Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back to Quito

Ok, so the last entry was really just a place holder. Here's what really happened.

After I finished typing yesterday's long entry, I walked back through town, and noticed some commotion by the fish market. One man was skinning and gutting fish, while pelicans hopped hopefully about and two sea lions rested, one on the fisherman's leg, while the other put his head on top of one of the uncleaned fish as if to say, "this one is mine." The commotion appears to have been when the heron, which I didn't see, drove away the pelicans. Back in town I found a pharmacy where I could buy some lip balm that wasn't strawberry flavored.

After lunch, while dad was napping, I competed in the ship's trivia contest. The two british women decided to form their own team. They had said to me that they would be terrible players, so I said (jokingly) that in that case, I didn't want them on my team. Later, I said come back, but they said, "you didn't want us, so we'll play by ourselves." Two more people joined mey team, and Harvey, who gave the lecture on Judy Garland, joined the Brit team. Then two of the boisterous Canadian party came in at the last minute and each formed their own team.

There were 24 questions. They were all multiple choice and varied in their difficulty. E.g., "Which of the following islands did Darwin not visit?" "What does the Greek root of the word 'plankton' mean. My team had been joined by Gayle (whose husband was Greek), so we all turned to him for the answer, but he guessed wrong, as was his guess about converting nautical miles into kilometers.

After that we each graded the other team's scorecard. My team came in first with 14 right, followed by the Brits with 10, and the Canadians at 9 right each. We won a bottle of wine and celebrity cruise t-shirt (Gayle took the wine, and I took the t-shirt).

Our last excursion was to the highlands. We took a bus up through town and the hillsides were quite green and lush. Unlike many of the other islands, which were still bare and brown, the windward side of Santa Cruz got a lot of rain. It was also very humid. After we had climbed about half an hour, we pulled on to a dirt road to a private ranch. After some organic coffee and lemon grass tea (the coffee drinkers were ecstatic), we walked down to see the wild giant tortoises. These are not raised on the farm, but rather migrate across it.

We found one wading in a pool and the others munching on grass nearby. I got behind one (it hissed angrily at several people) and had dad take a picture. I had one taken of me at the Charles Darwin Center yesterday morning, but that time I had to keep yelling, "dad, take my picture. Dad!"

We had to walk carefully to avoid giant tortoise poop. There were about a dozen of them (tortoises) scattered about the hillside. Just after we left too, they started fighting. I didn't see it, but they were going head to head and hissing.

Under the cloudy and very humid sky, we walked uphill to see the lava tunnels. After carefully climbing down the trail, we entered a very wide lava tunnel. Keeping an eye out for barn owls (there were none), we walked to a point where the roof had broken, leaving a tropical sky light.

After that we walked back to the road, caught the bus, and headed back to town and the ship. We had one last dinner on board. This was a BBQ on deck. Dwight and Simon were kind enough to let us join there very nice table on Deck 5, above the smoke of the grills. Sandy and Gene were also at the table (she's the former treasurer for LA County, he's the former purchaser. It was his 85th birthday and they had a cake brought out. Gayle and Angelos were also there one other couple whose names I can't remember. We had a delightful meal. The grilled lobster was particularly good (dad had a very big piece).

Before the meal, they screened a dvd composed from the photos taken by the naturalists during the week, set to music. When we got back to our staterooms, we found a complimentary one for us.

We packed before bed and set out the suitcases in the hall. We slept until 7:05 am, when I woke up and then we went down for lunch. Afterwards, we sat in the lounge where dad announced that he was prepared to stay another week. What about your laundry?, I asked. "For another week, I'd be willing to do the laundry," he said.

At 9:15, we were called to the boats and we donned our lifejackets for the last time. From there it was to the Baltra airport where we had a long, hot wait. I used the opportunity to buy some presents for my niece and nephews, though dad said repeatedly that I should wait until Quito. Finally we got on the plane.

The less said about the food on the plane the better. Hopefully the stains in my memory will be as easy to remove as the inedible gravy on my clean celebrity t-shirt.

Eventually we made it to Quito where there was a very noisy and excited welcome. Just outside the doors of the airport there was a huge mob of mostly young men dressed mostly in yellow jerseys, waving yellow and black flags (though one had a Che flag), and chanting in unison. Turns out the soccer team from Guayaquil was coming to Quito for the season to practice and the local fans turned out the greet them.

In no time at all we reached the hotel and after 15 minutes, it was time for our shopping tour. I asked Dwight and Simon if we could join them since they had done very well for themselves shopping in Puerto Ayora, and it's always more fun to shop with people who like to shop. At the first market, I picked up a present for a colleague and then a present for myself. The latter was the famous Ecuadorian "Panana" hat. As one of the Brits said, it made me look like I should be smoking a Cuban cigar.

From there were went to the artisanal gallery, where we could buy high quality work by indigenous peoples. I bought four sofa pillows, two with black trim and two with white for my black leather sofa. Each pillow is hand made and decorated with geometric shapes, by the Shipibo-Conibo women of the Ucayali river. Only $60 for four, so I thought that was a good deal.

When we got back I decided to take a very quick shower and shave for dinner, but dad decided to skip dinner and nap. The high altitude is definitely affecting us, though I'm doing better this time than last week.

We had a large table at dinner with Dwight and Simon, Mark and Paul, the professors John and Jerusha, one other couple whose name I could never remember. I had the steak, which was excellent, as was the chocolate cake dessert. I had a glass and a half of wine, which may not have been the best idea, but at least I should sleep well tonight.

Tomorrow, were joining a couple (Ed and Nancy) who had the name of a local driver, and we're heading out at 8 am to head north towards Otavalo and some of the volcanic sights. Now, it's off to bed.

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