I apologise for the tediousness of this entry but no matter how hard I try, nothing of interest or amusement seems to be happening to me. Ecuadorian presidential elections have been and gone with no trouble at all. I was hoping to see a few mass street brawls like when I was in Kenya (minus the large quantity of machetes!) but alas it wasn't to be. I have heard some of the radical ideas that Dale Correa, the new president elect plans to enforce and with many inhabitants describing him as a communist dictator, the next few months could be an interesting time.
I was warned not to travel due to elections, after copious amounts of violence in previous years, but as it was my girlfriend’s birthday, I had already planned a whole week of travel as a birthday surprise for her. Being the old romantic that I am, instead of choosing the more obvious destinations such as the numerous tranquil, untouched beaches that dot the Ecuador shoreline, the Galapagos Islands or even the Amazon jungle, I decided to treat my girlfriend to the luxuries of a trip deep in to the Andean mountains to a ridiculously tiny village by the name of Chugchilan, containing a grand total of just 15 homes. As you can see my girlfriend is such a lucky girl!
Basically all there is to do in Chugchilan is ride horses and walk, taking in some of the rather impressive scenery on offer. As horseback riding is something my girlfriend is particularly fond of, I thought this would be an ideal birthday gift. After looking at the different horse treks on offer, I decided to choose the longest and most expensive (it's not often you hear the word I and expensive together in the same sentence!) horseback ride, a nice 6 hour trek through local homesteads to visit a cheese factory (it was closed), pre-Incan ruins (a muddy circular trench, nothing more) and some primary cloud forest (too many clouds to see any forest). As you can imagine we were so excited at the prospect of this. To make the trek even better our guide decided to make our horses gallop for the majority of the journey. Now, as I have only ever ridden a horse once before, in Costa Rica, where my horse tried to throw me several times before running out in front of a speeding bus, I was not altogether too happy with my first taste of galloping action. For the first couple of hours my genital region took a beating like never before, until finally the guide, obviously feeling a little sympathetic for me, gave me a crash course of how to ride a moving horse. It did help slightly, but by the end of the 6 hours, and after riding the last hour in torrential rain I couldn't even walk and my entire inside legs were red raw. I can't see me riding a horse again for the foreseeable future.
Partaking in a beautiful 4 hour hike the next day wasn't the best of ideas either, neither was leaving on the 4am bus, the latest daily bus out of Chugchilan with a bad bout of food poisoning. I really don't think the locals rated waking up to see the only road out of town littered with sick bags, which will have no doubt been ravaged open by the scavenging dogs of the area.
After a romantic trip in to the mountains, I had time to redeem myself with even more romantic trips. First off was a trip to the city of Riobamba and a ride on one of the most famous train rides in the world, aptly named 'The Devil's Nose.' This is billed as one of the biggest attractions in Ecuador, but to be honest it wasn't really worth wasting a whole weekend on. I'm sure some rail enthusiasts would have a little accident in their pants at the prospect of riding this, but for me, sitting for 3 hours on a train roof, in the freezing cold and pouring rain, getting soaked to the bone, being surrounded by tourists taking photos every five seconds isn't my idea of a life changing experience. My girlfriend and I also took a trip to Otavalo, where the countries largest tourist market takes place. The idea here was to buy even more birthday presents (and Christmas presents!) for my adorable girlfriend but by the end of the trip all I had to show for my efforts was a vast array of traditional musical instruments for myself. Like I have already said, my girlfriend is one lucky female!
After returning back to teaching, last weekend was spent in the capital Quito, celebrating the cities independence. After getting the chance to watch numerous bullfights live on TV, it was also the perfect opportunity to get myself involved in some of Quito's varied and popular nightlife. As a true Englishman abroad though, I spent most of my time in 'traditional' English and Irish pubs. I had a small dream of catching some of the Ashes cricket and maybe even starting some 'Barmy Army' chants amongst my fellow English counterparts. Sadly it wasn't to be, as the English pub was more traditional than I ever could imagined. It was like taking a step back to rural England as the pub was without a TV and came complete with an old smoky atmosphere, a roaring fire and even a senile old English man, drunk and stooped over his pint at the bar. I must say I was a tad disappointed at not getting any sporting action, so I retreated for some comfort food at the Mexican restaurant next door where I was welcomed through the door with the 1996 smash hit ' Three Lions' by Baddiel and Skinner. It was at this moment I got my first bout of homesickness.
Teaching, for some reason has been much easier since my week’s vacation. I have impressed myself by teaching the majority of the older children the phrases 'In the mixer' and 'Come on lads' in reference to the football sessions I have been coaching. It amused me anyway! I also had the pleasure of having a class discussion on homosexuality at University; minutes after my fellow teacher of the class had confessed to me his sexual tendencies. This made the contents of the lesson a little awkward to teach.
News also worthy of a mention was the disappearance of a 10 year old schoolboy, who was kidnapped on his way home from school in the nearby town of Latacunga. Sadly he turned up a few days ago dead, with both his eyes cut out, no doubt to be used in the black market organ trade. It seems this is a fairly common occurrence in this region. A couple of weeks before I arrived in Ecuador, in the same city of Latacunga two other boys were abducted. Like the more recent time, they too turned up with both their eyes missing, but were alive and each holding $5,000. It's amazing what children will give when offered enough money to buy a lifetimes supply of chocolate and candy.
I suppose the only other highlight was chasing after a bus to retrieve my $0.50, which the bus conductor tried to short change me, and almost getting in to a fight with him in the process. All it took after jumping on to the moving bus was a little bit of grappling and two shouts of 'Policia', and a fifty cent piece was soon shoved in to my open palm. I have also been informed that at the end of December I will be part of one big happy family, with a married couple and their two young children moving in to the volunteer house where I am living. After teaching screaming children all day long, the last thing I want to do is face them all evening as well. I will see what happens when they arrive. At least I have a full time job on offer at the University (plus a decent wage!) if I ever want it. I have decided to prolong my travels at the end of my time in Ecuador as well with a couple more road trips in America, first from Miami to my old home of Kentucky, and then from Kentucky to New York before flying back to Old Blighty a few weeks later.
That's all for now. The next couple of weeks are full of Christmas parties so I’m hoping there will be a few more shenanigans worth a mention.