Welcome to our website ! Our vision is to inspire & promote international understanding through education and cultural exchange between South America - Ecuador and the rest of the world. To help people rediscover life with purpose, integrity and compassion, benefit from our experiences, and acquire knowledge for living in harmony in a globally interdependent and culturally diverse world. To share our "life changing adventure experiences" with family and friends worldwide. We have consolidated a wealth of the best resources on Ecuador, along with travel journals and photos. Our hope is that you will find this a valuable, user friendly resource network, which enriches your life, enables you to learn, challenges your thinking, and empowers you to discover and undertake your own new experiences and adventures.

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Feliz Navidad 2015

Joining hands with family and friends our Christmas sky tonight will be filled with a full moon and twinkling stars. Fill your glasses with a rich merlot wine and toast to our beautiful world !



Christmas is an important religious festival in this predominantly Catholic country, with a strong focus on the manger. A western Santa Claus is not very well known, and it is the " christ-child " that brings their gifts. 


Our second Christmas in Cuenca in the Sierra mountains. Orchestral concerts playing Christmas carols float through the tropical evening air, twinkling Christmas lights line and cross the  Tomebamba river, palm trees and central squares are magically lit. 


Soon rivaling our experience of Alumbrados in Medellin, Colombia in 2013.  Yesterday's Christmas Eve celebration Pase del Niño, a must-see 500 year old tradition, famous as Latin America's largest,  was again a delightful, colourful mix of traditional sacred and indigenous customs. 








The parade´s main attraction is an 1823 statute, blessed by the Pope, known as Niño Viajero. The Niño Viajero dressed in a National Police uniform, flew over Cuenca in a helicopter early in the morning. This Christmas tradition begins at 10.00 a.m. every Christmas Eve. 


The procession featured bands, dancers, horses, floats, performers, supporting the children in elaborate homemade costumes, and the passage of baby Jesus to his manger in the Old Cathedral for the Midnight Mass. Participants from Ibarra in the north and Loja and Peru in the south. 

Our Saraguros in the southern province of Loja combine Christmas celebrations with the observance of Kapak Raymi ( the andean solstice ) They resist Santa Claus, the Christmas tree, and the exchange of gifts from entering their culture. The wikis and ajas  (ancestral demons) keep the crowds entertained. Chicha was also offered to Pachamama as thanks for a good harvest.


Along the parade route and in nearby parks and plazas, hundreds of vendors sell traditional foods, cotton candy, ice cream and candy. 7,000 litres of chicha, a traditional holiday beverage made from sugar cane, panela, naranjilla, lemon verbena, cinnamon and star anise is  prepared and provided free by the local Pulla Álvarez family. The whole family has carried on this tradition for over 40 years. Canastas ( a food basket )  sweets and biscuits, and Pan de Pascua or Panotone ( a christmas fruit bread )  are given in huge quantities, and seem to take up most of the space in supermarkets during the holiday season.



Although the Christmas Eve parade may be the main event, the Pase del Niño celebration is a three-month-long activity, beginning the first Sunday after Advent and continuing to Carnival in early March. The tradition also includes Novenas, nine consecutive nights of song, food and prayer, celebrated in homes and churches. On Christmas Eve, the "Misa del Gallo," or Rooster Mass, is celebrated in the Cathedral and local churches. Besides Pase del Niño celebrations, Christmas in Cuenca also features nightly firework shows, ( there were fireworks exploding all through the night last night ) concerts and craft sales.


This year we heard and recognized a traditional Mantubian chigualo being sung - a traditional Christmas song from our coastal province of Manabi.


As in North America there is always too much to eat, so that the processions that wind their way along the river into the mountains at the end of the day, are as heavily laden with leftovers as they were arriving with their morning offerings.


Tomorrow a vacation exodus begins as the folks from the Sierra head to coastal beaches for the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Rompope - here is a recipe for a traditional Ecuadorian Christmas drink, much like eggnog.

We would like to wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a festive & a safe holiday season. May your holiday be filled with the fellowship and warmth of family and friends, good health, good food, and fine wine and music. May all of us, regardless of religion, race or creed, remember the true meaning of Christmas  


                              "Peace on earth and goodwill to all."

Season's Greetings from Déborah y Ernesto Millard

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cotopaxi Volcano

Along with the escalating political protests and demonstrations that we are experiencing here in Ecuador  Pachamama is also expressing herself.  Here is an article from Bloomberg on " Everything is going wrong in Ecuador "  With 7 earthquakes measuring 4.X on the coast within the last several days, and the Cotopaxi volcano warning an eruption is eminent. Ecuador was greeted this Saturday morning with two small explosions and a coating of ash on southern Quito from Cotopaxi. On Thursday two plumes of gas and ash were emitted 1.5 kilometers above the crater into the atmosphere. 


There was an emission of ash & gas last Tuesday. Last weekend there was an explosion within the volcano crater where the volcano spewed ash 3 kms in the air and spilled some lava which evacuated residents and set emergency preparations in motion. "We declare a state of emergency due to the unusual activity of Mount Cotopaxi," President Correa said during his weekly Saturday address. "God willing, everything will go well and the volcano will not erupt." The move allows the president to immediately mobilize security forces throughout the country and lets the
government block publication of information related to Cotopaxi. The quality of these plans is critical as is communication / information that reaches the public - it can be a matter of life or death.   Preparations include the potential transporting of thousands of cattle out of the path of pyroclastic flows and lahars.


Cotopaxi is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and considered most dangerous because of its proximity to populated areas. Eruptions of Cotopaxi pose a high level of risk to local population, cities and fields.  The flow of ice from the glacier is the main danger of a huge eruption.  A very large explosion could destroy most settlements in the valley along with the city of Latacunga, which has already being destroyed 3 times.  If the eruption is like the one in 1877, they estimate there will only be about 15 minutes from the time of the first warning until the lava and floods reach the valley.

Cotopaxi, although active has shown little activity since the 1940s, reactivated this past April, and has shown increasing activity since then. Ecuador's Geophysical Institute indicates there will be an eruption it is simply not clear whether it is days, weeks or months away.  Officials indicate 325,000 citizens are at risk.


On the southern face the farming communities of San Ramon and Caspi are ghost towns, largely abandoned.  Imelda Romero is one of the few residents who decided to stay in San Ramon after the majority of her neighbours left with their livestock. "I was really scared because of the smoke which came from the volcano. I said 'oh my lord, this is the end'. There was a strong smell of sulphur that hurt my throat," she said. "I thought I would evacuate my house and run with my daughter to Rosal which is three kilometres away. My husband said he would not go. So we stayed." In the neighbouring village of Caspi, 67-year-old Maria Aynarana has returned to her home. "We evacuated in the morning but in the evening we returned because we had nothing to eat, we had no clothes," she said.   Watch a news video of the eruption.  



Clearly visible on the skyline from Quito on a clear day, Cotopaxi is part of the chain of volcanoes around the Pacific plate known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. Just 60 km south of our capital city of Quito, Cotopaxi is a majestic, snow covered symmetrical classic stratovolcano, 5,900 meters (19,347 ft) in height. It has a 23 km wide base rising from a plain of about 3,800 m. 


 It's crater is 550 m in diameter and about 250 m deep.  Stratovolcano means it has a conical shape that has been built up by a series of eruptions.  The original volcano destroyed itself in a massive eruption 4,400 years ago. The ash that it blasted into the atmosphere cooled the planet by eight or nine degrees Fahrenheit for several years and was probably responsible for mass extinctions of plants and animals. It has grown very rapidly since then. It has erupted more than 50 times since 1738.  In the 18th & 19th century it had eight sizable eruptions. It has been relatively quiet in the last century with several minor eruptions in the early 1900's, and even smaller eruptions in the early 1940s.


The last large devastating eruption occurred in 1877. Pyroclastic flows and lahars covered more than 200 square miles around the eruption, wiping out dozens of small towns and killing an estimated 10,000 people. Another similar eruption in 1880 but its impact was significantly less because of the destruction of towns and farms three years earlier. These eruptions produced massive lahars from the melted glacier ice creating deep river channels 100 miles from the crater reaching the Pacific to the west and the Amazon Basin to the east. It has provided the rich, black, fertile volcanic soil for agriculture.


Cotopaxi is said to mean "Neck of the Moon" in an indigenous language.  The Andean people honour Cotopaxi  as a "Sacred Mountain".  Cotopaxi is worshipped as a "rain sender" which served as the guarantor of the land's fertility and the summit was revered as a place where gods lived. Between 13,000 and 15,000 ft it slopes are home to a rare high altitude hummingbird - Oreotrochilus chimborazo which nests on protected cliffs.

Climbing to the summit of Cotopaxi became a major tourist draw in the late 20th century. Up to 100 climbers attempt this technical, high altitude climb of Cotopaxi on weekends with experienced licensed guides.  With snow and ice slopes in excess of 50 degrees  the use of crampons, and ice axes is mandatory and the use of aluminum ladders is needed to cross a few crevasses.  


A stone mountain hut which is owned and operated by Grupo Ascensionismo del Colegio San Gabriel is at 4,800 m.  Climbers usually spend the night and start summiting Cotopaxi from here at 12:30 a:m to reach the summit before 7:30 a:m enabling a safe return before snow melts and glacier crevasses move.  Quito's Adventure tourism operators offer mountain biking tours that are from the Refuge downhill along a dirt track.

Alexander van Humboldt was the first European who tried to climb Cotopaxi in 1802.  Humboldt only reached a height of about 4,500 m. Later in 1858 Mortiz Wagner also attempted to summit but was unsuccessful. Wilhelm Reiss, a German geologist and his partner Angel Escobar from Colombia reached the summit of Cotopaxi on November 28, 1872. In 1873 Cotopaxi was summited by Moritz Alphons Stübel and then in 1880 by Edward Whymper. Rudolf Reschreiter (de) and Hans Meyer who were both painters reached the summit in 1903 and many of Reschreiter's paintings feature views of Cotopaxi.

Currently the area's hostels, restaurants, and guiding industry, and farms are left empty and awaiting. 

In 1999 Tungurahua entered it's current cycle of activity, and after many warnings we have yet to experience anything significant - this has lulled Ecuadorians into a dangerous complacency about volcanic eruptions.  Cotopaxi is said to be 1,000 times more powerful than Tungurahua. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Exotic world of Orchids

Biological diversity is exuberantly displayed through the world of orchids. They are so beautiful,  varied colours, shapes, and sizes that they are renowned and treasured around the world. 


Ecuador boasts the highest orchid diversity of any country in the world with more than 4,200 species documented, ( 20% of all species in the world )  and new species are still being discovered. 


While orchids grow in each of the four ecosystems in Ecuador, the majority are found in the rain & cloud forests.  Wild orchids  may be seen almost year round of course the species varying with the elevation and wet or dry season. 


Another reason for orchids' diversity is their intricate relationships with their pollinators - birds, butterflies, bees, and insects.  The extravagant and exotic blooms attract their specific pollinator to 


enable them to reproduce.  

Southern Ecuador, from Cuenca to south of Loja, is considered the country's top orchid growing region due to soil, moisture and elevation conditions. On the equator, the optimum elevation for orchids is 600 to 2,800 meters, although they have adapted to grow in almost every habitat on the planet.



Long time fans of  nature's beauty, as displayed through orchids,  we have gone from struggling to keep several species alive in our Canadian home, to enjoying a bountiful display both within our equitorial home,  and within the country. 


If you love orchids, Ecuador is the best country to see and admire them. A picture is worth 1,000 words so on to our orchid photos which have been collected from a wide range of  some of the best spots to discover them:

i.)   Ecuagenera, one of the world's largest growing operations with over 6,000 varieties, and a major exporter is located between Cuenca and Gualaceo.

ii.)  November 2014 - 4th annual Cuenca International Orchid Show at the Mall del Rio convention center  featured orchid exhibits  from Ecuador,  Taiwan, Japan, Italy and the U.S.


iii.) The University of Cuenca has an  Orchidarium, with over 360 different varieties of orchids. The greenhouse displays are organized  by the varying climate zones. Open Monday thru Friday 8am to Noon and 2pm to 6pm the best time to visit is  May through December. 


iv.)  In Quito's Parque La Carolina is the Botanical Garden of Quito  which features an 800 sq mt orchid conservatory. Separate greenhouses distinguish the coastal, sierra, and amazonas varieties.  Open daily from  8am to 5pm  there is a nominal admission fee.


v.)   Several hours north of Quito in the cloud forest in Mindo is   Jardin de Orquideas.

vi.)   The city of Loja has a small but worthwhile orchid nursery in La Banda Park – adjacent to Jipiro, and behind the city zoo.

vii.)  National Orchid Exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute.


You may never get to see many of the wild species as they grow high up in the canopy of tall tropical trees. But one of "must see" species is the rare and unusual Monkey Orchid. It can only be found in the high elevations of Ecuador and Peru.



Another rare specimen is the Devil or Dracula Vampire. 


 This orchid is known as chocolate for its delicate chocolate fragrance.


And several other notable sites still on our list to visit :

Just a few kilometers south of Puyo an Orchid & Botanical Garden Centre for the Amazon.

The Orquideario Palphinia located  south of Zamora

Several orchid based travel tours : ( for more information visit their websites )

Ecuador Boutique Travel offers  a suite of orchid tours nationwide with specialized guides. Their orchid tours are oriented toward both research and recreation throughout the country.

Metropolitan Touring  offers multiple tours aimed at visitors who want to admire Ecuador orchids. They specialize in the areas of Mindo and Tulipe (cloud forest), Papallacta (high montane forest) and Antisana (Andean moorlands or paramo), with programs originating in Quito of one to two days.

San Jorge Eco-Lodges & Botanical Reserves offers two- and 6-day orchid tours which take you to Quito's Botanical Gardens, El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, San Jorge de Tandayapa Hummingbird Sanctuary and the Mindo Loma Orchid Garden, as well as many other hotspots.

Orquideas de Los Andes specializes in customized orchid tours. With over 20 years experience, tour operator Eduardo Sanchez offers personalized trips where you can view of hundreds of species of Ecuadorian orchids. 

A friend's beautiful photo album of Orchids




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Bahia de Caraquez, Manabi, Ecuador