Thursday, December 31, 2009

Back in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador

We took the shuttle bus back to Guayaquil yesterday, and spent a sultry night back at Ecuahogar. I don't recommend this place--it is too run down with no apparent effort at maintenance.

We sent Nicki and Phil off to the Guayaquil airport at 5:30 this morning. Rather than call a reputable taxi for us, they sent us out on the street to wave down our own taxi. One of the 20 reasons I don't recommend Ecuahogar in Guayaquil.

We haven't heard from them, so assume they are safely back in Melbourne by now.

Dave and I took the 9:45 Reina del Camina bus to Bahia, arriving at about 3:15pm. We are glad to be home!

Now we start our final preps for leaving for the Galapagos.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Around Cuenca

We have spent a couple of days sightseeing around Cuenca. Both Nicki and Dave came down with the 'touristas' so we've passed on some of the more strenuous stuff. We have all been enjoying our 'vacation'.

Dave and I took the 'Cuenca City Tour' on a double-decker bus. It is a 2-hour drive around town past the major sights (mostly churches). The last stop is the church up high on the hill overlooking the city. We didn't get much in the way of pictures, because we took our tour at night.

The next day, while Nicki was hanging out in the hotel with 'stomach issues', Dave and Phil and I hiked out to the Arenal Market. This is a HUGE open-air market in which they sell everything from shoes, to plasticware, to fish, to veggies, and even 'Cuy' (guinea pig). But we never found any handicrafts. They may be there, but we did a 'random walk' through the market for about a half an hour and didn't find them. This market is mostly for locals, not tourists.

On our walk out there, we passed the Flower Market and yet another 'Christmas Parade'.

And of course we visited some churches. There is almost an old spanish-style church on every street corner here. The big one on the square is so big that we had a hard time capturing the whole thing. The white one is the first church in Cuenca, circa late 1500's.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Touring the Ingapirca Ruins

When we set out to see the Ingapirca ruins from Cuenca, we had 2 or 3 choices. Our friends chose a dedicated tour, for $48 per person. We didn't think that was necessary. We chose the $5 bus ride instead. The price was certainly right, and we got to see how the real Ecuadoreans live.

But after it was all over, Nicki commented "Next time, Mom, lets make sure the time at the site is longer than the bus ride." (5 hour bus ride, 1 1/2 hour there)

We had been told that the bus ride was only 1 hour each way. You might be able to make it in a car in an hour, but in the bus, it took 2 and a half hours, each way. Our bus stopped for anyone on the side of the road who waved it down. By the time we got into the major town of Cañar, there were people standing in the aisle. We also had at least one 5-minute wait for 'road repair'. Plus a stop in each major town at the bus station. And on Saturdays, the bus comes back at 1pm instead of 2pm.

But it turns out that an hour and a half were just about enough time to see what there was to see. It would have been nice to have another hour to browse the local craft vendors tables, and get a bite to eat.

Segundo Shows Us How to Grind Corn

We had a good English-speaking guide, named Segundo. He was well acquainted with the local history and the structures there. He guides for tips, so we gave him $5 for the four of us. Plus we had a couple of other people join our group during the tour.

Ingapirka has ruins from two cultures: The Cañari and the Inca. The Cañari started there in about 800 AD, and the Inca first tried to conquer them, and then intermarried with them, in about 1400 AD. The ruins and the architecture are nothing like the quality and the extensive ruins in Cuzco, Peru. But it was interesting all the same. Certainly worth a day and $11 per person (bus + entry).

The Primary Inca Structure at Ingapirka

More about Ingapirka on Wikipedia

Urban Meyer resigns as UF football coach citing health reasons

Aaaak! If you're a Gator fan, and you haven't already read about it, you can get it all here on

Seems his 24-hour-a-day 7-day-a-week super high pressure job is getting to him!! Oh how I can identify with that.

But, I also agree with Dave's cousin Bryan, the quintessential Gator fan:

"Why us?
Just when things were set for years.
Wonder if Bobby Bowden needs a job?
I'm on suicide watch!"

Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Day in Cuenca

We had a great Christmas Eve and Christmas day. We shared Christmas eve dinner with the owners of our hotel (Casa Ordonez). It was very nice of them to invite us to eat with them, and quite a homey touch.

We had a great american-style Christmas breakfast (included in the room price) and then went out to walk around town. Most things are closed, but we did get to go into the big cathedral (amazing) and walk along the 'waterfront' (more like a babbling brook). By afternoon some of the shops had opened up and we went gift shopping for a few of Nicki and Phil's friends. Dave also bought me a nice pair of handmade earings for Christmas.

The evening was capped by a nice Christmas dinner at a local restaurant, the Eucalyptus Cafe. It caters to 'gringos' and does a great job at it. They had Christmas music in english (on CD) and then some live local music for an hour. Very nice.

Today we head out for the Inca Pirca ruins nearby. More to follow.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I just got this email from my brother John... the brother who used to give me my Christmas present in a brown paper bag.

But I can identify so much with it:

Twas the night before Christmas and when all through the house,
Not a card had been sent,
The stockings were not hung the tree was not even up,
I jumped in my car and dashed out to Walmart to buy cards,
The lines were too long so I cracked open my computer,
In hopes everyone would accept my email card and poem,
I knew in a moment that all would receive their email card,
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And I whistled and shouted, and inserted their names,
(insert names here)
and all those we carry in our hearts!!


We have been really busy getting Soggy Paws ready for the open sea. Our date with destiny is Jan 7, which is only 2 weeks from now! And we are spending this week with Nicki in Cuenca, Ecuador.

We never put up a Christmas tree, and we hardly listened to Christmas music. We are on teh Equator (almost) and it's been hot and very un-Christmas-like. We got to Cuenca too late to watch the annual Christmas parade. But we have family here, and we know our friends and family in the U.S. and all over the world, are thinking about us, as we are about them.

We are so grateful for the internet, Facebook, email, and blogs!!!

Merry Christmas to all, from Ecuador.

Sherry & Dave

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Collaborative Efforts

One of the things I love most about the cruising life is the support community, and this is why we missed Bahia so much.

Dave Teaches a Class on Water Pump Repair

Our world is one of shared adventure/shared adversity. So we become nearly instant friends with the other cruisers in an anchorage. At Puerto Amistad, there is a 'palapa' built specifically for the cruisers. A palapa is a Central American word for an open air thatched hut. But this one has a power plug every 2 feet, so no matter how many computers, iPods, cell phones, etc one brings ashore, there are enough outlets to plug everyone in.

The palapa is a cruiser's meeting place, away from the bar, where we can bring our computers in, hang out and use shore power and faster wifi, exchange books, music, DVD's, travel stories, maintenance issues, etc. Not a day goes by where there isn't a long discussion about some important issue... everything from renewing visas in Ecuador, to buying batteries, to outboard motor problems.

For example, a boat here called Dream Caper is looking for new batteries. Over the past couple of weeks there have been discussions on (a) reviving their old batteries (b) shipping heavy stuff into Ecuador (c) the merits of sailing back to Panama for batteries (d) Locating deep-cycle batteries for sale in Ecuador (e) The merits and downside of AGM batteries. I think they finally settled on buying Chinese AGM's via Quito. No Golf Cart batteries to be found here, unfortunately, and they don't want to go back to Panama.

As another example, we were having waterpump problems. We had several discussions ashore about our pump issues, and discivered that the boat next to us, Victoria, is also having water pump problems. So when Dave sat down with this box of spares to take apart our water pump and repair it, Kim and Pierre from Victoria came over and got a lesson from Dave in water pump repair.

Another boat, Amigo, is having his Perkins Front End taken apart by the local diesel mechanic. Dave wants to watch, just to get any tips from the mechanic on attacking the front end of a Perkins diesel.

Another boat is working on dinghy repair. We had been monitoring their progress and hoping to borrow a smidge of their 2-part glue to re-glue one of our oarlocks. But it turns out they don't have enough glue for their project... so ensued a long discussion on (a) whether they could bring glue back in their luggage from their trip home (b) the chances of finding the right glue in Ecuador (c) the merits and pitfalls of using 5200 Fast Cure instead.

Someone has a computer problem... word has gotten around that I'm a 'computer wizard', and any time I'm in the palapa, I get consulted on the latest computer issues (my computer runs too slow, my mouse jumps around when I turn my GPS on, Maxsea can't find my charts, Maxsea won't recognize my GPS, will xyz program run on Vista, what about Windows 7, etc). I have been repaid several times--never in cash--but usually with a bottle of wine or a nice meal.

There is also a "pay it forward" mentality here...I help you, you help someone else, they help someone else, and we all get that warm feeling.

And yes, here like every other anchorage, there are some "lost sheep"... people who's boats and mentality are totally unprepared for the cruising life... While WE were spending hours in Panama City doing maintenance and hunting down spares, they were hanging out in the Balboa Yacht Club drinking beer.

Those people tend to end up in remote ports with broken/inadequate gear, no tools, no spares, and no know-how. They are the bane of every anchorage, but we help them too. (Actually, we end up helping 2 or 3 times, and then ducking around the corner when they come ashore !!)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Fueling Up

Even before we got into Puerto Amistad, we got ourselves on the 'need diesel' list. Things change so frequently in Ecuador that we wanted to get topped off as soon as we could.

We opted NOT to fuel up at Puerto Lucia Yacht Club's nice easy fuel dock... their price for 'foreigner diesel' has gone up to a whopping $3/gallon. This is partly because they are trying to recover the cost of all the extra equipment they had to put in, to be able to legally sell diesel to foreigners. Mario, the PLYC manager, told me they had spent over $100K to comply with the permitting process to be able to sell diesel to foreigners.

Diesel in Ecuador, on the street corner, sells for about $1 per gallon. This is so cheap compared to prices in neighboring countries, that some 'fishing' boats opted to start transporting diesel instead of fishing. So the Ecuadorean government declared that NO foreigners could buy diesel. At All. This was a couple of years ago, and you can imagine the gasps that swept through the cruising community. The wind is so light and flukey in this area, that even most budget cruisers opt to turn their motor on rather than roll around in a sloppy sea. We arrived in Puerto Amistad last February literally on fumes, because of our long windless passage down from Costa Rica.

When the government declared that foreigners couldn't buy diesel, there WERE ways for an enterprising cruiser to GET diesel... usually involving handing your portable tanks to an Ecuadorean and having them go buy it. But this kind of felt like cheating, and 'clean wake' cruisers didn't like to go around the system.

What has evolved in Puerto Amistad is a legally permitted process whereby (accompanied with lots of paperwork), Puerto Amistad buys the diesel in a portable tank at the gas station, and pumps it into your tanks from their launcha. Puerto Amistad is working on a more permanent solution, but for now, they are still using Carlos, a big lancha, and what looks like a big black plastic water tank with a small electric fuel pump. The overhead is low, and so far, so is the price. We bought 91 gallons at $1.50 per gallon. A savings of about $120 over fueling up at PLYC.

Part of the checkout process when you leave, is documenting how much fuel you came with, how much you bought, and how much you leave with. More paperwork!

Go Gators - Beat Bama!

Today is the SEC Championship game, and our team, the #1 ranked Florida Gators, go against the #2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. We are, of course, rooting for the Gators. We are not sure we'll be able to watch the game, but we're going to try.

The owner of Puerto Amistad, the cruiser facility where we are, is from Alabama, so he's committed to trying to get a video feed off the internet. We're just not sure how we'll do. It might also be televised on the Ecuadorean cable, since it is such a big game.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Gators 37 - Seminoles 10

We couldn't be at the game, and we barely had good enough internet to keep up with the scoring with ESPN's GameCast (a data feed).

But here is Dave's cousin Bryan's account of watching the game. Bryan is a true Gator fan, with season tickets and all, and when he says he's never seen anything like it...

Assume y'all know by now that the mighty #1 Gators rolled over the unranked Criminoles 37-10 last Saturday at the Swamp.

It was packed with prox. There were an additional 20,000 Gator fans tailgating without tickets, outside the stadium.

You could feel the electricity in the stands especially during the first half.
The noise level was unbelievable until we were ahead by 30! I just got my voice back today.

It was senior day, and when they announced Tim Tebow they joint went nuts. I thought my ear drums would explode! It even brought tears to #15 as he waved to the Gator Nation.
He ran for 2 TD's and passed for 3. Good finish against an average team.

It was 30-0 when the Criminoles decided to try a field goal--a give up play only trying not to be shut out! Their starters scored late in the 4th quarter against our 3rd team players who hadn't got in a game this year along with some volunteers from the student section.

During Tebow's final drive early in the 4th quarter, all of a sudden 30,000 plus flash bulbs started going off all around the Swamp every time he went to the line of scrimmage. For about 10 plays it looked like a gigantic Christmas lights display. I even got my cell phone out and took some pixs too. I've never seen anything like it ever!

After the blow out, #15 went all around the stadium shaking hands with his fans who were leaning over the railing. The whole stadium stayed (except for the Injun crowd who headed back to their reservation) yelling Tebow-Tebow!!

Even I got emotional.

It was a game to remember.

Next week Alabama (12-0) for the SEC championship and the BCS title game.