Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘Empanada’

Mr. November

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Even though my trip is entering it’s last week, I am not going to just set the cruise control, there is more adventure to be had.

My time in Mancora was spent laying on the beach, watching the World Series, and eating fruit. Only my last day there provided clear sunny skies and sunburn, otherwise it was a little too cold to swim and a little too windy to read. One positive was the beach roaming Empanada guy who was willing to cut his price in half, allowing me to pad my count. I also seemed to be there over a holiday weekend, with more Peruvians than Gringos on the sand and souvenir shops in full bloom everyday.

Now to the adventurous part: The prices for direct buses north into Ecuador were all very high. Thus I opted to cross the border with local transport and buy my long distance ticket in-country. The first leg was easy enough, a mini-van 2 hrs up to Tumbes for half the price of a bus. Upon arrival, a man poked his head in and promised a $5 bus ride up to Guayaquil. I ignorantly jumped at the chance and ignored the mild warning from a friendly local in my van. He said it was “dangerous”, and that word would become a common theme from strangers. Partly because this main border crossing on the Panamericana has been deemed the worst in South America.

So, I hopped into an unmarked car with the seller and a driver. Light conversation is shared and he tells me that there will be a strike this afternoon at the border, shutting buses down, and that I needed to get one right away. We roll by a bus office and he yells out the window to a guy, asking if buses are running, and the man apparently says no. They continue to drive me through town, telling me that now my best option is for them to drive me across the border and arrange transport there, for $35. I laugh, tell them I only have 20 soles on me ($7), and flex the fact that I know more about the Ecuadorian bus system than they do. I ask them to stop and let me out, but again the words “muy peligroso” (very dangerous) are uttered as we are now a few kms outside of the center. They drive me back to the main plaza and I reluctantly pay them 5 soles. Mostly just glad to be out of the car and consider it a stupidity tax on myself. I should know better than to jump into an unmarked vehicle based on false promises, when I could have easily strolled the bus offices myself and gotten the same “deal”. I figure the whole thing was a scam, reading web forums, people have often had to pay in excess of $30 just to get out of those situations, I feel somewhat lucky. Plus, it was fun to have an argument in Spanish.

After the brief ordeal, I walked across the street from where the guys dropped me and immediately was waved over by a mini-van loading up people for the last 30 minute stretch to the border. The public transport I should have looked for in the beginning and the type the shyster said didn’t exist. The van dropped me at the Peruvian migration office, where I was immediately met by a mototaxi driver asking for my passport and holding forms. I used my supreme intellect to decipher that he was not official and that exit stamp formalities normally aren’t handled by a man wearing Jordache jeans.

A simple stamp in my passport by a man in uniform, and now the mototaxi guys wanted to drive me the last 1.5 kms to the actual line in the sand. I said I preferred a mini-van, and again heard the words “muy peligroso”, which caused me to chuckle. I ended up walking the remainder, feeling very safe at mid-day. It felt good to get into a bustling market area at the border, and to be back in Ecuador. I found the bus stations in Huaquillas and joyfully saw a direct bus to my next destination, Otavalo (15 hrs north and 3 hrs south of Colombia). I purchased passage for 4 pm, figuring that 3 hrs would be plenty of time to walk to the Ecuadorian immigration office and take care of business.

For some reason, passport formalities are handled 3 km north of town, and I walked. A brief wait for buses to handle their business, and then I handed the man my documents. He looked over them, said some things, let his stamp sit idle, handed them back, and then waved me to some other place. I didn’t understand, and went over and asked another guy to look at my stuff. The problem was then presented to me: When I left Ecuador back on August 11th, at the remote border crossing in La Bolsa, they didn’t put my exit in the system. Plus, the stamp mark was blurred and date hand written. Apparently this was a problem. Now 1.4 hrs until my bus leaves town, I approached a 3rd man who told me 20 minutes.

Sitting, waiting, nervous. After the time elapsed, I again presented my case. They got another man, who went in search of a 5th man to help. This man seemed to be “The Man”. Listening to him talk to the others leads me to believe that this wasn’t really that serious of an issue and that the others just wanted to pout. Probably upset with the other offices error and now wondering why they had to clean it up. Either that, or they were waiting for me to bribe them.

The 5th man had me make copies of my passport and then I waited some more, while the man drafted a letter or stared at a computer for another 30 min. Time was running out. I checked my clock often, the time to pickup my stored bag had come and gone and departure was now 5 minutes away. This was the first time all trip that I had reverted to work mode, operating on little sleep and food, my stress level rose. I quickly went over my options: Could I make it through the country without any stamps? Are there checkpoints on my way to Colombia? Could I just get off in Quito and go to the Embassy for help? How bad could Ecuadorian prison be?

With little time to get back to Bogota, I called the bus company, somehow communicated in Spanish, requested that they throw my “grande azul mochila” on the bus, and pick me up on their way north. It worked. Five minutes later I got my completed passport back, and 5 minutes after that the bus rolls up and I jump in. My window seat was double booked, but I didn’t really care. On the ride, I had a prime view of the widescreen TV and they showed a relatively entertaining movie with Robert DeNiro, Stephen Seagal, and Lindsay Lohan. A dynamic trio that aroused the most emotion from a bus I have seen all trip.

Now in Otavalo, I plan to take it easy for another 4 days, before 1 more long bus ride to Bogota. I hope this last leg is a little less adventurous, but you never know. That stretch of highway in southern Colombia is known for frequent bus hijackings at night. Podría ser una buena manera de obtener una descarga de adrenalina.

E = 180

Piece O’ Peace

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

It has been a while since my last post, but I will try to do a quick recap of the last week and a half. Beginning in Bolivia’s capital:

La Paz: The city seems more real than any other large city I have been to. Sure it has a tourist street or 2, but mostly you are surrounded by stalls selling everyday home products and locals doing normal things. I think it helps that Bolivia has the largest indigenous population of any South American country (60%). You arrive via the flat altiplano (high plain) and then drop into the valley, an amazing setting 3,500 meters above sea level. Though the combination of steep streets and elevation wore me out, I was energized by the new sights and smells.

It is every bit as cheap as I thought it would be. I found a nice dirty hostal for 20 bolivianos ($2.85) per night, a carne empanada (with an amazing assortment of sauces and coleslaw like toppings to choose from) is only 1.5 bs ($.21), set lunches for 7 bs ($1), and internet is a wonderful 2 bs ($.29) per hour. I made longer lasting purchases as well: a new beanie and some water purification pills. (I should have bought pills at the beginning of my trip but didn’t really think about it until I met Zed who uses them. I could have saved a lot of money. Now I have way more than I will use, so if anyone needs any, i’ve got some.) There also seems to be a festival everyday and I have become immune to the sound of marching bands.

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

Sunday, Sept 12th, was a very festive day

But, as with all big cities, 4 days was enough and I had to get out of town. The constant weaving through traffic (human and motorized) gets to me, as well as the temptation of casinos. So, last Tuesday I headed north to Lake Titicaca, searching for some peace.

Copacabana: On the southern shore of the lake, the city is the main jump-off point for trips to Isla del Sol. Filled with travel agencies and trendy cafes that are easy to avoid, plus hostals are everywhere and cheap, I had found a place to rest. This time my $2.84/night accommodations were very clean and included a rooftop terrace with great views. The market served lake trout and some delightful carne variations, plus there were street stalls providing dinner and snacks. I spent 2 nights there, studying Spanish and taking pictures of sunsets, before loading up 2 days worth of stuff into a day pack and catching a boat to “Sun Island”.

Cha’llapampa: On the northern part of the island, Cha is the traditional starting spot for day hikes along the spine. I chose to book a cheap hostal in the village, drop some things off, and then hiked around trying to avoid the tour groups. I explored the northern section only all day (due to an odd ticket system), under perfectly clear skies that burn your skin and make your ears cold at the same time. I love the freedom to sit at the top of a vista and just stare at the water. The area has a few important Inca ruins as well, as it is considered the birthplace of the Sun.

hiking

hiking

I found some reasonably priced sandwiches in town for dinner and the next day woke up early to check out the southern sector.

Yumani: After hiking along the coast and purchasing another ticket, I arrived in the biggest village on the Isla. Set on a ridge and containing more than 1 road, I was happy to find yet another room for $2.85/night. The views were amazing and I wonder if there is any place in the world with better scenery for the price.

getting my $2.85 worth

getting my $2.85 worth

That day I hit the southern trails (or at least I thought) and checked out a ridge on the western side that gets very few visitors. Then made my way straight down some agricultural terracing, along a quiet bay, en-route back to town. I did, unfortunately, let my camera drop a few times while setting up self portraits. It still works fine, it is just missing a small unimportant piece. That is why I don’t own nice things.

Heading back into town, the only bad part of Isla del Sol came to the surface. They have a confusing and somewhat corrupt ticket system. When I passed under the sign saying “5 bs to enter” before, there was no one there and I freely walked. This time, a man asked for my ticket to enter the southern sector, I showed him the ticket I had bought earlier in the day, but it was no good.

Let me try to quickly explain: Apparently they have 3 tickets; one for the far north (I bought that the day before for 10 bs), one for the grande north (about 2/3 of the island, which it turns out I purchased this day for 15bs), and one for the south (5 bs). The ticket takers who sold me the grande, tried not to give me any change or a ticket but I requested both nicely. They probably thought they were making me pay for the north as I was entering the south, thus I was stupid and wouldn’t need any paper. But I returned and fully utilized the space. Later, I was even warned by a Spanish guy I had met the day before, who said that he was going to call the tourist police on the same gate keepers because they tried to make him pay extra.

With that all said, back in the present, I am confronted with a man wanting money to enter the village where I already had a hostal. I decided to lie and say that all of my money was in my room and that I had already passed this gate 2 times today without issue. After some time of looking lost and confused, I considered hiking back a ways and then around the gate, but the man finally let me pass. Do I feel bad about lying to an old man just to get out of paying $.71? … Nope. I feel that I already overpaid with 2 north tickets and that their system has flaws. I am fine with paying to hike around their paradise to see ruins, the trail is very well maintained, I just feel they should have a 1 or even 2 ticket system and explain it better to tourists. The current system forces the more common day trippers pay 3 times for a total of 30 bs ($4.29). Sorry for going off on a rant.

The day ended with a cool sunset and some lake trout for dinner. Early in the morning, I saw the sun rise over the mountains from my hostal and caught a boat back to Copacabana, where I could finally change clothes.

Copacabana: Two more nights were spent there, drinking coca tea and getting my fill from the market. Notably the peanut soup, that I wish was a little more nutty, and a malt and meringue foam shake that was surprisingly delicious. I spent 71 cents more a night to upgrade to a room with TV for possible football watching, with the only game shown being the Sunday night game. It was good to do nothing for a while in comfort and catch a few sitcoms and movies. Also, I got a chance to play a keyboard they had in the lobby and satisfy an itch. The only negative of the city is that internet is 8-10 bs/hr, or else I would move here and make a home. Monday morning I caught a kids parade before hopping on a bus heading south.

La Paz: Back in the big city, my internet needs are being met I am checking out a few museums I missed before. Tomorrow, I head farther south, feeling the need to keep rolling and to fulfill the last of my tourist duties.

I feel the end is near and that planning is more important than ever. The only real goal I have left is to fully explore “Salar de Uyuni”, the largest salt flat in the world. Then it will most likely be a series of buses taking me back to Bogota (Flights are $490 and bus tickets would total about $150). Each day I think more and more about my return, but hope I haven’t mentally reached my end. I like to believe I could travel longer, like many I have met, but also think that maybe they aren’t as close to their family and friends as I. Or maybe they are just more social on the road and that satisfies their need for companionship. Either way, in a little over 7 weeks, I will be home. Hasta pronto!

E = 133

The Captive Mind

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010

I arrived in Manta on Thursday, getting my feet in salt water for the first time in over 2 months. The familiar Pacific Ocean littered with fishing vessels was just 4 blocks from my dirt cheap hostal. Few people actually swim at Tarqui beach, on the working class side of town. It’s mostly used for the fish market, traditional boat building, and driving on the sand to cheap seafood restaurants.

Better than my proximity to the beach, was living near the epicenter of the town’s market action. Early every morning, I could just look out my window and see the usual stands setting up and buses rolling by. All very real and non-touristy. During my 4 days staying in that section of town, I saw 1 gringo.

Bonus: That first night, I sampled empanadas from 3 different carts. Each one was 30 cents a piece, cooked in a pot filled with oil, and served with a garlic mayo condiment.

Friday: I walked 30 minutes across town, to the main beach “Playa Murciélago”. Very wide, flat, and crowded in the center. Low tide in the early afternoon results in a near 40 meter gap from water to soft sand. So, I sat on the wet matted down stuff, hoping for sun breaks and occasionally frolicking in the waves.

Saturday: I finally got to the purpose of my visit to Manta, checking out the Spanish school. The original plan was to do that Friday, but did not previously obtain the address. So, with coordinates in hand, I walked in search of “Academia Surpacifico”.

Up the hill, in a nice neighborhood, and at the intersection of 2 busy streets, it is close to things. I rang the bell of the office building and was greeted by a man crashing in the 4 bedroom student apartment on the 4th floor. The school is on the 3rd floor making for an easy commute, plus there is Wifi, ocean views (12 blocks away), and access to the rooftop patio. The fully furnished apartment with kitchen was one of my main selling points, and it was better than expected.

With no staff around due to it being the weekend, I just gathered info and planned to call Monday morning. Then walked downhill to the beach to waste the day away. With a grande cerveza in hand, I sat on a small dune, keeping a safe distance from the surrounding lip-locked couples.

sitting on the soft stuff

sitting on the soft stuff

Sunday: I strolled down to the fishing beach. Normally an early morning show, I was lucky to see a small boat unloading it’s catch, one crate at a time. That alone is interesting, but add in about 100 hungry osprey and sea gulls, and you got yourself an amazing sight. The men shuttling between the boat and dump truck have sticks but never use them. They seem to acknowledge the symbiotic relationship they have with the sea birds or are just tired from years of trying to fight back.

the operation

the operation

The fish are mostly small, but often a bird grabs a large one and is unable to hold on while being chased by friends. These fish fall to the sand, are picked up, and then dropped again multiple times. Before one of them shows he has the chops to swallow the meal. I, along with a few Ecuadorian families, was highly entertained and took numerous photos.

a pick up

a pick up

Breaking my attention from the fish mongers, was a religeous service taking place a little farther down the sand. They began to march my direction, before turning toward the water and getting wet. Not all worshipers joined, it was mostly just a crew carrying elaboratly dressed manequins on wooden platforms. They ventured out to waist height, then walked back the other way, parralleling the beach.

interesting church service

interesting church service

All the while, the sand standers walked with them and sang “Alabare”. There was also splashing involved, but I’m uncertain if it was meant to douse the manequins or the holders.

Monday: Made a phone call and arranged to start class on Tuesday. Settled in to my new lodgings and went grocery shopping. Buying for only a few days was difficult but still fun. (I can only sleep here for 6 nights because it is fully booked for next week.) I made a chorizo and potato chowder that should last me a few days. If I get bored over the next couple days, I may do a food post with recipe.

Other food purchases: I plan to make a spaghetti with chorizo later and daily cereal with bananas (no chorizo). I can’t satisfy all of my cooking desires in the short time frame, but this menu should help me pack on a few pounds.

About school: Plan is to do 4 hrs a day of 1-on-1 for 2 weeks. 6 days in apartment, then either hotel or homestay. Currently have one roomate, a female from Philly, who is studying medical Spanish.

Tuesday: Class from 8:30 am to 12:30, with break and free milkshake. Teacher is a female who doesn’t speak English and is with child. Very kind and patient but tough to fully understand all vocabulary by way of drawn definitions. I began learning masculine and femanine forms of stuff and proper use of “el”, “la”, “los”, and “las”. Also did plural forms. I am hoping I can get her to devote a day to casino lingo.

Right now: The weather is comfortable, but not ideal for swimming. I am content with lying on the couch, listening to Beethoven, and punching keys on my Ipod. It’s as close to home as I will get for a while, free from the everyday stress of traveling. Hopefully, I come out of this break with a reenergized body and a bilingual tongue. Y yo pensaba que estaba demasiado fresco para la escuela.

E = 79

Don´t Drink The Water

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Checking in from Riohacha, a nice quiet city with a huge windy beach: I figured since I haven’t been doing all that much the past couple days, I would use this time to post about what I have been putting into my mouth. I touched on it a little last post and feel the need to elaborate. I apologize for the lack of pics, this computer doesn’t seem to like my camera. Let’s get started.

With my early physical exercise and now draining heat, liquids have been consumed in mass quantities. Agua, or water to you guys, is not as cheap as I would desire, thus I have been toying with the multiple ways it can be purchased. I began by buying the normal 600ml plastic bottles, that range from 75 cents to $1.25.  After seeing how fast I went through them I tried some other forms: 5 L jug which works for extended stays, 1.5 L bottle which is a little big for my day bag, and now the various sizes of water in a bag (similar to ice packs). The bag version is very cheap but must be transferred to a bottle to be portable. So, as you see, I have put a lot of thought into my agua consumption that I believe will help me throughout my entire trip.

Other liquids consumed are: The occasional cerveza (beer, cheapest styles are Aguila and Poker), Gatorade (a little expensive, but if you believe the ads, a necessary luxury), Jugos (fruit juices, such as lemonade or the rare smoothie con leche), and various flavors of soda (Orange is my favorite, I am similar to the Waponi in that way).

Now to the solid stuff: Trying to keep my costs down, I have sought out street food more often than a sitdown restaurante. The result has been a somewhat negative view of the food here in Colombia. While I still feel like the food in general here is below par, I have softened my stance a little over the past couple days. On Saturday in Santa Marta, I hit up a small place that was recommended by Lonely Planet. Serving only Ceviche, they do it extremely well. I orderd the 10 oz Combinado, which contained shrimp and other unknown fish, served in a white dixie cup with saltine crackers. I knew by the hord of locals sitting out front, silently spooning out the contents of their cups, that it would be good and it truly was. I walked mine down a block to the beach and sat there feeling ashamed for blasting this country’s cuisine without giving it a fair shot. In hindsight, the $5 cost of my dinner was worth it and now I will allow myself to indulge every now and then.

I have since sampled another ceviche stand and today sat down for an almuerzo ejecutivo (loosely, a set meal), which included some fish soup and a plate with chicken, rice, beans, and salad.  With the quality and availability of empanadas declining here on the coast, I see my palate expanding with hopefully positive results.

The fast/cheap foods that I have been putting down have mainly been of the fried variety. Empanadas, with my favorite being the pollo con arroz (chicken with rice), is still the favorite of the fast stuff.  Another one I enjoy is like a beef stew wrapped in a fried bread ball. Very hearty, with mashed potatoes and corn. An Arepa is the last of the fried stuff that I will acknowledge, it’s a flat corn tortilla like bread often filled with a fried egg, a good breakfast. I have sworn off the chorizo for a while, which normally was served with potatoes, due to some unenjoyable texture and suspect content.

Pizza has been tried twice, with last nights being quite good. A Hawaiian style that actually had a decent crust. They sell hamburgers a few places but I have yet to attempt since they are overpriced. Though I did try one hotdog wrapped in bread like a corndog, with positive results.  Overall, I guess I would say that I am mostly just disappointed with the quality of the cheap street food and that if you fork over a little more, you can get some decent grub.

Tomorrow, I hope to be in Cabo De La Vela and off the grid. You shant hear from me again until I am back in civilization. The small village runs on generators and has no WiFi hotspots.  The government convinced the Wayou people to set up tourist accommodations and to not kill gringos. Should be a good time.  Te veo en el otro lado

Stay (Wasting Time)

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

I am taking full advantge of not having time constraints. My 2 night stay here in San Gil has turned into 5.  After the initial downpour on my first night, the weather has been perfect. I have been able to do as much or as little as I want.

Thursday: I strolled through “El Parque Natural el Gallinera”. A beautiful, quiet park, set on triangle shaped land at a fork in the river. Lots of green stuff to look at, but the most impressive was the “Old Man´s Beard” that hangs from nearly all of the 1,800 trees. My favorite spot was near the massive tree seen in the photo below.

Parque el Gallineral

Parque el Gallineral

I sat there for over an hour, only seeing a gardener.  As I walked around the place, I saw my first Colombian snake (Brownish, small head,  about 1.2 meters long). Also saw a lizard on a rock near a creek. I approached in an attempt to capture his image in digital form, but he ran away on top of the water. Kinda cool.

After the park, I sampled the local treat called “Hormigas Culonas” or as we know them “Fat-bottom ants”. They are fried and actually quite tasty.  I took my snack up to a high place called “Cerra La Gruta”, where there is a shrine and great city/valley views. Plan is to head up there tonight for sunset.

I like to think he was praying

I like to think he was praying

Friday: A day trip to Barichara. Quaint, picturesque village sitting above a valley. I hiked the 2 hr cobblestone path down to an even smaller pueblo called Guane. Sometimes scared of the goats and cattle grazing unattended in my line. More desert like, dry and hot. Cactus around me and I drank lots of liquids. Feeling a bit parched the past couple days, when I got back into San Gil I purchased a 5 liter jug of water to keep in my room. Turned out to be a great money saver.

Saturday: Didn´t really do much. After lunch, I sat in the park for over 2 hours and read “Crime and Punishment” while the locals did what it is that they do. I was able to get through the crime part of the book, but I am not as much of a fan of punishment, so we shall see how it goes.  That was my cheapest day so far, totaling about $14.62 USA money.

I have been consuming a good amount of Empanadas, due to the price and portability. The varieties have been: Chicken and rice, beef and egg, or chicken rice and egg. At first, I was ashamed of taking the easy way out so often but now I plan on embracing it and putting my empanadas out there for everyone to see. New to Micah:Unmitigated, “The Empanada Count“.

Empanada

Empanada

I am not sure yet how I will display it (H1, any suggestions?), but for now I will just say: E = 14. I think that 200 is a reasonable goal for the trip, with 300 even within reach. I know you all will be glued to your computer, mobile device, or Ipad.

Mañana, I will most likely be leaving this place via a 13 hour bus ride to the Caribbean coast. I think I am ready. Soon, I hope to purchase a Spanish/English dictionary so that I may study up. Watching episodes of “Jersey Shore” with Spanish subtitles, doesn´t seem like the best way to learn. But at least now I know how to ask for hair gel. La playa está a la espera

All Is Well

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The journey here was a little painful. 17 hours in the Atlanta airport was just a bit too much. With the long layover, they gave me my bag back, thus I had to tote it around the waiting area for 11 hours until they would take it back. I was entertained by the end of the Lakers/Thunder game but the police cruising through to raze the bums out was disturbing. I was able to find some soft chairs to relax in, but no real sleep was had.

I made it into Bogota around 9pm Wednesday and the taxi was able to find my hostel. The only problem I have with me casa is the locks. My keychain has 4 keys on it: 1 for the room, 2 for the front door which need to be used in combination with your foot to open,  and 1 for the padlocked door inbetween the entrance and my room. Other than that, the room is big, nice, and quiet.

After sleeping most of Thursday away, I made it to the Plaza de Bolivar and surrounding attractions. 3 empanadas for dinner and a quick, unlucky stop at one of the small casinos. Friday: took the lift up to Monserrate peak with great views of the city below and a church.

Bogota from on high

Bogota from on high

I came down and checked out the Museo Botero and it´s interesting collection of art based on people and things of the inflated variety.

Happy Couple

Happy Couple

While wandering around, I discovered a ceremony of some sort, complete with marching band, military drills, and flag folding. I was entertained and at it´s conclusion I walked down a main street which was now occupied by performers, hawkers, and carni types. Most of you know how I feel about carnis, so no need to say that I walked at a brisk pace.

So far so good. I am starting to get back into the rythum of travel and feel more comfortable every hour. Only issues so far, the lack of English spoken and the complexity of the prices. The exchange rate is currently 1,840 = US$1. So when I ask them “How much (cuanto)?” I get a reply in the thousands, which is tougher to understand. I´ll get it but it will take some time. I just hand them a wad of bills and trust that they are giving me back what they should.

Tomorrow, I leave the big city by bus and head NE to the mountains. I will spend Saturday night in either Villa de Leyva or Tunja, for those of you playing the home version of my game.  Adios