Thursday, April 30, 2009

Amazonian Sunset

Headed down the Rio Napo just outside of Coca, Ecuador

Cholo Machine

Monday, April 27, 2009

Miroslav Alcer Heads to Manaus!

Check out my first solo video in many years, posted LIVE (almost) from the Amazon!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Chau Miro a Manaus, Brazil!

Flew into Coca, Ecuador yesterday - middle of the Rio Napo in the heart of the Amazon. Arriving at the dock to head down river to the Yaturi Lodge, there was a Czech guy preparing to travel down the Amazon to the Manaus, Brazil. I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw his boat.

I pulled out the Lumix point and shoot and did just that. Over the past 24 hours I was able to doucment his departure in HD video. The finished piece is too large for YouTube and the slow connection here in the jungle. These are a couple of stills from the video.

We all watched as Miro finally set sail today, April 25, 2009 for his 2,000km journey to Manaus, Brazil. I hope to be able to post his story tomorrow night from Quitos. I fly to LAX on Tuesday to regroup and gear-up for Cuba and more adventure and better pictures.

These past two days made my whole trip to Ecuador so much more worthwhile and I will sleep tonight content under the steamy hot Ecuadorian jungle night.

Deep in the Heart of the Amazon

Lying underneath a tightly meshed mesquito net here in the middle of the Amazon, an hour out of Coca. Miros is on my mind, a Czech guy I met at the dock, heading out on election Sunday for Manaus, Brazil, more than 2,000km. from here on the Rio Napo, solo on a pedal-powered canoe. Video on the way...

The young girl from Sweden and her Polish boyfriend, fishing their way around the world dine together in the Yaturi Lodge main hall. They showed me a video of them killing a GIANT trantula in their room just a few hour before. We ate some of the pirhana they caught ealier today. He shows me another video of the blowfish they caught. "It look like giant pimple," he says with his thick eastern European accent. They catch crab on the Northern tip of Norway, the North Cape for an American out of Seattle. Off to shoot the election and the native market in Coca.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bus Plunges Kills 5 Britons in Ecuador

"Bus plunge stories are a journalism phenomenon of reporting passenger bus mishaps in short articles that invariably describe the bus as "plunging" from a bridge or hillside road." From Wikipedia. I was first alerted to the official Bus Plunge site by ye ole Travel Burro many moons ago, devoted just to buses plunging off of steep hills or roads, like the most dangerous road in the world in Bolivia - La Yunga.

Last week, five young Brits were tragically killed when a beer truck smashed into their bus and knocked it sideways. Accidents do happen and they happen here in Ecuador. Glad I'm off to the Amazon by PLANE!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Not All is Lost

"They can't steal your smile," a young girl told me on the bus late last night just before arriving the dreaded Terminal Terestre here in Quito. Of course this forces a latent smile and as she gets off the bus a few stops before Old Quito, she yells to me, "open the window!" Running to the small snack stand on the island in the middle of the busy highway, she grabs a bottle of cold water and throws it up to me and blows me a kiss. Chau!

Kid looking out of the 'ranchera' or open bus heading up the coast between Canoa and Atacames.
Finally, after many years of fairly safe travel and several attempted robberies including knife point in Buenos Aires and gun point in Oakland, as well as two attempted pickpocketings here in Ecuador, I got robbed. Leaving the Quito bus station at 6:50AM last Monday, my camera bag safely at my feet on the nearly empty bus, we bounce along on a terrible road en route to Otavalo and the famed crafts market. Not even five minutes into our journey, four burly thirty-something men in black jackets with backpacks in front of them all depart the bus together. "Ladrones," says the bus assistant. "Watch your bag," he cautions, making that teardrop pull down with his index finger on one eye. "OJO!" I check my camera bag and pull it even closer to my feet, the strap around my foot. Safe. Chinese made moto-taxi in Atacames, Ecuador
Suddenly it's my stop, hurry, off the bus. Picking up the camera bag it feels much lighter than usual. I huriedly open it to find my beloved Canon 5D and telephoto lens GONE! I also open the top compartment where my flash lives and it too is gone. I also had $400US emergency money guarded with the flash, all gone. They also got the 50mm f/1.8 which is the only cheap thing to repalce. Incredulously I sit on the side of the road on a paint blistered blue wooden bench, stinging all over. Now what.
This past week has been extremely dificult. However, despite my best efforts at getting angry, upset, frustrated or down, I move forward, shooting with a tiny 14MP Lumix backup, getting the shots I need at a still frantic pace; from the Tulcán on the border of Colombia to nearly 14,000' at La Laguna Quilatoa out of Latacunga just yesterday. Now penniless back in Quito I prepare for my last few days in Ecuador and to the Amazon where I will make the shots happen like the pro that I am, still smiling all the while.
Indigneous Saraguro locals waiting for the bus in Saraguro, Ecuador
Somehow, I still manage to find myself very fortunate and even lucky to be able to ride around on dirty bouncing buses for a month, sleeping in less-than-luxurious accomodations in order to see and capture something new and different every single day. I will always remember Ecuador for its warm people, those lonely indiginous communities high up in the Andes, it's dramatically changing climates and terrain, polution and trash-ladden cities and highways and the bazing hot sun.
As Evo Morales said recently addressing the U.N., "We now must begin to realize that the Earth does not belong to us. It's the other way around. We belong to the Earth."La Pachamama, or mother earth, is Ecuador's greatest gift and only time will tell if she can be respected above all.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Traveler´s Notes - Ecuadorian Comments

The camera and I are back in action like Action Jackson, moving furiously forward for the last big week in country; including the Colombian border trip to Tulcán and then, the AMAZON! Crazy glue can work wonders on modern electronics - shhh - don't tell them back at the factory. There's a service advisory out for this specific problem and they will be replacing the entire internal chassis once the job is finished, otherwise, the job was finished.
  • 'Travelers Diarrhea' they call it in my Moon Handbook... Cormac McCarthy calls it the 'drizzilin shits' in Blood Meridian. Dehydration got the best of me a week back but after sampling all flavors of Ecuadorian Gatorade and a few hits of Imodium, I'm now back to 90%. Changes in altitude, climate and temperature on a frenetic pace works work wonders on the body. A great way to clean the colon though...
  • Came across a GIANT earthworm up in the Bellavista cloud forrest. It reminded me of a few weeks back when I visited 'Love Apple Farms in the Santa Cruz mountains and Cynthia, the owner, dared me to eat one of her wriggling red worms fresh from the compost bin, which I did. Protein, lots of protein (I've seen Man vs. Wild eat far worse). This sucker, however, would have fed a whole family!

  • Panama hats actually come from Ecuador and can cost upwards of $600 and take about 6 months of manual labor to make a hat that is so finely woven, it'll hold water without leaking a drop. They used to SHIP out from Panama, hence the name
  • Che Guevarra is alive and well in the hearts and minds of the Ecuadorian people, many of them at least.
  • Museums are closed on Monday's here too.
  • Latin American buses - unforgettable. Can't believe I forgot how gnarly they can get on the steep and curvy one-lane mountainous dirt roads, especially in the rain. Like Ethan always said, ¨guys like us are going out on a bus off a cliff in Bolivia.¨ (paraphrase)
  • Butterflies are always so beautiful, especially to photograph up close and personal
  • Latin American dogs are the best and Ecuadorian perros are no exception. Pick one up with direct eye contact and a simple nod of the head at any local beach and you've got a best friend for the day, free of charge
  • Straddling the equator at 0,00,00 latitude was cool, for about 5 seconds
  • The indigenous Sierra communities are so united that they recently amended the constitution to give them their own governing rights. A few weeks back one small mountain town caught a man stealing a radio and BURNED HIM ALIVE - the whole town blocking the regular policia national.
  • Anyone that travels to Quito should eat at La Boca del Lobo in La Zona Fuch (gringolandia). Simply amazing
  • Received a shot list today for Havana and glanced at it oh so quickly. I did see trannies as well as several nightclubs and some jazz on the list. Still frantically finishing Ecuador while staying sane at the same time before mentally moving on
  • The planes come in overhead on final approach for Runway 35, dangerously low and loud remembering that Military Beechcraft that crashed here a few weeks back. I actually saw the apartment building cordoned off up on the hill today next to 's office where it went in. Pity
  • National elections are this Sunday. I've seen more candidates names for mayor in more towns than I could ever remember. I'd vote for Freddy in Atacames though... 'Freddy por Alcalde' (mayor) was all he wrote.
  • Catching a 6:30AM bus to Otavalo, then Ibarra with a lunch stop at some hacienda and ending up late afternoon/early evening in El Angel, one of the best Ecological Reserves in the world. Chau!

Saturday, April 18, 2009


The camera and I are down till further notice...

: (

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Life´s A Beach

¨Good Boy!¨Happy dog stealing some grub and high tailing it for higher ground.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Otra Viajita - Ingapirca

Ran around the most easily accessed Incan ruins in Ecuador in 15 minutes due to logistical transportation issues. Got this shot climbing onto the bus before departing heading back to Cuenca.

More Pics From Baños

La Policia keeping a watchful eye over the sugar cane stand

Fours enough - you see this EVERYWHERE - never helmets, always a couple of kids, usually the whole family riding on one bike.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A Typical Day

Waking up finally, the rain has stopped and the clouds are beginning to clear. Fabricio is parked first in line at the taxi stand in the town square. We arrange to leave Vilcabamba and head back to Loja, stopping at Podocarpus National Park for a few minutes to grab a quick shot on the way.

His English is pretty good and we switch from Spanish to English so he can practice, stopping every so often to shoot whisping clouds, on the list. Arriving at the entrance to the much visited cloud forrest park, there was a bus parked smack dab in the middle of the entrance with no driver near by. We try to pass by and get stuck in a muddy ditch and have to push ourselves out with the help of the park officials. The bus driver then returns and a huge argument ensues which finally results in the driver throwing his hands up and walking away. His bus won´t start and the compressor has locked the brakes and he can´t move it without starting it and since the battery is now dead, it won´t budge. The real issue that he fails to see is that he choose to stop in the middle of the entrance to the National Park, on a Sunday. Needless to say, all I got was a shot of the sign and some cloudy peaks from afar - total wash.

I catch the 12 Noon bus from Loja to Celica, hours away. We descend into desert highlands and then back up into the freezing wet clouds, at least two full cycles, me reading almost a hundred pages of Blood Meridian, very fitting for this barren and desperate landscape. Arriving in Celica at 4:30PM, I hire a cab to take me back down the mountain to the petrified forrest¨30 minutes, no problem,¨he assures me. An hour and forty-five minutes later after another hairball wet ride down a gnarly rutted one-lane jolting dirt road, just as the sun is setting, we arrive at Puyango National Park, flying past the office that is now closed. Eventually the guards catch up with us and scold us for not having stopped. Shoot first, ask questions later. Now I have company to run into the parkwith and shoot a few fallend petrified trees - about 130 Million years old - the largest petrified forrest outside of Arizona.

Finally, the taxi driver leaves me at the military contraband checkpoint where the last bus passes by at 7PM. Ever since Central America way back when, I always get a little nervous around teenagers with automatic weapons. Being Easter Sunday, the bus comes and goes with no room for one more person and leaves me standing there high and dry. The solidiers are watching soccer inside thier makeshift outpost and invite me over - Guayquil vs. Quito, with Guayquil winning. Finally at about 8:30pm a lone truck driver agrees (at the strong suggestion of the solidiers) that he should take me to Machala. First, we stop at Huaquilles on the border with Peru after bouncing down the terrible road for two hours to pick up his sister. He´s hauling tons of rice in large sacks an keeps peeling off copies of forms of official loooking documents and handing them to soliders at the now frequent checkpoints. Finally at midnight, we arrive in Machala, the 'most dangerous city in Ecuador', it has been said more than once.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter in Ecuador - Semana Santa

Thumbs Up Mon, It´s EASTER!

To Be In the Easter Parade

Kids On the Easter Parade

FBI Balloon Man

Up Up & Away

Here´s a few random shots from Cuenca last Friday... is that Good Friday? Now I´m in Vilcabamba where they say Ecuadorianos live longer than anyone and there is the most Centurians here in all of Ecuador. There´s also an overflow abundance of gringos here but it could always be worse. Back on the bus

Gnarly Staircase in Quito

Here´s those stairs on the OUTSIDE of the Basilica in Quito!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Agua Santa

This church lies smack in the middle of town, like most churches in Latin America. This is why I lugged the tripod all the way down here and it's only the second time I've hauled it out, put it back together and lumbered outside with it. Totally worth it. I tried to shoot around that trash can but only had about a 10 minute window of opportunity and kind of like it in the shot. Now it's pouring rain outside and tomorrow I've got about ten hours of traveling to Cuenca. Bedtime.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

El Viejito de Baños

"Old man take a look at yourself, you're a lot like me..."

Moto and Me

There are some things about third world countries like Ecuador that just can't be beat. Part of the thrill is doing dangerous things that you can't do in the states, or at least not on the cheap. I show up in the most touristy town around - Baños, named for these sacred hot water springs that come cascading down the side of another steep volcano - and there's dune buggies, go carts, four wheelers, scooters, and MOTORCYCLES - all for rent, on every block in town. Checking into my hotel, $8.50/night for a private room with private bath and semi-warm water, is a steal and I'm sure I'll stay here an extra night before heading south to Cuenca.

I enquire next door about the motorcycles, "How much for the big one, the Honda XR 600cc ?" $12/hour?! DONE!!

Flying out of town onto the Panamerican Highway, I open up the throttle and let her rip, roaring up the steep highway towards the clouds and then suddenly, slam on the brakes as a line of cars in front of me crawls to a halt. Slowly, we pass a downed motorcyclist being loaded onto a stretcher, people shouting and running all around. Riding a bike comes back to me from memories, many years ago, that Triumph Bonneville 650 that I rode around on in San Diego back in my youth. Turning off the highway, the bike and I head up a road paved with rocks and for the next hour we climb towards the tip of the volcano. Before reaching the top it starts to drizzle slightly and I'm in the clouds once again. I play it safe and decide to head back down, which is even more painstaking than going up.

Back in the hotel, there's a British girl sitting across from me a few years younger than I, talking on Skype, possibly breaking up with her boyfriend, or trying to reconnect with an ex. She sobs and I feel bad for her. He doesn't want her to come home. She needs a hug. She's very sad, head hung low, her face buried in her hands, weeping. Little girls run laughing down the street with not a care in the world. None of it really makes any sense at times and then of course, it's all about perspective. I ponder getting my haircut and shaving off my graying beard. The sky is still gray and it's windy outside. I've grabbed what few shots I could here in town. The baths (which are mostly for locals) and 'town life'. Time to move on.

Wild Horses

Caballos salvajes - Wild Horses at the base of Cotopaxi Volcano, south of Quito

On Top of the World

A graveyard dedicated to the less fortunate greets us as we depart from the first refugio @ 4,800 meters (15, 792 feet) above sea level. The stone building maintained by Rodrigo and Janell of Alta Montaña Tours serves as a kind of visitors center high up on Volcán Chimborazo, Ecuador's highest mountain and the closest point to the sun on earth.

Zipping up my jacket over a newly purchased heavy wool sweater, my guide and I head towards the second refugio named after English climber the Edward Whymper, which serves as a sort of base camp for the final accent to the peak. Fifteen minutes into the hike, my guide, a kid who is the caretaker at the lower refugio, asks me if I feel okay. I feel strange but well, a bit light headed but strong, ready to continue. I can't recall ever having walked this slow before, one slow step at a time, one foot in front of the other. At the half way point he points out the second refugio up above us and then wishes me luck, turning back to attend to some new arrivals down below, leaving me alone on the mountain to continue onward and upward, solo. It's a beautiful moment as I catch my breath and watch him begin his decent.

The coca tea I drank at the first refugio is helping but every step is grueling. I can't remember having ever walked this slowly before. I've only got a quarter bottle of water left. It's the longest one hour hike of my life and the last thirty yards are the most difficult - 'don't stop, keep moving' - I tell myself. Misty clouds roll in sideways across the mountain engulfing me and the makeshift trail and I can only see about ten feet in front of me as the mountain steepens.

Finally I crest the last rise and stumble upon open flat ground and the empty stone cold hut. The air is now calm and still, the only sound is of ice melting from the rooftop dripping into small pools below. My heart is pounding, like it wants to leap out of my chest, hard heavy and fast, making my head ache, muting the sounds of the dripping water. Swirling clouds play games high above on the peak allowing small circles of sun to open up and then close, all in the blink of an eye and I realize I've made it, I'm at 5,000 meters (16,450 feet) for the first time in my life and I smile, alone and content.

Wild Vacunas in Volcán Chimborazo National Park

Barely visible through shrouds of fog, the vacuanas, a gift from Peru, are a cousins to the Llama and Alpacas of the high Andes.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Room with a View

Looking at the train station from the balcony of my room at Hotel Libertador in Riobamba

High Plains Drifter

A few random pics from the last week of non-stop action, in no particular order:

Indoor market in Riobamba where the women scream at you, begging you to try the deep-fried and greasy-good pork. This is minutes after I caught two would-be thieves rifling through my trouser pockets.

Over-the-shoulder sneak shot in the same above said market.

Waiting for 'El Tren del Nariz del Diablo' - The Train of the Devil's Nose in Alausi.

Sunday market in Alausi.

The old steam train in Riobamba, brought back to life for a film they were shooting right across the street from my hotel.

Tomorrow I'm off to explore the Volcan Chimborazo - destination: 5,000 meters (16,450'), the highest I'll have ever been.