Monday, November 24, 2008

Costa Rica, How, well...Rica!

The rich coast really did apply to me last month when Colegio Americano treated me to a week-long conference in San Jose, Costa Rica. Teachers where I come from in Colorado aren't really used to this kind of treatment; it kind of seemed more like something fancy suit-types would go to rather than geeky teachers, but why not!

We arrived in San Jose after a short flight from Quito, and were greeted with a room at the very fancy Intercontinental Hotel. Here's something I never knew growing up sleeping in sleeping bags and the dirty floors of camping tents--an amazing bed filled with down above and below you and with soft-soft-soft sheets REALLY does help you sleep! I hit that bed at night and didn't roll, toss, or turn until my alarm woke me up with whatever songs from my i-pod I had synced it with the previous night!

The conference was an annual gathering of international schools from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. We attended a pre-conference on a new online assessment we are administering this year in Quito; mostly I was excited that this fact allowed me to milk the lap of luxury for three extra nights! Our Director General generously treated us to steak and lobster dinners, sushi-bars, and the breakfast every morning, which was, well, a bit ridiculous. That plate in the lower corner is all salmon, yes, all of it. My breakfast special was a bottom layer of gallo pinto and Lizano (rice and beans and Costa Rican salsa), with two friend eggs, and salsa ranchero, cheese, and sausage on top. Maybe with a waffle and some fresh fruit as well. Yes, Costa Rica is quite appropriate.

Breakfast was only the beginning, the whole facility embraced this kind of opulence. The pools had this great design, where the water cascaded over the top of the pool, only to fall into a crack a foot back from the stone-work. Just the kind of thing for some kid to get his foot stuck in and sue in the states, but in Costa Rica it was just good architecture. The exercise gym was filled with full circuit machines, and a waiter who brought you a ginger towel and cucumber/lime water while you ran on the treadmills (equipped with personal TV's, which would accept your i-pod if nothing good was on TV). Speaking of TV, I was watching my flat-screen TV one morning, drinking Britt coffee when I realized I was watching Channel 9 Denver News. Funny, the local U.S. TV station in Costa Rica is Denver--looked like they had some black ice on Kippling that morning, I hope Glen's commute to work was okay.

But, really, there were two highlights of the trip. One, was the great people I met at the conference. International educators are my kind of people--and we had a great time, working hard during the day, and playing (read--drinking) hard in the evenings. One night--mid conference--several us from Mexico, Dominican Republic, and Ecuador ended up at a World-Cup Haiti V.S. Costa Rica soccer match. The game was awkward, they don't serve beer in the stadium, and Costa Rica is embarrassingly critical of their own team, but as we wandered the bars late at night after the game, I realized this was my zone. My friend Ray actually did a workshop one year on how to balance working out V.S. working at these kinds of events. All I know is the gym was full every morning at 5 AM with teachers that I had been partying with mere hours before.

The second highlight was pretty simple. Across the street from the hotel was a grocery store; stocked with Guiness and Red Seal (California) beers. As I've bemoaned before on this blog, Ecuador is bereft of good beer, and so this was a god-send. The Ben and Jerry's and Quizno's subs were just icing on the cake....

Saturday, November 22, 2008

LLamas are funny

These are some wild llamas Erin and I hung out with a couple of weeks ago up on Cotachachi. Funny-lookin' ain't they?
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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Quilindaña--the other side of Cotopaxi

Finally, a new post. Last weekend my friend Jeff invited me to join a trip to Quilindaña which was being organized by Mark Thurbur. Mark is pretty well known around town; he´s been climbing around Ecuador long enough to still own a Chouinard ice-axe, be kidnapped by Achuar Indians and held for a 2 million dollar ransom, and write the climbing guidebook to Ecuador. So, minus the whole kidnapping thing, he seemed like a good/safe guy to hit the mountains with. In addition, Jeff is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marines and a DEA agent, so I generally feel pretty good about his presence on any expedition that takes us far off the beaten path (the bullet-proof windows in his jeep helps).

And Quilindaña is way way way off the path.

My local guide friend, Pepinico, says that the mountain probably gets climbed once a year. Hearing our plans for this rarely climbed jewel, three new friends also decided to join us.

Mario--A strong climber who attended the same university as I did, ASU, and knew my father-in-law as his mechanic in Boone!
Patricia--A Fort Collins girl who works with Mario, and loves O´dells brewery almost as much as we do.
Caroline--Mario´s girlfriend and an amazing photographer. (The pictures on this post are...well, they ain´t mine that´s for sure)

Upon entering the gates to Cotopaxi National Park, it´s still two hours of four wheeling and five hours of hard backpacking to get to the basecamp. The mountain itself is not that hard, but it is a royal bitch-in-the-ass to get there. Several river crossings and a locked gate that required Mark´s promise to not kill any cows to facilitate its opening landed us at the remote and beautiful Hacienda El Tambo. From this Hacienda we trekked over two passes, and through several wet sections of Andean Paramo grassland before arriving at a small alpine lake nestled at the base of the mountain. Our weather was the typical mix of Scottish/Ecuadorian mush that we have become accustomed to. Luckily, our evening was dry, and the morning dawned clear and relatively warm for 4600 meters. Within the first hour of climbing we discovered what the clouds of the previous day were hiding on the mountain--lots of snow. We needed crampons. Unfortunately, the last time Mark was on the mountain he climbed it in rubber galoshes--jungle boots, and he just couldn´t fathom the thought that we would encounter lots of hard snow. We putzed around for a bit, looking for a way around the hard packed snow, but it soon became obvious that we would need to turn around.

The hike out was much quicker than the way in, though again, we were soaked by the constant rain. Arriving back in Quito in enough time for sushi night with my wife, I was pleased with the new friends made. Mario and I spent the trip trading NC climbing stories. Patricia and I tortured each other with thoughts of Colorado beer. Jeff and I swapped analysis of the latest tent designs. Caroline and I traded journalism stories, and Mark and I spoke about the remodel of his bosses house in Boulder that my best friend Glen worked on. What a small world the climbing community is, and what a pleasure it is to be a member of it.

If you would like to see all of Caroline's gorgeous photos from the trip, they are here. When I first looked at these, I wondered if she was on the same trip as me...I don't remember these kinds of views...I just remember clouds and rain! Also, her website is at