The first week of our eight-month
In April 2004 we
After we arrived in Tumbes, Lou negotiated a $4 taxi fare through Peruvian immigration to the Ecuadorian border. After immigration, the driver detoured down a rutted road and across a field to avoid paying a road toll - stopping at a makeshift rope barrier so we could pay some shady-looking characters an "informal" toll of about 50 cents. He then swerved the taxi into an outdoor food market and threaded his way through its narrow lanes and dropped us off at the riverfront stairs on the Peruvian side of the river. Here, he and a security guard (who we later realized was in on the scam) tried to extort an extra $8, but we hoisted on our four backpacks - each of us wearing one in front and one in back - and hurried through the market and up to the bridge. There we were accosted by two sleazy teenagers who wanted to guide us to the Huaquillas bus station. We couldn't shake them off with a few ˇVayases! (go away), so when we reached the bus "station" (a small, shabby room) we gave them five soles ($1.25) and got an obscene gesture in return. They wanted more money for "guiding" us three blocks. ROOKIE MISTAKE #2: We paid for services we didn't ask for or want.
It was hot
and humid in Huaquillas, a dirty, crowded little border town on
the Ecuadorian side where we were the only gringos. We bought tickets for the
six-hour trip to
(You won't believe this part. Only a month later, we were exiting Peru again - this time on our way to a jungle lodge on the Amazon. When we arrived at Brazilian immigration, the official opened our passports to find - guess what? No Peruvian exit stamps! ARRRGGGH! Fortunately, he didn't demand we return to Peru. Instead, he kindly recommended a local hotel and even phoned a taxi for us! That was at the entry to Brazil.)
But now we're reentering Ecuador. Once again we caught a taxi to the border and walked over the bridge (carrying a total of 88 pounds of gear in 88-degree weather.) Returning to the bus station, we paid another $12 and waited three more hours for the 7 p.m. bus. Usually we try to avoid night buses in remote areas. Bus hijackings can be a problem, plus luggage more easily can "go astray." Well, we decided to break that rule rather than spend the night in the lovely metropolis of Huaquillas! Finally we were on our way. The bus headed into the dark countryside past miles and miles of banana plantations, then up into the mountains on rutted dirt roads past pot-holes and huge mudslides. We could only hope the driver was wide awake and sober. ROOKIE MISTAKE #4: We took a long-distance night bus in a developing country.
We arrived in the dark city in a rainstorm at 12:30 a.m., rang the bell of Hostal El Monasterio and hoped our room, reserved by phone from Huaquillas, would still be available. We were buzzed in and - passing right by the elevator in the tiny downstairs lobby without noticing it - wearily carried our 45-pound backpacks up six flights of stairs, huffing and puffing in the 8,500-foot elevation. ROOKIE MISTAKE #5: We didn't pay attention to our surroundings.
Food poisoning hit Lou the next
day. Perhaps it was that weird green yogurt sauce he ate in a
Then came the healing. Ah, the euphoria of health after being ill! Lou came from the trough of this ride back to the crest of joy in the middle of the second night - when he was awakened by the music of the heavens. Our room overlooked two large cathedrals and a cloistered nunnery. Around 3:30 or 4:00 every morning the nunnery played recorded inspirational music for an hour, followed by another hour of bell chiming. Such a dramatic return to health!
Meanwhile, Joan spent a couple of days eating alone in cafes. She favored one where the guard - who looked a bit like a guerrilla himself - stood casually outside the front door - dangling a large gun in his hand. Around half of the people in Ecuador live in poverty. Desperation often leads to theft, so banks, jewelry stores and many restaurants are guarded by gun-toting security guards. We figured there were about three armed guards per block in the central part of the city. After we got used to this, Cuenca felt quite safe. We even walked home at night - a distance of about seven blocks.
The city itself is a delight. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage City because of its beauty and its historical importance, and we enjoyed walking its streets to admire the many beautiful red-tile-roofed buildings
While Lou was ill,
Joan's main task was to find a good Spanish language school. After
checking out several expensive options, she found an excellent school with
the unlikely name of
But the second class was - for Lou - a tremendous downer. Joan was learning quickly while he was lagging behind. Joan has invisible antennae sticking so far out that almost before anyone says anything she often can intuit what will be said. In contrast, Lou doesn't have a clue until it's said - and often not even then! Lou was having mucho trouble understanding Enrique's rapido instructions in Spanish. He was happy that Joan was progressing so quickly, but overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy and the fear that he would have to drop out for a slower-paced class. After two hours, Enrique confirmed this by handing out two different exercises - a difficult one for Joan and a simple one for poor Lou. It was humiliating to a lifetime academic. He left the classroom for a little walk while Joan and Enrique worked out a plan to help keep him in the course. Through their generosity and cooperation, and some extra work on his part, Lou did much better the next time and successfully completed the remainder of the classes.
One Saturday, we asked Enrique to teach us somewhere outside of the classroom. He drove us into the beautiful Caja Mountains - along with his teenage daughter and her friend. We went up to 13,000 feet, although the peaks are 2,000 feet higher. It was chilly and damp at this altitude, but the hiking we did through forests and fields of tiny wildflowers made up for the discomfort. The red-barked trees below are about 800 years old, Enrique told us proudly. We didn't have the heart to mention the 2,000-year-old redwoods that live in California.
For two weeks, we lived
with an Ecuadorian
family in Cuenca, a home-stay arranged by our language school. The cost was
$20 a day for the two of us and included our own room and bath, plus three
meals a day and weekly laundry. We ate with the middle-class family in their
large kitchen, doing our best to speak Spanish with
the father, mother and two 20-something children. As elsewhere in the
Although our Spanish improved during these
two weeks, it remained wobbly. On occasion we actually spoke coherently
in complete, well-structured sentences, but many times our words were halting
or incorrect - such as the time Lou proudly announced "
The day before we wanted to leave
While in Ecuador, we flew 600 miles from the coast to take an eight-day cruise through the world-famous islands of the GALAPAGOS
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOKS: South America
BACKGROUND READING: Savages, Joe Kane
Airport Pick-up: We began our South America trip in this city, arriving (as most visitors from North America do) at midnight in this sprawling city of eight million. Night arrivals in large cities with dangerous reputations - such as Lima - are a good time to splurge on an airport pick-up. We arranged in advance to be met at the airport by someone from the hotel and were relieved to come out of customs and see our names on a poster in the midst of a shouting, milling crowd.
Hostal Mami Panchita: Located 15 minutes from the airport; we stayed here three times as we traveled back and forth between countries. The hotel is comfortable, clean, secure and reasonable: $30/double with private bath and breakfast. English, Dutch, German and Spanish are spoken, and there's a travel agency on the premises. www.mamipanchita.com
Casa Helbling: Veintimilla 531 y 6 de Diciembre - $26/double with bath; less without bath. Cooking facilities; luggage storage; English spoken. Just outside “tourist ghetto” of Mariscal Sucre. (593) (02) 222-6013 www.casahelbling.de
Casa Cultura: Calle Robles y Reina Victora. A more up-scale hotel than nearby Casa Helbling, with charming rooms, garden and a restaurant with good coffee & homemade bread. www.cafecultura.com
South American Explorers (SAE):
Friendly non-profit organization. English spoken, great for useful travel information, especially on
CUENCA: Abraham Lincoln Cultural Center, Borrero 5-18 Spanish lessons $5/hour per person; $9/hour per couple; Enrique was our wonderful Spanish teacher here. 07-823-898
Joan and Lou Rose email@example.com