On Tuesday Person F_Ec and I tour Quito. We see the old historic district, a beautiful old church, and another statue on a mountain that took 11 years to build. We mix it up between a lot of walking and a few taxi rides. The taxi rides are not much faster than walking since there is nasty traffic on the old, narrow streets as well as the new, wide streets of Quito. We stumble upon a vegetarian restaurant and it is very good. In the early evening Person F_Ec and I go see a movie that costs $2.30 per person (compared with $12 per person in the United States). It's good that the movie is spoken in English but subtitled in Spanish since this helps me re-learn some words from 20 years ago and to pick up new words. Eventually I'm dropping off for sleep near 11 pm.
On Wednesday we take a long taxi tour out to a crater, the equator, and the center of the world set of museums and displays. The tour to the crater is interesting becase Person F_Ec asks if we should walk down into the crater (where a few people live along with a botanical preserve). As soon as I've affirmed that we should the trail starts going steeply downhill (which means the way back will be steeply uphill). It is a long hike to get into the windy but peacefull crater. We wander around a bit and stop in for water at a hostal where the hostal keeper loves the solitude and has a hobby of bird watching. When we start the hike back and Person F_Ec looks up and see where we started, he just says "OMG!" I tell him we'll just walk slowly and take some breaks and we'll be there in a while. It is a very srenuous hike back up but it feels good. We drive to the equator and see the displays and weird physics tricks at the equator. We also run into a Belgian couple who hang out with us. The Belgian lady is able to balance the uncooked egg on the nailhead (as you can only do at the equator). When I try, the Belgian man says, "You're hands are shaking". And I brush it off with, "That's what happens when you get old". And everyone understands because both Person F_Ec and the Belgian couple are in their early 20's. But I know what the shaking probably means because Person T_Ca used to point it out to me (as if I didn't notice it myself). So I guess I should go get checked out with the new retirement insurance plan and meet my new doctor and see if I like her. We get over to another equatorial set of museums but by now we are both tired. So we head back towards the hotel but stop off for pizza first. And I relax in the evening with the Ecuadoran capture of a Formula One channel (in Spanish). But with good insights.
On Thursday Person F_Ec and I get out to the park Carolina in Quito as well as the Metropolitan park. We wander around the parks and people-watch. At one point we run into the Belgian couple again as they are wandering the park also. At a quick Indian lunch both Person F_Ec and I thought that the other paid and we both leave the restaurant and then realize a few minutes later that we haven't paid. So we both go back to the restaurant and I continuously apologize in Spanish and say words indicating mis-communication. But we paid and there is no harm done. Finally Person F_Ec and head to the airport where we are to catch a 45 minute flight to his home city. And we run into the Belgian couple again! They are on our flight. I'm tumbling the idea that they might be spies and following us around, but since they are both probably 21 or 22 at most, I dismiss the idea. In Manta, Person F_Ec heads for home and his sister's birthday party and I cach up on some paperwork.
The first night in the Manta hotel is an adventure. There isn't much hot water, but a semi-cold shower will do. After some reading the lights go out but there is a dog barking nearby for a while. But he/she is quieted. Then the hotel fire alarm goes off. After thinking for 5 seconds, I get dressed and go to evacuate. But a hotel attendant stops the alarm and tells me everything is okay. Just as I'm dropping off to sleep the building is shaking pretty good due to a 5.0 earthquake 15 kilometers away. But things do eventually quit shaking. Toss in two more fire alarms throughout the evening (which turn out to not be needed) and it is an interesting night.
On Friday Person F_Ec comes by and we go for about a one hour run/walk. There are a few hills here so I enjoy toiling away climbing the hills. But I take my time going down to minimize the stress on the joints and muscles. After breakfast Person F_Ec goes to rent a car. (Well, I paid for it but he's driving and picking it up.) He has an Ecuadoran friend, Person A_Ec, with him and three of us start out for beaches. Except that Person F_Ec hasn't driven a standard transmission and is having difficulty getting out of the city. So after a couple of offers and finally acceptance, I find myself driving a car for the first time outside the United States (and Canada and Mexico). I've rented and ridden bicycles and motorbikes everywhere, but have never driven a car in a real foreign country before. Nonetheless it is illegal for me to drive (probably) because I don't have an international driver's license. But I drive carefully and try to show Person F_Ec how to drive with the clutch. We end up going to three different and beautiful beaches along the Ecuadoran coast (near the city of Manta). Each beach has a different flavor and feel. Eventually Person F_Ec and A_Ec see that I am starting to get tired (from all of the sleep-depriving scenarios from the night beforee) so I turn the reigns back over to Person F_Ec. He does much better now except for a couple of interesting moments on hills where he accidentally keeps trying to start in 3rd gear and revving the engine wildly. This brings back memories of me trying to learn how to drive a manual transmission and I get the out-right belly-laughs that I can't control for a number of minutes. Later we head back and as we've made a quick stop for cold water and stuff, Person A_Ec waits in the car. When we approach the car from the rear, I show Person F_Ec how to sneak up and bounce the car up and down and scare Person A_Ec. She is really scared now because of last night's earthquake and she's joining in with Person F_Ec in saying what a bad man I am (fecitiously, of course, I hope). I get dropped off at the hotel and just relax. It has been a long day.
On Saturday I get up and have breakfast at the hotel and am joined by Person F_Ec towards the end of breakfast. He drives us out to Monti Cristi to see the Ecuadoran independence museum and the train/artesan displays. And then we return the rental car. We start walking until Person F_Ec gets a call and has to help his brother who is back at the clinic for the infection. I continue walking and enjoy going through the central city and market and taking pictures and going at my own pace. I then continue walking past the sea area and docks. I'm starting to get tired, so I duck into a supermarket and pick up some supplies and get a taxi for the hotel. It turns out I had pretty much walked all the way back to the hotel before I backtracked a bit for the supermarket. I relax during the day and get organized for tomorrow's long day of travel to Cuenca. Early in the evening Person F_Ec texts me and says he is coming over. But I'm busy trying to get the databases of resources all with the same, consistent set of geocoded locations and zipcodes. I have databases for homeless shelters, substance abuse resources, law enforcement offices, hospitals, mental health centers, and food banks to bring up to date. Before I know it the time is approching 10 pm and where has the evening gone?
Sunday is a transit day. I'm up near 6am to catch a shuttle bus for 4 hours to Guayquil. Then catch a different regular bus to the mountain city of Cuenca. The first bus ride is along the coast - get me away from the warmer coastal cities! The second bus performs a tortuous steep climb from sea level to the 8400 foot level of Cuenca, Ecuador. It was a beautiful ride if arduous. At the bus station I try to find a taxi that knows the hotel where I have reservations - the Alfonso Hotel. But nobody knows this hotel. This is a bit of a problem becuase it is Sunday afternoon in Cuenca and everything is closed. I think maybe it is a new hotel - after all the rooms usually go for $130 per night but were on sale at the last minte for $40 per night. Finally a Peruvian taxi driver takes me to the central city at my suggestion and he lends me his WiFi so I can bring up my reservation. I tell him that my website, agoda.com, made a reservation for me in Cuenca, Spain instead of Cuenca, Ecuador. We both start laughing and he laughs even harder when I suggest "vamos a Cuenca Espana!" But he's a nice man and helps me find a reasonable hotel in the central city of Cuenca, Ecuador. And though the taxi fare is $1.50, I gi him $5 and thank him profusely (everything happening in spanish, of course). After this adventure I grab a veggie burrito for dinner from a Mexican restaurant (because I'm afraid that everything else will be closed) and walk along the area and central square. I note that the temperature drops 10 degrees in an hour as the sun sets since this is at such high eleveation.
I sleep very well on Sunday night into Monday. The hotel room is a cool temperature, very dark, and fairly quiet until roosters start crowing early in he morning. I grab breakfast and then go walking for more then three hours exploring the long river through Cuence hat seems to "instantaneously" separate the old Cuenca from the new Cuenca. I get back to the hotel at 2pm to relax, do more geocoding, and work on the business plan for Social Services Technology Solutions. Near 5 pm the WiFi goes down in the hotel so I go walk over to grab dinner. The vegetarian restaurant that I saw earlier in the day is already closed, so I walk over to the central district and have a giant plate of vegtables and rice. And then I sit in the central district park (i.e., cenral square) for 45 minutes or so before going back to the hotel to work some more.