Week 2: The Amazon

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Wow. Just wow. La selva is so beautiful. It’s hard to capture that beauty on film. It has to be an immersive experience. You have to jump in and feel the cool river water on your skin, squish your boots into the muddy swamp, and hold a frog on your fingertips. You have to see the red streaks of bromeliads poking out of trees, the orange sun reflecting over the water, the yellow chest of a flycatcher fluttering by, and the infinite shades of green that dominate the landscape. You have to smell the sweetness of the natural mosquito repellant created by fire ants, as well as the awful stench left behind from wild boars taking a bath in a pool of muddy water. You have to hear the monkeys howling, the birds squawking, and the rain plunking down in big, solid, unforgiving drops. It’s incredible.

On the river, we found quite a few animals: anacondas, yellow flycatchers, bats (hidden on the underside of logs), and squirrel monkeys.amazon week 21.jpg

We also saw pink dolphins (which really don’t photograph well at all) and four other types of monkeys (I even got to see woolly monkeys swinging on vines). I saw and heard so many different types of birds that I can’t even remember their names, but definitely macaws, toucans, and stinky turkeys (which are loud and smelly).

Some night time finds: opossum (hanging out above the kitchen), big scorpion spider, frog, and white caiman.

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Some nocturnal insects (and apparently some kind of nest a larvae was hanging out in).

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One of the highlights for me was making cassave in the nearby Siona village. Cassave is bread made from the root of the yucca plant (also known as cassava and manioc in other places). To make the bread you peel off the outer layer of the root, grate the root into tiny pieces, squeeze all the water out of those pieces, and then push them through a sieve. Then you just put the small, dried pieces of yucca on a hot stone and push it down with your hand as it cooks. After smoothing it out with the bottom of a bowl, you flip it over and cook the other side. The cassave tasted great and I couldn’t believe that it didn’t require any additional ingredients, it just kind of melted together. Yum! Also, Maria was kind enough to let me make the last one.

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I’ll leave you with some beautiful views from my time there: hiking through a swamp forest, macrolobial trees in Lagunda Grande, boats on the river near the Siona village, and a beautiful sunset on the lake.

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Week 1: Quito, Otavalo, Mindo

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Quito

Quito is high up, really high, like 9,350 feet high. I was out of breath walking up three flights of stairs to my room. But somehow I managed to walk slowly around the Old Town.

First stop was the stunning Basílica del Voto Nacional and climbed to the top to look out over the city. It’s currently being restored and I loved the variety of local animal gargoyles (iguanas pictured below).

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Apparently I was in the mood for art because I visited the Contemporary Art Museum of Quito, the Museo Camilo Egas which is full of his paintings which were part of the Indigenismo movement, Yoko Ono’s exhibition in the Cultural Center, and a convent hosting an exhibit of the Oaxacan artist Rufino Tamayo (who really loved watermelon). I also walked around the streets and enjoyed some delightful street performers and ate some uvillas.

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Otavalo

On my way to Otavalo to meet up with an old friend and her family, my phone was stolen, so pictures are a bit sparse from this part of the trip. 😦 Otavalo is known for its strong indigenous culture that has survived successive periods of colonization. It’s also famous for its huge Saturday market. I did manage to try a new fruit I’d never had before: madroños. Ecuadorians walking by had never seen them either. Google says that it translates to the strawberry tree fruit, but this is clearly something different. If anybody has any ideas, let me know.

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At El Parque Cóndor, I was introduced to this hilarious looking Stygian owl, got to hold an American kestrel, and also managed to see my first Andean condor (in captivity).

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Mindo

Mindo is gorgeous. So much green. In order to get into the forest you ride the tarabita, a cable car that pulls you across the lush canopy below. I wasn’t early enough to see all the birds, but there were definitely some butterflies hanging around as I was hiking.

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I headed for the Santuario de Cascadas and found myself hiking along a river to see these beautiful waterfalls. I jumped in a few times on my way back even though it was a bit cold. The second one (Cascada Guarumos) was my favorite!

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Ziplining is always fun and in spite of spending years doing this every summer at Girl Scout camp, they never let us try the mariposa position.

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Up next: The Amazon!