Published: April 3rd 2011March 31st 2011
We had never eaten Quimbolito´s before, neither our tastpapils ever have had a close encounter with Bolons de verde, Humita´s or Tamales. But we like them all. Food of Ecuador is delicious. Sometimes we do not know what we eat. Mostly it is no problem, but sometimes we make a mistake. When I poored a black liquid over my fried egg e.g., supposing it was a kind of sauce. Later I heard I had to poor it in a cup of hot water, in order to make my own coffee.
We travelled with buscompany Jipijaja from Puerto Lopez back to Guayaquil and from there with Ecuador Pullman to Manchala, where we stayed at the Buffalo Hotel. Machala is not so interesting, apart from the fact that they have a lot of banana´s and that they choose once a year a bananaqueen (we saw several potential bananaqueens passing by). From Manchala we drove with Loja Internacional to Puyango.
Together with Giovani, our guide, we walk in the ´Bosque petrificado´, the petrified forest. Despite Puyango has the world´s biggest cemetery of fossilised trees, it is not so easy to come here. The bus has to drop you at Puyango. A
man called Ricardo (or at least he says so) and who has a car (or at least it something which can drive on four wheels) and who asks you far too much money, brings you to the entrance. You can leave your luggage at his shop, strategically located near the busstop. Not so well organised for a spot which is put by the government on the Tentative List in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List. But the 60-120 million years old Araucaria´s beckon you from their graves. And they have a lot to tell:
Araucaria´s existed already when South America and Africa were joined in Gondwanaland.
100 million years ago South America started for its own and took the Auracaria´s with it.
65 million years ago the North coast of Venezuela up to Chili was a geosynclinical area, resulting in a inner sea. The sea disappeared when it rose above sealevel. Forests of gymnospemae settled down, like Araucaria and Podocarpus. Later the area was covered with sediments of volcanic ashes, which burried the forest.
We saw living Araucaria´s in Argentina and Brasil. It is a beautiful tree. A living fossil. But in Ecuador they
do not exist anymore. We are walking across the forest. It is a tropical dry forest. We hear birds everywhere. Like the Pacific Hornero. Giovianni looks at his watch. ´Twelve o´clock´, he says. ´He is exactly in time. In the past it was a sign for the farmers to take a break. Exactly 2 hours later he is going to sing again. Time to go to work.´ In between the forest lay the fossilised ancestors of the living trees around. One of the Araucarioxylons has a length of 15 meter.
´Why they do not exist anymore here?´, we ask.
´Due to the tectonic movement the Andes originated´, says Giovanni. ´But the same movement caused a lowering of the coastal area. Araucaria´s used to live in higher and colder area´s. But when the coastal zone lowered it became too warm for them and they disappeared.´
We wonder what has become of that other gymnosperm, the Podocarpus. They still exist in Ecuador. Actually it is the only original coniferous tree of Ecuador. But they are rare. Why? They used to live in South Gondwanaland, where it was moisty and cold. Now they survive in the higher and colder areas of
the mountains, the so called tropical cloud forests. When we look it up on Internet, we read that it is not because of climatchange, tectonic movements or volcanic eruptions, but because we liked the fine wood of it too much. We have cut them all.
Then Giovanni is pointing to a gigantic living tree. We read that some people on this travelblogsite think it to be an Araucaria. And that is quite understandable, because the billboards are maybe not very clear. It is clearly not an Araucaria, it is even not a gymnosperm. According to the billboard it is a Petrino gigante. That sounds very scientific, but it is not an official name at all. After some research on Internet we finally find the name: Cavanillesia platanifolia, belonging to the family of the Malvaceae (the same family as to which the Cebo tree and the Baobab belong).
In the stem we see circular lines. ´Every line corresponds with ten years´, explains Giovanni. ´So this one must be about 150 years old. It has a height of about 36 meter. The distance between the lines indicate how much water the tree stored during the rainy seasons. The bigger the distance,
the more water. In this way scientists found out in which periods El Niño was active.
We decide not to stay in Puyango. There is a camping, but no hotel and no restaurant. We wait an hour and half for the bus, which brings us in less than a hour to Alamor. There we have a nice hotel (´El Bosque´), one of the best budget hotels we have had thusfar, with an excellent breakfast included in the price. There are restaurants and even an ATM.
It takes about 6 hours with the bus (Loja Internacional) from Alamor to Loja. Loja is a nice city, a place where we could live. We stay in Hotel Metropolitana, cheap and good.
With a taxi we drive to Parc Nacional Podocarpus. This enormous parc is named after the Podocarpus tree. There are three species here, but it is difficult to find them. The parc is famous for its biodiversity. With its 3000 species of vascular plants, 500 species of birds (40% is endemic), all kinds of mammalians, like speckled bears, pumas, jaguars, giant armadillos and mountain tapirs, 260 species of butterflies and 1200 species of moths it has the highest
biodiversity per hectare in the world. Because of its teeming plantlife it is called ´The Botanical Garden of America´. Definitely the big differences in altitude (from 1000 to 3690 meter) contributes to this wealth. Up are the humid tropical cloud forests, the lower parts at the amazone side of the Andes are tropical humid forests
Today we go up, to the humid tropical cloud forest. And humid it is. It rains continuously. Before our eyes opens a world we have never seen before. Without knowing the names of all those plants we clearly see how rich this area is. We see everywhere Treeferns of 6 to 8 meters high, Bromelia´s in all colours and forms, orchids, it is as overwhelming as it is impressing. Unfortunately we cannot stay too long, because the taxi waits only 1 1/2 hour and it is extremely wet.
With the bus (company Namibija) we drive in 1 1/2 hour to Zamora, to see the lower part of the Podocarpus parc, the tropical humid forest. It is a beautiful drive along Nacional Parc Podocarpus.
No sooner the bus has left the busstation, than the door opens of the driver´s cabin. A man
starts a speech. ´Lady and gentlemen passejeros, may I have a moment of your attention, please?´He sells some medicin, called ´Naca´. While he is talking he hands out the medicin. All passengers but us get one. I am impressed of the way he is talking. The words he chooses, the body language, the eyecontact he makes, every politician could take him as an example, when he is up to win votes. He explains with great knowledge what the merits are of ´Naca´. And it costs only 5 dollares (3.50 euro). It is good for you skin (he rubs his skin) or when your throat is hurting (his hand moves to his throat), but also when you have problems with your guts (hand circling over his belly) or when you have weak tendons in your knees (faint bending of the knees) and do not forget it enforces the enamel of your teeth (bright smile). And then he comes up with a brilliant move: ´It helps again headache.´ Coincidentally I have headache, maybe I was too busy with all this damned trees. ´Specially people who work with their brains can easily get headache´, he continues, ´intellectuals so to say.´ Suddenly I see
how people pay attention at the bag with medicins they have got and suddenly I realize we have not got one. I feel a bit offended. ´Only 5 dollaritos´, he concludes his speech. Still 3.50 euro, I think.
While the ¨Nacaman´is collecting his money, the driver´s door swings open for the second time. Another seller comes in. Meanwhile the bus goes slowly uphill. Outside we look down at Loja. The mountains of the Podocarpus parc are completely green. It is a fabulous sight.
´Hermanos and hermanas passajeros´, opens the second speaker his speach, ´brothers ans sisters passengers´. He is not such a good speaker as the former one, but he has something special, something vulnerable. He has light eyes, which turns all the time up to the open window in the roof of the bus. As if he is looking for something out there. He sells incense. All passengers get a packet. The whole bus smells like in a catholic church. I look out of the window and see we have reached the altitude of the cloudforests. There is a dense mist around us. Inside the bus the seller continues his story: ´We all are united, dear hermanos and
hermanas passajeros. And you know why? I will tell you why. Because we all have the same destiny.´He is right, I think, we all go to Zamora, the next village. More and more I get the idea we mounted a driving church. And then I see on the door of the driver´s cabin an image of the Virgen. She is surrounded by stars in all colours. Around her are texts: ´Prohibido hablar al conductor´ (do not speak with the driver), Prohibido fumar (Do not smoke) and ´Aqui somos católicos´. ´Here we are catholic.´ Is it a warning?. Does it beforehand apoligize for the faith expression of incensesellers? Then I read: ´please show respect´. It remembers me of what my father said. He was a communist. ´Religion is opium for the people, but still you have always to show respect´, he said. How is that possible? , I thought. The incenseseller in the meantime invites the dear passajeros to sing together. Well, this is a bit too much for the dear hermanos and hermanas. No one joins in. I must think of Richard Dawkin´s ´The God Delusion´. He does not show any respect for religion. The incenseseller is collecting his money.
We are out of the clouds again. The bus goes downhill. I see the beautiful nature around. It reminds of what my mother said: ´nature is made so beautifully, but the people spoil it.´She said it often and at the end of her life she said it more and more. I had a lot of discussions with her about it. ´Nature is not always so beautiful´, I said. And: ´people also have to live´. We could overcome that, but we could never agree with eachother that nature was made.
She was not the only one who believed that nature was made. The symbol phi crosses my mind, the divine ratio. People thought God had a preference for this ratio, when he made nature. Or Paracelsus and the iatrochemists. According to them God had put medicins in nature, special plants. A good doctor was able to find them. To make it easier God had made the plants looke like the medical problems they cured. Red stood for blooddiseases. And often it worked. I must think of René Descartes who said that God had made the plants and animals like we make watches. They are like little machines. You can take
them apart to study them. I think about the Intelligent Designers. When something is complex and it has a meaning, it must have been made, they say. Like a watch, like a monkey. When I was a child, I myself thought that God was busy to make shells and other organisms up there. The best ones he kept, the ones which he did not approve, he threw away, down to earth. Those were the shells I collected. It was the main reason, why I wanted to become a biologist. On the other hand I think of Craig Venter who is busy to make living organisms himself.
Then the door of the driver´s cabin opens for the third time. How many sellers are there in this cabin? He stands in front and looks at his audience. I am curious for what he is going to sell and particularly for his speech. Then he opens his mouth and says: ´Your tickets please´. We are back on earth again. Outside I see the the San Francisco Scientific Station. Scientists from all over the world do research on the ecosystem here. Later, when we are in the forest we see their little billboards:
´Sector 27a, parcel 255. The San Francisco Scientific Station is doing research here on the Carbon Cycle. Please do not touch the instruments´. ´Please show respect´, I think.
When we enter the Podocarpus parc we are welcomed by a flock of Whitebreasted Parakeets. You can only find them on three spots in all world and they are difficult to spot. We are so astonished that we forget to make pictures. We will never see them again. Nature is completely different here. We like it so much here, that we decide to stay one night. In the parc are two cabins. We can cook in the kitchen of the reception. At 5 the guard leaves and we are completely alone in the jungle. Nearby is a waterfall where we shower. There is water and gass, but no electricity. Then four people come in. They are from Quito. We tell them the parc is closed now and that they have to come back tomorrow. Suddenly we are the guards of the parc. Just before dawn three people come in. They have a lot of luggage with them. They are biologists from the San Francisco Scientific Station, entomologists, who are going to
catch moths this night with a strong lamp. They are 400 meter from our cabin. When it becomes dark we see their light somewhere in the jungle. At midnight they are still busy. It starts to rain. After several hours the showers stop and the light of the biologists is still on. We thought we were crazy with our trees.
Next day we make a beautiful hike. We see flowering plants, butterflies and birds in all colours. It is a big spectacle. We are tired, but completely lucky. Nature is (made) so beautiful(ly), I think.
Back in Loja
Next day, when we are back in Loja, we go to the ´Jardín Botánico Reinaldo Espinosa´, about 5 kilometers out of Loja. There we see finally the Podocarpus where we were already one week eagerly looking for. They have all three species. They stand next to some Araucaria trees. The garden is beautifully landscaped. We see all kinds of orchids. And then we stand suddenly in front of another famous tree, which grows in the Podocarpus National Parc. It is the Chichona or Quina tree. Maya´s used the bark already as a medicin. The story goes that the wife of
the Spanish Viceroy of Peru, the Countess of Chinchon, was the first European cured of malaria by quinine, an extract of the bark of the Chichona tree. Carolus Linnaeus called the tree after her. Samuel Hahnemann based his homeopathy on experiments with quinine. Quinine can produce malaria, but also cure it: ´like cures like´. It depends on the concentration. It is wonderful to see these VIT´s (Very Important Trees) together in one garden. As if Jimmy Hendrix, Charlie Parker and Yehudi Menuhin perform in the same show.
There are more photos below