Saturday, December 29, 2007

Monkey Palace

When A-Jeff got to Baeza and all of the introductions were done, the newly expanded Crosby family hoped back into the car. A few quick words on my new brother A-Jeff. He is a hilarious Peace Corps volunteer from Washington State and looks a lot like a cross between Alex and Napoleon Dynamite. In addition, he claims he´s completely cool with being compared to Napoleon Dynamite and that he´s heard it all before. He must be okay with that because he was totally cool with us renaming him A-Jeff so that he could have an A name like all the other Crosby kids!

So the road to Tena......still scary! And also still beautiful. What made this portion of the drive even more odd was being stopped by la policiá in the middle of a mountain rode. The police here have slightly larger guns than our cops. And by slightly larger I mean automatic weapons :) Long story short - the guy wanted to see Mom´s license and demanded to know who gave her (an American) the right to drive in Ecuador? The poor guy didn´t know what he was getting into when he dared question Mom. Andreita to the rescue again! She explained rapidly that the ¨Company Hertz¨, which of course he has never heard of, gives her the right to drive. She went on and on so that finally the cop just waved at her to shut up and said it was all okay. If I hadn´t already accepted A-Jeff into the family by that point, he sealed the deal when he came up with this brilliant question to Andrea - ¨Is that how you get what you want? Just don´t stop talking until they give in?¨

After a couple of hours filled with more pot holes, landslides, animals in the road and a car thick with sarcasm, we arrived in Tena to our first hostel - Yustoz II. It´s a fantastic place right on the river in the jungle. We had two rooms (boys and girls) and both had private bathrooms and you get a full hot breakfast in the morning. It´s a little pricey for the area at a whopping $10 a person but we felt it was worth it :) Our balcony overlooked the river and the view was amazing.

Also staying at the Hostel was the family of another Peace Corps Volunteer Jason who lives in Tena. His family was having Christmas in the Jungle (say that to the tune of GNR´s Welcome to the Jungle) and had been with Jason since 12.14. Jason meeting Mom was the first time it became evident that Toni is a Blog Stalker. She knows way too much about these guys and I think they´re a little weirded out. Wouldn´t you be if someone asked you about your new hammock (that you really did buy) but that you hadn´t mentioned? He looked at her like ¨why does she know this?¨ It´s because she is an Ecuadorian Peace Corps Volunteer blogs stalker. No big deal.

We all went and had cocktails at Jason´s favorite bar where we ran into some other Americans. Tena is popular for it´s kayaking and we met up with a Dartmouth student (can you say small world?) who had just come down on her own for few months to kayak. It´s pretty normal here for all of the Americans to offer assistance and a place to visit to others when they meet. However, here is where A-Jeff went a little wrong. Instead of introducing himself or saying hello first he comes out with something like this: ¨I live in (name of town known for kayaking). You can come stay with me if you want.¨ Weird A-Jeff! Mom tried to explain that even though Anna (the kayaker) was pretty, it´s not okay for the first thing you to say to a woman to be ´wanna come stay over´. Funny guy.

After drinks it was time for dinner. Jason´s family recommended the local pizza place so we went. Have I mentioned that by this point I really haven´t eaten yet? I had the flu right before coming and my stomach is still not 100%. Add the new (and weird) foods to it and there is nothing good that will happen. So I watched the family eat some pizza and we drank some beers. The beers were being brought over by one of the most beautiful girls we had seen yet. Of course, we do think it´s odd that a girl of about 7 was serving beers to gringos at 9pm but that´s fine. I asked her permission to take her picture ( I will post photos when possible) and she loved it. When she walked away Mom comes out with ¨Wanna come home with us to the States? I´ll send you to college.¨ This won´t read as funny as it was. Just know it´s hysterical to see Mom trying to bribe the local children to come home with her by offering them the ability to read and possibly go to school.

From dinner to bed for Toni and Angela. To the bars of Tena for A-Jeff, Andrea and Alex. Silly kids.

Breakfast is fantastic since I am still surviving on fresh juice and beer and there is plenty of fresh juice. The eggs looked so promising until I realized they smelled like fish. Alex will back me up on this - they really did smell like fish. We got directions from Jason to Misahualli which is a town just south where you can play with monkeys. I like to call it either Monkey Hawaii (if the town is correctly pronounced it sounds like Hawaii a bit) or Monkey Palace.

30 minutes later we pull up to a small town square and park. We get out of the car and are a little disappointed as we only see a couple of monkeys and people were telling us that this place was awesome and to be careful because the monos (spanish for monkey and what the coastal Ecuadorians are called so Andreita es una mona) can swarm you and will try and steal your stuff. All it took was a few minutes of us trying to engage the two monkeys we saw for more and more to jump out of nowhere. There were tons of monos and they were so fun! Alex had a big one jump right up onto his shoulder and a baby was playing with my legs trying to get into my cargo pockets. Then a monkey jumped on my head which was awesome and everyone was snapping photos. I had no idea the little mono was playing Oliver Twist and really was causing a diversion so he could go through my purse! The little brat took my pack of cigarettes. I know I shouldn´t have them and I know it´s my fault for not having a zippered bag but it was also hilarious! He ran up into the tree with a half pack of Marlboro Menthol Lights and started ripping all of the filters off and throwing them down to the ground. What a brat!

At the square we hooked up with a covered canoe ride down the jungle river to a local animal and medicinal plant reserve. The canoe ride was awesome and the man drove us right to the stairs cut into the muddy banks. At the reserve we had an amazing woman walk us around and show us all of the animals and explain the culture to us. The only bummer was that she spoke no English at all and Andrea is sometimes a space cadet so we didn´t get all that much back in English. The guide would speak for about two minutes explaining a traditional trap, how it´s used, what it´s made of, etc. and then Andrea would turn to Mom and say something like ¨It´s a trap for a fish¨. At the reserve was saw: Monkeys (which we held), an animal that is like an ant eater, crocodiles (we touched the baby one), a giant water turtle (that they keep tied to a rope they have drilled through his shell and they pull him up onto the bank to show people), small turtles that we held and a beautiful Ocelot. In addition, we learned about lots of plants, indigenous housing and tools. It was very cool.

We canoed back to the plaza - did I mention it was a canoe with a motor? Fantastic. We played with the monos some more and then we had lunch in a great restaurant on the edge of the plaza. The monos where even there! While waiting for our lunch a monkey came right into the restaurant, ran up to the door of the kitchen and stole a bag of bread they had. The (very) little old lady came running out and called them thieves. Hilarious.

More to come. I must run and have my Birthday breakfast. Did I mention I´m even older today?

Now the Crosbys are REALLY in Ecuador!

I would have to blog several times a day to come close to capturing everything we have experiencecd. There is no way to do it. So here is all that I have to say right this second. I promise to add to it when I have more time and a head that isn´t full of EVERYTHING!

We wake up in Quito to a (typical) cloudy day and a desire to see the city. A short taxi ride to the tourist district and we arrive at the Magic Bean. A fantastic place for breakfast. Three Huervos Rancheros and an ¨Egg McSandwich¨ were fantastic. It was also our first experience with the fresh juice that is rampant in Ecuador. Does it really get better than fresh juice? Not in Quito (read that as their food is no good). The best part of the Magic Bean? They were playing Blues Travelers' ¨Sweet Pain¨. Pretty Cool to me.

Peace Corps offices - see previous post.

Andrea then decided that she should pick up the package that Tom had sent to her. Apparently picking up a package is a serious process for her. It literally involves going to the Post Office, then the bank and then back to the Post Office after paying the decided value of the package. Note to all of Andrea´s loved ones - NEVER declare a value when you send her something. Ecuador has some crazy rules - it´s okay for them to charge her up to $300 for a package. Weird and wrong. Luckily, Andrea has a canny ability to talk the Ecuadorians into anything. She wears them out. Honestly, she sometimes wears me out! By the way, when she dealt with the package (which she LOVED Tom!) she dropped us off at a large fruit market (see pictures when we post them).

So the REAL adventure starts here - the Teleferico in Quito. Think the gondola at Loon but way less secure and no snow to cover the jagged mountainside and no Dad to talk Mom out of her extreme fear of heights. The ride was so amazing - I´ve never been at 10,000 feet before - and you could see the entire Northern part of Quito.

So when we got to the top and stepped out Toni declared that she would never step foot in the Teleferico again and that there must be another way down. Andreita went into action. She spotted a service truck and asked the men whether or not they could drive us down the mountain. They were so confused by the statement and asked if Toni needed a medic. She tried to explain that Mom wasn´t sick but that there was no way she was riding down the mountain again. A couple of beers (see my eventual ode to Pilsener) and some ¨sandwiches¨ later, and we hopped into the old truck with two locals and headed down the mountain.

Andrea will tell you - the trip was amazing! Hundreds of dogs happily ran beside us as we bumped along the mountain rode and drove through the town of 80 in a Fantastic Voyage. We saw so much and the driver put up with all of my broken Spanish questions.

Dinner at an all-you-can-eat Tapas and Vino restaurant in the ¨tourist¨ section of town. The best part? Alex saying this: ¨When do the all you can eat tacos start?¨ Funny. By the way - the tapas are nasty.

The day ends there - we go back to the hotel and pass out. Well, Mom and I passed out and Alex and Andrea went to the Casino. By the way - I got my first sun burn on the first day. It was a sweet v-neck burn. And, it was cloudy.

Taxi ride to the airport - we have started passing out Starbursts as tips (with our tips) and they LOVE it! Rented a car - terrible Hertz experience. I will not expand now but ask a Crosby before you rent a car in Ecuador. We´ll give you the down and dirty of the rental car experience!

A trip to the Super Maxi...Get your mind out of the gutter - it´s a grocery store. We stocked up on water and snacks.

Drive to Tena through crazy Mountains and Parámus - tons of horses and cows. Beautiful. Then it turned to landslides and fog. So weird to be driving through. Did I mention that Andreita grabbed a bus in Quito for us to follow out to Tena? A hilarious and great idea. The bus driver was fantastic and even used his turn signals to let us know what was happening.

We stopped for lunch and a drink in Baeza where we also met up with A-Jeff Dynamite.

Enough said for now....I will finish with that cliff hanger later because there is a poor guy begging to use the free Internet here at the best Hostel ever. You´ll have to wait to learn more - we didn´t get here until 12.28.07 and I have so much more to say.

Catch up with you at the next free internet place!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

We rode the trolly - Our first success!

We are officially in Quito! To be more specific, we are at the Peace Corps offices using their "high-speed" Internet to post our first Ecuadorian blog.

We arrived last night after circling Quito for an hour - apparently you can't land in the middle of the mountains when the whole area is covered in fog! Luckily, our pilot landed perfectly - and we clapped! No joke, the Latinas love to clap when the plan lands. And Alex and I were happy it landed!

We arrived to find Andreita waiting for us just outside of customs - perfect! After a harrowing taxi ride through the deserted streets of Quito - we made it to the Hilton Colon. Here's an example of just how scary the taxi ride was:

"Does red mean stop here?" - Toni

Not according to the taxi driver. The good news is that the drivers today have been much better! They don't drive like insane people when there are others around.

So we have had breakfast - Huevos Rancheros of course and FRESH juice - so good! Now we have stopped here at the offices and we're off to a market and possible tram ride up the foggy mountains. Who cares what we do? It's all so new and fun! She could tell us that we were going to a funeral next and we'd think it's cool!

Andrea looks happy and healthy. She is covered in freckles but that's to be expected when you sleep next to the sun! We would like to point out that she can't speak English very well anymore - perhaps that's why her blogs are hard to read :)

We're off! We'll post again when we're next near a computer!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Best Gift Ever

By the best gift ever I am not referring to the Dominos pizza I am about to go eat in celebration of Christmas. I am referring to my family arriving tonight. I just got to Quito from Tabuga via a night bus. I have mastered the bus sleeping even though I often wake up with bruises on my knees because these 34" inseem legs just don't fit on Ecua-buses. I was worried about my family and the bus situation so I convinced Toni to rent a car. After 11 months at the mercy of bus drivers I am so incredibly excited to be with my family and have the freedom to do what we want. We can stop when we want pictures of waterfalls or when said 'travelers diarrhea' hits too hard. Following is the rough itinerary of the Crosbys in Ecuador adventure. I hope this country is ready for us all together!

Tuesday December 25th - 9:45pm Toni, Angela and Alex arrive
Wednesday December 26th - Spend the day in Quito, visit the Peace Corps office
Thursday December 27th - Rent a car and head to the jungle, Tena
Friday, Saturday December 28th and 29th - Meet up with Susan and Jeremy King in Puyo
Sunday December 30th - Happy Birthday Angela - Celebrating by driving to the coast
Monday - Friday January 4th - Tabuga time and lots of fun different adventures
Friday January 4th - Head back to Quito
Saturday January 5th - Head to Otavalo - the big famous market in Ecuador
Sunday January 6th - Spend the day together before Toni, Angel and Alex head state side

Well, it's time for me to treat myself to some pizza. Merry Christmas from Ecuador!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Beaver Meadow 3rd Graders Get it Done!

We're not kidding. The Beaver Meadow 3rd graders don't mess around when it comes to their Service Project - They take it Global!

When the Beaver Meadow students heard that their favorite librarian Mrs. Crosby was going to Ecuador over Christmas to visit their favorite Peace Corps. Volunteer Andrea Crosby, they decided to include the students of Ecuador into their annual Service Project. One month later, through the generosity of the entire Beaver Meadow Community, there are 3 large bags full of school supplies, games and toys for the students of Tabuga packed and ready to travel with us to Tabuga!

Andrea is no stranger to Beaver Meadow and its students. She spent a day in January talking to the them and answering their questions about the Peace Corps. and the people of Ecuador. Since leaving in February, she has been in regular contact with the students via emails with Toni. The students send questions about what Andrea's doing and she, in turn, writes back on a (fairly) regular basis to answer them.

This year the 3rd grade took their Service Project up a notch and went global. Since they had been learning so much about Tabuga and the students there, they decided to donate needed supplies. Students like Jon and Lillian (photo above) from Barbara Willis' 3rd grade class donated school supplies like markers, pens, pencils and other fun things. The Jump Rope Club even got involved and donated 50 new jump ropes. How generous!

The Service Project was such as success we're not sure we're going to be able to carry it all! However, I'm sure we'll find a way to manage :)

We're spending the day today eating a big family dinner (even Alex just showed up!) and packing everything up. Toni has managed to get all of the gifts for Tabuga into the bags. Now we just need to figure out just what we're going to pack and find a way to fit it into the bags we have left. I can't believe we're less than two days away. We're all very excited. Andrea, if you're reading this get ready, we're coming!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Yellow Card You Want to Have

Most of you know I'm not the most athletic of the Crosbys. That being said, I've watched enough sports to know that Yellow Cards are not good. However, there is a yellow card that you want - it's to show the World Health Organization that you are not a carrier for some sort of crazy disease. I don't know if any of you have seen I am Legend, but after seeing that flick, I want every vaccine out there :)

Do you know how many diseases there are in Ecuador? Lots is the answer according to the Center for Disease Control. I thought I had paid a lot of attention to Andrea right before she left. I know she went to the doctor's a few times, had some fiasco with the dentist paperwork and that she agonized over how to pack for the next two years. How did I miss the immunization process? I had no idea there was so much involved in a simple trip to South America!

First you have to get an appointment with a Travel Clinic. This in itself can be an arduous task. Mom and Alex were able to get an appointment together at Dartmouth Hitchcock and I traveled to the Infectious Disease clinic in Nashua. Apparently there is a shortage of appointments available and doctors willing to provide the shots! I was told that DH only provides travel clinic appointments on Thursdays from 1-5. Lame. The good news is that the two clinics said we needed the same vaccines. The sad news is that intramuscular shots hurt!

So now we have been appropriately vaccinated against Typhoid, Yellow Fever and Hepatitis. In addition, we're all carrying prescriptions for antibiotics such as Cipro and drugs to help with things like altitude sickness and "travelers diarrhea" which is somehow different from regular diarrhea!

It's becoming "crunch" time. Just 7 days until we meet up with Andrea! Time for us to get our lists finalized and our bags packed. I'll update you all on the Chaos that is our planning process shortly!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Let the Blogging Begin!

We're off to Ecuador in less than three weeks - it's hard to believe. I have been planning this trip since almost the day Andrea left and now it really is almost here. Crazy!

Toni and I have been bouncing around the idea of starting a blog to record our adventures and finally I have taken the plunge. We want everyone to see all of the amazing things Andrea has already done in Ecuador and the things she is helping her community to achieve. Plus, we want to be able to record our amazing adventure as Toni, Andrea, Alex and I travel throughout the country of Ecuador.

I also want to make sure we highlight the wonderful contributions that the students at Beaver Meadow Elementary School are making to the children of Ecuador. More specifically, providing games, toys and school supplies to the children of Tabuga which is Andrea's tribe in Ecuador. Toni has been sharing Andrea's Peace Corps. experience with the Beaver Meadow students and they in turn, have been learning and studying about the Country of Ecuador and its people.

I'll be uploading photos soon and promise to get our itinerary published. There is lots to see and do in Ecuador and Andrea has made a lot of good friends there. We promise to show you all that we can!