Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Oriental Ecuador

Heading east from Quito, it doesn´t take long before the road starts to climb the heights of the Andes. The engine roars hoarsely, starved on oxygen as the bus gains more and more altitude. Less and less trees populate the hillsides and before long the road is veiled in banks of clouds. Vultures glide statically above the barren land and cold air streams through the open windows. We are reaching the summit.
Well on the ridge of the mountain range a knuckled terrain partly occluded in clouds stretches out around us. An immense volcanic cone appears around a bend; a silent, unquestionable dominator.
Shortly, the descent on the far side begins, and the engine goes quiet, replaced by the suffering sound of the brakes. With such a steep and long inclination, the brakes must be handled with care or they will overheat and burst into flames.
All this time, a reggaeton beat drums from the bus speakers and a Sylvester Stallone collection DVD plays on the onboard tv-set.
Going down, the vegetation thickens and colors shift from brown and grey to green and yellow. Water pours from the hills, leaping hundreds of meters, flowing into the bustling river deep down on the valley floor. Sometimes, a breathtaking view of the lowland ahead opens up.
Down there, a few hours away, is Tena, the capital of this tropic region.
To be continued...

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Ascending the Cotopaxi

Not far from Quito lies the majestic volcano of Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Reaching 5897 m above sea level, it is surpassed only by Llullaillaco and Ojos del Salado (Chile). It has had at least 50 eruptions in the last couple of centuries, with lava flows, pyroclastic clouds and melted ice rivers. In 1534, it erupted in the middle of a battle between Spaniards and Incas and forced both sides to flee. It´s name is in quichua and translates to Moon´s Neck, so called because the moon travels up the side of the volcanic cone when it rises, and ends up right on top of the summit, becoming the head of the volcano in the eyes of the natives.
Together with a guide, I set out to climb a part of this beautiful mountain. Our goal was to reach the first base camp at 4800 m, starting from the parking lot at 4600 m. This might sound easy, but this small climb normally takes 45 min to one hour, and means a lot of effort. We were in luck and the clouded summit sometimes exposed itself, with it´s glittering glacier.
After a tough walk with a constantly maxed pulse we reached the camp. Time: 40 mins. Though a small victory, it feels great. Feeling like a real andinist, you try to ignore that also grandmothers and children are lingering at the base camp, annoyingly unbothered by the climb.
We also strolled around a little to check out the lower folds of the glacier.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Equatorial Experiments

Shortly after arriving to Quito, my second cousin Xavier Donoso took me to see the monument called "La Mitad del Mundo" - Half of the world - erected in honour of the 19th century french expedition that established the location of the equatorial line. Around this monument, a number of small museums and exhibitions have been installed, mainly about Ecuador and the equator. However, some years ago, the US Navy conducted GPS measurements on the site and concluded that the line is not exactly where the monument was built but actually some 100 m further north. So, a clever gentleman purchased a bit of land where the real line passes, painted the stretch and is now conducting experiments for curious tourists, on and beside the equator.
One experiment deals with the direction in which water swirls. First, the guide put a sink right over the equator, poured water in it and pulled the plug. The water was drawn to the hole in a straight fashion, it didn´t swirl at all.
Next, the recipient was moved one meter to the south. Here, with the same procedure, and adding some small leaves to show the direction of the water, the water swirled clockw
ise. Repeating the same thing on the north side gave a counter-clockwise swirl! All the tourists and myself were witnesses of this.
The guide proceeded to show that our resistance is less on the
 equator. She asked for the strongest man of the group to lock his hands high and she would try to lower his hands. One meter to the north of the line, she had no way of pulling them down. Then, she asked the man to stand on the painted  line and again hold his hands locked high. This time, she would only use one hand. Effortlessly, she pressed his hands down, to the great surprise of the man and the group. Me and Xavier also tried this out, and the effect was the same.
The third thing was to try to walk heel-to-toe with your eyes shut. This proved incredibly difficult walking on the line. Apparently, there is a lateral force missing on the line, which confuses the brain.
Now, do you believe this?

Quito Slideshow

Monday, December 01, 2008

By the Napo river

I am in the little village of Ahuano by the Napo river in eastern Ecuador. Right now I have two boys beside me, apparently curious about what I am doing. I had written a rather nice text about the bus trip from Quito, crossing the Andes, and descending into the rain forest, but mistyped and managed to delete everything.. Tomorrow the are two excursions, one features a visit in an "actual" aboriginal home. I dodged the "swing-yourself-in-a-vine"-excursion...
The jungle is very cool. Stay tuned for more info and pictures.