My Galapagos Pictures

 

Seal Pup
Seal Pup

I’m a sucker for animals. You might have noticed my penchant for dogs, particularly street dogs and mutts. George says that my ultimate dog is from the pound, has three legs, an eye patch and an immediate need for $10,000 of medical expenses. That sounds about right.

Baby Boobie
Baby Booby

My favorite vacations usually include an encounter with wildlife. Costa Rica (especially the night tour!), Kangaroo Island, Komodo Island and Bali are in my heart as great places to visit–primarily due to the animals.

Here in the mountains of Ecuador the only wildlife I’ve encountered are in the Zoo. I’ve been there twice. So far.

So, naturally, I was keen to go to the Galapagos.

Truly, there isn’t much to say about the trip, other than it was over-the-top fantastic. So this post will be mainly pictures.

Tortoise
Tortoise

The animals are not afraid or shy. You can stand just a few feet away from them and they just carry on as usual. I saw birds sitting on eggs and coddling their young. Sea Turtles, Giant Tortoises, Iguana, Pelicans, and Fish. So many fish. Three days of snorkeling—it was like diving into National Geographic Magazine.

Mom came with us, she was a trooper. She couldn’t do everything, but the staff was very accommodating, coming up with alternate plans for the more difficult excursions.

Hiking Mom
Hiking Mom
Scuba Mom
snorkel Mom

We met some nice people. OK, two nice people. David and Ferran from the UK. That’s the great thing about travel: you meet people you otherwise would never know.

So, enjoy the pictures. Remember, click on any photo to enlarge. To see all of my Galapagos pictures and videos, click here. Feel free to like and share.  Here are some pics:

1 Lark 3 hanging out on the rocks 4 flamingos 5 Blue Footed Boobies 5 flamingos6 blue footed boobie

Post Office - you leave a letter and take any you can deliver.  Grand nieces and nephews: Expect a postcard within the next 20 years or so
Post Office – you leave a letter and take any you can deliver. Grand nieces and nephews: Expect a postcard within the next 20 years or so

9 yet more flamingo 10 sand dollar 11 seal 12 seal13 leave me alone! 13 seal 16 Mocking Bird 17 beach 18 Mom and pup19 Keith Richards 20 egg 21 Boobie 22 feeding time 23 24 boobie

Baby Boobie
Baby Booby

 

33 turtle tracks
Turtle Tracks – Egg were laid last night!

25 Lizard 26 Lizard 27 28 29 boobie babies31 sea lions around our boat 32 happy 34 - Happy George 34 crab35 crabs 40 Lizard 42 Bird with egg 42 landscape43 cliffs 44 464550

 

You actually looked at all the pictures!  Here’s a bonus for making it this far—

 

 

THERE’S ONE ON EVERY TRIP

If you’ve followed me around the world, you know I call people out from time to time. On every trip, whether it’s a two-hour tour or a 116 day cruise, there is always at least one annoying person. I usually pick them out pretty quickly. I try and avoid them, but at some point there is always an encounter, and then post that encounter here. It’s where the humor lives.

30 DeadGalapagos was no exception. However, this time, there is a rub. You know the theory Six Degrees of Separation? I was horrified to learn we know someone in common! What do I do? I wouldn’t want it to get back to him that I dissed him, but I can’t help it! This guy was particularly annoying, and I really want to tell you about it. Here is the deal: This person might be a friend of yours, or a friend of a friend. I won’t use his name or picture, but someday one of you might figure it out. Shhhhh. While I do have a biting sense of humor and a tongue sharp enough to open clams, I wouldn’t really want to hurt someone’s feelings. So mum’s the word, OK?

As I said, there is always someone. You know the person, they have to monopolize the tour guide, challenge his knowledge, constantly make special requests, or otherwise take over and become the center of attention.

On the Galapagos trip there was a group of six, and one of them was worse than the rest. Every night there would be a briefing in the lounge where the next day’s activities are reviewed. On the first night, and every night after that, he was late. And then would proceed to ask questions that were previously answered. He’d interrupt the speaker, usually cutting him off mid-sentence. For example, he would obnoxiously blurt out something like “What TIME are we meeting? You didn’t say the TIME!!” while all around the room eyes rolled. This was constant. He would also share with the group, again in the middle of the Naturalists’ presentation, tidbits of other trips he had taken during the course of his life. Or he would try and correct the guide. Or ask a random question. All in the tone of an assistant principal supervising detention: “I’ll put a small, red X next to your name in my roll-book.”

Most trips started in the Zodiac, which held about 16 people. We did everything we could to not be on a Zodiac with them, or we would be stuck with them for the duration as they talked through explanations, interrupted lectures, and remained fairly omnipresent throughout the excursion. They touched the animals, even though they were told it’s strictly forbidden. Likewise, against regulations, they pocketed seashells and minerals. It just got tiring after a while. You’d be proud of me, though. I didn’t say a word.

They were pushy, too. While we all waited patiently in line (on-line?) for the lunch buffet, they walked behind the serving line and had the staff fill their plates. Another time they were all sitting at an outdoor table, but decided the next table was better, so they went over and moved other people’s stuff off. When the original occupants returned moments later, the only table available was the dirty table this group just vacated!

On the last night we were all taking pictures of the sunset and moon rise at the bow of the ship. Many people were taking family shots with the sun or moon behind them. While I was waiting for a couple to capture that perfect moment before I passed, two of them shoved me a bit and said they wanted to get though. I said, holding my ground, “We all are trying to get through, but we’re patiently waiting for them to take their picture”. One of them loudly harrumphed behind me as I held firm.

Of the six, one guy and his wife were actually very nice. Maybe they all were. I wouldn’t know, I did my best to avoid them. He was how we discovered our mutual connection.

So, if one of your friends mentions that they met us on a Galapagos Trip, smile knowingly to yourself while you  say out loud: “Oh, yes, they mentioned that! I’m so glad you met!” Then call me IMMEDIATELY. We need to talk. And remember: mum’s the word.

 

©Kyle Merker 2015

Carnaval, Cuenca Style

Carnaval ended last Wednesday in Ecuador–as it did around the world–with church bells tolling, signaling a halt to the festivities and calling Catholics to receive their ashes. The Lenten process of atoning for sins had begun.

Whether you call it Mardi Gras or Carnaval, the purpose is the same: Getting your sinning in, since you’re going to have to do penance anyway.

I’ve been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans a couple of times. It’s pretty fantastic. Drinking starts with breakfast, and costumes, which they started making sometime the previous July, are donned–ready to ride floats or watch some parades. Boobs are flashed and beads are thrown. Street fairs lure revelers from every parish within 200 miles. Things happen in back rooms and alleys which are usually only performed by strippers in Tijuana and minor characters on HBO.

I hear Brazil’s celebration is equally fantastic—scantily clad revelers decked out in colorful ostrich plumes dance the streets, while the freshly-waxed public wears even less. The whole country throbs to the beat, dance floors packed so densely you can’t tell one sweaty body from the next. An overhead picture looks like a super-magnified shot of bacteria.

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lactobacillus_bulgaricus_3

 

Around the world, on Shrove Tuesday, over the top decadence arrives at a crescendo, then abruptly splatters to a crashing halt like a bug on windshield at the stroke of midnight. “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

None of this happens in Cuenca.

Cuenca is simpler, more innocent. No beads are thrown, boobs stay warm inside blouses, and drinking happens in private, if at all. The worse thing that happens is they squirt people with foam or soak them with water.

A week and half earlier, George and I were walking back from the SuperMaxi when we noticed some college kids dipping each other in the Tomebama River. At first we thought they were baptizing each other. The guys would capture the fleeing girls, who were not putting up much of a fight, and gave them a dunk. Everyone was laughing and having fun. While some grammar school kids walked by us we felt a wetness on our arms: We had been foamed, and Carnaval had begun.

Little girl in Parade.  Note the can of foam in her hands and the cornstarch on her face.
Little girl in Parade. Note the can of foam in her hands and the cornstarch on her face.

It began in earnest the Thursday before Fat Tuesday. We were sitting in our apartment staring into small screens together when my niece said “Do I hear a parade?”

Parade
Parade

We grabbed our cameras and headed down the street, where a parade was turning the corner and heading for the plaza in front of the central market. As parades go, it was small but colorful. We followed them to the crowded plaza, and held a bird’s eye view from atop the stairs. Right next to us speeches began, including Miss Guatemala 2011, who was on hand to give the crowd something to look at while politicians blathered a bit.

A little girl took the stage and belted out a couple of songs. My guess is that she’s the Ecuadorian version of either Shirley Temple, Tracy Partridge or Baby Jane Hudson. All the kids knew who she was, but we had no idea. What was amazing was everyone just stared at her—no one clapped, danced, sang along or even smiled. They just stared at her, either in awe or horror. It was hard to tell.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, How We Wonder Who You Are.
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,
How We Wonder Who You Are.

 

6 kid watching show 7 kid watching show 8 kid watching show 9 kid watching show 10 kid watching show 11 kid watching show 12 kid watching show 13 kid watching show 14 kid watching show

No one squirted us with water, but we did get lightly foamed. The foam is a canned substance, it’s kind of like cappuccino froth or watered-down shaving cream. It is slimy to the touch, and has a sweet scent reminiscent of overly ripe pineapple. It dries to nothing, does not leave a mark, nor does it leave a sticky residue. I hear it stings a little if you get it in your eyes. They sell it in every store, every booth and every corner at every Carnaval event, along with water pistols, super soakers, and a powdery substance which we think is cornstarch.

Supersoaker!
Supersoaker!
These brothers just wanted me to take their picture, they were thrilled when I said yes!
These brothers just wanted me to take their picture, they were thrilled when I said yes!

17 parade dancersThat night was the big kick-off celebration in the main square, so we put on defensive rain gear and went. We were just in time for another parade, culminating at the stage set up for the night’s entertainment. We took-on a bit of incoming foam while we sat watching the commotion. As the crowd grew, our marginal propensity to get squirted increased. Adolescents tended to squirt each other, and adults usually limit their targets to spouses and kids. It was the four to eleven year olds we had to look out for—they were indiscriminate and ruthless.

Beware little kids with cans of foam
Beware little kids with cans of foam
And the Foam was Flying!
And the Foam was Flying!

After a bit we ducked out for dinner, and on the way home caught the fireworks that ended the night’s celebrations.

Amelia
Amelia
George
George

Cuenca was a ghost town on Monday and Tuesday. We had swapped out Amelia for Meg in our guest room, so we schlepped Meg around town. Everyone leaves Cuenca for Carnaval, but we didn’t know that. The streets were eerily empty, almost all restaurants and shops shuttered for the holiday. We aborted an attempt to go to the spa, and spent most of the day walking around the deserted city—it felt like a Walking Dead episode: We’d see a lone car coming slowly toward us, and we had to decide if they were friend or foam.

On Fat Tuesday we tried to go to the waterfalls at Giron. We waited an hour at the bus station before we confirmed that the bus company had closed down for the festivities, so we boarded the bus to the next place available: Paute.

Paute was clearly a Carnaval destination, and everyone was soaking and foaming. We explored the town a little bit, and at one point someone dumped a bucket of water off a balcony, narrowly missing us. We started to walk like Marines down a Kabul street, each of us keeping an eye in a different direction, deftly deflecting suds like pros. Until we got to the park.

A festival, complete with pork and cuy roasting, had been set up. Families were picnicking, playing volleyball, and soaking each other as much as possible. As Meg waited for the Ladies Room, a woman came up and covered George and I with foam. As she walked away laughing, I tapped her on the shoulder and returned the favor—we had armed ourselves earlier for such an event. Her husband was overjoyed—ran over to shake our hands and reward us with sips of his beer. The wife continued her shenanigans, adding some cornstarch to my new found face-full of foam. They were so nice, they wanted us to join them for lunch, but we had enough foam for one lifetime and wanted to return to Cuenca. I handed what was left of my canister of lather to one of the kids—my work here was done.

Meg apparently had also met this lady—she was more thickly covered than we were as we headed for our bus.

23 our new friends

Our new friend, and his wife
Our new friend, and his wife

Back in deserted Cuenca, we decided to take the open-air double decker bus tour. It’s usually an hour and half ride through town, but shorter today due to the lack of traffic. The foaming and spraying continued and we were hit a number of times. I did have one shining moment, though. While we were passing a building on our tour-bus, we could see kids on a rooftop about to launch a bucket of water. As one boy was winding up for the toss, I reached for an umbrella, and hit the release button—it opened with a loud thud as it met the stream of water head-on. We were all amazed at the perfect timing as we drove out of harm’s way.

We were over the foam and the water and could not wait for locals to lay down their arms and repent. We were happy to see the perfect ashen crosses on foreheads (as opposed the ubiquitous blob of ashes we see in The States), a signal that it was once again safe to walk the streets without fear of foam. We wanted to do the Schäfflertanz, but celebrated our freedom by buying Panama Hats instead.

 

Click any picture above for a full sized version.  For all of the Carnaval pics and videos, click here.  Feel free to Like and Share my posts!

Dogs of Ecuador

You've met Leo before, but he's so handsome I included him again.
You’ve met Leo before, but he’s so handsome I included him again.

Dogs are everywhere, and I’m in heaven. Dogs seem to wander the streets with impunity. Many are pets that are allowed to roam, but some of them seem to live a freewheeling life in the streets. In the course of a day you’ll see every mixed-breed combination you can think of. Most of them seem hungry but I haven’t seen any that look emaciated, so I can only assume the food supply is adequate.

Occasionally you’ll pass a house with a dog behind the wall or fence, and these might make a lot of noise, but on the whole the dogs don’t seem aggressive. Some are super sweet and friendly, but most seem indifferent as they go about their daily routine.

One of Leo's pups.
One of Leo’s pups.

Traffic in Cuenca is pretty thick and active, but the canine population apparently understands when to cross the street. One man told me that the safest way to cross the street in Cuenca is to follow a dog. I’ve only seen two casualties, both outside Cuenca, but I see near misses fairly often. Every time that happens I relive Archie’s demise. I hate it.

2015-01-09 10.00.03 2015-01-11 09.29.46 2015-01-11 09.30.35

Rumor has it that veterinary visits are quite inexpensive, starting at around $10, which follows the pattern for doctor and dentist visits here, although I don’t think many dogs ever get the luxury of a veterinary visit. $10 is a lot if you make $340 a month and have three kids.

2015-01-11 09.32.25 2015-01-11 11.29.57 2015-01-18 16.28.21

I did live through one doggy adventure, and my heart was in my mouth the whole time. I was at the zoo with my mother (oy—now that’s a story) and we noticed a stray mutt come sauntering by. I hadn’t given him another thought until we passed the next exhibit and noticed he had gotten into an animal’s enclosure. It took me a moment for it to register that he was inside the condor’s cage, and the giant had spotted him!

 

Amelia compared to a condor.
Amelia compared to a condor.

 

This exhibit, like many others, is built on a steep hillside. There were many lofty perches for the condor, and he was sitting high on the left side of the cage. The dog entered on the right side and they locked eyes immediately. The dog was clearly nervous but determined to climb higher inside the cage. The giant bird lifted his feathers a bit as the hair on the back of my neck did the same.

A close-up of our condor.  He looks happy.
A close-up of our condor. He looks happy.

 

The dog kept one eye on our feathered friend as he disappeared behind a small dirt mound about halfway up. I hoped he slipped out of the cage when he reappeared. The pooch slipped out of sight again, and my mother and I stood motionless and helpless, holding our breath, as the condor started to open his wings. I’d have to turn my back if he took flight and we were getting ready to bolt when the dog reappeared and started back down the hill, toward us, with a new sense urgency. He had something in his mouth, and as he got nearer we could see it was a pelt—he had stolen the bird’s dinner! The condor started to move as the dog desperately tried to squeeze through the fence. He was just a bit too big for the gap, and was struggling to get through. Our eyes darted from perch to fence, condor to mutt, until he miraculously broke through, darting off down the path with his booty. The condor settled back down.

On closer inspection, the dog had bent the fence just enough: If the gap was just a hair smaller he would have been lunch.

I think he’s done this before, and I hope he’s just as lucky in his future endeavors.

(click here to see the condor walking around: clip)

 

More Ecuadorian Dog Pictures:

Amelia making friends.
Amelia making friends.
This guy was watching us eat lunch one day
This guy was watching us eat lunch one day

2015-02-09 16.09.33 2015-01-28 12.36.00

Poodle using a Golden as a pillow
Poodle using a Golden as a pillow

 

(Remember you can click any picture in my blog for a closer look!)

Shopping

Shopping in Cuenca is an experience.

A look a the market
A look at the market

For fresh food, the Central Markets are the place to go. There is one only a few blocks from our apartment, and it is something to see. The main floor is chock full of fresh produce, each stall more bountiful than the next. Downstairs is the meat and fish, you might want to skip that. And upstairs is full of vendors that provide ready-to-eat items: Smoothies, sandwiches, roast pig, and chicken cooked in every possible way. You can get a full lunch here for less than $2.

Grains

Market Bananas
Market Bananas
Roast Pig
Roast Pig
Hooves, I think.  I'm not sure.
Hooves, I think. I’m not sure.
Crabs for sale, they are tied up and sold live.
Crabs for sale, they are tied up and sold live.

 

There is another central market a little further away. It is much larger and has a lot more non-food items. My mother got lost in the brassiere section. I was about to send in the hounds when she clawed her way out into the sunlight.

Mom buying an Alpaca shawl
Mom buying an Alpaca shawl
Wheelbarrow Cherries
Wheelbarrow Cherries

You can buy fresh produce in the streets—people roam the town pushing wheelbarrows filled with fresh fruit. They all tend to have the same thing, though. One week they all sell cherries, the next all they have are peaches. They look fantastic, and it’s good to support the little guy.

There are a couple of supermarkets in Cuenca.  The two nearest us are not particularly good. They are neither well stocked nor particularly clean. We bought ice cream from one supermarket. A lonely container was sitting in a freezer behind a manned counter, so we had to ask for it. I think it’s been there since the Inca’s were in charge. It was a sticky mess and, although I thought better of it, George wanted to buy it anyway, as if we found a wounded puppy that needed a home. It was so iced over it was not edible.

A couple of supermarket observations:

  • Butter, margarine and eggs are not refrigerated
  • Eggs are sold in 10’s, not by the dozen
  • It’s hard to find non-sugary cereal
  • Milk is sold in plastic bags
  • Yogurt is a liquid here, I’ve searched and searched for some in a more solid state of matter to no avail
  • Anything produced in Ecuador is really cheap
  • Imports are ridiculously expensive
  • I miss Costco

There is a store called SuperMaxi which is better, even if it is a bit of a hike on the other side of the Tomebamba River. We tend to go there once a week. It’s cleaner, well-lit, and your feet don’t stick to the floor. They sell some great local chocolate for about 40% less than elsewhere, which is reason enough to go.

The other day George decided–after we unloaded our cart onto the cashier’s conveyor belt–that he wanted to get the frequent shopper’s card and enjoy some discounts, so he abandoned me with the cashier as he negotiated the intricacies of Customer Service. After some awkward silence, the checker tried to strike up a conversation. I offered up the only phrase I could remember from my failed attempt at Spanish School. I said in a clear, steady voice filled with pride: “El piano es grande”. The awkward silence then continued for somewhat of an eternity until George returned and packing operations resumed at what seemed to be a more rapid pace than earlier.

Early in our stay we had decided to buy a small coffee pot for our apartment. This is an essential element in our lives. We began looking as soon as we got here, but they all seemed pretty expensive. We happened upon one on sale for $14 in an appliance store, and the sales manager took it off the shelf and brought it to cashier. The cashier was enclosed in a glass booth, not unlike an urban liquor store clerk in the 1970’s. We waited patiently while she clicked away on her computer. We were her only customer.

Ecuador is a bit of a bureaucracy. We were told to make a laminated copy of our passport and carry it with us, and it turns out you need it at the most random times. Some restaurants require it, others don’t. We were told any purchase over $20 needed it, but that does not seem to hold much water. Apparently, for the purchase of a $15 Sr. Coffee, it is required. George slid his documentation through the slot in the glass as requested, and her furious computer work resumed.

The clock ticked for a while, and finally about a half hour had passed. We tried to make eye contact with the clerk, to give a kind of “what’s up” shrug, but she looked everywhere except at us. Managers were called over several times as she attempted to pound the keyboard into submission. We expressed our desire to pay cash, thinking there was some sort of hold up over our documentation, but that was waived off. We were finally told to approach the manager’s desk, which we did like school boys summoned to the principal. What was going on? Turns out the computer was not speaking to the printer, and they could not print a receipt, and it is illegal to not issue a receipt! So, in true Ecuadorian fashion, rather than tell us what was wrong, they just completely ignored us until either the problem was solved or we died of old age. Luckily, the problem was solved.

By the way: It’s true about the receipt. Our friends Judy and Jackie told us that they were staying in our hotel for an extended stay when they were ordered to pack straightaway and move out for a few days—the auditors found Los Balcones had failed to issue a single receipt and they were shutting the place down, immediately! The hotel found them a nearby accommodation for the duration of the closure, but can you imagine? We’ve had waiters run after us to give us our copy of the paid receipt—and that is why.

A rare moment alone with the Cheese Man.
A rare moment alone with the Cheese Man.

An Italian cheese and bread maker sets up shop on Saturdays and we often take the 20 minute walk to visit him. It’s a phenomenon, many American and Canadian Ex-Pats patronize him. There is very little in the way of good cheese in Ecuador and he helps fill a niche. While his cheeses are delicious, it is an absurdly long wait to buy his goods. Oh, no, the line is not long, it’s just that we always seem to get behind the old Biddy who is slowly taking a taste of each one, then taking a second round while she slowly makes her decision. Seriously, we’ve been behind someone who has taken 15 minutes. Legislation passes quicker. It took a lot for me not to shout out “You’re not picking a Chemotherapist—it’s cheese for Christ’s sake!” It’s worse than Starbucks. And the cheese guy encourages this behavior. But, he’s the only game in town, so we waited impatiently while she fished in her fanny pack for her burlap change purse.  It can kill the morning.

Cuy, street-roasted
Cuy, street-roasted

Sundays in Cuenca everything is closed, including the markets, so we planned our trip to nearby Gualaceo for a Sunday—they are known for their Sunday market. Frankly, it was not too different from the local markets in Cuenca, except there is a lot more cooked food available, including the Cuy they roast on the streets.

I think I'm getting carried away with the Cuy.  Plus I think Gerty Cooney is going to yell at me.
I think I’m getting carried away with the Cuy. Plus I’m sure Gerty Cooney is going to yell at me.

We took the bus for 70 cents each way. Even the bus is a moving market. If you take the bus anywhere out-of-town, people hop on, try to sell stuff, and hop off. Snacks, CD’s, coconut milk, miracle cures…you name it, you can buy it on the bus.

This man is selling a Miracle Cure on the bus, apparently you rub some on and it will cure anything.  I think it's Vic's Vap-O-Rub
This man is selling a Miracle Cure on the bus, apparently you rub some on and it will cure anything. I think it’s Vick’s Vapa Rub

Ecuador is known for roses, in fact they are a huge export, so roses are relatively cheap. I bought two dozen for Valentine’s Day and they are stunning. But there is not much else for us to buy here, although we both plan to buy Panama Hats before we depart. I’ll let you know how that goes.

From There to Here – our quick introduction to Ecuador

We are in Cuenca, Ecuador.  As my friend Tim S said, “Ecuador? EQUADOR?! What the F@#k are you doing in Equador????”.  By “S” I mean “Slauson”, and by “F@#k” I mean “fuck”.  Tim has a bit of a potty mouth.  And, apparently, geographic spelling is not one of his many gifts.  He added “How did you ever think of Equa-fukin’-dor to ‘hang out’…??”.  See what I mean?  Potty mouth.

But, to be fair, it’s a good question.  Here is the truth: The shoeshine guy George patronized in Penn Station was from Cuenca.  So here we are.  I’m not kidding.

We left on January 2nd, just ahead of a snow storm, landing in Guayaquil around 11 PM.  Customs took forever, but we made it through to meet our ride by 11:30.  Luckily Ecuador is in the same Time Zone as New York, so although we were tired, we did not have jet-lag to add to our fatigue.

George’s cousin Alana has friends in Cuenca, and they have been our godmothers here, guiding us every step of the way.  They put us in touch with a driver, Jorge, to pick us up¸ lodge us overnight in his Bed and Breakfast, then drive us over the mountains to Cuenca the next morning.

Jorge met us at the airport and drove us to his place.  We schlepped our luggage through the front door and were hit with the oddest smell.  My sister Kirsten and I have super-sensitive noses and I knew the smell would keep me up all night, despite being exhausted. Luckily I couldn’t smell it in our room.

Our room was on the second floor and was cavernous, in more ways than one.  It had a double bed, plus a set of bunk beds, but no windows.  The bathroom was very nice with modern fixtures, and it had a small window near the floor, but other than that we were in a cave.  We didn’t care, sleep came quickly, although we did wake up a few times to the shouts of revelers in the streets—New Year’s lasts much longer here in Ecuador.

Leo
Leo

The next morning we got dressed and dragged our luggage back downstairs and–there it was–that smell.  It smelled like wet dog. But it didn’t make sense, Jorge’s dog Leo lived outside.

Blessedly B&B is a misnomer, it’s just a B, because he does not serve breakfast. He takes his guests to a local restaurant instead. I was relieved, I didn’t think I could eat with that odor.

Loading our baggage into the car was a chore. Jorge could not take his van because he did not have the proper license to transport tourists in it, so instead we used his taxi cab, which had a very small trunk. After many attempts and several rearrangements of the bags, including one abandoned plan to strap them to the roof, we were set to go.

Loading the Taxi
Loading the Taxi

One more trip into the house for our backpacks and camera bags and we would be off. But there was a noise just inside the odiferous lobby, and after I asked it turned out to be….

Puppies! Wet, drooling, can’t figure out how their legs work, adorable puppies! Leo was a Daddy, and his wife Cleo was a Mommy! Our trip could wait five minutes….

I'm in love.  Nothing like a puppy!
I’m in love. Nothing like a puppy!
Puppies!
Puppies!

 

The trip through Caja National Park was glorious, really beautiful scenery. We made a bathroom stop, plus a stop to look at the scenery.

Waterfall, Cajas National Park
Waterfall, Cajas National Park

Banos!

Cajas National Park
Cajas National Park

We arrived at our apartment around 2PM. The apartment is very nice, two bedroom with a small kitchen. It’s actually part of a hotel, so we have access to the hotel services. We get maid service once a week, and we can use the restaurant if we would like. They are happy to give us directions, call us a cab, or just have a friendly chat. It’s really been nice.

Our apartment is a four-floor walkup, and since we are at about 8,200 feet above sea level, breathing takes some effort. By the time we’d get to the top of the stairs, it felt like we ran a marathon while smoking a pack of Marlboros. It took us about two days to get acclimated to the altitude.

So now we’re pretty much settled in. We’ve learned our way around the city, although we’re still trying to figure out how things work here. We’ve had some adventures…and I’ll report on those soon.