Monday, October 17, 2011

We Was Had!

    About that amazing demonstration on how water swirls in opposite directions depending on which side of the  equator you're on as described in Day Two of the Journal? Turns out, it may have been a parlor trick. Alert reader Anonymous provided this link.

An excerpt from the link is as follows:

I’ve heard of charlatans who hang around the equator in Kenya, carrying basins of water. They’ll stand on the southern side of the equator with the basin, pull a plug at the bottom, and show that it swirls out counter-clockwise. Then they’ll walk to the northern side of the equator, fill the basin and pull the plug, and it swirls out clockwise. Irrefutable proof? Be careful! You have to know all the initial conditions in any experiment, and in this one, there is one that is hidden from you. The huckster just has to add a slight rotation to the water before letting it out (for example, pour the water in at a very slight angle to give it an initial rotation, and it will “remember” that rotation as it swirls out of the basin.

Well, he had me fooled. It was indeed hard to believe what I was seeing but there it was! Gullible Gringos.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Ecuador: Journey's End

 Final day:

A morning shoot (rather uneventful), lunch at 11, and then back to Quito, a three hour drive. Home and all the comforts are starting to look very good indeed.

Carlos made one stop at an overlook for all to stretch their legs and take a photo if they so desired. Once again we pass over the Continental Divide. Someone points out a shrine with a religious figure in silhouette. Someone else asked if it was Darth Vader and there was a resemblance. Sacrilegious maybe, but funny.

By three o’clock, we had our room assignment at the Holiday Inn Express where we dropped off our bags and climbed back into the van for a one-way ride to the market place, or Gringo Land as it was called by our driver. Visualize a state fair, with booths side by side, filled with trinkets, blankets, colorful table cloths, refrigerator magnets, souvenirs of every description including replicas of shrunken heads. Now, mentally shrink the size of those booths to no more than six feet by four feet, merchandize piled from floor to ceiling with barely enough room for the proprietor to sit and you get the idea of what Gringo Land looks like. Row after row, aisle after narrow aisle, the sellers hawked their wares as shoppers must turn sideways to pass.

As my suitcase was already packed beyond full capacity, I settled for a tee shirt and a cloth patch for my collection of places I have visited. On the mile or so walk back to the motel, we stopped at a book store to peruse the bird books for future identification of the birds we had photographed. I opted not to buy one deciding that the names of such birds was not all that important to me and I would never remember them for very long anyway. It’s an old folks thing.

Directly across the street from our hotel was a Burger King, home of the Whopper. Guess where my roomie and I ate that night. The Ecuadorian food was great, quite tasty and interesting, but the lure of some good old, down-home, greasy French fries and hamburgers was too much to overcome.

With a wakeup call for 4:00 a.m., we turned in early, ready to go home.

With a 6:30 flight, the customs line was unbelievably long. I was further held up when the x-ray attendant had a problem with something in my camera bag. A man dug through every crevice and pocket until he found the objects of concern; two skinny three inch metal screwdrivers I keep in there for emergency repair. Once found, he was satisfied and waved me on.

Houston was another story. Late out of Quito we landed with only thirty five minutes before our next departure. Naturally we had to take a tram to the gate but arrived with ten minutes to spare only to discover the airlines had changed gates on us, one that was quite some distance from where we now stood. I looked at my watch. No way. That was when an airport lady came up in a golf cart and offered us a lift. I could have kissed her. She even radioed ahead that she had three for Tulsa that were on the way.

The stewardess slammed the aircraft door behind us and we lifted off, our final leg of the journey to Ecuador and back. Back to ice water, hot showers, TV in English, an evening spooker, and maybe the most appreciated of all, putting the toilet paper in the toilet.

Oh, almost forgot. I did not see one single cat in all of Ecuador, not in the city, not in the country, not at the farm houses, not a single doorway, or trotting down the road. Maybe that’s why the people there smile so much and the hummingbirds live in peace and harmony.

Many thanks to all those who followed the  journal.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 10

Our last full day of shooting begins with clear skies and warm temps. First light is the best time for the larger birds and I am able to capture my best photos of the Inca Jay as a pair of them call raucously from the tree tops. They seldom hold still for a portrait, flitting from branch to branch, always with a visual obstruction in the way of a decent photo. But what colorful birds they are with their green and yellow feathers shining in the sun.

Potential paperwork disaster appeared imminent when one of group, John, announced at the breakfast table that he had lost his passport. Having read horror stories of such things, I had the utmost sympathy for my travelling companion. We peppered John with questions; when did you see it last, where were you carrying it, did you have it at the last lodge? John couldn’t remember where he’d last seen the document. One of our group volunteered to go through his luggage with the efficiency and thoroughness of a TSA inspector but John was emphatic that it was not in any of his personal possessions. Our lodge manager, Alejandra , suggested the American Embassy but shook his head as he did so, not a good sign.

A few hours later and to our great relief (not to mention John’s), the passport was found. Somehow, it had fallen from its home in his laptop computer case to the floor and was leaning upright in a vertical position between the bed and the wall making it almost impossible to see from above.

By mid-morning most of the birds had moved on or were taking naps somewhere. I used the time to put on a macro lens and wander about in search of bugs or flowers. Ecuador has not only a great variety of birds, but many species of breathtaking wildflowers as well. Ignorant of their official names, I simply took photos and enjoyed their beauty as I leisurely walked the trails and explored the areas around the cabins.

Toward evening, Colin and I opened a bottle of wine previously purchased at the dining area the night before. We sat on our little veranda and were joined from time to time by other members of our group as they came in from their own personal photo endeavors where we swapped stories of what we had seen during the day. To me, this is one of the most pleasant aspects of group photography, sharing sights and sounds, the excitement of capturing a new species, and now, in this amazing digital world, having the ability to see the immediate results on the back of a camera or a laptop.

What a relief to have hot water and plenty of it for a shower that night. Of course, and as with the other lodges, there was that nasty little inconvenience with the toilet paper problem. There was that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 9

Another day of bird photography here at Cabanas San Isidro. Looked out the window this morning to see clear skies, a blue bird day; at least an Ecuadorian blue bird anyway. Started off great with another Trogan, this time at a reasonable shooting distance, followed by more jays, and then a flycatcher that looked a lot like our Western Kingbird (at least to me it did). A beautiful woodpecker landed only three feet above my head but I couldn’t get a clear angle.

Had a new experience today. While hanging around the feeders, one very curious (or hungry) hummer landed on my finger and actually stuck his bill into my closed fist. Today, we were able to use natural light for a change and I believe the photos will look much better when viewed on the computer at home. Linda heard an owl call during the night and got out of bed to look. She found it and got the shot. What a trooper.

Plans were made to locate the owl again on the following night but despite a few suggestions to organize the shoot where we could all get a chance at it, the plan went out the window at first sight of the bird when a half dozen flashes hit it in the face and naturally the owl flew off. I had no more than 15 or 20 seconds to get the shot but since I am not as quick on the trigger as the younger crowd, I walked away with nothing. Group shoots may be fine for some, but when herd mentality takes over in pursuit of a single subject, it’s not my cup of tea

At least there was hot water in the room to ease my poor old back and disappointment. This room is larger with space to walk around and keep our bags out of the path to the bathroom at night. We have a work table and shelves as well. Pure luxury.

Dinner was not up to the usual standards but there was one new taste treat, black pepper ice cream. Sounds crazy but it was very good.

A brand new species here. Not sure of the scientific name but Colin dubbed it the Yellow-booted Rufous Crown. See below.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 8

6:30 a.m.:

 Raining again. Ugh. A few of us gather under the portico shivering in the cold. Our cameras are on tripods, power off, and silent. Photo ops are few, if you don’t count the birds we’ve already shot dozens of times. Some thankful soul went in the dining room and found a pot of coffee  for which we were all grateful. And so we stood around in our coats, watching our breath,  waiting for some decent light, and something new to appear.

There was one particular shot I wanted. A Swordbilled hummer feeding on a flower. Up until now, most photos of hummingbirds had been with them perched on a stick or at the man-made feeder. But the Swordbill, as the name implies, has a particularly long bill, the only hummingbird with a bill longer than its body. The tongue is even longer than the bill. The bird itself is about 51/2 inches long making it one of the largest hummers we will see. His bill is particularly adapt, as you might expect, at getting nectar from long and deep blossoms that the other hummers are physically unable to reach.

There was one such flower, red and yellow, visible from our chilly position, where others had observed the Swordbill doing his magic. One or two lucky souls already had the shot but my memory card was barren of Swordbills on flowers. The bird didn't feed there often,once or twice a day, being the norm. Tom sat on the spot for hours and didn’t get the shot. At last the rain gods smiled upon me as I patiently sat there with my lens pre-focused on the flower when the bird did his thing. Made my day.

Pancakes for breakfast, a first. Cereal and milk, reminded me of home. At 11:30 it was time to pack ‘em up and move em out. The scenic drive to our next lodge was beautiful. The road followed a raging rapids cutting between deeply divided mountains. At one point Carlos pulled over to let us get a good look at three distinctly different waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet down the mountainside.
After a brief stop at an internet café where Tom took care of some business, we arrived at our last and final birding lodge. Our cabin here is very nice, lots more room than the last. We even have a tiny front porch with our own hummingbird feeder out back, although we have yet to see a bird use it. Colin got the first bird of the day, a dazzling Inca Jay, very similar to the green jays of south Texas and Mexico. The game plan here, according to Tom, is do the hummers in the afternoon, and then devote the morning hours to the larger birds who frequent the lights where moths come in during the night.

Rather than the usual sticks and jumble of vegetation, this lodge has some actual flower stems where the birds sometimes perch, making for a much more pleasing photo. While some of the group seems content to capture as many species as possible and not worry about the setting, I prefer the more photogenic backgrounds, clean and colorful if possible. A little wing action doesn’t hurt either. If nothing else, there is a great view from the parking lot.

Much warmer here, back to tee shirts. Two rooms to a bungalow. Alejandra is our host and gives us a little welcome to the lodge speech. He tells us there is Wi-Fi here but it seldom works. How about never works?

The rain ended at noon. Weather is perfect. No wind! Not even 1 mph. Tomorrow looks promising.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 7

 Guango Lodge: Morning.

I awake at 6:30 to the sound of rain, from light to drizzle to mist and then downright heavy. Luckily there are two covered areas from which to photograph the birds. Problem was, we had already captured almost all of the resident birds to our memory cards so there was nothing to do but try to improve on what we already have. Overcast days can be fine for photography, a light overcast. Heavy and dark? Not so much.

By three, the drizzle had stopped. Mike and I were standing in a grove of plants, flowers, and palms. I had just made some shots of a Jack In the Box flower when some large but colorful bird flew between Mike and I and only knee high. We looked at each other. What the hell was that? Mike found the bird sitting on a walkway. It was another Trogan, the illusive bird we tried so hard for at the last lodge. Obviously, there was something wrong with it as birds do not normally sit on the ground while a half dozen photo geeks surround it. At one point Tom tried to pick it up with the intention of posing it on a limb but the bird found sudden life and flew, but not far. It found a nice limb and sat for photos for several minutes before it eventually took off, allegedly to find a doctor. The theory was that the bird had flown into a window somewhere and knocked itself silly just as the bird brains in the USA do.

One of our group, Rod, did not show up for breakfast where we learned he was ill and had put in a rough night. His roommate took him bananas and crackers during the day. Others have complained of queasy stomachs including yours truly, but all seem reasonably healthy today.

Between showers I took a hike down to a raging stream with white water crashing over and around boulders and as far as I could see. One slip and I would have ended up in Chile. I enjoyed the half hour of solitude with no competition to rush to and stake out the best spot for bird photos, and there’s always one best spot. Instead I concentrated on plant life, landscapes, and the stream.

We have four more nights in Ecuador. I ran out of whisky yesterday. Normally this would be a panic situation but fortunately Pilsener beer is available almost anywhere. Three bucks at this lodge. I can handle that.

Not sure what we ate today but feel confident it wasn’t Guiana pig. All evening meals start with soup. Tonight was tomato but had a yellow color to it. Very tasty as usual. Tuna patties, cubed potatoes, lightly fried, with asparagus. Dessert was delicious as always but I have no earthy idea what it was. Best guess was prunes with two pieces of cheese shaped like French fries. The meals here are served with a touch of artistry. A carrot slice had a star shaped cut out of the middle and stood on edge. The dessert usually has some sort of pattern or design to it.

Oh, I was wrong about the relaxation of the no toilet paper in the toilet rule. It was hidden in the guest book in a drawer. The big news is hot water! A good powerful spray to stand under and soak our aching muscles from handling heavy photo gear all day. It made up for the toilet paper nonsense.

The beds have three heavy wool blankets, a fluffy comforter, and one pillow. Enough to keep us warm at night but the room is c-c-c-cold. We have one electrical outlet. A thin extension cord runs to a single bedside lamp but instead of the lamp plugging in as normal, the plug is missing and the wires are poked into the end of the extension cord. In the interest of safety, electrical tape is wrapped around the whole connection. How thoughtful of the management.

My multiple outlet cord has been a trip saver. Between Colin and I, there are two AA battery chargers, two laptop chargers, multiple camera battery chargers, and one charger for my Kindle reader. If that doesn't overload the circuits and start a fire, nothing will. But come to think of it, a small fire would feel pretty good.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 6

Up at first light where we get our first good bird of the day, a Turquoise Jay, same shape as our jaybirds at home, but with deep blue feathers and black markings on the head. Someone spotted a Toucan waaay up in a tree, but no photos were made.

Okay, so we didn’t leave sharply at 8, more like 8:45. This after a breakfast of more granola mix and yogurt but this time with two fried eggs on the side.

It was a long ride back through Quito where we gassed up. During the bathroom break we couldn’t help but notice a uniformed man patrolling the pumps with an ammo belt across his chest and carrying a chrome plated shotgun. I think it’s safe to say that gas thievery at that particular station is rare.

Then east over the Continental Divide, ele. 12, 400 ft. and on to the next lodge, Guango. It took us nearly three hours in our not so plush van. Did I mention the driving here is terrifying? Our driver Carlos is quite skilled (or crazy) and misses collisions by mere inches. Passing on curves is common as most of the roads are a continuous series of s-turns. Cars cut in and out of lanes at will when clipping of bumpers seems inevitable. But nobody honks, close driving is a way of life here. However, Carlos had my heart in my throat today when he passed on yet another blind curve and met an oncoming truck. Hard breaks and a quick jerk of the wheel got us back in our lane with only seconds to spare. I tried my best so communicate  to Carlos how I felt, something like “Carlos, you’ re scaring the crap out of me.” Carlos shook his head to acknowledge his mistake.

Don’t know the temperature here, but it’s very chilly. A pullover hoodie felt good. Our room is clean but as usual, no heat or air. Colin and I have some concern about how cold it will get tonight. Best of all, there is no sign saying not to put the toilet paper in the toilet. (the rule was in effect, I just didn't know it) We have two towels apiece and an actual washcloth, a first. Hot water availability is unknown at the time of this writing.

Tom tells us the only birds we are likely to see here are more hummingbirds. I may have seen enough hummers to last me a lifetime. Some are incredibly fearless. When one tiny blue green hummer began feeding at a spot less than an arm’s length away, I decided to test his tolerance and slowly moved my hand toward it. Believe it or not, the bird actually let me pet him on the tail.

Dinner tonight was chicken stuffed with mushroom and spinach. Cucumber soup, rice, with a lettuce leaf and tomato slice. Desert was crepe with pears inside. Preceeding that, the waitress brought each of us a glass of hot drink, some kind of fruit juice with a spicy cinnamon taste. Ummm.

At the end of the day it’s raining again, a downpour. What adventure will tomorrow bring? Washed out roads perhaps?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 5

We leave Mindo Loma at 10:02. I know this because Tom strives to keep his schedule tight and on time. The morning was more of the same, hummingbirds and more hummingbirds. I interrupted the routine with a few flower and fern photos. A Trogon, a relatively large and brightly colored bird, was spotted briefly. One member of our group got a quick shot but it looked to be a quarter mile away. All that I saw was his rear end disappearing into the jungle.

We take a short detour to a butterfly garden, admission $5. Here we see dozens of species of butterflies and all relatively easy to photograph. I am happy to spot the unique Clearwing butterfly, having seen only photos of it on the Internet. Here too is the Owl Eye butterfly with its distinctive and relatively large, black and yellow wing spot.

It’s a short drive to Bellavista, our third lodge, and we arrive just before eleven o’clock. If ever there was a dwelling in the clouds, this is it. The van travelled a one lane, rough and rocky road along a ridgeline with drop-offs so deep you couldn’t see the bottom. Mist and clouds moved in ghostly patterns across tree covered valleys and jagged mountain peaks. Our room here is a pleasant surprise, made entirely of bamboo, including the floor. I even have a bedside lamp for reading, my first since leaving Quito. But, let’s talk about the bathroom for a moment. As usual, each person is allotted one towel and one towel only. We are now at peace with this custom but here we have a new wrinkle. A tiny sign on the wall reads: Please do not put the toilet paper in the toilet.” Does anything seem horribly wrong with that statement? The instructions continue: Place all paper in waste can beside toilet. EWWWEHHH. Yuck! Is there no sanitation department in Ecuador? Can you say disease and plague? Okay, maybe not plague but can we agree on odor to make your eyes water. Does smell travel through and penetrate bamboo walls? Yes, it does.

Our first meal at Bellavista is lunch. Fish, rice, pumpkin soup, and broccoli on top of a tomato slice. Pumpkin cake for desert. The day is dark, overcast, with occasional light showers. A three o’clock rain has become routine. There are the usual multiple hummingbird feeders but here, the rule is NO FLASH. We don’t know why. With no light to speak of, and very quick birds, photography without flash is less than ideal, much less.

After a night of steady rain, the morning dawned with blue sky, fluffy clouds, and multiple layers of mist in the mountains. Colin and three other adventurers in our group sign up with a guide to take them deep into the forest in search of a magnificent bird called the Andean Cock-of-The-Rock. It’s bulbous red head make it a prime target for birders and photographers alike. Our foursome returned with some great shots and proclaimed the fee and the hike were well worth it despite the early departure time, five a.m.

My day didn’t begin until 6:30 when I peered out my bamboo window to see photographers scurrying around like ants, looking for targets of opportunity. Having previously captured several species of hummingbirds, my goal today was the Trogan. There are several varieties of Trogan so don’t ask which one I eventually got, but with the first sighting, my heartbeat jumped up several notches. With bird photography, one of the bigger challenges is to get the bird without twigs and leaves between you and the subject and in the Ecuadorian rain forest, there are very few clear fields of view. This was the case with the Trogan. Great bird but the brush sucked. When the bird eventually flew off, I went on to other species. There was a Wood Creeper, at least three times larger than the Brown Creeper I sometimes see in my backyard, that posed ever so nicely on a moss covered tree truck. Another cute little guy, the Cinnamon Flycatcher, cooperated for several minutes by sitting on a clean branch and just outside my room to boot.

The lodge has a myriad of trails. I chose one of only medium difficulty and set out to immerse myself in the lush tropical forest of ferns, elephant ear plants, and so much green you begin to think there are no other colors in Ecuador. As with other trails I’ve tried so far, this too was slick and somewhat muddy, but thankfully lacked the abrupt changes in elevation of the others. It was on a mountainside, with green going straight up on one side and green going straight down on the other. Sweeping vistas were hard to find. It was the classic case of not being able to see the forest for the trees. At one point , the silence was interrupted by the rustle of great wings. I looked up to see two parrots departing a tree directly above me. To my chagrin, I was unable to get a photo or appreciate their beauty.

Meals continue to be surprising. Breakfast was a type of granola, a mixture I have never seen in my life, and topped with not milk, but a thin yogurt. As always, a side dish of fruit, usually a banana, cantaloupe, and some unknown green thing. Lunch today was barbeque something, two small potatoes, and a salad. All this preceded by soup. Dessert reminds of some sort of cream pie or cake but nothing like I am used to. As of yet, I have made a happy plate at every meal, turning nothing away. I did read the Ecuadorians sometimes eat Guina pig, but to date, I’ve seen nothing that resembled the rodent. I never did find out what the barbeque was made from though.

It was during lunch that I reached up to adjust one of my hearing aids and found it missing. Now we’re talking a couple thousand bucks here. A major calamity. My feeling was that the most likely place to look for it was on the trail I had walked that morning. What with constantly switching shoulders while carrying the tripod and the overhanging limbs, I could easily have knocked it out of place.

Backtracking my trail was unlikely to be productive, the many rocks and twigs easily covering a little old hearing aid so I started with my room. And there it was, halfway between the bed and the bathroom, on the floor. How I avoided stepping on it is unknown.

The three o’clock rain arrived thirty minutes late and I used the time to peruse a huge photo book on the birds of Ecuador that I found in the dining area. I believe one could spend a lifetime here and never see them all. Amazing, amazing variety of species.

Tomorrow we leave sharply at 8 a.m. for another lodge and more adventures in bird photography. My chronic back pain is still with me but so far, not debilitating.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 4

After breakfast at Mirador, we shoot for a while and then take off for our second lodge on our itinerary, Mindo Loma. Eating and sleeping area are separated here with many steps up a hillside to reach the rooms. Perhaps in deference to my age, I am given a single room beneath the office. My first look was not encouraging. One bare bed frame was in the corner of the room; no mattress or pillow, no table, no AC, no heat, no towel, nothing. A young men tried to assure me with a combination of Spanish and English that the room would be ready later in the day and it was. On my next check, I had a mattress and blankets, even a night stand. But that evening I learned there was no hot water, zero, not even a hint of warm. And there never was.

Bird feeders are mostly on the rear deck with one in a courtyard in front of the office. We are allowed to move chairs from the dining room and place our cameras in front of the feeders and wait for a bird to come in, my idea of ideal nature photography. A cold Pilsener by my side helped to make the waiting times pass quickly.

During our evening meal, a Kinkajou was seen through the window taking bananas meant for the larger birds. The Kinkajou is sometimes called a honey bear but is a member of the raccoon family. To some, its face looked a little like an opossum. We were ready for it on the following night but once the flashes started, the animal became quite leery and only some of us were able to get a decent photo. I wasn’t one of them as my best shot is slightly out of focus..

Someone suggested a hike to a waterfall. My spirit was willing but my body wasn’t. The trail was very slick, muddy, and quite steep. I did a U after fifty yards or so but Colin went all the way only to fall twice more. Again, his equipment survived the spill.

It was almost a Twilight Zone thing. A man who was not in our party approached our man John as he sat in the courtyard and said “Aren’t you John Thornton?” Turns out both men were on the faculty of Oklahoma State University at the same time. Here we are, 3000 miles from Stillwater in a remote lodge deep in the rain forest of Ecuador, and two old friends cross paths. What are the odds?

The courtyard and walkways here are built of cement with embedded river rock, pretty but hard to walk on, and treacherous when wet. Those multiple steps leading to the other rooms are completely unlit at night, navigable only if you own a small flashlight. I can only conclude that Ecuador has very few personal injury lawyers.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 3

We gather in the dining area of the Holiday Inn for breakfast where we meet our entire party of photographers. Included are three Okies, Colin, John, and myself, four North Dakotans, Mike, Alice, Rod, and Jerry, and three from Montana, Jan, Tom our leader, and his girl friend Linda. Outside, a large van awaits, driven by Carlos, our chauffeur for the entire stay.

After a long drive, we arrive at our first birding lodge, Mirador, overlooking a beautiful green valley with a rushing river at the bottom. The Mirador is nothing like the Holiday Inn but it is adequate and we are not here for creature comforts. Who needs hot water or temperature controlled rooms anyway?

As it turned out, we had to stay at a motel three blocks from where we booked our lodge as we were bumped from our rooms by government officials. No further explanation. Our room was stark and devoid of amenities except for a TV that we never turned on. One towel apiece, no washcloths, two bars of soap. One overhead light. Tile floor. Luke warm water.

After a morning shoot with stunningly beautiful hummingbirds at multiple feeders, I had my first Ecuadorian beer for lunch, a Pilsener. It comes in a 22 oz. bottle and is quite palatable. Cost? Two bucks, such a deal. Our meals here are typical of what we would eat throughout our journey. Breakfast was scrambled eggs, no sausage, no bacon. Lots of brown bread but not toasted. A fruit dish was a common side. Coffee or café’ as they pronounced it, was slow getting to the table and rarely more than luke warm.

Lunch was fried potatoes, chicken strips, soup, and some vegetable that I forget. Probably broccoli.

Twice, I ordered fried shrimp for the evening meal and it is was delicious. It seems different than the American version as the cooking oil, whatever they use, is light and thin, and doesn’t leave the crusty oil coating that we are used to.

The next day, we continue to improve on our shots of the hummers. A small trail winding beneath the lodge had several gorgeous flowers that resulted in some decent images. But a gardener pointed out an amazing  green lizard, so hidden and camouflaged it was almost impossible to see. All of us were thrilled with opportunity to photograph it. The lizard didn’t move more than ten inches in two days.

Colin slipped on a wet board while crossing a foot bridge and took a hard fall. Thankfully there was no damage to his camera equipment. We photo geeks do have our priorities you know.

The remainder of the day is cut short by another afternoon shower. We use the time to edit some of our shots and to download from our cameras to the laptops. What a change from the old days of film where you had no idea what you had until several days after returning home. The instant feedback allows corrections to be made in mere seconds, then shoot again until you have it right. Makes you wonder how Ansel Adams ever lived without it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Journey to Ecuador: Day 2

A few of us board a van for a tour of the city, an extra charge, but something I wanted to do. May never pass this way again and all that. Our tour guide is Roberto and the driver is Eduardo. Roberto speaks very good English and is quite knowledgeable about his home town. Our group is warned to leave our money and passports at the hotel as there are many crafty pickpockets in Quito. We visit a town square crowded with people, and a couple of magnificent churches, one seeming made of gold.

Photos were not allowed in  some of the churches but I came across a scene inside one of them that I would have loved to photograph. An elderly woman sat alone near the front of the altar, eyes closed, smiling, her lips moving, seemingly in prayer. The beatific look on her face was of complete serenity, talking to her God. What an image… until I realized she was actually yakking on a cell phone!

We drive to the top of an extinct volcano and peer into the now green and grassy core. Wooden shelters at the rim serve as shops for the locals to sell their wares to the tourists, everything from flutes to scarves to coats.

Next stop is a tourist attraction for those who want to say they have been to the equator, latitude 00°00’00’’. On the way, Roberto points out a structure built several years ago that was believed to be located on the exact line of the equator.

Later, modern GPS revealed that the location was inaccurate. The true equator line was 600 meters father north. Oops.

As we arrive, another guide explains how there is no equinox in Ecuador. The seasons here are rainy and not so rainy. One demonstration was particularly interesting. A basin on legs was filled with water from a bucket. The guide told us to watch as the water drained and in particular, the direction of the swirl. A few small floating leaves were in the water as a visual aid. He then moved the basin no more than ten feet to the left of the actual equator (this time confirmed by GPS) and repeated the action. The water swirled clockwise. Next he relocated the apparatus ten feet to the right of the line and once again we watched as he pulled the plug. The water swirled counter-clockwise. Unbelievable that so few feet would make the difference.

A demonstration using a vertical stick mounted on a platform, showed a small shadow much shorter than the length of the stick. It was explained that in a few days, there would be no shadow as the sun would be directly overhead.

Roberto takes us to a nice restaurant in downtown Quito. The meal is not part of the trip cost and we pay for it out of our own pockets. I hand the man a fifty dollar bill and he shakes his head no, he won’t accept it. Roberto explains: There was a time when some bad currency was floating around Ecuador, particularly hundreds and fifties, and most merchants are wary of taking them. As most of the money I brought with me is in large bills, it seems I may have a problem. How about a bank I ask. Will they change it? No, says Roberto. Another uh oh. Back at the hotel, I smile at the girl behind the desk and hand her a Ben Franklin. No problem, she says and hands me my change in twenties. Thankfully the Ecuadorians use the same currency as the U.S.A. Whew!

Ten days of bird photography begin tomorrow morning. Woo Hoo.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Journey to Ecuador

When I learned that my friend and pro wildlife photographer Tom Ulrich, was leading another trip to Ecuador to photograph the exotic birds that live there, I was tempted. But the old body isn’t what it used to be, chronic back pain, neuropathy in my feet, and deaf as a stump, I was fearful that that old bones would not hold up for the scheduled two week stay or that I would not hear my flight number and end up in Argentina. Then Colin Smith, my companion of many journeys, called to say that he had signed up and would volunteer to be my “ears” and to help with the heavy lifting. I plunked down my money and the planning began.

Day 1: Travel Day

Colin and I arrive at Tulsa International in plenty of time to deal with long lines and security checks but upon arriving at the gate, I realized that I did not get a baggage claim ticket at check in. That could be a problem in Ecuador. There were no airline officials in sight and so I was faced with the dilemma of returning to check in, get my claim ticket, and going back through those agonizing lines all over again. I checked the departure time once again and weighed my options. What to do, what to do? I already have a quandary, and I’m not even out of Tulsa yet. A man with a uniform shows up and I ask if they can somehow send a copy of my claim to the gate for printout. He asks if I have checked the back of my boarding pass. Huh? Yes, there it was, of course, securely stuck to the form. Not a good start.

We change planes in Houston and arrive in Quito, Ecuador, population around 2,700,000, about 11:30 p.m. after a five hour flight and 2,800 miles. We are the last plane allowed to land due to incoming fog. Holiday Inn has a van waiting and Tom checks us in with no problems. First new experience was with the elevator. You push the floor button but nothing happens. Found out you had to use your key card and wave it across a sensor, a security thing I guess. The elevator doors open to a dark hallway but motion sensors turn the lights on. We are soon to learn that electricity consumption is held to a bare minimum in all of Ecuador. Not sure if it’s an ecological thing or the price per kilowatt hour. I am told it’s the latter.

Like the hallway, our room is also dark and the switches seems to be ineffective. We locate another key card slot on the wall that accepts our room card and activates the switches. Remove the card and the lights go out. These guys are serious about their lights.

There is heat and air, after all this is a Holiday Inn, but the thermostat instructions are complicated and all in Spanish. I devote all my forty odd years with electronics to solving the puzzle, finally figure the damn thing out and soon, cool breezes drive away the stuffy air. But if you leave your room and remove the card from the magic slot, the AC shuts off and you have to reprogram it all over again.

The rooms are nicely furnished but slightly different from most hotels I’ve stayed. The shower head, about the size of a dinner plate, is mounted in the ceiling directly over the tub. The beds have a bottom sheet but use a thick stuffed comforter for warmth, obviously for the Gringos who can’t figure out how to turn the heat on.

The TV had multiple channels but all were in Spanish with the exception of Fox News. I didn’t watch much of that.

To be continued.

View from the room at Holiday Inn Express.