E-mail From Peru and Ecuador...
Tales of Incan Ruins, Iguanas and Ceviche...
I wish I could tell you that for once I am sending you a somewhat ‘regular’ length email. But
somehow I don’t see that happening. Apologies to your eyes (and Chris – apologies for your
I will start where I left off. And that was right before I headed off to Machu Picchu. No, I
didn’t take the 4-day route to get there via the Inca Trail. I could sit here and say that I didn’
t do it because I didn’t have the time (which is actually true). But I won’t. Because the
simple reason was that I just didn’t want to trek for four days in extreme altitude. To
counter that laziness, I did hike up Wayna Picchu once I was in Machu Picchu. That should
count for something as it is extremely steep. That little workout ended with a mini-scuffle
with a German man. I am sorry to any of my German friends out there if I am disrespecting
your people. But I had a grandparent who was German. So consider it that I am
disrespecting my own family as well. This man’s pushiness and control-freakishness gave a
bad name to Germans everywhere. He had the nerve to yell at me and then continue to
make snide comments as I continued to walk. So I did what any mature 30-year old would
do. I gave him the finger.
Enough about that. I’m supposed to be talking about things Inca-related right now. So back
to Machu Picchu. Let me first say that I want it to be known that I do think it’s an incredible
site. If I was Hiram Bingham and stumbled upon this I would be blown away. But I’m not
Hiram Bingham. I’m a gringo traveler. Without ever trying to look at pictures of this, I have
seen thousands (or so it seems) images of Machu Picchu over the years. And I have to tell
you something…it looks just like it does in the pictures. For this reason, I have to admit that
the ‘awe-factor’ just wasn’t quite there. This could also have to do something with the way
that gringos are taken for everything they’re worth just to see this place. The absolute
cheapest way to see this will put you back $100 (backpacker train, bus and admission).
People…this is Peru (a nice hotel room here with breakfast and internet is considered pricey
at $15 a night). They know that people have no choice but to pay it. I don’t care what
country I have been to this year – I have never had to pay such an amount. I feel crazy now
for thinking that $30 was expensive for my entrance into Torres del Paine in Chile. Okay,
enough about that. There was something else disturbing me within Machu Picchu. You
have to admit that some of the charm goes out the window when you see posters all over
the place to ‘Vote for Machu Picchu’. Is this some sort of middle-school election
campaign??? Apparently, it is similar. They want you to vote for Machu Picchu as one of the
‘new wonders of the world’. They have clipboards where you sign out of hiking Wayna
Picchu so that you can vote. They have the same thing when exiting Machu Picchu. They
even have a woman calling out to you as you leave “Don’t forget to vote for Machu Picchu.”
My advice – don’t do it! I am convinced this is a ploy to eventually bring the total up to $150
to visit this place… (And in my opinion, I find that the most ‘wondrous’ places are the lesser-
known spots without the hype and the massive tour buses.)
Keep in mind… I did love wandering around the ruins. I did love seeing the views. I did love
the llamas. What I didn’t love was how they take advantage of tourists wanting to visit this
While in Peru I made up my mind that I wanted to go to the Galapagos. After all, how could
I go to Ecuador without visiting these islands? This was a challenging mission as my time
frame was short and it happened to fall the week of Easter. One of their busiest times.
Wouldn’t that be my luck?
I found a boat that would take a lone traveler (much more difficult than you would think as
most are intent on selling only to a couple if there are two spaces available). I had several
days to roam around Ecuador before heading out. I went to Cuenca (a colonial city) and
Baños (where I got to see an active volcano complete with a big mushroom-shapred puff of
smoke) before heading back to Guayaquil. It was on the night bus to Guayaquil where I
made a vow to myself to officially swear buses off altogether (I am sure this vow won’t last
too long – my short-term memory always makes me forget just how painful these
experiences are) . How is the lone gringo in a bus station supposed to know which are the
reputable bus companies and which aren’t? This ‘night bus’ was more like a Mexican party
bus with rainbow lights, blaring music, constant stops and people packed in the aisles. And
just like any shady bus, of course there was a flat tire in the middle of the night. I was
worried that I was never going to get to Guayaquil. And I had to. My flight was that morning
(okay, so I was pushing it a bit close). But I made it. And it was off to the Galapagos I went!
It is tempting to talk about the things I saw and did out there. It really is. But I firmly
believe that it isn’t really possible to convince people what an amazing place it is if they
haven’t been. I say this because I was always one of those people that never really got
onboard with people’s Galapagos tales. It’s kind of hard to understand why people get so
caught up in iguanas, tortoises and different kinds of birds. But this is what happens out
there. It’s like a Galapagos spell. You just get sucked in to loving these things.
Just because I feel like people get bored about hearing details about this place, don’t think
that you are off the hook. I am still going to leave you with some of my observations…
- Sea lions sneeze. And sometimes it’s one of those nasty snot-producing sneezes. As
adorable as the sea lion was, this was just proof that nothing can look cute with snot
oozing out of its nose.
- The water out here is extremely salty. Iguanas have some built-in mechanism to spit
out the excess salt. Now, this is very cute to watch…
- What can melt your heart more than hearing the noises of the two-week old sea lion
pups? How can you not chuckle when listening to the grown sea lion noises? Ditto for
the blue-footed booby mating calls. And the unique noises of the male frigatebird
while he is looking for some lovin’. My point here is that these islands are not just
filled with animals you have never seen before; they are also filled with noises you
have never heard before.
- Where else in the world can you see penguins on lava rocks next to the ocean in front
- There’s an endemic iguana there that I called the G.I. Joe Iguana. I’m sure it doesn’t
take a scientist to know that this is not his technical name. But it really and truly
looked and reminded me of G.I. Joe with its military fatigues. (This is actually a quite
fitting name if you think about it since the initials of Galapagos Islands would be ‘G.I.’
I might be onto something, huh?)
- For those of you who have visited the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco, you know
that they don’t seem like the friendliest bunch (I can bet money that most of my
friends who live in SF haven’t a clue what I am talking about). Well, out here it’s a
different story. These little guys (okay, maybe not so little) play within inches of you
while you’re in the water. They do flips and somersaults. They are exhibitionists who
just want some attention. It was kind of a crazy feeling not knowing if it was another
snorkeler who just brushed up against you or if it was a sea lion.
- I am a non-bird person. I came to the Galapagos only liking penguins and puffins. But
that changed. I am now adding the blue-footed booby to the list. If for nothing else,
just for its name. But also for its mating ritual. They have some dance moves that
makes the opposite sex a bit weak in the knees. Watch out Pussy Cat Dolls…here come
the Boobies! (Though it doesn’t look like it, I really did intend for that to be in the best
- The Galapagos is known for more than just the life on the land. Let’s talk about the life
in the ocean for a minute. With only a snorkel a person can see numerous white tip
reef sharks, turtles, sea lions, stingrays, spotted eagle rays, puffer fish, etc. Diving
allowed me to see things like sharks and stingrays, etc but in super-sized form. Oh
yeah…and a bonus treat…diving while a hammerhead shark glided by overhead!!! One
would think that sharks of a certain size would inflict some fear or panic. It actually
does the opposite. You find yourself moving closer and closer to get a good view
(maybe some form of narcosis was to blame for me moving my face within a couple
meters of a large reef shark’s face???).
- The Darwin Center is the home of Lonesome George – the lone survivor of the Pinta
Island Tortoise. They have hooked him up with a couple of hot little female tortoises
that are genetically as close to George as possible. But George wants none of it. He is
practicing celibacy. How ungrateful. Does he realize the number of tortoises that
would give the shell off their back to change places with him?
- Tortoises can sometimes put on quite a show. I watched a pair having a session o’
tortoise lovin’. A third tortoise came around. It was the jealous, stalker type. He started
biting one of them in the leg and in the neck while the tortoise was ‘in the act’! The
tortoise lovin’ eventually concluded. Then the stalker tortoise followed the tortoise
that he wasn’t biting. I am not exaggerating when I say that he then jumped on the
tortoise’s back. He was getting a piggy-back…ahem…I mean a tortoise-back ride.
These are heavy dudes – several hundred pounds a piece. Talk about a sight to watch.
If any of you have your doubts, I actually did video these events with my camera. Who
knows? I might just start up my own empire – Tortoises Gone Wild…
I guess since I mentioned ceviche in the subject-line for this email, I should say a few words
All I can really say is how much I am going to miss this stuff. I’ve had all sorts of varieties:
with trout, octopus, shrimp, lobster, calamari, other types of fish, etc. To my friends in SF –
might I suggest an outing to Fresca when I get back???
On this note, let me end with an ode to ceviche. A little haiku…
I love ceviche
All types of seafood and fish
I will miss you, yum
I am now in Quito. I am really enjoying it out here...especially since I still have a couple of
friends from my trip to the Galapagos out here. We are going to have a 'good-bye' dinner
tonight. Though it will be missing something. When attempting to buy bottles of wine for
our table last night at dinner, the waiter was trying to explain something. We had him
repeat it. I then understood three keywords he was saying: pais, seco, eleccion. I knew what
he was saying. In a startled yet desperate way I said "¿¿¿¿¿¿¿Que???????" It was true. The
table wanted to know what was up. I had to tell them that the country is dry this weekend
for the elections on Sunday. Talk about bad luck on a Friday the 13th, huh? Who knew it
was possible for a South American country to do such a thing??? Utah state elections I
could understand. But Ecuador??? Okay. Enough whining on my end.
Tomorrow it is time for me to head into my final month of traveling (sniff, sniff) as I head
off to Brazil…