A Travellerspoint blog

In the jungle, the mighty jungle

Jungle trek in amazonia Ecuador

rain 23 °C

Our jungle tour begins with a long bumpy ride but it's worth it. Our first stop is an amazing monkey refuge where spider and chorongo monkeys greet us by taking our hands or gently climbing on our backs. These guys were very friendly and gentle as opposed to other monkeys I’ve encountered in my life. They are free to come and go but due to rehab often stay although they play on the fringes of the forest. Some, like the white faced monkey, drop in for a visit but are aggressive and unsocial. Others are being rehabilitated behind cages because they don’t play well with other monkeys or humans, "kill him" just kidding. I believe they are the carnivorous type. Ariel wants to come back here and volunteer if at all possible.

We shall see, as we investigate the idea of returning to Ecuador to volunteer with an animal project. Volunteering these days means paying for your room and board even though you’re contributing and these fees can be more than hostels and budget restaurants.

Ceasar, our guide and nature interpreter in the Amazon basin, is also indigenous from the Schurr people. He takes us to the first outpost and after lunch we hike in the secondary jungle (primary jungle is 5 hours east of our location) for 3 hours. We sleep comfortably and are treated with loads of food. The next day is another jungle trek, and includes wadding waist deep down a river, then swimming towards a beautiful waterfall. After lunch we pack up, load into a dugout canoe and head to an Induchuris which is an outpost run by a Kichwa indigenous family and has many interesting trails, wildlife, and even a friendly Coadimundi pet. Jordan and the coadi become quite tight and we name him Bert. More hiking in the afternoon and a night walk to see the eyes of caiman and maybe spot an anaconda.

During our walks Ceasar stops to inform us on plants, their medicinal qualities or household uses. He also stops for delightful bugs, I mentioned Jordan’s love of bugs and spiders. We spot many of huge arachnids, sticks bugs, and beetles. But we also come across some very interesting frogs such as the ones that is translucent and opaque. The trek wraps up with lessons in blow darts, spear throwing, bird calls and more plant info. The trip home is long as we wait for a public bus in the backcountry.

While waiting we meet a young German lady who tells our guide that she was at the same family outpost to see the Shaman. She wanted to experience a shamanic spiritual drug which apparently clears your mind and gives you visions. The Shaman, though, has other things in mind and apparently their encounter doesn’t go very well. Our guide explains to me later that many young westerners come to the jungle alone looking for a Shaman who can assist them in spiritual enlightenment with the consuming of a special plants medicinal properties. He also says many times backpackers get robbed or led astray on these journeys and they need to find a local guide who can bring them to a real Shaman and not one who defrauds or whose behavior is less than sincere. I am certainly glad that I got over those type of notions or activities during the Asian travels of my early twenties.


Posted by sostrander 05:27 Archived in Ecuador Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Quick slip into Quito and soaking up Banos in Ecuador

Non stop in action packed in central Ecuador

overcast 13 °C

It’s off to Quito, the capital, for two nights only. I really don’t feel like being in a city but as we gain in altitude Ariel and I agree that her easily bloodied nose problem will become worst so we will look for a doctor to cotter it.
I make the decision to book a hostel as Quito is a busy place and we arrive there after 4pm. But I believe I did not choose well as this hostel wasn’t cheap and very low on comfort. Karen and Russell tag along and I feel bad for my choice. That’s the road for you!
Luckily we find an English speaking, paediatrician around the corner who fixes Ariel’s nose although it’s quite painful for a couple of days and the medication up her nose leaks black liquid. Looking good Ariel! Before her appointment we taxi to the Quito gondola to ride and take pictures but the sign says $4 for Nationals and $8 for foreigners. I think we have ridden enough gondolas to skip this one. And this double standard would rear its head in Ecuador from time to time. If I have a choice I won’t do the activities that prescribe to this. Although we don’t have the time or money for the Galapagos Islands, the entry fee for locals is $6 for foreigners $100. Nice.......

Quito’s interesting sites will have to wait for another trip as we leave for the mountain town of Banos.
Ecuador’s reputation among backpacker is of a fun and beautiful country but watch your stuff closely. Buy more locks, count your money, and keep everything as close as possible. Apparently theft under $500 is completely ignored and it’s considered the victims fault for letting it happen. On the bus to Banos we place our knapsack at our feet but the guy behind us tilts it on its side without us noticing then unzips and takes out a zip lock with electronics in it. Fortunately Ariel hears something under the seat, checks, catches him and we confront him on the bus. I had accidentely put the iPod gadgetry in the big pack and only had useless wires in the knapsack. He handed everything back and the bus driver wouldn’t get involved and said it was our fault. The knapsack must be kept on our lap or I will have to buy an extra seat in the future to keep it safe. While in Colombia, Ariel caught someone pulling something out of my pocket one time so she is really the hero of the day being so observant. Jordan has been keeping a vigilant eye as well as he always watches the cargo door opening at passenger stops.

Banos is like the Banff of Ecuador. It's nestled in a gorgeous valley framed with farm quilted mountains. Every store front offers thrills and tours, artisans crowd the stall areas, and possibly more hostels per sq foot then I have ever seen. We choose well with Hostel Chimenea as it has a pool, beautiful top deck area, located next to a massive waterfall and very friendly staff, oh and not expensive either.

Our first afternoon is all about finding tour companies for the bikes, the jungle trek and possibly bungee jumping as I always promised myself I had to try it once. The day after we arrive we rent bikes and head out for a 45 km, mostly downhill, ride along a beautiful highway edged with cliffs that are mostly fenced. The day after it's bungee time which is now called swing jumping and Jordan and I do the leap.
I decided to bang for the buck and choose the big one even though I find out later the ropes are the same length. It’s the height from bridge to bottom that’s tremendously different. Mine is 180 meters but I only dropped 25 meters with the rope. It’s absolutely terrifying standing on the platform and I realize at that moment that this is the last time I will jump and fall from anything like this again. Jordan had a great time on his crazy jump. Should have done the small one, I would not have been shaking for 15 minutes afterwards.

Banos is also famous for it's culinary delight BBQ guinea pig. Ummm. I wanted to try to some but there restaurants that offer were always full! Sorry to the Cook/McCormick family for this newsflash
Following day is the Jungle tour. See the next post.


Posted by sostrander 14:45 Archived in Ecuador Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Welcome to Ecuador

Small country with endless things to see and do

sunny 13 °C

The Ecuador border was equally calm and efficient and we caught a colectivo for the border town of Tulcan and one quick night only. Next day we were off to Otovalo the great South American market town and we stayed for several days. We arrived at noon and just in time to drop and shop. We were recommended a busy hostel so ended up with the last room in the place. But Roberto, the gentleman who owns and operates Hostel Chasqui, made up for it with a very warm welcome, he was elated to have children cheer in his hostel, he also had a map in hand to instruct us on Otovalo. I needed the market to buy warm clothing for us but what I found was Christmas shopping mecca. Although we bought fleeces, hats, and sweaters for ourselves we also decided to fill a box and pay for shipping. The postal service, in my opinion, is pain in the butt not matter where you are in the world. Although computers can send messages at the speed of light, the postal service is from the dinosaur age or at least the 20’s. Limited hours of service, grungy conditions, employees who don’t want to be there, inefficient fully manual system except for the scale.

We spent two days at this hostel exploring the friendly town and surrounds. This town was historically protected from the Spanish decimation of indigenous people long ago. So today most of the people here are not only indigenous but have been able to strongly hang on to their cultural values. We walk along the countryside as well as visiting a raptor rescue center which helps to protect the last remaining Ecuadorian condors here. Their numbers are less than 40 in the wild.

We then decided to stay at an Eco hostel outside of town closer to the volcanoes. Hostel La Luna was gorgeous, comfortable, affordable and had great food and company. The hostel was out in the country so the kids had limitless room to run, with 4 massive dogs (Argentinian mastiff cross German Shepperd), and a horse about to give birth.
I have found that good family hostels usually have a pet or two and a welcoming host is necessary as well. Local information on activities, board games, kids movies and no TV in the room are also important. I hope in the future family hostel travel really takes off. I know my kids prefer hostels to budget hotels and the price is almost the same. There is a big difference in available local information and onward travel that is almost never provided easily in budget hotels. The opportunity to interact with staff and guests is part of the appeal and design of hostels, it’s one step above having folks in your own home.
When we arrived at La Luna we were delighted to discover some friends from the road, Karen from New Jersey and Russell from Australia. We would end up in many hostels with them and even some buses.
I immediately asked for a couple of horses and a guide to take the kids for an afternoon ride. Jordan does not seem to inspire confidence as a horseman and the guides always take the reins which really upsets him. I am not sure how we will remedy the situation as I know Jordan understands how to ride but I think his size is the problem. Ariel mounts a horse and grabs the reins with skill and confidence and therefore they never look twice at her. Riding is an expensive activity at home and I want them to ride here as long as it’s cheap because it won’t be happening at home.
The next day included a good hike to 4630 feet up Fuye Fuye extinct volcano. The kids stop at the last steep pitch and I decide not to use the cattle prod on them as I am sure the change in altitude is contributing to the sluggish motivation. (My cattle prod are my words of encouragement and hefty bribes. I wish we could stay in this tranquil area of cute town and crater lakes and volcanoes but it’s time to move on as we have little time explore this big yet small in size country. There are limitless things to do and visit in Ecuador and I fear it will be another country that I must pay a return visit. Ariel is becoming interested in the prospect of volunteer an animal refuge and even send us off an email to one of them.


Posted by sostrander 05:51 Archived in Ecuador Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

South to the Border

Cali, Popayan, and Ipialis Colombia

overcast 19 °C

From Manizales we hit the road early for Cali. We would spend two days there and you’ve already heard the big excitement in that city. While in Cali, we met some great folks and will hopefully run into them again. One of those being Steve, a fellow who first spotted us on our second day of travel on Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Then he saw us in Playa del Carmen, Belize, Flores Guatemala and next on a bus where he introduced himself and told us how he kept seeing this little family that was obviously not on a regular beach vacation. Although we never stayed at the same hostels as Steve our paths crossed many times throughout CA and now in SA.

Next was Popoyan, in Southern Colombia, a colonial city with well preserved white washed buildings and cobblestone roads. Many churches peppered this photogenic town. We stayed at Hostrail Trail and ran into several people that we had met along the way. They were shocked to hear our shooting story.
We took a bus out of town and splashed in some hot pools in the mountains. We were the only ones there to enjoy the sulphuric smell and cloudy unchlorinated natural water.

A long day of travel lay ahead which included the dreaded “border crossing”. Ariel and I were already getting nervous at the prospect. Will it be psychotic and claustrophobic like the Central American borders? Desperate folks begging to assist you while measuring up your net worth on site. Near rabid dogs ripping garbage beside the mislabeled immigration lines up. Clouds of smoke from exhaust coating you as you walk to the next country’s immigration line only to be told you’re in the wrong line up and you paid the wrong people. Where is your paper? What paper?
But it occurred to me that Colombia just would not allow chaos in a government area especially. This had not been our experience in this country. In fact, observation would indicate that it should be the best run border crossing we’d experienced with smiling army guys making sure you’re headed in the right direction. Yes, in fact it was all a calm well oiled machine but strangely lacked lots of army dudes frisking and looking for weapons which seemed odd. I almost wish they had been there because it’s part of what made me feel safe in Colombia; their relentless hunt for armed drug rabbits coming out of their warrens.

Before leaving Colombia we visit an interesting cathedral nestled in a river gorge. Las Lahas Cathedral was built exactly in this spot because of a vision the builder had of Mary in the rocks. Other than this extraordinary cathedral Ipialis in a border town worth a miss.

After two months in Colombia we finally reach Ecuador and now my Dad can finally stop worrying about us.


Posted by sostrander 07:46 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Solento and the Coffee Zone

What a view out here!

sunny 22 °C

The scenery in the coffee zone was magnificent. Beautiful vegetative covered mountains, terraced with coffee bean bushes, and haciendas speckled the slopes. But we were back on a bus again and unexpectedly dropped off on the highway. I was tired of sitting for two days on bus so I told the kids we would walk into town. I had no idea how far town was but if it was too far I was sure some compassionate soul would pick us up and takes us to Solento. We weren't hitchhiking I just needed to walk and smell the beautiful countryside!
Sure enough after fifteen minutes of walking downhill someone picked us up and we were stopped by the army who checked the truck, frisked the men and had big smiles and questions for us. I wish I could have taken pictures of them but you're not allowed, apparently! Sorry Susan Cartier no men in uniform photos.

As we arrived at Plantation House dogs, guests, friends and host greeted us warmly as we jumped out of our ride. What a warm welcome and such beautiful scenery from the hostel. The kids were immediately instructed to the finca with other kids to visit the newborn kittens. And Felicity and I headed into town for the best cup of coffee in Colombia and also one of cutest towns in country.

We spend a day with a wonderful group of people hiking in the Cocora Park followed by a great dinner with them. We would run into them down the road in other hostels as well. Felicity was kind enough to take the kids on a half day horseback riding trip through the hillsides. I stayed away from the horses as I did not need anything flaring up my allergies. When it was time to leave Felicity and I decided to visit another region of the coffee zone but that did not prove as fun or interesting. This new hostel, we decided to visit, misrepresented itself grossly. There was no coffee finca, no cable or wifi, it was not easy to find or travel to, there was no nearby town and it went on and on. So although the kids and I planned to stay two days, we high tailed it the next morning.

Manizales is really the only city I would recommend spending a night. Pereira and Armenia are not attractive travel destinations, but I believe there is alot more to the coffee region than I had instructions and time for.


Posted by sostrander 17:16 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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