Blogging South America: Arriving in Paradise and a Laughter Workout

I would like to apologise for being too lazy to update until now. Well, I’ve only actually been lazy for the last two days, not four, because the for the first two days I didn’t have my iPad with me so I wrote in a journal. The handwriting is a bit pathetic because I’ve got that crippling I-haven’t-written-for-two-weeks-so-my-hand-has-forgotten-how-to-hold-a-pen-and-create-readable-letters side effect of a carefree holiday. If it was somewhat readable I would post a picture of it on StarrCrossed and be done with it but that’s obviously not the case. Also, the way my English teachers teaches us The Scarlet Letter has taught me how to write fast so there are a whole lot of acronyms and seemingly random brackets and symbols scattered across the pages that only I could understand. So there’s that longwinded backstory. Shall we continue with my adventures in – to quote a tour guide- “America but in the South”?

Today (Thursday 24 April) we drove through more Cloud Forests and along the famous Avenue of Volcanoes (named by Dr Humboldt.) The trip took five long hours but we stopped along the way for snacks and bathrooms breaks. On the bus our tour guide, Leonardo, told us about this Ecuadorian delicacy of eating beetle larvae and because it’s an “Ecuadorian delicacy” I was tempted to try it. Until I saw it. I quickly retracted my culinary adventurousness when I saw this fat, orange, alive thing the size of an ambitious shot glass squirming around on a kebab stick over a smouldering fire. Some girls tried it. Most of us stared in horror as they moved it towards their mouths, and then in amusement as their facial expressions told us we’d made the right decision.

After those long five hours and a five minute canoe ride we arrived at our hotel in the Ecuadorian Amazon Basin. I know I’ve said a lot about Ecuador’s scenery being breathtaking but take all of those awestruck compliments into this place because it is pure paradise. There are flowers I’ve never even imagined and and abundance of greenery that, I would like to argue, must single-handedly be supplying the Earth with oxygen, and birds’ songs that would make any professional singer jealous.

After having lunch in yet another unique and exciting place, we swam for over two hours straight in the pool. We played ‘Marco Polo’ and then at some point five of us Matrics formed a little conversational circle. While the others girls threw a water bottle substituting for a ball around, we shuffled around the pool around in our little circle and laughed. We talked and laughed, I swear, for an hour and a half. We talked about such random things: crocs, Trevor Noah, partying habits, water aerobics (we created our own water aerobics class for about two minutes)… You name it, we probably talked and laughed about it. We had a whole 90 minutes. When asked why we were laughing so much, we blamed it on having too much oxygen because the Amazon Basin is at a lower altitude to Quito.

There is a group of Americans staying at the hotel, too. I was standing we behind an Indian man in the buffet line when he asked where we’re from. I said South Africa and then asked where he was from.
He said, “I’m from Michigan. We’re from all around America. We’re part of that U2 [something or other] travelling group.”
But he said it like I was supposed to know this ‘famous’ travelling group. I didn’t. I also didn’t want to look like the clueless African so I nodded, smiled, said, ” Oh wow.” and then piled spoonfuls of boiled broccoli and carrots in my plate.

This place is wonderful. I’m sitting in bed writing this and all I can here is crickets noises and the Napo river just outside my mosquito-net window. In our little slice of paradise we are completely cut off from the rest of the world (well, I am at least since all of my gadgets were purposefully left in Quito). It feels fantastically strange.

Blogging South America: Cotopaxi and Room Service

Today we went mountain biking down Cotopaxi which, at 5 897m is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Driving through the Avenue of Volcanoes in the bus was quite terrifying because most of the roads are covered in layers of ash and rock and tyres kept losing grip. Hugo, our bus driver, kept having to stop and reverse and take run ups. Well, drive ups, I suppose. But on either side of these roads there are either steep drops or deep ditches and seeing the wheels roll backwards, perilously close to the edges was heart-stopping. Hugo has done this route several times before so he knew what he was doing but that didn’t exactly offer much solace as the distance between bus and moderate cliff decreased.

Eventually (thankfully!) it was decided that the Little Bus that Couldn’t had to stop braving the ashy roads so we got out and hiked the rest of the way. We stopped at around 4 600m to collect our bikes. We were warned it was going to be cold so I felt very much like the Michelin Man dressed in my hiking boots and socks, two pairs of pants, a vest, a t-shirt, a long-sleeve pyjama shirt, a fleecy rain jacket, my new alpaca beanie and scarf (it’s getting cold; alpaca beanie- heehee), and two pairs of gloves. Believe it or not, I was still freezing. And I couldn’t pull up my scarf over my nose because then every time I breathed my sunglasses would fog up. I still have all my facial features,though, (even if some don’t exactly function properly. Or at all) so don’t be concerned about that. We began our thrilling ride down the mountain. About an hour into the ride, the clouds cleared just enough for us to see the snowy top of the volcano. The rocks were a rusty red colour that looked awesome against the green of the surrounding land.

At the end of our 15km, rocky, bumpy, can-no-longer-feel-my-butt-but-that’s-okay-’cause-it-was-worth-it bicycle ride, we at lunch at the foot of Cotopaxi. After that we had a long bus ride back to our hotel. We spent the trip taking turns telling each other the plots of every horror movie known to this generation but that was only fun until it got dark. Then we played this game called ‘Never Have I Ever’ and let everyone share their love life stories and awkward/ embarrassing moments. I made some puns that made the whole bus laugh and I felt very powerful. We laughed until we could barely breathe (and not because of the altitude this time) and we arrived at our hotel at 19:30 but I could’ve done that the whole night. It was so much fun getting to know everyone.

The language barrier made an appearance again when we ordered room service. My friend picked up the phone, dialled 3 and, when the lady picked up, said, “Buenas noches.” and then immediately after, “I don’t actually speak Spanish. Sorry.” We ordered our food and it arrived many hungry minutes later. We lifted the lids only to discover that the lady who picked up had somehow mistaken ‘Fresh fruit’ for ‘French fries’. So there was that hilarious incident that you probably had to be there for.

PS: I’ve packed my backpack for our two days in the Amazon basin. We’re leaving early tomorrow. I don’t know how much internet access I’m going to have there so some posts may be a couple days late. I’ll try my best.
Miss me too much xo

Blogging South America: Flying through Cloud Forests and a Hummingbird Luncheon.

Whenever you visit a foreign country, you will almost always hit a language barrier. After we got off the plane in São Paolo we kept going round in circles looking for where we could check in for our next flight because no authoritative people could never stand us, let alone help us. Eventually we stopped in a relatively crowded part of the airport and one of the teachers, in frustration, shouted, “Does anyone speak English?” to the general area.
“I speak English. It’s the only language I know!” said an bearded American pilot whose navy-coloured uniform was decorated with a variety of winged badges. He looked authoritative, alright but he was completely useless to us because he, too, was stuck on the same side of the language barrier as us.
Staying in a hotel, you will also come across a variety of people with nationalities. Being the polite school girls we are, we try to greet those we walked past in hallways or meet in lifts but it is rather tricky to decide in three seconds whether to greet the person in English or Spanish. A couple of safe options are either to singsong a whole lot of vowels that make a word that sounds like both ‘Hello’ and ‘Hola’ or, simply, to smile. This can be awkward, though, because nearly no-one returns the friendly facial expression. The Ecuadorian tourists I’ve come across must just be inherently unfriendly.

Breakfast was really early this morning because we had to be on the bus at 7:00 to take the two-hour trip to Mindo, a small but charming town in the northern hemisphere part of the country. Between Quito and Mindo there are several microclimates to be admired as you drive along the twisty roads in the Andes mountains. The changes between microclimates is almost instantaneous. One side of the mountain is dry and covered partially by small shrubs and shirt grass and then suddenly your looking at thick, dense, dark green forest intermingled with clouds. Again, no photograph could do the sights justice. The only things that really could have improved our absorption of the natural beauty was if the bus remained somewhat perpendicular to the ground and if Ecuadorians could start obeying solid lines on the road. Especially around blind corners bordering cliffs. That would be nice.

You know what would also be nice? If I wasn’t deathly afraid of heights. I so wanted to go zip-lining through the Cloud Forest canopy but, considering I nearly passed out on the cable car (which, to be fair, was a little rusted and operated manually by a man working a machine that looked more than vaguely like a car stripped of its covering. It was also freaking high.), I thought I’d better not. The cable car ride over a valley was fun, though. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be zip lining so I stood at the front of the 1m x 0.7m steel basket and held on for dear life. It sounds cheesy but it really did feel like flying, standing up in the basket with the air rushing past my ears so fast I couldn’t hear anything but the wind. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Below us (far, far below us) was the Cloud Forest; giant trees and a rushing river and a thin veil of mist between them. If my breath hadn’t already been taken away by the flying feeling, I would have said the view did. When I stepped off the basket in the other side, I almost fell into my Biology teacher; I hadn’t realised it but my legs had turned to unset jelly. My hands were shaking. The world spun a little. It was at this point that I decided I would not survive zip lining.
There’s that scene in ‘The Notebook’ where Noah says, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.” And there’s that song that goes, “I’m like a bird; I wanna fly away.” And I just think these people must not be afraid of heights because if I we’re a bird, I’m pretty sure I’d be a penguin.

When everyone was across the valley, we hiked through the Cloud Forest, and that was fantastic. (I know I sound repetitive but there really are no words to describe this place so I have to use some lame repetition.) Hiking down was fun. At the end of the trail there was a roaring waterfall and a turbulent river. Hiking up was hell. The scenery was still stunning and the clouds rolling along the ground and the trees cooled us down but the altitude certainly took it’s toll on us, regardless. I felt embarrassed because I knew how red I was and how much I was sweating and panting but then when I got back to the cable car, I saw that everyone else was much the same. “It’s the altitude,” we defended ourselves. Which it really was. And the walking-through-clouds thing didn’t help the sopping wet situation. I sound like I’m complaining. I’m not! This trip has totally been the most sensational experience of my life and I’ve enjoyed every split second of it. The environment’s just going to take some getting used to.

After the braver half of the group had finished zip lining, we went to a Butterfly Farm. Good grief there are some massive butterflies out there. There was one the size of my face (no exaggeration) whose wing pattern made it look like a snake. Another smaller one had wings alternating between being black and being transparent. There were scarlet-striped butterflies and bright orange monarchs and huge yellow ones. We went into a room with all of them with our sole aim to have one land on our finger. So we drowned our fingers in sugar water, ran around the room with our hands raised above our heads and repeated, “Land on my finger. Land on my finger. Land on my goodman finger!” We looked more than a little crazy and most of it was in vain but we sure had fun running desperately after butterflies. Not the face-sized snake one, though. We ran away from that one. It looks like a snake for a reason.

When we left the Butterfly Farm it was almost two thirty and we were ravenous so we, logically, went for lunch.

The problem with eating traditional food for lunch in South America is that I’m really enjoying it. Let me explain: I’m getting attached to some of the things they give us because they’re so delicious and they won’t be available back home and this is a problem. There’s this smoothie-like drink made from apple custard fruit and raspberries or some other red fruit that just makes me happy when I drink it. And I’m going to miss it.
Anyway, today we ate lunch in a restaurant called Sachatamia that made us take off our shoes before we went inside. At first I thought it was just because we were all muddy from the Cloud Forest but then I noticed that nine of the waitresses or other guests was wearing shoes either. Everyone inside pranced around in their socks. The restaurant has fancy wooden floors. While I was running to tell my friend something, I slid uncontrollably and my shoulder became violently acquainted with the side of a wooden pillar. I now have a long, line-shaped bruise on my upper arm which is more embarrassing than it is painful. Aside from having a no-shoe rule, the restaurant prides itself in being surrounded by almost thirty species of hummingbirds. So while I was eating my deliciously buttered trout and boiled vegetables inside, outside there were hundreds of vibrant hummingbirds flitting about and drinking nectar. We were allowed to go see the hummingbirds up close and I now know why they are called what they’re called. When I stood silently still, I could hear the thrumming of their wings as they flew past my ear. Now that was truly spectacular. One hummingbird flew a bit too close and its wing tapped me on the ear. This experience ended all too soon as we had to get back on the bus for our two-hour ride back to Quito.

We had take away chips for dinner and sat by the steaming pool to eat them. We laughed once again at the people who could not believe they were looking at pale people. (This, to be honest, is getting a little creepy.) Then, exhausted, we went to bed. Flying and hiking and having hummingbirds fly into your ear really takes its toll on a bunch of teenage girls.
It’s so awesome.
Until tomorrow xo

(I quickly want to add here that most of these posts are uploaded the day after they’re written because of Wifi scarcity. For example: this post was written on and about Tuesday 22 April but it’s only being posted on Wednesday. Sorry about that.)