Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Because I got lucky.

About to leave Cuenca after six months, I went looking for a doll.

They have Barbie dolls here, and Kohler dolls. Kohler dolls seem to be exactly like Barbie dolls, but they have a different name on the box.

Both varieties have all the grace and charm of bayonets, and they're plastic too.

The guy who works 16 hours a day, six days a week at my hotel has a wife, and a little girl. When I leave I don't want to just tip him. I think I'll tip his daughter too.

At Christmas I bought four candy bars. Chocolate Negro, 63% cacao, made by Fábrica de Chocolates Bios Cía. Ltda. in Quito. Two were intended as gifts, one for "Señor Jefe", whose name I've never learned, and one for Danny, who puts in double shifts six days a week.

The other two were for me. I hadn't had chocolate in around a year, and since the good stuff is available here, hey.

On my way out for a walk on Christmas Day, I gave a bar (100 g, solid dark chocolate, price $2.27) to Danny and showed him mine, to be sure he knew that if the stuff was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

When I got back, there was a woman here, and a tiny little girl. Hmmm.

I asked as well as my rudimentary Spanish allowed, if that was his family. Danny said yes.

Then I pulled out my fourth and last bar, told him it was my last, and said it was for his little girl. He ran out to the lobby area and gave it to her. And I do mean "ran". With a big smile on his face. The chocolate bar was half as big as she was.

You know how little kids are. She sort of held it and rocked, and leaned back against the wall, not knowing what to do next.

But I bet she caught on.

I went back to my room.

Time passes, and I'm about to leave Ecuador.

What to do now?

I thought Danny and his wife would appreciate a gift for the little one, so I went looking for dolls.

Barbie is like a cold-hearted, scarred hooker with a heart full of nails. Ditto for Kohler.

And they're all pasty white with synthetic blond hair, and rigid with the rigor mortis of the toy industry. Their skin color is nowhere near the girl's. Would this be the right gift?


I finally decided to get a teddy bear. Still synthetic, but squeezably soft. Probably a better choice for a three-year-old.


On my way up to the toy department I made a detour through the household goods. This was at the Coral Hipermercado in Mall del Rio, on Cuenca's south side.

It's a big place, full of everything you hate about giant chain stores, but with decent prices and, since this is Ecuador, also full of things you can't find in North Dakota.

Like my new cup.

I can't find a scale to weigh it, but it feels like it's around three ounces (85 g), maybe four (113 g), or in between (85 - 113 g).

It's choice, made by Imusa in Colombia out of aluminum, my favorite hiker-pot material. It is bigger than I'd like, at one liter, but it is big enough for sure. I never need anything larger, and have been getting by for years with a 16-fluid-ounce measuring cup (0.47 L) that I lucked onto once upon a time.

Unfortunately, the measuring cups are either unavailable now, or sold by some other company that remains secret. The one I bought mine from switched over from hardware to recipe books, and dropped all their kitchen products. At 1.8 ounces (51 g), I could put up with the cup's slightly sparse capacity.

In fact, for cooking it is pretty good, since all I do is heat water.

I heat 12 to 16 ounces (0.35 to 0.47 L) of water, pour that into a food bag, and wait. While waiting, I refill the cup and make tea. When the alcohol stove goes out I leave the cup sitting there, enclosed by the wind screen.

Usually my meal is about cool enough to eat by this time, so I do that, and when done, I'm ready for tea and it's ready for me. My full-coverage wind screen protects the brewed tea from breezes, and allows the tea to cool, but slowly. It's almost always just barely cool enough to drink when I reach for it.

So, I guess that works well.

Where I could use a bit more capacity is related to the other uses my cup has. Like dipping water from a stream, to fill a water bottle. But mostly in bathing.

Sixteen ounces, poured repeatedly, works. One liter (33.8 fl oz) is more, and works better. And it works better too if, every once in a while I want to wash a hankie or a pair of socks. In my cooking pot. A liter-sized pot holds more socks.

Sure, yes, I do clean out the pot after, by rinsing. And the last couple of years I've taken to finishing up by dumping a bit of alcohol into the pot and lighting it, which heats the pot, sterilizes it, and dries it. Otherwise the things I put into the pot (like matches) get damp, but not if the pot is gotten hot and allowed to air cool first.

This wastes a little stove fuel but not much, and makes things a whole lot more predictable and less messy. Get the whole cooking set dry, pack it away inside a plastic bag, and that's it. No more fussing with damp matches.

So this new pot is made of much thicker aluminum. I won't be using the pot often, but when I do it will be easy enough to carry extra stove fuel.

And it may have been a dumb purchase, but how often am I going to be getting back to Ecuador?

I had planned to stay here permanently, but am thinking that no longer, and doubt I'll be back. And when I saw the price, that about did it.

The cup was marked at $2.32, but my receipt says $2.07. Pricing is one thing I've never figured out here. Still a good deal, either way.

I understand that some Walmart stores, the ones catering to Hispanic clientele, may carry products from Imusa. And someone is reselling these at, but the price is higher - $16.67 - which would get me eight of these mugs if bought here. (And no shipping charges either, though the round-trip airfare does inflate the price a tad bit.)

Funny thing though.

In researching this Imusa mug I bought, I found that someone else is selling the next generation of grease pots on You can get a "Stanco Non-Stick Grease Strainer" for $8.77. This looks like the one that KMart was selling, at least for a while.

Unlike the Walmart grease pot, the body of this one has its rim rolled to the outside, not the inside, making it like a real cooking pot, and much easier to clean than the old Walmart greass pots were. Maybe it's worth checking out.


Coral Hipermercados

Imusa USA home

Imusa USA products

Imusa Aluminum Mug, 1.25-Quart, 12 CM, at

IMUSA Aluminum Mug, at Walmart, or not, depending on the store - also note that this is a smaller one, 0.6 L (0.7 qt)

Stanco Non-Stick Grease Strainer, at

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Going My Way?

You first.

History proves that the desire for adventure, even in the face of extreme danger, never deterred anyone.

Not Columbus. Not Magellan.

Both are now dead, but how about you? "Mars One" is looking for a few good apes (species Homo sapiens only, for now).

Successful applicants must be resilient, adaptable, resourceful, work well as a team, and look good on TV.

Because the entire project will be televised, beginning with candidate selection, through the trip to Mars, past the landing, and eventually into the disagreement, disarray, infighting, and cannibalism stages.

If things get that far.

More likely, terminally low ratings will end coverage long before that, and TV viewers will just return to such standbys as "America's Next Top Janitor", "Frat-Boy Jury", and "Watch Ed's Hair Grow".

Haven't we been through this before? Like in the late 1970's when the backpacking craze was sweeping the nation?

Remember "Frostline Kits"? "Kelty Tiogas"? Whatever happened to all those people?

They went on long trips, that's what. One-way trips. Which proves that you don't have to go to Mars to disappear. Just take a hike.

"During a three to six month thru-hike, participants gain muscle and lose fat. They also abandon the cubicle mentality. After spending too much on-trail time where anti-conformity fields are so much stronger, it becomes impossible to readjust to a sane existence comprised of traffic, deadlines, office politics, meetings, and 10-point plans," says Landswort.

Who's Landswort?

Some expert or other. You have to throw one in every now and then or it sounds like you're making things up. This expert has two legs and a head. Possibly some arms too, but we're not interested in him any more. We're interested in the story, so read on.

Back to the truth then.

How does this happen? How do ordinary people turn wild and then vanish?

Can people actually turn wild?

Can they live and prosper off-pavement?

Well, maybe. Blame it on the solar wind.

In cities you see, we are protected from the solar wind by a strong, magnetic sort of torpor field generated by concrete.

In places without this field, such as on wilderness trails, it is difficult to survive while wearing a suit and tie. Remove that protective layer though, and you are immediately subjected to the influences of nature, including rain, snow, dust, and moving air.

Which are all ultimately generated by sunlight itself. The solar wind, my friend, it has powers.

It may take you away and keep you.

"There's no 'Starbuck's' out there, anywhere, and hardly any water, and the water there is out there has bugs in it. Humans simply cannot handle this," hooted a skeptical Dr Veronica Donut during a phone interview from her office at the University of Science and Stuff in Posthole, NB.

"The outdoor atmosphere is practically free of designer scents, radiation levels induce tanning, and temperatures vary wildly, sometimes as much as twenty degrees a day," she said.

"Normal humans cannot tolerate these extremes. It's in my book.

"Exposure to unexpected wonder is a concern during any trip, even a short one across the street for lunch. This can lead to increased risk of going rogue, a lowered tolerance for regimentation, meandering off the beaten path, and possible insubordination.

"To minimize these risks, stay indoors, keep your TV on, and take up hanky collecting. That's in my book too. Or you can watch me on TV every Thursday at noon."

Mars anyone?


Applicants wanted for a one-way ticket to Mars

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Hiking With Others - Some Tips

Bring yourself back alive, if no one else.

Create Excitement To Keep Your Companions Interested.

If you are leading a hike, it's the responsible thing to hand out route maps at the beginning, so everyone has one.

But on the other hand, it's amusing to give people the wrong maps.

This keeps your companions on their toes, once they find out that no two of them has the same map. It's endlessly entertaining to hear them arguing about where they are and what they're looking at.

To avoid unpleasant personal encounters, this is a great time to sneak away quietly and let them all figure out how to get home on their own.

If they can.

Make Sure That You Are In Shape.

Before you go on a hike with others, get into proper physical condition.

Try going for increasingly long walks through your neighborhood.

Some benefits of this approach are that:

  • It's pretty hard to get lost in your own neighborhood, unless you're a total doofus.
  • If you get bored with all the walking, you can watch the sidewalk for spare change.
  • And you can keep an eye out for houses that seem temporarily unoccupied (in case you need more than a couple of homeless pennies you find on the ground).

Special note: It is uniquely important to be physically fit if you are going to be the hike leader and need to make a quick escape. (See previous item.)

Establish A Goal Or Reward For The End Of The Hike.

Again, this applies mostly if you are the hike leader. But you're experienced now, so it should be getting easier.

Take this situation, for example: You have led everyone off into the woods and now the whole group is lost. None of them knows where they are or how to get back.

As an incentive to returning home again, tell everyone that the first person to find the parking lot is exempt. The others will have to draw straws to see who gets left standing there when the rest of you drive away.

This presumes that your level of fitness is persuasive, and that your companions are all bright enough to realize what will happen to them if they do not obey. (I.e., they all die, not just the expendable one.)

This might also qualify as "generating excitement". Don't overuse it though, or you'll run out of hiking buddies and will be all alone again.

It can be gobs of fun to melt away about then and race back to the cars, where you can break into all of them (except your own, of course), and steal the valuables.

When the first of your companions reappears, start yelling and run over, saying you just managed to chase off a car prowler, who unfortunately broke into all the cars. Except yours, whose trunk is now full of wallets and so on. (A secret compartment helps in case a deputy sheriff unexpectedly shows up.)

Make Sure All Your Companions Has A Danger Whistle.

These are good when someone is lost or has to alert others because they work much better than shouting.

You, however, should also carry a portable recorder containing various wild animal growls.

Right after lunch is a good time to cut one loose, when everyone is sprawled out, relaxing, chatting, looking at the sky, or possibly even napping.

Tiger or leopard growls are most effective. Partly because they're so unexpected, but also because tigers and leopards have perfected their technique over millions of years while they chased down our distant relatives. And if not your relatives exactly, then surely those of your companions.

Remember, the people who escaped and lived to pass on their genes were those most easily spooked, and you are (obviously) hiking with their descendants, who are also cowards, so this works pretty well.

Let a few growls rip and then enjoy the shrieking whistles. Try not to wet yourself laughing because it leaves a telltale dampness and someone without any sense of humor might call you out.

Carry A Good First Aid Kit At All Times.

The best ones have at least two of anything you might possibly need, protected inside a metal case with heavy-duty clasps holding it shut.

Which means it's large, heavy, and won't dent or fly open if you need to use it defending yourself from your companions. If they take exception to your sense of humor. But if they're like that, why are you hanging out with them?

It's good to think about these things before the hike, but misjudging people is easy, so packing a wallop is good insurance.

Bring A Camera.

If everyone returns home alive and well, your photos will be fun to share. Otherwise, they'll be good evidence for your defense in court. If you know how to avoid incriminating yourself.

Remember: Practice makes perfect but you may only get one chance, so proceed with caution.

Assign Hiking Buddies.

Really tall people and really short people hiking together are fun to watch, especially if you can convince them that it's safer if they tie their legs together in a "Three-Legged Safety Harness".

But if everyone is the same height, try pairing introverts with extroverts.

One is a good listener and the other is a good talker, though it's good to know which is which up front, because when the "good listener" starts talking a lot, especially in a loud voice, and the "good talker" goes really quiet or starts screaming - well hey.

Another photo op. Especially if they have their legs securely tied together.

One Final Thing To Remember.

Reaching the end of the trail isn't the goal.

In fact very few trails have a decent ending, much less a happy one.

A whole lot of trails are set to loop endlessly, which is boring at a minimum, and can even lead to starvation, or at least to the strong eating the weak.

This is another reason to bring a camera, since most cameras are smaller than first aid kits but just as heavy, and easier to swing with that strap, even if you're weak from hunger too.

So, although reaching the end of the trail may not be technically feasible in all cases, being a survivor is a decent reward for time spent outdoors, especially if you have a convincing story about why you were the only one to return.

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Talk To The Hole

It may be watching.

Mole found him. That's my dog. You can't hide from Mole.

Not in a hole you can't.

Which is where Mole found this guy.

He said his name was John Pistola Engrasadora, Administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, and he was monitoring the trail for suspicious activity, to protect my safety and the safety of others.

I had no idea.

"I bet you thought this was a national park," he said. "I bet you're thinking 'What is the TSA doing here in a famous national park?'"

This guy was reading my mind.

"Well it isn't. Any more. A national park," he said, speaking from his hole. "The TSA has an unmatched success rate, unlike the National Park Service. Which is why they went titsup. We're running things now, from hidy holes, from behind bushes, anywhere you'd least expect. Want to see my badge?"

Yes, I did. And he showed it to me.

It said "Yosemite Sam", and it was yellow, and plastic.

"Hey," I said, "just now, you told me your name was John Pistola Engrasadora. So what's the deal?"

"Disguise," he said. "Like this hole I'm in. You never know who's watching, or what they're up to. You can never be too careful."

"But I found you," I replied.

"No, your dog did. Dogs are hard to fool. They're actually too smart for us, but we just got a grant to work on that."

Mole cleared his throat. Yosemite Sam inched deeper into his hole.


He had a point, and I don't mean on the top of his head. I couldn't see that part of him. Due to the hole and all.

"Look. In a modern, industrialized nation such as we have, there is simply no room to allow potentially dangerous unsupervised activities. Which is basically what the National Park Service was known for.

"Unlike us, the Transportation Security Administration. We get it.

"Which is why we've been expanding.

"First the airlines. Then the highways. The borders. Ports. Country roads. City streets. Shopping malls.

"We're almost everywhere now, but not quite, leaving out - what?"

I shrugged. I'm generally clueless when it comes to high-level thinking. "Dunno, I guess," I said.

"Leaving out those activities which honest citizens never participate in, committed in places people go when they want to evade surveillance cameras."

"What? Trails?" I said.

"Yep," he replied. "You got it, babe. Trails. Serious danger points in our national security net. Now that we have funding we'll be hardening campgrounds, putting up barb wire, bringing everyone back home. Where they belong. In view of our cameras."

"Supervised from your hole?" I asked. But he kept talking, not hearing me I guess.

"Need to get somewhere? Take a plane. Take a car. Take a bus. Don't take a hike. Don't give me that. We know better. Nobody hikes. Got any water?" he said.

I did, but it was a hot day, and I was already thirsty. I wasn't sure I wanted to pour water into a hole in the ground, so I asked Mole what the thought, but he just cleared his throat again. A little louder this time.

"You know," I said, "I'm not sure I should know so much. Maybe Mole and I ought to move along before we become persons of interest."

"Wait," he said. "I understand, but I do need a drink. And so does Agent Barbie." A skinny hand holding a nearly naked plastic doll extruded itself from the hole.

I say "nearly naked" because she was also carrying a badge, which read "Special Agent Boop".

"Help me, old Mole dog guy," said the hole, "You're our only hope."

Unlike Mole, who's comfortable with snap judgments, I'm still not sure if we did the right thing.


Hiker and dog save man trapped for days in hole on California mountain.