Vilcabamba and the trek to Peru

The nights following my departure to Cuenca, I was filled with anxiety as to the best way to get from Cuenca to Vilcabamba or Loja.  I read some things indicating that bus rides could take up to 7 or 8 hours because the buses stop frequently to pick up other passengers.  I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to stay in Loja for a night as well.  Interestingly enough, the night before leaving Cuenca, I spotted a sign that stated that there now exists shuttle service between Cuenca and Vilcabamba leaving from my hostel, La Cigale.  Perfect.  Vilcabamba it is.

The driver was a bit crazy, only apologizing once for making the back of the vehicle slide while slamming on the brakes in the rain.  But, I put my faith in his abilities and tried to get some sleep.  The ride was mostly comfortable and only took 4 1/2 hours to reach my Hostel in Vilcabamba.  Izhcayluma is more of a resort than a hostel.  Dorm rooms go for $12 a night.  You can put everything on your tab including meals, drinks, and massages.  Bring money though, as I’ve heard the ATM’s in Vilcabamba are not always in working order.  Note that while there are plenty of backpackers here, there are also a good amount of American retirees and baby-boomers.  I enjoyed staying here, but I couldn’t completely get into the vibe of this place.

The next day, I booked a horseback ride.  My guide and his son, led me and 4 other individuals up into the mountains surrounding the city for a 5 hour ride.  It was a ride intended for more advanced riders, I feel.  There were times I was quite fearful, being on a horse with a thousand food drop and no railing right beside me.  If you can get past the fear, which I was able to from time to time, you’ll find the views to be spectacular.  The payoff came when we eventually ended up at an amazing waterfall tucked away in the forest.  Upon arriving back in town, I was thoroughly sore.  I had planned to stay in Vilcabamba only 2 nights, but decided on one more day before leaving.

The next day, I walked into town and had some lunch and purchased supplies before leaving.  I needed to plot my entrance into Peru and decided on taking the overnight bus from Loja to Piura where I will then take a bus to Mancora.  I’m ready for some beach time again.  I spent the next day mostly laying in a hammock and reading.  I have to remind myself that I can’t be running all the time, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy some days doing mostly nothing.    By 7:30pm it was time to leave.

I arrived in Loja at 9:00pm and purchased my ticket to Piura, Peru.  My bus leaves at 11:00pm.  I try to sleep, but the constant shift in gravity back and forth, due to the andean region the bus was traveling through, makes it difficult to sleep.  At 3am, we arrive at the border.  We first spend about 20 minutes signing an exit card and getting our passports stamped exiting from Ecuador.  After crossing the border, we are then required to fill out a card and have our passports stamped for our entrance into Peru.  All in all, the process went smoothly, except for the fact that it was the middle of the night and very little light.  I felt like a spy being exchanged at the border of Peru under very shady circumstances.  Luckily, the country accepted me and I was on my way.

After arriving in Piura at 6:30am, some other travelers and I get a taxi to take us to a bank and ATM where we exchanged our money for Peruvian Sole’s.  I am then dropped off at the bus station.  After a 3 hour bus ride, I finally reach my first destination in Mancora, Peru.

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Cuenca

The Road to Cuenca

When you’re traveling, you can’t expect to be having fun all the time.  In between those times of traveling merriment, there’s the actual traveling.  Many times it’s illuminating, other times it’s bizarre, but not altogether fun.  So, here’s what to expect when you’re expecting…. to travel in Ecuador:

Upon leaving Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz in the Galapagos, I discovered that two of my nurse friends that I met in Mindo, were taking the same flight out as me.  We discussed what our plans were, and I finally decided against going to the west coast of Ecuador and instead following my friends to Cuenca.  I was beached-out and it was the best bet that I could still meet up with them in Mancora, Peru for Thanksgiving dinner.

On the plane, I surprisingly discovered that my brother-in-law has an Ecuadorian doppelganger appropriately named Hector.  He was just as good looking if not more so because of his exotic Ecuadorian look.  I was even more impressed with his assertiveness when he insisted to the teenager next to me that his iPhone need to be “turned all the way off”.  Upon arriving in Guayaquil, the three of us booked a taxi to the Terminal Terrestre (Bus Terminal) in search of a bus to Cuenca.  We found one leaving at 5pm and arriving in Cuenca at approximately 8pm.  We had a little over an hour to catch our breath before our bus left.

Being a bit hungry, I went to a burger stand in the mall area of the bus terminal and ordered up some food and drink for all of us.  It was there that I had the most interesting and disgusting burger I’ve ever eaten in my entire life.  It was a McDonalds-thin mystery-beef-type patty with crumbled up Doritos, lettuce, tomato, and onion between a bun, and topped with mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, and cheese sauce.  It was a hamburger built for clogging every artery in my body.  After my 2000-calorie meal, I was ready for my 3 1/2 hour food coma / bus ride.

The most disgusting burger I've ever eaten.
The most disgusting burger I’ve ever eaten.

In Central American and South American countries, the buses commonly pick up other riders between cities and make pit stops in small town markets for food, etc.  During those times, expect people to board the bus trying to sell you anything imaginable.  On that particular night I had 2 gentlemen trying to sell me a cheap watch or an icicle.  Helado!  Helado muy frio! was shouted as the man went up and down the isle of the bus trying to sell his wares.

The buses are also equipped to blare the national pop music of that country over the speakers.  You can attempt to drown out the noise with your own headset, but all that really accomplishes is what sounds like a very bad Girl Talk remix and the ultimate loss of your hearing for a couple hours.  Que?  Que?  No entiendo.

I was able to sleep off some of my Ultimate Ecuadorian Burger.  About an hour before arriving in Cuenca, I looked out the window to discover the absence of all city lights, and an incredibly clear and bright view of the constellations of the southern hemisphere.  It was so clear that you could almost imagine reaching out and swirling the contents of the milky way galaxy around your index finger.  I fell asleep once again and when I next awoke, we had arrived in the beautiful colonial town of Cuenca.

Cuenca

Arriving in Cuenca, Kaci, Kate and I hail a taxi for the hostel that Toni is currently staying at.  It’s 9:00pm and we enter La Cigale.  It’s a hopping joint with all kinds of bohemians sitting around and socializing to popular American music blaring in the background.  It’s definitely my kind of joint. It’s got a cool french feel to it with Spanish undertones.  I’m relieved to find out they have a room for me.  They put me in with two other females, Christine and Natalie.  I’m exhausted, so I end up staying in and crashing for the night.

The next day, I get up and start walking around town, checking out the Spanish architecture.  First stop is the lavendaria to get my clothes washed.  I’m on my last day of clean clothes, and I’m already recycling my current pair of boxers for their third time.  But I digress.  Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city.  I stop into Coffee Tree and start chatting up the manager there.  He gives me some recommendations for things to do while I’m here.  I continue my quest, going up and down streets with names like Simon Bolivar or Honorario Vasquez.  Around noon, I stop into Villa Rosa, a french / italian restaurant for some lunch.  I’m the first one there, but it feels fancy.  After a table of business people stop in, I start to feel out of place with my convertible pants and t-shirt.  I order some Shrimp Fettuccine in pesto sauce and some Chilean wine.  All around, lunch is $20.  Very reasonable for an upscale joint like this.

Later I head back to La Cigale.  They’ve moved me in with the nurses.  I get in an afternoon siesta before heading down the block to the only microbrewery in Cuenca, La Compania.  Their beer is good with an offering of a lager, red ale, and stout.  It’s the first place I’ve visited that reminds me of home with beer labels from Sierra Nevada, Alaskan Amber, etc.  Also rounding out the nostalgia is a great selection of music by the likes of Audioslave, Oasis, and Radiohead.  I’m buzzed after two beers and head back to the hostel.  Kaci and Toni are intent on checking out a South American film festival in town.  I decide to join, but when we find out that the film festival is shown in a mall rather than outside, we all decide to head back to La Cigale for some drinks and bohemian chatter.  With happy hour specials for caipirinha’s and mojitos priced at $2, you can’t go wrong.  We talk about many interesting topics including, but not limited to psych patients and other misadventures in nursing.  I’m especially captivated by the background music consisting of Brazilian Girls, The Verve, Toto, Police, REM, and Johnny Cash.  Soon after, I call it night.

The next morning, Kaci, Toni, and I get up around 8am for some breakfast and then head out to Parque Nacionales Caja.  It’s about a 45 minute taxi ride up in the Andean mountains.  The plan is to hike near Tres Cruces (Three Crosses).  I’m glad I brought my marmot rain/wind jacket and a long sleeve shirt.  At 40 degrees, it’s colder than I was originally expecting.  We all start by laying a rock on each of the three crosses to commemorate those that have lost their lives traveling the region.  We hike to the transmission tower and get a great view of the area.  Next, we start hiking towards one of the lakes.  It turns out we completely missed the trail initially, but hey – sometimes you have to forge your own trail.  After 2 hours of hiking, we return to the beginning of Tres Cruces and flag down a car to take us back to the car entrance.  My legs are screaming at me at this point.  We stop into Dos Chorreras, a nice restaurant at the beginning of the park restaurant for an incredible lunch consisting of trout, cheese soup, and a slice of coconut cake.  After lunch, we head back for a late afternoon siesta.  Afterwards, I return to La Compania for my final two beers in Cuenca.

I return to my room, and work on uploading some of my memories to my smugmug account.  Later, Kate, Kaci, Toni and I head to the Eucalyptus Cafe for some Ecuadorian and Thai fare for dinner.  The food is good and the conversation is even better.  After a couple glasses of wine, we head back to the hostel and call it a night.  The girls are heading out for Mancora, Peru tomorrow, and I’m planning on heading to Loja or Vilcabamba.  My next adventure awaits.

Going Native: The Galapagos

Looking out the window of my airplane, The Galapagos Islands look just as I expect.  Somewhat lush and tropical and in other parts, barren and harsh.  To enter the Galapagos, you’ll be required to pay $10 for a tourist card.  And then, upon entering you’ll be required to pay $100 to enter the park.  I knew from the start this would be a more expensive destination in my trip, but it will be well worth it if I get the chance to swim with some sharks.

San Cristobal

After arriving, the first thing I do is locate my accommodations for the next couple of nights on San CristobalCasa de Laura is a quiet tropical haven right near the pier.  With hammocks hanging all over the place, Casa de Laura compliments San Cristobal’s vibe of being very laid back and comfortable.  I drop my gear in my room and immediately head out to find a place to rent some snorkeling gear.  My first stop is Las Tijeretas, right outside the Interpretation Center.  It’s a great snorkeling spot with some big fish, pelicans, and a curious sea lion to keep me company.  I end my night at El Descanso Marinero for some incredible ceviche which made up for the terrible American country music being played in the background.

The next day, I awoke with a really sore neck, most likely the cause of carrying a heavy backpack.  I may have to start rethinking how I carry all my stuff with me.  I decide to go low-impact for my day and head out to La Loberia to check out some Sea Lions and Sea Lion cubs.  There’s also tons of crabs and iguana’s.  While there, I see a sea lion cub come up and camp out on a little boys lap.  During the day, I noticed there are tons of sea lions in town, swimming in the fountains, camped out on the back of boats, or just taking up space on park benches.  Sometimes they’ll bark at you as you walk by, or waddle around town.  But most of the time, they’re just taking up space, basking in the sun and reminding you of how great the easy life is.  They’re the feral cats of the Galapagos.

Santa Cruz

In the morning, I head out to Santa Cruz on what is probably the most turbulent boat ride I’ve ever been on.  Imagine 2 hours of the worst airplane turbulence and you’ll have an idea of the inter-island ferry rides out here.  Upon arriving, I am supposed to start my Advanced Open Water Diving PADI training course, but due to my late arrival I won’t be able to start any of my dives today.  Abraham, my instructor from the Red Mangrove dive center, takes me to the pool where we prep our gear for tomorrow.  I’ll have 5 dives over the next two days.

The first day of diving is out at Santa Fe.  I don’t have much time to enjoy the sea life, but it’s a fun way to start diving on this trip.  The next day is scheduled out at Gordon Rocks.  It’s where I do my deep water dive at about 100 feet.  Once at the bottom, in an effort to insure I’m not suffering from narcosis, my instructor pulls out a writing board, where I’m asked to write my name forward and backward and then solve a complex addition and multiplication math problem.  I hope my work isn’t graded.  If I wasn’t breathing heavy before, I definitely am now.  The next dive is a for being an underwater naturalist.  I take my camera and underwater housing.  I’m happy that my instructor takes over photographing and video duties.  The currents are too difficult for me to capture anything, and I wouldn’t have caught much otherwise.  We swim with Hammerhead and Galapagos sharks, sun fish, barracuda’s, and sea turtles.  A truly amazing experience.  We reach the boat and I’m exhausted and sick.  And I still have a night dive to do that night.  After arriving back at the hostel, I crash for an hour.  Get up for dinner and then meet my instructor at the pool to prep for the night dive.  The night dive is in shallower water (~40 feet) and much more calm.  I do get to see a white tip reef shark pass right underneath me, but otherwise it is uneventful.  The colors at night are much more vibrant due to the ocean water absorbing much of the color during the day.

The next day is spent sleeping in.  But once I’m up, I get a taxi to El Chato, a Tortuga reserve park on Santa Cruz.  I pay the taxi driver $30, and he drives the 30 minute drive out there, and waits for up to an hour before driving you back.  There are tons of Tortuga’s laying about and eating.  You can’t touch them, and you want to try and keep your distance, otherwise, they’ll get scared, make a hissing sound, and then burrow themselves in their shell.

My original plan is to go to Isla Isabella for 2 days, but I end up meeting some friends from a previous hostel for dinner and am late in getting my plans set up.  The next day, I set up an overnight trip to Isla Isabella.  I won’t really scratch the surface, but I’ll get to see some wildlife.  Before leaving, I meet up with Ecuadorian woman that I met a day earlier at cafe / restaurant for some practice in Spanish.  She doesn’t speak English, so it’s good practice for me.

Isabela

Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela is a small, sandy, beach town.  Once I arrive, I locate a hostel and ask around about where to see some flamingo’s.  I spot them in a pond behind the Tortuga breeding center near town.  After walking back, I spot a hip beach bar, Casa Rosada, full of hostelers on the beach.  I meander over and end up having some drinks and socializing with some other traveling folk.  I’ve found my tribe.  Everyone here gets what I’m doing and why I’m doing it.  In this moment, I find it interesting how scared I was before leaving of being lost and now I feel like I’ve been found in some sense.  After a couple of beers, I head for a walk on the beach and then back to my hostel for the night.

The next morning, I wake up and locate a travel agency to schedule a tour of the bay area.  I join 10 other people where we first ride around in a boat and check out a couple penguins.  Next, we take a tour of the Iguana breeding area.  It’s situated on an area composed of lava rock.  Lastly, we go snorkeling in a small bay area.  After about 30 minutes, I stumble upon 5 sea turtles resting at the bottom of the bay.  One of the smaller one takes off and swims in front of me completely unafraid of my presence.  I watch the sea turtle for a good five to ten minutes, completely mesmerized by its swimming and occasional assent to the surface for air.  It’s as close to a religious experience as I’ve ever had.  I bid my new friend goodbye and head back to shore.  My boat leaves for Santa Cruz in 2 hours.

Back in Santa Cruz, I get shower, dinner, and start organizing my stuff for the flight back to the mainland tomorrow.  I’m still trying to decide my next stop, but I should be in Cuenca soon and making my way for Peru.  The original plan was to be through Ecuador in two weeks, but now it’s looking more like 3 weeks, possibly 4.

Mindo: Cloud Forest getaway before the Galapagos

I had originally planned to travel from Quito to the west coast of Ecuador before heading out to the Galapagos.  After talking with one of my hosts, Ilia, about travel times to Esmeraldas and Ayampe, I quickly realized that I’d most likely be rushing through those areas.  Ilia also recommended that I check out Mindo, a small town 2 hours outside of Quito, nestled in one of the Cloud Forests in Ecuador.

I arrived in Mindo Saturday afternoon and quickly set out to locate a hostel to stay at.  Having read about a nice hostel, La Casa de Cecilia, I headed there first.  She had availability and WIFI.  At only $8 a night, it was a steal.  I ended up with a single private room on the second floor.  It was simple and seemed to have a nice breeze continuously blowing through it most of the time.

I set out and in search of water and other amenities before settling in for an afternoon siesta.  I was happy to be on my own.  While I love being hosted, I was ready to strike out on my own and discover things for myself.  I had dinner at a small Ecuadorian Pizza shop in town.  It was there that I felt a bit lonely for the first time.  I headed back to my room and as I arrived, I met Kacey and Toni.  It was as if the universe was saying “I’m sorry you’re feeling alone, so I shall provide two new friends for you to hang out with”.  After some small talk, Kacey and Toni invited me to join them for dinner and drinks next door at El Quetzal with their friend Katie and Adam, another traveler they met from Sweden.  All of them were travelers taking an extended break from their jobs.  The women were nurses who were traveling South America for the next 4-6 months.  They had just arrived in Ecuador from Columbia a week prior.

After dinner, we all took a small break and then went out for drinks and some salsa dancing.  We ended up at a bar with a really bad Bob Marley painting on the wall.  It reminded me a bit of the botched Spanish fresco painting, Ecce Homo.  We were there for a couple hours conversing about every subject imaginable over beers.  We later ended up at a club where the women could do some salsa dancing.  I vow that I will take a lesson in dancing salsa soon.

The next day, I got up early and went jogging.  I had been feeling my waistline getting bigger and decided that I needed a bit more exercise.  After breakfast, I decided to head out to the Mariposario, a butterfly farm.  The person I bought my ticket from told me that it was a 30 minute walk from town.  It was more like an hour, and while exhausted, it was well worth it.  I also got to try out my new convertible pants, unzipping the bottoms so that they change from pants to shorts.  There were butterflies of all shapes an sizes.  Some were feeding on rotting banana.  A person could take their finger and rub it in the banana juice and attract a butterfly to sit on your finger while it feasts on the banana juice.

I took my time heading back, taking pictures along the way.  Right before arriving at my hostel, I met another traveler, Katie, a fiery redhead bartender from Chicago.  I invited her out and we had lunch with the rest of the crew, minus Adam who had left that morning.  After lunch, I headed back for a siesta and later said goodbye to the girls from New York.  We talked about the possibility of meeting in Ecuador or Peru later for Thanksgiving.  I told them I would make the garlic mashed potatoes if it worked out.  I may even meet up with them when I’m in the Galapagos.

That evening, I met up with Chicago Katie one last time before heading off to bed.  The next day, I took a bus back to Quito and then a flight to Guayaquil.  I immediately located the Dreamkapture hostel and settled in for the day.  I met James from New Zealand at the entrance and Patrick from Sweden a bit later.  I later met Celine from France at the pool.  She was relieved that I could speak French and offered me some of the wine that she was drinking.  All of them were my roommates for the night and it turns out that all of them were going to the Galapagos the next day.  It seems that there will be a lot of familiar faces when I get there.

I and everyone there that night opted to stay in rather than check out Guayaquil.  Honestly, there was only one thing in the guidebook that I felt would be fun to see.  Maybe I’ll check out Guayaquil after I get back from the Galapagos, but I’m discovering more and more that the big cities aren’t always the best draw.  I’m more drawn to areas that are not so heavily populated.  I feel safer.  It seems the people that are in these places are more laid-back and approachable.

Quito

It’s 7:30pm on Monday, the night before I’m scheduled to leave for Quito, Ecuador and I’m frantically making a trip to a Fedex-Kinko’s to mail one last package to my parents before I leave.  I’m bummed because I’m going to be missing out on going to one last dance at Rhythm Junction.  The day before leaving has been frantic to say the least.  I’m freaking out.  I stay up until 11:30 still trying to setup my laptop before I go.  My flight leaves at 6:30am, so I wake up at 3:45 so that I can drop some things off at my friend, Lynn’s place.  Thank god for friends.  After a tearful goodbye, I’m off.

My flight leaves on time and after I arrive in Charlotte, NC, I receive a text message from Lynn that reads:

I know shit’s crazy, your brain is full, your bag is overpacked… All part of the process.  This is what it is to truly live in the human experience, to take leaps of faith and live your dreams,  doing the best that you can.  So proud to call you friend, and my phone/email box is open 24/7.  You are more powerful and capable than you know – and you’re going to make it.  The universe wants this for you as much as  you do.

Yeah.  I got this.  I’m okay and it’s time for this adventure to get under way.

I arrive in Quito at 8pm.  After strolling through customs, I locate a TGI Friday’s in the airport and have a beer until my hosts pick me up around 9:30.  Yolanda, Yulia, Ilia, and Roberto meet me at the entrance.  Giving me hugs and kisses, they welcome me into their family.  Tomorrow, I’ll meet Yolanda, Yulia, and Ilia’s mother, Margarita and then go out to see Quito.

The next morning, Yolanda, Yulia, Ilia, their mother Margarita, and I sit down and have a light breakfast.  Margarita tears into a grapefruit and offers me one.  Don’t mind if I do.  It’s delicious.  It’s at this point the 20 questions begin.  While everyone else is mostly quiet, Margarita starts by asking me general questions.  What do you do for a living back home?  What is the purpose of your trip?  Are you married?  The last questions prompts a huge discussion of some of my past relationships and why they might not have worked out.  She becomes philosophical and starts to tell me where men and women commonly go wrong in their relationships with each other, and why they should fight to close the distances that divide them.  She’s like an Italian grandmother who now has a new child to harass about marriage and grandchildren.  Actually, she’s Russian, which makes it that much more potent.

We head out for a nice walk around Itchimbia Parque before going to The Virgin of El Panecillo.  It’s my first taste of Quito, and I’m quite taken by how beautiful the city is.  After some pictures and sightseeing, Roberto drives us through the old town, Centro Historico de Quito.  I want to stop and look around but lunch is waiting.  Ilia assures me that we’ll be visiting the old town tomorrow afternoon.  We arrive back home where lunch is waiting:  Potato and Cheese Soup with Avocado, Garlic Bread, and salsa.  I wolf my meal down and head for a siesta.  I wake up in the evening and decide to accompany Yulia and Yolanda for a Solo Jazz class that they’re teaching that evening.  While there, I attempt to chat up some locals using my Spanish.  It’s rough but getting better.

After returning from the Solo Jazz class, I’m (lightly) pressured to get my guitar so that Margarita and I can face off against each others musical abilities.  Accordion vs Guitar.  Mano y Mano.  Actually, it’s not so much a battle of the bands as its a sharing of one’s cultural music abilities.  Margarita performs traditional Russian music, while I offer up (mostly) contemporary and popular rock and blues.  It wasn’t much of a match and I personally feel that Margarita’s musical abilities outweigh my own.  Margarita tells me in the end that the word for “sharing” is very similar to the word for “competition” either in Russia or Ecuadorian.  I can’t remember which.  We end with some more talk getting to know each other before I excuse myself for the night.

The next morning, I decide to take my time getting up.  I skip breakfast knowing that I’ll be eating a good meal in the Historical Center of town later.  Ilia, Yolanda, Yulia, and I depart around 11am and take a bus to the Centro Historico de Quito.  We walk for a bit and finally end up at San Agustin, a restaurant that Ilia likes very much.  Yulia and Yolanda have some helado while Ilia and I order lunch.  I have the Seco de Chivo which is stewed goat with rice, potato, and salad.  I found the food to be quite enjoyable.  Afterwards, we make two more stops and head back to the house.  The afternoon is spent napping and the evening is spent in a restaurant watching Roberto and his band-mates Ming and Valentin play in their band Art Class.  I was quite impressed with their music.  They started out playing some traditional Ecuadorian music and then slowly progressed to some recognizable popular American fare.  There is nothing like hearing Michael Jackson and U2 played with a violin in the background.

The next morning, I spend my time getting up.  The drainage isn’t working in the house that day, which impedes Ilias cooking a bit.  We have lunch around 3:00pm which consists of potato patties, a beet and carrot salad, watermelon, and some figs and cheese for dessert.  After lunch Ilia and I step out so that I may try and find the South American Explorer‘s clubhouse in Quito.  I had heard from a woman before leaving Minneapolis that it’s a group that helps other travelers in South America plan their trips.  Unfortunately, the club was closed by the time we got there.  I’ll have to wait until I reach Peru to discover their usefulness.  Afterwards, Ilia takes me to Foch Plaza for a beer.  We return home and later, Ilias friend, George shows up and we decide to go back out to Foch plaza so that they can check out all the beautiful women.  We later meet up with a female friend of Ilia and Georges wife.  After a couple of drinks, we retreat to the house.  I have to leave early tomorrow for Mindo.

The next morning, I got up early.  Ilia, Yolanda, Yulia, and Margarita have a going away breakfast for me.  They’ve been the most incredible hosts, and I’m sorry to say goodbye.  Ilia accompanies me to the bus terminal and I commence my journey to Mindo.