Sunday, January 31, 2010

Cloudy Key West

Sometimes even Sylwek and me need some lazy relaxation. Such a day just came on Key West. We had a nap till 9 am, then went for some wandering around Duval street and famous locations here. We also visited butterfly preserve and have even taken some pictures. It's nice place to visit while on Key West. Then we had a long walk over harbour and some beer. Just a lazy day. Nothing interesting. Weather was not perfect, very cloudy and windy, so we haven't taken many outdoor pictures. Maybe tomorrow will be better? Now enjoy some crap butterflies and evening sun...

Getting back to Miami

Wake up call 5:30 am, quick shower, packing last pieces of luggage and really fast and small breakfast. We had to be at the airport 3 hours ahead of scheduled flight time, it means 6:55 am. Ok. Got there. For what? I don't know. Probably just because some people wanted to do it this way. Airport in Quito is big and nice, but it will not last forever. In a year or two it will be rearranged to city park! Yes, that's true! They're just finishing the new, biggest airport, 35 km away of the city center(in Ecuador they can just do it, in Poland, they only can discuss about it...) So it's another thing that will disappear after our visit (to remind you, previous were: WTC, Navajo Fall in Havasupai reservation, Wall Arch in Arches NP).
After checking in we were forced to pay 40.80 USD airport fee! I was surprised. I thought we've already paid it with our ticket, but no - one must pay such money with cash at the airport, before getting farther. It's checked few times on your way to the gate then. Finally we got to the gate over 2 hours ahead of our scheduled flight time and even got on board on time. Unfortunately it had been some incident on board and crew asked everybody to leave the aircraft along with carry-on. It turned on that some lady was trying to fly without proper documents or tickets and they suspected her for terrorist. Ok. We had over 2 hours of delay, but eventually departed from wonderful Quito. As if out of spice weather was beautiful and we managed to see some volcanos covered with snow. What a lack of luck!
We've landed in Miami late and immigration procedures took a lot of time, so reached Alamo car rental office 5:30. We ordered midsize car, but that day was a special promotion and at the same price we got big Dodge Grand Caravan. With this car we got to Key West at 22:15 stopping by in recommended Chappy's restaurant (thanks Seba!) just ahead of 7-mile bridge. After finally getting to the SeaShell Motel I made a call to my friends - Key West residents. They were just having some nice drinks at Duval street. So we joined them. Atmosphere was nice and we even were caught by local photographer. Our pictures should be in local newspaper soon (If I get them, I'll publish pics here). After few drinks there, they (and we with them) moved to famous pub Bourbon. There we had more drinks and eventually reached the hotel very late. It was really weakening day... and what's worse - we did take no pictures!

Saturday, January 30, 2010


One of our dream was to take picture of toucan in Ecuador. It seemed to be such a chance on excursion to Mindo - small city in subtropical climate that is famous from its hummingbirds, exotic butterflies and other colorful birds. City is located to the west of Quito at the level of equator. This was the destination. But on the way there, we had a chance to see another amazing place - volcanic caldera. But not a regular caldera like many others in the neighborhood of Quito. This one is different. It is inhabited by people. You can see the village from the top of caldera and only in the morning. Later it's regularly blocked with the clouds and fog. This place is located about 400m lower than Quito city and surrounded by hills. Why people live there? Probably because there's fertile soil and it's fertile due to volcanic origin. This place is really worth seeing. It's only one such in the world.

So after taking few pictures of that unique caldera, we headed directly to Mindo. First we arrived to Sachatamia (sacha means forest in Quechua language). It was some kind of inn with bird tables for hummingbirds and other birds. But this place was different than the one we were in before. Here were much more species of hummingbirds and it was much harder to take pictures of them. First, because it was tight (and with our lens we needed at least 1.8 m to get object in focus) and second, because it was raining. So after one tea, one coffee and about 200 hundreds bad pictures, we decided to move somewhere else. In the center of Mindo, there's kind of exotic garden. You can see there other species of hummingbirds (but very limited), some butterflies and many kinds of orchids. Conditions for taking pictures were much better here, we could even work sitting on stumps. Birds were close and a lot of them were hanging in the air just before getting to the table. It was easier. Nevertheless beasts were equally fast and even if they were hanging in the air, it was only for fraction of second. In that time we had to shoot the place with the lens and force camera to catch focus on the bird, then press shutter and take few shots. I became convinced that taking hummingbirds pictures is a great challenge and requires a plenty of time. This last thing was what we were missing. Besides we were hungry and there was pretty cool restaurant nearby, so decided to quit shooting and went for some food. We had famous steak served on basalt rock (spanish: lomo de piedra). It tasted really wonderful and I don't think to forget this taste until my next visit to Ecuador. Unfortunately this was our last full day in this beautiful country and I must say I've fallen in love one more time...

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cotopaxi National Park

This day was tough one. We dedicated it to visit Cotopaxi National Park and trek to 5000 m - the highest point at the glacier edge that one can reach without specialized equipment, acclimation process and sleeping in the tent at high altitude. By the way, this is the highest active volcano in the world. It's not much to write about. We just got to the park border in our own car, then had to switch to local car with park guide. He took us to parking at 4500 m. From this point we had to get the hut at 4800 m. It was only 300m, but very hard one - it took me 50 minutes, others did it in 1h or even 1h 10m. The worst thing was volcanic ash. You had to move like on the very sandy beach. And what's even worse - uphill. Finally I reached the hut and had some rest. It was an offer to get to 5000 m for willing people. Only me and guy from Russia decided to go. I had my photo backpack that weighted about 12 kg and he had only light SLR camera in his hand. Finally after 20 minutes we did it. Touched glacier and went back down to the parking lot. Way down took us only about 30 minutes - was much easier. From the parking we headed to nice lake at the foot of the volcano and had seen some birds and wild horses there. Park itself is very nice, but one must have nice weather to fully enjoy it. It takes the whole day to get to 5000 m and back, so if you dare, please reserve enough time.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Otavalo market

This was beautiful, sunny day. Good enough to eventually see the equator and some other places. So we headed to Otavalo (the biggest Indian market in Ecuador), but on the way from Quito one is forced to cross the equator. There we had a little break to see how french people set the point in XIX century and how Indians did the same 2000 years ago. How do you think - who was closer to the truth - french people or Indians? Yes, you're right. Nation that can't produce reliable car can't also set properly the equator - that's obvious. So we've taken pictures in both equators and moved farther to Otavalo. I was positively surprised with what I had seen there. Market was very clean and well-odered. Quite different than markets in Poland. Not to mention that quality of products (hand made) was rather low and prices rather high. But I decided to buy some symbolic gifts to my daughters - generally it's not easy to buy nice things in Ecuador, so I went for what I had. The funny story is about thieves in the market - they just doesn't exist. Why? Because it's Indian place and if someone is caught on theft, is brought before Indian court and usually beaten very hard. Then he is dropped somewhere near the road and call to the police is given informing that some drunkards is here and there. After such action noone dare to steal anymore. Why we don't have something like that in Poland???
On the way back from Otavalo we headed to nice small city called Cotacachi. There were plenty of boutiques with leather products. They are famous from producing saddles years ago. And again I was positively surprised with the stores - they reminded me shops in the best polish health resort, like Zakopane or Sopot. They are very rich and prices are high. Quality of products seems to be high also. They even accept credit cards. After 30 minutes of wandering around this small city we went to the Cotacachi National Park - it's famous from the lake in old volcano's caldera. It is known to be 180 m deep in places they managed to measure it. Who knows the real deep of this beautiful lake? See some pictures I've taken on that wonderful day...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Papallacta and hummingbirds

For Tuesday we had scheduled one day trip to famous hot pools in Papallacta and to Guango Lodge to watch hummingbirds and have some time for photographing them. I must say I was disappointed with Papallacta, because it was very small place with few micro pools - nothing special. Air had temperature like 8C, so it was cold. Water probably was a little bit warmer, but I didn't decide to use it. Most interesting was other place - Guango Lodge. We were surprised how many different species of hummingbirds are flying there. They were within the reach of our hands and sometimes were even sitting on us. But it didn't mean it's easy to take picture. First hummingbirds were close to bird tables and when I take a picture of the bird, I don't want to have big red plastic stuff in it. Second it was dark. Of course I had flash and better beamer, but flash photography is still something a little bit unknown to me. Third - my dream was to take picture of hummingbird in fly with frozen, spreaded wings. But these beasts are fast. Before you focus your lens on the flying bird, it's already gone. The only working trick was to remember the place where they are usually hanging in the air and set lens to it, then wait. Unfortunately our time was limited and learning curve a little bit slow, so effects are as they are... sorry.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quito sightseeing tour

That day we had to wake up at 4:30!!! This was because our organizers from NWC were obliged to deliver us to the airport for the flight from Coca back to Quito. So we started during pitch black night over the black waters of the lake, among caymans, paddling to the Napo river. Then they moved us back to motorboats and we had over two hours nap on way to Coca. In Coca they checked us for the VIP flight to Quito. And I must say that finally I came across the airport that is smaller than Warsaw Okecie! It's really hard to find such an airport, but they have one in Coca - you can check it for yourself. Eventually we got boarded on small Dornier 328 with the most beautiful stewardess I've ever met. I must say that ecuadorian airlines have really beautiful girls and it's a pleasure to flight with them. Strongly recommended.
We arrived to hotel Cayman about 12:30 and in 15 minutes were ready for Quito sightseeing tour. I will not write a lot about it, because it's hard to pass written information while you really must see this wonderful city. It real name is San Francisco de Quito, but most often is called just Quito - capital of Ecuador. Quito is actually a big city - its population counts over 1.8 million people and it has large area - 324 square km. Elevation of the capital of Ecuador is 2800 m over sea level that makes it second-highest administrative capital city in the world (first is La Paz in Bolivia - to be visitied on one of my next trips, definitely) and the highest legal capital. The other very interesting fact is that Quito, along with Krakow, were the first Cultural Heritage Sites declared by UNESCO in 1978!
So we have nice about 4 hours trip over the old city and visited all the most interesting churches and monuments. Our guide had a great knowledge of Quito and good presentation skills. I really like this city. It reminds me old european cities like Lisaboa or Barcelona, but has much better atmosphere and more pretty girls. After all see the pictures yourself...