October 14, 2012

Cooking in Quito

For the last few weeks I've been in Quito, stressing about my visa and fearing being banned from Ecuador.

Quito is alright – as far as cities go, I suppose: it's got most services you could need, taxis are dirt cheap, and it does have some beautiful graffiti murals along many of the main avenues.

But it's filthy and smelly; you need lungs of steel to breathe in the thick grey air and ideally a narrow frame or a pushy attitude to be in with a chance of fitting on the buses. It's not really the best place to be, especially while waiting to return to Payamino and the rainforest.

However, one thing I can say I've been enjoying whilst here (as well as Gabe and Tamara's wonderful company, of course!), is the food. Eating out can be pretty cheap – if you know where to go and aren't vegetarian, as I am... –, but mostly we've been cooking ourselves and in some cases just experimenting with new (to us) ingredients.

We've tried fruits of all shapes and sizes, some strange, others familiar; eaten whole...
(Top left) Star-shaped: carambola, cactus fruit: pitahaya, round purple thing: I forget...; (top right) cactus fruit: tuna, or you may know it as a prickly pear. (Bottom) GuiƱeo are certainly nothing new to us, but these guys were siamese twins! © Gabriel Svobodny

October 5, 2012

Kingdom in the canopy (I): Biodiversity in Bromeliads


During the University of Manchester's Tropical Biology field course in Payamino, Ecuador, I was studying the biodiversity within bromeliads. Not only is the arboreal cake that is the neotropical canopy layered with tiers of different plants, but many of these are inhabited by a variety of animals. 

Bromeliads make particularly good environments for critters to colonise, as the spiralled, rosette arrangement of their leaves (see Image 1) allows rainwater and debris to accumulate between the gaps. The equivalent of tiny ponds may appear, sufficient to act as nurseries for tadpoles; or soil may gather, enough to grow ferns and vines. A bromeliad is like a hanging garden basket – only better. Maybe a hanging zoological garden.

Image 1 - Bromeliads in flower. Both the leaves and the flowers of bromeliads serve as homes for other life forms. The first two pictures, from the left, are taken in the Botanical Gardens in Quito. The right-most picture is taken in Payamino and is one of the types of bromeliad I've been collecting. © Xaali O'Reilly, 2012