Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nepal - Around Manaslu
Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Australia - Olympics
Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Thailand - Bangkok
Vietnam - Central and South
Vietnam - North
Egypt - Along the Nile
Egypt - Touring and diving
Israel and Jordan
Brief return to the USA
Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
The flight was uneventful and not too crowded, we napped and journaled. We landed in Quito in steady rain, went through immigration, and our ride to Cafe Cultura was waiting.
We fell in love with Cafe Cultura immediately. Not only were there fires in the fireplaces in every lobby room, but they offered us tea and soon showed us to a cute room under the eaves on the 3rd floor. We stopped down for some breakfast, and shared the largest pancake we had ever seen - fully the size of a dinner plate, and over an inch thick. Delicious, too!
Afterwards, we started planning our stay, and talked to Liz at the travel desk to find out that there are far too many fun things to do that we have time for. Finally, we retired to our room to rest and decide.
Cafe Cultura review: Fabulous! The warmth generated by the staff and the decorations are incomparable. They have created a home away from home for travelers visiting Quito.
Veronica, the representative for La Selva, came by the hotel and told us about the lodge. The Amazon jungle sounds great! We had learned about a kayaking company and decided that we would rather do that. However, no one was available to set it up.
We had lunch at Super Papa, a baked potato joint. They were huge and delicious. Definitely what we needed to ward off the chill in the air from the cold rain. The next goal was to update the journal,but none of the 3 internet cafes we tried worked for uploading, which was frustrating.
The early morning caught up, so we headed back to the hotel for a great nap. We awoke after we needed to sign up with Veronica, but we called right away and all was fine.
Tom was determined to get the journal uploaded, so we tried a few more internet cafes, but found no joy. The rest of the afternoon we spent finalizing our itinerary with Laszlo and Veronica, who came by with paperwork.
Laszlo set us up with a divine sushi dinner at Sake. We joked about eating raw fish in a mountain city in a third world country. The Japanese patrons were reassuring, especially when we noticed the quantity of sushi they ordered. We ended up ordering more sushi after our first round since it was so good! The waiter recommended a dessert, Mt. Fuji. It was a delicious experience! A huge, flaming plate of white meringue shows up at our table. Once the flame went out we dug in to find a center of chocolate ice cream. Yum!
We got up, ate another great breakfast, and packed our small duffel for the Amazon. We met Luis, our driver with his huge Bronco, and headed to Icaro for our small plane to Coca. Turns out they had more people than they could fit in their 20 passenger plane, so Louisa and I rode with 4 other guys in a plush 7 passenger Aero Commander. We enjoyed great views of Quito and later the Napo River during the 35 min flight to Coca.
In Coca we were met by Pedro, the camp manager, and loaded into a truck for the short ride across Coca to the river. The town is amazingly undeveloped, with ramshackle houses and stores, and dirt streets filled with puddles. We arrived at the dock and waited while the confusion of several boats and lots of guests for other lodges was sorted out. Finally, after nearly an hour, we piled in to the large motorized canoe and headed downriver.
Our trip was hot and humid, punctuated with rain showers - so far every single motorized boat trip we've had has rained on us. After chatting with Pedro a bit in Spanish about the oil industry, he pointed out the remains of an old oil pipeline, and some wells. Apparently there is lots of oil in the jungle here, and the town and airport were built with oil money
The river was very high, with the banks inundated and many docks underwater. The current was also surprisingly fast, between 5 and 10mph, and roiling in places, creating small whirlpools. We also saw "floating islands" that reminded us of the Zambezi, where whole trees were floating downstream with attendant bushes and grass.
Once we got to the La Selva trail, we hiked on a boardwalk through the jungle about 1km to the lake. The river had risen so much just during the day that the place where the canoes were tied was underwater. Once they were retrieved, we paddled gently across the lake. On the way, we were treated to egrets in the trees and turtles sunning on a log.
Upon arrival we met a nice young couple, and discovered many mutual interests. While munching on the snack thoughtfully provided by La Selva, we got to know Mo and Marielena for an hour or so. We then settled in and got ready for our afternoon excursion.
We piled into a narrow canoe for a slow paddle around the lake. We enjoyed colorful jungle bromeliads and orchids blooming among the green profusion. Along the way we saw 4 kinds of monkeys: lots of squirrel monkeys, a few shy howlers, and two kinds of capuchine (brown & white fronted).
We were also treated to Effy's encyclopedic knowledge of birds. We saw egrets, sparrow hawks, parrots, macaws, toucanettes, kingfishers, and vultures, just to name a few. We didn't see any sloth or other large mammals, but we enjoyed the outing nonetheless.
Once we arrived back at La Selva for dinner, we finally opened the bottle of wine Damian & Laurita gave us in Buenos Aires. It was excellent! At dinner, we regaled everyone with stories of our trip - we were a little drunk on wine and oxygen (almost sea level).
After dinner we had a night walk, to see lots of creepy crawlies. Along with many spiders, crickets, and sundry other insects, we saw a few bats, a spectacled owl, and got glimpses of rats, paca, and possum. We had fun, but again, didn't see anything big.
When we got back, Mo and Tom swapped crew stories for a while. Back at the cabin Tom took a cold shower, then crawled under the mosquito netting with Louisa.
Shortly after 7 , we piled into a canoe and were paddled across the calm, green lake. We followed the boardwalks back to the Napo River where we took a motorized canoe upriver to the clay salt licks.
Our visit was rewarded with dozens of parakeets feasting on the clay for their breakfast. Afterwards we went downriver and visited a family's house. The family consisted of 6 kids and no adults. Their mother had died and the father left to be with a new wife. It seems that the entire community sticks together and keeps an eye on the family of children.
Their house is typical, built on stilts, one room for cooking, the other for everything else. They are near the river for washing and water. Their diet consists of bananas, yucca and fish that they catch. There were some chickens, also, and a pet woolly monkey. Effy said that the the kids probably ate the woolly monkey's mother. The kids were at the house since the school teachers are on strike so there is no school.
We headed downriver a bit more, then turned of and headed up a narrow, winding creek. The helmsman was very adept at navigating the boat through narrow points, but twice we had to wait while the boy in front cut a few trees with his machete.
The rain started again in earnest when we reached the open waters of Caiman Lake. We all got very wet as we cruised around a bit but did not see much. We disembarked at a peripheral camp taking cover in a palappa. We snacked on green mango cookies the hiked through the jungle in the pouring rain. The thick leaves of the rain forest broke the rain somewhat, which helped. The muddy trail often threatened to suck the boots from our feet! Louisa's ankle started to ache from the occasional tweak from roots and mud, and her stomach bothered her also.
During the hike we saw lots of cool plants: tree tomatoes, bright flowers, wine cup mushrooms, poisonous mushrooms, lots of seeds and fruits, war paint fruit, hallucinogenic flowers, garlic leaf, bark that cures rheumatism, and more. There was also a huge capoc (ceiba) tree. We also tried a jungle treat -lemon ants. They are tiny ants that live in the branches of a lemon flavored tree. We broke open a pod, scooped up some of the little ants and licked them up. If we did not swallow quickly, the ants would crawl across our teeth and tongues, but they definitely had a lemon tang, like a lemon head.
Louisa searched diligently for anaconda and pumas, but came up empty. We finally returned to camp for a strange lunch, which we ate ravenously. Afterwards, Tom and Mo took a swim with the caymans (actually, there are none to be found, much to Louisa's disappointment) and piranhas.
Mid-afternoon we started back to camp in the motorized canoe. We saw brown tamarind monkeys, which are very small, playing in some trees. The snake birds, great anises, and lots of huatzin flying along the shores. Otherwise, it was a boring ride upriver back to camp. After the walk between the Napu and the lodge's lake, Tom helped paddle across. Turtles were sunning themselves on logs along the banks.
We took cold showers, since the do not have heated water. It felt good to be clean, though. Effy showed us the butterfly farm, from which they export 300 pupae a week. It is quite a profitable undertaking for them.
We finished off the afternoon with a game of scrabble in Spanish. It was pretty ugly. La Selva gave us a bottle of wine for our honeymoon, which we drank while playing. Dinner was pretty good and accompanied with talks of travels with Mo and Marielena.
After dinner we went for a night canoe ride. Lots and lots of bats were flying through the night sky. It was amazing to see. After a few minutes, Effy shined the giant spotlight into a tree and we saw three sets of yellow eyes glow back at us. Quickly they paddled over where we saw a raccoon-ferret type animal high in the trees, a kinkajou. They were fun to watch run along the branches and swing by their tails.
When we returned, we headed to bed early. Louisa was not feeling well with a tummy ache.
The wake up call at 5:30am, which was not nearly as early as it might have seemed since Louisa had been up nearly every hour in the night. We quickly packed, and headed for the canoe to start the five hour trip return trip to Quito, but only after Louisa took an Immodium. The rain started half way across the Lodge's lake, with the water level rising visibly as we walked across the board walk to the Napu River.
The entire group piled in the motorized canoe and headed upriver for the long journey upriver to Coca. During the 3 hour ride we talked with Mo and Marielena a lot regarding travels. The rains came hard, on and off for the duration of the journey.
We waited a while in the airport, before the seven of us board a small, 14 passenger Icaro plane. Tom chatted with the pilot who was the same one that flew us to Coca on Monday. We taxied on to the runway, when the pilot found a problem with one of the engine. We taxied back to "terminal" where the Icaro staff took us to the airport restaurant where we were served a three course lunch.
Before we can finish, the agent returns to tell us that our flight will leave within 10 minutes. They put us on an Aerogal flight, which was uneventful but slow to Quito. Nobody was at the Aerogal to meet us, so we walk 10 minutes to Icaro, but nobody was there, either.
We talked the Icaro guard into letting us use the phone and call Cafe Cultura. The front desk said 'We've been looking for you!' Twenty minutes later, Laszlo shows up. He had wasted most of his day waiting and looking for us.
We noticed long lines at the gas stations, similar to those in the US during the 70's oil shortage. They wound around city blocks. Laszlo explained that the gas price will rise 160% during the long holiday weekend (Independence Day), so everyone is trying to fill up now. Quite a contrast to the usual gallon r two that most drivers seem to keep in their cars usually. Laszlo also shared his theory that many gas stations will go bankrupt due to the price increase.
At Cafe Cultura we settle into lovely room 1, (the honeymoon suite). We dig out our laundry, and spend the remainder of the afternoon running many errands, i.e. update journals on the web site, haircut for Tom, pharmacy, etc. On the way out of the hotel, Louisa spots a classmate from Business School, Bryan Fisher, who is vacationing with his wife, Lori, in Ecuador. What a small world! She enjoyed chatting with him, albeit briefly and catching up.
As we return to Cafe Cultura, the rain starts. Louisa takes a luxurious bath - she's feeling much better - in the antique tub surrounded by candles, and Tom relaxes and reads by the fireplace. Our clothes arrive back just in time for dinner, which is lucky for us since Tom wore his bathing suit all afternoon.
We dined at La Vina, continental cuisine in a great atmosphere. The food and service were good, the staff were very nice people, and the prices were not expensive (compared to American standards). Overall, La Vina comes highly recommended.
After dinner, we returned to pack, and go to bed for some much needed rest.
Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on