Thursday, December 11, 2008

back in the US(s)A

So, we're back, the experiment that was our lives through most of 2008 has come to a close, and reason would dictate that we should stop blogging. But that's just not how we roll. I imagine that we'll use our new found free time (our eventual free time that hasn't materialized yet) to post longer descriptions of our recent expeditions and the last few weeks of life in Quito. In addition, we should now have the bandwidth and the time to load up a whole slew of pictures that have been stored on various cameras for way too long.
Here's some samples:

Picture of the "lagoon" outside our camp in the Amazon. Note the super long dugout canoes that are used to get around.


Symbiotic Lemon Ant/Tree:
There is a tree in the jungle that creates a poisonous toxin that kills other vegetation around it. In addition, the tree creates a "home" - paths and protusions inside the stems and stalks of the plant - for ants. These ants, in return for the free home, keep other bugs and animals that would harm or eat the plant away. Classic example of a very complex symbiotic relationship. When eaten, the ants taste like lemon. Or lime. Or something slightly acidic. It's best to crush them in your fingers a little before eating them so as to avoid the wriggling around on your tongue that they do.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A sad farewell to the ping pong table

And here's the last use of our ping pong/dining table before it found a new home.

Chiva


The Ecuadorian version of the party bus.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Let the Fiestas Begin

Holy batty street parties! Things are getting tense around here - people are desperate to get their partying on. We're told that the "intense" revelry starts tonight, although people have been living it up for most of the week. It seems that every reasonably aged person under 25 has spent the last week out in the streets, drinking and dancing. There are parades, seemingly spontaneous and unorganized, all over the city, at least one for every high school in the country, it seems. Those, coupled with the fact that half the population is off of work and out shopping, and traffic is ludicrously backed up. Chivas are everywhere, day and night, filling the clogged streets with music, dancing and general chaos. The few people in offices around the city seem to be busy chatting, or playing cards, or sleeping off a hangover.
It's sort of like a third world version of New Orlean's Mardi Gras, but with bull fights.

Luckily, we were able to sell the car yesterday (and just about everything else that we had to sell), because the city basically shuts down from now until the new year. We had a great time hosting a farewell party last night. Figured out that ping pong and Amanda's signature martini drinks are another example of two good things that are not necessarily better when joined together.

Now it's time to pack. Final preparations and errands are being considered.

We would have pictures of the Amazon trip (and some of the festivities outside our windows) but Amanda's gone and hidden the cord that connects the camera to the computer. Maybe more updates soon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Apart from the many, many mosquito bites (I look like I have the measles), there were a few highlights from the trip including sitings of: 20-25 foot anaconda, fresh water dolphins, glow in the dark mushrooms, poinsonous snakes, macaws, jungle shamans, monkeys, aligators and lemon ants. Lemon ants are called that because of their taste - and yes, we tried them (live) to confirm. Very lemony. Here's a picture of them crawling on a piece of wood:

back - with a correction

We made it back in one piece from the jungle. A mosquito and other insect bite covered piece, slightly charred by the sun and dehydrated from the heat, but a single piece nonetheless. Now we wait through common gestation periods and see if we brought back any unwanted passengers with us.
Details, descriptions and dibujos (pictures) of the trip are forthcoming.
In the meantime, a correction on the earlier post - Lago Agrio and Coca are, in fact, two separate and distinct city/towns, though relatively geographically proximal to one another. Lago Agrio has been renamed Nuevo Loja, and Coca has been renamed Francisco Orellana (and we all know who he was). I don't think the names have stuck - and I'm pretty sure that most people don't care.
That's it for now.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Going to the Jungle

We're off in a few minutes for a trip in the jungle. Should be interesting. We're going to be near the Cuyabeno National Park (I think). Flying into Coca (hee-hee) this morning and taking a dugout canoe ride to the hotel. Naming a town "Coca" in the middle of the jungle in the is like naming a the local dive bar "Booze", so much so that I think they recently changed the name to Lago Agrio (sour lake).
Pictures will be forthcoming.

Oh, and we're missing the kickoff of the Dias de Quito on Sunday. We'll be returning to debauchery, outdoor festivities and general no work getting done around here stuff. It's like mardi gras, but colder, with fewer beads, and bull fights.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

car for sale

Today, in some way, marks the beginning of the end of the great Quito experiment. We put the car (technically a 4x4 suv, though small) on the market. The morning was taken up with getting a much needed clean up of the car - 5 people working on cleaning the interior, exterior, undercarriage and even the engine for a half hour for $8 - and "registering" the car at the patio (which, in some weird twist of language, is the ecuadorian spanish word for car dealership).
The little vitara was good to us and always got us where we needed to get to. I hope it finds a good home (and quickly, since we need to close the sale before we leave).
We're leaving in 4 short weeks, with many mixed emotions.

On a tangential note, related but not relevant to the above, the woman running the car wash asked me to help move several of the cars around during the washing of my car. Kind of strange. There wasn't a lot of room in the little garage, and a lot of cars, so they play this weird game with the cars - kind of like that game with the squares that you have to re-arrange to make a picture. I'm not sure why I was pressed into service, but there I was, backing other people's vehicles into tight corners, and trying to squeeze a pick up around other parked cars and up onto a ramp (elevated space with the gap under the tire lanes where someone can walk under the car). All this with a stick shift, and with not a lot of space in the pick up cab for me to fit. What fun.
Oh, yeah, and all the cars had proximity alarms, and alarms that went off when doors were opened, and, basically, alarms that went off all the time. Fun.

Monday, November 10, 2008

map of the trip

Pulled a map of Ecuador off the web and drew in the route of the week long trip we just finished. Covered a lot of miles and a lot of different terrain - high mountains, paramo, petrified forests, big cities, little towns, beach life, banana lands and arid mountain areas.
We traveled on some really bad roads, too. Indescribably bad roads. My lower back is still killing me.


A little hard to see, but the routes in the image below (in yellow). We went clock wise.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

In Cuenca

A and I decided to do some traveling this week, so we find ourselves way down south in Cuenca - which means that we aren´t checking our emails, our voicemails, or doing much in the way of interacting with the rest of the world.
Yes, we were able to catch the election results. We caught a couple hours of results on cnn (in English) over dinner, and then went back to our hotel, where we watched cnn (in Spanish). Amazing that Obama won - we were nervous and now happy.
Interesting notes on the difference between english and spanish cnn -- spanish commentators talk about race A LOT, which the PC people in the US tend to not do. Comments like "Iowa went to McCain, but there aren´t any black people there" were common throughout the evening. Very different. They also didn´t have access to all the cool gadgets, gizmos and analysis tools that the "US" version did.
Fun to hear election results in places like Dakota del Norte, Virginia Occidental, and Ciudad de Washington.

Aside from missing football games and major political events in the states, we´re having fun. Lots of driving, lots of amazing views and mountain roads. Most surreal moment to date -- going to a anthropological exhibit at a museum about the various indigenous groups in the country, and watching about a 100 people from some indigenous tribe walking through the exhibit, taking in the sights. I don´t know if there´s a metaphor for that weirdness. I guess it would be like going to an exhibit of strange religious sects across the history of the US, and finding yourself surrounded by Amish people checking out the exhibit. Strange in a good way.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

cab ride

strangest cab ride ever (or at least to date).
I got in a cab to go into the Northern part of town the other day - the part of town where I spent my more formative years, and where we don't tend to spend any time at all in the current chapter of our lives.
This was actually my second attempt to cab over to a mall and get a pair of headphones in the same day. Earlier, I had tried to take a cab across town in the middle of the lunch rush, with one of the main arteries through town (6 de Diciembre) shut down for protests (yes, protests and demonstrations are a big art of life here in the capital. It's usually missed, since we either work from home or walk everywhere). That cab attempt lasted about five minutes, when we progressed from on end of the block to the other, and I decided to table th trip until a better time.
so, I tried again a few hours later, when most of the city was back in their offices, or homes, or wherever they go during the workday. I hailed a cab, got in and we were off on our ride. As those that have visited here before know, it's a good idea to check and make sure that the cab has and is using a meter. It ameliorates the haggling, hastle and hurt feelings at the end of the trip. Instead of a meter, though, this cabbie had a little plasma tv, about the size of those handheld DVD players out there, taped to the lower dash board - down by the gear shift. There were wires taped all over the ceiling and running down to the little tv set, pulling the telenovela (latin soups) out of the ether. And the sound was turned all the way up.
Now, I know that there are souped up cabs in various cities across the US, providing commercials or other televised programs for riders in the back. And I know that there are now tvs in the back of all sorts of SUVs and luxury cars. But this wasn't tv for the passenger - this was tv for the driver. At ever light (and there were a lot) he'd stop, pull the emergency break (not sure what that was about, except that he wanted to rest his right foot), and watch the tv. When traffic around would get going again, he'd look up briefly and start driving, looking down periodically, for what I thought was a disconcertingly long time, before glancing up again.
To fully grasp the ludicrousness of this scenario, you have to understand what traffic is like in a developing country. First of all, we're in a tiny vehicle. Think mid-80's Sentra, and this thing is smaller. Second, there are few automatic cars, and this cab wasn't one of them, so the cab driver is shifting through the gears while not paying attention to where he's going. Third, and probably most important, traffic in this city, as in most latin countries, is crazy. There are cars goig through stop lights and red lights. Cars double or triple parked, in the middle of a thoroughfare - cars weaving between lanes, coming out of hiddent driveways, backing up from off of the sidewalk, and generally doing things that require the full attention of a driver and quick defensive tactics. And that's not even considering the hordes of people standing in the road between lanes, playing the part of matador against the car's bull impression.
Anyway, we made it to our final destination, eventually, and it turns out that there was a meter, and it was running, under the TV. Go figure.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mamma Mia

We watched the movie Mamma Mia (I think there's an exclamation point in there) over two weeks ago, and I still have ABBA songs running through my head.

Speaking of running, I think the above's a mental shout out to the High Heel Races, taking place tonight (right now) in DC. I hope they aren't having the rain that we're having, or that's been a steady attendee to the event over the last couple of years.

V portal has blown up

It's official. I stopped by the electronics store this morning and they can't get a new processor for the V portal. This sucks even more than usual because I'm in the middle of looking for new work, and it would help to have access to a phone.
I figured out that I can upgrade my account to get a desktop based system that links to my vonage number. This I've done - now I just have to find one of those microphone headset thingamabobs so I can test out the system and see how phone calls sound through the computer.
Keep your fingers crossed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Laguna Mojanda & Papallacta

Some shots of Laguna Mojanda and Papallacata Hikes.

Yanacocha

Here are some pics of Yanacocha - the trip on the cloud forest trail to nowhere with 5 or 6 Hobbit like tunnels and lots of humming birds.

Snippets from the day

And what a day it's been so far. Not bad. Not good. Just full of strange things happening.

In no particular order:

There was a huge storm this afternoon, as we have discovered is usually the case. Today, however, the storm was full of lightning and thunder. I was sure that we would lose power, which we didn't. Instead, my vonage box got fried at some point during the storm. Nothing happened to our computers, the printer, the modem, the router, or any of the phones (most of which are daisy chained into the same plugs - bad form, I know, but still). Just the Vonage box. Which kind of sucks, since they can't be purchased here (or so I hear). I took it down to an electronics store and they were able to confirm that a processor was fried. They'll look for a replacement tomorrow. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
*Yes, this means we have no phone for now.


In a related note, I saw someone in the building - which I guess would be a neighbor - received a package in the mail from Amazon. A package! In the mail! The mind boggles. I had no idea that the postal system worked in this country, let alone that you could get something that was purchased online from the US. I admit, I checked the package to make sure. It's not a reuse of the Amazon box. It's not sent locally. The sender's address is Amazon, in the US. The ramifications are stupefying.


On the way to get a censo today, I saw a passenger carrier plane (the normal, commercial, get on the plane and go somewhere type of plane) closely followed by two jets. When I say close, I mean it looked like they were sitting on the wings on either side of the larger plane. Probably someone important, like the president, heading off somewhere - but a little jarring when you glance up and see that in the sky. Makes one think all sorts of jack-booted security thoughts, and the way the world is changing. Much like this latest tidbit of changing transportation policy in DC.


And I was able to get a censo today. A censo somewhere between a visa (in one's passport), and the more traditional and more citizenry cedula - which is pretty much citizenship identification, as far as I can tell. The name of the card I sat in long lines to get today would lead one to believe it has something to do with a census, or being counted, or listed, or registered -- or something. All I know is that it is not mandatory, but I need it. It turns out you can't sell expensive things, like cars, without one.


I think I saw an ex-boyfriend of my mother's while I was driving home from the Censo office. Which is a supremely strange thing to say. One, because that's just not a normal statement that comes out of someone's mouth very often - at least not someone with a mother like mine. Two, because my mother isn't really the "dating" type (I think she's dated 2 people in the last 25 years), and it's just weird to possibly have run into him in a random section of this large city. It's like running into your second cousin's college roommate while vacationing in Sidney or something. I know it happens, but it's surreal.


Not sure if this has been mentioned before, but the wifey likes the fires in the evening, and with good reason, given the weather (see above) and the general romantic appeal of speding our evenings fireside. The downside is that, despite the re-engineering advice provided by our in-house engineering expert, which has been duly applied to the fireplace, we're still getting smoke in the house. Which means that I find myself walking around the city, running errands and the like, smelling like I've just come off of a week long camping trip. Sans the BO, of course. It's just a little disconcerting.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

mellow and papallacta

This week was as much of an antithesis to the last week or so as one could expect. No guests, no going out, no late nights, no eating out -- just A and I, sans guests, hanging out at home, cooking our own meals, going to the gym, and trying to figure out the next chapter of our lives.
This monotony (or bucolic existence, depending on your point of view) was shaken up on Friday, when we went to Gogi's (my friend Dan's mother) house to watch slides of her various biking adventures -- the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, a trip around the Quebec penninsula, and a ride around Moab. I didn't think it would be all that much fun, but it was (and I really want to say neat here, but who says neat these days? or cool?) -- interesting.
Spent Saturday night out with Dan and a "girl" friend of his at a new micro brewery, discovering that the problem with Ecuadorian beer is a dirth of hops - they just don't have any, or all that much, and it's taking away from any kind of micro-brews. I guess you can make a decent, cheap pilsner without that much hops, but that's about it. All the beers were flat.
We grilled Dan on some local or relatively close by hikes that we could do on Sunday. Unfortunately, asking someone who thinks mountain or road biking over 100 km before 9 am is a good start to the day for input into easy hikes in the area is not always the best idea. I mean, there are weekend warriors, and then there are weekend warriors. We consider ourselves to be weekend tourists.
Regardless, we were able to make our way on Sunday (and miss the game, which the Redskins pulled out of the bag against a winless Lions. As I've said before, have they won by more than 7 points this year?) to papallacta - a little town almost directly east of Quito that is on the edge of the mountain range, before it decends down into the jungle. We did a couple hour hike through some spectacular landscape - high ridges, plunging views, waterfalls and high plains lagoons throughout. It was a gorgeous walk.
Pictures that do not do the environment any justice at all will be forthcoming, either from me or from A.
We spent the afternoon in the hot springs for which the town is famous. It was an alright experience - I loved soaking in various hot pools - but I think both of us are not really into crowds, or any other people for that matter. Nor are we those who like to spend hours upon hours in a hot tub, soaking (not that there's anything wrong with that). Still - it was fun, and felt great after a hike, and made everyone incredibly drowsy on the hour long ride home through winding, hilly roads through pouring rain (of course).

Thursday, October 23, 2008

superstruct - for those with some free time

Epic Fu (my weekly dose of hip happenings) turned me on to this game:
http://www.superstructgame.org/
It's going to be up and running for a few more weeks. I haven't played it, but it looks interesting.

On the same show, they talked about a choose your own adventure movie available online - how to survive a zombie outbreak. I haven't seen this, either.
http://www.survivetheoutbreak.com/

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

nass' pictures of the trip

http://picasaweb.google.com/Nasser.Thalji/EcuadorTrip#

Lots of pictures from various activities during his visit. Well annotated, as well.
What's missing (in no particular order):
-The flat tire in Sogichos when we couldn't find the jack. It started to rain as soon as we realized we had a flat.
-Pictures of how bad the roads were later in the Quilatoa loop, or in Mindo.
-Any pictures from wine night (thank god!)
-Pictures of the night playing darts with the cotocollao volunteers (a horde of Americans spending a year working in an extremely poor neighborhood in Quito, out to enjoy themselves in the Mariscal one night).
-Pictures of the drive back from Mindo at night - not the smartest thing that's ever been done. Dark, smog, rain, and fallen rocks strewn across a windy 2 lane blacktop through the mountains. I don't think much of anything would have come out in pictures, anyway.

Random note - I saw a handful of hummingbirds, a toucan and a green parrot during our hike to the waterfalls in Mindo - I don't think that Nasser caught sight of any of those birds. I'm thinking that I'm getting better at the bird spotting, and I'm not sure if that's a skill I want to have, or want to boast about.

Today, by the way, was a gorgeous, sunny and balmy day. It figures that the weather would be this way as soon as our guests left. There was more rain, in more copious amounts, with more hail during their stay than I have ever seen here before.

Monday, October 20, 2008

redskins scavenger hunt

So, just to set the stage for the current state of affairs around here - Nasser left this morning (Monday) to go back to a city basking in a pretty good season so far. Amanda came back from Boston and beyond on Sunday night and is taking her time dealing with the post-convention disorders that beset normal people after standing up for several days in a row and dealing with countless introspective conversations. If there's such a thing as a chocolate information binge, I think she's been on one.

But I digress - Sunday football is the subject of this post. Nass and I got up on Sunday, in Quito, ready to watch the game. With previous experiences under my belt, I was quick to do as much research as possible on game channels and times and such before the game, and to look into where the game might be played. The one thing that I'm missing at this point is an actual tv guide, or the cable equivalent for this area, to be able to actually check to see on what channel the game (might) be aired.

We opted for trying out a local Irish pub called Mulligans to see the game, and went ridiculously early to prepare for the event. We caught most of the early game that was aired on CBS - the Ravens/Dolphins game, and drank way too many of the large glasses of beer that were offered. Once the second game started (at around 3 pm here) we realized that CBS airs three different afternoon games, and the game that is aired on the local cable network is somehow related to some random area of the country (the mother land, not this country). I've noticed some scheduling weight given to Miami (which makes sense for a latin american broadcast company), with a secondary emphasis on Dallas, neither of which help us. In the case of Sunday afternoon, the CBS channel that was shown was the Indianapolis game -- quite possibly the least latin oriented team in the NFL. Go figure.

Realizing that our hopes had been dashed, we hobbled out of the bar as quickly as we could. We stopped, briefly, at the uber-US bar down the street, where we had been told Redskins fans were wont to gather to watch the game. Unfortunately, in some many more ways than one, the owner had died on Thursday, and we had previously assummed the place would be closed, and yet hope spring eternal. Turns out that the place was by then completely smothered in flower arrangements, wreaths, and other votive/commemorations of the owner who had died, and an impromptu (or completely scheduled) irish wake was in full swing at the bar. No football there (and more on this death in the future - it's an interesting story with some really pointed lessons).

On to another irish bar we traveled, where we had met a whole host of young US people volunteering at a school in cotocollao ( a very poor neighborhood in Quito) on Friday night. Unfortunately, the bar management turned out to be more Catholic than Irish, and the place was closed for the day.

So we punted and headed home to listen to the game on espn radio. I was able to get the internet radio running when I stumbled, with the help of google, into something called justin.tv. This site has a whole swarm of "channels" which, as far as I can tell, are random people all across the US that are streaming US tv over the internet. We were able to find a "channel" from someone in the DC area that was broadcasting the Redskins game, while he was actually at the game. This was an awesome discovery, and one which I will have to take full advantage of in the near future.
I have to say that watching a football game, or any "what is happening right now" activity on the internet is a novel experience, with the potential of making the game more interesting than actually watching it live, or on tv. Much like listening to baseball on the radio, there are new elements of streaming that one must take into account to appreciate what's going on. The image is fuzzy -- fuzzy enough that you have to listen for the fan's reaction to a play to figure out if the receiver caught the ball, or if something interesting, like a fumble, occurred on the play. And don't even get me started on the "buffering" message - what a special addition to the experience this brings. There's nothing like watching your team on third and long and having the screen stop refreshing, and getting that "buffering" stop motion message. Another added benefit of watching the game online is being able to peruse the comments section on the side of the screen. It's like having supporters of either team on either side of you while you're at the game, and getting to be partisan to their trash talking throughout the intermission, and during every play.
Despite all the added bonuses, we were doing just fine watching the game, in a stilted and jarred fashion, right up until the last minute or two of play. Then the internet feed got disconnected. Note earlier that the "channel" was being hosted by a guy who was at the game - so no possibility of reset.
We ended up listening to the last few minutes (and, if you're familiar with this Sunday, you know how tense it was) on ESPN radio - thank god that didn't go out as well - while playing ping pong between plays and during commercial breaks.
So, there you have it - that's what it's like to try and watch a simple football game down here. Might be more effort than changing the channel on your HD flat screen dish network tivo machine, but the effort makes the experience that much sweeter.
And can anyone recall a team with a record this good with such a shaky and uneven team, a team that hasn't won by a touchdown yet this season? Talk about exciting.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

rain, rain, rain

Real quick update -
Kara and Nasser came down on Thursday of last week (yes, a week ago). Crazy amount of running around and checking things out. The rain - not just a light drizzle, but thunderous downpours replete with hail and a myriad of other omens of the coming apocalypse - followed us every where we went. We could see sun and dryness just around the corner and we'd alter our plans and proceed to our next destination in hopes of beating the weather. Without fail, the rain would find us within 15 minutes.
I don't have any pictures from the various events - maybe Nasser will post some in the future and I'll be able to link to 'em later.
Highlight of the weekend was the Ecuador/Chile qualifier that we went to on Sunday. And, yes, it rained on us the entire time. El Tri (tricolor that is - the Ecuadorian team) beat Chile 1 - 0. They've since proceeded to fall apart against Venezuela last night - I don't know what happened there.
After Kara went home on Monday, Nass and I did a marathon drive through the Quilotoa loop and ended up in Banos - checked out some waterfalls, climbed through some nasty caves, and drove around the hillsides on 4x4s.
Back in the big city now, heading off to do a wine tasting.

Monday, October 6, 2008

weekend update

I don't know where to begin on the update of our weekend activities, so I'll just take a running leap into the narrative.
Firstly, how about them redskins? I really didn't think they'd be able to pull off a win in Dallas - let alone beat the Eagles after starting the game down by two touchdowns. I learned something very important this weekend about the cable network, too. As far as I can tell, they only show one game on Sundays - and it's usually the Miami game. Even though the major networks (NBC, CBS, Fox) are on the cable network here, they have a different lineup than in the US. I find the whole thing terribly confusing, and I've come to the resignation that I won't be able to watch most of the games in the ensuing weeks, which kind of sucks.
Secondly, we took a quick, or what was meant to be quick, drive out to Yanococha on Saturday. This is a nature preserve/bird watching sanctuary just on the other side of Pichincha - the big volcano that demarcates the Western border of Quito. It's supposed to be an hour drive away, but we kept getting lost, and having fun doing so, and ended up taking closer to three hours or so to get there. It's amazing how different the environment is on the other side of the mountain. We went from mostly dry and barren to, in my mind, the theoretical ideal of a cloud forest. We were cloaked in fog, light rain, or general moisture the entire time we were at the park. Very steep inclines, overgrown with ferns, moss and a fecundity of green-ness. I'll post pictures below. We saw an amazing number of humming birds, and heard the call of other birds out in the trees. The park maintainers have humming bird feeders along the trail, which detracts from the "natural" feel of the place but does a great job of attracting swarms of birds near enough to see.
I never realized that humming birds actually make a humming sound when they're flying around. A group of them sort of sound like a light saber fight out of star wars when they're flitting around, chasing each other.
Due to some kind of translation mix up, we were led to understand that the trail was a loop, and not a "go in. take in the sights, then walk back the way you came" kind of trail. This misunderstanding, and our general stubborness and inability to retrace our steps led us to walk down a whole series of hobbit sized tunnels and continue our trek farther than we had intented. After a 2 hour hike, we ended up in some weird, post-apocalyptic water collection and re-direction type project, out in the middle of nowhere. I couldn't figure out how someone, at some time, had brought all the stuff used to create the various cisterns, channels, levers and pipes out to the middle of nowhere. It was all a bit surreal, and made for an adventure - maybe not the adventure we had originally thought we were embarking upon, but an adventure nonetheless.
We made it home on Saturday afternoon, wet, muddy, and tired - and in one (or two, to be specific) piece.
On Sunday, we got to experience one of those traditional latin lunch events, when the whole family, in this case the Politz's, family friends of A's, comes together for the afternoon and hangs out. It's like Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner, at least in relation to how we do it up in the US, and they do it here every week.
The rest of the day was spent running errands. All in all, it was a good time.

Huge Beak


Here is the humming bird with a beak longer than it's body (the picture jay tried to post below)

yanococha pictures

Entering the park.

Umm, what? Is that the trail the bears take, or a trail to see the bears? Are they trained to stay on that trail, or is there a chance they went on a hike today as well?


end of the trail - we should have taken some pictures of the tunnels - those were fun! Nobody is home - we checked.


Tried to highlight the length of the beak on this hummingbird. Not sure if it worked out - lots of mist.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No electricity (for a while)

So, the main desk guy in our building called me up around noon yesterday on the building intercom and informed me that the electricity guy was here to disconnect the power to our apartment. Turns out that someone (who will remain unnamed) decided to go to the US without paying the electric bill. And then that same someone decided to stay stateside for several weeks longer than originally intended, and then that someone didn't go immediately to the bank (where all utilities and other bills are paid - weird, huh?) to pay the bill.
Hence, the power turn off, which makes two things abundantly clear - one, that this country doesn't screw around with their utility payments, and, two, that I'm clearly to blame for this fiasco.
Actually, things weren't that bad. I continued to do my work for the day at a cafe with wifi access. And we had what could be considered by some people as a self-enforced romantic evening by candle light. There's something surreal about hanging out in a be-candled house, enjoying a meal in the dark and just hanging out, and then walking out of your apartment to a lit up foyer. Kind of weird to be in the dark when the rest of the city is lit up outside the windows. But fun, for a day at least.
The one downside, if it can even be considered a downside, is that we had no phone or internet access. So, for those of you who were trying to reach us in the later part of the week - we weren't ignoring you. At least, not in the way that we usually ignore our phone calls.
This experience (the power is back on now), coupled with the financial crisis going on at the moment, and sprinkled with a little of the last (latest) die hard movie (what is that - the fifth? sixth) that I caught a snippet of at the gym this morning, has me thinking about the relative differences in reactions to the pandemonium that is upon us. I've been thinking about the "developing" nations of the third world, and the fact that most people have little or no access to capital (debt or equity), and how, up to the last couple weeks, this was seen as a major detriment to the development of these countries. There aren't that many mortgage instruments availalbe to people here, little credit cards, no home equity lines of credit, no car loans, no commercial paper, no short term loans (this has all started to change recently, but I imagine that the growth in this area is going to be drastically curtailed in the future). People in Ecuador, specifically, have gone through a period where all bank assets were frozen, across the nation - nobody could get any money. And they survived. They were able to continue going about their business as usual.
Huge swaths of this country only recently were added to the electric grid, and those that have had electricity for a longer period of time (such as in urban areas) have gotten used to losing power for days at a time. There was a time in the not too distant past where Quito would only have power every other day - and that went on for years.
So, what does this all mean? It means that the "third world" people are far more prepared to deal with adverse conditions than their developed neighbors. That the developing nations are going to be in a better position, relative to their more developed neighbors, to handle the coming difficult times, and that maybe, somehow, the gap between the developed and developing nations is going to shrink. We, or our counterparts who think and work on these issues, used to think that this gap would shrink when the third world became more like the first. Who knew it would happen when the first moved down the rungs to join the third?
I guess there's a silver lining in any cloud. Consider this - no more illegal immigrant issue. Nobody wants to sneak into a country that has no jobs to offer them.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

back in Quito

Well - half the dynamic duo is back, at least. I'm about to jump out into the fray and try to find some place showing the Skins/cowboys game. It's election day here - a referendum for the new constitution. I stumbled across the horrible realization that this wacky country implements a "ley seca" during elections - no drinking from noon Friday to noon Monday when there's a general election. Not just no selling booze in any establishment, but no personal consumption of alcohol during that time, even in the comfort of your own home. Who ever heard of a country doing something so puritanically controlling? That's crazy talk. I can't imagine what it would have been like trying to get through the Kerry/Bush election day without some liquid fortitude, or the chance to drown one's sorrows afterwards.
I can't tell if this is an example of extreme fascism or extreme communism, but it sucks.
I'm going to start a grass-roots movement for a referendum banning the ley seca.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Back in the US of A

For those that aren't in the loop on these things, A and I are in DC for a while. What was originally planned as a quick trip to Baltimore and DC for a wedding, chocolate tasting event and a chance to see friends has slowly ballooned into a three week extravaganza, spanning multiple cities, across multiple weekends, involving a whole giant broadway show sized cast of friends and family. Should be a good time.
Since we won't have a bunch of pictures of exotic spots we're visiting (not counting some of the more "interesting" baltimore suburbs) I think I'll try and post some links on the site, in lieu of pictures of things you don't usually see at home.
If you're in the DC area - I hope I see you soon.

I'm a little worried about my poor fig tree, stuck all alone in Quito.

Friday, September 5, 2008

comments

A posts a picture once a week or so on a photo blog site. It's one of those artistic photo (not those kind) sites where budding, amateur, professional and just plain curious photographers tend to congregate.
Each of her posts, individually, has more comments on that site than all of the comments on this blog, in its entirety. I don't know if that says more about the quality of her pictures or the suckiness of these posts.

TSA is a joke

As I prepare to fly the friendly skies once again today, I had a thought. TSA screens all checked bags (most times, you have to literally carry your bag over to the x-ray machine and "handlers" at check-in).
Why is it, then, that things still get stolen out of bags that are checked? Only two options come to mind:
1) TSA employees are stealing crap out of people's bags, which is a sad statement about the level of security and the type of people that are hired to "protect us" from evil-doers on planes.
2) The chain of security is broken after TSA inspects the bag (some random people are getting into bags after TSA inspects and before the baggage owner gets the bag), which is, on the whole, a lot scarier than the first option. Scary because it means that anyone can do anything to baggage getting on planes once it's been "checked" by security, and "things" can be added to baggage just as easily as they are taken out.
In a parallel thought to the above, how are bags lost in the new age of air travel? If bags are lost, it means that they are unaccounted for, which seems to be another indication that there's a break in the chain of security. You would think, for security's sake, that those who care about security wouldn't want random bags getting on planes they aren't supposed to be on, wouldn't you?
I get the feeling that the TSA's procedures are there to provide an annoyance to travelers, with the idea that annoyance and suffering is equated to a sense of security in placid passenger's minds. It doesn't work that way for me, but then I've never been accused of seeing the world the same way as everyone else.
I guess I should be prepared for strip search, this time around. I'll make sure to wear some clean underwear.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

micro climates in the city

Since I finally got my hands on the camera this afternoon, I took some shots of the city scape to try and highlight the micro climates around here. I don't know if this is going to come out in the pictures or not - if it doesn't, it's surely my fault.

First picture, facing North. Notice the clouds overhead (it's not raining around here yet) and, off in the distance past the airport, it's a bright and sunny day.

The next shot is towards the center of town and Pichincha (due West from the living room) - the hazy white stuff is pouring rain. Again, not raining up here yet.

Just a little strangeness.

missed shot


here's the latest update on the construction. The top's been capped and some netting has been set up (I don't know why).
I had the perfect picture this morning, but, once again, I couldn't find the #*$&)#&$ camera until hours later (it was in the other camera bag. Not the "other camera bag" - the other camera's bag, if that makes any sense).
Since I don't have the image to show you, I'll just have to paint the picture with words.
So, see the yellow thing-a-ma-bob up on the top floor? That's a little mini-crane that the construction workers are using to haul up cement blocks. This morning, there was a guy, standing on top of a barrel, right at the edge next to the crane, taking cement blocks from a one guy on the ledge and handing them up to a guy standing on the roof of the building. With another guy operating the crane, swinging the thing back and forth not 2 feet from this guy prancing around on the top of a barrel hanging over the edge of the building.
I guess "safety is priority #1" is universal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

weekend update

We spent a lot of time on dirt roads this weekend. Started off going to our friends Andrew and Claire's property out near Mindo on Sunday (Saturday being the laze about and do little of anything day). They recently purchased about 25 hectares of land of undeveloped land about an hour and a half ride down a dirt road off the panamericana. They want to leave most of the land untouched and allow the cloud forest to continue to grow, but are planting some little baby cacao and lemon and a variety of other trees in a hectare or so of their land.
A hectare, by the way, is 10,000 meters squared, as I learned this weekend.
We walked around a bit, ate a picnic, and generally hung out in the country.
On Monday, we stopped by another friend of a friend's coffee farm closer to the city, but, again, about an hour drive down a dirt road. Tromped around in various fields of coffee, and sugar cane, and undeveloped land. It was amazing to see the difference in environment between the first place (largely undeveloped, with lots of forest and very, very wet) and the second area (largely developed, few trees, and very, very dry) considering that, despite the travel time between the two "tracts of land", they're really very close to each other. Made me worry about the future of our planet (not sure if it made me worry any more than usual, though). We had a chance to check out a nearby sugar cane mill, too, where they produce a sugar like substance - like a cross between brown sugar and molasses called panela (I think) - from the cane.
All in all, a good weekend. Maybe not the bbq heaven of a traditional labor day, but a good and relaxing time.

elections everywhere

The general election in the US (of A) is a big deal. We'll be following all the blowhard news coverage running up to the November election via the web and other media outlets, just like everyone else.
Down here in Ecuador, meanwhile, they're gearing up for a referendum on a new constitution, which kind of makes a little thing like electing a new president pale in comparison. The referendum is at the end of the month (September) and the things are already starting to get hectic. Buses full of the "Si" and "No" people fill the highways outside of the main cities, going from one demonstration to the other. Protesters are staking out their respective traffic circles and square across the city. The circle next to our house is full of the "No" people, waving flags, shouting out slogans, and generally causing traffic jams, massive amounts of honking for their position, massive amounts of honking (and gestures out the window) from people against their position, and massive amounts of honking from generally pissed off people stuck in traffic. This is repeated in every traffic circle around. There's huge gatherings in various parts of the city every night. Fireworks and loud music every other night (and, I assume, even more carousing and spectacle on the weekends, when we aren't here). Flat bed trucks full of police in full riot gear can be seen navigating through the city.
I'm thinking that the city's gearing up for some major chaos soon. Should be interesting.
I'd take pictures to provide evidence but I left the camera in the car, which Amanda took to work today.
More later.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Laguna or Lago

Finally getting around to providing an update of last weekend. I've even uploaded some pics and created one of those slideshow thingees that A is so fond of.
I know it's late in the game, but the trip was fun. We ran around in the Otovalo area. Took a detour on the way to our destination - Lago Cuicocha (pronounced Quicocha - like Quito) to see Laguna Mohanda.
I don't really know the difference between a lago and a laguna. One would expect a laguna to be a lagoon, and maybe it is on the coast. Up here in the mountains, though, it seems to be a little crater lake. Maybe just a little lake, period. Who knows? Personally, I think that one of the minor benefits to living in a foreign country is being clueless about things. I don't know what words mean, I don't know where things are, I don't know people, the political landscape, the sports teams or what the hell is going on in general in life, but that's okay. I'm a gringo.
The ride through Mohanda was an intersting side trip (note - yellow roads on the map are really bad). It was a chance to get some use out of the 4 wheel drive of the car - the first real consistent use of the 4x4 option since purchasing the vehicle (except for that brief river crossing with Nasser back in June). Small children could have hidden in the potholes that weren't so much interspersed across the road so much as made up the majority of the road. Earlier rains had created gullies and veritable ravines across the road, which all makes for a fun ride, until you get that little nagging voice in your head noting that a slide or wrong bounce will send the car off on a long trip down, the wife and you along with it. I think it ended up taking us about 2 and a half hours to go 20 kilometers, or something to that effect. We passed three mountain bikers on the way up (walking their bikes up the hill) and passed another group of mountain bikers resting at the actual lake -- and that was it. Talk about a lonely environment.
After checking in to our hotel, we made our way to another crater lake (this one a lago, for some reason) and proceeded to hike the 15km trail circumnavigating the crater. Even in miles, that's a long way. I don't think the pictures do it justice.
The night was spent resting my weary bones in front of a raging fire in a nearby posada. Nice place, and we had it all to ourselves. It's one of those places that causes day dreams of owning an hacienda (which would make one an hacendero) somewhere off the beaten track, spending the day watching clouds roll in, then roll on out again. I wonder if they get a decent internet connection out there?
Sunday was spent checking out a local waterfall (fun - nothing to write home about) and driving home through rain and observing, and getting stuck in traffic due to, a large number of traffic accidents. No pictures here of those - they were almost all rather gruesome looking.
This weekend, the plan is to go visit a friend of a friend's coffee farm. Then maybe head out to some other nearby haunts. Other than that, not much is going on - it's not a holiday for the locals.




Thursday, August 21, 2008

Little Vans


These tiny little vans are all over the city. I love'em! I don't know why, but I want one.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

EcuaTrash

These uniquely styled Ecuadorian trash cans can be found all along the Panamericana, especially in Salcedo.

Chimborazo

Chimborazo, one of the most popular volcanoes for climbs in Ecuador, is almost always shrouded in clouds...we were lucky to find it on a completely clear day. The top of Chimborazo is the closest point to the sun on the earth.

Salinas Cemetery

Shots from an overgrown cemetery we visited in Salinas

Friday, August 15, 2008

Milking Bessie


Since, on occasion, Jay likes to sneak an embarrassing shot of me onto the blog (e.g. Amanda riding a llama), I thought I'd share with our loyal readers a nice picture of Jay working on a crucial life skill. ;-) -Amanda

Lago Quilatoa


One of the most stunning crater lakes in Ecuador

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Politics is everywhere

From our trip around Quilatoa. This is the only intersection on a multi-hour drive. Some old abandoned building. And even here, 4000 meters plus above sea level and in the middle of nowhere, someone's motivated enough to make a political statement. Yes to the new constitution. yes to socialism (and political party 17). yes to white washed buildings.
In a rather stilted segue, Amanda and I drove by a demonstration this weekend by the Ecuadorian Communist Party. I don't really get it. I wonder if they're loosely associated with the society of creative anachronism that used to run around Penn wearing armor and "smiting" each other.

update on the surreal

So, as I'm walking home from the coffee shop (traffic is a mess, and once again I'm glad that I walk places) I notice the following:
It's relatively light out, and a balmy seventy (maybe upper sixties).
There are amazing views of cloudless skies shining late afternoon light over mountains off in the distance.
There's ice between the cracks in the sidewalk, and the grassy median area between the sidewalk and the road is covered in ice, but the roads aren't slick - just wet.
The heavy downpour has created a faux-fall (and how often do you get to string those words together) - and there are leaves blanketing the ground under trees along the walk.

All in all, it's kind of a surreal experience.

hail is not a form of greeting

I spent some time in a coffee shop down in mariscal today, attempting to envelop myself in some new scenery and strange folks while getting the normal work a day stuff done. All good times, although I did end up in my usual hang out, despite my best efforts. I'm still trying to find other places, but discovered that the papaya net location is just not worth the effort (note for anyone planning on traveling down here and looking for an internet cafe).
Anyway - aimlessly wandering around look for a place, coming to the usual haunt, doing work and drinking coffee, I was just about to leave when it started raining. In these parts, rain isn't the end of the world, although it hasn't been happening with the clock-like regularity as several months before, when we first arrived. The plan is usually to just wait out the half hour or so of downpour, and then go about your business. Today, though, things haven't worked out quite the same way. First it rained. Then it rained harder. During the monsoon the cable flickered and then went out. Then it started to hail. Hail golf ball sized pellets that bounced off of awnings over outside tables, bounced through open doors and the general open front area, and rolled through the cafe. There's little chunks of ice all over the place. Not just across the floor, but on chairs, on counters -- pretty much on all the surfaces. Kind of fun, if you're aren't too worried about the health of your laptop. The power went out, of course, and now we're all sitting in the relative dark - those of us who were waiting out the rain to be on our way, those of us who came sprinting into the closest open establishment when the downpour started, and those of us who would usually be working at said establishment, if there were any power to do anything (there is one waitress lighting candles).
It stopped, eventually. Then started raining again. My battery will fail, eventually, and then I'll have nothing better to do than help drink the beer before it gets too warm.
A and I went no where this weekend. I think it's the first weekend in a long time where we've just hung out in the city with no real plans. Saturday was spent checking out all the events for the run up to the bicentennial of the declaration of independence (did you know that latin american independence from Spain started with the caudillos in Quito? Its true, look it up). No pictures of the event, but the old city was chock full of people, all the museums were open until early Sunday morning, and all the theaters offered free admission to short versions of their full priced fare. We didn't stay until 2 in the morning, although I hear that several hundred thousand other people were expected to do just that.
Oh, yeah - and we finally went to see Batman last night at an honest to god movie multiplex. Full price tickets are a whopping 3.25. Popcorn and a soda will set you back another 5.25. Not cheap, by any stretch of the imagination, for a third world company, but a hell of a lot cheaper than the same experience in a similarly equiped movie theater in the US. One must be careful not to purchase tickets for the dubbed version of movies, though, or else the whole batman experience could turn surreal. We were lucky enough to get the subtitled version. A had no inkling that what's his face who played the joker had committed suicide. Talk about being out of the loop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In the altiplano around chimborazo

Used the little point and shoot camera to take a video of the high plains area around Chimborazo. We were lucky enough to get a mostly cloudless morning while we drove around the volcano. The images remind me of the stop we took in Africa, between Morocco and the Western Sahara (just before the bus broke down). Switch the camels for llamas, and the ocean for views of hills and valleys - or is it the other way around? I've been looking for the old video of the bus stop near the shipwrecks in Western Sahara, but I haven't been able to find it on the blog. Maybe it's in my computer somewhere...
Some interesting facts regarding Chimborazo - it's the highest peak in the Western Hemisphere, and the closest point to the sun in the world (that's right out of the Lonely Planet) I think that has to do with the fact that it's so close to the Equator. Wikipedia has it as the farthest point from Earth's center (dude, check out the story on SAETA flight 232. That's spooky, and brings images of a Lost sub-plot to mind).


potential christmas card

Here's one of those things that you think that you want to do at some point, but turn out to be way too self-consciously awkward.
Only the girls rode the poor llamas.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Blogging is like dirty dishes

If you let it go to long, all the potential posts, ideas, pictures and activities start to pile up and make a big, stinking mess. And wading through all that mess becomes a daunting task, which you wave off until tomorrow, or the next week, or some other time in the future, when it's only going to be a bigger, scarier, and more daunting hurdle.
That's what we have here. A trip to Monpiche (the beach), a visit from Scott (and Amy), various usual activities throughout Quito, a trip over the weekend through Ambato, Salinas, Guaranda, Latacunga, Pujili and the Quilaloa loop (half the fun of traveling around Ecuador is getting to say the names of the towns you go through). Reams of photos of white capped volcanos, llamas, breath taking panoramic views and open air markets. days of driving on bad roads, which turned into worse roads, which turned into horrible roads, winding up and down over mountains and through valleys. Playing chicken on those same roads with buses full of people, bags, boxes (and chickens) and blaring every spanish love ballad known to man.
A good time, but just too much stuff to detail in any one post.
So i'll try to add some pictures over time of the different trip segments, and A, as is her wont, will add her more interesting and better composed pictures at a later date. And then maybe, if we're lucky, we'll get some of the good stuff from Scott, too.

Monday, July 28, 2008

construction update

Been a while since I posted a construction update. Looks like they've walled in the lower floors, and continue to build upwards. Notice that the construction guys have gone through a technological revolution, and now have a pulley system in place to get things up (and down) the building -- the guy in blue coveralls standing in the middle floors is using it. Based on the lack of scaffolding, I'm guessing that they're starting to use the internal stairs to get up and down the floors.

Wonder why I keep posting these construction pictures? It's so one can do this - it's like one of those flip book type things - only in reverse

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Back in Quito

Nothing much to report on the flight back "home". It was good seeing everyone that I was able to see.
Major news about Lonesome George. It looks like he's learned how to not be so lonesome no more. I guess it's more interesting for those of us who have been to see him in the Galapagos.

Monday, July 14, 2008

In Denver for the Week

I'm in Denver for the week. A's home, enjoying herself.
I'm not really here by choice, but I'm going to make the most of the situation. I look forward to figuring out how this city engendered a personality like Neal Cassidy, and what it's all about.
I'm staying at the Brown Palace hotel while I'm here, a place with enough character to make the trip a little interesting. It reminds me of the Drake in Chicago. Character that is in no way similar to the image that the name might project in some people's minds. As far as I can tell, there's no chinese food here.

The One Rule

As you may know, I've been traveling a lot more than usual. Figures that work would have me going places as soon as we decide to move to an exotic locale where I want to spend more time.
One of the secondary results of traveling is that I spend way too much time in public bathrooms, which is a disturbing enough prospect, in and of itself. This experience has led me to one overriding thought, or demand, regarding my fellow travelers, and the first, and hopefully only, rule that I want everyone that I know to follow. I'm not a demanding person, in general, but this is imperative:
Under no circumstances should anyone, ever, use their phone in a public restroom. There are no conditions or situations or factors in the world that warrant or excuse people from taking or making cell phone calls while they are in a public toilet. Period.
It's disgusting.
If I were a better man, I would confront the miscreants and sinners who engage in these acts directly, rather than telling people who know better what to do.
I pity the people on the receiving ends of those calls.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Galapagos - Pictures of Wildlife and Landscapes

The Galapagos was amazing - a highly recommended trip for anyone into experiencing nature up close, playing in the water and relaxing (oh, and swiming with sharks if you are into that). Truly a once in a lifetime experience. The diversity of animals, terrains and views from island to island was astounding. Living aboard a boat where you don't have to captain, cook or clean was also a bit of a treat, but the lack of hard work while aboard did make us feel a little guilty.

Here are a few shots of the wildlife and landscapes:

Galapagos - Pictures of Jay, Amanda and Ethan

Here is the first of two slideshows from Galapagos. This one is specificially dedicated to family - especially parents and grandparents - that want to see pictures of us (especially of Ethan).

Monday, July 7, 2008

We're back from Galapagos, which was an amazing trip on all fronts. There's much to report on Galapagos, but before I do, wanted to get our Machu Pichu pictures up online:

Saturday, June 28, 2008

galapagos, here we come

Leaving for the galapagos in the morning. Don't expect any posts until we come back. If you're lucky, maybe Amanda will get around to posting some pictures of the trip on our return. Or maybe she'll get around to posting some pictures of her machu pichu trip.
Who knows.

random observation

I watched some delivery guys deliver a washer and dryer to the apartment building across the street this morning. This is how they do it here: Three guys show up with the truck. Two guys open up the back of the truck and pull out the washer machine. They pick up the washer machine (by hand) and put the washer machine on the back of the third guy, standing on the street. The third guy carries the washer machine, on his back, into the building. I assume he then carries the washer machine either up the stairs in the building. Repeat for dryer.
It must really suck to be that third guy.
Speaking of random delivery issues, as I've said before, everything is delivered here. You get the water bottles delivered, propane tank refills delivered. There are people to bring you just about anything you can imagine. Even the little tienda two blocks away, the place that sells the $1 liter bottles of beer (80 cents after the 20 cent deposit) will deliver whatever you want, in whatever quantity, at any time. But here's the catch - most restaurants will deliver, but nobody's figured out the take out menu thing yet. So you can order a delivery, but you've got to guess what they have available.
Strange way of doing things. I think most of the whole restaurant issue is based on the fact that restaurants here get a ton of advertising revenue from their menus. Most decent restaurants have menus that run into mini booklet form, and they're full of stuff besides menu options - adverts for everything from beer commercials to real estate developments in the suburbs.
Again, strange way of doing things.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Liga Plays Tonight

Championship game (one of 2) played tonight, here in Quito for the Copa de Libertadores.  We're going to try and watch it at a restaurant (sometimes, not having a tv is kind of a bummer).

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

busy schedule

Things have been busy, busy, busy.
Went to Banos this weekend.  Fun town, full of hippie tourists and local tourists, all attracted to the huge industry of activities that have grown up around the once sole highlight of heated pools.  Banos is close to Tungurahua, and active volcano.  Sadly, we didn't see any lava flowing or ash spewing.  I guess that's a mixed blessing.
We spent the weekend hiking around the area, and going white water rafting - good times, all in all.  Banos is right on the edge of the mountains, the gate to the Amazon, and one can rent a bicycle and bike down to the nearest Amazon town, Puyo, for five bucks.  I want to do that next time, it's an amazing winding road down the mountain sides.
Now, aside from the usual day to day activities, we're also trying to get ready for our trip to the Galapagos next week.  This mostly involves running around town to used bookstores, trying to scrounge the desperately needed beach reading.  So far, we've had mixed luck. 
The day after we get back from the Galapagos, Ethan and I are off to Florida for a week of visiting the grandparents.  Then up to Baltimore (and DC) and then to Denver, then back to DC, then back home.  Fun times.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

banana-rama

I always knew Ecuador was a banana republic - I just had no idea that it was the largest - I had thought that was Costa Rica.
An interesting article on bananas and how, someday, they won't be in your breakfast cereal.
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/opinion/18koeppel.html?em&ex=1214020800&en=acf4d20d4c12e559&ei=5087%0A

My only note- I think it's noteworthy that the author fails to mention that the CIA, and US military (at tax payers expense) did a lot more than "help arrange" the overthrow of a democratically elected (and democrat) president in Guatemala.
Thanks, US tax payer, for the cheap bananas.

quick update

A's back from Peru a day late, but none the worse for wear.
E's been here for over a week now. We've been hanging out and enjoying the city. Now that the family's whole again, the expectation is for a wide range of adventures and exploits to begin, any day now.
In the meantime, I'm spending my time on the computer and on conference calls, Amanda's doing the chocolate thing, and Ethan's either reading or playing his game cube.
I know, it sounds like fun.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

construction workers


I can't tell if this would be a fun job or not. Dangerous, sure. But it might beat sitting in an office and staring at a computer all day.
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construction update

It's been a long time since I posted any pictures of the construction progress. Couple more floors.

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The Sinuous Road Ends


They should put these signs on the top of wedding cakes...
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Monday, June 16, 2008

bah humbug

I'm busy, I tell you. That's my only excuse. The piles of dime store paperbacks I've gone through, and the stacks of knock off DVDs we've watched are not to blame.
Seriously. Busy. Blog or watch "Fool's Gold"? Is that really a choice?
Anyway, on to serious stuff. Who wants to pitch in and buy some Southland property?
http://www.dqnews.com/News/California/Southern-CA/RRSCA080616.aspx

And when did it become Southland, anyway?

Nass and I tried to watch Southland Tales (my introduction to the term). Weird movie. unwatchably weird. This is not a recommendation, by any means, but I do have the tape, if you want to borrow it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

close up of pichincha


Same picture, just cropped, with Picasa highlights.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pichincha


Last week, it was cold enough that Pichincha was covered in snow. Taken a few blocks from home.

Gas Prices

That's in US Dollars. For a gallon.

On Arrival

In light of the upcoming visits, and in preparation for those who may be planning on visiting (hint, hint), here's a little background on what you can expect when coming to Quito.
First thing to know - the baggage claim tickets that you are given when you check your bags are important and necessary. As opposed to most airports, the police here check your baggage claim tickets against the baggage that you have when you leave the airport. Do not throw those little tabs away (the airline usually puts them on the boarding pass sleeve)!
Secondly, as a suggestion, if your height, personal philosophy, or need to get up and go to the bathroom during the flight does not preclude it, get a window seat. The views on arrival, as the plane banks around the valley, are pretty amazing, especially for people who haven't been around serious mountain ranges in the past. Even at night, the views can be spectacular.
When landing, remind yourself that the airport is smack dab in the middle of the city. You might think that the plane is trying to land in the middle of a neighborhood, plowing through a swath of unsuspecting houses. Don't worry, it's been years since a pilot's missed the runway. Okay. You've landed successfully. This is good. The country's progress, development and efforts to be modern is quickly evident. You now get those snaking gate things that come out to the plane, and you don't have to debark onto the tarmac and walk across the airstrip to the airport building. This is progress. The downside is that you have to walk, a lot, to get where yolu are going. Just follow everyone else, and gird yourself for a hike.
The first stop on arrival is immigration. You stand in a long, winding bank line until a number is called. Just be patient. When you get to an immigration person, answer "yes" to the question "is this your first visit to Ecuador". This is your first visit, always. This is your first visit, even if you are an Ecuadorian who travels on a weekly basis. It is always your first visit. Not that there's anything wrong with visiting Ecuador before, it's just an easy answer. "Si", to everything. If possible, look kind of dumb and lost at this point. I think that helps.
So now you're in the country, officially. Up to this point, things have been fairly ordered and mundane and just like any other flight arrival experience. That's all about to end.
Baggage claim is just past customs. It's a mad house. Although they have the baggage carousels, they don't always work. And even when they do work, that doesn't stop people (airport staff, fellow passengers, random military dudes) from pulling bags that aren't theirs off the carousels and putting them on the ground. Bags, boxes, cellophane wrapped packages and all kinds of things are stacked haphazardly all over the place, or have fallen off the carousel. This is liberally
mixed with the horde of people who have disembarked from your plane and every other flight from the day, all milling about and pushing carts, and trying to organize the seventeen monster suitcases of fruit loops, boxes of plasma tvs and pet carrier cases that they brought on their flights. Keep in mind that latins have little regard for personal space or right of way, and fend for yourself the best that you can.
Assuming that you are able, eventually, to track down and secure your bags, the next step is to go through customs. Typically there is a single operating customs line, even though there's a full battalion of customs guys standing around. There is no concept of a line in this country - just a press of people all trying to get to that single customs person at the same time. A liberal use of elbows, bag swinging, toe stepping and a wide stance (heh, heh) might help. Then again, it might not. At some point in this debacle, someone is going to ask for your customs form. This request has nothing to do with actually going through the customs line. Roll with it, and hand over the form you filled out on the plane.
Again, assuming you've made it through customs at some point (and haven't had to pay any "import tax" for any of your items), you'll go through some automatic doors and come into the reception area. Every single relative, however distant, of every single person on your flight is going to be standing there, waiting. Hordes of humanity will be looking at you. Although there are gates and a marked lane to get by, the 35 family members of the person who came through the doors before you will all be standing directly between you and the exit, hugging, kissing, talking and generally standing around and getting in the way.
At the worst possible moment, while you are struggling to get through that morass of people, a new, and final, official will demand your baggage claim tickets. Hopefully you haven't thrown them away by now, or lost them in your purse, backpack, computer bag or carry on, because that guy will make you go through everything to find them before you're allowed to leave.
Now you're in country. If I'm picking you up, I'll tend to stand by the doors to the outside, as much on the fringe of the madness as my psyche will allow. The upside is that I tend to be about three feet taller than the general population, so I should be fairly easy to spot in the crowd. I'll get you safely home from there.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

party invite

In case you wanted to know what you're missing - the invitation for our birthday party this friday.


No, that isn't me. Or Dan.

El Monte in Mindo

here's a link to the eco lodge where we stayed in Mindo, El Monte.


I stole a picture off their web site of the ferrying mechanism one has to use to get across the river to the lodge from the road (called a terebitha around these parts).
No, that's not me. No, I don't know who it is.

education in pictures

i finally figured out why it was taking me an hour or so to load pictures from our trips on the blog. They're all over 4 MB! Who knew that pictures would take up that much space.
I guess I need to work on cutting down the image size first, and make my life easier.

I know

I know exactly what you're thinking.  You get to work in the morning, sit down at your cube, or in your office, or even in the study, at home, if you're lucky enough to have a setup like me, and you take the first couple sips of coffee and start making plans for the day as you fire up the computer.  Your first stop, of course, is this blog, and your met with what can only be the biggest disappointment of the day -- no update.  I know what it's like.  I too, am a blog reader, or used to be, and I know what it's like not to have that update on the page.  Not to be able to spend some idle time living vicariously through other people's experiences.  Not to be able to get that input of an adventure or two, not to see a fun picture, not to learn an interesting, if utterly useless, piece of information.  It puts a pall on the day.  Like a gray sky and a light drizzle in the early morning, it makes you want to go back to bed and pretend that the world took a break until later.
I could bore you with a long list of excuses about busy, about work, about being out of town.  I could complain that the damn internet connection makes it almost impossible to get pictures loaded onto the site.  I could say lots of things, none of which would change the fact that I just haven't taken the time to update the blog.  Thankfully, Amanda's picked up some of the slack, and is starting to post pictures of our weekend trips and such, which is fun.  What's she's left out is all the background - the car crashes, the brushes with altitude sickness, the wide horses and the flying dutchmen.  I'm thinking that she's expecting me to fill in the gaps, and I'm newly resolved (resolutions being a big part of birthdays, which mine is approaching) to do just that.  Maybe I don't need to block out an hour or two every day to fill in the gaps.  Maybe it should only take a minute or two.  Who knows?  We'll try this out. 
Plus, I'm going to try and update the blog from email.  Never tried that before.
Last weekend we spent a day or two in Banos, one of my favorite weekend getaways from Quito. Here are some pics from the hike and our stay there.
We recently headed to Mindo for a little relaxation and hiking in the cloud forest. Here are a couple shots of El Monte a beautiful eco lodge where we stayed in Mindo. The only way to get to the lodge is to ride a little zip-line like basket that takes you across the river to the lodge's property.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dude, we got a car

Not sure why it's taken me so long to get this out, but we bought a car on Friday. Got ourselves a 4 door, 6 cylinder, 4wd Gran Vitara. It's a teeny little SUV - no moon or sun roof, no AC, but it is an automatic (A's requirement) and does have low mileage.
It's a 2002 that costs about the same as a brand new SUV costs in the U.S., but what are you going to do?
We just got around to getting insurance today, which means we can take it out of the garage for the first time since we bought it (and some of us know how important it is to have insurance in this country). Now, all that's left is multiple inspections (municipality and police), registration and title work, and then we're good to go.
I'd include a link of a picture of the Isuzu, but I can't find anything that isn't a short term seller's ad, not that I've looked all that much.
As with so many things, cars are a little weird here - Isuzu's are branded as Chevrolet's in this country. They're all the same. As far as I can tell, part of the import process on arrival is to rip the Isuzu logo off the hood and slap on a Chevy plus.

Upside is that we can now pick people up at the airport when they arrive. Dropping them off when they are set to leave will be dependent on behavior, and flight times.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Construction Update


There haven't been one of these for a while.

Liga plays America tonight

http://msn.foxsports.com/soccer/story/8178894/America,-Liga-looking-to-make-history

First game of semi-finals is tonight, in Mexico. I'm hoping to scalp some tickets for the game here in early June.
Notice how all the recent posts are about soccer? I don't know what's happening to me. Must be the water

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Futbol - LDU vs. San Lorenzo

Thursday afternoon, on a lark, we headed down to Liga's stadium (la casa blanca), where LDU, better known as Liga, were playing a qualifying match against San Lorenzo (from Argentina). We headed out with some new friends "a la brava" (which basically means we didn't have any tickets and were hoping to find something there). We did end up getting tickets, we did go inside, and we did have a good time (and "our" team, LDU, did win).
The stadium was relatively small, at least in comparison to NFL stadiums - there were a little over 40,000 people. What the crowd lacked in size, however, it more than made up for in energy and rowdiness. It wasn't nearly as bad as the stories you hear about the hooligans and the general pandemonium and poor behavior in european stadiums -- there were women and children at this game, it was sort of like a family event, but there was the fireworks, the chants, the drumming, the jumping up and down, the jeers and taunts.
It's hard to explain how big a deal this game was for Ecuador, and for most latins, in general. Latin America has the Copa de Libertadores - the professional league championships here that mirror the Champions League in Europe. This is a "world series" for all the winners of all the professional leagues across all of South America. LDU, by winning in the game that we attended, goes to the quarterfinals of this series, where they play Mexico's America team. The winner of this Copa, at least as far as I understand, will then play in another championship in Tokyo this summer against the Champion League winner (Manchester U) and the winners of other league championship, to eventually determine the world champion league for the year.
And then it all starts over again.
So, we got tickets, we had a good time, and I think that we'll go to the Americas game (when they play here again) in a couple of weeks. There aren't any seats in the stadium, just benches of concrete, and it's all general seating, by section. The key, as I've realized, is that you have to find a seat that minimizes the number of fences between you and the field of play, since multiple fences can obstruct the view. And there are fences - tall, barbed wire encrusted fences, around everything - all the sections are individually wrapped and the field is surrounded by high fencing. The North and South sections are where all the hoopla is happening, that's the center of all the flag waving, stomping, screaming and pyrotechnics. The West and East sections are more family oriented (we were in the West). Here's the weird thing - I don't know if it's an innate thing, or a skill/custom learned from years of watching football, or if there's some manual somewhere, but everyone in our section stands up and sits down at the same time, based on what's happening in the game. It's like everyone knows when they should sit, and when something exciting is going to happen on the field. So, there we are, amongst 10,000 people, who are all standing up and sitting down at the same time. Kind of like being in church. Which, in a sense, I guess is what a stadium is.
This has to be the most linked post ever.
Results of the scavenger hunt:

Jay and his new toy: