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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
We decided to go to Doradal because it was the closest town to Villa de Leyva in the direction of Medellin that had some interesting things to do. When I chose the town, I didn’t think about the altitude…an oversight on my part. The town is very busy, not too big, but very noisy, and very hot.
The thing about towns in the mountains is that the altitude can vary greatly within just a few miles. Lower altitudes definitely mean hotter weather. And it seems that deep valleys may a bit warmer than more shallow ones that may have better windflow. That’s Dan’s theory anyway.
We went to the Hacienda Napoles which is now a nice theme park/zoo but was previously owned by Pablo Escobar. After his death, the government took over the property which lay vacant for a number of years. Now the government rents the land to the theme park who has done a nice job of exhibiting animals that Escobar had brought in (often illegally). For example, hippopotamus is not native to South America but he brought 4 into the country. There are now about 40 in the park and 20 or so still in the wild.
I liked the whimsical statues scattered within the park which is about 7.7 square miles in size. There are some examples in the gallery below. I also liked the way that safety improvements often looked “natural”. For example, the bridges look like they have ropes holding poles together but they are actually pipes and poles made to look more rustic. Or edging that looks like bamboo stalks but are really just pipes.
We didn’t go to the water park section because we were just too hot. I know that doesn’t make sense but in the morning when we bought tickets we were thinking about costs and later we were so hot we weren’t really thinking well.
The people in Doradal were very nice but there was loud music playing until after midnight every night and the room, while air conditioned, just wasn’t that comfortable so we only stayed 2 nights and then headed to Guatapé before going to Medellin to meet up with our friends from Boquete, Lesia and Jim Thompson. If we got near that area again, we’d like to go to Rio Claro (Clear River)…if we ever go to this area again that is.
Caldera is a very small town only about 17 miles from Vista Grande, 35 minutes by car. It is one of the towns that we passed through on the way to Bocas del Toro.
First we stopped off to see some petroglyphs on large rocks. The rocks were thrown out of Volcan Baru at some time in the past. According to this website, the carving was done about 1000 years ago. The area is a national park although there isn’t any really easy access. You have to go through the lower part of a fence (barbed wire above you so crouch carefully) and then walk about 10-15 minutes through a field to get to the park.
There are many, many relatively small boulders from one of the eruptions of Baru and some are quite large. To make the carvings easier to see, they have been painted white.
After we looked at the petroglyphs, we drove a little farther and then parked. We walked 4 kilometers each way (about 5 miles round trip) to Paraiso Escondido La Abuela Hostel where we looked but did not go into a very nice hot spring pool. The hike was fairly flat and had a mixture of full sun and nice shade along the way.
It would have been a wonderful hike if we had started earlier (we started about 9:45 by the time we arrived after the petroglyphs and Caldera may be close to Boquete but the temperatures are worlds apart. Caldera is only about 814 feet high where as Vista Grande is about 3858′. Instead of temperatures in the 70’s, they were in the mid 80’s (plus fairly humid). So the town is aptly named since “caldera” translates to “boiler”.
We had brought enough water but didn’t carry all of it with us on the hike. Big mistake. I ran through my water and then Dan’s and finally Lesia’s. Dan went down to the river 3 times to fill the water bottles with river water to pour over my head. Finally Lesia walked ahead and brought the truck back so save me some walking although by then I was within 5-10 minutes of our parking spot…I could have made it but was glad not to have to.
If we go back again, we will about 7 in the morning and take 2 containers of water for each person with us. That way we will be finished by about 10:30 and have a lovely walk. The 5 miles isn’t the hard part of the hike at all.
Today we went with a local group of mostly expats on a nice hike to a beautiful area with gardens and a trout farm. There are a lot of hikers around here but this is the first time that we have done this much of a hike or gone with a group other than the folks at Vista Grande where we are staying.
Much of the hike was uphill however it wasn’t difficult, especially because we still had a normal amount of oxygen. I didn’t have any trouble. I realized that my problem with having to rest a lot in Colorado is due to the thinner air (oxygen), not my hiking abilities. Not altogether a surprise since all of my siblings are on oxygen at essentially sea level. When I had a stress test my oxygen levels stayed within normal so I’m not worried, just frustrated that I will probably continue to have this issue when we get back to Colorado, some day.
In any case, I did fine. Lesia, the owner of Vista Grande felt like the hike was too short but then she does 7-8 mile hikes about once a week. This was 700 meters each way so about 1.5 miles round trip. Then we walked more to get back to where the truck was so a good 2 miles or more today. Certainly not a long hike for Dan and me either. I was able to be towards the front/middle of the pack. Towards the front going uphill but a bit slower coming down since I had to be more careful not to slip going down.
The furthest that we went to was a very lovely area of lots of flowers and a small pond with lots of trout. Here are some pictures from there.