Monday, April 14, 2008

Death Wish and Spring

Apparently, I am either cursed or I have a death wish. Yesterday I:

  • Woke up with a knot in my back, a stiff neck, and a headache.
  • As I trotted up the stairs, I tripped and sprained my big toe. Owchie.
  • As I hobbled up the stairs, I stubbed my sprained toe.
  • Sitting safely (I thought) on the couch, I whacked my hand into the coffee table while playing Super Mario Galaxy on my new Wii. Video games *do* cause violence.
  • While making dinner, I burned the same whacked hand *twice* with steam.
Now because of my swollen black and blue toe, I can't go to my aerobics class or my bhangra dance class tonight, which is probably just as well, for my own safety.

On a nicer note, after the coldest spring in Seattle since the 50s, Spring has finally arrived! Saturday was about 70 and blazingly sunny. I sat in my new blue Ecuadorean hammock and reveled in the sun and warmth. It was cool again Sunday, but today is clearing off again. I'm really ready for this! I've been checking my NestCam, but so far no activity.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Ecuador Wrap Up

So there you are! All my Ecuador stories are told. I flew home on Easter Sunday. The trip started off with a beautiful view of Quito's Pichincha volcano out the window of my plane. I got to see it for the full three hours I sat in the plane on the runway! Yay! I eventually got home, which was a wonderful place to be.

I only brought home a few souvenirs: An alapca wool sweater, a nice white blouse embroidered with flowers, a blue hammock for the back yard, a small painting, and a little stuffed alpaca toy for Michael.

You can read all of my Ecuador posts on one page here or by clicking on an Ecuador tag at the bottom of a post.

I have finished loading Ecuador photos to my Flickr account, and you can view the full set here.

A few videos are loaded on my YouTube account.

On The Beach

March 19th -- March 22nd, 2008. We spent our final days in Ecuador in a muggy haze at the beach. The Hosteria Mandala was an absolutely lovely place. A multi-storied wooden building with open verandas all around served as the common area and restaurant. The surrounding cabins were all hidden from each other by lush gardens filled with birds. A walk of about 30 seconds from the common building got you to a beautiful sand beach with cabanas.

My Mom and I both had great expectations for ourselves. While in Puerto Lopez, we planned to traipse through Machalilla National Park seeing exotic flora, fauna, and archaeological ruins. We planned to go to Isla de la Plata, the poor man's Galapagos, and see some blue-footed boobies and other wildlife. Maybe we would also go to Los Frailes beach!

But it was really hot. And I was really sick with a bad cold. And the surf was so sooooooothing ... We spent the entire three days swinging in hammocks under our cabana, body surfing with the kids in the excellent waves, playing in the sand, playing games and drinking beer in the common building, and kicking back with three meals a day in the restaurant. It was tough. Really tough. Actually, I was pretty miserably sick and exhausted. My nose dripped constantly yet couldn't be emptied with a good blow. My nose started to peel from the tissues. The only time I really perked up was in the water. The Pacific Ocean was like a giant neti pot, and the crashing waves were exhilarating.

After the first day of total sloth, I did manage to explore a little bit around the beach. I was really excited to see frigatebirds wheeling overhead, as I've often read about them, especially in the Aubrey-Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian. Watching them congregate around the fishing boats, though, I realized they were about as common as seagulls. Oh well -- they were still exotic to me! Vultures were also pretty common, but fun for me to see. Further on down the beach and away from most people, I managed to encounter a pair of Yellow-Crowned Night-Herons. Cool name, huh? Seeing them made me feel right at home, since Michael and I often go to Golden Gardens Park in our neighborhood and see Great Blue Herons on the beach. There were many pelicans, too. They would do this very cool thing of flying very low in a V formation over the breaking waves. I imagine they were scooping up yummy treats.

Ghost crabs scuttled around on the beach, disappearing the minute I tried to get close. I was walking while trying to video these guys. Sorry for the shaking.

Far down the beach were some really nice peaceful views of the surf, the clouds, the birds, and a weird starfish stuffed into a crevice. I actually thought the little guy was an octopus for a minute!

At the end of the days the sun would set in a blaze of glory. One of our hosts, Maja, said she'd seen the elusive green flash before, but we didn't get so lucky.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Julian!

March 18, 2008. Today my nephew Julian turns 3! Back in Quito in the Old City, Colleen and I had gone shopping for a piñata and small toys to fill it. No candy for the Henderson boys! Believe me, I can't imagine them hopped up on sugar. We managed to score a Lightning McQueen piñata and filled it with small cars, trucks, helicopters, and two LED-flashing fish. We managed to secretly drag the whole big bag of stuff with us into the mountains. This morning my Mom and I went to the Black Sheep Inn's yoga studio and set up the piñata and blew up some balloons while Colleen distracted the boys with an outing to hand feed salt to the llamas.

His first gift was a package of undies! You can see how excited he is! When you're three, and you've just graduated to underwear, getting a whole package of underwear emblazoned with cartoon characters is pretty great.

He also got two big trucks which were immediately coveted by Ian.

Next up was the piñata. Ian and Julian both got to whack at it. It took a little while to break, but it was pretty fun! The piñata was pretty much in one piece, so Colleen gave it to the staff and asked them to give it away.

After a birthday brownie, we piled into our rented car (with driver), and headed back to Quito. This time our driver was a Dutch ex-pat named Lex. He was interesting, but also a little volatile. His driving was pretty aggressive. At one point he was driving at a pretty good clip around a blind corner while gesticulating wildly with both hands off the wheel, and a truck full of people came right at us. He had to slam on the brakes and skid.

We made it back to Quito with several hours to spend at Mom's house before heading to the airport to fly to the coast. We got to exchange all of our damp and muddy warm clothes for clean beach clothes. It was really luxurious to know that the laundry would get done for us while we were gone!

We went to the airport in the evening and flew to Manta on Ecuador's coast. I had been developing a cold as we headed down the mountain earlier in the day, and by the time we flew I was thoroughly plugged up. The flight was pretty painful. I didn't realize just how bad my cold was getting, so I didn't load up on tissues. That was a pretty bad decision since my nose started flowing like a fountain, and the drive to Puerto Lopez took about 2 hours. I had to resort to whipping off my right sock and using is as a hanky. Luckily, it was a pretty clean sock, and I hadn't already been wearing it all day!

We got into Hosteria Mandala at about 10pm. It was really hot and humid compared to the rest of our visit in Ecuador, and I thought I'd never get to sleep, but I did ...

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Black Sheep Inn, Day Three

March 17, 2008. Another beautiful morning! We're definitely getting the routine down of getting up early and having our adventures in the morning, and then sitting out the afternoon rain indoors by a toasty fire. Today we graduate to horses from yesterday's mules. I ride Pinta, Colleen and Ian ride Maria, Mom rides Campion, and Ian rides Bonita. Maria and Bonita both had foals following along. Our guide is 14 year old Alfredo, who turns out to be absolutely fantastic. We give him a hefty tip at the end.

Here's some short clips of our ride. I apologize for the Cloverfield-like camera handling, but I was on horseback and twisted backwards in my saddle ...

The trip is about 5 hours long and goes to a local cheese factory and an Andean cloud forest. Riding up through the mountains for an hour or so is fun, but the cheese factory is really a bust. It turns out to be a low ceilinged three room compound with one guy inside separating curds and whey. He won't allow us to take pictures. No cheese is for sale. Cheese sweat drips from the ceiling about 6 inches above our heads. It's interesting for about 5 minutes. Not much of a destination, but we welcome the chance to get off our horses.

After a snack break we head up to the cloud forest. We literally ride into the clouds, and the temperature drops. The vegetation changes from lush to scrubby and then to a short forest dripping with epiphytes and moss. We ride down some pretty slippery and muddy ravines, and the horses lose their footing with alarming frequency. The foals fall down. Luckily, we won't fall off a cliff, just into the mud, but nobody does. Alfredo ties up the horses and leads us on a walking tour of the cloud forest. It's pretty damn cool! The boys enjoy the gloomy wet scenery; Ian isn't scared in this picture, just hamming it up as usual. I love the plants! Beautiful flowers, orchids, mushrooms, and epiphytes. I don't have a flora and fauna guide book, so I can't tell you what any of these are. Aside from these exotics, most of the other plants I saw were very familiar: clover, buttercups, dandelions, lupin, grasses. I realize that I am in fact still in the Americas! I had kind of forgotten that since usually when I travel I end up on another set of continents.

I had really hoped to see a lot of exotic birds on my trip, but unfortunately that was my one disappointment. I think next time I come to Ecuador I won't travel with two small boys, and my bird sitings should improve dramatically! I did manage to get a photo of one pretty yellow bird that I think is a brush finch.

Our ride back to Chugchilán and the Black Sheep Inn was uneventful but relaxing and enjoyable. I think this was really my favorite Ecuador adventure! I've always loved horseback riding, and combining it with a nature hike is like icing on a cupcake.

In the afternoon I visited with the local llamas, and then attended a dance exhibition put on by local girls. The girls were really cute! They did one dance in formation, and then they did a May-pole type dance. They picked the tallest guy from the audience to hold the pole, and it was pretty funny to see him scrunch waaaay down to allow the tiny little girls to weave the ribbons around the pole above him.

Ian and Julian posed with a couple of dancers for a celebrity shot. And tomorrow Julian turns three!