Published: January 15th 2011January 15th 2011
We have left the Southern Oriente after 9 days in the jungle, we are now in the Southern Highlands at Loja. We love it here. The town is the largest in this region, 150,000, and very clean and relaxed. The temperature dropped down to the low 70's and the humidity down to about 60% as compared to mid 80's & 95% in the jungle. The town is known for it's tamales and humitas as well as it's coffee. What's not to like. After a steady diet of seco de pollo con arroz y papas in the jungle, tamales and fresh brewed coffee for breakfast and tamales and burritos for dinner is a dream come true.
During our time in the Oriente we visited four towns. Puyo, Macas, and Gualaquiza for two days each, and Zamora, for three days. The elevation there is around 3000 ft. and some of the hills are very steep and quite picturesque. As I said, it was hot and humid and rained every day just as it has all but one day for the past month until Loja. The rain has not really been a factor in our daily adventures. We've only had the rain gear
on once during a long hike in banos.
The bus ride from Banos to Puyo was really nice, as we dropped down from the highlands into the Jungle. The change in flora is always interesting and fun when you start seeing new flowers out the bus window. Puyo, is a town of about 35,000 and is the beginning of the Southern Oriente. Our main objective during our visit to the Oriente was to just have one full day to hike on a nice trail in the Jungle. This proved to be a challenging objective. The afternoon of our arrival we went on a very nice walk along the Rio Puyo where it was cooler because of the trees and a nice breeze off the river. Lots of flowers too. The next day we walked 5 kilometers to a monkey orphanage. The place turned out to be quite disappointing to us, even though it was recommended to us by locals & the guide books. We did manage to have a really nice, enjoyable experience there. We found a trail in the jungle and asked if we could hike it. We set off on the trail and a young monkey that
had just arrived at the rescue center decided to go with us. No amount of coaxing from a volunteer could deter her, so off the three of us went. She had been in a cage since birth and was totally curious about everything. She tasted many of the plants, chewed on the seed pods and fruit and checked out everything on the jungle floor. She needs some work on her bug catching technique though. It was really cool to watch her enjoy her new found freedom as we strolled through the jungle for about an hour and a half.
Macas is a town of about 17,000. We found a really nice place to hang out and have a beer or tea. It's called Guayusa, named after a tea that is the house specialty. The tables are outside, under a porch, set back in a beautiful garden. At dinner there, we ran into a group of people we had met briefly in Puyo while waiting for a taxi. They included a man about our age and his two sons that were from Ecuador, and the eldest son's girlfriend from Chile. They greeted us like long lost friends and insisted we
join them in drinking a bottle of wine the girl had brought from Chile. All of them were really nice. They were just out cruising like us and gave us a slug of travel tips about various places. The father gave us his phone number in Latacunga, and said if we decided to pass back through there, he would drive us to Cotopaxi Park. They were all so nice and cheerful it was fun to hang with them for awhile. We couldn't really get anything going as far as jungle hikes go in Macas without spending a lot of money, so the next day we took a bus across the Rio Upano to the small village of Sevilla. We got off at the far end of the village. There were dirt tracks going in every direction so we just hiked on a few of them and enjoyed the countryside, the quiet, and the flowers.
The bus trip from Macas to Gualquiza was seven hours, by far our longest of the trip. The first three hours to Limon were paved, the rest of the way was a single lane dirt road. It was a really a nice drive up and
down the hills and through the jungle. We finally got into a zone where there was just not much going on and the scenery was beautiful. Gualquiza at 9500 folks is a very mellow place. We arrived late in the afternoon on our travel day and the next day we couldn't get anything going in the jungle so we took a nice two hour hike along the Rio Gualaquizo, (lots of flowers) then checked out the church with it's amazing stained glass windows, and finally hiked up to the mirador for a view of the valley. The best beer drinking place in Gualaquiza is a hardware store with a couple of tables outside under a porch. We spent a few hours there among the mops and brooms drinking beer and enjoying the family that runs the place. Really nice folks. The senor, is my age and quite the character, all 5 ft. 2 in. of him. He asked my age and then went on to say that I owed my good health and old age to all the beer I drank. There was a 99 year old grandmother, the mother of his wife that reminded us of Rosemarie. It was
nice to see how the woman cared for her mother, carefully braiding her hair and looking after her comfort. The old gal was still quite independent. The son, was Golden's age and had been to the states for four years. He said, he liked it there okay but it was too cold. He now professed to love his city, his country, and warm weather. Nice, warm folks.
Zamora, our next and last stop in the lowlands is a town of about 10,000. It too, is very quiet. We arrived on Sunday afternoon and soon learned that beer sales are prohibido on Sunday. Strike One!! Zamora's claim to fame is it's clock, said to be the largest in Ecuador. The minute hand is a little over 37 feet long and it does indeed look quite large up there on the hill side. It even gongs on the hour. For us the big attraction was the Parque Podocarpus. The park is said to have some of the greatest plant and animal diversity in the world. Of the 3000 plant species, 40% are said to be endemic. Our research told us that this was our best chance of getting into the jungle, so we bet the house on it and it worked out beautifully. Our first night in town I had a fever during the night and into the late morning, so we took a day off and had our laundry done. The next morning I felt fine so off we went. We started out with a $4.00 taxi ride to the end of the Podocarpus road. From there it was a nice half hour walk up the hill to the park entrance. We paid our two bucks each and learned from the register, that we were the first visitors in three days, and the first non biologists in over a week. We then set off on the 13 kilometer, Los Huigerones trail, the longest in this part of the park. The trail goes into a beautiful primary forest. The first part of the trail offers views of the Rio Bombuscaro, a beautiful clear, white water river. There were many, many, new flowers. We only saw a few that we had seen before. The jungle itself was just awesome, so many wonderful plants, what a contrast to Interior Alaska. There were also lots of new butterflies, which have become my passion in Ecuador. It was just a fantastic hike, too overwhelming to describe. We were thrilled. I did manage to get zapped a couple of times by a plant. The area of the zap would sting for about 15 minutes followed by an ugly, itchy rash that lasted about 5 hours. We had just enough time at the end of the day to take a short hike to the Cascada Podorosa, a nice relaxing spot that closed out our day in the park. We had the place all to ourselves, even the guy at the entrance had locked up and left. We still had the half hour walk down to the road, then a two hour walk back to Zamora, no taxis out in this neck of the woods. The walk down the road was also nice as it followed the Rio Bombuscaro back to town. We were plum tuckered out by the time we got back to our room, changed out of our hiking boots and headed to the chifa joint for cervezas.
Zamora, i am sorry to say, has the worst food I have ever eaten. Every meal was over cooked and over seasoned, my digestive system is a mess. Strike Two!!!! I almost called strike three on the clock because in gongs all night. I would have except it never really woke me up. I was already awake every time I heard it.
The bus ride from Zamora, up and over the mountains, down into the Loja valley was really nice. Back in the land of pina and eucalipto. Our first full day here we braved the local bus system and caught a town bus to the south end of town and the University of Loja. Just down the road from the campus were a really nice botanical garden, and across the street a huge park with trails. We went to the botanical garden first and when it closed at 12:30 we went across the road to the park and took the longest trail, 7 kilometers. Once again, straight up the mountain to the very top. The trail went through a really nice forest and the views of the city and whole valley below were really nice. After the hike we went back to the botanical garden and finished up. There were some really nice orchids there. This is not the bloom time for most orchids, so we were surprised to see them, They haven't been in bloom anywhere else. There was also a deep red lily that was awesome. The last two days we have just been cruising town, visiting the many plazas and other interesting places while enjoying our fourth rain free day in a row. Last night, we even found our favorite Ecuadorian ice cream, Tutto Freddo. So, with the tamales, burritos, good coffee & Ice cream we're living large. Somehow, we plan on tearing ourselves away in the morning a heading south to Vilcabamba.