Friday, April 22, 2016


Guayaquil, Ecuador

You know, getting to the Galapagos is not all that easy. First, you have to get to Ecuador. To do that, you pretty much have to get to Miami. To get to Miami (at least from Portland on American) you need to stop and ride the Sky Train in Dallas. What this means is you get the joy of spending 20 hours in transit just to get to Guayaquil, the industrial capital of Ecuador.

Guayaquil is not a little place. Certainly bigger than Portland, though generally built lower to the ground. The airport is very close to the city (only 15 minutes from downtown) and it is a large and modern airport. When you travel to any foreign country (as a foreigner) you always have to go through the same stop gaps. 

First, walk a really long way across the airport to get to the place where all of the international flights funnel their passengers. 

Second, stand in line for Immigration. If you just had to use the bathroom before you got to immigration, and you end up at the end of line behind everyone else on your flight (and perhaps a couple of other late arriving flights) then stand in line for 40 minutes for Immigration. Show your passport and present your transit papers (this is the sheet that has your name and flight and hotel and other blanks that you can't figure out because they are in mainly Spanish). Get a visa stamp and the bottom half of your transit papers to carry around for 2 weeks and not loose.  

Third, collect your baggage from baggage claim. Since you took so long to go through Immigration, your bags are just sitting there and this is easy. (unless your bags were lost, but ours were not)

Fourth, go through customs. I like the way they do customs in Ecuador. There is this big red button on the post and they push it and it randomly triggers green or red. If Green, you are done. If Red, you need to get your bags screened. When I was watching, 4 people got RED and only 1 got GREEN. My partner and I both got RED.  Screening was pretty easy, however, just put your bag through an Xray machine. If you don't have anything suspicious, then no problem. What might be suspicious? Well, the nice customs man was working with one gentleman on his bag. The contents were lined up on the table. It seemed to be around 50 pairs of shoes. All styles and sizes. Now that is what I call suspicious.

Fifth, exit into the terminal where there will be all sorts of people trying to give you taxi rides. Look for someone with your name on a card or at least a big Road Scholar sign. Ah..... there they are.

Sixth, meet our guide for the week, Fernando, and several other travels in our group.

Seventh, get on the big nice comfortable bus for the 15 minute ride to our very nice hotel, The Oro Verde Hotel.

A view out our Hotel Window.
This is not the USA, so even when in a nice hotel, don't drink the water. Hell, don't brush your teeth with the water (same as everywhere we've traveled in Asia). There is plenty of bottled water for that. Do take a luxurious shower in the wonderful bathroom and do crank the AC down to 18 (yes, you need to start using metric).

The aforementioned Fernando does a stretching class every morning before breakfast. The first one for this trip is at 6:30. Since we got in late and there was no mention of Coffee with stretching, my partner and I decided to skip the stretching and sleep in (Editor's note: I think we slept in until 6:30, in order to get breakfast at 7:00). We did go to the breakfast later in the hotel. We started getting a taste of the local fair. The main thing that is different is much more exotic fruit, espcially different varieties of bananas and plantains, guava, mango, and passion fruit.

This first full day of our Galapagos trip is a sort of test day. A day on the mainland for our tour leader to see how we do as a group and individuals. Sort of sneaky. He is going to try us out on the water and out walking. Usually, he does the walking in the AM and the water in the PM. This is a good idea because it lets everyone fall in the water at the end of the day and cool off. However, flexibility is important on these trips and today he couldn't reserve the water place for the afternoon, so we are going to head out there for the morning.

Agua and Fruit Vendors at the Toll Gate

We get back on our nice tour bus (with AC) and start through town. Guayaquil is a coastal port with lots of tidal rivers running through it. Many of these have recently been beautified. Fernando explained that as you add trees and green areas to your rivers, you get the return of birds and other wildlife. This makes it prettier and attracts tourists, which brings in more money, which helps the city and the populous. Not sure if this is capitalism at work or nature conservatism at work. So, pretty parks. Lots of trees. Kids playing soccer on the fields in the parks (the basketball hoops are there, but unused). A lot of low income housing. Made of rebar and cinderblock construction. Not so beautiful, but not squalor either. We get on the main road to the beach areas and also see lots of more well to do housing. Fernando tells us that the average annual salary for “people with good jobs” is $8K.  The houses we are now passing, Fernando tells us, are selling at $400K. So I don't think the average worker is buying in there. 

Whenever we get to an large intersection, there are young people in the median selling things. Yelling out the name of their wares and selling. Not too different from having your windshield cleaned at an intersection in New York. But, guess what the main product they are selling might be? Aqua. Bottles of Water. Selling drinking water on the street corners. I wonder if this could be the future of America, or if we can stay on top of our entire “drinking water is free” thing.

Have you ever read the book “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”? A classic by Robert Heinlein. In that book, people are living on the moon (decedents of the original penal colony there) and though water is pretty abundant, you have to pay for air. In fact, if you can't pay your air tax, they throw you out the front door. Not a good thing on the moon. This water thing is like that. You need to buy one of the essentials of life. Well, I guess everyone needs to buy food. We expect that. And in most places, everyone needs to buy drinking water. In downtown Portland, there are bubbler facets that run all the time. They were built in the early 1900s to supply free drinking water to workers (so they wouldn't need to drink beer). They are still flowing and still free and still perfectly safe to drink. But at what cost?

After a short drive we arrived at a national park called Laguna Park. I think there is a public part and a private part. We went to a private section which was a sort of aquatic rental area on a small lake lined with a sort of cattail looking plant. The stated goal here was to go Kayaking and Paddle Boarding. But I suspect that the actual goal was to get people out on the water and ascertain their skill level. In particular, get people a chance to figure out whether or not they could use the paddle boards. I happen to know my skill level on the paddle board. It is Zero. It hurts to kneel, and if I can stand, it feels constantly wobbly. So much so that I am having no fun, and why do it if you are having no fun. So I just went out in the little sit on top kayaks. Many people tried their hand at the SUPs though. A few did fine. A few took long unplanned swims. My partner did OK, though she also switched over to kayak after a while. 

Paddling around the lagoon was nice. There were a few flooded dead trees (makes we wonder how long this water has been here) and in one was this big green Iguana. I coasted in and got some pictures. I was pretty impressed by this. This was before I found out that Iguanas are sort of the pigeon of the area. They are everywhere. Still, cool looking. Back at the beach we spent some more time meeting our fellow travelers. We had 4 women in our tour that came in very late last night (hours later than us) and they had the joy of arriving a day before their luggage. So they didn't have their sun hats or their extra clothes or many things that a person might want to start their vacation. We sure hope their luggage arrives on the flight from Miami tonight because it will be hard as hell for it to catch up with us once we start traveling around the Galapagos Islands.


See the Bird in the tree to the Right?

For the afternoon, we took the bus down to the main river front and did a cultural walk and tour. Lots of statues of old dead white guys around Guayaquil. Most of these are the independence leaders for the city. It turns out that in South America, things were not really organized by countries or states. The cities were the big organized entities. So when it was time to push for independence from Spain, the major activities were happening in the cities. Guayaquil had its own leaders and its own independence day. It was well planned. I think it was the case of the local peoples and the local army guys taking over the barracks from the Spaniards (or the soldiers who still considered themselves Spaniards and wanted to someday return to Spain). The battle for independence was more of a nearly bloodless coop. I think he said that 5 people got killed. Probably the general and his top staff.  The next morning, a new general and new staff and an independent City. If George Washington had pulled that off in Boston, would we have so many bridges and schools named after him?

Other Guy

Bolivar Meets Other Guy
(Ok, that is Jose De Martin, from Argentina)
We stopped at this one park that was full of pigeons, turtles, and Iguana. Oh, and a Statue of Simon Bolivar. The Iguana's were everywhere. Our guide warned us not to tarry under the trees.

Why would we eat the animals?
The recent mayors of the city have been putting a lot of money into making an attractive and safe river front area. We did a walk down this river front and, it was nice and attractive and safe. The river is also big and full of a local vegetation that drifts with the tide to replant itself this time of year. In fact, Fernando had told us that parts of the lagoon park are not accessible this time of year because the plant is everywhere.  Now what was the name of that plant? (readers have reported in. The plant is the water hyacinth and it was floating in the Guavas river)

These Balls were on tethers that would automatically pull the children back to the entrance point when their time was up.
Perhaps there was a machine in which to feed dollars?

What is that plant?
At the end of the river walk, we came to a barrio up on a hill, called Las Penas. There were a set of steps there and each one was numbered. There were 444 steps. This is part 2 of the physical test. If you can't make it up these steps, you aren't going to be able to make it up a couple of the climbs that we have later in the week. These tour guys are so sneaky.


Up we went. I will say that we were all already very hot and it has already been a long day. And there were lots of bars and dance halls on the way up that we could have stopped for a cold beer (editor: expect his partner doesn't drink). But we didn't. We went up the hill. Beautiful view from the top. See the pretty pictures.

The ritzy part of town, no doubt
This area is another renovated area where people are encouranged to visit and shop. A very large police and security presence as well. Lots of people in bullet proof vests. Those things must be hot.  I saw at least 2 abandoned vests sitting on a chair with the officer that owned one of them down the street talking to people. Funny.

The bottom of the hill is also part of the old town. With some original buildings dating back a couple of hundred years. The Road there is original road, paved with what I assume were ballast stones from sailing ship days.

Back to the hotel for a nice dinner and a nicer shower. We are up early in the morning to catch a plane to the Galapagos. I can hardly wait.


  1. So, you pay all that $$ to see the Galapagos BUT they first make you sweat and climb all over an industrialized town [that you can't tarry under the trees] and watch you fall into the water? Sounds like fun! Hope your knees hold up to all the climbing.

    1. Thanks for reading my Blog. Yes, this tour was actually SOLD as a sweat and climb and work (and learn) tour.

  2. I think I would have a hard time getting in the water. Worried about something else lurking in there that can hurt you besides bacteria! Sounds like a fabulous trip. Looking forward to the next install

    1. Thanks for reading my blog !! A lot of people use this little private lagoon. I think other things lurking would be pretty unlikely. I mean, there was a group of 70 coming to the same place in the afternoon. Would you worry about Monsters or Sticks?

  3. I think I would have a hard time getting in the water. Worried about something else lurking in there that can hurt you besides bacteria! Sounds like a fabulous trip. Looking forward to the next install

    1. Wow. I had another Lisa leave the exact same comment. Now I am worried. (I am guessing you had some posting problems.) Thanks for leaving a note, I really like getting them.

  4. Brings back the good memories... Although most pictures are the same as mine it is still fun to see them. We enjoyed reading it also. Keep them coming... Sevil and Ahmet