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