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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

One of the most popular topics of conversation around the family-style dinner tables at Mama Hilda´s among fellow travelers was the transport schedule for the area. Nobody seemed to know when buses were coming or going, whether or not the AM milk truck would show up, or if the price of a hired pick-up truck was $5 or $25. With sore legs and bums from the previous few days in the area, we decided to take the matter in our own hands and hire a whole bus to take us up the 11,500 ft pass to Laguna Quilotoa. We knew Marty would be impressed with the German engineered vehicle.
Laguna Quilotoa is a huge crater lake located at one of the highest points of the Ecuadorian paramo. Here is the self-timer on the camera hard at work. The hike down was quite enjoyable, however the steep and arduous climb back up did us in for the day. One part was a sandy scree that seemed to put us back half a step after each one forward.
There was a bit of a traffic jam on the way back up from the bottom of the crater, but the slow traffic wasn´t much of a bother and provided a decent photo opportunity.
After we made it back to the crater rim, we visited a father-son team of artists showing off some of their local wares. We purchased a couple painted masks to pump up the weight in our packs and to help support the struggling local economy.

For our last night in the area we decided to take another recommendation and stay in a small village called Tigua. Tigua is most famous for it´s unique style of painting created by El Maestro Julio Toaquiza. While visiting the Toaquiza Gallery was a highlight, so was staying at an incredible hacienda called La Posada de Tigua. It´s a working dairy farm owned by the lovely couple pictured above, Marco y Margarita.
Here´s Rachel making a new friend. We had a wonderful stay on the farm highlighted by many of Margarita´s homemade delicacies including cheese, yogurt, dulce de leche, fresh eggs and chicken.
We will leave you with a final and beautiful visual memory from an amazing week high in the Andes.


After the weekend of socializing and visiting more friends in Quito, Rachel and I decided to head to a lovely area called Quilotoa for a five day trek through high Andean paramo. It was a unique opportunity to hike from village to village with our packs and not depend entirely on the Ecuadorean bus system. Our trek started in a very small village called Isinlivi and demanded a nine mile hike up and down the Toachi canyon to a village called Chugchilan. The photo above is the view from the loo at the first hotel.

After a few miles on the first day, we cautiously peered into the canyon knowing we had to scale into it and eventually climb back out at the end of the day. Here is Rachel getting deep into the canyon at a narrow gap.

The suspension bridge below was an interesting and shaky highlight at the base of the canyon. We arrived at the other side to lay out our packed lunch and rest our weary backs and feet.

There are only a few accommodation options in Chugchilan. One is a high-end, self-proclaiming eco-lodge called The Black Sheep Inn. We took a recommendation to stay at the equally beautiful and one-quarter the price option called Mama Hilda´s. The view of and from Mama Hilda´s is below.
One thing we never did quite much of in the past was horseback riding. Mama Hilda´s offered the opportunity (only $12 for four hours of riding!), so we gave the walking legs a rest and the bums some action. After only moments on the horses Rachel declared we need to try and ride in every country we visit.

Our guide, Pedro, is pictured below. We had three guides join us and leave us during the ride and they were called Pedro, Pedro y Pedro.
The photo above is of the two peaks Iliniza Norte and Iliniza Sur. It was a beautiful sight and quite a rare one to see the North peak completely snow covered. We were able to keep both Ilinizas in sight for most of the ride.

Our last night in Chugchilan we were treated to some local kids doing traditional dance in the garden of the hotel.
They dipped and weaved around a pole, making a pretty rainbow with their ribbons. Impressively, they managed to unravel their decorated pole without entangling themselves in a mess of colored ribbons. Bravo!

CHAOS IN THE KITCHENHola folks! I believe when we last reported, we had just returned from the fish market to pick-up some supplies for the dinner party at Sandra´s flat last weekend. You can see from the photo above that we had plenty of sea bass and assistance in the kitchen. Sandra (middle) and Lauren (Canadian currently teaching at Key) were excellent slicers, dicers and washer-uppers! The photo below is of the guests around the array of salty snacks we prepared to fend everyone off until the 10:00 PM serving.
The final menu consisted of sea bass with cherry tomatoes and dill, shrimp in garlic-leek-butter sauce, baked potatoes, corn, salad and mange tout. There was plenty of wine and rhubarb cobbler to compliment. After digesting our feast, we left for the salsa club at 1:30 AM and closed it down just past 4:00...Ecua-style.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That
Greetings! We trust everyone has mastered the art of making Sancocho Ecuatoriano since the last posting, and that it will be served to us for taste testing during the Welcome Home tour in 2008!
Below you´ll find a collection of photos from places and situations we´ve been in over the past couple weeks. We´re currently in Quito for the weekend to party and visit with old friends. Next week we´ll be heading down the Avenue of Volcanoes for some trekking through various indigenous villages and parks. Enjoy!
Here we are, above, as we get into the groove of managing a hotel. Kevin and Tamara escaped La Luna for about a week and left us to take care of their valued guests. We worked quite well with their amazing employees and had a wonderful time hosting a variety of backpackers and expatriates. It looks like we were both playing DJ on this particular night.
Leaving La Luna
After our three week stint enjoying the wonders of La Luna, we were pleased to get on the road and visit one of the most pleasant thermal spring areas in the world: Papallacta. We spoiled ourselves with a gorgeous cabana with private pools, massages, champagne, an Andean mud wrap and decadent cuisine. It was a glorious few days and the view from our cabana of the volcano Antisana is below.
Heading Into the Jungle
After our romantic stay at Papallacta, Kevin and Tamara made the journey from La Luna to pick us up and head down to their mate´s hotel in the direction of the jungle. The cloud forest between Papallacta and the Amazon jungle is a beautiful area of lush, virgin forest and cool flowing rivers.
We stayed at a wonderful hotel called The Magic Roundabout. It´s run by a great English bloke called Ali and his wife Meg. They run a very peaceful and gorgeous hotel, as Ali spoils his guests with hikes to waterfalls and mountaintops, while Meg manages the organic garden and livestock.

Ali chilling out by the river after a swim and some tubing.
Meg truly in her element. It should be said that Meg grows the most delicious array of organic lettuces, leeks and fruit we´ve ever tasted!

The photo below is of the river and bridge where we spent the afternoon swimming, tubing and feasting on tasty food arranged by Ali and Meg. They were wonderful hosts and we would highly recommend a stay on their land if anyone ever has the chance. You can check out their website at

Back In Quito

Our current accomodation back in Quito is at our friend Sandra´s new deluxe flat in the El Bosque neighborhood. She´s having a dinner party tonight while Rachel and I will be the special guest chefs. We just returned from the market with piles of veggies, a couple kilos of fresh sea bass and plenty of rhubarb for Sandra to make her cobbler. It should be a good night.
Cheers everyone!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Buen Provecho!
Gastronomy is a passion of ours, and Ecuador is a wonderful place to indulge it. A typical day here begins with a fresh fruit salad, containing an impressive range of deliciously ripe, often organic fruits. This fruity festival of colors and tastes is typically topped with yogurt and homemade granola, made the ´La Luna´way. Kev´s culinary skills have been much appreciated (our ´Lord of the Manor´is also ´King of the Kitchen´), as have delicious offerings prepared by the La Luna staff, including traditional Ecuadorian dishes such as Sancocho. In fact, we like the Sancocho so much that we asked Rosa, the ´soup queen´ of La Luna to share her recipe with us. For all the chefs reading this, grab your soup pot and get cooking. Buen provecho!

Sancocho (serves 5)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cut into chunks 1 inch thick
  • 1 lb yucca, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 green or red pepper, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 green plantain, grated
  • 1 tomato, chopped

  1. Bring a large pot of water (at least 2 litres) to the boil.
  2. Add the corn on the cob, grated plantain and cooked rice. Simmer.
  3. Saute the carrot, onion, garlic, pepper and tomato for 10 minutes.
  4. Add sauteed ingredients to the pot and continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  5. Add the yucca. Simmer for a further 30-45 minutes.
  6. Season to taste, then serve with diced onion and chopped cilantro on top.

Rosa also recommends a fish version of this Sancocho. Try adding chunks of sea bass along with the corn, plantain and cooked rice for a delicious variation of this classic soup.

Thanks to Rosa for sharing this recipe, and to all the La Luna staff who have taken good care of us. Rosa is pictured here with her two sons.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

El Volcan Imbabura
4621 meters

Our second successful summit of the trip was of the Imbabura Volcano. Although an inactive volcano, it´s a very important one to Rachel and I, as we have spent countless hours staring at it from the sloping hills of La Luna. It has a very broad and towering presence as it sits high above Lago San Pablo and the towns of Ibarra and Otavalo.

As seen in the photo above, the day started quite clear when we entered the valley. It was a far more difficult climb compared to Fuya Fuya, as the altitude was much higher, the final ascent was completely vertical at one point and the strong winds/sleet at the summit were a bit of a surprise. The photo below is Rachel beginning the scramble up one of many false summits, and the tiniest bit of blue sky we had seen for hours disappeared in less than a couple minutes.

By the time we reached the summit it was nearly a complete white-out. And how did we know we reached the summit whilst climbing the intimidating Imbabura through thick white cloud, you ask? By the Sprite bottle on the stick, of course!

Stay tuned for more tales!


Monday, October 09, 2006

24 hours in Intag
Kevin and Tamara have spoken favorably of Intag, a beautiful region a couple of hours northwest of Otavalo. Located between the mountains and the coast, Intag´s fertile slopes are covered with cloud forest, with sporadic patches of farm land. Jason and I decide we´d like to experience Intag first hand, and Kevin is happy to be our chauffeur and guide, since he also gets to visit the piece of land he and Tamara bought in Intag last year. The Kidds own the saddle and the peak to the right of the large plateau, as well as the land below all the way into the valley, pictured here.

The drive is a bumpy one on an unpaved winding road, but as we descend through the cloud forest, stunning views of lush peaks and valleys abound. We pull into the Cabañas Rio Grande where we´ll be spending the night. Within a two minute walk of our cabins are a picturesque river and some bathing pools, heated by natural thermal springs.

After a few hours in the Land Cruiser on dusty roads, we savor the warmth of the thermal pools, while watching the pink sunset glow as it climbs through the valley. After a delicious, simple feast of local trout, we retire to our rustic accommodations.

The next morning, we take the bumpiest and dustiest road yet to Kevin & Tamara´s land, heading up, up and up some more. On arrival we find a large piece of land with a wide array of fruits and vegetables growing with apparent ease. We grab a couple of granadillas (a hard shelled fruit with slimy, delicious seeds inside) and begin climbing to the peak to the right of the saddle. We are a bit disturbed, but not entirely derailed by several ominous looking spiders along the path. We make it to the peak, noticing the pleasant abundance of oxygen, since we´ve descended quite a bit in altitude from lung-crushing Otavalo.

To our right, there´s a near vertical drop into the valley, and to the left, a full view of Kevin and Tamara´s land.

While we´re exploring and examining our exposed skin for spider bites, Kevin talks business with ´La Doña´, the previous owner of the land who continues to live here, operating a small farm and acting as steward of the land in Kevin and Tamara´s absence. Apparently a neighbouring landowner has been planning to build an road straight through the middle of Kevin and Tamara´s land. Encroachment seems to be a common occurence here. Hopefully the tactics La Doña has been employing to fend off the intruders will continue to work. I personally wouldn´t mess with anyone who owns a machete as big as hers.

Kev and Tamara have found another slice of paradise. We leave with a sack full of organic oranges, bananas, lemons, sugarcane, granadillas and lemongrass. Although Tamara couldn´t join us, she will certainly enjoy the fruits of our trip!

Thanks to Kev, ´the Lord of the Manor´, for another great Ecuadorian outing.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


It all started last Friday night on Kevin and Tamara´s terrace watching the sunset. Instead of summiting Fuya Fuya on Sunday, Kev had the idea to bump it up a day. After slight deliberation, we decided to put down the Pilseners for the eve, and be sure we´d be well-hydrated for our first Ecua-summit of the trip.

The day started at Las Lagunas de Mojanda, a beautiful set of lakes about 10km above La Luna. The lakes are also the base of an ominous peak called Fuya Fuya...almost always covered in thick cloud, resulting in strong hues of gray, green and black.
Halfway up Fuya Fuya, Rachel looked up to the sky. She pointed out a very large bird. A pair of birds, actually. First thought: vultures. After further review of the incredible wingspan and, most noticeably, the white ring around the neck, Kevin quickly concluded they were condors.
The Condor: the national symbol of Ecuador. Latest count by the Ecuadorean Condor Bioreserve has the endangered condor count at 80!
So there we were...Rachel, Kevin and I repeatedly being circled by two gigantic condors. We saw them halfway up the mountain and then they flew off. As we approached the summit, our feathered friends returned for an encore and began to swoop down with seven foot wingspans within only a couple meters of us! We stared in awe, savoring this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
...and then they soared into the distance for a second time, only to leave us wondering if they would appear again (and if anyone would believe our tale).

The trusted iPod sitting on top of our fireplace

NJiPE 2/3/4
Here are a few of the latest "shuffled" set lists from the iPod!
Jerry Garcia Band-My Sisters and Brothers
Jerry Garcia Band-That´s What Love Will Make You Do (7/29/77)
Dave Matthews Band-The Stone (12/13/02-United Center)
Wilco-A Magazine Called Sunset
Wyclef Jean-Anything Can Happen
Duke Ellington/Louis Armstrong-See The Light (After listening to this track I decided I needed to turn off "shuffle" and listen to the rest of the Ellington album)
Jerry Garcia Band-Sitting In Limbo
Babatunde Olatunji-Bebi Solo
Nina Simone-Keeper of the Flame
Neil Young-Living with War
Dwight Yoakam-Home for Sale
Seu Jorge-Five Years (Bowie)
Hot Rize-High on a Mountain Top
Miles Davis-Straight, No Chaser
Grateful Dead-Attics of My Life (9/24/94)
Phish-Llama (10/24/95)
Fatboy Slim-Praise You
Blues Traveler-Mulling It Over
Built To Spill-Virginia Reel Around the Fountain

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A major part of travel is what we hear and what we see. Whether it be the colors of a market, the peaks of mountains or the crying of a baby, our senses are critical to our experience. More specifically, reading and listening are also crucial to what we do on a daily basis.

One of my favorite aspects of travel is the fact that there´s so much time to read. In the short time we´ve been gone I´ve been fortuante to have already read:

Driving Over Lemons by Chris Stewart: One man´s story of convincing his wife to buy a rustic farm in Andalucia, Spain and the comedies and tragedies that come with it.

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne: The classic journey of the great explorer Fogg in his attempt to win a fortune if he travels around the world and returns to London within 80 days.

(currently) The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini: The powerful story of an Afghani family in Kabul and America...telling of when times were good and when times were bad. (I´m loving this book and can already highly recommend it)

Rachel decided to challenge herself with the Spanish right away and purchased a copy of El Maravilloso Mago de Oz (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz). There were flying monkeys and Dorothy made it back to Kansas. She´s currently reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith.

We also devoured the Rolling Stone, Blender and Spin music magazines within our first few days, the three staples I pick up at every airport, along with a bottle of water.


On an early summer evening in June, Rachel and I were hanging out with our good friends Neal and Jen in Naperville. Neal and Jen share a similar passion to music as we do, and the countless number of shows Neal and I have chalked up since high school always leaves us plenty to reminisce and discuss. When the topic of whether or not Rachel and I should travel with an iPod came up, Neal and Jen were completely adamant that we travel with tunes. Music can leave lasting memories and it would be such a comforting luxury. The problem: Rachel and I have never owned a computer, let alone a digital music file.

An incredible offer was made, and quite quickly accepted, that Neal would give us his fully loaded iPod for our journey. He had been planning to upgrade and all we would have to do is buy a set of earbuds. The deal was done, with the expectation that we would report our iPod experiences to Neal and Jen...especially those experiences that involved the shuffle songs option. A random selection from 6999 tracks of jazz, rock, funk, bluegrass, classical, etc. We agreed and I declared all reports involving our newly gifted iPod would be known as: NJiPE (Neal and Jen´s iPod Experience)

The first installment of NJiPE comes from a three hour siesta I took the other day: (shuffle)

Ratdog: Playin´(reprise)
Phish: Camel Walk
Phish: Crowd Control
JGB: Gomorrah
Bob Dylan: Freight Train Blues
Buddy Guy and Junior Wells: Sally Mae
The Black Crowes: She Talks to Angels
Del McCoury Band: Blackjack County Chains
Tribe Called Quest: Oh My God (remix)
Phish: You Enjoy Myself (40 minute version from 10-31-95, Rosemont Horizon)
The Bottle Rockets: I Quit
Saunders/Garcia: Welcome to the Basement
London Symphony Orchestra: Delius Viloin Sonata #1
Odetta: Jim Crow
Jack Johnson: It´s All Understood
Phish: Water In The Sky
Willie Nelson: I Couldn´t Believe It Was You
Bruse Hornsby: Mandolin Rain + Black Muddy River (awesome!)
UB40: One in Ten
Phish: Tube
Cat Stevens: Wild World (this was the inaugural tune on the iPod when Rachel and I acquired it back in Naperville. As Jen says, "The iPod knows".)
10,000 Maniacs: Don´t Talk
Grateful Dead: Not Fade Away
Garcia/Grisman: Jenny Jenkins

One other magical iPod experience I had was when I sat to watch the sunset the other night to Hendrix´s Axis: Bold As Love.

Neal and Jen-Thanks for all the wonderful music and memories!


Monday, October 02, 2006

A wonderous, wet reward after a short walk from La Luna.

A morning stroll above La Luna yields great views.

View of Suzi´s farm from La Luna.

Goodnight Sunshine
This is our sixth day at La Luna, the peaceful haven for travelers tucked between local farms on the mountainous outskirts of Otavalo. As the sun begins its descent over La Luna, I think about the many things that make the experience of being here divine.

Kevin and Tamara, our good friends and owners of La Luna, are fantastic hosts. Their menu offers an abundance of delicious dishes, many made from local organic produce. Accommodations are immaculate and welcoming, with fresh flowers from the garden in each room. And the atmosphere is as laid back as a Mexican beach, with soft mellow music playing, and big friendly dogs lounging in the sun. The staff and guests seem to blend in perfectly with this tranquil, low key place, and spending time with all of them is a particularly rich aspect of life here at La Luna. Being in the mountains, the hiking opportunities are endless, offering physical challenges and spine-tingling views. For now, I´m soaking in the scene from La Luna´s grounds.

Clusters of clouds take turns in a metamorphosis from white to warm, orangey pink to sleepy grey. As the day shift ends and evening takes over, I enjoy a delicious soundtrack of bird song, piglet bleats, grumblings from the cows as they´re herded home, and the carefree laughter of children. A dark green hummingbird has joined the scene right behind me, feasting on pretty white flowers, unaware that he´s putting on a show for me.

I can´t see Jason, but I know that he´s about 200 metres uphill, enjoying the sunset from the edge of the eucalyptus forest behind La Luna. He later tells me he had his own personal soundtrack, with Jimi Hendrix´s "Axis: Bold as Love" playing on the iPod.

Suzi, one of Kevin and Tamara´s employees who lives on the farm next door, can be seen in silhouette, enjoying play time with her son Ismael. As the sky warms, they sit to enjoy the end of the day.

Kevin and Tamara are now watching the same scene from in front of the hostal, with dogs at their sides. It occurs to me that many birds, animals and humans rely on the daily recurrence of this important ritual of nature. How fortunate we are that the ritual is such a beautiful one.

The pink disappears, and dots of light begin to appear in the valley. A plane heading for Quito airport disturbs the soundtrack of the sunset, reminding me of the world outside of La Luna, and of urban life. For a moment, I think about home, and the overstimulating cocktail of television, phones, computers, traffic, pollution, work and stress. There is so much natural life occuring here at La Luna, I feel just as overstimulated. Every moment is a feast for the senses. It just tastes a bit different from the feasts we´re used to back home.

Thank you, Kevin and Tamara, for sharing your special home with us.