Even Further South In Ecuador!

We’d been advised to get out of Cuenca by some who thought we were making a show of this  poverty/budget expat thing, so last week has been spent in the southeastern lowlands – low being relative in  Ecuador, say like 4500′ in Vilcabamba.  Plus, son Chris visited courtesy of his employer who gave everyone a week free vacation/furlow.  We were happy and already planning an exit before our soon-to-be-return to Ashland.

Vilcabamba is perhaps the fruits and nuts center of Ecuador with rumors of long-lived citizens, so, of course, pyramids and massage fit right in there.  It’s a beautiful place withal.  Green valley with nice little town, good places to stay – we found the Hosteria Izhcayluma for 3 days and tromped about the countryside: first to the  national park, Podocarpus which is named for the only native evergreen to South America.  Several species of it exist and as such is a decorative plant/tree in North America.


The ascent to a mirador or viewpoint was through a cloud forrest which gets a fair amount more rainfall than the valley – see the ridge hiking below but still a lot less than the other side of the mountains.  The weather in the Amazon basin comes from the east, all the way across the continent and reputedly generates enough of its own rainfall through evaporation over the soggy landscape between Brazil’s east coast 4000 miles away.  This, as opposed to the Pacific Northwest, say, where the water comes up out of the ocean.

Saw plenty of very curious plants (too late for the birds) and a few insects.  The  trek itself wasn’t particularly difficult, starting with a $30 r/t taxi ride from Vilcabamba back toward Loja where we’d been the day before traveling in  the opposite direction to get to the valley of long-lived whitebeards (never seen except on a billboard).  You can see the Vilca-Loja road far below the 8500′ level we’d hiked to.  Chris would have hiked the whole 5 hour loop but mom and dad happened to be along.

podocarpus-cajanuma-bromeliads-in-treeNo orchids to be seen but these bright red bromeliads make up for some of that as did the tendency of flowers to leap straight out of the stalk of some plants.


Why a plant would do this is beyond me but the plants (and animals and fungus) are simply different here, except for some enterprising Europeans who brought in eucalyptus and pines which now outcompete native species.  These same Europeans didn’t think to bring the requisite pests to keep these trees down.

Next day was the even drier west side of the Vilcabamba valley on a supposed 5 hour hike that we shortened with a taxi ride to somewhere near the midpoint.  Nice scenery and a reasonably easy hike if you don’t count the ridges that dropped off a few hundred feet on both sides.  See Chiyemi trying not to look down.


That and some of the  hiking was remarkably like cross country bushwhacking toward the end going down a little river valley, going from side to side, sometimes in the river itself.


This is a ridiculously easy part of the hike but I was probably busy knocking brush out of my face or trying to find a place to put my number 10’s down without falling instead of taking pictures – selfish, I know…

Next day we hiked nearly in downtown Vilcabamba (not a big place at all) in a hippy run (Chris’ designation) wildlife reserve called Rumi  Wilco which may or may not be the fruits and nuts center of Vilcabamba.  The two owners were very nice in helping us find the trails and we gave our $2 donation per capita and spent a nice morning in RW.

Here’s the signature “mushroom rock” on near the ridge trail we took.


That afternoon we hopped a bus back to Loja and from the bus station caught another bus down the east (and wetter) side of Podocarpus National Park.  Got in 4’ish to Copalinga, a very nice eco-lodge and we were put into the “rustic” cabana which was pretty damned nice for all it’s rusticity.  We shared a bath, but not the room with Chris who was across the porch from us.


This view looks up the valley toward Podocarpus National Park’s Bombuscaro entrance.  Really a pretty wet place and you can see it’s just full of trees.  In the opposite direction and 3km down the road is the town of 18,000 called Zamora: unremarkable but  very peaceful – Zamora that is.  Of course, Copaling is even more peaceful and the owners (Belgians and the 6 yr old kid, the frogging guide) are super, super nice.  I’m not saying this just because I walked off with the room key, either…


The food was great (thanks, Mariza!) and the frog hunting fair with a nice snake (non-poisonous) who was out looking for frogs himself.  Beautiful views of the valley.

copalinga-morning-hillside-loresWithout much comment (I anticipate) here’s what we found in terms of flowers (lots and lots of orchids), butterflies (some astoundingly cooperative in being photographed), forest (or jungle if you prefer).



This iridescent blue on a shoe shot  is of our guide Pepe’s foot while he snoozed and we ate lunch, chased the butterflies who’d come there to snack on salts leached out of the rock face.  They were perfectly happy (even obsessive) to suck salt off humans.  Pepe at one point had 9 or 10 of them on various parts of his recumbent anatomy.



This beauty is from back at Izhcayluma on the drier side of Podocarpus and about 3.5″ across.  Landed on a flower between my legs.


This also from Izhcayluma on the loop hike we took up on the ridges but this  was down in that pesky riverbed.  Nearly worth it for this shot, I’d say.


This is (believe it or not) a butterfly doing a great job of looking like a wasp but got sucked in by the lights around Copalinga’s dining room.


From Rumi-Wilco.  Interesting that this butterfly and others is completely different looking when it opens its wings: better from a photographic standpoint but at rest, some butterflies close their wings (always) while others seem to flap them from time to time – maybe pumping in nectar?


That’s all for the insects, I think.  How about this tiny (3/4″ to 1″) yellow orchid?

yellow-flowers-in-a-row-2-loop-hike-vilcabamba-loresAre these orchids?  I’m not the one to ask but they certainly were/are pretty.

sweetheart-lips-podocarpus-bombuscaro-loresTry guessing what these are called.  If you answered sweetheart lips, you’d be exactly right.

white-orchid-podocarpus-loresAnd this nice, creamy white orchid.


But these yellow with purple spots are certainly orchids.  Aren’t the?


The above orchid is so common no one bothers even looking at them.  We saw the roadside fairly covered in these on our way to Macas for Carnaval and I regreted not asking the driver to stop so I could tak e picture of these mauve beauties.  Not to worry: they grow nicely in the rainforest, too.  It’s called flor de venado or deer-flower.


Is it just me or does this flower looking unhappy?  Or ready to eat anything that gets too close?



iridescent-bee-visits-orchid-redone-podocarpus-loresCheck the iridescent bee that was visiting this orchid: flowers lay on the ground with the stems/roots and all behind in the leaf and forest floor litter.

That’s it for now.  Don’t cound on another post until we get back to the states.  Lots more photos but this has taken all day and I’m supposed to have packed for tomorrow’s flight to Quito.  From there we hit the Pacific slope/Mindo where there are (I am assured) many interesting and beautiful birds.

I’d like to make one more post on what it would cost to live full-time in Ecuador as a retired expat or simply someone with a few bucks coming in each month.  It’s not a place to earn a living competing against Ecuadorians but maybe a web-based or internet based work would do.  That or catering to all the rich and nearly rich Americanos who are trickling down from up north.

Thanks for the support and kind comments.


Here’s familia Doyle after an hour and a half climb atop the mirador in Podocarpus east.

21 Responses to “Even Further South In Ecuador!”

  1. 1 Suzanne
    April 6, 2009 at 4:49 am

    Wow! Thank you for taking these pictures and going to the trouble of posting them, as well!
    … A smart idea to keep this on-going record.
    We’re all looking forward to our reunion at the Mah Jongg table, soon …


  2. 3 Thalia
    April 4, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Incredible photos. Those butterflies and orchids are something else! How was carnaval?


  3. 4 Marjorie Ratner
    March 30, 2009 at 12:03 am

    The photos are superb! I especially liked the ridge top, but Chiyemi, looking down does not seem comfortable! may you be well-balanced . . . .
    The flowers and insects are marvelously indecent. Sensual, voluptuous!
    And, the phtogrgraphy inspires me. I’d love to return there and climb those mountains, both the upraised sedimentary ones and the volcanic bursts. In my dresmd???
    Thank you for putting all this together and sharing the results.

  4. 5 Shannon
    March 28, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Beautiful pix of butterflies and orchids–I’m sharing these with a friend at work who grows orchids and bromeliads in his Bend greenhouse.
    See ya back in the states.

  5. 6 John & Reiko
    March 27, 2009 at 1:59 am

    We have really enjoyed your travelogue

    top notch photos


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