Hola de Ecuador

Trip Start Apr 30, 2008
Trip End Apr 17, 2009

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Flag of Ecuador  ,
Monday, June 23, 2008

Quito was our planning base for our trips to the Amazonian jungle and the Galapagos islands. Quito is a really nice city with a remarkably large middle class. The TV show ¨Amazing Race¨ does a good job illustrating the efforts and logistics involved in moving to the next leg of the race. However, more realistic ¨roadblocks¨ would be to have the contestants find contact lens solution (what would the bottle say in Spanish if you didn´t have to rinse the lenses with a separate solution????) and a spare battery for your digital camera. We actually saw a pretty good bit of the city following the clues given to us by various locals. We also took a side trip to Mital del Mundo to see the official monument on the equator. After walking around that place, Candy and I will never be able to resolve who has crossed the equator more times. :)

Our trip to the jungle was very eventful. We first took a 10 hour bus over the Andes to get to an oil town called Coca. Ray will talk more about the oil industry in his Investment Hikers blog. After spending the night in Coca, we met our group the next morning to travel to the lodge. The group wasn´t very organized. Ray believes that even with his limited Spanish and complete unfamiliarity with the city, he could have provisioned the trip faster. Because of the delays picking up all of the cooking ingredients (ingredient by ingredient at different stores), gasoline, etc. (took about 5 hours with all of us in the vehicle with the tour organizers), the following 3 hour bus trip to the river had us on the water fairly late. So, the 4 hour canoe trip ended up taking over 5 as we traveled some of the river in the dark. Oh, and it rained (poured) the last two hours. And then we ran aground on a submerged tree.  Part of this story we just need to tell in person, including when the organizers asked us all to stand up in the canoe and go to the front to try to tip the canoe over the fallen tree as they stood on part of the tree in the water in the downpour of rain pushing the canoe over the obstacle. Then the motor on the canoe flooded when the driver changed gas tanks. After getting to the lodge, we slept well that night under our bug net!

Our lodge was located in a national park inhabited by the Wourani people. One portion of the tribe joined civilization. The other has chosen to reject it. At our orientation we were told that our probability of encountering the Wourani that were still nomadic was low. They hadn´t killed a missionary since 1987. However, they had killed an illegal logger in March. We were told they could distinguish tourists and were accepting of our lodge.

At the lodge, we took a couple of jungle walks each day. The highlight for Ray was seeing a colony of leaf cutter ants. The ants don´t eat the leaves. They feed the leaves to a fungus and then the ants eat the fungus. The highlight for Candy was the giant, bright blue butterflies. We also saw lots of birds, caymans (small alligators), and a few monkeys. We tried fishing for Piranha. Lots of bites; no one caught any, though. It´s been many years since Ray had seen one of the old Tarzan movies, but the river seemed a lot like the river scenes in the movies.

We weren´t dreading the trip out of the jungle as much as we planned to fly from Coca to Quito to catch our Galapagos flights. Still, the canoe and bus ride to Coca was again butt-numbing (They say things grow fast at the equator. Well, Ecuador grows the largest gravel we´ve ever had the pleasure of driving on). The canoe ride back did have some highlights (beyond the lack of rain)-we´ve now seen what we hope is the largest cutting instrument we´ll see on public transportation. Quite simply, we saw lots of things you should never see in a canoe. We also stopped at one of the Wourani villages that chose to join civilization.

We both had a chance to try to use a blow gun. Candy´s photo of Ray´s attempt brings us to the first contest of our travel blog.

Identify (and email us) as many phallic references in the photo as you can. A winner will be announced in our Argentina entry. We´re sure that we can find a suitable prize for the winner in the course of our travels.

After our return from the jungle, we flew to the Galapagos islands. We had booked a 4 day cruise for part of our stay. However, our first few days we would be on our own. We decided to try to catch the last boat of the day to Isabella, one of the westernmost islands that is not typically visited on any of the cruises. This boat trip involved almost 3 hours of seasickness over the stearn for Candy. Ray suffered the effects in a more indirect manner. He was extremely tired after the ride and slept 22 of the next 24 hours. We both have been reading Darwin´s ¨The Voyage of the Beagle¨and ¨The Origin of Species¨ during the trip so Candy´s 3 hours and Ray´s 1 day of seasickness did not seem so bad compared to Darwin´s five years of seasickness.  The island was worth it.

After we recovered, we took horses to the top of a volcano. This volcano has the second largest caldera in the world. We then hiked down the other side of the volcano to a lava field. The differences were amazing. Around the peak, there were ferns and other plants suitable to a wet environment. A few hundred yards down the side, and it was a desert with amazing cacti. On our cruise we found out that another volcano on Isabella had recently erupted. The park service used helicopters to rescue giant tortoises from faster moving lava. Thankfully, we missed this eruption because we certainly wouldn´t want to get anywhere near an active volcano :) 

The horses weren´t the best. The guide later told Ray he thought that Ray was Mongolian from his mustache, so he gave him the alpha horse. Ray´s horse had to be in the lead and kicked any horse that crowded him. Ray´s horse was particularly out for Candy´s horse, who liked to bite other horses. Candy has agreed that as long as Ray continues to eat animals on the trip, he doesn´t have to ride them.

After we returned from the volcano, we hired a guide to take us by boat to a series of small islands to see penguins, sea lions, etc. Boy did we. While we snorkeled, sea lions, penguins, and pelicans were all feeding around us. It appears they were using us as decoys to corral the schools of bait fish when they were circling and playing with us. One sea lion jumped over Ray.  Being underwater with the swimming penguins was amazing, it felt like we were in an entirely different world. We have video to share, just need more bandwidth!!! 

Our 4 day cruise around the northern islands was on a 16 passenger clipper ship with lots of cool people (a lot of other couples our age backpacking around the world and a couple that lived in Warsaw during WWII). Veterans of the cruise warned us of seasickness, so the group was extremely somber the first night before the boat left port. No problems, though. We got to see giant tortoises (in the wild and in captivity for breeding purposes), marine iguanas (the only swimming/fishing reptile), sea turtles, frigate birds (with giant red pouches on the males), and the famous blue-footed boobies (which dive-bomb the sea from 100 ft+). We snorkeled twice each day. The highlights were seeing a giant manta ray (bigger than a vehicle), an octopus, and a 4-pronged bright lavender star fish.

After a day in Quito to do laundry and get our land legs, we were off to Argentina. Tune in next time to hear about our return to a winter climate (Brrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!), attending a futbol game, Iguazu falls, and beef, beef, beef...

Candy and Ray
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