Tag Archives: ecuador

The Top Things To Do In Mindo, Ecuador

One of top natural escapes from Quito is undoubtedly Mindo.

Just a 2-hour trip, Mindo is a valley and small village in the cloud forests of the Andes mountains.

For budget-minded travelers, the bus ride to Mindo will only cost you $2.50. The view from the bus is merely a tease, as you pass from the highland paramos of the andes into the lush cloud forests below spectacular views reign everywhere. But, it’s off of the main roads where the action in Mindo really is taking place.

Below are the top things to do when in visiting Mindo.

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Just a little hike up the mountain. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Hike up the mountain to the waterfalls

If you enjoy walking and exploring at a slower pace, then this  hike is for you. A cable car will take you across the rain forest to the hiking trails (the cable car is also a great preview of the zip lines). Once you get off the cable car, an hour long trail to your left will lead you to a huge waterfall. On your right – a shorter, 15 minute trail will take you to a  waterfall and river where you can swim and slide down the mountain into the river – a natural water park. Be sure to wear hiking sandals or boots and bring food and water.

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Butterfly style! Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

Zip line above the rain forest 

At the “canopy” (Ecuadorian term for a zip line)  one of the most popular traveler’s spots in Mindo, you can zip line across ten different cables through the tropical rain forest. The cables are not very fast at first. If you are afraid of heights you’ll have plenty of time to warm up on the slower cables. Your fear will be overcome by the beauty of your surroundings.

At about the fourth cable, you will be able to test your adventurous side with different positions on the cables – superman and butterfly. The superman is a horizontal flying position and the butterfly is upside down.

Tube down Mindo river 

At first glance, tubing appears to be quite risky because of the rocks jutting out of the fast-flowing whitewater. But the tube(s) frequently tied together to form a makeshift raft is designed to navigate over and through the rocks and are quite adequate for the Class II rapids.  Keep your feet (and head!) above the tube to avoid injury. The guide will help maintain the tube’s trajectory all the way down the river.

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

One crazy ride down the river. Photo from www.ecuador365.com

Marisposario de Mindo

In this top-notch butterfly farm, change is a beautiful thing – the butterflies told me so. Here, you will witness firsthand the four stages in the life of a butterfly – egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. The butterfly  pupae looks like a collection of  gold and silver earrings because of the different colors necessary to blend in with the butterfly’s natural habitat. 

El Quetzal

Here, a Quetzal isn’t a bird, it’s even better, it’s chocolate! At 4:00 you can tour Mindo’s chocolate factory and see how chocolate is made from the cocoa bean to the bar. Afterwards, enjoy a taste test!

Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

A little treat from Quetzal. Photo taken by Alexandra Reilly

And the winner of the top thing to do in Mindo is… Birding 

Mindo mixes the birds from the Andean highlands with birds the rainforest to create a spectacular cacophony of avian paradise!

According to the book “Birds of Ecuador”, by Ridgley and Greenfield, Mindo is home to the greatest number of endemic montane birds species of any place on the planet!

During the 2000 to 2005 Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the Audubon Society, Mindo has been among the top 3 highest bird counts in the world over 6 years, with over 2,000 locations participating. Each location is a 25 kilometer radius, and the count lasts for 24 hours. Mindo had the highest count in 2000 with 350 bird species recorded, and in past years has exceeded the 400 bird species mark.

The highlight of birding in Mindo may be the Cock-of-the-Rock Lek. As Tom Quisenberry of El Monte Lodge in Mindo says:

“Sometimes described as a “singles bar”, a lek is a meeting place for male and female birds. The singles bar description seems even more appropriate when you consider that the males dance wildly and engage in all sorts of displaying behavior…

The Cock-of-the-Rocks in Mindo are bright red, with black wings and a bit of white on the rump and have a crazy pompadour-looking crest. The males come together at precisely 6:00 AM to dance, squawk, mock fight and sometimes to actually physically fight to maintain territory to impress the occasional female who may fly into the lek.

Males are able to spend all this energy and time (sometimes up to 6 hours a day!) to attract the females because they have no parental responsibilities at the nest. They don’t help build the nest, nor help feed the chicks… but prefer to hang out at the “bar” trying to pass on their genes.”

Stay a While

As you can see, there is so much to do, it’s difficult to fully appreciate Mindo in a single night or two stay. Many people stay a few nights in Mindo to have more time to see all that it has to offer. Take your time and savor the experience because it’s well-worth every minute.

Google Street View arrives to the Galapagos! But in a much simpler form…

Those dying for a chance to viscerally experience the towns of the Galapagos through pictures can rejoice now that Google has your fix… but only partially.

The search engine giant has officially graced the shores of the enchanted islands and offered a means to visually experience and acquaint yourselves with the islands via their website, but it’s nowhere near what Google street view has traditionally offered its users in the past. The new addition to the maps of the Galapagos introduces 360-degree “snapshots” of specific parts of the towns and trails only, rather than the seamless click-and-glide-to exploration of the town streets that’s typical of Google Street View. This might be due to the fact that the photographs also go “off the grid” and actually explore other, isolated parts of the islands.

What does manage to be impressive however, is the 360-degree underwater pictures they have of offshore diving sites (Google Subaquatic View?).

So Cool!

galapagos_street_view

The photographic addition is the result of a project between the Charles Darwin Foundation, Google Maps, Catlin Seaview Survey and the Galapagos National Park Services. In addition to being a means to explore the towns, the placement of pictures on the maps is aimed to assist in the scientific investigation of certain areas as well as the management of protected areas in the park itself.

The project itself took place during the month of May of this year, and after being processed by the labs over at Google are now ready for our perusing. Be sure to check them out HERE!

Via Diario EL COMERCIOhttp://www.elcomercio.com/tecnologia/Galapagos-Google-StreetView-GoogleMaps-fotografias-360Grados_0_991700945.html

Tungarahua Volcano: Active Once Again

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAqviIwTvEA

It’s official folks, Tungurahua volcano has officially gone active again as of 6:47 a.m. yesterday (Sunday, July 14), with authorities declaring an “orange alert” – the second highest warning level.

200+ residents were evacuated from the Cusua, Chacauco and Juive areas. Forunately, no injuries have been reported.

While Tungurahua has had its spontaneous bursts of activity in the past year, the power of the explosive eruption was apparently grater than anticipated. VolcanoDiscovery.com, having measured elevated seismic activity in the area over the past few weeks, claims that the eruption was not as surprising as the sheer power and force of it, with heavy rain and mild flooding following suit.

Visitors already in or heading to Baños should take note of the volcano’s activity, making sure to take reasonable measures to either stock up on supplies (water, masks, non-perishable goods, etc.), or packing up and heading elsewhere. For those planning on going to the Tungurahua region, it is advised you postpone plans for at least the next week, or until further news and updates come in regarding the volcano’s potential future activity.

Is Quito ready for its upcoming Underground Metro?

Ask any quiteño what their biggest annoyance is with living in the capital city, and more often than not you’ll hear them mutter a disgruntled “traffic.”

Oh, hey there Traffic, I can see you sneaking up behind me...

In just over a decade, Quito has quite literally exploded in all directions, or at least as much as the massive hills and mountains that flank this bit of civilization will allow it to. Look closely at the steep hills of Pichincha on any night, and you’ll see the city lights quite literally floating upwards towards the stars – an indicator of just how much the city is beginning to bulge and teem with new buildings and infrastructure. With an estimated annual growth of 18,000 people per year, Quito keeps getting bigger by the day.

But if Quito is so excited to grow, can it sustain itself and its people while expanding at such a rapid pace?

The city’s boundaries are a long shot from what they once were in the Northern end (once the old Mariscal Sucre Airport) and at the Southern end (just past El Panecillo, by El Recreo). The furthest reaches of the city now border closer to Mitad del Mundo near Carcelen, and the Southern recesses by Quitumbe – a jaunt away from Pasachoa.

I can see the mothers and fathers of this city, hands on their hips, looking down endearingly on this great expanse of civilization, and gleefully saying, “they grow up so fast, don’t they?”

But as the boundaries of the city grow wider and wider apart, commutes get longer and longer, and not to mention – the people get grumpier and grumpier as they arrive to work (Disclaimer: The VIVA Offices are an exceptional and energetic haven for all weary travelers, workers and commuters alike. We have plenty of coffee and would gladly share it with any tired soul that feels the need to amble in through our doors on the way to… well, wherever!). Point being, buses and cars can only do so much in mitigating the growth of the city. More people can only mean more buses, and likewise – more cars.

Even Quito’s relatively recent Pico & Placa (literally Peak & Plate, whereby cars with specific license-plate numbers are prohibited from driving during certain hours, on specific days) traffic-regulating system is getting lukewarm in its effectiveness as the oh-so-cunning populace does what any tree-hugger would rightfully gag at, and that is – they’re all buying secondary cars to use on their “prohibited” days!

What recourse does the city have now, but to look to the future and envision a way of mitigating the traffic – the crowds on wheels – by getting into gear and funneling much of that crowd into a nice and shiny new metro system that’s set to open in 2016!

Wait, was that a… 2016?

Yup.

Three more years of waiting, but a total of 6 if you go back to 2010 and understand that they were already doing an examination of the city in order to better understand how exactly it is that they’d put a Metro through a city as motley and topsy-turvy as this. Not to mention, all the logistics of how many stops it’ll have, or where they’ll be located and how many passengers they’ll transport has been investigated.

So that part is over, or “Phase 1” as it’s technically called, is officially complete, thanks in large part to the savvy and knowledgeable minds at Metro Madrid – an engineering company that has years of expertise in the metro-building business over in Spain. The the future of transportation is in capable and good hands, to say the least. The engineering firm has also been commissioned to supervise the remaining phases, as well as performing technical maintenance on the metro once it’s finished.

There will be 15 stations in total, with La Magdalena being the terminus station located in South and El Labrador being its counterpoint in the North.

Budget for the entire line? 1.5 million.

But why can't it stop directly at my doorstep?!

Wait a minute, did I get that right? One-and-a-half million? Aren’t there cars that are worth more than that???

Which is why many have come to doubt the construction of the metro (which is even harder to stop now, given the project is already underway, as construction of the terminus stations began earlier this year). Many are skeptical of whether or not the entire project has enough money to finance it to the finish line (50% is provided by the municipality, and the other half by the central government). The budget, to some, seems way to small to justify and sustain the sheer size of the project, especially given the fact that the greater part of the metro is going to be underground – which costs a prettier penny than it does to build above ground.

Not to mention, with two stations planned for Quito’s Old Town, UNESCO has cast a rather questionable glance at the project itself. As a world heritage site, Old Town seems to be the most vulnerable and fragile location to undergo a project as big as this, and yet ironically – the one most in need of it. With an average intake of 280 thousand people – mediated by some 2,600 buses and 80,000 cars per day – we can see how the Old Town is under a lot of pressure to ease the flow of traffic in and out of its lauded and much celebrated cobblestone streets and enduring antiquity.

Could've been worse, they could've turned it into a Nightclub. A "holy" Nightclub.

With Quito promising to be careful in its execution and construction of the Metro underneath the Historical Old Town (apparently, stating that instead of using a tunnel boring machine they’ll dig manually), it seems that the city and the government has a rather headstrong outlook in getting this thing underway.

After all, doesn’t Rome have its own Metro under the Colosseum? And China, a metro underneath the Forbidden (yes, FORBIDDEN!) City?

I say: Persevere Quito, persevere! And I will see you all, dear friends and family that live on the other side of the city, in less than 36 minutes,

Come 2016.

Ecuador and the U.K fail to reach an agreement over Julian Assange

Ecuador’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino met with British Foreign Secretary William Hague this week at the United Nations in New York, to discuss the case of WikiLeaks Founder Julian Assange. Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since June of this year, and he was officially granted diplomatic asylum by Ecuador on 16th August. He has been unable to leave the embassy however, as he faces immediate arrest by the British authorities.

Julian Assange (by acidpolly)

Assange is wanted in Sweden, where officials have issued a European Arrest Warrant for him with regard to allegations of sex offences, which he denies. Assange believes that, if he does return to Sweden, he will be extradited to the United States to face questioning over the 2010 publishing of classified war documents and diplomatic cables, which he fears could result in a lengthy prison sentence or even the death penalty.

Foreign Secretary William Hague by Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Hague and Patino failed to come to an agreement however during their meeting on last Thursday, 27th September. The British Foreign Secretary’s spokesman reported that Hague told Patino how “the UK was under an obligation to extradite Mr Assange to Sweden.” Patino told reporters after the meeting that “we still do not see, of course, an immediate solution, but we understand that there is a willingness to discuss the topic.”

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.

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.