I really should get a little faster on these updates, but with much to distract I don't think it will improve.

Anyhow, tomorrow (Tuesday here) will be my final day in Loja and my 2nd last full day in Ecuador. This time tomorrow I will be on a bus on a 13 hour drive back to Quito. On Thursday I will be in Peru, on Friday I will be in Cuzco and this time next week I will be walking the Inca Trail. It's hard to believe it's already been 4 weeks since I left Australia. Please pray for safety as I travel over the next couple of days.

I will miss Loja and Ecuador. I have really enjoyed my time here. Stopping in the one place for a few weeks with people I know and who live here has been the best way to see and experience the culture. I have been able to meet and get to know some locals and foreigners and spend time with them over the course of my stay here. I have been able to take part in various activities that no tour group would ever be able to organise. I have been able to eat many strange foods, including Guinea Pig (which tastes much better than the soup).

Being in the one place for a little while means that you have time to consider the differences between here and home and observe some interesting things about our world. So I'll try and list as many as I can think of...

  • The mountains are alive. In Australia, with it's small hilly range and tectonic stability means we never see our roads disappear when the dirt it's on decides it doesn't want to sit on the side of the mountain anymore. Here in Ecuador everywhere you go you can see the evidence of the mountains slipping into the valleys. In fact on Friday I traveled to Parque Nacional Podacarapus (near a town called Zamora) with a local called Fabricio and experienced this first hand when we came to a section of track that had been washed away entirely by the rain leaving a gully full of moving quicksand.

  • The perception of distance is totally stuffed around by the Andes. In Australia you could drive the distance between Quito and Loja in about 6 hours. But when you add roads of questionable quality that have to twist their way up and down the sides of mountains it ends up taking at least twice the time to travel the same distance.

  • Ecuadorians don't seem to have the same view of mortality as we do in Australia. They will happily print pictures taken of people killed in car accidents and the like. They have an entire section of vocabulary dedicated to the variety of ways you can be killed or injured by a car (which you are tested on). And the book on road rules includes photos of accidents too.

  • The city is generally more noisy. Roosters crow and dogs bark. Car alarms go off at ridiculous hours. Taxi's will honk their horn to let you know they've arrived to pick you up. The garbage truck and gas truck (and even the buses in Quito) play music as they drive around the streets (but it's never Greensleaves) - thus making it possible to identify the vehicle by it's tune. Fireworks go off at all hours and generally explode in such a way as to set of any sensitive car alarm in the vicinity.

  • Public transport is fantastic. Taxi's in Loja usually cost US$1 to go anywhere (at night it changes a little). Buses in Loja and Quito cost US$0.25 to go however far you want to go within the city. Intercity buses cost approximately a bit over a dollar per hour - tomorrow I travel the 13 hour trip back to Quito for just US$17.

  • Security seems to be important to people. I may have mentioned this before, but it is one thing that continues to stand out. There are gates and big doors everywhere and either pointy metal or broken glass on the top of every wall. There are guards with guns in front of shops. The shops themselves have big gates or roller doors.

  • Houses all seem to be designed to have a toilet right next to the front door which is incredibly convenient. I have also yet to walk into a place that wouldn't be good for entertaining a reasonably sized group of people.

  • Construction is everywhere. Every home seems to be left with concrete pillars and reo-bar sticking out the top ready for an extra level to be put on. Every third home looks like it is having some sort of work done to it. Every road is either needing repair, or in the process of being repaired.

  • Shops seem to congregate by type. So all the sports shops are next door to each other, and all the jeans shops are next door to each other. Shops don't stock a wide variety of the product they specialise in either. Which often means you will have to go from shop to shop to find the specific thing you are looking for. The other day as I was hunting an Ecuadorian football shirt I walking into one store and was quickly told they didn't have what I was looking for, but the shop across the street did. So I went across the street to the shop and asked and was told they didn't have it either.

  • They like coffee here with big domes of foamy milk.

  • Public liability and occupational health and safety are two phrases that don't seem to exist in the vocabulary here (and many other parts of S.Am too I'm told) and a number of windscreens have big head shaped cracks in them. Kids happily play on the streets and move between houses without any sort of parental supervision - even with big buses flying down the street.

I'm sure there are many more things I can list, but I'm starting to struggle now. As soon as I send this email another 10 will come to mind.

Loja was lots of fun. I will miss staying with the Bakon's and all the people I met and I give thanks to God for the experiences I've had and things I've learnt. But there are lots more things to see and do here still and new friends to visit, so maybe I'll have to try and return some day.

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