Monday, January 23, 2017

Bringing Great Ideas to Life: Juan Rodriguez

Since the foundation of South Expeditions, passion has always been at its core. As a kid, Juan, the owner and founder, dreamt of assembling and constructing his own plane. He successfully built and flew his very own Fisher Classic (a Canadian two-seat, conventional landing gear, single-engine, biplane kit aircraft). Follow the link to see the video:

Since then, he is constantly looking for new, promising projects that will satiate his passion for workmanship and innovation, providing users with an added benefit rather than simply fulfilling a standard purpose. It is unusual that travel companies/agencies in Latin America have workshop space in their own main office. This is where Juan’s creativity and resourcefulness comes into play as he has repaired and constructed items that are used on all the trips we offer. He has repaired, assembled and improved everything, from sinks and portable tables to a designing a kayak system for the handicapped and young children who cannot row, the Catakayak.

Now, he has engineered a groundbreaking vehicle that will not only serve as means of transport to go from one vineyard to another in one of Chile’s most prominent wine region, but it will open doors to a fully immersive, interactive, dynamic and hands-on experience of the region itself, its wine, people and culture. Stay tuned for our blog updates on... the southmobile!

Friday, December 23, 2016

Estimated giant tortoises population in San Cristóbal exceeds six thousand

In November, a team of 70 Galapagos National Park rangers set out to complete the very first comprehensive giant tortoise census ever. Chelonoidis chatamensis, the giant tortoise species native to San Cristóbal Island, is one of the least known of the 11 species that still inhabit the Galapagos.

The expedition was organised into 14 camps, each responsible of exploring a specific section of the island. South Expeditions had the privilege of collaborating in this wonderful project.

After collecting the necessary data, it is estimated that there are approximately 6700 giant tortoises in San Cristóbal Island. There was a high percentage of juvenile and female tortoises, which in ecological term, evidences the recovery process for this species. From a genetics perspective, blood samples have determined the population is healthy.

The Minister of Environment, Walter García said: "The results of this great research are excellent news for Ecuador and the whole world; it shows that the protective actions, which were implemented by the environmental authority and executed by the rangers, have been effective”. There is work being done around all turtle populations but studying lesser known species, such as the Chelonoidis chatamensis, will provide a clearer picture in order to determine which would be the best course of action to guarantee their conservation and ecosystem.

In addition, the expedition led to discovering/locating Calandrinia galapagosa and Lecocarpus leptolobus, endemic plant species that are in critical danger of extinction.

Information provided by the GALÁPAGOS NATIONAL PARK

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

From Where We Stand: Going the extra Mile

Marco, one of our tour leaders, believes “Life is a glance. No matter how long you live, do as much as you can and enjoy everything you do.” This is what he decided to do when he started guiding 20 years ago. His passion for his country has led him to travel all around Ecuador, deepening his knowledge in everything it has to offer. He speaks fluent English, French and Japanese and despite how much he travels, there is always something new to see or learn. Guiding has being the most enriching experience and is full of stories worth sharing! Here is one of them:

Marco and his tour group were on their way to a wonderful site along the Andes. All of a sudden, they saw a truck in the middle of the road ahead. As they got closer, they managed to see that the truck was waiting for its passengers to finish milking the cows. Marco tried reasoning with the locals and suggesting many alternatives to benefit both parts but they refused to move the truck until they had finished milking the cows. Waiting seemed inevitable until Marco did what no one thought he would. He rolled up his sleeves and helped the locals out by milking the cows himself. He certainly helped speed up the process while at the same time provided his group with an unique experience. Where else would your own guide offer himself to milk cows in order to stick to the itinerary? That’s commitment right there!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Quito's colonial and old town

Visit colonial temples and monasteries of this urban jewel, declared UNESCO World Heritage SiteThe most iconic buildings are St. Augustine Convent, the Independence Plaza, flanked by the Cathedral, La Compania de Jesus, the Presidential Palace, the Municipal Building, the Archbishop’s Palace, and the Church of San Francisco.

At the south west corner of Plaza San Francisco is Casa Gangotena, one of the most exclusive hotels in Ecuador. Its history stretches back to the time of the Incas. According to the early Spanish chroniclers, in the 15th century the square featured several Inca temples, one of them situated at the site of the present house. In 1534, once the Spaniards arrived into Quito, their religious orders soon set out to convert the hearts and minds of the local population. Unfortunately, in 1914 a calamitous fire destroyed much of the house. The historic mansion was completely rebuilt in 1924 by its owners, the Gangotena family, which was later on bought to convert it into a world-class boutique hotel. In 1978 Quito was declared the first-ever UNESCO World Heritage Site city and considered the largest and best preserved Historic Center in the Americas. A few years later, Casa Gangotena was included in the city's cultural heritage inventory and is among the Top 25 Hotels in the World. If you can spare half day, we recommend you visit La Mitad del Mundo (“the Middle of the World'”).

Friday, July 15, 2016

Folklore, Markets & Crafts in Ecuador

Ecuador may sometimes seem unstable, undeveloped and impoverished, but what makes Ecuador great is it's rich culture, customs, history and, above all, its people. One common first impression is that Ecuadorians are friendly and welcoming, with a huge smile on their faces. Thus, when visiting Ecuador, is its people that make the trip or visit memorable, rewarding and worthwhile. Local markets set the perfect scene for cultural exchange. An atmosphere displaying unique, handmade arts and crafts displayed colourfully along the market, delicious traditional dishes,  and classic Ecuadorian music playing in the background, make Ecuador's markets unmissable. 

Here are two unusual, picturesque, and culture immersive local markets in Ecuador. 


(Thursday mornings)

One of the most interesting and colorful markets in Ecuador, make Guamote market a must see! Only a short drive away from Riobamba lays Guamote, a lovely town. Although a train still goes by it, Guamote’s main commercial activity occurs in its massive Thursday morning market. Here, hundreds of indigenous people gather.  It is not a typical tourist market in the sense that it gives a real flavor of Ecuadorian markets and it's indigenous people who, in their colorful traditional clothing, will kindly show you what they have to offer.

Aside from the beautiful and unique fabrics, clothes and handcrafts, Guamote’s highlight is definitely the animal market. Among the first things you’ll notice will be the very distinct sound coming from various animals in every direction. From ducks, pigs and sheep to chickens, guinea pigs and goats, you will find pretty much every local animal and their produce throughout the market. Don’t miss out on the traditional street food and in particular, the natural and tasty juices from exotic fruits.


(Friday mornings)

The exchange is the essence of this indigenous market. Tzalarón is the only municipality in the country where producers can exchange their products according to the value of each of them. The market has been taking place weekly for over 180 years and it is the only indigenous market where they still barter. The trade often happens between products harvested in the higher parts such as wheat, barley, quinoa, peas, potatoes in exchange for products from the lower parts such as carrots, tomatoes and others.

It is a very historic and traditional market. The rocks that cover a part of the floor of the market are the most revealing traces of the antiquity of the square. Once, this was the largest indigenous market in the province, as traders arrived there Alausí, Colta and Guamote Riobamba, including Bolivar and Tungurahua.

Monday, June 27, 2016

From Where We Stand: All in a day’s work. Whatever it takes to make every mile a lasting memory.

We have great tour leaders but sometimes we fail to highlight or praise what each of them do for their groups. They are constantly surpassing expectations and doing everything to make each trip a lasting memory. Here is one where Henry turns a misfortunate situation into a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

As Henry returns from the Galapagos Islands to Quito, he is informed that a local curfew was established in the city and that it will be in effect until the evening. This meant that no means of transport where available to transport his four passengers to the hotel. They would have to spend over 3 hours at the airport! Henry thought this may be a “bad” experience for them and decided to take matters into his own hands. He walked towards a police patrol and enquired about the possibility of making an exception and to let them go through. He was turned down and it started to look like they had no choice but to wait. But, when in Ecuador, nothing is ever as it seems. The police officers actually offered to give Henry's passengers a ride! He quickly got everyone in the patrol car and off they went! Driving fast and while laughing and hearing the patrol sirens blowing, they couldn’t help but think it had quickly become the trip of a lifetime!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Galápagos: An unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience

During a trip to the Galapagos Islands, you will be constantly surrounded by breathtaking natural settings, secluded beaches, and unique wildlife. It’s all about the untouched, natural and rare wildlife in the Galapagos. You can do everything from swimming with sea lions and turtles, visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station, kayaking, meeting giant tortoises, and snorkelling with penguins (the only wild penguins found north of the equator) to watching marine iguanas, waved albatross mating, and blue footed boobies, among other exceptional species.

One of the most important islands is Puerto Ayora and it is considered the “urban center” of the Galápagos. A 40-minute hike through a dry, prickly pear forest takes you to Tortuga Bay – one of the archipelago’s finest beaches. Here in Puerto Ayora lies the wonderful Villa Escalesia, a spacious, locally designed villa with all the comforts of home and uninterrupted sea views out to Santa Fe Island. Just a short boat ride away is South Plaza Island, or Isla Plaza Sur, considered one of the richest in terms of plant and animal life, offering plenty to see in a day trip. It was created by lava that tilted up the seabed, and is home to an amazing variety of birds, a colony of sea lions, lava lizards, and land iguanas.

Based on government regulation, several islands are only accessible by cruise and some have very limited access. In Isabela Island, a special Galapagos National Park (G.N.P.) permit must be granted before accessing one of the most interesting and diverse sites in Galapagos: the Alcedo Volcano. Once in the island, you get to hike along a path leading from the landing zone to the caldera of the volcano. The time of ascent to the caldera is between 6 and 7 hours and the total trip is 14km. Along the trail the attractions are diverse, from the large population of giant tortoises that congregate in pools, landscapes, active fumaroles, ancient craters, lava flows and numerous endemic birds. The species present in this volcano is the largest population in relation to other species in the Galapagos Islands.

My favorite activities take place in San Cristobal, in a day you can visit Kicker Rock and Manglesito camping site. Kicker Rock is a magnificent island in the middle of the sea. Access to the island is refused because it is still unspoilt but is the best site for world class snorkeling due to the vast variety of wildlife found there. Once back in San Cristobal, during the evening it is ideal to head to Manglesito camping site as it is possible to embark on an exclusive sea kayak expedition to witness the amazing bioluminescent phenomenon. Bioluminescence occurs widely in marine vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as in some fungi, microorganisms including some bioluminescent bacteria and terrestrial invertebrates such as fireflies.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

From Where We Stand: WHALE you’re at it… expect the unexpected!

Henry, one of our great tour guides, has a great passion for adventure travel and sports, specially kayaking and trekking. He was leading a tour in the Galapagos Islands for a family, going to snorkel at León Dormido, also known as Kicker Rock – one of the best snorkelling spots as the variety of sea life is remarkable.

While on their way, the captain catches a glimpse of dolphins swimming a short distance away. He mentions it to Henry and they decide to get closer. They stop to enjoy and take in the experience of watching dolphins swirling around the boat when, all of a sudden, they hear a peculiar splashing sound. Henry and the captain knew immediately that the sound was a whale’s blow and that it had to be near by. Indeed, a couple of seconds later, they saw the whale go by the boat and, playfully, circles it. 

As this happens, the mother begins to cry of joy and excitement, as this was a unique experience already. Little did she know, Henry would encourage the passengers to suit up and jump into the water to swim and admire the whale up-close! Even Henry’s eyes filled with tears as he admired such an immense creature passing by at no more than 30 feet away. He will never forget, time stopped as the whale’s eyes met his.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Carménère: The Great Lost Grape of Bordeaux, Found and Thriving in Chile.

A good wine should have a good story. Carménère has one, and it is worth telling.

Like the majority of the world’s prominent grapes, Carménère was born in the French wine region of Bordeaux. It was used as both a blending grape for the famous red Bordeaux wines (Cabernet SauvignonCabernet FrancMerlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Carménère) as well as to create its own single varietal wine. It was finicky and difficult to grow. Consequently, when the great phylloxera plague wiped out nearly every grape in France in 1857, growers did not bother replanting it.

For over 100 years, Carménère had been considered nearly extinct.

Prior to the epidemic, cuttings were taken from top vineyards in Europe to establish wine in the immigrant settlements of South America. A few cuttings of Carménère happened to be imported to Chile in shipments of merlot vines. And they simply planted them in their merlot fields around the valleys of Santiago and almost immediately began to flourish. In Chile, growers almost inadvertently preserved the grape variety due largely to its similarity to Merlot. It was an unconscious mistake that saved Carménère from extinction. The variety is now Chile's premium grape.

Up until the 1990s, Chilean winemakers were not sure why some of the vines in their Merlot vineyards got ripe so late and why their leaves were so different. Their Merlot tasted very “distinctive.” So in 1994, they brought in a respected French botanist, Jean-Michel Boursiquot, who, after some study, declared the vines weren’t Merlot at all. They were Carménère.

Today, Carménère is to Chile as Malbec is to Argentina.

For a full Carménère Wine Guide you can visit: