BootsnAll Travel Network

Days 618-625, 636-653: Ecuador & Panama

Ecuador: Loja, Cuenca, Guayquil, Baños, Quito
Panama: Panamá City, David, Boquete, Bocas del Toro

The highlight of Ecuador was definitely the Galapgos. But we enjoyed the short time we spent on the mainland before we caught a flight to Panama. Panama is a pretty small country, so we breezed through it. But those of you who enjoy the bug photos will like this entry.

Ecuador is the first country we’ve been to on this trip that uses the US dollar as its official currency. They use US dollar bills but print their own coins in the same size as their US counterparts, but put historical Ecuadorian figures on them. They also accept US coins, and the one that seems to be used the most is the Sacagawea dollar. We’ve been wondering why you hardly ever see these in the States – they’re all down in Ecuador!

We arrived in Loja, Ecuador just in time for New Years. The Ecuadorians have an interesting way of celebrating. First off, lots of folks dress up in masks kind of like Halloween. But the really odd part is that they make life-size dummies that are supposed to represent the bad things from last year. At midnight, they set these dummies on fire and jump through the flames to put these bad things behind them. They do fireworks too, but it started to rain 10 minutes after midnight, which kind of put a damper on things.

We’ve seen this kind of security device employed on fences around the world, and have to say it looks pretty effective.

Cuenca was a pretty nice colonial town and had a really sharp cathedral with awesome blue domes.

Near to Cuenca is the Parque Nacional Cajas with it’s moors and weird forests.

Marc in one of the forests in Cajas. Take a good look at that hat and jacket since it is the last time you will see them.

Cool spiral cactus in Cajas.

We spent a few days in Guayaquil, the largest city in Ecuador, on either side of our Galapgos trip. Nice enough for a huge city. Loads of public buses made getting around the city pretty easy. Just don’t get in their way, as we saw one drive over an old guy crossing the street who miraculously went between the wheels of the bus but got really banged up. The riverside Malecon 2000 is a newish waterfront development that was pleasant for walking and had loads of shops. We tried to resist buying the “I (heart) Boobies!” mugs. See the previous blog post if that just sounds weird.

We had accumulated quite a few souvenirs by this time and decided to ship a large box home. We had three replicas of ceramics from pre-Inca Peruvian and Ecuadorian civilizations. Knowing that these countries are concerned about losing real antiques, we made sure to get items that we either stamped “replica” on the bottom or get a receipt from the vendor stating that it was a replica. We very carefully packed this box to protect the ceramics. But, of course, the postal gal asked us what was inside. And when we said replica ceramics, it just went to hell. The whole box was unpacked. People were summoned and consulted on each item. We think they even called the museum store where we bought one of the ceramics. We were sure they were going to have us get some archeological department to sign off on these (very cheap) fake ceramics. But eventually they gave in, repacked the box poorly, and by some miracle they made it home in one piece.

The coolest place in Guayaquil is the Parque Bolivar which is overrun by huge iguanas. They get fed by somebody and have free-run over the park.

Close-up of one of Parque Bolivar’s green residents.

The quaint town of Baños is at the base of the smoking Tungurahua volcano and we had to drive over a road covered in a lava flow to get to it. The volcano went off just last summer. The official tourist map shows evacuation routes in the event of an eruption. Baños had loads of handmade taffy and a bunch of great hikes in the hills. There were quite a few neat critters too.

A fuzzy caterpillar taking the dangerous route.

Cool moth in the hills south of town.

Veiny hibiscus.

We really liked how a lot of the insects had a metallic look to them, like this fly.

Another metallic bug. That might be Marc’s reflection on his back.

Yet another metallic bug.

This has to be the coolest fly ever.

Neat red & black bug.

We didn’t know that there was a red passion flower.

When we got into the clouds at the top of one of he hills everything was covered in dew.

On the bus ride from Baños to Quito, we were commenting on how pleasant Ecuador was and how friendly the people were. Then we pulled into Quito’s bus terminal and realized that someone had stolen Marc’s polarfleece jacket (his most expensive and useful item of clothing) out of the overhead rack. That’s irony for you. Quito was a modern city and it was easy to replace the jacket and Marc’s threadbare hat that was in a jacket pocket.

A view of the colonial architecture in Plaza San Francisco (we think) in Quito.

A few countries in Central America, like Panama and Costa Rica, have onward ticket requirement. That means they don’t want you to come into the country unless you’re planning on leaving and have an airline or bus ticket out of the country already in hand. That’s tough to come by if you don’t have a clue how or when you’re planning to leave. So what we did for Panama was we took an old e-ticket and modified all the information to look like it was a flight out of Panama City in a month. It looked really official and we were a bit disappointed when nobody asked to see it.

You know what Panama has? “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!” (Anyone who thinks that statment is weird should write it backwards.) We didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Panama City, but we did visit the Miraflores locks on the famous canal.

Big ol’ cargo ship making its way through the locks.

Something we hadn’t appreciated how much we have missed is having safe tap water available. We love not needing to use bottled water to brush our teeth and being able to buy snowcones off the street without worry – which is extra good because it’s hot in Panama City.

Spent a day roaming around the colonial area of Casco Antiguo. This old altar was rumored to have been hastily painted black as the pirate Captain Morgan approached. The priest supposedly told Captain Morgan that another pirate stole the gold altar and managed to convinced the pirate to donate funds for a new altar.

A really nice part of Panama City is the Parque Natural Metripolitano with pleasant hiking trails and some huge morpho butterflies to chase. Nice escape from the city.

We had a fairly gnarly bus ride to the city of David. The airconditioning konked out shortly into the ride, and you can’t open the windows on an AC bus. So things got pretty hot. Add to that our location right up against an aromatic toilet and a kid with ungodly flatulence, and it made for a long 7 hour ride. But it could have been worse. As we entered the Chiriqui province, the bus was stopped by immigration officers and they gave everyone’s ID a thorough once over. They took two young guys off the bus, but only one came back. And he had a pained look on his face and waddled like he’d just had a body cavity search. Yikes!

From David, we took a school bus to Boquete. Yes, we finally entered the realm of old American school buses as the norm for public transportation. The bus folks have maximized the number of people they can cram into these buses by scooting the seats closer together to add more rows and have replaced one side of the bus with 3-person seats to get 5 across.

Boquete is a really nice hill town with some phenomenal coffee and nice trails. We spent a morning on the Quetzal Trail, but since we didn’t know what a quetzal sounded like, we had to hunt for every bird noise we heard. We never did see a quetzal (nor did anyone else we met on the trail). But the first thing we did when we got back to town was to download the sounds of quetzals off the internet for next time.

Lots of colorful epiphytes (bromeliads) on the pine trees.

Okay, it’s not a quetzal. But we thought a butterfly with transparent wings was pretty neat.

Geometric basalt wall on the walk back to Boquete.

We had read some pretty good stuff about the island of Bocas del Toro off the Caribbean coast of Panama. We lucked out and managed to get there when it wasn’t raining, which is supposedly a rare event since it rains year round. The trouble was we ran headlong into the “high season”. This town was packed and really pricey (for Panama). The worst part was that it wasn’t that great of a place. This town must have had the worst restaurant service in Panama – which is a problem when the tip is automatically included in the bill. We got out for a day’s snorkelling and hanging out on nearby beaches. One of the snorkel spots (Coral Cay) had a good amount of colorful coral and was okay. The “famous” Red Frog Beach is now devoid of red frogs. Locals say it is because of construction of resorts nearby.

This was weird. In the run-up to Carnival, guys dress up in devil costumes and scare small children with whips. This guy is showing the kids how to run away.

We left Bocas del Toro and went through Canguinola with its enormous banana plantations. That Spanish is really coming in handy. We’re able to talk to the locals and figure out how to catch a cheap colectivo (a packed minivan) or just walk to where we want to go rather than paying exhorbitant “tourist prices” for taxis.

We got to the border of Costa Rica and had no problems getting out of Panama. At the Costa Rican immigration, they asked for our onward tickets. We showed them our second fake e-ticket out of Costa Rica and it worked great! There were two other foreign couples crossing the border at the same time. The Aussies made it across with real tickets out of Belieze, but the Canadians had no tickets and were turned back. We’re picking up some valuable skills on this trip, eh?

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6 Responses to “Days 618-625, 636-653: Ecuador & Panama”

  1. ¡Viejo Papá De la Inflamación! Says:

    Ought intentar quizá ese negocio hacia adelante del boleto en nuestra frontera…

  2. Posted from United States United States
  3. Michael Says:

    its nice to have warm weather, in Indy it was -4 (yes that is a NEGATIVE) with a -21 windchill over the weekend.


  4. Posted from United States United States
  5. JTR Says:

    BEWARE of the handmade brown taffy in Baños…trust me…

  6. Posted from United States United States
  7. Kirsten Walsh Says:

    Wow!! I happened apon your travel blog. This is absolutely amazing, and I plan on reading the entire thing. What I was wondering, is do you have one map of your travels from beginnig to end? Do you also have any advise to a new reader, on how to begin to experience your amazing journey in the most linear way. Thanks, Kirsten

  8. Posted from United States United States
  9. admin Says:

    Hi Kirsten –

    Thanks for the kind words! You should seriously reconsider reading the whole blog. After all, there are partially nekkid pictures of Marc buried in there that might burn your corneas. 😉

    On the right-hand-side of the blog, there is a section called “Archives” that has the entries sorted into months. Click on March 2005 and just scroll to the first one at the bottom. At the top of each blog entry, there are links to the previous:home:next entries. Entries were a lot shorter back then, and probably less funny since we were just trying to reassure our parents that we were still alive.

    If a page looks blank, try scrolling way down since largish pictures make the blog format funny.

    No overall map so far, but we plan to figure out how to make one eventually. Should look pretty cool.

    If you make it all the way through, let us know and we’ll mail you an “I survived K&M’s blog!” postcard.

    All the best!

  10. Lata Says:

    too cool! those are the neatest looking bugs! sounds like you guys are doing well and seeing lots of cool stuff….
    all is well here- check out kaylees site- she is 4 months old- growing so fast- she is a blast. when u return to the states, can’t wait for u to meet her 🙂

  11. Posted from United States United States

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