march 23, 2007


it's true, the water in the toilet does spin in the opposite direction when flushed... it was the first thing that brian did when we walked into our new hotel. you can now move on with the rest of your life now that you have been enlightened with that little tidbit of knowledge. the city of guayaquil is an oasis of capitalism and beautiful post socialist era architecture surrounded by untamed shanty towns that are nearly falling into the rivers. our truck was still on the boat, so we were holed up in the illustrious hotel sol de oriente for a week. the hotel itself was luxurious, according to ecuadorian standards, hot water, cable, the works. our timing was a little off, though, it was spring break for the students of jacksonville university. the law south of the american border goes as follows- you can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else. the brilliant students could not grasp this one simple law, and made it hell for everyone else in the hotel, including us. night after night, it was a stupid frenzy of beer drinking and urinating in the hallways, hippies playing acoustic guitars very badly, and macho frat-boy posturing until four in the morning. it was annoying, and the maids didn't seem too pleased either.

after a couple days of frequent napping followed by countless hours of t.v. watching, we decided it was time to maybe go outside for a while. i felt so bad for dremel, who was not allowed to go into any park within the city limits. poor guy, it went against everything he was ever taught, he had no choice but to use the nice tiled sidewalks to take care of his business. you could tell he was feeling self conscious about it, but there was no other option. gambling didn't seem like a good idea, if you walk into a casino, people might think you had a pocket full of cash, and if you walk out of a casino, the odds might have just improved. we didn't really hit any bars, either. guayaquil seems like the kind of place where you'd wake up in a tub of ice in some strange hotel with one of your kidneys missing. thank god i'm here for a whole week. we played it safe in our new surroundings, and hit the local pizza hut... probably the only edible food in all of ecuador. every day, we took care of a little business here and there, making sure that we had all our paperwork together for when we picked up our truck from the port. all business transactions are made at a snail's pace around here, and it took a couple of tedious hours of waiting and negotiating to get a copy of our bill of lading from the shipping company. the papers in question could not have been more important, so important that i managed to leave them at some random pharmacy in the city center. when it came time to meet up with our pre-arranged ride to the port, it occured to us that we didn't have our papers in hand. after tearing apart our hotel room in such a manner that would have impressed keith moon, it dawned on us that the papers had been sitting all night on the counter of the busiest pharmacy in town. fingers crossed, we ran all the way to the pharmacy, where they were safe and sound, in better hands than my own.

in the midst of our paper hunting frenzy, other important things were forgotten... brian had forgotten the truck keys and both of us had forgotten the gps unit, which is really helpful for when you need to find your way back to wherever it was that you started out. it was irrelevant, though, we were already at the port when we made this discovery. it was time for another round of stamp collecting, which was followed by a nervous search for the container that our truck was shipped in. port entry is a pretty serious matter, and i can see why. no matter where you are in the shipping port, you are at great risk of being crushed by the tractor-trailer containers being moved overhead by giant, speeding, ecuadorian manned machinery. big rigs roll in and out all day, with little or no regard to foot traffic, and the mandatory loaner helmets and flourescent orange vests seem to attract more danger than help. there was a customs office right in the port, but they didn't have the right kind of stamp or something, so we had to take a cab to another port. the second port was even sketchier than the first... as i understand it, the colombians are having a difficult time in shipping their product from their own ports, so they just drive south a little, down to this port. niiiiice. it's just us, a hundred colombian trafficers, and an annoying customs guide that we never intended to hire, but somehow, he got the job anyway. two more hours, and time served, it was back to port number one, with the pesky guide in tow. he seemed to have more connections at his port, but his efforts were only confusing matters in this port, so we paid him well enough so that he'd just leave, and he did. we were glad to be back at the first port, where all we had to worry about was heavy machinery. papers in hand, the wild goose chase continued for a couple more hours. luckily, brian stashed a set of keys in the truck, so that little problem disappeared. the keys for the roof boxes were still at the hotel, though, and the customs inspector really wanted to see what was inside. i think he must have felt a little sorry for all we had gone through, and he let it slide, we look a lot more innocent than most people who conduct their business at the ports. not really knowing that we had received our last stamp, we sat staring at the boss for a few minutes, waiting for him to direct us to the next office. confused by our strange behavior, he asked us to leave his office. brian and i looked at each other, puzzled... did we just get permission to take our truck? yessss!

it was nice to have a home again, nissan, sweet nissan. mi nissan es su nissan. we missed our nissan and our skimboard and our clothes. brian burned out of the port gates in joyous defiance for what we were put through that day. we blazed back toward the city of guayaquil, using a mountainside covered in antennas as a landmark to guide our way. it was a relief to find all of our belongings intact, and it was nice to have the ability to be mobile again, it was our ticket to freedom.


it's time for me to forget everything i thought i knew about this world. i have no concept of why things are the way they are down here, every single thing about south america is completely different from anything i had ever experienced before. this sh*t's for real, and it's blowing my mind! with every kilometer that passes, we see something we've never seen before... socialist sentiments painted on every wall, indiginous folk wandering about the mountain sides with their sheep and llamas, toothless women in funny hats and wool capes walking the highways, snow covered volanoes hanging high above sweltering plains, and in the middle of it all lay the dense andean rainforests. the city streets are filled with ladas, one of russia's great triumphs in automotive technology. to really enjoy the beauty of a lada, you must take a cab ride in one, it's worth every penny. it's an absolute thrill ride that only a sputtering seventies car at the end of it's life cycle can offer, our driver somehow managed to squeeze every last little bit of acceleration that the little lada could manage. and speaking of ecuadorian drivers, they are blessed with a style all their own, one that knows no boundaries or lanes. the entire street is filled with ecuadorian men who can't seem to pick a lane or a direction, and all the while, they're moving very, very fast. the manhole covers that line the tiled sidewalks are works of art, and are reminiscent of ecuador's socialist past. the metal cast covers have the big red star shining up at you, with a crest of leaves and some appropriate text surrounding. everywhere you go, you see traces of their past, and the people seem to miss it, they're still rocking the hammer and sickle bumper stickers on their ladas and dune buggies. the strange side to their socialist tendencies is that they also visibly embrace various capitalistic ideals, you can see it clear as day in the malls and casinos filled with young ecuadorians. they're armed with assault rifles and credit cards, dressed in abercrombie and fitch and dockers, and they consume mass quantities of kfc and pizza hut.

the entire country is absolutely beautiful in all of it's strange ways, but the food is absolutely terrible. the kidneys can only handle so much salt-soaked meat, so we've maintained a steady diet of ritz crackers and coca cola. when there are no ritz crackers to be had, we scrounge around the truck for whatever scraps of candy might be hiding under the mats. really bad food, but what they're lacking in the culinary arts, they make up for in their absolute love for rally racing. one out of ten cars looks like a rally car, and one out of fifty is a rally car. a little research on brian's behalf lead us to the town of ambito, where a small concentration of rally racers live. ambito is a pretty big town, so it was kind of convenient that we happened to fuel up at the gas station that belonged to the local rally organizer. turns out that there's a race next weekend, and after unleashing a flurry of incoherent spanish on the ecuadorian racers, we are now the official sweep crew for the rally. just like in the states, the men have a lot of pride in their race cars, and they were more than happy to drive brian around the congested city streets at full speed in their fully prepped rally car. i think brian has found his home away from home.


ivan, one of our new rally friends, sent us down the road to banos. because ecuadorians love rally, i think they must love danger in general... banos is a little town nestled at the base of a gigantic volcano that seems to unleash it's fury every other week. the road to banos is made up of the remnants of pyroplastic flow that completely covered the asphalt and was bulldozed flat to allow for traffic to pass. the ash hills seem to be relatively new, and the road looks like it was cleared only about a day before our arrival. the really good thing is that we're sleeping right below it, keeping it real. brian has found comfort in the fact that at least he's not driving under the volano in a fuel tanker. it took a lot for us to get here, and today, i kind of felt like my efforts were rewarded... i'd been holding out until i found the right place, which happened to be ecuador, land of awesome sweaters! for only ten dollars, my life's dream of purchasing a handmade alpaca sweater from the person who made it has come to fruition. i'd like to thank my mom, jesus, and the academy for making this happen, couldn't be happier!

i no longer have the ability to blend in to my environment... in mexico, brian would look right past me, i looked like everyone else. in belize and guatemala, i looked like one of the mayans, and nobody really knew the difference. in ecuador, both of us are at least a foot taller than everyone else. the locals said that we were even bigger than the amazons, who are supposed to be pretty big. everywhere we go, they stare up at us in awe, like they've never seen anything like us. it works both ways, we can't stop staring at them either. they're tiny, kind of like hobbits. come to think of it, they dress like hobbits. maybe they are hobbits. at any rate, they're really interesting.

we might have left banos sooner, but it seemed that the inn keeper was holding our laundry hostage so that we would be forced to stay an extra day. we weren't too eager to get our laundry back anyway, banos was a pretty cool place with a lot to see. the andes mountains make the rocky mountains look like green mountain... man, they're huge! and they're steep! and for some stupid reason, they have roads precariously placed on the sides of them! if you have any phobias of heights or exposure, don't come to ecuador, one look over the edge of the road would pretty much institutionalize you. if that didn't do you in, then the chicken bus with the exhausted jake brake, the one that's going seventy behind you, would. there are no white lines painted down the center, there are no guardrails, nor is there some kind of unspoken trust thing with the other drivers. viaje con dios, that's what they say around here, and i think that's the only thing that keeps them on the road. the good news is that there are waterfalls everywhere, even a couple that pour on to the road. the locals make the most of their resources, and drive through the falls and scrub their cars clean.

we've spent a lot of time outdoors on our trip, and i was hoping to see a puma or a jaguar or something like that, preferrably from the safety of our truck. because we have yet to spot a wild cat, brian appeased my obsession by taking me to the zoo. it was the coolest zoo i've ever seen... it was built on the steep andean mountainside, and we had to traverse up and down the mountain to get from one habitat to the other. there wasn't too much concern for zoo visitors getting their limbs torn off or their fingers bit, you could just walk right up and stick your hand inside the cage if you were so inclined. i finally saw my puma, who was feeling feisty, and was roaring and growling and attacking the other pumas. it was the best dollar-fifty i spent that day.

after having been on a hunger strike for the past six days, it was time to find some food that we could eat, and possibly even enjoy. our solution is a little time consuming, but it has been well worth the extra effort. brian will drive me from one tienda to the next, in hopes of being able to find enough food items to make a meal out of. it generally takes about five tiendas to accomplish this, but we finally had a meal that didn't scare us out of eating. i've ne
ver considered myself a fussy eater, but the restaurants in ecuador have found my limits. i even went so far as to order plain spaghetti noodles, nothing on them. when the noodles arrived to our table, tears welled up in my eyes, i was so hungry and i'd been eating ritz crackers for days. the noodles were covered in gooey boogery business. i tried to eat it to be polite, but i just couldn't get it down. i never thought i'd see the day where brian was so excited to eat a tuna fish sandwich, he seemed to enjoy it as much as a filet mignon.

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