Monthly Archives: November 2014

Silk Underwear Concealed – Kleptocracy Revealed: Lima, Peru

Armas PlazaWe flew from Manta, Ecuador to Lima for a few days to meet-up with family members who were visiting for a week and on their way back to the States after spending a total of two-plus weeks acclimating to the altitude in Cuzco and then volunteering on conservation projects at Machu Picchu. We were looking forward to the reunion but we weren’t prepared for the fact that Lima is c-o-l-d, damp and gloomy.  The city sits in the northern fringe of the Atacama Desert which gets roughly an inch of moisture a year; 95% of that comes in the form of a fog that blankets the city each morning. At this time of year (November) it lifts briefly only to return in the late afternoon usually accompanied by a blustery wind. However, we were both excited to each inherit a set of silk long johns to warm us in the absence of sunshine.  We were assured that the sun does indeed make an appearance for two to three months a year starting in January, unimaginable as it then seemed. Love Park in bloom

Parque KennedyMost surprisingly, given this climatological fact, was the abundance of flowers in the parks and boulevards of the city; daily watering keeps the city in bloom. Parque Central and Parque Kennedy, near our residence were redolent with blooms and lazy cats stretched out and napping on the lawns. Love Park or Parque de Amor, was awash with flowers, a statue of two lovers entwined and intricately tiled mosaic walls. Plaza de Armas and Plaza del San Martin were similarly bedecked as were most of the wide boulevards with grassy medians.Armas Plaza and the Palacio Gubierno

Lima, and the adjacent port city of Callao, host roughly eleven million people, more than a third of the country’s population, with urban sprawl being a pronounced feature. The old Historic District radiates out from the Palace of the President, the Cathedral, the Archbishop’s Palace, San Fransisco Church and Convent, among the notables, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992.

We toured the underground crypts in the San Francisco church, a bastion of egalitarian burial. Each of the crypts were filled with ten bodies with no distinctions between classes and then covered with quicklime. The members of the religious order may have had a separate chamber but in death a commonality of the human condition was finally recognized.

We wound our way through tunnels with side chambers and came upon a unique feature, the ossuary, which was a circular crypt where the curators, displaying a macabre sense of design, had arranged the larger bones, tibia, fibula, etc. and skulls artfully in elaborate patterns.  We guessed that the smaller bones had sifted their way down to pile up below.

MuseumRafaael Larco HerreraAbout midway through our visit we caught a cab across town to the Museo Larco which was as fine a museum as we’ve seen anywhere, including all the offerings one might see in the Smithsonian. The grounds were a riot of colors, impeccably landscaped and it was a pleasure just to sit and gaze around at the spectacular gardens.grounds of Museo Larco

Funerary bundle with mask and gold crown

Funerary bundle with mask and gold crown

The benefactor, Rafael Larco Hoyle (1901-1966) began the museum in 1926 and, with his family’s financial backing, amassed a collection from archeological sites along Peru’s northern coast.Gold adornments

These included many cultures previously unknown and the objects were of precious and semi-precious metals and stones, ceremonial and everyday pottery and earthenware and vestments of the upper classes. In all, 45,000 items were cataloged and on display to the public.  After hours of wandering through this fabulous museum we were satiated and our eyes began to cross and glaze over!

Dueling set

Dueling set

On our penultimate full day in Lima we went to Museo Oro del Peru – the Gold Museum – another privately endowed property. The ground floor was more a monument to militarism and kleptocracy, devoted to armaments from the 16th through the 20th centuries from all over the world. We took a few pictures before being reminded that photos are discouraged but a “short” list of some of the implements of war and the related accoutrements follows: armor complete with codpieces, brass knuckles, dirks, a “Beefeater” uniform, Gatling guns, a beautifully polished Kalashnikov rifle presented by the USSR Ambassador, a plethora of fantastic European dueling pistols, maces, Moroccan scimitars and Nazi paraphernalia. Two over-the-top items were uniforms personally donated by Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain in 1938 and Generalissimo Augusto Pinochet of Chile in 1976.

After being sidetracked on the first floor for well over an hour we climbed down the stairs and reached our real objective, a subterranean level which housed within vaults containing gold, silver, bronze, copper, pearls, turquoise, weavings, funerary offerings, litters, and mummified corpses. In a nod to the ultimate equality of mortals a corpse of a lower class commoner was among the items. A corpse’s class in life could be determined by its position: a corpse laid out horizontally was in the lower classes as opposed to the corpse seated vertically in its funerary bundle in the higher classes.  In addition, death objects accompanying the body ranged from pottery shards to the elaborate which, again, made the class distinction painfully obvious.  One thing that struck us, just as we were again reaching our critical threshold of museum overload, was that the precious metals, pearls and stones would not have filled the hold of the smallest Spanish galleon. The fact that these items were buried kept them beyond the reach of the acquisitive conquistadores.San Simon Plaza

We barely scratched the surface of the city of Lima and didn’t explore any of Peru’s other magnificent and well-known sites.  But we had a terrific reunion with some of our family, learned a little about this country’s rich and varied history and, clad in our silk long underwear, departed gratefully for warmer climes.

Love Park - Lovers entwined and workers maintaining

Love Park – Lovers entwining and workers maintaining

By Richard and Anita

 

Adding Up the Costs: The Galapagos Islands

galpsaOver the years we’ve watched several documentaries of the Galapagos Islands and have always thought, right along with millions of others, “Wow!  Would we love to visit there s-o-m-e-d-a-y!”  Upon our arrival in Ecuador we started researching affordable ways to visit the islands that were somewhere between the high-end luxury cruises and backpacker hostels.  Most flights embark for the 1½ hour journey from Guayaquil which was only a little over a three hour bus ride from Manta where we’ve been staying.  We  consulted a couple of travel agencies whose prices were roughly $999 per person, for a four day/three night stay in a four-star hotel with meals included, excluding beverages.   A five day tour, with the same inclusions and exclusions was $1299 per person.  Not covered were tourist/park fees and docking fees.  We read a few articles online, talked to friends about their visits and decided that we wanted to add extra days as well as select which islands we wanted to visit.  And so we planned our own “Indie” excursion.galapagos tortoise

Day One

We took an early morning cab to the bus station ($2) and boarded the bus line Reina Del Camino (Queen of the Road) to Guayaquil with our previously purchased tickets, $5.00 for adults, $2.50 for seniors for a total of $7.50. Upon our arrival at the major bus terminal in Guayaquil, a three-story affair, we claimed our bags and then cabbed ($4) to the airport.  The bus terminal and airport are actually adjoined but one-way streets necessitated an extended drive around the parameters of the two facilities.

Our plane fare on Avianca Airlines was $577 for two round-trip tickets from Guayaquil to Baltra Island in the Galapagos.  We were a little out of sync with the order of steps and procedures but they basically boil down to:

  • Stop by the Consejo de Gobierno del Regimen Especial de Galapagos for the control card for transit into the Galapagos ($20 for two people).
  • Next go to the Inspeccion y Cuarentena, a quarantine that checks to make sure you’re not bringing in seeds or other items that could affect the balance of the flora and fauna in the archipelago. Bags will be scanned, checked and stickered.  Some people elect to get their luggage wrapped in multiple layers of plastic but we’re not quite sure why.
  • Finally, we checked our two bags, proceeded through security and awaited boarding.

park ticketsWe landed without incident on Baltra Island at the small airport and claimed our checked bags.  Customs was a breeze and we were separated from another $200 for two people for the Galapagos Islands National Park entrance fee. Our passports received the requisite stamp for the Parque Nacional Galapagos.

We followed the crowd to the waterfront and deposited our suitcases with a man who heaved them on the roof of the covered launcha, clambered aboard and set off for the Isla Santa Cruz, the island we were staying on ($2 ). Upon disembarkation we reclaimed our carry-ons, and boosted ourselves and our luggage onto a bus for the 45-minute ride to Puerto Ayoro, the largest metropolis on the islands, with a population of perhaps 12,000 hearty souls. The bus, incidentally, was gratis. At the terminus we hailed a taxi (a bit of a price gouge of double the normal fare at $2 for the short trip) and proceeded to our hotel.

We had reserved our room through AirBnB previously and found The Hotel Fiesta to be charming, clean and quiet although the room was small. It was also very close to the “downtown area” and restaurants and was a great value at $100 per night, including tax and gratuity, for a total of $500. The room included an enormous breakfast of fruit, yogurt, granola, coffee/tea and juice which was then followed by eggs, bread, cheese and sausage or ham. The Hotel Fiesta also had a travel agent, a delightful woman named Deanna, who booked all our tours for us, including a lucky break on a highly desired island tour.Galapagos

Day 2

We explored Santa Cruz beginning with a walk of roughly 6 miles round trip from the hotel to Playa Tortuga on the island. The vegetation was remarkable and the ocean view was spectacular. Small birds showed no fear and wandered freely around us. Afterwards we went took another ambling walk around the Charles Darwin Center (free) to view rescued land tortoises and large multi-colored iguanas.iguanas

Day 3

blue footed boobiesWe joined a small group for a 4-hour tour of the Academy Bay ($70.00) and cruised by some of the smaller islands and rocky, jutting cliffs for up close glimpses of sea lions, sea turtles and blue-footed boobies. We beached at a rocky point for a walking tour where we saw marine iguanas emerging from the sea and heaving their large bodies over the lava rocks, finally gaining purchase on the sandy beach and hence into the sparse vegetation searching for warmth under the scorching sun.  A calm lagoon had at least twenty white tip sharks floating and sleeping.  Snorkeling was the final activity but only three stout hearts attempted it because, hey, the water was c-o-l-d!  The boldest swimmer made it no more than 15 minutes with only a few fish seen. On shore, following a late lunch at a wonderful Italian restaurant, we wandered over to a pier adjacent to the fish market. The vendors were gone but we were treated to very close encounters with large Peruvian pelicans.sea lion and cub

Day 4

We’d scheduled a tour to North Seymour Island (cost $320 for a couple which included meals) and our day started at 8:00 AM when a shuttle picked us up to transport us to the north end of the island.  Here we caught our boat for the day, a 37 foot Bay Liner, for the 1 hour trip.  North Seymour Island is a flat-topped island, an uplifted piece of the ocean floor raised during one of the tectonic upheavals that created parts of the Galapagos.  Aridity was the hall mark of this island but here we saw sea lions with their pups, some suckling and some juveniles old enough to brave the waters for short periods. As for our avian viewing highpoint, the male Magnificent Frigate Birds were courting and in full display with completely distended air sacks – brilliant red with black spotting.  The Lesser Frigates were fun to watch but no competition for our admiration and the Blue Footed Boobies, while not in abundance, were sufficient enough to fill our quota.Magnificent Frigate Bird

Day 5

Our last tour, St. Bartolome Island, was a genuine score for Deanna, our hotel’s tour agent, ($340 with meals).  This island, especially, has a very high demand for on-shore tours and a daily limit of people allowed.  We started our day at 6:00 AM with the shuttle across the island followed by a 3-hour boat ride to St. Bartolome Island and an exciting sighting of a few manta rays.  The island shores are a combination of rugged bluffs, sandy beaches and pyroclastic lava flows from 1898 which almost resembled an elephant hide in places and served as a geological lesson in island building.  At a second drop site, we climbed 364 steps that circled the island’s extinct volcano for a panoramic view of the whole island.  On our way down we were lucky enough to spot sea turtles regally swimming by, penguins darting rapidly in and about the water with a couple on shore and curious sea lions cruising by the beach for a closer look.  However, the only apparent inhabitants appeared to be grasshoppers in this stark landscape. The long boat ride back was drowsy and filled with quiet talking and gazing out at the water, contemplating our visit.????

Saint BartolomeAnd on Day 6 we retraced our route of taxi, bus, launcha, bus, airplane, taxi, bus and taxi finally back to our apartment in Manta.  The final costs, $1,808, are summed up below:

Transportation (Buses, taxis, launchas, airfare) – $639

Meals – $219

Tours – $730

Park Fees – $220

We saved where we could but we didn’t skimp because this journey will be one of the highlights of our travels.  Going to the Galapagos Islands can be done for much cheaper with hostels starting out at $25/night or it can be done for a lot more money in luxury accommodations.

By Richard and Anita

What We Lost: Burgled On A Bus

Although we were careful with our belongings, we must have become complacent during our travels.  Bad luck finally caught up with us and we became the victims of theft.

We arrived home to our apartment in Manta in the early evening after a long day of travel.  We had begun at 6:45 with a taxi ride on Santa Cruz Island in the Galapagos to catch a bus to the ferry that took us across to Baltra Island.  From there we flew back to the Ecuadorian mainland into the large port city of Guayaquil and grabbed a taxi to reach the bus station.  After buying our tickets we scrambled a bit to find our departure point and made the bus with only minutes to spare.  We settled in to our comfortable seats for the three-and-a-half hour ride back to Manta and the last taxi taking us (finally!) home.

photo available from http://www.canstockphoto.com

photo available from http://www.canstockphoto.com

We arrived home tired but very happy with our visit and began unpacking our carry-ons, piling up dirty laundry and putting our things away.  And then we turned our attention to our backpacks.  With a sinking feeling I pulled out the bag with the charging cords (camera, I-pod, Kindle) and didn’t see my camera wrapped in its bright blue woven bag from Guatemala.  I pulled out the charging cord and mouse for my computer and, with a slow, sick feeling growing in my stomach, made sure all the compartments were empty.  I compulsively patted my backpack front and back. I looked around at my belongings strewn across the bed, checked under each item and verified that my computer, wrapped in its green padded bag, was also gone.  I twisted my backpack side to side as if my computer might magically reappear but the bag was still empty – the camera and computer still gone.

We had taken turns taking pictures on our cameras of all our sight-seeing in the Galapagos Islands and had carefully downloaded the photos each night when we returned to our hotel in case one of the cameras was damaged or lost.  Our Wi-Fi was so slow that uploading our photos to Dropbox, our cloud-based storage file, to back them up wasn’t really an option.  However, we thought we’d pretty much covered the bases…

When did the theft occur? Our best guess is that it happened on the bus from Guayaquil to Manta.

The first suspicious incident happened when an official looking man asked us to move from our assigned seats to more inviting seats towards the front of the bus which we complied with.  However, the rightful passengers appeared shortly and requested their assigned seats. At this time an official in the uniform of Riena Del Camino, the bus line, assisted us and back we went to our original seats.  Both times our attention was divided between picking up our backpacks and gathering up the items we had removed and then stumbling along the narrow aisle while curious onlookers watched.

The second suspicious incident happened when I noticed that my pack had fallen on its back by my feet and was slightly pushed under the back seat rather than leaning against the bus side on my left where I’d first placed it.  Thinking that the bus movement had shifted its balance I moved it upright again without checking the contents.

The important questions are: “What have we really lost?”

  • One of two of our fairly new computers with the contents mostly backed up and recoverable. One of two of our small cameras with over half of our photos of the amazing Galapagos.
  • Our “travel virginity.” In return we gained the realization that we were singled out as vulnerable targets.
  • And, maybe, our faith in the travel gods. Our future journeys may always include less trust in the people around us.  We’ll be more watchful, more guarded and possibly more suspicious.

    photo available from http://www.canstockphoto.com

    photo available from http://www.canstockphoto.com

We live a minimalistic lifestyle as long-term travelers with each item carefully selected and chosen.  But the loss of a computer and camera is much more than the loss of a few of our possessions.  It’s about the diminution of our confidence in ourselves and the people around us who we had formerly greeted with open smiles and trust.

Something’s changed.  Call us less naïve and complacent…. and tally up a small win for the dark side.

By Anita and Richard

 

 

 

Going Up Country

Both of us remember as kids piling into the family station wagon for Sunday drives to “see the scenery” and we both had the same thought: “B-O-R-I-N-G!”  Fast forward to present day and it’s readily apparent how much we’ve changed.  A road trip is a cornerstone of travel and the thought of a day spent exploring new towns and countryside can leave us with a sense of giddy anticipation. north of Manta

We headed north of Manta through a series of small “don’t blink your eyes or you might miss them” towns.  Because we’ve found that this area of Ecuador seems to be very aware of its image and protective of its environment, we were surprised when piles of garbage and random trash appeared dumped beside the road for a stretch of a few miles.  We spied a large landfill off to the side, servicing the large military reservation in the area, along the otherwise scenic route and once we left it behind we began to enjoy the views again.  Our favorite trees, the ceibos, appeared and we began wending our way through the low hills.row crops

As we moved inland from the coastline we began noticing small farms of row crops, many with solitary or multiple workers bent over their tasks – stoop labor. Among the offerings we recognized were onions, maiz, pole beans alongside banana and plantains.  Picturesque rice paddies appeared with egrets scattered here and there in the shallow water near workers standing in the mud, hunched over and laboring at the work of tending their crop as in years gone by. Rice paddies

We arrived in Bahía de Caráquez, with an estimated population of 20,000.  As a coastal town situated at the mouth of the Río Chone, it’s a popular vacation destination for residents of Quito and Guayaquil and has begun to attract foreign visitors and retirees as well as investors in the last decade.  Tourism is a significant source of income and, with its high-rise condominiums and hotels located along the waterfront, this new, vertical construction has earned Bahia the nickname of “Little Miami.” Numerous fishing boats, pleasure boats and yachts of various sizes were moored at Puerto Amistad near the bridge which crosses the Rio Chone.view of Bahia from San Vicente

Because it’s a small town there’s not a lot to see but we had a terrific time looking for and taking pictures of the colorful variety of tuk-tuks and pedicabs. There is talk that a new mall with a modern grocery will be coming soon and this will reduce the need for the frequent trips to either Portoviejo or Manta for some basic shopping.

pedi-cabtuk-tuks galoreWe crossed over the Los Caras Bridge, admiring the boats on the bay and drove through the small town of San Vicente which appeared to be largely ignored by tourists and no comparison to its wealthy neighbor. Here, as elsewhere through our journey, we noted the widespread use of bamboo as a construction material for houses, shops and many examples of split rail picket fences.bamboo construction

bamboo fencelongitude why not latitude?) signPassing by occasional roadside signs that counted down our longitude we reached our final destination, a little fishing village named Canoa (0°28’59.9″S 80°27’04.5″W).  Maybe because it was mid-afternoon or low season the few streets seemed almost deserted although it’s a popular tourist destination. Shops and small eateries lined the sandy street adjoining the huge expanse of golden beach that sold beachwear, souvenirs and basic groceries.  Surf lessons for beginners and intermediates were advertised and there were several of the obligatory surfboard shops and hostels as well.mainstreet Canoa

And finally, it was time to feast on some amazingly fresh and cheap seafood at a little thatch-roofed beach restaurant while we admired the view of the Pacific Ocean, bluffs off to either side and scattered fishing boats along the quiet and almost empty beach.Canoa BeachCanoa Beach

By Anita and Richard

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wooden Ships: The Boat Builders of Manta

wooden beautyWooden Ships, the song performed at Woodstock by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and featured on their first album, may well be remembered by many members of our generation. The ballad came to our baby-boomer minds when we first viewed the magnificent wooden yachts and fishing boats in various stages of construction, tear-down and refurbishing.  All the overhauling and building is taking place in dry dock on the sands near Playa Tarqui here in Manta.cleaning and repairing the hull wooden ships

There does not appear to be a great deal written about these craftsmen or the work of the shipbuilders on the beach adjacent to the fish market. Manta, with an estimated population over 300,000, still feels like it’s not much more than an overgrown fishing village although it’s now a major exporter of tuna and other seafood within which a financial sector has flourished. So it’s logical to assume that the profession of building wooden ships has been known and practiced for generations, if not for centuries.a slow process of repair

The current craftsmen still rely on hand tools. Chisels, hammers, adzes, awls, knives, machetes, nail sets and the like are wielded to work the wood to create ribs, hulls, decking, super-structures, etc. Some of the wooden beams and planks are machine milled but not to uniform dimensional lumber. The individual boards are selected one by one, measured and cut separately to match the adjacent plank and the gaps between are sealed by caulking. The beam and ribs are chosen for the grain with a natural bend being required and are slowly shaped so the main supports, to the extent possible, are intact pieces of lumber and not ones “sistered” or jointed.erecting the hull

To seal the spaces between the planks, the fibers of de-husked coconuts are used. These tough strands are roughly woven into a fibrous rope held taut between two men while being worked to form a sinewy caulking that is later covered by water repellant sealers.

Photo by Al Eisele of MantaExpatsOnline

Photo by Al Eisele

Photo by Al Eisele of MantaExpatsOnline

Photo by Al Eisele

As a concession to modernity, a limited assortment of power tools are used in the construction including small chain saws. Some of the wooden ships and yachts, which are covered in fiberglass, require powered grinders and buffers for a finished application. These, alongside the Asociacion de Carpinteros de Manta of which the craftsmen are members, show that this native industry has kept pace with the times.fiberglass cover on the hull

almost ready!It’s been decades since the release of the song Wooden Ships; we’ve aged and changed and could even use some refurbishing of our own. And yet we have little reason to believe that much has changed here on the beach in Manta. Certainly the fiberglass coverings, the chainsaws and the associated electrical accoutrements are a more recent addition. But it’s not hard to imagine that the profession of building ships is passed down through the generations from father to son.  And there’s much to be said for the refurbishing of those ships that have been used well and meticulously restored to their former incarnations allowing them to go to sea once more.ready to be refurbished

By Richard and Anita

Special thanks to Al Eisele of mantaexpatsonline.com for permission to use his photos.