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Published: October 4th 2017
Our room at the end
Having always wanted to visit the Galapagos Islands, we decided to make that our chief destination for 2017 travel. We knew full well that we will likely not be back this way, at least no any time soon, we decided to add Machu Picchu as a further destination after the visit to the islands. My brother Chuck located a Galapagos journey that would put us on a boat with less than 20 people exclusive of staff. Since it was fully chartered by the Houston Zoo, we happily joined the Zoo. As we would come to realize, this gave us a huge benefit in terms of the clientele on the boat. The flight down through Atlanta was uneventful. Chuck and I sat in steerage, but were in the row where the exit door was located, so had 4-5 feet of leg room. Jennie and Lucie were in first class with the princess of Thailand, and seemed to have been comfortably accommodated.
For reasons unknown, Natural Habitat Adventures starts their tour in the highlands region around Otavalo. I suspect the real reason is to avoid problems with guests arriving late and not making the cruise. With the day in Otavalo, there is
Fast food, Ecuadorean style
Apparently the stylish decorations are an integral part of the preparation
a cushion for travel disasters. Also, I think they want to highlight another area of Ecuador which might otherwise go undiscovered. Our initial flight was into Quito, and we were too late to make the journey to Otavalo, so stayed overnight in an airport hotel and then the next morning went on to Otavalo by large van. Our journey occupied a little over an hour, and wound through hills with twisted strata demonstrating the uplift nature of the Andes. I was convinced that we journey upwards, but Quito is listed as being at 9300', while Otavalo is at 8300'. Our stay was at the Hacienda Cusin, an old Spanish land grant turned into a rustic but elegant country hotel with some central buildings and guest distributed throughout several outbuildings. Nighttime brought hot water bottles in locally embroidered cloth bags to warm our beds, with a fire lit in the fireplace while we were at dinner.
The next day was spent in a visit to the Hacienda Zuleta and to the nearby Condor Restoration Project. The Hacienda is another large land grant, owned most recently by the family of Gala Plaza Lasso, former president of Ecuador, bullfighter, farmer, and later
Fence crosspieces tied together with vines
Secretary General of the Organization of the American States. His list of diplomatic accomplishments, both for the UN and for the OAS, is long and distinguished. The Hacienda now hosts a hotel and an organic garden which we toured. This is favored place for gardening, since the altitude prevents very hot temperatures, while the location on the equator prevents most severely cold weather. The weather varies between wet and dry, but the temperature excursions are quite limited from season to season. The Hacienda also has a cheesemaking operation producing a variety of mostly pasteurized but not aged cheeses.
After an initial visit, we left the Hacienda and went to the Condor Restoration Project. The Project is aimed at breeding and restoring populations of the Andean condor. This bird is considered the largest flying bird in the world. Although some male bustards can weigh more, and some albatrosses and pelicans can have longer wingspans, the combination of wingspan and weight are unique. With an average wingspan of over 9 feet, then birds are magnificent to watch in flight. It is not yet genetically established whether the Ecuadorean condors are a separate species, and so they are being kept separate and
Magnificent bird in flight - probably about a 9 foot wingspan
their population of 100 birds is not being replenished from the more plentiful stocks in other South American countries. We were VERY fortunate to see three free condors, constituting 3% of the known population, all at one time. The birds are threatened by loss of habitat and by ingesting poisoned animal carcasses left out in the mistaken impression that the condors kill living animals (an extremely rare event). The feet are anatomically suited only for walking, not for grasping prey.
Tomorrow: the middle of the world, and the birthplace of the theory of evolution
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