Thursday, March 29, 2012

Ecuador III: Trip Journal Part Two

We spent the morning on the flanks of Tungurahua, looking at pyroclastic flows and doing a little bit of volcanic stratigraphy. 
After lunch, we drove into Banos to get outfitted for an afternoon of "canyoning" -- rappelling down waterfalls. I'm not quite sure why they call it "canyoning," because it's not what this particular southwest kid would associate with canyoneering, but whatever. We got wetsuits, helmets, splash jackets, water shoes, strange harnesses with thick layers of vinyl basically covering your ass, and figure-8 devices, then loaded onto the bus and drove along a narrow, winding highway for a while.
After changing into our gear, we hiked up a steep, muddy trail to the top of a sequence of 5 waterfalls. Canyoning was fun -- I took the first waterfall a bit slow but got more daring with the subsequent three, jumping out and riding the soaked rope into the cold pools below. The last waterfall was more of a slide than a waterfall, still fun though.

Breakfast at 07:00, on the bus at 08:00. We drove up to a village on the west side of Tungurahua, on the other side of the valley from the volcano itself. We exchanged our luxurious tour bus for rickety mountain bikes, which we then pedaled up a cobblestone and dirt road to an even smaller village, where we were immediately mobbed by schoolchildren (probably ranging from 4 to 10 years old). We let them borrow our bikes, which they repeatedly rode up and down the stone road through the center of the village. They had a couple soccer balls as well, which we kicked around with them in front of la escuela
After playing with the kids, we continued up the road to an overlook poing where we looked down on the valley of Rio Chambo and the town of Bilbao, which was left devastated by the 2006 eruption.
Ate lunch back in the larger village -- atun y aguacate y salsa aji, y un plantano con mantequilla de mani para postres. It's what I've been eating most days, and while peanuts/peanut butter aren't technically paleo, it's a good way to get enough fat and an acceptable treat. Buying food at grocery stores has made it remarkably easy to stay mostly paleo on this trip.

I'm not a huge fan of (downhill) mountain biking, and frankly, I'm glad that we're done with that. Today was mostly uneventful. I took a few pictures of the hotel grounds, decoratively adorned with blossoming flowers in various shades of pink, orange and red, before we continued on our way. We spent the morning in Banos, and hiked up 600-something cement steps to the statue of some sanctified virgin. A good prep/warm-up hike.
In the afternoon, we drove to Cotopaxi National Park. At the park entrance, the people told us we needed a guide to enter the park (not a mountain guide, just a "guide.") We waited around for half an hour or so while Jose, our bus driver, made a call and arranged for someone to meet us at the entrance. We paid him like $30 or something to ride into the park with us, and then go on his way. That's South America for you...

We stayed at Tambopaxi last night; we'll be there tonight as well. We looked at some lahar deposits and some ignimbrites in the morning, then spent the afternoon wandering around the barren landscape mapping pyroclastic flows and deposits from the 1877 eruption. Most of the area is between 12k and 13k feet; I felt pretty good hiking around here.
I managed to stay pretty darn paleo for most of the trip so far, with the exception of a couple of ice cream cones (in Quito, then in Banos). Ecuadorians don't eat a lot of bread; most of their starch comes in the form of potatoes, which I find acceptable. They eat plenty of meat and fish, and at this latitude, there's certainly no lack of fresh fruit.

The rest of the journal will be continued in another post solely devoted to chronicling my successful summit of Cotopaxi, since that's way, way, way more than I want to type here.
To be continued.........

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ecuador II: Trip Journal Part One

My trip began in a cramped seat on a United Airlines flight from Spokane to Houston, then from Houston to Quito. It was around 22:30 local time when I arrived, so I waited for about an hour for the other students who were arriving that night, and then we got a cab to our hotel.
We were pretty tired from the flights, but enjoyed a few $1 Pilseners before heading to bed.

Woke up and went down for breakfast around 8 ... then went back to sleep for a while, as we were still jet-lagged as hell.
A typical Ecuadorian breakfast is eggs, bread, fruit, juice, and tea/coffee (with milk, or not). Obviously, it's pretty easy to opt out of the bread and still get quite a bit of food. Sometimes the eggs have ham or some kind of cured meat mixed in with them.
After catching up on sleep, we ventured out into Quito in search of stupid tourist activities and food. We ended up walking around in that big cathedral that I remembered from before (Basilica del voto Nacional). After that, we got lunch at a little cafe where we got HUGE plates of food for $3/ea. I opted for the churrasco, which consists of a thin cut of beef grilled and accompanied by two fried eggs, avocado, fries, and vegetables. It was ungodly delicious.
Later that evening, we met up with the other students as they arrived. A bunch of us walked to a nearby cafe for dinner, where I had ridiculously good pistachio ice cream. After that, Josh and I walked over to the "super gringo tourist plaza" for drinks. I ordered a "Quito Martini" from some bar, and I have no idea what was in it, but IT WAS GOOD. I looked up the recipe as soon as I got back, but I can't find it anywhere.

Before heading out of Quito, we stopped by a grocery store to get lunch stuff for the next few days. Just going into the store was a trip ... stuff that seems minor or irrelevant can still be mind-blowing. Meat and fish products aren't kept behind glass walls or made to look aesthetically pleasing. Eggs aren't refrigerated. A health and safety inspector from the US might fall over and die of a heart attack here. And it's effin awesome.
Wanting to stay as paleo as possible for the trip, I picked up a bunch of mini-bananas, a few cans of tuna, a couple of not-even-close-to-ripe avocados, and a bottle of salsa aji.
Oh, and some instant coffee. Caffeine will be necessary.
After leaving Quito, we drove along the Pan-American highway for a while, then stopped for lunch before going down to look at some wicked folds in outcrops by the highway. Our lunchtime provided ample opportunity for us northwesterners to sample unique tropical fruits we'd picked up at the store that morning. After some structural geology fun times, it was back into the bus and onto our destination for the evening: El Mirador (translates to "the viewpoint"), a hostel above a lake in a caldera. Hiked around a bit, then had dinner and went to bed.

Huevos y jugo para desayuno.
Loaded up the bus and head to the Otavalo market, where we spent a few hours doing the gringo tourist thing. I bought a few small gifts for my mom and sister. Also scored some extremely ripe 25-cent avocados, and bought food from one of the street stands. Roast pork (they had the whole pig there and just kind of pulled the meat off it), fried potato balls, hominy, and vegetables. A big bowl of the stuff cost me $1.50 ... not bad. Not many students were brave enough to try the street food, but I figured it couldn't be any worse than eating meat from industrially-raised animals living in their own shit.
In the afternoon, we drove to Pululahua crater and looked at some pyroclastic flow and pyroclastic fall deposits. 
Spent the night in a hacienda in Lloa, below Guagua Pichincha. Took a frigid shower -- no heat or hot water in the rooms built into what used to be a barn. I really liked this place.

Today we drove/hiked up to the top of Guagua Pichincha, where we did some hazard mapping before screaming down the dirt and cobblestone road on sketchily-maintained mountain bikes. The drive up proved to be an adventure when the SUV's kept sliding on the mud, leading to two of them being abandoned at various points along the road to the refugio (about 100m below the summit). Kirk and I walked most of the way, figuring a nice hike up to around 15,000' would be good acclimatization.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent driving to Tungurahua. The drive was long, but we got a glimpse of Cotopaxi, and I had a good conversation with Karen about the paleo diet.
Our lodging in Banos -- Vina del Rio -- was very nice, and the grounds are home to all sorts of exotic tropical plants. We had trucha (trout) for dinner, and as is typical in South America, it arrived butterflied open with the head and tail still attached. It really makes you think about how much effort Americans go to to make the animal products they eat look like anything but animals.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ecuador I: Photographic Highlights

Second time in Ecuador, filled with even more adventure than the first. Technically, this was a trip with the geology club, but it was so much more than that -- it was an experience that allowed me both to grow as a person and changed how I see the world and reflect on who I am and where I'm going. When I say "it changed how I see the world," I don't mean that in the way that naive college sophomores who study abroad and suddenly want to save starving children and become Buddhist/vegetarian (seriously, fuck vegetarians) and sing praises of global altruism while driving around in daddy's BMW do. I don't really care about the status quo, but a few things in Ecuador made me think quite a bit about the general attitude that Americans have towards life.
Anyway, here are a few cool photos of trip highlights:

 Sunset from the air
 We later found out that this is passion fruit. Having grown up in the southwest (and now living in the northwest), I'd never seen one before, and it looked pretty exotic.
 Pimpin' ... (actually, organizing my money)
Because life wouldn't be complete without a picture of Ecuadorian sex toys.
Quito Martini ... this was good and I have no idea what was in it.
 So, you can't really tell, but this is "Oreo World." Seriously. A small carnival where everything is "oreo" themed.
Josh's new and interesting fruit (pretty sure it's a naranjilla)
Another exotic fruit (dragonfruit I believe)

 This sign made me laugh.
 The fish stand at the Otavalo market
 El Mirador hostel

Lake in a caldera

Cool plants
 Hacienda in Lloa
 Mud = problem for SUVs with bald tires
 Hiking into the mist on Guagua Pichincha
Two of the guys planking on top of Guagua Pichincha.
Fish stand by the roadside
 Lecture time (near Tungurahua)
Rather large spider ... at least by my standards
Baños, Ecuador

 Ecuadorian schoolchildren playing soccer in the street. A quintessential South American image...
 Old woman looking over a valley near Tungurahua
Valley below Tungurahua 
 Sign warning of ashfall
 The ruins of a church in the village of Bilbao that was destroyed in the 2006 eruption of Tungurahua
 The place where we stayed outside of Baños
A statue of some sanctified virgin or something that we hiked up 600-something stairs to get to (near Baños). It was a decent(ish) workout.
 Pieces of buildings destroyed in the 1949 Ambato earthquake
The professors (Simon, Karen, and Dennis) in front of Cotopaxi