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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Leaving Ecuador

August 28th, 2012 · 1 Comment

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Leaving Galapagos on August 5 was a cause for me to celebrate. Not because I wanted to leave, but because it was my birthday. I celebrated it that morning in San Cristobal Island of the Galapagos Archipelago and that evening in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

We returned to the same Hilton Colon Quito hotel that had served us so well upon our arrival in Ecuador on July 27. But Quito was different this time. We had a sunny day so rare that as our plane landed we could see the snow-covered volcanos around the city. When we got to the hotel this time, it served me even better than before. This time the hotel’s 19-story building served as an observation post for me to photograph the scene. I found an unlocked door to the roof, where I had an unobstructed 360-degree view.

The Cayambe volcano is about 40 miles northeast of Quito, and at about 19,000 feet it is the third highest mountain in Ecuador. At 15,387 feet on its south slope it is the highest point in the world that the equator crosses and the only point on the equator with snow cover.

Ancient Volcano, Cayambe, and Modern City, Quito (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/16, 1/500, ISO 800)

Ancient Volcano, Cayambe, and Modern City, Quito (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/16, 1/500, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

But it is Cotopaxi that towers over the city. It’s just 17 miles south of Quito, and at 19,347 feet is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.

Cotopaxi Volcano Was Clearly Visible on Quito's Skyline Just 17 Miles South of the City (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 390mm, f/16, 1/500, ISO 800)

Cotopaxi Volcano Was Clearly Visible on Quito's Skyline Just 17 Miles South of the City (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 390mm, f/16, 1/500, ISO 800)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

After my solo rooftop excursion, I dined with our tour group at the hotel’s Cafe Colon. I don’t know how Kevin knew that this was my birthday, but over dinner he announced to the group that it was. When Jack asked how old I was, I told them that it was my 77th.

The next day was our last one to travel in Ecuador. All eight of us had opted to take the optional “Hummingbird Extension” that Kevin offered. We made a 4-hour drive over Papallacta Pass to Guango Lodge, an oasis nestled on the eastern slopes of the Andes between Quito and the Amazon basin.

The pass is on the Continental Divide at an elevation of 13,287 feet. From there we witnessed the Antisana volcano coming out in full sun.

Antisana at 18,714 Feet is the Fourth Highest Volcano in Ecuador (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/750, ISO 200)

Antisana at 18,714 Feet is the Fourth Highest Volcano in Ecuador (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 100mm, f/8, 1/750, ISO 200)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

On our descent from the top of the pass we stopped along a side road to look for a hummingbird. We didn’t find it, but when we looked up high in the sky we saw the biggest bird in the country. This bird was so high above me that with my naked eyes I couldn’t see its white “collar.” This Andean Condor so high above me is the largest flying land bird in the Western Hemisphere, second only to the Wandering Albatross among all living flying birds in terms of wingspan. This Andean Condor has an even larger wingspan of about 9 or 10 feet than that of the California Condor. Only about 65 Andean Condors remain in Ecuador, and only about 10,000 live in all the world, so even while it was far away, I was lucky to see it.

An Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) Flies High Above the Andes East of Quito (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/4000, ISO 1600)

An Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) Flies High Above the Andes East of Quito (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/8, 1/4000, ISO 1600)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

We reached the lodge before lunchtime, so we hiked in the rainforest there before eating. This baby fern grew along the trail.

A Fibonacci Spiral in Nature (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/5/.6, 1/180, ISO 1600)

A Fibonacci Spiral in Nature (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 400mm, f/5/.6, 1/180, ISO 1600)

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This stunningly blue bird below is a tanager, not a hummingbird. It likes to hang out with hummingbirds, but doesn’t play well with others.

They cheat, say David L. Pearson and Les Beletsky in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. These flowerpiercers bore holes in the base of flowers to rob its nectar. “Unlike more gracious species, such as hummingbirds, that enter the flower properly to reap a reward of nectar and often obtain a deposit of pollen on the head, flowerpiercers bypass the pollination system by not paying for the nectar reward by spreading pollen.”

This Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis cyanea) is a Beautiful Cheater (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 390mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

This Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis cyanea) is a Beautiful Cheater (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 390mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
I Like the Name of this Distinctive Hummingbird, the Collard Inca (Coeligena torquata) (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

I Like the Name of this Distinctive Hummingbird, the Collard Inca (Coeligena torquata) (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

Click on the picture above to enlarge
This Long-tailed Hummingbird is a Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis), also known as a Heavenly Sylph (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

This Long-tailed Hummingbird is a Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis), also known as a Heavenly Sylph (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/250, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

My favorite hummingbird shot was not because it was especially rare. I like it best because of the way natural light broke on this little bird. While I was using fill flash because the forest here is so dark, natural light is even better. As one of my mentors says, “It’s all about the light.”

A Chestnut-breasted Coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) in the Sun (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/180, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

A Chestnut-breasted Coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) in the Sun (Canon 7D with 100-400mm lens at 275mm, f/8, 1/180, ISO 800, Fill Flash)

Click on the picture above to enlarge

We left Ecuador the next day and returned to our normal lives in the United States. In this series of photo essays I used many superlatives to describe my adventures in the Galapagos and on the mainland of Ecuador, but the experience warranted it. This was indeed a once-in-a-lifetime trip.

Galapagos and mainland Ecuador was incredible, even better than I expected — and I had had high expectations. Kevin Loughlin, the president of Wildside Nature Tours, is an expert birder, naturalist, and photographer as well as being helpful and a genuinely nice guy. A great tour leader, he smoothly led us through complicated logistics that would have been formidable for a single traveler. The tour was so well done in fact that one of the first things I did upon returning home was to sign up for his tour of Costa Rica. I will be going there next April.

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Posted in: Ecuador

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Vera // Sep 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

    Happy 77th Birthday Vera

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