Before the arrival of the Spaniards, settled cultures in what is now known as Ecuador were guided by deities. The Incas believed condors were the messengers of the gods. Sociologist Dimitri Peñasco says the condor is believed to lead the dead into an upper realm, called Hanan Pacha. This realm included the sky, sun, moon, stars, planets and constellations. The condor is also said to be able to morph into human form. This has been the inspiration for many legends.
It is Ecuador’s national bird, depicted on the flag and coat of arms as a symbol of bravery and power. Andean condors are one of the largest birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet. Females lay their eggs in steep, rocky areas to protect them from predators. They can mainly be found in five areas of the country: Antisana Eco Reserve, Cotacachi-Cayapas Eco Reserve, Zuleta in Imbabura province, the Nabón region in Azuay province and Cajas National Park.
Monkeys are similarly abundant on either side of Ecuador’s central Andes mountain range. Following on from last week’s blog on inhabitants of the Amazon jungle, we’ll now look at four species of the Pacific coastal regions. The following text is adapted from the Ministry of Tourism’s official observation guide, Primates of Ecuador.
Brown-headed Spider monkeys [Ateles fusciceps] – Also known as bracilargo (long arms) or chuba (Afro-Ecuadorian), these measure from 31-63cm (without tail). It lives in primary or old secondary forests, where it prefers tall, thick trees with wide treetops and overlapping branches. These features provide it with good visibility of the forest and rapid traveling. You might also find it on the ground eating clays in salt licks, which are natural mineral deposits that exist in nutrient-poor ecosystems. It can travel up to 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) per day; its body is well designed for this. It has a complex social organization that consists in groups that stick together or separate depending on food availability. Larger groups travel in times of abundant fruit.
The Great Frigatebirds are some of the most iconic inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands, especially when dramatically inflating their red gular sacs to attract mates. When not breeding or caring for young, however, they can be well out of sight — soaring up to 2.5 miles high in the air!
This would be impressive for any seabird, but the truly amazing fact is that frigatebirds have been tracked by GPS flying continuously (without any rest) for 56 days! Averaging 260 miles per day with 400 miles possible in perfect conditions, that would be a global round-trip in 95 days.
Most seabirds (albatrosses, petrels, sulids, etc.) glide for maximum efficiency. A frigatebird’s heartrate when soaring at altitude, flapping once every 6 minutes, is similar to when resting in a nest. Updraft currents allow them to ride upwards before swooping, in rollercoaster fashion.
Ecuador, on the South American Pacific coast and international equator line, values its diverse traditions and enjoys a great deal of self-sufficiency. Probably a majority of the population is self-employed, or works in the family shop, or makes a living in the informal economy.
In Ecuador, you can eat the healthiest possible diet simply buying produce from the street and local market. Really, the only reasons to visit a supermarket are to (maybe) save time, to (maybe) get cleaner fruit & veg, or to buy particular packaged products.