Thursday 17th November 2001

Antigua – preparations for the volcano assault!

Today has been a day of some frustrations, but also one with much laughter and amusement. It started badly: an attack of some mystery stomach upset caused me to suffer a sleepless night, one which was not helped by two very active lesbians in the hotel room next to mine!! However, I was up at a reasonable hour, and headed to the internet café Y tu piña (And your pineapple – unusual name!), where I met Luisa Zea, my friend and guide who is going to lead me on my coming two weeks of volcano climbing. Luisa has worked as a guide on Guatemala’s volcanoes for several years, and I know I am in good hands with her.

We spent much of the morning sorting out administrative matters, both by telephone and e-mail, and then we headed to a print shop, where we arranged to have two large photographs of the butterfly Drucina championi (taken by Mexican butterfly experts Javier and Roberto de la Maza), my target for the coming weeks, printed out, and then sealed in plastic. We intend to show these to locals in the areas where we think the butterfly may occur, in the hope that someone may have seen it, and may be able to advise us on where to look.

Luisa with the newly printed, and still wet, Drucina championi pictures

The sealing in plastic took longer than expected, and coincidentally, the song being played on the radio in the shop contained the refrain “Espera un poco más” (“Wait a little longer”), by Jose Jose, which caused much amusement to both us and the staff of the shop, as we waited “un poco más”!

The plasticated result

Finally, the pictures were ready, and we moved to a very beautiful shop and restaurant called Sabe Rico, or Tastes Good, where we ordered the sandwiches and other delicacies we will need for our ascent of the Volcán Acatenango tomorrow. While we were there, Luisa showed me the delightful garden restaurant at the back, and as it looked so nice, we decided to stay for lunch. Sadly, however, appearances were deceptive, as the rocket salad which Luisa ordered, specifically WITHOUT olives, arrived full of olives. She sent it back, and when it finally returned (after a severe case of “Espera un poco más”!), there was no rocket in it!! I ordered a pizza, which looked delicious, but it tasted of absolutely nothing at all. The restaurant has now been renamed, as far as we are concerned, “Sabe a nada”, or “Tastes of Nothing”!

Part of the garden of Sabe Rico

Luisa in extreme frustration over her salad

Our next task was to drive to the small town of San Miguel Dueñas, where we were due to pay the $50 for permission to drive up through a finca to begin the ascent of Acatenango. Somehow our instructions were mixed up, and we first went to the Finca Tempixque, where Jacqueline, Marvin and I had been on my third day in Guatemala, and had been given a spontaneous tour of the orchid nursery, but this was not the place where we were supposed to be today.

We retraced our steps, and finally arrived at the Finca San Sebastián, which was indeed the right place. This beautiful finca is right below the slopes of Acatenango, but the weather, which apparently had been perfect during the two weeks I was in Ecuador, looked very poor, the upper halves of both Acatenango and Fuego being completely lost in thick, swirling cloud. We can only hope that tomorrow and the day after will be better.

Luisa pointing towards the volcano Acatenango, its head lost in cloud

Self with Drucina championi in front of the old house at Finca San Sebastian

On the way back through San Miguel Dueñas, we stopped at a discount clothing store. I was in search of a fleece (temperatures drop below freezing high up on Acatenango, and we are due to camp), and Luisa was in need of a dress for her cousin’s wedding, which is coming up this weekend. My quest was highly unsuccessful at first, with me first rejecting a bright yellow one (what birder would be seen dead in a yellow fleece?!), and then finding that all the others were either FAR too small, or massively huge…finally, much to the amusement of Luisa, I plumped for the yellow one, which I got for 15 Quetzales (about €1.50)! At least, if we need to be rescued from the volcano, I should be visible to the helicopter pilot!!

Tonight, if the weather clears, we are due to drive up out of Antigua, to a hotel called Earth Lodge, where we hope to watch the meteorite show that is supposed to occur. Luckily, as we joked, even if we see no shooting stars, if I wear my bright yellow fleece and run across in front of Luisa, I will be able to play the role of a shooting star!!

The volcanoes Fuego and Acatenango with their heads in the cloud


Wednesday 16th November 2011

¡Adios Ecuador, hola Guatemala!

Yesterday was my last day in Quito, and it dawned with the snow-capped volcanoes visible – something that has not been the case often during my two-week stay. Cayambe was particularly spectacular, but Antisana was also visible, although Cotopaxi was almost hidden in the morning rush-hour smog.

A morning view of Cayambe

I had to walk out to the main street, Eloy Alfaro, complete with my heavy rucksack as no telephone taxis seemed to be available, but it was not long before I found a normal taxi on the street, and I headed to Gleny’s office, at the Fundación Cimas, where I suddenly found myself playing the role of official group photographer, something I am not especially experienced in…but the pictures turned out well!

I played the role of official photographer for the Fundación Cimas

From there I headed to the airport, this time leaving PLENTY of time to spare, following my Galápagos experience – and just as well, as the traffic was heavy, and the entrance to the airport was clogged up with fans arriving for the Ecuador – Peru football match that was due to take place that afternoon (Ecuador beat their arch-rivals Peru 2 – 0).

This time, everything went smoothly in the airport, and I boarded my TACA flight without trouble. The first leg of the journey took me down, parallel with the “Avenue of Volcanoes”, which were partly showing through the cloud, to Guayaquil, where I had a 45-minute stopover before flying on to San José, Costa Rica, where we landed in torrential rain!

The northern half of Quito from the plane

The near-perfect cone of Cotopaxi

Antisana peeping through the clouds

Part of Guayaquil - I do hope they will leave some of these mangrove swamps as a reserve

Then, having transferred to the connecting flight to Guatemala City, and my rucksack having been well and truly soaked while being transferred between the planes (!), I flew on, eventually arriving in Guate at 19.15.

And so ended my wonderful two weeks in Ecuador. Once again my thanks to all my old friends for looking after me so kindly, and to my new friends for being such great travelling companions. I must say that, despite the massive growth in population that has taken place in the 28 years since I lived there, and despite the political chaos that has sometimes reigned in the intervening years, I see huge progress in Ecuador in many respects. I can only hope that the current populist government does not blow it all by squandering the country’s wealth, raiding the social security coffers to buy short-term approval, endangering democracy by attacking the freedom of the press, and other such activities. Time will tell.


Tuesday 14th November 2011

Last post from Quito, plus the colourful Otavalo market

My time in Ecuador is sadly drawing to a close, and I have to leave tomorrow for my flight back to Guatemala, where the volcanoes, and perhaps even the elusive butterfly Drucina championi, await me.

On Saturday, I headed out on a morning bus with my German friend Verena and her couch-surfing hostess Margarita, for the two-hour journey northwards to Otavalo, a prosperous town known from far and wide for its woven fabric handicrafts. The journey itself was not particularly enjoyable due to the extremely noisy, violent film that was put on as we left, and which ended just as we drew into Otavalo, with the volume at full blast and the speakers right behind our heads, even though we sat at the back of the bus AND requested for the volume to be turned down. These movies are an unwelcome development since I was last here, and once they are on, you cannot avoid them.

Margarita and Verena preparing to board the bus

Anyway, we wound our way down through the dry gorges north of Quito, before climbing into the more humid, and more fertile Cayambe region (the volcano Cayambe’s head was hidden, but you could just make out the bottom of the snow where the mountain disappeared into cloud). This area has now become a vast nursery, complete with numerous greenhouses, for a new but already highly important industry for Ecuador, cut flowers, mainly for the European market. Apparently there is serious contamination of the watercourses in this region due to the high concentrations of pesticides that are used to keep insect damage to a minimum, and even the health of humans living in the area has been adversely affected.

Our route took us past the Lago de San Pablo, a freshwater lake at the foot of the towering bulk of the dormant volcano behind. My friend Czech Conroy and I had birdwatched here back in 1983, and then hiked over the hill into Otavalo, on the outskirts of which I was bitten by a dog, so I had slightly unpleasant memories of this place!

This time hiking was not on the agenda, and we got off the bus and walked into town, aiming for the square in which the main market is situated. To cut a long story short, although I normally loathe shopping of all kinds, we had a lot of fun walking around this amazing place, and I was able to find some reasonably priced gifts…in fact, even more than reasonably priced, thanks to the incredible negotiating skills of Margarita, who excelled herself in beating the prices down, using a combination of sarcasm, wit, ridicule and her very sweet looks, fluttering her eyelids at exactly the right moment so that the salesmen melted in front of her!!! Even the ladies succumbed to her charms as well!!

The colourful market, even for those not interested in shopping, such as myself, is really very worth seeing, and the Otavaleños’ remarkable handiwork is really a joy to behold. Some other objects, including a roasted pig’s head, were perhaps not for the faint hearted, but we thoroughly enjoyed our visit nonetheless, and finally returned to Quito, our cheeks aching from all the laughter we had shared during this day.

The colourful market of Otavalo

Verena and Margarita taking a break from shopping

Self, Margarita and Verena admiring some romantic graffiti in Otavalo

Yesterday, my wonderful hosts Gleny, her mother Elena, boyfriend Fernando and another friend, Yolanda, took me up to the Parque Metropolitano, a large area of eucalyptus plantation and grassland overlooking the northern half of the city of Quito on the one side, and with a magnificent view across the valley on the other, rising finally to the snow-capped volcano of Antisana, which was just showing through the clouds.

The valley from the Parque Metropolitano

Here we walked for a couple of hours in the blazing sunshine (not something I have seen a lot of during the past couple of weeks here), and I was able to add a few butterflies to my very short Ecuadorian list for this visit. We finally returned to Elena’s apartment for a Chinese takeaway lunch. I should like to take this opportunity to thank these very special friends of mine, whom I have known for 28 years, and who really feel like my Ecuadorian family, for all they have done to make me feel so welcome during my stay here.

Self, Elena and Gleny unravelling a scarf!

Gleny, Fernando, Yoli and Elena

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