As I get increasingly enmeshed with *this* altered state since returning from Ecuador March 19, the vividness of the experiences blur slightly and the matters that I just *had* to attend to have diminished in importance just a bit. But I continue to persist in pursuing the dreams that spawned during this odyssey (odyssey: a long series of wanderings or adventures, especially when filled with notable experiences, hardships; any long eventful journey).
In this last Ecuador blog I would like to share a few photos from my day-trips to Podocarpus National Park and Vilcabamba, as well as musing a bit, as I move forward into spring and summer in the good ol' U.S. of A.!
Podocarpus National Park occupies 360,000 acres in the low "V" of southern Ecuador, near its border with Peru (I reside one hour from the northern border with Colombia) and is the only protected area in southern Ecuador. The park is important for conservation, according to The Nature Conservancy, because of its high concentration of endemic species. The elevation generally varies from 6560 ft. to 9840 ft. Podocarpus takes its name from having the country's largest contingent of the Podocarpus or romerillo tree, the only conifer native to Ecuador.
Gonzalo, the noble taxista. I paid him $10 round trip upon arriving to the park (for the one+ hour round trip on a partially horrible unpaved road with potholes). We agreed that he would return for me in four hours, at 4:30pm, before the park locked the gates at 5:00pm. I implicitly trusted this man I got to know during the drive there, and knew he would be there as he promised...and he was! Good thing too, because the park is very remote and I would have been royally stranded otherwise. I ran into people only twice on the trail!
In a mindless moment as I left the hotel, I forgot to change my shoes and put on the much more appropriate hiking boots! This was after just a couple minutes of walking...already lots of mud splattered on my feet and sandals, which you really can't see, aka "Before." Too bad I didn't take an "After" photo!
The trail is generally well maintained.
Some parts of the trail are quite steep, and squishy with mud 1-2" deep, which made it quite *sucky* lol! After my initial horror, it got to be fun, though my sandals were trashed and it took me days to wash off the mud, which actually stained my feet and calves (seriously!).
Because of some recent severe storms there was also the occasional tree over the trail, although the worst problems had been cleared.
Lots of bamboo stands along the way.
And lots of moss too.
Air plants (genus tilandsia, the bromiliad family) galore!
One of the trails I loved in a full-on rainforest. The 20 min. is a joke...with the condition of the trail, it took three times that, but it was SO worth it. It reminds me so much of portions of the Kalalau trail In Kauai.
This beautiful, delicate little butterfly felt like my guide, as it hovered about and ahead of me, disappearing and suddenly reappearing, for probably 1/3 of the hike. It was quite magical!
Om my! I have way too many panoramic shots to post. I took one series of 12 moving the camera from left to right across the vista at one point high on the trail, so I'll post those 12, the first being far left and the last being far right:
Dusk as I near the trail head, and with this I leave Podocarpus. The next day was a day trip to Vilcabamba, a 45 min. ride in a taxi co-op from Loja.
Once again passing the entrance to Podocarpus, I continue to Vilcabamba. The valley (bamba, aka pampa) is overlooked by a mountain called Mandango, the Sleeping Inca, whose presence is said to protect the area from earthquakes and other natural disasters. The etymology of "Vilcabamba" apparently derives from "huilco pamba" (in Quichua, the Incan language, still heavily used by the Otavalan Indians where I live in northern Ecuador). Huilco denotes the sacred trees that inhabit the region and pamba is a word meaning “a plain.”
An interesting and unique village, with a controversial reputation for extreme longevity, Vilcabamba has often been cited as an area with the oldest inhabitants in the world. The claim has been called into question in recent years, though.
In any case, it is a beautiful with an abundance of agriculture, and this particular equatorial sub-area is said to have fruit, roots and herbs that offer some of the strongest anti-oxidant protection in the world.
The community has an overabundance of ex-pats from many countries, as well as an alive-and-well alternative community. For that reason, I easily found a vegan restaurant, owned by an American woman. I shared a table with Mia, a healer from Thailand. We enjoyed an exquisite lunch and delightful conversation. After lunch she took me to a bakery owned by a French couple, where I bought a delicious chocolate croissant. We had an espresso at another cafe on the plaza and then parted ways.
Concluding my day in Vilcambamba and my tenure in Ecuador are miscellaneous photos of my afternoon in the village, posted in order taken:
As I attend to the realities that confront me, my spirit whispers dreams to my heart that I am beginning to quietly explore -- as always, being called to...
I do not take for granted the freedom which offers me the joy unique to travel -- I never tire of strange places and new faces. Dear friend Don Doorn made reference to a musical hero of ours in his early blog comment, so for me it feels very fitting to close this Ecuador chapter with Richie Havens' legendary clarion call:
Richie Havens opening Woodstock in 1969
RIP, January 21, 1941-April 22, 2013