Archive for the ‘Ecuador’ Category

Bagua, Peru – A rustic border

Sonntag, Januar 8th, 2012

Border crossing La Balsa (Ecuador) to La Balza (Peru) is quite straight forward. Only try to avoid weekends since the internet which arrived in these countries as a necessary part of the migration process doesn’t work then, and this might cause waiting times. The Ecuadorian customs officers uses his satellite phone instead, his only other means of communication, and after 10 trials he manages to talk to his superior to get permission for us to leave the country without the usual procedure. The only delay here is that we have to take photos of him in front of our truck, beside our truck, and in our truck – not so many gringos pass by here.
The migration officer in comparison caused me a lot of worry, since he didn’t understand if we were entering of leaving the country until we finally left his office. (Is my Spanish that bad?) Thus he refused a passport stamp, forcing us to walk back from the Peruvian side, because we couldn’t enter the new country without departure stamp from Ecuador. “Do you enter or leave?” he asked again. Gosh! He still didn’t get it. Give me that damn’ departure stamp, don’t put it on an empty page of my passport, but right beside the entry stamp. Thanks, bye.
Now nothing stands in the way of entering Peru, and with some permanent smile and an interested look on our faces (we have to listen to extended lectures of the immigration officer regarding the merits of Peruvian sights and climates) we get hold of 183 days duration of stay – whether we’ll need it or not, visa extensions are expensive in this country. The sugar cane chewing customs officer with the soccer field-big flat screen TV has also no internet access today. After endless trials, just when deciding to write the papers for our truck manually, luckily the internet connects. Maximum length of stay for a vehicle is three months. Both border crossings are free, we managed them despite technical problems in 1:45 hours. Money can be changed at both sides of the border, 1 US$ is about 2.65 Nuevo Soles (PEN).
The gravel road is getting better towards San Ignacio where the first gas station in Peru is found at S 05°08’45.0’’ W 79°00’33.1’’ at the north side of town, some others at the southern end. There are 100 km more on gravel before reaching asphalt – altogether 245 km track. The nature is worth: massive mountains, covered with green, and a wild river snakes its way through the narrow valley to Jaén. At the first toll station after entering the highway at Chamaya on Carretera Transandino # 5 east the cashier is at a loss what to charge for an RV. It’s neither a “light vehicle” nor a truck. Finally, we may leave without paying anything.
In hot Bagua we sleep at the government’s truck scales (S 05°43’52.6’’ W 78°38’19.4’’). Since traffic falls asleep over night, it turns out to be quieter than expected. Bathrooms can be used.

Zumba, Ecuador – The last bastion

Samstag, Januar 7th, 2012

The road is getting worse. During the first 30 km concrete alternated with dirt, the following 100 km are just slippery track. We are heading to Zumba and then La Balsa, the border crossing to Peru. Probably due to the road conditions this is the least used border crossing. There is definitely a need of high clearance, in rainy season 4WD. There are lots of slippery slopes and river crossings. Land slides, falling rocks, or subsidence might occur any time.
Zumba is a lonesome town, last city in front of the Peruvian frontier. Here is the only gas station between Vilcabamba and the Peruvian border respectively some miles beyond. Fill up here, since fuel is much more expensive in Peru! The gas station is suitable for overnight (S 04°51’41.4’’ W 79°07’36.2’’), but better and quieter places can be found around the bus station (S 04°52’11.1’’ W 79°08’03.4’’). The Zumba River Camp, a gravel pit south of Zumba, mentioned by earlier travellers, is fenced now and can’t be used any more. Safety doesn’t seem to be an issue in Zumba. There is a small supermarket, but better to stock up already in Loja.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador – The secret of eternal life?

Freitag, Januar 6th, 2012

Vilcabamba, a small town with only 5,000 inhabitants, is said to have the highest number of inhabitants over 100 years in the entire Ecuador. A healthy consistent spring climate, a stress-free life and a diet with lots of corn, beans and vegetables but little meat and dairy products shall be the secret of the long life. If the very old people do also eat the local specialty pan de bananas (rather a banana cake than bread) isn’t known by the author. Vilcabamba itself is a pretty village with lots of young backpackers and ageing hippies – not less, not more.

Vilcabamba, Ecuador – The wheels are rolling south

Donnerstag, Januar 5th, 2012

Farewell is a part of travelling. We say goodbye to Lissi and Mario, Sonia and Paco, and thank them for their work and hospitality. We also leave Ray and Jo behind who still have to wait for some work to be done. We head south, via Loja to Vilcabamba. For the moment we ignore Podocarpus National Park where we planned to hike – the rain doesn’t give the impression of stopping today.
Info Parque Nacionál Podocarpus: Cajanuma access, S 04°05’02.0’’ W 79°12’19.8’’, admission 2 US$ per person, camping 3 $ pp, 8 km gravel road from entrance, entrance archway probably high enough for vehicles up to 4 m. Self-guided hiking trails from some minutes up to two days. The west part of the park has interesting flora.
Instead we go to the much praised Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba, stop along the way of many travellers, which belongs to the Bavarian brothers Dieter and Peter. It might be true that the guesthouse offers relatively good comfort and service for fair prices. The spa area is affordable even with smaller budgets. We also think the prices are reasonable, but you get for what you pay. For 4 US$ per person we can camp here, electricity, water, showers and bathrooms are included. We stand beside the road that is not much used at night – but in daytime and from early morning on.
Unfortunately a huge RV made itself comfortable and occupies half of the gravel expanse. The other half is occupied by the camper’s scarcely broad canopy. The inhabitants aren’t even at home. For us a piece of uneven, swampy meadow remains between the 30-footer and the fence to the road. As we return to our Unimog after dinner Arminius stands there crooked like before: The wedges completely sank into the mud. We have to move a bit forward, nearly into the driveway to catch a piece of gravel.
The dinner was also not what guidebooks and reports wanted to make us think. Also here: The prices are o.k. for this country (main dishes 6.50 US$ in the average), the menu is balanced, and some German cuisine from time to time can’t be bad. Unfortunately the bread dumplings are despite their exemplary spherical shape not really fresh, heated up in the microwave oven, and therefore hard and dry. The goulash is spicy and tasty, but the meat quality leaves much to be desired: extremely long grain chunks aren’t cooked long enough to be tender, besides for me the meat is too fatty. The cheese spaetzle are edible, but also no unforgettable taste experience, dripping with fat as well for a high repletion point.
The hotel staff is friendly, but don’t expect personal or too friendly love and care of the owners. The location itself is great, it’s a good stop along the way to or from the Peruvian border, still we think it’s overrated. Hosteria Izhcayluma in Vilcabamba: S 04°16’45.5’’ W 79°13’22.7’’,

Cuenca, Ecuador – The facelift

Mittwoch, Januar 4th, 2012

We are packing the tools, washing the cabin, and closing the storage compartments. The work is done and we prepare for continuing our trip. Arminius has got a new face and the back also looks different now. Besides the stack a support frame for the roof rack adorns the front. Since the feet of the rack just lean on the roof rail we feared that this breaks off sometime. Although we store little weight on the roof only the diagonal movements when off-roading are considerable. We got ourselves a recoverable underride guard at the back end below the spare wheel whose cross member could be used as a tow bar at the same time. Mario welded and painted both.
In most countries an underride guard for trucks is the regulation. The Unimog has a special licence since this would be inconsistent with the purpose of the vehicle, but Argentina is precious little interested in German special licences, actually they just care for their own rules. Travellers passing through with their own vehicle are expected to obey these rules as well. Beside the underride guard a tow bar for trucks belong to these laws. Trailer couplings jutting out to the back are also unwelcome. Fines for non-compliance are hearty. Other travellers shall have paid fine in Argentina for not-availability of a white corpse sack – whereas we attribute this law to the fertile imagination of an underpaid traffic policeman who got hold of a bribe this way.
The time in Cuenca was busy – polishing and painting here, some underseal there; some oil and filters were changed, the daylights fixed in another place, and much more. The Christmas cookies are nearly eaten up and the Christmas fat settled down. I managed to get some copies made of my anti-theft handbag (and to the effect tested in Panama!) that we carry with us now. So many travellers asked me about this purse, so now I carry stocks for passing on.
Who wants to visit the attractive Cuenca without repairing, making or painting finds a hideout at Hosteria Yanuncay like so many other travellers. Camping fee shall be 10 US$ for two people: S 02°54’20.4’’ W 79°01’40.8’’

Cuenca, Ecuador – Burning dolls: New Year’s Eve in Ecuador

Samstag, Dezember 31st, 2011

The doll goes up in flames. If it doesn’t burn properly, the arsonist pokes around in its stuffed body to set the fire alight. On the next corner people think more practical: They use gas as accelerant. Immediately the mannequin is ablaze. Burning life-sized rag dolls on New Year’s Eve has a long tradition in Ecuador. They symbolize the past year’s evil that is burnt and exterminated herewith. Next year everything shall be better. It is quite intentional that the dolls sometimes bear a resemblance to living men or women from the same district. Naturally this is the person who made himself or herself most unpopular during the last year by avarice, jealousy, fraud, malice or other bad habits. The rag dolls can be bought days before New Year’s Eve at stands along the streets, they just have to be dressed and decorated.

Especially at midnight, but also before and after, half of a fortune goes up in smoke and flames – in form of fireworks, firecrackers, and bangers. The more noise the better. Soon a dense pall of smoke lies over Cuenca with its half million inhabitants. We fire some bottle rockets as well The colourful bull packs made in China were too expensive, so we bought a bunch of homemade skyrockets made from bamboo cane, newspaper, an alarmingly short fuse, and an unknown mixture of black powder. After lighting one has to run fast, but get enthusiastic about its acceleration and trajectory as well as the bright explosion and the loud bang.

Popular with locals are costume parties where adults dress up with highly imaginative and lavish costumes like kids do in carnival. We instead have a quiet evening. Ray cooks a rich Asian dinner for us, and we enjoy wine, champagne, watching the urban fireworks from our elevated position, and dogsitting of Mario’s mastiff who come through the banging amazingly well, but finally guards for an unknown reason the bathroom door in distress.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Useful GPS data

Freitag, Dezember 30th, 2011

In Cuenca there are three Supermaxi groceries. The branch that is easiest accessible by car is the one at Avenida de las Americas (S 02°53’22.5’’ W 79°01’25.9’’), with unfortunately small parking lot. The supermarket in Mall del Rio directly at the Pan Am has a broader range of goods on offer (stationary, clothing aso.), but limited delicacies.

Propane can be refilled in Cuenca at Austrogas (S 02°50’26.3’’ W 78°53’39.1’’) on the road to Azogues. Propane is as fuel in Ecuador less expensive than in most of the other countries.

You can purchase third-party insurance for your car (SOAT) at Seguro Colonial (S 02°54’23.0’’ W 79°00’23.9’’) at the stadium (estadio), where even prolongations for one of three months are available.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Another Christmassy dumpling deformation

Sonntag, Dezember 25th, 2011

Christmas in Ecuador is celebrated with a large family and friends circle. Sonia and Paco invite us to their country house, an 80 years old adobe house on a big property where they regularly spend their weekends. Their nearly grown-up kids, Lissy and Marco, their children, Ray, and Jo are in on it. Later other friends come. Lissy as enthusiastic Austrian cook serves delicious rissoles rolled in bacon with creamy mushroom-red wine sauce. With this there are bread dumplings that also don’t maintain the mandatory ball form. We will still study the dumpling-altitude-physics.

Cuenca, Ecuador – Exotic Christmas with detonated tennis balls

Samstag, Dezember 24th, 2011

The morning: The thermal spring
The day starts too early, uncharitably early I would say if it wasn’t Christmas Eve. Paco picks us up at 5 a.m. to warm ourselves in sauna and hot springs. 20 minutes later we know why we started so early: Even now quite a lot of people are here: It’s weekend. In a neighbouring town of Cuenca, called Baños like the other famous Ecuadorian hot springs, boiling water bubbles directly from the volcanic mountains. There are different swimming baths with different standards and prices.

The medicinal springs at Hosteria Duran are especially popular with locals, admission fee is $ 3. 95 per person. The steam saunas are heated by the hot mountain water. The grotto-like men’s and women’s sauna are very hot and atmospheric, although the ladies’ ward is in need of renovation. The mixed sauna is less hot, in o.k. condition, but kind of sterile. Around 60 swimmers crowd in the pleasantly lukewarm thermal pool at 7 a.m. Time to leave.

The midday: The parade
We hardly returned before we have to leave again. The tradition of the Christmas procession lasted in Cuenca longer than in other cities. In the morning of the 24th December a pageant starts and lasts to late afternoon. Hundreds of decorated trucks, pick-ups and cars as well as thousands of adults and especially children dressed up or wrapped in traditional costumes take part in the El Pase del Niño. The little Indígenas, performing traditional dances in national costumes, are especially enchanting; or the mestiza girls who proudly sit on their horses, dressed in valuably embroidered riding dresses adapted from Spanish princesses, with perfect patronizing-arrogant gaze and seductively pursed lips. All that takes place with little Christmassy bright sunshine, and in front of historic backdrop. Cuenca’s centre doesn’t have to hide from colonial Quito. The city is blessed with 52 beautiful churches – one for each week of the year.

The evening: The repast
In the evening we initially celebrate Christmas with Ray and Jo, although we didn’t get a duck or goose (the traditional German Christmas meal). The turkeys were too big for my camper oven, thus we decided for a giant chicken. The homemade red cabbage is great, only the potato dumplings basically appear like exploded tennis balls. Was it the wrong sort of potatoes of a physical altitude problem? Since Jo as not-dumpling lover demands second helping, it can’t have been so bad. Or perhaps he was just hungry. Or polite. The biscuits for desert are flawless, despite the altitude. After dinner we pay Lissi and Marco a visit for a drink. After all the two of them don’t have German speaking visitors every day.

Cuenca, Ecuador – A workshop―just in case

Dienstag, Dezember 20th, 2011

Christmas will be soon, and since Arminius served us loyally during the past year, he earned a Christmas present as well. He receives an improvement, which mainly serves a practical purpose: We’ll get a stack. Long time we thought about it and finally decided to get it done. According to other travellers’ reports and own observations it might be problematic to start the cold engine in the morning with very low temperatures of -20°C / -4°F and in extreme altitudes of above 5,000 m / 16,000 ft. First and foremost the lack of oxygen together with the temperature is more of a problem than just the temperature or the altitude. To not have to torture the engine constantly with starter spray people tend to let the engine run overnight in these exceptional cases. Since it is impossible to bolt all windows tightly without suffocating always a part of the exhaust fumes enters the cabin. Although carbon monoxide is heavier than air and sinks to the ground we take exception to the exhaust emissions. We hope to minimize the problem with a stack.

The exhaust workshop in Cuenca doesn’t have all the materials we have in mind, but we agree with the price and the work seems to be decent. Since stainless pipe wasn’t available with the requested diameter we have to paint the steel tube now. We get the stovepipe paint from Mario. Mario is painter from Germany and together with his Austrian wife Lissi self-employed in Cuenca. The body repair and paint shop is situated on Paco’s ground, owner of a motor vehicle workshop. Paco studied in Germany and together with his wife Sonia he runs the company following the example set by German workshops.

Here we want to carry out the due oil change. But of course any other technical problem can be rectified by Paco. Additionally, the four are explicitly nice and helpful. We might camp for free on the company’s parking lot above the Basilica. There is a bathroom, water, and even electricity if required. And chance would have it that we meet Jo and Ray (the Dutch from Germany), our former travel companions from Colombia. They have arrived yesterday evening half an hour before us. Although they gave us the tip with the workshop, we couldn’t know that we will accidentally meet here.

Servicio Automotriz, Cuenca: S 02°53’06.5’’ W 79°00’32.7’’, Calle Humboldt 2-42, behind the Basilica
Mechanics: Paco and Sonia: Tel. 07-2848093, Mob. 09-9675942, e-mail:
Bodywork: Mario and Lissi
: Tel. 07-2833108, Mob. 09-9054234, website:, e-mail: (better call, they don’t check their e-mails regularly)

Cuenca, Ecuador – Another rescue operation

Montag, Dezember 19th, 2011

Today we are the saviours. It rains continuously and depressingly on the Pan Am between Alausi and Cuenca; moreover the clouds hang over the road and reduce visibility. A semi-truck went into a skid with these bad weather conditions. Now the semi-trailer stands in a 90°-angle to the road, one of the supports landed behind the high kerb. The trailer is facing the oncoming traffic and is now located in the grass behind the kerb. The truck can’t escape by its own efforts. There are no breakdown or recovery services in Ecuador. Just the organisation of the rescue would take hours. Joerg shows a good heart and offers to haul the lorry by winch.

The tractor has to be uncoupled, and then we drag it through earth and over the kerbs while we constantly have to change the Unimog’s position to correct the angle of traction. To our amazement the truck makes it back to the road without damages, despite its low clearance and lots of plastic at the bumper. Now it’s the trailer’s turn. Since one of the supports doesn’t skid over the kerb and the trailer is in danger of being bent, the truck driver and the surrounding rubbernecks have to lift the trailer again and again with a jack, and underlay the support with rocks and beams until it is on the level of the kerb’s top edge. The other support scratches the asphalt from the road while dragging, what doesn’t bother even the police that arrived in the meanwhile and helps half-heartedly to regulate the traffic.

After one and three quarters of an hour the trailer is in position as well, is coupled to the tractor, and our worn-out winch cable is coiled up. The truck driver respectably asks how much to pay for removing. We reject compensation, hoping we will get help if we need it one day.

Parque Nacionál Sangay, Ecuador – The invisible

Sonntag, Dezember 18th, 2011

Was this necessary? Another road crossing the Eastern Cordillera? It’s the fifth meanwhile. Admitted, it makes travelling and living for the people here easier. It’s problem-free to change between highland and the Amazon Basin. This newest traffic-wise achievement is now mainly paved and cuts the National Park Sangay in two halves. What is counterproductive for an intact flora and fauna is a delight for travellers, particularly as the pass traverse offers an access into the before extremely difficult accessible nature reserve.

Short after Macas the park begins with the subtropical jungle of the Amazonian highlands with uncountable meandering creeks. Ascending slowly the Andean mountain range we find cooler cloud forest where long skinny Wax palm trees stick their dainty top into the clouds. Numberless waterfalls divert the collected rainwater. In altitude trees give way to dense green-brown grasses and scrubland and release the view to the Atillo lagoons that nestle between the surrounding peaks. The páramo lake area is the highlight of the Sangay National Park that is accessible by road.

The 5,230 m / 17,160 ft high Sangay, one of the most active volcanoes on the entire American continent, isn’t visible from the road, at the most with a long hike or from far with a lot of fortune from Baños, the Pan Am or from Macas. The other volcanoes and mountains in this national park like the Altar or the Soroche, which bears the pretty as proper name “altitude sickness”, cover themselves.

The best place to sleep is at the lakes; either on the parking lot at the viewpoint (S 02°10’34.8’’ W 78°30’12.1’’) or a bit further west at Campamento Atillo with better view. Here you can park at a gravel place beside the road or better and way quieter one floor deeper, accessible via the dirt track leading down: S 02°11’16.2’’ W 78°31’14.3’’. There shouldn’t be safety doubts, but at the second site we are even in sight of the village. Best photos of the lakes can be taken at night or at sunrise when clouds disappeared.

Macas, Ecuador – Yucca fritters: deliciously packed with calories

Samstag, Dezember 17th, 2011

How to make yucca fritters? In principle like potato fritters, and they taste at least as good as those; especially if substantial butter is added for an enhanced dainty-yummy-factor, the fritters are stuffed with cheese, and deep-fried in sufficient oil. During I learn how to put as many delicious calories in the most confined of spaces, Joerg works for his portion clearing Peter’s big property of pointless grass by machine. We simply forget for a while what the expression “kilojoule” means and which consequences are joined with their consumption. Instead we let ourselves be stuffed with breaded fillet of beef, chicken with mushrooms, and barbecue meat. (Peter, how can you keep your figure with Patricia’s culinary skills?)

At least we can stretch our legs on Peter’s jungle plot, 20 minutes far from his house. Five hectare (12.5 acres) secondary forest – the tropical wood was removed years ago, as it was still allowed – that are acknowledged as building land and developed. In Germany we would build a hundred houses including feeder roads on this plot. But maybe Peter just wants to keep a piece of jungle.

Macas, Ecuador – The rescue

Dienstag, Dezember 13th, 2011

Galo lures us to Macas, but now we are somehow lost. Galo whom we met on the way in Ecuador with his travel group, and his Texan wife are one day late due to a postponed flight. The quiet gravel road in front of their plot, where we stand, transformed into a busy bypass and produces more dust than we like to expect of our cabin’s interior. And as the nature guide and RhoAnn, the travel agent, finally arrive we find the excursions way too expensive. 100 $ for two travellers for a daytrip into a nature reserve of the local Shoar Indigenes don’t seem appropriate to us. We would neither have seen the Shoar’s culture nor their shrunken head production – for what they have been dreaded. Costumes adapted for tourists and rehearsed dances are only presented with multiple-day stays.

But salvation already draws near, in the form of Peter. The German pensioner with his young Ecuadorian wife, his daughter, and a hidden estate in the middle of abundant greenery with swimming pool adopts us. And so a planned overnight stay in Macas turns into a longer stopover.

Macas, Ecuador – Down to the Amazon

Montag, Dezember 12th, 2011

The Amazon Basin: huge forest area, our planet’s lung, inaccessible jungle, one of the few areas of the world that are only basically explored. Ecuador has its share in the Amazon as well – with more than 100,000 sq km / 40,000 sq mi after all more than a third of the national territory. In the course of our journey, in Brazil, we’ll get to see at lot more from the Amazon. But we want at least to “scratch” it to cover all three different landscape forms in Ecuador – the coastal area, the Andean belt, and the Amazon Basin. The inside of the jungle is here like in Colombia only to explore by small airplanes and boats.

From Baños the deep canyon of Pastaza river cuts through the eastern cordillera and leisurely leads down into the plain. The road that doesn’t miss scenic drama is called Ruta de las Cascadas. As the name indicates one waterfall follows the other. The most powerful one is the El Pailón del Diablo. A mighty water mass pours forth in a narrow pothole before the torrent finds its way out and turns off into Pastaza River. Best viewpoint is a swinging suspension bridge. But honestly: There are many cascades on our earth that are higher or spit more water. For 1.50 $ the two kilometres / 1.2 mi long hike with high steps is an edifying physical education at least.

The road drops deeper and deeper until it leaves the Andean highland in Puyo. We continue south to Macas. The reputation that rushes on ahead this less touristy and somewhat sleepy city is to be “clean”. Clean means in this case free of oil boring, collecting tanks, pipelines, and their dirty, deeply polluting consequences.

Petroleum is one of the main economic factors of Ecuador: In the meantime it amounts to 60 % of the entire export volume. The major part of the reserves is the Amazon region of all places, the inaccessible jungle that doesn’t really make those researches easier. At present the daily output of 500,000 barrels is pumped through a pipeline from the primeval forest over the mountains to the Pacific harbour Esmeraldas. The first test drilling was executed by Texaco in 1963 – at that time on Shank’s pony through the inhospitable mosquito contaminated area. To guarantee profitability, the oil companies use cheap obsolete technology and reduce maintenance to a minimum. Leaking oil pipes and crude oil basins contaminate ground water. Worse are the cesspools from drilling refuse: drilling residues, salts, acids and lye are flooded with rain and generously spread out in the nature. Consequences don’t fail to appear. Further exploitation of the oil reserves, which are only estimated for duration of 20 years, is at the planning stage.

Baños, Ecuador – Ashes, smoke and clouds

Sonntag, Dezember 11th, 2011

We give volcano Tungurahua another two days to show activity. The weather is perfect, although clouds usually set in for sunset. But between two and five in the morning it mostly clears up, a resident betrays. True. It stays without overcast during the day, but the volcano shows only moderate activity. Poisonous yellow puffy clods escape at times, otherwise it produces large amounts of white steam that unite with passing clouds and cover the crater like a white toupee with decreasing temperatures during the evening hours. During Baños’ inhabitants still sweep the ashes from the streets that Tungurahua blew on their roofs and into the trees during the last two weeks, the volcano implements a cease-fire and confines itself to smoke.

Again we stand on the hill Las Antenas, this time at the restaurant Ojos del Volcan on the grass verge in the curve. The owner invited us some days ago during our last visit to camp here. We eat a well stomach filling portion of baked trout with rice, potatoes and fried plantains for a fair price. The food is vegetable-free besides a slice of tomato with marinated onions, like Ecuadorians love it. Instead Rogelio and his wife get us a hot Canelazo, a kind of Ecuadorian grog made from fruit juice or like here from sugar cane juice with schnapps. Very warming.

During the day they hand us homemade blackberry juice or fruits from their trees through our cabin window. The restaurant with unhindered volcano view opens on request only, therefore advance notice is practical (Rogelio Bastidas cell 092977530, Elisabeth 095776781, both Spanish, S 01°22’57.4’’ W 78°26’03.1’’). Trucks are officially not permitted on the feeder road, but as an important evacuation way it is in good shape and suitable for vehicles up to 4 m / 13 ft. The winding road is narrow and steep with little traffic, the pitch big enough for several rigs.

Baños, Ecuador – Stew at waterfall

Freitag, Dezember 9th, 2011

The volcano doesn’t get off that easy. We decide to stay in Baños for the moment for more photos. Tonight we change location. The Germans Regine and Dietrich own the Hosteria Finca Chamanapamba with the restaurant Regine’s Café Alemán in the neighbouring village Ulba since many years. With its idyllic setting in the middle of a subtropical garden with many birds and a waterfall we feel like in a different world. There is enough space to park camping vehicles. Bigger rigs can stay at the waterfall before reaching the buildings where trees hang deeper. The highlight is the restaurant. You can get Hungarian stew, steaks, and chocolate cake for moderate prices with fantastic view and original architecture:, phone in Ecuador 03-2742671, S 01°24’02.9’’ W 78°23’58.4’’.

Baños, Ecuador – The Tungurahua burps

Donnerstag, Dezember 8th, 2011

A hundreds of metres high plume of smoke leaks from its pit. Dense smoke soars up into the atmosphere. We watch the remarkably active Tungurahua with mixed feelings, but consider ourselves to be safe on the other side of the deep Pastaza gorge, which does not only secure a magnificent lookout for us, but hopefully maintains a sufficient distance between us and the volcano. Just in case… The 5,016 m / 16,460 ft high Tungurahua belongs to the very active volcanoes of Ecuador. Its most violent eruption occurred in 1777, but even in the recent past it became a talking point: In 1999 Baños was forced to evacuate for several months, and 2006, 2007 and 2008 some villages at the foot of the volcano were run over by hot mud and scree avalanches. Just since some days the Tungurahua draws again attention. Besides smoke it spits occasionally lava and glowing talus, what might be seen with clear sky.

But the view to the volcano is a bit tricky. The hot and in the meantime snow-less peak is permanently surrounded by clouds that get caught in the peak or steam that’s self-produced. After our hike at the Chimborazo we drive to Baños, the town at volcano Tungurahua’s feet, Ecuadorian backpackers’ paradise. We don’t come for the hustle and bustle, but because of hoping to get pictures. The tourist information in town distributes city maps and information about the best viewpoints. The closest look you can get is at Casa del Arból midway up the mountain. We don’t think it’s best for photos, and we are already in the middle of the volcano-clouds. On the other side of the deep river valley, in the safety zone, we go up instead to the mountain Las Antenas at 2,600 m / 8,530 ft. The road is freshly made with pavement stones, but big rigs might have problems in the steep and narrow hairpin bends.

At Mirador Ojos del Volcán there is a restaurant (not open every day), and in the hairpin bend a kind of lay-by on grass. The hamlet seems to be deserted, and only after a long search I find an inhabitant who immediately offers to stay on his plot instead. The man just has to climb two poles to remove the volleyball net for Arminius to fit in and park (S 01°23’02.1’’ W 78°26’14.1’’). The view to the ogre is perfect. Leniently it shows itself for a few minutes between swirling wafts of mist. We don’t get to see it again in this night, but we can hear it. The volcano discharges a loud burp into the darkness, a threat, a thunder like from a mighty fireworks, and then peace reigns again.

Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The 5,000-metres mark (16,500 ft) cracked

Donnerstag, Dezember 8th, 2011

I heavily breathe with every step. It’s only ridiculous 900 m / 990 yards to go and 200 m / 660 ft of elevation to overcome. That would be a piece of cake – if we wouldn’t be in 5,000 m / 16,500 ft elevation. The volcano Chimborazo that has erupted last 5 million years ago offers mountain hikers one of few possibilities to get into these heights. From Refugio Hermanos Carrel, the lower shelter, we plod through deep snow to Refugio Edward Whymper on nearly exactly 5,000 m / 16,500 ft (S 01°28’21.9’’ W 78°50’18.9’’). Here evidence stickers are available for one dollar the piece.

The atmosphere is quieter than at the Cotopaxi, wintrier and awe-inspiring. At night temperatures drop below freezing. We can walk a bit above the shelter; we reach 5.100 m / 16,830 ft for our logbook. Don’t dare to climb into the glacier as hobby mountaineer. In spite of all panting walking is still better than anything else. Eating, drinking and sleeping belong besides tying shoes to the silliest activities to do in this elevation. Since it is not possible to continue breathing while eating and drinking without choking, shortness of breath inevitably results, which has to be made up by vehemently gasping for breath. The nights are even worse. Sleeping – that’s quite out of the question! Concentrating on deep and fast breathing when still half awake, we immediately fall back into the acquired shallow breath when falling asleep, and we wake up struggling for breath. The whole night feels like a slight asthmatic attack lasting several hours. Only bending down is worse. Since one doesn’t have the entire lung volume at one’s disposal, it is impossible to tie the shoes without choking fit.

While hiking breathing is automatically faster and deeper and in fresh air we feel relieved. We manage the ascent in deep snow in just under half an hour, and we dash down in ten minutes. An oncoming group of hikers that struggles up through the snow uncomprehendingly stares at us – as if we cam from another planet.

Parque Nacional Chimborazo, Ecuador – The world’s highest elevation

Mittwoch, Dezember 7th, 2011

I’m hearing you groaning aloud. What does she claim now? The earth’s highest mountain is the Mount Everest! Correct. And still I’m in the right. The Chimborazo Volcano is the spot on our planet that has the largest distance to the centre of the earth. Therefore it was considered for long time for the world’s highest mountain. It’s paradoxically not. Its peak is only 6,310 m / 20,702 ft away from the earth’s surface. How does this go together? Let’s fall back upon Galileo Galilei. He wasn’t right with his assertion that the earth is a sphere. At least not completely. Isaac Newton stated that the earth goes baggy at the equator and is flattened out at the poles due to its rotation and the effect of the centrifugal force. Later this theory was proven. Therefore sea level isn’t the same like sea level. The surface of the oceans close to the equator is further away from the centre of the earth than close to the poles.

Even if Chimborazo isn’t he earth’s highest mountain, it is Ecuador’s only mountain over 6,000 m / 20,000 ft. Its glacier noticeably ices up because of leaking fresh snow, global warming and increasing UV radiation, and gets more difficult to climb. But we don’t want to get that high. The well paved road south of the volcano is already above 4,000 m, so it’s nothing to us to drive up the 8 km / 5 mi long dirt road to the Hermanos-Carrel shelter at 4,800 m / 15,750 ft. Here’s a parking lot and not far from it a complimentary camping zone.

In the ranger station at the access we again have only to pay the 2 $ local fee and the second day is free, although we declare that we want to overnight. Between 5 p.m. and 7 a.m. the post shall be unmanned, but we happily pay the 4 $, the park has to be financed somehow. There was nobody in the camping area for long time, the snow is probably too deep. Arminius feels well here, and we also in the snow-covered solitude. After the engine is shut off, the vicuñas dare to get closer. Vicuñas are one of four kinds of the hump-less New World camels. Two of them are original wild species – guanacos and vicuñas – and the other two, lamas and alpacas, are millenniums-old breeding. Vicuñas are the daintiest and most elegant, but rarest and most endangered Andean camels.

They were nearly extinct because of their fur – the finest and most expensive we know. Since nearly 50 years the hunt for them is forbidden, they are just captured for shearing and released again. One animals produces only one pound wool, and this is worth around 300 US$. Their silky fur is yellow-brown to red-brown, the belly is white. Vicuñas adjusted best of all four species to their cold barren environment. They never live below 3,500 m / 11,500 ft, but they are still seen above 5,000 m / 16,500 ft. They modestly nibble at mosses and grasses. Thanks to a program of the Swiss government the animals were re-introduced to the area and the stock recovers well, despite the threat through recurring ash sediments from the neighbouring Tungurahua Volcano, vehicles on the road and Andean foxes that attack the small camels. The surrounding farmers got lamas and alpacas as presents, and as a countermove they withdrew the voracious sheep that challenge the vicuñas’ food.
Ranger station Parque Nacional Chimborazo: S 01°29’51.0’’ W 78°52’29.9’’
Camping zone at Hermanos-Carrel-shelter: S 01°28’21.0’’ W 78°50’56.6’’, 4,845 m / 16,000 ft

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – The perfect giant

Dienstag, Dezember 6th, 2011

The Cotopaxi doesn’t let us go. Ecuador is a fascinating country of partially harsh beauty, but the Cotopaxi volcano has a certain appeal. Yesterday evening we returned once more to the national park since we hoped for more weather fortune this time. And really, the sky clears during the night and it stays like this until sunrise and into the morning. Joerg is up half of the night to take photos. From half past eight on the mountain produces its own clouds. The sun thaws the area, then it gains strength and starts to evaporate the humidity. The mist immediately condenses in the cold air and there we have the ground fog. It clears for several times, but then the usual afternoon clouds of the rain front come in. We are happy nevertheless, because Cotopaxi rarely presents itself so beautiful and naked.

Machachi, Ecuador – The Quilotoa roundtrip

Sonntag, Dezember 4th, 2011

The crater walls of the Quilotoa stand completely on their own in a circle. In the middle is the emerald green lagoon, in a sheltered place mirroring clouds and crater walls. Who likes can hurry downhill the 400 m / 1320 ft of elevation to the waterline on a sandy path for 1.5 km / 1 mi and uphill on foot or on a mule. Alternatively one can hike around the lake along the edge of the crater for around six hours. Admission fee is 2 $, sleeping on the parking lot (S 00°51’59.7’’ W 78°54’58.5’’) in front of the crater would be possible as well. Coming from south Laguna de Quilotoa is accessible via paved roads; from here on we drive for 50 km / 31 mi on a pretty good sand track through the mountains. The area is known for its artists that capture naive painting on sheep skin, which is depilated and cleaned with a special procedure. Three kilometres / 2 mi after Tigua there is a sales exhibition.

The Quilotoa roundtrip seems to be popular among globetrotters. On our way we meet German Frank with his BMW motorcycle, who already formed his opinion after travelling 14 months through South America: “The people here are stupid and futile.” Well, enjoy your further trip. In a tiny village we see the well-known car of an English couple on a world trip whom we have met at the Overland Expo in Amado, Arizona. They have a breakdown. The transmission case of their Landrover is broken since two weeks, but they seem to have pretty well integrated into the community. If brandishing the machete or tending cows – nothing is worse than boringly waiting for spare parts. We have to admire them. Nearly without Spanish knowledge they happily and impartially repair around the world.

The complete Quilotoa roundtrip is 200 km / 125 mi, a quarter from it is sand track, the rest cobblestone and asphalt, altogether problem-free for most cars. In the end, back to the Pan Am, we turn north again to the town Machachi. The Papagayo farm will be our nightly host (S 00°33’38.5’’ W 78°35’41.6’’, feeder road 1.5 km / 1 mi south of Machachi toll station, direction EcoRoses). Although they ask for 5 $ pp for camping on the parking lot in an intransigent way, they have at least bathrooms, hot showers, and a fast internet. The Papagayo seems to earn its money with Cotopaxi mountain climbers and to organize these tours. Even though not all clamberers return happily: They are all exhausted, but not all of them reached the peak. Maladaption to the elevation, insufficient fitness, or just bad luck with altitude sickness are the main reasons.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – Onset of winter on latitude zero

Freitag, Dezember 2nd, 2011

I nearly don’t trust my eyes: Snow everywhere I look at. My mind tells me that even on the equator precipitation falls as snow from a certain elevation on. It is hard to understand nevertheless. The whole night it rained on our overnight place, but the glacier of the Cotopaxi instead received a new layer of snow. Driving up to the parking lot below the shelter José Rivas the jet-black lava sand is gradually overlaid with bluish white. The eight kilometres (5 mi) long trails reaches 4,500 m / 14,764 ft. The last stretch is so steep and bumpy that the coaches that dare to go up here – astonishingly enough – have to park some hundreds of metres further down.

From the parking lot (S 00°39’23.3’’ W 78°26’19.5’’) a simple trails leads to the refuge at 4,810 m / 15,780 ft. There is no time difference between the shorter but steeper direct route and the longer winding path, both ways request 45 minutes. Walking in the fresh snow isn’t easy, and if trampled down it is slippery. We make it before the first coach group of seven (It’s only a weekday!) climb the mountain. The few teens that come close to us are more than enough for us. Loud music booms from their MP3 players and some of the boys put on so much cloying scent that I become dizzy even without altitude sickness. But I have to admire a young lady who manages the climb with lilac patent leather boots with high wedge heels.

In the shelter José Rivas a strengthening meal is available, and the “real” mountain climbers sleep here before conquering the peak. The glacier above the shelter isn’t demanding, but no playground for hikers. We descend back to our truck and drive down into the beginning ice-cold rain to the south entrance of Cotopaxi National Park. Our next destination is crater lagoon Quilotoa. We will drive the Quilotoa roundtrip clockwise. We find a camping spot in the village Tigua at the pretty farm La Posada de Tigua (S 00°56’50.3’’ W 78°51’22.7’’). Access is signed from the main road. Camping fee is “normally” 3.50 $ per person, but 5 $ for two will do.

Parque Nacional Cotopaxi, Ecuador – The road of the volcanoes

Donnerstag, Dezember 1st, 2011

Ruta de los Volcanes is the name of the valley that extends along 500 km / 310 mi and a width of 20 to 30 km / 12 to 19 mi from north to south. In 1,800 to 3,200 m / 5,900 to 10,500 ft elevation it snuggles up to the two Andean cordilleras, the Cordilliera Occidental and the Cordilliera Oriental that cut through the entire Ecuador. The two mountain chains are larded with volcanoes, but even in the long valley some of the more or less dormant giants are situated. Today we again proceed to the old bumpy Pan Americana that brings us from Quito directly to Cotopaxi National Park. We want to thank the Carrera family whom we left this morning for their hospitality and their repeated introductions to Ecuadorian cuisine. In the town of Sangolqui south-east of Quito we just have to find the way to Rumipamba (partially signed / ask around). Once on the cobblestone road it is only 32 km / 20 mi straight ahead to the park’s north entrance. The pavement stones are partially torn out and left deep holes that ask for vehicles with some clearance. It is a bit narrow with deep hanging branches in one spot, but besides scratches the road doesn’t cause any problems.

A watchman opens the gate of the EMAAP waterworks, or lend a hand yourself if the guy is absent. The volcano route takes us through lonesome páramo scenery with scattered tiny Indigene villages. On our way south we pass the flattened volcano Pasochoa to our right, and then we see the deeply fissured Sincholagua peak at 4,898 m / 16,070 ft on our left hand side. Rumiñahui Mountain is again on the right with its three peaks that lend it the appearance of a face in a lying position. Just in front of us we can guess Cotopaxi Volcano that wraps itself in clouds like most of the other mountains today.

At the little used north entrance of the park we have to pay admittance. Foreigners shell out 10 $, but for an unknown reason we only pay the local charge of 2 $ pp, and since we want to camp there are another 2 $. Park’s opening hours are daily 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Soon we reach the flat plateau nearly without vegetation at 3,800 m / 12,470 ft where Cotopaxi stands completely secluded. The volcano is with 5,897 m / 29,190 ft not Ecuador’s highest but possibly most famous one, perhaps due to its perfect cone shape. It is said that its glacier is technically easy to climb. The plateau is a bit spooky: It is covered with lumps of rock in different sizes, dumb witnesses of the volcano’s eruptions of the past thousands of years. It was especially active during the 18th and in the middle of the 19th century. The last eruption occurred in 1904. Scientists become aware of a warming of Cotopaxi during the last years, measures of evacuation were prepared.

The park ranger at the entrance explains us that we can camp everywhere, and that there are two designated camping zones. We decide for the parking lot at Laguna Limpiopungo where it is very lonely. On our way there we already get to see the wildlife highlights: wild horses with long manes and tails down to the ground; the timid Andean fox that nearly reaches the size of a coyote; and buzzards that are attacked by way smaller birds.

Laguna Limpiopungo: S 00°36’53.9’’ W 78° 28’25.8’’
Other camping options in the park: Tambopaxi Hosteria close to north entrance
Camping zone 1: S 00°37’38.8’’ W 78°28’30.4’’
Camping zone 2: S 00°38’11.6’’ W 78°28’57.0’’
Along Ruta de los Volcanes there are many options for free camping, the area seems to be safe; for example:
S 00°29’37.1’’ W 78°26’22.7’’
S 00°31’38.2’’ W 78°26’52.7’’
S 00°31’52.0’’ W 78°26’59.6’’
S 00°32’28.2’’ W 78°27’09.3’’

Quito, Ecuador – Cable car to the home mountain

Montag, November 28th, 2011

Quito’s home mountain is Rucu Pichincha. To get to the dormant 4,698 m / 15,413 ft volcano we take the cable car. The Teleférico (parking lot at S 00°11’28.9’’ W 78°31’04.4’’) takes us for 8.50 $ (return ticket) from 3,100 m / 10,170 ft to 4,000 m / 13,123 ft with gorgeous view to Quito. That gets even better from the mountain top. There is a trail to the Rucu peak, wide in the beginning, narrow and partially steep later on. The last stretch up on the rock is associated with a small climb. Not too difficult as an oncoming mountain climber claims, but we relinquish. We return at 4,600 m since a hail shower converts the trail into ice first, then slush, and finally sludge. Under these circumstances we would have to calculate four hours for the ascent (although the young mountaineer ran it in one and a half), and nearly as much for the descent. In this altitude we have to puff with each step, but besides lack of oxygen the elevation doesn’t harm us.

Quito, Ecuador – Four seasons in one day

Sonntag, November 27th, 2011

Quito is thought to be populated since 12,000 years, and the Inca made it a powerful trading centre in the end of the 15th century. Before the Spaniards reached the city, an Inca general burnt Quito down – as a revenge for the last Inca king killed by the conquerors, and with foresight to the well-established thrust of the Spanish warriors. The colonists only found a destroyed city, but rebuilt it quickly. The city where it is situated today was founded on December 6th 1534. This is what Quito celebrates happily during this week with musicians, artists and fireworks.

The historic centre holds many churches and other clerical buildings, but government buildings and private palaces as well. Most of the colonial city is renovated and in excellent shape – despite the many earthquakes they had to stand. Like Calle La Ronda, the oldest street in Quito. Also Plaza Grande is surrounded by historic buildings. The bishop’s seat for instance houses a little mall with souvenir shops and restaurants in a beautiful covered inner courtyard. From the Plaza there is a good view to the Panecillo hill (a popular viewpoint with locals) and the aluminium statue of Virgen de Quito.

Quito has a reputation for two things: Its resourceful thieves that work with straight razors. Recommendations go so far not to show cameras evidently and to better wear backpacks in the front. The other claim is that Quito offers all four seasons in one day. And really, in the morning it is sunny and mild most of the time, and summerly warm with intense sunlight at midday. In the afternoon rain showers or violent thunderstorms set in regularly. At night temperatures drop below wintry 10° C / 50° F.

Volcán Pululahua, Ecuador – Fog-thick soup or soup-thick fog?

Samstag, November 26th, 2011

Going back from the beach to Quito we pass the dormant volcano Pululahua, just few miles west of Mitad del Mundo. Its crater is 600 m / 200 ft deep and measures around 5 km / 3 mi in diameter. Its special feature is that we can drive down a very winding gravel trail (no special requirements to the vehicle) to the crater bottom where agriculture is carried on since ages. Camping is offered, but we stop at the access road at N 00°02’42.7’’ W 78°28’40.7’’ since an archway is visible from here, which is definitely not high enough for us. At 12 o’clock on the dot a very special spectacle meets our eyes. Thick clouds climb over the ridge of the precipice and pounce enthusiastically into the depth. In-between half an hour the entire hollow is filled with soup-thick fog.

We see to get out of here and escape to Quito. The world’s highest capital – before Bolivia’s Sucre – is situated at an elevation of 2,800 m / 9250 ft and spread rampantly during the past decades to comparatively modest 2.5 million inhabitants. Unfortunately the weather isn’t better in Quito. The sunshine a minute ago changes into a violent thunderstorm with vertical pink flashes and a hail shower that makes us flinch with every striking. Within minutes cars can’t drive off any more in the steep side roads. To make matters worse, Quito is situated in a high valley. The surrounding slopes collect the precipitation and reliably conduct it downwards, where the water masses transform the roads into torrential rivers. Despite half a meter of water depth and fountains bubbling from drains, runarounds and mopeds struggle bravely through the stream.

Fortunately the nightmare is quickly forgotten on the east side of Quito and we find in the valley of Conocoto other relatives of Walt and Lidia who own a big plot with houses for the whole family and a factory. They manufacture special textiles like belt straps for backpacks and other pieces of luggage or cleaning sponges and rags.

Mompiche, Ecuador – The curse of successful aqua culture

Dienstag, November 22nd, 2011

Angel is a diamond. He invites us one more time to a savoury breakfast when he returns with his American group of 14 birdwatchers for the coffee break. But then we really have to leave, the way down to the Pacific coast is long. Owing to its topographic shape Ecuador represents nearly all climate zones of the world. Today we feel like tropics. In Mompiche in the province Esmeraldas we get our private beach today. That’s the story behind: Walt and Lidia from California saw our vehicle in Joshua Tree Park, but missed us. They sent us an e-mail later and offered us to visit his son and daughter-in-law in Ecuador. Unfortunately son Ron is gone away for some days, instead of him we are looking for his wife Monica in the village Mompiche. After quite a number of the mainly black population eyed us suspiciously, nearly maliciously, her sceptic mother betrays where we could find her. A strange hostile atmosphere is prevalent in this place, but Monica is a treasure. After we drove her several times through town suddenly everything changes: The people wave to us, some even smile, although not all of them.

Mompiche shall have the most beautiful beach on the Ecuadorian mainland, but has the reputation not to be the safest place. Strolling around at nighttimes is not recommended. Monica owns a lonesome plot somewhere at the seven kilometres long grey Pacific beach. She says it is safe, and if something happens they would find the guilty person. We believe her, what else can we do? The beach nearly disappears with high tide and is not passable then, but with low tide it is wide and firm, so that not only cars but motorcycles and bicycles drive along. The water has bearable 25° C (77° F), but for South Americans this cosy spot is on of the warmest at the west coast.

Quite a few inhabitants of Mompiche make their living from tourism, although not all. Surfers and backpackers are frequently seen guests. A good deal of the coastal dwellers is unemployed, what partially explains criminality. One of the reasons, not the only one though, is the formula “many shrimps = few fish”. Already during our trip here the enormous amount of aqua cultures attracted our attention. Unfortunately raising of this shellfish is extremely little personnel-intensive so that a large part of the inhabitants has no work. In addition numerous valuable mangrove forests had to give way to the shrimps breeding. Unfortunately those are the nursery of many fishes. And so there is few fish to catch. At least a change can be listed: The worth of the mangrove forests was discerned, the remaining stock is protected, and there is even reforestation.

Reserva de la Paz, Ecuador – The bird whisperer

Montag, November 21st, 2011

“Manuela, Pancho, Maria” Angel calls, and then again with high voice “Manuelita, Panchito, Maria”. What happens then is almost incredible. Two Giant Antpittas that were already thought to be extinct – Maria and Pancho – appear from the undergrowth and allow Angel to feed them with a kind of woodworm. The nearly one foot big brown birds that mainly live on the ground are extremely rare and so timid that they always hide in the dense undergrowth of the tropical cloud forest. Maria is the grandmother, Manuela who doesn’t show up today the daughter, and Pancho the only eight months old grandson who didn’t yet give up this baby begging call.

Angel Paz is the man who performed this miracle. He is co-owner of the private nature reserve Reserva de la Paz and our guide. Angel baited different birds as well, among them several other, smaller insect eating Antpittas and the vegetarian Wood Quails. All of them are birds that can fly but usually stay hidden in the undergrowth, looking for food on the ground. For birdwatchers like the two American women who accompany us today and nature lovers this is a small sensation.

The baiting seems to do harm to the Antpittas as much as fat balls hanged outside in winter for other birds. During their breeding season the birds retreat for two months in higher elevation and are hard to lure after their return during the four months long rainy period since they easily find enough food on their own then. Besides we simply have to welcome those initiatives, because they protect the last pieces of primary forest from deforestation.

Other birds get lured by Angel’s rich repertoire of calls or can be watched from shelters at the right places; like the also rare Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (up to 40 cm / half yard) with their conspicuous plumage: bright red tuft hood reaching down halfway of the torso, black belly and grey wings. The female is inconspicuously brown. There are numerous kinds of hummingbirds and other birds as well. Despite a fast telephoto lens this kind of animal photography is difficult in the dark forest. The fun isn’t too inexpensive: Angel takes 20 $ per person, and if visiting another site belonging to his brother after that to see two more rare kinds of Antpittas there will be another 5 $.

For that we receive a seven-hour program (from morning 5:30 to 12:30) with a coffee break and hearty breakfast, consisting of a deep-fried plantain dumpling with chicken stuffing and other Ecuadorian specialties. We make an acquaintance with Angel Paz and his family, a super nice, genuine, nature loving Indígena who really performs hard work when seeking and luring the birds. He is supported by his brother. I somehow lose track of the family as so many men introduce themselves as Angel’s brothers during yesterday’s evening and today. As Angel tells me that they are nine I don’t wonder anymore. At the starting point of the hike there is a kitchen, bathrooms, and a dining area. We may camp here for free as long as we want; we are even offered to use the kitchen.

An appointment is essential for a visit at Reserva de la Paz. Use a tourist agency or call Angel Paz directly if you speak Spanish: +593 (0)87 253674. Coming on route # 28 from Quito to Los Bancos turn left into a gravel driveway 10 km / 6 mi after Nanegalito at N 00°01’59.0’’ W 78°43’14.7’’. After 4.5 km / 2.8 mi you reach a small parking lot (N 00°01’12.3’’ W 78°42’26.0’’). You can also sleep at Angel’s finca in Nanegalito if you don’t want to drive up yourself. Some clearance should be o.k. for this road in dry season. You can go through the shallow river if you don’t trust the wood bridge. Angel plans to build cabañas on the mountain next year. The overnight place deserves 5* since it is completely lonesome and quiet, not even traffic noise and no dogs can be heard.

Mitad del Mundo, Ecuador – Crossing-the-line ceremony

Sonntag, November 20th, 2011

The equator is only five kilometres south of Cayambe at the eastern branch of the forking Pan Americana. If we wouldn’t have watched the street signs carefully, we would have passed the unspectacular monument. The sundial equal to pre-Columbian examples with Cayambe Volcano in the background is definitely photogenic. And funny with it, we can stand with one leg on the northern, with the other on the southern hemisphere. Of course, the crossing-the-line ceremony can’t be missed. Fortunately we brought the Champaign from Colombia where alcohol is less expensive. Although it is not our first equator crossing, it is the first time on foot respectively by car, and for Arminius it is definitely the first time. The visit of the monument is complimentary, but for listening to the explanations of the local guide a “donation” of 1 $ per person is requested.

In contrast to the quiet “real” equator monument is the completely commercialised tourists’ spectacle Mitad del Mundo 25 km / 16 mi north-west of Quito. To visit the “centre of the world” we have to fork out 2 $ for parking and another two per person for the access. A 30 m (100 ft) high monument with a globe on top stands here, together with 13 busts of the members of the French-Spanish geodetic expedition from 1736 to 1744 and the equator line that the scientists calculated back then. Too bad that it is wrong. The commission miscalculated it for 180 m (197 yards). In view of the year a forgivable mistake. In the monument is an ethnologic museum whose mediocre call one can follow for another 3 $ or not. Around the monument there is a whole lot of tourist fuss including the indispensable restaurants and souvenir shops. Despite the hustle and bustle – Mitad del Mundo is an essential part of an Ecuador trip.