February 2023

At the 2nd of February when Binkie didn’t need to go to the vet for a whole week we finally had the opportunity to explore Ecuador. We first went to Mitad del Mundo. Here you can find the equator, point zero between North and South. They have build a small amusement park here and a monument. But this monument isn’t exactly at point zero. When they build it, they had less accurate measuring systems than we do now. So us being us, we drove to the exact point zero. Which is in the middle of a plain dirt road, no markings, nothing.

From Mitad del Mundo we drove to Mindo a town in a cloud forest with lots of outdoor activities. We went on a night tour with the hope to see lots of animals but it was a bit disappointing. We saw 2 frogs and snake that was in an enclosure because it was injured. The next morning I went tubing. For about half an hour I floated or was thrown across a category one river, which is the easiest one, but it was enough for me, at a few parts, the river was pretty wild and we went partially under water. I had never done something like it, but it was really fun! You also get to see nature from a different perspective.

In the afternoon we did a chocolate tour with a tasting at the end. We got to see the flower with which it all starts, this flower grows in to a big fruit which has the cacao beans inside. These small beans are then dried and then pressed and then used to make either cacao powder or used to make chocolate. The quality of the chocolate depends on which kind of cacao plant is being used and how much time the beans get to dry. We learned that the flavour of the chocolate is influenced by what grows next to it. So if a coffee plant grows next to it, the chocolate has a slight coffee flavour. At the end we got to the best part, the tasting!

Kilian also went for a bike ride, but with all the rain coming down he might as well have gone tubing (Kilian is not a big fan of water). We also went for a short walk through a beautiful garden with lots of hummingbirds. We had planned to go on a bird watching tour but the rain continued, so we left Mindo a day early.

We went back to Quito for Binkie’s appointments and he got a clean bill of health! So the next day we drove to Loreto where we enjoyed a nice camp spot at the river for a few days. Loreto is on the way to the Amazon and that’s where we were really headed so we drove on to a town called Francisco del Orellana which for some reason is mostly known as Coca. From here you can do several kind of tours, among those, one in to Yasuni national park which is quite far in to the Amazon, almost in Peru. But after we got some information, we were doubtful about doing a tour into Yasuni. It was extremely expensive (about $200 pppd), in order to see something we would need at least two days (it’s a four hour journey, one way, with the fast boat only to reach the entrance) and Binkie couldn’t really come with us because during a 2 day boat ride he would have to stay in his backpack almost the whole time which of course would not be any fun for him, even kind of cruel, obviously not something we would do to him. And of course there was absolutely no guarantee we would see any kind of interesting animals. I really wanted to see some big snakes, there are huge pythons and anaconda’s living there, as well as pink dolphins. But the chance of actually seeing them is kind of small. So we decided to do some exploring of our own first. While walking around Coca we got handed a flyer about Dia del Amazonas. An important day for the indigenous community and it happened to be the next day. Early in the morning, around 5 am they would start with a public cleansing ceremony followed by a traditional breakfast. So the next morning we got up a crazy o clock and went to the sport fields where the ceremony was being held. We couldn’t understand what was being said but it was interesting to watch. We were also given different kinds of tea to drink, made form various plants. We watched the cleansing ceremony and then people could get in line to be cleansed by one of the two medicinal men. We didn’t get in line at first as we felt a bit out of place. We were the only two tourists and obviously not part of the indigenous community and their believes and customs. But after we got invited to get in in line for the second time we went anyway. It was a special experience although neither of us felt any different afterward. It was then time for the traditional breakfast which mostly consisted of cold grilled fish and different kind of fruits, most of which we didn’t really recognize. I took something that looked like a banana but in al honestly tasted horrible, not like a banana at all! I managed to discreetly get rid of it 🙂 and had some of the grilled fish which was nice. After breakfast there was some dancing which we had to join in with, fortunately nobody there seemed to notice our clumsy movements. After breakfast we waited in our van in the parking lot so we could see the traditional market that would take place later in the morning. Here they served some more local food, which we choose not to eat. Our westerns stomachs were still dealing with the unusual breakfast…

Early in the afternoon we drove on to lake Taracoa. Here we stayed 2 days. At the camp site we spotted lots of monkeys and a huge scary wandering spider. We took a canoe across the lake to where the local community had made a walking trail through the Amazon rain forest.The canoe came with a guide who did all the hard work. From the lake we entered the rainforest with a canoe which was quite a sight! Beautiful high trees surrounded the shallow waters. The first part of the trail was a wooden footbridge, after that we walked on the muddy ground. We didn’t see many animals but came past a giant Ceiba tree and spotted a baby turtle on our way back. While February is one of the dryer months in this area it still rained a lot and consequently everything was wet, muddy and slippery, making walking hard. Add the very high humidity, the many mosquitoes and the heat and you get very uncomfortable conditions. The Amazone kind of speaks to the imagination (well my imagination at least) but most of the time it is just green, wet and hot and not nearly as interesting as you might think. Tv channels like National Geographic make it look so easy and interesting. But it is hard to reach places and very hard to spot interesting animals. What they don’t show on tv or in a magazine is the days of waiting and searching. You need a lot of time, patience, luck (and money) and a good guide. Here anybody can call themselves a guide, there is no quality control or educational requirements the only guarantee you have is that they know the way. All this made us decide not to go to Yasuni national park, but we would visit lake Limoncocha a nearby nature reserve that came highly recommended by locals.

Driving to and from Taracoa we spotted many oil fields and farm fields. The parts of the Amazon that you can drive have pretty much lost its natural beauty and riches. This area was mostly unexplored until somewhere in the 1950’s. So this ancient old area was changed unrecognizable (unrestorable?) in no more than 70 years. We all know this is happening but when you actually see it, it is quite unreal. And at the same time we are well aware of the fact that we were driving our oil fuelled car across roads that wouldn’t have been there without the oil companies…

Without a solution to above mentioned dilemma we drove on to lake Limoncocha. We arrived late in the afternoon which was perfect timing. A lot of animals are more active during dusk and in the dark. We took a boat tour with a guide along the lake and a hike along a island. Part of the lake is full of fireflies where the female ones live on the plants in the water and the males fly above it. In the dark both the females and males light up creating a light show on and above the water. It was really pretty to watch, unfortunately the cameras on our phones weren’t able to do it justice. There are also a lot of frogs and caiman in the lake. We approached one caiman who turned out to have 2 kids, we could see their red eyes in the water further behind her. At first she kind of tolerated our presence, but then decided to go for the boat! She came really close by and it was amazing! To see a 3 meter long prehistoric looking animal come at you is quite a sight! During our night walk I spotted a snake, frog and a scorpion. Our “guide” didn’t know any of their names other than snake, frog and scorpion and also only managed to spot a mouse and a grasshopper… We hired the guide at the entrance to the national park (you can’t go without a guide because you need a boat) and he was wearing all the official NP clothes. But this shows exactly that anyone can become a guide and this is the reason we weren’t going to take a very expensive “guided” tour into Yasuni. It is a shame that these area’s are only accessible with a guide and that the guide doesn’t have to have any qualifications whatsoever. And if you don’t see any animals, their go-to excuse is always “well, it’s not a zoo so we can’t guarantee it”. Nevertheless we did really enjoy our tour on the lake.

From Limoncocha we drove back to Ibarra to spend some more time on Finca Sommerwind. We really loved it there during our stay in January. And if we hadn’t had to leave for Quito so suddenly because Binkie got hurt, we would’ve stayed longer. We stayed here another week. During this time we had a hole in the car fixed (rust) and celebrated Kilian’s 50th birthday! I decorated the outside in the middle of the night, got Kilian’s favourite pie, carrot cake with raisins, presents of course and in the evening we went out to dinner in a nice restaurant. Many people called or send Kilian a birthday message so he really felt like the birthday boy! We also stayed 2 days in one of the tiny houses that you can rent there. I really wanted to stay in one and now that the car was in the garage we had the perfect excuse. It was nice to be in a house again and have some more space. Binkie enjoyed it as well and didn’t even want to go outside on our first day there 🙂 The van came back from the garage with the hole nicely fixed but because of all the sanding, everything inside was covered in layers of dust. So we spend a morning thoroughly cleaning it, fortunately we could borrow a vacuum cleaner. The dust was the much needed excuse to give the van a good clean, judging by the buckets of dark grey water coming out of the van.

Now that we were well rested, the van fixed and everything clean, we drove on to our last tourist stop in February; Laguna Cuicocha. Another national park but here you don’t need a guide. We walked the 13km loop around the crater lake, which, with it’s many steep ascents, was a bit of a tough hike. The hiking trail doesn’t stay at lake level but follows the mountain edges that surround the lake. But the weather was good, no rain and we had nice views of the lake. It was also nice to do some hiking as it had been a while.

1 thought on “February 2023”

  1. Gefeliciteerd Kilian!! Prachtige foto’s en filmpjes weer. Wat fijn dat Binkie er weer helemaal bovenop is. Goede reis verder! Grtjs Ilona


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