Monday, November 10, 2008

Welcome back from the Jungle

We are back in Quito after three nights in the Kapawi Lodge in the jungle near the Peruvian border. Sorry I didn't get to blog before we left on Friday but there was mucho competition for the internets. The jungle was amazing. We took many hikes and canoe trips, watched the sun set, saw crazy creepy bugs, monkeys, river dolphins, turtles and one prehistoric looking catfish, visited a local family and rode in an unbelievably small plane.
Tonight we are taking it easy in Quito - probably getting dinner in one of the great restaurants we found in the neighborhood last week. We fly out around 11am and arrive in Portland close to Midnight. I just heard my cat has been expressing her displeasure at my absence in ways I won't mention. I am going to have some major groveling to do tomorrow night.




Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ecuadorian Food!


I haven't made a food post in a while and yesterday we had a lunch well worthy of the honor. We walked outside the confines of the resort to a cluster of rustic looking restaurants. It was lucky I had my Spanish/English phrasebook on me with the little section of food translations or we might have ordered the Hoof Soup. Instead, we each got the pan-fried trout which came with the most amazing sauce that was still bubbly from being mixed fresh in the kitchen. The entire place was run by one small woman probably in her mid to late 60s who ran back and forth from taking orders to cooking to serving to taking money, sometimes getting (her husband?) up from his hoof soup to help her deliver plates that were stacked up the length of both of her arms.

The trout was incredible!


We are going back there today before our ride back to Quito.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Soaking, Hiking and Politics

Yesterday after our nap we had a good soak in the pool as the sun went down





Then we gained access to the giant flat screen remotes and watched the election results come in.




Later we got hungry and when Dag ventured out to see if we could get some food by our TV he discovered that they were also watching the election in the bar! We didn't even have to interrupt any Futbol games to tune in - it seemed that everyone was interested. We were the only Americans present but not the only ones rooting for Obama.

Today after breakfast we took a short hike behind the resort



After an afternoon soak, we plan to take a quick walk to some restaurants we saw on the way up for some more authentic cuisine. Nothing against the restaurant here, but it's tailored for the tourist taste.
My sunburn has calmed down enough that I may even get a massage later.
I love vacation!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Papallacta Hot Springs

We have landed at Termas de Papallacta, eaten lunch and are about to hop in the hot springs right outside the window of our cabin



After being in the Galapagos Islands (at sea level), we traveled back to Quito at 9000ft and staggered around breathless on our sea legs. Now we are at 11000ft and walking even a short distance has us both panting for air. I don't really know how much hiking we'll be doing except outside to the pools and back. That's OK. We've had a busy few days and a rest is much appreciated. The resort is gorgeous with lots of glasswork, high ceilings, slate tile flooring and plenty of nooks with fireplaces . The cabins are made to look like straw huts all lined up along wooden slatted pathways. We appear to be two of the only guests here. Peaceful!

Monday, November 03, 2008

Galapagos

We are back from the Galapagos and just as you may have heard, it is amazing. Adjectives really don't do it justice. Here are some photos instead.




Later: I have uploaded my first video to YouTube and it is of this Iguana!





As you can see, animals in Galapagos don't know that humans are sucky and have absolutely no fear of us. In fact, many of them are curious and will walk, shuffle or swim right up to you for a closer look. It's like one big communal zoo where we are being looked at just as much as looking.

Now we are both trying to lose our sea legs.

In a couple of hours we are being picked up by Alfredo to go to Papallacta Hot Springs. Hopefully my half-healed sunburn will allow me to enjoy the pools.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Trams & Museums

Today we had planned to go with our guide from yesterday, Alfredo, up to the Equator line. When he arrived to pick us up he had some bad news: The residents in the area around the monument were striking due to the poor condition of the roads that they felt it was time the government did something about. The good news was that we found out before having driven past the point of the strike and did not get stuck up there like many others. Instead he gave us a lift to the tram that takes you up to 4100m where you can hike another three hours or just enjoy the views from there, which is pretty much what we did. Dag had to hike up a big hill which I sat out because my lungs weren't so much cooperating.






Afterwards we took a taxi to the Parque de Carolina to visit the botanical gardens. The driver was intent on giving Dag a Spanish lesson the entire drive there, which was probably about 30 minutes due to some pretty impressive traffic. Dag understands so much - it's really impressive! I, on the other hand, have a small arsenal of vocabulary words that can help me get by without ever actually making a sentence. But if someone tries to talk to me, forget it.

The botanical gardens were extensive and very nice




We also visited the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales where they had some Really Big creepy crawlies, which I have a sort of horrified obsession with. For scale, please note the reflection of my thighs in the glass.


It would be OK with me if I did not see one of these when we are in the Jungle next week.

Last we visited the Vivarium, which was like a little snake, turtle and frog zoo. They also had one iguana. It was really really cool but I didn't feel like I could take any photos. Just imagine some really big scary snakes. Also not the kind I need to meet in person.

We met with our GAP representative and the one other girl who made it to the welcome meeting out of the 13 in our group. We got the rundown of the next 5 days we will be traveling to and spending time in the Galapagos Islands. No internets there so don't be alarmed if you don't see anything from me until next Monday when we'll be spending one night in this hotel again before proceeding to the Papallacta Hot Springs resort. We are being picked up at 7am tomorrow so I believe it will be an early night!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Cotopaxi Volcano

Today we hired a guide to take us to the Cotopaxi National Park. Our jovial guide filled the two hour ride with lots of interesting facts about Ecuador and the sights we passed by on our journey South. Due to yesterday's heavy rain, we were not able to drive to the ususal 4000+m elevation as the road was washed out. So we hiked around a lagoon around 3000+m and boy could I feel the difference in my lung capacity. Especially after lunch when the car battery died and we got out to push! I am a girl and all, but when something needs done (and in my opinion this needed doing!), I am able to accomplish quite a bit, physically. But after just a little pushing, my lungs and legs would not support my efforts for one more moment. It was fruitless anyway. The engine would not pop into 2nd. So we flagged down a guy who towed us to the top of a small hill. Here is Dag helping to push

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This also did not work. So our guide walked off far enough to get a signal on his phone and called a friend to come get us. While we waited, we pushed the car up another small hill and then rolled all the way down to the tourist center where another friend of our guide brought out a battery charger and got us up and running. I don't have a ton of great photos to post as it was pretty cloudy and we didn't get to see too much of the Cotopaxi itself, but it was a fun day, car trouble and all.


Later: OK, when I said I didn{t have anything in the way of photos, what I really meant was "There is a line behind me for the internets and I feel guilty!" so now I have some time and I will show you that I did indeed get some rather nice photos from Cotopaxi National park!

Dag at the tourist center back in happier times when the car was still working


Walking around the Lagoon

Our guide leading us towards the bricks and logs bridge he expected us to walk across (we did)
Half sun half clouds and a broken down 4WD
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The most we ever saw of Cotopaxi Volcano

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A cute bug on some grass!


Tomorrow we are taking a much shorter trip to the surely cheesy Equator museum.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Old Town

Today we slept in til 9 then walked to the GAP office to book a couple of tours for the next few days. We took a taxi to the old town for breakfast.




There are one million people suddenly waiting to use the internets so I'll just post some photos from the day and tell you what they're about later. While they´re uploading, I will say that the weather is beautiful in the morning and then turns torrentially rainy in the afternoon. We weren't expecting any nice weather so it's been a great surprise.

Later: internets secured and details will now be yours!

After breakfast, which was a bit dull (except for the papaya juice which was very exciting) but only one dollar and fifty cents (!!!), we headed back to plaza grande where the president was making a big appearance on the balcony. If you click to make the photo larger, I believe you will see him - he's the guy in the yellow tie next to the woman I'm assuming is his wife with the children I'm assuming are his offspring.



We walked around checking out some beautiful churches and then had some ice cream at a place that has been around for over 150 years. We couldn't understand the menu so got some surprise flavors - all good!



As we were cooling off with the ice cream, the weather outside was cooling off rapidly as well. We climbed the hill to the most amazing church of all, and it started sprinkling. By the time we got there and were getting some shots outside, the drops became gigantic and the thunder & lightening combo convinced us it was time to proceed inside the building.



It was breathtaking inside and we were the only ones there. We climbed higher and higher towards the clocks and my lungs nearly collapsed. The elevation here is much higher than I'm used to so I find myself winded a lot of the time. This is supposed to go away after a couple of days.


After we'd spent as much time as possible inside the protection of the church, the rain had died down enough that we felt we could brave an attempt to hail a cab. As one would imagine in a rainstorm, they were mostly taken. Turns out my waterproof jacket isn't really so much!
After a nap, we headed to a restaurant we've passed a few times: Araba
There's a lot to be said for setting aside the guidebook once in a while and just following your instincts. This was definitely the best food I've had since we arrived.




Tomorrrow we've booked an all day trip to the Cotopaxi volcano. I'm sure my lungs will be cooperative by then. Right?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Oh My God

When we arrived at PDX and were waiting in line to checkin with Delta, a floater employee came by. I showed her my itinerary and she said "Oh. My. God.". Not what you want to hear at a Dr´s office or an airport. She sent us through another line to see an agent who told us that Oh My God meant that they stopped running the flight we were booked on months ago. The agent looked at my itenerary and shook her head and muttered "Orbitz..." under her breath. We waited dejectedly while I wondered over and over to myself why I had not confirmed the flights. I always confirm the flights! GAH! Well, after 15 minutes of dead silence except for the tikka-tikka-tikka of her keyboard, she informed us we'd be headed to LAX through Salt Lake City. Groan! But really, that was so much better than her saying "Sorry! Good luck! Bye now!"
Once in LA, we spent the afternoon with some friends eating sushi and playing board games with their ridiculously engaging son.
Our checkin at LAX was seamless but when we arrived in Colombia we were informed that due to weather we could not land in Bogota, which was to be just a quick stopover before the same plane continuted on to Quito. So we landed in Cali instead. Judging from the crowd that gathered outside the airport fence to check us out, I got the feeling that Cali doesn't see a lot of full size jets.















So after a short wait (well, it seemed short to me because I was asleep - I'm not really sure how long we were there), we took off again and this time successfully landed in Bogota.
By noon we were safely at our hotel in Quito having a coffee and some ceviche and exciting salty table munchies in the restaurant.















Afterwards we found a mini-mart down the street and got a gallon of water, a bottle of wine and took a short walk around the area to orient ourselves. I am super excited about the variety of restaurants to try. But for today, the plan is to lay low and rest up. Dag is napping and I have developed a Monster Travel Migraine so I will join him momentarily.

We will be here for the next three nights and on Thursday leave for the Galapagos Islands. Tomorrow we will most likely walk around the Old Town area where all the beautiful churches and local culture can be found, unlike the Mariscal where our hotel is, otherwise known as Gringolandia! Tuesday I believe we will find our way to the monument at the Equator.

So far everyone here seems very friendly and helpful. We have not been approached by anyone trying to sell us anything except the chiclet lady weaving amongst traffic at the stoplight.

And now, it is naptime.

Arrived safely!

That is all I have to say for the moment. We are checked in to the hotel, sufficiently caffienated and off in search of a grocery store. We are planning to take it easy after a long long day of travel. More blogging soon!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ecuador

Tomorrow morning Dag and I are headed to Ecuador for 2.5 weeks! We will spend time in Quito, cruise the Galapagos Islands, lounge at a hot springs spa and visit an eco-lodge in the jungle.

Last night I tried out the underwater housing for my camera that Dag got me for my birthday and it worked great!
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Sink test
Underwater frog

I don't expect to be near a computer much except when we're in Quito, which is conveniently spread out between all the other activities. I will try to post as often as those opportunities arise.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Germany

I was in Germany for a business trip a week ago. After the meetings had ended, I planned to collapse in my hotel room but some of the other people I knew there suggested I come to Bamberg with them. It would just be a short train ride from a neighboring town and they were leaving at 6. Well, my meetings were over a few hours earlier and I got an offer from a local friend for a ride to the train station so I took it. Not really knowing anything about the town when I arrived, I just started walking. It is a town laid out for tourists, but German tourists. So there were signs at almost every street corner pointing out the way to...something. I just followed them and eventually ended up at a tourist center (that sign was in English!) and picked up a street map, which is hilarious because I'm terrible at reading maps and I didn't even know where I wanted to go anyway. It did serve to inform me that a bunch of STUFF represented by red squares and blobs was in the very near vicinity:

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From there I began to vaguely follow other tourists, who I assumed had done a little bit of research. At least, I figured, they must have done more than me. Soon I could make out distinctly on the horizon what we were all headed toward:

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Rewards were soon enjoyed:

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After I felt I'd seen as much as I'd be able to before eating something and my feet falling off, I made contact with the other girls, who had arrived some time before and were downtown. No problem, I thought. Just backtrack. What I ended up doing instead was going around not in circles, but in tight little loops so that I was passing the same buildings over and over again, but never from the same direction! I have never been that lost in such a small area ever before in my life. Well, except in Washington Square that one time when my sister and I were kids. She was only 5 at the time yet instinctively knew which way to go (or maybe it was just a good guess because from driving around with her today I think that may have been the last time in her life) but I, being the big sister, was sure it was the other way and we ended up having to get mall security to page our parents. Back to Bamberg, I kept seeing these Tapa restaurants all over the place like Starbucks before realizing that it was the same damn restaurant every time and after happening upon it from so many different angles, I didn't know which way was backtracking anymore. I thought at one point I'd have to call Dag and tell him that if he wanted to continue being my boyfriend, he'd probably have to fly to Bamberg and find me. See, normally when we travel he reads the maps and I follow blindly. Here, there was a crucial component missing! Finally, I encountered a body of water down a dead end street and knew that I had to get back to the main street and turn RIGHT. There was that Tapas place again, but around the corner was the tourist center looking so beautiful in that moment! Having survived my own personal Blair Witch Project I was able to relax and take some more photos:
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Finally putting my street map to good use, I met up with the girls (one of them local to Bamberg) who had just finished dinner and started on their sightseeing. So back into the eddy we went, although this time with a guide. We ended up at a giant outdoor beer garden where I got a giant plate of cheese:

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I'm not sure how one is supposed to eat all that cheese...well...at all. But if one were to eat all that cheese I'm not sure how they would do so using only two slices of rye bread and two pretzel sticks. I made good use of the pickle and did my best.