ted & pamela

Posts Tagged ‘honeymoon’

Ecuadorian Surprises

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

*Written 2010-07-07; posted from airport WiFi on 2010-07-15*

Some notes on unexpected tidbits from my time in Ecuador so far:

The radio stations play a *lot* of American music. They mostly play Top40 hits from the 1990s to present, but I’ve also heard older stuff like the BeeGees. One of the hotels we stayed at also played 30s jazz music after dinner.

The government of Ecuador introduced a lot of non-native trees. In particular, one national park was dotted with California pines, and Australian Eucalyptus trees are *everywhere*. According to our guide, Ecuador does not have very many native trees in the highlands, so the government introduced these species to improve air quality, diversify industry, and beautify the landscape. I found this really strange because in the US, the government spends a lot of resources preserving natural ecosystems and kicking out non-native species.

fumes from busThe air in the cities and on the roadways here is nasty. I expected Ecuador, with its mostly-agricultural economy, to have clean air, but it’s actually quite polluted, mostly because of lax air quality regulations and enforcement. Many of the trucks and buses we pass are both visibly and odoriferously emitting noxious gasses.

The weather in the Amazon Rainforest is what you might expect — hot and humid, with sudden periodic downpours and thunderstorms. In the highlands, however, we were greeted by cloudy days, occasional showers, and weather much, much colder than we expected.

Apparently the altitude (we’ve been traveling between 9k and 16k feet so far) compensates for the closer proximity of the sun. Where we’d have snow at 6k feet in California, Ecuador has snow at 16k feet. Perhaps the equivalent California weather would be the Sierra Nevadas at 3-6k feet. Anyway, we foolishly came with only a few long-sleeved shirts and thin jackets and would have frozen long ago had our guide not lent us some of his clothes.

On a few different occasions, we found ourselves driving down twisty unpaved roads for hours, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. After one drive, we found ourselves at El Angel national park — apparently we were the only ones visiting, because the parking lot was empty, and even the ranger station was abandoned. I guess this was surprising because I was expecting something more like the national parks in the US, where tourists are buzzing around everywhere.

papallactaA second drive was supposed to take us to our next hotel. After driving for hours through endless darkness, we climbed one last hill, and somehow ended up at a hot-springs resort. Someone apparently had the bright idea of building a resort on top of this mountain, far away from civilization and paved roads. At least that trip ended well — the hot springs did wonders for our achy muscles.

cotopaxi restaurantA third drive took us into Cotopaxi National Park where we saw a few other cars, which we found a bit more promising than El Angel. After entering the park, we turned on the four-wheel drive and bounced over rocks and through streams for an hour through what appeared to be a wasteland — only rocks, dirt, and shrubs as far as the eye could see. We were supposedly headed to a restaurant for lunch. Finally, we came to a lone building in the middle of the park with a single bus in front — and found it packed full of people. The restaurant also served as a hotel, and had WiFi, satellite TV, hot running water, etc. It was quite a surprise.

Ted Goes Tarzan: Ecuador Day 1

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

*Written 6/30/2010; posted 7/7/2010 when we got access to WIFI*

We are sitting in the middle of the jungle.

After an all-nighter packing for our honeymoon and an almost failed attempt to get a taxi, we flew from SFO to Atlanta and on to Quito, Ecuador.  Flights were on time and uneventful, although there was a surprisingly long security line for 5:30 in the morning at SFO.

Upon arriving in a new country on a new continent in a new hemisphere, we were met by a guide from SurTrek, Paul, who took us to our hotel, the Mercure Alameda.  His English was much better than both our Spanish combined, and he gave us an introduction to Ecuador during the short drive.

The hotel was nice, and we were hungry. We attempted to order food via room service–yay 24 hour room service!  Pamela had no idea what exactly transpired during the phone conversation, but the food arrived nonetheless.  We finally made it to sleep around 2 or 3 am.

This morning, we were greeted at 9am by a different guide, Andres, after dining in the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  Breakfast had selections such as pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, “meat lasagna” which was carne wrapped in noodle with cheese on top, pastries, fruit, strawberry agua fresca, and other things.

Andres found us a bookstore at which we purchased a pocket-sized Spanish-English dictionary after spending the previous night practicing a sorry bit of Spanish.  He then brought us to a small airport that had planes which would take us to Coca, a city in the Amazon Basin.  Unfortunately, the plane was delayed 1.5 hours, so we killed time in the airport lobby–yay free wifi.

The plane itself was a small twin propeller plane with 3 columns of seats–2 down one side and 1 down the other.  From it, we finally got our first real view of Quito, which appears to lie in a large valley 9200 feet above sea level surrounded by mountains.  The plane took us east away from the mountains and toward the jungle, landing us in Coca, about 9000 feet lower than we began.  In Coca, we were met by Hector, our guide from our next lodge, who had a truck drive us down to the Rio Napo where there was a motorized canoe waiting for us.

canoeThe journey down the Rio Napo via motorized canoe was either uneventful or exciting, depending on whether you find it exciting to be riding a motorized canoe down a large river in the middle of the rainforest (Pamela) or not (Ted).  It was about a 30 minute ride.  Hector explained that the river was about 3 meters higher than last week due to some heavy rainfall the previous few days that caused some flooding.  At its low, the river would have been one third its current width.  Yet, today the weather was partly cloudy and mild in temperature.

We passed by miles of trees and a few huts along the river until we arrived at the ArcoIris Jungle Lodge.  The lodge consists of 6 bungalows and a main building which serves as the restaurant.  We climbed 120 steps to get from the river to the restaurant; the boat driver, Victor, attempted to send our suitcases up a pulley system, but ended up carrying them both when it didn’t work.  We were given some water and shown to our cabin, whereby Hector tried to show us the code to open the door and couldn’t until he called for help.  The entire staff here now knows how to open our door.

We were given some time to rest and unpack (though we left everything packed to keep bugs out) and then went back to the restaurant for lunch.  Lunch began with some soup and plantains, both of which were good and filling.  When we thought we were finished… the main course came, some meat and potatoes and vegetables that neither of us could finish (although Hector did).  We were particularly fond of the pineapple juice; Ted repeatedly requested “jugo de piña, por favor”.

During lunch, Hector explained to us the projects that he worked on out here in the jungle.  He has started a monkey reintroduction project on the nearby island that he lives on, as well as a school for the local Quichua children that live on the wrong side of the river to attend the public schools offered.

After lunch, we changed into “jungle clothes” (long sleeves, long pants, boots) and Hector said he was going to take us to the island to look for the monkeys.  He also said that due to the recent rainfall, large sections of the trail had flooded and we should be prepared to get wet; he provided us with rubber boots.

Wet we got.

We didn’t find any monkeys.

We did meet his wife, child, and dog, and he showed us the schoolroom that he built as well as where the schoolteacher lived and where he and his family lived.  All the buildings in the area are built of a combination of bamboo and stronger bamboo-like wood, as well as thatching for the roof.  He pointed out a cinnamon tree to us, and there were chickens roaming the property as well.

Wading

We spent quite awhile roaming and wading through the flooded trails on the island. At one point we had to wade over an underwater bridge with deep water on either side. Pamela only fell off the invisible underwater bridge once (due to not being able to see where she was stepping from the river flooding above the height of the bridge)…

Throughout the journey, we were followed by swarms of mosquitos.  Our insect repellent seemed to keep most of them from landing on us, but it was still disconcerting to see them swarming everywhere.  Ted still got (at least) three bites.

When we got back to the canoe for our trip back to the lodge, Victor couldn’t get the motor to start.  We floated off downstream until Hector rowed us to shore and tied the canoe to a tree.  Then Hector and Victor fiddled with the engine for a while, eventually emptying it of water in the fuel line, and got the motor started again.  Off we went, back to the lodge.

We were given some time to clean up before dinner. This was when we started discovering what, besides the suitcase pulley, did not work.

The bungalows themselves were built well and look very nice.  They have bamboo and bamboo-like paneling, thatching on the roof, a canopy bed to keep out bugs, a porch with a jacuzzi outside, bamboo closets and shelves, and fitting decorations.  They each have a bathroom with a large shower, sink, and toilet.  They have electricity powered by a generator from 5pm to 10pm each evening, with lightbulbs and power outlets throughout them.

So when we returned sopping wet and muddy, naturally we wanted to clean up before dinner.  We were informed that the hot water did not work in the showers at the moment, but that it did work in the jacuzzi.  After debating between jumping in the pool (the pool in the middle of the jungle looks very strange) and soaking in the jacuzzi, the hot water in the jacuzzi won.

We got back to our bungalow and found the lightswitches.  The porch light turned on. The bathroom light turned on.  The lights in the main living area did not.

We walked out to the lit porch and turned on the jacuzzi.  The water began trickling out.  Inside, the jacuzzi was filled with dirt and bugs, and the water coming out was brown.  It was less than inviting.

Double fail.

We walked back to the restaurant/main area and asked about the lights and the jacuzzi.  They replaced the light bulb for us, and checked the jacuzzi–and told us it was working fine.  You see, this is the jungle, and the water comes from a well a little ways away, so it takes awhile to get here. But don’t worry; it is clean.  One of the boys brought a sponge and got the bugs and stuff out for us.

An hour after returning, we gave up on the jacuzzi ever being full, especially as the hot water had run out, and went to go find dinner instead.

Dinner was a noodle soup, chicken wrapped in a giant leaf, salad, and yuca, an Amazonian potato cousin.  Dessert was a tree tomato, roasted and seasoned and tasting nothing like a tomato, but rather like a sweet squash.  During dinner, we talked with Hector about Ecuadorian politics, how he met his wife while working with an environmental NGO, oil drilling in the Amazon, and other local issues. We learned that Ecuador has similar politics to Venezuela and Bolivia, but that he feels that politicians should do more to help economies grow and develop rather than just giving out aid to the poor and not fixing the problems.  We also learned that the Amazon is a giant oil field, and that oil companies are drilling in the forest for oil.  They also find propane, but it is too expensive to refine it here so they burn it off to release the pressure it builds.  There are little fires dotting the forest.

After dinner, we gave up on both the pool and the jacuzzi and braved the cold shower. Fast showers ensued.  Pamela went on a mosquito hunt in the bathroom. Bed followed shortly thereafter.

Just another day in the jungle.