Category: Ecuador, 2015

Reflections on the Trip

June 24

Our last day. After breakfast, Carol decides to go to a nearby Pre-Colombian art museum. I opt to sit in the lovely Casa Gangotena hotel atrium, where I’m starting this final blog entry. Diana, who showed us around Quito on our first day is to pick us up at 10:45 for our 2:05 flight to Miami, where we have a 2-hour layover before connecting for our flight to Chicago, arriving just before midnight. Our cousins, Steve and Rae Sweet, have been staying at the condo and looking after our dog, Judson, who turns one today. Happy birthday, Judson, if you’re following the blog.

Travel tips. I offer these as a reminder to myself, and because some of you may want to consider them. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on luggage. You never think that the airlines will choose to lose your bag. But they do. Also, pack an extra small bag in your large bag. If, as was the case for us on this trip, you are coming back to one or more places you visit, taking a small bag allows you to just take the stuff you need before you return, and to check your larger bag at the hotel. I managed to do that for one leg of our trip, but Carol did not.

Reflections on the trip. Considering that we experienced lost luggage, landslides, bouts of no electricity or hot water, pouring rain and chill for days, thin air, muddy and slippery trails, bumpy roads and a collection of bugs, beetles and spiders in one of our rooms, it was a helluva trip. In retrospect, those all seem like character-building blips on a delightful 8 days.

Best part was taking this trip alone with Carol. It was a sort of reprise of the fabulous 11-week honeymoon trip we took fifty years ago to Europe, Greece and Israel. Of course, we traveled at a luxury level on this trip that we did not as 22-year olds, when we pretty-much traveled on $5 a day.  Were we to do a trip similar to our honeymoon today, we would be traveling in a way that would make for a totally different experience. Both youth and senior status have their benefits.

We went to see the birds. And the birds were great. But it won’t be the birds we remember most about this trip. We met some amazing people.  

Our 22-year old guide, Josue, was mature, knowledgeable and wise way beyond his age. He was an ideal guide and companion in every way, from identifying and explaining everything we encountered to handling and catering to all of our needs to finding a deck of cards and playing with us, when rain prevented outdoor activity. We hope to stay in touch with Josue, and perhaps even to help with his career.

Along the way, we met local people who were committed to preserving and helping others to enjoy Ecuador’s unique environment. Alejandro, Angel and Mercedes were all unforgettable characters, even though we were able to spend only very limited time with them.

Fellow travelers, Allen and Carol from California and Luis and Sylvia from Barcelona, were fun to share experiences with. It’s possible our paths may cross again. Susi and Franklin, with whom we had dinner in Quito, were personable and fun. Our paths will certainly cross again, because of their daughter and son in law in Chicago. Finally, Diana, who showed us around Quito and drove us from and to the airport, was quite delightful.

Two things about Quito stand out. The amazing Casa Gangotena where we stayed, one of our top couple hotel experiences anywhere, including both the facility and the service. And the Chapel of Man that houses the work of painter, Guayasamin, which blew us away.

The birding was interesting and fun. Neither Carol nor I is likely to become the type of avid birder we encountered on the trip. But I definitely can see us doing more of it. Carol is more into identifying the particular species we see, and I’m more interested in recording the experience with my camera. I’m very happy with the decision I made to get a new and relatively inexpensive camera to allow me to photograph birds on this trip,

The kind of birding we did on this trip was easy birding, much of it involving seeing species that had been attracted to the area through feeding, and relatively little of it involving finding the species along trails. While “real” birders might consider what we did cheating, I don’t fully buy that. These birds were not captive; they were in the wild, but attracted by food.  

I suppose it depends on whether your emphasis is on finding the birds, or seeing them. If it’s the latter, what we did certainly fits the bill. Fact is, we would have done more of tracking birds in the wild except for several factors–the cold and rainy weather on some days, the muddy and slippery conditions, and the physical ability necessary to do some of the trails (which was made more difficult by the altitude). I’m also suffering from two disabilities. For more than a month, I’ve had planters something-itis that causes pain in the heel and makes walking painful and difficult. Perhaps more serious, I’ve been suffering from fatness, a self-inflicted condition caused by love of the wrong foods and drink.

Birding seems a bit like golf for me. I can enjoy it, as long as I don’t get hung up on needing to be really good at it. It’s something that takes you to lovely places in which you can enjoy the landscape and just being outdoors. And it’s an activity you can continue as you get (or have gotten) older. It’s also a social activity that you can enjoy with people at different levels of interest and experience. One nice thing, to me, about where we are in birding is that we are at such a preliminary stage that almost everything is new, and we are almost sure to improve.

There’s also a certain spiritual aspect to birding. As our friend, Susie Kiphart, wrote in a comment to the blog, “I cannot possibly get why these birds would be this varied and beautiful if the Great Weaver God did not create it all this way –and of course want us to love the earth and have “dominion” —take good care of it. I have heard it said that if we do not grow to notice and love it then we can’t have the motivation to take care of it. Thanks for helping us notice!!!” Personally, I don’t think you need to reach this conclusion through belief in a God, though I certainly see how that might fit. Seeing these birds and the beautiful landscape in which they reside gives one the feeling of something larger than yourself. And for those of us who have children and, perhaps especially grandchildren, it evokes a feeling of wanting to preserve this for them and their progeny. It’s not ours to use up. I’m thinking that maybe I should run for Pope. Whaddayathink, should we start an Arnie for Pope PAC?

I’m writing this aloft from Quito to Miami, grateful once again for the good fortune that has allowed me to travel like this. Thanks for following, and for your comments. While Carol and I have many trips planned, those in the short term are not the bloggable type (for me, any way). Next time I see you in the blogosphere will be in Colombia next February, where I’ll be going (without Carol) on a photography trip.  Hasta luego.

1 comment to Reflections on the Trip

  • Kathy Hornsby

    As ever, your writing is descriptive, personal, humorous, and insightful. Good job, Arnie. Welcome home.

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