Water Falls and Zoo

Waterfall by hot springs (waterfall is not hot), feeds washing stations.

Baños doesn’t have a lot of touristy things to do but one is the waterfall tour. For $5 each plus $2 entrance fee each at the Pailon de Diablo Park, and $2 each if you go on the tram car, or more if you do the ziplines, we went on a newer Chiva bus to see several waterfalls.

Before we started the tour, there was a very joyous lady playing some type of metal instrument with beautiful meditation music. Take a listen. Of course we gave her a donation for starting our day off so nicely.

The first waterfall went over the road. Then we walked a short distance to see the head in the rock formation overhead. Didn’t catch the name of it.

There were two zipline concessions, starting at $10 per person, a bargain compared to most places. We aren’t into “adrenaline” activities so we just watched and took photos. Trouble uploading videos so click here to see the various zipline activities (guess which one is called the “Bats”) and waterfalls.

At one place we rode a tram car with about 10 other people across a valley and back. Took about 5 minutes for $2 per head but it was fun.

The highlight of the tour was Pailon de Diablo (Devil’s Cauldron). We walked a short way to see the waterfall and over a couple of bridges. The waterfall is about 260’ tall and the area is beautiful. It is a little bit of a hike to see it but not bad.

The Eco Zoológico San Martín is walking distance from our apartment so we went to it. It is  only fair as a zoo but we did enjoy seeing all of the birds. Their website is actually the best way to see the animals!

Bears having a discussion about who will get a certain spot in their enclosure.

There are two bears and one is definitely the alpha. It had been just walking around but when it got within about 20’ of the other bear which I thought had been napping, the second bear got up and complained. They were vocal but not violent. The second bear gave up and let the first one have the spot it had been in.

On the male, the ball of feathers is much larger. See the grey “mass” on the right side of his head?

While there were some beautiful parrot type birds that you can see on the website, the most unusual animals were the C0peton Mallards. Who knows why they have the funny ball of feathers on their heads!?

Of course there were monkeys but they were behind glass so our pictures aren’t very good. Sadly.

Ecuador’s Exports

Photo compliments of https://www.notyouraverageamerican.com/ecuadorian-roses/

According to this website, the United States is the primary market for Ecuadorian exports as well as Ecuador’s largest supplier of imports. Ecuador’s main export commodities are petroleum, bananas, cut flowers and shrimp.

I already showed a sign with fuel prices and we see “regular” bananas more here than other countries we have been in which usually have mostly plantains.
But the cut flowers really surprised me. I found a really interesting video on the rose industry and we saw 6 long stem roses for $1 (for all 6!) several places. They are beautiful roses that were just picked and still just barely opening like you see in the video.
I saw a lot of colors but didn’t see the vibrant multicolor ones you see in this video.  White and a color, yes…but the ones in the video are amazing. And they really are such long stems! This video is interesting as well.
And here another interesting video on commercials roses (bottom of the page)-Rose production.
And yes, you do see acres and acres and acres of green houses growing these beautiful flowers.

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.

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.

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.

Mindo Hike

Lindie and Dan with a single leaf overhead. The black string around Lindie’s neck is from her hat.

Dan loves to hike; I like to hike a lot. There is a difference between “love” and “like a lot” but still it is one of my preferred types of exercise. Our guide took us to the small town of Mindo, not far from Quito.

We paid $5 each for Dan and myself (guides are usually free) and rode a cable car from the parking area across a deep ravine and set out to see the Cascada de Reina, a waterfall. Of course it took much longer than the one hour each way and at one point I had given up only to find out I was less than 10 minutes from it! The trail wasn’t really steep or hard but we had gone about 2 hours at that point.

Concrete stairs by waterfall. Just out of view of this picture, the water covers the stairs.

The waterfall is impressive due to the amount of water flowing through it. There are concrete stairs along side the waterfall so you can walk up but there was so much strong gushing water coming down the fall that I chose not to go up the stairs although Dan did.

Chocho beans with salt, courtesy of CuencaHighLife

On the way back, we stopped under a shelter and ate a late lunch of veggie ceviche: chochos (a nutritious and tasty white bean with a slight crunch), onion, tomato, and plantain chips and lime or lemon juice. It had been marinating for about 3 hours by then and was delicious however as we sat still the mosquitoes had found me so I headed back down the path, forgetting that I had Dan’s rain jacket in the pack on my back.

Of course it started raining and after debating, I decided to backtrack and get the jacket to him. I went most of the way back to the shelter before I met up with Dan and the guide. By then he decided he didn’t need his jacket so I got a lot of extra steps in.

All in all it was a pleasant day although it was clear that we needed to do more hiking. We tend to walk a lot in towns but not actually hike.

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve

Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve is located a few miles from La Mitad del Mundo. It contains the Pululahua volcano which has a crater or  caldera that offers a beautiful view. People actually live in the crater which is very rare!

Would have been nice to hike it but it would have been a long climb back up.

Bioparque Ukumarí

Bioparque Ukumarí is basically a very nice zoo. I read reviews that said it wasn’t a zoo but in my book it is.  The habitats are some of the nicest we have seen. I could post my pictures but honestly, go to their website and you will see better pictures than we could take.

One fun thing at the park is that you can have your picture taken against a video of a lion and they post it on Facebook. At the time I couldn’t find ours online but amazingly, I found it today in less than 5 minutes!


Jardin plaza dominated by church made mid 20th century using hand carved stones

By the time we left Medellin, we were ready for small laid back towns. We’d heard good things about Jardin and they were true. Primarily an agriculture area, there is some tourism. Very few expats live here, about 30-40 according to our guide. Compare that to Boquete which is about the same size and has 1000-2000 expats! We got lots of chances to practice our Spanish, especially since we staying in an Airbnb home of a young couple and an almost 3 year old who spoke very, very little English.

We spent 12 days in Jardin, a small town with a population of under 10,000  and during that time we did a lot of walking, a horse back ride, rode the Gurracha and saw the Cock of the Rock birds.

Jardin is a very vibrant town with a good sized plaza and a large church built early in the 20th century. It doesn’t seem to matter what day or the time of day, there are almost always tons of people in the plaza…sitting, walking, talking, drinking. We quite enjoyed just walking around the town. There is a very laid back feeling of times long gone in most US cities and towns; people standing outside chatting in the evenings. Very community oriented.

Horse waiting for its rider

The altitude of Jardin is about one mile above sea level. This town has a very busy plaza, no stop signs/stop lights, and it is not uncommon to see horses walking or being led down the street.

The horse back ride in the mountains was amazing and very scary for me. The horses were well trained and it was just Dan, myself, and the guide. But the trail was sometimes muddy up to the horses’ knees, uneven, and often along the very edge of the mountain which dropped off at about 160 degree angle.

The views were amazing! Coffee and bananas and plantains are grown on these steep mountains and everything is green, green, green. And we saw a lot of butterflies, even more than we saw when we went to butterfly exhibits in different towns!

Our ride, 100,000 pesos each ($33 each) included a lunch. We had opted for the vegetarian lunch which was carried in the saddlebags. It was rice, avocado, fried plantain, and a hard boiled egg, all wrapped in a fresh plantain leaf, and tied with string. It was very tasty and I am sure that the leaves were composted or fed to some animal that night.


Dan walked through a cave and behind a waterfall but I opted to rest instead. While we were sitting for lunch, there was a cow that was VERY friendly. We kept shooing her away but she wanted to be with us. Maybe she was lonely.

It was about a 3-4 hour ride plus transportation to and from the town to the place up the mountain with the horses. We got our money’s worth for sure!

The Garrucha is a hand made cart that goes from one end of town up the mountain via a cable. Built in 1995, the round trip is just over $2 per person and you can spend as much time on the mountain as you want. The views from the mountain are incredible although you can’t see a lot through the slots as you go up or down in the Garrucha. It is obvious that the person translating or printing the signs is not an English speaker. Check out the views and signs here.

Check out the English explanation; obvious it wasn't translated by a native English speaker

The Andean Cock-of-the-Rock or Tunki is an impressive, odd looking bird, widely considered the national bird of Peru. It has a rounded crest on the head of the male and is bright red on the upper part of the body with grey and black on the lower half. We went to a private reserve where we saw at least 3 males (no females) who were very territorial and loud. Here are some pictures of the Tunki as well as some other birds we saw at the reserve. There is also a short video so you can hear them.

Cock of the Rock

We did another tour in Jardin, this one by car where we went to various places near Jardin. It was a laid back tour with just us and the guide.

Dan and Lindie

More Medellin

Jeans on sale in downtown Medellin market

We took the train almost everywhere we didn’t walk to in Medellin. Taxis are cheap and we used them occasionally but mostly the train since the closest station was only about 10 minutes away. These electric trains are used a lot in this area. They could be very crowded and we kept our backpacks on our fronts instead of our backs in the crowds. Often a young person would offer me (and sometimes Lesia) their seat. I appreciated that since standing a long time can be an issue for me. The trains were clean and everyone was polite on them.

Vibrant market area

There are also a couple of cable cars as part of the train system and one set of 6 outdoor escalators in Comuna 13, more on that in another blog.

One cable car route takes you to Arvi Park. It is delightfully cool up there and literally a breath of fresh air in this smoggy city. The park is mostly untouched with a couple of buildings and some vendors for things like bathrooms, shelter, etc. The 4 of us spent several hours walking around there and Dan went back on his own another day.

Parque Arvi

Comuna 13 used to be a very dangerous, not well accessed area but over the years, that has changed dramatically. Built on the side of a mountain, the streets are steep and the houses very basic. The escalators were added in 2011 and is now a model for other cities around the world.

We took the free tour (donations at the end) with a woman who grew up in Comuna 13. As a child she was embarrassed to say she was from this area of town. Now with the violence and drugs under fairly good control, she is proud to say this is her home. You can see a very nice story about the area and the escalators here.

Our guide explained some of the beautiful graffiti art (art as opposed to “gang tags”), took us through a quick tour of her house in Comuna 13, and even provided entertainment compliments of some young students (school holiday) doing some break dancing and another man doing a rap song. The students were moderately skilled but I really liked that they were putting their energy into learning to dance rather than other less savory efforts.

Welcome to Comuna 13 sign by escalator; woman in white t-shirt was our guide

Pueblito Paisa (Little Town) is located on the top of Nutibarra Hill (Cerro Nutibarra) in Medellin. It is a replica of a typical turn of the century Antioquia town with a traditional stone fountain in the middle of the town square, a church and other buildings. The view of the city and surrounding mountains and valleys is lovely and there is a small museum with old photos that is interesting.

I found the most interesting part was information on silleteros. These are hand made art that is carried on the person’s back during a parade. The art is very intricate floral designs, done the night before the parade. The work that goes into the designs is amazing. Like a parade float, much of it is last minute. Unlike a parade float, it is carried on the person’s back! Would have loved to actually see a parade. You can get a sense of one here and here.