Friday, September 20, 2013

Final Stop: Cuenca

Final stop of Ecuador, that is.  I'm pretty ready to leave the country... I'm getting so sick of the food here, which seems to consist entirely of white rice, a greasy chicken leg that's mostly skin, iceberg lettuce, and lots and lots of bananas, bananas everywhere, even in the soup.  If I never see another banana, I'll die a happy woman, but somehow I doubt that's going to be the case.

But otherwise, Cuenca is hands down the loveliest place I've seen in Ecuador yet and I'm sorry I didn't come here first.  I'm not sure whether it's spring or autumn here, because there are trees covered in flowers and then there are trees dropping yellow leaves tragically into the brook.  It's always chilly and often drizzly, with these great, brooding overcast skies which reminds me of Dublin.  And every corner you turn you stumble upon this great, century-old stone cathedral, monastery, or otherwise magnificent work of colonial architecture.

There are tons of tiny parks and cobblestone plazas hidden away between the streets, where people are selling things, roasting guinea pigs over open coals, or just sitting around watching people go by.  As always, there are tiny old women charging up and down hills and staircases with enormous bundles on their backs, with their fedora hats and long braids and colorful, embroidered skirts.

Otherwise, on a stop-off in Guayaquil to fix my camera (dropped it in the sand and all the gears froze up, urgh...) a Canadian girl in my hostel gave me the first book in the Game of Thrones series.  After two days of reading it I'm already a third of the way through the 800 page book, and I have very mixed feelings about it.  It's not the greatest writing, and I normally don't like to invest in reading a book unless it has prose and a story-line that will help me improve as a writer.  I swear, if I had to read the sentence, "Jon messed up Arya's hair," one more time, I was going to tear the book in half.  Also, good god, we get it.  WINTER IS COMING.  Shut up about it already.

And yet... I'm having so much fun reading it.  I may be too much of a book snob for my own good, and I think maybe the decline in my fiction reading over the past few years is (aside from no longer being a student with all the free time in the world) because I make it a point to choose books that are onerous to read.  But Game of Thrones is so evocative in showing you the world, and the characters are so interesting - the female characters are all strong and complex as well, which I appreciate, and of course a tomboy princess with a pet wolf is just great.  It's making me want to go back to the fantasy novel I've been cyclically writing, abandoning, and revamping for the past 15 years or so.  I've always considered multiple point-of-view narration to be shoddy writing, but I've seen it done well in the past, and there's so many more facets of a story you can tell than with just a single narrator.  And I've already written five pages of a prologue, so we'll see how this goes.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Puerto Lopez

Puerto Lopez is delightful!  I am reunited with Lisa and Darragh, who came south from Canoa after hitting Tena, Quito, and a lot of places in between.  (They're much better travelers than me, as I seem to be just whiffling aimlessly around the country just looking for cafes with tasty sandwiches and reliable Wi-Fi.)  But Puerto Lopez during the off-season, as this seems to be, is so peaceful - rather dusty and derelict, with tons of open-air markets roofed with rusty corrugated tin and packs of stray dogs, just like I'd been expecting towns to be when I came to South America - and I would like to stay here longer but I'm getting restless.

We're staying at Hostal Maxima, a villa-type place that has gardens and hammocks and a mini-menagerie of parakeets, an iguana, a cat, and a gorgeous little kinkajou.  The kinkajou looks like a cross between a monkey and a tiny anteater, with big, black eyes and a prehensile tail and silky fur.  This one likes to get his tummy rubbed, and he kept grabbing my fingers through the bars of his cage with his claws and trying to gnaw on them.  And then he tried to steal my coffee.

So the other day, a group of us hailed down a pair of motor-rickshaws and went on a journey to a secret beach.  (Not exactly secret, as it was in a national park in Frailes, a little bit north of Puerto Lopez, but there was hardly anyone there because it was so out of the way.)  Our drivers, young local guys, got very competitive about racing us to the beach, resulting in a very tense, Ben Hur-esque rickshaw race to the destination.  (Our guy won!)

But the beach, once we arrived, was the most perfect beach I've ever seen.  Soft, sloping sand and cliffs and tide pools and blue water as far as the eye could see - nicer even than Playa Blanca, because there was no Gringo-targeted kitsch to get in the way of our swimming, sunbathing, wandering a long way away, and throwing rocks at the water.

A few nights later we discovered, to my immense joy, a Russian restaurant, run by a Russian emigre family, serving proper Russian food - pelmeni and borscht and potatoes with sour cream and the like, cooked up as you order by the mother.  It was such a relief after nothing but white rice and pan-fried chicken, and we are going to go there for dinner tonight before moving onwards.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Montañita de las Fiestas

Again I've been slacking on updates!  In my defense, I spent most of my time in Baños working, and thus came up with nothing very blog-worthy.  After that I spent five days in Montañita, a small, excessively touristy party town on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.  It reminded me a lot of Galway, in that it's essentially one constant, perpetually overcast carnival filled with hippies and weirdos, and so small that if there's someone you are trying to avoid you'll absolutely run into them five times a day.  I picked up three stalkers in five days, which is a new record for me.

Otherwise, I met my lovely friend Jean!  She's been in Montañita for a few weeks doing an ESL course, and she recently left for her new job teaching English in Puyo in the center of Ecuador.  Luckily, we got a few good days in of hanging out surfing, drinking beers, and eating ceviche, though not all at the same time.

She introduced me to her cool friend Jorge who taught me how to surf for the very first time.  It was thrilling, waiting for that moment when you feel yourself caught up in the wave and speeding along to the shore, and I even managed to stand up a couple of times.  Of course, the other fifty times I ended up getting knocked over by the waves and then getting punched in the ribs or clobbered in the head by my rogue surfboard.  But it's all part of the experience, I guess.

The next night we went to a beach party where there was a live brass band and the dance floor was just sand.  And the next day I did the most amazing thing of possibly any trip I've ever taken, which was ride a horse along the beach!  I've never actually galloped on a horse before, so it was sublime, in the Romantic sense of the word connoting awe and terror at the power of nature, to go thundering down the sand next to the waves and these stormy, dark clouds over the horizon.  Jorge and I had this little colt tagging along next to our horses, frolicking in and out of the waves, and then this pack of stray dogs came sprinting out of the sand dunes to race joyously along next to us.  I seriously felt like the king of the cowboys; of course, that was four days ago and my legs are still sore, but it was worth it.

I have since fled Montañita, as it's much too touristy and party-addled to stay for long, and gone to Puerto Lopez, a smallish, quiet town to the north.  The ocean here is much more peaceful and deserted, with men fishing in boats off the coast and flocks of enormous pelicans swooping back and forth over them, bobbing up and down in the water looking for handouts.  We shall see what this town holds!