Ecuador opened up a new chapter of our travels. After New Year’s in Colombia, and the burning of the effigy of 2011 (stuffed with personal notes and firecrackers, then doused with gasoline), we boarded an early-morning bus heading south, arriving in Quito after midnight 18 hours later. Our precariously-perched bus wound its way through the Andes over deep river gorges on a road punctuated by landslide damage. This has become the norm, though it hasn’t deterred the drivers from going for speed and passing records. To their credit, they are meticulously on time. We’ve only witnessed one scrape-up, when a car sideswiped the bus, then quickly took off. The bus chased him through town for a good 10 minutes with passengers screaming and cheering him on, before relenting.
We split up in Quito; Arden studied Spanish and lived with a family while Read headed east to join his kayaking kindred spirits. Arden banged her head against the wall of subjunctive, while Read boated warm-water jungle rivers. Arden did battle with direct and indirect object pronouns, while Read was attacked by river pirates. We reunited in Popayactu, a hot-springs resort town at 10,000 feet, enjoying a “mini-moon” of soaking and good food. Arden headed back to Quito while Read shacked up in the amazonian-warm town of Tena at a kayakers hostel, boating with Quebecois, Germans, Thais, Ecuadorians, Americans, Aussies, Norwegians, Swedes, Brits, Poles, Russians, etc.
Rains come and go, with levels surging then dropping off. Hitting the right stretch at just the right water level is a bit of a guess. The Rio Piatua was a warm friendly jungle toodle the first time, and high water freight train the next (too scared to take photos). After paddling the first 100 yards of the uppermost stretch, a side creek dumped in twice-again the volume, only muddier. The intrepid kayakers fled back to the taxi-truck, and drove down to lower put-ins, looking for a section that was more open and less steep. Deciding that the take-out for the typical run was the best spot to put-in (“this will be mellow”), they dropped into a busy section filled with holes, eddies, and fun. A kayaking maneuver called “boofing” was the key to skirting or hopping over the bad stuff. When one boater missed his boof, he went for a long rodeo ride in a hole until swimming to shore. His boat kept going, only a couple hundred yards down river, but out of sight. Thinking he had to hike to the road, he chose to head straight into the jungle where he disappeared from sight for some time. What he didn’t know was that his boat stopped at a footbridge and road just downstream. When he eventually emerged from the wet green depths, and realized his folly, he commented, “Jungle’s hard on a Utah boy!”
Arden met up with her mom in Quito for three weeks of travel. They froze their fannies off in a beautiful remote section of the central highlands called the Quilotoa Loop as well as at the cheese and chocolate-making community cooperative of Salinas that sits at a whopping 11,000 feet. Arden’s 73-year old mom was a great sport including braving snarling dogs, sleeping in her long underwear (“I left central heating for this”), arriving in rooms that made one’s eyes water (think 1970’s wallpaper and bedspreads), and travelling long distances on standing-room only buses. The two finally landed in Cuenca, a city of 450,000 in the southern mountains which was voted the number one gringo retirement haven for 2010 & 11. They spent the next twelve days trying not to doze through joint Spanish classes, visiting museums and nearby parks & pueblos, enjoying free classical music concerts and packing on a post-Christmas five pounds while eating their way through Cuenca’s renowned “fusion” cuisine.
We will spend a couple more weeks in Ecuador before heading north through the eastern cordiella of Colombia and up the Caribbean coast, to enjoy beach and snorkeling time. Future plans include spending the summer in the Arkansas Valley before heading south for the fall. We were invited for a two-year Peace Corps assignment in Peru starting this September, Read in Water-Sanitation Projects and Arden in Community Health.
And for those of you who care to follow Read’s socio-political diatribe, click here.