From North of Sixty to Zero: Our Yukon Friends Visit the Middle of the World

We had the pleasure of meeting up with more Yukoners on our travels. In April, our dear friends Rob and Edie came to Ecuador on the trip of a lifetime. First, we met them in Quito, and had a few wonderful days catching up and introducing them to a few of the highlights of this great colonial city. Then, they were off to the Galápagos Islands and the Amazon rainforest on organized tours of their own. They had a fabulous time! Afterwards, we met up with them again, showing them our favourite haunts in the northern Andes and our beloved cloud forest in Mindo. When their trip came to an end, as all trips do, they were sorry to leave and we were sorry to see them go, but we suspect this trip will live in their minds and hearts for a lifetime!

Quito:

IMG_2256 IMG_3327

IMG_2282IMG_2289

IMG_2269IMG_2271

IMG_2274IMG_2277

IMG_2292IMG_2260

Northern Andes:

IMG_3502 IMG_3499

IMG_3520IMG_1169

IMG_1156IMG_1149

IMG_3508IMG_1192

IMG_2897IMG_3495

IMG_2314 IMG_2307

IMG_2906IMG_2901

IMG_2298IMG_1190

Mindo:

IMG_3553IMG_3575

IMG_3658IMG_3722

IMG_2325IMG_3749

IMG_1205

And some of the birds:

IMG_3653IMG_3672

IMG_3711IMG_3836

IMG_3758IMG_3765

IMG_3530IMG_3568

Bye Rob and Eddie:

IMG_3866IMG_3871

Posted in Ecuador | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The Best Little Country in the World

[A joint post by Joe and Lori]

Back in Ecuador

Joe and Lori are back in Ecuador. In Cotacachi. Much like last year, we are using it as our Ecuadorian home base, and have reconnected with friends Juan Carlos, Eddie, and Susana, and our dear friend Beverly. We have re-visited some of our old haunts in town and in the surrounding area – Café Rio Intag, Serendipity, Cuicocha, Peguche Falls, El Gran Condor, Hacienda Pinsaquí, Puertolago, the Otavalo Market. In all of these places we smell the air of familiarity. In so many ways it feels like home. Home away from home.

IMG_2341 IMG_1934

Through a fortuitous confluence of events, our friend Ruth and Beverly’s son Mark and his friend Ivan were going to be in Ecuador at the same time. This gave us the only reason we needed to whisk our visitors off on a little adventure. So, after the requisite amount of planning, communication, deliberation, and decision-making, we set off for Mindo, Puerto Lopez, and Isla de la Plata.

IMG_2070IMG_2440

We almost did not get to meet Ivan. His Mexican passport was set to expire in less than 6 months. So, unless he could renew his passport in time he was going to have to stay home, and miss out. As luck would have it, or through the blessing of divine intervention, or the power of cosmic consciousness, the day before he was scheduled to leave for Ecuador he received a call that his new passport was ready. We all felt a deep sense of gratitude!

Ruth, our good friend from Whitehorse, is a birder from way back, for as long as she can remember. She’s really a twitcher. And what better place to be a twitcher than Ecuador? Over 1,600 of the approximately 10,000 bird species in the world can be found in Ecuador — one of the highest quantities in the world. And what about Mindo? Mindo consistently ranks at the top, or near the top, of the annual Christmas Bird Count*, with typical counts of over 400 different species. With Joe & Lori in Ecuador once again, Ruth could not in her right mind pass this opportunity up. After all, how many more chances would she get?

*The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a census of birds in the Western Hemisphere, performed annually in the early Northern-hemisphere winter by volunteer birdwatchers and administered by the National Audubon Society. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_Bird_Count).

IMG_2186

Mark is Beverly and Jack’s youngest child and, while a handsome and accomplished man in his thirties, will always be considered the “baby” in the family. When he arrived with his equally handsome and accomplished friend Ivan, Beverly affectionately referred to them as the gua guas. Gua gua (pronounced waa waa) means baby in the local indigenous language Kichwa. The name stuck and henceforth the pair endured with good humour being called the gua guas for the duration of our travels. We couldn’t have asked for better travel companions, for they enveloped us with their youthful energy and humour and were such fun to be around.

20140318_211552IMG_1029

Mindo

It was the height of comfort to have Juan Carlos (JUANK Tours: https://www.facebook.com/juan.ullauri.752?fref=ts) take the six of us in his roomy van on this grand little tour of Ecuador. Altogether, the magnificent seven set off from Cotacachi and set our sights on Mindo, where we would spend our first three nights.

IMG_2037IMG_2723

The good news is that the birds are still here. Lots of them. And you don’t have to stray too far to see them. Many can be spotted right in town, with the naked eye. Some of them, however, you do have to make a special trek for, and get up pretty early in the morning – like 4:00 A.M.! I’m talking about the Andean cock-of-the-rock. And, the ochre-breasted antpitta: also known as Shakira for her unique shaking motion. Of course, there are numerous others.

At 4:00 in the morning, on our first full day in Mindo, Lori and Ruth, and Mark arose to go on one such special trek. Soon thereafter they were picked up at our guesthouse by our bird guide extraordinaire Danny Jumbo (http://mindo.jimdo.com/contact/), and off they went to see the Andean cock-of-the-rock. Joe, knowing that the trio of birders were in extremely capable and reliable hands, decided that on this day sleep was more important. He still awoke at 4:00 in the morning, and ended up missing out on a great adventure. Oh, well, there’s always next time!

IMG_2519IMG_2588

 

IMG_2529IMG_2534

IMG_2545IMG_2557

IMG_2574IMG_2576

IMG_2559IMG_2562

IMG_2429IMG_2554

IMG_2462IMG_2467

IMG_2446IMG_2451

Danny is a highly competent and personable guide, but when he realized that Ruth was a life-long birder, intent on adding birds to her list, he went above and beyond to find more and more birds. Mark, Lori, and Ruth could barely keep track of all the wonderful exotic birds they spotted in Refugio Paz de las Aves (http://www.refugiopazdelasaves.com) (fortunately Lori was recording them in her notebook, where page after page was filled). After a completely wonderful and satisfying visit to the reserve, Danny wasn’t quite finished.

photo

Born and raised in Mindo, Danny knows the area as well as anyone. While swiftly driving back to town, careening around the winding forest roads, he would glance up at the misty treetops and suddenly stop, turn his flashers on, look up with his binoculars, jump out with his tripod and scope, and offer up another beautiful bird to admire. At one point, he stopped in a farmer’s field to get a good look at a collared forest falcon, which the farmer admired along with the rest of the crew. The farmer asked Danny for a lift into town and stood in the back of the pickup for the expected short distance. But Danny still wasn’t done. After three more abrupt stops to hop out and look at birds, the farmer seemed tired of lurching around in the back of the pickup and attempted to climb out, undoubtedly thinking he would get there more quickly under his own steam. Danny motioned him back into the truck, where he remained and grinned good-naturedly at every lurching stop the rest of the way into town. Ruth added at least 10 to 12 birds on the drive back alone, and the farmer had a good story to tell about the crazy birders.

IMG_2594IMG_2150

At the same time the rest of the group (Beverly, Ivan, Joe, and Juan Carlos) enjoyed a leisurely, wholesome breakfast on the deck of El Descanso Guest House, in Mindo, and witnessed their fair share of birds (including many varieties of hummingbirds) from the comfort of their chairs!

The day was so much fun that Ruth, Lori, and Joe (who did not want to miss out on the adventure a second time) decided to go with Danny to another reserve at dawn the next morning! At least it wasn’t 4:00 AM (that’s Joe talking)! On this day, we were off to the Milpe Bird Sanctuary, which forms part of the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation (http://www.mindocloudforest.org), near Mindo. The second day, according to Lori and Ruth, was just as fun as the first, but for different reasons. For Lori, being a pluviophile, it was a glorious day to be absorbed by the cloud forest – one could even call it jungle – in the rain! Ruth loved it as well. Joe, not enamoured with the rain, was thankful for his waterproof raincoat! But, really, it was a great opportunity to tune into our true nature, and become intimately aware of our deep connection with the pulsing, living forest. The four of us had an amazing time!

IMG_2119IMG_2628

IMG_2120IMG_2592

And the day wasn’t yet over. We had a wonderful breakfast at the Mirador Río Blanco in San Miguel de los Bancos, near Mindo. At the back of the restaurant, from a spectacular vantage point, clouds hovered across our view, taking turns covering and uncovering the majestic Rio Blanco. Of course there were more birds to be seen; some so close you didn’t need a telescope or a pair of binoculars.

IMG_2644IMG_2647

IMG_2664IMG_2701

IMG_2660IMG_2139

Ruth’s enthusiasm for birding was contagious and everyone participated in the thrill of spotting birds. While out for breakfast, the other half of our party saw a toucan, much to Ruth’s chagrin. However, when she tallied her list, she was thrilled to discover she had added nearly 100 birds to her list — thanks to Danny!

Other Mindo highlights included a chocolate factory tour at El Quetzal (http://elquetzaldemindo.com) and a side trip to the Museo de Sitio in Tulipe (http://museodesitiotulipe.com).

IMG_2155IMG_2600

Puerto Lopez

We all wished we could have stayed longer in the charming town of Mindo but another adventure awaited. We headed off towards the coast and drove along the Ruta del Sol (Route of the Sun) on our way to Puerto Lopez. On the way, we stopped at a beautiful deserted beach so the gua guas could, after much anticipation, swim in the Pacific salt water. After a long day’s drive we arrived in Puerto Lopez, our rest stop for the next two nights, and the departure point for day tours to Isla de la Plata — sometimes referred to as ‘”the poor man’s Galapagos” but which we called the mini Galapagos.

IMG_2741IMG_2747

IMG_2748IMG_2749

The next day our group joined an organized tour and “set sail” for Isla de la Plata in search of the blue-footed boobie. But, as it turned out, there was nothing to search for. The blue-footed boobie was everywhere to be found, in plain sight. There were mature males and females, juveniles, and even cute little baby boobies. We also saw plenty of other birds, but the blue-footed boobie was the real highlight!

IMG_2803IMG_2813

IMG_2799IMG_2800

IMG_2820IMG_2821

IMG_2816IMG_2802

IMG_2174IMG_2175

After the birds it was time to play in the water. Everyone jumped off the boat, and began to snorkel in the cool translucent water, entering the domain of sea turtles and beautiful colourful fish. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves – well, almost everyone. Ruth was in a real tizzy, arms flailing about, with an expression on her face like some monstrous creature was trying to drag her down to the deepest depths of the ocean forever. Luckily, Lori, who was in close proximity, used her calming powers to sooth Ruth’s nerves and turn desperation into relaxation. Ruth actually began to enjoy the water!

IMG_2848IMG_2842

When Ruth was done snorkelling she needed help to get back in the boat. So, our guide nicknamed “El Toro” (the bull, for obvious reasons) placed his beefy arms under Ruth’s shoulders and in one fell swoop hauled her body completely out of the water and into the boat. Immediately, Ruth requested that I inform El Toro the reason why she couldn’t get back in the boat under her own steam. It was not because she was fat but because of her bad knees. I proceeded to relay this message to El Toro in Spanish, but he didn’t even bat an eye. It seemed the importance of this message fell on deaf ears!

"El Toro"

“El Toro”

 

Beverly’s World

Our friend Beverly is a native Ecuadorian born in the southern city of Guayaquil. Although she has spent most of her life in the US, where she raised her family, she retains a deep love and connection to her native land. That love is reflected in the places she visits and the stories she tells. She has stayed connected to her relatives in Quito, who are involved in the tourism industry and are a wealth of knowledge about this beautiful county. They have shared much of the beauty with Beverly, who has in turn shared it with us, and we are forever enriched by the experience.

In Beverly’s world we might stop for bizcochos (butter biscuits) to nibble in the car, or savour empanadas verde (made from plantain) at a rest stop. We might hear about a local legend as we travel or make a side trip to some beautiful ruins recommended by her cousin. When you see Ecuador from inside Beverly’s world, you cannot help but fall in love with this country as well.

The remainder of our trip we spent in Quito, gaining further insight into Beverly’s world. We got to meet her wonderful cousins and some of their family. It was a privilege to see her interact with her extended family and to secure a glimpse into the lives of quiteños. Warm and generous with their time, we were thrilled to meet them and benefit from their comprehensive knowledge of this country. The best little country in the world!

IMG_1022IMG_1031

IMG_285720140318_205243

Posted in Ecuador | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hasta Luego, Until We Meet Again

As we prepare to leave San Miguel de Allende, we are reminded of that old campfire song: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.”

Our time here has been graced with new friends and reconnecting with old friends.
As we continue on to Ecuador, we reflect that our new friends from last year have become old, and precious friends.

New friends:

IMG_0764 IMG_0762

IMG_1762 IMG_0814

IMG_2300Facing

IMG_0830

Old friends:

CrownsIMG_2237

IMG_1769 IMG_1798

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IMG_1882

Old meets new:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Old friends from Ecuador:

IMG_1363 IMG_1290

IMG_0781 IMG_1051

IMG_0556

In loving memory of our dear friend Jack:

IMG_0553

And it turns out that our dear friend Jack was a VW beetle aficionado:

photo 3

Posted in San Miguel de Allende | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Love Bug Heaven

Growing up in the seventies I (Lori) was a big fan of the Love Bug movies. Imagine my delight when, arriving in San Miguel de Allende, I saw old Volkswagen Beetle cars everywhere! Not just one or two, but dozens and dozens!

It turns out that these sturdy little cars were manufactured in Mexico from the early sixties until 2003. This very popular car was the darling of taxi drivers. For years, many were employed as taxis in Mexico City. Then one day, one of the mayors unfortunately decided to forbid two-door taxis. This spelled the beginning of the end for this noble vehicle in Mexico.

“It was in the month of June 2003 that the Volkswagen Sedán Última Edición was introduced. A totally nostalgic car, which resembles the past glories of the Volkswagen Beetle. This Final Edition consisted of 2,999 units for sale to the general public in Volkswagen dealers across Mexico, while one (the last one to be produced), would be immediately shipped to the Volkswagen Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany, testifying a historic age which ended on July 30, 2003, when the last Volkswagen Beetle (the unit number 21’529,464) leaves the production line in what was now called “the hall of sorrow”, accompanied by a Mariachi singing the song “Las Golondrinas” (A Mexican folk song that speaks of a farewell). This latter Beetle was headed to the port of Veracruz where a ship would take it to his final destination.” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_Beetle_in_Mexico)

But alas, like many a retiree who comes to San Miguel, and is surprised to discover a welcome second wind in their twilight years, so too has the retired taxi beetle found a new lease on life. In San Miguel, this little car is equally popular amongst locals and gringos alike.

It is fitting that the little town known as the heart of Mexico has also become Love Bug Heaven!

Some are as bright as jelly beans:

IMG_1518 IMG_1558

IMG_1647IMG_1928

Some are just pretty:

IMG_1522IMG_1531

IMG_1704IMG_1732

Sometimes you see two at once:

IMG_1773IMG_1519

IMG_1526IMG_1586

Some need a little work:

IMG_1548IMG_1549

IMG_1751IMG_1772

Some are decorated:

IMG_1846IMG_1856

IMG_1787IMG_1734

Some like to hide:

IMG_1567IMG_1587

IMG_1950

And then there are the VW vans, but that’s another story:

IMG_1783 IMG_1658

Posted in San Miguel de Allende | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Doors of San Miguel de Allende

“There are so many doors to open. I am impatient to begin.” (Daniel Keyes)

IMG_1584 IMG_1563

IMG_1660IMG_1700

IMG_1785IMG_1564

IMG_1706IMG_1494

IMG_1757IMG_1634

IMG_1711IMG_1699

IMG_1727IMG_1784

“The doors will be open to those who are bold enough to knock.” (Tony Gaskins)

IMG_2083 IMG_1729

IMG_1703 IMG_1702

IMG_1698 IMG_1689

IMG_1688 IMG_1614

IMG_1725 IMG_1648

IMG_1594 IMG_1672

IMG_1728 IMG_1520

“Be an opener of doors.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Posted in San Miguel de Allende | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

A Floral Affair

We moved into our new apartment on the 1st day of the Flower Fair of La Candelaria. So, lucky for us, the park at the end of our street has been transformed by hundreds of flower vendors into a floral affair.

The Flower Fair is part of the Feast of La Candelaria, a popular Christian festival celebrated in honour of the Virgin of Candelaria, who appeared in Tenerife (Canary Islands) at the beginning of the 15th century. The day of celebration is Feb. 2, although in certain places this is extended by several days, or longer.

In central Mexico, it is customary to clothe the baby Jesus in nativity dress, and carry him to hear mass. Afterwards, he is placed in a niche where he remains for the rest of the year.

In San Miguel de Allende, where the festival runs from Feb. 1 to 11, the tradition is for people to congregate at Parque Juárez (the park at the end of our street), to buy flowers or plants. There, hundreds of vendors sell an astonishing variety of flowers, herbs, and plants in assorted colours, shapes, and sizes. A stroll through the park is truly a feast for the senses.

Even though one of us was sick with a cold (Joe), this did not dissuade us from purchasing our share of the available plant life. This served a dual purpose: we could legitimately count ourselves among the celebrants and we got to beautify the outdoor space at our new apartment at Villa Martha. The San Miguel industrial rooftop look — water tanks, gas tanks, pipes, conduit, and cable — has been successfully subjugated. With the addition of a few borrowed flower pots from the generous Villa Martha manager Maria, we now have an inviting, colourful, fragrant, and intimate rooftop space!

Joe is now on the mend, Lori is now sick with a cold, but we are both very grateful for this wonderful festival!

IMG_1868IMG_1869

IMG_1870IMG_1871

IMG_1872IMG_1873

IMG_1874IMG_1875

IMG_2269photo

Posted in San Miguel de Allende | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas in San Miguel de Allende

From poinsettias to posadas to piñatas, the holidays in San Miguel are beautiful and poignant. We have had a wonderful Christmas and New Year’s. Wishing all our friends and family a very Happy New Year. Feliz Año Nuevo!

IMG_1450IMG_1676

IMG_1786IMG_1667

IMG_1668IMG_1703

IMG_1706IMG_1939

IMG_1709IMG_1696

IMG_1701IMG_1694

IMG_1691IMG_1617

IMG_1631IMG_1637

IMG_1650IMG_1671

IMG_1681IMG_1682

IMG_1629IMG_1700

IMG_1551IMG_1899

IMG_1739IMG_1747

IMG_1664IMG_1747 (copy)

IMG_1723IMG_1670

IMG_1776IMG_1743

IMG_0762IMG_0763

IMG_2097IMG_2091

Posted in San Miguel de Allende | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments