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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ecuadoran Geography

In case I have been giving the impression I don't like Ecuador because of the toilets and lack of railings and stray dogs, that isn't really true. Ecuador has pretty much everything: beaches, the Galapagos, the Andes (including eleven volcanos) and the Amazon rain forest. And it's all packed into a tiny area so that you can see everything South America has to offer in basically one spot. No matter where you are, you're within a day's travel of everything else.

Also, they have customer service nailed. They are multi-lingual, polite, prompt, neat, hard-working and just as good-natured as anyone could want. Nothing is too much trouble, except, maybe, that dratted toilet paper. For example, in some banos, there is community toilet paper on a roll. You take some before you go into a stall. And then you know what happens next.

They also have community sinks, like in Mexico. All the sinks are outside the stall and urinal areas, so men and women use them together. I do like that idea. This way the men are changing diapers, too. Nothing wrong with that.

Anyway, if you love geography, geology, indigenous peoples, antiquities, adventure, wonderful scenery and lots of animals, seriously consider Ecuador. It's not that far away.

So, on to the Mindo Cloud Forest, our last day trip before flying to the Galapagos. This was more of a day about what we were supposed to see, not what we actually saw, but the drive alone was worth the trip. A "cloud forest," by the way, is basically a high-altitude jungle, that's all. But it sounds prettier.

We had a new guide today, David, pronounced as in the name of the French painter. Very cute! He had an agency car which was the best yet, an updated Chevy SUV. The Ecuadorans are just crazy about Chevys. I have no idea why. So he gave us a very detailed geological description of all the areas we drove through. Here is a geological picture.

Look! Sedimentary layers lifted up into a syncline! Taken while standing on an anticline! But I already knew that before he told us, because I love geology. In fact, when we were up Cotopaxi, I found both ash and pumice for my collection. It's had to find volcanic/igneous rocks except on volcanos. I hid them in a pill bottle. Ha ha.

Joyce likes plants and she took a particular interest in how the vegetation changed from one area to the next. Here's a shrimp plant from the jungle. And some red bananas. Don't forget to click to see close up.

We were supposed to see a hummingbird sanctuary, but they had migrated for the season. No one told us about the tubing, so we didn't have bathing suits with us. When we went to the cable car platform, we learned it was shut down because just the previous day, the engine had quit, suspending people over the chasm for two hours. Gee, sorry we missed that!

So we went to see the butterflies instead. I know this will seem like too many pictures, but honestly, they are so adorable. And especially check out the shot where the chrysallises are hanging and hatching. You don't get to see that very often.

Then we had the great trout lunch in the town of Mindo, which is vanishingly small. The trout are caught right there, and even though I don't usually like fish, I know when to eat it. a. It's filleted and b. It's fresh.

Then we drove back and we stopped in this one place where you can see two completely different eco-systems just by turning around.



"Wet," by the way, is the crater of yet another volcano, Pululahua, which has been under cultivation by the indigenous people for centuries. They now have it lined with sensors and can evacuate them just in case.

Here are two postcards we bought there, so you can see the exact same place in the two different seasons:

So that was our last excursion on mainland Ecuador, and believe me, you don't want to miss it. We would have missed it had Joyce not seen the article in the AAA rag about market towns. We only saw a couple of those but the rest of the stuff was pretty fantastic. We learned so much more about Ecuador than we would have if we'd only gone to the Galapagos.

If any Ecuadoran travel agents are reading this, you need to increase your advertising in the USA. And you also need to do something about public toilets where you can expect a lot of visitors, likewise the safety aspects. And fix those stray dogs, please. You have a lovely country that, with just a few tweaks, could become an absolute tourist gold mine for you. There would be no more "competition" with Costa Rica. You would win.

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