CALI ROADTRIP – PART 5
8am Wednesday: Woke up early, headed straight to the Brewery to pull my paintings down and packed the car. Had lunch at a tasty spot in downtown LA, with my brother, then said farewell and began traveling north.
5pm: Made it to Big Sur. The highway along the ocean is gorgeous – every time I look, it makes me forget how long I’ve been driving. Once in a while we stop to get out, get snacks, or coffee, but we are focused on making good time. Even the numerous “road closed ahead” signs don’t deter us…
5:15pm: There’s a guy in the middle of the street, holding a stop sign. The road IS closed, dang it! Construction is blocking the way ahead of us, they JUST let a bunch of cars through, and it’s going to be an hour before they are able to let anyone else pass. We decide to stretch our legs for a while, since we happen to be held up at one of the most stunning viewpoints along the entire California coast.
9pm: Approaching San Francisco (finally!!!) we discussed checking out a restaurant or a bar, but we’re way too tired. Planning to sleep in the car for a while, then get moving again. But looky here – got a text from my buddy Dutch, inviting us to crash overnight in his guest room. He warns us that it’s in a rough neighborhood, and we should be careful. Sweet.
10:30pm: Made it to Dutch’s house. The only thing “rough” about this neighborhood is the gravel road we drove in on… Becky Jean went straight to bed, while Dutch and I had a glass of wine and got caught up.
7am Thursday: Woke up next to the sleeping beauty in the guest room, to the realization that this place is flipping FABULOUS! Thinking about jumping on all the nice beds while he’s out dropping the kids off at school. Surely that will help energize us for the next 12 hour drive…
Dutch came back and made us the tastiest protein smoothies ever. He added a couple scoops of something so chalk-full of nutrients, he promised these smoothies will “shoot ya right out of a cannon.” Just what we need! (I’m still pretty bummed about my lost dog… so I’ll take any help I can get to make the drive home faster.)
“I know you two want to get back as soon as possible,” said Dutch, “That’s too bad, because I would have loved taking you two for a spin in my airplane.”
“Heck yes we want to do it!” Said I, without missing a beat.
Becky Jean could simply not believe her ears… ”No way, I don’t think so -”
“Yes! Yes! Yes of course we can! Can we do it Becky Jean? Can we do it pleeeeeease?!” I begged, jumping up and down a little. (What dog?)
She was in.
The flight was thrilling – the scenery, breathtaking, and Becky Jean & I were completely beside ourselves, in awe of our new Superman.
When it was over, we said good-bye to Dutch, and giddy as schoolgirls, we got started on the last long leg of our drive.
We packed up and left our beloved Montañita in a speeding van, with D and Lady at the helm. She looked at him for reassurance as we flew at warp speed along the newly paved highway.
Apparently, this drive used to take a lot longer. Before we knew it, we were pulling into the most chaotic traffic any of us gringos had ever seen. There were fires along side the road, people shouting, lots of honking, people darting into traffic left and right. We had heard Guayaquil was dangerous, but this was like Wild Animal Kingdom, in the city.
Never pausing long enough to risk a car-jacking, D cursed in Spanish, one hand on the horn at all times. The boys and I exchanged nervous glances.
The plan was: chose a nice hotel as close as possible to the airport, then check in and stay there until it was time to fly out in the morning. We were under strict advice not to go out in Guayaquil.
Our hotel, one of the best around, was one of the most highly secure places I’ve ever been. It was like visiting the Pentagon! Cameras from all angles and the speedy elevators would go (after a room-key swipe) to our floor only. Figuring out how to get to Thacher and Andrew’s room (on a different level) was like a scene from Mission Impossible.
The next morning, we were driven to the airport in a van supplied by the travel agency who booked our Galapagos trip. Everything went smoothly until we arrived at the Galapagos airport (600 miles west of the west coast of Ecuador, along the Equator), when we realized it costs 100 dollars, cash, just to get through the airport. Between the four of us, there was only just over 300 dollars. Since there’s no ATM at the endearingly open-air Galapagos airport, I was instructed to leave my passport with security and bring the cash to retrieve it on my way back to the mainland, five days later. (Which wasn’t easy!)
Inconvenience quickly forgotten, I was already ogling the multitude of life forms lounging on the docks where we waited in groups of 8 for a little dingy to shuttle us to the Eden.
That was her name, Eden, a 16-passenger cruise ship was our new home, island hopping around the Galapagos.
Here’s a video I’ve put together from the first half of our Galapagos adventure…
Huge fan of animals, ever-intrigued by their unique personalities and likeness to humans, I was thrilled to explore the Galapagos. Crawling with lizards, beaches blanketed in sea lions and surrounded on all sides with rich seas of shark, turtles and fish, these islands are teeming with life. It’s no wonder that Ecuador is the most bio-diverse country in the world.
It’s the perfect place to learn about what’s at stake in the wake of global climate destabilization and developments of the Green Revolution, an unstoppable freight train of globalization, driven by profit-hungry multi-nationals, which carries us along our high-risk path.
Thanks to CouchSurfing where I met Wlady Ortiz, the last leg of our trip included a series of exhilarating eco-adventures. His business, Ecuador Eco Adventure is built on raising awareness about local economic and environmental issues, often using solution models that are valuable world-wide, supporting environmental causes and cooperative communities.
He was eager to get us off the beaten tourist path, to guide us through the indigenous parts of Ecuador, in order to get the fullest experience possible. Filming the entire time, I felt inspired to highlight traditional cuisine along the way.
The first days with Wlady were all about food. From the Quito airport to Riobamba (where he’s located) the drive was only a few hours. On the way, Wlady took us through a town called Latacunga, famous in Ecuador for it’s Chugchucara. We stopped at a breath-taking building, cavernous and dark with lots of intricately carved banisters and railings. What, from the outside wasn’t more than a giant, ambiguous steel door, inside was like the setting of a dramatic vampire story.
I filmed a tour… My favorite part was the mouth-shaped fireplace, with enormous fangs. The bull-fighting room, narrow and complete with a severed bull’s head hanging on the wall at one end of a long table, made me a little uncomfortable.
Chugchucara is a dish you can only find in Latacunga. It’s a salty roasted pork, fairly dry and packed with flavor. It made me feel a little like a caveman (cavewoman?) eating with my hands, ripping the flesh with my teeth. But it was delicious! Also on the plate: mouth watering fried plantains (a staple in Ecuador), popcorn and some potatoes. As an appetizer we enjoyed steamed (?) corn kernels with pork crumbles on top.
After dinner, we headed to Wlady’s, where we slept for the night. In the morning, we continued…
The market in Riobamba was our first stop. There was a big room with tables and benches in the middle. Around the perimeter, there were about a dozen little stations, each run by one or two women, each with a large, slow-roasted pig on display. Wlady explained, the roasting process begins at 3am every day.
Competing for customers, the women were eager to give us samples. I have never had so much pork for breakfast!
We also had salt-juice. Across from the market, we found the place to get it. Made with two fried eggs stirred in, the salt-juice is basically a glass of gravy with a hint of cilantro. Murky and brown, it’s a LOT tastier than it looks.
Next, we headed to a nearby cevicheria, Ceviche de Chochos Dona Mary, where we dined on some fabulous soup. Then it was on to Picantaria Anita for a real foodie adventure…
There was lamb intestine soup, sprinkled with dried cow’s blood and topped with fresh avocado. In another bowl, another soup, featuring a large cow foot. The third dish was pig ears.
Not yet complete, our food exploration continued to a place called Palitahua at the base of a gorgeous volcano, Tungurahua, where we met a charming farmer, delighted to teach us about the traditional Ecuadorian feast of guinea pig.
He gave us a tour of his wonderful farm, where he pulled up the most ginormous carrot we had ever seen. It would be part of our vegetable soup. While the guinea pig cooked in the fire-oven, we followed the farmer outside, where we found his robust collection of cows, chickens, bunnies and guinea pigs. He must have had at least a hundred animals. They were beautiful.
Back in the dining room, the farmer’s daughter served our meal. The guinea pig was quartered – Wlady got the head. I watched (and filmed) with amazement as he dug out the brain with the handle of a spoon, and ate it. I wasn’t happy about eating the guinea pig after just meeting it’s cousins out back, but I had to try it. To wash everything down, luscious raspberry juice, fresh from the garden.