Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Obviously the rate of posting here has declined since our return from Ecuador. Life has returned to a somewhat normal routine and it seems kind of boring in compare with the past months in Ecuador.

So what have we been up to? Amalia returned to second grade and finished up last week. She reintegrated easily and finished at the top of her class in all subjects. Seems any worry we had of her falling behind we unfounded. Camilo returned to daycare and did great. He only problem is that he doesn't realize he weighs 50lbs and when he runs and jumps on someone he can knock them down. When his teachers she him in the morning they brace themselves for impact!

Lisa is doing well. She has two students finishing their PhDs in the near future so is helping them along.

I did the Boston Marathon again this year. It was quite an experience with a reported 1 million people lining the route and 36K runners. I met the same friends from last year and we had a great time. My run was going great, until it wasn't. Apparently you should actually do some long runs when you train for a marathon. Still, I beat last year's time. I was also super excited to see Meb win the men's race. Perfect guy to win such a big event.

I did spend a week in the Bahamas recently. I was there to help a colleague catch lizards. That update will have to wait though...

Monday, May 5, 2014

trip to the jungle!

Still trying to catch up with reality back in the US and need to finish up the posts from Ecuador. Here are some pics from our last major trip in Ecuador, and probably the best one. We went to the lowland Amazon Rainforest. Amalia was super excited for this as this was the one she had been asking to go on from our first days in Ecuador. It is also the trip that scared Lisa the most. This area has the most biodiversity of anywhere on earth but that also means the most things that can bite/sting/scare/irritate/spray etc. But we had a great time, largely because we chose a great destination, Sani Lodge. I have been to a number of lodges and research stations in Ecuador and this place ranks with the absolute best. It isn't the most fancy but it has amazing wildlife, is relatively easily accessible, and has a sense of community that it incomparable. The ecuadorian amazon is currently under intense threat from oil companies and the Sani community has fought a brave battle to keep the oil companies away. The lodge is run by the community and the profits go to the community to help build schools, hospitals, etc. In essence, it is there alternative to oil money and they are doing everything they can to do the right thing. I wish there were more people in the world as honest and wonderful as they are.

Cool snake we found on a night hike. 

And a salamander. This is one of the few groups of organisms that isn't very diverse in the amazon of Ecuador, only two species.

Nice big hylid frog. Most of these beasts were found on night hikes.

How is this for a defensive caterpillar?

Before going to the jungle we made a quick stop in Papallacta (it's actually close to the airport, relatively). The kids loved the chance to play in the pools again.

And I took my camera traps to help my friends Patricio and Mario start to study the local bear and tapir populations. I left the cameras there for them to use.

To get to Sani you have to take a flight to Coca (45 min) and then a motorized canoe ride (2 hours) and then a short walk on this boardwalk and then a small canoe ride to the lodge. The lodge is built on a black water lagoon and is spectacular.
 Amalia and I riding in the small canoe.
 And here is Javier, our guide. He is from the Sani Community and a native Quechwa. He is also among the best guides I have ever had and a fantastic person as well.
 Nearing the lodge we were greater by this old tree sticking out of the lagoon. Notice the bats sleeping on it!
 Camilo doing some bird watching.
 View onto the lagoon at dusk.
 Dusky Jungle Frog!
 Sleeping lizard.
 Giant tarantula that Amalia found.
 Tree frog!
 Most of our trips from the lodge started by paddling the canoe. You can see the wonderful paddle that Javier used. He usually paddled from the front and another guide from the back of the canoe.
 Javier with the kids at the base of the canopy tower.
 And up in the canopy tower. This is about 100ft about the ground and gives a completely different view of the forest.
 But Camilo still wanted to play with his trucks.
 But Amalia did some bird watching and modeled her new Quechwa headband.
 Javier spotted this frog in the reeds as we paddled past. Beautiful frog and shows haw important it is to have a good guide.
 Hoatzin! One of the coolest birds around. They eat leaves!
 View of the lagoon at dawn.
 Amalia had two major requests, macaws and monkeys. I never make guarantees but I really wanted to find these for her. We saw lots of macaws flying overhead but never got to see them land anywhere. But we did see lots of monkeys including these spider monkeys,
 We also got to visit the community and their farm. Camilo got some corn.
 And they made a grasshopper from a palm leaf for Amalia.
 And we got lunch as well. The grubs were for the brave.
 And they we got to practice with the blowgun. Amalia gave it a go.
 As did I.
 And I slayed the vicious banana!
 even Camilo gave it a go.
 As did Lisa and the Banana felt her wrath.
 Amalia lining up the Banana.
 One afternoon we found these rare birds right near the lodge. Bare Faced Ibis, which aren't supposed to be there.
 And later that afternoon, while the kids were napping, the guides let Lisa and I try our hands at throwing spears. In truth, the spears are crazy heavy!
 and the results were mostly some sore arms!
 The dining hall staff was great. Every meal they folded the napkins into different shapes and Amalia became fascinated by them. So the waiter took time each meal to coach her on how to fold the napkins. This is the kind of service that showed they cared and made the experience so special for us.
 And as we were getting ready to leave we found one last gecko to say goodbye.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Camilo's party

We are actually back in Blacksburg from our sabbatical in Ecuador but I still have some pics and stories to share so will be playing catch-up the next few posts. It was pretty chaotic at the end so I am behind.

The kid's school was on the 'coastal' schedule so they ended the year in early March. This worked out perfect for us, despite being completely unplanned. It allowed the kids to finish the year with their friends and then gave us a few weeks to travel and pack up to leave.

For Camilo's last day of class the students put on a little show and then had a party. This was lots of fun and while Camilo didn't participate in most of the show (he didn't understand the directions), he did do a dance with his best friend Valentina.

This was as dressed up as we could get for the show and party. Not great but not bad.

Someone was bored waiting the show to start.

Camilo and his teacher. He called her 'profe' and liked her a lot. Notice how well dressed the other students were.

His best friend Valentina. He already misses her. One of his last things he did in Mindo was to go to the butterfly garden with her. Amalia also went with her friends. The garden lets Mindo residents go for free, very cool!

We funded these paintings on the wall of Camilo's class. The painter is the mother of one of the students and the hand prints are from all of the students. Something for them to remember us by.

One of his last days Camilo came home with pink paint in his hair… now we know how it got there.

The cake was the highlight of the party!

And here is the whole class… note that Camilo is on the far left and Valentina has her back to the camera.

On the walk home we found the local burro. This guy has no owners and just kind of wanders about town… the kids feed him guayabas!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

camera found on Chimborazo leads to an amazing story

During our trip to Chimorazo, I took a solo hike one afternoon to see how the altitude would treat me if I tried to exercise. I only made went about a mile from the lodge but climbed about 200m. As the lodge is at 4000m, there isn't much air to breath. The flat parts were fine but whenever the trail turned up, I suffered.

On the way back I found a camera half buried in some sand. It had been there a while and was also filled with sand and, not surprisingly, the battery was dead. Still, I was able to take the card out and look at the pics on it. There were a few hundred and it looked like a couple of americans or euro men who were traveling with others and doing some mountain climbing and other tourist things. I asked the guys at the lodge if they recognized the climbers and they said no but that I should contact the main office. So when we returned to Mindo, that is what I did. And that is where the story got interesting…

The pics were taken back in January 2013, a year ago. The woman at the main office is the wife of Marco Cruz, the famous mountain climber and she immediately recognized the guys in the pics and related the following story to me. Below I will paste a copy of the story she sent me. I have used Google translate and have deleted some names for personal reasons. Still, the story is amazing.

I tell you that we have led an incredible surprise to see the photos.
These two German friends Ralf and Ralf were part of a group of 7 mountaineers who came to make a program to climb Chimborazo and spent 13 days with us at the lodge in training , climbing , walking and getting ready to climb to the summit of Chimborazo , a very good Pograma we operate with the German Alpine Club. All very nice in panel two friends .

Ralf - the man in the picture is smiling and wearing a green - pants was the strongest and most well prepared group . On February 4, they all reached the summit of Chimborazo successfully following the southern route that has the name of my husband (Route Marco Cruz) On the descent to be rappelling down a rock wall Ralf suffered an unexpected heart attack and died instantly in front his friend and some of the guides that were in place then.

It was terrible for us , the first time in 40 years of work that a client dies during a program with us. We had to build an operation with more than 10 mountain guides to retrieve the body because the accident occurred at 5,900 mts . in a very difficult part of the route ( impossible to reach by helicopter ) and then the saddest , notify the Embassy , the Alpine Club and family .... then getting the autopsy, police statements , the morgue , hundreds of papers and statements , in a few days so terrible . We were able to send the body to Germany after 3 weeks of the accident !

You can imagine the impact that we get to see the photos ... everything you came to mind . So I could not resist sharing this story with you because also find the camera to a year after the accident met.

I already contacted Ralf (the friend) and is very happy to get back photos , says he lost the camera on a walk and looked around the side and did not appear. Surely he will be very happy to see some pictures of those happy days were the last he shared with his friend.

So I have been in contact with the victims friend and have arranged to send him the card when we return to the US. I hope if helps the victims friend and family to see Ralf smiling and enjoying the last days of his life. Needless to say, I am happy that I am able to help them in any way I can.

Monday, March 3, 2014

trip to Chimborazo!

Last week we went on a trip up into the Andes. Our goal was to see some mountains and we succeeded! We decided on Chimborazo as it is the highest mountain in Ecuador and the point the furthest from the center of the earth (near the equator and the earth bulges at the middle). Here are some pics and descriptions of our adventure.

Driving in Ecuador has it's challenges and benefits. Few roads are marked and it is easy to get lost. But, there are lots to cool small towns and treats along the way. When describing our plans to my english student Geovanny, he suggested we stop in Salcedo for ice-cream. Apparently it is famous in Ecuador and the place must have the most ice-cream shops per capita of any place in the world! We stopped at one of the first. Notice the list of flavors! The kids declared this their favorite town in Ecuador.

They also had a farmer's market and Lisa took a break from riding in the back of the truck to check it out. These fruit are like lychees but fresh (as opposed to the canned lychees we get in the US) and were quite delicious.

Lots of fruit.

Here is another mystery fruit. Apparently these ripen after mango season so mark a seasonal shift in fruit diet for Ecuadorians.

Here is a highlight of the trip! We were near Banos when Lisa noticed this weird grey cloud on the horizon. It is Volcan Tunguahua erupting! It has been very active recently and we got to see this puff of ash come out of it. Amazing!

The ash cloud rose in the sky and was prominent for miles around. The actual volcano is hidden in the clouds.

And here is our first view of Chimborazo! It is over 6000m high!

And here is where we stayed. It is a lodge owned and operated by Marco Cruz, one of Ecuador's great mountain climbers. We were lucky enough to get to meet him. His lodge is fantastic!

Here is the main lodge which is also the restaurant. It is situated in this little valley looking up at the mountain. The lodge is at 4000m, so breathing and such ain't easy!

Amalia immediately made friends with Whimper (named after the climber) and the two were insuperable for the rest of our stay.

There is a herd of llama and alpaca on the land and Whimper thinks they are fun to chase.

Camilo immediately started gathering grass to build things.

Here is the cabin we stayed in. There are two double rooms downstairs and two upstairs. We stayed downstairs. Gets cold at night but we had space heaters in the room.

This was the other dog belonging to the lodge… can't remember her name but needless to say she was good friends with Amalia too.

Camilo liked Whimper too.


There is a little cross joined by tibetan prayer flags high in the hill next to the lodge. Amalia and I decided to hike up to it on a whim. Marco saw us and was impressed. We guessed Amalia might be the youngest kid ever to make the climb!

There is a large population of vicunas living on the mountain. Amazing animals living at high elevation with very little apparent food to eat… but they do fine.

We drove up into the reserve to see how high we could go. And too a family photo.

4800m! That is nearly 16,000ft!

Not much up here by this beautiful flowering plant is everywhere. It is a favorite of the Chimborazo Hillstar. A beautiful hummingbird (no pics, sorry) that lives in this amazing environment.

Lucky for us we have our Toyota LandCruiser to get us around… or as Camilo refers to it, our 'Monster Truck'!

More vicunas, including a baby.

The road cuts show the amazing geology of the mountain. I am guessing what we are seeing here is the evidence from millennia of eruptions of the Chimborazo and all the surrounding volcanoes.

One day we went to Aluasi to ride the train to the Nariz del Diablo. This was a special trip for Camilo as he is in love with Mighty Machines, and trains are certainly mighty! Here are the tracks through town.

Camilo is so excited he can't stand still, not even for a pic.

All aboard!

Camilo wanted a window seat. But we had to warn him not to hang out the window.

We could peak out to see what was ahead.

The train for this trip is made to feel like an old classic train but it is modern and nice. The trip takes a few hours in total and the kids loved it.

Lots of cliffs. You can see here how the tracks double back on themselves to make the steep grade. Apparently 2500 workers died making these tracks!

Here is a view up the Nariz del Diablo from the bottom.

Camilo watching the world go by.

Amalia liked it too but wouldn't admit it.

And then back to the lodge.
Here is a commemorative to Marco Cruz whose lodge we stayed out.

Llamas and alpacas.

View inside the restaurant. Great place to visit!

Amalia and her dog friends!

The last morning we were there it cleared up and Lisa took dozens (maybe hundreds!) of pics of the mountain.

View up the valley from the lodge.

From the other side of the mountain and we drove around to make our way back.

Amalia and the mountain.

Camilo and the mountain.

Kids and the mountain!

Big mountain!

And of course we had to stop in Salcedo on the way back for more ice-cream! They even have a sculpture of a Salcedo ice-cream on the way into town. This is the world's center of ice-cream!