Photos from India

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Hiking the Inca Trail and visiting Machu Picchu

After a couple of days in Cuzco, Peru, I headed off to hike the Inca Trail. I met my group and guide on Tuesay morning at the main square in Cuzco and we took a small bus ride through the sacred valley to where we would begin our trek. In total, there were seven of us hiking. There was a retired couple from Scotland, three guys from England together and another guy from Britain that was currently working out of Houston. We had one guide and 8 porters between us. Everyone in the group other than me had paid a little extra for a porter to carry most of their gear and sleeping bags, but I was having none of that. I can´t imgaine forcing another person to carry my things up a mountain. Being that I felt capable, I set out with about forty pounds of gear on my back. This definitely made me a little nervous since everyone else was carrying just a small daypack with a raincoat, camera and a few candy bars in it. Combine that with torturous tails of ¨dead woman´s pass¨ that we had to go over on the second day, and I was definitely concerned.
The first day was a pretty casual hike, about five miles maybe and the scenery was unbelieveable. The backpack wasn´t bothering me so I was definitely feeling better about the hike but still a bit nervous about the next day. Dead Woman´s Pass was what we would be climbing in the morning. The hike on the second day began at 11,000´ and headed straight up the mountain to about 14,000´. I took off at my own pace as I tend to always do hiking and quickly lost track of my group. In a bit less than three hours, I made it to the top where I was rewarded with partly cloudy skies and amazing views down both sides of the mountain. The rest of the group began arriving a half hour later and the last one and our guide, showed up about an hour later. This was plenty of time for a good rest and just to sit there and enjoy the mountain views. Everything around us was steep and green. In the distance, between the clouds, you could see mountains that were much higher and covered in snow. What an amazing place to be hiking, following the footsteps of a long lost civalization!
From the top of the pass, we all headed downhill to what was supposed to be the next camp site. We arrived around 12:30, all had lunch and decided we wanted to press on having nothing else to do that afternoon. From there, we headed to the second pass, not near as high as the first, but still a pretty good hike. We stopped at several ruins along the way and arrived at the next campsite late that afternoon. By climbing the second pass that day, it meant that our third day would be much shorter and easier, ending around noon at a small lodge where we could buy beer and sit inside for once.
Since we were now ahead of schedule, we were able to sleep in, no wake up call at 5:00 a.m., today we were able to sleep till 7:00. Quite a nice change. As usual, the porers awoke us with coffee, or tea at our tents as well as a bowl of warm watter to clean up a bit with. Not a bad way to start the day, although I hate the idea of being pampered in any form by anyone. Either way, I will take a cup of cofee no matter how I can get it out in the middle of nowhere. The day went without issue, although towards the end of the hike my shoulders were definitely feeling the weight of the backpack. We crested the third pass, had some amaizing views, checked out some more ruins and then as it was beginning to rain, arrived in the third campsite. There, we proceeded to drink a ridiculous amount of beer and entertained ourselves with about 50 hands of presidents and assholes. Not to bad the day before heading to Machu Picchu!
The final day of the hike was only about 2 and a half miles. We awoke at four for some coffee and a piece of cake for breakfast and set out on the trail so that we could watch the sunrise on Machu Picchu. Hiking as fast as I could in hopes of getting that one good photo, I arrived at the Sun Gate and had an amazing view in the morning light, before the sun had made it over the mountains. It is always amazing to see something you have seen so many times in photos. At the sungate, I realized this was not the place to be to watch the sun crest the mountains and wash the city with light. I quickly hurried down closer to the city and found myself fighting with all of the tourists who had taken the trains and busses to the ruins that morning for a good spot to take a photo. As the sun came over the mountain and lit up the city, I began taking photos. The digital ones look pretty good, but I definitely have higher expectations for my film camera. It was amzing to look out over a city this large that had remained undiscovered until about 100 years ago. With the views of the surrounding mountains and the sound of the rivers roaring down below, Machu Picchu would still be an amaing place to live. Probably would be one of the most expensive pieces of property in the world! It is easy to see why the Inca´s chose this place to live!

Baños, Ecuador

Well, it´s Sunday night in Cuzco and I am getting on a bus tonight at 10:00, heading for Cococabana, Bolivia which is on lake Titica. It is supposed to be a beautiful city that sits on the eastern shore of the lake thus having amazing sunsets over the largest lake in South America. Along with being the largest lake, it is also the highest navigable lake in the world. From what I hear, they used to bring steamships up to the lake in pieces on Donkeys. Everyone I have spoken to here says that it is amazing to be on a lake that is surrounded by towering snow covered mountains! I can´t wait to get up there.
So, I know I haven´t posted anything in about two weeks, but to be honest, I have been too busy having too much fun! South America is absoloutely incredible. Most of the cities have a charm like many of the ones in Europe. Although most buildings are somewhat Colonial, they are all very old, made mostly of stone, have balconies projecting everywhere, and all have spanish tile roofs. In every town I visit, there are amazing cathedrals and beautiful parks everywhere. Combine that with being extremely affordable, this continent is perfect for travelling!
I guess I left off on my last entry with the Galapagos islands. After a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts disappeared from my laundry due to some extremely strange circumstances (namely the guy at the hostel I gave my clothes to getting drunk and fired), I headed south of Quito to a town called Baños. Baños was an amazing small city with few cars, no crime and lots of activities around it. The main attraction was the volcano that has been continuously erupting for over 10 years. As I was planning on climbing up another Volcano, Cotopaxi, I planned to do a lot of hiking on my own while I was there and get as high as I could to adjust to the altitude. Appareantly, many other travelers had tried to climb Cotopaxi (about 20,000´) and became extremely sick because of the altitude. I wasn´t about to let that happen after paying a guide to take me up the mountain. So, basically in Baños, I spent one day hiking up one ridge of the volcano to as far as you could go before there is a big drop off and the beginning of the ¨danger zone¨. I hiked the entire time in the rain, gaining a good 4,000´ and did not see another hiker the entire day. Unfortunately, since it was raining, I didn´t see the volcano or much of anything either. That night led to dinner with a few people from the hostel and a bottle of vodka being purchased around 11:00 that night. The vodka definitely slowed me down the next day, but the day still turned out to be amazing. I boarded an open air bus and visited about six different waterfalls south of town. I am hoping that the photos I took there with my slr camera turn out to be some of the best from the entire trip. We will have to see when I return home.
Upon returning to town, the sky was clearing and I rounded up a group of people to hike up to a lookout for the volcano. We were able to watch the volcano spit smoke and ash up into the air until the sun finally set. Not a bad day, looking at waterfalls and wathcing volcanos erupt! The next day, I set out early on what looked like might become a beautiful day to hike up to the abandoned refuge on the other side of the volcano. Upon beginning my hike, I quickly watched my hopes of a beautiful day of hiking and photographs of a volcano errupting fade away. The refuge I was hiking to was mostly destroyed during an erruption about 10 years ago and was supposed to not only be the closest you could get to the top, but also would give you the best views of the eruptions. It is kind of ironic to be hiking up to something like a volcano, just hoping for a big erruption! I don´t know what I would have done if the thing had started spitting lava out down the hill at me! Anyway, as I was saying about the weather, it quickly started raining and continued until I returned to town around 3:00 that afternoon. Again, it was a great day of hiking, minus the rain of course. No photos, no people and very tired legs having gone up to 12,500´.
When I returned to town, I found that my trip to Cotopaxi had been cancelled. Appareantly no one had summited the entire week due to warmer than average weather and lots of rain. To explain further, the entire top of this thing is covered in ice. You hike up to a hut, play around with ice axes and crampons on the glacier for a bit, take a nap and then awake to begin your climb at midnight. The last six hours is all in snow and ice, using ice axes and crampons so needless to say, warm weather and rain don´t help the conditions. Oh well, I guess that left a day of canyoning.
I spent that afternoon trying to organize a trip canyoning. It is actually just rapelling, only you are rapelling down waterfalls. The problem down here is that the market for everything is oversaturated. It´s like someone sees that someone else is earning a living doing something and they open up the same shop next door. None of the outfitters had any trips going out the next day and would only take me by myself if I wanted to pay an additional 10 dollars. Not that 10 dollars is a lot of money, it is just the principal down here since everything is so cheap. Anyway, the next morning I was in a shop trying to organize a trip when two other people came in and wanted to do the same trip. I was in luck and this also dropped my price from 30 to 25 dollars! Not bad for a day of rapelling down waterfalls! Now, I think I mentioned this whole canyoning thing in a previous post, saying that the tallest waterfall was like 1200´. I misunderstood, it was actually only 140´. Still pretty high. I wasn´t sure what to expect of the day and was definitely worried a bit about the safety of it, but the guide knew what he was doing, always having an extra rope on my for safety and then the one that I controlled. By no means was the rapelling scary, in fact, after stepping over the first ledge, a smile came to my face and I just kept smiling and laughing the whole time enjoying every minute of it. I could have spent a week dropping down these waterfalls. The first two we went down weren´t very high, maybe between 30 and 45 feet each. We were able to go off each a couple of times before going over the big one. At the bottom of the two smaller ones, you just jumped off the rocks and landed in a pool of water! Anyway, the big one landed on a bunch of rocks, but it was by far the best. Two decents later and I did not want to leave! But like each town I visit, it was time to go.
I headed back to Quito the next day since I had a flight the next evening. At breakfast on the day of my flight, I started talking to a couple of guys and we decided to head up the volcano I mentioned in Quito a couple of weeks ago. This time, the weather was much better, although storms did come in on the summit as we finished the decent. Having adjusted to the altitude better now, and being in terrifed of missing my flight, I summited the volcano and returned to the beginning of the trail in under 4 hours. Not bad, knocking almost two hours off my previous time! That´s pretty tough, hiking from 12,000´ almost 16,000´in that short of a trip. Fortunately, I was able to make my flight on time and had a miserable night sleeping in the airport in Lima, awaiting a 6 a.m. flight to Cuzco!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Mutiny in the Galapagos (But still a great trip)!

If you just want to hear about the islands and animals, not all the drama, head down to the tenth paragraph.

The Galapagos islands is a place I had dreamed of visiting since the first time I heard about it. It was probably on one of those discovery channel specials and from that moment on I was sure that I had to get there and enjoy the unique wildlife and remote places, far from everything else in the world. What could go wrong? There are tons of tourist offices here in Quito advertising all class levels and all kinds of last minute specials for trips there. I had met tons of people who had been and everyone raved about it and had absoloutely no problems. Since most of them were backpackers, they were on what is the lowest level of boat you could get on a tour with, economic class. No problems for me living on a cheap boat so I didn´t have any concerns about that and I new what to expect on that type of boat. The important thing for me was the itenerary. After spending a day checking prices on trips, I had to make a decision between three different boats that were all in three different class levels. Each one cost the same, the only difference was the quality of the boat (according to the agents) and the itenerary. After careful deliberation I chose the lowest class of boat because it had the best itenerary, sailing to a different island each night while we slept, and to some smaller ones while we ate lunch. It sounded great to me. . .
Upon arriving to the Galapagos islands, we met our guide and the rest of the members on our boat. After about an hour bus ride and a short ferry, we arrived at our boat in a busy harbor called Puerto Ayorra. Now this harbor definitely did not belong in the Galapagos. While is was covered in birds and sea lions, there were so many boats just rotting away and the ones that were running were leaking oil into the water, creating a nice film on the enitre surface and a colorful coating on all of the sea lions in the harbor. The boat was as bad as you can imagine, actually probably worse than most of you can imagine, but as I said, this is what I expected. The first day was spent visiting a couple of swimmig spots and beaches that we reached by hiking to them. The guide told us that the snorkelling was good there so we grabbed our snorkels and headed out to see our first bit of the galapagos. On the hike, we saw a couple of the Marine Iguanas, but I didn´t even bother taking pictures because I knew that at some point we would come across tons of them. After arriving at the beaches, it was quite obvious to me that snorkelling would be a pointless thing to do as the water was about as clear as the mississippi river. No problem though, we would be sailing to another island that night and awake to a secluded beach covered in giant tortises, marine iguanas, sea lions and who knows what else! Right? Unfortunately not.
We returned to the boat for dinner and decided that we must be leaving late in the night. Everyone went to sleep and awoke the next morning still in the same shitty harbor. The morning was spent inland where we found a bunch of giant tortises which was quite nice to see. It is amazing how big they are and how close you can get to them in the wild. From there, we headed back to the boat for lunch. Now when we arrived, everyone on board had commented on the fact that we were anchored so close to so many other boats. The one behind us kept getting close to us and had actually run into the back of the boat in the morning. The boat in front of us had run into us in the morning as well, but at that point none of the crew thought it might be a good idea to move the boat. During lunch, there was an incredible crashing noise right ouside the window whild we ate! As we looked up, the unoccupied boat behind us (other than the sea lions on it), was halfway through the window in the saloon and as the swell pulled the boat back away, it broke through the side rail and half of the side of the boat. The crew looked very surpised at this point as if how oculd this happen? I mean, give me a break, everyone on board was just waiting on this to happen. No major worries at this point about the boat, it was still functioning as well as before. We did however discover that the boat would not be leaving until that night and the itenerary was completely different from what 8 or the 10 of us had purchased. Once again, not the end of the world, we were still getting to see the Galapagos. Weren´t we?
After lunch the guide annonced we would visit another beach with good snorkelling. There, it would be possible to see reef sharks, turtles and other marine life. We arrived to quite a nice beach, I put my camera in it´s waterproof case, grabbed my snorkel and mask and headed into the water to find some sharks! After about 30 feet of swimming and not being able to see my hand in front of my face, I headed back to the beach. This did not stop the others. They were convinced that it would be ok. No such luck. I told them the only way you would be able to see anything in that water was if if ran smack into you. At this point, most of us are very irritated and confronted the guide regarding the itenerary and the boat. The boat had never heard of our iteneraries and had been doing the same four island tour for a while now. He did tell us that we would head to the next island, Isabella in that night and it was a good island.
I awoke at sunrise to find us two hours behind schedule heading toward Isabella. As we arrived into yet another busy harbor, we had breakfast and headed ashore where we would hike to some old prison runs and see something called the wall of tears. From there, we would see some pink flamingos and all kinds of sharks, iguanas, penguins, turtles, stingrays and sea lions in the afternoon. Well, after a short hike in the equatorial heat to the wall of tears, I saw what I expected of the fifty year old prison ruins. A big pile of stones (the wall of tears) and some conrete slabs. Why we were even there, I will never understand. From there, we stopped at the spot where it is good to see pink flamingos. There was one. It was a pathetic site. One pink flamingo in this muddy lake. I took a few photos, but it just brought me even further down to see just this one pathetic flamingo. Since there were no flamingos, the guide told us that it was possible to see a whale in the harbor where we were anchroed. Apprareantly, the a family of whales had beached here last month, and all but one died. He had decided to stay in the harbor. As we approached the whale, it was appareant that something was wrong. It was lying on it´s side and barely moving. The guide said they had tried to feed it but it would not eat. It was pretty much trapped in the harbor and slowly dying. Why in the world they were showing us this awful sight, I have no idea. It absoloutely made me sick to sit there and look at this dying whale.
After the whale, the guide told the guy driving our small little dinghy to take us over to another part of the harbor. As we got closer, the swell picked up and I couldn´t understand what we were doing. Everyone on the boat looked confused. We were approaching a beach with huge breaking waves and passing a rocky shoreline in heavy swells, at times almost coming over the side of the boat. The guy driving the dinghy was questioning the guide and the guide told him to press on. I knew we had no business being in this situation in a little boat with a shitty engine. As we got closer to the beach, the guide decided it would not be a good idea to try and land. This was quite obvious to most of us 10 minutes before. We turned the boat directly into the waves and escaped the first few without incident. The next however created all the chaos. As we rode up the face of the next wave, it was already breaking. The boat went close to vertical and was swamped by the wave pouring over the front of the boat and completely soaking everyone on board including our bags, filled with cameras. At this point, biting my tongue on this trip was no longer an option. Most of you have seen me angry before, but this was much worse than any of those times. Fearing my camera was ruined and these fools were putting all of our lives in danger, I let loose a strand of cursing that lasted a solid minute. Unfortunately they probably didn´t even understand it, but at least they could tell I was pissed off!
We returned to the boat where six of us decided we were getting off the boat. Telling the captain, crew and our guide that not only was the boat unsafe, but they were putting our lives at risk. Combine that with the fact that we were lied to regarding our iteneraries, and you had one hell of a group of angry passengers. During the altercation and arguing on the boat, we discovered that the boat did not even have the permits to go anywhere on the islands except for the busy harbrs, so this is what we would get for the rest of the trip. The six of us demanded to be taken into the town and put in touch with the companies that had sold us the trip. We all discovered we were screwed as all of the other boats were full since it was Easter week. Four of us returned in dissappoinment while an American couple said screw the money and got off.
The afternoon was spent walking around an area nearby and exploring the animals in the harbor by boat and snorkelling. Finally, I was experiencing the real Galapagos! As we motored over to a trail, we passed sea lions playing, penguins warming themselves in the sun, and countless other types of birds. Along the hike, we were about six feet off the sea and could see about fifty or sixty white tipped reef sharks, tons of marine iguanas, sea turtles, stingrays, and along the beach we found plenty of sea lions. My anger had vanished and if this all kept up, it would be one hell of a trip!
The next day, we went horseback riding to the third largest volcanic crater in the world. This thing was amazing. All the sides of the rim were covered in vegetation, but the bottom of the crater looked like all of the magma had just cooled yesterday. It was completely black and all cracked everywhere. From the crater, we went to the site of the last eruption where you could see a crack in the outside of the volcano and see the entire lava flow all the way out to sea. Pretty amaing. On the way, back, myself and two other guys were out front of everyone else and had a pathetic attempt at a race with our ever so slowly moving horses. I think we decided to call it a tie and when the others arrived a few minutes later, we could tell something was wrong. There was a spanish woman on our boat who was very dirty and she was screaming that the guide tried to kill her and that he was crazy! Appareantly he had tried to get her hose to go faster, poked it with a stick and it took off. I gathered that she held on for a while and at some point was knocked off the horse. She had some small cuts and large bruises and was saying she wanted to get to a doctor to get a tetnus shot for some reason. Now I have to say that if you ride horses, you will always risk falling off. Shit happens. Not for this lady. From there, we went into town, got her cleaned up and then went to the police station. She wanted to file a report about all of the incidents and problems so far with our boat. From there, they moved on to the Marine Police and the National Parks services. The afternoon was gone at this point which eliminated a trip inland to see more of the giant tortises. Who cares though, the crew and passengers were entertainment enough at this point. We all returned to the boat, only the spanish woman and her friend gathered there belongings and got off the boat. Now there were six of us left. No problem with me, I now had my own cabin and there was much more room aboard!
From here, the trip went witout incident. The next day, we awoke and hiked to a shallow channel in the ocean where we waded out to a very small island. Other than the sea lions, crabs and marine iguanas, the island was uninhabited and there were no other tourists around. When we arrived, we could see a group of about 20 baby sea lions playing in the water so everyone grabbed their snorkelling gear and dove in. The sea lions were everywhere, coming right up to your face to check you out, nibbling on your fins and just having fun playing with you. From there, I decided to wander off and wait for the others to tire of the sea lions so I could have them all to myself. While snorkelling in the small bay, I was able to see plenty of sea turtles, eagle rays, sting rays, lots of different fish and a few more sea lions that were a little bit older. From there, most of the others from our group had gone back to the shore as the water was pretty cold there. I decided to spend some more time checking out the baby sea lions. I really can't use words to describe being in the water with so many animals swimming around you as if you were their entertainment instead of they being yours. The rest of the day was spent at another beach doing much of the same thing again.
I think that the first experience snorkelling with the sea lions was on the fourth day. From there, we had another three days of a lot of the same thing. Clear water to snorkel in, although pretty cold at times, and lots of sea life. At times we were able to venture inland to more volcanic cones, lakes formed in those cones, and trips to places where we could find more of the giant tortises. This was what I wanted from the Galapagos and fortunately after all of the intial drama, I was getting it! All in all, the trip was well worth every cent, but obviously it would have been nice to enjoy every day like I did the last five days. Needless to say, I am still a bit upset with the tourist agency and I will be passing this information along to every hostel in Ecuador as well as all of the travel guide books. It is awful that this could happen to people when they are on their vacations after spending a lot of money on the trip as well as their time planning it. Hopefully I can't prevent others from falling into the same trap.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Climbing Volcan Pichincha and heading to the Galapagos!

I am sitting here, almost too warn out to type this entry, but I had to get it off my mind while the memories of today were still fresh! Since I arrived in Quito, I had seen a few adds for a trip to hike the nearby Volcan Pichincha. Everyone said that it had been raining too much (it is the rainy season here) for the four wheel drive to get you where you start the hike. I was really dissappointed since I had seen most of the city of Quito already and I am leaving for the Galapagos islands tomorrow. I will tell you more about that later. Anyway, last night I met this girl from Hong Kong here at the hostel. She told me that I could take this cable car thing up the mountain and there was a trail that led up to the volcano from there. She said it wasn't too difficult and it would take about two hours. I have since decided that she didn't understand that I wanted to get to the summit of the thing. After hearing that it was that easy to do, I convinced an Australian guy to join me on the hike. We left the hostel after a not so great breakfast and took a cab to the cable car. After a long wait in line, the cable car took us up to an elevation of around 4100 meters (around 13,400'). Anyway, from there we started the hike with lots of dark clouds in the sky threateaning a shower or two later in the day. As we began walking, we already new that it was going to be a big challenge just because of the altitude. Each step along the trail to the base of the peak was needless to say very slow. Now, after about two hours, we reached a lookout point. I think this must have been what the girl from Hong Kong was talking about getting too. From here, we began traversing the side of the mountain, crossing over wet rocks and mud with cliffs falling thousands of feet below. The clouds were now getting darker and we heard the occasional clap of thunder. We did get a few hail showers, but nothing much at this point. Anyway, as we got closer to the summit, each step was now getting to be twice as hard. Too make it even more difficult, the mountain became so steep that we had to begin actually doing more rock climbing than hiking. I was definitely nervous as one slip of the hand or feet could have easily sent either one of us tumbling into rocks below. As we neared the summit, the clouds became thick and began dumping more hail on us. That continued with a constant shower of rain and the occassional snow flake. Neither of us had gloves on and between the freezing weather, the ice on a lot of surfaces, and the frozen rocks, climbing was becoming difficult. As we approaced the last 100' or so to the summit, the thunder started getting really loud and it began to rain like hell. We did manage to snap a couple of pictures that could just as eaily have been me standing on a steam vent in the Winter in New York, but I assure you we had made it. The eleavtion at the top was around 4900 meters, or just over 16,000'. Definitely the highest point on land I have ever been on! Anyway, by now it was raining and snowing some and we began our journey down. Getting down the steeper portions with all of the rock climbing and frozen hands was pretty difficult, but from there on, it was easy going, sliding down with giant steps on the loose stones from the last erruption got us down below the freezing line pretty quick. From there, we were stuck in a constant rain and the trail had become like a small stram. After about 7 hours, we finally returned to the top of the cable car, both feeling the effects of the altitude with every part of our bodies unable to function properly.
Now, it is time for a bit of an easy night. I may go upstairs to our roof top balcony that overlooks the old part of Quito and drink a beer with some of the other guests here, but for now, I have to finish my packing. Tomorrow, I am flying to the Galapagos islands for an 8 day boat trip throughout the islands. Everyone here that I have met says that is their favorite place they have been and I have yet to hear anything bad about it! The plan is to ride on one of those giant tortises, take some photos of the marine iguanas and maybe a few whales and hopefully swim with some schools of hammerhead sharks! Should be exciting! I probably won't have email while I am gone so you can get in touch with me in just over a week! Stay tuned for more soon!

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

St. Martin to Miami, and now Ecuador!

After a couple of nights of sleeping in a room that wasn't rocking back and forth all night, I am still warn out from trying to squeeze as much as possible into everyday that I am gone, not to mention how much the boat was moving in the swells the last couple of nights. When we left Antigua last week and started out on what was supposed to be about a 16 hour sail, it turned out to be almost 24 hours with no wind at all and motoring the whole way. Combine that with a 10 foot swell on the ocean and rather than having the boat heeled over to one side while underway, it just bobbed around like a cork in the water. This made it as difficult as ever to sleep as the mast was rocking about 45 degrees to each side and as you would lie down in bed, even on your back, it was enough to rotate your body over and not allow you to get any sleep. From there, we dropped anchor and after a beautiful day, the water in the bay became extremely choppy. Every trip to shore in the skiff, came with water pouring over the front of the boat and covering us on the way in and out. By no means pleasant, but you dry up pretty quickly in the tropics.
Visiting St. Martin again was nice as I had more time on this trip other than the one day I was there last time. After figuring out the bus system, (small buses run all over the island for $1), I was able to get around pretty easily, visit all of the beaches around and even make a few friends along the way. Saturday, I had booked a fairy over to St. Barts, but unfortunately when I arrived, after waiting on the boat, they announced that the boat was broken and would not be going. Very dissappointing since I was trying to go there last time I was in the area at the beginning of the trip. Oh well, it couldn't be that different from all the other islands could it? Anyway, the choppy water still had not left us when I departed from the boat at 5:00 a.m. yesterday morning. As I attempted to load my bag and myself into the skiff, the waves were bouncing the front of the boat about six or seven feet into the air. Climbing over the rail about six feet off the water with the main boat rocking and the small one bouncing and trying not to dunk my gear in the ocean was a difficult challenge. Somehow I prevailed only getting minimal amounts of saltwater on my clothes, face and bags before making it into the dock.
Now for Miami! I tell you what, I haven't heard to many great things about Miami other than the partying and clubs and hot women. Although there was not partying and clubs for me, there were plenty of hot women around. I couldn't believe how many beautiful girls there were there! The city itself was pretty impressive as well although I can't believe how many buildings were under construction. When I flew in, we were sitting on the runway and I noticed the number of tower cranes in the skyline. I was able to count 40, and I am sure there were plenty that I couldn't even see. These things were putting up ridiculously tall buildings everywhere. That place is growing too fast! I can't imagine being there in 10 years. Anyway, I spent the only full day I had there drinving around coral gables and coconut grove. Now I had seen pictures of the houses in coral gables, but driving around all of these beautiful red tile roofed floirda homes was incredible. Between that and all of the live oaks and other kind of amazing trees lining the roads, I couldn't imagin a better place to life. From there, I headed down to South Beach where I had a sandwich and followed that by playing some volleyball with a group of french girls and one of their boyfriends. From there, I wandered over the sand dunes down to the beach. This is the longest stretch of beach I think I have ever seen and it was just covered in people. Even in the parts with out condos, there were tons of people. Combine that with the number of topless women and you really can't go wrong on the beach in Miami!
Now I have arrived here in Quito, Ecuador and am straddling the equator. You would think it would be warm here, but I am up in the mountains and quite comfortable in blue jeans and a tshirt at the moment. It's raining so the raincoat helps block the breeze as well as I walked around town tomorrow. So far so good, the old part of the city that I am staying in is absoloutely amazing! I have never seen so many beautiful buildings done in an old colonial style. Also, I knew it was cheap here, but after a $3 meal, I bought a 35 cent bottle of water. The last bottle of water I bought in Miami cost me 3.50! Anyway, it seems like there are a lot of things to do, see and climb here so I should have some pretty good adventures of the next couple of weeks so keep reading!