Joined January 2020 Message
  • Day159

    Time To Go Home

    June 10 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 66 °F

    Well, I got tired of the gloom and doom of tracking the cases and deaths here in Ecuador. It's been over 10 weeks since I've written anything. Part of that was because we weren't traveling and were stuck in quarantine. And part is because we were stuck in such a nice place with amazing people and I didn't want to rub it in to anyone in quarantine back home. After a few weeks, we dropped the social distancing pretense while here. Our group of international misfits dwindled from the upper 20's to a core group of about 22 for two months. There are about 15 of us here now and 7 of us will be leaving in two days for home.

    Fortunately, nobody here contracted the virus and there were only two known cases in the village during the pandemic so far. Apparently, two shopkeepers contracted it. They interacted with people daily and dealt with distributors coming from Loja. Meanwhile, we were here in our happy little bubble with good, safe food, friendly staff, and the abilty to hike, swim, do yoga, and ride this out in shangrila. We studied the situation here and at home and now that regular flights are scheduled, we decided it's time to move on. We'll miss our new family here at Izhcayluma and will have many fond memories.

    It was surreal to see how Guayaquil went from prepared to overwhelmed in such a short time. There are many reasons why that happened. A lot of it was because many people didn't heed the social distancing rules. It's really hot there and there's massive poverty. Lots of poor people eke out a living selling things on the streets. Their houses are tin roofed and there's no AC for many, so sitting outside and socializing is the norm. I have to say the government did a pretty good job of implementing measures early on, but Ecuador still got whalloped by the virus. And you can probably double or triple any death figures you see coming from Ecuador. In March, there werre 5,000 or more deaths than normal in Guayas province that weren't counted as Covid 19 cases.

    We ended up staying here 3 months. We planned on 5 days. It's been an amazing experience, mostly due to the kind owners of Hosteria Izhcayluma. I'll add my review I posted to Trip Advisor and Google to give you an indication of how amazing this place is. If you ever head to Ecuador when things are safer, you should check this place out. I doubt it will lose any of its magic.

    Here's my last photo album , from the last two months.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/uz45jdraDDXtr7tS7

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    My stay at Hosteria Izhcayluma was unlike anything you might experience here. My wife and I were looking for a safe place to hunker down at the beginning of the Covid 19 pandemic in March, 2020.  We contemplated getting an apartment on the coast, or sticking with our reservation at Izhcayluma.  Raik, the manager told us that we could cancel it for free because if we come, we may be here for awhile.  What an understatement! Our original 5 day reservation turned into a 3-month quarantine with 20+ other foreigners from around the world.  I can’t think of another place in the world I would rather have been.

    The owners Peter and Dieter, along with Raik made sure our safety and comfort was more important than profit. I’ll never forget their generosity and their concern for us and their staff.  We were never left wanting for anything and the food and service remained top notch throughout the quarantine, even when we shifted to 2 meals a day to accommodate the staff who had to meet curfew requirements to get home in time.

    And so, over time, we grew into a family of sorts. I’m writing this 3 days before we check out and go home and as of today, no staff or guests contracted the virus and we owe this to our vigilance, but also to heeding the advice of Peter, the owner.  He also made sure his staff were paid when not all of them were needed. For this alone, you should spend your hard-earned travel money here.

    But enough of that.  What about the place? It’s heaven on earth!  I feel like we were sentenced to stay in the Garden of Eden.  The landscaping and gardens are top notch. What was a cow pasture 20 years ago is now a garden paradise. There are lots of fruit trees and flowers in bloom, connected by trails throughout the large property. All those bushes with red beans? That’s the amazing coffee you’ll drink in the morning. It’s roasted at the neighbor’s business. Someone had the audacity to tease Peter because the coffee isn’t local enough.

    The pool (cleaned daily) is an oasis and lounging by it became an almost daily habit. It’s big enough for swimming laps also. The rooms are stylish and very comfortable and the nicest we’ve seen in Ecuador. We ended up being upgraded twice for free and most of the other guests were eventually upgraded also to give more space and because they’re just so damn nice here.

    An amazing yoga shala is just down a trail and up a small hill. After 15 years of trying, my wife finally got me to try yoga. Why not? What else was I going to do? I ended up loving it and the view of neighboring mountain “Mandango” makes for a great backdrop. Yoga is free and what a deal that is considering what many yoga retreats charge. We were provided with twice a day yoga for 2 of the 3 months we were here, until people and instructors started heading home.

    Each unit has at least one hammock and there’s a bird-watching spot with two hammocks where you can laze the day away. I’m not a birder, but there are so many here, including a nesting pair of Andean Mot-Mots that make their presence known.  Sunsets behind the majestic Mandango are a perfect end to the day.

    There are several maintained trails on the Izhcayluma property that allowed us to get exercise without leaving. And once the curfews lifted a bit, we were able to go on longer hikes through the area that staff have marked. Don’s miss the Izhcayluma Loop! Afterwards, you can head to the bar for the namesake drink. Yes, when everything in the country was shut down, they were able to pay for Dennis the bartender to stay onsite and keep the bar open. There, you’ll find a cozy open bar with cheap and delicious drinks, a pool table, ping pong, a large TV, and games. Remember, we were all quarantined together, so we dropped the social distancing a bit after a few weeks. 

    And the food? Well, it’s pretty top notch. It costs slightly more than the basic restaurants you find throughout Ecuador, but the quality is excellent and well worth it.  There are several Ecuadorian  dishes and some classic German dishes included on the large and varied menu. Vilcabamba locals come here often for some variety. And after working our way through every item over 3 months, we never really got tired of the food.

    So, like I said, you will not have the experience we had because of the quarantine, but I can almost guarantee you will love it here. There are rooms for all price ranges, including cheap dorms and an upscale house with 2 apartments (which I highly recommend if you can afford it).  Hopefully you’ll also make lifelong friends here like we did.
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  • Day42

    Mardi Gras in New Orleans

    February 14 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 52 °F

    Suffice it to say that a good time was had by all and our first Mardi Gras in New Orleans. After over 20 visits to NOLA, I finally made it there for the Big Show.

    Deanne joined the Krewe of Freret when she heard that Trombone Shorty was the
    Master of ceremonies. Our great friends Mo and Anita joined us, and Anita joined the krewe with Deanne.

    Mo and I just watched the parades from the streets while Deanne and Anita did a lot of prep work. That included buying tons of beads and throws and loading in early and starting the pre-party early.

    This is the second to last weekend of the parades of Mardi Gras. It was actually a nice introduction because it didn't seem quite as crazy and the day parades were very family-oriented. In the city alone there were probably 12 or more parades over three days. And that's not counting another dozen parades in the nearby towns and parishes.

    We did so much it's not necessarily worth mentioning. The biggest risk of the trip was not having insurance for 5 days while in the United States. We let it lapse because we can pay as we go for any medical problems while traveling and it will be so much cheaper than just a health insurance monthly premium in the US. And I knew that I could still get COBRA coverage backdated if anything happened. Thank God it didn't, because one small injury would have cost us about as much as our 5 1/2 weeks of travel in Panama. I'm not kidding. I did the math. That includes flights, tours, hotels, food, drinks, you name it.

    I did get whacked in the eye with some beads on Friday night and I ended up losing a hard contact lens, but at least my eye healed quickly. This is a pretty common injury and from then on I wore sunglasses at parades.

    Deanne and Anita loved the whole experience of being in the krewe in the parade. Mo and I loved being able just to walk around from parade to parade and stop in a bar for a bathroom break.

    We planned to meet up with Carolyn Freiwald, a friend from Madison, and she told us about a spot on the parade route. Bathrooms can be hard to come by and we went to her friends recommended bar for the bathroom, which were never crowded.

    That spot on St Charles during the day was very family friendly, with lots of kids sitting on makeshift seats on ladders, with a parent standing behind. Look for the pics below.

    I did manage to get a vid of Anita and Deanne's float as they went by. It was awesome to see her dream come true and she couldn't have been more happy with the experience.

    After the parades on Saturday we went to Shorty Gras, a big party the krewe of Freret sponsored at Mardi Gras World. Trombone Shorty headlined it but a fun up-and-coming band, Boyfriend, was probably the highlight of the night. The Revivalists backed her up.

    About 10 years ago when Mardi Gras World was in Algiers, across the river, we probably paid $20 to see how floats are made and see the amazing floats they recycle year to year. It was a blast. Now, that same tour costs $44. See https://photos.app.goo.gl/WFsijuqmgxBMqczU7

    The concert at the new venue with Big Freedia, Soul Rebels, Boyfriend, and Trombone Shorty was only $55. Such a deal! And we got to walk around and see many of the same floats, but this time we got to see them lit up.

    On Sunday, our last day, we walked around Frenchmen Street in the French quarter and took in one last parade, the Krewe of Barkus. That's a dog parade spoof of the more famous Krewe of Baccus.

    MoNita had a flight out that pm and Carolyn drove home a bit earlier. We spent our last few hours getting Oysters at Felix's and a couple drinks at the Chart Room, a wonderfully gritty dive bar in the Quarter.

    And then we woke up at 3:30 a.m. to catch our 6 a.m. flight to Guayaquil.

    All photos are here.
    https://photos.app.goo.gl/CHyy7MiXdTDVmmkU9
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