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We just returned to Saturna last week after two months in South America. What a trip.

Here is the first installment: San Diego, USA to Quito, Ecuador.

We started out crewing down the coast of Baja on a 48' Maple Leaf with a captain from hell. I had met Don in Alameda, and helped him do some work on the boat while Richard was in England. There was no indication that this 76 year old man would turn into a Captain Blyth once we shoved off from San Diego just after Christmas.

We weren't allowed to use the shower (gets the shower dirty, you know), or the autopilot (it's old and might break), the generator (it's new and not broken in), the engine (it's old and I want it to last until Singapore where I can have it rebuilt cheaply), the email (it stopped working when I sent my last one this morning - don't know what's wrong, but you won't be able to fix it, I'm sure).

Well, to make a very long story short, we sat becalmed for days just pitching and rolling around in the swells. If anchored (once on a lee shore), we hauled anchor when the wind came up (even if it was the middle of the night with no moon).

Provisions ran low because Captain Don's ETAs didn't account for lack of wind. Three days turned into seven; five days turned into nine. When he suggested oatmeal for dinner, Richard was all for throwing him over.

I went nine days without a shower or shampoo, which is definitely a record.

We had to hand steer the whole trip standing up (no helmsman's chair because "they're for wussies")

Originally, we were going to get off the boat in Puerto Vallarta, but the minute we anchored in Cabo San Lucas, we were gone! Jumped on the first bus to La Paz and spent a week there gorging, bathing and meeting friends who were wintering on the Sea of Cortez.

Then we were off for Cartagena. A week in the old city, enjoying the ambiance, eating copious amounts of food and of course, bathing regularly. We were planning to hitch a ride up to the San Blas (our favorite cruising grounds), but after our experience with Captain Don, we pretty much decided that we won't be crewing again for a while.

So, our next stop was Quito.

Unexpectedly, a pleasant big city. Lots of history; great churches to explore, kindly people. We ended up climbing to the clock tower of the Bascilica, and Richard went all the way to the bell tower. I don't do very well at extreme heights and tend to cling to big stones and crab crawl around. Not very graceful, to say the least. And even though I'm annoyed that I got myself into the situation, I start to giggle uncontrollably because I'm so scared. Overall, just not pretty.

I did better at La Mitad del Mundo, where Ecuador has constructed a third-worldy park on the order of Disneyland without the rides. They have this big monument with a line drawn to show the equator and you can stand with one foot in each hemisphere. Sound like a thrill? Well, R thought it was really neat, so we have a bezillion pictures of us doing just that. And me holding up the world. And the indigenous dancers and band. But, hey, we're tourists!

We also took a bus north to the Otavalo market one Sunday. This market goes on forever and they sell anything that can possibly be made from a llama, an alpaca, a glob of mud or a gourd. Plus a few million other things.

Great day, but the real fun was on the way back to the hotel. I saw the bus we needed to catch and made a run for it, but Richard was picking his nose or something, and wasn't keeping up. I jumped on, he didn't, but got his hand in the door and tried to pry it open. Nope! So he's running back and forth waving and shouting , but they won't let him on the bus.

I'm a little concerned because he doesn't speak Spanish. But mostly, I'm laughing along with the people on the bus. No one was as frantic as R.

I got off at the next stop, figuring he would get on the next bus and I would join him. Well, he didn't show up on the next two busses, so I figured he was sitting in the station crying like a little baby. I was just getting on the bus to go back and get him, when I heard, "Jetti, oh, I say, Jetti!?" And here's R running all the way from the bus station where I had gotten on and he hadn't. About 8 blocks.

He sure was happy to see me, since I don't think he could have easily given a taxi directions to get him back to the hotel. Plus I had all the money.

Then it was on to Banos, a mountain town devoted to extreme sports like base jumping, rock climbing, very white water rafting and motorcycle riding amid local taxis. Halfway through the eight hour bus ride to get to Banos, we stopped for lunch. Every restaurant always has a TV blasting out soap operas but here everyone was staring open-mouthed at a newscast featuring an exploding volcano.

Yep. Banos.

But, since the evacuations were supposedly only on the other side of the volcano, we were already half way there, and the bus was honking for passengers to board, what real choice did we have? Found out later we were the last bus allowed in before they closed the roads and sealed off the area. As it turned out, we spent two days listening to the rumbling, watching the black smoke coming out of the cone, and being assured that our side of the volcano was safe and we really should take a tour or two.

They were offering one at night to the top of a neighboring mountain to watch our mountain erupt. So, of course, we signed up.

After dark, we boarded a Chiva (open-sided bus with bench seating and a handrail on top) which then took off straight up a 4,000 foot mountain. Richard and I were hanging off the back platform, and I'm not sure who was screaming the loudest. Nobody heard us anyway because they were all drinking "cana" and the music was so loud.

At the top, we were in clouds so couldn't see anything for awhile. Never mind the volcano, we couldn't even see each other so we were all stumbling around on this precipice using someones's cell phone for a flashlight. One of the guides ripped down a fence and started a fire, using a bit of the 150 proof cana as fuel. We warmed a bit and waited and told jokes in Spanish.

Finally, about 11:30pm the clouds lifted, and we saw the red embers spewing out the top, but no lava flow. Within two minutes the clouds closed in, and the show was over.

After the guide rounded up all the drunks, we were on our way down. I had my eyes closed the whole way. Personally, I've seen better volcanoes, so the wild ride up and down was the real thrill.

(A note here about bus drivers in Ecuador. If they get in the driver's seat and cross themselves before they start the engine, they're asking Jesus to let the thing fire up one more time. However, if they get in the driver's seat, start the engine and THEN cross themselves, you can pretty much assume they're turning the wheel over to Jesus, so hang on to your ass.)

Then there was the Amazon. Short report: It was hot. I was sick for two days from the malaria tablets. Richard amazed the natives by paddling a dugout without doing donuts or falling out. We had to wear Wellingtons on the jungle walks, but they're useless when they fill with mud. There were no anacondas.

Even though they wear feathers stuck through their noses and look mean as hell, the head-hunting (that's the rumor, anyway) Cofani were friendly because we bought a piranha-jaw necklace. Our guide wasn't really bilingual, even though he thought he was.

We fished for piranha and ate one. We saw river dolphins. The blue morphos were big enough to carry off a good-sized baby. We saw tucans, macaws, kingfishers, and thousands of green parrots at a clay/salt lick. No jaguars, but caught a caiman and just missed bagging an agouti. Those little guys can really swim fast!

You can see the photos and my report HERE