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the Degree Confluence Project
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Ecuador

2.6 km (1.6 miles) NW of Mercadillo, Loja, Ecuador
Approx. altitude: 1214 m (3982 ft)
([?] maps: Google MapQuest Multimap world confnav)
Antipode: 4°N 100°E

Accuracy: 17 m (55 ft)
Click on any of the images for the full-sized picture.

#2: North - Edge of the field #3: East - Banana patch and cow grass fields #4: South - Epiphytes in trees #5: West - Tree bordered grass fields #6: GPS #7: Giant bamboo shoots by stream in confluence #8: Huge spider in grove of giant bamboo #9: Top of nearest town, Alamor, 2km from confluence

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#1: Overview of the confluence

(visited by Andy and Dana)

28-Jun-2004 -- Altitude: 1218 m (4,020 ft)
Website: www.bylandwaterandair.com

Plant life: The confluence point has been cultivated with rough rows of tall bunch grasses (about five feet high) to feed the livestock that form the backbone of the area's economy. This field, like others in the region, is ringed by Eucalyptus trees - grown for local building and milled to sell. A neatly stacked cube of planks was inside the confluence area during our visit. There is also one small grove of banana trees, large enough to feed one family, growing on the eastern edge of the confluence circle. A few cloud forest species are interspersed with the plantation trees. The botanically most interesting section of the 100 meter confluence circle is on the western edge, where a small patch of giant bamboo grows next to an intact strip of diverse cloud forest - probably left to protect the stream that runs through its center and provides the ranching families with water. The bamboo is very large, more than eight inches in diameter and around 50 feet tall. Even the shoots coming out of the ground are a sight to see for their large diameter (see photo). The bamboo is used locally to build fence-gates and roof supports. Most everything (natural and human-made) is covered in epiphytes; mostly bromeliads, multicolored lichens (including a florescent pink 'species'), and a mix of short hanging and blanketing mosses.

Animal life: While we didn't see anything in the way of large wildlife the variety and number of birds, insects and arachnids in the area was higher than we've seen in other areas. The most visible birds in the confluence area were a family of seven black colored birds with large tails and a foot long wingspan. These birds searched for food together and flew from one area to another sequentially... perhaps because their landings were very poor - their long tails often almost hitting their heads as they landed. There was also a pair of patterned brown birds about the size of pheasants with large and prominent tails. They ran and fluttered along the branches, before noisily taking off for a short distance to the next tree where they continued the noisy procession through the area, only to return and repeat the spectacle later in the other direction. A lone vulture soared the ridge above the confluence for most of the afternoon. Tiny, colorful hummingbirds flew from the cloud forest to the epiphytes around the fields and then returned to the forest before repeating the loop. Many other birds were living in the cloud forest area, filling the treetops with song and motion.

Besides the birds, the insects and arachnids also grabbed our attention regularly. We passed three beetles that were over two inches long, as well as two black/metalic-blue burrowing wasps about three inches long with spiral shaped antennae. Never before had we placed our walking sticks in front of us as protection from an insect! Luckily they were friendly and let us by without incident. Even one of my least favorite insects, ticks, were beautifully colored and patterned. But perhaps the most impressive find in the confluence circle was a huge spider (around four inches across) that spun a special thick yellow web to hold its weight and web, living near the bamboo patch. (see photo)

Nearest town: Alamor - Three kilometers west of the confluence is a bustling town full of buses and cars, shops and municipal buildings set on the top of a ridgeline on the side of a mountain. (see photo) The economy of the area is driven by cattle ranching and the town is the supply and sales hub for ranching families who live on the surrounding hills. The entrance to the town from the west switchbacks through houses and small stores, while mainly pedestrian roads go straight up the steep slopes. The town center is at the top, on a ridgeline that only reaches two thirds of the way up the mountain behind. The town continues down all the adjacent ridges in several directions from the center. While the steepness of the town makes walking an effort, great views of the surrounding field-covered hills may be enjoyed from most of the houses and buildings. Above town (toward the confluence), a US$100,000 government project is working to install a water purification plant - making us curious... what is the current water source for the residents of Alamor?

Getting to the confluence: After two days of hitching (coming from Peru we were surprised to see so many personal cars), walking and bussing from the Peruvian border, we arrived in Alamor. We followed our compass and GPS reading up out of the center of town on a road that headed the correct direction. Luckily, it continued up the mountain, and a few kilometers later, when it started to bend the wrong way, a turnoff appeared, leading us to an even more direct foot-horse-cow path. This path (see photo) lead steeply downwards for a surprisingly difficult GPS 800 meters. The confluence was only 50 meters off the path in a steep grass field. The cloud was low and the air cool for most of the day. Just after taking the direction photos it closed in completely, making for a wonderfully eerie effect for the bamboo and spider pictures.


 All pictures
#1: Overview of the confluence
#2: North - Edge of the field
#3: East - Banana patch and cow grass fields
#4: South - Epiphytes in trees
#5: West - Tree bordered grass fields
#6: GPS
#7: Giant bamboo shoots by stream in confluence
#8: Huge spider in grove of giant bamboo
#9: Top of nearest town, Alamor, 2km from confluence
ALL: All pictures on one page (broadband access recommended)