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.

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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: Easter on the Western Side of the Greenwich Meridian

I realise I’ve been blogging a lot over the last 24 hours or so but I’m on another plane. Somewhere possibly over Ecuador. Maybe Colombia. I actually think were still over Brazil. Either way, I have not much to do besides read (which requires a light which would disturb other people so… not now), be entertained by the entertainment system (but I make a point of staying as up to date as possible with movies so I’ve seen everything that isn’t in a foreign language), and write (which I’m doing right now.)
I’m also listening to John Mayer- just to mix it up a little.

I was lucky enough to get a window seat this time and the sky is completely black- save for one outstandingly bright star that I have to lean a little forward and look a lot backwards to see ’cause it’s behind the plane.
Every now and then the sky below us gets starrily speckled, too, in conglomerations of artificial yellow light. Like now, actually. There it is, a little South American town just below the plane’s right wing. It’s shaped very much like an electric guitar with a rectangular hole in the middle. Who knows why.

It looks like Easter Sunday is catching up with this side of the world, at last: there’s a stripe of red and then a stripe of orange and then a stripe of colour that’s kind of green but it’s also kind of blue and then there’s a a whole of blackness and then there’s that one outstandingly bright star that I have to lean a little forward and look a lot backwards to see.
It’s the kind of scene that simply will not be done justice with a photograph- no matter how brilliant the camera- but I’ll put one in anyway.

The fact that I can’t stop staring out the window somewhat makes me realise that I’m not really afraid of heights; I’m afraid of what happens when there’s no economy class plane seat beneath my now (after six hours of sitting) completely numb derrière. Though that realisation still does not mean I’m about to start climbing on every roller coaster in town.

I know that my family is probably having a good ole Italian- South African Easter Sunday lunch right now. My uncle is probably wearing a nationality-appropriate apron and waving a pairs of tongs around authoritatively. My sister is probably within two meters of a dog. A good portion of the family is probably talking about how far away I am or something of the like.
And I’m thinking quite a bit about everyone and how much I miss them but I’m also thinking quite a bit about the food.

The flight tracker thingy still says there are four hours’ worth of sky time left so… By the time I post this I’m going to guess that my family is most likely having tea and cracking bright red Greek Easter eggs and it’s nearly the end of Easter.

But Easter has just caught up with this side of the Greenwich Meridian so I have one heck of a lot of Easter left.

And if you thought the Swiss were big on chocolate, you should have seen the Brazilian airport.

Fast forward eight or so hours and guess what? I’m on a plane! Shocker.
This time I’m leaving Panama from an airport in the middle of a forest at the edge of sea.
One of the flight attendants could be my gym instructor’s brother. He was at his post at the front of the plane with his arms crossed and his gaze menacing and we were all feeling sufficiently intimidated. Then a little curly-topped boy wearing an abundance of Ben 10 merchandise jumped into the aisle and started crying. The flight attendant didn’t react aside from menacingly turning his neck to the side at which point (if this was a movie) there would be an audible click.
And we remained sufficiently intimidated.

We remained that way until some upbeat dance music played and – I kid you not he did a rhythmic cha-cha down the aisle.
We were then sufficiently amused.

Happy Easter! xo

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“A little bit of heaven never hurt no-one.” ~John Mayer (from, ironically, a song called ‘On The Way Home’.)