Monday, May 30, 2005

Hiking Hell

The Black Sheep Inn was lovely, all white adobe huts clinging to the side of an emerald green hill, flowers, birds, fat pet alsations, fat pet cuy and some not so fat pet Llamas. Add to this mix composting toilets bedecked with flowers an incredible view and delicious gourmet vegetarian meals and I was seriously hooked and happy.

With just one problem......... In amongst all this hippy, healthy, nature loving palavar I managed to forget on vital fact. I HATE hiking. On day one I was happy - we rode horses, we visited a cheese factory, walked through a cloud forest, galloped through the mountains - I was in heaven and didnt mind a little bit of physical exertion. Day two I over extended myself and agreed to go on a five hour hike from Quilatoa back to Chugchilan. I must have been insane and the warning bells went off when we were driven in the back of a truck for almost an hour to get to the place where we were to start walking home again....hmmmmm, but I put these thoughts aside and started happily at the crater which is the mouth of an old volcano now filled with bright blue water - all very unearthly and lovely. We walked and apart from wheezing like an old woman as we were at 3600 metres all was good. An hour in and the rest of the group have shot ahead while darling Ed valiantly walks with me. Two hours in and I am hobbling down rocky hills Cliff Young style and whimpering, Three hours in I am hobbling more and whimpering louder, Four hours in and I look up to realise we have to walk into the biggest canyon I have ever seen and then climb out the other side, I also realise there is no other way of getting myself home, there are no taxis, buses, trucks, donkeys, nada.. Wheezing, feet and knees screaming and then tripping into a prickly bush and scraping my hand I lose the plot. At the mouth of the canyon I plonk myself on the ground and start howling and crying like a five year old. Poor Ed has to coach me every step of the way and I whinge and whimper all the way down the path as lightfooted locals jog past. Some of the ladies were actually knitting as they walked down this hellish track with sheer drops of thousands of feet just beside them.

Finally we reach the bottom and I am happy for a moment before realising I have to climb an equal distance up the other side. The tears start again and after some hysterical demrands to be left to die in the canyon Ed and I find a solution - he pushes me from behind while I attempt to move my arms and legs uphill in the same direction. It works but is extremely undignified and causes much hilarity in any of the locals that happen to see us....oh the shame!

Finally, all dirty, tearstreaked and hobbling like an aged pensioner with a knee replacement I get home 6 hours later. As I stagger past the other cabins a fifty year old woman that started out with us popped out looking showered and rested - 'oh you're finally here' she says - 'I though you must have been injured - we've all been back for at least 2 hours, what happened to you?'. I couldnt even come up with an answer for this freakishly fit hippy and scuttled past to the shower muttering I will never hike again, TAXI!

Here come the chickens

After Quito the four of us made quite a long and difficult trek down south west to stay in a teeny tiny village called Chugchilan at a rather lovely and rather hippy establishment called the Black Sheep Inn. The Inn is 1 k out of this town of 100 indigenous people and is located on what the Lonely Planet described as a ´truly terrible road'. Road was a kind description for what was essentially a washed away dirt track that had sheer drops of 100's of metres on one side and landslide looking hills on the other. When we boarded our tiny bus our packs were lugged up onto the roof sharing space with a clutch of outraged looking chickens who were also tied to the roof and coming along for the ride.

Dialogue between Kate, Ed and Jonathon.

K: oh poor chickens tied to the roof, they look so outraged sitting up there.
E: yeah I wouldnt want to be a chicken in South America, mind you it would be bad being a chicken in Australia, living in a cage til you are eaten
J: Yes, at least these ones get to travel and see a bit of the country first.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Don't step on the Albatross

I can't imagine there will be too many opportunities in life when you get to shriek 'dont step on the albatross!' and mean it but in the Galapagos Islands this opportunity was betowed on Jason who saw it fit to warn Ed in this manner before he put his boot on a nesting albatross while fiddling with his camera. In the Galapagos you can forget creeping throught the undergrowth in the hope of a glimpse of a rare spotted something or other - here the wildlife is just so tame you are in more danger of stepping on it.

I had a few moments myself with a marine iguana, a sealion and a blue footed booby all of whom were just lazing casually at my feet as I blundered along the rocky paths. It is crazy but also quite wonderful.

We had 8 glorious days on these most strange and spooky of islands. The trip there was an adventure in itself, the main airport on the islands of Baltra had been closed so we had to fly to an outlying island (San Cristobal) and then get a boat over to our sailing boat. When we arrived we were told we would be taking a speedboat over and I had glamorous visions of a quick trip accross the azure blue sea that would be done and dusted in 20 minutes or so. It was not to be - in the worlds smallest (but fastest) boat we travelled across open seas for TWO hours bumping and crashing along all the way. I think most of us were ready for a chiropractic appointment at the other end. But I should be grateful, another girl was on a similar boat with a woman spewing into a clear plastic bag the whole way.....

However I should cut to the chase, we arrived at our most impressive sailling ship the Sulidae. The Sulidae is over 100 years old and looked so much like a pirate ship it was almost embarassing. We're talking black wood, fancy cabin windows, big faded red sails and wooden decks. I half expected Captain Hook to pop out and take the wheel. But dont get me wrong, it was gorgeous, the best looking and oldest vessel in the islands.

As for the islands they are a strange collection of unearthly and uninhabitable looking places. Some just all dark red sand and earth covered in spiky white trees. Others were all black rock and lava, some dark green and scrubby with white beaches straight out of a bounty ad. And the animals......within ten minutes of getting off the plane I spied huge black teradactor like birds wheeling in the sky and big fat sea lions lazing about on the shoreline or cheekily heaving themselves into boats moored the harbour and having a sunbake. One big lobo (sea lion) had even wriggled up onto the main road and was having kip underneath a local bus. Noone seemed suprised or the least bit concerened, it was like being on another planet.

Everyday aboard the boat went like this, huge breakfast then leap in the little boat to chug out to a new island - once there we would walk on the beach or the rocks checking out the local wildlife which could range from the ever present belching and burping lobos and their adorable little babies to boobies (big whitish brown sea birds who have huge bright blue feet) to pale green sea turtles, fluro pink flamningos (its truly weird walking along a beach over a small hill and coming accross a flamingo standing in a pond,) and even weirder still Penguins. The penguins look completely out of place here particularly the one we spied sitting in front of a huge catctus on a white sandy beach...all wrong, I felt like pointing it in the direction of Antarctica pronto. If we were lucky we would then snorkel with great balls of coloured fish, turtles and other interesting sea creatures and usually we would be accompanied by a couple of young and very curious sea lions. Generally the lobos would be content to swim around with us, bust a couple of cool manouveres and have a good stare at us but not one particular lobo who we nicknamed 'bitey'.

Jonathon compared Bitey to a child that you find really cute and appealing at first but who quickly becomes a total pain in the arse. We were at the Isla St Bartolome, famous for having both pinguinos and white tipped sharks. We hopped in to snorkel in the hope of spotting a penguin in action in the water but suddenly up popped this cute little sea lion. She ducked and dived and showed off, taking turns to zoom towards us all very close like she was blowing kisses - we loved her. After about ten minutes we spotted a sea turtle and swam off, well she didnt like that at all. She followed us and kept swimming in front of us doing tricks, flipping onto her back and blowing bubbles as if to say 'look at me not the turtle!' when that didnt work she resorted to more desperate tactics, zooming towards Jason opening her mouth and snapping at him, then me, Ed, Jonathon and everyone else. (she had big teeth).

Id had enough so I started to swim accross the bay but oh no, every few seconds Bitey would appear and zoom towards me going 'snap snap snap' I'm shrieking 'bugger off' but to no avail she carried on like this all the way accross the bay. When we arrived she seemed to calm down and was being nice until we spotted a penguin in the water - just fantastic as they look like they are flying under water, but before you know if bloody bitey has popped up and starts in to chase the poor penguin acrross the bay - it was like a cartoon with the penguin jumping accross the water with bitey doing the same in hot persuit. I almost drowned from laughing so much. Finally we had all had enough and swam back to the beach but oh no here comes Bitey once again, she heaves herself out of the water and follows us - it was a nightmare, I had visions of her sitting next to me on the plane home, I would never be rid of her. Plus she was being quite rude belching and barking at us all. Ed flicked some sand at her and she was furious, barking and hissing at him loudly. Then suddenly like she'd had a change of heart she rolled over onto her back and pulled some cute faces as if to say 'i'm really very nice' before finally leaving us and rolling back into the sea. I bet she just loves to do this every day to unsuspecting tourists.

Other excitement included Ed jumping off the boat one day only to look down and spot a shark sitting two feet below him, he levitated back into the boat at such a speed - amazing what adrenalin can do. I got charged by a cranky adult sea lion on a beach one day and Jason seemed to enchant the male boobies who all started doing their rather charming mating dance for him (this involves picking up their big blue feet slowly, pointing at the sky, wing spreading and whistling)- obviously Jason looked like a good sturdy nest builder or something.

The major lowlight, being left on a desert island for two hours with no water, no shade and just the company of Bitey and ten thousand mosquitos while our dinghy went awol. Finally Jonathon put his hat to good use and managed to wave down another boat in the distance who came to rescue us. For a moment there it was like an episode of Lost, maybe they should introduce a Sea Lion character to spice up the plot - I know one who would be perfect.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Sweet home Ecuador Posted by Hello

Dinner Posted by Hello

At the famous Ice cream shop Posted by Hello

My first llama Posted by Hello

My very own pop star

It seems that Ed has a doppelganger..... everywhere we go people comment that he looks like a certain spanish pop star who is VERY popular all over Latin America. Of course he is very embarassed about it but everyone has assured Ed that all the 'chicas' love Mr David Bisbal. (Actually Marco said Ed was like a slightly 'gordo' David Bisbal). Just think....I have my very own latino pop star.

For those of you that know Eduardo judge for yourself at

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A clown a day

Back in Quito, bloody crazy Ecuadorians. I had counted on getting an upset stomach, I had counted on seeing Guinea Pigs on the barbie but I hadn't counted on seeing a bloody clown nearly everyday of my Ecuadorian life! I hate clowns, they are creepy and scary and not in the least bit funny. Yet here they are clogging up the lovely old colonial streets of the Old Town with their nasty clowny ways. Something must be done about it.

Apart from that life is good. Twas very sad to say goodbye to our family and the little boys. On our last night Marco bought some firewood and we sat around the loungeroom in front of the fire and downed some wine. In the morning they made us promise to come back to Otavalo as their guests in June for the big fiesta and Yolly packed us off with some pastries for the trip. Such a lovely, lovely family - not to mention a bit crazy and absolutely hilarious - just my kind of people. Little Marquito even gave me his beloved recorder as a farewell gift, I could have cried!

Our last day of school was sad too. Smiley Juan was quite forlorn but I gave him a wee bottle of whiskey and a big hug which cheered him up. Eds teacher offered to take him to a shaman for a 'cuy reading' - picure this - the patient gets naked, a live guinea pig is waved around their body. Guinea pig is then strangled, an autopsy performed where any illness in the guinea pig should be reflected in the person. Guinea Pig as X-ray machine or scanning device if you like. All for 7 bucks (and you can take the Guinea Pig home and eat it later if you fancy.) Luckily for Ed the shaman was all booked up. Weirdly everyone from my teacher to Yolly (who is a dentist) actually believes it works. Smiley Juan swears thats how he found out he had gall stones. Crazy, clowny Ecuadorians.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Carb crazy

The other day for lunch I was served spaghetti with cheese.............on a bed of rice.........with a side of potatoes.

It would be enough to give Dr Atkins a heart attack (if he hadnt had one already that is....)

Poncho Power

I have a problem....I am addicted to ponchos. After making fun of them at home joking that I would run around south america in ponchos with llamas on the front I really am (well without the llamas). I love them.

You see the trouble is that Otavalo has one of the best markets in Ecuador and my school is right next door. There they are piled up in the market like lollies in all sorts of rainbow colours knitted in the most delicious warm alapaca wool. To make matters worse they only cost about 7 dollars each.....its just too easy to succumb. I'm convinced that I need one for each day of the week. I need help, soon my bag will be full of them.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Family Way

Well Ed and I have really settled into the rhythm of family life with Marco, Yolly and the little boys Marquito and Carlito. In fact we have so settled in that I have found myself doing some very regular 'homey' kind of things but with a slight equadorian twist. Take the weekend for example, on Saturday night Marco and Yolly decided to stash the kids at the cousins place for the night and take us out to a pena which is a nightclub. Instead of the usual doof doof music of our clubs at home and monotonous solo dancing we were greeted with a ten piece mariachi band in full spangled outfits and sombreros, glamorous colombian salsa dancers in sequins and a wild assortment of locals both old and young getting down and dirty in pairs on the dancefloor. (Eds teacher told him only crazy people dance on their own in latin america) All this entertainment for the paltry entrance fee of 2 bucks and we stayed out til 2am.

In the morning there was no time to be hungover as Yolly and Marco were up and at it again. First job, washing their dogs.....not just ordinary dogs but humungos Saint Bernards who weigh about 80 kilos each. Washing them was a four person job...its not easy to hang onto an 80 kilo dog that doesnt want to get wet. After the baths Marco put their leads on so we could take them for a walk. It was quite a scene, every dog in the neighbourhood went hysterical at the sight of Max and Mimi (and there are a lot of dogs in the neighbourhood). I have never seen an Alasation whimper and run a mile before but this one did as soon as he saw 'los perros'. People were also were running away and peering out from behind their fences at the strange gringos with the giant dogs. (I think the dogs look like giant teddy bears but to the neighbours apparently they look like demons). I loved it.

In the afternoon we all retired to Marco and Yollys bedroom where they keep their enormous surround sound tv for a Jet Li movie (dubbed into espanol of course) before Ed and I prepared an Australian style Sunday Roast. (I even managed to make gravy out of vegemite!). They all thought it was pretty funny that Ed was in the kitchen - over here its strictly a task for the ladies.

Today we are taking the boys for swimming lessons but again with the usual Ecuadorian twist...forget the stark council swimming pool of my childhood. The pool is a veritable pleasure palace with mosaics and murals, a spa, a sauna and of course a mirrored bar in the corner that sells beers. I love it!

Friday, May 06, 2005


Apparently Ed and I have been married for two years.
This came as quite a shock to me I must say as I only found out about it yesterday. I was sitting in the loungeroom at Marcos sisters house when she asked me how long we had been together. I rounded it up and said 'two years' when Marco interjected with 'yes yes, married for two years'. I looked at Ed who just smiled, nodded and said, 'yes, married for two years'.
Dammit I didn´t even get to wear a nice dress. And where are my wedding presents?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Broken English

One of the worst things about learning a new language is the difficult 'sinking in' period. At the moment I go to school every morning for four hours and only speak spanish, I then have a quick walk home with Ed where I speak english before I am consumed by my family who only speak espanol until its time to go to bed. In fact Yolly has taken the hardline with me at home, she is now calling herself professor Yolly and has installed a rule where I am only allowed to speak espanol. If I don't she shouts 'no Katy no! espanol solo!' and if I look at Ed she shouts 'no Eduardo no, Katy hablar espanol!' its really quite exhausting somedays( Infact the whole thing is leaving me so exhausted that I often slink off to bed by 9!). The result is that my spanish is getting better (well probably at the level of a 5 yr old now) but my english is going downhill fast.

Today I told Ed in english that my 'feets were liking their new shoes' and later I told him I was taking notes so I 'don't be boring'.Ar this rate I will never get another piece of writing published again.

In other news the trip to Colombia was quite amazing apart from the fact Id eaten an evil empanda the day before so I spent most of the windy car ride thinking I was going to chuck. We went to a church where the virgin mary supposedly appeared 200 years ago and in honour they built this huge disneyland-esque church right across the deep gorge where it occured. The image of mary is in the rock which now forms the altar to the cathedral (if only they would do the same thing on the council fence at Coogee!)The climb down was steep and some fanatics were doing it on their hands and knees. Other people were buying big plastic containers to collect the river water below the church cause they think its holy, it was crazy. I almost disgraced myself by vomiting in the church but I managed to draw on some willpower I never knew I had though sheer horror of embarassing myself and the family and managed to keep it all down. Surely a miracle in itself?