It's been a pretty crazy last few days, and it's nice to finally have a moment to sit down and write. After the busy week of the Timmy brigade, it was time to flip back into tourist mode with a few days trip out of Quito. Melissa and I left early Saturday morning for Papallacta, a town east of Quito known for it's hot springs. Papallacta is high up in the mountains with some incredible views like I'd never seen. The weather was chilly and rainy off and on, but the soothing warm waters of the pools felt amazing, and the steam was particularly good for my laryngitis. We stayed in a cute hotel outside of the main area of pools and learned quickly that the private pools behind the hotel were just as good, if not better, than the main pools in the area. For 24 hours we soaked, ate local trout, put on our cold wet swimsuits, soaked some more.
From Papallacta, Melissa and I parted ways- she headed back to Quito and I continued my journey south to the warm Ecuadorian Amazon, a town called Tena where some other Timmy volunteers live and coordinate brigades. Emily, Derrick and Tammy received me warmly into their tropical home, complete with a view of the river and a covered rooftop terrace with hammocks.
I was greeted in Tena by a group of neighborhood children who quickly led Tammy, Emily and me down to the “beach.” The beach was essentially a river bank where locals would sunbathe and swim. We walked along the river to another area where the water was deeper and the current stronger. Despite the fact that my swimsuit was still hanging to dry back at the house, I couldn't resist the urge to swim so I joined Emily, Tammy and the kids and jumped right in with my clothes.
After our beach time, we decided to head out to dinner in town. We were joined at the restaurant by an old friend of mine, Miguel, who took the bus up from his home town of Sicua, Ecuador. Miguel used to live in Cincinnati and it was wonderful to be reunited.
On Monday, Miguel and I decided to tackle hiking up to a local waterfall known as the “Cascadas de Lata.” While the hike itself wasn't difficult, the path was extremely muddy and slippery so just keeping our balance was work in itself. The waterfall was worth it though, and we washed off the mud swimming in the cool waters of the pool at its base.
From the waterfall, we hopped a bus into a town nearby known as Misahualli. Tammy had warned us that the town square was full of mischievous monkeys, but nothing could have prepared us for the sight of monkeys swinging from buildings, swiping bags of chips from local stores, and even torturing a poor frog they had found. The monkeys were tame and obviously used to tourists- one even jumped on my back! It bit my elbow on the way down, but didn't break my skin thankfully.
After we had our fill of monkey shenanigans, we ate a delicious lunch of tilapia, the local treat, walked around Misahualli, checked out a butterfly farm in the area, and took the bus back to Tena at dark.
Tuesday, Miguel and I took Tammy's advice and booked a local guide to take us tubing down one of the rivers. We met Javier in the morning and for $25 each, we had a full day of floating, paddling, and navigating rapids down the river. A late lunch was even included, complete with more grilled tilapia and a local delicassie known as “chontacuro.” Chontacuro are essentially smoked larvae on a skewer, and I felt a bit like Pumba from The Lion King as I swallowed down the slimy but surprisingly flavorful treat.
By the time we got back to the house, it was time to shower, pack up my back pack, and head back to Quito. For $20, I opted for the door-to-door service of a “shared taxi,” essentially a comfortable, much faster mini-van ride through the mountains. I met up with Melissa and another friend Emma to catch the end of the Ecuador-Chile soccer game at a local restaurant, then headed back to the beautiful Timmy volunteer house overlooking Quito.
Yesterday, I spent a few hours in the morning volunteering doing check-ups on some Colombian refugees at a local mennonite mission, a connection from my friends in Bogotá. By the time I left the church at 1, I was started to feel ill, and by the time I made it back to the house, I was feeling pretty miserable. I'm not sure if it's sun poisoning (I was pretty burned), soreness from tubing, altitude sickness, a virus, sheer exhaustion, or a combination of all, but I spent all afternoon and evening in bed yesterday with fever, chills and bodyaches. My fever broke late last night and I'm feeling a little better today, though I'm still laying low for now. Being sick in another country is a terrible feeling, but it certainly gives me empathy for my mostly immigrant patients in the States.
This evening, I'm volunteering again with some of the Colombian refugees, then tomorrow evening I'm heading to Lima, Peru where I will be reunited with my mother for two weeks. I'm really looking forward to it… =)