Galapagos Part 3: Every shade of blue

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A juvenile sea lion awaits us on the dock of South Plaza’s Island, a small islet near the larger Isla Santa Cruz.

The Galapagos will always appear in shades of blue in my mind. While the drier island landscapes are painted in red and orange, or draped by lush, low forest canopies of green and yellow, those are simply accents against a pale blue sky, and deeper blue ocean. As the world here in the Northern Hemisphere gradually turns gold and red with autumn and a new school year is ramping up (well, ok, it’s been ramping up, and at this point, is going full speed ahead), I wanted to share one last set of Galapagos photos – shades of blue, some lush green forests, and quirky animals. Warm thoughts  and images to carry us through frigid days ahead (those of us who are winter-bound, anyway!) Continue reading

Galapagos Part 2: Bartolomé and North Seymour Islands

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The colorful volcanic landscape of Isla Bartolomé in the Galapagos. The tall spire at the other end of the bay is ‘Pinnacle Rock’.

Imagine cruising into a tiny, protected bay, where the water laps gently on the rocks. Your vision is saturated with shades of blue, from the sky and the water, and shades of red, brown, grey and purple of volcanic cinder cone – you begin to feel like you’re on another planet. This is the small islet of Bartolomé in the Galapagos.

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Pilgrimage to the Galapagos – First impressions

I felt as though I had walked into an episode of National Geographic. There it was, the famous blue-footed booby, less than 5 feet away, contentedly situated atop a small rock, and staring at us with alien eyes. He didn’t even blink as cameras shuttered and beeped. I’m guessing that this particular booby – and every booby on North Seymour Island – is already featured in thousands of photo albums and Facebook pages.

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The blue-footed booby, along with the giant tortoise, are the iconic creatures of the Galapagos. Although, iguanas and sea lions are prominently featured. And if you’ve ever studied biology, you’ve heard of Darwin’s finches. Yes – that’s right – the Galapagos Islands is the place that inspired Charles Darwin to formulate his theory of evolution. I’ve met enough people who don’t quite know where the Galapagos are, that this warrants a short geography lesson before I go much further. Continue reading

Oh, wait…What did I just say?

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Learning to communicate effectively in another language is like putting together pieces of a mosaic. There are so many little details to consider – sometimes you’re able to see the beauty in the big picture, but you may not understand exactly what it all means. (Photo from the Quito Basilica – Feb 2015)

“I have already lost my meal,” I say as the waitress walks up to the table. I don’t realize what I’ve said until she looks at me a little funny. Of course, I really meant to say, “I have already ordered my meal,” but the Spanish verbs for ‘to lose’ (perder) and for ‘to ask for, or, to order’ (pedir) are too close in my head, and I constantly mix them up. If you’ve spent any amount of time trying to communicate in another language, you’ve certainly had moments of enlightenment where you realize exactly how silly you probably just sounded.

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Venturing into the Enchanted Forest of Podocarpus

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Sunrise over the Bombuscaro River in Southern Ecuador. Situated on the eastern foothills of the Andes, this is one of Ecuador’s biodiversity hotspots.

The clouds here hang in thick patches on the sides of the hills. Sometimes they seem to rise right out of the trees, forming only a few feet above the canopy as water vapor from this steamy forest becomes too much for the air to handle. If my trip to Alausí gave me the impression of going back in time, my visit to the Bombuscaro River valley on the northern border of Parque Nacional Podocarpus took me even further back. Let’s just say that it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise to see a dinosaur come crashing through the underbrush.

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From the Devil’s Nose to the Inn of the Clouds

The old railway ride to el Nariz de Diablo (the Devil’s Nose) and back is one of the big items on most tour agendas and tops the checklists for those making the rounds through Ecuador’s central Sierra. This two and a half hour trip originates from the mountain pueblo of Alausí, about a 4 hour bus ride north of Cuenca. The train goes down a rather stunning river gorge along a set of railway switchbacks, and, after a rest in a small village, makes its way back up the mountain again. The trip has come highly recommended to me by tourists and locals alike. Obviously, it’s quite popular. But I think the many people that pass through town are missing out on what was the highlight of my own visit: A chance to rest in the clouds at Posada de las Nubes.

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View of the Andes from my room at Posada de las Nubes.

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Meteorology Field Camp in the Andes!

Imagine a high, windswept, rolling plain, with tall grasses sprouting from spongy soil. This is a place where you can watch the clouds and feel them engulf you before they scurry past, as they race to the next mountain top. The sky here is ever-changing, offering an occasional glimpse of blue, where wispy cirrus cruise by at a leisurely pace high above compared to the ragged cumulus and foggy patches that race by just above your head.

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Llamas on the páramo. They were our audience as we hiked to one of the weather stations.

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Cuenca’s 7-day tribute to the sweet tooth

I always associate an overabundance of sweets with the Christmas holidays, but in Cuenca, the holiday of sweet abundance is in June, coinciding with the religious celebration of Corpus Christi. For one week, vendors line the streets surrounding the New Cathedral in central Cuenca, tables laden with cookies and candies of every color and flavor imaginable. Just walking down the sidewalk is enough to give you a sugar high and make your teeth ache. I feel like I’ve stepped into my favorite childhood board game, Candyland, or like I’m touring Willy Wonka’s factory. 2015_0607e Continue reading

On the trail of the Incas

When you get away from the noise of the city, and climb winding roads through the clouds into the high Andes, this is when you can begin to imagine what life was like for the Incas. It amazes me how they were able to control such a large territory, from Chile, well into Ecuador, with a system of roads that probably would have made the ancient Romans nod in appreciation. Ecuador was in the northern reaches of the Incan Empire, and about an hour north of Cuenca sit the ruins of Ingapirca – the largest of the Incan ruins in Ecuador.

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Classic Inca stonework at the ruins of Ingapirca.

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Life and times on the slopes of the Andes

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If you’ve been following this blog, on thing you might notice here is the BLUE SKY. While I do post pictures of Cuenca with blue skies, those photos were taken in rare moments. You will also notice the color of the vegetation turns brown further down the slope – that is the desert at the base of this immense valley.

Living in the Andes has forced me to rethink everything I know about what drives weather and shapes climate. I come from a country where it’s always winter in December – no matter where you are. In Ecuador, people will change their minds about what season it is depending on what’s happening right outside their window. Also, there is such wide variation in ‘season’ and climate from one valley to the next, from the east slope of the Andes to the west. Two hours in a car, descending thousands of feet, can take you from a cool, cloudy mountain climate to a desert. Last week I visited the Yunguilla valley – an hour away from Cuenca – but another world entirely.

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