Ecuador & Galapagos Day 1: Guayaquil, pt. 1


One of the iguanas at the Iguana Park in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

After a night in a Fort Lauderdale airport hotel — where I’m pretty sure I saw a “working woman” on her way in, and ate a restaurant attached to a Bass Pro Shop, whoo-hoo! Florida — we boarded a plane to Guayaquil, Ecuador. We flew TAME, an Ecuadorian airline, and already found ourselves in the language minority.


We landed four hours later, over wide farmland, coming in close above winding beige rivers, large houses and their turquoise swimming pools glinting back up at us. With the gentlest of touches, the pilot landed the plane.

We were in Ecuador. Atwitter with nerves and anticipation, I grabbed my ginormous camera backpack from the overhead bin (that thing paid for itself many times over), the other passengers politely giving me berth. As a complete toady to habit, I was already far out of my element. I wasn’t yet sure how it felt.

We breezed through the airport, with everyone switching to English to accommodate as as easily as they smiled, and were met with our transport from the tour company, Pacific Tours. He was a young, tall, floppy kid who brought us outside to feed the koi in the beautifully-landscaped airport grounds as we waited for our van. For $0.10, you can get a handful of pellets, and I aimed for the small fish on the fringes, cheering when the one I threw it to actually devoured it.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That's right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

The fish. Took this with my cell phone. That’s right. In essence I had 3 cameras on me.

Ecuador is on the U.S. dollar, which made the trip incredibly simple. No conversion math, things just cost what they cost. And then we were off to our hotel, the bus lurching through tight traffic on what felt like a main thoroughfare. With the trill of trumpets, we arrived at our temporary headquaters, The Grand Hotel Guayaquil, a police officer (I think) guarding us from the streaming traffic as we exited the van.

We were greeted by bellmen in uniform, by softly smiling receptionists with perfect English, and by a beautiful tropical scent that filled the gleaming lobby. Our bags were no longer ours to handle, our rooms dispatched with cheerful efficiency, and when I reached mine, I discovered they’d given me a lovely view of the street. I was officially Somewhere Else.

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We didn’t have long before we were to meet our guide, Mario Fuentes of “My Trip to Ecuador,” for our afternoon and evening tour of Guayaquil. We’d found Mario through a site called “Tours by Locals,” and he came highly recommended. He was very responsive during the planning stages, is fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese, and we were looking forward to learning about his city from him.

Guayaquil is the city with the largest population in Ecuador, and an easy launch point for a trip to the Galapagos. I think we’d thought we’d breeze through, with the Galapagos Islands our main event.

But it was far lovelier than we expected. Mario arrived, punctual and grinning, revealing dimples in each of his cheeks. And we were off. We walked around the corner to the obligatory church, a huge one with gorgeous stained windows that suffered very little damage in the April earthquake. Like Chicago, Guayaquil also had a major fire, so the church was rebuilt in the early 20th century.

Can I tell you the name of the church? I cannot. Churches are not my thing. But, here, have some pictures anyway.

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And on the outside:img_5151







Yikes, am I right?!

Then it was off to El Parque de Las Iguanas, or, literally, the Iguana Park. Iguanas were everywhere, along with turtles and pigeons. And very excited children. A woman sold ice cream carved off of a block, and a man tried to sell us selfie sticks on our way in and our way out.


This kid manhandled this huge iguana, and the iguana did. Not. Care.


Is that a bird? A Plane? Nope. IGUANAS.

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And then we were off to Las Penas. And that’s where our tour took an unexpected turn.

(To be continued…)

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Meet the Wife of the Gods


Speaking of travel, you don’t have to leave the space-time continuum to visit distant worlds, we’ve got plenty right here on our own planet. You can go to Ghana in the space of a download, and help solve a mystery with this first book in the . Book three of Kwei Quartey’s Soho Crime series,Murder at Cape Three Points, just came out, so if you enjoy it, there are more books ahead.

Wife of the Gods: A Novel by Kwei Quartey. Amazon for $9.99.Introducing Detective Inspector Darko Dawson: dedicated family man, rebel in the office, ace in the field—and one of the most appealing sleuths to come along in years. When we first meet Dawson, he’s been ordered by his cantankerous boss to leave behind his loving wife and young son in Ghana’s capital city to lead a murder investigation: In a shady grove outside the small town of Ketanu, a young woman—a promising medical student—has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Dawson is fluent in Ketanu’s indigenous language, so he’s the right man for the job, but the local police are less than thrilled with an outsider’s interference. For Dawson, this sleepy corner of Ghana is rife with emotional land mines: an estranged relationship with the family he left behind twenty-five years earlier and the painful memory of his own mother’s inexplicable disappearance. Armed with remarkable insight and a healthy dose of skepticism, Dawson soon finds his cosmopolitan sensibilities clashing with age-old customs, including a disturbing practice in which teenage girls are offered to fetish priests as trokosi, or Wives of the Gods. Delving deeper into the student’s haunting death, Dawson will uncover long-buried secrets that, to his surprise, hit much too close to home.

At Amazon, the Book Buys You


OK, that’s not entirely accurate. Or remotely accurate, but I couldn’t resist the joke.

Normally, about now I’d be telling you about a book you can buy from Amazon, but today I figured I’d flip that. I don’t know if you know, but Amazon will buy your books as well. It’s like a big, natural circle of reading. Amazon pays for shipping, so it won’t cost you anything. Current best-sellers are probably your best bet, but at least that takes some of the guilt out of buying a full-priced new book.

And it’s not just for books, either. You can trade in movies, video games and other things, and get an Amazon gift card in exchange. When I logged in, it even told me what some things I’d bought from Amazon were worth, which is nice to know, not that I’m parting with my Zumba World Party, which is the most fun game ever, but I digress.

So you can use books to feed your reading habit. It’s beautiful, in a way.

Anyway, thus concludes this public service announcement.




Have Breakfast at Darcy’s


Admit it. You’ve dreamed of having your very own island, or at least escaping to one for a while. I think it would really fantastic, right up until I need something from the store. The idea of having to take a boat to get groceries kind of kills the romance for me. And it might hamper my Walgreens addiction. Probably a money-saver, though.

Breakfast At Darcy’s by Ali McNamara. Amazon for $2.99. When Darcy McCall loses her beloved Aunt Molly, she doesn’t expect any sort of inheritance – let alone a small island! Located off the west coast of Ireland, Tara hasn’t been lived on for years, but according to Molly’s will, Darcy must stay there for twelve months in order to fully inherit. It’s a big shock. And she’s even more shocked to hear that she needs to persuade a village full of people to settle there, too.

Darcy has to leave behind her independent city life and swap stylish heels for muddy wellies. Between sorting everything from the plumbing to the pub, Darcy meets confident, charming Conor and sensible, stubborn Dermot – but who will make her feel really at home?

Travel the Amazon with John Waggoner


The Amazon is an incredible place absolutely packed with biodiversity and mystery. If you don’t believe me, check out Amazon: Land of the Flooded Forest on Youtube. It’s truly remarkable.

Better yet, in the spirit of my encouraging armchair travel, take a comprehensive, vicarious trip with writer John Waggoner.

The Amazon by John Waggoner. Amazon (ha!) for $8.99. For many travelers, exploring the Amazon is the dream of a lifetime. Within this wet, breathing biomass is one-fifth of the world’s fresh ground water. There are close to four million square miles of rainforest in the Amazon, much larger than many countries of the world. On the Brazilian side alone, three-fifths of the country’s landmass is in the Amazon, including the Amazon River, the longest in the world. The region is incredibly important to Brazilian history and culture. For this reason, when people think of the Amazon they typically think of Brazil.

Sometimes called by the generic term “Amazônia,” the region got its name from the Spanish friar Gaspar de Cavajal, who chronicled the voyage up the great river of explorer Francisco de Orellana in the early 16th century. The friar wrote that women warriors attacked their ship, supposedly to capture them for procreation before killing them – like the mythical Amazons of ancient Greece.

The reality is that Amazônia is one of the least populous regions in the world. Like Brazil itself, it is a region of contrasts, with limited infrastructure, but with some of the world’s richest resources of produce, timber and minerals. Outside the cities, visitors rapidly come in contact with the traditional subsistence lifestyle of the caboclos, as the river dwellers are known. Farther into the forest, the indigenous communities largely maintain their Pre-Colombian ways of life.

The wildlife and the ever-changing landscape and riverways make each visit unique. So quickly do the river passages change their course that it is sometimes not possible to return from the jungle along the same route you took going in.

Today there are an incredible range of options for visiting this amazing region, from comfortable lodges on stilts over the water to journeys on river boats or rugged expeditions into the deep jungle.

This book divides the immense Amazonian region into western and eastern sections, as each has its own unique characteristics. The Western Amazon is the state of Amazonas on the border with Peru, Colombia, and Venezuela. In this region of the Amazon nearly 98% of the rainforest is unspoiled. It is here where the pristine headwaters of the Amazon – the Rio Negro and the Rio Solimoes – come down from the Andes, far from the modern world. The main port of entry for exploring this region is the jungle metropolis called Manaus.

On the eastern side of the Amazon, there are some amazingly beautiful destinations, but there are fewer options as the region has been partially deforested and basic transportation and infrastructure are problematic. The top destination on the eastern side is Pará state, with its rich cultural life, the exotic capital Belém, nearby Ilha de Marajó, and Santarém, up the Amazon River near the border with Amazonas.

The author, a longtime resident of Brazil, is Latin America news director for ICIS, an international news agency.

The best hotels for every budget are detailed, from beach resorts to country inns, restaurants, attractions and activities are detailed in the cities, towns and villages.

Shop-till-you-drop ideas for crystals, native handicrafts, Amazonian fetishes and more.

The history, culture and music of the country are examined up-close, taking you into Brazil’s samba schools, rainforests and amazing nightlife.

Includes an easy-to-use language primer.

Go AWOL on the Appalachian Trail


The title AWOL on the Appalachian Trail  might bring to mind a certain politician, but long before a governor claimed to be hiking while doing something else all together, David Miller set out on his trek.

Is it just me, or do I seem to be focused on places that are not here today?

AWOL on the Appalachian Trail by David Miller. Amazon, $3.99 (for now; digital list price is $9.99). In 2003, software engineer David Miller left his job, family, and friends to fulfill a dream and hike the Appalachian Trail. AWOL on the Appalachian Trail is Miller’s account of this thru-hike along the entire 2,172 miles from Georgia to Maine. On page after page, readers are treated to rich descriptions of the valleys and mountains, the isolation and reverie, the inspiration that fueled his quest, and the life-changing moments that can only be experienced when dreams are pursued. While this book abounds with introspection and perseverance, it also provides useful passages about safety and proper gear, with a view into a professional hiker’s preparations and tenacity. This is not merely a travel guide, but a beautifully written and highly personal view into one man’s adventure and what it means to make a lifelong vision come true.

Alaska be Damned! According to Robert Hatting


Maybe the title of this book reflects my feelings about this never-ending winter in a place that is, at least on a map, not Alaska, but nonetheless, it should offer some escape, if not a warm one. In about six months, this will sound really refreshing. I swear.

Alaska be Damned! by Robert Hatting. Amazon for $3.99. A romantic drama set in the “Last Frontier.” A successful series of rescues causes all manners of problems for Skipper Ben Reed. Follow the rules and let them die? Not likely! His decisions sets a course only brave men and women can follow. See what happens when independent citizens of Alaska decide to take back what’s theirs. Rated PG-15. 140,000 words.

Lock Yourself Away with the Wardens of Punyu


Intrigue and adventure await in Hong Kong and China with D.L. Kung’s first book of the Handover Mysteries. Hold on to your organs, folks.

The Wardens of Punyu (The Handover Mysteries, Vol. I) by D. L. Kung. $2.99 from
Claire Raymond’s rookie Business World colleague disappears without trace across the Hong Kong-China border into one of the mainland’s new “special economic zones.” Claire’s search to rescue him leads her through the free-for-all landscape of Guangdong’s coastal export boom into the murky use of Communist prison labor camps to feed its illegal organ transplant trade.

Memoirs of a Vending Machine is a Free Trip to Japan


Take a trip to Japan in this travel novel by James Pollard

Memoirs of a Vending Machine by James Pollard. FREE from
Mike lands at Kansai Airport in Japan confident but ill prepared for his introduction to his new home. A sequence of events forces Mike on a Journey lasting all day and all night around Osaka. Meeting Mark, Jon and Jeff and other interesting and colourful characters along the way, they quickly discover the urban soul of Japan and learn enough in one day to last the rest of their time in Osaka.

Take a Stormy Motorcycle Adventure Through Iceland


Ever considered traveling Iceland on a motorcycle? Sherrie McCarthy did, and now you don’t have to. You can take an adventure from the safety of your couch. No helmet required.

Iceland: A Stormy Motorcycle Adventure by Sherrie McCarthy. $3.99 from
Active volcanoes, glaciers, rivers without bridges and killer sheep – Iceland offers the kind of riding that motorcycle adventure dreams are made of. Ignoring the lack of off road skills in one half of the partnership, Patrick and Sherrie set off on a 6 week journey from Germany to Iceland and back in the summer of 2010. Includes 8 maps and 21 color pictures.