Riobamba and the Chimborazo

The city of Riobamba is the capital of the province Chimborazo, which is named after the famous volcano. The 6,300 meters high volcano Chimborazo lies only 30 km from the city and can be seen from there on clear days.

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The Chimborazo, view from the street Riobamba — Guaranda

Riobamba has about 120,000 inhabitants and lies at 2,700 meters above sea level. The city center is quite lively and there are some museums and parks. We came to Riobamba in order to do some hiking and see the volcano.

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Typical grass at the Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo

 

It turned out that it is not that easy to get there for hiking. There are some tour companies which offer to climb the mountain or do mountain biking there, but we just wanted to hike a bit on our own. So we took the bus from Riobamba to Guaranda in the morning because that road passes by the volcano.

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A vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) at Reserva de Produccion Faunistica Chimborazo

 

It was very cloudy and we could not see a thing for the first 30 minutes of the trip, then we caught a short glance of rock high in the clouds. We left the bus in the middle of nowhere a few minutes later, about 2 km after some houses and a sign to the ‘Casa del Condor’ hostel showed up.

 

ec_chimbarazo_6Chuquiraga jussieui at the windy summit of  Loma Chalata at 4,230m

 

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Flowers at the windy summit of  Loma Chalata at 4,230m

It turned out that this was a good idea. The weather improved more and more while we walked towards the volcano, and we could see it pretty well by the time we reached the summit of the 4,230m high Loma Chalata (we found the sign on the summit by chance on our way back and discovered that there is a way down to the street there.)

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Clouds rise at Chimborazo

After some hours of hiking, we hitchhiked back to Riobamba.

 

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A last view of Chimborazo (6,268 metres). The flat hill behind the sheep is 4,230m high Loma Chalata.

 

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Latacunga

Latacunga is a city of 60,000 and the capital of the province Cotopaxi in Ecuador. It lies at 2,700 meters in the central highlands, pretty close to the famous volcano Cotopaxi (5,897 m).

 

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 Center of Latacunga

We came to Latacunga on our way from Quito to the water-filled caldera at Quilotoa. The city lies at the Panamericana, and we stayed for a night and half a day before we took the next bus.

 

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 The cathedral of Latacunga

We stayed at the Hotel Central, you can walk there from the bus terminal in 10 minutes. From there, we walked around the city center, bought some fruits and had a look at the small cathedral and some of the parks. Nothing spectacular here, but worth a short walk.

From the terminal, we took a bus to Chugchilan in order to visit the crater lake at Quilotoa there.

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Baeza area

Baeza is a small town in the Napo province of Ecuador. It lies on the road from Lago Agrio to Quito at an altitude of about 2,000 meters above sea level.

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The old Baeza Antigua (left, small village on the hill) and the new part of Baeza (right), view from the hills above the village

Green grazing lands with lots of cows cover the hills around the town. It is very quiet and the climate is cold enough not to have any mosquitos, so we stayed here for 2 days after the heat of Lago Agrio and Cuyabeno and did some easy hiking trails from the town. There is some cloudforest left in the area.

 

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Cloud forest near Baeza

 

Another advantage is that it turns the ugly 6 hour bus trip from Lago Agrio to Quito into two 3 h trips, which I prefer.

 

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Tree and scenery near Baeza

 

Most people who stay in Baeza for several days come for kayaking on the river. It is worth mentioning that the two parts of Baeza (the old village Baeza antigua and the new small town Baeza) lie a few hundred meters apart. We arrived at the bus terminal in new Baeza and walked the street back towards Baeza antigua to stay there.

 

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Small river near Baeza

Most long distance buses to Quito leave from the junction 1.5 km out of town by the way. You can catch a local bus to get there (or walk, depending on how much luggage you carry).

 

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View from the hills near Baeza. Note the Bromelias in the trees.

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Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 3

Part 1 and 2 of this post can be found here: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 1 of 3 and here: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 2 of 3.

This is my last post on Cuyabeno, and it is about the rainforest at night. If you get the chance, go and explore the rainforest at night. If you only go during the day, you will miss half of the interesting stuff!

 

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It is getting dark at Cuyabeno

 

We did some hiking at night and spotted all kinds of frogs, spiders and insects. We also discovered this guy:

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 Small reptile at Cuyabeno

 

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This small mammal did not even attempt to flee after I took a shot with flash from less than 30 cm — pretty game

Here are some of the frogs and insects we discovered:

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 Tree frog at Cuyabeno

 

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 Sleeping butterfly at Cuyabeno

 

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Stick insect at Cuyabeno

You should bring a good flashlight, and if you carry a camera a cap lamp comes in very handy.

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Some very green insect at night

I have seen some ugly spiders at Thailand and Cambodia, but this one looks really fierce:

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Some large spider on a tree at Cuyabeno

We also searched for caymans at night with flashlights from the canoe. You can see their eyes reflect, so its not as hard as it sounds — if they are there. In our case they were not, but we had a visitor on the canoe: a tarantula. Yes, they can walk on water. And I do not mean they float, they really walk, and they do so pretty fast.

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Tarantula on our canoe at night, directly next to me.

 

The trip to Cuyabeno was both strenuous and extremely beautiful. Cuyabeno is a place you will never forget, and the oil fields lurking and spreading at its borders remind you that it requires a lot of effort to preserve places like this.

 

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Chugchilan and Quilotoa Crater Lake

Chugchilan is a small village about 90 km from Latacunga. It is close to Quilotoa, where a famous crater lake is located at an altitude of 3,500 meters above sea level. The lake is filled with green water, up to 250 m deep and looks very impressive. You can walk around the caldera rim in a taxing 10 km hike.

 

ec_quilotoa_1The crater lake at Quilotoa

 

I would assume that everybody who visits Chugchilan comes for the crater lake at Quilotoa, but there are some interesting hiking trails at Chugchilan as well. You can also walk from Chugchilan to the crater lake (about 10 km, with very steep parts) or vice versa.

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The crater lake at Quilotoa, detail

 

It is usually better to arrive at the crater lake early it seems, so we went there in a hired truck and walked back to the hostel. The reason is that, while we were there, it started raining around 2 p.m. every day — and usually it did not stop for the rest of the day.

 

ec_quilotoa_5Steep 400 m valley on the hike from Quilotoa to Chugchillan (yes, you have to climb down and up again on the other side)

 

The whole area lies very high and gets a lot of rain, so be sure to bring warm clothes, good hiking boots and rainwear. Most of the hikes are rather long and I assume they can get very frustrating if you have to do the last few hours completely drenched. You can walk to the cloud forest, a small cheese factory or even do the multi-day Quilotoa traverse hiking trail.

 

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 Used to the rain: sheep at Quilotoa

It is also worth mentioning that the infrastructure, public transportation system and the roads in the area have vast room for improvement. There seem to be no good hostels at Quilotoa itself (though they were building some it seemed), so people go to Chuchilan instead. But the paved road ends at Quilotoa and there are no buses out of Chugchilan during the day it seems — the one that takes you there from Latacunga and arrives in the afternoon leaves the next day, but at 4 a.m. Yes, that is a.m. You can hire trucks to the crater lake from the hostels though.

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View from Chugchilan in good weather

 

We ended up hitchhiking out of Chugchilan to Sigchos on our way back to Latacunga because we did not want to leave at 4 a.m., which worked pretty good.

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Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 2

The first part of this post can be found here: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 1.

On the afternoon of our second day in Cuyabeno and after spending quite a few hours in the canoe, we arrived at a small cleared place in the rainforest where we could build our camp — maybe 4 x 4 meters directly next to the river.

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 Our camp.

 

Our guides used a machete to chop some small trees and we put 6 of them into the ground and attached a plastic tarpaulin to them using bark stripes — this was our “house”. We also built two “beds”, one for the guides and one for us: for each bed, we covered the ground with leaves, 2 thick raincoats and a thin blanket. Then we drove 4 sticks into the ground around the blankets and attached a mosquito net to them — done.

We had not finished our camp when the first monkeys showed up, and macaws and other parrots were screaming nearby.

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Trees at Cuyabeno

During the next 3 days, we explored the area around the camp with our guides. We did several hikes at day and during the night. The rainforest is very dense though, there are no trails and you frequently encounter flooded parts and have to find a way around them. The whole place was also swarming with mosquitos.

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Large birds lured to our camp by our guides

Our guides had brought some food from Lago Agrio, but we also ate fruit from the rainforest and lots of piranhas and other fish from the river. You can catch them with a large hook and a very sturdy line from the canoe (first use a worm to catch some ground-dwelling ugly fish first, then use chunks of that fish to catch piranhas).  But we had also borrowed a small fishing net, which worked way better.

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More monkeys

 

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Large bird of prey, Cuyabeno

We saw impressive trees and plants, vultures, many monkeys and toucans, various large birds, many more macaws, humming birds, king fishers, a nutria, impressive butterflies, many frogs, spiders and reptiles, bats, a turtle, snakes, piranhas, a tarantula and countless weird insects. We were bitten by mosquitos, ants and black wasps. We did not meet, see or hear any human in 5 days.

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Our canoe at the camp on the Aguas Negras river, Cuyabeno

 

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Cooking fish in banana leaves at Cuyabeno

 

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Parrot nests hang from a tree at Cuyabeno

 

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Fish caught by our guides in the river

 

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Bats on a tree

 

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Some bird (well-known but I cannot remember the name at the moment)

 

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A large snake in a tree above the Aguas negras river

 

The third and last part of this post is about Cuyabeno at night, and it can be found here: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 3.

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Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 1

Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve is a vast protected area in the north-eastern part of Ecuador, close to the borders to Columbia and Peru. The remote area is covered in tropical rainforest and has a very high biodiversity. It is famous for its wildlife and the periodically inundated forests and lagoons.

The rivers of the Cuyabeno area drain into the Rio Napo, which — already more than 1 km wide at the border to Peru — drains into the Amazonas near Iquitos, Peru.

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On the canoe, Aguas Negras, Cuyabeno

From Lago Agrio, we took the road to the east for about 2 hours, then we arrived at a small village at Aguas Negras, some kilometers after the paved road ends. The road passes various installations from the oil companies and a few smaller towns.

 

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Cacao

Our guide talked to some people and rented a canoe from them. We arranged that the owner of the canoe would come to our camp with a small canoe and an outboard engine to pick us up 5 days later, then we started our journey. We went downstream by canoe for 2 days on the Aguas Negras river, then we set up a small camp and stayed there for 3 more days.

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This is where we slept on the first night.

I have been to the rainforest before in various countries, and as every time before, I was amazed by it the second we entered it. We saw various apes, toucans, vultures and a snakebird during the first day. We also got used to the heat and our canoe, ate cacao, fished for piranhas and got bitten by lots of ants and mosquitos despite our repellent. Our guides set termite nests on fire to drive them out with the smoke.

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Francisco burns termite nests to drive mosquitos away

Our guides were great spotters, explained a lot and imitated the sounds of many animals, talking to them while we silently and slowly drove by in the canoe.

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Line and hook used to catch piranhas

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…and the first piranha we caught.

The first night, we used some huts at the river as a shelter. The rainforest is very dense and wet, and you cannot just stop the canoe somewhere and build a camp there, you have to use one of the few places that people have cleared.

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Monkeys!

Enough for today, but there will be a second post about Cuyabeno soon. Update: Here it is as promised: Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve — Part 2.

 

 

 

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