31 December 2014

Quito, Part II

We got into Quito pretty early, but had a full, awesome day.

After dumping off our stuff at Casa Helbling, a nice, German-owned hostel, we went to Quito's equivalent of City Streets. They shut the streets down, everyone bikes and runs, and some walkers, though not as many as New York. (In NYC, there are lots of freebies, so that attracts tons more people, esp walkers.) 

We rented a tandem bike, which was a little scary and wobbly to ride. We both found it harder to run, and I found the fact that I didn't know what was coming next or Wayne was doing (in terms of aiming the bike, gears, braking, etc.) a little scary.

It was really fun, and then we were hungry. Way too much is closed in the Masicral Sucre area, but we found a nice restaurant with a super-friendly server in the square, and ate a bunch. Ahhh. Then we headed back to the hotel to move our stuff into the room, and then browsed the guidebook. We realized a ton of things were closed on Sundays, but the botanical gardens were not. We love botanical gardens! Perfect!

We walked around, taking lots of photos. It was a really quiet gardens, full of lots of quality plants. (Venessa would've loved it!) It was really special.

Also neat - I discovered I could translate the signs in Spanish for Wayne. My Spanish is really improving.

We went back, stopped by the ATM (and later found out I incurred a $16 fee - thanks HSBC!), dropped the money off, and then chilled and read. Then we went out for burritos, and while it was no Calexico, it was still pretty good.

We read for a bit more and I fell asleep in Wayne's arms while he read. I was so sad to say goodbye, in tears as I helped him gather his items and leave. So horribly sad. And now I'm alone, and it doesn't feel as good.

29 December 2014

Otavalo: Markets, Animals, Getting Lost - and Realizing It's Not About the Destination, But About the Journey

The main reason you go to Otavalo is to go to the market. When I was trying to organize dates and destinations for my trip, I figured out that Wayne would only have a few days. He said he wanted to see the culture of Ecuador, and I figured, what better way than to go to an authentic market - the biggest in Ecuador?

Otavalo is a 2 hour bus journey (we paid $2) but our flight from the Galapagos didn't get in until nearly five, and we decided that instead of backtracking to the bus station in the city, and then waiting, and then taking a 2-3 hour bus ride, we'd bite the bullet and pay $60 to take a taxi. We didn't really want to take a bus after dark, as we have read warnings about doing so, so we figured for once, safety first. (At Burning Man, the motto is "Safety Third," but when I'm traveling, I really do put it first, even when it's more expensive or inconvenient.) 

We arrived at our hostel, En Rincon de la Posada, where we spent $30 total for a private room with private bathroom. It was comfortable, nothing fancy, and breakfast was included. It was also in a great location on a quiet street right in the center of town.

Wayne looked at everything and immediately thought, "What a dump." But he was totally wrong.

We rested a few minutes in our room, then headed out for a proper meal. Lonely Planet listed a bunch of vegetarian-friendly options, and we wandered a bit on the way there. People were taking down the remnants of the market, and Wayne spotted blankets. "We should get one for our bed." This sounded like an excellent idea, and we vowed to get one the next day. (Wayne was leaving a day and a half later, so we figured we could for once get bulky souvenirs.)

Dinner was really good, one of the better places we've been to in Ecuador. They had a few vegetarian options at Buenavista, and specials, and we hung out there, snacking, chatting, waiting. (Waiting is always a theme at Latin American restaurants, especially at the end. You'd think they'd want you out of there to get a new table in, but no, they always disappear when you want la cuenta, and even after you ask, you could wait 15+ minutes.) After dinner, we walked around a bit, and then went back to our hostel and crashed until the next morning.

In the morning, we headed over to the animal market. It was a bit crazy, a bit sad. Animals were shoved around, for sale, negotiated over. We walked around, but didn't buy anything.

We headed back to the hostel to shower and eat. Then we went to the regular crafts market that happens every day, but in the biggest way on Saturdays. It was Saturday.

We had a list of people to buy souvenirs for, and I even bought a few things for myself (pretty quartz rings - I wear nice rings every day back at home, and need something on my fingers to feel normal - so cheapish rings are great, esp when they don't turn my fingers green). We headed back after a few hours of negotiation, and purchases. We dropped them off, and tried to figure out what to do next.

We headed out to another vegetarian lunch at Oraibi, which was good but served way too much cheese for even yes. (Yes, there is such a thing.) Menachem would've been in hell with his hatred/love of cheese. Or heaven.

After, we headed out of town to do a hike to see the knowledge tree, condor park, and waterfalls. We were told we could do all three.

The hike was gorgeous. I took tons of photos - the scenery was stunning, and we were very much alone on these roads. We were so glad we didn't take a taxi. First stop was the knowledge tree, but somehow we missed it, and didn't realize until we arrived at the condor park. We questioned how we could have possibly missed it, but looked at the birds. A lot of them were in smallish spaces when they should have been soaring. It was a bit sad.

We got directions to the waterfall and the tree, and couldn't figure out the waterfall directions. Very confusing. We decided to go back to town via the knowledge tree, which we wouldn't miss now, not for sure.

We looked. We did that argue because we're lost thing. Then duh, we realized, this is just gorgeous and who cares that we are lost? I asked for directions again. And again. Finally, we got in a cab and had the cabbie drive us and actually point out the tree.

We never would've found it. Ever. It was tucked back on a dirt road off the main road, just by a parilla place. We took photos. We looked at it, and then we headed back on a pretty walk to town, with lots of photos.

We rested. we ate dinner at the same place we ate at the day before, but the food wasn't as good and the manager a bit rude to us. We read in bed, and fell asleep on the early side.

I was going to get up early and run, but I was worried about my foot. I decided to skip my run, and cuddled in bed with Wayne, so sad he was leaving that night.

We walked to the bus station, hopped on a bus heading back to Quito, paid $2 and got a badly dubbed in Spanish American movie blasting in our ears for two hours.

28 December 2014

Galapagos Islands: You Won't Believe It Until You Go!

                Wayne and I debated a lot about what to do on our trip – boat trip, which would be very expensive, require lots of research, or staying on an island in one of the towns. My friend Sherry had taken a tour that kept them in hotels at night, and we thought staying in hotels sounded good. Plus, not running for that long would be brutal (though my podiatrist would probably recommend it!) and I didn’t relish the idea of being on a boat that long. I found it easy to find a nice place (Hotel Galapagos Inn FKA Casa de Judy, on Isla Santa Cruz, right close to Puerto Ayoro), which was really beautiful, had a nice pool, and gorgeous views. The hotel was a bit outside of the edge of town, situated over the National Park, so it was gorgeous – oh, and in front of that was an amazing oceanfront view. Yes, please!
                After a long journey, Judy talked our ear off – or mine, since she primarily spoke Spanish. Good practice for me. We headed to town and got lunch at one of the many eateries, and I had my first Lorca de Papas, an amazing potato-cheese-avocado soup. I need to look up recipes when I go home to make this! And of course, lots of jugo de maracuya. I was in heaven.
                We headed over to the Charles Darwin Research station, where we saw giant iguanas, baby turtles, giant turtles, crabs, chilled at a little beach. This became my daily run spot, yay.
                After, we went back to town, exploring a bit more, stopped in some shops to find something adorable for my niece and nephew, we enjoyed a little bug vehicle that reminded us of Burning Man art cars. We went back to our hotel and planned the tours for the rest of our trips.
                We were happy to feel more energy post-Quito, but the next few days would exhaust us.

                The next day, we got up early and I ran. Then we hired a taxi driver (who ripped us off, but that’s another story) and we went to The Lava Tunnels. Basically, what happens is they drop you off at this random woman’s house, you pay $3, and you get a flashlight to borrow and she turns on the power to lights in the tunnel (Many of which don’t work, making the experience even eerier), and you head into a tunnel. It’s a series of underground caves, almost a mile (1.22 k actually) and it would have been very scary to go through alone. We were both a bit frightened, but awed by the magic. Really cool. It was carved out by lava many years ago, and was the second-longest in South America. This was one of the highlights of our trip, as weird as it sounds.
                Then we headed over to a tortoise reserve. They were huge, beautiful creatures, and not that friendly but not that angry. Amazing. At one point, there were tons chilling in a small muddy pond.
                We went to el gemelos, these craters, which weren’t as impressive as they sounded, but still pretty. Huge sinkholes filled with plants, basically.
                We went back to town and tried to find a trip to Seymour. We eventually did, peeling off almost every bill in our pockets to do so. (It was Christmastime, so trips were even more – we paid $140 to go to Las Plasas, and $155 to go to Seymour.) Then we walked to Tortugua Beach – on the edge of town, you have a 2.5 km walk on a stoned-lined path. Wayne’s feet and back were killing him, but it was wonderful once we were there. A gorgeous beach, even with a nice surf break, and then you walked down the end to the bathing part. There were iguanas swimming, birds, gorgeous. Then on the other side was a bay of some sorts, super calm water, kayaks to rent, mangroves to sit in the shade under. Really lovely.
                The next day, we were picked up for a trip to Seymour.  Amazing. We arrived on an island with tons of sea lions, blue-footed boobies, red-breasted frigates, pelicans…really amazing, especially as how the animals would just come up to you without any fear, say hello. I took loads of photos, and then my camera broke and I was in tears. Wayne fixed it, of course, but I missed a few photos of blue footed boobies and iguanas. We headed back into the boat and we boated someplace for snorkeling, but our awful guide kept saying, “Don’t come if you are not a good swimmer.” (The guides are not always the best here, sigh.)  After snorkeling was another blah blah Ecuadorian lunch, and then we went to an island just covered, just covered with sea lions. I was blown away. I sat down next to them, and they seemed pretty chill and barely took notice, except when a baby sea lion came up to us, confused as to whether or not we were there mother, and they’d bark at us. We took tons of photos. There was also a skeleton of a whale too, but this was mainly a sea lion island. Wonderful.
                That night, I was annoyed at Wayne for taking forever to get ready – we had drinks plans with a brother-in-law of a friend. As soon as we left to eat, I started feeling awful, really queasy. We went on to dinner anyway and I made my best attempt. I said to Wayne, “I feel awful – like I’m going to throw up.” He told me he’d pay and I waited outside
                The walk back to our hotel was hell. I had to stop every few meters to sit and I hoped I could make it home. I gave Wayne instructions on logging onto my computer and Facebook to message Jose, and tell him we couldn’t make it. Around the block from our hotel, I threw myself into gravel by a children’s playground and vomited. I got up, walked a few feet (You know, closer to the children.) and threw myself down again to vomit. When I got back I noticed gravel marks in my knees and shins.
                In the hotel, I cleaned myself up and brushed my teeth and passed out in bed. Wayne wrote Jose, who ironically was sick the next day. I did feel okay the next morning.
                When I woke up, I went for a super slow run, and Wayne’s stomach was a mess (again….). We ate, and then got on a boat headed to Las Plasas. The bus was full of 12 people from one large family – nice, super-rich, but still, a family with their own dynamics. There was also an older couple. We mainly stayed to ourselves.
                We headed first to see sea lions, lots of amazing birds, iguanas, and learned a lot about why certain animals were behaving the way they were.
                After dinner, we went to bed and slept a lovely amount. In the morning, we had our last day, aka Christmas.
                I celebrated the holiday with a long run, and then woke Wayne up. We had breakfast, and then headed out to Garrapatos, a far beach. We ended up getting sunburnt (even sun blisters, in my case, sigh….). We showered, got dinner, and met up with Jose. We talked about the Galapagos Islands, Burning Man, Barcelona, Ecuador, that sort of thing….really fun.
                And then…we were done. A night of sleep, get up early, and GO for a long day of trip from Galapagos to Guayquil then 

26 December 2014

The Journey to Galapagos

                Getting to Galapagos is not easy. There are very few direct flights there, and most either have connections or stopovers in Guayaquil. A lot of the flights are booked up early by travel agencies for trips (A lot of times, when you buy tickets to a boat trip from the U.S., it will include a flight from Quito.), but when they don’t sell the seats, there will be last-minute cheap tickets. This is something to look out for, especially if you have time and are not traveling during high season.
                We left our hotel at 5a.m. in a cab to the Quito airport, which is almost an hour from Quito itself. Then we waited in a long line to pay a $10 fee to go to the Galapagos. Then they scan your suitcases and give you something to sign saying that you are not bringing any seeds or food into the islands. (This meant Wayne and I ate a container of Christmas cookies V had baked for us, and almost an entire big bag of cinnamon sugar sunflower seeds. Maybe a bad idea, hahahah.) Then your bag is marked, and then you wait to check into the plane. After, you do the usual waiting around the gate, etc., but the whole process took us way longer than I expected.
                We flew to Guyaquil, and were no allowed to leave the plane. Wayne and I ate cookies instead. Then just before we got to Isla Baltra (the island we were flying to in Galapagos), they sprayed the entire plane, including lifting all of the overhead bins to individually spray each bag, with insecticide.
                When we arrived in the Galapagos, we were immediately struck by the humidity. Then we had to wait for every single bag to be unloaded. Then a cop did this whole routine with having his dog sniff and run over each and every bag. Once the dog didn’t find anything (and Wayne thinks it was a farce, as the dog was not one normally trained for sniffing), we collected our bags. Then we paid a fee of $100 per person to enter the park, and handed in another form. Then they scanned out bags again and we handed in another form.
                Then we hopped on the bus that everyone takes to the ferry. Isla Baltra has pretty much nothing other than the airport. So everyone goes on this bus. Then we got on the ferry (only 5 minutes, $1), and then you can either get a cab to the town ($18) but we thought we’d save money and take the bus ($2 a person). You have to wait for the bus to fill up, which means we had a bit of a wait. Then after the bus, we hopped into a cab for $1 (totally walkable, but we had our bags and weren’t exactly sure where it was) and finally got to our destination.

                Long and a total PIA, but totally worth it!

Quito, Ecuador: Altitude, Sleep, Grey Skies, and Sunburns

               So let me start out by saying that Wayne’s choice for a Christmas trip was going to Hawaii (where he had been before) to go kitesurfing. For those of you who haven’t watched someone kitesurfing, chances are, if you’re on the beach, you’re getting pummeled with sand. I somehow convinced Wayne to choose Ecuador instead, pointing out that the Galapagos Islands are totally awesome. So he agreed and we went.
                We left with a bunch of insanity. Our car service driver was super slow, but we still arrived with almost two hours. The Tame line was super long, but we waited, and when we got to the front, the agent told Wayne to go to line one because there was a problem with his ticket. Then she told me the same thing. We waited in line one, and then the agent said there was no problem with our ticket, and told our original agent she needed to learn how to read a ticket. Argh. Then we waited again to check out bags. We still felt okay on time, until we waited in the TSA line for nearly an hour. We went through security, peed, grabbed Wayne a coffee, and boarded. Then we discovered that the “seats next to each other” were actually one in front of the other. ARGH. I asked the flight attendant to help, and he was  not eager to help, and told me that the flight was full, sorry. I was pissed. But then when some guy got on board and sat down next to Wayne, the flight attendant asked him to switch, and Wayne and I got to sit next to each other. Yay!

                The flight was delayed and felt very long. We slept most of it, ate snacks, and went through customs, immigrations, grabbed our bags super easily. I smoothly negotiated with our cabbie to pay the set rate, and after lots of traffic and a long taxi ride (over an hour), we arrived at the Traveller’s Inn. We wanted to go out on a walk and get dinner, but somehow passed out for three or four hours, fully clothed, lights on. We woke up disoriented, and decided to head out to the Indian place we had seen on the corner. It was pretty swanky, and the food was good. I had the best mango lassi of my life. And of course, my beloved maracuya juice. Yum.
                We went back to the hotel, talked a little, and then passed out again – not waking up until 8 a.m. the next day. Wow. We got up, showered, and ate breakfast. It was weird to not be running, but my doctor said to rest, so I figured I’d not run until I got to the Galapagos.
                We took a cab ($12-15 each way) to Mitad del Mundo, where the equator is marked. I figured we’d take a bus, but a cab was much, much faster (though much more expensive). We took the requisite photos on the equator line, but as it was early, it was still pretty quiet, which mean peaceful photos. Then we hopped in our cab to Centro Historico, where we took photos of churches, walked around. I felt like utter crap and didn’t care about anything except wanting to go to bed. We stumbled into a random punk show, where the bands played cover songs of non-punk bands, but in a punk style, with English lyrics (rare), Spanish lyrics (quite common), or a combination of Spanish and English (also common). It was really fun, and we left after a bit to walk in the rain.
                My feet were killing me and Wayne took several scenic routes, causing me to get annoyed at him. It suddenly began downpouring, so we ducked into a Greek cafĂ©, got some snacks and coffee and a hideous tea, and when the rain abated and our snacks were done, we headed out into the streets.
                We arrived at the intersection of our guesthouse and begin walking back and forth; we couldn’t find it. I grew frustrated at Wayne for not writing down the address, and he grew frustrated at me for insisting I got the address wrong. We randomly asked at several hotels, and finally, I pleaded with one of them to help me find the info. They called information, and got me the address. Turns out, we were looking for Pinta not Pinto. We were a few blocks away. We walked there, I showered off the grime, and passed out in bed for several hours. Wonderful. I hate you, stupid altitude. My asthma has also been crap lately. Ugh.
                When we woke up, I pulled back on my dampish clothes and we hopped into a cab  ($2) near all the restaurants in Mariscal Sucre. We went to El Maple, a vegetarian restaurant, and then we walked around the square and looked at the hopping nightlife. Pretty impressive.
                We wanted to go but, but, ehhhh, tired. So we headed back, mainly because we were cold and tired, got under the blankets, and snuggled and read.
                This trip has felt pretty lazy so far, but I suppose that’s what the two of us need right now. No stress.
                We got up our last morning in Quito at 415 to catch our 8 a.m. flight to Galapagos. Wheeeee!

20 December 2014

Frozen Bonsai Half

Even though the race had frozen in its name, I still figured it might be fun to run. Hey, why not? A half in Central Park, easy peasy close, and I could run it super slow.

The night before I was up late at a friend's play in the Bronx, so I was on little sleep. The train got me there too quick, so I froze while waiting. I began pacing, which was better than standing still. I piled on layers. I ran into Karen, who told me she was still feeling ill effects of her late night, and ran into Stephanie, who ended up PRing.

I started out sub 8s for quite a while. I felt okay, was thinking of all I had to do. Then around mile 8, my feet started hurting. It was out of control painful, and I was involuntarily audibly moaning. Then Wayne biked up and I whined to him while he whined to me. He was supposed to bike with a bunch of people for six hours but everyone bailed and now his back was hurting so he headed home with 20 miles instead of 50 or 60 or more.

I finished, and limped to the train. My feet were killing me.

The medal was nice, the course was fun, the after spread great. Go NYC Runs, with another awesome race.

Staten Island Greenbelt 50k: Mud, Trails, Yes, in the City! (2014 Race Report)

I had fun last year at the Staten Island Greenbelt 50k, even if the course was muddy. I thought it would be a nice last ultra of the year, and decided to run it on the easy side. A bunch of friends were signing up, so why not?

The day before, my grandmother fell and hit her head. She ended up getting stitches, though she’s ultimately okay. My mother and I cleaned up all the blood (You bleed a lot from head wounds.), I made my grandma lunch, and hung out with her. I was so shaken up that I couldn’t eat for a while, despite being hungry. I knew this was probably a bad sign for tomorrow’s race, but nothing I could do.

I cried when I got back to Brooklyn, and wondered how  could possibly run the next day.

When we met JT at 645, it was lightly raining. Great. Karen, Cole, and I were running the 50k; JT was supposed to run the 25k but ended up DNSing because he felt sick. But he still drove us because he’s awesome like that. “I made a commitment,” he said.

I planned on running pretty easy, and spent much of the baby loop running with a Staten Island local, talking about the bakery business he used to own. It was somewhere in the 40s (maybe even 50s?) and raining lightly. Karen caught up to me and we began running together, chatting.

The course is easy but not so easy it’s boring. There are twists and turns and single track trail, but nothing technical. It was muddy and the mud got worse as the day went on. There were some hills.

There were four aid stations – the start/finish one, one I never seemed to stop at, one that only had water, and one with Cheez-Its. Obviously the last was my favourite.

As Karen and I neared the end of our second loop, it began raining hard. Luckily as we headed into the start/finish, it mostly abated, so we headed out like two idiots. It began pouring at many points, and was only a light rain at the best points. The trail grew slippery, we got tired and hungry, and thoughts of  Cheez-its flooded our mind. I tried to not think about my grandma, which often resulted in Karen hearing random stories about various races. Wooohooo.

We finished, and grabbed our finishers’ hoodies and ran inside. I baby wiped bathed in the bathroom and put on warm clothes before I felt human again.

And then I went home and ate a bunch of food. Life is good.