Wednesday, October 29, 2014


I just couldn't wrap my mind around the name Polylepis.   I had to say it over and over, then write it down.  I think I finally have it now.

Flick seemed determined to go on another adventure after our Intag run.  He spoke of this place called the Polylepis forest.  Flick said it was a very unique tree found in the high Andes of South America.   He said it was a tree that survives where others could not.  It was gnarled and tortured ....If you lived at over 16,000 feet you'd be gnarled too.  Click link for more.

Click here to learn more about the Polylepis

Fortunately for Rachel and me we have generous friends with 4 wheel drive vehicles that like to use them as they are intended.   That isn't to say that there aren't some beautifully constructed roads in Ecuador.  There are!  However, when you have a yen for the road less travelled, you need the equipment or friends willing to share theirs.  I only wish that Rachel had been able to be with us.  She'll be home in a week, thank you God.

Writing this story could take many different directions.  I could focus only on the Polylepis forest which was our destination and primary objective.  That focus would leave out the trip from Salinas to El Angel and on to the Polylepis.  Leaving out the people I got to know better on this trip would be a travesty.  It seems everyone has their story on how they became residents of Ecuador.  At the end of the trip 13-14 of us feasted on Bachi's magnificent meal and expanded our knowledge of agriculture in Ecuador with Bob's tour of his appropriately named hacienda, El Milagro (the miracle).  It all happened in one day.

I'm going to let pictures tell our story.  Pictures are precious.  They don't lie.  A picture is a treasure that you can embed in your mind or stow away to relive a significant moment.

Please credit our dear friend Roger Kauffman with a good share of the photos taken.  Roger and Glennda joined our little crew for the first time and I think they'll be along for many more in the future.

 Many of our gatherings have been at Bob and Bachi's, and Phil and Sandy's both in the Salinas -Tumbabiro area.  That's significant because when we're on our way from Salinas through Mira and El Angel, we're up in the clouds looking down on both of their places from many miles away.   We not only went four wheeling, we went flying.  This was a camino muy liso all the way till the last five miles or so.  All in a day.

Phil at the wheel, Del, shotgun.  We congregated at the filling station in Salinas between Phil and Bob's places.

Rodger and Glennda and I rode in the back seat of Dave and Katy's awesome new Ford XLT super cab.   It's quite an upgrade from the 1950 Dodge Ram that I grew up with.

 We rode by wonderful orchards, pastures and grain fields after leaving the panela (sugar cane) fields down below.  The exception to the dominant cane fields of the lower elevations below is Bob and Bachi's hacienda El Milagro which is highly intensive avocados, coffee, vegetables, and other higher dollar /hectare crops.  The highest management crops bring the highest rewards.

In the photo above you can see hacienda El Milagro.

We are flying now in our (imaginary) Cessna 180s looking down on the granjas (farms) below .

We come to a lookout where we see Andean farmland like a patchwork quilt for 50 miles in all directions.  Cheri and Bob look out towards Mt. Imbabura, 40 miles away.  Wherever you go in the Imbabura  province taita Imbabura demands a reverent glance.

We are three vehicles determined to stay as one to meet our objective, the Polylepis forest.  We keep moving up the winding mountain roads towards Mira and El Angel.  We pass many photo ops without stopping.   At one point there was a tractor plowing a field on the near vertical.  An alpine climber would have used ropes to climb it.  Plowing straight downhill, only the plow itself kept the tractor from careening out of control.  It appeared that they must have winched the tractor back to the top with each pass.  It gives me the willy's just thinking about it.

Del and Laura are looking out over the village of Salinas (lower left).  The history of  the black communities of Ecuador is heart wrenching.  It is told that the peoples of Salinas and Chota are descendants of emigres (escapees) from Columbia in the mid 1800's where they were in bondage.  Ecuador did not have slavery (at least at that time).  The people of the coastal communities in Esmeraldas descended from a shipwrecked slave ship.  Life was very cruel for displaced Africans in those days.  Ecuador offered safe harbor for people who only wanted freedom.

In our present day there's a nostalgic tourist train from Ibarra to Salinas.  It is a great way to see the countryside.  This day we're flying in our magical Cessna and we're looking at it from above.

Peter Flick and Phil Bowman.

Remember that Peter Flick has a 'Flicker' (no pun intended) website and has lots of pictures of Ecuador including where we're the Polylepis forest.  For more great pictures of  Ecuador click the site link below.

Peter Flick Flickr site

The topiary in the central park of El Angel reflects it's history and culture.

Some of us are surprised when we reach the Polylepis forest to find man made improvements at nearly 12,000 feet.  Phil Bowman looks down on a pool teaming with huge trout.  Sorry, no fishing allowed here.  It would be way too easy.  Legal Andean fishing hot spots are found only with grueling 4 wheeler expeditions followed by extensive hiking or horseback.  Casual fishermen need not apply.  

A hand painted sign reflects that temperatures can get a bit chilly at 12,000 feet even on the equator.  This amazing tree has been found in the Andes at altitudes exceeding 16,000 feet!  Years ago it covered the highlands but has dwindled to near extinction due largely to local harvest for firewood.  Man's survival often spells extinction for many plant and animal species.  Today the Ecuadorian government is protecting these trees for posterity.

Rodger and Glennda Kauffman huddle near the center of a sprawling specimen shaped like an octopus on his head.

Looking up through the canopy reminded me of the character, shape, and charm of the burr oaks  in Iowa.  The polylepis is covered in moss, lichen, and ferns.

A close look at the bark revealed a unique paper-like covering.  Polylepis is known appropriately as the paper tree.

What grows on the polylepis is almost as interesting as the polylepis.

All but three of us gathered for a 'selfie' before moving on down the path.

Katy and David Jones posed for a picture along the path.  They gave up watching their beloved Kansas State Wildcats dismantle Texas in football this day.  They are smiling even before they know that.

Benny, Laura, and Bob navigate across one of many crude wooden foot bridges.  It was starting to rain more heavily and we were getting some sleet or hail. It was hard to tell which it was but the ice stings your face.

Phil and I stop to discuss our Cyclones and Hawkeyes.  Notice my camera in hand (before classic klutz move).

I come upon this picturesque little rapids over some slippery rocks

Certainly those rocks are not that slippery

More like greased lightning I'd say

And the next moment I'm diving for my camera that went swimming to the bottom.  Katy to the rescue....she thought I was hurt.  Pride.  It will get you every time.  My camera was not waterproof.

Moral of the story:  Don't walk on slippery rocks with your camera.

Now if you wonder who is taking all the action shots while I'm diving for my beloved camera, yes, you guessed it.  Rodger.  Were it not for Rodger I wouldn't have all these great photos.  If Rodger and I go mountain climbing some day and I fall from a 1000 foot ledge, he will take my picture flying through the air with his zoom camera. He has already agreed to finish my blog about it.

Later we warmed by the fireplace in a little public cabin.  The fire felt really good and we all had a good time laughing about slippery rocks.

As you can see in the photo below, Bob's hand appears to be on fire.  I know Bob is tough, but.....

Again, Rodger's keen sense of impending doom photo ops is alive and well.

Our trip back from the polylepis forest to hacienda El Milagro seemed to fly by.  Everything always seems to look so different going back from whence you came.  Bob seemed to recover nicely from his hand of fire and my fall on the rocks only bruised my pride.

This was Rodger and Glennda's first time out to El Milagro.  Every time I am out there I see something I've never seen before.  It's great to have a backup camera guy who is seeing something for the first time and see what he takes pictures of.  Above you see a fully recovered Flick walking towards the house.

If you are a regular visitor to our blog you know I have photos of this beautiful hacienda in earlier blogs.  It's a good thing as I will explain.

We ate a huge and delicious meal that seems to be a Bachi standard.   We all went for more than one trip to the grazing table.  Afterwards we were a bit sleepy from hiking in the rain, warming by a fire and eating a Bachi Flick banquet.  Bob and Peter took us on the grand tour around their hacienda where we saw beautiful crops of avocados, other fruits and vegetables, coffee trees, you name it.  Knowing that my camera was toast I was sure that Rodger would capture the beauty and essence of it all with his camera.   You have no idea what a big meal can do to a photographer.  It numbs their senses.  Rodger only took one picture after the meal.

Pipes.  It's a guy thing.