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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Trip to the oriente - 4 - Rain Forest

Dear family and friends,

This blog entry about the trip that Brad and I took to the Sacha Lodge will focus on the rain forest.

We enjoyed our walks in the deep, dark, almost impenetrable forest.

But we enjoyed the tranquil, gliding, silent, canoe rides even more.

We learned a lot about medicinal plants, but I can only remember two. This tall tree is called "Sangre de Dragon", we would call it Dragon´s Blood. The medicinal use is to collect the bright red sap and rub it on cuts or wounds to promote healing. I think it may also be taken internally for post-partum bleeding and menstrual irregularities. Later, we found small bottles of a snagre de dragon solution with a medicine dropper for sale for $1.25. Fortunately, I have not had an opportunity to test it.

The other plant which I remember is the "unas de gato", cat´s claw. The bark of this vine is used internally to treat a large number of conditions, especially those related to the kidney. You may remember that I bought some unas de gato bark before the trip. I had read that it also has the property of making one smell bad to mosquitoes, and thus act as a natural mosquito repellent. Our naturalist guide was unaware of this supposed property, but on one of our walks, he pointed out a horizontal unas de gato vine near our trail.

Clinical Trial

I could not figure out how to prepare and consume unas de gato tea in the jungle. I could have prepared a traditional decoction by boiling one part of bark in 10 parts of water until it was reduced to one part. However, I did not want to stand over a hot stove all day, so I made a tincture by placing the bark in a bottle of very inexpensive Ecuadoran whiskey about a week before the trip. I shook the bottle each day and observed that the alcohol was extracting tannins (and hopefully, medicinal properties) from the bark. By the week´s end, the whiskey was black.

I took a few drops of this vile looking solution in a cup of water three times a day while I was living in the rain forest. It tasted like medicine. I DID NOT GET ANY MOSQUITO BITES THE WHOLE TIME.

To be completely honest, I should add that no one at the Lodge got any either.
It turns out that there is so much organic matter from falling leaves that the water that it is too acid for mosquito larva.

However, there are biting insects which bother the guests. Brad used DEET every day, and still occasionally had to brush them away. I also observed the guides slapping their necks to discourage insects from landing. Because I smelled so bad, I DID NOT GET BOTHERED BY INSECTS the whole time.

So, there you have it, my proof that a tincture of unas de gato is an undiscovered wonder drug. I will let you know if I decide to go into production - you will be eligible for special reduced prices.

We saw an interesting fungus called the devil's cup. There are stories that the ancient forest dwellers drank exlirs and potions from the devils cup in the dark of the moon (or something like that). Next time, I will try my unas de gato tincture in one.
We did not hear any stores about the ancient forest dwellers using the termite nest - you will have to make up your own.

Here is an example of the roots of a walking palm. These trees can move up to 30 cm per year as they send out roots toward the side. Thus, the crown of the palm can get more sunlight.

The largest tree on the Sacha Lodge property is this kapok.

The root in the foreground is mostly above ground because the useful soil is very shallow. There is an impenetrable layer of clay about 50 cm below the surface.

To give you a sense of scale, here is the same tree with tiny me standing in the spot where all tourists are made to stand.

I have included some random shots taken on our canoe rides. I hope you get a small idea of the tranquility and beauty that Brad and I experienced.

Finally, what would the rain forest be without some rain. (It rained so hard on this lake that I could not take the camera out from under my poncho.)

Next time, I will share pictures of the animals we saw in the rain forest.

Your friend and mine,


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Kylie and Bryce visit Cuenca

Dear Family and Friends,

Kylie, our daughter, and Bryce, our grandson, have been visiting us this past week. This is their first visit to Cuenca and we have had a great time showing them around.

We started out by taking the double deck sightseeing bus. Here are Kylie and Bryce waiting for the tour to begin.

We went to the indoor amusement center in the Mall del Rio. Little boys and motorcycles, perfect match!

Little boys and pizza are a good match too.

Here is Kylie showing Bryce the candles burning inside the cathedral.

Poppi (Chuck) and Bryce spent a day shopping while Kylie and I did some lady shopping.

Here is Poppi and Bryce with their matching soccer shirts.

All has not been perfect though....poor Bryce came down with a real bad ear infection. We had to take him to the hospital emergency room at 4:30am because he was in so much pain. The doctor gave him some medicine for pain and antibiotics for the infection.

Bryce is back to his wonderful self now. (Kids rebound so fast.)

Kylie and Bryce are leaving on Wednesday to return to Puerto Rico. Chuck also leaves on Wednesday to head back to the U.S. I will leave on Friday for the U.S.

I will post on the blog after we get to Washington state. In the meantime, stay healthy and happy.


Monday, March 22, 2010

Trip to the oriente - 3 - Butterfly House

Sacha Lodge operates a butterfly production house where the entire life-cycle of the insects takes place. The facility is quite large; with most of it is devoted to feeding caterpillars and storing pupas, but there is also a large enclosed space where butterflies flit around while they lay eggs. Guests may go there to enjoy them anytime.

Eggs are usually laid on plants. Each species of butterfly has its own host plant range. A large part of the Sacha Lodge butterfly operation is devoted to growing specific plants. Here are a bunch of butterflies congregated on some bushes.

These beauties posed on a bucket.

While this one showed me both sides of its wings.

Brad captured the following image; I don`t remember seeing it - there were so many.

My next blog will focus on the rain forest itself.

your friend and mine,


Friday, March 19, 2010

We ate WHAT?????

Dear Family and Friends,

The national dish of Ecuador is "cuy." Cuy is Spanish for guinea pig. Cuy has been eaten in South America for hundreds of years. It is a favorite dish of a lot of residents of Ecuador.

Brad, our house guest, is as adventurous as Chuck. He said while he was visiting he would like to have cuy. So, even though I had not eaten it, I agreed to go and try it. Chuck and Brad had tried cuy a couple of years ago on another escapade. Chuck even ordered a large cuy pizza at a local restaurant once and ate the whole thing by himself because no one else wanted a slice.

Chuck phoned our friend, Fabian, to ask him to take us to the best restaurant for this special meal. Fabian is from Cuenca and his English is superb. Chuck told Fabian that he would treat for the meal in exchange for taking us.

Fabian picked us up and took us to dinner.

It takes about 45 minutes to prepare cuy because it is all done fresh. After you order the process begins. Of course, rather than waiting at our table for the cuy to arrive, we asked if we could see it being prepared.

It is cooked over charcoal in this manner.

Here it is how it looks when it is served. I wish I hadn't watched them cook it because it looks a lot different after it is done and served.

Some of us ate with more gusto than others:

Everyone agreed it was a delicious meal except one and I won't name who I am.

But I am glad I had the experience. It actually tasted alright, I just didn't enjoy them because I kept picturing in my mind the little critters being cooked.

By the way, if you live in Cuenca or are planning a visit, you might want to contact Fabian. Not for cuy, although he would be happy to take you, but he also will give tours, help in negotiations where a translator is needed or even assist you in getting the best price when buying furniture or appliances here.

We met Fabian through Nancy and Rich. Fabian has been their friend and "right hand man" during all their business dealings.

If you would like to contact Fabian his email is:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

This Sunday, our daughter, Kylie and grandson, Bryce, are coming from Puerto Rico to visit us. We are so excited. This is their first visit to Ecuador and we are eager to share our new home with them.

Have a great weekend.


Trip to the oriente - 2 - in the canopy

This is part two of the experiences of Chuck and Brad in the Ecuadoran amazon rain forest.

One of the major attractions of the Sacha Lodge is their two canopy towers. One is constructed of steel and features a suspension bridge over the treetops. The bridge is about 150 feet above the ground.
The older tower is constructed of wood milled on the site from downed trees. This tower surrounds a very large kapok tree and has a a platform just under the kapok canopy. These towers are remarkable because all tools and materials had to be carried in by hand over the same boardwalk and canoe-across-the-lake route that Brad and I used to get to the lodge.

The first morning of our stay, we were up at 5.30 AM and
were walking to the steel tower by 6.30. It seemed intimidating to climb all the stairs, but we made it (with a few photo opportunity stops).

Crossing the suspension bridge was a bit scary, but we all crossed safely.

Our naturalist, David, used a spotting scope to zero in on the birds. Here is a pair of woodpeckers. After we had all had a chance to see them through the telescope, David took pictures for us.

This is a view looking down from the bridge. The flowers are on a vine which is climbing up the palm tree,


For our second canopy experience, we went by canoe to the wooden tower. It was an easire climb.

There was much to see from the wooden tower. Here are some bird nests.

All in all, our views from the towers were magnificent highlights of our oriente experience.

Next time, I will blog about the butterfly house at Sacha Lodge.

your friend and mine


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Relaxing Trip to Vilcabamba

Dear Family and Friends,

Chuck, Brad and I returned last evening from Vilcabamba. We bopped down there for a couple of days because Brad had never been and said he would like to go. Since we had just gone last month and had such a nice time, we were more than anxious to return. The only drawback is the 6 hours of travel to get there.

We stayed at Izhcayluma again. We love this hostel and will always stay there when we go to Vilcabamba.

Here is our little cabin.

Each cabin has a small front porch containing a hammock and a small table and overlooking beautiful scenery. Very serene.

The cabins are rustic, but very adequate. Here is Chuck starting to unpack in our cabin.

The grounds are beautiful with flowering plants, butterflies, and singing birds.

After breakfast on Monday, we started our trek to town. Because we read that the Ecuadorian government had issued a UV warning for the week we took precautions. We all used a parasol to protect ourselves.

The trip is always interesting because we have learned every walk is different. This time, among other things, we saw:

a sleeping pig

a grazing cow:

Mom and baby donkies:

and some horse back riders:

When we got to town we continued our coffee research that we had begun on our last trip to Vilcabamba. Chuck said that the coffee at the Cafe Cosmos was the best he's had yet while visiting there.

Here is Brad relaxing at lunch. We had Mexican food that was pretty good.

The weather was sunny and hot. We came back to the lodge after lunch to rest and relax... Chuck really got into the relaxing part.

On our way to dinner we met Charlie. Charlie has drive by motorcycle across the United States from D.C., then north to Alaska and is not going from Alaska to the tip of South America. In this picture, he had just arrived at Izhcayluma. Quite an interesting fellow.

As always, the dinner at the lodge is good and plentiful. The views are even better.

Here are a couple of pictures I made while we were having dinner.

The lights of the town below have come on as the sun is setting.

After dinner we went to the bar and enjoyed a night cap.

We slept soundly and spent yesterday traveling back to Cuenca.

Today we are going to have a new adventure.....eating cuy.