Off the Road in the Time of Coronovirus

CorsicaWe were very touched by all the people who texted, emailed, Messengered and otherwise reached out to us before we posted our last Partout to ask, “Did you get home okay???” Thank you. We did! After an unplanned scramble back to DC to avoid being stranded in California, we are safe and well, and so are all our nearest and dearest. We fervently hope the same is true for you and yours.

Like everyone else, we are now mostly just hunkering down at home (the DC one). We counted ourselves lucky to make it here, and we count ourselves luckier to be sheltering in a comfortable house with plenty of soap, hot running water, a Trader Joe’s down the street and a healthy stock of Costco toilet paper fortuitously replenished right before we hit the road.

To illustrate our current state of affairs, Louis will be modeling his wardrobe of face garb from around the world for this Partout (with thanks to Albie for the inspiration). The pirate mode above is from Corsica, perennial favorite of buccaneers and Louis, circa 2011. Immediately below, he shows off the sand-colored gator he wore driving the Highway of Death during Desert Storm. 

Kuwait during Desert storm '91

Kuwait and Iraq, 1991

Faces are something we actually think a lot about these days, and not just because we see so many masked ones on the streets. It turns out that staying put in a distant setting for three months has an unexpected impact during a pandemic: datelines are not just places for us. They are places with faces we know, locations populated by people we have met, storekeepers we have revisited, cheeks we have kissed, life stories we have heard.

We read about Guayaquil, where corpses are being left on sidewalks because the city cannot keep up with collecting its dead, and we see the toothy grin of our Galapagos taxi driver cum tour guide whose son is a university student there. Did he get home before things got bad? Or is he caught in Ecuador’s epicenter?

We read about the role on intergenerational family life on Italy’s devastation and think of families we met in Cuenca. We remember the schoolgirl a year older than our Abby who spent every afternoon after school in her grandparents’ togua jewelry shop. She practiced English with Doris whenever we dropped in. Are they together now? We picture the house our AirBnB host’s mother showed off to us, a multilevel work of love where she and her husband, their two adult daughters and grandchildren plan to live under the same roof. Family life is the tap root of Ecuadorian culture. How will pandemic affect the family trees?


Burma, 1988.  

We read about the disproportionate toll of coronovirus on native populations and see the indigenous women with their colorful skirts tucked between their knees, washing their laundry steps from downtown Cuenca in the waters of the Rio Tombebamba. Do they have water at home to wash their hands and stay well?

We remember Marta and Ana, sister-partners laboring together to bring a two-chair beauty shop to life in a neighborhood where we spent almost two months. We saw them often; at $5 for a shampoo and blow dry, Doris figured that weekly visits were a win-win for their business and her coiffure. At $3 for one of the best haircuts ever, Louis made a visit to them one of the last things he did before leaving Ecuador. Marta and Anita were our tutors, who spent our many long appointments orienting us to everything from the traditions of Cuenca’s festivals to Ecuadorian attitudes toward homosexuality. They were our teachers, patiently correcting Doris’s bungling of the subjunctive and wildly giggling over Louis’s Spanish malapropisms.

Now their doors must be shut. Is their shop landlord forgiving their rent? Will their small-business dream become victim even if they and their family all survive? And what of their elderly mother, with whom they live? She underwent a heart procedure while we were getting to know the sisters, making her doubly vulnerable if infected by coronovirus. Is she okay?

Our winter of staying put shrunk the world but expanded the universe of people we care about. That makes the pandemic more personal than our face gear and reminds us with every dateline how very lucky we are.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia, 1991

Tips from the Partout toolbox

Doris has always subscribed to a few (very few) travel sites. That’s because, while it sometimes feels she does travel-planning full-time, she doesn’t, and she craves the expertise of those who do. AirFare Watchdog is her old stand-by when it comes to these options. AFW is a discount airfare compiler that uses live agents instead of automated web crawlers to find the best airfare deals, and it includes discount airlines, like Southwest, that other aggregators leave out. Doris has the site set up to push fares on our frequently flown routes, and she has opted into its travel tips. These seem to come mostly from Smarter Travel, a travel newsletter so venerable that Doris subscribed to it in the olden days of paper. AirFare Watchdog won’t be the best fit for everyone, but some travel site probably is. Signing up for a relevant one or two and eyeballing the emails that come from them is a pretty low-sweat way to stay on top of travel deals and developments.

COMING SOON! From Around the World to Around the Block




Travel in the Time of Coronovirus

SD seatingWe made it.

Home, that is. Deeply worried that coronovirus infection rates could strand us in a quarantine, lockdown or even illness if we stayed as planned in San Diego through March, we fled home to DC three weeks early. Within 72 hours of our departure, California became the first state to go on full lockdown. Talk about travel karma.

This wasn’t the first time COVID-19 touched our travels this winter. Already on the road when the first cases were reported in late December, we had been traveling with local COVID-19 advisories in Latin America for two months, long before any were coming out of the US government.

At first, the virus just lived up to being “novel” – a new travel experience. Way back in the good old days of January, when Americans were being told the epidemic narrative was a media hoax, public health nurses in masks were meeting our flights in Ecuador, handing out fliers about symptoms and preventions. Although the country did not have a single case of the virus at the time, signs like the one below were plastered inside airport bathroom stalls even in little Cuenca, where we wintered over,
Cuenca - feb 2By February 2, when we landed in the Galapagos, the disease produced an even more novel experience as every passenger’s temperature was taken before admission to the islands. The thermometer guns the masked nurses applied to our foreheads were a little creepy, but the proactivity was impressive, especially since the country still did not have a single case of COVID-19.

Less impressive was our arrival Mexico City exactly four weeks after that. No Ecuador-like precautions or advisories were apparent at the international airport of the world’s largest city, which made the jam-packed, hour-long line for immigration another kind of creepy. However, Mexico’s first case had been diagnosed only one day before. Just across the border, President Trump was assuring Americans coronovirus was “very mild” and would soon just “go away.” Under such circumstances, Mexico’s laxity felt forgivable.

CDMX landing

Only passengers who appeared to be coming from China wore masks

What’s more, by a week later when we flew to the States, Mexico had stepped its communications up at least one small notch. Posters like the ones we had been seeing in Ecuador almost two months earlier were now on prominent display at the airport, albeit addressed entirely to passengers traveling to China. (The rest of us had nothing to worry about?)

CDMX - Mar 6

Note this is a “Preventative travel notice to China” but nowhere else.

That was more than the United States was doing when we touched down two hours later and walked across the skybridge from Tijuana into San Diego. Even as the U.S. was hitting 100 diagnosed cases, there was not a mask-clad public nurse to be seen, no fliers in the hands of immigration agents, no bathroom notices, no advisory posters, no thermometers. When we left San Diego for home a week later, there was not even a drop of hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas of the airport.

SD sanitizer

Welcome to America! Preventative health measures are out of service!

Still, we feel lucky. We left home before the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in China, holding tickets for 21 flights in five countries. We made it to all of them without disruption or much risk of infection, mostly because Latin America lagged so far behind the rest of the globe in being touched. We got home safe and well.

Since our return to the States, LATAM, the Chilean national airline we flew on seven of our 21 flights, has cut capacity 70%. The Galapagos has banned tourists. Our intrepid guide to hiking in Cajas National Park outside Cuenca reported in to say the tour he led to Argentina shortly after we saw him escaped only hours before the airport was shut down to international travel. Our AirBnB sent the photo below to illustrate what the virus has wrought in Cusco, where we based to visit Machu Picchu.


Anyone who has made the pilgrimage to Machu Picchu knows how bizarre this scene in Cusco is

We did not dodge a mere bullet on the road this winter. We dodged a cannonball.

So what if we arrived to a house we had largely run out of food before leaving four months ago and supermarkets that had been run out of food by panicked shoppers? There are worse fates than a little involuntary dieting. For one, a fellow passenger on our Galapagos cruise was a Chinese national. She was quarantined for four weeks after returning to her homeland, even though she had not traveled to heavily impacted countries and lives in Harbin, Manchuria, far from the China’s virus epicenter. Heck, at last count, 2,000 American tourists are still stranded in Peru with no prospects of leaving soon. That could have been us.

But we made it home, or what we call home now. The purpose of the month we planned in San Diego was to scout for our next home, on the other edge of the continent. When that move will take place, like so much more in our lives now, comes down to the course of coronovirus. Only time will tell.

For the time being, like the rest of you, we are hunkered in place and grateful to be here. In a pandemic, there truly is no place like home.


Our Chinese shipmate in the Galapagos the day before she headed back to China – and immediate quarantine for four weeks

Tips from the Partout toolbox: We may be grounded for now, but we never stop thinking about travel. One of the ways we make sure to have all the “essentials” (a word taking on new meaning these days) when we leave for our next trip is to restock every last one of them when we unpack from the last one. Every travel-size container of shampoo or moisturizer gets topped off, every trip-size holder for over-the-counter medicines gets refilled, every half-used dental floss dispenser in our travel kits gets replaced with a full one. When life returns to normal (and it will), and we hit the road again (which we will), our kits will be ready to fly.

COMING SOON! Reflections on Staying-Put Travel








Never Say Never

Mexico historyThis Partout comes to you from one of Doris’s “never” cities. As in “I will NEVER go THERE!

The mere fact that we are sending this from Mexico City, where we will spend most of this week, is a perfect illustration of the problem with applying never to any travel destination.

Times change. We change. Places change. Our willingness to defer to each other’s travel wishes and whinings changes. Yesterday’s never becomes tomorrow’s must-see. And it’s not just us. We have dear friends whose travel rule has always been never go to the same place twice (you know who you are). At last count, they have been to Uganda three times in the last decade and have not discounted another visit.

With a big slice of humble pie, then, we submit this confession to our most recent never-land travels .

Never Mexico City

beautiful Avenue Paseo de la Reforma

Just walking the streets and parks of CDMX in its eternal spring is enough to keep us coming back

This is our second trip to Mexico City in a year, a doubly humbling example of the pitfalls of consigning destinations to never-land.

Doris lived in Mexico in the early 1970s. While there, she suffered recurring bouts of intestinal distress, found living under Napoleonic “guilty until proven innocent” law to be nerve-wracking and was appalled by the dire poverty and human degradation that were routine in the big city of Guadalajara. For years, her line about traveling anywhere outside the developed world was, “I don’t consider poverty to be a vacation.” There are those among you who heard those very words.

What happened? Doris became less averse to personally witnessing human distress. She came to see that dollars she spends in undeveloped countries sometimes provide an infinitesimal degree of improvement in the welfare of struggling people and to believe that knowing more about the world outside the privileged Western bubble is instructive. At the same time, Mexico City was transforming itself from a bedlam of smog, crime and food that made her sick into a vibrant, modern metropolis people visit just for the dining pleasure.

Bottom line: We don’t expect this week in Mexico City to be our last.

Never South Africa

South Africa

It’s hard not to enjoy a place with residents as cute as these

More humble pie for Doris.

Doris’s objections to this particular destination were parts logistics (it is a loooong way from anywhere she has ever lived) and part ideological (disgust with the country’s long-standing apartheid and apartheid’s successor pattern of segregation).

What happened? We were already in Africa, visa problems had crushed our plan to head to Europe from there, and Louis had always wanted to see Cape Town. Needing to park ourselves somewhere, anywhere, outside the EU for three weeks and being only a five-hour flight from South Africa, off we went.

There is a helpful corollary to never-say-never: when you have low or no expectations, it is hard to be disappointed. Expecting little, Doris found Cape Town a constant surprise – its racial history a subject for study and discussion with locals, its landscape breathtaking, its weather sublime. For the two of us as former newsies, landing the day after the nation’s president was ousted and in the midst of an epic water shortage was icing on the cake.

Bottom line: The logistics of visiting South Africa are still daunting, but we would never say never to going back.

Nearly-Never South America


Seen on the streets of Ecuador

Having now spent nearly five of the last 14 months in South America, this is not just a slice; it’s a whole  humble pie.

Again, dubious Doris was the one who long foreswore South America, albeit with exemptions for the Galapagos (a lifelong dream destination) and Inca Peru. Having lived in former Spanish colonies (Southern California and Mexico) more than half her life, she feared the whole region would feel same old/same old; her standing line was been there/done that!

What happened? In Partout’s perennial quest to keep Louis warm in winter, South America was simply too obvious a choice to ignore forever, plus Colombia was one of the few countries on earth Louis had never visited. Thus, off we went, first in January 2019 for more than two months and then again in December 2019 until Leap Day 2020.

The “again” is the tipoff to how Doris found South America – at least Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, where we have spent all our time. Geographically dramatic, culturally fascinating, full of welcoming people, cheap (cheap is good when you travel for four or five months at a time), South America has proven pleasantly familiar without being same old/same old.

Bottom line: South America is now so far from never-land for Partout that we are considering a unique tour of Bolivia and the wine country of Argentina in 2021.

Never Machu Picchu and Prague (and Meh to the Galapagos)


Visiting Prague for a winter market was a different experience than being there for a revolution

Louis was never as adamant in his nevers as Doris, but he has been to more than 130 countries, mostly on the job as a network cameraman. Talk about been-there/done-that. In the case of Machu Picchu (where he had filmed in the rain) and Prague (where Doris wanted to go in the dead of winter for the Christmas market), his reaction was magnified by weather dread. At the same time, Doris’s dream Galapagos was not exactly never-land for him, but he long regarded the islands as overhyped and overpriced. Though he rarely says never to anything involving an airplane, Louis’s shoe-tips were pretty thin from his foot-dragging over all three of these locations.

What happened? Doris put together a Peru itinerary dominated by places her travel mate had never visited and a Prague visit that was short and included a house exchange living in a neighborhood, which presents its own novelties. Both destinations turned out to be like nothing Louis had experienced while visiting them on the job (duh?). Meanwhile, the corollary of never say never kicked in for the Galapagos: with low expectations, the trip proved so full of discovery that Louis is now firmly of the opinion the archipelago is one of the few must-sees on earth.

Bottom line: Seeing any place through a viewfinder with one eye is no substitute for visiting in living color with both eyes wide open.

We Still Say Never

There remain destinations and experiences that are not on Partout’s horizon, not for ideological or idiosyncratic reasons or pure bull-headedness but because, no matter how long we remain fit and road-worthy, we only have so many trips left in us. It makes sense to be discriminating, and some places just plain appeal to us more than others. We are also learning more about our appetites for marathon travel, and that is bringing some new nevers to our lips.

We’re not confessing what they are, though. We have eaten far too much humble pie already to admit to a never that, without warning, could become a must-do.

Louis on boat

Is that guy with the mask on his forehead happy he cruised the Galapagos? You betcha.

Tips from the Partout toolbox: We try to avoid killing trees with our printer, but we have taken to printing out and packing complete flight purchase details when we are going to be traveling on foreign airlines. Frustratingly often, we find that, when we start to check in with them online, we are asked to pay for upgrades (e.g., checked baggage, extra legroom, priority boarding, seat assignments) that we pre-paid with the ticket. It almost seems airline websites are deliberately wired to double-sell upgrades. Because we are often holding so many tickets we can’t remember what each and every one includes, we have decided it is best to carry the proof of our purchases in hand to present at check-in counters when online check-in does not recognize what we already bought.

COMING SOON! Reflections on Staying-Put Travel










Travel Mercies: A Feel-Good Story

IMG_5519One of the givens from marathon travel is that you will lose, break and wear out things along the way.

We all do our best to avoid these losses, of course, but it is a challenge to keep track of all your wits, much less all your belongings, while on the road. When you do lose something, the outcome can range from mildly annoying to merely expensive or even borderline catastrophic.

In such moments, travel mercies can make all the difference.

What is a travel mercy? By our definition, a travel mercy is an act of random kindness by an individual or the universe that rescues us from a loss of something we value – property, time, money, maybe even our welfare.

Because we all need occasional reminders that strangers and the universe can be unexpectedly generous, we interrupt this South American travelogue to share four such mercies we have experienced since leaving home nearly three months ago.

Mercies in the Sand

Two of our mercies involve, of all things, sand.

IMG_0510 (1)

Cuenca’s skyline as pictured on the postcard chosen for Abby.

Doris sends postcards from the road to her granddaughter in the Netherlands, both to stay in touch from afar and also in hopes that, someday, these offerings from far-flung corners will help keep the memory of her peripatetic grandmother alive. Each card is chosen to illustrate exactly where Mimi and Papi (aka Partout) are. Doris always tries to include in the message some little insight about herself or Abby’s dad as a boy.

Imagine Doris’s disappointment, then, after she selected a postcard of scenic Cuenca, trekked halfway across the city to buy $3 in international stamps at the post office, trekked home to pen an Abby-specific message on the blank card, affixed the stamps, then trekked back across town to mail the card at the post office (mailboxes not being anywhere in evidence) – only to find the card had vanished.

Convinced the card could not have fallen from where she snugged it into her purse, steps were retraced, an AirBnB was scoured, brains were sprained trying to otherwise account for the disappearance but … nope. The card was gone. Since Doris had taken a photo of the postcard before setting off to mail it, she settled for second-best: an email to Abby relating the sad story of the lost message.

Days later, a bright green WhatsApp balloon from Abby’s mom Carole popped onto Doris’s cell phone screen. “Look what arrived!” the balloon announced.

It was the missing card.

PHOTO-2020-01-21-13-21-39 2

With a PS in an unfamiliar hand at the bottom:


A travel mercy for sure.

The other mercy from the sands occurred in the Galapagos.

One fine morning, preparing to leave our boat for an excursion, Louis could not find his sunglasses, an essential on the water at the equator. High and low we searched (albeit not a long process on a 16-passenger boat) but, alas, no sunglasses. Mentally retracing our steps of the day before, we realized he had mostly likely forgotten them on a beach of deserted Isla Fernandina.

Learning of the loss, our on-board naturalist jumped on his radio, put out a lost-item SOS to other boats in the vicinity and broadcast our sailing itinerary. Aw, how thoughtful, we said to each other. Many hours later, our captain asked about the brand of the lost sunglasses. Gee, how sweet to take an interest, we thought. We couldn’t identify the brand, but we told him they hung from a distinctive cordón rojo (red cord)

The next morning, when we docked along with dozens of other returning Galapagos cruisers for the bus to the airport, the glasses were the last thing on our mind. At first, we didn’t even grasp why a crew member from another boat was weaving our way with a broad smile on his face. Then we saw his outstretched hand and recognized what he was holding. Yup, another travel mercy.


Sometimes travel mercies come on cords

Anglophone Samaritan to the Rescue

You do not need to know a lot Spanish to know that any message with words that your scheduled flight for the next day “presenta una cancelacion de itinerario” is not good news.


The staffing of this airport booth says it all about how easy it was to fly EasyFly

This particular message, arriving only three flights into our 21 of this winter, was especially problematic. The week the flight was scheduled to kick off was more tightly booked than we normally travel, and the flight itself was from Bogotá to a small town deep in Colombia’s coffee country. Transportation options were severely limited, and the small local airline we had chosen turned out not to have a customer service function.

After hours of vain efforts by telephone, email, Facebook, Twitter and frantic dances to the travel gods in an effort to replace the canceled flight with a practical substitute, there was nothing to do but trudge to Bogotá’s dingy domestic terminal and line up at the check-in counter with fingers crossed that Doris’s rusty Spanish was sufficient to secure seats on a flight that would get us to our destination somewhat as planned.

And then we met our travel mercy, Alex. A native Colombian who had lived in the States for many years, Alex spoke perfect English, had a kind heart and happened to be the passenger immediately in front of us in line. Overhearing our worried conversation, he introduced himself, asked for more details, credibly presented himself to the airline agent as our dear local friend, described our plight with convincing passion, secured us seats on the next flight and even negotiated a discount for our overweight bags before saying goodbye after our timely landing in the coffee triangle.

Coffee country

A travel mercy helped deliver us here

The Mercy of McDonald’s

And then there was the mercy of McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s, the home of the golden arches.


Scene of the McDonald’s travel mercy

Near one of our AirBnBs in Cuenca is a McDonald’s with a café that puts out respectable espressos from a high-class Italian espresso maker for 75 cents. We have taken more than one set of guests there just for the cultural experience.

That was how Louis came to leave his daypack – containing his Sony RX50 camera that makes Partout possible – on a chair in a McDonald’s that gets many hundreds of customers a day. So supercharged was he by the caffeine and the higher high of our friends’ arrival that the next thought he gave to his daypack and camera was at 2 am the next morning when he was jolted awake by the terrible dawning that he did not know where his daypack was. Which meant he did not know where his camera was. After desperately searching the apartment in the dark and retracing the previous days’ steps in his mind, he realized he had left the bag on a chair in McDonald’s 12 hours earlier.

Now, dear readers. Let’s all pause soberly for a moment and ponder the question: If you left a day pack containing a $1,200 camera on a chair in a fast food restaurant of any US city of 600,000 people, what would be your odds of recovering it?


Nonetheless, we were at the door when the McDonald’s opened a few hours later. A few steps from the door, a well-dressed man was leaning across the counter talking to an employee. Is the manager here? we asked him.

With the expression of a man bracing for a complaint, he straightened. “I am the manager,” he answered.

We left a mochillo here yesterday, we told him. A grey backpack. Had it been found?

His faint frown turned upside down. “SI!” he all but shouted, instantly turning on his heel, sprinting into the kitchen and returning in triumph, the lost pack – camera safe within – in hand.


Recovered and ready for action again

Rounding Out the Score

Sadly, not every travel loss is redeemed by a travel mercy.

While on their way through two airports going home to the States, one set of visitors lost track of the box containing two Panama hats they had acquired with great joy while visiting us. That smiling lady at the top of the blog is demonstrating the art of weaving one of Ecuador’s unique exports at the home factory of Homero Ortega, where the couple had scored the ultimate Cuenca souvenir.


Panama hats don’t come from Panama. A lot come from Cuenca, in boxes just like these

The box never turned up at the Cuenca or Quito airports, leading us to the unavoidable conclusion that some unscrupulous traveler or airline employee somewhere is likely chortling over the acquisition of two very fine hats at no cost of their own.

Every story does not have a happy ending, but we treasure the ones that do. By our trip count, the hat-nappers would be one bad apple from a barrel of five situations that could have ended less successfully. Disappointed as we are for our guests, that’s not a bad report card on the goodness of strangers and the random mercies that travel can shower on us.


We cherish our travel mercies in whatever form they take, friendly smiles included

Tips from the Partout toolbox. We have learned not to underestimate the power of social communications to substitute for travel mercies when things go amiss on the road, Twitter in particular. Twitter was the only way Doris ever made contact with a human at not-so-easy EasyFly over the canceled coffee country flight. (Granted, it took them 24 hours to respond, but at least she reached them.) Twitter was also the only way she was able reach Sixt in Denver last year about an item left behind in a car rental. (Their phones were not answered.) Twitter was also the way friends got money refunded by AirBnB after a hurricane complicated their travel plans a couple years ago. When travel angels do not materialize at times of loss, having a Twitter handle and the know-how (and data on the road) to use it can be an effective fallback.

COMING SOON! Never Say Never







Ode to the Galapagos (Illustrated)

Penguin ignuanaHow do we love thee, Galapagos? After a week on land and sea (and with apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning), let us count the ways.

For Your Monsters

We love you for your prehistoric monsters. For tortoises the size of boulders, marine iguanas so thick underfoot we risk stepping on them, land iguanas that surely were models for every celluloid Godzilla that ever terrorized Manhattan or Tokyo.


Even monsters seem to enjoy soaking up rays with their BFFs

For Your Marine Life

We love you for your curious sea turtles who swim up to our noses, your schools of fish that do not scatter when we join them in the water, your countless contented sea lions nursing, napping in the sun and playing with our feet in the shallows.

Processed with MOLDIV

Processed with MOLDIV


For Your Birds

Though birders we are not, we love you for your tuxedoed penguins and your coral flamingoes, for your wee little Darwin finches and thick wingless cormorants and for the countless pelicans that somehow manage to look far more impressive in your islands than when they do when stalking outdoor diners in Southern California.

We admire you for the red bling your frigate birds flaunt to woo the ladies and for the blue feet your boobies dance upon for the same purpose.

And we adore your downy chicks and the way mamas and papas keep sitting them long after they emerge from their shells.

With only 283 Galapagos hawks left in the wild, we especially love that we spotted at least half a dozen of them perched in trees and on rocks, soaring on updrafts and  breakfasting on the less fortunate in the food chain.

For Your Sallys

Even your crabs win our hearts. Consider the Sally Lightfoot. In this species, females flout the general rule that males in the creature world are more colorful than females. When predators bear down, these Sallys stay put while the young (and the dull males) scatter and live to produce new generations.


A colorful martyr in waiting

For Your Flora

We love you, Galapagos, for your adaptive flora – for the way your endemic scalesia tree develops white bark to cool itself in the summer and drops its leaves to reduce its need for water in the dry spell ahead. We are awed by cactuses with trunks like trees and even more awed to learn they are ancients who survived their youth by growing bark to prevent iguanas from munching them to death.


The young cactus on the left doesn’t have much of a future 

For Your Rains

We love you for sprinkling us with a cooling rain that draws beasts out of the grasses and into our path, where they take their half in the middle and we are the second-class citizens stepping into the mud to keep out of their way.

Path photo


For Your Landscape

We love your beaches of hardened lava or red, black or white sands, your other-worldly volcanic skylines and your calderas that sometimes nest one after another inside other calderas like mammoth turduckens in stone.


Daphne Minor in view from the tip of Santiago

For Your Endurance

We love you for being the seed from which a young and passionate man named Charles Darwin nurtured a theory that forever changed humankind’s understanding of how earth’s species (including our own) originated and for today’s young and passionate men who were born on these islands, studied “on the continent” in Ecuador’s universities and came home to teach awestruck visitors like us.


Every cruise has its naturalist. Eduardo was ours on the Nemo III.

And we especially love you for being so ferociously protected by the Ecuadorian government and national park service that when we anchor where Darwin anchored and maybe even walk among tortoises that walked here when Darwin walked, we see very much what Darwin saw.

For the Memories

At the end of each long day of discovery, we love your waters for rocking us to sleep in our live-aboard home, and then waking us up, hungry for more.

Tips from the Partout toolbox: Age still pulls some privileges, at least in South America, where it appears common for pre-boarding privileges to be extended to travelers 65 years and older. We have yet to hear the policy announced in the boarding area but, if the priority boarding sign at the gate includes an icon of a man leaning on a cane, we are warmly welcomed among the queue of babes in arms and semi-mobile flyers. Able-bodied though we are, we enjoy having a little extra time to board (especially when there is no jetway) and avoiding the crush of general boarding.

COMING SOON! Travel Mercies and Other Minor Miracles


Hoofing in the Footprints of Darwin

For a lot of reasons, we decided to combine a cruise of the Galapagos with a land visit. As a result, we will end up spending a week in the archipelago – three nights on the commercial hub of Santa Cruz, four nights on a 16-passenger sailing catamaran.

One of the biggest motivators to spend time on land was to see giant tortoises in the wild. We also wanted to check out the city of Puerto Ayora, which until the 1980s did not even have a paved street but now is bulging bars and restaurants, jewelry and artisan shops, and all manner of other temptations. Pto Ayora is also home to the Charles Darwin Foundation, which has been working for 60 years to preserve the environment in and around the Galapagos.

We started our one full touring day at the fish market, where a seal and pelicans begged for scraps from the fish mongers, and a bold iguana all but dove into the carcass of a shark to cadge breakfast.

Processed with MOLDIVAfter that, it was off to the Darwin Foundation, which dramatically illustrates the problem of plastics in the oceans with these visuals.

Then it was into a taxi to visit a couple of collapsed volcanoes, slog through a lava  tunnel and, finally make the acquaintance of a more than a few tortoises, two of them mating. All we can say about that is that it is noisy, and tortoises are slow at everything they do!

We closed our land trip with dinner under the stars on restaurant row, a la Santa Cruz.
Processed with MOLDIVWith our boat leaving shortly for the internet-less high seas, we have to make this one over and out. Tips from the Partout toolbox next time. Back in a few days with the aquatic part of our Galapagos adventure.
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COMING SOON! Sailing in the Wake of Darwin

Machu Picchu in the Clear and the Fog

Until our recent trip, Louis was part of a large, sad cohort of tourists to Peru: People who get to Machu Picchu and never see the ruins because of the weather.

Just a week before our visit, our guide told us, there were five straight days when the clouds never lifted and the rain never stopped. He and tourists huddled at a viewpoint, sometimes for hours, waiting for a break long enough for visitors to snap at least one iconic shot. That would have been Louis when he was there on a story in the 2000s.

The picture at the top would be Louis in 2020. Although we made our pilgrimage in the country’s famously rainy season, a time when the hillsides have been known to slide across and block the site’s essential rail access, the only clouds we encountered were the ones photographers covet for their atmospheric shadows, and nary a raindrop fell. This produced some memorable photo opps for Louis and Partout.


Atmospheric clouds above the river Urabamba, Machu Picchu’s water source

Thru trees

A peekaboo view with wisps overhead

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Proof there is still life on the mountaintop

The 2.5-Hour Tour that Lasted 5.0

So smashing was the weather that our 2.5-hour guided tour lasted 5 hours. At one point, we all sprawled on the grass in the sunshine, Machu Picchu stretching just beyond our toes, Paul the guide regaling us with the site’s history, or at least his version of it.

He described the “neighborhoods” of the site and who lived where (e.g., priests, nobles, teachers, “chosen women”).


Machu Picchu was never finished, but it still held 91 residences, 8 temples and 4 observatories for its estimated 400 permanent residents plus transient workers 

He explained things like how the Incas thatched their roofs, secured their doors, aligned their windows for solstices and canted their dry-stack walls 7%-13% to make them earthquake-proof.



Thatch-freshening took place every five years 


The anti-seismic angle clearly worked

He told us about the incalculable effort it took to deforest the mountaintop and lay structural foundations (20 years), to install underground drainage systems (180 of them) and terrace for walking and farming.


Narrow terraces were for walking, wide ones for planting

He assured us that, in addition to enjoying weather karma, we were enjoying crowd karma. On a typical day, now that the site is on everyone’s UNESCO bucket list, there are days when it’s hard to see the scenery for the selfie-takers. We had it almost to ourselves.


Not more than 50 people in sight. Normally, there are thousands.

The Remaining Fog

Still, even on a clear day, it turned out, a lot of Machu Picchu’s history remains a bit foggy.

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Did they or not?

What were those women chosen for? And what about human sacrifice? Did they or didn’t they? Our licensed guide at Machu Picchu insisted tales of Inca sacrifice are just a case of bad publicity, but our licensed guide at Koricancha in Cusco – the most important temple of the Inca empire – said there are mummies with the wounds to confirm the Incas did sacrifice children.

Or what in the world motivated those imperialists to spend 50 years erecting walls and buildings with perfectly fitted stones the size of sofa sections? Our MP guide waxed on about the sacred nature of the site. “Why did they build on top of a mountain with no water and constant landslides? To be closer to God,” Paul told us. Meanwhile, back in Cusco, our temple guide said the mountaintop development was primarily a retreat for the nobility.

And then there is the Inca civilization itself. Raise your hand if you learned in school that South America was home to just three civilizations before the Spanish arrived: the Mayans in the Yucatan, the Aztecs in central Mexico and the Incas of Machu Picchu fame? That would be us.

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Dear friends Debbie and Barry shared the road to Machu Picchu and Paul’s tutelage with us 

Yet the Incas lasted in their glory barely a hundred years, the shortest-lived empire in world history, and they were highly derivative. Yes, they cobbled together the biggest dynasty on earth for its time (imagine Russia’s Bolsheviks ruling from St. Petersburg to Cairo to picture the scale), but they did not so much found a civilization as build one on their predecessors’ foundations, some quite advanced. The forerunning Tiwanaku, for example, had set up shop at one end of Lake Titicaca hundreds of years BC and, in their glory, built a capital city that featured a seven-layer pyramid and has been called one of the lost wonders of the ancient world.

Who cares? Sunny, rainy, foggy or clear, Machu Picchu is a marvel of a ruin, and we were all happy we arose at 4 am to take a 90-minute car shuttle, followed by a 90-minute train ride, succeeded by a 25-minute bus ride, and and then climbed the 162 floors (thank you, Fitbit) it took to get there.

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Paul was also a crack photographer

Tips from the Partout toolbox: Some US websites will not allow access by visitors using browsers in foreign countries. Social Security, Medicare, the portal for Doris’s physician group, even a consumer survey have refused to allow us to connect at one time or another. Our solution is a free VPN (virtual private network) that fools these sites into thinking we are in the States. There are many out there, but Doris likes TunnelBear because it is so satisfying to watch the little bear tunnel out of her foreign location and pop up in the US. Downloading one of these before leaving on an international trip may be the difference between accessing needed information from the road and not.

COMING SOON! Sailing in Darwin’s Wake

Peru of the Missing Thing

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When we are all over the place in the world, the observations that become our Partout blogs typically come to us easily and spontaneously. Between ourselves, we call these themes “the thing.” (That’s TV talk; newsprint Doris would be more inclined to call them “the hook” or “the angle,” but she is happy to learn new tricks.)

Finding “the thing” is a source of constant pleasure for us, old newsies that we are. We enjoy viewing our destinations through the familiar journalistic lens that seeks what is new, different, illuminating and even entertaining. Camel races in Dubai, for example, had “the thing” written all over them.


Camels are actually distant relatives of the vicuñas we saw in Peru

But hunt though we did, Peru refused to yield up the thing. Of course, we were dazzled, educated and feasted. We gasped and gawked and all the rest. But nothing, isolated or combined, ever grabbed us as the story we had to share.

Transportation? No.

We considered transportation. Having traveled by reed boat on Lake Titicaca and to Cuzco by the world’s highest regularly scheduled train, “trains, planes and automobiles” had a bit of the thing going for them. But who hasn’t been on trains, planes and automobiles, even unusual ones? Scratch that.

Titi transport

It’s not every day we are rowed between floating islands in reed boats, but that wasn’t enough to make transportation the thing

Train views

Inside and outside the observation car of our PeruRail transport between Puno and Cuzco we saw a lot of things but not THE thing

Construction? Meh.

Construction was a stronger candidate. Besides speaking to Doris’s trademark Chix with Bricks past, we saw building projects in Peru like none we had ever seen before.

In Arequipa, we learned that only a generation ago, all the white surfaces that have made Peru’s second-largest metropolis known as “the white city” were brightly colored in red, blue and yellow. An inventive mayor decreed that all the color be stripped off to give the city a unique marketing hook. It worked.

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Arequipa is known for flamboyant architecture. A guide told us the old city was once as colorful as a Provençal tablecloth but were stripped to basic white by a mayor who thought the all-white theme might make more tourism. True or not, the “white city” is a visitor magnet.

On Lake Titicaca, there were the millenniums-old terraces on the natural island of Tarquile and the floating islands of Uros, marvels of reed construction that residents rebuild from their roots up every five years.

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Our guide said these terraces on the natural island of Tarquile are 3,000 years old

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The men at the top are excavating reed roots to serve as island foundations (lower left); the boaters are transporting cut reeds to refresh the surface of islands they have already built. The islands don’t float away because the islanders anchor them. If they want to move, they just weigh anchors and float to a new spot.

And, of course, there was Machu Picchu, the Inca sanctuary of stones like Brobdingnagian LEGO blocks, still standing strong more than 500 years and countless earthquakes later. What a professional boom that 50-year project was, requiring architects, astronomers, agricultural and civil engineers, geologists and more.

Inca blocks

We knew the mortarless walls of the Incas were an architectural wonder but never realized they were based on a system of interlocking blocks

Also on the theme of construction, albeit grimmer, were what the locals call “invasions”: pop-up communities where impoverished Peruanos claim a scrap of land too undesirable for anyone to want, erect a shelter and squat – without electricity or running water – until they can claim ownership. We saw them almost everywhere we went.


The sight of housing spilling down hillsides in the background may be photogenic to tourists but is often a sign of poverty and deprivation above Peruvian cities, including Cuzco

Pachamama? Naw.


That’s Pachamama in the middle (sort of)

Pachamama was another possibility. In Inca legend, Pachamama (or Mama Pacha) was a fertility goddess, mother of the moon goddess and sun god (and maybe his wife, too). Because she was embodied in mountains, she was also inseparable from Machu Picchu. For all the colonialization and Catholic conversion, she remains today the Mother Earth of the Andes. During our Peruvian blitz, we heard about her in song and story and saw her in art and architecture. More subtly, we glimpsed her enduring importance in the innumerable public admonishments around using plastic containers, paper towels, straws of all kind, even paper receipts from ATM machines. She is definitely the thing for Andean cultures; she just didn’t stick as ours.

In Lieu of a Thing, Everything

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Yummy but not the thing

In the end, we decided that maybe our aperture was too narrow. In Peru, perhaps, there are too many things for a single “thing.” The thing about Peru was everything: timeless culture, astonishing artifacts, breathtaking landscape, enduring mysticism, lively cities, old-world luxury, gastronomic food.

Fortunately, even when we do not have a thing, we do have the Thing Meister: Louis and his camera. He may not have caught everything, but he captured many things that taken together, might just be the thing. Here are a few of our favorites.

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A kitchen stove that once fed nuns


Spinning as it has been done on Lake Titicaca for millennia


Flamingoes on the Peruvian Altiplano

Convent tree

Color as it used to fill old Arequipa


A window into the past on PeruRail


Machu Picchu in the clear 

Your Thing?

Please! If you beat us to Peru (as so many of you did), let us know if and where you spotted the thing. Just hit “Comment” and share with us all.


The Thing Meister on the other side of the lens

Tips from the Partout toolbox: Anyone who travels internationally knows the dismay of being faced with a screen filled with indecipherable language. Especially when undertaking vital chores like checking into flights, being abandoned to the local tongue can be frustrating and a little scary. Our fix is to set Google as our browser whenever nothing but English will do. Unlike Safari (the default on our Apple devices), Google automatically translates to English, saving us time and mistakes.

COMING SOON! Machu Picchu Beyond What Meets the Eye



Potty Talk

IMG_9039Let’s talk toilets.

After three years of marathon travel, we are here to tell you that all toilets are not created equal worldwide, and we are not just talking about how they look and flush.

They are housed differently and decorated differently. Toilet paper is provided differently (or not at all) and flushed/tossed differently. Some cultures take their bathrooms seriously; others find them a source of humor. Toilets are not only universal and functional, it turns out. Toilets are photo opps.

For today’s Partout, we interrupt our South American idyll to plumb potties we have known and shot.

Teaching Toilets, Pretty Potties

In some locations, public toilets are treated as canvases for public art.

Surely that is the case in Groningen, the Netherlands. What else would explain these athletes eternally cavorting around this public potty along one of the city’s main canals? (Speak up, Dutch readers!)
Amsterdam december 2015Meanwhile, in Colombia’s coffee country on the other side of the pond, the blank wall of this public toilet obviously proved irresistible for extending the splendors of the Andes and its bird life.
IMG_0227Toilets can be educational, too.

During its dire water shortage, Cape Town, South Africa, offered many water conservation lessons, including a potty ditty plastered in toilet stalls.

For its part, the United Arab Emerates WC supplied some little-known nuggets to enlighten stall-sitters. (Thank you, IML Group, for making the difference.)
Speaking of Chinese emperors, Louis captured this helpful lesson years ago in Chendu.

toilet sign

Greek island restrooms won the sweepstakes with us for consistently providing more fashionable interiors than any we had ever seen elsewhere. In three weeks on more islands than we can remember, it seemed no head was too humble for a flourish of art, greenery or decorate style.


This is not a particularly good example but take our word for it: In the Greek islands, public restrooms are a thing of beauty

Some loos even offer views. That selfie at the top of the blog? It was taken of us at the mirror of a washroom in Mexico City where a restaurant strategically positioned the glass to provide a reflected view of the skyline to handwashers.

Amusing Loos, Confusing Loos

Who would have thought of a potty stop as a comedic interlude to travel? And yet they do.

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The comic sign designers invariably seem to be women. These were in Ecuador.

They also baffle.

Doris spent her first week in Oman trying to figure out what to do with the faucet and hose that hung from the walls of public bathrooms. Only when she got the courage to ask another tourist in the opera house in Muscat did she learn the contraption was a “bum gun” to be used for … well, the words speak for themselves.

And then there was the WC decor in a prominent Cuenca restaurant we visited last week with visiting Debbie and Barry of Long Island.

Louis emerged for a posprandial potty stop with this photo from the men’s room.

Doris emerged with this one.
IMG_0367We don’t even want to begin plumbing the thinking behind gasoline nozzels in the men’s room and sewing machines in the women’s, but it definitely illustrates why it is important never to leave your cell phone at the table when heading to the toilet.

Let’s Talk Toilet Paper

Nothing but nothing, however, gets the creative juices of toilet owners going like the task of instructing/warning/admonishing and otherwise begging visitors to their porcelain gods to please, please, please not flush the toilet paper.

We cannot begin to do justice to their creativity, but here are a few illustrations.

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(Top): “There was a drunk on a bus…. Now that I have your attention, deposit the toilet paper in the wastebasket.” (Bottom) “Gentlemen: Please stand closer to the urinal. Your thingy is no doubt shorter than you like to believe” (Thanks to Robert Verge for that  translation. Google did not want us to know quite so much!)

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Even the normally reserved Provençal French get into the act with goldfish and telephone bills, bilingually no less.

No Place Like Home

Alas, there is a sad PS to our globe-trotting washroom tours.

In all our travels, no matter how far and no matter how underdeveloped or poverty-stricken the destination, we never, ever, anywhere, encounter public bathrooms as dirty and derelict as the ones we routinely find back home. It is the rare water closet abroad that is not a model of good hygiene, pride of place, respect for customers and plain old good taste. Whether amused, bemused, educated or simply relieved, we leave them thinking well of our foreign hosts. Coming home, we often shudder at the impressions visitors to the United States must take home from their potty stops.

Toilets talk. America’s could use a language lesson!


Hand-crafted toilet paper holder in Cuenca

Tips from the Partout toolbox: Speaking of the multi-purposes of cell phones, ours hold scans of our passport photo pages. The scans are as good as the real thing for  identification purposes other than flights, which enables us to leave the essential documents themselves safely behind in hotel safes or locked suitcases in our AirBnBs.

COMING SOON! On the Trail of Incas

Culture Shocked (Again)

We’ve all seen the cartoons featuring hairless little space aliens freshly landed on earth trying to figure out earthling civilization based on artifacts like a set of giant golden arches.

In Cuenca, we sometimes feel like space aliens.

This was driven home most recently attending our third winter revel in three weeks. The latest (and last for a while) was on January 6, Epiphany on most Christian calendars but Day of the Innocents in Cuenca even though Christian churches normally commemorate King Herod’s legendary butchery of little boys on December 28.

Got that? No matter. The point is that any correspondence between any religious observance and what went on in the streets of Cuenca on January 6 was purely coincidental. This was Halloween meets Stephen Colbert. In drag. An exercise in public satire in which thousands of citizens dress up to skewer the absurdities of the past year and tens of thousands more citizens line the streets to cheer the action. Imagine a Macy’s Parade with nothing but balloons on the order of the UK’s baby Trump send-up and you get the picture.


A sliver of the crowd on hand for the very serious Day of the Innocents fun

With three holiday celebrations and many hours of grilling locals now under our belts, we are here to tell you that Ecuadorians take their holiday revelry seriously, by which we mean they embrace the festivities in high spirits but also as an opportunity for informed and civil political commentary.

Right. Informed and civil political commentary, paraded in the streets. We are definitely on another planet.

Even as space aliens, we found some of the satire on parade broad and universal enough to be understandable.

There were, for example, the barefoot and pregnant paraders marching behind a banner that read “The ‘Privileges’ of Being a Woman” (emphasis on the quotes around “privileges”) while men with bullhorns wove among them bellowing, “What’s the problem, ladies? You get to go to work! Take care of the children! Cook for your husbands!”


Note the Christian cross in this parody of women’s privileges

Even without the label “Tele Mentira” (“TV Lies”), Pinocchio with a car-length nose and the message, “Ecuadorians! Everything is good!” was only too recognizable as a lampoon of post-fact journalism. To reinforce the fakery theme, fake TV reporters ran into the crowds with fake TV cameras and microphones to conduct inane fake interviews with the very real spectators.
Police violence (against students and indigenous populations) was another readily recognizable theme and, along with anti-IMF sentiments, proof perfect that Cuencanos take their parade of ideas to heart.


Even nice Canada came under fire.

Other exhibitions were a bit more inscrutable.

We understood the sarcasm about natural gas providers who failed to deliver gas during last autumn’s civil unrest (“Muchas Gracias, Gaseros,” the banner read). After all, they left the country without hot water or cooking fuel for weeks.

But what was the connection with the gringa flashing her nether regions in the same “Gringitos Locos” (“crazy little gringos”) entry?

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Whatever the connection, this gringa was very popular with the crowd

Likewise, we could get the connection of “Caballeros de la Noche” (Dark Knights) ahead of a bunch of Batmen and Jokers, but why were they followed by Batwomen sweeping the streets with push brooms?
moldiv-003-copy.jpgIt wasn’t hard to figure out the link between indigenous dancers and the Spanish sailing ship float accompanied by conquistadors (“invaders” in these parts).

But what was the significance of native Americans (“indigenous North Americans” around here)?

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Doris’s efforts to connect with her indigenous American roots did not go so well.

Also befuddling: a dazzling golden goddess (unless she was something else) and fabulous feathered birds. No matter, they provided Louis with some very happy clicks.
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Crowd control and conduct were also a bit other-worldly to us. Essentially, anything went. Louis could stand in the middle of the street busily shooting to his heart’s content while spectators of all ages dashed into the action and the photos.IMG_7592


Definitely a Yankees fan

Being in Spanish school the last couple weeks has given us easy access to native interpreters to cu through our alien fog. On New Year’s Eve, for example, we were surprised and curious about the complete lack of public drinking. The answer: New Year’s is a family celebration. If grandparents are alive, it is specifically a celebration that they lived another year. What’s more, Ecuador has strict laws against public drinking. End result: New Year celebrations that are not only serious but sober.

In the end, confusion and its resolution have been part of the holiday fun for us. Doris never wanted to come to South America. Her stock answer to Louis’s relentless prodding that she “needed” to see SA was: “I grew up and lived in Spanish colonies! I don’t need to travel to them to know what they are like!” Being culture shocked is evidence that she (and we) are learning better. South America is no more Spain than New York City is Amsterdam or Massachusetts is England.

For us space aliens, that makes every day a new inter-planetary landing.


A reveler at sunset on the Day of the Innocents with the Church of San Blas in the background

From the Partout toolbox: Pop quiz time, fellow travelers! Do you know the three-digit emergency number for the foreign country you most recently visited? You know, the 9-1-1 of, say, France or Australia or Qatar? Those three little numbers can be the literal difference between life and death on the road, but we have yet to stay in an AirBnB and  house exchange where the number is front and center in the hosting notes. Solution? Look up your destination’s emergency code before you hit the road and, like the Mastercard of old, don’t leave home without it.

COMING SOON! Let’s Talk Toilets