Author Archive | Margot Fass

34. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – San Cristobal

Friday, June 23rd, Zodiacs, Cows, and Fishing Yachts

After supper at the airport hotel and a good night’s sleep, at last it was time to set off for Galapagos. After landing at the airport, we took a 5 minute ride to the pier.

Our guide Enrique met us there and escorted us into the “zodiac,” a motorized inflated raft, which carried us to the Cachahote, a sailing yacht converted from a fishing boat.

The other 9 people on board were all from England and Australia, and had been having a good old time for the past three days, having started from Baltra, where we would end up. No time was wasted to get us back on shore.

Matthew, as always, being the life of the party,  used his cat herding gifts to round up a stray member of the group.  A bus took us up into the foggy and rainy hills of San Cristobal Island.

The bumpy ride took us through little villages where dogs lay in the middle of the sometimes paved road, and cows moved aside without a moo. Although sitting in the front of the bus, I wasn’t quick enough to get the whole herd of a dozen or so of these beasties.


Cows are a serious threat to the environment in Ecuador, for the same reasons they are all over the world. Strangely I was the only vegetarian on this part of the trip, and one of the only four vegetarians with the Save the Frogs ecotour group.

First stop: the Galapaguera de Cerro Colorado, part of the Galapagos National Park. Because of over harvesting of tortoises in the past for eating and for sport, this newest tortoise breeding and nursery center has been a godsend for preserving the species. The reserve is surrounded by fence, primarily to keep the cows out.

The eggs at a particular temperature favors the hatching of females. Baby tortoises emerge in about four months, and then stay in the dark for an even longer time.
They then are moved to a “training ground” in a larger area and released at 5 years old. The tortoises in the compound are fed two plant species (poisonous to humans) three times a week, otherwise fending for themselves.

Second stop: As usual, on the very LONG and STEEP flights of stairs up Tijeretas Hill, the rest of the group was well ahead of me. However, a tiny and colorful Yellow Warbler kept me company most of the last part of the climb, hopping in front of me step by step. When a hiker came clambering down, the Warbler flew out of the way, and then came back to finish guiding me to the top.

The point of getting up there was hopefully to see one of the few freshwater lakes in the Galapagos, El Junco Lagoon, in the deep basin on the other side of the hill. All we could see was fog. Nevertheless, there were satisfying colors along the way.

Back at the pier, while the rest of the group opted for drinks, Matthew and I drank in the atmosphere of small village at dusk and nightfall.

On the beach, a sea lion pup pulled its little self over the rocks until it got to its mom to nurse. A big old gent dragged himself  over the sand and was rejected by female after female, until he fell exhausted and flopped on the sand. Finally he got up and managed to get to one last place where a female and another pup reluctantly accepted his company.

Heading back for our boat we found all four benches near the boarding site occupied.


Clearly it was time for us to find our own bunks.

33. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Cotopaxi Part II

Thursday, June 22nd, Never Hunt Innocent Life

At my several rests on the daunting climb and decline, Carlos was trying to make calls to various mechanics. He was justifiably distressed to be told that repairs to his car would cost $10,000. How did I guess that he was talking about a Mercedes Benz?

Carlos and I had great good luck when we got near the van, where we had the rare opportunity to spot a condor flying low along the rim. Carlos, standing at the edge of the world trying to find the great bird again, grumbled that the condor probably was eating lunch somewhere down below where it couldn’t be seen.

The group was fortunate that Cotopoxi wasn’t covered in clouds, as it often is, but they did roll in before we left the park.

On the way back, we stopped for “lunch” at 5 pm in a tiny village for another one of those extraordinarily delectable meals, with soup of course, which Alexander had ordered at the outset of the trip. It was a pleasant stop and opportunity to talk with a few of the others, including one who might be Victor’s future student.

During the entire year, the sun rises and sets at 6 am and 6 pm respectively. Alexander said he wanted us to go to sleep on the bus ride back to Quito, so he would tell us stories. He used his dramatic talents recounting several old Ecuadorian legends, in English and in Spanish.

There once was a son of a great warrior who was taught to fight and kill. However, the boy, who was prideful, got excited about killing and used his bow and arrow to shoot a beautiful bird. When he brought the bird to his mother to brag about what he had done, his mother was appalled. She told her son that it was one thing to kill someone who was trying to steal your land or your life, but to kill a beautiful bird who never does any harm, and provides us with songs, is unacceptable. Hismother plucked the most colorful feather from the bird and made him wear it from that point on, as a reminder never to hunt innocent life again.


32. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Cotopaxi Part I

Thursday June 22nd, Rocks in my shoes

A 6:30 breakfast to get to the train ride that wasn’t to be. We took a taxi to the sunny, shiny bright, immaculate train station, and found not a soul there in either direction.

After sitting for a bit, a woman came along and said their was no train until Saturday, even though the website had said it ran on Thursday through Saturday.

Thanks to a painting in the station, we could imagine a comparison between before and after.

It was an even longer trek this time to the Old City in Quito, but once again, there were interesting sights to lighten the load I was hauling on my poor feet up and down the streets. 

A fun surprise was to find more hummingbird art at the Visitors Center, this time in the ladies room, taped with masking tape to the wall.

We inquired about the Festival of the Sun, but apparently that was no longer going on. The next best possibility seemed to be to go to Cotopaxi, the oldest active volcano in Ecuador.


a very talkative and expressive young man, led this all day tour and hike up the mountain. Both in English and in Spanish, he told us everything we did and did not need to know about snacks, schedules, geological and biological information, prefacing every paragraph with either “my friends” or “mis amigos” as appropriate.

We picked up Gladys Iza, one of the park interpretive guides, near the Cotopaxi National Park.

In spite of my hiking practice during the Save the Frogs! adventure, the cold, altitude, incline, and Chaco sandals proved my undoing on this lava strewn volcano.

While the others went around on a longer less steep road on the brown ridge on the left, the bus driver, Carlos, offered his arm to get me to the rock on the right at the second curve near the red lava.

This marked just the first third of the trip, at which point I bailed (with all apologies to our dear friend Minda for applying the word to a person she sees as an intrepid jungle and forest trekker, ha!).

31. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito Part VI

Wednesday, June 21st. Walking, eating, sightseeing, and eating again.

Matthew and I had a few days to explore Quito. The first day we walked to the Old City, in the center of which is La Plaza de la Independencia. It was a good hour-long walk on the many hills, both up and down, with much to look at.

Resting in the park, previously and colloquially known as the Grand Plaza, Matthew  found and recommended La Purisma, a few blocks away, for lunch. We had a delicious meal, and a beautiful view of the street outside our window.

We then visited the Centro Cultural Metropolitano. The most interesting aspect of this museum to me was the uses to which it has been put over the centuries, and the fact that the third floor once was essentially destroyed by a fire started by overenthusiastic partiers in 1929.

At the time of the foundation of Quito, in 1622, the building was a monastery for the order of the Compañia de Jesus. It included the Universidad de San Gregorio Magno. Jesuits were replaced in 1767 by the Spanish crown and Dominicans, and the university was renamed as the Real Universidad Pública de Santo Tomás de Aquino.

In 1826, the increasingly independent Republic of Ecuador used part of the building for a city university. Liberal ideas there helped the transformation of the Republic, started in 1809 and finalized in 1830, into the new state of Ecuador. In 1836, the two colleges merged into the Universidad Central del Ecuador.

Seventy three years after the fire, with university life coming and going, the building was finally completely renovated. The original uses were restored, with touches from its history including personal libraries, printing, artistic, historical, geological and biological antiques.

Back on the street, we spent some time listening to two possibly once famous, now blind street musicians. Matthew was impressed with the accordion player, and bought Volumes 2 and 8 of their seven CD’s.

It was refreshing to see some healthy protest in the park. Earlier, in the morning there had been a parade for the solstice (Festival of the sun), but in the afternoon there was a definite demonstration against Monsanto, GMOs, and capitalistic exploitation.

We then visited a money museum that included stamps, and the history of the economic oppression of people and land by a few wealthy foreigners seizing and exporting cocoa.  Some stories never stop repeating.

After all that, I was happy to take a taxi back to the hotel. Little did I know that our adventures for the day were not done! During our rest, Matthew discovered a restaurant with the fascinating name.

Laboratorio is a “conceptual restaurant” where the chefs change every 3 to 6 months. Each applicant must submit a resume, then a sample recipe, and finally, cook a dinner for the “judges” in order to be considered for a position. Our particular chef has been there for longer than 6 months in various roles as sou chef and chef. He was also the only person on the staff who spoke English.

The building was originally a wire factory, and they have maintained many of the original aspects of its history.

My extraordinary and delicious meal was served, not on a plate, but on a 2” thick cross cut of a tree, varnished to repel liquid.

So, happy and full, we went back for an early rise, because Matthew wanted to take the morning scenic train ride through the country the next day. However, it turned out that it was not to be.

30. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito, Part V

Tuesday, June 20th, Orchid Orchestra Botanical Gardens of Quito

The light of day had broken through the rain and fog by the time we were ready to leave the Guayasamin Museum. Jennifer had to go back to the hotel to catch her shuttle to the airport. Melissa split off to see a famous cathedral in the center of town.  The rest of us walked for an hour or so down the winding roads to the Botanical Gardens.

The red eyed tree frog above the entrance to the gardens was indeed welcoming.  The visit seemed meant to be.  

The grounds are spread out and attractively kept. Exotic plants,  “broom trees”, “bottle brushes”, and I presume, grasses, graced the trails.

It was easier to admire the fascinating Bromeliads in their manicured and showcased environment.


Plants that are relatively common in the United States are easily recognizable, such as the Cala Lily and Fuschia. Central and South America provide for much of the US market for cut flowers and floral plants.

When it comes to the orchids, I was struck by the variety in their appearance.




I wondered to myself just what makes an orchid an orchid. Imagine my surprise when I turned a corner immediately after that silent musing and saw the same question with an answer.

What makes an orchid an orchid?  The secret is in the flower.

Orchids have three equal sepals and three petals, one of which is more striking than the others and is called the lip or labellum.  

The stamen (male) and pistil (female) are joined in one dominant columnar structure
The column is located generally opposite the lip, instead of symmetrically distributed around the flower.

The salient characteristic of orchids is pollen grouped in large masses or sacks called pollinators.




Given this definition, which of the following are orchids?

If you have had trouble deciding, you are not alone. The bottom of this sign reads:  Be careful, there are millions of species of orchids, and with many, only an observant expert can distinguish these characteristics. 

The reason I have so many photos, and many more where these come from, is that my friend Melvin, for a change, had not brought his camera with him. As I moved about the greenhouse, he would point to a flower, I would take a picture, and he would point again. I swear he pointed at every orchid in that building!

The Botanical Gardens closed a half hour before the Vivarium, both part of Carolina Park

In spite of our pleas and reasoned discussion, we were not given a break in the price of admission for the last half hour. The elfin twins got the senior discount, however.

Before we had set out from the Hotel Bernard, everyone except Jennifer had piled their luggage in my room. After a quiet dinner downstairs (Michael was “off duty” as of the night before and didn’t really want to talk frogs), we went up to my room, fiddled with our packing, played on I-phones and/or took naps. Michael, Conner, and Katie were the first to leave.

The last shuttle trip was due to arrive at Quito airport at just the time Matthew was getting in, so I hitched a ride with the shuttle driver, Ramiro, and my two remaining companions, Melissa and Melvin.

In order to practice Spanish, I found it was best to sit up front with the driver. Ramiro made a quick stop to pick up his wife, and after dropping the other two off at departures, the couple came in with me to greet Matthew.

Every Ecuadorian I met, without exception, was extremely friendly, cordial, and helpful.
And that was the end of one adventure and the beginning of the next.

Tune in next week for Matthew’s arrival and our adventures in Quito and Galapagos.

29. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito Part IV

Tuesday, June 20th, Museo Guayasamin

Michael was going out with a few of the group members that weren’t leaving until later that day. Chelsea, who wasn’t with us, had recommended the Museo Guayasamin.  Our group included Michael himself, Katie, Connor, Melissa, Jennifer, Melvin and me. 

We headed up there in a few taxis, and ate lunch across the street at a tiny second floor mom’s restaurant, where my soup was served in a quaint bowl.

Yummy as always, the soup is gone forever. The CocaCola lingers on.

The best online source of information about the Museum is at their website, Museo Guayasamin, the source of the information and photos below. Images and words, however, can not take the place of  visiting the museum itself and listening to the presentation about the work of Oswaldo Guayasamin, which brought tears to my eyes more than once.

Nelson Rockefeller became one of Guayasamin’s first patrons when Rockefeller was present at the artist’s first exhibition, and arranged for him to come to the United States.  It is easy to see the influence that other painters, such as El Greco, Goya, Velasquez, Picasso, and Orozco had on Guayasamin’s ouevre.

Guayasamin dedicated his life to raising awareness of the cruelties and injustices of life, to which he was exposed at an early age. From 1945 until his death in 1999, Guayasamin depicted the poor and oppressed, and the brutality of those who oppressed them.  (Los Trabajadores, 1942)

His “First Season” had to do with indigenous people in Andean countries.  He then produced 103 paintingsas he traveled through the Andes.  This series was called Huacayñán,  Quechuan for “Road of Crying”, (Prisionero, 1949)

“The Age of Wrath” followed, with Guayasamin turning his attention to not just the sadness, but his anger having to do with unrighteous genocides by dictators and their bombs, including in World War II, civil wars, and with individual murders. (Tears of Blood, Bay of Pigs, Women Crying, Napalm Head, 1970s)

The hardest story for me was regarding women working in diamond mines who were raped, impregnated, and birthed children who never saw the light of day.

Guayasamin’s  third series, “The Age of Tenderness” was an homage to his mother, who supported her son’s desire to become a painter, but died at age 46.  He did many paintings of mother and child, at least until 1989. (Ternura 4 and 5)

Guayasamin’s final project, The Chapel of Man, although it wasn’t completed until after his death, honors those who suffered, struggled, and achieved against all odds. The Chapel is dedicated to humans, because Guayasamin, an atheist, couldn’t believe there would be a God who would allow such horrors as his best childhood friend Manjarrés being killed by a stray bullet in a political war, and thrown on a pile of other corpses. (Dead Children, painted in “First Season”).

Other activist friends, including the musician Victor Jara (whose hands were either broken or amputated), were tortured, and subjects of Guayasamin’s paintings.  His friendship towards and support of other visual artists and musicians was given back in kind after Guayasamin’s death. Loyal always, they raised money through benefit concerts and other means to complete the Chapel.

Our guide referred to a book, The Wretched of the Earthby Franz Fanon,  a psychiatrist theorist and activist studying racial differences, colonialism and revolution, offering an understanding of the psychology of movement towards liberation.  Written in 1963, with the first English translation in 2004,  this book was an important literary corollary to the rage, violence, and oppression depicted by Oswaldo Guayasamin.

28. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito, Part III

Monday, June 19th, Goodbye, goodbye.

At 7 pm we took another bus ride up an ascending winding road. In Ecuador, sunrise is at 6 am and sunset at 6 pm the year round, so our second trip up a mountain was in the dark. The restaurant was built on the very edge of the world, and so I was lucky to have a seat by the window.
This view is very much like one from a Reggae place on a mountainside in Jamaica, and one in Hong Kong when I was in my teens, among others I have seen. Many of my readers have been treated to similar sights, and know that what makes the sparkling lights so special is the people we ae with. This evening, Melvin was on my right, Chelsea, Jaime, and Victor across from me.

It was the first chance I had had to talk very much with Chelsea, so it was nice to hear about her previous and upcoming experiences. The Peru Ecotour she had led did not initially appeal to me, partly because I was holding out for Ecuador, and because in the beginning it was advertised for just women. As she explained her involvement in the Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary, and her understanding of Spiritual Ecology, an all female tour made much more sense.

If we are to restore the balance in our world, we need to go beneath the surface to heal the split between spirit and matter and help to bring the sacred back into life. —Llewellyn Vaughan Lee, author of Spiritual Ecology, The Cry of the Earth.

Hmmmm, Cry of the Earth? Isn’t that what I was thinking when I took that picture of the tree back in Papillacta?

Photo of Melvin Grey, photographer, by Melvin Grey

Speaking of spiritual, what would I have done on this trip without my pal Melvin? He was clearly a friend that I have known for all eternity. From the first encounter in the garden, we, not always, but often, were together at meals, on walks and the bus. Sometimes there was no need for conversation, and I had come to the conclusion that we were “gemelos duendes” (elf twins). This is the photographer for the great shot of me you have seen in other posts.

This dark and noisy place was the end of our formal journey together. Our group goodbye therefore was out in the parking lot, in front of the bus, where Michael and Chelsea thanked us for joining them, and, because of the timing of our airline flights, hugs were exchanged between those who wouldn’t see each other again. But there was more to come for a few of us.

27. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito, Part II

June 19th, Sacred Moment and Loss

The gondola ends on a plateau, where there some hills and hiking trails. We had been warned that it is cool up there, and somehow I missed or forgot that signal. Before setting off, I had proudly, for the first time, used the feature of my hiking pants that allowed me to convert them into shorts. When we got to the top, I discovered the folly of my ways, and had to zip the bottoms back on again. By the time that was done, and after I paid the 50 cents that is required for 10 squares of toilet paper (EACH and EVERY time you go in, whether you need it or not), the rest of the group had disappeared.

It was sunny and pleasant up there, but the altitude was so high, I never would have been able to keep up with my fellow travelers, as I felt a little dizzy and weak. Taking my time, I got what I think are a few nice photos in the reserve.

As I contemplated the bridges,                         

the clouds below eye level,the formations of those clouds, and the peek holes through the branches, the thought came to me that I was having a sacred moment, and that there was nothing I could possibly be missing.               











Except maybe chocolate?

Back at the cafeteria at the edge of the mountain, I ordered hot chocolate. After drinking it and wandering around a bit, I discovered my beautiful magical walking stick that Cesar had cut for me was gone. The woman at the chocolate counter called me over to retrieve it. Chris, Brian and Melvin arrived, and they also had hot chocolate.  When the rest of the group all got back, we started down the teleférico. I was in the last group to go.

At the bottom, I realized my staff was gone again! Clearly it had been on the bench where I was gathering my things together to leave. The gondola was about to close, the group had all gathered and were waiting to get on the bus. 

Photo Credit Unknown

I was sad. So much for my spiritual moment, wondering what I could possibly be missing. 

Finally I comforted myself that it was better to leave it there for another hiker to use than to have it confiscated (which I’m sure it would have been) at the airport terminal. The palm stalk had been a good companion from Anaconda on.


26. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – Quito, Part I

Monday, June 19th, Town and Teleférico

In lieu of a scheduled early morning hike into the Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, I appreciated the view again from my bed that morning before breakfast, through the condensation on the window.

At 10 we were off for the relatively short drive back to Quito, arrived at Hotel Barnard to leave our baggage, and were led to El Centro Histórico to browse in the markets for the end of our souvenir shopping. I bought a pair of tiny frog earrings for $3 (they use American dollars in Ecuador), one of which promptly separated from the backing.  I have the parts somewhere to glue, but you know how that goes.  

For lunch, we were on our own   Wandering back to the hotel through the park, I noticed that Ecuadorians possibly love movies and theaters even as much as my husband Martin does. He likes old theaters though, and the Sala de Cine is definitely a modern work of art. 

The colorful buses complement the bright bridges, or is it the other way around?

At three pm we boarded the bus again for TelefériQo, which everyone had chosen over a walking tour of Quito.

The gondola ride takes 20 minutes from the sprawling densely populated city center to Cruz Loma, 2717 feet higher.  We got a glimpse of the former Quito airport, into which my friend Melvin Grey had flown on his first trip to Ecuador.  

City planners had the foresight to make the abandoned airport into the largest park in Quito. It is that large green arrow shape in the middle of the bottom third of the photo above the downward curving arc (the second green line from the bottom).

The original Mariscal Sucre International Airport  was one of the busiest airports in South America.  In the year 2000, there were more than 2000 connections a week made just by the airline TAME.  The terminals were located at an intersection of two major city avenues.

Melvin delights in describing the harrowing tale of several tries the pilot made to guide the airplane precisely onto the relatively short and narrow old Mariscal Sucre International Airport tarmac. Residential houses on both sides of the plane allowed passengers to look out at people on their porches and at their windows, who looked back at them.

When the plane had safely landed and stopped, everyone, inside and outside the plane, cheered. Melvin said to the stewardess that he didn’t know they were going to alight in the middle of the city. She replied that they had just flown into one of the highest and most dangerous airports in the world, where only especially trained pilots were allowed to land.  

He also didn’t know then that there were at least six accidents in the few years before the airport was moved in 2013.  Dear Melvin, we are glad that you were with us to tell the tale.






25. Ecuador Adventures and Frogs – El Crater – Part III

Saturday, June 18th,International Chapters and My Favorite Environmental Cause

By August 2017, SAVE THE FROGS! had given $79,202 in grants to various amphibian conservation groups around the world, favoring countries with fewer resources.
Australia:          $500
Bangladesh:  $6,930
Brazil:               $200
Colombia:     $1,600
Estonia:            $250
Ghana:         $52,739
India:              $3,380
Liberia:              $200
Madagascar:     $200
Mexico:           $3,760
Nepal:             $3,900
Nigeria:              $250
Paraguay:          $500
Tanzania:           $593
USA:               $4,200
TOTAL           $79,20

Ghana clearly has gotten the lion’s share.  This is not a funny pun: There are just between 15 and 32 thousand remaining wild west African lions, with as few as 34 in all of Nigeria. They are extinct in Ghana, and in critical danger of going extinct altogether.

Once I asked Kerry how one could justify supporting frogs, given that humans need so much. His answer was that, unless we create sustainable environments, humans are likely to consume themselves out of existence.

A case in point: Not only are the lions gone from Ghana, all the mammals have been hunted to extinction. Now the natives survive on fish and crocodiles, which they lure with frogs. However, because they have cut down so many trees, both to make charcoal and collect honey, they are losing their frogs. Unchecked, the people eventually will starve to death.

At our Saturday evening meeting, Michael mentioned Ghana as an example of counteracting that trend. Kids there used to hunt frogs. Now they play soccer instead.

Their team name? SAVE THE FROGS! 

Ghana is the first and most active International SAVE THE FROGS! Chapter in the world.
This is what they have done:
· planted over 15,000 trees to reforest habitat for critically endangered Giant Squeaker Frogs,
· trained numerous undergraduates in amphibian biology and field techniques,
· trained villagers in beekeeping so they don’t have to chop trees to collect wild honey,
· campaigned for the creation of a new national park to protect the Togo Slippery Frog, which is known to survive on only two streams.

You can learn more about their efforts at SAVE THE FROGS! Ghana

Although there have been some difficulties, as there always are, consider how much has been achieved in 6 years.

Most humans aren’t aware that self destruction is what we are about, but hopefully the imminent demise of so many species, from frogs, to lions, to elephants, might serve as a wake up call. Ghana is a model of what can be done.

Other international chapters SAVE THE FROGS! has formed include Argentina, Bangladesh, Colombia (not active), Mexico and Paraguay.  SAVE THE FROGS! also has:
· protested at government agencies to ban harmful pesticides and to protect wetlands,
· assisted with and led the construction or restoration of 29 wetlands,
· gotten frog legs out of 77 supermarkets and two restaurants,
· ended frog dissections at 18 schools,
· given 500+ live presentations,
· stopped the destruction of endangered amphibian habitats in Canada, New Zealand and the USA.
· held over 1,800 educational events in 62 countries to educate people about the plight of frogs and teach them ways to protect amphibians.
· introduced over 60 of Save the Frogs! supporters to tropical ecosystems,
· contributed over $50,000 to local economies, enabling communities to better protect their wildlife.

These are just a few of the reasons that SAVE THE FROGS! is my favorite environmental cause. The staff is real, accessible, friendly, helpful, loving, and accountable; truly like family.

All Photo Credits:  Kerry Kriger

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