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We Are Flying Solo

September 13, 2010

Day 1: Arrival!

*cue dramatic opening music*

We left Miami about half past four on Friday the 3rd and hopped across the gulf and the isthmus of Panama to curl south into Quito.

Long river deltas reach silt fingers into the Gulf beyond Miami and clouds hover over salty marsh systems. Before we got to Panama, though, the sun set in a blaze of fire over the wing and I didn't get to spy on that skinny little country from above.

Quito welcomed us around 7:30 pm (Ecuador is on Central US time); a long string of lights nestled between two strings of mountains. First impressions: I am a pale giant. And the first thing I see as I step of the plane is a person wearing a pair of pale blue crocs. It appears tastelessness and a penchant for ugly shoes is a global phenomenon.

Gloria meets us after we pass through customs and fills us in on life in Quito, the capital city which is her home. Traffic is typical of Latin America; signs are merely for decorative purposes and horns are used more often than brake pedals. "Passing lane" means any lane into which your vehicle will fit, whether or not you can actually see oncoming trucks. There are trams and buses at $0.25 a fare, but not enough to carry the bulging population with no room to expand within the narrow valley.

Gloria tells us that there are no jobs here in Ecuador and many have chosen to go to Spain to work. Children stayed behind, living with relatives or even on their own as parents struggled to make a living an ocean away. However, the European markets have fallen as well, especially in construction, and now there is no work there either. The government of Ecuador has offered incentives for workers to return home, allowing them to bring any goods they have acquired, including vehicles, and many are cashing in on this offer.

Our van finally (and somehow safely!) arrives at Cafe Cultura, our hotel nestled in a garden in Old Town, a section of Quito that dates back to the 16th century. As the gates are unlocked and we walk in, I stagger back with mouth open. I am sure I heard the porter giggle as I breathe, "Holy crap," unable to contain myself.  Everything is beautiful.  It is all frescoes and creaking wood floors and balconies and a Taj Majal room with gauzy curtains and a claw-foot tub and candlelight.  We eat dinner in a candlelit hush, feeling like we are in a church, afraid to breathe too loudly and break the spell.

The white doors lead to the library, where lilies set in front of a fireplace. The candlelit angel fresco flew above the fireplace in the dining room.

Our room:

Tomorrow:  we transfer to Otavalo and the adventure truly begins!!

September 12, 2010

The Big Tease

I am home!  I have not seen Solo yet, sigh.  But reports note that he is fine, if a bit sad.  I have downloaded the pictures from the past nine days.  Now to work on sorting & editing & recounting!  To keep you salivating until then....  (I shouldn't post my favourite picture first, but I love it too much not to)

This is me & Sam in Cotopaxi National Park, south of Quito.  Cotopaxi is the jaw-dropping volcano you see behind us.  Yes, it is real, & yes, it is active.  We were not far from the lower slopes, my little camera just sucked at metering in contrast situations. 

You can climb the volcano if you want.  Except you have to start at midnight & summit by sunrise so you are off the ice by 10 am.  Because then the ice bridges start to get brittle in the sun & you die.

But other than that...oh, & the fact that the summit is at 5,897 m (19,347 ft) & I couldn't even walk uphill for ten steps at 4000 m after a week of's easy as pie!

September 11, 2010

Time´s Up Already ¨´imagine question mark here because I can´t find one on this keyboard´´

We are back in Quito.  I am itching to run down the street & go find the horses again.  The riding was beyond incredible.  There are many pictures tucked into my camera & we will also get a DVD of photos from the outfitter that she & a professional photographer took while we rode.  So, I will warn you now -- many posts of stories &pictures are to come as I drag entertain you with the trip. 

But none of the pictures will be able to truly capture the magnitude & scale of the neverending rows of hazy volcanos & wide high plains watched by hawks and condors.  I think I pulled a muscle in my neck trying to look at everything at once. 

And the horses....amazing.  Name a horse you know that can trek all day & canter along ridges at 4,200 meters above sea level (about 13,800 feet).  Whenever I tried to walk up a hill, I was about to collapse after five steps, even after a week of acclimatization.

So, back to Miami in the morning, then home to NC tomorrow.  I am sad to go, but twitching to see Solo.  Who will feel like a giant after these tough South American ponies.  Once I am back, I can begin the laborious process of sorting 600 pictures & uploading!  Till then, go hug a horse & enjoy the ride!

September 5, 2010

I Am In A Parallel Universe

And in said universe, I am typing on a Spanish keyboard, so forgive me in advance for strange characters & typos, should they appear.

At present, I am sitting in an exquisite 300 year old Spanish colonial hacienda that sprawls in acres of long, low stucco through breathtaking gardens of bouganvillea, datura, & spanish moss.  Deep blue doors are locked with keys that look as if they would unlock someone´s dungeon.  Century-old art & furniture that smells of history surprise us around every corner.  I am sure the porters go off to giggle every time I walk into our bedroom & go Holy crap!

This does NOT bear any resemblance to my actual life, so I have obviously been sucked into someone else´s.

I can´t possibly encapsulate even the last two days here, so I will stick with summary:

Everywhere we go, we are ringed with green volcanos sheathed in clouds at their summits.  The indigenous people trudge at the roadsides with the long braids & swaying skirts catching the air as they carry huge bundles or haul reluctant pigs to market.

And the horses (because that´s what we all really care about, right?) -- mine is a little dark bay Criollo with some Spanish blood thown in and with his little fuzzy ears, he reminds me very much of riding lifeshighway´s horse, Pete.  I am still trying to reliably remember the little booger´s name, but I think it is Capuli (you put emphasis on every syllable of names in Ecuador). 

He is only five, so he is still learning the ropes, but he has a good mind & a sweet face that I can´t resist petting.  He is best friends with our guide´s horse, Tostado, who is a striking bay roan Appaloosa/Criollo/Columbian horse, & as a result, I am constantly reminding Capuli that he is not to stick his nose right under Tostado´s tail.

We are off today for about a six hour ride traversing the side of a volcano (Imbabura) to reach our next hacienda.  If it is as mind-blowingly incredible as this one, I may simply pass out from sheer sensory overload.

If there is more free (although shudderingly slow) internet, perhaps I will be able to share more later in the week!  For now, I must go fill many water bottles & stock snacks into my packs so I can keep the blood sugar up all day!

September 1, 2010

Run Away, Run Away!

It's T-36 hours-ish until Ecuador Adventure 2010 begins!  Which means Flying Solo will be, uh, not so flying for a whole week.

I could be like a real blogger & write several posts & then set them on timers so it looks like I'm really blogging. But let's face it, ain't gonna happen.

I'm checking & re-checking the passport, looking up the weather for Otavalo (where the ride starts) for the 37th time -- like Weather Underground will accurately be able to predict equatorial weather at 10,000 feet above sea level. *snort*

I'll have two enormous memory cards in the camera, so if the gods are kind, I hope to have many exciting things to show you when I get back.  I left Solo in good hands, although I shall miss him TERRIBLY & I will be wishing every step that I was riding him instead.  The bad part about owning your own horse is that other horses then never quite measure up....

Everyone stay out of trouble until mid-September, at which point I expect you will all have new & exciting horse tales to share that I missed out on! Till then, get out there, hug a pony, & enjoy the music of hoofbeats on dirt; there is surely no better note in the symphony of days.