Quinoa – The miracle plant from the Ecuadorian Andes

By Philip Schmitt

Rich in nutrients, healthier and simply better for your organism – So called superfoods are on everyone’s lips and give food blogs and health forums a complete new sphere of interest and pure euphoria. When talking about these superfoods, everyone might inevitably think of Popeye the Sailor, who in his adventures cracks open a can of spinach and develops superhuman strengths. But his favorite food spinach has received several competition. Nowadays, the good-humored sailor would have the agony of choice between numerous trendy superfoods that outstrip the good old spinach.

One of these superfoods is Quinoa, which is already cultivated and harvested in the Andes Mountains since more than 5,000 years. Its one-seeded nuts of the plants are an important staple food of the mountain peoples in these regions with high altitudes, since corn cannot be grown at these heights anymore. UN general secretary Ban Ki-Moon declared 2013 the year of quinoa. Due to its specific advantages, the plant is said to help fight hunger in the world, especially in times of climate change. This is mainly because Quinoa can grow in easy conditions, is a relatively undemanding plant and can grow at heights up to 13,800ft. Apart from that, the Quinoa plant is frost and drought resistant.

Depending on where the plants grow, the seeds differ significantly in their color. The spectrum ranges from black to red over gray, pink, yellow, purple, green or orange – or nuances in between. Albeit, the white, red and black colors are the most common quinoa seeds that are sold.However there is no significant difference in taste and ingredients between the different colors. All varieties have the same health benefits in their diet. The typical nutty, slightly earthy taste is the same for all varieties.

Originally quinoa comes from the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia. During the Spanish conquests in South America and wars against the Incas and Aztecs in the 16th century the cultivation of quinoa was banned and even punishable by death to weaken the opponents’ people. Quinoa was first scientifically recorded in 1797 by the German botanist Carl Ludwig von Willdenow. But it was beyond that still branded as heretic and “unchristian” and remained almost unknown in Europe until the 20th century.

In 1993, a NASA report described quinoa as a “new” crop, which would be particularly suitable for use in Controlled Ecological Life Support Systems (e.g. space stations or colonies) due to its high protein values and unique amino acid structure. This promotion made Quinoa internationally known and raised its demand in the following years in Europe and North America.

Next to the worldwide production leader Peru (130,000 tons in 2015) and Bolivia (92,000 tons in 2015), the Ecuadorian economy benefits as well from the worldwide raised interest and higher demand of Quinoa. It became in the last years an important part of the Ecuadorian economy and the yearly tonnage could be raised annualy:

Quinoa production worldwide from 2009 to 2015 by country (in metric tons)

But not only the yearly tonnage is rising, with it in the same breath the fields where Quinoa is grown. This agricultural expansion also enriches the scenery of the Ecuadorian landscapes. Quinoa plants can grow from 1.6 up to 10ft high and are therefore easily visible from afar. Most of the times it won’t be possible to see them until their fully grown, because they are harvested earlier before they reached their full stature. If many quinoa plants are grown in a densely populated field, the fields radiate in many bright colors  and give its green environment a pleasurable hue.


The rough charm of imperfection: Two wonderful examples of inspiring photo sceneries on the Galapagos Islands

By Philip Smith

The Galapagos Islands are known for their attention about the ecological and social balance. Both the Ecuadorian government, as well as interest groups and the inhabitants of the Galapagos Islands, ensure a clean and tidy island. If you will have for the first time the opportunity to visit the Galapagos Islands, you will surely recognize the clean beaches, protected areas for endangered animal and many optimized waste disposal systems. All these movements should preserve the natural beauty and purification of the Galapagos Islands.


Not only because of this have the Galapagos Islands a very peculiar reputation in South America. A continent, where it is rare for state initiatives and cleaning measures to be carried out successfully on public beaches. Even as a visitor to the Galapagos Islands, one is made aware of the particularly fragile ecosystem. However, for the preservation of the beautiful beaches on the Galapagos Islands an active participation of the visitors of the islands is inevitable.


It is of course always a matter of taste how much one defines and appreciates perfection. Nevertheless, if you suspect a perfect, tidy and sterile atmosphere at every beach, you’re wrong: there are two extremely interesting exceptions that emphasize the blemish of beauty and are definitely worth a visit.


The old unknown fisher boat on Santa Cruz


With a seemingly endless panoramic view to the horizon with many exotic animals, every visit to a beach of the Galapagos Islands will enchant and relax you at the same time. There are two beaches where you have the opportunity to see something out of the ordinary that is not part of the expected untouched environment, but yet still perfectly matches the atmospheric mood of the beaches.

The Panama Hat-How a wrong name can lead to success

The history of the Panama Hat begins around 1630 in Manabi on the coast of today’s Ecuador as the Indios for the first time formed a headgear in the form of the Spanish hats from the leaves of fine Toquilla palm (Carludovica palmata), a domestic palm-like monocot plant of the tropical regions of Ecuador. Before they had already made hats whose models covered their ears and ears. Due to a sharp drop in the cotton production in the 17th century, the hats made out of the new material quickly became a popular substitute, and the hat-makers in Montecristi and Jipijapa specialized in a predecessor of the Panama hat model. In 1855, the hats were successfully presented at the World Exposition in Paris, and in 1859 an infantry company, which used the “Jipijapa hat” as part of their uniform, was established at the behest of the Spanish Queen Isabel II. In the course of the following years, the hat developed into a real export success, worn by gold diggers who had followed the gold rush to California, or later after the turn of the century by the workers of the Panama Canal.

Since the hats were always shipped over Panama to North America and Europe, all these hats bore the customs stamps from Panama and so they were known everywhere as Panama hats. This name was finally established in 1906 when a photo of Theodore Roosevelt was published around the world, showing him with a classic Panama hat (a “Sombrero Fino”) visiting the Panama Canal site. Today the Panama hat is produced mainly in the coastal cities of Montecristi and Jipijapa, but also around the Andean town of Cuenca in small factories and family businesses. Depending on the fineness of the fibers and the quality of the workmanship, the production of a hat can take between 1 day and up to 8 months. The hat qualities vary between Regular (simple) over Fino and Extra Fino to Supremo or Super Fino (Superfine) and prices for a hat vary accordingly between US$ 10 up to several thousand dollars. The success story of the hats still continues today. For example, the Panama hat – or, more correctly, the Ecuadorian Paja Toquilla Hat – has been included in 2012 in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity of the UNESCO as the hat and the crafts traditions of its manufacture are part of the identity of the cultural heritage of the indigenous communities in Ecuador.


The Butterfly-farm in Mindo

The Butterfly-farm in Mindo

Two hours from Quito, Mindo is one of the main ecological destinations in Ecuador. 19,200 protected acres surrounding Mindo making it one of the most biodiversity places on the planet. Mindo is a very famous place among birdwatchers. Around 500 varieties of birds and about 40 kinds of butterflies can be found here.

Butterfly-farm in Mindo     Butterfly-farm in Mindo       Butterfly-farm in MindoButterfly-farm in Mindo

Mindo was known internationally as “Life of Bird” or “Important Bird” in America, for its exceptional flora & fauna, considered vital for the development of ecotourism.

Mindo is one of the favorite cloud forest tourist destinations in Ecuador.
One of the attractions is the Butterfly-farm where you can enjoy the full contact with nature and have the opportunity to know the whole process of metamorphosis of butterflies, which consists of 4 stages: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly. You can also see a wide selection of them, like the eye of an owl, Morphos, sarita, among others.

Butterfly-farm in Mindo      Butterfly-farm in Mindo


Butterflies are very diverse in size, being from 2 mm to 30 cm.
Entry to the Butterfly-farm: 3 USD

Otavalo Market

Almost two hours north of Quito is the city of Otavalo, famous  for its Market especially dedicated to trade fabrics, textile crafts, pottery, ornaments, antiques and tourist attractions.

The Otavalo Market is the quintessential craft center where you can have everything you need, currently being the preferred place for tourists to buy their purchases. Otavalo Market The weekly show has become one of the most important tourist centers, but besides this recent transformation Otavalo has been able to preserve its old roots that go back to pre-Columbian or even pre-Inca times. An amazing maze of fabrics and clothes in bright colors extends from there for a number of streets around the square every Saturday. The rest of the week, the market is restricted to the Plaza and direct surrounding. Almost anything can be found while wandering the crowded streets, from coats to paintings, handmade jewelry, crafts, wall carpets and even ceramic fried eggs. Do not worry to leave the main streets as the entire city of Otavalo is a big market where you can find everything you can imagine or couldn’t do far.



In Otavalo there is absolutely no shortage of lodging options. The vast majority are hostels or inns, clean, friendly and central loLodging in Otavalocated managed by families that offer rooms with shared bathrooms at very low costs. There are also plenty of options from cheap to hotels with higher standards.

To enjoy the tranquility and natural beauty of the nearby sites, we recommend unpack your bags in one of the nearby farms. These huge ranches dating from the time of the conquest and have witnessed much of the history of Ecuador. During the 90s many estates turned to tourism and converted into hotels that provide luxurious accommodation, fine dining and outdoor excursions to the beautiful Andean landscapes that surround them.


Beyond Otavalo

Just as Otavalo is famous for its textile productions, some nearby communities so are for their own productions.

The waterfall of Peguche Such is the case of Cotacachi, the center of the leather industry in Ecuador, where the smell of polished leather permeates the air. The local specialty is San Antonio woodcarving. Its main street is lined with shops selling everything from wood, from statues, small carved figures, pictures, frames and home furnishings. In addition to the walk to the waterfall of Peguche, there exists a large number of lakes in which you can spend a pleasant afternoon. These are: Laguna Mojanda, Lake San Pablo and the Lagoon of Cuicocha. This huge Imbabura region also offers great opportunities for horseback riding, water sports, hiking and mountaineering. Several of the farms and inns in the region offer these trips.





The Sabanilla Cordillera – Preparations


This month we will finally return to the mountains of Loja and continue our research in the Cordillera de Sabanilla in the South of Ecuador. Our goal will be this time to reach the mysterious lagoon hidden deep in these mountains as well as to explore the region for further remains of the cultures that lived year centuries ago: the Calvas (Nation of the Paltas). Besides intensive brainstorming over the maps of the area we also prepared ourselves to the physical stress of the expedition in the altitude and did several hikes in the Andes around Quitoto Rucu and Guagua Pichincha, Fuya Fuya, Pasochoa, Illinizas and the Angamarca area. I’d like to thank Rolf and Dennis as well as the “Happy Lama” Jan for providing great company and a lot of fun during these adventures. I hope we will be in the mountains together again soon!


If plans work out we will leave Quito on the 20th of September 2010 and start the tour fromSan Antonio de las Aradas on the 22nd of September 2010. We will spend only about a week in the mountains this time as the area we want to research is quite small and we hope to be able to finish the explorations within this time – nevertheless we are already planning on further explorations into the areas further to the south in the near future.