Thursday, October 30, 2008


So I just uploaded some photos but the only way i could figure out how to put comments on each of them for now was to do seperate posts. So check them out but there is also a new written post after all of them. Or before them. Depending on how you´re looking at it.

Don´t forget to check out Mark´s video blog which is much more entertaining.

I love South America

Most trash cans are differently painted versions of this. I guess they figure you are more likely to throw away your trash if you get to throw it at a clown´s head.

surfing the rio napo

This is the raft that Geoff built.
We named it Haji and rode it down the river with Cesar.

hunting with blow darts

WHOA! I hit it! We´ll have dinner tonight.

monkeys are fun

At the Amazoonica there are a few monkeys that hang out with the staff and other humans, these are them. There are also piles and piles and piles of packs of monkeys that run through the trees. These guys are wooly monkeys. There were also spider monkeys, squirrel monkeys and tamarinds running around wild. That was super fun.

jungle fever

Fausto is painting my face with a native Kichwan design, using "paint" from a fruit in the jungle and a "brush" made of a piece of vine. fun.

huh. we drink.

Geoff and Mark and I at the outdoor bar in Tena before we went on to the jungle. There is great video footage of this night.

some things are just wrong

Creepy mural.

Mitad del Mundo

Straddling the Equator. Well, the one that the French thought was the Equator. Apparently there is a monument at the real one as well, but we couldn´t find it and called this good enough for photos!


AAAAAH. we got back from the jungle last night, which was super great. We stayed at a place called Liana Lodge (if it´s in a weird language, click the british flag in the upper right corner).

It was great. All inclusive, thatched huts, tours, amazing meals, great price. The first day I did a couple hour jungle trek with a guide named Fausto and he was great. Mark and Geoff did a different thing so I ended up with a family from Guayaquil so it was all in Spanish and a great opportunity to practice. We saw a poisenous frog and a poisenous snake and ate some orchids and lots of other cool things. Lots of indiginous medicinal plants that made me wish my mom was there because she probably would have known what the heck he was talking about. Although one of the people asked what we would do if we got bit by the snake because you have a shelf life of about 20 minutes after getting bitten and we were clearly much further than that away from anywhere. And he said no problem! the antivenom is this vine over here! stuff like that was pretty amazing.

I went that afternoon on a tour - again with Fausto to an island in the river where the native Kichwan grow various crops and got to try out the blow dart gun and I was the only one who hit the target, including Fausto, so I felt pretty cool. Thanks VSO! We also tried the Chicha which is the native fermented drink. It was a little weird to be such a tourist in these people´s homes, clearly there only for the dollars we bring them, but with the jungle being flattened all around them, it´s harder to live off the land so they start to have to have money to buy the food they used to be able to hunt and grow. And so the world changes I guess.

The next morning I went again with Fausto and the folks from Guyaquil to the zoo/animal rehab area which was pretty cool. They are doing good work and it was fun to have the chance to see the animals up close, even if they are behind cages.

That afternoon Geoff and Mark and I went with the man who had been their guide the first day, Cesar and "built" (tied some logs together with rope) a raft and went down the river for a couple of hours. It was fantastic to just get the chance to sit and visit with one of the guides about what it was like living there and working the lodge and how much it has all changed just in his lifetime. It is amazing how quickly it is happening. Just when he was a kid, they would load up their things onto a balsa raft and move stuff down the river for a few days, now there are motorized canoes and roads and trucks. And he´s not that old - 26 or so. It´s sobering to start to learn the realities of it all.

But, Liana Lodge, and their project Selva Viva are up to some good things and it looks like more and more folks are trying to figure out ways to preserve a lot of the jungle and the animals and the native cultures.

Now we are in Baños, which is super gringo town but also super fun. Geoff wasn´t feeling great last night so Mark and I went out and had some beers and ended up in a bar called BARBASS and the bartender was super duper fun. After a few beers and some political conversation - all of Ecuador seems to be pulling for Obama - but it´s tough to have a conversation about politics when you don´t have all the vocabulary of the language. It was funny to try to walk softly on such a subject. But, it was good to hear that other cultures think that the people of the US are mostly great, we just have had some tough leadership for a while. Suddenly they empathize and know how we feels since it happens like that in Latin America so often. Then he made us a drink called the Bob Marley which, near as we can tell, was flaming sugar cane liquor (moonshine) out of a decanter with no label, a little grenadene and a little creme de menthe to make the rasta colors, lit on fire and drank through a straw all at once. It was odd and there was definitely a moment of "this is where you´re given something funny to drink and wake up with a headache, no money and a missing kidney" but sometimes you just go with it anyway and all it ended up doing was making us drunk and giving Mark a sneezing fit.

So now we´re deciding what to do next, Mark has to leave for Quito tomorrow to catch his flight out on Saturday and Geoff and I will head for Cuenca where we will spend a few days. We´ll catch all-saints day, all-souls day and Cuenca´s independence day celebration which is meant to be amazing so it should be a great few days.

I think I can figure out how to load images now, so I´ll make another post with some that we have so far. love you all!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

the gateway to the jungle!

We finally made it out of Quito. Yesterday´s bus ride was about six hours and it was stunning. What a beautiful country. Through the Andes, down into the cloud forest for hours and finally starting to be able to see the Amazon jungle. You know how the first time you drove accross Texas you realized that Texas was BIG? That you had known that intellectually, but actually KNOWING was totally different? That´s what driving for hours and hours and hours by rain forest for as far as the eye can see and realizing that we were only looking at the teeeeniest, tiiiiniest top corner of it was like. That chunk of land is BIG.
Last night was the first night we went out since we´ve been here. We are in the town of Tena which is pretty small and it was nice to walk around. We sat outside at one bar for quite some time and met lots of friends on the way by. We met some girls from London and then when the bars closed we ran into them again on the street and they knew a disco that would still be open so we went with them and danced and laughed until about 4am and then we all stood in the street for a long time laughing and talking with all our new Ecuadorian friends. It makes for a heck of a headache today, but it was super fun.
Now we´re trying to get ahold of the lodge we want to stay at for the next few night in the jungle - they rehab animals and try to get them back out into the jungle and it looks super fantastic. In typical Latin fashion, they´re not so big on emailing back and are only near the phone sometimes so we just keep trying. They have to send a canoe for us in order to get there so that´s why we aren´t just showing up like one normally would.
Don´t know if there will be internet out there so if I don´t write for a while, that is why. But hopefully there will be so that I can upload some photos without making people wait in line for the only computer longer than they already have.
love, mj

Friday, October 24, 2008


So I´ve always been kind of a terrible packer. This surprises me as it seems like a sort of thing that I would know how to do, but alas, not so much. I have had lots of practice lately though.

Leaving my apartment I had to pack with the following things in mind:
-what I was going to need to live maybe forever in south america; teaching and volunteering.
-what I would need to have saved for me to be brought to south america when I find the ranch.
-two weeks in Hawaii
-five weeks of couch surfing
-two weeks of adventure vacation with mark and geoff

Then after I got back from Hawaii I had to repack so that what I would need for five weeks of couch surfing would be available to me.

Then I had to pack for
-a few more days in portland
-a two day train trip
-a day in LA
-a plane trip
-two weeks of adventure vacation with geoff and mark
-and potentially forever in south america.

I had to repack when I got here for the two week adventure vacation with mark and geoff and put the rest into storage.

Every day I repack to figure out what comes out with me for the day and what I can take back to the stuff in storage for the vacation and figure out what I accidentally packed into that stuff that I need back. Like the cord that goes from my camera to the computer so that i can download images and my external hard drive so that I have somewhere to put them.

I very much look forward to stopping someplace for a minute and not repack even for one dang day. I definitely have way too much stuff so when the guys are gone, I´ll need to go through again and figure out how much of it I can live without. Ecuador has changed it´s visa policy to only being able to stay for three months so if that isn´t work-around-able, I´ll need to get everything down into one bag and figure out which country to head to next. I was really hoping for six months or a year here to get my feet under me. But, then, this is why I´ve never had a plan and will just roll with whatever happens. There are definitely things that I will probably send back home if I´m traveling around more than living in one place.

Anyway, if it isn´t until I´m 80 damn years old, I will conquor this packing thing.

Then I look at Geoff, who is going to away from home for a month, in two different countries, mountains and jungles and beaches and a wedding and has one tiny pack and has every single thing he needs and room in the pack for a souvineir like a big ol´ mask! grrrrr. how does he do it?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

saying no can be really hard.

We did much better not getting lost today. Only two days and we're getting the hang of this town. Okay, so I'm getting the hang of the language and Geoff and Mark are figuring out the navigation. I happily follow them and don't even look at street signs. It means I will be lost when they leave, but they have to be good for something after all.

We took the bus to Otavalo market today which is about 2 1/2 hours NE of Quito. I was laughing at myself on the bus. Geoff was taking a nap and Mark was reading a book and they were totally happy and just chillin' on the bus. I had my head out the window like a love-sick puppy the whole time watching and listening and breathing in this new continent that I will call home at least for a while. I tried taking pictures but they wouldn't really work on the moving bus. I think Mark got some footage that was better. He definitely uploaded footage of the market.

The market was an interesting experience. Lots of stuff for sale, as one expects. The real big market day is Saturday so today was pretty mellow, which was kind of nice. It was fun to put my haggling skills back to use, it's been a long time. I probably could have done a better job, but the reality is that we can afford it and it makes a much bigger difference to them. They are so desperate and poor, they ask you "please, please just buy something" and they all plead with you and it's hard to say "no" over and over and over. It just feels so very personal each and every time. Many people are selling crafts that they themselves had made and so you are telling each person, "what you have done is not enough for me. It is not beautiful enough or interesting enough or useful enough. Even if it's only $2.00." Over and over and over. It gets really emotionally exhausting - I had forgotten that part.

I finally had to call a market break so we went and had lunch. Wandered into a cafe and sat down expecting menus, I guess, but instead the boy brought us a plate of popcorn each, then some soup, then a plate of chicken and rice and maize and salad *which we didn't eat* and glasses of tang which we also didn't drink and we laughed cause that is what is for sale in this restaurant, whether you want it or not. And then when the check came it was $3.75. For all three of us. I had him keep $5 cause it just seems like the right thing to do, even though tipping is not expected in this type of restaurant. I have been taught too well by those bartender and server friends for it to be anywhere in my makeup to just walk out of a restaurant or bar without leaving something. I also tip taxi drivers when I'm not supposed to here. But, seriously, how can you not?

So I have had and acidic stomachache all day and didn't sleep well last night so I'm headed off to bed early to try to get caught up on sleep and feeling better. Geoff and Mark are going to climb a mountain tomorrow but I just don't feel up to it so I am going to walk around old town and try to visit Amanda's dad and get some laundry done and just hang out, enjoying the day. I will climb that mountain another day. Also what I want to get done tomorrow is to get my pictures off my camera and so I will be able to start uploading some.

I did have a scare with the camera today as I suddenly couldn't find it and thought maybe someone had gotten it out of my bag even though I was being super careful. Sick sick sicker to my stomach. Luckily I had set it on the counter at the farmacia when we stopped for antacid and they were nice enough to give it back to me. One of the things I bought in the market was a good little bag to put my camera in so I can have it out of my main bag but not living in my hand.
So there is today in Ecuador. Tomorrow I will upload some photos.

Love to each of you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Please go to Mark's video blog for now. it's late and we're getting up early to go to the Otavalo Market tomorrow. Right now we're punch drunk and a little real drunk and sitting next to each other on computers doing funny stuff. I am so glad I'm here with these guys. Also, Mark is complaining that no one is commenting, so please do so. Today we went to the Equator.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The high dive.

"This is a stupid idea and I don't want to do it anymore" is the place that I lived yesterday.

Leaving Portland was so hard. I didn't want to do it anymore. It seemed like such a bad idea all of a sudden as I hugged the people I love so much at the train station and walked away from them. That is a moment and a feeling that will live in me forever.
I cried for hours after getting on the train and all the nice people were so concerned and I couldn't even explain. Eventually red wine and whiskey and Xanax helped.
But, I am so so so glad that I chose to ride the train to LA before flying to Quito. The decompression from leaving has been so critical. The room between leaving and arriving. I can't imagine the break that would have occurred in my soul and psyche if I had gotten on a plane and landed in Quito last night. My brain and emotions would have been so fried. 36 hours on the train and a day in LA will be just about right.
I expect the next time I will feel that sense of terror and wonder at the seeming sheer stupidity of this plan will be when I put Mark and Geoff on the plane to leave me in Ecuador. Knowing that I am meeting up with them sure made it easier to keep moving and get on the train. And to not get off it in Salem. And to not get off it in Eugene. And to not get off it in Redding. It crossed my mind every stop for many hours that I could just change my mind and go home. Like when you've climbed up the ladder to the high dive and then you don't want to do it anymore and you could climb back down the ladder? It felt kind of like that. The embarrassment would have sucked so much, but it was an option. For now, I'm still walking to the edge of the board. Determined and terrified and not totally convinced that I'm not going to turn around and climb back down the ladder.
I guess that it is this scary means that it is really worth doing.
Mostly now I'm doing well. I was glad for my travel training over the last years at not being nervous to get off the train and find the subway and then find the hostel in a strange city, at night, carrying all my worldly possessions. I hid my passport and travel money pretty well, figuring that if everything else got stolen, I could still move forward. Glad I don't have to put that to the test.
whew. next year became next month became tomorrow became today. here i am. i'm doing it.