Brazil: Final month

This took a little while to write so its a bit late, but it is my last travel post due to changes in my original plans (which are discussed briefly below) so savor it :)

We flew out of Montevideo seamlessly and got to Sao Paolo where my mom’s students family was there to greet us. They were SOO friendly and warm and took us back to their house and fed us and let us stay there for the night. The little daughter was adorable and took to calling me Tia (aunt) and joe tio (uncle) while making us play with her. Unfortunately they didn’t speak any english, but that just meant our conversation was a little limited, which didn’t matter since we were exhausted and fell asleep almost immediately after watching the US lose their final world cup match. We woke up early the next morning and his family drove us to the metro station and then his mom took the metro with us to the bus station, however once we got to the bus station it turned out that we were at the wrong bus station and had to take 2 other metros to get to the right one. By the time we finally got to the right station we had missed our bus by 15 minutes so we had to sit and wait 6 hours until the next one. My student’s mom was such a sweetheart though and gave us some snacks before leaving. We finally boarded our bus at 3 PM and got into our hotel in Cananeia late that night, which was really cute but unfortunately had mosquitos again.

Thursday morning, my mom’s friend Talita who lives in Cananeia, which is such a cute town (in the photos above), met us at the supermarket and took us to the watershore where we all piled into her boyfriend’s boat and headed out to this island really nearby called Ilha do Cardoso where his family lives and grew up. Its a BEAUTIFUL island with tons of beaches, mangroves, and lush tropical rainforest and we were really lucky because unless you’re doing research on the island or are friends with someone who lives on the island, you can’t stay there for most of the year.

We put our stuff down at a little house that we were renting for those days there which was also really beautiful and modern and beachy at the same time. Then we went on a walk with Talita and her boyfriend through the mangrove areas where we learned about the different kinds of mangroves and saw three types of crabs, big red crabs, big turquoise crabs, and big yellow crabs.

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Then we walked through their little museum which was charming. Afterwards we went to a little lookout point where we could see all the fisherman’s nets and then ẃent back to the beach that we had arrived at. While we were walking, we passed a little burrowing owl family which made me very happy. Then we walked way down the beach chatting for a long time. Along the way I collected numerous sand dollars, which were everywhere.

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After that we headed back to our little cabin, and then out to the beach to watch the sunset.

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After that we went back to the cabin and then later at night we went back to the beach to swim because Talita told us there was bioluminescence. Sure enough, there was and it was beautiful and sparkly.

Friday we met up with Talita and hiked way down these trails through multiple different forests to this place called Praca das Antas, which is a place in the stream where these big natural pools form. The forest and the pools were beautiful. One of the forests we passed through was so magical, the entire understory was bromeliads and all the of the trees were covered in bromeliads too.

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We saw a lot of birds in the forest which was really exciting, and both Talita and her boyfriend were amazing naturalists and were able to identify everything we saw.

After the hike we went for a bit of a swim because it was hot out and then went to Talita’s boyfriend’s family’s house to watch the Brazil world cup match with them. It was great because Brazil won, so we left happy and I got in bed and happily finished The Da Vinci Code, which turned out to be such an awesome book.

Saturday we met up with Talita and her boyfriend again and took their bikes down the beach. I never knew you could bike down a beach, but you can and it was super fun. We went for 7 km and then hiked over rocks for a long ways, passing a mark that is representative of the peace treaty long ago between Portugal and Spain.

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As we were climbing over the rocks we passed little inlets filled with the most amazing shells, which I loved because of my obsession with beach combing. Once we reached the beach we sat and ate a really tasty lunch and then hiked back through the hills instead of the rocks to the original beach we had left the bikes at and biked back to our little hut.

That night Joe and I finally had a long needed discussion about our relationship that carried over to the morning and the next day we decided that it was time to call it quits on our relationship. We took a boat back to Cananeia and I rescheduled my flight so that I would be flying home 10 days early (July 17 instead of the original planned July 27) so that I wouldn’t have to either travel alone for too long or travel with an uncomfortable traveling companion.

After that I went on a walk around the town to take pictures of the very pretty and colorful little buildings.

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The next day I hung out with Talita all day and she took me to lunch and we went on a long drive to a different conservation site that was quite pretty but had tons of mosquitos. It was a lovely day and at the end of the day she gave me a memory stick with lots of pretty photos that she took and samba music to entertain me on the rest of my travels.

Tuesday both Joe and I woke up early and took the first bus out of Cananeia. Even though we technically weren’t really traveling together anymore, we had the same final destination and in the end it was nice to spend the hours on buses and in the bus terminal with someone. We arrived in Sao Paolo in the afternoon and then bought tickets for a bus at midnight, because I was told that the Rio terminal was unsafe at night and since the bus ride was only 6 hours, if we left in the afternoon we’d arrive at night and it was better to arrive in the morning. So we got our tickets, found the VIP waiting room for our bus company which was quite a nice room, and then spent almost 12 hours sitting there. I managed to completely finish one and a half Dan Brown books on PDF and we watched part of the terrible game that Brazil lost to Germany.

I slept for most of the bus ride, then slept for a couple more hours in the Rio bus terminal. Then I found a bus to the botanic garden where the person I was staying with in Rio worked. I got off the bus too early, had to walk a long ways hauling tons of stuff, and then went to the wrong entrance of the botanic garden which was on the opposite side of the HUGE gardens as where my host in Rio’s office was. I found some really nice people who worked on that side of the gardens and they called up my host and helped me haul all my stuff to her office. Raquel, my host there, was incredibly sweet and eager to be friendly and helpful which was lovely. I chatted with her for a few minutes and then spent the whole day wandering around the gardens. I found a little mini secluded garden where I sat and read another PDF book on my phone and took a tiny nap. I saw tons of plants, toucans, and even tamarins (little monkey-like animals) in my garden-wandering time.

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In the evening we took possibly one of the most miserable bus rides ever. The place where she lived, where I was staying, is called Barra de Tijuca and is a 1.5 hour bus ride south of Rio. That evening it was even longer, a little more than 2 hours because the traffic was so bad and the bus was completely packed to the brim with people and I had my huge backpacking backpack, my little backpack, and 3 handheld bags with no place to put them down or sit down. It was horrible. Finally we got there and went to her apartment which is at the top of a super tall circular apartment building that is literally right on the beach. It was an amazing view but dark so I couldn’t really see the water.

Thursday I woke up to the most incredible view. Since the apartment building is round all of the windows are curved which means you have a 180 degree view of the beach. It is an incredibly beautiful beach too, even moreso than Copacabana or Ipanema. phonerioview phonerioview2

Barra de Tijuca is also a super nice area, and is modeled after Miami with super tall luxury apartment buildings right over the beach and very american style bars and restaurants interspersed between the buildings. I played around with their adorable fluffy cat and ate super tasty food that Raquel’s mom made me and then set out for the day. Unfortunately the first day was raining so I went to the Museum of Modern Art first. The bus ride into the city was beautiful because it went right along the beach through all the touristy neighborhoods the whole way so it was like a $1.50 tour of the city. The museum was quite nice and filled with lots of interesting art. Then I wandered around through the centro area, grabbed lunch at an extremely cheap per-kilo restaurant (huge buffet where you pile on the food and then pay for it by weight), and went to the museum of fine arts which was even more amazing than the modern art museum. It was huge and filled with art, and was free that day which was even more special. In the evening I went to a little cafe in a bookshop which was cute but maybe a little overpriced.

Friday, I lazed around my room all morning and then midday the internet didn’t seem to be working so I headed into Copacabana and found a little cafe that I had read had good wifi since it was still rainy and overcast, and there’s not terribly much to do in Rio in the rain. Unfortunately I found out their wifi wasn’t working after I had already ordered so I ate quickly and headed to an internet cafe. Then I wandered along the beach for a while and wandered all over Copacabana and Ipanema looking for good food and then got on a bus to head back to the apartment. However, about an hour and a half into the bus ride I looked at the maps app on my phone which shows where you are even when you don’t have data and we were not following the correct route for the bus I needed back to the apartment and had already gone pretty far past it but on a street about a kilometer inland from the beach instead of along the beach. I tried to get the bus drivers attention but he was in his own world and I didn’t speak any portuguese so I just got off the bus. I found a couple bus stops and tried to figure out if any of the buses that it said went to them would also go back to where I needed to get but none of them would so I began walking back the way my iphone directed me, hoping to hail a cab along the way. I tried so hard to hail a cab but none of them would stop, which I figured was due to the fact that it was a huge road and was pretty much the brazil equivalent to a freeway so no one was going to stop for me. So I looked at my iphone and zipped myself up and ran all the way back to the apartment since it was late at night so I didn’t want anyone to try and talk to me, and it was a little drizzly. Once I was finally back I looked at google maps and it turned out I had run 5 kilometers.. it was crazy and definitely the most exercise I had done in a long time. After I assured my hosts that I was ok, I went to sleep.

Saturday I met up with Joe early and we headed to the place where you buy train tickets to go up to Christ the Redeemer, but the train was broken so the entire place was packed with people trying to take the mini-buses up. We decided to wait until the following day since we still had a little while in Rio. Instead we went to the Botanic Gardens again, since I hadn’t seen all of the garden the previous time I had been there since it was so big.

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We wandered through it for a while and ate some food there and then took a bus to copacabana. We bought caipirinas and a couple beers and wandered over to the beach to watch the Brazil vs Netherlands 3rd place game at FIFA fan fest on Copacabana, which is where they have a huge television screen where everyone can sit/stand on the sand and watch for free.

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A little after halftime, Brazil was down 3-0 to the Netherlands and enough people were blocking our view of the screen (because we wanted to sit not stand) that we decided we’d had enough and went over to a little cafe. While we were eating we talked to some Argentines next to us who were looking for tickets for the final game in Rio the following day. I happened to ask them how much they thought the tickets would be if they found them and they said at least $3000 USD. I was shocked that someone would be willing to pay that much. After that I found the correct bus and went back to apartment without getting lost.

Sunday I woke up even earlier, met up with Joe, and we headed to see Christ the Redeemer again. This time the train was working but there were SO many people that the next train with available tickets wasn’t until 1:40. Since the final game was at 4, and we didn’t want to be rushed seeing the huge Jesus status, we decided to take a mini bus up instead. It was fast getting up there, but then we had to stand in line to get tickets to enter the park, then we had to stand in line to get on another mini bus up to the very tip top, and then we had to push our way through huge crowds of people to get to the view and mr. jesus. It was a really beautiful 360 degree view of all of Rio and the surrounding areas and there wasn’t a cloud in sight which was lovely. Christ was also quite impressive, although I’m not entirely sure I understand why it was recently designated one of the new seven world wonders. It was really cool, but what it boils down to is that it was really just a big statue of jesus.phonechristo phonechristview

The crowds were overwhelming and at some points it even felt hard to breathe, so we didn’t spend too much time up there looking at the view and christ. Then we headed back down into town and got on a bus to Copacabana to watch the world cup finals there. When we got to Copacabana there were people EVERYWHERE. We mushed our way into the huge crowd at FIFA Fan Fest to watch the game on the huge screen there. It was almost entirely Argentines and I would’ve been scared to have been a Germany fan.

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The game was tense and people all around us were screaming and chanting the entire time. Really, in a way, it was more fun watching the crazed fans than the game. When Germany won in the end, everyone in the crowd was pissed and a lot of people were drunk so there was some drunken aggression towards the Germany fans which was a bit terrifying. It was also a bit scary because everyone was trying to leave at the same time and there were thousands of people so it was a bit of a stampede. There were also a few scary violent outbursts that left people running in all directions. Basically the streets were crazy and so filled with people. We finally made our way to McDonalds to get french fries, and Joe proceeded to eat 5 large orders of fries. Then I found my bus back and made it safely to the apartment. When I got back Raquel wanted to wander over to the hotel next door because that was where the entire Argentinian soccer team was staying and she wanted to see if we could watch them arrive. But unfortunately we got there only seconds after they had already arrived. Instead we went to a brewery in front of her apartment building and got really tasty home-brewed beer and chit chatted for awhile.

Monday I met up with Joe again because it was lonely and boring seeing the sights alone and we went to Ipanema beach. We stayed there for a while and watched lots of surfers.

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Even though it was completely sunny, next to the water it was a little too breezy to swim comfortably so we stayed on dry land. Then we headed over to a little chinese cafe at the edge of Copacabana and got Yakisoba noodles. Then we walked a little more along the beach, wandered back towards Ipanema, climbed over big boulders to this rocky point to watch the surfers and boogie-boarders from there and got a nice view of the whole Ipanema beach. After that we walked around the shopping area surrounding Ipanema and then took a bus into the heart of Copacabana where there was supposed to be another brewery that we wanted to try. Unfortunately they didn’t have the beer we wanted so instead we bought beer at a grocery store and went to a funky looking movie theatre. I asked in terrible Portuguese if any of their movies were in English and she said all of the movies are english with portuguese subtitles. We chose a movie completely at random and settled into our seats. The movie ended up being really excellent. It was called The Grand Budapest Hotel. It was very much an art film, shot entirely in square footage. It was really really beautiful filming though. It didn’t exactly have a plot but it was kindof a mystery-comedy-art-indie flick and it was wonderfully done. I highly recommend it to movie buffs. When I got back to the apartment, my hosts had made really excellent Pao de Queijo which are these cheesy bread puffs made with tapioca flour, super tasty. We talked for a while and I said goodbye because they had to go to work early in the morning before I was leaving.

Tuesday I spent the morning packing up my stuff and then midday I left the apartment that I had stayed at and headed into the city where I was staying at a hostel at the border of Lapa, the samba neighborhood and Santa Teresa, a pretty little bohemian neighborhood on a hill. It was miserable because I had to climb up a huge hill with all of my stuff but I finally found my hostel, which was really nice. After I put my stuff down I headed back out and went down these gorgeous stairs. The stairs went on forever and were tiled the whole way with all sorts of colors and designs.

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Then I got on a bus to the base of the Pao de Azucar, the huge famous rock/cliff/mountain in the middle of Rio. It was half price with my student ID which was awesome. You take a cable car up to one mound, wander around the first mound, and then take a second cable car up to the very tall second mountain/rock thing.

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It was a very fast trip up to the top of the first mound. From there you had a pretty good view of most of Rio, particularly the harbor area which was right to the right of that little mountain.

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Then I got back in the cable car up to the tippy top of the second mountain which was much higher than the first. It was a truly incredible view, even better than from the Cristo Redentor. I walked around the edge of the entire place to see the view from all sides and then found a little place amongst the crowds to watch the sun set. It was beautiful to see the sun setting over the city.

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I wanted to wait around to see the nighttime skyline but then I saw that there was a huge line to get back down to the first rock mound. By the time I got back to the first rock mound, it was totally dark and you could see all of the lights of city sparkling around.

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Once I got down to the bottom, I got some dinner and headed back to the hostel.

I slept in at the hostel the next morning, thinking that it was my last day in Rio so it would be nice to just have a relaxed day. After lunch at a tasty per-kilo restaurant I wandered around Santa Teresa, the neighborhood right above my hostel. It was such a cute neighborhood and since it was on a hill it had a fantastic view of the city from closer up.

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There was a beautiful little garden in Santa Teresa, a cute little art museum in an old estate, and a ton of cute handicraft shops lining the winding streets. All the food was pretty expensive so I went to dinner in Lapa with Joe instead. After that we stopped by a couple of the recommended bars of the area, some of which had samba music, which Lapa is known for, so that was nice. After a little while in Lapa, I headed back to the hostel because I thought my flight was early in the morning so I would have to head to the airport super early. However, upon checking my reservation online, it turned out my flight was at 8 PM not 8 AM, so I had a full day the next day.

I spent the next day packing and then hung out at the hostel all day, only leaving to get lunch, because it was really hot and there wasn’t much more to do close by and I didn’t want to go far away in fear of getting stuck in traffic and missing my flight. Finally it was time to leave, so I got in a cab and headed to the airport. Thankfully I left early because there was so much traffic that it took double the amount of time to get there. Then I got easily through the airport, and easily onto my flight to Houston. My flight was unfortunately very horrible because it was the most cramped airplane I have ever been on. There was literally zero leg room, I couldn’t even store my mini backpack (which is really quite tiny) under it, so there was zero possibility of stretching my legs out. The seats also barely went back, and to top it all off I had a middle seat. This all added up to me only getting 1 hour of sleep…quite unpleasant. In Houston I got easily through customs and immigration and through to my next flight which was also very unpleasant. We ended up taxing on the tarmac for an extra 45 minutes which meant that when we finally got into LAX we were very late and I already had a super close layover. There were a few other passengers needing the same connecting flight so we all ran over to the gate for our Santa Barbara flight which was at the end of terminal 8 and we came in at the end of terminal 62. Thankfully we made it and it was a quicky and easy flight into Santa Barbara where my dad was waiting for me with lots of hugs.

I’ve been back for a little while now and its actually been quite nice. At first I think I experienced a little post-travel depression, but I’ve been having such a great time in Santa Barbara. I’ve been keeping busy catching up with all my old friends who I haven’t seen in forever, since I hadn’t been back in over a year. Plus, the food has been amazing.. I’ve already gotten thai food a couple times, boba tea a couple times, and indian food as well.

The last bunch of months have been really really amazing. South America blew away my expectations and everyone I met along the way was just so beautiful and wonderful and I feel like I became a lot more adventurous and comfortable in my own skin. Sticking around one place for the coming year will be great but I definitely can’t wait for my next adventure! Thank you to everyone who read my blog along the way! Keeping a blog helped me really savor my experiences and now I will be able to relive them over and over whenever I want, but it was definitely a challenge to keep up with it. It was definitely the positive feedback I received from my wonderful friends and family that kept me writing here even when it seemed so arduous and time consuming.

As you can see, I’ve updated the look of the blog which goes with the fact that now that my travels are done, I’m going to start this up as a music/food blog again, so if you want to hear about that sorta thing keep following me, but no more travels for a little while!

muchos besos, muitos beijos, many kisses!

 

Argentina & Uruguay

So I’m posting this at least a little earlier than the month mark…progress! Mostly its just because all of the photos in this post are from my phone, so I didn’t have to take the time to download and go through all the photos on my camera, but that means these photos will probably be much lower quality. Oh well..

So Thursday after breakfast at the hostel in Buenos Aires we decided to explore the neighborhood around our hostel. It was called San Telmo and was supposed to be one of the prettier neighborhoods with a lot of old charm. It was quite pretty with little plazas and cobblestone streets lined with antique shops and boutiques.

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We went in a few of the stores and boutiques and then stopped by the market along the main street. For the most part all of the shops in the market were more antique shops and a couple fruit stands and then we found a shop that made their own cheese and fennel salami and was selling fresh baguette sandwiches with their cheese and salami for only about a dollar (and I call myself a vegetarian..hah). So we bought 3 of them and ate them while we continued wandering.

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Eventually we made our way to an irish pub to watch the opening ceremony of the World Cup, which was quite weird and not entirely worth watching in my opinion. Then while waiting for the first game to start I ran back to the market and bought 3 more salami sandwiches to hold us over. The game was quite exciting and there were some super enthusiastic brazilian fans in the bar which made it even more fun.

Friday I didn’t feel like doing anything because I was still pretty exhausted from all of our prior travels, but our hostel had comfy couches facing a big TV so I sat there all day watching the world cup, including the game where the netherlands sadly destroyed spain. I love when underdogs win, but that game was just sad. Then at night we went to the Buenos Aires branch of the coffee shop we frequented in Puerto Iguazu to redeem the coupons for free coffee that they gave us. Then we took our coffee and pastries over to the main plaza, Plaza de Mayo, and saw the Casa Rosada which is essentially the white house of Argentina where the presidency is based out of, although he supposedly lives elsewhere.

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There was a political march in the plaza, which is supposedly quite common because of the political significance of the plaza and surrounding buildings, but I couldn’t understand exactly what they were protesting. Still it was cool to see people being politically active.

Saturday we took the subway to palermo soho, an area thats supposedly the place to be for young Porteños (people from Buenos Aires) and young tourists. It was quite hip. A bunch of streets were closed off and there was a big arts and crafts market and then all of the fancy clubs surrounding the plaza let up and coming designers create little boutiques inside of them so its these big spaces filled all sorts of little mini clothing and accessory boutiques. It was really cool. After wandering around all of palermos shops and markets we went back to our hostel to watch the Italy versus England game. It was a tense game, but I was quite pleased with the outcome (Italy winning). Then we quickly got dressed in nicer clothes and met up with one of the girls from my Ecuador program whos living in Buenos Aires for the summer and working nights at the Buenos Aires Pub Crawl. She got us a discount on the pub crawl so we decided to try it out. It was pretty fun, but by a bit past 3 in the morning I was ready to head back, even though Porteños stay out until sunrise.

Sunday we slept in and then walked only a couple streets away to the San Telmo Sunday Market where they close the whole length of the main cobblestone street in the neighborhood and tons of artists sell stuff they make and antique shops set up booths outside with their best items. We tried to walk the whole length of it but got tired and couldn’t look at another handicraft or antique so we got pan relleno which is really good homemade dough-y bread filled with cheese, tomatoes, olive oil, and basil and sat for a while outside of a pretty old basilica snacking away.

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Then we headed over to the same bar we watched the opening match at and watched Argentina’s first world cup game. They won, so the atmosphere of the bar was super crazy and fun.

Monday we relaxed at the hostel for most of the day and then in the evening headed to palermo to an American bar to watch the US’s first world cup match against Ghana. They had really good American food, we got spicy buffalo chicken wings, and the bar was PACKED with extremely patriotic americans. There was tons of chanting and singing and screaming the whole game and when we won, everyone was going crazy. I’m not uber patriotic and definitely not the type to scream and chant, but it was still fun to watch everyone else go crazy and I was still quite happy about the US win. Honestly, people say Argentinian and Brazilian fans are crazy, but the Americans we saw were crazier than any Argentines!

Tuesday morning we switched hostels to another hostel nearby that was slightly cheaper just to get a bit of a change of scenery. It was super comfortable and they had a foosball table so we spent most of the day just lazing around the new hostel. I challenged Joe to a foosball match which ended up being pretty endless and beat him 15 to 3… makes me proud of myself :) Then at night we subwayed over to the palermo district where we had gone shopping a few days earlier to try out a restaurant we had heard about. It was an asian fusion type restaurant, very mod and very hip. We got 3 separate rounds of some really amazing pork dumplings, a round of pork belly taiwanese buns (bao), and a big bowl of chicken ramen. It was all soo tasty, but honestly I may as well just give up on calling myself a vegetarian..

Wednesday after breakfast we rented bikes from our hostel to go visit an ecological reserve along the river delta nearby. The bikes were great, a bit confusing because they were fixies so it took me a second to figure out that I needed to pedal back to brake instead of handbraking, but the seats were super comfortable and they were very smooth. Biking through the city to get to the reserve was a bit terrifying because its such a huge city with very few bike lanes so our choices were either to bike down super busy streets with speedy cars or ride on the sidewalk which was jammed with people. But once we got to the port area that the reserve bordered it lightened up and was very nice and relaxing. Then we got inside the reserve and it was so excellent. There were birds everywhere and there were tons of these little rodent things that looked exactly like wild guinea pigs grazing on the grass along the bike paths in the way that bunnies do, but in the end they were some other type of animal, not wild guinea pigs. On the inner trails you were looking across a marsh at sparkling skyscrapers and on the outer trail you were looking at the river delta which really looks quite like an ocean, so either direction was really beautiful.

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We biked around the entire thing and then found a chorizo stand where we got choripan for less than 2 bucks. Basically each choripan is a huge chorizo (sausage) in toasted bread and then you cover it in toppings.

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It was incredibly tasty (and again not at all vegetarian…) and we ate them while watching some people tango on the boardwalk for a film or advertisement or something. It was really lovely. Then we biked back (a less crowded way) and relaxed at the hostel for the evening.

We decided Thursday to book our hostel for another night because they had great breakfast, internet, and an incredibly fun and friendly staff. So then instead of checking out we wandered over to a nearby cafe and got really good sandwiches inside of pita bread and homestyle potato chips. Then we went to the Modern Art Museum, which at first was a little bit odd. The first big room was just very unsettling and weird feeling and there was another room with weird wall art that I found slightly boring but uncomfortable at the same time. But then they had this huge exhibit of how latin american artists view psychedelic experiences and all of the art was really beautiful and interesting and was one of my favorite art exhibits I’ve seen in awhile.

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Then later they had an exhibit of what constitutes graphic design versus art and how they can overlap, and I really love graphic design so that was also quite visually appealing. After that we debated going to the Contemporary Art Museum but decided we’d had enough art for one day and wandered back to the hostel, but not before stopping for a McFlurry (how truly Argentinean..) on the way!

Friday was a bit of a disastrous and exhausting day. We had to check out of our second hostel by 11 am, but by that point we still hadn’t gotten replies from 2 of the hostels I had emailed about room availability and the only one I had gotten a response from only had availability in the dorms for part of the time we had requested and we didn’t want to have to switch around hostels during our last few days. So we sat in the common room of the hostel using wifi for a couple hours waiting to see if one of the other hostels would respond. Eventually we just gave up and decided to just head that way and stop by the hostels and ask them if they had space. First we stopped by Avenida Florida again and successfully changed our final dollars into pesos at an even better rate. Then we subwayed over to Palermo and headed out to our first choice hostel. Upon arriving we couldn’t find it and when we finally found the address, it appeared to not exist as a hostel anymore, so that was strike 1. Next we hiked over to our next choice, passing a pretty little sight as we crossed the train tracks on the way.

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When we finally found hostel number 2, they were entirely full, zero availability in all room types, for the next week, and wouldn’t even buzz us in to tell us where another hostel was, so that was strike 2. At this point we felt kindof screwed since we didn’t have any other hostel choices. We collapsed on an abandoned looking stoop and I happened to pick up a random wifi signal. I emailed the guy at the hostel that had responded to our email and asked if they had any availability at all that night in any room type, but he took a while to respond so I looked up another hostel nearby (it had terrible tripadvisor reviews, but at least maybe a room?). We hauled ourselves over to that supposed hostel and lo-and-behold SPELLING??? it was another hostel that no longer existed and was under complete construction. Strike 3.

At this point my phone died, but we had thankfully memorized the address of the hostel I had been emailing, so even though it was a long walk away we picked up our bags and headed over. Upon arriving there, we were informed that they no longer had any space for that night or any of the nights we needed space. Strike 4. The guy was incredibly sweet though and called the last hostel in the neighborhood (another with terrible tripadvisor reviews), but they only had a single space and we were 2 people. Strike 5.

At this point I called it quits on Palermo, and we got in a cab and headed to Recoleta, another central neighborhood.. the one we had been to for the fine arts museum. Thankfully, the cab was cheap and then we quickly found a hostel with 2 available beds for the days we wanted. Unfortunately, first impressions on the hostel weren’t thrilling as it took hours until the wifi decided to work for us and even then it was pretty much non existent in our room, our room faced the bar/patio which was incredibly loud with limited privacy at all hours, the number of people in the hostel to the size of the rooms ratio was a bit out of whack, and there were only 2 functional bathrooms in the whole place and none of them had toilet paper. However, beggars can’t be choosers, so I held my tongue and in the end it all ended up being alright. They even had a cute kitty that took a liking to Joe, like all the other cats we’ve had run ins with. He seems to be quite the cat charmer.

Saturday I woke up pretty tired because I didn’t sleep terribly well with all the noise and whatnot, and then breakfast left something to be desired… it literally consisted of one bread roll and a cup of black tea. But then we set out to explore Recoleta. First we went to La Recoleta Cemetery, which is quite a famous cemetery and is where Eva Perón is buried among lots of other famous Argentines, and is rated one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. And it was indeed quite beautiful. All of tombs are aboveground and most are very elaborate mausoleums. Some of them were completely dilapidated with broken glass or doors and being overgrown by various plants, others were very well kept. We wandered around the the alleys and paths between the mausoleums for a while, being kept company by some cemetery kitties.

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Then we went to the plaza right out front of the cemetery and there was a big artisan craft market with lots of little food stands. We got chorizo, a fruit smoothie, and a veggie Pan-relleno, the same calzone type thing we got at the san telmo market the previous weekend. Then we walked amongst the craft stands for a while. There was a lot of really nice and interesting stuff for sale which gave me little bits of inspiration for future craft projects. Then we headed back towards our hostel and stopped at this bookstore called El Ateneo that I had recently seen in a list of 10 bookstores in the world that you need to see. It was really beautiful. Basically it was once a really beautiful decadent old theatre that has now been restored and turned into a very classy bookstore. Unfortunately there were zero books in English, so we found the animal and plant section and sat and looked through pictures in bird and evolution encyclopedias for a little while.

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Then it was back to the hostel to begin planning our next move. We ended up falling asleep pretty early and quickly despite all the noise, so that was nice.

Sunday we slept in and then headed over to a restaurant that was supposed to have really good typical Argentinian food for lunch. It was good, but it took about an hour to get our food which was frustrating. Then we wandered over to the san telmo market for a bit before going to palermo to watch the US’s second world cup match. It was too stressful for me, and I was extremely unsatisfied with the outcome of the match, tied with Portugal.

Monday we slept in again and then wandered around the neighborhood right by our hostel. I had to do my laundry before we left Argentina (where laundry has been the cheapest yet) and buy groceries (also cheapest and best selection) and then we hung around the hostel for a bit. We had a super nice dinner at the same nice restaurant we had lunch at the previous day. This time it was even tastier and way faster service and we got an incredibly delicious maracuya (passionfruit) mousse that had shaved almonds on it for dessert, which was our way of using up our final argentinian pesos.

Tuesday we woke up super early to get to the boat dock by 7 am to go through immigrations and get on a boat to Uruguay. Immigrations and the boat ride went smoothly and we got into the Uruguayan town of Colonia del Sacramento by 9. We dropped our luggage in a luggage deposit at the bus station and found a map on the ground and spent the whole day exploring the small, but very cute and beautiful little town. It is a very old town that still has the entire old section of the town conserved with beautiful cobblestones and a mixture of old spanish and portuguese architecture.

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The town is right on the delta across from Buenos Aires so we wandered along the edge of the water for a bit which was really pretty despite being quite chilly.

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Then we went up the lighthouse, which is built right into an old convent that was destroyed in the early 1700’s. From the lighthouse we got really nice views of the whole old part of the town and the delta and little islets in the delta.

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Then we wandered past the old Basilica and onto the main street of the town where we ate late lunch. Right after lunch, Uruguay won the match against Italy that sent them to the next round of the World Cup, and the celebrations were crazy. Pretty much everyone in the town got in their cars and motorcycles and drove up and down the main street honking their horns and yelling and waving Uruguayan flags. This went on for over an hour and everyone was just so excited and so happy and there were just so many people everywhere, I couldn’t help but smile even though I had secretly been rooting for Italy, as they were probably my second favorite team in the Cup…but oh well, its just a game. And theres nothing like crazy national pride to make you realize that you’re in another new country. Eventually we made our way back to the bus station and hopped on a bus to Montevideo, and then making our way to our hostel in downtown Montevideo.

Our hostel there had really excellent internet so we began our marathon of watching all of the Harry Potter movies in order, one per night, since I had only seen the 1st, 3rd, and 6th. I have to say they’re actually pretty good movies, I always had some sort of mental block against them but I think I’ve gotten past that now.

Our first day in Montevideo we woke up pretty early and spent the whole day wandering through the city seeing pretty much everything there was to see in Montevideo. We walked way down the main street stopping at all of the pretty little plazas until we got to the Port Market, where we wandered past a ton of people trying to persuade us to eat at their restaurant, and then we walked all the way down the boardwalk until we got back to a street that connected with our hostel. It was a really lovely walk but it was incredibly cold, even colder than Buenos Aires and there was a lot more icy wind off of the water than in BA.

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At night we cooked food in the hostel and continued our Harry Potter marathon.

Our second day in Montevideo we slept in a lot (particularly since the provided breakfast was literally just bread…not worth waking up for) and then watched the US vs Germany match simultaneously with the Portugal/Ghana match where we found out that the US would be moving on to the next round, which I got prettty excited about. In the afternoon we wandered the opposite direction from our hostel for a little while but then turned around after a little while because it was so unbelievably cold.

Our final full day in Montevideo, we didn’t really do much of anything. We wanted to go to an art museum but both of the ones we were interested in were closed until the beginning of July while they changed the exhibits around. It was really nice to just not do anything though, particularly because I was starting to get a bit of a scratchy throat again. We continued our Harry Potter marathon in the evening and cooked another tasty little meal.

Saturday morning we woke up and packed our stuff and walked the gazillion blocks to the bus station where we got on a bus to Punta del Este, a city on the Uruguayan coast that is comparable to a mini-Miami in high season with crazy dancing and huge crowds of people partying on the beach. However, we’re currently traveling in low season… which meant that besides the hostels which still fill up, the entire town feels a bit ghost-town like, but it still has the asthetics of a small Florida beach town..just a kindof abandoned one. Still quite pretty though! Unfortunately our hostel in Punta del Este had TERRIBLE wifi connection and even when sitting right next to the modem thing, only came through at 2 little wimpy reception bars.

Sunday we walked around the town of Punta del Este. We started out by picking up some savory egg tart things and heading down to the beach to eat them.

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Then we headed to the part of the beach where the famous hand coming out of the sand sculpture is. We took some pictures there and Joe climbed around on the concrete fingers for a bit.

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After that we walked around the downtown area of Punta del Este, but it was so freezing and so windy that eventually we had to head back because I just couldn’t handle the coldness anymore. So we sat in our cozy hostel for a bit and played with their adorable little kitty.

Then today we checked out of our hostel and got on a bus back to Montevideo to our same hostel. Tomorrow we head back into Brazil and then we’re in Brazil for the rest of our trip!

Brazil (and Argentina): first month

Wow, I’m sorry that posting monthly has become the regular… It turns out its even harder to get a blog post together when I’m traveling all over the place than when I’m in school in one place. Because of that this post is going to be a tiny bit incomplete, due to the fact that a couple weeks ago my offline photo editing app broke down and so the only way for me to edit my photos is online, and I just haven’t been in a single place with consistent enough wifi for long enough to edit my photos. So I will still include my photos in this post, it will just be that more than half will be unedited and then some other ones will be from my phone (which will have very obvious filter edits on them).

So, I arrived in Manaus pretty late on Saturday May 10 and was immediately picked up by the company we were eventually going to take our amazon jungle tour with and whisked off to my hotel. Joe was already there so after some front desk confusion we settled into the new room. It was such a nice hotel, which we could afford for a couple nights because my mom paid for it with rewards points.

Sunday we woke up to warm temperatures but pounding rain. We decided to brave the rain and venture out to the mall next door in search of food. Maybe it was because it was Sunday, but all the stores in the mall were closed except the food pavilion and everywhere was deserted except for the food pavilion which was super weird. After the weird mall adventure, where we realized how foreign of a language Portuguese was, we headed off to the grocery store. There, it was made even clearer how lost we were going to be with our lack of Portuguese speaking. Then we went back and got one more night at our nice hotel.

Monday we left the nice hotel, saying goodbye to nice rooms for a few months, and took a bus downtown where we wandered around a tiny bit before finding our new hostel. It was actually a super cute, super clean and new hostel less than a block away from the main plaza in Manaus where the Amazonian Theatre is. Unfortunately, AC was only turned on from 8 PM through the night, so we relaxed outside in some hammocks for a bit and then went on a bit of a city exploration. We went to the famous theatre and walked down to the river for our first glimpse of the Amazon river.

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On the way back to our hostel, where I completely lost my sense of direction, there was a guy selling massive young coconuts so we bought one, drank all the coconut water and then later back at the hostel scraped out all the young coconut meat and ate that too. It was so refreshing. And then we got some freshly fried banana chips and that was perfect with the young coconut.

The next day we left the hostel at peak heat again to do some wandering in the opposite direction. We went to this old house that had been turned into a museum of all sorts, there was a modern art part, an old money part, an archaelogy part, and an old military part. The modern art part was the best developed part and had quite nice art, the rest was maybe a little bit questionable. Then we wandered through some market-y areas and back to the hostel.

Wednesday, we were picked up early from our hostel early by someone from Amazon Antonio Jungle Tours with our tour group and driven 3 hours north. There we got on a speedboat and boated for an hour up a major Amazon river tributary until we got to the jungle lodge. The boat ride was nice until it started pouring and even though they put down a tarp, we all still got pretty wet.

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The lodge was super cute, it had a nice outdoor kitchen and dining area, lots of little cabins, and a tower that had lounge chairs on top where you can sit and watch the river or the trees around you.

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Immediately upon arriving at the lodge our tour guide, who’s name was also Joseph, caught a venomous parrot snake for us to look at.

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Then Joe and I went on a short walk through the jungle next to our little cabin and a swim right off the boat launch. I was a little terrified to get in the water because it was black water so it was a weird color and there were piranhas, but apparently the pirahnas there don’t ever get big enough to be interested in biting humans.

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Then it was time for our first group outing. Our tour group was only 5 people, and Joe and I were the only ones staying for the full 5 day tour so it quickly thinned out. Our first outing was canoeing through the flooded forest. It was so beautiful and so cool. There are 2 different seasons in the Amazon, the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season goes from Jan-June, so since we were there in May, it was the end of the rainy season meaning that it was at peak flood. Its crazy how much the rivers flood. Our guide said that at that point it was about 10 meters of flooding, the highest week of the year. So we canoed through the forest until a certain point when we stopped and everyone else in the group besides me went piranha fishing. I refused to do it because I don’t even eat fish, but it was alright to watch.

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Everyone caught a lot of little piranhas that they put back and then finally someone caught a piranha that was big enough and someone else caught a pretty big sardine-type fish and we headed back right as the sun was beginning to set. We watched a little of it from the boat and then went up to the tower and watched the rest of the sunset from up above. While watching the sunset, a pod of grey dolphins also went swimming by, one of the two species of dolphin that lives in that part of the Amazon.

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Dinner was very tasty, along with all of the other meals. It was super nice to have every meal provided for you and have so many healthy food choices, many of which were also vegetarian.

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At night we went boating way down river to look for caimans. Unfortunately we didn’t find any, but it was amazing being out on the water at night, particularly since that night was a full moon so the moon lit everything up. It was very peaceful.

The next day we canoed downriver to a different part of the forest and went for a long hike through it. The hike was really cool and we saw tonss of monkeys. Our guide was excellent at hearing them and tracking them down even though they were at the top of the canopy. I think we saw about 6 different groups of monkeys, many of which were different species, including one group of little tamarin monkeys. Unfortunately, it was really hot and humid and there were mosquitos everywhere, so I didn’t have the energy to take out my camera, also because my camera is great but has a terrible zoom so it would have been worthless to try.

After lunch the first member of our group went home because he was only doing a 2 day jungle trip and the remainder of us (me, joe, and 2 chinese women who were studing in New York City) set off on a hike into the jungle with our guide to a campground type area. We got there and set up hammocks under this large tarp tent.

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Then we went trampling around in the jungle until we finally found dry dead wood which we had to hack off a tree and then made a big campfire. While we all relaxed in the hammocks, our guide made us dinner of this potato-vegetable rice dish, roast chicken, and sausage over the fire and then made us bowls out of forest leaves and used his machete to carve spoons out of wood.

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After dinner we went to bed at 7:45-ish because there wasn’t really much else to do in the jungle in the darkness. I didn’t sleep terribly well, because I don’t think hammocks are the best thing for my back and I kept feeling like I was surrounded in bugs and mosquitos. Then we woke up bright and early, had a very nice and fresh breakfast and went on a hike around the area where we were camping. We saw some birds and a couple more monkeys before heading back to pack up our stuff.

On the way hiking out of the forest, it began to pour and continued to rain even harder the rest of the hike out so by the time we got back to our cabin all of our clothes and stuff was completely soaked, and it never really got dry (or clean) after that.

After lunch that day, the other two women in our group left so it was just me, Joe, and our guide. In the afternoon we went out on another boat ride, this time in search of the other kind of dolphins, pink dolphins. We got to a ¨lake¨ in the middle of the river, and sure enough there was the first pink dolphin. We followed him around for a bit and then a few more appeared throughout the lake. It was pretty much impossible to get a decent photo of them, because the pink dolphins are more solitary and swim long distances before coming up for air so you could never predict where or when they would surface. But they are such cool looking animals. They’re pink and grey and instead of having the stereotypical dolphin fin like the grey dolphins, they have a big rounded nob on their back which looks pretty cool. We watched those for a long time, following them around the lake and then headed back for dinner.

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The next day we woke up and after breakfast, headed out for a long day. Our guide took us down this flooded ¨stream¨, which when flooded just looks like another big flooded river rather than a little stream. Because the flood waters are always at different heights, we were going through parts of the canopy that hadn’t been paddled down that year, so our guide had his machete out the whole time and made a trail down the stream as we went along it.

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We saw lots and lots of birds and at one point passed a huge brazil nut tree where our guide fetched us a bunch of fresh brazil nuts. We went way deep into this flooded forest and then stopped to have a late lunch and as we were getting our food out it started to rain again. However, the place we stopped to eat was also under a bunch of big palm trees, which are monkeys favorite trees to eat, so even though we were soaking wet, another big group of monkeys was playing around right above us. It got sunny for a tiny bit and we paddled even deeper into the forest, where we saw another group of monkeys, this time a different species, but then it started to pour again, so our guide decided to turn around.

As we were heading back, our guide got a bit lost and since its essentially just one big flooded forest with no real trails, I had completely lost my sense of direction and started to have a bit of a panic attack. It took a while for us to find our way to the stream looking part again, and I was positive that we were going to be lost in the flooded forest forever in the pouring rain, but thankfully after a few hours we found our way out and it finally started getting sunny again.

In the evening, we just rested after spending the whole day sitting in a boat the day after a whole day spent hiking.

Our final morning, Joe and I got a canoe and paddled around the flooded forest right by our cabin on our own. It was a bit mosquito-y though, and I felt I already had sufficient enough numbers of mosquito bites so we turned around and went back and packed up our stuff.

Then we speed-boated an hour back to the road, bid farewell to our wonderful jungle guide, and hopped in the van that took us back to our previous hostel. That night we went to a cafe right by the Amazonian Theatre where we met an American living in Sao Paolo. He worried us a bit by telling us that flying out of Manaus is very pricey so we headed back to the hostel, looked up prices for plane flights out and realized that he was very very right. So we began looking up alternative plans and decided that taking a 4 day slow boat for a little less than $90 to Porto Velho and then a $200 flight to Campo Grande, our next destination, was better than a $550 flight to Campo Grande. Unfortunately it appeared that the boat only ran every Tuesday and Thursday and since it was Sunday evening and we had booked our hostel (and paid for it) through Wednesday, it appeared we weren’t getting out of Manaus until Thursday. Then we went to a bar and got Caipirinhas, and the people next to us at the bar were from Venezuela so we talked for a while in Spanish, which was really fun for me since I missed speaking Spanish and my lack of Portuguese and thus inability to communicate was driving me crazy.

Monday we decided to haul all of our damp, moldy, mildew-y, and just plain filthy clothes to the lavanderia a little while away. However, once we got there we realized it was outrageously expensive (1-3 dollars per item of clothing), and the people at our hostel said there really wasnt another choice if we wanted it done for us. So, we went back to the hostel and spent the entire day (and I mean the entiree day) hand scrubbing our clothes in the sink at our hostel. Pretty much all of our clothes were filthy, some even had visible mold growing on them, so it took the whole afternoon and even then I wouldn’t call our clothes clean, just not gross.. So that was not the most optimal day.

Tuesday we headed to the port to buy a ticket for a slowboat to Porto Velho. However, it was incredibly confusing as no one spoke English nor Spanish. But eventually we figured out that the boats to PV ran Tuesdays and Fridays, not Thursdays, so we either got on a boat that day or waited until Friday. Considering we still hadn’t planned beyond Porto Velho and we had heard it was not really the sort of place you wanted to hang out in, plus we had booked our hostel through Wednesday and didn’t want to waste our money, we decided to unfortunately wait until Friday to leave. So we bought our boat tickets, bought hammocks, mosquito nets, and rope for the boat, and went back to the hostel to begin planning our future travels. From there we booked a flight out of PV to Campo Grande on the following Thursday, because we had heard that often times boats get delayed or have mechanical trouble and so we wanted a bit of leeway.

Wednesday we did some more planning, because at this point I had decided that things were just too chaotic and money too tight to not be planning ahead of time, since the world cup is coming up. Then we went on a dérive, which basically meant we wandered without plan or objective, allowing ourselves to be pulled in whichever direction we felt was most desirable. Of course, our dérive pulled us into another rainstorm so we huddled under a bank awning and then in a little market until the rain let up, but the rest of the dérive was nice and we found some pretty little urban sights.

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Thursday we switched hostels because our hostel was closing for cleaning. The new hostel was not really a hostel, but more of a bunch of very cheap little dingy apartment rooms. It was fine though and we talked to another woman switching from the same hostel into the same apartment area about her travels. It seemed like she was having a terribly complicated time, which made me feel a little better about all of our little transportation predicaments.

Friday after packing up again, we headed down to the port where the guy we bought our boat ticket from put us on a taxi to another port that was pretty far away. I was terribly confused the whole time and positive that we were getting ripped off, but it turns out we werent and we made it to the port and easily found our boat. We got there around 12 and the boat didn’t leave until 6 which left us plenty of time to tie up our hammocks and sit around. I also wandered around the boat dock and took a few photos as it was fairly pretty.

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At first it seemed like it was going to be great, there weren’t that many people, we had lots of space, it wasn’t too hot. Then, slowly it started filling up more and more and by the time we left around 8, there were sooo many hammocks. each hammock got about a foot to a foot and a half of space, which is really not much at all and somehow Joe and I ended up with even less than this. I was pretty unhappy. Plus, due to all the warm bodies, there wasn’t much of a breeze so the temperature increased, causing me even more unhappiness.

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As we headed out of port and down the Rio Negro, we were provided with dinner which was ok but very meaty and then we went upstairs to the bar and lounge area where we had lots more room to sit around and watched the water waiting for the Meeting of the Waters. I was sure we weren’t going to see it because it was so dark, but then we looked down and sure enough there it was, two rivers of different colors flowing next to eachother for a long ways. It was quite cool. Then we tried to sleep. I slept terribly though because I already don’t sleep well in hammocks, but then add in the fact that you’re packed in like sardines and there was no way I was going to get a good nights sleep.

I woke up to the breakfast whistle at 6 AM, ate some measly but included breakfast, and then went back to sleep until 8. Then I sat in my foot of hammock space for a while, edited some photos, tried and failed at conversing with my portuguese speaking neighbors, went upstairs to watch kingfishers on the banks of the Amazon, and then went back to my hammock, trying to kill time while trying not to lose my temper at the lack of space that I had to stretch out in. Literally, killing time felt impossible though.

It turns out that I must give off some sort of child attracting chemicals because a bunch of kids on the boat decided that I was somehow special and spent the whole day, and night, following me around trying to talk to me. But they definitely didn’t speak any english or spanish, and there was no way I was going to understand a word of their portuguese, but still they persisted. The only break I got from them was the hour and a half that the european football (soccer) championships were on and I was focused on watching Real Madrid beat Atletico Madrid. As soon as the game ended though, they were back to pestering me. Again, I slept terribly. Hammocks are not for me.

The next day I woke up, was pestered some more by the children and spent the whole day trying to ignore them so they would get the point. Then around mid day, tragedy struck. I went to my purse to get money to buy a bag of chips, and guess what, someone stole all of the money in my wallet, which was a lottt of money, around 400 Reals, which is about $200. Of course, no one speaks English on the boat, and its pretty much hopeless to try and recover that much money on a boat with 100 people. So that turned my day pretty sour and I spent the rest of the day being angry in my hammock. Because my hammock was in the corner of the boat, it really felt like it must have been someone sleeping around me to know when no one was around, which just sucks because that just meant I couldn’t really trust anyone around me. And it just made me feel awkward being stuck on a boat with someone who stole something from me with no way for me to figure out who it was. The evening got worse when we docked in a town. I got excited thinking that the town was not too far away from Porto Velho and that we would be there the next day. Turns out that the town was the halfway point, so we still had 2 full days left. Also the children still wouldn’t leave me alone.

By the fourth day, I was getting stir crazy. I accepted the fact that there was no way I was going to successfully communicate with anyone, since no one on the boat spoke a word of english and wasn’t really willing to try and help me understand their Portuguese. Plus it started to feel like everyone just wanted something from me, for example one girl who persistently came up to me on the boat and tried to buy my nose ring even though I kept saying no, and the children who just wanted me to play with them, and their parents who just wanted me to distract the kids so they could not have to deal with them. Not gonna lie, by this point the trip was pretty miserable.

The trip only ended up getting worse because then on the 5th night I got terrible food poisoning and slept on the floor of the boat because there was no way I could sleep in a hammock with the levels of pain my stomach was in.

We ended up finally getting in to Porto Velho on Wednesday, which meant 6 days/5 nights on that boat, which was 2 more days that we had been led to believe. Thankfully our flight wasn’t until Thursday because we wanted to give ourselves leeway in case something like this happened. My overall reflections on the boat ride were mixed. On one hand it was an interesting experience, we saw lots of new bird species on the riverbanks, a few dolphins, and a couple monkeys. Plus it was incredibly cheap at about 90 USD for what ended up being 5 nights of accomodation, 6 days with all meals included, and transportation all in one. However, I ended up getting almost 200 USD stolen from me (the exact cost difference between a boat and plane flight, mind you), had to sleep in a hammock for 4/5ish nights, got food poisoning, had no one to talk to for that time and nothing to do, and wasted a whole bunch of days that I could have spent elsewhere.

Bleh, anyways, we got into Porto Velho eventually, a small city that takes the prize as Brazil’s number one most dangerous city (yay). It was a pretty ¨meh¨ city with falling apart concrete buildings, mud everywhere, no nice architecture or anything. However it was still nice to be off the boat and our hotel was a gem in such a lame city. We got a big private room with a bathroom and AC for about 12 USD each and it was right next to a couple little places to eat. We did a little bit of exploration in the city and tried Tapioca, which are crepes made out of tapioca, and had some Acai.

Then Thursday we got a plane to Campo Grande, where we were picked up by our tour guide for the Pantanal and transfered to a nice little hotel there. We got wifi for the first time in a week and went to a market area for dinner where we had delicious Soba noodle soups because Campo Grande has a huge japanese population.

Friday morning we got in a van with 5 other tourists, 1 British guy who ended up becoming a good friend and 4 friendly Israeli guys who had just finished their mandatory military service, and we were all driven 4 hours out to our lodge in the Pantanal. In case you were wondering, the Pantanal is a giant half-savannah, half-wetland area with a bit of jungle-y vegetation too that stretches along the Brazil/Bolivia border and is supposed to be the best place in Brazil to see birds and wildlife. Upon arriving, there were Caracaras (Brazilian fishing eagles) everywhere and a couple Capybaras grazing in the grass, so it was already off to an exciting start. We got settled in our dorm room which we shared with the british guy, which was small but was on a permanently docked boat so it looked right out on the river which was very pretty.

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In the evening we took a night boat down the river to watch the sun set, watch the stars, and look for wildlife. The wildlife part then was lackluster, all we saw was a bunch of Potoos which are kindof like Nightjars and are related to owls but not quite as cool as an owl. But the sunset and stars were both quite beautiful so that was nice.

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The next day (Saturday), we woke up early and hopped on a safari jeep for a safari jeep tour until we eventually reached a trail for hiking. On the safari jeep tour we saw gazillions of Caiman, really tons of them, they were everywhere…large ones and small ones. It made me shocked that we hadn’t seen a caiman up until that point. We also saw lots of birds, including some Toco Toucans and a little baby 9-banded Armadillo.

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Then we got out at a trail and hiked into the ¨bush¨ for a couple hours. It was quite a nice hike and we saw coatis, another armadillo, some howler monkeys, a bunch of peccary, and 2 types of macaws. While we didn’t get to see a jaguar, while we were walking after the peccary, we found one that had been killed and partially eaten only a few hours earlier by a jaguar and our guide said that jaguars will stick around and watch over their kills, which meant that there was a jaguar somewhere in our midst, we just couldn’t see it.

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Then, after plenty of mosquito bites we headed back for a tasty lunch and saw a spiny iguana on the way back. In the afternoon, we got on a boat and went on a boat safari where we saw lots of new types of birds and some giant river otters. At one point we reached a little hut that had a bunch of canoes and we went up a tributary for a while and then got dropped off in the canoes to paddle back down to the hut. We were in the canoes in pairs and the canoes were quite tippy. Joe and I were the only ones to not flip our canoe, and one of the pairs flipped their canoe countless numbers of times. It was a nice boat ride and we were able to paddle up to a capybara on the riverbank and get within a foot of her and she didn’t do anything. As we were pulling up to the hut, it started to rain and by the time we got on the boat and started heading back to the lodge a huge thunderstorm had started. We got soaking wet but it was amazing because it was night and quite stormy so the sky was completely dark but there was so much lightning in front of us that it lit up the sky and clouds and river, which made for quite a beatiful scene.

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Our last day (Sunday), it was raining in the morning when we were supposed to go floating on inner tubes down the river so I opted out of that. Then I opted out of piranha fishing as well because I don’t fish and didn’t want to sit out in the rain, but I still had a relaxing morning packing and watching birds around the lodge. Then we driven out of the Pantanal and transfered to a little (cramped) car that took us to Bonito, a little town south of the Pantanal that was rated the number 1 ecotourism site in Brazil and one of the best in the world. It is an area with lots of perfectly clear rivers that are spring fed and filled with fish. There are also plenty of other adventurous sites to see, like waterfalls and caves.

We had a bit of a hitch in Bonito when the people at our hostel there messed up our payment part, but it got smoothed out and they were very helpful with our tour planning for our time there. That night we had a tasty pizza dinner, which was quite strange because the restaurant didnt let you serve yourself your pizza. Instead you bought a pizza and then they served you a slice and when you wanted the next one they would come and slice it off your pizza and serve it to you and so on. Very odd, but good pizza. Unfortunately, Joe also pulled his back muscle lifting his backpack into the hostel so we spent the rest of the night lazing around the hostel hoping for a fast recovery.

Monday, his back was still hurting him so we spent the morning icing it and resting. Then we rented bikes and took a slow bike ride to the Balneario Municipal, which is an area along one of the crystal clear rivers in Bonito where the river is wider and slower so they created steps into and a big grass resting area so its like a public pool but in the river. We spent the day there, swimming in the very cold water and watching macaws (and lots of other birds) fly around and eat the bird seeds sprinkled around the park.

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We met a swiss couple at the balneario who happened to be staying at our hostel and mentioned that they wanted to do a certain snorkeling tour the next day and asked if we wanted to do it with them since the more people that go, the cheaper the transportation for each individual person, so we decided to do that the following day rather than the day after which had been our original plan.

In the evening we hung out with the swiss couple until pretty late and they talked about their travels, which were quite amazing as they had literally dropped everything, quit their jobs, and started traveling around South America with no end in sight and a goal to eventually end up in Alaska by the next year or maybe later.

Tuesday we headed out in the morning to Rio da Prata with the swiss couple. Rio da Prata is a tour that is supposed to be the pride and joy of Bonito where you snorkel down one of the clearest streams in the area and get to see lots and lots of fish and beautiful underwater scenery. We split the cost of an underwater camera rental with the swiss couple, which allowed me to get some photos of the tour, but they don’t quite do it justice because it was not the highest quality camera rental.

We started the tour by changing into half-wetsuits, the kind where your legs are half exposed, and hiking 45 minutes through some jungle to the beginning of the stream. There we got in the water, checked to make sure our mask and snorkel worked fine, and began our snorkeling trip downstream. It was SO BEAUTIFUL. There were tons of fish, the water was incredibly blue and clear, and it wasn’t even too cold. We even looked up and saw some monkeys and coatis at one point. There were also these tiny fish that are the kind that people put in tanks in spas to eat the dead skin off their feet. So they would swarm your face and peck at your lips to eat the dead skin off your lips. It actually kindof hurt but they were pretty cute and friendly little fish. At one point we reached the actual springs which were really cool because they were like an underwater sand volcano which was very pretty. While we were checked out the springs, the little fish went up to my knee and started eating the remainder of my scab from when I fell in the Galapagos, which was acually kindof helpful in a way.

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Then after a long ways, the little creek hit the major river and we swam down the river until the first platform where we got out because the big river was less clear and 10 degrees celcius colder. Then we walked a tiny bit until the jeep and went back to the ranch house where joe bought the lunch there and I ate the snacks that we brought with us.

We sat in the sun for a long while and chitchatted with our swiss friends while watching parrots, parakeets, and hummingbirds around the ranch before heading back to hostel.

Once we got back we rested for about an hour before walking down to a big building where we had to do our rappelling training for the following days tour. We were quickly taught how to rappel and abseil, were fitted for wetsuits, and given a bunch of information for our upcoming tour.

Wednesday we woke up super early and met up with our british friend from the Pantanal, who was doing the same rappelling tour as us, and were whisked away to Abismo Anhumas, a big cave that has a very beautiful lake at the bottom of it. The lake is super clear, like the rest of the water in Bonito, and is quite deep at one end (80 meters) but the other end has spectacular underwater cave formations like large underwater stalacmites that you can swim around. To get to the lake, we rappelled through a hole at the top 72 meters until a floating platform. The rappelling down part was quite easy and not terribly scary because you felt more in control. You pass by a lot of huge stalactites as you go down too which was quite cool. Then we waited at the bottom while 2 other pairs of people rappelled down.

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After that we took a tour around the lake in a little dinghy and got to see all of the different formations within the cave. I took lots of photos, but again they don’t do the cave justice because it was so dark and my camera was having some problems with its flash.

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Then we got back to the floating platform and changed into full length wetsuits and hopped into the lake. We started in the deep (and very dark) part, which was a tad bit scary and it was so cold but there were these really cute fish that had glow in the dark eyes and they were super friendly and you could grab them and touch them and they wouldn’t put up a fight at all. Then we snorkeled all around the lake and swam around hugee underwater pillars and huge underwater stalacmites. It was all super beautiful and the water was so blue and so clear.

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Then it was back into our climbing clothes to begin the long climb up. We were the second pair so we had to wait for a while while the first pair to climb up, then we were roped in and began the long abseil to the top. Its not necessarily climbing, but its where you push your hands and feet up at the same time and then the lever on your hands clamps down and you pull up, so it still takes a bit of work and while 72 meters doesn’t seem terribly far when you’re going down, its actually quite far. It was a little bit terrifying actually because the rope is stretchy so you kindof bounce a bit each time you pull yourself up and bouncing when theres nothing but rope and air between you and a cave floor/lake very far away from you is not the most secure feeling thing. I was quite glad when we finally reached the top, but I was also exhilerated. It was amazing and not the sort of thing I usually do on vacation.

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Then we headed back to our hostel, did some errands, I skyped my parents, and then went straight to sleep.

Thursday we ran some more errands and then got on a bus to Dourados, a town south of Bonito. In Dourados we transfered to another bus which we took overnight to Foz do Iguacu, the city on the Brazillian side of the Iguassu waterfalls. I slept super well on the bus so I woke up in Foz on Friday feeling pretty refreshed but Joe didn’t sleep much on the bus at all so he was exhausted but we got there with a full day so we took advantage of it instead of finding a hostel right away. First we took a bus into the center of town where we found a money exchange place and changed a ton of Reals into US dollars because to go to Argentina, you’re supposed to bring dollars. Then we took a bus to Parque Nacional do Iguacu, the Brazillian side of Iguassu waterfalls. We put our luggage in luggage lockers and hopped on the provided bus until the Cataratas trail (waterfall trail). We began the trail in quite a lot of fog and when we reached the first viewpoint, it was so foggy that you could just barely make out the falls. I was a bit disappointed, but you could still hear the waterfalls so I knew they were there. There were also coatis everywhere, which behave like extremely tame raccoons and like to steal your stuff, especially your food, and at one point when I bent down to photograph a coati, a different one jumped onto me, trying to get into my backpack and wouldn’t get off.

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Then we continued down the trail and the fog started to lift and wow, those waterfalls are impressive. After the first part of the trail, the rest of it is right along the edge of the cliffs so you can see different huge waterfalls the whole time. It was almost a 2 km hike, so you can imagine that it is a LOT of waterfalls.

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Then at the end of the trail you get to a part where you can go on a walkway way out right at the bottom of the major falls at the Devil’s Throat. It had started to drizzle at the point, so the rain combined with the huge amount of spray coming off all of the falls meant that I pretty much just got completely soaked, despite wearing a raincoat. Still though it was incredibly beautiful.

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Then we took an elevator to the top of Devil’s Throat falls where you can see how big they are and see lots of the other falls too.

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It was amazing and incredibly beautiful and breath-taking. Then we had lunch (while being pestered by more coatis) and took the little bus back to the visitors center where we got our luggage and headed back into the city. There we transfered to a bus that took us to Brazilian immigrations. It was incredibly confusing because of how unbelievably relaxed it was. The bus wasn’t even stopped leaving Brazil, it just stopped to let us out to get our exit stamps, but no one else got off the bus. Then there were so few people around and we eventually found a small little office where we quickly were given our exit stamps and then we had to wait 45 minutes for the next bus to pass by. We got on this bus until the Argentinian border where everyone got off the bus except the bus driver, and yet again I was amazing by the lack of tightness in the border security since again, there was no one forcing the bus to stop or forcing people to get off the bus. We got our entrance stamps within minutes, got through their almost non-existant security even faster, and got back on our bus, which thankfully waited for us this time. Then we took the bus into downtown Puerto Iguazu where we found an internet cafe where we looked up hostels. We found a very wonderful hostel not too far away that had beautiful little bungalow-type rooms for incredibly cheap surrounding some beautiful gardens. The hostel ended up being so amazing, so we settled in and then went shopping… for Pesos. The way to exchange money in Argentina is to do it on the black market because the currency here is so weak that it could be worth nothing any day. Thus, everyone in Argentina wants to store away dollars since they are more stable so they are worth more. So even if the official rate is 8 pesos per dollar, the blue dollar rate is much better. In Buenos Aires, which is further away from the border, you can get around 12 to 13 pesos per dollar, but on the border the rate isn’t quite as good since people can just cross over and get Reals very easily. After shopping around, we found the best rate at 10.5 pesos per dollar so we changed a little bit of money and then found a lavanderia and a cute restaurant called Terra, which we clearly had to eat at. The food was tasty, everyone in the town was incredibly nice, and we decided to extend our hostel reservation because it was just such an amazing and cute little place with plants everywhere and cheap prices for us.

Saturday we were supposed to go to the Argentinian side of the falls but we woke up to a huge thunderstorm and pouring rain so we decided to delay that trip for a day and just hang out around town. It was very relaxing and we got a few errands out of the way and I found a book to read in the hostel’s book exchange.

Sunday we decided that even though it was raining, we should go to the Argentinian side of the falls so that we could leave the following day for Buenos Aires. So we headed out around late morning and got to the park with the rain soaking us. I bought one of those plastic tarp poncho things, which kindof helped a tiny bit but I still got pretty wet, plus I had to pay for the more expensive one inside the park because since it was Sunday there was no one selling them for cheap outside the park. Unfortunately 2 of the 4 sightseeing trails at the park were closed because the water level was so abnormally high, but oh well.. that leaves something to come back for. We went on the upper circuit trail first which crosses over the upper parts of a lot of the waterfalls. It was so stunning since you are right up close to all of the falls that you cross over.

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Then we looped back around and went on the lower trail which follows many of the same waterfalls as the upper trail but is at the bottom of those same falls instead of above. Midway through this trail the sun came out and the sky turned such a bright blue and then there was a really incredible full-arch rainbow in front of the falls that you can see from the lower trail. With the mist from the waterfalls, the rainforest-y vegetation, and the incredible-ness of iguazu’s waterfalls, it was quite magical and just so so beautiful.

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At the end of the lower trail, there is a walkway that almost goes right out under one of the massive falls. I stepped out onto the walkway for just a second and was immediately drenched and all the other tourists were running out onto the walkway to get photos on it and returned as if they’d jumped in a pool. It was really impressive though, seeing so much force up close.

Then we headed back into town, got our bus tickets to Buenos Aires the following day, and went to this super cute cafe in town and had excellent hot drinks, salad, and baked goods. The guys who worked there were super nice and gave us coupons for free coffees at their brand new Buenos Aires location which was cool.

Monday it was time to check out of our hostel. Then we decided to walk to the place where you can see Brazil and Paraguay across the river. On the walk we decided to go the scenic route, right along the river but when we got to the bottom of the road, we realized that we couldn’t go any further along the scenic side of the loop because the water level was so high that the river had completely flooded that entire stretch of the road and the entire town along the road next to the river was completely underwater. You could even see the top of the streetlight a little ways out from the riverbank. So we turned back around and headed the long way to the lookout point. It wasn’t a terribly exciting view, but I guess how many times can you say that you can see 3 countries from one spot..

Then we turned around, got some empanadas and hauled our stuff onto our long distance bus to Buenos Aires. Boy was it a weird bus ride. We were immediately served a tray of snacks upon leaving Puerto Iguazu and then every single hour we were brought hard candies. Then before dinner they brought us each 2 fingers of whiskey in a classy plastic glass. Then with dinner (lackluster food), they brought us cold beer. And then after dinner they brought around champagne. Kindof odd on a moving vehicle, but just shows how different it is from the US. Unfortunately I did not sleep well throughout the night, due to my knees feeling super crampy and a child who cried all night long.

We got to Buenos Aires the following morning around 10, and stumbled onto the streets with no idea where we were. We asked around and eventually were able to walk about 15 blocks until Avenida Florida where we shopped around until we found the best deal on Argentinian Pesos. We spent a while changing money while I went through every single peso checking to make sure it wasn’t counterfeit. Counterfeit money is extremely common here due to the terrible inflation and huge black market for currency exchanges, so I read tons of articles on how to spot a fake bill and now I consider myself quite the expert. Thankfully we didn’t get a single fake bill from the guy we chose to buy our pesos from, and we got a pretty good deal so that was good to get out of the way. Then we had to ask around again to figure out where our hostel was, and it took another 20 blocks to walk there. But eventually we got there and settled in. Its a super cute hostel with a nice rooftop terrace.

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We went grocery shopping which was fun because it was cheap and they had excellent variety, and then got a really tasty dinner at a very authentic japanese restaurant.

Today we woke up and after lazing around in the morning, walked a bit until we found the subway. It was a super easy subway to navigate so we took it up to the ritzy neighborhood of Recoleta. We walked through the pouring rain in that neighborhood to the Fine Arts Museum which was awesome and free and looked at some pretty paintings for awhile. They had a small but nice collection which included some Degas and Monet along with lots of European artists and Argentinian artists. Then we wandered around some more while I shoe-watched. Basically, I have discovered that Argentines have THE BEST shoes I have ever seen. Imagine the coolest and hippest person in the US and the shoes they would wear and then imagine every single person in Argentina wearing some version of those shoes. Shoes are one of my favorite things, and when they are crazy and unique I get so excited, so I just stared at peoples shoes for a while and it made me incredibly happy. Then we made it back to the hostel and I finally got around to posting this post :)

 

Ecuador- last month

The week after my last post was pretty typical, nothing special to report.

That Friday was our last day of volunteering. We cleaned the quarantine area where we got to spend a lot of time around the lion cub. Then we cleaned the Tapir/Capybara cage again where this time they put all of the animals in a holding cage, but somehow in the middle of us shoveling their poop into bags, the Capybara managed to escape and came after us again like the previous week. It was really hilarious and he undid a bunch of work we had done and then they had to chase the ferocious capybara back into his holding cage. Friday night we all met up at the bowling alley in the mall and did a bit of bowling. We were in 2 lanes and I came in last of my lane, but a lot of people in the other lane thankfully did a little worse than me so I’m not too too terrible at bowling. After that we all went down to the river and hung out there for a while before heading home.

Saturday I worked on some more homework and then went into town for dinner. In the evening we all went bowling again, this time I chose to watch instead which was fun enough in itself. Afterwards we went to this bar that has a dancefloor and music, so its kindof like a discoteca but its a bit more of a bar atmosphere. They were playing american rock music like ZZ Top and Nirvana so we got a bit crazy and had tons of fun dancing to that.

Sunday-Thursday were pretty uneventful, with us focusing on finishing our final homework projects for all 3 of our classes.

The next night, one of the girls on our programs boyfriends had a bonfire at his vacant lot which was super fun. We roasted marshmallows and listened to music and relaxed.

Friday I slept in finally before setting out to work on some of my final culture project. In the afternoon we had our final presentations of our work at the Zoo. Friday night we went to a new discoteca that had just opened. It was pretty fun, but the music wasn’t my favorite. Still though we had to go out because it was our second to last weekend-night.

Saturday I met up with a couple people in my group and we walked around downtown and along the river. There were a lot of people out because it was dia-del-Cuenca, essentially the city’s birthday. There were arts and crafts booths lining the river so we wandered along looking at all the booths and I bought a few little things. Saturday night we all met up for drinks and then went to a bar that had a dancefloor and danced a bit there. From there we went to the same hostel that we went for the Valentine’s day concert but this time they were having a Cuenca-day concert. It was super great music with a good sort of lightshow that accompanied the music and it went until 2:30 at night. It took forever to get a cab home because there were so many people out and about but it was a perfect last-night-out.

Sunday I slept in and then did homework all afternoon. In the evening, we all met up at my professors apartment and had a Passover Seder because two of the girls on my trip were Jewish. It was super fun and the food was incredibly tasty.

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Monday and Tuesdays were more very busy days since all of our projects and finals were due and they were basically our last days of the program.

Then Tuesday, right before the program was to end, I was hit very suddenly by terrible nausea. I thought it was just nerves for the future at first, so I tried sleeping it off but I couldn’t sleep and just got progressively more and more nauseous until I was vomiting. The vomiting was pretty continuous, even into the night and when I had nothing left in my tummy to throw up, so I barely got any sleep. Not to mention I was in so much pain all over my body with backaches, headaches, full-body-aches, so I could barely move without feeling like crying. It was miserable. Also it was terribly timed because I had my Spanish final on Wednesday and I still had to pack to go to Quito. Wednesday I still wasn’t feeling good (in fact, I really didn’t start feeling completely normal until today), so I went to the doctor and he gave me some antibiotics and concluded it was food poisoning. If that was what it was, it was the worst food poisoning I’ve ever had or could ever imagine having.

Wednesday night there was a big going away party at a fancy garden/restaurant which was pretty sad and emotional. The spanish school made a movie with photos of all of us, which was really sweet and everyone mingled and danced. Then I hugged everyone goodbye and went home to finish packing.

Thursday morning I woke up super early and headed to the airport. After a hassle-free quick flight to Quito, I navigated my way on buses from the airport to my hostel (and the airport is about 2 hours away from my hostel so I was pretty proud of myself for making it). My hostel is super nice and pretty, tucked away on a side street right outside of the historic center. The terrace overlooks the entire historic center and you can see the tops of all the major churches and sights right from where you eat.

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I was in a dorm room that was kinda reserved for solo travelers, and since almost all solo travelers are guys, all of my dorm-mates were guys. They were also all  incredibly nice, although its crazy how I seemed to have new roommates each night because most people are just passing through. Besides my roommates, I met also lots of other really fun and friendly people in my hostel, from all over the world which is super cool. Its great to hear where they’re traveling from and to and share tips of where to go and what to do.

Thursday I also tried to go to the Brazilian Embassy to get my Brazilian visa, which is the only reason I’m in Quito. But turns out they close at 12 (which it did NOT say on their website) and they weren’t going to be open Fri-Sun because its Semana Santa (Holy Week). So thats a bit stressful for me because it means I apply for my visa on Monday which gives me a week to get it before I fly back to Cuenca and to the Galapagos and need my passport again.

OK so then Friday, it was Good Friday. Quito is the city in Ecuador that has the biggest celebration for semana santa so for good friday, there was a HUGE procession/parade. It was super weird. I went with 2 people from my hostel and we sat in the sun and basically, for 2-3 hours, people walk down the streets basically torturing themselves to alleviate their sins. Everyone dresses in these weird purple costumes that look like purple kkk suits, with a full length covering robe and tall pointy hat/face covering with slits for the eyes. Many people walk barefoot because thats what Jesus did. Also for every group of these penitents (I think the groups were different churches around the city) there were 1 or more people dressed like Jesus carrying HUGE and heavy crosses over their shoulders like Jesus was forced to do with people dressed like soldiers walking being him. There were even some people who went to extreme measures to alleviate their sins like whipping themselves on the back as they walked or having crosses made out of cacti strapped to their bare backs.

It was really odd, and no one seemed to be immune to it, as there were people of all ages (tiny children carrying crosses, to really old people too).

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Saturday I wandered around La Mariscal district and got lunch there. It was super cute and the food was quite tasty. Then I went back to the same arts and crafts market I went to when I first got to Quito and got some more little gifts, which was quite fun. THen it was more relaxation and netflix watching in my hostel.

Sunday was easter, so almost everything was closed. However, I still wandered around the centro historico a bit before going back and relaxing in the hostel.

Monday I woke up early and headed to the Brazilian Embassy. Got there early and it turned out I had to wait a whole 45 minutes before they would let me in. Then once I got in, I had to go out and reprint off lots of papers and it was a hassel, but I got it all applied for and they could process it in 5 business days so that was exciting. Then I wandered around La Mariscal district a little more and relaxed at my hostel.

Tuesday I took a bus a couple hours north of Quito to a town called Otavalo and stayed in a really cute little hotel in the center of town. It was really relaxing and I got a really nice hotel room for really cheap. It was a bit creepy though because during the middle of the week, the town is deserted, so I think there was only one other person in the whole hotel so it felt a little off.Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

Then I woke up Wednesday, ate breakfast in town and went to the famous Otavalo market. Although its really famous for its Saturdays, it seemed too hectic to go on a Saturday so I went mid week instead and it was perfect. Essentially this whole plaza is filled with booths of Otavaleños selling handicrafts and art and its all super cheap and there are literally so many different kinds of things that they sell. I can’t even imagine how it is on Saturdays because there were soooo many booths mid week. I went a little crazy because I really love handicrafts and they were all so affordable, but I still feel like I should have gotten more because it was all so amazing.

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Then I went back to the same hostel in Quito and relaxed for the evening, after taking a short little walk around the historic center.

Thursday I switched hostels to a new one in La Mariscal since it was closer to the hotel my parents booked for us Friday. The next hostel was definitely a lot more of a party hostel, there was a bar in the hostel and you got a coupon for a free drink just for staying there which was pretty cool. I had the most delicious lunch from a vegetarian restaurant right down the street from the hostel and then I did some more wandering around the neighborhood. Then at night I hung out with some new people staying at the hostel, one of whom was from Portland so that was cool. Sleeping there was a bit miserable though because it was in the barhopping area of town so it was fairly loud and disruptive.

Friday I woke up early and switched to the hotel where I met my parents. Super nice little boutique hotel, so I spent all day just kind-of lazing around the hotel. My parents got in in the evening which was very exciting, since I hadn’t seen them in a while.

Saturday we woke up early and I showed my parents La Mariscal, the area of Quito around our hotel. Then we got a car up to Mindo, the cloud forest I briefly visited at the beginning of my trip that has one of the best birding sites in the world, where we stayed at a super nice Eco-Lodge. Our cabin was super nice and super comfortable and was right next to the river. It was fun because in order to get over the lodge you had to sit on this rope-and-pulley-sort-of cart and get pulled across the river. The lodge specialized in vegetarian food so we were fed quite well as soon as we got in. Then we got an orientation hike around the lodge where we spotted a few birds and were taught about the local plants.

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Sunday we had a private tour guide all day who was one of the areas best birders. We started the day quite early and didn’t completely end until a late dinner, with lots of little stops back at the lodge for meals and snacks. In total, in only one day we saw a few more than 70 species, which was both me and my mom’s best birding day ever (my dad claims he had a better birding day once in Panama). This included a new MotMot species, 13 (out of the 18 possible) hummingbird species, a new Trogon species, and lots and lots of Toucans (2 different species). We also saw lots of cool plants and insects around too. Our guide was so wonderful and knew all of the birds so well and was really excellent and finding tiny birds hidden in the thick forest understory.

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Monday we woke up super super early (4:30-ish) and drove a bit to a Cock-of-the-Rock leck. This is a really rare bird that only really exists in the Mindo area. They have lecks all over the area, which are little sites where the males of super showy species congregate to attract females, but they only congregate in the mornings. We went to a specific one on this birders property where you pay a little fee and get to watch their whole mating behaviors. It was really crazy. These birds are super colorful and super loud and do all sorts of weird hopping behaviors. Then we went to another little site on the same property where the guide called out a couple of really rare Antpittas. We saw a few other new species around there too, so it was a morning full of rare birds. Then we got a car back to Quito, where I finally picked up my Brazilian visa, and we flew to Cuenca.

Tuesday I took my parents around Cuenca in the morning, stopping by the new Cathedral and a couple of markets. Then we went to Amauta so I could introduce them to my teacher and the Amauta coordinators.

We went to one of my favorite cafes for lunch and then we went to this really weird Modern Art Museum that was right next door. Then my host dad picked us up and took us on a complete tour of Cuenca, going up to the viewpoints of the city both in the North and South, the Central Museum, and doing a full driving tour of the historical center so they could see all of the chuches there. In the evening we walked around Calle Larga, so they could see the main party area in town.

Wednesday we went back to the Central Bank Museum to see the part outside. There we saw some more new bird species in the garden and some of the Incan ruins that are outside of the Museum. Then we did some more walking around the center with a stop for lunch at another one of my favorite cafes. In the evening we went over to my host families house for dinner and hung out there for a while. It was really great seeing them again but sad saying goodbye because I probably won’t see them for a long time now. Then we took all of the stuff I had left there back to our hotel and condensed it all into less luggage.

Thursday morning we set off again, this time towards Guayaquil. We stopped multiple times in Parque Nacional Cajas and did some more birdwatching. We saw lots of new species there too. We got into Guayaquil pretty late and did some grocery shopping and then went to sleep pretty early.

Friday we woke up early, returned our rental car and headed to the airport, headed for the Galapagos. Our flight was easy and we landed in the islands mid-day. It was hot and arid upon landing and we were immediately whisked off across to the main island and then to our hotel. The hotel is very nice and has a super nice little pool that we jumped in as soon as arriving. Then we had a guide take us around the town a little bit. He took us to the little beach closest to town where I saw my first Marine Iguana.

iguanasfirstday

Then he took us to the Charles Darwin Research Station where we walked through some little exhibits about the natural history of the galapagos and then we went through their galapagos tortoise breeding area where we saw tortoises of all ages. There were lots of little ones since they mostly just let them grow until they’re 2 years old and then release them into the wild, but they also have some giant tortoises too, as well as some land iguanas.

tortoiseincaptivity

Then we went to this other little beach where there are multiple parts of the beach, one part of which had tons of marine iguanas lounging around on it which was quite exciting. There was also a seal playing around in the sand. The sand was super cool because there was a layer of big sea urchin spines covering it completely which was really pretty since they were purple colored. Unfortunately, here I also took a pretty nasty fall while scrambling around some rocks trying to take a good photo of the red colored crabs. The cuts from the fall have been causing me lots of issue since then since they hurt every time I get in salt water, which is a lot here.

seaurchinsand firstgalapbeach

Then the guide took us into town where we got dinner at these little food stands that were pretty good. They had hugeee portions though and I got a chicken hamburger that alone was as big as your standard sized larger plate.

Saturday we got up and headed to the dock where we took a glass bottom boat out and about on a ¨bay tour¨. It was pouring rain when we woke up so we were a little bit sketched out about the idea of going out on the water, but thankfully by the time we got on the boat the rain had completely let up and didn’t return all day. However, because of the rainstorm, there were huge swells so the boat ride was quite rough and rocky.

The first stop on our tour was a little tiny island that the galapagos sea lions like to hang out at. Once we got there the guide told us it was time to snorkel and to ¨prepare for swim¨. Everyone in our tour group was a bit shocked that they were expecting us to get in the water seeing as there were pretty big waves, it was a tiny island of only rocks and sea lions, it was overcast and fairly cold, and the water just looked dark and ominous because it was cloudy out, so we were all pretty frightened. The guide didn’t really give us any option though so in the water we went. Fortunately, once we were in the water it really wasn’t scary at all. The water was a lotttt shallower than I thought, it was very clear, there were beautiful colorful fish everywhere, and it wasn’t cold at all. We all swam around a bit and snorkeled with a couple of sea lions and then got back on the boat and went to our next stop.

The next stop was snorkeling along this little cliff where some blue footed boobies and marine iguanas were hanging out. The snorkeling here was a bit less pleasant with the water a little colder and a little less clear. We were looking for white tip reef sharks because it was supposedly where they hang out but either they weren’t there or the water wasn’t clear enough because we didn’t see any.

Then we got out of the water right nearby and took a little walk past a couple of channels and a little beach that are formed by alkaline type pools, one of which is where the baby sharks like to hang out during the day. We didn’t see any sharks there, but we saw a ray in the channel and the vegetation of the cactus trees against the blue ocean background was quite beautiful. There were also a couple cute sea lions lounging around the dock that we landed at.

cactustrees sealionunderpier

Then we continued the boat ride to our final stop where we got out and walked a little way across an old lava field to this area called Las Grietas which is basically where this huge canyon has springs and ocean leakage so its a deep slot canyon filled with crystal clear, really blue and cold water. The only way into the water is to jump, so you leap in and since at this point of the day it was super hot and sunny, it was very refreshing.

meswimmingpools

Then we headed back to our hotel where we relaxed for only a tiny bit. Because in the afternoon our same naturalist guide picked us up and took us up the hill to the highlands of the main island. We went to first these two craters called las gemelas that were formed when the volcano on santa cruz was active. They were quite beautiful and filled with lush vegetation very reminiscent of the craters in Hawaii where my mom works. Then we went to an old lava tube, which was quite huge and was deep in the ground. However, halfway through our walk into the lava tube, just after we had started the sort of scrambling part over the collapsed old lava inside the tube, the electricity in the lava tunnel went out, so there we were deep underground inside a lava tube with no light on a part of the trail that was really scramble-y and we didn’t have any cell phones or flashlights or anything. As we started slowly crawling back using our camera screens (which didn’t do anything since they were showing the blackness that we were in) to light the single spot in front of us, using our hands to feel if there were any point rocks on the ground by our feet, the light popped back on thankfully. Still the total darkness in such a desolate place was a bit terrifying and not something I’d like to experience again.

lavatube

Next we went to this private piece of agricultural property that has a lot of ponds where the wild giant tortoises like to roam around. We walked along the property and found a few very peaceful looking wild giant tortoises. They also had a couple of huge giant tortoise shells which I took the obligatory photo inside of.

sleepingwildtortoise

Sunday we slept in a tiny bit and then hiked out to the beach, Tortuga Bay. It is a two part beach. The first part is a hugeee white sand beach with fairly big waves. The sand there was so incredibly white and super fine so it was really soft to walk in. The water there is really beautiful but not safe to swim in because of very strong currents and rough waves, although its good for surfing if you know the area. However, we were told that there is a rumor that a surfer got a pretty nasty shark bite there a couple weeks ago, but that no one will confirm the rumor because it drives away some tourism.

metortugabeachreflection

Then we walked to the end of the beach where there is the beginning of some rocks and mangroves and there were huge iguanas lounging on the sand, some really pretty herons on the rocks, lots of little fish in the water, and a few baby black tipped reef sharks which were a couple feet long chasing the fish around. I got super excited about the sharks and one of them even got really close to my foot because I was already in the water when I first saw them and was a bit afraid to move once it got closer and closer.

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Then we continued to the second beach of Tortuga Bay which is more of a mangrove protected lagoon, so it has no swell and is thus safe to swim in. We were supposed to rent kayaks, but it ended up being a big frustrating deal and the guy who had the kayaks never showed up so we rented mask and snorkels instead. The snorkeling was quite unpleasing as the water is very much lagoon water, which isn’t terribly clear, so we only saw a few fish although just standing at the edge of the beach you could see little sharks swimming around in it too. However the sand on the beach at the lagoon was the same perfect white soft sand so we sat around in that for a while, and I unfortunately got a bit sunburned…

metortugabay

Then we had a relaxing day around the hotel and hung out with the girl who is working there who is a 21 year old girl from Rome, who even knew the high school that I went to when I studied abroad there and knew some people who went there, so we had lots to talk about.

Monday, I woke up and my camera wasn’t working. It had gotten wet the first day we got to the galapagos because after I fell on that first day, I sat down to look at my wounds and a rogue wave made it all the way up to where I was sitting with my camera. At the time it didn’t seem like anything happened to my camera but it turns out that there was water damage to the place where the camera plugs into the wall to charge and since the battery had died and it wouldn’t charge, it wouldn’t turn on. So I had to go for the rest of the day without a camera. My dad stayed on the main island to go talk to some biologists at the research station and my mom and I took a boat trip to Santa Fe island. It was quite the rocky trip out there and some people on the boat got seasick. Once we got there we again were brought to a place and told to jump in and start snorkeling despite the rain and dark looking water. However, once we got in the water, the temperature wasn’t too bad and the water was sooo clear. It was the best snorkeling we did on the whole trip, with sea lions diving around us, fish everywhere, and perfectly clear really blue water. We even went into a couple little caves. Then we got back on the boat and went to this little bay inlet with very white sand. We didn’t go inland here but snorkeled all along the edge of the bay where we saw lots more fish and sea lions, including a massive rock scorpionfish that was perfectly blended into the rocks (a bit scary because they’re very poisonous and it was a shallow enough rock that someone easily could have touched or stepped on it).  Then they made us fresh lunch on the really big nice boat (including grilling fresh fish for those non-vegetarians).

After that stop we went to the backside of Santa Cruz Island where there is a hidden beach that was so so beautiful, with perfectly clear warm turquoise water and soft white sand. We swam out a little ways and snorkeled a bit on the reefs and saw a bunch of fish including a large porcupinefish, and then swimming back there were a bunch of rays (maybe eagle rays or bat rays?) that glided right in front of us.

In the evening, once we were back on the main island, we went out for Caipiriñas and sushi and happened to find a pretty cheap camera store that happened to have the kind of battery I needed for my camera and an external charger for them so that I could make my camera work again which was exciting.

Tuesday was quite a day. Oh boy. We went to Isla Isabella which was another long boat ride over rough seas to get there. The entire situation of getting on the boat and getting to the tour and everything was very disorganized, likely because there were so many middle men along the way. Once we got to the island, the person in charge put us on the wrong tour and when we got back he started yelling at us and blaming us for his mistake of putting us on the wrong tour and telling us we had to pay for that tour even though it was his fault and he was just incredibly disrespectful and awful. In the end, it ended up working out and the guide got tons of formal complaints against him along with losing 2 complete days of pay because of his awful behavior so it was alright.

Besides that, the tour was alright. The first part was snorkeling in this bay that had terrible visibility and huge waves. I had multiple waves crash on me which was a bit unpleasant and it was a pretty big group of people so we kept getting in eachothers way. Plus the tour guide was just constantly swimming and we were just supposed to follow him so we barely ever got to stop and he was swimming fast and we swam all the way across this huge bay, it was quite a workout. Then we went to this island called Tintoreras, which was this lava covered island where the guide told us all about the volcanic activity on Isabella Island and we saw some more iguanas and sea lions.

tintoreras

Then we boated around a tiny bit more and saw some native galapagos penguins which were pretty cool.

penguinsonrocks

In the afternoon, after the whole fiasco with the awful tour guide, we went to a lagoon where we saw migratory flamingos that live in the area.

flamingoes

The next day, Wednesday, we got picked up early by a tour bus and went to the harbor at the very north of the island where we boarded this super fancy boat that we took up to this island called North Seymour. As we were waiting for the little dinghy to take us from the boat to the island there were a bunch of really big sharks in the water swimming under us. Then we got on the boat and went to the island where we walked around for a couple hours.

The island is very flat and is the center of breeding for a bunch of the bird species around the Galapagos, most notably the 2 species of frigate birds and the blue-footed boobies. It also is one of the few islands that still has wild land iguanas on it, which are a bit bigger, faster, and more colorful than the marine iguanas.

landiguanasand

We walked around amongst all the breeding sea birds for a while. We saw all different stages of breeding. There were tons of male frigate birds sitting on the nests they built puffing up their plumage and red throat-sack things trying to compete for the females, there were also male blue footed boobies trying to out-dance eachother for female attention. There were a couple pairs of birds of both species that were mating. There were female frigates sitting on egg-filled nests and male frigates bringing them sticks (its actually very cute, in frigate birds the males bring the female a little present every time they return to the nest). FInally, there were lots of babies and juvenile frigate birds waiting for their moms to return with food.

boobyandiguana showymalefrigate

Then we went back to the boat, ate lunch, and headed to this really small island that was literally just a strip of white sand beach and a little bit of lava rock.

mosqueraisla

We snorkeled around the little beach island, which was excellent snorkeling. Beautiful water, great clarity, colorful fish. The beach on the island was also very nice and it was a loberia (which is essentially a nursery for sea lion pups) so there were tons of baby sea lions all over the island, some of which our guide said were only a month old. There were also lots of mom and baby sea lion pairs that were drinking milk. It was very cute.

playamosquera sealldrinkingmilk

Thursday we slept in and stayed around the hotel all day. Our host offered us a free trip to Floreana because of the whole mess with the Isabella tour guide, but we were pretty set on having a calm relaxing day on the main island. I spent the day editing photos and packing up my stuff into a single backpacking backpack and tiny backpack to bring to Brazil for the rest of my travels so my parents could take everything else home.

Friday, we headed to the airport. On the way we stopped at another little beach that had more flamingos in its lagoon and saw a bunch of these poisonous trees and some other new bird species. Then we flew back to Quito and went to our hotel. We spent the rest of the evening enjoying eachother’s company and I repacked my stuff a little bit.

Then it was off to the airport at 3 in the morning since the airport is so far from the city and since its new there are no hotels near it. Dealing with the airport was a bit hectic, lots of people, lots of slight disorganized-ness. Now I’m in the Panama City Airport, waiting for my flight to Manaus, but unfortunately I have an 8 hour layover here so I’ll be here a while. I’m a bit nervous because they forced me to check my backpacking backpack and I feel like they’ll lose it since I have such a long layover, so here’s to really hoping they don’t. Anyhu, this will be my last post in the Ecuador section! A bit sad but exciting too.

Cuenca: Middle of the Program

AHHHH I’ve gotten so bad at posting on this blog. But that just means i’m keeping busy and having fun :)

So the day after the last blog post that I wrote, we headed off to Yanayacu Biological Station for our Biology class academic trip for a week. The biological station we went to was in a cloud forest in the Napo River Valley on the slopes of one of the many volcanoes in Ecuador. It was an incredibly beautiful cloud forest and was also incredibly biodiverse.. In fact, they came in first in the world for highest bird diversity in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, so that was really fun. The station was owned by an american entomologist and ornithologist who specialized in caterpillar parasitoid predation and Andean bird nests so we learned a lot about those two subjects.

Every day had about the same structure. We usually had a lecture in the morning and another short one in the afternoon broken up by lunch and either a hike to see the biodiversity of the area (since that’s what our bio class focuses on) or some sort of project focused on whatever topic we learned about. So for example, one day we learned about hummingbird behaviors and then our project was to see if hummingbirds in different areas of the station were more attracted to some colors of flowers than others.

On the same hummingbird day, we also probably did my favorite activity of the trip which was observing all of the hummingbirds of the area at a set of feeders at a retreat nearby. Although there’s around 30 species of hummingbirds that live around the cloud forest, only 7 come to feeders, 6 of which I got to see. One of them, the Long Tailed Sylph, was SO beautiful and was the first hummingbird I’ve seen with a super long tail.

longtailedlancefeeder

Another day of the trip we woke up really early and took a bus into the actual Amazon rainforest. We went to a little Amazonian bioparque and then went further into the forest to another biological station where we went on a really long hike through the Amazon. I have to say, I’ve never been so sweaty so easily. Just standing in the Amazon for 10 minutes got me drenched in sweat because it was so so incredibly humid and hot on top of that. The hike was really cool and we saw some monkeys, and got lost for a little while. Then at the end of the day we hiked down to the Napo River, which is one of the 3 main tributaries that become the Amazon River and went swimming in it. I went in fully clothed because I hadn’t brought a bathing suit, which was a little miserable for the bus ride home, but how often do you get the chance to swim in the Amazon.

naporiver

A few of our other hikes were really beautiful as well, including a nice little night hike. We also got to go into the little village nearby and learn how to milk cows. Another day we had a really fun soccer game in the street (true Ecuadorian style), although I didn’t have any athletic shoes at the time and was in my pajamas so I was just the super enthusiastic soccer mom screaming from the sidelines. We also spent the entire trip playing card games in all of our free time, which was of course very much fun.

We got back from the Cloud/Rain Forest on Sunday and I immediately had to do homework. This past week was pretty filled with homework in general because we had a bunch of spanish reading due on Wednesday and a test on Thursday. We also had our weekly Salsa class on Tuesday and then a cooking class on Wednesday. Thursday, in our biology class thats at the zoo, we got to watch them feed the lions live chickens. They hid them all over their cage and then let the lions out and it was really intense. All of their instinctual responses came out and it was pretty clear what the territorial hierarchy was. Not to mention, it was kindof depressing watching them almost torture the chickens while they devoured them.

The next week was the beginning of Carnaval, and Ecuador is one of the many South American countries where Carnaval is a pretty big thing. Basically, as soon as Carnaval starts, everyone starts throwing water balloons, buckets of water, cornstarch, confetti, and Carioca (the main thing that they throw), which is this scented/colored foam slightly reminiscent of shaving cream but slightly less globby. So Thursday night after the zoo, we went to a sort of ¨Carnaval opening ceremony¨ at the main plaza in the city. It started off pretty calm with a little bit of foam spraying and then all of a sudden it blew up and we all just started attacking each other and any kids of any age (from young children to people in their late 20s) with the foam. Our group seemed to be the main target by a lot of people and we were so crazy with our foam spraying and kept getting sprayed by so many passerby that we got our photo on the front page of one of the 2 major newspapers in Cuenca. Heres a link to the online copy of the article. I’m the one in the middle in the black jacket with my back to the camera covered in foam. (http://www.eltiempo.com.ec/noticias-cuenca/138507-compadres-abren-el-carnaval-en-cuenca/)

It was so so much fun but I literally did not have one dry patch of clothing after that and my clothes got pretty disgusting and my hair was completely filled with foam, to the point where people were scooping it off of my head to throw on other people. Oh also, faces are one of the main targets so I got a lot of it in my ears, mouth, and eyes, the latter of which actually really hurts.

carnavaldollsdancing groupespuma

Then we headed off to Ayampe, a tiny town on the beach north of Montanita, one of Ecuador’s beach party towns, to spend the rest of Carnaval hanging out on the beach in super warm weather since we had the whole week off. We were in Ayampe from Saturday until Thursday. It was pretty chill since its such a small town, so there weren’t too many ¨Carnaval¨ festivities, but the beach was really nice and relaxing and we have a big enough group that we made it really fun. Our hostel was super nice and had lots of hammocks and relaxing space and we got to cook for ourselves for the whole week which was actually really great.

The first few days we just lazed around the beach, enjoying having zero obligations. Unfortunately, the second day everyone except me got sunburned (thank you Italian genes for the less-burnable skin!). The fourth day we went to Isla de la Plata, which is essentially the ¨Poor Mans Galapagos¨, since they have a lot of the same fauna (multiple types of boobies, frigate birds, other birds, and lots of similar sealife). We went on a hike there, which was BEAUTIFUL and then we went snorkeling. The snorkeling was really great except for the minor detail that there were millions of tiny jellyfish at the surface of the water so we were all covered in little stings which was pretty uncomfortable. Also we saw tons of dolphins. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but I snagged a couple photos off of my friend Emilie’s facebook so that you could at least somewhat see how it was!

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We finished that night with a tasty dinner in Puerto Lopez. The next day most people hung around the hostel in Ayampe but I took a bus with a couple friends to a town a little bit south of Ayampe called Olon. It had a really nice beach and was a little bigger than Ayampe. We rented a cabana tent thing with lounge chairs for only $4 for the whole day and relaxed in the shade with occasional dips in the ocean.

Finally, our last day in Ayampe we took the bus north to Marchalilla National Park which is the same national park that includes Isla de la Plata but is on the mainland. We went to 2 different beaches within the park. First we went to Los Frailes, the main beach, which was supposely a white sand beach, but isn’t actually. However, it was still really pretty and the water was really nice and clear and the sand very soft.

christianfrailes

The second ¨beach¨ we went to was not for swimming but was a beach covered with shells and coral. It was amazing because I found a lot of really cool shells that were whole, like the kind you usually find fragments of but these were whole because the beach is so isolated.

coralbeach

That evening we got back, grabbed our stuff and immediately took a bus south to Montanita, Ecuador’s party town. We got a hostel almost immediately, which was small and very hot, but fit all of us and was in an excellent location and very cheap. The night was really really fun, since Montanita is essentially made up of beach discotecas that stay open almost all night. The main one had an open bar with really cheap cover charge for woman and had a pool in it so we spent most of the night there. It was a very fun night and I didn’t end up going to sleep until 6 in the morning. Then we slept most of the next day and went out again the next night.

Saturday we got up early and took a bus back to Cuenca, where I collapsed and slept the rest of the day and the next day too, with breaks in my sleep only to do homework.

The next week was pretty basic, lots of reading because I had to finish a 400 page book in spanish by Thursday.

The following weekend we went on another trip, this time academic and a bit closer. We went to this town in the mountains a little north of Cuenca called Cañar. The population there is almost entirely indigenous Cañari, so the trip was intended to give up some perspective into the large contrasts between the indigenous and spanish populations in Ecuador, since such a large percent of the population is indigenous.

buildingscanar

We got there Friday morning and immediately went on a little walk around the city, stopping first at Mama Michi’s clinica. Mama Michi is a local indigenous woman who does spiritual healing, like limpias with herbs and reading energy in eggs and candles. She explained what she does as a healer and then did an example healing on one of my classmates.

evamamamichi2

Then we walked a bit more, stopping to see the first indigenous run photo studio (since our guide was a photographer) and again to see the local jail where there is still some traditional weaving done. We watched the weaving for a bit and went on a tour of the jail (which had 3 times the maximum capacity of inmates).

In the evening, we went to our host, Judy’s house. Its a really beautiful house that she and her husband built a while ago in the traditional style but with some modern touches. Her story of her house was actually featured in the New York Times design section. The craziest thing is that this beautiful house was built for only $75,000 including all labor costs, land costs, everything. Makes me want to move to Ecuador.

Saturday we took a bus to Ingapirca, the Incan ruins nearby. These are the second biggest ruins after Machu Picchu and are actually a mix of Incan ruins and old Cañari ruins, since the Cañaris are one of the few tribes that managed to somewhat resist the Inca. They were nice, but not spectacular like I imagine Machu Picchu is.

ingapirca

After the ruins, we went on a hike to see some more little ruins and scenery. Then we came back into town, ate a quick dinner, and went to our host’s house again where she set up a special musical performance. She had a group of musicians that play the traditional Cañari music come and play music for us all night. It was quite fun and was a night full of dancing and Canelazo, the traditional alcoholic drink made from aguardiente and apple cider.

Sunday morning we woke up early to go to the main market. There were fruits and vegetables galore, and some gruesome looking meat stands as well. Then it was back on the bus to Cuenca, and time for homework.

fruitmarketcanar

The following week was another pretty boring and homework-filled week, with a fun Wednesday night at the salsa discoteca. Thursday we had homemade macaroni and cheese at our professor’s apartment. And then Friday at volunteering at the zoo, we got chased around by a vicious capybara who was trying to either bite us, bite the hose we were using to clean its pond, or mark his territory on us.

Saturday was Dia del Campo, which was basically a big day of games in the countryside with everyone’s host family. All of the students were divided up into 3 teams of 5, based on what class you were in, and then each student’s host families were part of their team as well. A madrina and padrino (basically the captains of the team) were chosen from each team and I was chosen to be the madrina. Our team was called Los Pintones, which literally means the speckled semi-ripe fruit. Pintón is the word for bananas that are somewhat yellow and somewhat green.

pintoneswithyolanda

Then we all got changed into matching team uniforms and competed in games all day. The games included things like 3-legged races, various relays, beer chugging contests, etc. My team ended up winning overall and I won my fair share of games so I was pretty happy about that!

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Saturday night we went to a lackluster restaurant/bar with awful service, but then found a nice new discoteca that has free cover charge, which is quite an exciting thing to find here.

Sunday, I went to a brunch restaurant with a couple of my classmates which was so tasty. Its a gringo-owned cafe in a really cute park that has such amazing and very american breakfast options. I got a California breakfast burrito, which came with bacon, eggs, avocado, basil aoli, tomatoes, onions, and a mix of mozzarella and cheddar cheese. It was so so good.

sansebasbreakfast

Then I spent the afternoon wandering around the centro taking photos of graffiti because that is my topic for my major culture class project. Its actually a really fun topic because I can do it almost entirely through photography, and Cuenca has some really amazing street art.

graffitialongsteps

The next week was another brutal work filled week since we had more spanish reading due and a test on Thursday. Wednesday was really fun though, because we all went to an elementary school instead of regular class and painted murals on the walls for the kids. It was actually super fun and relaxing to spend the day painting (and getting completely covered in paint).

Then Friday, we left on another academic trip, this time to Zaruma, a small mining town in Southern Ecuador. It was a fairly long drive, but we stopped along the way to see a really amazing waterfall. It was humongous and had so much water flowing through it that we all got completely soaked standing even somewhat near it to take photos of it.

gironwaterfall2

gironwaterfall1

Once we got to our hotel in Zaruma, we went straight into the very large swimming pool and hung out there for most of the afternoon, before having a very relaxed evening in our hotel.

Saturday, we went into town to this little museum/mine that this man and many generations of his family have been running. The museum was really amazing and was filled with all sorts of rocks that he and his family have been collecting for generations. There were also tons of old antiques throughout the museum, including numerous typewriters, cameras, and other things that used to be manual that are now electronic.

After that museum, we went to another mine, called el Sexmo, once one of the major mines in the area. We walked for a while through the old mine chambers which was really cool, but definitely not for those who are claustrophobic.

minetunnel

Then we had an interesting lunch in Zaruma where we ate a traditional dish of the area which I found very unpleasant. It was just a scramble of plantains, eggs, and cheese, but the traditional cheese used for it has a very odd flavor. Then we spent the afternoon taking photos around the town as a sort of exposé on life in Zaruma.

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Saturday was also the 21st birthday of one of my other classmates so we spent all evening and night celebrating it with her, which is always very fun.

Then the next day it was back on the bus to Cuenca, with me getting home just in time for family bingo night at my house. It was fun but unfortunately i’m sick now, so I felt a bit out of it all evening.

Today I’m feeling very sick, lots of coughing, no voice, and a large amount of congestion in all of my sinus-areas. So i’m descansa-ing (resting) at home for the day, hoping my condition will improve, but hey its a good time to finally get around to posting on my blog..

Also, its crazy but we only have two weeks left on the program. Doesn’t mean i’m anywhere near done traveling, but the next leg of my journey will be over. Kind-of sad actually, time passed so so rapidly here and I really love it here… but i still have a couple more weeks of fun before its over.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuenca: first month

Ok, I’m very sorry about how overdue this post is. I’ve just been so busy between lots of classwork and trying to see as much of this country as possible in the short time I’m here, so sitting for hours editing photos (which takes forever on this computer) and writing up little things has just plummeted on my priority list. Also this post is going to be a lot less detailed than the past ones and from now on they will probably be less detailed like this one, since many of my days are essentially the same… 3 hours of class in the morning, going home for lunch in the middle of the day and then afternoon class (either Biodiversity or Culture) every Monday-Thursday, and then a big pile of homework and studying in the evening.

To start off with, I got wifi finally! I’ve had it for a couple weeks now and its so convenient. You never know how much you’ll miss something until you no longer have it. Also, I just want to reiterate again how much I love my study abroad group, everyone is just the best.

 Oh also, this is going to probably be kindof out of order chronologically, but oh well.

Ok so since my last post, i’ve had 4 different volunteer shifts at the zoo. The first week we just followed the zookeepers around and watched them feed animals so that we would know how to do it. It wasn’t the most exciting thing honestly, but it was still kindof cool.

hungryandeanbear

The second shift was much more eventful. We got there and chopped up all the fruit for all of the fruit eating animals (its a lot of fruit). Then we got to play with the tapirs because the tapirs are in an enclosure right next to zookeeper/nutrition area, so they’re essentially like little zoo pets because we can go in their cage and play with them. It was really fun and they’re super sweet animals. When you rub their bellies they roll over like a doggy…but i got covered in tapir snot and slobber.Then we split into groups to feed the animals in different areas of the zoo. My partner and I got to feed all of the monkeys, some of the macaws, and the turtles. It was really fun because we got to go into all of the cages and the monkeys were so sweet and interactive. The third day of our volunteering was when we cleaned cages. It was a little gross, not going to lie. We had to go into the fox cage, while the foxes were still in there and pick up all of the rotten meat that they don’t eat. These foxes are really picky eaters, so there was TONS of rotten meat from months ago. All the meat was covered in weird beetles and maggots, oh and I had to pick up a full dead cat that they refused to eat. It was still cool to be inside of the fox cage with the foxes running around us. Then we had to scrub out all of the duck ponds and the pond in the llama cage, but it was worth it because we got to play with a little deer.

 Today was our 4th volunteer shift. It was disgusting. We cleaned out the pond in the alligator cage (with the alligators crawling around the cage). Then we washed and chopped up rotten fish and horse for the carnivorous animals. There were blood and guts everywhere… It was so gross.

So awhile ago, the first weekend after my last post, was really great. We went to Baños de Cuenca, the same area that I had previously gone to with my host family, but we paid $3 each and got to spend the whole day by pools. They had 2 different hot spring pools that were different temperatures and then one cold pool that had 2 water slides going into it. So we played around on the waterslides for the day and soaked in the sulfurous but very warm water.

 banosslide

Then Sunday, I went to the countryside with my family again, but this time we went to a different countryside, where they have a house right by a little town, and their son has a horse. It was really nice and tranquil. Then in the evening, I went with my host mom to her sisters house where they were having a big family gathering/family bingo night (which they do once a month). It was super fun, particularly since one of the other students is living with one of my host moms sisters, so she was there too. I even won a little necklace in the bingo games.

 leoniebingo

A couple weeks ago was alright. We had to cook a traditional ecuadorian dish that we were assigned to. I got assigned Bolones con verde y queso (which is balls of ground up cheese and green plantains fried) and Aji (basically Ecuadorian salsa). The aji turned out delicious, but the bolones were very dry. It was fun though because everyone brought food and there was even Cuy (guinea pig), which I actually tried and its wasn’t too terrible.

 foodpartay

mayrawithcuy

On Wednesday night, we went to a salsa club at a discoteca and salsa danced a bit. That was fun.

We also got to go into the Quarantine area at the zoo with our biology class. It was really amazing because there were lions inside, as one of the females recently has a baby. So she, the dad, and the cub were inside the quarantine area. The cages here are much more intimate and the lions were literally right against the gate so we got to touch the mane of the daddy lion through the cage and play with the baby through the cage for a little bit. It was crazy to be so close to a lion.

cubondaddysback ciarralion

The weekend then was pretty chill and relaxed. We intended to go to Cajas, but that didn’t work out. So instead we climbed to the top of the bell tower on the main cathedral in Cuenca and saw all of Cuenca. Then we went to the river and relaxed along the river next to this group of  (very portland-like) youngsters who had a slackline and aerial silks and one of my classmates played around on the aerial silks.

aerialciarra2

Last week I was pretty stressed because I had to finish an entire spanish novel, write a paper about it in spanish, and I had my first spanish exam. So we didn’t really do much until Thursday and then we just went out to a pretty nice but cheap bar in the center.

Last Friday evening, we went to the opening night of a brand new discoteca. It really felt like a discoteca from the movies. You entered through a fancied up airplane that had bars and low seating inside, and then once you were past that, you got to these two huge dance floors that were different heights, but one looked down on the other. The ground was also lit up in different colors and the music was quite good.

Last Saturday was probably one of the best days yet. I went with 4 other students to Cajas National Park. We had tried going the previous weekend but it ended up being a disaster because we hadn’t quite planned it early enough and our guide was not being helpful, and none of the buses wanted to stop in Cajas because the buses that go to Cajas actually go to Guayaquil and you just get off in the middle, but they make a quarter of the amount of money. So we didn’t make it the previous week. But for some reason, last Saturday it was super easy to get on a bus and get to Cajas. Then we spent the day hiking among gorgeous native grasslands and lakes and a forest of paper trees (which look just like more papery manzanitas). It was so so beautiful, and so peaceful and fun.

 cajaslake papertreeforest emchristiancajas cajaspanorama

Last Sunday, we went to a Deportiva Cuenca soccer game. Cuenca tied Olmedo 1-1, but it was still super fun. People at soccer games here are quite vocal, so there was lots of yelling of malas palabras. I have a new celeb crush, as one of the players on the Cuenca team was pretty attractive and a good sport. I think they should also be getting better as currently they’re missing players since a few of their players got switched to other teams and new players from other countries are arriving soon.

soccerfield groupsoccergame

Wednesday we went on a very long walk all over the city for our Spanish class, which was exhausting but interesting because we got to see a lot of historical and cultural sites within the city. In the afternoon, we also went out to a museum for my culture class. I wish we could have gone through the museum a little more slowly, but it was still interesting. It was also one of my classmate, Christian’s, 21′st birthday. So we kindof went all out and spent the whole day celebrating. At lunch we went back to the Panama hat factory so he could buy a panama hat. Then, after class finished, we celebrated with a nice guitar shaped piñata.

 christianguitarbday

Then we had happy hour and dinner at our favorite restaurant, La Cigale. It was super fun but/and the drinks were incredibly strong, which I guess was appropriate since it was his 21st bday (even though it was already legal here for all of us to drink). Then we went to another bar that we knew had a very fancy massive cocktail that we all pitched in to get for Christian. Then we ended the evening at salsa dancing night at the same discoteca as before, where we put our salsa dancing skills to the test (because we’ve been taking a weekly salsa class).

Yesterday we woke up exhausted because of the festivities the night before. My group had a very long presentation during spanish class that I think we did pretty well on and the entire spanish school celebrated Christian’s birthday again. In the afternoon, we went back to the zoo for our Thursday bio class and began designing the refuges (enclosures) for our endangered species at the zoo, since thats a major part of our final project. I’m actually pretty excited about my groups refuge. Our endangered Marsupial Frogs are going to have the nicest little home.

Now, I’m just packing up stuff and washing clothes because we’re leaving tomorrow super early to go to the rainforest (actually we’re going to a cloud forest, but its right by the Amazon area). Lots to do before heading off..

Oh and happy valentines day to anyone who reads this :)

Cuenca: Days 9-12

To start off with here are a few photos of Banos that I didn’t post on the last post because I got internet before the photos were on my computer and wifi is so rare for me that I was eager to post rather than wait for the photos to download.

Theres a couple of Banos and then a couple of me and my host parents with traditional food (spumilla, the ice cream looking stuff, and banos empanadas

banoschurch banosdancerschurch meandhostmomspumilla hostparentsbanos

Also heres a couple photos of my family.. the first is (from the left), my host brother-in-law, my host sister, my host neice (6 yr old), my host neice (10 yr old), host sister-in-law, host mom, and host brother. missing from the photo are my other host brother and sister-in-law, their 9 yr old daughter, my host dad, and my host sister’s 1.5 year old daughter.

hostfamilyelcampo

and the second is 2 of my host-nieces (the 1.5 yr old and 6 yr old)

neicesrunningcampo

Day 9 was our first day of Spanish school when we finally learned what level we got placed in. I got placed in the highest level! Super proud of myself for that :) But its going to be pretty hard, on the first day we got the syllabus and basically its going to be rapid grammar practice and then we’re going to spend most of the time reading books in spanish and discussing them and discussing other topics so that we can get fluent with conversation. Our class is super great, its just 3 of us, me max and ciarra, and so its really nice to have such 1 on 1 learning. The teacher is difficult and a bit strict and we get little punishments for speaking english, but she’s also really sweet. After morning class, we went and bought our spanish novels that we have to read and school supplies. It was really weird because you enter a bookstore and can’t actually look around, you just say the name of a book you want and they go and get it for you and then i asked for notebooks and had no choice in what kind I got and they gave me Barbie ones. Don’t know how I feel about that. Then I looked a bit through our first book and it is SO DIFFICULT, and its supposed to be the easiest of the books that we are going to read. Oh joy.

Then I went home for a tasty lunch and then returned to our school, Amauta, in the afternoon for a little tour of the city. We started out at the main square of Cuenca that has the old cathedral on one side and the new cathedral on the other.

newcathedralcuenca

Our guide talked a bit about the cathedrals, and while he was super sweet, he was also incredibly quiet so I cannot remember anything he said about the cathedrals besides the fact that the new cathedral (in the photo above) is actually not very old at all even though it looks old.Then we walked around the new cathedral a bit.

After that we went around through some marketplaces, including a pretty flower market, where we got some nice views of Cuenca and talked a bit more about the history of the city, which I also didn’t hear.

topofbluecuencachurch colorfuldollfaces

Finally, we finished the tour at the Panama hat museum. Panama hats are actually made in Ecuador, even though they’re called Panama hats. They’re just called that because the workers on the construction of the Panama Canal wore the hats from Ecuador so they got that name. We learned about how they are made and then played around a bit trying on different hats and taking photos.

groupphotopanamahats

After the tour I headed back home for dinner. In the evening, I went over to one of my classmates who lives nearby’s house to use her wifi and chitchat.

Day 10, we had another morning of Spanish class which was fun but difficult (its 2.5 hours of class every morning). In the afternoon, we had our first Biology class. It wasn’t terribly exciting that day because we were just reviewing what we would eventually be doing and introducing ourselves but our professor is super friendly and knowledgeable so that will be fun.

Biology class finished early and so we hung around the top floor of our spanish school which had a nice rooftop sort of view.

viewfromamauta

After than we had icecream and then I headed home for dinner. I was so exhausted that I ended up falling asleep as soon as I got home around 7 and only woke up once for dinner before falling back asleep.

Day 11, another morning of Spanish class. Then I went home for lunch and then in the afternoon we had an orientation of how to get by bus/taxi to our volunteering job. I am working at the zoo with 5 other people so we headed that way. We took 2 taxis there and our taxi made it there easily because we had the student guide in our car. We waited around in the parking lot (which was all dirt road, not paved, and very small, not at all like the US zoos) on top of the mountain that the zoo is on and looked at the view.

viewfromamaru

Thankfully the view was beautiful because the other taxi ended up getting very lost and took almost an hour to find it. When they finally arrived, it was pouring rain so we couldn’t tour around much but the orientation was mostly on just how to get to the zoo. Then we turned around (with garbage bags as raincoats because some of us didn’t have raincoats), and hiked/took the bus back into town.

Once we got back much later than we were supposed to, the entire group of us went to happy hour at the same bar, Wunderbar, that we had gone to a few nights prior. It was very fun and drinks were nice and cheap. Then we all headed to our professors apartment for “family night” and we basically just all cooked together and made spaghetti with 2 homemade sauces, pesto and bolognese and a nice salad and then hung around for a long while and talked and caught up. It was really really nice and we’re going to do a “family night” every Wednesday night from now on. I’m so happy with our group of students, everyone is just fitting so nicely together.

Then we were planning on going to Salsa night at a discoteca but by the time we finally left the house, it was so late that I just headed home because I still had a bit of homework.

Day 12, we had another morning of Spanish class. We did almost no grammar and spent most of the time just talking in Spanish which is super helpful. Our professor also brought us really tasty plums from her house, which was really sweet. We didn’t have a break and instead finished class a little early and had a huge icebreaker with all the people who work at amauta, all of us students, and a bunch more university students from the local university that are studying to be spanish teachers. Then we all ate homemade tamales together for lunch and talked amongst big groups of us. The university students at our table were so so sweet and friendly and eager to tell us all the bars and discotecas we had to go to, and one of them works at a discoteca so he offered that we could go there for free if we called him beforehand. Then instead of going home for lunch, I stayed back with a few other students, bought cheap galoshes for working at the zoo and wandered around the center of the city a bit.

Then we all met up and took a bus to the zoo because biology class on Thursday afternoons is at the zoo. We finally got to actually tour around the zoo since it was sunny and our teacher spent the whole day just showing us around the zoo since he technically owns/manages/lives at the zoo with his wife. It really is incredibly different than zoos in the US. First off its on the side of a pretty steep mountain and the entire thing is vertical. There really isn’t a single trail around the zoo that is flat, the entire thing just goes up the side of the mountain. Second off, its not crazy tourist-y, like in the US. The entire time we were there, there was only one other couple with a kid (although we were also visiting late on a Thursday). Its more of a conservation center. Basically they get animals that are confiscated by police, taken from other zoos because they were sick or treated badly, taken from circuses, or called in by people who found them on their property. They get 350 animals a year brought in and the zoo has 2 parts. Theres one half that is all the animals that are either too badly injured to survive in the wild or are too accustomed to humans to survive in the wild and this is the part that people get to visit. Its huge and all the animals are so fun and interesting. Then theres the second half that is all the conservation part that people can’t see, where a lot of the animals are and these are the ones that have a chance to be returned to the wild or are being evaluated. This day we just got to see the normal part. It was crazy, at the lion part, they have 6 lions (4 female, 2 male) and at one point they all got territorial and active at once and all stood at the edges of their respective cliffs and starting roaring all together. We saw lots more animals too. It was a fun biology class.

Then I headed back home to rest a bit because my tummy wasn’t feeling too great. It was a nice tranquil evening and my 6 yr old host neice made me play dolls with her… needless to say, i’m not very good at playing with dolls in spanish. Not only because its hard to speak spanish so normally but also because I cannot remember for the life of me how to play with dolls. Then she had a sleepover at our house which she was very excited about.

Ecuador: Days 1-9

This is going to be such a huge post because I haven’t had down time yet until just recently and my house here doesn’t have wifi and the wifi at our spanish school only sometimes works so basically heres 1.5 weeks worth of stuff…

So getting through security and all the normal airline processes were very simple in Managua.. There was a brief point where the person giving me my boarding passes said I either needed a visa or plane ticket out of Ecuador in order to get into Ecuador, but I explained how I was getting a student visa once I got there and it was all sorted out. Security was a breeze as the only thing they make you take off is your shoes and you have to put your computer in the same bucket as your shoes but thats it. They didn’t have any restrictions on liquids or need to have them in a ziplock bag in a container to go through security. Unfortunately, my day got kindof filled with layovers. Because security was such a breeze, I sat around in the airport with no wifi. Then I had a 3+ hour layover in Panama city where there was very spotty wifi which I eventually just deemed useless. The flight to Quito was very quick and easy though and they even had complimentary alcoholic beverages (multiple types of wine and hard alcohol). I guess only in south america! I arrived about 45 minutes before everyone else so once they got in we all loaded into a bus to drive all the way from the airport to the city center (about an hour). It was a pretty winding road and bumpy but from what little I could see from the bus, it seemed quite pretty. It was fun to be in a big group of students all together again. Theres only 15 of us and everyone is super friendly so it will be really great. We got to the hotel super late and wandered around it, checking out everyone’s rooms. It is such a beautiful hotel. Its a remodeled old house and all the rooms have different themes in terms of how the walls are painted and the painting are beautiful and they’re all super spacious rooms with very plush bedding. So then we crashed because it was 2 in the morning.

So day 1 in Ecuador!! It seemed like I had a continuous headache for the first few days because the elevation is so high (>9000 ft) and I was feeling fairly lightheaded and physically exhausted, but that seems to be passing now that i’m aclimating a bit. I woke up in the morning thinking that my roommate in our hotel was taking a shower. Turns out she was still asleep and that actually the ceiling above our bathroom was leaking MASSIVE amounts of water, basically enough to sound like a continuous shower. I went to breakfast and alerted someone who said we could change rooms and while we were eating in the kitchen right below our room, little drips started coming down from the ceiling there. Within 15 minutes, it was like a shower coming down from that ceiling too. But they switched us into an even nicer room and eventually got the water leakage under control. Still don’t know what happened, but it wasn’t a big deal. Then we went to an Ecuadorian history museum that was filled with pottery and artifacts from era after era of ecuadorian civilizations.

 quitoculturemuseum

After lunch we wandered around 2 different handicraft markets that were filled with beautifully colored textiles and souvenirs and other art things. I made a mental list of all the things I may want to go back and get and I bought (and bartered for!) a pair of overalls that are made out of the traditional textile fabric which I’m pretty happy about.quitomarket

Then we had a bit of a siesta time, so I sat in the room and listened to the hummingbirds outside my window. After some researching, because I didn’t have a birdbook yet, I decided it was a Sparkling Violetear. There was also a dove on its nest literally 2 feet away from our window so that was quite cute.

In the evening after dinner we sat around the lounge area and played a pictionary/illustration type game but using spanish only and realized how much we really needed to improve our spanish. It was really fun though and I love being in a group of students who all seem to enjoy playing games because I feel like usually I really want to play a game and no one else does so its sad, but here everyone wants to play games and its just so fun.

We woke up day 2 in Ecuador and went on a city tour, part walking part bus, of Quito. We started off by going to the enormous church that Quito is so famous for. It was so so beautiful inside. My camera could not capture even remotely how beautiful it was. There were stained glass windows everywhere and there was colorful light everywhere and it was huge and incredible.

 outsideofquitogothicchurch

insidequitogothicchurch

Then we drove around through the old part of town (the part that got Quito designated a UNESCO world heritage site) and stopped by the political square area of town. Supposedly in the old part of Quito there is a cathedral/iglesia on every block and that is so true and for a long stretch we went in all of them. They were all so different and pretty in their own way. There was one that is considered to be the most beautiful church in all of south america. It is huge and all of the surfaces are covered in gold/gold plate so that was pretty remarkable. I got one photo before I was notified that cameras were not allowed so this photo does not necessarily do the church justice.

insidegoldchurch

We walked around some more of the old part of town, visiting a few more squares and churches and went by the presidents office where he normally comes out to say hello to passerby but currently he is traveling around the country campaigning for other politicians in his party because elections here are coming up.

 viewfromchurch

Then we got in the bus and drove up to the top of this very tall hill in Quito that has a massive statue of the virgin Mary looking over the city (kindof like the one of Jesus in Rio). We got to climb up to the top of the statue and look out at the view. It was really incredible, you could see Quito in all directions.

virginmaryoverquito panoramicviewfromvirginmary

Then we went back to the hotel and after lunch I went on a hunt for a birdbook. It was actually quite difficult. The first bookstore didn’t have one, the second bookstore had one for $72 and so I finally found a used bookstore that had one for $20 so I got that one. It was smaller though and not quite as detailed but at least it wasn’t $72. Then I took a nice drowsy nap. Right after I woke up we had a 2 hour lecture from this American-turned-Ecuadorian activist. It was really great and WOW I learned a lot. Basically she is a radical super liberal left-y who is not at all afraid to be “objective” in terms of her political opinions. She essentially went through Ecuador’s entire modern history while simultaneously teaching us about other countries histories as well. It was fascinating and made me really skeptical of their current president. Actually she was so liberal that it made me skeptical of politics in general and every politician I’ve ever heard about. But it was really great and definitely got the wheels in my head turning and she was so crazy and enthusiastic that it kept us all on our toes. At night we all went out together to a bar to celebrate being in Ecuador and then came back to the hotel to play more games. So much fun.

Day 3 here we piled into a bus and went to a museum at the house of Guayasamin, a famous artist who is very renowned especially in Ecuador. We took a tour and watched a movie to learn about his life and art. His art is really really incredible and a really interesting style, kindof Pablo Picasso-esque.

Next we headed off to the “middle of the world”. Basically its just the equator, but its the highest and most accessible point on the equator and I missed the part where the guide explained exactly why that spot got to be called the middle of the world rather than other points on the Equator. Our guide here did a bunch of demonstrations of how water spins a different direction depending on whether you’re north or south of the equator, even by just a tiny bit. Then we did a demonstration showing how hard it is to balance on the equatorial line. And then we did a demonstration showing how much weaker we are when we’re on the equatorial line versus just a couple feet north/south of it.

 equatorline

Then we drove to this place called El Crater, which was a really beautiful restaurant looking over this valley that was really pretty. They also had alpacas grazing on their lawn which was quite cute.

alpacaelcrater viewfromelcrater

Then we drove a couple hours over to Mindo, a cloud forest with wonderful birds and butterflies. We stayed at this cute little hosteria that had a ton of hummingbird feeders so that was really exciting for me. But they were all really hard to identify because theres so many hummingbird species in Ecuador and so many of them look really alike.

friendlyhummermindo

We went on an evening walk and then went into their butterfly preserve where they’re breeding butterflies to put back in the wild. There were so many species of butterflies and they were landing all over everyone.

ciarrabutterfly

Day 4 I woke up early to go watch birdies and then they didn’t come out until it was time to head off on a hike so that was sad. We started a hike that was supposed to be only a couple miles to a waterfall but a lot of the hike relied on little pully zipline carts to pull you across valleys and rivers. The first little pully cart across a river worked just fine.

ziplinepullycart

However, the second pully cart, which went over a massive valley was broken so we either had the option of waiting 1.5 hours for the cart to be fixed or hiking 1.5 hours into the waterfall. We didn’t trust that it would actually only take 1.5 hours for it to be fixed so we decided to hike. It was a really tough hike, with lots of huge hikes up and then down and then up and then down. But it was really beautiful and really a fun hike too. We got to the waterfall and swam around in a little swimming hole slightly down river from it. It was really fun but freezing cold. When we finally decided to head back, the pully cart still wasn’t working so we had to hike the 1.5 hrs back too. Needless to say, it was a lot harder going back and it started raining too but we eventually made it back (3 hours later than planned) and had a nice tasty lunch.

everyonebridgewaterfallhike

Then we piled back into the bus and went back to our hotel in Quito. I took a really nice bath and we spent the evening and night playing more games and packing up our stuff to leave the next morning.

Day 5, we left the hotel early in the morning to head to the airport. Airport security in Ecuador is even more relaxed, and you didn’t have to take off your shoes or take your computer out…very different than the US. The flight was fast but with lots of turbulence. We arrive in Cuenca and were immediately paired with our families and whisked away. My host family is really just the sweetest family. My host mom was at the airport with her sister, whose family is also hosting an LC student, and they drove us home. She showed me my room, which is really nice and I started unpacking. While I was unpacking, it was almost lunch time and so the entire family came over for lunch, because in Ecuador its a tradition to spend lunch with your family because its the most important meal here. My host mom’s grandchildren immediately ran into my room and were so eager to talk to me and meet me and all gave me hugs. They are all so adorable. Theres a 9 year old girl, a 7 year old girl, and a 1.5 year old girl (and a 10 year old who I haven’t met yet). At lunch, my host dad got home and was so eager to learn about me and my life. I technically only live with my host mom and dad but they have 3 older children who all live in the area and all 3 children have kids. Since my host parents don’t work during the day, the youngest granddaughter stays with them until the other grandchildren are out of school and then they come over too, so they are always around which is really fun. Then in the evening me, my host parents, and their grandchildren (so I guess technically my host-nieces?) went on a little drive around the city so they could show me Cuenca and then we went to a Mirador (view point) that looked down on the entire city. It was so beautiful but I unfortunately forgot my camera at home.

Then it was back to the house to sleep and chit chat. Really, my host family is so wonderful. They make really wonderful food (which I was really scared about), and they’re super friendly and open about everything and are constantly eager to make sure I’m happy about everything, all while not being overbearing and giving me my independence. Its perfect.

Then Day 6, my host dad drove me to the school I’m going to, Amauta, in the morning. We all took placement tests to see which of the four levels of Spanish classes we should take. It was a really really difficult test, mostly because the grammar part was so hard. There were basically 15 pages of grammar stuff, half of which I hadn’t ever learned, and another quarter of which I’ve completely forgot. Then we went to a phone store as a group and some of us got some funky ecuadorian phones. I tried to get a SIM card for my iphone, but unfortunately all US phones are locked here and they can’t unlock them so I had to just buy the cheapest phone they had. Then I went back home for lunch with my whole family.

After lunch we went back to school and got paired up with university students who showed us how to take the buses to and from our host family’s houses and how to walk there as well. My house is really far from the school, and right next to a bus stop for a bus that takes you right into the center of town so I’ll probably take the bus every day (especially since its only 25 cents). My house is also right by 3 other students houses, so its very convenient. The university student who showed me and one of my friends who lives by my house around was really sweet. She told us all the best places to go in the city. It was surprising though because she was already married with a 3 year old daughter and it seemed like it was perfectly normal.

Then those who had phones walked around a little bit while everyone who hadn’t gotten a phone got one. Cuenca is SUCH a beautiful city. The buildings are beautiful, everything is very clean, transportation is easy, and there are 4 rivers that go throughout the city.

In the evening, I met up with the other 3 students who live right by me and we took a taxi into the city center to our professors apartment where we met up with everyone else. Then we all went out to the main nightlife street, Calle Larga, and relaxed at a bar there. We were planning on going to another bar but it got pretty late and it started raining so we just took a cab back home. Taking cabs here is so simple and really cheap ($3 max, which is even less when you’re splitting it 4 ways).

Day 7, I finally got to sleep in a little bit. I had a simple, typical breakfast of bread, juice and instant coffee. The coffee here is so weird. Basically they heat up milk, pour you a cup of hot milk (which is also unpasteurized) and then you put a spoonful of coffee powder in it. I don’t even drink coffee ususally, but my family keeps serving me it, so I keep drinking it and when I do drink coffee I like it with a lot of milk so I guess its perfect. Then I met up with Emilie, the girl who lives right by me and we took the bus into the center of town where we met up with another student. We wandered around a bit, while it was unfortunately raining (but not cold), and went in a couple churches and markets and then walked along the river. I wanted to take photos but my camera battery was dead :(

Then I headed back home for lunch with my family which was particularly delicious. After lunch my family took me for a drive all over the place. We went to Banos Cuenca which is a little town outside of Cuenca that has volcanic hot springs and so there are lots of little hotel type places that have built a tourist industry around the hotsprings. We didn’t go in any, but my family toured me around them and showed me where the best one is and told me that this was where I had to return with my classmates. Then we went up into the town of Banos, where they were having a religious festival. There was lots and lots of dancing in traditional outfits and my host mom bought me all the typical kinds of street food that Banos has and chose the best kinds for me to try, and they were all very very delicious.

In the evening, first I watched a movie with my host parents in spanish that I had already seen in english. It was very cute and I think watching movies is going to be the way to go. Then I met up with a few of the other students and we went to a very cute bar in the center of town where we met up with one of their university student tour guides who is from Cuenca and he showed us a couple other good cheap bars and told us about Cuenca and whatnot. It was a really nice and calm evening.

Day 8, I woke up very tired because they were having a huge multi-day birthday party on the street one street over from my house alllll night and then I was woken up by fireworks right outside of my house at 6 in the morning and honking cars for the current political campaigns. Then the entire family met up, so I got to meet the only grandchild who I haven’t met yet who was very sweet and very intelligent. Then we all went out to el Campo (the countryside). Basically, its kind of a part of the culture here to have a house in the city and a house in the country where you go on weekends. This weekend we went to a little town 1.5 hours south of Cuenca where my host sister recently bought land to build a house and we went there to survey the land and hire people to begin cleaning it up so they can build their house. It was a little boring because it was multiple hours sitting in the sun while everyone argued in very rapid spanish about how to best go about constructing a house/pool. Then we went to the house that they already have there, which was only 1 km away, and ate mangos and yucca and bread while everyone spoke in more rapid spanish.

We eventually got home and watched another movie and then I passed out because my brain was so exhausted from being bombarded with rapid spanish all day.

I have to say, its really really hard not having wifi, particularly since I’m the only student who doesn’t have it and since using phones here is pretty expensive, everyones been communicating on the internet. But, I think it will be good for me to only get on at internet cafes when I really need it. Also my host family is so amazing, that it makes up for it in so many ways and my mom calls me mija (mi hija= my daughter) which is really cute, so that makes me happy too.

Nicaragua: Final days (16-20)

So day 16 after internet-cafe-ing, we went back to the finca and there was another little hatched baby chickie.

threelittlechickies

The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful and involved me getting more mosquito bites and reading guidebook stuff for my upcoming adventures.

Day 17, we woke up early and drove out to the same lake as I have photos of from a week ago, Lake Apoyo. But this time we continued down a long winding road to the basin of it where we’re staying at a little biological research station/hostel called The Peace Project. Its very cute and everyone staying there was really just great, super friendly, super eager to learn about eachother so that was really fun. They had wifi and lots of nice seating and hammocks looking out at the lake so we spent all day just getting back online and chitchatting with everyone. In the evening, my mom and I went on a nice walk around the neighborhood, where we were unfortunately accosted by a very very drunk stumbling slurring local. But the walk was still nice and we saw some little birdies. ALso we walked along the lake and dipped our toes in and since its a volcanic lake with fumeroles, the water is 85 degrees so that was impressive. We would have gone swimming, but there wasn’t really a sandy part of the beach so that was a little uninviting.

lakeapoyofrombeach

I awoke Day 18 with a cute little monkey sitting right outside my window. Then we spent most of the day just hanging out around the hostel talking to everyone. For the most part, they are all working/volunteering there to develop various different programs (educational program, biological ones, etc.). In the afternoon we went on this really nice hike around the rim of the lake and I saw another new species of hummingbird and a couple other new bird species. The view was quite impressive.

apoyofromhike

There was also a huge pack of howler monkeys right next to the trail. There were 4 little babies in the pack and they were so adorable crawling all over the trees. And there was some really cool rock graffiti along the trail.

catfacegraffiti cooleyegraffiti

We did some more relaxing and chatting in the evening while I was working on arranging all my future travels.

Day 19 we left the hostel and headed into Granada to spend our last couple days here. Our new hotel seemed pretty nice at first, especially since it has excellent internet (these opinions changed later). We spent the day wandering around Granada doing some touristy shopping. Granada has lots of pretty churches and, like all parts of Ecuador, the houses and buildings are painted such pretty colors.

oldchurchgranada

streetofgranada

We got some tasty smoothies at a really cute cafe and I got a nice new wallet from a local leather goods company where they even had a person making purses in the back. Then we stopped by a bakery that smelled so heavenly and got some fresh baked goods. Later, we had a lovely dinner at a brand new tapas bar and got some really exceptional cocktails that were all fairly original and the food was really delicious.

granadacocktails

Unfortunately, we woke up yesterday (day 20) to realize that this hotel situation was not so great. Because it turned out that in the middle of the night my parents found bedbugs in their bed biting them (though thankfully not in my bed). First time my parents have ever had that happen to them. It was very not fun. Fortunately, the hotel got on it immediately and gave us a new room far from the old one. After that, we got some more pastries from the tasty bakery and headed up to volcan masaya. Its one of the 2 currently erupting volcanos in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, you can’t see the lava because its deep down in the crater but you can get right on the edge of the crater and look down in it. Your view however is blocked by huge amounts of sulfuric acid gas (Vog) spewing out of the crater. It was crazy. I’ve seen that a lot before (on Kilauea in Hawaii), but in the US they don’t let you get anywhere close to the crater because the gases that come out of volcanoes (vog) is so unhealthy and its so dangerous to go right up to the edge of crater so that was kinda crazy. It was funny because they even provided hard hats if you wanted them since the last time that the volcano erupted, it spewed huge boulders that came down and really hurt a lot of tourists and cars.

 sittingonedgeofcrater wholeviewofcrater

Then we headed back to Granada, stopping by our previous hostel on the way so I could pick up the beloved rubiks cube which I unfortunately had left there. Then it was time for some rearranging of my things because I’m headed to Ecuador today and I really wanted to get my suitcase more compact and not have the extension part extended.

Looking back, my overall impression of Nicaragua was really wonderful! Supposedly it is the poorest country currently in central america, but it really didn’t seem like it. And everyone here is so unbelievably friendly and eager to chit chat and be helpful. I also really love how colorful it is, they really know how to make their buildings look pretty. And the nature here was also really nice, lots of birds everywhere, and geckos. Its quite fun to me to have geckos crawling all over your walls all the time (even if they’re not the native kind of gecko).

Since I’m leaving today and then will be in Quito meeting up with everyone else in the group and hanging out with them and going all over Quito for a while, I might not be posting for a bit. We shall see!

Nicaragua: Days 10-15

We haven’t really had any wifi and when we had it briefly it wasn’t good enough to be able to upload photos, so apologies for having such a jam-packed post now… even now, we’re at an internet cafe, and I only have a few minutes left of my wifi time, so the edits here may be bad…

Also, wow, the bugs here are pretty bad. I really haven’t seen many, if any, mosquitos, but there are so many other biting bugs, that it seems like a mosquito ridden place. I think that there are 5 kinds of bites that I am getting.. maybe more. Theres the obvious mosquito bite which everyone knows about, then theres the chigger bite which is pretty bad. Chiggers are in the grass and are little mites that crawl up your legs until they hit a band of some sort (sock band, underwear band, waistband, etc.) and then they burrow in. Their bites are bad and super itchy and last a while. Then there are this seed ticks, which are little and will bite in and release and then humans get an allergic reaction within 12 hours, I think that these are the worst bites I have. I try to resist scratching them, but while I can resist other bites, I absolutely cannot ignore these ones. They also get SUPER swollen and are more like a lump than a bite. miserable. Ok, then theres the fleas. Theres so many dogs around here that I’ve gotten a couple of flea bites, however these aren’t terrible and go away quickly. Then theres the fire ant and army ant bites/stings. These are awful at first, since if you’re wearing sandals, you usually get a whole bunch at once. For about an hour your feet hurt so so much and feel swollen and miserable, but for me they go away quickly and don’t leave any sort of welt behind. There are honestly probably more too, like biting flies and spiders or whatnot, but this is all I can think of now…but basically my feet are covered in bites.. on my right lower leg and foot alone I have around 20 bites.

So, on a different note, as blissful as the hammock bed at our hotel in Leon was, I have to say that I don’t think its the city for me… Its supposed to be the hottest city in the country, and even though we were visiting in the cold season, it was still in the low 90s. While its been that hot in other places, theres been wind too, and this was just super stuffy and stagnant with no wind whatsoever and lots of humidity. Day 10 was probably my least favorite day of the trip so far. I felt kindof ill all day, like there was some sort of microbial upset in my body. We spent the day doing a sort of walking tour of the city, and it was just so incredibly hot. Its also a very crowded city and theres no trees or anything on the streets so it feels a little dirty, so since I was feeling a bit off health-wise, it didn’t please me much. We started off with the massive cathedral right in the center of town where we were staying. We paid a dollar and got to go up a secret staircase around a bunch of side areas and go onto the roof. It was quite cool although a tad bit scary because there wasn’t much in the way of touring or security or guardrails, there were just old concrete stairs going around various parts and we had to climb across areas that didn’t have any stairs too. But it also had a really lovely view of the city and because it was above all the buildings, there was a tad bit of wind, so it was a little cooler temperature-wise.

 roofofcathedral

panoramatopofroof

We went by two other cathedrals too. One was big and yellow and was quite cool looking and the other was pinkish and had fake painted bricks.. it was odd. Both were unfortunately not open to the public but still cool to look at. Leon actually has 16 really old cathedrals, so they are trying to become officially named the “city of churches”.

pinkcathedral yellowcathedral

We then tried to go to the entomological museum but it was unfortunately closed, so we went to the botanical gardens. It was a longer walk into a very odd little neighborhood so we weren’t sure if we were in the right place but we came around the corner and there it was. The botanical gardens were not terribly exciting, but they had lots of potential and the guy running it was extremely nice and very enthusiastic about his gardens and the wildlife that came through them. So while we were walking through the garden, we finally found a guarabarranco! Its the Nicaraguan word for Motmot, which is a type of bird that is extremely beautiful and is actually the national bird. We had been looking for them since our trip started and we finally found one and it was the most perfect view of it.

motmot

In the evening, it was New Years Eve, so we went and had a nicer dinner since it was also supposed to be my aunt and uncle’s last day. But besides that, it was a really uneventful New Years. We drank a bit too early in the evening, so by 10 PM I was exhausted and irritable, and since I was already feeling sick all day, I felt pretty awful too. Plus they didn’t do a countdown, and they celebrated the new year 5 minutes early.. I don’t know what was up with that. It was odd. Soooo, yea. not the greatest welcome into the new year, but I guess its nice to spend your first day of the new year with your family since they’re the people you love the most :)

We woke up the next day (Day 11), and I was still physically exhausted in a sick sort of way, tummy-achy, overheated, and crabby, but fortunately we were leaving Leon that day. We took our time and made our way out to the coast where we stayed at a little cabana on the beach. Because it was New Years day, the downtown area of Las Penitas (the fishing beach town outside of Leon) was packed, so that was a little crazy. But once we got to our beach cabana area, it got much more relaxing. The day was pretty uneventful. My aunt and uncle left so that was sad. Then my parents and I just kindof unwound for a bit, which was much needed.

 playaolazul

Day 12, we took a boat tour out through a mangrove forest/swamp along this island that is a nature preserve. It was a really incredible tour. Our two guides knew so much, and they had the most incredible spotting eyes. They literally spotted so many things that any normal person would never have been able to see. We also did the boat tour with two french women who were so incredibly friendly and fun, so that just made it even better.

 boatride

The tour took half of the day and along the way I added so so many new birds to my birdlist. As we went along the river through the mangroves there were birds flying out everywhere. There were tons of different kinds of herons, common and uncommon. We saw lots and lots of these beautiful little mangrove swallows (of course one of my favorites) that were irridescent violet and green on their back. There were also lots of these very adorable little kingfishers zipping around.

 littlekingfisher

Then we stopped the boat on the island and went on a little walk and saw a sleeping porcupine in the bush very close to the path. Our guide told us she was pregnant.

 sleepingporcupine

On that stop, we also went to this sea turtle egg hatching area where they buy turtle eggs from poachers who steal them to sell to eat and then bring the eggs back to this island and put them in these sandy enclosures so that they can safely hatch. We got to hold a turtle egg too. Then we got back on the boat and continued down the river.

Along the trip, we ended up seeing 4 crocodiles. Two were babies, and two were medium sized. The guide said that farther up the river where it is super isolated and protected more from poachers, the crocodiles can get up to 16 feet long, if not longer, but unfortunately we didn’t see any that big.

 crocodilo

We also saw lots and lots of iguanas. A couple small ones and a couple medium sized ones and one really huge one. Once the guide spotted the huge one and we went up close to it, he got really freaked out, but iguanas are so ungraceful that this guy just kindof crashed through the trees. It was interesting because they’re all different colors. I couldn’t completely understand the guide, but I think he said that there are a couple different subspecies of iguana, but also at different ages, the iguanas are different colors and that it also depends on the color of the habitat they are living in.

After the tour, we had a really nice lunch with the french women and then we walked back to our hotel and went swimming in the ocean. It was a bit tough because the waves were breaking so strongly since the tide was so far in by that point, but it was still nice to cool off.

In the morning of Day 13 we had a nice relaxing breakfast before driving south. We ended up at my parent’s old friend’s house. This is a friend who my parents went to grad school with and haven’t seen in over 20 years, so thats fun for them.They live south of Managua near Masatepe on a really nice finca. They took us on a tour of their finca and they have around 70 different types of fruit trees. Its really impressive. We saw another type of guarrabaranco (Motmot, the national bird here). It was bigger than our previous type and was just as beautiful. The weather here is really great, since it is fairly cool. Also they have geckos all over their house. They climb all over the cielings and walls.

ceilinggecko

They have the most adorable daughter. She is almost 6 years old and the most outgoing, friendly, and enthusiastic little girl. We brought her a coloring book and a jigsaw puzzle, so I spent all afternoon and evening doing those with her while intermittently having little tea parties. She speaks some english and its really cute when she does and I like her Spanish because it is easier for me to understand since she uses simpler words and grammar and talks a bit slower. We spent all evening playing together, and I actually feel like my spanish is a lot better.

Day 14 I was woken up by my parent’s friend’s daughter running into my room yelling levanta, levanta! So I got up and then she immediately presented me with a coloring book and said lets go to paint! So we colored for a bit and then my parents and I and the young daughter packed into the backseat of my parent’s friend’s truck and we drove up north. We stopped at this place that they knew about where you can hike up a river bed (which is filled with mosquitos) up to these rock walls that are covered in old petroglyphs.

 petroglyphs

There’s a lot of petroglyphs in the area, but these are some of the better ones and are quite extensive and theres no infrastructure around these particular ones because they’re hard to get to, so there are no tourists, although a few have been painted in so they are easier to see that just carvings into the rock. And its really interesting because as much as anthropologists have looked at all the petroglyphs in the area, no one can figure out why they are there and who did them and how old they are, but they’re estimated to be quite old.

Then we piled back into the truck and drove further north up into this area thats a higher elevation pine forest, and they are some of the southernmost pines around. It was weird to see the area because it was a mix of pines and oaks so it felt like back at home rather than Nicaragua but it was quite cool. We did a little hike out to this pretty viewpoint and then headed further up the mountain to this ecolodge type place at the top.

 pineforestlookout

Unfortunately, the ecolodge was having a visit by a huge religious group of 70 people and so all the cabins were completely booked but they had an area a little further away that had camping and they would put up the tents and mattresses and stuff so thats what we did. It was alright, but I think I got some more insect bites. Also, my parent’s friend is a biologist and was looking for this one really particular moth so he used a blacklighting technique which is where you put up white sheets around black lights and the moths and beetles will swarm the lights and just hang around on the sheets. While he didn’t find the one he was looking for he showed us lots of other really cool types of moths.

blacklitmoths

Day 15, we woke up and did a little bit of birding. There was this section of a little path that was covered in tubular flowers, so it was perfect for hummingbirds. And there were tons of hummingbirds there. I think there were maybe 5 or 6 different species buzzing around. But my find of the day was that after everyone else went to pack up the tents, I stayed watching and turned around and there was this really cool and different looking hummingbird. It looked unlike any other hummingbird I’ve ever seen and floated around rather than flying. It ended up being this rare and endemic species called the Sparkling-tailed Woodstar and when I told my parents and their friend about it once I went back to the truck, he was shocked because he had never seen one before and when we looked it up in the birdbook, hadn’t really even heard of it. So that was special.

Then we got back in the car and drove all the way up to the Honduras/Nicaragua border (but unfortunately didn’t cross over so I can’t add Honduras to my country list :( ) to a slot canyon there. We did a little hike in along the river and then took a boat further up the river. Then, once it really became a canyon rather than a riverbed, we rented inner tubes and paddled further up the river. It was so so beautiful. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because I couldn’t take my camera since we were in water the entire time, but it was called Somoto Canyon and here is a link to what it looked like (http://www.nicaragua-magazine.com/best-of-northern-nicaragua-somoto-canyon/). The water wasn’t really flowing quickly, so we paddled way up the river and then floated very slowly back down. Then we hiked back out, got in the car and drove 4 hours back to Masatepe.

Today, Day 16, we’re just having a relaxing, sitting-around sort of day. One of my parent’s friend’s chickens had two of her eggs hatch overnight so now theres 2 really adorable little baby chickies. Plus they have 4 baby guinea pigs and 3 adults that I plan on playing with. We’re in town now at an internet cafe while they run errands and we’re going to do laundry and eat and just relax.