Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   extra hours to kill in Guayaquil
Monday, January 4 2016

location: Marriott Courtyard Hotel, Guayaquil, Ecuador

Our flight back to JFK wasn't scheduled to happen until the early afternoon, so Gretchen and I could lounge around in our beautiful clean hotel room until late in the morning. I mixed the last of my kratom with the bag of coffee in the room and had that as my first drink of the day.
At 11:00am, we checked out of our hotel and rode the hourly shuttle to the airport. All seemed to be going smoothly until we tried to enter the airport's international terminal, where a dickish guy looked at the things we'd thought were tickets and told us to "stand over here." At that point we realized they weren't tickets at all, but instead some sort of meaningless piece of paper. It made us wonder what was the purpose of the fancy checkin machine that had printed them out for us. So now we had to wait in another line that was so devoid of Americans that it didn't seem right. Also, why had they given us an "Andean Customs" form? It was only when we got to the front of the line that we learned why we were the only gringos. Our plane's departure had been delayed for something like four hours. Suddenly we had an afternoon to kill in the Guayaquil airport. As a way of expressing an apology, our airline (LAN) gave us a food voucher worth $30, though it could only be used in the airport. But it didn't take long to determine how worthless that voucher was for a pair of vegans. You can't even get a plate of spaghetti in that airport, though there are lots of options for those wanting meat sandwiches. Oddly, the airport appears to have a meat-free KFC that specializes in icecream. The non-vegan kind.
Gretchen managed to pull up a cached listing from HappyCow on her phone and suggested we try taking a cab into the city. The only problem was our cash on hand, which had been badly depleted anonymously tipping the crew of the Letty. I knew from our experience ten years ago that our little credit union bank card hadn't worked in Ecuador. But things change, so why not see what magic our card could perform in the Ecuador of 2016? As we waited in line, Gretchen said, "there's no way this is gonna work." But it did work, and just like that we had $100 more in our wallets.
We caught a non-gypsy cab to downtown Guayaquil and went to a little vegan restaurant called Lorenabo. It had what, to us, seemed like a very unusual protocol. You pay $3/each up front when you come in the door, take a seat, and then you are brought whatever they happen to be serving that day. Today they served a thin vegetable soup followed by a dish of rice with a side of gravy containing chunks of potato and faux meat. It wasn't the most flavorful or filling lunch I've ever had, but it was certainly better than any of the options back at the airport, and one couldn't argue with the price. The decorations were austere, but we noticed that all the placemats contained individual homages to famous vegetarians such as Leonardo da Vinci. All the other customers appeared to be the sorts of professional Ecuadorians one would expect to see in the downtown of Ecuador's largest city.
After we got out of Lorenabo, we still had hours to kill, so we went on a wide-ranging walk in the downtown area looking for a place with WiFi that served cold beer. Surprisingly, though, there weren't even any outdoor cafés. Where did all the business people go to blow off steam? Or is that just an American thing? We even looked around inside a downtown shopping mall. Eventually Gretchen asked for directions and then we found some free WiFi, and soon thereafter Gretchen realized we were close to the El Manso Hostel, that restaurant/hostel we'd come to after our walking tour of Guayaquil. There was cold beer and WiFi there!
For some reason my laptop's WiFi started acting very flaky in El Manso, something that may or may not have been related to the quality of the wall power available from a socket. Before I had that theory, I suspected perhaps the internal WiFi card was loose in its socket. So there I was with my screwdriver (I have one in my computer bag that is small enough to get through airport security) removing panels from the bottom of my (usually) trusty but slow Compaq 2510p. Eventually the WiFi quit being terrible. Perhaps a solar storm had come and gone.
We hailed nobody in particular but got an unmarked gypsy cab out on Malecón Simón Bolivar. Now familiar with how this works, we just hopped in. As the other gypsy cabs had been, this one was tricked out with nice finishes, a good stereo, and a powerful air conditioner. All the windows had little shade in them, requiring the driver to open his door in cases where anyone else would have rolled his window down. It only cost $4 to get back to the airport.
We still had that $30 voucher, so it made sense to use it however we could. We tried applying it to a goofy looking chicken stuffed animal (wearing pants!) for sale in the Fybeca convenience store, but that voucher could only be used for food. So I bought that stupid chicken, and even put her in my backpack in such a way that she could look out as I walked around. Meanwhile Gretchen was at the Sanduches Español restaurant negotiating the terms of a pair of sandwiches she was having made for us. There were no vegan proteins available for these sandwiches, so she was ordering lots of condiments and vegetables: olives, pickles, lettuce, and tomato. It really seemed like they got it, but I happened to look up at one point while a sandwich artist very slowly constructed the sandwiches and happened to catch him in the act of peeling a piece of cheese off the cheese stack. So Gretchen ran over and said something like, "Sin queso, por favor. ¡Gracias!" Later on the plane, I would unexpectedly find my sandwich delicious, particularly after I dumped on a little Don Joaquín Ají Molido, a hot sauce that Gretchen also bought in the airport.
The next time we tried to get into the international terminal, we had the right tickets and it was easy. There was hardly any line at the security checkpoint, and the only oddness was that men and women went through security in separate lines (I suppose this keeps pervs from peering at ladies' undies as they pull their laptops from their bags). A refreshing thing about Ecuadorian airport security was that we were not required to remove our shoes.
Once we'd made it through security, we were disgorged into a rambling duty-free store. It suddenly occurred to me that since we were making no connecting flights in the United States, any liquor bought in this store would be available for drinking on the plane. Gretchen was sure I was wrong about this, but I was so insistent about it that she asked. And it turned out that I was right. This was how I came to purchase a $19 litre bottle of Skyy Vodka. When I did so, the woman who had made the sale stuck a little sticker on it, which probably meant that she would receive a commission. Otherwise, the hard salesmanship typically exhibited in duty-free stores makes no sense. Everything was going well until we went through checkout and the checkout lady proceeded to wrap my blue bottle of vodka in about twelve feet of plastic wrap. She then put it in a special bag sealed with an adhesive strip that included the message "Do not open." The woman who had made the sale hadn't told me my bottle would be placed in a portable prison. It was actually funny even when it was happening.
So while Gretchen went off to do other things, I busted out my little screwdriver kit, inserted the flat-blade point, and then used that as a knife to cut through first the bag and then all the plastic wrap. It didn't take too much effort to expose the top of the bottle, which allowed me to pour vodka into my two little 3 oz rubber travel containers. (They're great for smuggling small quantities of booze onto a plane, but they also seem to leak at a slow rate; I only ended up drinking about half of the vodka I'd smuggled to the Galapagos, while the rest of it seemed to leak out and evaporate.)
It turns out that there is free WiFi in the international terminal, so I had something to do once I'd finished my vodka liberation project.
Later, once we'd loaded onto our plane, we were treated to a call-and-response serenade of screaming children. "Poppy! Poppy! POPPY! SCREEEEEAMM! Waaa! Mommy! Mommy! Mommy! SCREEEEAMM!" That sort of thing, which would then set off the other kid. Gretchen turned around to glare at the kid, who was a good five seats away. He or she was, Gretchen noted, "Old enough to know better." This had me pegging the child's age at four for versions of the story I would tell later. Gretchen, though, thought the age more like three. In any case, the mother was taking no action at all. Our suffering was the price we had to pay for the glory her child was bringing to the world. Fortunately, for some reason the children were mostly silent once the plane was off the ground.
I don't usually watch movies using the built-in entertainment systems provided, but I'd been meaning to see The Martian, and it was one of the available movies. I can't say I enjoyed it all that much, since the pictures I'd seen in my head when reading it were, on the whole, somewhat better than the ones that Ridley Scott provided. But watching it was something to do, particularly as I waited for the meal service to come through.
On the flight down to Guayaquil, the special vegan meal had been rice with overcooked, over-salted, but otherwise underflavored vegetables and no protein (beans would have been nice). At least that meal had been edible. Today's meal was the same sort of thing, but the vegetables this time consisted almost entirely of eggplant chunks. That rendered the vegetable part inedible for Gretchen. But even the rice was off, something I discovered when even Don Joaquín Ají Molido failed to improve it. "You can't fix stupid," I declared. I drank the glass of wine that was offered, then mulled the fruit that had been provided (watermelon and cantelope slices) into a fibery stew, and then added my vodka. As I sipped that, I swallowed a 10mg dose of Ambien. It was for this reason that I missed the last third of The Martian.
I awoke suddenly, the way one does when one has taken Ambien. The plane was somewhere off the coast of the Carolinas and Gretchen was watching Frozen. For some reason I decided I wanted to watch it too, even though nobody would predict that it's a movie I would ever want to see. Sometimes it's good just to see what the culture is up to. Unfortunately, though, I only got about a third of the way into the Frozen before the entertainment system was shutdown for landing.
After we got out of our plane, Gretchen and I ran as quickly as we could through the airport an effort to get ahead of all the others on our plane. This wasn't difficult; fairly early in our run, we passed the anorexic teen we'd seen in Business Class. Soon after that I was winded and had to slow down, though Gretchen kept running and never turned around to see if I was following. When we met back up, we found ourselves in among a group of travelers who appeared to have just flown in from Jamaica. I'd run so hard and fast with my heavy backpack that I'd be feeling strained muscles in my legs for days.
Temperatures were 13 degrees Fahrenheit out in front of JFK as we waited for the shuttle to take us to the the company that had parked our car. I was wearing a teeshirt and a long sleeved shirt, but I didn't have a jacket. To protect my neck and ears from the wind, I wore another teeshirt like a keffiyeh, securing it to the top of my head with my Galapagos hat. Dressed this way, the wait in the cold wasn't as bad as I'd expected it to be. Happily, the shuttle appeared quickly.

A couple hours later, we'd driven the hundred or so miles necessary to be back home. Due to the above-and-beyond efforts of our housesitter Tamsyn, our house was clean and our critters were happy. She'd burned about 200 pounds of firewood.

The firewood on the wood rack before we left. That is 941.4 pounds of wood. (An earlier version of this post had this as 970.85 pounds, but 29.45 of that was actually in the garage.)

The firewood after we returned. It now looks to be about 750 pounds. (Revised estimate downward from an earlier 800.)

Current pile overlayed on former pile for an eyeball percentage use estimate.

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