Note: If you are first visiting this Ecuador Blog, scroll down to the bottom to read from the beginning.

I took it easy today. I leave on my flight back to the U.S. at midnight tonight. I slept in a bit, had a leisurely breakfast, and caught up on a week of emails. I did visit an artisan museum within walking distance of the hotel and took a walk at the park across the street. My time here in Ecuador has been better than I expected and I will come back. The city of Quito is too large for me but Cuenca was just perfect. The coast was hot but there were nice winds. I would like to explore more of both of these areas. I have learned a lot while I was here and am motivated to learn Spanish and come back. Thank you for following my trip. I looked  forward each day to sharing my experiences. Talk to you when I return. Love, Christine

Who would have thought that a blonde woman from the midwest who doesn’t know a lick of  Spanish would face challenges navigating the bus system in South America? Obviously I didn’t.  If there were a movie I could relate to Wednesday, it would be Romancing the Stone and unfortunately no one recognized me as a famous writer.  I traveled from Cuenca in a shared-ride bus; held 6 passengers, very comfortable, about 3 hours to Guayaquil, an industrial port city on the ocean; not a real pretty place. The scenery during the ride was incredible and we even went through a national park.  I took a couple photos during the trip but it was one of those rides where the only time I dare take a photo was when there were guard rails. We were in the clouds at times and when I saw the entire mountain covered in palm trees and it was soooo far down, all I could think of was Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone. I did arrive safely however.  In Guayaquil I left my comfortable transport behind to experience the cross-country bus north; this decision being marginal at best. It was a 20 cent fare and the trip would be about 2 hours. There are no shared ride options so I either fly or take the bus. Since I’m determined to see the coastline, I take the bus.  I left GYE at 3 and got into Puerto Lopez at 7pm (4 hours our time, 2 hours south american time).  About every 10 minutes someone would jump on the bus with something to sell. These people do not need to go grocery shopping as the food comes right to them.  You have the mango man, the coconut juice man, the warm plantains filled with queso (melted cheese)man, the pork rind man, the candy man, the juice/cola/water man, the caramel something man, the banana chips man, the pollo (chicken) in a cup man, the raspberry fruit leather man (I actually bought some), the unidentifiable deep fried stuff man, and those are just a few that I remember.  This goes on for most of the trip until we’re way up in the mountains. No one speaks ANY english but I am still a popular person on the bus. You see I purchased what I thought were wet ones to wipe my hands and other parts but when I used them on my face, they smelled like bubble gum and everyone in the front few seats could smell it. I offered some to the woman next to me, then her friend, then the man in front of me. They were all laughing and saying the spanish words for baby diaper wipes.  I looked at the package to see why they were laughing and figured it out, along with some hand gestures from my seat mate.  All of our faces were as soft as baby butts and the whole bus took on a Chicklet kind of fragrance.  When we reach Puerto Lopez, the bus driver grabs my bag and throws me out at my stop and as I stand there on the sidewalk at night, my bubble gum scented friends came to my rescue and got me a “taxi”. The taxis are really just motorcycles with a back on them, see the picture. I arrived at my little beach hut, reserved online that morning and got settled before I proceeded to forage for dinner. I could hear the roar of the ocean but it was too dark to see it well other than the reflection off the white waves as they crashed. My room on the ocean set me back $10 (yes, ten dollars!) and included a cooked-to-order breakfast. Puerto Lopez is a vacation spot but it is kinda off season so not a lot of people but very pleasant. I run into Lynn, Ron, and Tilo who are from Marco Island Florida. They are going for a drink at one of the beach bars so they ask me to tag along mainly because I couldn’t stop talking to them because I hadn’t spoken English all day, just a language I made up that sounds like Spanish but has no meaning. The trio have been down the coast in Salinas looking for a condo to buy and telling me how nice it was there.  Lynn and I really connect and laugh all evening. Tilo is a dentist and Lynn works for him. Ron is her husband.  They have had dinner but they order me a plate of jumbo shrimp as they say I “have to try them”. YUM. See the picture, $3.50.   A great evening. This morning (Thursday) , Maria at my beach hut gives me instructions to get to Manta for my 2pm flight back to Quito. This trip will involve getting off before a main stop on the bus before it goes east in order to catch another bus going west to Manta. This strategy she insists will save me an hour. She meets me at the bus station to tell the driver her plan. I am a little nervous but I decide to go for it. I have her write the name of the town I have to get out at and all the Spanish phrases I might need to get to the next bus. I practice these on the bus. The bus ride was bumpy, dusty, and warm. I was entertained however by Spanish pop music and trees that look like people. I tried to photograph them but it was almost impossible. They really did look like people, I swear, like Wizard of Oz land. I get thrown off the bus again, literally,  the bus driver attendant grabs my bag and without even stopping the bus they get me out and my bag sits next to me. I stand on this corner and there is a mango stand and about 6 or 7 Ecuadorians staring at me. I act very confident and know things will work out. I smile, say Buenos Diaz and fix my eyes down the road waiting for the bus that will take me to Manta. I see a bus coming after about 5 minutes and they yell out Manta Manta Manta, I nod my head, they grab me and my bag and I am wisked away. They collect my 50 cents (Marie told me what to expect) and I am off to Manta. (You may recall that this was my original destination but I had changed plans and went to Puerto Lopez, a diversion to stay on the ocean. ) Well, I make it in plenty of time for my flight and within the hour I am back in Quito. I will be going out for my Thanksgiving meal whatever that may be in an hour or so. I have a lot of pride knowing that I was able to navigate across Ecuador without incident. The people here are very kind and curious to know you better. It has been a very special trip so far and I still have another day.

Around every corner is a church, each one more beautiful than the previous. It was a great day exploring Cuenca. I took a bus up to another town where I had a great view of the city. I also took a tour of the city to learn more about it. Then I got to thinking, what would a trip to South America be like if I didn’t visit a Farmacia. Actually I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and today it was worse and starting to go into my ears so off to the Farmacia I went. I asked for the medical doctor and he did his consultation thing and between his little english and my little spanish I got my antibiotics. The consultation and antibiotics were $4.20. It was the 3 dose pack and I am feeling so much better this morning. I love it.  See the wheelbarrow, yes those are strawberries and they are huge and sweet. I bought a little bag for 25 cents. Dinner was with Che as you can see by the fire. Barbara and I met up and shared stories of our day. The little apartment with the balcony is where I picture living for a few months. Today I begin my journey over the mountains to the coast. I have 2 segments, the first will take me to Guayaquil, then the second to Manta. I should be in Manta by 5 or 6pm tonight. You will not hear from me for a little while but maybe if I have internet tonight I will be able to update. I get all your notes and comments so keep them coming. Good to hear from home.

Late Monday afternoon I met Barbara from California. On our way out to dinner we found a jewelry market and had to partake. A lot of handmade items and very colorful. The cathredral picture was a desparate attempt to get a picture of one as my battery was running out, more of those later. This padlock is on the door next to my room here at the inn I’m staying. I won’t even ask what’s in that room! Barbara and I went through some shops, had dinner and shared stories; she had been many more places than I including Afganistan. Today I am exploring the city once again as there is so much to see. I am heading out to the coast tomorrow so this will be my last day in Cuenca. The steak dinner I had to take a picture of because it is the biggest $5 steak dinner I’ve ever had. Good too.  I don’t think I’m coming home.  I have internet free here at the inn and it is available on every corner in the city. It rained yesterday morning and the battery went out in the afternoon when the sun came out so today I plan to take some pictures of the city. More later.

This morning I pretended I was Anthony Bordain and Andrew Zimmern, my tv travel/food heros. The market I found was a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. I can’t even explain some of the things I saw but all I have to say is amazing. I grabbed a large bunch of radishes for 20 cents. After the market I went to the Panama Hat museum and store to see how they are made; all handmade with very intricate weaving. Eduador is the origin of the Panama hat. You see all the village ladies wearing them. I also went to the Central Bank Museum to get out of the temporary rain shower. They had an extensive display of all of the cultures in Ecuador and how they live. Very extensive. I walked and walked and finally about 2:30, stopped for a spot of lunch. This is my new favorite egg drop soup that has two full eggs in it, spices, fresh cilantro, and white cheese at the bottom. Oh yeah, it’s a protein powerhouse and at $1.54, I’ll have it more than once. Yes, that is a popcorn side dish. I picked a very nice restaurant because everything here is so cheap you can have the best. Herbal tea, 54 cents, a bottle of mineral water in a restaurant with your meal, also 54 cents.  It has been a great day exploring Cuenca. Oh yes, I am able to update my blog at this local internet cafe…60 cents an hour. This city is so walkable and so beautiful. More later.

Quito is so huge, 35 miles long. It is also at nearly 9000 ft so I am headed to a city about a third the size: Cuenca.

At the festival there were lots of booths selling food. You could get a very large cup of fruit (think Big Gulp size) for $1.00. It’s easy to eat right here.

Sunday: Went to the botanical gardens as I read that there was a live butterfly exhibit there.  I remember so many butterflies when I was a kid so I wanted to see a whole bunch of them at one time and I did. It was great to have them fly around me. The gardens are within a much larger public park and there was a festival going on. Hundreds of people and live music…I got to dance too! A great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

I arrived late last night after uneventful flights. TVC to Minneapolis, then to Atlanta, then Quito. It’s great as the time zone is the same as Michigan so I am feeling really good. Met a young guy from L.A. who owns a travel agency so the conversation from ATL to here was fascinating. “Where have you been? No, where have you been?” I have a flight this afternoon to Cuenca, a Colonial city further south so won’t venture too far in Quito today. It’s just beautiful here. 

First decision of the day, tomato or raspberry juice. Both!

The hotel is awesome, modern and new and the toilet paper is rose-scented. Roses are one of their biggest exports but luckily they keep some of the scent for their toilet paper.I’m still trying to figure out how to load pictures correctly so be patient, I’ll figure it out.