Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Save a dollar...save a life

Yesterday, I headed off to Manta with our liferaft for recertification.  It had been over 4 years since the last time we had it done, just prior to our departure in 2010.  Why, despite recommendations for annual inspections did we wait this long?  Perhaps the $988 bill we had to pay at Pacific Marine in Portland, Oregon had something to do with it.

Frankly, this item hadn’t even made it onto our pre-pacific-crossing list, but about 2 weeks ago some friends of ours on Anna swung by our boat and asked if we wanted to share the cab ride charge, and go in together.  They had done some pretty comprehensive research and had discovered that if we went to Guayaquil we could have the inspection done for around $400.  A few days later, they came up with another facility located in Manta, 3.5 hours closer, and $160 cheaper, coming in at $240.  These days, the swiftly approaching departure date is coupled with a pileup of expenses…..fees for the Galapagos, getting our anchoring fees paid for, and the inevitable provisioning, not to mention the stuff we still have to do…..long stay visa application for French Polynesia, Autografo for staying in the Galapagos for 3 months, and of course, all that provisioning.   This “to-do” was an expense that we weren’t thrilled to contemplate, but if we were going to get into trouble heading across the Pacific, I could imagine being really pissed off we had neglected to verify our raft was going to inflate (and STAY inflated).  We gave a thumb’s up, and again sorrowfully reassessed our bank account.

A few hiccups with scheduling, (is there EVER a time in Latin America that people actually keep appointments?!?!)  we arrived at the “blowup” facility and proceeded to watch as our rafts were inflated and the items for survival where strewn around the floor. 

So that's what it looks like....better to get acquainted here than in a bad situation
Reflective tape is a good idea
Seemed like a paltry few to keep us alive until help could arrive. 

Doesn't really look like much....yikes
High-quality, non-rusting, paddles
I had a brief discussion with one of the technicians when he inquired as to whether I wanted to add any survival food to the bag.  I patted my midsection and told him that I had food hanging around my hips that would ensure a month of survival (okay, maybe two) and that he shouldn’t worry about it.  Food poisoning, illness, and now liferaft survival are all personal weight-loss strategies we choose to employ here on Sundancer. 

The first time we had our raft certified we dropped it off at the location, left and returned a few weeks later, when we were handed a bill.  This time, I felt that for my own piece of mind, it might be prudent to actually see what the thing looked like and what exactly was included in the enclosed ditch bag.  This ended up being a great strategy in more ways than one.  As Ron had stayed at home with the boat, I was faced with deciding what to replace and what to keep as-is.  In order to get an official certification in the states, every single item that has an expiration date on it must be replaced.  As a certificate only lasts one year, the chances of us finding another facility in the south Pacific was going to be nil….(and we wouldn’t have done it every year anyway) so the point of getting officially certified was also ridiculous.  What that meant was that I didn’t need to replace out-of-date water (really?  Does water expire?) or sea-sickness pills (neither of us gets sea sick, and even if we did, it’s another weight-loss opportunity) or a first-aid kit (another one is included in the other ditch bag on the boat).  As the flares that were included were only expired by a few months, I decided that I would pay to replace one parachute flare, and one handheld flare, and take two of the expired ones out to place in our on-board ditch bag.  As the costs of these flares were similar to the cost of flares in North America, added to our $240 inspection charge was another ~$90, which brought the total cost to $326.  BARGAIN!!!! 

Now is when I give a high-marks recommendation for Avon.  Our liferaft is an Avon, and has a nifty weather-proof case, enabling us to store the whole thing above decks.  Even with blistering heat over the last 4 years, El Salvador, Panama…..Sea of Cortez (also known as Hades, as in “hotter than…”) our raft inflated, and most importantly stayed inflated for several hours.  Now, these kudos are not just because it’s an Avon, but because the tag inside the raft had its manufacturer’s age as having been made in 1986!!!!!  Aside from a bit of mold, and few black marks caused by some moisture on the case’s seal, it was still perfect. 

So this blog post is a real-world success story for a marine supplier (this doesn’t happen all that often) and for Set-Mabas in Ecuador.  Thanks to both of these companies for providing us with a bit of reassurance that should something unthinkable happen during our south Pacific adventures, we might actually pull through.  Oh, and while I’m at it, I’ll also give a thumbs-up to our tireless and faithful Vagabond, the mighty sailing vessel Sundancer;  without her none of this would be possible. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

And last but not least....Cuenca

The last place we decided to visit was Cuenca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  This was our second visit, and it was just as nice this time around.  Lots of expats have decided that the temperate climate is worth the move to call this home.  With almost as many architectural masterpieces as Quito, Cuenca is notable for its walk-ability along the Rio Tomebamba which bisects the old part of town, and the charm of the well-kept streets and colourful paint jobs around the main square Parque Calderón. 

The old question of where to stay was solved by a guy that met us stepping off the bus.  He said he had a place on Calle Largo, the same street as the hostel I was planning on getting us to.  Suffice it to say that at $8/night/person he was charging too much.  Make a note – Hostel Pachamama is cheap but take a peek (and do the sniff test) before committing.  We hightailed it out of there for our second night, and for the remaining 4 days we stayed at Alternative House and Lodging.  While a bit noisy due to a central stairwell, it was REALLY clean, had excellent wifi, and was across the street from the Museo de Banco Central and on the bus line.  Perfect – we were glad to pay the additional $4/night. 

Cuenca is known around the world for the incorrectly named “Panama Hat”.  It really is supposed to be called the Toquilla Hat, as it's from the fronds of the Toquilla palm that the fiber is derived to weave the hat.  Everywhere in Cuenca you will find references to their claim to fame. 

The hat that has made Panama famous actually has its origins in Ecuador, and the finest in the world are made right up the street from where our boat is, in Montecristi.  Cuenca is known for adding the finishing details, and the place where the father of the Toquilla, Homero Ortega, started the first factory.   As one of our “must do” visits while in Cuenca, we got a tour of the factory, saw how it was all done, and vowed to return with the credit card to purchase.  It took 2 tries, but on our last day in town, we were able to spend a lot of money on our very own Homero Ortega’s. 

Our saleswoman was Homero's daughter
If it's good enough for us....it's good enough for Johnny
We confess, usually we are pretty lucky with restaurants, as we use the trusty TripAdvisor as a resource but perhaps our wallets weren’t quite as flush as they needed to be in this dynamic city.  We did have a terrific sandwich along the Rio, but other than that, food was a bust.  Although…..

…we’ve now been traveling nonstop for 4.5 years.  The longer we are out, (and of course we are still in Latin America) the more difficult it is to be impressed with the touristy things we are doing.  The mountain bike rides we’ve done are great, the train rides…more so.  The ziplining, the dinghy excursions, the wandering through cathedrals, the ruins (am I really complaining about ruins?!) but by now we’ve seen a lot.  Where once we didn’t hesitate to jump at every chance to do something different, we are now finding ourselves being a bit more particular about what causes us to say “man, that was GREAT!!”, and are also becoming happy to just be on the boat.  This is not to say that we aren’t still loving what we are doing, but maybe it’s time to head back to the islands, the clear blue water, and to call marine life our closest companions.    


Thursday, August 7, 2014

We should have been given a sucker...

....because yesterday Ron and I took care of a necessary evil.  We got our Yellow Fever vaccinations, and for the staggering price of FREE!

When we first arrived in Ecuador last year, the health inspector informed us that as a service to the tourists that arrived by boat (not sure if this is offered to all visitors, regardless of how they cross the borders into the country) we were able to visit the local clinic and get inoculated.  While we were impressed with this, and as enthusiastic as we were at the time, it took us a full year and a second trip to the country, to actually accomplish the deed.  Something about us not liking the idea of sticking needles into our skin.

Regardless, with INTENSE encouragement from our friends on Let it Go, (as in offering to pick us up in the dinghy in the morning, and holding our hands as we walked to the clinic) we finally made it there.  Was it painless?  Well, no, it felt like someone sticking a needle in you.  Was it worth it?  Of course, yes, and as we plan to head into the rainforest in September, this was a chore on our list that HAD to be accomplished.  As I grit my teeth, clutching the arm of the nurse (I believe I saw her grimace) I kept telling myself it was fine.  And it was.  My big, strong captain, in the case of needles, is a bit of a wus.  Regardless of the amount of tattoos the man has, I was still proud of him when his knees didn’t buckle.   

Two years ago, when we visited Guatemala, Ron picked up a touch of the Dengue Fever.  Dengue doesn’t have a vaccine to ward off the evil mosquitos, and along with malaria, Yellow Fever is just another illness that those pesky stingers like to spread around.  Not fancying the prospect of dying, we do what we can.  

It’s another reason to love Ecuador.  Apparently the country is not really interested in the bad publicity that comes from expats dying on their soil.  Smart, that. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

A Lausi Town

The time had come to move on and we set our sights further south, down to Alausí.  My captain is so funny; we LOVED the town, but it has a serious shortage of restaurants.  We were joking about starting a pizza (of course) place there, and naming it A Lausi Restaurant – get it?  Using the slogan….For A Lausi pizza, stop by.  The possibilities are endless.

Alausí’s claim to fame is that it’s the starting point for the El Nariz del Diablo (the Nose of the Devil) train ride, so named by the engineer that figured out the unique zigag tracking dropping the elevation by 1000' in just a few kilometres. To set the record straight, there is a lot of confusion as to where you actually pick the train up, and it is in Alausí, not Riobamba.  You CAN purchase the tickets in Riobamba at the train station, but when the day comes to ride, they will actually bus you down to Alausí to embark.  If Riobamba is not on your itinerary, don’t bother stopping and just head straight south.  The other change that has occurred is that you can no longer sit on the roof of the train, and haven’t been able to do so since 2007, when a couple of Japanese tourists sat up a bit too high, and who’s heads were taken out by a tunnel.  Not a good way to go, especially for the other passengers.  

This is the most charming of any towns we’ve visited in Ecuador.  We could envision ourselves purchasing a piece of land in the surrounding hillsides, and frequenting the town.  There is a tremendous amount of pride here, with one of the locals informing me that this was a clean city, not like some of the other towns to the north, and we can attest to it.  

Monday morning after breakfast, we were wandering and came across this couple.  As we saw a few helpless pigs in similar circumstances, we figured this was a “beginning of the week” chore.  Of course, we were treated to a bowl of pig skin, complete with a hominy-type corn, juices and fresh salsa overall, which came complete with the inevitable “muy rico, MUY rico”.  Ron was horrified, and resorted to the strategy of his youth regarding broccoli – cut it up in small pieces and hide it under something.  Unfortunately, this old timer was wilier than that…..he came into the shop, inquired as to how we liked it, and then proceeded to root around in our bowl with his finger, and discovered Ron’s carefully constructed hiding spot.  My manners dictated that I needed to choke a few pieces down….the flavor was fine, it was just the texture which was a bit tough to take so early in the morning.  Kind of like chewing a piece of hard gelatin – very interesting.  So now that we’ve tried it, we don’t need to go down that road again. 
This little piggy went to market......
.....and then he had none
The area around the square and train depot was well kept, colorfully painted, and we really liked it. 

As the train was fully booked when we came to town, we had to commit to sticking around for a couple of days to wait for when there would be seats available.  No problem…..and although there wasn’t too much to do there, we enjoyed ourselves.  There was another bustling Sunday market, and the hostel (another $8/person/night spot) had good internet.  We could hang out to wait, and went out walking the train tracks, exploring the streets, and in general just “being” there, which was another reason we ended up really enjoying the quiet time. 
Me channeling my inner matador
Of course, eventually the hunt was on a for a pizza place.  I had read somewhere that there was one in town, and we had no less than five different people send us in five different directions in search of.  Finally, one got it right and El Paraiso Pizza, in an obscure neighborhood, 5 blocks away from the main drag was awesome!  A huge 18” square pizza was $12, LOADED.  Extremely good, and fed us for two and ½ days. 

But then came Tuesday.  The town had a bit more of a bustle than was usual and we figured this was due to it being Train Day.  At 3pm, all the tourists, some international, some local, filed into their respective cars away we went.
Now he's Conductor Ron

Three levels in one camera shot
At the bottom of the route in Simbambe, we were treated to dancing by the locals wearing traditional garb.

Although modern conveniences are becoming more abundant in these parts, there is a resurgence in indigenous pride, adding to a richer traveling experience for everyone who chooses to go to the effort.  Ecuador is MUY RICO!!