The In-Between Travels Time

The months roll by. I often feel pressed when travelling to find time to post to our blog. Yet when I’m home, and should have more time to blog, time sails by without a word. Perhaps it’s because I know family and friends don’t need updates on our whereabouts. But I realize I’ve a few followers who may drift off as I haven’t posted anything for so long. This then is a post about how we spend our time between travels. Our Spring, Summer and Fall; our lives on B.C.’s southwest coast.


Bedwell Harbour from Mount Norman

The above photo was taken soon after our return from Ecuador. Mid-March; early Spring on Pender Island. We’re both pretty fit after stomping up and down the Andes and want to keep it that way. The hike up Mount Norman takes about 25 minutes but is all uphill. At one time I used to have to pause to catch my breath. No longer. The first couple of months after our return we had some time off work and tried to do this hike as often as possible.


Oak Tree, Mount Norman

Every time we go up there I photograph this oak tree. In early Spring it has no foliage but the lichen hanging off it is clearly visible. Mount Norman is the highest point on Pender Island at 244 metres. On the south slopes there are moss and grass covered bluffs which smell wonderful as the air heats up.

The view out over Swanson Channel is great. In the photo below you can see a freighter rounding Turn Point on Stuart Island, which is just across the border on the American side.


Freighter in Swanson Channel

Sometimes we don’t hike to the peak of Mount Norman but skirt around the edge and take a trail down along the waterfront to Beaumont Marine Park (a marine campground; both it and Mount Norman are part of Parks Canada’s Gulf Islands Park Reserve). The trail is sometimes narrow and rugged but mostly far easier than the hike to the top.


Twin Arbutus Trunks along the Trail

There are many lovely hikes around Pender. Soon after our return we visited my visual art exhibiting partner, Joanna, who lives on South Pender (the island is divided in two by a canal dredged in the early 1900s to shorten the journey for coastal steamships). We walked down to Gowlland Point on a blustery day. Many of my summers in my youth were spent here with my parents at a log cabin my dad built just above the beach. It’s still one of my favourite places in the world. On a clear day you can see Mount Baker off to the east; a currently inactive (but sometimes steaming) volcanic peak.


Gowlland Point, South Pender Island

Our Spring was a mix of warm sunny days and deluges of rain, producing dramatic skies. Weather is a frequent topic on the coast. Although we’re sheltered from the worst storms by the Olympic Mountains in Washington state and the high hills on southern Vancouver Island we still have strong South-Easters. But being in a rain-shadow also means we have vegetation not commonly seen on the coast, like Prickly Pear cactus.


Dramatic Clouds over Pender Island

We did a road trip to the Okanagan in early April for a family wedding. It felt good to be on the road even though we’d just gotten home. Rather than take our own car we decided to rent a small car from the Vancouver Airport; thus avoiding the high ferry fares if we’d taken our own car (in the end it worked out to about the same cost but we had the security of driving a new car).

On the ferry trip to the mainland the fog rolled in over the Gulf of Georgia, obscuring the low islands but revealing the blue sky above.


Active Pass

We spent a couple of days in Keromeos, in B.C.’s southern Okanagan and one day in Penticton. The weather was hot and the skies clear. This is one of the most arid spots in B.C. On the drive there, however, we did some some remains of the winter snows in the shady spots along the highway.


Mountains Near Keromeos, B.C.

We were way too early for the fruit but I got a kick out of some of the signage near our motel.


Fruit Stall Signs, Keromeos, B.C.

While in Penticton I attended the Okanagan Fest of Ale for a day, swilling many IPAs and enhancing my Product Knowledge.

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As summer approaches my work shifts, at the local B.C. government  liquor store, increase. This year I walk to work as often as possible; 45 minutes there  and 45 back. About half of the walk is along the roads but the other half is through the woods. Early Spring is a wonderful time on Pender as the vegetation reawakens after it’s Winter downtime.


Fiddlehead Fern


The Heart Trail

If I don’t walk to work I make sure I have a daily walk elsewhere. Although we live in one of the largest subdivisions in B.C., Magic Lake Estates, we do have plenty of trails, parks and quiet spots. One of my walks takes me to Lively Peak where there’s a good view to the east over Browning Harbour.


Mount Lively, Pender Island

Although Pender is a gorgeous natural place its people are what really make it special. Other Canadians refer to us as the Left Coast or Lotus Land. They’re just jealous and many of them seek out our lifestyle. It’s pretty laid-back  and casual sometimes. The dude below hosted our first ever BMX bike event this summer. I spotted him rolling down the hill while I was walking home one evening.


A Spring Evening Ride

In the early Spring, while I still have some time off working at the liquor store, I work on my art. Since 2011 Joanna and I have exhibited together; our Same, Same but… Different shows. The past few years they’ve been at the Sea Star Vineyards, a great location high on a hilltop looking both to the north (towards Vancouver) and south (towards southern Vancouver Island). As mentioned in my previous post I exhibited a series of photos from Ecuador as part of our fundraising for the Red Cross Ecuador Earthquake Relief Fund and also a couple of series of my shadow boxes (one series using a repeated image from Ecuador).


Same, Same but… Different Opening Night

As Spring turned to Summer foliage appeared on the old Oak tree.


Oak Tree in Late Spring

And the local deer population increased.


Deer at Our Gate

Flowers bloomed in the garden.



Wild Rose in Our Garden

Sue works in town (Victoria) during the summer. On one of my days off I went to town, rather than her coming home, and we did a little meander out to the Western Communities, finishing at the Sooke Potholes for a refreshing dip.

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Sooke Potholes (little coloured spots are people on the rocks!)

Summer’s still with us (mid-August) but the days are getting shorter and there’s a hint of Autumn in the air even though the daytime temperatures are still in the high 20 – 30 degrees Celsius range. Having developed a thirst for smoothies while in Ecuador I made sure I got out to pick blueberries and blackberries this year. Our little freezer is now full with baggies of berries.

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In the Blueberry Patch.

I continue walking to work and finally got out on my bike and kayak after too long a break.

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Kayaking in the Canal

I don’t cycle to work that often as the Summertime Pender roads can be treacherous (crowded, no shoulders, tourists running amok) but we’ve a long stretch of quiet road nearby that makes for a good ride.

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Bike to Work Week Participation

And today? Well, I really should’ve been continuing to work on house renovations but it’s such a nice day I thought I’d sit outside and catch up on the blog. After all… isn’t summer partly supposed to be for relaxation and fun?






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Earthquake Relief

We were stunned when we awoke on Sunday, April 17 to hear the news of the earthquake in Ecuador. We had travelled through many of the areas affected in January and February. After much searching on the internet I was able to find information about some of those places; especially Mompiche which is very close to the earthquake’s epicentre. (Thanks to the Lonely Planet forum where I was able to read posts from people in Mompiche. Very good news that the town was basically undamaged and there was no tsunami).


Mompiche Intersection

My workplace is accepting donations for the Red Cross Relief fund. Also from May 20 -23 fellow artist Joanna Rogers and myself will be donating to the Red Cross from the proceeds of our annual Same, Same but… Different art exhibition at the Sea Star Winery on Pender Island (click on the previous highlighted link for more information).

“Best wishes” and buena suerte to all our friends and their families in Ecuador.

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Ecuador: A Summary

We’ve been home three weeks now and it’s finally warmed up enough that my mind, fingers etc are moving. Yes, we miss the warmth. And the juices.

The most frequently question we’re asked is: “Would you go back?”. Now, that’s  a tricky one as we seldom revisit countries. So, when we say “No” it doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy Ecuador. And sometimes I say “Maybe”. Which means I’d go back for a specific reason such as to climb a mountain or some other adventure I wasn’t geared up for on this trip. However, if you were to ask “Would you recommend Ecuador?” we’d say “Yes! With some caveats…”.


What did we enjoy most?

  1. Walking. We loved the Quilotoa Loop. And we saw many other places that we would loved to have done a similar walk (e.g. around Salinas – the Salinas by Chimborazo). So much of Ecuador is rolling farmland with villages not too far apart. Perfectly suited for walking tours.
  2. The Amazon. Although we didn’t go deep we enjoyed the experience. I don’t know if I’ve ever had such vivid dreams (a result of all the night sounds?).
  3. The juices. OMG. So many. So tasty.
  4. The people. When I read about travelling in Ecuador before we left home I became paranoid; thinking I’d be fending thieves and pickpockets off at every turn. Ha! I should know better. Yeah, be careful in big cities, at night. Be aware. But we found almost all the Ecuadorians we met to be incredibly friendly and helpful. They can be shy, conservative and appear standoffish but once you break the ice be ready for instant friendships.
  5. The bus service. Cheap. Efficient. Mostly comfy (sometimes the air con might get turned off, when we could have used it). If you don’t like Cumbia music, well… maybe rent a car. We only travelled in daylight so no comments on night buses (which I generally don’t do well on). I was truck driver for 10 years and love watching the passing scenery.
  6. The hats. OK, I have a weakness for hats. And scarves. And funny little animal sculptures. Whatever crafts or goods you may desire Ecuador has a vast selection to choose from. We loved the Otavalo and its markets. I may have to go back for a hat or two more. Did I mention the chocolate?
  7. The ever changing landscape. The plants/ flowers. The critters. Nature!
  8. The hostels. In Ecuador the word ‘hostel’ encompasses small hotels also. They were comfy. Easy to find (way more than listed in the guidebooks). And somewhat reasonably priced… Which brings us to:

Those things that were a bit of a pain or you may want to be cautious of:

  1. The American dollar is Ecuador’s currency. We’re Canadian so the exchange rate took its toll. We ignored it while travelling (you have to or it’ll drive you nuts) but when we got home and I looked at my bank statements, Ouch!
  2. If you’re used to bargain travelling in places like SEAsia, South America isn’t the same. And Ecuador isn’t the cheapest country to travel in in S. America. Restaurants can easily have the same prices as North America. We found we were happy with breakfast and one other meal a day due to the heat. And we sought out set lunches (almuerzo) which cost around $3 usually. We drank a beer a day each usually. But, other than the margaritas at Frida’s (Quito), you may want to forget cocktails. Hard liquor costs about twice as much in Ecuador as N. America.
  3. Upsetting. Be sure to nail down prices before hand. Taxis, meals, rooms, whatever. Make sure you know what you’re going to be paying. Once we asked for a set lunch at a restaurant (advertised out front) and were told it wasn’t available. Then a rapid flow of Spanish described what was available and we went with it. Most expensive ceviche I  had. But it was tasty. But expensive. In Quito taxis are supposed to use their meters; hold them to it.
  4. The sun is right above you. I read the warnings and did not heed them strongly enough. A couple of times I skimped on sun screen and paid the price. Even under a cloth sunshade on the beach I burnt (thin cloth). Even through the clouds. And normally I’m slow to burn.
  5. Fried food. Maybe you love fried food. Skip this part then. For a country that has so many veggies there were a lack of them on the dinner plate. Fried chicken/fish/beef, with fried plantain/potato and one other veg were a typical meal. The ceviche is a tasty respite from fried food. As is pizza or Chinese food but don’t you want to eat Ecuadorian food?


And my number one suggestion: brush up on your Spanish! It’ll serve you well. Although we got by we would have benefited from being more fluent. Then we could have really talked to the locals. Sure, there are some English speakers (who do want to exercise their English) but you can go days and days speaking only Spanish. When we met expats living in Ecuador who didn’t speak Spanish we were frankly puzzled. There are many Spanish language schools in Ecuador; pick a town you’d like to spend some time in and go for it!

Things that we regret not taking:

  1. cell/mobile phone. If only to track the air flights. But useful in many ways (translator apps; alternate, less conspicuous camera).
  2. more small gifts. We took some but they are nice to have to give away. And you can then fill the space with gifts to take home.
  3. a proper hiking day pack. I used a dry bag with straps (they broke off) and Sue had a small pack but without a waist belt. With all the ups and downs in the hills and mountains good, small packs would’ve been nice.

Having said all that we are One Baggers; we travel light (heading out anyways). Soon I’ll be adding a page of general travel tips and links but one of the most influential web sites on my travel style is this one:

The most useful travel web site we found for Ecuador:


“Hasta la vista!”


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Ecuador, Week 7+

Our final week and a bit. Thus a long post. Full of extreme adventure (and shopping!)

Saturday, Feb. 27

Time to leave the coast and head back inland for our final week and a bit before flying home. We’re up early and hear a bus horn sounding from the main street in Mompiche. We were told there was an 8am bus but it’s coming on 7am and we race out the door. The conductor sees us coming and holds the bus while we cart our luggage down the dusty road. We’ve heard that we can make it to Mindo in a day, without having to spend a night in either Esmeraldas or Santa Domingo and we’re going for it. A morning mist hangs in the valleys.



We spend half an hour in Esmeraldas between buses and then we start inland, gradually rising into the Andes. As we get closer to Mindo we ascend into the mist and rain. We’re let off at the crossroads with five other people and we all load into an SUV for a crowded, bumpy ride into town. Sue and I are dropped at Las Luciernaga where Willy greets us with “Welcome home!”. We’re only there for a couple of nights but it does feel like a homecoming. When we wander into town for a meal we first bump into Patricia, who’d joined us for a day on the Quilatoa Loop, and then a UK couple we’d also met on the Loop. I was also reunited with my Gore-Tex jacket, a handy thing in rain soaked Mindo.

Sunday, February 28

After a day on the bus we needed to walk so meandered out of town to the Mariposas de Mindo, a hostel and butterfly farm. Although we’d seen butterflies in the wild we’d heard about this great opportunity to see several varieties in one place and also see the stages of butterfly development. And it was way easier to get good photos in the enclosed environment (I’d not had a lot of luck photographing butterflies in the wild).



After leaving there we spent the rest of the day walking around parts of Mindo we’d missed on our previous visit, including a walk along a lane with a wonderful variety of plants.




Monday, February 29

The next morning we managed a quick walk before catching the bus. Along the way we saw this huge wasp nest up a tree. It looked to be almost two feet long and we could see little specks hovering around it.


We’d decided to go to Otavalo for five nights, making it our base for highlands north of Quito and for our last shopping spree before leaving. Once again on the bus ride to Quito I was amazed at how quickly the vegetation changed and then from Quito to Otavalo at the rugged, dry landscape.


However, as we move north the landscape becomes greener again. This is where much of Ecuador’s flower production happens, in huge greenhouses. Ecuador is the world’s third largest exporter of cut flowers, about 75% of which are roses.



In Otavalo we stay at the Flying Donkey; a hostel with very cool interior design and great staff. One issue we’ve had this trip is with the Lonely Planet Ecuador guidebook. Besides most prices being out-of-date (which is understandable, even for the most recent issue) quite a few reviews sound like the writers haven’t visited for a while. The Flying Donkey is a case in point: LP states there’s no lounge area (the shared kitchen has a large lounge area plus there’s a rooftop terrace and a small lounge area by the front desk); LP says the hostel is noisy (not true; we had a street facing room and the noise was totally within reason. For a downtown hostel it was actually fairly quiet. Even the Andean music from down the street on Friday night was quite lovely and shutdown before midnight). End of rant. (I’ll list some great websites we used in my summary of our Ecuador trip.)



After about 5 hours on buses we were a bit hungry. Lonely Planet mentions there’s a lack of restaurants in Otavalo, despite its tourism economy. Sure enough, we did have a bit of a time finding one that was open. But when we found one it became our go-to eatery: Sabor Vazco (the link is to – I think the restaurant is so new there is a lack of info on the net.)



For the first time in Ecuador we abandoned local cuisine and succumbed to pizza (the above pic is of our last breakfast in Otavalo). What really hooked us was a juice they gave us to sample and we loved: ginger, lemon and mint (we drank it by the pitcher).

Otavalo is surrounded by three volcanic peaks: Imbabura, Cotacachi and Mojanda. Unfortunately we never clearly saw any of the peaks due to the clouds, although we had some tempting glimpses.


We had decided to spend five nights in Otavalo. Our primary reason was to shop; Otavalo is famous for its Saturday morning market which takes over about a third of the town, sprawling from its host square into neighbouring streets. We figured by arriving earlier in the week we could get some shopping done before the hordes arrived by the busload from Quito on Saturday (we were proved right). Also we thought the town would be a good base from which to explore the surrounding highlands (right again!).

Tuesday, March 1

The best laid travel plans can be waylaid by illness. Tuesday morning and Sue is under the weather with a cold we suspect she picked up in Mompiche (thanks to a coughing server maybe). She snoozes while I do a recon of the neighbourhood, find the market and pick up a town map. Later in the day we both get out and start getting a grip on the overwhelming selection of goods available. And discovering what a laid-back, friendly place Otavalo is, despite massive tourism. The town and surrounding area is home to a large indigenous population who have become very successful at producing and selling textiles (Otavalo), leather goods (Cotacachi) and woodworks (San Antonio). The indigenous people have a distinctive style: the women wear incredible embroidered shirts, multiple stranded gold beads, layered dresses and the men generally have long, braided hair.


Wednesday, March 2

My turn: I wake up woozy and spend the morning with cold shakes. I spend most of the day sleeping while Sue picks up drugs for me and checks out the markets. By the end of the day I’m feeling much better.

Thursday, March 3

Time to get out of town and explore. We decide to visit Peguche which is only a few kilometres away (just in case either of us has a relapse). We take a taxi to the waterfalls which are located in a lovely park. On our way to the falls we discover the campground which features interesting huts and pyramid-shaped concrete structures on top of which one can have a campfire.


We first stop at the bottom of the falls. A fine mist blows towards us (as you can see it coated my camera lens filter).


Then we walk to the top of the falls where we discover an interesting alcove eroded into the rock. When we look into it we find a very short tunnel. By using my camera flash I follow it around a corner and pop out about 3 or 4 metres upstream from the alcove.



I return and Sue checks it out:


After exploring the park we walk to the village of Peguche, where we had read there were numerous textile workshops. Sure enough there are but many are closed and we only find one gallery open. We do hear looms rattling away in buildings and see signs of a busy industry.



Although it’s raining off and on we decide to walk out of the village and into the hills to visit the Parque Condor, a bird rehabilitation centre.


Yes, that’s an Andean Condor. It was huge. Its wingspan was in the neighbourhood of 3 metres. Although we really prefer to see wildlife in the wild we sometimes succumbed to opportunities to see what we could in sanctuaries or rehabilitation  centres. We saw a selection of really interesting birds including a Harpy Eagle and a Stygian Owl. The Parque Condor presented us with an ambiguous experience. On one hand it does provide a refuge and rehabilitates birds which, when possible, are re-introduced to the wild. None of the birds have been taken directly from the wild to the park but are rescued from poachers or illegal environments. On the other hand they have a link with falconry and do flight exhibitions using birds which we saw chained to perches. Although we were visiting at a time when we could have stayed to see the demonstrations seeing two Bald Eagles chained prompted us to leave. We live in an area where there are many Bald Eagles and I’ve had the experience of helping rescue an injured Eagle, and then sitting with it while it warmed up before sending it along to a raptor rescue centre. However, I thought I would get a close-up photo of one of the Eagles at Parque Condor. As I focused on the bird it turned its head away from me. I took that as a sign that the Eagle had enough with tourists and cameras.

We walked back along the stone road, enjoying the view and discussing our feelings.



The clouds drifted off and there it was! A volcano peak! Weary but happy we flagged a camionetta (truck taxi) and were soon back in Otavalo.


Friday, March 4

This was our last day for some hiking and we decided on Laguna Cuicocha which is about a half hour ride from Otavalo (via Cotacachi). We were dropped at the park info centre and started on the trail around the volcanic lake rim from there. A mist hung over the scene but we decided to start out on the trail (we knew it would take about 4-5 hours to complete the trail – more on this as we progress) and see how things shaped up. A feature of the crater lake are the two islands, formed by a lava flow. Hence its name, Cuicocha, which translates as ‘Guinea Pig’, referring to their humped back shape.


We loved this hike. The combination of mist, which came and went, the varying landscape and vegetation was fairytale-like. And after a few days in town, sometimes not feeling so great, it was wonderful walking in the fresh air, re-experiencing that Andean feeling.


Yep, that’s the trail disappearing into the mist.

We were unsure whether this plant was coming into bloom or going out of. Whichever, the blue was stunning.


The sun started to break through the mist as we hit the high points of the rim.


At some points we were walking through high grasses, typical of paramo (a high altitude ecosystem).


Other times we’d be in high-walled channels, similar to some of our Quilatoa Loop walk.


As we walked the incredible views forced me to stop and take yet another photo or two.


The trail did not always follow the rim but sometimes went further back, avoiding steep bluffs or dangerous sandy edges. When it went down the vegetation radically changed.


This plant is over two metres high. The lake is located in Reserva Ecologica Cotacachi – Cayapas, a protected zone.


So there we were, enjoying the trail, the lovely views, everything…


… when we encountered a sign directing us off to the right along a fenced in path, through what looked like a pine beetle devastated area.


And the next thing we know we’re being dumped onto a paved road. The cow obviously had the right idea (“get me off this road”). We spent the next hour walking on the hard, hard pavement; trying to figure out when we could return to the rim trail. Never. We eventually came to a crossroads, one road going back to the park entrance. We caught a taxi back to Cotacachi, sad that our wonderful hike had so brutally come to an end.


Cotacachi is renown for its leather products. After refreshing with juice we took a stroll around the leather craft stores. My love of all things bovine though interfered with my shopping instincts (you may have noted my daughter’s astonished comment on an earlier post where I confessed to eating my first hamburger in about 20 years).


Saturday, March 5

Our last day in Otavalo and its Market Day. We’re up early, packed and ready to go after our last shopping spree. All week we’d been accumulating goodies to take home: scarves, hats, trinkets and assorted Stuff. I go for breakfast and then hit the streets. Vendors are everywhere. I’ve got my camera strapped to my wrist for quick action shots. A curious small dog gives it a sniff and I hit the shutter… (Ecuadorian dogs come in a wonderful variety, from tiny to huge).


We start at one end of the market, the smallish food section…


… but quickly enter the fray of textiles, textiles and more textiles.


I have a weakness for T-shirts and spend some time negotiating with this patient man.


We’ve spent so much time shopping though, and the tour buses are disgorging touristic masses, that we start up the street, back towards the Flying Donkey. But some bowls catch Sue’s eye and she does a deal with the vendor (who obligingly poses for a photo while I sort out camera settings).


And then we’re on the bus, back to Quito, back to Aleida’s Hostal for our last couple of nights before flying home. Back to Frida’s (remember Frida’s? The amazing Margaritas?).

Sunday, March 6

Sunday morning. The perfect time for an art museum. We take a bus to the Bellavista district and walk uphill, past apartment towers and into the high residential area where Fundación Guayasamín is located.



The site consists of two buildings, and the grounds. One building is La Capilla del Hombre (The Chapel of Man), featuring the artwork of Oswaldo Guayasamín, one of Ecuador’s premier artists (he passed away in 1999). The other is his home, carefully preserved just as it was when he passed. I was not able to photograph inside either building but a web search of his work will show the artwork of a man of great talent. Although obviously influenced by Picasso Guayasamín was a very talented, dedicated and energetic artist. He was a mestizo (mixed race) artist who focussed on the history and suffering of Latin Americans. Some very powerful paintings are housed in this building. Unfortunately many of his works sold outside of Ecuador so only a limited selection are available to be seen in Quito. Fortunately Guayasamín realized this before his death and bequeathed what works he had to the state and had La Capilla del Hombre constructed to house many of them.


La Capilla del Hombre features a light shaft piercing the centre of the roof which goes down to a giant bowl with an ‘eternal flame’ (made of cloth) in the middle. At the equinox the sun’s rays pass directly through the shaft. We joined an excellent tour of the museum, given by a woman who obviously knew, and enjoyed, Guayasamín’s work.


His home, situated just above La Capilla del Hombre houses Guayasamín’s large personal collection of art and antiques (including many of Goya’s The Disasters of War prints). In his studio I longed to pick up his brushes. To have that much space to work! We watched a video of Guayasamín painting a portrait of Paco de Lucía, which stood on an easel just behind us.

We returned to our neighbourhood in search of a late lunch and walked to the adjoining Mariscal  District where many of the backpacker hostels and bars are located. Being a Sunday it was eerily deserted. The Casa Quebecua was closed so no poutine for us.



We found a Tex-Mex restaurant open, with reasonable prices, and returned to our room happy with our day.

Monday, March 7

This is it. Our last day in Ecuador. Our bags are packed and tucked away for pick-up in the evening.

There was one museum we’d been unable to find before but now we had good directions and so walked to the north end of Mariscal to El Museo Etnohistórico de Artesanías del Ecuador “Mindalae” , which features the work of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador. Once again I was stunned by the design of a building – this one smaller than La Capilla del Hombre, but also exquisitely designed.


It too had a light shaft going from the roof to the lowest floor. The photo below shows the opening in the top floor, which housed displays of shamanic objects.


The stairwell also reflected the same design principle. The light shaft or tunnel features in many indigenous peoples’ structures (e.g. the kivas of the Puebloan people of the American SouthWest).


I was fascinated by the similarities and differences of the works of Ecuadorian indigenous groups and to those of North American tribes.



And then there were the hats…


I’ve developed a real weakness for Ecuadorian hats. If I hadn’t already bought a hat in Otavalo and had room for more in my luggage I would’ve gone on a hat buying binge. Next time…

As it was we walked towards the historic centre of Quito for a last visit and along the way found a small market with mostly tools and other utilitarian objects. And there I saw stacks of vinyl, one of my weaknesses. Once again due to space I could only buy one 45.


We walked and walked and popped into a couple of churches (including La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús aka The Golden Church, renown for its extensive interior coating of gold leaf – no photos allowed). But eventually we wearied and had to face the fact our time in Ecuador was rapidly coming to an end. We grabbed a last meal (a last meal of pollo, aka chicken) and then taxied out to the airport. We were there by 9pm for our 2am flight (where else could we go with all our luggage?) and then…


… yep, that’s us: American Airlines to DFW. Delayed. Now leaving at 4:25.

Well, we eventually made it home. About 14 hours later than we planned but that’s air travel for you. We’re home. The sun’s come out finally (it has been raining for over 24 hours). We climbed our local mountain (ha ha) and discovered it was a cruise after the Andes. And I have my Mac back so I can make Huge Posts easily ;0)

A summary will be posted very soonish!

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Ecuador, Week 6

This will be a short post because all we did all week was: walk on beaches, swim, eat, drink and relax.

On Saturday, Feb. 20 we arrived in Canoa, one of Ecuador’s premier surf beaches. Our bus ride north was uneventful; just sitting back watching the changing landscape and various beaches go by. One of the buses was a bit different in that there was no partition between the driver and passengers, so I got to photograph the driver and his conductor at work…


I think his eyes were open as he rounded the cliffside corner!

Saturday night and Canoa was rockin’. I went for an evening stroll while Sue rested. The beachside bars were starting to hop and the big speaker boxes were out, blasting music into the night. Canoa isn’t a very big town but unlike Puerto Lopez most of the action is beachside and there wasn’t a fishing fleet anchored offshore. What I didn’t realize until Sunday morning when we went to the beach was that most of the weekend visitors were Ecuadorians, many out from Quito. The beach was packed right in front of town.


But the beach is also long and we easily walked away from the crowds and into solitude. Just us, the sound of the surf and the birds. Plus a gazillion seashells. Have I mentioned yet that we have found some amazing shells? The hardest part is culling them as we only have so much room (and if every tourist collected all the shells they loved… there’d be few left).


What else can I say about Canoa? It was fairly mellow during the week even though it does attract a number of surfers. But everyone spreads out and the weeknight bar scene didn’t seem to get too crazy. There are lots of little craft shops and stands but the people aren’t pushy.


The surf wasn’t too huge and, depending on the height of the tide, the break didn’t make it too difficult to swim. I did notice one day I was getting moved down the beach by the current. It was educational watching fishermen launch into the surf. In the photo below note how he’s turned his outboard so the prop is at right angles to wave; less wear when it hits the sand.


We also saw our first stand-up paddle boards out in the surf at Canoa.


When did we leave Canoa? Ahhh… yes… Wednesday. Day just seems to stall when you’re beached. We caught a series of buses to Mompiche. This is a view out the bus window at one of the small town stops. Although the scenery gradually altered many things stayed the same including moto-taxies delivering people and goods.


Mompiche is another surf spot, although it’s more of a point break than a beach break and the waves weren’t that big when we were there. Which did mean more floating and less plunging.

We had an amazing room at La Jungla. This is our view from our second story window (below us was our hammock zone and outdoor bathroom).


The view from the garden out front looking back…


Kind of like a tree house complete with a hatch in the floor.


Once again another huge beach with miles of walking, swimming space.


The colours and textures of the sand were amazing at all the beaches we visited.


However, each beach (Puerto Lopez, Canoa and Mompiche) had its own vibe. We’ve spent some time discussing which was our favourite and we couldn’t reach a decision; each had its own redeeming features and drawbacks. But, really, any time on the beach is quality time. And a big part of our travel experience is seeing and meeting the locals and finding out about their lives.


And we really do enjoy being close to nature and Ecuador has such diversity.


Time moves along though and it was time for us to have our last swim in the Ecuador’s Pacific, watch our last sunset over the water and start back inland.


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Ecuador, Week 5

Sunday, February 14 aka Valentine’s Day

We’ll start with a photo from the previous night that we both like:


We were not up early but when we went out for breakfast not much was open. Attracted by large crowd of bicycles across the river we crossed the bridge to take a look and found a bike rally had just ended.


We finally found the Windhorse, a small coffee shop run by expats. Although there was a table of Ecuadorian women all the other customers were non-Ecuadorian. And there was something going on upstairs; new-age music drifted down and people on a first name basis with the owner drifted in and up. However, our breakfast was certainly good (especially the coffee) if just a tad more expensive than we were used to.

We spent the rest of the day walking the streets of the historic old town centre of Cuenca. We saw several delightful old cathedrals, sometimes in the midst of Sunday services. At a small market opposite a large cathedral I bought Sue an orange (her fave colour) rose.


Catedral de la Inmaculada Concepcion





We found a major indoor mercado (market) and bought some fruit and jugos (fruit juices). The abundance of fruit in Ecuador is stunning. We stopped at another, small outdoor market where Sue shopped for pottery and wooden spoons. We criss-crossed the old town with no particular plan. Sometimes we just saw something in the distance that caught our eye.





At a corner we stopped and watched a couple tango; a very appropriate dance for Valentine’s. We`d passed a very interesting restaurant entrance and returned to it for a late lunch. The interesting entrance became a very eclectically decorated interior; everywhere an abundance of knick-knacks covered the walls and ceilings. One room featured a chandelier made of three decorated tires. We ordered the inexpensive set lunch and enjoyed the ambience.



Gradually we made our way back to the river and noticed numerous couples lazing on the grassy banks, some in decidedly Valentine’s embraces. We found a spot, lay back and enjoyed a relaxing hour on the riverbank (although we limited our passionate embracing; we`re so reservedly Canadian ;o).


Later we hummed and hawed about our next move. To Loja, located in the coffee country further south? Spend a day hiking in Parque Nacional Cajas just to the west? Or head for the coast and start our beach time? We couldn’t decide, so left our room in search of a cold beer. Not many of the local bars were open on a Sunday night but we eventually settled on a small bar with a friendly ambience and two screens of futbol (soccer) on. We had our usual large Pilsener each and then, inspired by their Happy Hour, decided on two Mojitos to celebrate Valentine’s and the fifteenth anniversary of our Permanent Engagement (which started in Havana, Cuba over chicken and Mojitos). Thus relaxed we returned to deciding our next move. The coast won out.

Monday, February 15

First thing we went to the Carolina Bookstore, just around the corner, to trade in our books. While Sue had a great conversation with the owner I browsed. The only book I could settle on was a Dominick Dunne compilation called Justice. If I had my Pender Library card with me I could’ve downloaded a book (make a note for next time).

We had an excellent breakfast at Moliendo Café, a Columbian restaurant, and then caught a taxi to the bus terminal.

As we left Cuenca the little valleys in the forest reminded me of small towns in the California Redwoods. But soon we were rising into the mountains and the trees thinned to a mix of grasslands and evergreens. And then the trees shrank as we entered Parque Nacional Cajas. By now the landscape was reminding me more of Scotland: windswept, golden, small lakes and a bit barren. Even in the bus we could tell the temperature had dropped outside as we’d gained altitude.



As we rounded steep valleys on the western slopes the clouds and mist drifted in and soon the landscape disappeared. When it cleared we were driving past thick vegetation and soon the coastal plains appeared. We drove past endless fields of banana and mango until we entered the outskirts of Guayaquil.


The bus terminal was huge; three stories high including a vast shopping mall. We popped out and grabbed a taxi. We knew our hostel was near but the driver told us it was going to be $5. We gasped and questioned the price. I even pointed to the rates painted on the door. No, $5 he said. When we got to the hostel we mentioned this to the reception and he said that was normal and asked where we’d been getting taxis. We told him a month in Ecuador and that was the most we’d ever paid for such a short distance. He looked at us pityingly. We got two beers and retreated to the rooftop terrace to try and acclimatize to the heat, humidity and change in attitude. Although this was simply a stopover in our transit to the coast the hostel was a bit of a disappointment. I found five long black hairs on my bedsheets; certainly not mine! The floor was unswept, the bathroom was not super clean and the wifi was weak. We turned the room fan up to full and attempted to sleep.

Tuesday, February 16

Next morning we took a public bus to the terminal. It took the same amount of time and cost us .25 each. Generally we take taxis when hauling baggage but this time the effort was well worth the savings.

As our bus headed north and then towards the coast the atmosphere was almost party-like. Everyone was friendly, the bus windows opened and the music was great. Then the Pacific appeared. Soon we arrived in Puerto Lopez, a small fishing village with a huge beach. We rode in a moto-taxi (shades of SEAsia) to our cabana, just across the road from the beach.


First Sighting of the Pacific in Over a Month!



We walked to the town’s waterfront centre and had ceviche. Then we went for a brief swim in the surf and watched the sunset. Ahhhh…. the delight of being back on the ocean. The only downside was realizing we really did need to use the mosquito net over the bed as the wee bugs in the night were nippers.

Wednesday, February 17

One of the reasons we chose to stay in Puerto Lopez was so we could take a tour to Isla Plata, a recommended, less expensive option then going to the Galapagos Islands. Although it doesn’t have the same eco-system or breadth of wildlife as the Galapagos it was within our budget and featured some of the same wildlife. Isla Plata was an hour long boat ride from Puerto Lopez. A protected park since the late 1970s it accommodates many of the same critters.


With our eight fellow passengers we strolled through the crazy busy fish unloading zone on the beach and out the pier to our boat. The day was sunny and the ride pleasant. As we neared Isla Plata the boat suddenly veered and I looked over the side to see what at first I thought was a seal and then realized was a sea turtle bobbing along. As we approached the island we could see massive flocks of birds wheeling over the coastline.


On shore we were given a brief summary of park regulations (stay on the paths, don’t approach the birds, stay away from the edges of the incredibly steep and crumbly cliffs – unlike Galapagos Isla Plata is not volcanic). Then we walked to the centre of the island where the group made a choice as to which path we’d take. We chose a shorter path, closer to the cliffs, which meant we’d have more time for snorkelling later. We soon discovered we’d made a wise choice as it was very, very hot and the sun blazed down. And this is considered the wet season; apparently in dry season the island has no greenery (and sometimes goes years without greening).


Sue Making Shade


Sea Turtle Nest


Abandoned Blue-footed Booby Eggs


Juvenile Blue-footed Booby


Mature Blue-footed Booby




We saw Blue-footed boobies, countless Frigate birds, Galapagos Iguana, a variety of flowers, pelicans and sea turtles in the water. We were quite toasted by the time we returned to the beach. After a quick lunch on the boat, with the sea turtles hanging around looking for scraps (they’re habituated to handouts), we were in the water. It was fairly clear and we could see some healthy-looking coral plus about half a dozen different species of colourful fish. No sharks or manta rays (although they are both in the waters around the island)

We finished the day with more seafood and a walk up the beach. At some point we visited a shop selling Palo Santo (Holy Wood) and found an interesting variety of goods made from the wood.

Thursday, February 18



First thing we strolled down to watch the fisherman unloading their morning’s catch. They head out pre-dawn and are generally unloading by 8am. We were amazed by the variety and amounts of fish we saw. We circled around back of the fish sellers and found a small, tarp covered restaurant for breakfast. At a table next to us a fisherman was celebrating his haul with three women and numerous beers. We both had shrimp laden omelettes and watched the scene.

Part of our morning ritual is finding coffee for Sue. In Puerto Lopez there were many cafes but for some reason most of them don’t seem to open either early or on weekdays. We finally found a small, bamboo shack run by a French woman that served excellent coffee. Seats were at at a premium as there just weren’t many. We soon discovered that it was a popular spot with expats as more and more arrived.

As I was feeling a bit sunburned from the day before and both of us felt we needed a chill day we found a spot under an awning on the beach and lazed around reading with occasional dips in the sea. We decided to stay another day in Puerto Lopez as we were moving so slowly.

Friday, February 19



Another day, another breakfast and the search for coffee. The French woman’s cafe was closed but we found another spot on the waterfront and plopped ourselves down. Big mugs of brewed coffee arrived and then a couple of expat men we’d met previously sat down. We had a long and interesting conversation about life in Ecuador with them; one advocating for Puerto Lopez, the other for Cuenca. It seems part of Ecuador’s attraction to expats is its medical care; we kept hearing how cheap it is and of the close relationship between doctor and patient. And nobody has a bad word about the climate.



While Sue lounged in the shade I decided to walk to the end of the beach. I had begged off taking a trip to a neighbouring beach with no shade (still feeling sunburned) but didn’t want to just sit. My walk took time due to all the stopping and checking out stones and shells. On my way back I passed the sea turtle rescue centre and met two volunteers taking a break out front on the beach. We’d talked to the two young men previously, congratulating them on their beach garbage clean-up efforts. They told me about the various things that happened to the turtles (mainly: swallowing plastic and fishing hooks) and their efforts to organize garbage cleanup around town. As I re-entered town I stopped at the Hosteria Mandala, a fantastic building in a fantastic setting, and purchased a T-shirt they produced to raise funds for an X-ray machine for the sea turtles.


I found Sue tucked in the shade and we took advantage of not being laden with a bunch of gear and went swimming together. The tide was fairly high and the surf break close in-shore so we leaped and frolicked in the break, sometimes getting thrown back towards the beach.

Then another grocery shop, a late lunch and another stunning sunset.




Although we stayed an extra day, and the expats almost have us convinced to stay, it is time to move on. On Saturday we head for Canoa, up the coast a few hours. It sounds like more of a backpacker/surfer town but we’ll stay a few days and then keep on moving north up the coast before heading inland again for our last week in Ecuador (gasp! Already?).

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Ecuador, Week 4

Sunday, February 7

Sad to leave Runi Hausi. Said our farewells, packed our bags down to the river and caught a boat to Puerto Barantilla. There we sat by the roadside talking with a local man who was catching a bus in the opposite direction. Although our Spanish is still very rudimentary we are actually managing conversations which really helps connect with people.

The bus was crowded with folks going to wherever the Carnaval action was occurring that day. Although it was pouring rain the atmosphere in the bus was a bit festive. We pulled into Tena and walked to the main bus terminal where we waited an hour for our bus to Baños. I sketched the passing crowd. We had a comfy big bus for the ride to Baños, retracing our steps from the week before.



Selling Carnaval spray by the roadside

In Baños we easily found the Hostal Princes Maria, where we were greeted by our super friendly host and shown around. After settling in we wandered into the town centre and found Cafe Hood, a restaurant owned by an expat that serves an international menu. After our huge, and delicious meals, we wandered and I purchased two cans of espuma, the foamy spray used in the Carnaval celebrations. Soon we were both covered in a layer of foam. It was wild and crazy fun!


Monday, February 8

Another rainy day. After breakfast and picking up our clean laundry (nice, dry, fresh clothing!) we decided to go for a walk to the western edge of town and visit one of the local hot springs: El Salado. We walked up hill, then down and across a river in a small canyon coming down from the mountain behind Baños. Then up the other side and up a road on which we passed more and more parked cars. A holiday in Baños and the hot springs were crowded. We paid our fees, rented bathing caps, changed, showered and entered the second hottest pool. Lots of kids splashing and the temperature was quite moderate. Eventually we decided to brave the crowds in the hottest pool and crammed ourselves in. I could feel the hot water bubbling up from the bottom and there was a slight smell although we couldn’t decide if it was sulphurous or not. We returned to the medium pool and finally decided we’d had enough of the crowds.


Later we returned downtown to see if I could sneak some photos of the Carnaval spray action. I got a few photos but then a girl spotted me and nailed me and my camera with a heavy shot of spray. Then another girl got me from a passing car. We retreated to a local brew pub, The Stray Dog. A corner location with a good view of the action.

Tuesday, February 9

Last day of Carnaval. We bought tickets for an open tour bus that visited several of the local waterfalls. We had a few minutes until departure so popped into the main cathedral. Services were under way, including singing and guitar music. We left the main nave and went along a side alley to view the famous statue of the Virgin, which local legend has it has saved Baños from the volcano. While there we chatted with a visiting family; their son spoke very good English. Although Ecuadorians may seem reserved at first we’ve met many who start conversations with us and by the time we part it’s handshakes, hugs and fond farewells.


Back to the tourist agency and onto the bus. We were the only non-Ecuadorians on the bus. One large family group sat in front of us and as we left town and the music pumped through the speakers they were singing along and hand dancing. As we passed through the long tunnels everyone screamed and hollered. Sue and I were laughing along and having a great time. Once again the rain poured down but the bus had a cover and other than the occasional shot of espuma or water bomb (and once a firehose) from the side of the highway we stayed kind of, sort of, dry.


At the first waterfalls, located on the far side of the river valley, we took a cable car across. Everyone screamed. It was an incredible view. At the second falls there was a zip line; we declined but instead had tea and watched the action. By now we were talking with our fellow bus passengers, including one woman who spoke excellent English.




The next falls, Diablo at Rio Verde, we all disembarked and walked down a trail, over a suspension bridge and down, down, down steps along side the falls. They were roaring with a huge volume of water shooting down a sheer cliff. As we progressed we could see other paths with wee people in the distance along the falls.



The bus headed back to Baños, more singing and screaming in the tunnels. Once we re-entered Baños the spray started flying. I got hit by a water-balloon in the elbow but luckily my camera stayed relatively dry. By the time we got off the bus we were ready for more spray and emptied our cans as we walked back to our hostel.

For diiner we decided on a less expensive option and went to a vegetarian restaurant by the local market. An excellent meal and we managed to get there and back with a minimum of spray.

Wednesday, February 10

We walked down by the bus terminal for breakfast at a 24 hour restaurant we’d visited on our first visit to Baños. Great fast service and good value. Then we walked to the church so I could get some photos while it was quiet. We then picked up our bags and walked to the road where a bus from Tena picked us up for our ride to Ambato.


Although it was still raining (!) the views coming out of the mountains were great. Couldn’t see the peaks for the clouds and mist but the views down into the valley were stunning. We got off at the terminal in Ambato and immediately boarded another bus for Guaranda.


Up, up, up into the Western Andes. First dry grasslands, then wet grasslands and numerous farms, then grasslands again and then an arid desert landscape. We drove in and out of the clouds and mist. Winding, winding, winding our way up along the edge of Volcan Chimborazo. Unfortunately due to the clouds we could not see the volcano at all, but only the desolate landscape by the highway. We started down and soon reached Guaranda where we were let off on a side street. Luckily a local pointed out the small, local trucks that would take us to Salinas.


We rode in the back of the truck with a few locals and their supplies. The road wound through small villages and past many valleys filled with farms. We arrived in Salinas about half and hour later. Someone ran and found our hostel host who drove us just up the road to our huge hostel, El Refugio. We were the only guests in a grand, albeit slightly run down, space. Our room had a great view over the town, a hot shower and a comfy bed. The town itself was very peaceful with many of the shops and cafes closed (perhaps for Ash Wednesday). We bought some cheese (Salinas is famous for its cheese, chocolate, salt and wool goods), explored the few open shops (I was very tempted by a wool fedora) and had coffee at a deli, where we talked with a family from Cayambe, north of Quito. Later we watched the mist move around the hills from our balcony and snacked on cheese, crackers and beers.


Thursday, February 11

Breakfast in the blazing sunlit sunroom at the hostel. We’re so happy to see some sunshine again!


We spent the early part of the day visiting some of the local sights.


We walked up to a viewpoint and then along a beautiful canyon surrounded by the high, rugged bluffs above the town.




Folks from home will recognize the Broom plant


Then we visited the chocolate factory where we bought a selection of their goodies.

Next a stroll through the salt gathering hillside above the river. Salt has been gathered here for hundreds of years. The Ecuadorians actually considered salt more valuable than gold when the Spanish first arrived and were puzzled by the Spaniards’ value system.irving_16-02-11_0023


Then onto the cheese factory where we could view the workers stirring the cheese in huge vats and wrapping the big wheel of cheese.


We walked back to town and had street food: corn and chicken on a stick plus Sue sampled a salad with fries and meat. Next siesta time and booking our next room in Riobamba for Friday night so we could be there for a Saturday morning market.

Late in the evening we heard the arrival of a school tour. All night long it seemed doors slammed, people ran in the hallways and voices called out.

Friday, February 12

We ate breakfast by the fireplace as the school teens had completely taken over the dining room. They looked a lot less frightening by the light of day. Friendly even.

We took a last walk into town so that I could get a few photos I’d missed and found a few spots we’d missed earlier. We walked around the eastern edge of town and discovered some new views plus a couple of textile shops we’d been unaware of. First a shop that specializing in local spun wools and then another featuring the finished products.




After our morning walk we gathered our things, hopped aboard a collectivo and rode back to Guaranda where we boarded a bus for Riobamba. Our bus seemed to backtrack on our journey in from Ambato and we were wondering if we’d made a mistake and were going to have to go all the way back rather than complete a loop.


However, we got back to the desolate landscape near the volcano, Chimborazo, and I was just thinking I spied a massive bulk in the mist when the highway split and we swung east. In the mist (thankfully no rain) it seemed we were on an alien world. Out of the mist we started seeing vicuña, a wild South American camelid and relative of the llama. The mist swirled around the barren landscape then suddenly the sun broke through and there were the lower reaches of Chimborazo and then there was more and more of it. We never did see it completely exposed but we did manage glimpses all the way to the peak, 6268 meters (20,564 feet) above sea level, the closest the earth gets to the sun (due to the bulge). Seeing even glimpses of it, even from a bus, was astounding.






We arrived in Riobamba around mid-afternoon and took a taxi from the bus terminal to the Hotel Estation, located by the completely refurbished train station. Sadly trains in Ecuador are now only for tourist excursions and cost appropriately. But our hotel was a marvel: old style with air shafts, lots of polished wood and decorated with the owner’s collection of antiques including many radios (I’m a fan).


We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the neighbourhood, the colonial centre of the city with its many churches, plazas and cobblestone streets. In the evening we ventured forth again and stopped for a treat: two frozen yogurts with lots of trimmings (all for $3).


For Sale. Sue wants it!


Saturday, February 13

We were up early to make the most of our morning. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was the best we’d had yet (bar the Lulu Llama which was rather special). An assortment of cakes and pancakes, fruit, breads, coffee; many made by our hosts.

We walked to the Parque de la Concepción, a concrete plaza, where regional craftspeople displayed their wares. I bought myself an alpaca sweater and Sue an embroidered belt. I really wanted to get a hat as mine is wearing thin but could not find one my size (much to everyone’s amusement). I did get a photo of the folks that sold me my sweater but as most of the sellers were indigenous peoples they were not too accepting of being photographed (which I totally respect. I should point out that in Ecuador I always ask permission to photograph people if they are going to be recognizable; the exception being crowd scenes).


We returned to our hotel and caught a taxi to the bus terminal for our five hour trip to Cuenca.Five hours is a long time on a luxury style bus that has no opening windows and the air vents don’t seem to work. Especially on up and down winding roads. And much of the trip in the mist.



We finally arrived and found our hostal. After the long ride we desperately needed air and refreshments. We were only a block from riverfront so headed that way and quickly found a little burger joint with cold beers. I have to say it was the first time I’ve eaten a hamburger in probably 20 years and I loved every bite. And the dark Club beer, flavoured with cacao went down well too!irving_16-02-13_0082

After dinner we walked along the waterfront promenade and back along the busy street, thronged with young lovers out for a Valentine’s Saturday night party. I did find a really nice hat in a shop but at $45 was worried how it might endure the rest of our travels. There’s got to be a reasonably priced hat my size out there! (stay tuned…)


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