8 Day Classic Ecuador & Amazon Trip Report : Nov 11th- 18th, 2011
By Jerry D Finley

Even though the Obama administration is hell bent on putting us under, Amber and I recently decided we couldn't wait forever for a vacation and needed time off to recharge our batteries. As we subscribe to Gate 1 Travel service e-bulletins, I kept my eyes open for a deal and found one pretty quickly. They were offering a 8 Day Classic Ecuador & Amazon Adventure for a paltry $679pp if we booked for November. Done. This would be our first trip to Ecuador and our 3rd Gate 1 Travel tour.  As we have a gajillion air miles with Delta we hit them up for 2 free First Class seats..er.. now they call it "Elite Class" as, I guess not to offend  the other flyers by inferring that they are second class.  Must be PC as not to offend, doncha know. The land portion of the trip would include...

  • 7 nights First Class accommodations
  • All transfers
  • 14 Meals: 7 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 4 dinners
  • Sightseeing per itinerary in modern air-conditioned motor coach
  • Services of English-speaking tour manager throughout
  • Services of English-speaking local guides
  • Entrance fees per itinerary
Gate 1 Tour Route

Day 1- Nov 11th: They always say to get to the airport 2 hours early for check in on international flights. IMHO.. that's total BS. As Asheville airport is rarely crowded I knew that 1 hour was plenty, but to ease the mind of my lovely significant other.. we arrived exactly 2 hours early. We checked in, went through customs, and was at the gate in approximately 8 minutes...The first leg of our trip to Atlanta took 50 minutes. The trip from Atlanta to Quito, Ecuador was 5.5 hours which put us there at 11pm. I had pre-arranged for airport pick-up (which was not included in the land only package) with Hotel Quito so our ride was there waiting for us. The shuttle to the Hotel Quito (for the first night stay) took about 15 minutes and cost us $20US. If I had just walked out and taken a cab it would have cost $6... Live and learn.

Hotel Quito is large and modern.The place is huge with over 200 rooms, a casino, and a restaurant on the 7th floor with some knock-your-socks-off good food at reasonable prices by US standards. While most of the hotels on this tour would need those electric adapters for hair dryers, phone chargers, etc, .. the Hotel Quito had 110 sockets. They have comp computers with internet access down stairs, phones and cable TV, and a great looking pool area out back. Out on the smallish balcony the hotel offers wonderful views of the surrounding city, mountains, and a distant volcano. The view from the restaurant is one of the best I've seen from any hotel in the world. After dark it's breathtaking. We get to bed around 12:30am not having any idea what to expect in the am.

Hotel Quito

Day 2- Nov 12th: Our Gate 1 orientation would be at 7:30am in a conference room. We didn't find out until 7am due to the fact that we missed the smallish Gate 1 sign in the lobby the night before. I was expecting about 8-10 people for this tour.. there were 28.. Krikey! Before I proceed with this trip report I should mention that Amber and I consider ourselves "travelers" rather than tourists. Huge difference. We usually choose vacation destinations so we can avoid "touristas." We like to go out on our own so we can do whatever we want when we want. No rules.. no schedules.. no itinerary . We wing it. This was only the second tour group we'd signed on to and frankly I was not prepared for what I was about to hear in the orientation.

Our Gate 1 representative (and tour leader) was 30-ish Oscar Vizuete, an Ecuadorian with perfect command of the English language. Better than many Americans in fact. Oscar got up and said a few things about himself, handed out name tags we'd wear throughout the week, then asked for each of us to get up and introduce ourselves and tell a little about who we are. Geez. I have 3 fears in life..... Being murdered in my sleep by ex-wife # 2, Barack Obama being elected to a second term , and public speaking.. This was not a good start for me as A. I don't care who these other people are or what they do and B. I don't care if they know who I am or what I do. I instantly develop a case of flop sweat. I muddle through hopefully leaving them with the impression that I'm an international man of mystery rather than an arrogant, apathetic SOB with hyperhidrosis.

After I painfully listen to the names and stories of 28 strangers, Oscar lays out the itinerary for the week and it is so detailed and hectic that my only thought is.. "My God.. what have I got us into?." I click my Nike's heels together repeatedly.. silently chanting.. "There's no place like home.. there's no place like home".. but nothing happens. I'm still here. Virtually every minute of every day is planned out. Out of bed every morning at precisely 7am....Luggage outside the room at precisely 7:30am. Breakfast every morning at precisely 7:30am .. 2-3 stops during the day at designated places where we'd have between 15 minutes - 1.5 hours to shop, take pictures, eat, or use the bathrooms. We'd arrive at the designated hotels every day around 5pm or so followed by dinner at precisely 7:30pm. After dinner we are allowed 20-25 minutes for sex with our designated partner (no foreplay) followed by sleep. There is virtually no room for exploring, relaxing, or venturing out on our own. I've heard of prison schedules that were more flexible.


We load up on a very nice tour bus and head out. I figured if I relax in peace and quiet during the ride I might feel better. Even that was not to be. Over the bus intercom system Oscar talks non-stop until we reach our first stop in Quito. I pinch myself to make sure this isn't just a bad dream.. We're to get off the bus for precisely 20 minutes to look at some architecture. I think it was some sort of cathedral, but as I was freaking out so bad about the circumstances I'd just dropped us into.. I didn't notice. I pull Amber aside and flat out tell her I want to bail on the tour, grab our luggage, take a cab back to the airport, and go home. I don't care about the $1200+ dollars we'll lose. My sanity is my priority. As this is also her vacation, I tell her I'll let her decide as I know this wasn't what she was expecting either. Thankfully, she talks me into staying on the tour.. at least for a few days to see how things shake out. As it turned out, this was a wise decision as once I relegated myself to the herd mentality.. I actually had a damn good time. I thanked Amber many times throughout the tour for convincing me to stay.

Our second stop of the day is the Company of Jesus Church (Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus.) While I've traveled all over the world and even lived in Central America for a while.. this was honestly the most awe inspiring church (of any faith) I'd ever been in. This Jesuit church is, IMHO.. a masterpiece of baroque and colonial art. Virtually the entire inside is covered with gold. Lavish golden altars and guilded columns. And as we all know.. nothing impresses an all-knowing deity more than gold. If I were God.. this is where I'd hang out. Well... at least alternating between there and the Playboy Mansion. The church forbid photos and there are signs warning of such, but I clandestinely came up with one good one. Does that make me a sinner?

The next stop is 3 hours from Quito.. the Middle of the World Monument where longitude and latitude lines converge. It's very cool actually. Amber and I take turns taking pics of each other straddling the zero longitude line. While on route to our next hotel, Oscar (our tour guide) spontaneously stops and buys roses for every woman on the tour. FYI.. roses are one of the main exports of Ecuador so they are plentiful, fresh, beautiful, and cheap at around $1.50US a dozen. This one of the first of many such gestures by our guide. I'm starting to like him already although I wish he was talking less. It is clearly evident that he really knows and loves his country as it seems that there is no subject he is not knowledgeable about. I should add that as the tour goes on, Oscar talks less as many things get explained early on so we do have many hours of quiet time to just sit and enjoy the scenery roll by. If there's anything we need to know... we ask, he turns on the microphone and answers so others will also know.. He always asked if anyone has questions. In hindsight. I guess many tourists actually want all this information and after all.. this is part of his job. A job he does well.

Iglesia de La Compania de Jesus

After a 3.5 hour drive, we arrive at the Cabanas del Lago Resort in the city of Otavalo for our second night of the tour. The place was absolutely stunning. The view in all directions breathtaking. On the backside of the resort you'll find the restaurant that overlooks the high altitude lake. On the other side... tall mountains and lush vegetation. The only other hotels I've stayed at that had better views were the Hotel Atitlan (in Panajachel, Guatemala) and the Cairo Hilton (penthouse.) The restaurant serves both local and international cuisine. As we were there only for one meal and breakfast.. I can't comment on food quality although the one group dinner was pretty good. While the resort does NOT have comp computers, they do have wi-fi in the lobby and restaurant. Oscar helped me track scores of the Paris Open tennis tournament on his laptop while there. Turns out he's also a Roger Federer fan.. Cool.

The rooms were clean, modern, yet rustic. The resort was in the process of renovating all of them. Ours must have already been done as it blew our socks off. Flat screen TV on the wall, a fire place (which they lit while we were at dinner,) wrap-around couch, and a bathroom with a walk-in shower and hair dryer. Both Amber and I loved this place and wished that we had at least 2 days here. Others in our group were saying the same thing. The landscaping was first rate with flowers all over the place, bird cages, free-roaming rabbits and even a few caged goats and rams. It looked like the resort had boats and jet-ski rentals, but we'd not have the time to explore those options. Two comp computers with internet were available in the lobby although both keyboards were not US spec so I couldn't use either. If we ever come back to Ecuador we would absolutely make Cabanas del Lago Resort one of our stops. I was impressed. After our 7:30pm dinner Amber and I go back to our warm room and indulge in our 20-25 minutes of allotted cuddling time by the glow of the cracking fire then sleep like babies..

Cabanas del Lago Resort in Otavalo

Day 3- Nov 13th: Again.. up at 7.. luggage out at 7:30. Breakfast at 7:30. Leave at 8:30. It's too early for me to eat at this hour so I grab some breakfast food to go. I generally don't eat breakfast until around 10. Our tour makes one of many stops for shopping. This time at the market in Otavalo, one of the largest in South America and run by the local Otavaleño Indians. We're allotted 1.5 hours, I think. Rather than just crappy trinkets... there are some very nice items here if you really look. I bought an Alpaca scarf for my sister (haggled from $10 to $5) and a colorful painting of the area for myself. (haggled from $55 to $27.) If you go there, the locals expect you to haggle and they are good at it. After leaving the market we eventually wind up at the Termas de Papallacta Resort in Papallacta. As we pull in at nearly 6:30, we don't have time to do much except take a few pics, shower, then go to dinner.

Termas de Papallacta (at 11,500ft) is a major surprise as was the last resort. Located high in the mountains, a massive snow capped peak can be seen in the distance surrounded by mountains in every direction. This resort is a favorite among Ecuadorians in surrounding towns due to the naturally occurring hot springs. Not only do the springs heat the resort's water, but each room has it's own private or semi-private hot springs pool in front of the rooms. I stupidly forgot my bathing suit.. DOH!. Guests can use the pools until midnight when they drain them, clean the surface area, then refill early in the am. The rustic, thatched roofed cabanas have 2 double beds, individual heaters, multi-gallon water dispenser, a very nice bathroom with tub and shower, and my favorite.. (also due to the hot springs..).. heated bathroom floors. There are few simple pleasures in life better than than getting up (usually multiple times) in the middle of the night to satisfy an aging, enlarged prostate and being greeted by warmth on the feet rather than frigid tiles. Sweet!.

Termas de Papallacta

Our meals are NOT included at this resort, but the prices are reasonable at around $15pp with the tip included on the bill. Food was very good and the staff attentive and professional. Two house computers are at the guests disposal in the lobby. I wish we could have stayed here another day.. (a repeated mantra on this tour) as did everyone else we spoke with.

Day 4 : Nov 14th: My 56th Birthday! Woohoo! Today we'll be heading down from the cool, clean mountain air of the Ecuadorian highlands into the Amazon basin. Stupidly, before our trip I was regularly checking the weather forecasts for Quito and the surrounding areas neglecting to check the weather for the Punta Ahuano area where we'd be staying in the Amazon. DOH! We went from 13,000ft to 1200 ft and from a chilly 55 degrees to Caribbean heat in 5.5 hours.. Thank God I brought a couple of short sleeve shirts and one pair of zip-off pants or I'd have been in a world of discomfort.

We arrived at the highly anticipated Napo river river transport site ( La Punta Ahuano) where we were to board canoes and be taken to the Swiss-owned Casa del Suizo Resort. Probably due to the fact that I suffer from "expectation embellishment syndrome," I kinda thought we'd board an authentic dugout canoe with local barefoot natives, just one generation up from head hunters, who'd paddle us the 15 minutes downstream to our resort. Instead we had Disney-esque 30ft powerboats (shaped like canoes, I suppose), complete with tarp roofs that held about 16 people each manned by Bob Marley tee shirt clad fellows who looked bored to tears to be dealing with "touristas." O, well.. While my self inflicted expectations may have been high, the short ride was fun and a memorable way to spend one's birthday.

So Much for Authetic Canoes and paddles

As we were all forced to wear life-jackets, there was never any real Indiana Jones-type danger. However.. on the day we arrived the Napo (a tributary of the Amazon) was as smooth as Angelina Jolie's butt after a hot oil message. I kept wondering what this boat ride would be like after a heavy storm and a few inches of rain. I would think it could turn ugly pretty quick. This very night there was a big thunderstorm and the next day the river looked pretty intense with rushing water and whole trees being swept downstream. .. I know I wouldn't want a loved one out in one of these "canoes" on a rough river day. Just sayin.

The Casa del Suizo is a nice resort, but it didn't compare to the last two we had visited. It's high up on a hill as to keep clear of the unpredictable river below. It does have a beautiful pool and bar area with lots of chairs so no matter how crowded the resort might be.. you can always find a place to quietly sit alone and look at the view of the river flowing below or the spectacular sunsets. Food was average at best and the deserts without exception tasted bland (read: European.) All meals were buffet and generally consisted of 3 meats, 2 soups, lots of bread, fruits and side items. Strangely enough.. I was really looking forward to eating fresh fish out of the Amazon. On a recent Anthony Bordain (No Reservations) show he was commenting on how there were so many delicious fish coming out of the Amazon that if you're in the area you must try them. Over 2 days all we got was pork, beef, and chicken. O, well. You will not go hungry. While meals are included, drinks are not. Here you pay for bottled water, cokes, booze, etc.. When you check out at the end of your stay, they throw a hefty fee on you if you pay via credit card. Take cash to save yourself some money.

Casa del Suizo

The rooms at the Casa del Suizo offer 2 double beds, 2 night stands with small lamps with bulbs that barely produce enough light to attract bugs. That may be on purpose. Barely enough to read by. The rooms in our building all had small balconies with wooden chairs and a hammock which my wife loved. There are two downsides worth serious mention to anyone thinking about staying at the Casa del Suizo. Three if you count the blatantly rude French hotel guests. First.. the rooms do NOT have air conditioning. On the day we arrived it was in the 80's with about 200% humidity and no breeze. Even with the ceiling fan set to infinity and beyond, the heat in our room was stifling. So hot that my hoped for (and nautily alluded to) birthday sex wasn't even an option. I'd have died of heat stroke right there on the outskirts of the jungle. Probably with a smile on my face, but none the less dead. It was a challenge just to get to sleep for this A/C spoiled hetero diva. Relief came when a thunderstorm blew though the area at around 3am bringing a breeze and cooler temps. It was wonderful to wake up and hear the heavy Amazonian rain beating on the roofing ..lightning lighting up the surrounding jungle. Reminded me of a scene from the old Clark Gable movie, Mogombo. A hearltfelt "thanks" to earth's special effects department. It was perfect.

The second downside of being in this area is the mosquitoes. Let me preface the following by providing my credentials as one who has never, ever had a problem with insects at tropical locales. I've been to dozens of Caribbean resorts during my diving days. Many having serious reputations for having major biting insect problems.. Honduras, Belize, El Salvador, Guanaja, etc etc.. I NEVER wore bug spray as I seem to possess a natural chemical that repels insects. I wish it worked on the French.. but I digress. While those around me were wearing Deet, SkinSoSoft, Off, etc and still being feasted on like the lone pig at a Hawaiian luau, I rarely if ever got bitten. I can honestly say that in 2 dozen trips to these areas I'd come away with 3-4 total bites.. A genetic gift? Who knows, but I've always been blessed in this regard. I stopped carrying insect repellant years ago.. Here in the Amazon, my superior genetic make-up made no difference.

Casa del Suizo View of Napo River

The Amazonian mosquitoes are a whole nuther breed. They are the Seal Team 6 of the insect world. If Chuck Norris was a mosquito... he'd be an Amazonian. They are on and off you before you see them coming. They are silent and so small that you never feel them. You aren't even aware of their attacks until hours later when arms and legs looked like you'd been tortured with a lit cigarette. Even after borrowing my wife's industrial strength Deet that she purchased on Krypton, I got over a dozen bites in a 24 hour period. I actually think they must like the taste of it. Amazingly.. I never once saw a single mosquito land on my body. Take the following words seriously.. If you go to the Amazon... be prepared.

Day 5 - Nov 15th: On the day we arrived at the Casa del Suizo, Oscar had a couple of optional activities for the Gate 1 group. Amber and I were so tired from the non-stop itinerary that we blew them off and chose to lay around, nap, read, and just be lazy. Today, our second full day at the resort I'd do the same. While Amber took advantage of one of the group walks and did enjoy it, I laid around and read, napped, and not much else. The temps were slightly cooler so relaxing was easier. Once she got back, we walked to the nearby town (5 minutes) and checked out the locals. Very poor area. I stopped and bought a coke at one place, but poured it out after tasting. It had expired 2 years ago. Guess biz is kinda slow for most of the small shops. I did notice the resort is expanding so the extra influx of guests should spark the economy..

Sunset over the Napo River

Day 6 - Nov 16th: This morning, after our 7:30am breakfast we board our canoes for the short trip back to La Punta Ahuano and transfer to our next hotel back up in the highlands.. the Hacienda Manteles in Patate. En route we stop in the towns of Puyo, nicknamed "City of the Clouds, and Baños, noted for its thermal springs and beautiful highland scenery for a short tour of each. I really enjoyed Banos. It reminded me of a little European village in the Alps. Amber and I along with a couple from the tour sat at a sidewalk cafe and ate some local cuisine and people watched. Afterwards we ended up at El Pailon del Diablo (ie..The Devil's Cauldron waterfall.) During my pre-booking research of this trip I looked up this waterfall and comments from people who had visited it and most said the walk back up was not easy so I took their advice and did NOT make the walk down to the bottom. Amber did and she got a few decent pics, but many who came up looked like they were about to suffer a stroke. Good choice on my part. While the others were making the trek to the bottom and back, I sat in a nearby restaurant with my feet up reading the latest David Baldacci book and snacking in the perfect weather.

The drive to our next hotel was filled with non-stop spectacular views. Think Alps-like views. Amber got a little motion sickness from all the curves even after starting the day with a dose of Dramamine. At around 6pm we check into the Shangri-la-ish Hacienda Manteles in Patate. Like our other two highland hotels, the resort is a little jewel in the countryside reminiscent of an old European farmhouse. The view is to die for and again everybody wishes we could spend at least 2 days here or at least arrived earlier so we could enjoy the area.

Hacienda Manteles in Patate

We are greeted (it seemed) by the entire staff who show up at the bus to welcome us. They have a few friendly dogs who also greet the tour group with gleeful abandon. Our room (#17) is wonderful. Again, two double beds with top quality blankets and sheets. The room has a plug-in heater if needed, free bottled water, a good sized bathroom with everything except a hair dryer, but they do have 110 sockets. A snow-capped volcano view is right outside every door. The main house has a sitting room with multiple couches and chairs, computer access, and comfortable decor. You feel more like you're in somebody's home than in a resort. Outside there's flowers everywhere and an old eucalyptus tree that's got to be 100 years old..

That night before dinner, Oscar offers a toast to the group celebrating our last dinner together with some local red tea (that he apparently purchased on his own) and it's delicious. The dinner itself was gourmet.. My trout was excellent. Breakfast was also excellent starting with with hand-made crepes and exotic fruits and ending with perfectly prepared scrambled eggs and thinly sliced bacon. Really hated to leave this place... Next stop Quito .. followed by reality.

Hacienda Manteles in Patate

Day 7 - Nov 17th: After the aforementioned world-class breakfast we head out towards Quito. On the way we stop at Cotopaxi National Park to see the Cotopaxi volcano which is one of the tallest active volcanoes in the world at 19,348 ft. Park admission fee was covered in the tour. The unpaved road in is at least 20-30 minutes long, but worth the time. The volcano is magnificent and Carlos (our driver) took us close enough to die should an eruption occur. Now we're talkin!! Perfect for pictures. It was cold and windy in the park due to the altitude. Amber spotted some wild horses grazing by the nearby lake. Oscar spotted one of the last remaining Ecuadorian Condors circling the summit. I think he said there were less than 42 in the world. Even from a mile or so away we could see it clearly with the naked eye.. Had to be a huge bird.. Magnificent is the adjective that comes to mind. Seeing one of the rarest animals on the planet made the park visit complete.

I should mention at this point that my memory ain' t what it used to be. There are probably half a dozen stops our group made that are NOT mentioned in this report. Some quasi-memorable.. some not. We toured a place that carves those balsa wood souvenirs you see all over the country. We stopped by a place that makes those indigenous flutes and some other Ecuadorian musical instruments and even got to hear the makers play them.. That was interesting. One day we stopped and shopped in some famous leather district. There were also multiple small market stops. Bathroom breaks were sporadic, but I didn't have any complaints.. Most of the men on the tour I spoke with could have done without all the shopping stops and instead arrived at our resorts earlier as to enjoy their charm and relax a little more. Out of our group of 28.. one lady got serious migraines and left the tour. Probably the altitude. About 3 others got mild forms of diarrhea. One sheepishly admitted he dipped his toothbrush under a faucet before using it (DOH!) so it was his own undoing and he admitted it.

Cotopaxi National Park

We arrive back at Hotel Quito around 5pm. Our flight out is just after midnight. I tip our driver, Carlos and thank him for his world class driving skills, hand Oscar an envelope with his tip, then bid adieu to our companions who for the most part are still strangers to me. As Amber and I have a few hours to kill we shower and head up to the 7th floor for an early dinner. The restaurant is 5 Star and service is impeccable. Amber has steak and I have one of the best pieces of salmon I've ever stuck in my face. We linger over the meal and watch as day turns to night over the city of Quito. The view from this restaurant is one of the best I've ever seen. One of the waiters takes a few shots of us ... A good way to end a damn nice trip.

I should add.. everyone told us to get the the airport at least 3 hours early for our flight back to the US.. I thought this was total BS, but again.. to to ease the mind of my lovely significant other.. we arrived exactly 3 hours early. We checked in, went through customs, and was at the gate in approximately 14 minutes.. Sheesh.

Postscript: I learned a lot from this trip. While we certainly got our money's worth, the 8 Day Classic Ecuador & Amazon Trip offered by Gate 1 is just too hectic for us and I suspect many others. It is this seasoned travelers' humble opinion that Gate 1 should offer 2 Ecuadorian Tours.. One Amazon Tour and a Highlands Tour where patrons stay at least 2 nights at every stop. The 3 hotels we stayed at in the highlands were excellent and memorable. Every fellow tour member I spoke with felt just as we did.. That they'd have preferred staying 2 nights minimum at each resort and cutting out some of the peripherals. Speaking for myself, the Amazon portion of this tour was my least favorite. I'd never go back for any reason that I can think of even if it were FREE and I was sharing a room with Halle Barry, but I'm glad I saw it. Gate 1 again delivered the goods on this well thought out tour without a single snag or dropped ball. I honestly have no idea how they can furnish so much for so little, but they did. I'm sold on this company and our next trip will most likely be with them. Kudos to Gate 1 Travel.

Hotel Quito Resturant View

Our group, while diverse was for the most part a good one. I'd imagine ages ranged from 28-80. I can't say I had any issues or problems with any of them and in fact I had one great conversation with Frank.. a teacher and fellow world traveler. I don't do well with crowds so it was not the ideal vacation situation for me from the get go, but that's on me. A lot of that has to do with the fact that I've lost 60% of my hearing so I tend to avoid conversations. I also have to rely on reading lips so in a crowded situation I'm usually a lost ball in high weeds. With that said.. other than a tour member who kept a rat hand puppet with her at all times and used it frequently.. (this still creeps me out)..I enjoyed meeting most of the group. I wonder if she has a clue as to why nobody went to see Mel Gibson's last movie "The Beaver"?

Now that we're home and back in the real world and I've had a few days to think about the tour... I'm happy with the experience. While not ideal for solo minded travelers, .. I had a great time with no regrets. I think Amber would agree. The wonderful views we saw in the highlands will stay with me for the rest of my life.. the Amazon part of the tour.. not so much. I'll definitely go back to Ecuador some day... the next time on our terms.

Our Tour Guide & Driver: Oscar Vizuete may have started out as just a tour guide, but by midway through the tour I considered him more. Not only was he one of (if not the best) tour guides I've ever seen, but he's also a very smart, funny, caring, multidimensional individual who clearly loves his country. He's the kind of guy I'd like to hang out with. Unpretentious, earthy, and importantly.. honest. I am 100% convinced that I'd have never completed the tour without him. How he ushered such a diverse group of people so effortlessly from point A to B with such aplomb is a mystery to me. My theory is that he spends a lot more time than he lets on in preparation. He was continually doing things for the tour members that I am certain came from his goodness rather than any company protocol. He bought roses for the ladies, ice cream for the entire group, trinkets for everyone, .. even stopped to introduce all 28 of us to his 80 year old grandmother.. It's these little things that differentiate a tour guide from a good tour guide. Gate 1 should feel very fortunate to have him on the payroll. My personal thanks to Oscar (pic at right) for making the tour fun, educational, and issue-free.

Last but not least... Our driver, Carlos (who was absolutely the best bus driver I've ever seen..) was just icing on the cake. If you've ever driven in South or Central America you know how much of a challenge driving can be. Many streets in the small towns have barely enough room for an overweight burrow to squeeze through yet Carlos always seemed to find a way. He squeezed our bus through holes I'd have bet money it wouldn't fit. On the endless mountain curves there was never any drama. His skills were amazing.. professional and confidence inspiring. During the non-driving moments he was always friendly and accommodating. I true gentleman. Vaya con dios, Carlos.

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Oscar Vizuete & Amber

Helpful Tips for Your 8 Day Classic Ecuador & Amazon Tour by Jack Handy

1. Currency in Ecuador is the US dollar. Yea.. surprised me, too. Bring lots of $1 and nothing larger than a $20.

2. Bring a bathing suit. Better to have it and not need it...

3. Bring a hooded rain slicker/jacket...

4. Bring some "serious" bug spray if you're going into the Amazon basin.. I suggest thin long pants at all times.

5. Bring water-proof hiking boots if you have any plans for actually hiking. While the hotels will supply rubber boots.. who wants to wear used shoes?

6. The country has a $41 pp exit fee. Everyone warned us to hold back that much cash at the end of the tour, but when we got to the airport.. we didn't have to pay it. That may be because we bought first class tickets.. I can think of no other reason.

7. As in Mexico.. Beware the tap water. Make sure you brush your teeth with bottled water and keep your pie hole closed in the shower.

8. If you are prone to motion sickness.. you might want to bring along some Dramamine. You're gonna be on curves about 85% of the trip and while our bus was smooth... we still got slightly queasy. Better safe than sorry.

9. Clothing: One word.. Layers. Temperatures will vary with altitude. On our trip temps ranged from high 40's to mid-80s. I didn't take any dress clothing. I did bring a jean jacket. If I had it to do over again I would have left it at home and only brought 2 hooded sweat shirts and various types of shirts to wear under it. Amber took one slinky black dress. I generally go to a CVS pharmacy or Goodwill store before the trip and buy some tees for under $2.50 a piece and as they get dirty on the trip.. I leave them behind for the maids or whoever. It's also a good time to trash the underwear that's just about exceeded it's life expectancy. Use them and leave them. You'll have a lighter suitcase on the return trip.

10. On this tour, while breakfast and dinner were scheduled in concrete.. lunch was as unknown.. If you're like me and like to eat at a certain time or you turn into Hannibal Lector... bring snacks and keep them in your backpack. I like the pre-mixed chicken-salad with crackers packets you can buy in any grocery store (in the tuna section) as they don't get crushed while traveling. Also Pringles chips are good for the same reason.

11. Pre-trip meds and pills... Little did I know that before I booked a trip into the amazon that you are advised to get all sorts of shots..Geezz. I had no idea, but after mentioning our upcoming trip to my primary care doctor I quickly found out.. We got quite a few shots prior to leaving. Tetanus A,B, & C, Deng Fever, and something else... None of them had any adverse affects.. However.. we were prescribed some malaria pills. You are supposed to start them 2 days before and continue for a few days afterwards.. Whatever we were prescribed made both of us sick.. I think it was called Malarone. After two days of nausea and flu-like symptoms we both quit taking them thinking it's not worth ruining our vacation on the miniscule chance that we might get malaria. Life is, after all.. a roll of the dice.



For photos of our most excellent adventure, visit our photo album and look for the albums cleverly titled.. Ecuador Trip 2011 or Ecuador Trip 2011- Amazon.
And that's all I've got to say about that... Pirate out...
Jerry D. Finley... Captain
/ Pirates' Lair