Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Monday, September 10, 2018

Ecuador

We left Colombia


It’s the last of the Caribbean bordering countries. That means rum quality is going to drop. I sip rum, but Elsie guzzles diesel. However, when the diesel costs just $1.03 per gallon, I can afford to buy the imported rum. And yes, the currency is US greenbacks. Fuel costs alone would have made Ecuador a dream but add in perfect roads, and you’ve got one very happy man driving a 6 ton diesel chugging truck. Not to mention - It was the easiest border crossing I ever made and it was absolutely free.
Aleja at anchor

The Drive To Tena

We stopped on the side of the road to buy some Guamas (you are a fool not to eat these every chance you get)
Guamas
and the lady who sold them to us swore she had some petroglyphs on her family’s property and for the low low price of just $1.50 each, she would have her kids walk us into the bush and show us.
Tracing the ancient lines
The zero traction mudboots were included and my constant slipping and falling was a comedic delight to everyone. The kids crushed up Achote fruit, mixed it with water and traced the depressions in the rock with toothbrushes to reveal the ancient carvings. How old were they? 1000 years? That land has been in their family for as long as they can trace it. Odds are it was their ancestors who made the carvings. It was weird and wonderful and felt genuine. Those non-canned brass ring experiences are rare and memorable.

Misahualli

We chartered a little boat to motor us up river to see how the deep jungle natives live in their authentic villages. When they heard the outboard motor approaching they changed out of their modern clothes and dressed in the non-sense grass skirts and coconut bras that tourists drool over. Falling so closely on the heels of such an over the top experience we had the day before this fake charade left us empty.

Life In The Andes

The color of my coffee changes with my altitude. When I’m at elevation I don’t add milk because I want it to stay hot. When I’m at sea level I add a lot because I want to cool it down. I drank it black in Quilatoa and white in Montanita.

Poverty: Where All Your Dreams Are On Layaway

Cold, wet, poor and hungry: I think that’s the definition of sheer misery. We saw lots of that driving through Ecuador and it wasn’t just the dogs. Hope dies last but without any way to improve your lot in life it’s got to be a cruel existence to be that destitute at such a high altitude.
In the USA there’s really only 2 ways to deal with the ghetto: joining a gang or the military, and either way you’re gonna end up shooting somebody. Whites have one more option; they can join the rodeo, but those poor bastards end up living only half as long as the gunslingers. Do I feel lucky every day? Yes; a lot more than a little.


Quilotoa
There are locations on the planet that are inherently more dramatic than others. Consider the caldera of an extinct volcano at 12,800 feet (3,914 meters) above sea level which has been converted over the millennia into a lake.
Quilotoa
We hiked to the bottom, rented a double kayak, paddled across and back, and then hiked out. That ranked about as strenuous as high school wrestling practice with the Kates brothers.

Upon leaving Quilotoa I noticed a transmission leak. 8 words you’ll never hear in Latin America: “Sorry, you can’t work on your car here.” They work on their vehicles everywhere and it’s immediately accepted.
My drooling transmission
It’s as common place as urinating in public. Pink fluid drooled from a crack that I couldn’t get my freezing fingers anywhere near. The whole town is a remote mudbog. I deemed it not to be a safe bet to start dismantling radiators etc. I made the decision to race the leak to Quito. I cornered the market on automatic transmission fluid in the surrounding area and set off with funnel in hand. We made it.

Mark Sessions


Mark bought this woman flowers
My old buddy flew down to travel with us for a few weeks and I immediately put him to work fixing my leak. We’d spoken before he left The States and he arrived with the needed parts. Mark Sessions – my dear friend and non-stop champion. This guy once drove to a diesel specialist service center, slapped $100 down on the counter, handed the tech his phone and said, “This is my buddy Bobby. He’s stuck in South America and needs your help. Please walk him through what to do.” Pit crew from heaven.

Quito
Parked on a basketball court in a military compound

What to say, what to say…I’m luke warm on Quito. I suppose it’s another huge dirty 3rd world Latin American capital. But it does have some charms. Try to avoid this formula: Quito+public transport+rush hour=nightmare

Cotopaxi

We actually went here 3 times and really enjoyed it all. Why? So much of an experience is dependent on the specifics.

The family that runs it (warm and friendly), the backpackers we met (fun and Irish, which is pretty much redundant), the food, the llama, and then there was biking down the mountain at breakneck speeds. It was also the first encounter Alejandra ever had with snow.

The Quaint Villages of Ecuador

The natives are beautifully dressed and somewhere between 4 to 5 feet of height. You have to be sneaky when taking their picture. The Lowland Natives are sunburned and the Cloud Natives are wind-burned.

The other natives are horrible: Those Alpacas spit with incredible speed, range and accuracy. And then there’s the stink. . . I feel like we took the native market tour of Ecuador. Otavalo, San Peguche, Saraguro.

Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Q: “After a Latin puts a roof over their head, what is the next concern?”
A: “A soccer field.”
All the little mountain towns have graded flat spots so the kids can play soccer. It’s that important.

Tourist Trap Photo Op

It’s easy to subscribe to the gringo trail of Instagram pix. Line up, wait till the previous phony snaps their selfie, move into position, snap yours, step out of the way, let the next sham artist step into frame, and no one back home is any wiser. We’ve seen a lot of fantastic vistas but this place is completely packaged.
Nicknack Tourist Crap

Combo restaurant shoe store. Shoes make great ladles


Montanita

We came down out of the Andes and meandered our way to the coast. Surf. Sun. Fun. Ecuador is a winner due to its dramatic geographical & climatic inventory in such close proximity to each other.

Cuenca
Founded in 1557 and resting at 8,200 feet of elevation, present day Cuenca is wonderful and waiting for your visit. Ancient Cuenca might be even more interesting. There is reason to believe it may be the most likely candidate for the fable of El Dorado – the lost city of gold that the Spanish so feverishly sought, but never found. It was originally built and inhabited by the Canari people around 500AD. The Inca defeated them in 1470 and built Pumapungo, a city to rival Cusco in Peru (and trust me, that is saying a lot!).  However, it was demolished by the time the Spanish arrived with only tales of its golden magnificence left to tantalize.
It's thought that when certain stars shined in the water
 in the rock holes that it was time to plant

We loved our time there and even rented an apartment to enjoy the city from a different perspective. The only downside was the horrendous air quality that has been tragically degraded by the city buses. We literally took to wearing face masks.


Our friend and tour guide in Cuenca: Philip

Menu of the Day

While elbow to elbow with strangers packed into a restaurant, the waitress asked a question, and the answer was “Poquito.” I started singing to the tune of the hit single Despacito; “Poquito Poquito“. And the mother of 2 sitting next to me immediately began dancing in her seat, caught herself, and everyone including her teenage daughters laughed out loud. Latins can’t control their urge to dance and the slightest spark can ignite a fire. I always thought “quick to laugh” was a reason to admire a culture, but maybe “quick to dance” should be included in the list.

A Quick Aleja Story

One time we were parked next to a plaza with a lot of horrible construction noise and I ask Alejandra, “What is that one awful noise? Do you hear it?” and she moved closer to the window and she looked, and she listened, and she carefully said, "Ah yes, it's a macheen"

“Oh really? Thanks. Thanks a million. I thought it was a volcano, or a very looong explosion, but now I can rest easy knowing..... It's a macheen”. If only I could package her brand of cute. Sometimes it’s the things you see, and sometimes it’s the people you see them with, and when they both align – oh happy days.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby