Archive | November 2014

Wed

Wed 11/11/14
We had an early breakfast and on the river heading out of the Amazon by 8:00am.
The seats on the bus are rotated daily with a first come rule except for the front row seats which must not be day in more than once. Yesterday Wayne and I took the front left seats which was a great score as the majority of the day was bus riding and Wayne was able to enjoy his first totally comfortable day on the bus with no cramped legs!

Our hotel (on the Amazon) sent sack lunches and our wonderful chef Pedro, at the lodge, seemed to delight in creating special vegetarian dishes at each meal for Hema and I. Our vegetarian box lunch was not a disappointment for either of us. He made a type of sandwich creation of mashed potatoes which were delightfully seasoned and in the center we encountered the yummy green beans from dinner last night. Fruit, juice, chips and cookies accompanied our lunches and we were able to enjoy at our leisure on the bus.
Our first adventure stop of the day was El Pailon del Diablo (Devils Cauldron) which was a beautiful waterfall but the hike was billed as quite a demanding and somewhat treacherous event so Wayne went with some of the others and I hung with those that stayed behind. Wayne ended up soaking wet from head to toe but had a great time. A bit further down the road we pulled over for a basket (for 8) zip line adventure across the river to a beautiful photo op of a dual waterfall. 16 of the 26 did the ride and the rest of us safely placed cheered them on. It was $1.50 per person which by our zip line standards was quite the deal.
Our next stop was was the town of Puno where we were taken to a factory that made jewelry and figurines out of a nut called Tagua. This nut when dried is as hard and the same color as ivory and there was a great poster in the shop of an elephant with two beautiful tusks of ivory and the writing on the poster said “thank you for saving me!” We were able to watch the artist create a vase and do a lustrous final finish using the nut shavings to polish the outside. After that we were given free time to wander the city till we took off to head toward our hacienda for the evening.
A few of us enjoyed a delicious and significant size pour $4.00 a glass of wine.

Off to Hacienda Leito for the evening. Upon arrival we entered a beautiful hotel that could have qualified for a museum and were greeted by the owner. I will do a separate post for what happened next.

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Tues

Tuesday 11/11/14
Today was an early day as most of the group was heading out for a two hour hike in the jungle which Romy described as quite challenging so I and four other ladies opted to stay behind and we did a ten minute walk with a nice young man from the lodge to a butterfly farm. There were 16 different varieties of extremely vibrant colored beauties. We spent about 45 minutes enjoying being surrounded and having them landing on us when we were not moving in the enclosure. On the way back we stopped at a little tienda as a couple of the ladies wanted a coke and we bought one for our guide which he appreciated as it was quite hot already at 10:30am. Back to the lodge to wait for our hikers who were scheduled to arrive around noonish. After the hike they were taking a raft down the river till they encountered the rapid part of the river and then they transferred back to the motor canoe for the final approach to the lodge. At about 11:00am when the Trekkers had just gotten on the raft the sky darkened in less than a couple of minutes and a torrential downpour began and lasted for about 45 minutes. The ladies and I were sitting under cover in the bar area and the wind was so intense that we had to move way back as the intense rain was just blowing in on us. Our poor folks on the raft were being drenched by the downpour and when they arrived back at the lodge were totally soaked to the skin. What an adventure!! They quickly went to their rooms for a shower and dry clothes before lunch. One of the afternoon options was to go on a zip line which we both passed on and retired to the bar area and 6 of us had a great afternoon telling stories. Dinner again was fabulous and we all agreed that we could stay here for an extended stay!!!
After dinner we retired back to the bar for some more wine and more stories. Don’t think we all stopped laughing till we headed off to bed. Another extremely enjoyable day!!

Monday

Mon 11/10/14
On our way out of the Andes and down to the Amazon the clouds lifted and we witnessed a volcano smoking which according to Romy is not a common sight due to the heavy cloud cover that is present most of the year. She said we had some good karma.
At one of the potty breaks there were food vendors and Romy described the contents of the packages of leaves grilling over the hot coals. There was fish, pork and chicken but the highlight was the grubs that were grilling on a stick and still moving. Well of course Wayne and Rick had to try them. Both agreed that they tasted a bit like shrimp except for the crunchy head. Enough said.
Onward to the river edge where we boarded motor canoes for a short trip down river to the lodge. Upon disembarking we climbed a ton (and I’m not exaggerating) of steps up to a beautiful lodge overlooking the river and jungle. A big pool was the center focus and palapa seating areas, a bar with more seating and two covered eating areas surrounded the pool. We arrived around noon and shortly we were served a delicious buffet lunch.
Casa del Swiss is really a great jungle observation environment overlooking the river. The other guests in the lodge are French and I won’t spend time discussing cultural differences but let me just say it’s been interesting in the buffet line at meal times.
The afternoon activity was a trip to an indigenous family home but Wayne and I along with three other couples opted to stay at the lodge and swim and just enjoy relaxing. When the group came back the chef of the lodge did a demonstration of the grilled meats, fish and hearts of Palm wrapped in large leaves. He also had grilled grubs which once again Wayne enjoyed. We spent the remainder of the afternoon bird watching and enjoying the scenery.
Dinner buffet had three different vegetable choices as did lunch with one being my favorite cauliflower in a cheese sauce and baked which was fantastically delicious. Each lunch and dinner always had a potato offering and beef, chicken and pork selections. There also was a table of fancy desserts for a scrumptious final finish.
Great first day in the jungle!!

Sunday in Ecuador

Sunday
We were up early for a 7:00 breakfast and on the bus by 8:00 heading for the Octavalo fruit market. Romy took us in a walking tour and explained all the fruits and vegetables that were not know to us. We then had free shopping time at the craft market for a while. Saturday is the big market day but we still had a lot of vendor options. Next we ventured on to a leather town with blocks and blocks of high end leather options. It reminded us of the leather district in Buenos Aires. Most of the ladies bought beautiful purses and one gal got two pair of boots.
Off again we traveled for a four hour (potty stop every hour for the geriatrics on board) trip to Papallacta resort and spa. Whoa, we were not expecting anything better than last night so imagine going to our room and finding three therapeutic (with no sulphur smell) soaking pools of different temperatures just outside our room. There were just a few rooms around these pools and the other small cluster of rooms each had their own pools. I’m thinking an after dinner, before bed soak will be on the agenda.

Gate 1, our (I thought very budget priced) tour group is really blowing our minds with the accommodations so far!! Most of the meals have been included and very worthy also so far.

We are at about 10,000 ft in the Andes and the clouds are rolling in as I sit on our veranda and write this. Except for our pools of heated water all of the surrounding mountains are covered in clouds giving our area a very intimate and cozy feeling. I know I said this about last night but we both could stay here for a week easy!!

Tomorrow we do our second Amazon trek. Just made me remember we need to take our weekly malaria meds with dinner.

Sat in Ecuador

Saturday in Ecuador
After breakfast we headed up to a spot high above Quito for a beautiful photo op and more history from Romy. Quito has 70 active volcanos and every single day there are between 17 to over 200 tremors of which mostly are under 4 on the rector scale. If you happen to live on the third floor or higher of a building you will have more opportunities to feel the tremors. This city, containing 2 million people, realize that there is a possibility of a volcanic eruption at any time but they don’t dwell on this issue according to our guide.

Next stop was in a neighboring small town along the highway at a sorbet factory. We were each treated to two scoops of our choice and then the young man did a demonstration of making the sorbet. He filled a large shallow metal container with ice and salt and then placed a beautiful rather flat copper pan on top of the ice. He poured a thick fruit purée in the copper pan and then started beating the purée while twirling the copper pan in the opposite direction. Very quickly the fruit started to congeal and presto we were tasting a fresh batch of sorbet. Que yummo!!

Onward to the equator and The Center of the world. We had a good time doing photo ops.

About an hour down the road we went to a women’s cooperative to have lunch. The options were spit roasted cuy (guinea pig) or chicken soup and the lunch choices were pre ordered so lunch was ready when we all arrived. The two of us vegetarians had potatoes with a peanut sauce and avocado for our plate which was very tasty.

After lunch we stopped at the home of a musical family that has international acclaim and when not performing make Andean instruments. We were treated to a demonstration of all the different So American instruments and then the family performed a song from their CD. Great stop.

Onward to the afternoon hike up to a beautiful waterfall before we headed to our hotel, Cabanos del Lago, which turned out to be a paradise on the edge of a lake surrounded by volcanos. We arrived about 5:00pm and after checking out our beautiful cabana we headed for the bar for a little libation. We sat outside on the deck over the water and enjoyed a glass of wine and the brought us some plantain chips, their delicious Ecuadorian salsa and some guacamole to enjoy with our beverage. Shortly a few other couples joined us on the deck. In about 15 minutes a bit of thunder started to rumble and we then noticed the lightening over the mountains. Shortly it began to rain lightly and little by little the rain came down heavier and the winds picked up and even under cover we were getting wet so we all snuggled closer to the building and all enjoyed what was by now a torrential downpour. Pachi Mama at her finest!!! We finally came to our senses and moved into the bar to a air dinner at 7:00pm.

The dinner starter was either potato soup which comes with chunks of cheese and avocado or pumpkin soup (we did one of each and both were yummy) and choices for entree were steak with a baked potato or rainbow trout and the vegetarian option was called a risotto type option made with quinoa and vegetables in a creamy cheesy sauce that was devine. Wayne had the steak and said it was really good.

After a great dinner and conversation we moseyed back to our room as the rain had stopped. We were greeted by a rip roaring fire in our fireplace and snuggled together, in our turned down bed, it looked like a male and female doll which turned out to be hot water bottles dressed to look like a man and a woman. What a great thoughtful touch. I couldn’t believe it but they were still warm in the morning. One quick night here was just not enough. I also have to mention the grounds around the lovely cabanas were beautifully manicured with a man made creek meandering thru out with little foot bridges and a waterfall. Flowers were everywhere and so were the hummingbirds. This truly was a paradise and everyone did not want to leave!!!

A note from along the way:
As a side note while on the newly (this week) reopened Pan American highway which had been closed due to the last earthquake about two and a half months ago which did a lot of damage to this road.
Construction was occurring all over the hillside and just now as we were driving by a cliff that was being excavated we viewed a landslide occurring. It was close to the road and our bus was just ahead of the major dust cloud that occurred which had to have covered the vehicles behind us with dirt.

Ecuador Tour Day One

Tour Time
Our tour started this morning by meeting Romy at 8:00am along with the 25 other members of our group. It was a mix of 50+ age groups with 2 young ladies in their mid 20’s but mainly was top heavy in the silver sector.
We took off for the Mindo Cloud Forest and about two hours from Quito we stopped at a family owned orchid reserve. We hiked for about an hour over very slippery and challenging terrains, foot bridges over the creek but we were treated to a beautiful waterfall and pond believed to have reviving powers and some unusual flowers and breath taking photo ops along the way. Thank goodness for my trekking stick and my Wayne!! Totally worthwhile stop.
Coming from a tour group of 5 in Peru this group of 27 was handled a bit different. There are rules and the most important one is that if you are not on the bus on time the bus leaves without you without any exception. Guess we’ll certainly be on time on this trip!!!
A little further down the road on our bus we went to a restaurant tucked a ways off the road that also had cabanas, a pool and it advertised a spa. The dining area had a floor made of teak wood and shoes were not allowed in the restaurant but we were given little disposable slippers to wear. The room overlooked a humming bird garden and during lunch we were entertained by many different varieties.
Lunch started with a hearts of palm and apple salad that was delicious and was followed by an entree of either farm raised trout (which most of the group had) or grilled chicken. There was a creamy sauce which had a lot of oregano and was very tasty. One other lady (originally from India but lives in New Jersey) and myself had the vegetarian option which was a deliciously seasoned rice dish with lots of vegetables. Perfect option.
After lunch we were able to wander thru the gardens and enjoy the hummers up close and personal. Wayne got a great photo of one iridescent hummer with an extremely long tail. He perched right in front of us and was the perfect model posing for our photos. Really awesome moment!
The trip back out of the cloud forest was really slow as only one lane in each direction and it is the main road to the coast for the trucks.
We had a welcome meeting and drink at 6:15 pm to have everyone meet and Romy gave us the program for tomorrow.
We then took off walking five blocks to the main restaurant and night club district. Being Friday night the main square was jumping with throngs of young people. Romy had suggested a restaurant called Mamas and we decided to try. We were taken to the third floor which overlooks the square and along with a great meal we had a floor show of people watching that couldn’t be beat.
Great day, great evening!!!!

First Day in Quito

First day in Quito
We awoke early and decided to spend this free day walking around Quito and our Lonely Planet guide had a heat walking tour map for us to follow.
We first popped into a little cafe and had breakfast (no menu)of scrambled eggs, a croissant type roll with a slice of cheese inside, and for Wayne an order of fruit (it was a huge plate of fruit) and pineapple juice. When we were ordering our coffee he asked if we wanted water or milk and we both opted for water. When the cups of hot water arrived he told us the coffee was the liquid in the little decanter on the table. Can’t say I’d write home about that cup of coffee but such a fun experience. The total meal was $6.00 and a lot of fun.
Off we went exploring at about 9:00am and we ended up back at our hotel at 4:00pm. We did churches, plazas, listened to street music, stopped for a fruit drink and journeyed up and down the streets of Quito. Late morning we stopped for a coffee on a walking street and had a great time people watching. The guy at the next table was having a taped interview but I couldn’t quite determine what he was discussing. Probably a politician.
We ended up in the La Ronda district which has beautiful homes and lots if artists workshops. It was getting close to lunch time and Wayne spotted La Lena Quitena, which had a copy of the article written up in The Miami Herald food section touting this restaurant to be the most typically Ecuadorian restaurant with amazing food. Of course seating was out on a balcony three flights up. Oh what I am willing to do for food!! Our waiter was a very interesting character and when I mentioned I was vegetarian he asked if he could select my lunch. I agreed and was not disappointed. Wayne opted for the oven roasted chicken platter and he had a divine lunch. Mine came with a wonderful salad with delicious green beans, an ear of corn, two tortilla type cakes and rice. It was all very yummy and we even had a gentleman who came rooftop with his guitar and lovely voice to seranade us whie we ate. Great interlude with oh so good food and a large bottle of Pilsner beer.
Walking back was fun as we felt we knew our streets and were feeling very comfortable in Quito.
We both are anxious to see who will be in our group tomorrow and meet our guide. We are so spoiled with our Peru “family” group and hoping this will be similar.
Wayne is doing a pre dinner napping session so he will be ready to hit the streets in search of dinner. We talked about going back to the Italian restaurant where we had a pasta dinner last night and trying their pizza tonight. Last night I ordered spaghetti with butter, garlic and onions and our waiter kept asking if I wanted tomato sauce and I said no thank you. Well it came and after we both swooned just smelling the garlic and onions we tasted it and it was divine. Wayne had is with threat sauce and after I ate all I could he mixed mine in with his remaining meat sauce and declared Italian dinner perfection.
Now after discussing the fabulous pasta last night will I order it again or do a pizza??????
We went to a different restaurant and the vegetarian pasta was so so. Wayne had beef crepes in a mushroom sauce that he enjoyed.
Tour starts at 8:00am.