Welcome to our website ! Our vision is to inspire & promote international understanding through education and cultural exchange between South America - Ecuador and the rest of the world. To help people rediscover life with purpose, integrity and compassion, benefit from our experiences, and acquire knowledge for living in harmony in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world. To share our "life changing adventure experiences" with family and friends worldwide. We have consolidated a wealth of the best resources on Ecuador, along with travel journals and photos. Our hope is that you will find this a valuable, user friendly resource network, which enriches your life, enables you to learn, challenges your thinking, and empowers you to discover and undertake your own new experiences and adventures.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Valparaiso Chile April 2009

Chile's Ministry of Tourism currently has a wonderful advertising campaign you may have seen on North American television. Chile is one of South America's most stable and prosperous nations which is quickly assimilating North America. Within Latin America it leads in terms of human development, competitiveness, political stability, globalization, economic freedom, low perception of corruption and comparatively low poverty rates, with high rankings for freedom of the press and democratic development. With this situation the cost of living is also comparable to North America.Each day, walking in Santiago was met with a new discovery: Parque Metropolitano has a mountainside zoo - home to 158 different species of animals (some cages were very nice but some were too small, dirty, and smelly from the heat – the poor misplaced polar bear ! ); a modern & extensive system of metro trains; Costanera Centre construction cranes and activity; autopistas of Santiago; teleferico; Japanese & rose gardens; Funicular - an outdoor escalator / elevator with a capacity of 50 people in each car. It travels 485 meters on an incline of 48 degrees and is the traditional system of access to the monument of the Virgin in the sanctuary of the Immaculate Conception; we dined in a typical Chilean restaurant with live music and cultural dancing.

Valparaíso (Paradise Valley) an intriguing coastal seaport located in the centre of Chile is built upon dozens of steep hillsides overlooking the Pacific Ocean. In 2003 UNESCO has declared Valparaíso's labyrinth of streets, and cobblestone alleyways, with rich architecture a World Heritage Site. With it's picturesque harbour, Pablo Neruda (whose home we visited) immortalized the city as the "novia del oceano". With some 250,000 inhabitants it was known as " little San Francisco" and played an important role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It played a major role during the California Gold Rush. The opening of the Panama Canal was a major blow to the ship traffic and the city's economy. During the brief summer, there are many international cruise ships in the port, and it is a hub for freight containers, fresh fruit, copper, and wine.

We enjoyed meandering through the myriad of steep cobblestone streets where often older, richly colourful buildings would appear perched in mid air overhanging steep cliff sides. The architecture has been influenced by many immigrant cultures and provides inspiration for architecture students from around the world. In addition to staircases which traverse the steep hillsides, Valparaíso has an unusual system of ascensores funicular elevators (highly-inclined cable cars) which are one of the world's 100 most endangered historical treasures, or the Polanco elevator where one enters a long dimly lit mine-shaft like tunnel, and then a traditional vertical elevator which lifts its passengers several hundred feet within the earth to emerge to a daylight exit near the mountain top. There we found an abundance of fine restaurants serving typical plates and folkloric music, and artesan kiosks.

Although Santiago is the official capital, Valparaiso is home to the National Congress, and nine major universities. It is linked by a modern toll highway which has overpass stations which recognize a chip in each car and levy an incremental fee by electronic satellite depending on the distance traveled. There is no need to slow down or carry any money – you receive a monthly bill via mail. Latin American communities embrace life with an extensive variety of events and festivals. "Valparaiso Downhill" is a new mountain bike race, taking place in February that has bicycle racers compete down stairs and alleys - going from the surrounding hills down to the lowlands. At New Year's they have a famous festival of fireworks, the biggest in all of Latin America, attended by a million tourists who fill the coastline and hillsides with a view of the bay. Immediately adjacent to Valparaiso is the "Vineyard of the Sea" Viña del Mar a popular beach destination for tourists. It is home to a famous casino Hotel del Mar and the Presidential summer Palace. We strolled along the extensive malecon from the flower clock, north of the Casino, to the Naval Armoury at the southern end of the city. Artists have designed a variety of life like sandcastle sculptures along the beaches and seek donations from the photos taken by the passing tourists. Large sand dunes lay opposite the ocean and provide a playground for ATV's, motorcycles, jeeps, and dune buggy's.

We visited a winery in the Casa Blanca Valley which was very similar to the cottage wineries in the Okanagan, or California. While there are many similarities to the cottage wineries of Napa & the Okanagan, it was very interesting to learn although Chilean wines have a strong international reputation they are relatively young vineyards (established in the early 90's). In this particular vineyard a helicopter is employed, just prior to harvest, in order to keep the " frosty " evening air from damaging the grape crop. The adjacent winery had permanent windmill fans to accomplish the same task. The innovative methods of dealing with a variety of challenges in Latin America are refreshing.

We enjoyed a weekend escape to the city of Olmue with the warmth & hospitality of Cristian's family. Olmue is a very popular summer country / mountain escape for the coastal people located in Mount La Campana a National Park. The family retreat was very quiet and relaxing, sitting in the yard by the pool, and listening to the birds, and watching the small lizards sun themselves. That evening we enjoyed the best fresh scallops around a campfire, lasagna, the music of a guitar, fine Chilean wine and a cool evening breeze. Reminiscent of a summer evening camping in beautiful British Columbia we talked until the fire embers died down. During the next day we toured the small village in Cristian's yellow circa 1970's Citroen convertible 2CV. This car is unique and a fairly rare collector auto in North America, but was fairly common here a decade ago. Apparently Argentina has a large association of Citroen 2CV owners / collectors. I always wanted one of these cars when I got big & grew up! Oh the appeal of cars with lots of character. Along the roadsides are country fresh fruit and vegetable stands, homemade jams & preserves. The following day it was a welcome & pleasant change to assist with gardening chores and yard activities.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Chile & Argentina - April 2009

Saludos por Fin del Mundo, (end of the world )
We departed Canada in early spring (according to the calendar) for Santiago, Chile. We left a harsh, 75 year record breaking winter behind us with the city of Calgary completely covered in a thick white blanket of snow - more typical of a day in mid December.
We arrived in Santiago Chile with sore wings from flying -11.5 hours by air from Toronto.
Chile's geographic shape is unusual — 4,300 km long and on average 175 km wide gives it a hugely varied climate, ranging from the northern Atacama (world's driest desert) with copper mineral wealth, through a Mediterranean climate in the centre, to a snow & alpine climate in the south and a labyrinth of fjords, inlets, canals, twisting peninsulas, islands, glaciers, and lakes. It is the youngest of the South American countries.
Santiago is both the capital and largest city of Chile. About 20 years of uninterrupted economic growth has transformed Santiago into one of Latin America's most modern metropolitan areas, with extensive suburban development, dozens of shopping malls, and impressive high-rise architecture. There is little sign of economic slowdown here as the activity and noise of large high rise construction and cranes tower overhead everywhere. A major example is the Costanera Centre, a mega project in Santiago's Financial District. A 280,000 square-metre mall, with a 300-metre tower, twin office towers of 170 metres each, and a hotel. When completed in 2010 it will be the tallest building in South America.

However, the developer has prudently indicated that scale will be reduced until financial uncertainty has passed. This strong growth, and economic stability, has many large multinational companies relocating to region: Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Microsoft, HP and Rueters.

Santiago is probably the most " North American like" city that we have seen so far in our travels of South America. It's citizen's are striving towards a materialistic North American lifestyle seeking brand names & style and influenced by mass marketing. The huge divergence in societal class and income level, common in South America, has been homogenized here into a large middle class. There is a marked proliferation of automobiles with single occupants, and a drastic reduction in the number of buses and taxis. Large retail malls & North American outlets including Starbucks have a successful presence here. The costs of living, and prices of most items, are comparable to Canada (except liquor - a bottle of fine Chilean wine @ $ 3.00.
Given the high volumes of commuter automobile traffic they have impressively managed to preserve many tree lined boulevards and pedestrian friendly sidewalks squares, fountains, and parks, and operate public transit very successfully with extensive subway lines, and modern slinky buses.
We stopped for lunch in an outdoor shopping plaza with peaceful water fountains. It consisted of Pisco Sours (national drink of Chile) and a popular dish called crudo. When it arrived it looked like a large fresh hamburger patty destined to be bar-b-qued. Condiments of diced onions, mined parsley, hot peppers, lemon, olive oil, and mustard were added and to our surprise the raw meat was enjoyable. An afternoon stroll through a park where there was ponds, grassy fields, children's playgrounds and an acre of dog friendly area with toys and activities for the dogs similar to a giant " Super Dog " show in Vancouver. This was without question the nicest park designed for dogs we have ever seen! Subsequently we have seen " dog walkers" are a common commercial activity in the large metropolises.

We traveled the Trans-Andean highway (350 kms) part of the an-American Highway between Santiago de Chile and Mendoza, Argentina by CATA International ejecutivo bus. A double decker coach with large leather reclining seats and several sleeping berths. This route is reported to be one of the world's great drives. We can attest that the scenery is spectacular, and the variety of rock formations and vivid coloration is a geologist's dream. The snow capped, rugged mountains are in view much of the time.
A narrow gauge Trans Andean railway line (abandoned in the early 80's) parallels much of the highway. Cliffs rising from dry river bottoms similar to the Walachin area in British Columbia reflect a patchwork quilt of brick and stone support work for the road and railway, undertaken over many years. One of the highlights of the trip is the view of Cerro Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the southern hemisphere reaching 22,841 feet, and the highest mountain outside the Himalayas that separate India, Nepal and Pakistan from China. We saw our first wild Alpaca

The Chilean – Argentine border is crossed by the Cristo Redentor tunnel, at an elevation of 9,800 feet. Completed in the early 80's, the tunnel is nearly two miles long. To reach the tunnel there are a total of 29 switchback curves (there goes San Francisco's Lombard street's claim to fame) with an elevation rise of 8,000 feet. Our entry into Argentina required an hours wait at the combined Chilean-Argentine customs station on the east side of Cristo Redentor Tunnel. Following the wait was a magnificent alpine lake reminding us of Lake Louise in Alberta's Canadian Rockies.
We saw Mendoza, an area world famous for its vineyards and wineries. The total bus trip from Santiago to Buenos Aires was just over 24 hours with considerable time consumed with slow commercial truck traffic, border crossings, and numerous inspection stations.
Buenos Aires is the 12th largest city in the world with a cosmopolitan population of over 13 million. It ranks # 4 for being the noisiest city in the world, and is famous for football, beef, soy, wine, and the tango! Amongst the miles of asphalt are giant gomero, palo borracho, and jacaranda trees.

Avenida de neuva de Julio is reputed to be the widest street in the world (South America's Champs Elyse) boasting 16 traffic lanes in each direction with ample pedestrian and park boulevards, and marked with an oblisk. (note the high-rise buildings flank either edge of this street) Avenida Corrientes and Florida are two pedestrian friendly streets famous for restaurants, shopping, and nightlife.

Plaza de Mayo the original main square of Buenos Aires features European architecture Casa Rosada (government equivalent to the White House) Cathedral, City Hall, & National Bank.
Diego Maradona, a porteno widely hailed as one of the greatest football players of all time, coached the Argentine team last night in a World Cup qualifying game with Venezuela to a 4 – 0 win. Football is in the lifeblood of these South American nations.

We stayed at Yira Yira , a quaint guesthouse centrally located and owned by Paz a lovely " porteno" lady (a native of Buenos Aires). Our second floor room had a large balcony, which was over a busy metropolitan street that never sleeps - conversation, music, buses, cars, sirens, and large city bustle droned us to sleep in the warm evenings. Buenos Aires means " good air " and each evening there is a cleansing ocean breeze that removes the smog and pollution to start each day anew.
The world famous cementerio de la Recoleta designed in 1822 is the final resting place for hundreds of famous Argentine's in a maze of granite, marble, and bronze mausoleums. One of those bodies is world famous, Evita Peron, Argentina's first lady led a controversial life loved and hated. From illegitimacy and poor origins she rose to become a famous actor, government minister, and incredible aid supporting families in need. In 1952, being in her early thirties, she died of cancer. Her life was so controversial that it took over 20 years for Argentina as a country to even accept the burial of her body – she toured as much after death as she did during her life.

Plaza San Martin was hosting the world tour of the United Buddy Bears – all 140 countries represented in the United Nations have a bear present except Canada! For more information visit www.buddy-bear.com. Apparently, our bear was broken two years ago and our government has chosen not to replace. Dismayed, and ashamed, with this international travesty we have written the Canadian Government to see if this situation cannot be rectified. Tango music was born in the suburbs of Buenos Aires, notably in the brothels of the poorer suburbs. Its sensual dance moves were not seen as respectable until adopted by the Parisian high society in the 1920s. Tango dancing consists of a variety of styles developed in different regions and eras in response to many cultural elements, venue crowding and clothing fashion.
On to Montevideo, Uruguay (population - 3.5 million.) reported to be South America's most attractive capital city with a high standard of living and strong European influences is noted for leather and beef. It is built an a peninsula extending into the Atlantic Ocean.

On a bleak and a dreary day we visited Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands. The people and their culture, homes, and monuments clearly exhibit British heritage. The Islands hold a strategic naval location in the Atlantic Ocean with a very controversial past. It once was an important deep-water port - a major repair stop for ships traveling the Straights of Magellan before the opening of the Panama Canal. The businesses there were so notorious for price-gouging that damaged ships were sometimes abandoned at Port Stanley. Then a coaling station for the Royal British Navy with ships being based here in both world wars. In 1982 Argentina occupied the islands for about 10 weeks during the Falklands War. Now primarily a growing base for whaling, fishing and tourism in the South Atlantic and Antarctic Oceans. The beaches and land around it were heavily mined and caution needs to be exercised, as many beaches remain active with dangerous minefields. The many penguins that inhabit the coastline are not of sufficient weight to trigger the mines.

As we traveled south air temperatures have now dropped into the mid forties with plenty of snow on the surrounding mountains. Autumn and winter are approaching here in the southern hemisphere. Cape Horn is the southern most part of land associated with South America, at the southern end of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. It marks the north edge of the Drake Passage, the strait between South America & the Antarctica and the confluence of the Atlantic, Antarctic and Pacific Oceans. Several factors combine to make sailing around Cape Horn one of the most hazardous routes in the world (they say) prevailing winds in latitudes below 40 degrees south blow from west to east around the world almost uninterrupted by land and funneled south by the Andes: icebergs and the narrow Drake Passage; and the area west of the Horn is notorious for rogue waves which can attain heights of up to 100 ft! The Chilean Navy maintains a station on Horn Island, consisting of a residence, utility building, chapel and lighthouse. A short distance from the main station is an albatross sculpture memorial. Antartica a large desolate land mass covered in ice continues to entice travelors exploraton and discovery.

Our southern cruise around the harsh treeless terrain of Cape Horn in South America with visits to the penguin rookeries and Patagonian ports of Puerto Madryn - small non-descript Welsh village growing quickly and located in large wildlife sanctuary; Ushuaia – world's southern most city is a pretty port set against a backdrop of snow where remoteness promoted civilization
centered around a prison for serious criminals.
Puerto Arenas has a population of 130,000 of mixed nationalities, blended with history and public squares filled with Latin music. Many of the settlements here retain heritage roots from Europe as groups of settlers were enticed to settle the isolated areas by being given large tracks of free land. Chacabuco is a small isolated rural fishing village where the delicate sweet yet acrid smell of the smoke of an unknown wood used to heat their homes filled the crisp air. The cruise ship visitors easily outnumbered the permanent inhabitants of many of these smaller ports.
Beagle Channel, named after the ship which carried Charles Darwin through this region many years ago, is a narrow channel flanked by receding glaciers due to global warming.

Puerto Montt a fast growing city of German heritage, whose economy is now based upon agriculture, forestry, fishing, and salmon aquaculture in the surrounding islands and fjords. And several kilometres west is the scenic fishing port of Angelmo lined with sidewalk cafes featuring freshly caught seafood, and local vegetable and craft markets. These communities settings are backdropped by snowcapped Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes.
For most of us, born without the immense talents of a Da Vinci, Pablo Neruda, Millard Fuller or Beethoven, the true measure of our lives is not what we achieve – and certainly not what we accumulate – but rather who we are, the number of people we touch, and what we are remembered for, or what is grieved in our absence. Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, recently passed away with a legacy of having provided more than 300,000 families with housing. Treasure each day as a new adventure in your precious life, avoiding mindlessly moving with the hustling crowd.

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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador