I woke to the sound of a rooster crowing before the sun even came up. When you go to bed shortly after sundown you wake up really early. I lay in bed for about another hour before getting up for breakfast. We had granola cereal, fruit and eggs. At 9:00 we headed out for our jungle walk. They said we needed rubber boots and they were right. They provided the boots and the Amazon provided the mud. It was raining again pretty hard but we were told that was good because when the sun comes out the water from the ground evaporates and it because unbearable humid. I'll take their word for it.
orning came to soon and I'd not gotten a lot of sleep. We also would be missing breakfast because we were leaving too early so I went out to find Internet and some emergency food and water for the bus ride. The Internet cafes were closed but I did find an assortment of rolls and water for the trip. We left anyway. The way I figured it we could go to Tena and either find Internet there or just rent a hostel and stay the night. Having gotten down the straight armed hand shake I hailed a taxi. He took a really round about way to the bus station which alarmed me for a second. His response to my pointing to the map was “No problema”. We rounded the corner and I saw the great statue on the hill and knew I was near the terminal. He pointed to the traffic going the other way and I understood. We arrived at the station 30 minutes early and headed for the shady restaurant on the bottom floor. We bought various types of chicken and a sandwich and headed for our gate. On the way the guy that sold us our ticket yelled at us and exchanged our ticket for a different one on a different bus company. I don't know why and couldn't ask because of the language barrier. He told us which lane to stand in and which bus number so we waited. When it pulled in we got on and waited another 30 minutes before it pulled out. During that 30 minutes he boarded the bus to tell us not to put our bags in the overhead racks and to hold them. Later in the trip I noticed that everyone else was holding theirs as well. Crime is rampant here. I sat on the side of the bus there our luggage was so I could see if anyone was trying to steal them which they didn't.
The roads around Quito are a mess and it took us 1 hour just to get out of the city. Most of the outer edges of Quito are these little concrete block houses with corrugated metal roofs of very poor people. Once we get a little ways away we crested a hill and we saw what looked like Beverly hills with nice villas and such. Obviously the rich live in the suburbs.
I've heard great things about this ride over to Papillacta Falls and our jungle excursion started out as just and excuse to take this trip. I'm glad we did as the Andes are beautiful mountains and greener than any that I've seen in North America. Our bus climbed through strange looking forests, high cliffs with amazing waterfalls, and finally entered the clouds. Visibility was about 30 feet or so. At the crest there was another bus heading for Quito stopped on the road. They were changing a tire. I'd noticed when we were in the bus terminal that
all buses had two spare tires on the roof. The fact that the other bus got a flat told me a bit about the upcoming road. The pavement changed to dirt, rocks and mud for about the next 3 hours. The bus would swerve toward the 200 foot drop to avoid potholes, take the outside line around curves and bomb down hills so it could maintain it's speed. We got to one place where the mud was really deep and we thought we were going to get stuck then we came upon another bus slogging along through the mud even slower (and at higher risk of being stuck) so our driver decided in order to maintain momentum we'd have to pass it. It was like watching a snail race with both busses spinning their rear tires in the mud and ours slowly gaining on the other one until we got a head of it. We were honestly going about 5 mph up the muddy hill. The other bus we never saw again. As far as I know it may have never made it.
We arrived in Tena and deboarded the bus. Immediately a taxi driver approached us but we were really most interested in toilets so we all ran off to find them. I motioned to the taxi driver to stay put and we'd be back. Upon returning he was still waiting for us and a man who spoke English said the taxi driver was Quichua (not Quechua/Inca) and spoke no Spanish. I told him Puerto Barrantilla and he nodded his head. I also mentioned I needed a Bank machine so he stopped at an ATM for me since where we going only took cash. The taxi was a 4 door Suburu brat looking "truck" that had no problem getting air on the many hills along the road. We arrived 20 minutes before our scheduled time. Puerto Barrantilla is nothing but a small road going to a residence and a path that extends from there into the Jungle to the Rio Napo. We followed the path and stood next to the river in the pouring rain - waiting. About 15 minute later an indigenous man arrived in a gas powered canoe and grabbed our bags two at a time and put them in the canoe then motioned for us to climb in. No words were spoken. Ten minutes later we pulled up to a wooden staircase leading from the rivers edge up to a wooden hut.
A young guy named Andy came to get our bags and took them to the large circular building with no walls. This was to be the reception desk and dinning hall. It was nothing but hay roof, wood floor and wood poles holding the roof up. There was a large hole in the center with trees growing in it. He sat us by a small fire and explained the program to us. A Swiss lady married a Quichua man and they started a reserve in the Amazon to help hurt animals. They later started a hotel and the Liana Lodge.The lodge helps pay for their work and buying more land. So far they have 1300 hectares of land and want to buy more to protect it. After we got the spiel he took us to our “rooms” which were also hay roofed huts with screens for walls. There was one real wall and that is between the two rooms. the outside lower wall is wood and the rest of the building is screen. The thatched roof is vaulted and open inside. There is no heat, Internet or electricity on site. This meant I couldn't charge camera batteries so my little cameras are getting a workout while my G7 sits because I only have one battery for it (later I found out they have a car battery they take to town and charge up on occasion just for the purpose of charging camera batteries). Outside the back door of the hut is a large patio with hammocks that were great to relax in. The rain persisted and we just hung out and relaxed in our hammocks while listening to the rain on the flora of the rain forest. Dinner was at 7 and was pretty decent. They serve three courses of soup, entree and dessert. A lot of it is junglish like strange fruits, cinnamon from the Amazon etc... Usually one meat and the rest vegetables or potatoes. They cook with gas but we use candles for all light sources including the reception desk and dining tables. We also use candles to light our huts. They don't put out a lot of light but your eyes do get used to them. Sleeping in the hut at night was real nice because you could hear all of the jungle sounds clearly. The cicada get a little irritating but we can hear an occasional toucan. There are squirrel monkeys that hang around the lodge and are great fun to watch.
Breakfast time came and went before we got up the next day. Having missed breakfast we took to the streets figuring there'd be something there. The area that we were in is called New Town and the main street is Amazonas. If we headed south on Amazonas we'd eventually end up at Old town after cutting through two parks. Old town is the old Spanish built Quito and comprises of mostly colonial buildings. I've heard that old town Quito is very pretty and is on the UNESCO list of protected areas so I was anxious to see it. The weather was warm (but cooler than Guayaquil) and it wasn't raining. We found a small shop run by black ladies that offered Empanadas and yogurt with fruit. Mo stood her ground on not eating doughy things with meat in them so Natalya and I had empanadas and Jade and Mo had yogurt.
Both were very good. The empanadas cost 75 cents each and the yogurt with fresh fruit cost about a dollar. I didn't try the yogurt but she said it was very good and not like the kind at home. I can understand this as the yogurt we had in Poland was much better than the stuff we have at home. With that we headed toward old town. On the way we passed through a large park with an indigenous market where I bought a shawl. Don't ask what I'm going to do with a pink alpaca shawl because I don't know. Maybe give it to Piper because she likes pink. It was really pretty and the alpaca wool was so very soft. This isn't like the course scratchy wool in Mexico. The cost – 7 dollars! Shawl in hand we continued and found in the next park a spiral staircase that let us get up high enough to see the surrounding mountains. Quito if you don't know is at about 10,000 feet and rests in the inter-andian valley so it's surrounded by even higher mountains that are very green and the tops of them disappear in the clouds they're so high. We change to Agost (August) street and continue our trek to old town.
On the way it starts to rain. Jade didn't bring a coat so Mo loaned him her rain parka and at some point it got so bad we decided to go inside and get something to eat. For $6.70 all four of us ate more food than we could stuff in our mouths. We got chicken, rice, peas, soup and drinks. Not great food but ok and darn cheap too. A couple blocks later we're at old town and the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I've seen plenty of colonial Spanish towns and I don't think Quito stands out among them. Sure the main plaza is pretty but they have about 10 restored buildings and that's about it. We took pictures and then started climbing Chile street since that's where the locals were going. Along Chile street is store after store selling everything from shoes to stereos. This is apparently the Quito outdoor mall. When we got quite a way above the city we headed south once again on a deserted cobblestone street. I didn't really know where we were going or where we'd end up I was just curious. All over the city we'd been seeing indigenous people wearing the typical Ecuadorian hat, shawl and tons of necklaces. I don't know why they wear 30 necklaces but some of them are really pretty.
I haven't figured out how I'm going to take their picture yet. We walked past one indigenous lady and she smiled real big which I noticed. As she got past us she stopped in the middle of the street , turned and just stared while smiling. I too turned and to watch her and she started walking again only to look over her shoulder to smile some more. Apparently there was something humorous about a white haired lady, two kids and a gringo man walking around in untouristed Quito. On the way down the hill toward the main plaza again we heard a lady in one of the stores talking about the gringos. Quite the spectacle we are. We still don't see hardly any tourists.
The rain started to really drop on us so we spent about 30 minutes hiding under a ledge. Our new mission was to find the bus station so we could head to the Amazon the next day. Our original plan was to take a taxi since their cheap but my map said we were only about 10 blocks away so we decided to walk it to see what we could see. We found it soon after and my first Wizard of Ozian impression of it was that we weren't in Mexico anymore. In Mexico the bus stations look like airports and the buses are very nice. In Ecuador the bus station looks like a turkish market with people yelling out their destinations and prices. It was dirty and dilapidated. We did find someone that was selling tickets to Tena our jump off city into the Amazon.
Here is another impression that I'm sure Ecuadorians won't appreciate is that the people here try to rip you off at every opportunity. People say that about Mexico but I think it's far worse. I think they're as bad as the Turks. Anyway if you don't complain here the price will climb as you're talking then they'll try their hardest not to give you any change. In order to get them to give change you have to pry it from their fingers. That is if they don't outright steal your stuff in front of you. Anyway my Spanish is bad, Mo's is only slightly better and the ticket guy knew 20 English words. I had to communicate to him that we had to leave Tena at 2:30 so we could get to the lodge at 4:30 where we were being picked up by a canoe on the Napo river. The best I could do was to tell him we had to leave at 8:00. He had a bus at 8:30 that would get us to Tena at 1:30 according to him which didn't quite add up to me.
We bought the tickets for $24 and headed out to find a taxi. I've learned how to hail taxis in Ecuador to. You just stick you hand straight out toward the street and shake it like you're saying “so so” and the taxi will pull over and pick you up. I showed the taxi driver the address and he had no idea where it was. I showed him the map and he still had no idea. He stopped and asked another taxi while the crowd of cars behind us honked their horns impatiently. The other driver gave him some directions and off we went. Confused he just went north. We got to Agost street and I knew from there how to get home so I directed him. Quite strange that I a gringo that had only made the trip from New Town to Old Town once knew the way and the taxi driver didn't. We got to our one way street (that went the wrong way) so he let us out on the corner. Immediately 4 little kids about 8 years old came up trying to sell us chicklets. They were very very insistent and followed us while we walked. They swarmed around us like little hornets and we finally got rid of them and got a block down the street Mo noticed her camera was gone. By then they had disappeared and we went into our hostel to get ready to leave. This act impacted Mo considerably and she even decided to go home so she wouldn't be a bother to us. I've a very logical rational person so that wouldn't have ever occurred to me at all. To me we were down one camera but nothing else changed. Tired and hungry we went out to find food and get on the intenet to get the directions to our Amazon lodge.
We ate at this really trendy but pretty pink restaurant. I could try to describe the decor but a picture is worth a thousand words so I'll leave it to the picture. I ordered the Ecuadorian croquette type things that were quite good, Natalya had Moussaka, Mo had salmon with a cinnamon spice from the Amazon and Jade had rosemerry sea bass. All was real good. For an appetizer I ordered some brandy and ham empanadas. Mo insisted on being stubborn about her no meat in dough policy but I insisted on her trying one and she loved it. Maybe later when we get to Peru she'll try a larger empanada. The feeling of not being ready for the next day was growing in my stomach so we left to find an internet connection. The problem was that I'd written down the times we were supposed to catch our buses but no real directions. I'd scribbled the times down solely for the purpose of buying our bus tickets and not to travel with so I needed to get to the Internet and write more thorough instructions on how to get from Quito to Tena then from Tena to Puerto Barantilla and the lodge. I walked the others home and headed out to be enlightened by an Internet connection only to find that all had closed down for the night which didn't help much. Beck at the hostel I found they had a computer with Internet. It was an old old machine with 64 megs of ram and Windows 98. After 20 minutes of trying to get it to do anything ( I mean anything) I gave up. I didn't sleep a lot because I didn't like not having decent instructions. As much as it may seem from the outside that I take risks with my kids this isn't true. Every place we go and every decision we make is over researched and thought out. This traveling with two lines of arrival and departure times wasn't how I did business and it bothered me. I would try again to find Internet inthe morning.
One of my fovorite Italian dishes to fix doesn't have noodles or a red sauce. It's popular in the south where they don't have access to the heavy cremes and cheeses of the north. The Marsala wine was actually created by a Brit living in Sicily at the time and longed for his ports that he'd become accustomed to having in England so he added spirits to a local wine and created Marsala. The first time I had good Marsala was at Luigi's Grotto in Pioneer square (now named DeNunzios). Luigi fixed up a Pork Marsala that made me want to lick the plate. Since then I've set out to recreate that and have also tried Marsala sauces at many Italian resaurants but have now given up. Marsala seems to be similar to the Mexican Mole sauces in that they're wonderful but few know how to do a good on. Anyway mines better than any restaurant outside of Luigi's and I can't really compare to that now because it's been too long. I need to revisit Luigi's Marsala to see how mine stacks up.
Since we only had the morning in Guayaquil I wanted to get outside and walk to the waterfront so we skipped breakfast in the restaurant and headed for the street. Guayaquil looks a lot like Mexico City but without the beautiful buildings. Mostly modern (less than 50 year buildings) and not that clean either. We made it to the Malecon 2000 waterfront promenade that the locals are so proud of and it was nice but it reminded me a bit too much of Nice France for me to like it a lot. We ate lunch there which was a bunch of meats grilled with fries. It wasn't too bad and the price for 4 people with two waters was under $7.
On the way back to the hotel we ran across an outdoor market which we just had to wade through because the experience of a Latin American market is one not to be missed. Mo got her first taste of the way these things work. She also got her first taste of heat in December as it was over 90 degrees. Back at the hotel I ask attempt to ask for a taxi and write down 1:00 on my scratch pad and she says si and motions to the front door. What arrives in 10 minutes was actually a regular car driven by a man that was probably the cousin of the receptionist! Anyway he got us back to the airport for another $5. I didn't know what to expect of the local Ecuadorian Airline TAME because I'd heard stories that made it sound like a bus company, first come first serve type of organization. We got there two hours before the plane was scheduled to leave which was what the guide books recommended of us. The lady at the counter spoke English and said she could just put us on the next flight which would be leaving at 2. But since I only had a reservation and had not paid for tickets I'd have to go to the next counter and purchase tickets. As luck would have it we got in the slow line and didn't get our tickets in time for hte 2 o'clock flight. We did however, happen upon a deal and got our tickets for $45 each instead of the $60 that the website listed.
While waiting for the plane we picked up some water, got on the internet and picked up some Chilean Empanadas. We were very excited to see the empanadas and they weren't bad but didn't measure up to Julia's in Adams-Morgan district of D.C. Security was a breeze. Apparently there is a shortage of ignorant fear in Ecuador that is so common in the States. Maybe we should pass it around a bit so we could get to the point of being able to carry more than 3 ozs of toothpaste with us on the plane. Heaven forbid we be able to brush our teach while on vacation. It's for our safety you know. Anyway the Ecuadorian security process isn't like this at all. The entire time we were in the airport there wasn't any lines and that includes the security check. We put our stuff in the bins and walk through the scanner and off we go to our gate which at this point was still unknown to us. Our boarding pass lists our gate as Puerto 0 and I ask a uniformed man and he just laughs and babbles in Spanish as if he thought I were born in Madrid. Since there was no Gate 0 I fell back to plan B. If you can't understand the language do what the locals do. I wandered through the crowd looking at other peoples tickets and found one that was the same as mine. The man spoke some English and said that they would announce the gate. Little did he know I was no longer interested in their announcements because I found someone to follow and follow we did. When they moved, we moved. As we were walking down the aisle to board the plane we heard the plane and gate announced in English. Now we know for next time.
The plane at best was 1/3 the way full which was great as we had nobody sitting next to us. It was an Airbus A320 which had more legroom than any plane I'd ever taken. It even still had that new airplane smell. Either it had just been made or the captain had picked up a “That new airplane smell” deodorizer from 7-11 on the way to work and had it hanging from the rear view mirror.
The in flight snacks were great too, little homemade sandwich things made from flat bread. No commercially packaged pretzels for TAME. We reached cruising altitude for about 10 minutes then started to descend again showing how small this country is. The Quito airport is even smaller than the one in Guayaquil and the signs even less clear. We followed the crowd again which appears to be a good practice to get into. At the exit there was a taxi booth which made me happy because I wouldn't have to deal with the corrupt taxi problem. We paid our $5 and loaded are gear in the taxi.
Mo's daughter picked us up at 3:45 am to take us to the airport. We didn't get snow like was predicted and half the city was still out of power from the storm but the airport was still operating so off we went. We arrived at the airport and stood in line like everyone else. Some from Continental told came along and told us that if we didn't have any bags to check we could use a kiosk and get our boarding passes ourselves. This turned out to be a good thing because the self-check kiosk had no line at all. We were a little apprehensive about the security check because of the heightened security status in airports. We could not carry any liquids in bottles larger than 3 oz. Each passenger could have one and only one zip lock bag of quart size with 3 oz bottles in it. We worked extra hard finding bottles of sun tan lotion, bug lotion, shampoo, saline solution etc in bottles under 3 oz. The whole thing is ridiculous because I'd bet that if I had a quart bag full of 3 oz bottles of nitro glycerin I could blow a hole in the side of just about any plane. But hey, I felt safer knowing that terrorists are too dumb to think of this. It's nice to see the extra amount tacked onto passport fees going to good use. After all this work in getting the bottles Natalya's bag gets flagged and they take us into a small area divided off and asked me if there was any bottles in our bags. I of course said no very confidentially because I KNEW there were none.
Three seconds later he pulls out not one but three bottles full of liquid over 3 oz. It seems one of us (not mentioning names Natalya) decided to add stuff to the bag after they'd already been packed. They asked us if we wanted to check the bag with the liquids or throw them out and I said throw them. There goes $50 of Proactiv. We flew from Seattle to Houston with nary a bump from the clouds. It was one of the smoothest rides I'd had. When I book plane tickets I try to get layovers of about 2 to 3 hours but because we didn't get our tickets until last minute I didn't have a lot of choice and ended up with a 6 hour layover. Hmm, 6 hours in Houston, Texas. Boy that's a happening place. We ate as slow as we could, walked all over the E terminal and came to the conclusion that Continental had their own airport because we never saw anyone from any other airline. While I was waiting in line for Chinese food I asked a gentleman about this observation and he said that this terminal building was only Continental but the others served other airlines. It hadn't occurred to us that there were more terminal buildings. Let's just ignore the fact that we were in the E terminal and E isn't the first letter of the English alphabet because if we don't it would make us look pretty dumb. Armed with our newfound wisdom we searched out a way to get to the other terminals in the form of an elevated train. We love trains and have spent many hours in Dallas riding it's sky train around in circles in an attempt to kill time so we were more than anxious to hop aboard this one. It only goes in a straight line but was air conditioned and barely had anyone riding it. We went to the other terminals and walked their halls as if we were expecting to see something different from what we'd already seen. We saw a few more restaurants, more terminals, more airlines and older moldier smelling hallways. Since the train was the highlight so far we returned to it and rode it's length several more times until we decided to camp out near our gate. A year ago when I went to Mexico from Dallas I commented on the fact that our journey into the foreign country starts in the airport because the people flying the line to the foreign country was filled with people from the foreign country. This was no different as the waiting area for the plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador filled with little brown Spanish speaking people, presumably Ecuadorians. The plane Continental decided to use was a single aisle Boeing 737 which seemed quite odd as 737s are generally short haul planes. The smooth journey from Seattle to Houston would not be repeated again and we had quite a bit of turbulance over central America. I just shoved my in-ear earplugs deeper and the volume of my travel pod cast higher. An hour of the “You live where?” pod cast guy asking questions and very gratuitously providing all the accepted answers to the host got a little irritating so I turned it off and slept a bit. I awoke to a plane descending which is a strange feeling anyway. The landing was ok and we talked a bit with a petite and attractive Ecuadorian girl that sat one row ahead of us. She lived in the states but was born in Ecuador and was bringing her almost 4 year old daughter to Ecuador to see family.
Long day at work so I decided to just cook lite tonight. A couple of pounds of 85% fat hamburger, a package of buns, one tomato, lettuce, one onion, mozarella cheese and some frozen potatoes. Thick sliced bacon was cooked on a Calphalon grill pan which was the winner of the Cooks Illustrated grill pan comparison. Worchestershire sauce, black pepper and salt were kneaded into the hamburger and cooked on the grill pan. Tom Douglas bbq sauce was brushed on them about halfway through their cooking cycle. Buns grilled on a cast iron comal with is just perfect for that. Potatoes deep fried as they should be. Not to special but a decent meal anyway. If we went out to eat this we would have spent $30 for 4 people, at home it cost $10 and we got way more food and it tasted better...
I'm still trying to decide which camera to buy. Just to recap I wanted:
Aperture and Shutter Priority
Wide angle lens
small as possible
The only companies that make cameras that fit this description are Canon and Panasonic. I've discounted the Panasonics because of the excessive noise at ISOs above 100. That leaves me with several Canon cameras, none of which provide the whole list. Here they are.
S80 - provides 2, 3 and 4
SD800 - provides 1, 3 and 4
A710IS - provides 1, 2 and 4
G7 - provides 1, 2 and 4
The S80 is no longer being produced so it got cut right away. The sad thing is if it had image stabilization I'd buy one right now. The SD800 would be the same size and weight as my current SD500 but add a wide angle lens and image stabilization but still doesn't have any manual settings. That leaves the A710IS and G7. Neither come with a wide angle lens but one is available as a $150 accessory so at least it's possible.
What it really comes down to is two things - $200 in exchange for a hot shoe. There are smaller differences but that's basically the big ones.
fixed 2.5“ (115,000 pixels)
fixed 2.5“ (207,000 pixels)
210g (7.4 oz)
320 g (11.3 oz)
97.5 x 66.5 x 41.2 mm (3.9 x 2.6 x 1.6 in)
106.4 x 71.9 x 42.5 mm (4.2 x 2.8 x 1.7 in)
1 / 2.5“
1 / 1.8“
2 AA NiMH
Canon NB-2L LiON
Canon HF-DC1 $89.00
Speedlight 220EX $114.00
Canon TC-DC58N $100.00
Canon TC-DC58C $110.00
Canon WC-DC58N (0.70x) $156.00
Canon WC-DC58B (0.75x) $137.00
Conversion Lens Adapter
Canon LA-DC58H $27.00
So what it really comes down to is the G7 has more pixels (which nobody needs), the LCD screen is nicer, it has the hot shoe for external flashes (big plus), it can do ISO 1600 (does anyone not using an F30 keep these shots?), it's heavier by 1/4 lb, a bit bigger, has a bigger sensor, can take really hi-res jerkey movies, has a proprietary battery and costs $220 more. Is it worth it? I'm leaning toward no. I need to research whether the slave flash for the A710IS will do what I need it to do. Theoretically a larger sensor takes cleaner pictures but so far the jury is still out on whether the G7s pictures are measurably better than the A710IS. They're bigger but are they better?
I was originally looking for one camera that did everything and I've since given up on that. Then I started looking for a compact to act as my "big" camera and keep my subcompact for my pocket. I don't know yet whether a compact will be small enough to carry around but if it is then the A710IS or G7 may become my new "small" camera and I'd splurge on a DSLR as my large one. I'm leaning toward a Nikon D80 for that. I want to field test one of these two cameras first before making that decision though. If these proves to be too big and I don't carry it with me I'll probably pick up a Canon SD800IS to replace the SD500 I have now. No matter Image Stabilization will be in my future. I've had too many pictures in the past that have turned out blurry because I couldn't hold the camera still enough.
I’ve finally replaced all 1 MP images from our Europe 2005 trip with 7 MP images. I lost about 30 pictures due to bad cells on my flash cards so word to the wise - backup those pictures. There are about another 20 pictures where I kept the 1 MP image because the large one was bad so at least I have something.
The site may be slow tonight (December 1st) because I’m going to back up the entire site now that I have the images done. It’s about 13 GB so it may take a while.