Galapagos – A Darwin Moment

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The turquoise water sparkled with the last rays of the setting sun while tiny waves lapped gently on the warm, black lava. I released a breath that I hadn’t realized I had been holding for…eight months? This was Galapagos, and it was magic.

Our trip south has been amazing and wonderful, but it hasn’t necessarily been relaxing. There is an element of survival in our daily search for routes, food and safe places to sleep that keeps us on our toes at all times. Stepping onto the shores of these desolate and well protected islands brought a sense of peace that was like a balm to my spirit, and I knew instantly that this would be a very special week.

The Galapagos Islands had never been on our agenda (not that we have one), and for me, meant only vague memories of National Geographic episodes on TV and reel to reel films shown to us fidgety Jr. High Schoolers. Wasn’t there some connection to Darwin, natural selection and blue footed boobies?

Besides the tranquility, what Ned and I loved were the close encounters with the animals. Although the Islands have a brutal past of being ravished by explorers and pirates, they have been protected since 1970. The strict protection, coupled with a lack of natural predators has left the animals unafraid of humans. This offers a unique opportunity to interact with vast quantities of amazing critters.

While being on the quiet islands, surrounded by muted desert colors and rare species was remarkable, snorkeling brought us into an underwater wonderland of such magical beauty that it brought tears to my eyes. With no waterproof camera to distract, we were left to simply enjoy. The water itself was brilliant shades of crystal clear blues and although cold, was marvelous. The sea life was abundant, and we saw many types of fish and plants that we had never seen because they only exist here. To my delight, the tranquil desert colors that I love so much, were reflected in this watery landscape. Everywhere I looked, gorgeous pastels danced and shimmered. Every shade of the rainbow was paraded before me in muted, iridescent splendor. A sea anemone in lemon sherbet, a giant parrot fish in glistening melon green and pink topaz, microscopic amoeba, like mystical fairies, visible only through intermittent flashes of sapphire blue. Incredible. But the parade did not end there.

Imagine jumping into the water with your snorkel gear, putting your face down and seeing a huge dark blur approach quickly. Oh! A sea lion! No, three sea lions! It was a bit startling at first, as they, one at a time, swam straight for our faces, veering off only at the last minute. These were truly wild animals that wanted to play with us. The giant sea turtles, while singularly un-playful, were equally as unafraid. At one point I enjoyed drifting quietly next to my own private, meter and a half long turtle for over 15 minutes.

While we can’t share our underwater experiences, we are glad to be able to offer a few glimpses into the enchanting world of Galapagos. Enjoy…

Our last minute decision to book an eight day cruise in the Galapagos Islands included a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the primitive airport on Santa Cruz Island.  Being part of Ecuador meant that there was no complicated immigration to arrive on the islands.  We had already imported ourselves!

Our last minute decision to book an eight day cruise in the Galapagos Islands included a flight from Guayaquil, Ecuador to the primitive airport on Santa Cruz Island. Being part of Ecuador meant that there was no complicated immigration to arrive on the islands. We had already imported ourselves!

The first animal we saw was this food sniffing dog, padding eagerly all over our bags looking for illegally imported snacks.  Part of the way the Islands are protected is by strict controls of any biological materials.

The first animal we saw was this food sniffing dog, padding eagerly all over our bags looking for illegally imported snacks. Part of the way the Islands are protected is by strict controls of any biological materials.

Our boat, the Estrella del Mar, carried only 16 passengers (all wonderful), and we enjoyed a private (but tiny) berth and bathroom.

Our boat, the Estrella del Mar, carried only 16 passengers (all wonderful), and we enjoyed a private (but tiny) berth and bathroom.

The official welcome to The Galapagos Islands was given by these stoic marine iguanas…

The official welcome to The Galapagos Islands was given by these stoic marine iguanas…

…and this giant, 150 year old, 400lb land tortoise…

…and this giant, 150 year old, 400lb land tortoise…

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…and this huge, meter long land iguana…

…and this huge, meter long land iguana…

…not such a big welcome from this lazy fellow.

…not such a big welcome from this lazy fellow.

The sea lions were completely un-alarmed by our presence.  This cute little guy just kept on nursing.

The sea lions were completely un-alarmed by our presence. This cute little guy just kept on nursing.

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Charles Darwin really was inspired to come up with his theory of natural selection after a visit to the Galapagos.  The marine iguanas, being the only iguanas that actually dive for food and can stay underwater for up to an hour, stimulated ‘ol Charles’ brain into wondering how and why these former land critters adapted to the sea.

Charles Darwin really was inspired to come up with his theory of natural selection after a visit to the Galapagos. The marine iguanas, being the only iguanas that actually dive for food and can stay underwater for up to an hour, stimulated ‘ol Charles’ brain into wondering how and why these former land critters adapted to the sea.

We were stimulated to merely have fun taking their pictures.

We were stimulated to merely have fun taking their pictures.

A flock of frigates flew with our ship for an hour, sometimes soaring within two meters of us.  A lazy close encounter enjoyed from the top deck of the boat.

A flock of frigates flew with our ship for an hour, sometimes soaring within two meters of us. A lazy close encounter enjoyed from the top deck of the boat.

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The male frigates have red throats that balloon out to manly proportions while attempting to attract a mate.  This one is obviously not on the prowl.

The male frigates have red throats that balloon out to manly proportions while attempting to attract a mate. This one is obviously not on the prowl.

Another way the Galapagos National Park protects the islands is by limiting traffic to popular viewing areas.  We 16 plus our guide were, at all times, the only people around, and it added greatly to the magic of the experience.

Another way the Galapagos National Park protects the islands is by limiting traffic to popular viewing areas. We 16 plus our guide were, at all times, the only people around, and it added greatly to the magic of the experience.

Our guide told us that he hadn’t seen this rare little beauty in five years. Finches (I’m pretty sure this is a finch?) provided further insight for Darwin’s work.  Apparently the size and shape of their beaks vary greatly between isolated islands and dramatically demonstrate adaptation to vastly different food sources.

Our guide told us that he hadn’t seen this rare little beauty in five years.
Finches (I’m pretty sure this is a finch?) provided further insight for Darwin’s work. Apparently the size and shape of their beaks vary greatly between isolated islands and dramatically demonstrate adaptation to vastly different food sources.

What I learned on my Galapagos vacation:  1) Tails aren’t the problem I always wondered about; 2) You’ve got to be pretty thick skinned to be a female lizard.

What I learned on my Galapagos vacation: 1) Tails aren’t the problem I always wondered about; 2) You’ve got to be pretty thick skinned to be a female lizard.

Up close with a stunning hawk.  This guy was a mere ten feet away and unconcerned.

Up close with a stunning hawk. This guy was a mere ten feet away and unconcerned.

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He may look like Godzilla about to eat New York, but he’s really just trying to get warm.  The marine iguanas may have adapted to diving for long periods of time, but they are still cold blooded.  The black coloring is not for camouflage, but to absorb warmth from the sun.  After diving, the marine iguanas are so cold they can barely move.  Seeing thousands of them (literally) frozen on the rocks is quite a spectacle as they raise their little reptilian temperatures to where they can move again.

He may look like Godzilla about to eat New York, but he’s really just trying to get warm. The marine iguanas may have adapted to diving for long periods of time, but they are still cold blooded. The black coloring is not for camouflage, but to absorb warmth from the sun. After diving, the marine iguanas are so cold they can barely move. Seeing thousands of them (literally) frozen on the rocks is quite a spectacle as they raise their little reptilian temperatures to where they can move again.

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Crown of horns.

Crown of horns.

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These were the only fur seals we saw. They are rare because they were hunted to near extinction before the inception of the National Park.

These were the only fur seals we saw. They are rare because they were hunted to near extinction before the inception of the National Park.

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Loving these close encounters of the wild kind.

Loving these close encounters of the wild kind.

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Look closely…those aren’t rocks, they are heaps of marine iguanas warming in the bright equatorial sun.

Look closely…those aren’t rocks, they are heaps of marine iguanas warming in the bright equatorial sun.

Great heron.

Great heron.

Join us as Ned and I watch this little domestic drama unfold between a flightless cormorant and her mate…

Join us as Ned and I watch this little domestic drama unfold between a flightless cormorant and her mate…

“Herbert!!!!”

“Herbert!!!!”

“Quit flapping those useless wings and bring me more nesting materials!”

“Quit flapping those useless wings and bring me more nesting materials!”

“Is this what you wanted, Francine?”

“Is this what you wanted, Francine?”

“Oh, Herbert, I love you so much.  You are the best bird on this rock!” On a serious note, the abundance of food here has rendered flight unnecessary for Galapagos’ flightless cormorants, and their wings really have shrunk to useless stubs.  Another stunning example of adaptation and natural selection.

“Oh, Herbert, I love you so much. You are the best bird on this rock!”
On a serious note, the abundance of food here has rendered flight unnecessary for Galapagos’ flightless cormorants, and their wings really have shrunk to useless stubs. Another stunning example of adaptation and natural selection.

Each day we went out in the ship’s two Zodiacs.  On this early morning foray, we did all of our viewing from the boats and were encouraged to be very quiet.  This was an extremely protected island where only 20 of the 150 operating tour boats are allowed to visit. It was fantastic and felt as if time stood still.

Each day we went out in the ship’s two Zodiacs. On this early morning foray, we did all of our viewing from the boats and were encouraged to be very quiet. This was an extremely protected island where only 20 of the 150 operating tour boats are allowed to visit. It was fantastic and felt as if time stood still.

This was our first view of the tiny penguins that are unique to the Galapagos.

This was our first view of the tiny penguins that are unique to the Galapagos.

The march of the mini penguins got a laugh out of this sea lion.

The march of the mini penguins got a laugh out of this sea lion.

An actual booby!  They really do exist outside of those old, scratchy reel to reels films, and they really do have pretty blue feet.

An actual booby! They really do exist outside of those old, scratchy reel to reels films, and they really do have pretty blue feet.

Two boobies.

Two boobies.

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Diving boobies.

Diving boobies.

This was a show we could have watched all day.  These guys are the most incredible divers, hitting the water at 60mph to reach deep into the ocean for those yummy fish.

This was a show we could have watched all day. These guys are the most incredible divers, hitting the water at 60mph to reach deep into the ocean for those yummy fish.

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Streamlining those wings and blue feet for maximum speed.

Streamlining those wings and blue feet for maximum speed.

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The penguins dive for food too, but go about it more sedately than the boobies.

The penguins dive for food too, but go about it more sedately than the boobies.

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It appeared as if they like to have a little fun, though…ready…

It appeared as if they like to have a little fun, though…ready…

…set…

…set…

…jump!

…jump!

A huge, majestic pelican.

A huge, majestic pelican.

After the boobies and penguins, we slowly and quietly motored into these mangrove covered lava channels where we were treated to the sight of hundreds of sea turtles.  After entering, we cut the motors and paddled in silence.

After the boobies and penguins, we slowly and quietly motored into these mangrove covered lava channels where we were treated to the sight of hundreds of sea turtles. After entering, we cut the motors and paddled in silence.

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Upon exiting our secret, sacred realm, our guide fired up the motor and we whooped and hollered our way back to the ship.

Upon exiting our secret, sacred realm, our guide fired up the motor and we whooped and hollered our way back to the ship.

On yet another island, we walked these lava fields in search of funny pink birds.

On yet another island, we walked these lava fields in search of funny pink birds.

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Flamingos!  But not pink, rather an orange sherbet.  Evidently they get their dramatic color from eating shrimp.

Flamingos! But not pink, rather an orange sherbet. Evidently they get their dramatic color from eating shrimp.

This flamingo feeding ground was a tidal marsh tucked away deep in the lava fields.

This flamingo feeding ground was a tidal marsh tucked away deep in the lava fields.

Whatever color, they sure were fun to photograph.

Whatever color, they sure were fun to photograph.

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As cute and comic as these guys are, I learned that reptiles have absolutely no individual personality.  Neither the iguanas nor the turtles form friendships or family ties.  All hatch from eggs without the presence of a parent and struggle their way into adulthood completely on their own.

As cute and comic as these guys are, I learned that reptiles have absolutely no individual personality. Neither the iguanas nor the turtles form friendships or family ties. All hatch from eggs without the presence of a parent and struggle their way into adulthood completely on their own.

Mammals definitely get all the points for personality.

Mammals definitely get all the points for personality.

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I don’t know, any personality here?

I don’t know, any personality here?

Giant tortoise front.

Giant tortoise front.

Giant tortoise rear.

Giant tortoise rear.

What comes out of a giant tortoise’s rear.  Those plops were about eight inches long!

What comes out of a giant tortoise’s rear. Those plops were about eight inches long!

This young twenty year old took a liking to my running shoe.

This young twenty year old took a liking to my running shoe.

Still not sure.  Any personality now?  She just appears to be hiding from the whole thing.

Still not sure. Any personality now? She just appears to be hiding from the whole thing.

Overall, we found our Galapagos adventure relaxing, enlightening, and richly satisfying.  Delighted to have made the hasty decision to book the cruise, we highly recommend visiting this unique and enchanting archipelago.    Next up:  Wrapping up Ecuador and driving on to our twelfth country, Peru!

Overall, we found our Galapagos adventure relaxing, enlightening, and richly satisfying. Delighted to have made the hasty decision to book the cruise, we highly recommend visiting this unique and enchanting archipelago.
Next up: Wrapping up Ecuador and driving on to our twelfth country, Peru!

Ecuador – Straddling the Globe on the Avenue of the Volcanoes

When Ned and I first embarked on our adventure south, we hadn’t given Ecuador a moment’s thought. We had enjoyed a wonderful visit to Peru in 2008, so Mexico, Chile and Argentina were the highlights on our list. But Ecuador? Wasn’t that just a small, third world country to pass through on our way to the exciting ones? Ironically, today is August 18, exactly one month since we crossed the border into this captivating little nation. And we are still here. We do plan to head into Peru in the next few days, but our visit to Ecuador, the “middle of the world,” has been amazing.

From ancient cities and glacier topped volcanoes, to old haciendas and historic train routes, Ecuador has been a country of surprises for us. Add in a very special “Darwin Moment” (see next blog post) and more new global friendships, and I would have to say that this month has seen its share of journey highlights. Read on to share in the adventure…

Our first delightful surprise was the price of gas!  Please note that Ecuador uses, as its national currency, the US dollar.  Yippeee!  Haven’t seen these prices since we were youngsters.

Our first delightful surprise was the price of gas! Please note that Ecuador uses, as its national currency, the US dollar. Yippeee! Haven’t seen these prices since we were youngsters.

We had absolutely no plans in Ecuador, so simply headed south on the Pan American Highway to see what we might.  But, as in Colombia, we gravitated toward, and spent most of our time in mountainous, high elevations.  We began to feel as though 9,000ft. (pictured here) were the lowlands!

We had absolutely no plans in Ecuador, so simply headed south on the Pan American Highway to see what we might. But, as in Colombia, we gravitated toward, and spent most of our time in mountainous, high elevations. We began to feel as though 9,000ft. (pictured here) were the lowlands!

Unlike in Colombia, we began to see some native attire mixed in with the modern.

Unlike in Colombia, we began to see some native attire mixed in with the modern.

This big piggy went to market – in this little truck.  We bet he wished he’d stayed home.

This big piggy went to market – in this little truck. We bet he wished he’d stayed home.

This popular brand of condiments seems rather proud of itself.

This popular brand of condiments seems rather proud of itself.


Several hours south of the border, it suddenly occurred to us that we were about to cross the Equator.  Oh yeah, this is Ecuador!  We screeched to a halt at this monument to memorialize the moment.  We had driven all the way to the southern hemisphere, over 13,000 miles!

Several hours south of the border, it suddenly occurred to us that we were about to cross the Equator. Oh yeah, this is Ecuador! We screeched to a halt at this monument to memorialize the moment. We had driven all the way to the southern hemisphere, over 13,000 miles!

We even broadened our knowledge base with a little presentation from an earnest young scholar named Josué.  Josué explained how this sun dial and tower align at sunrise and sunset on March 21 and September 23.  He also explained many other fascinating astrological snippets, including why the global map should really be oriented vertically, but our knowledge base seems to have been only temporarily broadened, so we can’t share much more than that.  What I do remember, is that Josué told us that it was ok to spend the night in the monument parking lot.  We enjoyed the flattest, driest, most perfect temperature camp since Mexico, and didn’t get out of there until noon the next day.

We even broadened our knowledge base with a little presentation from an earnest young scholar named Josué. Josué explained how this sun dial and tower align at sunrise and sunset on March 21 and September 23. He also explained many other fascinating astrological snippets, including why the global map should really be oriented vertically, but our knowledge base seems to have been only temporarily broadened, so we can’t share much more than that.
What I do remember, is that Josué told us that it was ok to spend the night in the monument parking lot. We enjoyed the flattest, driest, most perfect temperature camp since Mexico, and didn’t get out of there until noon the next day.

Straddling the globe…literally!   Okay, I know that some of you are wondering about that toilet bowl thing.  Does the water swirl clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern when you flush?  Well, Ned and I wondered too, and actually had a moment of delight, peering anxiously over the nearest toilet, to see that it did flush counter clockwise!  Then we got to wondering…had we really noticed what direction it goes at home?  No, not really…time for Google.  What a disappointment.  While something as critical as the earth’s rotation will affect the direction a huge tornado will spin, the puny twirling of a drain or toilet bowl is influenced only by the size and shape of mundane forces like…plumbing.

Straddling the globe…literally!
Okay, I know that some of you are wondering about that toilet bowl thing. Does the water swirl clockwise in the Northern hemisphere and counter clockwise in the Southern when you flush? Well, Ned and I wondered too, and actually had a moment of delight, peering anxiously over the nearest toilet, to see that it did flush counter clockwise! Then we got to wondering…had we really noticed what direction it goes at home? No, not really…time for Google. What a disappointment. While something as critical as the earth’s rotation will affect the direction a huge tornado will spin, the puny twirling of a drain or toilet bowl is influenced only by the size and shape of mundane forces like…plumbing.

After the equator, we were ready to get off the Pan Am.  We found a tiny road on our cool (and accurate) new navigation App, maps.me (farewell Mr. Garmin!), and headed southeast through Cangahua; our goal, the hot springs at Papallacta.  We had no idea what we would find on this road, but it turned out to be yet another amazing “blind corner.” Incredibly, the first eight miles were cobblestone!  Built over 100 years ago, we wondered who the poor souls were who carried and laid all those stones.  As lovely and novel as it was, Charlotte was happy to get to merely rough dirt after miles of metal jarring rocks.

After the equator, we were ready to get off the Pan Am. We found a tiny road on our cool (and accurate) new navigation App, maps.me (farewell Mr. Garmin!), and headed southeast through Cangahua; our goal, the hot springs at Papallacta. We had no idea what we would find on this road, but it turned out to be yet another amazing “blind corner.”
Incredibly, the first eight miles were cobblestone! Built over 100 years ago, we wondered who the poor souls were who carried and laid all those stones. As lovely and novel as it was, Charlotte was happy to get to merely rough dirt after miles of metal jarring rocks.

The reality of daily life for most people in the world always shines a light of gratitude on my own relatively plush existence.

The reality of daily life for most people in the world always shines a light of gratitude on my own relatively plush existence.

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The road became remote and the scenery stunning.  We went about 50 miles at 8-10 mph, climbing to 13,000ft., and we never saw another soul.  I began to feel that we were in a land before time.  The landscape looked prehistoric, lacking only dinosaurs roaming the misty hills.

The road became remote and the scenery stunning. We went about 50 miles at 8-10 mph, climbing to 13,000ft., and we never saw another soul. I began to feel that we were in a land before time. The landscape looked prehistoric, lacking only dinosaurs roaming the misty hills.

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The pools at Papallacta were more jarring than the cobblestones.  We were back on the beaten path.  It was Saturday, and the pools were literally swamped with Ecuadorian weekenders out for a soak.  We were in need of a wash anyway, so we took the plunge, enjoying the hot water and unique surroundings.  We also partook of another quiet camping night, stealthily lurking in the back parking lot.

The pools at Papallacta were more jarring than the cobblestones. We were back on the beaten path. It was Saturday, and the pools were literally swamped with Ecuadorian weekenders out for a soak. We were in need of a wash anyway, so we took the plunge, enjoying the hot water and unique surroundings. We also partook of another quiet camping night, stealthily lurking in the back parking lot.

Unable to avoid it, we found ourselves back on the Pan American Highway, in order to visit the Capital city of Quito.  We found the large colonial town to be beautiful, ancient and lovingly preserved.

Unable to avoid it, we found ourselves back on the Pan American Highway, in order to visit the Capital city of Quito. We found the large colonial town to be beautiful, ancient and lovingly preserved.

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Quito has more than its share of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and basilicas.  This one, the  Basilica de San Francisco was built in the 1500’s.

Quito has more than its share of gorgeous churches, cathedrals and basilicas. This one, the
Basilica de San Francisco was built in the 1500’s.

A palpable hush of centuries of worshipers hung in the air as we gazed in wonder at the ornate interior.

A palpable hush of centuries of worshipers hung in the air as we gazed in wonder at the ornate interior.

An interesting depiction of the influenza brought by the Spanish which decimated local populations.  Literal translation:  “1890 The influenza finally ends because we look upon your eyes with love.”

An interesting depiction of the influenza brought by the Spanish which decimated local populations. Literal translation: “1890 The influenza finally ends because we look upon your eyes with love.”

This Basilica is a mere 100 years old, and is made of concrete rather than the more ancient stone construction.  As beautiful as it was, we jokingly called it “skin deep” by comparison.

This Basilica is a mere 100 years old, and is made of concrete rather than the more ancient stone construction. As beautiful as it was, we jokingly called it “skin deep” by comparison.

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We were allowed to climb several of these steep ladders that would be deemed too treacherous by United States standards.

We were allowed to climb several of these steep ladders that would be deemed too treacherous by United States standards.

The view from the top was gorgeous.

The view from the top was gorgeous.

Just another little mountain town at 8,500ft elevation.

Just another little mountain town at 8,500ft elevation.

Having done a bit of research for once, we found this little haven south of Quito where we stayed and relaxed for a few days.

Having done a bit of research for once, we found this little haven south of Quito where we stayed and relaxed for a few days.

Hacienda de Alegria (Joy) is a 100 year old, family owned working ranch with beautiful grounds, a dairy…

Hacienda de Alegria (Joy) is a 100 year old, family owned working ranch with beautiful grounds, a dairy…

Ancient rose gardens…

Ancient rose gardens…

And cool old trees.  This is an Araucaria araucana (commonly called the monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, Chilean pine, or pehuén), and it is the national tree of Chile.  The plants growing out of the trunk are Bromeliads, commonly found in the Amazon…yes, we are nearing the outskirts of the Amazon Jungle!

And cool old trees. This is an Araucaria araucana (commonly called the monkey puzzle tree, monkey tail tree, Chilean pine, or pehuén), and it is the national tree of Chile. The plants growing out of the trunk are Bromeliads, commonly found in the Amazon…yes, we are nearing the outskirts of the Amazon Jungle!

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Our room was incredibly comfortable and offered us the first good shower (real hot water AND pressure) of the whole trip.

Our room was incredibly comfortable and offered us the first good shower (real hot water AND pressure) of the whole trip.
[caption id="attachment_1392" align="alignleft" width="800"]But the real attraction was the horses.  The price of “full board” at Hacienda de Alegria included room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and horseback riding.  Not having ridden much in the last 10 years, I can still account for having spent more time riding and working with horses than any other activity in my life.  I have ridden and owned some amazing, trail and dressage horses, and I can truly say that these simple little “Caballos Criollos” have become especially dear to me.  They are kind, hearty, surefooted, responsive and eager to move.  We first experienced them on our ride in Colombia.  This one, Caramelo, was only half Criollo, but, at 18 years old, still exhibited all of those wonderful traits.  I had a blast, galloping a lot, and feeling like I was riding a cloud.  The young man in the background, Jean Carlos, was the 11 year old nephew of the owners.  He accompanied us on our three hour ride, and, in true Latino style, shyly presented me with a lovely white flower along the trail. But the real attraction was the horses. The price of “full board” at Hacienda de Alegria included room, breakfast, lunch, dinner, and horseback riding. Not having ridden much in the last 10 years, I can still account for having spent more time riding and working with horses than any other activity in my life. I have ridden and owned some amazing, trail and dressage horses, and I can truly say that these simple little “Caballos Criollos” have become especially dear to me. They are kind, hearty, surefooted, responsive and eager to move. We first experienced them on our ride in Colombia. This one, Caramelo, was only half Criollo, but, at 18 years old, still exhibited all of those wonderful traits. I had a blast, galloping a lot, and feeling like I was riding a cloud.
The young man in the background, Jean Carlos, was the 11 year old nephew of the owners. He accompanied us on our three hour ride, and, in true Latino style, shyly presented me with a lovely white flower along the trail.

Ned, ever the car guy, grudgingly agreed to another horseback ride.  He was a trooper and a good rider despite it being more torture than pleasure for him.  Dante, a half Percheron was his trusty mount.

Ned, ever the car guy, grudgingly agreed to another horseback ride. He was a trooper and a good rider despite it being more torture than pleasure for him. Dante, a half Percheron was his trusty mount.

I’m pretty sure the Border Collie enjoyed riding Dante more than Ned did.

I’m pretty sure the Border Collie enjoyed riding Dante more than Ned did.

The Hacienda sat in the heart of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 325 km. long valley in the Ecuadorian Andes, boasting 28 massive, snow-covered volcanoes.  After horsing around a few days, we set out to explore some of these high altitude beauties.

The Hacienda sat in the heart of the Avenue of the Volcanoes, a 325 km. long valley in the Ecuadorian Andes, boasting 28 massive, snow-covered volcanoes. After horsing around a few days, we set out to explore some of these high altitude beauties.

Our first visit was to Volcán Cayambe.  At 18,996 ft., it is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

Our first visit was to Volcán Cayambe. At 18,996 ft., it is the highest point in the world crossed by the Equator and the only point on the Equator with snow cover.

The road to Volcán Cayambe.

The road to Volcán Cayambe.

As we gained elevation, the road got rougher and was one of only a few times on the trip we needed to use 4 wheel drive.

As we gained elevation, the road got rougher and was one of only a few times on the trip we needed to use 4 wheel drive.

Our highest point yet, at15, 240ft. and 0.00 degrees latitude!

Our highest point yet, at15, 240ft. and 0.00 degrees latitude!

Rough terrain on foot too.  Couldn’t quite make it to the rock before the 10 second timer went off on the camera.

Rough terrain on foot too. Couldn’t quite make it to the rock before the 10 second timer went off on the camera.

At sundown, we tucked into this bit of shelter from the bitter cold wind to camp.

At sundown, we tucked into this bit of shelter from the bitter cold wind to camp.

It was too cold to cook outside, so I sat on the bed and prepared a tasty salad of red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm, olive oil and vinegar, while Ned heated up some beans on our tiny “countertop.”

It was too cold to cook outside, so I sat on the bed and prepared a tasty salad of red cabbage, tomatoes, avocado, hearts of palm, olive oil and vinegar, while Ned heated up some beans on our tiny “countertop.”

The drive down the mountain in the morning was spectacular

The drive down the mountain in the morning was spectacular

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Our next stop along the Avenue of the Volcanoes was the famous Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world at19,342 ft.

Our next stop along the Avenue of the Volcanoes was the famous Cotopaxi, the second highest active volcano in the world at 19,342 ft.

The road up was gorgeous but not nearly as remote.  Cotopaxi is a much more popular tourist attraction, with cars and busloads of people arriving daily.

The road up was gorgeous but not nearly as remote. Cotopaxi is a much more popular tourist attraction, with cars and busloads of people arriving daily.

The glacier’s edge.

The glacier’s edge.

We parked (along with the throngs of tourists) at 15,300ft, then slogged up steep, loose gravel to 15,995.

We parked (along with the throngs of tourists) at 15,300ft, then slogged up steep, loose gravel to 15,995.

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Ned and I then continued up to the base of the glacier at 16,500.  We were a bit breathless and had to stop a few times to slow our speedy heart rates, but we both recovered quickly and felt perfect. In fact, we were so pumped up that we fantasized (for two and a half minutes) about actually doing the climb to the peak.  We went so far as to inquire into guides and equipment rental, but fell short of actually strapping on those crampons and wielding the ice axes.

Ned and I then continued up to the base of the glacier at 16,500. We were a bit breathless and had to stop a few times to slow our speedy heart rates, but we both recovered quickly and felt perfect. In fact, we were so pumped up that we fantasized (for two and a half minutes) about actually doing the climb to the peak. We went so far as to inquire into guides and equipment rental, but fell short of actually strapping on those crampons and wielding the ice axes.

A drive out into the tundra and off the main road led us to another beautiful night of solitude, this time in the shadow of Cotopaxi.  Cooking here, away from bad weather, bugs and prying eyes was a pleasure.  Here is what I had ingredients to whip up (in case you want to try it!): Brown diced onion in olive oil Add and brown ground beef Add liquid: 1 beer 3/4 cup balsamic vinegar Add spices: Basil Tandoori spice Salt  Pepper Cumin Hot curry powder Add chopped veggies: Red bell pepper Carrot Celery Mushrooms Zucchini Tomato Red cabbage Broccoli Simmer till veggies done Yumm!!

A drive out into the tundra and off the main road led us to another beautiful night of solitude, this time in the shadow of Cotopaxi. Cooking here, away from bad weather, bugs and prying eyes was a pleasure. Here is what I had ingredients to whip up (in case you want to try it!):
Brown diced onion in olive oil
Add and brown ground beef
Add liquid:
1 beer
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Add spices:
Basil
Tandoori spice
Salt
Pepper
Cumin
Hot curry powder
Add chopped veggies:
Red bell pepper
Carrot
Celery
Mushrooms
Zucchini
Tomato
Red cabbage
Broccoli
Simmer till veggies done
Yumm!!

In the morning, the high, open tundra provided a beautiful, lonely setting for a long run and some much needed quiet time.

In the morning, the high, open tundra provided a beautiful, lonely setting for a long run and some much needed quiet time.

From all accounts, Quilotoa, a crater Lake at around 12,000ft elevation was supposed to be fantastic and worth the out of the way drive.  We had even met a Swiss woman who said it was the most beautiful lake she had ever seen.  So off we went, continuing on our Volcanoes tour.  First south to the town of Latacunga to stock up on groceries for all of that camping and hiking we were looking forward to. Unfortunately, it was dark before we reached the lake, so we had to find a hiding place to camp off of the main road.  It was difficult, and we were both crabby by the time we wheeled our way up a steep farm track and onto a presumably deserted soccer field.  Sleep was just about upon us when we were visited by a pack of broomstick and hoe wielding villagers.  We couldn’t understand a word of their local dialect, and it felt like we were in a bad medieval movie.  I chickened out, staying in the back, while Ned addressed them, playing the “No comprendo” role yet again.  They eventually trundled away harmlessly.  An hour later, having just fallen asleep, we were visited by the police, sirens blaring and lights flashing.  Evidently the medieval villagers have cell phones.  The cops were actually very polite and apologetic.  The village was worried that we were the robbers!  We were left in peace the rest of the night, but pent up adrenaline kept us awake.  Ditching our camp spot at 7am, we had visions of a nice breakfast and coffee at the lake.  What we found instead was that the town was a dump.  No eggs, no coffee, no restaurants at all.   We went to the lookout to see this wondrous crater lake, but the freezing wind was so strong I had to hold on to the railing to keep from being blown away.  The lake was pretty cool, but the whole vibe of the place was down-trodden and inhospitable.  We shot this poor photo taken directly into the rising sun and abandoned the plot.

From all accounts, Quilotoa, a crater Lake at around 12,000ft elevation was supposed to be fantastic and worth the out of the way drive. We had even met a Swiss woman who said it was the most beautiful lake she had ever seen. So off we went, continuing on our Volcanoes tour. First south to the town of Latacunga to stock up on groceries for all of that camping and hiking we were looking forward to.
Unfortunately, it was dark before we reached the lake, so we had to find a hiding place to camp off of the main road. It was difficult, and we were both crabby by the time we wheeled our way up a steep farm track and onto a presumably deserted soccer field. Sleep was just about upon us when we were visited by a pack of broomstick and hoe wielding villagers. We couldn’t understand a word of their local dialect, and it felt like we were in a bad medieval movie. I chickened out, staying in the back, while Ned addressed them, playing the “No comprendo” role yet again. They eventually trundled away harmlessly. An hour later, having just fallen asleep, we were visited by the police, sirens blaring and lights flashing. Evidently the medieval villagers have cell phones. The cops were actually very polite and apologetic. The village was worried that we were the robbers! We were left in peace the rest of the night, but pent up adrenaline kept us awake.
Ditching our camp spot at 7am, we had visions of a nice breakfast and coffee at the lake. What we found instead was that the town was a dump. No eggs, no coffee, no restaurants at all. We went to the lookout to see this wondrous crater lake, but the freezing wind was so strong I had to hold on to the railing to keep from being blown away. The lake was pretty cool, but the whole vibe of the place was down-trodden and inhospitable. We shot this poor photo taken directly into the rising sun and abandoned the plot.

The beautiful way we took back to the PanAm was dirt and offered more spectacular views of huge river canyons and patchwork crops.  Our next stop was Baños, a resort town where we could clean up and get some blogging done.

The beautiful way we took back to the PanAm was dirt and offered more spectacular views of huge river canyons and patchwork crops. Our next stop was Baños, a resort town where we could clean up and get some blogging done.

Baños, being a touristy town, was where we finally succumbed to zip-line fever (having forsaken the opportunity in normal places like Costa Rica).

Baños, being a touristy town, was where we finally succumbed to zip-line fever (having forsaken the opportunity in normal places like Costa Rica).

Flying like a bird over converging waterfalls was an unusual treat.   We stayed in Baños for a couple of days, regrouping, but the Crater Lake doldrums followed us here, too.  Underwhelmed by the town and tired of the rain forest, we moved on to dryer climes.

Flying like a bird over converging waterfalls was an unusual treat.
We stayed in Baños for a couple of days, regrouping, but the Crater Lake doldrums followed us here, too. Underwhelmed by the town and tired of the rain forest, we moved on to dryer climes.

Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides keep Ecuadorians on their toes.  This highly unstable dirt road led us to the town of Alausi where we planned our next touristy activity.

Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and landslides keep Ecuadorians on their toes. This highly unstable dirt road led us to the town of Alausi where we planned our next touristy activity.

Alausi was a cute little mountain town where we found a nice hostel that let us camp on their property.  The shortcut into town was an adventure all on its own!

Alausi was a cute little mountain town where we found a nice hostel that let us camp on their property. The shortcut into town was an adventure all on its own!

Looks like Little Bow Peep and her siblings just couldn’t leave the sheep alone.

Looks like Little Bow Peep and her siblings just couldn’t leave the sheep alone.

Alausi is the starting point for the train ride called Nariz de Diablo.  Now a major tourist destination, the route is famous for being one of the most difficult engineering feats to build and was originally constructed to unite Ecuador and facilitate trade in the late 1800’s.  The challenge was to drop the railway down a rocky promontory (Devil’s Nose), losing about 800 feet in elevation, onto the valley floor.  The treacherous deed was accomplished by constructing two dramatic switchbacks, costing the lives of numerous Jamaican slaves.

Alausi is the starting point for the train ride called Nariz de Diablo. Now a major tourist destination, the route is famous for being one of the most difficult engineering feats to build and was originally constructed to unite Ecuador and facilitate trade in the late 1800’s. The challenge was to drop the railway down a rocky promontory (Devil’s Nose), losing about 800 feet in elevation, onto the valley floor. The treacherous deed was accomplished by constructing two dramatic switchbacks, costing the lives of numerous Jamaican slaves.

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The steep drop offs were spooky fun as the first impressive switchback appeared below us.

The steep drop offs were spooky fun as the first impressive switchback appeared below us.

Nariz de Diablo, Devils Nose behind us.  Note the cuts in the rock where the tracks are laid.

Nariz de Diablo, Devils Nose behind us. Note the cuts in the rock where the tracks are laid.

Disembarking at the bottom of the Nose, we were greeted by cheerful, local villagers who do a wonderful job promoting tourism.  An excellent museum tour, a native snack and colorful dance show awaited us.

Disembarking at the bottom of the Nose, we were greeted by cheerful, local villagers who do a wonderful job promoting tourism. An excellent museum tour, a native snack and colorful dance show awaited us.

It occurred to us that we hadn’t been to the coast since arriving in South America in Cartagena, Colombia, so we took off west and landed in the little beach town of Montañita.   Watching these boys reminded us that the down-to-earth pleasures of simply playing have become overshadowed at home by video games, cell phones and iPads.  The challenge here is to wind a string around a top, fling it forward to start it spinning…

It occurred to us that we hadn’t been to the coast since arriving in South America in Cartagena, Colombia, so we took off west and landed in the little beach town of Montañita.
Watching these boys reminded us that the down-to-earth pleasures of simply playing have become overshadowed at home by video games, cell phones and iPads. The challenge here is to wind a string around a top, fling it forward to start it spinning…

…and then dexterously scoop it into your hand and allow it to victoriously spin itself out in the palm of your hand.

…and then dexterously scoop it into your hand and allow it to victoriously spin itself out in the palm of your hand.

Snooping around, checking out the town, we met this delightful Ecuadorian family who were vacationing from their home city of Cuenca.  We quickly became friends with Hans, Elizabeth and their twin boys, Stefan and Eric after Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by their place.  VW karma prevailed as it turned out Hans was the proud owner of a ’75 bay window Westy, family owned since new.  We ended up camping in the driveway of their vacation home, sharing meals and playing Rummikub late into the night.

Snooping around, checking out the town, we met this delightful Ecuadorian family who were vacationing from their home city of Cuenca. We quickly became friends with Hans, Elizabeth and their twin boys, Stefan and Eric after Hans admired Charlotte as we drove by their place. VW karma prevailed as it turned out Hans was the proud owner of a ’75 bay window Westy, family owned since new. We ended up camping in the driveway of their vacation home, sharing meals and playing Rummikub late into the night.

We even joined them for a day on the beach.  It is not our normal style to haunt popular, crowded beaches, but we had a wonderful day with our new friends.  The weather could not have been more perfect.  We swam, chatted with Hans and Elizabeth, watched the twins play and took in the sights.

We even joined them for a day on the beach. It is not our normal style to haunt popular, crowded beaches, but we had a wonderful day with our new friends. The weather could not have been more perfect. We swam, chatted with Hans and Elizabeth, watched the twins play and took in the sights.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…aka, another great use for your wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…aka, another great use for your wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…sans wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…sans wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…angry wife.

Surfside napping, Ecuadorian style…angry wife.

Tempting surfside cuisine.

Tempting surfside cuisine.

The adorable Stefan and Eric happily sipping out of a coco.

The adorable Stefan and Eric happily sipping out of a coco.

But we held out for surfside Ceviche!

But we held out for surfside Ceviche!

Über fresh shellfish in lime and cilantro…absolutely delicious!

Über fresh shellfish in lime and cilantro…absolutely delicious!

Promising to visit our new friends when we passed through Cuenca, we drove off into the Ecuadorian sunset…and on to our next adventure, “A Darwin Moment.”  Can you guess where that was?  Stay tuned!

Promising to visit our new friends when we passed through Cuenca, we drove off into the Ecuadorian sunset…and on to our next adventure, “A Darwin Moment.” Can you guess where that was? Stay tuned!

Colombia: Bogota to Ecuador – New Friends, Old Stones and Discovering a Special Purpose

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing)  After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country.  The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains.  We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic.   Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am.  Hummm?  Just sayin’.  The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns.  The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America.  After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales.  This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.”  With a name like that we just had to drive it!

In this final blog on Colombia we spend some quality time with new-found friends in the capital of Bogota. (just off the map where the finger is pointing) After Bogota we continued south along the eastern side of the Cordillera Central, the mountain range that forms a spine north to south down the middle of the southern half of the country. The Pan-American Highway runs down the western side of these mountains. We’ve learned that we want to avoid the Pan-Am any time we can because of the hoards of slow trucks and subsequent backed up traffic. Interestingly, the only time we seem to see other Overlanders is in the vicinity of the Pan-Am. Hummm? Just sayin’. The drive down highway 45 through Neiva and Pitalito to Mocoa was pretty uneventful with heavy traffic and unexciting towns. The exception was the side trip to San Agustín and the Parque Arqueologico with its mysterious “stone dudes” and, nearby, the second highest waterfall in South America. After Mocoa we headed west to reach the border crossing into Ecuador at Ipiales. This involved crossing the Cordillera Central via a pass with the catchy name of “The Trampoline of Death.” With a name like that we just had to drive it!

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock.  We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day.  But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it.  There are no such things as traffic lanes.  It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Rolling into Bogota after eight hours of crazy, mountain driving, we encountered Bogota gridlock. We knew from our previous brief visit (see Cartagena blog) that traffic in this city barely moves any time of day. But we hit downtown right at 5pm and were treated to the best of it. There are no such things as traffic lanes. It is just a free-for-all with the most aggressive drivers getting ahead.

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done.  I’ll let her tell it… “Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up.  Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village.  Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house.  Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of… First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine.  When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take.  In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown.  I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done.  I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color.  This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

Kat’s priority one in the big city was getting her hair done. I’ll let her tell it…
“Back in the small pueblo of Villa de Leyva, it seemed like a simple thing to get a little color touch up. Asking around, I found that “Celia’s” was touted as the finest salon in the village. Unfortunately, Celia’s was crowded with curious, gossiping locals and was a tiny, run-down house. Celia herself was busy, so her daughter, Diane, did my color…kind of…
First I had to wait 45 minutes past my appointment time. Then I had to wait while Diane ran to another store to buy the color that would supposedly match mine. When we finally got going, I had to hold the bowl of goop while Diane applied it, the water in the (bathroom) sink was ice headache cold as she rinsed it out, and to top it off, the color did not take. In fact, my hair was in danger of being slightly on the orange side of gray-brown. I was on the verge of tears, when Celia told me to come back in the morning to have it re-done. I politely declined, offering a few bucks to cover the cost of the color. This job would have to wait for the more cosmopolitan city of Bogota!

The contrast was stunning.  Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel.  Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience.  It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot.  I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men.  I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road.  I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

The contrast was stunning. Once in Bogota, I did a little research and found this “little” salon near our hotel. Walking into Norberto’s was a once in a lifetime experience. It was an immense four stories of sheer elegance with over 200 employees, all bustling around, waiting on pampered patrons hand and foot. I was whisked away to have a facial, was offered lemon ices, coffee and croissants, and then had my disastrous hair “repaired” by, not one, but two attentive men. I almost had a heart attack when I received my final bill, but it was so worth it as there are few luxuries to be found living on the road. I found out later that, ironically, while Celia’s was the finest salon in Villa de Leyva, Norberto’s was the finest (and most expensive) salon in Bogota!”

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte.  Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop.  There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps.  Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other.  The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze.  It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

My priority one was getting some fuel line and spark plugs for Charlotte. Spoiled at home by the ease of one-stop-shopping for auto parts at NAPA or AutoZone, I was amazed in Colombia to find every little item is offered in its own little shop. There was a whole district devoted to car parts with shops for rubber things, shops for electric things, some for gauges, some for taillights, even some for used hubcaps. Cooling systems, suspensions, brakes, etc. they all had their own stores, and there were plenty of each, all selling the same thing right next to each other. The trick was finding the ones you wanted in the maze. It took the better part of an hour and a hell of a lot of walking to get two items.

The FIFA World Cup raged on.  Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on.  We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes.  Unheard of!  Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals.  We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park.  Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop.  We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

The FIFA World Cup raged on. Even though Colombia was out of the running, it didn’t keep everyone from stopping everything when a game was on. We were riding in a taxi, listening to the match between Germany and Brazil on the car’s radio when the Germans scored three goals in five minutes. Unheard of! Everyone was going nuts in the streets since all of Colombia was for Germany after Brazil had beaten them out of the finals. We passed this huge portable TV mounted on the back of a truck parked in a neighborhood park. Being the temporary fútbol junkies we’d become, we yelled at our driver to stop. We jumped out and joined the mob in the park, eager for the visual fix.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home.  Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades.  According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR.  We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

Our new best Colombian friends Honorato and Jeannette Espinosa in their beautiful home. Honorato made quite a name for himself in his home country and in the States as a professional race car driver with a career that spanned three decades. According to him, some of his best and favorite racing that he did in the States was in a car that I now own, a 1975 Porsche RSR. We spent a wonderful afternoon at their home where Jeannette, the best of hostesses, made us an amazing dinner, and we all reminisced through Honorato’s awesome scrapbooks of his racing days.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans.  But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new.  It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since.  It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

We also were treated to a viewing of their car collection which included several very original examples of Porsches and Nissans. But the highlight was this all original 1947 Lincoln Continental that Honorato’s father bought new. It was an export model to Colombia when new and has been in the family ever since. It just oozed wonderful patina and the love of ownership that’s been bestowed upon it over the years.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna.  I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city.  We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home.  On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4x4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4x4 friends at home.  Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint.  The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

Our other new best friends in Bogota are Alvaro and Lilianna Pachon and their adorable daughter Marianna. I actually met Alvaro at the SEMA show (Specialty Equipment Market Association) in Las Vegas last November. When I told him of our impending trip south, he promised me when we got the Bogota he’d take us 4 wheeling with his friends and offered any help we needed in the city. We’ve kept in touch throughout our journey south and when we got to town, Alvaro found us a great hotel just down the street from his home. On a Saturday, true to his word, we piled into his Land Cruiser and met up with six other rigs and a bunch of enthusiastic 4×4 friends, all eager to get out of the city and into the dirt for a day – just like my 4×4 friends at home. Besides ‘wheeling, one evening Lilianna had us to their home for a wonderful dinner and we joined the family another night for dinner at their favorite burger joint. The hospitality we received in Bogota has been the best of the entire trip.

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts.  It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country!  The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction.  The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below.  One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

We drove about an hour west out of the city to the Tablazo Trail outside the little town of Subachoque. The trail was short, maybe two kilometers long, but offered plenty of excitement with steep climbs and deep ruts. It definitely wasn’t Charlotte country! The views at the top, the table, (Tablazo) were amazing in every direction. The clouds parted long enough to see a particular village below. One guy told us it was the first time he’d seen that town in ten years of driving the trail, due to it always being cloudy at this altitude (about 11,000 feet).

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Alvaro’s LC80, rolling on 40s, made short work of the trail, but the deep ruts still challenged his suspension and required pushing the ARB button more than once.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia.  We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque.  “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Animal rights activism is alive and well in Colombia. We saw this large, hand painted message on a wall in Subachoque. “Torture is neither art nor Culture,” referring to bull fighting and cock fighting.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light.  Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

Leaving Bogota after a week, we spotted this guy begging at a traffic light. Despite his miserable situation in life, he wore a happy smile and chatted with the passers bye.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched.  He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful.  As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk.  We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

I gave him my Colombian Futból jersey I had proudly worn for every game we watched. He seemed a bit overwhelmed, but grateful. As we drove away I was glad to see a street hawker help him put the shirt into his bag of belongings lying on the sidewalk. We were a bit concerned someone would take it from him.

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup.  When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts.  We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Down the road a couple of hours from Bogota, we pulled over at this chicken joint to watch the final game of the World Cup. When Germany beat Argentina and won the overall honors, the staff and patrons all went nuts. We found it odd that the Colombians were rooting for a European team rather than fellow South Americans???

Look Ma, no silverware!  My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Look Ma, no silverware! My mother would cringe at these plastic gloves provided at every chicken joint, allowing the diner to tear the bird apart with his bare hands yet remain grease free!

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

Post game revelers gave us a Colombian flag for Charlotte which I attached to her CB antenna.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

In turn, we gave out Charlottamiles stickers to everyone.

Things just keep improving since Central America.  We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

Things just keep improving since Central America. We now have half -toilet seats instead of no-toilet seats!

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva.  It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This bizarre statue by Colombian sculptor Rodrigo Arenas Betancourt is found along the highway in the town of Neiva. It is a bronze menagerie of tumbling horses and slain conquistadores saluting the 1539 rebellion of the indigenous Yalcon people which briefly slowed the Spanish invasion.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

This huge Ceiba tree fills the entire town square in Gigante, Colombia.

Sharing the farm with the cows.  We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

Sharing the farm with the cows. We camped in this farmer’s front yard in San Agustín.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia.  Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this.  And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

We were pretty much over Colombian breakfasts long before we were over Colombia. Don’t think one can kill an egg any more than this. And the cold bread and rice ball didn’t add anything to the mix.

The “Stone Dudes.”  Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings.  They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD.  No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language.  The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

The “Stone Dudes.” Outside of the town of San Agustín is the Parque Arqueológico which is the site of dozens of these mysterious stone carvings. They date pre-Inca ranging from 3000BC to around 900AD. No known history of these people exists, not even a name, as they did not have a written language. The only thing they left behind were these spooky tomb guardians, carved in stone and buried with their dead.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

We got Charlotte a key chain depicting this happy guy.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Cool bamboo bridge built over a creek that features ancient carvings in the creek bed, made by the same mystery people that left the tomb guardians.

Carvings in the creek.

Carvings in the creek.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

This is how many of the figures were found buried, with a huge flat stone above them.

Not just people but birds too.

Not just people but birds too.

Upside down babies.

Upside down babies.

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Sarcophagus

Sarcophagus

Tomb raider.

Tomb raider.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot!  Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way.  We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes.  The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja).  They then shipped the van from California to Argentina.  They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share.  We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Charlotte finds a friend, and a GoWesty built one to boot! Leaving San Agustín we passed this Syncro headed the other way. We both waved and screeched to a halt to compare notes. The owners, an Israeli couple, had come up from the south, having bought their VW from our friends at GoWesty in Los Osos, CA (see our first blog about Baja). They then shipped the van from California to Argentina. They were essentially doing our trip in reverse so we had much to share. We ended up having lunch together comparing notes of what is to come for each of us.

Onward…

Onward…

Biggest spider web ever.  Couldn’t find the owner.

Biggest spider web ever. Couldn’t find the owner.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones.  We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls.  After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning.  That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far.  We felt pretty guilty.  It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished.  The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open.  We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

Our next stop was to see the second highest waterfall in South America, Salto de Bordones. We followed a muddy dirt road at 6 mph for about three hours until it ended at this really nice new hotel, Hotel Salto de Bordones, situated on a cliff side overlooking the falls. After asking permission, we stayed in their parking lot for the night and went in for breakfast the next morning. That’s when we found out they had only been open two weeks and had only had family for customers so far. We felt pretty guilty. It got worse when we were told the hotel had been a multi-year labor of love by the family patriarch, who died just four months before it was finished. The son, Juan, an anthropologist, had temporarily quit studying for his PHD in order to help finish the place and get it open. We sure hope they make it considering the road it takes to get there.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

The inside of the hotel was beautiful and all made from recycled materials.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Co-owner Juan points out the waterfall from the best room in the house.

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

Salto de Bordones drops roughly 400 meters and is pretty spectacular, but pales in comparison to Angel Falls in Venezuela which is the highest uninterrupted waterfall in the world at 979 meters (3,212 feet).

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter.  Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel.  They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours.  I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

These two little gals couldn’t have been cuter. Tatiana and Darli ran after us from the village of Bordones to where we stopped at the hotel. They each wore shirts emblazed with official tourist assist logos and, looking at each other for reassurance, shyly explained in struggling English, the details about the waterfall they had obviously rehearsed for hours. I think we were the first tourists they had had the courage to approach.

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car.  They seemed to think that was pretty cool.  Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning.  Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We explained with maps on our ipads where we were from and how we were traveling and living in our car. They seemed to think that was pretty cool. Their brave interaction with us inspired us to interact ourselves the next morning. Thanks to these two little girls, Kat and I have found a new way to give back a bit during this trip…

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us.  Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

We decided to visit the girls’ school and tell their teacher how impressed we were with the girls’ English and their bravery in approaching us. Here Kat meets their teacher and explains our feelings.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming.  All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English.  Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

The school’s reception to us was overwhelming. All the teachers, the principal, and most of the student body, crowded around and begged us to enter their classrooms and explain the importance of learning English. Here Kat poses with Tatiana and Darli and the teacher responsible for their English.

Kat was amazing.  She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions.   Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes.  Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English.  She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends.  I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention.  I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Kat was amazing. She took over the first classroom, captivating most of the students in Spanish by describing our trip and answering questions. Andreas, the director of the school, explained to us how he was frustrated that he could only give the kids two hours a week towards English classes. Kat offered alternatives to them like listening to songs and TV shows in English. She also encouraged them to spend an hour a day only speaking English with their friends. I wandered around taking photos and relating to the wisecrackers in the back who never pay attention. I should have been explaining to them (if I could have) that, had I paid more attention in Spanish class, I might be standing in front of the class teaching!

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change.  It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago.  There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

Watching the kids in the classes, (we visited three) I was reminded how school atmosphere doesn’t change. It was just like school was for me, forty something years ago. There were the girls in the front who hung on every word and the guys in the back screwing around.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

The older kids were all riveted on teacher Kat and asked great questions, while lots of curious onlookers peered through the windows.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s.  The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

Well, some things change… I don’t remember times tables like this in the 60’s. The whole class laughed when I took this picture and when I praised the teacher for his clever way of getting those back row boys’ attention in math class.

To cool for school.  Boys are the same everywhere.

To cool for school. Boys are the same everywhere.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

Vaca made lots of new friends with the little ones.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us.  Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt.  We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself.  We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from.  We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

It was tough to leave, and groups of kids ran after us. Back on the road we talked about the experience and how good we felt. We vowed to do this again as often as the opportunity presents itself. We also decided it would be great to give giant world maps to the schools to show the kids where we come from. We bought some great maps in Quito, Ecuador and hope to repeat our schooling experience soon.

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.”  After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name.  We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

After teaching school we headed south to Mocoa and then turned west to cross the Cordillera Central on the “Trampoline of Death.” After some of the cliff-hanging remote roads we’ve been over, the Trampoline didn’t quite live up to its name. We even drove the steepest first part at night for greater effect but… maybe it was the safety guardrail?

It was kinda narrow in spots.

It was kinda narrow in spots.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb.  The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard.  “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

After climbing for over three hours in first gear we called it a night at this illustrious spot – the only level one we’d come across during the entire climb. The family that lived in the shack next to these radio towers was more afraid of us than we them when I knocked on their door at 10pm and asked if we could sleep in their yard. “Sleep” was rare as their chickens woke us up around 4am, pecking and crowing under Charlotte.

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee.  I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it.  No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Ah, but we had Tyler’s coffee. I think he’d cringe if he saw the desecrating way we make it. No precise measuring or perfect water temps around here!

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning.  Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Traffic was a little tight along the downhill side of the Trampoline the next morning. Of course the pouring rain didn’t help.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere.  As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Amazing mud slides could be seen everywhere. As the rain continued to fall in buckets, we wondered how any of this road stayed up on the mountain.

Some of it didn’t!

Some of it didn’t!

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador.   We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia.  Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

After about ten hours, the Trampoline ride was over and we approached the border with Ecuador. We had one last thing to see before leaving Colombia. Way back in January my daughter Emily emailed us with a picture of this church and a plea to us to check it out.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales.  It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle.  In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

Cathedral Las Lajas is just outside the seedy border town of Ipiales. It affords an impressive sight, spanning a river gorge and looking like a medieval castle. In reality, it was only built in 1949 so it’s got a ways to go to antiquity.

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Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it.  Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America.  We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.

Still, Las Lajas left us with one more impressive site from a country that has delivered plenty in the month we’ve spent in it. Colombia has been wonderful and a welcome change from Central America. We look forward to the adventures that lie further south… Stay tuned.