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Ecuador 2017 – December 24, 2017

January 22nd, 2018 No comments

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Our last day in Ecuador. Sigh. Today’s tour takes us out to hopefully see condors. There are only 55 in the wild in Ecuador, and the tour takes us to a National Park area where the condors nest.

Our pickup is at 7:00 but this time breakfast is included with the tour. On the way to breakfast, we stop at a location in hopes of spotting a few condors. We did see a few birds, but they were too far away to identify. We take binoculars and scan the cliffs across the river where there is white bird poop marking various outcroppings. Why was I thinking that a condor’s nest would be something easier to observe? Breakfast consisted of eggs, bread, fresh fruit, coffee, and mystery fruit juice; there are a number of mystery fruits here is Ecuador.

While at breakfast, we spotted a few condors, still far away, but identifiable by their flight pattern. After breakfast we drove to a nearby extinct volcano and went on a nice hike. Here we again spotted distant condors, eagles feeding on a fresh kill, a young deer hiding in the bushes, a herd of wild horses, as well as rabbits and finches.
Hike
Hike
Hike
Hike - eagles
Hike - eagles
Hike - deer
Hike - deer
Hike - deer
Hike - deer
Hike
Hike
Hike
Hike
Hike
Hike
The guide asks “Have you been to Banos?” I had just stepped off the trail to take a little break, which was obvious in nature, or so I thought. So I say “Yes, banos”. The group turns and Vicky says, “We haven’t been to Banos.” Confused why everyone is looking my way, when banos is sort of a private deed, I finally realize the Banos must be the name of a town somewhere. Why the heck would they name a town Banos? So instead of going banos with everyone looking I engage in a short conversation with the guide to learn that Banos is a Hot Springs area – I’ll slip away behind the next available bush, thank you.

When we reach the top of the trail we are slightly over 14,000 feet high. There is an awesome view over the lake below us and to the snow capped volcano in the distance. Clouds are continually flowing around the peak with occasional breaks to offer a view of the summit.

After walking down from the hilltop to the parking lot our driver takes us to a high spot in the road where we prepared for a downhill bike ride. Donning our bicycle helmets and getting instruction on the brakes, we were all set. Being practically all downhill there is very little need to pedal. The parts that we did have to pedal were challenging only because of the altitude and lack of oxygen – we are at around 13,000 feet. I am really glad that we did not choose the optional uphill ride to start the trek.

Our bike ride finishes at the restaurant where we had breakfast. Hungry for lunch, we are served chicken with rice and potatoes – they sure do like their starches!
Bike ride
Bike ride
Our driver takes us to the Zaysant Ecolodge – this is the same place where we stayed the first night. The place is family owned and super friendly. In fact, the owners live on the premises and are hosting their family for the Christmas Eve celebrations. As far as I can tell, we are the only “guests”. But the owner goes out of his way to make sure that we feel welcome and have everything we need. He even invites us to join the party but that feels a bit weird.

At dinner it sounds like they are warming up the karaoke machine. They invite us again to join the party telling us that there will be dancing, singing, and drinking as the host is pulling out a large bottle of rum. Coffee is also brewing on the stove, so it seems like it will be an energetic event, but we have to get up at 4:30am to catch our flight in the morning, and my days of staying up all night have long gone. We all decide it would be best to retire to our rooms and get as much sleep as possible. It sounded like the party went on until at least 1:00 am as I was periodically awoken by the dogs barking and wrestling out on the lawn, and I could hear distant music.
Zaysant Ecolodge
Zaysant Ecolodge
4:30 comes way to soon. Coffee is prepared by our friendly hosts who couldn’t have gotten more than a few hours sleep. Promptly at 5:30 our driver arrives to take us to the airport. Another vacation comes to a close. This trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands definitely ranks as one of the best vacations. Where will our journeys take us next year?

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,

Ecuador 2017 – December 23, 2017

January 20th, 2018 No comments

Saturday, December 23, 2017

This morning we have a bit of a logistical issue as breakfast start at 7:00 and our pickup is scheduled for 7:00. We hit the breakfast area early in hopes some food and coffee will be available. We are in luck as everything is ready except for the scrambled eggs. We eat quickly before meeting our guide in the lobby.

The first stop on today’s tour is a chocolate factory where we have a cup of coffee and a very rich chocolate brownie. We thought that a tour of the factory was included, but it turns out that it is an optional add-on. Instead we sit out on the porch enjoying the birds and the rainforest atmosphere.
Flowers
Chris
After our second breakfast we get to go on a zip line tour. There are a total of 10 ziplines of various lengths along the course. We are joined by another adventurous family group from California who have a couple of daughters around Chris’s age. Each zip is followed by a short hike uphill to the next platform, and I think we are still affected by the altitude a bit as our breath is a bit heavy. After the first couple of warm ups, the guides allowed 2 people to “superman” or “butterfly”. In these positions you zip accompanied by a guide. “Superman” faces you forward with arms extended to each side flying over the gorge and “butterfly” is head down with both legs and arms outstretched. What a head rush! Zip lines 8 and 10 are the fast lines as you race towards the ending platform.
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Zip line
Our next stop on today’s tour was a location that had a number of hummingbird feeders setup. There were a large number of hummingbirds visiting as we could immediately hear the hum in the air. After watching the birds for a while, Jason makes an observation. There are many different varieties, but there is a red-green variety that appears to claim its own individual bird feeder. It does not care if other varieties come to visit. But if another red-green variety shows up it will immediately jump off its branch and chase it away.
Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds
Our tour guide, Angel, took us to a restaurant where we were served a traditional Ecuadorian lunch that consisted of soup, trout, rice, and potatoes. I am really getting tired of the starches and would really like to have some other vegetables. As we are eating a couple of vendors come through selling their tropical fruits and macadamias nuts, which sort of surprised me as for some reason I though they just came from Hawaii. After lunch we take a stroll through town noticing the community park, the small shops, and a butcher shop with a whole pig hanging from a meat hook. Mindo seems to be a quite relaxed town with a few expats visiting for a while or an extended stay.

The last stop on today’s tour is the equator museum. As you might guess, it is located right on the equator, latitude 0, 0’, 0”. A couple of interesting experiments are setup that help illustrate the Coriolis Effect. The first experiment is a basin of water. When on the equator and plug is pulled, the water pours straight down. Move the basin to the south and repeat, the water spins clockwise. Move the basin a few feet north of the equator, and the water will spin counter-clockwise.
Equator
Equator
Equator
The next experiment was balancing a raw egg on a nail head. While still a challenge, it is supposedly easier on the equator than elsewhere. I can’t say that I had ever tried this before, but I was able to balance the egg on the nail head after I put on my “thinking glasses.”
Equator
Equator
Equator
Equator
The last experiment we tried was balancing while walking a straight line. Typical of a field sobriety test: heel-to-toe, arms extended to the side, and eyes closed. Apparently the forces are different than what the body is expecting making the task very difficult. “Seriously officer, I wasn’t drinking… I blame the Coriolis Effect!”

On the way back to town we stopped at an Ecuadorian ice cream store. The helados de paila or fruit sorbet is handmade in copper bowls. They used to gather ice from the glaciers and insulate it in straw for transport to the lower lying areas. Then they will manually spin the bowl around in the salted glacier ice to freeze the fruit juices. Today they don’t have to get their ice from glaciers. As we continued to town, the drive proved rather difficult as the 23rd is the biggest shopping day here. The market is packed and streets are heavy with traffic. As it turns out, the 24th is Ecuador’s big day of celebration for Christmas; families gather for a big evening meal and exchange of presents. So today everyone is doing their last minute shopping before tomorrow.
Quito traffic
Finally reaching the hotel, we have a short break before we go in search of dinner. Vicky and I walk to an ATM that is a couple of blocks away. Next to the ATM we find Wonder Woman, Spider Man, and Iron Man posing for pictures. I feel much safer withdrawing money with the superheroes nearby!

For dinner we walk down Guayaquil road towards the tourist area. This is the same area where we had dinner the first night Quito. We sit on the roof level with a nice view of the guardian Virgin Mary overlooking the city from her hilltop perch. Now, Christmas lights are decorating the hilltop as well and occasional fireworks arc in the distant sky.

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Ecuador 2017 – December 22, 2017

January 19th, 2018 No comments

Friday, December 22, 2017

Today is a travel day with our return flight to Quito making a quick stop in Guayaquil. Pick up at the hotel is promptly at 7:00 so we come down with our bags for an early breakfast. We have been warned that there could be several delays along the trip, waiting for the water taxi or waiting for the buses as it is a multi-staged transport scenario to make it to the airport. One the first stage we take a bus ride across the island and unload at the boat dock. A boat is busily loading up and so our new guide hurries over to buy our passage and get us onboard. After only a 5 minute wait, we take a 10 minute water taxi across a canal. On the other side we are again in luck as a bus is currently loading up and we scurry to get our bags in the lower luggage area and then our group all aboard. We just make it with seats in the back as we start the bus ride that takes us to the airport. The airport is on an old U.S. air base that was originally built to protect the Panama Canal. Now abandoned, it has been converted to a commercial airport.

With such good fortune in making all the connections from the hotel we are quite early for our flight. Remembering the pitiful ham and cheese sandwich on the way over we seek out a place to get a bit to eat and another coffee. It is a small airport with about four gates, perhaps half a dozen little shops, and a couple small cafes. One cafe has empanadas but the coffee machine has no milk, so we visit the other cafe and are in luck as their coffee machine is order. The large waiting area is filled with hard plastic chairs lined up in groups of three or four and we muse that we could all take our airplane ordered seats in here.

The flight is uneventful and once the group is in Quito, we say goodbyes as everyone is either returning home or continuing on with other adventures. Janine who has quite an extended holiday is now visiting Columbia and hiking about for several weeks; I guess it is much safer than it used to be. We strongly negotiate for a room that is not directly on the street this time as we will have a couple of days here and would like to rest well at night.

We stop at a local pharmacia to again stock up on electrolytes for our altitude adjustment phase. For dinner we return to the La Purisima. Jason’s soup is served in a shallow bowl that looks more like an appetizer than a soup. A couple of chunks of meat and vegetables, but no “soup”. We all look at it confused and then look up at each other and start laughing. A moment later the waiter comes out and ladles the soup from a very ornate bowl that he was holding. Jason comments, “apparently some assembly is required.”

Whether it was the altitude, airline food, last night’s tuna, or some other component of our diet, everyone has a touch of diarrhea that quickly passes, no pun intended.

Categories: Ecuador 2017 Tags: ,