Monday, December 29, 2014

Huan Chaco, Përu

From Guayaquil I took the bus from 9pm at night before arriving in a city called Chiclaya in Peru, the next day at around noon.  Bypassing Mancora which is the big party location on the Coast, most famous on the coast of Peru.  I was pretty exhausted although for the first time ever I was able to sleep on the bus.  In Chiclaya there were no affordable hostels, only expensive hotels.  It was on the beach but it was not a place I wanted to stay being a backpacker on a budget.  I hear rumblings that further down the coast was a place called Huan Chaco.  I remember meeting a French Canadian couple that I met in Ecuador that raved about Huan Chaco.  These hippie french Canadian surfers were my type of people so I decided to go to this Huan Chaco place instead of Chiclayo.  Another 5 hour bus ride and I was in Trujillo.  From there it was a 50 cent bus ride to Huan Chaco.  On the bus I met this surfer from California.  He made me promise myself never to start surfing because it is a contagious disease and I would never stop.  He led me to the hostel he was staying and it was a very good one. 

My boy Eric.  Born in NYC but living in San Fran.  Still getting used to my new camera, finger in the shot.

The view from the hostel I was staying at.  I am getting very good at knowing how to relax and not feeling like I have to explore and go to tourist destinations everyday.  Spent a lot of time on the terrace looking at this view.
BMX and two young guys hanging in the outdoor basketball stadium in Huan Chaco.
Beautiful streets like this everywhere in Huan Chaco.  You can literally wander for days through the maze of streets like this finding new and amazing restaurants everyday.  The seafood here is to die for.
Big ass waves here in Huanchaco.  This picture doesnt do it justice but they were the biggest waves I have seen anywhere on the coast so far: Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador.  But maybe I just hit it at the right time of the season, and the other ones at the wrong time.
Coke truck rolls through on the beach to stock a nearby tienda.  Hippies and Bohemiams sit on the ledge of the sidewalk selling trinkets and bracelets.  A really laid back beach vibe hear in Huan Chaco but at the same time it has great tourist infrastucture.  Tonnes of affordable hostels and good restaurants mixed with discotecs, bars and a multitude of surf rental shops.

Really can't say enough about Huan Chaco.  Those French Canadian Hippie Surfers I met in Ecuador were sure right.  This probably has been my favorite spot on the coast so far.  If I ever meet that amazing couple from Quebec again I owe them huge.  Fuck Lonely Planet!  Instead I use Word of Mouth Planet.
Back to Trujillo.  The nearby city to tiny Huan Chaco.  Trujillo has a population of 300,000 people.  It is even bigger than Cusco.  Here you catch the bus to another city.  Bye bye beautiful coast.  Time to head to the mountains for Christmas.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Guayaquil, Ecuador

Guayaquil, Ecuador.  The second biggest city behind Quito in the country.  It used to have a reputation for being sketchy and dodgy.  It still kinda is.  Would I recomend going there?  Probably not for backpackers.  There are no good hostels.  Only private room hotels.  Is there much to see?  Yah some nice streets to walk downtown.  The Malecon district is the most famous for nightlife and bars.  There are lots of pretty girls here, the most in Ecuador.  The Medellin of Ecuador for this.  Its not quite on the Ocean.  Its in a River Delta kinda like Buenos Aires.  really Good seafood here though.  Famous for the Ceviche which is raw fish with lime juice.  The acid of the lime juice cooks the fish, it needs about ten minutes.

 The Bahia is the famous street market. If you are  a gringo that had your camera or phone stolen there is a good chance that it ends up here.  You can also buy new electronics as well, these probably fell off a truck.  Electronics are expensive in Ecuador because the government has strong import taxes on goods from outside the country.  Stolen or new you  usually pay the price with the import.  I searched hard and found a new camera for sixty bucks.  Really good Fuji film that goes for 150 in Canada.  But the sony camera that I paid 100 for new in Canada goes for 110-150 in the street markets new.  Word of advice, never buy a sony camera.  Nothing but problems for me.  First the LCD broke and then the zoom got sand in it and wouldnt close.  Then it stopped working completely.  My new camera doesnt have a zoom.

In this picture above you see a vendor selling soccer jerseys at the Bahia Market.  While I was there they were getting geared up for the final championship game of the year in Ecuador.  And it was two teams from Guayaquil in the final.  Barcelona vs Emelec.  The Barcelona team named after the famous one from Spain.  The guy in the picture was not pleased that I took this picture.  He asked me to delete it.  He is probably a criminal.
 The market is overwheleming.  It is so huge and goes forever.  You constantly get hassled to buy things that you dont want.  But its kinda fun, but tiring.  There are not a lot of gringoes there, and Ecuador does have a reputation for ripping of gringoes.  So expect to have to bargain really hard and shop around lots before buying.  Gringoes dont go to Guayaquil.  The Gringo train is usally Quito, to Banos to Mantanita.  Whatever you want to buy at the Bahia there will be fifty other vendors selling the excact same thing, so shop around.
 Street Shot in Ecuador with Suzuki Tracker rolling in front of my Church Frame.

 If you thought Fried Chicken was big in the US, you have to come to Ecuador.  This places is unreal for fried chicken and its actually kind of expensive too.  the rest of the food though is dirt cheap.
Club!  The best bear of Ecuador.  On the high end a 600 ml bottle goes for $1.50 on the cheap end $1.10.  All prices in American of course because Ecuador uses the US dollar.  

All in all Ecuador was fun times.  I definitely liked the coast best.  Its so underated.  Most tourists only go to Mantanita and see nothing else on the coast.  I spent three weeks rolling down from the north end startin in Attacames until Canoa and I never even made it to Mantanita.  Peru next for Xmas and NYE!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Estero de Platano

If you make it to Estere de Platano you are far off the beaten path in Peru.  There are no busses that go directly here.  There are not hotels.  But on the West Coast of Ecuador this is a Little Beach town with a lot of culture.
The beach is literally covered in tiny gold flakes.  There was someone out on the beach scavengering for flakes.  IT comes from a river that dumps out nearby.  Other than that the Sound is completely black and the waves break at a very average size, nothing special for surf.

Nearby town of Galeta even further off the beaten path.  Not much here for tourists but a vibrant community of locals.

One of the best things you Can drink in Ecuador.  A Fiora Vanti.  Kinda like a cream soda in Canada.  One bottle like this goes for about 40 american cents.

Callero (street dog) roaming in front of this tienda with the Pony Malta advertisement in the background.  Lots of street dogs here.  For the most part they are tame and you dont have to worry.  The street doggs own the streets.  Sometimes it feels like the cities are more for the dogs than the people. 

Next up off to Peru and Xmas

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Mompiche and Canoa

After volunteering and working my butt off I decided it was time to head to Mompiche.  Mompiche is a small and tranquil surfing town on the coast of Ecuador.  There are more surfer bums per capita than any other place I have ever been too.  That being said it is a very quiet city for most of the week and not a party place if thats what you are looking for.  It was the perfect tranquil spot for me to unwind.

The big wave in Mompiche is a right hander.  It comes into this coral reef and the good surfers ride right over the coral with no fear.  
Renting boogie boards and surf boards from my two American friends Walker and Reid.  Ran into these boys in Quito and then again on the bus to Mompiche.  Had a blast with them.
The beach of Mompiche.... desserted and tranquil.  Watch out for Jelly fish though. they will get you.  I got JF'd once while I was here.

After a couple days in tranquil Mompiche it was time for a change of scenery.  Made it to Canoa which many people had been talking about.  Lots of extranjeros (foreigners) here.  So many American retirees that have bought cheap land and live the life in a beach town.  It was my favorite spot on the coast.  It had the perfect mix of ecuadorian coastal town and gringo tourist destination.  The seafood was good and everything was very cheap. It  gets a little bit dodgy though.  Trade all the local surf bums of Mompiche for beach bums and drug addicts that hang around town partying. No one too dedicated to the surfer bum life but more the sketchy beach bum life, staying up until 5am doing drugs on the beach. Its definitely a good party spot but I was living with one woman that had her phone stolen while walking on the beach during the afternoon on a weekday.  The man also injured her arm in the violent assault.  People are desperate here and some do have a hate on for gringoes.  You definitely have to have your guard up a little more in Canoa.  But I love it, I was stuck here for a week.  Any time you want to buy something it involves walking through the neighborhood asking locals and getting sent in different directions.  This is the case for Shrimp, alchohol and fruits.  Eventually you are lead to a house of a local person that is also a vendor.  It was a lot of fun shopping here and a good way to practice my spanish.  Definitely go here.  Of all the things I said about how dodgy it is,  I am sure it is way nicer than Mantanita.  Mantanita is the major beach destination and party destination in Ecuador.  Unfortunately I did not make it there on this trip, because after Cartagena I did not feel like any giant, beach tourist hot spots where the locals prey on gringoes for their living.

Shot of the beach in Canoa.  Boom Boom.
Sting rays on the beach.  Don't get Steve Irwined.  

As a side note one girl from Red Deer did get Steve Irwined on her ankle.  She said it was the second most painful experience of her life.  Second to living in Red Deer.
My boy Reid getting ready to hit the waves.  Surfs Up¡

I wish I had more pictures of Canoa but my camera broke here.  I didnt get a new one until Guayaquil.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Playa Escondita, Ecuador

Got my first volunteer gig of the travels at Playa Escondita.  You can take a taxi there, however I opted to hitchhike to save a little money.  Met this thug gangster in the back of the truck.

 Playa Escondita is a wonderful eco lodge that has been owned by a Canadian for 20 years.  She has built some amazing accomodations and kitchens.  It is definitely one of the nicest and most beautiful spots on the Ecuadorian coast.  The most tranquil spot for sure and the most delicious lobster I have had in my life.  Judith, the Canadian Expàt originally from Vancouver, has all sorts of accomodations to stay in.  I stayed in a tent and volunteered but there was definitely a type of accomodation for everyone, from the budget backpacker to the person looking for a rustic cabina or ritzy house.  I even met another Canadian that had bought a lot off of here and moved to Ecuador to start a new life and build a house.

Check out the link if you are interested:
 Near the main beach is this cave.  I was able to even grab a faint internet signal in this cave.  Cave-Fi!!!

The beaches here are so tranquil and if you go looking you can find great surf spots too.  The towns nearby are very typical ecuadorian and not touristy at all.  but a spot like this gives you acess to them.  Some of these towns are Playa Escondita, Galera and Cabo San Francisco.

One day I got so lucky.  the yellow leaves started to fall and I was camping in a bed of beautiful yellow flowers.  A true paradise!  I asked the lot staff and they said this only happens once a year.

A few days of volunteering and back on the road south.  Want to make it to Peru for Xmas, taking the Pacific Coast all the way to Guayaquil.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Pacific Coast of Ecuador Part 1

When you leave Quito to drive to the coast of Ecuador, it is a 6 hour drive and it costs about 8 dollars.  Busses are so cheap here in Ecuador it is unreal.  The first stop on the coast is Esmeraldas.  I planned on spending a night there as it is the major city.  Unfortunately when I arrived at the Bus terminal the taxi driver informed me that it was too dangerous and I shouldn't visit the city.  Plus there was no cheap hostels that would be safe for me to stay.  Esmeralda has an oil refinery and it is a city of 100,000 people.  I am sure it is a  very nice port town, but I have heard from many not to go to Attacames.  Lonely Planet says:

The Spanish conquistadors made their first Ecuadorian landfall on this broad, sandy bank flanked by a sparkling river and surrounded by low green hills. Esmeraldas has been an influential port town throughout history but its modern incarnation is not pretty. Many of its cement structures are either half-finished or half-fallen, the frenzied streets harbor drugs and petty crime and the forests have surrendered to scrub brush.

So I skipped Esmeralda and took a ten dollar taxi down the coast to Attacames.  Attacames is a beach town for tourists, mainly Ecuadorian and Colombian.  It is still fairly cheap and has huge waves for surfing.  Renting a boogie board here costs 2 dollars an hour.  I stayed at the Chill Inn hostel owned my a Swiss Women.  Everyone here spoke German and the only way to communicate with others was through my Spanish.  I did not meet any other English speaking Gringoes in 3 days.  The Chill Inn is a nice hostel very close to the beach with cheap private rooms for 12 dollars a night during down time. If it was more busy I know there would be more English speakers, but I stayed from Sunday until Tuesday in Spring here.

The next place on my list was Sua.  Sua is a 25 cent bus ride 10 minutes south of Attacames.  It is less tourist than Attacames and has more locals.  The beaches were more tranquil too.

 Sua had more beautiful parks than any of the four towns I have visited on the coast.  Everywhere I go in Ecuador has so many wild dogs.  Today I saw a pack of ten team up on one lonely dog.  Then the leader of the pack turned on some local old man, by barking non stop and going close to him.  The man was unphased and just kept walking down the street.  I would have definitely shit my pants.
 The bus terminal and Sua and also another great park. 

Sames was the next place on the list.  Here is a fifty cent bus ride and ten minutes south of Sua.  Here has the biggest waves all day, although Attacames has fierce ones in the morning.  This place is the highest class of the four towns I have seen.  Lots of vacation homes and fancy hotels/clubs.  I met a group of young locals surfing the beach and practiced my body boarding skills.
 Here I walked down the beach for half an hour from Tonchigue to Sames.

Tongichue was a cool little town.  Very local and not much room for tourism  Lots of cool bars on the street and rumours of underground beach Parties on the weekend.
Tongichue definitely lacks the tourist charm, but its beach makes up for it in discarded fish heads and pollution.  Seriously I would not go swimming here, instead down the ocean in Sames.  But it is still worth coming here to check out the town.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Cotopaxi: Volcanoe Attempt Round 2

 Here is a shot after leaving the park.  Next to the beautiful sign from 1968 announcing the entrance to "National Park Cotopaxi".  Cotopaxi is not the tallest mountain in Ecuador but it is right up there.  Cheembarazza was the tallest but I was not able to even see it with the visibility.  This is the most famous volcanoe in Ecuador because of its proximity to Quito, the 3 million person city.

Before all this, I showed up to Cotopaxi from Banos.  I stayed at a hostel called the Secret Garden Cotopaxi for two nights.  There is also a Secret Garden in Quito as well.  The one in Quito is OK, but the one in Cotopaxi is outstanding.  Cotopaxi is a two hour trip from Quito.  75 cents on bus to the small town of Machachi and another 15 dollars to drive you to the Secret Garden Cotopaxi.  Once you are there it is one of the most beautiful hostels I have ever been to.  35 bucks a night for a room or if you have your own tent it is 20 dollars.  That might seem like a lot but that includes free breakfast, lunch, dinner, unlimited cake and a jacuzzi.  Not to mention you are in a national park close to endless mountain hikes, adventures and bicycling opportunities.  All the other haciendas in the area are around $100 dollars a night and do not include free food.

I showed up here with my friend John from Alaska.  Both of us wanted to summit the volcanoe.  We had one friend from New Jersey pay $350 to summit.  We were not willing to pay that.  We eventually bargained one guide down to $140 bucks a person, with jacket rentals, boots, crampons, ice axe and rope once we were at another hacienda called Tambopaxi. Unfortunately it was still too rich for our blood and we had to pass.  We moved to Tambopaxi which is really close to the volcanoe and camped there for seven dollars a night.
 Initially it was a failure because the weather is so bad you can never see the peark of the volcanoe.  Three days in Cotopaxi and I still hadn't the opportunity to lay my eyes on this beautiful beast.  The elevation here was 3,750 meters and the top of the volcanoe was nearly 6000.
 These plants found in Cotopaxi are the sister to "Indian Paintbrush" found in the Canadian Rockies.
Finally on the last day before leaving, I woke up in my tent to this view.  It got cold at night, about 5 degrees and a huge rainstorm.  But it was worth it to lay my eyes on this volcanoe.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Banos, Ecuador

Kinda a funny name for a town.  It means Bathroom.  But it is named after the hotsprings and not a giant toilet.  A big volcanoe nearby which I think one day will erupt.  On the way into town we saw volcanic activity and huge steam pillows nearby

 One of the most popular things to do is ride a bike from Banos downhill to nearby watefalls and towns.  I rented a good mountain bike with disk brakes and front suspension shocks for ten dollars.  Here is a video of the trip:

The waterfalls are pretty enormous!
Banos is a small town of only 15 thousand people but lots of people on my travels have been talking about it.  It is a place to come to do extreme sports: mountain biking, ATVing, Ziplining, Bunjee Jumping just to name a few.
My friend from Ingleterra (England) named Fin.
Beautiful shot of the waterfalls.
Here the people eat guinea pig.  Thank god I have decided to be a vegetariano otherwise I might have actually eated this disgusting meal.
Hanging with my friend Fin from England and my other friend Michael from Holland. Beautiful bridge in the background that people bunjee jump off of.  Did a day hike in the mountains in the background and had a great time.  Everywhere you go in the Center Strip of Ecuador has beautiful mountain landscapes like this.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Even Taller Than Everest

Today I woke up early in Ecuador with the intention of climbing Mount Chimbarazo.  It is the tallest mountain in Ecuador and technically the tallest mountain the world if you base it on distance from the center of the earth and not distance above sea level.  Ken Jennings explains it better than I do.

I made it to the town of Riobamba and slept the night at the Oasis Hostel, 15 dollars a night which is pricey for Ecuadorian standards, but in small towns you do not really have a choice.  I woke up early to beautiful sunset and caught the ten oclock bus to a town nearby that would drop me off at the mountains entrance.  When I got to the mountain entrance I was able to hitchike a ride with some Colombians another 8km up the mountain.

You can drive up 8km, anmd at this point there was space to camp, and a kitchen as well as bathrooms that were free.  If you want to make an attempt of Chimbarazo I recommend going in January when the weather is a little better.  A lot of Spring Showers now. 
 The peak of Riobamba, with clouds in front.

 A fox coming close to us.
The fox can smell the jamon y queso sandwhiches in my bag.  

Even with the gear to camp on the mountain, i decided to return so I could make it to the next destination tomorow, rather than get stuck up another day on the mountain.  I made the right call because later in the afternoon there was a huge thunder and lightning storm.  There will be other volcanoes to be had in South America.  Unfortunately I will not be able to climb the peak that dwarfs Everest.  There was only another 1.2km of elevation to be climbed.  That means at the point I was at, I was 500m away from being equal to Everest.  Very close.  The altitute definitely put pressure on my head.  I am going to have to acclimitize better before the next volcano.
Back in the town of Riobamba.  Will spend the night here and then take a bus to Banos.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cali, Colombia... The last stop in Colombia

 This was my last night in Medellin.  Was there for two weeks.  I had a blast.  I wish I could live there someday.  The people are nice, but not too nice.  Just the right level of nice.  These guys were really nice though.  Celebrating my last night with me in Medellin.  Loro on the left from Spain and the middle guy from Mexico City.  Practiced a lot of Spanish with them.
 On the bus on the way to Cali from Medellin, in the beautiful coffee region and jungle.  I know a lot of people that spent time in Armenia, Manizalez and Salento.  Unfortunately I had to miss these towns after spending two weeks in Medellin.  Definitely worth a visit though if you have the time.

On the way to Cali, Colombia.  Ranked the sixth most dangerous city in the world because of murder rate.    Everyone in the other cities of Colombia, Bogota and Medellin warned me about Cali.  Many said, "Dont go to Cali."  What Cali is most famous for, besides being dangerous is Salsa Music.  Unfortunately I do not like Salsa I have discovered after a month here and five lessons.  So I had to explore other areas of the city.
 Here on Saturday we have city street teams out cleaning the graffiti on a street, so that more artists can come and do different graffiti. Lots of good street art here.  On the right the police officer is using the spray paint can.  The police in Cali seemed nice but some of the locals warned me that they are very unfair and mean.
 Here is the Parque Estudiantes in San Antonio.   Colombia is so much about park culture.  It was my favorite thing about Colombia.  The nightlife really sucked actually but the park life was out of this world.  On a friday or saturday night you can spend the night barhopping and listening to shitty salsa music paying too much for drinks.  Or you can buy a box of aguardiente or rum, get a few plastic shot glasses and go to the park with your friends to drink and meet others.  It is definitely the most Colombian thing you can do.
 Here in the park for students they have street art demonstrations.
 Beauitful statue, people making street art and wonderful reggae music and hip hop. 
 Cali is definitely most known for salsa music.  There were so many people at my hostel here to learn to dance salsa and go out to salsa clubs.  If that is your thing Cali is a must see.  If that is not your thing Cali is still a must see.  This park party had reggae, hip hop and ska punk.  The emcee kept reiterating that Cali is not just about Salsa but other musics too.  It is a stereotype that the culture pushers of the city are really trying to challenge.  When the ska punk went on there was a huge mosh pit and someone got knocked out and had to be taken away on a stretcher.  Very exciting!!!

Cali is a safe city.  I promised myself that I would not walk around alone at night on the streets and I broke that rule within the first five minutes.  Best thing I ever did.  Discovered a delicious Argentinian Asado restaurant where I had delicious vegetarian pizza.
Made some friends from Australia.  Canadians definitely have their beef with Australians a little bit.  Especially people in Banff that have seen their town over run by Australians.  But I have found some amazing Australian friends down here.  Left is Scotty and right is Jock.  Me and Jock travelled together down to Quito together.  Australia sounds like it has lots of hippy beach towns, you can make good money cause the minimum wage is eighteen dollars an hour.  The only downside is things are very expensive.  I definitely want to go to Australia to work some day.