Sunday, November 28, 2010

Highlands & The Coast

I´ve spent the last three weeks winding my way north up the Ecuadorian highlands and then moving west out to the coast. The scenery has been stunning, Ecuador is a small country but the terrain to extremely varied. The Andes run down the cetner of the country meaning you can get from snow capped volcanoes to balmy palm lined beach in a matter of hours.

My first stop after the Galapagos was Cuenca. Cuenca is a beautiful colonial city with a few very good museums. My favorite part of Cuenca was visiting an old factory behind the dirty bus station. Tucked behind the bus station was the Homero Ortega hat factory. Homero Ortega produces and ships out Panama hats (orginially from Ecuador). As any Ecuadorian will tell you, the hats originated in Ecuador and were simply renamed after they became popular in Panama during the banana boom.

The next stop was Banos, a small and charming but heavily touristed town tucked in a deep valley. Banos was named after the the thermal baths that make the town famous. Banos was a nice relaxing stop. From Banos we did a 60km bike ride on the narrow shoulder of a major highway to Puyo.

Laguna Quilatoa and Volcano Cotopaxi were the next stops. Laguna Quilatoa is a crater lake tucked into the volcanic hills near Latacunga. The population is indiginous and weather was cold and rainy when we were there. The crater rim hovers a few hundred meters over the lake and the fog and cloud prevented us from seeing the lake during most of our stay, but after a hike into the crater we were able to finally view the

Also just outside of Latacunga is Cotopaxi volcano, a nearly perfect snow capped conical volcano. The weather when we visited Cotopaxi was foggy too, meaning clear views of the entire volcano weren´t possible. We were able to drive up to snow level in a 4x4 and hike to a refugio while it was snowing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Mompiche is another sleepy surf town on the northern Ecuadorian coast. The town is charming and one of my favorite places that I've been to in the last 10 months. There are about 500 residents and only a handfull of gringos. The locals were friendly and happy. The town was simply relaxed. The beach is wide during low tide and very narrow at high tide with warm water and nice waves. I was able to rent a beachfront apartment for $10 a night with two friends and the apartment had a full kitchen.

I woke up at 7am in order to buy fish brought in just minutes before from local fisherman. These two fish cost 50 cents each. We had to gut and scale the fish but that was part of the fun. Getting other supplies like fresh vegetables could be difficult, with trucks delivering produce tri-weekly and with inconsistent hours, but that was Mompiches charm.

Mompiche had some of the best and cheapest seafood on my trip. Across the street from my apartment was an amazing restaurant and the Shrimp Apanados was a favorite dish of mine.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Galapagos

I spent the last 12 days in the Galapagos Islands off the Ecuadorian coast. The trip was amazing, I took an 8 day cruise on a 115 year old sail boat to travel between the islands.

Our boat, the Angelique, had 16 passengers and departed first to the southern islands of the archipeligo. We were led by a 22-year-old guide and crew of 7. We would snorkel once or twice and have one or two landings on the islands to view the wildlife each day. From 7am to 7pm our schedules were packed with great activities. The food was fantastic. The best meal was fresh caught Pompano purchased from fisherman who were trolling the waters off Genovesa. We were very well fed and taken care of the whole time.

The animals on the Galapagos are notoriously unafraid of people which makes for an unforgettable viewing experience. They have no fear of humans and don´t mind hoards of the photo hungry nature lovers snapping away. The National Park rules say stay 2 meters away which the animals tend to ignore when they often times approach you.

The Angelique, our 115 year old sail boat.

A White Tipped Reef Shark on Isabella.

An endemic Giant Tortoise chomping on some grass on Santa Cruz Island.

A Galpagos Penguin. Endemic to the islands, its the only penguin found above the equator.

Sea Lions were everywhere. They were very tolerant and would only shoot a glance over at approaching tourists. They enjoyed playing with snorkelers in the shallow water. This baby Sea Lion wasn´t quite old enough to swim yet.

A Brown Pelican diving for fish in the shallow surf.

A Lava Lizard.

Blue Footed Booby. They were especially prevalent on Espanola. We saw them show off their famed Booby dance once. The boobies dive for fish and use an air sac on the top of their head to help soften the impact when diving into the water.

Red Footed Booby. We went to Genovesa Island which is pretty far north an thus rarely visited by boats. Genovesa is the home to a huge colony of Red Footed Boobies. The Red footed differ from the Blue Footed in many way, once of which is that Red Footed live and nest in trees.

Nazca Booby. Nazca Boobies are a bit larger than there more colorful counterparts. Once called Masked Boobies, the Nazca Boobies remain a pure white color. Nazca Boobies rarely raise two young at once because while young, the two nesting baby Nazca Boobies will fight, with the larger baby killing the smaller.

Marine Iguanas are endemic to the Galapagos and range from black to green and red depending on their diet. They can hold their breathe for extended periods and are often harassed in the surf by playoff adolescent sea lions.

Land Iguana, chopping on a cactus, Plazas Island.

A male Frigatebird on North Seymour trying to impress a female.

Sally-Lightfoot Crabs.

A Swallow-Tailed Gull on Genovesa.

We ended up visiting Santa Cruz(10/28 & 11/4), Floreana(10/29), Espanola(10/30), Santa Fe(10/31), Plazas(10/31), Baltra(11/1), North Seymour(11/1), Genovesa(11/2), Bartolome(11/3), and Santiago(11/3) Islands during the cruise. I also visited Isabella(10/27-28), the largest Island in the chain which features 5 volcanoes.

The view of Bartolome Island.

A lava field on Santiago Island.

A small island protecting a reef where we snorkeled.