Posted by: Nate Haby | February 16, 2010

Grandma Marje and Minnesota, a weekend

Sometimes having heaps of snow makes the cold easier to deal with. I’m talking so much snow that it covers the mailbox and you have to dig it out so the mail can be delivered.  Such was the case at my cousin Missy and her husband Alec’s house in Minnesota outside of Minneapolis this weekend.

But it was bitterly cold and the reason I was visiting meant the snow didn’t make a difference.

I traveled to Minnesota this weekend to gather with my family, immediate and extended, to celebrate my Grandma Marje’s life.  After a 13-year battle with cancer my vivacious, 89-year-old Grandma was at peace and took her last breath.

Some people, including my mom, got to say goodbye to Grandma while she was in palliative care and her passing was expected so there was much more celebration, story sharing and laughter than crying or outright mourning. We were all mourning the world’s loss but we had so much to celebrate about her life.  I had the honor to speak and represent the grandchildren at her “Celebration of Life” on Saturday.  I was one of three family members to speak at the ceremony.

The last time I got to see Grandma Marje was when Gita and I got married last August.  Which she attended despite her failing health and had a great time.  I found that she must have showed all her friends the pictures because people I didn’t even know where complimenting me on a beautiful wedding and a gorgeous bride.

Nate and Grandma Marje

Peace.

Posted by: Nate Haby | January 27, 2010

Portraits of Ecuador–not what you might expect

The first time I met a land iguana, endemic to the Galapagos Islands, I was a little taken aback by its  prehistoric appearance.  On the other hand, I don’t suspect anyone visits the islands with any preconceived notions about iguanas being cute and cuddle, maybe cute anyway.  The iguana probably didn’t think I was much of a looker either, so I digress.

As I encountered more iguanas–they’re EVERYWHERE on/around the islands and hard to miss–I found that these otherwise curmudgeonly critters pose great for closeups! And they’re not the only ones.  Other animals like sea lions, fur seals, boobies, giant tortoises and back on the mainland, stray dogs, llamas, monkeys all are excellent subjects and very photogenic.  The best part is they don’t ask for money after you take their picture.

Posted by: Nate Haby | January 19, 2010

Take my soul, but not my bags!

Being stranded on the coast in Cricketown, aka Bahia Del Caraquez, wasn´t so bad.  We spent the day eating, drinking, catching up on the internet and eating and drinking again.

By the time 9:30 pm rolled around we made it to the bus station to grab our bags from the locker and wait for the night bus that would drop us in Ecuador´s capital at 7 or 8 am.

That night the bus station was being run by a frantic fellow who yelled a lot and generally caused confused looks from most the passengers waiting.  He was moving packages around, packing stuff onto other buses but the confusing part is he was either ordering people to put their luggage on buses that they weren´t riding on or grabbing their bags and simply putting them on.  More than a couple times I saw a passenger run after their luggage and pull it back.

The situation was that these people were on a later bus to a destination and he was putting their bags on an earlier bus.  This included Gita and I.

When the 9:45 pm bus to Quito arrived he ordered us to put our bags on it.  We weren´t on that bus, we were on the 10:20 pm bus and I´ll be fool to let my bag go off on another bus in a foreign country–even if it only has dirty clothes, some clean undies, some shampoo and bug spray among other items.

So we told him no.

He started to wave his arms and yell some more.  Some other passangers turned to us and asked if we understood him: that he wanted us to put our bags on the bus.  We understood alright but it wasn´t going to happen.

Our supposed eight or 10 hour bus ride was a very fast rocket launch into the mountains that took only six hours.  I swear we almost flipped twice going through all those hairpins up the mountains–and even yelped once. We arrive in Quito at 4 am, about four or six hours early!  And right there next to us, unloading and passengers disembarking, was (as far as my bleary eyes could make out) the same bus that the station manager was trying to put our bags on.

Gita and I checked into a 24-hour hotel and went to sleep. We spent today in Quito and will board another night bus heading to Lago Agrio  (eight hours).  From LA we will head into the Ecuadorian Amazon where I hope to wrestle an Anocanda and avoid getting eating alive by bugs that I have never heard of.

For any readers who have visited a jungle, any tips?

peace.

Posted by: Nate Haby | January 17, 2010

My Canoa experience

Canoa is a wide stretch of beach with super-fine sand attached to a sleepy surf town with all the facilities for a relaxing and hot few days and nights. 

FOOD

Food, and by extension restaurants, is a great place to begin with a recap.  Sitting on the edge of the mighty Pacific Ocean, Canoa has great seafood.  One restaurant that we visited twice was Costa Azul, at the foot of the main drag within spitting distance from the beach.  Its menu is standard Ecuadorian fare, with some great seafood choices.  They might not always have what´s on the menu so be prepared to choose an alternative.  The ceviches, seafood apanados (breaded and fried) are tasty. The first night we saw a lobster dish after we ordered and it looked and smelled AMAZING but unfortunately we visited a day after a month-long blackout period began on fishing the tasty crustaceans, along with crabs too.

A cool date resto is Amalur.  It´s just east of the soccer pitch and serves up delicious baked giant prawns and has bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon for under $15.  It’s a quiet place off the main street so your dinner will likely be relaxed.  Take your time and prepare to use your hands, provided with dinner is a finger bowl to wash your hands after you´re done eating.

There are other restuarants on the main street have pretty much the same menu but are cheaper alternatives to the hotels.  The whole town is walkable in 30 minutes so everything is not hard to find.

LODGING

Before getting to Canoa Gita and I were in Guayaquil trying to decide where to go next.  I met a friendly Dutch guy whose uncle owns a place called Hotel Bambu.  He offered up humble praise for the hotel. I realized it was humble when I got to the hotel and realized it was awesome. I have nothing but great things to say about this resort.  The room we stayed in, albeit one of the nicer rooms, ran $35 a night and was very big.  Dorms start around the $7 mark. The bathroom was very clean–a pre req for Gita–and the new sheets daily.  Hotel Bambu has surf boards and boogie boards for rent and a helpful staff.  Our room had a view of the ocean and the sea breeze, when it made it through the mosquito netting, was nice.

The hotel´s menu, while simple, is yummy.  The standard breakfast is a little disapointing but the fruit bowl is delish.  The fried shrimp is a great bar snack and the 2for1 happy hour (from 5 pm-6 pm) is a MUST-NOT-MISS.  NOTE: I´ve had some great mixed drinks in my travels but the bar at this hotel makes the best cocktails I have had the pleasure to sip.  Simply fantastic.  The pisco sour is to die for and the pina colada is like crack.

BARS

They are everywhere, you can´t miss them.  I prefer to buy a bottle of beer at the liquor store and drink in the street.

TRANPORTATION

Go to Bahia de Caraquez and catch the passenger ferry (small boat for 50 cents) across the bay to San Vincente and take the Canoa bus (about 45 minutes to one hour) that runs every 30 minutes and drops you off at the beach. Hotel Bambu is 200 yards north of the makeshift bus stop.

THINGS TO DO

Walk on the beach, take surf lessons, rent a boogie board and get shown up by your wife, rent a parasol and chill all day on the beach, watch surfers at high tide (3 or 4 pm), play with the friendly dogs (not all are friendly), DRINK AWESOME COCKTAILS AT HOTEL BAMBU!!!

Posted by: gita | January 17, 2010

Back in Cricket Town

Nate and I just wrapped up three relaxing, fun-filled days in Canoa, a sleepy beach town on the central coast of Ecuador.

We stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Bambu in a private cabana, enjoyed piña coladas and caipirinhas on their patio, walked the beach collecting shells and stray dogs, and enjoyed the surf.

Today we decided to head back towards Quito as we have to catch a night bus tomorrow evening to take us to Lago Agrio for our trip into the jungle.  Unfortunately we were a little late arriving in Bahia de Caraquez (the nearest town to Canoa for catching a bus to Quito) and discovered there are only early morning and late night buses.  So, here we are killing time in the semi-deserted town (I say “semi” as things have picked up a little since the last time Nate posted about the town…I think it must be because it’s the weekend).

Since I have time, I guess I’ll give my own recap of what went down since I last posted in Cuenca.  We spent a couple of days in Cuenca – one devoted mainly to visiting Ingapirca, the best set of Incan ruins remaining in Ecuador, and the other spent hiking in Parque Cajas, unwinding at the hot springs, and then taking in some of the 6th of January celebrations.  The following day we scoped out the infamous Thursday market before catching the bus to Guayaquil.  We arrived in Guayaquil late afternoon January 7th and didn’t do much other than beg the lavanderia to rush our clothes through (we needed them in time for our Galapagos flight in the morning) and to give Chifa cuisine another shot.

January 8th we caught our flight to Baltra and then were transferred to our boat at Puerto Ayora.  From there we spent 4.5 days in the Galapagos seeing tortoises (we only saw these on the first day – tourists don’t seem to be allowed in many of the places they live), boobies, finches, penguins, sea turtles and lots and lots of sea lions and iguanas.  It was definitely a unique experience and while I don’t regret going, it was somehow different than I thought it would be, even though I had been forewarned by a friend.

The islands are much larger and farther apart than I had realized, so each day roughly 4 hours was spent seeing wildlife and landscapes in a uber-controlled environment (by controlled I mean they keep us tourists well contained to very small portions of the islands, which is no doubt in the best interests of the animals) and the other 20 were spent in the boat travelling between destinations (with not much to see during this time).  Like I said, I enjoyed it, but for the time and money involved I think there are other places that would provide better value unless you are a biologist/zoologist or have an intense interest in the same.  Certainly the proximity to the animals one can reach is truly remarkable (you could touch them if you were allowed) but some of the creatures can also be viewed from parts of mainland Ecuador.

I think my favourite part of the Galapagos trip was the snorkeling.  It was my first time and after the first swim I was hooked.  We saw all sorts of colourful fish, swam with some sea lions and also a GIANT manta ray.

We returned to Guayaquil on January 12 and ventured into the city.  By most accounts this is the most dangerous city in the country, but not once did I feel unsafe.  The city was surprisingly bustling and vibrant.  We visited the Malecon 2000 (a beautiful boardwalk alongside the somewhat brown and grungy river) and the iguana park (full of iguanas even larger than the ones we saw in the Galapagos).  We also discovered a string of crab shacks near the hostal we stayed at.  There we enjoyed steamed crabs for $1.75 a piece, served on a wooden board with a mallet!  Sadly there is now a one month restriction on crab catching for breeding season, so I think that was our only opportunity to enjoy.

From Guayaquil we headed up the coast to Bahia and then Canoa, as described earlier in this post.  Tonight we catch the night bus to Quito, and spend another day in Quito before catching the night bus tomorrow night to Lago Agrio (no, I am not looking forward to two 8-10 hour night buses in a row :().

Hope all is well back home – I just checked the weather in TO and it looks like it’s not too bad for January.

Adios,

Gita

Posted by: Nate Haby | January 15, 2010

and now for something different…

…like a post!

The funny thing about new year´s eve in Ecuador´s capital, Quito, it ends at 11 pm. Funny thing about Ecuador´s  self-proclaimed eco city, Bahia de Caraquez, it is devoid of people, but filled with the biggest crickets I have ever seen. Cuena, a scholarly city in  Ecuador´s south sierra, is amazing and wonderful place to spend a couple days. The hiking in the Andes is some of the best I have ever done.  The great thing about treking in the Andes is that we started out literally above the treeline and could see straight through to the other side of the side of the valley on a clear day. Park Cajas is a stupendous place to spend a day or more hiking! Pictures to come soon.

Gita and I have been out of touch and offline for several days now for good reason.  We just got back from five days in the Glapagos Islands  and wow, I have enough pictures of iguanas  to last me a lifetime.

But a lot has happened since Gita´s last post.  We made it down from the mountains to Guayaquil in time to fly out to the Galapagos Islands. The five days was great, I´ll post pictures soon. The prices for a cruise are a small fortune but fortunely Gita and I returned to Quito and shopped around, thus getting a great deal.  A  five-day cruise  for almost half full price.

Our  boat was gawd-awful boring, the folks we were “stuck with,” save a few, were mostly sticks in the mud.  We managed to have a good time regardless cause the cruise isn´t about the other people anyway.

We were on our way back to the mainland and we met a Korean fella, Hyun Jin, at the airport.  Hyun ended up coming with us to our hostel after we had recommended it (we´d stayed there already).  The hostel´s name is DreamKapture and is run by a fabulous Quebecois woman who is very knowledgeable and eager to help with travel plans.

Anyway, Gita and I are now 7-8 hours north of Guayaquil, 8 hours west of Quito, in Canoa, a surf town.  We´re planning a few nights here and then it´s off to the jungle! I´ll try and update more, like pictures and some more text tomorrow.

Peace.

Posted by: gita | January 6, 2010

In Cuenca

Hi all,

Just a quick note to let you know we’re still alive and well.  Dead tired, but still alive.

We returned to Quito early Sunday morning and ended up spending an extra day there as the agencies we wanted to visit were closed on Sunday (almost everything was closed in fact).  Yesterday (Monday) we made some bookings for our trips to Galapagos and the Amazon, then caught the night bus from Quito to Cuenca in the south, where we arrived early this morning.  It was a cold, uncomfortable ride and the bus nearly tipped over, but we made it and even managed to hit up some sights today.

More later…

Gita

Posted by: gita | January 2, 2010

First four days in Ecuador

Hey all!  Happy New Year!

It has been a busy four days for us.  We flew into Quito on Tuesday night and made our way to Hostal Marsella where we stayed for three nights.   They speak almost no English, so it was a good way to test out my Spanish.  Nate really loved the place because it was practically overrun by pet dogs.  Three full-grown dogs with at least a half-dozen tiny puppies in back.

Our first full day in Quito we spent touring Old Quito, visiting the Plazas and historic churches.  We stopped for lunch in a little hole in the wall joint to try out some of the local cuisine.  Not quite what we were expecting – Chinese-style fried rice (¨Chifa” cuisine is very popular in Ecuador and you can find Chinese restaurants on almost every corner in Quito) for me and Nate had a fish soup (traditional, I think) and tallarines, which was basically spaghetti with tuna in it.  Hmm.

We were sure to leave Old Town before 6PM as we were warned it can become “dangerous”.  Not sure how much truth there is in that but obviously we didn´t want to take our chances our first day out. 

That night we took a cab out to the Mariscal district, sometimes referred to as “Gringolandia” due to the high volume of tourist.  Apparently this district is also rife with petty crime for that same reason.   We decided to have dinner at a wine and tapas bar.  All you can eat and drink for one price.  Sounded like a good idea at the time, but maybe not. :)

Day two was a little less productive than day one (perhaps due to the all-you-can-drink from the night before…).  We headed to the TeleferiQo as early as we could and rode the cable car 2000 meters above Quito to reach 4200 m above sea level.  Amazing view from up there! 

After a cafe and an hour or two gazing in awe at the city down below we headed back down to Quito and went into New Town for lunch.  In the cab ride over we saw people building their effigies for New Years.  Some of them were enormous.  Roadside stands were even selling headless effigies to which you could add whatever mask you wanted.  For those not familiar, New Year’s in Ecuador is much like Halloween.  People don masks, men like to cross-dress as the widows of the year past and dance for money, and people build effigies full of sawdust of people who were embroiled in scandal during the past year.  We were told they burned these at midnight, but we saw them burning throughout the day.

After lunch at another Ecuadorian restaurant (this one served traditional Ecuadorian food for sure), we attempted to visit the Casa de Cultura museum.  We were told it was closing early due to a “city-wide emergency power shortage” but we’re pretty sure they just wanted to go home early to prepare for the níght’s celebrations.

The previous night Nate and I had noticed that people wore fairly nice shoes out and about in Mariscal and we weren’t sure that our sneaker-type shoes would cut it on New Year’s eve (some places had dress codes).  So we tried to find some shoes.  We had noted on our first day in Old Town that there were shoe stores EVERYWHERE.  We thought that Ecuadorians surely loved shoes.  In Mariscal unfortunately, not so many shoe stores.  It was a little hard to get around because by this time they had closed off some of the streets and revelers were filling the streets.  I’d say we walked around for an hour or so before finding a store with shoes that was open. 

New shoes in tow, we hopped on the trolley bus for the first time and headed back to our hostal to get dressed for our night out.

For dinner we headed back into Mariscal.  The streets were packed.  Our cab driver told us there would be no cabs after 11PM.  This made us a bit nervous.  We didn’t want to go back before midnight, but also didn´t want to be stranded in the wrong part of town.  We decided to take our chances as what he was claiming seemed to make no sense.

Dinner on New Year’s eve was in a seemingly popular Argentinian steakhouse.  It was a nice place, great steaks, although the evening was slightly disrupted when a family sat at a table nearby to ours and one of the family members proceeded to throw up on the floor at his feet.  Even stranger, his family tried to pretend that nothing happened, presumably so they wouldn’t be asked to leave.  I think it worked, as the wait staff didn’t seem to catch on.

We headed back into the street before midnight.  Strangely most of the massive crowd that had been there before had cleared out!  It was like we missed the entire party.  We found a busier section of the street but it was mostly foreigners.   Fun but kind of anticlimactic.   We had no problem finding a cab back.

Friday morning we got up early to catch a bus to Mindo, a cloud forest region about two hours outside of Quito.  The woman at the hostel told us there were no buses that day because of the holiday, but two people in Mindo told us differently, so we decided to take our chances.  Glad we did as there were indeed three buses that day.  We arrive in Mindo before lunch.  Strange, small little town where people drive around in pick up trucks back and forth through the main drag.  Dogs run back and forth chasing cars, each other, and generally just hanging about all over town (Nate was in heaven).

After lunch we decided to give zip-lining above the canopy a try.  Amazing!  For $10 we got to ride 10 different zip-lines, flying high above the cloud forest.  Super fun!

After that we decided to hit up the one ATM in town to take some money out to pay for a birding guide the next day (Mindo is a very popular spot for birding).  To our dismay, the machine was broken.   We ended up having to take a rather harrowing taxi ride in the dark 30 minutes each way to another town that had another ATM.  Based on all the horror stories we had heard about travelling in Ecuador (mostly from government issued travel warnings) we were certain we would be mugged along the way.   We went with as little as possible, but were still very much on edge when the cab driver asked us if we minded if he stopped for a minute to talk to a group of people that were hanging out near the side of the road.   Thankfully they just turned out to be his friends/family, but it was definitely a little unnerving!

After a wood-fired pizza dinner (pizza is very popular in Ecuador), we turned in early to be up before 6 AM the next morning (today) for some bird-watching.  We had debated whether or not to hire a guide and boy are we glad we did!  Our guide, Hugolino was able to spot birds easily and could recognize the various birds’ calls.  He also came equipped with binoculars and scope, which really helped to see the birds up close (they hang out pretty high up in the trees).  After about four hours of hiking, we had seen many varieties of tanagers, hummingbirds (swarms of them!), two kinds of toucan, egrets, flycatchers, wild parrots, a turkey vulture and many other types of colourful birds.  Next stop was a visit to the butterfly (mariposas) farm.  Nate was skeptical but I lured him there with the promise of breakfast.  Following a nice breakfast, we headed it to the butterfly farm.  It was fascinating.  The staff there collects the butterfly eggs, puts the hatched larvae into protective boxes and then move the pupae into a hatching area.  They hatched dozens, maybe even 100 or more butterflies each day.  Half the butterflies they set free into the forest as part of a conservation effort and the rest live at the farm for visitors to see.  The variety of butterflies was amazing and most were both fascinating and beautiful – giant owl butterflies, and butterflies in various shapes, sizes and shades of blue, red, orange, black.  We were able to feed the butterflies from our hands as well (they didn’t seem to like me much though…).

Well, that’s about it for now!  After a shower and dropping off some laundry.  We dropped by this internet cafe.  It is now raining for the first time since we´ve been here.  I’d say we have been amazingly lucky in this regard as it is rainy season and apparently it rained every day last week (usually it only rains for a short time in the afternoon though, so not too bad).

Tomorrow morning we will be headed back to Quito early to try to book some trips into the Amazon and maybe the Galapagos (rather expensive, so we’re trying to be flexible).  We might also squeeze in a trip to Mitad del Mundo tomorrow (the Equator!) if time permits.

Some photos of our trip so far: 

www.flickr.com/photos/havevisawilltravel

More to come soon!

Gita

Posted by: Nate Haby | December 29, 2009

waiting and reflecting.

It’s 3:15 A.M. and instead of going to bed we’re both awake, working and waiting to go to the airport at five-thirty.

Christmas in Wisconsin was a great time. We ate a ton of food, hung out with my (Nate’s) family: spent time with Eric and Sara (my siblings), saw my mom, grandpa, uncle and my dog, Maile. Also hung with Dad who this year came up with an interesting game. Instead of giving me, my siblings and Gita money in a card he hid cash in socks all over the house, with Sara’s help.  He gave us each a sock and said we had to find the matching pairs…and away we went.  Needless to say there was a lot of tackling and wrestling for socks, that’s a first.

Festive Maile.

Posted by: Nate Haby | November 30, 2009

Ecuador

Gita and I have bought our tickets for our long awaited honeymoon.  We’re going to Ecuador and new year’s eve is going to be metal.  The tradition in Ecuador is to burn effigies, set huge bonfires and light fireworks.

It’s not all mayhem.

peace.

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