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Wednesday, 13 April 2016 Tena, Ecuador

in the jungle the mighty jungle...

Hasta Luego Cuba and helloooo Ecuador. 5 weeks have gone by like nothing and soon enough, with spanish diploma in hand the time has come for me to leave one of the most enchanting islands. Leaving with mixed feelings, on which I'll come back to in a (hopefully!) round up of Cuba I was quite glad when I stopped off in Panama and was first of all able to understand their spanish with ease and secondly found shops that were actually filled with STUFF. Probably left too much money at the airport, to be honest..

Nevertheless, after another short flight in a half-empty plane, I landed in Quito, Ecuador with no real idea of what might await me. I'm currently writing all this whilst lying in a hammock, in the middle of nowhere jungle in Tena, no electricity, no service, animals and creatures everywhere but I absolutely love it! However, when I stepped outside of the airport in Quito, I was first of all amazed by the cars, which actually looked like they were built in the last 10 years and roads and buildings in a state in which you didn't have to worry they might fall apart at any minute. Soon enough I found myself a taxista, who drove me up to Quito and let me tell you, Ecuador is freaking hilly. Can't remember how many hills and curves we passed (thankfully, after more than a month I was finally secured with a seat belt again) and how green everything was aswell. Absolutely beautiful. 

Quito itself is just as hilly. It seems like there's no even road at all and when seeing a house or cathedral across from you, to actually get to it you might have to descend to the bottom and then start climbing up the other side. The houses looked pretty old and run down and although seeming a bit wealthier than the Cubans on first sight, Ecuador is really poor. Having forgotten the asian features the Ecuadorians have, I was amazed by some of their traditional wear, long black hair and almond shaped eyes. They seemed a lot more open, even content with their lives but still, homeless, drunk off their asses and crawling people in the streets were to be found at every corner. And I definitely got the feeling, everyone was warning me from - Ecuador being dangerous. But I guess that's just how it is and the country itself is beautiful nevertheless (from what I've gathered so far)

After getting set in the hotel for the night and meeting my roommate, we made our way over to her old hostel, and let me tell you, backpacker life in Quito is pretty amazing. The hostels were incredible, great buildings, staff, activities and apparently food and of course you get to meet a lot of like minded travellers. So after our travel group met up, we went to said hostel that had a roof top party and barbecue. A perfect start to a new adventure accompanied with a beautiful nightime view of Quito. I so wish I had more time in Quito, as there would have been so many things to discover. However,  I have to say, I was struggling with the altitude (really bad headache, feeling of sickness) which I hope would have faded over time. But I'm still quite scared what might await me in Peru..

The next morning we made our way into the jungle in Tena. Driving more or less 7h in a public bus, with a scenery as stunning as I've never seen, I had no idea what I set myself up to. I was speechless by the beauty of the hilly terrain, scary roads, waterfalls and ever changing weather, but arriving in the jungle was something else. We're staying with a guy called Delphin (he's a shaman and showed us fascinating plants in the jungle - found some natural nail polish and mosquito repellent) and his family. You're actually in the middle of nowhere, only hearing the sounds of water and insects and other lovely creatures. We slept in some sort of bungalow, everything all out in the open except the mosquito net over the bed, and as I've mentioned before, no electricity. Although a bit scared by the mosquitos at first, I was freaking excited. 

That same day, Rolando, Delphin's son took us on a little hike around the jungle and for the first time in years I wore wellies again! They were necessary due to all the little streams and muddy passages, Inwas just glad not having to get my feet wet. We even got a natural face treatment by Rolando himself with mud he dug out of a stream. Next to that facial and the air here, I have to say my face has never been this soft before (; The day was perfectly rounded off with a delicious dinner and games and marshmallows around the 'campfire'.
The next morning, after a terrifying, middle-of-the-night-toilet-run-in-the-dark, wellies were once again mounted/put on, along with swimsuits and shorts - we were off to find cascades and basically just get ourselves wet. I definitely wasn't ready for what would await me. I think we climbed up rivers and actual waterfalls without harnesses far too dangerous to actually be allowed, but I'm not complaining. Again, I saw some of the most beautiful places nature alone can provide you with and cleansed myself under a body cleasing waterfall. Goals all the way. A fantastic day filled with quite exhausting activities, learning about healing plants, seeing bugs the size of my hand, probably had creatures crawling all over me without being actually aware of it, but who caaares? Definitely not me anymore. I've come to love the jungle.
All these experiences aren't by far all that left a mark, but for me there's just no possible way to put all of this into words, but at least I got some of it jotted down, still laying in the hammock with the sun light slowly fading, attracting more and more mosquitos, yay. Soon it'll be time for another bonfire and marshmallows night accompanied by the werewolfs and villagers game and after two more nights here, we're off to baños and hopefully the end of the world swing. I can't wait!

(... and no, the lion doesn't sleep here tonight)

Edit: Last day in the jungle and today we visited a local school, supported by Delphin's family as a good education system (due to the lack of money) especially in the jungle doesn't really exist. Children from 5-15 visit the same class and were taught by Delphins wife Stella. Our guide told us to bring pens and papers and the excitement on the kids faces when they got them can't even be put into words. We then had the chance to play with them, football outside but that's not something I'd do to myself of course, so I stayed inside with the younger kids and whipped out my cameras. They were loving it, taking their first selfies and just smiling the whole time. A beautiful experience. (:

We left the kids and made our way over to some sort of laguna by the river and it was great and as soon as my video is finished you'll be able to see the greatness too! That's it for now, just arrived in Baños and the adventure continues!
Friday, 8 April 2016 La Habana, Cuba

Hasta que se seque el malecon

Ay ay ay, and the trouble in Cuba continues. Week 4 has begun and Joelle, who's always awfully prepared and informed came to realise that she was in desperate need of extending her visa. And of course, I always end up doing stuff like that at the last minute. So in school, off I trott to Sergio, the man in charge, where I first of all finallly finalized my trip to Trinidad and Cienfuegos for the coming weekend (YES!) and arranged my first Salsa lessons, don't really know what I set myself up for... And at last I asked him about the visa. He gave me a list of things that had to be done and so I made my way over to the immigration office, luckily closeby to where I'm staying. However, the first thing I saw when I arrived were people sitting and standing everywhere in some sort of waiting area. By then I haven't really gotten the cuban system down yet. But apparently whenever you approach a queue, that to me, never actually looks like one, your supposed to ask who the last person in the queue is - ¿la ultima persona?
Didn't really get that part but at last, some Italian guy who'd been living in Cuba for the last 15 years had mercy on me and explained what I had to do and where to wait. I soon learned that some of the people there had been waiting for more than 6 hours to receive their visum. Don't they have anything better to do then sit around waiting? It doesn't seem so.

After doing exactly that for more than an hour the Italian guy started asking if I'm sure I brought all the necessary papers. The Joelle that I am of course oversaw the last paragraph on the paper Sergio handed me, which stated that BEFORE going to the office, I'd have to stop off at the bank to get some sort of stamp and that's where I trotted to next. 

Having learned from my mistakes, this time I was able to ask, ¿quién es ultima? and even got a response! So here I am, sitting and waiting, again, having no clue when I'll actually get my visa. I guess I'll be waiting, 'hasta que se seque el malecon' - quote from a song you here eeeverywhere in Cuba!

(I did finally get it, but in total I probably waited for 10h. Oh, and the salsa lesson couldn't really be described as a 'lesson'. It was basically me, being spun around in circles, not really knowing what I was doing with my feet. But I most definitely enjoyed it.)

Seeing as I don't have much to do, I'll simply write what else I've been up to. My roommate and fellow swiss traveler left last week so the weekend I was to spend all by myself. It was the first time since arriving three weeks ago that I was actually completely by myself. I have to say, it was a bit sad and frightening but in the end I very much enjoyed some time for myself. I was able to do whatever I wanted, so I headed into Havana, explored some unknown districts, tried to find food (as you do here in Cuba) and of course captured day to day life of cubans. It was quite strange, since, as I said before, the people here mainly view me as a cuban. I get to pay less in taxi collectivos, but in return, when I walk around the streets by myself with a camera, the looks I get are something else. I guess, they just can't seem to place me in a specific category, which just leaves them staring.

Cubans in general are a culture for themselves. They walk around with pride and arrogance and something, that almost makes them appear bored, whatever they're doing. Especially the women, walking their butt swining walks and heads held high give off completely different vibes than what I'm used to from the Caribbean. As an outsider it might of course seem different than if you'd live here. I did notice that when you get to know them, they open up and take you in with open arms, but to get to that point takes a lot more time than anywhere else in the caribbean. That is just Havana for all I know, apparently towards the south, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, the mentality, the people are completely different to the capitol. I definitely wonder what Trinidad and Cienfuegos will be like!

Next to taking the obligatory portraits of old men, dogs and children playing in the streets, I soon found myself at the Malecon, gazing over the 'skyline' of Havana, sunbathing and relaxing, away from the stress and hassle of the big city.

The following day I discovered that I wasn't alone anymore and got to meet Lysiane, my new roommate for the next couple of weeks. I showed her around Havana and we even food, can you imagine (; It was absolutely lovely, but I have to say, I'm looking forward to getting out of the city. Whether it being solely to visit other villages in Cuba or finally leaving for Ecuador. 

Can't wait to see what my next adventure will look like.
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