Rob: What made you select Ecuador/Northern Peru as places you wanted to see and explore?
Dave: We had first considered travel to Venezuela — but the political turmoil there at that time convinced me to do a little more research before heading down there — which led to learning about Ecuador and finding out what an unbelievable gem it is. It seemed to be so diverse and appealing – culturally as well as the climate – beaches, mountains, jungle.
R: How long were you there altogether? How long was your trip?
Dave: Two months. Both amazing countries.
In Northern Peru, the town of Mancora offers beautiful, peaceful beaches with – at times – world class surfing. The northernmost part of the country starts to have a desert feeling along the coastal lowlands. We traveled to ancient Incan cities: Tucume – which was under excavation and the city of Chan Chan which had more than 10,000 buildings – near to the city of Chinlayo and the coastal resort town of Huanchaco, where fisherman still use one person canoes made from reeds to paddle through the waves to fish. Drawings of similar canoes were in a museum that we went to featuring the “Lord of Sipan”—a very well preserved ruin from about 600-700 A.D.
In the desert the structures are much different from mountain Incan stonework. In the low lying coastal regions, the buildings were constructed from bricks made from sand.
R: Which place that you visited had the strongest impact on you?
Dave: I’d have to say the mountains ———- actually, no – – – it was the week we spent in the Amazon rainforest. It is the most intense eco system in the world — there is just so much life going on. There is just an almost indescribable feeling of being so deep in the jungle – so removed from the everyday world. It is surprisingly very dark – though here and there bits of sunlight penetrate down through the canopy. And we traveled by river in canoes. We had 2 guides, one – a younger guy who had spent quite a bit of time there and spoke 7 languages including the local dialect, and a local guide — an older woman.
R: What did you think about while you were there?
Dave: Lots of thoughts. How fortunate I was to be one of the few people who will ever see this type of place. Also, how short sighted humans are in their willingness to destroy environments in support of a plastic lifestyle. A lot of wonder and amazement. Respect for the people living there.
I was surprised how some visitors wanted to complain about things: food, lack of hot showers, being wet. They missed a great deal of what I was able to take in.
Rob: Describe the animal life
Dave: At first you don’t really see them, but once you do, you realize that there are tons of monkeys and life everywhere around you — they pretty much stayed up in the trees – and there were intensely colored birds of all types – toucans, macaws – it is a bit overwhelming to the senses at times – and quite noisy – loud. It is really a dark green world – with flashes of color – the bright blues and greens of the birds.
The diversity is pretty amazing- the monkeys, sloths, birds and anacondas in the trees – anteaters and tarantulas on the ground, pink dolphins in the river — I actually swam in a lagoon with them – also near where they fish for piranhas. For much of the time I was in awe of what I was seeing and sensing.
Rob: What were the accommodations like?
Dave: We stayed in the Cuyabeno Nature Reserve – basically a place a little more open that had been cleared to allow for 2 buildings with pavilions – one area for sleeping – one for eating —- most days it POURED rain – not continuously, but a drenching rain – then the sun would come out – long enough to dry out a bit.
Rob: Besides the diversity, what stands out in your mind about your week in the jungle?
Dave: A couple of things — one was a night exploration that the guide took us on — he made sure to explain the very real possible danger of an attack by big cats – jaguars and ocelots are actually the predators of that area of jungle.
Rob: But you enjoyed that part?
Dave: Yes, actually. When I was in school, I did a series of night dives in the Caribbean – studying the coral reefs — and I always liked seeing things from a different perspective.
Rob: And the second stand-out?
Dave: Really there were a few more – but another was when the local guide – the older woman – took us to her home and she harvested a yucca plant that she grew in addition to other crops and showed us how to make bread. I found it really cool to see how people go about living in such a totally different world from what we are used to. There, if you go on a hike, you weave a backpack from the leaves on hand, use the sap and leaves for various ailments —- she gave us a tree sap that tasted like mild of magnesia that helps with stomach ailments, and she also gave us quinine leaves that tasted just like tonic water, which are used to fight malaria.
Rob: And you said you also loved the mountains . . .
Dave: Yes – the Andes were amazingly beautiful and it was somewhat fantastic to be on the equator and see snow-capped mountains – especially Cotopaxi – which has snow year-round. The mountains are really high in elevation – around 20,000 feet. The elevation makes the air so clear, so the mountains are such sharp images — really spectacular.
One neat thing about hiking down from those heights was watching – actually seeing the biodiversity increase as you get lower – more livestock, animals of all types, plant life — even the people changed — those that lived higher up were much smaller – seriously under 5 feet – and I, being over 6 feet, was somewhat of a curiosity — one woman actually came up and touched me — (maybe just to be sure???)
Dave: Another thing that was amazing to see was the marketplace in Otavala, a mountain town. Each Saturday, around 1,500 merchants come with a fantastic array of weaving, artwork, carvings — people come from all over the world to shop there.
Rob: What would you tell people thinking about going there?
Dave: That it is a great country – the national parks, wildlife reserves, lakes, rivers, trout streams — the clarity of the sky – rolling mountains – jagged and snow-covered—plus jungle rainforest – all the bio diversity —- really, it is a gem.
There are phenomenal waterfalls—a 40 km bike ride that takes you past 20+ spectacular falls. The ride started in the town of Banos – a site at the base of an active volcano – which was actually erupting while we were there. The volcano fuels public mineral baths that are a real treat to sit in in the evening. There is a very hot bath, a very warm one, and a cool one that is a cool shock to your system after being in the hot ones.
Rob: Anything to add? Thoughts now when you think about your travels there?
Dave: While travel to Ecuador is relatively inexpensive, the Galapagos Islands are not. They were beyond our means, but there is Isla de la Plata closer to the coast, and south of Galapagos. For about $35, a guide took us by boat to the island for a great day. We saw sea lions, blue-footed boobies, red breasted frigate birds, albatross, cool lizards, 20 foot high Pacific Ocean waves.
The windward side of the island is all 70-100 foot cliffs. On the way back, we came across six humpback whales- and stayed and watched them for about an hour. They call it the “poor man’s Galapagos”. You take this trip from the town of Puerto Lopez – a cool beach town.
It was all fantastic —- and – we were lucky enough to be there for the “festival of whales”, and there was a fun parade honoring the area’s whales, wildlife and fishing cultures.