Thursday, 27 December 2007

Martin Sikes

Martin Sikes is dead. If you knew him, you don't need me to tell you how great he was, or what kind of man we've lost, or how much he'll be missed.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Cherry Mishmash

Cherry Mishmash, Eberyvody! To celebrate, and since sending llamas by post is expensive, I hereby gift you the present of a huge long post to waste your time with. Think of it as being like a book, only not written as well and with a protagonist who can't resort to Deus Ex Mechina in the end. The little camera's photos are now all saved safely on a server somewhere (thanks again, Chris!), and I dug through most if not all of the non-Emily-in-the-Galapagos shot from it. Thus, we have some flashbacking, and some new stuff, and, er, yeah. I don't think I've lost any, though it kind of feels like I have, there's a lot of spotty, er, spots. Since uploading got the order a little mixed up, in somewhat random order we have: (Click to enlarge any photo) In the Ruta del Sol, there was a dead and puffed pufferfish lying on the beach. The Ruta del Sol starts at Puerto Lopez and runs down the coast of Ecuador, with tiny towns every half hour or so. It's really quite nice as long as it's the quiet season. When it's busy, apparently it's packed. Pufferfish, puffed In Puerto Lopez, Em got sick. Sick-sick. There was no hospital, but the local doctors were pretty good. It was amusing to carry her IV as we walked, and it was funnier still holding it up in the taximoto, which is a kind of bumpy motorcycle-tricycle-cart. She got better, but we had to stick around town for four days while she recuperated. IV After the South end of the Ruta del Sol, we stopped in Guayaquil, from where Emily was originally supposed to go to the Galapagos. Her trip got cancelled because the person she arranged it with decided to give the bunk to someone else, so she came back to Quito briefly before going with a different boat. It worked out better in the end; she had an amazing time on a sailboat done up as a pirate ship, with great people, and ended up extending her flight and sticking around a few more days. When she puts her pics up I'll link to them - the Galapagos look absolutely amazing. But, back on track. In Guayaquil, we hiked up a hill in the Las Peñas neighbourhood. Luckily I followed the right-explore rule (hug the righthand wall and eventually you'll have travelled the perimeter) and we didn't go up the normal way, which involves stairs with numbers on them and tourist shops. Instead we walked up little back roads and alleys, most of which had amazing views, and it was tranquil and beautiful. Going down we went the other way, and we barely stopped. At the top there was a lighthouse and a church. view from Las Peñas Zip back in time about a month... I went to Baños with a bunch of people from our language school (Escuela Simon Bolivar, I actually highly recommend them). The first night, we went out, and the cheapest drinks were shots that they lit on fire. booze We went biking on our first actual day in Baños. We started biking through the town, then quickly hit some nice downhills. Bikes broke and I kept fixing them as best I could - not much you can do when a rear derailleur is hanging limply because the mount has snapped - and there was lots of downhill coasting. Em kept braking down to about 30kph, so she brought up the rear most of the time. At about eleven, we came to a bridge where people were bungee jumping. I told Em I'd do it if she did it, so after she went I plummeted. For those of you that don't know... I'm deathly afraid of heights, it's one of the reasons I found Parkour so hard but so fun. There was a mild wardrobe malfunction, as well, so the video of my dive won't be posted here. Maybe I'll save it for the next Skulk. A couple of the girls jumped tied together, too, which I thought was great. At around noon we stopped and ate some great food, biked a bit further, then locked the bikes up at about noon and crossed a suspension bridge over a river: A river by Baños We hiked for an hour, then whipped across a canyon in a rickety-feeling cart on a cable. Back to biking, there were more great views, and some waterfalls: Biking by waterfalls To get back to Baños we tossed the bikes in the back of one truck and hopped into the back of another. Flode (in the hat) and I leaned off the bumper and hung onto the rails for most of the way back, it was chilly but fun. Keepin' on Truckin' Baños was fun, and most of us who went stayed in touch and became reasonably good friends while we were in Quito. I've probably mentioned the Sasquisili market before, but in case I haven't, it's probably the most important indigenous market in Ecuador. Once a week, several huge market squares get filled with everything from textiles to food. Live animals, as well. I pretty firmly believe that if you can't handle how meat is processed, you shouldn't eat it, and long story short I bought, killed, and cooked a cuy. First (with much help from one of the very kind Simon Bolivar instructors, who correctly pointed out that if I skinned it as originally planned there'd be precious little left to eat) we removed its hair: Removing cuy hair Which took forever. We even ended up buying a bic razor to shave it with, after plucking post-boiling-water left a fair few short and difficult to remove hairs. The bic didn't work at all, so we kept plucking. Finally it was dehaired: Cuy, dehaired And then of course gutted: Cuy, gutted We let it marinate overnight, and cooked and ate it the next day. It tasted rather like guinea pig (the English name for cuy) smells. Not entirely unpleasant, but not terribly appetizing either. Back in Sasquisili, I snagged a few shots of the locals, whose traditional dress I really liked. At this point I'd only had two days of Spanish lessons (I think) so my conversations were pretty broken, but I really enjoyed haggling, since I had numbers down and it was a way of communicating. Some of the vendors were really funny, making different amusing claims to support the worth of their goods. Others acted sad, tragically saying they couldn't go lower than a certain price. Some focussed entirely on the pull, some mostly on keeping interest from people who came by - I found it really fascinating, when I could understand it, but the body language of hagglers made it much easier. A Sasquisili street This woman was selling pig heads. Pig head for sale Cries of "Vente pescados, uno dollar!" (twenty fish for a dollar) rang out, but there were few takers for the fishmongers whose sun-warmed offerings had quite the strong odour. Fish for sale Llamas were auctioned off. Llamas make strange noises. Nice animals, though: Llamas Pigs were for sale. I have a two-second clip of one screaming as it was shoved into a truck. Later! For now... pig drool: pig Also, pigs: Sasquisili market Waaay back in Costa Rica, there was a bull, a traditionally painted cart, and two small children: Bull and cart In Tsuraku, the place in the Amazon where we volounteered, we went for a walk on our last-ish day there. The forest was pretty nifty, but nowhere near the ecological density of Osa. Still, it's a beautiful forest: bosque A beautiful forest with weird bugs. This guy walked in a most strange way: bug The houses in the Shuar community of Tsuraku, where we were volounteering by the way, looked mostly like this: hut II The hut where we spent way too much time reading and playing cards: hut I'm a sucker for butterflies: butterfly For those who've seen the horror movies of caged chickens... free range chickens naturally look that way too, sometimes. Of course, their feet don't grow around the cages, but... Chicken One day, when it didn't rain and we actually got to work, the kids of one of the volounteer coordinators came with us into the jungle. Fun, funny kids. They spoke far more Shuar than Spanish. Kids Walking More bugs? But of course! Bug Em and I cut down more trees than we planted. We moved a nursery, but apart from that it felt like most of the work was makework. We ended up leaving two weeks into the month, but I didn't feel guilty. We weren't exactly doing much. Five hours of work a day if it didn't rain, and it rained almost every day. Still, we did swing some machetes: Machetework Oh look, an amazonian bug: Bug "Yeah, most of these are poisonous, but probably wouldn't kill you. Just don't molest/bother them." (Roughly translated from Spanish) Spider Bugs? Bugs! Mantis: Mantis Butterflies count as bugs, right? Bitten butterfly Em and I, working to move the nursery: Nursery work Nursery work II One night I saw a crazy, glowing bug. It glowed in several colours, in intricate patterns. Alas, non-flash shots didn't work, but maybe this gives an idea of what it looked like: Bug Back in Baños for a weekend, I climbed a local mirador, which had a big statue of Mary with Baby Jesus on her knee. It seems like most South American towns of a given size or more have such religious artifacts on hills. climb The view from the top wasn't bad, and the rain evaporated pretty fast: me Creepy house (succinctness wins): creepy house In Quito, the language school said they were having a tour that would walk around the Old Town, which has crazy architechture and old buildings and winding steep streets. Alas, it turned out to be a bus tour, where we'd occasionally walk off the bus, mill about, then walk back on. Still, I tried my first cañelazo there, and it was nice to see the Old Town at night. Some of the churches were more impressive at night: Church Church Walls with glass cemented to the top are a common burglar deterrant in South America. I find them interesting and beautiful but disturbing: Deterrant In the airport in Costa Rica, you're basically not allowed to use the escalator: Precaution And... yes, pretty clouds. I'm a sucker, all right? Costa Rican sky Another shot of the caiman: Caiman The Costa Rican rainforest is quite beautiful: Costa Rican rainforest Bugs, doors, the sky... add wet stone to the list: stairs A snake that Em didn't step on: snake A weird bug in a museum: Wacky museum bug The mist cleared over this Costa Rican volcanic crater-lagoon for about 45 seconds. Note the plume of smoke from the bottom right. Em took this pic. Volcán Bugs, doors, the sky, wet stone... paths. Overhanging path I'd never seen coffee beans on the plant before: Coffee beans Em pushing up to catch a wave: Em pushing up to catch a wave Em on the left, board on the right: Em on the left, board on the right Instead of taking a picture of me surfing, Em took a picture of me holding a surfboard. Too bad, too - I was catching lots of small waves, and when I ventured into 1.5m smashing, crashing surf, I cought more than I expected. Horrible foam longboard, though. In Ecuador I used a handcrafted balsawood longboard, and it was a treat to ride. I talked to the guy who makes them, and they're crazy-cheap and amazing boards, way harder to break than fiberglass. Out of the water I don't know how much I've talked about Panama, and I'm too lazy to read everything I wrote. We went straight to Boca del Toro, which I think was a mistake. These tiny frogs are apparently all over a place called Red Frog Beach, which we didn't go to. We saw lots of red, orange, yellow and green ones on a different island, though, at the top of a graveyard. We actually took the wrong path going to a spot called Wizard Beach. We walked for a couple of hours through tiny mud paths, followed barbed wire fences, and briefly had shoes claimed by mud. We'd been warned against going the wrong way, too. frog One day was Em's birthday, and when that came out, the two people we were splitting a boat with whipped out a chocolate cupcake from a backpack and gave her a tasty birthday cake! birthday! Some ludicrously sunny Carribean scenery: Emily and more pretty Carribean scenery Boca del Toro was an atrociously touristy place. Once away from the main drags, though, once given a bit of space from clamouring hotel pullers, boat owners, and drug dealers, it had moments of beauty. Also, snorkelling was incredible. Panamanian Carribean Back in Costa Rica... I'd gone into Puerto Jiminez on a very bumpy three hour collectivo with bare metal seats. Half an hour before we got there, it started to rain. By the time we arrived, it was a deluge... and I'd forgotten my raincoat, as it'd been a beautiful day when I left. I ran around town trying to get in touch with the parks people, but they'd closed for lunch - normally the collectivo was only two hours, and it wouldn't have been a problem. I ended up buying food in a little grocery store, dripping wet. As a puddle grew into a pond around me, an elderly gentleman approached and laughingly gave me a short Spanish lesson, including mojado (wet), seco (dry), ropas (clothes), and pura vida (THE Costa Rican phrase, which means cool, pure life, wicked, great, hello, nice to see you, goodbye, be happy, nice to meet you, and a few other things). I walked around town some more, getting laughed at by a fair few locals, and not getting much done. Finally someone came and talked to me through the gate's bars at the parks office, and they said that there were no spaces to camp in Corcovado for about a week. Em and I had over and over been told that there'd be space, to not worry about reserving it... and we were planning on going in the next day. Didn't happen, obviously. we did a short day hike instead, and afterwards packed out walking along the beach. Leaving Corcovado Corcovado was amazing for the day hike, though. For starters, there were Coatis hunting for turtle eggs: coatis Em, oblivious to wildlife (there's a pattern here) stepped on this snake. She was in front, but when I noticed I stayed quiet, thinking that it was probably best if she kept calmly walking away from it rather than making a lot of noise and acting agitatedly and probably stepping on it more. Em's snake Em's snake Going back in time again, we get once again to Carate. I spotted this basilisk one night - the photo doesn't do it justice, it's a beautiful creature: Basilisk When working with eggs, we dug by hand. When we dug new nests, we'd keep our fingers tight together and dig with a swivelling motion to most closely approximate a turtle flipper digging, no joke. The plastic bag is to put the eggs in, the tape to measure the depth and width of the nest so that our new nest would be about the same size. The hand in the hole is gloved: it's best to have no human juice on eggs, and no egg juice on humans. We wore dark clothes because turtles have pretty lousy vision, and they identify towards-water and away-from-water partly by the fact that towards the forest is darker and the surf and the open ocean sky are brighter. Our headlamps could only be used with red LEDs for the same reason. Em clearly used a flash, but because it was a quiet night, turtlewise, and there was lightning, we hoped that no amphibians would be hurt in the taking of the picture. The eggs were about the size and feel of slightly flat ping-pong balls covered in baby oil and sand. Digging for turtle eggs Digging for turtle eggs Bugs, doors, the sky, wet stone, paths... oh wait, the sky: sunset Chris complained about his bites. Starting at the ankles - well, as you can see, below the shoe line, actually - my legs were covered in bites. There's more than 50 in this shot, and I'm tall, so my legs go quite a bit higher. bites Flowers are pretty. pink flowers Coatis are these weird, raccoon-like animals that travel in huge packs. It wasn't uncommon to see 20 walking along. This guy, though, was on his lonesome: Coati Every now and then, something reminds me that I'm not in Canada anymore. One day that something was a dog in a wheelbarrow: Dog in a wheelbarrow This triple waterfall was a quick one hour hike away from the ANAI turtle-camp. Going past it was actually quite dangerous, but that's a long and cliff-involving story. Short version: pretty waterfall! The foreground plants don't give it good perspective, it was about 20m tall. triple waterfall On the hike to the waterfalls: Osa forest Aaaand ocean: ocean There were hundreds of nests in the hatchery, all moved by hand from locations on the beach (most because otherwise they'd be washed away by the tide). We'd watch it in shifts, since if baby turtles came out mid-day - very rare - they'd not be able to escape, and even if they did, they'd probably burn to death before getting to the water, if vultures and crabs didn't get them. I think Em took this pic. The hatchery Em obliviously walked right past this bird of prey - wish I could remember exactly what it was, I think it was a falcon. The tents are where we "dried" clothes. Clothes went mouldy frequently, and stank of mold even more often. Birdie! Aaaand one last beach shot: Beach Ok, I don't really feel like this was a super-informative post, but hey - photos!