October 12- Miami to Lima, Peru

We had a leisurely morning and left to drive to the Zoo Miami which proved to be a good deal farther away than we thought. At the zoo we headed for the Asian Aviary and Dick spent all of his time there. It was huge with lots of birds that didn’t seem all that concerned about the people walking around. I took a few bird photos and a lot of identification signs for Dick’s future work. It had a stream, waterfalls and several different levels, so we wandered around for a while. Then I bid Dick adieu and headed off to see more of the zoo. I walked a couple of miles and covered about half of it- mostly the Asian animals.

The days was warm and sunny and I saw one humped and two humped camels, a mother rhino and her baby, many kinds of antelope, Asian bears and apes. I took a few photos of the carousel which had hand carved animals of endangered species. I went back and met Dick and we drove to a shopping center with lots of restaurants and chose Chop Chop Chicken where they grilled chicken breasts and made all kinds of bowls and plates with them. Dick had a Cuban bowl and I had chopped chicken breast with baked sweet potatoes and baked plantains.

Back in the parking lot, we put snack stuff in our backpacks and otherwise got organized for a trip to the airport. On the ride to the Miami International Airport, we listened to the last CD of The Hunger Games. We found the agency where we had made reservations for leaving the car and went in their shuttle to the airport. We arrived at our gate with two hours to wait. Dick charged a camera battery and went right to work on his photos from the zoo. I did puzzles to pass the time since no internet connections seemed to be available.

Our flight was a bit uneventful, as we always hope they’ll be. But we did get served a hot meal which was pretty tasty chicken in sauce with rice and chocolate frosted cheesecake. They even offered wine! I watched Moonrise Kingdom and Finding a Friend for the End of the World- but unfortunately just as the world was supposedly ending, the captain came on with the announcement that we were approaching Lima- and I never did get to see the end of the movie!

We got through passport control and customs easily and found our Gate One tour guide easily. He divided us into groups to go to our respective hotels. We were dropped off at the Viejo Mirarflores Htoel around midnight, their time- one AM for us. The hotel was quaint and very pretty and our rooms nice- with, best of all, very comfortable beds to enjoy before getting up to meet with Washington, our group’s tour guide at 9 AM.

Saturday, October 13, 2012- Lima

We had a breakfast of granola with peanuts and yogurt and then met with Washington who described our day and a bit about the future itinerary. We boarded a bus for our city tour of Lima, first stopping at the Parque del Amor- named for the lovers’ statue in the center. It had lots of undulating benches with mosaics and the sea was far below. . After we all had time to walk around and take photos we got back on the bus and went to the San Francisco Monastery- very ornate 17th Century architecture and an eerie catacomb which had sections where femurs and skulls were laid out in designs. We ended up at the Larco Mar Mall- built into the cliff and you went down stairs to get to it from the street level. It was a pretty, festive place with rides for kiddies and an extensive food court. Dick and I opted for Chinese and ate in the center, then decided to try to make our way down to the ocean.

We walked back along the seaside for quite a while before we found the stairway leading down to the ocean’s edge. Lots of surfers were there as well as many parachute like riders soaring high above the ocean in the uplifts. Dick counted that we took 350+ steps to get down there. The beach was filled with rounded stones turning in the waves. I picked up a few pretty ones. Dick went off in search of cormorants and any other sea birds that might fly in but actually had much better luck on the way over and back, getting four or five birds that were new to him. The climb up was a bit wearing, but we made it fairly easily, then began the walk back to our hotel.

We3 went back to the Larco Mar Mall, then followed the road up from there, getting an ice cream and money from an ATM on the way. We walked through the Parque Central de Miraflores where children were playing and adults were getting their shoes shined. Using a map Washington gave us, we found the hotel and sacked out in preparation for the evening’s festivities.

At 7 o’clock we met in the hotel lobby and went by bus to La Dama Juana Restaurant where we had a buffet meal and watched dancers doing dances from all over Peru. One of the songs they played before the show was El Condor Pasa- the Simon and Garfunkle song. That became the theme of the trip- actually a song from 1913 that Paul Simon had heard performed by a group called Urubamba- the same name as a town we would visit. Simon and Garfunkel put English words to the song and we know it as their If I Could song now. The buffet held such delicacies as octopus and raw fish in lemon juice, but we stuck to the more staple things like salads and roasted chicken. We were given two complimentary drinks- one like a sour margarita and the other from purple corn which tasted a little like cola.

The young dancers put on a show for about two hours- dancing courting dances, including one which featured two large snakes that the men gave to the girls. In another the pairs took turns trying to set fire to a paper “tail” that was tucked at the waist. They ended with one which seemed very appropriate for Halloween’s month, with devil and skeleton masks. It was a fun way to spend an evening and we were grateful to tumble into our beds around 10 after a busy interesting day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012- Lima to Cuzco to The Sacred Valley

We had a wake-up call at 6AM, got to breakfast and we on the bus by 7:30 to head to the airport. Washington herded us through baggage check in and security. We didn’t have to take off our shoes, but we had to take off our watches. We took a bus to the plane and climbed up for our one hour flight to Cuzco. It was beautiful flying into the city which is surrounded by mountains, some with glaciers and snow caps. We got on our bus and Elvis- our assistant tour guide- had brought herbs to smell and a pomegranate-like fruit to quench our thirst.

We drove to Chinchero drinking plenty of water as we were advised to help cope with the altitude which was 12,500 feet there. Lining up to use the Ladies Room there, we were surprised to find pirple modern looking toilet and sink. We had a typical farmer’s lunch of soup with quinona, different kinds of potatoes, beans, corn on the cob with huge kernels, and roasted chicken and GUINEA PIG- the local delicacy. The hosts were dressed in the very colorful weaved cloth they make there and one young woman came around with a roasted guinea pig to show us what it looked like whole, I guess. Even though it had been sunny when we arrived, a storm blew in and we even had hail bouncing off the thatched roofs across from the dining room. The meal ended with an anise flavored liqueur.

Then the local women demonstrated the dying and weaving of cloth. They began by washing the wool, then showed us the plants, and in one case parasitic bugs (for red), that they used to dye the wool. Then the mother of the family demonstrated using the loom which was attached to her waist. The tradition is still passed down from mother to daughter. Later on I saw a woman weaving the same way as she sat in a field watching her sheep.

By this time the rain had stopped, so we went out into the marketplace where they only sold good made in Chinchero and I had no trouble spending all I had taken from our ATM stash the day before. From there it was back onto the bus for the drive to Urubamba where we first visited Ollantaytambo- an ancient Incan site with temples and an underground aqueduct. It was the royal estate of the Incan Emperor Pachacuti and was somewhat destroyed by Spaniards who were angry that the Incans didn’t want to accept their Christian god and beliefs. The Incans covered some of the site with earth to hide it and it is only now being discovered and excavated.

It was getting dark by the time we left for the 20 minute drive to the San Agustin Hotel for the night. It was more modern in appearance with long open corridors leading to the rooms. Our room had woven looking spreads and was very nice. Some of the group went out again to a restaurant, but Dick and I were satisfied that we’d had our big meal at lunch (guinea pig is very filling!)and made do with pita bread and trail mix. We walked across the street from the hotel and bought a big bottle of water from a small shop, and holed in for the evening- preparing ourselves for a free day tomorrow, but then a wake up of 4AM for the next two days- one at Machu Picchu and the other off with the bird tour lady.

I checked my email and found that my Obama piece may be featured on his website tomorrow morning! And it was as Letter of the Week!

Monday, October 15, 2012- Urubamba

We got up and did things at a leisurely pace today. Breakfast was a very nice buffet at the hotel and we fueled up for the day ahead. Most of the group went off on tours, but Dick and I walked through the town and found a way down to the river. Dick shot bird photos, including a new ibis, while I wandered the river’s edge looking for, and finding, several interesting stones. At one point a woman sitting at an outdoor table motioned us to come over but we waved and continued on. We went back to our hotel room and I found that my piece had, indeed been chosen as “Letter of the Week: for the Obama site, so I sent the address to family and friends and decided I deserved a bottle of Coke Zero to celebrate. I left Dick working on birds and went out in search of refreshment. The water store across the road was closed and another store didn’t have that. But when I got out a couple of people from the tour called from the other side of the street and I walked with them to the place where they had gotten Coke Zero. Told them my news and the guy said he’d toast me with his Coke Zero. They were heading for a restaurant Washington had recommended to have lunch.

When we decided to go for lunch, we walked around town but went the wrong way when the road split and had to go back and try again. We found our tour friends finishing deserts. It was a lovely open air restaurant with men playing the pan pipes while we ate from a very good buffet. They played “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” along with other more folksy tunes and the macaws in a cage next to them joined in when the spirit called them. Dick and I bought a bag of ten rolls for a little over a dollar to eat tomorrow on our long trip to Machu Picchu.

We got back to the hotel a half hour or so before we were to meet up with Washington and the touring people for a trip to a potter’s studio and an Inca Bar. Dick decided he could forego the tours and would try to get hummingbird photos in the hotel’s garden instead. The potter’s demonstration was much like others we’d seen with the exception of his using a polished agate to smooth the sides of the cup he was making. His two cute little daughters and their fuzzy black kitten were distractions that lots of people enjoyed. I bought some cups and a wine glass.

Then we headed to Mercedes’ Rest Bar where she described how she made her corn beer while Washington translated as he did with the potter. She soaked the dried corn and let it germinate, chopped it and let it soak and brew. Then she strained in in a basket lined with grass. We got to taste both her regular brew and one that she added strawberry juice and sugar to. Many people played the frog game in the courtyard, where they tried to throw brass ‘coins’ into the frog’s mouth or other slots and tallied up their points from the drawer below. Also off the courtyard was a pen with fifty or so guinea pigs who probably didn’t have too good a fortune to look forward to.

On the way home the bus stopped at a supermarket that had mostly snack food and we bought snacks for the day tomorrow. Then Dick and I worked on our various pursuits and called it an early night to be ready for our 4AM wake-up call. I sewed ties made from an old Gate One name tag onto my hat to keep it from blowing off tomorrow and repaired a strap on my backpack and we both got organized to be able to leave our suitcases for transport at 4:30 and take what we needed in our backpacks.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012- Machu Picchu

We left for Machu Picchu at 5AM and were dropped off at the train station an hour and a half later. The train took roughly the same amount of time to get us to the town. The train was very nice with tables between each pair of seats, but the diesel fumes wafted back into our car big time and several women held scarves up to their faces. We were served snack bags from the railroad company with banana chips and chocolate cookies and later the steward came around with coffee and tea. The ride up was beautiful and we were left off in an area filled with market stalls. Washington told us to keep our eyes straight ahead and marched us the five minutes or so to the bus station.

The ride up the mountain took about twenty minutes and followed a lovely river a good part of the way. When we got to Machu Picchu proper Washington led us all around for almost four hours, seeing the amazing way the Aztecs designed the water system, quarried the stones, and built the massive structure that has lasted until today. The finest places such as temples and important people’s houses were made with stones so finely shaped that no mortar was necessary to fit them together. The stone inside was likewise finely sculpted for the altars. The mortar fitting the more common places was a mixture of sand, clay, egg whites and ground cactus. We saw the dormitories built for pilgrims, temples, small reflecting pools that helped the early Aztecs track the planets, and houses of the common people. On the top of one wall we saw a cute little rabbit-squirrel animal and got photos of it as it basked in the sunshine. Research is still ongoing and new discoveries lead to new understandings of how people at that time lived. We saw both archeological teams and teams of workers cleaning moss and dirt off stones. We climbed up to a temple and some people climbed to the heights where photos for postcard pictures are taken.

Dick and I left to go down in search of birds. While we were in the long line waiting for buses, several very loud sharp cracks of thunder sounded seemingly close from our position at the top of the mountain. We hoped our tour buddies weren’t in for a bad time as they climbed. When we finally got on to a bus, it was funny to hear a little kid singing many choruses of “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” all down the mountain. We did a bit of bird searching along the river, then went into a small restaurant that advertised free Pisco Sours with their pizzas. They had a massive , highly decorated pizza oven and we had a good spinach and tomato pizza baked in it with our drinks. Even with an extra coke we brought to take along, the bill came to about $8!

We spent a bit more time looking for birds then wove our way through the labyrinth of souvenir stalls on the way to the train station. I found us each a T shirt and some things for gifts. We had a good long wait for our scheduled train, but spent the time talking with tour mates and it passed enjoyably. The train ride back down was like the one up with the exception of no diesel fumes and candied peanuts and salted beans as snacks. We sat across from two very nice young girls from Holland who were backpacking through lots of South American countries. We had an enjoyable time talking to them and Dick showed them photos of our bike trip in Holland on his computer. It was already after 6:30 and dark when we got onto our bus for Cuzco.

We arrived at the San Agustin International around 8:30. It was a very pretty modern looking hotel with ancient symbols like the almost Maori art man and woman on the bathroom doors and stylized fish on door signs, keys and hotel info papers in the room. Our bags were already in our rooms and we happily joined them and got to bed ASAP to be ready for our 4:30 wake-up call to go birding.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012- Birding in Mountains Above Urubamba

We were up showered and breakfasted and in the hotel lobby by 5:30. Carlos, who works for Doris, met us there and introduced Juan who drove us all past the historic building in Cuzco Square then back to Urubamba, past the Aztec temple we visited earlier and the river we walked along in that town. There Doris met us at a gas station and we switched to a larger van for the expedition. The drive was beautiful with lots of farmland and mountain passes. Most of the people kept a few cattle, sheep, pigs, or burros and corn was the predominant crop. We saw few llamas or alpacas but were told we’d see a lot of them in the Lake Titicaca area. Small rivers flowed down the mountains and through most of the villages. The streets in the villages were filled with people in colorful woven clothes- bright colors and intricate patterns. Many of the women used blankets to either hold their babies or the goods they were carrying around. People walked everywhere or rode in the taxi-motorcycles or bicycle peddled ones. Busses were crowded and often had bags of goods tied to the roofs. Parents seemed very attentive to their little ones and the atmosphere was always pleasant. Many of the towns had speed bumps and our slowing down allowed for photo-ops. Traveling was really interesting- good since we spent a lot of time in buses and cars getting around to our next travel event.

Our birding group drove up the mountain, stopping in different environments and altitudes to see what birds could be found there. .Doris had an amazing ability to identify birds by their songs and then play recording she had to coax them to come close. She had no trouble identifying all the birds we saw. We saw both a young condor and an adult male, and Dick got photos of them as well as many other birds in bushes, on the ground, and in pools. After a good many hours of following trails and walking along roads, we drove back down into Urubamba and Dick paid Doris. We drove with the men back down toward Cuzco, stopping at a lagoon where it was almost too windy and chilly for photos. Dick tipped them when we got back to the hotel and we settled in to get all our photo and journal bits and piece done to be ready for another early morning (6AM) wake up for our trip to Lake Titicaca for the next two days.

Thursday, October 18, 2012- Cuzco to Puno- Lake Titicaca

We were up and on the bus by 7AM. On the way we stopped at a school that Gate 1 has been sponsoring. The agency had provided money to build toilets, expend cooking facilities and supply paint for the people to use in decorating the outside of the buildings. The children were all lined up to greet us when we arrive- from 5 year olds to 11 or so. A few of the smaller children were dressed in costumes- one in lovely native dress and two others in scary costumes used for a festival they celebrated. The principal told us about the school and answered questions. They asked us for our names and wanted to know how many teachers were in the group. Then the children sang songs and one little boy recited a poem. In return we sang ,Old MacDonald to them - lame, but fun and evidently appreciated. Then we passed out gifts we had brought. I gave mine to a teacher, but others passed things out to individual children. Gate 1 had supplied a lot of pencils and some of the people on the trip had brought large amounts of tablets and pencils, while others forgot, so we were in the reasonable middle range. We walked around looking in classrooms which were reminiscent of our classrooms in historical parks, but had TV’s and other more up-to-date equipment- some thanks to Gate 1. We hugged, shook hands and high-fived the children on our way back to the bus.

We traveled on to the archaeological site of Raqchi- a massive Incan temple. We were each given a sack lunch which had a banana, cake, crackers, chicken, a juice box, and a chocolate bar, plus an energy bar that one trip member said tasted like Styrofoam. Our are still waiting for a time when we’re hungry enough to eat them. But it was a better than average sack lunch. The Temple of Wiricoccha had very high walls and other lower buildings to house people and store food. A river ran by it and Dick was able to look for waterbirds. The bathroom there was unique. You tipped the attendant who gave you a bit of toilet paper if requested, and ran with a bucket to flush the toilets between users. A big drink jug provided the only hand washing facility but you could dry your hands with a couple of dirty looking towels hanging there. The inevitable market was in the square and I bought a few souvenir things to take home.

We drove through a town that made bricks and another where Black Market activities drove the economy. We got to the hotel around 4:30 and rested up a bit. I washed out some clothes, By now the high altitude has taken its toll on a lot of our group. Several have diarrhea or vomiting, and most feel a bit wiped out from so many days of high altitude running around. Dick’s got a cold and runs a temperature at night but has kept going. He didn’t join me, however, on the walk around Puno where Washington pointed out the cathedral and places to get clothes washed, eat, or change money. We had a very low-keyed evening after that- ordering chicken and chicken soup and going to bed by about 8 for the second night in a row,

Friday, October 19, 2012- Puna on Lake Titicaca

We were up around 7 and Dick was still feeling poorly so we checked and found we did have travel insurance in case we had to cancel the second part of the trip. Dick and I ate breakfast in the front lobby waiting for Washington to come down to talk to him. We decided to keep on going and see how he did. Four or five people from our group were taking in a little oxygen from tanks in the lobby and at least one wasn’t able to make the morning trip. Two people had vomited, so our group was taking it a bit easy for now. We heard that six of the other group weren’t doing well either. Yesterday, and on our bird watching day, we had hit altitudes of 14,200 feet so it’s no wonder people were affected.

But it was sunny and lovely when we took a bus to the dock to board the boat to our floating island. The island people have a flag system of telling each boat where to dock so all the islands have equal chance to profit from tourism. Because they pay no taxes to Peru, they are not entitled to any free education or health benefits and often choose to have children’s teeth pulled when they get cavities because it is much cheaper than fillings. They need to trade fish and other supplies to get the items they need in Puno and sell their wares to tourist groups to make a living and afford to send their children to high school or get health care.

The island we docked at was home to six families who greeted us at the dock including a woman named Sandra who I had my photo taken with after. They explained their food: the bottom of reeds that they peeled and ate like bananas, small fish caught in the lake, and the eggs of seabirds. They drank lake water which caused them problems and had been given a purifying system by a Belgian NGO (non-governmental organization), but it had broken down and they were back to drinking lake water. . One island was designated as a bathroom and they had to row five minutes to it to use the ‘facilities’ with ashes from their cooking fires to cover up what they produced.

The children went to a nearby school, but if they wanted to go to high school, they had to row long distances to the school then back in the afternoon. And as children get educated they tend to move away from the islands with their difficult lifestyle. There is fear of it becoming a dying lifestyle- only kept alive as a tourist attraction. People who had already moved from the islands painted their houses green and could be seen from the lake.

The islands were constructed using a base of enmeshed dead roots of reeds which they separated into blocks using wooden wedges or nowadays a saw. They pulled these roots to where they wanted to have their island situated, then tied them together and anchored then to the lake bottom. On top of this base they laid bundles of fresh reeds with one pile at 90 degrees to the pile below. Every fifteen days they have to add a new layer of reeds are the older ones get soggy and sink a bit. The houses are elevated on higher layers of reeds and four men lift the house every fifteen days also to put fresh layers of reeds below it, then replace the house. They use flat stones as a base for their cooking area and cook outside whenever possible. Their boats are made of reeds also and look a bit like Viking dragon boats. Because they paint the boats, they can last up to two years, but many old ones lay abandoned around the islands.

The seven women (one mother-in-law) and five of their husbands sang several songs to us and we reciprocated with yet another version of “Old MacDonald.” One of our group was having a birthday and they sang a version of Happy Birthday to him in their language. The sang Row, Row, Row Your Boat in English for us, having learned it from some paying houseguests they have from time to time. Then we were invited into their houses. Three of us went into one house where all the colorful clothing was hung on pegs and beds of reeds ringed the walls. We were invited to put on their outfits and I was dressed in the woman’s skirt, vest, hat and pompoms for a photo op with she and her husband. I felt obligated to buy one of her embroidered hangings since the other couple had gone away at the threat of putting on the clothes and I was her only option.

I climbed up into the fish shaped lookout, then most of us took a ride in one of their reed boats with two men rowing. From both the lookout and the boat ride you got a better impression about how all the islands were actually quite small and separate one from the other. We bid farewell to our new friends and took the motor boat back to the dock in Puno. Some women were offering hats for 10 Soles- about $4 when we left and some of us planned to get them when we got back, but the women were nowhere to be found. Dick did get quite a few good seabird photos though, so that made it worthwhile for him!

We rested for a while and checked email and such. Then we walked across the town square and ate a peach and pineapple pizza art a nice little place- again with a wood fired pizza oven in front. Then, considering it enough of a good day, we retired to the hotel to work on bird photos (Dick) and write this journal (Sandy). Tomorrow we get up at 7 and head for the airport in a neighboring city for the flight to Lima and our last day in Peru.

Saturday, October 20- Juliaca to Lima

All went well as we got up and on the bus for Juliaca- about an hour from Puna. Washington delivered the sad news that he wouldn’t be able to go with us to Lima because his mother-in-law was quite ill and he needed to be with his wife. Charo, a local guide, and he went with us to the airport and she continued on to Lima, as did Henry, the other group’s guide. The flight took a bit over an hour. At the hotel we were taken to a further room and found the hotel was a good deal larger than we had thought. We rested up a bit, then got ready for the farewell dinner.

As we were leaving for the dinner Washington called to see how everything was going and he had made it back to Cuzco and his wife, safely. The dinner was fun with everybody in a happy mood to be back at sea level once again. Lots of toasts were given and photos taken. We had a good meal of soup, fish and dessert (fruit for Dick and donut like sweet potato cakes in maple syrup for me). When the dinner was over, Dick and I said our goodbyes because we had a wake-up call for 2AM and wanted to get in a little sleep. It was sad to leave our new friends, but a taxi got us quickly to the hotel and we headed for bed around 8:30.

Sunday, October 21, 2012- Lima to Quito

A car alarm beat our wake up call by a few minutes and we were down in the hotel lobby in less than fifteen minutes. We got a copy of our fellow travelers email list and bag lunches from the hotel and joined three other couples from the other hotel on the bus to the Lima airport. Henry saw us through check-in and left to trolley other people to airports most of the day. We flew off about 5:45 for a 3+ hour flight and were served drinks and a muffin. I dozed a bit. Near the end of the flight we talked with our seat mate- a young man from Engineers Without Borders who was delayed in meeting his fellow engineers for a project to control erosion in a small town.

We were quickly met by Patrico, nickname Pato, who got us on a very nice bus and to the Hotel Quito, a lovely hotel, by around 9. We rested and I showered and took our first malaria pill, then we headed out for the botanical gardens in a taxi. The park by the gardens was filled with people enjoying a lovely Sunday, vendors of food and trinkets for kiddies were everywhere. The park was filled with families having a great time with music coming from places all around the park.

We went into the Jardin Botanico De Quito and Dick had a great time taking photos of hummingbirds and others while I took photos of the lovely flowers there. There were specialized gardens of cacti, roses, azaleas, and orchids among others.

After a few hours we found a restaurant across the street with a person in a crab costume waving people in. We ordered shrimp (mine in coconut sauce and ate the beans and roasted corn put on out table as an appetizer. The shrimp was whole and before living in North Carolina I probably couldn’t have coped with it! People were going by in the street in the backs of trucks and busses waving flags and we asked several waitresses (who didn’t speak much English ) if there was a special occasion. A man at a table across from us (who was breaking apart a lot of crab pieces with a mallet- as most other people were) said, “No, it’s just Sunday.” It was a fun place with a big TV showing sports at the front and another TV playing videos of Hotel California, My Heart Will Go One, and Total Eclipse of the Heart while we ate. Most everybody had big pots of crabs and clams in the middle of the table that they pulled out and pounded- and meals took a long time.

We left with the intention of going to the Museo de Cienias Naturales (Natural Science Museum) but found it had closed at one, so went back to the Botanical Gardens again- as much to find a restroom as tour it again. But the sun came out from time to time and the birds seemed cooperative and we had no other plans so we spent another hour or so there.

We took a taxi back to the Hotel Quito, rested a short time, then went down to the swimming pool. We showered then braved the 60 something temperatures to get to the 80-85 degree pool. We swam for fifteen minutes or so, then warmed up in the Jacuzzi before showering a getting dressed. I tried once more to get stamps for Liam and Gracie’s postcard but the hotel store didn’t have large enough ones. Then we crossed the road for snack food and struck out there too. We walked further down to a hot dog place where Dick got a hot dog with stuff he couldn’t eat on it and ditto for the hamburger I got. We walked further along the road and found an ice cream place where I had a great brownie sundae which made up for the unappreciated hamburger- which Dick did eat a bit of.

Tomorrow’s wake-up call is for 6:30 with a bus ride to our next destination at 8. We’ve done remarkably well considering our short night last night, but now it’s time to call it a day!

Monday, October 22, Quito to Cabanas Del Lago, Otavalo, Ecuador

The breakfast buffet at the hotel was lovely and we ate, then got on the bus for our ride to the Old Town where we went through some amazing old cathedrals( The Quito Cathedral, the Church of San Francisco, and the Jesuit Cathedral) with ornate gold leaf on all the intricate carvings. We walked around the square and were lucky enough to see the President of Ecuador’s sister driving in for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony. She was lovely, shook Pato’s hand and spoke to us, welcoming us in perfect unaccented English. A large group of schoolchildren were sitting along the square being very friendly to us and they later sang the national anthem during the ceremony. The ceremony included a brass band, soldiers in elegant uniforms carrying long lances and swords and mounted soldiers. The President and Minister of Education and others were on a balcony and the schoolchildren, now seated below, waved excitedly every time the President waved to them. We enjoyed the ceremony of it all- which is done every Monday at 11.

From there we rode the bus to the Middle of the World Complex-at exactly 0 degrees latitude according to an international group of scientists. There was a monument, restaurants, shopping area, planetarium and insectarium. Dick and I had chicken with fried bananas for lunch then got our photo taken with me in the northern hemisphere and he in the southern. They stamped our passports with a Middle of the World stamp. Some llamas were roaming freely around the place and I got photos with some of them. I was surprised to find how wooly they felt.

We made a stop at a small ice cream place after Pato explained how the ancient people used to cut blocks of ice from the glaciers and drop fruit juice onto pieces of ice to make a kind of ice cream. All of us who wanted them got cones. Mine was chocolate and raspberry and the flavors were strong and good.

We drove to Otavalo with a stop at a small store with a very quaint whitewashed restroom and a porch overlooking the valley. We arrived around 4:30 at the very lovely Cabanas Del Lago. Out cabana #3 has log walls and basket woven ceiling with a fireplace (it’s got a lovely fire going as I write), a king and regular double bed, globe lights with dried flowers and rope in crevices to keep out cold. The complex includes a marina with various boats for rent, a mini golf course, a day care center for children, a bar and dining area where we ate at night, and bridges and streams throughout.
We wandered around and Dick may have gotten a new bird, while I took lots of pictures of this exceptional hotel.

At 6:45 Pato gave a powerpoint talk about the trip as a whole- what we had done today and what we would do in the next few days. Servers gave us gourds with an alcoholic drink made of sugar cane as one ingredient. The mens’ gourds had a small hat on them and the womens’ a four strand tiny beaded necklace that we could take home as souvenirs.

Then we went down for our dinner which we had ordered yesterday. I had potato soup with avocado and Dick had vegetable soup. For the main course I had chicken and Dick had trout and dinner ended with a chocolate parfait for me and nothing for Dick. We had new people from Texas across from us and it was fun to hear of their farming life Next to Dick was a young man who had come to the US from Viet Nam as a four year old. It was interesting to learn of his life and share out travel stories with him. By 8:30 we were ready to head back to our cabin where Dick found a guy to start our fire. Then we did our computer stuff and prepared for another early night and relatively early morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012- Otavalo to Papallacta (Otavalo market, Peguche Waterfall, Instrument Makers, Leather Town

We both were awake early and Dick went off to find birds near the lake and I showered. We walked to the restaurant and had a very nice buffet breakfast including some nice red berry juice and pancakes. We got to the bus in plenty of time to leave at 8. It was only a short drive to the Otavalo Indian Market- one of the bet ones in South America. First we found the post office above a drugstore, then used the bathroom facilities for a mere $.15, excluding toilet paper. From there we decided to walk to the town square where I took photos inside the church and the more religious natives said their morning prayers.

Then it was back to the market where I got a hand embroidered T-shirt and other shirts, pants, and other gifts to somehow get back home when the time comes. I enjoyed looking around and bought more than I expected to. Dick was back on the bus long before I.

Then we drove to Peguche and walked about ten minutes to its beautiful waterfall. Dick took his time on the way up and down, getting photos of some of the birds that lived there. Even there was a pay toilet facility with a muy guapo little boy who was a son of the attendant.

From there we stopped at the workshop/home of a musician and his extended family. The elder man demonstrated how he made Pan flutes, cutting bamboo reeds to size and fine tuning them for tone. He obviously had a great ear and lots of past experience. He showed us lutes from wood and one from an armadillo, rattles from sheep hooves and lots of different flutes. Then he and two of his sons played and sang a very lively song that Pato knew and sang along while he and Gail used the sheep hoof rattles to accompany them. Quite a few people bought things and we went happily on our way again.

Our last stop for the day (other than another rest stop) was in Cotacachi, known for its leather works. Pato showed us a restaurant and we ate grilled sandwiches at a table with Ethan and David. I was able to ordered Dick’s chicken sandwich ”solomente pollo y pan” and was proud of myself for doing that successfully. The waitress brought a basket of popcorn and banana chips and we dug in, the guys using a cheese sauce accompanying them. Dick and I walked around the town afterwards and I unfortunately found a few other things to buy.

When we left it began to rain and did so during most of the 4 or so hours’ drive to the Termas de Papallacta Hotel in Papallacta. Dick and I both dozed a bit since there was little to see anyway. At one point the driver missed seeing detour signs and we had to make a rather treacherous turn and head back down to join the detour road. We were out of the rainy zone when we reached the hotel. It was lovely with hot spring pools outside our room and a heater pumping warm air into the room from the hot springs.

We plugged in the electric heater to boost up the heat, then ate some of our accumulated food for a light dinner. When the room had warmed up nicely, we got into our bathing suits and headed outside to the pool. It was about 90 degrees and lovely to relax in, with steam rising into the 60 degree night. Back in our now nicely warm room, we made frustrating attempts to get on line, did what we needed to and called it another relatively early night.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012-Pappalacta to the Amazon- Casa del Suiza, Punta Ahuano

We were up early, showered in the hot springs water and went down to breakfast. A man from the hotel helped me get on line and I had a few minutes to check email and Facebook. We boarded the bus at 8 and made two pit stops on our way to the Amazon. When the woman in front of me moved her seat back, something fell on the floor at my feet and it turned out to be the missing cell phone the three young men had been searching for yesterday. So we were off to a good start!

While we didn’t have to wade in the water to get to the boats for the hotel, the current in the river was strong from recent rains and lots of floating wood, even some tree trunks, was floating along with us. We were greeted with lemonade and given our room keys. Because the ladies in the room next to ours didn’t want just one king sized bed, we switched with them because we had a double and a single. My bag of gifts was left on the bus (as I had intended both it and my suitcase to be) was found so all was probably well on that front. Our room was lovely with a private porch with hammock overlooking the river.

We walked around the grounds- Dick out before me and saw some lovely flowers, but Dick didn’t see many birds and blamed it on the lack of native vegetation. Lunch was at 1:30 and it was a nice buffet with a good deal of variety. I checked with the front desk and no internet is available here. I’m feeling the lack of ability to check on my favorite people and the world at large.

At 2:30 we met Pato and the group and walked down to the riverside where we found boots that fit and put them on for our boat ride to the jungle village. We rode about 10 minutes then saw children waiting by the river for our three boats to arrive. The boats are narrow with movable benches for nine passengers or so and driven by motors. We got off and took our time down a path into the jungle while Pato told about the plants along the way and the life of the people. Little girls offered flowers and woven palm flowers and woven bracelets. Pato had told us not to give them money for the things as it was changing their way of life and causing conflicts, so we didn’t. A young boy was high in a tree cutting down other fruit for people to taste but it was gone when we got there. We saw trees with cacao pods and the palm fronds that the families used to thatch their houses. The people were Quechuan, the same people we had seen in Peru, who had wandered up to the Amazon area and settled there. At the present there are 48 people in the family.

We climbed up into the gathering building which included the cooking area and a woman gave us a demonstration of how she made a ground meal they used for celebrations which could become quite powerful if fermented long enough. Pato advised us to only pretend to taste it to prevent our getting Montezuma’s Revenge, but quite a few people tasted it. They offered goods to buy and several people bought blow guns and darts and jewelry.

We went down and sat in an outside area and lots of the people tried blowing through a dart gun at a monkey target. A few hit it. Then Pato passed around a cacao pod and people took turns cleaning off the seeds in their mouth and having a spitting contest. Dick made a couple of tries, but I just sucked a seed to see what it tasted like.

We walked back down to the river with several children actively asking for money now. We got our life jackets back on and took a short trip docking at the other side of the river. At a pottery we watched a native woman make a bowl using only her hands and a few simple tools. Later she would paint it with different colored minerals using a paint brush made of her own hair. Then it would be fired in a fire and painted with a natural varnish. Some of the bowls were very pretty but I bought a necklace made from seeds instead to give as a Christmas gift.

From the pottery we walked up the main street of the little town. It was a lively time of night there and some of our group stopped to buy crafts and snacks and water. A side road led us back to the hotel where we put our boots in cubbies with out room number on them and went back to the room. We both showered and Dick went off looking for birds and found four. I lay out in the hammock for a while. It really is a lovely place, full of the noises of birds and insects. After having a little ‘down time’ we joined the group for a buffet dinner. It was a good one, as usual, with Cream of Yucca Soup and tilapia as part of it. For dessert there was a passion fruit chiffon and birthday cake, courtesy of Ethan’s birthday. Pato passed out balsa bird key chains from the artisan whose production we’d missed today. We walked back around the pool, watching bats swoop over the water, then relaxed on the bed listening to all the croaks and squawks from outside our cabin until sleep called once again. It’s certainly a bit sticky here, but I think most of us prefer that to the high altitudes we’ve been in!

Thursday, October 25, 2012- The Amazon Rain Forest- Casa del Suiza, Punta Ahuaro

Dick was up early looking for birds while I showered. It had rained quite a bit during the night but the Napo River was calmer than it had been. After breakfast we all headed down to get our boots on and get in the boats for the 20 minute or so ride upriver to our Amazon Forest walk. We split into two groups and headed along a path which went up fairly steep hills and down again. Most of us took a walking stick and it was very helpful over some of the steeper parts. Over the two hour hike we crossed ravines and rivers using a basket zip line and several bridges including one quite long swinging one. It was pretty hot and sticky but the plant life was very interesting from tiny flower-like mushrooms growing on the trunk of a downed tree to elephant ear sized leaves of red and green. Dick got one new bird, but the undergrowth and trees were so thick that most of the animal life lived in the canopy far above our heads and we only saw insects and plants.

When we got to the end of the trail we all got into the boats and rode to n area a bit downstream where our guides lashed together two balsa log rafts. We were given the choice of whether to return to the hotel in the regular motor driven canoes, or take one of the rafts. Dick opted for the canoe to keep his camera high and dry, but I took off the bottoms of my convertible pants and my boots and socks and got onto one of the balsa rafts. Waves sloshed between the logs and up over the edges as out guides paddled us downstream for a half hour or so. The brown water was actually pretty refreshing after the hot hike and I really enjoyed sitting there, wet but happy. One of our guides dove in for a very short swim to cool off. We passed families looking for gold and fishing on the rocky shores. The guide told us they only find small flakes of gold but some still make a living that way. Near the end of the ride there was a rather swift area of rapids, but having been raised on a lake, water doesn’t seem to hold much fear for me. They maneuvered the raft next to a canoe and we all got up and managed to get onto the canoe as they both floated together. It was the same canoe Dick had come back on and he had managed to get a photo of some cormorants as he rode along.

We rinsed and set out clothes to dry on our patio then relaxed for a little while, and I went out to the hammock to do a puzzle but ended up dozing on our porch. Then we headed to lunch- which was good as usual. But for a country that produces fine chocolate, not much shows up on the dessert table! We rested again for a while and both of us drifted off.

When we got going again, we walked through the village to the butterfly farm(or mariposa farm as a young boy at a shop was able to tell his mother, who then could give us directions) . We walked through the schoolyard and had to ask directions for the mariposa farm again from a young woman who pointed us in the right direction. There were no direction signs nor name signs on the buildings. They had some of the same butterflies that we saw at Butterfly World- especially the ones who had brown patterned wings on the outside with iridescent blue streaks on the inside. During this walk black clouds came over and thunder and lightning made life exciting. But inside the plastic covered area of the butterfly farm, all was nice and dry. They had pools and streams and beautiful flowers and a stand where many butterfly chrysalises were hung with a couple of different butterflies in the process of drying their wings after emerging from their changing rooms. We waited out the storm there, then headed further down the road to the river where I looked for interesting rocks and small flakes of gold. I found a rock like the artisans use for coloring pottery- with both yellow and red pigments, but my luck in finding gold was the same as in New Zealand and Alaska! Soon the rain threatened so we set out for the hotel.

Back at the hotel, Dick did some more birding, but the weather didn’t improve and darkness was coming so we went back to our room. I found that some of our drying clothes had blown off the patio so walked around back, retrieved them and climbed over the railing and back into out room. Most everything was dry with the exception of the shorts I rafted in. At dinner Dick had put the hike into a slideshow so lots of people enjoy seeing themselves on the zipline and/or the balsa rafts. Some of the people went to an animal rescue facility that had birds, so we were a bit sorry to have missed that. They finally had a chocolate cake that was quite good and we left stuffed as usual. Tomorrow night we have our farewell dinner and the next day we all fly home or onto other trips.

Friday, October 26, 2012- Amazon to Hacienda Mantales, Patate, Ecuador

We were up and over to breakfast before 7 and down to the boats around 8:30. The boats ground over the rocks but were finally launched. We got on the bus and were off! A bag lunch was provided with chicken sandwich, orange juice box, chips and an apple and an orange. Some people ate and others left it for later.

Our first stop was at the Devil’s Cauldron Waterfall. I walked down to the falls- quite a way down. The mist thrown up by the falls was cool and refreshing after the hot walk. After the walk to the falls, I went onto the swinging bridge for good views of the falls. Dick stayed up and looked for birds. After climbing up, I thought I deserved a cold drink and bought a Pepsi from a small store.

After that we stopped and most everybody rode a cable car across the river toward another waterfall. It was a speedy ride and the group seemed to really enjoy it.

Our final stop was in the town of Banos- known for its hot springs and candy making especially taffy which men were pulling in the doorways of their shops. One man broke off hunks and gave them to us as we passed. We went to a shop where a woman demonstrated how she makes things of vegetable ivory- the very hard seeds from a huge seedpod from a local plant. She mounted the seed on a spindle and rotated it very quickly while she used a chisel to removed the dark covering and shape the seed, this time into a vase shape. When she finished, she polished it with then with peelings from the piece she was working on. It had a very nice glossy finish when she was done. We shopped there for anything from very intricate hummingbirds that could be removed from their flowered pedestal to buttons that sold for 10 cents. I shopped but didn’t find the barrettes I wanted. I followed the music of a grass band to a side street where it looked like a birthday party complete with piñatas was going to begin soon.

Dick mostly stayed in the park and got some hummingbird photos from a high stand under a tree. We tried to use an ATM but it didn’t like our card. We got back on the bus and did a very interesting drive up mountain passes and through beautiful farming country. The road was very narrow and our driver got a round of applause when we finally reached the Hacienda. Three digs met us as well as the porters. At first we couldn’t find our room, but Pato showed us that we were in one of four rooms off a private sitting area out in the garden area of the property. It was a lovely room as usual, with very nice alpaca blankets on the beds, cow hide floor coverings and leather strip rugs.

After settling in, we all congregated in the lounge of the lodge where the owner started the internet and lit a fire in the fireplace. Were had a cup of tea and some cheese and crackers the staff laid out. We listened to Kenny Rodger songs then Spanish music- or probably Ecuadorian to be precise. Email came slowly in and I retrieved about half the messages that seemed to be there, but Facebook was elusive.

Our Farewell Dinner was hot spiced wine, garlic bread, chicken, sea bass, tilapia or pasta with molten lava cake for dessert. Unfortunately I seem to have a touch of Montezuma’s Revenge and wasn’t up to eating as much as usual. Bedtime was early too after taking a Cipro which our travel nurse said usually fixed things up with one pill. We’ll see, but I consider myself to have been very lucky on this trip so far. Tomorrow night in Quito we hope to have a strong internet connection for the first time in several days.

Saturday, October 27, 2012- Hacienda Mantales, Patate to Quito

We were up and out early as usual- after a sit-down breakfast I didn’t want much of. After a few hours, the bus stopped so people could visit a produce market down a fairly steep hill. Having seen a smaller version the day before, and feeling pretty puny, I stayed on the bus. Dick went down and took a very nice series of people pictures.

Then it was back on the bus for a trip to Cotopaxi National Park. We picked up a very pretty your park guide on the way in. Cotopaxi is the highest altitude volcano in the world, but unfortunately its top was cloud covered during our visit- a common occurrence. The bus stopped at Limpiapungo Lagoon and many of our tour took the one hour hike around it, despite strong cold winds.

We stopped at a restaurant/cafeteria to buy lunch food and I was satisfied with a packet of dry toast and a bottle of iced tea- and Dick didn’t eat much else.

We got to Quito around 4 and went to our rooms. With the rest of the day free, Dick and I worked on our computers, then went to the hotel’s seventh floor dining room and had dinner. He had chicken and I had chicken rice soup- with two very strange lumps of chicken with bones floating in the broth. We called it a night early, me feeling a bit better though not completely over my dance with Montezuma.

Sunday, October 28, 2012- Quito and Bird Tour

Dick was ready when Steve Herrmann called from the hotel lobby and Dick met him there and passed on his chance for breakfast. They went off to Guango Lodge to photograph hummingbirds at their feeders and had good success. Then they went on a hike on trails at the lodge getting other birds. They had lunch at the lodge with the thermal pools we had stayed at several days earlier. Dick was back at the hotel around 2.

I got up at 7 and spent a leisurely morning working on the computer, showering, and making it down to breakfast around 9. During the night I decided that a hike at high altitudes was not something I needed as I recovered from M’s R. I sat with three of the people from our tour group from Texas and we had a pleasant time over breakfast. I ate normally with lots of yogurt on my granola t o beef up my digestive juices again. As we were finishing two sisters from Los Angeles came over and mentioned that they were going to the Artisan’s Market and I asked if I could go too.

They were agreeable, so we got a taxi outside the hotel. The market was under cover with eight shop covered lanes going through it. My companions were serious shoppers, but I had spent a lot all ready and my suitcase and backpack were bulging, so I got a few items I wanted on my list, found the ladies and siad goodbye and caught a taxi within seconds of getting back to the street.

I asked hm to take me to the Jardin Botanico (since I knew it was actually very near to the Natural Science Museum where I really wanted to go, but didn’t know how to say it in Spanish)and we had a bit of bilingual conversation as he drove me there. He was nice enough to drive me up the very narrow street the Gardens were on, so I felt I had to kill time until he could drive to the end, turn around and come back. So I wandered into the park nearby where families were enjoying a beautiful Sunday nd eating food from vendors there. I bought a small bottle of Coke for 50 cents and headed toward the Natural Science Museum-only to find that it was closed.

So I caught a taxi back to the hotel with a very nice driver who said the fare was only a dollar. That surprised me since Dick and I spent three dollars for the same route a week earlier. And when we got to the hotel he sheepishly asked me for two dollars which still seemed like a bargain.

I went up to me room to while away the time and immediately spilled most of the bottle of Coke on my bed when I sat down there to work on the computer. I mopped it up as best I could and left the bottle lying there (with a note in my long ago learned Spanish.”Yo siento mucho. Estupido!”) so they wouldn’t think it was any worse a liquid! I worked on the computer, deleting photos that weren’t good and checking email and face book, then checked out of the hotel about one, putting our suitcases in locked storage for later.

When Dick arrived back around two, we moved to a deserted upstairs lounge where we worked away at our computers. I was starving by then, but Dick had had lunch, so we went across to a small restaurant and I had a very good cheeseburger while he worked on his bird photos from the morning. We went back to the hotel lounge and worked some more. Around 6:30 we went up to the hotel restaurant and had a big meal of chicken and swordfish- very good but more than we could handle. We worked a bit more in the second floor lounge, then went down and got our suitcases out of storage just as the Gate 1 representative, a pretty young woman named Mayra, came to get us on the bus and safely delivered to the airport. It took a mysteriously long time for them to find the reservations for our group and the attendant even took our passports to somewhere in the front of the airport for about ten minutes. They threw away the sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and toothpaste I had in my purse, which never happened in US travels. But we all got through and are now waiting in the departure gate. Ah, but Dick got called back through the gate security because they said they couldn’t open my suitcase (the zip tabs were both torn off) and it was about a half hour before they sent him back through gate security to wait with us. One couple is going to Detroit via Cleveland after Miami and their flights may be seriously delayed by Hurricane Sandy. But we’re relatively sure she’s making landfall a good deal north of North Carolina.

The flight was uneventful and we refused dinner. Dick slept under the blanket from the airline packet and the flight lasted only about 4 ½ hours. Customs was no problem and we fond a pay phone to call the parking lot people. Within ten minutes we were picked up and our car was outside the lot, aimed in the right direction to send us on our way.

We did the drive in approximately two hour segments with a fifteen minute to half hour break for Dick to nap. Out big meal was at a Golden Corral in northern Florida. We got home to Ash around 9, unloaded the car, started the water pump, built a fire in the woodstove and put the electric blanket on the bed. No damage from Hurricane Sandy was visible other than a few branches down from the Live Oak in front. We went to bed snuggly and recovered from our 25 hour transit from the Hotel Quito to our humble hacienda.

Summing Up

Peru and Ecuador, while seemingly inhabited by the same kinds of people, have some differences. As far as land goes one significant difference applies. The countryside in Peru is pretty much all terraced to provide more growing space for crops- thanks to the Incas who began that method. In both countries you often saw farm animals- cattle, horses, donkeys and pigs tethered by the side of the road so they could take advantage of the grass growing there. People worked the fields by hand. As a matter of fact, our Peruvian guide, Washington, bet a tour group they couldn’t count ten tractors in their morning’s drive around. They did find that many, just barely, but it was illustrative of how hard the people have to work to eke out a modest living in both countries. That being said, it was obvious immediately that Ecuador had the better economy- nicer houses, more cars and a more prosperous lifestyle. Our Ecuadorian guide, Patricio (or Pato [Spanish for duck]) attributed it to the new president who cared more for the common people than past rulers. But parents in both countries seemed very involved with family- men too- and children seemed loved and valued by all. Often children were with their parents at work, whether in the fields or at an artisan’s stall in the marketplace.

Our lives on the trip were affected by a few factors, the most trivial of which was that even in the posh hotels, toilet paper went in baskets beside the ‘throne’, not down the toilet. In rural areas you often had to pay a quarter or so to use the facilities- which included a small wad of paper to use. Other times a paper dispenser was on the wall between the Caballeros and Mujers stalls. But as a side note, our guides were masters at finding facilities and thoughtful about the frequency of stops.

The altitude was a constant during most of the trip and we were up as high as 14,000 feet several times. In Machu Picchu, especially, we took our time as we climbed the many inclines and stairs to see all of it. Many times you forgot about it, only to find shortness of breath when you stopped roaming around. Dick and I had no real problems, but it did take a toll on your energy after a while. And about a half dozen of our tour mates took oxygen at the hotel in Cuzco. I don’t think we’ll go to such a high altitude area again. It made you feel old!!

All in all the tours were great- and our tour guides as well. The weather couldn’t have been better. . Despite early mornings and altitude, the people on our tour were great fun to be with. We’re very sold on the value you get from Gate 1. I’m sure we’ll be booking another tour with them soon. Wanna join us?