November's first two weeks found us in the highlands of Ecuador and thence to the Islas Galapagos. What a varied two weeks it has been. The cloud forest of the highlands and the markets of Otavalo were our first stops as we stayed at a small hostel in the foothills above the valley at 9500 feet. Days were cool and alternated betweeen clouds and clear. I made a hike to the top of the Volcan Fuya Fuya at 14000 feet in the high Paramo. It was a splendid off trail walk through the high grasslands. Below lay the cold waters of the crater Lagos de Mojanda. Some familiar plants were lupine and paintbrush. A hawk stalked the high open plying the air above me and then from the summit below. We all fought a round of stomach problems except Kestrel and from here we moved to the Hacienda Guachala an old, beautiful sprawling estate way passed its prime but charming and historical nonetheless. I abandoned hopes of climbing Volcan Cayambe due to rainy weather and opted for a trip to the Amazon highlands over the paramo to an isolated village named Oyacache and its famed termas of perfect hot water. I was alone on the initial visit driving rough roads up into the fog asking everyone I saw if I was on the road to Oyacache. "Derecho" was the continued response and I pushed on until there were no people and I continued on across a plateau at 13000 feet. Eventually crossing the divide, the road headed down into a land unspoiled framed with waterfalls, grazing horses, and a forest within the boundaries of Cayambe-Coca National Park. I arrived in the village 15 years after the road was built and it was a quaint town unlike I had seen. Homes in the process of building have wood siding rather than cinder block. The forest grazed by a few cattle is open and complete rather then hacked and conformed to the needs of man: The hot springs deserves description: At the river. the road ends in a field with a trail descending and heading to the Amazon. Descending straight to the river awaits a gold toothed native ticket minder at the gate to the walking cable bridge. Across the small river of gentle rapids and into the earthtoned sculpted and tiered showered and pools descending to the river I entered the lower pool and showers and the river of cold to the delight of my senses and deep in conversation with a man and his mother who were bathing and enjoying their local springs with their brother/ son from Canada, Toronto. The only others were a couple from Montreal staying as well at the hacienda. The water was perfect with heat and the river cool and I stayed plunging in both for a time before getting out of there to go get the family.
We retuned the next day and the girls enjoyed themselves but did not see eye to eye with me on its beauty mostly daunted by the drive to get there. Needless to say we have become road weary after all the driving this fall.
The people in Oyacachee's Spanish seemed vaguely better than mine but obviously not primary. To wander the high Paramo on a trail and enjoy views of the volcanos and ice caps on horseback somewhere where the people are not. Journeys beyond the road for days are the only way that I feel satisfied with seeing the land anymore. It takes willful effort to find lands like this anymore and for the traveler that craves this experience landing via air means the heart of the new world. To navigate from there to the other realm takes resources, determination and a sense of its value and an eye for its appearance. I have found that my perspective from living in Montana and Canada and having a developed sense of isolation and sojourning at the edge of humanity makes it difficult for me at times to appreciate the different aspects of human land use behaviors and predominace. If the remaining biota of the world becomes isolated in small biomes illegal for development creates such a different world. Such that the great wildernesses left are not protected and chunks remain surrounded in the land of Nateional Park values. This leaves Canada and the Amazon, the wasted high elevation steppe and plateaus and taiga of Asia alongwith Antarctica and vague locations elsewhere most notably Greenland and Alaska. The Oceans are being strained and altered and humans have become a force upon the earth; the most prodigious population to have ever lived. Our success is only marred by the others that suffer for its success. Who can blame us as its truly elemental to use scarce resources to mutual and personal advantage. To learn restraint will continue to plague humans and all other organisms forever.
We then left from the idyllic, remnant, isolated corner of nature to mingle deep with the womb of humanity in the highlands of Ecuador's major city, Quito. Meeting my mother and sister was the highlight of this adventure and in three hours from the thermal pools we were descending traffic in a rainstorm to jockey for unloading the rental on the sidewalk adjacent to the hotel in northeast Mariscal and offloading to the curbside. More adrenalin here in town that I had had since skiing from the summit of Volcan Osorno, Chile. I left to return the vehicle and on the walk back to the hotel was lured into a woolen shop to buy beautiful Alpaca sweaters and gloves, and scarves for the family.
In the morning we boarded our flight to the Galapagos and by midafternoon had arrived at our first beach landing via zodiac from the mother ship a 200 foot 40 passenger craft named Eclipse. Wandering through throngs of sealions became commonplace as did jumping at the motion of a marine iguana camaflouged on the lava rock. An island archipelago reminiscent of the bounty the Earth once hosted everywhere, the Galapagos are a great area to become immersed in the abundance of wildlife. From the marine life to the creatures uniquely adapted to the dry harsh volcanic terra firma, interaction is intimate and abundant. We landed daily for a walk on the shore or briefly into the leafless landscape of the end of dry season. Mockinbirds accosted us for our waterbottles, Darwin's finches flitted through the canopy while land iguanas breathed slowly beneath cactus flowers waiting for the next one to drop. Penguins and boobies alongwith pelicans and albatross draped the shoreline with guano and nests and the sea was full of turtles, sharks, sealions, and colorful fish. As often as we went ashore to walk we also ventured into the waters to snorkel and dive amongst the ocean's bounty. Cree accompanied with Jenny and Eliza, Weez and I who kept at it snorkeling every chance we had to see as wide a diversity of marine habitat as possible. The group aboard was a good one with much fun had by all and no odd group out making trouble for the rest of us. Kes became completely comfortable hopping into and off of the zodiacs as we left and returned from the Eclipse and manuevered through the sea to a variety of landings some dry, many wet. Male sea lions patrolled the shore and lunged at those in their territory including Eliza who was prepared with her hands full of sand and threw it at his face. We swam with a 10 foot manta ray, playful sea lions, and a host of Green turtles. We followed fin whales and saw a few dolphins at a distance. We strolled among boobie rookeries watching their funny dance, encountered a waved albatross baby or two waiting their six months before fledging to distant waters and life at sea. We wandered amongst a field of giant tortoises watching as they chowed down on field grasses. We walked by a hawk perched 5 feet from the trail as curious about us as we were it. Swam with sleeping fin sharks, Cree swimming pointed excitedly at the Moorish Idol a beautiful fish of the reefs. Swam deep into a sea cave and watched the spray engulf the depths and felt its creepy darkness and distance. Watched mating turtles as well as octopus camoflaged and scurying through a tidal pool and on the bottom of the sea. Held onto outcropings thirty feet deep and relaxed to the desperation of blood losing oxygen content and brain screaming complaint...letting go and floating smoothly through clear blue water to a surface busy and noisy compared to the silence of the depths. Galapagos was a great meeting ground for the family as all was accessible and possible for three generations and the wildlife was exciting and mostly non intimidating for all.