Sirens’ Song

When Carlo Ponti released Ulysses with Kirk Douglas as The MAN, I was 6 years old. Never one for understatement, Ponti’s over the top epic grabbed my entire being. The direct result of my watching his movie was that year or 2 later I took the plunge and borrowed both the Iliad and the Odyssey from the Bookmobile that parked in front of our house. Reading was my life back then and Homer, if anything, was even more captivating than Ponti and I devoured those 2 books. They were Adventure personified and I fantasized many incredible journeys growing up in those days.

At that age I had to be selective in my choice of adventures, since several of Ulysses’ trials were a bit too nuanced for a 1st-grader. I could understand his battle with the Cyclops; didn’t everyone have a monster under the bed? But the Sirens? I don’t know about you, but they looked pretty good to me! Yeah, there were some rocks and a treacherous sea, but I figured that there must have been some place to drop anchor and take up with all those beautiful women. Hmm, even at 6 years old…

Lima plays its own Sirens’ Song and I must admit the tune had its effect on me. After 3 months going underground in a full immersion, awash in diversions of every choice, I have only now been able to surface and take a breath, conceding that I was spellbound. But that’s not why I’m here in South America. I’m not ready to wash up on the rocks. At least not here, not now.

It will take me another month to wrap up some things. After that I’m gone. It’s been an instructional time here and I could easily call Lima home. The Peruvians that I’ve met are warm, open and love life. I’ve checked out a number of interesting and affordable barrios in several places around Lima and even La Punta in Callao.

As it happens I was in Callao the day before the US Embassy sent out an emergency alert, warning that the bordering city to Lima, the massive port of Callao, was declared a danger zone by the federal police. Finding the Christmas spirit, a number of armed robberies and fatal shootings convinced the police to close the city off and let the bandits fight it out. There really is a war zone there and if you do have the urge to visit, plan carefully. Anyway, I ate a fantastic ceviche in La Punta at a landmark establishment and truly enjoyed the day with one of my 2 Spanish teachers.

I’ve been working with Ely between her shifts in a casino as she scolds me into repeating, ever faster, corrected phrases that I had earlier botched. She’s a quick-witted soul who is striving to improve her lot. Having to quit attending the university when her dad walked out on the family, she’s been helping her mom raise her 11-yr old brother and will probably never have the chance to resume her schooling. Already in her 30’s she knows that time is not on her side.

But she speaks English very well and hopes to set up a personal guide service working through the SAE/Lima Clubhouse. The Club is always being asked for advice on things to do here and Ely is as good as anyone for revealing some of the treasures buried here in a city of millions (I’ve heard “official” population figures of anywhere from 8 to 10 million, but no one will ever really know).

Before he ran off, Ely’s dad was one of thousands upon thousands of independent taxi drivers in Lima. Unlike Ecuador, and especially Quito, taxi drivers in Lima are fully un-regulated and the single most dangerous form of transportation in the city. Every guidebook agrees with the US Embassy and warns about kidnappings, armed robberies and other delights when the unwary hop in for a frightening cross-town ride.

When we ride the taxis Ely does all the interrogation of potential drivers while I stand away from her with my back to the street. Gringos are always charged double. But we have no trouble. She is street-smart and knows where and how to move anywhere one could want to go, so she can spot a weasel and rejects most taxis.

Visiting, day and night, many off of the guidebook listings, we’ve used the taxis; independent, broken-down private buses; combis, which are minivans stripped down with miniature seats bolted in; an occasional city bus; the limited access Metropolitano bus-train and other, less traditional ways of going from A to B. I’m helping Ely draft a brochure for her services and it will be posted prominently here at the Club. I’m rooting for her to make it and I think she’s got the drive to succeed.

Jenny, on the other hand, is my academic teacher. One of the English and Spanish language faculty at a university here, she’s moonlighting and has been affiliated with the Club for several years. We visit museums, cafes, and some notable highland restaurants. Jenny’s been helping me to understand the immense social upheaval caused by decades of gruesome terror during the years of the Shining Path maoist guerillas. It’s not a pretty lesson and many of the photo-essays on display are very hard to stomach. Yet like the Holocaust museums, the belief in Perú is that if we continue to see we will continue to remember and we must never forget.

At the height of the insurgency, during the 1980’s and 90’s, the Shining Path took few hostages and wiped out entire villages and even regions of the country. They were such a destabilizing force that millions of indigenous families and whole pueblos fled the highlands to flood into an already over-crowded Lima. The city will never be the same.

The shanty-towns that crawl up the steep hillsides circling Lima are now home to a disturbing and restless population entirely unregulated by any standards. Up in the hills, the residents pay 5 times the cost of water delivered within the legal city limits. Water delivered in open barrels with E. coli and other biological goodies at no extra charge. Ahh, city life.

Once the home of the Spanish colonial Viceroy, Lima has been an upper-class city for hundreds of years, with the white criollos ruling a poor and backward country. This tight group of powerful families kept immense riches harvested from all parts of Perú. Even now there are wealthy sections of the city that steal one’s breath with their opulence. Billionaires? They’re quite happy here, thank you. For centuries Lima had a ruling class and an underclass and it was easy to distinguish who was who. Until the Shining Path butchered its way onto the scene.

Never a big fan of television, I watch even less here in Lima. But I’ve seen one commercial many times now and it, in a microcosm, is indicative of the immense social change. The opening shot is of a man stepping down from (what else?) an overcrowded city bus. He looks like millions of other Limeños, an ordinary sort dressed casually and walking purposefully while a voice-over begins extolling the virtues of building wealth. This everyman nods his way past street vendors, shoe-shine men, small shops and other scenes from the bustle of big-city life.

Eventually he enters a doorway and is handed a hardhat, walking past groups of workers in an ever-expanding view of a major construction site. He strides up to face a newly poured concrete pillar, gives it a hearty slap, turns around and gives the OK to the expectant workers. He smiles, they smile and then all hop back to building this skyscraper as the commercial fades to the investment logo. Everyone’s happy.

This man, short of stature with prominent indigenous features, looks like most of the people on the street and the message we received was to judge him by his performance and not his appearance. With so many waves of refugees fleeing the central mountains into Lima for 30 years, the power structure has undergone massive change. This man represents the change.

Whites, while still at the controls of the super-wealth, are no longer necessarily the ones getting things done on the ground. They are frequently no longer the major players nor the ones in charge of running the chaos of 21st Century Lima. It’s been a very painful growth and anti-discrimination signs and posters abound throughout the commercial districts. But discrimination still exists and the signs are simply the admission of a work in progress.

Which is about all that’s working now. Perú holds its general elections in 6 months. My friends tell me that this will be like all the previous pre-election times when all governmental offices essentially close up shop and go home. For the full 6 months. But for me, this was a boon.

Personal and family business mandated a quick spin back to US soil. So this past week I dropped in on my Tampa-based older brother and we connected with my younger brother too. It was great seeing both at once and we ought to do it more than every 1/2 dozen years or so. On my way back into Perú I made the obligatory stop at the immigration booth at the airport.

Known for a dearth of compassion, the airport office almost never gives out more than the standard 90 day tourist permit. Yet when I got to the front of the line and spoke, in Spanish, to the official I pleaded my case for an extended term. And when I asked the officer for the maximum time of 6 months (which is often granted at overland immigration stops but not at the airport), he just glared at me and said NO. But then he wrote 183 days on my passport, smiled and sent me on my way. I think that he was being filmed and wanted to project his limitless powers to the powers that be. Good Man, and by the way: thanks!

So his getting back at the system through his rebellious action gave me the opportunity to invest this wealth of days into a 5 month jaunt around what a number of anthropologists believe to be a cradle of civilization. I’m reading the book 1491 these days and it is riveting. The author is taking revenge on his grade school and high school history teachers by showing what the Western Hemisphere was really like before Columbus and his ilk set sail. To all of you who, like myself, were subjected to standard public school drivel, we’ve been lied to; big time.

New (though some of the conclusions are more than 30 years old) discoveries about just how large and complex indigenous cultures were have trashed what we learned way back when. Although way back when isn’t too far back since the author’s sons are receiving the same old lies. Those pesky Pilgrims were really far more doltish and the surrounding “Indians” were far more advanced than what I learned in Mr. Scandary’s 5th Grade history lessons. Though I did like his collection of old National Geographic Magazines.

I’ll hit the road soon. Though I make no promises, I believe that my posts will resume a more frequent schedule. I’m eluding the Sirens and making a break for the jungle in February. We’ll have to see. In the meantime, happy holidays for and to all. I never did like prepositions.

Galapagos Wrap-up, pt. IV

Arriving on Isla San Cristóbal I was more than ready for change. My time on Isla Isabela had put me into a dismissive and negative mood and the sooner I was off the island the better. So I went to Isabela’s airport an hour early and met Veronica, another passenger also eager to be gone. She’s a director in the Ministério del Ambiente, kind of a Parks & Recreation Bureau within Ecuador’s central government.

I didn’t know it at the time but she’s a high-level functionary within the workings of the country’s civil service. I found this out later when visiting a Sailors’ Museum and saw a bronze plaque with her name on it. The plaque commemorated the new museum and its major benefactors, with her name prominent on the list.

Anyway, Veronica suggested some things to do while I visited San Cristóbal. One of them was the path that began at the island’s Darwin Interpretation Center and continued to the summit of a hill overlooking the main city of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. Following that advice I was to take that trail several times during my stay, each time just before sunset. Muchas Gracias, Veronica!

She was very proud of that trail, having recently attended its grand opening after having worked to get it funded and built. She also took my phone number and promised to call and meet while we both visited the island. But this time I was ready for those notorious subjunctive tenses and (rightfully) didn’t expect the call to come. By now I’ve started to recognize “the meeting that will never be.” On the road for less than a year and I’m already making some cultural progress ;}

Who I did meet though were people very different than the folks on Santa Cruz or Isabela. I found people who were not on the make. The people of Santa Cruz, and more specifically Puerto Ayora, are there for your money. They are friendly enough to be sure, but the town and the island by extension, is there to redistribute the wealth (and property if you don’t hold on to your purse) from the visitors of the developed world and relocate this wealth among the people of the developing world. Visitor and resident alike knows this and there’s no misunderstanding. And at a coarser and sleazier level the same is true on Isabela. But San Cristóbal is different.

It also has an airport allowing flights from the mainland, though the traffic is far less than at the main landing strip on Baltra servicing Santa Cruz. And it also has sights and tours to some relatively unique features, like the only natural fresh water source in the Galapagos. What keeps this island different in flavor is the presence of federal offices, a large naval base, and national commercial fishing administration. There are dry-dock facilities, freight-forwarding yards and other trappings of non-tourist related activity. So one’s chances of meeting someone not involved with tourism are far easier on San Cristóbal. No scams for a change, and a welcome one too.

In Puerto Baquerizo Moreno the streets are clean. And the waterfront promenade with its one-way street was named, but what else? Avenida Charles Darwin. All the shop fronts and park benches in the sun and the shade were well-cared for. This port town was neat, proud, and yet still had time to be friendly.

Just outside the Darwin Interpretation Center there is a brand new UNC/Chapel Hill facility housing earth and/or natural sciences graduate students with lecture halls and common areas as well. The architecture blends well with the surrounding structures and land forms. It was the beginning of fall semester and the grad students seemed to be mixing rather smoothly with the local residents. This island is definitely different from the others.

Yet again Janina was right by revealing to me that the people can be every bit as interesting as the animals. I got a first-hand view of her thesis and now am a believer too. People can and do change rapidly in different social structures. They had clearly done so among the inhabited islands of the Galapagos. But do they evolve? Maybe, if they are as adaptable as guppies.

Which brings me to perhaps my biggest failure while visiting the Galapagos: I never visited Floreana, the mystery island. The last, smallest, of the inhabited islands, Floreana boasted a tale of death, perhaps murder and certainly deceit; mistresses and scandal with transformation following hellfire. Being south of the main island group, this outpost holds itself back from the others.

Set completely ablaze by a whaler’s prank in 1819, it is now believed that a number of important and unique species of animals were lost in the conflagration that consumed the entire island. Descendants of the original settlers from early 20th Century still run the single hotel on Floreana. And if I ever return to the Galapagos, I’m going there very early in the trip.

Back on San Cristóbal, one night walking, I encountered a sea lion pup not more than a very few hours old. Cruising along the town’s seawall and encountering herds of sea lions is vaguely reminiscent of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. The difference being that the hundreds of sea lions use the beach here, plus the common piers and sidewalks to bask; Watch your Step!!

Barely able to move with most of the umbilicus attached, as was the placenta to the mother, this particular little pup was too weak and still too new to use the flaccid skins that would become flippers. When I returned barely 8 hours later those same flippers had somehow “inflated” and were now able to carry the pups weight as it struggled to find its mother to nurse.

Witnessing both of these sea lion pup events I was accompanied by a recent friend, Michaela. Twenty years my junior, this owner of a German travel agency and I had bumped into each other on 4 islands now, so we ended up wandering the docks and eateries along the waterfront. I was fortunate that Michaela speaks far more English (she’s fluent) than my 4 words of German. We compared notes of our various day tours and she collected the information for her clients back home. My second regret, after Floreana, is that I never directly introduced Janina and Michaela. I’ve made some amends via the computer and I sincerely hope that both of them thrive.

In Puerto Baquerizo Moreno I had my first (and only) lobster in the Galapagos. It was pretty good and pretty cheap. Seafood in the Galapagos is generally a bargain.  Along with visiting Floreana, I will spend more time on this island should I get blown back to this part of the world. If I weren’t so fond of Janina and her family on Santa Cruz, I’d fly directly here from Guayaquil. And being retired, I’d happily and easily spend a month in these islands. Now THAT, would be a vacation!

It’s mid-November as I’m writing this and I’m living a comfortable life in Lima; the Galapagos is a long way away. When I consider those various experiences there and the people I met, I think often about how I could improve on my trip. And the most obvious change would incorporate my new love of being aboard a boat. I would root out more day-trip boat tours, or perhaps even a short multi-day cruise. But I wouldn’t learn to SCUBA dive here. These waters are for experienced divers.

The unique life systems that motivated Darwin to devise his theories were themselves the results of unique geologic and geographic conditions found nowhere else on the planet. These islands sit at the collision point of 5 major and 4 minor ocean currents.

From the massive Humboldt Current bringing both cold water and surprisingly cool air temperatures up from the Antarctic, to the nutritionally important Pacific Equatorial Under Current bringing food eastward from the ocean depths to feed the whales, to the Panama Current bringing rain and clear diving waters, these currents form a complex set of powerful forces which endanger the unwary. So learn to dive elsewhere, learn safety and emergency procedures and then you can put the knowledge to good use here.

A day-trip for SCUBA divers will cost somewhere under $200/person. It’s all-inclusive with well maintained equipment, just show up with your bathing suit (and a set of warm, dry clothes). But if you’re like me with size 13 feet, bring your own fins. Each of the populated islands offers day-trips and with some pre-planning before leaving home one can easily dive in almost all of the biomes in the islands.

What about the last-minute cruise packages, said to be possible at amazing discounts? Possibly. But marketing has changed over the last several years. When the Islands started accepting tourists wholesale a generation ago, the park was geared solely for the well-heeled who could afford multi-day cruises aboard all manner of yachts. There were no land-based facilities and the choice was expensive cruises or stay home.

As more travelers visited the islands, the galapagueños rose to the challenge and began offering trips for land-based tourism. Each year saw newer and more extensive and comprehensive ways to experience these islands without committing to an expensive cruise package that virtually dictates every minute of every day. The change in emphasis from cruises (which, to be sure, still exist in a multitude of options) to land-based day trips brought about a corresponding change in what gets flogged to the newer generation of bargain conscious traveler.

Now that all the hip travel guides mention the lure of last-minute cruise deals that is exactly what is (said to be) offered by every business everywhere on the islands. Of course it begs the question: if they are all last minute, how can this be a bargain? I’m still waiting for that answer. The various agencies, sporting goods stores, and shoeshine boys, each of whom offer tickets to everything everywhere network amongst themselves with smartphone apps, so the deals of a decade ago are deals no more.

What this means is that one sees a leveling of pricing that follows the increase in choices. So one now still has the option for a pampered but rather rigid cruise package (which take the traveler to places off-limits to the day-trippers) or a more personalized though still regulated series of land-based 1/2 day and full day tours. As there is some wriggle-room in pricing for the land-based tours, a general homogenization of offerings among vendors markedly dampens opportunities for bargaining. Yet it doesn’t hurt to ask. Hidden treasures exist if you seek them out and you don’t have to pay the asking price.

The Galapagos Islands is an experience every bit as astounding as people say. I barely touched on what is there and how a visitor can see it. I met a Scottish couple in Quito who spent £800 between the 2 of them, for a week. That’s a bit less per day than I spent and one of them had a sea lion come up to him and kiss his GoPro® while snorkeling off Isla Española. I watched it on their computer back at the SAEX Clubhouse.

There are as many ways to visit the Islands as there are visitors. Pick one…

Isla Isabela, an Island With an Attitude; Galapagos Pt. III

I enjoyed my stay on Santa Cruz, but as Janina predicted, it was more for the people than the animals. Certainly the animals were fun and fantastic. Yet having worked in an oceanarium at Makapu’u back in the 70’s, I had been surrounded by and somewhat inoculated to the sight of whales and dolphins, sea lions and seals, penguins and boobies, though not inoculated from the tourists and the schlock.

Puerto Ayora had its quota of schlock with more in reserve should anything be found lacking. As for tourists, even though I was visiting during the off-season there were enough of them out and about that I could only imagine, horridly, what it must be like in the high-season. It’s a question that I hope to never have answered.

So consider this: Way-back-when, after standing eyeball to eyeball with a dolphin (OK, our eyes were probably at least 3″ apart); and with my hand and arm up to my armpit stuck down his throat, pulling out the plastic flowers he had swallowed, I’m no longer filled with visions of unicorns and elves and angels and our noble brothers from the sea. Although, come to think of it: I don’t think that I ever was.

This 1,000lb. beast with a mouth full of needle-point teeth was even less happier than I was by being there, as we were, together. It was not the kind of scene one might have watched during “Flipper” re-runs. And it left me with a working knowledge that while these are impressive beasts, the intersection between humans and animals is usually no fairytale and often not very pretty either.

My point here is that yes, the animals of the Galapagos are an amazing sight to witness, a sight and experience found nowhere else. But I don’t see these animals with the same wonder that others do. I’m glad that I went snorkeling and walked amongst the nesting seabirds, but I gained far more insights walking amongst the nesting humans.

Back in Hawai’i and 40 years ago I’d had a Humboldt penguin nail my foot through a brand-new pair of RedWings. Those work boots had just cost the greater part of my weekly salary! I’ve had my calf sliced open by the razor-sharp trailing edge of a sea turtle’s flipper while transferring it to a holding tank. I’ve disposed of buckets offal and vats of blubber from a beached pygmy Sperm whale after its necropsy on the beach near Kahuku. Though, on the good side, I’ve also built a circus cart for a sea lion to pull through the crowd and made a pair of Elton John-like sunglasses for a dolphin to wear during a fashion show.

Are my views jaundiced towards these creatures? I don’t think so. But neither do I have stars in my eyes when staring down a sea lion in the surf; enjoyable certainly, but transcendent? Hardly. So when it was time to leave Puerto Ayora, I was happy to go. After the high-season, now that at least 1/3 of the shops and restaurants were shuttered, it can be a bit gloomy and careworn.

Puerto Ayora still functions year-round, but it ain’t Disneyland. Instead of Mickey Mouse this and Donald Duck that, the town serves up Darwin on the half-shell. As named on all the islands, I walked down the main drag: Avenida Charles Darwin. One could buy Darwin bar-drinks and Darwin t-shirts and mugs and placemats. And as on 2 other islands, there is the Darwin Research Center and several Darwin statues. Even the chief factotum at my hostal (a friendly and industrious young Ecuadorian) was named Darwin. It was time to visit Isla Isabela, or at least time to leave Santa Cruz.

So I took a 6am speedboat (40′ sportfisher really) on a 2hr, $30 rollercoaster ride to the largest island in the chain, Isabela. Janina had arranged my stay, but in the confusion of a dawn sailing I misplaced her notes and never did meet the person who was supposed to greet me at the dock holding my name on a sign. There were a number of people there each holding various signs, but none with my name. So I flagged a taxi and rode the 2km into the island’s only town (pop., about 3000), Puerto Villamil. My plan was no plan really, but to stay for perhaps 3 days, depending on my mood.

Except that while Puerto Ayora is dismal, Puerto Villamil is bleak. With streets of hard-packed sand and garbage strewn along the lava fields, this village is beaten down, knows that it’s down and isn’t putting up a fight. The food is nothing but destitute collections of bits and pieces of something scooped onto a plate while the person dishing it out stands over me and demands an exorbitant price. The bars are tattered and grimy, the hostals are closed. No tropical paradise here.

The place was weird; both in the words of the guide I met the next day and also in my immediate feelings after getting off the speedboat from Isla Santa Cruz. In the ride from the dock to the center of town, with a taxi driver willing and wanting to sell me almost anything, I saw old mattresses and junked TV’s, trashed clothing and broken furniture strewn far across the lava fields and the houses (shacks, really) far more rundown than in Puerto Ayora.

What you find in Puerto Villamil is a sluttish attitude and everyone seems to expect my money, and a lot of it to boot. The people know they have something unique and they milk it for what they can but they aren’t particularly “green” by any means. I found on several occasions that a tension openly exists between a large segment of the Galapageños and transient scientists regarding the environment and it is very apparent here on Isabela.

At Puerto Villamil fishing is a major source of income for my erstwhile and reluctant hosts. And legal fishing, observing and adhering to quotas and obeying off-limit species harvesting is not a major source of joy. The Chinese pay enormous prices for illegal shark-fins and the scarce and protected sea cucumbers, and money talks. Being told that these animals can generate more money alive than dead is a concept as foreign and as ridiculous to the fishermen as is the idea of sustainable tourism.

It’s a true shithole, Isabela is, and I was so very happy to hop on a small plane and leave. I decided to fly to the far eastern side of the archipelago. By flying I would be taking less than an hour’s time instead of spending an entire day shuttling from Isabela to Santa Cruz and finally to San Cristóbal in fishing boats. It was time to visit Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the provincial capital of the Galapagos. There on Isla San Cristóbal I ended up having the best of times.


Dramamine Monologues: Galapagos, Pt. II

After the first week spent exploring the most populous island of Santa Cruz I was ready for a change. Knowing, though not focused on the warning to beware of what one wishes for, I was in store for a very big change on a much deeper and purely personal level.

So I hopped on a 6am speedboat headed to the largest of the islands, Isabela. By now it was mid September and the calm, tranquil waters offshore were gone. By far the best times for diving were over. With rough seas came silt and sediment, so underwater visibility is greatly diminished.


Those of you who SCUBA dive would be best served by fighting the hoards of the July-August high season, when the water’s warmer, calmer, and clearer. It’s also rumored that those times don’t demand a wetsuit either. But 2 weeks after US-Labor Day the lazy days of summer are gone. And so was breakfast for at least 1/3 of the 15 or so passengers on board for the commute. Oddly enough though, not for me.

Some of my earliest childhood memories, predating Kindergarten no less, were of the times spent puking on Sunday drives with the family. Joining my dad, smoking one cigarette after the other motoring down the highway, my mom riding shotgun and passing around sandwiches and kool-aide, was my older brother pasted against the left side of the back seat, hoping to avoid any backsplash. He was mostly lucky in this regard.


Motion-sickness has whipped me about the head, shoulders and stomach my entire life. I’d get sick in wide-screen movie theaters, riding the ferris wheel, often even a teeter-totter, anything that moved in more than one direction at a time; for-my-entire-life. Often my motion-sickness has been the deciding factor, the weakest link, in determining directions, adventures, roads not taken for more than 65 years. What was going on now, here in the Galapagos?

The chop was breaking over the bow from about 10 o’clock, and we were headed due west with a strong wind from the south. This 40’ sport fisher, with twin 300hp Yamaha outboard engines (and a monster 500hp spare) was battering through, under, and occasionally over waves while fish-tailing and slipping sideways with constant irregular lurches. And I wore the biggest ear-to-ear grin the entire time enjoying the bouncing and pitching and rolling the sea was throwing our way.

So here’s a disclaimer: an hour before launch I had downed a Dramamine. Having grown up using the drug I also knew that it rarely if ever had a damping effect on my upchucks. But I had received what may turn out to be a lifetime supply of the stuff earlier in the year from my support staff back in Hawai’i, specifically delivered to me for my Galapagos trip. I really wanted to visit these islands and overcome my dread of the sea with handsfull of the pills.

But not only didn’t I have the least bit of queasy feelings, I pushed my luck and started reading my Kindle part way through the ride. The chop was so intense though, that I had to stop for fear of cracking the tablet lens on my forehead. Nevertheless, this was a major event; I couldn’t bring on even a hint of discomfort. Another test was in order.

Six days later I boarded another boat, this time from San Cristóbal back to Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz. Believing that I am my own best Guinea Pig, I chose to wait until the boat was underway before downing a pill; normally Dramamine takes 1/2hr to an hour to kick in. 

This trip, if anything, was even more violent than the first and I was sitting amid-ship, inside and away from any views of the horizon or anything else but fellow passengers. This location was where the pitching was far more noticeable. It’s hard to imagine, but my grin was even bigger than during the first trip. What was going on here? An older gentleman taking the commute in the stern of the boat and confined to a wheelchair was thrown to the deck 4 times from the strength of the battering waves (he was grinning though the whole time though, a great sport). I badly needed a reality check.

Back in Puerto Ayora I met with Janina for a deep debriefing. The week before she told me that when she was younger her father had insisted that she have an ayahuasca ceremony. She had been experiencing some very serious health issues that were just not responding to “conventional” medicine and he believed that it was time for a more traditional indigenous approach. So, knowing that this woman is wise beyond her years, I sat down and talked this nausea thing out with her. We both agreed that something deep was going on here.

During my April-May ayahuasca intensive I received 2 separate messages from la medicina. The 2nd message dealt with my immediate future in Ecuador and revealed that it was time to quit Quito, which I subsequently did. But it was the first message that had a connecting link to this motion-sickness issue.

At the time I arrived in Ecuador, and for nearly 5 years previously, I had been plagued with what my primary care physician diagnosed as “intractable nausea.” He was of the notion that a chronic liver condition that I have was the root cause of the nausea, but being cautious he wanted additional opinions. So I spent several years and multiple thousands of (health insurance) dollars with medical specialists trying to pinpoint the origins of this nausea. All of these examinations failed to discover anything definitive, though I did receive several scares of more serious conditions. It was fortunate that those frights were all false alarms, and yet the nausea remained.

So when I received the first message from the ayahuasca ceremony, clearly explaining what the cause was and how to cure it, I was very happy to be lying down at the time. I was rocked to my core. And now, talking to Janina I realized that I was experiencing continued healing from that ceremony from nearly 6 months earlier.

Clinical research, both here in Perú and elsewhere in South America, has frequently shown that ayahuasca can and does have delayed healing effects. While it could be argued that my experiences are purely anecdotal, I’m getting ready for another experiment.


A few hours south of Lima are the Ballestas Islands, billed as Perú’s answer to Ecuador’s Galapagos. It is my intent to go there without any Dramamine at all. This Guinea Pig’s ready for some real action. As the year winds down we’re now heading into a showdown with El Niño and the seas are not smooth and they are becoming less so with the passing weeks and months. If I’m truly over my life long motion-sickness I’ll know it pretty clearly. If not, keep your boots on.

But enough about me, what about you? We were talking about Isla Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands, so let’s get back to business.

The Galapagos is More Than Just Animals

A lesson that I am constantly relearning is one of patience. It’s a lesson of immediate importance as I try to explain my time in the Galapagos. In just over 2 weeks that I spent there I was assaulted; in a friendly way to be sure, but assaulted nonetheless. From the minute I left the hostal and walked down Charles Darwin Avenue, new experiences, new sights, new everything piled up in front of me, on top of me (pelican shit on my hand and my camera: wear a hat, please!), all around me.

For several weeks I’ve struggled to find a way to begin this story of what happened during my time in that very special place. I’ve begun nearly a dozen attempts and each one felt hollow and stilted and in no way a true explanation of how deeply I was affected. Thankfully, and out of the blue I believe that I can now solve this problem. It started with a song.

Paul Simon’s “Boy in a Bubble” was the catalyst I needed, and the line where he sings that we have — no, that we demand: “Staccato signals of constant information” nailed it for me. So here goes. I’m going to present you with facts and factoids. You’re welcome to piece together what you will.

We hear of (and insist upon) Take-Away Points and 6 Reasons to Do This and 5 Foods to Eat or to Never Eat for That and 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. So I’m going to start with the Power-Point of the trip. I’m dividing up my story into several separate posts that ebb and flow with what I did, where I went, what I saw.

Off the top of my head, this is what I saw:

  • Fish
  • pipefish
  • 15” clown fish
  • parrot fish
  • tangs
  • sharks — 3 kinds
  • Birds
  • vermillion flycatcher
  • yellow warblers
  • Galapagos doves
  • owl
  • blue-footed boobies
  • penguins
  • scissor-tail frigates
  • pelicans
  • ani
  • plovers
  • rakes
  • rails
  • Darwin’s finches
  • cattle egrets
  • great blue herons
  • yellow-crested night herons
  • flamingos
  • mockingbirds  — several kinds
  • seagulls
  • coots
  • Galapagos ducks
  • White-cheeked Pintail ducks
  • Gallinules
  • Sea Creatures
  • sea turtles
  • star fishes
  • sea urchins — 4 kinds
  • sea cucumbers  — 2 kinds
  • marine iguanas
  • sea lions
  • stingrays
  • crabs — 3 kinds
  • unknown fish by the oodles
  • Land Creatures
  • Galapagos tortoise — 2 kinds
  • land iguanas
  • striped racer snake
  • rat (squashed and desiccated)
  • indeterminate lizards large and small
  • people big and little and each with an interesting story

I know that there was more, that there had to have been more, but for now: that’s what I saw of the fauna. The flora ranged from giant opuntia cactus forests in the desert areas, to highland cloud forest plants duplicating in look and in feel the tree-fern forests of Hawai’i, plus vast tracts of palo santo trees with their stark white trunks and branches. I saw bugs up the yin-yang, scientifically speaking, and so very much more that I will still be processing the information overload for some time to come.

I spent approximately $132/day for the 15 days I was there. That’s an all-inclusive rate of expenditure which includes a round-trip flight starting and ending in Quito, a twin-engine hop between 2 of the islands and 2, 2hr $30 speedboat trips between 2 other islands. This also included all meals (breakfast was included in 1/2 of my hostal nightly room-rates), lodging, 1/2-day and full-day tours, plus obligatory tips to the guides (you cannot go anywhere without one).

The trip could have been cheaper had I wanted to purchase groceries (even cheaper still if I had brought them packaged from the mainland) and cooked at any one of the hostals I stayed at. But I didn’t. It could have been vastly more expensive had I booked one of the many 5-day, 8-day, 2-week cruises on one of rusting hulks or gleaming yachts available, especially had I booked during the high-seasons of July-August or the Christmas-time holidays. But I didn’t.

So there you have it, the quick-and-dirty. No need to read any further, just pack and go. And you’d better hurry since these days those academics in the know claim that within a (human) generation the islands will have become so genetically polluted from tens of thousands of visitors (carrying seeds on their shoes, insect eggs in their clothes, and smuggled produce with their luggage) that the magic of the Galapagos will be gone forever. So go, now! You will never forget the experience.

And if you stop reading now you won’t be disturbed by my conclusion that all of this was almost a distraction to the real Galapagos. You’ve been warned. Here be dragons.

In 1818 the Nantucket whaling ship Globe, under Captain George Washington Gardner, discovered a “mother lode” of sperm whales some thousand miles west of the South American coast approximately at the equator. He returned to Nantucket in 1820 with more than 2000 barrels of sperm whale oil and the news of his discovery. This led to an influx of whaling ships to exploit the new whaling ground and the Galapagos Islands became a frequent stop for the whalers both before and after visiting what came to be known as the Offshore Grounds. This led to the establishment in the Galapagos Islands of a kind of unofficial “post office” where whaling ships stopped to pick up and drop off letters as well as for purposes of provisioning and repairs.

Or, at least so sayeth the Wikipedia. These days in the Galapagos one can find Gardner Islote (islet), Gardner Shoals, Gardner Bay, and even a place to stay during a visit, Hostal Gardner in Puerto Ayora, the main city in the islands.

TripAdvisor (copyright somewhere, no doubt) told me that this very same hostal was a great backpacker place to stay, so I did, and remained there for more than half of my time in the Galapagos. By the time I landed on Baltra Island I had traded several e-mails with the manager, Janina Chong Murillo. She seemed friendly enough.

Baltra Island has the main airport in the Galapagos, the other being on San Cristóbal, the Provincial capital. Once you land on Baltra, nothing but the remnant of a shield volcano and no more than 50’ above the sea at its highest point, you immediately board a bus for a 10-minute ride to the ferry landing. From there it’s another 20 minutes across a few hundred yards of water to Santa Cruz Island and the home of Puerto Ayora, the main city (12,000 pop.). But that city is a 45-minute ride from the dock, across the island (north to south) that climbs to the high-point (3000’) and then back down to sea-level. Waiting for me at the dock was Marlon Arias, Janina’s boyfriend.

Marlon works part-time at Hostal Gardner. He’s like many island residents, not just in the Galapagos, but Hawai’i for one is the same as are other island cultures. Full-time jobs are the rarity on rocks in the middle of the ocean and people survive by stringing together threads of employment, often unrelated to each other. Take Marlon, for example.

Often I’d find him on the computer at the main desk of the hostal, working the books and balancing the accounts. But find a phone booth and like as not you’d see him changing into a uniform of El Parque Nacional Galapagos Ranger (ed. note: for you younger folk, this last sentence refers to a quaint artifice of the antiquities whereby people would actually step into one for strange and occult reasons, or occasionally make a phone call!).

When not at the hostal Marlon flew a single-engine plane to the far and uninhabited reaches of the island chain, patrolling the waters for illegal fishing, instances of which there are far too many. He learned his craft and earned his license at a flight school near Orlando, Florida where he became hopelessly addicted to bacon-double cheeseburgers, the poor soul. We seemed to hit it off and had a pleasant talk of life and love as we made our way to the hostal, a block inland from the waterfront in downtown Puerto Ayora. It was then, when we off-loaded my bag and I checked in that all my plans changed.

Janina, a beautiful young woman of 34 was there at the desk to welcome me to the Hostal, to the city and to the Galapagos. There are those times when you meet a stranger and immediately know that all bets are off. You can tell that your preconceptions are headed out the window. Once the formalities and innocuous pleasantries were over Janina let me know that this was to be one of those times.

In a seemingly innocent manner she explained that while people from all over the world come to the Galapagos to see the animals, the local people are really what was most interesting. This was something that I was totally unprepared to hear and it stopped me stock still. It was such an outrageous statement that somewhere deep in my visceral core I knew that somehow, some way she was right. With her offer to help I decided that I would test this hypothesis.

But come on! These are the Galapagos Islands, famous the world over. Everyone knows of their most unique and untroubled animal populations that set Charles Darwin on an intellectual journey which put science and religions upside down and still generate deep controversies. People sacrifice, often deeply, for the one chance in their lives to be here among the furry and the feathered and the scaled creatures found nowhere else on this planet. Yet here is this hostal manager telling me that something else, not in any guidebook in any language, is just as interesting; and maybe more. What??!!!

Janina knew that it would take some time to digest this lump of information, so she gave me the rest of the day off. However she let me know that not only would she plan and arrange all my tours and visits for the 15 days I would be there, but that the next day I was invited to go with her and some of her family on an excursion. We would be headed up to the highlands in search of wild Galapagos tortoises, free-ranging on an organic coffee plantation. Who am I to blow against the wind? (thanks again, Graceland) Of course I said yes.

Let me make this clear: before I got there Janina and I were total unknowns to each other. She also never heard of the South American Explorers Club and I knew nothing of her but her name and her occupation. That was it. But not for long.

Then the next day after lunch we drove up there to the misty forests, saw Los Gemelos (the twins) — 2 collapsed volcanic craters, spotted several dozen of these living dinosaur/tortoises that live for more than one hundred years, spelunked through several lava tunnels and sipped some great coffee with snacks of cheese empanadas. Sublime indeed.

Later in the week, via Janina’s promised ministrations, I snorkeled (the first time in more than 4 decades) with sharks, a sea lion, and more. On another day I rode a taxi to and bicycled back from walking through a 2km long lava tunnel, and more. Still later in the week I also took a day-trip to another island, North Seymour, for some serious and up close bird-watching, and more. It was a very busy week and then it was time to visit some of the other populated islands.

Shades of Bogart and a Welcoming 2nd Person Singular; I’m in Lima

I know, I know…

Several folks have been asking for specifics about the Galapagos, and I fully intend to explain my encounter with this unique place. But the 15 days I spent there were far more complex than I had anticipated and it will take several separate posts to do justice to the visit.

Instead, I’ve got several shorter impressions that I need to describe here and now. These are more than just brain farts, but less than individual full-on posts that I prefer sending out. They are snippets of sights and sounds now assaulting me in this first week. They have a certain chronological order but really no cognitive relationship, one to another.

Thurs, 2ndOct2015 Now that I’ve just landed in Lima, for probably a stay of at least several months, I’m overwhelmed with new feelings and impressions of what can only be said is a major change in direction. Lima’s going to be fun.

OK, I’ve been here (on the street) maybe what, 10 minutes? And I’ve already found a friendly face: A young man, Jonathan, who is serving me breakfast. I’m in the upscale mall, Larcomar, and I’m sitting on a terrace overlooking the ocean about 600′ below. Jonathan is studying English and I just introduced him to SAEX; he’s duly impressed and promises to search them out on the web and get involved with their cultural interchange. My public duty for the day and it’s not even noon. Yet I’m not done though.

I just finished talking (via WhatsApp, insanely popular here in South America) with my friend Janina who is the manager of Hostal Gardner in the Galapagos. I recommended her to the director of the Quito SAEX clubhouse, John Caselli. John is looking for a point-person to direct club members to when visiting the Islands. And Janina is the logical best choice. A resident-native of the Galapagos, Janina is also a registered guide for the National Park service. She knows the flora, fauna, and also which tours allow visitors to view these wonders. Both John and Janina will benefit from this relationship, as it should be.

Now it’s time to reconnect with Michaela, a solo German traveler I met on several of the Galapagos islands. Michaela, like Janina, has her own travel agency in Germany and caters primarily to other solo travelers. She periodically takes these trips to build on personal experiences so that she can offer her clients choices based on real-world fact. Any travel agent can read from a catalog, but when you visit an agent who actually toured Kicker Rocks on a SCUBA dive trip, then you want to bring this person your business.

Michaela wants to meet Janina too. I guess that I’m the fixer these days. But that’s a good thing, since folks want to follow separate paths and often these paths parallel the goals they seek. And just like we learned in high-school geometry, these parallel paths share the same directions and goals but like all parallel lines, they never meet. So I interfere; I disrupt the trajectories just enough so that the 2 paths intersect. After that, it’s up to them to continue exchanging energies (and perhaps financial rewards) or not. My work with them is done at this point.

Sun, 4thOct2015 In Michigan it’s Meyer’s. In upstate NY it’s Wegman’s. But here in Lima it’s Wong. South America’s oldest and largest Chinatown is here in Lima and it’s several hundred years older than San Francisco’s. As one might expect, the Chinese here did well and now the largest, most complete, most extravagant grocery emporium in the country is Wong, and there’s a branch about a 10 minute walk from SAEX/Lima. I was on the lookout for not only food, but other items to make my room at the clubhouse a bit more liveable. Where else but Wong? Up on their 2nd floor, given over to school supplies, a kid’s barbershop, video games and Osterizers, towels and table lamps, I found what I came for, an embudo (a funnel).

Back down on the first level I was awash in Santa Clauses (12 degrees south of the Equator), flocked table-sized Christmas trees, and, being October, Jack-o’-lanterns. As those of you in retail know, it’s never too early to push the Holidays down peoples’ craws; even if the Holidays have nothing to do with this part of the world. But they weren’t pushing Hallowe’en at the store, they were celebrating the upcoming HalloWong! Indeed. What’s in (Wong)store, literally, for Turkey Day? I can’t wait to find out.

Wed, 7thOct2015 I was walking by the Honorary Consulate of Malta earlier this morning.

Jeez — I love saying that! Even though it’s only the honorary consulate, still: Malta?! I’ve heard of Bogart’s movie, The Maltese Falcon, the Maltese Cross of the Knights Hospitaller, and a Tunisian physicist I know in Quito tells folks that he’s from Malta, just to avoid conversations about terrorism. Moreover, these days Malta is square in the path of refugees streaming out of Libya in leaking boats, hoping to survive somewhere, anywhere, without getting shot.

Regardless, I’ve never had the thrill of seeing anything firsthand from Malta, honorary or otherwise. Yet from what I’ve bumped into so far, Lima is teeming with these little discoveries and I’m very happy to be here, walking and wondering. Two blocks in the opposite direction is an island of greenery with towering trees. It’s the Brazilian Embassy and I’d love to scale the iron gates and walk barefoot on the lush grounds.

Later today I’ve been invited to critique a traveling magic show which debuts in Barranco. This barrio, universally described as “bohemian” by the guidebooks, is just south of Miraflores, where I and most other gringos stay when in Lima. The SAEX clubhouse is in Miraflores, the yoga studios I plan to attend are here too, as well as the higher-class prostitutes, KFC, McD’s, BurgerKing, and oh, so much more.

But it’s also extremely clean and as safe as one could hope for in South America’s 3rd largest city. These days the streets are awash with federal police in their spit and polish. The IMF, the World Bank, and the other major money manipulators are here in town for their annual meeting. Armadas of limousines sail around the city with police escorts wailing and the parasitic press is here too. Yet we have nothing in common and so I generally ignore the pomp. But tomorrow’s pomp will not be denied. It’s a federal holiday with all major businesses closed.

October 8th, 1879 was the Battle of Angamos (a main thoroughfare, Avenida Angamos is 4 blocks from here). It was the turning point in what is also known as the Saltpeter Wars, and though Perú was defeated by Chile, Bolivia was the ultimate loser. And the navy of that land-locked country still grieves for its stolen seaport. However Bolivia will have to wait. Here and now I’m in Perú, where I guess they celebrate that they didn’t lose any land, just the battle.

For now I am enjoying the differences twixt Quito and here. SAEX/Lima provided me with the names of 2 Spanish teachers and we’ve been trading e-mails: Lilian, Jenny, and I. I was immediately struck by the fact that both of them began their responses to me in the 2nd person. That’s a pretty big deal, really. And in Quito it would have been completely unthinkable.

The Serranos (mountain dwellers) of Ecuador are known throughout South America as being a formal bunch, with clear social boundaries. Whenever 2 strangers meet, they always refer to each other as “Usted” a linguistic holdover from the royal courts of Spain. It is a polite address and in fact a standard way to talk to strangers in all Spanish-speaking countries, though up in the highlands they hang on to it more than any other place.

Ecuador carries this behavior further than other countries, and a good example was the personal relationship I had with my 2nd teacher there in Quito. Profesora Paty, perhaps 10 years younger than me, never once used the familiar “Tu” when talking with me, even after knowing each other for 5 months. We talked about all sorts of personal and even intimate subjects, often laughing to the point of tears. Yet I was always “Señor Karl” to Paty and because of it, I responded to her in the same, separated 3rd person fashion.

But here in Lima, on the street, in the markets and the banks, and via e-mail to 2 separate prospective teachers, it’s Tu, baby. And that feeling of informality repeats itself throughout the day. I’m lovin’ it. This 2nd person familiarity is a very warm and welcoming start to my new life here in Perú.

Where The Writer Bites The Lodge That Fed Him

Here’s the second of the my 2-part posting about my experiences in the Rio Cuyabeno Reserve. If you came upon these 2 postings out of sync, you probably haven’t lost much, but reading the first post first will probably make more sense; so go back and start at the beginning.

Did I mention the fresh-water dolphins? Every afternoon, as we headed to the ole swimmin’ hole, we would stop at a bend in the river where the Rio Negro joined the Cuyabeno and wait, perhaps what? 3 minutes, for a spotting. They are not of the “Flipper” variety and have no interest in human contact, but their lives are predictable and therefore they are pretty easy to locate. At the juncture of the 2 rivers they swim in circles feeding on the numbers of fish passing by. Compared to the familiar ocean-going bottlenose dolphins they are an odd looking bunch and they rarely provided us with more than a glimpse of their blowholes as they surfaced for air.

Each day following the previous was a precious reminder of why the Amazon Basin is so important by ensuring that the world goes ‘round. The bio-diversity can at times be overwhelming, it is that ever-present in one’s consciousness. So what of the people who inhabit this biological cornucopia? Do they exhibit this same richness. I wish it were so.

As mesmerizing as the Jamu Lodge stay was, it was not perfect. And yet, the blame cannot be solely the Lodge’s responsibility. This blame must be shared. It must be shared not only with the other lodges located within this river shed, but also with federal agencies and the indigenous communities themselves.

Puerto Bolívar

Puerto Bolívar

Towards the end of my stay, on a Saturday both bright and hot, the guests of Jamu Lodge and the nearby lodges were invited to attend a once-yearly celebration downriver at the Siona community of Puerto Bolívar.

The Siona, the Cofan, the Secoya and other indigenous peoples populate Amazonia. The Cuyabeno reserve is operated by a collective primarily made up of Siona and Cofan, with the latter group also extending into Colombia. The collective puts up pieces of the reserve for bid to outsiders and this is how Jamu Lodge came to be. Jamu, now 15 years old, and the other lodges lease the land they are on and adhere to the guidelines formulated by the collective.

The guidelines dictate how many lodges the reserve can sustain, how many guests the reserve will receive, and how the lodges care for the environment. Jamu has been in the forefront of the “green” movement within this jungle environment and relies solely on electricity generated from solar panels to operate day-to-day activities.

After some pointed questions about their “green” claim, I was invited to inspect their composting system, the solar charging station, the water filtration units, and the bio-digester for black-water (the plumbing kind of black water, not the tannin-based kind). They really do have a green system. If someone wanted to build a new lodge there on the Cuyabeno, using Jamu as a model would be a smart choice.

But the problem I saw was not with Jamu’s environmental footprint, but rather with the manner in which it handles the interaction between us tourists and the folks downriver. We had been invited to come and share with the Siona and join in, not only at the huge community feast, but also to afterwards take part in the festivities and games of skill, like tree-climbing and spear-throwing, swimming and dancing, chicha-drinking and running. I was ready.

So we left right after breakfast and motored downstream until we landed in Puerto Bolívar around 11am. Sulema had arranged for us to first visit with a family that she’s known for years. The the mother, señora Florinda, showed us how to harvest yucca, peel it, grate it (watch the fingers!), strain it and then cook it on a ceramic griddle for a surprisingly tasty (nothing added) tortilla-like flatbread.

Later we went down to the community hall and listened to several elders. They explained how, in the past, they used bows and 7-ft long arrows to fish. The elders showed us how the blow-gun was made and used, with darts soaked in varying strengths of curare, depending on whether you wanted the animal for food or just to knock it out and keep it as a pet; all fascinating stuff. Then it was time to eat. And so we ate and then just picked up and left.

Lovin that Monkey Meat

Lovin that Monkey Meat

As the communal dishes were being set out for a crowd of several hundred I wandered down the tables seeing what I could see, and then seeing more than I wanted. Halfway down the 50-ft long foodline I spotted one of the main dishes and a human-like claw on one of the platters. I had read that folks still eat monkey and I had also read that it should be refused since primates the world over are endangered. I was so glad that Sulema had brought Lodge-made boxed lunches.

What didn’t make me happy was that immediately after our private meal (off to the side and separate from the foodline), we collected the containers, walked back to the canoe and motored back to the lodge. This was disturbing to me. And I let it be known to Sulema and Victor, the head guide. From all I’ve come across and all I’ve seen personally, no one eats and runs, that’s one of the biggest insults imaginable. The answer I received was as vapid as could be.

They “explained” to me that, well, the Siona aren’t very organized. What??! So, you insult them? I’m still trying to figure out just what transpired, but disorganization is not at its root. These folks, the Siona, host the lodges who in turn host us tourists. Why visit, eat, and then vanish? WTF, indeed.

I understand that they live simpler lives. Puerto Bolívar is miles and hours from the nearest road. Their electricity comes from a diesel-powered generator.  Although earlier I had seen a Siona teen teardown and reconstruct a Yamaha 40hp outboard motor. I lead a simpler life than that kid.

But if they lead simpler lives, isn’t it the responsibility of the lodges, depending on the indigenous community for their existence, to help organize a once-yearly event so that there can be real interaction between the tourists and the people who have lived there for millennia? And wouldn’t this organization of efforts give both groups, the indigenous and us, the chance for interchange? To the benefit of all? Jeez Louise.

Based on previous personal experiences contacting indigenous life and customs here in Ecuador, I know that outsiders want more and deeper opportunities for cultural exchange. And after my encounters with the Shuar down south, I realize that the indigenous also want this exchange because it may be their last, best hope of preserving what they have left.

Siona Elder2

Siona Elder2

Earlier, in a completely separate post, I mentioned about the violent confrontations the indigenous have recently had with the Correa government. They do not have a receptive ear within that government and they are desperately looking for other means to get their message to the rest of the world. Here, on the Rio Cuyabeno, they still have that chance.

I came away with feelings of embarrassment (to be included in such an insult), anger (at such insensibility) and confusion (my normal state). Since the visit I’ve communicated with both the lodge and the owner, a Quito-based entrepreneur. Or, I should say that I’ve written to both but not heard back from either.

So, given this lack of perfection, would I repeat my jungle experience again? In a heartbeat. The Amazon Basin is 7 Wonders of the World rolled into one majestic piece of the planet and it deserves to be seen by all who can do so. I would also repeat my stay at Jamu Lodge, which offers both a most restful hideaway and a stimulating chance to be off the grid and unconnected; with some wildlife thrown in to boot.

If I were to repeat this trip, I’d save even more money by flying (or taking a 10-hr bus ride from Quito) to Lago Agrio. Then I’d stop in one of the local agencies and book passage to the Lodge from there. Now that you know it, start planning your trip. Below is a repeat of the images from the first part of this story.