Thursday, April 29, 2010

Expect the unexpected

So after Dj started off his trip with a vacation to Galapagos it was time for him to jump into the adventures of traveling by car in foreign nations. IF you remember I was robbed back in Venezuela and lost my drivers license so on our first day back from Galapagos, it was time for Dj to drive. This basically brought him into the madness right away as we started in Guayaquil and I made him drive us out due to their being police and checkpoints on our way to the beach. Right away driving in the city is crazy, the people in Ecuador don't mind any lane indications and they generally turn 2 lanes into 4 or 3 to 5 or something that seems a bit ridiculous. The first thing I'm telling Dj, as he's driving, is you can't drive defensive and friendly or you won't make it anywhere and the people won't understand how to react to you driving. It's all about the pecking order, pedestrians have no right of way and won't cross the street if you nicely let them. THey're certain you're going to run them over so you just have to drive and never try to let someone cross because they will just look at you as you wave them by and still just wait for you to drive. Same goes with the cars, the smaller cars get out of the way of the bigger so basically the buses and trucks can bully their way into wherever they want. This works in my favor as well since my truck is bigger than most cars, but all this is new to Dja nd I'm having to 'yell' at him to push his way into the lanes we need to get where we need. His trip has begun. We get out of the city and are onto the coast route and getting excited to get to the beach before dark for a quick surf when all of a sudden a weird sound starts and we realize we have a flat tire. We're far out now and in between small beach towns and it's been raining. SO we dig out the jack and tools, pull off the spare and after a quick scare with the wrench not fitting the lug nuts but thankfully I dig around the back of the truck and locate another that fits these lug nuts. In getting the spare off and the jack set up, I had to crawl under the car and get muddy/dirty laying on my back in the loose gravel. Anyways we're feeling pretty good how it's all just working for us until we can't pull the tire off after all the lug nuts are off. Looking at the tire, it appears the center of the wheel is connected or rusted on and we are trying various methods to get this tire off but there is zero movement which has us wondering if there is a step we're missing. The rains coming down, we're wrestling with this tire and darkness is looming in. Dj is asking me funny questions about the closest car shop which I tell him is about 2 hours away or a tow truck which I just chuckle at and he's getting really worried about it getting dark shortly. FOr me I'm less worried because we have all the food we need and if we couldn't move, we could just set up camp right there until we came up with a solution. I try flagging down the police, who have passed by checking us 3 times, and they just drive by flashing lights. I figure the truckers would be used to doing this and maybe give us an idea but nobody is stopping. Finally a guy pulls up in his car and pulls over. I explain what our prob is and he responds with a typical phrase here in latin america "no te preocupes" aka don't worry and then he runs back to his car. That's when this guy shows us that he's a genius and we're not so smart...and we're the educated ones. First thing he does is ask if I have something to put down, which I'm not understanding why as I navigate spanish with him, until it dawns on me that he wants something on the ground so he doesn't get dirty...and then my head drops in shame. Dj & I both stand there covered in dirt, Dj with dirt dread locks and my head and back all over dirty and muddy....from mud we made. Next puts the spare tire under the car so that if the car falls, it will protect the impact...genuis as I was climbing around under the car while the spare tire rested outside safe and sound. We both feel even dumber. And down he goes, clean & dry, with a mini mallet smashes the backside of the tire with a couple hard wacks and off the tire falls. Then in a matter of minutes he puts on the spare & puts the flat back where the spare goes and does all of this without breaking a sweat. So after a couple of unsuccessful hours by us and him doing it in 10 minutes. We walked away in shame and filth but also completely ecstatic because the sun was just setting and now we were back on the road. We made it safely to the beach of Ayampe and that was Dj's first long day living on the road. Once in Ayampe, Dj got to see what the rewards are that go along with the headaches of traveling by car. Ayampe is slightly off the path, we blazed right past the towns where all the tourists go and we landed ourselves in a nice but basic cabana with a 180 degree few of the ocean for 8 dollars per night. So we got to relax into the mellow beach scene here in Ecuador for a bit before I had to start thinking (and researching) how I am going to get my car to Panama and get ourselves there so that we can make it to Costa Rica by early May. The plan is that friends & family are doing a vacation in Costa Rica in May & Dj and I are trying to meet them there. This all sounds easy but the most frustrating part of my trip had been the shipping of my truck to ecuador from Panama last year. With limited info on the internet and me not having a cell phone to just call around, just figuring out a plan is painfully difficult. It can be hard to pull myself out of my tranquility to do something like this, and thinking about shipping my car again sounds about as fun as walking barefoot on broken glass. However it is time to face it so I start calling some companies and find a few potential ships that are sailing out that sound like they would get us there in time. The only thing to do now is actually drive to the big port city of Guayaquil and go to the offices and start the process. It sounds like maybe it would be fairly easy to drive to a city, find an office, get a container on a boat with my car in it but actually it's a painfully corrupt & difficult process that ran me through an emotional roller coaster ride. As expected, the unexpected threw a wrench in the plans on day 1. We woke up at 4am to leave by 5am to get to Guayaquil by 8am for a 9am meeting with a company about shipping the car. Getting out of the morning fog and getting ready to leave I notice that one of my tires is completely flat. This is actually the 3rd flat in 8 days time. It's raining, muddy and I have no spare because of all the other flats. At least now I know that all of the tires are hard to get off because of the salt and sand that adhered it to the rim. I go through the process of getting it off, now I put down a tarp so I don't get as dirty this time around but then I have to hitch hike with this spare tire to the nearest town with a tire repair which is 20 mins away. I find a lady willing to take me & my tire and she wants to utilize me to help her carry something heavy into town so we run by her house first. Then her car won't start again and now I'm out in the rain, in my flip flops, pushing her car in the mud to attempt to push start it. After a few tries, it works and we're back on track on our way. Her windshield wipers don't work and her window is fogging in the rain so I'm wiping down the window constantly with my tshirt and helping navigate us to town. And all along the way I'm thinking, I actually have a really crazy big day ahead and can't believe it's starting off like this. It's not like I have a cell phone or AAA or anything to help me and yet again I have to navigate all of this in a foreign language. But as always things work out, I find a vulcanizadora aka tire repair who repair my 2 holes for 3 dollars and after a half hour the lady is back to take me back. But her car won't start again. It's pouring buckets now and I'm again loading my tire and pushing her car down the muddy street. It starts again, we make our way back to town where my truck is and I put the tire on and NOW we're actually ready to go....3 hours late. Now we're off on the 3 hour journey to dive into the hot noisy large port city of Guayaquil, Ecuador. This is when the nightmare shipping process begins. to be continued.....

Monday, April 19, 2010


Buen Dia! I've been sitting on this blog thing for a while, it's been getting increasingly harder for me to do this. I'm not sure exactly why but I think part of it is I feel the blog doesn't even remotely encompass what is actually going on and does a little injustice to me, my trip and the people in it. However here I am to attempt to update the few of you that might still check in on this. Things have changed since the last blog, I have an addition to the travel team. Dj came down from California, quitting his job and ready to jump into the abyss. So Dj flew into Guayaquil in Ecuador and I picked him up at the airport. We had no plans other than me picking him up. When we met up at the airport we decided to walk over to the 2 airlines that fly to the galapagos and one of them had a flight to one island for the next morning and we bought the ticket and just like that we had a 'plan'. Back to the hostel, organizing the things in my car and packing for the galapagos for a 2 week trip and we're off just like that. We have no clue where we're going, where we're staying or what we're doing. Most people have all these pre booked tours on boats and here we walk onto an island we haven't heard of with zero clue what to do. But this is the type of travel I'm used to now, use my spanish to walk around and ask people where are good places to sleep/etc. We get on a ferry boat and then a bus to a town that is supposed to be a good jumping off point for activities. Landing a basic hostel room we're at least here with a room to sleep in while we get our bearings and sort things out. First morning we walk to a protected beach nearby and we are just blow away by what we stumble onto. Along the path on the walk to the beach are giant cactus trees unlike anything I've ever seen, birds flying all over and butterflies accompanying us to the beach. We step onto the beach & it seems we've stepped onto the moon. Milky white sand, soft and fine, with turquoise blue waters & hardly any signs of other humans. One of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, if not the most. There are giant marine iguanas walking around, huge pelicans gliding in the air, birds, butterflies and even a little bit of surf. We go for a swim and start to soak it we are on the galapagos, a place both of us of only dreamed of from watching on discovery channel. A relaxing day at the beach building sand castles, catching up as I haven't had a chance like this to just talk to one of my friends in well a long time. Next day we're walking around looking at giant land tortoises which are so huge with crazy shells. We find soliterio george who is the only one of his kind, nobody in his species exists any more. Galapagos are very interesting when it comes to evolution and species. They host a load of endemic species and loads of interesting things around the animals on different island and how their shells might form based on food or all kinds of crazy facts. The animals in general on the galapagos are different than anywhere I've ever been. They aren't used to having predators so they don't move when humans get close, including the birds. The wildlife surely runs these islands and you are just a mere spectator. It's amazing and indescribable really. Another day passes and after some chatting around Dj & I are on a boat to another island, San Cristobal. This island is supposed to have some good surf and some cool wildlife so it seems like a good option for us. Another day of having to search out a place to stay, in the heat, but we keep our at times conflicting views on prices and places along with both sweating to death and eventually I ask around enough to land us at Cabanas don jorge. Such a basic little house but a house with a kitchen swung outside of the little town with it's own beach right out front. And for 12.50 per person per night we were sold, we found our home for the rest of the trip. Things were just working out and we couldnt' have found a better place for us. This island has a nice little boardwalk area which has a park with some slides and such but instead of their being kids playing in the park, there are hundreds of sea lions playing and walking on the boardwalk. It's so funny and entertaining to watch when they're trying to sleep. Our first day we take a taxi to a beach on the other side of the island that we've heard of and of course it's another day of being blown away. The wildlife is always just right there, whether it's frigates, boobies, iguanas, sea turtles, etc. And this time it's black lava rock meeting white puka shell sandy beach with big hawaii style surf. There is 1 surfer in the water and another on the beach who walks up and introduces himself. This guy turns out to be a character that we interact with the entire trip, his name is Fernando from Brazil but we forget his name and rightfully name him stoney baloney. He's kind of like a lord of the ring character with the strangest ears I've ever seen. He's really nice and tells us so many funny stories that Dj and I had wished we'd video'd a dinner session with him. He's kind of one of these guys that has drifted all over the world, somewhere in his 40s and he's spent the last 3 months on the galapagos. I guess if I don't put an end to my trip I might end up this way... We chit chat for a bit, go for a surf in pretty intimidating conditions with shallow rocks on the inside but all in all really fun. Over the next 2 weeks we get to know all the surfers on the island, all 8 of them, and get on water taxi's to drop us off on reefs and pick us up later or walk to the break near our casita. We do one snorkel tour one day that turns out to be amazing. We're brought out to this rock called kicker rock and the water here is the deep dark blue. There is a split in the rock which has a current pulled thru it and we swim thru this part, with a million fish, turtles, sharks and eagle rays. I'd never seen an eagle ray before but swimming over a giant set of eagle rays was so cool. Same with the white tipped and black tipped reef sharks, something I'd never swam with either. Snorkeling in galapagos you see all the fish you'd see in a dream aquarium, it's unbelievable. The day trip included some stops at some small other islands that had the bluest waters that made me think we were in the Caribbean somewhere or tahiti or something. except we're seeing blue footed boobies and frigates with their puffed out red throats flying around. SUch a crazy experience. More days back on the island surfing, relaxing, snorkeling with hundreds of sea turtles, sea lions, puffer fish, clownfish, etc. Walking to the surf near our house proved always a challenge as all of the marine iguanas blend into the lava rock and so do the sea lions so you have to be careful where you step. One time trying to enter the water I couldn't get by the sea lions, they weren't liking how close I was walking to them but they were blocking the entrance so I tried to slip by which prompted one of them to jump off the rock into the water and come barreling at me....I had to use my surfboard as defense and ended up falling down but all in all it just created a big laugh for us. The last few days we caught amazing surf, 15 foot faces breaking across this bay with perfect peeling rights. SO much fun. We left galapagos on such a high, with a few cuts and bruises on us and our boards and a giant smile on our faces. We both still can't believe we did but it was so worth it. The galapagos has to be one of the best places on earth to visit.
My plan with this blog was to catch up to right now but now I'm running out of time so I'm going to leave it as just galapagos. Next installment will include 3 flat tires, hitch hiking with 1 flat in the rain, pushing the ladies car who picked me up and then broke down in the mud, driving to guayaquil city, running around bribing customs, police, getting searched by police dog, them trashing my things and my car trying to rip all the plastic out and check for drugs and finally getting my car in a container bound for Panama. By the next blog I should be on another continent. Have some friends and family coming to costa rica in a few weeks so we're trying to make it there but it hasn't been easy to accomplish this. hope everyone is healthy and HAPPY doing just what they want....that's what I'm doing. chau, jesse