Sunday, January 25, 2015

Baños - Take Two, Part 2

This is a continuation of Part 1.

Our second day in Baños was today which also happened to be our last day in the city before heading back to Quito. Today we wanted to take it slow so we decided to walk around the city center and take in the vibe of the city.





We came across the delicacy in the picture below near the market area of the city. They are guinea pigs and are eaten here in Ecuador and Peru too. I wanted to taste the meat out of curiosity and I was trying to convince the lady to cut a tiny piece of meat for tasting but she was more interested in selling me a whole leg where supposedly most of the meat is to be found. Let's just say I wasn't that motivated to taste the meat so I passed on her offer.




After walking around the city we had our last meal before heading to the bus station to take a bus back to Quito.



Le sigh! I hate to say goodbye but I love to watch you walk away. 


That's it folks, our last day in Baños was relaxing and chill just the way we wanted. I am really glad we made this trip and it made me appreciate this tiny but very pretty city, even more. We are back in Quito and I am already throwing suggestions about our next adventure, hmmm? I wonder where we will end up next.......

Random Thoughts of The Day:

I have to say my experiences traveling in certain parts of the world as a black woman are a bit different from a black man's. For instance, my boyfriend mentioned to me once how much he hates it when he walks along the streets and some local folks in Quito cross to the opposite side because they are scared of him thinking he will rob them. I have heard this from several black men actually. While in Baños my boyfriend was telling me how much nicer and open the people are, he said it felt good walking around without enduring suspicious looks from folks or having them move away from him because they were scared of him. I felt really sad when he told me this and all I could think off is, "if only they knew what kind of a man he is they would be ashamed of their prejudiced opinions that make them treat him this way." Those fucking idiots.

Living in this part of the world I have to say I come across certain things that just make me shake my head in disbelief. I have come across people who consider themselves white but looking at them let's just say..............I guess white is subjective - trying to be polite here. I have a friend who is mixed and she once told me that her dad is white and her mum is black, one day she introduced me to her dad and I actually almost took a double take. Dude looked obviously indigenous through and through but apparently he considers himself white and actually looks down on indigenous and black people. Hmmm? yet he had kids with a black woman and likes sleeping around with black women, what can I say? laugh at the absurdity of the situation or just pity the man? I choose to laugh at this man's stupidity and the many others like him.

As I have mentioned before, the new part of Quito get's really dead on Sundays and there usually are a lot of shady characters hanging around the deserted streets. One day I saw this tourist walking around with her camera in hand looking all innocent and I wanted to walk up to her and tell her to be careful but I ended up not doing so. I told my boyfriend that I should probably have warned her and I was feeling a bit guilty. He agreed with me but she had already walked on so there was nothing we could do, my boyfriend then started laughing saying that I once had that carefree look walking around without a clue about my surroundings but now he sees that I have changed to much. I had to laugh too as I remembered that blissful ignorance I once had and how naive I was, thinking nothing could ever happen to me. Let's just say after the two robberies I experienced and living in Quito, I have become a bit more street smart and I know which places to avoid. 

Living in our neighborhood I am beginning to feel much more at home as our neighbors recognize me on the streets and are quick to say, "buenos dias veci!" In Spanish the word for neighbor is vecina/vecino (depending on the sex) so neighbors here refer to each other as veci, even business owners that have properties next to each other call each other veci, I actually find it warm and welcoming. 






Saturday, January 24, 2015

Baños- Take Two, Part 1

One of the resolutions my boyfriend and I made during the beginning of the year was that every weekend we would have an adventure to break the monotony of staying put in one place. This weekend I decided to revisit Baños with him because he hadn't been there before and I knew he would love it plus I also wanted to experience the place one more time since I really liked it the first time I was there.

From the map below you can get an idea of where Baños is located from Quito.


We left Quito on Saturday very early in the morning with the intention of getting to Baños early enough to enjoy the various activities available in the city before leaving the next day. The trip was 3 and a half hours long but the bus we took had some good movies showing so that made the journey seem shorter.

Arriving in Baños was quite exciting because the city was bustling with activities and the weather was so nice (it's been really cold and rainy in Quito), we didn't waste any time getting out and about. The boyfriend spotted some motorbikes for rent and we ended up touring the city by bike which was something new for me.



After the bike ride we took a chiva party bus to tour the various waterfalls around the city and get some good views of the surrounding areas plus indulge in some fun activities while on the tour.

There was zip lining


We went on the Tarabita which is some sort of cable car that you see below. The views were amazing and it was actually fun screaming out as the Tarabita sped toward the waterfall.



Everyone in the Tarabita was all about the selfie but the boyfriend was more concerned about safety and imagining what would happen if the cables broke, poor guy.


He did eventually manage to relax and even smiled for the camera.


We took a very scenic route to check out one of the largest waterfalls. I had assumed it would be the same route I took when I first visited Baños but we ended up taking a very different route that ended up being really challenging! no wonder the guide was telling us to take it easy. We first had to go downhill which was easy enough but coming back up was no joke! We were huffing and puffing and at one point my legs just gave up and my sweet dude had to carry me piggy back style, I am not even exaggerating.





The chiva bus tour lasted for about 2 to 3 hours and it was really fun! by the time we got back to the town center we were a bit tired so we decided to head back to our hostel room to relax before going out later on to check out the nightlife.

I must say the nightlife in Baños took me by surprised because it was better than I expected. My first time in the city I was too scared to go out at night alone but this time round with my boyfriend by my side I was ready to party and enjoy the nightlife.

The city was so bright and vibrant at night that it was fun just walking around and taking it all in before heading to the night club.





That's it folks, the first day in Baños was amazing and we both had a lot of fun. After a night full of dancing, drinking and listening to some good music we headed back to our room to get a good night's sleep before continuing with the adventures the following day. It was a day well spent indeed!

Friday, January 16, 2015

How I Planned For My South American Trip

In a couple of month's time I will have completed a whole year living and traveling within South America, my one year anniversary will actually be in March. As I look back at how this whole journey started out I can't help but feel proud at how far I have come and how much I have learned along the way. A couple of people have reached out to me to find out how I planned and executed this whole trip so I figured I would write about that and hopefully shed some light on how I prepared myself for my trip.

Planning

Personally I like planning things in advance to make sure I have everything covered and I am not caught in a situation where I am backed against a wall and I don't know what to do. In life you can't guarantee that all your plans will work out exactly as you expect but I believe it's better to be caught prepared than by surprise. It took me a whole year of planning to make my one year stay in South American a reality. The time frame may sound long or short to some people but as I normally say, "to each their own" personally this was the time frame I felt I needed to get things in order. 

Once I had made up my mind to undertake this adventure, I made a to do list that actually served as my inspiration while I worked toward making things happen. I had to tie all the loose ends on the home front first before taking off, one of the loose ends included moving out of my rented apartment after completing my lease and selling or donating everything I possibly could so that I didn't have to deal with any baggage. I looked through craigslist for rooms to rent and I was fortunate enough to find a fully furnished basement for rent that had everything I needed so all I had to do was move in with my clothes and a few personal items, this helped me out a lot because when it was time to move out all I had to do was pack up my clothes and leave. The few personal things I couldn't carry with me ended up at a good friend's house for safe keeping.

This is what I ended up with when I was leaving.


Health Issues & Insurance

Who wants to deal with health issues while traveling? certainly not me. Fortunately I happen to be healthy but the one concern I had was my eyesight. I had pretty bad eyesight before and I could not survive without glasses or contact lenses. I really didn't want to deal with these things while on the road so I finally decided to go through with surgery to correct my eyesight. The healing process was not fun at all in my case but at the end of it all, it was all worth it!

This is a throwback picture of when I got my eye surgery done and finally dumped my glasses.


The surgery didn't come cheap and my insurance didn't cover for it but fortunately, through my job I was able to set up a health savings plan which helped out a lot and I was able to financially cover for the surgery. 

After taking care of my eyes I wanted to be make sure I would be covered for any other issues that would come up during my trip. I did an extensive research for travel insurance plans and decided to go with World Nomads because: they got such good reviews, their rates were very reasonable and I had read that they were very hustle free when it came to handling claims. Good thing I haven't experienced any health issues during my trip but when I had the misfortune of being robbed and lost some personal effects, World Nomads really did a good job of sorting me out and reimbursing me for what I lost so I definitely do give them a big thumbs up.

Finances

What's a trip without money, right? this was a big chunk of everything actually, if I was to take off for a whole year without any income I needed to make sure my finances were in pretty good shape. I am glad that I had no debt to begin with so this made saving some money pretty easy because all I had to worry about was my day to day living expenses which weren't much. I cut down on any unnecessary expenses and stuck to a budget that ensured I was saving as much of my income as possible.

I have to give a shout out to Capital One 360, I really like their online savings account which by the way has really good interest rates. After talking to them about my traveling plans they assured me that I could withdraw money hustle free with my debit card from any ATM worldwide and they wouldn't charge me a foreign transaction fee, this would also apply to any purchases I made with the card. The only thing they couldn't guarantee were the fees charged by whichever foreign bank I had to withdraw money from because this was out of their control so I would have to pay any local applicable fees.

I can tell you so far I have not had any issues with my card and I access my money through ATM withdrawals using my debit card. Since my account restricts me to 6 such transactions per month, I try to budget for my expenses in advance so I can withdraw enough to cover me and not have to make frequent trips to the ATM.

I also made sure to put a travel notice with all the financial institutions I deal with to make sure access to my money isn't blocked while abroad.

Logistics

I knew which countries I was interested in checking out so this made planning easier as I knew how I was going to move from one country to the next based on their location. Colombia was the first country in South America that I was going to start off with before moving down to the other countries that I was interested in.

I constantly referred to the map of South America to help with my planning on border crossings and such. I also made sure to know the visa requirements of each country before leaving so that I wouldn't find myself on the wrong side of immigration.


Accommodation

I really wanted to live with the locals in each country I visited so I could experience the different cultures and learn Spanish. I was lucky that one of my friend's had a connection in Colombia so I ended up being roommates with his friend in Colombia which really helped me adjust to my surroundings pretty quick because it felt like I was part of a family and I had someone always looking out for me.

In Ecuador and Peru I used airbnb to find rooms for rent in local homes and I was fortunate to find good hosts in both countries. In Ecuador I stayed longer than planned just because the family I was renting a room from was so amazing and they took me in as one of their own. Ecuador is a small country so I found it convenient to make Quito my base then explore the other cities over the weekends as opposed to moving from city to city.

That's it folks, I think I have covered quite a bit and I hope the information provided answers some of the questions I have received about my trip.





Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!!!!

I hope you all rang in the new year well and had fun doing so. New year celebrations in Quito were very interesting and I got to experience and learn new traditions. In Ecuador it's tradition to burn effigies as a symbol of burning the old year in preparation for the new year, some of the effigies may represent politicians, famous cartoon characters or no one in particular.

On the streets there were so many vendors selling effigies and colorful wigs and face masks in preparation for the new year celebrations. It was all so colorful and I enjoyed walking through several streets just to see the colorful displays.




Yesterday being the last day of 2014 there were some celebrations during the day and part of the famous Avenida Amazonas in the new area of Quito was closed off to traffic in order to allow various displays of effigies. There was music and a ton of people walking around checking out the various themes represented by different effigies, the mayor of Quito was also present and he was mobbed by people as everyone clamored for an opportunity to take a photo with him.

This is supposed to be Rafael Correa the president of Ecuador and his image has been followed by some criticism of his leadership. Here is some translation for some of the signs: Power is only for me,  I want re-election, new constitution (I heard he wants to change the constitution so he can extend his term in office to more than the required two terms).


The theme here was domestic violence


The theme here was equal rights for indigenous communities which actually still face racism, funny thing is a lot of the latinos you see now are a mixture of indigenous people and the Spanish. Ooh! the irony of it all......



How cute is this kid with an afro wig? he was so adorable I had to sneak in a photo.


Somewhere in the middle of that crowd was the mayor of Quito.


I really enjoyed the whole vibe and seeing so many people on the streets just hyped me up for the end of year celebrations.

In the evening we got invited to the boyfriend's cousin's house for a family dinner to usher in the new year. He has a couple of cousins and an aunt who live here so they decided to all get together to usher in the new year. It was very laid back and chill which I didn't mind at all, gone are the days when every New year's eve night would find me in the nightclub partying it up, now it's all about quality time with the people who matter.


The aunt and her spouse


The cousins



After spending time with his family we decided to go check out the burning of the effigies on the streets. Each neighborhood was burning up something and there were so many people on the streets celebrating. It was quite exciting though there was so much smoke in the air!



View from our balcony, even if you wanted to have an early night you couldn't because there was loud music blasting and lot's of firework sounds. This was our neighborhood celebration and all the neighbors were present to burn an effigy and wish each other a happy new year. I actually like this tradition and how it brings people together.


That's it folks, 2014 is gone now let's see what this new year has to offer. By the way the streets today  are super quiet, I think everyone is either sleeping in or spending time with their families. Even the noisy neighborhood dogs are quiet and out of site, not complaining at all! Happy new year once again.