An Unexpected Adventure in Mindo

14 Apr

Town Square Mindo After The Storm

So, while our friend Janet was visiting Ecuador recently, we thought it would be great to have a quiet and relaxing weekend in the cloud forests of Mindo, just 2 hours from Quito.  Little did we know that a flash storm with torrential downpours and tornado-force winds would hit Mindo while we were in transit by bus.  But, as we approached Mindo, we were slowed by fallen trees in the road and the occasional mudslide.  Then, as we came down into the town of Mindo at dusk, we were greeted by a sleepy village without lights.  As it turns out, there was no electricity until dinner time on Saturday, roughly 24 hours after we arrived.

Thankfully, everyone in town seems to cook with gas, so we were able to eat with the comfort of candle light.  The inn had a gas-powered generator, so we were able to have light in the room and minimal water pressure (though no hot water to speak of) during the electrical outage.  So, we were “roughing it.”

Saturday morning, we got the chance to get out and see the aftermath of the storm and how the local people stood tall in returning to normalcy.  The next set of photos show some of the damage to the buildings in town and to the beautiful trees.

Clearing Fallen Trees on the Way to the Butterfly Farm

Battered Hostel

Drying Out the Bedding

Drying Out the Linens

Don't Forget to Dry Out the Shoes

You know how it goes that kids and dogs make the most out of any situation?  Well, this was no exception.  The next few pictures show how some of the local children managed to have fun with some of the fallen timber in the town square.  At least they did until the “mean men” with machetes and chain saws showed up to ruin their fun.

Next Stop, the Circus High Wire

Hanging Out, Or Is It Hanging On?

Just Being Kids

Well, the three of us struck out further to do more typical tourist things because that’s really what we came for and, bless their hearts, the locals were doing their best to get back to normal.  Road blockages kept us from getting to the zip lines and the waterfalls, but we did get to visit the butterfly farm where the inmates were flying around happily in the sun.  The following pictures caught some of them as they came to rest.  My apologies to the scientists, but I don’t know the scientific names for each of these species.  Oh well.

Blue Wing (from Walla Walla?)

Colors Remind Me of a Baltimore Oriole

Pink Wings

Red and White Wings

Red Wing (from Detroit?)

Beautiful Translucent Wings

Outside the entrance to the butterfly farm are numerous hummingbird feeders with equally numerous hummingbirds.  Actually, there are hummingbirds all over Mindo, it’s just that these feeders made it possible to catch a photo of these little guys.  So, here is my best hummingbird photo of the trip.

Hummingbird in Hover Mode, Just Above the Feeder

The walk to and from the Butterfly Farm is more than a few kilometers distance.  Along the way, we tracked along side one of the rivers in Mindo, swollen with excess rain waters.  Also, in the parking lot of the Butterfly Farm, there was this unattended horse, don’t know it it was a wild horse or not.  Anyway, these next set of photos are from the walk to and from the farm.

Wild (?) Horse, Looking Like the Rain Had Given Him a Bad Washing

"Raging" River

Getting back into town in the afternoon on Saturday, one look at main street gives the indication that everything is getting back to normal.  Lots of people, adults and children alike, are hanging out, enjoying one another’s company.

Main Street Saturday

The highlight of the trip, we didn’t have the cameras with us.  Maybe next time.  Anyway, after dark on Saturday night, we walked up main street to see how the locals get on after hours.  Apart from the restaurants and the pool hall, we stumbled by chance on three guitar players holding court in a local store, singing South American folk songs.  They warmly invited us in to join their little audience and made sure to introduce (in Spanish, of course) each of the songs and their cultural origins.  What a great time.

On Sunday morning, before hopping the bus for the ride home, we stopped in at the “juice bar,” one of Mindo’s local institutions.  While we were there, we were joined by a massive locust like insect that moved incredibly slow and seemed to be older than dirt.  Check out the pictures.

Janet and Maria at the Juice Bar

The Mother of All Locusts

Nost of you know by now about my “dogs” project.  Well, Mindo has a dog population in a class of its own.  From this trip, I’ll showcase two special dogs.  First is the dog of the house at Caskaffesu, the inn where we stayed.  She is expecting a litter of pups in about a month’s time, so she was a little hard to catch for a photo.  But, here she is.

The House Dog at Caskaffesu

The expectant father is one of the “town” dogs, who seems to live off the street (and appears to do so quite well).  We affectionately call him “Yoda” because of the distinctive ears but this dog has a special job in town.  He’s kind of a tour guide.  When you leave the inn, he leads the way and when you return to the inn, he picks you up in town and guides you back so you won’t get lost.  Reliable.

Yoda

So, this was our second visit to Mindo.  Both times, we’ve had some interesting circumstances to say the least.  First was in November for Thanksgiving dinner, for which we had to cut our trip short by a day in order to get back to Quito to participate in the country’s census.  This time, we followed on the heals of a pretty serious storm.  You’d think that we bring some strange luck to Mindo when we come but, happily, Susan and Luis from Caskaffesu are looking forward to our next trip and so are we.

More adventures are yet to come!

All for now, Denny

Cochasqui – The Earthen Pyramids of Ecuador

31 Mar

 

The Entrance to Cochasqui - The Earthen Pyramids of Ecuador

Well, it’s been a while since anything new has been posted.  We’ve been busy enough but, apart from posting pictures in Facebook, the blog hasn’t been updated.  Until now.

Rewind to January.  On the third weekend of the month, Maria and I joined a group of teachers from Colegio Americano and Academia Cotopaxi on a tour of Cochasqui, site of the Earthen Pyramids of Ecuador, and then a hike to a nearby waterfall.  The tour group is pictured below at the end of the trip, still full of energy.

Cochasqui is a site consisting of 15 platform pyramids whose origins date back to pre-Incan times, being actively occupied by the indigenous peoples of the region from 850AD to 1550AD.  There are various theories as to the purposes for the pyramids including that they were used for ceremonial purposes, celestial structures for managing the calendars for planting and harvesting of crops, residences for prominent families.  The truth lies probably among all of these theories.

As a physics teacher, I am amazed that the people who built and utilized the pyramids appear to have intended to locate them at the Equator.  Without the obvious benefits of technological tools, the people were able to track the motion of the sun in the sky over the course of months, if not years, and determine the special location at which the sun would appear to be directly overhead at certain changes of seasons.  Looking to the entrance sign, one can see that the people were successful to locate the pyramids within 3 minutes, 35 seconds of the modern day Ecuator.  In their time, they may or may not have been closer to the actual Ecuator, since variations in the Earth’s rotational poles have caused the position of the Ecuator to move slightly over time.

Anyway, here we are among the pyramids and a sizable herd of llamas, the current “permanent” residents of the site.

Group Encounter with Llamas

Maria Among the Llamas

Grazing the Pyramids

Keeping Watch

The pyramids are numbered and number 14 is known as the “fertility pyramid.”  Apparently, this pyramid has special powers to enhance the fertility of its visitors/residents.  The local people maintain that the llamas recognize this special power, as many of their young are born atop pyramid 14.

The Fertility Pyramid

Bordering the site of the pyramids are a couple of primitive houses typical of the homes used by the local indigenous people working within the community at the site.  The following pictures indicate some aspects of the housing and the nearby  “roads” used to travel about the site.

The Approach to Home

Kitchen Artifacts

Perimeter Road

On the Road Again

Following a brief lunch at the bus, the group headed uphill to a remote waterfall.  We actually climbed to the top of the waterfall, from where it was kind of treacherous to even think of looking down.  The following pictures were from the latter part of the hike as we came within close view of the waterfall and to its summit.

The Waterfall as we Approach

The Waterfall Begins from the Summit

Jignesh at the Top of the Waterfall

During the entire tour of the pyramids and the hike to the waterfall, we were led by an extremely competent and knowledgeable guide.  Here he is, holding us as his captive audience.

Our Guide with His Captive Audience

No blog entry is complete without capturing another of Ecuador’s marvelous dogs.  Cochasqui is no exception.  This guy visited the area when we were back at the bus having lunch.  “Handouts, anyone?”

The Pyramids' Dog

Well, that’s about it for Cochasqui.  Did I mention that the pyramids are located only a short distance, less than 2 hours from Quito.  Very accessible to anyone making a visit to see us in Quito.  Just planting a thought, if you know what I mean.

All for now.  I promise more frequent blog entries in the future.

 

Denny

 

Nayon – The Garden of Quito

10 Feb

Nayon is known as “The Garden of Quito.”  It is a small town nestled on a hillside east of Quito, overlooking Cumbaya.  It is one of 30 rural parishes in the canton of Quito and it is known throughout the area for its numerous nurseries from which you can buy decorative plants, flowering plants, herbs, bonsai, you name it.  Even as a “rural” destination, Nayon is only a 15-20 minute taxi ride from our apartment.  Which makes it easy for us to get there and buy up more and more plants to decorate the apartment.

Nayon’s town center is marked by a town square with plenty of lush greenery, surrounded by a church and various small businesses.  The photos below give you a glimpse of the town center.

Nayon's Town Square

Monument/Sculpture in Town Square

The Curch of Nayon

Lynne, Maria, and Sean in the Town Square

But the main business of Nayon is in the nurseries.  The next series of photos capture some of the color of the nurseries, in the various flowers and flowering shrubs for sale.

Main Street into Nayon, Lined with Nurseries

A Purple Snowball

Hibiscus

Assorted Colors

Parrot Beaks, Nearly Extinct in the Wild

In a symbiotic move, there are several yards where they make pots for the various sizes and types of plants sold in the nurseries.  Below are a sampling of pots from one such yard.

Chia Pets Anyone?

More Typical Decorative Pots

Still More Clay Pots

No town in Ecuador would be civilized without its dogs and Nayon is no exception.  The following photos capture just a few of the dogs of Nayon.  If you’re beginning to see a recurring theme with the Dogs of Ecuador, I might as well admit that I’m building a portfolio on them.  Look for more details in a future blog posting.

A Happy Dog

Hanging Out by the Door to the Local Convenience Store

Well, that’s pretty much all for now.  Apart from the recurring dog theme, Nayon will become the start of another project/recurring theme on the Rural Parishes of Quito.  Fascinating to find so many interesting “destinations” within an hour’s drive of the apartment.  Stay tuned for more.

Denny

19 Jan

During the Christmas break, Maria and I started a little more serious exploration of Quito’s Centro Historico (historic old town).  The Centro Historico is such a beautiful place and, helping to preserve it, UNESCO named Quito as its first World Heritage Site in 1978.

The topic of this posting is Basilica del Voto Nacional, the Basilica of the National Vow.  The photos below give an exterior perspective from all sides of this massive, neo-Gothic cathedral, the largest neo-Gothic cathedral in the New World.

A View from Basilica Park, Immediately East of the Basilica

The Basilica Towers as Seen from the Front of the Church

The Basilica's Western Courtyard, with a Staircase to the Crypts

Side View of the Basilica Towers, from Basilica Park

View of the Basilica from Itchimbia, to the East

Construction of the Basilica began in 1884 and continued for the next century before the building was “blessed” by Pope John Paul II in 1985.  The inauguration of the Basilica wasn’t until 1988.  In the pictures below, you can see the “grotesques” that adorn the exterior of the Basilica.  These are representative of the animals indigenous to Ecuador and differ from “gargoyles” in that they do not serve as drains for rain water.

Several Grotesques along the Eastern Face of the Basilica

One of the Grotesques

The following sequence of pictures are from the interior of the Basilica.  Visiting the sanctuary is free of charge and there is a modest fee to climb the clock towers.  For the first half of the climb, there is a choice of stairs or an elevator.  Upwards from there, you have spiral staircases and steep ladders that get you to the top.  Along the way, they have a coffee shop and souvenir stand for those of us who need a break in the climb.

The Sanctuary as Seen from Ground Level

The Sanctuary as Seen from the Tower Loft

Stained Glass Window in the Loft, Looking to the Front of the Basilica

A Wall of Stained Glass Above the Sanctuary

The Last Supper

A View from the Tower South to the Panecillo

A View to the North

Keyboard of a "Once Used" Pipe Organ

The "Phantom" of the Basilica

Even after more than 100 years of construction before the “inauguration” of the Basilica, construction has continued to this day.  Local legend has it that the world will end when the construction of the Basilica is finished.  May it never be completed!

Until next time, Denny

Christmas in Quito

9 Jan

Maria and I spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays in Quito this year.  We took the time to explore a little more of our home base in Ecuador.  One of the things we did during this time was to visit two exhibits of Nativity scenes, one at Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco, the other at Centro Cultural Itchimbia.

The Church and Monastery of Saint Francis is the first church built in Quito by the Spanish, dating back to 1550.  The Nativity exhibit was both extensive and beautiful, as indicated in the selection of photos below.

Actually a Scene from Jesus' Childhood in Nazareth

Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Illuminated by the Star from the East

Traditional Nativity with Manger in the Stable

Traveling from Bethlehem

One contemporary Quito Nativity Scene included displays of some of the Ecuadorean craftspeople at work.  A guitar maker and an artist are shown in the next photos.

An Ecuadorean Guitar Maker. Check out the Hard Hat!

A Portrait Artist. Again, the Hard Hat!

Before leaving the Iglesia San Francisco, we both had to pose with “models” in costumes of the season.

Maria with a "Model"

Denny with a "Model"

At Centro Cultural Itchimbia, the exhibits were very unique and individually created by noted artists.  The variety of artistic impressions were quite unique as you can see.

A Nativity Scene, Complete with The Three Kings, Set into the Body of a Guitar

A Fabric Nativity Wall Hanging (Took the Artist 6 Months to Create)

Contemporary Nativity with Wood-Carved Pieces, Decorated with Pastel Marshmallows. Don't Touch!

A Street Scene of Christmas in Old Town Quito

Apart from Nativity Scenes, Christmas decorations throughout Quito are evident, though more understated than in most of the US.  Of course the malls are decorated in the finest decorations (duh!).  In homes and apartments, many families have Christmas trees and minimal outdoor lighting to mark the season.  The next couple of pictures capture some of that spirit.

Frosty the Snowman on Skis

A Christmas Tree on an Apartment Balcony

During the rest of the Christmas holiday, we got out to explore other areas throughout Quito and nearby.  Look for further posts detailing our visit to La Basilica del Voto Nacional, Nayon (The Garden of Quito), and Street Scenes from Old Town Quito.

Happy New Year, Denny

San Pablo Weekend

8 Dec

This weekend marked the end of this year’s Fiestas de Quito, a festival celebrating the founding of Quito by the Spanish on December 6, 1534.  So, rather than partake of the the events of the festival, we took the opportunity to escape the city for the tranquility of San Pablo (near Otavalo).  Our good friends Lynne and Sean have a country home in San Pablo on the grounds of the Hacienda Cusin, where we spent a marvelous and relaxing weekend..

Lynne and Sean

Their home is a comfortable getaway with spectacular views inside and out.  The next set of photos show the house itself and the immediate surroundings, including a backyard view of the extinct volcano Imbabura.

The Approach to Casa Quinde

The Porch In Front of the Guest Bedroom

The Back-Yard Patio at Casa Quinde, Looking to the House

Volcan Imbabura As Seen From Plaza del Quinde

A Gargoyle-type of Character Protecting the Back Yard of Casa Quinde

The next couple of photos are the main living area of Casa Quinde.

The Living Room at Casa Quinde

Sidney Commands a Presence on this Shelf Between the Dining and Living Rooms

Sidney Commands a Presence on this Shelf Between the Dining and Living Room

While visiting Casa Quinde, we enjoyed long evenings of conversation and a renewed interest in Cribbage.  It was quite fun for all four of us to pull up the rules of Cribbage on the internet and rediscover this card game that we had all conveniently forgotten so long ago.

As mentioned above, Lynne and Sean have their house situated on the grounds of Hacienda Cusin, which is a luxury hotel operating in a converted Hacienda dating back over 400 years.  The next photos are but a glimpse of the beauty of this historic place.  On the first night in San Pablo, Lynne and Maria visited the Hacienda’s vegetable garden to pick up some produce for the evening’s meal.

Cusin's Vegetable Garden

On Saturday, we were a little late to invite ourselves in to a Colombian wedding being held on the grounds so, instead, we wandered the remaining Hacienda grounds more fully and had the chance to see some of the Hacienda’s common areas and some behind-the-scenes looks by the kitchens.

An Old Door Near the Kitchens

Dried Corn on one of the Food Preparation Buildings

Hacienda Cusin Garden Wall

Hacienda Cusin Garden Doorway

An Inner Courtyard at Hacienda Cusin

Adjacent to the main Hacienda Property are the Stables.  When we visited, there were no horses on site but there were these geese dutifully keeping guard over the premises.

Stable Geese at Hacienda Cusin

On Sunday morning, Lynne, Maria, and I walked into the neighboring town of San Pablo to pick up a few supplies and visit the town’s Sunday market.  The next group of photos contains some of the highlights of this visit.

The Door to the Old Church of San Pablo (being restored)

One of the Beggars at the San Pablo Sunday Market

San Pablo Storefront with Coca-Cola Santa

Lynne with one of the Locals, a Guitar Teacher

San Pablo Doorway

San Pablo Doorway

Like everywhere else in Ecuador, there are numerous dogs roaming the streets of San Pablo.  Some may be strays, some may be pets, but they have a freedom and a dignity about themselves.  Also in San Pablo, we came across a curious kitten perched on a wall overlooking one of the side streets.

San Pablo Dog

Sleeping San Pablo Dog

San Pablo Dog

San Pablo's Curious Kitten

On Saturday, Lynne, Maria, and I went to San Antonio, a nearby town famous for its woodcarvers.  The visit to San Antonio was short and we did make a purchase.  I will  save the experience of San Antonio for a future blog posting, perhaps after we’ve visited the woodcarvers for another purchase.  San Antonio’s role as another of the artisan villages of Ecuador is worthy of its own posting.

All for now,

Denny

So Here’s How You Conduct a Census in Ecuador.

30 Nov

I mentioned in the previous posting that we had to leave Mindo a bit early in order to get back to Quito for some important business.  Turns out, Sunday November 28th was the day that Ecuador conducted its census (every 10 years I think).  Anyway, here are the details as we knew them.

  • Ecuadorean citizens, expatriate residents, and tourists were counted on Sunday November 28th by teams of high school seniors going door-to-door.
  • All citizens had to go to the cities of their birth and stay at home from 7AM until 5PM (no exceptions without government prior approval).  This way, the high school seniors would be able to meet with the majority of residents and get the data gathering done in one day.  Wherever you spent the night on Saturday is where you got counted on Sunday.
  • Sales and consumption of alcoholic beverages were stopped at midnight Friday night and the ban remained in force until at least 12 hours after the 5PM Sunday end of festivities.  This way, the officials could be sure that everyone was sober enough to answer questions correctly, like “how many people live here?”
  • We also had to answer important questions like “how many light bulbs do you have in your house?,””how do you get your drinking water? (as ice cubes with my Scotch on the rocks,certainly),””how much do you pay for electricity each month?”  You know, important stuff like that.
  • Leaving your home without prior government permission or being caught intoxicated (or both) made you subject to arrest and you would spend 24 hours in jail with no food.  The no food part is the standard in Ecuadorean jails, where they have no food service, and, since your law-abiding family and friends were confined to their home, there would be no way to get food into the jail for census violators.  941 unfortunate souls found out the hard way that Ecuador was really serious about them staying home and staying sober.
  • All public transportation was shut down for the day nationwide!  No buses, no taxis, etc. since nobody could be out of the home.
  • Airline arrivals and departures could happen on schedule at the airports provided departing passengers got to the terminals before 7AM and arriving passengers had to remain at the airport until 5PM.

What’s amazing about all of this is that the people of the country actually abided by the requirements for conducting the census, except the adventuresome 941.  The streets and the public parks were truly empty of life.  It looked like a scene out of the Twilight Zone.  Cue the spooky music!  What I want to know is whether they will do some follow up analysis on the census in 2020 to find out if there was an increase in the birth rate in August of 2011 (9 months from now).  Anyway, I don’t know what lost revenues Ecuadorean business had to suffer for this one day of shutdown but, compared to other countries we know, where the process drags out for months on end, at questionable expense to the taxpayers, and still fails to count enough of the population to be considered a success.

I guess there’s no perfect way to run a census but this sure was a unique way to do it.  C’est la vie!

Until next time,

Denny