Monday, March 23, 2015

Celebrating Spring Equinox At Tulipe, Ecuador: March 21, 2015

The most annoying aspect of the 9-1/2 delay in returning to Quito is that it meant we were also 9-1/2 hours late arriving at our cloud forest destination in Mindo. We were picked up at the airport by Pablo and his young daughter Camila. Sadly, they also couldn't get any information from Tame Air so had been killing time waiting for us to finally arrive. But, he collected us and he began the drive northwest to Mindo. Another complication was that even though it was very late at night, traffic was quite congested with slow trucks because one of the coast highways was closed due to a mudslide.

Just at midnight we arrived at the Sachatamia Lodge in Mindo. The decor was charming, but we didn't linger. We jumped into bed because we were getting up at 7 am for breakfast to begin our last day in Ecuador.

Morning came quickly but gently with soft light and the rising clouds. Our room was on the 3rd floor and we could see brightly colored hummingbirds flitting past our windows. With breakfast done, Dan and I had time for a very short stroll through the grounds.

Next, we were in Pablo's car headed 45-minutes away to Tulipe Archeological site. At the Tulipe museum, we joined a hike that was being organized by Christina who works at the museum. The hike was over one of the trails used by the Yumbos as a trade route. The Yumbos lived from 800-1660 AD. The trail, or culunco, was a dirt trail that would have been overgrown with vines and shrubbery creating a tunnel effect. This route connected the cloud forest Yumbo with the coastal people and was used as a trade route to transport seafood and other products under the cooling protection of the vine-covered ceiling. The Yumbo also built high mesa-like earthen structures called Tolas. Tolas were used to look for approaching enemies and possibly to get closer to the gods. This was the inaugural hike for this trail.

Just as we were beginning the hike, the leche (milk) man came down the culunco with his donkey loaded with a can of milk.

Along the way, some of the strangler vines were cut away from the trees and used as Tarzan-like swings. A group of policemen/women from Quito were in Tulipe for extra security but as the Equinox ceremony had not yet begun, they were also part of the inaugural hike. Like us, they had a good time being tourists.

Looking at the view from a Tola

Above, Pablo and Camila--notice the family resemblance?

We hiked along the culunco and over two Tolas before turning back. Back at the museum we were all greeted with a delicious, refreshing drink made from crushed corn.

Tulipe is a small, neat town of one street that surrounds the archeological site.

In front of the small hardware store, a stand was set up to sell local specialties made from sugar cane. Another stand sold a potent liquor called Yumbos'.

We followed the ceremony participants as they paraded through Tulipe to the archeological site.

There was music and the Equinox ceremony began with dancers representing several groups of ancient people.

 The dancers in blue represent the Yumbo, the old ones who lived at this site from about 800-1660 AD.

There was also an elaborate dance involving the changing of the old year for the new year.

Bringing in the New Year (I think)
And, the Old Year is dead

Then a Shaman spoke solemnly and asked us all to raise or hands and give our thanks to the four directions and the gods of the sky, water, trees, and finally to kneel and thank Pachamama (Mother Earth also Mother of the World).

Next, he asked something of us that I will always remember. He said to hug someone near you and say, "Yo soy tu." Yo soy tu means "I am you"; just three words but a powerful philosophy to live by. Dan and I hugged and then one of the women dancers came over and hugged me. We both said, "Yo soy tu."

With the ceremony over, it was time to partake of Pachamama's earthly bounty. A free lunch was served. Plates were heaped with corn of all types: popped, ground, hominy; baked cassava root; fava beans; banana chips; and potatoes.

The Yumbos used pools of water to study the night sky in the watery reflections. 

Pachamama held the rain until we were leaving. On the way back to Quito, Pablo stopped at one of the monuments for the equator. Dan and I took photos of each other standing at the west side of the monument on the equator line. One of his feet is in the northern hemisphere and the other is in the southern hemisphere.

We were up at 2:30 am the next morning to catch our 6:05 am flight back to the US. This was a great vacation!

Sachatamia Lodge (
Tulipe Archeological Museum

Friday, March 20, 2015

Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos, Ecuador: March 18-20, 2015

On the way to Santa Cruz Island in the small plane, I photographed the spot on Isabela Island where we swam with sea turtles, where Galapagos penguins swam with us, and where we saw marine iguanas and sharks.

Brown Noddys fishing between Baltra and Santa Cruz Islands

The plane landed on Baltra Island which is a small, flat island next to Santa Cruz Island. We took a bus to the channel, a ferry across the small channel, and met our driver.

Our hotel was in Puerto Ayora located on the other side of the island. Like Isabela, Santa Cruz has many different micro climates. To get to the hotel we drove through the highlands of Santa Cruz stopping at Rancho Manzanillo for lunch and a walk through their grounds. The tortoises of Santa Cruz are free and wide ranging. Tortoises traverse the island stopping along the way to hang out at the lush grounds of Rancho Manzanillo.

The rounded, dark lumps in the grass beyond the foreground tree are giant Galapagos Tortoises. Once our eyes adjusted, we saw tortoises everywhere.

Before lunch we took a brief walk at Los Gemelos (the twins). Los Gemelos is the highland location of two large sink holes or volcanic subsidences. Once there, we walked through a forest of giant sunflowers called Giant Scalescia. Ernesto said the clubmoss plant was alive when dinosaurs walked the earth.

one of Los Gemelos
 The Giant Scalescia flower and a view of the Giant Scalescia forest.

An endemic cucumber (Syciocaules)

Leaving the lush highlands behind, we drove to Puerto Ayora. To get to the hotel, the Angermeyer Waterfront, we took a short water taxi ride (.60 before 6pm and $1 after 6pm) across the cove.

Some people rent boats that are at anchor in the cove. The water taxi delivered these riders to their boats and then took us to the Angermeyer Waterfront Inn. The view from our room was stunning.

The next day, we water taxied back to the port, walked several kilometers over a mountain and down to the magnificent Tortuga Bay. On the upper part of the hike we saw more finches and Ernesto explained some of the flora and fauna along the way.

As the Galapagos prickly pear cactus ages, it develops a tough bark for protection. The fruit of this cactus is not edible.

The beach at Tortuga Bay is another seemingly endless stretch of fine white sand. While we were splashing along in the shallows, we were joined by several young black-tipped reef sharks.

Again, the animals are unafraid of humans. We were ignored as were all the sun lovers sharing the beach.

After a short snorkel in the mangroves, we walked back to Puerto Ayora for lunch and a tour of the Charles Darwin Station.

We were already familiar with the story of Lonesome George, the last tortoise of his kind, but on our visit we found out that he was probably impotent (or perhaps simply not interested in the opposite sex) and the story just a fairytale made up to get funding. We learned about the real star--an Espanola Island Tortoise named Diego the Beast.

Sometime in the 1930s a group of 13 Espanola tortoises went to the San Diego Zoo in California. Diego was a member of that original group. In the late 1960s, the remaining Espanola tortoises (2 males and 12 females) were brought to the Charles Darwin Center.

Back in California, Diego wasn't happy in the zoo and didn't play well with any of the other tortoises. By the 1970s he was the only surviving Espanola tortoise in the San Diego Zoo. In 1977, the San Diego Zoo offered Diego to the Charles Darwin Station where Diego was reunited with the remaining Espanola tortoises. He shares his space with a rotating couple of female Espanola tortoises who he successfully impregnates. Each year a new set of two females are rotated in and tortoise sex continues. Many of Diego's descendants have been returned to Espanola Island. To date Diego is responsible for at least 1,000 new tortoise births. What a stud--no wonder he looks so tired!

Then, it was time to leave the Galapagos. We left our hotel before sunrise the next morning, crossed the cove by water taxi, drove 45 minutes to the channel, took the short ferry ride to Baltra Island, bussed to the airport arriving at 8 am for our 10 am flight, and then waited until 5:30 pm for our flight to arrive and whisk us away to Quito. We were scheduled on a Tame Air flight. Tame is a government airline, and they have about four planes. Unfortunately, our plane was broken so they had to wait for the Miami-Quito flight to arrive and then send that plane to Baltra. The biggest annoyance was that the airline never explained the situation nor could they tell us if a plane was on the way. We were stuck at the airport 9-1/2 hours with no internet and pay phones that did not work.