Ecuador, The Outtakes Part 2. Photos from the Edit Room floor.

Here is the last collection of photos that didn’t make the first cut but fill in a few of the gaps and flesh out a few of the adventures in Ecuador.

Thanks to everyone who has been following along. It’s been satisfying to know that people have been tuning in for this trip with me, I had a damn good time putting it together.


Ecuador, Day 15. Quito to Toronto.

We got up to catch our flight home – 3am! – and the boys were great about it, jumping up and getting ready with less moaning and groaning than I myself was making. It had been recommended to us that we arrive at least 2 hours before departure time because Ecuador airport emigration is not known to be speedy, and it was good advice. The flight was delayed a short while so that people stuck in customs could make it through and get on board.

After an stopover in Miami (Starbucks!), we were on our last leg home. It was back to Toronto where the ocean, the mountains, and the jungle were behind us. But where instead we find family, friends and reliable wifi.

As we left the airport in Toronto to drive home, there was a heavy blanket of fog rolling in off the lake. It wasn’t a normal fog that you get on a cool day, but a thick, isolated cloud that covered the entire shoreline of the lake from one end of the city to the other. It was strange and completely out of place. Props to the weather for reflecting how I feel being back after a long time away.

And now, we’re home. There’s always a danger in high expectations, in a long anticipation. But this trip, one whose plan was hatched 30 years ago, did not disappoint. Traveling with family, experiencing the culture and wildlife, watching the boys expand their horizons; this trip brought all the very best that travel has to offer. The places we visited were varied, exotic and impressive. I feel fortunate and don’t take for granted, even for a moment, anything about it. There was Quito, an enormous concrete city. The Galapagos Islands, a burning hot moonscape. Mindo, a chilly, bug-infested cloud forest. Pappallacta, a hot spring resort in the Andes mountains. All of it Ecuador. The country exceeded every single expectation I had of it.

(March 20, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 14. Pappallacta to Quito.

I got up early this morning to shoot the view from the Cruz Glorioso, a tall cross at the top of a hill that overlooks the resort and the town of Pappallacta, down in the valley. The Antisana Volcano can also be seen, but it was overcast and the low clouds meant there were no photos to be had. Instead, I sat at the cross and simply took in the nearby scenery, the sounds, the moment. It was almost meditative, and I became completely present, watching and absorbing the details of the things around me. There are some feelings that just can’t be captured in a photo.

After breakfast I returned to same hilltop with Fawn and the boys, but before long the 3 of them headed back to the room. I decided I would go on, continuing along the path that passes the cross and heads uphill. A great decision as it was one of the best hikes of the trip. Up into the hills there is a fast moving river that rushes through the jungle. The path, narrow and often overgrown, goes up one side and down the other, sometimes crossing over with rickety bridges. Spanish signs accented the path, likely telling me to “Go No Farther!” but I couldn’t tell. Photo ops along the way, with cool epiphytes and enthusiastic vines hanging everywhere. A great hike and nice time alone.

Each day the sky has started clear, with clouds gathering around the treed mountain tops mid-morning. Then, over the course of the day, the clouds descend, first blanketing the trees and then rolling slowly down the hillsides until they reach into the resort itself. It’s like the clouds are keeping time, part of an enormous natural clock.

It’s our last day here, so we packed up and went for an early lunch. Remember the music at the restaurant that I mentioned? After just 3 days we all want to stick forks in our ears. There’s only so many times you can take the muzak version of My Heart Will Go On. That number is 0.

Fernando showed up at 1 to pick us up and we all piled into the van to head back along those twisty mountain roads to Quito. He was a little bouncy on the gas and I wasn’t sure if we’d make it without one of us throwing up, but a well timed stop for drinks got us through.

We made it into Quito, arriving at the JW Marriott by 3:30. This ended up being a culture shock I wasn’t expecting. What a big, expensive, decadent line of hotels. In fact, I had some genuine trouble with the English-only signs, the rich white people, the huge outdoor heated pool, the big gym, the steam room, the sauna. So did I boycott the excessiveness in a hotel that ultimately fuels the American economy and not the local Ecuador people? Puh-lease.

I headed for the gym right away (Fawn and the boys went swimming in the rain). I was surprised the altitude didn’t affect me while working out. Well, I got light headed once or twice, and feeling like I’m just a little bit drunk all the time is now the norm. It’ll be disappointing to lose that when we go home. Or perhaps just more expensive to maintain.

Into the eucalyptus steam room and then a shower, complete with dual massage shower heads. Yes, yes, I know.

Back in the room, I was able to get online and finally download the emails I had been missing over the past two weeks. There were about 150 total (reasonable), and ignoring work emails as best I could, I sorted through the rest. I was disappointed to see that the world had got along fine without me.

End of the day now. Beer, food, and very, very tired. Next, the promise of a 3am wake up call…!

(March 19, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 13. Pappallacta.

Restless sleep. I had that dream that I was in a play, about to go on stage but I realized I hadn’t memorized my lines. That dream. I also woke up a number of times during the night feeling short of breath and after a while I got a headache and started feeling nauseous. These are the first symptoms, apparently, of altitude sickness. I took medication for it in the morning and though I’m still feeling light headed, I don’t feel sick anymore. And because the symptoms are similar to having a hangover, you know what that means. I’m banking this medication for my next bender.

Buffet breakfast, typical hotel style (fresh pineapple so good I plan to smuggle some back to Canada), and then a whole lot of… nothing. I read by the poolside, took a very leisurely walk with Gary and the boys while Fawn was at the spa, then slipped into the hot pools (holy caliente!) and had a shower. Such is the life we’re living this morning.

Fawn bowed out from lunch, her turn not feeling well, and it was quickly back to doing nothing. Well that’s not true. Importantly, I got past a level in Angry Birds that I had been stuck on. I plan specifically to make that my greatest accomplishment of the day.

This afternoon I took a walk with the boys while Fawn slept, checking out the beginning of a self-guided trail up the hills behind the resort. Bridges, mud and dirt, horses, cows and llamas. And a clear view of the snow peaked Antisana Volcano to the South. Oakley was really excited about it, quite amazed by the detail in the rock and snow, saying that it was so much better to see it in person than he could have imagined, even after seeing pictures of other similar mountains. I completely agreed. On the way back, we sang to the llamas and made Dalai Lama jokes. I think the llamas liked them, but one did look like it was going to spit on us, so maybe not.

On then for a massage I had booked at the spa (me, at a SPA!). Holy crap, did it feel good. Back, neck, shoulders, scalp. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to wind all the way down, I need to do that more often. My back has improved so much since those days in Galapagos. Having a problem like that definitely makes you appreciate when your body is working well.

Dinner and drinks then, and the day ended the same way, relaxed, sleepy and uneventful. Perfect.

(March 18, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 12. Mindo to Papallacta.

We had our last breakfast at El Monte this morning and packed up to head out. Goodbyes all around, to the guests and to Tom and Other Matt. We took the cable seat ride across the river one more time, and said goodbye also to the old weathered horse that lives, oddly, right there by the side of the road. Fernando (Other Fernando) was already there, waiting to drive us back through Quito and on to Papallacta, our final destination.

Even having seen it before, the drive back was no less impressive. The mountains are clawed, with sharp valleys that cut through the slopes, and everywhere trees, tall and deep green, with broccoli heads. With clouds wrapping themselves around the peaks and spilling lazily down, the road twists through this, back and forth, along the mountain sides. All I could think, again, is how much better it would be ON MY MOTORCYCLE.

We made it through Quito and then stopped in Cumbaya (ha!) for lunch where I picked up a pair of “Ray-Bans” for $6. The restaurant where we ate was local, authentic, and had lots of character. Character like plastic table cloths advertising beer and an old TV turned up to full volume, completely distorted, with a staticy picture and people shouting in Spanish. Out back there was a playground that consisted of one rusty slide in an area that looked like a prison yard. The lemonade was pretty good though. Well, even that, not really.

On then and higher, up more twisting roads to almost 11,000 feet (3300m) where Papallacta is anchored on the mountainside. It’s bizarre to see fields of corn, cows and horses all on slopes of 45 degrees.

The paved road turned to dirt and a short while later we arrived at our destination, the Termas Papallacta Resort. It’s made up of a number of different areas, including the main reception and restaurant, the motel-styled cabins, the public hot spring pools, and the spa. The cabins also have their own private hot spring pools, available 24hrs, so we are all smiling.

We hit the public pools first, a spot apparently popular with the locals on weekends. There are a few large pools, quite deep, that are basically hot tubs so big you can do lengths in them. It’s nice, but a little odd to share that much heated, steaming water with 40 other people. We stayed until wrinkly, and headed back to the cabins. The walk is not short, the air was cold, and we were FREEZING. Doing that ridiculous hunched over shuffle that cold people do, we hurried until we were back to our rooms and the private heated pools right outside our front door. What’s better than that? I’ll tell you what. Nothing. Cold body, hot water, YES. We stayed there for another hour, and Oakley, 2nd son sent from the Gods, gave me a back massage and poured hot water from the pool over my back and neck.

The resort is quite remote so the restaurant here is by far the most convenient place to have meals. It’s nice though, and the staff are great. I noticed that the canned music is both cheesy and on a short, automated loop, so we’ll see how crazy that makes me.

End of day now, tired, light headed from the altitude, and thinking this corner in the mountains will be the perfect place to wrap up this trip. Bitter sweet.

(March 17, 2012.)

Ecuador, Day 11. Exploring Mindo.

It feels like we’ve been gone a long time, that traveling is becoming our new normal. This absence of responsibility is starting to appeal to me. How can I make this my full time job?

Breakfast this morning at 8 and then a 3 minute walk to a butterfly farm down the road. This was better than we expected, with about 20 species of butterflies (plus a dog) in a large room behind mesh curtain doors. A quick educational tour to start, and then we were free to roam. The boys took to the Owl-Eye butterflies immediately. Not only is there an image of an owl’s eye on its giant wing, but also the unmistakable head of a snake. The butterflies didn’t mind being picked up when goaded with banana, and there were easily more than a hundred of them in the room, flying free, often landing on us.

Just outside the butterfly area was a gift shop (you want butterfly bookmarks, gift cards or mugs? We got ’em.) and a walkway where they had mounted a series of hummingbird feeders. What shifty little birds they are. Note the second photo below was taken by Griffin.

Back to the lodge with some free time before lunch. We’ve had quite a bit of spare time these last couple days and that’s fine with me. It’s given me a chance to take some photos of the lodge and this incredible area we’re staying in. I should probably be working out but I’m finding my sore back an adequate excuse. Massage will be a priority when I get back. (Note our cabin nestled in the jungle in the second photo below.)

After lunch, Oakley, Fawn and I went with Fernando up the road (again, this crazy road) and stopped to walk a few hundred metres in the POURING rain to a cable car that runs over a deep valley. The rain falls heavily here, straight down, and sounds completely different on the jungle forest. The leaves are broad and hard and heavy and it sounds not like trees, but a giant, loud tent. The cable car was fun. Run by a car motor, complete with gas pedal and clutch, the basket is a rickety metal cage that rattles like a set of dentures. The view spanned distances of hills and valleys, the sides of the Ecuador mountains. The speed of the cable car had the rain streaming sideways, soaking us completely, but we agreed it was even better that way. Only 2 minutes over and 2 minutes back, it was over in a moment. Good thing it was $2 and not the $20 I expected because I misinterpreted the Spanish. Again.

Walking back we saw one of the area’s (and continent’s) most venomous snakes, a Fer-de-Lance. This one, however, posed no threat. It was a baby, barely 8 inches long and had unfortunately been run over by a car. Still alive, it opened it jaws to attack when Fernando touched it with a stick. It had a large triangular head, and even injured and small, looked completely threatening.

Back to the cabin to change, Griffin and I headed out for tubing on the river that runs through the lodge property. Alaya, her dad Matt, and Other Matt, who works at the lodge, came with us. We were a little worried as it had been raining all day, the river was high, and there was a crack of lightning about 2 minutes before we left. Recipe for disaster. Or fun. Either one.

Down at the river, we suited up in life jackets and helmets and jumped on. 6 giant tubes were lashed together with ropes and everyone got on the raft together with 2 guides. As we suspected, the river was fast and high with the rain and we shot down the rapids, simply holding on. The guides were incredible, guiding the tube-raft through the current, steering it between rocks. Clearly though, the river was faster than usual and they sometimes shouted at each other frantically. Twice they fell out and clung on to the sides, trying to get back in. We often went over rocks we were supposed to go around, clearly out of control, and water splashed up and over us as we were bounced around in the current. It was constant and fast, with deep dips and sudden thrusts upward. At one point the raft simply folded in half and Missouri Matt and I cracked our helmets together. A few moments later a sudden slingshot nearly tossed me right out. Near the end a huge pointed rock sat in the middle of the river, obviously an obstacle to go around, but we came to it so fast that the raft went up and over it, folding and twisting, falling again down the far side. Overhanging tree branches were another constant hazard, and we were always ducking to avoid them. The river was long, 3kms (1.8mi), and by the end we were madly adrenalized, laughing and shouting about it like we were the first ones to make it through alive.

After the cold water of the river, I took a hot shower and headed down to the main lodge for a beer and a relaxing fire before dinner. Damn fine.

(March 16, 2012.)