Thursday, August 1, 2013


Quito, at 9300 ft, is surrounded by high volcanic mountains. The city, built on many hills, it long and narrow. Ecuador is an example of a developing nation. It is old, very old, dating back to the days of the Inca. There are fine examples of the best in gothic style churches, every style since, and a style that we are beginning to recognize as purely Ecuadorian. In the "old city" the streets are narrow and lined with well maintained, often colorful, homes. It Is worthy of its designation as a world heritage site. If we had just come from Mexico we would remark on his clean and prosperous it is. People coming from wealthy first world countries find it less so. It is a city of contrasts. We find the streets well maintained, with no trash. We are amazed to find many high end shops and restaurants... Even great huge shopping centers with the latest and best of everything. We also see evidence of deeply engrained poverty.... Both in the cities and in farm villages. It is a country attempting to grow. We suspect that the most wealthy are involved in tourism, lumber (from the rain forest), mining and oil, and perhaps some in the cocaine trade. A variety of foreign countries are interested in oil, mineral, and forest product rights, and offer easy loans in exchange... Tempting ...but they are giving away the wealth of the country for personal gain. Another landmark trait of this country is many cars, very cheap gasoline, smoggy air that tends to collect in the day and blow away in the night.

Adventures come in different flavors! Judy had found word in a guidebook about a nearby village with a cottage industry of molded colorful small figures... and we were hopeful of finding the place. We asked for advice in our hotel, and early in the morning we left our hostel and walked over to the nearest tram stop. We found the tram car more than jammed body against body full... But were encouraged to push on in. We did... Taking every precaution against pick pockets... A big problem here. Self appointed angels appear when needed... A woman took us under her wing to point out the correct exit and since she was going to the same place guided us to the correct bus, and exit. The town, we found, was a place where everyday life occurred. There were only a few of the special shop/workshops to be found, but the work they produced was whimsical and excellent.

This is our favorite way to experience a small town... Venturing out to be with the people... To set off across a foreign city, dependent on our language skills and a map, and hoping for the appearance of an angel! We returned looking like loaded llamas! Also along the way home we visited some of the grandest churches we have seen anywhere.

Today is a day of preparing for our next step... We will fly tomorrow for the Galapagos... We must store some luggage here in the hotel to meet the weight limits on the boat and our willingness to haul a suitcase full of souvenirs.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Shaman and Pink Dolphins

This morning we traveled down the river that passes near to our lodge ( the Pastasa River) until we joined the "great river" (CapawariRiver) just downstream. In our morning canoe rides we see Toucans, Parrots, once a great cloud of green motion caused by a flock of flying parakeets. After 10 minutes of river travel we reached the village located high on a bluff above the river. After climbing a steep trail to reach the collection of houses... Each house is different to meet the needs of that family. The shaman, an elder of the village, welcomed us into his open air home. He was probably over 70 years old with a deeply lined face. He wore a red, yellow, and black headband made of feathers. A variety of medallions and beads hung around his neck. He wore no shoes. His eyes suggested that had gone many times into the land of hallucinations with his forest drugs. After the formal exchange of greeting, we each told him a bit about ourselves. He listened carefully, sometimes asking a question. Then he asked if we had questions for him. I asked him about the work of a shaman in the village. He answered that he was a doctor for the people, using plants that he found in the forest. His people believe in a spirit found in all parts of the forest -Aruemtum. If bad spirits had entered a person and he or she becomes sick... He could dispel those spirits with a cleansing ceremony. He takes a hallucinogen to see the patients bad spirits... And then he removes them. Sometimes the patient must also take the hallucinogens. He can interpret dreams. Every male must go alone into the forest after taking the hallucinogen for the experience of self knowledge. The process is guided and interpreted by the Shamen. This first happens at the age of 8... but can be repeated throughout life when needed. He said that when a European or North American has the drug they also see visions of the jungle and jungle animals. He is paid for his services in local produce, chickens, or silver money. In case you are wondering we did not avail ourselves of his services.

Coming here has opened my eyes to a number of realities about the fain forest. The government of Ecuador, and to a large measure the people,are attracted to the money that can be gained from oil development. The money from the oil development comes largely from China ...who is eager to gain oil and mineral rights...never mind the great damage it would do to fragile animal populations, ecosystems, and to the lives of indigenous people. There are also those eager to cut and burn the rain forest to create farming land - despite the well known fact that due to the fact that these are tropical latericic soils which quickly within a few years become depleted and useless for raising crops. Also in areas where many humans are found the animal populations have been seriously depleted. The Eco tourism industry in a promising alternative to the destruction of the environment. People of the world are drawn to experiencing this natural environment, it's plants, and animal life. This provides steady income for the government and for the people of the forest... And best, its totally renewable.

Through natural selection many ocean animals have over thousands of generations adapted to the fresh water of the Amazon River basin. One example is the famous pink river dolphin... Hunting by humans has caused them to be quite secretive... But we had a brief sighting yesterday... And several times we have them surface... But at a distance.

I suppose that the best way to leave a place is wishing for more... But the rain forest has become a new favorite.

P. S. Our final activity in the rain forest was to be taken by motor canoe way up stream and then given two person kayaks to return to kapawi. So beautiful to drift along a small jungle river... Out only task was to keep the kayak pointed downstream. Suddenly we notice a rapidly moving cloud and a brief intense wind... Then we were hit by a tropical downpour... By now we were veterans... The rain was warm, the scene was incredibly beautiful... So we quickly put on our ponchos and continued our trek...


Then it was time to fly out... At the airstrip it began to rain again... So we were delayed... Our plane threw mud and water into the arias we took off. The pilot wanted to give us a special thrill and so he flew his old Cessna 6 passenger plane just as close to the river surface as possible... It was pretty cool especially when he banked and turned...


Que lastima! Once back in Shell Ecuador, we took a small bus for 4 hours and we are now back in Quito. Time to regroup, then off to the Galapagos...