Monthly Archives: September 2012

Canoa, Ecuador

After working relatively hard for two weeks on the Rio Muchacho farm, we spent a well deserved couple days relaxing in the beach town of Canoa. From what we gathered, it’s known as one of Ecuador’s best beaches, if not the best, and is supposedly an up and coming town for both domestic and international tourism. Though neither of us would consider ourselves “beach people”, we had a good time there.

The first day and a half we spent most of our time with the friends we made on the farm. They were spending the weekend in Canoa before heading back to the farm for another week of work. First things first, we grabbed lunch at one of the beachside restaurants and indulged in some of the foods we didn’t have access to on the farm. Being near the coast there was a good selection of delicious seafood. My shrimp ceviche was excellent. Sarah doesn’t like seafood so she had some good old fashioned fried chicken and french fries. Can’t go wrong there. We topped that off with a tasty dessert drink called “Batido”, which is basically a milk shake. Instead of using a flavored syrup they use actual fruit.

At the end of the second day and after the rest of the crew headed back to the farm, Sarah and I spent the evening relaxing and walking along the main strip parallel to the beach. For our last dinner in Canoa we hit up a restaurant called “Surf Shak”, which I’m guessing was started by a U.S. expat, as it seems to be geared towards folks from the U.S. They make great pizzas and have NFL football games playing all day Sunday, both of which we enjoyed. After traveling for a while and not having access to familiar things, e.g. food, friends, places, etc., you find that you start to miss them more than you imagined. And when you suddenly have access to them again it’s very comforting to indulge a bit. Pizza and football were two of those indulgences.

Our time in Canoa allowed us to spend a little more time with our new friends and to rest a bit before heading further south through Ecuador. It was definitely time well spent. Here our some pictures from our short two day visit.

Tomas and Steffi (Germany), Sarah and Dave (you know us), Zach and Erin (Seattle, Washington), and Conny (Switzerland) grabbing lunch on the Canoa beach.

Shrimp Ceviche and plantain chips. Very good.

Sarah’s fried chicken and fries. The salad was left untouched to avoid any foreign bacteria.

Paraglider flying low along the beach.

Sarah enjoying a walk along the beach. The beach here is very large, especially during low tide.  Also worth mentioning is that it’s pretty clean. This is noteworthy because litter is a big problem in many of the places we’ve visited in Central and South America.  One of the local restaurants offers a free margarita if you collect a full bag of trash.

Zach and Erin pumping iron/concrete on the beach.

The hostel we stayed at–Amalur. Owned by a couple from Spain. Really nice place but maybe a bit above of our typical price range.

Sarah keeping safe from the mosquitos.

A morning walk with Erin and Zach a little further down the beach during low tide. Canoa really does have a beautiful beach.

Our go-to lunch food–bread, banana, and peanut butter–to save money and good for long bus rides. In Canoa the peanut butter was $1 per handful–a very accurate unit of measure. I love that the bread says “Molde”.

Ecuadorian volleyball should be considered a close cousin of the volleyball we’re used to seeing in the States. There’s a lot of holding and tossing of the ball. Sort of seems like cheating.

Pizza and NFL football at the Surf Shak. So good. 

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Rio Muchacho Organic Farm Volunteering

From Quito, Dave and I took a bus ride to Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador. I will have to say that this was the longest, most uncomfortable bus ride we’ve been on so far. We got an estimate that the bus ride would take anywhere from 6-9 hours. Well, it took 8 hours and 45 minutes.

The most unpleasant part was that the bus arrived at 9pm at night and the room we reserved at Coco Bongo Hostal apparently didn’t exist. The owner had mistakenly given it away to someone who she thought was us. She then proceeded to direct us in a city that we didn’t know to a hotel that might or might not be open and have rooms. We were not very happy after a 9 hour bus ride. I don’t suggest staying at Coco Bongo if you need a place to stay in Bahia. The hotel su descanso ended up having a room and it all worked out in the end, it just was one of our first, but I’m sure not last, unpleasant experience with not getting what we expected.

The following day we took a boat taxi across the river to San Vincente and then a bus to Canoa. In Canoa there is an office for Rio Muchacho, the farm that we volunteered on, where you take a taxi to go to the farm. I say taxi because that is what they called it. It’s actually a pick up truck where you sit in the back and ride for a good 20 minutes on paved roads and then another 20 minutes on dirt roads. Don’t worry, we were assured it was “safe.”

Dave holding on for our taxi ride.

I took a seat on our taxi ride. Nice views on the dirt road to the farm though.

When we arrived Kevin and Nicola greeted us. Kevin is an intern who has been there for over 6 months and Nicola is one of the owners. They had saved lunch for us, which was very nice of them. We proceeded to start helping out with the activities in the afternoon and got our routines for the following week.

Panoramic of the farm.

The farm has a consistent routine:

6:00 am – wake up and get ready for the animals

6:30 am – put on your rubber boots and head to the animal area or kitchen depending on your routine.

View of the animal area.

  • Chanchos (pigs) – mix sugar cane syrup with water and give it to the pigs, mix grains with water and then feed to the pigs, shovel out any wet area of the pig pens and by wet that means urine and crap. After that, put a small amount of  sawdust where the pend was shoveled. And lastly, collect dry leaves to give to the piglets to rest on.

Chanchos eating.

  • Caballos (horses) – see chanchos. The chanhcos were a lot of work and whoever was on caballos was helping with chanchos. I was on Caballos the second week.
  • Pollos (chicken) – Feed the baby chicks ground up corn and fill up their water and feed the adult chickens corn. Dave was on Pollos the first week.

Pollitos eating their ground corn.

  • Cuyes (guinea pigs) – Cleaned out the cages and feed the cuyes

Guinea pig cage

  • Concina (kitchen) – cut up watermelon and pineapple and wash dishes. I was on the concina the first week and the second week Dave was doing the concina work.
  • Dave doing some dishes

7:30 am – routines are done and breakfast is ready. Breakfast consisted of fruit salad with granola, tea made from the pineapple peels, and some sort of starchy bread.

7:45-8 am – wash breakfast dishes or rest if you’re not on dish duty

8:30 am – Morning work

  • Some days we had a “Minga” which is an indigenous word that means group work. This could have consisted of moving brush, moving compost and so on.
  • Working in the vivero and semillero (nursery)

    I worked in the nursery for a week planting seeds and filling those bags.

  • Transplanting leeks

    Watching Nicola explain how to remove the baby leeks.

    Leeks transferred. Success!

    Proud of my hard work.

  • Planting lettuce
  • Digging trenches and/or holes

    Corney and I working hard digging the trench in the hot sun.

    Dave did most of the hard work. He was made for heat.

    It was hard with the hot sun baking us.

  • Weeding
  • Watering
  • Moving the Chancho Train

12:00 pm – Morning work is complete and lunch is ready. Lunch consisted of soup as the first course, and then rice with a vegetable side, salad, and juice.

Lunch. Yum!

12:15-12:30 pm – wash lunch dishes or rest if you’re not on dish duty

1:30 pm – 4:30 pm – Afternoon work

  • Making marmalade

    Our first task on the farm, chop a lot of mandarins for marmalade. We chopped for a good 2 hours. We also separated the pips (seeds for those of us who don’t speak British English).

    After the chopping and seed separating, the mandarins get boiled until soft and the pips and other whites get boiled to create pectin. They are combined with the same amount of sugar and simmered until it starts to set. Then placed into sterilized jars.

    We made a lot of marmalade the first week we were on the farm.

    Our finished marmalade in the office in Canoa. We’re famous, kind of.

  • Watering
  • Drawing instructions

    He’s a professional.

    Hopefully Dave did a good job so people understand what to do and what not to do.

  • Decorate cups
  • Plant flowers
  • Ride horses for visiting students
  • Every Wednesday was cultural day. So we made rings from a local nut and visited the giant tree.

    Dave cutting the nut into a ring like shape before sanding it.

    Sanding the inside and outside of my ring.

    Finished rings!

    Dave climbing the giant tree.

    One of the strangest trees I’ve seen. It sends roots down from its branches and it can eat other trees!

6:30 pm  – Dinner, which consisted of rice and some vegetable sides

6:45 – 7:00pm – wash dinner dishes or rest if you are not on dish duty

7:30 pm – Night activity

  • Watching movies on dirt or permaculture
  • Making coffee

    Build a fire and then roast the coffee beans to the desired darkness level.

    Tomas and Kevin grinding up the roasted coffee beans.

    Dave enjoying his freshly made coffee.

  • Making chocolate

    Cacao beans prior to being roasted.

    Roasting the cacao beans.

    Peeling the freshly roasted and very hot cacao beans.

    Grinding the cacao and mixing with panela (sugar cane). We decided on a one to one mixture.

    Mix the cacao and panela mixture with milk on the stove and add more panela if needed.


    mmmm…chocolate and pineapple.

  • Hanging out and making friends.

    Cornelia, Tomas, Steffi, Kevin, 3 Ecuadorian Guys that were only there for the weekend, Sarah, Erin, and Zach

    Nicola and her adorable twins Raphael and Florence.

    Our packed full taxi pickup on our way out from the farm.

    The cabana Dave and I stayed in for two weeks.

    They compost everything. This is the humanure pile.

    A portion of the garden.


    Pretty birds

    Overall we had a fun time on the farm and it was a good experience. We now know how hard farm work really is.

Categories: South America, Traveling, Volunteering | Tags: , , , , , | 7 Comments

Bikes + Cotopaxi + Quito + Dancing = Longest/Best Day Ever

This by far was one of the most epic days we’ve had on our trip. Epic in length, number of activities, and most importantly, epic in the amount of fun one could have in a single day. You may remember our awesome Couchsurfing host Sebas from the Quito  posting. On our last full day in Quito he created an agenda that has yet to meet comparison on rest of our trip. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had many great days on our trip thus far, but not as jam packed as this one. Here’s what the agenda looked like.

  1. Woke up at the crack of dawn and rode our rented mountain bikes through Quito to meet other riders.
  2. Transported riders (spiked with Cuban rum) and bikes  to Cotopaxi National Park.
  3. Rode rented mountain bikes down some gnarly trails in Cotopaxi National Park.
  4. Took a quick nap on the ride back to Quito.
  5. Directly after arriving in Quito joined a city cycling tour for yet more riding.
  6. After city bike tour rode bikes to a dance club in “Gringolandia” (as it’s know locally) to partake in some delicious beverages and dancing.
  7. At the wee hours of the morning—the next day—rode bikes from bar to home.
  8. Slept really well.

This is what happens when a 21 year old who cycles everyday plans your day. Suffice to say, we were beat. But we were also thrilled and grateful for the experience. Thanks again Sebas.

Here are some pictures from the day.

Cotopaxi Volcano (19, 347 ft.) It’s the second highest summit in the country.

Sampling some Cuban rum on the ride to Cotopaxi. It’s better when you know you can’t have it.

Enjoying the ride and mentally preparing for our trip down the mountain. Neither of us had mountain biked before this trip.

Unloading the bikes before the start of the trip.

Sarah is clearly siked for the journey ahead.

That’s right, a tandem mountain bike. 

Pre-ride warm ups. Gotta loosen up in preparation for the rough terrain ahead.

Catching a glimpse of Cotopaxi during the ride. It was a bit windy up there, and a little chilly too.

No, thank you Cotopaxi. You rock!!!

The crew.

Most of the ride was beautiful. That’s when you didn’t have your eyes glued to the road of course.

My mean machine posing in front of a beautiful background. You served me well.

A well deserved rest before the roughest part of the ride. The next leg was a very long cobble stone road with a few unwanted uphills along the way.

These guys were taking it a bit slower over the rough terrain.

Sheep moving at a little faster pace than the horses but not by much.

One of the guides demonstrating a proper landing after jumping.

Actually, not such a proper landing. After the crash landing a local puppy came to make sure he was ok.

Proper landing. Back wheel first is better I guess.

Inside of the bike rental/guide service. Pretty sweet mural on the wall. 

Sarah chilling with the Beatles before our night ride through Quito.

Sebas organizing the cyclist before the start of the ride.

Posing with Cental Park in the background. Right before this I almost had my leg bitten off by a large stray dog that clearly thought I was encroaching on his turf. You missed me sucka!

Riding through the Historical Center of Quito. They have these security personnel patrolling the area at night. They wear capes and carry swords. That’s what you call old school.

Independence Square looks really cool at night.

Waiting at a stop light for the rest of the group to catch up.

Yup, that one is with me. Sarah (a.k.a. Aunt Jemima) enjoying a deep fried dough ball with a banana inside and a couple of local drinks. The white one is a corn drink I can’t remember the name of. This one wasn’t particularly tasty.

At the Biciaccion headquarters (the group that organized the city ride) where Sebas taught Sarah some salsa moves before heading to the dance club.

Sarah with Sebas and Frank at the dance club with ice cold beverages in hand.

Me with Sebas and Frank, and the locally brewed and Ecuadorian favorite beer in hand.

Frank and Sebas bustin the move whilst hunting for gringas. As you can see from the blond girl behind Sebas, their moves were working.

Categories: South America | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Sightseeing in Otavalo and Banos

During our stay in Quito we traveled to some other nearby towns that were recommended by both the guidebook and our couchsurfing host Sebas. Our first town was in Otavalo. Otavalo is north of Quito and on our way there we passed over the equator. The bus didn’t stop and there were no exact signs that we could see from the bus, but we officially had been on the equator at some point during the ride. Sadly no cool pictures to show this.

Otavalo is a town that is known for it’s market. They have a variety of hand-made crafts, clothing, toys and such. You can see the colorful display of local handicrafts with a great view of a volcano in the back. Also, another interesting fact, a lot of the volcanoes are so tall that they are covered by clouds all day and the peaks are hard to catch on camera.


It seems that we always are traveling during or around lunch time, so by the time we arrive we are famished for food. We searched what seemed like a long time for some yummy, cheap, and somewhat healthy food and then decided on the deep-fried street food that cost $1.65 total. Below you’ll see a picture of Dave enjoying that food. This particular one consisted of an egg, covered in a rice, potato, beef mixture, then battered and fried. Very delicious.


After our brief, greasy lunch and quick tour of the goods in the market, we decided to check out the waterfall that was in the next town over. The walk took us about 30-35 minutes. It was only estimated to by about 20, but we did check out the views along the way and I tested out my head carrying skills with the 2 liter jug of water. Which shouldn’t have slowed us down, but it did.  I’d like to say that I mastered it, but then again, I only did it for a little while. Also, we have been buying water since our Steripen broke. It hasn’t been working since week two. We’ve emailed Steripen complaining about the poor reliability and hoping they will offer us some sort of solution. Which they have offered to ship us a replacement. The only problem now is where to ship it to…


Back to the waterfall. It was called cascada de peguche and was located in a little protected area with some trails and nice views of the stream. Below are some pictures of the waterfall and the park it was located in.


Otavalo was a short day trip with a majority of our time spent on a bus watching “Face Off” in spanish, twice. All in all it was a quaint little town with a nice waterfall located not that far away. It would have been better if we were heading back to the states shortly after visiting and could bring back some souvenirs. But since we’ll be traveling for another 11 months and don’t have room in our bags, we decided pictures will do.

The following day we headed to Baños from Quito. Baños is south of Quito and about a 3.5 hour bus ride. It took us about 4.5 hours total because the south bus station from Sebas’s place is an hour away on public transport. Baños is farther east heading down towards the jungle part of Ecuador. It’s lower in elevation than Quito, but still not out of the mountains.

Banos Panoramic_01

The name Baños comes from the agua caliente (or hot water springs) that they have there. The water from these springs are pumped into different pools where you pay to enter. Dave and I went after it was dark and a bit cooler. There were a couple of different pools with the water ranging from either very hot or very, very hot. The first pool we decided to try apparently was the hotter of the two and it took me a good 10 minutes to get into the pool, no exaggeration. It felt like my skin was burning off. Eventually we decided to head up to the cooler of the two pools so we could hang out longer in the water.

You can see in the picture that the water is a cloudy brownish color due to the minerals in the water. Supposedly, the minerals here have healing powers. People come here to help with arthritis and other such ailments. It defiantly felt good on the skin.


Next to the pools was a pretty tall waterfall. We could also see this waterfall from our hostel.


We decided to stay over night because it was a bit farther away and there was more to do than there was in Otavalo. So on the second day, we went for a short hike up to this Angel. The hike was hard, it is supposed to be a short simple hike, but it was still really hard to breath at such high elevations. The view from the top was an awesome one of the town and is where the panoramic shot came from.


Because Baños is a touristy town for both foreigners and people from Ecuador there are a handful of fun things you can do. There is a big bridge that spans the river where you can jump off. Sebas highly recommended it. We decided to pass, but did get the chance to see someone do it. It wasn’t like bungee jumping, it was just two regular climbing ropes and what appeared to be a climbing harness. Not the right amount of risk versus reward for me.


We had bought some sugar cane to chomp on while we were here as well. Very good in small amounts as it is very sweet. They also made taffy here by hand. They did the pulling and stretching on door frames all over the town. We tried some taffy on one of the bus rides and it had a very strong sugar cane taste so we didn’t end up buying any. That and we want to protect our fillings from any taffy damage.


We enjoyed our short time in Baños, it was very relaxing and soothing with all of the minerals from the water. It’s too bad we didn’t have more time or money. They offered white water rafting, which looked like it would have been a lot of fun. The next time we’re there we’ll do it.

Some cascading waterfalls off the mountains into the raging river below.

A walking bridge over the very fast moving river below. I thought the bridge was rather creepy and didn’t stand on it for very long.

There was a weird cable car system over the valley from one mountain to the next.

The mountains and valleys were being farmed on every open surface on the way to Banos.

On the way back from Banos a lady sat next to Dave who was wearing typical Ecuadorian clothing. You can ignore Dave and check out the lady behind him.

Categories: Nature, South America, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Quito, Ecuador

It’s been a few weeks or so since our last posting and our departure from Guatemala. From Guatemala we flew directly to Quito, Ecuador and have been very busy since our arrival—too busy to post on the blog. While in Quito we spent a couple of days exploring the city itself and also used it as a hub for exploring other nearby cities and sites. This post will solely describe some of what we saw while touring Quito. A couple other postings will follow describing some of our excursions to nearby places, i.e. Otavalo, Baños, and Cotopaxi National Park.

Let’s first get our bearings. We just left the country of Guatemala, which located in Central America just south of Mexico. Ecuador—where the city of Quito is located—is in the northwest part of the continent of South America, just below Colombia. Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, is 25km (15.5 miles) south of the equator. My basic understanding of Ecuador is that it has three distinct regions: the coastal region west of the Andes Mountains; the central region located in the highlands of the Andes Mountains—where Quito resides; and the Amazonian region on the east side of the Andes Mountains, where the rain forest is located. For such a small country it has a great variety of climates as well as activities.

Being so close to the equator one assumes that Quito would be a very hot place. We’ve been told that the Amazon region to the east can get pretty warm. But Quito is located in the central highlands of the Andes at an elevation of about 2840 meters, or roughly 9300 feet. That elevation makes for a much cooler climate, which is fine by us. During our time there I estimate that the temperatures hovered around the mid 70’s during the day and got a bit chilly in the evenings. The temperatures are similar to early Fall temperatures in New England.

Quito Panoramic_02

Panoramic of Quito from Itchimbia viewpoint

As you can see from the picture above, Quito is a densely populated city at around 1,700,000 people. It definitely had a big city feel but only felt overwhelming when cramming onto the public buses during peak hours. The city sits in a valley flanked by Pinchincha Volcano (4794 m) on its west side. It’s easily walkable and has a great public transportation system, which we used often in the city and for our excursions outside of the city. Public buses within the city cost only $0.25 per ride. We were told by our couchsurfing host, Sebas, that fuel is subsidized in Ecuador, making for pretty cheap transportation all around, i.e. buses, taxis and personal vehicles.

One big reason we had such a great time in and around Quito was because of our couchsurfing host Sebas. He was recommended to us by a fella we hosted at our place in Massachusetts a few times, Dick Schroth. Dick stayed with Sebas in Portsmouth, NH and in Quito. We stayed with Sebas and his mother, Silvia, for almost an entire week and they were excellent hosts. Sebas seemed to make it his personal mission while we were there to ensure that we had plenty to do and were supplied with the best information for how to get from place to place. We’ve yet to be disappointed with our couchsurfing experiences. It’s our opinion that they have provided us with a much richer experience than we would have otherwise had. Thanks so much Sebas! We had a great time!


Our couchsurfing host Sebas and me (Dave) enjoying a very popular Pilsener brand beverage. Cheers 🙂

My favorite part of the city was by far Centro Historico, or Historical Center. Supposedly, it has some of the best preserved colonial architecture in South America. Some of the buildings were built as early as the 1550s. That’s pretty old for new world architecture.


Independence Plaza


La Compania


On our way to La Basilica


Outside of La Basilica


Inside of La Basilica

Sebas and Sarah near one of he recently restored areas of the Colonial Center.


Sidewalk alterations while you wait. Sweet.


This was a really cool street in the Colonial Center, but quiet because it was a week night.


Beautifully lit Basilica in the Colonial Center


Indepence Plaza at night. I think the building on the left is where the President of Ecuador works.


Independence Plaza centerpiece.


Independence Plaza Centerpiece with a very old Basilica in the background.

Tower of the Basilica.

During the day each one of the arch ways at ground level are filled with shoe shining station.

Another cool spot, but requiring a more difficult walk, was the Itchimbia viewpoint atop a pretty big hill. The walk up  was difficult due to the steep terrain and thinner air at the high elevation of Quito, but well worth it. At the top was what looked like a giant green house, but instead of being filled with plants it was filled with giant paintings in preparation for a showing later that evening. We checked out the paintings inside and the awesome view of the city outside while enjoying a small snack of cheese filled bread. So far tasty breads sometimes filled with cheese or other deliciousness have been a popular food in both Guatemala and Ecuador.


Centro Cultural Itchimbia


View from Itchimbia overlooking the Historical Center of Quito


Giant Painting exhibit inside of the Centro Cultural


Great view of El Panecillo from Itchimbia

During one of the activity filled days in Quito we spent a few hours checking out the artifact and art exhibits in the Casa de la Cultura located in the La Mariscal section of the city. The best exhibit in my opinion consisted of a great collection of prehistoric artifacts belonging to the Inca and other indigenous cultures within the region. Some of the sculpture artwork was amazing. We also got to see a couple of human skulls altered by clamping them with rope and wood.


Inca man carrying a backpack.


This man is clearly content with a full belly and cheek full of coca leaves. This statue is about 3 feet tall.

Awesome intricate clay sculpture. Looks like it could be from China.


Transformed human skull


Example of a clamp used to transform the skull.

All in all Quito was a very tourist friendly city and we definitely enjoyed our time there. Much credit for our great experience belongs to Sebas, our couchsurfing host. We’d highly recommend paying Quito a visit if you happen to be in Ecuador.

Categories: Architecture, South America, Traveling | 12 Comments

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