Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Huanchaco - Lima

Hello again from the sandy shores of Huanchaco. We have booked our tickets for Lima and will be departing this evening for a safe, secure trip to Lima arriving at about 6:30 AM tomorrow. Sunday we took a little day trip to the nearby town of Trujillo to see the new Batman movie, after eating some Peruvian hamburgers at Bembos (a local fast food variant). Other than that we have been hanging out on the beach, eating a lot of local fruits and vegetables as well as some delicious Peruvian chocolate. We have been staying at a hotel called Hostal Sudamerica which has allowed us to partake of a lot of local Peruvian fare. Every night a local lady comes over and cooks dinner for the residents. We have had chicken, fish, steak, GOAT, as well as numerous other foods. All have been delicious. Additionally, the grilled cow hearts available on the street at night help to fulfill our gastronomical desires. Anyways, we are off to Lima, and will get in touch after we arrive.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Huanchaco, Chan Chan, and the Olympics!!

Hello friends and readers! I greet you from the beach town of Huanchaco, located just 12 km away from Trujillo, the third largest city in Peru, where we are currently watching the Olympic Opening Ceremony, here known as Ceremonia de Inaugaracion. We arrived here on Tuesday morning after taking a double decker night bus from Mancora. It is usually overcast and cool in the morning and sunny and hot in the afternoons. We've been enjoying the weather and staying at a hostel right on the malecon where we eat a "family dinner" each night.

Yesterday, we went to the Chimu ruins of Chan Chan, a pre-Incan city. The ticket included entry to two other huacas, or temples, so we hit up all three locations and the museum. The reliefs etched into the sides of the walls are quite incredible. There has been a lot of damage to the ruins from rain, but they are trying to renovate and reconstruct the sites. The palace was simply huge and it must have been an amazing edifice in it's time.

Now, we are sitting with quite an international group, watching the opening ceremonies with Spanish Commentary! This weekend is sure to be loads of fun as tomorrow is Peru's Independance day! There are sure to be many parties and fireworks. As always, we'll keep you posted! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


It's very difficult transitioning back into the migratory patterns of a beachgoer. We wake up, eat the delicious breakfast our bed and breakfast provides, then meander to a hammock. Perhaps an afternoon trip to buy lunch, then back to the beach and later the hammock again We are staying in Máncora, a small beach town in northern Peru on the Panamerica Highway. The bulk of the residents live in mud/bamboo huts, and the poverty is quite evident. That said, everybody is very friendly and there is a definite small town feeling. Everybody seems to know everybody else, despite many new hotels being built. It's quite an interesting ecosystem with the ocean on one side and a mountainous desert less than a mile inland. At least the ocean provides plenty of delicious seafood, and the beef hearts we had a few days ago were delicious as well. We have also noticed that Peruvian food can be notably spicier than Ecuadorian food, and spicy peppers in the local mercado are actually spicy! Anyways, we are going to hang out in our hammocks for another few days, then continue south to Piura. We will probably visit another beach farther south in case anyone wants to visit!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Ecuador by the Numbers

Good morning loyal readers! We got into Peru very early this morning, and after the standard immigration "procedures" we arrived at Mancora beach at about 4:30 this morning. Gustavo, the friendly tuk-tuk driver offered to give us a tour of all the hostels in town and seemed pretty knowledgeable. We ended up deciding on the first one he showed us despite our "bungalow" not having a key. The owner said that the last tourist lost it and at normal check in time we will switch to a room with a key(should be in about three hours, so we will find out). In the meantime, here are the numbers for Ecuador. We were in the country for a total of 46 days, withdrew $1860 from the ATM, and left the country with $72 after entering with $118. We also spent $2161 when our parents visited for five days and we went to the Galapagos. So, during the 41 days that we were travelling without the loving assistance of our families, we averaged $46.49 per day, however the five days with our parents averaged $432 per day, and when that gets averaged across the entire 46 days we are looking at an average daily spend of $88.41!!! At the end of the day, visiting the Galapagos was well worth it, and it was good to see some people from back home, and who can put a price on blue-footed boobies?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Panama Hat - Made in Ecuador???

As I´m sure you are all asking, why is it called a Panama hat if it is produced in Ecuador? Not to worry, the Shapiroadventures.com team has found the answer!! But first, here is an ancient Ecuadorian torture device used to slowly pierce the brain through the skull and then extract it!!

Just kidding, this device is used to measure the size of the head of the future Panama hat wearer. Panama hats are made from a certain type of palm leaf, the leaves are basically cooked in such a way that the fibers are easily separated and then women in local villages weave them into hats. They come in many varieties from a simple hat that costs about $20-$30, all the way up to the extrafine variety which can cost nearly $1000 or more. The quality of the hat is determined primarily by the size of the palm fibers. Smaller fibers allow for a much tighter weave but require much more work, and the smaller fibers last longer and are more durable. According to our tour guide, a Panama hat maker can make five or six of the cheap hats in a week, whereas the extrafine hats can take up to three weeks to weave. After the women weave the hats, they sell them to the main factory here in Cuenca where the hats are treated, measured, shaped, and sometimes died for style. Historically the hats were shaped on a marble or stone and hammered into shape. Nowadays they use this machine to press the hats using heated aluminum and hydraulic pressure.

After the hat is treated and shaped, a tag is sewn into it with the name of the factory and size. The hat is either then exported, or put onto someone´s head in the store in the factory.

And you are all probably still wondering why is this Ecuadorian-made hat called a Panama hat? During the time that the Panama canal was being built, the workers needed really good hats because of the sunny conditions in Panama. It turned out that they had their pick of hats because of all the import and export business that goes on in Panama. They ended up using these Ecuadorian hats and since many of the initial hats were exported out of Ecuador via Panama, they took on the name Panama hat.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Museo del Banco Central

Today we visited the Museo del Banco Central. This musuem is basically a cultural musuem of Ecuador and also has an art gallery, a library, and a section about Ecuadorian currency. Entry is free, and in a lot of ways you get what you pay for. The cultural part was interesting, and basically gave a brief overview of many of the indigenous groups of Ecuador. There were also some replicas of clothing, pottery, etc., although one of the indigenous scarves had "Galapagos, Ecuador" woven into it despite there being no groups indigenous to the Galapagos. The art was basically an exposition of an artist named Chalco, and frankly I find the street art around Cuenca more interesting. We did peruse the various coins and bills that Ecuador has used over the years. It was interesting that some of the first coins were actually Colombian coins that had been stamped over. We ended up talking to the security guard, Bolivar, for about an hour after we had wandered around the musuem. Just another example of friendly locals interested in our travels and always excited to talk to foreigners and help out. It turned out he had worked in New York City for a while and has two kids who live there, but he decided to return to Cuenca. We ended up deciding to delay our trip to the Panama Hat musuem until tomorrow as we are both a little tired. Unfortunately the musuem today does not allow photography, with a little luck the Panama Hat museum will tomorrow!

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Hello again from Cuenca! After flying back to the mainland from the Galapagos we got off the plane in Guayaquil. Before we figured out how to get to the bus station we asked at the airline if we could catch a last minute flight to Cuenca and much to our chagrin, the 4:00 flight was fully booked, but we could wait to see if two seats opened up for standby passengers and the tickets would then cost $92 each. We decided that was too rich for our adventurer blood, so we hailed a cab to the bus station. Normally at busy bus terminals there are plenty of people who work for the different bus companies trying to corral people to the right place and collect passengers, so when someone asked us if we were headed for Cuenca, we assumed that was what was going on. Turns out he works for required ¨tips¨ and after ushering us through the terminal, he asked us for money. Be aware if you plan on taking buses through the Guayaquil bus terminal. Anyways, we had a very nice bus ride which passed through the Cajas national park, and arrived in Cuenca on Thursday night.

Thursday night we had dinner at a restaurant run by a family originally from Medellin, Colombia called ´Moliendo Cafe´which means grinding coffee. Neither of us had realized how much we had missed Colombian food until we had it again and the owner was kind enough to spend some time talking to us about his hometown and country. Oddly enough the next day we went to a little cafe/comedor down the road which was also run by a Colombian couple from Medellin and Bucaramanga. It´s interesting that there is a Colombian presence in this city, also we found it funny that during the hour or so we were in the cafe, a few locals walked by and asked them what a buñuelo was, apparently Ecuadorians haven´t partaken of much Colombian food. In a way it is not surprising that there are many immigrants here. We have heard that Cuenca is one of the most popular expat retirement spots, and the cost of living is much lower here than in many other places, even in neighboring Colombia. The city is nestled within the mountains with a river that runs through it as well as some ancient Inca ruins providing a very tranquil setting.

Yesterday we took a city tour with a local tour agency, basically a bunch of tourists pile into a double decker bus and hear about some of the local attractions. It was very helpful to get a basic layout of the city, see where the market is, the Panama Hat musuem, the National Bank, the ruins, etc. We also almost got our heads chopped off by low hanging power lines as we were standing up on the top level of the bus. Luckily, we survived, with heads still attached, and had lunch at the local market. It´s hard to beat beef soup for $1.75, although the mysterious kool aid drink that was included could probably use some improvement. We had snacks and drinks last night with our friend who is studying at the university here at a bar/restaurant called Cacao & Canela. I had a chocolate Mexicano, which is a mixture of tequila, tabasco and hot chocolate with some interesting pepper spices.

Today we decided to take a self-guided(and self-blaming for getting lost) tour of some neighboring villages. We hopped on the local bus to head to the bus terminal(remember that the Cuenca buses are somewhat automated and do not give change, in case you decide to visit) and caught the bus to Sigsig. About an hour and a half later we got off in Sigsig and wandered around. They have some interesting metallic statues outside of the main church, and a bustling market. We also managed to buy some ice creams for 25 centavos each. We also saw many women buying and selling the straw that is used in making Panama hats. Sigsig is surrounded by many mountain farms and on Sundays everyone comes into town to sell their goods and buy whatever they may need for the week. We then took a quick bus to Chordeleg, which was very similar. We went to the market and had some juice and french fries (lunch of champions) and wandered around the town a bit. Then we took a short bus to Gualaceo and caught the bus back to Cuenca. After about an hour we arrived back in the Cuenca bus terminal and tried to figure out which city bus to get on to return to our luxury hotel. We knew that we just needed a bus that stopped at the Crespo musuem, so it shouldn´t be that hard as there are a half dozen buses that stop there. Unfortunately for us Crespo was an important guy and there is also a major street named after him that is nowhere near the musuem that carries his name. Someone(the shorter Shapiroadventurer) somehow got confused between the two and we ended up getting on a bus that went to Crespo street. Luckily as it was heading back to the terminal and the driver was wondering what we were doing on the bus for so long, the bus passed by a bridge we recognized from our Cuenca city tour, so we hopped off and walked for about ten minutes until we were home. Tomorrow should be another action packed day of going to the Panama Hat musuem, and possibly the National Bank musuem. We are still debating as to whether or not we should go to Cajas on a guided tour before we go to Peru, which will be sometime this week. ¡Hasta la vista!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Family Reunion and the Islas Galapagos!

Hello Dear Readers!

We have just arrived in Cuenca (still Ecuador), after spending the majority of last week with our parents and dear friends in Quito and the Galapagos Islands. As promised, here are the guest posts from our dear friend, Barbara, my mother, Belinda, and Matt´s mother, Saralyn. Take it away, Barb...

Our adventure to visit the Shapiro Adventurers, Sarah and Matt, began at the early hour of 3:45AM in the quiet streets of Culver City. I woke up (and cursed my alarm), and my mother (Ollie) and I speed through the quiet streets to meet with the parents of Sarah and Matt Shapiro. All parties were excited to see the adventurers, since they had been gone such a terribly long time.

The highlight of the plane travel was Belinda´s hookup to the United Club, in Los Angeles. I even saw Hillary Swank there (I acted cool, don´t worry). There was also much hoarding of free candy bars. My count was 10 for the group.

After much excitement and anticipation, we landed in Quito to be met by Jorge (who referred to himself as George of the Jungle, probably because he thought us gringos would butcher Jorge too much!). Eventually we arrived at our colonial style hotel in Quito where our first sight was the beautiful Sarah Shapiro in very colorful pants and a stylish side buzz. There was much hugging, rejoicing, and crying (namely Saralyn).

After a short night´s sleep, we meet Jorge for a tour of historic Quito. Jorge was very patient and gave just the right amount of information so we were not bored. However, since it was Sunday there was not too much hustle and bustle of a city. My favortie part was the visit to the center of the Earth to see the equator line. The tour guides certainly know how to keep everyone engaged. We did lots of little science tricks to show the Coriolis effect and Matt Shapiro was the only egg master to get the egg to balance on a nail on the equator this time, but Sarah assured me she was egg master last time they were there.

Later on Sunday, the Dads (Mike and Allan) and my mom (Ollie) took naps and the rest of us braved the crafts market for some much needed shopping. I, of course, spent the most money and was the worst bargainer, but hey, I like shopping and since this is the seller´s livelihood, I wasn´t too worried. My highlight was the 2 alpaca scarves for $7 - so amazing!!

Another highlight of Quito was seeing a friend of the young Shapiros and myself, Don Andrey. Don Andrey is the premeire conductor of the symphonic band in Quito and a major celebrity. However to Sarah and I, we know him as that funny foreigner at UCLA. Seeing as Andrey was my favorite french horn player at UCLA, I brought him what he asked for.... his diploma, booze, and a leash for his new dog. Luckily Don Andrey gave me 45 minutes of his time (he was busy with booze, conducting and girls) and we got to catch up. It was really nice to see him, because despite his new celebrity status, he still makes you feel like you are the only one who matters and gives really good hugs.

We finished our time in Quito at a fancy resturant on top of a hill, Rumi Loma. The bus ride up there was a bit perilous, but we had a wonderful meal to celebrate our trip, seeing the young Shapiros and to wish Mike a happy birthday.

Okay, Mom, take over and tell us about the Galapagos!

July 2nd arrived very early in the morning for us. We had to get up and be ready to go at 5am for our 7:30am flight from Quito to the Galapagos Islands. After a short hop from Quito to Guayaquil we continued on to the Galapagos and boarded our ship, the Galapagos Legend in time for lunch. In the afternoon we went ashore on Santa Cruz Island to see our first giant tortoises. These enormous and slow moving reptiles can weigh between 500 - 700 pounds and can live up to 200 years. We wandered around a natural reserves and saw several of these incredible animals enjoying the warm island weather and munching on the lush grasses indigenous to these islands. The reserve had a display of one of the larger tortoise shells and Sarah climbed in and got to feel what it was like to live inside such a heavy coat of armor.

We then walked into a cave like structure which is actually a depression caused by lava which cooled into underground fissures.

The sunset in the evening was so beautiful, I couldn't resist taking pictures and I even entered one into the cruise's photo contest...(more on that later)!

July 3rd we made our first "wet landing" on Santiago Island. The Zodiacs took us as close as possible to the beach and then we jumped out into the water to get to shore. We saw our first sea lion, a relative of the California sea lions that we see up on the Central Coast, enjoying a nap on the beach. We saw our first birds of Galapagos including a red breasted, red footed, small pigeon like bird with the bluest eyes, pelicans, and the island's only bird predator, the Galapagos hawk. We also saw our first Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas which we would continue to see by the dozens throughout the trip. After hiking over the islands lava rock surface we returned to the beach to snorkel. We saw as great a variety of unique fish and plants underwater as we had seen on land, including a sea turtle. In the afternoon, we made a second wet landing to another volcanic beach. We were greeted by Galapagos penguins! Due to the varying currents in the Galapagos, both warm and cold, the penguins are able to survive at the equator! We saw more iguanas and crabs and went for a second snorkel. We had hoped to see some penguins swimming, but only saw one on a rock some 50 feet from shore. We did swim over some very unique fish, very long and thin and almost transparent. On our way back in to shore we swam right over a sting ray!

Life on the ship was very enjoyable. Thankfully, Saralyn brought enough sea-sickness ear patches to go around for those who needed it. Our waiter, Luis was very helpful and gave great service and our guide, Greg was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about his islands and the unique ecosystem that exists there.

Great Job, Mom! Why don´t you wrap us up, Saralyn?

It was so wonderful to spend time with you in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Sarah and Matt! I must say that, although our trip to Quito and the Galapagos Islands with you was spectacular, the best part was spending time with you both. You look wonderful and are totally relaxed and happy. You are accumulating a lifetime of adventures and we are so grateful to have been able to share some of those adventures with you.

The last day of our trip in the Galapagos was fabulous! On July 4th, after a delicious breakfast served by our wonderful waiter, Luis, we were off in the zodiacs for a dry landing at Dragon Hill on Santa Cruz Island. The search for animals was on once again! One of our first, major sightings of the day was two, gorgeous flamingoes feeding in a brackish lagoon. They were so delicate as they stretched their long necks into the water, looking for food. One of the amazing things about all the animals we saw is that they are not fearful of humans; they appear to be well aware that tourists will not disturb them. A totally peaceful world, indeed! Then, we climbed 372 wooden steps to a very high point on the island, where the views were spectacular. Santiago Island was formed from two volcanoes that "blew their stacks" over a million years ago. The shape of the island reminded me of Maui, with the isthmus in between the two land masses. The views were amazing, a combination of volcanic rock and greenery. It was breathtaking! As we walked back to the spot where the zodiacs would pick us up, we lingered to watch bright, orange, Sally Lightfoot crabs and marine iguanas on the volcanic rocks.

After a delightful lunch on the boat, the Galapagos Legend, we were back in the zodiacs to enjoy some deep water snorkeling. The wind had picked up so the water was a little choppy, but we had a great time observing the fish below. My favorite fish was large and a translucent gray in color, with a beautiful, vivid yellow tail. At one point, we saw a school with hundreds of them feeding from the rocks underwater. We were sad to return to the ships after a glorious experience in the water.

Next stop was North Seymour, a birdwatcher's paradise, and home to the blue footed booby, the frigate, and the swallowtail gull, not to mention, land iguanas (the dragons!). We saw several boobies courting, as well as the frigates, too. The island was alive with mating calls. The male blue footed booby seemed to do a little dance with his adorable blue, webbed feet, and both he and the female would chirp/call to each other as first one spread its wings and then the other. It was really fascinating! The male frigates have a huge, red pouch below their beaks that swell like a balloon when the frigate tries to impress its mate. These birds are simply glorious! We also saw several land iguanas; they are huge, not to mention, bold; they would walk toward us, at times, and came reallly close. They live in holes they've dug out, usually under a rock. As we made our way back to the zodiacs, the sea lions, close relatives to the California sea lions, were lolling on the beach and swimming in the water. They are amazing animals,and there were a few pups nursing, too! Bright orange Sally Lightfoot crabs and small, black crabs were all along the lava rocks, along with more marine iguanas. This was by far, one of the best days of the trip because there was such geologic diversity and there were so many animals to see and their behaviors to watch. All in all, the day was beautiful!

Our last night aboard ship, the crew held a contest for the best three pictures shared by the passengers. Belinda got first prize for her beautiful sunset picture, and Matt won second place for his photo of one of the many varieties of birds we´d seen on our hikes. Belinda is now the proud recipient of a Galapagos Legend windbreaker and Matt, a Galapagos Legend shirt! Are Belinda and Matt good, or what? Needless to say, there was a lot of cheering from our group!

July 5th brought us to the end of our Galapagos cruise. We piled into the zodiacs one more time, to get to the terminal on Baltra Island, and began the series of three flights to Lima. Matt and Sarah joined us as far as our first stop, Guayaquil, where they disembarked to continue their journey. Do I have to paint a picture for you, or can you guess that it was a tearful good bye for me??? Sarah sat with Belinda on the plane, and I sat with Matt. Parting was such sweet sorrow when Sarah and Matt exited the plane!! Of course, Matt repeated many, many, many, many times, that we could stay on in Peru and meet them again, and spend an extra week or two, but, that was not to be at this point.

And so, I close by saying that we love you both, dearly; we wish you all the best for a continued, fascinating and awesome Latin American journey; and be safe. The time we spent with you both on this trip has been priceless. Thanks so much for the privilege of allowing me to be a guest blogger! Much love from Dad and me, and we look forward to, perhaps, meeting you again, at some point further along on your journey.

And with that, we give a huge thanks to a guest-bloggers! We had such a wonderful time with you, living high class aboard the cruise. Now that Matt has his fancy camera, we will have to find a way to get his amazing shots online for you all to see!