Travels in South America – December 2010

by Marcie & Mike O’Connor

First stop – Cartagena, Colombia, where Mike attended a meeting of ICANN, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers.  ICANN is the entity that manages the domain-name and numbering system of the Internet.

We spent all our time in the old city, which is surrounded by a wall that was built in the 17th and 18th centuries as protection from invaders.  Made of huge blocks of stone and wide enough to walk on, the wall has bars and restaurants along the top these days and was one of our favorite places to spend time with friends and colleagues.

One of the narrow streets in the old city of Cartegena, Colombia

We went directly from Cartagena (sea level) to Cusco, Peru (over 11,000 feet).  Cusco is tucked in a narrow valley and the pilot of the plane had to do some fancy maneuvering to get the plane onto the runway.  We loved the huge indoor market and the narrow one-car-wide cobblestone streets, but a touch of altitude sickness took the edge off of the fun for Marcie.

Cobblestone street in Cusco, Peru

Our next destination was Machu Picchu (3000 feet lower than Cuzco, fortunately), which is reached by a 3-hour train ride along a beautiful river valley.  The trip started in a wide valley of farms and small towns, but by the time we arrived at the town below Machu Picchu the train was traveling at the bottom of a steep canyon.

View out the train window – the wide, farmed part of the valley

The steep valley as we got close to Machu Picchu

We stayed at the only hotel right next to the entrance to the park at the top of the mountain.  That’s a big advantage – it avoids long bus rides up and down a road consisting entirely of hairpin turns and also allows early-morning and late-afternoon visits to the park.  The archeological site is in a saddle between two extremely steep mountains with dramatic drops to the river below.  Prosaically, Llamas wander around the site – presumably as self-guided mobile lawn mowers.

The classic view of Machu Picchu – just coming out of the mist

Llamas in the mist

From there we journeyed to a cloud forest reserve on the slopes of the Andes just west of Quito, Ecuador.  We stayed in a small cabin and spent several days wandering the local trails with a naturalist guide.  Marcie was quite taken with the moss and epiphytes on every surface – lots of ferns and orchids.  The reserve has all kinds of exotic birds including Toucans, Trogans, and 8 different species of hummingbirds.   Marcie also enjoyed photographing the moths that came to the lights at night (Mike enjoyed spending those times reading science fiction in bed).   A pair of Trogans showed up every morning to eat the moths that had arrived the night before.  Even though we were right at the equator the weather was cool and very cloudy – we would never have known we were near the top of a mountain.

A path through the cloud forest

Epiphytes on every surface – Bromeliads, Orchids, Ferns and Mosses

A Trogan, after he finished polishing off some of the morning moths

Tree fern

One of the beautiful hummingbirds – a Sparkling Violet Ear

Our last stop (again with Quito as the jumping off point) was a tropical rainforest on a lagoon along the Napo River – a tributary of the Amazon.  We stayed at Sani Lodge, which is owned and managed by an indigenous tribe.

We enjoyed the 3-hour boat ride to get there.  There are few roads, so the Napo River is a busy “highway” and we saw boats of all kinds ranging from dugout canoes to colorful barges carrying semi-trucks.  We enjoyed more walks through the jungle and saw monkeys, parrots and several species of toucans.  One morning we climbed a tower to the top of the canopy and watched the sun come up.  And one evening we looked for endangered Black Caimans in the lagoon – we only saw one, its eyes glowing in the light from our flashlights.

Dugout canoe on the Napo River

Our boat for the 3 hour ride down the river

Sani Lodge from the lagoon

Our boat – the one we took for rides in the lagoon – at the dock on the lagoon

The tower to climb to the top of this enormous tree

A Clearwing Butterfly

Trees and grasses at the edge of the lagoon

Visit Marcie’s web site for more stories and lots more pictures – to see them, click HERE.