Monday, December 30, 2013

Creches at the San Francisco Monastery

Linda has a sprained ankle, so touristing is on my own or with Danette and Taylor. I revisited the San Francisco Monastery to see what is in their museum. They charge all of $2 to enter.  The museum is mostly a collection of paintings, several of which were of St. Francis of Assisi. They were interesting to look at, but since I don’t know the stories, they didn’t have as much meaning for me as they would have with an English speaking guide or brochure.

After going through the museum, I saw that there were several tables set up selling food and other items including some crèches. I ventured through the open door and was greeted by a fabulous display of crèches made for this display. I gather that this is an annual event.

They ranged from traditional Holy Land scenes to some that were as if the birth had taken place in other parts of the world. Some would fit on a dinner plate. One would have taken up our entire living room. In most of the buildings, there are very explicit signs forbidding pictures, but here almost everyone had a camera out so that I could share with Linda and with you. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Arriving in the Amazon

Today was a very long day. Last night, the band in our plaza played until 2:15. The hotel is not insulated for that kind of loudness, so sleep was nearly impossible until they finished. At least, we liked the Ecuadorian Rock and Roll. We were up at 5:00 to catch our taxi to the airport. We had to be there by 8:15 and wanted plenty of time to beat any traffic problems. We won that race in spades. The driver took the new road of which our previous driver had nary a clue. So we arrived at the airport before 7:00. Then our flight was delayed until 11:50 so we got to spend several hours in the airport. Fortunately, Quito’s new airport is well-appointed and comfortable. The flight was anything but comfortable. Our seats were in the back of the plane and while the flight was only 40 minutes, it was the roughest we have been on in ages.
Downtown Coca
Our Canoe Awaits
We arrived in Coca where we got on a bus for a short ride to the Napo River. The Napo, one of the Amazon’s major tributaries is wider than the Columbia or Mississippi for most of the 15 miles we traveled it in our motorized canoe. Coca is the capital of this province and the hub for the oil exploitation that is happening in this region. Our ride took us past on of their sites. Sadly, they are still burning off the natural gas instead of using it in Ecuador. Ecuador actually imports natural gas which is frustrating for the Ecuadorians who know how much is being wasted. Hopefully the government will change this behavior in the next few years. Oil companies do have a lot of power however, something we are well aware of in the US.

Coca Bridge over the Napo River

An oil company barge. Everything travels by water.
After two hours on the canoe, we landed and walked about 15 minutes where we got into another canoe, this one a dugout. It came with a paddler instead of an engine.  Another 15 minutes and we were at the lodge where we were greeted with a cold drink and a presentation on the lodge and its amenities. By this time I had already seen five new birds. 

The view from our dock
Evening falls after a long day

Friday, December 20, 2013

Second Day In Quito

Linda and I spent the morning with Danette exploring a couple of the many churches in the area. I’ll write more about them when we return to Quito after our four days in the Amazon. We will be on the border of Yasuni National Park in the northeast corner of the country. We have a 45 minute plane ride followed by a 2 hour canoe ride to get to the lodge where we will spend the next three nights.  
A restaurant we will eat at next week. La Ronda was an arts center centuries ago and is once again home to traditional arts. Very quiet with shops during the day, it supposedly is hopping at night. We will see. 
We had hoped to see the cathedral on Plaza Grande, but it was closed for the day. This has been a very busy day for Quitanos. The last Friday before Christmas is not officially a holiday, but we saw numerous informal parades and all three squares in the area are having festivals with music.
The main courtyard at the Cultural Museum. The train is both part of the Christmas decoration and symbolic of the Endara works (I think).
We did spend some time in the Cultural Museum. We enjoyed the art even without being able to read any of the explanation signs that were in abundance. Few of the places we have visited so far have much of anything in the way of guidebooks and almost nothing in English. This is quite a contrast from what we often see at home and in Europe where things are printed in several languages. One large gallery had about 40 paintings by Gonzalo Endara Crow. He is a contemporary artist whose works were worth the time. His precision is excellent. Most of his work is a cityscape highlighting the adobe buildings and tile roofs. One series of seven has a train crossing the sky dropping various fruits and other objects to the town below.  We did see that there is symbolism in this because one of the signs explained the symbolism of the various colors. Our Spanish was just good enough to figure that out.

Daytime views of El Panecillo

The real highlight today was the taxi ride we took to the top of El Panecillo, the hill overlooking the city as the sun went down. Atop the hill is the Virgin of Quito, a huge statue overlooking this part of town. 
The Virgin of Quito
The view from El Panecillo. Notice the grid pattern of the Old Town. The newer part is more haphazard.
For Christmas, the city has added a number of beautiful lighted objects. The taxi ride up took longer than normal because they are also having a festival. In fact, I am still listening to the band on Santo Domingo Square from our room as I type this.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

First Day in Ecuador

We are on a three week Christmas trip to Ecuador. Everything is arranged and we will spend time in Quito, Guayaquil, Yasui National Park on the upper Amazon, the Mindo cloud forest, and the Galapagos before we return home on January 9. Since we have never been to South America before, we are really looking forward to this new adventure.
Our flight to Quito from Atlanta was uneventful other than we had to do the full security scan. We are TSA pre-flight rated now so at PDX we no longer have to remove shoes, jackets and computers before we go through the x-ray machines. In Atlanta, I asked about that and they said, “Next week.” Oh well.  We were green-lighted (they really do have a green light) through customs in Quito, so we didn’t even have to answer any questions.
Our Hotel - The Quito Airport Suites 
Hotel Grounds

Arriving about 11:00 pm, it was nice to see Linda’s name waving amongst the throng of people that always seem to be waiting for international arrivals – no matter where you land. A 15-minute ride took us to our hotel. It was small, but friendly and convenient for a late arrival. We will stay there again when we have to be at the airport early for our flight to the Galapagos. After a short night’s sleep, I awoke to the daylight only to discover it was only 5:30. I remembered that the days get longer in the winter as you travel south and fell back to sleep for a much needed additional rest. When I got up for real, I took advantage of the rural setting to watch for birds as they fed amongst the trees on the property and the nearby farmlands. Ecuador is famous for its hummingbirds and I saw three, one of which I identified as the Black-tailed Trainbearer. Its tail is longer than its body, making it a striking bird. The sight was too fleeting for a picture, but I did get some of another one. 
Green Violetear Hummingbird
I found the other one in my bird book, but still have a couple unidentified.  I will try to get one of the experts we meet over the next three weeks to help identify it and a couple of other birds I have yet to find in the book. With over 800 birds that have been sighted in Ecuador, picking one out of an unfamiliar setting is not easy. The other exciting look was at a nesting pair of Vermilion Flycatchers. We see these beautiful red and black birds in the US, but to see them nesting here in Ecuador is also exciting.
Unidentified so far, but this one spent about five minutes gathering this finery for the nest.
Also unidentified, but a pretty one
Our taxi to El Centro Quito took almost two hours making us even happier to have stayed close to the airport last night. Traversing three canyons to get here made it clear that we are in the mountains. Quito’s elevation is almost 10,000 feet. Before we arrived in the central city we passed miles of strip mall type areas, not that dissimilar to strip malls in the US. The stores here are closer to the road leaving little room for parking and the buildings are mostly made of adobe and brick, but the feel is the same as driving down Hazel Dell Avenue in Vancouver. It’s not really a place that is inviting unless you have a need for what they are selling.
We passed one amazing spot that I would call Hummingbird Boulevard. For about three blocks we were delighted by the human-sized hummingbirds painted in all sorts of fabulous designs and colors. They reminded me of those fund-raising projects many cities have taken up where many local businesses or organizations will purchase a statue of a local iconic animal and decorate them for display. As I remember, I have seen pigs in Seattle (to honor the one in Pike Place Market), cattle someplace in Texas, and others that don’t come to mind. This summer, Vancouver did a similar thing with hearts – something to do with healthy hearts.
Finally we arrived at our hotel after a few missteps by the driver who was getting help from his GPS and his girlfriend who was along for the ride. The location of this hotel which Linda also found on the internet after getting some outrageously expensive quotes from the travel agent is perfect. It opens onto one of the old squares that older southern cities have in abundance. They continue to be gathering places for people and events. We have three within a short walk from the hotel. Since this is the old part of town each has a church along with shops and restaurants.
The view from our hotel of Santo Domingo Plaza and Church

After checking in and having a lunch in the hotel overlooking our square, we took part of a walk recommended by Lonely Planet. We barely got started before we were walking down one hill and up the other side. It’s harder to do that at 10,000 feet than at home where we aren’t much above sea level. Along the way we window shopped and noted a couple of churches and museums we will come back to. The other two squares that we visited were both being set up for celebrations, for Christmas or New Year’s or both. Since we will be at this same hotel on both days, we will find out. One thing that surprised us about the squares is that we only saw one outdoor eating venue. Every square that we have seen in Spain had several restaurants with tables outside for patrons. Somehow that custom does not seem to have traveled to this part of Quito. Too bad as that is a great custom.
Life-size creche under an overpass

Among the few vendors we saw along the squares were these shoe-shine stalls. At least a dozen here and we saw others elsewhere. Every stand is exactly the same.
I am writing this at 6:15 and there is still light in the sky. That same light disappeared at 4:45 at home the day we left. I’m glad that when we return home the days will be getting longer. Danette and her daughter Taylor should be arriving soon and we will be off to dinner. Linda and Danette worked together for many years at iQ Credit Union. Taylor spent this fall University of Oregon term here in Quito. When Danette’s husband Don said he did not want to come, Linda offered us as additional travel companions. I’m sure that Danette had no need of us since she has already been here a week with her built-in guide, but she did graciously agree to our company. So we will spend time here in Quito and travel to the Amazon together.

More later.