I got asked "Would you like to go to Ecuador?" on Sunday. A group of dirt bikers I know have been planning a motorcycle trip to Ecuador for 6+ months now. Unfortunately, one of their riders had an accident a week before the trip which left a spot on their tour.

Joy is walking into work on Monday and saying "I'm flying to Ecuador on Friday".
Three flights later I arrived in Quito, capital of Ecuador and origin for this adventure. With an elevation of 9000+ feet and a latitude just below the equator, I have finally broken into the southern hemisphere and the South America continent.

Now, this is a different trip than most because I would be sharing it with six friends. However, I had a day and half to get the party started. A bonus to my trip was the unexpected party of Ecuadorian independence day. I spent the day wandering around the old town, listening to the live music set up in every square (there are a lot of them) before passing out in a red-eye jet lag stupor.
Now cities are nice and all, but I usually prefer not being in one. So with all Sunday to myself I headed out of town and into a volcano.

With a name like Pululahua you'd think you were in Hawaii but just outside of Quito is this extinct volcano crater and reserve.
The best way to get around is on horseback and the Green Horse Ranch is the group to show you around. The trails are a mixture of road, singletrack and grassy two track paths. The horses are sure footed and responsive.

Lunch was organized for us in a little house that was not bigger on the inside but much nicer than the outside. The other trip members were a couple of dentists from Germany that had been volunteering in Ecuador. Also along was a German woman that in her words "works for the Panda". So while in Ecuador, I had a day of German practice.
One of the great things about the Green Horse Ranch is that they pick up and drop off in Quito.

For our trip the drop off was at the Magic bean which has good food and excellent smoothies. The prices are at tourist rates because of it's location in relation to Plaza Foch but sometimes it's nice to have a sure thing. Especially after a vegetarian lunch. 

This is well delayed but I can't go forward until I've finished what I've started. First stop on this adventure was Newark with a sunrise behind the NYC skyline. I'll make it there one of these days.
But I was bound for warmer waters. Much warmer.

I found a super deal on a ticket to St Thomas US Virgin Islands and this was as good a time as any to visit. Once again I was headed out into a paradise in my own company.
One taxi and ferry later and I was on Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. One of the most unique border crossings that I've ever been through.

Also one of the most entertaining. The customs official that stamped my passport, went through the normal questions but after letting him know that this was my first time on Jost his answer was: What took you so long?
I caught a ride over the hill and headed to White Bay Campground and set up my tent. With this view it can hardly be called roughing it.
After setting in I wandered over to the conveniently positioned Ivan's Stree Free Bar made some new friends and the rest of the night took the same fuzzyness as my pictures.
I awoke the next morning with a bit of a hangover and an abandoned beach. Which is beautiful but not very helpful when you're in dire need of a bottle of water. I case you're wondering the island doesn't really stir before 9 am. I did end up finding Seddy, owner of the One Love bar and he took pity on me and pulled out a bottle of ice cold water from behind his bar. Perfect way to start the morning.
Jost is a lovely island that comes alive with perpetual adult spring breakers on sail boats during the day and goes back to it's quiet island at night and in the mornings. The rum drinks are strong and sweet. There's a feeling of camaraderie, I think from having reached this small island paradise. I spent a lot of time relaxing on the beach and chatting with people that were invariably surprised that I was by my self and camping in a tent.
I wasn't able to go scuba diving because I was the only one interested (downside to solo travel). However, I did go snorkeling. It was fun and there was a nice group of people. However I was most entertained by this Island and restaurant. It's Norman Island also known as Treasure Island. Officially the nicest bathrooms I saw down there.

It's owned by Dr Henry Jarecki who made a lot of money in commodities and other Wall street-esk endeavors. What I like is that he made a lot of money and bought Treasure Island. Who can beat that at a dinner party? I don't know any of the details around why he bought Norman but it makes me think of a child reading Robert Louis Stevenson's book and dreaming of pirates. And then that child grows up (kind of), makes money and buys the island.

It was a quick trip but a great escape from reality and it's given me ideas about a boat for next time.


Can't stay put

Once again into the fray! As much as my travels are fray-ish. I find them quite enjoyable actually. This should look familiar to my packing for Thailand but with some subsitutions. Unfortunately I think this will be a motorcycle free trip, but you can't win them all. I'm just going for 4 days but it's amazing how much room a tent and fins take up! They don't quite seem to go together but I'm going to make it work.

The books are thanks to a quick trip to Goodwill and will probably not return. My tent and sleeping pad are rolled up together and are not coming out until I arrive at my sleeping spot! Or until TSA pulls me for inspection.
My KLIM helmet bag is helmetless but it is the perfect size to accompany my backpack. On the subject of my helmet, I shipped it back from Thailand along with my riding pants and boots. They arrived safe and sound two months after I got back.

I know it seems like I'm forgetting something but I'm going to let my destination be a surprise. Unless you've talked to me in the last two weeks. Then you already know because you've probably heard "GUESS WHERE I'M GOING!" already.

So where do you think I'm going?

UPDATE: You know what good fins are without booties? Specifically fins that are sized for booties? Zero... So they're going to have to stay home because unless I wore the booties on the plane there's no room... It wouldn't be the first time I wore odd footwear because of packing constraints but I'm just not going to do this time.


Off to sea

After a few more days in the north it was time to head south and start the scuba portion of the trip.

Khoa Lak Scuba Adventures and the Manta Queen I were to be home for the next four nights. A drive picked up a lot of us at the curb at the airport after some equipment fittings and paperwork we were on the boat and headed for the Similans.

Originally it was expected it to be the relaxing portion of the trip. I would be on the bike, I wouldn't have to sort our lodging or routes each day. A piece of cake. If you've ever done four dives a day, I'm sure you're already laughing... at me. It was a nice idea anyway.
The first day of diving was on December 25, in many places known as Christmas. The crew decorated the hangout area with as much tinsel as possible.

I decided to do the Advanced Open Water course which had the added benefit of my own dive leader for much of the time. (Neal, soon to be noted as the yeller)

The course did cut into my recovery time a bit though, I had to do some reading and answer questions for the courses. Now... that wouldn't have been much of a problem usually but when I was already predisposed to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, reading a PADI course book took longer than usual.
We quickly fell into the schedule that would govern the next three days:
  • Neal yelling "GOOOD MOOOOOOORNING"
  • A snack of toast and juice
  • "BRIEEEEEEEEEEEFING", again Neal. None of the rest of the crew were near as enthusiastic about the (harassing?) gathering of the divers
  • Gearing up
  • Diving
  • Gearing Down
  • Eating a real meal
  • Hanging pretending that you felt fine and didn't need a nap
  • A Nap
  • Loop back to the briefing call three times
  • Hang around for awhile in the evenings, maybe watch a movie
  • Pass out
So if you read the schedule there was a lot of napping and sleeping involved... however it was more of a requirement for continued health than truly being lazy. Darn it.
The dive briefings usually included a white board map of the area by Tik which were always impressive.

And that's Neal by the way, my dive lead, the trip lead, general yeller and briefer extraordinaire.

Thanks to Jacques and Per great advice and knowledge of the area, I had plans to go out on a loop around Nan but waking up in the middle of the night in severe tooth pain, nixed all plans besides going and seeing a dentist and hanging around the Guesthouse.

Give me a hammock and I'm pretty content. What I love about this hammock is the use of a bicycle tube to hang it.
The hosts at the guest house sent me off with Den to find a dentist and help translate. Just so you know, in Nan very few dentists are available before 5 because they're working in the hospital. The 4th stop was the charm. I'm not excited to visit a dentist in the best of circumstances, honestly it throws me into a bit of a depression. So being away from home and having a language barrier with a toothache is right up there with my top nightmares.
After about a 20 minute wait I went in to see the doc. She spoke English but not totally fluently. After poking and prodding which got my tooth to throbbing she prescribed me with antibiotics and ibuprofen and told me to make sure to see a dentist when I got home. The tooth in question has had a root canal and has a crown. There however is a large gap between it and the tooth in front of it that acts like a food trap. I try to clean it out regularly but apparently some food caught in there caused an infection. Once I'm home they'll have to do something more invasive to sort it out. Oh goodie.
That evening for dinner I tagged along with the local expat group. Dinner was more adventures in food. The new dishes were 1000 year old egg, a sour vegetable of some sort with eggs and a sweetened nuts and shrimp dish.

It's interesting how being in a foreign land seems to open everyone up to meeting new people.