special technicians who slow down or bring on the growth of the roses so that they hit a maximum yield in the days running up to Feb 14th.

Roses are sold to North America, Europe and somewhere else I’ve forgotten. Each market has different requirement of roses, e.g. some like long stems and small rose flowers, others like little foliage and big flower heads. And then there’s the colours, a rose plant can produce good flowers for up to 9 years, but if the colour goes out of fashion, the plantation have to dig up all the plants (and use them for compost) and put in the new latest colours. Obviously red (in particular a variety called “sexy red”) is always a big seller, but at the moment two-tone pastel roses are all the rage.

As well as their regular greenhouses (the have 12 of these massive plastic covered sheds) but they also have a “test” greenhouse where loads of different varieties are grown on trial; to see how, amongst other things, how straight they grow, how many leaves they have, what the colour is like, how many thorns there are, how many petals are on the flowers, how they open etc. Interesting stuff.

(If you wonder what all the naff pictures of the yellow roses are… they are having problems producing yellow roses with straight stems so over half of the test greenhouse is given over to testing different types varieties of yellow roses.)

70% of the employees at the factory are women (it is said that they handle the flowers more gently) and they each have a few rows of plants which they are responsible for. Each day they pick up their orders and cut the appropriate number of flowers. The stems are then graded (see rubbish picture of the factory, where no-one was working) by length of stem e.g. 70 cm 80cm 90cm etc.

Anyway, you get the gist, if you want to know more, you’ll have to come out here.

So last night, with our wilting roses in the minibus, we dropped the tourists off at Hacienda La Carriona and Jorge drove me back to Quito. Today I’ve largely been faffing around, tootling around in Quito doing jobs, getting keys cut, checking the PO box, buying printer paper and receipt books… I forgot to take the earth toilet scoops back to the shop though. Whoever said this job was a step back? Also called in at South American Explorers and will probably go along to their quiz night later this eve… need to make some more friends – sniff, sob.

Hasta luego!

Tour numero uno

September 13, 2007

Well that’s the first tour over with. 19 guests, an unmanagable amount of ajudantes (helpers) and a lot of putting up and taking down tents, sandwich making and lugging bags around. Of the 5 days riding I only got a day and a half, which is a bit poor in my opinion.

Anyway, this is the bunch at the end of the ride…

Charity Ride People

(Sorry if pics a little distorted, in an internet cafe and in a rush!!) A few other pics are on flickr and should give you an idea of what I’ve been up to.

Anyway, there’s me down near the front. Sam’s in the blue top on my right. (Sam’s the other “volunteer”).

Some things are very much the same being back, the buses, the little people, and I’m pleased to report that my Spanish is motoring along, even if I’m making thousands of mistakes I’m organising restaurant reservations in person and on the phone and working with a huge bunch of locals.

Got a bit of altitude sickness up at Cotopaxi this week though, so was pretty glad to come back down to Machachi at 2900 meters. It’s like a light headache that just came on stronger and stronger and then made me feel really sick – although I didn’t vom.

We had a doc on the tour this time, a lovely lovely lady called Jenny. She looked after our various invalids, including a girl who fell off on my ride on the first day. I was pretty glad she was there, although in the end there was nothing broken and in fact my first aid course came in really handy.

Others in the group were young (think the rabble of an 18-30s holiday – very popular with the chagras drinking around the fire on an evening) and older e.g. Sheila – 71 – a complete liability on a tour that involves 7 hours riding every day. She fell off once and apart from that creaked around looking so frail I was paranoid she was going to break something. She didn’t manage all the riding, so I had a lot of company in the rattly landrover with her and the girl who fell off and didn’t really do much riding after that cos her ribs hurt. We also had two five star ladies (dubbed Patsy and Edina for the tour) who were a little concerned on the bus from the airport and heard to say “we don’t reallyhave to share rooms do we?” yeah, right, and tents and loos and pee in the outdoors… funny really.

Anyway, I’ve had zip time to get on the net and can’t see myself getting much more for a few more weeks as I’ll be on tour until Oct 14th I think. Will try and keep up to date, in the mean time check out flickr.

I´m back!!

September 4, 2007

Can´t believe I´ve made it back… in Quito right now, despite a raft of obstacles cropping up at the last minute…

1. Severly underestimated how long it takes to move out of my house (eg was still cleaning the oven 4 hours before my flight left). Big thanks to my family and friends for pitching in to help get the house sorted!

2. My car had a window smashed and then tried to not start on me. (Big thanks to Ma and Pa for helping to sell it as I didn´t manage to).

3. Rain and fog looked like stopping play out of Leeds Bradford (Cheers Bro for getting me there.)

4. The plane was delayed 3 hours in Amsterdam

5. Then we stopped at Bon Aire (Dutch Caribean, wouldn´t have minded getting off there for a bit) and then at Guayaquil in the South of Ecuador.

As you can see my support team of family and friends got me here. Although at times I did wonder if I wasn´t supposed to get here!

But right now I´ve got an eye full of mountains and am all unpacked in chez sally. Also have met my new room buddy – Samantha (Sam), from Manchester maybe a smidge older than me and definitely up for a laugh, so it should be good, she´s also going down to Estancia Los Protreros later in the year to take over from me when I finish there. She´s a serial horse riding travel person too, and has done time in SouthAfrica and is going to a ranch in California after here.

Anyway, it´s picnics and panic as first guests arrive on Thursday night… bring it on!

Big love