So we just set new personal records for time spent on a bus. 39 hours. Boarding our first bus from Quito to Guayaquil at 3:30am on a Friday morning and arriving in Lima on Saturday night around 9:00pm with only one bus change and a few hours in the Guayaquil terminal. We knew we were in for a long haul in order to get back down to where we left off in Peru, and have some sort of southbound progress to show for 4 months of travelling. I even had big aspirations to make use of all that free time, plan out our trekking and climbing trips throughout Patagonia, polish up on my Spanish verbs, even the scoreboard against Roxy in our Cribbage rivalry, write a blog post so we won’t be a week late as per usual. Guess what? None of that happened, I barely even turned on my iPod. Amazing how you can have all the free time in the world and accomplish nothing productive, unless watching 8 movies in Spanish and staring aimlessly out a window is productive. But this seems to be par for the course because our month spent volunteering at the Secret Garden Cotopaxi hostal had similar results. A month spent out in the hills with nothing to do aside from setting up for mealtime and guiding hikes every few days? I figured I’d learn to play the guitar, master the slackline, and get in the best shape ever. Then reality kicked in, the beer was free, food was endless, it rained way more than Google images of Cotopaxi Volcano would have you believe and days are awfully short for accomplishing much when bedtime is 9PM.
We may not have accomplished much but we did love every bit of our time out there. And I bet most of your New Years resolutions are long gone so back off.
After the Galápagos Islands we made the steep, bumpy trip back up to the hostel we visited and loved so much at the very start of our trip. We would spend the next 5 weeks there working for our room and board. Although the word “work” may not imply the right visuals. Our responsibilities consisted of waking up at sunrise to cleanup from the night before, serving and clearing breakfast, lunch, dinner, and chopping firewood for all the cabins. Throw in socializing with guests, games with the other volunteers, and playing with the 5 dogs who call the hostel home and it was a pretty dang good way to start off the new year.
Speaking of the New Year, traditions in Ecuador put a different spin on the celebration. To send off the old year and ring in the new, locals take to the streets and set fire to life sized puppets representing personalities from the year, called Año Viejos. For some odd reason the men also take to the street, dressed in drag and collect change from passersby. Minus the women’s clothing we did our best to finish 2016 in Ecuadorean style although staying up until midnight was more of a challenge than most guests were up for.
In the unlikely event that the locals didn’t imbibe enough around their paper mâché bonfires they also hold rodeos starting early on New Year’s Day. I’m not sure I recognized any of the events, but there were horses, bulls, cowboys and enough crates of beer that it qualified as a certified rodeo in my books.
The incredible setting of this hostel was a big part of why we thought it was the right spot to spend a month, another reason was that the other aspect of our “work” involved guiding hikes for the guests every few days. Newly arriving guests would be lead up a nearby creek to a set of waterfalls while other days would see us making our way up to the crater rim of a long extinct volcano, Pasochoa.
When it was all said and done Roxy and I had each summitted Pasochoa over 10 times. Our count for the waterfalls was at least double that although a good number of those trips were without guests, with fly rod in hand instead.
What we did with our spare time was dependent on what the weather was doing each day. Most days brought rain, some saw the hostel engulfed in clouds all day long and a handful were even clear blue skies, giving us the postcard views the guests were always asking us about.
Aside from the occasional jog that took us back to the main road we only left the hostal property a handful of times over the course of a month (if you have three things in your hand). On one of these occasions we got to tag along with one of the horseback tours for a trail ride along the edge of the national park. A FaceTime chat with my daughter back in Calgary the night before provided us with a crash course in all things horses; don’t do this, say this, never do this, a clicking noise for a canter, a kissing noise for a gallop and so on. Despite my insistence that these horses only spoke Spanish, and her lack of confidence in us, we were galloping circles around Cotopaxi in no time.
With such a consistent daily routine keeping us busy, the days flew by. Next thing we knew it was the end of January and time for another rodeo. For this edition of men+booze+livestock=entertainment we loaded up the back of a pickup and bounced down the dirt roads into nearby Machachi, our first taste of civilization in a month. And boy was it civilized. The locals had transformed the main street into an arena by lining the storefronts with wooden barricades and flatbed trailers. At one end of the street were full cattle trailers, empty ones awaiting at the other. When enough caballeros had filled the arena, capes in one hand and liquid courage in the other, they would release a bull or two from the trailers. With bulls entering the equation, everything added up to entertainment. Our matadors would taunt the bulls for no other reason it seemed than to get them to run to the empty trailers at the far end. As you can imagine it wouldn’t be very exciting if the bulls were safely corralled and trucked back to their fields. At least a half dozen brave souls ended up in the back of an ambulance in need of new pants and a few pints of blood.
And then it was February, and we were scrambling to book busses and pack bags and get back on our way. Almost 5 weeks had passed and it was certainly a great experience. It allowed us to meet a ton of great people, did wonders for the budget, gave us ample opportunity to get away from one another, and get outdoors as much as we wanted (often those last two were one and the same). That said, we were more than ready to get back on the road. Eventually being in one spot for so long and hearing stories from different travellers on a daily basis had us itching to see new things as well. Also, interacting with so many people means you meet some amazing ones, it also means you meet every other type of traveller as well. From the hardcore vegans who demand specialized meals all day until they see the chocolate brownie for dessert, to the travellers who’ve seen and done everything you’ve done except they did it 3 years ago before “it got so touristy and tacky”. And if one more grown human being, travelling a foreign country on their own, asks me whether they should bring a rain jacket and wear boots on a 6 hour hike in the mountains during rainy season…
Anyways, we’re making our way south through Peru now, beelining for Chile in hopes of getting as much climbing in before the start of March when we’ll be rendezvousing with Roxy’s parents in Mendoza for a week of sampling the local drink down there, “vino” I think they call it.