Friday, January 31, 2014

Habla Espanol? I don't think I do.

I am winging it toward Miami and trying out the on board wifi.  Not bad, but also, not that fast.  As I sit here, I was thinking about an experience that I had at my fav Mexican restaurant- Christina's in Trophy Club, TX.

So, I was sitting there waiting and I was thinking.  Anyone who knows me personally knows that this can be a dicey proposition.  Anyway, I figured, time to dust off the old Spanish dialogue.  So my Mexican waiter comes to take my order with his broken English.

I ordered, then said about the only thing I could remember from high school Spanish class  "vaya con Dios".  To which he replied "Got it, one order of soft tortillas coming up".

I purchased the cheapo "Rosetta Stoner" from Denver.  Maybe that had something to do with it?


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Packing/ Tips Update- Down to the wire 01/30/14

Takeoff time tomorrow 12:35P

Things done at home:

*Camera gear re-packed in bag for best fit
*Passport checked, and >6 months left.  Placed where it won't be left
*Money left for dog sitter
*Instructions left for house/dog sitter, including contacts
*Power of attorney for house/dog sitter
*Finalized getting camera gear insured with home owner's insurance
*Electronic check in with airline
*Confirmed carry on restrictions (size, weight, number of bags)
*Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones (a must!)
*Packed clothes and meds

Tomorrow the adventure begins.

I will make blog entries with photos and videos as internet availability presents.  With the educational/didactic background material out of the way, the rest should be fun, yet educational. 

Hasta la vista, baby.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Packing List and Preparation 01/29/14 Update

This part of the blog will be a "living" document and will be updated until time of departure.

I decided to write this rather mundane post partly as my own check list and in the case of theft/loss, and partly to help partly for all those who wish to follow.

Items accomplished

Updated 01/28/14

*Airline tickets with trip insurance (cancellation, medical, dental, property loss)
Note- in foreign country, your health insurance will likely not work!
*Hotel accommodations made
*Ecuador land travel accommodations made  (private car Guayaquil to Salinas, only marked cabs in town, realtors to show properties in their cars)
*Realtors lined up.  I an using > Hector G. Quintana {+001.786.220.4987 (Global),  098.522.9631 Within Ecuador)} He has two web sites that are helpful: , 
Hector's associate, and with whom I made initial contact is Noelia Roldan.  I met Noelia online through an excellent site located at  This site is free to join, and get information and meet "pen pals" in every corner of the world.  As a side note, I met a Canadian who will be going down after me and will be checking out similar areas, so we will share our intel.
*Passports and secure passport holders (I'm using a Victorynox necklace type for money, passport, vaccinations, etc., and it works very well, but Eagle Creek makes a similar one- either for about $20, either online, or can be purchased at Southlake Town Square).
*Tarrant County Health Department- no shots or malaria meds needed unless going into jungle.
*CIA check for safety concerns-all good
*Pets- dog sitter arranged, food and treats stocked, all meds given (heart worm, etc.)
*Banks & credit card companies notified
*On call partner notified
*All bills paid
*Camera gear put on homeowners insurance

Camera Gear:

Due to my concern over theft vs. my desire to photograph the country, I am making conscious choices to limit my gear.  As always, I want to bring the gear that I feel will be appropriate, but at the same time, I do not want to bring unwanted attention to expensive equipment.  I am a Canon shooter, and the big lenses tend to be white in color, and stand out like a, something that stands out a lot.  I have therefore decided to limit my self to smaller lenses, and  one small zoom.  I am taking a larger bag that I can fit even the tripod in to keep it concealed.  My bag of choice is a roller bag that converts to a backpack when needed.

*ThinkTank Airport Security V.2 Photo bag
*Benro carbon fiber travel tripod (small, light, sturdy)
*Canon 5D III
*Canon 24-70 2.8L II
*Canon 70-200 f4L is
*Canon EF 1.4X III Tele-extender
*Allen wrenches, various sizes

01/29/14 update

Here is a good overseas trip insurance tip

Camera Gear Contd:

*Canon EOS M with 18- 55 lens, case, spare battery, charger, spare memory cards (SD)
*Extra CF memory cards for 5DIII
**All memory cards are formatted in camera to ensure that there is no card corruption and lost data
*Charger and extra batteries for 5DIII*
*Extra lens and camera cap
*Card reader
*External HDD & soft case
*Heliopan 82 mm polarizing filter
*Kenko 67 mm circular polarizing filter
*Black Rapid camera strap with extra camera connectors
*Small powerful LED flash light

Tech Gear:
Macbook 15", plus sleeve/case- charged, synced with bookmarks and logins
power plug multiplier with 2 usb ports
Extra iPhone charging cord and lighter adapter with 2 usb ports

Update on Coastal towns-

I was given suggested sites to visit from Hector.  Most of the towns were so small I could find nothing on them.  I am waiting for him to get back with more info.  So far, I will be seeing Guayaquil and Salinas.  More tomorrow.

More tomorrow!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Parque de las Iguanas

So, I was getting ready for the trip, which is right around the corner.  As per usual, there are too many details, but not as per usual, this will be a third world trip, so the usual things that I may have forgotten, may not be replaceable when I arrive.   Cleansing breath time.

Friday, got a call from my "pen pal" real estate agents from Guayaquil, Ecuador, and that made things real in a good way.

So, I did some more research, and found a ghost from the past doing a show in the Parque de las Iguanas  (a.k.a. Parque Bolivar), and thought I would re-post it here.  Miss Steve and his energetic antics.  It will be exciting for me to actually be following in his footsteps- I didn't know that he was in Guayaquil.  It makes sense however, as this is the usual starting place for Galapagos trips, and I did see his segment on this archipelago.

Hope you enjoy!


Thursday, January 23, 2014

First Stop: Guayaquil

First Stop: Guayaquil

My flight arrives in Guayaquil by way of Miami after a 9 hour total trip.  There will be an hour and a half layover in Miami.
I have reserved my hotel   Boutique Hotel Orilla del Rio  Click link and see the hotel, read the interesting history on this former home!
Facts and demographics about Guayaquil. 

Guayaquil is the largest city in Ecuador with a populataion of over 2.3 million.  It is also the largest South American port city located on The Pacific for both freight and cruises.  Guayaquil has been called “dirty and dangerous”, but now is rising up to be quite a tourist destination in its own right, and  is now the commercial heart of the country.  Over half of Ecuador's companies are based here. 
From everything I have researched, this is still a crime ridden city.  Every reference warns of muggings, car jackings, and even violent crimes.  Sources consistently warn tourists to take only marked cabs, not to  wander aimlessly, even during the day, and to stay on main streets in the middle.  Sounds scary.  Hint taken.
Unlike central Ecuador, which enjoys springlike climates in The Andes, Guayaquil is hot and humid.  It is located on the western banks of the Rio Daule and the Rio Babahoyo.  January to April are the hottest months (90’s to 100 d F) with high humidity, and lots of rain.  The dry and cool months are June to December when tends to be  overcast as well. For the most part, the city is only a few meters above sea level, so in the rainy season, flooding is very common.

The city proper has about a dozen high rise buildings, and on the hillsides, it has barrios.  Although crime can be (er, is?) a problem, the city is reportedly safe in the refurbished areas located in the city center and Malecon 2000 (promenade along the water front) along the Rio Guayas.
Guayaquil is  building a burgeoning cultural center in.  An Imax theater is here. There are many theaters, museums, arts venues, parks, squares, and lively bars are here.  A number of universities fuel academic interests, and a youthful curiosity.  Virtually all flights to or from the Gallapagos either originate or stop here.
There are many interesting things to see and do in Guayaquil that make it worth a visit for at least a few days.  What I plan to see for sure is the Parque Bolivar or Parque  de las Iguanas. This park may be the only place in the world  where inland iguanas are found.  These iguanas certainly are a species unique from those found in the Galapagos, which is owned by Ecuador.
Sites on my agenda at this time, subject to change: 
Malecon 2000
This is the pride and joy and symbol of redevelopment of the city.  It is a promenade by the Guayas river spanning 3 km.  Along the walk, many attractions abound- sculptures, museums, gardens, etc.  Many security guards are present supposedly, making this a "safe" and relaxing place.  I will report on this shortly.
Parque de las Iguanas, aka Parque Bolivar
Located in Guayaquil’s city center is a park with dozens of iguanas measuring up to about a meter in length.  Reportedly they are tame and spend their time between the trees and the ground thermoregulating.  Reportedly, there is a red squirrel that is entertaining to visitors and tourists (though I can’t determine why), and a fish pond that contains turtles as well as fish.  I will find out what is going on here.  You can bet that I will get to the bottom of it and give you the skinny.  Pics to follow.

I visited Costa Rica in the late 1990’s when I went on an "adventure" vacation/tour.  I didn't know what that meant at the time, but being older, and hopefully wiser, I think it means doing bone headed things that risk life and limb.  Anyway, I saw iguanas living in trees.  Locals called them “tree chickens”.  The reason the critters had this moniker was because they lived in the trees, and they tasted, well, like everything else, like chicken.  Anyway, after that, I double checked the meat content of all meals.  Will do same in Ecuador.
Las Penas and Cerro Santa Ana.  This is the arts district, bars and restaurants.  I plan to check out this vibrant scene. I will give you a full report on the food, beverage, and art scene, well, at least the first two, and maybe some art.

After Guayaquil, I head to Salinas on the coast for a few days, and will look forward to an exciting trip to "The Poor Man's Galapagos"
More to follow.
Moon Handbooks
Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands
Ben Westwood

Monday, January 13, 2014

Getting to Ecuador

I will be leaving for Ecuador in really just over a couple of weeks, and I am more than a little anxious.  I have my tickets, and landing point, but despite studying, my itinerary is a bit empty, and planning travel is sketchy in this third world country- but more on that in a late post.

Getting to Ecuador will require air travel.  I looked at flights arriving into the  three main cities of entry into Ecuado.  These cities are Quito, the Capitol city located in the Andes Mountains in the Northern Sierra Region (see earlier blog post),  Cuenca the city designated "A World Heritage Site" also in the Andes Mountains, and very popular with retiring ex-pats and located in the Southern Sierra Region, and Guyaquil, the largest city and largest port in Ecuador, located in the southern Pacific Coast Region.

image taken from: Ecuador Map

Ecuador Regions:

image taken from: Ecuador Regions Map

From DFW, there are a good number of major airlines to choose from:
and likely more.

A brief look at the flight logistics from DFW to the three cities looks like this ( all approximate):

DFW To Guyaquil 1 stop (Miami), ~ 8 hours, ~ $1,000.00
DFW To Quito nonstop ~ 8 hours, ~ $1,000.00
DFW To Cuenca 2 stops ~ 20 hrs, ~ $1,200.00

I am flying on AA, and as of this writing, here is the baggage policy:

Airline Carry-on Bag 1st Checked Bag 2nd Checked Bag
American Airlines No fee No fee $70.00

Be sure to check- size/weight restrictions-  I had a problem on a trip to Africa with my carry on.  There was a 12KG limit- my camera gear weighed more than that, so I had to stash some heavy stuff in my handy dandy safari vest, only to put it back when on the plane. KLM Dutch actually weighed the bag, then re-weighed the bag, then made sure it fit in a little frame to be sure it would fit overhead.  So I am always a proponent of safari vests.  I admit, it looks goofy, but you can fit a ton of stuff in it, you don't get charged for it, it doesn't count as a carry on, and most importantly, you don't have to leave your stuff unattended.

On another very important note- I have encountered many stories from my internet photography buddies going to third world countries that are scary.  The main thing to understand is that depending on country, theft is a viable living, and you may not see your stuff again.  If it is valuable, consider leaving it home.  If you must take it, keep it with you, and never take your hands off of it.

Finally, I am getting Guyaquil, Ecuador via Miami.  From my research so far, I am going to focus my trip on the Coastal Region with a trip to Cuenca to find out why so many Ex-Pats are going there and what all the buzz is about.

Next post will be about Quyaquil, the people, the place, and what I am really looking forward to- Parque de las Iguanas.

Good references:

Insight Guides- Ecuador & Galapagos 5th ed
5th edition
June 01, 2013
APA Publications
Part of the Langenscheidt Publishing Group
Edited by Rachel Lawrence, Luke Waterson
ISBN 978-178-005-157-4

Travel web site  

Click on the "Travel web site" for an excellent resource- really!

Copyright ©2014, Scott E. Kasden, M.D., all rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why a Blog About Ecuador?

And why am I blogging about it?

To begin with, anyone who knows me even a little, knows that travel is a passion of mine.  Photography is a huge passion of mine.  Combining the two is, well, heaven for me.  Anyone who has been in my office has seen my  photos from Africa and knows that Africa was a life changer for me. Subsequently, I refer to myself as an "American-African" because of my love for that country.  So travel is in my blood (probably along with a little malaria, but what the heck).

Why do I feel this way?  Despite being verbose, words really fail me.  However, to the best of my ability,  I get excited about meeting people from different cultures, and learning new things.  I want to understand the geography, and how  people and places that I have read about in history books and in current event articles live, and how they fit in with us and affect the world around us.  To me, it is an adventure.
I look through my view finder and it helps me see different perspectives that I often times might walk past without noticing.  I frequently have to assume contorted positions to get the "perfect" shot, and this too, lets me see things that perhaps no one else sees.  Finally, the camera does not "see" like the human eye sees, and this forces me to look at everything around me differently, see light differently, and see compositions and beauty in ways that I never noticed before.  Animals especially LARGE mammals are my particular passion. So why Ecuador?
Many of my facebook "friends", patients, and colleagues, and "real life" friends over the past  months undoubtedly have heard me talk about Ecuador- a lot!  As you who know me, know that I love to read.  It seems that I keep reading about Ecuador.  Everywhere I go, Ecuador.

Ecuador has been at the top of the list of "ex-pat" retirement destinations for years, along with Panama.  The reasons are for the climate, stable government, the currency ( they use the US dollar), they welcome Gringos, the standard of living (live a great life for about $1,800.00/month), more privacy and less government spying, easy lifestyle, friendly people.  Also, and very important, less taxes, excellent investment and business opportunities.  Real estate taxes for a year may run $300!

I love the idea hiking and photographing the Andes and Amazon, and living on the Pacific watching the  yearly whale migration.  Ecuador is among the most biologically diverse countries in the world, and has the largest concentration of free roaming jaguars.


Image taken from:

In an earlier post, I mentioned the regions of Ecuador ( coast, Siera, Andes, Galapagos- sometimes, they go by slightly different names).  The weather in these areas is vastly different and hence, you can choose what suits your sensibilities best.  Want eternal spring like conditions- check out Cuenca or perhaps the capital, Quito.  Don't mind a bit of humidity, and love the sun and beach, go to the coast.  You get the idea.

Photo taken from:

In Ecuador, the language is Spanish, and the culture is a mix of many cultures over centuries, that has been shaped by the land.  In short, for the young at heart, with a spirit of adventure, this is an adventure.  I am going with an open mind looking to finish out my final adventure (retirement).  Hopefully, it will be Ecuador, but , if not, at least it will be an adventure!

Here is a brief youTube video to give a bit of Ecudorian flavor:

A visual "taste" of Ecuador

If you want to read some admittedly biased information, here are some links:

Copyright ©2014, Scott E. Kasden, M.D., all rights reserved.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Peasants of Ecuador

Ecuadorans as one may assume, are diverse.  As a modern people, they have been shaped by the land, and specifically, which area of Ecuador they live in.  They have also been affected by conquest of the Spanish in the early 16th century.  Until the early 1970's, Ecuador was primarily a rural society, however the discovery of oil has prompted an urban explosion.

Campesinos (peasants) are commonly found in the Sierra region, and they work very hard to eek out a meager living in the rocky, volcanic, mountainous soil.  The Campesions work the harsh land, that is usually owned by rich landowners.

image taken from: Campesinos 
Mountain-dwelling people called "the serrano" live in the harsh mountain areas.  They have been described as rugged, hearty, and they are known to have a love for their Andean music.

image taken from: Serrano

Coastal peasants live in close harmony with nature in the fertile and verdant lowlands of the coastal region.  These are the costenos (coastal dwellers).  Life is much easier for these peasants, and it is reflected in their reported dispositions- easy going, not too concerned abut "manana", but quick tempered.

Image taken from  Costenos

The indigents of the Oriente are the ones that I find the most interesting.    These people comprise only 4% of the population.  For centuries, they have lived isolated, and therefore, they have changed relatively little.  Fascinating.  These people have been described as light-hearted, self-confident, and accustomed to living from a generous bounty of nature.  Sadly, this is threatened with logging oil exploitation.  These are people that I really want to meet and get to spend time with.

Image taken from:  Oriente

I will blog more about Ecuador soon.  Stay tuned.  I just discovered some interesting "stuff" about the coast, so that will be on deck soon.  However, there are many, many, many, more, peoples of Ecuador who are "civilized", and it is important to present a well rounded picture of this South American gem.

Copyright ©2014, Scott E. Kasden, M.D., all rights reserved.