Thursday, April 29, 2010

No Expectations

We are now in Loja which sounded much cooler in the guidebook. I have learned not to put too much stock in the guidebook. In fact I have realized that the best thing to do is not to have any expectations at all for a place. That is a difficult thing for me but I am learning.

While in Cuenca, still our favorite town so far, I picked up this book at the hostel called The Gringo Trail by Mark Mann. It is an account of this British guy's travels in South America. It started off funny and he was going to places that we are going or have been. His adventures were more crazy than mine, though. I recommend it but I would suggest reading after or during a trip here unless you are not one of those people prone to expecting too much.

There is a character in the book who may be a real life person but for me she is simply a fun character. She is great at not having any expectations. However, she is also clueless and is a bit of a burden for the narrator and author who is doing all the planning and being somewhat sensible. I am more like her though(except I plan too much) and Brian is more like the narrator. A couple of times I almost walked into a hole in the sidewalk because I was looking around at everything and I was not paying attention to my surroundings. Thankfully Brian was there.

Like one of the characters in The Gringo Trail, we are headed to Vilcabamba tomorrow. We are going for the nature, though. I doubt I will be looking for a psychodelic cactus and boiling it down for eight hours. It sounds like too much work. I just want to see alot of the rare birds that are endemic to Parque National Podocarpus. This park is named after Ecuador's only native conifer, according to our guidebook (Lonely Planet). However the guidebook also says that we will not be seeing much of these trees or any mammals as they have been cut down by loggers and the animals have been hunted to near extinction. Yeah, Civilization!!!

Well, we will see some lovely birds and contemplate our role on this planet. And feel close to nature and not see it as a resource to exploit. Just some travelers who have no expectations.


Note from Brian: We have managed to upload a bunch of pictures and two videos from our backlog, thanks to the almost fast Internet at the hotel we're staying at. In chronological order, they are:

* A video of white water inner tubing and a video of the cable car across a canyon in the cloud forest in Mindo.

* Pictures from La Ciénega and Volcán Cotopaxi, the highest active volcano in Ecuador (and second tallest peak in Ecuador).

* Pictures from Riobamba.

* Pictures from Guayaquil and a short video of the iguanas in Parque Simon Bolivar.

Hopefully we can get our pictures of Cuenca and even Loja up this evening!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Three Days in Cuenca

As soon as the booming party music died down, and the screeching laughter of the drunken club girls faded into the distance, I thought I'd be able to drift off to sleep.  I could feel the heavy weight of weariness pulling me down, slipping into a comfortable, steady breathing rhythm... when suddenly, the clanging ringing of heavy bells jarred me awake.  It was Sunday morning, some ungodly hour, and already the church on the corner was calling people to mass.  I tried to block out the off-key, dissonance of the bells, and thought I might be fading back into that sweet oblivion when air raid sirens suddenly jolted me back into the present.  Karla mumbled something about World War III starting, and, confused, I pondered the idea, but it seemed preposterous that anyone would be bombing Cuenca, Ecuador, high in the Andes, at 7 AM on a Sunday morning.  Perhaps it was some sort of a drill, I thought, as a I tried to flip on the light in the bathroom and discovered that there was no electricity.  Or perhaps it meant that the power was out.  An hour later, after more church bells and air raid sirens, the power was back.  Welcome to the heart of Cuenca on a lazy Sunday morning.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cuenca is my friend

You might have noticed that we stated that Cuenca was the best city in Ecuador so far. But I think it is also on my top ten of great towns. Town is a better word. The city isn't that big but it has everything a big city has plus all the charm and beauty of a small town as well. It is a university town and a popular place for ex-pats to retire it seems. I will certainly consider it. Pictures will be posted soon but internet connections that can be sustained in our room are an important necessity. Okay, so the internet is not the strongest in Ecuador but if you are someone who can deal with the slow moving tranquility of Ecuadorian culture you will be patient enough for the internet down here.

I am about to finish my drink and head to bed but before I do I want to say that if you want to come to Ecuador plan to spend some time in this town. I am wishing that we had a whole month here but I may be jumping the gun because I have only been here for 9 hours. I will let you know if I still feel the same by Monday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Raining in Riobamba

It's raining in Riobamba.  Pouring, in fact.  I was wondering why there were drains all over the patio at the hostal we're staying at.  Now I understand.  All this water has to go somewhere, and without those drains, it'd be coming right under our door and into our room.

We arrived yesterday, leaving our idyllic stay at the Hostería la Ciénega in Cotopaxi province and heading south along the Panamericana (that's the main "highway" running north/south along the west coast of South America).  We're now in Chimborazo province, named after Volcán Chimborazo, the tallest peak in Ecuador, but no longer an active volcano.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Pictures from Our Visit to El Monte Sustainable Lodge and Mindo

DSC03837We uploaded the pictures from our visit to El Monte Sustainable Lodge and the town of Mindo last night.  We still have a few videos we'd like to upload, including one of the Cock-of-the-Rock Lek and one of our inner tube rafting adventure.  Hopefully we can get those up tonight.

Friday, April 16, 2010


There are many reasons to honk here in Ecuador. First is the standard get-out-of-my-way honk (which happens even when there is no possible way the people in the car ahead of you could get out of the way) and there is the greeting honk. But honking is also for alerting someone to your presence when going around a corner or through an intersection. Taxis honk also to tell people that they are empty and willing to take you where you wish to go. There are many other reasons to honk but I haven't figured them out yet.

Now that I have educated you on "The Honk" I will now let you know that I am sitting in the cafe/bar of our hostel, L'Auberge Inn. It is better than a Hotel 6 but only because it has more charm and a travel agency on the premises. And it is in Quito and not on the side of the road somewhere.

Last night we got back from our two wonderful evenings in the Cloud Forest. We saw birds and an arboreal Andean porcupine. I didn't get a picture of him. He had smaller quills than the North American type. Our guides were suprised to see him. I guess he is not a regular sight. We will be uploading some pictures in a day or two. We are headed for Cotopaxi National Park today.

On our trip to the Cloud Forest we stayed at the El Monte Sustainable Lodge. In order to get over to the lodge and our cabana we had to cross the river by a terebita, which is a cable car. It was fun watching the river pass under us as I clutched my possesions. Our guide Fernando was great and very helpful and attentive. I felt like we were living in our own secret hideaway where we were treated like royalty, or close enough for us. We are not used to the service we received there. The only thing we did not like was the sand flies that have made us two twitchy foreigners. I am attempting to not scratch right now. It was a small price to pay...

And the tubing down the river which was more like white water rafting with a bunch inner tubes tied together. It was both fun and slightly scary. When I went tubing in West Virginia we had to sign a form and watch a video and the rapids were nothing there - a joke probably to the guys who got us around the rocks and made sure we didn't flip over or fall off. You will see. Fernando recorded a good video for us.

The Cock-of-the-Rock Lek... a walk at 5:15 am to a place where a very unusal bird does a very unique little mating dance. The walk up the hill was beautiful. The cloud mist rested over the green hills. It was worth the earliness. We heard the call of the birds before we saw them. And again there will be pictures and video forthcoming. Uploading that takes time we don't have.

As soon as Brian and I arrived at El Monte we wanted to figure out how to stay there longer. Or move there. It is a paradise for those who can't live without a flushing toilet and a comfortable bed but still love nature. The food they served us was delicious also. Anyone who knows me knows that I look forward to meal time and they gave us much to look forward to.

On our second evening we met a couple from Scotland. They were also on their honeymoon, although for them it was the traditional right after the wedding honeymoon. Another coincidence is that they had just come from where we are going today, Hosteria La Cienega.

I am about to eat breakfast at the inn and then we are off to La Cienega and Cotopaxi.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Quick Recap

There's not a lot of time to write this post.  We're leaving in about an hour to head to El Monte Sustainable Lodge out of Mindo, which is an eco-lodge in the cloud forest, for a couple of days.  It's doubtful we'll have any Internet access there, but we'll try to organize our thoughts to post here when we can.

Meanwhile, a quick recap of what we've been doing in the last couple of days:

* We visited the town of Otovalo on Saturday, wandering through their weekly crafts market and eating a tasty blackberry pie at a little pie shop.  View pictures here.

* We ate dinner Sunday at NOE, which is a really good sushi restaurant here in Quito.  The rolls were large and tasty, and the place had a really cool ambiance.

* We climbed up the hill of Itchimbía, where there's an awesome park with a 360 degree view of Quito as well as a great walk through the park that goes into restored Andean habitat.  Here are some pictures we took, a video of Karla talking about getting to the park, and a video of me attempting to explain the Intihuatana area of the park.

* We had dinner in the fog/rain at this cool bar-cafe-pizza shop called Ananké Guápulo last night, in the windy neighborhood on a hill of  Guápulo.  It was a great place to hang out - we were upstairs in one of their more intimate rooms - and be away from the crazy tourists.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Plants! A Basilica! The Poor Devil! Fruit! La Ronda! Part 2

NOTE: This entry is broken into two parts, the first detailing Thursday (also Karla's birthday) and the second detailing Friday.  That should help make what was originally one looooooonnnnnggg entry more palatable for those of you with short attention spans :)

Part 2: Friday (April 9, 2010) - our visit to the Friday fruit market here in the neighborhood of La Floresta, and our return to the Old Town to visit la Calle de la Ronda for dinner and people watching.

Plants! A Basilica! The Poor Devil! Fruit! La Ronda! Part 1

NOTE: This entry is broken into two parts, the first detailing Thursday (also Karla's birthday) and the second detailing Friday.  That should help make what was originally one looooooonnnnnggg entry more palatable for those of you with short attention spans :)

While experiencing Ecuador, it's hard to find time to actually write about it!  It's raining right now, though, and we just returned from an all-day trip to Otovalo (more on that in a different post).  As we relax, avoid the rain, and collect our thoughts from today, I'll try to recap Thursday and Friday.

Part 1: Thursday (April 8, 2010) - our visit to the botanical gardens, our ascent of the towers of the basilica in the Old Town, and our dinner for Karla's birthday at a restaurant-cum-Jazz bar.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dreams and Genetics

It was theororized by a few people I spoke to that my dreams would be very vivid upon traveling to the equator and being at such a high altitude. While living in Baltimore I would occasionally have dreams that were either very real or almost linear enough to be a story.

Last night I experienced the latter. It was a dream so details are a bit fuzzy and therefore I will just mention that for one I sang in my dream. None of my friends have heard me sing unless they heard me over the loud music I would play in car to drown myself out. But in the dream I sang with another man the words to a Billy Holiday song. I wasn't great in the dream but I was better than I would have been in real life.

In jumping to the next, more coherent scene of my dream story, I will tell the abbreviated tale of my roommate. We lived in a Victorian house for which I did not know the address. My roommate was a very troubled girl who had a crush on one of my female friends. She somehow was involved in some tragedy which is a bit disturbing and nonsensical to include. Nonetheless her mother came to my house and I thought they were fighting so I borrowed my roommate's phone and called 911. But I hung up instantly because I realized they were just playing. Her room was extremely messy... more messy than my room ever was when I was a child. Trust me... that is really messy.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

La Capilla del Hombre

After a stressful and confused Monday, during which time both Karla and I were having trouble acclimating to the rhythms and mysteries of this strange, not to mention the change of pace in our lives (no more work, no more daily schedule), we emerged today (Tuesday, April 6) renewed and reinvigorated.  It could have been because we spent the late afternoon through evening in our hotel room, reading, listening to music, trying to figure what we were doing here, after all.  It could have just been giving ourselves enough time to rest and reset.  Regardless, today was an incredibly beautiful and emotionally insightful day.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Easter Sunday, Part 2

Hungry after our exploration of the Old City, we decided to walk over a few blocks to the Mercado Central, a multi-story marketplace.  As soon as we stepped inside, we were a bit overwhelmed.  Stall upon stall of food vendors were situated on both ends, and toward the center people selling fresh fruits and vegetables.  We knew we wanted to eat something from one of the stalls, but as soon as we would glance in the direction of one of the vendors, she would start shouting at us to encourage us to purchase our almuerzo from her.  (Yes, almost all of the stalls are run by older, grandmotherly-looking Ecaudorian women.)

Easter Sunday

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, was our second full day here in Quito.  The altitude sickness was starting to wear off, our bags had been delivered to the hotel on Saturday night, and we were generally in a better mood (myself especially).  After breakfast at the hotel - they provide a light continental breakfast of cereal, juice, fruit, toast, coffee, and tea - we decided to walk down Madrid (literally, we are almost at the top of the hill that this street ascends in the neighborhood of La Floresta), crossing Avenida 12 de Octubre, then along Mariscal Foch to catch the Ecovía trolley line into the Old Town.

Trolley line is a bit of a misnomer.  Tram, maybe?  The Ecovía and its two sister lines are essentially double-long buses powered by electric cables from above.  They don't have any tracks or rails on which they ride, so a driver ensures that the vehicle stays on course.  I guess you could call it a cable car bus, if you wanted to.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Todo Está Mujado

The adventure continues...

While writing a blog entry and calling the airline to check on our bags it had begun to rain. A torrential downpour that made the streets into creeks. It was about 8:30 and we decided to take a cab to the Mariscal Sucre to eat instead of walking to a place nearby that we had been planning to go. We only had one outfit which we were wearing and no umbrellas since they were in our checked luggage, so we really didn't want to get soaking wet. We did do a little research before starting off to find the restaurant but when we arrived at the destination the place was closed... for good. Guide books can only be so up to date. I suppose we could have called the number but... we didn't.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Just a Little Information to Tide You Over

I won't pretend that this is not an overwhelming experience to be here. First of all we don't have our luggage. It should be arriving from Houston on Continental's next flight to Quito. Getting upset wouldn't help. So I am not. I will definitely appreciate having my meager wardrobe back. And toiletries. We bought toothbrush and toothpaste at the farmacia near the hotel. Since everything was behind the counter and I am still shy about my Spanish usage I pointed to the first toothbrush and toothpaste I saw. (By the way don't ask me why I didn't put these in my carry on. We did put extra socks and underwear in our carry on.) The woman behind the counter was very nice - she showed us the cheaper, generic brands, and that is all we needed. She didn't try to milk the Americans.

The altitude sickness is not too bad but still has made us want to take it easy. So today we went to a park in the Mariscal Sucre area of the city. The touristy part that is close to our hotel. We are in La Floresta neighborhood. It is quiet and residential, but in walking distance to some places that we are putting on our list for the next couple of days of places to see and things to do.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Adiós a los Estados Unidos

In just 3 hours we'll be boarding the plane at BWI and flying to Houston, where we have a layover before turning south to Quito, Ecuador...

In just 12 hours we'll be landing in Quito, Ecuador, just south of the equator, under a sky of foreign constellations and amid the buzz and chatter of a foreign language and the rhythms of a foreign city.