Saturday, July 14, 2012

Horrible bus ride

Friday What a day!  Wouldn't do it again for anything.  We had arranged for a moto-taxi to come pick us up at 9 am to take us to the "prettiest beach in Ecuador." It was a longish ride in this little rickshaw affair, and not even a pretty trip.  The landscape isn't very attractive.  And it's cluttered with trash and tumbled-down shacks.  People are cooking right out on the street, or selling bottles of soda and water from a styrofoam cooler.  Once we arrived at the beach, it was as advertised.  Very pretty, no people at all, and hordes of little crabs scuttling from their holes to the water and back again.  Bill and Ron hiked up to the lookout at the top, while Verda and I sat on the beach. Then we rode the moto-taxi back to Puerto Lopez.  We picked up our luggage at the hosteria and all piled back into the taxi for the ride to catch the bus to Manta.  What a miserable ride for 2 1/2 hours!  And without food!  I had some fruit and a roll for breakfast, then nothing for lunch.  By the time we got to Manta, I was ready to scream.  We checked into our hotel and pretty quick went to eat.  Found a restaurant, and everyone had something good.  I had fried shrimp and it was yummy.  Good French fries, too.   Now, it's time for bed cause we have to get up at 5 to get our flight back to Quito.  It will be good to get back to our condo.

Humpbacks and Boobies

Thursday This morning we had reservations to go out on a boat tour, guaranteed to see whales.  I was a bit unnerved to see that we had to wade out to the boat to get on board, but it turned out that it was only calf deep, so no danger of the cameras getting wet.  It took about a half hour of pretty fast motoring to get out to where the whales were hanging around.  It was really exciting when we saw the first spout and the humpback breached.

  We both took a lot of photos, and we each got one terrific shot;  a whale in front of one of the other boats, and a fluke. After about an hour or so of chasing whales, we turned around and zoomed back toward Puerto Lopez.

The captain drove the boat right up to a rocky cliff, and pointed out all the blue-footed boobies on the rock.  There were thousands of them!  I must have taken 100 shots.  A few are framable.  A few people on our boat went snorkeling, but not us.  It turned out to be a very nice tour.  The people were great, and we met a girl who is in the Peace Corps here in Ecuador.  Her name was Nickie and we saw her again at the hot dog place for dinner. When we got back to the hostel we asked for a blanket.  The guy brought us a quilt and we slept so much better. Don't know why we were too stupid to not ask them for one the night before.

Puerto Lopez

What an unending dump!  Why would people choose to live this way?  What is the education level of the population?  Long stretches of roads look like the slums of India or Mexico.  Mangy dogs running around in every town we go to.   There are two things I like: they don't drink and they don't smoke.  Apparently they don't have enough disposable income to be able to do either one.  Liquor is phenomenally expensive.  Ron had a scotch in the place at the beach and it was $5, but my small (Coke-sized) bottle of wine was $11.  There were two glasses of wine in it, so that's more than $5 per glass. A 200 year old house in Beijing is better maintained, cleaner and nicer than a house here that may only be 25 years old.   These people seem to have no pride whatsoever.  In Cotacachi the shops are neat, clean, nicely lit and the goods are well displayed.  And our condo is up to American standards.  Must be the money that flows into Cotacachi. I guess I shouldn't be so harsh. Maybe all these people are just scrambling to get enough money for today's food. We can't figure out whether paint is something they think they can do without because it is expensive, or whether they just never get around to finishing a building. Whatever, it is not very attractive when all you see is concrete block.


Ok, so we arrived in Puerto Lopez and were instantly accosted by a half dozen men babbling at us in Spanish, opening notebooks with pictures of various hosterias, tour boat operations, and god only knows what else.  We just got into their version of a rickshaw which is a motor scooter with a two-seat buggy attached.  We did manage to tell the drivers that we wanted to go to Itapoa, a Hosteria we saw in our guidebook.  He took us there, but they were full, so they pointed to another one in their picture book.  This place, Nantu, had rooms for $33 per night, so we said yes.  But, in my opinion it should not be classified as a Hosteria.  There is nothing but a pair of sheets on the bed, only two towels, no washcloths, no hand towels, no bathmat.  Not even a glass to put water in to take my pills!  All I know at this point is that the whale watching had better be fucking phenomenal! I don't understand yet why no American or European companies operate in Ecuador.  I have not seen any advertisements for Apple products, can't find any Hershey's  chocolate, or any other things we assume would be sold everywhere.  There are two things we have seen: Chevy cars and Dial soap.

Off to the Coast

Got up when the alarm app on my iPad sounded out the cuckoo's song.  Had two cups of coffee and a banana and we were off. The bus ride to Otavalo was routine, now that we have done it so many times.  One of the dozens of bus hawkers came to fetch us for the bus to Quito.  It was a comfortable bus, and I actually slept a bit on the way to Quito.  When we arrived at the bus terminal, there was a taxi line and we had no trouble getting a taxi to the airport.  The Quito airport is small and we easily found the Tame Airline desk.  However, we were told that there was a problem with our reservation.  We had to go outside and get in a different line to get it straightened out.  When we gave the agent our ticket, she explained that the travel agent had failed to confirm our reservation, so we had seats on the way to Manta, but not to return.  So now we will have to fly back to Quito on Saturday morning at 8 am instead of at 1:30 pm.  Which means that we will have to go back to Manta Friday evening. The flight to Manta was only about 30 minutes, but I can't remember when a flight hurt my ears so much.  It took hours for them to pop enough that I could hear.  Once we landed, there were taxis, and we got a driver to take us a Hosteria so we could make a reservation for Friday night.  Then he took us to the bus terminal.  What unbelievable chaos!  We were so recognizable as "rich American tourists" we were almost trampled by men trying to get us a room, or a bus, or a tour, or something - I never found out what exactly, that it was almost frightening.  I yelled at Bill that we needed to eat - it was 1:30 and I hadn't had anything since that banana in the morning.  And, Nan, you know what that meant!  We found what looked like a restaurant, but the selection was pretty slim.  The other three ordered fish, which they said was good, but it was fried, and I didn't know what they might have used to fry it in, so I ordered chicken and fries.  The chicken was so-so, the fries were mediocre, but they can't mess up Pepsi in a bottle. We went back into the bus terminal and didn't have too much trouble buying tickets to Puerto Lopez, our final destination.  Our plan is to take a boat tomorrow to do some whale watching, go to Isle de la Plata, and I guess they take you snorkeling, too.  Then, we have Friday morning here at the hostia Nandu before we have to check out and go back to the madness that is Manta. This part of Ecuador is beyond ugly.  The shacks that people live in are maybe one step up from mud huts.  The kids are running around in the dust, the starving dogs follow anyone in hopes of a scrap of food,  the most sturdy buildings are concrete block, no paint, no decoration at all,  might as well be a prison.  I could never live here.  It amazes me that in China, where people have lived for thousands of years, there are modern buildings going up everywhere, world-class shopping, education for everyone, and a feeling that everyone is moving forward.   There is nothing modern about Ecuador.  America has nothing to fear from Ecuador!

New Shoes for the Pop-Pop

Tuesday we stayed close to home.  Ron and I walked down Leather Street to see if we could find a wallet for me and sandals for him.  A few blocks from our square Ron found a shop selling huaraches which he liked better than the other leather sandals.  The guy told him they were $42, so he came outside to find me.  I was in another shop looking at wallets.  I found a green one for me and a purple one for Sylvia.  Ron wanted me to go back to look at the shoes and see what I thought.  I told him he should buy them, so he made the guy an offer of (he thought) $35.  The guy grabbed his calculator and typed in $25!  So Ron snapped them up. When we got home, Bill and Verda were about to go out shopping, too.  So Ron and I both took naps. For dinner Verda made eggplant parm, and we finished up the salad from the night before. We went to bed early, so we could get up at 6 for our trip to the coast. Our plan is to go to Puerto Lopez and go to the "poor man's Galapagos."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Going to Ibarra

Monday We started out in the morning to go to Ibarra to go to the big supermarket, the Supermaxi.  But we decided to stop at the travel agency on Bolivar street to see about tickets to Manta, so we can get to Puerto Lopez, where we can go to the "poor mans Galapagos" Isla de la Plata, or go whale watching.   Well, the travel agency was not like the ones we are used to.  We were there for at least an hour and a half.  Some other Americans that are staying in our same complex were there trying to buy tickets for his sister and her boyfriend and having a hard time with the language barrier.  But finally we got our tickets and the girls were very nice.  I was surprised to see them pull out a piece of carbon paper to copy the numbers on our credit card!  I haven't seen carbon paper since the late '60's. We took the bus to Ibarra, about 45 minutes away, for $.45 each.  Ibarra is a pretty big city, with more to offer.  But since we got there kind of late we didn't do anything but eat lunch and shop at the market.  We bought diapers, detergent, and bar soap for the pre-school, as well as some things we couldn't find in Cotacachi. Verda had bought a chicken at the Supermaxi, so she roasted the chicken, we cooked the little fingerling potatoes Ron and I had found at the produce market, I made a salad, and we had fresh peas.  What a good dinner!  Except that the potatoes tasted like dirt.  I didn't care for them.  We will try another variety. No plans for Tuesday.  Wednesday we are off to the beach!

Sunday Market

Sunday Today we went to the fruit and veggie market here in Cotacachi.  It was fabulous.  We were offered 3 pineapples for $1.00.  We bought 4 bananas for $.25. We ended up with tomatoes, potatoes, a pineapple, strawberries, bananas, and an avocado, and we might have spent $5.00.   They also had a lot of food being cooked that was for sale, but we didn't try any of that.  We are preparing most of our food at home, or eating at Serendipity, a great restaurant run by Nancy, an ex-pat from Naples, Florida. I actually had a nap today.  Had to pause the Wimbledon final til I woke up. Then we went to dinner at Nancy's and I had a delicious chicken pot pie, and Ron and I shared a piece of apple pie. My dinner cost $3.50, and the pie was $2.00. Tomorrow we are going to Ibarra.