Tag: flowers

:: roses of the equator ::

That Valentine’s Day rose you bought recently may very well have grown in the sun and volcanic soil of Ecuador.  As the world’s second largest exporter of roses, Ecuador is enjoying the sweet smell of success of its rose industry.

Blessed with year round temperate climates, relatively sunny conditions, and volcanic soil rich in nutrients, the roses here grow tall, straight, and wonderfully robust.  Driving through certain areas north of Quito you are surrounded by acres upon acres of greenhouses growing hundreds of varieties of roses.  This industry has become so important that the site of the new Quito Airport was chosen partially because of its proximity to the rose growing centres.  It even has its own refrigerated warehouses to ensure cold chain storage for the roses on their way out of the country.

We have been lucky enough to go to one of the rose farms for a tour of their facilities and the 100 year old house.  Rosadex is considered a medium rose exporter, with approximately 25 million stems exported last year.  The largest rose farms will grow over 100 million stems every year!

These farms are almost like little communities with day care and health care facilities on site for their hundreds of workers.  The benefits the workers receive are far better than outside the industry for similar types of jobs and due to that, retention is quite high.  This is crucial for the farms as the entire process is very exacting.  From the planting and cultivating, through the monitoring and picking, to the final selection and packaging, each step has a kind of art to it.

Familiarity with the hundreds of varieties of roses, and the different market tastes globally, will ensure that your roses are selected by international wholesalers.  In the crowded field of international exports, one cannot overlook the basics of having committed and knowledgable staff.

Ecuador’s major rose markets are the U.S., Europe, Russia, and China.  Each has a slightly different taste for roses – short stems and large heads in the U.S., the opposite in Europe, and long and large in Russia.  The Chinese market meanwhile has opened up a whole new niche job at these rose farms – dying experts.  Roses dyed the most exquisite array of colours are highly sought after in China – including multi-coloured petals!  It is a precise job that entails splitting the stem and putting different parts into different dyed liquid for the flower to draw up into the petals.  It is largely trial by error at first, but once a process is honed, it becomes carefully guarded.

Each rose farm will produce a variety of roses developed by breeders.  They typically use a stock root for each plant, so it’s strong and well rooted to maximize the growing possibilities.  Each rose comes with a unique name, often inspired by the breeder’s girlfriend, favorite holiday or music group – Pink Floyd, Cheryl, Hot Stuff to name a few.  For every stem they sell, the breeder will get a small royalty, a huge endeavour to track, but a great benefit to the breeders who must spend hours perfecting each variety.

Rosadex is a family run business that started a little over 25 years ago and is on land the family has owned for a century.  It is a marvellous location complete with an old Franciscan chapel, still used for family weddings!  The creaky floors and historic artefacts around the main house take you back decades, all a mere stone’s throw from a highly modernised business.  Every room is filled with roses, and the decor has subtle rose hints all over it.  It is the type of place you would hope to find a flower farm.

Next to the house is an old barn, where the Jesuits who owned the property would keep their dairy cows and farming supplies.  Today it is a magnificent showroom, home to no less than several hundred roses at any one time and historic artefacts from the property.

So, the next time you are picking up roses at the supermarket, look closely as they are likely from Ecuador.  We even saw a delivery of Ecuadorian roses to a supermarket in Kauai when we were on holiday!  Oh, and the ones that don’t make the export market are sold here locally – 25 roses for about $4.00!

If you would like to get some locally grown Ecuadorian roses shipped anywhere in the States, check out their website.  You can often get a 2 for 1 deal, and have 25 roses for about $35. That includes FedEx shipping. You can select a delivery date and they will keep fresh for at least two weeks! Roses are shipped directly from Rosedex Farm in Ecuador! http://www.roses2give.com

If you are planning a visit to Ecuador, the Rose Farm and House will soon be open for public tours.  They offer a breakfast, brunch or lunch option.  Each visit includes a tour of the rose farm, the house, the chapel and old barn, and a homemade meal and drinks.  It’s such a relaxing way to spend a few hours, surrounded by huge beautiful roses and enjoying delicious food in a historical setting!  In 2019 they will be celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the house, so surely there will be some special celebrations – with roses of course!

Gracias Martin, family and staff – pups included – for always being fabulous hosts!

:: more adventures on the farm ::

Oh the stories the locals will have of the time the gringos came and dug a ditch!  We returned to the wonderful hospitality of Elisa’s family farm recently and could not sit idly by when there was work to be done.  We thought that we would be doing normal farm tasks like our last visit, but there were larger projects to tackle.

Unbeknownst to us, or Elisa, her family was responsible for helping on a community project the weekend we were there. Called a minga, each family in the community is required to assist in completing a project necessary in the area.  In this case, the minga involved digging a ditch for a new water pipe.  Elisa’s family had 20 meters of ditch to dig and so we went with picks and shovels and lent our not so skilled, or calloused, hands.

It was good to offer a hand to the hard working and remarkably friendly family and though they protested that we should be relaxing on our weekend, I think they were quite pleased to have our help.  We dug our piece of the ditch whilst people complained about where they had to work and how far it really was and how deep as well.  We contended with a rickety pick-axe that repeatedly broke off in the hard soil and a different water pipe running diagonally across our ditch, but we got there in the end!

One thing we were really keen to experience was seeing the whole cuy making process.  Yes, cuy is guinea pig, but it is a special meal for families in this part of Ecuador and we were honoured to have the chance to enjoy it with everyone. Mamachula – the matriarch of the family – did much of the initial preparing while we were out digging our ditch.  But we saw the remnants when we got back – intestines and blood and other bits that they would no doubt use somehow.

Once prepared, the cuy were tied onto long spits and placed on the braai – which was a gift from us all the way from Lesotho. They use the tips of aloe plants for puncturing the skin to ensure they don’t explode from the heat and leeks to brush oil onto the skin.  It is a long process with lots of turning, but we enjoyed sitting and talking with Elisa’s sisters and brothers and her dad, Papachulo – the patriach.  The final product was delicious – served with potatoes, rice and a peanut sauce.

Piper was once more the star of the weekend with everyone amazed at how much she had grown in ten months.  She was speaking up a storm and stole ‘mamachula’s’ heart once more!  She also decided to name the new farm cat ‘pescado’ – so they now have a cat named fish!

Beyond our unexpected community service we helped plant maize, choclo, and beans in the family field.  We picked capuli – cherry like fruits that make a wonderful drink – from a towering tree.  And we cleared out several large aloe plants for a new ‘driveway’ to Elisa’s brother’s house.  It was refreshing to be back in the campo under the commanding view of Cotopaxi and have the opportunity to give a little back to Elisa and her family for everything she does for us.  Piper had a blast romping in the fields with Mosa and Kevin – one of Elisa’s nephews.

We also had the chance to briefly go to the flower farm that we had helped last time by weeding seedlings.  They have expanded from one greenhouse to five and the flowers are absolutely stunning!  Competition is fierce though so the family has to consider changing crop to make it worthwhile.

It is not an easy life in the campo, but the quiet hospitality and earnest nature of all made us once again feel at home.  We will miss the opportunity to go back, but know that any future visit to Ecuador will see us welcomed back with open arms!  Thank you Familia Maigua for always opening your home and your hearts to us.  We will truly miss you.

:: captivating cotopaxi ::

It is a constant in our lives.  We see it from our bedroom, on our commute, and from the embassy.  It sits quietly in the near distance, yet that potential for catastrophic eruption persists.  It is impossible to be in Quito and not be drawn to its beauty.  Cotopaxi is an iconic volcano, one that occupies a central part of Ecuador’s identity as a destination of natural wonders and adventurous spirits.

Reaching nearly 6,000 meters into the sky, Cotopaxi is the second highest peak in Ecuador and one of the tallest volcanos in the world.  Unlike the ‘active’ volcano of Pululahua, Cotopaxi was actively erupting from September 2015 until January 2016.  This most recent eruption cycle caused mass evacuations of nearby towns, extensive emergency preparedness drills, and not a few ruined car engines from the ash clouds.  Luckily a full fledged eruption didn’t occur, but the national park was closed at the time and the summit remains closed.

Eruptions of Cotopaxi would be disastrous due to the lahar mud flows that would follow.  Basically an eruption would flash melt the glaciated peak and the resulting fast moving mud would engulf all surrounding areas, especially along the various river valleys.  Past eruptions have twice completely destroyed the provincial capital of Latacunga and lahar once even made it to the Pacific Ocean more than 100km away!  Most scientific models show the lahar flowing in the river valley immediately below our neighbourhood – about 50 km from the summit of Cotopaxi – with enough force to do significant damage.  It is a form of nature that we would rather not see or experience.

Cotopaxi is a temptress though.  It is a mountain with sacred ties to the indigenous cultures in the area – including beliefs that gods lived at the summit and it being sacred as a form of rain producer.  That reputation for rain is not unfounded.  A completely clear day, all day, around Cotopaxi is exceedingly rare.  There are constant changes to clouds and light conditions, with rain, wind, sleet, hail, and snow all being common occurrences in the same day.  The best conditions tend to be first thing in the morning or around sunset.  Because of this we commonly inform guests that if the volcano is visible at first light, and clearly so, then we will rouse them and get them in the car by 7am in order to get to the park in time to see the summit properly.

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The drive to the entrance of Cotopaxi National Park is only about an hour from Quito.  After a short drive through some evergreen forests, you enter the rock strewn plains around the base of the volcano itself.  Here there are great hikes available especially around Limpiopungo Lake or a well hidden spring fed stream on the backside of the park.

The true draw however is the road up the volcano to the carpark at 4,600 metres above sea level.  Here the dusty slopes and intense winds can make walking rather difficult.  For the more hearty you can walk up to the refugio which sits at 4,900 metres.  This is currently the highest up you can go, but it used to be the key jumping off point for climbers attempting to summit Cotopaxi.

The snow line is usually above the refugio, but after extended periods of particularly wet weather, the snow descends down to the carpark.  We had a particularly fun family outing during one of these times – complete with michelin baby Piper!

Most people drive up and down from the carpark, but there are tour operators who will drive you up and then give you a mountain bike to descend the rutted dirt road.  Some really go for it on the descent and others appear out for a Sunday ride.  Either way it looks like a great way to experience the volcano and environs.

Of course there is the option to walk, or even run down as well, and with our good friend Thierry, I did run down quite a ways.  It is only a downhill run that is possible at that altitude – going up would require excessive amounts of training!

There isn’t a ton of flora and fauna up at that altitude, but the ground is covered in a wide array of flowers, lichen, moss, and grasses.  Little spurts of reds, yellows, and blues pop out from the white lichen to add colour and texture to the plains.

There are over 800 wild horses in the park along with foxes, deer, rabbits, lizards, and of course birds of prey circling – maybe for gringos stupid enough to run down a volcano!

Beyond the aforementioned 800 wild horses, there are numerous options for horseback riding in, and around, the park.  No matter whether it is an hour plod or a full day excursion, horse riding in the park is quite something.  Cora and our friend Ruth went on a lovely hour ride from Tambopaxi, with me acting as a horse for Piper as she rode in her backpack alongside!  Although the weather was quite overcast, it was lovely to wander out amongst the undulating terrain and really feel the true size and power of Cotopaxi.  The ride took us off into some of the hidden corners and dry river beds that would be filled in seconds should an eruption occur.  It was hard for this two legged baby pack heavy horse to keep up, but all in all we had a fantastic time.

You would think a behemoth like Cotopaxi would be sufficient to capture anyone’s attention, but there are actually several other volcanos surrounding, usually easily visible from the park.  Ruminahui – a jagged dormant volcano reaching over 4,700 metres – sits overlooking Limpiopungo Lake.

Sinchalagua – an imposing 4,900 metre high peak is also easily overshadowed by its more famous neighbour.

On clear days, Antisana, the fourth highest peak in Ecuador, is also visible as are numerous other peaks in the area.

Ruminahui, Pichincha and Sinchalagua all in site from the road on Cotopaxi

There are camping sites in the park, but only one indoor sleeping option – Tambopaxi.  This haven for climbers is very comfortable and is on the track to the more rugged northern entrance to the park.  Being in the park itself means that on a clear night or morning, you can go out and experience the star strewn sky over Cotopaxi or watch the sun come up.  Both are truly magical to experience.

Outside the park borders are numerous other options – our favourite little find is La Campiña – a small little farmstead with wonderful owners (post to follow soon).

Cotopaxi is majestic and magnificent.  Not a single day goes by where we don’t look for it.  Sometimes I will wander out our front door for no other reason than to look southeast and see if it is visible.  If it is, I will usually stand and look at it for awhile, immune from the visual distractions of the neighbouring houses and suburban detritus.

The park itself is one of our favourite places in Ecuador – rugged, largely empty, and with the mountainous surroundings that feed our souls.  You can have spectacular experiences throughout Ecuador, but not visiting Cotopaxi would be to deprive yourself of the opportunity to truly experience the unique and amazing wonders of nature.  Rain or shine, make an attempt and it will truly astound you.

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Thanks to all of our friends and family who have helped us to have so many opportunities to visit this majestic beauty — Aarne, Mom, Heather, the Brooke family, the De Saint Martin family, Mom and Dad and Ruth!

:: postberg ::

When a place is only open to the public two months of the year and the main hiking trail is only open to twenty people a day during that period, you know you are in for a treat.  The Postberg section of the West Coast National Park about an hour north of Cape Town was just that.

Nestled between the raging Atlantic Ocean and the sublime Langebaan Lagoon, Postberg is a private section of this national park that opens to the public in August and September for the flower season.  There are a few roads that take you through the rolling grass and shrub covered landscape, but to truly experience this little slice of heaven you need to be on foot.

We had been told about this wonderful experience by some really good friends and so we made special plans to ensure we could undertake the 14km hike during our trip.  Imagine how disappointed we were to be told that there was only one space left for that day and there was nothing they could do to accommodate us!

Thankfully Cora was persistent and the rangers at the gate had a much more rational and reasonable approach than the bookings office at the park headquarters.  The forecast wasn’t good so they assured us that someone would likely cancel so they allowed us both in.  The hike has become increasingly popular so it gets booked out as early as May or June that year so anyone interested plan ahead!

The morning was gray, rainy and windy as we set off across a marshy section at the start but none of that could dampen our elation at being able to do the hike.  The first short climb was also wet and blustery, but we still had some great views over the lagoon and surrounding parts of the park.  Before long, the sun came out and we had even more beautiful views throughout the hike.

The trail takes you over the hillsides, through thick brush, along the side of open savannah-esque grassland and along the boulder strewn coastline.  You even get to wander across a sandy beach before you are done – the diversity of landscape was stunning!

Throughout the hike we came across a massive array of flowers – blues, whites, reds, pinks, yellows, oranges and lovely combinations of all the above.

Grazing amongst these flowers, fields and bushes were scattered herds of zebra and kudu.  At our feet, we would frequently stumble upon one of the hundreds of tortoises who call this place home.  With intricate markings and a deliberate pace, you do have to be quite aware of these special little creatures.  This is the reverse side of the large wildlife out on the plains – hidden and intimate.

We can’t tell you how glad we are that we were able to walk amongst Postberg.  It is without a doubt one of our favourite experiences since we arrived in Southern Africa and though it is a long hike, it is one I would gladly do over and over again.

:: papkuilsfontein ::

Suddenly we were back in England. The grey skies threatening rain. Driving winds and rolling moorland dotted with flocks of sheep. Yet, we were in the Western Cape. We were unprepared for the scenes around Nieuwoudtville and our camping spot for two nights on Papkuilsfontein Farm.

The atmosphere setting up our camp in the gathering gloom of twilight surrounded by acres of nothing but grouse like shrubs was fantastic. It wasn’t like our previous nights on the trip had been in the middle of Times Square, but here was a feeling of true seclusion. There was just one other couple at the camp site, but they left the next morning, so night two was just us and our small circle of light from our camp fire. This was the epitome of what we were looking for.

The flowers were different up on the plateau, much more of the yellow bulbs protruding up on stalks. Around the campsite were spotty patches, but elsewhere on the farm grounds were whole fields of them.  We were told this area is known as ”the Bulb Capital of the World” because it has the highest speciation of indigenous bulbous flowers on Earth, and that certainly didn’t disappoint.  We wandered past the ruins of an old farmstead, built when the land was shared amongst three families, and marvelled at the beauty of so many yellow flowers reaching into the air.

Papkuilsfontein is a working farm, but it is also has a restaurant and guest cottages, as well as the camp site. This is a family affair, with the current owners being one of the three original families.  Now in their sixth generation the husband still runs the farm, whilst his wife runs the guest side of things. Her mother is the chef! She came to visit six years ago and hasn’t left! The food is fantastic and we were lucky to be able to take ours to go and sit by the camp fire each night and enjoy truly wonderful offerings. We can’t recommend it highly enough and they do lunches, for those not interested in battling the moorland roads at nighttime.

The name comes from the Afrikaans names for bulrush and spring, so it is the spring covered by bulrush. A meandering stream flows through the property, before plummeting 60 or 70 meters off the edge of the plateau. It had little rain in it, but the falls were lovely to see nestled within a horseshoe of cliffs. A short hike brought us along the edge of the cliff face, but we did not attempt the extreme trail down into the ravine. We instead found our way a little upstream to enjoy the peace and tranquility that comes from the sound of only flowing water on a sunny afternoon.

:: goegap ::

Nestled in the northern area of Namaqualand near Springbok in South Africa, Goegap Nature Reserve is a 7,000 hectare park home to a dazzling array of flowers and a sprinkling of large mammals and birds to keep the ecosystem intact. The terrain is quite varied, with wide open savannah-esque fields surrounded by craggy mountains and hills. It would be a nice enough park to explore even without the lure of the flowers.

We had been hearing that this was a good year for the flowers, but we still struggled to visualise what we were going to see. Were there going to be huge fields covered in orange, pink and yellow blooms? Was it going to be everywhere or just in pockets? Can you spend a whole holiday looking at flowers? Goegap provided some answers. Yes.

It started along the road into Springbok – patches of orange right along the edge of the tarmac. Then we dropped into the town centre and there were larger patches of orange crouched under road signs and circling park benches. The drips and drabs of colour turned into full blown swathes within Goegap.

Driving to the visitor’s centre we passed large fields with solid patches of orange, white and yellow flowers. From a distance it looked like you could have walked on them without touching the ground they were so thick, but up close it is a different story. The flowers delicately swayed in the breeze and they looked almost sparse in comparison to what they looked like from the road. In way that was indicative of the whole trip, lots of changing scenes and unexpected finds.

Goegap has a couple of nice little hiking trails and we wandered up the dry stream bed and over the silent hollow of a waterfall. The climb was sharp, but the views were fantastic looking out over the park. The small rocky hills popped up around the park and we could clearly see some of the 4×4 trails snaking their way into the more secluded places. After lunch we followed some of these to find more flowers and quite a few Gemsbok and Zebras. We also found the most hectic trail we have driven on, but the car performed admirably!

One thing that was fantastic about this trip was the open skies. There is very little light pollution or trees and so the views of the night sky in particular were at times phenomenal. We sat out under the stars, huddled around a small camp fire and looked out at the carpet of stars. Much like the flowers, from our perspective it looked like the stars were right on top of one another, but a closer examination would show a very different story.

:: to the blooms ::

Driving a two lane strip of tar due west and dead straight for twenty kilometres can be seen as monotonous. A slight curve and then another fifteen or twenty more kilometres of straight road, this is more or less what you face from Bloemfontein to Springbok, South Africa.  There we found ourselves, covering a thousand kilometres of arid, windswept landscape, on our way to see some flowers.

We are not known to be great botanists, yet the idea of seeing regularly arid desert landscapes covered in vibrant oranges, pinks and yellows seemed too unique an opportunity to pass up. During August and September each year, the early spring rains bring hundreds of different types of flowers out from Southern Namibia to the Cape of Good Hope. Some are so specialised they only grow in fields or hillsides around specific towns or nature reserves. Even without a botany degree, the small variations in petals, stems and other floral accoutrement are known to be stunning.

Though there are stretches of the road so straight that you need not have to steer for fifteen minutes with a good wheel alignment, the drive across from Lesotho isn’t as boring as some would have you believe.  Along the way you come across some real surprises, especially the Green Kalahari. This thin strip of land that straddles the Orange River produces enough water that large scale grape production is possible.

The grape vines are impressive to behold as they cling to the rocky soil with just a thin hose providing the irrigation lifeline necessary for their survival. These vines produce wonderful harvests of grapes each year, some which are transformed into a lovely Orange River wine, while others are sold straight off the vine as fruit, or dried and packaged as raisins.

Another surprise awaits along the way at Augrabies Falls. The Orange River gets squeezed through a narrow fissure in sheer cliffs before tumbling 56 metres into the gorge below. From there, the river that starts its journey in the far north of Lesotho as the Senqu, then forms the border between South Africa and Namibia as it makes the last couple of hundred kilometres trek across the southern reaches of the Kalahari Desert. Besides the falls themselves, which are breathtaking, this little undiscovered National Park has great hiking and game watching opportunities. We didn’t have the time to properly explore, but something tells us a couple of days would be needed to do this little gem justice.

As night closed in around us, a thunderstorm chased us down the last desolate stretch of road. The phrase ‘pitch black’ surely must have been created to explain what the night is like out in this unpopulated corner of South Africa. There were no lights. None. In any direction for the one hundred kilometres from the park to Pofadder, our stop for the night. Even when we reached town there were barely any lights.

This small town named with the Afrikaans word for Puff Adder, the venomous snake, sits in its own world. We didn’t spend long enough there to know if it is a happy or sad place, but it is a place that offered us a comfortable sanctuary from the long road. It was a place to park up, have a meal and sleep before heading back into the great empty corner once more towards the land of the desert flowers.