Ecuador/Peru Trip
For a while now,

Here are the places where I spent
at least 1 night on this trip.
(Click on image to enlarge)
I've been wanting to take a trip on one of the cargo river boats going to Iquitos on the Amazon River. I've also wanted to scout out the coast of Ecuador. It's supposed to be a nice area to visit with a small sailboat.
The plan: fly into Quito and bus down through Cuenca crossing into Peru south of Vilcabamba, then over to Yurimaguas. From there, take one of the Eduardo riverboats to Iquitos. Then take one of the Henry riverboats upriver to Pucallpa. Then loop around through the Cordilleras returning to Ecuador to see the coast and spend some "quality time" getting to know one area well. Duration: 5 months (Sep 2008 - Jan 2009)
Ecuador apparently changed their visa policy in July - now limiting a visitor on a tourist visa to 90 days total per year. I had hoped to spend more time there (I don't know why they don't want more of my tourist dollars). Otherwise, the trip has been problem-free so far.
I'm just going to describe some highlights from the trip.  If you're thinking about going there, go down to the bookstore (or and pick up a guide book.  I like Lonely Planet but there are a number of them to choose from.
If you are thinking about going, here are some of my suggestions.
 Quito to Riobamba
  I flew into Quito and stayed in Old Town for a couple days.  Old Town is the recently restored colonial part of the city.  I got to see some of the old cathedrals and monasteries.  Very nice.  The trolley is pretty convenient and only 25¢.  The trollies have a reputation as being rife with pickpockets though, so be especially careful.
I also heard a number of accounts of street robberies in the new part of Quito (the La Mariscal area where everything is located), even in broad daylight, so be careful.  It's like the question put to the bank robber: "Why do you rob banks?"  His reply: "Because that’s where the money is."
From Quito, I bussed down to Baños to go to the hot spring baths.  Probably because it was a weekend but the main one (Baños de la Virgen) below the waterfalls was jam packed.  So I didn't bother going into the water.  Oh well, I'll try again some other time.
Then I bussed over to a little town in the highlands called Guaranda.  The scenery was real pretty, all shrouded in mist.  Unfortunately, no photos.  From Guaranda, I went to Riobamba.
 Nariz del Diablo
  In Riobamba you can catch the train that goes down the Nariz del Diablo.  The Nariz del Diablo is a steep section where the train sort of zig-zags back and forth.  It goes down the first part and stops.  The conductor gets off and switches the track behind and it goes backwards down the next section.  Then it stops again where the conductor switches over to the next section.  It would be kind of neat to make a sped-up movie of it - there's probably such a movie out there.  [Todo: look for said movie and post a link here]
Thank you Talitha for the photos.

The train.
There were a couple freight cars in the front - each modified with a low railing all around on top.  Then there were a couple passenger cars.

Leaving Riobamba.
The best seats are on top.

A little way outside of Riobamba.
I *think* that is Chimborazo in the background.  Note the train conductor.

Going through one of the cuts.

The train passes through
several little towns and
some pretty countryside.

The trip normally takes about 6 hours.  Ours had 2 unscheduled stops - once to clear away some sand that had fallen onto the track ...  
and once when the wheels under our car went off the track (the best part of the ride IMO).  So the trip took about 6 1/2 hours.  I was talking with an Austrian couple on the Amazon whos train derailed twice - once under the locomotive.  They said their trip took 9 hours.
I was amazed at how quickly and easily they got it back on track.  They pulled these big iron wedges out of one of the freight boxes, laid them along the track in front of the wayward wheels, drove forward a bit and after a couple tries, "plop" the wheels were back in place and we were on our way.

The train went down the Nariz del Diablo, stopped for a while at the bottom, then went back up to Alausí where you could take a bus to Cuenca.  
 Cuenca to Yurimaguas
  I really really like Cuenca.  It is a very "livable" city.  Nice climate, very clean and orderly, fairly quiet, very friendly people, nice plaza, not too big but having a fair mix of restaurants and services.  Did I say I really like it?  It's where I think I'd like to settle eventually.  I'm going to try to rent an apartment there for a month or so on the way back to Quito.
From Cuenca I bussed down to Vilcabamba - another spot with a nice climate.  Vilcabamba is a little more touristy and there are a number of gringos settled there (somebody there said there were about 150 I think).
From Vilcabamaba I followed the guidance in Lonely Planet for crossing the border to Peru.  Leaving on an early bus from Vilcabamba, I caught the midday "ranchero" from Zumba to the border at La Balsa (called that I guess because it used to be simply a balsa raft before they built the bridge).  I think I might have been the only gringo using that crossing that day.  I thought that was kind of cool until it came time to get from La Balsa to San Ignacio, the first town of any size in Peru (a 2 hour ride over a pretty rough dirt road).  The only transportation are "collectivos" - a small car (usually one of those tiny station wagon) that they cram 5 (usually 7 or 8) passengers into.  I ended up paying nearly the full amount ($20) compared with the 14 soles ($5) it would have cost.  And when we arrived in San Ignacio, the driver tried to renegotiate the price (it really was a rough ride and I kind of felt sorry for the car) but I said "No, not one centavo more" (in Spanish of course), paid him, said "Buenas noche" and walked away.
From San Ignacio, I took the mini-bus to Jaen, then an overnight bus to Tarapoto.  The road from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas was blocked for several days due to a landslide, so I waited in Tarapoto until it was cleared.
 Down the Huallaga and Marañón to Iquitos,
 then up the Ucayali to Pucallpa
From Yurimaguas you can catch a cargo riverboat to Iquitos.  The Eduardo line is supposed to be the best.  You go down to the dock to see when the next one is leaving (usually within a couple days).  You can stay onboard as the boat is being loaded, but staying in town is more comfortable.
Scheduled departure times are subject to change.  The trucks transporting goods from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas were delayed by the landslide on the road (the only road connecting Yurimaguas to ... well, anywhere) so trucks were arriving for hours after the scheduled departure time and unloading their cargo onto the boat.  So the boat was about 6 hours late in departing from Yurimaguas.  That's not quite as bad as the Henry boat in leaving from Iquitos for Pucallpa.  It was a day and a half late.
The Eduardo boat picked up a lot of bananas (actually probably plantains) along the way - usually a small boat full at a time.  Here they stopped at a fork in the river and several little boats came along side and unloaded their bunches.  It's an interesting commerce.
One of my most memorable times on this trip has been on the riverboat, laying in my hammock that I slung on the top deck, the sun going down and the banks of the river passing by, the other passengers in their hammocks nearby, with a Robert Ludlum paperback in hand, listening to jazz on my iPod.  A kind of spacey, surrealistic feeling.
Here are a couple photos from the Henry boat (Iquitos to Pucallpa).  On both the Eduardo and Henry boats, above the cargo level, there were two passenger levels - the first level somewhat less expensive than the second level "tourist class".  In the case of the Henry, the second level was jam packed with new "mototaxis" bound for Pucallpa (the poor quality photo on the left).  The port officials who inspected the boat before allowing it to leave Iquitos were NOT happy about that.
The Eduardo boat had much better food - a good variety and well prepared.  You had a feeling that the cook liked her job.  On the Henry boat it was pretty much white rice with a tiny piece of chicken and a plantain for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - for 5 days.  The cabin on the Henry was pretty nice though, with a private bathroom and shower.
There was a fancy new terminal at the dock in Yurimaguas so this may be different now (when I was there, it looked like that terminal hadn't opened yet).  For each trip, to book the cabin, I went to the dock (a couple times a day.. you'll get to know the proper mototaxi fare from town to the docks) and simply looked for a boat with a sign saying it was going on to Iquitos (in the case of the Eduardo) and Pucalpa (for the Henry).  Then the guy to talk to for a cabin was the same one who was keeping the books for arriving cargo.  In each case, I found him at the entrance to the cargo hold (on the first level of the boat, just aft of the open deck space).  He's the guy writing in the little book as the cargo is hauled into the hold.
A cabin berth was twice the fare of sleeping on-deck (ie. in your hammock).  I opted for the cabin mainly because I had read and heard lots of stories about theft on the boats.  I didn't hear of any theft on the two passages I was on, but it was easy to see it being possible.  The cabins on both boats had bunk beds.  I paid a single fare on each, hoping to get the cabin for myself.  On the Eduardo, at the last minute somebody showed up and as mine was the last unfull cabin, I ended up sharing the cabin with him.  On the Henry, very few of the cabins were occupied (less than half) so I got the cabin to myself.  You can pay a double fare if you want the cabin guaranteed to yourself.  There is a padlock on the door but you get just one key.
It was too hot during the day to stay in the cabin - they're bare iron inside and out.  So you definitely want to have a hammock for the daytime.  The guy who rented the cabin on the Eduardo also rented hammocks for the trip (about 1/3 the cost of buying one at the market in town).  It was surprisingly cold at night, so if you're sleeping in a hammock on-deck at night, you might want to make sure you have a warm sleeping bag or bring an extra blanket.
I'd like to make the trip again.  But this time with a good camera.
  From Pucallpa I went to Lima and stayed in Miraflores.  I've been to Miraflores a number of times before.  It has a nice plaza with several sidewalk cafes on the corner near the cathedral.  It's a nice place to have dinner and just people watch.  There is an area in the plaza near the cafes selling antiques, craftwork, and other oddities.  There are usually a bunch of people selling their oil paintings.  And there's usually something going on in the little sunken amphitheater - band music, poetry reading, etc.  On this visit, there was a horticultural fair going on.  
  Huaraz is located next to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range on the edge of the snow-capped mountains.  I went up to a lodge called the Lazy Dog Inn, right next to the mountains.  I walked on the road towards the mountains a little while but think I was having trouble with the altitude and didn't quite make it to the snowy bits.  Maybe next time (with a good camera along).
 Cañon del Pato
  From Huaraz you can take a bus to Trujillo through the Cañon del Pato.  The road is a little rough, but well worth it. The canyon is where the Cordillera Blanca and Cordillera Negra mountain ranges come together.
Thank you Andreas for the photos. 
The bus weaves around on the dirt roads.
This is some of the canyon.  But there is a lot more to it.  Some of it is more etched out
of sandstone (sorry, no photos.. next trip.. or YOU go, take some and bring them back).

The road is the little line about
1/4 the way up on the bank.

The river is dammed off (just where it gets
interesting.. damn), apparently to generate power.
  Chachapoyas means "Wariors of the Clouds", a name given to them by the Incas who conquered them. I visited Kuelap, their fortress near Chachapoyas. It's not as impressive as Machu Picchu say. But it doesn't have many tourists nor is it so commercialized so it makes for a very worthwhile trip.
I stayed in a hotel right on the town plaza. My room had a balcony that looked out over the plaza. A couple neat things in the plaza:
  1. On Sunday mornings they have this cool flag raising ceremony with band music, speeches, and civilians and military standing at attention - Chachapoyas is the capital of this county (Amazonas) and they take it seriously.
  2. On each of the past two weekends there has been what I think is a funeral procession with a bunch of flowers carried at the start, then a band playing this really mournful dirge, then people (I guess the mourners) walking behind. I didn't see a casket but it may have been at the start under the flowers. The music sounded old and Italian - almost like out of a Godfather movie.. although I don't know that there is an Italian influence here. Maybe it sounds Italian because the mix of instruments is similar? It was very sad music.
The fortress has 3 entrances.  They are very narrow to force invaders into a single line where they could be easily defeated.  The photo on the right was taken looking outward at the same entrance.
The dwellings all had a round foundation.  Here is a reconstruction of what the archeologists think they looked like.
  Máncora is on the coast about 70 miles down the Panamerican Highway from the border. It's very popular with surfers (lots of surfer dudes and dudettes) and Peruvians on the weekends. The ceviche and seafood are very good. Good place to hang out (waiting until I can return to Ecuador).
 Cabo Blanco - Two months and fifty years too late
30 Nov 2008
  My Lonely Planet says that Ernest Hemingway was inspired to write The Old Man and the Sea here.  It was famous for it's fishing back then. I wanted to see it and maybe do some fishing.
Cabo Blanco is a little ways down the coast from Máncora - about 45 minutes by bus to El Alto, then a short "collectivo" ride down to the town.  The anchorage was full of local fishing boats - most of them sporting a mast for a sail.  Cool.
The Lonely Planet said there was a hotel here that was little used.  It turned out that the hotel was completely booked by a film company and was closed to the public.  This turned out to be a good thing.  Too often I find myself simply hitting the easy spots - the ones in the guide book with a map and recommendations on where to stay and where to eat and what to see.  Now I needed to find my own way a bit.  I started by asking people if there was another hotel or hospedaje around.  I got a couple "No"s, a couple "Well, you can try the Fishing Club but I think they are closed", and then I got a "Go down to the house with the satellite dish and ask the señor.  He often rents a room.".  The señor turned out to be a very gracious host.  The room was VERY basic (though cheap).  I asked about the fishing.  He took me down to where the fishermen hang out and we started asking.  After a while, I was introduced to a captain and we talked about the fishing.  I was interested in tuna.  He said, No, this is the wrong time of year.  September was the time to be here.  At this time, I could go out for small fish (a foot and a half or so long) and a half day would be S/200 (about $60).  It would have been kind of interesting - the boat has sail (which it looked like they use for the most part - downwind anyway) as well as a motor.  But, I decided to pass on it.  I'll try to get back someday.  I was two months late (or 10 months early :-).
We headed back to the señor's house.  He asked if I wanted to see a video of the fishing.  I said sure and he popped a DVD into the machine.  It had a couple 1950's black and white clips on it.  The first was a young Ted Williams narrating a 10-day trip in 1954 when he caught a 1240 pound Black Marlin.  Apparently that was the hey-day for sport fishing there.  The Fishing Club was their private clubhouse.  In the Ted Williams clip, he said that there were no regulations on fishing and in one year (in the 60's) there was 12 million tons[1] of sardines caught.  He suggested that this level of fishing of the bait fish is what pretty much ended the sport fishing.  I guess I'm fifty years late.  Of course I could never have afforded "their" kind of fishing.  In the clip, Williams mentioned that the local fisherman did spear Marlin though and that might have been an option.  And I assume there was some fishing of the sort depicted in The Old Man and the Sea.  Easy to fantasize about it anyway.
I did get to watch the film company shooting some scenes on the pier and beach and that was fun.  I was chatting with a local watching one of the scenes. He said that the film group was there for about a month and a half.  He had brought them out on his boat for some ocean scenes.  He said the name of the film (I'm guessing a "tele-novela") is Contra Currientes (Counter Currents).
I didn't see any Spencer Tracy look-a-likes.  But I did get a real sense of an inner calmness coming from the fishermen I chatted with.  And a feeling of timelessness watching them haul their boats up onto the beach to clean and repair them, probably much the same as their fathers had done, and their fathers' fathers..
Fisherman hauling up one of their boats to work on it.
Updated: Cuenca, 10 Dec 2008
I didn't bring a camera because I couldn't find the charger at the last minute.  So, I bought a couple disposable cameras when I arrived.  I regret the lack of detail in most of the photos I took (of the Amazon and Chachapoyas).  But I kind of like the grainy appearance of this photo.  In B&W, I think it has an even more timeless feeling.  It could have been taken in the 50's.
     [1] 12 million tons seemed like an awful lot and I got to thinking that I got it wrong but I found it also
            claimed here.  They state
               Beginning in the 1950s, a lucrative industry to harvest the anchoveta and convert them to
               fishmeal was developed in Peru. The landings increased rapidly to a peak of about 12 million
               tons in 1970, then dropped to 2-3 million tons for a few years. After 1977 the catch hovered
               around 1 million tons but in 1985 there began a recovery which has persisted into the
               twenty-first century.
 Back in Cuenca
5 Dec 2008
  I arrived back in Cuenca on Monday.  They surprised me at the border by giving me a 90 day visa so I changed my return flight to add 2 weeks to my stay.  On Wednesday I took an apartment in a nice location near the plaza, next to the cathedral.  And yesterday had my first class at the Spanish language school about 2 blocks from the apartment.  The plan is to "try out" Cuenca for a couple months.  I think it is the most livable city I have ever been to. 

The view from my apartment.
(Click on image to enlarge)
22 Dec 2008
I broke down and bought a camera (a Canon XSi).  The image quality looks pretty good.  Here are some shots from this weekend.
 Back on the coast
Bahia de Caraquez, 1 Feb 2009
  I returned to the coast where the air is so thick and sweet you cut it with a knife to spread on your toast with breakfast.  At least that's how it feels after 2 months in the highlands of Cuenca.  In Guayaquil I stayed next to the Parque Bolivar, home to lots and lots of iguanas.
Then to Salinas for a night (where they wouldn't even let me in to see the yacht club - I guess I have that "boat bum" look .. maybe not such a bad thing), Puerto Lucia (very nice facilities for hauling and making repairs - but pretty expensive) and Bahia de Caraquez (looks like a good place to leave your boat to visit the mainland but not a place to "just hang out" for a year, say).
Here are some photos of the iguanas and Malecon.  And here are a couple photos of Salinas and Bahia.

Parque Bolivar

On the Malecon
Quito, 9 Feb 2009
  My Lonely Planet says that Otavalo has been a popular marketplace since pre-Inca times.  They have a big handicrafts market for the tourists everyday (hammocks and all sorts of textiles, jewelry, wood carvings, pottery, etc).  On Saturday it pours out into the surrounding streets and the tourists bus in from Quito, a couple hours away.
But also on Saturday they have a big animal market.  I got there a little after 6AM and it was in full swing.  On one end they have the larger animals - mostly cows.  On the other end are the smaller animals - pigs, sheep, goats, poultry.
After a while I settled into a spot off to the side in the small animal section and tried to be as inobtrusive as possible, a fly on the wall.  The sellers stood with their animal(s) while prospective buyers slowly moved through the crowd, occassionally stopping to look at an animal and maybe talk with the seller.  I found myself rooting sometimes for a buyer, sometimes a seller, and sometimes an animal. 
There was a young 20-something, very well dressed woman with a sheep about 5 or 6 feet from me that I watched for a while.  A young couple, also very nicely dressed, stopped to look at the sheep.  They were obviously very interested in that sheep.  The young man led the negotiations but would turn to his wife each time before (apparently) making a new offer.  The wife would make a little smile each time.  A couple times the couple turned and took a step as if to leave but then quickly returned to continue the negotiation. 

Animal market at sunrise
(Click on image to enlarge)

The larger animals (mostly cows)
(Click on image to enlarge)

The smaller animals (pigs, sheep, goats, poultry)
(Click on image to enlarge)
  After a few minutes another woman, maybe in her 30's, stopped and started to engage the seller.  At this point, I was rooting for the young couple who were obviously just starting out in life.  I overheard the young man offer $30.  The 2nd buyer pulled out several 20-dollar bills and was sort of waving them where the seller would take notice.  I don't know why but after a bit, the seller turned her attention from the 2nd buyer (who looked like she was very interested in making a deal) back to the 1st couple.  Pretty soon some money was exchanged and the rope holding the sheep was in the hands of the young wife and there were big smiles on the faces of the young couple and the seller. 
There was also an elderly lady, not so well dressed standing nearby.  She had 2 little piglets teathered on ropes.  In the half hour or so that I stood there, she didn't have anybody stop to ask about her piglets.  She would shyly look into the passing crowd to try to engage a potential buyer.  The piglets were as if glued side-by-side to one another.  When one turned, the other would turn so as not to break the bond between them.  I hope things worked out OK for the lady. 
Man-O-War Cay, 19 Mar 2009
  After a couple days in Otavalo, I returned to Quito to see Old Town again (and get some photos) and go to the Mitad del Mundo exhibit where the Equator was measured in the 1700's (Ecuador gets it's name from being located on the Equator).

Plaza Grande - the main plaza in Old Town

On Plaza Grande

Plaza San Francisco

Iglesia de La Compañía

You're not allowed to take photos inside the church, but can take them from the door

Kind of a cool pattern


Where the Equator was measured back in the 1700's

A more accurate location -
a couple hundred yards away

Shrunken head
 Back (home) in the Bahamas
Man-O-War Cay, 19 Mar 2009
  I've been back in the Bahamas for about a month now.  When I got back, I couldn't resist starting on the dinghy project and have been at it pretty steady.  So I didn't get around to updating my journal until today (it's been raining all day).  Here are some photos of "home"...

Above is a 360-degree panorama from the dock.  Breakaway is the sailboat in the lower image.

Pretty sunsets
Man-O-War Cay, 19 Mar 2009
  I had been planning to spend the summer in North Carolina, returning to the Bahamas after the hurricane season, then maybe going south from here.  But I'm now mulling over keeping Breakaway here for another year and making another trip to South America in July.  I'd like to see Bolivia, Northern Argentina around Salta, and Chile.  I've never been to Bolivia before.
  Sucre - supposed to be similar to
             Cuenca but maybe a little
  Salar de Uyuni - large salt flats in the
             Altiplano[Bring the camera!]
  Tupiza, San Vicente - last haunts of
             Butch and Sundance.
  Salta - supposed to be some very pretty
  Mendoza - heart of wine country.
             Malbec and Argentinean beef..
             ahh.. heaven on earth.

Some of the places I think I'd like
to see on the next trip