Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Cabinas Yambala is just outside the town of Vilcabama and is run by Charlie, formerly of Boston, who has lived in Ecuador since the 70's. When we returned from the mountain he told us he was getting worried that we hadn't returned. It had never happened that people hadn't returned, but having rained an extraordinary amount in 3 hours, the rivers were raging and darkness would make it very difficult to return. I didn't ask what could have been done if we hadn't come back! But now that we were back, we could get cleaned up, have something to eat and sleep.
Sometime after midnight I was woken by Ma-Le who yelled "something bit me". I tapped the lamp on the nightstand and it began to softly glow, illuminating the low-ceiling, wood-framed cabin and revealing a frantic Ma-Le who had discovered not only the ant that had bitten her, but the army of ants that had taken positions on the battlefield of a blanket.
As a kid I was known to exaggerate - someday I'll retell the story of the "100 dead squirrels", but suffice it to say that the lesson I learned in telling that tale was only embellish that which can not be proven to be false. So when I say there were several hundred if not thousands of ants peppering the blanket, pillows, floor and walls I have an honest Ecuadorian who can back up this claim. Just replace the snakes with ants from Raiders of the Lost Ark and this was the scene we'd awoken to.
The super saturated earth outside had left the ants with no alternative but to join us indoors and remarkably, only one ant had taken exception to our presence by biting Ma-Le. Had it not done so, we may have slumbered blissfully unaware of the insects that trekked on, over and around us just as we had trekked the mountain the day before.
But it did bite and woe were the ants who minded their own business. They were brushed off, swept up and escorted back out into the rain. So tired were we from our excursion the day before that we didn't care that they would just trot right back in - 6 legs at a time.
A few thousand ants? Far better than rats, snakes or spiders.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
For the duration of the three hours up we were literally on edge.
To panic would serve no purpose. So we grabbed the reigns and began to head down with 1200 lb animals at our back. The trail is narrow from repeated use by horse and cow. There are no water bars so as the rain falls, it creates a constant cascade of water and horse poop on the trail. You can't imagine how slow an hour passes until you have trudged ankle deep in muck, listening for the sound of a horse sliding on rock and writing your own obituary to this crazy scene.
After an hour, everything on my body was soaked. The soles from Ma-Le's boots had completely come off and she was walking on her socks. And the Mexican woman's horse could have cared less that our time was short and slowed us down by grazing more often than walking. The horse not the woman.
Without good footwear - Ma-Le was forced to climb back on her horse, despite the danger of sliding off the cliff. We all decided to try this for a bit but 90 minutes in, Pamona, Nate's horse slipped on rock near the edge, tearing a chunk of flesh off it's leg and nearly sending Nate 1000 feet into the canyon.
How much further? 30 minutes Jorge says.
By the time we hit the three hour mark, I was continuing to ring water from my clothes. Rain jackets were useless and I would tell you how much water was coming off of me but at this point it was too dark to see. With Ma-Le still on her horse, I led mine through the narrow passages and barely escaped being crushed when Pamona slid into Speedy causing a horsealanche with me trapped and nowhere to go. Like a scene from a cartoon - Speedy stopped within an inch of my face, both legs spread to either side of the trail and Pamona nearly launching over Speedy.
How much further? 15 minutes Jorge says. Of course he said 30 minutes and hour ago.
By the time we reached the cabins, it was pitch black. No street lights, no house lights. The Yambala River was swollen and raging and we were exhausted, soaking wet and covered in mud. We got cleaned up, enjoyed a fantastic four course Ecuadorian meal by a toasty fire and were asleep by 9 pm, lulled into dream by the roar of the river.
at 1 am, the rising river caused a whole new nightmare......
too be continued!
Friday, November 23, 2007
I was driving home Thursday night on SR-80 after having Thanksgiving dinner in Delray Beach. State Road 80 runs parallel to Alligator Alley just north of the Everglades and just South of Lake Okeechobee. It's mostly sugar cane fields and cow pastures with a few small towns dotting the landscape, so at night, the cars are few and far between. Half way across the state, I was switching between listening to the Thanksgiving Day football game on AM radio and Laura Schlessinger railing against an ecologist who was suggesting that humans have reached their "carrying capacity" on the planet. Laura takes the "conserve it so you can shoot it" approach to wildlife conservation.
On a dark section of road I noticed a pair of red eyes glowing just off the shoulder and caught a glimpse of a Bobcat darting into a field. When I looked back to the road I noticed what I assume the cat was after - a Barn Owl - injured and flailing in the road. As I pulled over and put my hazards on, a truck whipped past and barely missed the bird, spinning the ghost-faced owl back towards the roadside. The bird stretched the injured wing and clapped its bill as a warning. I herded it completely off the road and tried to flag another motorist for help. The "Grosbeak Incident" of '05 left me humbled and respectful when handling birds. So when no one would stop (and who would stop for a bald stranger in the middle of the night out here?) I grabbed my cell - 1 bar -but called information to get a number for someone who might help.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
This was back on the trip to Tayos Cave. My first attempt I missed the tree - my second try I found out just how high 25 feet off the jungle floor is.
I need a whip.
(Did you get this far Gibbs?)
Friday, November 16, 2007
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Is it true? And if so why? Birth certificates are probably few and far between from 1887 and it would be inappropriate to cut an Ecuadorian in half and count their rings, but apparently some researchers have demonstrated that calcium and magnesium levels in the drinking water are such that they promote healthy bodies and longer life. I drank the bottled water anyway.
With the abundance of Coca Cola and fried foods, I wouldn't hold much hope in the local kids becoming centurions.
The area is also noted as the former royal retreat of the Incas who during their 95 year empire in the 15th century came to this valley. It is said that Mandango, the sleeping Inca protects the valley from earthquakes and other natural disasters and can be seen resting on the mountain above the town, arms folded and quite relaxed.
Our late arrival to town made an ascent of Mandango for that day problematic, but when we were offered a less than stellar alternative, we decided to climb the Incan anyway. We were told it would only take 45 minutes to climb the steep 1000 foot climb. I've learned to multiply all times by 2 to get a better estimate of how long we might need.
Half way up I stopped at this tree, covered with bromiliads, which I found strange for such an arid environment.
It's cool on top of the mountain, but insects abound including this lady bug-like insect being slurped up by a spider. We were told that the Incans or possibly peoples that preceded the Incans may have sculpted this mountain to accentuate the features of Mandango. Scale is tough to tell in this environment but from base to peak is about 20 stories tall.
Ma-Le descends the steep slopes.
All of the guide books say "climb Mandango to the white cross". From the peak it looks small, but it's actually a little taller than an above average sized Ecuadorian.
The hike took just about an hour up and another back down. A nice introduction to the town and Mandango and it gave us enough rest to prepare for the following days harrowing adventure.....
CLICK THIS PHOTO FOR AN AMAZING PANORAMA OF MANDANGO!
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
After embarking on the 3 hour hike to the cave, the peril became more perilous. Conga Ants, or "48 hour" ants are over an inch long and bite hard enough to leave you in pain for several days. I took the picture - the guide chopped it in half.
Look at the face on that thing! It's just as terrified as Ma-Le! But it does look familiar....
As we left the cave, the Belgians left us behind again to grope the rock walls and slosh through the stream in darkness - eventually emerging back into the rain forest. Why couldn't they wait!
I guess I shouldn't have made that Belgian Waffle joke the night before. But it was a good one.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
One of many (and the largest) waterfalls on the trip. Look closely in the bottom right to spot me.
I will say my return to the states was rewarded with another indignity as I passed through customs/security at Miami International. Typically I get the pat down, the laser scan with the cricket stick or a trip into the Marilyn Monroe air-blast drug sensing machine - all part of a random selection process by homeland security, but this evening as I waited for my baggage a cute Beagle trotted up to me and greeted me with a wet nose and two paws on my hip. "How cute" I thought until the customs agent with "Petey's" leash asked to see inside my bags. Apparently the dog is trained to smell for illicit drugs, bomb materials and handmade wicker baskets from remote Indian villages. As I am neither a drug trafficker or a terrorist, I was quickly dismissed and free to leave with my hand-woven treasures.