Ecuador: A country full of wonders [Part 1]

Ecuador may look quite small on the map but I can assure you that it is packed with amazing destinations!

ecuador_91If you are a nature enthusiast, this tiny country will seduce you by its incredible diversity of landscape and its unique wildlife.

Ecuador is indeed the most biodiverse country on Earth for its size. Quite exciting, isn’t it? The birdwatchers will be especially happy knowing that the country contains 16% of all existing bird species! According to the Biodiversity Group, a dazzling 140 species of hummingbird is awaiting for you there.

Bordering the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is a mosaic of extremely diverse ecosystems. From high mountains to surprising islands, follow me in my journey there.

1. Quito & the Andes

Being the longest mountain range in the world, the Andes run along South America’s western side from Chile to Venezuela. More than being long, the Andes are also very high and your body will get to experience the effects linked to altitude quite quickly if you fly to Quito.

Perched at almost 3,000 meters, the capital city was already a challenge for me. Headaches, tiredness and nose bleeds were a constant reminder of how high I suddenly was but luckily my body got used to the altitude after few days.

Quito is definitely worth a visit for its beautiful city centre, mix of gothic cathedrals and colorful houses. I totally fell in love with the Basilica del Voto Nacional due to its original animal gargoyles. As a zoologist, it just felt so nice to see the traditional deformed figures replaced by sculpted pelicans and anteaters!

If you are a foodie and like eating like locals, head to a cafe and order a hot chocolate. It will be served with a bowl of cheese that you are expected to drop in the hot drink. Absolutely delicious!

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Once done with Quito and fully adjusted to the altitude, you can then head to the real wild moutains! Make sure to have a guide with you if you go on unknown paths and be ready to experience extremely cold temperatures.

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Hiking the Andes was a beautiful but somehow painful experience for me. Still struggling with altitude sickness, my few hours walking in the cold were pretty miserable. Headaches, short breath and dizziness accompanied me through the entire journey making it hard to fully enjoy the view. So I insist again: take your time to adjust to the altitude before heading anywhere.

When back at lower altitudes, I could breath again and enjoy the mountains a bit more. Visiting the Antisana Ecological Reserve, I thought at first glance that the vegetal landscape was quite homogeneous. But when I started looking more closely I discovered some beautiful flowers hidden here and there, drops of color surviving the harsh altitude and temperatures.

Every plant growing there has evolved to survive the difficult conditions either by growing at a smaller size or by becoming thicker to protect itself from the cold. In terms of wildlife, I had the chance to meet again with two of my favourite birds: hummingbirds and caracaras.

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Aberaeron: Wales Best Place

Seaside resort located on the West coast, Aberaeron, elected Best Place in Wales, is definitely charming and colorful!

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The contest, ran by the Royal Town Planning Institute Cymru, is meant to celebrate Wales most protected, carefully planned or improved places. The cute village of Aberaeron came in first position, followed by the picturesque Tenby and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that is Gower.

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Visiting Aberystwyth last weekend with a friend, we decided out of curiosity to stop by Aberaeron to check what made the place so special. We took the bus T1 at destination of Carmarthen. After a 40 minutes ride in the Welsh countryside, we arrived in the charming village.

Tiny, is probably the first adjective that came to my mind when looking around. In this season, a day is definitely enough to enjoy the town and see all the main landmarks. My second observations was that almost all the houses around us were painted in bright colors, giving the town an interesting vibe.

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Heading first to the harbour, we enjoyed a nice view of the church connected to the port by a woody bridge. Few sailing boats were patiently waiting for a chance to get back to the sea and the sun was just high enough to give the scene a perfect lighting.

Crossing the bridge and heading to the church, we ended up in the Craft Centre. There, we found a patchwork of different shops (which unfortunately were mostly closed on Mondays). An antique shop, neighbouring a tattoo studio, was filled with tick tocking noises and exhibited amazing  clocks.

Despite my deep hatred for any ticking sounds, I have to say that I always enjoy watching old clocks. In one corner of the room laid a beautiful one, called the Skeleton Clock, its mechanism fully exposed to the public eye hanging in all its beauty.

Continuing our bucolic wander, we reached the river and a hiking path leading to Lampeter. Probably busy during the summer, the path was then pretty quiet. After visiting the Tourist Information Centre and wondering in front of the local artists’ paintings and photographies, we decided to go have a walk along the coast.

Curious about the possibility to spot marine wildlife, I asked the receptionist before leaving if dolphin sightings were common around Aberaeron. She explained that dolphins could often be seen in the nearby town of New Quay but rarely around the village. I guess that provides me with a good reason to come back explore this region of Wales next summer!

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Hungry?
Located right in front of the T1 and T5 bus stops, the Ambassadors cafe is based on the first floor of a souvenir shop. From sandwiches to panini and even crepes, the large choice of lunch items will make everyone happy.  Deliciously fresh smoothies and incredibly big slice of cakes are also on the menu, making the Ambassadors Cafe a perfect place for tea time as well.

How to get there? 
T1 from Aberystwyth, Lampeter, and Carmarthen
T5 from Aberystwyth, New Quay, Cardigan, Fishguard and Haverfordwest

Autumnal Errands

Autumn is officially here, bringing its grey mornings and cold days. It’s easy to feel a bit low while reminiscing summer memories, beach vibes and picnic parties. For most people, Autumn is bad news: shorter days, cold breeze, trees being stripped of their leaves, and precursor of the winter blues.

Even though all of these are surely true, I somehow always had a special kind of love for Autumn. Spring probably have more fans being all about new beginnings but how can you have new beginnings without proper endings?

Leaves in all their poetry are not leaving without a fight. They showcase their most amazing and intense colors, waving us goodbyes. Look around you and you will notice all possible shades of reds, oranges, yellows and greens. So aren’t trees at their best during this season?

Lights in Autumn can be fantastic to take outdoor photos. Wait for the rain to stop and grab your camera and rain jacket, you’ll be amazed by what you’ll find. Flowers dripping with water will appear in all their glory. Try to play with your settings to blur the background and you will obtain beautiful flower portraits!

If you look well enough during your autumnal walks, you will probably find out that Autumn is not just about endings after all! Indeed, mushrooms are quickly appearing all over the forest, some ready to pamper your taste buds while others are colorfully warning you not to eat them.

In term of wildlife, Autumn is one of the most hectic seasons. While some animals are changing their fur colors to adapt to the future snowy landscapes, others are busy storing enough food to survive the cold days. If you live in a city, squirrels can be great Autumnal models to train your wildlife photography skills.

So what are you waiting for? Go out now and explore this wonderful season!