18 February 2010

From Loja to Zumba

16/2. Tuesday. Again we were very lucky with the weather.It had rained the whole night and still rained in the morning when Eduardo came to La Lojana. But the rain soon stopped to start again when we arrived in Zumba 8 hours later.
We fetched the camera-man, Frans Coronel, whom Eduardo had asked to accompany us. We first drove to the entrance of the Podocarpus National Park, but we had no time to go in. So, we haven't seen one of these trees, also not near the street because they are cut and taken  away for their valuable wood. In Vilcabamba we made a stop at the finca of the family of Frans. There we were cordially invited for breakfast by some 20 family members with papaya-yoghourt, yuca (=casave) and coffee. To some of the many children we could give one of our small presents and a balloon.

Frans Coronel joins us as cameraman.

Breakfast with the family of Frans

Then the trip started through a landscape of mountains and valleys, which I had made several times using Google Earth. I couldn't imagine how we would ever get through there. But here we were, going up and down over wide dirt roads (camino de tirra) with many holes on an average hight of 2000 m.

We saw a very large hacienda, remnants of an Inca pyramide and "pastos", were farmers had burned the fields and planted "mequeron". This African grass survives the ferns that usually compell the farmer to move further and start burning an other site.
Eduardo showing the newly planted mequeron grass.

We passed the continental divide ("la divisoria continental de aguas") around 12:30 on a hight of 2700 m. An hour later we came to Valladolid, mentioned by La Condamine, and had lunch. We continue over mountain ridges (~1200 m) with the Rio Yzimanchi (?) deep beneath us. It is surprising how everywhere along this road isolated houses occur  and pastures on the top of the mountains. Is this still a heritage of the Inca tradition?

On the continental divide.

After 220 km we arrive more or less exhausted in Zumba (1300 m)where Eduardo found a hotel "El Emperador". That night it would rain continuously. In the middle of the night (3 am) a bus stopped; from where? A young women stepped out into the rain and entered a desolate house which had been burned half; a dog barked, then only the rain....

Evening dinner in Zumba. View from our hotel.

17 February 2010

From Cuenca to Loja

14/2. Sunday. In the morning Eduardo and Anna come to our Hotel. We first go to a friend of Eduardo, Mario Brazzero who is waiting in front of the oldest church of Cuenca: "La Catedral Vieja"built in 1573. We admire the private chapels that do not belong to the church (!), the paintings with their "trampantojos" (trompe-oeuil) and the old organ, the music of which must have been heard by La Condamine.
The old organ which La Condamine could have heard!

At half past 9 we head to the south and soon come to the mountain described in the book of Neil Safier (see former posts). At 10:30 we are on the top of the Francesurcu (the mountain of the french?), having taken 643 steps. Our GPS gives the following position: S 3° 0' 28''; W 79° 2' 35'' and a height of 2887 m. There on the top we meet Braulio Pulla ("pintor") of the Parroquia de Tárqui. He tells us that they want to improve the acces to this start of the French-Spanish geodesic expedition.
Almost on the top of the Francesurcu, which La Condamine used
for his triangulations.

Eleven km south of Tárqui (11h40) we come to a 1829-war monument where Grand-Colombia fought against Peru. From there we have a beautiful view over the valley of the Rio Jubanes.

Going down the landscape changes continuously: At 2000 me everything is green; at 1500-1200 m we drive through a red desert without any plants; below 1000 m everything is green again, In the villages they sell bananas (platanas or maduros) and roast pigs on the street side whiloe children try to throw water in our car.

Enjoying carnival - on the way down to Santa Rosa.

We continue to Santa Rosa and Puerto Jeli near the Pacific coast where we eat fish in a big crowd feasting carnival. Finally, at 4 o'clock we leave for Zaruma where we arrive an hour later. Position: S 3° 41' 34''; W 79° 36' 37'' and 1220 m high. La Condamine was not allowed to put the position on the map because of the gold mines that are still existing!

Too late we leave for Loja. We have to climb a dirt road over a mountain through dense mist and in the dark. But when we come to the valley of Catamayo everything is different again: it is dry, warm and there is a bright skye. In the beautiful Hotel La Lojana, we didn't catch enough satellites to measure the position or we were just too tired....

15/2. Monday. At 9:30 Eduardo comes and fetches us for a trip in the direction of Zamora in beautiful wheather. We stop on the ridge of El Tiro mountain (Parque Nacional Podocarpus), where we walk up and see the transition between the wet and the dry Paramo, just as Antoine Cleef had explained to us. We saw many beautiful plants and flowers, a strange, large bird (long neck, white beak(?) and a long falcon-like tail) sailing above the mountain and we measure our position: S 3° 59' 40''; W 79° 8' 50'' and 2927 m high.
The Paramo vegetation of El Tiro; different from that of the Cotopaxi.

We continue our drive to the San Francisco Scientific Research station (Estacion Cientifica San Francisco), wher we are kindly received by Jürg Zeilinger with a nourishing soup. The total Institute comprises some 200 people, most of them German (they call themselves Humboldt's successors!). Many Ecuadorian students can follow here a master study and even do their PhD! Jürg showed us around and we went down to the river. He told us how important the natural landslides are (see picture). These superficial landslides, occuring at random and probably because the growing trees became too heavy for the thin organic layer lying on the steep slopes of slippery "schiffer" (weak-metamorph), necessitate the forest to adapt and give new opportunities to other plants and trees during reforestation  (there are about 600 tree species). Because of this continuous "mixing" and adaptation the forests show their high biodiversity. And humans contribute to it although the (anthropogenic) landslides they cause (by making roads and pastures) are wider and deeper, inducing a different kind of reforestation.

Left Jürg Zeilinger in the Esyacion San Francisco.
In the background two natural landslides.

After having returned to Loja we fetched Carlos Iuan Espinosa, a botanist of the Universidad tecnica Particular de Loja, who hopes to defend his thesis this year in Madrid. He specializes in the "Cascarilla" tree, Cinchona condamine, the tree La Condamine describes as having found in Cajanuma and as being the richest in quinina-content. Humboldt gave the tree this name because he had found another species in Colombia which he called Cinchona officinalis. However this has become the official name of the tree in Loja.
Carlos Espinosa standing under a young Cascarilla-tree at the site (Cajanuma) 
where La Condamine describes that the best trees could be found there.

In the evening Eduardo and Anna showed us a deserted Loja: almost everybody had left town for the warmer Zamora or Vilcabamba towns to celebrate Carnival. But we found a pizzaria, where we had a nice dinner with their sons Abram (12y) and Paul (7y).

14 February 2010

From Quito to Cuenca.

11/2. Thursday. Also when going north, Quito appears to be a big city with a lot of traffic. This time we went down and up through a large valley surrounded by deforestated mountains containing many quarries; along the road one cement factory after the other. After 1.5 h we reached a kind of tourist parc: "La Mitad del Mundo". There was the monument and the red line and also a table where you could try to balance an egg on the tip of a nail: it would stay in balance on the line and tumble on either side of it. On Youtube it can be seen how many educated tourists believe the trick. Our GPS gave as position: 0o 0' 9'' S; 78o 27.2' W and 2817 m hight. So, we were slightly below the equator?

Sebastián and Hilbert balancing on the equator.

12/2. Friday. This morning we prepared a box with stuff we didn't want to take down the Amazon (books) for the post to Holland. After also having bought batteries for GPS and camera, Sebastián took us to the airport. We had lunch and then said goodbye to our wonderful "anfitrión" (host), who had helped us with so many things in Quito, who had been correcting all the time our spanish gibberish and who had so many times suggested: "Why don't we go to eg. Otavalo, La Condamine was there...?"
Thank you Sebastián and goodbye Pichincha.....

Goodbye Pichincha! The tip of the Cotopaxi from our airplane.

The Chimborazo from the airplane; Ecuador highest mountain.

In the airplane a man sat next to me who helped me to take a picture of the Chimborazo vulcano through the window. It was a neurologist and we talked about brains and La Condamine. We landed in Cuenca on what seemed a road in between the houses. Once outside, the taxi driver had to ask many times his "companieros", sometimes stopping, sometimes while driving, for our hotel La Casona, according to him in the véry rich part of Cuenca. But also in the south of Cuenca, not far from the road to Tarqui, where La Condamine started his voyage.

13/3. Saturday.  "Sounds from long ago"
It was still dark when I woke up with the sounds of the crowing of far-away cocks and of what must be an oriole. Sounds of rain, the song of a blackbird and crickets woke me up again and reminded me of Sutz...

Left: View from our room in hotel La Casona; in the morning it had been raining...
Right: View on old, colonial Cuenca and the Rio Tomebamba.

Walking to the big cathedral, La Imaculada, in the center of lovely, colonial Cuenca, we came to Parque Calderon. It is carnival and everywhere people become sprayed with water or other stuff; Hilbert became twice a victim.... In the parc a boy called us. Turning around we saw the person we met in the airplane yesterday: Dr. Galo Cuesta, with son and daughter. He could not stand up because his shoes were being polished. So, I set down and allowed my sandals to become shiny also, for 30 cents; the face of the small boy looked quite old and seemed not capable of producing a smile. Afterwards we drank a coffee and talked about brain trauma's in young children, football and many other things. When coming back to Quito I promised to contact him.
Left: Hilbert proudly (?) showing his carnival spray.....
Right: Galo Cuesta, whom we had met in the airplane, 
with son and daughter; small children polishing our shoes....

In the evening Eduardo Tapia came with his wife Anna. He will be our guide to Sarameriza, past the Pongo de Manseriche. We had a nice "get-together" in the restaurant El Maiz. Tomorrow the real journey will start when we will be in Tarqui, from where La Condamine started his voyage: "Je partis de Tarqui, terme austyral de notre méridienne, a cinq lieues au sud de Cuenca, le 11 mai 1743."

First encounter with Eduardo Tapia, director of Tourism in Loja, and his wife.