Argghhh.. no internet

October 27, 2007

The phone line has died in the house in Quito. All the jobs I’m supposed to be doing for Sally are now a bit harder to do. Have decamped and set up in an internet cafe near the post office. Thankfully this PC is faster than Sally’s and has Adobe PDF writer – joy.

For last few days I’ve been trying to organise a trip for a visiting journalist. I’m meeting her at the airport on Wednesday and giving her back to some other tour agents on Thursday night. Sounds easy, but so far, 2 of the people I’m going to see aren’t returning my calls, and neither is the driver. However yesterday I did go and spend a few hours familiarising myself with the Hacienda we’ll be spending Wednesday night at. No website for this place, it only has 3 suites and is owned and lived in by Giovanna and Ernesto and their two sons (8 months and 7 years). It’s a really nice place, so I’m looking forward to staying there. (Mum, Dad – hope to be taking you there as well, it’s accessible by bus to Sangolqui/selva alegre and then round a 2km stroll to the Hacienda itself).

Anyway, I’ll keep trying to confirm exactly what horses Oswaldo and Diana are lending me and try and get in touch with the driver for the airport pick up!!!

Just been joined in the internet cafe by the bar man from Cafecito, which is next door. All nice, I know people, almost like being in Chapel A. Well not quite.

Currently thinking of catching a bus (from a terminal really close to the house) to Lima and flying from there to Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile. Going to go and price that up shortly. All direct flights from here to BA or Santiago are about 700 USD.

Before I came back to Quito (to a broken internet connection and phone) I was up in Pintag for 5 days. Samantha went to Columbia (had an amazing time by all accounts, loves Columbians now!) and so I went up to help Christian out and to ride Anemeika, the 5-6 year old we broke in last year. It was all lovely to be back up there actually. Patricio, Magdelena and Jose Sebastian were on holiday, so in the evenings Christian would come into the house and light the fire and I’d make a bit of tea for us both (and Fraser, the boxer dog).

I’ve been trying out my TEFL skills on Christian, without a whole bunch of success. So far all he can say is “would you like…” and then we try tea, coffee or chocolate. Other words I’ve tried to teach him, “saddle”, “stirrups” etc just don’t seem to get through. Do you remember the episode in Friends where Phoebe’s trying to teach Joey French? And when she says “je voudrais…” Joey just says “honhehonehon” in a french accent. It bears no resemblance whasoever to what Phoebe just said. Well it’s like that with Christian, no matter how clearly I model the word (albeit in my Yorkshire accent) he can’t even hear what letter it starts with or finishes with. So saddle could be “pafflle”. Difficult.

Anyway, no other goss really. Hope all’s well back in Blighty.

Fellow bloggers

October 20, 2007

Guys – found these two blogs today… they belong to Merrill and Stewart, two lovely guys from Alabama (with the deep south accent… y´all) that I met recently and who are doing all kinds of good deeds to add richness to their lives as trainee medics.

Have just had a good read of their adventures and experiences as newbies in Ecuador and reckon they´re far more interesting than my days at the moment (stuck in the office most of the time). And it’s lovely to see what they find wierd about living out here, reminds me so much of last time. Anyway these are their blogs if you want to get to know them… Merrill and Stew. Happy reading. Isn’t the internet wonderful.

Also, went out with this Ecuadorian guy called Hanvel the other day… Hanvel being a corruption of his father’s name Angel and Velasco with an H in front. He fibbed about his age, but the internet showed him up, that’s what happens when you have an unusual name… he took it well when I mentioned it though  😉

(Slightly worried at what surprises t’interweb has lined up for me at a later date!)

Very little to report in these anxious times before the RWC kick off tomorrow. But worry ye not, I have located a backpacker pub to watch South Africa’s crushing defeat (I wish!). Come on lads, you can do it!!

And that’s it, Sally se fué a Uruguay anti-ayer, entonces soy solita en Quito, porquai Sam se fué hoy tambien a Columbia este mañana y Fraser fué con Patricio a Pintag. Soy una pobrecita! Y este frase es por mis padres que continuan apprender español en Inglaterra. Que bueno! Hasta enero Mami!

P.S. forgot to say, there was much hilarity last year when I inadvertantly revealed myself to be a complete twit (again) when Correa was voted in as President here in Ecuador. The posters all over town said Dale Correa, so I thought that was his name… Dale Correa. Not unreasonable I think. Anyway, his name is actually Rafael Correa… and Dale Correa just means Go Correa! Doh. The good news is it isn’t just me, Stewart from Alabama thought he was called Dale too. And he’s almost a doctor and speaks Spanish, so I’m in non too shabby company. Misleading posters I say…

A steady weekend

October 15, 2007

Afraid I’ve got nothing new to say. Ecuador is – rather surprisingly – the same as last year. Some of the faces are different, but nothing really fundamental has changed.

Yesterday Ecuador lost their first World cup game qualifier. So the country’s a little despondent today. Hence the tone of writing in this post. (Unlike England and South Africa in the rugby!! Come on lads… you can do it on Saturday!!)

I just got back into Quito from the equivalent of the office party up in Pintag. (I am now the Ride Andes social secretary and Head of Catering.) The English feel for the party was provided by my pineapple and cheese hedgehog and Sam´s jelly and cream. Sadly no pass the parcel this year… you shouldn´t try and recreate the magic.

There was a bit of bbq outside (I was disappointed it wasn’t half an oil drum like we see on the pavements all the time, but it actually was and looked like a regular little coal fired bbq) and a chat with a few familiar faces, Jose Javier and his family (2 little girls 1 and 4 years old and his wife Solidad) and Santiago showed up later for cake and coffee with his two kids and Veronica. Plus Patricio, Magdelena, Jose Sebastian and Christian. All very nice.

Actually the whole weekend´s been quite easy going. The last tour officially finished on Friday – but I wasn´t on the last few days anyway, thank goodness, because it chucked it down, hailed and the group nearly got stuck in a bog because the white hail stones covered up the paths. So yesterday, in a feeble attempt to cheer up the sodden guest of the day before, we took her out to lunch to a place called Rumiloma with a few of Sally’s other guiding friends. (Jonas – the mad Swede – and his business partner in all things bird watching Charlie, Sherry, Sam and I.)

Some friend of a friend had recommended it to Sally and it is the most surprising, gorgeous place, clinging tight to the mountain side of the Pichincha Volcano at 3620 meters. There are fantastic views (a near vertical drive up, I almost felt the car tipping over backwards), and TOTALLY bursting with beautiful antiques from all over the world, many custom made for the Hacienda. To give you an idea – in Quito, there´s the monument Virgen del Panecillo (the angel on the hill). This is modelled on an original carving… which is IN the hacienda. Very beautiful.

Anyway, the place is owned and managed by a woman who is nothing short of a Flemming heroine…

Mid to late 40s, blonde, charismatic, charming and sexy, dressed in long black evening dress and wrap and black leather ostrich skin boots, Amber was (if I heard everything correctly) brought up a Mormon in California, then adopted by a Jew. She left home at 14, avoided being recruited by both the Navy, Airforce and CIA through college, speaks Russian, Swedish, Italian, Spanish, English and goodness knows what else, (her uncle speaks 29 languages fluently, apparently) found herself in Ireland for a decade with a string of racehorses, then whilst doing charity work in South America met her dearly beloved on the side of Cotopaxi volcano (he was the climbing guide), married him and settled in Ecuador where she now has 4 daughters (one set of twins) a couple of attack trained German Shepherds and a herd of llama. I’d describer her as a cross between Nigella Lawson (the food in the Hacienda is utterly magnificent) with a bit of a bond girl-come-Cruella de Ville thing going on. And she’s probably not short of a bob or two.

We went up for a lunch, and as we’re clearly influential in the high end tourism business, found ourselves being treated to a… 16 course taster menu!! Joy. Deep Joy. This was not a ride picnic of cheese and meats.

Huge beautiful prawns, scallops from Chile, crabs claws, thai nibbly things and rolls, carpaccio, tuna, lamb in sangria, sticky rice, red curry, green curry, locro soup, I can’t even remember half of what came out…. and when we had no more room, postresbaked cheese cake (you’d have loved it Ibbo), macadamia pie, chocolate torte… and a cup of Earl Grey. We were all hugely, hugely stuffed. It was utterly fabulous.

All with a view down the mountain through indigenous trees, sitting on our antique chairs, in front of open fires, the setting was not at all unpleasant.

(PS – They have a beautifully plush day bed upstairs directly infront of a picture window, which was just screaming for me to settle down on it with a crisp glass of white and a book. Next time…)

As well as the dining area and other beautiful rooms over 3 floors for general lounging around in, there´s a… proper pub downstairs… complete with 12 year old single malts, dart board, pool table and shot bar… which deserves special mention as it is a train set, with little houses, a church, hills etc… and you sit around it and the train brings your shots around to you on the carriage!! Attention to detail should never be underestimated.

So we passed a very pleasant 6 or so hours high up in the mountain. Talk is of having Christmas day up there. (No tours actually on Christmas day this year, so we girls need something else to do instead, obviously). Next time of course we won’t be taking the car, elementary error…

Hey ho, so on with the day job… I will be guiding a couple tomorrow on a day loop ride around Pintag and neighbouring village Ooobejus. (Which I think I’ve spelt a little too much like how it sounds, but you get the idea.) Then Sally is away to Uruguay sometime on Tuesday. I don’t expect to see any sign of packing until an hour before the plane leaves (note, plane leaves, not an hour before Sally is supposed to be at the airport) and will have my pen at the ready to take quick fire instructions as time shrinks and urgency increases.

Hope you all enjoy your week.  

And so to bed. 

Firestarter

October 10, 2007

Having just spent half an hour on my hands and knees arranging bits of paper, egg boxes and wood into a clever little pile, and steadily working my way through half a box full of the matches  I can confirm that I am not a natural firestarter. However at least now I can hear the encouraging crackle and snap of my labours in the next room, so some heat should be edging it’s way in the air around the flat. Phew.

The rains have arrived in Ecuador, signifying the start of the wet season. The flat in Quito is colder than usual and the patio is swimming in half an inch of rain.

If only it had held off until the weekend. We were half way through a riding tour when the rain came and we had to make an emergency canter stop under some trees to liberate the ponchos de agua from the back of the saddles and avoid the cold, wet and heavy blobs of rain as they fell.

The countryside has looked increasingly yellow and brown for weeks now and talk has centered around how much we need the rain for the fields. However, as in England, although we talk about these things in farming circles, when the rain does actually come we are usually caught out; in town without our brollies or – agriculturally speaking – with a crop of wheat still standing in the field. Ecuador is no exception and although Oswaldo at Hacienda La Merced Baja wanted rain, he hadn’t quite got all the wheat and barley in. Hey ho, farming is the same the world over.

Last weekend up in Pintag, Magdelena and I were babysitting the horses, waiting for Sally, Patricio, Samantha and Christian to return with a group of tourists, when we noticed some smoke at the bottom of one of the fields. It hadn’t been smoking long, because I’d been down in the fields earlier filling the water troughs, anyway, there was a fair bit of smoke, so armed with two sopping wet rags, we went to investigate.

Local jovenes (youth) occassionally set fire to Eucalyptus leaves on the ground at the edge of our property, so it’s not unusual to find scorched patches of earth beneath the trees. This time though they had excelled themselves. The grass in the field was dry as hay and the anonymous culprits had actually come into the field with some bits of paper/bags of rubbish and started a fire. The sky was filling with clouds and the wind was up, so the fire had really caught. By the time we got there, an area half the size of a tennis court was on fire.

The horses were sheltering at the top of the field, while Magda and I began thwacking the flames and smoking dung piles with the wet rags. Quite a sight I can tell you. The clouds tempted us with little drops of rain, but not enough to properly extinguish the rising smoke. Eventually we resorted to buckets each, and poured water around the edges of the smouldering area to prevent it spreading. After about an hour and a half your blackened bomberas walked back up to the house to clean up.

Anyway, now the place is wet through, so that will be the end of fireman duties for a while. In fact I’ll have to go back to my fire in the lounge and make sure it doesn’t go out. Fancy a cuppa anyone?

A dirty dancing moment

October 2, 2007

So you know I was having salsa lessons last time I was out here? And last Thursday we went to a salsa club? Where we danced (average to badly) and watched two of the BEST salsa dancers anywhere… or at least in Quito.

Geez they were fast, and bendy and utterly fantastic to watch. They kept completely clearing the dance floor, as everyone avoided dancing next to them, cos the club is small and no-one wants to dance next to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, cos you look… well… stupid.

Well anyway, it reignited my desire to dance some more, learn some more pasos. So yesterday I wandered off into Mariscal and booked myself in for a Spanish class and a Salsa class for this morning. Spanish went well, my present tense is good and we´re working on the two past tenses now – I do use them a bit, but really need them grinding into my memory. I´ll be onto the homework after this. And then I went to Salsa.

Same dance school as I went to last time, a teacher called Jonathan, who I think I may have had or seen around before, but I don´t remember learning with him. Anyway, arrogant?!?!? You´ve not seen anything like it since Leeds United players allegedly (thanks L) used to hang around in City Square kicking people´s heads in on a Saturday night. (Is that libelous?) 

He is however a very beautiful black man from the coast of Ecuador, with some rather impressive muscle, although not too much height probably about 5´7. Try as I might, I couldn´t quite shake the feeling that I was the old rich hag in Dirty Dancing paying for dance lessons with an ulterior motive. (This is NOT the case!!).

 He is, as you’d expect, a not too shabby dancer as well. The guys who can really dance are such strong leaders it’s amazing. It’s completely clear where I’m supposed to be going, as he pushes and pulls me around, telling me to relax my arms and not to fight him (resisting the urge to lead is difficult sometimes!). Anyway, a strong lead makes ALL the difference.

Moving on…  I thought I´d shaken a fair bit of my English reserve in recent years, but apparently not. I can confirm it is slightly embarrassing dancing close with a muscly, vest-top wearing, beef cake for an hour.

Fortunately it was going fairly well. Mostly. I was only a bit dizzy, and by and large was executing lots and lots of turns, with virtually no basic step in between. All that practise in night clubs and dance schools does seem to have sunk in somehow.

Incidentally, today´s class made me realise why last Thursday it wasn´t a good idea to drink beer and dance – my ability to do the turns decreases exponentially with every beer consumed. In fact, this kind of leads me on to thinking,  this must be why in England we don´t dance with partners… because we´re generally a few sheets to the wind by the time we hit the club. Or if we do, it´s a slow dance, which really amounts to nothing more than holding each other up until the bouncers chuck you out.

Anywhooo, we even – with some practise and, I admit, pathetic giggling on my part – mastered some wiggly arm move thing (you´d never believe it was possible without double jointed shoulders, but somehow it is) where you don´t let go of each others hands and do about 4 spins and duck underneath bits, all the while keeping your salsa feet going. Complicated I´m telling you! But it was good. Did some other funny steps too, ones where the girl starts on the left leg and goes forward, very unusual, got it in the end though.

An hour certainly is enough for a dance class, it´s not for the faint hearted. There were about 15 minutes to go and he started teaching me another new move. Imagine this – and try not to laugh too hard – we stand side by side, both facing forward, (try it at home if you like) me on the right, somehow he has hold of my left hand, and he pushes/spins me through a 360 turn, out to the right on my own. It takes me 1, 2, 3 steps and a pause and I´m done. So now I´m an arm-stretch away from him to the right. Still facing forward. And then with a sharp tug, he reels me back in. 1, 2, 3 steps and stop. Fine so far.

So we build on it a bit more.

The really, really, really, funny part is what I´m supposed to do is to come right back into him, i.e. not be standing at the side of him, but be right in-front of him pressed close, my right foot in-between his two feet. So we practise this a little bit, and I honestly do feel like the useless Jennifer Grey from early in the film, crashing back in from my 360 spin into the chest of this (did I mention, attractive, strong muscly?? and yes arrogant) guy.

Hmm.

Well it gets worse.

Once I´ve overcome my crash embarrassment and got the spin a bit more under control, whizzing back into his chest a millimeter away from his face, without too much embarrassment (and without too much style either it has to be said, I think at this point I did say, “I am British you know.”), he says I´m supposed to have my right arm raised high, holding his hand and, get this, my left leg coiled around the back of his knee. OMG! I can see where this is going. And it´s not to a good place.

Okay, so I´m pressed against him, arm held high, and I lift my left foot off the floor and coil my leg behind his knee (it feels so wrong… I am so English!!), and he tells me to relax my back and dips me.  It feels like my head is almost on the the floor, but is probably nothing like, to the count of three, at which point he scoops me back up and we continue with steps and dancing as before. Beat that for a new move!!

So we practise that for the next 15 minutes. I am utterly rubbish, but am determined to get better. Spin out, spin back, don’t crash into him, coil leg thing, don’t giggle, dip. Arghh! Over and over. 

I can’t help but think that it would help if weren´t a class and I´d a quick vodka and coke and it were dark and he were a boyfriend. However, practise makes perfect. I´m back tomorrow for another lesson!

Incidentally, note for Mum and Dad: the class is very professional, and a very good dance school. He has no interest in me whatsoever.

It was just hilarious I had to tell you about it. I was laughing my head off trying to get it right, he probably thinks I’m completely bonkers.

Ciao ciao xx

Back in the groove

October 1, 2007

Had to smile today, was waiting for the bus up on a windy rock in Pintag and the dustbin wagon came past. It’s one of your classic yellow dumper trucks, with a couple of guys in the cab and two or three in the back, one of which rings what is best described as a leper bell, reminding people to get their rubbish out. I’d already left ours at the gate before walking down for the bus. Anyway the truck goes up the hill ringing the bell and then back down collecting the rubbish from tin cans, sacks, boxes or whatever; the guys on the ground punting up all manner of things into the truck for the guys in the back to sort.

Anyhow as I was watching, a guy on the top narrowly missed being hit by an up-thrown rubbish filled oil can. In mild retaliation (or so I thought) he then dropped a heavy old feedbag – also filled with rubbish – back down to the ground, it landed just half an inch in front of the guy who´d punted up the oil can in the first place. The guy on the ground took this well, considering, and then proceeded to put the heavy rubbish sack in front of the twin back wheels of the truck. Shouting “dale dale dale” after he´d done so. The truck driver took the tuck forward a meter or two, very effectively squashing the contents of the sack, which was then thrown back up into the back of the truck. Very impressive use of the back wheels – who needs expensive rubbish crushing jaws or colour coded wheelie bins?

I have been up in Pintag for the weekend. It’s been quiet and incredibly windy. Blustering around the house all day and night, reminded of me at living atop a hill in Yorkshire actually.  I’ve been there on my tod, as every compis mentis adult and some less so, have been off to their home towns to vote in the Assembly.

When I was here last year, the talk in the back of taxis, in bars and on the farm was all about the election and the main candidates running for the presidency. The new guy – Rafael Correa – was voted in last November and came into office in January. To be honest my political knowledge isn’t what it should be, but if you want to know more the BBC seem to have it (plus a pinch of salt). The voting in of a 130 strong Assembly is a continuation of Correa´s plan to give power back to the people with a new consitution.

However, as with all votes in Ecuador, presidential or otherwise, we’ve had to content with the inconvience of losing all staff for 24 hours while they travel to their appointed city to vote – 1.5 hrs to Quito for Patricio; 8 hrs by bus up to Carchi  for Christian and 5 hours to Ibarra for Magdelena.  Voting is compulsory out here, you are given a piece of paper saying you voted and are required to show this at various times throughout the year e.g. to renew your national identity card. Without it you have significantly fewer rights.

Also compulsory is “Ley Seca” the non-drinking rule which means the whole of Ecuador isn´t allowed to drink from Friday lunchtime to Sunday midnight. (Voting is all day Sunday). Although the voting slips are notoriously complicated to read, and in a country where many over 40s can´t read or write, it has been suggested that a slightly merry voter may make a better decision than a sober one.  

Anyway, so I´ve been manning (or womaning?) the farm while an exodus of biblical proportions occurred through the rest of the country. It´s been nice to have some free time up in Pintag, no matter how windswept – and it really was, never-mind what you may have heard about the windless doldrums around the equator.

I´ve sat in the fields, refilled the water tanks and plucked at the dry grass, stroked the dogs, lit the fire and contemplated the flames. Read a couple of books and taken my favourite mare, Cantinera, on a gentle hack to reacquaint myself with the local area.

It is very dry out here at the moment, the countryside is yellow as everyone waits for the late afternoon rains to come and water their parched and ready-planted fields.

We have two week-long tours to get through before it gets really wet, (Sally and Sam are in the south circling Cotopaxi as I type and I´ll be trying not to get lost guiding up in the North on Saturday), then Sally flies out to Uruguay to guide a couple of rides in more clement weather.

My job this time is different to last time. Samantha is in Pintag far more than me, working the horses etc. like I did before. And I´m in Quito much more of the time, doing office jobs. There´s a spare laptop in Quito though, so if we can get the dial up connection working up in Pintag, there´s a likelihood that I´ll be able to keep Sam company up in Pintag and reply to emails when Sally´s away next month.

And that’s it really. I’ve been here a month now, and feel like I’ve properly settled back in. This morning from the bus I saw someone had spray-painted in gold on a cow’s black flank “Yo (heart shape) (star shape)“. Which was kind of nice. I’ve had a horrible record-breaking four-dead-dog-day… Christian and I sat in front of the horse truck and counted in two hours 4 dead dogs in the road on the way to Otavalo: Never seen that many before. And I’ve learnt – officially – that the indigenous people are like American Indians and are missing some alcohol tolerance gene, which is why they act like crazy people after two halves of lager. 

That’s your lot.

*dale = “go” and sounds like when spoken “delé