Monument to Colonials

Compliments of TripAdvisor.com

This is a late post about an incredible monument to the people who colonized the Manizales area of Colombia. The bronze monument is huge and you can’t get it in a single photo. Mine are pathetic so take a look at these from TripAdvisor.com postings.

The monument portrays the hardship of traveling in the area. It is truly a work of art. Note the baby held in the air, the person pulling the ox that is mired in the mud, the wind blowing clothing, and more.

Amazon Jungle

Dining room at the lodge

While we were out with one of our guides in the Quito area, she told Dan (I didn’t listen to much of the conversation-my bad) about place that was cheap to stay at and very nice. We decided to go there from Quito. What we didn’t know when we decided to do that is that it would be such an adventure.

Suchipakari Lodge is 11 km (about 6-7 miles) from the small town of Misahuallí which is 23 km (14 miles) from Tena bus station.

We got to the Quito bus station (after more than an hour taxi ride from our apartment) and were impressed with the station. Unlike most bus stations which are old and dark, this one could have been an airport. It is bright and new and clean. We only had a 30 minute wait for a bus to Tena which was supposed to be a 5 ½ hour ride (but ofcourse was over 6 hours). We had a taxi waiting for us at the Tena bus station.

We knew we needed more cash and the driver stopped at a bank where we could use an ATM. It wouldn’t let us get any more cash since we had used it that morning. The single ATM machine is down at Misahuallí and we would have to get more cash another day ($20 taxi ride each way sadly).

By the time we left Tena to go to the lodge it was getting dark. We stopped briefly in Misahuallí so the driver could pick up some beer. We saw 3 Capuchin monkeys on the roof of the market stall where his wife works. We didn’t take pictures because of the lighting and we were tired…too bad because we heard other monkeys but never saw them.

The driver told us it would be another 40 minutes to the lodge, some of the road good, some not. He wasn’t exaggerating. There was a wonderful relatively new road for about ½ the way. Then there was a one lane gravel road for the last 11 km.

Road taken during the day and darkened but it gives you a little idea of what it is like.

Picture this, we are in a strange place, going down a dirt/rocky road at 20-30 mph, in the dark. Branches and leaves are hitting either side of the taxi pickup windows. It feels like the middle of nowhere. (This road is only about 6 or 7 years old. Before then, it took a 1 1/2 hour canoe ride to get to the lodge!)

But we see people walking. One or two people or small groups of up to maybe 6 at a time. It is Saturday night and these young people are going to party. There are a number of places down this road where parties are about to happen. In what appears to me to be the middle of nowhere. And I know it is a jungle, literally, out there!

We saw an occasional building with lights but never heard the partying. When we finally “arrived” at our destination, a dead end with an unlit building. There we were met by an older teen with a wheelbarrow. We put our rolling bags in the wheelbarrow and walked “5 minutes” up a dirt path with a flashlight and a flashlight app on a quickly dying cell phone app. Then over 2 small bridges.

Red is cacao fruit ready to be harvested to make chocolate.

We could hear water (a river) along side as we walked. We saw cacao trees with the fruit (future chocolate) on the trees as we walked. We finally saw some lights and then went up about 25 or 30 steps. Here was the lodge.

We had arrive during dinner so we ate (first time I at fish that was the whole fish on my plate-tilapia) and then got our rooms.

The next morning we awoke and went to a tourist attraction put on by the local Shiripuno women. That’s another post.

Shiripuno Women

The Shiripuno women decided that while their men go off and do whatever they do during the day to work that they (the women) should be paid for what they do anyway. With this in mind, they developed a simple program where they show how they make some food with yucca and sweet potato, do a little native dance, look at an incredible rock, and then hopefully sell some trinkets. Sounds hokey and the young German tourists who were at the lodge and leaving that day made it sound pretty lame.

In reality we enjoyed it. Yes, it is touristy but it was still interesting. We learned some things about this culture listening to the Spanish speaking woman who ran the event and talking with our English speaking guide from the Lodge.

Indigenous woman and daughter and tourist who got into the act

Unmarried girls and women wear blue outfits like you see in the above picture. Married women wear blue and red outfits. The more traditional outfit is seen in this picture but we saw a woman in blue pants and a red top to indicate she was married as well. All unmarried women, of any age seemed to wear the outfit this little girl is wearing.

First they made a couple of things, one a fermented drink and the other something with sweet potatoes. Note how they shredded the sweet potato…you will see this is tool is from the root of a tree in the jungle walk post.

The little girls of the village participated in the making of yucca and sweet potato  dishes and the dancing. They were so cute in their outfits and helping their mom.

I loved watching them imitate their mom.

The rock! This is an incredibly interesting rock. In the lower right (as you look at it) of the rock is a little “door”. While it is solid, the tone is distinctly different when you hit this area with a rock than if you hit just a foot or so away. Empty sounding like it is an entrance.

A number of different animal shapes can be discerned on the rock: serpent, puma, bear, and others. What can you see? (Hint: Serpent, Alligator, Tortoise, Piranha, Toad, Cougar(Puma), Charapo (noidea what this is), Boa, Dolphin, Capybara, Monkey)

 

There is an area to the left of the rock (as you face it) that again has a hollow sound when you hit it with a rock. They call this the window. It isn’t really easy to scale the front of the rock but there are stairs built partway up the back. Dan went up the front and I stayed down and took his picture.

And there was a parrot in the rafters of the exhibit area that chimed in while they were singing and dancing. What fun!

What a handsome guy!

Our guide took a part of a flower that I would call part of the bird of paradise family but it really isn’t. He put it on our noses. Funny looking beak!

He also opened a seed pod from this plant and used a stem to break up the inside into a paint and painted our hands much like the indigenous women/children who spoke with us.

The handmade jewelry items for sale were pretty typical of what we have seen in other places although there were dried leaves for tea and spears/knives as well.

Trinkets, turtle heads bob up and down
Dried leaves for tea
Toy knives
Toy drums
Toy spears
Toy knives

This is a village of about 50 families, about 250 people. The kids do go to school from age 5-12. They are working to get more education but it is hard since that is usually in town and these very rural folks are very poor. Sometimes they have relatives with whom the youngsters can live for more education and the family sends money as they can for this.

While it is humid here, it isn’t as hot as I expected for being in the Amazons. The river we heard the night before is a tributary to the Amazon River but that is many miles away. There are fewer bugs here than I expected as well. I’m not getting eaten alive, here at least…hurray!

All in all, after much trepidation, I am enjoying myself in the jungle. It isn’t as hot, buggy, and filled with bugs as I expected.

OK, I wrote that above sentence and then almost immediately the mosquitoes and bugs found me! I should never have written it and tempted fate. I ended up with over 50 bites, mostly on my arms but even under my clothing and in my hair. UGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!

Hikes in the Jungle

Overlook, river in distance on the left

We did a night hike and a day hike in the jungle. Couldn’t see much during the night hike but we did hear two owls that only sing when the moon is out (partial moon that night) and heard what we were told were a couple of poisonous tree snake which made a clicking sound. CREEEPY!

The day hike was supposed to be in primary growth jungle which we expected to have such thick growth as to be almost dark. While it was interesting, it wasn’t that dark and no thicker than the rain forests we have seen.

We didn’t take a lot of pictures because it was just a mass of trees, vines, and bushes. We did climb to an overlook and rested awhile. And had to walk through a creek (in rubberboots) part of the way.

We did taste “lemon ants” which taste lemony and didn’t bite when we ate it

It seemed to me much longer than the 2 1/2 hours we were promised. In reality, it was more like 3 hours so just a bit longer. We were all very happy to take showers before going to lunch almost an hour late.

Education in Ecuador

Education is free and required from age 6-14 (9 years). Secondary education is  optional and available to age 18 but there is a charge for the last 3 years. The literacy rate is purported to be over 90% for older teens and adults although according to this site 25% of the children drop out by 5th grade.

Vocational education hasn’t been good but it is improving. Colleges and universities don’t have a great reputation internationally either.

As is common in so many places, the rural students tend to have less education than students in the cities.

Schools often offer a foreign language, English is common. We have run into a number of people who started learning English in their school.

The country is working hard to improve teachers’ training, reduce class size, and generally improve education by increased funding.

Guayllabamba

Guayllabamba Fruit on tree, compliments of OLX Ecuador

Guayllabamba is a large, ugly, sweet fruit that is ugly on the outside and delicious on the inside. We stopped in a small town on the way back from Quisato and bought one from a vendor. The guide knew which one to pick and we didn’t buy from the first vendor because they weren’t ripe. Each fruit cost $2 which seemed high but they are not common and he said that was a fair price.

You can tear the fruit open and inside is a lot of white “meat” with large seeds in each section. You don’t eat the seeds but the meat is very tasty.

Cochasquí Archeological Park

Pyramid with long ramp, compliments of http://www.larevista.ec

The Cochasquí Archeological Park is a short drive (19 miles) from Quito. This is a fascinating area where the pre-Colombian and pre-Incan natives built pyramids that were built with much precision. The location is about 9,970 feet above sea level with a 240 degree view. The park is 84 hectares (210 acres) and has 15 pyramids and 21 burial mounds.

Partial view from one of pyramids

The pyramids are a bit different from Egyptian pyramids. They have been covered with dirt to hide them and 9 of them have a ramp going up the face of the pyramid. They are thought to be ceremonial and astronomical in nature. There are indications that they created a 13 month, 28 day calendar using the sun and the moon. (That’s 364 days which is pretty close to accurate!)

The pyramids were built by alternating layers of stone and a mixture similar to adobe.

It was a beautiful day to tour the site. The park guide spoke slow clear Spanish and our English guide also translated for us. We could understand a lot of the Spanish without translation.

There are over 150 llamas and alpacas that roam freely in the park. These gentle animals were comfortable approaching us.

If you are ever in Ecuador, I highly recommend visiting this park. I’m always amazed at the scientific knowledge that theses ancients had. (I still think that they were helped by aliens but that is a different blog that I probably won’t write.)

The Equator

Intinan Museum, may not be accurate

OK this is a tough blog to write because it turns out my MOST FUN adventure of all of our travels was…(spoiler alert) a fraud. So I am not exactly sure how to write this. Let me start at the beginning.

As you might expect, the equator is a big tourist attraction in this country. The French did the original calculation in the late 1730’s and miscalculated by about 541 feet, pretty darn close in my book.

Anyway, there is a monument in one place that proclaims the equator but it is inaccurate. Close by is a place called the Intiñan Museum (in the town of Mitad del Mundo-middle of the earth). Some sites on the Internet claim this is not actually on the equator either.

For $4 each, we went on a guided tour where the guide talked about the creatures in the Amazon, shrunken heads, burial sites, and we had our pictures taken on/straddling the line.

Then came the fun with “experiments”. We did 4 experiments to prove the “power of the equator” on nature.

  • The egg experiment: balance the egg on a nail. Dan went first and did it with some problems but was successful. I went right after him and didn’t have any problem at all! (Turns out that the heavy egg yolk allows this to be done anyplace in the world. Since I simply took the egg off and replaced it, I hadn’t moved the yolk.)
  • Water flowing clockwise on the north side, counter clockwise south of the line. And straight down when you are right on the equator. The distance between the north and south experiments was less than 30’. (This is impacted by how you remove the plug in the basin.)
  • Walking a straight line with your eyes closed while you walked the equator line. (Not sure of the scientific basis to debunk this)
  • Less strength when you stood on the line than when you were to either side of it. (Not sure of the scientific basis to debunk this)

It was great fun to try these experiments although I did wonder aloud to Dan about how far off the equator line did it matter. The painted line was about 3 or 4 inches wide so where does the change really start?

Much of the information about the Candiru fish which supposedly swims up the urethra into the bladder is disputed on the Internet however the shrunken head part seemed largely accurate although I don’t really trust that the displayed head is real and 170 years old.

A few days later when we went to the Quitsato equator line we got an entirely different story.

First, I saw a very official looking metal cylinder in the ground in Quitsato placed by the Ecuadorian Military Geographic Institute. (There are 2 but I only noticed one of the two cylinders surrounded by concrete on a platform on top of the Equatorial line, with a 1mm error margin determined by using GPS and GNSS equipment. I never saw anything like that at Intiñan Museum.) There is a huge area that is made into a sundial with a tall hollow cylinder in the center. The guide was much more serious and explained much more clearly about the summer and winter solstices, rotation of the earth, etc. He used an inflatable globe with the continental names written sideways rather than how we are used to being “north-centric”.

He also debunked the experiments from the previous outing. I was crushed but it did make sense. We bought the information packet which includes the globe, CD, poster and will be happy to share them or you can go to their website to look up the info.

As an aside, this place had the nicest restrooms I have ever seen. Clean and white and sinks at 3 different levels for small children, people of my stature, and taller people.

More About Quito

Quito is a very vibrant city. I already talked about the bus system which was cheap and fairly easy to use.

There is a huge Metropolitan Park (1,376 acres-Central Park in New York City is only 843 acres!) which has a dinosaur museum, planetarium, skate park, small lake and lots of trees and paths/sidewalks, and probably a lot more that we missed. It is the largest urban park in South America. We had talked about going to the museum and planetarium but time got away from us and we didn’t do either.

Here are some random thoughts/observations.

  • Fashion and haircuts don’t seem to be as important as in Colombia. I didn’t see a lot of very short men’s cuts and not lots of distressed jeans, high heels, etc.
  • There must be a program to screen preschooler’s vision because I saw a number of kids I judged to be about 4 wearing glasses. There seemed to be a choice of bluish frames for the boys and reddish ones for girls.
  • In Quito and Ibarra, but not so obviously in other towns, you don’t bring the shopping cart through the line as you would in the USA. You unload the cart and just leave it and someone gathers them up. Often the isle isn’t wide enough to pull the cart through but even when it is, you aren’t supposed to (as I was told).
  • We spotted a “Route 66” sign near the Quito airport. Just a random sign, not actually Route 66.
  • In one mall food court, the trash bins had a handle on it that you push so it is easier to dump your trash into the bin. What a concept!
  • There was this one building next to a park with the Eifel Tower added to the front. Random?!
  • Not Quito, but this is as good a place as any to show a man in the bus station in Tena walking around with a box of something he was selling. Not sure what it was but the items had little sticks sticking out of each item and he had a ……..bottle in the box. I’m amazed when I see folks walking around with stuff balanced on their heads.
  • In one mall some brilliant architect designed a women’s bathroom with more sinks than stalls. There were either 2 or 3 stalls and 3 or 4 sinks. Go figure.
  • Because Ecuador exports petroleum, the price of fuel is cheap here. These prices are in US gallons! I’ve heard that you can’t leave the country with a full tank of fuel because they are afraid you will siphon the fuel out and sell it. Not sure if this is true or not. (Those prices are US dollars per gallon…remember that they often use a comma in place of where we would use a decimal point.)
  • Songs in English, especially Country music is common in much of Latin America. Much more than you would expect although Spanish music is predominant.
  • This is concrete on the lower section and cloth on the upper but some places are concrete the entire hillside.

    There is a huge problem with landslides so there are large areas that have had concrete put over the hills…I mean a LOT of concrete! Not attractive but hopefully it helps since there are highways at the bases of the hills. Occasionally we saw the use of some type of ground cover that allows plants to grow up through it while stabilizing the area. More attractive and maybe even cheaper, not sure.

  • We saw these little girls about 6 years old playing under the sign advertising lunches. They were walking around with it on their heads like a hat or umbrella. Too cute to miss.

Mindo Bird Watching

7 birds (2 species). One bird is on a branch

One of the highlights of the Quito area was a very small bird watching place in Mindo after our hike.  The place is called either Jardin el Decanyo or Jardin el Descanso, I have seen both names. The owner of the property had originally bought the property which was treeless and made an area into a soccer field, complete with picnic tables, grills, etc. And then the bird watching bug bit him.

He planted hundreds (or more) trees and bushes where the soccer field used to be. It is now jungle like and the birds LOVE, LOVE, LOVE it. Sitting on his covered porch we saw 6-8 hummingbirds at each of 4 or 5 feeders. We saw 3 or 4 species of hummingbirds but he has identified over 100. We also saw some tangers and a swooping visit by some type of hawk. When the hawk swoops by, everyone hides for a few minutes and then return.

Here are a couple of fun Google animations from our time the garden. One is pictures mostly at a feeder and the other is a very pretty bird-watch closely and he will stick out his tongue.

It was heartwarming to see what one person can do to change the world. He charges a nominal $4 per person to watch the birds and if you are so inclined, he rents out rooms for overnighters. When we return to Durango I had already been thinking about doing some landscaping on the second lot that we rent which is now just grass. I will think more on this when the time gets closer.