Well I left Quito…but I’m pretty sure I’ll be back. It was sad, but Patricio took me to the airport and I nearly missed my flight because I did a web check in and arrived an hour before departure, but had luggage (well it didn’t say you couldn’t have luggage!) and I’m supposed to only have hand luggage or something… anyway I whizzed through the airport until I got to this HUGE queue for Immigration. About 300 people and 8 desks… and 40 minutes to my take off. They actually started calling out my name on the tanoy, but still the crummy guards wouldn’t let me go in the zip queue. In the end in desperation I just pushed right in 5 people from the front and no-one seemed to mind… and I made the flight.

Anyway, a short almost 2 hour hop to Panama City and I stood in another immigration queue, to leave the airport and spend a few hours of culture discovering Panama, whilst my big rucksack (Emmy’s actually) waited for me to board for Cordoba.

Because of my limited finances, I shunned the advances of a bunch of tour companies and pressed the lady on the info desk to tell me how to get a bus to downtown Panama. It actually turned out really really well, because these local buses are a bit dangerous for a single girl like me, obviously foreign looking etc. and I was befriended by two lovely gay Venezuelans, Rafael and Marcilino. Who were bogged down with luggage for a 5 night stay and also on a major budget. After they’d had a long conversation with a helpful airport worker lady who was at the bus stop, we ignored the buses and hopped in one of the taxis that were trying to pick up tourists at the bus stop… it was $5 to go downtown, instead of the official airport price of $25. Our driver, Omar, who initially I thought was very dodgy, but actually turned out to be a complete star… apart from some dubious LOUD regaeton which he played in the car.

We toured Panama the whole day… finding the guys a hotel, doing a little Venezuelan money laundering, me finding a scary flick knife on the floor under Omar’s seat, which I really didn’t like (I told Rafael and Marcelino just in case)… then looking around the Casca Viego (Old town), which is crammed full of the most beautiful old colonial buildings, some restored and others with trees and plants growing through the empty rooms.

And it was HOT. Soooo hot and humid. Dubai style.

We went up Ancon hill and looked down to the sky-scrapers which are rapidly filling the coast line and looked at the 40 or so huge boats waiting to use the impressive feat of engineering which is the Panama Canal. (Which sadly I didn’t learn as much about as I was expecting).

We crossed the Bridge of the Americas, which joins North and South America and is at the end of the canal (apparantly 12,000 boats pass under it’s arch every year) and finally went to the Milaflores lock (big famous tourist lock at the end of the Canal, or the start depending which end you start from). There weren’t any boats due to go through until much later in the afternoon and as it costs to go into the visitors centre, we gave it a miss (bar some photos on an old french steam train which was used to construct the lock) (bit of a regret that really, but can’t really complain, it was a good day and we saw some other great stuff).

Eventually, via a few errands for Omar, we headed back to the airport. $20 dollars lighter for the day trip and about $5 dollars on lunch and some water, I think it was a good deal. Plus I have friends in Venezuela to visit whenever I want.

So… back into Panama airport… a souless place which somehow exhausts you after just one lap of the shops. I had virtually the cheapest thing on the menu in the only restaurant, a huge burger and chips… for $10. I would happily have had a half portion for half the price. Boarded the plane (sitting next to the male half of a Argentinian couple in their 50s) and off we went.

There is no time difference between Quito and Panama, but Argentina is three hours ahead of Panama. So what looked like a ghastly 9 hour flight was a much more bearable 6. (And for all of you counting on your fingers… I’m now only 2 hours behind you all in the UK). I managed some sleep on the flight which was hideously hot (I ended up just in my seat in my jeans and a vest top, perspiring mildly. No shoes, socks, cardigan, blanket or anything), and we were awoken for breakfast at 3am… which to me was midnight… and not good. Finally we made it down into the darkness of Cordoba airport and Miguel met me and zipped me up here in his little Renault car/van thing (Dad you would have liked it) in about 45 minutes. No traffic on the roads at all. Well it was 5.30 am.

Big differences are

1. There are no mountains or volcanoes (despite the estancia being located in the Sierras Chicas, the oldest mountain range in South America)

2. Kevin and Lou talk of us being high up at 1,000 meters. (So not when you’re used to 3,000 and more).

3. I keep looking around in the bathroom for a bin to put loo paper in (Quito doesn’t have the most capeable sewage system and paper does not go down the loo) and then remembering I can put it down the toilet.

4. It’s warm and sunny.

5. There are paraqueets in the trees.

6. The horses are larger and there are over 150 of them!!!

I’ve been throught the house rules with Kevin (younger brother of Robin who owns the Estancia). It would seem that Robin is the boss, and Kevin the manager. Their father who lives in Buenos Aires looks after the cattle, which I haven’t really seen anything of yet.

It would seem like I’m going to be working… with the horses, pretty much full time! They have a schedule… and I’m down to ride every day from Saturday for a week a bit, apart from… get this MY DAY OFF! I get a day off everyweek. Whoo hoo. (Although I have a feeling part of that day will be spent using a rather antiquated old washer).

Right now I’m in a guest room in the main house right now; two of the other helper girls Astrid (British, 29) and Sophia (Argentinian, speaks and looks English) are leaving on Sunday and then I’ll move down to the girls house, about 5 minutes down the hill.


12 hours in Panama

February 26, 2008

Good job I checked my tickets… have to be at the airport for 6am; I thought it was 3pm! And it looks as though I have 12 hours to kill in Panama.

After some hasty research it looks like

1. Check rucksack in airport, pay entry tax

2. Grab taxi to the Panama Canal to look at the Milaflores Lock. Have mid morning snack in their restaurant overlooking the lock.

3. Get next taxi to the Amador Causeway… a walkway, built from the silt and rock that they dug out when building the Panama Canal. Take a stroll, have some lunch.

4. Go people watching along Avenida Central, pop up Ancon hill to see views of the city and the Bridge of the Americas, which joins North and South America together.

5. If not too tired, hot and sweaty… 30 degrees and humid… sit in the Plaza de la Independcia, visit a museum or pop out to the Parque Metropolitano to look at sloths and things.

Anyway what I really don’t have time to do is to read and write this stuff, as I HAVE to do loads of stuff for Sally in the next 10 hours!! Arghhhh!!

Washing is on at any rate!

Mullered in Mulalo

February 26, 2008

Had a little cry this morning. Had to say goodbye to Patricio in Pintag and it was horrible. Did it as quickly as possible, but still was a snivelly wreck, unable to speak properly. So just called it a day, he knew what I meant, and headed for the gate and the bus.

I hate leaving and can’t believe it’s time to go again. Six months just flies by.

That said, there are the leaving parties…

You may notice some new pictures on flickr of a slighly bawdy party at Washington’s Hacienda in Mulalo. It’s become famous that place, with Clint on the wall. It’s impossible for Ride Andes workers to go there and not get Mullered in Mulalo. Washington would be hugely disappointed if we were well behaved. He’s usually got the music on at 4 in the afternoon and the bottle of puro out at 6.

It was a good party. Some different faces to last year; no Anne or Santiago, and an Estevan, Juan Veloz and Anita instead. But all in all, all good. As usual someone vomited in the lounge. (Not me.)

I made my escape back to Quito early in the morning by bus and slept the rest of the day. Others had to take the Bealby group out for 6 hours riding to Chalupas… I wouldn´t have minded.

I’ve taken my last Ride Andes riding tour (for now at least), a lovely Swedish family of four; the kids (9 and 11) rode better than the adults. We took the high pass of 4100 meters over Rumiñahui, picniced in the chagra’s caves, rode around the lake and watched the wild horses. It rained. But you can´t have everything. Jose Javier had to bribe a guy to let us up through his land… and another to open a locked gate… and then again to get into the National Park without an official guide… I forgot the cheeses one day… JJ didn´t have a water poncho on the last day and got quite wet… JJ, Patricio and I stayed up late in Tambopaxi drinking Pilsener and I rode, bareback up the steep paramo one evening leading 3 other horses… much to the videoing delight of the guests. It was all fabulous.

When it was all over and I was back in Quito, guests safely deposited in their comfortable hotel, Anna and I got ready for my last Saturday night out. At about 9.30pm Estevan  and Fernando turned up, having driven down from Cayambe. Estevan was very much already the worse for wear, and we went out to La Mariscal for a few beers and some cocktails and a couple of shots. I don´t know where the time went… all of a sudden it was nearly midnight, and we went to a club, Seseribo. A well known, local salsa club.

Fernando salsa-ed me into the ground and was a completely, utterly, brilliant dance partner. Estevan was more interested in beer and Anna had her hands full looking after him.

We left at 3.30am. The bar bill was astronomical.

We stopped twice on the 5 minute drive home… once for hotdogs the second time for chips and burgers. 

After a slow start on Sunday, Anna and I made it to El Colibrí… the roundabout with the hummingbird in the middle (colibrí means hummingbird in Spanish) and Patricio, Magdelena and Jose Sebastian duely arrived in the trusty landrover.

We were going for Hangover Hamster. (Well guinea pig actually, but the aliteration’s too good to miss).

I´ve had the spit rosted guinea pig (cuy) once before out here and didn´t really like it, but Sangolqui is famous for it and has a whole street dedicated to roasting the poor little suckers on wooden sticks.

We ordered 2 whole guinea pigs and some chicken soup for Jose Sebastian. The cuy came with potatoes, avocado, hot sauce and salad. We tucked in. Crackling skin, chomping little bones and generally really enjoying ourselves. Afterwards we went for an ice cream. And finally up to Pintag, which takes me back to where I was at the beginning, crying and trying to say goodbye to Patricio.

And now it´s Monday evening, I´m in Quito and I don’t want to leave.

I am excited about Argentina… and I´m sure it will be great. I just love this place. Not necessarily the working for Sally, but the volcanoes, the great people, the music, the horses and the open, wild countryside.

Anyway, nothing I can do about it… right now.

Enjoy the pics… we enjoyed making them… hasta Cordoba…


Rip me off, I’m a foreigner

February 12, 2008

I had one of those mornings today, taxis wouldn’t put on their “taxi metros” (meters) and started making up random figures to take me places, and the guy in the Fuji photo printing shop wanted to charge me for fuzzy images that didn’t have the resolution to go large. And then to top it off I spent over an hour in a mobile phone shop, trying to explain and understand complicated things such as why Sally’s Blackberry wouldn’t run Opera Mini 4.

Sometimes being a foreigner (estranjero) has upsides, but more recently I’m wishing I could boot polish my face, shrink 6 inches and 3 dress sizes. I also had a pointless conversation with someone speaking English, purporting to be an American, but with even less sense than George Bush who appeared to have no grasp whatsoever of South American countries despite being employed by Copa Airlines. In the end I gave up and set off to the Copa office in Quito. Sadly what the freaky yank had told me, appeared to be correct… so I sloped off out of the shop and tried to come to terms with not getting to go to Bogota because it´s just too flippin´ expensive to change my ticket. I mean, like, it´s completely on the way… let me out with a parachute part way over Colunbia… I´m going to miss such a great party, sniff.

Days are counting down to my leaving Ecuador… again. Very very sad indeed. I have some lovely lovely friends here and hate leaving. Especially because I don´t know when or if I can come back. Financially – and guys, remind me of this before I trot off to buy my next ticket to South America – it´s not viable for at least a year, possibly two. But it doesn´t stop me wishing I didn´t have to go. I´m going to miss the volcanoes and the people and the horses. Hope Argentina can take my mind off it all.

Speaking of Argentina, as of February 27th, when I take to the skies, I don´t have a clue when I´ll have access to email or the web. So if you don´t hear from me for a while, it´s not because I´ve got in a snit or forgotten all my great mates and extended family at home… it´s because I can´t get my hands on a PC.

And if anyone still is occasionally reading this blog, this is where I´ll be www.ride-americas.com and they have a blog here… www.estancialospotreros.blog.com.  

With the impending travel excitement of Columbia and Argentina I’m doing something I should have gotten around to much sooner… doctoring my photos and uploading them.

So watch out for pictures of New Years Eve – which on the face of it looks like a great deal for Karin and I, however all the eligibles are actually gay, so nothing doing there; a million pictures of butterflies taken in butterfly paradise aka Mindo, in the north of Ecuador; and a bunch of family shots of me and grinning parents taken all over the country… which I really like.

So with the flood of photos pouring (although sadly, at the speed of a thick molasses through a sieve) into flickr, let us rejoice at the empty memory card and bring on the pictures of places new.

Moving on…

Last night Karin rescued me from self imposed house arrest and eternal boredom in the darkest, dingiest, coldest, flat in all of Quito and took me to her WARM AND CARPETED haven on Avenida La Republica, where she lives on the top floor with her Rottweiler, Freyer. We watched a reassuringly thin-plotted-string-cheesy-hideously-unrealistic American schmaltz fest with Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz. I drank tea and ate biscuits. It was lovely. Later we talked about all that is wrong with men. This took some time. I got a taxi home at 12.

Other things…

A number of you have been sharing just flipping brilliant news with me recently… weddings, babies and the like. So congratulations to you all… 

And to those of you have asked – as a number of you have – when are you coming home?
The answer is, I don´t know. I have still to bite the bullet and buy the ticket. Although in case any of you have hideously busy diaries… I´d put money on it being late November early December 08.

Hopefully the owners of the jointly appalling KLM and Air France websites, which appear to have spawned the devil of all sites in their Flying Blue loyalty scheme, will allow me to buy a ticket online.

I would like to earn more air miles, however their site is the functional equivilent of Jet2.coms shouty, crowded design and features an amazingly breakable navigation and overcomplicated login security. All backed up by their completely non existent customer service team who may only send you a login after you have died. So it is a little difficult to get your hard earned free-flying-hotel-stay points and upgrades.

In my humble opinion the Flying Blue experience is only exceeded by Nationwide’s immensley cryptic kitten baffling login, which has caused me to rant into their equally rubbish feedback form on a number of occasions, and in fact completely Cease And Desist from using their online banking.

What thanks for this customer feedback you may ask? Zip. Of course.

And finally, thanks to Mum for leaving a copy of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy in the flat in Quito. A contentious and unpopular winner of the Booker prize in 1997, it wasn´t on my list of things to read. And as in fact most of the novel seems to spiral downward, to an inevitable and painfully glimpsed at tragedy, constantly reminding us that “things can change in a day”(for the worse!), it isn´t the lightest of reads either.

It is however intricately, cleverly and eventually, absorbingly written. Magically bejeweled with the 7 year old twins’ descriptions and observations, all fluidly woven into and over the backdrop of changing political and social India. It took a little getting into, but the style of writing really drew me in with its repeated themes, imagery and smells, lighting up the dark oppressive heat of the book´s subject. There’s a Fitzgerald quote early on as well, one of my all time favorites, so I was probably always going to like this book. If you start it, stick with it to the end. It leaves you smiling somehow.  

Night night x

Big day

February 3, 2008

Got up early, cooked sausages and made potato salad for the picnic.

Kept out of Sally’s way until she left, only running half an hour late, with Anna on first day of week long riding tour.

 Went to loo. Still ill.

Slept for 3 hours.

Checked email – nothing. Walked to pharmacy.

Bought 10 antibiotics and 6 stomach settling pills. 

Walked back.

Ate a slice of toast and bovril, carefully. Drank some water.

Took 1 stomach settling pill. Half hour later 1 antibiotic.

Slept some more.

Boiled a potato (medium sized). Kept back door open to get rid of gas smell. (New valve appears to be leaking gas.) Nibbled a white chocolate truffle (Sally doesn’t like white chocolate) (there’s still two thirds of it left.)

Mashed and ate some of the potato. 

Slept and read some more. Checked email – nothing.

Drew curtains. (Nibbled edge of white chocolate truffle some more).

Reheated rest of mashed potato, and fried 5 runner beans.

Ate them. Slowly.

Checked email – 2.

Listened to tummy rumbling.

Went back to bed. Took second antibiotic. Cold.

This is why I don’t write the blog every day. You’d all be asleep at your desks. On the upside this is slightly more than I did yesterday and certainly more than I ate. Although how long my potato will stay down is another question altogether.

4 times a night

February 2, 2008

Not every night thankfully. And no, I’m certainly not refering to any charming young Ecuadorians I may have met (Nikki!). I am in fact referring to the amount of times I can be phyiscally sick and vomit in any one night.

While Mum and Dad were here (they have gone now… very sad, miss them lots, very very glad they came out), they had their intimate moments with a variety of bathrooms, some cleaner and more comfortable than others, and I yesterday had mine. To date this trip I haven’t had much occassion to hug the porcelain, thankfully. However, yesterday, something that I ate for tea did not agree with me, and a couple of hours later I was coaching myself into being sick in the little bathroom (very small, square room, tile floor, meaning pukey-coughs echo throughout the flat). I don’t know if was a large glass of water I drank (maybe Alex hadn’t boiled it long enough to get rid of any weird germs) or some homeopathic remedy I´d had a bit of to clear up a cold were the culprits, anyhow, I was getting rid.

Anna, our lovely new Irish helper, was a complete sweetheart and was in the kitchen brewing up an oregano tea the moment the first rush hit the toilet bowl. (Sadly oregano tea just makes me think of pizzas and wasn´t really what I was looking for.) I went back to bed with a hot water bottle. A couple of hours later, I awoke again with a very queazy stomach feeling and trotted off to the bathroom once more. And again at about 4am and then again, finally at 6am. Throwing up in perfectly organised order, my dinner, my afternoon snack, my lunch and then my breakfast. Bulemia is not for me.

I´ve spent most of today in bed, aching everywhere apart from my arms.

It´s funny what people think you need to eat when you´re ill. Plain rice and chicken are Sally´s favourite cure-alls, and she and Anna both favour all kinds of herby teas (and I must say the ginger tea was very good this morning). But really, I think everyone hast their own foibles and favourites, and so while neither of them were around I crept into the kitchen and had a slice of brown bread and bovril and some flat pop. That did the trick. Got little more than a headache now and the remants of the cold I was trying to rid myself off with the horrid homeopathic stuff.

Tomorrow morning is an early start, Anna and Sally are starting yet another riding tour. I will be taking over on Wednesday for the final part in the south.

Only 26 days left in Ecuador now. Not long at all. I haven´t been able to change my flights (so far) to include a week in Columbia, so it looks like it´s going to be straight down to Argentina on the 27th. Which I am looking forward to immensely. Anna´s done a stint in Argentina before and her Spanish betrays the twinges of an Argentinian accent, which I expect I shall have to get my ears around and will doubtless mangle my Ecuadorian accented Spanish into some dreadful half way house.

Hey ho. Just 3 tours to go.