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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Our trip home and preventing theft

The bus ride from Quito to Bahia on Reina del Camino was exciting but thankfully uneventful. We caught an early morning bus from Otavalo to Quito where we bought our tickets back to Bahia on the 10:30 AM departure. We had a young driver who wore white plastic framed sunglasses and drove like he had a record to beat. He honked at just about everything; passed every vehicle on the road including other buses; played first a rave radio station and then salsa CDs at a good volume; let the cute single girls sit up in the driver's area; and all in all made it an amusing and fun ride. The conductor handed out sick bags to every row but I took a couple of antacids and was fine. After one very competitive passing incident with an Aray bus a woman walked up to the front of the bus to complain. We imagine she said something like, "I've got three kids on this bus and you can kill yourselves if you want, but you can't risk our lives along with yours!" Whatever she really said, it didn't make much of an impression and we continued to fly around the curves at top speed.

We happened to get front row seats on the right side of the bus which in this case gave us a great view and lots of legroom. We were in the sun the whole way but we could see the river gorges and hillsides covered in trees. It was amazing to go from a few fir trees at the higher elevations, down to palms, then banana fields, and finally to big stands of beautiful bamboo looking like feathery plume pens. It was a long day for us, but with the bus stopping for almost every arm held out at the side of the road, and vendors jumping on to sell everything from homemade music CDs, cold drinks, breads, Spanish/English dictionaries, popsicles, and coconut candies there was enough going on the whole time to keep us awake and interested.

So now that we are home safe and sound, I'd like to pass on a few tips for preventing theft. Just from talking to fellow cruisers and the travelers we met at hostals we figure that around 80% of people touring Central and South America had problems with theft. We carried all our cash on us at all times divided between our two money belts hidden under our clothing, with only pocket money for each day out. Neither of us carried a wallet. I kept my ready cash in a change purse in my fanny pack and John carried his in his front jeans pocket with a bandana stuffed on top of it. This way the thief has to get his hand past the bandana to get to the bills. I never carried a purse that I could unwittingly set down. I wore either my fanny pack or an across the chest style purse. We had jackets we could tie at our waists. We didn't keep anything valuable in my little day pack and we never let it out of our hands. Our two pieces of luggage were my regular school sized backpack and a large soft piece of luggage. We had small locks for each of these with which we could lock the zippers together. We stowed the big piece in the cargo areas of each bus and were lucky enough to usually get seats where we could keep an eye on what went in and out of the compartment. All of the bus conductors were very helpful and I felt that they kept a close eye on it for us. We had heard stories about people posing as bus employees who tried to take your backpack from you to "stow" it after you had boarded the bus, but that never happened to us (I always wore my backpack onto the bus until I was ready to sit down, just in case). We kept my daypack and locked backpack with us on our laps on all of our bus travel. NEVER put anything in any overhead storage or anywhere on the floor under your feet. Thieves sitting behind you will open zippers and take what they want from under your seat, leaving the backpack so that you don't know anything is missing until it's too late.

We had also heard various stories of thieves working in groups to create a diversion of some kind and distracting you from paying close attention to your valuables. There's the classic one about spilling something on you and then "helping" you clean it up, but a friend of ours almost lost his wallet when a well endowed and scantily clad woman got on the bus. He was enjoying the view until he caught on to the ploy and caught someone else's hand in his pocket.

You may think this all sounds like paranoia or overkill but it was a real problem for almost everyone we met. One of the reasons for us skipping Quito was our anxiety over the serious crime problem there, but it was also because we weren't prepared to visit a big city after the wonderful time we spent in the remote towns on the Quilotoa Loop. We had an excellent adventure and we highly recommend a visit to this area, but we were very happy to return to a warmer climate, our own bed, Ziggy, and the first class hot showers at PA.

Linda and John

Small world (Chugchilan)

Photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/ChugchilanDayHike

Sunday, July 21, 2008

Last night I remembered that I had completely forgotten to write about one of those "small world" moments that happened to us on this trip. While we were at Llullu Llama in Isinlivi we mentioned to Donna, our new volunteer host, that we were on a sailboat. When she said she knew of two former sailors arriving in the next day or so, we asked their names. "Bud and Pat" faintly rang a bell which became louder as she described them in more detail. We left them a note that we would be in Chugchilan, and hoped they would catch up to us there.

There was no sign of them Tuesday, but late Wednesday afternoon John walked next door to Cloud Forest to see if they had arrived yet. He recognized them out walking and greeted them like old friends, asking if they'd gotten our note. Well, they had ended up coming to Chugchilan from the opposite direction and hadn't yet been to Isinlivi where our note was waiting, so they were really confused about who this stranger was. It's hard to remember people out of context, let alone in a remote region of another country entirely! John quickly reminded them of our connection to them (they had kayaked out to Nakia from their little RV in the "Aquarium" anchorage at Tenacatita in 2004, and we met up with them again later in the year for dinner in Zihuatanejo) and brought them into the lounge area at Mama Hilda's where we all had a drink together.

They had to leave soon because our dinner was half an hour earlier than theirs at CF so we made plans to meet the next morning for an "easy" day hike to a local cheese factory. We knew we weren't leaving early enough to see the locals bringing their milk to sell, but it sounded like a reasonable loop hike for me. We had a wonderful time catching up with Bud and Pat and though it took almost five hours the hike was just right for all of us. The countryside was beautiful and we had a clear sunny day to make it even nicer. After showers and a rest when we got back we went over to CF for drinks with them before it was time to say goodbye. We really wished they were still cruising because we've always enjoyed our brief visits with them.

Linda and John

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Otavalo, Ecuador

Five market videos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/OtavaloMarket

The electricity is on again after being off since 6 AM when we got up to go to the animal market here in Otavalo, so I´ll try to catch up with the last couple of days. We spent Friday on three buses getting from Chugchilan to Otavalo. We got up at 3:15 AM to catch the 4 AM bus to Latacunga with our friends from Bonaire. John and I got to the town square first to find a very nice bus with its engine running and passengers already boarding so we hopped on it and got comfortable. But then the bus put the engine in gear and started rolling down the hill past our hostel. We got the bus driver to wait while John ran in to get the other couple, but when Frank came out he noted that the bus was going in the opposite direction (to Sigchos and then to Latacunga) that we had planned. It was the 3:00 bus! John and I apologized to the driver and hopped off to go wait for the next bus which was waiting, cold and dark, in the square.

We began to fear that this bus was not going to leave until 6:00, but well after 4:00 we heard the driver and conductor stirring inside the bus where they apparently had spent the night. It took awhile but eventually the engine fired up and was warm enough for the four of us and one other passenger to head out on the dirt road towards Quilotoa, Zumbahua, and Latacunga. We stopped for everyone waiting alongside the road in the dark, and we could see lights on in several of the houses dotted on the hillsides. We had an almost full moon and when it began to get light we could see the ground was covered in frost and it was a beautiful clear morning.

In Latacunga the bus dropped us off on streets outside the terminal at 8:00, but as soon as we got to the loading area there were people calling out destinations and we had about five minutes to go to the bathroom before the next bus to Quito was leaving. We´ve never really had to buy tickets at a sales window like you do in Mexico. The bus line conductors all stand outside their buses hawking their destinations and you pay your fare after the bus is on its way. You still have to know a bit about what you´re doing though because they are very competitive and will sometimes lie about bus routing/schedules/availability if their bus line doesn´t go where you want to go.

We saw several snow capped volcano peaks on both buses until we got closer to Quito and it started to get cloudy. We don´t understand why buses don´t let you ride to the terminal, but instead insist on dropping you off on the street. Maybe the connections are better that way? When we got to Quito at 10:00 we were told when to get off and were pointed to another bus (completely different line) that was about two blocks up the road. Only this bus started moving before we had reached it and I had to run to let them know we wanted to board. All went well and two hours later we were in Otavalo.

Let me backtrack a little to say that as soon we we boarded the bus in Latacunga we started experiencing culture shock. The paved road started at Quilotoa, so were had already been off the dirt roads for a couple of hours. But this was a four lane busy highway with lots of slow traffic to pass. As we got closer to Quito it got worse with almost freeway style roads, and we were getting a sinking feeling in our stomachs over having left so much beauty and tranquility for the dirt and crime of the big city. Otavalo is as big a city as we can handle right now, so we´ve decided to skip Quito entirely this time.

We checked into the Rincon del Viajero based on the recommendation in the Footprint Guide, and were sorely disappointed. Maybe we were spoiled by our three nights at Mama Hilda´s but this place is not worth the $12pp they charged us for a doble (not a matrimonial which is one bed). The other reason we chose it was because of the comment in Footprint about the ¨good breakfast.¨ Well, yeah, if you pay extra. The breakfast included in the price consisted of coffee or tea, a roll with butter, and two fried eggs (or you could get a bowl of fruit instead of eggs) - that was it. I had even tried negotiating a $10pp price w/o breakfast but they wouldn´t budge. I would not recommend this place unless you are a hard core budget traveler. On the other hand we looked at a room at El Indio, where the rooms were bright and new. Breakfast is not included but for $25/night/doble we would have been happier there. Unfortunately they were fully booked with an American tour group or we would have moved.

Otavalo is the most heavily touristed place we´ve seen since Mexico. It´s crawling with foreigners here for the Saturday market. There are handicraft sales all week in one of the plazas but on Saturdays even more vendors set up on the side streets. We walked the plaza yesterday to get an idea of what´s available and waited to shop today. It was overwhelming. There is too much of mostly the same things, and even though the prices ranged from reasonable to dirt cheap (which makes you wonder how much of it is mass manufactured in China), it was too much for a non-shopper like me to handle and I had to take a break mid-day to gather my wits before venturing out for more bargaining in the afternoon.

The absolute most fun was the animal market early in the morning where guinea pigs, rabbits, ducks, chickens, quail, puppies, kittens, goats, sheep, pigs of all ages, cows, and even a couple of horses were for sale. It was fascinating to watch the bargaining One woman had a heated argument with a man over a pig. She eventually sent her son for a policeman who spoke a few words to the man, and he then handed over some more money to the woman. John got a great video clip of two bulls starting a fight. People scattered in a hurry when one of them broke away from its stake and ran loose. Having had a guinea pig for a pet when I was a child I was a little sad to see them being held up to see how plump they are, but cuy (¨kwee¨) is a delicacy here...

We sat in a plaza this afternoon and admired the local traditional dress. The men wear white pants and dark blue wool ponchos (which we learned cost over $100) and a small fedora hat. The women wear black skirts and white lacy blouses with a shawl across one shoulder and around their waist. Children were held up to the slow trickling fountain to have the hands and faces washed or to drink from it, teenagers washed their hands and slicked back their hair, and dogs drank from the overflow at the bottom.

It´s been a wonderful vacation although now I wish we´d started here and ended in the Quilotoa Loop so that we could have finished with the best part of the trip. We´re both anxious to get home again to the boat. We plan to catch the first bus out of here to Quito at 6 AM tomorrow morning, and hope to make the 8 AM bus from Quito back to Bahia. It will be a close connection but if we miss that one, there´s another at 1 PM.

We´ll try to post some pictures after we get back.

Linda and John

Friday, July 18, 2008

Quilotoa Crater

Pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/QuilotoaCrater

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The bus from Sigchos to Chugchilan finally departed at 1:30 PM loaded up with kids on their way home from school. After dropping most of them off along the way we arrived at the Cloud Forest hostal two hours later. There are three levels of accomodation in Chugchilan. The Black Sheep Inn (http://www.blacksheepinn.com/) is at the high end, Mama Hilda (http://www.hostalmamahilda.org/) is in the middle, and Cloud Forest (http://www.hostalcloudforest.com/) is the least expensive option. We dropped our bags in our reserved room at CF, but we weren´t really thrilled with it. It was clean and new, but the room was very small and the bed was as hard as a rock. Before unpacking we decided to go for a walk to explore the town and the first thing we passed was Mama Hilda´s (the two properties are literally neighbors). We walked up the drive to ask to see a room just to satisfy our curiousity, and there was the man we´d met in Sigchos who had asked if we were going to MH´s because that was his family´s property (he turned out to be Papa Hilda). He had been very charming, even after we said we were going to CF, and he was happy to show us a room. It was by far the most modern room (while still retaining a rustic charm) that we´ve seen on this trip so far. The bathroom fixtures are brand new, we have a double bed and a bunk bed with plenty of room left to move around, and there are even nice touches like illuminated light switches and a TV (no cable). Best of all there´s plenty of hot water and the beds are soft and loaded with blankets which is a good thing because there´s no heat in our room (although you can get even nicer rooms with wood stoves at MH´s). We liked this room better than the one at CF and when we asked how much it would cost we were happy to hear that he would let us have it for $2 more per person than the rate CF was charging us. It´s a better fit for us socially as well since CF is geared toward the younger, budget minded backpacking set, and MH´s trekkers are closer to our demographic. We offered profuse apologies (and a small tip) to CF and moved our bags to MH´s.

Dinner last night and breakfast this morning were both delicious (included in the room rate), and we´ve met several more interesting trekkers from around the globe (most are hard core trekkers which is what this area is all about, by the way). After breakfast we joined six other people for a one hour pickup truck ride to Quilotoa crater. We had agreed ahead of time that John would do the full hike (on average it´s half an hour down to the lake and one hour up) and I would hike down and hire a horse ($5) for the trip back up. The rim view of the lake was beautiful and it was an easy hike on a good, sometimes rocky or sandy trail down. My horse and guide, 13 year old Walter, caught up with us before we reached the lake (the guides literally run down the hill with the horses, donkeys, and mules) and waited for me while John tested the water temperature and took some photos. At 11:00 we all started up and I had instructions to send a horse down for John if he didn´t appear by 1:00 (his target was 12:30 at the latest). We had gotten there relatively early so that by this time many more people (and horses for some of them) were passing us going down the hill. My horse got me up to the top in 45 minutes or less with a few stops for him to catch his breath. It wasn´t long after I dismounted that I could see John coming up the trail. I was very impressed that it only took him an hour and he seemed none the worse for wear. He´s disappointed that we didn´t stick to our plan to hike here from Isinlivi but I know I couldn´t do it without a horse to carry me up the steep ascents.

Although there were plenty of vendors wanting to show us their woolen goods, the only purchase we made was a wool hat for John. He lost his somewhere on the trip here, and it was a cold ride to the crater standing up in the truck for him. (I sat down with my back to the cab and kept out of the worst of the wind.) We had a hot chocolate with another couple sharing the truck back with us (Frank and Jeanine, originally from the Netherlands, but now living and working at BelMar Diving on Bonaire), and returned to the hostal by early afternoon in time to greet a few of the trekkers coming in from their hikes. The clouds have cleared a bit so maybe we´ll have a sunny day tomorrow.

Linda and John

Isinlivi to Sigchos to Chugchilan

Photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/IsinliviToChugchilan

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Last night was very interesting as we met people from the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and even a graduate from the University of Oregon in Eugene where my niece will be a freshman this fall. We got a couple of strong recommendations for the Orient (NE) part of Ecuador, and are thinking that a river trip might be a good option for us. All of the other guests were trekking portions of the Loop, some with guides (but no horses!) and some on their own. They had very serious gear and looked to be aged anywhere from their 20´s to 40´s. Sitting around the living room late in the evening we were talking about hotels and I described our Quevedo hotel as a ¨dump.¨ Jose Luis (one of the owners of Llullu Llama) asked us to explain the meaning, and was highly amused by the expression. I think now he´s just waiting for the next opportunity to use it in conversation!

John and I were the first ones up at 6:30 this morning. I got hot water going and put a tea tray together while John started a fire. By 8 AM everyone else was up for breakfast and John and I were packed and waiting for Don Lucho to pick us up in his truck at 9:00. Jose Luis had arranged this ride to Sigchos ($10) for us, where we could then catch a bus to Chugchilan. JL assured us we´d be riding inside the truck and not standing in the bed with our luggage. But when the truck pulled up I could see it was going to be a tight squeeze to fit all three of us in the small cab. I sat in the middle and had to put my legs over John´s left leg, but I could still feel the gear shift against my left leg. Fortunately the basically one lane, rutted, dirt road was mostly straight down and then straight up so there wasn´t too much gear shifting (except for when we stopped halfway there to pick up six kids who paid about .15 each for their ride into town).

It only took 30 minutes to get to Sigchos which made us very early for the 1 PM bus to Chugchilan. We did an hour of internet, ate an early lunch, and found out that the very nice looking bus terminal up the hill was not the place to meet our bus. Instead we were directed to Ave. Los Ilinizas between Tungurahua and Guayaquil where the green and white Iliniza bus was already waiting for passengers at Noon (and where I´m now sitting composing this blog on paper while John works a crossword puzzle). We´re not quite sure why the the bus would already be here since we thought it was coming from Latacunga, but we´re happy to have a warm place to sit and pass the time while we wait.

Sigchos is a lovely little town with clean paved streets and neat, well kept buildings. The strange thing is that, today at least, it´s like a ghost town, with most store fronts closed, and no traffic to warrant the 2-3 stoplights. Even the gates to the park were closed. School kids were out in a side street practicing their marching band moves, walking in place while the band played, and that was the most activity we saw. But it has clean, small shops with everything one could need, and seems like it would be a quiet, pretty place to live.

Yesterday the clouds rolled back in by mid-afternoon with a few sprinkles. I had hoped for the trekker´s sake that we´d have another sunny morning today but we woke to a light sprinkle and it´s been mostly cloudy since then. They say this is more rain than they usually have here in July, and I hope we get more sun soon so we can see the volcano peaks before we have to leave.

Linda and John

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/Isinlivi

Monday, 14 July 2008

This is an absolutely lovely place with warm people and beautiful scenery so don´t get me wrong if I seem to focus on the small annoyances. As an over-50 I like some adventure but I miss my creature comforts too!

Our two lovely college aged `hosts´(volunteers in exchange for room and board) were supposed to get up for the 3 AM bus to Latacunga last night/this morning. Their alarm didn´t go off so we were awakened first by a bus horn tooting, then dogs barking, and finally the conductor was banging on the door. That woke the girls but they couldn´t figure out who would be at the door in the middle of the night and were afraid to go see, so John got up to answer the door for them. He happened to already be fully dressed because our bedding was too hot for him and he had moved to one of the empty single beds (we chose the semi-private double up in the loft since we had the place to ourselves). We also had the hostal´s friendly cat sleeping with us under the covers. The girls couldn´t get it together enough to make that bus, so they caught one later in the day.

Dinner last night was excellent but meals are extra and prices are naturally higher in such a remote area than we´re used to in the city. This morning we had some yogurt and granola we brought with us, before starting out for the Monday market at Guantualo. This is advertised as a three and a half hour loop hike, but ended up taking us three hours just to get to the market. It starts out with a short downhill to a river, and then a gradual ascent to a small village. But from there to the final ridge was too much for me and it was a real struggle to get there without throwing up. I can´t hike anything remotely steep even at low altitudes, so this was especially tough being up at around 3,000 meters. John took my little Chivas daypack and even my fanny pack to lighten my load, and then he paced me by taking slow steps one at a time.

We enjoyed the market which is not set up for tourists but is truly a local event. We bought some fruit and one of the very few handcrafts for sale, and then had almuerzo - soup, rice, lentils, and hold the hunks of pork please - and got an ice cream cone to-go for a different downhill route to a road where we caught a ride in a passing truck. The return trip in the back of the very dusty pickup was free and it only took an hour for us to get back to Isinlivi! As awful as it was at the time, I´m so glad we did it. The experience itself was like nothing we´ve ever done before, the scenery was beautiful, and it saved us from making a big mistake by setting out to hike to Chugchilan. Needless to say we´ve canceled the horse and guide and will get a ride in a truck ($10) to Sigchos in the morning and bus it from there.

We showered and relaxed in preparation for the 18 or so new hikers arriving this afternoon. It will be strange to go from having the place all to ourselves to having a full house, but we´re looking forward to the company.

Linda and John

Latacunga to Isinlivi

Video (this may be slow to load): http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/LatacungaToIsinlivi/photo#5227828575436196898

13 July 2008
Sunday morning

It was a hard night´s sleep last night - hard beds that is. Harder than the Quevedo beds even. We couldn´t coax any hot water out of the tap painted red this morning so we walked down to Hostal/Cafe Tiana for breakfast. $2.25pp got us two huge flaky buns with butter and jam, strong coffee, juice (a passion fruit and tree tomato combination - very tasty), and two eggs. I got a kitten fix with their sleepy calico, and we got some very informative travel advice from Katrien. In fact, after walking around discussing our options, we returned to Tiana to firm up a new plan. Katrien called ahead to reserve a room for us at Hostal Llullu Llama in Isinlivi (http://www.llullullama.com/), and we´ll take the 1 PM direct bus on Vivero this afternoon. The idea is to stay two nights there so we can acclimate, take a short hike to the Guantualo market tomorrow, then take a guide with a horse ($20) to tote our luggage and hike five hours to Chugchilan on Tuesday. I´m a bit skeptical that we´ll be up to that, but on paper it sounds like a wonderful adventure! We can always bail and take a truck/bus if it turns out to be too much for us.

We managed to eke out enough hot water for showers when we got back to our room, and now we´re in the bus terminal waiting to buy our tickets. We hope to spend the week exploring the Quilotoa Loop before heading back to Latacunga on Thursday and then up to Otavalo on Friday for the Saturday market there.

Sunday evening before dinner

The ticket window for Vivero never opened up! We waited over an hour and a half and when the bus arrived we bought our tickets from the conductor ($1.80pp). We departed promptly at 1 PM for the two and a half hour trip up and over a mountain. This route took us through Saquisili, Toacazo, and then SW over a mountain pass to Isinlivi (not around the NW way via Sigchos). This was another amazing ride through steep sided cultivated fields and pastures. We climbed up into the cloud cover and broke out just before summiting. But almost as soon as we started the descent we were back in an almost total white out for the rest of the trip. This made it kind of tough to know when to get off the bus, but the conductor booted us out at the end of the line half a block from Llullu Llama.

The hostal is a charming rustic house with a few small private rooms downstairs and a dorm style loft upstairs. There´s a living room with wood stove, and indoor showers and a composting toilet outside around a corner of the house. The clouds lifted enough for us to walk... [and here´s where the electricity went out, so we had a candlelit dinner and retired early to bed].

Linda and John

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Latacunga, Ecuador

Pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/BusRideToLatacunga

Saturday night, July 12, 2008

Wow! Today really helped make yesterday´s rough ride worth it. But first let me say that I can´t recommend the Ejecutivo Internacional in Quevedo unless you´re really cutting corners on your budget. After strolling the rough and tumble main street downtown (7 de Octubre - dirty, noisy, and jammed with traffic), sampling hard-boiled quail eggs and deep fried empanadas (like home made Hot Pockets), we had a delicious dinner at Chifa Hong Kong on the quieter side street right across from our hotel´s entrance. We retired to our room (which conveniently had a dorm fridge in which to store our Chinese doggie bag) to loaf with the TV remote control. But then it was time for a shower and we discovered too late that there is no hot water to be had - ever - in this hotel. In our post chicken bus, shell-shocked state not only had we neglected to notice that our room overlooked the noisiest street in the city, but we forgot to ask about hot water! It isn´t uncommon for hotels here to have limited hours or none at all. Hopefully someone else will find a better deal because today we´re definitely happy we traveled this route.

We played it smart this morning by scoping out the 8 AM Cotopaxi bus to Latacunga before buying our tickets. It was another second class bus so we gave it a pass. Thank you so much, Terry and Tammy on Secret o´Life for telling us about the Ambato bus line. It was first class, and even though it stopped for almost everyone on the side of the road, including the food court vendors, it was far more deluxe and comfortable (still no toilet though, so skip that morning coffee!).

I can´t begin to describe the scenery but let me give you some fleeting images. Women washing clothes in the river right in the outskirts of Quevedo. An old, fat woman bathing topless in the river a little farther out of town. Banana plantations that went on forever. Lush greenery under low clouds and a little drizzle. A rushing river on the left hand side of the bus which became a deep gorge as we climbed the mountains. We crossed back and forth over the river on single lane bridges until we climbed out of the tropical forest into completely cultivated hillsides on our right. These were dotted with grass huts; people in colorful woolens and pork-pie hats; shaggy donkeys and even shaggier pigs; and dogs, cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, and our first llamas. Some people may be disappointed by how the mountainsides have been tamed, but I´m fascinated by how people eke out a living in such beautiful but difficult terrain.

The ride was amazing, but anyone prone to car sickness should be prepared. The ascent was nice and slow, and people didn´t seem to get sick until the slightly faster descent. I had told myself I would stick to my apple and yogurt breakfast and skip the greasy food court, but I couldn´t resist contributing to the local economy. We started with empanadas while still in Quevedo, tried some truchas (fried mashed potatoes in a flattened ball), and finished off with some fried dough with sugar at Zumbahua. Well, we´re in a cold, high altitude climate now so we´ll be burning more calories, right?

For some reason our Ambato bus didn´t go into the terminal here in Latacunga, but asked us to get off on a street just outside of it (at around 2 PM). We caught a cab to the Residencial Santiago where we will just stay the one night. We have a doble (two twin beds) with a private bath just outside our door. Our ¨window¨ looks out on a small lounge area (so it´s a quiet interior room), and there´s hot water and TV (but not cable). It´s less run down and far cleaner than last night, but still depressing. We looked at rooms at the Hostal Tiana, but for $10pp (including breakfast) they have only a shared bath area which is a bit of a hike from the rooms, and there´s no TV at all. We then looked at the rooms at Hotel Cotapaxi which we liked far better. For $8pp the rooms are bigger, have a private bath, and cable TV. We´ll move there tomorrow!

We´re kind of kicking ourselves for not getting off at Zumbahua and starting a clockwise Quilotoa loop from there, but we´ll acclimate here for a few days and then go counter-clockwise instead. It´s too bad that you have to break the trip in Quevedo. If the 6:30 AM bus out of Portoviejo that we heard about is first class service, then it might be worth it to overnight there from Bahia. But that makes it at least a 10 hour trip which is a long ride without regular bathroom breaks.

We caught a bit of the Saturday market this afternoon and it was still going strong when we came out again later. We chose a rotisserie chicken place for dinner because it had the biggest "fireplace" in town!

Linda and John

Friday, July 11, 2008

Quevedo, Ecuador

Pictures at: http://picasaweb.google.com/svnakia/BusRideFromPortoviejoToQuevedo

Today we took our first long trip by ¨chicken bus.¨ We didn´t set out to go second class but we chose a rural route from Bahia de Caraquez to Latacunga rather than going around via Quito. It was a more direct route and we wanted to see a part of the country outside the usual tourist path.

We said goodbye to Ziggy at 6:30 AM when Jack and Hermy of Iwa gave us a ride to PA in their dinghy. They go in early every day for their walk so the timing worked out perfectly. When no pedi-cabs appeared we walked the short distance to the bus station wearing fanny packs, my Chivas kids backpack, and carrying my regular backpack. John wore a nifty hand-me-down from Hooligan which is a regular sized piece of soft luggage in the style of a backpack. You wouldn´t want to fill it to capacity and then try to carry it on your back, but it´s perfect for John´s gear and our jackets and pillows, with room left over for souvenirs.

There are two bus lines running out of Bahia and we took the first one departing for Portoviejo which happened to be on Reina del Camino. For a whopping $2pp we had a comfortable two hour ride on a nice bus. We arrived at the Central Bus Terminal and found the Reales Tamarindos ticket window just to the left of Reina´s. They had a 9 AM bus departing for Quevedo ($5pp) which gave us time to use the bathrooms (.25 for a huge supply of TP from the attendant for me; free for John!). It´s a good thing that we hadn´t gotten up early enough to make coffee since this was the last bathroom we would see until we reached Quevedo.

We knew to look at it that this was NOT a first class bus. We ¨checked¨ the big bag which was stowed in a bin missing one of its door latches, and we didn´t get a claim check. I could have checked my new powder blue backpack but the guy saw me eyeing the dusty dirty compartment and said I could take it on board the bus with me. We had locks on the zippers of both bags so only outright theft would be a concern. I got seats above our luggage bin and John stood outside watching it until we were ready to leave the station. If we seem paranoid it´s because the majority of cruisers have returned from their inland trips with stories of theft.

At 9:15 we were on our way with the radio blaring, a baby crying, and a $3 pair of reading glasses I bought from a guy outside my window (with John as ground support to bargain him down from $6). Four and a half hours, two popsicles, two varieties of cheese rolls, and very numb tushes later we made it to Quevedo. Along the way we passed through green fields, rural hamlets, and small towns, with people sometimes getting on and off the bus in front of their houses. We love the variety of bamboo huts (homes) here, and split bamboo is used everywhere for fences, benches, and bus stops. There are air plants growing on overhead wires and in trees, and horses, mules, and donkeys parked alongside the road. There´s no need to pack snacks for the trip because vendors regularly hop on the bus selling: a variety of fried and baked goods out of cloth covered baskets; what I call fruit juice in a to go cup, which is an orange with just the external rind cut off and a hole cut in the top, which is then squeezed and sucked to get the juice out; candy and gum; yogurt popsicles; watermelon slices; and bottled water and juices. It was a food court bonanza and really helped to pass the time. At last a grandmother boarded carrying a live chicken in a plastic grocery bag and it was official - we were on a ¨chicken bus.¨

At the central terminal in Quevedo we checked connecting buses to Latacunga for tomorrow (8:30 AM on Ambato for $4pp or hourly buses on Cotopaxi for slightly less), and then took a taxi to the Hotel Ejecutivo Internacional. It´s what by Stateside standards would be considered a dump - very worn out and not exactly spotless, overlooking a noisy street - but it has A/C and cable TV with a few channels in English. Since it only costs $18 for a double room we´ll tough it out for the one night.

Linda and John

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Fourth of July in Ecuador

The cruising community had two opportunities to celebrate our nation's independence yesterday with a potluck at 1 PM at PA and an old fashioned party for the kids at 4 PM in a local park across from Hostal Coco Bongo. I made a bus trip to Portoviejo with some friends and didn't get back until after the PA meal was already winding down. John reported that the food had been plentiful and delicious, and I could see that there were lots of leftovers, but I was saving up for the party later. Along with the rest of the boats waiting to go up river, John and I strolled down to join the Saiananda crowd for their party in the park.

It got off to a bit of a slow start, but we were very glad we gave it a chance to get going because we ended up having a blast. It was the perfect setting for a Fourth of July party, and Linda Lea had put the word out in the neighborhood that there was going to be a group of crazy gringos having a fiesta in the park. Suzy, of Coco Bongo, provided a charcoal grill (the ubiquitous metal drum cut in half lengthwise and mounted on a rebar frame), kitchen support, and music (after electricity in the city came back on), and Linda Lea had done most of the food prep. Judy set up the ticket booth where tickets were 25 cents each: three tix for a hamburger, two for a hot dog, two for a pony bottle of sugary soda (the "Inca Kola" was yummy in small doses - sort of a bubble gum, cream soda flavor), one ticket for a cup of cole slaw or potato salad, and two for a piece of banana bread. There was plenty of Pilsener beer in the ice chest and Suzy's bar was open in Coco Bongo.

The cruiser kids (Yvette-10, Dana-11, and Fletcher-12) from Aquamarine and Desiderata did a fantastic job preparing the fixin's table for the burgers and dogs, while the two dads traded shifts manning the grill. The girls cut the delicious locally special ordered buns and put them in handy yellow "to go" plastic bags (which made eating them easier and less drippy), and Fletcher passed these to Mike or Chris for the meat delivery. Once the BBQ got going the local kids and their parents showed up in droves and the burgers and dogs flew off the grill. I'm not sure what they thought of the concept of paying for little pieces of paper and then turning those over for food, but they lined up for all of it with the rest of us.

When no one could eat another bite it was time for some action. The children at the Saiananda sponsored grade school had made an American flag "pinata" for us out of a cardboard box with lots of red, white and blue tissue paper, and it was filled with candy and toys. Half a dozen local kids had hung around long enough to give the cruiser kids some stiff competition taking blindfolded turns trying to whack it open. Mike learned a new skill as he dipped and waved the box which was hanging from a length of (very bent over) PVC pipe, even momentarily landing the pinata on top of one child's head. Eventually the pinata (and Mike) couldn't hold up to the assault any longer and the candy spilled out under the rush of miniature, and young at heart, scavengers alike.

After all the candy and discarded wrappers were cleared up from the paving bricks and the grass someone brought out the water balloons. Unfortunately there was a bit of confusion over the difference between a water balloon "toss" and a water balloon "fight," and the water balloons didn't last long. Eric and Sherrell played nice, but Sherrell still managed to take two to the chest and got soaked. Even innocent bystanders like John and me were splashed by aims gone bad. The parents were easy targets, but woe to a kid whose dad took one too many hits. I wonder where those boat kids learned to run so fast.

Finally we managed to round up some not so "safe and sane" fireworks to get started on the real fun. For starters we had a half a dozen You-light-ems, a large bottle rocket with an M-80 on the end. These were stuck in a convenient crack in the curb and the lighter was passed from dad to dad: "You light em", "no, YOU light em", "NO, YOU light em"... The big finale was a 3' paper mache effigy of he-who-must-not-be-named (you supply your favorite image) which was stuffed with fire crackers and set on fire against a curb in the street roundabout. Hilarity ensued when the thing wouldn't "go" until a little gasoline was applied. There was much yelling at the two pyros to "Run!", and we made sure the fearless local kids kept their distance until finally it went off with a brief but satisfying set of bangs and was left to burn in the street. We wound down by lighting off something I don't remember seeing when I was a kid which was much more fun than sparklers. These were like Roman candles but longer and skinnier which we held at one end, lit the fuse at the other end, and pointed (preferably) at the sky for a series of single launches 30' up in the air. You could feel the stick pulsing in your hand with each pop, and it was fun trying to aim for the power lines (but not at the thatched roofs!).

By 8 PM it was time for people to catch the last bus back to Saiananda, and we had a hungry cat to feed, so most of us called it a very good night. This is one Fourth of July I'm sure we'll never forget!

Linda and John

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Re: Quiet week

This is in reply to Gallant Fox's comment, and I thought I should post it lest I give people the wrong idea about Bahia.

If you are already planning to come to Ecuador for a season, then Bahia de Caraquez is probably the best place to stay. We haven't been to Puerto Lucia, but have heard from Don and Marie on Freezing Rain that it has less of a social scene than here. Yes, you have all the nice amenities (which were off limits when they stayed there), but according to them most of the cruisers who stayed at Lucia were there to work long days on boat projects and had little interest in socializing. Here in Bahia there are over 40 boats (not all of which are occupied) with cruisers who are interested in things like Mexican train, cards, beading, yoga, learning Spanish, eating out, trading DVDs, swap meets, and plenty of socializing during happy hour at the bar.

I think most people are happy here especially if, as I wrote, you have plans to leave the boat and travel. For some of us (and I know from talking to others that I'm not the only one), it's difficult to park the boat in one place for six months and not be actively cruising. Even with easy access to shore the boat becomes smaller, and life becomes somewhat routine. I personally miss moving from anchorage to anchorage, seeing all the wildlife, and the swimming and snorkeling we did during our summers in the Sea. Most people wouldn't miss the heat, the bees, chubascos, etc. of the Sea and might prefer this. Lots of people are here because of the cooler weather, but the almost constant cloudiness can have a negative affect on some people.

If you plan to travel, Bahia de Caraquez is a great place to bring your boat. People have been taking wonderful trips throughout Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. And you can leave the boat to return to the States without worrying about it since even if something does happen, there are lots of other cruisers on hand to straighten things out.

The ecuatorianos we've met are friendly, open, and helpful people who are happy to have you visiting their beautiful country, and Ecuador is a great jumping off place for traveling the rest of South America. And when your visas run out you have many options for extending your cruising from here - the Galapagos, the South Pacific, Chile, return to Panama, etc.