Tag Archives: Ecuador

Drum beats louder

Nearly a year  has passed since the Tank made Ecuador a routine dateline, and the former reforestation project we worked at has announced some exciting developments.

Planet Drum, a non-profit based in San Francisco, has been reforesting the coastal ridges of Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, and a site we worked on has been completed with more than 500 native trees. These species will help the hillsides fight the erosion that devastated Bahia de Caraquez during El Nino more than a decade ago.

They also have a steady flow of volunteers, and this guy still running the show in the field.

Orlando! Todo lo que es el  hombre, err, all that is man.

Orlando and the rest of Planet Drum are planting 4,000 trees this rainy season. 4,000! That’s manly — and womanly.

Feels good to have contributed; feels good to know they are continuing and improving. To read more, go here.

Unquote” Plummer

A great Sports Illustrated article about former NFL quarterback Jake Plummer included his moving quote from his eulogy of former teammate and deceased U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman.

“I was in the store the other day and I saw People magazine, and it had the cover of the 50 most beautiful people in the world, or America, and there was a picture of Pat,” Plummer said. “It was kind of ironic because I really looked and said, What is beauty? Is beauty a pretty face, a nice smile, flowing hair, nice skin? Not to me, it’s not. To me beauty is living life to higher standards, stronger morals and ethics and believing in them, whether people tell you you’re right or wrong. Beauty is not wasting a day. Beauty is noticing life’s little intricacies and taking time out of your busy day to really enjoy those little intricacies. Beauty is being real, being genuine, being pure with no facade — what you see is what you get. Beauty is expanding your mind, always seeking knowledge, not being content, always going after something and challenging yourself.”

Blogroll update

When the Tank’s links include a connection to a conservative commentator — Robert Novak — who died 18 months ago, the time is ripe to update the list.

People might not click on them, but the Tank is proud to have included Wikileaks years before it reached the front pages and top stories of mainstream news. And Al Jazeera as U.S. cable companies were (and still are) denying the Qatar-based news organization from airing its English TV station on its programming packages.

It’s been a while since the Tank has clicked on them, and was saddened to see Cagle’s best political cartoons through MSNBC either gone or moved. Other casualties include alternative news sources such as Guerrilla News Network and Real News as well as a blog from talented foreign journalist Dahr Jamail.

The Tank was pleasantly surprised to see Owl Farm Blog from Hunter S. Thompson’s wife, Anita, still alive and well. As I listen to new sounds of Chris & Thomas, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, Anita posted some Gonzo journalism from its founder, HST:

“Music has always been a matter of energy for me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel.”

It’s ironic because when I’m not transcribing interviews for stories during the day, I’m listening to music. I’m with HST, it’s fuel. It was also ironic this evening. While I was checking out “Entertain Me or Else,” a blog from my friend Will A, also still alive and well,  Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” played through my headphones. It was fitting because we got fuel from that tune in Duluth circa 2009.

Some other blogroll updates include John Rash, a Star Tribune editorial writer, who had this nice observation, “The CNN identity crisis could also be seen in recent appearances of its current star Anderson Cooper. In the course of two weeks, he got beaten up by Pee Wee Herman in a “Saturday Night Live” skit, then took real punches from pro-Mumbarak mobs in Egypt.”

Rash had this too, “USA Today has five foreign correspondents, according to American Journalism Review, and 27 entertainment reporters, according to a leaked staffing chart.”

Another new link is to “The Enlightenment of Gray,” a blog from college friend Blake Hendrickson. He resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and it’s certainly enlightening to get his non-ethnocentric comments.

Another final newbie is Basetrack, the Web site the Tank wrote about two weeks ago. It was from journalists embedded with U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan before the U.S. government shut them down a few weeks ago. Although it’s stagnant now, I wouldn’t have known about the lack of success of drone attacks without their Facebook link to a Washington Post story.

The story, which brings up some noxious numbers, said 119 drone attacks, costing $1 million each have killed only two senior-level terrorists.

That’s scary, and with a diversified information list — err, blogroll — we now know such things.



My 5: Cajas


Parque Nacional Cajas is only 30 kilometers outside of Cuenca, but it took us about six hours to get to the mountain park and about two hours to get back to the city.

(The delays were a combination of a daydreaming bus conductor and road construction that turned a two-way mountain pass into one-way slog.)

Considering we spent an hour in the park and still found the trip memorable and worthwhile tells you how amazing we thought it was. 

The following My 5 are from the hour-long hike around Laguna Toredor. 

These tiny plants were the spongy floor we hiked on.

Also on the ground were these pin wheel gems — in Cyclone colors to boot.

This creepy tree is the Polylepis. It grows at the highest altitude of any tree in the world. 


 Laguna Toreador had a number of small streams running into it from the mountain peaks, but nothing as strong as this one. The Polylepis growing out of the tree horizontally certainly added to the shot.

For those scoring at home, and that makes two of you, that is six pics in the My 5 for two straight posts. Yes, I can count, but I don’t want to make tough decisions. These posts could easily be the My 15.


My 5: Sunsets


Nearly every night the folks of Planet Drum would meet on Bahia’s boardwalk for la ciada del sol — the falling of the sun.

It was a cherished tradition that instilled countless memories and some great photos.

Here’s My 5:

Ramon, Pessa, Sam, Laura and Orlando at the spot.

Through eucalyptus in Canoa.

A boat, birds and surfer’s head in Bahia.

Laura snapped this one of Pessa and I at Ramon’s bungalow in La Gorda.

Ramon’s pic shows what made sunsets in Bahia so memorable.

The view of Bahia from across the Rio Chone in San Vicente.


Notebook: Ode to Orlando


The relationships – more than anything – made the last five weeks here an experience I will never forget.

More than anyone, Orlando became a thoroughly enjoyable friendship. The 40-something gave up a life as a veterinarian in Quito to have an easier life leading the field work for a reforestation project in this small coastal town.

His warm and welcoming character made him instantly affable. His demeanor is quick to laugh at even the hint of humor. His jolly manner is the same at 8 a.m. on Mondays.

For a glimpse into this easy-going man, read slices of his vocabulary.


He would say the Spanish word for “of course” in nearly every conversation or circumstance. It showed how he was agreeable and open to spontaneity and, basically, liked everything you had to say.

“I am happy.”

He would drop this gem after Spanish-English classes, during sunsets, or at Ramon’s bungalow in la Gorda.

“You can do it.”

He would utter this short pep talk when the volunteers are sweaty and tired from chopping vines with machetes.

When my machete sliced open my left index finger last week, he demonstrated the deft vet skills he still practices part-time in Bahia.

You’d often find the single father cruising around town on his dirt bike. He’d quickly flash a smile and ask, “Que tal?” or “What’s up?”

He’d struggle with saying “Th” in “Thursday,” but when I tried to slowly teach him “peace out, homey,” he rattled it off without hesitation or accent.

His ease in saying that could have been his inner gangster. (He wore a baggy white T-shirt to Laura’s birthday party.) Or it could have been that bond that we shared.

I began calling him “capitan” after hearing it in the song “Bailar la Bomba,” which he taught us out in the field.

In turn, he called me the same thing. We’d often greet each other with the nickname and a quick salute. On our last day, we had smoothly mastered a five-point handshake for saying “chao.”

I’d also call him amigo. We hung out after work nearly every day. When I skipped sunset one day (I wanted to write — and, to tell you the truth — Pessa and I were at odds), Ramon and Orlando found me at the Planet Drum house.

They played matchmaker that day. Henceforth, he would put his index finger and thumb together on each hand and flutter the other six fingers as if his hands were a butterfly.

While he did it, he would say, “amor y paz,” or “love and peace.”

A bueno amigo, indeed.

Welcome to Ecuador

When we came back to Bahia after a relaxing weekend in Canoa, the Planet Drum house we helped move into on Friday was still in disarray.

At one point, Pessa and Clay exchanged some mildly-heated words about the situation.

“Welcome to Ecuador,” he said in a snippy retort. “This isn’t a five-star hotel.”

The house took some getting used, to and by the end we began to embrace it.

But “welcome to Ecuador” became a phase for experiences that would make us realize — yet again – that we live in a third-world country.

Here are some “welcome to Ecuador” moments:

When you seek a relaxing moment with your back against the wall in a refreshing pool only to lean into a faucet, welcome to Ecuador.

When you stub your toe on one of the random metal posts protruding a few inches out of the sidewalk, welcome to Ecuador.

When the electricity would go dark and the toilet water would go dry, welcome to Ecuador.

When you’d exit the air-conditioned Internet cafe and get smacked in the face by 90-degree humidity, welcome to Ecuador.

When you show Clay a strange new insect that has been flying around your room, and he says, “It’s a flying ant that bites,” welcome to Ecuador.

From Pessa: When you see a large rat digging into the spice rack, and someone says “that isn’t even the big one,” welcome to Ecuador

And from Laura: When you experience scabies, bed bugs and a staph infection in a week, welcome to Ecuador.

Business as usual?

The humorous thing about business in Ecuador is how they diversify their product offerings.

Bar Hermanos Mero, where we bought countless cervezas for sunsets, also sells tuna.

A clothing store near our house also sells milk.

A laundry service in Puerto Lopez also sells Nintendo games.

A restaurant in Bahia also sells swimsuits.

On another note, the best part about business here is how they still read newspapers!

Everyday, a middle-aged newspaper salesman will ride his bike down our street yelling, “El Diario!” “El Diario!”

Lots of Rice

At dinner one night, Clay was describing Ecuadorian cuisine.

“In a rice where there’s a lot of country …” he said.

… “You screwed that sentence up a bit,” Laura corrected.

“There’s a lot of rice going around,” he responded.

Not even his equipo!

I was temporarily deafened as I set my Oreos on the checkout counter of the nearby grocery store.

The cashier wasn’t objecting to my proposed purchase but a development in the futbol game playing on TV seven feet away.

A player for Emelec, a team in Guayaquil, was cheaply tripped as he passed an opponent and could have had an open shot on net.

The cashier was outraged, but Emelec isn’t even his team.

A week prior he gave the sign of the cross over his chest before the Barcelona of Guayaquil game. He was wearing a yellow Barcelona jersey, a Barcelona watch and two Barcelona wristbands.

Now that’s dedication.

Different strokes

Two men I’ve met on this trip have proven yet again that there are different ways to approach life.

Simon of England is quick to talk and even quicker to laugh. The 50-something lawyer quit his job three years ago for an around-the-world trip. After two years back on the law beat, he quit again for a year of travel in Latin America, a continent they missed on their previous junket.

Sam of Washington is late to talk and even later to opine. The 20-something beer brewer quit his job to meet a friend here and travel. At first, the loner wouldn’t speak unless spoken to, but he was always down to do anything and would slyly skip a single step when seemingly no one else was looking. This summer he begins a gig at an Alaskan brewery.

Last Dip

Pessa and I set out to take some last-minute soaks in the ocean during our last two days.

After all, the ocean was seven blocks from where we lived for five weeks.

We swam at sunset. Looking out at the waves, we saw red and purple streaks. It reminded us of lava flows.

Pessa comes alive when she’s in the waves. Jumps. Ducks. Plugs her nose. Flails her arms.

She yells, “Whoa!” “Wow!” “Whoofta!”

Cutest. Thing. Ever.


Two terrifyingly intense movies: “Secrets of their Eyes” and “Sin Nombre.” Both with Spanish subtitles, but too gripping to realize you’re reading. … Great book: “Gringo” by Chesa Boudin. A travelogue and political/social history wrapped into one. Something I’d love to write. Too bad I’m not a Rhodes scholar like Mr. Boudin. … Song: “Home” by Edward Sharpe. It’s a fitting song when you’re traveling with the woman you love.


My 5: Cerro Seco


The Cerro Seco Biological Reserve fits the concept of bioregionalism, an area that has wild regions near urban ones.

Cerro Seco begins less than two miles south of Bahia. The goal is to extend the reserve to the nearest southern town of San Clemente. If so, the reserve would include La Gorda, the location of Ramon´s bungaloo.

We hiked an hour to reach a remote beach. Here´s My 5:

The bamboo homes to the left are in Orlando´s neighborhood of Bella Vista. Bahia is the skyscraper-lined peninsula in the middle.

Ramon. Pessa. Orlando. Two Machetes.

A massive spider made us shift our path, and created some interesting perspectives for photos. Orlando (above); Sam (below).

Every seen burnt orange mushrooms before? Yeah, didn´t think so.


My 5: Mangroves


Last week we visited Isla Corazon in the Rio Chone.

The island consists of mangroves, or trees that extend finger-like roots into the water. We took a canoe through this endangered habitat.

Extensive shrimp farming depleted an estimated 90 percent of the mangroves in Ecuador during the shrimp boom of the 1990s. Isla Corazon, or Heart Island, is a natural preserve to educate visitors about the vital role mangroves play for birds, marine life and the quality of fresh water.

Here´s My 5:


Getting fresh

LA GORDA, Ecuador

The incoming tide provided two reasons to rush to Ramon´s oceanside bungaloo set high in a bluff south of Bahia de Caraquez.

First, we needed the truck with our gear to get across the beach before the waves made it impossible.

Second, we needed to get there at low tide for the oyster hunt.

Ramon and Clay each grabbed a chissel and a hammer. We began turning over gray rocks in knee-deep water.

In less than five minutes, Clay turned over a heavy rock with a oyster population of about seven.  A few were duds. A few were impenetrable.

We turned the rock over again, and Clay began banging the chisel into the side of a big one.

When he drove the chisel a third time, he broke through the shell and a white fizz exited.

We collected the oysters our hands could carry and made our way to shore. We washed off the broken shell reminants and soaked them in a lime, onion and cilantro juice, which is the mix used for one of Ecuador´s delicacies — ceviche.

It tasted slimy, gooey and very chewy. I´m not going to order a dozen for dinner, but it doesn´t get fresher than that.

Best around


There was no convincing necessary when I sought other Planet Drum volunteers to eat ceviche for lunch one day this week.

The no-name oceanfront restaurant had become our favorite lunch spot here. Laura, Paress and I raved about it after previous lunches. Sam heard that. Pessa, who doesn´t like seafood, chose not to hear that.

The service was quick and with Laura´s ¨buen provecho¨ we began refreshing ourselves. 

The best part of the camerones ceviche (shrimp soup) is the amount of shrimp. More than 30 shrimp were packed into a small saucer-sized bowl. (One of my biggest complaints about ordering seafood in the U.S. is that you spent $12.50 for four tiny shrimp buried into a pasta or something.)

Here, ceviche, chifles and a cerveza is $4.

The juice is a combination of limes, tomato juice, onion and cilantro. Add a spoonful of yellow mustard and four drops of extreme hot sauce for the necessary zest.

Between bites, Paress said a previous volunteer said Ramon and Orlando make a better ceviche.

¨That´s a bold statement,¨ Laura quickly retorted.

I was the only one that ordered camerones; the other three opted for the mixto (shrimp, octopus, squid, crab, we think).

¨I like to mix it up a little, every now and again,¨ Paress said about her lunch selection. ¨The shrimp is delicious, but how often can you get some shrimp, crabs and squid in one tasty bowl, ya know?¨

The next best think to this restaurant´s food is its unbeatable location and ambiance. The restaurant doesn´t have a name, making it difficult to be in any of the guidebooks. (That´s a good thing.) Sitting on the shore, the routine brezze is nearly as refressing as the soup, and that´s necessary given the 90-degree days here on the equator.

¨I think that this particular spot really embodies my feelings about Bahia,¨ Laura said. ¨You´re sitting as close as possible to the ocean. You´re eating the freshest food possible here — ceviche. And the people, the man that owns it is the capitan of my heart.¨

The ¨capitan¨ of Laura´s affection usually welcomes eaters with a boisterous welcome and shouts our orders to the tiny kitchen.

On this day, however, he is sitting in the corner and offering few words.

Instead, Sam, another man of few words, summed up the lunch justly.

¨It´s like shrimp limonade,¨ he said.

Surely the best lunch I´ve had in Ecuador.