Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Adventures in Rainbowland

CUY -- Guinea Pig, the Andean specialty.  Gross, I tried it after screeching to a hault to try it, and regreted this extremely expensive delicacy.
Using hand drawn maps, I run shuttles through ancient cultures, closed roads, no roads, creeks, hell and high water to reach these haciendas.
They're always good days.  Especially in Coptopaxi National Park.
Llamas and alpacas are common in these parts, yet they still surprise me every time.  I can't quite explain how their necks move.  The babies look like stuffed animals.
Cotopaxi, looming
Rainbows hover everywhere around here, literally laying around.
Out of all the ugly scenery, every once and a while you can find a treasure.
Cotopaxi, not always showing himself, lies in waiting to destroy a huge part of Ecuador. Its the 3rd tallest active volcano in the world.  A glacier sleeps on top of this almost 20,000ft active volcano.  It has an extremely violent eruption which is due at anytime.  When it goes it sends everything from ash, lava, and rocks to the kicker, a tidal wave of melted snow and glacier that can reach the ocean.
The Chagras

Never Let Down Your Guard

Five janky lightbulbs, naked and dimly shining, lit the church.  A barren concrete room with plastic chairs in the middle and a small wooden bench running along the side walls give us a seat.  The concrete stage lifts up the desk that looks like a lawyer’s from the 70’s that has been left in a rock tumbler.  I wonder if it has drawers. 

Even purposefully late to this forced community meeting, German (Herman) and I have to wait for the rest to file in.  I nestle in next to the only other person who was under 45 years old that's not a baby wrapped in mamma's poncho, and we have a nice chat through the roll call of every residence in San Alfonso.  I almost miss the name I am representing since alphabetical order got disregarded somewhere after the C’s.  Everyone laughed when I raised my hand as the administrators glared.  Out of respect, my new friend and I stop talking to succumb to the boredom of a monotone drone of numbers and this and that’s that I have a hard time understanding through the choppy language that bounces off the bleak and barren room. 

I look at the luminating 5 bulbs, the wool fedoras, the sleepers, and the 4 birds that dart around from time to time.  A few dogs sneak in and give me a few seconds of relief.  The bare room with the small president and his assistant at the big desk remain as my mind dims into the cold, and the patience that is serenaded by the falling rain through the black night shines in through the windows, which every once and a while are opened so someone can smoke a cigarette.  After a while, cracking the window doesn’t matter and the smoke mingles with the smell of alcohol breath in the room I am now back in, still. 

I hand my scarf to a cute shivering old lady.  She smiles and wraps it around her legs, letting it slide around her feet and drag the floor.  The lady next to her, at times, unconsciously steps on my precious scarf that I daily wrap my face in.  After the meeting, she unwraps her legs and walks out.  German and I chased her down the street through the dark, cold rain.      

Thursday, August 11, 2011

All in a Days Work

The Ecuadorian Sledge (far different from the Knoxvillian one).  Cold and foggy early mornings.  Bringing the steaming coffee to my lips and pulling on the sweater, I walk out to gather the horses.  Time to saddle up for a day of exercise.

The the equatorial sun burns off the fog as we climb and climb.

Sally's boyfriend, David, joins us.  He owns one of the most happening clubs in Quito, the" Bungalow".  He is an ex British Secret Service agent and rugby player.  He too, is great.
We all long for the wide open spaces.  RUN!
German ("Herman")
A steep climb prepares the spirit like the click click clicking of the first hill on a roller coaster.
Mona Rubio's shit-eating grin
Reaching the top
Cresting the top, we all felt it, especially the horses...we all took off running with the loose horses that were up there and just as excited to see us.  We darted in every direction letting it out giving chase to the wind that blasted over the top of the pass.

After that we took a nice break.
Cesar found his chaps.
Running a GPS so I can make maps, a video camera, regular camera, leading a horse and riding one proves to be a hell of a multitask, but I handle it.

Relief was in the air after the peak run and break.  It was all down hill from here.
A case of the Mondays

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Triumphant Disaster

My days off were a triumphant disaster.  Stunning rides through nowhere Quichua valleys of dirt descents.  Days later, popping out into civilization, I made it to Machachi’s Chagra Festival.  I rolled into a parade of dancing horses carrying their drunken, poncho, fuzzy chap clad riders through the masses of people that turn up for this annual event. Within an hour I was best friends with an family of Ecuadorians passing the beer cup around and around as we worked our way through cases of beers, literally one cup at a time, like a drunken mate session. 

Working my way through a dancing crowd, from under my leather jacket, sweater, and scarf, my camera was silently taken from my front jeans pocket.  Within a split second, all my memories from my meanderings in South America were gone, stolen with a cold heart and a slippery hand.  With great skill, this thief violated my soul and has left me feeling naked and misunderstood as I roam this country in the depths of its green valleys, tricky languages, and mixed cultures.  Without my little friend who translates my weak words into colourful reality, I ran my butt off in attempts to keep living, from the bulls that is…

Dust clouds swirled, kicked up by the charging chagras chasing angered bulls with their long lassos twirling .  The bulls scraped their hooves and snorted their discontent through bloody noses; and with every right, attacked their provokers that hurled plastic bottles, insults and taunts at this trapped and surrounded beast.  They charged at almost all moving things and I flung myself onto the janky walls of the corral stadium that is held together by brittle strings, two levels of packed seating just waiting to collapse.  Reflecting, in a moment of early morning solitude, I crawled up into the top stands and watched the ghost of leftover energy swirl the trash around.  This windy ghost swayed the empty structure as if it were made of toothpicks.  Snapping back into reality, I jump to the wall to dodge a charge that plows inches from my raised feet, for now the game is the bulls against the deranged crowd and their matador capes, shirts, or whatever else they have to taunt the bulls into giving chase.  In attempts to devour the drunken fools getting too close, some bulls had their revenge as they bucked, stomped, and trampled those lacking the quick escape. 

All these moments are the things I so wish I could capture and give.  So many moments lost of chagra raised cust clouds, drunks stooped in the bulls’ ring, the myriads of people dangling from shadey bi-levelled stick stadiums, the dirt and cobbled roads of the Quilatoa Loop, the tiny villages, the natives pushing the blood out of a throat cut cow, the paintings on the walls, the herds of llamas in the tall waving grassy highland plains, the lake-filled volcano, the hike into the sandy canyon bottom, the sheep scurrying down the road, the moment of me surrounded by new friends in a perfect picture captured, and the twisting roads that wind and drop off through mountains and valleys that bring adventure and mystery to all those filled with the spirit of…

(I am borrowing a camera for now, so only a large handful of epic pictures are lost forever.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mi Casa -- Ride Andes

A couple of the boys...exercise.

Olivia, she showed me around the first day...then she left.
A tranquil corridor that connects the fields.
That´s my house.
That´s my house again, I spend a lot of time walking this corridor.
The house has 2 apartments.  A family of three are my close neighbors; in fact, they walk in without knocking.  This is Mariana and Tais (the cutest little girl on the planet).
Cristian, the husband / farm manager.
Mi Casa.
Don´t ask why i didn´t move the chairs out from in front of the fireplace before taking a picture.
The Tack Room / La Bodega
A shot from my back door.  The "little" white peak on the right is Cotopaxi, an almost 20,000ft active volcano with a glacier resting on top.  Its due to blow at any time, and when it does...
My favorite tool on the farm.
The backyard once you finally make it though the long corridor.  The view of Cotopaxi and the other peak would be furthur to the left.
Mariana and Tais, the prettiest girls in the entire country.
CHAGRA. (Ecuadorian Cowboy).  Cesar and his lasso.
Stephanie came back from a break to rescue me from the confusion.  She stayed for a week finishing up her stint as a Ride Andes volunteer and showing me what to do since there´s heaps of work.  This is her in her sweet plastic bag socks (she had a hole in her rubber boots). I had roommates for a week, since then, I've been living solo.
I live at 10,000ft.  Going up from my house it only gets higher and higher.  A lava flow clogs the river into several lakes.
Most of the highlands are vast open plains that are either rolling or incredibly steep.
Cesar and our horses during a 7 day tour coming to a rest at a nearby hacienda.
Sally, the owner of Ride Andes.  She´s always on the move, so this is about as good of a picture I´ll ever get.  She runs riding tours in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and Spain as well.  She's awesome.
Cesar always seems a little lost without his furry chaps.
Running the support truck around crazy places trying to meet up with a tour has its perks.  This day I got grabbed by the owner of the hacienda and shoved into a kitchen closet and fed. Beyond that, I'm usually extremely far out in the Ecuadorian boonies bouncing my head off the ceiling of the Land Rover hoping its doesn't break down while trying to get to places lost in time.
An old lava flow.
Stephanie on a ride on 2 wheels instead of 4 legs.  The equestrian helmet is a good style, and of course the chaps. 
A big gnarley section of this road was straight up from the road in the previous picture, rutty, rocky, and directly into the sun.  I could basically see nothing.  Going slowly, wrestling my way up this hill blind and with a passenger, I came to a hault.  I got off the bike and realized I had stopped just inches in front of 2 horses I never saw. 
This is in my backyard.