Real Time Update

Greetings, Friends and Followers. Time for a real time update from the “Middle of the World,” Ecuador.

Thanks to those who have written to inquire if all is okay since I had been posting regularly from Mexico, but have not posted in a couple of weeks. I have much to share, as I have seen some phenomenal places, both in Mexico and Ecuador.

But first there is a big black cloud that I need to clear.  I only want to write about this once, so as not to “go there” over and over again. I am ready to move on.  But friends have asked about photos and updates, and I have always tried to share the bad along with the good.  So here goes…

Upon arrival into Quito, Ecuador, I checked into the Hostal El Arupo, a place with high ratings on both hotels.com and Trip Advisor.  It was a small, three story charming old house with private rooms and baths.  I was given Room #9 on the third floor, oozing with charm.  White fluffy duvet, wooden floors and dormer ceiling, and a window with a view out over Quito’s rooftops that had me humming the theme from the movie, “Room with a View.”

I went out to run some errands, have lunch, and find information on tours in the area.  I was gone for about six hours.  When I returned to my room, the first thing I saw when I unlocked the door was my passport there in the middle of the white fluffy duvet.  I thought “Geesh, I cannot believe I left my passport out in plain view!”  That’s not like me.  I picked it up, turned around to put it back in the secret compartment of my backpack, but my backpack was gone!   Panic ensued.  I whirled around to the other side of the room to see if maybe I left it in on the table with my suitcase, but my suitcase was gone!!  There was nothing remaining in the room except my toiletry bag and my passport.

I went flying down the stairs in a state of disbelief to tell the young man at the front desk I had been robbed.  Cleaned out.  He proceeded to call the owner, an elderly woman who spoke English.

This is one of those “good news, bad news” stories.  As of this point, I thought I had lost everything but the clothes on my back.  My mind raced through the contents of both bags, making a mental inventory of things that were replaceable versus those that were not.

Meanwhile, the owner arrived, so the young man went upstairs to have a look around and check the door lock.  He came flying back down the stairs rattling off some words of excitement in Spanish, to which the owner said to me, “Come with me!”  We raced up to the top floor into Room #10 across the hall from me, and there on the two beds were all my things….strewn from one end of the beds to the other.  The thief had emptied both bags, even removing all the clothing from the packing cubes where I had separated my warm and cool weather clothing.  What remained was an odd mix.  All my short sleeved shirts and shorts were gone, as were two pair of pants.  But the long sleeved shirts remained, as did the fleece pants.  My shoes and sandals were all still there, as were my two swimsuits.  But of course my electronics had been picked clean.  Everything.  Laptop, iphone, ipod, my beloved Bose noise canceling headphones, my FitBit.  Oh, and about $200 in dollars and pesos.  All gone, as were the charging cords and the bag they were stored in.    I was….and still am….absolutely gutted.

The owner maintained that it was the man across the hall in Room #10.  She claimed he was traveling on a Paraguay passport, and had asked for a room away from the others in a quiet corner.  He and I were the only two inhabitants on the third floor.  So in theory, he could have broken into my room, taken my things into his room, and gone through them all without much notice.  But I will always suspect it was the maid/breakfast cook.  She had seen me in the room earlier using the laptop, and she did not show up for work the next morning, leaving her assistant (who BTW would not make eye contact with me,) to make the breakfast.

So much of my life is sadly wrapped up in that laptop.  Not only is it my own personal filing cabinet of data (most of which was thankfully backed up,) but it also serves as my personal assistant for notetaking and research on onward travel.  Even when offline, writing is my therapy.  And it’s my photography “darkroom. ”  My entertainment and social network, all built in to one tidy little back box.  You have no idea the hole  it can leave in the life of a solo, introverted traveler…especially in the evening hours.

Thanks to my dear brother Don who always seems to save the day, I was traveling with two phones.  While the iphone has a roaming plan for Mexico, it is of no use in Ecuador, so it was back in the room in my “gray bag” with all my other small electronics.  I had the android which he set up to accept SIM cards with me,  so I was able to purchase a SIM in Quito so I am not completely cut off from the world.  He patched me through to ATT to cancel my service, as so many password resets are tied to text verification these days.  I changed what passwords I could without the help of text verification, and deleted every email with reference to my online accounts.  Then I deleted the deleted.

My first instinct was to get on the plane.  There was a red eye later that night that would only cost me $200 plus 17,500 frequent flyer miles.  I told Don, “I am coming back.  I know when I am licked.”  But he strongly encouraged me to continue on with my plans, stressing that it would be devastating to end on such a bad note.  And he was right.  It’s been two weeks now, and I have managed to not only survive, but thrive.

I look forward to writing about the amazing things I have seen, both during my last days in Mexico, as well as my weeks in Ecuador.  But alas, it will have to wait until I am back in the USA and can replace the laptop.  While internet “cafes” are abundant here in Ecuador, there is really no way to edit and upload photos.  Besides, the Spanish keyboards drive me insane.  So please understand if correspondence is both brief and infrequent, as I have still not mastered the art of emailing with my two opposing thumbs.

Once again,  onward travel is uncertain, as there are many parts of Ecuador I would still like to visit.  But as of this real time moment, my camera is in the repair shop for its second visit while in Ecuador to the tune of $220 in repair bills.  And with no camera to record the memories, I won’t remember what I saw.  So if he is able to repair it, I will continue on.  If not, I will return back to the US and begin to regroup…

Adios por ahora…

Mayans and the Mayabell

In my last post, I mentioned the jungle lodge my brother visited a few years ago, sending back photos that have lured me ever since. He talked about the refreshing pool in the lush jungle surroundings, and listening to howler monkeys at night. I’ve wanted to visit since I first saw his photos. So when I called for my reservation, I asked for a more remote room. My request was honored, as I got the last “hut” at the end of the path.

Hut #20 at the end of the jungle path.

A thatched roof “hut” (with all the modern conveniences) will set you back $30 USD per night.

I could have stared out these windows for a week straight…

The Lodge also has an RV Park! No overcrowding here!

Mayabell is the closest hotel to the Palenque archeological site. In fact, I walked there from the hotel, just about a 20 minute walk. The lodge is loaded with jungle ambiance. The tropical vegetation, thatched roof huts, open air restaurant. My room had screened windows on two sides, making it possible to wake up to the hummingbirds in the morning, and fall asleep to the roar of the howler monkeys by night.

The food at the open-air restaurant was actually pretty good!

Oh, that Chiapas coffee!

Temezcal, or as we would call it, a “sweat lodge.”

The howler monkey is the loudest land animal, (the loudest in the animal kingdom being the blue whale.) Pretty remarkable for something that only weighs around 15 lbs! Its call sounds more like a growl than it does a howl, and can be heard up to three miles away. It sounds like a lion’s roar! Howler monkeys rarely come down out of the trees, using their 3 ft long tails as a “fifth arm” to hang out and graze on leaves.

I even saw my first agouti (a-GOO-tee) walk by outside my window. I had to ask, trying my best to describe it to the hotel staff….”like a really big guinea pig.” Unfortunately, I was too slow with the camera. Lying in bed was a feast to the eyes and ears. Oh, how I loved this place!

Having had my curiosity piqued for more information about the Mayan culture, I walked back down the road to Palenque to visit the Alberto Ruz Lhuillier On Site Museum. You may recall from my previous post, Lhuillier was the archeologist who discovered Mayan ruler Pakal’s tomb in 1952, the first royal tomb to be discovered intact inside a pyramid. Prior to that discovery, pyramids were believed to be more ceremonial than funerary. Lhuillier’s remains are entombed right across from the Temple of Inscriptions where Pakal’s tomb was discovered.

A diorama of the Palenque Palace. I wish I knew what purpose the “roof comb” served, as it looks like too much effort to just be decorative…

The museum contains quite a few of the stucco bas-relief carvings still in fairly good shape.

These were incense burners. I believe they are original, save for the upper parts which are in a different color stucco.

I found it interesting how the glyphs, which had to be one of the first versions of the character alphabet, were translated. In doing a google search, I came across an interesting documentary about a young man, David Stuart, who first visited Palenque as a 3 year old child with his dad, who was an archeologist. To keep his son occupied, he had him practice drawing the hieroglyphic characters. Young Stuart completed his first research paper at age 12, and went on to be the youngest recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, unofficially known as the “Genius Grant.”

Stuart focused more on the visual design of the script, discovering that their language was not comprised of letters like ours, or entire words like Japanese. Instead, it was a series of syllables, when combined, told the history of their rulers and ancestors. (There is a very interesting Nat Geo documentary on youtube if you are interested in knowing more.)

Many of the door facings and walls were covered in these “glyphs.” Each symbol within the square has a syllabic meaning, when grouped together form names, dates, etc.

This funerary mask, made from malachite tiles, was found in the sarcophagus of the Red Queen, 7th century AD.

It’s easy to see the Mayan features in the stone masks mirror those of the funerary masks.

Funerary masks were used to cover the faces of the royal dead, just as in the tombs of Luxor, Egypt.

Other funerary offerings were found in the Red Queen’s tomb as well, these made from jade.

Palenque was known for their elaborate “censer stands,” or incense burners.

Many recommend visiting the museum prior to the archeological site so one has a greater understanding of the significance of the buildings. In my case, I think it was best to do it in the opposite order, as having spent time rambling through the site, I developed a greater curiosity for what was found inside the buildings…working from the outside in.

The replica of Pakal’s tomb, discovered in 1952 by Mexican Archeologist Lhuillier. The original, once open to the public for 5 decades, is now sealed back in the Temple of Inscriptions.

Meanwhile, here are some of the many tropical flowers I enjoyed at the Mayabell…

From the Mountains to the Jungle: Palenque

I have to admit, as much as I enjoy world history, I have always struggled to embrace ancient Mayan culture. So a couple of years ago when my brother Don sent back photos of Mayabell, the jungle lodge in Palenque, complete with stories of hearing howler monkeys and photos of floating in the refreshing pool, it was the jungle that intrigued me. Two years later, I hadn’t stopped thinking about that jungle lodge. I had to go there. One of the most significant architectural sites in Mayan history, Palenque, was just a sideline. Continue reading

Reason Enough to Return to San Cristobal de las Casas

As much as I dearly love Colonial Mexico; the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, the brilliantly painted houses on the hillsides of Guanajuato, when it comes to nature, ”it’s a bit dry.” Particularly at the time of year I typically visit, which is the dry season. Getting out into nature means lots of dry scrubby shrubs, cactus, and crunchy brown grass beneath my boots. If one is longing for misty cloud-shrowded mountains, Continue reading

I Stooped to a Group Tour!

I typically steer clear of group tours at all costs when traveling, preferring instead to go at my own pace. The “hurry up and wait” of the group dynamic is tiresome, as is spending time in places where I have no interest (e.g. shopping.) I love learning about the history of a place, but not while standing in a circle in the baking sun with other impatient people whispering, shuffling their feet, etc. And then there’s the dreaded tourist buffet for lunch, which reminds me of dorm food. No, best to go it alone. Continue reading

Walkabout Oaxaca

Like the whole world these days, Mexico is changing rapidly. I notice more and more modern touches year after year. There are improvements in technology and infrastructure. Travel is getting easier, as I can now go online and book my bus ticket, make my seat selection, and pay via PayPal for my electronic ticket to be presented on my iphone. This is a huge new convenience as before, I had to wait to purchase at the bus station. And the first class buses all have charging ports beneath the seats now. Continue reading

Mineral de Pozos

I’ve written many times before about Mexico’s “Pueblos Magicos” program which translates to “Magic Towns.” This program established by Mexico’s Secretariat of Tourism (SECTUR) is a way to recognize certain towns for their historic or cultural ambiance that lends itself to a “magical experience.” I think of it as the urban version of the National Park Service. Just as you can be assured when a park has achieved official “National Park” status, there will be something there worthy of a visit, the same can be said for Mexico’s Magic Towns. There will, in all likelihood, be something Continue reading

Feliz Año Nuevo from the Fun Side of the Wall!

In light of the news lately, one of my dear friends asked me, “What will you do if he follows through on his threat to close the border?” My answer? “Party on…after all, I’m on the fun side of the wall!” 

This past year has felt both toxic and chaotic beyond the point of description. I am happy to see the winds of change blow 2018 on out the door. And as the cacophony of church bells peel outside my window near the Jardin in San Miguel de Allende marking Continue reading

Noche de Paz

Silent Night, Holy Night here in beautiful San Miguel de Allende. I came down south of the border a bit early this year to house sit for a friend and take care of her three cats.   It’s my first Christmas in Mexico, and I must say it now ranks as my favorite holiday here. Past visits have been timed around New Years or Semana Santa (Easter,) so I am enjoying seeing the differences between the celebrations. I find Christmas has a more Continue reading

Time to Think

By the time I reach Virgin, Utah from Bryce National Park, it’s late afternoon with only an hour left before nightfall. I don’t typically like to arrive so late, especially when I don’t have a “Plan B” in mind. But I am headed to my favorite boondocking spot which I have had all to myself the past three out of four Novembers (I didn’t go last year, as I was back east.) I am hopeful that it will be no different this year, particularly since I am a few days later into the month than I have been in previous years. It’s a lovely spot with Continue reading