Here´s some pictures from Ecuador: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047406&id=19000929&l=fd0a25ed62
I´m back in Bogotá again after an exciting, exhausting last few days in Ecuador. It´s incredible how much there is to see in such a small country. So after my last email, Xan had to return to the US to start his Ph.D. program, and I became a solo traveler. However, I wasn´t alone for long before I had the good fortune to meet my cousin´s girlfriend´s friend from high school (try saying that ten times fast!), who lives with her husband in Quito. It was really fun hanging out with them, and to learn a few dance steps from their friends. I also thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Botanical Garden in one of Quito´s many big parks, where there were not only a variety of rare orchids and unusual tropical flowers, but also a beautiful rose garden and a display of medicinal plants. The next day Milton (a friend from college) invited me to play soccer with some folks from his school. The two teams included Germans, Ecuadorians, 2 Americans (including me), and a surprisingly large contingent of blonde Norwegian girls, who were very fast and agressive when going after the ball. I still have a scar from a collision with one of them! After that, I tried to cram in as much sight-seeing as possible, and rode the bus at least 4 hours every day for about 5 days straight. The first place I visited was a big volcanic lake called Quilotoa. It was very beautiful, but the exposed landscape was windy and very cold, so after taking some pictures I huddled around a wood stove with the Quechua owners of our ¨hostel¨ (more like a shack) and four friendly Australian backpackers. They told interesting stories about their recent visit to Cuba and Mexico, and we speculated on why almost none of the men in Ecuador choose to grow beards. On the way to Riobamba, I stopped for lunch (usually the cost was less than $2) at a small place near the bus station. When they brought out the soup, I eagerly started sipping. But when my spoon dipped closer to the bottom of the bowl, a chicken foot appeared! I was surprised but decided to eat it anyway to impress the waitress (actually I already tried chicken feet once in Hong Kong, so it wasn´t too scary). Riobamba is a popular base to explore Ecuador´s tallest mountain, Chimborazo (20,703 feet; the summit is regarded as the point furthest from the center of the Earth). Obviously, I wasn´t a skilled enough mountaineer to attempt the climb this time, but I did get the chance to hike toward the snow line. The landscape was completely barren of trees. The soil had a reddish tinge that made me feel like I was on Mars, and the thin air made everything seem very surreal. It was the first time I´ve experienced snow fall in the tropics as well. From this point, three Germans and I rode bikes down the mountain, spotting camel-like Vicunyas, Alpacas, and Llamas, as well as a falcon, along the way. I then caught a red-eye bus back to Quito and departed the next day for Bogotá, where I am now (and in the last 5 days here, I have yet to encounter another American). Next week I will probably go to the Zona Cafetera (place in Colombia where coffee is produced) and Medellin.

I´m currently in Baños, Ecuador traveling with Xan, my friend from college. Last week I initially arrived in Bogota, Colombia for a couple of days. Even though my flight arrived at 4am, I had no problems safely finding a taxi to the hostel. Amazingly, the first person I met the next morning was a fellow Washington & Lee alumnus, Eric, whom I had not met before. He has been living in Colombia and teaching English for several months. Also, I met up with Carlos, a native of Colombia who was a good friend in the Philippines (we had the same host family there). Arriving in Ecuador, Xan and I had lunch with two other W&L alumni, Veronica and Francisco in Quito. Francisco was the leader of my freshman hiking trip almost 7 years ago and currently works for the UN, and Veronica invited us to visit her family´s farm in northern Ecuador over the weekend. This has been the highlight of the trip so far, as we had the opportunity to explore the countryside on horseback and try delicious food. One interesting plant Veronica´s family grows is ¨tomate de arbol¨ or Solanum betaceum, which has a delightful sweet juice despite its botanical similarity to the tomato with which most North Americans are familiar. We also visited the Lago Cuicocha, which is a volcanic crater lake similar to Taal in the Philippines. The ¨cui¨ is a Guinea Pig, which is often eaten by Andean peoples, so we gave it a try. Our next adventure was climbing the Rucu Pichincha peak (15,400 ft, the tallest mountain I´ve ever climbed. The tallest mountain in the contiguous US states is less than 15,000 ft.). It had a steep, exposed section near the summit but luckily we made it without any missteps. The climb reminded me a lot of Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. We were tired after the climb but hopped on a bus nevertheless to Baños, where we are relaxing and enjoying some hot springs for a few days. Overall, my impression of Ecuador is that the roads and particularly the bus station are in surprisingly good condition, and Quito is less polluted and much colder than I expected. Another surprise in both Bogota and Quito was that there are few two-stroke engines (motorcycle-tricycle) on the roads, and the open air markets are less conspicuous than in Manila. I have another week in Ecuador before returning to Colombia, so I will try to post another update, and some pictures, before then.