Some sadness and difficulties/Travels/Celebrations

The picture above was taken in the Presidental Palace in Quito. The arrangement of flowers is an example of the abundance of beautiful roses in Ecuador.

It’s been a difficult time for me since the death of my nephew in Texas and more recently the death of my friend of 40 years, Dick, in California and also the death of my neighbor in Cuenca, Wendi, who was my age. All reminders that life is precious.

My debit card (I get funds from the U.S.with this card) was hacked, I had my passport renewed and will have my Ecuadorian visa transferred (not completed) – both dealing with a lot of bureaucratic paperwork. And a glip in my health: I had a lump removed from the bottom of my left foot; no pathology report yet. It’s taking some time to heal emotionally and physically.

This is a long holiday weekend for Cuenca. The city is full of celebrations and fireworks every night. It is the 195th anniversary of Cuenca (3 November) and the Day of the Dead (2 Nov — a joyful celebration with meals being served, dancing and singing in the cemetaries where families are honoring their dead relatives).

Dick, my friend who died in August in California, had visited me in Ecuador in June/July and we had a wonderful 15 days together. He was my first friend to visit, so it was great to share my love of Ecuador with him. We visited Quito, the Dick in Panama hatcapital city; an area on the edge of the Amazon and stayed at the Huasquila Lodge for several days; briefly visited Banos and Riobamba in the center of Ecuador and a couple of towns, Loja and Vilcabamba, in the southern part of Ecuador and my hometown, Cuenca–where Panama hats are made.

Since Dick used an electric scooter for most of his “walking”, we hired Ecuador for All who provided us with a guide with a car. We had a couple of days of 12-hour travel in the car because of landslides and an indigenous demonstration which closed some of the roads. We were forced to find alternate roads which were longer routes to our destinations. Dick wrote an article about his trip and these were some of his observations: “I had always considered the Andes Mountains as cold, dark, foreboding and inhospitable. And, after my experience, the opposite is a better description. The mountains are alive and very green, complete with pine trees and grazing land for cattle and vast arable valleys, dotted everywhere with small settlements and villages of friendly people, including huge numbers of indigenous natives. There are people on the streets everywhere, hostels abound for visitors, and the major products for export, coffee, cacao, tropical fruits and oil, are evident throughout the land. ”

While Dick and I were in Quito, we visited several tourist sites: the Presidential Palace – quite opulent; the museum of one of Ecuador’s most famous artist, Guayasamin; the Olga Fisch Folklore Gallery – a collection of beautiful clothing, jewelry and artifacts, and took an aerial tram to a site that overlooks the city. On our travels from Quito to/from the Amazon area we visited the towns of Banos (home of many hot springs) and Riobamba and rode the Devil’s Nose Train.

Quito Presidental Palace

Quito Presidental Palace

Search results for Dick trip pix.June

The large brick building is the museum, the white building was Guayasamin's home

The large brick building is the museum, the white building was Guayasamin’s home

Visiting an indigenous village

Visiting an indigenous village

Dick trip pix.June

Our wonderful, knowledgable and talented guides Daniel and his sister Racquel

Our wonderful, knowledgeable and talented guides Daniel and his sister Racquel

The following are miscellaneous pictures taken during our trip. Ecuador is a developing country; definitely not a third-world country. Ecuador has tremendous diversity in landscapes in the four areas, ranging from the natural beauty to the highly sophisticated cities.

Search results for Dick trip pix.June3

Beautiful, natural Ecuador

Beautiful, natural Ecuador

In October, a friend and I went to Mindo, a small town northwest of Quito. It is known for the numerous birds that make that area their home, butterflies and chocolate. We hired a bird guide for the day’s travel from Quito to Mindo.  Our first stop was a small village, called NoNo, where we saw numerous kinds of hummingbirds.  While in Mindo, we stayed at The Yellow House and enjoyed being among the trees so we could enjoy “the morning chorus” of birds each morning. (I’ll create another blog with those pictures).

So the last few months have been a mixture of sadness and joy. And so many memories.  Overall, my life in Cuenca continues to be filled with on-going activities (learning Spanish and the Ecuadorian culture, being involved with the Shambhala Meditation Center — we had a one-day retreat recently, attending art shows (the most recent one involved 60 artists), enjoying the symphony, and sharing time and meals with friends in many new restaurants.  Some of my new activities have been housesitting for friends, volunteering to teach English to young people and getting to know two new expat neighbors.

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Building Bridges in CUBA, April 9 – 18, 2015

I took the above picture on the Cuban coast when we stopped to admire the ocean view.

Cuba:   population, 11.1 million
life expectancy (2012) –   79.07 (a little longer than the U.S. at 78.74)
infant mortality rate – slightly better than the U.S.
free education (including university) for all—almost 100% literacy

I chose to travel with Discover Corps/Next Step Travel

    • Ten participants + 2 U.S. guides & 1 Cuban guide
      10 participants & leaders live in the U.S.—all very interesting, well-traveled people of varying backgroundsmyself & 1 other live outside the U.S. (EC & Belize)
    • In 8 days, we visited the major sites of Havana, Cienfuegos, Trindad & departed from Santa Clara–a small part of the large island

Itinerary

    • Apr 10 Arrived in Miami (a requirement for this tour), Apr 11 Flew to Havana;  Days 1-2: Apr 11 & 12 –arrived in Miami, met U.S. guides & participants at the airport @ 4am on Apr 11
    • traveled to Havana via charter flight on an American Eagle. After arriving took a walking tour of a historical area of Havana. For me, it was a brutal morning because of early flight, no coffee or breakfast, heat (wasn’t as hot as I expected, but still got a sun/heat rash).

After being met at the airport in Havana by our Cuban guide –first picture–we saw the first glimpses of the classic cars & motorcyles,  then our first stop was Revolution Plaza* where we saw more cars–second picture, the memorial to Jose Marti & the first of many pictures of Che Guevara. classic car1

classic car2Havana* In May the Minnesota Orchestra played in the auditorum at this location (we didn’t see that building).  It seems there will be more cultural exchanges in the future.

a_028Then to Plaza Vieja: In the past this was the site of executions, processions, bullfights & fiestas–all witnessed by Havana’s wealthiest citizens, who looked on from their balconies.

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The Afro-Cuban women on the left were present for the tourists.  They were available for pictures.  This was the only time we saw this style of dress.

 

 

 

 

 

The picture below shows our group at our first lunch at a paladar (most lunches & dinners were at paladares). Paladar refers to restaurants owned by families & only legal in recent years. The food was always plentiful—lobster, fish, shrimp & pork were almost always among the choices.  I had imported lamb a couple of times (yum) with every place providing a welcome drink of (most often) rum & sometimes a complimentary cigar. DSCN7945

  • DSCN8154-001
  • checked into the Habana Libre (previously built & owned by Hilton and looked like a typical Hilton), spent the afternoon touring the colonial neighborhoods of Old Havana

Apr 13, 14, 15: Days 3-6: visited a number of sites & community projects in Havana

  • HAVANA: the Classic Cars are everywhere–the bright shiny ones are used for taxis; others are for practical personal transportation.
  • In a city of 2.1 million, the architecture is varied & a great mixture of color & styles: neoclassical, colonial & baroque, art deco, eclectic & modern. Some buildings have been kept in good repair, others need to be restored & that process has started.
  • toured the campus of Havana University, very impressive–they have  60,000 students at this location + distance learners. 

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  • DSCN8023
      • The room on the left was the room where the outreach person met us.  Everything in this room was made from Cuban resources. In this room and other places, I saw beautifully crafted furniture.
      • We heard a lecture by an economist (he gave us an amazing amount of info—now, if I could remember it all).  He was very positive about the meetings between Raul Castro and Obama.  It was exciting for us because we were in Cuba while these meetings were taking  place in Panama.

     

     

    Visited Hemingway’s home–it is a museum where we walked around the perimeter and looked in the windows.  Hemingway’s fishing boat is housed on this property.  Fishing in the ocean near Cuba attracted Hemingway to Cuba and he found this a good place to write.DSCN8129

  • had the opportunity to learn salsa at a Latin dance studioDSCN7979Community art project, Projecto Comunitario Muraleando (many artists and musicians, including children, who created art and outside murals)Project Comunitario Muraleando
  • Proyecto Trazos Libres w/ artist Santiago Hermes (on the left and the entertainer on the right)
    The artist on the left and the entertainer on the right.
    Hermes art project1 Hermes art project2
  • Havana Compas Dance, school for children + a troupe of performers was founded in 2004Habana Dance School–outstanding performance
  • Hotel Nacional de Cuba. A New York architectural firm designed the hotel, which features a mix of styles & overlooks Havana Harbor. It opened in 1930, when Cuba was a prime travel destination for Americans.  The hotel hosted many sports/political/Hollywood personalities for dining, drinking & gambling.
  • Visited Quisicuaba – a community for LGBT.  Their goal: to create a healthy socializing space to promote collective intelligence & creativity. In addition to meeting spaces where socializing & counseling (for LGBT & their families) are organized, there is an adjacent temple that was created by the family of the director. It seemed similar to the Santeria religion (we were not allowed to take pix).
  • Santeria: A religion brought over by slaves from Africa is becoming more popular. The most prevalent thing that I saw was the initiates wearing white clothing—we were told they wear white for one year.
  • Bay of Pigs MuseumBay of Pigs Museum
  • A visit with the man/his family who makes honeyHoney-maker
  • Trinidad: one-of-a-kind, a perfectly preserved Spanish colonial settlement (beautiful architecture) where the clocks stopped ticking in 1850.  We visited the mid-town square in the evening where families gathered to listen to music while the children played.Trinidad square2
  • Cienfuegos is arranged around the country’s most spectacular natural bay.  The pix below is a military officer’s club.  We had a buffet lunch there and then went for a short boat ride around the bay.
    Officer ClubWe didn’t see a lot of street musicians, but these gentlement were great.DSCN8223Staff in hospital in Cienfuegos–predominently women, as is the case in medicine and law.hospital personnelChoir of Cienfuegos, created in 1962chorus, treated us to a wonderful concert.

    Santa Clara, hoDSCN8357me of statue of Che Guevara & where his remains are buried.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the tour of Cuba; it was just too short.  The Discover Corps tour was a cultural exchange, so we visited some of the tourist highlights and also some common people.  We were always welcomed with smiles and statements of  “we’re glad you are here & are interested in our people & culture.” I learned a lot; also have many more questions. 

Cuban politics is much too complicated for me to understand or explain. I read material from many different sources & like much of the world, it depends on who you read/talk to; i.e., Fidel Castro &/or his brother, Raul – good for Cuba or not? Is Cuba a developing nation or developed—with free education & free health care (better than the U.S.), who can say? How much poverty? (Some free rations of food; housing & utilities are subsidized, no taxes). How does one gauge?

President Obama succeeded in getting Cuba taken off the List of Terrorists.  Perhaps the embargo will be lifted in the near future.  For me, that seems like a win-win for both countries, but there are many differing opinions about that also.  If you are interested, there are many things changing in the relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and lots information is being published.  Perhaps you’ll get the opportunity to visit–I encourage you to explore Cuba. 

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A Tour through Central Asia…what a great experience

The tour through Central Asia was in 2014;  now at last, I’ll share those memories.  I created a PowerPoint for friends in Cuenca and I’m copying that info into my blog.  Some of the formatting is not as I would like;  please excuse the inconsistencies.

Far Horizons Archaeological & cultural trip: Sept 25 – Oct 23, 2014:  Under Central Asian Skies: Culture & Stars through Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan & Kazakhstan + Kyrgyzstan (an extension of the organized tour).

Far Horizons Tour Group consisted of seven people

  • Tour Guide: Dr. E.C. Krupp, Director of Griffith Observatory in L.A.
  • Tour Leader: Sidsell Millerstrom, Anthropologist/Archaeologist
  • Five additional participants

Personal   Itinerary

  • Sept 25: Cuenca to Guayaquil, COPA flight Guayaquil to Panama City (2 hrs 8 min)
  • Sept 25: Panama City to JFK (5 hrs 8 min)
    • 9 hr overnight layover in JFK
  • Sept 26: Turkish Air JFK to Istanbul (9 hrs 50 min–arrgghhh)
  • 26: Overnight in Istanbul

Tour Itinerary

  • Sept 28: met tour in Istanbul Airport
    • Flew overnight to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  • Sept 29/30: Ashgabat, Nisa, Ruhy Mosque
  • Oct 1: Mary, Turkmenistan (ruins)
  • Oct 2: Dashoguz, Turkmenistan
  • Oct 3/4: Khiva, Uzbekistan
  • Oct 5/6: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
  • Oct 7/8/9: Samarkand, Uzbekistan
  • Oct 10/11: Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  • Oct 12: Sayram & Turkestan, Kazakhstan
  • Oct 13/15: Almaty, Kazakhstan
  • Oct 15-22: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstanmap1
  • map of silk road
  • The tour focused on the Silk Road(s);  I learned there were many roads, not just one.
  • TURKMENISTAN
  • Ashgabat: capital, 1 million population and a very unusual city
  • marble buildings, gov’t palaces, fountains, statues, monuments; the government is spending the profits from natural gas.  It looked like Las Vegas at night.
  • fabulous carpets, Guinness records for several “biggest”—carpet (a handmade carpet which is 301 square meters in size & weighs 1.2 tons—was not allowed to take pix), biggest flag (in the past), highest density of marble bldgs, indoor Ferris wheel + others
  • memorable women’s clothing & headdressTurkmenistan2Turkmenistan1
    • rugUZBEKISTAN:  Most populated nation in Central Asia
    • Khiva, an old walled city & the most remote & most intact of the Silk Road cities.  Pictured below is our young Uzbek tour guide & the map of Khiva.  He spoke perfect English — he had been taught English by a Peace Corps Volunteer.
    • Mohammed in Khiva, UZ
    • Jambas Kala/Toprak Kala—archeological ruins
    • Collages
    • More cotton fields than I had ever seen (with women usually hand picking the cotton)
    • Bukhara, the most complete example of a medieval city (and my favorite place of newly visited places)
    • distinctive Islamic architecture–oh my goodness, so overwhelming.  I could bore you with the hundreds of pictures that I took.  They were all so beautiful.  Of course, pictures do not do this tile work justice.  The minarets & domes were plentiful.
    • UZ5 UZ6.jpgUZ15 UZ14The woodwork was also outstanding.  The Djuma Mosque: famous for its 218 wooden columns. Each of these pillars is unique.  They represent different communities.
  • UZ2UZ3

    • UZ is the birthplace of Suzani (comes from word needle) embroidery. It is prolific; some handmade, very intricate & expensive.

UZ suszani

  • UZ hats.menwomen's scarves
  • These are examples of the embroidered hats that the men wear & the common headdress for the women (these scarves are common for the rural women of Kyrgyzstan also. 
  • Near Bukhara: Sarmysh Say Petroglyphs: provide abundant information on the life, history and culture of our ancestors. Scientists who have studied the rock paintings in the gorge tell that of the 4,000 images there is not one repeating itself. Each of the paintings is unique.
  •  My Experience in a 16th Century Turkish Bath:  Four of us from the tour (a couple of men, my friend & I) made reservations for a Turkish Bath (which we thought would be a pleasant experience. It was much different from we expected.
    • First, we were told to lay down on the rock floor; warm water was poured over us (so far, so good).  Then were told to lay on a rock platform where a woman washed us, including our hair, with sponges & soap (very harshly). We thought it included a massage; it was only the not so delicate ‘twisting’ of the arms.  The final rinse seemed like waterboarding with lots of continuous water being poured over us. Yikes, we were ready to get out of there!
  • The Ulugh Beg Observatory, built in the 15th century, was the best in the world at that time – and we saw the solar eclipse via internet!
  • observatoryobservatory2
  • The astronomers of Observatory measured the length of the year to within 25 seconds of the actual value & determined the axial tilt of the Earth so accurately that their number falls within today’s accepted range of values. They were able to accomplish what they did because the meridian arc was the largest instrument of its kind ever built.observatory3.1
  • This was the day of the solar eclipse in Oct. The tour leader & our guide created truly unusual event. The guide had internet on his cell phone (a larger one). Griffith Observatory in CA was streaming the eclipse. They were able to access the stream & we watched a few minutes of the stream from UZ.
  • Tashkent, capital city and the most cosmopolitan city in Uzbekistan
  • rode the high-speed train from Samarkand to Tashkent
  • Kazakhstan
  • cost roughly $70 million. The 214 mi high-speed line is capable of speeds up to 160 mph, with a total travel time between Tashkent and Samarkand of about two hours
  • KAZAKHSTAN: the most economically advanced of the ‘stans’, thanks to its abundant reserves of oil & most other valuable minerals.
  • The western part of the Kazakh Steppe is very sparsely populated, with between 2 & 3 people per square kilometer. Across the plains, the population density increases to between 4 &7 people per square km. Kazakh people make up the majority of the people living in the area. Russia leases approximately 7,360 square km in the southern region of the steppe for the world’s oldest space launch facility, Baikonur Cosmodrome (our tour did not visit).
  • Kazahk2
  • Almaty, the largest city & is a major commercial & cultural center, as well as its largest population center. The city is located in the mountainous area of southern Kazakhstan.
  • Tamgaly Tash petroglyphs: more than 10,000 petroglyphs, the earliest of them dating from around 2500 BC.
  • petroglyphs
  • The petroglyphs have depictions of people with sun discs instead of heads, dancers, disguised persons who may be hunters or participants in cultic performances; plus lots of different animals. It is fascinating to imagine the people who carved them: why, how and on what occasion did they do it? How long would it take?
  • KYRGYZSTAN

    1997-2000 – Served as Peace Corps Volunteer; Kyrgyzstan currently is only Central Asian country with volunteers (Russian influence?)
    2002– returned for a visit

  • 2014 – things I noticed that were different
  • more prosperity, but does that (always) lead to progress??
  • enclosed money exchange kiosks, not in the open market
  • some increase in salaries
  • large department stores selling a variety of merchandise, including umbrellas, cell phones & many, many Chinese items
  • very good roads being financed & built by Chinese
  • new multi-story office buildings & apartments (who is financing?)
  • increase in cars, people buying because of the possibility of customs union which population thinks will raise prices
  • elimination of almost all electric trolley cars, replaced by vans (marshucas) for transportation
  • increase in price of transportation for trips within Bishkek
  • children are involved in tennis & dance lessons
  • much more diversity in population; more veiled women, but I heard fewer audible calls to prayer (compared to 2002), perhaps because of increased traffic noise
  • multi-moviecinemas with game rooms; saw new movie “Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains”; friends thought it somewhat controversial because of Russian input. I thought it was a good movie that might introduce people to Kyrgyzstan
  • tour companies with knowledgeable guides, responsible drivers & comfortable vans
  • people can call a taxi from their cell phone
  • greater variety of food & restaurants
  • less gold teeth (more porcelain)
  • First Nomadic Games (Peace Corps Volunteers participated)
  • Three days of exhibitions showcased a wide variety of Kyrgyz traditions. Here at the Ethno Village over 150 yurt tents were set up inside a small national park in the mountains. Three days of exhibitions and performances were meant to showcase a wide variety of Kyrgyz traditions: chasing a girl on horseback, racing horses with a headless goat carcass, hunting with eagles—these were part of the Games.
    Kyrgyz1
  • Kyrgyz2
  • And a couple of things that were the same (& similar to Ecuador): very strong family ties & the importance of being on time is not stressed
  • Sadly, I believe corruption is still rampant
  • Visit to Peace Corps Office.  This is Aigul, the woman I worked most closely with during my Peace Corps service.
  • Nancy&Aigul
  • I heard many legends during my Central Asian Tour.  I’ll bring this blog to a close by relating one from Kyrgyzstan.  There is a legend that tells of a powerful khan who had a beautiful daughter, Monara, whom he loved very much and wanted to protect against the affections of young men.  As a result he built a tall tower in which he committed her.  The girl grew up in the tower, looking out over the valley through the four windows. Servants brought her food and drink, delivering it in a basket after climbing a ladder placed against the outside of the tower.  On day the basket also contained a scorpion which stung her, and she died from the wound.  The Khan was grief stricken and sobbed so loudly that the tower shook and the top part fell down.
  • Here is the tower of that legend, Burana Tower, situated 10 km to the south of Tokmok, KZ
  • Burana Tower
       

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July 2014 Adventures

Today’s the day, a cloudy and very cool day in Cuenca—I will finish my latest blog.  I’ve been organizing pictures for a couple of weeks.  I celebrated my third anniversary in Ecuador this week and am so happy to be in Cuenca so I can live inexpensively and be able to travel. The picture above was taken on an Alaskan cruise.

     Oh my, where do I begin? For my adventures in July 2014, I traveled thousands of miles, used a myriad of modes of transportation (Ecuadorian buses, planes, cars, trains, U.S. buses and a Disney Cruise Ship) and stayed with friends and family and in hotels, hostels and on a ship.  The only thing I missed was the tram ride in Alaska.
      1 July: A Cuencano friend and I took an EC bus to Guayaquil, spent the night there and boarded our respective planes on 2 July (mine, a COPA flight to Panama City, then LAX). That flight was delayed; the So. Calif. friend who picked me up at LAX was very patient (and made numerous trips around the airport) while I made my way through customs. The next seven days were filled with visiting with family and friends in So. Calif, planning and attending parties, shopping and meeting with financial advisors. One really fun thing that happened was while having dinner with friends at a retirement place, I was wearing my Ecuadorian shirt and one of the young waiters came to me with a big smile on his face. He had recently emigrated to Calif from Ecuador.
      10 July: My Calif. friend and I boarded the AMTRAC in Irvine, CA and traveled two days to Seattle (we had a roomette—a cozy, tiny room for two). When we arrived in Seattle, we were met by a bus and continued our journey to Vancouver, Canada where we spent a couple of days. Vancouver is a beautiful city with many, many great people. My travel companion is handicapped (rides in an electric scooter) and VC is the most handicap-friendly city that I have ever visited. My allergies were so bad that I needed to see a doctor while I was there. The host at Hostelling International (where we had a handicap room) did some research, called an eye doctor and made a same-day appointment for me. What service!
My two children/their spouses/three grandchildren made their way to Vancouver via Air Canada. After their arrival, we did some sightseeing and rode the HopOn HopOff Bus in order to see some of the city. Some oSculpture in Vancouverf the many things we enjoyed were Stanley Park, the VC skyline seen from the beach, great food, the A-Maze-Ing Laughter (the official name of the 14 bronze laughing figures and the inscription on a nearby bench,“May this sculpture inspire laughter, playfulness and joy in all who experience it”).
      14 July: We (all nine of us) met for our embarkation on the Disney Ship, Wonder for a 7-day sail to Alaska. 1-pix71Of course, we took hundreds of pictures; so, how do I pick pictures that are interesting to you? I have no idea!  Many of you have wonderful children/grandchildren (so I won’t bore you with hundreds of those pictures—just a few) and some have sailed to Alaska, so here’s just a few of my memories.  We spent the next week cruising to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. My family had two birthdays to celebrate—my 70th (on 15 July—a day at sea) and my son’s 45th (July 20) so we had a very festive cruise. 1-pix72The staff was most attentive, the Disney characters were delightful, the scenery was spectacular and the cruise was so much fun with the grandchildren (ages 11, 8 and 7) who had a blast.1-pix7
      23 July: When we returned to So. Calif, I flew to Texas to visit my (only) sister in Lubbock. I think it was on this flight with a layover in Las Vegas that I asked about the price Charles BBQ hamburgersof a banana to eat for a snack: answer, $1.83. I just laughed, said, “No, thanks. I live in Ecuador and I get bananas for 10 cents”. The cashier said, “oh tell me more about Ecuador” and I was glad to talk about my new home. My sister’s two children and two grandchildren came to Lubbock, so I got to see all of my immediate family members.  Here’s my Texas-cowboy nephew cooking hamburgers.

Yea, AlaskaMore about Alaska: 

 16 July: Tracy Arm. The Tracy Arm Fjord is located in the Inside Passage ~ 45 miles south of Juneau. Tracy Arm is not a place where visitors get off the ship. We had a day of viewing the Tongass National Forest, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, wildlife (we saw whales, and seals at a distance). There was a naturist on board who gave informative lectures regarding each place that we visited and what to look for (like these seals).1-pix73
And fun with Minnie on a cold day. Nancy with Minnie Mouse

17 July: Skagway (population, 862 residents with over 700,000 tourists each year)—the northernmost point on the Inside Passage in SE Alaska. I felt that crunch of tourists while on a short walk; I think there were only two cruise ships in port the day we were there, but I went back to the ship because I wasn’t interested in shopping in the multitude of jewelry shops. It was difficult to believe the number of shops selling gems, not even authentic Alaskan items.

18 July: Juneau—the largest capital in the U.S by land size and the only capital city only accessible via ship or air. Some of us took a bus tour with a very knowledgeable guide who told us fascinating and tragic Gold Rush stories—how thousands of people died–that I had never heard (I’m always amazed how little I know about a lot of historical events). Being on a bus didn’t allow for a lot of pictures, so no pictures of Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier was a big attraction. I went to the Visitors Center, but didn’t walk to the glacier which seemed very similar to Tracy Arm.

19 July: Ketchikan, “Salmon Capital of the World”, and also only accessible by boat or plane. As I sorted my pictures, I realized I had the most pictures of —very picturesque and interesting.1-pix74

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Sculpture and plaque showing some of the native language and also the woman drumming, a new interest of mine.

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The pictures show single bald eagles, but we saw a multitude of these regal birds. And a very special sighting of a black bear.

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Saxman Village where numerous totems are displayed. All that tell fascinating stories (wish I could remember them all).

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I’ll leave you with those last thoughts regarding the red light district–a very profitable business during the Gold Rush days.
It was a wonderful month of great memories. Now, I’m busy planning my next trip.

Saludos…

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Already May…how time flies when having great adventures

Ecuador, especially in & near Cuenca (where I live) never fails to offer me more things/events that I can enjoy/possibly attend–there is a dance performance tonight, but I am determined to finish this blog. And I also (still, after 2 yrs & 8 months) experience some minor challenges. Some of the most recent experiences: I participated in two outstanding excursions; first, a group of women traveled to a 100-year old hacienda in the lower region of the Cajas Mountains. It was located near the Yanuncay River (picture above)—it was a very serene setting for an afternoon of rest & relaxation.1-P1100272

Some of the women played cards & dominoes & some of us walked along the river, explored the hacienda (complete with a large dining table where we ate typical food of humitas, tamales & fresh apple juice–notice the pile of apples ready for juicing) & a fireplace. 1-hacienda  pix.22Abr2

1-hacienda  pix.22Abr4The grounds included a chapel (center pictures above), gardens, cows, ducks & me! 1-hacienda  pix.22Abr3

1-hacienda  pix.22Abr

On the way to the hacienda, we stopped at a unique woodworker’s shop/museum.  He showed us many of his creative pieces, all made from wood that he found on his/surrounding property; thus an EcoMuseo. 1-hacienda  pix.22Abr1

The second excursion was with a tour company who took us to the Jardin Botanico & Huertos La Macarena (Botanical Gardens & Orchards). This site is near the town of Paute which is about an hour’s drive from Cuenca & at a lower elevation; we had a warm, sunny, dry day—it’s our rainy season (it rains in Cuenca almost every day). This botanical garden was created on 5 hectares by man & his two sons; they have done a terrific job (my pictures don’t do it justice).  There were some trees on the land, but they have added numerous species from within the different regions of Ecuador & also from other countries.  Paths were created throughout the garden for easy walking.  The fern that is shown in the middle is the largest species in the world & notice the vine with fruit on the tree on the right.1-JardinBotanico.pix.27abr 1-JardinBotanico.pix.27abr1 - Copy (2)

They invited us into their hacienda for a snack.  As always, they were perfect hosts & showed us the memorabilia they had collected (the phonograph record was actually playing on the turntable). They also shared the sugar cane alcohol that they produce–quite smooth and tasty.1-JardinBotanico.pix.27abr5

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Some of the equipment used in making the sugar cane alcohol.

This is the surrounding landscape in the area.1-JardinBotanico.pix.27abr2 - Copy

Both trips reminded me again how beautiful & diverse the landscape of Ecuador is –& how open & wonderful the people are. Just an hour west of Cuenca is the Cajas National Park with gorgeous mountains (very cold at the higher elevations), lakes & numerous hiking trails. An hour east, we descend to a lower altitude with warmer temperatures. These physical traits are beautiful to the eyes, but the people warm my heart. They welcome foreigners with patience while we are practicing our manners & learning Spanish (a challenge for me to remember what to say when).
♥The Ecuadorian custom is to greet people you know or those you are meeting for the first time with kiss on the left cheek & the verbal greeting of buenos dias, buenas tardes or buenas noches depending on the time of day & “how are you?”. As expats, we are learning that all transactions, personal & business, are about relationships. Every time I meet with my landlady, her family, the vendors in the mercados, or walk into a store, I am expected to acknowledge people with a greeting—not rush in, say I need this & this, buy & walk out! Expats continue to learn patience & flexibility. Two additional common challenges are to keep our stomachs happy & to walk very carefully on the uneven & rough sidewalks in some parts of the city.   I had a bacterial infection last week (had to stay close to the bathroom) & when I walked to the store (& was daydreaming & not looking where I was walking), I tripped & fell, scraping my knee & ripping my jeans…ouch!
Within the city of Cuenca, there is an explosion of street art. As I understand it, the mayor’s office in Cuenca is commissioning artists to decorate many of the walls in the city & they are varied & wonderful.  These are just a few that are in my neighborhood, but there are hundreds throughout the city.  1-Cuenca street art women in hats 1-street art + necklace

C1-P1100346uenca currently has art shows at many locations throughout the city & that recently coincided with a festival (Founding Day of Cuenca) where the river bank was lined with booths of arts & crafts—what a treat (& a great shopping opportunity). My purchase was a beaded necklace made by the women from a nearby town, Otavalo.
♥A previous excursion was to the town of Cañar to visit Michael & Judy Blankenship. I have utmost respect for the Blankenships because they are the only expats living that area & are totally immersed in Cañari culture & have built a beautiful home.  Judy is a photographer, blogger (Cañar Chronicles) & author (her books detail their adventures–Cañar: A Year in the Highlands of Ecuador & Our House in the Clouds) & now has established a foundation to assist Cañari women in getting a higher education.  Bravo!1-street art + necklace1

♥Last week I attended an all-day seminar on Love, Health & Food which included info on raw/living food (all the good fresh food that is available in Cuenca), cleanses, Ayurveda & a talk by a nutritional researcher & author about how putting love into food changes the attributes of the food.  Sunday afternoon I attended the newly-formed Community Theater Group where the actors directors are expats. They performed four one-act plays that were a lot of fun. The small theater was packed for three performances.
♥Previously my expat neighbors (in our 4-plex) & I were invited to a wedding reception for the niece of our landlady. That was my latest night ever—dining, music, dancing & drinking until 2am!  Now that makes me (closer) to being an Ecuadorian.
♥I am a member of a drumming circle, attend the free symphonies, dance performances, & art shows, enjoy the festivals & parades, participate in tours & travel when I can (I’ll be in the U.S. in July), prepare most of my meals at home—that takes a lot of time with shopping in several places, washing, chopping, & cooking & on some occasions have lunch with the women’s group & dinner with others, continue to take Spanish lessons & enjoy the Buddhist studies, read (there are a couple of book exchange centers now), watch downloaded movies & explore this beautiful city & country. I never imagined that I would experience such a rich & interesting culture during my retirement.

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2014 Travel Adventure, Easter Island, part 2

I’ll write some words and post a few pictures, but written words and pix can’t really capture the fascination I felt for my trip to Easter Island.  I had read a little about the Island that included comments that a visitor could easily spend 3 – 5 days exploring the island.  Silly me, I thought I could see most of the island in a day and a half, so that was the time I allotted for seeing the archaeological sites of Rapa Nui.  That was a very uninformed decision and I regret not spending longer. 

The ship provided us with a book about the Island, A Companion to Easter Island by James Grant-Peterkin, 2nd edition published in 2012. If you are interested in a good, succinct reference, I recommend it.

DSCN6414On the all-day tour, I had an excellent guide, a young historian who had studied in Chile and had a long ancestral history on the island.  He did not agree with Jared Diamond’s book, Collapse; however, I found very few contradictions with his words and Grant-Peterkin.

I’ll regress a minute and show you the people who I got to know best on the ship:  my table mates who I ate dinner with every night I was on the ship.  This picture was taken the last night that I was on the ship:1-Easter Island Jan 21

I’ll mention that in the past, I thought that a trip around the world was a “once in a lifetime event”, but I have learned that people take these trips on a regular basis (sometimes yearly).  In additional to traveling extensively, every person at the dinner table, and almost everyone I met, had sailed multiple times around the world.  Dolly, pictured above on the right had taken 20 trips—she’s in her 90s, has a wonderful sense of humor and is a delight to meet/talk to. 

As the Amsterdam cruised toward Easter Island, we were told there were two possible harbors where the tenders could take passengers ashore.  On the day we were to arrive, the captain made the decision to anchor and send tenders to the small harbor, Hanga Piko, near the village of Hanga Roa, home to 95% of the island’s population (which totals ~5,800 inhabitants).  Even from the ship, I could see the waves breaking against the black basalt rocks on the coast.  As I toured the island the next day, I was in awe of  the beauty of the shoreline.1-DSCN6393

There are so many facets to the island (as summarized in the book mentioned above): its long history (beginning with its formation between 3 million and 750,000 years ago), the early settlers in 700 AD, the carving of the statues (~ 1000 – 1600 AD) and the importance of the time when the eyes were inserted, the religious beliefs, the Europeans who started arriving in 1722, the toppling of the statues (there were 10 tribes and turbulent competition was common among them and they often toppled the statues of opposing tribes), the slave raids and missionaries (1862 – 1866), the theories about the cutting down of the trees, the annexation by Chile (1888), the petroglyphs, the Birdman Competition plus many more facts about the island as it is today. In 1995, the Rapa Nui National Park, which makes up over 40% of the island, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there has been a surge of visitors.

After I arrived on the island, I walked around the village.  Hanga Roa is a quiet village and similar in some ways to small villages in EC.  I saw the beautiful coral trees, wooden statues, arts and crafts, the occasional person on a horse (they are plentiful on the island) and visited the Church of the Holy Cross which was built ~ 100 years ago.  The church is home for interesting wooden sculptures–some honoring fish, the staple food, and others have religious significance and a lot of symbolism that I didn’t understand. 1-Easter Island Jan 213

1-Easter Island Jan 211There are a myriad of places to stay on the Island; I stayed in a hostel on the main street.  Near the beach I found two interesting choices–an Eco Lodge, complete with an earth roof with grass and a camping site:1-Easter Island Jan 214

In the evening I attended a performance of cultural dance which was as colorful, enthusiastic and energetic as I have ever seen.  It was extraordinary.

The next day, I took an all-day tour and visited 6 sites (only 6 of at least 27 moai sites). 1. The first site was a small display of statues that had not been restored; the statues are face down with the topknots (thought to resemble the hair style of the original inhabitants) lying on the ground near them. 1-Easter Island Jan 215

2. Akahanga, another unrestored site.  Not a stone has been moved at this site for almost 300 years and archaeologists are still studying the statues and platforms and new knowledge is being gained.  We saw the remains of boat houses (named ‘boat’ because of their shape), the primitive ovens and a cave. 1-Easter Island Jan 217

3.  Ahu Tongariki, the largest ceremonial platform with 15 colossal restored moai (length, ~722 ft).  The platform was restored between 1992 and 1996 by a team from the University of Chile and was paid for by the Japanese government (cost: over 2 million). 1-Easter Island Jan 218

4. Rano Raraku, the quarry where nearly all of the moai were carved, and where almost 400 unfinished moai still lie.  “Rano Raraku remains one of the greatest and most curious creations of mankind, a monument to the great lost unknown behind us…”  Thor Heyerdahl.1-Easter Island Jan 219

5.  Ahu Te Pito Kura, the largest moai (~33 ft and an excess of 70 tons) ever to have been stood on a platform, plus the magnetic stone.  Because of the high iron content, it causes compasses to behave erratically. 1-Easter Island Jan 2110

6.  Anakena, the island’s main beach has calm and temperate ocean ideal for swimming and surfing.  And also having a snack of fresh pineapple. 1-Easter Island Jan 2111

1-Easter Island Jan 2112

What a life…What an adventure!  What’s next?  I know a trip to the U.S. and an Alaskan Cruise in July.  Otherwise, I’m open to life as it happens.

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2014 AND another travel adventure…part 1

Several months ago, a long-time friend who lives in So Calif, Dick, emailed me that he was sailing on a Holland America cruise that would leave Florida, travel through the Panama Canal and dock in Manta, EC on 11 Jan.—“would I like to join the cruise?”  Could I say no—not hardly.  My plan was made: I would travel via bus to Manta on 8 Jan, stay a couple of days to explore Manta and Montecristi and board the ship on 11 Jan.  I would cruise a total of 11 days, including a stop in Lima, Peru and then disembark on Easter Island IF the ocean wasn’t too rough.  That last clause gave me pause because that made reserving a hotel on Easter Island and plane reservations back to Ecuador difficult.  There is only one plane leaving Easter Island for Santiago, Chile (then Guayaquil, EC) per day, so I felt I couldn’t wait until the last minute.  So I made the reservations and hoped for calm weather (sometimes the planes can’t leave because of high winds).  THE DAY arrived and all was calm, whew!  Everything went as planned with no difficulties with schedules—for my flights, I chose LAN to Santiago, spent the night (wished I’d stayed longer), then flew to Guayaquil.  LAN upgraded me to business class–what a treat.  Note for Ecuadorian expats who qualify for senior discounts:  When I went to the LAN office in Cuenca and priced the flights, the first quote for a one-way ticket from Easter Island to Guayaquil was over $2,000—that pricing did not include the discount because the flight did not originate in EC.  I asked the agent to check pricing for a round-trip ticket from EC with discount; much cheaper, even though I didn’t use the first tickets. Other reminders regarding the high ­­expenses of travel:  Many times during this trip, ‘others in ports’ charged more than was advertised or discussed.  I made the mistake of not changing money in Easter Island because I was told that it was not necessary; everyone accepts American dollars.  Yes, but it was not easy to negotiate prices in Am. dollars­­­.  My biggest shock was the taxi charge from my hotel to the airport in Santiago:  $32.  I had taken a van ($11) from the airport the prior evening, but when I arrived at the hotel, I would told it was too late to ‘order a van ride’ for the next morning.  Ouch!  I am so spoiled living in EC where almost everything is very reasonably priced.  I appreciate Ecuador even more when I travel to other countries.

My stay in Manta was mixed.  I made a reservation at an Airbnb home which was outside the center of Manta (hostess didn’t mention this) and no public transportation was available, so I had to take taxis everywhere.  Of course addresses had changed and other addresses were hard to find so it was inconvenient.  The first day I spent the day at the Murcielago Beach and the Banco Central Museum.  The weather for the beach was perfect so I walked a lot and had a delicious ceviche lunch.  Manta is known for their tuna fishing (and I had a great dinner of fresh tuna).  It’s a resort town with high rise buildings and many vendors at the beach, including mango milkshakes…yummy.  The beach was peaceful the day I was there.  I enjoyed walking and perusing the vendor’s items, even saw a book seller and said “hello” to Goofy. 1-Manta2 1-Manta3
The anthropological museum was outstanding.  My Spanish is not good enough to understand all the verbiage, but the displays were impressive.  1-Manta1 1-Manta

The next day, I took the bus to Montecristi.  It’s a delightful small town (in fact I nearly missed it because the bus driver didn’t announce the town) known for their fine Panama hats and tagua jewelry (made from tagua nuts).  The town is clean, friendly—people spoke to me on the street—and handicap-friendly (I saw several people in wheelchairs managing by themselves because of the ramps that were available). 1-Recently Updated6
The town square is much like others in EC; this one had a statue and mosaic of Eloy Alfaro, a former president of EC and the usual Catholic Church.  I like to go to the churches to see the architecture, the marble, the stained glass and the wonderful carved doors. 1-Recently Updated7 1-Recently Updated8

On Saturday, it was time to board the ship.  I was a little apprehensive because all these arrangements had been made via email with no personal assurance from the captain that these arrangements were totally o.k.  What if they wouldn’t let me on the ship, etc, etc, etc.  When I arrived, all had been arranged—the boarding crew had my name and all the paperwork and my boarding was accomplished smoothly. We left the Manta harbor later that evening and cruised toward Lima, Peru. The ship was docked in Lima for a couple of days in order for the people on board to fly to Machu Picchu.  I want to visit more of Peru, but decided this was not the most cost effective way to travel (meaning taking a ship’s excursion).  There was a small vendor on the dock where local items were for sale.  I loved the mannequin that was dressed in a traditional Peruvian costume.

DSCN6300My friend and I decided to take a taxi tour of Lima for 3 hours ($25/hr).  We had been assured the drivers spoke English so things could be explained, but that was not the situation with our taxi driver.  He drove, we looked.  When we took a drive along the coast, the most unusual and colorful place was the Park of Love, which reminded me of Gaudi in Barcelona.  1-Lima Peru
In the central part of the city, there were the typical parks, monuments, churches, street art (which I love) and Spanish-inspired architecture. 1-Lima Peru1

In the evening, I took an excursion, The Magic Water Park Tour, arranged by the ship.  The park with 13 fountains is the largest fountain complex in the world.  There are a variety of fountains that are lit at night and one with a jet of water that reaches 262 feet.  The pictures on the right show the circular fountain where the children played as the jets of water shot sporadically in the air–great fun for the kids.  The Fantasia Fountain, which is 394’ in length, displayed a laser and picture show that was synchronized to music.  It began with classical music and displayed a ballerina dancing.  Later, Peruvians were displayed dancing to their music.  To me, it was Disneyland (Tinkerbell made an appearance) and Las Vegas glitz combined into a fantastic show.  A must see if you are in Lima.  1-Lima Peru2  
As the Holland America was sailing in the middle of the ocean, an announcement was made that the captain had noticed a small fishing ship with men aboard who were waving and seemed to be in distress.  The captain changed the course and sailed closer to this small vessel.  A life boat was discharged from the Holland America and motored to the fishing boat.  The 6 or 8 fisherman said their boat had trouble, they had been stranded with no food and water for 3 days and that their boat had no working radio.  The life boat crew came back to the HAmerica, got food/water from the supply room and took it back to them.  The fisherman reported that they worked for a company that would be looking for them in a few days so they declined any more assistance. The picture below is that small fishing boat. DSCN6274I’ll close today with that event and continue at a later date with pictures of Easter Island.
It’s been a strange day in Cuenca. For the second time in history, wind brought volcano ash to Cuenca from an erupting volcano that is 100+ miles north of us. It was suggested that we stay indoors unless we had a mask to wear, so I stayed in my apartment and worked on my blog.
Hasta Luego…

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