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My New Family

July, August, September in Ecuador

albano, Huancayo (Peru), November 1999

There is not much movement on the Ecuadorian side of the bridge crossing the border river. People and buses are lazily hanging about. Lots of obstacles can be found right on the roadway towards the south: nails, rubble, boughs, entire trees even. The next increase is a roadblock with a burning car body. I bypass it via the adjacent mound, acclaimed by the nearby crowd. I am told, that the government is about to clap more taxes on the gasoline. Two days ago, the population started protests paralysing the traffic.

Fortunately, there is still enough food in my backpack. And it is much more relaxing to move without cars and trucks whizzing around me. On Wednesday, I reach Ibarra after some work on a broken screw of my rear rack. The next day, I want to arrive in the capital, but nature has installed a nice little pass and two deep canyons between Ibarra and there. What is more, the founders of Quito opted for a place on nearly 3000 meters above sea level. So, some caustic uphills are to be overwhelmed. And the city is fairly big. I reach its limits with sunset. Some two hours later only, I finally arrive in the centre.

On Friday, I find Katja, a school-friend of mine. We have not seen each other for years. The next morning, Katja's parents arrive at the airport. They bring me the most important things from Switzerland: chocolate and my new credit card. There is not much public transport running due to the strike, but somehow we organize all the necessary movements. On Sunday, July 11, the four of us take off for the Galapagos, far off the Ecuadorian coast. We are going to travel between the islands for one week, a unique, but expensive undertaking. We pay around 1'000 US-dollars for both the flight and the cruise. And on arrival, the authorities collect 100 dollars more as an entrance fee. They prefer cash, but finally, they content themselves with my travellers cheques.

Our boat is called San Juan. Its crew consists of five members. We are eleven passengers, most of them Swiss. The tiny kitchen is producing food in abundance, and some people never finish their plate, maybe for the slow rocketing of the vessel. So, I easily get the double helping I need, and the people get a topic for their jokes.

The first days, we move between the islands of Santa Cruz, Santiago and Isabela, and, of course, we also go ashore. The vegation on the volcanic underground is generally poor, al least on sea level, but wildlife is amazingly prosperous. On Monday, we discover two funny little penguins. We also go for a walk on a beach full of sea lions and iguanas lying in the sun. And there are plenty of red crabs stalking through the reefs. Even more amazing is the fearlessness of the animals. You easily could, but you may not touch them. And you may, among other rules, not trespass the lines indicated by little black-and-white plugs. So you either have some tiny flamingoes on your picture or you drag heavy tele lenses around with you.

On Tuesday, we enter Puerto Ayora, a sleepy little place living from tourism, where we see Darwin finches and the Darwin research station, a refuge for the endangered giant tortoises. It is hot in the sun. Still, one of them does some strenous walking for us. Before we leave the port, there are some new guests and a new guide boarding our ship. The guide is more relaxed than his predecessor and he likes improvisation. On Floreana, he makes us balance on a log sticking in the sand. No doubt, we visit the famous mail tun on the same island. It was no joke. On Friday, we really land on Española without breakfast. We are still not early enough and find ourselves in the thick of the regular crowd molesting the boobies and albatrosses, which are, in places, nesting right on the pathway.

Every day, we have some time for observing the amazing underwater world with snorkel masks. And even when the boat is running, boredom is seldom. The crew catches tunas and allures frigatebirds. Once, a shoal of dolphins is crossing our way. Our guide's good humor is imperturbable. When Katja and I want to go for a swim around the boat late on our last evening, he gets up again, without grumbling, to watch us.

On Tuesday, July 20, after two nights in Quito, we fly to Coca on the rim of the hot and humid Amazon Basin for the next excursion. The weater is corresponding. Several heavy downpours accompany us, when we drive down the Napo River with a group of about 20 persons. Through a calm tributary, we reach the lagoon of Pañacocha and the lodge of the same name. It consists of several detached wooden huts, on stakes, to keep off all sorts of beasts. There is also a lookout tower built around one of these giant jungle trees. When it is getting dusk, the background noise is changing, the biting insects get more aggressive and we light candles.

On Wendnesday and Thursday, we make several guided outings by boat and on foot. We see many animals, among them a baby anaconda hiding within some branches and a colony of big an dangerous Congo ants. We don't really meet the pirañas in the muddy water. But we go for a swim with them and we let them steal our meet from the hooks without fishing any of them. We also learn a lot about plants and their application. Quite an adventure for urban people is the traverse of a nearby swamp. Some of us get theis rubber boots filled. Instead of taking the plane back from Coca, we opt for a long and bumpy bus journey and a relaxing stopover in the thermal baths of Papallacta. Then, I am staying alone in Quito for a few days, but am rejoining my host family for another trip.

On Friday, July 30, we take a bus to Otavalo, north of the capital. Today and the next day, we saunter through the extensive markets. The most important business are the local handicrafts: pullovers, table-cloths, bags and much more, never to be bought without bargaining. There is even more bustle at the early animal market on Saturday, where the smells of grilled pork and dung mix. On Sunday, we finally tour the surrounding villages to see the people spin and weave, but we all behave pretty clumsily, when we try to operate the looms.

The next days, I have to say good-bye to my friends. Katja's parents fly back home, whereas she goes on to the south of the country. I am planning to go the same way - but by bike again. And it is not ready yet. Some broken spokes on the back wheel have to be changed, the saddle needs a new coating, and washing and grasing does no damage. In the mean time, one can often find me in the internet cafés in the new city, where tourists congregate. Standards and costs are generally a little higher here, but competition between the numerous places offering connection to the web keeps their prices low; around one US-dollar per hour. Here, you also find the service net2phone, recently being introduced, a phone call via internet for a fraction of the price of a long-distance call.

Before my vehicle is ready, I meet a fascinating human being, so fascinating, that I decide to stay with this person for a few days. One evening, when we are strolling in the streets of the city, there are some dubious young man walking up to us. One of them grasps my pullover, asks me to hand over my money and in the same second, sprays a big portion of tear-gas into my face. A strong kick into his belly shows him, that his plans are not easily realized, and he draws back, together wich his companions. But my friend has lost a jacket in the assault, and I can't open my eyes for quite a while. Even the next morning, I can still feel the remnants of the spray.

My latest acquaintance has its seamy side, so leave-taking is not too difficult for me. On Tuesday, August 24, I finally swing myself on my heavily loaded bike, again, and leave Quito. The first two days are easy, but then, some sturdy mountains are showing up once more. Rain is frequent and the fog smoke-screening me one day is no surprise. The people living in the region I pass, are more reserved than others I have met before, but I am still invited for a coffee, when I camp next to a farmhouse. It is not easy to reach the chosen hotel, when I arrive in Cuenca on Sunday. Il looks like half of the city's streets are actually being repaired. Except for that, it is a nice place.

I just stay one day, because the sixty days I am granted in Ecudor are approaching their end. I choose the more difficult but outstandingly scenic route throgh Loja, still overwhelming tremendous differences of altitude. I pass my second last night in the country in a little village, where an old man drags me to his wife's public kitchen, which other people, according to their signs, appearently don't approve. The last night, the customs officer of the checkpoint about 40 kilometers from the border gives me a stay. On Saturday, September 4, my last legal day in the country, I reach the border town of Macará through a stretch only being paved these days. The crowds on the city limits are not really waiting for me, but for a car race across the border. I transform my last sucres coins into food and enter Peru for new discoveries.

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© 11-15-1999 albano & team