Parque Condor and Cascade Peguche

About 20 minutes away is a condor reserve that we visited last weekend. The reserve is on a beautiful hill in between the Cotacachi and Imbabura volcanoes. We saw eagles, hawks, condors and owls! Their website is here: https://www.parquecondor.com/

After looking at all the beautiful birds we went to a waterfall just down the hill called Peguche Falls. These falls are a ritual bathing site for the indigenous community during Inti Raymi and possibly other festivals!

Chachimbiro Hot Springs

On Saturday we went to Chachimbiro hot springs which is an hour outside of Cotacachi. Chachimbiro is a native Quichua word meaning “strength.” The hot springs are heated inside Cotacachi Volcano. The natives believe that the waters have healing properties. The water is high in iron, copper, iodine and other minerals.

We didn’t find out it was a water park until we got there. There were two slides; the Snake Slide and Dragon Slide. The dragon slide was my favorite. You could go really fast on it. The snake slide was dangerous. Jared hurt his head I hurt my elbow and foot. The dragon slide was fine and no one got hurt on it.

snake slide
dragon slide

It was really fun. There were many different temperatures of water. Some pools were cold, like the kiddie pool, and the rest were very hot. The temperatures of the hot pools were 86°F to 118°F.

The water was green because it was from the volcano. All of the people there were Ecuadorean except us and one other person. There were many people there because it was the weekend

We were there for 4 to 5 hours. We sat in the hot water for two thirds of the time and were on the slides for one third.

The Butterfly Farm

When we were in Mindo for the weekend, the house we stayed in was next door to a butterfly farm. The butterfly farm was a series of greenhouses that were each full of different types of butterflies and caterpillars. The first greenhouse had a lot of different types of caterpillars and chrysalises. The caterpillars had different amounts of times that they had to eat.

There was a section where the caterpillars started emerging from their chrysalises. Some fun facts – caterpillers bodies liquefy during their transition in the chrysalis. And butterflies can see ultraviolet colors.

Each type of butterfly lays their eggs on a different type of leaf. The monarch for example only lays its eggs on milkweed. One type of caterpillar makes a gold chrysalis. It’s very a reflective surface because they live close to the water, so they try to blend in by being reflective.

The second greenhouse was a big room where all of the butterflies could roam free and eat at multiple eating stations with fruit or some of the many flowers. There were butterflies everywhere, and some would land on us.

Visit to Mindo

A few weeks ago we visited a town called Mindo. While we were there we visited a chocolate making shop called Yumbos. They showed us how to make chocolate from the cocoa pods. The beans were all laid out to dry and we helped to spread them around. It smelled really good there.

After they showed us how to make chocolate we got to taste some! We had brownies, hot chocolate and fruit. This was my favorite part!

The next day we went on a hike to a waterfall. Before we could start the hike we had to ride a cable car across the river valley. We were very high up and we went really fast. After the hike was over I got a cold slushie that was Oreo flavor.

Sierra Negra

The volcano Sierra Negra is the largest volcano in Galapagos (2nd largest caldera in the world); the caldera is HUGE about 9 by 7 kilometers (5.5 miles by 4.3 miles) and is leftover from the collapsed volcano cone. Sierra Negra is on the Island Isabela; this is the largest island in the Galapagos; it is 2,883.162 square miles. The island expanded 1.4km when Sierra Negra erupted in 2018.

We hiked up to see the caldera and even went to the sight of a fissure though it wasn’t active when we saw it.

We had a guide named Nadia. The hike was one of the best parts of our trip. At the beginning, Karen and I sang the song, ‘The Ants Go Marching’ until we finally got to one hundred and thirteen. Neal joined in around sixty-three. The hike took around two and a half hours. The first part up to the gazebo was the longest. There, Neal and my mom stopped so Alora, Kate, Elle and Cooper could have lunch.

From that point on, only my dad, Jason, Karen, Grant, and I continued without the little kids, up to the fissure where the most recent eruption happened. On the way, we found out that we could eat the guava growing on the sides of the trail, even though it was a national park (because guava is an invasive species and that helps get rid of it) so that was cool. I did not like the after taste though.

After continuing, the dirt turned to lava rock. The further we went, the less trees and plants there were because the rock hadn’t eroded into dirt yet.

The ash at the top was hard like rock, not dusty like wood ash. It was really cool and when you would step on it, the ash sounded like glass. Some of the larger ash pieces that should have been heavy were really light. This was because they were really porous (lots of bubbles in them.)

Some of the ash rocks that were bigger, you would have to hold with two hands but that’s not because of the weight, it’s because of the size. If you had big hands you could probably easily do it with one hand. The rest of the ash was super small and it would get in your shoes.

In this one, the two rocks are the same weight.

The newly hardened lava created a thin layer that you couldn’t walk on because you would fall through into the abyss below. The area we walked on was made from the ash and exploding lava. If you looked closer at the larger ash-rock, you could see what looked like tiny river beds that had been dried up.

The newer lava ash was a shiny black. The older stuff (where lava didn’t get during the 2018 eruption) was a red-brown with plants most the time. This was where the lava from the 2005 eruption was so stuff had time to grow. Most of the spots where we were hiking had these kinds of places. The rest was gravel-sized ash that sounded like glass. The hike down was pretty uneventful except for a White Heron that was following the trail. That was cool.

Because Karen loves guava, she picked a lot on the way back, we saw lots of guavas on the side of the trail and since I was already covered in these little velcro seeds and Karen wasn’t, I had to go in to get them. We got at least 10 from one of the best trees. In all, we got about 20, (but sadly the next day we had to leave so we had to give them to the hotel because you aren’t supposed to bring fruits or plants to other islands. In the morning we saw a bowl of guava that could only be ours.)

This is a video of the 2018 eruption

Galapagos – Headed to Isabela

Since we were behind a day in our itinerary due to the missed flight, we lost a day of rest and had to keep moving. Today we are headed to Isabela Island, which is the largest island in the Galapagos. We were on the dock at 6am to catch a 2 hour ride back to Santa Cruz, and then from there another boat ride to Isabela. Thankfully no one got sick! By the end of the day I started to get used to being on a boat.

Although Isabela is the largest island, it is also the least populated of the islands we visited. The town of Puerto Villamil is where we landed and is also where most of the island’s 2,200 inhabitants live. We all liked this island the best, not only because there weren’t any crowds, but it also had the best beaches and we had our best accommodations here!

Our hotel was top notch and we had a pool for when we got tired of the beach! Aside from the wildlife, we had the beaches all to ourselves. The iguanas were all congregated around the black lava rocks and they blended right in. Sometimes I couldn’t see them until I almost stepped on them and they scattered away.

It was nice to have a bit of downtime compared to the previous few days, but we still have more to share, so stay tuned!

The “Soup Kitchen”

In town there is a “soup kitchen” that doesn’t serve soup. But, they do serve breakfast to the elderly Mon-Fri. There are 2 local employees & the rest is done by volunteers.

In coming to Ecuador we had two main purposes in mind:
1. cultural immersion
2. service learning
Before arriving to Cotacachi, I was anxiously searching for ways our family could serve in the community. I found a post about a thrift store that supported a soup kitchen, so I investigated. I was able to reach the thrift store owner and ask if childrens’ clothes would be useful for their shop. She responded enthusiastically. So, that was a great start. We filled one suitcase with childrens’ clothes for the “clothing closet”, that’s about the size of the store ; ).

After that she put me in contact with the Expat in charge of the soup kitchen, who just happened to live in the same complex as us. She invited me to go with her on a Thursday to see how things worked. And from there we were able to begin some actual service, it seems like a small drop in the bucket of possible needs, but it was a start nonetheless.

Today’s helpers

The morning begins by setting up chairs & putting silverware & fruit at each place setting.

The mural on the back wall depicts two individuals who attend the breakfast. The Señora on the right is 93 years old. She walks to breakfast every day, barefoot.

Once all the places are set. It’s time to administer the vitamins to everyone.

Meanwhile Grant & Max were peeling papaya for the meal. The meal usually consists of rice, eggs & bread served with fruit & a warm, filling drink. The drink is sometimes made of corn or oatmeal & other times fruit.

They also have clothes, shoes & shower facilities available for those who are in need. Medical professionals come once a month to provide needed care.

Musical Capital of Ecuador

So, the weekend after the fourth of July, Cotacachi had some huge parties & by parties I mean concerts. We have since learned Cotacachi is known & celebrated as the music captial of the north. I inquired about the musical capital of the south & learned there isn’t one = Cotacachi is just the musical capital. There are several sections of the local museum dedicated to music history & performers, composers & several dedicated practice rooms for current musicians. I thought that was pretty neat.

You’ve seen Alora & Kate dancing with friends at the Friday night concert (7/5) hosted by Youth for Peace (Jovenes por la PAZ). You can imagine my surprise when the 1st group got started at about 6:45pm, for their 5 o’clock performance (patience comes in handy around here sometimes 😉) & started rapping, in Spanish of course. It was so unexpected I just started laughing, don’t worry no one really noticed.

Hmmm, let’s see if I can find the clip.

The girls definitely loved the music.

July 6th Cotacachi celebrates becoming an official town of Ecuador (Cantonization).There were several concerts that day. Our friends were performing in Jovenes Indígenas. Their group, Tabikuna (“The Tabi’s” in Quichua), includes the boys’ YM’s President & Bishop, which I just think is extra cool. There are 7 of them in the group, all brothers! (Oh, that poor Mama! : D)

Here’s a quick clip.

We found their YouTube channel Juyanis (Quichua for “Love”). They play indigenous music of Ecuador, which we have really enjoyed!

Galapagos – A rough start!

The start of our Galapagos trip was rough. The short version is that due to a lengthy visit to the Galapagos office in the Quito airport (to receive our Transit Control Cards) followed by a surprise visit to the airline ticket booth (to pay foreigner fees), we missed our flight! After much cajoling of the airline (ask me for details sometime – it’s an entertaining story) they agreed to put us on standby for the next flight which was headed for a different island, but the Galapagos nonetheless. We didn’t find out until the last minute that they only had room for 7 of us and the rest would have to fly out the next morning. After a brief family huddle, we decided that Karen, the kids and I would fly out and that Maggi and Jason’s family would fly out the next day. So I boarded the plane with the kids and Karen destined for the Santa Cruz Island!

Kate and I on the airplane to the Galapagos!

We landed in Santa Cruz a few hours later and from there we needed to travel south to the town of Puerto Ayora. To get there from the airport we had to take a bus ($30), a ferry ($6) and then we divided up into two taxis ($50). Once there, our first item of business was to secure tickets for a boat to take us to the correct island (San Cristolbal). The boats had already left for the day, so we bought tickets for the 7am departure the following morning. At the port there was a small playground, so Karen and I left the kids there under the supervision of Jared and Grant in search of housing (keep in mind our prearranged lodging was on a different island!) We only walked about 50 yards when Karen spotted a hostal. We went in and they had two rooms left at $45 each. We payed on the spot and walked back to the playground remembering how a few hours earlier, before we ate airport sandwiches, we had prayed to give thanks and asked for guidance. We definitely felt directed!

Now that housing was secured it was time to explore and find some food! It wasn’t long before we started to notice the animals that were all around us. There were sharks, crabs, sea lions, iguanas, herons, pelicans. The most interesting were the sea lions because they walked around unfazed by people. They would lay on park benches and if there were people in the bench they wanted, they would bark and force the people to move.

We found a street not far from the docks that was blocked off and had dining tables lined up down the middle of the road. As we walked down the street, restaurant workers showed us their fresh fish, crabs, shellfish and other seafoods. We passed a stall that had beautiful looking shish kebobs (brochetas in Spanish). They had tuna, calamari, shrimp and yummy vegetables. We ordered 10 of them and found a spot amidst the crowded tables. The kebobs were AMAZING! They were covered in a butter and garlic sauce and somehow they made me forget all the stress of the prior 12 hours of the day! We told the restaurant owner that we’d be back with more family when we returned to the Santa Cruz island and then headed to the hostel for an early bedtime.

The following morning we were on the docks at 6AM for our shuttle to San Cristobal. The 2 hour boat ride was terrible because I got sick which caused most of the kids to get sick. Looking back it must’ve been a funny scene to see little Kate trying to console her vomiting father while all of her big brothers were vomiting around her, but at the time I wanted to die! For all future boat rides we took Dramamine and no one got sick again!

On the dock at 6am!

Once on San Cristobal, we found our lodging, rested a bit and then went to the beach. There were sea lions everywhere and we had to compete with them for space. At one point the boys dug a big hole in the sand and made a pool. Before they could enjoy it a big sea lion came up and shooed everyone away and laid in the pool himself!

After a few hours Maggi and Jason’s family showed up at the beach and our family was back together again! Wow what a crazy 24 hours that was!

Giant Tortoises

On our last day in the Galapagos, we went to a Turtle sanctuary and lava tunnels on Santa Cruz. Lava tunnels are small caves/tunnels that were created by lava. The rocks on the wall are full of holes because of the air trapped inside the lava when it hardened.

The turtles we saw were huge! They looked about 400 lbs. They were about 2.5 feet in width, and 3.5 feet in length. and as you can see, they can fit Alora and Kate in a shell with a little room left. I got in one of the tortoise’s shells but it was a very tight fit.

The tortoises loved the guava, and there were many half-eaten guavas everywhere. And no matter where you were there was guava; which is amazing because guavas are very good, but it is very bad for the island because guava is an invasive species.

This tortoise breeding center is very important because people used to hunt the tortoises and there used to be thousands of tortoise carcasses left scattered on the ground. People hunted them because the giant tortoises were a good source of meat and oil. The tortoises were recently in danger of extinction, with only very few tortoises remaining. In 1959 the Ecuadorian government made tortoise hunting illegal, and their population started rising again.

Videos

Tortuga Bay

A couple of weeks ago in the Galapagos we hiked to a beach called “Tortuga Bay” on Santa Cruz island. To get to the beach we walked a long trail to a beach called Playa Brava (Brave Beach) and then from there walked about 15 minutes to Tortuga Bay.

We built a giant sand castle. We started by building an arch connected to a giant circle of stairs and then realized it looked like the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek. On one side of the Starship Enterprise was a huge arc and on the other, kissing penguins.

We also got a two person kayak. Every one except Karina had a turn on the kayak. At the end they let me go out by myself then take kayak back.

After Karen left, we began building a wall around the city. Alora helped Dad build the wall and put decorations on the wall.

At Playa Brava there were napping sea iguanas at the edge of the beach. There were also sea turtle nests that were roped-off to keep people from stepping on them.

Snorkeling Los Tuneles

Isla Isabela, Galapagos

Friday morning around 11:00 am, we went to the snorkeling shop to get fitted into our wet suits, flippers, and goggles/snorkels. After we all got fitted, we drove to the dock to get on our boat to drive forty-five-ish minutes. Grant and I got to ride in the front of the boat. When we were upfront, the boat exaggerated the bumps so much. Towards the end of the ride, the waves were 4-5 meters high, or around fifteen feet tall.

The craziest part of the trip was trying to get into the “island” area – between the waves so they wouldn’t capsize us. This was intense so they made Grant and I get back in the back of the boat. Once we got past this part, one of the first things we saw was the Blue-footed Boobies. We admired these animals for a bit. We actually got to see the parents caring for 2 week old baby boobies. Then we moved on to the Galapagos penguins. These penguins are the second smallest penguin in the world.

We ate lunch at this point but not without seeing a sea turtle. We saw about four in this one day. Lunch was rice with chicken and other spices. It was soooooo good. Then we walked a little on the small “bridges” made from lava flows. The bridges were formed by the water cooling the lava creating lots of little tunnels.

Then we got to the part where we were going to go snorkeling so we put on our gear – the flippers and snorkels. Then we jumped into the water. At first, it was really clear but then dad came in and walked on the floor kicking up sand and making it cloudy and dusty? Once everyone was in we started to swim away from the boat to see different fish. One of the fish we saw on this excursion was the trumpet fish, the black-tipped shark (we saw like 12 of these), the green sea turtle and some fish with a beak that only I saw. One of the black-tipped sharks swam within 1 foot of Grant.

When I saw the fish with a beak coming towards me (looks scary in real life with its serrated beak). I swam as fast as I could. While I trying to escape the “beaked fish” I looked forward and saw a Black-tipped reef shark swim under Grant. That was scary but not as scary as the beaked fish chasing me. After all of that, there was a cave that had over ten sharks. All of them were sleeping in the same cave. Our guide would put us in the cave by holding our flippers & sliding us in, then pull us back out. We saw lots of other fish that I don’t know what they are.

Here’s a documentary about sea turtles.

The Galapagos

Known for its unique ecosystems and being Darwin’s inspiration for the the theory of evolution, the Galapagos islands lay 850 miles off of mainland Ecuador. The history of the islands over just the past millennia is fascinating as the islands change hands between countries, explorers, and governors. But first a small introduction.

The islands that you will hear of in the other posts are San Cristobal in the east, Santa Cruz in the middle, and Isabela in the west. So here I will offer a brief overview of each.

San Cristobal

One of the oldest in the arpeggio, the island gets its name from the patron saint of seafarers, St. Christopher. With about 6000 residents, most of the populace sits on the bay where the docks are and tourist activity is strong. There are several small beaches and snorkeling areas. There is also an informative museum detailing the history of the island up to the present, both the good and the bad.

Santa Cruz

The entire island is a National Park. Here, the Charles Darwin Research Station has a breeding program for endangered giant tortoises. With a population of 12,000, this makes Santa Cruz the largest urban center, though it is only the second largest island in size. Main attractions include the Charles Darwin Research Station, the sandy beaches, scenic bays, and lava tunnels.

Also, just north on a separate island is the airport, remnants of a WWII airstrip once called the Seymore Island Airfield. The airport was turned over to Ecuador after two years and in 2012 was the world’s first green airport. Self-sustained using solar power and windmills, the airport is made out of recycled material as well.

Isabela

The largest and one of the newest of the islands, Isabela is also the smallest in population with only 1,700 residents. The island has five volcanoes, all of which are considered active. However, due to the nature of the formations, the island volcanoes never erupt violently. Each year fissures release gasses and buildup so that when there is an eruption, it is considerably calmer than the vast explosions so heard of with other places. There has not been a need to evacuate due to any of the recent eruptions.

It’s impossible to talk about the Galapagos without talking of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. There are several ways in which animals would have arrived on the island. While there are many species of reptiles and birds, rats and bats are the only land mammals and there are no amphibians on any of the islands.

Carried only by water or wind currents, arriving species would have had to have been hearty enough to endure the lack of food or fresh water. Hence the numerous iguanas and tortoises which could have survived the harsh conditions.

Each of the islands that we visited has its own distinct feel as well as its unique species of animals. The history of the Galapagos has ranged from penal colony, a sight of ecological study, the ravaging of the giant tortoise and other resources, farmland, ecological preserves, and tourism. But considering this is an island that constantly undergoes change, it makes sense that the history evolves as well.

A Day in Quito

A day, a day . . . what can one do in a day . . . stick with me & you’ll find out.  So, after 2 exhaustive days of being on the road we had a day to explore the treasures of Quito. The day started with a trip to the park – Parque Carolina. The 1st thing was paddle boats & ice cream of course. Ice cream is not restricted to particular times of day when on vacation, in case you were wondering. After ice cream, the kids ran off some energy at the playground.

Local Moms give Neal & Karen a push on the group swing

We had lunch at Pim’s a recommendation from a friend of Karen. The food was delicious & we had an AMAZING view of the city.

Lunch at Pim’s

After lunch it was time to see the historic district. We started with Basílica del Voto National. Locally referred to simply as La Basilica. The craftsmanship was awe inspiring – how do they build things this ENORMOUS without machines!?! Prepare yourself for an onslaught of images, words fail.

Basílica del Voto National

Next stop, Iglesia de la Compañia de Jesús (Church of the Jesuits)

Here you can get a glimpse of Cooper’s love for food, in this case it’s espumilla. Truth be told after spending a couple weeks with this boy, I’m pretty sure he loves food – all of it.

For dessert we went to Café Plaza Grande, for a very interesting experience you have to order the ice cream (helado de paila). To see for yourself please view the video below, executioner ice cream.

After dessert we were able to enjoy Quitunes (Quito + lunes [Monday]). So, every Monday in the historic district of Quito they have traditional dancers come perform. It was SOOOO much FUN! Our personal favorite was the “flatulence fanning dance”

This dance reminded us of Inti Raymi in Cotacachi. I was especially impressed with the dancers’ ability to dance with streamers in their face!

The Quilotoa Loop

After spending the night in a chilly mountain farmhouse, we headed out for Laguna Quilotoa. The road to Quilotoa is a 4-hour loop traversing high peaks, beautiful valleys and tiny villages.

Every bend (there were a lot of them!) revealed incredible views. We must’ve taken 100 pictures along the way, and now that we look at the photos we realize they don’t do justice to the beauty of the area!

Quilotoa itself is a lake that lies inside the 2-mile-wide caldera of an extinct volcano. The lake is about 820 feet deep and is a beautiful greenish color as a result of dissolved minerals.