Micah: Unmitigated


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Posts Tagged ‘Otavalo’

Same Old Song And Dance

Monday, November 8th, 2010

In Otavalo: I shopped, caught a bit of a cold, and ate market lunches. I had one interesting night amongst locals while eating dessert Empanadas and drinking a warm berry beverage. Two giggly young woman to my right, seemed to be making fun of the fact I was dunking my emps. The young man with them and an older lady to my left, asked me some simple questions and I gave them very simple answers. Mostly just smiling and nodding, while they said “gringo” a lot and laughed. The man somewhat jokingly said that I should pay for all of their food. I showed him my near empty coin purse. Then,when I handed the server money to pay for my snack, I pointed at myself and said “Solo para me”. They all laughed healthily and I departed with a bang.

Feeling better Sunday morning, despite no medicine and little sleep, I began my journey toward Bogota. 2 buses and 2 mini-vans later, I was at the border. The skies opened up, rain poured down, lightning strikes could be seen in the distance. I should have known what was coming. My passport was handed to the man in uniform behind the window, he looked at passport, looked at screen, shook his head, showed me screen, I just nodded and said “Entiendo” (I understand), trying to explain what I went through 4 days ago. Apparently, nothing had been updated yet in the computer. I still had only an entry into Ecuador back in June listed, no exit and reentry.

I was told many things: You wont be able to enter Colombia, you will miss your flight, you need to return to Peru, wait over there, go make 2 copies of each of these 3 pages, Amigo! make sure you come back (at this point I was a flight risk, hinting to him that I may go on without an exit stamp), wait, now you need to pay money for stamp, my boss is back in town and gas is not cheap (I said I don’t want to pay), wait, maybe tomorrow. Man then takes my passport again and heads out the door with 2 other officers, they hop into a small red car and go. I wait and watch as the now undermanned station gets busy. Tourists come and go with no problems. I feel somewhat special, but also am very worried. Again, thoughts of alternative methods of getting to Bogota/Home, run through my mind: I really don’t need a stamp, do I? Would it do any good if I jumped the unattended counter and messed around on the computer? What if I physically attacked one of the officers and held him hostage, as I crossed the border? Nah, probably would have an issue later at the airport. Do they run illegal immigrants over on boats to Florida?

Just as I was about to execute one of the above plans, the 3 men return. I am waved over to the counter and handed my passport. He shows me the stamp and says go to Colombia. 3 hours after I enter the office, I can now legally leave. I still doubt the computer system is accurate, and wonder if I will ever be able to enter Ecuador again. There may be a manhunt for me in a year or so, when they look in the system and think that I am still there. If any of you are ever questioned by the authorities concerning my whereabouts, please say that I took a trip to South America and you haven’t seen me since. Thanks

Colombia was easier. After a brief 10 minute wait and being told the system was down, my passport was stamped. I again had to sort through lies from taxi drivers to get my cheap public transport. From the closest town of Ipiales, I booked my passage for the city of Cali (11 hrs north, halfway to the capital) because it is cheaper than going direct. Suffered through a muggy night bus ride, worried about bandits, but got to watch “Jaws”.

Arrived at 5 am: rain is falling, booked a night bus to Bogota, oddly combined my 2 large bags into 1 to avoid paying double for storage, killed time in casinos and walking streets. I found a cheap Blackjack table but had one of the weirdest experiences. They don’t believe in luck, and preferred to blame all of their defeats on the white guy. Whether I took 1 card too many or too few, I made an error and affected the whole table. One man lost a big hand to my left and really wanted the 10 I took, which busted me. He was visibly angry toward me. I am just glad I don’t fully understand what they said, though I do know a few of the curse words they used. They don’t like to gamble, and take advantage of the “surrender” rule frequently. I don’t agree and rarely did. That rule is not common back home and I admit that I don’t know how to properly use it. But I don’t feel I made any stupid moves. I just sat there quietly as my stack dwindled. It was fun but also very uncomfortable.

Safe to say, I am on a run of bad days. Hopefully I can get some sleep on the ride tonight and smoothly get into a hostal in central Bogota. I am looking forward to doing the city a little better these last 3 days, than I did with the first 3. ¿Dónde está el mercado central?

E = 193

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

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.



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