June 4, 2004

Avalanche on Cotopaxi - school visit in Santiago

San Jose de Chimbo, Ecuador

Reno Roman invited us to Tambopaxi www.tambopaxi.com. Tambopaxi 5682 is the best mountain hostel we have ever been, located on 3750 m, just on the bottom of Cotopaxi, 5897 m. Tambopaxi is a very good example: It proofs that construction can be made in balance with nature. The hospitality of the Tambopaxi team let you feel like heaven. The food is even better than it looks like on this picture and the view from the dining room is absolutely great.

The first day we climbed Ruminayui. Paxi, the dog of Tambopaxi, joined us till 4600 m and it was amazing to find such beautiful flowers in this high altitude.

On the second day we met Patrice and Peter on our way back of our acclimatisation climb. Patrice is the manager of Miss Trinidad. We learned a lot about the Miss Universe Competition, which just taking place here in Ecuador. It is THE event here and all media are covered with stories about it. From Patrice we knew, what these beauties do to become Miss Universe: It starts with removing rips to make the stomach more flat etc.! ... and still they can not compete with nature's work: - Sabine.

Last Monday we started at 1 a.m. from Tambopaxi our climb to Cotopaxi 5699. We saw stars and the moon. A big change to the last days. The mountains were nearly always in clouds and it rained a lot. Unusual weather patterns for this time of the year. When we got to the Cotopaxi refuge on 4810 m nobody was up, - all climbers were asleep, because there was bad weather when they got up at 1 a.m.. We continued our climb up the glacier till 5300 m. Around 4 a.m. still in the dark we turned back to the refuge, because the visibility was zero.
In the hut we slept for 1 h like marmots: As close together as possible to keep the warmth because we left our sleeping bags in Tambopaxi. At 5.30 a.m. the weather was improving and we started climbing again. At the beginning the upper snow layer was holding our weight. But just after 8 a.m. on about 5400 m this holding crust of about 3 cm was becoming weak by the sun and did not hold our weight anymore. A snow profile told us that it is time to turn back: There were big snow crystals under this crust (Schwimmschnee) and I was once more happy to get the experience at SLF.
Back in Tambopaxi we saw a huge avalanche going over our tracks and we were happy that we made the right decision...

On Tuesday we travelled to San Jose de Chimbo to Padre Jose Luis Garcia Silva. He invited us again! In Santiago, about 5 km from Chimbo, we have done a presentation at the primary school "Theodor Wolf". Beside the class room is a kitchen, where the teachers prepare a hot meal at 10 a.m. for all children; - like the "Pausen-Apfel" in winter in Switzerland.
After our presentation the kids started to paint. The people of Santiago still life in harmony with nature. Girls and boys put their lifestyle on paper. The teachers told us also that the climate is changing. Santiago lives nearly 100 percent from agriculture. The result of less rain and more storms with suddenly to much rain, means more erosion and finally less income and less food for the people they have to life here.- Some students also explained such problems in their drawings.

Posted by dario at 8:25 PM

June 13, 2004

Pachamama meets Pachamama

Villa Nancy, Quito, Ecuador, day 558

Biking total: 50 days, 2428 km, 19'400 altimeters.
Climbing total: 208 days, 3100 km, 108'200 altimeters.
Sailing total: 300 days, 8873 nm, 26 altimeters (Panama Channel)

During the last days we reognized that the Indios has huge problems with global warming. They have to much rain in the region Bolivar what has a negative effect to the weaht production.
During a visit of a health center we saw also that there is hardly no medicine for this wonderful people, who lives up to 4000 m in the Andes! So we try to organize medicine for them and need your help: See at the end of the report, how you can ACT NOW!

After our school visited in Santiago 10 days ago we grinded our crampons for Chimborazo.- We have had the idea to climb the TOP on the 5th of June, that is the world environment day!
In the morning of the 4th of June we have had a school presentation in the school "Santa Marianita de Jesus Martinez Barba" in Chimbo and in the afternoon we climbed towards Chimborazo. We got again to the first hut on 4800 m, which we reached with the bikes. From there we hiked to the second hut on 5000 m and went further up to the glacier on 5200 m to check out the route.
We were alone in the hut. Sabine cooked two soups and a lot of pasta. At 23 h we got up. It was raining. At 1 a.m. we saw the moon and we started climbing. But after 15 minutes it was raining hard again and we got wet. Climbing up the moraine rain turned to snow. We decided to continue because smoetimes the weather improves during daybreak. Finding our way though the seracs and crevasses the sow accumulated more and more. We reached the ridge to the tOP and the cold wind was blowing hard. At dawn it didn't stop to snow and the visibility was still interesting! - Again, we were forced to turn back, because the avalanche risk was getting to high to climb the top! The result: I got ill the next day...

Back in Chimbo we moved to Quito where we have had a public presentation infront of the Swiss Club and Humboldt-Accociation. Afterwards the Swiss Consul Peter Specker invited us to a Swiss restaurant where we got fondue and raclette!

The last three days we spent in the best school we met till now: PACHAMAMA; - the same name like our expedition vessel: The Pachamama International school is located in the Valley of the sun in Tumbaco. Its educational philosophy is to enhance the learning experience. Pachamama is open to students all over the world who would like to experience the biodiversity of its school and the beautiful country it is located in.

From the students we learned a lot about Ecuador's biodiversity and culture:
Ecuador has the privilege of being a country with an incredible biodiversity in its flora, fauna, as well as in its culture. The country is among the 17 most mega diverse countries in the world. Because it has more than a half million types of insects and between 1.4 and 1.8 million species of living beings, among animals, plants and microorganisms. It has 11 unexploited areas for birds, six centres of biodiversity and plants unique to Ecuador; it has 27 nationalities of Indian and afro Ecuadorian people; it also has the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Galapagos Islands. The biodiversity is due to three factors: The Andean mountain range, the geographical location and the ocean currants. Ecuador has also a system of protected areas wich include 18 areas that cover 15% of Ecuador's terretory and there purpose is the protection of the ecosystem and also scientific investigations and tourism.

We have done two presentations in this wonderful school and the children participated also at the TOPtoTOP-drawing-contest. With a local guide we plan a clean up with the students in the area of Cotopaxi. He mentioned that the weather is not predictibal anymore in the mountains and the in the last 20 years 450 km2 of glacier surface was melting away in the Andes!

ACT NOW with medicines for the Indios, - by Sabine:

"Here in Ecuador, we have visited several health centers, or, in Spanish,
centros del salud. Although I cannot imagine how to work under such adverse
conditions, I am going to join a nurse team at the End of June for some
days. As these centers are severely lacking medicaments, I would like to
bring along not only my working hands but also the pharmaceutics they need
most urgently: antibiotics, pain killers and vitamin pills for the children.
For this reason, please try to convince any hospitals or doctors you know to
donate some of the medicaments mentioned above. In June and July, several
Swiss ToptoTop-members are going to visit us in Ecuador. They could bring
the contributions along and we could then hand them over to the health
centers in Ecuador and also on the Pacific islands - we have heard that they
are operation under similarly difficult conditions.
We believe that such aid could be a great support and relief for at least
some centros del salud and their patients. Please respond to this appeal or
come up with your own idea how to help the unprivileged Indios, who suffer
most under the insufficient health system. For any further information (or
pictures to illustrate the problems we have seen) please contact Lea Firmin (leafirmin@gmx.ch),
who coordinates this action."

Posted by dario at 12:45 AM

June 20, 2004

Pomasqui and Pestalozzi

Jacques Jörin, the president of the Swiss Club of Ecuador invited us to his house last Saturday. He came in the sixties with more then 100 cows on a big cargo boat to South America. The next day we joined the Swiss Club of Ecuador to see the Swiss soccer team playing against Croatia on TV (0:0).

At the begin of the week we went to Pomasqui to learn more about an aid project, which is supported by the Swiss agency for development and cooperation:

Pro Pomasqui is working in many fields to help the poor people of Pomasqui and to improve the environment of this community. Pomasqui is a small town north of Quito, only 5 km away from the equator. Pro Pomasqui established sustainable projects in the categories society, health and most important environment. Only to mention the most important social programs, Pro Pomasqui run kindergartens for children of poor families and organize sponsorships to finance scholarships. This should prevent parents forcing their children work instead of sending them to school.
Pro Pomasqui also built fresh water supply in three remote villages and implanted in another rural community a new water disinfection method, called SODIS. This method allows to purify polluted water only using a plastic bottle and solar radiation.
The most important environmental project is the reforestation project “Árbol Solitario” (lonesome tree). It aims the reforestation of the heavily eroded volcano Casitahua with 3,5 native trees. It intends to stop erosion and to improve the harsh local climate in this semiarid environment.
Pro Pomasqui also established a waste separation and recycling project at local schools. Another tool of environmental education is the “ecological cinema Pomasqui”. In the patio of an old colonial building Pro Pomasqui shows ecological movies to students at day time and ecological spots and regular movies to general public every Saturday night on a big screen.
Another environmental program is the recycling program in Pomasqui. Every two weeks recyclable material is collected and separated by the society Pro Pomasqui. The aim is to show people the importance of environment for a healthy life and to teach them how to treat nature.

The initiators of Pro Pomasqui are two Swiss teachers, who run also the very efficient language school "Bipo und Toni" in Quito. The school director, Mr. Ramiro offered us private lessons with the super teacher Ariana to improve our Spanish for our school visits and public presentations.

On Thursday we went to the Pestalozzi school near Tumbaco, where we have had another presentation. The children will also join the drawing contest to find new solutions for our climate. The school buildings are built in harmony with nature: herb roofs, solar panels, compost toilettes etc.. The fundacion educativa Pestalozzi shows the students every day again, how to live sustainable. So they also want to implement bio diesel. So we were able to put the school in contact with our bio diesel expert Julian Dautremont-Smith, we met in Barbados. - Contact for this good example of a environment friendly school: dlwild@access.net.ec

Afterwards the cameraman Sigmund Thies invited us in his house and we worked together to make a doc-film for the German TV ZDF and the Swiss TV SFDRS possible. - To make this dream trough, we need also your help: Please call or email these two TVs, explain TOPtoTOP and ask if they are going to do something!
By the way, - in a working break we played soccer and I stretched the ligaments of my right food.

Yesterday we have had the opportunity to join the assistance of the Swiss ambassador, Rachel Gonzalez-Hauri to see the historic town of Quito. There were people dancing in the street. A lady asked me so friendly for a dance that I couldn't say no. So I forgot about my injury. Unfortunately Sabine's fans on the other hand were a little bit to shy to ask for a dance! - Good for me: - because that happens to every man who meets Miss Univers!

Posted by dario at 3:21 AM

June 30, 2004

Cleanup on Cotopaxi and the TOP of the Highest Active Volcano in the World.

On the 21st of June, the longest day of the year, my friend Eleanor and I, Fiona, arrived in Ecuador from Ireland to join Dario and Sabine on the TOPtoTOP Global Climate Expedition. I have been working with TOPtoTOP for about one and a half years and this week Dario asked me to write the expedition report of our experience in Ecuador so far.

We stayed at Villa Nancy and enjoyed the first evening catching up on things. I brought with me 50 new t-shirts, sponsored by Peter and Brigitte, colouring pencils sponsored by Caran d’Ache, and flags from the Swiss Cruising Club (CCS).

On Tuesday, Dario and I went to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and met Miguel Pellerano, the Regional Director for South America, who helped us with contacts for Chile. Veronique Moreno very kindly helped us again with official letters to organise the expedition in the Galapagos and that evening Dario and Sabine did an interview with the newspaper El Comercio.

So, with the work done we headed off to the mountains in the Cotopaxi National Park. Eduardo was our guide and I was very glad he knew the route because the roads around Quito are really crazy with buses, trucks and cars driving like maniacs. There are old cars everywhere and the air is filled with pollution particularly from the buses. We headed down the Pan American highway to Machachi where we met the students of the school Pachamama in their big yellow school bus. We headed to the south entrance of the park and up the rocky road to the refuge at Cara Sur.

Although Cotopaxi is a National Park, the area has been significantly deforested and there are few animals or birds to be seen in the area. Soil erosion is a problem and is not helped by the planting of non-native trees for commercial purposes and eucalyptus trees for building houses. The Cotopaxi volcano
towers over the landscape and is a beautiful mountain when it can be seen through the clouds.

Dario and Sabine gave the students a lesson on the formation of glaciers and then showed how climbers use ropes to pull themselves out of a crevasse. The weather was cold and very windy, but the refuge was comfortable and we warmed up in front of the open fire under the stars.

On Thursday, Dario guided a small group to the glacier on Cotopaxi while Eduardo took the other students to the waterfalls in the area. After a four hour trek, the boys were delighted to see the snow and one of them even brought a small wooden snowboard to try out on the slopes.

On Friday, we headed over to the north of the park to the main refuge to do a clean up of the valley at the foot of Cotopaxi. The valley is littered with hundreds of plastic bottles and rubbish that the tourists throw away. I was very surprised that such a beautiful place could be polluted so badly with waste. The students were very motivated and collected at least one full black sack each, although we would have needed an army to clean the whole valley. These kids from the school Pachamama were fantastic and give me some hope for the future of this land. They departed for Quito and we went to Tambopaxi to prepare for our climb of Cotopaxi.

The next few days were spent acclimatising and trekking around the area. The landscape is very dramatic with volcanic features, hidden lagoons and Inca ruins. We met a friendly American from Boise, Idaho called Chris Duva, a Professor of Psychology and he offered to help us with the coordination of the expedition on the West Coast of the USA next year.

On Saturday night, Dario woke myself and Sabine at 11.30pm and we headed up to the refuge on Cotopaxi in the dark. I was very nervous facing this challenge, as I have never attempted to climb such a huge mountain before. For the next 6 hours we climbed very slowly step by step in strong winds and snow until we reached the crater. Several times I thought I would not make it but with the support of Dario and Sabine I managed to keep a rhythm and at about 7am we reached the summit. I had an overwhelming mixture of emotions - relief, happiness and fear. Unfortunately, there was no view from the top due to the clouds although the ice features in the crater were spectacular. We were completely covered in ice and had about 2 minutes to take a classic TOPtoTOP picture before we began our decent. Going down was just as difficult as going up and by the time we reached the bottom my legs were like jelly and I was absolutely exhausted.

I didn’t really realise how fantastic it was that I reached the top until we got back to Tambopaxi and I was greeted by several amazed friends who were full of congratulations and awe. The Swiss Ambassador His Excellency Robert Reich joined us for dinner and we opened a bottle of Chilean wine to celebrate. Dario, Sabine and Mr. Reich attempted the climb again on Sunday night but had to turn back due to bad weather conditions.

Now, myself and Eleanor are back in Quito trying to organise a jungle trip to the Amazon without being ripped off or kidnapped by Colombian rebels. Dario and Sabine are gone to Chimborazo to give the colouring pencils they promised to the school children there and to visit an Indian family related to Angel who works here at Villa Nancy. We will meet them in La Liberdad on the 9th of July, then go back up to Chimborazo to do some filming, then to Esmereldas to see the mangroves. We plan to set sail for the Galapagos Islands around July 25th. There are still places available for the trip to Easter Island and Santiago in Chile, as well as the climb of Aconcagua in Chile in November.

Posted by at 2:04 AM