A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: KimJay

¡Hola Ecuador!

Globetrottin´...

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For the last two weeks, we have been in the Ecuadorian Amazon visiting the indigenous community where Ben spent five weeks working on his Senior thesis. It is a long bus ride, a two-hour truck taxi ride down a dirt road, and a five hour tippy canoe trip on a rather rapid filled river. So needless to say there aren´t too many (or any that we saw) foreigners there (also it is invite only or $400 to come in, so we were lucky). We enjoyed spending time with Ben´s ¨host¨ family and getting to travel deeper into the community´s territory, something not too many outsiders get to do.

Our vessel:
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The river (at a less rapid filled point):
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Here is a list of some of the more awesome and also less awesome aspects of being in this community:

MORE AWESOME- Taking a walk in the woods

First of all, in Ecuador you get to say you are taking a "trek" in the "jungle," which just sounds more awesome. Second, nearly everything you see has some use. The best trees are the ones that produce things for eating. A walk through the jungle is like a fresh fruit buffet. In just an hour, we ate a string of guava fruits, a fruit that must be the source of nutmeg, and hacked off a cacao fruit with a machete (seen below). Not to mention, we chowed down on a tree trunk that tastes like cauliflower.

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Also, we got to wear these cool outfits and carry machetes. Here is a comparison between us and our Ecuadorian hosts Edgar and Victoria.

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LESS AWESOME- Amateur machete wielders accidents

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While slicing up this sugar cane for gnawing on, Ben hacked half-way through his middle finger with the machete. Luckily, of course the Yuca leaves that grow there act as a coagulant and he got bandaged up with a ripped dirty tshirt. Unfortunately, he bled all over the sugar cane and it seriously detracted from the natural flavor. (I will spare you the picture of what the finger looks like now, eeeeeeehhhh)

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MORE AWESOME- Two days a week specifically set aside for drinking- Sunday and Monday

These are purely drinking days. They drink ¨chicha¨which is made from the root of the yuca plant that they cultivate in these parts. The women make it by mashing up the boiled root, chewing it, and then spitting it out. Here is a picture of Monica demonstrating how it is made (note the half chewed wad in her mouth ready to find its way back to the mixing trough), followed by a picture of Kim enjoying a refreshing gulp. Although it took her a few days, she came to be fond of the purely unique taste.

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In this picture, Kim is sporting a design in the traditional face paint that comes from a fruit (it´s like henna but black)

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LESS AWESOME- Women basically run the whole show around the house, including continuously serving the chicha to visitors which leaves little time for them to be involved in the festivities.

MORE AWESOME - Bathing

All bathing is done outside in luke warm streams that lead to the river. Here is a post-swimming picture of Ben and Eduardo (another one of our kid guides that knew all the best swimming spots).

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Here are some other random good pictures (you may have noticed by now that most of the friends we have made along the way have been somewhere between the ages of 5 and 13).

Monica and Kim with a wild jungle animal (cuchuchu in Kichwa, pisote in Spanish) that wandered into the wrong place:

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Ben and Uber:

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Ben and Eduardo playing War. I think we averaged 4-5 hours of War daily. We have resolved never to teach it to kids in the first place from here on out. But he just looks so happy eh?

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PS We fly home tomorrow. We are excited to see everyone... but returning to find jobs again? Yikes!!! It is sure to be the most daunting adventure to date...

Posted by KimJay 14:01 Archived in Ecuador Comments (0)

Arqueología... con fotos!

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Finally we have reached Mexico and are staying in Tulum. So far, everything in Mexico burns, the food just became significantly more spicy and I am head to toe burnt with strangely-shaped sunburns that hurt everytime I move. Therefore I have time to blog, as my fingers are one part still in tact.

Over the past month we have visited several Mayan sites including our trek to El Mirador, Nakbe, and El Tintal through the jungle and then the more touristy sites of Tikal and Palenque. I could spend about 10,000 words or more giving you the details of everything we learned on the way and especially from our amazing guide at Mirador, but I understand not everyone would be so enthralled in every detail. If you are interested, we have pictures and loads of time if you want to see them when we get back. Unfortunately, it was so humid on our trek to Mirador that my camera decided to give up and we lost about 75% of the pictures of the site on my camera. BUT, here is the coolest stuff we saw and still have pictures of:

EL MIRADOR:

Mirador is a pre-classic site that was boss in the region before the rise of superpowers Tikal and Calakmul. It's still in the process of excavation and a great place to let your imagination loose on what it possibly could have looked like.

This is La Danta, the largest pyramid complex in Mesoamerica. It's a multi-platformed structure, just the platform that makes its base measures 300m by 600m. From base to top it stands 72 meters. This is just the final pyramid on the very, very top after climbing three large platforms that were used for living space and religious purposes for the elite. You can't see in the picture, but this pyramid is over 30 meters tall and flanked by six smaller earlier constructed pyramids.

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This is a mask at a temple that was later converted into living space once Mirador fell to Calakmul and later Tikal.

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This is a stucco frieze that archaeologists recently found while they were doing research on the drainage system that helped keep the city supplied with water. It was on the side of one of the large limestone plastered roads that led from place to place and city to city. Our guide said that it's possible the image would have reflected off the water in the drainage canal.

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TIKAL:

Tikal is the iconic Classical Mayan site of Guatemala that you see on the postcards and guidebook covers. Apparently the people in charge amused themselves with competitions of who could build the tallest and most ridiculously steep temple. I think that whoever built this one (Temple V) won (in my opinion). It is one of the only ones you can climb, on a five or six-part wooden ladder of doom set up that really brought on my vertigo.

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Here is us superimposed on a Guatemalan postcard of Temple I in the Great Plaza.

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PALENQUE:

Palenque is a Classical Mayan site in Mexico unlike any of the other ones we saw. It is widely regarded as one of the sites with the best preserved art and stucco friezes. Also, its main palace area has endless passage ways that you can explore for hours on end. It is fun to go in one side and see where you end up.

This is me in the Mayan symbol called "Kimi," which means death appropriately enough.

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Here is a picture of almost the whole shebang... a couple of the major temples in the foreground and the main palace complex in back with the big observation tower.

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A stucco frieze from one of the pillars in the front of the palace.

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This is the Temple of Inscriptions where they found the tomb of the ruler Pakal. We saw the sarcophagus in the museum, which was about the size of a compact car carved out of one pure piece of limestone engraved with elaborate scenes. He was found inside with a mountain of jade and other offerings.

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Posted by KimJay 19:53 Archived in Guatemala Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Perdidos en La Ruta Maya

A quick and dirty update... after leaving San Juan we spent an amazing week hiking to the pre-classical Mayan site of El Mirador. The really cool part about El Mirador is that it is a huge site but still largely covered in dirt, jungle trees, and monkeys so you really need to use your imagination to ¨see¨ what the city was like. The other cool part is that it is a very long two-day hike through the jungle to get there so your average fair weather, tour bus traveling tourist with a mild interest in the Mayans isn´t going to be there getting in the way of your pictures. After that we headed on and volunteered for a week at an animal rehabilitation center. And now we are in Mexico visiting the Mayan site of Palenque.

We are hoping to post soon with pictures and more elaborate tales of our adventures, but we have been a little busy and the basecamps for El Mirador didn´t have WiFi (so you know that is really ruffin it primitive stuff we´ve been doing). For those of you who have been on the edges of your seats waiting for us to come home (ok, in all reality this message is probably just for our moms) we´ll be home on May 1st, we have the tickets bought and everything.

Posted by KimJay 15:06 Comments (2)

¡Tengo infección intestinal!

Adventure to a Mexican emergency room

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This may not be for the queasy of stomach or those currently eating. I will try to keep the gory details to a minimum.

This weekend we took off for Mexico, San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas, because we have now been in Guatemala long enough that we needed to renew our visas. It was not an easy arrival. This is where our troubles began. Midway through our 8 hour voyage via chicken bus, we both came down ill with cold sweats and desperate enough for a bathroom that we got off in the middle of nowhere and tramped up to only house to beg a bathroom. Unfortunately, there was only ONE bathroom, and while it was occupied by my compañero I became desperate enough to sneak into a deserted looking gully behind some ratty concrete buildings. Through my sickness crazed eyes, I failed to notice that this gully was being protected from unauthorized "squatters" by a very mean very angry dog who apparently served no purpose besides guarding this small plot of land. With luck, I was able to outrun the dog, who was tethered to his post. Otherwise the story may have taken an even more disastrous turn.

We thought we were fine after taking one antibiotic (as the travel doc suggests) and saying some embarrassed thank yous to the amused Guatemalan family who was gracious enough to grant us use of their bathroom (maybe just for the novelty of telling their friends about the gringos with gastrointestinal issues who had stopped by out of nowhere).

We were fine the next day, but after a dinner of quesadillas I woke up in the morning to feeling nauseous, which was shortly followed by 8 bouts of vomiting over the course of 2 and a half hours. This is when we decided to go to the Mexican emergency room. Ben wasn't feeling well either, but had at least managed to keep his dinner pushed down.

The admitting nurse at the Mexican emergency room was an armed police man. Very odd, but nonetheless we were ushered in to see a doctor within 30 seconds. Never had we seen such service! (Maybe it was a gringo advantage). Afterward, I was promptly treated by a doctor in the front trauma room (as there were no other beds open) while people passed by to look for their family members or possibly just to see what gringos were doing in the hospital (mind you this continued all through the time I had to "bajar mi ropa" for a very humiliating anti-nausea shot in the "trasero"). They sent us on our way, and while Ben went to the pharmacy, I nearly fainted in a chair near the exit. The kind doctor who had helped us before found me and took me back in a wheelchair to the trauma room. I was then pumped full of liquids, antibiotics, and some sort pain killer that made me go a little bit insane and paranoid as my eyes dilated to the point I could not see. Finally a blood test revealed that I had a intestinal infection from some dirty food I ate at some point, and based on the fact I have been sick off and on for two months or more, I have probably had it for a while, suppressing for short bouts of time with antibiotics, but never enough to kill it entirely. It is very likely Ben has had it all this time too, as we have had very similar symptoms at the same time.

We were there for six hours, and overall the service was more or less equal to a US hospital (except for the fact they don't seem to bother with sanitizer, plastic gloves, washing their hands in between patients, or keeping a clean bathroom). After all this, we found out that the whole service was FREE! What a luxury! All the drugs they pumped into me, the blood tests, and all the care as well. We only needed to pay about $25 for all the follow up medicine I am taking right now.

So that is most of what our exciting vacation to San Cristobal de las Casas has consisted of. If you have read this far, here are some pictures we took while not in the emergency room or sick in bed.

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Posted by KimJay 19:56 Archived in Mexico Tagged health_and_medicine Comments (4)

No estamos muertos... solo de vacaciones!

"But haven't you been on vacation this whole time?" you might ask. Well, everyone needs a vacation from vacation when that vacation is 6 months long. So after New Year's (which consisted of a celebration with bombas and sparklers with the kids in the backyard, the likes of which I have not known since New Year's circa 1998), we took off again for some highland "trekking" near Nebaj.

Trekking is very similar to hiking, except instead of an established trail paid for by the government you go traipsing around the muddy paths that border the barbed wire fences of people's land. People here aren't of the run intruders off with a shotgun persuasion, which makes the experience much more enjoyable than it would be in the USA. In fact, while walking to these towns--some of which are only reachable on foot--you are most in danger of being invited into someone's home to have a delicious meal for $1 (as we were one day). (As to the danger, I also could swear that I heard a jaguar in the bushes while we were in the mountains, but later on down the road I heard a pig produce a very similar growl.)

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Unfortunately, the highest part of the Guatemalan highlands is more like Oregon in March than what we are used to in Guatemala. And without a guide to advise us against our endeavors--only a poorly written trekking guide--we soon found ourselves ankle deep in a mix of mud and horse poop in barely passable paths in the pouring rain. Oh, how it made me yearn for home!

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(Here is the possible jaguar/pig. It is much cleaner than I was by the end of the day.)
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Having nothing but cold showers to look forward to at the end of each day, we soon wussed out. We headed to Coban to see the biggest Orchid nursery in Guatemala and possibly all of Central America. That was fine. Lots of flowers and such. Here is an orchid for those of you who don't know and also a picture of Ben in his orchid heaven (though they were rather light on the orchids this time of year).

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Still it was raining... so we went to the beach! Where we enjoyed 90 degree humid weather, releasing sea turtles into the ocean to be eaten by all of God's creatures, and long days reading and drinking licuados. There is not much else to tell... except that one night Ben got over 100 mosquito bites... putting himself at high risk for malaria.

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This is what he was like all week:
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Dirty beach dogs... doing what dirty beach dogs do all day... who knows:
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Ben eating a fish bigger than his thigh:
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We are back in San Juan now, hanging out and making our plans to come home (eventually). Here we are making tortillas! Despite our smiles, we both failed horribly at this task.

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Posted by KimJay 15:41 Comments (1)

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