Monday, November 29, 2010

We are interned

Vilcabamba is our final destination in Ecuador. We had planned to start going into Peru today (November 28, 2010), but when we got here, we were told that we will not be able to travel on Sunday because of the census. I was not surprised as I had read in the paper a couple weeks ago that they planed to count foreigners and that foreigners have to stay in place that day, or something to that effect, with my limited Spanish comprehension....

So we immediately started doing research. It turns the whole country was to being shutdown today 7:00 to 17:00. This means borders are closed; all businesses are closed including churches, but not hospitals; there are no buses or domestic flights. Only census workers are allowed on the streets. Consumption of alcohol is suspended starting Friday evening. We are to remain in the hotel for the duration. The hotel restaurant is allowed to serve guests. All these seemed really drastic for us. John and I stocked up on food and water and lined up trip search work and blogging to keep ourselves busy. Actually our hotel is not a bad to be interned: internet, restaurant, garden, pool....

We had a relaxing yet productive day, exchanged travel info as well as money with other interned guests, kept ahead of trip research, and logged extra blog entries. All these are very good as we are heading into fairly remote areas for the Ecuador-Peru border crossing, i.e. no internet.

5 o'clock came. There had not been a single census worker to visit our hotel. How anticlimactical! Nevertheless, we all streamed out of the hotel just after 5, traveling onto the next destination or just out for a stroll and dinner. Freedom regained!

John sunning by the hotel pool.
Hotel Pool - Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Encounters with dogs

When I was growing up in Shanghai, no dogs were allowed in the city. So when I landed in suburbia USA at sixteen, I was afraid of dogs. Over the year I have mostly overcome my fear, but my general approach to dogs is avoidance. Nevertheless they seem to find me. This past week I hit both the lowlight and highlight of my encounters with dogs.

Lowlight: I was bitten by a dog

When we were walking back from the mirador in Cuenca, we decided to take a shortcut where the road does a big switchback. Half way down, there was this ferocious bark from a house about 100 yards away. In a flash the dog flew behind us on the path where I was walking behind John. We kept walking at the same pace making no eye contact. The dog kept barking, leapt up and bit me on the back of my right thigh. Then he ran to the front of us and let out some more threatening barks. Then it is was over. We were both shook up and upset. I didn't dare slow down and let John look at the bite until the path connected with the road again. Now I have a bruise and scab about half-inch long and the hole in my pants is still waiting to be mended. Mentally we are getting over it. Since we had talked about getting rabies vaccination but never did, we joke about me turning rabid and biting John.

Highlight: We had our own dog for half a day

The first full day in Vilcabamba we decided to go for a walk in the country. As we headed out of town, I was busying popping into store for picnic material. John drew my attention to a dog and declared that the dog is coming for a walk with us. If it had not happened in Salento, Colombia, I would have thought it was another one of his far-fetched predictions. Nevertheless, I was skeptical. But as the town was being left behind by us, the dog kept up with us.

Thirty minutes later, as we exchanged greetings with a young woman that came the opposite direction, she asked if the dog was ours while she rubbed the dog's ears and showered him with affection. We explained the situation. It turned out that she is American, so the three of us stood chatting a bit. When we parted, there was a doubt which way the dog was going to go. He chose us. I think purely because we are a bigger pack.

So the three of us walked on. The dog would run ahead of us. When we were taking too long, he ran back to check on us, so it was very easy to get him in a photo. When we stopped for our picnic, he looked at us hopeful. We shared our food. He took it matter-of-factly.

Then half way back to town we spotted another pack of two women and a child walking ahead in the same direction. It looked like our dog was switching for the bigger pack. But two minutes later, the other pack got in a shared taxi. Our dog was right back with us again.

He was getting tired now. Whenever we had a holdup, instead of running back to check on us, he just sat on the sidewalk and waited for us. John was very impressed with ourselves -- we wore out a dog. The dog followed us all the way back to town where we started to pop into restaurants to check on menus and we lost track of him. I was relieved that he did not try to follow us all the way to our guesthouse, where two enormous German Shepherds claim territory.

Our dog for the day.
John and "our dog" - Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Our dog for the day - Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Not to mention the 2 burros that followed us the next day; but they were only trying to sneak through a gate and escape.

Rumi-Wilco - Vilcabamba, Ecuador

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Musings on coups & political instability

Three weeks before we were to enter Ecuador there was a mini or pseudo coup in Ecuador. Borders and airports were closed for one day. Yet one month after that we were taking a free tour of the Presidential Palace in Quito in all its glory. All it took was our passports.

Sun-Ling chats with our tour guide on the balcony of the Presidential Palace in Quito, Ecuador, where at the same spot one month earlier, President Correa had addressed a cheering crowd after thwarting an attempted coup.
Balcony - Presidential Palace - Quito, Ecuador

The two of us near the end of our tour of the Presidential Palace.

Presidential Palace - Quito, Ecuador

We happened to have our passports that day because we had to gone to get our yellow fever shots at a public health clinic. The shots are required for a Bolivian visa and they cost $100+ in the US. We had expected to save some money in Quito, but were amazed that they were completely free foreigners and citizens alike. BTW, they were giving tetanus shots for free too.

Why is there such political instability in a civilized society that gives free vaccinations for all? Ecuador and especially Colombia have far exceeded my expectations. They are nothing like the developing countries in Asia that we are used to. People here are polite and have respect for each other. Children go to school and do not beg. We constantly come across civic parades. Students have hunger strikes for international justice. The public transportation systems are efficient and affordable. I could go on and on. It is mind boggling to me why anyone would want to disrupt instead of advancing such civilized societies -- power hungry men. (:

Diabetes Awareness Parade - Latacunga, Ecuador
Independence Day Parade - Latacunga, Ecuador

Cuenca - Parade with Igelsias de San Blas in background.
Parade - Cuenca, Ecuador

Friday, November 26, 2010

Loja is very pleasant

At 7000ft (2100m) Loja, Ecuador is hot by day, cool by night, and dry. It is not on the typical gringo trail and it looks to be nice city to live in. Parks, public transportation, and cool architecture really sell a city to us.

But the highlight is the orchid garden at the Reynaldo Espinoza Botanical Garden. A lot of the flowers are small and not so brilliantly colored. I suspect they are native, not hybrids. And it is completely outside, not in a greenhouse. I had a lot of fun going around spotting flowers, pretending I was on an "orchid safari" as I had recently learned that there are tours to see orchids in situ in the forest.

Various orchids at the Reynaldo Espinoza Botanical Garden.

Reynaldo Espinoza Botanical Garden - Loja, Ecuador

Reynaldo Espinoza Botanical Garden - Loja, Ecuador

Reynaldo Espinoza Botanical Garden - Loja, Ecuador

Eduardo Dega tiles ring this fuente (fountain) in Parque de la Independencia.
Fuente - Parque de la Independencia - Loja, Ecuador

A couple of buses pulling up to an enclosed stop which is part of Loja's mass transit system called Situ (Sistema Integrado de Transporte Urbano). The right-hand lane is dedicated to Situ buses.

The stations are at the level of the bus floor, so you can step right on to the bus through the wide, mid-bus doors.

Sistema Integrado de Transporte Urbano - Loja, Ecuador

Restored Colonial buildings at the corner of Lourdes and Bolivar.

Colonial Buildings - Loja, Ecuador

The outstanding Art Deco Provincial Government Building.

Provincial Government Building - Loja, Ecuador

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I have a new hat

Panama hats are historically made in the greater Cuenca, Ecuador area. As they were worn by workers for the Panama Canal, the name was forever stuck. I had always loved them and used to buy one after another from REI until they stopped carrying them. I was very happy to be able to acquire a new hat so close to the source. [Hat was actually bought in Chordeleg, a town about 40 kms east of Cuenca.]

Sun-Ling's new Panama Hat as seen at the Mirador Turi above Cuenca.
Sun-Ling's new Panama hat - Cuenca, Ecuador

Sun-Ling checks out a hat at the Hat Workshop and Museum in Cuenca.
Hat Workshop and Museum - Cuenca,  Ecuador

More photos of Cuenca and surrounds.

20th century modern Art Deco architecture in Cuenca with parade in foreground.


Same parade looking down Calle Simon Bolivar to Igelsias San Blas.
Parade - Cuenca, Ecuador

Another Art Deco (or Tropical Deco) building in Cuenca.

The iconic tile domes of the Catedral Nueva in Cuenca.

Colonial building with bus - Cuenca.
Building with Bus - Cuenca, Ecuador

A building in Sigsig - about 60 kms east of Cuenca.
Sigsig, Ecuador

Main Parque in Sigsig with contemporary statues.


Mercado - Chordeleg, Ecuador - about 30 kms east of Cuenca. Sun-Ling bought her new Panama Hat in Chordeleg at a shop on the main square.

Animal Market - Gualaceo, Ecuador - about 35 kms east of Cuenca.

Monday, November 22, 2010

About taking photographs at markets

Unless people have obscure beliefs, which is not the case with the indigenous people here, we approach with the same respect that we would expect for ourselves. This means

1) Feel free to take shots of crowds and animals
2) Never stick the camera in someone's face as one would with, say a hummingbird.
3) When there is a purchase with a vendor, the relationship changes.
4) Never pay for photos.

Markets are difficult to photograph. But John has an awesome technique. He takes photos from the hip with a small point-and-shoot, making him inconspicuous if that is at all possible for us. No matter where we go around the world, we always stick out. :( It also helps that our camera has a wide angle lens; sometimes the woman next to the llama also gets in the frame.

I think our respect for people comes through. There is rarely any pushback.

Sometimes the woman next to the llama also gets in the frame.
Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Volcanos from Riobamba

When we got up on the morning that we were leaving Riobamba, the sky towards Chimborazo looked clear. We bolted out of our hotel room and mounted the mirador for the fifth time. Chimborazo was magnificent. After all the rain we had, Tungurahua (we know it from Banos) is now also topped with snow. A third peak can be clearly seen - it's El Altar. What a finale before we leave the Avenue of the Volcanoes!"


Chimborazo - Riobamba, Ecuador

Tungurahua -  Riobamba, Ecuador

El Altar
Volcano El Altar - Riobamba, Ecuadro

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Guamote was not anticlimactic

Because of our Galapagos schedule and Difuntos holidays, we extended our stay in Ecuador by a week in order to catch a few major markets, Guamote being the final one. The last few days in Riobamba I had plenty of time for contemplation, I was beginning to have doubts....

On the morning of market day, we headed towards the bus stop. Half way there we spotted a bus being loaded with ropes and crates. We immediately realized that the bus was taking vendors to the Guamote market. Without any hesitation we quickly got on the bus -- we were already at market. During the entire ride, a lady in our row was making bridles with rings and ropes.

Once we watched our bus being unloaded by porters and bicycle carts, we made our usual rounds. There was so much hustle and bustle, and even though it rained on and off, people barely seem to notice. What makes the Guamote market so special was
  • Guamote is a small town. On market day the whole town is literally one big market. Every inch of the town is occupied by stalls, vehicles, or people partaking in the market.
  • The local indigenous people wear costumes in vibrant hues, men and women, making the the market exceedingly colorful.
  • There are a LOT of large animals at market. By my calculation every animal in Ecuador would have to be at market every other week. Of course, that cannot be the case!
Unedited video of the bus unloading.

The market surrounds the train station making it difficult for the train - a bus body on wheels - to get through.
Train Station - Guamote, Ecuador

Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Various photos from the pig market.

Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Wet, "for sale", alpacas.

Alpacas - Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

One portion of the "big cattle" market.
Thursday Market - Guamote, Ecuador

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Low gear in Riobamba

On Monday we left Guaranda with the sniffles after much rain to come to Riobamba to wait for the Thursday market in Guamote. Though there still have been plenty of clouds and rain, at least the mornings are dry here. Nonetheless, for the last couple of days the headline for "El Comercio" (#1 national paper) has been about rain and cold for much of the country.

Riobamba turned out to not to be a bad place for us to rest and wait.

Five volcanoes can be seen from Riobamba. With our kind of luck, it has been either rain or heavy clouds. On the morning of our 19.5 wedding anniversary, Chimborazo (the tallest volcano) miraculously made a brief appearance. I did not come to Riobamba for naught.


Riobamba morning skyline.
Riobamba, Ecuador

Our hotel is right across the street from the train station, though the train only runs as a tourist attraction rather than real transportation.

The tracks.
Train Station - Riobamba, Ecuador

There are a couple of restaurants that have vegetarian lunches. We have not had those for a while.

Sun-Ling ready to dig into a tasty potato soup at El Vip Cafe.

El Vip Cafe - Riobamba, Ecuador

Though the town has a number of modern supermarkets, there are still many traditional markets. Wednesday is the secondary market day, with Saturday being the main one.

We bought some honey at a mercado.
Mercado - Riobamba, Ecuador

Hat vendor.
Mercado - Riobamba, Ecuador

Riobamba is a medium sized town with colonial architecture and pleasant parks.

Iglesia de la Loma de Quito.

Riobamba, Ecuador

Montalvo Park.
Riobamba, Ecuador

Catedral de Riobamba.
Riobamba, Ecuador

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


From Guaranda, we took a day trip to Salinas, village 30km away, but 800m higher at 3550m. It was raining the whole time we were there. It was very cold, 51F at midday. We had on our rain gear top and bottom and our fuzzy hats - it was not too warm.

Roasted Corn and Fuzzy Hat
Roasted Corn - Salinas, Ecuador

Salinas used to be a poor village that subsisted on mining salt. Right outside the village there are still salt ponds.

View from salt springs to town.
Salt Springs - Salinas, Ecuador

A couple of decades ago the villagers organized into cooperatives that produce cheese among other things. Even though we happened to be there on a Sunday; i.e. slow, donkeys and llamas were seen taking milk to the co-op.

Llama takes a break from hauling milk cans.
Llama - Salinas, Ecuador

Donkey hauling a load.
Salinas, Ecuador

The village itself is comprised of rather unremarkable even ugly cement/brick buildings, but the surrounding is very scenic from the little we can glimpse in between clearings in the clouds. It looks like they have planted fir trees. We saw humming birds several times. The kids were not begging for money or gifts. To us Salinas lived on up to its reputation as a model for rural economic development.

A few more shots of the village and salt springs.

Salinas, Ecuador

Salt Springs - Salinas, Ecuador

Salt Springs - Salinas, Ecuador

Playa del Carmen, Mexico

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