Thursday, March 21, 2019

Scenery From The Sierra Of Ecuador

I didn't take the Canon with me on this work trip.  Too cumbersome for all the things I had to carry with me on the plane without having to check bags.  I like to travel light and who would know based on my wardrobe.  If it doesn't fit in one carry on it's not going.   My Samsung cellphone has sung its last ring tones.  The protective lens cover on the camera eye has become clouded and it is on the inside and could probably be replaced but I need something newer and about the same pocket size.

On this trip we traveled the interior of Ecuador.  

As I have said many times, the Ecuadorian infrastructure is one of the best I have seen in all of the Americas including Canada and the United States.   They updated all of their interstate highway systems eight years ago and it shows. 

Along the routes through the "sierra" there are numerous volcanos and we reached heights on the road up to 3600 meters although the volcano tips reach up to 20,000 feet or more, Chimborazo and Cotopaxi. 

Apart from grain production cattle and dairy products are high on the lists.  You see many areas where cows have adapted to the steep hillsides, having two shorter legs on one side than the other.  Just checking to see if you're reading or just looking at the pictures.

National parks and camping areas abound in the mountains and I feel comfortable to say that boondocking just about anywhere is not only safe but trouble free.  When we think about harassment in boondocking we think about police and transito.  People travel freely in Ecuador, there is no concern about "hey, look out, there's a transito", or that you may have foreign plates.   

I've mentioned before that we would love to rv here.   I find that the issue of security is pretty much like anywhere else although crime is very low in Ecuador.  I know that a foreigner recently was robbed of all of her personal belongings but that could happen anywhere.  Human beings have a tendency to be bad people always wanting what everyone else has.

The only issue in rving in Ecuador is the following.  Even though fuel is extremely inexpensive, diesel $1.05 a gallon and regular gasoline $1.85 a gallon, the cost of a vehicle is exorbitant.  A good used van sells for $15, 000 U.S.  A new Chevrolet SUV is $107,000 U.S.  So buying a used van to outfit it for camping would be risky in the resell and you would want to stay for a very extended period.

I haven't checked yet, but a container to the most northern port of the Esmeraldas would require booking a ship that goes through the Panama Canal.  I'm still not sure I would want to travel through Colombia and Peru only for the simple fact that Ecuador is so user-friendly and would make travel through the country and on to Chile to the tip of South America very easy.

So many good things coming up.  This weekend I will post about Cuenca, Ecuador's version of San Miguel de Allende.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Day Trip In Quito

It was a long week working in Quito.  It was non-stop.  I arrived last Saturday after a 12-hour journey from Monterrey to Panama to Quito.  I woke up at 2 a.m., had some coffee, showered and headed for the airport.  The flight left at 5:30 sharp to Panama and was uneventful.  After breakfast, they shut everything down and people went to sleep.  Arriving in Panama I had a five-hour layover.  It's all duty-free shopping but I don't shop.  Thirty minutes of walking around and that was enough.  I found a place for lunch and then read a book, Nurture Shock.  

Off we went to Quito where the driver was waiting with my name on a sign.  I slept for an hour and then ordered room service, a hot bowl of locro, a cream of potato soup with chunks of cheese, avocado and butter.  Sunday I was whacked out all day.  I had a couple of calls, one of which was my brother from Hawaii.  We talked for over an hour and a half.  

During the week we worked in Quito, Riobamba, Ambato, and Ibarra, all of which were between 2.5 to 3.5 hours away.  

As I've said before, you will love Ecuador.  A clean country, wonderful people, mountains, beaches, and volcanos.   The highways are of high quality and if there are tolls they are only $1, and the poverty level is less than half of Mexico at 21%.  The minimum wage is $380 U.S. and the U.S. dollar is their currency.  Food and supermarkets are very reasonable with small local restaurants and eateries from $2.85 on up.  Today I flew to Cuenca (World Heritage Site similar to SMA) and the same, lots of restaurants with full meals for under $5.  Their socialist driven president is in exile in Paris and the vice president is in prison.  They were headed down the road of Venezuela and the people stopped it.

Yesterday, I was free to head out and that I did.   My goal was to visit the Museo de Carmen Alto which is a working convent dating back to 1610.  All original and the sisters practice self-flagellation and are without shoes some of the time.  They live on one side of the convent a come out after the museum closes and use all the parts of the convent just as before.  It is truly amazing but you're not allowed to take pictures.  These are from the internet.

The central patio of the convent.

The halls are covered with original murals.

This is the library and it is filled with original texts dating back over 300 years.  They are available in digital form and are still read by the Carmelites.   Truly fascinating history.

In this room there are two rows of chairs back to back where the hierarchy of the order meet to discuss business.  There are niches around the walls that are the same as over 350 years ago.  The sisters still hold meetings here.

I had a private guide, no charge for the hour tour.  She was truly well-versed and was able to easily answer any questions I had.  The tour was in Spanish.   I want to go back and do it all over again after reading up on it.   Just too much to digest in such a short period.  The murals and painting are of religious origin but also reflect the history of Quito and Ecuador over the centuries.  

I hope tomorrow I can post about an amazing climb I made in the city of Quito.  Also, our trips in the countryside were incredible, very green, volcanos, national parks and lots of camping areas in altitudes over 9,000 feet although there were climbs to 12,000 ft.  

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Oh The Mysteries Of Life - Traveling to South America

I have a long layover here in Panama, about five hours.   I wondered the giant duty-free malls they have in the airport but that only lasted half an hour.   I'm not a shopper.  

Food is very expensive here at the airport and although I have been here more times than I can count over the last 25 years, I never knew there was a food court upstairs.   Who even knew there was an upstairs?  I happened to walk right into aa aluminated advertisement and it said Carl's Jr.  Where?   I kept watching the ad and it said it was on level 300.  There are no signs for any food court, level 300, or an upstairs.   I found it though.   I was better off not eating anything until my flight leaves at 3:30 p.m.

Another mystery.  There are masses of human beings wandering around the airport waiting for flights and shopping.   I think in all of the Americas we drive on the right.  You'd never know that here.   People walking in all directions even diagonally.   What a mess but it seems to work.  When someone stops in front of me to talk, I just stand in the conversation until the turn and look at me.  I get the strangest looks but it's fun when I ask them if I can pass.

I will be in Ecuador until the 20th of the month and then head home and plan our Spring break trip which looks like it might be West Texas.   

Only three hours to go!  Tomorrow is a rest day and I have found two museums I'd like to visit. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Mazatlan Weekend February 22 2019

Before I start, the weather here at home is traditional in the fact that if follows the Mexican saying, "Febrero loco, Marzo un poco".   Crazy weather in February and a little bit in March. Sunday was 39C and Sunday night was 5C.  It has been cold and rainy this week.  

And for those that are movie buffs, thinking about Little Bit the movie, "Come Back Little Sheba" has been on my mind.  Shirley Booth, as she stands at the screen door looking out, says to Burt Lancaster, "she's not comin' back, is she doc?".    I feel lower than the rent on a burning building.   But that's another story you can ask me about one day, I used to live in one.  

We wanted to go to Las Vegas.  It just didn't work out.  I couldn't justify paying $2200 U.S. for a five-day weekend.   Cirque du Soleil is performing one of their originals, Mystere, at Treasure Island.  It has gotten ridiculous.  The airfares alone are more than flights to Europe and all the hotels have good rates until you add state and hotel taxes and then a resort fee.   You've got to be kidding.  I rather wait and go to Spain in the fall. 

Our flight from Monterrey to Mazatlan on a discount airline was $65 round trip.  

We started out at the same hotel, Coral Maria which is on the island and in between both rv parks.  Convenient because we like staying on the island and the simple fact we can visit lots of friends and acquaintances.   The hotel has gone downhill.  The rooms are clean and good air conditioning.  But the services were stinky to say the least.   The restaurant has closed, there is no more continental breakfast but they do serve instant coffee in the lobby.  Big deal.   The place smells funny too.  We switched the second night to a suite.  It was better but the rooms weren't the issue.  You are paying for services that you don't receive.  

We moved the third-night next door or two doors down to a new hotel that only has about 18 rooms.  Fresh, new, coffee service, refrigerator, comfortable beds, access to the beach, palapas, and very good internet.  I didn't mention that the previous hotel had no internet except spotty signals in the lobby.  No go.

We think that the beach has never been better.  It was cleaner than ever before thanks to people who are spreading the word about taking a bag and filling it with trash.   On our first walk of the weekend, we saw literally no trash, but we did see many sea animals whose lives had come to an end such as starfish and puffer fish and one eel (could have been a sea snake). 

As always, we seek out the local places.   We took the lancha to Mazatlan and then the bus to the market.  Lancha was 10 pesos and the bus 8.50 pesos.   You get a local ride through the city and are dropped off right at the corner of the market.   The best place to eat is Tony's Burger.  They have excellent shrimp burgers and besides the secret seasonings, they grill the shrimp in butter.  Yum!   I didn't have one but I watched :)

Sunday evening the two parks threw a wienie roast.   It was fun meeting up with all the rvers.   Many we haven't seen or heard from since our last visit a couple of years ago.  A special shout out to Jerry and Sue who we did see but didn't get a chance to go back and have a chat and a drink together.  They are great people.

We also went out for dinner that night.  A new to us place called Topolo in the Machado.  It was good but I think we have had better.  The service though was top drawer but I doubt we would go back.  The waiter said it is 90% gringo and you could tell by the prices.

We also spent one afternoon walking along the malecon.  There is a lot to see as well as the fact that they have done a complete remodel.  BTW, Mazatlan has the world's longest malecon, the highest lighthouse, and the largest wall mural.  I didn't know that.