Ecuador 6: The Butterflies in Mindo

Mindo also offers an excellent opportunity to see many of the butterflies of Ecuador. A good place to start is at the local mariposarium (Butterfly Garden).

Südamerika’s Schmetterlinge sind prachtvoll. Mindo bietet dafür eine gute Gelegenheit im Schmetterlingspark, welcher etwa 2km ausserhalb des Dorfes liegt und auch per Fuss zu erreichen ist.


At the butterfly sanctuary we saw, amongst others,Papilio thoas, Owl butterflies on a tree trunk, Morpho elenor,Celtinas with their transparent wings,the red and black Heliconius melpomene toma.

Following our visit to the butterfly sanctuary, we departed and drove from Mindo  via Santo Domingo de los Colorados to Quevedo, where we found a parking spot inside the security area of Hotel Presidente owned and run by Señor Wellington and his wife Sunet. Pictures on the wall testified of better times when even presidents of Ecuador stayed over here. Today it is no longer in the class for presidents, but we were happy to camp in the yard and use a room’s bathroom, all for US$8 for the night. It was quiet and safe.

Hotel Presidente -found a safe campsite in their parking at the new part being constructed

Next day we travelled from Quevedo to Babahoyo, then on to Milagro (past Guayaquil). On the way on a very busy single lane road a rear tyre burst and we were somewhat nervous while changing the wheel due to the traffic of heavy vehicles.

Heavy traffic in both directions -not a good place to change a burst tyre

Our next stop was past Naranjal where we camped at Kaluz Hosteria and Spa with the hot Balneario de Aguas Termales in walking distance, which were run by the local Shuar people in the village. Breakfast was included in the tariff at Kaluz and we were permitted to use the clean bathroom of a vacant cabaña. The breakfast consisted of a piece of indescript queso (cheese) and deep-fried platanas, a bland and fairly tasteless banana – not quite what we would normally have ordered if there had been a choice.

Camping at Kaluz

A wonderful specimen of a Travellers Palm in the Kaluz gardens

The Shuar are part of the Jivaro tribe, known for the shrunken head trophies which were only outlawed in modern times by the Ecuadorian and Peruvian governments.

Balneario de Aguas Termales

From Kaluz camp our route took us back to the trunk road and on the way we spoke to Shuar farmers harvesting the large red cacao fruits.

Harvesting Cacao fruit

On her way to school

Then on to Santa Rosa, from there to Arenillas and ultimately to the border at Huaquillas from where we aimed to get to Zorritos in Peru for the night, knowing that a pleasant campsite awaited us. Border formalities were without any hitches although it took approximately 2 hours.

Soon the magnificent trees of Ecuador started making way for boring banana plantations as we got closer to the border 

Post cover period    4th to 6th December 2016

Ecuador 5: Hummingbirds (Colibris) and other Birds in Mindo

South America is endowed with beautiful birds – hummingbirds and colibris are just one of the many groups present. So we had to find a spot that would allow us to observe some from close by.

Südamerika hat eine Vielzahl schönster Vogelarten. Die Familie der Kolibris ist eine der faszinierensten Gruppen. Wir hatten gehört das auf unserem Weg gen Süden der Ort Mindo dafür bekannt ist. Aber vorher musste noch etwas am Wagen getan werden.

Galápagos felt like a 14 day holiday for us being on the ship. For a change we had super bathroom facilities, a roof over our heads and all food that was prepared for us in place of having to cooking outside no matter what the weather conditions were. By now we had travelled 7 months in our vehicle and we had done just over 21 000km exploring 6 countries.

However, a few things needed fixing before we could continue – especially our fridge. Luckily parts had arrived in Ibarra when we got back and we could get them out of customs for the moderate sum of US$130. This amount was little in comparison to the DHL courier freight costs from South Africa for the few items we needed. Fellow traveller Stefan Sigl assisted to get the compressor brazed back into the fridge circuitry ( with assistance of local technicians in Ibarra), we also repaired the ARB air compressor ( the over-heating protection sensor failed) and did general maintenance, cleaning, washing etc. Then it was time to say our goodbyes to new friends we had now met going up north and coming back south and a good occasion was a farewell braai! Not to forget Fred & Elisabeth Smits from New Zealand in their 1957  Mercedes who had to leave their trailer behind to be able to tackle the high Andes.

View from Finca Sommerwind

Farewell Petra & Stefan

Our route took us past Ibarra, Otavalo, Cayambe, then past Quito to Mindo, where we camped in the parking area of Jadin El Descanso hostal where we hoped to be able to observe hummingbirds in their extensive gardens. Mindo is a good place to see birds as everywhere are bushes and flowers and many restaurants and hostals put out feeders that ensure that Colibris have sufficient nourishment in the area. We were not disappointed – despite it raining almost all the time.

White-necked Jacobin

A pair of White-necked Jacobins

Rufus-tailed Hummingbird

Rufus-tailed Hummingbird

Green-crowned brillant Hummingbird

Green-crowned Woodnymph

White-whiskered Hermit

Unidentified -please advise if you know

Unidentified -please advise if you know

We were able to identify the following Colibris: Andean Emerald, Green-crowned brillant Hummingbird, Rufous-tailed Hummingbird,Green-crowned Woodnymph,White-necked Jacobin and White-whiskered Hermit.

Post covers the period    28th November-6th December 2016

Galápagos Week 2 -Itinerary B, days 5-8


Thursday: Punta Moreno – Navigation to Puerto Villamil with Whale watching (24/11)

At Punta Moreno we visited a relatively young lava field -approx. 10 000 years old. Here the gradual inhabitation by spiders, birds and flora can be witnessed.

Lagunas had formed with a green borders of plants. Different types of lava flows were visible. 3 different cacti, each with a population of ants that help in the plant’s pollination. We saw spiders inhabitating the cracks, Darwin daisies, silk plants and a type of sunflower. On the laguna we observed Bahama ducks and Moorhen, Flamingo, Galapagos Martin and Darwin finches.

While snorkelling we saw an approx 15cm long sea horse, varied fish and many more turtles grazing.

As the ship continued southwards along Isla Isabela we saw interesting landscapes, small craters in front of Volcán Cerro Azul and Volcán Sierra Negra which last errupted 2005. Not far from us 3 Orcas fished. Before dark we reached Puerto Villamil, a small harbour tricky to enter during darkness.

Friday: Puerto Villamil: Volcán Sierra Negra: Hike to the Crater -Tortoise Breeding Center of Villamil (25/11)

Per bus we travelled closer to the Volcán Sierra Negra and reached the crater on foot after approx. 1 hour walking. Flowers, Butterflies, Guava trees and lush green vegetation -quite different to the other areas we had visited so far in Galápagos. In 2005 the volcano errupted and the 13km diameter caldera filled approx 30% with fresh lava.

After 3 hours we were back in Puerto Villamil and visited the local Darwin breeding station for different land tortoises, all from the various areas of Isla Isabela.

On our walk back we saw flamingos, stilts, Bahama ducks and Moorhen.

Charles Darwin visited the islands aboard the HMS Beagle in 1835 for 5 weeks. During this time his observation lead to the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection – particularly sparked off by the fact that the tortoises on each island had developed in a very distinct way to survive on the different available food sources.

Visiting the local church was special – it is decorated in themes from the islands and not in the normal way.

Please also take note that the park benches in this town belong to the sea lions and humans are only tolerated occasionally.

Back at the ship our Captain William made an exception and allowed a swim in the harbour area -refreshing after a hot and interesting day. At our special wish the Captain and chef managed to source local Lobster in the harbour and we sat down for a very special dinner.

Saturday: Floreana: Punta Comorant – Corona del Diablo – Post Office Bay -Puerto Ayora (Santa Cruz)  (26/11)

The ship departed at midnight and we reached the island Floreana early in the morning. Punta Comorant was our land excursion and on the beach we saw rays sucking worms from the sand in shallow water. A snorkelling outing followed at Corona del Diablo and we drifted through the rocks watching the abundant sea life.

Back on board we soon departed to Post Office Bay where already in the olden days ships stopped to drop and pick up mail – the only way of communicating with Europe and North America at the time. It was one of the islands that was inhabitated very early on due to the source of fresh water.

We looked through the mail of the barrel mailbox and selected some post cards we would be able to drop off or mail in Argentina and left some cards for friends and family in South Africa to see how well the post service still functions ( by the way our postcard arrived in Cape Town after 4 months, unfortunately we do not know who collected it in Galápagos).

After lunch we proceeded back to Puerto Ayora, where the ship needed to replenish and we had some time in the town. Towards evening we were back on board for the farewell dinner which Francisco the chef had prepared and which featured Bacaláo (Seabass), the tables again decorated with vegetable art.

Sunday: Daphne Mayor (Panoramic) – Baltra (27/11)

Our last day started very early with a panoramic circumnavigation of Daphne island, well-known through the 40 year long research by scientists Peter and Rosemary Grant, observing the changes/evolution of finches in Galapagos.

Some Brown Pelicans gave us a special display of their fishing skills – with brown Noddy terns frequently sitting on their heads hoping for a small fish to escape.

By 9:45am our flight left Baltra to Quito, where we took a bus first to Carcelen bus terminal, and from there 2.5 hrs by long distance bus to Ibarra and then a taxi back to Finca Sommerwind- all this for US$ 7 per person.

This post covers 23th – 27th November 2016

Galápagos: Week 2 Itinerary B, days 1-4

Galápagos for a second week -what a privilege! We were curious to see what other creatures and landscapes the other islands more to the West on Itinerary B had to offer.

Sunday: Baltra – Las Bachas (20/11/2016)

The ship was refuelled and Maja Homberger came on board with the new passengers -this time we were only 11. From Baltra it was only a short distance to reach Playa las Bachas on the northern section of Santa Cruz island. We were lucky to see more Iguanas, many Blue-footed Boobies,2 Flamingos in a laguna ( there are only a few flamingos on Galapagos).

We then visited a beach to see whether Turtles have laid any eggs yet, saw some spotted rays and went for a swim.  Interesting was to see how mangroves get rid of excess salt via their leaves.

At supper we were back in Baltra harbour and the crew ceremoniously introduced themselves to the new guests.

Monday: Mosquera – Cerro Dragon (21/11)

We rose early and made our way by zodiac to the islet Mosquera, where plenty of sea lions awaited us. They are a pleasure to observe surfing in the waves. The Sea Lions came very close -sometimes too close for comfort and we moved away. After the issue of snorkeling gear and wetsuits for the week, we went for a swim and saw a lot of sea life -rays, sharks, surgeonfish, etc.

The Angelito I then relocated to Cerro Dragon on Santa Cruz for a land outing: Turtles, Land-and Marine Iguanas,, large Cacti. As we walked around the hill we realised how dry the area was -two years of virtually no rainfall. There are still some goats and donkeys on Santa Cruz that eat the cacti -a problem as the cactus does not survive once the bark is eaten all around.The cacti are the staple diet for land iguanas.

Tuesday: Tagus Cove (Isabela) – Punta Espinoza (Fernandina) (22/11)

Tagus Cove is formed by the caldera of an extinct volcano. We wandered up the side wall where there should be many finches -however, it was extremely dry.

The views across the lagunas were beautiful.

The Palo Santo forests were white and leafless, we saw a sunflower tree, Euphorbias and Darwin Cactus. From the top the volcanos Alcedo, Darwin and the Darwin lava fields and volcano Wolf could be seen as well as the emerald green Darwin lake lower down.

As we returned to catch the Zodiac we saw our first flightless cormorant. We then went snorkelling below the cliffs and could watch both the cormorants as well as penguins fishing with high speed under water by them checking each little hole and cave in the steep wall. In this area we counted 7 Green Pacific turtles feeding.

After lunch we visited Punta Espinosa on island Fernandina. As we approached by rubberduck, marine iguanas could be seen exiting the waters after the midday feeding session. They needed to return to land to warm up.

Interesting were the many iguana skeletons -two years prior the sea temperatures had risen to the degree that less algae grew with the resultant loss of approx 50% of the iguana population, apparently due to the el Niño phenomenon. The area rewarded our visit richly with sightings of seals, Pelicans, Cormorants, Lava Herons, Lava Lizards and a good sighting of a Gal.Hawk.

The number of marine iguanas here was very high and we could observe some males asserting their status.

The golden dry sea lions sunning themselves on the black lava were a special sight at Punta Espinosa.

While the boat navigated to our next destination, we could observe the fragile looking Galápagos storm petrels (Galápagos Wellenläufer) that seem to walk on the water while feeding on krill.

Wednesday: Isla Isabela : Urbina Bay – Elizabeth Bay (23/11)

The next three stops were all on Isla Isabela – first Urbina bay, then Bahia Elizabeth and on to Punta Moreno.

Urbina -on this beach turtles lay their eggs -for this reason a part is cordoned off. This area rose 1954 by 6m – it was interesting to see the changes in vegetation which included the very poisonous Apple tree which only iguanas can feed on. The milky sap produces a sunburn type affect if it gets on the skin and for humans eating them accidently can lead to death.

We saw mainly finches in this area, no tortoises although there should be some in this area. Snorkeling from the beach was exciting as we saw a few very large Pacific Green turtles feeding ahead of the breeding season.

Note: click on the video to play and also to stop it from looping.

While travelling to Elizabeth bay we had the luck of seeing approx. 50 dolphins and as many sea lions that followed us.

Once we arrived we took a late afternoon zodiac cruise into the mangroves, where many turtles rest and feed in preparation of laying their eggs. Towards evening we arrived in Punta Moreno.

This post covers 20th – 23th November 2016




Galapagos: Week 1 (Itinerary A) days 6-8

Friday: Isla Española: Punta Suarez -Playa Gardner (18/11)

After breakfast we rode to Playa Gardner, a white beach , quite a contrast to the previous black and red ones. Sea lions awaited us, different Mocking birds, light coloured Gal. Hawks and American Oystercatchers.

Note: This video loops – please stop it manually when you are finished watching it


During snorkelling we saw large Stingrays, Lobsters, Turtles and a number of swarming fish. Water here was colder with viz approx 10-15m.

Afternoon was a scheduled landing at Punta Súarez with plenty of sea iguanas with beautiful red and green shading. Many sea lions on the beach and in the water, dense vegetations with mocking birds that accompanied us. Many dead iguanas were testimony to global warming – two years before approx. 50% of the iguana population starved to death due to the sea grass and algae not growing as the water temperatures rose too high.

At the cliffs we could observe Gal. Hawk, red-billed Tropicbirds, Noddys, Blue-footed as well as Nasca Boobies and breeding Galapagos Albatross. We saw plenty of Lava Lizards as well as a snake, the beautiful Gal. dove and different Warbler Finches.


Saturday: Santa Fé – South Plaza (19/11)

At Santa Fé island we did a morning walk among the many catcti on which land iguanas fed and had beautiful vistas from higher up.

Per zodiac we rode past the opposite island, saw male sea lions patrolling their territory and during snorkelling we saw rays as well as a cleaning station for sea turtles.

While the boat transferred to the island, we had more opportunity to observe frigate birds following the boat.

At South Plaza island we viewed a bay filled with cacti and succulants  in red and yellow. Plenty of the sea birds we had seen before, however here we saw the nests of tropic birds and were amazed at the speed with which they landed on the rocks to feed the chicks.

While the ship travelled to a sheltered canal for replenishing, we spotted large black-tipped reefsharks. From here the ship returned to Baltra for the night.

During supper the crew was formally dressed and presented a thank-you ceremony to the guests, tables were decorated with animals carved from vegetables and fruit and a dessert chocolate cake – yummy!


Sunday: Black Turtle Cove – Baltra (20/11)

An early morning outing by Zodiac to Black Turtle Cove (part of Santa Cruz) allowed us again to observe Blue-footed Boobies, Pelicans, Striated Herons, White-tipped Reefsharks, Eagle Rays, Gal.Turtles, mostly in-between mangroves.

Back at Baltra our fellow travellers and guide Efrain sadly left.

The ship was refuelled and soon the new passengers arrived for Itinerary B. How lucky for us to be able to stay for a second week. Maja boarded and would be our guide for the coming days.

This post covers 18th -20th November 2016

Galapagos: Week 1 (Itinerary A) day 1-5

Galapagos -this destination is on many a bucket list. We were very fortunate to be able to visit these very special islands while waiting on our vehicle and fridge parts to arrive from South Africa.

Die Galapagos Inseln besuchen zu können ist auf dem Wunschzettel vieler Reisender. Wir hatten das Glück, diesen Traum zu verwirklichen. Für Naturliebhaber sind diese Inseln ein Paradies -und für Fotographie Interessierte ein ganz besonderes Ziel.

Galapagos consists of 14 main islands and more that 120 rocky islets, surrounded by 133 sq km marine reserve. In 1959 97% of the land area was designated as a National Park, 20 years later the islands became the first ever Unesco World Heritage site. Around 30 000 people live in Galapagos permanently and 200 000 tourists visit each year (about 3800 visitors per week). The name Galapagos means Tortoises and is derived from an old Spanish word for this animal.

From a number of fellow travellers we had the recommendation to visit the Galapagos islands on board of the Angelito I. The reason given was the impeccable quality and service and that the boat is a smaller one, taking a maximum of 16 passengers ( 8 double cabins) and she has a crew of 8. It is owned by 2 Galapeño brothers ( Hugo and Leonardo Andrade Serrano ) and the bookings and guiding is handled by the Swiss Cometa Travel in Quito. So we decided it is worth a try and that it only took 16 passengers appealed to us and so was the fact that all cabins have outside windows. The boat was also fully refurbished during 2013.

This information convinced us sufficiently to give it a try. Maja Homberger from Cometa Travel accommodated all our wishes,her 30 years of guiding in Galapagos showed in the information we received back promptly.

To view our first week’s route, click on the Cometa Travel link, select virtual map and view Itinerary A.

On Saturday we left by bus from Ibarra to Quito’s northern bus terminal Carcelen (2.5hrs ) and from here into Quito where we stayed overnight at Maja’s place. For the bus trip we bought an extra ticket to ensure that the photographic equipment would be next to us and not stowed where it could disappear. Public transport is safe and cost-effective in Ecuador – however we were cautioned that on bus rides baggage could be pilfered.

Next morning at 4 o’clock we were duly collected by her driver and taken to the airport, from where we departed on time, saw a number of the Ecuadorian volcanoes from the air, then stopped at Guayaquil airport to refuel and take on more passengers. From here it took 1.5hrs to the Galapagos airport on Baltra island (very flat, used to be an American war-time airport) where on disembarkation every visitor had to pay the US$ 100 entry fee to the islands.

Our guide for the first week, Efrain Zambrano, welcomed us and we were transferred to the Angelito I, in readiness for the new passengers for the week of which there were only 13.

Sunday: Baltra – North Seymor – Baltra harbour (13/11/2016)

We navigated to North Seymor island in hefty swell due to the supermoon on this particular weekend. Our first land outing produced some interesting sights -2 types of frigate birds (the larger Magnificent and the Great Frigate bird), young Blue-footed Boobies, yellow Galapagos Warbler, Galapagos dove, yellow land iguana and the black marine iguana, sea lions, brightly coloured crabs, Brown Pelicans and Lava Lizards.

It was quite a special feeling as the animals on these islands show no instinct to flee. Landings are well controlled so that only a few tourists visit at any given time and it is only permitted to walk on the prescribed paths with a qualified Galapagos guide.

On our return to the ship we spotted a ray and in the evening sharks circled the ship. The boat returned to Baltra harbour for the night.

Monday: Chinese Hat – Bartolome (14/11)

The boat left the harbour at 4am and sailed towards Chinese Hat island.

The morning outing was onto a small rocky lava island, where we saw Sea Lions with pups, a Galapagos Hawk trying to catch marine iguana, Lava Heron and crabs which had shed their shell.

This outing was followed by a snorkel outing, we saw Parrot-, Surgeon- and other Wrasses and many fish we did not know, but also Sea Cucumbers, Starfish etc.

In the afternoon we climbed the 140m high lava hill on island Bartolome, where the view from the top was spectacular covering some of the surrounding islands.

Per zodiac we rode past Pinnacle Rock, where we spotted our first Galapagos Penguins and some American Oystercatchers.

At 23:30 we departed towards Genovesa -the caldera of an extinct volcano, over 100m deep and open on one side so ships can enter.

Tuesday: Genovesa: Darwin Bay & Prince Phillips Steps (15/11)

First landing was at Darwin’s Bay where we saw Red-footed Boobies, Swallow-tailed Gulls, Nasca Boobies, the fast flying Red-billed Tropic Birds, Dracula Finches, Brown Pelicans, Galapagos Mocking Birds and Ruddy Turnstones.

We went for a swim amongst the sea lions and birds landed in close proximity. While snorkelling the viz was limited due to thermoclines, but we spotted Moorish Idol and some Pufferfish.

The afternoon outing took us up the Prince Phillips steps and during the walk we saw many Frigate Birds, Red-billed Tropic Birds, Pelicans, Boobies, Gal.Doves, Gal. Finches, Galápagos Short-eared owls and seals.

After an early supper the ship took bearing towards Puerto Egas on Santiago island.

Wednesday: Puerto Egas (Santiago) – Rabida (16/11)

The night ride was rough! Seldom have the islands seen such high swell, it was the first time that the fridge on board the Angelito I toppled over.

An early landing at Puerto Egas took place on a scenic pitch black lava sand beach. Along the rocks were blowholes pumping and we spotted Gal.Hawk. Many Marine Iguanas could be observed here as well as seals with pups.

The ship then sailed to Rabida island, where we landed on a red vulcanic sand beach. Here the vegetation had many colourful saltbushes, a small lagoon with an orange coloured Flamingo ( only one as the salt concentration at this time is too high) and we spotted Pacific Green Turtles. Galápagos Finches were spotted drinking from Cactus flowers.

During snorkelling we observed white-tipped reef sharks, seals, large starfish and many different tropical fish including Trumpet fish.

The ship took course to Puerto Ayora, the harbour on Santa Cruz island -we remained for the night in the harbour and appreciated a quiet night.

Thursday:  Santa Cruz: Charles Darwin Station – Highlands of Santa Cruz  (17/11)

In the morning a visit to the Darwing Research Centre was scheduled, where many large land tortoises are reared and we could appreciate the different developments of the animals depending which island they inhabitated and what source of food was available there ( length of the neck differed greatly).

There was sufficient time to take a stroll through Puerto Ayora and to appreciate the crafts, the buildings and the market.

In the afternoon an outing to the highlands took place by bus in order to see more tortoises and the large lava tunnels, that formed during an eruption.

The ship only transferred late evening to Isla Española, which gave the crew and passengers time on shore in Puerto Ayora.


This post covers 13th -17th November 2016

Ecuador 4: Trip to the coast into the Cayapas Mataje Ecological Reserve & Tulcan

A trip with Hans from Finca Sommerwind to the coast provided a welcome change from driving with our own vehicle and taking an old train track into the jungle was full of surprises.

Mal einen Abstecher an die Küste machen und mit einer selbst gebauten Draisine in den Urwald fahren? Diese Chance liessen wir uns nicht entgehen und fuhren mit Hans von Sommerwind an die Küste in die höchsten Mangroven und anschliessend in den Urwald. Die Weiterfahrt nach Kolumbien führte über Tulcan mit seinem einzigartigen Friedhof – ein etwas aussergewöhnliches Ziel.

Following some house keeping chores like washing laundry, cleaning the vehicle etc. we booked with Hans from Finca Sommerwind his “special” tour to the coast. Special in the sense that he is the only operator promising a train ride into the jungle along this disused railway line starting at the gold diggers town of Alto Tambo. Furthermore the trip promised to take us in what could be the worlds tallest red mangrove forests.
So we set off, Hans, Bernd, Marion, Karin and myself together with Dagmar Thum. This meant not all of us fitted into the Chevvy double cabin,a clapped-out bakkie and a heavy scale had to be delivered in San Lorenzo on the coast as well, a vibrant but poor community of African descent.

Nevertheless the ride was enjoyable and we reached San Lorenzo (via Salinas) -where, while visiting the harbour front, the police wanted to see our passports and entry papers which none of us brought along.

Some negotiations followed before we were allowed to proceed to Las Peñas, where we stopped at the La Enramada, a favourite eating place of Hans and had a huge seafood platter before going down to the hotel Playa Arena Cabañas where we were booked in.

Pool and airconditioning – pure luxury compared to our mobile abode. The warm weather on the coast was a real treat and so was the dip into the warm Pacific ocean.

(Note: La Enramada restaurant also allows camping on the beach side -they have recently added toilets to make this possible).

Next day we drove to Borbón, a harbour on the estuary of the confluence of the Rios Santiago and Cayapas.

From here we were taken by boat first to the island of La Tolita where we were amazed at the pottery shards visible on the beach of the old Tolita culture. A visit to the museum allowed insights into this pre-Inca culture from 500BC to 1500AD.

Lorenzo, the boat captain then took us deep into the red mangroves, trees approximately 20m in height, inhabited by brightly coloured crabs.

From here we rode to Limones(Valdéz) for a local type lunch.

This area of Ecuador is mainly inhabited by ex slaves from Africa who have formed their own cultural community.The community is poor and buildings look delapidated also due to the tropical conditions and high rain fall. Sometimes members of the only 5000 Cayapas indians can be seen in the town selling their crafts and acquiring goods.

Next stop were imbibing some freshly picked coconuts on an island along the way.

On our return journey to Borbón, Lorenzo took us to his manufacturing of canela pura from sugar cane juice, the ingredient that is later used to make cocada, a type of sweets when refined with peanut, coconut etc. A by-product of the process is the making of charcoal.

After a pleasant supper, too many cocktails and a good night’s sleep at our hotel in Las Peñas, Hans took us to a cacao plantation where the process of growing, harvesting and drying of cacao beans was explained. The flesh of the fruit is delicious, however is unsuitable for human consumption as it dissolves the calcium of the bone and would lead to loss of teeth.

En route Hans showed us Balsa trees, endemic to Ecuador as well as a similar looking tree, the teak.

Next stop was Alto Tambo,a gold digger town, at which the long awaited train journey began with self constructed draisines running on truck rims helping to stay on the very uneven track which has not seen any maintenance for a long time.

Amidst rain we made our way into the jungle for about 10 kilometres at which point the vehicle was centre pivoted on a jack and turned around by hand. On the way back we stopped at a waterfall for a refreshing swim, but had to negotiate a muddy and slippery path to get there.

By evening we were safely back in Ibarra at Finca Sommerwind despite rain along the way.

We said our goodbyes to other overlanders (some bigger than others…) at the customary weekend braai and left for Tulcan.

In Tulcan an unusual cemetery can be visited, famous for its finely cut hedges and trees depicting cultural figures of the past.

Before we left Karin could not resist trying fake ice cream we have seen often in this area – a sweet marshmellow-like cream with fruit taste -jummy?

This post covers the period 4th to 9th September 2016 before crossing to Colombia.

Ecuador 3: Ibarra, El Angel Eco Reserve and Gruta de la Paz

Ibarra is known to most overlanders passing through Ecuador to Colombia due to Finca Sommerwind- a convenient stopover to explore the area.

Als Overländer in Südamerika ist nichts schöner als ein Campingplatz, der sauber ist, alle Waschmöglichkeiten bietet, hausgebackenes Brot, wochenends Kaffee und Kuchen sowie die Möglichkeit, hierhin Ersatzteile zu verschiffen oder gar den Wagen stehen zu lassen zwecks eines Heimaturlaubes. Bei Hans und Patrizia fehlt es an nichts, und es ist wie ein zweites zu Hause.

Once settled in at Finca Sommerwind, which is situated next to Lago Yahuarcocha (in Quechua lingo meaning Blood Lake), and close to the autodrome, we started cleaning vehicles and clothing, then visited the old town centre of Ibarra – not as spectacular and as elaborate as others, but still worth a short visit.

On the outskirts and overlooking the lake, the statue of arcangel Miguel, the patron of Ibarra was next on our list.

To escape the weekend noise of the pending motor race at the autodrome, we decided with Bernd and Marion to explore the area and take a drive via the town of Mira ( where we come across a grand parade of honking trucks from a race) into the El Angel Eco Reserve to see the Frailejones (Mönchsgewächse) that can withstand the cold of the Paramo weather due to their hairy leaf structure.

We proceeded to camp in an area where the old Polylepis trees grow ( 15mm per year and up to 1500years old) that get rid of parasites etc by shedding their bark in a paperlike fashion. Again, due to the altitude, the night was cold, but we found an excellent spot to camp wild.

Our return journey took us past the Gruta de la Paz, a church in a grotto and pools of healing waters in the river that runs from the grotto. Many people visit this holy place on Sundays and partake in the mass celebrated inside.

The road to and from the grottos is narrow and some reversing manoeuvres were required when busses tried to pass us.

This post covers to 5th September 2016.

Ecuador 2: Crossing the Equator onwards to Otavalo and Cotacachi

Trying to catch the moment on the GPS when you cross the equator on a busy main road was not easy -fortunately there is a park where the pre-Inca’s already had figured out that this is an important place.

Unsere Route ab Quito ging nach Cayembe, vorher an der Sonnenuhr Quitsato am Äquator vorbei, zur Laguna San Pablo und dann bei Otavalo zum Campingplatz und Herberge La Luna de Mojanda. Die Fahrten zu der Laguna de Moyanda, dem Otavalo Markt und dem Parque Cóndor sind der Mühe wert gewesen.

Proceeding from Quito our route then took us to via Cayembe to Otavalo where we camped at the beautiful hostal and camping of La Luna de Mojanda – complete with a good restaurant run by the owners Kevin and Tamara. The view across to volcano Cotacachi thrilled us every morning.

In Otavalo we visited the fresh produce market enjoying fresh juices as well as the well-known craft market where quality crafted articles are offered. In this area the local women wear embroidered blouses and can also be be seen in town practising this craft.

Otovalo has arty lamp posts and some old buildings and a plaza.

Since the Condor park is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, we took a drive up to the Laguna Grande de Moyanda and the smaller Laguna de Chiriacu (Laguna Negra), both cold, but clear waters. At Laguna Grande de Moyanda camping is permitted, the surrounding area beautiful and very tranquil.

On Wednesday we finally visited the Parque Condór bird rehabilititation centre (also Condors can be seen close up) and were not disappointed by the variety of birds of prey and owls to be seen there. Seeing the mighty Condor close up for the first time is quite something – albeit that the beauty of their head is debatable.

The evening rain and mist made us forget that we are close to the equator -a cold night was awaiting us.

From Otavalo we headed via Quiroga to the Laguna Cuicocha close to the volcano Cotacachi(4939m). Despite the overcast weather the craterlake was beautiful with its two islands in the middle. The area is within the large Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi-Cayapas.

Continuing towards Ibarra we stopped in the village of Cotacachi, known for its exquisite leather and fashion goods and we noted the many ceramic murals in town – how does an artist create ceramics in these dimensions and matching the colours perfectly?

Our journey ended at the favorite overlanding camping site Finca Sommerwind in Ibarra where a few days rest would be welcome.

This post covers 28th August to 1st September 2016

Ecuador 1b: Avenue of the Volcanos – Cotopaxi and capital Quito

Cotopaxi -maybe the most beautiful of the lot. Evacuation signs remind the visitor that it is still an active volcano.

Entlang der Strasse der Vulkane ist der Cotopaxi relativ leicht zu erreichen. Die Umgebung und der Park um den Vulkan sind besonders und wir haben deshalb einen zweiten Tag dort verbracht, bevor wir nach Quito weiter fuhren. Eine Übernachtung bei Gerd im Hostal Zentrum ist interessant, wenn auch laut, wenn man im Dachzelt schläft und nicht in einem seiner Zimmer.

Our next overnight stop was the campsite at Cuello de Luna, Swiss owned and attended by Adrian with 3 large St.Bernhard dogs. Volcano Cotopaxi was not yet visible on our arrival and we hoped for clear weather.

While cleaning our vehicle next morning, we discovered that a mouse had joined us in our vehicle – and despite our best efforts, we could not catch it (a nuisance for the next three weeks until only poison proved to be a solution). The weather cleared and our afternoon drive took us to the parking below the refuge at the foot of Cotopaxi -one of the most beautiful volcanos. Cotopaxi errupted last in 2015 and grey ash still covers the glacier while smoke is still emitted.

On the next day the weather was even more perfect and visibility very clear while we again decided to visit the park and we took time to drive a circular scenic route in the park observing Cotopaxi from different angles and enjoying the flora. Again we were delighted that there were no entrance fees into this park.

Camping inside this nature area is also permitted at designated spots -well worth it if there is little or no wind, however we did not make use of the opportunity and remained at Cuella de Luna.

Our route then took us via Rumipamba and Sangolqui to the capital Quito, where we camped in the city at Hostal Zentrum run by the German Gerd -85yrs and full of interesting stories -offering the best breakfast imaginable. Gerd emigrated to Ecuador at the age of 72yrs and started the hostal then. Hostal Zentrum is conveniently close to the city – however, sleeping in our rooftop tent proved to be noisy due to the busy street.

Be aware of your vehicle’s height -ours just fitted in.

Excursions took us to the old city, grande plaza, saw the golden La Compania church and took the teleferico cableway up to the high viewpoint over Quito, quite spectacular.

Pity we did not have a view of the surrounding volcanos due to cloud cover, but we had clear views of the city and the old town section.

A visit to the president’s palace in Quito on the Plaza de Armas is possible and was interesting: it is where the cabinet operates from and where the official residence is. All official gifts from different countries are on display and form part of the nations heritage.

Our trip concluded with visits to the cathedral and Virgen del Panecillo.

Leaving Quito we headed for Otavalo with its interesting craft markets.

This post covers the period 23rd to 28th August 2016