Banos “The Baths”

First time I’ve ever bathed in mineral pools for 4 hours! Feeling pretty good! The saga of traveling, especially solo, is that you just never know what the next turn will be. This time, on the long trip from Quito to the bustling tourist town of Banos (know for volcanoes, waterfalls, “extreme adventure,” taffy, and way too many tourists) I met a Canadian woman and her son traveling together for a month in her home country. It’s made the time here so much more enjoyable. Rocio & Dillan are great fun and she has strong mothering instincts so has somewhat taken me under wing, at least in introducing me to many of the things I may not have seen, food I may not have eaten, and Spanish I was desperately needing.  

Since it is Saturday tomorrow, I am leaving Banos to get down into the jungle, with the hope of getting a little bit further ahead of the swarms of weekend tourists that will descend on Banos SOON. Rocio and Dillan will be in Banos a week, so we will meet again. 

So, I haven’t even gotten to the jungle and I am covered with bites. The mosquitoes are already on to me! Funny thing is, they are quite cunning and devious in these parts and they must be practically microscopic. One never hears them, sees them, or feels them . . . until after the little swollen, itchy bites appear. I’m thinking that at least in the jungle, where everything is bigger, the little buggers will be apparent so they can be slapped, squashed, and treated with the infamous DEET. Yes. Decided not to go the malaria pill route, so I will be depending on pharmaceuticals, mosquito netting, and garlic pills. I think the key will be mind over matter. Don’t think about them and don’t scratch them! ImageImageImage


Fran Turns Condor: Flying Over the Cloud Forest

Mindo, Ecuador

Mindo, Ecuador

Cascada Madre

Cascada Madre

Ready to Fly

Ready to Fly

In flight over the cloud forest...

In flight over the cloud forest…

My birds eye view

My birds eye view

Owl Butterfly

Owl Butterfly

I found a very special place: Mindo. It’s a little bohemian town about two hours west of Quito in the cloud forest. Some of the buildings are Oregon Country Faire-ish, a few residents sport dreads, and I spotted a bohemian painting a magic mushroom mural on “main street.” Luckily, I ended up here on a weekday and was the only patron in the hostel last night. Very quiet and peaceful. Somehow, this place was “discovered” a few years back and is a popular destination for backpackers, hikers, etc. I think there are more hostels than houses in town. Nonetheless, we are all here for the incredible beauty and serenity of the cloud forest. The cloud forest is at a higher elevation than the rain forest and creates and traps it’s own moisture (clouds). When I first arrived, it reminded me of a misty morning in Eugene.

 Fran on a zip-line thousands of feet above the ground??!! It’s that kind of vacation–-–where you just have to expand your mind/body and think and do things differently. Was I scared? No. Terrified! at first. I somehow remember in all my years of skiing that the chair lifts are fitted with double cables in the rare event that one breaks. Not so in Ecuador, and no one seems to be concerned about the lack of that safety feature. It’s a poor country . . . but it’s my life!  The harnesses were a bit of a concern as well. As my guide  reached for one to strap me into, I pleaded in my poor Spanish for him to put me in one “mas nuevo”, as some of the webbing appeared rather frayed. (It’s history now, as I am alive and well in my cozy hostel room.) What an experience! There were 10 different zip lines and I flew them all. One in spread condor formation. The pictures best tell the tale.

 So I continue to keep burping out Hebrew while searching for Spanish words, and, what a small world! Here I was, alone at the base of a waterfall in the cloud forest, doing a mikvah thing in my underware and someone up on the bridge above (who I hadn’t seen arrive) is taking a picture of me. I later climb up onto the bridge to ask them to please take a picture of me for my daughter, WITH my clothes on, . . . and, why, they are a family from Israel!! We chatted in Hebrew a bit, hugged, and they invited me to come to their home in Tel Aviv.

 The hike to a series of 5 waterfalls was beautiful. I mean, we have even more dramatic waterfalls in Oregon, but the plant life is astounding. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, surrounded by all my house plants! Truly!  I saw many of them, and some with leaves as big as coffee tables, that would certainly hold enough water for a good 5 minute shower.

Met some Aussies. They’re are a chipper bunch, in my age bracket, and lots of fun to chat with. We reveled in conversation and stories about being in our 50’s and what we’ve done, want to do, and the struggle, economically, to make it all happen.

Tonight, I thought I was getting a message that I’m meant to be in Mindo. The one ATM in town is broken, I’m out of cash, and well, I could just look for a job . . . Kindly enough, the hostel patrons (she was born it Portland!) are giving me a cash advance so I can make my way back to Quito, and a bank. Hmm. Mixed feelings. This place DEFINITELY needs a bagel shop.


Lake Cuicocha, Ecuador’s “Crater Lake”

Animal Market in Otavalo


The Crepe Maker

The Crepe Maker

The local, available food is pretty important when you’re traveling on a minimalist budget. Eating three times a day can add up quickly. I love this country! This evening, I sat in the marketplace with the locals at dusk and let a sweet, indigenous woman with a beaming smile, feed me her magic till I was all warm inside and ready to retire early for the night. Chicken soup (rivaled my own!), chicken, rice, potatoes, and beets. All for $1.50. Unbelieveable!! Then I topped it off with a Pan de Mais, and a pastry filled with mermelada. (The little boy who sold it to me was very pleased to teach me a new word in Spanish.)

It’s been a good day. Arrived in Otavalo at 9:30am and took in the market place, visited the town of  Cotacachi, known for it’s leather craft, and took a boat ride on volcanic Lake Cuicocha. Heading down into the Cloud Forest tomorrow.

First Night: Lost in Quito with a cabbie

Landing at night in a foreign country is certainly less than ideal. I thought I’d eased my concerns when I found myself sitting with an Ecuadorean family of five (3 cute kids!) from Houston to Quito. The father insisted on asking his cousin (arriving by van ) if he’d drop me at the hostel in Quito. That was nice. But my peace of mind was soon shattered by the chaos of customs, daunting lines, and a different gate for those with young kids. I entered the doors of Ecuador into a huge sea of like faces, welcome signs, hawking cabbies . . . and I didn’t see them anywhere. I looked hard. A blue dress, white shirt, stroller? I was once again on my own. Resigned to finding my way solo, I grabbed the nearest cabbie and headed for Quito.

A nice guy, maybe 50’s, rosary hanging from the mirror, no English. Resolved to delve right into improving my Spanish, we bantered back and forth all the way to the city. My Spanish is attrocious! I say “Donde esta . . .?” way to much, and darned if Hebrew words don’t keep slipping in! My brain scans for a foreign language, any foreign language apparently, and it just uploads.

Driving into Quito reminded me of Boston. I quickly lost any sense of direction (where’s the ocean?) and with each near 180 degree turn,  the adrenaline pumped. Where are we?? With each turn the cabbie kept saying, “Aqui es Quito!” After an hour, we reached the old city and he scanned old buildings for the address I gave him. And we drove, and drove, and drove . . . up and down cobbled streets, backtracking again and again. At 1:15am, I was almost beside myself. There was no sign of the hostel I booked. The address didn’t exist, and the one place with a similar name, had a “timbre” that no night watchmen answered. The pannicked cabbie stopped 4 other cabs, 2 police cars, a street cleaner, and couple of late night stragglers. Every one of them gave us directions that led to nowhere. Finally, 2am, I pointed to another hostel, “Guayunga”, and told him, if someone was up and would let me in, that is where I would sleep. Yes! Got a 4-bed dorm room to myself  . . . and I don’t remember anything after that. I’d been in transit for 20.5 hours.

Nice place! Run by an Ecuadorean family. Wandered around the city today till my swollen knee bade me stop. But was proud that I successfully negotiated two pharmacies, with no English speakers, and got what I needed. Tomorrow, off to Otovalo!!

My first view of Quito:Image

The Sierra Nevada & Reflections on Broccoli

Ok. So I promise not to post every few hours, but hey, this is exciting stuff, and so far, it’s just me and the Macbook. But I did meet an engineer from S. India, a 20 something from Austria (who braved me watching his bags), and am now sitting next to a little Polynesian boy and mom, in route to Houston from Hawaii. I’m thinking the flight attendant has the primo job! Would they train a 59 yo??

Cruising over the Sierra Nevada, that familiar sea of granite that marks my younger years in the mountains, I spotted Half-dome, standing boldly like a dear old friend, blessing me on my way.  I’m certain I saw Hetch Hetchy Valley and glimpses of Tuolomne meadows too– through the clouds. And Mono Lake hasn’t moved either (or the tiny town of Lee Vining), though it’s shoreline has shrunk considerably since the 70’s and it’s quickly becoming a remnant of the lake I recall.

Remembering that airplane food is pretty “rot gut.”  I packed some food from home to keep me satiated. A tuna sandwich, power bars, and fresh picked broccoli. The broccoli is comfort food; little bites of home. The garden is beginning to burst. Not an easy time to leave home. I’m thinking maybe I should finish the broccoli before I hit customs in Quito. Do they grow broccoli in Ecuador? Know what it is? For a split second, I saw myself in a little room with inspectors quizzing me in Spanish about the strange plant I’m carrying into the country. Must be that movie I saw at the Redbox, but didn’t get. “Left to Die.” Not watching that one till after this trip!

And what weird aeronautic discovery made them start turning up the tips of airplane wings? Doesn’t that reduce the effective surface area for the Bernoulli Effect? Not a thought to dwell upon during this turbulance . . .

I needed this trip. Needed perspective. I’m just a few handfuls of atoms relative to this timeless expanse. I’m small. Insignificant to the big picture. And because of that,  everything is going to be alright.

In Transit. Interlude Begins

Sitting in the SF airport. A bit like the cutting of the umbilical cord; leaving home. Can’t believe how much there is to do to get out. Cleaning coops, notes for housesitter, plant the beans (for food on return), get proper clothes for Rio, make copies of everything. I even mailed off my will to the lawyer yesterday. Just coincidence, preparing it now. Got a freebee and it seemed like the right time. Ok, so I will be traveling on SA airlines . . . but that wasn’t what clinched it. Almost  60 and its a good thing to have spelled out. The kid gets the house, my meager savings, and a toyota pushing 275, 000 mi.  What a deal!

I find airports fascinating. Who knows where all these people are going! Bouncing around in this one building like random molecules. You can feel the travel stress. Will I make my flight? Will my baggage arrive? Do I really have to go home?

I’ve had only 3-hours of sleep, so am not very alert. Bad way to enter the foreign shores of S. America at 11pm! Hopefully I’ll knock some z’s on the airplane.

So how does one lose a red sweatshirt at the Eugene Airport, between security and Gate A?? Good thing I had plenty of time before boarding to track it down. Definitely not clear headed this morning. And, good thing I lost a bit of weight or this passport belt would not fit in my pants! Got to get use to having this lifeline tied around my belly.

Well, boarding in 5 minutes. On to Houston!