Hello everyone, 

for now this part of the blog only comprises two articles on what was probably my two best experiences in Ecuador (not including visiting the Galapagos Islands!): climbing the volcano Cotopaxi (which was probably the hardest thing I've done in my life - no joke!) and birdwatching in the Yasuni National Park's parrot clay licks (absolutely stunning - if you happen to go to Ecuador, don't miss it!)! 

I haven't really had time to write about the other very exciting parts of my trips including my stay in the Yachana National Park (where I volunteered with Global Vision International to do surveys on amphibians and reptiles, insects, birds and plants and did my BTEC in biological supervision), visiting Quito and being on a liveaboard diving cruise on the Galapagos Island (best diving ever! You wouldn't believe it! Saw up to 8 whales sharks in a single dive, and manta rays, and eagle rays, and hundreds of hammerhead sharks, and silky, white-tip, black-tip, Galapagos sharks, and turtles, and sea lions.... I could still go on but I'm gonna stop there 'cause I think you got the point!). Anyway, if you want more info about it, please go see the article I wrote about it in Yachting Times Magazine (in the "Scientific popularization" section on the website)...


I have had the chance to do an "expedition" to reach the summit of Cotopaxi, the second highest volcano of Ecuador (the first being Chimborazo). It is one of the world's highest active volcanoes and reaches 5897 meters. It is situated 50 km south of Quito, in a region called "the avenue of the volcanoes" in the Andes.


El Volcano Cotopaxi

A lot of companies in Quito organize trips to the volcano, which is supposed to be pretty easy to access. It actually depends on the season!!! And guess what... I didn´t chose the best one! 
We entered the Cotopaxi National Park with Loreana and Juan Pablo, our guide and went to a little lake first.


Laguna, a lake in the Cotopaxi National Park


View of Cotopaxi National Park

The expedition then began by the walk - short but intense - to the refuge (at about 4800 meters) where we can let our stuff, prepare gear for the ascent, watch a beautiful sunset and have a nice hot drink or meal.


The refuge at sunset


Me close to the refuge at sunset

Usually, people sleep a few hours before waking up around 11.00 pm to midnight to get ready to begin the ascent hoping to get to the summit by sunrise! In our case, we begun a bit late because of equipment problems and didn´t really get there on time for sunrise because of pretty bad muscle pain, which forced to stop pretty often. But sunrise was still beautiful, even not from the summit, which we reached about 8.00 am (2 hours after sunrise...). Before that we were lucky to have the full moon lighting the way, which was quite spectacular. The hike began by a field of volcanic rocks relatively easy to cross and then came the ice. What's the minimal equipment required? crampons, harnesses, ice axes and ropes. The ice formations were pretty impressive in some places, with crevices in some parts as well. The cold at this period of the year (August-September) was pretty intense making it hard to grab the ice axes sometimes. The winds were also pretty strong, blowing ice crystals and volcanic dust to all non protected parts, and making it hard to see from time to time. Add to that the fact that there were constant steep slopes to climb, and you'll understand why I found it to be a pretty harsh ascent, but it is worth it! I unfortunetely cannot show you photos of the summit since my camera refused to work in cold weather! but the view from the top was incredible, especially the one of the other surrounding volcanoes and the clouds playing hide-and-seek with their summits in always changing patterns. 


Another view of the volcano and the refuge 

Parrot clay licks - Yasuni National Park

I´m just back for Yasuni National Park, when the other GVI volunteers and I saw an amazing spectacle: parrots gathering to feed on clay in clay licks. We indeed visited two clay licks near the Napo River, one active at 7.00 am and the other one at 10.00 am. Those are the most accessible parrot and macaw clay licks in Ecuador, located in the community of Añangu, in the Yasuni National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1979. There are several hundreds clay licks throughout western Amazonia. They are known since 1990´s thanks to scientists working in Peru. Hides have been constructed to observe the amazing scenes without disturbing the birds, assuming people respect a few basic rules, such as staying quiet, not using flash to take photos, and so on. 


Hides where the parrots are observed from

Parrots and macaws eat a variety of seeds and nuts from rainforest plants. These plants produce seeds to be dispersed by monkeys, toucans and other birds and mammals; those get paid for these transport services with the tasty and sweet fruit pulp surrounding the seeds. The seeds are however more nutrient-rich than the fruit pulp, so to prevent animals from eating them, plants pack the seeds with bitter toxins. Parrots and macaws have short-circuited this chemical defense by eating specific types of clay, which neutralize the seed toxins. Parrots come daily to these specific areas, travelling for sometimes far distances to get their therapeutical dose of clay. 
At the first clay lick, we saw three species of parrots: the mealy amazon (Amazona farinosa), the blue-headed parrot (Pionus menstruus) and the yellow-crowned amazon (Amazona ochrocephala). At the second site, we saw mostly cobalt-winged parakeets (Brotogeris cyanoptera) and observed three beautiful bright-colored scarlet macaws (Ara macao). Just at the beginning of the activity, we saw the birds carefully getting closer and closer from the clay walls.  A lot of specimens can be seen at the same time; depending on the day, it can reach several hundreds, which makes it an amazing experience! No wonder raptors are an important risk for the parrots when the feed on such open areas. Other animals, such as tapirs also use different clay licks. 


First clay lick, where three species of parrots have been seen

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