Micah: Unmitigated

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Posts Tagged ‘International Travel’

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.

One In A Million

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

This is an interesting time in the life of my trip. It is sort of a convergence of a couple things, and I am not sure yet how I feel about them individually or as a group. Allow me to explain:

It says ¨Welcome to Ecuador¨

It says ¨Welcome to Ecuador¨

First off: I am now in Ecuador and beginning a new country had me a little nervous at first. A new book had to be read and a new plan had to be put into place. Since I am exiting to Peru, I have to make my way south without missing anything to the east or west. Backtracking will be unavoidable but not very expensive. The tentative idea is to hit the sights south along the Andean Mountains, especially the numerous volcanoes, before doing a loop to take in the pacific coast. Down here they use a currency known as the US Dollar, with their own version of our coins. Though for the time being, I still convert most prices to Colombian Pesos to compare.

My first and current city is Otavalo, known for having one the largest indigenous markets in Latin America. I woke up early on Saturday morning, hoping to catch the animal market in all of it’s glory, but I was locked in my hostel until 8 am. Catching the end of the wheelings and dealings, I saw mostly chickens, guinea pigs, and hens exchanging hands. By 9 am, most vendors are setup in the streets closed to cars and the main square, ready to sell. An amazing sight, the Otavaleños always dress in traditional garb and are renowned for their weaving and craftsmanship.

shopping

shopping

Around the center and main streets, you get the tourist items like ponchos, sweaters, and handbags. On the outskitrts, I found locals buying their everyday items like shoes, clothes, and rope. Some walk around with the animals they bought earlier in the day, often placed into sacks, and the sacks are often squealing or trying to roll away.

The food section has everything you can imagine, with fruit, veggies, and kitchen counters. Open partially everyday, I have eaten most of my meals there, finding some good and bad stuff. My first meal here was the only one this trip I didn’t finish. The skillet filled with rice, noodles, eggs, and some types of meat, looked harmless enough, but it smelled like I was walking through a barn at the state fair. I believe the meat was chewy intestines and possibly blood sausage, both tasted very real. For my next meal, I opted for one of the numerous giant pigs and discovered I don’t have a problem looking my lunch in the face, or eating it’s crispy skin.

I think he was looking at me

I think he was looking at me

Overall, the food has been decent but not great. I think the places I have been eating in this town are a little too local. I worry about a noticeable lack of empanadas and really any breaded fried street food, for that matter. And I may have gotten a little overconfident in eating all of my meals at tents, resulting in my first sickness of the trip so far. Luckily, if I had to choose a day and place to be cooped up in my room, this is it. A nice cheap room with private bath and a TV, complimented by World Cup soccer, a replay of last years Wimbledon final, and the Estados Unidos Open as a night cap.

The next factor at play here is time. Today marks the 2 month point of my journey, and now everyday is the longest trip I have been on. I am curious to see how I hold up mentally and physically. Already very thin, I wonder how low I can go and if I will weaken at some point. Given a 90 day stamp, I can take all the time I need exploring an area roughly the size of Nevada, so I should be able to stay fresh. I have also decided to let the hair on the top of my head grow for the duration, despite my cousin’s disapproval. This should be fun, any tips from people who have attempted this courageous feat?

The last factor is the season known as Summer. I never like to travel during the busy time, wanting beaches to myself and my choice of accommodations. On top of the number of people, it is the type that bother me the most. Walking the market, I saw a group of 14 year old Americans, haggling for an Andean panflute. Now I don’t have a problem with parents taking their kids on an international vacation or the 2 week trippers off from university, I have been both. I just don’t want to be lumped into that group while I am on this self titled “crazy adventure”, even if it is just for one market day. In that one day, I saw/heard more Americans than in all of Colombia. I found myself wishing I had a sign around my neck that said “7 months”, so that all vendors and tourist would know what I am about. It’s like embarking on a 2 month journey through the jungle looking for a lost city, and when you get there all battered and bitten, a family wearing newly bought ponchos has just arrived by helicopter and their son is sitting on one of the statues playing his gameboy.

I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it is how I felt. Parts of it are comfortable and feel like home, but that is not really what I want. As they venture off on their $1,000 a head trips to the Galapagos, I will seek refuge in the mountains after a short stop in the country’s capital. Hopefully I find a dorm room filled with like minded folk, and get back in backpacker flow. While at the moment, I am finding joy in the little Ecuadorian kid next to me, bobbing his head and singing to a Shakira video on YouTube. La aventura que tenemos por delante me excita, yo sólo espero que no se puede acceder en helicóptero.

E = 52

Gone ’til November

Monday, April 19th, 2010

On Tuesday, April 20th, I begin a series of airborne travels which will eventually place me in Bogota, Colombia. As the title suggests, my return is set for the middle of the 11th month of this year.  My length of stay was influenced by a few factors: A desire to have time to linger, Availability of dates to redeem my airline miles, KU basketball, The Masters, and Thanksgiving. Thus, I am left with just under 7 months to make my way around the intriguing continent known as South America.

There is not really much of a plan this time. I have a vague idea of where I want to go and what I want to see, but it’s possible that none of it may happen. WWOOFing is part of the plan, but as yet I have not received confirmation from any farms. With this extend stay, I will have the ability to participate in any volunteer opportunities that present themselves.

In good hands

I'm in good hands

The journey begins with Colombian goals of hiking near or on mountains and spending time on Caribbean beaches. I could see myself hanging out there for a month or two, before continuing the journey south through Ecuador. I will hug the western coast of Peru, then set my sights on the vast highlands of Bolivia. From there, a time and money based decision will be made: Shall I cut through northern Argentina en-route to Uruguay or will the pull of Patagonia be too strong? At that point I will just have to make it back to Bogota in time to catch my flight home on November 11th.

So, that is basically the whole plan. Maybe a little too unprepared, but that is kinda the idea. This will probably be my last hurrah, before the weight of reality crushes my dreaming soul. I try not to think about what I am going to do when I get back and just believe that it will all take care of itself. My Spanish skills are limited but I imagine that I will be fluent upon my return. Updates shall be posted when I feel like it or when my captors allow. Hasta la próxima

Que Sera Sera

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

We have always looked to the stories of those who have gone before us for answers. Specifically, I would like to reference the writings of a young man, not unlike myself, named Warren Griffin III. He came to a crossroads in his life back in 1990, and is now very successful thanks to choosing the right path. The following passage is taken from one of his works titled “Do you see?” and was performed as sort of a spoken word backed up by musical sounds.

“Should I A: Go back to slangin’ dope?
Or should I B: Maintain and try to cope?
Or should I C: Just get crazy and wild?
But no I chose D: Create the G-Child”

That “G child” he created went on to become the twice grammy nominated rapper known as “Warren G”. Now, I may not have the same exact options to mull over, but I believe there is a common thread that ties us together.

Look at how Warren's livin'

Look how Warren is livin'

His A) “Go back to slangin’ dope”: For me that would be going back to FedEx. Sure, I wasn’t actually dealing drugs, but I did work in a distribution center. The money was good, I had my own crew, and I once handled a package that was going to Damon Stoudamire. Remembering all of the reasons I quit, assures me that going back to “slangin’ dope” would be the wrong decision for me as well.

His B) “Maintain and try to cope”: I think for both of us, this would be searching for a 9 to 5 job that neither of us wants. The one thing I really enjoyed about my last occupation was the uniqueness of it. A casual night shift with a sprinkling of vulgar truck drivers. An office job where I may have to shave and wear a clean shirt sounds like prison. Most likely the time will come, when I will have to just “maintain and try to cope”, but I am not giving in yet.

His C) “Just get crazy and wild”: I have a friend who has chosen this path, and so far he is having a blast. He believes in his exit strategy and we hope that he has a smooth landing back into a sedentary life, if he decides to come back.
For me, it would be buying a one way ticket to a region (India, SE Asia, or South America) and then wandering the earth until deported or broke. Sure, I could get crazier and wilder, but I have to keep these options somewhat reasonable. I like the sound of this one except for the broke part. A few adjustments and this could be a winner.
(Alternate option C: Spend the next 5 months trying to win an entry into the “World Series of Poker”.)

His D) “Create the G child”: Despite the fact that “H child” doesn’t sound near as cool, the idea is solid. Creating another identity helps build the illusion of a clean slate and a new life. Now, I am not going to change my name and start spitting some dope lyrics, but I can choose a new career path. What that is, I don’t know yet. Part of the reason for traveling is to hopefully find that spark and opportunity. A job overseas or anything that has a positive impact on others and myself, is what I am looking for.

In conclusion, the “H child” is leaning toward an 8 month journey through South America. Using frequent flyer mileage, roundtrip to Bogota, Colombia would only be about $150. Venturing all the way down south and then back up again, 3-4 months of free lodging by WWOOFing, I can’t afford not to go! Que todos ustedes encontrar su “G niño”