A Travellerspoint blog

April 2010

¡Hola Ecuador!



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:

The river (at a less rapid filled point):

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.


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



LESS AWESOME- Amateur machete wielders accidents


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)


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.


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


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.


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).


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:


Ben and Uber:


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?


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)

¡Leones, Tigres, y Osos...Ay Caramba!

More accurately...Jaguar, Ocelot, Toucans and more!


So Kim covered the archeology. Now it´s my turn to cover the animals! But first I wanted to weigh in just a little bit about the archeology too. For those of you only interested in the animal pictures, you can just skip this first paragraph. So here's my take...The times of Indiana Jones archeology are over. You´re not going to be smashing precious artifacts in order to protect and save even more precious artifacts from getting into the hands of Nazis (in fact the new thinking is moving towards covering things back up to protect them), but that doesn´t mean that you can´t enjoy it just the same. The journey to El Mirador was an eye-opening experience for me. It's been a long time since I've been able to get so caught up in my own imagination...feel like a five-year-old kid again, experiencing things for the first time and trying to figure everything out. You know, like that giddy pleasure that Indiana Jones gets when he sees the Grail Tablet at the beginning of Indiana Jones 3: The Last Crusade (although it clearly wasn't the last crusade since he went ahead and made another one). Then we went to Tikal where everything was much more restored and things started making more sense (or so I thought). The progression from the architecture and the layout of the Pre-Classic to the Classic became more clear while still being significantly different and intriguing. Then, when we got to Palenque, everything that I thought made sense was turned on its head. Most everything didn't line up the way it had at the previous two sites, the bases of buildings were not square, so much so that it had to be intentional, and the symetry of the site didn't fit into my builder's asthetic. I left Palenque again feeling like a kid full of questions who had just gone to the museum with his class but still wasn't able to process everything he'd seen and learned. Visiting these sites has filled me with a passion to explore and learn more in a search to find the answers to the questions that still linger days after we left Palenque.

NOW HERE'S WHAT YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR! I've categorized the photos with their location so that you can put them into some context based on Kim's previous entry. ENJOY! We'll see many of you soon.

Here is a picture from our boat trip down the Rio Dulce.



Massena Trogon


Keel-billed Toucan


Ocellated Turkey-Kim wishes that I'd get all dressed up and dance for her like this!


Collared Aracari


Baby Spiker Monkey-This little fella put on a show for us two days in a row. Guess the sight of gringos makes him dance.


ARCAS (We've got a lot more pictures of the animals from our week here, but these are the best ones that we weren't able to get pictures of in the wild):

Ocelot (roughly the same size as a medium-sized dog)


Jaguar-Despite what Kim will try to tell you, I was never caught trying to sneak into the Jaguar's cage to cuddle up next to it.


Here's Kim in the Macaw cage. For those of you who know her well, it took a lot of courage for her to go into that cage every day given her phobia of birds. Between that and her climbing Temple V at Tikal, this trip has turned into an opportunity for her to conquer a number of her biggest fears.



Coatimundi-These were running all over Tikal our first day there and we saw one three or four times as big on our trek to El Mirador, but the picture didn't come out as clear.




Blue-somethinged Motmot


Brown Jay-You thought that crows in Oregon are annoying. These guys are squawking from before dawn until well after dusk. They jokingly call them the Security Alarm of the Jungle.


Don't know what this is but we saw it in the parking lot waiting for our bus back to Flores.


Howler Monkey-We certainly heard plenty of these. When you first hear them, if you didn't know better you'd think there was a jaguar or some other jungle cat nearby.


Crested Guan


I know this isn't an animal but I thought I'd finish up with a picture for my Mom of a beautiful sunset from the top of the tallest pyramid at El Tintal, the last stop on the way back to civilization from El Mirador. Kim wants to make sure that I tell you that I had to take a hundred of these to get this great shot.


Posted by BenjaminE 17:17 Archived in Guatemala Tagged animal Comments (1)

Arqueología... con fotos!


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:


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.


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


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.



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.



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



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.


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.


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


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.


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)

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