09 August 2011

Pohangina valley, Aotearoa, to Quito, Ecuador

Last Tuesday I caught a bus from Palmerston North to Auckland  — eight hours through the centre of the North Island, arriving after dark on the first stage of a journey that will return me four and a half months later to the country in which I've lived most of my life. Late on Wednesday afternoon I flew out of Auckland; eighteen hours later I landed in Quito, Ecuador.

My first priority is to improve my rudimentary facility with Spanish; the second..., well, I don't have a second, but if I had a list of priorities, seeing a hummingbird for the first time would be high on it — in fact, so would seeing some of the birds and other wildlife for which Ecuador and South America are famous. Some of that wildlife, like certain spiders, I intend appreciating from a comfortable distance but, perhaps surprisingly, snakes don't bother me — I love them (although I'd draw the line at sharing my tent with an eyelash viper).

Other priorities? Mountains, of course, although my engagement with them will be limited to trekking, possibly a non-technical climb or two, and of course simply appreciating them. When I eventually get to Patagonia I'll do my best to see Cerro Torre — to my mind arguably the greatest mountain on Earth: Reinhold Messner aptly described it as "A shriek turned to stone". However, I'm resigned to the possibility I might be as unlucky as one party who camped near Cerro Torre for a fortnight and never saw it once: Patagonian weather is infamous. Still, since I intend spending most of November in Patagonia, I'll have the time to give a sighting of Cerro Torre my best shot.

But I've leaped from the start of the journey to near its end — although who's to say when a journey begins and ends? So, back to the start. For the first three weeks I'm in Ecuador, I'm at a language school. On my weekends off, I'll be finding my feet and employing them doing short exploratory trips. In fact, on just my third full day here, and still not completely recovered from the debilitating flight nor fully adapted to Quito's altitude (about 2800 m), I visited the lovely little town of Mindo in the cloud forest, a couple of hours' bus journey from here. I'd been lucky to tag along with a couple of students from here; Shannon had spent a year in Spain and therefore spoke fairly competent Spanish (from my perspective, she was fluent), so I avoided the hard work of interpreting signs and attempting to make myself understood (more to the point, I avoided the near impossibility of understanding the replies). A great day with excellent company, and although I didn't make the most of Mindo's great reputation for birds, I'm sure I'll be back.

Now, the jet lag's gone, as have the sporadic but intense headaches (I'd have said they were mind-numbing but they were just the opposite) and today's four-hour lesson proved less challenging than the first two. I even had the faint but highly encouraging feeling that the language was becoming familiar; that even if I got it wrong, I might be roughly right. Doubtless I'll have days when I feel I'm going backwards, but for me the biggest form of encouragement when I'm trying to learn is the feeling that I am in fact learning, moving towards a goal, becoming more proficient.

More updates will follow, although I won't promise they'll be regular, and from time to time I'll post a photo on The Ruins of the Moment (they, too, are unlikely to be up to what I trust is the usual standard, given the shortcomings of this little netbook). To keep you keen, the next post  — when I manage it — will be about the first hummingbird. Whether I can manage a usable photo remains less certain.

Hasta la proxima vez (until next time).

1. The rapids Serena, Shannon and I visited below the Cascada Nambilla, the waterfall at Mindo where one can pay to leap from a potentially crippling height into the pool below the waterfall. We didn't, but others were less imaginative. A lovely place in a lovely, albeit increasingly tourist-frequented area.

Photos and original text © 2011 Pete McGregor


Zhoen said...

Buenos dias! ¿Como esta?

Yeah, I got enough to get a patient through recovery from anesthesia, if they talk to me like a small child.

You are so gonna love hummingbirds. The way they move is incredible. Bring along red things to lure them.

Bob McKerrow said...

Ah Pete. What a joy to read the start of what will turn out to be another voyage of discovery. It takes me back 43 years when I went by train from Dunedin, ferry from Lyttelton to Wellington, train to Auckland, and boat from Auckland to Tahiti, Panama, Colombia, Equador, Peru (the Andes) and then back home by aeroplane via the US.Safe travels amigo.

awake at dawn

darting through strands of mist

the flower-seeker

Avus said...

The start of yet another adventure, Pete. Go safely, go well and be happy.

Relatively Retiring said...

Jet-lag + altitude adjustment + language school sounds a tough combination. I'm glad you by-passed the bungee jump, and even more glad to see another great photograph.

Barbara Butler McCoy said...

If that photo is a sample of what you do when you're jet-lagged, dealing with fearsome headaches, and learning a language I think you'll blow me away when you gain your feet!!!

Anne said...

Patagonia is the one place I must go to before I die. Your travels are so exciting and I can't wait to read all about your adventures and to see the pictures you will collect while you are there. Have a great time and keep in touch through your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hola Pete! I have added several movies to my must see list. One of which features Cerro Torre! Here is the list: Scream of Stone (filmed on location at Cerro Torre by Herzog),180 South, and North Face.

Keep on blogging! Safe travels amigo. Hasta la proxima vez! Maureen

pohanginapete said...

Hola Zhoen. Thanks for the tip about red things. The hummingbirds I've noticed so far do seem to be checking out the red flowers. Maybe that's why they haven't been investigating me — my predominant colour while travelling is drab ;^)

Bob, great haiku — one of the best I've read in a long time. Is it one of yours?

Thanks Avus. Quito isn't the safest of places (like most big South American cities), but at least I'm aware of the risks.

RR, I seem to be well over the initial problems — headaches gone, feeling good. As for the jumping, they might have been safer attached to a bungee cord — the impact when they hit the water was substantial.

Barbara, thank you. Should be a better, very different one on the way soon :^)

Thank you Anne. I, too, am greatly looking forward to Patagonia, and while I have plenty of time and good Internet access I'll do my best to keep you updated.

Hola Maureen. I've seen a trailer for "Scream of Stone", and given it's by Herzog, I'll definitely watch it some time. I saw Cave of Forgotten Dreams just before I flew out, and although some others don't share my opinion, I think it's brilliant — typical Herzog; plenty of room to think and explore; surprisingly moving for what could have been a fairly straightforward documentary.

jacqueline b said...

Hi Pete, nice to see you're on the road again,

jacq in mongolia

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Jacq. Mongolia? I loved my time there, particularly when we got to some pretty remote places. I'd love to go back, but I imagine a lot would have changed since 2004.

robin andrea said...

Glad to see a post here, Pete. Nice knowing that you are out on another journey. I can't wait to hear about your first hummingbird encounter.

pohanginapete said...

Thanks Robin. I just need a photo, although given the size of these mites, that might be difficult. In the interests of travelling light and less conspicuously, I've switched cameras, so I don't have the wonderful — and luminously obvious — Canon 300 mm, which would have been ideal. I promise I'll try hard, though :^)

Lydia said...

Pete! I am way behind here, so just starting at the beginning of your trip. Will look at the hummingbird post before I have to leave the house for the day, and will look forward (SO much) to returning later to read the rest of your vacation posts. Am cross-referring your blog to a fellow New Zealander, the reason for my quick visit just now.

pohanginapete said...

Lydia — plenty of time to read the posts. I'm on the Galápagos now, about to change islands from Santa Cruz to Isabela. No hummingbirds here, but the other wildlife's wonderful. Thanks too for the link to Kay's blog — I'll look forward to checking it out :^)

vegetablej said...

Wow, another long adventure. I remember following along with bated breath on your Indian journey. I've just started reading but will catch up now.

Safe and very happy travels. And thanks, Pete.


pohanginapete said...

VJ, thank you. I arrived back in Quito last night after a fortnight in the Galápagos, and I have a few days here before moving on. I'll try to get another post up soon. :^)