Archive | November 2014

Sunday in Ecuador

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.

Going to Quito

We opted to have Tio Nico take us to the dock over to the airport as the bus leaves at 7:30am for the 45 min ride and our flight takes off at 12:30pm. We had him pick us up at 9:00 after a leisurely breakfast and a final conversation with Yogo before all the hugs, kisses and goodbyes with Yolanda and Yogo. After six nights it is wonderful how a friendship develops and we look forward to seeing Yogo on his next trip to the states.
Arrived at the docks and a boat was loading for the airport and we jumped on. At the dock on the other side the bus to the airport was waiting and we had primo seating. Check in at the airport was a breeze compared to the one hour plus wait in line entering the Galapagos.

The flight stopped in Guayaquil and then flew on to Quito. Going east we gained an hour.
At the airport we debated on taking a bus for $8.00 each or a cab $26.00 and we opted for the cab which was a beyond excellent choice. The trek to our hotel was over an hour and a half and the traffic conditions were beyond awful as the majority of the road was two very narrow lanes with quite a few single car only passages in the heat of rush hour. Of all the trips from an airport to our hotel this zoomed into #1 position of all time nightmares. $26.00 was cheap for the heroics our driver had to endure. Yes he got a nice tip!!
We arrived at our hotel which ended up being really really nice. We are one day early as our Gate 1 tour starts tomorrow. The sweet young man who checked us in was very apologetic that he could not put us in the room we would have tomorrow night which was part of our tour as the hotel was really booked. He said he could put us in a really nice room if we wouldn’t mind and then change into our room tomorrow. I agreed that would be just fine and ……. hang onto your seats fans…….we were given room 1000……the penthouse suite. OMG…..I know I am constantly saying we have such good travel karma……well this certainly proves we do!!!!! A balcony off the bedroom, a balcony off the living room, two bathrooms, sunken jacuzzi tub, bidet and our only criticism is that the closets were not as big as the closet in the Winston Churchill suite we were upgraded to on Wayne’s birthday at The Princess hotel in Bermuda. Wonderful night!!!

Isla Plaza

Isla Plaza on our last day.
Yogo was able to find us space on a boat for a day trip to Isla Plaza, an island about 2 hours by boat from Santa Cruz island where we are staying.
At 8:15 am a van with 7 people and our guide Jamie arrived to pick us up for the tour. We again went up island all the way to the water where we had arrived via bus and boat from the airport last Thurs. We were tendered out to our boat and everyone except myself and one guy went to the upper deck for our trip to the snorkeling bay. When we arrived we all spotted a giant turtle and a “vegetarian” shark, according to Jamie. Everyone except for myself and one other woman hit the water and we were escorted to the tender and taken in a boat for a really interesting ride around and then into the snorkeling bay. We saw lots of blue footed boobies nesting along the cliffs along with lots of frigates, Nasca boobies, red billed tropic birds, shearwater birds, swallow tail gulls, ground finches, cactus finches and I’m sure others that we did not identify. After about an hour in the water we all loaded up and headed for Isla Plaza (Plaza Island). A snack of sandwiches, sashimi, apples and cookies was served and was appreciated by the tired snorkelers.

When we arrived about an hour and half later we were greeted by lots of sea lions lounging all over the dock and in the water. There was one huge male that was guarding his herd if females and no other males were in sight. There were lots and lots if babies frolicking near the shore or lounging on the rocks soaking up the sun waiting for their mommies to return. Breeding season was starting as the females have one pup every year and become pregnant within one month of delivering. The pups stay with the mom for three years so each female has three pups, a one, two and three year old she is raising at all times. If something happens to the mom the three pups die as all the other females are busy and the do not adopt strays. There was evidence all around of pups that had list their mom, usually to a shark. We hiked all over the island and were introduced to lots of iguanas who are literally taking over the island and killing the cactus, which is the main source of food, faster than it can reproduce. The government is looking at options as at the rate they are reproducing and eating the cactus it is estimated they both will be gone in about 70 years. Another phenomena on this island is that the sea iguanas sometimes breed with the land iguana producing a “mule” type iguana that only lives for 25 years and can not reproduce. The serious downside of this mixed creature is that it can climb the cactus, which the land iguanas can not, hence destroying the cactus at an even faster rate. Will be interesting to see how they handle this situation.
On the far end of the island were were shown all the bachelor sea lions that were feasting and building up strength to do battle again for a heard of females against the reigning males. The fight for domination can last a couple of weeks with no time for eating so these males must build up their strength for the battle.
The temperature was perfect but the winds when we were up on the cliffs were viciously wild and had they been blowing in the other direction we would have been blown off the cliffs for sure. We then retraced our steps and headed for the boat.

Waiting for us was a set table with cloth napkins holding our utensils. We were served a plate with sliced chicken covered in mushroom gravy, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli along with a fresh salad of lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. I’m sure you can visualize the smile on Wayne’s face as I moved the chicken to his waiting plate. They then brought a large pan of rice for us to serve ourselves and I was one very happy camper. Broccoli mixed with mashed potatoes and rice makes a perfect meal for me!! Dessert was a half of a canned peach which I honestly had forgotten existed till now. I ate so many (cheap food) in college I never wanted to eat them again. One bite confirmed that I still felt the same way and Wayne was literally more than willing to step up to the plate for me.
Lunch made the trip back pass rather quickly.

That night for our last we opted for the ice cream shop that also had great looking thin crust super crispy pizza. I had a garlic, onion and cheese one and Wayne had the kitchen sink one. We both were so happy and enjoyed along with Pilsner beer that I have become quite fond of. Wayne finished with a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of mocha to accompany his espresso which he had missed having that afternoon. Happy boy for sure!!!(and so was I as that was the best pizza of the trip so far!!)
We’ve been here six nights and tomorrow we are off to Quito and phase three of our great South American adventure.

Monday is a Holiday

Today is a holiday as All Saints Day fell on a Sat.
Nico who is Yolanda’s brother (Yogos uncle) came and picked us up in his double cab pickup which is what all the cabs on Santa Cruz are. Makes it handy if you need to transport anything, ie bike, groceries etc, the bed comes in handy. There are quite a few motor bikes on the island but very few cars and a white numbered pick up truck cab is always available where ever you are.
We took off towards Baltra ( where the airport is located) and our first stop was to view two very deep canyons that were formed by lava with tubes below forming subterranean caverns. It is now covered with lush growth and Nico pointed out different types of trees and plants totally indigenous to the Galapagos as we hiked the area on both sides of the road. Off we then went to view and wander amongst the giant tortoises. We went a distance into the farm land past vincas of coffee, banana oranges and other fruits till we came to the tortoise farm. A shed housed shelves of different sized rubber boots but since the rainy season is not quite upon us regular shoes were perfect walking the farm. We had spotted a few tortoises on the way in but once inside the farm they were everywhere. Big, small and ginormous specimens were everywhere and as long as you approached from the rear you could stand right next to them. If you approached from the front they would retreat into their shell and make a hissing sound. Deep into the farm we came across a lagoon and the largest big boy of all was lounging in the water. The surface of the water was covered by a beautiful red liken type plant so when the tortoises came out of the water they had red little clusters of plants decorating their shells. Such beautiful gentle giants. It was quite the perfect day for me to be walking amongst these beautiful creatures. A real treasure of an experience.

Now you have been listening to me whining about the less than “Peru” quality food but last night I has a very simple but wonderfully delicious dinner. It was vegetarian spaghetti and I asked for raw chopped onions to top. They sautéed thinly sliced vegetables in a butter sauce which was perfectly seasoned. After Wayne finished his spaghetti with meat sauce he devoured my remaining pasta and said it was way bettered than his. An interesting side note, his meat sauce did not contain any tomatoes but they brought a squeeze container of ketchup and asked if he wanted mayonnaise. Odd I thought but when I asked if there was any Parmesan cheese she said yes and brought a freshly grated bowl to the table. We had a good chuckle and a really good meal.

This entry was posted on November 6, 2014. 1 Comment

Sunday at Tortuga Bay Beach

Sunday at Tortuga Bay Beach

After a not too tasty for me but great breakfast for Wayne we took off walking towards the Main Street heading out of town. When we came to the edge of town we veered off to the left on a side street till we came to a blocked off street where major street repair was obviously being done. Across the road looked like the makings of a soon to be attraction so we followed a rather shabby dirt path along side of the walled complex. A ways down the path we could see a paved street over to the left and an entrance to something sitting up on the hill with steps leading up. We continued on our parallel path which then turned towards the distant street and after a bit we arrived at the street. Leave it to Wayne to always find the scenic route. Walking up to the steps a sign announced Tortuga Bay which we had seen in our literature. Off to the beach we climbed. At the top was a gate house and each entrant had to register name and entry and exit time. The path was very nicely cobbled and little did we realize we would be walking another 2 and 1/2 kilometers to get to the beach. All in all, once we hiked up and down this path, the beach was really beautiful with lots of families enjoying the sand and sea. I had a great time looking at tide pools and watching the big orange rock crabs chase the big black rock crabs over and around the volcanic rocks jutting out of the water. We also saw a large iguana slide into the water from a rock a ways out in the water and then swim to shore. Quite an interesting sight to behold. We played for about 45 minutes and then headed out for the long trek back to a cold beer. Oh and did it ever taste good. I dare say that on this trip I have become quite the beer drinker as nothing quite quenches a big thirst on a really hot day like a cold, cold beer.

Last night we had gone on the quest for the homemade ice cream shop that Yogo had told us about and tonight we found the spot. The ice cream was really yummy and I had a carmel nut flavor and Wayne had a scoop of passion fruit and one of mango and they all were delicious and a nice final finish on a nice day.

Darwin Center

Sat and The Darwin Center. Darwin Center

I think we’re really getting into this laid back island life. Yogo had mentioned that Mom would be making a tamal for our breakfast and I was really looking forward to trying. Sat was the big market day and if we had been willing to be up and out at 5:00am we could have gone with Yolanda to the market. It sounded exciting but in the nick of time we opted for a pass. We both have had many market days and although always a fun experience we remembered this part of the trip is the laid back experience with no guilt.
We were up and ready for an 8:00am breakfast and Yolanda was right on time. The tamals were quite big and wrapped in banana leaves for a very nice presentation. We also had sliced watermelon and orange juice. I was anxious to see what the tamal was hiding inside the beautiful bright green leaf that had been steamed. I first encountered a nice exterior of masa dough that hid the shreds i
of chicken. I promptly removed the chicken to Wayne’s plate and tasted the masa. It was so richly flavorful so I’m guessing it was made with a good chicken stock. There also was a side of salsa that was the color of chipotle sauce but had a totally different taste that was very interesting with lots of shards of veges and tasted so yummy with just the right amount of heat. It was the perfect accompaniment to the masa and I ate every drop. Perfect meal.

Off we trekked up the road to explore the Darwin Center. The main focus for viewing is the tortoise breeding exhibits where they have collected just hatched babies from all the islands and brought them to the center to be raised and then rereleased back into their native habitat. They were so adorable and after the nursery we visited the juveniles who were in native habitat and learning to climb and survive. We knew that the most famous tortoise of all “Lonesome George” had passed a couple of years ago leaving his two ladies without a “boy toy”. Well it seems that the San Diego zoo had a male, “Diego”, of the exact same species which they have loaned to The Darwin Center. As the story was told to us, Lonesome George was not exactly a “frisky” male but Diego got right down to business and in a very short amount of time there were babies every where. Diego turned out to be quite the stud and just what this species needed to continue on.
There were quite a few natural habitats each containing a few of each of the species. There are noticeable differences in the size and shape of the shell. At this center they also have a breeding program for the iguanas which are quite endangered due to dogs, cats etc and goats which eat their natural food. Very interesting and informative center.

We sat down with Yogo and he is helping us plan a trip off island for Mon or Tues and also on one of those days we will go up island and see the tortoise out in the wild and up close and personal.

Another beautiful sunset and we opted for happy hour mojitos to accompany the dazzling view. I must interject here that I am not fond of mojitos as they usually are too sweet and too minty for me but Wayne said a mojito sounded good and it was “two for one” so I said OK, sounds good. What a delightful surprise to take a sip and have the refreshing flavor of cold lime juice hit my mouth with a delightful underlying hint of mint and just the essence of sweet to take away the citrus bite but yet not cover the tanginess of the refreshing flavor. A huge “Que Yummo” to that mojito!!

It was Sat night and the food vendors were out so Wayne bought a bag of popcorn which is always a special treat for me.

Tomorrow is what had gotten to be known as “Maleria meds Sunday”. We started the weekly pill two weeks before we went into the jungle in Peru and will need to continue the weekly process for four weeks after we leave the Amazon on our Ecuador trek. Knock on wood, so far no side effects!!!!!

Halloween on Galapagos

Halloween on The Galapagos
Ahhh our first full day in The Galapagos.
We popped out of bed super early and took off on a walk towards the Darwin Center being mindful we had ordered a 7:30 breakfast from Yolanda. The sun was out in full force even at this early hour but a beautiful soft ocean breeze would caress our faces just when we needed it. We had the road almost to ourselves on the way out but once we headed back a flood of workers were heading into the park. We both are anxious to explore this area in depth tomorrow.
Breakfast was brought to our room shortly after we arrived and we both were so hungry and so appreciative of the food. We had perfectly seasoned scrambled eggs, multi grain toast with sides of butter and jam, sliced banana and apple and a delicious unidentifiable juice. We have a coffee pot so bottomless coffee accompanied this great meal.
After resting a bit we took off to explore Puerto Ayora.
I feel so fortunate that Wayne likes to explore supermarkets like I do and we found a fairly good size one (not by our standards) and headed in to investigate the shelves and maybe find a worthy snack for later. Yogo had told us about the bread resembling human bodies that they make for Dia de Muertes (day of the dead) which is tomorrow and celebrates all those that have passed before us. Wayne spotted the bread bodies and called me over. Just to be with the local tradition I chose a sweet bread version which when later sampled tasted like Portuguese sweet bread or Hawaiian sweet bread. We also found my traditional travel treat of Japanese peanuts along with a bag of potato chips, just in case.

Since there was the big school parade last night we were looking forward to our first Halloween on the Galapagos. Well as the sun was getting ready to set over the water and evening was upon us here came all the little (and some not so little) trick or treaters and we later saw them scoring sweet treats from the shop owners. For now we were at the dick and there was an adorable little bumble bee toddler that was stealing the show. She was just a natural little ham and quite a few tourists couldn’t resist photographing her managing an ice cream cone and trying to navigate a seat on beams along the railing. She persisted with this feat over and over and we all were in hysterics as she would miss the beam and land between two of them. Up she would pop and try again. What a precious delight.

As we navigated home we passed a haunted house that the kids were all going in next to our new favorite ice cream place on the corner where we go home. Great evening!!!!!