Monday, September 28, 2015

Leaving Tacoma

We finally have everything we need to head out. The plan is to leave on Thursday morning, October 1. Tacoma's been a nice place. Chrissy settled in well, and it is time for us to hit the road.

While waiting, we did go to the Washington History Museum and the Tacoma Glass Museum. They're both pretty awesome. The glass museum offers a free 8-week program for veterans to learn how to blow glass. Too bad I didn't know about it before just about time to leave. We all know I'da been trying to learn to blow glass. They also have classes for kids, and they exhibit their work. Some of these are pretty darned good!!

Like this 4-year-old

The exhibits in the main hall was very good. Two of the halls were between exhibits when we went, so I guess we'll just have to go back some other time.

The Chihuly Bridge was awesome, from the ceiling exhibit to the vases on the walls to the tall sculptures on the bridge.

Now, we're done sightseeing here, and it's time to get packed up and ready to go on Thursday. I'll try to post something every night when we stop, but no promises are being made.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Point Defiance

Tacoma has a lot to offer, and while we're waiting to leave, we have spent a lot of time seeing different things. One of the highlights is Point Defiance. Point Defiance has a beautiful 5-mile drive through what appears to be old-growth forest, including the Mountaineer Tree, a 450-year-old Douglas Fir.

We didn't see any bald eagles while we were here (They do nest wild in the park.), but I did get  a shot of a woodpecker.

There are awesome trails throughout the park and a beach with a concession stand. They also have a zoo. This zoo has very good habitats with lots of room for the animals and enrichment activities. Some of the animals include a polar bear



And lots more

Definitely a place to visit. It took a few hours to see it all.

Trujillo, Peru

Even though we still haven't seen all we want to see in Ecuador (okay, to be honest, I'm the one with the South American bucket list, and Bruce is just along for the ride), we ventured to Peru one trip. We drove down the coast, spending the night at an awesome hospidaje in Zorrito, just outside of Tumbes, called Kapraia.

Arriving in Trujillo the following evening. 

In downtown Trujillo, the Plaza de Armas is lovely. The Freedom Monument sits in the middle of the square.

And lots of beautiful buildings on the streets surrounding it. Many of the buildings are open to the public during the day, including the church, and some house museums or government offices. I just had to get an evening shot of this church.

Outside of town, there are scores of pre-Incan ruins. It's amazing how well preserved they are. Some of them date back to 100 to 850 AD.

They feed you well in Peru! This was dinner. I got a lunch portion the next day. They promised me it wasn't so large, but it was almost the same size!!

I'm looking forward to our next trip through Peru!

Banos de Agua Santa, Ecuador

The town of Banos de Agua Santa is a town in Ecuador located close to the active Tungurahua volcano. Mama Tungurahua was not active while we were there, though she started spewing ash again shortly after we left the area.

Aside from the volcano, Banos is mostly known for its waterfalls and extreme sports. Chrissy and I got suited up and on the platform, but chickend out when it came time to let go and do the zip line. I even had both feet in the air, but couldn't pick my hands up off the platform. Not a nice, leisurely ride along a wire. A fast zip (faster the heavier you are, so I would really be zipping) from high up on the mountain down to the valley. One day, I'll have the courage to do it. We were cute in our harnesses, though.

We were brave enough to do the Swing at the End of the World attached to the treehouse (La Casa del Arbol)!

You can really see the effects of the volcano here. This river bank was shiny, black obsidian, and it was gorgeous!

Bruce spent our time in Banos recouperating from the Amazon, but Chrissy and I did reach the Paillon del Diablo (Devil's Cauldron). It took us more than twice as long because I had to take so may breaks, and she pretty much pulled me up the mountain after a while, but it was definitely a sight to see! I recommend it to anyone.

Guayaquil, Ecuador

There are two major metropolitan areas in Ecuador, the capital city of Quito and Guayaquil (pronounced why-a-keel). We haven't made it to Quito yet other than passing through or passing by, though that is on the list. We spend a considerable amount of time in Guayaquil, considering that our car is registered there, we use the visa office there, and we have a friend who lives there.

When we first moved down, we stayed by the malecon on the Guayas River whenever we visited Guayaquil. Our favorite place to stay there was the El Manso Boutique just across the road from the malecon.

As an added bonus, this hostel provided an excellent vantage point (that first balcony) to watch the Gay Pride Parade that happened to be there one one time when we needed to be in town!

There is so much to love about Guayaquil! The malecon is wonderful, with sculptures, gardens, shops, eateries, and the Captain Morgan and other boats to take you out on the river.

In various places downtown, there are intricate giant sculptures of a parrot, monkey, and an inguana. We haven't been to the iguana, yet.

And, there is the Parque de las Iguanas. Be careful walking under trees. They poop from on high! They apparently make good perches for the pidgeons, too!

On top of that, Guayaquil has awesome old architecture and colorful buildings.

We'll be spending more time there because we haven't seen all we want to see.

The Amazon - Cuyabeno Reserve

When Chrissy (our daughter) came down to visit, we took her on a four-day trip in the Amazon Basin. Because we're cheap, we chose to do the Cuyabeno Reserve instead of the Yasuni National Park.  In the Cuyabeno, you can get four days for around $250 per person. The places I found with guides, accomodations, and meals in Yasuni were in the thousands per person. The Cuyabeno Reserve is a significant bus ride from Lago Agrio, the area where the issues between the Ecuadorean indiginous and Chevron took place. Through tourism dollars, they are hoping to avoid additional drilling in the area.

On the first day, we arrived in Lago Agrio in the early morning and bought a week of parking for the car at a hotel. Just to put it in perspective, that week of parking cost a whole $6. We had a nice breakfast, then boarded the bus to Cuyabeno.

On arrival, a motorized canoe picked us up and took us to our lodge, the Samona Lodge, another significant ride down the Rio Aguarico, a part of the Amazon River system. We were joined by a couple from Santiago, Chile. It was a beautiful ride down the river and the lodge is lovely. Be prepared, though. These lodges are fully permaculture. The electricity is solar, the water is self treated (and not drinkable - like most water in Ecuador), and there is no wi-fi or air conditioning. This lodge usually shuts off the electricity around 9:00 p.m., but because of my CPAP machine, we were able to have electricity overnight. The shower water was tepid at best, though.

After naps and lunch, we went swimming in the river. We were warned beforehand that there were anacondas and caimans living in the water, but nobody got hurt, so all was good, and it's not everyday that you get a chance to swim in the Amazon!

The second and third days were hikes and canoe rides through the area. Our guide, Clide, was awesome. Seeing my frustration with not being able to zoom in on some of the animals, he ultimately took my camera from me and took pictures of some the animals through his binoculars for me. We saw lots of birds and monkeys. Only one caiman and no large snakes, though we did go through some parts of the river that they warned us to keep our hands inside the canoe because of the number of caimans, anacondas, and other dangerous animals that lived there. Here are some of the shots we got.

On the third day, we went to an indiginous village and got a sample of a shaman doing a cleansing ritual. We also got to try our hand at using the blow gun to shoot darts at a cocoa seed, and we got to make pan de yuca (yuca flour bread) starting from fresh yuca root that we harvested.

On the last day, we took a pre-breakfast trip down the river to see birds and monkeys again. Then we took a group shot and headed back down the river and back to Lago Agrio. If you ever get the chance to do this, I would definitely advise it!

From back to front: Bruce and Clide (guide extrordinaire), Chrissy, me, and Aurora (awsome indiginous guide), and Daniel and Vitoria (from Chile).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Los Frailes

Also in Parque de Machalilla is Los Frailes, both the town and the set of beaches. Los Frailes has three beaches. One is the main beach. It's the one that most people go to. If you take a bus or mototaxi, you have to walk down the dirt road to get to the beach. We drove. There are bathroom facilities up by the main beach, and you can purchase drinks and local crafts, like jewelry, but there are no food concessions. You can rent beach umbrellas, but not chairs.

The main beach is horseshoe shaped and tends to be a little calmer than most of the beaches on this part of the coast. It is a swimmable beach, but I have yet to see it anything close to crowded. The best views are from the mirador, but I haven't made it up there yet. For some reason, it appears that I have never taken a picture of the main beach. Maybe I was waiting until we could make it up to the mirador.

If you walk to the far north side of the main beach, you'll encounter a trail. About halfway up the trail, the path to the mirador will branch off and head straight uphill. Only take that branch if you want to go to the mirador. The path to the other beaches will start sloping downhill. The next beach you come to is Playa Tortugita, or little turtle, because from the air, the cove looks like a little turtle. This beach is really much prettier, but you are not supposed to swim in it. I believe it is because of coral growth in certain parts of the water, but I'm not certain. Parts of broken coral do wash up on the beach. This beach (and the next one) have large rocky areas. On Tortugita, these rocks definitely show the black from the volcanic ash.

Bruce and I sat on some of these rocks, ate lunch, and watched the crabs play on the shore one day.

If you want to go to the third beach, I suggest you time your trip so that you reach Playa Tortugita at low tide. Playa Tortugita has a rocky area with no real path that you must climb up and down to get across. At high tide, this area is covered, but not so deep that you can't cross. Once on the other side, at low tide, there are tide pools with lots of neat critters in them, like this nudibranch. I had never seen these before.

The last beach is Playa Prieta. I was expecting the sand and rocks to be darker, but they weren't as dark as the ones on Playa Tortugita. Lots of wonderful critters in the tide pools again, and I believe I saw a ray at one point, but it was gone by the time I got the camera out.

An urchin in a tide pool

The view from Playa Prieta to the town of Los Frailes

Agua Blanca

Agua Blanca is a community just north of Puero Lopez, in Parque de Machalilla, consisting of 72 families with an approximate population of 300. Bruce and I went to the museum and had a guide walk us through the grounds. Entrance to the park is free, and you do not have to use a guide, but if you do, we were charged $5. You can pay either at the gate to the park or at the museum.

The museum had lots of artifacts from the coastal primitive peoples.

The grounds were awesome. We saw beautiful birds. Looking at these pictures again make me very glad I got the new camera. This would have been a really got shot with the new camera.

We didn't come prepared to do the mud bath that day. 

I did do my face, though! 

After our hike, we went to one of the restaurants for lunch. It was a wonderful meal. The prawns were fantastic! The best part was having fun playing and interacting with the owner's 4 and 5 year old daughters. They were so sweet and happy!