Ridge Beam

The ridge beam (runs the length of the roof (supporting the roof rafters)  needed for Maya’s tiny house is ~27 feet long.  We fabricated it from two 16 foot long 2x6s using a 4 foot long lap joint which Maya is shown above cutting by hand. She also shortened (due to trailer adjustments) and painted (3 coats) the bathroom pocket door.

Tiny Beginnings

Maya began construction of her tiny house today. Her goal is to complete and sell it by the end of the summer (less than 2 months).  It is an ambitious project and aggressive schedule.  Profit from the sale will be her summer earnings in lieu of a traditional job. I am acting in a design consulting and advisory capacity. I am also teaching her the proper and safe use of the various tools she will be using and serving as her assistant. Today she cut all the rafters for the roof (18 @ 40 degrees and 14 @ 18 degrees).  Each set requires three precisely mitered cuts and each rafter must be identical.

To regular followers of this blog, I would like to apologize in advance for the number of future tiny house related posts you will find here.

Trailer Woes

Seven weeks ago I ordered a custom trailer for Maya’s tiny house project. Lead time was quoted as 5-6 weeks and it was to have been delivered while we were traveling in Ecuador.  Today I learned that the lead time has been pushed out to an “estimated” 10 weeks.  Such a delay would make completion of the project this summer entirely impossible.  I spent the day searching the country for an unsold, already built trailer.  Eventually I found one in Connecticut.  It is 4 feet longer, sits 4 inches higher and costs $1000 more than our original choice but it can be here by the end of next week. With no other viable choices we cancelled the order for the initial trailer (helping the vendor see the wisdom of returning our non-refundable deposit) and began modification to the house plans.  The extra length was relatively easy to compensate for.  The loss of 4 inches of build height required a fairly massive redesign.

Homeward Bound

Our three week adventure in Ecuador has come to an end with a fairly uneventful return to the USA. I was able to get one last shot of the Andes on our climb out of Quito and some nice shots of Panama City and ships queuing up for the Panama Canal as we landed there for our connecting flight to Boston.

Maya has been a terrific traveling partner and I will never forget this time spent with her, our first true father-daughter travel adventure. On a completely different level this trip has afforded me an opportunity to really see and understand the land of my mother’s birth and to better connect with my own heritage.

Mitad del Mundo

The TelefériQo Cruz Loma, is a gondola lift running from the edge of Quito’s city centre up the east side of Pichincha Volcano to the Cruz Loma lookout. It is one of the highest aerial lifts in the world, rising from 10,226 ft. to 12,943 ft. From the top you can see all of Quito spread out on one side and fertile farmlands on the other. It was our first stop on the way to the equator.

 

One of only two inhabited calderas in the world, the Pululahua Crater is home to about forty families. They are mainly farmers who grow corn and quinoa and raise cattle. It has been 2000 years since the volcano was last active so no one considers the residents to be at risk. In 1970 it was declared a botanical reserve by the Ecuadorian government in part to protect the wide variety of rare species that live on the mountain slopes.

The Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (“Middle of the World City”) is located 26km north of the center of Quito. The grounds contain the Monument to the Equator, which, at the time of its construction, was believed to be located exactly upon its namesake. The 30-meter-tall monument is made of iron and concrete and covered with cut and polished andesite stone. Modern GPS readings based on the World Geodetic System (WGS84), indicate that the equator actually lies about 240 meters to the north, a fact that is simply never mentioned while visiting the otherwise quaint attraction.

 

Adjacent to the Mitad del Mundo is the newly constructed UNASUR headquarters building which is where the Union of South American Nations holds its annual congress.

The Intiñan Solar Museum lays claim to being located exactly on the equator. While there we conducted several experiments designed to prove we were on the equator, some of them loosely founded in science.  It was entertaining none the less and I left with an egg balancing master certificate.  My own GPS watch and Google maps confirm that this site is not located exactly on the equator either. 

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is an active stratovolcano located about 30 miles south of Quito. It is the second highest summit in Ecuador, reaching a height of 19,347 feet and one of the world’s highest volcanoes. Since 1738, Cotopaxi has erupted more than 50 times, resulting in the creation of numerous valleys formed by mudflows around the volcano. The last eruption lasted from August 2015 to January 2016 and the summit has been off limit to climbers since then. Not so the the Refugio José Rivas, located at 15,953 feet which can be reached on foot from a parking area some 1300 feet below. Maya and I enjoyed a hot chocolate there after the rigorous climb through thin air.

Jungle Farewell

Our last day in the rain forest has arrived all too quickly as we prepare to return to Quito.

The life size caiman sculpture in the lodge’s dining area is an effective deterrent for those thinking about swimming in the lake. The giant otter sculpture is less intimidating and a favorite of Maya’s. Regrettably, we only heard but did not see any giant otters in the wild.

Our jungle hut has provided the most comfortable lodging of the entire vacation and it was difficult to watch it disappear as we paddled back towards “civilization.” 

The Kitchwa

Although the day started on a rather foggy note, it quickly burned off and we were treated to another magnificent day in the jungle.

One of the highlights of the day was spotting a juvenile Harpy Eagle. These apex predators can reach 22 pounds with a wingspan of more than 7 feet. Shortly after this one took flight we heard a huge crashing noise through the trees. Our guide discovered a mortally wounded baby anteater that had been snatched and then dropped by the Harpy. Life in the jungle is unforgiving. Casually observing all the activity were a pair of owls which I suspect will make breakfast of the anteater after we leave the area.

It is hard to describe the sound made by hundreds if not thousands of parrots flocking to the same clay lick. These are clay walls where various species of parrots and macaws come daily to ingest the minerals in the clay. These minerals are thought to naturally counteract the toxicity of the berries and toxic fruits which are apart of their diet. Click on the photo and then enlarge it again to appreciate the density of this gathering.

Monkeys have been the most difficult to photograph. It seems they are constantly on the move, swinging and jumping from one tree to the next, high in the canopy. In total, I have managed decent pictures of 4 of the 5 species we have observed.

The Kichwa indigenous community is the most populous ethnic group in the Ecuadorian Amazon region. The Kichwa people in the Amazon tend to be farmers and supplement their diet with traditional hunting practices and food purchased from outside markets. They are quite adept with the use of medicinal plants and fruit trees along with the planting and harvesting of yucca, banana, coffee and cocoa. We visited a small village of some 30 families and were greeted and entertained by the women. Our guide translated as they gave a brief presentation about their way of life and culture.

We returned to the lodge by late afternoon and I had some time to wander the grounds being very careful to avoid the lake. Signs posted everywhere warn of the presence of caiman, some as long as 16 feet.

The Amazon

The Amazon rainforest encompasses 2,700,000 square miles and represents over half of the planet’s remaining rainforests. It comprises the largest and most biodiverse tract of tropical rainforest in the world, with an estimated 390 billion individual trees divided into 16,000 species. Our small group of 8 and two guides began exploring the jungle today by canoe, on foot and from above the tree canopy (atop a 125 foot tall platform constructed in the highest branches of an enormous Kapok tree). Our excursion lasted well into the night and we used flashlights to illuminate a seemingly whole new world of insects and animals.

Napo Wildlife Center

The little fellow above was perched just outside our hotel room. He was quite chatty and enjoyed mimicking my calls to him. I taught him to say “Maya” and have an 18 year old witness to attest to this. During breakfast Maya and I decided that we had endured enough car driving adventures for one vacation and opted to return our rental car early (an ordeal in itself). We would fly back to Quito and do day trips from there once our stay in the Amazon was over. We are staying at the Napo Wildlife Center, the only lodge within the Yasuni National Park for the next three nights. Getting there requires a 2.5 hour boat ride in the motorized canoe shown in the foreground of the image below followed by a 1 hour ride in a hand paddled canoe. The bridge pictured here is the only one for the next 600+ miles as the river flows into the Amazon River and then into the Atlantic Ocean.

Our motorized canoe with twin 75hp motors speeds along at 35 mph with the back sitting no more than 2 inches above the water. It is really quite exhilarating and for reasons that remain difficult to comprehend, we actually remained dry.

As we head deeper and deeper into the jungle the trees that line the river are simply magnificent in both their size and density.

Our lodge is located on a lake which can only be reached by paddle canoe. During this last leg of our journey we are treated to sightings of 4 different types of monkeys, an anaconda, and several species of birds.

Our Amazon lodge is owned and operated by members of the indigenous Kichwa community, the only such ownership arrangement in all of Ecuador. It is an idyllic collection of small huts and an 8 story dinning hall, bar, library, and wildlife observation tower. Maya takes little time to situate herself in the hammock on our porch while enjoying a rainbow producing light shower. It is clear we are going to have a great time here.

Landslide Central

Maya and I left Baños at 4:30 in the morning so we could reach the town of Coca in time to rendevous with a boat scheduled to carry us deep into the Amazon jungle. Google maps predicted a 5.5 hour drive. We added a 2 hour safety margin for good measure. The rain which had been falling all night intensified making visibility and road conditions poor. At the one hour mark we came upon a fresh (matter of a few minutes) landslide that blocked all but a cliff side sliver of the road. Determined not to miss our connection, I drove very carefully around/over the debris holding my breath as the bottom of the car scraped over the rocks, tree branches and mud. We squeaked through with the slimmest of margins and 3 hours later with the rain abating and our progress right on schedule, we started to relax feeling we had dodged a bullet. Not so, as we approached a line of traffic at a complete standstill. After walking to the front of the line I discovered a landslide that was blocking the road. I was told that there was a second one just a few hundred feet further down the road. It took a little over an hour for a small Bobcat dozer to arrive on the scene.

It made quick work of the first landslide and immediately began working on the much larger second one. Thirty minutes later the traffic began moving forward and we still had just enough time to make our boat. We drove less than a mile and traffic stopped again. This time the Bobcat operator just stared at the collapsed mountainside in front of him and took out his cell phone to call for a reinforcements. It took 30 minutes and a hike to high ground for him to get a cell signal. He returned having summoned assistance and began attacking the mud.

An hour later he had cleared about 20% of the slide when a big bulldozer arrived on the scene. The two working together cleared the way in another 20 minutes. We would not reach Coca in time for the boat’s scheduled departure but perhaps it was delayed or waiting for us. By the time I hit third gear, I could see a now familiar pattern of brake lights ahead. Another landslide. To make a long story short this happened six more times for a total of ten landslides, the last one being the largest. In total we were delayed by six hours. When we finally arrived in Coca, we were met by an agent of the jungle lodge we had reserved who explained that we could shift our 4 day stay back by one day and helped us to secure a hotel in town.

Baños Birthday

The Andes are the longest continental mountain range in the world. They form a continuous 4,300 mile long, highland along the western edge of South America with an average height of about 13,000 feet. Pictured above is Chimborazo, Ecuador’s highest mountain at 20,548 feet, whose peak is farther from the Earth’s center than any other location on the Earth’s surface, due to the equatorial bulge resulting from the Earth’s rotation. Pictured below is Tungurahua (“Throat of Fire”), an active volcano which most recently erupted in 2016.

We drove past both of these mountains on our way first to Riobamba, where we stopped to visit the only structure to survive the 1797 earthquake which leveled the entire city. It was transported stone by stone to the city’s new location some 20km to the north.

Baños de Agua Santa (Spanish for Baths of Holy Water) often simply called Baños, is named after the hot springs located around the city which have a reputation of having healing properties due to their content of various minerals. It was our next stop and destination for the evening. After a tour of the beautiful Basílica de la Virgen del Rosario de Agua Santa and the bizarre museum (featuring a shrunken head from the Amazon, pickled snakes in jars, badly stuffed Ecuadorian wildlife, and a myriad of religious artifacts)  located on its second floor we got down to the business of celebrating Maya’s 18th birthday.  First she was treated to a lengthy massage (her first ever) and then to the thermal baths of Piscinas El Salado. I have never seen her so relaxed or so radiant.

Ignapirca

The Ingapirca ruins is the largest and best preserved archaeological complex in Ecuador. It is located 80 km north of Cuenca, in the bucolic province of Cañar. Ingapirca means “Wall of the Inca” and its construction combines the coppery brown of adobe used by Cañary culture with the bluish-green andesite stones brought subsequently by the Incas. It was built with millions of stones, in the middle of the 18th century. These ruins stand out, both for the extraordinary work of masonry in stone blocks that make up its walls, as well as the originality appreciated in the design of its main structure, a tall and bulky elliptical platform known as the “Castle of Ingapirca”.

Maya and I got a relatively early start and toured the ruins before they were overrun by tourists. We then set off for the town of Alausí, notable primarily as the starting-off point for the Nariz del Diablo (“Nose of the Devil”) train. This engineering work is among the most audacious projects realized in the Andean mountain range comprising a set of switchback tracks that descend an impossibly steep mountain side.  We arrived with 30 seconds to spare for the 2PM train after a comical series of wrong turns, misleading signs, incoherent GPS map readings and high speed Ecuadorian style driving (once the wrong way down a one way street).  After sprinting to the ticket counter we learned that the trains do not run on Sundays contrary to the information found in our travel guide book which indicated they did not run on Mondays.

With little else to do for the remainder of the day, I decided to do a little street photography while Maya enjoyed some down time at our hotel.

Cutest fire truck I have ever seen.

Cuenca

Cuenca is not a city to be missed during travel to Ecuador. It is widely regarded as the most European city in the country due to its 16th and 17th century era Spanish colonial architecture. The centre of the city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Trust site and we covered it on foot during the morning and early afternoon. Later we drove to the Mirador de Turi which offers a breathtaking view of the entire city. We returned again in the evening to enjoy dinner at the Luminaria restaurant at a table that overlooked the illuminated city.

Santa Cruz

Our Galapagos tour has regrettably come to an end. We make a brief visit to a pair of massive sink holes on Santa Cruz en route to the airport on Baltra.  Maya has written very detailed postcards for Caleb and she finished her last one on the plane as we flew back to the mainland.

When we arrived in Guayaquil we picked up a rental car and made a beeline for Cuenca hoping to arrive before nightfall.  My Garmin GPS navigator with a new South American map loaded did not function properly leaving us in something of a bind.  Fortunately Maya was able to navigate us out of the city and on a path to our destination. The three and a half hour drive was lengthened considerably by rain and very dense fog.  A challenging but event free drive, we were happy to arrive at our hotel and to sleep in beds that did not move.

Sierra Negra Volcano

This morning we made the easy climb to the rim of the Sierra Negra Volcano. When we arrived the caldera was entirely obscured by clouds. We waited for some time and our patience was rewarded. The clouds cleared long enough to reveal the full extent of the crater and to take a group photo. Included are the other members of our tour and our guide.

Before the climb, while still near the shore, we had an opportunity to view several sharks the way I like to most.  Them in the water and me on land. 

By now marine iguanas have become quite common place.  Even so, coming across a couple of hundred juveniles was quite a treat.

Our afternoon excursion took us to the Arnaldo Tupiza Breeding Center and Wetlands where 5 different varieties of giant tortoises are bred. The effort is an attempt to prevent the loss of these species which have been at risk for some time.  Our tortoise encounters in the wild were certainly more exciting, but it was very interesting to see the turtles at every stage of development and in the process of being created.

The breeding center includes a wetland area traversed by a raised walkway. Here we observed flamingos and moorhens for the first time.