Sunday, May 2, 1999

Greetings from Quito Ecuador!

When I last left you all, we were headed to the mud
volcano outside of Cartegena. It was a hell of a good time.
We got the 8 people together necessary for the trip, and off
we went. The "Volcano" is really an 18 meter high mound
about 5 meters across, full of lukewarm mud that percolates
from some geothermal source far below.
You jump in, and then an attendant parks you. The mud is
so viscous that it is impossible to immerse yourself fully -
you can’t get below your shoulders. For the first 1/2 hour,
we had the place to ourselves, then the Bermudan national
Soccer team joined us. It got way too crowded, so we hoofed
it out, and some of the local villagers took it upon
themselves (for a tip of course) to wash the mud off of us
in the nearby lake. Good fun!
After arriving back at our hotel, the whole group of us
(and some new arrivals) started to part hard, led by a
Norwegian named JP, and we partied until the little hours;
getting the hotel staff upset at our belligerence. If you
are headed to Cartegena - I highly recommend staying at
Holiday on Calle Media Luna - Cheap great atmosphere, right
in the old town.
Cartegena itself is a GEM! Very picturesque, crammed with
history (just about every English and Dutch and French
pirate of the Spanish Main managed to sack it at one time or
Guess who else showed up in Cartegena as we were about to
leave - but Max from San Pedro in Guatemala!
So, we left Cartegena, splurging on a plane fare for
Bogota - we wanted to avoid the possibility of being
attacked by guerrillas - they attacked the town of Sapsurro
the day we were almost let off the boat there.
Bogota has nothing to recommend it except Herman at the
Platypus hotel. He should be canonized for the aid that he
gives to travelers - St. Christopher incarnate. He bailed
out at least two people that we know of who were robbed and
lost all of their money and passports, as well as having a
wealth of knowledge about South America that he is willing
to pass on to anyone - he saved us $100 in airfare by
recommending a different airport to fly to get to Ecuador -
and he booked it for us too!
And who was here? But Debbie and Matt from Cartegena! So,
we flew from Bogota to Ipialles - a town in Colombia right
on the Ecuadorian border. The day we left Bogota there was
a strike of Taxi Drivers and Bus drivers - so there was no
way to get to the airport - so Herman had his wife drive us
Ipialles is a beautiful town, but we had a bit of a
nightmare at the border crossing – The military had blocked
off the access road, so our Taxi couldn’t take us all the
way - after the soldiers confirmed that the border was open,
we hoofed it the last 3 KM to the border. If the tank
blocking the road for our taxi wasn’t enough of a clue, we
should have figured that the 100´s of AK47 toting soldiers
lining that last 3Km to the border spelt trouble. And then
when we spotted thick, black smoke coming from just around
the corner, we should have turned around, but no, we were
stupid and kept on going. Once we completed the formalities
of leaving Colombia, we saw what the problem was.
About 1000 striking teachers had blocked the bridge with
barricades and burning tires. They were throwing BRICKS at
the cops, who were retaliating with tear gas grenades.
time too late however, as we had already exited Columbia,
and couldn’t be readmitted without first having entered
somewhere else.
There were 3 other people similarly trapped - one
Columbian, an Ecuadorian, a Swedish girl and us. We all
banded together and made a run for it through the mob during
a lull in the battle and just made it into the Ecuadorian
customs building as the grenades started going off again.
VERY SCARY! And before you say it Glenn, YES YOU TOLD US
We then caught a bus for Otavalo - the bus drivers got
into a fight over which company was going to take us!
Fists, bloody lips and all! WAY too much excitement for one
Otavalo is a picturesque Quecha town at 9000 ft- VERY
skinny air, but we had had 3 days in Bogota at 8500ft to
acclimatize. The Market here is amazing - Alpaca wool
sweaters for $5.00US. Being as it was my birthday, we
splurged by going to a Pizza place with live music - an
Andean band with Pan pipes that played me "Feliz Cumpleanos"
(Happy birthday). This was one of the more expensive
restaurants in Otavalo, and the three of us (SGK, Malin the
Swedish girl from the border crossing, and I) all ate, and
drank copious quantities of beer for all of $10.00US total!
This place is almost as cheap as Indonesia (do you hear me
Jo and Stephen?)
After a fewe days in Otavalo, we decided to head for Quito
to pick up my new ATM card (the old one does not work in
Ecuador), only to find that the South American Explorers
club was closed for the weekend! (That’s where my card was)
So we checked in to a cheapie (though not as cheap as
Otavalo) to wait out the weekend and who do we see - but
Nick, the guy we met in Bogota who wanted to buy a Fax
machine. We just spent the day with him and his parents,
going to the Equator monument. Now I have a photo of me at
0 degrees Lattitude to put next to the one of me in
Greenwich at 0 degrees longitude.

Where do we go from here?
Well, tomorrow after picking up my mail at the SAEC, we
head to BaƱos, which boasts hot springs on top of a volcano
at 10500ft where you soak and watch the sunrise, then to
Cuenca, another market town, then Villacabamba where we will
relax in a hotel that boasts a swimming pool, Satellite TV
in every room, and live poolside music for only $10US a day
including Breakfast, Dinner, and free Coffee, fruit juice
and mineral water all day long! Then on to Peru where Chris
Scheffler will meat us for the trek up the Inca Trail to
Machu Pichu.

Buena Suerte!

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