Monthly Archives: October 2006

Sick Already

October 26, 2006
Day 393

I woke up today feeling lousy. My whole body ached, I had no energy, and my bowels were unforgiving. It sure is nice to be back in South America.

Even though I didn't have an appetite and I was starting to get a headache, I still wanted to leave town today. To get to my next destination of Bahia de Caraquez, I would have to take several buses, but it was still possible to get there in a day.

On my first bus, I met an Ecuadorian girl who spoke really good English, which is unheard of in these parts. Most people involved in the tourism industry speak some English here, but this girl was fluent. I asked her if she's ever been to another country, and she said she went to the US with her family when she was little, but just Los Angeles and Miami. "Oh yeah," she continued nonchalantly, "and I lived in the Falkland Islands for six months." It turns out she was married to a British guy who was stationed there. There were too many cultural differences, so they split up and she came back home. That makes sense, considering that Ecuador and the Falklands are two of the most different places I've ever visited. It was a really strange conversation. She didn't seem moved at all when I told her that I've been there, yet I was incredibly impressed because she's the first person I've met from South America who's actually been there, despite all of the heated conversations I have had about them in Argentina. She's also the first person I've met from South America who didn't refer to the islands as Las Islas Malvinas.

I got off the bus at a small city called Jipijapa and parted ways with the Ecuadorian girl. Immediately, I was swarmed by at least five guys randomly guessing where I wanted to go next. I was feeling worse than when I woke up, so I kept answering "no" to all of their guesses, but they kept guessing cities until they couldn't think of any more. When I finally declared my next destination as Porto Viejo, one of them whisked me away to his bus before the others could get to me. In this form of capitalism gone mad, you don't really need to know Spanish, or any language for that matter, to go places. Just shout out the name of the place you want to go, and before you know it, you'll be on a bus heading there. Of course, when you are sick and have a headache, you tend to wish there were no competition so you could just sit in peace and quiet all day waiting for the next bus to arrive.

My next bus was characterized by loud music blaring right in my ears. On top of that, it wasn't even anything new. Old music in Spanish from the 1950's seems to be popular here. Despite the music, I tried to close my eyes and sleep off my headache, but that wasn't possible because people kept bumping into me. I don't know why I was suddenly such a big target today, but every person who walked onto and off of the bus always bumped my shoulder or my knee when they walked past me. They weren't trying to rob me either; I think the people in small port towns are simply used to having less personal space. In this case, it was none.

I was feeling absolutely miserable, so for my last bus ride, I decided to go with the best company available. I was happy when I walked onto the bus and saw that it actually had a television that worked. The problem was that the movie being played was some stupid film about a man who looked like a baby. It was dubbed over in Spanish and the sound quality was horrible, so I could barely understand any of it. On top of that, once again it was playing at full volume, and every minute or so, one of the characters let out a deafening, indiscernible scream that bounced around in my head until it stopped and began pulsating at the very center of my brain. When the movie finally ended, I was feeling nauseous, but at least it was over. Or so I thought. Suddenly the radio was turned on and I was once again forced to listen to the same horrible music I had heard the entire day.

When I finally got to Bahia, I got a room in the first motel I could find, popped a concoction of pain killers (I stupidly mixed a bunch of them together in the same bottle in Bolivia and have since forgotten what they all did, but they definitely all had something to do with killing pain), closed my eyes and waited for the throbbing to stop. Remarkably, it seems to have worked. Despite being a small town, Puerto Lopez was an incredibly loud place with diesel engines, honking horns, and screaming street vendors everywhere. I think that despite being a bigger place, Bahia should give me some peace and quiet so hopefully I'll feel better soon.

A Walk Through the Dry Forest

October 25, 2006
Day 392

Picture of horses.

Grazing horses telling secrets behind my back.

I woke up this morning to the sound of roosters crowing everywhere. Actually, the first ones started at about 1:00 AM, but by sunrise, it sounded like there were hundreds in full force. I took down camp and threw my stove and pots into a garbage bag to try and minimize the black residue that seemed to be spreading everywhere. I began to wonder why I took the advice of the hotel owner, who said that diesel burns nice and cleanly in stoves, at least when compared to regular unleaded.

This morning I got one of the locals to walk with me around the dry forest in the area. We saw lots of ruins that were used for both housing and praying, but most of them were not in very good condition. We also walked down to the thermal lagoon, where the locals do all of their bathing. It smelled like rotten eggs, so I declined.

When I had had enough of Agua Blanca, I took a local bus back to Puerto Lopez and began the long process of cleaning everything. I don't think anything was permanently damaged, but my hands still get dirty whenever I touch my stove.

The photo album for this entry is here.

Boobies, Boobies, Everywhere!

October 23, 2006
Day 390

Picture of finch.

A finch at the park ranger's office.

I signed up for a tour today of the Isla de la Plata, the Island of the Silver, which is the second place I've been to that's been referred to as "The Poor Man's Galapagos." I was loaded onto a small boat along with several Czechs, Germans, and Brits for the long journey of one and a half hours. There were no forward-facing seats, so we all sat around the sides and looked at each other the entire time. The water was really rough, so the boat swayed front-to-back and side-to-side constantly. A lot of people, including myself, looked seasick, and I came to within inches of barfing over the side when I noticed that we were almost there.

When we got to the island, we were introduced to our guide, who seemed more intent on telling us what we wouldn't see than what we would see. There would be no whales because they have already left the area by this time of year. The albatross only came to the island to breed, and it was the wrong time of year for that activity. There might be a couple sea lions, but probably not because of a lack of food. The one type of animal in abundance on the island was the boobie.

Our group walked up lots of hills to the top of the island, where we saw our first boobies, of the blue foot variety. We were explained that both the males and females watched the eggs, and you can tell the difference between them by the size of their pupils (females have bigger ones). We watched them for a long time, then made our way toward Las Torres, two large rock towers on the other side of the island. Next, we saw several masked boobies, who don't mix habitats with their blue-footed cousins. Finally, we walked back to the shore and saw a bunch of crabs walking around.

Picture of booby.

A blue foot booby.

The last part of our tour involved snorkeling. We pulled the boat around to a calmer part of the island, put on our masks, and jumped in. A school of brightly-colored tropical fish swam our way, and the guide fed them bread crumbs. When everyone had had enough, we took the boat back to the mainland.

It was fun to get out on the sea (despite the seasickness) and walk around on a remote island, but given the lack of wildlife, I'd be more inclined to call the island "The Broke Man's Galapagos."

The photo album for this entry is here

Annoying Salesmen

October 21-22, 2006
Day 388-389

This morning I decided that I'd make may way up the coast of Ecuador starting with Puerto Lopez. I began my journey by taking a city bus to the bus station. The bus had no shocks, so I was thrown all around real good. When I got to the bus station, I found out that it was under construction. It was a very chaotic scene with people going every which way with lots of luggage around construction barriers and through a massive market full of shouting merchants. Eventually I was able to negotiate the madness and purchase a ticket to my destination.

Like most Latin American cities, Guayaquil has a very small barrier that keeps thieves away from your luggage at the bus station in the form of an exit tax. In this case, you have to pay ten cents to leave the public area of the station and enter the area where the buses are loaded, but the problem is that nobody verifies that you actually have a ticket when you enter that area. Amazingly, it seems to work. The chaos gives way to a small semblance of order as soon as you drop your dime into the turnstile.

That ten-cent barrier must not apply to merchants. As soon as I got on the bus, people were trying to sell me and everyone else on the bus stuff to make our trip more enjoyable. Some people sold useful items like food and water, but others had bootleg CD's and DVD's, dolls, and necklaces for sale. At one point, a kid stood in front of the bus and gave his spiel about how you should buy his gum. Suddenly, some other guy boarded the bus and started selling homemade sandwiches right in front of him. The poor kid couldn't overpower the grown man with his voice, so he just shrugged his shoulders and spun off his gum as a way to freshen your breath after eating one of the man's sandwiches. I'm used to people trying to sell stuff on buses in South America, but here a new salesman emerged every ten seconds and we hadn't even left the bus station yet! The vendors weren't aggressive, but their sheer numbers made the situation really annoying.

The bus was only half full when it left. I thanked my lucky stars and stretched my legs straight across the aisle to the seats on the other side and got ready for a nice, comfortable ride. I should have known better. After we left the bus station, we started driving around the city really slowly, occasionally picking up a new passenger. Sometimes the bus's assistant would get out and yell our destination to all passers-by, just in case any of them suddenly wanted to join us for some reason. There were constantly vendors shouting into the bus from the street and a few would actually make it on board to try and hawk whatever it was they had for sale. After an eternity the bus was full and we were on our way.

Just as I thought I would try to pass the time before the circulation ran out in my squashed legs by napping, a large man with a loud voice jumped on the bus and started shouting about astrology and saying how he would bring us all good luck. He walked all the way to the back of the bus, asking everyone their sign. He would then pull out a special jewel made just for that sign (although my psychic powers tell me it was just a piece of glass, and it was chosen at random) and hand it to the lucky patron along with a necklace to put the jewel onto. He then walked around the bus again and took $1 from anyone who wanted to improve his/her luck today. I declined and handed back the necklace.

For everyone who travels abroad, there is usually one cultural difference that stands out as being harder to adjust to than anything else. In my travels through South America, that's always been the noise. Between the constant music blasting out of every car and bus stereo, the people choosing to shout at each other rather than to walk across the street and talk at a reasonable volume, and the constant verbal advertisement for every product imaginable, I'm surprised I haven't suffered a brain anyerism yet.

At least my bus was only an hour late today, which is five hours better than the Greyhound in Miami, and I didn't even feel like my life was in danger to boot.

A Friend of a Friend

October 20, 2006
Day 387

I was warned that Guayaquil wasn't very nice, so I wasn't disappointed. It's a big, loud, dirty, impoverished city. The traffic noise really started to get to me when I was trying to sleep, but luckily I had earplugs. The main attractions in town that I read about were the museums and the churches. I wasn't in the mood to go to any museums after spending so much time at the Smithsonian, and every town in Latin America has at least one big church. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. The only thing that made today interesting was a visit with a friend of a friend.

I walked to Las Leñas, a nice part of town with lots of restaurants, bars, and clubs to meet with Fred, a friend of Robyn, who I met in Peru a few months ago. Like Robyn, Fred is from a small town near Ottawa, Canada. He spent a year in Guayaquil as a foreign exchange student and now works at the Canadian/Ecuadorian consulate there. We talked a lot about Politics, and, not surprisingly, the last several presidents of Ecuador have been thrown out of office for corruption. This seems to be a pattern everywhere I go in South America. The final round of the presidential election is coming up soon, and it's between a billionaire conservative who wants to run the country like a business and a socialist who wants to nationalize everything possible. That sounds a lot like Chile's election last year, and it resembles what I've seen in several countries in South America. It's not clear who's going to win, so it will be interesting to be in the country come election time.

Fred has been all over Ecuador, so it was good to hear his stories. I've got plans to visit a lot of interesting places around the country, and Fred was the first foreigner I was able to get advice from. It made my otherwise uneventful to the biggest city in the country worthwhile.

An Exhausting Time

October 19, 2006
Day 386

I had to get up at some ungodly hour today to catch my flight. I wanted to make it to the airport in plenty of time in case an airline employee made me buy a return ticket to the US like last time. When I flew to Lima last year, I only had a one-way ticket, so I was forced to buy a return ticket for big bucks just in case the Peruvian immigration asked how I was going to get home. I got a refundable ticket and canceled it as soon as I got to Lima, but it still was a major hassle. This time around, I bought a round trip ticket from Ecuador to Miami and back, so I could've had the same dilemma. Luckily, nobody at the airline seemed to notice the discrepancy and I was on my way.

My flights to Panama City and Guayaquil were uneventful other than the vomiting guy in the row across from me on my first flight. He wretched every thirty seconds or so for a good ten minutes before calling it quits. By the end, he was gurgling and I began to wonder if we would have enough puke bags for him. Everyone within three rows of him gladly gave up their own bags in hopes of not catching site of the vile fluids that he was expelling. In the end, I think he was OK, but the rest of us had a hard time with our meals. And for the record, it was one of the smoothest flights I've ever been on, so something was seriously wrong with the poor guy.

When I got to Guayaquil, I got through customs with no problems. They didn't care one bit that I didn't have a ticket out of the country. It was so quick and easy I could hardly believe it. It's too bad more Americans don't travel because we really get treated like royalty in other countries. Entering the US is ten times more difficult even for US citizens, let alone for foreigners.

After leaving the airport, I found a place to stay, unpacked, and thought of all of the great things I would do here. I spent less than a day here two months ago before flying to Miami, but I never left spitting distance of the airport because of my impending flight. My intention this time around was to go out and explore the city, but I just didn't have it in me. I was too tired (not jet lagged: Ecuador runs on Central Daylight Time) to do anything. Figuring out the logistics of my trip will have to wait until tomorrow.

Return to Airportland

October 18, 2006
Day 385

Picture of yacht.

Some guys in their yacht.

We only had a short drive to Miami planned for today, so instead of taking the freeway, we drove over to the coast and headed south. Mansions, yachts, and nice cars were everywhere. The entire beach seemed to be in private hands, and tall bushes obstructed our view of everything but the road ahead.

When we went through Boca Raton, we noticed an animal sanctuary and decided to check it out. It turns out that a small amount of the original Florida wilderness actually hasn't been plowed to build a condo or a mansion. There was a boardwalk leading through the reserve with a 40-foot tower that gave a nice view of the city and the ocean. The walk was short, but that was good, considering the 90 degree temperature and high humidity. We saw a pelican, some bees, and butterflies along the way. There were also several aquariums containing sea turtles, stingrays, sharks, and lots of other fish. A grade school class was there on a field trip, so we were able to sidle and learn about the wildlife. It turned out to be a nice place to stop for a few hours.

The drive to Miami was tough. We had a motel booked, but our only map wasn't detailed enough to show any of the important roads to get to it. Just when I thought we were almost there, the road ended and we were forced to go to the airport. Then we had to turn around and take some side street and were completely lost. Luckily we got there eventually, but it's a pretty crazy area to drive through with a thousand highways branching off in every direction. The thing that will save me tomorrow is that the motel has a free airport shuttle service. I can't wait to get on that plane, although admittedly, I have absolutely nothing planned for once I get to Ecuador tomorrow afternoon. As usual, I'll be winging it.

The photo album for this entry is here.

A Bad Flashback

October 17, 2006
Day 384

Today involved a lot more driving. If you're not from the US, it might be hard to fathom jut how big it really is. I've heard of Europeans showing up in New York, renting a car, and asking how far it is to the Grand Canyon. It can take a week to drive across the country, and that's without even stopping to see anything. In our case, it took us two days to get to DC, and two more to get to Miami.

Looking at the map, and judging from memory, it appeared that there would be a narrow line of almost continuous cities all the way from West Palm Beach to Miami. Figuring figuring the motels in Miami would be really expensive, we started searching for a place early. We ended up stopping in... West Palm Beach, where I had my horrible bus experience when I first returned to the US!

After unpacking, we took a drive and walk around the city and confirmed that it's definitely a shithole. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty live right next to each other with nothing in between. It's really hot and the only people walking around are drug addicts, beggars, and yuppies. I don't know how I ever got talked into stopping here. At least this time I can take refuge in a hotel room instead of being forced to sit outside among the elements while I wait for full buses to show up all night.


October 16, 2006
Day 383

We decided to avoid the early morning rush hour and left our hotel at 10:30 this morning. It was a long day of driving, and we ended near Savannah, Georgia. Our hotel not only was cheaper than the one in DC, but it had free Internet, parking, and breakfast, none of which the DC hotel had. Still, it was at least five times more expensive than most South American hotels. The most exiting news of the day was that the political mudslinging on TV has changed to a new set of candidates I've never heard of.

The climate got hotter as we headed southbound. I already saw my first palm tree since leaving, and the weather man complained that it would be an extremely cold night at only 72 degrees! The climate has begun to resemble that of my next destination, which I'm getting ever-more-anxious to reach.

The High Point of the City

October 15, 2006
Day 382

Picture of monument.

My parents in front of the Washington Monument.

This was our last day in Washington DC, and luckily my mom got tickets to the Washington Monument online. We took the metro downtown again, and walked over to the monument for our 10:30 appointment. There wasn't much waiting in line because the tickets were for a specific time. Everyone from the 10:30 time slot took the elevator to the top of the monument at the same time.

There was a lot of fighting about building the Washington Monument in the mid-1800's, and before construction could be completed, the Civil War broke out. When the war ended, thoughts of the monument resumed. It was finally finished in 1885. At a height of 555 feet, 5 1/8 inches, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world for four years until the Eiffel Tower was finished. It still is the tallest freestanding (no mortar was used in its construction) marble structure in the world.

When we got to the top, we were free to look out the eight small windows facing in all directions for as long as we wanted. The view of the city was amazing. The White House, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol, and Pentagon were all clearly visible from the top. The great view, minimal waiting in line, being able to stay at the top as long as you want, and the free price make the Washington Monument a no-brainer for anyone visiting Washington DC.

Back on the ground, we took a long walk around the National Mall. We started at the World War II Memorial, then walked along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial and over to the Vietnam Memorial. Finally, with only a few hours left before everything closed, we went back to the Natural History Museum. I saw the Hope Diamond and exhibits of bugs and the Earth's geology, then decided to check out the art museum across the street. I was too museum'd out by that point, though. I just couldn't squeeze any additional sightseeing into the short amount of time left.

We were all thoroughly worn out by the end of the day, so we went back to hotel and slept. I didn't realize there was so much to do in DC. I feel like three days was barely enough time to scratch the surface of the city's attractions. I guess I'll have to come back again someday.

Picture of flags.

Flags surround the Washington Monument.

Some thoughts on Washington DC:

  • If you carry a bag or backpack of any sort, be prepared to be searched whenever you enter any building.
  • Searches are very inconsistent. Sometimes they thoroughly go through everything and make you turn on all electronic equipment. Sometimes they send everything through an x-ray machine. And sometimes they just do a quick once-over and care more about doing their job quickly than making sure the building is secure.
  • The Smithsonian's are great. Put together, it's the biggest museum in the world, and it's all free. The artifacts on display are second-to-none, and they're set up in a totally non-boring way. Just give yourself a few weeks if you want to explore them thoroughly.
  • Definitely don't drive downtown in the day. There's almost no parking to be found. The subway is a much better option.
  • There are people walking around from all over the world. I must have heard at least fifty different languages being spoken. I even saw a Chola walking down the road once! Our government is at an all-time low in popularity internationally, but that hasn't stopped foreigners from visiting our capitol.
  • I've heard DC is one of the most dangerous cities in the country, but the parts I visited didn't seem dangerous at all.
Picture of memorial.

The World War II Memorial.

The photo albums for this entry are here and here.