Archive for the Uncategorized Category

1 year, 16 countries, and countless memories

Posted in Uncategorized on May 22, 2011 by jessicaoneill


I thought that I would tie up my “Thoughts from my Box” blog with some final thoughts…. These are in no particular order just some things I have learned, experienced and enjoyed while I was traveling and wanted to share.

Top Cities I visited:

1) Byron Bay, Australia  

Byron Bay, Australia

2) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
3) Cape Town, South Africa
4) Vancouver, Canada 
5) Portland, Oregon
6) Florence, Italy

7) Vernazza, Italy

Vernazza, Italy

) Barcelona, Spain

Best Activities:

1) Hiking Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain in South Africa

2) Canyoning in Wanaka, New Zealand
3) Sunset Cruise and white water rafting down the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
4) Glacier Hike in Franz Josef, New Zealand

Hiking the glacier in Franz Josef, NZ

5) Blending our own wine in Stellenbosh, South Africa 

Erin and I with the wine we made in Stellenbosh, South Africa

6) Surfing in Bali, Indonesia
7) Caving in Waitomo, New Zealand
 ) Bungy Jumping in Queenstown, New Zealand 

Bungy jumping in Queenstown, NZ

9) Hiking to a beautiful waterfall in Pacific Harbour, Fiji

Beautiful waterfall hike in Fiji

10) Kayaking with dolphins in Byron Bay, Australia

Kayaking with dolphins in Byron Bay, Australia

11) Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia 

Snorkeling at great Barrier Reef

12) Playing with the kangaroos and holding the koala in Brisbane, Australia

Playing with the kangaroos in Brisbane, Australia

Holding a koala in Brisbane, Australia

13) Sand Boarding in Fiji

Sand Boarding in Fiji

14) Hiking Tongariro Crossing in New Zealand 

Hiking Tongariro Crossing in NZ

15) Digging hot pool at Hot Water Beach in New Zealand 

Digging pool at Hot Water Beach in NZ

16) Horseback riding in Menorca, Spain

Horseback riding in Menorca, Spain

17) Swimming with Manta rays on Mantaray Island in Fiji

Swimming with Mantarays in Fiji

18) White water kayaking and white water rafting in Tena, Ecuador
19) Going to a bull fight in Madrid, Spain

Bullfighting in Madrid, Spain

20) Cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand

Cooking class in Chang Mai, Thailand


Prettiest Places:

1) Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka, New Zealand

2) Menorca, Spain
3) Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Swiss Alps (Rockers-de-Naye) and Geneva Lake

4) Gili Islands, Indonesia
5) West Coast of New Zealand (when it’s not raining)

West Coast of New Zealand

6) Ko Tao, Thailand
7) Quilatoa crater Quilatoa, Ecuador

Quilatoa crater, Ecuador


Most Intriguing places:

1) Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

2) Cinque Terre, Italy
3) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Me and the tortoise on the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

4) Civita de Bagnoregio, Italy

Civita di Bognoregio, Italy

5) Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

6) Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

7) Machu Picchu, Peru

Machu Picchu, Peru



Most Entertaining places:

1) Queenstown and Abel Tasman, New Zealand 
2) Tena, Ecuador 
3) Byron Bay, Australia 
4) Rome, Italy

Best Beaches:

1) Lagos, Portugal

Lagos, Portugal

2) Menorca, Spain
3) Ko Tao, Thailand
4) Byron Bay, Australia 
5) Bali, Indonesia 
6) Coogee Beach and Bondi Beach, Australia

Bondi Beach, Australia

7) Tortuga Bay, Santa Cruz Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Tortuga Bay, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Worst Experiences:

1) Being hospitalized in Jakarta, Indonesia
2) Taking the bus to and from the city of Johannesburg, South Africa 
3) Spending the night on the rocky beach in Ventimiglia, Italy when I couldn’t find a room to stay in

Ventimiglia, Italy (the beach I spen the night on)

4) Saying goodbye to all the amazing friends I have met along the way

Me and my friends Justin and John in Tena, Ecuador


Me and my friend Samia in Tena, Ecuador

5) Having diarrhea while hiking Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru 

Best Party Places:

1) Ko Tao, Thailand
2) Mango Bay, Fiji
3) Marahau, New Zealand
4) Cairns, Australia
5) Lagos, Portugal

Best Experiences:

1) World Cup in South Africa

World Cup stadium in Durban, South Africa

2) Elephant Nature Park in Thailand

Feeding the elephants in Thailand

3) Renting a camper van with my friend Greg all over the South Island of New Zealand

Camper van in New Zealand

4) Watching the world cup final (Spain vs. Netherlands) in Madrid, Spain with my best friend Erin

World Cup Final in Madrid, Spain

5) Volunteering as a Speech Language Pathologist for special needs children in Tena, Ecuador
6) Hot and Cold Pools in Rotorua, New Zealand

Bathing in the thermal pools in Rotorua, New Zealand

7) Playing with the 9 month old White Siberian Tigers in South Africa

9 month old white siberian tiger in South Africa

) Safari in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Safari in South Africa

Safari in South Africa

9) Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru




Worst Cities:

1) Johannesburg, South Africa
2) Bangkok, Thailand
3) Suva, Fiji; 



Best Sunsets:

1) Bali, Indonesia

Kuta Beach sunset, Bali, Indonesia

2) Kaikoura, New Zealand

Sunset in Kaikoura, New Zealand

3) Nadi, Fiji

Sunset in Nadi, Fiji

4) Mantaray Island, Fiji

Sunset at Mantaray Island

5) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe




Crazy Things I’ve eaten:

1) Spider in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Fried Spider I ate in Cambodia

2) Cow intestine (juatita), cow tongue, cow hoof and skin soup in Tena, Ecuador
3) Zebra in Johannesbug, South Africa
4) Ostrich in South Africa 
5) Drank cava in Fiji
6) Hospital food Jakarata, Indonesia

hospital food in Jakarta, Indonesia

7) Cuy (guinea pig) in Cuenca, Ecuador

Cuy (Guinea Pig) in Cuenca, Ecuador

Best Food:

1) Noodle soup in Ko Tao, Thailand
2) Pad Thai in Bangkok, Thailand
3) Truffle Pasta in Vernazza, Italy
4) Seafood Platter in Cape Town South Africa

Seafood platter in South Africa

5)Meat Pies in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji
6) Green Shelled Mussels in Marahau, New Zealand

Green mussels that we picked in Marahau, NZ

Hostess with the most:

1) Aimee-Noel Hartley and Mpho in Cape Town, South Africa

Aimee-Noel and Mpho in South Africa

2) Zita O’Neill in Auckland, New Zealand
3) Colleen and Peter in Rotorua, New Zealand
4) Robyn Crisford in Marahau, New Zealand

Me and Robyn in NZ

5) Rose and Margaret in Wellington, New Zealand
6) Jess O’Rourke and Simon in Invecargill, New Zealand 
7) Omid Mashhadi in Lausanne, Switzerland
) Court and Brian Hoyt in Santee, California
9) Mom and Dad in North Vancouver, Canada

“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”


Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Taxis and Buses

Posted in Uncategorized on May 13, 2011 by jessicaoneill

My last week in Peru was definitely filled with adventure.   Me and my 2 friends were on the go the whole time.  We spent 2 days traveling to the small islands on Lake Titicaca. 

Floating Islands of Lake Titicaca

This lake is the highest navigable lake in the world and is home to Peru on one side and Bolivia on the other.  We took a boat to some manmade islands called the Uros Islands. 

Floating Islands and Lake Titicaca

These were little islands that the local people make out of the reeds in the water.  They tie them together and then build little villages on them.  We had a little history lesson about the culture and how the islands were made. 

Our history lesson about how the small islands are made.

They last about 20 years and the families are always making new islands so they will have somewhere to move to when needed. 

After the tour of the manmade islands we went to a natural island in the lake where we spent the night with a local family.  The family was great.  There was a husband and wife in who were 32 and they had 2 children. 

Sonja - the host mom we stayed with

We stayed in their house and they cooked us 3 meals. 

The very basic kitchen they cooked all their meals in.

It was a really nice experience and I was able to practice my Spanish a bit.  While we were there, we hiked up the highest hill on the island and we wanted the sunset. 

Sunset view from the tallest mountain on the island

The next morning we went on a tour of another island before heading back to the mainland.

View from the highest mountain on the island

Once back on the mainland we caught a night bus (which was supposed to be 10 hrs but turned into 14 hrs) towards the coast.  We were headed to a town called Ica. 

Town of Ica which is in the middle of the desert

We got to Ica after a dreadfully long night on the least comfortable bus possible and were pleasantly surprised and more than elated by the amazing sunshine, beautiful blue pool and pool side bar.

Our pool right next to the sand dunes Right behind the hostel were these massive sand dunes where you could go sandboarding. The hostel also had cute parrots that hung around the pool all day. Me and the parrots.

Ica is a well known region for wine and Pisco making, so we figured “When in Rome…” right.  Off we went to try some wine and Pisco.  I learned that although I love wine, I do not love Pisco.  It is really strong and there is actually a strategy the locals use to drink it. Take in a deep breath while smelling the Pisco, hold your breath, take the shot, swish it around your mouth for a second or two, swallow and then breath out.  Although this strategy makes it more palatable, it still didn’t do it for me, I think I’ll stick to beer, crown, rum, vodka and everything else!  But for all of you who have tried it let me know what you think. 

This is the bamboo stick they use to get the wine/pisco out of the vats and into your glass.

We decided to spend 2 nights at this hostel relaxing and soaking up the sun rather than rushing to Lima to hangout in a big city.  Little did we know that there was going to be a massive strike that would not allow us to easily take the bus to Lima which was our final destination……

Before we found out what kind of adventure we were in for...

We had bought tickets on the 9th for a bus to take us to Lima at 6:00pm on the 10th.  We would spend one night in Lima and then have all day on the 11th to check out the city before our flights late that night.  We arrived at the bus station to find out that there was a strike and two of the roads the bus needed to take to get to Lima were closed.  They told us that we could wait it out and possibly the strike would end and the roads would open, but they couldn’t be sure as to when this would happen, maybe 1 hour maybe a few days.  So we waited…..and we waited….and we waited.  At this point we had claimed our territory on the floor of the bus station to which it seemed most people were a tad bit jealous.  About 15 other people and us ended up spending the night in the bus station since we didn’t want to lose our spots on the next possible bus to Lima.

At 5:00 am the bus station re-opened and a whole new slew of people came to the station to discover that they too were not getting to Lima that day.  We had heard that we could possibly take a taxi to where the road was closed and walk 2 Km across, then catch another taxi to the next road block, then walk again, and then catch a bus to Lima.  We had heard mixed thoughts about whether this was safe.  I guess everyone has a different definition of “safe”.  Some said that they were burning things and throwing fire and rocks at cars/buses/people who tried to cross, while others shrugged it off as just another nuisance on the main road.    We debated and kept asking around before finally making a decision.  We had stopped some police officers and asked their opinion about 3 gringas with 20 kilo backpacks walking across the strike zone.  They said “it’s more or less safe”.  At this point a Peruvian woman came by to talk with the police and she said that she had decided to walk if we wanted to go with her.  After a lot of talk and deliberation we decided to take on the adventure since we weren’t able to switch our flights and we would at least have a local with us.   

So the adventure began.  We got in the first or many cabs.  About 10 minutes into the drive we got a flat tire. 

The first mishap...a flat tire.

So we had to pull over and get it fixed.  I am pretty sure that in a first world county if the tire needs to be patched 3 times and has already been patched ~10 times, they would likely just get a new tire.  Nope, not in Peru.  So after the cab driver made us pay upfront (so that he could pay for the tire repair) we were back on the road.  We drove for about an hour before hitting the first road block.  As soon as we all got out and picked up our bags the cab driver told us to pick up a rock “just in case”. 

The only picture I could get of the police in the streets with guns, shields and helmets.


Thank goodness that at exactly that moment a nice man pulled over and asked us if we wanted to ride with him because he was “pretty sure” he could drive around the road block.  It would take 1 ½ hrs but we wouldn’t have to walk.  So we all jumped in.  We literally drove through the desert in some of the worst looking parts of the world I have ever seen where poor families were trying to make a few extra soles (Peruvian dollars). 

The mud swamps we had to drive through during the road blocks

They would set up their own road blocks complete with massive boulders, wood and burning tires and make us pay to get though.  Some held machetes for increased intimidation (didn’t get a picture of this) and told us to pay more if they didn’t like what we were originally offering.

This was the horrible desert we drove through. I can't believe people live out here.

We finally made it through this and came to yet another road block which we thought would be our last.  We thought we would be able to walk across and get on a bus to Lima.  But turns out they had decided to set up yet another strike zone (we later found out that it was the cotton production workers that were striking to make more money).  So off we went to find another taxi to take us around the road block and to the next city where we could catch a bus.  This leg lasted about 1 hour and the car was barely big enough for all 4 of us (plus the driver) not to mention the 15-20 kilo bags we each had.  It was a long 1 hour to say the least.  We finally made it to the next town at 3:00pm – just in time as we found out that the last bus to Lima was leaving at 3:20 pm.  We bought our tickets and hopped on.  We rode this to the bus station and at this point we had 30 soles left between the 3 of us.  We found a taxi driver who was willing to take us to the Lima airport for this amount of money and we were golden.  So 26 hours after we thought we were supposed to leave it felt really nice to finally make it to our destination. 

A few hours to chill out and relax in the airport before boarding a flight to LAX.  I arrived in LAX and took the bus to the train station, where I caught the train to San Diego.  All in all my return to North America took me 43 hours, may not have been the safest,  but what an adventure it was and now I am chilling out and relaxing with friends.   

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“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”

Machu Poochu

Posted in Uncategorized on May 7, 2011 by jessicaoneill

I am now in Peru.  I left Tena, Ecuador on April 24th.  My plan was to leave early in the morning of the 25th since my flight wasn’t until that evening.  But I found out on the morning of the 24th that there was going to be a transit strike throughout Ecuador on the 25th and therefore, I needed to pack up all of my stuff and catch the bus to Quito a day early.

I arrived into Lima late in the night and met up with one of my friends.  It was a short stay as we caught an early morning flight to Cusco. 

We hiked up what felt like a billion stairs to get this picture

My first sight in Cusco was a public bathroom and I can confidently say that by the end of my time there I had probably seen them all!  I thought I was struggling with symptoms of altitude sickness…I later found out I wasn’t.

Check out these ladies

I was picked up at 4:00am on the morning of the 27thto start my 4 day Inca Trail Hike.  Since I hadn’t taken the typical few days to get acclimated to the altitude, was the only one in my group without my own porter,  and I hadn’t really done much training for the hike in the past year of traveling, the hike sort of kicked my ass but I still managed to finish each day at the front of the group.  On top of that I continued to have what I thought were “symptoms” of altitude sickness. 

The start of the Inca Trail

The hike itself was beautiful.  There were 9 of us hiking, 16 porters, 1 chef and 2 guides in our group.  There were 2 other people in the group whom I really enjoyed and spent most of the days hiking with them.  One man in our group was asked to turn around and go back at lunch on the first day because they were scared he was going to have a heart attack, but he chose not to, which impacted the rest of the group for the rest of the hike.  Then a girl twisted her knee and again it was suggested that she go back, but she also chose not to, so she had to be carried by a porter for the last 2 days.  We started most mornings at 5:00 (except out last which we started at 3:30 am), ate lunch at midday and then had dinner at about 6:00 pm.  I was still not feeling well at all and was in my tent by 7:30 – 8:00 each night.

The highest altitude that we hiked to was 4215 meters and then once we made it there it started to rain. 

Me in my poncho in the 15 mins of rain we had on our hike

Apart from that 15 minutes of rain we had stunning weather the entire time.  It got very cold at night, but was usually sunny and warm during the days. 

Highest point on the hike

Once we reached the highest peak we then had to hike down 3000 uneven steps, all I kept thinking was thank god we don’t have to walk UP these!

Beautiful view on our 2nd day of hiking

On our fourth day we made it to Machu Picchu and it was stunning.  Machu Picchu (pronounced pik chu) means “Old Mountain” not to be mistaken for the typical Gringo pronunciation Machu Pi chu which means “Old Penis”.  We had a 2 hour tour from our guide and then had some free time to explore on our own.

Another beautiful view on our 3rd dayMachu Picchu

  I took some pictures and relaxed in the sun for awhile before taking the bus down to the town of Aguas Calientes where I met up with my two friends – Elyse and Delene.

From Aguas Calientes we had to take a train to Ollantaytambo but before the train we had some time to hit up the happy hour which was a 4 for 1 deal.  This made for a fun train ride.  We arrived to our hostel to find that they had given away our room.  We eventually got a room across the street but not only did it not have hot water but it also didn’t have toilet paper, something in which I was in great need of.  Let’s just say it was not the best night of my life.

We spent the next day at a market a little outside of town and came back to find that once again the hostel had given away our room that we had reserved that morning.  We got lucky and found a nice hotel with hot water, toilet paper, wifi and towels!  It was a better night.  In the morning we caught a bus to Cusco where I needed to drop off the sleeping bag I had rented and pick up the rest of my belongings I didn’t want to lug up the mountain.  I also decided that since I had not been well for 6 straight days that I should seek some medical attention.  I went to the clinic and got not only a blood test but also a stool sample which showed that I had a bad case of Typhoid.  I am now on 14 days of strong antibiotics and trying to keep down anything I can.  I guess I didn’t have symptoms of altitude sickness after all! 

Today we took a 7 hour bus ride to Puno on Lake Titicaca which was supposed to have amazing views, none of which we saw because all the people on the bus closed the curtains so that the sun wouldn’t shine on them and make them hot!  I am sure it was beautiful though. 

Here is a slideshow of pictures if you want to check them out. 

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“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”



Posted in Uncategorized on April 8, 2011 by jessicaoneill

I have just spent 2 weeks in the Galapagos Islands.  I originally went to the island of San Cristobal to teach English as a volunteer for a month.  When I got there the organization was not what I had expected and it turned out that all the children were on summer break and didn’t come for English classes, so I ended up changing my plans to only stay 2 weeks.  Instead of teaching I had that chance to explore both San Cristobal as well as 3 other islands. 

One day on San Cristobal I went to the largest fresh water lake in the Galapagos.

Biggest fresh water lake on all the Galapagos Islands

I also went to see some tortoises and then to a beautiful beach to surf. 

Pretty beach on San Cristobal where I went surfing with Mantarays.

I then went on a 4 day tour to Santa Cruz, Floreana and Isabella Islands.  These islands were beautiful and I saw some amazing wildlife.  On the tour we went to hike a volcano which was really nice.  We also saw the “Wall of Tears” which is a massive wall that was built by prisoners for no other reason than to keep them busy. 

Wall of Tears

I am not sure what to write about the islands so I am just going to post a slide show for all of you to look at. 

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“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”


Middle of the World and in Search of Blue Footed Boobies

Posted in Uncategorized on March 30, 2011 by jessicaoneill

On my last full day in Quito I decided to head to the middle of the world.  Yup!  Literally the middle of the world! 

The monument that may or may not be in the middle of the world!

This massive tourist attraction is only 13.5 Km from Quito, but it takes about 1.5 hr to get there by public transit.  This little city is the smallest tourist, cultural, scientific and commercial city in all of Ecuador. 

This equatorial monument got its name because its pyramid design has four monoliths aiming to each cardinal point and lies on the equatorial line with 0 – 0’0” latitude. 


The equator goes through several countries, however there is only one country named after it: “The Republic of Ecuador”.  The interesting part about this monument is that apparently it isn’t right on the equator.  I guess there was one landmark placed hundreds of years ago and it was off by a couple hundred feet so then a couple of decades ago this was put up indicating the real equator line, but I guess it is still off a bit. 

Behind this cute little gated city is another unique museum.  It also claims to be the real equator line.  Who knows which one is correct.  But this little museum was pretty cool and you got to see a few things.  Such as water swirling clockwise, counter clockwise and straight down depending on which side of the equator the sink was on.  I also got to balance an egg on a nail which apparently can only be done on the equator!  It was fun stuff.

Balancing egg trick

Friday morning I got up and headed to the airport as I was off on my next adventure.  This time one month on the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos Islands. 

The view from the malacon in San Cristobal

I was met at the airport by the organizer of the school I will be volunteering for.  I was supposed to be staying with a home stay family but instead I am staying in a house with another volunteer from Holland.  The house is pretty nice but needs a bit of TLC. 

My house

The inside of the house

On Saturday all the other volunteers and I decided to head to one of the beaches on the island.  It is a little bit outside of town, so we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves.  It was incredible. 

underwater beauty

 I was able to go snorkeling with massive sea turtles and even saw a small sting ray hiding in the sand. 

Amazing Sea Turtle

Another Sea Turtle

There were sea lions playing in the water with us and massive iguanas basking in the sun on the hot rocks. 

Massive iguana

The place was just stunning.  I couldn’t believe that there was that much to see in one little area.

Sea LionSea Lion playing with the PelicanAwesome and massive cool red crab

Sea Lions are literally everywhere on the island.

I came to San Cristobal because I was going to teach English.  I was told I would be teaching 7-16 year olds and that I would be working from 3-7pm every week day.  Well once I got here I found out that the students are on summer break and will not be coming to classes until April 11th.  So instead of teaching we have been painting the classroom and getting it ready for when the kids come back.  But in between this work we have found time to make it to the beach to soak up some of the sun and jump in the sea to escape the intense sun and humidity. 

“Toes in the water, ass in the sun…Life is good today”

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Chao Tena

Posted in Uncategorized on March 23, 2011 by jessicaoneill

Not too many exciting and interesting things to report on but thought I would update you all on my last 3 weeks on the mainland of Ecuador. 

At the hospital I did a lot more education with the nursing staff and dietician regarding dysphagia (swallowing disorders) in both children and adult populations.  It was a lot of fun and interesting to see the different obstacles that people in Tena have that we don’t. 

One of the children with macrocephaly and our awesome Physcial Therapist

 I was also able to see a 75 year old stroke patient at a nearby hospital.  Again, things we take for granted, this family had never even been educated on. 

All of the children and therapists put their hand or foot print on the wall.

One night my host father invited me and some friends to his house for karaoke. 

Samia and I singing "Losing my Religion" - there is a limited number of English songs!

Ecuadorians take karaoke to a whole new level.  Many people have karaoke machines in their houses and other who don’t go to the numerous karaoke bars all around town. 

Me dancing with Willi

People sing while others dance and drink.  It’s pretty fun and a lot more serious than karaoke in the USA.  They all have the same machine that scores you after you have performed.  If you get a perfect 100% at the bar, you get a free beer!  They even convinced me to sing and I scored a 93%!

4 of the 7 grandkids of my host family at karaoke night

On my second to last weekend in Tena my friend Jamie (who is a rafting guide) offered up his day off to take me and some of my friend rafting down the river.  It was a beautiful day and we had a lot of fun.  Sorry again no pictures.  I should have bought a waterproof camera!

Some friends and I went out for dinner at the nicest restaurant in Tena one night (I say nicest, but the most expensive thing on the menu is like 12.00$) and I decided to invite my host family as well, all 8 of them.  We had a good dinner and got to take some pictures of the sloths that live in the restaurant. 

Oso Perezoso

Yes, these ugly looking creatures live in the restaurant.  In Spanish they are called Oso Perezosos (lazy bears).  They sleep for 22 hours a day, but we were lucky enough to be able to catch them when they were awake and moving around. 

Another sloth

Anyway, at the end of dinner the bill came.  Me and my friends all put in money for our share and then waited, and waited, and waited.  We couldn’t understand why the family wasn’t picking up the cheque to look and see how much they owed.  Finally one of my friends said that we had put in our share and we were just waiting for them to put in theirs so that we could all leave.  Well then things turned awkward.  They all scrounged for enough money to put it in.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a wealthy family in Tena and they could afford the meal.  After I left, I found out from someone who lives in Ecuador that if you invite someone out in Ecuador you are supposed to pick up the bill.  Ooops.  I had no idea, and I obviously would not have invited them all out if I had known that rule (especially not to the most expensive restaurant in town)!  Awkward to say the least. 

My last couple of weeks in Tena were filled with a lot of rain. 

Serious rain

This resulted in leaking and then eventually flooding of my room.  I woke up one morning to a huge leak in my roof.  I explained it to the family (my Spanish isn’t that good) as being a waterfall in my room, cause I don’t know the word for leak. They told me that they had fixed it, but then the next day it rained again. 

Serious rain on my deck

I was out at the bar and when I returned at 2:00 am the room was flooded up to my ankle with water.  There wasn’t really anything I could do, so I just put a bucket under the leak and went to sleep. 

Of course when I woke up the bucket was full and I had a lake in my room.  I got my host father and this time told him I had a lake in my room as a result of the waterfall.  Finally got that cleared up and we were good to go. 

On my last weekend in Tena there was a clinic at my work.  I didn’t attend the actual clinic but I went up there to check it out and take some pictures.  It was a clinic in which they were making chairs and standers for the special needs children that come in for therapy. 

making the butt mold for the seat

These children are so impaired that many of them cannot sit in a typical chair and they do not have money to buy a special one.  So the clinic made them chairs made out of cast material. 

The casts and standers that were made.

It was really cool.  They make a mold of their bottoms and then strapped the mold to a normal chair so that the child can sit to eat or to play.  It was really awesome. 

I spent my last week in Tena hanging out with friends.  It was really sad to say goodbye to so many great people. 

Me and Samia with the limes in our mouths after our tequila shots! Yes there are swings in the bar.


Justin, me and John at the bar on my last night in Tena 😦

Welcome to Quito

I then came to Quito for 5 nights. 

The presidential building in Quito. Lots of people because the president was about to make an announcement

 I came with a friend for a few days but then she went off to Mexico. 

Indigenous woman in Quito

I am here just chilling out before I head to the Galapagos for my next 1 month adventure – volunteer English teacher in a school to 7-16 year olds. 

A Quito landmark.

“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”

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Crazy Carioca in Cuenca

Posted in Uncategorized on March 15, 2011 by jessicaoneill

(written March 9th but not posted until now)

I had another fun weekend in Ecuador.  This time my friend Samia and I decided to head to the third biggest city in Ecuador.  It is called Cuenca and it is somewhat like a European town. 

A nice church in Cuenca

The town is filled with narrow cobblestone streets and whitewashed red-tiled buildings, pretty town plazas and many big churches with domed roofs. 

Another pretty church in Cuenca

A very different scene than in Tena! 

We started our adventure by catching a bus at 3:00 am in Tena.  We took it about 6 hours and then transferred to another bus that was about 7 hours.  To be honest the bus rides were pretty tame compared to other bus journeys I have been on here.  The one thing that I didn’t tell you about the buses here is that there are no bathrooms on them.  So a bus ride in Ecuador either means that you will become dehydrated because you’ve made the smart decision and not had anything to drink for several hours before boarding the bus, or you will get a bladder infection from making the wrong decision and drinking something before getting on the bus and then having to hold it for 6 hours!  It’s a tossup on which one is better, but I usually chose dehydration as it makes the bus ride more tolerable.

We got to Cuenca and checked into our hotel.  It was a nice hostel/hotel and they messed up on our booking so we each got a private room for the same price as the double room we had originally booked. 

Our first full day in Cuenca consisted of walking around town and checking out the churches, buildings, river, and museums. 

Some of the art work the Aboriginal museum

We went to the aboriginal museum which was pretty cool.  We saw a lot of really cool old carvings, home utensils and necklaces.  

Yep more art work at the museum! Still in use today??

Huge chimes in the museum

We also went to a Panama hat museum.  A Panama Hat is a traditional brimmed hat of Ecuadorian origin that is made from the plaited leaves of the toquilla straw plant. 

The stages of making a Panama Hat

Straw hats woven in Ecuador, like many other 19th and early 20th century South American goods, were shipped first to Panama before sailing to their destinations in Asia, the rest of the Americas or Europe. 

For some products, the name of their point of international sale rather than their place of domestic origin stuck, hence “Panama Hat”.

Cuenca is home to the second best type of Panama Hat which is creatively named Cuenca.  Hats are rated according to the quality of the weave and to the number of weaves per square inch.  It is said that a Panama of true quality (a “superfino”) can hold water and when folded for storage can pass through a wedding ring!  It can take 2-4 months to make one Panama Hat and there are less than a dozen weavers capable of making the finest “superfino” left in Ecuador. 


We were lucky enough to be able to watch a man shape a hat. 


They use these really archaic looking machines that heat up water to form the straw hats.

The old machine

On Sunday we decided to head to a couple of surrounding towns to check out the markets they had there.  Each town was known for something different according to the Lonely Planet book.  The first one Gualaceo, was known for its fruit and vegetable market, but being the Gringas that we are, we forgot that it was Carnival weekend everywhere in Ecuador – not just the big cities. 

Big parade

So when we got there there wasn’t so much a market as there was a massive parade and copious amounts of water, carioca and flour. 

Samia and I after our first spray with the carioca. We bought our own bottles after that to take revenge and we couldn't take anymore pictures because of the risk involved with taking out our cameras amongst all that water and foam!

Carnival is a big 4 day holiday here and the tradition is to soak people with water, either by water balloons, water guns or buckets of water. 

Little boy spraying the bus as we drove by. Thank goodness my window was closed!

This can happen from people driving by in cars or the back of trucks spraying you, dropping buckets from roof tops, or simply walking past people on the street who feel like drenching you. 

People on the roof watching the parade and dropping buckets of water on unsuspecting people walking by.

The same goes for the carioca (this is like silly string but much worse as it is a colourful foam substance that smells like vomit) which gets sprayed on you at every opportunity.  Now the flour I am less familiar with since I was lucky enough to not get hit by any.  But from what I saw, people got baking flour poured on them.  This seems harmless, but I can only imagine how disgusting and hard it is to get off when it mixes with the water and turns into a sticky paste!

Anyone want some ginuea pig? I took a picture but didn't have the guts to try it. Maybe in Peru.

Anyway, after joining in the fun at the parade we caught a bus to the next town, Chordeleg, which was known for its silver.  This was a cute small town with a lot less Carnival excitement then the first town, which was fine by me at this point.  But when we arrived here we got to see another way Carnival is celebrated.

Muscle Men!

 Not a parade but a Muscle Man contest.  It was hilarious, as these people (men and women) were wearing these tiny bathing suits and getting painted with a roller brush (yes like the ones you would use to paint your walls).  The paint was still wet as they walked onto the stage so it was dripping all over and looked horrible! 

 We didn’t end up making it to the third town as it was a holiday and the buses were not running to there, but it was called Sigsig and it’s known for its Panama Hats. 

On Monday we had tickets to catch the 9:30 pm bus back to Tena, but we didn’t know that the entire city would literally be shut down for the holiday.

Pretty scenery from the bus stop

So needless to say we were hoping to get on an earlier bus, but turns out since it was a holiday there were less buses than normal running, and the earliest one we could get on was at 7:45 pm.  To waste some time we decided to head to a town called Paute that was 45 min away.  When we got there, there was a big fair going on and everyone was drenched with water and sprayed with carioca.  We didn’t really want to get wet since we had all of our bags with us and didn’t have any more clean/dry clothes for the 13 hr bus ride back to town.  So we literally got back on the next bus back to Cuenca.  It was a pretty hilarious waste of 2 hours, but it kept us busy and I only got sprayed once.  So it was all good.

When we got back to Tena at 7:30 am on Tuesday morning people were still out partying and celebrating the last night of Carnival. 

On Tuesday night, just when I thought that the holiday was over, it continued.  Clyde (my home stay host) said that we needed to have some drinks together to celebrate “La dia de la mujer” (Woman’s day).  So of course I said yes and a drink turned into a whole bottle of “Ron” (Rum) with a few other friends and family members.  Overall a great way to finish a long weekend. 

Check out the slideshow for more pics that I didn’t put in the blog posting.

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“Toes in the water, ass in the sand…Life is good today”

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