2 April: After cycling through Panamanian jungle (see post on Chagres National Park - click here) we were keen to get out our bikes again and joined RAFTKIN and PELIZENO for a freewheeling ride down El Junco volcano. With half a dozen children in the group we decided it would be more fun to start on the downhill leg and so took taxis up to the top, and then Carlos in his pick-up followed us behind as a safety measure.The roads were in perfect condition, as was the one cycle lane, and we enjoyed a leisurely amble and beautiful views.
Half way down we stopped off at the village of El Progreso to visit the great El Ceibo tree, in English “Kopak”, with a girth of 17m, the widest in the world. It is a huge, majestic tree with a magical tree house built into it that it is fun to explore. It’s possible to sleep the night there in a couple of bunks built out of volcanic lava rock for those seeking an alternative experience - I found simply climbing the ladder leading up to them enough of an adventure. It has quirky touches, too, like an old-fashioned telephone, rugs, and old photos, antiques from the days of MJ Cobos “The Emperor of the Galápagos” (1879-1904). There is a fireman’s pole down the side, a zipwire from the top (but the guy in charge of the harness wasn’t there that day) and descending into the roots of the tree, a hollow was carved out into a pirate’s den.
In the yard outside there were all sorts of outdoor toys - a swing rope, chin up hoops and a slackwire which was a lot of fun for kids and adults alike. The cafe was great - made out of 22,000 bottles - serving coffee that was “caliente como la noche, dulce como el beso, fuerte como el amor” (hot as night, sweet as a kiss, and as strong as love). Galapagos coffee is worth stocking up on - coffee beans grown on volcanic soil are particularly rich in flavour. The home-made coconut ice-cream was also worth the trip! Outside in the yard, ducks wandered about with their ducklings and we bought seed to feed them. Carlos showed us how to curve our hands to help the ducks scoop it up with their bills, and the children were delighted.
We spent a good couple of hours there and then carried on back to the town. Once there, Xavier and I and the kids carried on our ride to check out the hidden beach at Punta Carola, out past the University of San Francisco. The Bromptons really struggled on the off-road gravelly track, so Isabelle and I got down and walked and talked, quality mother and daughter time-out. When we reached the end of the track, the beach itself was a further ten minute walk on a path of rocks through the trees, stepping over basking ghekkos and the odd iguana (some of them are very odd indeed!). Stepping out into a wildly beautiful small cove, time suspended.
On the way back, at the more accessible beach of Playa Mann, we bumped into Nina from SHAWNIGAN (aka A Family Afloat) who recommended the beach bar there for a delicious and good value lunch. There were only two or three tables, but people sat where they could and tourists and locals mingled in together. It was a lovely easy-going community and the most delicious Ecuadorean ceviche, so much so I had to get the recipe from the mamacita in the kitchen. If we catch a tuna on our next ocean passage, and after buying a couple more lures from a local fisherman we stand a fair chance, we now have a viable alternative to sushi!