South America

>> click on an Album Thumbnail to open the Foto Album <<

Brazil 2008

to come

Although it is called Cabañas Pimpilala (Pimpilala Lodge), it is the family home with a building for bedrooms and some outside bathrooms and showers for visitors.

Delfin and Stella, their sons and daughters and grandchildren are a warm, friendly and very fun family that made our stay a great experience. There was always a dozen or so of the family at the home entertaining and feeding us. Only 1 of the family spoke English well.

It is a rustic location with electricity only for a security light near the bedrooms building, no running water and oh so cold showers.

In 4 days we did so much - hikes in the jungle; an “organic / natural” jungle spa treatment; learned about Ecuadorian history, culture and the role of Shamans in communities; a mock wedding of 2 of our group; hike to Laguna Azul; a visit to Amazoonico Animal Rescue Centre (a separate foto album); made chocolate from freshly picked Cocoa beans; ate Chontacuro worms and learned to use a blowgun.

A highlight was a 3 ½ hour waterfall hike. An exhilarating romp through streams wearing rubber boots, climbing embankments with assistance from ropes and fallen logs and even scaled 2 waterfalls using ropes to pull ourselves up the cliffs.

Even what normally would be considered a negative was fun here - having my hiking wounds treated with Dragon’s Blood, a sap from a tree which has amazing medicinal qualities.

It was an fantastic, memorable experience in large part due to the great people in my Tour Group.

amaZOOnico is an animal rescue centre in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest for animals who are victims of illegal trafficking or people who think they want exotic pets and later abandon them.

The Centre’s aim is to care for, rehabilitate and reintroduce the animals back into the wild when they are ready. Unfortunately, some are so injured or never developed appropriate instincts due to being in captivity from birth that they can’t be released. It is an inspiring place.

The Centre is only accessible by boat (motor canoe) via Rio Negra and Rio Arajuno.

Cotopaxi is an active volcano in the Andes Mountains, 50 km (31 mi) south of Quito. At a height of 5,897 m (19,347 ft), it is the 2nd highest summit in Ecuador and one of the world's highest volcanoes.

Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times creating numerous valleys formed by mudflows around the volcano. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016.

There are many day trips available which stop at a car park at 14,750 ft and then you can climb to the Jose Rivas Refuge at 15,958 ft. I found it a tough hike due more to the altitude than the steepness of the path.

Otavalo has a population of about 40,000, largely made up of the Otavalo indigenous group. It sits at an elevation of 2,532 metres (8,307 ft) and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura (4,630 metres / 15,190 ft), Cotacachi (4,995 metres / 16,388 ft) and Mojanda volcanoes.

Indigenous Otavaleños are famous for weaving textiles that are sold at the famous Saturday market. During the market's peak, 1/3 of the town is full of stalls selling textiles, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool.

During the week in Plaza de los Ponchos and the many local shops, one can still find a wide range of wares. I was there on a Sunday.

Near Otavalo is the 18m high Peguche Waterfall. It is situated in a small park that is a sacred place for the Indians who have a close relationship with nature.

Also nearby is Cuicocha Lake at the base of Cotacachi Mountain. It is a deep volcanic crater that is 4 km long and 3 km wide. In the center are 3 domes of volcanic rock that form 2 islands covered with vegetation and separated by a water channel called the “channel of dreams".

Quito is the capital city of Ecuador with a population of almost 3 million. It is the closest to equator and highest (9,350 ft above sea level) capital city in world. It is located on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes mountains. While the centre of Quito is 25 km south of the Equator, it extends to within about 1 km of zero latitude

Its historic center is one of largest, least-altered and best-preserved in the Americas and was one of the first World Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978. The oldest traces of human presence date back to 8,000 years BC.

The are many parks, impressive churches, palaces, and other interesting things to see and experience including an aerial tramway up Pichincha volcano to 13,500 ft. For the physically fit, one can hike up to one of the summits, the highest being Ruku Pichincha at 15,400 ft.

The Galápagos Islands (Galápagos Province of Ecuador) are 900 km (560 miles) west of the Ecuador mainland and have a population of 25,000. Consisting of 18 main islands (land area 1 km2 +), 3 smaller islands and 107 rocks and islets, the Galápagos Archipelago is 7,880 km2 (3,040 sq mi) of land spread over 45,000 km2 (17,000 sq mi) of ocean.

5 of the islands are inhabited - Baltra, Floreana, Isabela, San Cristobal and Santa Cruz. There are 2 airports, 1 on Baltra and the other on San Cristobal.

The largest towns are Puerto Velasco Ibarra on Floreana (population 100), Puerto Villamil on Isabela (population 2,000), Puerto Baquerizo Moreno on San Cristobal (population 7,000) and Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz (population 12,000).

Galápagos Day 1 of 8.

06:30 am 3 ½ hour flight from Quito (with a refuel stop in Guayaquil) to Aeropuerto Seymour de Baltra, 1 of 2 airports on Galápagos. Isla Baltra is 21 km2. After clearing customs, a bus ride, 2 boat rides, another bus ride to Puerto Ayora on Isla Santa Cruz and finally a panga ride to the boat that would be home for 8 days.

In the afternoon, visited Rancho El Manzanillo for first experience seeing Giant Tortoises. Isla Santa Cruz means Holy Cross in Spanish. The island is 986 km2 and has the largest human population in Puerto Ayora.

Galápagos Day 2 of 8 (morning).

Overnight, the boat travelled to Sombrero Chino (Chinese Hat) islet across from Isla Santiago for a beach hike and snorkeling. The beach hike was great ... walking over old lava fields, beautiful scenery and abundant wild life.

Galápagos Day 2 of 8 (afternoon).

From Sombrero Chino, the boat travelled to Isla Rábida for a hike and snorkeling. The Isla is named after the convent Rábida where Columbus left his son during his voyage to the Americas. It is 4.9 km2 and has a distinctive red colour due to the high amount of iron in the lava that forms the island.

Galápagos Day 3 of 8.

From Isla Rábida, boat travelled to Bucanero Cove on Isla Santiago where we spent a few hours in panga boats exploring the cove and its wildlife. In the afternoon, the boat moved to Puerto Egas for a hike on the beach and another hike across old lava fields.

Galápagos Day 4 of 8 (morning).

The Island is named for King Ferdinand II of Aragon, who sponsored voyage of Columbus.

We hiked the lava fields and saw lava lizards, lava snakes, cacti and more. Then hiked along the beach to Punta Espinosa where a few thousand Marine Iguanas spend their days gathered on black lava rocks, when they are not eating. These Iguanas are not just the small cuddly ones, they are 3 and 4 feet long. Iguana behaviour appears very social, hugging and laying on top of each which is similar to human behaviour after several drinks at the bar.

Galápagos Day 4 of 8 (afternoon).

In the afternoon, moved from Isla Fernandina to Urbina Bay on Isla Isabella. The group went snorkeling and then an inland hike where we saw our first Land Iguanas, tortoises hiding in the shrubs and several species of birds.

Island is named in honor of Queen Isabela and its seahorse shape is a product of merging of 6 large volcanoes into a single land mass.

Galápagos Day 5 of 8.

In the morning, a panga ride in Elizabeth Bay and the mangrove lagoon to see the abundant wildlife including tortoises, sting rays, penguins and flightless cormorants.

In the afternoon, the boat moved to Punta Moreno for a hike through the lava fields with Sierra Negra volcano in the background. Sierra Negra last erupted in October 2005.

In the evening, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Galápagos Day 6 of 8.

Early morning walk along the coast at Islote Tintoreras to see sea lions, iguanas and sharks. Mid-day hike to Sierra Negra caldera … very wet, foggy and lots of rain which thankfully was warm so being drenched was ok.

In the afternoon, visited Centro de Crianza de Tortugas Gigantes where tortoises are raised to be released back into the wild on each of the species respective islands to boost populations dwindled by human mistakes of the past.

Also had the opportunity to spend time in Puerto Villamil, one of the few towns in the Galápagos islands.

Galápagos Day 7 + 8 of 8.

On Isla Santa Cruz had time in the town of Puerto Ayora, walked to to Tortuga Bay and visited the Darwin Centre to see more and different tortoises. Puerto Ayora is the largest town in the Galápagos with about 12,000 people and is a nice beach town and rather touristy compared to the other towns in the Galápagos.

On the morning of our final day, visited the Darwin Interpretation Center and spent some time Puerto Baquerizo Moreno before flying back to Quito.