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Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Trip with Granny's Cousins - Part II (Puerto Lopez)

Back to Puerto Lopez.

We arrived in PL in the late afternoon.  I was tuckered out.  I had gotten up early that morning and left for Guayaquil to meet up with the gang at their hostal by 10am.  We ate breakfast and hit the road about an hour later.   As I was the sole driver, several more hours of driving, the extortion saga, and many miles of...yes....zig-zagging, I simply flung myself on the bed of my cottage, AC on full force, and crashed.   The others hit the beach.  Based on photos I saw later, Opie enjoyed covering himself in sand and embellishing himself with sand-breasts.  Later, we had a nice open-air dinner on the sidewalk and enjoyed the cool breeze.

We stayed at the Nantu http://www.hosterianantu.com/ directly across the beach and a few blocks away from the commercial area.   My cottage was very nicely appointed and it had the all-important AC, plus a small porch with hammock.  The complex was charming with a large open-air restaurant, swimming pool, jacuzzi, parking, and all for a very inexpensive price.

In the morning after breakfast, everyone walked down to the fishing boats landing where it was buzzing with fresh catch coming in and birds circling overhead.  After our guide gave a lonnnng educational dissertation of the sun, the moon, the islands, the currents, and who's know what else (it was all in Spanish, but drawn in the sand) we (sans Granny because she had done-did it before) boarded our boat with about 8-10 others for our cruise to Isla de la Plata, commonly referred to as the Poor Mans Galapagos.

About an hour later, we anchored in a beautiful bay and began our hike across the island.  They had several routes of various lengths and challenge.  The guide opted for the easy one.   We started off traversing the bottom of a ravine then ultimately climbed about 180 steps up to a plateau where we could see almost all edges of the island.  The guide stopped along the way to tell us about the various plants (ie; one tree produces a natural anti-mosquito repellent).  We saw a lot of salamanders along the way, a plant that closes up when you touch the leaves, and a berry that produces a glue-like substance.

At one point, the guide motioned for us to stop and stay where we were while he quietly walked into low brush, looking for something.   Then he motioned us over.   Standing in the brush, as if waiting for the one o'clock tour, was a blue-footed boobie.   He stared at us, we stared at him.  I asked why his feet were grayish.   The guide said it was because he was young and the blue color comes with age.

The guide clearly knew where to find boobies.   They were clustered along the cliffs in little alcoves, they were hanging out in the brush.  The boobies never felt threatened by us.  We saw older boobies, young boobies, a baby boobie, and a dead boobie.

The shoreline and cliffs of the Isla de la Plata were spectacular as you'll see in the photos.

Each of the island trails are loops, so you always end up back where you started.   After our hiking tour, we boarded our boat again and were treated to fresh watermelon and wheels of pineapple.   We motored over to a nearby cove and anchored.   Sandwiches and soda were next.  One of the boat guides threw bread into the water.  Within seconds, beautifully-colored foot-long fish came to the surface and clamored for the food.  WOW!!!

With that, we donned masks and snorkels and jumped in to enjoy the warm sea water and the fish.   Several of us used our sandwiches to toss small pieces out so they would land right in front of someone so the fish would come up to the surface right in front of them.  Others, such as Opie, decided to climb up to the roof of the boat and leap off.

A week or so before, the boat lost it's ladder.  When we had to climb aboard from swimming it was difficult to grab hold of anything to hoist yourself out.  One of the crew was there to pull on one arm.  I felt like I was a whale trying to beach itself.  Thank GOD there are NO pictures of it!!!

It was time to head back.  It was a beautiful sunny day and we all quietly enjoyed the return trip with smiles on our faces.

In Puerto Lopez, the taxi's are mainly of the Tut-Tut (Tuk-Tuk?) variety....a 3-wheeled contraption powered by a motorcycle.   I had never ridden one, so Mah-maw and I rode in one, while Opie and Maddy-Mae road in the other back to our hostal.  Another first checked off the list.

Back at the Nantu, Granny was enjoying reading one of those steamy sexy novels when we descended upon their family room.   Showers were on the agenda, then we were off to another open-air dinner, early evening shopping, and walking back to our rooms via the beach.

Next...Montanita.

Enjoy the photos!!!

Dano


Puerto Lopez



The gang headed to board our boat to Isla de la Plata

Fishing boats of Puerto Lopez

Catch of the day.

Maddy-Mae, Mah-maw, Opie

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
a tale of a fateful trip.
That started from this tropic port,
aboard this tiny ship. 


"Ah yes....your table is right this way madame"

This young'n was trying to lift off...but hadn't mastered it yet.

What?

STOP LOOKING AT ME!!!   I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!   ALL THIS PAPARAZZI!!!

Gorgeous, huh?


To give you an idea of the scale of these cliffs, see the other part of our group near the top and to the right of center?

Another shot of the group across the way.  We could walk right up to the edge of these cliffs and no one blinked.

A baby.   AWWWWW!!!!


180-step climb and back to our starting point along the bottom of that ravine.



Opie...dreaming of yachts, champagne, caviar, and bikini-clad girls.

Mah-maw and Maddy-Mae

Ditto...plus the fish.
Our Taxi
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Friday, March 22, 2013

A Trip with Granny's Cousins - Part 1


My friend ‘Granny’ from Nashville…oops, sorry….Nashvull, Tinnissee had family coming to Ecuador for the first time.  Mahmaw, her 2nd cousin, and her two kids Maddy-Mae (15) and Opie (14) flew into Guayaquil late Friday night.  Granny went down to meet them and stay with them in a hostal for their first night in EC.   I followed early the next morning to pick them up and all of us headed off to Puerto Lopez on the coast.
 
It was a new route I hadn’t traveled before and, for that part, it went off without a hitch.   Well…until I got pulled over at the border of the provinces of Guayas and Manabi.  The crossing was 100 meters in front of us.   I didn’t think anything of it at first because I’ve been stopped by Ecuadorian police checkpoints many times in the past.  It’s common here.  They check for proper vehicle paperwork.   However, in the Guayas province they have much more technology aboard their vehicles.  After officer A. Sanchez  asked me for all my papers (passport, cedula (EC Id), drivers license, matricula (vehicle registration), SOAT (EC insurance) he proceeded to show me on his pad device that I was past due 2 years car registration fees, totaling $374.   I didn’t know a thing about it because my matricula specifically states it expires in 2014.  So, if I registered my car when I bought it, and paid fees at that time, and I’m handed a slip of paper that says it doesn’t expire until 2014, why would I ever think I owe something annually?   Apparently, we’re supposed to pay some fee on an annual basis.
 
Ok, so I needed to correct the matter, right?   Mind you, the entire conversation between the officer and I (me?) was in Spanish.  None of the other 4 people in the car spoke Espanol.   And, it was about noon on a Saturday.   He informed me I could not be allowed to proceed….to cross into the next province.  I offered to turn around and go back to the last town not far away and pay at the bank (where most fees in EC have to be paid).   He said ‘no’, the bank was closed.   Hmmm, I thought….don’t they close at 1pm?   Later, I verified they indeed were open til 1pm.  I also asked why I never had any problem with the other dozen or more times I’ve been road-checked by police?  He told me the only way I could proceed was to go back to the previous town, park the car (aka impound) and the 4 others could proceed on a bus while I stayed behind until Monday.   GRRRRRR    I tried to strike a ‘nice nerve’ in his body by telling him the mother and 2 kids just arrived in EC and this was their very first day here and we had reservations in Puerto Lopez.   Didn’t care.   He seemed nice enough, smiling, not being rude but I was beginning to notice a smugness in his demeanor.
 
Of all the documents I handed him, all were copies EXCEPT my drivers license.  He did some waving of hands and went back to his vehicle where his partner was sitting in the drivers seat.   I didn’t know what he meant or wanted us to do.  But, he still had my original USA drivers license.   So, I walked back to his car and asked him if I could pay him the $374 so we could proceed.   He said $250.   Huh?   It boiled down to him extorting $250 out of me to let me proceed.  Payola.   He was holding my original drivers license as hostage.  He billed it as a ‘fine’ or ‘ticket’ but he never gave me a ticket.   I went back to my car and, luckily, had $250 on me.   I folded it, walked back to the driver, and handed it to him through his window.  He never counted it…just tucked it away.  I asked if they were going to give me a receipt.  Nope.  GRRRRRR   I asked them what if police down the road somewhere pull me over…how would they know I paid the ‘fine’?  They said the transit police in other provinces don’t have their level of technology (to run a check on a license plate while on the road) so they would never know I was past due.   In hindsight, I later realized that anyone looking at the paper copy of my matricula should be able to tell it is out of date because it says 2011 on it (though it has 2014 expiration).  Who knows how I ever got through all the other past road checkpoints.

We proceeded on our way.   $250 over budget.

BASTARDS.

We spent two nights in PL where we took a near-all-day trip to the Isla de la Plata, an island off the coast via a 1 hour+ boat trip, commonly referred to as the Poor Mans Galapagos.  More on that in Part II.   While there, I decided to make a photocopy of my drivers license so the only documents I would relinquish to the police would be COPIES….no originals.
 
Our next stop was Montanita….a hip surfer-dudes beach town about an hour south of PL.   Just as we were closing in on Montanita, the cops pulled me over AGAIN!!!   Still in the same province, same technology.   I immediately told Granny to take my pad and pen and jot down whatever observations she could such as the officers name, badge number, facial features, etc.   And, Mahmaw whipped out her trusty I-phone to do what she could from the back seat, such as snap photos, take notes, etc.  I wanted the officer to take note that WE were taking notes!!!!
 
The first officer who came up to my car had the same issue….their computer said I was past due.   I gave officer O. Junco all the requisite documents….all copies… no originals.   I told him the story of the previous officers extorting $250 out of me.  He reacted surprised.   I explained, at the time, it was a Saturday  which is why I couldn’t pay.  He beckoned the other officer from the car and switched places with him….muttering something to him as they passed each other.   As the other officer approached my car, he zipped up his jacket.  We could no longer see his name or badge.  This, in hot/humid weather.  He kept repeating himself over and over about the fact I had a past due registration.  He asked for my original drivers license.    AH HA!!!   I said I didn’t have it (liar)…that I never carry the originals of any of my documents because it is ‘muy peligroso’ (very dangerous) because of ‘ladrones’ and ‘robados’ (crooks and robberies).   That took the wind out of his sail.  He had no leverage against me and, ultimately, let us proceed.   I told him I would pay in Salinas because there were no banks in Montanita.   GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

By this time, our nerves were on edge every time we saw a cop along the road.  Will we get pulled over AGAIN??
 
We checked into our rooms in Montanita.  They had no A/C and it was very humid.   NOT my cup of tea.   The others went out to swim while I laid sprawled across my bed miserably trying to get cool and comfortable.  Nothing worked.  I finally leaped off the bed with the idea to drive in my AC’d car 50 miles south to Salinas to pay my debit.  But, before I left, I went out to a large mud puddle in the parking lot and flung mud all over my car (which was already very dirty from the trip beforehand) and purposely made both license plates difficult to read.   In Salinas, I stood in line at the bank with 25 people ahead of me to pay my debt.   Then, I drove the other 50 miles back to Montanita with receipt in hand in case any other @#%U^&! attempted to pull any s__t on me.
 
$624 over budget
 
Here’s a few suggestions for my readers to heed should you drive in EC:
 
  • NEVER carry originals of any of your documents (Cedula, Passport, Drivers License, SOAT, Matricula, etc)
    • You only need originals of some of these documents for immigration purposes such as crossing borders
  • Take note (jot down, take a photo, record voice, etc) of the officer’s name and badge number and any other identifiable characteristics as well as the license plate # off their vehicle.  Preferably, have a passenger do this.
    • If they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, this will likely make them back off as they don’t want to be reported
  • Make sure your car registration is paid current, even if it’s a rental car
  • IF you should have to pay payola, do it publicly, out in the open.   If I had my wits about me, I would have handed those cops each bill, one at a time, through their window and into their greedy hands, so passersby could clearly see money was being exchanged.
  • Try to not understand what the officer is saying.   If you don’t speak/understand Spanish (even though you might) the officer won’t be able to convey an ‘offer’ to let you go in exchange for $$$.  He will get frustrated, but probably give up.
  • Know the emergency phone #’s for the area you are.  Most of EC is becoming standardized.   911 is emergency, 101 is Police.   If you are able, have someone dial the police #.   Ask if anyone speaks English.  Try to convey to the party on the other end that you are being extorted by police along the roadside.  Tell them whatever info about the officer you were able to gleen.
    • Again, If they are doing something they shouldn’t be doing, this will likely make them back off as they don’t want to be found out
  • Know the terminology:
    • Multa = Fine
    • Citacion = Citation
    • Extorcion = Extortion
    • Soborno = Bribery
    • Coima = Payola
    • Billete = Ticket
    • Recibo = Receipt
  • If they want money, tell them to write you a ticket (or citation). They
    won't want to do this as it would cause a record to be accounted for.
    • Escribeme un citacion (or billete).
  • If you are paying money, demand a receipt.
    • Escribeme un recibo.
  • If they refuse to write a ticket and/or give you a receipt, then you are being extorted. Tell them extortion is illegal, no bribery.
    • Senor Sanchez (name from badge) Extorcion is illegal, no soborno!!
  • Even though these may seem confrontational, it will make them back off because you have shown them you are onto them, have recorded information about them, and they don't want to lose their jobs. They will move on to the next culprit who'll, hopefully, be weaker and more easily intimidated than you.
Hmmm....makes me wonder.  Given all the flack I've received about being an Ugly American, go back where I came from, blah, blah, blah...is this where I'm supposed to bow down (or is it bend over?) because I'm constantly told I'm a guest here (even though I'm a legal resident, voted, pay taxes, etc)  and I should just adapt to the EC ways and not try to change things?   Is this where I should appreciate their culture and continue to uphold and support their ways because it's always been that way and NO ONE can change it unless an Ecuadorian changes it?
 
I'm just askin.

Stay tuned for Part II
 
Dano
My friend Mano....errr....Granny


Officer O. Junco, Ecuador's finest (at extorting money)






About Me

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Cuenca, Azuay, Ecuador
This is all about my transition from an American lifestyle and culture to my newest adventure, life in Cuenca and greater Ecuador. I'll be recapping some of my day-to-day experiences (and mishaps) to highlight what it's like to live here.

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