Most recent events revolve around my time spent in Quito, where I had the luxury of spending New Year. Ecuadorians certainly know how to celebrate and have a party, with Avenida Amazonas, a road running the length of the city centre, closed off in order for everyone to have the chance to celebrate together. Indeed it was one big fiesta with virtually the whole population of Quito turning out for it and enjoying the vast array of food and alcohol for sale from numerous street vendors lining the road.
Strangely similar to 'Bonfire Night' in England, effigies and puppets were placed outside of almost every business and house. Instead of representing the infamous Guy Fawkes though, they represented important Ecuadorian and world figures that people wanted to forget about as we passed into the New Year. As the end of 2006 passed into history, the city resembled a war zone more than a street party, with the burning 'bodies' littering the streets on the short walk back through La Mariscal to my hostel. During the evening's events I noticed a few more traditions that Ecuadorians participate in. Examples include eating twelve grapes at midnight (to bring prosperity), running around the block twelve times (in order to facilitate a trip to foreign shores), and also the wearing of the colour yellow, which is said to bring good luck. Sadly, I participated in none of these events!
I wish now I could recall the lead up to the New Year in Quito, but I remember very little from these hours. Not because I was blind drunk, but being the lightweight that I am, and also having a tendency to behave more like a 90-year-old since moving to Ecuador, I had to take an early evening nap in order to make it through to midnight, arising from my hostel bed at 11:30pm to start my drinking, dancing, and partying exploits. Embarrassing, I know!
Even more embarrassing was by 12:12pm I was already back in my hostel bed, ready to catch up on my beauty sleep. In my defence though, this wasn't just because I’m a boring old bugger (although some people might argue against this!) but as the clock struck midnight a ridiculous amount of people decided to start throwing fireworks and firecrackers into the crowd filling Avenida Amazonas. With a few whizzing past my ears as they made their descent onto unsuspecting members of the crowd, I thought for my own safety and gorgeous looks I would make a swift exit.
There were a few strange sights witnessed in Quito during the New Year. One was a drunk, scruffy, homeless Gringo with a thick Irish accent dressed in nothing but rags, asking anyone who would listen for a slice of pizza. The fact there were no pizza outlets to be seen didn't seem to act as a deterrent! I would have loved to have listened to his life story, although I suspect that cheap alcohol and beautiful Latin hip-swinging women would have played some part during his recollections.
For the second time during my short stay in Ecuador I met the Ecuadorian president. Unlike the political powers of the US and the UK where the public are kept at bay by menacing and gun-yielding security forces, in Ecuador it seems that 'Boy Scouts' sufficed in the important job of protecting the president, Rafael Correa. On a city walk to see what New Year celebrations were about to unfold in his city, Correa stopped at an ATM. As his 'Boy Scouts' tried their best to keep the watching public at bay in the hope they wouldn't catch a glimpse of his PIN number, he started to walk in my direction. Spotting my chance I dashed (i.e. casually walked) through his security personal, where I held out my hand and offered my congratulations to his victorious political campaign. I was quite surprised when he replied in perfect English "Thanks very much". I actually think he was the one more flummoxed to why a Gringo would be making such an effort to speak to him!
I was hoping for something of more substance to our exchange of wise words, but just as I was about to embark on my first conversation in the world of politics, taking in Ecuador's friendships with the US and Venezuela, the 'Boy Scouts' fought back with a vengeance and separated our manly handshake. I could tell by the chemistry in our eye contact that he totally got me, and understood my potential for a future role in the public eye. It's quite amazing you could get all of this from a 2-second meeting. Either that or my imagination is running wild!
The morning of New Year's Eve I was at the point of believing that I wouldn't be having the opportunity of partaking in New Year's shenanigans at all, as I somehow managed to stick two of my fingers together with superglue after being a little stingy and deciding to stick my trainers back together instead of buying a new pair. Not wanting to pay a ludicrous medical bill for my own stupidity, I resorted to my trusty penknife to separate them. It certainly wasn't a pleasant sight and I was immensely surprised by how much sticky fingers can bleed profusely.
Recently I have finally made my first trip into the Amazonian jungle, to the small town of Puyo. It's quite embarrassing that I have been in Ecuador for almost five months and this was my first trip to the lush rainforests, located only three-and-a-half hours away from where I work and live. While in Puyo many attractions were visited. I was lucky enough to see enough orchids to last me a lifetime at Jardin Botánico Las Orquideas (daily 8am-6pm, Tel:03/884855, $5), learn much intellectual information on the herbal and medicinal properties of plants I will never see again in my life at Parque Pedagógico Etno-Botánico Omaere (daily 8am-6pm, $2), and get to play with a family of monkeys at Paseo Ecológico Los Monos (Tel: 088105324, Email: email@example.com, $2 including 2-hour trek into the rainforest) who took great pleasure in biting me, trying to strangle me with their tails, trying to steal my camera, and sticking their hands (and heads!) down my coat hoping for a good grab of my man boobs. Such an enjoyable experience! While at Paseo Ecológico Los Monos a 2-hour walk into virgin primary rainforest was also undertaken, swinging across ravines on random forest vines, hanging tamely from the towering branches above. A little scary I must say, especially with the torrential jungle rain and one little slip from the wet vine would have resulted in a pretty painful fall. It was sad to see that even in such a small uncommercialized town as Puyo, deforestation was still more than evident around.
I definitely think on future visits to Puyo, a change in accommodation will be necessary. The normally reliable Lonely Planet was way off the mark with Hostel Libertad (Calle Orellana, Tel:883282, $6ppn), which I decided to choose. Upon being shown to my room (Number 35) I was met with a trail of paw prints on the floor leading to a fresh pile of dog turd, lying nicely next to the bed. If this wasn't bad enough the following night I was awoken by a random guy opening the bedroom window and curtains and attempting to climb in, in the hope of carrying out a nighttime robbery. Luckily I was able to scare him off. I would like to think it was my penknife, drawn and ready, the blade glistening in the moonlight, that made him retreat into the darkness. If I’m honest though I would probably say it was the fact I was running at him butt-naked, my pride and glory there for all to see, that scared him away. It's not even as if I have that much to offer! It was obviously an inside job as the window had been shut but left unlocked and it was impossible to know this from just looking through the window. From my experience I wouldn't recommend anyone to stay here at all!
Photos to follow shortly.