Category Archives: Ecuador

All news and updates pertaining to Ecuador

VIVA Travel Guides Photo Contests

After sharing your photos of your trip to Peru or Ecuador with family and friends, there’s one more place you can dazzle eyes: the V!VA Travel Guides’ community.

V!VA Travel Guides is having two contests for the best photo of Peru and Ecuador.

Each winner will have his or her photograph published on the cover of latest edition V!VA Travel Guides Ecuador & Galápagos and V!VA Travel Guides Peru, and each receive $100.

For complete guidelines, see the V!VA Travel Guides website. The deadline for entering photographs of Peru is Monday, October 1 and for Ecuador, the deadline is Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Winners will be chosen by the V!VA Travel Guides facebook community. To vote, like Viva Travel Guides – Peru and Viva Travel Guides – Ecuador on facebook, then choose your favorite shots.  Tell your family and friends to vote and show their pride in your photographic eye!

Voting ends the same day as the entry to the contest – So enter early, to have the best chance to receive a lot of votes.

Good luck!

 

Welcome to Ecuador Julian Assange

The Ecuadorian Government today announced that they will give Julian Assange political asylum. There’s only one small detail: he’s camped out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the British police insist they will not let him leave the embassy, let alone fly to Ecuador, without being arrested.

As the owner of a travel guidebook company based in Quito, Ecuador I can say that Julian is really missing out by “being in Ecuador” while in reality he’s actually stuck in London. Bummer for him.

So Julian, why not make the most of your time in London and start planning out your trip to Ecuador?

In honor of ALL those around the world stuck somewhere miserable who have dreams of visiting Ecuador, here’s a coupon for a FREE copy of VIVA Travel Guides’ Ecuador eBook:

Ecuador eBook, welcome Julian Assange

Go here: http://shop.vivatravelguides.com/ecuador-1.html
And use this coupon code to download your free Ecuador eBook: WelcometoEcuadorJulian
(valid through August 31)

Note that this offer doesn’t include a stealth rescue helicopter or any other transportation arrangements for Julian or anyone else, but the ebook certainly will help out in planning and once you’re actually here in Ecuador!

Happy Travels,

Jason Halberstadt
Founder of VIVA Travel Guides

On the Road – Peru: In Mourning

Since yesterday morning when I first heard the news, I have been in mourning — as have thousands around the world.

 

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have lost iconic Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise in the world.

 

Lonesome George. Photo by Rachel Tavel

 

Lonesome George (in Spanish, called Solitario Jorge) was found and captured on his native Pinta Island in 1972, whose landscape was devastated by goats introduced by humans. He was taken to the breeding grounds on Santa Cruz Islands, established to recuperate populations of giant tortoises whose populations were sorely diminished by centuries of hunting and destruction of habitat.

 

Solitario Jorge became a symbol of man’s devastation of the environment and the struggle to bring back species on the brink of extinction. For the next four decades, the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG), the Charles Darwin Research Station and scores of scientists combed Pinta Island and zoos around the globe looking for a pure-bred mate for George. Indeed, it appeared this Geochelone nigra abingdoni was alone in the world.

 

In 1993, the scientists decided to introduce Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) females, a species closely related to the Pinta Island tortoise, into his corral, in hopes of preserving at least part of his species’ gene pool. The years rolled on with no results. Finally in 2008, the females laid eggs on several occasions. Unfortunately, the eggs proved to be infertile. Later these females were replaced with ones from Española, which species is even more closely related genetically. They remained with him until the end of his life.

 

Solitario Jorge was found dead in his corral on Sunday morning by Fausto Llerena, who took care of him for over 40 years. PNG scientists believe he died of a heart attack, but will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. His approximate age was 100 years. George’s body will be preserved for future generations of humans to learn about this species and environmental issues involving extinctions.

 

Today, the websites of international newspapers and NGOs are awash with the sad news, commemorations and calls for further conservation work to prevent the extinction of any more species. As Godfrey Merlen so eloquently expresses: “We need to take a certain risk to make every effort to stem the tide of extinction.  Let his name live on, not as a sight to see but as a symbol of our determination.”

 

During the months I spent in Galápagos volunteering with an international NGO, I often stopped by Lonesome George’s corral to pay him a visit. Sitting in the shade of the patio, watching him lumber across the rocks beneath giant opuntia cactus, I would ponder how it must be to be the last of one’s species. Is he cognizant he is the only one left, that of all his kin that were kidnapped and killed, he is the only survivor?

 

Lonesome George was an Everyperson’s pet. In every corner of the planet, people knew him, speculated about his sexual prowess and pondered his species’ future. We all knew it was the end of the road for ­­­­ Geochelone nigra abingdoni. But we hoped against all odds a pure-blood female could be found, that he would have offspring, that the Pinta tortoise would not become extinct. Extinction is forever. And we have seen another Earth species pass to that terminal state — and we have witnessed it with our minds and in that space Lonesome George occupied in our hearts.

 

The Guardian honors Lonesome George’s life with a wonderful slideshow. His life was chronicled in Henry Nicholls’ Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Macmillan, 2006).

 

During July, Parque Nacional Galápagos will have a special photographic exhibit of Solitario Jorge in his corral. The PNG requests anyone who would like to submit photos, to send them to: solitario-george@dpng.gob.ec.

 

To learn more about the Galápagos Islands and prepare for your trip there, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Galápagos, authored by official Galápagos resident Christopher Minster, PhD. It is available in e-book and print formats.

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

Venturing into El Almuerzo

During my first week living in Quito and working in the V!VA Travel Guide office, I was challenged with finding the perfect lunch spot to fit my budget and keep my mental energy high and alert for the remainder of the workday. What better than an almuerzo joint?

”Almuerzos” are generally open during lunch with a pre-determined menu, offering juice, soup, a main dish, and, depending on the quality of the almuerzo joint, a dessert. All this food amounts roughly to $1.50-$3.50.

For my first venture, I shuffled down Diego del Almagro, attempting to find  nice almuerzo while staying loyal to my monthly budget. Within a couple of blocks, I found a sign posted outside a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant with ”ceviche”-a seafood concoction marinated in fresh juices and spices-as the main course.  If you asked, I wouldn’t be able to give you the name or the exact address.

High-quality ceviche (ceviche by powerplantop)

Once I plopped down in my chair, the server immediately presented me with a heaping portion of soup. I tried to identify its contents before I slipped the spoon in my mouth, but couldn’t. Instead I poked and jabbed at the meat until three Ecuadorian men sat down at my table. The tiny restaurant was reaching capacity.

”Do you know what kind of meat this is?” I asked. In Spanish of course.

The three men poked at their own soup and let out a boisterous laugh.

”No se.” One of the men replied.

Apparently for a meal this cheap, the animal origin of its ingredients is hardly a factor. Nonetheless, I forced down the ambiguous soup, and the ceviche was quite tasty. My subsequent ventures to other almuerzos near the office have all been positive. Plus, they’re great for practicing Spanish with locals.

It's Carnaval!

All over the world, Catholics are celebrating Carnaval. This huge street party lasts until the moveable feast of Ash Wednesday, celebrated in February or March. When next Wednesday rolls around, faithful will be going to a special mass to celebrating the beginning of the 40 days of Lent and the traditional fast that accompanies it.

 

Carnaval in Santa Marta. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

From New Orleans, Louisiana (where the party is called Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday) through to Tierra del Fuego, Carnaval is in full swing. In some parts, it becomes a water fight with no-one left unscathed. In other places, like Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, corn starch flurries. Foam string is also commonly spritzed from cans. What all have in common are colorful costumes, lots of music and dancing, plus chugging of whatever the local brew is.

 

No matter where you’re at, it’s not too late to join in on the fun. If you aren’t in the neighborhood for the big blow-outs in Barranquilla or Rio de Janeiro, then perhaps these destinations are closer:

 

In V!VA Travel Guide’s home country, Ecuador, many people head to the beach. In most parts, you can expect to get drenched. In Ambato, however, water throwing is prohibited. In that highland town, enjoy its Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas, filled with with colorful parades, handicraft exhibits and other events.

 

Carnaval in Puno.

In Peru the biggest celebration is in Puno. Its feast days of the Virgen de Candelaria merge into pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. One V!VA correspondent relates: “I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of ‘La Virgen de la Candeleria,’ a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.”

 

Oruro in neighboring Bolivia is THE place to be in that town. In 2001, UNESCO declared the festival to be a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Incredibly carved masks are part of the wonders to behold there, as well as the hours of dancing and chicha drinking.

 

The Andean-style Carnaval is also celebrated in northwestern Argentina, in Tilcara. This nine-day festival begins with masked revelers unearthing a small devil figure. Foam, water and firecrackers are de rigeur. Here, the favorite liquor of partiers proves their Argentine culture: Fernet with cola.

 

A Montevideo murga. Photo by Emma Jones

 

Down on the other shore of the River Plate, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Carnaval has a Brazilian saborcito to it. Massive murgas (drum and dance troupes) parade through the streets of the capital. Montevideo’s fest also has the distinction of being one of the longest in the world: It lasts 40 days.

It's not Rio -- this is Montevideo's Carnaval! Photo by Emma Jones

So get out your dancing shoes and get crazy this next weekend. It’s a holiday no matter where you go — and so you should enjoy it just like the locals. Take care, have fun — and get your hangover remedies ready for Wednesday morning!

On the Road : Peru — Viringos

A viringo, or Peruvian Hairless Dog. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In the ruins of northern Peru inhabits a strange-looking, ugly creature. Some travelers might mistake it for a large rat with long legs; others, a poor, mangy dog.

 

It is neither. These creatures of dark grey, leathery skin and a head tufted with sparse golden hair are the viringo, or hairless Peruvian dog. It was the mascot of the ruling classes of the Moche, Chimú and other nations that lived along these desert coasts. They have been found buried in elites’ tombs, like that of the Lord of Sipán at Huaca Rajada, near Chiclayo. Archaeologists believe they were considered to have special connections with the Underworld and other supernatural powers. Sometimes they were used for meat. They were frequently represented in pottery.

 

The Inca called the Peruvian hairless dog allqu. In Quechua, its name is kaclla, or “hot water bag.” The viringo is one of several breeds of hairless dogs found in the Americas, as well as other parts of the world. International kennel associations only recognize the viringo, Mexico’s xoloitzcuintle (escuintle) and the Chinese crested. Bolivia and Ecuador also have native hairless varieties; that of Guatemala is considered extinct.

 

Viringos not only are hairless, but also virtually toothless. Their thick skin allows them to have a high body temperature (39-42ºC / 102-108ºF) to stay warm in the chill nights. For generations, local humans have used this trait as a medicine. The dogs are placed on parts of a patient’s body that is suffering from arthritis, rheumatism or other malady. It is also said that placing a viringo on the chest helps alleviate asthma.

 

The dogs became very rare. But with the Instituto Nacional de Cultura’s policy of featuring these dogs in the ruins of the former dynasties that revered the viringo, this breed’s prestige has grown. A puppy fetches up to $2,000 in Europe. In 2001, Peru declared the viringo a national heritage treasure.

 

Editor’s note: Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road in Peru, updating our 2012 edition of V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.

THE NEW 7 SEVEN NATURAL WONDERS OF THE WORLD

The Swiss organization, New 7 Wonders (www.new7wonders.com), announced last Saturday the preliminary results of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

 

Of the 28 finalists, two of the winners came from South America, four from Asia and one from Africa.

 

And the winners are (in alphabetical order):

 

A bird-eye's view of the mighty Amazon River.

The Amazon (South America)

Halong Bay (Vietnam)

Iguazú Falls (Argentina, Brazil)

Jeju Island (South Korea)

Komodo (Indonesia)

Puerto Princes Underground River (Philippines)

Table Mountain (South Africa)

 

 

Iguazú Falls, another of the New 7 Natural Wonders.

The online voting was open to the public-at-large and closed last Friday, November 11. The official tally will be released in early 2012, during the inauguration ceremonies.

 

Yván Vásquez Valera, president of Loreto región in Peru, was happy with the results and hopes it will bring more tourism to his area. It will be an economic boon to one of Peru’s poorest regions.

 

The big surprise to many is that Ecuador‘s Galápagos Islands were not among the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World.

Choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World

One of the nominees: The Amazon

 

The organization New 7 Wonders is inviting you to choose the NEW 7 Natural Wonders of the World. You must hurry, though—voting ends this Friday, November 11, 2011.

 

Only three days are left to participate in this grand event. By going to New 7 Wonders’ website (www.new7wonders.com), you may choose seven of your favorite natural wonders among the 28 candidates.

 

 

 

Latin America has a strong field of candidates. The largest is the Amazon, which extends from the Guayanas (Guyana, Suriname and French Guyana), Venezuela and Colombia in the North, through Peru and Brazil, to Bolivia in the South. Puerto Rico rings in with El Yunque, a virgin tropical forest national park.

Will one New Wonder be Angel Falls?

Will Iguazú also make the final seven?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two waterfalls cascade down the list: the world’s highest cataract, Angel Falls in Venezuela, and Iguazú Falls, shared by Argentina and Brazil. Of course, nobody should be surprised that Ecuador’s enchanted, other-worldly isles—the Galápagos—also were nominated.

Galápagos is known for its unique nature.

 

Other nominees come from all over the world.  North America has only two representatives: Bay of Fundy (Canada) and the Grand Canyon (USA). On the other side of the Atlantic, Europe has five natural beauties on the list:

  • Black Forest (Germany)
  • Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)
  • Amsurian Lake District (Poland)
  • Matterhorn / Cervino (Switzerland, Italy)
  • Vesuvius (Italy)

 

Three Middle Eastern landscapes voters may choose from are: Bu Tinah Island (United Arab Emirates), Dead Sea (Israel, Palestine) and Jeita Grotto (Lebanon). The three African ones are: Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Islands of the Maldives (Maldives) and Table Mountain (South Africa).

 

Asia has the most candidates, with:

  • Halong Bay (Viet Nam)
  • Jeju Island (South Korea)
  • Komodo (Indonesia)
  • Mud Volcanoes (Azerbaijan)
  • PP Underground River (Philippines)
  • Sundarbans (Bangladesh, India)
  • Yushan (Chinese Taipei)

 

Australia and Oceania round out the competition, with three nominations: Great Barrier Reef (Australia, Papua New Guinea), Milford Sound (New Zealand) and Uluru (Australia).

 

The Swiss-based New 7 Wonders organization next campaign is the New 7 Wonders Cities. Which will be the 28 nominees? Will your city be included?

Quito's Crafty Nuns

When you think of nuns, often the image of “penguins” slapping parochial schoolchildren’s hands with a ruler comes to mind. But other Catholic orders dedicate themselves to tasks in service to others, or to making homemade goodies and medicines.

 

This is the work of three convents in Quito’s Centro Histórico: Santa Clara, Carmen del Alto and Santa Catalina. If Quito’s dry air is taking a toll on your skin, or you’ve picked up some sort of bug while out in the jungle, head over to their shops. If you’re more interested in sweets and other delectables than in natural medicine, these crafty nuns can fulfill your desires, too.

 

Convento de Santa Clara‘s (Rocafuerte and Cuenca), founded in 1596, is one block south of Plaza San Francisco. Among this convent’s offerings are a cucumber cream to soothe your skin at these high altitudes and a makeup remover. The sisters here also produce wine and have a bakery. While at the convent, stop by the church for a guided tour of the Baroque art collection (Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Entry: $1).

 

Two blocks to the east is Monasterio e Iglesia del Carmen del Alto (Rocafuerte and García Moreno). This is one of Quito’s oldest convents. It was originally the house of the city’s first saint, Mariana de Jesús (1618-1665). Upon her death, her family donated the building to the Carmelitas Descalzas, who enlarged the house according to the saint’s wishes. The work was completed in 1661. The convent is a closed cloister; the sisters do not enter public and pass their lives speaking only a few hours per day. The only parts the general public may visit are the church and the shop.

 

The Barefoot Carmelites of this convent specialize in raising bees, and many of their goods are made from that. They also make crafts which are for sale at their shop. The sisters are especially renowned for their embroidery work, sweets and holy wine (said to be the “star” creation of these Carmelitas Descalzas).

 

From the Iglesia del Carmen del Alto, walk two blocks east to Plaza Santo Domingo and cut across the square to Calle Flores (the street the Trole takes). Take Flores four blocks to Convento de Santa Catalina, on the corner of Calle Espejo. It is located in Barrio San Marcos, on the site where the Incan Aclla Huasi (House of the Chosen) was.

 

This convent has probably the widest range of health and beauty aids, some made by its community and others by outside producers. Besides lotions and creams, this religious order’s members craft products your great-grandmother probably whipped up in her kitchen. There is horseradish syrup for coughs, and all manner of teas and potions for other ailments. The honey-bees’ wax cream is exceptionally good for relieving dry skin and nice for massages. While at Convento de Santa Catalina drop by its museum (Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5p.m. Entry: $1.50).

 

These convents create products from their own huertas, or garden-farm plots. Besides being the way they fulfill their calling, this is also how the nuns can raise much needed money for their communities and projects. The shops are typically open Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Weekend Entertainment in Quito's Centro Histórico

Some travelers prefer to check out the nightlife in La Mariscal district, dancing and drinking until the cocks crow. But Quito has other ways to enjoy weekend nights, that even families may enjoy, right in the colonial heart of the city.

 

La Ronda at a quieter moment.

Once upon a time, La Ronda was the soul of Quiteña culture. Just two blocks south of Plaza Santo Domingo was where many poets lived, and here many of the old-time songs were composed. Already by the 1990s, this two-block-long neighborhood had become one of the most dangerous in the Centro Histórico, plagued with robberies, prostitution and drug dealing. For several decades, the residents tried to get the city to help them recuperate their barrio. Finally, in middle of the 21st century’s first decade, the city agreed—but wanted the people to move out. The families fought to remain, saying that they would work together.

 

In 2007, the renewed La Ronda opened as a tourist attraction. Generations-old family shops, making artisan candles, sweets and espumillas (fruit-flavored whipped cream), found new clientele. Some families opened restaurants featuring traditional Quiteño cuisine. Children played the barrio’s music. Visitors stopped to sing and dance along in the narrow, cobblestone lane.

 

Within months, La Ronda became THE place to go Friday and Saturday nights. The blocks around the district become one massive parking lot. The streets are crowded with couples and families strolling from café to café, drinking canelazo (a warm drink made of fruit juice and cane alcohol), dining and listening to music. Now many establishments are owned by non-barrio residents, and a variety of music is now heard (not just the traditional Quiteña sounds).

 

Boogying to quiteña music.

 

On Saturday nights, Quito offers Noches Patrimoniales. These tours, conducted by guides in period costumes, last 45 minutes and depart at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. from the tourism office (Calle Venezuela and Calle Espejo. Tel: 257-2445/295-4469, URL: www.quito.com.ec). Participants learn about the history and legends of the Centro Histórico, and visit different museums. The cost is $6 per person. Contact the tourism office for more details.

 

Also on Saturday nights, Biciacción (Tel: 245-6156) invites people to join it on bicycle excursions through Quito’s Historic Center.

 

 

After checking out the Centro Histórico’s nightlife on Friday and Saturday nights, take it easy Sunday morning when the entire downtown becomes a pedestrian mall until 2 p.m.

 

Artists, craftspeople and musicians perform along Calle García Moreno and Calle Sucre. The main plazas—Grande, San Francisco and Santo Domingo—vibrate with free theater, dance, music and puppet shows. Sometimes events also happen at Plaza la Merced (Calles Cuenca and Chile) and Plaza del Teatro (Calles Sucre and Manabí). Many of the churches and museums are open. Vendors come out, selling baskets of fresh fruits, cups of espumilla and toys.

 

There are plenty of happenings for children, too, with face painting, games and crafts.

 

Ciclopolis (Tel: 290-1920, URL: www.ciclopolis.ec) sponsors the Ciclopaseo from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. This 27-kilometer (16.2-mile) bicycling circuit runs from Parque de los Recuerdos in the North, down Avenida Amazonas, into the Centro Histórico and South as far as Quitumbre. Mechanics are posted at four spots along the way.

 

If you happen to not have a bike, you can lease one for the day, for $5.60. Rentals can be arranged at several points along the circuit (Jorge Washington, Tribunal del Sur or La Kennedy) or by phoning Ciclopolis. Some form of identification must be left as a “deposit.”

 

The carefree spirit in downtown Quito’s streets, however, continues well past the stages are broke down and the artists have packed their instruments. Until sundown, children continue to chase the pigeons in the squares, neighbors sit to chat and vendors to sell fruits.