A Time Of Re-Birth

May 13th, 2017

I am so excited that it is my “re-Birthday” today … and I find it very hard to believe that the present-day incarnation of my multi-faceted life has actually just turned twenty years old. Yippee!!! I am no longer a teenager. My adolescent years have been intense, filled with gut-wrenching inner growth, as well as unbelievable adventures of magical self-discovery.

(For anyone who has no clue what I am talking about, message me if you are interested, and I will fill you in with the details.)

I have been physically residing back in the US for a year and a half now, and the integration journey has been quite the unexpected roller coaster ride. The process has frequently been intense, and even overwhelming. I feel as if I am walking a thin tightrope, constantly trying to reintegrate living in this western world while simultaneously nurturing and expanding the new butterfly-me that has begun to spread her wings after seven-years of breaking out of one culturally-conditioned cocoon after another.

I spent the first eight months of that time simply hiking the expansive trails around Sedona Arizona, often exploring more than twenty miles each week. It was a wonderful time of doing things that most of the world would not even define as productive. During those months of exploring the energy-filled red-rock wonders, I found my inner-wonder again; constantly centering myself, frequently playing my drum and flute, and always continuing the integrative processing of my emotional healing.

I have never announced this publicly, but in September of 2016, I moved to Windsor, California, (an hour north of San Francisco) renting a room from a dear friend, continuing to experiment with how to re-balance and integrate myself while beginning to take baby steps back into being more social.

This won’t make sense to many, but after eight years of doing incredibly deep healing work, I have grown so sensitive to the often-chaotic emotional energies of others around me, that participating in group activities has been quite the turbulent eye-opening experience. I have frequently found myself retreating to the safety of my personal cave (my room) to lick my wounds, to nurture myself, to release more deeply held trauma, and to center and rebalance for the umpteenth time.

Today, as I celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my re-birth, I find myself in a very heart-balanced state, enjoying the magic of the day, looking forward to maybe resuming my writing in the near future. (But there are no guarantees, because the last ten days have been quite the wild roller coaster ride again.)

Tomorrow, I reconnect (in a workshop) with someone I have never met — an author named Tama Kieves. It was almost exactly ten years ago that I synchronously stumbled across her then-new book titled “This Time I Dance”. It is an incredible and inspiring book that magically stirred up another awakening process within my heart, giving me courage to begin the emotional preparations of leaving what was then a twenty-nine year career as a highly-skilled Software Engineer.

What is even more synchronistic and fascinating is that this morning, while perusing birthdays on Facebook, I discovered that today, May 13, 2017 (my 20th re-birthday), is the actual physical birthday of a young woman from India that I personally trained to replace me at Novell when I was laid off from my job just under ten years ago.

I am “in awe” … or perhaps “awed” … or maybe even “odd” … as I ponder the magical re-birth synchronicities that are all lining up today, reminding me of all of the magic that has guided me to be who I am today.

Perhaps all of these magical metaphors of re-birth are nudging me ever-so-gently into also engaging in the re-birth of my writing. The time feels very near. As I type these words, inner giggles are dancing around at the very thought.

Sending huge loving hugs to all of my friends and family who have participated with me in this life-transforming journey – either holding my hand through tough times, or inspiring me to focus on the magic within. Whether our hearts have been joined for decades, or simply connected for a brief moment in time … I love you all, and am so grateful for the parts of the journey that we share.

May we all continue to be re-born on a very frequent basis.

Copyright © 2017 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Embracing The Mama Dragon In Me

June 1st, 2016

A few evenings ago, intuitive nudges urged me to watch a YouTube video containing an interview of several women from a group called the “Mama Dragons”. During that emotional experience, my heart burst open, and tears were shed as I listened to how these amazing mothers of LGBT+ youth had bonded together to provide unconditional love and support, not just to their own children, but also to other LGBT+ youth who desperately lacked such crucial support in their own families and life circumstances.

As I watched the video, I pondered my own lonely struggle through hopeless teenage years consumed in agonizing self-loathing. I remembered how utterly terrified I had been at the thought of anyone ever discovering my “evil” transgender secrets. While my parents were indeed honorable and loving people, I did not believe that they could ever have loved and accepted the female-me that incessantly struggled to make herself known as the determined male-me continued to force her back into the shadows. To hide my shame, I did my best to wear a genuine mask of pretense … of desperately trying to conform and fit in with my family’s religious beliefs so that no one would ever have to learn of my shame.

As the years wore on, I became my own parent — one who continued to judge and hate myself based on the conditioning that I had absorbed from the religion and culture around me. The second half of my sixty-one year journey has been an uphill struggle to increasingly embrace the authentic me — a journey that has been frequently embroiled in gut-wrenching emotional processes — a journey of determined-but-gradual healing and learning to love myself once again.

One profound truth has recurringly graced my heart during my adventures of the last seven years. I have learned that the healing I seek is an “Inside Job” … that there is nothing “out there” that can complete me … that I will not allow myself to feel truly loved until I learn to recognize and deeply love my own divine nature … my own pure innocence … the same innocence that we all possess at our deepest core.

As I later pondered the “Mama Dragon” interview, I was suddenly overcome with intuitive giggles.

“I need to be my own ‘Mama Dragon'”, the inspired inner voice spoke. “I need to fiercely love myself as only a mother dragon could do — unconditionally honoring the innocence and worthiness of my own precious inner child.

Today, as I sat in a dry river wash just north of Bell Rock (in Sedona, Arizona), I was reading the book “Whatever Arises Love That”, written by my new favorite author, Matt Kahn.

As I read (and continued to read during this process), I suddenly found myself judgmentally reacting to loud voices that I could hear from more than a hundred feet away. My old friend “Noise Anxiety” was again rearing its “ugly” head.

Suddenly, I stopped in my tracks. Rather than impulsively yelling out “Shut Up!” at the top of my lungs, I questioned the source of my angry reaction — a noise anxiety that has plagued me for more than five decades — posing this self-question in a brand new way.

“Just who is it that is angry?” I curiously asked myself.

I began to giggle as I realized it was my own pure innocence that was angry, desperately wanting me to notice and acknowledge her. That innocence had been constantly beaten down by a well-intentioned world — a world of religion and culture that turned an innocent and free wild stallion into a reluctantly-conforming sheep. The bombarding noisy energies of a conditioned rat-race world were quite painful to that innocent me. I had repeatedly tried to voice my angry rebellion toward the external chaos that broke me, but after frequent parental punishments, I had finally given up, succumbing to the conformity-saddle, sinking into the survival-role of an externally-smiling people pleaser.

In that insightful moment, just a few hours ago, I took on the mantle of that “Mama Dragon” label, and I fiercely loved that precious little innocent me, doing so with a new level of clarity and authentic depth. I acknowledged how agonizingly painful the noisy world had been to her innocent nature. I begged her forgiveness for having unknowingly repressed and hated her for so long. I promised to unendingly and unconditionally love and support her as any true “Mama Dragon” would do.

As the next few hours unfolded I found myself both laughing and crying at the same time. It was a state of pure joy during which layers of repressed emotion were humorously and agonizingly let go. That serious controlling parent in my head was finally beginning to embrace another layer of magical and giggling innocence that has been long-hidden in my heart.

Words could never adequately convey my adventures of today. But I can say that something is quite different inside of me, and I am more eager than ever to continue this unfolding journey of self-discovery.

Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Re-grounding, Re-grouping, and Integrating

May 13th, 2016

I have been mostly silent over the last six months, but I cannot let today pass without finally returning to my keyboard. My heart demands that I do so.

Today (May 13, 2016) is my re-birthday … a day in which I complete nineteen years as my authentic self. (If you don’t  know my story, you can message me and I will gladly fill you in.)

These nineteen years have been a wild roller coaster ride of ups and downs. The healing journey has been far more intense than I could ever have imagined … a journey taking me to the very depths of my soul … but WOW, it has been so worth it.

This morning, as I hiked toward Soldier Pass on one of the countless beautiful trails in Sedona, Arizona, I found my eyes tearing up with raw vulnerable emotion. At the time, I was pondering the kinds of things I would like to say in this post while simultaneously experiencing a river of pure gratitude overflowing from within. Soon, I found myself sobbing in the shade of a beautiful red-rock arch, high above the valley below.

I found it quite significant when I realized that, as Brenda, I was only twelve years old when I boarded that one-way flight to Mexico in June, 2009. As I began that magical “Journey of Self-Discovery”, I could never have predicted that I would spend most of seven calendar years outside of the United States. My mind could never have fathomed the constant stream of magical synchronicities that would repeatedly guide me through powerful, magical, emotionally excruciating, and life-changing growth, one courageous experience at a time.

When I returned to the U.S. last November, I had every intention to quickly find a place where I could settle in and begin to write … and write … and write. After three weeks or regrouping, visiting family and friends etc…, I loaded up my car and set out with blind faith, having no idea what the future would bring, simply knowing that I had an undeniable intuitive nudge to begin my adventures by heading south into Arizona.

These last six months have not been at all what my mind had expected. The mental expectations can be quite overbearing. I have to frequently pause, take some deep breaths, and thank my chattering head for its input. Then I continue to flow with my heart.

On that first day of travel, as I pulled into Sedona, Arizona, after dark, I began to realize just how much I did NOT want to be in this country. In Peru, I had been living on much less than $500 per month (rent, food and transportation). As I searched for lodging in Sedona, the cheapest, dumpiest room I could find was just shy of $100 for one night. The culture shock was beginning to feel like quicksand … and hints of rebellious depression tried to convince me that there was no way I could survive in the U.S. without losing myself back into the hypnotic clutches of the economic rat race.

After three delightful days visiting and hiking with a friend in Sedona, I spent a magical week with a friend in Phoenix. Finally, just before Christmas, I settled in for a longer stay at a mountain home owned by a friend — a cabin in the mountains just two hours from Phoenix. I was so grateful for the solitude there … for the place that I could temporarily call my own … and for the chance to begin exploring this new phase of my life. Who would have thought that instead, I would spend the next six weeks cycling through intense waves of suicidal emotions. I myself was not suicidal. I clearly knew that what was really happening was that I was healing another deep layer of emotions from my youth … emotions that had been repressed and forgotten, and which were now boiling to the surface so that I could finally heal them. For those who have followed my journey, you may recall that I spent nearly six months drowning in similar emotions while in Guatemala back in 2012. In Arizona, these emotions were even stronger, but thanks to so many years of acquiring wisdom related to healing, I knew that the best way to heal this new layer was to lovingly give myself permission to swim right through the middle of it … which is exactly what I did.

It surprised me when I was finally shown (intuitively) that the primary roots of that depression were mired in my shut-down throat chakra … in the overwhelming unhealed grief of having bottled up the expression of my true authentic self as a tiny child … in the terror of expressing what was really going on inside, and of instead pretending to be what everyone else wanted me to be.

I stayed up late one night in mid January, sobbing through intense layers of that emotion, releasing each layer with physical gut-wrenching tears and then bringing in Higher Love to transmute them.

The very next morning, I suddenly felt motivation to begin researching my next move. My friend needed her mountain home back (she was moving in a week later), and I finally felt ready to step forward out of that hypnotic cesspool of old emotion. I explored internet sites to investigate the possibilities of rooms for rent, somewhere in a warmer climate. I checked possibilities in Texas, Colorado, California, Oregon, and elsewhere … and then as a last thought, I felt an inner nudge to check out southern Utah.

Suddenly, I found myself staring at photos of a room rental that resonated deeply in my heart. To my shock, it was a room in the Sedona area (I was NOT even searching there), near the famous Bell Rock in the unincorporated village of Oak Creek. Sedona had not even been on my radar of possibilities. I giggled when I noticed that my new landlady had just posted the add less than twelve hours earlier — precisely when I was releasing all of that emotion and finding deep healing.

To make a long story short, I moved in to my little ten-foot-square room on January 26, 2016. It is a separate little exterior room just ten feet from the door to the shared kitchen. I have a view of the energizing red-rock (including Bell Rock) just outside my bedroom window … and I share the kitchen and bathroom with a sixty-year-old woman and her eighty-year-old mother. It has been an ideal situation from the start, and I have the freedom of a month-to-month rent with only two-weeks notice needed if I decide to follow my heart elsewhere.

These last three-and-a-half months have been both beautiful and intense. On average, I hike anywhere from three to five days per week, averaging around fifteen miles per week. There are so many trails in the area that almost every hike I do is on a different trail. Usually, I carry a Native-American Buffalo Drum and a Native-American Flute with me, and I find a quiet place somewhere off the trails to sit, meditate, and play with my musical toys. I love those times.

While I continue to do ever-deeper emotional work, I have for the most part just focused these last three months on trying to reconnect with my Higher Self and to further integrate my last seven years of experience back into a balanced and healthy “Me” here in this western culture. I had no idea that it would be such an intense journey to re-integrate my new self with the world I left behind.

The idea of writing book(s) has constantly been at the top of my “mental should list”, but until now, my heart has simply been elsewhere. I couldn’t even get myself to post a short Facebook status until today.

Today, I find myself open and vulnerable. My heart guidance tells me to be here in this country, at least for now. But I am also totally aware that I no longer fit in to this culture in the old way … and I have little motivation to even try.

My heart frequently reminds me that I have so much to offer — so much wisdom and healing experience from healing my own life, from working with countless therapists, healers, shamans, and plant medicines — so much passion to write and to help inspire others — so much love and desire to make a difference in this world. And yet, my mind has no idea how to pull all of this together … at least not in the present moment.

But today, I simply revel in the magical flow of trust and not-knowing … of communing with the red rocks in Sedona … of continuing to heal and find new expressions of unconditional love inside of my own heart … of trusting the yet-unexperienced synchronicities that I know will reveal themselves precisely when they are ready and not a moment before.

So today, I celebrate my re-birthday by overcoming a six-month writer’s block, six months of refusing to even try to write … and most of all, I celebrate nineteen magical years of exploring the authentic side of Brenda, the real me.

In all my openness and vulnerabilities, I get the sense that the cocoon is softening, that the metamorphosis is nearly complete, and that another version of me is yearning to spread her wings for the next phase of a yet-unknown adventure.

Copyright © 2016 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – A Guatemalan Jungle Journey – Sept 10, 2015

November 15th, 2015

On Thursday, September 10, 2015, I arose early, eager for a long-awaited adventure – a trip into the Guatemalan jungles – an expedition to explore the place where my favorite Cacao Shaman (Keith) first connected with the fruits and magical seeds of that sacred plant.

This post contains 122 photos from that fun and magical day. I first connected with cacao trees in the southern mountains of Belize while living in a tiny Mayan village in early 2010 … but after working with Keith for close to four years, I had never visited the area where he first found the cacao that has been such a profound facilitator in my own healing journey.

This post ends with a heartfelt summary of these last four magical months. I am profoundly grateful that I followed intuitive nudges telling me to make a stop here on my return journey from Peru.

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

An Early Start

I was up before the break of dawn, quickly whipping up a small pot of fresh oatmeal, hurrying to gobble it down so I could begin the quest.

Keith and his sweetheart Barbara had originally planned the trip as a way to introduce their full time workers to the origins of the cacao trees – the source of the cacao that his workers help to process and ship to places all around the world. Keith later invited others of us to join. When I walked down to the boat dock near Keith’s house, I arrived ten minutes early, and was the first one there. I had no idea at the time just how many of us might end up going.

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As I waited by myself, enjoying the beautiful scenery, a magical lake surrounded by volcanoes and cool mountain air, I spotted the light of a boat. It was the boat that Keith had arranged to pick us up, and to carry us across the lake to Santiago.

The San Pedro volcano is the one on the right, and the town of San Pedro La Laguna sits right at the base of the volcano, slightly to the right of the photo.

The distant volcanoes on the left are volcan Toliman and volcan Atitlan.

Our first destination (Santiago) is at the base of the first distant volcano, directly behind the light of that boat.

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Zooming in on the San Pedro volcano, with a portion of the town visible in the right center of the photo.

The real reason I took this photo is that I wanted to capture a glimpse of those two fishermen, each in their own wooden canoe. Such fishermen are often out on the lake at the break of dawn, beginning their daily labors.

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Looking toward the other two volcanoes. Volcan Toliman is the first one, with its twin peaks on the left. Volcan Atitlan is the peak on the right. It is taller, but further away.

The light of the boat is getting brighter and closer … and still, I am enjoying alone time on the dock.

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The lake level is constantly shifting here. It is about three feet higher than it was when I left in 2013. This lower part of the dock is almost under water, so they removed the boards.

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I am waiting on this upper dock, just below this small two story building. This is a public dock, but is not the main one where most boats stop on a frequent basis. Keith’s house is less than five minutes walking from here.

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Since my camera automatically adjusts to the light, the previous photos all appear to be taken in broad daylight.

This glance to the east shows that the sun is just barely beginning to expose itself over the eastern mountains.

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This is a little hotel that is situated very near to the dock. I have never stayed here.

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Finally, eight of us are on the boat as we head over to the public dock to see if there are any more people waiting for us there. Those of us on the boat right now are Keith, Barbara, Isaias, Isabel (Isaias’s beautiful wife), Leo (Isaias’s baby), two of Keith’s other workers, and me.

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One other person (Raine) was waiting for us at the public dock … bringing our numbers to nine. Soon, we are zooming across Lake Atitlan, headed toward the left side of the San Pedro volcano.

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Isaias and Isabel (holding Leo).

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After about a twenty-five minute boat ride, we disembark in Santiago and walk through the lower part of town where we wait on the sidewalk for some type of transportation that will take us to the town of San Lucas Toliman (another town on the lake where I have never before visited).

Left to right are: Raine, two of Keith’s workers (sorry, don’t remember their names), Isaias (Keith’s full time worker for more than 12 years, and my dear friend), Isabel (with Leo), Barbara, and Keith.

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Another similar photo.

We are waiting for a pickup truck where we will ride in the back. One passes by, but it is so full that the nine of us would never have squeezed in …

Soon, a large “chicken bus” (old school bus, now used for public transport) pulls by and we climb aboard.

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Twenty minutes later, we are in San Lucas Toliman (my first time here). We briefly explore the market before settling in at a nearby restaurant where we enjoy breakfast together. Some of us bought a bunch of freshly cooked corn tortillas. Others ordered from the restaurant. Keith brought a few avocados from the market as well.

In this image, Barbara is modeling one of the avocados while Keith takes her photo.

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After cutting it in half, Barbara plays with the avocado.

It was already a very fun day.

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After breakfast, we find a minivan that will take us on the next leg of our journey, which is a few hour drive up over the mountain behind San Lucas Toliman (not very high at this side of the lake) … and then on down the Pacific-coast side of the mountains, headed in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. We only go about half way to the ocean, stopping twenty or thirty miles away.

After getting out of the minivan, we stop for fresh coconuts, and more play time.

The climate here is already very hot and humid.

In this photo: Barbara, Raine, and Keith.

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Another similar photo, with Barbara glowing at the camera.

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My sweet friend Isabel with her adorable little Leo.

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Zooming in on Leo.

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Isaias … such a magical young man. I was thrilled to participate in a ceremony about three years ago where he completed his training as the first Mayan “Tat” (shaman) in San Marcos for more than a generation.

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Raine and Barbara, enjoying a fun chat.

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And then Leo decides to share a HUGE grin.

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After our fun break, with coconuts, giggles, and grins, we walk over to a nearby street to wait for another form of transport. Eventually, we give up on waiting for a minivan and flag down two Tuk-tuks (motorcycle taxis) to take our group on a fifteen minute ride up on a paved side road, back up toward a mountain ridge.

After arriving at our destination (the small town of El Recuerdo) , we begin a forty-five minute walk up into the mountains.

In this photo, we are first walking next to a sugar cane field, crossing over a small river valley.

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Someone notices this rubber tree. That little tube is stuck into the tree and then drains into a bucket on the right.

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They also cut the bark, as in the upper part of this tree trunk, leaving a sloped diagonal portion of bark where the liquid rubber flows down into the bucket below.

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A close-up of the cut portion of the bark where the rubber is slowly flowing with gravity.

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Stepping back with a zoomed-out view of the tree.

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It was back in 2010 when I first fell in love with the way many rural Guatemalans build fences. They actually plant live trees and then prune them back to be like a fence … the posts are living, and have solid roots that keep them anchored to the ground.

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Most of our group, following behind me as I run ahead to get a photo.

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And I get one with me in it as well. I love my smile in this one. We are all having a lot of fun.

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A small stream that runs through the sugar cane fields.

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A small bridge … more sugar cane … and then we begin our ascent into those trees beyond.

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… more of the same.

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Isaias, carrying Leo in a modern baby carrier. Most of the local people still wrap their baby in colorful fabric and carry them over their shoulder.

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A blurry photo of some coffee beans. When they are red, they pick them, ferment them, dry and roast them … and then grind them. I have tried eating the berries many times, but the fruit of the berries is so thin, that I just barely get a taste of sweetness before I hit the hard coffee bean … not my kind of fruit.

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Raine, Barbara, and Keith, walking on the road below me. The road is beginning to climb up into the mountains now.

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I ran ahead to get all of the group in this photo. It is getting steep here.

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Some of the jungle growth along the road.

This is not deep, original growth jungle … but it is beautiful just the same.

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The texture of this earth and the plants growing on it … well, it just catches my eye.

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More rubber trees growing beside the road.

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When I saw these young men carrying huge bags of these white things, I thought it was mushrooms at first. Then, someone pointed out the obvious. These are huge bags filled with clumps of dried rubber from the rubber trees.

These must be very heavy. It is difficult to see here, but the bulk of the weight is suspended by straps across the front of their forehead. (Click to enlarge for a better view.)

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Another young man carrying two large bags of rubber.

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A sign that reminds me of the name of the town below (by the main road) “El Recuerdo”.

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Another photo as I get hotter and sweatier … it is quite warm on the Pacific side of these mountains … a rain forest climate rather than high mountain climate.

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… and another. That is one of Keith’s workers in the left foreground … and Raine in the background.

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Isaias (with Leo), Isabel, and Keith … looking and talking about something on the side of the road.

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After going through some very steep climbs, the road begins to be more flat and gentle.

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We are on the top ridges of some very tropical hills … perfect climate for growing cacao.

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A towering tree that caught my eye.

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Some large lemon / orange / grapefruit type of fruit. I thought they were grapefruits. Keith thinks they are a unique version of lemons.

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Finally, we arrive at our destination. For privacy reasons, I am choosing not to mention the name of the village. This is our hostess, Eva. She heads up a small eco-project (working with a super-food named Maya Nut, Ramon Nut, or locally called Ujuxte) in this town … and is the woman who sold Keith his first ceremonial grade cacao over twelve years ago.

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Eva takes us on a hike out into the cacao fields near her village.

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Some gorgeous flowers that grow in this part of the world. I have some growing in my yard. There are seven or eight inches tall, and quite solid and waxy to the touch.

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Cacao pods, growing on this tree branch. Unlike many fruits, cacao grows from flowers that bloom from the main trunks and branches of the cacao tree.

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Another cacao pod.

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And many more (one in foreground, many in background).

Different varieties of cacao have different colors. Some are ripe when they are yellow, some when they are brown, some when they are purple …

The best ceremonial cacao comes from the native (criollo/wild) varieties found in the Pacific slopes of Guatemala. Most commercial cacao in the world comes from hybrid varieties, which have less of the active compounds – most (but not all) of which could not be used in ceremony.

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More cacao.

The trees in these early photos do not belong to Eva … they are just the first ones that we see as we head out to her property.

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These pods are still very green. The main cacao harvest in this area is still four to six months away.

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Me, posing with these cacao pods.

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I love the energy of these trees.

It makes me “go to glow”. If you click-to-enlarge, you might see why I consider this to be one of my favorite photos ever. In spite of my tired and sweaty body, I am glowing … and I absolutely love the colors of purples and greens, especially the cacao pods (not visible in this thumbnail image) and jungle.

I loved this photo so much that I recently made it my profile photo on Facebook.

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Another similar photo.

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One of Keith’s workers, posing with the tree and cacao pods.

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It was hot and sweaty, so I unzipped the legs of my pants, making shorts. I was quite proud of myself for not even worrying about the little bugs in the tall grass. I just ignored them all. Later, I realized that I took a few chigger bites home with me.

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As mentioned earlier, the pods grow from the trunk and main branches of the cacao tree. I put my finger behind these blossoms in order to show how tiny and delicate they are. These tiny flowers are growing directly out of this thick trunk, and each will eventually (if all develops properly) turn into a large cacao fruit, each filled with forty or fifty cacao seeds.

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More blossoms growing out of this thick side branch.

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Keith, Barbara, and Raine, walking on the trail behind me as we continue out toward Eva’s property.

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Another large purple cacao pod.

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And another. These pods are around eight or nine inches in length.

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A smaller cacao branch with more tiny flowers on it.

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One of Eva’s daughters holding a portion of a cacao pod – one that has been cut open to expose the sweet-tart white pulp that surrounds the purple seeds.

These pods are not very ripe, and therefore, not the best for eating. They need to grow for several more months before they are ready to harvest.

After harvesting, they are cut open and fermented, after which the beans are then dried in the sun.

Keith buys beans that have been processed in this way, and then has them lightly roasted and hand pealed by one of fourteen families in San Marcos La Laguna, after which the beans are ground in a traditional mill. The grinding process melts the chocolate, which is then spooned into plastic bags which harden into a solid block when they cool.

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A closer view of this cacao pod. In this photo you can see that these fresh beans are quite purple in color.

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Eva, reaching up to pick another pod that is not quite ripe.

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Eva, proudly posing with her freshly-picked cacao pod.

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Zooming in for a closer look. These varieties of pods are ripe when the deeper cracks of the pod are slightly yellow in color.

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Eva, cutting open this not-so-ripe pod.

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The outer portion of the pod is hard and thick. It takes her about five minutes to carefully break this open with her tiny knife. Normally, they would chop these open with a machete.

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Isabel, holding Leo in a more traditional wrap.

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Eva’s cacao pod is now open, and one of the purple cacao beans is exposed. When they are fresh in the pod like this, the beans are quite soft. When they are fermented and dried, they have the look and feel of a hard almond.

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Keith and I, munching on our treats.

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In my right hand (lower) I am holding the raw, purple cacao bean. In the left hand (upper) is the white pulp that I took off the bean.

In these wild beans, the white pulp is thinner and smaller … but in South American varieties of cacao, the white sweet-tart pulp is thicker, and even used in smoothies in some places (I never tried one while in Ecuador).

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Many of our group munching away on the cacao fruit and beans. Keith and Isaias are the two in the foreground …

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Keith, holding his camera, taking a photo of what is in Isaias’s hand.

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After eating one of these purple beans, I took a photo prior to eating the rest.

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Raine, enjoying his chunk of cacao fruit.

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Raine borrowed my camera for a while, and took many photos. In this thumbnail image, I am barely visible on the left. Visible are Keith, Barbara, and Isaias.

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Isaias posing with a tree.

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Keith and Barbara appear to be in deep discussion about the quality of their cacao fruit … while I grin in the foreground.

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Keith taking photos of this smaller cacao tree. The leaves of cacao trees are quite unique.

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Barbara, contemplating other dimensions of reality …

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Another candid photo of Keith, who is taking photos of more cacao leaves. Raine is still using my camera (I began to wonder if he would ever give it back LOL.)

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Someone found a partially fermented half-pod, lying on the ground. You can see the fruit starting to decay and shrink. The fermentation process consumes the fruit, turning it to liquid alcohol, which then converts to vinegar prior to drying up and draining away.

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Isaias excitedly grinning while holding a cacao pod that he is going to take home with him.

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I am back using the camera again. In this photo, we are going for a long walk on a quest to find the Maya Nut Tree that Eva says is nearby.

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Zooming in on the trunk of this Maya Nut Tree. These trees grow to over 200 feet tall, and drop little seeds on the ground that are a very nutritious super food. The local people here are beginning to eat them, but most Mayan people in the area still ignore this richly nutritious food source.

It was the woman running this project (Maya Nut Institute) that first introduced Keith to this village. He participated in a volunteer project with her, and then found his first ceremonial-grade cacao growing around this village.

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A photo with less zoom, showing part of this very tall tree. We don’t go down to the base of this tree, because it is on a steep slope at least seventy or eighty feet below the road.

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Barbara, holding a fruit that she and Keith are taking home with them.

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Raine borrowed my camera again (previous photo too).

At the top of the hill, left to right, are me, Barbara, and Keith.

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A similar photo, taken as we get closer.

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After arriving back at Eva’s humble home, she feeds us part of a fruit that I have never before (or after) seen. I do not remember the name.

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Slightly zooming in on this incredibly unique fruit.

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Inside, the fruit is yellow, stringy, and sweet. I enjoyed it, but it was quite messy to eat.

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Barbara enjoying part of one fruit.

These grow on a tree in Eva’s yard, and are super ripe. They need to be eaten today or she will have to throw them away enligneviagra.net.

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One of these fruits hanging from a tree in Eva’s back yard.

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Keith knows the name of this fruit, but I keep forgetting. It is a “relative” of cacao … similar in many ways, but is not good for ceremonial cacao.

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A view as I pass through the back portion of Eva’s house. This is quite typical for this part of the world … a dirt floor in what is a very humble kitchen area.

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Looking a little to the right, showing her stove – a homemade wood burning stove with a metal grill on top.

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A view of the street in front of Eva’s house.

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Raine, sitting on the steps in front of Eva’s house. We mostly gathered just inside of that door behind where Raine is sitting.

It may look humble, but in this part of the world, such a home is an abundant thing, and meets all of their needs.

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Looking the other way on the street. We had to walk around this puddle as we entered the village.

We were quite lucky today to have no rain during our time in the village – especially since we are in the middle of rainy season here.

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Rather than walk back down to the main road, we decide to rent a pickup transport. Visible behind me are Barbara and one of Keith’s workers.

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In this photo, I manage to get both of Keith’s workers … and if you click-to-enlarge, you can see Raine on the right.

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Keith and I, up at the front of the truck bed, right behind the cab. I was hugging a middle support and standing half-on-half-off a large tire … making it difficult and awkward to comfortably maintain my balance during the ride back down to the highway.

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Looking forward at one portion of the road. This photo makes it appear as if we are going up the hill … but memory tells me we had to have been going down.

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Going down another section of this little mountain road. It is quite well paved right here. The pickup truck takes us all the way to the main highway, where we again squeeze into a crowded public mini-van. After changing mini-vans in San Lucas Toliman, we take another mini-van all the way back to Santiago.

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After a delightful restaurant meal in Santiago, we climb to the roof of the restaurant where there is a beautiful view of the surrounding area. In this photo I am looking back across Lake Atitlan (through the opening of a little bay). San Marcos is over on the far side of the lake, just below that tallest mountain in the distance.

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A blurry photo looking to the left, into the  bay that extends beyond Santiago. The Mystical Yoga Farm is just over there on the right, on the side of that near hill. This is a place that I occasionally visited when I was assisting Keith back in 2011 and 2012.

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Keith, taking photos on top of the restaurant.

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Barbara and Raine having fun up here at this gorgeous view area. As you can tell, it is getting a little chilly as the sun starts to disappear.

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Isabel, posing with a huge smile (but I didn’t use a flash).

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I absolutely adore this photo of Isabel and the San Pedro volcano. The flash lit up her face with a glow of giggling perfection.

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Isaias, Isabel, and Leo … such a magical family. They have another son, Jansen, who stayed behind with extended family. Leo needed to come along because he is still breastfeeding.

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Me, with Isabel. I am five feet six inches, and I tower above her (even as I bend over slightly).

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A similar one with a flash … but Isabel forgot to smile.

After taking photos, the sun was already gone. We hurried down to the boat dock where we found our driver, who whisked us away on a private boat ride back to the far side of the lake. I was back in my little house by 6:45 p.m., happy but exhausted.

San Marcos Wrapup

When I first left my magical little river playground in Calca, Peru, I absolutely knew that a brief stop in Guatemala felt like something that definitely needed to happen before returning to the United States. But as I began to explore Peru, and then Ecuador, I still had no idea just what the timing of such a visit would be. It was not until right before going to Quito that I received intuitive confirmation that I would forgo my desire to visit Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador … and that I would fly directly from Quito to Guatemala City. Then, after being robbed during my bus ride to Quito, it took every bit of intuitive courage that I could find to continue pursuing that guidance.

I am  so extremely grateful that I found that strength to trust and continue on to San Marcos for a magical reunion with my cacao friends in San Marcos La Laguna … on the magical shores of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

During these profound four months of healing and integrating, I have gone deeper to the core of my soul than I ever imagined possible … exploring and healing many core emotional issues that have held me hostage throughout my life … core issues that could only be brought to my attention while coexisting in a group environment.

Because I had such a difficult time there in the 2012-2013 cacao-ceremony season, I had wondered if I would even be welcome back in cacao ceremonies … but Keith opened his porch to me with a huge heartfelt grin, and I knew I was exactly where I needed to be.

During those four months of ceremonies, I think I played out and repeated nearly every dysfunctional pattern possible, but this time around I was able to giggle and own that they were “MY” patterns, and I was able to look inside rather than to project them onto others. Even though at times it took several hours, I always found deep gratitude when someone triggered me. Each trigger was a gift to more healing within myself … and I increasingly began to feel the energetic shifting immediately after each such event.

My time in this magical energy vortex is now at an end (for now). As I type these words, I am sitting in a small hotel room, just three blocks from the noisy city center of Antigua, Guatemala. Just three days ago, I was treated to another “burglary” of sorts. On Thursday night, someone entered my property, went up on the side of the hill above my house, and cut the internet cables. In the dark of a new moon, they made off with the equipment that wirelessly connected my house to an internet transmitting station across the lake.

But rather than feeling victimized, I explored the metaphor to its core – to the core of having had someone “steal my connection to source” when I was a tiny child. Keith helped me to process to the depth of that childhood anger and grief, and I emerged on Friday afternoon with a new love for myself and my inner child … and for others.

After a relaxed Saturday, saying goodbye to many friends, and then carefully backing up my computer, I said goodbye to my little rental house and boarded a tourist shuttle at just after 8:30 a.m. this morning.

Tomorrow morning, at 4:00 a.m., I will board an airport shuttle, taking me to the Guatemala City airport … with my late afternoon destination being Salt Lake City, Utah.

Looking Forward

I have no idea what the future holds. I am preparing to step into yet-another unknown. I will spend the first few weeks regrouping in my homeland – getting a replacement driver license, a new bank account, registering my car, getting a cell phone, and visiting with as many family and friends as possible.

After that, I will put the “pedal to the metal”, beginning a road trip into Arizona (and beyond). I feel guided to visit several friends in that area, and I am on a quest of sorts – a quest to find a place to put down some type of roots (perhaps temporary, perhaps longer term).

As I stand at this life threshold, facing a type of homelessness (but having adequate money to settle somewhere) … I know almost nothing about my future. What I do know is that I am carrying fifty-one pounds of cacao in my luggage … that I have a deep yearning passion to write books … and that an inner giggle longs to share what I have learned with anyone who would like to listen (or maybe do cacao ceremonies).

I have never known “less” about my future than I do now … and I have never been more peaceful about that “not knowing” than I am today.

All I can say is “Bring it on” and let the next round of magic begin.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Return To Guatemala – July-Nov, 2015

November 9th, 2015

On Tuesday, July 14, 2015, my Aero Mexico flight soared out of Ecuadorian air space and began to make its way north, eventually hugging the Pacific coast of Guatemala. I wished I had a parachute and could simply get off the plane at this point … but instead, needed to fly all the way to Mexico City, go through Mexican customs, change planes, and then fly back to Guatemala, where I passed through yet-another customs check.

This post contains 76 photos photos telling some highlights of my story on this pilgrimage-of-sorts … a returning-full-circle journey back to my home for three and a half years. A separate post will follow soon – one that documents a journey to the Guatemala jungles.

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

Guatemala Or Bust

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After a whirlwind of activity … disembarking, getting luggage, passing through customs, checking in to a new flight, and passing through security … I finally board my last flight of the day, preparing to make that short hop from Mexico City back to Guatemala City.

This photo was taken from the window of my plane, looking out at the Mexico City airport buildings.

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As we take off, the weather is clear … and so is my window. This is just a tiny glimpse of this huge city.

I fondly remember spending time here in September-October of 2009 … back when I was just in the beginning months of this amazing adventurous journey of self-discovery.

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Another view showing portions of the vastness of Mexico City.

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And we finally surface above the clouds.

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Bobby-bear and Brenda-doll, hanging out in the pocket of my little day-pack, enjoying a breath of fresh air. (For much of our travels, they have had to endure the cramped stuffiness of a zipped-up bag.

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Approaching Guatemala air space.

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In the highlands of Guatemala, approaching Guatemala City.

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Another similar photo.

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The sun is preparing to set as my plane prepares to land.

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Guatemala City under the wing.

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Quickly descending to the tarmac below. With all of the mountains that surround Guatemala’s capitol city, the descent angle is steep.

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And here we are on the runway.

San Marcos Or Bust

After passing through customs, I stepped out onto the curb looking for the minivans that  regularly take passengers from the airport to the nearby city of Antigua (a safer and more popular tourist destination).

Yet, no such transports were to be found. As I waited, I struck up a conversation with another stranded traveler. He too wanted to get to Antigua for the evening. Within ten minutes of talking to each other, we decided to share the cost of a private taxi … and just a few minutes later we were zooming off through very backed-up traffic.

It was already dark when the taxi dropped me off in front of my favorite little hostel in the city of Antigua.

After arranging for a morning tourist shuttle that would take me to San Marcos La Laguna, I set off on a quest … a quest to find an ATM and a filling meal. Soon, I was in my bed, eagerly waiting for morning.

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At around 9:00 a.m., the tourist shuttle picked me up at the hostel, and we began the three-hour journey.

I was a little flustered when I could not find my receipt showing that I had paid for the journey … but my driver knew the employee at the hostel who had sold me the ticket, and knew that I was on the passenger list, so he let me ride without my ticket.

At just before noon, we are coming down the steep mountain, into the volcanic crater/caldera that is Lake Atitlan. In this photo, we are turning the sharp corner of a long continuous section of switchbacks that descend into the valley below.

The town visible in the middle of this photo is “San Pablo La Laguna”. My destination of “San Marcos La Laguna” is just above and behind that town … barely visible if you click-to-enlarge this photo.

I arrived just in time to find a hostel, check in … and to then rush off for a cacao ceremony.

It was my first time on Keith’s Cacao-ceremony porch in more than two years. Keith knew I would be a few minutes late, and even had a cushion reserved for me.

When I had left San Marcos in 2013, I was not sure if I wanted to come back here. It had been a very difficult third-year of ceremonies. Today, I already knew that I was exactly where I again belonged (at least for a few months).

Around San Marcos

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This is a little park in the center of town. I swear that when I first arrived in San Marcos, that this newly-remodeled park was not here.

During all of my time from 2010 to 2013, this area was just lots of trees and dirt, with many large rocks to sit on.

I walked back and forth through this area at least five or six times during my first month here, and it always seemed to be exactly as I remembered it from before.

Then, one day in mid August, I came down here in the midst of deep ceremonial-meditation (just to people-watch) … and after a while, I suddenly noticed the beautiful black metal benches, the stone paths, a little stone bridge and stone-lined stream channel etc …

To this day, it feels as if I literally jumped to a different parallel reality on that day.

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Looking at one side of the now-well-landscaped park … there are two little “super” markets there … both of them quite small (but “super” for this town).

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I was thrilled with my “manifestation” results. I arrived on Wednesday, July 14, 2015, and went straight into a cacao ceremony. On Thursday, I began an intense search for a house to rent, and even took a boat ride across the lake to San Pedro (in order to buy a local cell phone).

Just as I was returning with that cell phone, within minutes of attempting to call one property manager (and I had the wrong number), I “accidentally” bumped in to a dear friend who told me where to find the property manager … and as we walked toward where he should be, we “accidentally” encountered him in the path.

Early the next morning, I was moving into my new rental house.

In this photo, I am looking down a street toward another portion of the center of town, near the park in the previous photos.

Behind me is the road that goes up to my new house.

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Now I am turned around facing the other way. The road splits here. One part goes straight, across a little bridge. The other part turns left and follows the river a little higher up the valley. My house is to the left.

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In this photo, I have made the left turn and am walking up alongside the small river bed. My little rental home is just behind those trees in the middle of this photo.

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This photo is taken from about the same spot, only turned around and facing toward the lake below.

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The road I am on dead-ends at this other road, adjacent to a bridge that crosses the river bed.

My house is just across that bridge, and then up beneath those taller trees on the right.

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Crossing the bridge …

There used to be a wooden gate here, but someone stole it. Firewood is an important commodity here … and I can only assume that someone needed the wood for their kitchen cooking fire … or perhaps someone needed a new gate, and took advantage of mine.

My house is directly up a path that leaves the road and goes left.

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Here is where the gate used to be. Whoever took it, just cut the barbed wire and ripped the double-wide gate out of the ground … leaving the strands of barbed wire just hanging.

(Click to enlarge for details.)

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Turning left off the road, I walk up this dirt path. This property actually belongs to someone else.

Up at the top of the path (click to enlarge), there is a green gate on a chain-link fence. I walk through that gate to get into my garden area. It can be locked, but I have never done so, because my friends would not be able to visit.

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A closer view of the gate that leads into my rental property. A former resident left that metal heart on the entrance.

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From the gate, I walk up more than 100 feet of rock path. The plants grow very fast here during rainy season, and often, this path is overgrown (and very wet after a storm).

There is a gardener/handyman that cares for my house and property (and several others). This photo was taken after he had recently groomed the plants.

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Looking through the lush green plants, barely getting a glimpse of my house in the right center.

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Getting closer to my house.

I love those purple flowers. I often picked a sprig and put it in my hair as I walked out to a Cacao ceremony.

The yard is so overgrown with plants … and so cool and wet from rains … that I am rarely able to use it.

Now, as dry season is beginning (today is November 9, 2015), I would love to spend more time outdoors in this beautiful yard … but alas, I am leaving in just a few days.

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And now, a clear view of my little rental house. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a large living room area … plus that gorgeous balcony in front.

It is right up against a steep hill, so the terrain is quite wild behind me. A large rock rolled down one day when I was not home. It broke part of the way (one side of concrete blocks) through my bedroom wall and then bounced, breaking a rock path below.

And, as of this writing, I have found nineteen scorpions in this house, all released into the wild (away from my house). (I am sad to say that I was not prepared for them at first, and a few did not make it out alive.)

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Looking at the front of my house. I am grateful for the bars on the doors and windows.

About a month into my stay here, a young local man tried to break my front door down (while I was inside resting). He had reached through the metal door frame and was shaking the wooden part, trying to break it off the hinges.

I startled him with my yelling and he took off running. I never saw his face. I think he was just as frightened as I was. For me, the experience led to deep and very productive emotional processing.

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A closer view at the front door. After that robbery attempt, the property owner had additional deadbolts installed on the inside top of the wooden door, such that it cannot move when violently shaken.

I also have a safe inside, where I normally keep my computer when I am not home. I love living in San Marcos, but it is not a place where you can leave valuables around.

… and the water, electric, and internet service are still in varying degrees of “developing” status.

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A glimpse into my bathroom. There is actually a bathtub here (though the hot water is incapable of filling it in a timely manner).

This is the first home I have rented where I have gas-heated water (with an instant on-demand heater) … It is not all that reliable, but I even have hot water in the kitchen faucet. It would be really nice if it worked all the time … but often the pipes get clogged with find mud and tiny rocks … and the pressure through the water heater is barely adequate to usually get hot water.

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A look at my kitchen. This is also the first house where I have had an oven … but I have never used it (didn’t have the proper pans and/or cookie sheets etc).

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The bed in my bedroom. There is a large double-glass door to the right, but I rarely open it. There are large open-air cracks all around the door frame and casings … and I had to stuff them with toilet paper to keep the critters out. Because of this, it is inconvenient to open the doors, because if I do, I have to then spend twenty minutes replacing the toilet paper.

I had lots of flying ants and bugs and moths (and more scorpions) before I stuffed the cracks with paper.

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I used the spare bedroom as a closet of sorts.

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In one end of the living room is an extra bed with a very hard mattress. It serves as my sofa and cushioned work area.

Oh … and that is my new little Lenovo laptop in the middle of that bed. I received it around July 24 … but it took me several weeks to fully configure it.

I was so busy with cacao ceremonies … and so busy configuring the computer … that I just let most all communications and blogging take a back seat.

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Looking from the daybed area toward the kitchen. It is a very spacious living area.

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From my front door, looking out on the balcony and the view. It is a hazy day, but you can barely see the “San Pedro” volcano behind the trees in the left center. The lake is also visible through the cracks in the vegetation … but the leaves mostly block that view.

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One day I noticed the gardener breaking a hole in the rock wall below, and he then built steps and installed a gate into the neighbors property.

There is a law here stating that each property owner must provide access through their property such that adjacent property owners can reach their own property. I was told that the owner of the property above (to the right) had requested such access.

I was not happy with the prospect of my front yard being turned into a public path, but as it turns out, the owner of that property (at least for now) has not yet developed it, and rarely visits.

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A glimpse of the new path and gate leading to the neighbor’s undeveloped property. I received the benefit of having easier access to that back left corner of my property. I burn toilet paper back there … and use it as a compost dump for organic waste.

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Looking down the main path (on my property) toward the street and green gate below.

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And here is a view from that green gate, looking back down toward the street. My garden worker has since built a rock staircase here, making it much easier for me to get up and down from the street.

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In previous years, I have posted many photos of the river channel that runs through San Marcos.

This is a view of that river channel as seen from above the bridge right next to my property. This part of the river bed is not lined with rock walls to prevent flash-flooding erosion.

If a hurricane or tropical storm were to hang out in this area for very long, I would likely have to evacuate my property. My rental home is just about 150 feet up this river, on the right, less than thirty feet from this river channel.

Back in 2010, a friend of mine who lived here (in the house where I now live) during Tropical Storm Agatha (while I was in my moon course at Las Piramides Del Ka) actually had to evacuate

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This photo was taken from about the same spot, looking downstream instead of upstream. The downstream portion of the river channel is fully lined with rock walls to channel the water down to the lake below.

For most of the year, this channel is dry … but during huge storms, it can get quite full.

Independence Day

September 15th is the day on which Guatemalans celebrate their independence. Every year they have a small community parade. I have been lucky enough to observe several such parades during my extended time in San Marcos.

Today (September 15, 2015), I first went down to the city center, waiting for the parade to begin. Soon, I realized that the parade would pass directly below my house, and I returned home to watch it from the comfort of the little hill by my green gate.

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This is a view of the road below my house … directly below my green property gate (and now stone staircase).

This road follows a slight incline up into “Barrio 1” (Neighborhood 1). I often follow this path when walking toward Keith’s house for a cacao ceremony. It saves me a few minutes, and takes me around the municipal building and some gorgeous views of the lake below.

The parade will begin at the municipal building and come down this hill.

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Because I have taken many photos in years past, I limited my photos today, searching out unique things of interest.

This man is walking in front of the parade. He is carrying a metal tube in his right hand – a tube with a square base. Every so often he stops, inserts a “bomba” (firework bomb) into the tube, lights the fuse, and runs. He set off several loud bombs right below my gate.

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Since I am at the beginning of the parade route, it was not all that “organized” at this point. These kids are just playing as they run down the hill. I am not even sure if they are actually part of the parade. I think they are just excited and playing as the parade follows behind them.

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The first entry is this small band from a local school.

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Another entry with beauty queens of varying ages.

You might have noticed that the girls and women here mostly wear traditional clothing … a woven skirt called a “corte” and a traditional blouse called a “guipil”.

Most boys and men wear jeans and a western-style shirt. Usually, it is only the older men in more remote areas of Guatemala that wear traditional men’s clothing.

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More of the parade. Most of the signs they are carrying have a “conserve the environment” ecological theme.

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This is a sign for the “Escuela Caracol” (Caracol School).

This is a “charter school” started by westerners. Many local children attend this school … as well as most younger children of western residents.

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Children carrying various flags. The first one is the Guatemalan flag.

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More school children carrying large posters. The one in front says “Environment”. Others talk about putting your garbage in a trash can.

Many of the children are wearing “tree” and “flower” costumes.

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More of these “green ecological” signs carried by the children … again talking about putting garbage where it belongs, and caring for the environment.

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Zooming in on a “Deposit garbage in its place” sign … with children on either side wearing garbage can costumes (one for inorganic and one for organic).

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A young man with an interesting mask.

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Another band from a local school.

San Marcos has about 3000 residents, with about 2000 of them being children … and there are several schools scattered around.

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A different view of the same band.

Trumpets, drums, and xylophones are very popular here.

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After the parade ended in front of my house, I ran back to the center of town, finding a seat on an upper tier of the concrete seating in the basketball court (and town meeting hall).

They have a stage set up where I will soon watch lots of typical political talking and some school performances.

In the foreground are two marimbas – large wooden xylophones that are quite traditional here in Guatemala.

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The basketball court is the end of the parade (catholic church in background), and I get here in time to witness the first entries filtering in. They all stand in the middle of the basketball court.

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Different views of some of the posters as the parade marchers huddle around in various parts of the basketball court.

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The first band stands in a row, directly below where I am sitting.

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Eventually, the basketball court fills up with parade marchers.

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Some cute children in their costumes.

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These marimba musicians were quite talented … two men and four boys … all playing in harmonic unison.

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Zooming in on the larger marimba.

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They like their “not-quite-ripe” peaches here. Every year they pass them out free to people in the crowd … helping them have some nourishment during the long slow-moving program.

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This is my peach. This is the first year I have ever taken one. I ate it an hour or two later. I really was needing that nourishment … and the program was quite long.

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One group of children performing during the program.

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Some women and girls in their traditional clothing, eating peaches and watching the program.

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Some children performing on the stage. I think these were from the “Caracol School”.

A Beauty Break

D6 - Cacao Ceremony - Sept, 2015

One day in September, I wore some of those purple flowers to a cacao ceremony. My friend Barbara loved them, and asked if she could take a photo. When she posted it on Facebook, I downloaded the photo so I could post it here.

Those are purple flowers from my yard … and that earring is part of a pair that I purchased near Cuenca, Ecuador during one of my tours in June.

Inner Child Ceremony

On September 22, 2015, after a beautiful intuitive therapy (massage, acu-pressure, energy work) session with my dear friend Marta, I was inspired to do a ceremony with little Bobby-bear and Brenda-doll.

During that session, I had realized that I was still seeing my little boy and girl (inner children) as being somewhat separate from each other. In this ceremony, I bought two candles, one for each, and burned them both, allowing them to meld together as the wax burned down.

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This is Bobby-bear and Brenda-doll, sitting with my two candles. The flames were small at this point.

Later, I had to move my little friends further away, because the merging flame kept getting brighter and hotter.

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For me, it was a beautiful, emotional and spiritual experience as I symbolically rejoined these two metaphors into a unified symbol – a double candle increasingly merging together.

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Similar photo, from further away. It took a long time for the large candles to burn … and was quite dark before I ended the ceremony and went to bed (I saved some to burn later).

A Stick Bug

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On October 19, 2015 – after a cacao ceremony – I returned home to find this stick bug on the wall by my front door. It was about four or five inches in length (body portion). It blew me away how much it looked like a real stick. Had it not been for the six legs, I would never have even paid attention to it.

The camera flash makes sharp shadows appear below the bug.

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Another photo … quite similar, but with slightly different lighting and contrast.

I looked up “stick bugs” on the internet … and had fun researching them … but as of this moment I don’t remember much about them.

San Marcos Wrap-Up

The guidance is quite strong, and I have purchased plane tickets to leave Guatemala on November 16, 2015 … flying back to the United States, were I will take care of many much-needed details with banking etc … after which I will begin a road trip while following intuitive and synchronous events.

Meanwhile, I still have one more photo post to make before leaving the magical vortex of Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. On September 10, I participated in a trip to the Pacific side of Guatemala, where we visited the place where Keith first encountered Cacao in person. Later this week, I hope to post 122 photos from that trip.

At the end of that photo post, I will share more details of my magical journey during the last four months.

But right now, it is time for me to get ready for another cacao ceremony … I’ll see you on the flip side.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Quilatoa Crater, Ecuador – July 12, 2015

November 7th, 2015

On Sunday, July 12, 2015, I stepped out onto the street in front of my hostel. Daylight was barely beginning to dawn as I quietly walked about 100 feet up the steeply inclined street in front of me. After quietly knocking on the front door of another hostel (and tour agency), I giggled when a security guard came to the door looking as if he were half asleep. Less than twenty minutes later, I found myself aboard a small bus, zooming through the streets of Quito, preparing to head south through the Ecuadorian countryside. Our ultimate destination was the “Quilatoa Crater”.

Quilatoa is a popular tourist destination just a few hours south of Quito. It is a huge two-mile wide volcanic crater (caldera) with a beautiful lake inside. The lake level itself is at 11,483 feet (3500 meters) above sea level.

This post contains 65 photos photos telling the story of my visit to Quilatoa, and then includes my flight into the skies above Quito, less than two days later (including 7 more photos).

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

After about an hour of driving south, our bus stopped in a small town where we met our tour guide and all had breakfast together. Soon, we were back on the road again. Eventually, as we left the main highway, we stopped to visit a large “typical street market”.

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We didn’t have a lot of time, so I hurried around by myself, taking in as much as I could before our scheduled rendezvous time.

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Lots of street food for sale.

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And a huge section filled with exotic fruits, most of which come from the jungle side of the mountains.

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Pineapples, melons, tomatoes, oh my.

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Everywhere I go, the traditional clothing changes.

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But transportation options often have a familiar flair. This is different from Guatemalan open-air pickups … but similar in concept.

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After leaving the market, we drive for a half hour up into the mountains … and then stop in the middle of nowhere by a tiny farm hut – where we stop to visit a traditional family.

This hut was totally dark inside … they had no electricity. I took this photo with a flash. The corner is filled with live guinea pigs, all being grown for food.

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Also with a flash, this appears to be their kitchen area.

They do have gas stoves. The walls appear to be black with soot.

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Our tour guide, standing in one corner off the house.

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More guinea pigs in another corner. They are everywhere.

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Even with a flash, the inside of the roof is so black from smoke that you can barely see it.

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A birdcage, also inside the house.

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This upside-down Bart Simpson mask was interesting.

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The little hut as seen from the outside. The farmer is the man in front, with the poncho.

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He gave me permission to take his photo.

That is part of his family behind.

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We are at quite a high altitude here, and the terrain is more rolling hills, with different climate and vegetation.

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After driving another half hour (or more), we briefly stop at a view area. We are continuing to get higher and higher. We must be at least 12,000 to 14,000 feet in this spot.

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Soon, after stopping at an artist shop, I cannot resist taking this photo (same mountain behind) of a small scarecrow.

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That is our little white bus in front of the artist shop.

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One of their “works of art” adorning the sign outside the shop. It is beautiful and very unique.

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Inside the shop. I expected that they were going to do some type of tour and/or do demonstrations, but that never happened.

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These types of masks are very traditional in this area.

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This woman runs the shop, and a lot of what is displayed is her creation.

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As we get higher and higher, the mountains are increasingly rugged.

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Glimpses of a small village as we pass on through.

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More of the village.

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A glimpse of the surrounding landscapes.

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We pass these canyons as we approach the Quilatoa area.

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I love this woman standing by the road with her sheep.

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By the time we reach Quilatoa, it is raining. This photo was taken through the wet windows of the bus.

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A sign in the little village that sits atop the ridge where our trail/hike begins.

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A sign at the top of the trail. It was so wet on the bus window, that I cannot read the sign.

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I borrow some rain gear from the tour bus and we begin to hike to the bottom.

This is a sign at the very top of the trail. It reads “Welcome … Ecological Reserve Los Llinizas … Quilatoa Lagoon”.

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Beginning to walk down the upper part of the trail … I was paying close attention all the way down, trying to decide if I would be able to walk back up … or if I wanted to pay to rent a horse to bring me back up. (And I am very conscious of the fact that the high altitude will make the hike back up ever more difficult.)

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Finally, my first glimpse of the Quilatoa Crater and lake below (barely visible just above the head of the person in front of me).

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The clouds and rain were still impacting the view as we began descending on the inside of the crater. Even with the fog, it was gorgeous.

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Looking a little more to the left.

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Zooming in on the water below …

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… and zooming in on our actual destination below.

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Me, in my rain gear and borrowed walking stick. My belly sticks out because I am wearing my day-pack on my front side, trying to keep it dry (and also making the raincoat fit better).

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Continuing down the trail. If you click to enlarge, you can see the lake as well.

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Gradually getting closer to lake level. By now, the rains are temporarily backing off, and the air is less foggy.

It is gorgeous here.

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Looking down at one piece of the lake below.

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Looking back up at part of the trail behind me.

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Another view to the left below.

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Looking back up at the ridge. We started the hike up there on top, just left of center at the top of the ridge.

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A nice view of the lake, as the weather continues to cooperate even more.

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The trail is quite steep here … and long too. By now, I am deciding that I really do want to ride a horse back to the top.

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A glimpse behind just after two horses passed me going back up.

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Increasingly closer … down … down … and more down.

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More horse riders in the foreground.

Our first stop will be on top of that peninsula straight ahead.

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Looking off to the right side as we get closer.

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Approaching that peninsula.

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Turning around to look back toward the top … way up there.

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Using full zoom, you can see the top right in the center area of the ridge above.

The altitude is quite an issue here. As I mentioned earlier, the lake level itself is at 11,483 feet (3500 meters) above sea level.

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Some of my group posing at the end of that peninsula, still slightly above lake level.

In case you cannot tell from the rain gear, I am second from the right.

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My clothing is so “flattering” … but I am having fun.

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Finally, I am standing on a sandy beach. It is too cold to swim, but I do briefly touch the crystal clear water.

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Looking out across the lake.

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There is construction here on the beach. They are building a new pier.

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Finally, after a short rest, it is time to climb. I think there were three or four of my group that decided to rent a horse. The tour guide took this photo for me.

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My view for most of the return journey. At least the saddle was so much more comfortable than the one on the mule that I rode on as I climbed back out of Colca Canyon (Peru) about a month and a half earlier.

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We had a little more drizzle as the horse carried me back up, but at the top, the rain again subsided … giving me some beautiful views through clear air.

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The place where we hiked to is at the bottom right corner of this photo …

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… and looking off to the right. The place where we hiked to is at the bottom left of this photo.

After this fun, but tiring journey, our tour included a delicious meal in a restaurant just across the street from where I took this photo.

As soon as we finished eating, we loaded back into the bus and drove for a few hours, returning to Quito at around 6:00 p.m..

Quito Wrap-Up

I was exhausted as I walked around Quito that night, looking for a quick meal. I could not wait to crash on my pillow.

I spent most all of Monday, July 13, packing and making final preparations for my early morning flight to Guatemala.

Early on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 (at around 3:30 a.m.) I turned off my alarm, stuffed my pajamas in my backpack, and nervously waited for one of the hostel employees to join me in his little school-bus – one that was parked directly in front of my room. He had a job driving kids around during the day, and agreed to take me to the airport for the same price as a taxi (about $40).

The ride went quickly because of the time of day. We made the journey in just over an hour. If there were traffic, it might have taken two or three times that long. The airport is quite far out of town.

When I got to the airport, I was so early that I had to wait twenty minutes for the Aero Mexico gate to open. A half hour later, I was through security, and tiredly waiting for the plane … feeling thrilled that I was able to access the WIFI using my little android tablet.

Finally, I was on board my plane, preparing for takeoff.

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In this photo, I am in my seat, looking through a rainy window toward the tarmac below.

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And we are being pushed out of the gate …

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At full speed and beginning to lift off from the runway.

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In the air, looking down at final views of Ecuador.

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Looking back at Quito in the distance.

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And looking down at a portion of the Andes Mountains.

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And finally, as the clouds take away the view, I begin to focus elsewhere.

So many mixed feelings flow through my heart as I ponder the journey on which I find myself. It has been nearly twenty months since I first flew into Lima, Peru, to begin this magical South American adventure. I am not even close to being the same person that went to Iquitos, in the Amazon Jungle, in the early days of December, 2013.

I have been through two robberies, each of which brought huge bursts of gut-wrenching fear – each of which resulted in huge faith-building trust and growth.

I have spent a year and a half, exploring shamanic plant medicines, both in the jungles and in the tops of the Andes, experiencing profound emotional and spiritual growth in so many ways, many of them unplanned and totally unexpected.

I have experienced so many natural and historical wonders of the world, a partial list including places like: The Amazon Jungle, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, Colca Canyon, Paracas, The Nazca Lines, Beach Paradises, The Galapagos Islands, the Equator, many volcanoes, and so many magical archaeological ruins that they are too many to count.

But it is now time to let go and move on to more unknown adventures.

Hasta La Vista Ecuador … and Hasta Pronto Guatemala. (See you later, Ecuador … and See you Soon Guatemala.)

Butterflies fill my stomach as I realize that in just over nine hours, I will be landing in Guatemala, where so much of my more-than-six years of journeying have taken place. I wonder how I will be received … what I will do … how I might continue to heal and further open my heart.

Trust fills my heart … giggles fill my heart … I will find out soon enough.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Mitad Del Mundo, Ecuador – July 11, 2015

November 7th, 2015

On Saturday, July 11, 2015, I made use of my ever-improving Spanish skills to navigate my way to “United Nations Boulevard” – a twenty minute metro-bus ride from my hostel and from the historic center of Quito, Ecuador. After wandering around aimlessly for several minutes, I finally used my Ecuadorian cell phone to call the phone number on my ticket. Just a few minutes later, I successfully located my tour bus that was parked on the other side of this busy boulevard.

As an adventurer at heart, I could not possibly imagine a trip to Ecuador that did not include a trip to the equator. The bus I was about to board would take me on a seven-hour tour visiting all of the major sites in that area.

This post contains 89 photos telling the story of my visit to the “Mitad Del Mundo” or “Middle of the Earth” or “The Equator”.

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

Doubling Up

My time in Quito was a whirlwind of mixed activities as I simultaneously attempted to play tourist, make ongoing flight plans, and to regroup/recover from the robbery of my computer, wallet, and several miscellaneous items.

By the time Friday evening entered the history books, I had resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to find a suitable computer replacement in Quito, and I had concocted a new plan.

During my scurrying around on Thursday, I had discovered a large, modern computer store near the upper end of United Nations Boulevard. As I checked in with my heart on Friday evening, I decided to squeeze two tasks into a tiny window. I would take the twenty-minute bus ride an hour early, wait for the store to open at 10:00 a.m., purchase an inexpensive android tablet (for email, Facebook, and Skype), and then hurry on foot to my tour-bus stop, which was less than a half mile further down the street.

To my delight, everything went as planned, and when I finally located my tour bus at about 10:45 a.m. I carefully checked to make sure I still had a precious little box (my new tablet) stowed away in my day-pack (one that I unpacked and charged up later that night).

And We’re Off

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In this photo, I am sitting on the top level of our double-decker bus, looking down at a huge city park that exists along this part of United Nations Boulevard. The actual “bus office” was a tiny little booth situated alongside this park. That is why I had some difficulty finding it.

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We are now driving around Quito, skirting around the park, doing a tiny bit of “city tour” before getting onto the main roads that will take us to the equator area.

I am sitting on the left, about in the middle of the bus. The weather was beautiful this morning (about 11:00 a.m.), and the sun was so nice. Later in the afternoon, they converted the top level into a covered space.

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Driving along the foothills of Quito, looking down at a small portion of this capitol city.

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… another similar view.

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… more glimpses of this section of Quito.

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Apartment buildings along the main highway.

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And a nice little sports complex.

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Passing by some type of government facility.

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Beginning to leave the city … a row of cactus plants by the road.

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Looking across the valley in this less-populated valley. The climate right here is quite dry.

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Passing another large population area.

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At about 12:10 p.m. (a little over an hour of driving), we pass by the little town called “Mitad Del Mundo”. It is actually a little tourist city (I don’t think people actually live here) that centers around the  equator monuments that were built for the tourists to see.

I heard several rumors that the equator as marked here is actually not accurate. Wikipedia states that the real equator (as measured by GPS) is actually 240 meters (about 262 yards) to the north of what is marked in this little tourist center.

In this photo, we are just passing by on the highway as we first head toward another site.

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A photo of the center area of a large “round-about” traffic circle as we continue on our way. If you click to enlarge this photo, you can see the “equator monument” in the distance (at the right center area of the thumbnail image).

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In the center of this image, you can barely see that monument. It is a tall obelisk with a world globe on top.

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This photo is taken from the same spot, using a full zoom.

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I am unclear at the time, but believe that we are headed up somewhere into those mountains.

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And we continue to leave the “Mitad Del Mundo” behind as we slightly climb toward the mountains in the distance.

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Soon, we turn off the highway and pass this sign – pointing toward our first destination – that of Pululahua (poo-lou-LAW-wah).

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And I quickly figure out that we are headed up toward this volcanic peak.

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Looking back down into the valley. The “Mitad Del Mundo” is down there in the distance.

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We pass by this museum. I begin to wonder if we are going here, but our tour guide says “no”. He recommends that we visit sometime, but that it is not part of the tour.

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A front view of the same museum.

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As we pull into a parking lot, I snap a photo of this sign. It marks the beginning of a trail that descends down into a volcanic crater/caldera … and apparently, there is a hostel down there where tourists can stay.

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A sign marking the “geo-botanical reserve of Pululahua”.

At this point, I still have no idea what we are about to see or do.

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I soon learn that we are simply visiting a beautiful view area that overlooks a huge volcanic crater/caldera. This area is now a reserve. There is one small road that climbs over the mountains and down inside (coming in from a different spot) … and the area is farmed by some local people who live in this very limited-access remote area.

The climate here is very different from that of Quito. It is cool, foggy, and humid.

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A slightly different view of the same area.

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Me, with the crater in the background. It was windy up here.

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Looking back at the view-area platform as I return toward the entrance.

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I decided to take a photo of our tour itinerary as outlined on a brochure. It indicates that our next destination is the “Intiñan Museum”, and that we should arrive there at about 1:15 p.m. …

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We are given about fifteen minutes of free time, so I briefly explore the top of the trail that leads down into the crater below … and on to that hostel.

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At just after 1:00 p.m., we arrive at the museum, back down near the “Mitad Del Mundo” area.

In fact, this area is accurately measured by military GPS as actually containing a “true and exact” portion of the real equator line.

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As we get off our tour bus, we split into a Spanish group and an English group. The Spanish guide takes the group to visit the inside of this little planetarium. We are told that our English group will visit this at the end of our visit. This never happens … so I did not see the inside. Apparently, it talks about the stars and how they line up at this point on the planet.

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The first part of our tour (led by the English-speaking guide) takes us through a few exhibits of amazonian articles, including a large stuffed snake.

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And a huge tarantula. I have still never seen a wild one anywhere near as big as this. The body of this one is several inches long. (not counting the legs).

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A sign with the name of the museum. It is in English, so you can click-to-enlarge if you want to read what it says.

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Looking down into a recreated mock-up of a typical burial site.

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Finally, we arrive at a sign that marks the exact equator as measured by a military GPS.

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It is hard to tell in this photo, but i am standing on the equator, looking at that post in the middle that marks the equator … and the entire path in front of me is filled with various interesting displays … ALL along the exact equator line.

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If you click-to-enlarge, you can see more detail. This is just like the previous photo, only taken from a slight angle, with a little more zoom, giving a glimpse of all the displays from here to the other end.

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Me, standing in front of the marker.

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Looking at a sun-dial (of sorts), exactly above the equator.

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Zooming in on the top of the sun-dial. The nearest letter “O” in the foreground stands for “Oeste” or “West”. North is to the left, South to the right, and East on the far side.

In other words, I am standing in the west, looking along the equator toward the east.

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Another sign marking the exact “latitude of zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds”.

You can barely see a globe in the upper left.

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A Sun-dial that actually shows the correct time (more or less). (Click to enlarge).

This photo was taken at 1:31 p.m. (according to the time stamp of my camera) … and the dial reads about “1:20 p.m.” … this is also off because of the way time zones work.

Here on the equator, the sun is quite constant (yes, it shifts to the north and south), but the sun rises right around 6:00 a.m. and sets right around 6:00 p.m., on a daily basis, year round.

The top left number on the dial represents 6:00 p.m., and the top right number represents 6:00 a.m., and the number at the exact middle of the bottom is 12:00 p.m. (noon).

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Another view of the sign …

The red line is the exact equator. The globe on the display behind is lined up so that the equator of the globe matches the red line.

I felt directionaly-disoriented right here. This photo is looking from the west toward the east … but it still feels to me as if it is from the east, looking west.

I continue to feel the disorientation (memory) as I stare at this photo. Something about the magnetics here really confused my natural sense of direction.

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Me, standing behind the sign.

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Standing on the other side of the globe, looking back toward the sign in the previous photo.

From this angle, I am obviously standing in the east, looking toward the west. If you were to find my spot on this globe, I am right about at the exact center of the globe (as seen from this angle).

Ecuador straddles the equator on the Pacific Coast of South America.

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I don’t fully understand the meaning of this “sun-dial”. The left side represents the Northern Hemisphere of the planet, and marks a “Glacial” line and a “Tropic of Cancer” line … the right side is the Southern Hemisphere, and the shadow goes across a label that is partially removed. I assume it would be “Tropic of Capricorn” …

I have no idea what the shadow shows … somehow orienting the sun with the seasons and the wobble of the earth ???

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In this one, I am standing directly on the equator, with the “N” and “S” indicating that the north is to my left (I am looking to the east).

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Some of my tour group taking photos along this red equator line.

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Another view of the globe, looking from the North, zooming in on the area from Peru to Guatemala and Mexico… getting a perspective on my travels. The southern edge of the US is also visible in this photo.

From this angle, it looks as if Quito is almost directly south of Florida.

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I giggled when I saw this gold sink straddling the equator. They have it set up to that they fill the sink, let the water get still, add a couple of leaves, and then pull the cork below (allowing it to empty into a bucket).

The sink is then moved to the North and South, repeating the experiment in each place.

In this demonstration, the water really did spin down the drain in different directions when moved just a few feet in different directions.

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I tried, but found it impossible to get a still photo that could capture the sense of spinning. In this photo the leaves are following the spinning currents down the drain … but I cannot tell which way they are spinning.

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This part of the red line (equator) dead ends into this wall … a three-dimensional mural that appears to be some type of map …

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I don’t understand the science behind this (or if there is any ‘real’ science at all) … but we were told that the equator is the only place in the world where the magnetism and gravitational pulls actually allow you to balance a raw egg on the head of a nail.

In this photo, I am watching someone else try to do it.

I spent several minutes, but was finally successful in doing it. It is not as easy as it looks. The contents of the egg move around a lot and you have to get it really still … but finally, I succeeded. I even got a certificate confirming that I did it.

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This is the egg that I balanced …. but this photo was taken after someone else removed it and then did it again (I didn’t think to take a photo immediately after I balanced it).

That really is a raw egg, perched atop a flat nail-head (about a quarter inch in diameter, less than a centimeter).

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In this photo, our tour guide (right, with hat) is demonstrating to the tall tourist how our strength and balance is actually affected differently when we stand on the equator line versus standing ten feet away.

We did another thing where we tried to walk along the red line with our eyes closed. It was almost impossible not to wobble and fall over. I literally felt as if I were drunk when I dried to do so. The magnetic effects (and gravitation?) are quite interesting here – affecting our inner equilibrium.

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Finally, our time exploring the ‘red line’ of the exact equator is finished, and we do a final exploration of the museum.

This is inside of a typical dwelling (recreated).

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And another photo … seems quite cheesy and artificial to me.

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A hand loom for weaving.

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Some of my group in front of the hut.

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A display with guinea pigs, talking about how they eat them in this part of the world.

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At the end of the tour, we waited in front of a little souvenir store …

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There is a reflective dish here (by that totem pole). There was a bowl of water perched in the center … and it was quite hot from the reflected heat of the sun.

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They did a little traditional dance while we waited … I found the attire quite unusual, unlike anything I have seen in my travels.

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The young woman is now dancing.

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Soon, she (the dancer) grabbed a couple of tourists to join her (she tried to grab me but I was not in the mood).

After the dance, we met up with the Spanish half of our group, got our passports stamped as having been at the equator, and headed back to our bus. When I asked about seeing that building that we skipped in the beginning, our guide was ready to try to make it happen (he had forgotten) … but we all decided to instead move on to the “Mitad Del Mundo” official park.

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As our bus parked in the parking lot, I took this photo of the “Mitad Del Mundo” monument (center distance).

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A close-up view of the towering monument. It is quite large.

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A cute “hummingbird” bench. There were many of these around the park.

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Standing on the west, looking along the yellowish-orange “equator” line toward the east.

According to Wikipedia (and other rumors), this line is actually 240 meters (262 yards) off of the real equator … but it is still fun to be here anyway.

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Looking up at the towering monument from the same place. I walked all around it. The yellowish-orange line represents the equator.

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Zooming in on the globe at the top of the monument. It is difficult to see details.

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I was surprised to discover that, on the east side of the monument, there is a door that leads in to a museum. First you take an elevator to the top, and then spiral down a descending walkway past displays all the way back down.

This photo is taken from a view area near the top … looking back to the west from where I was taking the earlier photos.

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A similar photo, only it capture part of the nearby town behind it.

The Pululahua crater is up in the mountain that is barely visible at the top right.

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From the view area, looking southeast. This part of the “Mitad Del Mundo” park is like a small city of museums, restaurants, and plazas …

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From the same place, looking directly to the east. Most of the little “city-like” area is right down there.

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From the ground on the east side, looking up toward the globe.

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Looking from the east back toward the west. You can see that the sky is clouding up and it is getting windy and cold.

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Wandering around the “city-like” part. I ate a quick lunch in a small restaurant near here.

The restaurant in this photo was quite expensive.

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The restaurant where I ate was on the far side of this plaza, at the center of this photo.

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On the way back to Quito in our tour bus, our guide announced that we should all choose our favorite photo of the day, and that we would enter it in a photo contest (with the other tour participants).

I entered this photo of the colorful canopy at the center of the “Mitad Del Mundo” park area. The yellowish-orange line continues to mark the equator.

I won second place for this photo. I absolutely love the colors.

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The yellowish-orange equator line (still not accurate) runs right into this little chapel in this city-like tourist village.

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Inside of the chapel … the equator runs right down the middle.

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Another beautiful hummingbird bench (you can sit on the green leaf part).

It was cold and windy, and I spent my final hour exploring the museums, and then watching a so-so planetarium show (which was included in our tour).

After that show, we met back at the bus for our ride back to Quito.

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As we were about half of the way back to Quito, we were interrupted by this small local festival parade. Lots of people were dressed up like clowns, blocking the intersection as they marched across.

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When they saw our tour bus and cameras, they all started to wave at us.

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Two of them even came over to entertain us.

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The end of the parade as it finishes crossing the street.

This photo was taken just after 5:00 p.m. … and less than an hour later I found myself back on a metro-bus, headed to the historic center of Quito.

After finding a so-so dinner, I spent the evening in my hostel, making final arrangements for my new computer purchase (ordered from Amazon, sent to a friend in Manhattan, scheduled to be hand-delivered to Guatemala in a couple of weeks).

Then, while feeling exhausted, I unpacked and charged up my new android tablet. Soon, I was playing with installing the apps I needed (I had no experience with android or with tablets, but figured it out. I was thrilled that I could once again access emails, Skype, and Facebook…

Late that night, feeling totally drained and energized at the same time, I set my alarm to get up at 4:30 a.m. for my next tour. Details will be found in my next post.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Regrouping In Quito – July 9-14, 2015

October 31st, 2015

Early on Tuesday, July 9, 2015, I checked out of my noisy hostel (in Baños, Ecuador) and walked to the small bus station just over a block away, dragging my luggage with me every step of the way. While I had inquired about the bus schedules many times in previous days, I had not pre-purchased a ticket. As I stood in line waiting at the office of one small bus line, a man came up to me and told me his bus was leaving sooner.

As if someone else were driving my body, I curiously left the line I wanted to be in, and followed the man to another bus office, maybe thirty feet away. As I was finalizing my purchase, I asked a question that just popped into my mind.

“This bus has a bathroom on it, right?” I ask with anticipation.

When the man told me “No”, I almost asked for my money back so I could take the other bus … but I didn’t want to make a scene.

This is the first of many curious events — events that later led to unexpected, fearful, growth-filled adventure. I will talk about those events in the main section of this post.

As far as photos go, this post contains the first 67 photos of my short five days in Quito … the capitol city of Ecuador. More photos will follow in subsequent posts.

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

A Shocking Revelation

After placing my large backpack and carry-on suitcase in the luggage compartment, I nervously walked onto the bus. I never feel comfortable traveling on buses that don’t give you a luggage claim ticket. A nervous little voice always whispers, “What if someone just walks off with your luggage?”

As I placed my day-pack (with valuables) under my seat, I checked in with my heart feelings and reassured the whispering voice that everything was OK. For the next twenty minutes I frequently entertained a chorus of little voices that still wanted to switch to the other bus. Several times I almost acted on those voices, but each time, another feeling reassured me that “all is well”. When the bus finally backed away from the terminal, I knew that the inner debate was finally over.

After a few hours of travel, our bus stopped in a rural area, directly in front of a large gas station. The driver told us we had about fifteen minutes for a quick break.

In all of my six-plus years of travel, at least before today, I have never left my valuables unattended in a public area – but for whatever reason, on this day, I felt a total sense of peace encouraging me to leave my day pack under my seat while quickly running to use the gas station restroom. When I returned to my seat not more than a few minutes later, I noticed that the position of my day-pack under the seat had slightly shifted. Without even thinking, I ignored the obvious and just shuffled it with my feet, returning it to its usual position (where I use my feet to keep track of it).

During the last hour, I repeatedly noticed two young men just across the aisle and one seat back. I never made direct eye contact with them, but did pick up on a subtle energy that they were somehow observing me – paying attention to my movements When a seat opened up on the right side of the bus, I moved across the aisle so that I could more easily observe the luggage doors just below (I was still nervous about my main luggage). When I made that move, one of the young men left the seat behind me and moved up to the seat in front of me. As I moved it, I also noticed that the contents of my day-back were also sliding around inside, as if it was more spacious – but even that insight did not wake me from my trance. And I also noticed that the young man in front of me was observing my every move.

As the bus stopped, I was so thrilled that my luggage was still in the compartments below, that I did not pay attention to the lightness of my day-pack. I remained clueless as the taxi took me on a long thirty-minute drive to a hostel near the historic center of Quito. It was not until after checking in at that hostel that I went to get my computer so that I could announce my arrival on Facebook.

My jaw cringed and my belly sank as I stared down into the empty space where my computer should be. Frantically searching the rest of the day-pack, I discovered that my wallet (inside of a smaller bag in a different compartment of the day-pack) with considerable cash and bank cards, was also missing. The thieves had done a very surgical strike, leaving most things behind, taking only my most precious items. I was thrilled to discover that my three external hard drives (backups, etc) were all safely stashed at the bottom of the section where the computer had been.

Frantic Stops

The first thing I did was run to the hostel office, asking them if I could use Skype on one of their computers. When their microphones didn’t work, I walked down the street to an internet cafe where I quickly called my bank and credit card companies – cancelling all of those precious cards – my ATM lifelines. I was so grateful that just a week earlier, I had begun to carry one debit card in my little shoulder purse.

Next, after asking for advice at the hostel, I walked to the center of the historic town, found a tourist police office, and filed a police report. The officer was so sweet, and did not make me feel embarrassed as I frequently found myself on the edge of sobbing.

I had a similar experience as I asked a travel agent about a possible tour to the Equator monuments. I unexpectedly shared what had just happened, and ended up sobbing for several minutes in his office. It seemed that when I was by myself, dealing with things, I was just fine … but the moment I tried to talk about it with someone, the tears bubbled up with exploding pressure.

That evening, after a quick and unsatisfying dinner, I let the processing begin. I drank a full dose of cacao, isolated myself in my room, and stayed awake for most of the night – in deep intense processing – revisiting everything that had happened – reviewing all of my options (one of which was the fear-based response of taking a flight directly back to the US).

When I reviewed my day, it was absolutely obvious how many subtle hints I had noticed and ignored throughout the day – many more than I have outlined here. Yet, at the same time, I continued to have a strong feeling of puzzling guidance. It seemed that I was shown both sides of my experience … yes, I had been given repeated intuitive and energetic awareness that something was not right … and YES, I was indeed guided to simply be aware of that awareness, while continuing to ignore it.

I find it hard to describe, but it was like I was being given a gift — a tour of my energetic and intuitive sensitivities — a tour that I would never have been aware of if the robbery itself had not actually happened. I absolutely knew that it was all part of my education, and that in the long run, it would all serve me in ways that would only reveal themselves later (and they have been doing just that).

In my meditation that night, I was determined to find love for everything, including those two young men who had made my life so incredibly difficult (at least in the short term).

By morning, I found myself in a pure state of blissful and loving peace, knowing that I was fine … knowing that I would continue with my plans to fly to Guatemala … knowing that I would first hang around and play tourist in Quito for another few days (acting mostly as if nothing had happened).

Regrouping

I was delighted later that morning when I found a replacement battery charger for my camera (I discovered that the charger was one of the missing casualties). Over the next few days, I became quite familiar with one of Quito’s metro bus lines – scouring every computer store that I could find. I never did find what I was looking for (a reasonably priced computer with English keyboard and “Windows 7” operating system). I did eventually purchase a very cheap android tablet on which I could at least do emails, Facebook, and Skype.

And then, the synchronicity began to flow again. I was messaging a friend from New York. She told me she was going to be in Guatemala in a couple of weeks, and was hoping to see me there. One thing led to another, and everything fell into place. I ordered a brand new computer from Amazon, had it shipped to her, and she brought it to me in Guatemala, less than ten days after I got there.

And Now For The Photos

After finding a new charger for my camera batteries, I spent part of the day exploring the historic center of Quito. The following photos are from that exploration.

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I began in the historic town square of Quito. This photo is inside a large cathedral there.

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The beautiful town square. The tourist police station where I filed a report is just to my right.

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Another photo in the historic town plaza.

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The exterior of the cathedral.

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Interesting murals on this old building. It was about two blocks down this street where I found the open travel agency — and where I sobbed my fears away while talking to a beautiful compassionate man.

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A HUGE basilica, about five blocks away from the historic plaza.

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Walking down a side street, toward that basilica (upper left center).

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An entrance at the back of the basilica. I was expecting to walk into the church. I had no idea that this was actually a tour entrance … and that after paying a small fee I could climb to the highest heights of the basilica towers.

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Looking up at the basilica from this same place.

I will eventually be up in the top of that tower on the right.

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Taken from the same spot, just looking to the left.

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Looking down at some stairs I just climbed.

There are a LOT of stairs kamagra oral jelly uk.

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After climbing more than a hundred feet, I arrived at the first level, from where we could look down into the interior of the basilica.

I love this huge window.

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Looking down into the interior toward the front of the basilica.

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Beautiful stained glass.

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I was surprised that we could look outside at the walls above the interior. I still had no idea that I could climb even higher.

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Looking at the outside from a different angle. I will soon be in the tower that is barely visible at the upper right corner of this thumbnail image.

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A view of Quito.

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… and looking in a different direction. The city itself is huge, and most of it is not visible from this point.

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… and looking in yet another direction.

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Soon, I found a door that led to a path that traversed the entire top of the basilica. This sign was at the entrance, indicating that it is prohibited for children under five years old to climb from this point.

I took this as permission to continue forward.

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This is the first thing I saw. This is a wooden ramp that crosses over the entire length of the basilica. At the far side, I barely see a steep ladder.

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Getting closer to the far side.

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The steps are very steep and narrow. I had to wait for that young man to descend before I could go up.

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Preparing to climb up as the young man reaches the bottom.

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I am now at the next level, looking out at the bell tower (I will eventually climb that one too).

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A different view from the same place.

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Looking back toward the center of town.

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Then I really giggled when I discovered even more steps, going higher and higher. They are sooooo steep.

Such a climb would never be allowed by insurance companies in the US.

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I think I am near the top of this tower now (at least as far as tourists can go).

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Wait … I guess there was more. I had to wait on a tiny landing between two steep sets of stairs … waiting for these people to come down first. That place at the top of these steps is as high as I went.

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Looking around from the top (at least this one).

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Me and the two clock towers. The historic center of town is beyond those towers. I will soon be at the top of that tower on the left.

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Someone else took this photo for me.

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Same view, without me.

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My hostel is over there, right about at the center of this photo.

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More scenes from above.

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Taking a look at the steps that go back down. Did I say yet that these steps are steep?

That man in red is so afraid, he is sitting down on each step.

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But I am not quite ready to leave. I hang out here for a while. I want to meditate and enjoy the peace.

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Looking up from this platform.

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A gargoyle bird, hanging out above me.

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I finally went down a level. This photo does an adequate job of capturing the steepness of these steps.

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Walking back across the top of the basilica below.

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More of the walk back across …

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I love this window on the far end … beautiful sacred geometry.

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After reaching the other end, I found this sign that says “Climb to the belfry”.

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So I began another climb (my knees were getting sore). This is looking back down at the steps I have already climbed.

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Part of the clock mechanism.

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And then, I spy another spiral staircase leading up … up … up.

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More of the clock mechanisms. You can see parts of the clocks in the upper corners.

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One of the clocks as seen from the inside. This makes me wonder if the clock mechanisms in previous photos are just antique relics. This clock does not appear to be hooked up to them.

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Looking up at more of the tower above me.

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Now at the top, looking up at the bells above.

I climbed these bars on the left, but the gate above is locked.

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Looking back at the first tower that I climbed. It is obvious that I am much higher here.

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In this photo, I am back down at ground level, looking at a beautiful carved door.

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Preparing to enter the actual basilica, doing so from street level.

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Looking up into one of the towers (sorry for the fuzzy focus).

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I love these old windows.

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An interior view of the front.

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In previous photos, I was walking across the top of this ceiling.

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From the far back, looking toward the front of this huge basilica.

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Another beautiful window.

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More fuzzy focus.

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This woman was on the ground, praying, prostrate in front of the alter. It looks like she has a photo of a loved one just beside her.

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Below the basilica is a large lawn area, providing a beautiful spot to get a photo of the entire building.

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This is the metro-bus station that I frequently used to get around to the new part of town.

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The exterior of my hostel.

As I prepare to retire for the night, still doing lots of “recovery errands”, I have already made plans for two more tours.

Tomorrow, I will go on a tour to the “Midad del Mundo” or “Middle of the World”, which is an all-day tour to the equator, just north of Quito.

The next day, I have arranged to go on an all-day tour to “Quilatoa” – a huge lake in a high-altitude volcanic crater. Similar in a way to Crater Lake in Oregon.

And on the following day I will pack and make final last-minute preparations for my flight to Guatemala.

Photos documenting those two days of tours will follow in two subsequent photo posts.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Exploring Baños, Ecuador – Part 2 – June 2015

October 30th, 2015

This post contains the second portion of 169 photos telling the story of my almost-three weeks in the small mountain town of Baños, Ecuador.

For more information regarding my early time in Baños, please see part one of this photo post.

If you are an email subscriber, you will likely find part one further down in the same email (for whatever reason, when I post multiple posts in one day, the email distribution software always puts the newest post first).

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

Jungle Tour

I tried to do a jungle tour on June 25, and I even made it onto a bus, but at only ten minutes outside of town, we got stuck in a huge line of traffic that was blocked by yet-another large mudslide. After waiting for nearly an hour, our bus turned around and took us back to town. The travel agency gave me a full refund, and I returned to my hostel to wait for better weather. Finally, on June 27, the rains began to let up. The agency assured me that the jungle would be hot and dry, and that as long as there were no mudslides, that we would be fine. To our dismay, we were again stopped by another mudslide … but this time, after a half hour wait, one lane was cleared and we were able to get through. Our only unknown factor was whether or not we would be able to get home later that same evening.

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I did not start out very happy, and my face shows that mood. My travel agent had assured me that I would be part of a small personalized tour, with no more than four or five of us in a minivan. I ended up on this large crowded bus because the agency did a “bait-and-switch”, combining several last-minute tours together.

I eventually found my smile again, but the first hour or two were difficult as my mood just continued to flow…

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A photo of the dam as we leave town … headed down the valley toward the Amazon jungle.

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These early photos are in the same part of the road where I took the waterfall tour a few days earlier … only this time I can see out of the window.

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There are several tunnels in places where the mountain might otherwise not allow traffic.

We had been having so much rain, and the ground was so saturated with water, that it was literally raining inside of this tunnel, with some small waterfall-like places.

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Leaving one tunnel, with another coming up in the distance.

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This is the place where we hit the mudslide area, and had to wait for more than a half hour. Many people from other cars were walking down to gather more information.

Our driver was nervous that if we were stopped for too long, that another mudslide might come down on top of us …

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Finally, we move forward, and come to this muddy area. The mud had been cleared from the right lane.

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It looks as if some very large boulders had come down with the big mud soup.

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Looking up at the side of the hill from where the mud had flowed.

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Another spot where the river was running across the road.

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Still in the mountains, headed toward the jungle heat and sun.

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Approaching lower elevations (we are still a couple thousand feet above sea level in this part of the jungle).

We stop at a view area above this river. The tour guide tells us we are beginning to enter the jungle climate. I can already feel the difference … and YIPPEE, the skies are warm and blue.

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Our tour bus as seen from the view area.

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A nearby towering tree (looking back toward the cloudy mountains).

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Another view looking back toward the lower mountains.

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Our first destination was a zoo, just outside of a large town. (I do not remember the name.)

This monkey was cute.

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These guys look hungry.

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A very large spotted kitty cat, resting in the shade on his back. (It was hard for me to see such majestic animals cooped up behind a fence.

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I was still in a funky mood at this point, keeping to myself, and not really paying attention to the names of these jungle animals. This one seemed to really enjoy the mud.

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As did this one…

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This one almost looks like a porcupine to me… (except the rough fur is not as long as a porcupine spike).

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These jungle pigs had a lot more mud to play in.

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This animal reminds me of a huge rodent.

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This is the sign at the entrance to the zoo …

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Resuming our bus journey, deeper into the jungle.

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Eventually, we arrive at a tiny indigenous village named Kotococha … or Cotococha. This is a very tiny place … one that is very authentic in every way, except that they have opened their village to tourists, in hopes to bring some money to the town.

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We parked our bus and proceeded to walk across that large footbridge to the right.

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A better view of the bridge. It bounced up and down a lot when people walked across.

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These young boys were playing in the water as we crossed the bridge. They were still there when we left too …

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Looking toward the village from the middle of the bridge.

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A sign on the other side of the bridge … all in Spanish. It starts out by saying that before the roads were built, it took two days to reach this village via canoe …

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This sign talks about medicinal plants in the area …

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Even the tiniest of villages seem to always have a futbol (soccer) field. I cannot remember the exact population numbers, but it seems like this village has less than a hundred inhabitants.

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This is the main tourist reception area. They have a large room where they share and give talks and sell trinkets to the tourists that come.

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The whole building was lined with crafts like these. Each section has different colors of tags to indicate price and which village member made them. This allows them to credit the money back to the correct family.

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Looking across the soccer field toward another structure with open-air tables inside.

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They even have a tourist guest house … but I am not sure if it is used right now.

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The far side of the soccer field.

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And a couple of small school buildings for the children.

Most of the town’s residents were away today … there was some big political discussion going on in the larger town (near where the zoo was).

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It looks as if this is their church or place of worship.

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Another school building.

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Once the brief introductions were made … I went outside to take photos, and then meditated … first here in the grass beside the bridge … and then later in the middle of the bridge.

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I was fascinated by how these shrubs were growing on top of the thatch roof.

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As I meditated in the middle of the bridge, I had fun watching these two boys still playing on the rocks in the river.

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Looking upstream.

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And then noticing some canoes just downstream, on the side near our bus.

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When I saw that a young man was resting in one of the canoes, I began to wonder if these were the canoes that would take us on a short river run.

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Looking back toward the village from the middle of the bridge.

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And looking downstream at our next destination.

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A closer view of the canoes. They are all homemade, appearing to be carved out of tree trunks.

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looking across the river from just above the canoes. By now, I am meditating on this side of the river, waiting for the rest of the group to return.

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Looking inside one of the canoes. it is all one solid piece (except for that board in the middle which is used for a seat).

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Looking at the front of one of the canoes. You can see the wood grain as all being from a solid tree trunk.

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A beautiful butterfly to keep me company.

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Finally we all have life vests on and are spread out in the four separate canoes.

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Me, all wrapped up in blue (but no longer feeling quite as blue).

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My feet, straddling the low bench. They gave us rubber boots to wear. I was sad to later learn (after walking in the river) that one of my boots had a huge slash in it, letting the water gush in to saturate my socks.

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The first two canoes are off …

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It seems that I am in the final canoe … the third is preparing to shove off. The driver stands in the back, and pushes us off using a long stick.

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Finally, this young boy gets us off the mud …

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And we are off into the currents. The boat only sits about six inches above the water level.

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The same boy who pushed us off the mud is now standing in back, using his stick to guide us out into open water.

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I get a little twinge of anticipation as I realize we are heading for small rapids and shallow water. At times, we even scrape the bottom as water is splashing around us on all sides.

I even put my camera away during much of the ride because there is lots of water splashing around.

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Gently gliding through a more calm and deeper area.

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Looking back at the canoe behind us (we passed them) … they just finished a small stretch of rapids and are entering the calm area.

By now, our drivers are sitting down, using an oar to guide us.

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Continuing forward in a calmer area.

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You can barely see one canoe in front of us, on the left, near the far shore.

The current here is not super fast, but is clipping along at a steady pace that requires us to maintain good balance.

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The boat in front of us, maneuvering in place to make a safe run at the next set of small rapids (you can see a tiny bit of the mild whitewater just beyond the canoe).

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In this photo, the rapids are more visible. They could easily topple the boat if we don’t go through at the correct angle … or if we were to broadside into a shallow rock.

It is time to consider putting my camera away (back in a plastic bag) …

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… but I decide to keep my camera out for the bumpy excitement. We hit bottom several times through this mild rapids … but get through with no major mishaps.

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A view looking to the right.

These rapids would be nothing in a rubber raft with proper equipment … but seem quite exciting in this rickety old canoe.

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I am glad our driver is familiar with where all the rocks and currents are. He skillfully moves back and forth across the river to find the safest routes.

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The current here is quite strong.

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Finally, our driver turns sharply and uses his stick to push us up to shore in a calm area.

Right about now, I realize that my boot is full of water.

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We get our “ground feet” again and then walk up to a nearby house. It seems to be in the middle of nowhere … but is some type of guesthouse that is perfectly equipped to give us a yummy meal and a short rest.

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Our large group enjoying this delicious meal.

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A photo of my plate of food.

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I only enjoyed five minutes on this hammock before they told us that it was time to leave.

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Our next adventure is a hike in the jungle.

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The trail was quite steep … passing through a well-traveled jungle (not traditional old growth).

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We followed along the side of a small stream …

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… and then more climbing.

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Up and up … a small but steep hill.

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Finally, when we reached the top, our guide found a tall rope swing … one that swung way out over the valley floor below. The rope is tied to the top of a very tall tree.

I was one of the first few to try it. It was a lot of fun.

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If you focus on the middle (or click to enlarge the photo), you can see a man in blue hanging from the rope as he swings way out over the valley below. It wasn’t very scary for me … but gave me a good adrenaline rush. I was surprised when a few people didn’t want to try it.

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Next, we hiked back down the hill, and then trekked another fifteen minutes to this waterfall and pond.

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I came prepared, wearing my swimsuit under my clothes, fully expecting to jump in and enjoy the swim.

But when we got there, the sun was already behind the hilltop behind us, and it was getting quite cool … plus the water was very cold. I stripped down to my swim suit and waded out up to my lower hips, but decided not to go further. It was freezing, and I didn’t want to make the return trip in cold, wet clothes.

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A few of our group (plus others that were already there) did swim for twenty minutes.

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If we had some sun to sit in, I likely would have gone all the way in.

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I don’t remember the story of this, but I think the guide told us that it was made in more modern times.

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Looking back at the waterfall as we prepare to leave.

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The stream (runoff from the pond) as we begin to hike.

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The first bridge that we cross.

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Looking back at the falls as others cross the bridge.

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Another beautiful little bridge. Our walk back is along a different path.

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The sun is preparing to set …

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And the surrounding area remains just as beautiful.

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The roots of these trees caught my fancy. They are amazing. (Click to enlarge.)

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Part of the return trail.

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And another unique footbridge taking us back to the entrance trail area.

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As we again hit the road, the sun begins to say “good night”.

After an uneventful ride back up the canyon, into rainy Baños, I am tired and ready for a restful night of sleep in my noisy hostel.

Baños Wrap-Up

I thoroughly enjoyed my day in the jungles of Ecuador, and was quite excited about future possibilities of doing a paragliding tour, a zip-line tour, some river rafting, and possibly a volcano hike ….

But the weather … and then my process … did not cooperate. For most of the next twelve days, the rains continued, and I remained mostly in my room, either working on my blog or doing inner processing.

By early July, my time in this small town became a journey of intense emotional inner work. It turns out that the nice family-run hostel was one of the noisiest places in which I have ever stayed. I took advantage of that noise, allowing it to take me deeper and deeper into a lifelong journey with noise anxiety. I did not even realize that there was actually a condition with that name until I began to do some internet research. I discovered that my energy sensitivities had me matching nearly every single symptom.

Day after day, I surrendered to the noise, allowing it to have me – allowing it to trigger a sense of inner rage, continually processing through the reactions that came up inside. For several days, I was so deep in process that I ended up eating large commercial chocolate bars and potato chips for dinner. I didn’t even want to go outside if I didn’t have to.

As bizarre as it was, I am deeply grateful for the processing I went through during those difficult twelve days. I never did take any more tours. I really wanted to, but the weather just would not cooperate, and my in-room journey felt like the right thing for me to be doing.

Perhaps one day I will return to Baños with sunnier skies (inside and out) to continue the playground adventure in this little tourist town.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved

Photos – Exploring Baños, Ecuador – Part 1 – June 2015

October 30th, 2015

Early on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, I said goodbye to my cozy little hostel (in Cuenca Ecuador) and stepped into a taxi that would take me to the bus terminal. As I boarded a bus destined for Quito, I reflected on the nervous butterflies in my stomach. This part of traveling always tends to bring up small flashes of “what-ifs”.

For you see, my real destination was not Quito itself. I hoped to go to the town of “Baños”, and was told that the only “public transportation” way of getting there was to take a bus toward Quito, and to then get off several hours early in the town of Ambato, where I would have to stand at the side of the road with all my luggage. Theoretically, if I was in the right spot, I could then find a different bus that would take me the rest of the way.

I giggled when, about six or seven hours later, my driver stopped on one side of a very busy four-lane road (in the outskirts of Ambato), told me to “baja aqui (get off here)”, and pointed to a waiting bus on the other side of the highway that would take me the rest of the way. The biggest obstacle was dragging my luggage across the active traffic before the other bus decided to continue on its way.

Less than two hours later I was checked in at a large-and-new family-owned hostel just a block from the bus station in Baños. I had no idea of the “adventures” that awaited me.

This post contains the first portion of 169 photos telling the story of my almost-three weeks in that small mountain town.

For whatever reason, my blog software would not let me get them all into a single post (as I have done many times before). Therefore, I am breaking this into two parts.

As usual, the photos in this post are thumbnail images. Please click on any photo to enlarge it. The thumbnails leave much to be desired as far as colors and resolution – plus the thumbnails clip all of the edges. I use thumbnails for the post itself, because it gives people an opportunity to get a summary glimpse without downloading huge amounts of data for the high-res photos.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE TO HIGH RESOLUTION

The Journey There

These first six photos document portions of the scenery along the way, between Cuenca and Baños.

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My starting point of Cuenca was already at 8400 feet (2500 meters) above sea level. For most of the long bus ride, we swerved back and forth along upper steep slopes of the Andes mountains. Our general destination was to the north, but we were often going east and/or west as we zigzagged here and there around those rugged mountains.

In this photo, we are in a small valley between the mountains.

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A glimpse of a small town somewhere along the way.

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Some high-altitude fields near the small town. You cannot tell in the photos, but the winds were blowing very strongly all day long.

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I really didn’t keep track of “where” I took these photos. This is another portion of a small town along the way.

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My bus is high up on a mountain side, looking down into another populated valley to the left.

I think we are only about an hour away from Ambato at this point.

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Another scene along the main highway.

Yippee – I Made it

At around 3:30 p.m. (after leaving Cuenca in the early morning), my driver dropped me off in the outskirts of Ambato where I managed to get across the street to a bus that was waiting for more passengers. Shortly after I boarded, the new bus began our final hour-long journey toward the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains.

At just after 5:00 p.m., I left my newly-found hostel in search of food and “orientation”. I was famished and had done absolutely no advance research on the area.

The town of Baños (officially Baños de Agua Santa or Baths of Holy Water) is in the central part of Ecuador, on the eastern side of the Andes mountains, resting at an altitude of 5971 feet or 1820 meters above sea level. It is a popular tourist destination situated in the northern foothills of the Tungurahua volcano – a volcano that I never saw because of almost continuous rain and cloud cover during my time there. The town caters to tourists with a bustle of options, including river rafting, mountain biking, volcano hiking, zip-lining, paragliding, water falls, and jungle tours, among many other options.

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As I explored the little town, searching out dinner options, I saw this towering tree. You can see that the skies are very cloudy.

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A few minutes later, I finally found the hot springs for which the town is named. I love the beautiful waterfall cascading down the mountain just behind. Later, in the third week of my visit, I finally went swimming inside this place (I didn’t take photos). Suffice it to say, I was doing emotional processing at the time, and my experience there did not leave me inspired to make return visits. (I know I was projecting LOL.)

Exploring Baños

Early the next morning, I set out to further explore my options. I came with no preconceived idea of what I would do here, nor how long I might stay.

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After arranging to take a late-morning waterfall tour, I used my spare morning time to explore this old church, situated in one of the two main town plazas.

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The entrance.

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It is quite beautiful inside.

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A side view.

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And a look at the ceiling.

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Adjacent to the church was this museum “Fray Enrique Mideros”.

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The museum was surrounding a huge inner courtyard. This photo is looking back toward the spires of the church.

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In fact, the courtyard wall is shared with the church.

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From the top of the museum, looking down at the little plaza below (in front of the church).

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A few gorgeous flowers while looking toward the water fall and hot springs in the distance.

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A tiny sampling of the museum. This is a traditional dress from the area.

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Some ancient pottery from around the region.

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More from the “La Tolita” culture.

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This pottery from the “Valdivia” culture is dated as originating between 3500 and 1800 BC.

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A sign on the church, indicating it is the “Sanctuary” of “Our Lady of the Rosary of Holy Water”

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A photo of the church as seen from the city plaza.

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Memory tells me that this is a photo of the other city plaza, just a few blocks away from the one with the church. I spent many hours hanging out here during my last week in this town (but only during the few rare glimpses of sunlight).

Waterfalls Tour

At about 10:00 a.m., I met up with a small tour agent who escorted me to my transportation for the waterfalls tour. On a clear sunny day, this might be a beautiful experience. On this day, I almost cancelled because of the breezy winds, strong drizzle, and low clouds. But I went anyway, knowing that I could always do the tour again on a sunny day if I was still here. (Such a day never came.)

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This is our transportation for the next few hours. When I first arrived, it was completely open-air, and very wet inside. I watched them put down the blue tarp on the near side (but it was still very wet inside).

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I sat on the left, by the tarp (no tarp on right side), about half way back. I had water dripping onto me for much of the day.

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But I was having fun anyway. It was an adventure. I am wearing my little day-pack in front so that I can keep it dry.

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After driving around while picking up additional passengers, we finally went out into the rainy canyon. The river is raging below with very high runoff.

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At this view stop (one of many views of many waterfalls), we had the option of riding this tram across the river. I would love to have done this in dry weather, but decided I was not interested in getting sopping wet just yet.

It looked very beautiful and fun, but I was one of the ones who remained behind trying to stay somewhat warm and dry.

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Looking down the river from a different vantage point. We were driving along a very narrow highway up here on the side of the canyon. Many waterfalls were above us on the left, but alas I could not see them because of the non-see-through tarp and rain conditions.

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We had a brief clearing (under an overhanging cliff) where I could get a cloudy view of the scenery on the right.

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Looking out the open side at the valley below. You can actually see huge vertical streaks of rain in this photo … kind of a time-delay effect (you may have to click to enlarge to see the streaks).

I have never taken a “raining” photo that had such streaks in the foreground.

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At another overhanging cliff area, we stopped and got out to see this rock that is famous as “looking like a face”. You can kind of see it in this photo. The chin is the lowest overhanging part. The nose protrudes just above that on the left …

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Another photo in the same area, looking back toward that face. It is raining hard here.

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A frontal view of the face. You can kind-of see it here.

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This gives a good feel for the narrow road on the side of a steep mountain.

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Another look into the rainy valley below.

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I had actually wanted to ride a bicycle down this road (they rent them all over town) … but due to the rain, I opted for this somewhat dryer option.

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Another view looking back to the upper valley behind us.

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In this photo, I got closer to the open window for a better upper valley view.

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Another so-so view.

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This is the view of a waterfall across the valley (to which a zip line runs).

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In this photo, I am standing under a covered platform, enjoying the view of that huge waterfall across the valley. Many in my group are gearing up to take this zip line across the river to that waterfall.

Again, I would love to go over there, but am deciding to try to stay somewhat dry. I am not equipped with waterproof clothing or shoes.

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Hooking up someone’s straps.

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These two are getting ready to go.

The main reason I decided not to go in the rain is that I hoped to come back on a dry day and do the tour all over again (It was less than $10). That dry day never happened.

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These two are now hanging up on their bellies, with one rope holding up their chest, and one rope supporting their legs … getting ready for the launch.

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And they are off …

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… flying over the river below … toward the waterfall on the far left.

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Zooming in on the landing platform far across the valley. You can barely see their orange helmets in the exact center.

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Another brave member of my tour group. She is going to go in a sitting up position.

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And the next two are off … zooming toward that waterfall.

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This is the zip line platform. They call it “Canopy” here … and they don’t mean a canopy walk above the trees … they mean a zip line ride.

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Later, we drive down closer the the raging river below. The rains have been intense here for a while, and the water is rough and dirty.

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A view of a distant waterfall. This one is famous, and has a trail down to the bottom. I really wanted to go there, but this tour only sees it from a distance.

After this tour finished, I arranged for a private taxi to take me back there at 4:00 p.m. (and for the driver to even hike down with me) … but the road was blocked with mudslides from the heavy rains, and we couldn’t get anywhere close to it.

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At the end of our tour, (furthest away down the valley), we stopped for a hike to a different waterfall. I was tired of just watching others … and by now my shoes were already getting wet … so I decided to go for it, while many of my tour-mates stayed behind.

We were on a very tight schedule so I had to move very quickly down the steep, wet, slippery path … and then ascend just as quickly.

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This is the waterfall at the bottom of the path. I only had time to spend a few minutes here.

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Another view of this waterfall.

By now, my shoes and clothes are dripping wet, and I begin to wish that I had just done the other zip line things.

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As we drive back toward the town, we pass by this dam. On the way down the valley, it was on our left and I could not see it. This time it is on the open-air right side of the transport. The water is raging and splashing very high.

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This photo was taken on my private taxi tour at about 4:49 p.m. – later that same day. After having been blocked by a mudslide, I ask my driver to take me up to the view areas above Baños instead. This is a waterfall in a canyon behind and above the town.

I was disappointed, because I had rubber boots and a thin raincoat, and was really wanting to hike down that huge waterfall mentioned in a previous photo.

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Another view as we make our way up this back canyon. We had a short period with less rain (but lots of wind).

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More scenery as we drive up behind the town.

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Finally, we arrive at the view area, overlooking the town of Baños. It is a beautiful little tourist town (but very rainy right now).

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A different view looking more to the right.

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And one looking to the left. There is another tourist spot up on that higher peak. They have a tree house and a huge swing where you can swing out beyond a cliff … and above that is the huge volcano – the same one I never saw because the clouds never parted.

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Me, with my wind-blown and very tangled hair. You can see that my clear plastic cover is also blowing tightly against me from the strong winds blowing into my face.

I had to be careful not to fall backwards.

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Another similar photo, with strong blowing winds … but a little visibility of the valley below.

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Zooming in on that ridge above to the left. Somewhere up there is that tree house I was talking about.

Part One Wrap-Up

This ends the first part of this photo post. For whatever reason, my blog software would not allow me to fit this all in one larger post.

I will continue my post in Part 2.

Copyright © 2015 by Brenda Larsen, All Rights Reserved