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Monthly Archives: December 2012

I arrived in Banos weeks ago, the gateway between the Andes and Amazon.  Every tour operator in town is trying to sell you a package that is for some reason twice as much as most (probably outdated) guides tell you they should be, especially given the two 20 hour travel days involved.  $70-80 a day to go to an area that I’ve gotten confirmation from Ecuadorian tour guides is currently dangerous?  No thanks.  I considered going in another country or just sucking it up.  Then I met a nice American family while rafting that was taking an independent go at it and they let me tag along.  Warning: unlike my experience in the rest of Ecuador, there was a lot of gringo prices/overcharging on a small scale on this trip to get to the jungle.

So where does one start?  To head to Yasuni National Park, you get a bus from wherever you are to Coca, a riverside oil city.  If you take a night bus like we did, you’ll arrive groggy and confused at the incredibly modern bus station.  It had design reminiscent of the Madrid airport, was extremely bright, and even included a free movie theater.  From there you should catch a two dollar taxi to the port next to the Coop de Transportes Fluviales Orellana building.  That’s a mouthful I can’t pronounce, so just say you want to go to Nuevo Rocafuerte and they’ll know.  It appears by now they have boats every week day going in both directions but there was limited boating service due to the holidays.

We stopped for breakfast before getting on the boat.  The Oresco restaurant recommended by guidebooks wasn't open like it was written to be (shock), so we ended up at a fancy hotel that fed croissants to these monkeys.  Let the wildlife begin!

We stopped for breakfast before getting on the boat. The Oresco restaurant recommended by guidebooks wasn’t open like it was written to be (shock), so we ended up at a fancy hotel that fed croissants to these monkeys. Let the wildlife begin!

The port authority wasn’t open before the boat was to leave at 7:30 AM so we asked the times of a guy cleaning the place and bought tickets from random guys with clipboards at the port.  This guy sat there hemming and hawing about whether to give us the local price ($15) and we’d seen online reports of people getting charged $20 before another guy and our insistence at talking to the company finally got him to give in.

The scenery is exciting for the first hour.  Then there's about nine more.

The scenery is exciting for the first hour. Then there’s about nine more.

The boat ride is about a ten hour affair in the high water season, longer if you go during low river season.  It’s faster to get to Nuevo Rocafuerte because it’s downstream.  The seats are pretty uncomfortable and at least one of the boats doesn’t even have seat backings for you.  Bring a cushion and some cards.  The locals seemed fascinated as we played games.

While it was mostly pretty thick jungle, albeit shorter than I expected, I particularly liked this grove of tall spindly trees.

While it was mostly pretty thick jungle, albeit shorter than I expected, I particularly liked this grove of tall spindly trees.

Once we arrived we had trouble finding the hostel recommended to us by other travelers.  Turns out it was two blocks straight off the port and about five or so right, until you reach an ecotourism college.  At the end of the ecotourism college, take a left and the hostel run by them is at the end of the road.  They had comfy beds and friendly employees that knew Manuel, the guide we were looking for. It’s a small town, so when people figured out we were looking for the place, the employees found us.

More wildlife right outside my door.  Ribbit!  This guy was pretty big.

More wildlife right outside my door. Ribbit! This guy was pretty big.

It turns out Manuel is part of a community an hour and a half away called Martinica, in Cocaya nestled between the more famous Yasuni and Cuyabeno National Parks.  We took a canoe past Ecuadorian border control, waved to Peru, and ended up at their community house.  Why yes, we’ll take a whole reserve for ourselves.

Our guide Miguel ran inside and came back out with this centipede he let crawl all over him.

Our guide Miguel ran inside and came back out with this centipede he let crawl all over him.

As soon as we got to the community house, they tried to lure in some dolphins for us to see.  It seemed only one of us would see one at a time, as they breeched quickly and disappeared back under.  The river was high and running muddy and fast, making for bad dolphin watching.

After the tour we watched videos and realized the dolphins come up in clear water and eat the fish out of the guides' hands or sometimes even their mouths.  This time we had no such luck.

After the tour we watched videos and realized the dolphins come up in clear water and eat the fish out of the guides’ hands or sometimes even their mouths. This time we had no such luck.

As we had no luck spotting any pink dolphins and had trouble even seeing gray ones, we dressed up in wellies and headed deeper into their reserve.

I went to Disneyland a lot as a kid and kept thinking the guide was going to stop to fire a fake gun at rhino ears sticking out of the river.

I went to Disneyland a lot as a kid and kept thinking the guide was going to stop to fire a fake gun at rhino ears sticking out of the river.

Every twist and turn of lush green looked the same to me and I could’ve been easily lost.  Luckily our guide knew every inch of the land he grew up in and would stop the boat to show us wildlife or to duck into lagoons.  Parrots, toucans, and macaws flew majestically in the high reaches of the trees as we spotted other colorful birds and monkeys lower.

There were self sustaining little forests on islands in the lagoons full of birds.

There were self sustaining little forests on islands in the lagoons full of birds.

The day was gray and water muddy but it was still gorgeous as we floated down the much smaller and intimate calm river.

We could see such beautiful reflections as we floated along.

We could see such beautiful reflections as we floated along.

After a bit of river bird watching we stopped to take a short nature hike.  The guide seemed to know everything and would stop when none of us saw a thing to point out a ridiculously camouflaged frog or tapir tracks.

"Here, taste these ants, they taste like lemon!"  Indeed, those ant eggs did taste like lemon.

“Here, taste these ants, they taste like lemon!” Indeed, those ant eggs did taste like lemon.

The other ants in the forest were gigantic.  I’m sad we didn’t see a tapir, which they had a platform for watching at night, but I’m also happy to not run into a jaguar or snake.

We saw lots of beautiful colored butterflies.

We saw lots of beautiful colored butterflies.  I really wish I had managed to catch the other animals as clearly as this.

Right at the end of the hike it started pouring rain.  Expected since we were indeed in a rainforest.  As our canoe wafted into the water we saw some river otters duck away.  Lunch was back in the community house and consisted of traditional dishes, although they didn’t try to make us eat the giant grilled grubs the region is known for.

Maito: fish wrapped in what I assume was banana leaves and grilled over a fire with onions.  It's pretty delicious served with plantains and rice.

Maito: fish and wrapped in what I assume was banana leaves and grilled over a fire. It’s pretty delicious served with plantains and rice, just beware the bones.

After lunch we relaxed by the riverside again.

Our guide ran up again this time with a prehistoric looking fish.

Our guide ran up again this time with a prehistoric looking fish.

We awaited the sight of a pink dolphin for a while but had no luck.  I had better luck spotting dolphins in Cambodia on the river.

Miguel was introduced to us as a dolphin expert but they seemed to be scaring the poor things away more that day.

Miguel was introduced to us as a dolphin expert but they seemed to be scaring the poor things away more that day.

Sadly I didn't get any very good photos and these look more like Loch Ness monster sighting than dolphins.

Sadly I didn’t get any very good photos and these look more like Loch Ness monster sighting than dolphins.

After a while we gave up as we’d seen enough brief glimpses of dolphins backs and headed back.

There was a piranha just hanging out in our canoe back.  I'm not really sure why, but hey, a piranha in the Amazon!

There was a piranha just hanging out in our canoe back. I’m not really sure why, but hey, a piranha in the Amazon!  Look at his sharp pointy teeth.

When we got back into town we spotted this pet parrot in a home and it was the only clear shot I got of a bird all day.  He giggled at us.

When we got back into town we spotted this pet parrot in a home and it was the only clear shot I got of a bird all day.  Locals tell us his name is Pepito.

Locals tell us his name is Pepito.

The trip was made a tad short as we rushed back to cities for New Years.  Our guides later recommended that they could show us way more animals and their cultural traditions if we had two to three days instead of one.  The next morning we stumbled onto the dock at 5 AM just to wait some Ecuadorian time for the boat to finally arrive and whisk us back up the river, stopping to let on and off the jungle citizens who used it as their local bus.

I was more alert on my way back and spotted traces of the oil industry destroying the forest.

I was more alert on my way back and spotted traces of the oil industry destroying the forest.

It was a shorter trip than I would’ve liked but that’s how timing works out.  What a beautiful oasis out in the far eastern side of Ecuador.  All that nonsense that most sources spout about it being impossible to do it independently are bullocks.  Bring lots of mosquito repellent and patience and it’ll be about a third of the price of those silly tours.

Contact info for guides in Nuevo Rocafuerte:

Canton Aguarico
Manuel (Spanish speaking only)
Telephone: 062382226 or 0993104290
Just ask around, some locals saw us wandering around and said “Manuel’s house is that way!”

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Well ok, I didn’t manage to foil the robbers for Christmas, but I am spending it alone in adventure sport town Banos, Ecuador.  Originally planned for post-coast and maybe an Amazon visit, I ended up heading here early on my retreat from the coast and with some miscommunication in Quito with my Couch Surfing friend Carlos.  No matter, that just means for Christmas I’m treating myself to some adventure sports.

A beautiful view overlooking the volcanoes and nearby towns.

A beautiful view overlooking the volcanoes and nearby towns.

First up, river rafting.  Although I can’t swim I love water sports and this time around that meant hitting the rapids.  It was fun to careen through dipping waves and holes in the water.  Granted it wasn’t exactly the most hardcore thing as there were two 5 year old kids behind me.  Also I got shifted from English speaking boat to French speaking boat as the odd man, but it was still a good time.  The scenery along the river was stunning.  As another patron mentioned, that would’ve been one awesome time to have a go-cam.

The recently activated volcano near Banos.

The recently activated volcano near Banos.  That’s lava generated smoke coming out the top.

While I certainly haven’t been eating poorly in the last month, I still decided to treat myself to a few Christmas dinners of varied food being in a gringo filled tourist town.  A steak dinner that was probably just objectively ok but tasted like the best thing ever because I haven’t had a good slab of beef steak in who knows how long.  A dinner of objectively good pulled pork sandwich and fries and even microbrewed craft beers.  On Christmas day I tried Swiss raclette, because melty cheese is certainly something i’ve missed.  Although I managed to find the Ecuadorian specialties of cuy (guinea pig) and encocado (coconut stew) to try as well.

A specialty of the town is a hand pulled sugar cane candy that they do with flourish to try to lure in people to buy some.  It's a weird hard taffy warm and I think an even worse hard candy cold.

A specialty of the town is a hand pulled sugar cane candy that they do with flourish to try to lure in people to buy some. It’s a weird hard taffy warm and I think an even worse hard candy cold.

On Christmas day i decided to treat myself well.  My family pitched in and purchased some of my splurges that I can’t do on a normal day.  While it’s not Thailand, I started with a massage in the morning.  Well, it certainly ain’t Thailand, it cost four times as much and was only ok.

Ecuador is a poor country.  It doesn't matter where you are though, you'll see a satellite dish.

Ecuador is a poor country. It doesn’t matter where you are though, you’ll see a satellite dish.

Later on I went for the more exciting activity, paragliding.  The guide’s American girlfriend looked at me and went, “This is what you are doing for Christmas?!” with an incredulous look.  Granted, she was with her boyfriend’s family, but I reminded her technically it was what she was doing for Christmas too.  Luckily she was really nice and took some photos of me in the air.

Sure, you can't see me, but that's me up there gliding over the hills.

Sure, you can’t see me, but that’s me up there gliding over the hills.

It was an amazing feeling to be up in the air like that.  You just take a few steps forward, back, take a running start, and are carried straight off the slope of a hill.  As a twelve year old, my parents bought me my first video game system, a Nintendo 64.  One of the first games I managed to play was Pilotwings 64, a rather boring game that was just showing off the power of 3-D.  I still recall you were supposed to catch thermal drafts, and I didn’t realize that was a thing you did.  They aren’t really visible in real life like they are in the game, but my do they lift you fast!

I can't even explain how beautiful the day was as we waited hours for the wind to be just right to soar.

I can’t even explain how beautiful the day was as we waited hours for the wind to be just right to soar.

The winds were strong that day, too strong to be safe.  GeoTours had given me bad info and told me not to bring anything so I was sans books.  Not a bad way to be though as I gazed upon the first active volcano I’d ever seen constantly rumbling, roaring and belching smoke. Finally near the end of the day we managed to get up.  Only we went, as the other people who brought parachutes thought it too dangerous and instead monitored the wind for us.  Unfortunately, I can get nauseous doing most activities and being this high up was no exception and I got altitude sickness from the sudden rise.  I held on though and the rather brisk air whisked past me as we floated around.  Suddenly though, the rather strong wind gave out and we made an emergency landing.  For me, that meant instead of walking down, I landed ass sliding onto the hill.

The day continued to be stunning even as we ended a wonderful Christmas day of adventure.

The day continued to be stunning even as we ended a wonderful Christmas day of adventure.  Unfortunately those beautiful sunset clouds are the same ones keeping me from seeing bright lava at night.

This is my first Christmas away from Los Angeles and I tried to make the best of it.  Not your standard Christmas but certainly a fun one.  Good thing I got Christmas presents so that I could greatly enjoy such an adventurous town.

Well, my fourteen month good luck streak has finally ended.  As far as these things go, I’m merely short some stuff.  However really I’m short a good bit of peace of mind.  I made it through four years of college in South Central with nary an incident by being careful and lucky, of traversing warehouse concerts and working in a dock area.  But this isn’t where this tale begins or takes place.

I’d finally left the farm.  I was excited to be on the road again, off to the coast to not work and sit on a beach all day.  I was going back to my roots, to surfing Santa Christmases that I am used to.  But before I headed out to the beaches i was heading for Esmeraldas, a large city of the north.  Rough Guide had no information on it and just said to miss it, Lonely Planet mentioned that the city was trying hard to shed it’s reputation at the most poor and dangerous in Ecuador.  I’d met a retired American professor while in Cotacachi and he let me in on the less well known history of the province.  Started by a successful slave revolt after a shipwreck, Esmeraldas is still home to a majority African population.  Back in the day it was the only African governed region and was supposedly given commonwealth status to self govern by Spain before anyone else on this continent.  There was possibly a museum or two exploring this unique history and he highly recommended I go check it out.

He didn’t really need to tell me twice.  I was on the first bus and transfer out there.  Except we got stopped in the north.  There’s still a drug war going on in Colombia and it appears to be fueled by guns from Ecuador.  At the gun check, the money I had nervously shoved into my money belt at the ATM in the morning came flying out in a fat stack when I groggily reached for my passport.  The whole bus glanced at me.  There were whispers.  I didn’t know it yet, but I was doomed.

A few hours later as I was confused at the bus transfer at a random intersection, one guy showed an old lady and me where to go.  We all started chatting.  He continued to talk to me on the bus.  Great, I thought, talking to a local.  But I was wary as well, possibly yet another overly amorous mid thirties guy thinking he was getting somewhere.  He invited me to join him in Atacames the next day, a party-centric beach not too far off.  We got off the bus at the same stop downtown.  Only later did I realize I had tried to leave once or twice, and thought he had misunderstood my Spanish, but no he had his bulls-eye on me.  We ended up at a hostel and in the same dorm room.  I tried to get a different room to no avail.  Oh well, I thought, one night here and I’m off to a different town from him, he’s going to party beach.  I’ll be fine.

As you do with other hostel guests, you group a bit.  We went to dinner.  He paid, I was again suspicious of more amorous motives.  We went for a walk on the beach after dinner.  The sun glinted on the water, families played, and runner went up and down to the docks.  I was again on the watch out for moves.  He sat down to rest because he was a bit fat.  I became more wary.  He put his arm around me and I shrugged it off.  That’s when he just full out grabbed everything out of my pockets and my jewelry.  He got to my back pockets when I managed to shove him.  He bolted into the brush.  I ran for about a second before realizing what a dumb idea that was and ran to an old couple watching a bathroom.   That was one hell of a head fake.  Six hours, dinner and taxi rides paid for later.  Oh, and he didn’t even get the stack of cash, he got all of twenty dollars.  My cell phone was probably the most valuable thing he got.

This is where the story really makes me sad.  When I reached the old couple and asked for help, asking them to call the police, they just stared blankly.  That was dumb, they said, don’t do that.  Thanks for the advice, please call the police.  He was black wasn’t he, she intoned in a condescending manner.  For the love of God lady, call the bloody police.  Yes, Esmeraldas is majority African and sadly neglected and not treated well by the government.  It is a poor region.  I had to give up on this old woman and ask a random lady entering the bathroom for help.  The next few people I ran into were helpful.  One old guy offered to take his son’s motorcycle to take me to back to the hostel, to make sure he hadn’t returned first and taken everything I had.  It was serious panic on my part, my life is in that backpack.

The police arrived and blared through traffic sirens ablaze.  There was a lot of stop and go as people didn’t always get out of the way.  We got to the station where there were eight other officers standing in the front.  They handed me the key to the room and let me go in first.  Thanks guys.  Luckily everything was there, including the thief’s stuff.  When we searched it, it appeared to be stolen clothing and new toiletries.  Ah, I’d been had by a thief by trade.  We talked a bit.  The hotel owner thought we were living a telenovella and kept asking over and over if he was my boyfriend, the police finally told her to shut up and pointed at the multiple beds in the dormitory.  Still, they weren’t taking my descriptions very seriously and seemed more intent on cracking jokes.  The police then, for some awful reason, told me sit there in the hotel room for another half hour as they patrolled.  I wasn’t all too sure the hotel wasn’t in on it and sat nervously in the locked room.  They returned an hour later, even police run on South American time, and took me to another hotel at my request.  They asked a few times though, as if I’d want to stay in that room.  They then took down only my name and left.  I have little hopes of ever hearing more.

The thing is, shaken as I am now, I don’t know if I would change that much besides being a little more alert.  The last fourteen months I have had the luck and joy of meeting so many friendly locals.  Not everyone is good, not everyone is bad, but I’ve certainly been blessed with a lot more good considering this is the first terrible thing.  That is not to say one should not be wary, but it has taken little jumps of trust to enjoy this trip in the way I have.

During our hours long bus chat I had mentioned where I was heading.  I was now nervous about going to any of the towns I had mentioned and had no desire to go to the party towns I wasn’t planning on .   Onward and inland I head, it’ll be Christmas in the mountains for me.   In the meantime, I’ve been to four police stations in vain search of a police report to no avail due to the holidays.  All I want for Christmas is my stuff back and perhaps a little peace of mind to add to the usual wish of peace on Earth.

Moving on from one of my favorite songs to one of my favorite game titles, I ended up spending over a month on the farm.  I was going to leave after the first week, after I celebrated Thanksgiving with my American hosts.  However my credit card got stolen the day before I was planning to leave and I found myself waiting three weeks for it to arrive.  So what does one do on a farm that long?

The view from the far was stunning on clear days.  It was particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk.  You wake up early on a farm.

The view from the far was stunning on clear days. It was particularly beautiful at dawn and dusk. You wake up early on a farm.

You explore the beautiful natural surroundings.

We visited the deserted half finished hotel of a friend of the farm's.  It had a beautiful view of what I think is Cotacachi Lake.  We later returned for a hike around here.

We visited the deserted half finished hotel of a friend of the farm’s. It had a beautiful view of what I think is Cotacachi Lake. We later returned for a hike around here.

You explore the nearby towns full of retired Americans.

Hilarious Latin American stereotypes means there are Barbies that are too young to have babies in the stores.

Hilarious Latin American stereotypes means there are Barbies that are too young to have babies in the stores.

Otavalo is more known for its Saturday market, but seeing as how I went more than once, I also checked out a cockfight.  It's full of drunken Ecuadorian men at 1 pm.

Otavalo is more known for its Saturday artisan market, but seeing as how I went more than once, I also checked out a cockfight. It’s full of drunken Ecuadorian men at 1 pm.

You do some work as well.  I was on a chicken farm, full of 15,000 chickens.  They butchered them the day before I got there but at least I got to see the new batch.

Chicks are adorable, fuzzy and need to be kept very warm.

Chicks are adorable, fuzzy and need to be kept very warm.

Not all birds are good though, as some nice song birds were eating all the seeding plants before we could collect them.

This is the scarecrow I made, we named it Pip after we learned that seeds are called pips in Ireland and England.  Also their most famous brand of orange juice is called Juicy Bits.  The garden is lovely and Pip is lucky I didn't name him Juicy Bits.

This is the scarecrow I made, we named it Pip after we learned that seeds are called pips in Ireland and England. Also their most famous brand of orange juice is called Juicy Bits. The garden is lovely and Pip is lucky I didn’t name him Juicy Bits.

After we were sure birds weren’t eating all the seeds we continued weeding and seeding.

I had no idea beet seeds looked this interesting.

I had no idea beet seeds looked this interesting.

You hang out with the various animals.

Tigger, the orange kitty, is a garden kitty that follows you and stands at your feet while you try to do anything.

Tigger, the orange kitty, is a garden kitty that follows you and stands at your feet while you try to do anything.

The big project that happened near the end of my trip was an earth house cellar so that the host could expand his prosciutto and sausage smoking operations by having a cool shed to store them in to age.

The earth bodega is made of chicken feed sacks full of lovingly hand shoveled dirt.

The earth bodega is made of chicken feed sacks full of lovingly hand shoveled dirt.

I came to the farm to learn butchering and smoking but it was mostly nonexistent or only handled by the hosts.  However he had to leave due to a family emergency and I stayed a few extra days to try my hand at smoking a ham.

My female host was afraid of the flamethrower and I was more than happy to oblige.  What could be more fun than lighting a barrel full of charcoal with a giant flamethrower?

My female host was afraid of the flamethrower and I was more than happy to oblige. What could be more fun than lighting a barrel full of charcoal with a giant flamethrower?

It turns out you still don’t need too many people to make hams and I’m terrible at heavy lifting so I was only useful in the beginning of the day.

My first tied ham.  Further proof you can just about learn how to do anything on YouTube.

My first tied ham. Further proof you can just about learn how to do anything on YouTube.

The hams sure did look nice at the end of the day though.

The hams sure did look nice at the end of the day though.

My cooking duties continued as well.

Although the pigs, dogs and kitties will all eat leftovers I still feel bad leaving them.  So instead I made leftover oatmeal cookies.  Interestingly, all the blogs with leftover oatmeal recipes for cookies involved huge 10+ children families, the very religious, or people who were gluten free.

Although the pigs, dogs and kitties will all eat leftovers I still feel bad leaving them. So instead I made leftover oatmeal cookies. Interestingly, all the blogs with leftover oatmeal recipes for cookies involved huge 10+ children families, the very religious, or people who were gluten free.

While most of my requests were American or things commonly found in America, left to my own devices, most things I eat are ethnic, heavily spiced, and saucy.

Chilaquiles made with red salsa and Doritos.  You do what you can.

Chilaquiles made with red salsa and Doritos. You do what you can.

And once I got done with all the pies and cookies, I got around to things I haven’t made in a while.

Secretly, I'm a five year old and like yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.  If only I had funfetti.

Secretly, I’m a five year old and like yellow cake with chocolate buttercream frosting. If only I had funfetti.

On my way out the other female volunteer and I got our homesick female host some Christmas ornaments.

Christmas in Ecuador means we get a Charlie Brown like Christmas tree wrapped in a leopard skin blanket.

Christmas in Ecuador means we get a Charlie Brown like Christmas tree wrapped in a leopard skin blanket.

And for myself, I fixed a Christmas present I wanted last year that was sold out.

Why buy a travel spice kit online when you can fashion one in your retiree town with a daily medicine holder?

Why buy a travel spice kit online when you can fashion one in your retiree town with a daily medicine holder?

After a month settled in, it felt weird to pack up again.  However after that break I’m ready to be moving again, to stop working and to explore.  Onwards to more adventure!

Not just the name of my favorite Cut Chemist song, it’s also the theme of my volunteering the past few weeks.  My first week on the farm the female host had gone on vacation leaving me quite a few cooking duties.  The altitude really messes with how fast liquids evaporate and how fast yeast works and that changes baking a bit.  After over a year of travel I’m quite pleased to have a kitchen to futz around and make a mess in.

When I was coming from the big city, I asked my host what he wanted.  All he said was bagels.  I didn't bring any but I made sure to bake a few batches.  This batch came out much nicer than the first.

When I was coming from the big city, I asked my host what he wanted. All he said was bagels. I didn’t bring any but I made sure to bake a few batches. This batch came out much nicer than the first.  We even had cream cheese here.

The hosts are American which meant my Thanksgiving was spent here, and for the second year in a row even out of the country, I had a feast.

IMG1027

Good ol’ American food. I even fried onions for the green bean casserole.

Although I’ve hosted Thanksgiving for over ten people, I’ve never had to cook for about six people every meal so leftovers disappeared faster than I’d like.  Some things had to be improvised as you can’t get everything in Ecuador, but I was quite pleased I had a turkey at all as opposed to my chickens and non working oven last year.

Moras, Andean blackberries, make a surprisingly almost cranberry like jelly.

Moras, Andean blackberries, make a surprisingly almost cranberry-like jelly.

Some things I made the next  day as leftovers is one of my favorite part of Thanksgiving.  My host’s request was a turkey egg noodle soup, which I happily obliged.

What is Thanksgiving without leftover sandwiches with jelly?

What is Thanksgiving without leftover sandwiches with jelly on squishy white bread?

Before I get ahead of myself though, we didn’t skip dessert.  Thanksgiving is nothing without the regret of too many plates as you stare down dessert, wondering what you can do since you’ve already unbuttoned your pants.

The world's tiniest apple for pies means the world's slowest pie filling to make.

The world’s tiniest apple for pies means the world’s slowest pie filling to make.

It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a pie. Perhaps the only downgrade from last year as someone made a fresh pumpkin pie, I had to settle for a just as American apple pie.

All butter crusts are just more delicious.

All butter crusts are just more delicious.

Three of the volunteers were not American and we explained traditions to them.  I explained that one was being uncomfortably full with seconds, thirds and maybe fourths.  In anticipation, I decided to hedge my drinking bets.

Turns out ginger beer is really easy to make.  Even the yeast in this worked faster than at sea level.

Turns out ginger beer is really easy to make. Even the yeast in this worked faster than at sea level.

One of the volunteers wanted to learn how to bake so I found a Barefoot Contessa recipe that was easy to do.  Everyone liked it so much I made one more during my time here.

Lemon yogurt cake moist with lemon syrup and glaze.

Lemon yogurt cake is never dry when it’s drenched with lemon syrup and glaze.

After bagels had gone so well I thought maybe my former bread curse had lifted and tried my hands at soft pretzels, which I used to do ok at back on sea level.

The first attempt was more bready but the second had a better crust.

The first attempt was more bready but the second had a better crust.

Sometimes I was just helping prep things for the farm or helped to preserve the large amount of vegetables getting harvested in the year round temperate weather.  There was such a variety that nothing really ever got old.

I've made multiple batches of pickled beets.  This board looks like a pixelated murder scene.

I’ve made multiple batches of pickled beets. This board looks like a pixelated murder scene.

Back to my favorite topic and most made dessert here! Pies luckily are not affected by altitude as bad as they lack rising agents.  Granted I’d only made a handful before coming here, I’d eaten enough to be very experienced.  I didn’t have very good luck with any crusts using lard or shortening though as they seemed to disintegrate while baking.  I’m not great at blind baking pie crusts yet I suppose but I did figured out using rice as pie weights is better than beans since you can still eat them afterwards and they taste great

The other people at the farm like my banana cream pie the best but I still think chocolate cream is my favorite.

The other people at the farm like my banana cream pie the best but I still think chocolate cream is my favorite.

One way around dough crusts is to make graham instead.  I couldn’t quite find those around here but found a similar honey bran cracker.  Sadly it still took me two attempts to make the crust.

This s'mores pie is as messy as it looks.

This s’mores pie is as messy as it looks.  So was trying to make marshmallows from scratch at altitude!  That alone took three tries.

The hosts like their American classics and I am more than happy to oblige, even if it is a tad more fat laden than I probably would cook alone.  Over time we’ve had tuna casseroles, sausage biscuits and gravy (one of my favorites), and multiple ham and bean soups.

A dish I haven't seen in years since I made it for a potluck, eggplant parmesan.

A dish I haven’t seen in years since I made it for a potluck: eggplant parmesan.

Although I do love American food, particularly Southern, I tend to cook a little more internationally on my own accord.  Here the spices lent themselves better to Mexican, Indian and Jamaican but I also snuck in a Chinese lettuce wrap made with cabbage leaves and orange chicken, except with broccoli and cauliflower by request of the hosts.  I’ve only ever made orange chicken twice now, always by request.  Not because I dislike gringo Chinese food, I just have other favorites.

My baking even extended to taking a whack at naan.

My baking even extended to taking a whack at naan.  It was ok but didn’t have the high heat necessary to really make it great.

While farm work has gotten progressively more intense, I’ve had less energy and pent up back logged dessert urges to get out.  I still made some of my favorites as they can be hard to find or just disappointing.  My chocaholism was full force and I made a chocolate yellow layer cake and some brownies just to alleviate that.  Otherwise it was a lot of pancakes and chocolate chip cookies made with leftover oatmeal from breakfast.

When in Ecuador, use their local Andean fruit.  When around British volunteers, enjoy pie and tea at elevenses.

When in Ecuador, use their local Andean fruit. When around British volunteers, enjoy pie and tea at elevenses.

Well, I still miss my kitchen greatly but this did help alleviate the stress of eating at restaurants on the road constantly and only eating pasta in hostels.  It is likely I did not need so many desserts, but at least my pants fit better now.  I’ve bought myself an old person travel medicine holder to grab some spices and I hope to continue this trend of cooking with flavor as I continue onwards.