Feb 24

Altitude Sickness Strikes Again

Ahhh, Altitude sickness… I had a mild experience with it a few years ago in Colorado (link back), and wrote a post about preventing it.  You would think that when I went to Quito, Ecuador I would be ready for it! I was good for the first few days.

My first few days in Quito I took it easy, made sure I walked slow even though I did a lot of walking. I kept myself hydrated too.  I had some trouble sleeping, and a little trouble with headaches, but it wasn’t much different from the headaches and insomnia I get at home.

Then the third night in Quito I was in a rush and took a fast walk around town. The following day I was getting back to my old ways. I wasn’t exactly running around town, but my slower pace went back to normal, I might have even run a block here or there.  That night I thought I was dying.

I had a HORRIBLE headache, I was nauseous.  I was so sick I didn’t think I would be able to get myself dressed in the morning to leave for the Galapagos. I took some Advil and a friend suggested I take some motion sickness pills (the internet suggested that was a waste of time). I took the motion sickness pills and within an hour or two I felt partially better. At least better enough to slowly get myself ready in the morning to get the heck out of Quito and back to sea level in the Galapagos.

The moral of the story – It’s good to plan time at high altitude to be lower activity days, allow extra time to get around and know the symptoms of altitude sickness. Altitude Sickness can be really bad, even when you think you’ve taken care of yourself and gotten past the hump.  Make sure you take time to slow down and rest so your body can properly adjust.

Signs of altitude sickness:
Headache
Fatigue
Insomnia
Loss of appetite
Feeling dizzy
Shortness of breath

Jan 13

How I Lost (Stolen) My Purse

As I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, last September in Quito, Ecuador I had my purse stolen. While I know there’s a big thing these days about how you shouldn’t blame the victim, and I was a victim of some criminals who stole my purse. I personally think that to just blame the criminals who did that is short sighted. Every victim, myself included, made mistakes that made them an easy target for a crime. If, as the victim, we don’t take a look at what helped make us a victim, then we’re doomed to make the same mistake. So after I got over the aggravation and frustration with having my purse stolen, I took some time to think about the mistakes I made the day my purse was stolen,  I suggest waiting a few days or weeks to do this. Hopefully this exercise will serve as a reminder to me and help prevent others from making the same mistakes.

I break my mistakes into 3 categories:

  1. Lack of preparation
  2. Rushing
  3. Mind frame

Lack of Preparation

I’ve been traveling all around the world, and not always to the safest places in regards to petty crime. Yet, I still have not found a day bag that I like and fits my needs. It seems like every trip I’m taking the bag that is convenient, but not the right bag. I need to put a little more effort into finding the right bag for me, one that I will be comfortable with and will use regularly. I’m open to suggestions.

Rushing

The night I was going out, I was actually running on time, until I got an email that I thought was important and needed to respond to RIGHT AWAY. In the end the email was NOT important and could have waited. Responding to that email, made me rush out the door. If I had a few more minutes I would have just grabbed what i needed for dinner that night and stuck it in my pockets. Instead, I grabbed my purse. If I had left the email alone, or given myself 2 minutes to take only what I needed, things would have turned out different. I usually try to give myself ample time when traveling so I’m at my best when I’m out and about.

Mind Frame

My mind frame was a biggest downfall.

I live outside New York City and regularly spend time in New York City. I go out with my purse all the time, and not always in a cautious way. Nothing has ever happened to me. I like to think that I naturally do a lot of little things to keep safe, that I look like a New Yorker, and that I have a bit of a sense of when something’s not right around me. That could all be true to some extent, or totally made up. Either way, it gives me a bit of confidence even when I’m in a foreign city.

Many years ago when I was on my first trip to Europe, I flew into London and was almost afraid to get off the hop on and off bus the first day. After a 2 week Contiki trip around Europe, I returned to London a new woman, easily running around London without a fear. One this day, I was returning to Quito after a week in the Galapagos and was having a similar feeling – like I had become older and wiser in the past week. Basically, I got comfortable and confident in Quito.

Generally, that’s a good thing, there’s something about the stride of a confident person that will deter criminals, they’re more likely to look for an easier mark, someone who looks uncomfortable and unfamiliar with their surroundings.

I was over confident and it made me sloppy.

Here’s what happened:

My friend’s and I left our Hilton Hotel around dinner time and went to a nearby restaurant in a touristy area. I suspect the thieves noticed us leaving the hotel and saw us go to the restaurant that was only a block away.

I was carrying a purse which is not recommended in Quito, and in this case, wasn’t needed.

The table we choose was in a back corner, there was no one sitting near us and my seat was next to a wall. I placed my purse on the back of my chair by the wall, intending to put my fleece over it. This is something I regularly do at restaurants. My theory being that my jacket hides my purse and is usually annoying on the chair behind me so I would notice if it was coming off the chair. My fleece was going to provide a layer of security for my purse.  Unfortunately, I was chilly and never took my fleece off.

I was also so engrossed in the conversation with my group that I didn’t notice that people sat behind me, my first inkling that something was amiss was when I noticed a chair behind me out of place. Part of me noticed it and knew something wasn’t right and that I wasn’t as aware of my surroundings as I like to think I normally am.  The other part of me said my memory was playing tricks on me, how would I not notice people sitting behind me?

Of course at that point it was too late anyway.

In the end, a series of small mistakes made me a better victim for a bunch of criminals looking for an easy target. While those criminals are the ones truly responsible for my purse being stolen, I need to accept some of my own responsibility too. I’m glad that I can at least look back at mistakes and (hopefully) change my behavior in the future to prevent being a victim again. I’ll remember to take an extra minute to make sure I have only what I need, I’ll remember that part of confidence is making good, safe choices, and finally I’ll be honest about how aware of my surroundings I am and will be in the setting I am in.

Have you ever had anything stolen on the road? What lesson did you learn from it?

Here are some other more tangible tips to protect yourself:

Unless you know you need it, don’t carry your passport with you. I was not carrying mine and it made my life soooo much easier.

Only keep small amounts of cash with you, I fortunately needed cash and only have about 30 cents in my wallet when it was stolen.

Keep a little extra stash of cash separate from your daily cash. I happened to have run out of money, but normally I like to have a little emergency cash as a back up, just in case. You never know when you’ll have trouble with an ATM, or have your wallet stolen.

Bring (and keep separate) an extra credit card and/or ATM card. I had an extra credit card, that solved about half of my money issues. The other issue would have been solved if I had brought my back up ATM card.

Pay it forward, years ago my roommate on a tour ran into a money issue. I lent her some money and my cell phone to call her bank. Aside from it being the right thing to do, I like to think that positive karma like that is why I had friends on this trip willing to lend me money for the last day of my trip.

Travel insurance, while I didn’t end up needing it in this case, travel insurance will often assist with these situations and getting you cash. It’s a stressful situation, and having someone who has dealt with this before can make a huge difference.

Have copies of EVERYTHING – passports, drivers licenses, credit cards and make sure someone at home has them too. When I was crying in the police station and they were asking for my passport #, which was in my hotel, I texted my sister and asked her to look up the information for me. Those same documents were the ones I used to call my credit card companies to cancel my cards.

Keep extra ID separate from your primary ID. A few years ago my brother-in-law had his wallet stolen while on vacation. My sister had to overnight his passport to him so he wouldn’t have trouble getting on the plane. In many cases that is not necessary. But, it makes life much easier and it doesn’t hurt to bring any extra ID. Keep it separate from your primary ID so they’re not both stolen together.

Do you have any tips for travelers?

photo credit: MMM…Money via photopin (license)

Oct 28

What I should have packed – Galapagos Islands

The more I travel, the more I find packing to be an unfortunate and inconvenient chore. Subsequently, on my trip to the Galapagos Islands, I did a really lousy job packing. I’ll also blame the weather predictions I read about that were WRONG!

I’ll explain the weather first. The weather in Quito was forecast to be in the lower 60s and raining everyday. It NEVER rained and, I think, because of the altitude and dry conditions the temperature felt 5-10 degrees warmer.  The forecast in the Galapagos I only got for one island, Santa Cruz, and it would be in the mid 70s and foggy everyday.  The temperatures were probably in the mid 70s to lower 80s and really humid with very little fog.  Of course the forecast matched the information I read about the weather during September so I thought it would be a good gauge for packing.

So here is what I should have packed for a 7 day Galapagos Cruise:

(some of this I did actually bring and found useful)

2 pairs of shorts (preferably quick drying)

Or 1 pair of shorts and a pair of zip off pants

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear during the day

2-3 short sleeve shirts to wear at night

LOTS of sunscreen

Bug spray (a small amount)

Sneakers/Hiking boots

Athletic sandals

Flip flops

2 Bathing suits

1 pair confortable pants or jeans

1 Sweatshirt

Hat (I didn’t wear one but most people would like a hat)

Camera with zoom lens and lots of memory

A few packaged snacks – you cannot bring organics into the Galapagos Islands and there isn’t much opportunity to purchase once on the islands.

One thing of note is that due to the humidity and the fact that you’re on a boat surrounded by water, nothing fully dries. Most of the boats seemed to have a laundry line on the top and clothing got 95% dry very quickly. But it’s best to bring things that dry quickly, you’ll get wet on the zodiacs and it’s nice for your clothes to dry in minutes. I would not bring jeans to wear during the day, only at night when lounging around. They’ll take too long to dry and aren’t practical if you have a “wet” landing (climbing into the ocean at the beach instead of from the boat to land)

Oct 21

Three Phones in the Galapagos Islands

While traveling to the Galapagos Island I traveled with not 1 or 2, but 3 different cell phones. I like to be prepared. But the results of how well they worked were a bit surprising and I thought worthy of writing a post about them. As a point of reference I was on a G Adventures tour on the Monserrat in September of 2015.

The three phones:
iPhone 6 Plus on the AT&T Network with International Plan

photo
iPhone 4s with local Claro plan for Ecuador

FullSizeRenderBlackberry Bold on the Verizon Network with International Plan

FullSizeRender (1)

Results:
Overall data service in the Galapagos Islands was severely lacking, often relying on the Edge Network. The first half of my trip was a “Southern Galapagos” itinerary and had a decent level of coverage. The second half of the trip was “Western Galapagos” and had very little cell coverage. We landed on Baltra, which did show a signal, but it was extremely weak. In Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island we had the strongest signal for our whole trip. The Island of Isabel had some weak service. Other than that, there was little to know service while in the Galapagos, just occasional spotty service. I would usually check my phones at night or in the morning when we were stopped and I think the longest I went with absolutely no coverage was around 24-28 hours.

iPhone 6 Plus:
The international plan I had included unlimited texts and 120 mb of data. I turned the data off for all of my applications to keep from accidentally using the data, this kept me to using only about 30 mb of data during my almost 2 weeks in Ecuador, including the Galapagos Islands. While in the Galapagos Islands I was never able to send a text with a photo. If I had 3 or more bars of cell coverage, I was able to send texts with only words. That only happened a few times.

iPhone 4s:
At some point late in the trip my service plan ran out, that also corresponded with the period of the least internet service. But it didn’t really matter, I never used the phone for texts and outside of Puerto Ayora, it never downloaded emails, or worked on Facebook. It might have worked once with the Twitter app.

Blackberry Bold:
I only used my blackberry for email and if there was a cell signal, it would send and receive emails, including emails with smaller pictures. Aside from the 24-28 hour gap with no service, it usually worked when I checked emails in the morning and at night, though not every time, but at least one a day.

Conclusions:
When you leave for the Galapagos, let everyone know they might not hear from you. But, if you NEED to keep in contact with the outside world, take a Blackberry, it’s your best chance.

Happy Travels!