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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The King of Pisco Sours

I took three years of high school Spanish.  Okay, truthfully it was four years; I had to repeat the second year in summer school.  They didn't let you go on with a D even if it is a D+.  (I’m not saying I’m proud; I’m just sayin’.)   The sad part is, I have a real facility for languages, but it turns out no matter your level of facility, you can’t learn a language if you don’t study.  Who knew?  In any case, I wasn’t interested in languages at the time -- idiot me -- and I stopped after finishing the third year.  I was required to take a year in college, but since I went to a really good high school, the first half of the year was basically a repeat of my Spanish Three, and the second half was me reading English translations of the novels I was supposed to be reading in Spanish.  Oh, Miguel Cervantes, oh, Lope de Vega, you weep. 

In any case, Spanish stuck with me.  When we went to Ecuador, I found my Spanish to be as good as my Russian currently is, a level I call pre-conversational.  The little boys in the Amazon school were delighted when I told them they were the ages of my grandchildren, and I could ask anyone where the bathroom was and get there.  In time.

On our first evening at the Yarina Lodge in the Amazon, Steve approached the bar tender, Freddy (many of the Ecuadorians in tourist locations carry English names), and told him we’d had Pisco Sours in the Peruvian Amazon where they bragged theirs were the best anywhere.   Steve then shamelessly played into the rivalry between Peru and Ecuador and asked Freddy if he could make a Pisco Sour because he (Steve) thought Freddy’s would be even better.  Freddy thought a moment, pulling the recipe out of his memory, and said, yes he could, but not until 6:20 or so, enough time after the generator came on-line that the ice was made.  Pandy, Betty, and I ordered them.

And Freddy’s Pisco Sours were really, really good.  They were so good that the following evening, six people ordered them. 

The day after that, I skipped the afternoon hike because the obligatory rubber boots irritated my sausage toe (see post of April 18), and, okay, mostly because I was tired of being around 18 other people all the time.  Instead I took my Kindle up to the lodge veranda, sat in an easy chair and elevated my foot on the coffee table. 

Freddy came out of the kitchen and asked haltingly if we had really liked those Pisco Sours.
 I reverted to Spanish (the only way to improve in a language is to use it), and I assured him that yes, yes we really did.  He asked if we would want them again that night.  I told him that yes, yes, we would.  I told him that I only drank Pisco Sours in the Amazon, and when I was in the Amazon, I only drank Pisco Sours.  He said that in that case he would go into town to buy more, well I couldn’t understand what that was although I urged him not to go to a lot of trouble.  It didn’t matter because it turned out that what he really said was that as soon as the generator came on, he would make more ice. 
Freddy's English was on the level of my Spanish, but with minimal vocabulary and maximum good will, we had a long conversation.  Freddy is from Quito.  This is unusual because generally the flow of labor is away from the scarcity of jobs along the Amazon and into the city.  However, Freddy had always worked in food service, and his employer in Quito would dock his wages an hour or even more if he was only five minutes late or for other minor infractions.  His aunt lives in the Amazon, and when she told him about the job at the Yarina Lodge, he came and took it. 

He works, to an American mind, very hard.  Seven days a week, he sets up, serves and clears breakfast, lunch and dinner.   He washes dishes (by hand; the generator for electricity runs only from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM and is for the use of the guests), and he works the bar in the evenings.  He makes much better money than he did in Quito, and the employers are fair.  He works three weeks at the lodge, and on the fourth week, he goes to visit his family in Quito.  He misses his brothers (or perhaps brothers and sisters, the word being the same in Spanish), but he is so much happier with this good job.

I told Freddy that we had always wanted to go to the Galapagos, and we were headed there next.  Freddie said the Galapagos were really beautiful.  He had not been there himself, but his grandmother told him so.  With deep sadness, he told me his grandmother was now dead.

I told Freddie I was 65 years old, and maybe when he was 65, he would get to go, too.  He grinned and agreed that was possible; being 22, he certainly hoped he didn’t have to wait that long.   

These are all the things I talked about with Freddy on the veranda of the Yarina Lodge.  At least, I’m pretty sure that’s what we said.  In the end I told him again how good his drinks were.  I said, “Freddy, usted es el Rey de Pisco Sours!”  He laughed, got up and went back to doing the dishes. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Lost and Found in Ecuador

The Ecuadorean Amazon, the Galapagos, all under the safe wing of knowledgeable naturalists.  Whee, we're off!

It's not that the Amazon is hot; it's the humidity that kills you.  Dripping with sweat five minutes after showering, the guide plunked us into canoes, and we were off to the quitude of Tapoche Lake.  Quiet except for the flock of five Hoatzin (five is a flock, isn't it?), direct descendants  of dinosaurs, that followed us.  Quietude?  Hoatzin are supposed to be shy, but they squawked and scolded us all around the misty lake.  We’d lost our camera or forgotten to pack it, who could tell at this point, so I am pulling a picture off the internet.  I can't decide if they're beautiful or funny-looking.

So much more colorful than my imaginings of prehistoric fauna.

When I found our camera (in the bottom of the suitcase where I’d looked a hundred times, I swear), I lost my flashlight . (I read by it when the electricity went out at 10 the night before, so it had to be SOMEWHERE, didn't it?)  Our guide took us to a Quechen community -- a few raised platform homes and a one room school)  where we walked to a 100-year-old Kapok tree,  the prototype  for the Tree of Life in Avatar. 
No blue people flew over our heads, just the blue, blue sky. 
We had a native Quechen lunch of grilled fish wrapped in leaves with a dessert of grilled grubs.

Before we cooked them, they crawled around on this leaf.
AFTER we grilled them, they tasted just like bacon. 
(These were being prepared for sale at the town market.)

Back at the lodge, I looked above the shelf and below my bed, but it turned out that when I 'd returned from the bathroom half asleep in the middle of the night, I’d put my flashlight away in the dry bag.  Who knew I was so responsible?  The next day, we boated back to the mainland and took the tour bus back to Quito over the Andes.  We stopped at the Guango Lodge which is a hummingbird sanctuary.  Hummingbirds were all over the place!  They move pretty fast, so the picture's a bit fuzzy.
If you’re a  Dr. Seuss fan, you will appreciate that this one, with its long tail,
reminded me of the vain Lola-lee-lou. 

We arrived in Quito, dizzy from the altitude, in time to eat dinner and send clothes out for overnight laundry.  In the morning we re-packed and flew to the Galapagos.   The dock in San Cristobal was alive with sea lions. 
This baby was still nursing when we came back to town several hours later.

Our cabin was rife with clever storage [unlike the hotel in Quito where we simply tossed things around in our luggage leading to the previous post on losing my phone (see May 9)].  In unpacking, I found a black shirt that I’d forgotten I'd packed.  
Our first stop was on South Plaza, a tiny island with the giant tortoise preserve.  It was tortoise mating season, and the females hunkered down while the males roamed.  When the males come across a female, any female, they climb on, maybe from the side, maybe from the front -- they have pretty small brains --but eventually they get it right.  When they are successful, they give a loud groan:  UNGH!   (Apart than a whoosh of air that rushes out when they withdraw into their shells for protection, it’s the only sound they make.)  The groans resounded intermittently all over the preserve.  Men!


FThree female tortoises doubtless discussing their dating prospects.

Normally the Booby is a dopey-looking bird with duck’s feet that phosphoresce pale blue, 

Their feet are very, very blue.

but the following day, our group, distributed in two dinghies, found ourselves in the middle of a Blue Footed Booby feeding frenzy.  Above us, a mass of maybe 100 Boobies sighted a school of fish below.  They swooped clockwise around us and, one by one, pointed their toes, tucked in their wings and turned themselves into arrows, long beak first.  They plunged three meters for breakfast.
The one toward your left is streamlined and diving.

Now and then one had rest on the rocks.
Booby and friend (a Galapagos penguin)

We snorkeled almost every afternoon, and the ship sailed to the next islandevery night.  One night as we began to haul out, I realized I’d forgotten to retrieve our bathing suits from the line up on deck.  I went up to get them so they wouldn’t blow out and be lost at sea.  One of the sailors on a break motioned me to look over the back deck.  Sea lions were following the ship, twisting and leaping out of the water.  They were jumping after small blue flying fish, snapping them out of the air and swallowing them whole.  I was so tired, I didn’t even think to go to our cabin and get my camera.  Instead I will show you a picture of the Greater Flamingos on Isabella Island. 

 What is it with the girls in groups of threes?

On our last evening aboard, I ran to our cabin to take a picture of two crew members who were performing a folk dance for us. I pulled the battery  from the charger and popped it in place.  I ran (or rolled, really, the ship was moving, and it was pretty choppy) back to the lounge and aimed.  The screen proclaimed N"o chip."  No chip?  No chip?!!!   What, are you kidding?  No picture of the charming dance?  Wait, I’ve just lost ALL my vacation photos?  Steve opened the camera, and, sure enough, we'd lost the chip.

  I don’t have the folk dance, so here are marine iguanas.  They face the sun in unison. 
They remind me of teenagers in a high school hallway.
The land iguanas are more colorful:  yellow and orange.

 Steve eventually found the chip on the couch.  It must have jiggled loose when I put the battery in and then flipped out onto the cushions when Steve opened the battery case to check.  Good grief!

 Early the next morning sailing to the airport, we circled Daphne Major, the tropic bird mating well, not island, more like large hunk of rock.  We saw lots of tropic birds and also a short eared owl that had wrested a frigate bird from a tropic bird and was eating it's guts.
Tastes just like bacon!
Back in Quito, the night before the flight home, I lost the document case I bought in 1967 for my semester in London which wasn’t too bad as my passport was safely tucked in my pants zipper pocket, but still, lots of memories in that soft piece of leather.  Ah ha!  Found it stuck to the bottom of my Kindle case. 

My self-image as an efficient and organized traveler has taken a blow.  Still, in the end, nothing stayed lost, and I was ready to go home to my light green-eyed pussycat.