Hunting photos, trophy pictures, grip-n-grins, field photos… its all the same thing. If you have been on the internet there is a chance you have seen a hunting photo or two. Usually with a caption about the people in it being monsters or murderers. If you’ve posted a hunting picture on the internet, you’ve probably been called a murderer or a monster. It would appear that is the price a modern sportsman pays… one of many payments it would seem.
The question comes up again and again by the masses of the internet: “why would you take a picture of yourself with a dead animal?”. For this question, there are many answers, and from many different people. One common reason, is that its a way to remember the event and the accomplishment. People want photos of themselves at the tops of mountains, the ends of races, and holding trophies after the big game. Hunting is no different, you just spent hours, days, weeks wandering through the woods or mountains trying to find an elusive wild animal. All of that was after months of preparation, planning, and hopefully, practice at the gun or archery range. After putting all this time, effort, and money in, people want a photo to remember that moment of success.
Another reason is so that the photos can be shared with friends, family, and other hunting enthusiasts. This is where the problems start, many people, myself included, love to share hunting photos on the internet. Sharing online is a great way to make digital friends who live a similar analog life. The problem is that those photos inevitably end up in front 0f someone who doesn’t understand why it exists, and often feels the need to say something about it. If you post hunting photos online, you are going to get hatemail, at this point its just a fact of life. I learned this quickly via twitter and instagram. That said, some photos attract more vitriol than others. The photos that create the most hate all seem to have something in common, poor choices in photographic technique.
Ever notice that photo of a girl with her boot on a dead lion and a great big grin makes people angrier than a picture of a professional hunter, with an expression of content, crouched beside an equally dead lion? Its deceptively simple, respect for the animal goes a long way. Even amongst hunters, this comes up and gets debated, but the majority of sportsmen appear to agree. When taking a hunting photo, respect for the animal should be top concern. This animal just died to feed you and your family, it deserves your respect. Keeping this in mind while taking photos can go a long way in improving your final product. Do little things to make the animal look dignified, try to clean blood off of the animals nose and face and tuck its tongue back in. Make sure you don’t stand or sit on the animal. Many people don’t even feel comfortable stepping over the animal.
I have also seen people try to use items for scale, this can be tricky because you do want to show how big your animal is but putting a beer can in a dead lions mouth to show its teeth (yes, I’ve seen this done) might send the wrong message on the respect front. Use yourself for scale, people know how big the average person is and can make sense of it from there. This brings me to my next point, forced perspective. I’ve seen many photos, often of elk hunters it seems, sitting a couple yards behind the animal in hopes of making the antlers look bigger by comparison, its obvious and a little cheesy. If you feel you need to misrepresent the size of the animal, you might be hunting for the wrong reasons.
The most commonly debated part about hunting photos is the smile. How much smile is too much? For this there is no real right answer. You just accomplished an amazing thing that you worked hard for, of course you are going to want to smile. But if the smile gets too big it can look a little crazy and send the wrong message. It effectively turns into a tight rope walk. My thoughts are: don’t force a smile. You’re likely in a pretty good mood when you’re taking a hunting photo so just relax and let your natural facial expression be what shines through. If you happen to be a big smile type, try taking a photo of you stifling it and see, it might look a little better. The key to the smile, much like all of life, is to just be yourself.
The quality of the photo is another thing that is important to remember. You put a lot of effort into getting here so you might as well get a good photo. Some simple things can be done to make the picture better: clear the foreground of twigs, branches and tall grass, and try to get a clear or solid background so the antlers don’t fade into brush or trees behind you. Low angles are also your friend, get the photographer to crouch to be at the same level as you and the animal, this will make the animal the focal point of the photo. It will also help you get the sky as the background which will again draw focus to you and the animal. Keep in mind that this is a photo you will likely be showing a lot of people, so you might want to make sure you take a moment and clean yourself up a little. You’re not modelling so don’t get too worried but make sure your hair isn’t a mess from wearing a hat and your hands aren’t covered in blood from field dressing. Having your firearm or bow in the photo is a great idea, just make sure it is pointed in a safe direction. No matter the situation, keep firearm safety in mind. Maybe out of respect, try not to rest the butt of the rifle on the animal.
I don’t know that I have ever taken a “perfect” hunting photo, nor do I think anyone has. The best we as hunters can do is try, just remember to respect the animal and try to make it a quality photo. As long as we are trying, I think the effort and intention will shine through to people we show them to. Lastly, make sure you take a lot of pictures. With digital cameras you can take multiple pictures from slightly different angles and see which looks better once you see it full sized. Some of my most memorable hunts I have made the mistake of taking only a single blurred cell phone picture simply because I was excited and didn’t think to take more than one snapshot. Which reminds me, don’t forget to bring your camera.
Posted in How-To, Huntingwith 1 comment.
Despite all the time I’ve spent outside, I, for some damn fool reason, have never gotten around to actually going it alone. A few weeks ago I went to Jasper by myself and stayed in the huge public camp ground. This weekend, I decided to up it a bit and try a solo back country hike.
Early in the week I called the booking office and asked what they had available for the weekend, I was told that all they had left was a campsite at “Little Shovel” it is one of the first stops for people doing the famous Skyline trail. As I only had one night, my plan was to simply hike into the campsite, then in the morning hike to the pass, take in the views, and hike out the way I came in.
Saturday morning I drove to Jasper, and was thoroughly annoyed when I hit a heavy traffic jam at the entry gates to Jasper. It is understandable that there would be a line, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the idea that I was trying to escape the city, and its traffic, only to be stuck in traffic at the park. Finally I got into the park and checked in at the park office and headed to the trail head. It was a lengthy, but scenic, drive passed Maligne lake. I parked my car, loaded my gear on my back and hit the trail. This would be my first run with my new backpack, a Tenzing TZ 6000, which I have purchased with the crazy idea of someday doing a back country hunt…….. someday… someday.
I immediately noticed that I am too tall and too thin for it.. I did some tinkering and found that if I maxed out the waist belt it finally snugged up enough to be useful, after a few hundred yards of walking I found that the pack settled into a more comfortable position. That said, it still wasn’t as comfortable as my regular pack, and old kelty that has more miles than most cars… so maybe its not a fair comparison, at this point my body may have broken into the pack and not the other way around.
Anyway, lets continue. I noticed on the drive in that some of the landscape was recovering from a fire a few years ago. Much to my delight, so was the trail. It was neat to see all the old burnt trees standing stoically while the green grasses and shrubs displayed their vibrant green around them. All along the trail I noticed there was nearly an infestation level of squirrels, they were cute, but it also made me think about hunting some. I have always wondered what they taste like, they are popular table fare in the USA so they cant be that bad right? The trial was initially well packed, wide, and on a gentle grade. As the miles went on the trail steepened and turned to switchbacks. It was still clearly marked and well worn, the Skyline trail is one of Jasper’s most popular so that’s not surprising. All along the trail I munched on energy bites and dried apples and bananas. I prefer to walk and snack instead of stop for lunch, I find it easier on my stomach to eat small amounts over a long period instead of gorging myself, which I can easily do as I have extremely limited self control.
Along the way I passed a few small lakes and ponds, most showing a beautiful turquoise colour and filled with dead fall. They looked exactly what you imagine a pristine alpine lake looks like. I was the second of 8 parties to reach the campsite so I certainly had my pick of where to set up camp. I looked at the remaining sites and chose the high ground, for no particular reason beyond it was level and I remember being told, in my childhood, that high ground was an advantage for some reason. I set up my tent and then went to the eating area and had a boiled egg and some orange bell pepper that I had chopped the night before. I then went and laid in my tent for a few hours.
I was half asleep when like a thundering herd, a family with a small army of children came roaring into the campground. As best I could tell, the three young boys were having a yelling competition, if so, they had all certainly brought their “A” game. No doubt they were professionals. I decided I best go use the “bathroom” before I lost the daylight. For those of you unfamiliar, a back country bathroom is essentially a toiled seat on a large drum with some wood that goes about half way up your back for privacy. It is nice to be out in the open and take in nature while doing what nature compels you to do, however, there is always mosquitoes to… hurry the affair along. At any rate, I needed to use the facilities. I grabbed my toilet paper and wandered toward the toilet. Along the way I stopped and chatted with the parents of the amateur choir. Unfortunately, while I was chatting, one of the kids ran up to the table and grabbed their toilet paper and ran off. Knowing that privacy was limited, I decided to wait around at the eating area for the kids to come back before heading to the facilities. To my understanding, based on what I had heard, the kids decided that the mosquito infested toiled was better used as a drum set/ sound stage. I got so tired of waiting I decided to go back to my tent and wait for the noise to get closer before attempting to use the washroom. After about an hour of spirited yelling and kicking of the facilities, they finally decided they were hungry and I climbed out of my tent and finally got my chance.
I went to bed and began to read my book, again, hampered by the noise outside. Eventually the parent intervened, I guess eleven pm is the curfew for yelling in a campsite these days. I am glad that parents are trying to get their kids into hiking and the outdoors, dont get me wrong, but people hike 10 km into the wilderness to get away from people and noise, or maybe that’s just me. At any rate, that all seemed like nice people despite being a little rambunctious for my mood. As dark descended, sleep did not come easy, even in the quiet of night. I tossed and turned most of the night, in the early hours of the morning there was some gusts of wind and a bit of rain, but nothing exciting.
The next morning I had another boiled egg, this time it was called breakfast. I then hit the trail to see Little Shovel pass, long before anyone else in the campsite got out of bed. I stuffed some more dried fruit in my pocket along with my bear spray and a bottle of water. It took just over an hour to reach the beautiful alpine meadow and another half hour to reach the end of it, and the sign declaring it the pass I was looking for. I then spun on my heels and headed back to the camp ground. I quickly broke my camp and headed back toward the trail head.
Along the way I passed a few muddy patches with what looked like either moose or elk tracks. I could tell they were fresh because there where still wet track on the dry parts of the trail. When I came to a nice wide bend with a lake below I was sure I had lost the tracks I had been lazily following, I stopped to dig a granola bar out of my pack. Below me in the lake I heard water splashing. I thought at first it might be a person, this left me in a strange dilemma. If it was a person, it would be creepy to sneak down silently and watch them, if it was wildlife, announcing my presence might scare it off. Luckily my question was answered when I heard a deep grunt, at this point I was sure it was a moose. I stayed quiet and leaned left and right trying to get a good view through the trees when I suddenly heard more splashing. Slowly a swimming cow moose, making her way across the small lake, came into view. I was watching intently when two hikers rounded to bend ahead of me. I waved, made a shushing motion and pointed at my eyes and then to the moose. They were as enthralled as I was. After a few short minutes the moose was across and the hikers and I crossed paths we exchanged a polite “good morning” and a “good eye” and we were on our respective ways. Unfortunately it was simply too far away to get a good picture, sorry. Someday Ill invest in a good camera.
I made it to the parking lot, loaded my now heavy backpack into my little car, changed into clean clothes and began the long drive back home. I had set out to do what I wanted, do a solo hike. I just hope that next time its a little more solo. I also hope that that family keeps hiking, and never gets dissuaded by grumps like me.
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“It is not, he muttered, the hasty ascent up the thorn tree when you are being chased by a rhino that hurts so much. It is that long trip down.” – Robert Ruark on hunting rhinos
I woke up on Sunday morning and just felt like going camping. I have been knocking around the idea of doing more solo back country camping, and ideally some back country hunting too. The problem, is that I have never really camped alone, so I decided the best way was to ease myself into it. The plan was simply to go camping, at a campsite, and see how it goes. I loaded up some food, grabbed my gear, and hit the road. It rained intermittently but quite torrentially the entire drive there. I was undoubtedly considering turning back, but I had already committed to this idea and figured I had best follow through, even if it meant camping in the rain. As I paid my entrance fee to the park, the sky began to clear. The weather was beautiful the remainder of the evening. I checking into a small camp site, waved at my neighbour and set up my tent and sleeping mat. I then loaded some wood into my car and hauled it to the site and set to making a fire. It was not pretty. Surprisingly, I am terrible at making fire. Typically when I go camping, I get Erin to make the fire for us. After I expended about a half box of matches I had a nice fire roaring. I reheated some chicken breasts over the fire and enjoyed them with some iced tea and a bell pepper. I then spent the remainder of the evening relaxing and reading a book. It was everything I wanted it to be.
Sitting by that fire and slowly turning the pages, daydreaming about the days of old time adventure, I had an interesting realization. I have always wanted to be an adventurer and a hunter, but my dreams were crushed when I got so sick I had to come home. While reading my book “The African Adventurers” By Peter Hathaway Capstick, I noticed that many great adventurers had horrible bouts of illness. Frederic Courteney Selous was once so sick he had to trade his gear to locals to get them to carry him to a mission… I sympathize. They all also fought danger, including being ambushed by tribes of cannibals, more than one of them was held at gunpoint… been there. They almost all left with money and came home nearly bankrupt… currently there. They all also did their best to write about their adventures after the fact… please tell your friends about my website. The point I am trying to make,is that the overly romanticized lifestyle I want never has been, and never will be, easy. With today’s technology and globalization, the only thing that has gotten easier is giving up and going home. Which in hind sight is something that I can add to a seemingly growing list of regrets.
After the light was gone, I put the book away, let the fire burn down and sat alone with my thoughts, then went to bed. The night passed without any excitement. I had trouble sleeping, attributed mostly to me not quite being able to get comfortable in my sleeping bag. The next morning the sky was threatening to rain. I had some apples and peanut butter for breakfast before packing up my camp. I had to laugh, in my haste I did not think to bring any plates so I used the small tourism pamphlet that I was given at the gate. It reminded me of an old bachelor my dad told me about. Apparently he had a sears catalog nailed down to his dining table and would use it as a plate so when he was done eating he could just rip the page off and throw it in the garbage instead of having dishes to wash. It was smart, in a way, and only worked with the sears catalog because they had the glossy pages that wouldn’t get soggy from food sitting on them.
After I tore down my camp I hit the road and headed to the Miette Hot Springs. On the way from jasper to the hot springs I made a few roadside stops that I had been meaning to make for years. Just those little pull outs that you always say “ah next time, I’m in a rush today” it was neat to see some of the roadside monuments to brave individuals traversing the wilderness in pursuit of gold. I also got to see some beautiful views a short walk off the highway, hidden behind a hill.
Once I got to the hot springs, I loaded up my day pack and began hiking the Sulphur Skyline trail. It was listed as 4 or 5 hour round trip hike, and quite strenuous as it is a steep climb. The trail started as a wide asphalt walkway, which then turned into a rocky trail and eventually just a walking path through the trees.
I wandered through the switchbacks keeping my pace up as best I could and found I was overtaking a lot of fellow hikers. I made a point of saying hello to everyone. There was a hard push to the summit just passed the treeline. It was a bit of a scramble on the bald mountain but I made it to the top, took a few pictures and enjoyed two boiled eggs and some iced tea for lunch. I then turned back and headed back down the trail.
Along the way I started picking up speed to the point where I was outright running at times. I stopped a few times and said hello to some of the hikers I had passed on the way up. I would like to think I was just being friendly but I worry I was kind of rubbing it in their faces how fast I was. When I reached the trailhead, I checked my watch and saw that I had done the entire hike in about an hour and forty five minutes. I guess my almost daily exercise is paying off, but I was definitely tired. I learned that treadmills have got nothing on mountain trails. After the hike, I grabbed my shorts and soaked in the hot springs for a few minutes and then started the long drive home.
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I had originally wanted to go to jasper and try a solo back country hike, but I couldn’t find any information online about available hikes. I called the tourism center and explained that I couldn’t find anything online, I was then berated by a man with a french accent for daring to talk down about the jasper website. I checked the site and it was essentially useless, except for the advertisements for Banff, which reminded me I have a friend in nearby Calgary that would likely appreciate a good hike. I texted Adrian, and sure enough, he was on board for a day hike on Sunday, we decided Canmore would be more fun, and closer.
Saturday evening I drove straight from work and got to Adrian’s house, in Calgary, quite late. It was the first time I had seen him since my wedding and the first time we have really hung out in a few years. He gave me the tour of his house and we played some video games, it turns out I am still terrible at them. We then packed it in for the night as we knew an early morning was on the way. Adrian’s two cats, Asher and Bowser, seemed insistent on making sure I didn’t sleep.
The next morning we headed for Canmore. The night before we had looked into a few trails and that morning we went to the tourism center to find out about conditions and recommendations. The people at this center were far more helpful than the ones manning the phones at Jasper. We decided on Buller Pass it was the right length and difficulty, the drive there was scenic too.
We arrived at the trail head, parked and crossed the road to begin. The trail started as dense forest, a few bridges, and a slight incline.
As we came toward the end of the dense forest and into the thinner alpine forests we stopped by a creek so I could take a picture for a young family. Just thought I should throw in how nice of a guy I am. We then came across one of the trails offerings, a small but scenic waterfall. The constant water flowing had carved a small pool in the bottom, not big enough to swim in, nor would we want to in the only 10°c weather.
After the falls, the trails switchbacks grew steeper and the views grew better. The trail seemed to hover right at the tree line for a long time until it broke into a small meadow with a few meandering streams crisscrossing it. From there it was bare rock and snow all the way to the top.
As we approached the summit, the wind started to pick up, the temp dropped, the hills got steeper, and the skies started to get dark. When we got to the top the wind was cold and strong but the view was amazing. We took a bunch of photos as well as did our fare share of hooping and hollering.
We then turned back down the trail. Heading out is always faster but we knew we had to hurry, the weather could turn on us any second. It wasn’t long before we were stung hard by hail and a strong headwind. On one of the snow patches, I started laughing at Adrian for slipping and falling on his rear, karma got the best of me and I was immediately given a seat as well, it seemed a reasonable time to take another picture of our adventure.
Eventually we reached the treeline which helped to shelter from the wind, the weather was starting to improve too. We decided to stop at the little creek and have some lunch. It turns out in our falls we had crushed our lunches, Adrian’s cup-of-noodles was crushed rendering it and his heavy thermos of hot water useless. Nothing hurts more than packing a heavy item you cant use. He at his raw noodles and I was still able to enjoy my crushed up boiled egg, they’re pretty hard to destroy beyond edibility.
We eventually reached the trailhead and rejoiced at the sight of Adrian’s truck. On the ride home we discussed how he will likely now spend all of his money on hiking gear and that we are for sure doing this sort of thing more often. It was Adrian’s first “real hike” and we both learned a few things. He learned the value of light weight gear, and that Styrofoam cups aren’t a good idea. I learned that… um… what did I learn?? Oh, I got it! I learned the most important lesson of all: Hikes are better with friends.
This was my first major attempt at anything remotely adventurous since I’ve been home. I’m confident saying I can still hike like a madman. Its comforting to know I can still do some things.
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In my university days I spent the majority of my free time working the gun counter at a hunting store, this was primarily to have extra money to spend on frivolous things like food and rent. It was a good job, and much like hunting, I began to spot patterns. In this case it was in customers and their approach to purchasing. A common question from customers was “What do you have in a 308?” my response, depending on the customer and how much I had been able to sleep the night before, was often either to simply turn around and face the large wall covered with rifles and sarcastically say “these”. Usually, I would explain that we carry a wide variety of rifles in a variety of calibers and then proceed to ask about other sought after features to narrow the search field. The problem is simple, most people know, more or less, what they are after it just doesn’t seem that way because they go about it almost backwards. Its an easy mistake to make but one that low paid employees working early weekend mornings during the busy season lose patience for. Gun shops typically sort their inventory by type of firearm, then brand, then model, then calibre. So I have decided to try and lend a hand to help everyone get what they want faster.
It is important to first know what you want the gun to be used for: is it for hunting, defense, target practice, long range shooting? From there break it down farther: what kind of hunting? What distances? From there it’s a good idea to have features in mind such as wood or synthetic stock? Blued or stainless barrel? Next suggest brands that you like or would like to avoid. Within this previous criteria be clear on which features you are or are not flexible on, there might be the exact gun you want except it will be blued and not stainless would that be ok? From there if you have a price or price range in mind say so. Many retail stores have a strict policy where employees are not allowed to ask this because it’s a bit too personal of a question. But knowing this can really help the salesman get you something reasonable and spare you the awkwardness of them digging out a top of the line HS Precision, when you are more in the market for a Mossberg (Both fine rifles in their own way). After all that, suggest a few calibers that you would be interested in, keep in mind with a hunting rifle most calibers are pretty similar performance-wise within 300 yards which is a pretty far shot for most hunting situations. If you do have a specific calibre in mind, that’s not a bad thing, but it will be helpful to explain why, otherwise the salesman might suggest other calibres that are equally suitable but more available at that time ex: “I’ve had a lot of luck with it”, “I already have most of the reloading equipment for that calibre”, “me and my hunting friends decided to all get the same calibre so we can share ammo in a pinch”, “Me, my son, wife, or daughter have shot this calibre before and found the recoil to be manageable.” These are all reasons I have heard and respected.
From there it’s just a matter keeping a few small tips in mind. First always try to be polite, the quality of service you receive in ANY business is really proportional to how nice or rude you are to the staff. Its also not uncommon for salesmen to give slight discounts to polite customers, I know I’ve done this more than once. Also keep in mind that not every gun in every calibre will be available especially in smaller shops. If there’s something specific you want you may have to order it, even if it’s common (common usually means a lot of people are buying them).
Don’t be afraid to ask other customers their opinions of guns and calibres, they are there because they are into guns. Make sure to ask the employees their opinions of guns and calibres because these are the people that hear about the success and failures of equipment from customers coming back, they also process any warranty issues and can tell you which companies are having a bad run of guns. Keep in mind, from both customers and employees, you often hear opinions which are easily, and often, bias. I once worked with a man who felt Weatherby brand rifles were the only ones worth owning.
Lastly make sure you hold every gun you are considering buying to make sure that the fit, finish, and feel is there. Every gun feels a bit different to every person and you want to be sure before you buy because most shops won’t take a gun back based on not liking the look or the feel, especially if it has been fired.
Below is a checklist I have made that might be helpful. Also, here is a downloadable version (gun buying checklist), you can print it, fill it out, and take it in with you next time. Hopefully its helpful. Make sure to comment below and let me know what you think, what I should add, and what I should change?
Posted in How-To, Hunting, Marksmanshipwith no comments yet.
The cold morning air wrapped around me like an unwelcome blanket, just the slightest of breezes slashed across my exposed neck. I know it was my my fatigue that made me feel so cold, but that knowledge didn’t provide an overwhelming amount of comfort. The wind in Patagonia is well known, and for good reason. The wind in the middle of a city rivals only that of the wind on a Canadian mountain summit. The difference being the wind in Canada feels like it belongs there, in Patagonia it feels like an entity with bad intentions. My stomach felt like something was trying to escape and I barely had the physical or mental strength to stand. The taxi pulled up two houses away, Erin waved and he pulled up to us. I hugged Erin and she gave me a kiss. It was dark, but I knew she was crying; my tears not far behind either. She quickly let go said an abrupt goodbye, spun on her heels and quickly walked back to the small guest house we had been renting. She spared me a long goodbye, and deep in my heart I thanked her for it. I climbed into the taxi and headed for my five a.m. flight. My South American Adventure was over, all that was left was a forty hour nightmare of airplanes and lay overs. I pitied and envied Erin, she had a lot of adventure left ahead of her but she had the misfortune of having to do it alone.
Erin and I flew into the town of Ushuaia, Argentina on Saturday morning. I was a bit taken aback by the airport. It was a small single runway affair, with large timber beams that made it resemble a cozy mountain lodge. Our hostel was only a few kilometers away from the airport so we decided to walk. The decision was influenced by the fact that the walk was along the seaside, which offered us a beautiful view of both the sea and the surrounding mountains.
We got to the hostel, got settled into our dorms, and walked into town to get some groceries. The next day we did a hike up to a glacier. It was at the far north end of town and the first portion of the path was along a (closed for the season) ski hill. I still can’t help but day dream about catching a flight to Patagonia in the middle of august to go snowboarding.
Our trail quickly went passed the top of the chair lift and went from a wide gravel road to a narrow packed pathway. It took us through some amazing mountain scenery, over a few bridges, and eventually to a glacier… The first snow I had seen in a very long time. We stopped, had eggs, bananas, and croissants for lunch and then found our way back down to the trail head. All said and done it was only about a two or three hour hike, but it offered views usually associated with an all day hike.
The next day we really felt like challenging ourselves. We went to the nearby Tierra Del Fuego National Park to do the hardest trail listed: Cerro Guanaco. I am told the name translates to “Alpaca Hill”. A shuttle picked us up at our hostel, drove down every street in town to pick up other hikers, then headed to the park. The bus stopped at the gate so we could pay our entry fee then the driver was kind enough to drop us all off at which ever trailhead we asked for. We were told that our chosen hike was four or more hours each way and warned not to begin it any later than noon as the last shuttle back to town was at 7pm. We started our hike a little after 11am so we decided we best hustle a little, lest we have to spend the night in the Patagonian wilderness unprepared. It would make for a good story but it only gets to about 12 degrees Celsius during the day and I have a hard time imagining night time being anything other than cold.
The first part of the hike was steep uphill through a densely wooded forest filled with thick trunked trees. I also noticed that a lot of the trees had large burls on them, which I found very interesting. I later learned that burls are the result of stress, damage, or illness in trees. So its possible that some sort of disease went through the forest at some time. The dense trees started to thin out and then we found ourselves at the edge of the strangest patch of trees I have ever come across. Our path led through a patch of the most twisted and tangled tree I had ever seen. I couldn’t understand it the trees grew in any direction and, apparently, often changed their minds about what that direction should be. I spotted one that had grown in an almost perfect four foot loop. It looked like a haunted forest in a Disney movie.
After the haunted forest was a mud hole. We cautiously walked along the edge, trying not to lose a shoe until we reached a gravel creek bed to walk along. Our trail then led us across a seemingly open field. The field, however, was soft wet ground and required care and caution to navigate, for fear of the soft ground sinking into the water. I accidentally learned that the water was about the depth of an ankle.
Across the field was the final portion of our hike. A very steep trail etched into the crumbly shale on the mountain side. This would lead us to the summit of the mountain and reward us with beautiful views of the park, the town, and the ocean. Going up the final section Erin and I passed a group of people playing in a patch of snow on the mountainside, on the way back we would overhear that they had never seen snow before.
Surprisingly, we managed to reach the summit in just over two hours. It turns out we had hustled needlessly. We took a bunch of pictures and made our way back down, enjoying the scenery just as much the second time through. All said and done our hike took us just over four hours total.
On our third and final full day at Ushuaia it was far too windy and rainy to do anything of note. We just relaxed and planned our trip to Chile. The next morning, bright and early, we jumped on a bus at traveled eleven hours to Punta Arenas, Chile. It was nice to see the Patagonian country side through those big windows. We spent a few days in Punta Arenas and then I caught a plane home, and Erin took a bus to her next adventure, a nine day hike around Torres Del Paine. Hopefully I can get her to write it up for us all to enjoy.
By this time, many of you are likely wondering why I came home early, and why Erin didn’t. Well, the truth is, I am sick. I have had IBS for many years now. While travelling it got worse. A lot worse. I was stressed and not eating much; in fact I lost about 50 lbs in five months. I often found myself staying in the hostel, sick, while Erin would go do activities alone, or waste the day in the hostel. I was essentially paying big money to hang out in cheap bunk beds with a stomach ache. So we talked about it and decided it would be best if I came home and got control of my diet and stress and tried some new treatments. Erin wasn’t sure if she should keep traveling without me or come home with me, so I put my foot down. I told her to stay and travel. She is a more experienced traveler that me and she is no stranger to solo travel. Furthermore if she did come home with me there isn’t much she can do to help me recover, and it would mean ending the trip of a lifetime very early.
Posted in Hiking, Travelwith 2 comments.
New Years day Erin and I took a series of busses from Baños, Ecuador, to Santa Marianita, a beach on the coast of Ecuador. This took us about 12 hours and two busses over night. We were headed to a guest house called The Donkey Den, where we would work for accommodation and delicious breakfasts, for three weeks. We arrived on the morning of Saturday the 2nd, long before anyone in the hostel was awake. We were shown to our dorm beds and left to sleep.
The next morning we got to see the busiest day of the year at The Donkey Den, it was breakfast in the attached restaurant on the Sunday after New Years. This meant that everyone who came out to celebrate was still around and recovered enough to leave the house for food. There was also a power outage along the beach so no one had anything better to do. Unfortunately the power outage meant the kitchen needed to use a small diesel powered generator. It didn’t want to stay running and the person tending to it couldn’t seem to figure it out. I mumbled to Erin that it sounds like theres no fuel in it, having a diesel powered truck at home I am somewhat familiar with the basic principals. She urged me to stop being shy and go help.
I walked over and asked if it had fuel in it, to which I was told there was. I then looked the generator over, fired it up and listened to it sputter and die. Checked for a blocked fuel line and cleaned the gunk off of the kill switch and tried again but to no avail. I took a look for myself and it turns out the fuel tank was bone dry. I did my best to not say anything hurtful to the young man who told me there was fuel in it. I filled it, pressed the heater for the glow plugs and it fired up like a charm. I let it idle a bit and warm up before plugging in the power cables so as prevent the engine from stalling. From that moment on, I was considered a handy man. I am not a particularly handy person but the owner, Linda, still found plenty of odd jobs for me over the next few weeks. For the most part though, my job was simply to keep an eye on the place for a few hours a day and help guests with what ever they needed. I also spent a lot of time tending to the garden, something I thoroughly enjoyed.
Erin and I intended to stay for three weeks but ended up staying for six. Part of the reason we stayed so long was we were waiting for mail to come in to Quito before we left to Peru, another reason was that we just enjoyed it and didn’t feel like leaving. Something about the beach just makes you lose ambition. Over the six weeks lots of small things happened so here they are… In no particular order.
Tyson Steps On a Stingray:
One of the local American expats, named Ed, who lived near The Donkey Den was a regular for breakfasts and a surfing fanatic. I had casually mentioned to him that I would kind of like to try surfing. One morning, him and a friend showed up at the restaurant, they had been out surfing and his friend had been stung by a stingray and needed to put his foot in some hot water to ease the toxin and the pain. For future reference, hot water eases the pain of being stung by a sting ray, I also find that it help stop mosquito bites from itching so much.
Ed offered me the chance to take his friends place and go surfing. I was a little hesitant, considering the circumstances, but I went anyway. He told me to shuffle my feat on the sand to prevent stepping on a stingray and getting hit. Their sting is a defensive reaction to being stomped on. I followed these instructions carefully and shuffled out to the break… slowly. Ed explained the basics and helped me catch a few waves. I managed to stand up, very briefly, twice during the whole outing. Toward the end of our trip I jumped off my board and landed on something slimy and about the size of a dinner plate. I immediately lifted one foot off and then set my other foot down on top of it over and over again. I must have stepped on this poor sting ray about 5 times, it was similar to when you start to slip on ice and run on the spot for a split second. I managed to get both feet up at once and set them down far apart, it was a miracle I didn’t get stung. I don’t know for sure that it was a stingray but the other possibilities don’t make me feel much better. Shortly after, we headed back to the Donkey Den and I was able to get some breakfast just before the kitchen closed.. That was the end of my surfing adventures at Santa Marianita beach. The ocean is just too big and too deep, and it kinda scares me. I think I’ll just stick to snowboarding, I like the cold more anyway.
Tyson makes friends:
The great thing about volunteering there was that everyone I worked with was super friendly. I will undoubtedly miss them greatly as our travels continue. One of the ways I cheated to make friends was I baked sweets for them, this works every time. During our stay I baked several batches of peanut butter cookies. Some with oatmeal instead of flour because one of my fellow volunteers couldn’t have gluten (If you want to try it yourself just replace the flour with an equal amount of oatmeal and bake a little longer, Erin thinks they are much better this way). I also baked several batches of brownies, using oatmeal instead of flour didn’t work quite as well. I also learned how to make really good banana bread. The other volunteers tended to make huge dinners which they were more than happy to share. Erin also made her famous popcorn, naturally it was a hit. Someday I’ll put up these recipes for all to enjoy. Towards the end of our stay Erin and I had started putting weight back on, another few weeks and my pants might have fit again!
Tyson witnesses Carnival:
Carnival celebrates the same thing Mardi Gras does, the Tuesday before lent begins… I think. I have never been to Mardi Gras, but I imagine its quite a party and I have no doubt that the Ecuadorians could keep up to it. The beach in front of our hostel was standing room only, with a large sound stage blaring all afternoon and into the evening. I would watch hotel guests and volunteers walk out in clean, dry clothes and return soaked in the colourful spray foam that the people were dowsing each other with. It was quite a sight, but I chose not to go out into the crowd, I could see it just fine from the balcony…
Erin gets wounded:
Nobody panic! Erin is fine now. She was laying on the beach when a large wave snuck up on her and some friends. She jumped up in time and grabbed most of her things but the bottle of sunscreen got away. She ran through the shallow water to grab it and in the process stepped on a jagged rock and cut her big toe open. When she got back to the hotel it looked awful and I though we should go to the hospital. Once we rinsed it and got the sand out of it I realized it just looked much worse than it was. We bandaged her toe and kept it clean and I am happy to say we didn’t have to amputate. I have some pictures of her toe cut open but its pretty graphic so I won’t post it here.
Linda rescues another dog:
Linda, the owner, is a one woman army for animal rescue. At the time of our stay she had three dogs and I think about fifteen cats, though nobody was sure the numbers. She takes in stray cats and dogs, gets them spayed and neutered, any medical attention they need, and then tries to find homes for them. After they find a carefully chosen home she continues to pay the vet bills to ensure their well being.
One day we were taking two cats into the vet to be spayed. A little girl on the beach saw the animal carrier in the back of the truck and came up to me. Unfortunately she only spoke Spanish and we couldn’t communicate. She walked off a little frustrated and came back when there were more people around the truck. Eventually we figured out that she had a sick puppy at her house and wanted us to take it into the vet. She jumped in the truck with us and one of her family members followed us on a motor bike to her house. One of the volunteers went with the girl into the barely standing brick shack. I could see they had no running water. They were using the gutters to funnel rain water into a shack beside the house, I imagine it to be similar to an old style wash house. It turns out the family had a sick puppy too young to be away from its mother, AND a sick dog. It turns out they had neutered the dog themselves and as a result he wasn’t feeling too well. We took both dogs to the vet along with the cats. Both dogs were treated for worms and the older dog had been given a shot of antibiotics to prevent his wound from getting infected.
After the vet, we took both dogs back to the Donkey Den with us along with some dog food and hamburger to give to the owners to help put some meat on the skinny dogs bones. The larger dog, whom we called Dobby (his owners named him Tobi), was at first shy and lethargic but once we got food and water into him he came around. The puppy, Erin named her Charlie, was at first quite mobile but by the end of the day was breathing shallow and not moving much. One of the volunteers put Charlie in a basket with some towels for the night and she hadn’t gotten much better by the morning. Linda took Charlie back to the vet, and unfortunately she just didn’t make it, she was just too young and malnourished to survive. When Linda got back to the Donkey Den, she told me what happened and I grabbed a shovel. We went off and I dug Charlie a grave on the side of a sandy hill overlooking the pacific. It was a hard hole to dig, I have a hard time with dogs dying, especially young ones. We buried her, set some stones on the grave and Linda’s friend, Mary, said a few nice words.
The family never came back for the dogs and I don’t think they even know that the puppy passed away. Over the next few days Dobby came out of his shell, and his wound began to heal. He was eating more and socializing with people and other dogs. Erin had to lift him onto the chair to show him that he was allowed to be there. After that he would go on the chair, but instead of jump he would struggle and climb to get up, I think he just never learned to jump. When I left The Donkey Den he was still there, and last I heard he still is. It has been about two weeks, so I think its almost safe to say that Dobby is at The Donkey Den for good.
Erin and I are now on our way to see the rest of the continent, hopefully we meet another group of people that are as lovely as the guest and volunteers at The Donkey Den… but those are some big shoes to fill. Thanks for the good times everyone.
Posted in Travelwith 2 comments.
When Erin and I were packing for our trip I made a point of bringing my fly fishing gear. As I packed, I dreamt about catching piranha in the amazon and brown trout in Patagonia. Not once did bass cross my mind, maybe they should have.
While in Colombia, Erin and I went to Guatape the reason for our visit being La Piedra, essentially a very big rock that they made a staircase up the side of. The town is also near a very large man-made lake that flooded a town when they built a dam. When we were looking for a hostel I noticed one listed fishing as one of the nearby activities, obviously we booked with that one.
The day we arrived we decided to do the hike up the 700ish stairs to the top of the rock, which was conveniently across the road from our hostel. We slogged our way to the top and I’m told the views were amazing. I was not interested in going near the edge, or peeking over the railing. I hate heights, and don’t worry, Erin got a few pictures of me crawling around on the top right next to a three foot concrete railing.
The next day we walked the three kilometres into town, which involved crossing over a very shaky suspension bridge over the highway. The town wasn’t particularly exciting there were lots of people offering boat tours and a few stores selling fishing tackle, mostly small and expensive hard plastic fishing lures. That afternoon, after we got back to the hostel, I started asking about fishing. The lady running the hostel told me that the neighbour had a boat and would take people fishing for a small fee and the she had an old fishing rod Erin could borrow. I asked her what kind of fish the lake had in it and she said “trout I think, is there one called a rainbow?”. That evening, after the neighbour had returned home, her and I went over and she acted as a translator for me to hire the boatman. I was informed that the fishing seemed best between four pm and dark, about six pm. He said it would cost 40,000 pesos and he would pick Erin and I up at four the following day. That night I did a lot of research into how to catch rainbow trout in lakes.
In the morning, the hostel owner showed me the fishing rod she had for Erin. It was an old collapsible spin caster rod with the last quarter broken off of the end. The reel on it was dusty, dirty, grinding, and had about twenty feet of old sun damaged line on it. I stripped it down as far as I could and used some vegetable oil to lubricate the reel, that made a huge difference, but the rig still had a lot of problems. We walked into town again to see how much some fresh line would cost. Upon seeing the price, I decided that line would probably be too heavy for that rod and not cast well anyway.
I packed my fly gear, some snacks, and the borrowed rod into my backpack and at 3:30 we got a call that the boat was here to pick us up. We were told that he had a few other anglers out on the banks, one of whom was from Puerto Rico and spoke excellent english. As the boat headed out, I started assembling my, nearly, top of the line Redington five piece fly rod, I looked at Erins shambled excuse of a rod and felt like a bit of a show off. I was also terrified by the realization that she will still likely out fish me like she always does. I expected that the boat driver would drop us off at on the shore and come back at dark, but I was mistaken.
We pulled up to the shore and a man with a Texas accent, and a bunch of fish on a rope, jumped on the boat and introduced himself. Turns out he was the Puerto Rican, or more accurately, a Texan who had lived in Puerto Rico. He was followed by a few Colombians. We started chatting and it turns out his girlfriend is from Colombia and the men with him were his in-laws. We started talking about the fishing and he informed us that the fish in the lake were actually large mouth bass, but everyone in town referred to them as trout. He said they resembled the bass from Florida and he guessed they were transplanted there after the dam was built and to his knowledge they were the only bass in Colombia. I don’t know where he got his information from but he seemed to know a lot about bass and told us he had done some tournament fishing back home. I believed him and he was kind enough to give me some tips. Also, in an amazing act of kindness, compassion, or maybe pity he saw Erin’s rod and promptly handed her his, stating “I have been fishing for five days straight, I need a break” she took the rod and he promptly opened a well deserved beer.
He explained to us where bass tend to hide, in the weeds, and where to cast, just beside the weeds. At first no one was seeming to catch much but finally Erin connected and the whole boat was a buzz. The little bass thrashed and skidded across the surface until Erin brought it in. The Texan grabbed it, took the hook out, we got a quick picture and then it was tossed on the string with the rest of the days catch. At a glance, I would say it was one of the bigger fish caught that day.
Everyone kept on fishing and chatting, I kept practicing my casting. A few other guys on the boat caught a few fish, and kept them all. Finally, in the crystal clear water, I watched a small bass swim up and take my chironomid fly. All at once it was on, I lifted the rod and set the hook, I started stripping line. I then realized how tiny the fish was, I could tell by the joking and cheering from everyone else in the boat. I hollered at the Texan “Get the net! Gonna need a bigger boat!”. I reeled the little guy in, grabbed the bottom lip, got a picture and tossed it back into the water to grow some more. It may have been small, but on a fly rod anything is exciting and you don’t have to even be catching fish to have fun fishing, so I’m still happy with it. We fished some more with very little success until finally it was just too dark.
We started heading back in the pitch black night. I was marvelling at how well the boatman could navigate in the dark, when suddenly the boat stopped, then turned sharply. He said something in Spanish, the Texan laughed and replied, then told us the boatman took a wrong turn and was a little lost. That was comforting. We made it home with no further incident.
While we were fishing I noticed there wasn’t an abundance of plant life in the water and there didn’t appear to be much for the bass to eat. It was nice to be the only people we saw fishing on the lake and an amazing novelty to say I have bass fished in Colombia. I would be curious to see if it develops into a better fishery in the future. Maybe once aquatic plants can spread more and other aquatic species work their way in from rivers and become a food source for the sport fish. If not, its still a great place to spend and afternoon or two casting a rod.
Posted in Fishing, Travelwith no comments yet.
The Amazon might be one of the last blank spaces on the map. Its jungle so dense it can swallow entire cities and there are still, supposedly, uncontacted civilizations. That idea amazes me, that there are people living in the jungle like they have been for thousands of years that have no idea that the outside world exists. Makes me wonder if we are missing anything. Despite delusions of being a writer, I am aware that I am no explorer, but Erin and I decided to go to the town of Mocoa, which is referred to as “The Gateway To The Amazon.” From there…things got a little strange. If I am not mistaken, Mocoa is one of the last towns in Colombia that has easy access to the amazon jungle. Any deeper into the Amazon and its boats, plains, and muddy roads. Mocoa is located in a region that used to be quite dangerous due to rebel activity, but they are currently in peace talks so we didn’t think security would be an issue.
The journey to Mocoa was done in a very full, very smelly mini-van down a winding road that nearly made me lose my lunch. Erin and I checked into our hostel located on the side of the road a few kilometres out of town. We caught a “camioneta” truck into town for some lunch, and then walked back to relax at the hostel for a few hours. After dinner, we started to watch a movie with a British couple. It was a low budget Nicolas Cage film, and it was thoroughly awful. I cannot even describe how awful. So we gave up on the film. We left the common area and walked down the stone path to our four bed dorm that we shared with a French couple. We were laying in our beds reading for about ten minutes when we heard an alarm go off in the distance. We didn’t think much of it, in Colombia there are always car alarms and building alarms and false alarms going off. This alarm wasn’t stopping though, it had been a few minutes and it was still roaring. We pulled back the curtains and looked outside and all of the sudden the hostel staff came running past our building screaming in terror. All I could think was, “Here we go again.”
I jumped off the top bunk and told the French couple to shut off the lamp and I dead bolted the door. I quickly got dressed. In my mind I was thinking, “If I’m going to get shot, kidnapped, or in some kind of fight, I want to be fully clothed.”
We then took to hiding our valuables as fast and as quietly as possible. Phones went under mattresses, and computers went behind shower curtains. Erin went into the bathroom at the back of our little cabin, and the french couple huddled together on the creaky bunk bed beside the window, which didn’t strike me as a good place to hide, but I didn’t feel like correcting them.
I knelt behind the big steel door and pulled my metal pen out of my pocket. My logic was, the steel door is a barrier, if they get through it, they mean business, and I have to become the second barrier. I wasn’t sure if it was robbers looking for money, in which case its smarter to cooperate, or possibly rebels looking to kill people to upset peace talks or kidnap someone for ransom. Granted the last two are unlikely, but still ran through my mind.
After a few tense minutes, we thought we heard the police outside, we cautiously peered through the curtains and confirmed. The French man and I went to see what happened and instructed the girls to lock to door behind us, just in case it wasn’t all over.
It turns out that shortly after Erin and I left for our room, two gunmen came into the common area and took wallets and phones from the British couple and a computer from the reception. Had Erin and I still been sitting with them, we would have lost 2 phones, and iPad, and a computer to the thieves. We just missed being hit by a second armed robbery because we couldn’t tolerate another minute of the Nicolas Cage film. Maybe I should write him a thank you letter?
The next day, over breakfast, the British couple informed us they were checking out and moving to a hotel in town, closer to the police station I assume. That day Erin and I did a hike to a waterfall called “Fin Del Mundo” or “end of the world”. It was a muddy, hot and humid hike over big roots and slippery logs. There were several swimming holes and a cafe placed under an outcropping on a cliff. It was amazing to see. The hike ended abruptly when the trail dead ended at a waterfall that was eighty meters tall.
That night, a few hostel guests decided to partake in an Amazonian ayahuasca ceremony. Its a drug commonly used by shaman in the amazon to help take people to the spirit world. It is supposedly famous for helping people find enlightenment and have epiphanies. I know some people who have tried it and all speak highly of it. That said, one of the side effects is vomiting, which from what I understand, is seen as a sigh of cleansing and your body purging stress and tension. Ayahuasca does have a few instances of people being killed by it, and on rare occasion, killing while on it. For me, no thanks.
That night,I lied awake in by bed beside the window, listening to ten people vomiting in unison. A chorus of people vomiting is a hard thing to hear without joining them. I didn’t get sick, but I didn’t sleep much either. Between armed gunmen and drug use, I was starting to wonder if I was in Apocalypse Now. A few more days in the jungle and I might have had to adopt a dog or start surfing.
I was not looking forward to the next morning. We were set to take a bus to the town of Pasto. The road we were taking is colloquially known as “The Trampoline of Death“. I can’t make this stuff up. It called that because it has wild altitude changes along a narrow winding mountain road. It is the most dangerous road in Colombia. A friend of mine who had taken the trip a few days earlier posted pictures of a bus that had gotten hung up on a guard rail along the road, which did not decrease my sense of foreboding.
Erin and I arrived at the ticket window and bartered the seller down to a price we were happy with. When the driver looked at our tickets he was pretty upset and told us we had to pay more. We refused, and told him this was the price we agreed upon, and the deal was already done. No worries, he sat us at the back where it was the bumpiest. I guess his plan was to take that money out of my spine. In the three back seats was myself by the window, Erin in the middle, and an absolutely unconscious young man who smelled like a night of hard drinking leaning on Erin. She shoved him off, and he slumped back over. She grabbed his head and repositioned him and he never batted a lash.
After a few good bumps and hairpin turns he fell on her again. She devised a plan, she leaned over him and leaned his seat way back and hers way forward so he couldn’t fall on her shoulder again. I was glad he didn’t wake up for that, there might have been some explaining to do. The rest of the trip wasn’t too bad, a few nerve racking passes on a road about 1.5 cars wide. Towards the end of our trip the big van stopped hard and Erin’s seat neighbour neighbour slid straight out of his seat like it was a water slide. With a bang he landed on his back on the floor, and just kept sleeping. I was likely a nice shade of red trying to hold in my hysterical laughter. The whole van was laughing with me though.
After we checked into our hostel in Pasto, we went to the grocery store to grab food for breakfast. On the way back we passed a square with some live music and a lot of people dancing and all around enjoying themselves. We walked up to the back of the crowd and enjoyed some music. We then noticed two older men in front of us, one was drinking beer from a tall can and the other had clearly already had his share. He was short man with white pants, a white shirt, a fedora, a lime green jacket, and matching lime green shoes. The well dressed man was dancing up a storm, and I knew exactly what was coming. He spotted the two tall gringos and felt the need to do his civic duty and give us some dance lessons. He was friendly, polite, and didn’t speak a word of english, and man, could he dance.
I did my best to mimic his moves, and he was supportive but I just wasn’t getting it. He then showed Erin and they did some spins and had a grand time. Her dancing is much better than mine. We decided to leave before I got too jealous of such a good dancer spending time with my wife. As we left he shook our hands, smiled and waved. Then his friend came and shook our hands and handed Erin a warm, tall, beer can from his pocket, and wished us Felíz Navidad. It was a local Colombian brand, and hey, free beer is free beer I say. We went to our hostel and went to bed, we had to cross the border to Ecuador the next day and I was hoping our excitement would give us a day off.
Posted in Hiking, Travelwith 1 comment.
The streets were filled with smoke from the fires. The air was filled with the shouts of the crowds and the thunderous cracks in the sky. Broken glass lined the curbs. There was an unfamiliar chemical foam raining down, it was sticky and smelled like cleaner. It looked, sounded, and smelled like a city in the midst of a bombing raid. I can’t believe I paid money to be here, and I can’t believe I’m having this much fun. It was the wildest new years I have ever witnessed.
In Canada, at least for me, New Years eve celebrations are usually quite mild. They consist of spending time at a friends house and hiding from the usual cold weather that plagues us that time of year. They are typically a potluck and catch up with friends kind of an evening. Ecuador… is a different story.
Erin and I had decided that we were simply travelling too fast and it was starting to wear us down, so we rented an apartment in the town of Baños, Ecuador, for christmas and new years. It was wonderful to have our own space and be able to cook for ourselves. I even got to make two batches of cookies while we were there, those made me quite popular with our landlord and her young sons.
While we were there our friend Rob, whom we had met in San Augustin, Colombia, had made his way down to Baños and met up with us for a few days, including new years. He was on his way through, biking from Bogota to Chile… and you thought I did crazy things. He has a blog about it here. He has done this in Asia too.
New Years eve, in the morning, Erin and I went to Casa Del Arbol. We decided to take the bus there and back, instead of a three hour walk each way. Mostly because she had to be back on time for her classes and also because I didn’t feel like walking three hours each way. We jumped on the bus and a friendly British couple began talking to us. For the remainder of the trip to Casa Del Arbol and back we were friends. Casa Del Arbol is an interesting place, it is a large tree house on the edge of a cliff and on each side of the tree house are large swings which throw you out over the edge of the cliff. Erin of course went on the swing, while I took pictures for her. I opted not to ride the swing for self-preservation reasons. I did however use the zip-line that ran about three feet off the ground and maybe 100 yards long. On the way back our new friends invited us to join them for dinner at Casa Hood, we were told to bring any friends we had.
That night we met up with Rob at Cafe hood, and soon realized our confusion. Just as we were about to leave to go to the right restaurant we overheard a girl from New Zealand who had made the same mistake. We to keep her company and ordered some beers to help pass the time while she finished hers. While we were finishing our drinks two men dressed, badly, as women came running in. One began playing the guitar and singing while sitting on Rob’s lap and the other danced around. When they were all done, I gave them some spare change and they were off to find new victims. We had also noticed, on the street out front, young kids in what looked like halloween costumes were stopping traffic and people in cars were giving them candy or spare change. Throughout the day we had also noticed many people making effigies out of paper māché, in all shapes and sizes.
We eventually made our way to the right restaurant, but had missed our friends. The New Zealander’s friends were there and she joined them. We had a wonderful dinner, just the three of us. After dinner we went out to walk around and see what the festivities looked like. The streets were packed with kids in costumes and young men dressed in drag. They were standing in intersections, stopping traffic, rubbing themselves against the cars, and harassing the drivers until they got money. There were vendors on the sides of the street selling all kinds of things; masks, wigs, cigarettes, fireworks etc. Erin decided to buy a pink wig to help get in the spirit of things. There were also a lot of people shooting fireworks into the sky and drinking heavily. This was already beyond anything I had seen back home. We dipped in and out of a few bars for a drink or two but the street was just too exciting to pass up. Plus there were several stages in the streets with live music. We eventually ran into the British couple… They weren’t too hard to spot since he is about six foot five and was dressed in drag. That sort of thing stands out to me.
As the evening got closer to midnight things really started to pick up. At about ten minutes to the stroke of midnight everyone started throwing their effigies into piles on the street and beating them senseless. There was kicking, throwing, shouting, and some full on body slams. Everyone was whipped into a frenzy and then the count down began. At the stroke of midnight everyone went wild, singing, yelling, hugging, and burning the piles. Once the fires started burning things got even crazier, people were jumping over the fires, myself included, and shooting off fireworks, myself included. Fatemah, the girl we had met earlier that day, ran out of the bar and started spraying party foam out of an aerosol can. She spayed into the crowd and really made a point of hosing down Rob. To me, it looked like big heavy wet snow falling to the ground. For a split second my mind wandered to an old memory of home when me my friends and me were standing around a bonfire while the snow fell. I did my best to get some pictures of the riotous streets but there was just too much movement and action to get anything of quality. I think the blurry, crooked, and obscured photos are an accurate representation of the night anyway.
We then wandered up and down the streets and hit a few more bars. We stayed out far later than we should have, but so did everyone. We finally made it back to where we were staying at about three in the morning, at which point we video chatted with our friends back home. Between bad internet and late night excitement I don’t think I was able to properly convey what we had witnessed.
What we had witnessed, at least what I pieced together from the locals is: New Years is obviously a huge celebration in Ecuador, no one needed to explain that. They celebrate it by building and burning effigies, they can look like anything from a shoebox sized spongebob to a twelve foot tall batman. Most looked like people and varied wildly in size, they represent the previous year and anything bad that happened in that year, hence beating them senseless before burning them. The young men dressed in drag asking for money are pretending to be the widows of the effigies, who now need help providing for their family. The money, of course, is spent on beer later in the evening. Drinking in public is completely legal and I saw very young children buying and using fireworks. To me it was mardi gras, meets new years, meets a circus all without parental supervision.
When you travel you hope for adventure and excitement. You want to see other cultures and how they celebrate, you want to partake in festivities as the locals do. This, to me, was a travellers dream. We got to witness and experience a wild celebration with the locals, just as the locals do. To make it all better, it came as a complete surprise until that day I had no idea other cultures took partying on New Years so seriously.
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