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.

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.

Pasto and Ipiales, Colombia

Mopa Mopa Vase. Each strand of color was individually added. The process looks like making taffy with the plant sap being stretched and pulled. Once it is the right consistency, color is added. Then it is rolled into thin sheets where it is cut into strips and each piece is pressed into place with a hand tool.

One of our last stops in Colombia was the small town of Pasto, less than 2 hours from Ecuador. We were only there a few days and we saw a few interesting things.

Below are a couple of pictures from a night parade right outside the gate of our apartment. It was church related; can’t tell you anything more than that. Here are a man and a woman on stilts and below that a float.


We took a walk one day and there were cows grazing on the meadow by this large apartment building. In Colombia you can tell small towns by medium sized ones when apartment building like this show up. This one is on the edge of Pasto, about two blocks from where buildings are built side-by-side.

Beautiful view of the area. Many Andean mountain cities and towns are like this, where the city suddenly ends and fields appear.There was a place on the river close to where we stayed where a number of people hand washed their laundry on the river. I took a quick picture of them but can’t find it. We were surprised because it was inside the city limits. We heard about a business where a washing machine is delivered for under $5 and then carted to the next place.

We went to a house built in 1623. This is the oldest restored structure in the town. It was especially interesting to Dan with his construction/restoration background but I enjoyed seeing the old tools and the newly made wooden sculptures, boxes, and wall hangings. One thing they talked about was Mopa Mopa art. The best way I can describe it is that they make something akin to vinyl from resin which is  colored and cut into shapes and then applied to almost anything (wood, metal, ceramics) as a decoration. More pictures below when we went to the local store where they actually do this.

The Blacks and Whites Carnival is held every year in early January. We missed seeing it but we went to the museum where they house a lot of the old floats. These floats are not flower decorated floats…they are made of a paper mache base with fiberglass applied and then painted. Each float can be up to 50 x 60 feet in size and intricately designed and painted. They take about 4 months each to make and their is stiff competition for the first place prize money. Keep in mind how big these floats are when you look at the gallery.

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Mopa Mopa Art is amazing! Watching the gentleman apply to filmy color and looking at some of his art work it is hard to believe it is done by hand. Here is more info on the process although you will have to use a translate program if your Spanish isn’t up to par.

Las Lajas Sanctuary in nearby Ipiales was built on the location where  in 1754 a young deaf girl reported seeing the Virgin Mary and the girl spoke for the first time. The bridge for the Sanctuary crosses a river and is incredibly beautiful. The cathedral itself is stunning. All along the path to the cathedral and past it people have added various plaques, probably thousands of them!

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At the Sanctuary we met Juan who is from Bogota Colombia and traveling by bicycle to the tip of South America. He has pretty good English and we bumped into him the next day at the bus terminal in Ibarra as well.

From the Sanctuary we took the cable car up the steep hill and caught a taxi. We paid the driver to take us to the cemetery which is across the border into Ecuador. More on that in another posting but here are a few pics from the cable car.




Earning a Living in Central and South America

Jewelry and food are very common items sold on the streets.

Earning a living in Latin  America can be very tough. Work is hard and long hours and pay very low. Retirement payments are extremely low, as low as $50 per month in Ecuador.

Many people earn their living by selling things. On streets, in the plazas, boarding buses briefly, and walking between lanes of traffic. You can buy almost anything from shoe laces and plain shoe inserts (I am not talking the Dr. Scholl gel inserts, I’m talking plain inserts like you take out of your shoes if you put in the Dr. Scholl inserts), sun glasses, all kinds of fresh or cooked foods, toys, corn kernels for pigeons, bubble blowers, shoe shines, candy or cigarettes, and the list is endless.

Compliments of AlpacaMall

In Ecuador I saw a man with no shoes because his feet were clubbed or deformed, walking on his knees, selling the Andean ponchos. I didn’t take a picture of him but here is the type of poncho I mean.

I saw another man who sat on a skateboard and went up and down between lanes of traffic selling something. Brave soul.

We generally don’t buy from the vendors because we don’t know how the food is handled but lots of people do buy there. I guess prices are good and they are convenient. Below are pictures from Colombia and Ecuador but you could find similar pictures in any of the countries we have been in so far and I suspect most of the ones we plan to visit in the future.

To the left of the red car is vendor sitting on a skate board.

Nevado Del Ruiz Tour

Nevado del Ruiz was visible briefly

We went on a tour that took us as far into the Los Nevados National Park as is currently allowed since there is an active volcano there (more on that later).

We were picked up very early (6:30 AM) at our apartment by taxi and taken to a central meeting point downtown. When everyone was loaded, there were 22 people on the tour which was a full bus.

We drove about 1 1/2 hours for breakfast and then to the park. It is only 30 miles or so but mountain roads are windy and slow. Along the way, we stopped and looked at the paramo which is a bit similar to tundra in Colorado but there are cactus type plants that grow much taller than typical tundra plants.

Plants in paramo area

Nevado Del Ruiz is 5,321 m (17,457 ft) high and has been active since 2016. We did get a rare glimpse of the mountain itself but from our side of the mountain we couldn’t see any activity. The point that we walked up to was about 4557 m (14,950 ft) was the highest either of us has been in the past. Walking up a long but not really steep trail to this point was work. While we were there, it started to sleet and it was snowing lightly by the time we got back on the bus.

We parked and walked a short way uphill

There is a sad and amazing story related to the the eruption in 1985. Worth the short read.

After we started back down is when the clouds cleared briefly but long enough to get pictures of the summit. We stopped at the same restaurant for lunch and then went to a natural hot spring and warmed up in the hot water before returning to town.

All of this for 150,000 pesos each or $50 each!

Chipre Tower

Chipre tower, copyright by Wikimapia

Chipre is a subdivision of Manizales, on one of the higher areas of town. The view of the city is wonderful and the area is busy and safe. They have wonderful holiday lights, lots of restaurants, and even a small amusement park.

One unique thing is Chipre Tower which is 131 feet high. The tower was originally just a water tower but while it remains in use for that purpose, it has creatively had a restaurant and viewing area added. You can even fasten on a safety belt and walk around on the outside ramp if you are so inclined. (We weren’t.)

Best of all, it was a 5 minute walk from our apartment.


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

Buses in the Andes

Road from Bogata to Villa de Leyva

The Andes Mountains are spectacular. Higher than much of the Rockies and deeper valleys. But they are so much greener; green top to bottom with a wide variety of plants and trees.

Bus rides are beautiful but scary. The bus drivers are very aggressive, passing where mere mortals wouldn’t even think about passing. No passing signs and double yellow stripes are apparently not something that they pay attention to.

So far the roads that we have been on have been fairly good. Our friends the Thompsons took one trip from Jardin to Riosucio (Dirty River and apparently  the town is as exciting as it sounds; they only stayed a couple of hours even though they had paid for one night in a “hotel”). Riosucio is 50 KM away (about 31 miles) and the trip is 3 hours long. They had quite the adventure because part way through the trip they came on an area that had had a landslide. It was being cleared but they had to get off the bus, take their luggage across the landslide and board a different bus to go the rest of the way!

Machine working on landslide

I know this sounds really scary but we have to trust that we will be safe in our travels. There isn’t an alternative unless we just left the area and even then, how would we get out of the area? There are few airports around here.

And speaking of bus rides, when we bought our tickets from Jardin to Riosucio (we got a bus to Manizales from there) and I asked if the road was open, the clerk said, “Maybe it is open, maybe it is closed. Maybe it will be a bus, maybe it will be a Chiva.” A Chiva is basically a flat bed truck that has had (usually) wooden bench seats (luckily ours were padded since we took the chiva the entire way) and a tarp or roof added to the seating area. It was better than I expected since it has to go so slow on the pot holed road at an average of about 10 mph.

So just keep us in your prayers as we travel from place to place.