Friday, February 28, 2014

Guayaquil - Part 2

At the north end of the Malecon Simon Bolivar is San Pedro, an older community build on the hillside where the city began. The houses are as they were years ago painted in a beautiful variety of pastels. Only one street traverses this community. Most of the places are reached by walking alleyways or climbing the 444 steps to the top of the hill. Climbing it was not as difficult as I expected, probably because the steps are wide and there are flats along the way. It’s not like climbing a similar number of steps to ascend a church tower or lighthouse where there is no respite along the way as you circle your way to the top. A small lighthouse and a church top the hill so one can climb a bit more for an even better view. I was also pleased to find a few new birds joining me in the trees and flowers above the city. 

The final step!

Back on lower ground Guayaquil boasts a couple of other amazing sights. Parque Boliva, a public square, is the home of about 150 iguanas. Our guide told us that the iguanas used to try traversing the streets at night, but seem to have learned the folly of that as they no longer see any dead ones on those streets. The city feeds them lettuce so they get plenty to eat and the many trees, flowers, and ponds provide them some relief from the children, who like all children, think pulling on the animal’s tail is great fun. Facing the park is the city’s cathedral. At the center of the city the Plaza del Centenario where the central Liberty column is surrounded by statues of the founding fathers. These four city blocks at the halfway point between the two malecons on Avenida 9 de Octubre, this is the city’s main square full of people at all hours of the day. 

Twice a week, this band plays during the noon hour.
Another interesting sight was the long line at City Hall. People were lined up around the corner to pay their taxes. Our guide told us they would save a significant amount by paying in person in cash before the end of January. I think she said the amount was about $50 per person. I walked by three different times and the lines never diminished. Apparently this process applies to everyone as our guide told us she would be standing in that same line later in the week. 

It's election season in Guayaquil and I was also treated to a parade for one of the mayoral candidates. I'm not sure what the camel symbolizes in a country where they don't exist, but this doctor has chosen one as his mascot. 

 On our last day, we had a few hours before catching our plane home so we visited the historical park on the edge of town. The park includes a small zoo highlighting some of Ecuador's birds and animals along with a recreation of colonial buildings and gardens of indigenous plants. The buildings were mostly just facades, but one did have a large party room upstairs overlooking the river. We enjoyed the free park as it gave us some views of birds we were not able to seen in the wild.  

Red-lored Amazon Parrot
Ecuadorian Fox
Harpy Eagle
Red-green Macaw
Blue-yellow Macaw
Just the facade
Upstairs party room
Cactus Garden

Friday, February 21, 2014

Guayaquil - Part 1

It's Christmas
Our last stop in Ecuador was Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and port in the southern part of the country. The story is that the city is named for the great Puna chief Guayas and his wife Quill. Guayas fought against both the Incas and the Spanish. Rather than allow Quill to be captured by the conquistadors, Guayas killed Quill and then drowned himself. I like this story better than the more scholarly one that the name really just means “the land like a beautiful prairie on the land of the Qulicas.”

Guayas and Quill
Our Hotel Oro Verde was right in the middle of downtown on the principle downtown thoroughfare, Avenida 9 de Octubre, where walking the streets was not dissimilar from walking down the street in most large American cities. Lots of people in business dress along with the more casually dressed working class people. Large and small stores shared the buildings and vendors shared the sidewalks with the pedestrians. Cars and buses made crossing the streets a hazard, but most of the more difficult intersections had signs warning of the danger and a traffic cop directing traffic. Government buildings and churches shared the open spaces and the museums are free; even the historical park/zoo is free to enter.

The old museum building; now government offices

Some of the leaders of independence

Of course there are differences. Most of the small shops are barely 10 feet wide and carry only one type of item. Perhaps half of them sell various kinds of food with only a few seats for sit-down dining if there are any at all. Every few blocks a money changer holds a wad of US dollars. That was a bit strange until I was reminded that the currency here is the US dollar and most of the visitors would be from other South American countries with different currencies.
Art on the Malecon del Solado
A play area on the Malecon Simon Bolivar
At  both ends of Avenida 9 de Octubre is a Malecon or riverfront walkway. The shorter one, Malecon del Solado, is near the college where young lovers are watched by the many statues and monuments honoring the country’s heroes. At the other end of the street is the mile-long Malecon Simon Bolivar along the major part of the Rio Guayas. This area was a mess not that long ago, but has been cleaned up and built up to be a major tourist attraction with restaurants, parks, play areas, and museums. Like many cities in the world today (including our own Vancouver, Washington), the people of Guayaquil realized that the river should be an attraction and not a distraction for the people and have done something about it.

The Blue Snail restaurant, a good example of art deco, surrounded by new buildings.

One of the buildings built around 1900 shortly after the fire that destroyed the town around 1890 - just like Seattle and Chicago.

A beautiful new area just north of downtown on the waterfront. Not many people live here yet.
Urban renewal has also come to Guayaquil. Our guide pointed out several beautiful buildings built shortly after the 1896 fire that destroyed most of the city. Then she would also point out the ugly newer building nearby that had replaced a building similar to the older ones. We were immediately reminded of the recently completed renovation of King Street Station in Seattle which we visit several times a year in our travels north. In the 1950s, it was modernized by covering windows and putting in a drop ceiling to cover up the magnificent high ceiling that has just recently been uncovered and rebuilt to its former grandeur. New styles may sometimes be more functional and there is a place for them, but too often it comes at the expense of the real beauty of the past. Sometimes we remember that in time. Sometimes we don’t and live to regret our modernizing actions.  
A view of downtown and the Malecon Simon Bolivar

Monday, February 10, 2014

Santa Cruz Highlands

A male yellow warbler providing an excellent view of his red crown

Our final day began with an early breakfast preceded by making sure our bags were packed and outside the room. Then we boarded the pangas for the final time for a trip to the Highlands of Santa Cruz Island. This was the most unusual experience we had on our trip as we were actually up about 1500 feet above sea level. One of the highlights of the Highlands is the giant tortoise. Unfortunately, they were not on our itinerary although I was able to see a couple of them resting on the road as we drove by. What we were able to see was the Scalesia Forest, a couple of pit craters, and a lava tube.

The Scalesia Forest is important to the ecology of the island as it traps water and supports several of the finch species along with the Vermilion Flycatcher and Yellow Warbler. The pit craters are volcanic in that they are collapsed magma chambers. 

The lava tube was at one time seven miles long and that is not an error. Today it is much less than that but still over 2000 meters. Unfortunately, some sections have collapsed, but it is still an amazing walk-through. It’s been many years since I have visited the Ape Caves on the south side of Mt. St. Helens, but as I remember that walk, we had to almost crawl through some sections. Here, we were in a tunnel large enough for those extra large trucks we pass on the freeway. Our van then returned us to the ferry ‘terminal’ where we boarded another boat to cross to our bus to the airport and our flight to Guayaquil. 

Ground Finch

Unlike other cruises we have taken, this is the only commercial establishment we saw.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Punta Vicente Roca

Our final day ended with another panga ride and some snorkeling along Vicente Roca Point on Isabela Island. The snorkeling was the best of the trip. They called it a deep-water snorkeling and I almost didn’t bother to go because of my very poor eyesight. I have prescription goggles, but we did not take them thinking that we wouldn’t be doing any snorkeling because the interest in the birds and iguanas would be paramount. That turned out to be wrong. The water wasn’t much more than about ten feet deep and we were close enough to shore that I was easily able to see most of what was there. We purchased an underwater camera that I also used figuring that anything I couldn’t see under the water, I could see later in the pictures. The most fun part of this day was the ten minutes I got to swim with a tortoise. Just as I was ready to look for the boat, another swimmer hollered and pointed to the tortoise. As a result, I was the last back on the panga for the ride back to the ship. 

Chocolate Chip Starfish
After a shower and a change of clothes, we went back out on the panga for our final shore ride of the trip. This turned out to be the most interesting as we saw two new birds and had some great views of the penguins, blue-footed boobies, and Magnificent frigatebirds.

Blue-footed Booby
Brown Noddy

At the top of the cliffs we got to watch the Galapagos hawk eating his dinner. While the hawk was too far away for us to tell what he was eating, we were able to watch for about ten minutes before he walked up the cliff and flew away. 

Shortly after that we came upon some Nazca boobies. While they aren’t as interesting as the blue-footed variety, they are a more beautiful bird and live a similar lifestyle. 

Nazca Boobies