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August 2010 Archives

Galapagos, Days 3 and 4 (August 10-11)

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Day 3

Galapagos, Day 3

Day 3 was "bird day," and was consumed by the avian life of Genovesa Island. Not fifteen minutes after our early morning landing on a white sand beach, we were surrounded by countless boobies, frigates, pelicans, and finches. The path wandered through the avian version of suburban sprawl, and we had to be careful not to blunder onto a nest. (This isn't actually that difficult, as a parent will quite forcefully honk at you if you get closer than about two feet.) Some parents covered newly-hatched chicks with their underbellies, some fed more mature children, and some boobies and frigates circled the settlement looking for mates.

It was here that the frigate birds earned the nickname "evil bastards." Younger males will circle nests, seeking to quite literally snatch food from the mouths of baby boobies and younger frigates. For this reason, feeding is a complicated matter. A parent begins by looking about cautiously while its child complains with hunger, until the coast is clear. The the parent's jaw flares wide and half-swallows the child's head in order to make sure that the offspring, and not some raiding frigate, will be fed. This thievery culminated in the most disturbing "tooth and claw" view of nature that I had on the trip.

Updated

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I've updated the Places to Stay in Quito entry.

Off to Peru

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This evening, we're off to Peru. Hopefully we can write some updates of our Ecuadorian experience at the airport. But one way or the other, you'll hear from us in Lima.

Having been burgered, we made good time to San Francisco, where Tony's friend K very generously hosted us for a week. As she was house-sitting part of the time, we got to see multiple neighborhoods and modes of living in the city, from an apartment in the Castro to a single-family home in a gentrifying Latino neighborhood.

I've always liked San Francisco, and I see new aspects of it each time I visit. This time, K introduced us to a couple of good bars, of which Smuggler's Cove may be my favorite place to drink ever: good cocktails, reasonably priced by San Francisco standards, bartenders kind enough to bring my purse up to me when I forget it, and pirate-themed!  

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One of the serves-four punches at Smuggler's Cove

The problem: we have items that friends need to mail to us, but starting next week we will be traveling somewhat randomly around Peru. Our older guidebooks suggested that American Express would hold packages, but apparently Amex stopped doing this due to security concerns sometime after 9/11. So now we're trying to find someone who would hold packages for us if it arrives before or after we're there.

If you have any thoughts, we'd love to hear them.

Remember our regrets about A Space Place Storage, which responded so badly to a break-in and had none of the basics you would expect from a storage place (such as working door locks)? Well, it seems that while we may have removed all of our things, and received a refund of our initial payment from this awful storage company, they felt no need to stop charging us a monthly fee.

Nor did they reply to an email asking them to refund us two months' worth of "fees" put on our card. When I called this morning, the woman on the other end of the line (a) insisted that we call her on the non-toll free number, (b) "couldn't remember" the email she had sent us confirming the refund, and (c) suggested that we call her back at the end of the day. Given that international phone calls are expensive and Skype difficult, and their behavior so shifty in the first place, I asked for all future communication to be in writing.

That's one problem with long-term travel. You can leave your home behind, but certain aspects of it (such as fly-by-night businesses) will follow you.

Oskar's Pizzeria, Otavalo, Ecuador. A pizza restaurant targeting kids and teens, with placemats hawking the local equivalent of the Gap. Their mascot: a cartoon Che Guevara with pizza slices for eyes.

Che! Comrades shall pay for their pizza at the front!

Yes, that's Che, the face that launched a thousand college t-shirts, telling you to settle your bill at the front.

I think it's safe to say that when your leader has been reduced to a cartoon giving instructions to teens on how to pay for their capitalist fast food, the revolution's over.

Legal thoughts from Ecuador

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We're currently catching up on blogging, but our thought is to write posts in parallel: some catching up on the U.S. trip, some describing our time in Ecuador, and some just "fun" posts. Such as this one, which is probably more interesting to our lawyer readers.

Where art thou, Lysol?: After a week on the Encantada (about which much more later), my sandals, some of our clothing, and my luggage was a bit odorous. The clothing was easy to handle--launderias were thick on the ground near our hotel--but the luggage and sandals were a trickier matter. They could be cleaned, but some deodorizer was in order. My go-to tools for this would be Lysol or Febreze.

While the Ecuador supermarkets stock dozens of air fresheners in familiar brands (e.g., Glade), they didn't have Lysol or Febreze. This struck me as odd, because I had seen a Lysol advertisement on cable TV. When I saw the same advertisement later (playing on the widescreen at Red Hot Chili Peppers Mexican restaurant--great margaritas, FYI), even I could translate the fine print from the Spanish: only available in the U.S., Costa Rica, and Panama. I have no idea why this is true, but I assume it's some environmental or health concern.

Galapagos, Days 1 and 2 (August 8-9)

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Aerogal, our carrier from Quito to the Galapagos, provided a particular welcome for New Yorkers: given that they are opening a new flight from NYC, everything from the napkins to the posters in the airport were stamped with "I [Aerogal iguana logo] NY." By the way, one great thing about Aerogal: the seats in economy are far enough apart for a 6' 2" man to sit comfortably.

A note for those traveling to the Galapagos: upon arrival you will need to pay $100 for a National Park "passport" and another $10 entry fee, and these have to be paid in cash. Make sure you have money when you leave, as I didn't see a convenient ATM.

We were met by our guide, Juan, who helped us navigate the airport, and a few of our fellow passengers. (Since we didn't ask them if they could be mentioned, we're not naming names, but some of our fellow travelers hailed from Norway, Israel, Spain, and Denmark.) It was then a short bus to the dinghy, from there to the Encantada, and then on to the events of Day 1. We will write a separate entry about the Encantada itself: here I want to focus on the events of the day.

Day 1: Sea Turtle Safari at Black Turtle Cove

Galapagos, Day 1

[Click on the album to see all of its photos]

Places to stay in Quito

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This is probably not of interest unless you are coming to Ecuador, but I thought it might be useful to give brief review of places we have stayed. Who knows, it might be of use to future travelers. I will update this post whenever we go to a new hotel or hostel, and probably write a similar post for each country we visit. (These are only my opinions: Pallavi may disagree.)

Hotels
Hotel Boutique Plaza Sucre (~$100): A charming boutique hotel we chose for our first night here, the beautiful aesthetics are slightly let down by the staff. While they are not unfriendly, the are certainly the least helpful group of anyplace that we've stayed. The rooms on the first two floors all surround a quiet, bright courtyard, and the top-floor cafeteria (serving omlettes for breakfast) has a fantastic view of the surrounding hills. Good for a night, but not a great value for a long-term stay.

Useful Advice for Bed & Board

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A belated thank you to the commenter who suggested using the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives website for places to eat and AAA and raveable.com for places to sleep. I was initially a bit skeptical of DDD because when I'd seen the show on the Food Network, I couldn't get past host Guy Fieri's annoying mannerisms. In online form, however, DDD is a great roadtrip resource; both of the restaurants we tried that were recomended by it turned out to be tasty and reasonably priced.

After the vaunted Music & the Spoken Word taping, I ate lunch at another SLC institution that has not been overhyped: Ruth's Diner. You get massive, fluffy biscuits as soon as you sit down, and while it's a little expensive compared to a genuine diner, the quality of food and beautiful setting in Emigration Canyon on the outskirts of town make up for that. The only problem was finding parking and getting a table for Sunday brunch, as the place was packed by noon.

A few days later, as we were driving from Reno to San Francisco, we stopped for lunch at Burger Me, which had just been added to the DDD list and hadn't yet had its episode air on TV. This meant that when we showed up at the 11am opening time, the small restaurant and parking lot were empty and we got our food quickly. Again, it might be considered a little pricy for a burger joint, but considering that it's near a California resort area (Lake Tahoe) and has very filling portions, I think it's worth the money.

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Raveable.com saved us from making a significant mistake in Reno. Circus Circus in Vegas has a decent reputation, and I figured the one in Reno would be the same. It also was offering very cheap rooms. However, I thankfully checked it on raveable before booking, and the reviews there convinced us to go with the El Dorado instead, which wasn't quite as cheap but turned out to be surprisingly nice and well-kept. At least from the exterior, the Reno Circus Circus lived down to everything negative said about it. Definitely the scary kind of clown show.

I wanted to stop in Salt Lake City solely for one purpose: to see the Tabernacle Choir perform. I'd heard a lot about them, and Mormon friends advised me that Music & the Spoken Word tapings are open to the general public and well worth attending.

We reached SLC early on a Saturday afternoon, dropped our stuff at a downtown hotel, and headed to the fancy nearby shopping area to see if the Apple store had a useful case in stock for the new iPhone. No joy there, but we got lunch and enjoyed watching children play in the fountains, and came back that night to see Despicable Me. While Tony was at the hotel getting some paperwork done, I went to the not-so-fancy mall to acquire a sundress suitable to wear to church. Technically the summer performances of M&SW are at the Conference Center, not the Tabernacle, and no dress code is mentioned on the website. Still, I felt certain that I'd better be looking like Sunday morning.


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A couple of blegs

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Galapagos posts are coming, but the main impediment is trying to figure out how to manage the pictures. I have never taken as many photos as we did in our eight days in the islands, and sheer volume is overwhelming me. I don't want to upload all of them, I do want to share a few from each day.

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For instance, a Pelican that posed for us

Unfortunately, I'm not used to working with large numbers of photos in Windows. I can't simply upload them to my webhost, as I can't afford the bandwidth. At the moment, I'm using Picasa and Picasa web albums, but it seems to have only 1GB of free space. If you know of a better service, please feel free to leave advice in the comments.

Also, I'd like to set up threaded comments on DMC (so that if you reply to a comment, it is nested underneath rather than placed at the end). If you happen to know of a good "how to" on this, I'd appreciate it.

Greetings from the Galapagos...

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Having a good (although often damp and slightly smelly) time here in the Islands. We'll get back to you on Monday.

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A baby seal rests amidst our snorkeling gear

Off to the Galapagos

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Tomorrow morning we're off to the Galapagos, sailing aboard the Encantada. Spending a week on a boat is far outside my comfort zone, and I'll admit to a little nervousness. Given the tales of jellyfish in the water, I'm slightly regretting the fact that we didn't buy wetsuits back in Texas.

Hopefully we'll bring back pictures and stories, not sunburn and stings. On the other hand, we're unlikely to have internet access, so we're probably off the grid entirely for a week. I can't remember the last time I didn't have cell, internet, or at least land-line access to the world.

Quito Catchup: Why Now?

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It may seem paradoxical that my first opportunity to sit down and catch up on blogging the North American roadtrip is on my first full day overseas, but there are a few good reasons for it:

 

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This post brought to you courtesy of the Wifi at the Quito "Speed & Grill"

Since our wedding, our signature cocktail has been a Godfather: equal parts scotch (or bourbon, we're flexible) and amaretto. But on an airplane, it's not like there will be a flight attendant trained as a bartender. Still, we wanted to start out keeping the tradition.

Which works if PG orders an amaretto and I order a scotch, and then I mix the drinks at our seat. So the journey has started the right way.

...because as of 5:45 this afternoon, we will be on a flight to Ecuador.

Of course, we'll have some time on the plane to draft catch-up posts from the road trip.

The Cool Indian Consulate

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So I've been having a little trouble getting an Indian visa, which will hopefully get sorted out. Looking at options, however, I've scanned the Indian consular sites for South America and half of Asia. This wins the prize for most helpful and friendly consular website ever:

Cafe con Visa: "First, we invite you to have a cup of coffee. Or if you prefer... tea, chocolate or capuccino... Your visa will be ready ... pronto."

Things We've Seen


Things We Like