Category Archives: Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador – A Pleasant Surprise

9/14-9/18

Quito was supposed to be a quick stopover before we headed to the Galapagos. I chose Quito because my oldest brother said it was worth a stop. He was more than right. First, it’s so much cleaner than Panama City. I was really looking forward to Casco Viejo and not so much to Quito. My expectations were completely opposite of what we actually found. Quito has an amazing Old Town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could spend several days in that part of the city alone. I had read about pick-pockets, but heard they are no worse than any large city. I felt much safer in Quito Old Town than I did in Casco.

We visit Old Town on September 15, the Day of Independence from Central America. It’s a big deal. We stepped out of our taxi and headed toward la Plaza de la Independencia. My heart sank as I saw more police than in Casco. Was this the norm? Crap. We walked to the middle of the square and saw a display of flowers. A policeman told me they were preparing for the Changing of the Guards. Wow, there sure are a lot of cops around for that. We decided to stick around and see what would happen.

I heard someone speaking English, so I asked him what was going on. “The President is supposed to make an appearance at 11:00.” “SHUT UP!” He gave me that look they all give me when I accidentally say, “shut up”. Ugh. I’m working on it. Progress, not perfection. Anyway, we found a spot right in front of the police line and waited. During our wait, the “street vendors” offered us a myriad of items – gloves, umbrellas, coca leaves, coca tea, coca candy, scarves, baked goods…etc. We opted out and kept our eyes on the goings on around the plaza. Chairs were being set up; I especially liked this guy’s idea – why put them on a dolly when you can do it this way?

Yellow tape was put up around the gardens, more police filed in and my favorite guy started testing his lapel mike. “UNO, DOS, TRES…UNO, DOS, TRES.” His voice was so deep I could see why he was the announcer. Schoolchildren filed in and walked past in their sharp uniforms. I’m hoping Lilly will complain less about her uniform after seeing these kids. Various people (I’m assuming they must have been very important) started showing up on the balcony of The Carondelet Palace (the seat of the Republic of Ecuador and the residence of the President). A soldier with a few machine guns was posted on either side of the balcony.

The announcer finally introduced several people as they appeared on the balcony. I wish I had recorded it to listen again – I’m sure they were super important. Finally, President Rafael Correa appeared and the crowd cheered and clapped. The ladies next to us were especially enthusiastic. The President did not speak, but we got quite a show. There was a marching band, soldiers parading on horses, a flag raising ceremony and singing of several national songs.

What a treat to be in Quito on Independence Day! After the ceremony, we walked around exploring the area. I could have spent hours peaking in the stores. Each street had a specific type of store. I loved the colors of the sewing stores. The “party store” street was full of piñatas, toys and party decorations. On each street, there were stands selling sweets, eggs, vegetables…etc. We had to end our visit to Old Town after about half a day because we all were getting headaches and nausea – thanks to altitude sickness.

On day two, we took a 45 minute taxi drive through winding roads to get to El Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World) monument in San Antonio parish. It was pretty cool to walk with one foot in the Southern Hemisphere and one in the Northern Hemisphere. There’s a problem with the placement of the monument…it’s about 240 meters south of the actual equator. Maybe GPS is wrong. Either way, it was fun to explore this touristy place. There are tons of shops, restaurants (I did not order the baked guinea pig) and a few playgrounds. Lil had fun in the playgrounds; I may or may not have gotten too dizzy on the rotating swings. We did witness the mating of llamas. No one I know can say they’ve seen llamas mating at the equator. At first we thought they were making sounds to warn us…after taking a video and doing a little research, it has been confirmed that they were mating. Awesome. Here are some during and after shots…

We mostly ate in here in Quito to cut down on spending. The grocery store here was just like home…although finding “taco mix” was next to impossible. Tortillas were difficult to find too. We finally found several packets of spices that smelled and looked like taco mix. At 33 cents each, we got them all and found one that worked. We had breakfast one morning at the Radisson next door – it was a treat.

This is our last day and we’re laying low to get caught up on laundry and homeschooling. I’ll be glad to ditch the headache and nausea, but I’d like more time to explore. We head to the Galapagos tomorrow…yeah, I’m a little excited.

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Isla Isabela – Island Life at it’s Best

9/23/14

Waiting in the deserted airport is as good a time as any to write a blog post. Our flight has been delayed for an hour and a half and there is no one here but another couple and the three of us; a perfect time to reflect. Here’s what’s great about traveling with our little family; it’s so darn easy. No one is complaining that we have to wait or that they’ll be hungry later. It is what it is. We’ve got a bottle of purple Gatorade for crying out loud; it’ll last us for a few hours at least.  The only downfall I can find is what appears to be a certain lack of hearing that necessitates the locals playing their music (on their cell phones) loudly. The older couple sharing our airport space have their cell phone cranked; first to a medley of oldies and now to “Happy”. I’m OK with that. It gives us something to listen to. So, let’s see what I can come up with about this beautiful island.

They all left for lunch after our flight was delayed for 1.5 hours.

They all left for lunch after our flight was delayed for 1.5 hours.

Isla Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos, has been our home for the last five nights. Our trip here from Quito was a series of small simple steps:

  • Cab to airport
  • Plane from Quito to Guayaquil
  • Plane from Guayaquil to Baltra
  • Bus from airport to little boat
  • Boat across channel
  • Taxi (truck) to ferry in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island
  • Ferry-taxi from dock to Ferry (this is an awesome way to make 50 cents a person)
  • Ferry (more on this later) to Puerto Villamil on Isla Isabela
  • Taxi to hotel

The “Ferry”. When I think of a ferry, although I know it’s not right, I think of a big boat with seats and a snack bar and lots of opportunity to relax and enjoy the journey. This did not happen. None of it. Fourteen of us put on our life vests and set out on a two and a half hour journey that is the reason we are sitting in the airport today. There was no way in hell we were getting back on that boat. I’ve gotten really seasick once in my life that I can remember – and that was on a 83ish foot boat. We all took Dramamine and shared some with our new Australian friend Cara. I’m sure I said, “Keep your eyes on the horizon” about twenty times before we arrived. The waves were bad; we’re guessing 10 feet at times…maybe bigger. The boat was about 20-25 feet long. Occasionally the three outboards came out of the water as we went over a wave. I’ll give the captain credit – he was amazing. His “first mate” didn’t seem as confident. The boat travels between the island of Santa Cruz and Isabela twice a day, so I’m guessing their used to it. I made a plan with Peter, Cara’s husband, to get Lilly to safety should anything happen. It was that scary. The three of us started seeing fish jumping (didn’t happen), whales breaching (nope) and various other exciting “hallucinations” after staring at the horizon for so long. A woman and her boyfriend moved to the bench in the stern so he could barf if he needed to. He didn’t, but she did. Jim just said, “don’t look, it’s contagious.” As we arrived in the harbor, we were treated to Blue Footed Boobies and a shark. Worth the trip.

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There are no ATMs on Isabela, so we came prepared with cash to last throughout our stay. What we weren’t prepared for was the hotel bill that was only guaranteed with a credit card. Oops. I told Jim starting out that I was bound to have made mistakes. We’ll deal with them when they happen. I knew that there were about 2 places that we could not pre-pay for. Murphy’s Law states that one of these places MUST be on the island with virtually no access to cash and no credit cards accepted at the hotel. *#$@&*%!   We had enough to pay for the hotel and found a few restaurants that would accept our debit cards. Jim offered to take the ferry back to Puerto Ayora to hit up the ATM with both our cards, but after the grueling ferry ride, there was no way I was letting him do that. I felt like a drug dealer as we sat in the room that night pulling out our hidden money to see what the total was. In the end, all was fine. You don’t need much money here except for food and we had that covered. We were even able to take a tour and rent bikes. Living small has not only afforded us the opportunity to take this trip, but also the wherewithal to function in less than perfect conditions.

Lilly and I usually wake up early, so we headed out for a walk. Lil was swinging at the playground on the beach when she noticed a sea lion coming out of the water. Not bad for our first morning. He (or she) scratched his head on a lava rock wall, sat in the road for a minute and headed back in the water. We found marine iguanas (the only marine iguanas in the world live here) and their babies (born this year between January and April) sunning themselves on the pier. Frigate birds, pelicans and other birds flew around. We eventually ended up snorkeling with sea lions and a penguin, visiting a giant tortoise breeding center and riding our bikes to the marsh where the flamingos hang out. We took a tour to an island that reminded me of the beginning of life. The volcanic rock had lichen growing on it, which would be followed by moss. Moisture would collect on the moss and grasses or other plants will eventually grow. As it is, I felt like I was on the moon. Amazing and raw. No one would snorkel with me, so I ventured alone to see what I could find. I stayed away from the shark-seeking group and found lots of fish without big teeth and scary fins. We did, from the safety of land, get to see white-tipped reef sharks sleeping. This was the deal breaker for Lilly to snorkel with me.

The food here is exceptional – and I’m not a foodie. I was forced to try different things because they would inevitably be out of whatever I wanted for the night…meat one night, tempura another. We tried new things and loved them all. Like Panama, ceviche is the dish every restaurant touts.   Octopus, shrimp, lobster, calamari and fishes of all kinds made up the ceviche offerings. Seafood will never be on my menu, but Jim has enjoyed it so far.

9/27/14

I wrote that before our big adventure on the plane. Funny how you never know what’s coming. I know this is long, so I’ll stop for now and write a brief post on Santa Cruz in the next few days. We leave for France tomorrow; will arrive the morning of 9/30. Until then…

NOTE:  After losing WIFI several times trying to post more pictures with the post, I have given up.  Will make a photo post when I have stronger WIFI.