Friday, January 15, 2010

Planning Our First Trip To Ecuador

I can't believe it is already 2010. We have just returned home from Houston Texas where we spent the Holidays with my Husband's Parents and Sister and enjoyed a relaxing quiet Christmas. 2009 proved to be a pretty hectic year with the opening of our new automotive business. I am happy to report that our first year in business went extremely well and we survived in one piece. The Holidays were a welcome relief from the everyday hustle and bustle and it was nice to unwind for a change.  

Our Business

We spent a total of two and a half weeks away from home, the longest we have been away since I can't remember when. We drove our Jaguar sports car to Houston and we were packed to the roof with luggage, Christmas presents, computer equipment, as well as our Daughter Lindsay and our dog Buster. There was not an inch of space left. We looked like one of those crazy circus clown cars where the clowns keep piling out of the tiny car and you’re left wondering how in the world they all fit in there in the first place.

Our Very Small Jaguar XJR

 The first part of our trip was spent relaxing with Family, watching T.V. and cooking. Rod did a few projects around Mom and Dad’s house and I picked up some things that I had bought for my online business. Shortly after Christmas it was time for the second leg of our trip and off we went to Santa Fe, New Mexico to visit my Mother and her Husband. Rod’s Dad drove the three of us to the airport and we boarded a plane to Santa Fe while Lindsay caught a flight back home so she could help take care of the business for the week that we would be in Santa Fe. Buster stayed at Mom and Dad’s for the week that we would be gone.

Lindsay Hard At Work

New Years week my Mother, Bob, Rod and myself started busily planning our upcoming February trip to Ecuador. We will be flying out on February 9th and returning on the 24th. Up until that time we were learning as much about the country as possible. We had previously purchased several travel books and Rod had been and still is reading internet blogs, websites and anything else he can get his hands and eyes on. Weekly emails were circulating between the four of us sharing any tidbit of what we deemed important Ecuadorian information. So now it was time to get down and dirty and really start mapping out our plan of places we wanted to see and stay in while in Ecuador.

A Small Portion Of Our Ecuador Books

We did manage to carve a little time out to do some fun things around town. One of the things that we always do when we visit Santa Fe is go to Harry’s Road House. Bar none they have the best comfort food around and the portions are large. You can get anything from Breakfast Burritos with Green Chili to Roadhouse Turkey Meatloaf. The menu has something for everyone and they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’re ever in Santa Fe make sure and visit this fantastic restaurant. They’re a bit off of the beaten path, but well worth the  drive.

While we were in Santa Fe we were fortunate enough to meet with some friends of my Mother's who had previously been to Ecuador. They were a wealth of information and we truly were thankful for the time they spent with us. I  think we all left that night feeling much more at ease. We were relieved to find out that if you have an adventurous spirit you can get around quite easily in the areas we plan to visit. Renting a car is relatively easy, although not necessarily inexpensive and off you go, but since this was our first trip to Ecuador we thought it made the most sense to hire a bilingual guide and leaving the driving to someone else made the most sense.

The absolute high light of my evening was to learn that I didn't need to get any vaccinations (I was absolutely ecstatic). I don't have a needle phobia, I have a pain phobia. Anything that I anticipate is going to inflict pain causes me great anguish and of course needles fall under that category. In my opinion they ought to administer anesthesia before giving you an injection. According to our research the only time it is really important to get vaccinated when traveling to Ecuador is if you plan on going into the jungle. Of course use your own judgment as we are by no means endorsing that you travel without vaccinations. Our plans are to stay in the highlands and out of the Amazon so we are good to go.

After a lot of research and our travel books spread before us we carefully made a progressive list of the towns that we wished to visit as well as accommodations. We outlined the dates, the towns we planned to be in on those dates and the hotels we would stay at. My Mother and I discovered a spa resort in the town of Banos called Luna Runtun This particular spa offered Rose Petal baths, Volcanic ash exfoliations, and massages all at a fraction of the cost that you would pay in the States, “Be still my heart.” My Mother and I decided in order for us to be happy Campers we definitely needed to stay at the Runtun and indulge in some pampering.

View From The Luna Runtun

The rest of our time was spent Skyping, emailing, researching, and filling our notebooks with endless information. Rod always makes fun of me because I always have a notebook in hand, he says I need notes to find my notes. I have tried to be more computer savvy and keep all of my note taking on my laptop, but somehow an old fashioned pen and paper just feel more comfortable to me. I'm forever stuck somewhere between the high tech and the old world way of doing things. It must run in my Family though, you ought to see my Mother and myself trying to get out the door in the morning. It's like a fire drill, only instead of running from the blaze we create our own blaze trying to locate our planners, calendars, phones and notebooks.

One Page out Of My Overflowing Notebook

Time was running out and the rest of our itinerary would have to be worked on when we returned home. I volunteered to be the travel coordinator and keep everybody up to date via email. My first assignment was to locate a tour company that met our needs and at the same time was reasonable. The last couple of days we were in Santa Fe I must have literally sent 40 emails trying to find a guide or tour company.

I did end up finding a site called which was really neat. It's sort of like a forum where you log in and enter the area you are interested in visiting. You post your question, such as “How do I get from the airport to the hotel in Quito?” Your question is posted and then members of the site answer you. Some of the answers are good and others not so good, but you choose the answer or answers that make the most sense to you and then you can start a one to one email correspondence with those individuals. You can then decide if you want to use their services.

Just be aware that a lot of the people who respond to you are not necessarily “experts”, they may just be a student working their way through college or they may actually be a legitimate company, it is up to you to decide. My thought was what better way to get a feel for the local way of life than to hire someone who lives and works amongst the locals.  In the end we decided to go with a bona fide tour company, but only because we were looking for someone that could give us the whole package (driver, air and hotel). We also wanted to take some real estate tours while there, so we needed someone to help us set those up as well.

After a whirlwind week in Santa Fe it was time to return to Houston where we would celebrate Dad's 80th Birthday. Dad decided we should all go to Galveston, so we packed Rod, Dad, Mom Rod's Sister - JoAnn and myself into Dad's BMW 330. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Don't ever believe the car manufacturers when they tell you their vehicle seats five adults comfortably. We were packed in like sardines and it was an unusually cold and blustery day, but in spite of the leg cramps, numb body parts and frigid temperatures we thoroughly enjoyed the day. We stopped and ate at Landry's for lunch and a few pounds later we piled back into the car and drove around the Island and looked at the lingering devastation left by hurricane Ike. It's amazing how many places were still vacant and in disrepair. We did look at some beautiful homes on the bay and the ocean side. On the way out of town we stopped at the Rainforest Cafe for a sinful dessert, Rod and I split this yummy dessert and we still couldn’t finish it, but it was just what we needed for the long ride home.

Chocolate Indulgence

A couple of days later we made the 12 hour trek back to Sweet Home Alabama and started tackling the new year and once again preparing for our trip to Ecuador.

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