Last Day in Mashpi

Friday, January 11, 2019

On this, our last day in Mashpi, we took a short hike where we observed a few more birds, butterflies, and even a millipede and an iguana. The iguana flexed his throat in agitation, he looked almost fluorescent against the wall he was occupying.

We left Mashpi at 11:30 for our bumpy, winding trip back to Quito. It’s a bit of a bone shaker. If we weren’t wearing our seatbelts, we’d find it difficult to remain in our seats.

We get up very early tomorrow morning, so it was early to bed tonight.

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Mashpi Dragonfly and Waterfalls

Thursday afternoon, January 10, 2019

Mashpi Lodge has a an open-air cable car ride – The Dragonfly, which carries its passengers on a 45 minute ride over the forest canopy, at up to 650’ above the ground. The setup looks similar to a ski lift, with two main stations and six towers. At one point, riders can disembark to hike to a waterfall and enjoy a swim. The ride is about 1.25 miles each way, and the cars move at about 160’ per minute, giving the riders plenty of time to examine the trees and plants below and around them.

As we rode above the canopy, we enjoyed views of the river flowing through the forest, a couple of waterfalls,  and all of the vegetation, including the Mashpi Magnolia tree. We could see our lodge and the Life Center from a distance.

After the Dragonfly ride, we took a hike to one of the waterfalls. It was tough going, down a narrow, twisting and muddy path, but well worth the effort. The return hike back up gave us a workout that we could still feel the next day.

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Mashpi Cloud Forest

Thursday morning, January 10, 2019

What’s a cloud forest? How does it differ from a rainforest? These were questions we had after coming to Mashpi. The area feels and looks like some of the rainforests we’ve visited. The difference is that a cloud forest is almost always covered in fog. Low-level clouds are frequently at the same altitude as the plants. We rarely see the sun here, and it rains most days for an hour or . Since we are close to the equator, the temperature doesn’t vary much throughout the year, between 71-75 degrees. This provides a long growing season so the trees and plants grow quite tall and large.

This morning, we visited the Hummingbird Garden at Mashpi Lodge. Of the 130 species of hummingbird in Ecuador, 22 can be found here. Hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of all warm-blooded animals, their hearts beating more than 1,200 times a minute. They can hover like a drone as well as fly in all directions – forward, back, side to side, and all around. This was the first time we had ever seen them perch, although they don’t sit still for long. When they do, they move so fast that they may already out of sight by the time the camera fires.

We were told the names of some of the hummingbirds that came to the garden, but I don’t remember most of them. I can remember, however, how delightfully mesmerizing and beautiful they are. Unlike the mostly brown ones we see at home, these are blue, green, red, yellow, black, and all combinations of colors. As I watched them flit from tree to feeder and back again, I couldn’t help but wonder if they are the inspiration for fairies.

Besides filling the hummingbird feeders (which are quickly emptied), the staff put out pieces of banana, and where there’s nectar and fruit, there will be other creatures wanting to get their share, including a squirrel that grabbed an entire banana and took it up into a tree.

 

 

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Quito to Mashpi: 70 miles in 3.5 Hours

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

We left Quito at 9am to head to Mashpi Lodge. The lodge is only about 70 miles away, but it takes 3.5 hours to get there, descending about 6,000’ and crossing the equator three times. Ecuador’s topography makes it difficult to get anywhere in a short time.

On our way, we stopped at Tulipe Archaeological Site. This was the home of the Yumbo culture between 800 and 1660 AD. It’s speculated that they left the area after a major eruption of Pichincha Volcano in 1660. About 2,000 pyramids and mounts have been unearthed here. Surrounding roads show that they regularly traveled to the coast, probably trading with other people along the way. The roads were dug several feet into the ground, so that they were partly sheltered.

The Yumbos built ceremonial pools that were located to allign with certain points in the sky. Several have been excavated at this site.

Mashpi Lodge is a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, meaning that it is a boutique hotel in an extraordinary place with a demonstrated commitment to sustainability, authenticity and excellence. The lodge had to go through a rigorous evaluation process, and must be committed to protecting the cultural and natural heritage, embracing sustainable tourism practices.

The lodge is nestled on a plateau in the Andes, at about 3,100 feet above sea level. The large windows make us feel like we’re staying in a treehouse.

When we arrived, we received a short orientation, then set out for our first activity: a visit to the Life Center. It was about a 1.5 mile hike through Jurassic Park.

At the Life Center, we were able to observe several birds and animals in their natural habitat. Guides put out bananas to attract the birds. An agouti and a tayra also joined the feast.

There is also a butterfly farm here, with several species of orchid as well, where we learned about the metamorphosis from egg to butterfly. Most of the butterflies here are the large Owl butterfly, with its fluorescent upper wings that contrast with the brown, black and white under wing that are most often displayed. Their caterpillars look like something out of Aliens.

Owl Butterfly

So much beauty in one place. We were definitely exhausted by the end of the day.

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Quito City Tour

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

We enjoyed a tour of central Quito this morning. The day was a bit cloudy, with a drizzle that turned into a heavier rain by afternoon. This is the beginning of the rainy season for Ecuador, and our guide was very happy to see the rain as the city has been very dry. With just a little rain, the flowers bloom and the plants and trees green up.

Our first stop was at the top of El Panecillo, a hill of volcanic origin, located south of central Quito, with panoramic views of the city. It’s also a favorite place to fly kites, and we did see a few trapped in the trees along the way. The hill provided a good view of the Basilica del Voto Nacional, a neo-Gothic building constructed over a period of almost 100 years. It seems many of Quito’s churches took several decades to be built. We had a good view of our hotel which is situated across from San Francisco Church and plaza.

There is a 250’ monument to the Virgin Mary at the top of El Panecillo, designed by Agustín de la Herrán Matorras in 1976. It was inspired by a statue in the San Francisco Church called The Dancing Madonna because she is not standing in a prayerful pose, but rather a joyful one. These Madonnas are said to be the only ones in the world with wings.

We paid another visit to the San Francisco Church, then made our way to the Church of La Compañia de Jesus, built by the Jesuit priests. Construction of this church happened over a period of years from 1605 to 1765. The interior design is baroque, very ornate with carved stone and wood covered in gold leaf. No photos allowed.

We also stopped at Independence Square (Plaza Grande), home of Carondelet Palace (presidential palace built in the early 1800’s), the seat of Ecuadorean Government. On the other side of the square is the municipal government headquarters. On a third side is the home of the Archbishop of Quito.

The center of the square is graced by the Independence Monument which was erected in the early 1900’s. There were many people enjoying the beautiful flowers and trees  today.

We walked down a few of the streets and visited a local market. We always enjoy visiting the markets since it gives a better sense of the foods and culture of the countries we visit. At this market, there is a large section devoted to natural medicine. Customers come here to get a “prescription” for whatever ails them, usually a concoction of herbs that may be rubbed on the body steeped for a tea or bathing. We saw one young child being “cleansed” with herbs that were being rubbed on her.

There were no flies at this market, apparently there isn’t enough oxygen at this altitude for them – one good reason to live here. Another reason – there are no mosquitoes here! Among the interesting products for sale were cow’s hooves, used in a stew enjoyed by the local people.

Traffic is very heavy in Quito, and the streets are quite narrow in the older part of the city. There are many buses bringing people in to work, and the streets are barely wide enough to accommodate them. The population of the city is about 2.3 million and another 300,000 come into the city for work. The daily commute has become long and frustrating, so the city decided to build a subway system, the Quito Metro, to alleviate the problem. There will be 15 stations running from south of the city to north of the city, with one stop across from San Francisco Square. Construction began in January, 2016, and the tunneling was completed this past October. The city hopes to have it on line by July, 2019.

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Quito, a First World Heritage Site

Monday, January 7

In 1978, Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, became one  of the first cities to be named a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. Located about 15 miles south of the equator, with an elevation of 9,350’, Quito is the second-highest capital city in the world. (LaPaz, Bolivia is the highest, at 11,942’.)

                                Views from the terrace on top of Casa Gangotena

Quito is located on the eastern slopes of Pichincha, an active volcano in the Andes. An eruption in 1999 covered the city with several inches of ash, and a small eruption in 2000 killed two volcanologists who were working on the lava dome.

This area has been populated for over 10,000 years. The ancient village of Cotocollao (1500 BC) was located in NW Quito, and covered about 64 acres. The Cotocollao people extracted and exported obsidian.

Spain invaded in 1534 and founded the city of Quito. In 1556, it was named “Muy Noble y Muy Leal Ciudad de San Francisco de Quito, the Very Noble and Loyal City of San Francisco of Quito. Wouldn’t that be a lot to put in your address book?

The residents of Ecuador made a move for independence in the early 1800’s, achieving their goal in 1822, under the leadership of Simón Bolivar. Political unrest, however, continued into the mid-1900’s, with numerous uprisings and battles.
Quito’s historic center has been well preserved, and it’s considered to be one of the most important historic areas in Latin America.

Our hotel is located across the street from the Church and Monastery of St Fancis, or Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. Facing the San Francisco Plaza, the convent was built between 1536 – 1604, and includes three churches and several courtyards.

The exterior of the San Francisco is Late Renaissance in style, while the interior is more Baroque, with Moorish influences. The church is very ornate, with elaborate carvings, coffered ceilings, and gold painted altars. The church went through an extensive renovation between 2000 – 2010.

In 1932, the Franciscan Community purchased a pipe organ that was brought over from Spain. To make space in the choir loft, twenty choir stalls were remained. Sixty-one remain.

The convent houses a museum of over 3,500 pieces of colonial art, much of it religious. Several pieces are currently being restored.

Continuing our quest for Ecuadorean culture, we stopped in at Yumbos Artisanal Chocolate shop, where we sampled several chocolates of varying percentages of cocoa, from 60% – 100%, plus some with ginger, chili peppers, or coffee. I loved the coffee flavored one, but opted to purchase a couple 85% bars, as well as some cacao nibs to brew for tea (can’t wait to try it), and a brick of 100% cocoa for baking. They also have some delicious syrups and sauces, plus cacao butter soaps, lip balms and cosmetics.  Yumbos is a small factory that uses cocoa that has been designated “fine and aromatic.” All chocolates are made by hand without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Yumbos imports chocolates to Canada, and you can order them on line from Nala Foods of Hamilton, Ontario.

I think we’re going back tomorrow to get some more chocolate bars.

After dinner, we headed up to the terrace to see the city lights. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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Getting in Touch With Nature in Ecuador and Peru

Sunday, January 6, 2019

We flew from Minneapolis to Quito, Ecuador today, the first leg in another voyage of discovery. We will spend a few days in Quito, then head to the cloud forest area of Ecuador. After that, we head to the Galápagos, then the upper Amazon of Peru, and finally the Lake Titicaca area. We’re excited about the opportunity to see so many birds, butterflies and other animals in their natural habitat. I’m personally excited to sample the chocolate for which Ecuador is known. Then there are the textiles and jewelry to investigate.

As usual, the worst part is getting through the airport. The security lines at MSP were horrendous, even the Precheck lines. I’ve read that some TSA agents are calling in sick during the government shutdown. Some are working other jobs during the shutdown so they can pay their bills. Can’t say that I blame them. Granted, they will be paid after the shutdown is over, but that doesn’t put food on the table today!

When we checked our bags, we noticed that the door flaps over the conveyor belt was covered with baggage tags (the ones that are adhered to the side or top of your suitcase). I wondered if that is the reason why some bags get lost.

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I found an article that actually explains the entire baggage handling process:  “How Baggage Handling Works” on the website HowStuffWorks. I won’t explain the process here (although I did find it fascinating), but I will say that I feel more confident about the effectiveness of the whole baggage handling process.

When we did reach security, my backpack had to be x-rayed three times! After the second time, the agent put it in a different bin. How can a different bin make a difference??? But it did. I think it’s time for us to look into CLEAR.

Everything was smooth after that. We arrived in Quito a little after 11pm, and at our hotel shortly after midnight.

We are staying at Casa Gangotena, a beautiful hotel with only 31 rooms, and located in the heart of the city, across from San Francisco Convent and Plaza. The building was a mansion owned by the Gangotena family. It was purchased in 2000 by Metropolitan Touring, who converted it to a boutique hotel. The building is included in Quito’s cultural heritage inventory.

 

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