Lana's Daily Journal (Updated 2/12/13)

February 12, 2013 - Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
Today we meant to go for a run, but the cycling yesterday kicked our butts. My butt, my shoulders, and the outsides of my knees really took a beating. I'm getting old! Glad that we're doing this trip now. Anyway instead we slept in, had breakfast at the hotel, did a Google Hangout with my mother-in-law, and then decided to go shop for some batiks. What a fiasco. I had the names of two shops, and the addresses. Here is a lesson for you: if the cab driver ruminates on the name and address, repeating them to himself, then he doesn't know where you're going. And you can save yourself some time and aggravation if you just get right back out. We, of course, didn't do that. But eventually we just told the guy to take us home after he drove us almost to Nusa Dua looking for one batik place. When I mentioned the other one after we'd turned around, and he was just as blank, we told him to take us back to where he picked us up. The driving around took a while, and would have cost us $7, but we just got out and didn't pay him. I'm trying to remind myself that I was frustrated about not being able to communicate in South America, and people being patient with me, but I wasn't as patient with him as I should have been. Eventually, after him trying to take us to a restaurant Batik Gandy (pretty sure that he couldn't find that either since it probably doesn't exist), and a phone conversation I had with a friend of his on his cell phone, I looked at him and said "Do you know where it is? Yes or no, answer yes or no, do you know where it is." Finally he said no, and we were on our way back to our hotel.  After calming each other down for a bit after we got back, we decided to give it another go and head down to the markets in Denpasar, where there are supposed to be many fabric shops, as well as a marketplace for food and handicrafts. We got a different cab driver, with better English, and it was a more known destination, so we actually made it there. The markets themselves were interesting, but very, very smelly. Like, I'm going to need to concentrate on not gagging as I walk through here stinky. We decided it wasn't just one thing, it was an orchestra of stink that had many instruments. Finally got out of there, bought some fabrics, and met a woman who had bought 35 meters(!) of batiks for quilting. She bought another 35 meters before today, as well. She said she was going to upgrade to business class on the way home so that she would have a higher baggage allowance/weight on the way home.  We eventually had batik fever and couldn't choose anymore, so we headed back to our hotel. We showered, and went in search of dinner at a place listed as having over 100 beautiful bonzai trees in and around the cafe. We walked all up and down the beach looking for it, to no avail. Ended up going to a place next to our hotel, and David discovered the cafe had been bulldozed in. Wonder what happened to those trees. That was mostly it for the day. We had a lovely pineapple, coconut and yogurt smoothing at Three Monkeys for lunch, and another with berries and milk which was just as yummy. Dessert was our favorite gelato in Bali--Gelato secrets Some of the best gelato anywhere. Mmm.

February 11, 2013 - Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
Today we booked an eco-cycling tour of the Ubud region that started with an early pick-up at 7:30, an hour+ drive to the volcano Batur, where we had breakfast overlooking it and Batur lake. Then we drove to an agritourism farm and had a tour of their crops and tried a bunch of coffees and teas, including Kopi Luwek, which is the coffee eaten and digested and pooped by the civet cat. The coffee beans are collected from its poo, washed, roasted, and ground.  Tried a cup for $6, and while it was ok, it wasn't $6 worth of coffee. Blue Bottle coffee from San Francisco is better. But I can now cross that one off my bucket list. :) Then we got on mountain bikes and coasted/braked our way through rice fields and villages, stopping to see a Balinese compound/home, a rice field ready to be harvested, and a woodcarver's workshop. The downhill was pretty fierce and my hands hurt from braking. I hate the downhill--feels too out of control. We opted for a 50 minutes of exercise with an uphill ride at the end, with one other guy from our group, which was hard but easier in some ways. I finished, though, and we had a Balinese buffet lunch (and a Bintang beer) to celebrate. After two hours on the car fighting traffic in Ubud and back to Sanur, we got home just in time to shower and go find some dinner. 

February 10, 2013 - Sanur, Bali, Indonesia
Got up, had breakfast, packed and showered and were ready to go by 9:00. Today we moved camp over to the ex-pat beach community of Sanur. Apparently Sudi got there early, but didn't knock on the door (just quietly said "hallooo?") and so we didn't know he was there. But once we got on the road it was a quick trip, and we got to see a lot of handicrafts as we drove by. Lots of statuary, lots of woodcarving, lots of furniture. Sudi would have stopped at the "best spots" if we hadn't insisted we just wanted to get to Sanur. Once we got here we checked in and had to wait until noon to actually get in our room. So we walked down to the beach and along the beach path for a while, then turned back toward town for some lunch. Finally got to check in after lunch, and we are in a beautiful hotel with separate buildings, lovely gardens and a pool that the water is warm in, but only because it's so hot here--not because they heat it.  But the room is cool and lovely, the wifi is free and so is the breakfast. We are enjoying it after all the bugs at Restu Bumi. After cooling off for a bit, and showering, we went to Three Monkeys for dinner, on the recommendation of a guy who also recommended our lunch place, The Porch. Both meals were delicious. There was a coconut pineapple yogurt smoothie at 3 Monkeys that was to. die. for.  We also found a gelato place in Ubud (2 branches there, one here, probably more in Kuta and Seminyak as well) called Gelato Secrets, and we must admit we've visited it quite a few times. It's really good gelato, and not just for Bali. It rivals some we had in Italy, for sure. The nice thing about Sanur is that we are staying on the main street, so it's easy to just walk out the door and go find dinner or shops or gelato. We're learning it's better to be near stuff and be able to walk rather than to have to rely on someone else to transport us.

February 6-9, 2013 - Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Traveled to Bali from Cairns on the 6th, including a crappy layover in Darwin where we were stuck in the transit lounge for six hours, with nothing to eat but a horrible cafe and duty-free shop. Wifi worked, though. We got to Bali around 8:30, cleared customs and our driver arranged by AirBnB owner picked us up and drove us to Ubud. Our villa, called Restu Bumi, is actually outside of Ubud, which is nice, and quiet, but also far from town.

The next day (7th) the driver drove us around to a bunch of places to buy things, which we told him we didn't want to do but he did anyway. He took us to the Bali Bird Park, which was ok, but not so great. We told him to just take us home at a certain point, so we could drop of groceries, then drop us in town. He didn't want to, but he did it eventually. Walked around Ubud, saw the Monkey Forest Sanctuary, and ate a really good meal. Afterwards we watched the Balinese dancing at the Ubud Palace (really cool) and Sudi (our driver) dropped us home.

Next day (8th) we lounged around mostly, reading and doing some laundry in our villa in the country. At some point I noticed a half of a gecko on the counter in the kitchen, left by the resident cat, but didn't want to touch it. Unfortunately, the ants were interested and they swarmed the counter. It was a mess to clean up, and David sprayed some bug spray, and we let them all have it. We got it all cleaned up and put away all the food/fruit, or threw it away. Made us edgy. They were small but many. The bug spray was effective though, even for the next few days we'd find dead ant bodies all over the kitchen. Eventually we walked into town around 5:15, which took under an hour. Have to watch out for traffic as there aren't sidewalks and lots of scooters and minivans on the roads. Had another great dinner in town, walked around and did a little shopping. We caught a taxi home off the street, and were back home by 8:30. It rained really hard in the middle of the night, our only showers in Bali so far.

On the 9th we decided to walk the other direction, and walked uphill between the rice fields. We saw some interesting villages, with compounds and temples and rice fields. There is a particular town where the herons like to nest, and the villagers have figured out that they can charge you 15,000 rupiah ($1.50 or so) for "entrance" to the bird park. You don't quite figure it out until you've walked through town and then you think "Did I just pay $1.50 to walk through this village?" Still the herons were interesting to see up close and it was the cheapest entrance fee so far. :) We walked back into town part way (a driver picked us up after some negotiations (1.5 entrance fees or $2) to take us most of the way into town. I'm not good at bargaining but I'm going to have to hone my skills.  We went back to the Monkey Forest as I didn't have my camera the first time, and got some interesting pics. At one point a monkey attempted to climb me but didn't get past grabbing at my ankles. Their little hands were very soft. We saw Sudi (our de facto driver) in town and he agreed to take us home.

(I promise to update from NZ and all of Australia at some point, but for now we're just moving forward from today.)

December 29-30, 2012 - Baylys Beach - Whangerei, New Zealand

Something about this place makes me lose my memory. We've been here three days, and already I can't tell you what we did.  We spent the night of the 28th at a Holiday Park, which is a bit like a KOA campground but with more cabins/cottages. All very nice and civilized and all the children stop shrieking when the sun goes down. We got around in the morning fairly early and took off for a long day of driving up the coast, and then over to the east side of the North Island, to Paihia and Russell, and landing for the night in Whangerei, which is about 60km south of Pahihia. We stopped along the way to hike up to some falls at a place called KeriKeri, and it was a beautiful walk along a river with lots of old trees and moss covering everything. There were two falls along the way, but the more stellar of the two was Rainbow Falls, which were at the far end (of course). It was a lovely hike, although a very hot day, and there was lots of shade in amongst the trees. From there we drove on to Pahia, where we had a lovely fish and chip lunch (late, about 3pm) at a place called Shippey's, which is a dry-docked boat. It was some of the most fabulous fish & chips we've ever had. I had Blue Nose (sea bass) and David had Ling, which was apparently a more strongly flavored option, but a newer addition to the menu (we saw the fish for the dinner shift being wheeled onto the gangplank before we left).  All was excellent, as was the glass of hard cider I got to wash it down with.  I won't deny that part of the reason I had the cider was because it meant I didn't have to drive any further that day. I'm not the best right-hand driver, I must admit! The gearbox on the manual shift goes the same way as it does in a left-hand drive car, and since you're sitting on the other side of it, it's all backwards. I can't seem to find fourth gear. We arrived at our motor lodge motel at around 5, and spent a little down time before wandering out to explore the waterfront area, and pick up ingredients for dinner, which was a salad with bacon, tomato and avocado on greens. Delicious end to the day.

Before we even got up today we could hear that it was raining outside. In fact, when I did get up to check, it was pouring. But it was also 8am, so we forced ourselves out of bed. During breakfast we decided that this was the best kind of day to see a movie, and since we hadn't seen The Hobbit movie yet, this was the day to see it. It was a fun diversion, and when we came out of the movie the rain had pretty much stopped.  We wandered around the area looking at the shops and having a bit of a pie lunch--a meat and  potato pie, and a chicken, camembert and cranberry pie, with an apple custard pie for dessert. This is a version of fast food that I like very much.

We took a nice drive out to the Whangerei Headlands this evening before the sun set--David had fun driving all the windy twisty roads, and I enjoyed watching it all whiz by. The scenery here is just so comfortably beautiful. There are more staggeringly beautiful parts, but here in the Northland it's all families on the beach, rolling green hills, and coastline. It's like someone took a chunk of Ireland and smushed it in with Hawaii, just to make the two more striking through a higher contrast. I drove again on the way back, and I did mostly better but I also went very slowly through the windy bits. We only had one shouting match when I didn't know which way to go. But we made it out alive, and we're still married.  We grabbed a takeaway pizza from a place called Hell, which had all manner of puns at hand to describe their fare. Along with our standard mushroom cheese pizza, we got a small chicken, camembert and cranberry sauce pizza, which is apparently a standard flavor set here. I've liked it in both ways we've had it today, but I might get over it quickly. I'll have to see.

December 25-28, 2012 - San Diego, CA - Baylys Beach, New Zealand

Hello from the future!  I had Friday already, and it was a good one, just in case you were wondering. Actually, today was just better than yesterday, or the past few days (I'm losing track), and so any improvement seems great. We left San Diego for LAX at 3:30 pm on Christmas day.  Our plane took off at 9:30, and it was a huge one. I've never been on an airplane with stairs in it before, but I'm sad to say I've never walked up stairs on a plane, because I only saw them in passing. The seats were uncomfortable but we managed to get exit row seats (Air Pacific doesn't have online check-in, I think that's why) and could stretch out our legs, which helped a lot. Everything went ok until we got to Fiji, and since our layover was for more than six hours, we had to pick up our bags and re-drop them when the ticket counter reopened, or before our flight.  This meant we waited in about 3 lines and then at the baggage carousel until they turned it off. Only one problem--my bag showed up on the carousel, but David's did not. We spent several fingernail biting hours over breakfast in Fiji, followed by a 3 hour flight to Auckland that was much the same (exit row seats again, thankfully). But, much to our surprise (we'd been told a legion of scenarios, including one that the bag never left LA) the bag was waiting for us at baggage services in Auckland. So that was a bumpyish start, but things have been ok since, despite the fact that things are much more expensive here.

After finally getting our bag back, we breezed through immigration and customs, and were done and standing outside the airport waiting for our shuttle not long after getting off our flight. If the shuttle to our airport had been prompt to pick us up, we might not have attempted the walk to our hotel near the airport, which had been termed "walkable" by the website for the hotel. You can walk it, but I advise against it when you're carrying 48 pounds worth of luggage on your front and back. I'm not sure my shoulders will ever forgive me.  But we did finally make it there, and had an opportunity to shower for the first time since Christmas morning. It was theoretically two days later, but it felt more like a week.

Our rental car couldn't be picked up until this morning, so last night we walked a couple of blocks for a Subway dinner, and then crashed around 9:00 pm. I slept the dreamless sleep of the righteous, but woke up about 2:45, and was just awake for a while. Thankfully I got back to sleep and slept until 7:30. We got up and moved our creaky bones out for a run to work out the kinks in our shoulders and necks. It was a good, albeit miserable, thing to do, and we managed to run some errands (literally) while we were out.

The cell phone we brought from home didn't work with the sims here, for some reason, so we ended up just buying a new prepaid one here that's unlocked. It wasn't very expensive and we can use it all over the world. Not at home, but pretty much everywhere else.

The other hitch has been that internet access is expensive in New Zealand, and very rarely included in accommodations. We spent about $8 for 2 hours of internet last night, and even if we did get it some places, that money adds up very quickly. So we bought a USB 3G modem to use with our computer, which will pay for itself in 4-5 days of internet use, and we can use it as well as the cell phone in other countries as well, we'll just need to purchase sims.

After that we picked up the car from Jucy, which is an older, scratched up Daihatsu which sounds like a tin can when you shut the doors, has no keyless entry and can only be unlocked on the driver's side door. It was cheaper (and available) than the big rental car companies, and their customer service was great.

We picked up the car and drove around south Auckland a bit, taking in the skyline from across the water. Then we decided we really didn't have much we wanted to see in Auckland, and high-tailed it for the Western Coast. We passed lots of strawberry patches and fruit stands, several chickens, and a ton a beautiful scenery. Even when we were touching down and I could see the landscape, I whispered to David, "I've forgotten just how beautiful it is here."  It's been 7 years since we've been here, but it's amazingly similar (although the prices seem higher).

We ended our drive in Baylys Beach, when we realized that the hotel we were looking at up the road was already fully booked.  It's beautiful here and the beach is driveable--for 101kms! We think we'll try running on it in the morning instead.

I'm exhausted so I'm going to wrap this up, but I do mean to be a bit more diligent about adding to this now that David and I aren't fighting over the laptop as much--Santa brought us the new Nexus 7 tablet, and I'm able to blog from it!

November 4-6, 2012 - Cusco, Peru

As much as I don't want to admit it, coming to 11,200 feet after being at sea level really kicked out butts. We were confident that we'd be fine since we generally have spent a lot of time at 10,000 feet.  But not recently, which has made a difference. It was the worst on the 4th, and we've steadily gotten better, but it was no bueno. I had a headache, David was lightheaded, and we both felt a little oogey, although whether that was from the guinea pig we ate at dinner the night before we left Lima, or from the saruche (what they call altitude sickness), we'll never know.  The first thing they recommend you do is drink coca tea (made from the leaves of the coca plant--otherwise known as the source of cocaine), and all of the hostels and restaurants serve it. So the first thing I put in my body when we got here was coca tea. My stomach didn't like it at all, and that whole first day I didn't know if it was saruche or coca tea or just the altitude.

The other thing that could be the problem with my tummy is nerves. We're here to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. For all Cusco's many charms, that's the purpose of our visit.  And here's where I admit that I'm afraid I won't be able to do it. We set off tomorrow on a four day hike, which I know will be challenging. I just hope to keep a positive attitude and enjoy it as much as I can.

Gradually we felt better enough to take care of all the things we needed to, like renting trekking poles and getting money to pay off the balance of our tour, and buying snacks. There is an ATM nearly every place you look here in Cusco, and they all dispense both American dollars and Peruvian soles, which can make for some complicated transactions. Almost every other store provides a variety of services: they sell or rent camping gear, they can arrange tours, and they can exchange your money. Sometimes they also sell peruvian crafts, and sometimes they have an ATM as well. It's crazy, and they're all the same. But I guess diversification is a good thing.

So we rented poles, got cash, and went to pay off our trek and have a briefing. I have been nervous about just having my trail shoes along, and no hiking boots (I really didn't want to have to pack and lug such heavy shoes). My fears were confirmed when we went for our briefing. They said it wasn't so much the soles of the shoes as it was the fact that they weren't waterproof.  In all the literature I'd read from them, they said don't rent shoes. Yesterday they told me to rent shoes. My heart sank.  I should have lugged the hiking boots along after all.

I thought my heart would about break, which I'll blame on the altitude sickness as well (sure, why not?). So we trudged around trying to find some shoes that fit my huge feet and would keep them warm. We eventually found some and I've been wearing them around the last couple of days. They're insanely warm, and they bug the backs of my ankles, but it's probably better than wet feet for three days.

The bright spot of the day was taking a chocolate making class at a local chocolate shop/museum. It was so much fun (we kind of forgot about having fun in the last few days) and right up our alley. I'm going to do a blog post about it, but I will say that it was a hoot and a half.

It's raining at the moment, and pretty hard, so we're holed up in our hostel making sure we have everything we need for the trek, and just resting ahead of an early rise tomorrow (they're picking us up between 5:20-6:00am) and 5 hours of hiking uphill.

November 2-4, 2012 - Lima, Peru

We spent a total of 3 days in Lima, and mostly stuck to the Miraflores area. One day we took a taxi out to the Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History, which was a distance from our hotel, and that was interesting but didn't have much English signage. They had a scale model of Machu Picchu, which was fun to look at. Hard to believe we'll be getting there the hard way in a week or so.

We actually got a run in while we were in Lima, which was really nice except for the exhaust fumes.

Lima is the gastronomical center of Peru, so we were determined to eat well while we were there.  We definitely did, but something did David in for one of the days, and he spent a good portion of it whey-faced and tired. There was a supermarket 1/4 of a block away from our hotel, so we bought some lunch fixing there that day and had an indoor picnic.  Our hotel was really nice, and located in a good area, but it had a bit of a funky smell and unfortunately, a rooster somewhere behind it. So you could close the window and deal with a musty smell, or keep it open and suffer the rooster. Unfortunately his attempts never quite reached the full "cock-a-doodle-doo" so we always felt we were left hanging a bit, and kept waiting for a full one. Never happened.

The other highlight of our visit to Lima, and a joy of the location of our hotel, was an archaeological site called Huaca Pucllana, which was about two blocks from our hotel, in a residential neighborhood.  It's this huge pyramid structure made out of adobe bricks set on end like bookshelves that they've been unearthing since the early 80s, and don't anticipate being finished with it until around 2025. And it's almost in someone's backyard.  Runner's loop around it to get their mileage in. And it has a restaurant attached to it that serves some delicious food and affords a lovely view of the ruins at night. We ate there on our last night in town, and tried some of cuy, which is the local delicacy of guinea pig.  It was ok--although my piece was a bit fatty for my tastes. But it was good, and the meal in total was amazing and worth the extra money we spent on it.

Lima is a very modern city, with all the trappings--bad traffic, pay parking, Starbucks on every corner, and a gross division between the wealthy suburbs and a more poverty-stricken center. It was an odd place, but it felt much more comfortable to our American sensibilities than any place else we've been in South America so far.

November 1, 2012 - Lima, Peru

Still feeling a bit oogey, but we got up this morning and got a cab to the airport in Guayaquil, for 1/2 the price the airport pick-up service cost us. It steams me when people gouge you for stuff like that, although I know better. Aside from waiting in various lines, checking in/immigration was pretty easy, although they've handily required you to run the duty-free gauntlet between immigration and your gate.  We didn't buy anything.

The plane ride to Lima was short, less than 2 hours, and not enough time to watch a movie. After landing in Lima it was more lines, then we hit a cash machine for soles (Peruvian currency) and grabbed a cab to our hotel in Miraflores.  Our cab driver gave us a tour of the area (of sorts) but I have no idea where some of the things he showed us are actually on the map. I can't seem to re-locate them.    Anyway our hotel is ok, if overpriced, a bit off the central area, and musty smelling like old people.  There wasn't a ton of affordable availability by the time I booked, but this will do.

We're staying in Miraflores, which is an upscale suburb of Lima, and it felt very comfortable and familiar after the foreigness of Guayaquil. There is a Starbucks a block away from our hotel, and on the same circle a TJI Friday's, Pinkberry, McDonald's and Chili's. The first order of business when we got here was to find some lunch, although we got some Pinkberry as my reward for the harrowing post office episode of yesterday, and as sustenance for the search.  Eventually after wandering around looking for a place I saw during our cab driver's tour and not finding it, we stopped at a place called Danica which was on the way back to our hotel. We lucked out--it was delicious. The menu is Peruvian-Italian, which is a very popular combination in food here.

After a lovely lunch of gnocchi (David) and salad and a caprese sandwich for me, we headed back out to find a comb for David (through some of the confusion of departure we both forgot/left behind combs. I managed to snag one from my mother-in-law's bathroom cabinet, but we've been sharing that one. Ah, togetherness knows no bounds!). So we've been lazily looking for a comb, without bothering to ask for one at any of the places we've been, but mostly we just wandered around and got the lay of the land. We tried to find a tourist information center that was open for a map, but the one that was open didn't have any maps. At least, I think they didn't. I asked for a map and he said "No, something something something" in Spanish.  I have no Spanish skills, and David can't hear anyone, so we're having a terrible time communicating. We definitely wish we'd taken Spanish classes. We might do once we finish the Inca Trail, we'll see.

Speaking of the Inca Trail, we got our final confirmation and instructions email from them, and the freaking out/worry about my ability to hike for 4 days has begun. The worries are multitude. Are my trail shoes going to be adequate? Am I going to physically be able to do it? Will my bag be too heavy with water in it? Will it rain the whole time? What am I going to do if I'm wet for 4 days? And on and on. I may rent hiking boots when we get to Cusco, I don't know.

We walked around Miraflores, and found a book fair in one of the parks, which we browsed through and I found a DK Eyewitness Peru guide that I bought for around $3.50. Those books are heavy so I won't keep it, but for that price it seemed worth it.

We eventually took a different way back to our hotel, and stumbled upon something someone on our cruise told us about, which is a giant Incan pyramid in the center of a residential area, which is about 3 blocks behind our hotel.  It's called Huaca Pucllana, and it's huge. David thought there might be trails through it, but we just ended up going around it as it's a place you buy tickets for, and it was late in the day so we didn't go in.

Eventually made it back to the hotel, and found a place we could walk to for dinner.  The Miraflores area is very safe, with lots of hustle and bustle and people everywhere. The greatest danger is trying to cross the street, as there are crazy taxi driver's everywhere.

We ate at a place called Panchita, which was delicious. It was traditional Peruvian food. We had a late lunch so we split a salad, and I had an empanada which was stuffed with a yellow pepper chicken stew. David liked it so much we ordered another one.  Then we split the kid stew, which was a goat shank stewed in rosemary, which came with a potato/corn pancake thing and some watercress. It was really tasty, and I'm not usually one for odd meats. We saw some other tables with a donut-like dessert, and so we managed to convey that we wanted that to the waiter.  Strangely, they have menus in English, but none of the waiters speak English. But we got it with some cafe con leche, and it was yummy, and delicious, and had a very interesting syrup with it.

After that we walked back to the hotel and caught up one some correspondence, then collapsed into bed. Long, but good day. Feels like we got our groove back after a couple of rough days.

October 31, 2012 - Guayaquil, Ecuador

Here is where the daily journal gets real. Today was not the best day ever, by a long shot. We woke up early (heh, actually, an hour earlier than we needed to because I didn't re-set the time on my player to Galapagos time, so actually 5:30 when I meant for us to get up at 6:30), and had some granola and yogurt for breakfast, grabbed a cab (actually shared a cab with a nice German fellow), then a ferry across the canal and then a bus to the airport.  We had a bit of a wait at the airport, and ran into Jessica,an Israeli who had been on our cruise for the last few days.

My stomach has been feeling quite oogey (technical term) since yesterday, so my lunch on the plane consisted of the roll off my tray, as my body was not feeling up to the beef and rice that was offered. We arrived around 1:45, got our bags and headed out to meet the driver arranged by the hostel. He was nice enough, with a language barrier, but then he delivered us to the elevator to take us up to the hostel (we're standing in the elevator) and says "Ok, pay me now." Um, ok?  I had understood the pick-up would be added to our hostel bill.  It wasn't a bit deal except he conveniently didn't have change for a 20, and so we had to leave the elevator, set all our bags down, and fish through for some money to pay him. It wasn't a good introduction to Guayaquil.  The hostel itself seemed ok, although there is something wrong with the wifi and the router keeps needing to be reset.

The receptionist at the hostel told us the post office closed at 4, so we headed off to send a box home to our friends in San Diego that we won't need until later.  This was a disaster. The boxes at the post office were either small or huge, and the small one wouldn't fit our stuff. The woman at the hostel had said we could get one at the supermarket across the supermarket. Finally we wander in to a paper supply/copy shop and they give us a box. Back to the post office, but the box looks a little flimsy so we ask for 2 small boxes. No boxes. They think the box is ok, but they need my passport. No, she says slowly in Spanish, like she's talking to an idiot (she is, basically), a COPY of your passport.  I run back to the copy shop, get a copy. I somehow navigate the transaction indicating black and white copy is good. I sprint back across the street with the copy. We proceed to fill out three forms (one twice because I put an address here rather than my home address), and lots of taping of the box, and we get to the price (69.70...gulp) and then I ask if they take credit cards. Nope. I have $40 in my wallet. How much does David have? Um, $3. He's walking around with only his decoy wallet. So now I sprint to the atm machine at the bank I saw while we were looking for a box. It takes me 3 tries to realize it doesn't take my atm card. Then I start frantically looking for another bank, and find one 1/2 block another direction from the post office. This one takes my card, and I yank out money and sprint back to the post office, handing over $70.00.  Finally, finally, we ship our package, get a tracking number, and we're done. It took us over a half an hour to mail a package. Jesus we need some Spanish lessons.

After that, we learned our plans in Lima fell through, so I had to scramble to research some places to stay, and we headed out for a walk while we waited for emails back. We walked on the riverfront, where every child in a Halloween costume was out frolicking with their whole family. No candy, but they enjoy parading around with their costumes on.  We had a medicinal ice cream cone, wandered around for a bit, and decided to go to the grocery store and pick up some simple, cheap ingredients for dinner at the hostel. Except the supermarket I saw is now closed. So we look at the two restaurants in the immediate area that we found. Eventually we settle on the last possible option, La Canoa, which was typical Ecuadorian dishes. We got grilled chicken with rice and lentils, and a ham and cheese sandwich to share. The chicken was delicious, the ham and cheese mediocre. But things were better, things were looking up, we had eaten!

We got back to the hotel to see that none of the hostels I had emailed in Lima were available, and the ride we thought we had from the airport had fallen through as well, so we were at zero. I eventually booked us a hotel room at twice the price I was hoping to pay (beggars can't be choosers), which was actually 4x the price I was planning on paying because I had thought/hoped were were going to be staying with a friend of a friend.  Anyway, I booked a hotel, and it's done and hopefully we can just enjoy Lima without worrying about it. Lesson learned: make your own plans for accommodations.

The hotel room faces out onto the street, and the street is very, very noisy. Not sure how we're going to sleep, but we've got a taxi at 7:30 for our 9:45 flight, so we've got to try.

October 30, 2012 - Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands

I missed some days here, but we'll be detailing our cruise journey so I thought I'd pick back up here on what's going on since the cruise.  Last night we went to bed around 9:00pm--I think we were tired from an early morning and a taxing day, as well as the heat.  We slept about 11-12 hours (despite a rooster across the street with a warped definition of daybreak), and woke up luxuriously late.  It feels strange to have no itinerary for the day, as we did on the cruise, but nice in its way. I told David my main joy is being able to choose what to eat, as on the cruise there was one menu, and if you liked it you ate a lot, and if you didn't you had some fruit, some salad, and maybe a little bread if there was some. They did something wretched with their eggs.

Anyway, we woke up late, ate some oatmeal with bananas (sadly I mistakenly bought instant oatmeal, which is essentially instant glue, but we ate it anyway). After showering and getting around we headed out to the Darwin Center, which everyone said we must do. It was a nice walk, and we looked at some giant tortoises in corrals, away from us, and some "baby" tortoises that they hatch and then re-release into the wild. They also had some native and endemic plants which were interesting. I have to say, though, after our experience seeing the tortoises close-up, and seeing iguanas everywhere on our cruise, it was anti-climactic.

After that we grabbed some lunch at il Giardino in town, I had scrambled eggs and bacon with toast, David had seafood ravioli, and we split an enormous juice that was blackberries, banana, and strawberry. So, so, good, although it might be the reason I've been visiting the bathroom with some frequency (sorry, but true) since yesterday. It could be something else, too, who knows.  We bought some stamps and some food for breakfast tomorrow, grabbed the laundry we had dropped off to be washed the day before, and walked back to our room.  We got caught up on some correspondence and checking on accommodations and flight confirmations, then splurged and took a $1 taxi back into town and a $1.20 water taxi to head off for a hike to Las Grietas, a clear swimming hole and giant rock fissure across the bay.  It was hot and still, and the rocky trail was a challenge on our feet, but a worthwhile hike, and it felt good to move. We didn't, however, go swimming.

Upon our return to town we wrote out postcards and did some people watching down by the waterfront, and then eventually walked back to our room.  David tried to text his mom, who is in New Jersey, while I tried to fit all my stuff back in my bags. First everything had to come out, then go back in, which is always a pain. We're planning on shipping some things back in Guayaquil tomorrow after we return to the mainland, so hopefully my bag will be a little less tight. I noticed some wear on the fabric around the top handle--it's a little too soon for that so I'm a bit disappointed. I hope the bag will last until we get back to the States.

After sunset we took one more walk into town for dinner (it's about a leisurely 20 minute walk), this time at Cafe Hernan, where we got wifi and pizza.  I've had a ripping headache on and off today, probably from dehydration, so I had two fizzy waters and a coffee after dinner, which helped. We ended up walking back, as it was cool and it's very safe to walk here.  Finished up the evening by blogging about our first day on the cruise, a few more trips to the bathroom, and packing the rest of my bag.  Lights out at 10:30 with the alarm set for 6:30, as we have to catch a taxi to the airport at 7:30.

October 21, 2012...still Quito

So we did some research and did brave going out for another meal last night--to a place called Vista Hermosa, which was indeed a beautiful view. It was on the rooftop of a 6 floor building, and you could see all of old town Quito, including about 6 church spires or clock towers. The food was good too, I had lamb stew with rice and a boiled potato, and David had a smoked pork chop with apple salsa and french fries. Both were really yummy, neither spicy. We had been warned about walking back from the restaurant after dark, but it was still early (about 7:30) and lots of people were still out. It was only 3 blocks to the street our hotel was on, which we were assured was safe after dark. So we risked it and walked home, without incident. We looked at our pictures, published a blog, and crashed around 11.

This morning we got up late, around 7:30, and showered and headed up for breakfast.  Bad news, instead of the good granola they had yesterday, it was some kind of cocoa puff. Yuck. We had eggs and toast (they have a waffle iron for toasting your bread?? I have no idea.  We tried the cocoa puffs with yogurt, but then settled on some yogurt and a banana instead.

After that we were determined to find the bakery we missed last night on our walk back from dinner--it closed just when we walked past and closed for the day.  So we walked until we found it, and decided to swing back by for a picnic lunch.

Today we just decided to walk around, see the plazas and the churches, and take in Old Town Quito. We wanted a low key day of just checking out the town, and we picked a great day to do it. I had read about this somewhere, but forgot that every Sunday they shut down the streets in Old Town to cars and turn the area into a biking route--they call it Cyclopaseo.  It was fun to watch all the bikes and not worry about getting run over.  There were a few runners, too, but mostly cyclists. I think David was itching to rent a bike. I was itching for a hill run, but we decided to just stick to the plan and continue our ramble through Old Town.  We saw lots of churches, lots of performances (some battling on different corners of the same square), lots of people and lots of people hawking everything from coca leaves to fleece sweaters, booties and visors for dogs.  Almost all of them had a dog modeling their wares. Somewhat unsurprisingly, not all the dogs looked enthusiastic about it.

We eventually made our way back to the panaderia (bakery) and bought a bunch of different things for lunch--yogurt, bread, a ham and cheese croissant and a cheese empanada, with several sweet or semi-sweet pastries for dessert, including an almond pastry, an anise one (that one was a tasty surprise as we thought it was cornmeal), two shell-shaped cookies sandwiched with jam and dipped in chocolate (meh), a ring cookie that was not sweet, but airy like puff pastry (would have been good with coffee or tea). We liked everything except the shell cookie, and were happy we'd gone back and found it open. We sat in the Plaza de San Francisco and listened to the Andean flute music, watched children chase pigeons, and families wandering about, doing the same thing we were.

One of the things I'm most struck by here are the way in which families, and people in general, love and care for their children. While some of the child hand-holding might have been for safety, we saw lots of parents (both moms and dads) treating their children with kindness, affection, and pride. These are people who love their children and are proud of them. And I have to say, they are all pretty darn cute.

Here is an example of what I mean. We saw a boy who was riding his bike down a hill and had just fallen (we think he took a header after hitting the curb--I did much the same a couple of years ago) and was clearly in pain, and frightened by the fall. Everyone on the street stopped and approached, and one man (I couldn't tell if he was related or just happened to be passing) crouched behind him rubbing his back and speaking softly to him.  The adults were talking amongst themselves, like people do when they witness an accident together, tsking and calling out reassurances. It's amazing what people convey even when you don't understand what they're saying.

We peeked in the Basilica while mass was underway, and again into Iglesia San Francisco after lunch, just at the end of mass.  One of the women hawking some kind of whipped cream in a cone (no way that was ice cream) was coming out of the church as we were walking in, so we didn't realize that mass was on. David saw her just as she was standing under a grand painting of Jesus throwing the moneylenders out of the temple--tad too ironic, even for us. There was a woman who went grocery shopping then to mass as she was headng out with a bag of groceries and a gallon jug of water. But then, people were crying, and there was a mass of flowers at the front, and may people standing near the altar. I had a panicky moment that we had imposed ourselves on a funeral mass.  However,  as we tried to quickly and unobtrusively (not a chance) get out of the church, I remembered applause just before everyone began to leave, so I'm hopeful it wasn't a funeral mass after all.

We walked around for about four hours, just taking it all in. As afternoon approached, we could tell all the churches were letting out, and the streets began to fill up and crowd with people. We were a bit hot and footsore so we made our way back to the hotel for a little siesta.

We got our itinerary and vouchers for the Galapagos from the front desk this morning, so I think we're all set there. We'll try to get out of here around 8, to get to the airport by 8:30 for check-in and shenanigans. I'm excited for the next part of our trip!

October 20, 2012...Quito

So all the guidebooks say that you have to go to Otavalo, and that the best day to go to Otavalo is Saturday, because it's the big market day. So despite the fact that we got in late, didn't eat dinner, and were awoken throughout the night by something tapping on something else periodically (no idea what) as well as a fluorescent light bulb that kept flickering after it was turned off, all night long--despite all that, we went to the market in Otavalo today. First, we got up and had semi-warm showers--David's was warm at the beginning, and mine was warm at the end. Then we went up to the 4th floor of the hotel for the included breakfast, which was granola & yogurt and fruit, and then scrambled eggs and bread (no toaster). Our options for going to Otavalo were 1) join a tour group or do a private tour (upwards of $100, lunch included), 2) hire a taxi to take us to Otavalo and back, with 3 hours waiting for us ($80), 3) or take the bus from Quito to Otavalo with all the locals, which was $4 for the two of us. Three was the winner. We did, however, take a taxi to the bus terminal, which is in the way north of the city. We could have taken a bus there, but it looked complicated and since the whole language barrier has been challenging, we just took a taxi. A $10 to the bus (Terminale Carcalen), bought 2 bus tickets and were on our way within 10 minutes. The bus ride was...interesting.  Two-two and a half hours long, with stops along the way to pick people up and drop them off. No air conditioning but the windows were open. No movie but music (which in hindsight was great--the movie on the way back was horrible), we got the first two seats in the "next" bus, so we had more legroom and a window, and closer to the front was better. There were some interesting times with the traffic and the winding roads, but all in all it was relatively uneventful, if beautiful.

When we got to Otavalo, we realized the weatherman had changed his mind since we had checked the weather the night before. Instead of rain we had clear skies and bright-hot sun. So our first order of business was sunscreen, since we'd left ours back at the hotel. Oh, just wait, our start to this trip gets better. I'd also deliberately left my hat, and taken my rain jacket. We couldn't have gotten it more wrong.  So we found a farmacia that sold us some packets of sunscreen, which will ultimately be good because they're easier to carry around than a whole bottle of sunscreen. Jury is still out on whether it worked--I'm feeling crispy right now.

After that we found the market (you couldn't miss it, just follow the people) and wandered around. I struggled with buying a hat to keep my head from burning to a crisp versus the soreness in my shoulders from an already-too-full-bag. Ultimately the saleslady won me over by showing me how it rolled up. So now I am the proud owner of an Ecuadorian straw hat, what we commonly know as a Panama hat.

We also bought a little bag to put stuff in my purse, like sunscreen, chapstick and advil (all of which we needed today).

We wandered into the Shenandoah Pie shop, which was right on the square and had been recommended in the guidebooks we looked at. We split a ham sandwich which came with some kind of mayonnaise chopped vegetables in it. We managed to salvage 3 slices of ham and two bun tops, and split a small sandwich. We also got two fizzy waters and two slices of pie (it's a pie shop, after all) one apple, one mulberry.  Both were good, the mulberry was something I've never tried before and the apple was yummy too.

After that we took a few photos, bought our little bag, and headed toward the bus station as we had heard the buses fill up toward the end of the day.  This experiences was very different. All kinds of guys shouting for you to take their bus to Quito (we had plenty of choices), then you pay on the bus when they get about 15 miles down the road, we didn't get the seats up front and the others were very cramped, and there was a movie playing. The most horrible movie I've ever seen, pretty much, where Liam Neeson (his backstory is his wife is dead) and a bunch of other guys crash in the tundra somewhere (no idea, it was dubbed) and then die horribly (mostly ripped apart by wolves) one by one, until Liam Neeson is left alone in the woods, completely wet from trying to save another guy from drowning in a river, with a pack of wolves surrounding him. He smashes some airline size liquor bottles, tapes them to his hands, and faces off with the wolves. The End. See what I mean?  I noticed during the credits (much to my disappointment, I could have gone my whole life without knowing what that movie was) that the movie was called The Grey. You now never have to see it. You're welcome.

We dozed on and off during the bus ride back with our headphones on, but my music player died a batter death at some point. We got back to Quito around 4:30, and caught a taxi back across the city (this time for $7--bargain!). We're pooped. We are both dehydrated and have headaches. I'm thinking this is probably just post-travel dehydration rather than altitude sickness, although Quito is at 9,000 feet, so who knows.  We've got to go find some dinner, which feels very daunting at the moment. I should be proud of us, we made it all the way to Otavalo and back!, but I'm just exhausted and not sure about attempting another meal. Maybe this is the best diet plan ever...

October 19, 2012 - PM...Quito

We made it! After a long day that started at 4:00 am, we've made it to Quito, Ecuador. Our first hop was to Miami, where it was 85 degrees, and pouring rain (how can this be???). Wasn't sure we'd get off on time, and we did leave a bit late but by the time we began boarding the sun was shining again. From Miami to Quito was about a 4 hour flight (Denver to Miami was 3 and change) and David read and slept and I watched a couple of movies. Even though it was only 4 hours, we had a pillow and blanket as well as a headset, and something they called a "snack" but consisted of cheese ravioli in a mushroom sauce, a roll, and a small piece of cheesecake-like dessert.  Some snack--it became our dinner. Our flight landed about 7:30, but we didn't make it through immigration and customs until sometime around 8:30, I think. Bought a taxi voucher from the stand at the airport and had a really nice taxi driver take us to our hotel in the Centro Historico (basically the old part of the city). It was dark when we left the airport, but we did get a couple of peeks at the city and a few of the churches and some architecture. We're really spent, but glad not to have to carry our bags around anymore.  Mine is way too heavy. I can see I will be leaving pieces all over South America as I try to lighten it up. Some will hopefully get shipped back once we're done with the snorkeling on the Galapagos, but the snorkel and mask probably don't weigh a ton.

Anyway, we're planning to go to Otavalo tomorrow, which is a big textile/woolen weaving market north of Quito closer to the Columbian border. Which means we should get to bed.

Update: the hotel in Quito has a hairdryer. Joy!

October 19, 2012 - AM...Denver

David keeps a paper journal, which he updates every day. I don't generally do that, but I thought I would use this as means to document the day-to-day stuff, and also document the trip from my perspective.

We're off today, currently sitting at the airport waiting to board our first flight to Miami. We've got a four hour flight there, and then another 4 hour flight on to Quito, Ecuador.  I'm not as nervous as I thought I would be, but I also don't feel as prepared as I thought I would. We've got hotels/hostels for all the places we'll be in Ecuador, but nothing beyond. I've got a single guidebook for Ecuador and Peru.

We said goodbye to family last night, which was hard. But I found the goodbye to Ruby was he hardest one. And I'm a little fragile this morning, my eyes welling up at a commercial playing on the unavoidable TV tuned to CNN in the airport.

We got up at 4am this morning, and David's mom graciously took us to the airport.  It's been an early start to the day, but we didn't sleep well anyway, so it was a relief to just get up and get going.

At the last minute I decided not to pack a blow dryer since I cut all my hair off. (In case you didn't see it on Google+ or Facebook, I cut all my hair off.)  I may regret the decision, but for now I'm happy to take anything out of my bags.  They're pretty tightly packed, and pretty heavy.  Hopefully we won't be too over the weight limit for our small hop to the Galapagos islands. Some hotels might have blow dryers,  but I'm not counting on it.  The hair dries pretty fast and easy, so I think it'll be ok.

We'll be boarding soon, so I better power down the laptop.  Next update will be from Quito!