Sunday, July 31, 2005

Chillin' in Otavalo

When we arrived in Ecuador close to 4 weeks ago, we spent the first week in Quito taking Spanish classes prior to setting sail to the Galapagos. Quito, which is the capital, for the most part, is like most large cities-pollution, noise and corruption. However, sepapate from this “moderno” Quito, is an Antigua which is landscaped by hills, pedestrian only streets, colonial buildings and cathedrals.
We ended up staying in a “gringo” infested area near our language school. The food for vegetarians was just OK except for our frequented trips to the local Indian restaurant run by our new best friend, the Pujabi uncle who would treat us to some killer gulab jambu.
We decided upon a smaller town experience, and left the big city for a town called Otavalo, which is known in Ecuador for the HUGE weekend markets. Otavalo is a pretty quaint town set in the highlands. The population consists of a large number of indigenous people, with the rest being the metistzos. So, we got here, set up camp at Hostel Geriano began taking Spanish classes in the afternoon and spending the mornings working at San Luis Hospital. The hospital is a public one, open to the poor and is quite interesting. We spent our days rounding with the pediatrician on the kids admitted in the hospital. For every medicine, IV and even medical supplies that is necessary for the child, the parents have to go buy and bring back. So of course, the first day there’s already a story (not quite like the Ecuadorian thumb). First we should explain that in morning rounds, there is the pediatrician who’s running things, 2 head nurses following along closely, 4 random college students in white coats serving as pseudo-nurses and now of course, the 2 “doctors from the states”. There’s this boy with a massive pneumonia involving his entire left lung….so of course, after hearing the story, everybody immediately looks at Tarak, to see what the expert has to say. Of course, Sharvari couldn’t let him have his moment, and had to pipe in, (of course in 2nd grade Spanish), “oh, this kid needs a thoracentesis (for non-medical folks-it’s removing fluid from the chest for evaluation). Everybody nodded and agreed, we wrote for some antibiotics (for his poor mother to go buy) and moved on. We saw more kids, then went to clinic and around noon, we thought we were done. We went back up to the pediatric ward, and lo and behold, there was a little metal tray, with green “sterile” equipment and some test tubes wrapped in paper. We thought, hmmm, that’s odd, I wonder what that’s for. The next thing we knew, there was Tarak in sterile gloves about to do this thoracentesis on a 4 year old without any sedation. We ended up using BRUTANE (yes that means the 4 pseudo nurses holding him) and of course, Sharvari was an amazing 1st assistant. Bottom line: we got a bunch of pus, the kid survived, (no pneumo) and we looked heroes.
Enough with the medical story…. Last weekend we took a nice trip up to a volcanic lake, Cuicocha. We hiked around this amazing lake and then had lunch at the “Mirador” which means lookout. Here are some great pics from our hike!!

Friday, July 22, 2005

The Galapagos Islands

As per the Lonely Planet, a visit to the Galapagos Islands is the wildlife experience of a lifetime, a mind-blowing lesson in natural history set in a barren, volcanic land with a haunting beauty all its own. Here you can swim with sea lions, float eye-to-eye with a penguin, scuba dive with hammerhead sharks, stand next to a blue-footed booby feeding its young, watch a giant 200kg tortoise lumbering though a cactus forest, and try to avoid stepping on iguanas scurrying over the lava.
That this little string of islands, 1000 km away from the mainland of Ecuador, has so profoundly influenced human thought, that the handful of animals which somehow made it out here and isolated for so long lost all fear of predators and developed into species entirely on their own, and that today you can see these unique animals living practically as they have for aeons, is simply astonishing.
That being said….we had an incredible time in the Galapagos Islands. The archipelago has islands ranging from 750,000 yrs old to 3.25 million years old. Each island we visited had different species and vegetation making each day an unique experience. As we explored each island, the animals had no fear, and frequently we could literally touch them without them even flinching. We never imagined how many different species of birds inhabited these islands. Everything from a yellow wobbler to a red footed booby (yes, a booby is a bird and you can only imagine the 5th grade jokes that were told) to a Darwin finch to even a hooded mockingbird (that doesn’t even mock as we learned).
Here’s an idea of our daily itinerary: The bell would ring (yes quite like elementary school) at 7am sharp for breakfast. Afterwards, we would pile onto “dingies” (basically rubber boats) off to explore a new island. There we would go on a 2 hour hike, seeing the amazing vegetation and getting literally into the animals faces. Then we’d hop back on the “dingy” to Daphne (our lovely boat) for a quick change and then onto snorkeling. The water was absolutely freezing, and of course, not surprising I (Sharvari) was the only one in a wet suit. During our snorkeling adventures, we played literally with sea lions (they came close enough to make me scream), saw beautiful schools of fish, sea turtles, penguins (actually swimming or more like a torpedo in the water) and even a few white tip sharks (that will make you pee in the ocean). Afterwards, back on the “dingies” to the boat-where we’d have snacks followed by our meals. By this time, we all needed a small siesta before another afternoon excursion to the beach.
As everything couldn’t have been perfect…there were definitely some rough spots. First of all, thank God for scopolamine patches and dried ginger (thanks to my parents). Otherwise, we would have been vomiting machines, as many times at night,-the boat would be thrashing side to side, and I would hear a “oh shit” which was Tarak being thrown into shower while brushing his teeth, or we’d be awakened by a large “thud”, in which the cabinet next to our heads, came crashing down. Another downfall, was the damn menu selection for vegetarians. All I can say is that I have had EVERY combination of eggs and freakin’ heart of palm (I did not even know what that was before, and now I never want to see it again).
Another thing that turned out well was the diving in the Gallapagos, which only Tarak did. I (Tarak) was a little worried about diving at first since the guidebooks recommend experienced divers, which I am somewhat. However, once I saw what was awaiting below, all fears disappeared. I not saw only tons of amazing fish, but also witnessed at least 30 white tip sharks swimming about 10-15 feet away and even some sleeping in caves. We were so close we could see them breathe!!!. On another dive, the sea lions came up to us and wanted to play. They found our dive equipment interesting and literally came within inches of our faces. They would open their mouths as if they were going to bite us and then swim away. Which each encounter, I couldn’t help but flinch. Then on another dive, we saw giant sea turtles, rays, barracudas and the coolest thing….hammerhead sharks. We saw at least 3-5 schools (10-30 in each school) of hammerheads swimming effortlessly….The Galapagos experience will never be forgotten and difficult to match anywhere else in the world.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Trip to the Banos

Hi all!! Well, we had our first weekend journey to a place in the central highlands called the Banos. For those who know some basic spanish, let me first clarify, this was NOT an extended trip to the bathroom. Anyway, it was a gorgeous scene-the small town of Banos is in between the mountains and this lush greenery. There are also natural hot springs that we visited. The hot springs were nice, but I think we went at the wrong time because they were not hot enough for me at all. We also went when all of the Ecuadorians go with all of their gazillion small kids. So, between all of the kids attempting the breaststroke (as we got drenched) and I couldn't stop imagining how many of them probably were peeing or already peed in the spring-needless to say, I didn't stay in there long.
But the next day, we rented bicycles and rode the path from Banos to Puya. It was absolutely amazing-mostly downhill (thank God). We would park our bikes along the way, and hike up (always painfully uphill) to see these amazing waterfalls. And of course, there has to always be some mild drama-well, in order to get to one of the waterfalls, we had to cross this suspension bridge (you know like the ones in the movies-where the damsel has one of her legs that slip through and the hero has to bust in and save her-very frequent in Bollywood). Anyway, I was too cool to fasten my chin strap to my hat, so of course, with the first gust of wind, it blew off down way below. So, poor Tarak, flung himself down this muddy passage to rescue my hat and then had to use the branches to pull himself up. Of course, the people who passed us on the bridge thought we were nuts, because I was screaming at him in Gujrati to be careful and the hat was only $12.
Anway, the last stop was this waterfall called the Rio Verde, which was really beautiful. Of course, our legs were noodles by that time, not to mention my butt was extremely sore from the damn bike all day, and the ride back was ALL uphill..(Tarak was all, oh yeah, I mountain bike all the time...I could do it...whatever)...but we threw our bikes on the back of this pick up truck, sat in the back and rode along the sunset and watched the scenary as we drove back into the mountains of Bano. :)

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

We are off!!!

We are off!!!
Originally uploaded by taraksharvari.
Bright or not so bright and early around 5 am we left for the airport to begin our journey. Sharvari complaints had already begun..."Tarak this bag is too heavy" for many of you already know, i kept telling her to keep to the five shirt and five underwear limit...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Where2Next Map

Originally uploaded by taraksharvari.

This is our tentative route..follow along if you dare