Donkey Crossing

Welcome to Donkey Crossing! Donkey Crossing is an on-line account of one Limey and one Yank living one Dream. From September 2006 until the end of 2007, we plan to visit friends and family on five continents and immerse ourselves into various cultures, natural phenomena and ways of life. We hope you enjoy our tales and visit often! Cheers, Jason and Rachel Napoli

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Life at La Luna
Meet our hosts at La Luna, Kevin and Tamara. Rachel and I used to teach with Kevin back in 1998-99 and Tamara has been a friend ever since. They´ve owned La Luna, arguably the most beautiful place in Ecuador, for four years. Some of you may have met Kev and Tamara when they visited us in Chicago in January 2005.

Greetings Donkey Crossing readers! We´ve finally made it out of the city and are frolicking high and isolated in the Andes. We´re currently staying at a wonderful place called La Luna, about a 90 minute walk from the center of a small artisan town called Otavalo. The photo above is of the volcano Imbabura. It´s a very grand presence as you look to the northeast from Kevin and Tamara´s gorgeous property. The photo was taken from in front of the little house we´ve been staying in the past couple nights.
Our days have been spent acclimatizing to the altitude and taking walks with Kevin and three of their beautiful dogs...Milky, Chewy and Rumi. We plan to summit Imbabura within the next couple weeks, but will first test our lungs on the summit of an ominous peak called Fuya Fuya located at the beautiful Lagunas de Mojanda about 10 kilometers uphill from La Luna. That expedition is tentatively planned for Sunday. We´ll let you know how we do!
That´s all for now. Time to grab some provisions from the market and head back up to La Luna. Hopefully we won´t have to come back down to civilization until next week!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Scenes from Quito´s Old Town
A local eatery displays it´s culinary delights.

Funeral procession

A makeshift dynamite bottle rocket is lit in honor of the deceased.

Gill, our former boss at Key Language Services, lives in a beautiful home in one of the valleys outside Quito. She offered us a fine feast of ´comida tipica´, including tripe soup with dried lamb´s blood. Delicioso!

Gill, Rachel & Sandra take in the stunning view of the mountains from Gill´s patio.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Life in Quito

As Rachel beautifully wrote below, we´ve had a wonderful time discovering Quito...visiting old friends and making new, exploring old locales and welcoming the new. Our first day was very relaxed as we checked into where I first stayed in August 1998, the Crossroads Hostal The view from our room is the photo above.

Friday was our first full day and we went exploring right away. Our first stop was Parque Carolina, followed by a visit to our favorite little village just on the other side of Quito called Guapalo. Guapalo is a small village popular with the local Bohemian community, as well as the Spanish embassy. It has a beautiful old cathedral too. After we had enough of Guapalo, we took the long way around the mountain and ended up in Rachel´s old neighborhood called La Floresta. We had an excellent seafood lunch ($6.00!) and made our way back down to Crossroads. I think we walked around 7-8miles. Not all challenging if it wasn´t for the 9,000 ft. altitude knocking us in the lungs.

Being tired, we decided to stay close to the hostal that night, and conveniently enough there was a big concert in the square a block away in celebration of Un Dia Sin Autos (a day without cars...which was sponsored by the local bicycle federation.) We joined in the chanting at one point, "Quito en bici, no es dificil...Quito en bici, no es dificil." It roughly translates as "Quito with bicycles, is not difficult." We enjoyed the rock, hip hop and breaking dancing acts, but not the drunken youth.

The next day brought us to Old Town where we went to the central market (Rachel bought a $10.00 watch), visited the presidential palace and simply observed the sights of the old colonial center. It was a great walk, but the Old Town can get a bit dodgy at points. Later that night Jeff (a friend and the owner of Crossroads) had a surprise birthday party on the terrace of his hostel for one of the long term guests. It was a great night with a keg of Pilsener and plenty of encased meat and fruit...una fiesta tipica!

Yesterday (Sunday) we spent most of the morning recovering from the party the night before and then headed out to one of the most beautiful places in town, Gill´s (one of our old bosses) house. There we met a few of their current associates and were treated to a grand Ecuadorean feast of tripe soup w/ dried lamb´s blood, fried empanadas, fritada (tasty fried pork chunks), mote and choclo (large boiled kernels of white corn), platanos, llapingachos (potato and cheese fritters) and more Pilsener than we needed. It was a great afternoon and wonderful to see Gill and Sandra (who´s another partner in the school...Key Language Services

We´re off to the tranquility of our friends´ hostal (La Luna) in the outskirts of Otavalo tomorrow. Stay tuned for pictures and details.



New experiences; old haunts.
It's day five of our round-the-world trip, and we're just about acclimatized to Quito's 2,850m altitude. We've enjoyed getting reacquainted with the city we called home seven years ago. It's been a real treat to remember fun times with fantastic people, and to notice the norms and quirks of Ecua life that have been 'out of sight, out of mind' since we moved to Chicago.

There's an easygoing vibe here that even the police buy into. At a rock concert for the national "Dia Sin Autos" (Day Without Cars) we mingled with Ecua youth, including high schoolers who were knocking back Aguardiente (hard liquor) like cherry pop. Three police officers stood close by. One watched unfazed while the other two focused their attention and their thumbs on their cell phones, in an all-consuming texting frenzy. During a lively funeral procession we found ourselves observing a man and his kindergarden aged assistants launching bottle rockets to honor the deceased. An interesting tribute, especially in a busy public place in the middle of the afternoon, causing blasts loud enough to wake the dead (and scare the living to death). The police, like us, sat back and observed. Then there's the Chivas - a purely Latin American phenomenon involving a moving bus, live musicians, plenty of booze and a roof crammed with people out for a good time. It's without a doubt a precarious way to party with nothing keeping the revellers on the roof except a good sense of balance and a strong grip (did I mention the abundance of alcohol?). Veering dangerously off the side is 'all part of the fun' as the driver negotiates steep hills and sharp turns. Chivas would be illegal, uninsurable and unthinkable back home. It's refreshing to see them here though, especially as we're waving at the party goers as we enjoy our 'Pilseners' on solid ground.

As we walk around town, everything we're carrying is stuffed in secret pockets for safety, and we're careful where we tread; one false move on this urban obstacle course of potholes and protruding lumps of concrete could easily end in tears, and a broken ankle. Hazards aside, it feels good to acknowledge and be acknowledged by passersby, which is the Ecua way.

It's still an effort to remember to use bottled water for brushing teeth, and to dispose of toilet paper properly. Flushing it is a no-no due to inadequate plumbing. We take these minor adjustments in our stride as part of this rich experience.

The feeling of reconnecting with Quito is profound, and difficult to capture in words. The views or the surrounding mountains are breathtaking from every angle and in every varying degree of sunlight and cloud cover. The mountains are an energizing and awe inspiring presence, as are the good friends we're catching up with here. We've slipped seamlessly back into a community of travelers who welcome all transients, encourage adventures and inspire us with travel stories and dreams.

Quito, we love you and all your magic. It's good to be back.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Greetings from Bogota Airport! Well, we haven`t exactly made it to Ecuador yet. After a four hour mechanical delay in Chicago yesterday, we ended up mising our connection in Miami by five minutes! Oh well. We were rewarded with an unforgettable view of Chicago`s skyline from the southwest as we finally took off.

We knew we had some serious hurrying to do in Miami airport as soon as we touched down. We had a plan in place to split up, go to various airline desks, obtain our backpacks, recheck our packs, grab a quick bottle of water, etc. One thing we were not expecting to do as we rushed through Concourse A was bump into our dear friend Adam Farber. Adam lives in Chicago, works in NYC and by no means was supposed to be wandering around Miami airport. He was in town for less than 24 hours for a business meeting and we bumped into him in one of the most obscure corners of Miami airport. As were rushing, sweating, running, hurting to get our flight, Adam tagged along for the rush and was with us when we learned the fate of just missing it.

Luckily we talked the American Airline guy into giving us a hotel room for the night. Since our connecting flight wasn´t with American he claimed we weren´t eligible. He said he`d speak to his supervisor (which seemed to consist of him looking over his shoulder for a couple seconds) and produced a voucher for the Crown Plaza. Not bad, other than the realization that we had to be back at the airport for 5:00 AM.

So, there we were...Rachel, Farbs and I in Miami airport (Adam´s flight wasn´t taking off for another few hours). Only one thing to do...get some beers and dinner. Conversation mainly consisted of how we couldn´t believe we bumped into each other....that, and which sushi roll we were going to order next (Thanks for dinner, Adam!).

We then bid farewell to Adam, made our way to the hotel, slept for 4-5 hours, then made our way back to Miami airport ready for a minor confrontation with Avianca airlines as to whether or not we had to pay them a change fee because we missed our flight. One thing we noticed was airline representatives at airports never truly have a solid answer to your queries. We received three different scenarios from the American Airlines people, and then a few from the Avianca representatives as to what our fate was with getting a new flight. When we arrived to the airport early this AM it seemed like the Avianca folk were aware of our situation already and they were very friendly in getting us on our way to Quito and they didn´t charge us a fee. The women at the desk the night before were adamant that we would have to pay and they did a very good job at making us feel ridiculous whilst sweating and panting after an all out sprint with our packs on through the airport. Nice blokes this AM though!

Now we have a couple more hours in Bogota before our final connection to Quito. We don´t have much freedom of movement within the airport, however there´s an ample duty-free selection (with a huge Juan Valdez coffee depot). The nicest place to sit and pass time happens to be the smoking newspapers, TV (Simpson´s in Spanish when I popped my head in), nice arm chairs facing the mountains, etc. It´s sponsored by the cigarette giant Kent and the British American Tobacco Company...go figure!

So, hopefully the next report will be from Quito. We´re excited to arrive, but as Clark W. Griswold once said, "Getting there is half the fun, you know that!"


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Hi everyone! I'm Peter the Donkey. You may find me pop up from time to time on Jason and Rachel's blog. I thought you may be interested in seeing Jason and Rachel's route. Click on the map and see where they are headed! The South America, Britain and Ireland bits will be completed before the New Year. Starting in 2007, they plan to fly down to Ghana (West Africa) and travel overland up Western and Northern Africa, across Europe, up to Scandanavia, across Siberian (brrr!) Russia and then down into Asia, with plans to visit China, Tibet and India. I hope they have plenty of carrots in Siberia! Cheers, Peter

Hi there everyone. Welcome to Jason and Rachel's blog. They haven't left Chicago yet, however they will be doing so very soon. Keep checking for an update on the first leg of their trip as they go from Chicago back to where it all started in the land of volcanoes, roasted guinea pig and, yes, donkeys...Ecuador!

We'll post more soon, everyone!!!