Arroz By Any Other Name

would still be boring.

There is a little known fact that my guidebook conveniently left out about Ecuador. They have no cuisine. No taste buds. No spice. No variety of any kind whatsoever. They have the same meal three times a day, and every restaurant without exception sells not just an interpretation of that meal, but an exact mirror of it. Its as if every restaurant in Ecuador bought their menus from the same place. Its freaky.

And what is this meal? Chicken and Rice. Pollo con Arroz. A plate full of unseasoned white rice with a small piece of stewed chicken on the bone to the side, and a few spoons of menestra, a bland lentil or bean stew. Most of the time its served with a thin soup which is the only variety the plate ever has. Except you can choose to have beef instead of chicken, or fried fish. Thats it. As my traveling companion said, if it came down to eating chicken and rice one more time she would fast until her flight left. At the time, she wasnt to leave for three days :) Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on April 28th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Ecuador | 1 Comment »

Vilcabamba: Shangri-la? No, Shangri-lost

Vilcabamba: Shangri-la? No, Shangri-lost

Vilcabamba, Ecuador, known internationally as the valley of Eternal youth, gained popularity as such nearly 50 years ago. It achieved its fame through the discovery of a disproportionate number of centenarians in this remote mountain valley. But why? Why did they live so long?And why only here?

Many teams of scientists from many parts of the world, Japanese, Swedish, and American among them, came to find out. The Japanese said it was the ionized air. The American scientists, led by Dr. Morton Walker, concluded that it was the chelation of minerals found in the river water. Others believed it was the austere lifestyle and minimalist diet forced upon its inhabitants by nature, or the temperate climate which seldom departs more than 10 degrees from 60 at night and 80 in the day year-round. I came to find out, if I could, which of these answers was valid, if any, and if the Valley of Eternal Youth still existed, or had already passed into the pages of history. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on April 22nd, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Mexico | No Comments »

Ecuador: Dollar Store Of South America

I had heard that Ecuador wasnt able to handle large bills, but I really didnt believe it; I mean, I understand not having change for a hundred dollar bill, but a twenty? Nah, I said.

But this economy seems to run on the dollar. Not just the currency, but the unit. Everything is a dollar; whether its worth more than a dollar, or less than a dollar, they ask for a dollar.30 minute shared cab ride? A dollar. Cab ride for 2 blocks? A dollar. Beer? A dollar. Fruit? All sold as X or X pounds for a dollar. Its like living in a country sized dollar store! Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on April 15th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Ecuador | 2 Comments »

Machala Market

Now I am in the Ecuadorian city of Machala. The bus ride was without incident and on time. Well, I thought it was without incident. I later learned I lost my camera on the bus (left it under the seat), which is rather disheartening. I´m still trying to get it back, but I won´t know if I´m going to until later today. On the up side, I visited a market this morning – one of the biggest I´ve ever seen. Must have been 500 stands set up, selling all sorts of fruit, meat, vegetables, socks, radios, you name it. It´s sort of like Wal-mart only without the roof. And walls. And floor. And employee benefits.

 Anyway, I saw several new fruits I´d never seen before. I´ll post pictures here later when I get them off the (other) camera. Cherimoya, which I didn´t try (yet), Grenadilla (literally ¨little pomegranite¨) tasted like it´s name sake in many ways, but was obviously a distinctly different fruit. Quite good though. Imagine a thin but tough outer shell, with a bunch of fish eggs inside. About the size of a pear.

Three or four other fruits that I still don´t know the name of. Markets are the most fun you can have in a Hispanic town – everyone goes to them, and the food is fresh and great. Speaking of which, I´m going to go partake of some of it so I don´t have to carry it around in my backpack all day

Posted on April 11th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Ecuador | No Comments »

Expedition To Ecuador

Well, I had a delightful flight; I was seated between a Japanese exchange student and a woman on her way to Spain, and I couldnt have asked for better traveling companions. I spent the whole trip chatting about Spain on one side and learning Japanese on the other. Never having studied Japanese, thanks to Sannas kind attention I now have a good grasp of the basic vocabulary. And know the most important word/phrase (no, it isnt please; that is almost worthless in most languages) nani wa kore? (what is that?). With it and nothing but time, you can learn any language :)

She wrote out my name in Honshi characters, and in another Japanese script; Im not 100% sure what the difference is yet, but they look cool either way :)

(Picture to be inserted later)

They have the most charming alphabet song in Japan, but on a packed plane flying over the gulf of Mexico didnt seem like the right place to learn it :)

Her English was very basic, but languages are only one of many ways we express thoughts and abstract ideas to one another; and once we had a few words out of the way, we progressed quite rapidly, even talking about her thoughts about America vs. Japan towards the end of our flight; she thinks Americans are more fun than the Japanese. I guess shes never been to the midwest! (so sorry to any midwesterners who took that personally but seriously :) ).

On a separate note, we lucked out; it seems that all MD80s for American Airlines had been grounded the night before due to some maintenance problems. Something about wiring on the wheel wells. I was in favor of the FAAs decision to make them check them all, since I consider landing gear a very important part of an airplane.

Anyway, the fortunate part is that pure by accident we were on 757s and Airbus 300s so we werent grounded, but evidently 10s of thousands of people had to get rerouted and delayed, and every flight is full to the brim.  We had 27 people on standby for our plane! Today was not a good day to be an American Airlines employee. A lot of people on their way from the East Coast to Colorado Springs, who had a layover in Dallas, were rerouted through Miami(!) to Colorado Springs. One man said (only half in jest) that he was going to rack up more flyer miles than he did on his trip to Australia.

So after arriving in Guayaquil that night, finding a hotel at midnight (Best Western, $70/Triple), and trying to get onto the wifi for about 2 hours, (the fixed it as I was checking out the next day router malfunction),and sleeping, we walked from our hotel to the Iguana park. As the name implies, its a city park full of iguanas; they are literally dripping from the trees and running around the ground. Some extremely cute (and unusual) squirrels, too.

(Pictures to be inserted later)

The iguanas were 2-4 long and so tame they walked around underfoot. They also had some rather unhappy looking young Galapagos turtles there, too. One of the great things about the other Americas is that they have fruit juice bars like we have fast food joints; I had a noni, papaya, and milk shake-like-thingy. They call them Licuados aqui. I mean, here.

We sampled three different Licuados for a total price of 3.50; which at 20 ounces each I think is quite a bargain. At the same tienda – I mean, store – I bought a Humita (1$), which is basically a very very slightly sweet cheese tamale. I mean oh wait, tamale IS an English word. Well, it is now. I mean – oh, forget it. Anyway, it wasnt bad; A bit mealy for my taste, but I could definitely get used to it, and hey – it beats an Egg McMuffin.

Speaking of Egg McMuffins, there was one of the more unique McDonalds Ive seen around in Guayaquil on the Malecon – Boardwalk – with Big Macs for 1.30$. Find that in the US, I dare you!

As I write this we are bouncing along a fairly good road, on a bus ($5) making the 3-hour, 80-mile trip to Machala for the night, where we will catch a bus to Loja tomorrow, making towards our for-now destination of Vilcabamba.

Guayaquil itself? Its ok. Theyve done a lot of cleaning up in recent years, and there is like a divider running through the middle of town; north of that is the rough, dirty neighborhoods and the airport and bus station, and to the south is the Malecon and the clean streets and safety of a conspicuous police presence. Also, the hotels in town are very overpriced for what they are and what the town has to offer, and there are quite a few people trying to pressure-sell you tours to the Galapagos. So I dont like the city – though to be fair, I dislike most cities. My advice – spend a night there (since your flight from the US is gonna get there at night, whether you like it or not) and then get out of dodge. Well, after you see the Iguanas, that is
 

Posted on April 11th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Ecuador | No Comments »

Off To Ecuador

Well, Im off to Ecuador as the title suggests; after 4 years of talking about it, I am FINALLY going to get to South America. The tickets, (DFW to GYE, $570 on Hotwire) are purchased and Ill be there for 50 days. Leaving 04/09. Ironically, they say ticket prices hike on last-minute purchases; but I bought my tickets 3 weeks ago, I leave in 3 days, and the ticket prices are exactly the same as when I bought them. Freaky.

Anyway, Ill be landing in Guayaquil, Ecuador, the southern end of the country, and going to the Shangri-la of the west, Vilcabamba, where people are reputed to live a really long time. From there Ill go to Peru and see some lesser-known archaeological digs and some untouched jungles and maybe on to the salt flats of Bolivia. And with any kind of luck, Ill get to the Galapagos before I leave the country.

I intend to have all my worldly possessions in one (rather small) backpack to make traveling easy. Guidebook, ultra-lightweight windbreaker, pocket knife sharpener, swiss army knife, juggling balls, camera/camcorder, various toiletry items, and 3 changes of clothes. The rest Ill buy when I get there if I need it. Im planning to post videos of some of the things to Youtube which Ill link here as I go along.

Well, thats about it; I speak Spanish fairly well now, but I hope to be pretty much fluent when I return :) Next post: from Ecuador!

Posted on April 6th, 2008 by Natnee and filed under Ecuador | No Comments »

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