This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life. I love it all!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Smoked Salmon


The other day I was shopping at our favorite grocery store in B'ham--The Bellingham Grocery Outlet (BGO). I know the Grocery Outlet is not the classiest place to shop for groceries and it isn't here in B'ham either. But Bellinghamsters of all stripes shop at our BGO and the folks that work there are so friendly and helpful. No, they don't always have what you are looking for, but that is why we shop there first. What we can't find on our shopping list we get at Fred Meyer across town. The other day I was wandering the aisles and came across the end display with the leftovers from a backyard display that had been much larger at the beginning of the summer, garden hoses, tools, cheap yard art, lawn awnings, all sorts of stuff.

Tucked under the only sh
elf on this end display was what looked like a black mini-fridge. A small, hand written sign said, $69.99. Always looking for a bargain, I gave it a second glance and noticed the door had a thermometer mounted on it. Then I realized this was a smoker. I opened it and found that it seemed to have all of the parts needed to put it together. Still not convinced that this was a real deal, I wrote down the maker's name and the model numer, then headed home with the idea of checking it out on line. Amazingly, this particular model and the company itself had received rave reviews from the 20 plus reviewers. I checked several sites to see how much this model should cost. The cheapest price I found was $150 on-line. So I drove back to the BGO and bought one of the two they had left. $70!!! The device went together very easily. The hardest part was getting it from the garage to our back deck where I had decided I would park it next to my BBQ. It's a heavy bear but the two BBQing devices look good next to each other.

My buddy Rick, who has taught me all of what little I know regarding salmon fishing, boating and anything else having to do with the northwest outdoors, gave me about a beautiful filet of marbled King salmon to test out the new smoker. I had found a recipe on-line at a smoked meat forum site. The guy's recipe sounded great and looked great from his photos. So I decided to give it a try.

I made up the dry rub (recipe follows
) in a 12 quart plastic tub with a lid that seals well. I prepped the salmon filet by cutting it into rectangular chunks of 2 or 3 inches by 5-6 inches. Then, according to this recipe, I carefully removed the skin from each piece. Normally I leave the skin on. It's less trouble for one thing. I placed the salmon pieces into the tub with the rub and snapped on the lid. Carefully turning the tub upside down a couple of times, I had the salmon pretty well covered with the rub. Into the fridge it went overnight, about 10-12 hours. Opening the tub about halfway through this process, I could see a lot of liquid had developed, I suppose due to the salt drawing it out of the salmon. I flipped the tub over a couple of times to mix it up a bit and then back into the fridge. The next day I removed the tub from the fridge, opened it up and began rinsing the rub off each salmon chunk, patting them dry and then placing them onto the smoker racks.

The salmon covered racks were left out to air dry for about 10 hours. when the air drying process was about done, I began prepping the smoker. I lined the bottom of the smoker with foil and poked a hole in the foil above the grease drain hole so it can drain into the grease trap under the smoker. I lined the water and wood chip trays with foil and filled them with water and wood chips. I use Alder chips found in most any sporting goods store unless you have a friend who can supply fresh stuff from the woods. These containers were placed on the rack in the smoker. I pre-heated the smoker to 150 degrees, slid in the racks of salmon and sealed the door. Every couple of hours I checked the salmon and spritzed it with a spray bottle filled with apple juice. This gives the finished salmon its glossy finished look.

At about 8 h
ours I start carefully looking at the salmon to see if it is finished. You want to check it with a knife to see if it looks right. Choose a piece of salmon as your test piece. Use the tip of the knife to pull it apart and look for a nice flaky interior. When finished after 8-10 hours pull the salmon racks out and let it cool on the counter. Remove the salmon carefully with a metal pancake turner and place individual pieces in seal-a-meal pouches. Freeze it if your aren't going to use it right away.





Dry Rub Re
cipe

2 cups brown sugar
2 cups course salt
1/8 cup black pepper
1/4 cup onion powder
1/4 cup garlic powder

Blend together. Coat each piece of salmon with the rub and refrigerate over night, turning the pieces at least once during the process. Rinse the rub from the salmon pieces and pat them dry. Smoke them until you have achieved the desired level of doneness.




Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ecuador--Summing Up the Experience!


So, what do you need to know to do Quito?

  • Well, it is a Spanish speaking city so if you plan to go, the better your ability to speak the language, the better your experience will be. We did not find that most people can, like in most European cities, speak English if it really comes down to it. On the streets and in the places we visited, in and outside Quito, you really need to have a pretty good handle on the language.
  • In airports, really high end hotels, in museums and while we were in the Galapagos Islands, English speakers were very available.

  • If you get into a taxi, you better have a clear understanding of what the price will be before you drive off. Look for taxis with meters and insist they turn it on, but don't be surprised if they won't. So firm up that price. You are a wealthy person by most measures to these people or at least they think you are. So, your price for some things may be different than that of a local. Negotiate a price whenever possible and if you can't come to an agreement then thank the person very much, smile and walk away. Don't take it personally. They are just trying to get the best price they can to provide for their family.
  • Like everywhere, not everyone is honest and some people just make mistakes. Always take the time to count your change BEFORE you leave the counter and if you feel you've been short changed, suggest that they owe you a little more. Keep smiling and assume it was an honest mistake. No point in turning the situation into an international incident.
  • Keep small bills with you. In Ecuador, remember, they use U.S. currency so your dollars work here. You will also be given U.S. coins but these are also mixed with Ecuadorian centavos so spend them before you leave the country. A lot of shops won't accept the larger bills of $20 or larger. So when you buy a more expensive item be sure to hold onto those tens or fives and especially the dollars for taxi or bus rides or even dinner. Dollars are also very common in coin form. Ever wonder what happened to those Sacagawea dollars no one wanted in the U.S.? Go to Ecuador and you'll have pockets full of them!
  • Don't drink the water. Buy your water and you may well save yourself from some serious gastric distress. Water is inexpensive. To save money and more plastic bottles from entering the environment, buy water in multi-liter bottles at the SuperMaxi grocery stores and pour water into the fancy water bottle you brought from home for your day out exploring.

  • While were on the subject of water, it is very important for you to make sure you drink plenty of water while at this higher elevation. Being well hydrated will help you in the adjustment to the altitude, and it keeps your energy level higher, too.
  • Toilets! The toilets here are western style with a couple of differences. A lot of places ask you not to flush ANY paper down the toilet. A trash can is placed next to the toilet and that is where all your toilet paper goes. Otherwise, you may clog their sensitive system. Another important difference is that you may find there is no toilet paper in many public toilets. Sometimes it is sold by a monitor who sort of lives in the bathroom. Other places may charge you to get into the toilet. Still others may have a roll in one place in the bathroom and you need to remember to take some with you BEFORE entering the stall. Finally, it's a good idea to grab some from your hotel toilet and stuff it into your daypack or pocket because there will be places where there will be no paper at all.

  • Uneven walks are an issue all over. Wear a good pair of walking shoes and keep an eye out for where you're going. Chunks of sidewalk may loom out of nowhere or a hole in the sidewalk may swallow you up (kidding) or you may be walking where suddenly no sidewalk exists. A turned ankle can really put a damper on things. Keep an eye out for doggie gifts and a myriad other items that just might come out of nowhere.

  • Traffic is absolutely loco in Quito! Pedestrians basically have no rights except on red lights and even then you are responsible for your own safety. Cross at crosswalks and corners only and then only when you are quite sure it is safe. Then look again and run!

  • Shots? There are places in Ecuador where getting shots and or taking malaria medication is advisable. Check on the Centers for Disease Control website to see what you need before you go. Quito and the Galapagos Islands did not require any shots or medications. However, sun screen and insect repellant are a good idea.

Ecuador was an amazing place and I highly recommend it. But decide what method of travel best suits your needs when you decide to go. You can have a really close to the ground adventure, backpacking through the Amazon and across the Andes or you can buy carefully planned tours where you can see most of the country from a bus window.

The Galapagos Islands are going to require you to get on your feet, walk and sweat a little.

However you choose to travel in Ecuador, you will have an unforgettable adventure, meet wonderful people and a simply gorgeous country.

Bon Voyage!

Dia Vente: Our Final Day in Ecuador!


Slept in this final day. Well, until 8:30. Breakfasted in the hotel dining room, showered and began the processed of packing ourselves and all our purchases. Finally got everything packed in the safest way possible. We have a few rather fragile items that we'll take aboard the flights with us. My shortness of breath continued though a bit better today. I am just exhausted and feel like I have had enough and seen enough of Quito. Guess it's time to go home.

Leslie had a couple more churches she just had to see and she wanted to find the place that sold the best helados in Quito, so she deposited me in the atriu
m courtyard in the back of the hotel and headed off. I was supremely happy in this airy, quiet space. Open to two floors above, this room is decorated in beautiful paintings, comfortable but formal furniture, a small bar, antiques and two computers for guest use. I set up shop here while Leslie went out. I managed some reading, accessed my blog and did a bit of writing.

A couple of hours later, Leslie came back holding a good share of an ice cream cone. She had found the helados stand and had sweetly brought back part of her cone. It held part of two fresh fruit scoops, one of fresh fig and the other strawberry. We chatted about the places she'd visited and then head
ed to the eatery we had discovered the night before around the corner and had lunch. Leslie got her Llapingocha she got last time we were there. I got something that didn't look at all like the photo. It looked like the bits and ends of meat left after it had been in the fryer too long. We had overstayed our welcome apparently. We did enjoy the berry jugo (juice).

At 5:00 we asked for a taxi and the one that arrived had no meter. He was already putting our luggage in the trunk and was hedging on the price he would charge. He wanted us in the taxi and moving before he talked price. We started pulling our luggage aside and asking for the price we knew should be between $8-10. Our threats finally locked in a price of $8. He drove like a bat out of hell, swerving in and out of traffic, honking as he went. We screeched to a stop in front of the international terminal. The rest of the process, with the exception of a two hour layover in Guyaquil on the way, was the reverse of our journey here and not worth repeating.

As I write we are sitting in the aircraft taxiing out for take off to Miami. In about 4 hours we should land there and then head for our final flight on Alaska Airlines to Seattle.


Well, that about does it. It has been an interesting trip. Certainly one of the most adventurous and challenging we have ever been on. I have added a few more thoughts below concerning our experience and plan to add an entry that sort of sums up our experience and gives a few suggestions for those planning a trip to Ecuador.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
A word about our experience here in Ecuador. When we started investigating the possibility of our trip here we went on to the U.S. State Department website and as I expressed in an earlier blog, it scared the hell out of me. As we now near the end of our time here I must report that our experience has been absolutely the opposite of anything we have read or heard as it pertains to any negative experiences. We have simply had none. Not one incident that made either of us uncomfortable or insecure in the least. If anything I am angry with myself for having left my Nikon SLR at home. So many potential photos were left untaken because the mini-Nikon we brought couldn't take the photo. This is not to say, as I also expressed in the earlier blog, that anyone should merrily prance down the streets of Quito without taking any precautions. I listed some of those precautions in that blog and I stand by them. This is a big city and like any big city anywhere in the world, things can happen. I'm just saying it didn't happen to us and, knock on wood, it shouldn't happen to you either. The police and security presence here is unbelievable right now, but that presence could disappear tomorrow for all I know. Be prepared, be careful and, as my daughter has told me on the occasions that my scaredy cat side comes out, you can't live your life in fear of what might happen! Did I mention my kid is smart?

Our interactions with locals can be described as having been open, honest and caring. Ecuadorians have a deep love for their country, for their families, their faith and in the future of their country. Current President Rafael Correa has done a great deal to create faith in the government as a body that is trying to make everyone's lives better.


The cost of living is high here. Clothing, electronics, appliances are very expensive compared to the U.S. A new Apple iphone that I recently purchased for $50 in the States would be $1,000 here.
Food, however, is cheap. You can pay exorbitantly prices at high end restaurants in ritzier parts of Quito, but the food won't be any better and it certainly won't feel more authentic than the little joints you'll find in the neighborhoods. Look to publications like The Lonely Planet for suggestions, but also, look where the locals are going. If it's full of what look like tourists, it may not be that great. If you see a place filled with happy locals, take a chance. You may have the best meal of your trip and here in Ecuador that means you can get a full meal for easily under $5. We were in a place that served a business lunch, soup, jugo, main and dessert for $2 and it looked great.

And while we are on the subject of food, dear readers, when we travel to other countries we go there to experience their culture in every way possible. We do not go to see how their culture has adjusted to ours. If you must eat American fast food, stay home. It is a sad statement on our country that our fast food giants have found it necessary to export our diet to other countries and as hard as France might want to turn its nose up at any food not French, France is actually the number 2 consumer of McDonalds hamburgers in the world. Sad isn't. When the French want to go out for some foreign food and think of America, they think McDonalds not any of the hundreds of regional cuisines indigenous to specific parts of our country. Go to embrace all things from that country (presuming they are legal). That may mean trying some pretty unusual foods. When in Argentina we ate the parrillas, the platter of beef parts BBQed over open fires. Here in Ecuador I tried tripe stew, chuy (guinea pig) and other plates containing meat parts still mysterious to me. But, hey, I found out that they were really good (Though I'm still not sure about the tripe) and if you just can't down it, no worries. You aren't going to starve.

Thanks for traveling with us and Bon Voyage!

Dia Diez y Nueve: Back to Quito!


Our last day of the Galapagos adventure! There was a final shore excursion to a nearby beach but not wanting to get wet or have to return to take a shower when they were already pushing us to leave our room so they could clean it for the next occupant, I elected to stay in the room. I also had some final packing to do and to just relax.

Leslie went ashore and after a couple of hours returned. We had set out our luggage which was picked up to be sent on the the airport ahead of us. We had a final lunch out on the fantail bar area, chatted up our new friends, took photos of everyone and just relaxed until we were called to the our panga for the trip to the Baltra dock and the bus to the airport.

All went well with this process. Our flight was on time and we were
whisked back to Guyaquil and then on to Quito. A taxi ride to our new hotel digs and we were moved in by the end of the day. We walked around the corner for a quick dinner which turned out to be pretty good and then back to our room for the night.

My altitude issues came back with a vengeance. Any effort needed to go uphill or stairs and I have to stop to catch my breath before moving on. While in the Galapagos I had no problems at all. So my last two days are going to be about taking it easy, I think.

The hotel's breakfast room is on the top floor two flights up from our room. What a view awaited us. Entirely glassed in the dining room looked out across the old town, church domes and spires, hillside homes and looking up La Virgin de Quito statue towers over the city.

We had arranged to meet with Leslie's former student, Jilly, who had returned from a vacation back home in the states. She had volunteered to show us around and when she arr
ived at the hotel our first morning back, we decided to go out to Mindo, a small town about two hours by bus from Quito. We taxied nearly an hour to the bus station before boarding a bus for the ride out. $3 per person. It was a wild ride in which I discovered I can get a little motion sick. We were dropped off at the side of the road in the middle of no where. Across the road was a guy with a pick up truck with a canopy. We crawled into the back and he drove us the final couple of km into Mindo.

We stopped at a restaurant/hostel
called Caskaffesu owned by an American expat. I have no idea what it means but it was cute as a button. Had a great lunch of grilled local trout, Leslie had a trout cebiche and then we walked a short distance up a side street to a place that breeds and displays butterflies and orchids and hummingbirds for the public to see. We also hired a local driver to haul us uphill over a rutted, potholed dirt road to reach the Tarabita an attraction that is an open cable car that runs on a gas powered motor that runs a four person car along a single cable out across the rainforest canopy. We were about 400 feet above a river and the surrounding tree tops at the midpoint. There was not enough time for us to do any of the hiking to several waterfalls on the other side so the operator pulled us back to the middle and then stopped, then ran us back partway, finally bringing us back to the starting point. It was exhilarating and my fear of heights for some reason didn't bother me at all. The whole thing would never be allowed in the States without any safety devices and the checks that would be required, but it was fine. We thanked the operators, piled back into the truck and headed back down the hill to Mindo, through town, picking up passengers and dropping them off as we went. We even stopped once so the driver could chat with a friend who happened to be riding a burro up the hill. At another point we pulled over and out of the forest walks a guy holding a very sharp machete! Leslie remembers thinking to herself that all Michael's fears about this country would now come true and we'd be hacked to pieces and stripped of our money belts with all that cash we were still carrying around. No such luck! He was just a buddy of our friendly driver who stopped to give him a ride into town.

We continued on through Mindo and up the hill the way we'd come until we reached the bus stop where we were dropped off at the side of the highway to await the bus to Quito. It showed up in 15 minutes which began the bus ride from hell!


A two hour bus ride back to Quito, only there are no seats left on the bus, no windows open to offer any ventilation and a driver who learned to drive at the Quito branch of the Parnelli Jones school of bus driving--there are no rules and you take all corners as fast as you dare while playing Latin rap music as loudly as possible. Standing all the way back to Quito, only $1. We paid the bribe of $5 so I could sit down. Leslie sat on my knee and eventually she and Jilly both got a seat of their own.
Jilly finally, mercifully, got us off the bus when we got close enough to Quito to grab a cab. We took it far enough to drop her off and then on to our hotel.

I opted out of the dinner with Jilly and some of her friends on La Ronda which is along Guyaquil Street where the buildings have ornate wrought iron balconies like the ones in New Orleans. I'm done! 6 hours of buses and taxis to spend 3 hours in the country side. Ugh! Leslie is kind of stuck what with Jilly being a former student and her local friends wanting to meet her.
Tomorrow we pack for the trip home, stay close to the hotel and relax. About 6:00 pm we will depart for the airport for the first of three flights home. I am so looking forward to it. As much as I enjoyed it, I am really ready to go home.

Dia Quince: The Galapagos Islands





Up early for breakfast at 7:00 before heading off to our first adventure of the day, a wet landing, a 2 hour hike followed by snorkeling on Santiago Island. We landed on a curving black sand beach and hiked out to Egas Point. On the way in our guide spotted a few Blue-Footed Boobies, a famous bird here for it's blue feet, of course. He navigated the dinghy in close to the rocks the birds were sitting on so we could get some photos. We came within a few feet of the rocks but managed to stay off of them and get our photos.

Ashore we headed out to the point where got up close and personal with a number of seal pups and their moms. One pup in particular was still attached to it's placenta and dragged it around while trying to get at it's mother to nurse. Other pups lay about alone due to their mothers being at sea eating. We also saw very tame mockingbirds, fur seals, plenty of Sally Light-Foot Crabs and more marine iguanas as we clambering over the aa and pahoahoa types of lava.

Back at the beach we had the best snorkeling experience of the trip. I swam over to the rocky point of the bay an
d the crystal clear water exposed the bottom some 40 or 50 feet or more in places. Fish of every color and size swam in small schools here and schools in the hundreds or thousands in other places. Looking at the brilliant variety below me I nearly missed running into a lone sea turtle leisurely making it's way right in front of me. We swam along together for a while until I headed off towards my goal when to my surprise a sea lion as big as me swam by gracefully. We swam parallel with each other, the sea lion turning it's head to look at me and I her in a sort of double take. I continued to explore the view of the bottom amazed at the incredible variety of fish, the colors, shapes and sizes. I saw what looked like a Grouper come out from under a rocky shelf only to quickly dive under another out of sight. It looked to be about 3-4 feet in length and had a huge girth. I would guess it must have been at least 75 pounds or more. I swam back towards my starting point and sat on sandy ledge,allowing the cool Galapagos sea to wash over me. This was probably the best snorkeling I have ever had in all my diving experiences around the world. The clarity of the water, the variety of sea life and ease of access made it unforgettable!

Back aboard, exhausted, but happy, showers and lunch, then a nap. For me also, time to get caught up on this journal. We, disappointedly, had to turn in our snorkeling gear this afternoon. Only got to snorkel twice. Leslie three times. There was another opportunity this afternoon, but it was described as a deep dive and that didn't appeal to us so we elected to nap instead.

The afternoon adventure was on the small island of Rabida. This is k
nown as the red island due to the iron rich lava that formed it. The lava then rusted giving the island it's color. We started with a panga ride up the rocky coastline. The turquoise water was so clear we could see the bottom 3-4 fathoms deep easily. Red cliffs rose vertically in places two hundred feet or more. Cactus and scraggly plants clung to the cliffs. In other places the lava created island comes right down to the water. Here and there sea lion mothers and their pups basked in the sun clinging to a small outcropping of rock. Blue-Footed Boobies rested on other crags while others dive bombed into the water around us hoping to catch a fish. We also saw pelicans, cormorants, crabs and marine iguanas. We turned after an hour and sped back the way we came making a wet landing on a red sand beach where we were greeted by a small colony of sea lions and pups.

They allowed us to walk nearly up to them where we took photos.
A short walk inland we came upon a salt water lake inhabited by three beautiful pink flamingos feeding on brine shrimp which exist here due to the higher salinity of the lake water. It was also near this lake that I was approached by a small brown speckled bird. It hopped and fluttered around me, jumping up and down, then staring at me it would begin it's antics all over again until it finally flew down on top of a small rock right in front of me and turned it's head to look up at me as if waiting for applause for the tricks it had done. I rewarded the little bird with a portrait and had a one way conversation thanking the little fellow for being so cooperative. He flew off and that ended our relationship.

Our group next walked back out onto the beach where we walked to the end of the beach where
cliffs took over and we could walk no further. It was along that route that we came across more sea lions, pelicans, Boobies, all up close and easily photographed. By the end of the walk we were standing in the surf looking up a hundred foot red cliff while taking photos of another bird species or watching a sea lion come ashore. In the distance, our ship, the Galapagos Legend, sat off shore waiting for our panga to return us and the sun was slowly setting. Hues of orange, red and blue passed under the thin cloud cover and the sky lit up with a stunning sun set.

Our panga struggled to turn it's stern end towards the beach to pick us up.
The surf was getting rough. The stern end of the panga was yawing from side. As that was the end we needed to board, this yawing made attempting it dangerous. This was the motor end and the heavy 50 horse outboard swung back and forth as well. At one point a lady walked out to get on the panga and jumped up onto the pontoon just as the boat violently swung in her direction. Had she not jumped up at that moment she might have been knocked down in the surf and quite possibly pulled under the boat. I observed all this from the safety of the beach where I had insisted we move back to until the crew had secured the dinghy.

They finally started the motor, drove the boat off shore a few yards and then made a new landing attempt. This time they backed in, the surf abated just long enough and the last three of us quickly got aboard.
The sea had picked as well. White caps and frequent swells made the journey back a quite bouncy. Water sprayed over the bow and made a few people a little nervous. The heavier sea also made disembarking a little tricky since the panga passengers had to scoot along the pontoon to the front of the little dinghy and then time their step off and onto the steps on the ship just right. Quite an adventure!!

As we boarded they let us know there was an ice cream party in the forward lounge so we headed up. Three flavors if helados with all the fixings were out. We created our own sundae and then sat down with friends to share stories of the latest shore excursion. Then we headed to our room to shower and prepare for the evening.
An announcement over the speaker in our room let us know that at 7:45 there would be the briefing for tomorrow's outings followed by dinner at 8:00.

Dinner was beef bourguignon for me and Fish et Papillion for Leslie. This is fish and a few veggies wrapped in parchment or foil and sealed for the cooking process. It poaches in the package. It smelled awfully fishy to me which usually indicates to me it is not fresh so I was glad I had gone with the beef.


After dinner they held a King Neptune ceremony, a tradition when crossing the equator which, by the way, we had done four times during the cruise. Leslie went and said it was lame and then dancing started with the YMCA tune. Her ankle was bothering her so she returned to the room where I had gone. By the time she got settled into bed she was asleep in 5 minutes. I wrapped up my journal and did the same. Another big day tomorrow. Night
!

Dia Catorce: The Galapagos Islands


I slept better than I have the past two weeks. The slow steady rocking of the ship, the steady hum of the engines lulled me right off to sleep. The sea level atmosphere also allowed me to breathe which also helped.

We awoke, dressed and he
aded for breakfast. What a spread. Eggs cooked anyway you like, a buffet with everything you could want and some of which you shouldn't be eating. But we're on vacation. We are going to be playing hard and heck we can go back on our oatmeal breakfast diet when we get home.

The first adventure was a wet landing on Isabela Island at Urbina Bay. A wet landing meaning the panga, or inflatable dinghy, noses up to the beach, turns it's stern end to the beach at the last minute and then lets the waves carry us in where we each, in turn, dismount into the water and walk ashore in knee deep water. This was pretty exhilarating since there was no easy of knowing exactly how deep or cold the water would be.
The waves and current tossed us around and filled our sandals with the heavy volcanic sand.

Ashore we headed down the trail which lead us first to a land tortoise which just happened to be out grazing on the dew covered grass. At each stop our guide, Andres, gave us a detailed explanation of the flora and fauna of our location. He explained about the poison apple tree that we shouldn't touch because it would give us a rash, the cotton plants that actually produced cotton and had beautiful yellow flowers. The cotton bowl was surrounded by a protective set of leaves that looked like a Venus Fly Trap. We next came across individual land iguanas scattered here and there amongst the underbrush. Our hike lasted about an hour and a half after which we found ourselves back at the beach.

From there we spent about an hour snorkeling in the small bay. The water was pretty murky and not particularly good snorkeling, but was full of the nutrients that make these waters great feeding gro
unds. We didn't see much on this dive. Kind of disappointing. However, a few people did see several sea turtles.

Back to the ship in our panga, we showered, for the second time today, then off to lunch. We managed a well-deserved nap. Slept like a baby again.

The afternoon outing was a dry landing and hike along the shore on Espinosa Point of Fernandina Island through Mangrove trees and across lava beds. We were able to see seals lolling on the beach and among the cool mangrove trees. Sea turtles swam in the water right off shore, but the big surprise were the hundreds of marine iguanas that laid about on the rocks. They were everywhere, sometimes we nearly stepped them. They blended well with the rocks and hardly moved.

Back to the ship after a very hot hike and another shower! Dinner was a BBQ out at the bar on the fantail of the ship. Bowls of salads and rich desserts, arroz, papas, veggies and the BBQ meats, sausages, chicken, beef, pork. Huge piles of each. We ate al fresco at teak tables and chairs. A lovely sky overhead with a gentle breeze made it a lovely evening. We sat with a couple from Austin, Texas, Josh and Mary and had a delightful conversation with them.

We fell into bed by 9:30, early yes but most everyone is exhausted after a full day of heavy physical activity. Leslie had also sprained her ankle and we needed to get some ice on it. I went in search of it and before long we had her lying down with the ice pack. We were concerned about her ability to take the hike and snorkel tomorrow morning. But that's another day and so we drifted off to sleep.


Dia trece: the Galapagos Islands!

5:00 am is pretty early but it means we are going to be heading to sea level where I can breathe again. We quietly dragged our luggage downstairs where the night clerk was waiting for us. He had arranged a "taxi" for us. He went out the front door and as I watched, he knocked on the window of a king cab Chevy truck. The driver was awakened. He had apparently been there a while. We were a little leery of the idea of this cab since there were no markings on it indicating it was a cab. The hotel clerk assured us it was fine and as it turned out, he was right. Still it seemed odd getting into a vehicle with a total stranger. But as has been our total experience here in Ecuador, all was well.

Getting inside the airport we looked for the person carrying a si
gn that read "Klein Tours". We had arrived well before we needed to, yet as we stood looking around for any sign of what to do or a person who might help us, we saw no one. 6:00 came and went and still no sign. I stood with the luggage while Leslie went off looking for someone. She finally discovered Klein Tours staff up at the ticket counter. So there was no sign? If we had just stood waiting for that sign, we would never have made the flight! So we got in the special line for us to check in and waited and waited until one of the Klein people got to us only to look at our luggage and tell us we had to go back out and in through another door to have security check out baggage. Ay! So out of the ticketing line, out the front door, around to the security line, threw our luggage onto the conveyor belt and finally got the tag allowing us to go back to the ticketing line. This time it went smoothly. We got a sticker with the name of our ship on it to wear so I guess we can't get lost. Next stop, through the security line. This too took a while. When we finally reached the spot where in the US you would be asked to remove your shoes, your belt, your computer and cell phone and all the change and keys and and other remotely metal objects from your person as well as any liquids, well you know what I mean. Here, no one cared. We placed our carry ons on the conveyor and walked through the metal detector. Nothing went off! I was approached by a guard to take off my cap. I complied. I went to get my backpack. As i picked it up another guard said in Spanish I understood, that I should take my bag to be inspected at a table he pointed to. But by the time I figured out what he had actually said, I had picked up my pack and walked on into the lounge area. No one said anything or stopped me. It was so disorganized no one looked to make sure I had complied. We both had metal including a pocket full of change that never set off the metal detectors. Hmmmm!

Our flight was never posted on the departing flights board despite their only being about 6 flights indicated at all. All of a sudden it was just announced in Spanish only that flight number 32 was boarding. If Leslie hadn't spoken Spanish we might have missed our flight. While we were waiting for our flight, Leslie went over to the only food service in the area. She got in line and watched as all the non-Spanish speaking, mostly gringos, tried to order from the Spanish only staff. They were also shorting their order by not giving them the plantain chips they were supposed to get. They even tried to short change Leslie as well as not including our plantain chips. When she started in speaking pretty fluent Spanish, her service suddenly improved, and she got the correct change. We were shuttled over to the plane in buses. Our flight was uneventful from Quito to Guayaquil where we waited about 40 minutes for a few more passengers to board and then off we flew to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands.

As we banked over the island of Baltra where the airport is located we got our first glimpse of the landscape of these islands. They appear on first glance to be pretty desolate. Desert like with cactus, volcanic rock, few if any trees, little water. We descended the ladder from the plane and headed for a series of low lying, pretty run down buildings where security and customs took their turn with us and we also handed over $200 ($100 each) for the cost to get into the Galapagos National Park which encompasses 93% of the islands' real estate. Our 5 day trip will visit several of the islands. We mounted tour buses that took us the couple of miles to the bay where several tour boats sat at anchor. In the distance, sitting like a jewel in the deep blue water sat our home for the next 5 days, the Galapagos Legend. She is an older design but absolutely beautiful and really well maintained at least where we tourists can see her.

Our bus came to a halt and it's contents spilled out onto a dock where each person was handed a life jacket and directed to get in another line waiting to step into an inflatable dinghy. These dinghies were the hard bottom type so they were pretty easy to step into and out of with the help of the young men at the bow where we boarded. Our turn came and our 20 foot dinghy filled up with about 15 persons, turned and headed to the Legend at a pretty good clip being pushed by a 50 horse outboard.

We embarked through a gangwa
y on the port side, claimed our carry ons and headed up a flight of stairs to the reception desk on Earth Deck, which also turned out to be the deck for our stateroom, a junior suite on the starboard side. We were supposed to head to lunch after we got our key but we really wanted to see that our room was what we hoped it would be. It was!

Two big windows gave us a fabulous view out to sea or onto the islands
we were anchored near. Plenty of closet space, a desk, a TV, our own bathroom. It was well appointed and roomy for our needs.

After a quick looksy, we headed to lunch. We enjoyed meeting our table mates, a family with an British dad and a German mom. The other couple were 20 somethings from India but living in Australia and traveling around the world for a year. Lunch was a buffet with so so food, too much food! We ate and chatted up our new friends. During lunch we were presented with a menu from which we were to order what we wanted for dinner. The afternoon was filled with getting our room put away, attending a briefing on what we should and shouldn't do on and off the islands given by one of our guide/naturalists and finally, attending an emergency drill.

Following the drill we were to get our snorkeling gear and prepare for the first shore party, this one to Bartolomeo Island with a climb up 400 stairs for a great view from the top of a cinder cone and then an hour of snorkeling. About the time we headed to the briefing I began feeling, well, not good. By the time the drill was over, so was I. I headed for our room and Leslie went to get her snorkeling gear. She and I were disappointed to find out that they had no masks with corrective lenses. Leslie even owns such a mask but we didn't bring it since we had so much else to bring for the workshop and we figured they'd have them available on the boat. So she is going to try it with the plain glass, but I have serious doubts since she has tried this before and found it frustrating. The last time we snorkeled I didn't need glasses so this may be frustrating for me as well.

Either way, today was a no go for me. With my little health crisis, I didn't need to be far from a bathroom and there are none available on shore! Yikes!

So Leslie headed off on the excursion without me. I insisted. So the photos of Bartolomeo Island are all courtesy of her.
After a lovely nap, the best rest I have had since arriving here in Ecuador, I awoke to Leslie's knock and her return from her adventure. I listened to her story and then we headed forward to the Welcome Cocktail Party and a briefing on tomorrow's adventures.

Our dining partners are really delightful people. The young Indian couple are ER doctors. Feeling a bit better, I ventured down to the dinner which we had ordered at lunch. I ate the shrimp and the broccoli soup and not much else. Had a nice conversation with our dining partners and then went back to our cabin to settle in and head for bed.