Travels from February 17 to March 11, 2002:
We had closed the last e-log with me discovering that my glucose meter wasn't in the carrying case where it resides between uses . . .
My heart slowed slightly, that organ apparently recognized what this clue meant before my brain did. My brain still had a positive outlook telling me to look in the rest of the backpack, to see if the meter had fallen out of its case. But as I looked around in the backpack, another reality hit; I realized that the handheld radio wasn't there either. Still hoping for the best, Nancy looked on the overhead shelf carefully and then checked it again before it sunk in - the meter and radio had been stolen. This was very upsetting and Nancy broke into tears. She was overtaken because the radio had been a gift from the Emery Cove Marina, a treasure, a thanks for all the work I had done while on the Board of Directors. Luckily though, the thief left my insulin, the syringes and the passports; the situation could have been a lot worse than it was. After she got control of her emotions, Nancy accompanied Sharon off the bus to find a wall to potty behind. Life must go on and there were no baños to be seen along side the road. Meanwhile, I paced around the bus checking and rechecking my backpack, the shelf and the seats at the rear of the bus, figuring that the meter was of no value to anyone but a diabetic and maybe the thief discarded it after that was determined. I found nothing. On a burst of negativism, I expectantly looked in the soft carry-on bag that I had stuffed under my seat, the one that we had brought all of our clothes and toiletries in. I unzipped it and bigger than life, the travel-kit that Bonnie had given Nancy was gone, as were our umbrellas and my baseball cap. All of Nancy's cosmetics, our toothbrushes, etc. were gone . . . only a small container of Head and Shoulders appeared, having fallen out of the kit.
The remaining part of the trip to Guaranda was anticlimactic.
Anticlimactic was the highest roadway in Ecuador, taking us over 13,000 feet, above tree line, into the swirling clouds, a stark countryside. Anticlimactic were the wild llamas we passed, foraging in the bleak, cold Andes mountaintop. Anticlimactic were the mud huts built into the contours of the landscape. We saw them but we were in shock and were feeling abject disappointment; our love affair with Ecuador and its people had been tested.
Upon arriving in Guaranda, a sizable town built into the mountainside at 9700 feet, we caught a cab to a hotel we selected out of the Lonely Planet guide. It was fine and we dropped our bags and proceeded to do what we had to in order to bring our life back into control - find some glucose-measuring reactive strips at a farmacia. In Mexico these strips were readily available and offered to us whenever we inquired about Life Scan One Touch glucometer strips. If we could find that basic alternative, glucose readings would be a little less accurate but still doable.
It was Sunday in Guaranda and almost everything was closed. We found a bare few farmacias open and none had the glucose reactive strips we expected to find. We then went to the hospital. After some effort, we found their pharmacy, which couldn't help us either. Next we tried their lab, where the attendant understood what we were looking for. After verifying that the hospital's pharmacy really didn't have what I needed, the lab attendant put on her coat (this town may be near the equator, but it is high in the Andes and COLD) and accompanied us into town, to the farmacia she felt was most likely to have our needs . . . they were closed. However, it was a 24-hour farmacia with a buzzer to get their attention . . . but the people were away, visiting. We decided to return after dinner.
The hotel we stayed at was a little more expensive ($13+), but we had to stay at the best we could find. The others were below our minimum standards. Our room was fine, including cable TV, new wallpaper, hot water and very nice looking (but the pillows still gave us neck aches, as in the hotels before). Unfortunately Steve and Sharon's room wasn't as nice as ours, and after our theft, this shortcoming began to build on Sharon.
When we went to find a restaurant, everything near the hotel was closed for Sunday. Finally, in the main square, a couple of 20-something people (a guy and a gal) took it upon themselves to locate a restaurant for us. After about 20 minutes, they directed us to some fast-food shops, which didn't totally appeal to our desires. But before we had to make a decision, a couple of pre-teen boys led us to a street-kitchen on wheels. There Nancy, Steve and Sharon had chicken, rice and lentils and I had a pork chop, rice and a potato-and-?? mixture. We sat on stools mounted on the sides of the "kitchen", eating at the counter just outside of the kitchen, where 3 young women brewed the chow. We each paid $1 and were stuffed. Although we were the first 4 people there, a taxis would stop, the passenger would jump out and order some take out (para llavar); others ordered and sat on the curb. Later that night when I went past the kitchen, on the way to the farmacia, the place was filled with people eating. It was about the only place to get food in Guaranda on Sunday and was doing a fantastic business.
By the next morning, we had decided that we would head back to Bahia to get the backup meter I had on Nanjo. We were going to be in Ecuador for a long time and we could return to continue our tour. Steve and Sharon wanted to go back too. We caught a bus to Guayaquil (5 hours).
In this largest-city-in-Ecuador, the bus terminal is next to the airport, outside of town. We used a taxi to get to where Lonely Planet indicated hotels were. We soon found one but for $14. It didn't have covers (it was too hot for that), didn't have hot water, but a comfortable bed and good security. Sharon and Nancy found another hotel across the street for $5 more, which had hot water and looked nicer. But since we were merely staying the night and catching a bus the next morning; we stayed where we were.
The next morning, we caught a taxi back to the bus terminal, got breakfast and then went looking for a bus. Eventually, a one-legged man (agile on his crutches) led us out of the station and across the main boulevard to a corner. In a few minutes, the bus that had left the terminal moments before our arrival at the gate stopped and we climbed aboard along with many locals. I tipped the man a quarter when we realized what he had done to help us and he smiled, helping us aboard the bus.
Ecuador is an economically troubled country. Until oil was discovered, bananas was the main export. By the 1980's oil represented over half of all export earnings. First, the El Niño floods severely damaged the agri-exports, and then the drop in oil prices added a devastating blow. About 40% of the national income goes to the richest 5% of the people. More than 60% of the population lives at the poverty level. I don't know what value "poverty" represents in Ecuador, but rest assured that it is a number that we can not relate to in the US. We have met people in Quito who are educated and speak several languages and are without steady employment, doing odd jobs to survive. Ecuadorian citizens do what they have to in order to survive.
Unfortunately, thievery from those-who-have is more popular than the average Ecuadorian wishes it would be. As it turns out, a set of cruisers traveled inland a week before us, had experienced another example of the main risk in Ecuador. One of them was distracted for "5 seconds" only to find that one of his travel bags had been stolen from his side in a bus terminal. Another boat's crew was pick-pocketed in Quito on the BART-like "trolebus" which transits the length of Quito. In this case, the wife recognized what was happening to her husband and grabbed the second pickpocket team member. Only after the police had departed, recovering their money, did the wife discover that she had been stripped of several items and she never felt a thing. Those thieves were young ladies, just average looking, everyday citizens.
The government appears to be unable or unwilling to curb this problem. After all, more than 60% of the population is unable to make ends meet. If the government makes it impossible for them to do what they do to survive, the majority might rebel; there might be a revolution. The upper-class politicians don't want to stir up internal conflict. They leave individuals with the responsibility to protect their own property. Residents, businesses and travelers must be wary.
It's nice that we are currently anchored at "the safest port in Ecuador". With just one road in or out of Bahia, security is facilitated. Added to that is the contemporary attitude that the city's government has taken: Protection of property is the city government's and the Police's responsibility. They promote this concept to all townspeople. The citizens have bought into the concept that Bahia is a model of how a city in Ecuador should be like. They have pride and satisfaction in their reputation. As one elder shop owner worded it to us in Spanish, "We respect other people and their property."
Bahia is a friendly place . . . A friendly place where everyone in the Ecuadorian Armada's office waves and greets us, as do the fishermen, the crew on the car ferries, the pedicab drivers and the bus "swampers" (men who hustle up passengers). Their faces change from business-like concentration to an attractive beam of recognition. We joke and converse with them.
A friendly place where on the first night in town, Super Bowl Sunday, a restaurant owner answered my wish to watch the Super Bowl. After finding the spectacle on his cable, he served Nancy and me a plate of pork chops and other goodies. We regularly have his lunch special, which includes soup, fish, planticanos (plantain chips), rice, salad and a drink for $1.50. It seems like the monetary denominations should be multiples of $1.50 in this country.
But I stray from our story. Back to the glucose-monitoring dilemma - my backup meters stored aboard Nanjo didn't work. So I had to develop a strategy for insulin dosage.
All of our careful record keeping and meal designing paid off; I took amounts of insulin at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before bed based on standard menus Nancy and I made. We knew how much certain amounts of food equated to specific amounts of insulin. Nancy's weighing of protein-laden foods and measuring carbs, especially the quantity of rice, in the past made meal design easy. Having recorded insulin dosages for these standard meals in the past had given me a clear record of what was needed to maintain an acceptable glucose level. While we didn't eat out much after we returned to Nanjo, we still could use those measures to make adjustments to insulin dosage, if and when we did. It was limiting to a freer eating style, but the procedure provided comfort while we came up with a plan to get my meters repaired or replaced.
I contacted my friend at Life Scan, who said that she would send me a new meter by FedX or DHL. Unfortunately, some new people at Life Scan got involved and I was told that they would ship the meter ONLY to a stateside address. I tried to contact a cruiser-couple who had flown home from Ecuador to get them to bring it back, but they didn't respond for over a week and I was a little discouraged. So I began to check with Raymond and Mary to see if they could send the meters through their company accounts, looking for a corporate discount. Just as I began receiving responses from them, my friend at LifeScan contacted me again (I hadn't heard from her in a week and I had wondered if she had left the company or worse, as her email address yielded a standard company response 'thank you for contacting Life Scan . . . '). She stated that she was shipping my meter directly to me in Bahia.
The next day our luck improved more: the cruisers visiting in the U.S. replied to my email. They would be willing to bring a meter back when they left Texas within the next week or so. Not knowing how successful the first shipment would be, I sent the Texas address to the "new people" at Life Scan and they sent two more meters. Now we felt that the meter situation was in control.
After hearing nothing about the first shipment for about 10 days, we emailed my friend. After a series of contacts, we discovered that her shipment had been held in Guayaquil for several days by Customs, waiting for the import duty to be paid. Using a tracking number and telephone number provided by email, we enlisted the owner of the main Internet café in Bahia to help us track down the shipment. He quickly found that it had been moved to Quito and determined that the duty was a hefty $54+. He arranged to have it delivered to Bahia the next Monday.
Nothing was delivered to the Armada office on Monday and no confirmation had been emailed to the Internet café, so we decided to check at the DHL office. Low and behold, a box was waiting! After paying the duty, we headed back to Nanjo to take my first glucose measurement in three weeks. It was 174 at lunchtime, about one unit of insulin high. But the next reading was 52, after taking the same lunchtime dosage I had taken for the last 3 weeks. The historic method appeared to be a very effective way to engineer my diet and insulin intake.
Well, that's the "long" story of our first 5 weeks in Ecuador. I just heard the macaws flying down the waterfront, meaning it's late . . . an appropriate time to close this e-log.
Crew of Nanjo
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