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Ecuador 2014 (final version)

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S: Ecuador 2014

FC: Ecuador 2014

1: Trip Itinerary | Thurs, 23 Jan Quito -- Cultural Museum, Basilica, Casa del Alabado Fri, 24 Jan Quito -- Church of San Francisco, Independence Square, La Compania Church, Equatorial Monument Sat, 25 Jan Galapagos -- Lava tunnel, tortoise reserve Sun 26 Jan Finch Bay -- Eco hotel, snorkeling Mon 27 Jan Darwin Research Station, Isabela II Tue, Wed, Thur Cruising the islands Fri, 31 Jan Return to Quito Sat, 1 Feb Travel to Sacha Lodge, night walk Sun, 2 Feb Community visit, Kapok tower Mon, 3 Feb Tree canopy, canoe ride Tues, 4 Feb Return to Quito Wed, 5 Feb Day in hotel, midnight flight Thurs, 6 Feb Return to Seattle | Cover art: View from Equatorial Monument, looking to the East. Back cover: Giant tortoise freely roaming Santa Cruz Island | Straddling the equator

2: Quito | Quito, the capital, is Ecuador's second largest city with over 2 million people. At an altitude of 9300 feet, it is the second highest capital city in the world. It was the first city named a UNESCO World Heritage site, based on its well-preserved colonial buildings. | Situated high above the city is the 135 foot tall statue of a winged Madonna, the only such depiction of Mary in the world. Ninety-five percent of Ecuadorians are Catholic. | People from every economic class and ethnic background seem to coexist peacefully in Quito. In Old Town, modest stores selling paper mache statues of Micky Mouse are found a block from beautifully preserved colonial homes in San Francisco Plaza.

3: Ecuador is a major exporter of roses, with over 100 varieties. Many are grown in large greenhouses situated just outside Quito. | The colonial upper class lived well, as evidenced by this parlor in a colonel's residence. | A single family colonial home that appears modest from the street might be a 10,000 sq ft residence with two interior courtyards. Some of these homes have been preserved as commercial establishments, such as this boutique hotel. | Quito's Astronomical Observatory was built in 1870.

4: The Cultural Museum boasts an extensive array of pottery, much of it pre-Columbian. Many pieces have a distinctly Asian feel to them.

5: Independence Plaza | Independence Plaza, or Grand Plaza, is in the center of Old Town. The Presidential Palace sits on the west side of the square, while the town hall sits on the east. | Looking toward town hall. | This statue of Liberty commemorates Ecuadorean independence. The Palace is visible behind the statue. | This sculpture depicts the Spanish lion being wounded by the arrow of liberty, commemorating Ecuador's independence from Spain. | Colonial side streets radiate from the plaza.

6: The Basilica | The Basilica del Voto Nacional (Basilica of the National Vow) sits on a high point overlooking Old Town. Construction started in 1892 and was largely completed in 1988. The neo-Gothic structure features many gargoyles that represent native species, including Galapagos iguanas and giant tortoises. The most decorated part of the interior, shown in the pictures to the left and below, is the votive chapel located at the rear of the main structure.

7: Iguanas. | Tortoises. | Condors.

8: Casa del Alabado is a private museum located in a converted colonial residence. It has a remarkable collection of pre-Colombian artifacts. | This piece reminds us that heads were reshaped during infancy to make them more attractive.

9: Some pieces from around 2000 BC are stylistically similar to modern art.

10: Construction of the Church of San Francisco began in 1535, making it the oldest church in South America. The church, chapels, and courtyards occupy about 7 acres, the largest such complex in the Americas.

11: Courtyard of the Monastery | Detail from the second pillar from the right in the picture below.

12: La Compania de Jesus | This church, started in the 1650s, is considered one of the best examples of colonial baroque on the continent. The intricate facade features six Columns of Solomon flanking the entrance. The church interior is almost completely covered in gold leaf. It is a most impressive sight, but no photographs are allowed.

13: Galapagos Islands -- Santa Cruz | The Galapagos Islands were formed when volcanoes grew large enough to rise out of the sea. The process is still going on today. The volcanic lava often flowed through large underground tunnels. Some tunnels have collapsed and formed sinkholes such as Los Gemelos, "the twins". Other tunnels remained intact, such as the one shown on the next page that we visited not far from Los Gemelos.

15: The giant tortoises found in this reserve on Santa Cruz are free to wander anywhere around the island. They tend to stay in this area because the food supplies are so abundant. | The Tortoise Reserve

16: Sea lions making themselves at home on a boat. | A person doesn't have to leave town to find copious wildlife in the Galapagos. The pictures on these two pages were taken in Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. Sea lions and Sally Lightfoot crabs can be found anywhere and everywhere. The others are not as common in town. | Sea lions relaxing on a buoy. | Urban wildlife in the Galapagos | Sally Lightfoot crabs.

17: Juvenile great blue heron. | Juvenile marine iguana. | Lava gull, the only all-dark gull. It is perhaps the world's rarest gull with only 400 breeding pairs. | Marine iguana, the only iguana at home in the water.

18: Guest rooms. | Dining room, dining patio, and pool. | The Finch Bay Eco Hotel, where we stayed for two nights, was located outside Puerto Ayora. Getting to the hotel required a panga ride from the town wharf followed by a 10 minute walk alongside the bay. There was plentiful wildlife to be found in the immediate vicinity of the hotel, both above and below water. | A female yellow warbler foraging just outside my room. | The hotel sign at the panga dock. | Finch Bay

19: Galapagos mockingbird. | Las Grietas is a swimming hole favored by the locals who enjoy leaping into the water from great heights. The only way to reach Las Grietas is to take a 15 minute walk from the hotel along a path made from jagged rocks of lava. Along the way, I ran across the animals shown here. | Galapagos lava lizard. | A plover at the edge of a lagoon.

20: Finch Bay snorkeling | Our two night stay at Finch Bay provided the first chance to field test my new snorkeling mask with the prescription lenses, as well as the underwater camera. The protected, shallow waters of Finch Bay were ideal for these trial runs. Fortunately, it also gave me the chance to capture the pictures shown on the next few pages. | Mexican barred snapper. | Chilean jack mackerel. | Sergeant major fish. | Tiger snake eel.

21: This marine iguana repeatedly swam from one side of the bay to the other. | Brown pelican. | Three banded butterflyfish with blue-eyed damselfish.

22: Parrotfish are just as colorful as their avian namesakes. | I followed this stingray for a while, but when he felt threatened, he buried himself in the sand.

23: Finch Bay snorkeling | Slate pencil sea urchin. | Galapagos bullseye puffer -- unique to the islands. | Galapagos grunt. | Oblong mojarra (silverbiddy).

24: The research station works to replenish diminished tortoise populations on the islands. Suitable candidates are bred, the eggs incubated, and the young ones raised for about five years before being released into the wild. The saddle-back tortoise has been a particular concern. There is also an iguana breeding program. | "Macho" Diego, a venerable saddle-back tortoise, has been a star breeder, replacing "Lonesome George", who died in 2012. | The youngsters are well fed. | After the incubated eggs hatch, each tortoise gets a unique identifier painted on its back for tracking purposes.

25: Moving to the shady spot. | Land iguanas roam everywhere. | Darwin cactus finches. | Flowering prickly pear cactus. | Galapagos mockingbird.

26: Isabela II | We boarded the ship Monday afternoon at Puerto Ayora. We followed the itinerary as shown, finishing up at Baltra on Friday morning. | Approaching Isabela II for the first time. | Taking our first panga ride to board the ship. | Thirty-five people boarded the Isabela II (which has a capacity of 40 passengers) for our five day journey. A crew of 27, plus 3 naturalists, catered to our every need. The ship never docked while we were aboard; three pangas (Zodiacs) ferried us to each destination. Every morning and every afternoon found us in a new location, an itinerary strictly controlled by the national park service. | My compact, but comfortable, "singles" cabin. None of the cabins had locking doors.

27: After dropping anchor in Baltra on Friday morning, the ship dumped organic waste overboard. This got the local population of blue-footed boobies, pelicans, brown noddy terns, and sea lions very excited. | Feeding frenzy | Brown noddy terns cruise overhead looking for scraps. | A sea lion passes underneath. | Boobies dive ceaselessly. | Pelicans and boobies wait patiently for the next handout. | A blue-footed booby skips across the water gathering speed for take-off.

28: Santa Fe Island | Sea lions playing in a tidal pool. | Sea lion staring down a Sally Lightfoot crab. | Fur seal pups. | Fur seals are smaller than sea lions, with shorter snouts, thicker necks, and more pronounced ears. | (Tuesday morning)

29: The Galapagos dove is found only on the islands. It is the chief pollinator for the flowers of the prickly pear cactus. | The Santa Fe land iguana is characterized by its pale color. It can be found in only one place in the world -- on Santa Fe island. | A marine iguana stretches out along the rocks.

30: South Plaza Island | Five iguanas under a prickly pear cactus. | Blue-footed booby. | Best friends. | Two Nazca boobies and a blue-footed booby. | (Tuesday afternoon)

31: On alert. | Finding a comfortable spot for a nap. | The lizard is tolerated because it feasts on flies attracted to the sea lion. | Male yellow warbler (with red cap), | Colorful sesuvium (scarlet ice plant) blankets the island.

32: South Plaza Island | Juvenile swallow-tail gull. | Swallow-tail gulls and blue-footed booby. | Land iguana basking in the sun. | Bellying up to the bar. | Colorful cascades of vegetation.

33: North Seymour Island | A key attraction of North Seymour is the frigatebirds. There are two varieties, the Great and the Magnificent. Both are majestic flyers. | The most challenging part of visiting North Seymour is making it safely off the panga as it powers into the rocky cliff. | Juvenile great frigate (orange throat.) | Juvenile magnificent frigate (white throat). | Female magnificent frigate with an iguana behind. | Female magnificent frigate with young. | (Wednesday morning)

34: Male frigates are known for their stunning courtship display where they inflate their bright red gular sacs and beat their wings to make a drumming sound that attracts females. | Male carrying a twig files with a partially inflated gular sac. | Juvenile great frigate (with orange throat.) | Baby frigate.

35: North Seymour Island | Courtship ring created when a booby twirls while pooping. | Adult and juvenile booby. | Swallow-tailed gulls. | Baby booby. | The ubiquitous land iguana. | The focus on Galapagos wildlife can sometimes cause one to forget just how beautiful the setting is. | North Seymour Island

36: North Seymour snorkeling | King angelfish and blacknosed butterflyfish. | Black triggerfish with black-striped salema. | Pacific trumpetfish. | Heiroglyphic hawkfish with black-striped salema. | Yellow guineafowl puffer hiding under a rock. | Stone triggerfish. | (Wednesday morning)

37: Las Bachas (Barges Beach) on Santa Cruz Island | The lagoon at Las Bachas is a primary feeding ground for the Galapagos flamingo. The total population is around 300 birds. | (Wednesday afternoon)

38: Bartolome Island | Just getting on the island is a challenge when a mother sea lion is protecting her pups. | What looks like an atoll is a volcanic crater. Pinnacle Rock is visible in the back. | Viewing the same spot from the top of the hill, we see a crater within a crater. | Looking down at the Isabela II, the iconic Pinnacle Rock can be seen on the left. | The astronaut Buzz Aldrin once described Bartolome's barren volcanic landscape as more like the moon than any place on earth. Higher elevations are almost completely devoid of vegetation. | (Thursday morning)

39: Much of the island is composed of volcanic ash, making the rocks remarkably light. | At the top. | It's a long way down. | Lava cactus is one of the few things that will grow here.

40: Bartolome snorkeling | The crystal clear waters of Bartolome, combined with the variety of sea life, make it an ideal snorkeling spot. | Galapagos pufferfish. | Blue-barred parrotfish. | Spotted pufferfish hiding in the rocks. | Sea lion looking for a snack. | Cortez hogfish. | Black trigger fish. | (Thursday morning)

41: Pacific Creole fish, a small grouper. | King angelfish with adult Cortez rainbow wrasse (the lollipop wrasse) in the back, along with juvenile rainbow wrasse. | Male (on left) and female Cortez hogfish along with a Galapagos grunt investigate what the stingray is stirring up. | I photographed a white-tip reef shark about 6 feet long at three different locations.

42: Sea lions are very comfortable around people. They allow you to swim with them for long periods of time. They will come right up to you and stare you in the face, perhaps looking at their own refection in your mask. It is a magical experience.

43: Given the size of a sea turtle, often exceeding 500 pounds, they are remarkably graceful in the water. I swam alongside this turtle for several minutes and he never surfaced to take a breath.

44: Bartolome snorkeling | Panamic cushion sea star with black damselfish. | Panamic cushion sea star with orange-sided triggerfish. | Panamic cushion sea star. | Chocolate chip sea star. | Coral. | While preparing to photograph a sea lion, something plunged into the water beside me. I snapped a picture and later discovered it was a penguin.

45: School of yellow-tailed surgeonfish.

46: Snorkeling at Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island | School of black-striped salema swimming over blue-barred parrotfish. | Yellow-tailed surgeonfish and rainbow wrasse. | Black damselfish. | Black cabrilla grouper with red stoplight cardinalfish. | (Thursday afternoon)

47: Blue-barred parrotfish, rainbow wrasse, and yellow-tailed surgeonfish. | Sergeant major damselfish. | Nearly invisible heiroglyphic hawkfish, lying in wait for a meal to pass by. | School of Galapagos grunt.

48: Santiago Island | The eruptions of a shield volcano in 1897 left Santiago Island barren, with no vegetation as far as the eye can see. The flowing lava created intricate patterns. Large cracks and fissures appeared when the lava cooled and tunnels collapsed. Stakes indicate the areas where it is safe to walk. | Having people from our group in the picture helps provide a much needed sense of scale. | The braid patterns are created as winds pass over the cooling lava. | (Thursday afternoon)

49: We passed by Pinnacle Rock as we left Sullivan Bay on Santiago Island. A group of Galapagos penguins makes its home there. | Penguins visible at the base of Pinnacle Rock.

50: Group photos | Courtesy of our guide Dennis. | North Seymour, with boobies. | North Seymour, on the cliff. | Bartolome, overlooking Pinnacle Rock. | South Plaza. | Santiago.

51: Tour guides | Henry -- Quito guide. Born in Quito. | Ernesto -- Amazon native. 21 years at Sacha Lodge. 9 kids, 44 grandkids. | Daniel -- English speaking guide. Born in Quito. | Dennis -- lead guide in the Galapagos. | Josie | Viviana | All three of our guides on the Isabela II were born in the Galapagos Islands. | Our great tour experience was made possible by uniformly excellent guides. Henry took care of the 17 members of the Avalon tour in Quito. Dennis, Josie, and Viviana covered the 35 adventurers on the Isabela II, and the five of us that continued on to the Amazon enjoyed the dedicated services of Daniel and Ernesto.

52: Journey to the jungle | We saw few settlements and little traffic along the stretch of the Napo we traveled. We did see barges moving construction equipment, such as this modular office. | The Napo is a large tributary of the Amazon, often exceeding 1/2 mile wide, and running at 2 knots even in the dry season. | We boarded this "canoe" at Coca for our journey downstream. Our twin outboards powered us to over 20 knots. | The old saying "getting there is half the fun" applies to Sacha Lodge. At the Coca airport, our checked bags were transferred to a pick-up while we rode a bus with our carry-ons to the Napo river. There we put on life jackets and boarded our canoe for the 2 hour ride downstream to the Sacha Lodge landing. From the landing we walked a half hour through the jungle to board a dugout canoe for a 15 minute ride to the lodge. All of the supplies for Sacha arrive in exactly the same way we did. | After two hours on the river, our canoe landed on the beach where we started our walk to the lodge.

53: We enjoyed a BBQ dinner in this pavilion on the lake. The landing on the right allowed swimmers easy access to the water. | Paddling through a man-made canal in the jungle. | Arriving at the lodge. | The walk ended at the boat house. | Colorful bracts of the Heliconia plant were seen along the trail. | Our path was boardwalk for much of the way, making it passable during the rainy season.

54: Sacha Lodge | Sacha Lodge encompasses more than 5000 acres of the Ecuadorian Amazon. There are many hiking trails and canoing streams that allow a visitor to fully explore the area. The daily plan allows for three separate activities -- one starting between 6 and 7am following an early breakfast, one in mid to late afternoon, and a third at night following the 7:30 dinner. | The main lodge features a buffet style dining room on the main floor, with a bar and lounge on the second floor. It is topped with an open air crow's nest looking out over the jungle. | Looking down from the crow's nest to the marina. | Looking down from the crow's nest to the second floor lounge. Clockwise from the left are Doug, Sheila, Cathy, and Debbie.

55: Jungle lodging | Sacha Lodge is a delightful combination of luxurious and rustic. You can completely relax during your stay since there is no TV, radio, phone, internet, or newspaper. The Seahawks won the Super Bowl while I was there, but I didn't find out until we left two days later. The daily 5:30am wake-up call is provided by a staff member who knocks on your room door. | Beautiful hardwood floors set off the bedroom. On the left, under the room safe, is a dry box (which has a lit light bulb below it) where you can safely store your electronics out of the high humidity. | Slate tiles line the bathroom. The floor to ceiling windows in the bath have no curtains because there is only jungle behind you. | Travel from the lodge to your cabin is by an elevated walkway. Each of the 13 cabins has two rooms. Doug and Sheila stayed in the room on the left; I was on the right. None of the rooms have locks.

56: Night walk | After enjoying dinner following our arrival, we went on the first activity. Going for a walk in the jungle at night reveals a wealth of creatures not seen during the day, including a wide variety of frogs. Especially striking are the tiny and colorful poison dart frogs, whose deadly venom was used to coat hunting darts. | Ground toad. | Frog on a leaf. | Poison dart frogs. | Each of these was first spotted using flashlights.

57: Tarantula under the eave of a building. | Tarantula on the ground. | Spider on its web waiting for prey. | A grasshopper's eyes light up from the camera flash. | The flash illuminates only the water lily, leaving everything else in the dark. | Orchid. | Spiders can be found at every turn. | Night walk

58: Jungle walk | Giant wasp nests are found everywhere, including right behind my cabin. | Stilt palm, also known as the "walking palm". | Buttressed trees spread their weight over the soggy floor of the rain forest. | Tapping the dragon's blood tree yields a thick red sap used for insect bites. | Two ani birds. | The hoatzin (or Canje pheasant) is one of the most striking birds in the jungle with its spiky crest. | White-tailed trogon, sporting an unusual barred tail. | A daytime walk through the jungle provides additional insights into this unique world.

59: Clay lick | Parrots visit clay licks to neutralize the toxins found in the nuts and seeds that they eat. Parrots visit first thing in the morning on a daily basis. This clay lick is on the shore of the Napo River. The closest we could approach by boat was several hundred feet. On the return trip, we spotted other wildlife. | This deer with a wounded foreleg was spotted on the edge of the river. | The bumps on the bottom of this log are bats.

60: Sani Isla community | We were offered the opportunity to visit Sani Isla following our stop at the clay lick. This community of about 400 is drawn from the native Kichwa people. They have banded together to help preserve their culture and 100,000 acres of jungle in the face of pressure to sell out to the oil companies. | Weaver bird nests. | Our hostess, in front of the community kitchen and multi-purpose room where we had a meal. | Boa constrictor found on the grounds. | Low water levels in the river make for a steep climb up the ramp to the community. | Kite.

61: Hunting for a manioc shrub, also known as cassava. | Peeling the root of the manioc reveals the white flesh that is the source of tapioca. | Mashed manioc is combined with tilapia and wrapped in banana leaves. | The fish, plantain, and nuts are all grilled. | The steamed fish makes a delicious meal. | Setting the table. | Arranging the meal on the table. | Preparing our meal

62: Kapok tower | The native peoples consider the kapok a sacred tree. It is certainly one of the most imposing trees in the jungle. This tree may be 600 years old. The tower surrounding it has 183 steps and rises to a height of 135 feet. | View from the top. | It's a long way down. | Crimson crested woodpecker. | Purple throated fruit crow.

63: Squirrel monkeys | As we rode our canoe to the kapok tower, we heard in the distance a troop of squirrel monkeys moving in our direction. We stopped the canoe and waited in the stream as 100 monkeys swung through the trees over our heads. They moved so fast and so high in the trees that it was difficult to get pictures. We also heard howler monkeys, but we never saw them. | In the canoe. | The monkeys rarely lingered for more than a few seconds before making another jump.

64: Canopy walk | Black agouti -- a rodent similar to a guinea pig. | The canopy walk is 940 feet long and suspended between 3 towers over 90 feet above the jungle floor. Serious birders arrive at first light. We arrived a little later. | Crested oropendola. | Toucan. | Yellow headed vulture.

65: More fauna | Red poison dart frog with a blue underbelly. | The world's only nocturnal monkey, the night monkey. They roused themselves to look out the entrances to their hollows after Ernesto knocked on the trunk with a heavy vine. | Black and white frog. | Male (above) and female (right) orange-banded shoemaker butterfly, a rare sex difference in markings. | Siproeta butterfly enjoying a meal.

66: After catching a large fish, the caiman dragged it into the jungle for a leisurely meal. | This caiman (alligator) made his home underneath the pavilion. | The Sacha lake area | I was the only one in our group that went swimming in lake Pilchicocha, which teems with caiman and piranha. The water in this black water lake is delightful. | Sunset at the lake. | I went fishing for piranha and managed to catch this little guy with the very last piece of meat that our guide Daniel had brought from the kitchen.

67: Parting shots | The Amazon five -- Doug, Sheila, Debbie, Steve, and Cathy. | A jungle flower. | A cabin vignette created by Doug and Sheila's steward. | Parrotfish feeding on colorful coral. | A school of Galapagos grunts.

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  • Title: Ecuador 2014 (final version)
  • Featuring Quito, the Galapagos Islands, and the Ecuadorian Amazon.
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  • Published: over 5 years ago