A long time coming...

0 degrees fahrenheit. No heat, no lights, solid block of drinking water, exploded beer, frozen ketchup and it's only 8pm. After all that, we still had each other and we still had our determination to realize our vision. Despite the circulating perceptions that this maniacal way of life would inevitably lead to a divorce, we are pleased to say that you were wrong! We are as happy as ever and every frozen bone was well worth it! After 4 years of living together in our 21ft RV, we managed to pay off our debts, Kirsten complete graduate school, Seth become a certified arborist, both work multiple jobs and manage to save up enough money to travel. So here we go. We hope that you can come along for the ride.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Taken by Gypsies

San Clemente is a town that welcomes you without saying a word. Its´permanent residents are warm and inviting, a trait that magnifies with each passing day that we spend here. The smiles become wider and conversations deeper as we become regulars at street stalls selling bread, fruit and seafood. Cordial greetings have become interjected with first name reception and handshakes are thrust forward, indicating we have moved beyond the company of strangers. It is small enough that it is easy to meet people, yet large enough to be home to a town cross-dresser, a few reknowned drunks and eccentric personalities.

On a recent evening, Seth met a couple that invited us to their home (or at least he thought so) the following day for lunch. We walked in the direction where Seth thought they lived at the designated hour (only half-understanding the quick-tongued directions the night before). As we strolled over cobblestone, Seth spotted them up ahead. ¨Jesús!¨he shouted. No response. ¨Jesús! Jesús!¨he tried a second and third time, shocked as this hadn´t grabbed their attention and they were only 20 feet ahead of us. (Red Flag 1) Kirsten asked, ¨Is that them?¨ ¨Sure,¨ he responded confidently. He threw out a whistle to which they immediately turned around and greeted us. We exchanged pleasantries, they shoved two bananas into our hands and led us back to their home.

As we strolled, Marie pronounced her age, 50! She gave us a look. The one that says ¨I´m all that and more!¨ She raised her eyebrows, broke into a crooked smile and waved her hand up and down the side of her body with the flick of a wrist. She could have been taking lessons from Vanna White. Kirsten commented, ¨Yes, you look good for 50.¨ She was short, with a slight protrusion of her belly, demonstrating the memory of birthing 5 children. She definitely wasn´t hot to trot but, heck, every woman deserves a compliment, especially when you are invited to her house for lunch.

Jesús, the husband, pulled open the ubiquitous barbed wire fence for us to pass through, leading us to their house on stilts, hovering three feet above the sandy yard, where mere seedlings were struggling to take root. They promptly gave us the exterior ¨tour¨, pointing out the coleus, aloe vera & piña (which was obviously a bromeliad) (Red Flag 2) none of which were over two feet in height. They invited us up the creaky wood stairs into the brick house, whose mortar was haphazardly applied to the seams. Our hosts offered us plastic chairs under the hammock in the front living room, a space no more than 8x10 feet. Our eyes quickly found their way sideways and took inventory of the round table donned with a navy table cloth. It housed herbs in porcelain bowls, mortar and pestle, an antiquated bust of Jesus among other knick knacks, clearly the tools of alternative healing.

Jesús, missing the top row of teeth, which rarely inhbitied a smile or conversation, asked us if we wanted to listen to music. ¨Sure,¨we respond. He fiddles with a few stations, then leaves it turned off to busy himself with other capacities of entertaining his guests. ¨Where are you staying?¨Marie inquires, her fuschia lipstick drawing Kirsten´s attention as she has clearly invaded her American perception of personal space. Kirsten backs up her face, with a look of suprise and responds casually, ¨Oh, just up on mainstreet.¨ ¨How much do you pay?¨she quizzed us. ¨Well, why don´t you two move in here? We´ll cook all of your meals for you. I´m a good cook. You must pay $20/day in food (NOT!) Stay here. Yes? What do you think of our proposition? Yes?¨ (RED FLAG 3) A completely perplexed, ¨I don´t know,¨ was all Kirsten could mutter. This was obviously not a spur of the moment proposal. They were courting us. Luckily, we could find refuge in our English with eachother and came up with something close to a ¨Hell, no.¨ The air in the room suddenly felt heavier and we were spared when the conversation turned to children (or lack thereof) and our travel plans in Ecuador.

Within five minutes of our arrival, Marie slapped 2 thick decks in Kirsten´s hands. She turned the frayed cards over and peered through the worn out pictures to reveal: tarot. Marie wanted to read Kirsten´s future, for a price, of course. Ten dollars for a reading, but only 2 for you. ¨Friends,¨she suggested. ¨We don´t have any money,¨Seth interjected. ¨Sí? Sí? Come. Sit. Let me read your cards.¨ Kirsten managed to dig out a pathetic 20 cents, which Marie took from her assuredly and without shame and sat down underneatth the hand-scrawled letters on the wall that read, ¨God is Love.¨ As a virgen of tarot, Kirsten had no idea what to expect and with that, expected to be pulled along with every turn of the cards. The reading progressed with half questions. You have brothers.? ¨Yes, ¨ she hesistantly offers. ¨He is very concerned about you. You two, pointing to us, are in love.?¨ ¨Yes,¨ we gingerly respond. ¨He (Seth) looks after you, protects you.¨ She shuffles, Kirsten cuts the deck one, two, three times. Flip. ¨You will have a child in four years, a girl. Your father is worried about you, You are smart, strong, private person. You must work hard to make money. Be careful. Overall, good life.¨ Whew! We were relieved. Seth declined his offer politely. As we were ushered outside for the ¨picnic¨Seth pointed out the large calendar displaying the bare breasts of Augusts´finest, prominently hanging on the wall next to shrine upon shrine of gaudy christian knick knacks.

As the two hosts rambled in barely coherent Spanish, Jesús set about preparing a massive bowl of fish, he claimed were fresh, but we were quickly concluding that not all (or any) of what they said to us could be trusted. (Red Flag 4) Jesús, working over two boards, propped up by four vertical bamboo trunks, rinsed fish on the makeshift counter, alternatively telling us extravagant stories and sticking his nose into the belly of the fish to smell whether it could be salvageable for guests. He proceeded to tell us that he had caught the 8 inch fish, by spearfishing in the surf, though the creatures had no visible signs of pucture wounds. One type he told us was a pirrahna. Seth called him on it, insistent. He wasn´t going to be taken for a willing fool. Jesús backed down, like a dog with his tail between his legs and admitted his trickery as he threw the now empty plastic bag over the fence nonchalantly, where a pile of trash was accumulating. He had travelled all over the world, every country Seth could name. The men across the street: military, murderers. We cast sideways glances at each other, not sure what we´ve gotten ourselves into. They´re gypsies for sure. We asked ourselves if we would get out alive, and if so, when?

The shortage of propane in Ecuador, left Marie and Jesús emptyhanded. They constructed a small fire in a pit, put on a pot of water, threw in potatoes, whole fish and peeled bananas-all raw, all together. If that wasn´t enough to get our appetites fired up, Marie rigged up her own little grill and skillet in which she plopped a large, softball size chunk of lard. A sight that made our stomachs protest the upcoming feast.

As they fried and boiled, Seth asked curiously, ¨What is that hanging on the fence?¨ indicating the pod-like, semi-transparent object dangling by fishing line. ¨A woman´s heart,¨Jesús responded. Sure that we were misunderstanding their Spanish, ¨A woman´s heart?¨we ask in utter disbelief. ¨Yeah, she was murdered. We found it walking along the road…beach.¨ ¨By whom?¨we ask. ¨Who knows,¨he shrugs. We should point out here that though it resembled some internal organ from some kind of small animal-it was most definitely NOT a human heart! (Red Flag Number…by this time, we´ve heard so much BS that it´s not worth counting)

They chatted up about our astrological signs. Our certain compatibility-taurus and pisces, while ending each sentence with ¨¿me entiendes? ¿Sí o no?¨ The food was marginal, swallowable at best. Fried bananas with fish flippers and scales attached. Mmm. Makes you want to cry out for seconds. We excused ourselves by declaring that we had a party to attend (our half-truth), but not before Jesús gave us a rock, a memento to remember them by (not like we needed that!) and asking for our fake U.S. address. Perhaps, they were just a couple looking for a little compay, or more likely, we contend, a pair out to make a buck off of us. We left them disappointed, less the 20 cents worth of tarot.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Beach Bums...We could get used to this!

If we learned anything from our ride in Maine and Canada, it´s that coastline doesn´t necessarily equate to 0 elevation gain. In more likelihood, the coast is hilly and Ecuador does not stray from that generalization. The breezes blow strong enough near the ocean to impede adequate headway, but it is a welcome gift of nature as our wool t-shirts pool with sweat and we begin dripping from our nose, eyebrows and even elbows. The wind rushed onto our damp skin and it is the only relief from the heat. Fortunately, the sky is mostly overcast, protecting our, (or Kirsten´s) white, northerly skin from the intense equatorial rays.
A late start, albeit due to a scrumptious, home (for the time-being)-cooked breakfast and some watching of the Olympic opening ceremonies left us riding in the heat of the day from Pedernales. The worn out pavement, which exposed battered rocks below contributed to higher rolling resistance on our tires and we felt the day getting away from us as we climbed hill after sweaty hill. A well-intentioned stop at a roadside stand left me, Kirsten, with a sour taste in my mouth. As we were empty-handed on the banana front, we plotted a pit stop at the first sight of the delectable treats. The owner of the thatched roof stall was in his 40s, his shirtless frame showing off his bigger-than-beer-gut. As I took a moment to hop off my bike to inspect the varieties he had available (as there´s more than one) my eyes went to the ripe plantains hanging in a large, 2ft long bunch. ¨No¨ he shouted. ¨The guineos are over here.¨ Was he thinking that a gringa couldn´t possibly want anything other than a ´gringa banana´? The ones, that are almost exclusively the only ones sold in the states. ¨These ones¨he insists, now speaking to me as if I were a child. I couldn´t possibly know what to do with the others, eat them raw? I settled on my choice, four of each. The younger boy assists in pulling them from the bunches. ¨How much?¨I ask. ¨Fifty,¨the boy responds. ¨Fifty?¨I counter questioningly, aknowledging the fact that I know it´s the inflated gringo price. ¨Cents,¨the old man chimes in. ¨Well no s***t sherlock...centavos, ¨ I thought as I walked away deflated. I wanted to get as far away from this man with the sterotypical ¨Americans are yellow-banana-eating morons who can´t understand spanish, so why don´t you leave anyway sort of attitude.¨

The hours continued to creep up on us as did the hills and we were forced to stop in Jama, a seemingly run-down sprawl of a town. On the third attempt to land a bed for the night, we entered Rosa Azul, a gated two-story, concrete house with cheesy mural paintings on the plaster. After repeated knocks with no answer, we discussed our options and turned to leave when we noticed the scraggily old man sound asleep in the hammock. It took multiple shouts to arouse him from his siesta. He rubbed the scratchy face he had failed to shave, scooted into his sandals and jumped onto his rickety cruiser bike with a second wooden saddle on the top tube. ¨Off to find the lady¨he told us. Greta returned, sporting her shower cap. Her recently dyed hair crept from under the pink plastic and the skin near her ears was dyed a rusty black. Sure, she had room. Yes, we´ll take one.

40kms south gives rise to the Cancún at spring break crowd in Canoa. We sang the Bob Marley beats to ourselves, which were pouring out of the speakers at booths selling tacky jewelry. We sat down to eat pescado frito and encebollado, a brothy soup with chunks of fish, delicious yucca, onions and herbs, served with banana chips. It didn´t take long to decide that we would rather spend the night with Ecuadorians, rather than foreigners, so we buggered out of that town in a hurry. As we rolled into San Vicente, the coastline dominated the view, the city of Bahía de Caráquez looming across the bay. As S.V. was a tad drab and uninteresting, except for a stunning mosaic on the side of a church, we headed straight for the ferry that would shuttle us across the bay. We approached with visions of the Princess of Acadia, the grand ship we crossed the Bay of Fundy in, but when we arrived, it was a somewhat decrepit-looking vessel, with room for 20 people and some light cargo on the bow (2 heavily-laden bikes?). As our turn to load came around, we approached cautiously, fully aware of how fast our cargo would drop, unrecoverable, to the bottom of the harbor. I loaded mine first, and as Seth waited, hoping he could catch the next boat, with a wide open bow, the boatman waved him on, despite his skepticism about the lack of room (2 bikes on already). He seemed confident though, so Seth gingerly (or not) lifted his bike carefully across the void that was the open ocean onto the rocking and rolling deck, sure that his bike and himself would soon be sinking to the bottom. He insists that he was NOT going to let go! He shoved his bike on the deck with vague confidence that it would stay. We were comforted little when the boatman loosely looped a rope around the frame. As we pulled away from the dock, the lurch of the boat sent his bike reeling, the front wheel bucking wildly up off the deck and hanging precariously over the edge of the boat. He somehow managed to stay in his seat and watched as the man left his bike to the mercy of the waves and headed to the back, on the way, giving the driver a wink and sly smile, a clear suggestion at the hilarity of it all and the hysterics they would be in when the bike got launched into the depths of the ocean. It was a tense ride, to say the least. Fortunately, it was short and ourselves and the bikes were on dry land in no time, the driver and his buddy having a good laugh at making the gringos nervous as we rolled (or pushed) our bikes up the ramp.

Bahía proved to be a long night. After a relaxing evening at a cute, Australian-run hostal, we were bombarded by drunken enthusiasm, our bedroom window just a hundred feet from a raging all-nighter, complete with wall thumping techno music and even a loud (very loud) fireworks display at 3am. They were just turning their music off as we were dragging our weary, fatigued heads from bed and 6:30am. We left early, wanting to ride far from the town that never sleeps. Rolling away, we stopped to ask the cabbie for directions out of town as he was polishing off his fourth beer (perhaps he was at the neighbors last night, or maybe his daily routine?). He stumbled to his feet, unable to disguise his slobbering drunkeness. After listening to a few, short words of his grovelling, we thanked him kindly and continued on. We soon passed the first group of serious cyclists we have seen yet in Ecuador. They were congregating at the park to train for an upcoming road competition. They waved enthusiastically, so we stopped to say hi and get some more intelligible directions. The man we met had actually been to Colorado, as he had family in Grand Junction-small world indeed.

As we left the throes of the city, we passed through the most wretched, nauseating stretch of road yet. It took all of our strength to contain our breakfast and as we wondered what could possibly smell so rank, we passed the local dump, strategically placed uphill from town-brilliant. The road was hellishly steep, the kind of steep that stalls out trucks. I had to traverse across the road, back and forth, because it was too steep to simply go ¨up¨. Two hours into our ride, we had only made it a handful of kms, but we were fully and completely drenched in sweat. The rest of the first half of the ride would continue to be tough, sustained uphill battles. Though the landscape through this stretch was pretty trashy, lots of garbage and stinks, it was super friendly, with lots of musical horn toots, waves and one couple pulling over their car to say hi, offer their encouragement and let us know about the other times that they had passed us. The second half of the morning was a breeze, smooth downhills and fast straightaways. We rolled into San Clemente early in the afternoon. We were to pass through, but decided to stay over ceviche and fried fish. We were right on the beach, huge waves amid a small, cozy town of fisherman and Ecuadorians enjoying the beach for the weekend. We swam, walked on the beach, hunted for seashells, read a lot and cooked a delectable meal of rice, veggies, pineapple and fried bananas.

As we were cooking, in a beach-side thatched hut, we awoke its´owner from his ¨siesta¨ on a nearby bench. There was an inconspicuous, nearly empty bottle of local firewater made from distilled sugarcane on the sand, hinting at the cause of his ¨drowsiness ¨. As he roused from his stooper, we feared we had picked a bad spot, as we would now be subject to the slobber and stumbled speech of yet another enibriated Ecuadorian. To our pleasant suprise, Eugene, in all his drunken glory, was a hoot and we had a blast listening to him brag about knowing Denver, Colorado (where they make money-we finally realize he means The Mint), his lore and singing of The Rolling Stones and ¨The Boss¨. Fortunatley, he dropped the remaining bottle in the sand before polishing it off. Before he left, other men congregated here, intent on getting in some conversation with us. We chatted about local life in San Clemente, fishing and local archaeological sights. We had a blast and laughed a lot, despite our faltering spanish at such a late hour and our attempt at discerning the slurred spanish of our new compañeros.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Welcome to El Carmen, a town uniquely Ecuadorian because it isn´t mentioned in the lonely planet. Kirsten´s bum knee had left us here for another day, another day to explore, meet and most importantly, eat! After two days here, we continued to be, I believe, the only gringos in town. It had a rough and tough look when we first rode through, but it quickly grew to our favorite, so far, Ecuadorian town. The people were friendly, the food delicious and cheap, and we could find just about anything (if only we had room on our bikes to liberate one of those poor chickens!). Stall after stall sold the same thing, whether it was fresh-squeezed juice or children´s underwear or a still squirming live catfish. It can be argued that Ecuador still lags behind in public infrastructure, indeed it does, but that doesn´t mean it doesn´t take priority in staying connected. Nearly everyone has a cellphone, even in the most remote regions where U.S. infrastructure would more than likely be insufficient (e.g. our old house in Boulder). Internet rooms (not cafes per se) are as plentiful as the mosquitoes down here, though it is frequently an attempt at a rip off destination. ¨You started at 2:00.¨ they say ¨No, it was 2:30...¨ we´d respond, followed by a deep, exhaustive exhale, resignation and finally, the ¨correct¨ change given in nickels and pennies...uggh. It puts our bargaining skills in spanish to the ultimate test.

We left town the next morning as dawn was breaking (or was that a window across the way...?), long after the first rooster´s crow (the one that woke us up), just as the city was coming to life. There was already a line 50 people deep in front of the bank, and people were already staking out their spot, propane tanks in tow, for the 12 or so hour wait for the truck to arrive. We headed west, stopping for fresh bread and pastries to energize us for the 90+km trek through Las Montañas de Chindu...all that separated us from the Pacific Ocean and the coastal town of Pedernales. As we turned off the main road, passing through yet another construction site, all eyes of the workers were on us, er, Kirsten, their tongues hanging out, drooling and whistling in their crude, utterly obnoxious, yet quintessentially machismo Ecuadorian man sort of way, me resisting all urges to pull my bike off the road and deck them all. I much prefer the shout ¨You´re a lucky man to be traveling with such a beautiful woman¨, acknowledging Kirsten as the beautiful woman she is and not just nice boobs and a butt.

The road was blissfully traffic free and we rode side by side past banana plantation after banana plantation (the banana you might be eating right now probably came from just this region), a virtual sea of giant green sails flapping in the wind. The banana tree is not a particularly attractive plant...many of the human-sized leaves dead or browning at the edges like the sickly dracaenas we tried to nurse back to health in college. As in most poor, rural areas, ingenuity prevails here where money or resources lag behind. Bamboo is plentiful, growing in huge, disproportianately tall groves, and is used for just about everything from houses and furniture to the ladders they use to climb each individual banana tree to cover the clusters in plastic (my heart sinks as I try to imagine why they need to do this...use your Monsanto delusioned imagination).

Though we had been told that the ride was pretty flat and all downhill to Pedernales, we were once again reminded of the age old cycling adage...never trust the advice of a car driving local! Mere hills in a car become nearly impassable mammoths of mountains on a bike, and as we continued to climb up, and up...and up, the road disintegrated from our lusciously well-paved expressway, to a slow, slogging, rut-filled pile of rocks, stretching our patience and indeed our already aching calf muscles to the near breaking point. Will power prevailed, however, coaxed on by the constant honks, waves and shouts of encouragement from the heavily overloaded-with-men pickups that slogged past, barely outpacing us. As we rode, we tried to imagine what the average Ecuadorian thinks of a couple of gringos cycling by on heavily laden bikes and we came up with 3 generalities...Indifference, some people don´t even look up from what they are doing when we pass by, Curiosity, we get some weird looks!, and Enthusiasm. Obviously, we prefer interacting with the latter and their gestures ranging from the above mentioned waves, fist pumping and pleasant musical beeps of the horn to genuine conversations with people that get a sparkle in their eye and large grins of excitement when they hear of our travels.

Without a bike computer or kilometer markers, we could only guess how far our uphill slogging had gotten us with little to distract us other than the familiar sounds of machete whacks, bird calls and growling, barking dogs, the latter of which we have learned to defend ourselves from by arming our bikes with long, pointed dog whipping sticks for the handful that are well-fed enough to chase us, nip at our heels and panniers and bare their gnashing teeth during their rabid display of incessant barking.

We had decided that making the coast was a must, as camping thus far has been a lesson in sketchiness and anyway, any potential camping spots (the rare of the rare flat areas) are well guarded by layer upon layer of the ubiquitous barbed wire, unbroken and unforgiving.
So we pushed on, sure that our much awaited ocean vista lay just around the next curve, just over the crest of the next hill. As our energy reserves teetered on E, we wound our way up the longest climb of the day, finding at the top, not our precious vista, but a kind woman making pure, fresh-squeezed mandarin juice. We stopped for a quaff and tentatively asked how many kms to Pedernales, sure she was going to confirm our fears that we were still hours away based on the endless layers of mountains that still panned out in front of us. Sure enough, to our delight, she informed us that we were less than an hours ride away, and it was almost all downhill! We hopped on our bikes, with renewed energy and enthusiasm (our bodies, caked in dirt, just dying for a swim) and rolled into town 40 minutes later, amid a sea of dust and coconut palms, thatched beach huts and most importantly...the Pacific! We quickly found ourselves a cozy, cheap place to stay, stashed our bikes and headed out for a swim in the bath-like ocean and gorged on fresh ceviche, corviche, corvina, ice cold brews and of course, bananas.

Monday, August 4, 2008


In Mindo, we were still trying to work out the imperfections in our frying of bananas and potatoes, staples in this part of the world. The hotel had some cabañas (thatched huts), an outdoor oven and hammocks outside, each covered in overgrown vines and unique flowers. Each time we brought the stove outside, they insisted that we cook in their kitchen. The owner made us fresh-squeezed lemonade, as we batted away the dogs, cats and chickens that congregated around us each time we cooked a meal.

After relaxing a bit, reading a lot and getting a vacation from our vacation, we headed for a larger town, in fact, as it turns out, a disgusting, dirty, over-populated metropolis. There were two routes to get there, yet only one that actually qualifies as a road. We took the one that didn´t. An hour into our dissection of the mountainous landscape, Luis Mendoza stopped with a hearty smile. We loaded our bikes into the back of his truck and happily jumped into his cab to de-sweat from the heat and talk with this man with a hefty belly and even heftier laugh. Luis was an awesome travelling companion. He´s 61, married, though he called her his woman, has 8 grandchildren, doesn´t smoke and loves to dance. Everytime he said something funny to us, he would do one of either two things. Stare directly at us, not the road mind you, and wear this large grin from ear to ear and puff his eyebrows up and down, moving his cap on his bald head inches at a time. Or, laugh so incredibly loud, raise his right hand up in the air and then slam it down onto Kirsten´s left leg to emphasize the character of the conversation. He was a riot, very genuine and friendly. He dropped us off a good distance from where we started, which turned out to be a good thing, because we had a long way to go on the dirt and rocks that almost qualified as a road.

We passed a number of rivers and small villages that afternoon and as luck would have it, we descended upon Sol Y Agua. The sign seemed to imply that it had cabañas to sleep in and perhaps we could pitch a tent there. It was definitely not a sleeping locale and it took us the two days that we spent there to actually figure the place out. It was a gated piece of land, with a small soccer field, cabañas with restaurant tables and a kitchen along a magnificent river. We pitched the tent, as Graciela, her husband and 2-yr old son, lived on the property. Apparently, they live there in exchange for upkeep of the property, feeding the poultry of all kinds and cooking (only on Sundays). It was Saturday when we arrived, so we didn´t want to miss what spectacle might ensue on Sunday, so we stuck around. Early that morning, we asked Graciela if she had any eggs that we could buy....and boy did she ever! She brought us across the road and uphill to the bird houses...chickens, ducks, geese, what we think were cornish hens and all of their eggs! There were well over 150 birds there. We bought a dozen of these tiny eggs, from the mystery birds and a couple from chickens. They were the best eggs we´ve ever had. Later that day, we ate the mystery bird with rice, lentils, veggie salad and of course bananas, when a large family came that afternoon to swim, eat and drink Pilsener, the Ecuadorian beer. It´s actually just called Pilsener believe it or not.

This morning we rode through the hazy mist to Santo Domingo, ughh. As soon as we rode in, we decided to ride out. It wasn´t worth navigating to find the post office and we´re quite sure it would have taken all day. So, we´re hanging out in El Carmen, resting up to make our early morning break tomorrow to the coastal town of Pedernales. We send love to all of you out there as we´re off to eat more bananas every way imaginable.

Pero...Que VARIEDAD de Plàtano Quieres?

Maqueño, seda, horito, verde, maduro y más y màs y más. We can´t possibly name every type of banana they have here. Heck, the natives can´t even name them all! And they are absolutely delicious and diverse in flavor, texture, color, size, cooking possibilities and much more. We are smack-dab in the middle of banana heaven. Last night, we were pleasantly suprised when Graciela brought us empanadas de verde. They were not flour empanadas stuffed with banana like we had erroneously thought. The breading itself was boiled verdes, mashed with salt, rolled out into a tortilla, folded, stuffed with cheese and deep fried. Delightful!

It is not unlike us to wake up one morning and think we are headed in one direction and then find ourselves going the complete opposite way. This was the case when we left the farm in the sierra. We originally planned to go to a high elevation, indigenous town called Otavalo and ended up 6000 feet lower than we started that morning...which was awesome, because we coasted probably 15-20 miles on a road we thought did not exist in all of Latin America: newly paved, wide shouldered and little traffic! Suprisingly, the shoulders on the roads thus far have been substantial-though more likely to aid the (savage) drivers, as one native described them to us than for the benefit of cyclists like ourselves. As we dropped in elevation, the air became thicker, waterfalls cascaded down immense canyons and the diversity in vegetation took on a whole new life. The trash littering the sides of the road, couldn´t stop us from stopping to enjoy magnificent vistas of the surrounding mountains and eat our new favorite snack-chiflas and manì´-banana chips and sugar coated peanuts. The descent into the jungle-world continued until we ended up in Mindo, a little town catered to tourists because of it´s delectable environment-orchids, toucans, rivers, waterfalls, bird-watching and anything thing else that could lure in a dollar. We didn´t partake in any expeditions that like to overcharge foreigners, but we went exploring in the jungle, hunting for insects and were mystified by the diversity of plants. We saw one flower that looked like Cindi Lauper´s hair in the 80s, if you can imagine that. We stayed 2 nights at a very eclectic, artsy hotel and then headed back, UP to the next destination. To be continued...