Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

the Galapagos Islands

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

land iguana giant tortoises-2

frigate birds with strong beaks used to steal food red-footed boobie bird upclose

Our Galapagos Island trip was amazing.  There are animal species that are endemic to the islands, and for that reason makes the Galapagos special.  We stayed on board of a 100 ft. yacht with 13 other guests.  The weather was perfect.

Each day we visited a different island, snorkeled, and hiked on the island for a few hours.  On the island of Santa Fe we went in search of the land iguanas, in the mangroves of Santa Cruz we went to see the sea turtles, on Genovesa Island we saw the blue and red-footed boobie, the nazca boobie and the frigate birds.  The male frigate bird spends his time building a nest and inflates his red sack in an attempt to attract a mate.  During our hike one male frigate swooped down and pecked Mike on the head–probably mistaking his shiny dark hair for twigs that would be a good addition for his nest.  At Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island we walked on lava flow only 100 years old.  And we visited the giant tortoises on Santa Cruz.

snorkeling with the penguins! My favorite part was snorkeling and watching all the underwater sea life.  We went swimming with the penguins, sea lions, tons of different fish and a white tipped shark, which we followed until it double backed on us!

The Galapagos penguins would swim around diving down, then come back up for air.  Once it stopped right in front of me, looked into my eyes pondering my existence, then instinct kicked in and off it went in chase of a meal.  Sad to say, though, they aren’t so skilled at catching fish.  Even with huge schools of fish, the penguins didn’t have much success– chasing the fish back and forth, back and forth, but missing each time.  I wonder if they go hungry most days.

sea lions resting-2 Unlike the penguins, I did see a bird dive into the water, and with amazing accuracy catch a fish.  Pretty amazing to see what goes on below the surface of the water…the bird (sorry, I’m not sure what kind it was) dove down about 12 feet into a school of fish, there was a small commotion of water, and bang, it got a fish.  And as quickly as it dove into the water, it ascended nearly as fast out of the water.

The sea lions are also fun to snorkel with.  Slow as they are on land, underwater they jet past like a bullet, swimming circles around us.  They are also much larger than the penguins, so when they stop abruptly in the water to stare, it’s a little alarming.  Lucky for us though, the sea lions aren’t bothered with people snorkeling in their waters.


Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Bizcochos in CayambeOn the way to and from Otavalo, we stopped in Cayambe, a little town famous for bizcoches. Literally the entire town bakes these little biscuits, making it difficult to decide which place to stop at. The bizcoches are traditionally eaten with queso de hoja–sounds strange, but the biscuits are a bit dry, so the string cheese helps.

Otavalo market

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

Considered one of the biggest handicraft markets in all of South America, we decided to take a ride north of Quito to check out Otavalo. Market day in Otavalo is on Saturday and there are four different market areas– handicrafts or souvenir, produce, the large animal market and the small animal market. The whole town participates, everyone is selling something, everywhere. 
Otavalo market-9

The traditional Ecuadorian women in Otavalo wear a lacey blouse, wool skirt cinched with a decorative woven belt, plait their hair in a woven band, wear a wool shawl around their shoulders or on their head. They didn’t wear fedoras and velour skirts like the women in Saquisili south of Quito, but they did wear gold necklaces. Oh, do they like these necklaces. We found a few vendors selling these necklaces, and the tables were crowded with Ecuadorian women looking to add to their collection. These multi-string necklaces of glass beads filled with gold are made from varying qualities. The color of the gold and the smaller the bead, the more expensive. The necklaces are said to last 15 years, I bought one so I in 15 years I´ll let you know if mine is still good…

Otavalo cockfights

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Otavalo cockfights

Saturday night is cockfighting night in Otavalo. It’s quite an unusual spectacle, and although illegal in the States, it is still a very big part of Ecuadorian culture. About 100 people, mostly men, but a decent number of families crowded into a small stadium. We arrived early and saw some of the “pre-game” show, so to speak. The owners would proudly place their roosters on a big table to display them to the other contestants. They would be inspected, weighed and evaluated to determine who would fight who and what the odds would be. Eventually, when everything was set, the roosters touch beaks (seriously) and the fights began.  It wasn’t nearly as gruesome as we had feared.  The roosters do smack each other around, but spend most of the time tangled up, just like regular boxers.  Unfortunately for the roosters, they have these sort of spikes taped to their feet, so when one of them jumps up and kicks, thats usually when the knockout blow comes.  When a rooster goes down, the referee gives him the version of a 10 count by holding him up by his wings and seeing if he can stand on his own.  3 tries and he’s out.  Luckily we didn’t see any real carnage, mostly a few stunned and scraped up roosters and a few very angry owners since you have to put up $100 to enter and you double your money if you win.

Otavalo cockfights-2

You should see the one that got away

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Christine's caught a Pirranah

The Pirranah's teeth

We spent the afternoon piranha fishing, or more accurately, piranha feeding, as less than 10 seconds after the bait hit the water, it was devoured. Oddly enough, they didn’t seem to want anything to do with the people swimming a few yards away. Lucky for them, because these guys have some teeth on them. Christine proved to be the best fisherman in the group, reeling in 6. 2 were too small, but we had the other 4 for dinner.

Leafcutter ants

Sunday, June 8th, 2008

Carry Ants-2

These little guys were all over the rainforest.  Every once and a while we would find a line of ants stretching for hundreds of feet.  They would be carrying leaves back to their nest from the top of huge trees.  Thousands of them making this huge journey, over and over again.


The Amazon

Friday, June 6th, 2008

Last week we headed off to the Amazon Basin in Ecuador. Ever since we left Africa, we’ve been missing spending our days watching animals, but since 1/3 of all species of wildlife live in the Amazon Rainforest, we figured we would make up for lost time. What we didn’t take into account is that the majority of these species are birds, and fish, and insects. Nothing against the little creatures of the world, but a bad day in Africa meant we only saw a few dozen elephants, giraffes and zebras. A good day in the rainforest means you see 5 birds, a frog and if you are lucky, a monkey.

Birdwatching towers at Sacha LodgeBirds are quite a big deal in the Amazon. The are 1600 different kinds in Ecuador and there were 600 alone in the area of our lodge. Unfortunately for us, there are few things we are less into than spending the day looking for birds. One of them is getting up at 5AM to look for birds. The other is getting up at 5AM to look for birds, and there being no birds to look at. This was the case the first few mornings as it was overcast and not good for bird watching. Oddly enough, when it was too sunny, that wasn’t a good time for the birds either. We did get to climb this cool canopy bridge to not see any birds at 5AM though.

MillipedeWe quickly learned to adapt our expectations to our new environment. The Amazon rainforest is huge (2.1 million square miles), 40% of South America, and dense. So the wildlife that lives there has plenty of places to hide. We had to take notice of the small things. Sure it’s easy to spot an elephant. But finding a tiny insect or frog in the middle of the jungle is a lot harder. Our afternoon hikes were filled with learning about how the indigenous people in the jungle used the various types of plants and trees. We eventually did get to see some interesting birds…parrots, owls, toucans and vultures. We also saw a 3 toed sloth and a caiman, which is a South American crocodile. We just missed seeing an anaconda, and had to look jealously at another group’s pictures. Below is a tarantula that our guide found hiding in a tree.


more fried goodness…

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

LLapingachos We tried the fritada, a fried corn patty with cow cheese. It’s greasy, and the cheese is strong and tart, but where the cheese and corn are a bit burnt, it’s delicious.

Saquisili market

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

pigs for sale, about $100+From Machu Picchu we headed back to Cuzco, and flew to Quito, which basically saved us about 3 days on a bus.  Once in Quito, we rented a car and to do the Quilotoa circuit, the highlights include the Saquisili market and the Quiltoa crater, Cotopaxi volcano but also passing by the towns of Sigchos, Zumbahua, Tigua, Pujili, Chugchilan, and Latacunga.

The Saquisili market onThursday mornings is jammed packed with locals selling everything from fruits, vegetables, grains, household goods and domestic animals. It rained the night before and on Thursday morning making the area a muddy mess, and the animals all a bit gnarly. The addition of farm animals to the market made for an exciting morning. We spoke to a few animal sellers to see what the going rate for their animals would be…an 8 month old pig was about $100, a cow $300, and a 15 year old llama $80 dollars.
mangled corn lovely carrots

manioc leche fruit