Reflections and images from my travels

Archive for May, 2014

Odds and Ends May 18-20 2014

I won’t have any pictures to post for this entry. Believe it or not, I was done with photography after completing our tour of Santa Cruz Island. We left Santa Cruz Island May 17th and anchored in the bay outside Puerto Baquerizo Moreno that evening.

The next day, May 18th, we regrettably left the Flamingo I and its able crew for Puerto Baquerizo Moreno to visit a newly opened historic museum just outside of town followed by a final walk and coffee in town with most of our tour members. It was a nice quiet way to wrap things up. We were then transported back to the airstrip and bid farewell to both Orlando and Ivan who took care of us right until the end. We boarded our plane and flew back to the mainland with a short stop in Guayaquil to refuel and pick up additional passengers for the flight to Quito. After landing, a bus was waiting and transported us back to our hotel. We said goodbye to Michael, Jennifer, Stephen and Caroline at the airport as they were staying at a different hotel that night and would leave earlier than us the next day. The rest of us decided to have a final Ecuadorian dinner at a nearby restaurant once we arrived at the Mecure. The food was fabulous, stories were recounted as beer and sangria lubricated our tongues. We returned to the hotel to do a final re-pack of our luggage for the next day’s flight home.

The next morning we said goodbye to Richard and his family as they were continuing their travels to the Cloud Forest for an additional four days of enjoyment.

The rest of us stayed around the hotel or went out for a walk at a local Quito park as our flight did not leave until 11:30 PM. We all had a final lunch at a local square that afternoon. Arrangements were made for a bus to take us from the hotel to the international airport at 6:30 PM. We arrived at the airport, checked in and quickly had a meal. Most of us had different flights depending on where we were returning to so we parted with heartfelt goodbyes. Again, the group had been fantastic to travel with. Anna and I were thankful to have such great travel mates for the Galapagos portion of our South American adventure.

Anna and I had an overnight flight (without sleep) and a three-hour layover in Houston, Texas prior to boarding a flight back home to Calgary. We arrived back home May 20th at 12:15 PM. We had no problems going through customs.

Alas, our adventure was over. Despite saying that, I was happy to return to Calgary. I feel blessed to live in Canada and I have not found anywhere else in the world that I would rather live. Even though this appears to be the end of this particular blog, please come back and visit over the next two weeks as I may upload some videos and other data (I didn’t carry around all of this technology for nothing!).

Until we meet again. Did I mention I will be traveling to Scotland this July 2014? Single malt scotch, more adventure and photography beckons! I hope you will join me.

Santa Cruz and San Cristobal Islands May 17 2014

Our final full day in the Galapagos was spent on Santa Cruz Island with a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station (CDRS) which is a biological research station operated by the Charles Darwin Foundation in the morning. It is located on the shore of Academy Bay in the village of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. During our visit we were able to see Lonesome George’s pen with his two widow tortoises, the new “stud on the block” Diego. We also visited “The Twins” which are two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber. Santa Cruz also contains a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long on the island and was fun for some of our group to walk through. We then visited a land tortoise sanctuary where tourists and photographers frequently get lost. Thankfully, we did not. We finished our tour of the island with a walking and shopping tour (Anna was VERY satisfied with the gift and particularly the jewelry shopping) in Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. Afterwards, most of us; except for Richard and his family who had dinner in town, returned by panga to the yacht for our final dinner (start the violins). Afterwards, we had to pack as we would be leaving the next day from San Cristobal to the mainland and Quito.

Special moments: learning about the land tortoise preservation strategies; hiking (with a little bit of crawling) through the lava tunnel; photographing the giant land tortoises at the highland sanctuary; relaxing and shopping in Puerto Ayora; and, our final first class meal with our group members on board the Flamingo I. A nice way to end our tour!

Santiago/Rabida/Santa Cruz (again) Islands May 16 2014

Santiago Island is an island of the Galapagos Islands. It is also known as San Salvador, named after the first island discovered by Columbus in the Caribbean Sea, or as James Island. The island, which consists of two overlapping volcanoes, has an area of 585 km² and a maximum altitude of 907 meters, atop the northwestern shield volcano. The volcano in the island’s southwest erupted along a linear fissure, and is much lower. The oldest lava flows on the island date back to 750,000 years ago.

Marine Iguanas, sea lions, fur seals, land and sea turtles, flamingos, crabs, dolphins, and sharks are found here. There are a large number of goats and pigs, animals which were introduced by humans to the islands and have caused great harm to the endemic species. Darwin Finches and Galápagos Hawks are usually seen as well as a colony of Fur Seals. At Sullivan Bay, a recent (1897) pahoehoe lava flow can be observed. Puerto Egas, south of James Bay on the west side of Santiago, is one of the best sites. There is a long, lava shoreline where eroded rock formations house an excellent variety of wildlife. Marine iguanas bask in the sun while land iguanas scatter around feeding on exposed algae. The tide pools contain many Sally Lightfoot crabs, which attract other types of hunters. Following the trail Fur seal lions are found. Puerto Egas is not only a good spot for taking pictures but also perfect for snorkelling and seeing many species of tropical fish.

Rabida Island, is one of the Galapagos Islands. The island has also been known as Jervis Island named in honour of the 18th-century British admiral John Jervis. In Ecuador it is officially known as Isla Rabida. In addition to flamingos and the bachelor sea lion colony, pelicans, white-cheeked pintails, boobies, and nine species of finch have been reported. The rich wildlife attracts a number of tourists cruises.In 1971 the National Park Service successfully eradicated goats from Rábida. This introduced species upset the natural environment and led to the extinction of several native creatures including geckos, land iguanas, and rice rats.

Special moments: early morning hiking along the beautiful lava shoreline of Puerto Egas with numerous photographs of marine animals, interesting rock formations, lava channels and bridges including Darwin’s toilet (Google it), fur seals and the tropical fish seen while snorkelling at Puerto Egas; the beautiful red rock, shoreline, hike and shallow water snorkel (our final snorkel of this trip) of Rabida Island.

Isabela Island May 15 2014

Isabela Island is the largest island of the Galapagos with an area of 4,640 square kilometres (1,790 sq mi), and length of 100 kilometres (62 mi) almost four times larger than Santa Cruz, the second largest of the archipelago. It was named after Queen Isabella of Spain. It was originally named Albemarle after the Duke of Albemarle. The island strides the equator. One of the youngest islands, Isabela is located on the western edge of the archipelago near the Galapagos hotspot. At approximately 1 million years old, the island was formed by the merger of 6 shield volcanoes – Alcedo, Cerro Azul, Darwin, Ecuador, Sierra Negra and Wolf. All of these volcanoes except Ecuador are still active, making it one of the most volcanically active places on earth. Two of the volcanoes, Volcan Ecuador and Volcan Wolf (the island’s highest point with an altitude of 5,600 feet or 1,707 meters), lie directly on the equator. The island is primarily noted for its geology, providing excellent examples of a geologic occurrence that created the Galapagos Islands including uplifts at Urvina Bay and the Bolivar Channel, tuff cones at Tagus Cove, and Pulmace on Alcedo and Sierra Negra, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Isabela is also interesting for its flora and fauna. The young island does not follow the vegetation zones of the other islands. The relatively new lava fields and surrounding soils have not developed the sufficient nutrients required to support the varied life zones found on other islands. Another obvious difference occurs on Volcan Wolf and Cerro Azul; these volcanoes loft above the cloud cover and are arid on top.

Isabela’s rich animal, bird, and marine life is beyond compare. Isabela is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands. Isabela’s large size and notable topography created barriers for the slow-moving tortoises; apparently the creatures were unable to cross lava flows and other obstacles, causing several different sub-species of tortoise to develop. Today, tortoises roam free in the calderas of Alcedo, Wolf, Cerro Azul, Darwin and Sierra Negra.

Introduced goats multiplied to over 100,000 but were eradicated by the Galapagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation.

Other noted species include penguins, cormorants, marine iguanas, boobies, pelicans and Sally Lightfoot crabs abound. Galapagos Land Iguanas and Darwin’s finches, Galapagos Hawks, Galapagos Doves and very interesting lowland vegetation. The west coast of Isabela in the Bolivar Channel is the best place in Galapagos for viewing whales and dolphin.

Special moments: Elizabeth Bay panga tour; deep water snorkelling with flightless cormorants, Galapagos penguins and sea turtles; beautiful Tagus Cove hike with views of volcanoes Isabela Island; and, most notably an evening baptism ceremony with King Neptune and his minions awarding each tour group member a special Galapagos name (mine was Frigate Bird)!


Fernandina Island May 14 2014

Fernandina Island (formerly known in English as Narborough Island, after John Narborough) is the third largest, and youngest, island of the Galapagos Islands. Like the others, the island was formed by the Galapagos hotspot. The island is an active shield volcano that has been erupting since April 11, 2009. It is the westernmost of the islands in the archipelago, and was named in honor of King Ferdinand of Spain, who sponsored the voyage of Christopher Columbus.

Fernandina has an area of 642 km² (247.9 miles2) and a height of 1,476 meters (4,842 feet), with a summit caldera about 6.5 km (4.0 mi) wide. The caldera underwent a collapse in 1968, when parts of the caldera floor dropped 350 meters. A small lake has intermittently occupied the northern caldera floor, most recently in 1988. Two types of lava flow can be observed, ʻaʻā and pāhoehoe.

The southern flank of the volcano La Cumbre had a fissure eruption that generated flows, which subsided within hours. Isla Fernandina supports wildlife that could be threatened by the April 2009 burst of volcanic activity, according to rangers at Galapagos National Park. However, no human settlements were endangered, as the island has no human residents. Park rangers and a passing tourist boat initially observed the volcano at 10:00 p.m. local time on April 10, 2009. A sparse human population in the western reaches of the Galapagos Islands means that volcanic activity is not always observed or reported as soon as it starts. The seismic station at Puerto Ayora, on the nearby island of Santa Cruz, recorded no earthquakes associated with this eruption.

Special moments: beautiful expansive landscapes, lava cactus as well as lava flow formations; marine iguana/mammal/Sally Lightfoot crab paradise; and, most notably an impromptu performance by the “Ivan Lopez and the Flamingos” band for our listening pleasure after dinner that evening!

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Santa Cruz Island May 13 2014

Santa Cruz Island is one of the Galapagos Islands with an area of 986 square kilometres (381 sq mi) and a maximum altitude of 864 metres (2,835 ft).

Situated in the center of the archipelago, Santa Cruz is the second largest island after Isabela. Its capital is Puerto Ayora, the most populated urban centre in the islands. On Santa Cruz there are some small villages, whose inhabitants work in agriculture and cattle raising. This island is a large dormant volcano. It is estimated that the last eruptions occurred around a million and a half years ago. There is a gigantic lava tunnel that is over 2000 meters long on the island that many tourists visit and walk through.

As a testimony to its volcanic history there are two big holes formed by the collapse of a magma chamber: Los Gemelos, or “The Twins”.

Named after the Holy Cross, its English name (Indefatigable) was given after a British vessel HMS Indefatigable. Santa Cruz hosts the largest human population in the archipelago at the town of Puerto Ayora, with a total of 12,000 residents on the island.

Tortuga Bay is located on the Santa Cruz Island, a short walk from center of Puerto Ayora where you can view marine iguanas, birds, Galapagos crabs and a natural mangrove where you can spot white tip reef sharks and the gigantic Galapagos tortoise.

Special moments: a beautiful morning ocean side hike with the opportunity to see flamingos; beach time and shallow water snorkelling; afternoon hike to Dragon Hill (Cerro Dragon) with the opportunity to see land iguanas; and, a beautiful evening on the yacht sun deck with sunlit frigate birds riding the thermals as we watched under a beautiful full moon overhead. Perfect!


Genovesa Island May 12 2014

Genovesa Island (Tower Island) is a shield volcano in the Galapagos Islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean. The island occupies about 14 square kilometres (5 sq mi), and its maximum elevation is 64 m (210 ft). The horse-shoe shaped island has a volcanic caldera whose wall has collapsed, forming the Great Darwin Bay, surrounded by cliffs. Lake Arcturus, filled with salt water, lies in the centre, and sediment within this crater lake is less than 6,000 years old. Although no historical eruptions are known from Genovesa, there are very young lava flows on the flanks of the volcano.

This island is known as Bird Island, because of the large and varied bird colonies which nest here. There are an abundance of Frigate birds and it is among the best place in the archipelago to see Red-footed Boobies, Nazca Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, storm petrels, tropicbirds, Darwin’s finches, and Galapagos Mockingbirds.

Prince Philip’s Steps is an extraordinary steep path that leads through a seabird colony full of life, up to cliffs that are 25m high. At the top, the trail continues inland, passing more seabird colonies in a thin palo santo forest. The trail also provides overviews of a rocky plain. Storm petrels here are different from any others in the world because they are active during the day. To avoid predators, they only return to their nest holes at night.

The smallest Marine Iguana in the archipelago lives here.

Our inaugural deep water snorkel occurred in the afternoon. I had specially purchased a mask and snorkel for this trip so it was a good opportunity to try out the new equipment. I had a new type of snorkel that automatically has a valve close when you submerge the top of the snorkel in water and then opens up when the top of the snorkel is above water. This is all supposed to work beautifully but when I initially used this snorkel and breathed in while snorkelling the valve closed excessively easily so I could not breathe! This is not generally recommended when your head is underwater! After about 15 minutes, panicked breathing and several gulps of seawater and numerous expletives; it started to work properly and continued to do so for the remainder of the trip, thankfully! Snorkeling is one of the great joys of traveling to the Galapagos. I had never experienced this activity prior to the visit in 2008. I strongly recommend anyone coming to the Galapagos, or to any location where you can snorkel, to try this activity. It is absolutely amazing!. By the way, also bring a small waterproof camera for pictures and video underwater. I did bring an underwater camera I had originally purchased in 2008 for the prior Galapagos trip. Even though the water was very murky at this location, I did take several pictures and a couple of videos. You will not see any examples from this camera because as we were traveling back to the yacht and I was attempting to show Erin (Richard’s oldest daughter) some of my award-winning underwater video, the camera would not turn on. When I got back to the yacht and examined the camera it appeared water was able to get past the seal into the camera battery compartment. Not good! It died a good death (despite my attempts to revive it in “camera ICU” which involves a plastic baggie and dried rice)! It just goes to show you nothing lasts forever and I presume the seal over time simply dried out and cracked. Guy, one of our group members, was good enough to lend me his underwater camera to use and try on subsequent snorkels. It appears another purchase will occur in the near future!


The Enchanted Islands!

It was now May 11th and time for us to depart to the Galapagos! I had previously visited in 2008 and was looking forward to getting reacquainted with these magical islands. This portion of the tour was organized through Richard Berry Photography. I was happy to relinquish organizing duties to Richard at this time and knew I would be taken care of and that everything would be managed professionally. We would again sail on the same yacht, the Flamingo I, that we had used previously. The yacht and two tour guides-Orlando and Ivan-came to us through Ecoventura. According to their own press, “for over two decades, Ecoventura has shared the enchantment of the Galapagos Islands, our planets most precious and unique ecosystem, with thousands of travelers and enriched lives with an extraordinary profusion of exotic and often endemic flora and fauna. As a family owned expedition cruise company, we are committed to providing our valued guests an authentic experience in small compatible groups, offering good value, as well as a safe and memorable, mind-expanding voyage. Ecoventura was born out of a desire to offer small groups the most inspiring wildlife experience possible in the Galapagos while offering hands-on exploration of nature with enough varied activities sure to leave a lasting impression in each guest’s life; hiking through trails of volcanic formations or nesting sea birds, on a secluded beach with hundreds of sea lions, snorkeling with penguins and sharks, kayaking in a secluded cove or taking a zodiac ride to explore the shoreline and spot wildlife”. I believe this was the fifth time Richard had used the same expedition cruise company and with good reason. They run a first-class operation! Tour operators act as a conduit between travellers and the area they are traveling in. They can either augment or diminish the experience. In our case, they most definitely augmented it and added elements of education and fun that ensured the memories of this fantastic trip would remain with us forever.

The Flamingo I anchored along Rabida Island

The Flamingo I anchored along Rabida Island

Cabin bed- the Flamingo I

Cabin bed- the Flamingo I

For those of you not familiar with the Galapagos, the Galapagos Islands (official name: Archipiélago de Colón, other Spanish names: Islas Galápagos, Spanish pronunciation: [ɡaˈlapaɣos]) are an archipelago of volcanic islands distributed on either side of the Equator in the Pacific Ocean, 926 km (575 mi) west of continental Ecuador, of which they are a part. The Galapagos Islands and their surrounding waters form an Ecuadorian province, a national park, and a biological marine reserve. The principal language on the islands is Spanish. The islands have a population of slightly over 25,000. The islands are famed for their vast number of endemic species and were studied by Charles Darwin during the voyage of the Beagle. His observations and collections contributed to the inception of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. You may ask what life aboard a luxury yacht is like sailing around the Galapagos? It’s very nice, VERY nice thank you! Ha… I will try to expound. The yacht holds 20 guests not including crew. There are approximately eight crew members and two naturalist guides. Each pair of guests is assigned a cabin on one of three separate decks on the yacht. The cabins are small but very comfortable and include a private bathroom and shower. Meals are provided for you three times a day and are of the highest quality. There is also a well-stocked bar which, of course, is essential for any adventure! Safety is very important and on initial boarding you are given instructions on safety procedures and a mock safety drill is run so you are aware of what to do if the yacht is sinking (thankfully, we were never required to use these skills). There are generally two major excursions to the islands, with the two guides, per day-one in the morning and one in the afternoon- which require you to leave the boat on a “panga” (zodiac) for either a wet or dry landing (this was a theoretical distinction as most times you did end up getting wet).  Several activities including kayaking, deep or shallow water snorkelling or just relaxing on board were interspersed amongst these two major excursions. You returned to the yacht for either lunch or dinner after the excursions and immediately upon arrival you were rewarded with “freshly made/baked treats” and fresh fruit juices…… so civilized and appreciated! We really were pampered. The evening generally involved a short educational session on some important topic about the Galapagos and a review of the next days itinerary and activities prior to our first class dinners. Usually after dinner we would retire to the upper “sun deck” to reminisce about the days activities and watch the stars as we generally sailed in the evening to our next destination. Except for the first evening’s dinner, each pair of cabins would share a table with Captain Homero. The crew was extremely friendly and genuinely passionate about their jobs. This was evidenced by the numerous years most of the crew members and guides had worked with this particular expedition cruise company. The visits to the islands were tightly managed because of the sensitivity of the ecosystems. There were well designated trails on the islands that we visited in order to minimize our impact. Both guides were extremely knowledgeable and committed to educating us regarding all aspects of the Galapagos. They were also entertaining, in particular Ivan. The trails were generally quite easy to hike and varied in length from 2-8 km. Humidity was very high and temperatures generally reached 17-23 C. for a high. Rainfall was minimal. Numerous visitors now come to the Galapagos, so the tour companies generally coordinated their schedules to try to minimize the number of parties visiting an island on any particular day. This allowed a quiet and intimate experience on each island.

Our particular itinerary- M/Y Eric-Letty-Flamingo I/ 2014-B was as follows:

Day 1- May 11 2014- San Cristobal

Day 2- May 12 2014- Genovesa

Day 3- May 13 2014- Santa Cruz

Day 4- May 14 2014- Fernandina/Isabela

Day 5- May 15 2014- Isabela

Day 6- May 16 2014- Santiago/Rabida/Santa Cruz

Day 7- May 17 2014- Santa Cruz/San Cristobal

Day 8- May 18 2014- San Cristobal

May 11th, our first day, was spent getting settled on the Flamingo I and then venturing out to the main port city of San Cristobal Island, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, as well as a land turtle sanctuary in the highlands. Ecuadorian biologists are working to maintain and promote the continued existence of these animals that are so emblematic of the Galapagos Islands. We watched a beautiful sunset in Puerto Baquerizo Moreno before boarding our panga to return to the Flamingo I as we would be sailing that evening for Genovesa Island. For the sake of brevity, as hundreds of pictures were taken at each island and so many experiences occurred, in subsequent posts I will only show a small number of my favourite photographs from each island with brief musings of particularly enjoyable experiences that occurred. I hope you understand.

Otavalo and Cotacachi

May 10th we visited both Otavalo and Cotacachi, cities located relatively close to Quito. It was another early start and finally all of our Galapagos group had arrived. Several of our group members had a delayed transfer in Houston the previous day due to poor weather in Dallas and finally arrived in Quito at our hotel at approximately 3 AM the morning of May 11th. I was very impressed that they made it to breakfast that morning and joined us on this tour!

After breakfast, we again boarded the bus with our guide and proceeded to Otavalo. Otavalo, capital of Otavalo Canton, is a largely indigenous town in the Imbabura Province of Ecuador. The town has about 90,000 inhabitants [1] and is surrounded by the peaks of Imbabura (4,630 metres (15,190 ft)), Cotacachi (4,995 metres (16,388 ft)), and Mojanda volcanoes. They are famous for weaving textiles, usually made of wool (that is sometimes as black as a raven), which are sold at the famous Saturday market. Although the largest market is on Saturday, there is a very wide range of wares available throughout the week in the Plaza de los Ponchos, and the many local shops. The shops sell textiles such as handmade blankets, tablecloths, and much more.The Otavalo market consists of ninety mushroom-shaped concrete umbrellas with benches. The market was designed and built-in 1970 by Dutch architect Tonny Zwollo. During the market’s peak, almost one-third of the town becomes full of stalls selling textiles, tagua nut jewelry, musical instruments, dream catchers, leather goods, fake shrunken heads, indigenous costumes, hand-painted platters and trays, purses, clothing, spices, raw foods and spools of wool. Prior to visiting the handicraft market, we also visited the animal market. This was an interesting experience. Let’s just say that the SPCA would have had a field day here with cramped enclosures, rough handling, all manner of animals for purchase and consumption and even rooster fights for “entertainment”. I am not sure what Richard’s kids made of it all. We then proceeded to the main market by foot and then split up to photograph and/or shop. The market was MUCH bigger than I remember it from 2008. I guess business has been good! Anna, Amy and I had lunch at a very Americanized restaurant and then met up with the others- with Anna and Amy’s shopping bags bulging and each of them possessing very satisfied smiles- at 1 PM on one corner of the market as the rain started to fall heavily. We got drenched on the short walk back to the bus and because of the weather had to delay our trip to Cotacachi by visiting a local weaver indoors for a demonstration of this ancient art and of course to shop!

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We then proceeded on to Cotacachi. This city is located five miles northwest of the artisan city of Otavalo, about 3 miles west of the Pan-American Highway (Route 35). It lies in the valley between the volcanos of Imbabura and Cotacachi. There are two main entrances to the city, both off the Pan-American Highway. The first entrance feeds directly into the city’s main square, while the other turns into the famed Calle 10 de Agosto (locally known as Leather Street). Cotacachi  boasts one of the highest concentrations of indigenous people in the country of Ecuador. Due to its location close to the metropolitan areas of Ibarra and Quito, as well as it’s proximity to the coastal province of Esmeraldas, it is also home to great diversity. Many mestizo people (coming from Quito) and many Afro-Ecuadorians (coming from Esmeraldas) live in and around the city. In recent years, the demographic has shifted to include many foreign retirees. On a recent census, the number of resident foreigners totaled more than 500. A definite option for retirement! Most of our group was interested in shopping for leather goods at great prices. I simply enjoyed walking around and looking for an actual cafe for an espresso! It was quite funny as I had developed this craving as soon as I got off the bus in Cotacachi (maybe it had been all of those early mornings) and spent the next ninety minutes searching for a place to get my fix. I had given up all hope and was heading back to the parked bus when I noticed a great little cafe and pastry shop literally 10 m from where the bus had dropped us off. Clearly, I needed that joe! I was joined by Darren and Pat, and eventually Janet, who all agreed they could make a great espresso!


It was a quiet and relaxing bus ride back to Quito as we got back about ninety minutes later than expected due to the earlier weather delay. It was time to re-pack (again) as we would depart for the “Enchanted Islands” early the next morning. It would be great to return to the Galapagos and share this with Anna who had never been there before. Sleep came easily.

Quito City

We awoke May 9th in anticipation of our tour of Quito. We were joined at breakfast with several (but not all) of our Galapagos group members who had either arrived earlier that week or that previous evening as incoming flights into Quito arrive quite late. It was nice to reconnect with Richard Berry and his family as well as meet the others. Richard had organized a large bus to take us on our city tour of Quito with an experienced guide.

As mentioned previously, we visited the Inti-nan Museum (home to the REAL equator), Virgin of Quito statue on Panecillo Hill overlooking Quito, had lunch and then a walk about Old Town visiting Plaza Grande (Independence Square), Carondelet Palace, Iglesia De La Compania De Jesus and Convento San Francisco; later that evening, we would return to Old Town by taxi for a meal and walk around the famous Calle La Ronda.

The visit to the Inti-nan Museum was fun and our initial stop. This museum is on the REAL equator. There is an Equator Monument (La Mitad Del Mundo) 240m before the museum which was thought to be the real equator until 18 years ago when the military with GPS discovered that it wasn’t. The museum is well worth the visit. Not only is it worthwhile to stand on the actual equator but there are experiments there which can only be conducted at the equator and are fun to watch and participate in. Can you balance an egg on a nail? Can you walk on the actual equator line with your eyes closed without falling to one side or the other? Can you possess super-human strength on the equator line? Can water go straight down a sink drain instead of clockwise or anti-clockwise? All of these questions were answered at this museum.

We next drove to El Panecillo to view the Virgin of Quito statue and get great views of the city of Quito. El Panecillo (from Spanish panecillo small piece of bread, diminutive of pan bread) is a 200-metre-high hill of volcanic-origin, with loess soil, located between southern and central Quito. Its peak is at an elevation of 3,016 metres above sea level. The original name used by the aboriginal inhabitants of Quito for this site was Yavirac. According to Juan de Velasco, a Jesuit historian, on top of Yavirac there was a temple which the Indians used to worship the sun. This temple is said to have been destroyed by the Spanish conquistadores. In 1976, the Spanish artist Agustín de la Herrán Matorras was commissioned by the religious order of the Oblates to build a 45-metre-tall aluminum monument of a madonna which was assembled on a high pedestal on the top of Panecillo. It is made of seven thousand pieces of aluminium. The monument was inaugurated on March 28, 1976, by the 11th archbishop of Quito, Pablo Muñoz Vega. The statue was engineered and erected by Anibal Lopez of Quito. The virgin stands on top of a globe and is stepping on a snake, which is a classic madonna iconography. Less traditional are the wings. Locals claim that she is the only one in the world with wings like an angel. The monument was inspired by the famous “Virgen de Quito” (Quito’s Madonna) also known as “the dancer” sculpted by Bernardo de Legarda in 1734, which now decorates the main altar at the Church of St. Francis (which we later saw- see below).

At the midpoint of our day we had a great lunch at a nice restaurant adjacent to Old Town. Michael (one of our tour members had the biggest puff pastry I had ever seen for his lunch- impressive).

After lunch, we had a wonderful walk around Old Town visiting Plaza Grande (Independence Square) and Carondelet Palace. Carondelet Palace (Spanish: Palacio de Carondelet) is the seat of government of the Republic of Ecuador, located in Quito. Access is by the public space known as Independence Square or Plaza Grande (colloquial name), around which are also the Archbishop’s Palace, Municipal Palace, Hotel Plaza Grande, and Metropolitan Cathedral. We had a chance to witness the changing of the guards. We also visited the Church of the Society of Jesus (Spanish: La Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús), known colloquially as la Compañía, which is a Jesuit church in Old Town. It is among the best-known churches in Quito because of its large central nave, which is profusely decorated with gold leaf, gilded plaster and wood carvings. Inspired by two Roman Jesuit churches — the Chiesa del Gesù (1580) and the Chiesa di Sant’Ignazio di Loyola (1650) — la Compañía is one of the most significant works of Spanish Baroque architecture in South America. It is Quito’s most ornate church and (according to some observers) the country’s most beautiful. Photography was not allowed inside the church but I can confirm it is absolutely gorgeous! The same conditions applied at The Church and Monastery of St. Francis (Spanish: Iglesia y Monasterio de San Francisco), commonly known as el San Francisco, a 16th-century Roman Catholic complex in Quito, Ecuador. It fronts onto its namesake Plaza de San Francisco. The imposing structure has the distinction of being the largest architectural ensemble among the historical structures of colonial Latin America and for this reason is sometimes known as “El Escorial of the New World”. This style evolved over almost 150 years of construction (1534-1680) through earthquakes and changes in artistic fashion. The Church houses the city’s beloved Virgin of Quito (1734)- see above.

We then returned to our hotel satisfied that we had a good overview of some of what Quito had to offer. During the day we had briefly passed by Calle La Ronda and Richard came up with the idea to return in the evening for dinner. During the daytime and in tourist districts it is generally quite safe to travel by foot in Quito. However, in the evening this is not the case outside of policed tourist districts. Calle La Ronda it is a tourist district and is heavily policed so it is safe to visit in the evening but not necessarily to walk to it. We therefore decided to take a taxi. The street itself was 5-6 blocks long, and was packed full of various stores, shops and bars. There were numerous street performers of many styles, from painters to dancers. It is a wonderful street to people watch on and saunter down at night and is always packed full of locals and tourists alike. The bars/pubs love their karaoke as well (I do not share their enthusiasm). We had a fantastic meal at an authentic Ecuadorian restaurant with the most wonderful sangria and fantastic prices. Kudos to Janet for ordering the authentic guinea pig and finishing it!

We retired to our hotel afterwards as the next day we would be traveling to visit Otavalo and Cotacachi. It had been a fantastic day!


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