Monday, March 29, 2010

Photos Of Quito, Ecuador

This woman shucked and sold corn down the street from our house.

Shopkeeper at shop down the street from our house.

Sometimes you just need a rest.



Dancers weaving ribbons on the flag pole.

Ecuadorian musicians.  They were great, but we did not catch the name of the group.

View of old town Quito.

Clock tower, Basilica del Voto National.  Note stairs.

Stained glass, Basilica del Voto National.

Palm Sunday service, Basilica del Voto National.

View of Basilica del Voto National.  Note position of clocks in tower.

Palm Sunday service, Church of San Francisco, oldest in Ecuador.

Worshipers leaving Palm Sunday service,Church of Santo Domingo.

View of Church of La Merced.

The cathedral and museum at Plaza Grande, old town Quito.

Typical street in old town Quito.  Fantastic architecture.

View of old town from our rooftop, white tower is Church of Santo Domingo.

Portal in our rooftop wall.

View from our rooftaop.

Quito, Ecuador

We departed Costa Rica for Quito, Ecuador.  The man at the check in counter said the flight was oversold, so we got stuck in business class.  Boo hoo!

We landed at Quito and immediately started breathing hard, as the elevation here is over 9,000 feet, or about 3,000 meters.  Tana had found us a nice rental house in the old town which was great, especially the rooftop deck.

We spent our days walking around the amazing collection of buildings in the old town section, justifiably granted status as a world heritage site.  The building were fascinating, many many old churches originally built in the 1600s.  Earthquakes have wrecked the originals, but many now date from the late 1700s.

We climbed the towers of the massive Basilica del Voto National (twice) which did not go unnoticed by our legs and lungs.  The view from up there was fantastic, and the less than substantial stairs and ladders gave a bit of an edge to the affair.

On Palm Sunday the churches were packed, the streets to the old town were closed to traffic, and the city had quite a festive air to it.  While walking back towards the house we came across a little performance happening in a courtyard, so we popped in for some local music and dancing, both quite good.  The dancers each had a ribbon connected to a central pole, and as they danced around each other the ribbons became woven together around the pole, first loosely and then tightly  They danced some more and the ribbons miraculously became unwound.

Feeling that 3000 meters was not high enough, we took the gondola up to 4100 meters.  Great view, thin air.  On the way down stopped at the local amusement park for a few rides and rounds of bumper cars.

We like Quito and are looking forward to our return.  Next stop, Ecuadoran cloud forest.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Photos of Pacuare Reserve, Costa Rica

Agami Herons at Pacuare Reserve. 
I got this photo from the Internet Bird Collection Website.

Track of a leatherback turtle.  We covered these up so it would be harder for the poachers to find the nests.  The turtles are sensitive to light, so sadly no turtle photos.

Access to the reserve is by boat along a series of canals.

Diggin like a turtle.

The "Turtle Stop" which we built at the midpoint on the beach, complete with custom sign by Zane.  It was a nice place to stop when the rain was coming down, but the mosquitos liked it too.

Doing a little sign making.

Lots of wildlife at the reserve.  Besides turtles we saw monkeys, lizards, frogs, snakes, birds, crocs, and caimans.

Sunset at Pacuare.  Lots of rain there so we only saw this once.

Beach at Pacuare Reserve.  6 Km of prime Leatherback Nesting.

Pacuare Reserve, Costa Rica

Our last major stop in Costa Rica was at the Pacuare Reserve, a privately held sanctuary on the Carib Coast.  Our friends Scott and Julie run a non-profit organization Ecology Project International, (EPI) which we have supported over the years.  They send high school students from the US and Costa Rica to this reserve to help with the Leatherback Sea Turtle Nesting Program.  They have been trying to get us to come here for years, and finally we made it.  Boy are we glad we did because it was a fantastic experience!

The reserve has about 6km of coastline and is one of the prime Leatherback nesting areas in Costa Rica.  Last year the reserve recorded over 1100 Leatherback nests.  There turtles are critically endangered, so this is a very important spot for them. 

As volunteers, our primary duty was to go on night patrols and help the research assistants.  This involved walking 4 to 8 miles along the beach looking for turtles that had come up to nest.  If we found a turtle the tag data would be noted, or new tags put on if there were none, measure the turtle, etc.  We would capture the eggs in a bag and relocate them to a safe spot.  This involved lying behind the turtle holding the bag under them to catch the eggs.  Sounds great, but then imagine it is pitch dark, pouring rain, or you are getting eaten alive by mosquitos or sand flies.  Even under these conditions it was quite a thrilling experience.  After the turtle departed we would camouflage the track.

The reason for hiding the eggs and camouflaging the track is to deter poaching of the eggs.  The eggs are eaten by humans and believed to be aphrodisiacs.  One clutch of eggs can bring the equivalent of 2 weeks wages, so poaching is a popular local pastime.  Due to its location, guard patrols, and other practices the Pacuare Reserve has relatively little trouble from poachers.  That being said we did lose one nest while we were there, which is extremely frustrating as you might imagine.

Being early in the nesting season we were not sure if would be lucky enough to see any turtles.  We went out on the first night, and behold not 100 meters from where we left was a turtle!  These are huge animals, with shells that measure about 1.5 by 1.0 meters, and weigh at least 400kg.  They really are massive!  We helped collect the eggs, Zane got to hold her rear flipper so we could see the eggs being laid.  It was quite exciting. 

After she left we walked not 200 meters down the beach, where to everyones amazement there was another!  This time Glenn got to hold the egg bag, which means getting up close and personal with the turtle, so that was quite an experience.

Over the course of our 12 days there we ended up seeing about 8 to 10 turtles each, and never stopped being impressed by them.  It was great walking along the beach at night ( a bit less so in the pouring rain).  We saw shooting stars and even a bit of moonlight.

The staff at the reserve was fantastic.  The research staff was very friendly and helpful.  We were impressed with the dedication of the guards, who would notify staff when they found a turtle and mark the nest and read the tags of nobody could make it there.  Even the folks building new buildings and the cooks would go out at night hoping to see turtles.

During the day, between naps, we would explore the reserve and work on projects such as sign making, painting, bike repair, shelter contruction, etc.  The reserve has plenty of wildlife besides turtles.  In fact when we arrived (by boat) the first animal to greet us was a massive Croc - no swimming in the lagoon!  The reserve also has the only known nesting colony of Agami Herons in Central America, which are quite secretive and very beautiful.  We saw monkeys every day, and many frogs, lizards, and a few snakes.

At the end of our stay a group of students from California arrived, so it was great to see how the EPI program really works.  All the students went on night patrol, and they were all lucky enough to see at least one turtle.

We were sorry to leave the reserve by looked forward to dry and clean clothes.  Even leaving the reserve was an adventure.  We took a boat on the canals to a point where we met a truck to take us into town to catch a bus to San Jose.  Unfortunately just outside town there was some road construction, and no vehicles were passing.  The driver called for a taxi to meet us on the other side.  To get there we had to haul our luggage approx 100 meters through a banana plantation.  As we discovered, bananas are not grown on nice flat fields, but each row is separated by deep ditches to drain the water away.  We made our way through, and some local students were kind enough to help the ladies over the big jumps.  On the other side the school girls rewarded themselves by taking pictures of themselves with Zane.  We got to town and caught the bus, which was delayed going over the mountains as mudslides were still being cleared from the road.  We also stopped to take on passengers from a bus that had broken down. 

Finally arriving in San Jose, we are tired but happy to have had an amazing experience at Pacuare Reserve.

Next stop, Quito Ecuador.

Photos of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

Big and little sloths.

Hey ma he followed me home, can I keep him?

Tana with baby 3 toed sloth.

Baby 2 toed sloth.

Is that a howler monkey on my head?
Helmeted Baselisk lizard.

Eyelash Pit Viper in the wild.  Very Poisonous.

Yellow Eyelash Pit Viper behind glass.  Very poisonous.

Red Eyed Tree Frog. 
Very handsome and perhaps the most photographed frog in the world.


Beach at Puerto Viejo.  Heavy rain had left plenty of debris.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

We had briefly visited the southern Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo early during our stay in Costa Rica and decided we wanted to go back, so we spent a few more days there in the middle of March.

Our visit started a bit interestingly when we went to the bus station in San Jose.  Although we had purchased our tickets the day before, the driver sent us back to the ticket window for a reason we could not understand.  It turns out that the main road to the East Coast was closed due to mudlsides, and we needed to take a longer route.  This meant paying extra as the bus was going further.  The ride was longer and the road more windy but we did get there.

On the Carib Coast it had been raining heavily for some days so the place was a bit soggy, but after a couple days the sun came out and life was nice.

We soaked up the local Carib culture, enjoyed playing with the tree frogs by the swimming pool, visited a local animal rescue center, and Glenn went for a walk in the woods with a local biologist.  Unfortunately for Zane the surf was not happening so there was no surfing.

The local animal rescue center was quite fun, as they had monkeys and baby sloths that we could hold and play with.  Even baby sloths are cute!  They also had examples of all the poisonous snakes in Costa Rica, which we did not hold and play with.

After a few days here we were off to our final destination in Costa Rica, the Pacuare Reserve.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Photos of San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

Resplendent Quetzal.  One beautiful bird.

Respendent Quetzal - check out those tail feathers!

Emerald Toucanet.  Toucans and Toucanets only fly in straight lines.

Not sure why these butterflies were so fond of this rock, other than it was in the sun.

Happy horse rider.  Sure beats walking, especially uphill!

Some of the large oak trees are more than 500 years old.  They've seen lots of clouds!

Clouds - always moving, changing the landscape.
Just another pretty mountain stream.

San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica

We have just spent 3 days in the cloud forest about 80km south of San Jose, in the area (not really a town) of San Gerardo de Dota, which is located within Los Quetzales National Park.  To get there we took a bus along the Pan American Highway, and got dropped off in the section known as "Cerro de la Muerto" or "Mountain of Death".  Driving through the clouds at an elevation of 3,000 meters it was easy to see why it was called this!

The lodge where we stayed was down the hill at "only" 2550 meters.  The road was steep and the air was thin, as we found out walking up and down the trails and road.  The forest and valley were scenic, and there were many birds to be watched, right from our window.  Unlike the cloud forest in Monteverde, here we were often in or above the clouds.  It was a fine show every day watching the progression from a clear morning to a cloudy afternoon or even a downpour.  It was also nice to be cool.

We especially enjoyed dinner.  The lodge only served breakfast and lunch, so we walked up the hill (and I do mean up) each night for dinner at local restaurant, run by two ladies.  It was like eating in someone's living room, and the food, served family style, was fantastic.  Luckily we could waddle back downhill to our place after dinner was over.

A highlight was seeing the Resplendent Quetzal, or Mayan Bird or paradise.  It is also the national bird - of Guatemala.  (The Costa Rican national bird is the Clay-Colored Robin, a visually uninspring but audibly appealing garden-dweller).  We all saw Quetzals, at least once, and could see why it was a worthwhile endeavor to create a National Park in honor of it.

We will now be making our way to the Caribbean Coast.