A Travellerspoint blog

Mindo - Ecuador's Garden of Eden

semi-overcast 27 °C

Just a stone's throw north of the equator in the heart of a tropical cloudforest lies the tiny community of Mindo. The perpetually warm equatorial sun greets us each morning as we breakfast in our lodge's rooftop restaurant, and we are serenaded by birdsong and the babbling of the nearby river as it tumbles headlong toward the ocean some 5,000 feet below us...
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Toucans and humming birds abound in this equatorial nirvana but both are too speedy to be caught on the wing and too difficult to see in the dense tropical canopy. The numerous exotic butterflies on the other hand have been corralled into several butterfly gardens where we were able to marvel at their amazing sizes, colours and disguises...
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And if you think that this is the head of a raptor looking for prey, try turning the picture upside down...
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Green is certainly the predominant colour in the lush tropical jungles that climb high into the Andes from the valley floor in Mindo, and by mid-afternoon everyday the hot humid air has turned to cloud and the forest is given its daily watering. The frequent showers and perpetual warmth has turned this part of the Andes into a Garden of Eden where plants that, to us northerners, are tender houseplants, grow in profusion. Sweetly scented wild orchids flourish here...
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as do the common slipper orchids...
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However, it is the multitude of brightly coloured bromeliads and heliconias that really stand out in the jungle...
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But all of the vegetation, including the cultivated bananas, coffee, papayas and edible yuccas, are exotic to us.
The best way to view the jungles of the Mindo valley is from above and there are two ways to do that. First we took a creaky open cable car across the valley - you can just see the river far below...
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But then we got really adventurous and put our lives into the hands of a couple of local guides and zipped from mountain to mountain on a series of 10 zip lines that carried us some 3 kilometres above the canopy. Here's Ian preparing for the first run...
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And then we were off...

After each zipline we climbed higher and higher into the the mountains until the final line zipped us all the way back to the start. It was exhilarating, (and a little nerve-racking at first), but once we had our feet firmly back on the ground we would happily have gone around again.

Our Ecuadorean adventure is now coming to an end and Ian will be returning to his home in France. He will be taking his GoPro underwater camera with him, together with his editing expertise, so back to the photographic steam age for us. We hope you enjoyed Ian's videos - we certainly did. Blissful Adventurers James and Sheila will be reuniting in Lima, Peru, for the next leg of the journey to the end of the world. We hope you will stay with us as we head south through Bolivia and Chile to Patagonia where we will bring you the wonders of Tierra del Fuego.

Posted by Hawkson 04:56 Archived in Ecuador Comments (4)

South Pacific - The Sequel

Galapagos Adventures Part 2

semi-overcast 28 °C

The ferries from San Cristobal Island to Santa Cruz are high powered speedboats that whip across the 80 kilometre of open sea in just a couple of hours. However, when we turned up for our boat at 7am we found it high and dry on the beach and all the other boats packed to the gunwales. We finally got to Santa Cruz island at 5pm. In time for dinner in the famous outdoor restaurant street, Los Kioskos, where dozens of restaurants fill the street with tables under the southern stars and nearly all serve exactly the same food – the local fish...
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With a population of some 18,000, Puerto Ayora, the main town of Santa Cruz, is much larger than Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal, and it has far more facilities than its sister island. There are plenty of modern stores, banks and hotels. However, despite the number of well-healed tourists, this part of the world is still relatively poor and many people scrape a living with skills that have been largely forgotten in the West. For instance, this shoe mender charged James just one dollar to mend his broken sandal using ancient machines...
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Puerto Ayora is a town bustling with locals and everyone goes to the Saturday market to buy fresh fruit, vegetables and meats brought down from the highlands by the farmers. It is a busy place, but the sea–lions aren't fazed by all the human activity and consider it their right to lie around on the benches and take over the walkways, jetties.and piers...
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Our first stop on Santa Cruz Island was to visit the giant tortoises that live in the central highlands...
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These enormous creatures were almost extinct by 1970 when fewer than 3,000 survived among the 15 islands. Although the tortoises had no natural predators, rats, goats and pigs introduced by settlers pushed them to the brink. They also have flesh so delicious that it is said to be addictive. But, thanks to the complete ban on eating of their flesh, and to careful breeding and management programs, there are now some 19.000 of these charismatic monsters. They get everywhere in the verdant highlands but just how do they get across the busy airport road? Very slowly of course...
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After mountain biking on San Cristobal we took to the water in kayaks around Santa Cruz and saw frigate birds, marine iguanas,and turtles, and then we went back underwater off the islands of Daphne Major and Daphne Minor for more aqueous adventures with a female sea lion who fell in love with Ian...

Although fishing is prohibited in many areas around the islands, we passed through a permitted area and our guide caught a decent sized tuna for our lunch. Sashimi doesn't come fresher than this...
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The uninhabited Daphne islands off the north coat of Santa Cruz are home to great flocks of seabirds – chief among them the iconic birds of the Galapagos Islands: the comical pelicans...
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and, most exotic of all: the blue footed boobies...
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And as we walked the deserted island beaches we watched the giant turtles making love in the shallows before coming ashore to lay their eggs...
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Well folks, that's all we have time for from the Galapagos Islands. There is so much more to experience here and if you want to see more of this fascinating and unique place you'll need to start packing. Next, we will continue our adventure in the tropical jungles of the Andes – Nos vemos pronto. (See you real soon).

Posted by Hawkson 12:41 Archived in Ecuador Comments (2)

While the Cat's Away

semi-overcast 28 °C

Having suffered a week of rain, gales and power outages, Sheila decided it was time to head South to visit her friends Keith and Helen in their winter home in Playa del Carmen Mexico.
She wanted to indulge in activities that would remind her of her carefree, youthful days, so the first place she headed to with Helen was the casino. Here they are with their winnings:
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As the sun was shining and the Caribbean looked so inviting Sheila decided to take a quick dip before her date with Ricardo at Coco Bongo.
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All these strenuous activities made her very hungry, so off she went with her friends for tacos mariscos.
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Helen insisted on not just playing but having a cultural experience, so here they are at the Jardin Botanico Yaaxche about a half an hour from Playa in Puerto Morelos in front of an ancient Mayan ruin.
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Sheila was more excited to head back to Playa to do more shopping. This used to be her favourite activity.
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This was followed by coffee with her friends and a visit to the World Famous Cremeria in a residential area of Playa.
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A wonderful first day was had by all. To be continued……………………………….

Posted by Hawkson 15:34 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

Scenes from South Pacific - The Movie

semi-overcast 28 °C

For the past 9 days we have been adrift in the South Pacific on specks of land that erupted from the seabed just last week - in geological terms. The first hominids were already on the march from the Serengeti 4 million years ago when most of the Galapagos Islands broke the ocean's surface in a fiery blast that would have echoed around the globe. Our journey began on San Cristobal island – the oldest of the group. Here, on San Cristobal, we were not watching the movie South Pacific – we were bit part extras with walk - on parts as we joined the main cast that has been with this production since its cataclysmic beginnings. Our 'South Pacific' movie had many supporting characters like the flaming red crabs...
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...along with the multitudinous sea-lions who pushed there way into the crowd scenes at every opportunity. They were particularly good at getting in the beach scenes when other actors wanted to swim...
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However, most of our movie is staged underwater where the true stars of the Galapagos were waiting in the wings. We donned wetsuits, masks and flippers and dove into the aqueous set to play our parts. The set was cold and dark and then, on cue, the stars slowly made their entrances into the limelight...

A multitude of sharks, rays, turtles and multi-hued fish performed an underwater show for us as we repeatedly dove to swim alongside them. We can swim well, but this was not our world and, with just a flick of a flipper or a fin, the main characters zoomed off into the indigo depths. Our movie lasted a couple of hours underwater and then we returned to our boat with tales of wonder and a South Pacific movie that will be in our memories forever.

San Cristobal is an island of pristine beaches. sparklingly clear turquoise waters and a core of high mountains that catch the warm moisture laden Pacific air and turns it to rain. However, much of the island is just barren volcanic rock where only cacti thrive...
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We mountain biked to the highest point – the caldera of the extinct volcano that had made this island – and as we laboriously climbed for two hours we went from the scorching sun-filled beaches to the cloudy, cool, highlands to view the caldera's lake...
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From the highlands we went on to the spectacular beach at Puerto Chino and swam in the surf alongside the only other beachgoers – the sea - lions...
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The ride back down the steep mountainside was exhilarating and we rewarded ourselves with beer at one of the many dockside restaurants in the main town, Puerta Baquerizo Moreno. Next stop – our movie continued on the island of Santa Cruz where we visited some of the oldest living creatures in the world and continued our underwater adventure with the incredible animals of the Galapagos Islands. Creatures like the fierce-some looking marine iguanas,
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Hasta Luego for now from the beautiful Mindo valley high in the Andes on the mainland of Ecuador. More of our Galapagos movie coming soon to a screen near you.

Posted by Hawkson 19:01 Archived in Ecuador Comments (5)

Out of Touch

storm 6 °C

Dear Regular Blog Readers,
James wants to let you know that he and his son have NOT been eaten by sharks or giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands. They are having a great time diving and sunning themselves. However, the Galapagos is more than 1000 kilometers from Ecuador and getting on the internet has proven difficult for James. Rest assured that as soon as the internet becomes available, James will be back with blogs and photos. Meanwhile don’t feel sorry for them!
From the Wife who is suffering in the gales off the West Coast of Canada!!

Posted by Hawkson 15:27 Archived in Canada Comments (3)

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