Aren't You Brave?

April 16, 2014
Against all advice, we rented a car. They say Ecuador has the worst drivers anywhere, and it's best to let professional handle it by hiring a driver or taking the bus. Plus, rental cars are pricey in Ecuador (busses are the main mode of transportation, at only $1/hr is easy to understand why, and taxis across town are $1-2 fares), but we wanted freedom and we learned in Italy that Frank suffers from motion sickness riding as a passenger so driving was our only option. I reserved a Grand Vitara from Carmax for $65/day. Cars are cheaper than SUVs, but most are manual. Which usually Frank doesn't mind, but with all the mountain driving and tales of horrible driving conditions we thought automatic would be best. When I made the reservation, I assumed the Vitara was 4WD. It was not; it was rear wheel drive. So, anytime we were in gravel or damp unpaved roads our tires would spin. There were a couple times, we could've really gotten stuck. Thanks to Frank's mad skills we broke free every time and he kept us safe all 1,562 miles.

Frank says it takes a certain amount of skill, luck and insanity to drive in Ecuador. I think that is an accurate assessment, one must also be agressive and defensive at all times. There is an etiquette to driving in Ecuador. It involves a heavy use of the horn. Passing is frequent and common at any time, it doesn't matter if it's a bridge or a blind curve. The greatest thrills come from driving in the Andes. Up or down, it's a white knuckled ride. You never know when a bus will approach head on. Driving the coast is relatively easy. In fact, I would have been perfectly comfortable driving once we descended out of Andes at Santo Domingo. That stretch between Quito and Santo Domingo is real squirrelly, though.

We met a couple from Arizona that are trying out retirement in Cuenca. They've been there six months. When they heard we were driving, their response was "Aren't you brave?"

I guess we are, I don't regret renting for a second. We were able to reach our destinations faster, stop for photo opportunities and who doesn't love a great road trip? Gas was cheap $1.48 gallon almost everywhere, roads were in great condition, most constructed in the last few years. Others, were currently being widened, etc. Expect delays from Cuenca to Quito and up to Otavalo. Tolls ranged from 40-cents to a dollar. They were fairly well spread out. Gas stations were plentiful, they sold snacks and had clean bathrooms. There are also plenty of tire repair places. Public parking is well marked in the larger cities. Overall, road conditions were far better than I could have ever imagined.

If you drive in Ecuador, a GPS unit is a must! Our original plan was to rely on google maps and the Waze app. Fortunately, while at Carmax, we were offered a Garmin GPS for $3/day. I thought it would be helpful. Boy, was it ever! Had we not had it, we would've been lost and angry majority of the trip. Even with the GPS we had a handful of sights and hotels it was unable to locate. That was frustrating enough, I cannot imagine how awful it could have been without it. Signage is terribly lacking and even after two weeks in the country I made little sense out of addresses.

We made a friend in Banos, Frank told him that driving in Ecuador was fun. He laughed and called Frank, "Loco!"

Crazy and brave. That's my husband.

It's Possible

April 15, 2014
We've been back home for a few days. We had the best time in Ecuador. There is little information out there about traveling the country, since most who visit come for the Galapagos Islands. So, we really didn't know what to expect. All we knew for sure what that we were in for an adventure! It did not disappoint; in fact it exceeded all my expectations. I have much to share and plenty of photos.

I thought I'd begin by telling you about Copa Airlines. I had never heard of them until I started planning this trip, but they are a major airline based in Panama that services the Americas. Our flights were very reasonable, $599 roundtrip. We left McCarran at 6am, and arrived in Panama five hours later. The flight was pleasant. I secured us seats with extra legroom in the first row (directly behind business class). Shared TV's played movies and television shows. We received breakfast with waffles, fruit and yogurt. Plus, lunch of our choice of chicken or beef sandwich. The chicken was better than those you get from Jack in the Box. We also, had a snack of cookies and Caribas (natural plantains by Frito-Lay; we were instantly addicted).

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We only had a forty-minute layover in Panama. We were nervous about making the connection with so little time, but we put our faith in the airline. They run this route all the time so it must work out. And it did. The connection was seamless, I've never encountered one so smooth. We departed from the same gate we arrived; there was no need to pass through immigration. We attempted to use the free WiFi but too many users made it slower than molasses, but we were boarding for the final leg of the trip in no time. The flight to Guayaquil was only two hours. This flight we were seated in a regular row, it was fine for the short ride; but it would make for an uncomfortable long flight.

Arriving in Guayaquil was a breeze. We collected our bags and went through immigration; like Cancun, Mexico there is a button you press to see if you're selected for a random search. We were not chosen, so we proceeded on and met the gentlemen from the car rental company (that too was painless).

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The airport in Guayaquil was very nice. WiFi was readily available. We ended up upgrading to business class on Copa Airlines for the flight from Panama to Las Vegas. 24-hours before departure you check-in and select your seat assignments. It worked flawlessly on our way out; but we ran into snags for the return flight. For whatever reason we could not choose our seats for the second flight, which is also the longest. We ended up calling and speaking to a representative that secured us seats, but they did not have extra legroom. Frank decided to bid on seats in business class ($150-$300 per seat) the higher your bid, the better your chance for the upgrade. We rolled the dice and hoped a low bid was enough. The following morning (the day of the flight) we were notified that we were indeed upgraded. It cost an extra $300, but we felt it would be well worth it. Anything to avoid nightmares like we had on our return flight from Italy.

We received priority check in, and our bags were marked with priority tags. Once in Panama we had access to the Copa Club. Which is located on the second floor, it took us a bit to find it. The facility offers a variety of seating and WiFi, business center, snacks and beverages, toilets, showers, and play area for kids. It was packed when we arrived. We circled twice before finding open chairs. Our layover was so short that we didn't have time to enjoy the amenities, but we did load up on Caribas chips.

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Upon boarding, we were a little disappointed we weren't on one of the new planes. We rode on one from Guayaquil to Panama. They have a more sleek design and passengers have their own tv, and business class offers leg rests. Business class was roomy, though, and that's what we were after. We've never experienced anything like it. We recieved hot towels and a toiletry bag full of goodies. We had a special menu that listed meals and liquors.

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Once up in the air, we were served a cocktail and nuts. Our drink order was confused and we ended up with cocktails with dinner and diet coke with our welcome snack. The nuts were delicious. I wanted more, but resisted the temptation to ask.

A short bit later, dinner was served. We started with salad, roll and chickpea soup. Frank and I both selected the pork loin entree and he chose ice cream for dessert while I had keylime pie.

Everything was quite good. I think we could get used to this. Frank seemed right at home, lol.

Toward the end of flight, our snack was a meat and cheese plate with grapes (the biggest ones I've ever seen).

We landed at home right on time, and since we were first bunch off the plane we had no wait at immigration. That part was wonderful! We made it to baggage claim so quickly we had a fairly lengthy wait for our bags. It was 11:30 Saturday night so McCarran might have been short staffed for baggage handlers. I see it as no fault of Copa Airlines. I would not hestitate to fly with them again. I'd consider the business class upgrade again, too. It was a nice way to fly! Like their ads say "It's Possible" to find great airlines (it's unfortunate that too few are US based).

Wordless Wednesday: Spring at Bellagio

April 9, 2014

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April 1, 2014
This April Fool's day is a special one. Seventeen years ago, we were only seventeen. Frank had confessed he liked me. I admitted I liked him too. Relief washed over us. With great excitement, we pondered whether a hug or kiss was appropriate. We did both. Over the years, we've shared countless hugs and kisses, but the first? That awkward cocktail of butterflies and pure joy is splendid.

Young love is so fresh.

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Yet, love that has aged is comforting and simply sublime.

Every day after today, we will have spent more of our lives with each other than without. We have gathered a tremendous collection of memories since 1997. We're busy making more. We're currently traveling Ecuador. I'm sure I'll have much to share upon our return.

Atomic Liquors

March 31, 2014
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Old, but new. Divey, but clean. Go there. That is all.

Taco y Taco Expands

March 27, 2014
Frank and I began stalking the newest location of Taco y Taco when I got word that they were taking over the Republic Kitchen & Bar (215/Eastern). We love the original location, we fight traffic almost once a week for their delicious al pastor, guacamole, chips and salsa. The newest location is only minutes from our home... which might be dangerous, but we're thrilled to welcome Taco y Taco to the neighborhood.

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Opening day happened to be my birthday, happy birthday to me, I knew where we'd be celebrating! We got our usual order (tacos for me, burrito for Frank) and a couple modelos. They'll soon have a large draft selection available too. I was a little concerned it wouldn't be as tasty as the original location, but I had no need to worry. Everything was delicious!!

The new space is modern, large and clean. They can accommodate large groups and big crowds. I do wonder if ordering will get congested during peak times, like how the original location bottle necks, but this one is more open so it might be ok. Whatever the case, it's worth the wait.

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Wordless Wednesday: Shooting 30-06

March 26, 2014
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Click above photo for video of Mike destroying 2-liter

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