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 ECUADOR  1                               18/9-4/11 2009
                            The Spectacled Bear Project

Diary 1   2   3   4


 For many years, I have had this urge to do something good for the nature. In general, the human kind are spoiling our fragile Mother Earth faster and faster, and I want to reverse this. At first, I was overwhelmed by the amount of projects that needed a hand. Finally, I decided to jump straight into it, one at a time - a bit like Mother Teresa. The first project is about the Spectacled Bear; Tremarctos ornatus, the last of the short nosed bears.
 Andean Bear Conservation Project's goal is to save the Andean Bear from extinction through in-field scientific studies and through the rehabilitation and release of captive bears. As part of this, some bears have been fitted with a radio collar, and my contribution is to monitor them for six weeks in the mountains of Pucará, northern Ecuador, near Otavalo.  I find a cheap flight and insurance, and start studding the bear and it's surroundings. Would have loved to stay for longer, but I had to go back for my Sulawesi tour.

 BEAR FACTS.   (Jump to the diary)
 The Spectacled or Andean Bear is found in Venezuela, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Panama and Argentina, living in all from dry coastal deserts, over rainforests to treeless alpine areas above 4000 meters. There are around 2000 remaining in the wild, and they are considered "vulnerable". Main thread is loss of habitat, but also poaching due to the (wrong) believe that they kill livestock and to sell their gall bladders, paws, meat and fat, takes its toe on the species. 

 It is a rather small bear, the male measuring 150-180 centimetres from snout to tail, and weighting 100-200 kilos while the significantly smaller female only measures 110-150 centimetres , weighing 35-82 kilos. They have only thirteen sets of ribs, while other bear species have fourteen pairs.

 Their Latin genus name; Tremarctos is a reference to an unusual hole on the animal's humerus; the "funny bone": Trem = Greek: "hole" and -arctos = Greek; "bear."  The species name; ornatus = Latin: "decorated", is are ference to the spectacularted-markings which also give the bear its common English name. The vary a lot from bear to bear, and are a way to tell the apart.

 Their diet consist mainly of fruits and up to 80% bromeliads, but the bears in Ecuador eat less bromeliads but instead up to 80% bamboo, some grasses, bulbs, cactus flowers, insects, and small animals (4%) such as rodents, rabbits, and birds. Squeezed by human settlements, they sometimes raid corn fields. Older males have a tendency  to pray on larger mammals as tapirs and cows. Their attacks are made on the upper shoulders of the pray, while the puma goes for the thought.

 Although the bears are are non-territorial, they tend to isolate themselves from one another to avoid competition. The mating take place in May to July. The two (one to four) cubs are born after 180-266 days gestation in November to February, weighting 280-350 grams. After six to eight month, they are ready to stand on their own paws. They mature after four to seven years, and can expect a lifespan of 20 to 25 years. The bears do not hibernate, probably because their food supply is available year round. Some places, like Peru, they may have o relay on bark in the end of the dry season.

 They are primarily nocturnal and crepuscular. During the day, they sleep between or under large tree roots, on a tree trunk, or in a cave. While in a tree, they sometimes make large platforms out of broken branches, and they will spend days in trees. Their claws are specialized for climbing, and they move round in even higher trees with large confidence, roaming for fruits and bromeliads.


 18. September.
I leave Denmark as the winter approaches. My luggage is the biggest ever: 20 kilos. The Delta Airline plain brings me to Atlanta for a two hour stopover. I spend the first hour and a half in line to get my passport checked, my visa application checked again, fingerprints scanned and photo taken. A long run and the last fifteen minutes in the check-out security-check with scanning of my shoos, jacket and PC. Board as one of the last, and then continue the flight to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

 The city is the second highest capital of the world, 2,850 metres above sea level. With its more that 1.500.000 citizens, it is a real pulsating town, full of markets, old colonial houses and colours! I have been here before (1997), and only sat two full days off to exploration on my way out.

 A short taxi drive to the pre-booked Secret Garden Hostel. Took one hour from touch-down to I put my bag on my bed; efficient! Straight to bed at eleven, but find it a bit hard to sleep during the night; my internal watch say six in the morning.

19. I got a plan: Up with the sun at six. Truly amassing view from the roof of the hostel: Mountain peeks, old city, huge cathedral,Breakfast with a view few new skyscrapers and an almost blue sky. It is not chilly; it is cold! Not more than 12C and windy,  but slowly, it builds up to the normal 25C during the day. Nice breakfast at the roof, and then I better get my local shopping done before the sightseeing: It is Saturday.

 Walks north to the newer part of town, where the Out-Door shops are found. There are no classic shopping centre, but a huge area packed with all kind of buildings and a few more shops than general. The air pollution are overwhelming! After an hour, my nostrils and through are hurting, and it seems to continue. Besides from smog, the streets and roads are clean, and I almost only meet smiling faces.

 I Quito Botanical Gardenfind the area with the shops, and succeed to find some of the items I wanted. A few kilometres further north, the botanical garden should be found. I thought I saw it last time I was here, but apparently, it should be much nicer than the park we found.

 And it is! Not huge, but very well laid out. Areas with tree ferns and bromeliads, orchids, agriculture plants, a small arboretum, "pampas" plants, a large rose bed, two houses with orchids, one with carnivorous plants, one huge with general rainforest, one withFrom inside one of the houses. bromeliads, several small lakes, a cacti- and succulent area and a little shop. Unfortunately, all the signs are only in Spanish, and there are fare from names on all plants. On the other hand is the garden and the houses perfectly kept and maintained.

 I spent a little more than an hour, and continues to the Vivarium in the other end of this huge public- and well visit park. Mainly Ecuadorian snakes and some frogs in Green Boa from the Vivariumwell maintained terrariums. It is not large, but easily worth the three dollars in entrance.

 Back through the shopping area to find a small pocket knife, that will be legal in Denmark as well: No luck;it requires two hands to open and a blade that does not extinct 70 millimetres. No way, they have such a toy! But a nice machete?

 Finds the large indoor marked in the northern part of the city. Both huge piles of fruits and vegetables, colourful cloth, shoos, hardware and over stuffed shops with - stuff. A quarter of the marked is a food court. Fries pig skin - from half a pig, and all kind of dishes you can imagine. Outside the marked, I find five large floweriest. The mostOne of the flowerists beautiful and interesting collection of flowering and non flowering plants I ever have seen in a shop!

 Dark clouds are coming in over the mountain peaks, and I head home. On my way back, I passes another little market with enormous amounts of colourful cloths and - stuff. I reaches the hostel after five hours of walking - slightly used!On of the huge fruit stands.

Two mucks of great coffee, and I start to feel human again. Get a single room - the dormant was not really me - and I'm going to live in one for the next six weeks. Try to sort-out my luggage, but on the other hand: It have to be packed for transport the day after tomorrow.

 At four, I start writing my diary and loading photos. I have only taken 80, and quite a few was for experimenting with the light. Sort them into groups: For the diary, the botanical garden and for the general Quito slideshow. Nice to have an excuse to sit down. Just have to be finish to the BBQ at half past six. Recon I won't be in the mood later...

 Cosy dinner with most of the other inhabitants, but at ten, I'm ready to head for the bed. Short break to upload the day's diary, but no energy for mails. Too little sleep, too much sun and walking.

20. Woke up after, what I thought was a good night's sleep, but to my surprise; it was only five minutes pass midnight! Another night with numerous interruptions, but I guess I better get used to it. Another cold, but nice The monastery; San Franciscobreakfast on the roof, and then it is just to wait until nine, when the streets are heated enough for my comfort.

 Hits south-west for the old city with its markets, colonial houses and the monastery; San Francisco. I've been considering to go out to Mida Del Mondo: Middle of the world, where equator was found for the first time, but I have more days on my way home.

 Crosses though the old centre, and up the hills behind. To my big surprise, more than a third of the shops are open, even though this is Sunday in a catholic country. Plenty of locals in their Sunday dress strolls along on the narrow sidewalks inTypical houses front of the colonial houses. Quite a few are in traditional Indian colourful dresses while others are more western, and I guess I see less than ten tourists.

 Like in the newer part of town, it is a mix of business and residential houses, but here, I find a few pedestrian streets. There are a few indoor markets, one is really huge, three stores high and quite new. I find some real cheep underwear and a small pocket knife.

 Morales, the oldest roadBit back, and I'm in the square in front of the huge San Francisco monastery. Two dollars, and I have access to about a third of the huge complex. Numerous catholic statues and paintings. Most originates back to sixteen hundred and something. In the courtyards, small gardens with huge palms calm the mind.

 Out again, I walks through the ancient houses. On every square and trolley stop, musicians are playing for an audience. There are a lot of policemen, but all smiling and helpful. I find the oldest road; Morales, but it looks like so many other cobblestone roads I've seen here.

 After four hours, I decide I got smog and sun enough, and heads back to the hostel. Spent the rest of the day sorting photos, getting packed for travelling again and chatting with other backpackers in the hostel's restaurant. I feel I ought to do something, see something, but why not relax?

 Cosy dinner with sushi, chopped up chicken in a vegi-mix and vanilla-coconut pudding. At eleven, I'm cold enough, and head for bed. I have never had any problems before, but this time, I suffer from jet-lag. Jump to second stay in Quito

21. September. Joining the project. Get waken up by a persistence taxi driver, who apparently have made a six o'clock pick-up appointment with someone, sleeping way better than I. Spend the early morning on the internet, which I now have to leave for maybe six weeks in a row. Talk about a "cold Turk"!

 Breakfast from 7.30, chatting with some of the other residents. Amassing from how many countries we originates. Guess that I can find twelve nationalities between twenty people. To get a cap for the meeting point, I've been told just to stand on the sidewalk in front of the hostel, and there be plenty to chose from. It is around five kilometres from the hostel, and I'm supposed to be there; not before 9.15, and not after 9.30. I am looking forward for some fresh air!

 Reaches the meeting point 9.21, and meet Sara. We fill out some documents and heads for the bus station. Short ride to the terminal, and then two hours ride to Otavalo. We drive through rich farmland, but the fields are tiny, steep and surrounded by Agava americana's or Sesals. There are many nurseries, growing cut-flowers for export.

 We keep climbing, and the hills keep getting rougher. Although is is only gravel from ancient volcanoes, it form vertical walls. We are in the end of the dry season, and some areas are dominated with bare soil, Agavas, Opuntia and Cleistocactis - cactus. Strangely enough, it seems like the most common tree is the Australian Eucalyptus.

 After a couple of hours - or the exact length of "Cliff-hanger" - in Spanish, we reach the rather large Otavalo. I store my large bag in the tiny ticket office where Sara buys a Pucará ticket for me, and then we find a local lunch place. Soup followed by roasted chicken.

 Sara shows me around the town, and I end up with a new pair of Wellingtons. We passes the central square with large stands of extreme colourful weavings, a little woodcuttings, paintings and hats. Through the local trading area and out where the small farms starts.

 More than half the people in some areas are dressed in traditional dresses. The women with black hats, ponchos and white shirts with colourful broderies and extreme coloured weaved blankets. The men have straw hats and white shirts and trousers. Unlike so many tribes, the people living here have come out well with the meeting of western culture, and it is one of the most rich regions of Ecuador.

 After three hours, we say goodbye, and jump on the Pucará bus. Through more and more green areas, although it also get more and more rough. The paved road ends after fifteen minutes, and are taken over by a real rough and bumpy cobblestone road. Many large flowers on bushes and vines, Bromeliads, huge leaved Ficus and a lot of plants I need to have a closer look at.

 We head over the top at some point, but all are covered in thick fog. Suddenly, half an hour early, we are at Pucará and then the Casa del Oso. I'm received Casa del Oso - The bear five enthusiastic young people, and I get the great tourMy home for the next6 weeks around the hut. Cosy but primitive. The water tap is behind the hut - don't drink it. Two dorm rooms, a kitchen/dine room and a small office. We are at 17N0778847/UHT0040320, at 2007 metres height.

 Time for dinner, and then it is dark. Three more people are camping out in the wild, monitoring a bear trap. It is going to be exiting to see, what I have gotten my selves into this time!

22. Radio colarsReal quiet people I'm sleeping with - but the dogs, roosters, trucks and insects! Wake up to an only slight chilly morning with sun. Our local "nanny" Cecilia have made empanadas; scones just my granddad made them, but with stuffing of some real tasty. Some scrambled eggs with extra ingredients, and I'm ready to go with the volunteer coordinator; Anna.

 We wait for the nine-o'clock-bus, but a local tells us; it won't be coming. Get a ride with a small lorry, and jumps off at small road. This is the first reading, and I get instructed how to assemble the radio, which bands to search and how to operate it in general. There are six trails in the area with GPS measured listening stations. They may not seem to be long, but this is steep mountains, and the road serpentines a lot!

 No bears, and we hike further up the Cazarpamba road. It is a real rough gravel Orchidsroad, not like the fine copestone road we live on. But the nature is truly awesome! We walk in huge and green gorges and on narrow ridges, getting higher and higher.

 There are small farms in some areas. Their steep patches are scattered around, and in some, I see maize, papaya, beans, bananas, peanuts, cesal and black and white cows. Most of the poles bearing the barbwire are growing Plumerias.

 BambooAlong the road, I see numerous plants which families I can recognise. Here are atTypical farm least twenty different orchids, of which I find flowers on ten. Few but colourful insects like grasshoppers, dragonflies and green beetles. A few hummingbirds are seen in the large flowers of the bushes.

 We make several scannings from the pre-GPS'ed locations, but not a single beep. We reaches the little settlement; Cazarpamba after three hours walking. Before we get to sit down, a 4x4 stops - the second car we have seen in three hours, and we catch a ride all the way back to the bear hut. A thing that normally only happens in movies!

 A tea break, and I follows Anna to the "big town" around here; Apuela, 45 minutes walking down hill. Tiny, but a few shops and even the world's slowest internet at one dollar an hour. I walk the streets of the town - all of them, and find a pencil and a notebook: I see more than I can remember during the days.Apuela centre

 I take notes sitting in the shadow - I got sun enough on my arms for one day - on the square, in front of the small church. This is a catholic country, but not that fanatic at all!

 Home to chat and work with photos and diary. As usual, I forget to take the shower while it is recently warm. As the sun descents behind the mountains, the temperature drops below 20C and even down to 12C. Slightly windy, and the little plastic sheet and it's minute water heater makes it yet another cold experience. Shower and dishwashing

 "Nanny" makes our dinner before she leaves, today it is fried rice and leftovers from yesterday. Real tasteful. I hope the hiking makes up for the diet. Get caught by a hammock on the porch. Nasty thing; you survives for a few minutes, and you are in deep sleep.

 KitchenAt eight, there are quite quiet in the house. All this hiking takes it toe. We work on different plans to get rite of the dogs, which barks and hauls during the night. Toss them on a parsing truck, put leftovers on the middle of the road, pay for a bus ticket to Quito for them. Keep them awake during the day... Male of the Blue-tailed Emerald; Chorostilbon mellisugus.

 23. The three girls leave early to take the dogs for a hike, and get the bus back. I sit in the sun to heat up, but get interrupted by different hummingbirds in the garden's flowers. The air is teaming with the sound of small birds and insects. There are many, but real tine cicadas, and they are not annoying as they tent to be so many other places.

 Jamie and LovlyAndrew and I catch the nine o'clock bus, where we meet up Alberto, a guide which have worked with this project for five orten years. On the bus, we also meet two German girls who are volunteers at a local newspaper. The are working on an article about the bear project, and are joining us for the walk.

  We drive to the Siempre Verde trail, and start scanning for bears. It is a rather steep walk, leading through some amassing views. As the name implies, it is truly5 cm orchid flowers green. I recognizes lots of plants, at least their families. There are several flowering orchids, some with truly large flowers, reaching five centimetres on two meter inflorescent with up to hundred flowers.

 At first, we hear no bears, but them Alberto figures the cable for the antenna is broken. Temporally fixed, we find Frida, a female bear which usually is found in this beautiful area. A lunch at the end of the trail, and we starts the decent. While the others keep a steady pace, I run like a small dog in a long leach. While I photo a flower or an insect, I get 2-300 meters behind. Once, I turn over an old stem, and discovers some huge beetles.

 Bromeliad with a viewWe passes through areas dominated by ferns, even fern trees, bamboo or large leaved jungle plants. In the more open areas, bromeliads covers the stems. Most fence poles are Plumerias, and they must look beautiful, when they flowerers. Many of the orchids have ripen seeds. I find some real familiar plants; Sinningia cardinalis and some heather family members with huge flowers.

 We are back at the road at two, say goodbye to Alberto, and stops the bus for the girls Found some largebeetleswhile Andrew and I catch a ride with a truck full of rocks. In contrast to the bus, we have some awesome views. Beside from the massive dust, I get some great shoots of the waste mountain range. I end up with 221 photos, and know what the rest of the day will be spent with.

 Some of the views takes ten photos attached, and end out being too detailed anyway. This is truly a waste landscape! Sometimes, it is 380 degree panorama, and still three or four frames high too. Even though it seems very unspoiled, there Horsefly, I was oldare fields everywhere, and I recognizes several African or domesticated plants.

 While we eat, clouds roles in and covers the garden. Temperature drops, and I find a corner in the office with power, and start sorting the photos. First a rough sort. Then reframing those who needs. Resizing the rest, then sorting after content. Writing theFarm with a view tags - if I know what it is, and then find a few for the diary. Write the diary and finally making a back-up. It is rather quiet, except from the cicadas.

 24. Even though there were no dogs around this night, I still woke up several times. Never theBromeliad less, I feel fresh around seven. Grab some breakfast and do my lizard imitation on the porch. Jamie, Andrew and I catch the nine bus, and a new guide; Armando joins us. We are heading a little hour towards Otavalo.80 degrees upward

  On the way, we passes a field with lamas. Am told they are more numerous higher up in the mountains. We jump off in the middle of nowhere, but in some absolutely awesome nature. Enormous green mountains, deep gorges formed by very steep slopes. We get off, and start to climb the 45-80 degree Tablachupa trail, which leads through some really dense forest..

Orchis In long stretches, the main vegetation is bamboo, in witch we walk in tunnels. Other times, it opens up to awesome views. Several  times the grass covered volcano Cotopaxi is visible.  With its 4939 metres, it have snow on the peak. Here are many Bromeliads, flowering orchids and other real interesting plants underneath  the quite dense low trees, fern trees and bamboo.Large Bromeliad

 We don't see many animals. I spot a single little rather colourful Rana-like frog, several butterflies and a few colourful beetles. Each time I stop to photo, I get 50 to 200 metres behind, and it is hard to catch up. Not only do I have to be very careful about where I place my feats and put my hands, I also like to find more interesting plants, animals and views in general.

 We are quite successful finding bears. All three that works are triangulated, and after three hours, we are back at the main gravel road. Unfortunately, there are no bus for an hour, and not a single car passes us, while we walk home. Finally the bus passes, and we are home at quarter pass two - slightly used.One of many

 Somehow, I have managed to shot 257 photos, and that makes my afternoon busy. The manager of the project; All over the placeArmando arrivals from Quito with supplies, but have a lot of catching up to do in his office. The rest of us plays cards: A meaningless and very amusing game called "Shit-head"

 25. Eventless morning, except from one of the dogs have been poisoned, and lie dead in front of our house. Get a sallow grave in the back. While most of the rest heads for a weekend in Quito, Armando and I head up a new trail called Talacos, heading south.Colourfull beetles

  ANother frm houseThe bus arrivals twenty minutes early, and that causes some panic. I do get the radio-gear, but forget the compass and my hat. We jump off the bus at nine, and head through a huge valley. Steep climbs and descents in awesome nature.

 After four hours, we reach a local farm house where the campers have lived for some days, monitoring a bear-trap. One have left early, while British Sara stayed. This is where the farmer is paid to grow maize to attract bears to be trapped and radio collared. There are actually a non collared bear up in the field. It is 4-500 meters away, but we get some great views of it searching around in the newly harvest field.

 Grasslant in the heightsAfter an hours lunch, Sara and I lead each other back through the valley by another path.Tiny orchid flower on the leaf Kind of the blind leading the blind, but we succeed to find Apuela at 17.30 - which is after the last bus have left. Start the hour real steep hike towards the bear hut. Get a lift with a open lorry, and at six, we are home. Seven and a half hour of hiking in truly rough and demanding environment - and it have been great!

 A cold shower, although the water is warm - unless you open more than a tiny bit. Each evening, the temperature drops to 18C, and a slight wind raises. Dinner is fried bananas, scones and potato-noodle soup. Then photos and diary.

 Stay on the trailArmando likes my plant photos, and somehow, he lours me into a five day camping tour intoLarge and nomerous orchid the rainforest, looking for forest tapir tracks and documenting the flora. It is pristine rainforest, and the tapirs are not recognised there, but that will be his next project.

 I hope Sara will join this expedition - she speaks both English and some Spanish, and besides from the pleasant company, it would be useful while having an only Spanish talking guide.

 Sounds like I'm in for some real hard days! Five days in the humid and warm rain forest, tent, Wellingtons and no shower, crawling on all four with a huge backpack with cooking gear and everything else. Have to remember plenty of charged batteries, SD-memory cards and humour. Feel a bit embarrassed, as it turn up many others have wanted this tour for some time.

 The bear hut quiets down at ten, and I feel quiet used after seven and a half hour tracking in rough terrain.

 26. Anna scanning in the fogWhile the rest goes into Pucará to attend some "Kiss the flag"-thing and "Water figure" festivities, I get organised to the five day jungle tour - well; sort of. That includes some serious cloth washing and battery charging.Use to have a view

 The Australian Richard are back from camping, and the bunk under me get occupied. Each time one of us moves, the whole construction moves around due to a weak construction and a soft floor. I tie two corners to the building, which helps a lot. Then I do a little but needed maintenance on theView gone in clouds radio-gear, but cut my selves on a hammer! The only tool I can find is a bend screwdriver and a hammer with a broken head.

 At eleven Anna and I wait for the bus to go on a bear expedition to Vueltal del Osa. It is 40 minutes late, and we jump off half way to Otavalo. The track is straight back the way we came, on the road. We are rather high, and shortly, the clouds come in. One centimetre flyeThe temperature drops to 17C, and the grand view disappears.

 20 centimetre snake-like creatureNever the less, I find a few new plants and insects and even a little snake. After three and a half hour walking, we have passed the last station, and catch a ride with a funeral party at Santa Rosa. Anna jumps off at the bear house, while I continues to Apuela to upload my diary.

 Unfortunately, the shop is closed, and I have to settle for some washing powder and some instance coffee. Have to walk quite a long way home before I get a ride. Chilly shower, collecting my almost dried cloth, and in for the photos and diary.

 26. Due to the Tapir-tour, I am more or less grounded. Have to do some packing, but find it hard. First night will apparently be spent in 3300 metes height, which is very cold. After that, it might be humid, raining and warm. I will have to carry all on my back in real challenging terrain. No chance to get what I don't bring, no reason to brig what I don't need.Working truck

 At ten, I start walking towards Apuela, and get the last bit of the tour by bus. The internet/bibliteka is open, and I get my diary and diary photos uploaded. Few mails, including one from my travel agent, telling me I am going to get additionally ten hours in Atlanta. Not really something I needed!

 An hour walk back to the bear hut, do the final packing and head for the final shower this week. Apparently, the water have been cut, and now we only get thick, brown mud. I start updating my diary instead. The mouse at the office are getting more and more frisky, even in the middle of the day.

 Tapir Project. As a spear-head expedition, we are  heading for a coastal national reserve called Reserva Ecológica Cotacachi - Cayapas in the huge Toisán area, northern Ecuador. We are looking for tracks of the mountain tapir; Tapirus pinchaque, and I'm asked to make photo-documentation of the plants in the area. There are no records of the nature, nor any tracks. We get the15-bus to Cuellaje, which is further out in the wild [Map], away from Quito.   Samuel and familyShopping for the tour

 The bus is, not surprisingly, half an hour late, and we reach Cuellaje just a little before dark. Samuel's son picks us up at the central square, and leads us to the house, which has the local milk collecting centre, a motorbike repair shop and Samuel's three room home. We get the guest room, and head for the river, while we wait for dinner.

 After dinner at Samuel's, we head for the general store to shop for the expedition. I think we buy a lot, but I had no idea we would be bringing it all! The first night is spent at our guide; Samuel's house in Cuellaje, and it turns out to be a rather cold night, even though we are only in 1863 metres height.

 Due to the size of the pages caused by the pictures, it continues in Part 2.

                                                    Photos Diary 1   2   3   4