I spent my first couple days in Quito wandering around the old town, climbing up to all the different vistas and had a really fun time just walking around and taking pictures. The highlight of Quito though, was definitely a friend I met through couchsurfing. She was so curious and inquisitive about Pakistani and Indian culture and we had so many really interesting conversations. I had a really great time getting to know Quito through the eyes of a local and feel like I have a really good friend in Quito. The best part was that it was all in Spanish and I was able to carry on some really complex conversations all in Spanish, so I guess I am learning!
After Quito, I listened to my friend´s advice and headed down to Banos. I arrived at night where I met two Swiss guys in my hostel and we decided to hit the town since it was Saturday night. I met a bunch of other people that night from all over Europe and the US and was hanging out and going around town and chatting with people until nearly 8am, so it was a really good night. I came back to the hostel, fell asleep and when I woke up the two Swiss guys had been replaced by 2 French parents.
I hung out with their son for a bit that day and went to dinner with them all and decided I would go mountain biking with them the next day. The whole situation was very amusing to me though because here I am this Pakistani American hanging out with this French family and the best way we can communicate with one another is in Spanish.
The mountain biking was great the next day. There are a bunch of waterfalls along the way that you can hike to from the road and its mostly a downhill ride, so you can get going pretty fast. There was even a 40m bridge to bungee jump off on the way there so I jumped off it backwards which was quite a rush. At one point though, the weather was horrible, it was pouring rain and really windy and I was just riding down this mountain in shorts and a tshirt, completely soaked and muddy, but I liked it, it added to the adventure of it all. The scenery was awesome though and it was even more exciting being able to take it all in from behind the handlebars of a mountain bike.
The next day Batiste (French guy) and I rented ATVs and carved our way up to the volcano through some more mud and rain which was also a good time. Later in the day I did another bungee jump off of a 130m high bridge. Unfortunately, they would only let me fall for about 60m because there were too many rocks around, so I ended up jumping again backwards. Both times were really scary and it took me a long time to jump. I spent a lot of time standing or kneeling (because my legs were shaking) on the little platform looking out at the green mountains all around me and listening to the power of the river and the rocks thundering 130m below me. I remember just thinking to myself how awesome life is and then I leapt off the platform as far as I could and just flew like a bird.
That night I had a very interesting conversation with the French family about globalization and society. I think it was the most complicated conversation I have ever had in terms of the different languages used. Because the parents understood English better than Spanish, I would speak at first in English and whatever they didn´t understand, their daughter would explain in French. Then, the parents would start to respond in English, but when they couldn´t find the words to express what they meant, they would then switch to speaking in French. Their daughter would then transalte this back into Spanish for me to understand since her Spanish was much better than her English. We talked like this for 2 hours or so. They argued that globalization is bad because it kills local businesses and erases local cultures and customs by promoting big box universal stores that are impossible to compete with like McDonalds and Wal-Mart. I saw their point of view, but of course argued like the ruthless American capitalist than I am.
The next morning the family carried onto Puyo where I was planning to head later that day as well, but I figured I wasn´t going to be seeing them anymore and had to find some new friends. I got to Puyo a little later, got in a cab and asked for a hostel in the guidebook. The cabbie didn´t know where the hostel was or how to read a map so I was sitting there trying to navigate on the map and give him directions in Spanish. As soon as we got a street where there was a hostel (not the one I wanted to go to) he told me were here and said I have to find it on my own. I knew it was close, so I was like ok whatever, I´ll just find it. I look accross the street and the French girl is standing there waving to me almost as if she had been waiting for me! So, I went and got a room in their hostel and then tried to find them later at a tour agency, but could not. I walked around town and found the agency I wanted to do a tour with, but they were closed. There was, however, a friendly British couple sitting outside and waiting. I sat down and chatted with them for a bit and then we walked around later and found another 3 day 2 night jungle tour that we liked. We decided to go to a restaurant to grab something to eat, and of course I find none other than the French family there having a drink. I tell them about our tour and then have a nice long lunch/chat with the British couple.
The jungle tour was really good. Granted it wasn´t in the deep deep jungle like I was hoping, but it was still really nice and definitely looked and felt like what I thought the rainforest would. There were all kinds of trees, plants and flowers that could cure just about anything, lots of mud, empowering rubber boots, waterfalls, and very very unpredictable weather. The best part about the rainforest tour though, was by far the conversations I was able to have with the guides at night about their lives and the rainforest.
In short, this is basically what we talked about:
Tourists go to the jungle thinking that they will be exposed to simple minded people that don´t have to worry about money and stuff like us crazy Westerners do. We think that we will get a taste of what it is like to just live off the land and be happy and not need to worry about making money or having a big house or any of those things. Through tourism, indigineous amazonian people have been exposed to Western desires and thinking and now know about our nice clothes and our desires to have more money and bigger houses, etc. etc. So much, that now the youth of these people no longer desire to live their ´simple´lives, but rather they too want to come to the city and make more money and buy big houses. If this happens, then who will be left to protect the Amazon from big oil companies and deforestation? As it is, so many tribes have been exploited and the richest part of our world that could hold the cures to who knows how many diseases is being erased.
I know we always hear about this stuff in the news and read about it in the paper and such, but being there, in the Amazon and having these conversations with Amazonian people was a really chilling experience. After talking to them, I felt so frustrated and genuinely scared for them and for our world thinking about what is happening and how in 50-60 years these people think that there may be no more rainforest. I really hope I can do something to make them wrong.
After the second day, I said goodbye to the French family yet again since I wanted to spend another day in the rainforest. I spent my last day there with the British couple and then we got on a bus from Puyo to Banos to Ambato (where they got off) to Riobamba which is where I got off. I waited a couple hours and then got another bus down South to Cuenca where I arrived in the wee hours of the morning.
I spent my first day there wandering around, but it was a Sunday so everything was closed and it was kind of like a ghost town. I headed back to my hostel at night and went back to check on some laundry I had done earlier. As I was doing this, I was thinking I would then sit down in the cafe and meet some new people and see what happens from there. I walk back into the cafe and guess whose sitting there waving to me? My French Family! I could not believe that I was running into them again, but it was a pleasant surprise and we chatted for a bit.
The next day I went to Paqrque Nacional Cajas with a friend I had met in Banos. We met some other people I had met the night before in the cafe and we made the trek around the lagoons in the eerie tree and fog covered mountains as the four of us. We were at an elevation of nearly 4000m so it was pretty cold, and the water was even colder The Swiss guy really wanted to jump into one of the lagoons, but didn´t want to do it alone. So, I stripped down to my boxers and jumped inot the ice cold lagoon followed by my Swiss and Israeli friends. The water was soooooo cold, but it was really refreshing and I am glad we did it, even though I was cold for the rest of the day. The scenery was awesome though and it was so peaceful with not many people there. I felt like this is the true unspoiled natural beauty that I came to South America to see and it made me really happy.
After the hike, we went out to the street to try and wave down a bus to take us back to Cuenca, but all the buses that passed by refused to take us on because they were full or something. So, we decided to try and flag down a pickup truck instead so that we could hitch hike back. After a few attempts, a nice family stopped and the four of us climbed into the bed the pick up truck and off we went speeding down the mountain towards Cuenca. It was such a rush because I had never really hitch hiked before and the guy was driving really fast and it was so cold, all the air rushing around us and the amazing scenery whizzing by made for a great end to the day.
That night I met some French girls I had met in Banos in my hostel and they were playing cards with a German guy. I sat down with them and we played cards and chatted for nearly two hours. While chatting, the German guy told me he was going to Puerto San Lopez the next day for whale watching and that sounded interesting so I decided to go with him. The next day we made the 8 hour bus journey to the coast and there I was, amazing. In the morning I was on a mountain and in the evening I was in the coast ready to see whales jump out of the water, I love this life.
The next day as we were walking to the agency for our tour, guess who sees me from their hostel? None other than my French Family once again! So I chat with them for a bit and tell them I will see them after the tour.
Whale watching was incredible. It is mating season and the males are competing for mates right now. So, in order to impress the females, they jump out of the water and trying to grab their attention and it is unreal. Imagine something the size of a bus leaping out of the water and splashing down right in front of you.. it is seriously one of the most incredible things I have ever seen and I don´t really have words to describe it. I am still wondering how something so big and heavy leaps out of the water like that, its really something crazy.
After being amazed, I had my last lunch with my French Family and said my last goodbye and headed off on another 14 bus journey back down South to Loja where I am now. This is my last day in Ecuador and I am crossing the border tonight into Peru for the last leg of my journey. I will be home in three very short weeks.