Saturday, July 31, 2010

Up and Down and Up Again

By Alex

Strong gusts of crisp evening air pushed altocumulus clouds over the Andean terrain, stars graced the night sky flirting with the Laguna Quilotoa a 1000 meters below our tent.

Two hours south of Quito positioned in the middle of the Andeas is the Quilotoa loop. The loop consists of a series of towns connected by rudimentary roads and century old walking trails. There is no bus service connecting the towns. The best way to travel is by foot or the back of a pick-up truck.

An array of patchwork fields flood the Andean mountain side. Brightly clad Quichua farmers straddle the hillside wielding machetes as they harvest wheat, corn, peas and a variety of other produce.

Alaena, Matthais and I needed an escape from hustle of Quito. A few days of hiking in the mountains seemed in order. In true Ecuadorian fashion the guide books and everyone we talked to said it was easy to navigate the landscape.

I woke up to the sun pouring into the tent as Alaena nimbely performed an early morning routine of "extreme yoga" on the edge of the crater. My legs still burned from the 14 kilometer hike from Zumbahua to the small mountain village of Quilotoa the day before.

At 12,400 feet Quilotoa sits on the rim of Laguna Quilotoa. The greenish water fills 250 meters of the 800 year old volcanic crater. Half way around the crater rim trails meander down into endless valleys below.

Our directions told us we were looking for such trail, the only problem was deciding which trail would be best. Alaena took control and decided we would go down a well worn tail that wound through patches of soft sand in which she slid down giggling. Matthais and I kicked the sand and cursed it for filling our shoes.

As we marched down the trail it suddenly ended. Off in the distance we saw a few fellow hikers descending down the extinct volcano. We set off down a Quichua meander and intersect the travelers. Much like us they to have no idea where they were, but they had some idea. They new we needed to make it to a town and from there traverse a gorge and ascend into the cloud forest.

Splitting the heavenly bound green mountains around Quilotoa is a rift valley. On either side shear rock faces stare at each other in ominous fashion. As we descended the rift it was clear we would be struggling up the other side in only a matter of time.

As the 6 of us finally approached the cobble stone streets of Chugchilan we staggered towards Hostal Cloud Forest for cold beers and snacks. As we sat sipping cocktails relaxing our weary legs by the fire a team of brightly dressed adolescents descended on us forcing us into a cultural dance reminiscent of the hocky pocky.

As Dave, a kiwi we met on the trail earlier, stood holding hands swinging our right feet in and taking them back out again. Suddenly I was taken by surprise as a little girl pulled me with all her force into the middle of our circle. I tried to follow her makeshift footwork, but it soon became apparent she had no idea what the proper moves were. I moved my rubbery legs until the young'ins finally allowed us to relax again.

A warm shower, a bowl of fruit, granola and a healthy portion of coffee tamed my morning hunger. I threw on my pack and headed out to meet the others. Our destination was set. Some 5 hours away Isinlivi awaited us. We were optimistic, the Kiwis held what seemed to be the key to our success. They possessed a hand drawn map accompanied by a written description of the route.

Helpful written directions illustrated our way. We followed phrases such as; follow the road until you pass three houses. From there follow a grassy path that goes past some trees. After this you will see a trail going into the gorge follow this trail to the river.

As we wandered down the canyon face I realized we were in for a serious hike.

Before leaving for our trek Alaena left her shoes on a taxi, she was forced to purchase cheap shoes. Because of this her feet were suffering from a series of blisters that littering her feet from our three days on the trail.

As we got to the river at the bottom of the rift Alaena hit her breaking point. She made the decision to pop her blisters. I passed her my Leatherman and she went to work.

Alaena plunged my knife into her feet as a group of gringos approached. They informed us that we only had 2 hours of hiking left and it was not much of a climb out of the valley.

I looked up at the looming trail seriously doubting their intel.

45 minuets later as we stopped for lunch in preparation for our climb out of the canyon I realized my knife was missing. I swallowed hard, looked across the Indian Jones swinging bridge and pictured the mound of grass where Alaena left my knife. I took one swig of water and sprinted off.

The sweat rolled down my face while my lungs burned from the lack of oxygen at 3,000 meters. I kept imagining what it would be like to be an Inca messenger, sprinting the mountains with dire information.

I made the run in 30 minutes. Walking back across the bridge with my knife in hand a light drizzle mixed with my sweat. Everyone was ready to go, I threw on my pack looked up at the massive wall we needed to ascend, took a deep breath and started to hike.

A thousand deep breaths latter I stood on the crest of the rift and looked down at the speck of llamas, cows and thatch roofed homes. We naively believed we were half way done.

We stood on the opposite side of Isinlivi, between us spanned another gorge. According to our shit map we so diligently followed all day we should have arrived in Isinlivi. I took a big handful of granola looked at our exhausted crew and took the first step.

Down and up we went.

My last step put me in Isinlivi, a town consisting of 300 people, one church, a square, 3 shops and a hostal. We pitched our tent in a field of cow pies ate tuna sandwiches, guzzled down water and watched the flames of our fire dance.

We passed out under the cover of clouds laying in a circle around the fire. We awoke to the sun beating down on us and boarded the milk truck back to civilization.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


By Alex

I gracefully dodged and weaved the oncoming traffic as I pulled off the highway separating Santa Domingo and Quito. An uneasy felling trickled down my spine as I glanced at the temperature gage.

Only 20 Kilometers away from the mechanics our engine was beginning to heat up, I watched in dismay as the gage quickly climbed one forth, half, three quarters, I tried to drive with ease but to no avail. We were overheating again.

Trust is a word that is seldom used in the same sentence as the words auto mechanics. I use to have an open mind and expected the best. I now have no faith or expectations when it comes to mechanics.

Before we left the shop I knew we did not truly fix our over heating issue, but I prayed we would make it to a ¨real¨ auto shop only 2 hours away in Quito.

Here I stood on side of the road kicking dirt and crow hopping rocks at trees in-between bouts of Tourette like rants. Once again we were royally fucked.

The mechanics refused to give us a refund, to be fair it was probably the only income they had to feed their family for a week, but I told them a thousand times the engine had more issues then just the head gasket. They refused to listen and claimed all was well. They were wrong.

As a will of good grace, the incompetent mechanics called a tow truck. I expected to see a flat bed truck pull up. However, I made the mistake of forgetting we were in Ecuador.

Instead a 1980s Ford F350 converted into a make shift tow truck pulled up. I nearly shit my pants. I looked up at the thousands of switch backs and the at least 10% grade that climbed above into the cloud cover. There was no chance we would ever make it.

I pictured a loud crack then a snap of the chain breaking and our bus slowly sliding into traffic causing a massive pile up on the overcrowded two lane road. Explosions would rage above us as a semi smashed into our bus pushing us to the edge. As we teetered on the brink of a cliff Matthias, Zack and I would laugh just before we plummeted 1000s of meter to death.

I was not going to let this vision play out. They were confident in this makeshift truck and in true Ecuadorian fashion they assured us we could make it.

Our bus was 3 times the size of the truck. Each time they tried to attach their truck to our bus we shut them down. They finally got the picture and called a flat bed.

The flat bed showed up and we drove to Quito for the same price it would have been to test our luck behind the F350.

It took us 2 hours to ascend into the Andes, trucks flew past in a harrowing game of chicken as we hung tight bouncing in the bus on the flat bed. We arrived to Quito at sunset.

Alaena was waiting for us at the Nissan dealership, as we debated where to drop the bus, a man wearing a lab coat broke the news that we they would not work on our bus. This was contrary to every thing that Alaena had been told the day before.

After a long argument with the flatbed driver over the price to go some place else we arrived at a Nissan Diesel specialist. They had a gate and a clean office, it was the first American looking auto shop we had ever encountered. It seemed we had found Zion.

We awoke early in the morning went to the office, waited and waited. They checked the engine, fixed the radiator and broke us the news.

The engine had low compression, in order to fix it, we needed to take the whole engine apart, again. This time the mechanic shop had painted floors, a water cooler, they did estimates and the mechanics were certified.

We debated the subject and decided to pay the extra money for a real mechanic. NOT some guy on the side of the road with no training who assumed every issue pertaining to engine heating and cooling was directly correlated to the head gasket.

By the time we reached our verdict it was lunch time. This does not mean everyone goes out for a quick burger and fries. NO they leave go home, take a shower enjoy some television or get a home cooked meal. After about 3 hours of time wasting lunch is over.

El Jefe came back from lunch only to inform us that they were after all unable to complete the necessary work. This was due to the fact that our engine was discontinued and parts would be difficult to come by.

They did have some great news though. One of the mechanics brothers had shop in Santa Domingo.

Alaena and I stood around the auto shop all day until the flat bed driver decided to show up. Back down the winding road we went.

Once again we showed up in the dark, dropped the truck off and went to sleep on the bus.

The next morning we awoke and met with the head mechanic. After a quick look at the engine he informed us that our particular engine is known to have overheating issues especially when driving in cold weather at high altitude.

Quito and the rest of the South American capitals are all above 9,000 ft.

As our new mechanic went into detail on what we needed to do it became apparent we were far better off buying a new type of engine.

We sit now back in Quito with our tail between our legs not knowing who or what to trust just waiting for the phone to ring.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Happy Fourth of July


**Editor´s Note--The third segment of the saga of the first breakdown...The first segment, entitled Patience, the second segment, entitled As the saga continues...and now Happy Fourth of July...**

I sat in constant pain, a watery substance was dribbling down my inner thigh; my spirit was broken. Between cramps I dreamt of sizzling burgers, ice cold beer, good friends, family and fireworks exploding into the warm evening air.

The reality was that I had just spent the last 5 days on a scavenger hunt of a life time. We had left the bus with nothing, no passports, no clean clothes, no food and no idea that it would take a week to find a cylinder head.

Alaena and I arrived in a morning mist wetting the dirt streets of Huaquillas. A notoriously dodgy border town, Huaquillas sat between Peru and Ecuador.

As we exited the bus we were immediately greeted by 10 different cart people all offering there services. Since our luggage consisted of a 60 pound piece of scrap metal, we chose the least shady looking character and took off.

Around the corner, we walked as the muddy road coated our feet and legs. We quickly pulled into a garage filled to the ceiling with auto parts. The proprietor told us he did not have our part but his friend did.

We blindly jumped into his Frankenstein car and drove off.

Between the thousands of stickers on the windshield I noticed a sign over head. It read ¨Thanks for Visiting Ecuador.¨

¨No No No No,¨ I yelled. I looked at Alaena, ¨tell him we don’t have passports. We can’t cross the border.¨

It was too late we pulled past the road guards and into Peru.

We drove through the mud and I smiled. What else is there to do when you are human cargo being illegally transported across the border against your will?

We grabbed a part from a Peruvian garage and drove back towards Ecuador. As we approached the crossing guards the driver rolled down his window and passed the guy something. From my crouched position in the backseat I could not tell what it was; my only guess was that it was some sort of bribe.

Safely back in Ecuador, we scrutinized the part, to our untrained eyes it appeared okay. Alaena began to negotiate a price.

Our sweatpants sporting, human transporting, auto part scheming salesman started off at $750. We looked at him and laughed. We had been told the part was worth no more than $500, fuck a new one cost $1000.

With little negotiation we got him down to his lowest price $600. We felt this was still too much. We left and walked 20 meters down the road to the next store.

As we approached we glanced through a steal cage and got our first glimpse of Gordo.

Perspiration ran down his neck coating the thick gold chain that dangled between his open shirt, a gold Rolex chocked his wrist, as his fat fingers danced across his cell phone.

We described what we needed and in 5 minutes he located the ED33 Cylinder Head.
Gordo´s part came with stipulations; the most trying being that he did not have the part, it was in Lima, Peru. He was determined to make us pay the $400 forward. Our only guarantee being a signed piece of paper proclaiming the cylinder head was in good condition and worked.

This idea did not sit easy with us so we left in hopes of finding another of what seemed to be the rarest auto part in all of South America.

As we paced the streets of Huaquillas it was beginning to look ominous. Alaena was suffering form a bout of food poisoning. We had no other option but to go back to Gordo.

I felt as if I was giving away my first born as I turned over all the money we had left to Gordo.

As Alaena prayed to the porcelain god, I sat staring at Gordo´s ¨guarantee¨. I could not shake the feeling that we had been robbed and would never see Gordo, the part, or our money ever again.

Huaquillas is a bustling border town. Trikes outfitted to carry large sums of produce, clothing, electronics and trash maneuvered back and forth between Peru and Ecuador. Between the thousands of trikes, men fought for street space and kicked 50 gallon drums of petroleum towards the Peruvian border.

Once across the border all the produce and goods are loaded by a team of sweaty men into trucks and are taken to the interior of the country. A good portion never make it on the trucksm; they are quickly dispensed to the large open air markets that fill the streets.

As the sun sets, the city dies. There are no bars, clubs, movie theaters, roller coasters or any form or entertainment. We were forced to sit idly flipping through channels hoping for an English program.

As the sun rose we were awoken to the bustling town. It was our hope to get the hell out of town by 5 pm. We had all day to do nothing.

As the clock struck 5 we strolled to Gordo´s and to our dismay his shop was closed. We sat and waited. It soon became apparent that Gordo had no intention of honoring his word.

Alaena quickly got up to go call Gordo. It was no use; his phone was off. We walked across the street to go ask Gordo´s brother where his lard ass of a brother was.

As Alaena spoke to Gordo´s brother, I watched her face drop. I knew instantly we were in for another night of excitement.

Once again we sat flipping through the channels all night long.

Some time in the middle of the night I awoke and sprinted to the toilet. Every ounce of food and water instantly drained out of my body. I painfully exited the bathroom and tried to sleep.

The morning came with more pain and misery. I had food poisoning bad. The only solace was that we were going to get our part. As we approached Gordo´s, for an instant, I forgot the pain and smiled.

We stood over the part and examined it, following all the instructions we had been given. The head appeared to be in good condition. There were no cracks; it did not look burnt. All the pieces were in place, and it was the right price.

After 3 excruciating days on the border, we were on the way back to the bus.
With each road bump came the fear that I was going to shit my pants. I squirmed in my seat trying to find the safest position, occasionally finding a bit of relief in a minute or two of sleep.

We suddenly came to a stop and in a confused frenzy the conductor escorted everyone off the bus. Just a few kilometers from the bus terminal our chariot broke down. I could not think straight between stomach cramps as I heaved the cylinder heads off the bus and loaded them into the awaiting taxi.

As the taxi pulled into the terminal my heart sank. I looked over at Alaena and asked, ¨where is the Head Gasket?¨

She looked back at me and her brown eyes dropped, ¨Ohh shit,¨ she lightly muttered, ¨I left it on the bus.¨

Anger, annoyance, despair, grief and wonder poisoned my body. All of our work for the last week was void because of a 5 second lapse in judgment.

I quickly looked at the taxi driver and demanded he drive us back to where the bus broke down some 20 minutes earlier. We frantically searched for the bus to no avail. It seemed to have disappeared.

We returned to the bus terminal, and Alaena frantically searched for the ticket booth for the bus company of the bus we had ridden but the booth had vanished. I paced the halls punching walls. It soon became apparent that there was no chance of ever finding the gasket again.

We spent the remainder of the night attempting to get some sleep. A near impossible task since it is apparently illegal to lie down and sleep in the bus terminal. Every 15 minutes or so, the cops came by and rapped their gun metal batons against the metal bench we were sleeping on. Between the ringing in our ears from the offensive cops and the sales men screaming a number of destination cities to any passing person, attempting to sleep in the bus terminal was near impossible.

At 3 Alaena boarded a bus to Manta in hopes of locating the gasket. I stayed behind in case her search was unfruitful. After finally locating a dark desolate corner of the bus station I found some salvation in sleep.

I awoke to the hustle of the terminal and checked my email. I finally smiled. Alaena found a part at a cheap price and was already on a bus back to Puerto Lopez.

I rushed to the window and got the first available bus to Puerto Lopez. I arrived wearing the same clothes I left in, broke, dirty, ill, hungry and tired.

I walked into Hostal Maxima and saw Andrew. He looked at me and laughed.

¨Holy shit man,¨ he said in wonder, ¨you look like you could use a shower.¨

Sunday, July 18, 2010



We chose to have the Tsachila dinner over the hamburgers that we bought earlier and planned to cook that night. We thought it polite to eat their dinner since we refused to pay for their cabanas, that they insisted on us sleeping in, and we were camping at their cultural center for free. We had our only chance to glimpse at the world of the Tsachila through a very rare culinary experience. The Tsachila, also known as the Colorados, color their hair orange and draw lines on their faces. They are one of Ecuador's well known indigenous tribes.

They served us the banana mash garnished with a very yellow fried egg. I inhaled the spongy mush. I was hungry.

"I want a fucking hamburger." Matthias said.

"You know, as you grow older and you've done all this village shit in Africa. You've done it and you don't wanna do it again. You're over it." Tom pushed his food away and sipped his cold hoppy meal in a glass.

"Why don't you quit bitching and just eat your fucking food. Shit changes. We'll eat the burgers tomorrow." I said.

"I just wanted a hamburger, man." Matthias said.

"You can have a hamburger later." Alex said from across the table.

"You're not gonna actually feed these assholes are you?" I asked Alex.

"No! I'm gonna give them the keys to the boot and they're gonna cook their own god damn food."

After dinner, we all had a group hug and everyone calmed down. Matthias apologized. We drank rum around the fire with the Tsachila family. Jose, the chief, sipped gratefully as his grandchildren ate roasted marshmallows for the first time. The mother came to get the little girls and they stuffed five marshmallows in their mouth before she could see what they were doing.

A millipede worm crawled on the ground and Alex picked it up. Jose said they were bad and that they crawl in your ear and eat your brain.

"Controla de cabeza," Nick said as he lifted his arms like a zombie, "El roboto." Jose laughed. "Did you hear that joke in Spanish, Zach? It was hilarious. Jose has pissed a little. Good thing he wears a skirt."

It really wasn't funny. Jose was only laughing at Nick because of how bad he struggled with Spanish. I really felt more pity then rip roaring hilarity.

I really thought we would see some sort of tribal ceremony. We would dance around the fire and some beautiful young tribes-girl would make eyes with me from across the fire. I would look back and we would meet later and make love by the river. She would fall asleep in my arms and I would never leave, until I found out she was pregnant. Then with my spear in hand, I would escape under the cover of night.

Instead, we drank rum all night around a fire just like every other night, loud and obnoxious, talking of nonsense, as the people from the family observed. Then I fell asleep in my hammock after I put a puppy in my hat and let him sleep in my hat in my lap.

The next day...

We left the Tsachila. We headed for Quito. We had driven for a few hours when Alex looked at me, "We're running hot."

"Fuck!" Alex pulled over. We opened the hood and steam rose up from the boiling radiator. We sat for ten minutes and tried again.

No luck. We pulled off again. We found out there was a mechanic in the next town so we sat for an hour, letting her cool down. We ate ice cream. Then we thought maybe we should feed the radiator ice cream to make her happy and cool her down. We decided that probably wouldn't work.

After our hour break, we tried for the town with the mechanic. We were heating up fast. After five kilometers, we pulled over again.

"Alright guys, I'll grab your packs if you want to catch a bus to Quito. We're gonna be here for awhile." I said as I climbed to the roof to unlatch everyone's bags.

We didn't really have a chance to say good-bye. It killed me not to have a proper chance to say good-bye to Tom. A bus came and we all jumped on. Tom, Nick, and Alicia were bound for Quito, Alaena and I to the first town we saw with a mechanic, and Alex and Matthias to stare at the ceiling while they waited for Alaena and I to return with a mechanic.

"How long til we see Alex again?" I joked with Alaena.

It wasn't long. We located a mechanic and within two hours we were driving the bus to the mechanics shop to the town that was ten kilometers up a harrowing mountain road.

After much debate on whether the car was actually broken,and in the mechanics boundless aptitude, he surmised it was the empaque or the head gasket, which we had blown the first time. He wouldn't be sure until the next day when he could take the engine apart; we were sure we weren't going anywhere, but we still had the hamburgers.

We fried the burgers underneath the plastic awning that was the mechanic shop. We all had two, gave one to monkey, and gave one each to the mechanic and his wife. It was a taste of home, as they say, a saving grace, in a night littered with misfortune and stress. We weren't sure what was gonna happen, but at least we had a greasy all-beef patty, cheese, sauteed onions, in between a thick sesame seed bun.



The farther we got out of Lay, the bumpier, the muddier and the more scenic the road became. Large swatches of thick, lush, and verdant jungle surrounded us as we climbed toward the reserve. The road shook us as we stood on the back of the 4X4 hired truck, bouncing up and down like we were children jumping on a trampoline. The engine back fired every two or three minutes sending a shrill through our bodies as we laughed and the wind blew through our hair and we held tightly to the metal bars. The truck crested a mountain and we could see miles and miles of mountainous farms and interspersed jungle.

The car stuck to the mud and the overweight driver stepped out of the car, looked at the tires and climbed back in. I guess he just needed to look at it to fix it. We were flying again down the road; the driver kept trying to hit donkeys and dogs. On top of the crest, I thought , this must be the reason that I travel. But maybe not, maybe it's the drinking.

We stopped. He jumped out and told us we were there. We asked him to wait for us.

"Claro." He said. We told him we would be an hour.

We walked down the muddy road and into the rain forest. Giant palm-like trees surrounded us in this Jurassic world. I just stared at the foliage hoping to catch a glimpse of a howler monkey or some sort of tree-jumping primate. I really wanted to impress everyone with my monkey-spotting abilities.

We walked twenty minutes in and looked down a hill to see a middle-aged woman sharpening a machete in front of a concrete structure. We walked toward the woman. She introduced herself as Julieta. Carlos then appeared and shook all our hands and offered us a fresh banana and freshly squeezed lemonade. He then offered us a fruit that grows only in this part of the jungle. The outside looked like a round, brown strawberry, but after a peel a small pear/apple like fruit appeared. It tasted like a pear/pineapple/apple/sugarcane.

Carlos asked us how much time we had. He then rushed to put on his galoshes, and we were off down the trail. Immediately, we came upon a sloth in a tree. He told us, in a clear, slow Spanish, that a sloth sleeps eighty percent of his life.

Carlos and Julieta have been reforesting and taking care of the reserve for fifteen years. In demeanor alone, we felt the passion that they both felt for the work they do. Every five meters Carlos would stop and show us something new, from centipedes to seeds that numb your mouth when you bite them to 200 hundred year old trees, that yield a hallucinogenic leaf 150 feet above your head. He showed us a spider that walked across the water, numerous frogs, the devil´s penis and the devil´s house.

When we arrived at the devil´s house he told us to stand around a red, twenty foot in diameter, five foot high ant pile, and stomp our feet. The seven us stomped and stomped. "Twenty seconds," he said. Then after twenty seconds, the ants began to file out. He picked one up and asked who had strong hands. Nick put one on his hand and then curious Alex had to put one on his hand. The ant put two fangs to the side and then moved them in to pinch Alex´s skin tightly. He bled profusely.

Carlos knew the forest well. He must have walked down those trails, smelling and eating shit so many times to know that one seed does this and this leaf tastes like that. The reserve was home to researchers from different universities across the world. One doctor had been there for seven years. Carlos and Julieta were the most altruistic people I had met on any trip. They genuinely wanted to share their enthusiasm and knowledge of the forest with us. Unlike most people we have interacted with, they wanted nothing in return, no money or donations; they just wanted to be nice to us. People would pay a lot of money to go on a tour with a trained biologist through the rain forest, but we just gypsied our way into an out of the way place because we could because we have bus.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mosquitoes on High Tides


Tom downed a bottle of Scotch the other night. I decided against scotch use. We drove down a muddy road for a about thirty minutes in the pitch black until we finally reached a very secluded beach town called Mompiche.

The lively town painted lights against the night sky as the low tide roared in the distance. I walked down the muddy streets looking for a place for us to camp. I walked to the very edge of town until I found a road to the left that went down to the beach. I went and found bus.

We drove down skeptically toward the beach, worried we would stick in the sand. We finally made it down the beach to the mouth of a river that was barely flowing into the bay. We made an assessment: that the river would bulge at high tide and we should park on high ground that was not in the way of flowing tides.

We thought we found a good place and made some tuna pasta and sat around the fire.

We started to feel the bites. Soon, everyone itched and everyone started to cover themselves obsessively with the weakest and most worthless bug repellent known to the human race.

I was so tired after dinner. I began to fall asleep in my chair. It was time for bed. I went and laid down in the back of bus.

I looked down and saw, in the dark, sweaty bus, two mosquitoes salsa dancing on my left aeriola.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I said. They turned the music down.

In a high, mosquito buzzing voice, they said, "Bailando."

"No hablo espanol." I responded in a loud human voice.

"Dancing. How about you learn the language of the country you are visiting, you ignorant, stereotypical American fool." The female mosquito said and then she bit me on my nipple.

"Ow" I smacked her, crushing her entire body, covering my nipple with blood, human blood, my blood.

" have done it, you agressive piece of shit, that was the love, mi amor." The male mosquito said as he flew away.

Instantly, I was covered from bald spot to sole with more mosquito bites than I ever had.

I left the bus. Matthias and Tabita were sitting by the fire. They couldn´t sleep either. The mosquitoes were bad. I don´t know whether the mosquitoes wrath was caused by murdering the poor mosquito´s wife or because, I found this out in the daylight after a long, sleepless battle with invisible enemies, we had parked next to about seventy-five stagnate puddles of fresh water caused by the high tides.

The next morning after none had slept, Alaena emerged from her tent with about twenty-five bites on her face. I have never really seen anyone with that many bites on their face.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fear on Bus


After everything that has happened, I´m beginning to wonder if we took this idea a little far. It´s becoming difficult to chew the fat. The fear is beginning to set in because I think that we are finally realizing that we bought a bus in South America.

We parked on some beach near some shithole little town off of some shithole road our second night back on the road. Alaena and I cooked a delicous stew with tomatoes, yucca, beef, beer, cilantro, carrots, etc. It was a wide beach, and we were parked near the mouth of some river that emptied into the Pacific. The night was no different than any other gypsy night: a fresh meal, three bottles of rum and a furious fire, simmering under the cloudy Ecuadorian night.

When Andrew and Matthias went to buy beer, they were warned by the shop owner. She said to move the bus, but the details were misunderstood due to a lack of knowledge on the Spanish language.

After we all downed a good amount of jingus and I chased after Aleana because she wanted to put cream cheese on a piece of white bread, (There was no reason for her to eat. We had just finished a big meal and I really didn´t want her to dirty the dishes again. Plus I had Jingus in my body.) I fell asleep in my hammock that was tied to some bamboo structure close to where the bus was parked.

When I awoke, red eyed and shit mouthed, I desperately needed to brush my teeth. I went to the front seat of the bus, where I always keep my backpack, and looked for my brush for teeth.

My backpack was gone. Some bandido must have reached through the open window and grabbed the bag.

"Fuck! Have you guys seen my backpack?" I asked the group. I didn´t expect an answer; I just didn´t know what else to do.

Of course no one had seen it, but everyone went and looked for their backpacks. Tom said, "Didn´t you hear the god damned dog barking at 4:30 in the morning? There must have been someone out there."

I didn´t panic. I went into South America disaster mode. Fuck. What do I do? I Gotta get to Quito, gotta call my bank, gotta call the embassy, gotta call my mom, gotta get a copy of my passport sent to me. At this point, it was just another speed bump and Alex and Alaena had shit thrown on them so this wasn´t that bad.

We walked to the store where they bought the beer the night before. We were looking for answers.

Alex walked right in, looking behind counters, under tables, under chairs. Andrew asked the woman where the backpack was; her little girl said she knew where it was. We followed the girl down the beach a little ways. And leaning against a fence post was the green Berentzen backpack that I stole from Pizza Carlo just a few months ago.

I was relieved. I opened the bag; my passport and my wallet were still there.
The bandido stole Alaena´s phone, my camera charger and three open paint cans, red, yellow, and blue, that were in the boot of the bus. We had only gotten one coat of paint on the interior trim of the bus. So the bandido not only took Alaena´s phone, but he stole our pride. We will never finish painting the bus now because we may never be able to match the color of the paints.

Some bandido is sitting in some hammock somewhere painting the Ecuadorian flag on the back of Alaena´s phone.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Slow Stagnate Stench

By Machete

A slow stagnate stench rises from the muddy, garbage-filled streets of Puerto Lopez. Never sunny and always overcast, the weather insists that we remain stolid while we wait for the triumphant return of our heroes, Alex and Aleana. I don´t know what kind of fucked up journey they are on, but it seems that when the shit hits the fan, it really hits it hard and doesn´t stop flinging around, all over their backpacks and heads.

Tom likes the weather here. The one day that the sun actually shone, Tom looks at me and says, "I need to find a dark, low-lit bar to sit in all day." Tom found one.

They call this the Ruta del Sol. Today it misted for nine hours, slowly wetting everything. Ruta del Sol, my ass.

Everytime that I ask a local when the sun shines, like everything else, I consistently get a different and contradicting answer. Some say August. The Lonely Planet says June through November. I´ve also been told that its only sunny one month out of the year. Marcelo, the Jingus slinger in Montanita, told me December or January. A man last night named Juan told me that there´s a cold current coming from the north making all this wet, hazy weather and that the clouds continue down the whole god damned west coast.

They are all meteorologists, yet noone really knows a god damn thing about anything. They all claim to know, but they don´t.

As this weather drowns the mood of the gypsies, we wait for some semblance of communication, each day, back from our comrades. Everytime I come back from the computer, "News?" They ask. Sometimes I have some, but most times I don´t. It´s a slow process, waiting.

Writing about the weather doesn´t compare to the trials faced by Alex and Aleana, but it relates the mood here, closer to the middle of the world, in Puerto Lopez.

Happy Fourth of July, Alex, wherever you are.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Saga Continues

By Alex

We finally got a hold of Fernando, he had nothing but bad news. To his best knowledge and that of every other scheming middle man in all of Quito, there was no Cylinder Head in the whole city of two million people.

Alaena and I were not impressed. So far this guy had sold us a faulty vehicle under the pretense that the motor was rebuilt and would run for thousands of kilometers with no problems. At this point he was hardly apologetic that the bus had only made it 1500 kilometers.

We departed our Internet strong hold and set off carrying around our 60 pound piece of scrap medal.

We decided that it would be best to go to Marcelles, the mechanic we met a few weeks before who spoke English and seemed to be a nice guy. Getting there was no small task.

The bus system of Quito is horribly busy even at slow times you must push your way on and off. I was attempting this daunting task while struggling with my 60 pound bundle of pain. It would seem that people may notice you nearly falling over while smashing your way into the bus and make room for you, but they don’t.

As the lactic acid build up in my arms began to wear on my ambition we pulled into our stop. It was now only a few blocks to the mechanic shop. Alaena and I staggered down the street parting the sidewalk like we were carrying the plague.

As we began to tell Marcelles our story all he could say was, ¨wow, that’s bad luck¨. Fucking right bad luck I thought. We walked out and left Marcelles to the task of making some phone calls and trying to locate a part. Our expectations were low, but it was worth a shot.

Finding things in Ecuador is not simple, there are no yellow pages, the Internet does not list all the auto shops and if someone does not personally have the part they assume that it either does not exist or no one has it. On top of that Ecuadorians use every thing until it is no longer worth anything, a junk yard is unheard of. Finding a used part was not looking good.

Night buses are notoriously cold and it was becoming apparent we were likely leaving Quito that night. We set off to Old Town to get a blanket for the long ride.

With our newly acquired blanket and a small sense of accomplishment we detoured into a music shop to look for a guitar for Zach.

As I stood in the door I felt this middle age women push on my backpack. I looked back to see what her problem was and she just stood there looking at flutes. I thought nothing of it.

Out of nowhere a shit storm erupted.

The lady started screaming at us and pointing at my bag, you have shit on you; you have shit on you she cried. Confusion surged through the air and before we knew it we were in some ally and these people are yelling at us it’s the birds, it’s the birds.

I looked up, as this plump Ecuadorian lady who looks like anyone’s mom is wiping my back while screaming. I look over to Alaena who is just as baffled as me then it hits me. This is the shit game. There are no birds above us and these people are trying to rob us. It quickly becomes apparent to these would be thieves that we are not falling for their little game and they slowly sprint off.

Alaena and I look at each other and start laughing.

¨They tried to get me to put the bag down,¨ Alaena yells.

¨Fuck I know, we played the shit game and won, I can’t wait to tell Tor.¨ I proclaimed.

Meanwhile our backs are covered in some form of shit or fake shit, it’s still up to the jury and we are standing in an ally way just off the main strip. We decide that it’s probably best to get off the street and try to clean the shit off of us.

Upon further investigation it became apparent that Alaena got the brute of the dousing, she was covered from her back all the way down her legs. For being covered in feces she was in quite a positive mood.

A new pair of pants later, a little bit of food and a conscious eye for shit shysters, we cruised back to Marcelles´s in hope of good news.

It soon became apparent that not only had Quito shit on us but it was now spitting us out. As far as Marcelles could find the only place in all of Ecuador known to have our part was down on the Peruvian border 12 hours away.

I picked up my 60 pound bundle of scrap medal and we hailed a cab out of the city.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


By Alex

People travel for all sorts of reasons. In general it usually boils down to a few ideas: to learn about the world, explore, expand ones personal outlook while learning about yourself and your capabilities, to party and my personal favorite, to save the world.

Lately I have been learning about patience.

Everything takes immense amounts of time. Waiting in a market to buy food, time, waiting for the people to make you a refreshing cocktail, a painful amount of time, trying to catch a bus, unknown amount of time and currently waiting for Fernando and a whole host of other mechanics and middle men to call us back with a used but quality Cylinder Head, an excruciating amount of time.

Two days ago my patience was wearing thin and my stress level was dangerously high. I sat in the seat behind our mechanic in Puerto Lopez and watch him meticulously take our small diesel engine apart piece by piece. As each bolt hit the bucket a knife hit my heart. I knew nothing good was going to come from this.

He finally got the last bolt off the engine and pulled the Cylinder Head off the block. Oil drained onto the floor along with my soul as I got the first look at the damage. Even to my untrained eye I knew we were fucked. The gasket was blown to pieces one cylinder was pushed awkwardly through; the others were black and cracked in about ten different places.

I paced the mechanics yard while the others joyfully strolled the streets dreaming we would be back on the road in a couple of hours. Fuck, fuck, fucking hell was all I could mutter. Guilt poured through my body and questions erupted in my brain. My lack of Spanish was wearing on me. All I wanted was some answers from the mechanic, but there was little hope in that.

Alaena soon arrived all bubbly, toting a bag of empanadas and some fruit for me. She quickly translated what I already knew. We needed a new Cylinder Head.

I decided to take the 20 minute walk to town to cool my steaming anger and tell the others our disastrous news. They took it with a surprising positive response. Tom had already located a hostel and the others were stoked to catch a public bus to other places surrounding Puerto Lopez.

I on the other hand was not so alighted. I’m not the most pleasant person to be around when I’m angry at the world. I began to feel very bad for Alaena, who decided to stay with me on the bus for the night, as I cursed everything from the pollo lady on the street, to our fucking dog who won’t listen, to Fernando and myself for letting this happen.

The next morning Aleana and I awoke in the dark and boarded a bus to Manta with our mechanic in search of parts. After two hours of searching there was no luck. It just so happened the only matching Cylinder Head within Kilometers was sold the day before.

As Zach casually hitch hiked to go chase the girls and save the world one unneeded and over priced jungle gym at a time we boarded a bus to Quito.

10 hours of excruciating heat then cold, ten thousand venders all trying to sell us the same disgusting food and what ever happened to fall off a truck that week and a million stops latter, Alaena and I decided it was worth every penny we had to never have to ride a public bus again.

We walked into the Guayunga Hostel in Quito and ran into Tor, he greeted us with huge hugs and we laughed about this unfortunate but comical chain of events. In typical Tor fashion he invited us to a roof top party. We declined, the bus ride had took its toll and we needed some rest for the next day.

It has been two hours since we first contacted the mechanics, middle men and everyone else we have met in this arduous journey of owning a bus and still no word. I’m sitting at a computer with a painful bout of the stomach flu and Alaena is feverously calling Fernando. We are beginning to get good at this patience thing.