Once more we have climbed up the high slopes of the Cordillera de Sabanilla, again with the goal to reach the banks of the mysterious lagoon called “Laguna del Tigre” said to be hidden deep inside the mountains. With the support of two mules carrying our backpacks during the first day - they returned with their owner back home at the ridge where the strong winds and rain made them shiver – we had a good start. On the second day our venture was supported by surprisingly good weather. Even the sun warmed us for a few hours in the morning before the typical afternoon clouds started to come in. Nevertheless, in the late evening hours we reached the valley of the lagoon and set up our camp just below the ridge with sight over the lagoon.
The next day we kept the camp and went down to explore the lagoon and its surroundings but besides an impressive flora found no hints of the ancient cultures that most probably used to hunt in this area but seemed not to live permanently here due to the cold and harsh climate.
Having brought provisions for a week we decided to continue our way further south. So the next day we left the lagoon and hiked along the Cordillera de los Sabanillas, impressed by the wide and untouched mountain scenery with its immense valleys, small rivers and rocky mountain peaks. After two days we reached the “Laguna Los Huicundos” where we set camp in the evening right beside a small stone pyramid. From the ridge we could spot the lights of the small town of Amaluza deep down in the valley. In the morning we found a small path running from east to west which looked like it once was used a lot but now slowly started to disappear.
Spontaneously we decided to drop our original plan to explore the Cordillera further south and instead started to follow the path towards the East. Though the path lost itself several times in the thick mountain grass (Stipa ichu), there were every now and then parts, especially in the higher rockier regions, where it was still clearly visible and we could follow it easily walking on the footsteps of the people who used it in former times to cross the Cordillera along this route (as we should learn days later from an 78 years old farmer on the other side of the mountains they ceased to use this route about 15 years ago!).
Unfortunately, once we crossed the ridge and started to descend down to the junction of the rivers Rio Jibaro and Rio Blanco, forming Rio Palanda, the path more and more faded and we had to cut our way through with the machete. Nevertheless, just before we ran out of provisions we reached the first Finca (farm) on the Palanda side of the Cordillera and from here a comfortable track led us back to civilization, a hot shower and a huge “Churrasco” waiting for us in Palanda...
This month we will finally return to the mountains of Loja and continue our research in the Cordillera de Sabanilla in the South of Ecuador. Our goal will be this time to reach the mysterious lagoon hidden deep in these mountains as well as to explore the region for further remains of the cultures that lived year centuries ago: the Calvas (Nation of the Paltas). Besides intensive brainstorming over the maps of the area we also prepared ourselves to the physical stress of the expedition in the altitude and did several hikes in the Andes around Quito to Rucu and Guagua Pichincha, Fuya Fuya, Pasochoa, Illinizas and the Angamarca area. I’d like to thank Rolf and Dennis as well as the “Happy Lama” Jan for providing great company and a lot of fun during these adventures. I hope we will be in the mountains together again soon!
If plans work out we will leave Quito on the 20th of September 2010 and start the tour from San Antonio de las Aradas on the 22nd of September 2010. We will spend only about a week in the mountains this time as the area we want to research is quite small and we hope to be able to finish the explorations within this time – nevertheless we are already planning on further explorations into the areas further to the south in the near future.
Usually the plans for the next year start with a retrospection of the ending year. This year has been really full of travel and exploration, many of which have been planned with good friends accompanied by a cold beer (or two) sitting in the hot equatorial sun at one of Plaza Foch’s cafes in Quito. Planning our tours and expeditions is still one of our favorite pastimes and many afternoons and long nights have been filled with conversation on the best way to explore new routes.
This makes it an ideal moment to thank all the many friends and family members that supported us in our endeavors, our main sponsor EGT and especially our wives once more for their endless patience and backup! We have spent many memorable moments in the wild, camped overlooking the clouds, hiked with old friends, explored with new friends and had great times in Ecuador’s many national parks. During 2009 we have made several explorations throughout Ecuador with a strong emphasis on the Mountains of Sabanilla in the Province of Loja in the South of Ecuador. We have been very successful and found three different ruins, most probably Pre-Inca sites where the Calvas, a tribe of the Nation of the Paltas, worshipped their gods. Working in Cooperation with the University of Loja (UTPL) as well as the INPC (Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural) we suggested to name these ruins “Torneados de Sabanilla”. For 2010 we plan to continue the cooperation as well as our explorations of the Espindola Valley and the Sabanilla Mountain, this time also with the support of the Consejo Provincial de Loja (the Government of the Loja Province).
Once more it is local legend that catches our interest: High up in the mountains a lagoon is said to be not only hidden by difficult terrain but also protected by rain, wind, hail and even storms that cast anyone away who tries to get nearer to this mysterious lagoon. So far we have not found one single person that actually stood at its banks and truth to be told we suffered 3 failed attempts in 2009 too. Fortunately we returned always healthy from our explorations and of course look forward to solve the mystery of the hidden lagoon in 2010…
Good luck to all Explorers in the world for 2010 – keep your spirits up!
Before the Incas conquered the region that today forms the north of Peru and the south of Ecuador this land was inhabited for centuries by the people of the Calvas tribe who were part of the Paltas Nation. During our last expedition we found two archaeological sites of the Paltas in the Sabanilla Mountains. Our next expedition in October 2009 has the goal to find further remains of this lost culture to prove not only the existence of the Calvas/Paltas in this region but also to show that they formed a highly organized culture, similar to other cultures of this period. We will leave Quito on October 2nd travelling south on the Pan-American Highway to Loja and on to San Antonio de las Aradas which will be again our starting point. We plan to be about 8 days in the mountains and if our theories are correct, we should find at least one more site. Currently we are preparing our equipment. Though I am jogging twice a week in La Carolina Park here in Quito at ca. 2850m altitude I will climb one of the surrounding mountains this weekend in order to further improve my acclimatization as the expedition will lead us into altitudes between 3200m to 3600m. After the expedition we are going to visit several sites along the Ecuadorian route of the Qhapaq Ñan to learn more about the ancient cultures in Ecuador that lived here before the Incas.
From the 24th to the 27th of July Flor Maria and I spent some days exploring Loja and its surroundings. Even today, history is alive in many parts of day to day life in Loja and currently many projects involving the research and conservation of archaeological sites are carried out throughout the province; the biggest one being probably the Qhapac Ñan with the support of the UNESCO. Our visit coincided with the bicentennial of the Quito Revolution in 1809, which was celebrated with a lot of music, dancing, reenactments and presentations. On Sunday we visited the Podocarpus National Park. The park exhibits an exceptional range of flora, and has been considered the “Botanical Garden of America”. We entered the park at its main entrance in the south of Loja at the Loja – Vilcabamba road and from here hiked our way across three of the four trails created by the national park staff. The trail “Los Miradores” took us up to 3050m altitude and due to strong wind and rain it got pretty cold but the exquisite scenery made it well worth the effort. Nevertheless we spent Monday a little more easy going, visiting the University UTPL (Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja) and shopping in the bookstores in the centre of the city. For all who missed the “expedition-factor” in this report: of course we did some successful research for our next expedition into the mountains of Loja which is planned for an October departure…
In addition to the adventures described in the first report of our Expedition in the mountains of Loja, Ecuador we also discovered two archaeological sites hidden in the cordillera. We spotted the sites from up the ridge and in our second attempt managed to descend to them, passing through Paramo (grassy Andean Highland) and cloud forests. The first site on 2276m altitude is in a quite bad shape as the weather has strong impacts on the place while the second site on 2852m altitude is in very good conditions because it lies in an area protected by the cordillera. As both archaeological sites have been constructed by the pre-Inca culture the Paltas they are at least 500 years old. As many pre-Inca cultures the Paltas have been conquered first by the Inca who destroyed most of their culture imposing their own on all conquered civilisations and a few years later the Spanish Conquistadores finished the work of the Incas. Therefore today there is little evidence of the Paltas who inhabited big parts of what today forms the most southern province of Ecuador: Loja. We reported our discoveries to the INPC Loja (Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural Loja) who confirmed us as discoverer of both sites and assured that they will start the investigation of the sites as soon as possible in order to conserve the ruins as well as to determine their function.
In June 2009 we travelled south from Quito and continued our exploration of the Province of Loja, especially the Forest Protectorate Colambo - Yacuri in the south of the province near the border to Peru. Once more we used the little Andean village San Antonio de las Aradas as the base for our tours into the mountains, following the kind invitation of Don Jose who provided us with cozy lodging, tasty local food and many information and histories on the mountains. Unfortunatley soon after we started our tour bad weather kept us from completing the planned route but nevertheless we spent 7 days exploring the mountain range. At the ridge strong winds and heavy rain fall combined with cold nights were a hard test for us and our equipment while exploring the valleys steep slopes which are largely covered by Andean cloud forest made it difficult to find routes and often slowed us down. Also it resulted quite difficult to find good campsites and in spite of the rainfalls we had problems to find drinking water in the higher parts, obliging us sometimes to descend more then an hour to find a spring and then ascent back in double the time carrying the water up to the camp. Descending from the mountains we had to cross several swollen rivers in the valleys due to the heavy rainfalls in the upper parts. While trying to cross these rivers we gave several involuntary feasts to the local mosquito community... Besides the fascinating landscape the encounter with an Andean spectacled bear was the highlight of this adventure. We are planning to return to Loja to finish the orginally planned route in october/november 2009.