Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My Brand Spanking New Best Friend

I'm pretty certain that if pure joy has a face and chubby cheeks, it would look like this:

What a muffin!

This is Logan Maeve Ainsworth! Can you even begin to handle it!? I most certainly cannot. HUGE congrats to our dear friends Blair and Jeff who welcomed this healthy girl yesterday evening.  She came in at 9 pounds 7 ounces... atta girl! Blair and Jeff, we're simply over the moon for you two.  We're so glad we got to spend time with you in September and cannot wait to meet her in March. So much love to you 3!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Still Beachside

Well, we haven't moved much!  We are still in Huanchaco and enjoying it so much that every day we wake up and say... maybe we won't move on today either... The weather and the people are really nice and the waves are pumping. Our tentative plan was to head inland to Huarez, but it is rainy season and from everything we've heard and the forecast it looks like we'd be in for a muddy adventure there. We're torn because we've heard such wonderful things, but you just can't do it all.  For now, we're happily posted up beachside.

Front Porch Huanchaco - our room at the hostel

La playa bonita

We've been enjoying hanging out with the crew from Thanksgiving. JJ, who runs the hostel also runs a soccer school and coaches the local team.  He played professionally for 15 years in the States and is a total crack up.  Yesterday we went to a BBQ fundraiser for his team of 12 and 13 year olds, followed by their game and this morning he managed to get a team of gringos out for an 8:30am 3 on 3 game.  It was really good fun running around, playing soccer while  listening to the waves crash with a group of people from all over the world. 

Half time

Chris (who we hiked the Quillotoa Loop with), Trav, Dawson, JJ, Sergio

Better than Beckham

Friday, November 25, 2011

First Few Days In Peru

We waved goodbye to Ecuador and hopped a nine hour bus to Peru.  We've come up with a great system for long bus rides where we break time into 'innings'. Every hour is an inning and each half hour is the top or bottom.  A candy bar equals a 'ball' as it keeps you in the game a little longer.  We crossed into Peru in the bottom of the 6th. The border crossing went very smoothly, and around the 7th inning stretch, the scenery changed dramatically.  We went from giant, rolling, green hills and valleys to big, dry, flat, white desert.

The long, hot 8th.

Once in Peru, we found ourselves in Piura, a bustling and hot city with (as usual) lovely squares and parks. It's taken us a few days to adjust to the nuances of a new country.  In Ecuador, a set lunch is called an almuerzo whereas in Peru, it's a menu. Our first day in Peru, with one quick question, I found that I had ordered myself a plate of chicken and some soup.  Also, in Ecuador the hot commodity in a hostel is an included breakfast, but in Peru  it's a TV and a fan.  In time, we'll get it all figured out.  We enjoyed walking around Piura, and really enjoyed the ice cream spot at the end of our block.  We went both days.

Beat the heat

The next day, we were back on the bus again for a quick six innings.  We felt like we were in the lap of luxury as the bus had seriously cushy seats (think La-Z-boy). We really thought we'd struck gold when Twister started.  Most buses we've been on play movies, mostly pirated and usually dubbed, but always pretty bad.  After Twister ended, we realized we were in the midst of the weather disaster series when the Lifetime original movie Tornado started and then moved right into NYC:Tornado Terror.  Bad. Real bad.  Anyway, we arrived in Trujillo and settled in for the night.  The next day we explored a bit. More plazas, more people.  We decided to make a break for the coast. We packed up and hopped on a combi (mini bus) to the town of Huanchaco. The bus blasted Love Shack as we headed west and boy, did the whole shack shimmy! It was such a bumpy ride, we'd bounce about 14-18 inches of the bench.

Funky little shack.

Arriving in Huanchaco, we felt right at home and very grateful. It was Thanksgiving after all! The small town is stretched along the beach and there are nice waves and friendly faces. As we lugged our bags to our hostel, I caught a glimpse of a small blackboard: Thanksgiving feast. RSVP. Upon inquiring, I found Nick, an American that is volunteering at the hostel/soccer academy.  He was all smiles that we'd be joining them for dinner.  We were pretty excited too. I knew we were in for a treat when he said "Well, I'm a Texan so prepare to eat big".  When we arrived for dinner we found that Nick and I were not the only Texans in attendance.  Of the 8 people at the table, 5 of us were Texans! Three of them went to Texas State and live in San Marcos, a few miles down the road from my folk's lake house. Sergio, another volunteer lives in Austin. To top it off, the Cowboys game on TV (in Spanish, of course). Classic.  The meal was super delicous: turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, sweet and mashed potatoes, with apple pie and pumpkin pie to follow.  It was a great evening. 

All the fixins.

Giving gracias.

It didn't take us long at all to get set up beachside. We're in a great hostel right on the beach and the town is just the right size, with the right mix of stuff to do and nothing to do. The sunsets are spectacular and the beach is lined with cabillito del tortora, handmade reed watercrafts that Peruvian fisherman have been using for 3000 years. Trav rented a board and wetsuit and paddled out twice today. We'll be here two more nights before heading north to the longest left hand point break in the world.  Surfs up, y'all. Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

The pier

Caballito de totora

Who's the Boz?

Fan club

The girls in the last picture asked to take photos with us.  It's not the first time. Last week a guy stopped Travis to ask for a photo with Teen Wolf.


Monday, November 21, 2011

Adios Ecuador, We'll Miss You!

After leaving Tigua we decided to have another down day back in the lovely town of Latacunga before the long bus ride to Cuenca. The ride to Cuenca was beautiful as we made the transition from the central highlands to the southern highlands. The massive green mountains and ice tipped volcanoes kept our eyes solidly fixed out the bus windows during the nine hour journey. Once in Cuenca we found a hostel and quickly called it a night.

Self Portrait or Patagonia Ad? Latacunga, Ecuador

The view of Cotopaxi from the roof in Latacunga never gets old.

Once awake, we had a full day to explore Cuenca. We decided to visit the gorgeous plazas and Modern Art Museum biennial exhibition. Art is seemingly alive and well in Cuenca, partly due to the presence of large universities within the city. The old cobblestone streets and colonial buildings were an interesting contrast to the graffiti and wheatpastes throughout the city. Upon entering the museum we were delighted by the layout of the grounds and quality of work. Artists were represented from all South American countries. Some of our favorites included a continuous 35mm photo of Santiago, Chile that stretched across and around two large rooms, a film of a simple rabbit drawing, a group of abstract encaustic paintings, and two woven "paintings". Walking back from the museum we ran into two friends from Amsterdam and England that we had met a week prior and ended up in a local brewery by days end sharing beers and stories of travel.

Encaustic (melted wax painting)

Museum interior with sculpture

Outdoor garden space with sculpture

35mm installation

Woven yarn "paintings"

Museo de Arte Moderno

Exhibition poster

Plaza de San Sebastian

Cuenca, Ecuador

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at our favorite local spot. On the menu was delicious maduros con queso (grilled plantains with cheese) and tortillas de choclo (grilled corn pancakes with a light cheese filling) before hopping a bus to Vilcabamba via Loja. We ended up in a hostel up in the cloud-forest of Vilcabama where we decided to relax for a few nights. Relaxing was more than easy to do here. The hostel was located atop a bright green mountain surrounded by more booming green mountains, tropical plants/trees, and lively, colorful birds. The hostel also boasted a sprawling pool, scattered hammocks, quiet hideaways, friendly Labradors and endless views. Yeah, life was good.

Our daily sunset spot

Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Beautiful Mags, Beautiful Orchids

New camera case. Handmade in Vilcabamba, Ecuador

This morning we said goodbye to Vilcabamba and headed to the city of Loja where we'll hop a bus to Piura, Peru early tomorrow. It's hard to believe that this is our last night in Ecuador.  As a parting gift to ourselves, we treated our tastebuds to a late afternoon Southern Ecuadorian treat of tamales con queso (cheese tamales), maduros con queso (grilled plantain with cheese), quimbolitos (corn-based cake topped with raisins and flavored with anise and vanilla), and cafe (coffee) just a couple hours ago. We have absolutely loved traveling in this country and will certainly be back in the future. Muchas gracias, Ecuador!

See y'all in Peru

Sunday, November 20, 2011

MagGyver

When you're traveling with only 1 bag worth of stuff for 4 months, you need everything you've got.  Before we left, we evaluated everything, weighing pros and cons and trying to estimate every possible use or adaptation.  So last week when my headphones lost the rubbery bit at the end, they were rendered basically useless.  With a little craftiness, I rigged my headphones back to working order with an earplug and our Leatherman. As I looked down at my accomplishment, I thought I am absolutely my mother's child. This is totally something KL would come up with.  I also knew it'd make Jamie (who started calling me MagGyver in college) proud.

Jerry-rigged and back in action

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Out Of The Loop, On The Loop (Part III)

The night in Quilotoa was a very cold one.  Luckly, we had a wood stove in our room that warmed up the place as we went to bed.  Waking up was quite chilly, and we packed our bags to hurry out of Quilotoa.   Around 8:30, after realizing that there was no 'trail' to Tigua, the two of us set off on a 4 hour hike on the road. After an hour, though enjoying the scenery, a man in a pickup pulled up and offered us a ride to town for $.50 each. Done.  We threw our packs in the back and zoomed off, our weary feet thanking us.

Cruisin'

A short ride and bus connection later, we found ourselves at Posada De Tigua, a working dairy farm that owners Margarita and Marco have converted into a guest house.  They cook farm fresh meals where everything they serve, aside from the rice, comes off their land and they have homemade cheeses and yogurt that are to die for.  The owners were so sweet and felt like old friends, as did their two pups, Benjamin, a 3 month old St. Bernard, and Scrappy, a Chow/Shar Pei mix. It was an incredibly idyllic place to rest our bones for a day.

Posada De Tigua

Scrappy

Benjamin, floppy limbs and ears

Tigua is a very small Andean town that is well known for a specific style of painting. An artist named Julio Toaquiza started painting these very detailed and colorful pieces on old drums in the early 70's and has since taught his family and community to paint these incredible pieces. We walked to town to see some of the galleries and were lucky to meet Julio. He told us his long story of how his paintings came to be and even played the drum and flute for us (at the same time, one-man-band style). It was rockin'!! We bought a piece painted by his daughter and set off back to the posada. For the rest of the afternoon/evening, we lived it up, farm style.  We hung out with all kinds of animals (baby cows, llama, alpaca), milked a cow, and went for a llama ride.  It was hysterical. 

Baby cow, 3 days old!

Down and dirty

This is Paco.

Wahoo!

Jamie VAlpaca Grolle?

As dusk approached, we played futbol with Benjamin in the yard then had an incredible dinner prepared by Margarita. It was an exceptional day on the farm. 

Travis's offence was no match for Benjamin 

Futballer

The next day we headed back to Latacunga to rest for a night before our 9 hour bus trip to Cuenca.  The bus ride was so long, and borderline painful, but we made it safe and sound.  We were sad to leave the Central Highlands and are looking forward to another trip some day to return to them.  They are a magical and awe-inspiring place. We are now in a town called Vilcabamba, south of Loja and in a few days we'll make our way to Peru.  The closer we get, the more exciting it is to think about adventures in a new country.  For now, we will bask in our last few days in Ecuador. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Out Of The Loop, On The Loop (Part II)

Once Miguel hopped back on the motorcycle we took a few minutes to admire our new piece of art before heading to a group breakfast at our hostel. Over coffee, fruit, granola, and yogurt it was decided that a group of  seven would be hiking together from Chugchilan to the Quilotoa Crater Lake. Our group included the Aussie couple we hiked with the previous day along with a couple from Denmark and a guy from New Zealand. The owner of the hostel was kind enough to draw us a map in orange marker on a small piece of paper. As simple yet confusing as the map looked, it proved to be spot on. After breakfast we all stuffed our packs and headed out to find the trail to Quilotoa. 

The road ahead from Chugchilan

We found the trail behind the village library, which led steeply down a hillside towards a small river in a valley. In short time we were sharing the trail with many indigenous Quichua people, horses, donkeys, and sheep. The local Quichua put us all to shame with their ability to nimbly scale the steep trails while carrying large sacks of goods to sell/trade at the small village markets. We all enjoyed the downhill scramble to the river while taking in the views of the green valley that surrounded us. It's a good thing because it would be the last time we hiked downhill for the next five hours.  

Mags and Karen (from Australia) river crossing

For the next hour and a half we slowly made our way up the opposite valley wall. The trail was very steep and we gained quite a bit of elevation which led to numerous stops for a breath of air, a drink of water, and a photo of the valley below. We all found ourselves mesmerized by the endless green mountains surrounding us. Once we reached the top there were high fives all around along with many photo ops. 

Central Ecuadorian Highlands = Green

From the top looking across the valley to Chugchilan

Post breather/photo session we kept moving along the trail and eventually came across a men's soccer game happening on a dirt field amongst the mountains. We stopped for a bit to watch and the locals seemed to get a kick out of us. We rounded the corner into the village square and were greeted by another soccer game. This time a women's match on a cement field. Again, we stopped to watch and the locals stopped to watch us. 

Mens Soccer

Womens Soccer

Once out of the village we found ourselves again climbing steeply through mountainous pastures. The higher we hiked the grander the view became. One by one, the volcanic/once volcanic peaks began to appear. We were all in awe of the majestic snow covered peaks of Illiniza Norte, Illiniza Sur, and Volcan Cotopoxi. Up and up we hiked through more green pastures littered with cows and sheep. We could see what we believed to be the rim on the crater lake above us and wanted nothing more to get there. 

What are you lookin' at?

Illiniza Norte (left) and Illiniza Sur (right)

Another hour of slow, steep steps up the trail and we finally reached the rim of the crater. Again, there were high fives and hugs all around as we stared at the sparkling green lake below us. Every step of the way was justified with what we saw before us. Many pictures followed along with everybody pooling the little bit of food in their packs for a shared lunch. Simply delightful. 

Quilotoa Crater Lake

 Slightly rejuvenated we spent the final hour of hiking around a portion of the crater rim to the small village of Quilotoa. With the exception of our Aussie friends the group decided to spend the night in Quilotoa. We all drank tea and played cards by a wood burning stove until our eyes would no longer stay open. We retreated to our rooms and fell asleep to the crackling of wood in the small wood burner that heated the frigid Andean air.

A sight we'll never forget