Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘backpacker’

The Middle

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

I have reached the official halfway point of my trip. Sunday marked the 104th day since I left Portland and I have 103 more to go. It now feels short, the time has gone fast, I may need to act more with a sense of urgency, seize the day, grab the bull by the horns, paint the donkey, or just dance like I am not going to live this way forever. But, I will probably just lay on the beach some more.

My second half began about 2 hours south of Manta, in Peurto Lopez, a small town full of fishermen and tour operaters. I was quickly greeted with offers for cheap hostals and sightseeing trips. Humoring one lady just to practice my Spanish, while turning down every hostal she showed me. I finally found an empty dorm room for $6 and was satisfied.

The sole purpose of my visit was for a trip to the National Park island known as “Isla de la Plata” and the accompanying whale watching. I am lucky enough to be here during the migrating season, and couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Humpbacks up close. If anyone is reading this with plans on venturing down here, the prices displayed as “official set tour price” are still negociable. I think all places will take $5 off thanks to the beauty of competition.

Sunday was the day, cloudy but not raining, I waited on the beach with the 14 other tourists for our boat. We ran late the whole day, with engine problems from the start. The Isla is about 40 km NW of the town and conveinantly, many whales migrate through this stretch of water.

After about an hour, we spotted our first giant mammal. The boat slowed so we could join the other gawkers, and the whales jumped through the air, posing for photos. It is pretty amazing, they seem to be showing off, flapping their fins, splashing the water, doing twists in the air.

The first shot I got turned out to be the best.

The first shot I got turned out to be the best.

After about 20 minutes, they went back down to the depths and we continued our journey to the Isla. A quick snorkeling stop along the shore had decent fish but it was cold. Then we hiked around the desert island, full of cactus and dry/dead plants. More importantly, it has “Boobies” of the red and blue footed variety.

Blue-footed Boobies

Blue-footed Boobies

I loved the landscape and enjoyed the walk, despite the constraints of group travel. Due to our late start, the guide had to keep pushing the stragglers and French picture takers who snapped 20 shots of every twig. My camera continued to give me fits, refusing to retract and not allowing me to zoom, but I got the photos I wanted.

On the boat ride back, we got some closer views of the hefty aquatic acrobats and I set my camera on continuous. In hindsight, with my budget I probably would have been good with just a whale watching tour for half the price. Mostly because you would get more time to see them play, which is the highlight of the trip.

Do they really do this when no one is looking?

Do they really do this when no one is looking?

Monday: I rolled down an hour south, to a popular surf town that I knew I would probably despise. Between dirt road fishing villages, Montanita has roads paved with colored brick. The sidewalks are clean, the hostals are abundant, and the businesses all have clever names like Wipeout or Big Kahuna. But, it is not as bad as I intially thought.

I feared that all food and internet would be expensive, I feared that the beach would be too crowded, and I feared that all the locals would annoyingly try to sell me stuff. But that is not really the case. On the same block as my $5 hostal, a lady serves up hearty $1.50 dinners and I can get a bowl of Encebollada (a fish stew) for 1.50, as well. The beach is gigantic, so I feel safe leaving my bag on the shore. And the people are all very laid back and not pushy. I can deal with a tourist heavy town, as long as I don’t have to eat the $5 meals in the theme restaurants.

the beach

the beach

That being said, 2 days is enough, and I plan is to be in south central Ecuador by Wednesday night. I have not seen the sun in 4 days and rain seems to be a nightly occurrence. Plus, I appear to be allergic to something in the beach air. The past 5 times I have spent an hour or so on the sand, I have had minor breakouts of hives. This is nothing new to me, but the location and timing are odd.

Next stop: Cuenca, Ecuador’s 3rd largest city and arguably it’s prettiest. I should be back among people I have more in common with. I feel a little too normal down here among the hippie surfers, or… am I the weird one? Un poco de algo para que usted pueda reflexionar sobre hasta la próxima vez.

Electioneering

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Mockus para Presidente! Pledging to change politics-as-usual, bring transperancy to the office, and continue to stand firmly on his pro-environment platform. It is Election Day down here in Colombia, and they have their own multi-ethnic, internet savvy candidate who is firing up the younger generation via Facebook. Representing the Green Party, Antanas Mockus seems set to unseat the current administration and their chosen successor, Juan Manuel Santos.

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Mockus is giving you the thumb

Many Colombian’s believe they are ready for a government which does more than just quell gorilla attacks. Though, I personally would like to thank their current leader for making this beautiful country very safe for travel. For me at the moment though, it all adds up to being stuck in Popayan with sites already seen. Thus, I would like to share the following message with you, my constituents.

Next time you get the urge to travel, make Colombia one of your candidates. I am not yet giving it my full endorsement, but do believe it is worth a look. For example, it’s well preserved colonial neighborhoods that are fun to stroll around in. Like Cali’s San Antonio district and Popayan’s Centro, which are filled with white walls and red roofs. Something about these areas just feels safe and peaceful. You can wander aimlessly, looking at churches and museums.

Streets of Popayan

Streets of Popayan

Every city also seems to have a hill, topped with a shrine or monument, allowing panaramic views. In Cali it is called “Cerro De Las Tres Cruces”, a steep, 1+ hour climb to three large white crosses, communication towers, and some weightlifting equipment. An interesting site to see, with a number of exercise buffs who seem to make the trek on a regular basis. Decent views at the top, better on the alternate way down.

Last night, it was “El Morro de Tulcan” in Popayan, a grassy knoll providing great views of the old town and sunset.

Top ó Hill

Top ó Hill

That pretty much sums up my last 2 cities, walking around the old towns and checking out every accessible vista. In Cali, I stayed in a dorm at the biggest hostel in town and got to witness the true Lonely Planet backpacker crowd. My Aussie roomates had an interesting sleep schedule, grabbing supper at 11 pm and heading out to the clubs at 1 am, a routine I was not able to follow. The next night, the election weekend “no party” period began, and I watched the Celtics/Magic game with some guys from a New Mexico.

Today in Popayan: I got to sleep in, my laundry is drying, plus I enjoyed some of the finest empanadas so far, which came with a spicy avocado sauce.

Mañana: The plan is to catch a bus to Tierradentro, a collection of ruins and tombs surrounded by stunning scenery. Five hours off the main hwy down to Ecuador, the area contains a few sites to see, like San Agustin and some small desert place. Thus, I may be out there for a while and am unsure if it’s wired. Feliz Día de la Recordación

E = 35