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Toucans of Mindo

25 Jun

If you are patient, observant and in the right place at the right time you just may see a Toucan or two in the humid forests on the eastern Andean slopes in the environs of Mindo, a sleepy village about two hours east of Quito, Ecuador.  Mindo is rapidly becoming a tourist, as well as native Ecuadorian, mecca for tropical bird watchers, zip-liners, white water rafters and hikers.

Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis)

Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis)

The Choco Toucan lives in the humid lowlands or foothill forests of the Pacific slope of the Andes of Ecuador and Columbia.  They are generally seen in groups of 2-5 (we saw five) perching or flying short distances between trees in dense cover.  They are fruit eaters like others in the family and are easily identified by their bright yellow chest and bright yellow over black beak.

Choco Toucan with exposed red rump.

Choco Toucan with exposed red rump.

Two more members of the same family that are often seen in Mindo are the Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus) and the Pale-mandibled Aracari (Pteroglossus erythropygius).

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

Crimson-rumped Toucanet

The Crimson-rumped Toucanet is about half the size of the Choco Toucan or the Pale-mandibled Aracari.  Its range is a little wider than the Choco, frequenting the humid Andean forests of Ecuador, Columbia and Venezuela.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet feeding on bananas.

Crimson-rumped Toucanet feeding on bananas.

Although it has a small crimson patch at the base of the tail feathers, the Crimson-rumped Toucanet is a vivid two-tone green with a white ring encircling the base of the beak.  It loves bananas.

Pale-mandibled Aracari

Pale-mandibled Aracari

The Pale-mandibled Aracari is a large, striking bird with a red rump and a full yellow chest and stomach that appears marred by a large “wound hole” in the chest and a reddish-black  horizontal bar across the base of the stomach.  The eyes are bordered by a slash of red.

Pale-mandibled Aracari eating bananas.

Pale-mandibled Aracari eating bananas.

The Pale-mandibled Aracari appears mostly as a solitary bird unlike its family member, the Choco Toucan.  It can be found on the western Andean slopes of Ecuador and in Peru.

All three are impressive, colorful birds and usually lend themselves to good picture taking.

Also visit Mindo in the Clouds; the Birds of Mindo and the Butterflies of Mindo.

Pululahua, the “Cloud of Water”

23 Apr
Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve sign.

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve sign.

Just north of the capital city of Quito and near Mitad del Mundo (The Middle of the World) is a fascinating place called Pululahua, which in the indigenous Quichua language means “cloud of water” or fog.  A short taxi ride from Mitad del Mundo will take you to the observation area on the crater’s east rim.  Be prepared for cool weather, especially if there is cloud cover or it is early or late in the day.

Pululahua crater in early morning fog.

Pululahua crater in early morning fog.

South rim of Pululahua.

South rim of Pululahua.

North rim with lifting early morning fog.

North rim with lifting early morning fog.

Pululahua is an inactive volcano with an elevation range of 1800 to 3356 meters (5900-11,000 feet).  It is estimated that it last erupted around 500B.C.  It is only one of two known inhabited craters  in the world and the largest in the world to be currently inhabited.  It was first settled by the Incas.  Much later, in 1825, the Dominican monks took over the crater, establishing a large hacienda using indigenous slave labor to farm the rich magma soil.

Not sure, but likely the old Dominican hacienda undergoing renovation.

Not sure, but likely the old Dominican hacienda undergoing renovation.

In 1905, the Ecuadorian government confiscated the lands within the crater.  However, almost 75 years later, in 1979, the land was returned to indigenous farmers who continue to farm the crater today.

In 1966, Pululahua was established as Ecuador’s first National Park.  Twelve years later it was designated as a Geobotanical Reserve of 3383 hectares (8359 acres).

The large crater is dominated by three lava cones, named Pondoña, El Chivo and Pan de Azugar.  Pondoña is the largest, rising 500 meters (1640 feet) above the crater floor.

The 500 metter high Pondona ash cone (center).

The 500 meter high Pondona ash cone (center).

During an earlier visit we met this Quichua man dressed in the traditional clothes of a tribal leader.  Interestingly, he spoke some English and had just returned from spending a year on an Indian reservation in the southwestern United States.

Indigenous man in full traditional dress.

Indigenous man in full traditional dress.

Papallacta and Beyond

3 Mar

Papallacta, one of Ecuador’s renowned hot springs towns, is about two hours east of Tumbaco on route 35 (could be 3o minutes as the crow flies) or 30km (22 miles).  We have been to or past it several times, mostly when it is heavily overcast, misting or raining.  Not really a tourist haven, but often visited by both Ecuadorians and tourists who are made aware of its existence.

The trip to Papallacta can be a little frantic as one winds up and down the narrow two-way road that is now even more challenging as a massive road construction project is underway to widen the road from Pifo to Papallacta into a four lane mountain trail with steep drop-offs and few guard rails.

This stretch of highway 35 under construction is the only straight section.

This stretch of highway 35 under construction is the only straight section.

In the photo above, notice the snow on the mountain top to the left.  This was in mid-February this year.  Our missionary friends who have been here for 40 years said it was the first time they have ever seen snow on these lower mountains.

The narrow roadway with all its twists and turns with no shoulders is normally a dangerous route with no sightseeing permitted for the driver.  Now with construction and the steep drop-offs it has created in places, driving has become even more hazardous as the tour bus driver below discovered.

Tour bus flipped off the road into a steep drop-off created by road widening construction.

Tour bus flipped off the road into a steep drop-off created by road widening construction.

Scenery along route 35 to Papallacta goes from dry mountain terrain to lush forest and many long ribbon waterfalls and mountain streams that feed the rivers hundreds of feet below.

One of many ribbon waterfalls along the route.

One of many ribbon waterfalls along the route.

Along this mountain highway also runs an above ground oil pipeline that delivers Amazon jungle crude oil to a refinery on the Pacific coast of Ecuador.  Ecuador’s rich oil reserve helps to keep the country’s gasoline and diesel prices steady at around $1.48/gallon and $1.03/gallon, respectively.

Oil pipeline that runs from the Amazon oil field to a refinery on Ecuador's Pacific coast.

Oil pipeline that runs from the Amazon oil field to a refinery on Ecuador’s Pacific coast.

Precious Andean water is also pumped through a pipeline from the mountains on the east to the capital city of Quito about 50 km to the west.

Mountain fed stream heading to the river way below.

Mountain fed stream heading to the river way below.

One of many mountain streams flowing to a river below.

One of many mountain streams flowing to a river below.

Just before you get to Papallacta, as you are coming down the mountain into the valley, on the left there is a little hot spring with a series of pools known as Termales Jamanco.  The day we were there it was cold and overcast, but the water of the pools fed by water from nearby volcanoes was just right.

The thermal pools of Termales Jamanco are warm and soothing.

The thermal pools of Termales Jamanco are warm and soothing.

Termales Jamanco has several different size thermal pools and spas.

Termales Jamanco has several different size thermal pools and spas.

Just down the mountain from Termales Jamanco you will see Laguna Papallacta, a small but picturesque Andean lake.

Laguna Papallacta.

Laguna Papallacta.

Not far beyond Papallacta, on top of a mountain vista is a shrine or grotto to the Virgin Mary, where she has been declared Reina del Paramo or Queen of the Wilderness.  Everywhere you go in Ecuador there are little and big shrines to Mary.  At least one at the entrance to every little village or along isolated roadways.

Reina del Paramo (Queen of the Wilderness) groto in the mountains near Papallacta.

Reina del Paramo (Queen of the Wilderness) grotto in the mountains near Papallacta.

At the sight of Reina del Paramo, on a clear day (which is not very often because of the altitude), you can get a beautiful view of the volcan Antisana.

Photo of the volcan Antisana taken on a beautiful August day.

Photo of the volcan Antisana taken on a beautiful August day.

About 20 km past Papallacta you come to a “Y” road split.  To the right and south takes you to the little mountain town of Baeza where there is a monument to the former method of mail and milk delivery by mule or horse over the mountains.  The mountain passes were too steep and narrow, so the “postman” mostly led his steed instead of riding it.  For milk transport, the mule or horse carried two large milk cans.  While the postal service has upgraded to vehicles, milk delivery through the mountains uses the same centuries old method.

The quiet village of Baeza.

The quiet village of Baeza.

Baeza's monument to a former and current method of delivery.

Baeza’s monument to a former and current method of delivery.

Milk is still delivered by horse or mule today in the mountains of Ecuador.

Milk is still delivered by horse or mule today in the mountains of Ecuador.

A little outhouse along a stream near Baeza with the discharge into the creek.

A little outhouse along a stream near Baeza with the discharge into the creek.

All along the mountain roads are thousands of Bromeliad species that saprophytically cling to native trees.  Some of these saprophytic plants can be three feet in diameter and eventually sprout an impressive and colorful flower stalk two or three feet high.

A large cluster of Bromeliads covering several host trees.

A large cluster of Bromeliads covering several host trees.

If one continues on the road through Baeza for another mountain road-twisting 50-plus kilometers you will reach a straight stretch of road that takes you to the large jungle river town of Tena.  Three rivers converge in Tena and in April, 2010 a “state of emergency” was declared as much of the city became inundated with flood waters from heavy winter rains.  Another flood (less severe) occurred on September 25, 2011, impacting many families living near the rivers.

Taking the left fork and driving north about 15 or 20 km you will come to the mountain village of Chaco.  Chaco is “famous” for the whitewater rafting and kayaking on the Rio Quijos that runs parallel to the town.

The Rio Quijos near Chaco.

The Rio Quijos near Chaco.

Rio Quijos is also a favorite trout fishing river for the local inhabitants.

Rio Quijos as it flows through the mountain jungle near Chaco.

Rio Quijos as it flows through the mountain jungle near Chaco.

Chaco is also home (at this time) of the curious red-spotted calf.

Red-spotted calf of Chaco.

Red-spotted calf of Chaco.

Whatever road you take, if you are the driver, be sure to keep your eyes on the road.  If a passenger, you are likely to spy one of many species of colorful orchids along the roadside.  Unfortunately, there are few places along the narrow mountain roads to pull over and get a closer look at their beauty.  But on a side gravel road, a quick stop allowed for a quick observation of the beauty below.

The beautiful Sobralia rosea orchid near Chaco.

The beautiful Sobralia rosea orchid near Chaco.

Vargas Ministry Youth Mission Trip: The Jungle Trek

4 Dec

About mid-morning the next day, before we headed home from Misahualli, we hired a river/jungle guide (Carlos) to take us up the Napo River by motorized canoe for a short, but adventurous, boot-sucking slog via a pre-planned trail hacked out of the thicket for previous trekkers.

Our group, poised and ready, for our river trip and jungle trek.

Our group, poised and ready, for our river trip and jungle trek.

Fortunately we did not have to paddle up river in native canoes.

Fortunately we did not have to paddle up river in native canoes.

All 20 of us fit “comfortably” in our motorized canoe that had a canopy for shelter from the sun or rain . . . we got a little rain.  The Napo is an interesting river to navigate, running alternately between smooth water and rough water as it drops down toward the east and the jungle.  It is loaded with smooth rocks of all sizes, the surfaces having been worn smooth from decades of water, sand and stone erosion and “polishing.”

Safe and secure in our canoped canoe.

Safe and secure in our canopied canoe.

Our pleasant and accommodating guide, Carlos, was constantly explaining where we were going or where we had been (I’m not sure which).  I was in the back and could not hear a thing.  Even if I did, my lack of Espanol (that’s Spanish for Spanish) comprehension would have left we wanting for understanding.

Carlos explaining something, I'm sure.

Carlos explaining something, I’m sure.

An abandoned river boat lies mired in the river bed.

An abandoned river boat lies mired in the river bed.

One of several small home clusters along the river.

One of several small home clusters along the river.

As we travelled upstream, we noticed several groups of people on the river’s edge with small dredges or bilge pumps.  They were dredging the river bottom and sifting for gold, which apparently the river releases from time to time.  I was told that the going rate for their efforts was about $800/ounce, which is pretty good (if that is accurate).  Ecuador, I have learned, sits on one of the largest gold reserves in the world and there is a considerable amount of gold prospecting that goes on in various parts of the country.

Dredging for gold seems to be a family acivity.

Dredging for gold seems to be a family activity.

Smooth "sailing".

Smooth “sailing”.

Followed by rough going.

Followed by rough going.

After about a half-hour boat ride up river, Carlos had the boat pilot steer toward a beach front along the jungle.  There we were given some quick instructions on what to do and not do on our trek through a section of the jungle.

The group listens attentively (more or less) to Carlos's jungle trek instructions.

The group listens attentively (more or less) to Carlos’s jungle trek instructions.  Nita seems puzzled or doubting.

Carlos shows off a cannon ball size smooth stone from the river bed.

Carlos shows off a cannon ball size smooth stone from the river bed.

Entering the jungle through a tangle of vines and long-hanging adventicious tree roots.

Entering the jungle through a tangle of vines and long-hanging adventitious tree roots.

First stop was for Carlos to explain the growth habit of a thorny bamboo and to avoid its sharp thorns.

First stop was for Carlos to explain the growth habit of a thorny bamboo and to avoid its sharp thorns.

The bamboo thorns on adventious roots were very sharp and intimidating.

The bamboo thorns on adventitious roots were very sharp and intimidating.

Although August is considered the dry season in the-is area of the Amazon, there were still plenty of slippery slopes and boot-sucking bogs to negotiate.

Jimmy lends a helping hand to Andre in crossing a muddy creek and up a slippery slope.

Jimmy lends a helping hand to Andre in crossing a muddy creek and up a slippery slope.

Francisco helps Kathleen up a muddy slope.

Francisco helps Kathleen up a muddy slope.

Mud (mostly organic matter) like this sucked the boots right off my feet.

Mud (mostly organic matter) like this sucked the boots right off my feet.

Not far into the jungle Carlos stopped beside what is known as the “walking tree” (Socratea exorrhiza), a type of palm with a curious growth habit.   As the tree grows, it produces sturdy adventitious roots that anchor it to the ground.  The original tap-root that first anchored the young tree then rots and breaks off so that the tree is supported only by the adventitious roots.  The tree, over time, will then develop more adventitious roots on the side of the tree where there is more water or sunlight.  As these new roots develop and become anchored in the soil, the roots on the opposite side of the tree die, rot and break off allowing the tree to move toward the greater source of light or water.  As this procedure is repeated, the tree can move around 15 centimeters or about 6 inches per year.  Fascinating!

Carlos explains the growth habit of the "walking tree" in front of him.

Carlos explains the growth habit of the “walking tree” in front of him.

Dead and dying adventious or stilt roots of the "walking tree".

Dead and dying adventitious or stilt roots of the “walking tree”.

Another highlight of our short trek was the opportunity for some of the younger Tarzan types to try their vine-swinging abilities.  Actually the vines were adventitious roots that hung straight down from trees high above.

Jonathan gives his best Tarzan imitation as Carlos and Felix watch.

Jonathan gives his best Tarzan imitation as Carlos and Felix watch.

For more information on this youth trip and the Vargas children’s ministry in Tumbaco, Ecuador, click on the other blogs below.

http://ecuadorlifeandculture.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/the-vargas-childrens-ministry/

http://ecuadorlifeandculture.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/vargas-ministry-youth-mission-trip-mishualli/

http://ecuadorlifeandculture.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/vargas-ministry-youth-mission-trip-misahuallis-jungle-children/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindo, Part 3: The Butterflies of Mindo

29 Jun

Equally as colorful as the birds of Mindo are the many butterflies of Mindo.  Although most of the photographs in this blog where taken of butterflies in “captivity.”  Nevertheless, they represent the wide diversity and creativity of God’s world that we enjoy.  Enjoy the following photo essay. Continue reading

Mindo, Part 2: The Birds of Mindo

25 Jun

The birds photographed for this blog were mostly at the Yellow House or at El Descanso in Mindo.  The Yellow House was described in my previous blog, so I provide a little information about El Descanso (The Rest) which is right in Mindo. Continue reading

Mindo in the Clouds: Part 1

21 Jun

This week we took a couple of days to travel about 2 to 2.5 hours west of Quito to the quiet little village or pueblo of Mindo on the western slope of the Andes in the world-famous “cloud forest” region of Ecuador.  If you live in or plan to visit Ecuador, I highly recommend you include a couple of days in Mindo as part of your itinerary.  We were only there two days and I  took almost 450 pictures (some of which I will share in my four-part series on this tropical area).

Mindo is nestled in a valley within the government-created Mindo-Nambillo Protected Forest of 19,468 hectares or 48,105 acres (that’s 75 square miles).  It’s primary claim to fame is that it boasts 470 bird species that make their home there (more than any other place in the world).  However, on the way to Mindo, if you are driving or taking a hired transport, I also highly recommend you divert off the main road to Mindo onto the gravelly, rocky and often nerve-racking 45 km (28 mile) Ecoruta del Quinde. Continue reading

Botanic Garden of Quito

29 Mar

The Botanic Garden of Quito or Jardin Botanico de Quito is located on the south end of Parque La Carolina in the heart of downtown Quito.  The view below is looking west toward Mount Pichincha.

Parque La Carolina in Quito looking west.

Continue reading

Trencito Magico (Magic Train) in Ibarra

12 Feb

Last Sunday we were treated to an absolutely magnificient trip.  The only thing not so magnificient was that we had to get up at 4:00 in the morning in order to get a taxi from Tumbaco to Quito to catch the tour bus at 6:00.  Our Ecuadorian friend who invited us had arranged for a taxi to pick us up at 4:45 and then drive to her home to pick her and another friend up at her house.  By 5:00 the taxi had not arrived so we called Rosie, a local cab driver that we have used often and has been very reliable.  Rosie showed up in five minutes and we were on our way. Continue reading

2011 in review

19 Jan

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 40 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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