Category Archives: Roadtrip

Dispatches From South America – Land of Hope

As the Frogette and I travel back to the United States, I suppose I should try and find something profound to say about my time here in Ecuador. Interestingly the one thing that I feel most acutely is that Ecuador really seems to be a country full of hope.

Let me start by saying that my impressions of Ecuador are tempered by the fact that it’s difficult not to compare this country to the United States. Moreover, one cannot understand what Ecuador is like now without knowing something about Ecuador’s history. Not to go into too much detail, but like most South American countries, Ecuador has had it’s share of dictatorships, has suffered from a lot of official corruption, and still has its share of soul-crushing poverty.

That said, Ecuador’s current administration seems to have it’s head screwed on straight, where the United States has completely lost it’s way. Almost everywhere you look you see schools and roads being built; You hear about money being spent on infrastructure, and you hear about the government trying wholeheartedly to raise the standard of living for typical Ecuadorans. Though I have no doubt that there are interests that would prefer things they way they were—the way things have become in the United States—the current administration seems dedicated to fighting those interests. By contrast, the United States government hasn’t just surrendered to such interests, they are a fully invested partner in helping corporations financially rape the citizens.

In addition, Ecuadorans live in an incredibly rich and beautiful land. I was always impressed that, even in the poorest neighborhoods of Quito, it was possible to buy a great variety of the freshest fruits and vegetables. Compare this to the US where, in many less fortunate cities and towns, grocery stores don’t carry anything fresh. Fresh vegetables? Forget it. Pre-packaged meat, dairy and produce is all there is.

I know that I’m rambling…but I guess that my lasting impression is that, for Ecuador and Ecuadorans, the best days are ahead. And why? Because the government cares about its people. Whereas back home in the US, our best days are behind us because the government has abandoned the people.

Dispatches From South America – Street Commerce

Though I suspect that it’s a wonderful system for selling goods—low overhead, more exposure than being stuck in a shop—the collection of odd things that we’ve seen being sold on the streets of Quito is pretty amazing. Here’s a sample:

Breakfast trays
Clothes pins
Auto parts (hub caps, mirros, etc…)
Packages of empanadas
Hats for dogs (modeled by a dog!)
Coat trees
Remotes for just about any device you can think of

…and the personal favorite:

TV antennas

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Dispatches From South America – The Importance of Down

I would have thought that, with all the new and exciting low-emissions diesel technology making it’s way into cars and trucks in Europe, we’d see some of that here in Ecuador. After all, most of the buses that trundle up and down the length of Quito are fairly new model Mercedes and Volkswagons. But no, even the newest buses put out choking clouds of black smoke. It’s almost as if Europe’s suppliers make special, “Extra-polluting,” models just for South America—might even be pretty close to the truth.

So, in order to avoid coming back the United States with latter-day equivalent of black lung, the Frogette and I have developed a simple rule: If you’re walking uphill, walk against traffic. If you’re walking downhill, walk with traffic. “Why?” you may ask. It’s simple really. You want to catch the buses going downhill at all times. And here in Quito’s historic center, where every road is a a one-way and most streets have a steep slope, nothing is more important than walking where the buses have an opportunity to coast.

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Dispatches from South America – ‘No Remedias Para Usted’

So…it was bound to happen. It might have been something I ate. Perhaps I wasn’t quite as careful with the tap water as I should have been. Or, maybe it was those damned bus fumes combined with the thin air…

…but just as I returned to Ecuador from a week in Peru, I got sick as a dog. For three days I felt like I was having an acute asthma attack combined with nausea from hell. Body aches? Oh yeah. Fever? Yup… ’bout 100 F for at least 24 hours. So, not wanting to infect anybody else, I pretty much took to my bed and did a lot of sleeping. But I also trekked with the Frogette down to Farmacia Fybeca to try and obtain an over-the-counter “remedia” for my body-aches and cough. You know, something like Actifed or Tylenol Cold and Sinus. And what did we discover at our favorite pharmacy? You can’t get anything in Ecuador without a prescription, not even basic cough suppressants.

Now I’m not sure if this is the case all over South America (hopefully not), but it seems like a pretty short-sighted policy to me. Consider that H1N1 spread faster in South America than just about anywhere in the world, a problem that could have been mitigated by having easy access to standard over-the-counter remedies. I mean, let’s face it, in a country where nobody…and I mean nobody…covers their mouths when they sneeze or cough, the one sure way to keep an airborne virus down is to make sure nobody *HAS* to cough.

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Dispatches From South America – Water Issues

I suspect that, even in the US, there are many places where the availability potable water is an issue, but of course I’ve never lived in one. Consequently, it never occurred to me that I’d have to deal with the fact that, “…you can’t drink the water.”

This is no joke. Quito is bad. You can bathe in the water that comes from the tap, provided you don’t have any open cuts on your body, but you sure as sh*t can’t drink it or even brush your teeth with it. On the other hand, Quito is pretty high up in the Andes and close to its water sources. We don’t ever see the water turn a funny color like it did in Cusco (Peru), and Quito’s water doesn’t stink like the water in Lima. But consider Guayaquil, Ecuador’s most populous city and on the coast to boot. They’ve got real problems. You can’t drink the water there. You can’t cook with it, and some guidebooks recommend not bathing in it. Though I have no idea how you’d manage that.

So what’s our life like here where the water isn’t potable? Well…mostly we boil water…a lot of water…three or four times a day. In fact, we boil the CR*P out of it because at 9,500 ft. water boils readily but not effectively when sterilization is the goal. And we haul water, lots of water, in 5 liter jugs, uphill (both ways!) from the local mercado. And despite all the precautions, both the Frogette and I have had a bout of stomach flu in our 5 weeks south of the equator. Was it the water? Who really knows, but it’s the most likely culprit. Gives me a whole new appreciation of how lucky most people in the US have it where water is concerned.

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A Year of Living Spare-ingly

Until you decide to pack up all your sh*t and stick it in a 10×15 storage locker, you never really conceptualize just how much useless junk you’ve acquired. While it’s true that, in the run-up to our ‘grand roadtrip‘, the Frogette and I spent months selling off everything that wasn’t nailed down…there were still boxes and boxes of things that we just couldn’t bear to part with, and the worst of it were the ‘spares’.

Oh sure, for the right price one can sell just about any piece of electronics, TV, printer, or piece of furniture. And what one can’t sell, when placed outside of any San Francisco flat, usually disappears in the space of a few minutes. But what I’m talking are the things you can’t sell, like…dental floss. How is it that a pair of frogs manages to acquire somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 to 20 packages of dental floss? Well, of course, we really do know the answer to this question: “It was on sale.”; “The dentist gave us one or two on our last visit.”; “At one point we bought a ‘MEGA-floss’, enough to stretch from here to the moon!”

And that’s not all… Do you poach the good shampoos/conditioners/soaps/gels from those hotels you stay in? Of course you do! I mean they add $10 or $20 to your nightly bill just for this stuff. So, “Hell yes!” you take it, but of course that comes back to haunt you when you’re packing for vacation and you discover enough conditioner to keep the British Army’s hair silky and lustrous.

Yes…it’s been almost 8 months since the Frogette and I decided to go on the road—4 since we actually left California—and we have yet to come to the end of ‘the spares’.

Dispatches From South America – Burning the Old Year

Ecuadorans have a unique way of celebrating on the new year. They dispatch the Año Viejo (‘old year’)—along with effigies of the famous and infamous—in bonfires that are lit up just about everywhere.

These are the widows of the old year. They stop traffic and passersby, begging for alms with which to bury the old year.

And here we go…bonfires on every block, bonfires by the thousands. By morning Quito was covered in a smokey haze, but you know…I didn’t mind. Dispatching 2009 seemed somehow right. Certainly more appropriate than welcoming 2010. (More photos here.)

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Dispatches from South America – How to drink a $6 Chilean wine

So the Frog and I thought with our current proximity to Chile we’d be able to get our suckers on some great wines…cheap!  We stopped into our local Super Mercado and purchased a $6 bottle of Villa Porta Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  Having recently ex-patrioted ourselves from San Francisco we have fairly developed wine palates.  The $6 wine?  Swill.  Seriously, it tasted like vinegar the night we uncorked it, and we’d let it breathe, and breathe and breathe.  I’ve since discovered how you drink a $6 wine.  Purchase your bottle.  Take it home and uncork it, pour 1/4 of the bottle down the drain and recork (don’t evacuate the wine, trust me oxidation is key).  The next day pull out the cork for 30 minutes to let wine breathe.  The day after that wait 7 hours then uncork and pour into glasses.  By this time your wine will be drinkable.  If you’re lucky.  What I can’t get over is $6 for a Chilean wine isn’t that great of a deal.  I can pick them up at home for around $10.  So I’m wondering, what are we doing wrong?  Maybe amphibeans just shouldn’t drink…wine that is.  All else is fair game at Casa de las Ranas!

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