Ecuador – June 2011

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Sabrina and I had a free day in Quito before our second adventure started in the mainland of Ecuador, so we took a tour of Old Town and out to the Equator. We just viewed this Church from the outside. Some parts of old town felt pretty European to me. Hi there!
The San Francisco Church Lots of gold everywhere - something Ecuador has a lot of. La Compania Church, an UNESCO World Heritage site. Even more gold. No pictures allowed...
In the center of Plaza de la Independencia in Old Town. After Old town, a stop at the gas station on the way out to the Equator. Prices don't seem to special, until you find out that price is less than $1.50US per *gallon* (so, less than 40c/liter). Officially at the equator of the earth!
An accurate sundial, though it has to be two sided - depends which way the earth is tilted for it to have a proper shadow. More proof of the equator. And Sabrina too.
Sabrina successfully balancing an egg on the head of a nail. I however, was hopeless. Sabrina successfully navigating the equator line with her eyes closed and hands out.
Again, I'm hopeless. This lack of balance becomes even more apparent during rafting, later in the trip... LUNCH! Actually, Guinnea Pig is an Ecuadorian dish... The 'other' equator monument, which is big and fancy, but not actually on the equator.
That night, we found the one bar showing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals. After the Canucks fell behind 4-0, I wish we hadn't. Next morning, the start of Adventure trip #2! Off to Cotopaxi Volcano (first seen long ago, during the flight to the Galapagos!). This time however, it was shrouded in dense cloud, howling winds (we figure 50-60km/hr), and ice pellets. In other words, yuck. But Sabrina and I were determined. Starting at 4500m, we hiked 300m in about an hour in terrible conditions.
Up to the refuge at 4800m. It was a HARD hike due to the weather and lack of oxygen at that altitude. After resting up with some great hot chocolate, we took some photos. The start of the more difficult hike (we didn't do it) - the ascent to Cotopaxi's peak at 5900m. It takes a full day and ice climbing gear to go up and down that hike, people usually leave around 1-2am to start from the refuge. Sabrina and I headed back down.
Back at the parking lot. Normally, we'd be starting our mountain biking here, but the weather was too difficult. So we descended a bit below the clouds. Then it was biking time!
The scenery was really neat, what we could see of it - very flat in the middle, with volcanos and hills around the outside. A bunch of wild horses near the road. Looking back at Cotopaxi, about as much as we ever got to see of it's snowcapped peak.
The lake we stopped at for lunch. We were all freezing and ate inside the support vehicle. Finishing up the ride with some more great scenery. Driving to our Hacienda now, a view of another nearby mountain or volcano.
The Hacienda we stayed at had 4 really cute puppies. Took a brief hike before dinner, and took a look at tomorrow's challenge - hiking to the peak of this volcano, Corazon (4800m). We were hoping for better weather. We didn't get it. The really nice Hacienda we stayed at for 2 days. It's a 150 year old converted farm house.
The next morning, starting the trek up Corazon. Things didn't look too bad. Some of the neat foliage. Unfortunately, the weather got worse as we climbed.
Until visibility got very limited. So I opted to take pictures of the neat flora instead. At times some of the clouds would disappear, allowing us to see the changing vegetation and more pronounced rocks.
And we keeped moving upward. Things got considerably more steep and difficult nearing the peak. While not full rock climbing, we often have very difficult and narrow ledges and rocks to pull ourselves up and across. Looking back down below, it's hard to get a true perspective of just how high this is.
Up and up and up. Taking a short breather. Much like Cotopaxi, the extremely thin air made things even harder. Near the peak, the clouds really rolled in.
Finally, we made it! Only to be greeted with a non-existant view from the peak. Still, a great accomplishment (there are only 2 peaks in Canada, and 3 in the USA that have a higher elevation - all in the Yukon/Alaska), but I would have liked to see the surrounding area as well! We enjoyed our very simple lunch at the peak, and then started back down. During the very steep first hour of descent or so, things were even more difficult than going up since you were now having to slow yourself against gravity. The clouds did start to clear again.
And finally we started to get some views way down to the valley! It's hard to really get a good perspective in these pictures of just how HUGE this area you are seeing is. It took us nearly an hour to get to the bottom of those ridges in the distance. Looking back up the mountain. Some last plants on the mountain nearer to our vehicle. Exhausted, we had a quite night back in the Hacienda.
Next morning and we are off to the Amazon. Before we got there, we had an unexpected stop at a hummingbird lodge! There were hundreds of the pint sized birds everywhere. All different shapes, sizes and colours.
Some happily sat and posed for pictures, others never stayed still at all. Continuing on to Tena, we passed the 3 Marias waterfalls. Near Tena, our driver stopped by a local eatery to show us one typical dish - these things.
We finally arrived at the lodge, quite a ways into the jungle (just outside the Amazon though). It was a really nice place. Our activity that afternoon was horseback riding! Neither Sabrina or I had done this in years/ever. I'd say the mood was more apprehensive than excited. And we were off. Sabrina's horse was more mule than anything - it was extremely stubborn at times. My horse on the other hand simply was afraid of doing anything - going up hill, going down hill, going through mud, going through rivers...flat road-like terrain though, he was great!
During a break, it was raining so our guide gave us large leaves for shelter. He made Sabrina a small headdress. He also made me a hat. Continuing on our horserides, my favourite part - crossing deep rivers! My horse nearly decided to submerge himself completely before realizing it might be a bad idea.
Successfuly across the last river! Back at the lodge, a local caterpillar. And the pool, with a nice view.
The restaurant where we ate our meals. The food was EXCELLENT. This was cheese, ham, and probably a few things I'm now forgetting, inside a large sea shell. The next morning, it was a day of the Amazon, and we started with friendly Capuchin monkeys!
They are wild, but very used to humans. They happily accepted our gifts of apples. The Napo river, which is one of the main tributaries of the Amazon river.
Drying cocoa beans on the road - the black asphalt makes a good surface! The whole cocoa fruit, in which there are many beans. A roadside hawk.
Walking to our canoe for crossing a river became difficult! We briefly were stuck. A nice butterfly by the shore - not pictured, the scary jumping spiders also around. A small Quichua village, the indigenous people of the Napo region.
Inside the cocoa fruit - it's actually quite sweet, and then you leave the beans to dry. Peppers! The rivers in Ecuador often have lots of gold in their sediment - so locals often go panning for it.
We also go to try our hand at it. I do not have a future in this line of work, I was pretty bad. But, Sabrina and I did manage to find a few gold flakes. Back on the river in our motorized canoe, we headed downstream to start hiking.
And into the forest we went. A butterfly, one of many in the area. We were extremely fortunate to spot a pair of Pygmy monkeys - the smallest type of monkey in the world. It's body would probably be no larger than your fist. Couldn't get a good picture of it though, it was too small and too far away.
Then our guide showed us one of the local plants used for face painting. And proceeded to paint Sabrina. And then me.
Stick insect. Continuing our hike. Another butterfly, this time with eyes!
This was a type of nocturnal-monkeylike animal that we came across. We realized afterwards that it had been badly injured by another animal recently - it was missing part of it's hind leg. Sabrina by a huge tree. Near the animal refuge, we found numerous squirrel monkeys hanging out by a compost pile.
We then got a tour of an animal rescue that is quite a ways in the forest - they rescue animals that have been captured for the black market or have been abused as pets. Some great looking Tucans. And a pair of Macaws that can no longer fly. One of the ocelots that has been rescued.
After the animal rescue, we hopped back on our canoe for the ride back towards Tena, for another quiet evening at the jungle lodge. Our last day of activities, white water rafting! Our boat and other paddlers - Sabrina and I were the only inexperienced ones, so we got to sit at the front (the exciting spot!)
The water wasn't as warm as in Costa Rica, but still not bad. The rapids were Class 3/3+, so we hit some pretty good waves. Like before, wet, very very wet.
Before lunch, everything went pretty smoothly. I went in the water once, but it was at the very end of the rapids, so nothing too scary. Actually, kind of refreshing. Of course, after lunch, I went in the water on two more occassions, both times getting UNDER the raft. That wasn't quite as fun. At this point Sabrina and I both got tossed from the raft, and the rest of the occupants nearly went for a swim. We both got caught underneath the raft. Again, not so much fun! You'd think I'd learn to stay in the boat?
During the calm sections of the river, we hot-dogged it a bit. Not pictured - me falling in the water during this calm section...while the raft was completely horizontal. I wish I was kidding... Success! A refreshing (read - cold) stop at a small waterfall at the end of our day. Some last pictures of the jungle lodge the next morning.
This was the crazy little swaying bridge that you DRIVE across to get to the lodge. Leaving the amazon area now, everything was so green. Lunch time! The local specialty was trout, which both Sabrina and I ordered. It was awesome.
After a brief stop at the Papallacta Thermal Springs (busy and touristy), we got to see Papallacta lake - which was pretty great! One last picture time. One last look at Papallacta Lake and the beautiful surrounding scenery - and we are really high up all the time by now, the lake is at 3000+m! After this, Sabrina and I headed back to Quito, spent some time wandering the market there before flying home. It was an exhausting, exhilerating trip!
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Description: The second part of Sabrina and my trip to Ecuador - this time, hitting the mainland for 8 more days, combining hiking up volcanoes, white water rafter, amazon hiking and more!
Location: Ecuador

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