Category Archives: Ecuadorable

Richie Vs. the Volcano/Escape from Ecuador

It’s been a while since we left Ecuador. Weeks maybe. Perhaps even a half-moon? I dunno, but we were there for a while, nearly 3 months in total and almost running out our visa. A bit of a surprise to me Ecuador it was indeed. Cheap gas, the Andes, and a finally friendly and unsuspecting populace made for good times in the land of the Cuy.

Livin’ la vida selva was alright I guess, but the Andes are where it’s at, they’ve always been, and we was just itchin’ to get back to the mountains and commune with the giants after slingin’ verbs in Amazonia.

Volcan Tungurahua: Ever since passing up the chance to dose on the slopes of one of Nicaragua’s fire-breathing monsters we’d been pining for that perfect set of circumstances that would let a body get up close and personal with one of earth’s angry giants. Dubbed Tungurahua, which translates to ‘throat of fire’ in the Incan mother tongue, this little gem puffs its stuff out in Ecuador’s sierra oriental, poking its smoky ass through the clouds and looming large over various assorted hamlets but most notably the touristic mecca of Baños. Baños, an interesting place in its own right, would be our base of operations as we prepped for the climb and recovered from yet another round of infectious parasites. A spa-town, lil’ Baños plays host to a various different assortment of mineral-rich hot-spring bathing complexes and tour companies touting exciting jungle adventures, bungee jumping, and the like to both vacationing locals and enterprising palefaces alike. Palefaces and tanfaces mingling together in harmony there was and none of the nonesuch that comes along with those other places: Antigua or Granada or all of Costa Rica. Competetive prices would allow a body to score a $5 hotel room with cable tv and a private bathroom positioned just right to enable them to ride out their parasites while catching up on lost episodes of Two and a Half Men and 2 Broke Girls.

Gosh, I hope those bitches land on their feet

A trail from Banos leads up to the refugio just within the tree line, an 8km slog with 6000+ feet of elevation change.

Semi-abandoned yet still standing refugio at 3800m on the slopes of Tungurahua. Planning to wait out the weather, I would haul up 3 days worth of food. Delicious canned tuna and Ramen noodles for breakfast lunch and dinner it would be with a small stream nearby yielding clean yet ashy water.

Ashy Richie. The entire top half of the volcano is covered in ash, blowing everywhere. It gets into your eyes, your nose, your mouth…everywhere. On one of the trips up to the refugio we ran into a guide that has been up to the crater, who noted that a body would be mad not to scale Tungurahua’s ashy sides without an axe and crampons. Having little in our mountaineering arsenal save for an iron will the refugio broom handle would have to do double duty as an ice axe and, for crampoms, the Ecuadorian mystery boots and the manboy that made them legend.

View from the abandoned seismic-shack at about 4000m. Moonscape from here on up.

Moonscape baby. Just over the first crest now and looking up towards the crater, which lies somewhere just back behind the clouds.

Refugio attic. Cozy indeed.

That was it, I never made it to the top and it was probably a good thing at that. I got to within 50 or 60 yards of the thing. Close enough to kick a soccer ball into it. Winds near the top were picking up marble-sized stones and hurling them horizontally. Ash in my eyes, ash everywhere. A heart felt decision indeed it was to descend. Coming down to the refugio and taking a piss, the ground shook and lil’ Tungurahua made its presence felt. Had I had made it to the crater, I would have probably still been in there, chilling out reading a Louis L’amour paperback and eating a tuna fish sandwich, waiting for the winds to die down.

A nice cap to Ecuador and after Tungurahua, it was all downhill to the Peruvian border. A brief stop in Cuenca and then some desert delights in Vilcabamba before tackling the frontier ‘road’ to the Peruvian highlands.

A little RnR in Vilcabamba. Carrying 3 people on the back over shitty roads in the Amazon likely contributed to the rear frame cracking.

A little desert scenery in Vilcabamba.

A good section of the ‘road’ that links the southern reaches of Ecuador with the Peruvian border. 100 miles of slick ass mud and white-knuckled death grip, cursing God and whoever engineered this thing and called it a road the whole time.

Drying out a bit at a military checkpoint, Peru in sight. Who are you? Where you going?

Entonces, peace out Ecuador. It’s been real but it’s time to go, to move onward with the sun at our back and eyes on the prize.

The Incans await.

Peruvian Preview:

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Liquor Amazonico Style

Drinking trago in the Amazon and playing soccer until dark. Teaching ninos English in the jungle and being threatened by the jeffe to stay for two weeks instead of just one…and then he borrowed $20 from me. Where did it go? No one knows.

Trago is liquor distilled from sugar cane juice and it’s strong stuff, like moonshine. It doesn’t taste sweet at all but smells and tastes sort of like a dirty martini, or like when you pop the lid off a jar of green olives. It does the trick and is clean stuff. But look, that’s just one part of livin’ la vida selva and a small part of my days spent teaching ninos in the hamlet of Nantar, somewhere out in the high Amazon and the wilds of Ecuador.

Mis estudiantes all lined up in a neat little row outside of the schoolhouse.

Ah, delicious colata, part of a healthy nutritious breakfast to help young minds grow and be all that they can be. The Ecuadorian gov’ment gives out bags of this stuff, along with cookies and cereal bars, which we supped on every morn for desayuno.

Hey Freddijimmi, godamnit stop clowning around with Michael and get back to work; you need to pay more attention brother.

Saltamonte the jungle grasshopper with cool designs that make it look like a leaf. Man, the sheer number of incredible bugs in the jungle was mind blowing. There were hundreds of different kinds of butterflies with incredible wing patterns. We’re talking perfect geometric shapes like, and some with clear ass wings.

Gosh, would ya’ just look at the size of that yucca root!? Go on, just look at it! Martin, Nelly, y sus hijo Jeremy aka Nayim. My hosts during my time spent in the jungle, they fed, housed, and bathed me in the river like a guagua.

Man, what a crazy bug! The stick bug comes in some weird colors man and this one was black and red. It has a weird tail, which I thought was a stinger, but Martin assured me that it was harmless. It always tries to crawl towards your face.

Stick bug and lil’ Jeremy. I like this pic because Jeremy has weaseled his way into it, like in a Botero painting. He’s in nearly every single one of my pics from the jungle. Incidently, he managed to source a bootleg copy of the movie LaBamba and would play the part with the song over and over again ad nauseum. No matter, it’s a great song and reminded me of my own youth, doing the same with my Fisher Price stereo and LaBamba cassette single…although I always thought the baby-faced ethnic cool of Lou Diamond Phillips skipped a generation.

Out in the selva on a jungle walk with Martin and jungle baby Jeremy.

Cool spider, which Martin also assured me was totally harmless.

Casa de la Martin and fam under a hot tin-roof in the Amazon.

Platano balls!! Eat up!

A trip to the big city with my new family Shuar. Look how tall I seem. Like an Anunaki giant.

El inferno verde, an impenetrable green hell. Machetes are always chevere.

Lil’ Jeremy, Nantar, y sus abuelita. And platanos, always platanos.

Chonta tree full of incredibly sharp and dangerous spikes. I’m really surprised that I did not step or fall onto one of these things. This is where delicious heart of palm comes from and fallen chontas are the favorite food of those delightful larva.

Coco del Monte. Little miniature jungle coconuts. Rad. There’s even water inside, although they have little taste.

Lil’ Teofilas, my best student, cookin’ up some sopa. On mother’s day the boys would do the cookin’.

Look, I’m helping!

See, I’m holding the chicken to make it easier to cut, not a staged photo-op at all!

Mmm, pass the fermented yucca beverage please, called Chicha in these parts. Abuelita, get your mitts out of that chicha!

Mi amigo! Lil’ gusanintos, born and raised, in the rotted out trunk of a chonta tree is where they spent most of their days. Man, the Shuar would just gobble these things down raw. Look at the way these things move in the video and imagine one climbing around inside your mouth, and look at those pinchers! Plus, the dead chonta smells absolutely repugnant. Admittedly, they tasted pretty good, but I ate em up bien cocinado, roasted over an open flame. They taste sort of peanuty.

Me and my new old Shaur family. Chiki, Jeremy, and lil’ Teo all in traditional Shuar wear and me in traditional shirtless hooligan garb and feathered crown.

Lil’ Jeremy sporting war face and lance.

A little going away party with traditional Shuar dance routine.

So there you have it, all part of the exceptional experience of spreading the American english tongue to the outer reaches of the universe.

Anyone interested in teaching English to baby Shuar in the Ecuadorian Amazon, hit me up and I’ll see what I can do.

…eating the worm

 

…things are heating up in the high Amazon.

Coming soon: Liquor Amazonico Style

 

Going to the Sun and Other Myths

The road to the sun lies somewhere just south of the equator, at the base of a great mountain. It is the road to God and I hear that if you deign to take it you can get really close.

Close enough to scratch at his eyes.

Somewhere between New York and the Arctic was developed an everlasting obsession with earth’s sun, a definite resultant of the incessant rains that were to plague that cruel summer of 2011 and the exodus from the East. We remember well those early days spent inside the helmet, thoughts and doubts bouncing around inside as rain droplets pelted the outside. Cold nights in the tent, wet and alone. 2 months of rain. Stinky boots all the way to the North. Rains that just wouldn’t stop. There were times when the sun might come out to play, if just for a little while, and all was well with the world. Beautiful. Resplendent. Warm. Symbolic of everything that could be. I would prostrate myself before a million suns if I could, burning alive.

I’ve been getting my hike on in Ecuador. Mucho. The landscape, the paramo, the volcanoes, everything, is the stuff of things I have never ever seen before. Amazing. The Andes man, they have it. Fuya Fuya, Volcan Imbabura, Iliniza Norte; incredible mountains all serving to whet the appetite and inch one closer to the sun.

At 20697 feet Chimborazo is the tallest thing in Ecuador by at least a thousand feet, dominating all , magnificent and magnanimous. It is taller than anything to the north, even Mt. McKinley, although it bears some sort of resemblance to it’s little brother of the barren lands, looking again for all the world like a dollop of ice cream plunked out on the paramo and reaching lazily towards the heavens. But whatever, that’s all well and good.

A really big mountain.

Yea.

The attraction of Volcan Chimborazo lies in it’s proximity to the equator and that unique bulge that makes this particular extinct volcano the farthest point from the center of the earth and the closest point on earth to the sun. Sure, you can get closer in a plane but cmon, that’s cheating.

Some prep work was in order to prepare for the majesty of Chimborazo and all of its 6000+ meters. You’ll need to prepare for this kind of altitude with some lesser peaks. Acclimatization. A body needs to adjust itself to the lack of oxygen available in higher climes. If you don’t acclimatize, you will feel like absolute garbage. Terrible headache. Nausea. You might even die. Si, es verdad.

Ecuador is rife with opportunities for scaling its mountains, hills, and volcanoes. Although there are lots of National Parks, there is little infrastructure in the way of fees, annoying rules, nerdy park rangers, etc. Most of the parks in Ecuador are supposed to charge around $10 for entry but there’s never anybody around to collect fees, just deserted guard shacks. There are no R.V.s here man. A lot of climbing opportunities exist outside of the “parks” too and you don’t always need a “guide” for everything. You can go climb a 16,000+ foot mountain by yourself and no one cares. I would be up and down Fuya Fuya, Imbabura, and Iliniza Norte with my Tupac bag and shitty boots without seeing another soul. My sherpa and I would be the only ones to summit Chimborazo that day.

Volcan Imbabura: At just over 15,000 feet Imbabura is a perfect means to acclimatize for higher peaks and is a satisfying slog in its own right. The trailhead is reached from the village of La Esperanza, which lies uphill from the bustling city of Ibarra along a steep cobblystone road. Set up shop in La Esperanza and then set out in the morning dew on another incredibly steep cobblystone road that leads to the base of the mountain and the start of the trail. The road will eventually peter out into mud. And from there you must dismount your vintage motorcycle and walk to the end of the mud where you will end up at someone’s concrete shack/house, ask directions, and hope you’re going the right way. From there on, more or less, the guidebooks are right in saying that the trail to the summit is easy to follow. Just keep going up and up and don’t get lost in the paramo. Cold, wet, and windy, an incredible fog would blanket Imbabura that day. It was near the summit, coming down, that I would slip with both feet going up in the air and soles pointing towards the sky, lower back and all my weight landing squarely on a pyramid shaped volcanic rock.

Iliniza Norte: This is probably the highest point in Ecuador that a body can scale without mountaineering equipment, although the owner of the hostel where I stayed prior to summiting was kind enough to rent me a helmet and mountaineering boots which I didn’t need at all, although having crampons would have been helpful. Mountaineering boots are like wearing rollerblades without the wheels: big awkward plastic boots that are stiff, heavy, and uncomfortable. Choose wisely from the only two places to stay the night in El Chaupi, village to the stars and to the Iliniza park. If you stay at La Llovizna lodge you can practice your spanish with the aging manservant there, but just try not to get lost in his irritated bloodshot eyes. Go to sleep man! To get to the trailhead a body will need to employ the services of a 4wd camioneta, which trundles along an abyssmal road to the parking area some 3000 feet below the concrete refuge and the route to the summit. A relatively simple jaunt to the 17000 foot summit then follows. On the way is the disconcertingly named Pass of Death which runs along a thin rocky ridge. Although Norte is a “dry” climb, there was a lot of snow when i summited, making for some treachery. Slipping will deposit you down a snow and rock chute, leaving you for dead somewhere thousands of feet down. Word. Be careful Richie. An incredible climb indeed with literally awe-inspiring views of Cotopaxi punching through the clouds. Utterly surreal and amazing. The Ilinizas are composed of two peaks: Iliniza Norte and Iliniza Sur. Both are the remnants of the same extinct exploded volcano and from the peak of Iliniza Norte one can gleam a partial semblance of the massive eruption that blasted the middle out of an entire mountain. On the way down to El Chaupi, near the parking lot, I ran into a couple of Germans with lime green mountaineering boots and fancy walking sticks trundling up to the refuge slowly but deliberately, like camionetas, without passion or spirit.

Note: Click on pic and scan the horizon for the mighty Cotopaxi.

I hadn’t planned on climbing Chimborazo. I was going to go for Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s second highest peak and an active volcano, and see how I felt. But, whatever, I was in the area and just wound up hiring a sherpa. I would have to rely on my shoddy prep work climbing Iliniza Norte and an iron will to touch the sun. More weirdness and one last round of acclimatization would lead a body to Casa Condor, a “lodge” where it was suggested I spend another night acclimatizing at around 3800 meters. Casa Condor is a community owned eco-tourism venture that some paleface helped put together for the locals in a little town on the road to Chimborazo. Seemingly, it was built years ago, almost finished, and then never touched again. Totally empty, creepy, and cold. Exposed wiring abounds and none of the lights work. Spoiled food in the fridge. Many of the indigenous locals are inbred and not to be trusted. They want to “guide” me everywhere, for kopeks of course. Everything’s either rotten or dried out. Weird. I’ve seen this type of thing before and it seems like these community venture things never work; well thought out plans that always wind up falling to pieces.

The mighty Chimborazo as seen from Casa Condor.

Eh, I’d probably go there again. It was quiet and no one bothered me. I completed my prep work by finishing watching Mean Streets and cooking up some pasta. I was eating only simple foods, mostly breads and the like, along with bananas and papayas to quell my stomach, which was host to parasitic amoebas less than a quarter moon ago. I didn’t want to repeat the agony of Tajamulco and discovered that a diet of mostly carbohydrates, along with a little fruit, and just a tiny bit of protein yields the most favorable mix for tackling rugged Andean peaks.

Incidently, although I was totally fine and gassing it up no more than usual this time, it appears that the increased incidence of gaseousness at altitude is not only common, but expected. It is more human than human. Article here.

There are two refuges on the slopes of Chimborazo. One at 16,400 feet and another at a little under 16,000 feet. You can drive a family sedan to the first one and the second is about a half hour walk from there. We would eat lunch, hydrate, and then turn in to bed at sundown for a few hours of fitful sleep before striking for the summit at around midnight. Copious amounts of coca tea are consumed to help adjust to the altitute and give a body energy. Right before leaving for the climb I would double bag it and feel great for about 45 minutes, jogging up the side of the mountain. After that it was pure hell all the way to the top and then down again. Look, this was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, way harder than a marathon. I wanted to stop and turn around but I never wanted to quit; for to quit would be to die a psychic death. But for an iron will was I able to make the top. My indigenous sherpa was magnificient, this being his 90th time summiting and barely breaking a sweat, but wholly uninspiring. Hands and knees man, like a nino I crawled, staring into bottomless crevasses and not really caring at all, just wanting to make it to the top and defy God. At the false summit I nearly wept, being so close and all but neigh, there was more to be done and a body needs to steel itself for the last putsch. 5:30am and beating the sun. It was ice-cold at the top and I was half-dead. But I made it man. Just another small victory over God and another chapter in a sleazy romance novel to the Sun, looking down on it as I stumbled down off the mountain.

Summiting in the cruel dark of the night. First American in history to complete the ascent without bottled oxygen. Reinhold Messner’s bottles littered the slopes.

Coming down the mountain to the emerging dawn.

Only known photo in existence of mystery Sherpa.

Mate de Coca: Cocaine tea. Illegal in the U.S.A.

Notes: It’s hard to relate the exhaustion that was felt upon finally reaching the refuge. Totally and completely spent. Failing to summit would have made this unbearable, but there would be no mental anguish this round, just a feeling of smug pride at not having quit and having summited, passing my own test. I almost peed my pants struggling to free myself from the rope harness and unfamiliar pants and then the battle was on to direct the urine stream away from my clothes and body in my weakened state, all the while balancing on wobbly legs. As noted previously, if measured from the center of the earth, the summit of Chimborazo is the tallest thing going. Everest isn’t even close and for many years, Volcan Chimborazo was considered to be the world’s tallest mountain. The climb itself was not very technical at all. There are crevasses, but nothing terrifying. The route is simple and straightforward and is basically just a slog. If you knew the route, you could probably do it in soccer cleats or golf shoes with an extra pair of socks. When compared with Cotopaxi, not a lot of people climb Chimborazo. While Cotopaxi might have 50 people or more any given weekend, there were only four of us, including Sherpas, who set out that morning. The climb starts around midnight so that one can summit and make it down to the refuge before the ice starts melting and rocks start raining down. Remember, we’re basically on the equator so if there are no clouds in the sky, the equatorial sun beats down and melts snow and ice. The ice and glaciers on Chimborazo are in a constant state of rapid flux and can open and close rapidly. Routes change and there is the potential for danger. Surprisingly, the only effect the altitude had on me this time was causing me to be horribly exhausted, or maybe I’m just out of shape from sitting on a motorcycle for 11 months. Besides that, I felt fine, maybe a little headache, although that was probably due to the dehydration. The altitude makes you all bloated too, and your fingers and toes swell up. The climb was cold, but not unbearably so and it was about 5 degrees Fahrenheit at the top, though windy. Down at the refuge, basking in the high altitude a light jacket would have been sufficient. You know, an ancient Mexican yogi once told me of people who live only on prana, universal energy, and eat, nor drink, nothing at all. There’s a movie about it or so I’m told but it’s only in French, although in searching the web, I ran across this flick about weirdos who stare at the sun to feast on its prana, the most reliable prana source of all. Strange indeed, but in descending Chimborazo, I felt little desire for food.

To Simon Bolivar, who was still sipping from the cup of eternal youth at 202 years old.

Tales from the Paramo

Out here in the Paramo there are no stars

Out here we is stoned

Immaculate

Lagunas de Mojanda

Ah, the American Dream. What’s it doing down here of all places? In South America? Get out from under mi cama you little rascal!

No, its not here. The American Dream is dead possibly, or at least off somehwere in the world dreaming, put to sleep after visiting the Cabazon dinos and buried under Mojave sands.

Everyone wants to know how much money I’ve spent so far. Not a lot really, considering the places we’ve been and how, but I’m still blowing through my life savings at a phenomenal rate. We all know your dedication, eating cold Spaghettios from a can in a hotel room in Vegas, said DJ Jared. And they weren’t even real Spaghettios, they were from the $1 store. And then there was the weird metallicy tasting chili with “extreme” lettering on the can to appeal to the youth of today and to set it apart from more boring chilis that your grandfather might enjoy. The truth is that this trip would’ve been a whole lot easier 15 years ago. Golden times for America they were when everything was 1/4 the price of what it is now and there were jobs everywhere.

Word up, it wasn’t that long ago.

The almighty dollar, now practically worthless.

How the mighty have fallen.

A gallon of regular gasoline is $1.50 here, in Ecuador.

Makes a man wistful.

Not a bad place to kill some time during the Patagonian winter.

I’m helping some people build a house near Quito.

When I first arrived, I sat there listening to them explain their plans for a new ecologically amiable home while watching their little kid struggle to fit an action figure into a hole on one of those little plastic boxes with the different shaped holes on the top.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that it is not a good time for building anything of permanence, but not because of the rains.

Better to be building a throne on which to sit and watch the end of days.

Ecologically friendly “cob” house, built with mud and straw and sand all mixed together and then slopped to form.

Get some sand, some dirt, and some straw.

Mix it all together.

Then slop it to form.

The mix shown will yield about 10 feet of wall, a foot and a half wide, and about 3 or 4 inches thick. Many moons of backbreaking labor may yield a house.

Fuya Fuya

Tales from the Paramo: High in the Andes, undulating fields of grasses interspersed with terrifyingly tall mountains, volcanoes and weird plants make up the Ecuadorean paramo and give it a Dr. Seussian air. It’s all muy alto and a little day hike can top out over 14,000 feet.

Cochasaqui Pyramids: Grass covered pyramids out there in the Ecuadorable paramo. Perfectly aligned with another ancient relic placed miles away on the true equator by forgotten peoples, the Cochasaqui Pyramids were most likely used as some sort of observatory. With their builders dead and their use forgotten, llamas now graze the grassy paramo on which they stand.

Fuya Fuya: Fuya Fuya looms large over the Lagunas de Mojanda outside of Otavalo. The CB powered up the cobblystone access road in first gear and sputtered to a halt at 3800 meters. No matter, for we had arrived and there was no more road anyway, eaten alive by the encroaching waters of Laguna Negra. An epic landscape the likes of which I have never before seen, a feast for the eyes. At 4263 meters the summit of Fuya Fuya is just a shade under 14,000 feet.

Bonus Quito Track:

The Buns of Calderon: Bread Boys and Bread Girls and Bread Llamas and Bread Mamas. Little inedible bread figurines scultped and painted into all sorts of fantastic things line the shelves of shops in the Quitoan suburb of Calderon.

The Quito Basilica: Built on top of an ancient temple once aligned with Cochasaqui and other sites, it has been said that light filtering into the Basilica will illuminate the altar on the summer solstice. Only those in the know its true purpose, and shape. Do you?

Coming Soon: Going to the Sun and Other Myths

A Job Half-Done

The CB500T straddles the equatorial line.

 

Happy Holy Week from the true Holy Lands and the Middle of the World


Things get weird down here south of the equatorial line as guinea pigs are splayed out and roasted on a spit right out in the open. Called “Cuy” (an onomatopoeia for the adorable squeaky sound they make) here, the guinea pig is a treat meant to be enjoyed any day of the year, but is an especially tasty Semana Santa meal.

They’re not bad, really, for what they are and the taste is similar to fried chicken but with a salty tough and leathery skin.

I can dig it, but to be honest, and we always are, the novelty wears off about nine tenths of the way through…