I must say, living in the Ecuadorian Sierra always amazes me at how many places of interest you can visit with completely different environments, all within a day trip away.
Recent weeks have seen another trip to the jungle town of Puyo. This time around I had the pleasure of climbing to the top of a 200-year-old tree to look across the Amazonian jungle canopy and playing with a family of monkeys (again) at La Casa del Arbol (Via Shell km. 11/2 sector Te Zulay, Tel: 032885611 or 098040379), located a short ride outside of Puyo, costing around $3 by taxi. A weekend jaunt to another favourite Ecuadorian destination, the spa town of Banos, was also undertaken, where during a visit to Zoologico San Martin (www.sanmartinzoo.org, open 8am-5pm) the highlight was watching grown men pleasurably molesting Galapagos Turtles and almost seeing a staff member mauled to death while cleaning out the cage of two spectacled bears at a nearby zoo. Of course this made for some compelling, if a little sickening, car crash TV. I'm not sure if these performances are part of everyday zoo life but on the off chance it is, entry to Zoologico San Martin costs only $1.50 with buses leaving from Banos every 30 minutes and costing $0.25. There should be enough at both of these attractions to keep you entertained for half a day. Jungle excursions in Puyo also saw the drinking of copious amounts of sugar cane juice along Calle Ceslao Marin, which nicely came in a variety of alcoholic beverages, most of which were given to me free of charge due to the locals getting huge amounts of laughter out of the twisted, vomit churning faces I was pulling upon drinking them.
Trips to Quito for good food and a bit of peace and quiet from having to live with children 24/7 have also been undertaken, if only to keep my sanity. This sanity has been found in the shape of an Indian food restaurant with the highly original name of 'Great Indian Restaurant'. Found on Jose Calama E4-54 between Calle Juan Leon Mera and Avenida Amazonas (Tel: 2238269), I have become such a regular that my order is normally taken before I even open my mouth. If anyone does read this and fancies following in my footsteps then the lentil curry is by far the best dish on the menu I have chosen so far, and at the remarkably cheap price of $2.50 a dish including either rice or naan bread, it has all other restaurants within the La Mariscal district of Quito easily beaten.
The trip to Quito along the Panamericana always surprises me due to the amazing views on offer. It’s hard to go more than a few minutes without seeing giant blue hearts painted on the road, sometimes two or three at a time. These represent where people have recently lost their lives through traffic accidents. It doesn’t at all shock me that this road is rated as one of the most dangerous in the world.
Hopefully in the next few weeks I will be leaving the Ecuadorian mainland for the delights of the Galapagos after finally having our trip there authorised by my university. I have had to commit to working at the university up until July, but it's a small price to pay for a free holiday to the Galapagos. I still haven't a clue what I will be doing there, but I hear snorkeling with sharks and turtles is in the cards. I am one excited male!
The rose plantation just outside of the Sierra town of Latacunga where I live is currently in full drive for Valentine's Day. It's ridiculous how many long stem roses of each and every color and variety under the sun are produced here for Valentine's, and being sold for the ridiculously high price of $1 per rose. Well, when I say ridiculously high, considering you can normally get 24 for $1 any other time of the year in these parts of Ecuador, I suppose it is a little extortionate! Even with such prices, I still envisage it being a nice, cheap Valentine's, as any roses that aren't perfect are just thrown away for scavengers like myself to find . I'm sure my girlfriend won't notice the difference.
Working on a rose plantation for Valentine's does have a few disadvantages, the worst of which is having to work a few hours at the day nursery to cover any vacant shifts. This has meant having the joyful job of having to undress, shower, and re-dress all the young children in the morning. Luckily, after almost dropping a baby on his head the last time I worked there, they have refrained from making me work with the babies. This didn't cut down on the amount of nasty experiences. After coping superbly with the ridiculous amounts of diarrhea filled nappies, I somehow let my concentration slip and let one two-year-child put both his feet in their own sloppy turds. I can assure you this little accident was met with many disgruntled and appalled looks from other staff members as they entered the showers to find the freshly washed white rug (who puts white rugs in a bathroom for children!) covered in beautiful little brown footprints. It made for quite a nice piece of modern artwork. As punishment I was made to wipe the noses of snotty little kids for the rest of the day, which left a huge amount of a nasty, putrid, green, sticky substance covering most of my clothing. I did finally get the chance to change my first nappy, but I doubt from my flourishing skills there will be any more in the near future.
After making my national TV debut at the end of last year with a fleeting 2-second appearance, recent days have seen more popularity amongst the media. The military university in Latacunga where I have the pleasure of working, to promote the excellency of their English school, have decided to run a promotion campaign to attract extra pupils. Instead of using their most trusted, dependant senior and loyal English lecturers, they decided on using a couple of completely inexperienced Gringo novices, who they obviously thought would suffice in fronting their mass publishing campaign. Due to this decision, posters; leaflets; advertisements in the biggest selling national newspaper, El Comercio; and, I have been reliably informed, (although I haven't seen yet) billboards of me 'fake teaching' can be found all over my local town of Latacunga, going as far as the nation's capital, Quito. I'm not sure if I'm ready for such a celebrity lifestyle!
University life has also seen the ludicrous notion of myself being asked to join their rather successful two man running team. I wondered why they would ask a pot bellied Gringo like me to star for their distinguished running team. In fact my pot belly is so evident that my school children in Lasso genuinely ask on a regular basis if I'm pregnant (they obviously must be too young to realise that only women give birth!) and how many children I am expecting. Children can be so cruel sometimes.
The truth soon became clear though as the running professor, after first saying he would be delighted to offer me the chance of representing the university in Ecuador, Columbia, and the USA, he sheepishly remarked as though it was an afterthought "in return you can help us get visas to America". Basically it seems the only reason I'm getting to embarrassingly compete against elite athletes from the Americas, people who no doubt can run twice as fast as me with ease, is because people believe an Englishman like me can somehow have incredible contacts within the American government, which will get strangers visas to the promised lands. I'm not quite sure I have that amount of power, but a few free road trips representing 'my' university, something I never achieved during my time studying, is enough to keep me happy. This was easily the highlight during the last few weeks of teaching, even more pleasing than catching one young boy sucking another young boy's ear in class. It's quite sickening to know that the behaviour of this five-year-old is spurned by his very own abuse. Even more sickening is the amount of children in the Ecuadorian Sierra that protract the same undefinable behavioural problems. Life continues here at the same steady, slow pace as ever.
Well that's all for now, it certainly doesn’t seem over 2 years ago when I was having the pleasure of celebrating Australia Day in the delightful surrounding of The Redback Tavern (http://www.redbacktavern.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel: +442087521827) in Acton, London, and getting a little too friendly with Australian bus drivers (female of course, but only just!). I’m glad those days are well and truly behind me!