Thursday, May 03, 2007

On to Guatemala

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We are on to Guatemala for 3 weeks in June / July 2007. Right now we are posting our planning ideas, hostels we think may be cool and a bit about the work I will be doing in Quetzaltenango.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ecuador Update

Well, I am waiting on some photos from my brother Tucker. He is a geologist and he travels to
Ecuador on business now. He has some great stories that I plan on posting when he sends along photos.

You can check out my weblog at

Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Train Ride

We took a train ride to the Volcano Cotopaxi, actually to a park on Cotopaxi. Most people on this train chose to ride on top, which offered spectacular views. The park was interesting because it was really at the top of the tree line. Higher up the volcano there is too little atmosphere for large trees to grow well.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


I have traveled a bit in my life, Europe, North Africa, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize... and I never felt as much "at home" as when we traveled to Quito, Ecuador. On a recent trip my brother Tucker had a great experience in Ecuador too. There must be something going on.

Quito is a city located near the equator in Ecuador, up about 10,000 ft above sea level. The Spanish made it a colonial capital back in the day so there is plenty of Spanish architecture in the old part of the city.

Our stay was greatly enhanced by staying at The Secret Garden Quito, a backpackers hostel. There we took Spanish language classes, and our teachers were also tour guides to a lot of the city. I recommend that if you have time to spend in Ecuador you spend some time in Quito and take language classes. The language work helps create a sense of belonging that is hard to feel when you are just traveling through someplace.

If you check out the Secret Garden website, we think the picture on the home page has my son Andrew in it, he is the guy way in the back in the red t-shirt.


Monday, November 28, 2005

A trip to Otavalo

We arrived in Quito on Dec 18th with a stripped down plan for a family Christmas. We have always lived in the US Midwest with snow, Christmas trees, lights and presents. Now we had to somehow create the spirit of the season while living in a semitropical city with an average daily high temperature of 72 F.

We decided to take a trip to Otavalo, a market town about 2 hours bus ride from Quito.

Ben at the Otavalo Market "Pancho Plaza"

Ecuador Explorer writes this about Otavalo:

"The best day of the week to hit this famous and friendly corner of the Andes is Saturday, the biggest market day for gringos and locals alike. Arrive Friday afternoon, and then do what most travelers don't: set your alarm for 5:30am. After being jolted out of bed Saturday morning, walk groggy-eyed along Avenida Colon to the river and cross the bridge. Upon reaching the top of Avenida Segundo J Castro you'll find yourself in a scene reminiscent of the pages of National Geographic: the Otavalo animal market. By 6am, with the sun rising and the mountains casting improbable shadows over the town, the market is already alive with squealing pigs and clucking chickens. Plant yourself on the high grassy bank abutting the market area and watch scenes of unloading, buying, selling and bargaining unfold. Take your camera (you can happily and discreetly snap away from your grassy knoll), but leave your animal rights principles behind, as livestock tender lovin' care is not the highest priority on the day's agenda. By the time the sun clears the volcanoes at 7am, much of the day's business has already been done, and its time to head back into town to the artesania market.

Artesan Market

This market is centered around 'Poncho Plaza'. All day long, the whir of cotton candy machines, Andean pipe music, and Quichua, the native tongue derived from the Incan tongue, drift across the square. A blinding maze of colored textiles spills from the square out across town, encompassing the area between Quito and Calderón and Bolívar and 31 de Octubre. As you stroll the streets you'll find everything from jumpers to armadillo shell guitars, wall hangings to ceramic fried eggs. Don't restrict yourself to Poncho Plaza, as you'll probably get better bargains away from the main square (the more items you buy, the lower the prices you can haggle), and the goods on display start to diversify as the market weaves its way through the side streets.

We were able to purchase some much needed sun gear + interesting hand crafted items for our Christmas celebration. We also purhcased wool hats for use when we returned to the US.

We did visit a pie shop on the central plaza. It had a very western sounding name, but it made the best pies, fresh every few hours.

Monday, May 16, 2005


Our family decided to visit our oldest kid who was on his Junior Year Abroad in Ecuador in Dec. 2004. The planning started much earlier to book relatively low cost flights.

I should back up and let you know that my wife and I had traveled a fair amount before we got married in 1980 and we told each other that having a family wouldn't slow us down, we would travel with babies and kids just as much as we did prior to getting married....... Well, about 24 years later we took our first real trip - with our kids - to Ecuador. We really shouldn't have waited so long.

We decided in June 2004 that we were going to take the financial plunge and pack up everyone for a 2 week trip to Ecuador at Christmas time.

Ben, our oldest lived with a family in Quito Ecuador for the 2004 - 2005 school year while he attended the University of San Francisco de Quito in Quito Ecuador. Ben got along really well with his family, going on trips and to "futbol" games etc.

Andrew, Ben and Colleen at
Universidad de San Francisco de Quito

Photo of Ben, Andrew and Colleen Connor Barrie, Dec 2004, Universidad de San Francisco de Quito, Quito Ecuador. Our first day in Ecuador.

Ben met us at the airport after an uneventful flight from Detroit, via Miami. The Miami airport was an intresting preview of what was to come, most of the people working there spoke Spanish and the announcements were in both English and Spanish. Ben met us and helped us get a taxi to our hostel. It was the first time we had seen Ben in months and he looked great, more interestingly he spoke Spanish very well, probably in part due to his close relationship with his Ecuadorian family.

We had reservations at a great backpacker's hostel, The Secret Garden which has a really nice website The reservations were misplaced when we arrived, it was about 10:00 pm and we just wanted to unpack our bags. Well the staff at the Secret Garden cheerfully found us rooms and when we verified our reservations for a suite of rooms the next morning, they made sure everything was perfect.

We had decided to make reservations at The Secret Garden based on their website and recommendations from other weblogs. We had considered staying at a hotel, but the cost would have been prohibitive for a family of five for two weeks. Choosing The Secret Garden in such a blind fashion had some risks, but it turned out to be a great decision. The hostle has a roof top restaurant which serves a great breakfast of eggs, rolls, home made jams and really good local coffee. The dinners are even better, made with many organic ingredients and the prices are very good. They also serve beer, wine and a few simple mixed drinks. The roof top has a beautiful view of the old part of Quito, making it a great place to sit and write notes in your journal.

I had traveled a bit about 25 - 30 years ago, staying in hostels in Europe and Central America, many of my best experiences started with people I meet up with at hostels. Well, 30 years later the people we met were just as interesting. My wife Karen and I were the "old people" at the hostel and Colleen at 14 was the youngest, but we felt part of the great experience everyone was having.

If you travel to Quito, I do recommend The Secret Garden.

Roof Top Seating for Dinner

Before we left the States we decided that we all would take some Spanish lessons while in Quito. Karen had taken a fair amount of Spanish and French in College and I had some Spanish too. Colleen and Andrew both had some intro classes in High School. We signed up for classes at The Secret Garden where we had classes - Karen and I worked with Narda and Colleen and Andrew worked with Thomas. This worked out really well because Ben didn't want to be our travel guide for the 2 weeks we were there. Many days we went on day trips with our teachers and they showed us around and helped with the Spanish. Karen quickly picked up the language while I learned enough to keep out of trouble (most of the time).

This is a blow up of a small
photo of Narda, she is a really
good Spanish teacher.