So, for a world traveller, I really don’t travel very well. After arriving in Quito, Ecuador, I spent half the night in the bathroom praying to the porcelain gods. Now, I hope no one has been worrying about me too much; this kind of thing tends to happen when I travel. It is usually a case of overexertion and being very tired. In this case, there was the added complication of altitude, which can cause headache, fatigue, listlessness, lethargy and nausea. Now, I can be pretty lethargic at sea level, so it is quite difficult to separate out cause and effect in this case. Either way, just to reassure you all, I am not dying, I am not pregnant (it was night sickness, not morning!) and since a good night’s sleep and a few drugs I am feeling better.
Our first stop in South America is not one that I would recommend to fellow travellers. Quito is a big, busy, working city that has all the problems that come with such a place – noise, traffic, pollution, road works, construction sites..........all in all, not what I travel to see. We did venture out into the noise and fumes one day to try to find the quieter, gentler side of the city. We headed to the Old Town, where all the old churches and squares are to be found. Walking around Quito is not fun – narrow, bustling pavements border roads bristling with cars, trucks and buses spewing out clouds of black, noxious smoke. Now, I have been struggling to get enough oxygen into my lungs as it is. Holding my breath every time a bus sped by was definitely not helping. By the time we reached the Old Town, I was hot, sweaty, out-of-breath and quite tetchy. Mr. DBM was not exactly a ray of sunshine either. This was not really the time to admit to Mr. DBM that a few old churches just doesn’t do it for me. Now, don’t get me wrong – I love old buildings and I love to wander around, surrounded by beautiful architecture and history. However, I do not really enjoy visiting every single church in town, taking photos of each of them and paying money to go inside them all. This is particularly true if I have to do it while holding my breath to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.........................
As you can probably tell, all was not going well. I was longing for green, for peace and quiet, some small oasis in this maze of bricks and concrete, billowing clouds of hateful smog, blaring horns and screeching brakes. So, off we went in search of greener pastures and we ended up at the Quito Botanical Garden. Not the biggest, not the most diverse and definitely not the best labelled botanical garden that I have ever been to, but it was green, it was quiet and it had a very clean bathroom, which is always a must as far as I am concerned. We wandered around, Mr. DBM doing his best to translate the labels that were present and then we stumbled into the orchid house. So quiet, green and lush, surrounded by some of the most beautiful, sophisticated, delicate and intricate flowers that you could imagine.
Generally speaking, I am not a big orchid fan. Most of the orchids that you see in florists are big, ostentatious, show-off kind of flowers. The bigger and pinker, the better as far as I can see. However, some of the orchids here were some of nature’s most beautiful creations. Delicate white snowflakes with droplets of water dripping off their petals, reflecting light in all directions, more beautiful than any diamond.
Flowers with their very own water butts made from huge, concave petals, surrounded by other intricately patterned petals of greens, reds and yellows. Who knows why the orchid has such water receptacles? Perhaps they are evolving along the same lines as the pitcher plants, attracting insects that will then fall into the water to drown in the most beautiful surroundings imaginable.
I was touched by their exquisiteness and their apparent perfection– this is why I love biology. The diversity, splendour and magnificence that exists in nature will never cease to take my breath away.
Another example of nature’s ingenuity awaited us at our next stop – the Quito Vivarium. I know, I know, many people are not so keen on all things scaley, slithering, slimy, hissy or croaky, but me, well, I have pet toads, so I love them! We had great fun looking at all the exhibits and trying to translate the signs. No matter what snake we were looking at, we always seemed to come up with the same information – each one seemed to be the most deadly, dangerous, toxic, poisonous snake, the most likely to cause harm, discomfort, sickness, or some kind of horrible, painful death. A bit odd really, since half the snakes were non-venomous and harmless. I think that our Spanish needs a bit of work. The biggest disappointment was the fact that I wasn’t allowed to take photos. Still, I managed to sneak one in before being told this – Gastrotheca riobambae – the Ecuadorian marsupial frog. When this little beauty is ready for some offspring, she finds a male that then deposits his sperm on the base of her back. As she lays her eggs, he then pushes them through the sperm to fertilise them and into a pouch on her back. The eggs then mature here and when they are ready to hatch, the female deposits them into a suitable pool of water. Ingenious? Bizarre? Fascinating? Or just another one of nature’s solutions for ensuring the survival of an organism’s genes?