Ecuador has a ton of cool “shit” for lack of a better word. I’m constantly blown away by the biodiversity, scope of topographical relief, and just the overall “coolness” of Ecuador.
On this last trip, we were talking about the 7 Natural Wonders of the World (which are, according to http://sevennaturalwonders.org/, Aurora Borealis, Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Victoria Falls, Great Barrier Reef, Mount Everest, and the Harbor of Rio De Janeiro) and held a small panel of experts discussion on what would the 7 natural wonders of Ecuador be…Undoubtably the snow–covered volcanoes would count, as would Ecuador’s various amazing rivers (both for their whitewater🙂 and for their importance to the Amazon and habitat to many endemic species.
There were lots of other things that made our list, but through all of this I couldn‘t help but to think about Alexander Von Humboldt and his explorations in Ecuador. I can’t imagine how amazing all this was when it was virtually unknown in the European World. It‘s incredible the “firsts” he came across in Ecuador. Read on to learn more about Humboldt, and about Ecuador’s most interesting volcanoes (the two are somewhat tied together, I promise)!
Among his South American Firsts (in the areas between Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru), Humboldt discovered the “oil bird,” Electric Eels, the Casiquiare Canal (a link between the Amazon and Orinoco Rivers), and much more. Just as an interesting side note, the Casiquiare Canal is the largest river on the planet that links 2 major river systems—aka a “bifurcation.” Humboldt also discovered the fertilization qualities of guano, and began promoting its use in Europe.
Of his numerous discoveries and scientific advances, Humboldt is most well known for his studies and advances in meteorology (The Humboldt Current) and in physical geography. As part of this latter passion, Humboldt liked climbing mountains–ah ha, see the tie in with volcanoes? Ecuador has a lot of great mountains (feeding a lot of great rivers), so let‘s talk a little about that!
In 1802, Humboldt, along with Aime Bonpland, attempted to climb Chimborazo—then thought to be the tallest mountain in the world. No one really knows how high they made it, although there is a general consensus today that they reached an elevation of 5,875 meters (19, 274 feet). This was supposedly higher than any other Europeans had climbed to date.
It would be 78 years after Humboldt‘s attempt before any humans reached the summit of Chimborazo. In 1880, Edward Whyemper and Louis and Jean–Antoine Carrel finally made it all the way to the top of Chimborazo—the mountain whose summit boasts the point farthest from the center of the earth.
But Chimborazo is not the only interesting volcano in Ecuador…Antisana is the 4th tallest mountain in Ecuador weighing in at 5,753 (18,874 feet). It is particularly special to us at Small World Adventures because it is also the headwaters of the Quijos River which, besides flowing right past our lodge, hosts over 100 miles of awesome whitewater!
Volcan Reventador is also special to us at SWA because we can see it from our lodge, and often enjoy morning walks (when the vista is most likely to be clear) checking out its 1/2 cone shape. 30,000 years ago (give or take a couple thousand), Reventador erupted big time, blowing off the entire top half of the mountain (a la Mount Saint Helens). If it weren‘t for this eruption, geologists believe it would be the tallest mountain in Ecuador. Today, a small cone is rebuilding inside the caldera, and the mountain occasionally sends up plumes of ash and smoke.
Speaking of ash and smoke, those two elements play a key role in Ecuador’s New Year‘s celebrations. Each year families will build munecas (or mannequins) to represent the Old Year (Ano Viejos). They will often represent something or someone they don’t like that they wish to do away with in with the coming of the new year. But people also just make fun things too with whatever they have laying around the house to dress up their “dolls” with. So we got Tio Larry and Nano Paul as our Ano Viejos.
But, we couldn‘t quite wait until midnight so at 9pm the burning commenced! A few brave souls jumped the fire, and the rest of us just watched and thought about everything that happened in 2010, and dreamed about what might happen in 2011.
Moving onto to Volcan Cotopaxi, which is the highest ACTIVE volcano in the world. It stands at 5,897 meters (19,347 feet), and is the most popular mountain to climb in Ecuador. Cotopaxi is also the headwaters to the tributaries that come together to form the Jatunyacu (Upper Napo) that eventually flow into the flatlands where it becomes the Napo proper.
Cayambe is also an interesting volcano because it is the only point on Earth where the equator actually passes through snow! The equator bisects Cayambe at 4,690 meters (15,387 feet). This is also the highest altitude on Earth that the equator passes through. Cayambe‘s summit is 5,790 meters (18,996 feet).
Volcan Sumaco is near Tena, and while it only stands at a puny 3,990 meters tall (13,090 feet), it is one of the more treacherous to climb. Summiting Sumaco typically takes 5 days of slogging through mud, rain, and thick jungle. (Compare to a 1.5 day ascent of Cotopaxi).
So, I know I kind of got off the topic of Humboldt, but his passion for exploration and his incredible achievments led others to suffer in the spirit of adventure which has led to many great athletic endeavors as well as many great scientific discoveries.
Ecuador is a much different place now than it was in the early 1800’s when Humboldt was discovering new species, new ocean currents, new meteor showers (Leonids), but there is still incredible opportunities for personal discovery. I don’t necessarily mean soul–searching (although this can happen too), but rather, seeing and experiencing things for YOUR first time. Say, if you come paddling with us, you won‘t be the first person to ever run the Quijos River, but it will be your first time, and the thrill of discovery is still alive and well on these such journeys.
So, in closing, I encourage all of you to come discover Ecuador for yourselves! It’s an amazing place.