Monday, July 12, 2010
Of course there were none on the Millenium, except the large Continental children who don't all know how to behave, either. But at least their parents aren't there to run interference for them.
As to the American children, there were two boys misbehaving in the hall of the hotel our last night in Quito, and we took turns opening the door and asking them if we should call management, since they were screaming for help and there was no adult in sight. I don't think anyone had ever challenged their out-of-control antics in their lives. They ran in their room and slammed the door. They were at it the next morning again at 6 AM. We were already up, so we took the trouble to explain to them they were not in the USA and this is not civilized. So they ran away again. At that point, we didn't know for sure there were no children on our boat, and we were concerned they'd show up, but we never saw them again, thank God.
The next one was at El Monasterio in Cusco, This was the screamer I referred to early in the trip blog. He was maybe two and screamed so long and so loud that Joyce finally told his parents to shut him up. Remember, she is large and sounds larger. So they took him out. What the hell was he doing in the restaurant anyway? Why was he even there?
The last ones were two delightful kids with their parents and grandparents on that hellish ride back from the train up Machu Picchu, back to Cusco. You couldn't even tell they were on the bus. We complimented their parents and learned these kids had been in travel training from infancy. Their mother had herself been schlepped to India and Turkey when she was eight and eleven, so she knew how to do it. Now if she, and her family, could do it, why can't other American parents do it? Huh?
This is why, American travel industry, we will be leaving the country AGAIN on our next trip, in a lesbian cruise (On a ship we've sailed on before. With elevators!) of the Mediterranean, where no children are allowed. And then probably on to Kracow and Budapest, where we hope American parents will not venture with American children. If you can't shut the buggers up, leave them home until they figure out how to escape. We'll take it from there.
See you next summer!
The kind of lessons I'm sick of is that boats in the Galapagos don't carry marine toilet paper, and you apparently can't fix a damaged railroad track in four months, and you get charged out the ass for every airport you fly through. Or that catamarans are not more stable after all, or that there are no benches in any museum in South America. I could go on, but if you've been reading, you have learned these lessons, too. I hope they help.
We don't have any immediate plans to return to South America. We would like to try an Amazon cruise, but we wonder what lessons we might learn there that we couldn't discern while still at home, sometime before making a down payment.
Here's a big, important lesson: get a good in-country travel agent with a private guide. I can't say too much about Galasam. http://www.galasam.com/index.html
From now on, I will be a lot more aware of and prepared for airport departure taxes. We want to leave, so we pay. Like luggage fees on US domestic carriers.
From now on, if a boat is involved, I will ask how high all the steps are, and if they use marine toilet paper. In my own defense, I DID ask if they had laundry, and they said yes, but they didn't. Likewise computer facilities. So sometimes knowing what to ask, and actually asking, don't help at all. For one thing, actual lying may be going on, and by that I mean, the Millenium people TO the Galasam people. The Galasam people did their level best, but they can't go out and ride every boat every year. Sometimes they may be hoping, but they don't know. Sometimes they are telling the truth, and the truth changes. The washing machine breaks. The engine quits. They don't have what they once did. Or they have something new: silverfish and waterbugs.
From now on, I will ask how many animals we can expect to see, and how hard or easy it is to see them. As we learned in Africa, seeing a white rhinoceros doesn't mean up close, or frequently, or even "white."
I did know to ask what kind of people go on a given kind of trip. But there is no control over which people go on YOUR trip. We knew we'd be on a small boat with 14 total strangers for eight days and no means of escape. That's the chance you take. Again, adult Eurotrash beats kids hands down. It could have been so much worse. It could also have been better.
We did pack right. We didn't starve, although there were times we didn't eat very well. We didn't get very sick. We didn't sustain permanent injuries. It didn't kill us. If the steps on an Amazon river boat aren't too high, I might go. But not if there's no marine toilet paper. That's too much even for me.
Some final thoughts next time.
The last week or so of the trip, I had been wanting a sandwich. I know it sounds strange, but we were always eating such formal meals, even on airplanes. All hot, all the food groups. So as we left the airport, we ate breakfast in Burger King, our first fast food since we ate in McDonalds' on our way down. And we haven't had any since, either.
Off to Hertz, canary yellow Aveo this time, and much better directions through town to I-75. Did you know cars can fly? Well, this one did, except for those fancy coffees they sell at McDonalds. We didn't even eat lunch. They weren't quiiiiiiiiite ready for us to turn in our car, so to save time, we zipped home and got the van so we could go straight to Dora's and get the kids.
That's when we discovered the AC had died. And we thought "Fuck." And we said it, too. Joyce immediately called for emergency service, but no one could come until the next day. We had no time to fool with it, so we dumped off the rental, got the dogs, brought them home and tried again. And I did all the trouble-shooting steps, too. It didn't work, but Joyce said, "Well, leave the house-fan on, and at sundown we'll open everything up."
We were sitting on the patio drinking ice water under the fan when we heard a funny noise. Circuit breaker? House breaker? Went in and felt cool air coming out a vent! Couldn't believe it! Temperature stared dropping a degree an hour. Yippee!
We'll never know what it was. We watched it like hawks and nothing happened, so we cancelled the service call, left loads of crap in the living room, didn't unpack or clean anything, just made sandwiches and went to bed.
Tomorrow I'll deal a little with lessons learned and reveal the location of our next trip!
First flight: Cusco to Lima. We hiked all through all the stations and when we got to the gate, we had to go outside and climb up the steps to the plane with our carry-ons. That did it. Joyce finally cried, and that was about my lowest point, too. So we sat there and cried together. I think it honestly helped, because somehow it never got that bad again.
Then along came a smelly little man. I have so sense of smell, but Joyce does, and he was on the aisle and turned toward us constantly trying to see out the window. His first flight ever, I think. So we rearranged ourselves and he sat at the window with me in the middle. So what? It's just an hour.
At Lima we had a LOT of time so we spent our last Peruvian Soles on some keychains and just waitied anxiously, wanting so bad to get on a plane and go home. You know it's bad when we want to get on a plane. This happened right on time, as usual, and we flew to San Jose, same as when we flew down.
And this is where we had a small adventure. It seems, perhaps, for some reason (they tell you nothing) there was some sort of security problem in San Jose. They had the whole airport blocked off into sections and a cop of some sort every few feet. We had to empty all our luggage onto tables while they picked through it. They were very nice, really, and we had to laugh at how they reacted to some of our stuff and then they would laugh, too. The had an incredible pile of contraband on the floor and Joyce whispered she thought she would lose all her medications and liquids, and she had even forgotten to check her toenail scissors. So we waited anxiously (again. A lot of anxiety on this leg) to see if she'd be hauled off or something, but they took nothing from her. Meanwhile, the guy going through my bags confiscated four rechargeable AA batteries from my underarm bag, which was not a big problem, because I hadn't been able to recharge them and they were probably dead. So I said, sure, take them, and we went from there to a body search, (they had a very attractive young officer for us) and onto the plane, which was being held because of the security delay.
So as soon as all the passengers had transferred, we took off for Miami, and again, got a meal and arrived on time. We had reservations for the airport hotel, because we knew damn good and well we'd be going nowhere fast after such a long day and a late arrival.
There was a tremendously long check-in line, a surly porter and a crazy person in the lobby, but we blew all that off and just had a drink and went to bed. The end. Almost.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
This is the center of town with a statue of an Inca king and a couple of those figures of ancient Inca to pose with. We chose this one because she could hold the kids. Click to see how clever this is.
This is the flag of Cusco City and Province. We like it a lot. Guess why.
The market here is gigantic and you can get lost easily in it. Because they want you to, because you will buy more stuff while trying to get out. But we did get some neat, cheap stuff, so we're really not complaining. In the train station waiting room, we met one of the backpackers from the Millenium. He had broken off from them to get up to MachuPICCHu alone. He was more pleasant by himself. They all were, to give them credit. In a pack, they are a huge nuisance. Individually, they are just people.
Now, we have to backtrack a little bit. After our harrowing ride and climb the previous day, I told the people up at the Sanctuary, who are also in charge of the train (it's all Orient Express, and so is El Monasterio), that there was no way Joyce was going to climb all that way up that horrible hill, and I wanted someone to meet us with a wheelchair or a dolly or an alpaca or whatever. I expected porters to meet us as well, because they showed up before and helped us down. We reviewed this with train personnel at the station. Someone would be there to help us.
Well, they weren't. They lied again! Not only was there no one there to meet us, there were no porters at all! Not even for luggage. Joyce got out her stick and I took both bags and started up the hill. We were a third of the way up before one poor clown in a train uniform offered to help with the bags. Not with Joyce, just the bags. I was livid, or as they say in Great Britain, incandescent. Furious. I rose hell and hollered bloody goddamn murder all the way up the hill. Meanwhile, porters came out and physically carried a severely disabled woman up. But no one helped Joyce. She had to do it herself, and God bless her, she did. I asked her after how she could possibly and she said, "It was a ramp. If it had been steps, I never could have. Period."
Well, Elson got an earful after that insane bus ride back in the dark through herds of cattle. Luckily on this bus was an American family, three generations, including kids, who had obviously travelled together a lot, and they made us laugh all the way back with their commentary on the godawful aspects of everything that was happening. Pretty soon we were joining in and laughing, too. Anyway Elson raised hell at El Monasterio and we got some discounts off our bill to sort of appease us, but that was just fucking inexcusable. So screw Orient Express. We are done with them forever.
We totally repacked everything, making sure we carried all souvenirs, checking all other baggage. Elson had arranged a later flight for us because we had a lot of time between stopovers. Too bad the sleep machine batteries chose that night to die, and as much as I recharged them, it never worked right again until I charged them at home. So not a lot of sleep again. But onward! Only two days to do, and only one required flying. Yay!
Friday, July 9, 2010
Here's one of my favorite things, the reflecting telescope.
It may look like two dog dishes, but the concept is you use it at night to look at the stars and chart their movement. Only works when it's clear, but I guess it worked often enough since their calendar and star charts are flawless.
The top one of these three is the Temple of the Moon, the bottom is the Temple of the Sun, and the middle is a pretty picture of the landscaping originated by the Incas. They had beautiful little gardens all over.
Following my exploration, we had lunch and then a very long nap, after which we were scheduled for the spa. When we made that reservation we had no idea how high we'd have to climb to reach it, but guess what. When we got up there, we had the same view of the postcard I mentioned above! A little further back, a little higher and not as bright, but Joyce got to see the Park after all. And the hot tub was stone, and we had it all to ourselves with fuzzy robes and slippers. We only got out when the mosquitoes came to supper.
That night we had a fantastically elegant dinner including music by local Inca musicians. I bought their CD and have actually been playing it since we got back. You can see them here:
Joyce ate alpaca and swears it tastes like veal. I had alpaca burger in Cusco, and I thought it tasted like beef. Very rich. For Joyce, the evening was the highlight of Machu Picchu so I'm glad we stayed up there, and that she enjoyed it so much. At this point, I was feeling terribly guilty about the difficulty of the trip, and both of us pretty much wanted nothing more than to go home. Knowing the next couple of days were very likely to be pure hell, we went to bed about nine and slept twelve hours. Damn good thing we did.
Sunday, July 4, 2010
Both of the above are the main square right around sunset.
You can't take pictures inside the cathedral, but it houses the famous Cusco Last Supper. Here's a link for the cathedral:
And here's a link to the painting. You have to scroll down. It's hilarious.
Look carefully. In addition to the cui on a platter, there's a bottle of chicha (Andean Viagara [the local rotgut]) on the table, and the face of Judas (lower right, looking out) is Juan Pizarro.
Next morning at the butt-crack of dawn, we were scheduled to take the train to MachuPICCHu. So as soon as we got back to the Monasterio, we ordered room service, re-packed (you can only take one bag each on the train) and collapsed. Getting to be a habit.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
We had heard about the eruption earlier, while at sea, but what the hell can you do? So we didn't worry. Franklin told us we would be met by a Galasam representative in Guayaquil.
That morning, we went to another sort of museum. No animals this time, just story boards and a few relics of early colonization attempts, and the World War II installation, and so on. We also wandered around downtown eating ice cream until it was time to drive to the airport. All the Americans got off, leaving the Brits and Israelis to finish their trip.
The flight was pleasant and uneventful as we had come to expect in South America. And when we got off in Guayaquil, there was our representative with a letter. He helped us get to our next flight, which was first to Quito and then to Lima. Everything had to be re-routed around the volcano, and the airlines did their very best to accommodate everyone. They escorted us through the airports and held the planes for us. You would never see the in the US. Never. Even when Joyce was struggling in the Quito airport with the altitude, they all slowed down to help her. And somehow we still took 0ff on time. And the flight wasn't full and the entertainment was free and they fed us and you know the drill.
In Lima, the hotel I chose was straight across the street from the baggage claim and there was a representative again to meet us and help us with our luggage. It was very late and we went right to bed because we had to get up at the butt-crack of dawn again to fly to Cusco. It was the worst of all the days except the day we flew back to Miami. Fortunately, due to just plain dumb luck, every hotel I got us into was the best, so we were able to rest between bouts of tourism.
More details on those coming soon!
The Plazas are two teeny weenie islets, one of which (South island) supports both marine and land iguanas. Unfortunately neither island supports average foot traffic, but the lizards hang around the tiny landing, so I went.
And here are some pictures of an iguana. According to the sites I saw, hybrids are darker than this, but I have no explanation for a land iguana OR a marine iguana with these markings.
The white stuff is all petrified guano. Very slippery, which is what makes walking so difficult. So right after I took this picture, I went back to the boat.
Our final stop was Santa Fe, which is just overrun with sea lions. And while I was there, and the others were hiking, I filmed an attempted sea lion rape by a juvenile male of a still infertile young female. No one likes to see or hear about this sort of thing, but it happens. I have tried to upload some videos but Blogger won't allow it. There have been a lot of recent incidents, according to the log, so we'll see. I'll keep trying.
But here's a still anyway.
Our plan was to pack before bed that night and put the luggage out. It's less formal and hectic than on a big ship. You can see where your stuff is all the time. They can't lose it. Unfortunately Millenium, or the ocean, or the Captain, had a different idea. and so began the night from hell. We couldn't stand up or walk in the cabin, so we had to set the alarm for 5 AM to pack. It wasn't Drake Passage rough, but there was no sleeping and no moving except to try to keep from being thrown out of bed. Luckily, we just don't have that much stuff with a rule about no more than we can carry. But it was godawful, and we knew it would be a long day, flying all the way from San Cristobal to Lima. Unbeknownst to us, it was about to get longer.
Monday, June 28, 2010
First stop today was Bartholome, another small island just east of Santiago and my favorite beach and place to look at. It has this weird lava formation called the Pinnacle. And a rainbow beach. Best swimming we encountered on the whole trip. We love sea lions, but you know, they foul the beach. However, it's their beach, so it's not right for us to complain. But when they just don't happen to be there, well, that's not always a bad thing.
After Baltra, we headed to those mangoves Franklin promised to show us. This is a good place to be on a hot day, one of the few places in the Galapagos where you will find any shade at all. Here we are with Franklin. He's smart, funny and very cute. Joyce didn't like him as well as I did because he picked on this one young guy, but it was just male bonding.
And this was where we got to see those marine tortoises up close, without snorkeling. Look at the nice reflections.
After this, we had an endless ride back to Millenium because she could not come in any closer to pick us up. But if not for that ride, we wouldn't have this great sunset to show you:
Next: our last day in the islands.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
In fact, they did want us to abandon ship to refuel at Baltra. Apparently having passengers aboard during refueling ops is a no-no. My retired fuels officer spouse says so. But there was no place for us to go, so we had to hide and be quiet. We were supposed to have been taken off to a mangrove swamp during this, but because of the blown engine, it would have taken too long for Millenium to backtrack for us, to say nothing of the hit-or-miss motor on the one panga. So we agreed to nap and shut up about it.
We did go to the mangrove swamp eventually, though, and we got to see marine tortoises because they hang around the surface there. I'll save the photos for that post. In this post I'm putting all my pinzones, which are finches, Read on for details.
Right after Santa Cruz we went to Rabida, a tiny island just due north of Perto Ayora, whose distinctive feature is red sand. It's also a good place to see finches. Before I post finch pictures, some information is helpful. You will not see finches unless you are QUIET. Well, 16 people and a guide can't be quiet. So the thing to do is let everyone else get away, way away, from you, and then stand in a thicket and make bird noises. Seriously. Just stand still and they'll come out. So I saw more finches than anyone else. Finches, however, are not "pretty," but they are important because they were Darwin's key to natural selection. Here are several kinds. They are very hard to see, so click the pics and scroll around.
First, the red sand beach.
Before I show the finches, check out this bird. Be sure to enlarge the photo. It's some sort of a frigate bird, which you can tell from the body and the white wing stripe. The red head indicates it's a juvenile. Since it takes over a year to raise one, they grow as big as their parents before leaving the nest. This one is quite large, and is probably waiting on the nest to be fed.
Now, the finches. These are from around all the islands, not just Rabida.
In the photo below is a ground finch. You have to click and look carefully. They're not supposed to be easy to see. If you don't like finch pictures, that's fine. Skip them. You have no idea how many I had to take to get these. They are so fast and jump around so much, it's nearly impossible. It was like trying to photograph the Least Chipmunk last year in South Dakota. I had to take 20 to get one.
Here, at the end, is a juvenile Oyster Catcher, also on Rabida. Franklin said this was rare.
Sombrero Chino, our second stop of the day, had a lot of animals. too, kind of like Espanola. Coming up you'll see the Ruddy Turnstone Crab, a hawk, and a crazed sea lion mother calling her pup. The hawk was one of my finds from standing around alone, quietly, like the finches. This was why I never cared if I didn't finish a hike. I saw a lot just by being patient. I was the only one who saw this sea lion drama, and one other on our last day there.
Here, you can see where the island got its name. It's just off the southeastern tip of Santiago and doesn't appear on most maps.
Zoom in to see the crabs.
And here's mom.
And the hawk. See how effective protective coloration is!
Note there is another seal in the photo, but that is not HER baby. He or she arrives a split second later and they settled down to nurse right there on the rocks.
Finally, we took a little panga ride to go penguin spotting. Remember, penguins are black with little streak of white, and they hang out on black lava rocks streaked with white guano. So this, believe me, is an excellent picture of a Galapagos penguin, which, by the way, are the third smallest in the world.
As always, enlarge for detail. The little head and face are pointing left.
The next day we went by bus up into the highlands of Santa Cruz. This is where the big land tortoises live, and their habitat is a national park. Again, we didn't see a lot of them, and we wasted a tremendous amount of time watching people trying to get into, and move around in, a toroise shell, minus the original occupant. One or two would have been sufficient, really. This was the cutest.
So then we started hiking all over to look for them. Joyce went, too! We had our walking sticks, as always. The light conditions for tortoise-picture taking weren't the best, because they go under the bushes, but I caught one out in the open.
Franklin said they may be slow (They certainly are!) but they can cover three miles or more a day, especially when highly motivated by things like mating. We watched a slow-motion chase that went on the whole time we were there without reaching resolution. He was bigger but she was faster. And did you know that turtles (land or marine, any size or species) can't die of old age? They can only die of disease, injury or predation. They know these creatures are hundreds of years old, but exactly how old, they can't tell. You can assume at least some of them, the ones who hid well and weren't eaten by humans, were around when Darwin visited. They date the ones that are born now, but as far as the ones already there, no clue.
Anyway, it finally got too hot for hiking so we got back on the bus and went to a lava tube. That was down a lot of steps, again with no railings, and sounded too messy with not enough payoff, so we passed on that. Then we returned to Puerto Ayora to panga out to the boat for lunch. Even though this was a built-up area, it has the most beautiful water I've ever seen. Franklin says it has to do with the algae and the depth and the position on the equator. I mean, look at this.
And then when we got back on the boat, there was a tortoise in our cabin!
Well! That was exciting! After lunch we went to the Charles Darwin Research Center where Lonesome George lives. He wasn't out, though; too hot. But we saw his relatives.
And neighbors. This is a land iguana. All the dark ones are the marine type. There's one island where they mix and you can see some hybrids, maybe.
After the Research Center, they told us it was just a mile back into town. Yeah, over broken sidewalks in 98 F. No thanks. We called a cab. Then one of the pangas was down for maintenance so we all crammed into one. It was a long, low ride, but the water was beautiful!
At the dock, we said goodbye to our gaggle of backpackers. That makes this a good place to discuss some things we learned about how Ecuadorans view their guests from around the world. Americans, Canadians, Australians and and Kiwis are all welcomed with open arms. However, they HATE Western Europeans, thinking they're a bunch of arrogant, useless slobs. Oddly, the British are not included as "Europeans" although we USAians often group them together. British people are lumped in with Canadians and Americans for Ecuadoran purposes.
Of all the Europeans, they hate the Germans most. And right up there with the Germans are the Argentineans, the Texans of South America. They apparently never shut up about how big and rich they are. Ecuadorans and Peruvians don't like that. This year, lacking a team in the World Cup, Ecuador is cheering for Brazil, Argentina's arch-enemy. That's all for today's lesson on prejudice around the world. Seems like we all have them.
Next: Hide! Hide! They're refuelling outside!