Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Galapagos.

I made it back to Quito yesterday, and can't - yet - find the right words to tell you about the Galapagos.

But I have 250 photographs, all taken on a small point-and-shoot camera. And so, while I let the experience simmer and try to find a way to write about it, I'll give you some pictures:

Monday, 15 February 2016

Wild seas and markets.

I had a lovely time at the beach. I flopped about a lot, and sometimes I went in the sea - I didn't actually swim, as it was impossible to get out beyond the breaking waves before one of them picked me up and tossed me about and landed me on the beach with sand in my pants. I suspect it would have been a red flag beach at home - but it was such fun!

And I couldn't miss the carnival - I've no idea what's being celebrated, but who cares! There's no dressing up here - quite the reverse. Because it's a time for throwing water and foam over each other, and smearing blue or green or red paint on people's faces. So it's a very messy affair (I managed to avoid the paint bit, but got caught in the crossfire of a squirty-foam fight!).

But it was time to move on - back into the mountains, and to Otavalo, which is where a huge market has been held on Saturdays since ... well, forever. Local people selling local crafts. It's noisy and crowded and wonderful. I'm not a natural shopper, but faced with a table looking like this, it was wonderfully tempting.

There were hammocks and bags and ponchos and blankets; hats and jewellery and pan pipes. There's a food section, with a sudden smell of cinnamon. Stalls piled high with mangoes and melons and avocados and custard apples. Broccoli and carrots and sacks of potatoes. Women in corners shelling peas. More women cooking, wiping their eyes from the smoke. I might not be a shopper but I do love markets. And yes, I've bought some stuff.

I've had a guide with me for three days. Poor man. He's not into markets. He had been told to look after me, and trailed behind me round the market with all the enthusiasm of a scolded dog. He carried bags for me, haggled for me when I couldn't keep track of the numbers (I'm fine up to about 15), but didn't manage a smile till we were back in the car.

And now - the Galapagos. I leave very early tomorrow morning. I'll have no phone or Internet for eight days! So if any of you are kind enough to comment, you'll have to wait for a reply. (I feel I ought to apologise, but I won't - because actually going to the Galapagos will be fab!)

Friday, 5 February 2016

From the Andes to the sea, via Cuenca

First, I must give you a picture from the mountains. For 360 days of the year, the high Andes - 3,900m - are covered in cloud. So how lucky was I to be there when it was like this:

The air is thin and clear, and the lakes mirror the sky or the mountains or - occasionally - one of the brave trees that manage to cling on this high up. Walking is a challenge, especially if, like me, you live somewhere low-lying, but I puffed my way along a lovely path (stopping to admire the view at every opportunity) and it was wonderful.

I was on my way from Cuenca to Guayaquil. I spent five days trying to work out why I love Cuenca. Is it the architecture in the city centre? The churches and museums, celebrating everything from the towns indigenous beginnings through the ravages of Spanish occupation to the delights and challenges of independence? Is it the plazas and restaurants? It's certainly not the black smoke belching from the back of buses.

And then I decided it didn't matter why I love Cuenca. I just do. I love the lazy streets - it's too hot for anyone to hurry, but there's a breeze from the mountains (and it's high) so nobody fries. It's easy to walk from one side of the old city to the other along busy streets and quiet streets and forgotten streets. And it's full of very kind people.

And Guayaquil? It's the biggest city in Ecuador, and - until I went to the museum and discovered its history - it seemed to be just a big, working city. But when I learned of its past, all those rebellions, the yellow fever epidemics, a huge fire that devastated almost everything, and the way it succumbed to corruption and general mayhem until just twenty years ago, it's astonishing to see it now. Serious money has been spent - on roads, a theatre, cinema and museum complex, an international airport, a state-of-the-art football stadium. The Malecon, a walkway beside the river, is now full of children's playgrounds, a garden, shops - and plenty of security people. It don't think I can love Guayaquil like I love Cuenca, but I admire what they have achieved in such a short time.

Now - I'm in Puerto Lopez. Small children play on the beach. The ocean rolls in, and rolls in, and rolls in. And I have a hut and a hammock.