South America

Ecuador: Before the quake...floods & volcanic eruptions

Ecuador: Before the quake...floods & volcanic eruptions

by Betsy Herbert

After a memorable tour of the Galapagos Islands in February, I headed back to the Ecuadoran mainland to hang out for a couple of weeks in Cuenca, Ecuador's third largest city. [I couldn't have known that six weeks later, on April 16, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would devastate parts of Ecuador; even so, the quake did not seriously impact Cuenca.]

Cuenca is well known among American ex-pats as one of the most attractive places to retire. I wanted to see for myself, since I noticed that most of hype about Cuenca is published by the real estate and tourism industries. Whenever I read about a place that sounds too good to be true, well, I get curious. Cuenca is touted for its great climate...it's near the equator, but at 8,500 feet, it's not unbearably hot and humid. It's also known for it's beautiful old buildings and town squares and its cheap cost of living. 

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Galapagos Islands...like no place else on Earth.

Galapagos Islands...like no place else on Earth.

by Betsy Herbert

My flight into Mariscal Sucre Airport, just outside of Quito, Ecuador, was the scariest of my year-long journey around the world. As the flight from Buenos Aires approached Quito, nestled at 8,200 feet in the Andes, I had a birdseye view of the city. The buildings of Quito snake up the sides of the huge mountains and around the lips of canyons that wind between them.

The airport runway sits atop a long narrow ridge top, edged on either side by steep canyons. As we approached the landing strip, the winds were blowing fiercely, buffeting our plane from side to side. Just 5 - 10 feet above the runway, the plane was wobbling so much that the pilot suddenly nosed it up, goosed it, and, and as we all hung on to our seats, he urged the plane slowly upward in preparation for another landing attempt. During the 10 - 15 minutes we circled the airport, as the heavy winds continued, I popped a Lorazepam, which I kept on hand just for such occasions.

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Patagonia: Wild, rugged nature via urban gateways

Patagonia: Wild, rugged nature via urban gateways

by Betsy Herbert

To venture into the wild, rugged, beautiful and remote Patagonia (the southern tip of South America), most travelers start out from either Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Typical travel photos of Santiago are taken on those rare clear days when deep blue skies contrast sharply with snow-capped peaks of the Andes. But most likely, what you'll find when you arrive in Santiago is smog so thick that those glorious Andes fade out from view in a yellow blur.

I approached Patagonia from Easter Island, 2,400 miles off Chile's Pacific coast. My flight was delayed twice for mechanical reasons. So I arrived in Santiago, the capital city of Chile, three hours late on January 28.

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